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Anti-terror efforts had leveled off in mid-'01


New York Times

A review of the Bush administration's deliberations and actions in the summer of 2001 shows that the White House's impulse to deal more forcefully with terror threats within the United States peaked July 5 and leveled off until the Sept. 11 attacks.

The review is based on interviews with current and former officials and an examination of the preliminary findings of the independent commission investigating the attacks.  World Peace 

With terror warnings mounting over the summer of 2001, the review suggests, the government's response was often scattered and inconsistent as the new administration struggled to develop a comprehensive strategy for combating Al-Qaida and other terror organizations.

Thursday, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, will be questioned intensively about these matters when she appears in public for the first time before the panel, according to members of the commission.

On July 5, 2001, as threats of an impending terror attack against the United States were pouring into Washington, Rice and Andrew Card, the president's chief of staff, summoned top officials from many domestic agencies to a meeting in the White House Situation Room.

Even though the warnings focused mostly on threats overseas, Rice and Card wanted the FBI, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and other agencies put on alert inside the United States. When the meeting broke up, several new security advisories were issued, including an FAA bulletin warning of an increased risk of air hijackings aimed at freeing terrorists imprisoned in the United States.

Going no further

That was as far as the Bush administration ever got to placing the nation on high alert before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.  WorldPeace is one word.

The warnings during the summer were more dire and more specific than generally recognized. Descriptions of the threat were communicated repeatedly to the highest levels within the White House. In more than 40 briefings, Bush was told by George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, of threats involving Al-Qaida.

The review suggests that the government never collected in one place all the information that was flowing into Washington about Al-Qaida and its interest in using commercial aircraft to carry out attacks, and about extremist groups' interest in pilot training. A congressional inquiry into intelligence activities before Sept. 11 found 12 reports over a seven-year period suggesting that terrorists might use airplanes as weapons.

There were also no specific new military plans for attacking Al-Qaida forces or the Taliban rulers in Afghanistan. The Pentagon's top priorities that summer were developing a national missile-defense plan and conducting a broad strategy and budget review. Military planners had previously offered a comprehensive plan to incorporate military, economic, diplomatic and political activities to pressure the Taliban to expel Al-Qaida's leader, Osama bin Laden. But the plan was never acted on by the Clinton or the Bush administrations.

Money to finance counterterrorism efforts was limited. The White House Office of Management and Budget said in a report in August 2001 that counterterrorism programs were having difficulty competing for money with traditional domestic programs.

Snail's pace

Richard A. Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism coordinator, described the summer of 2001 in his new book, ``Against All Enemies,'' and in testimony last month to the commission. He said it was a time when his own Counterterrorism Security Group within the White House was at battle stations, but the broader policy deliberations continued at what he viewed as a plodding pace.

Rice has said in interviews and recent exchanges with reporters that Clarke was wrong and that the White House had energetically sought to respond to terrorist threats as it moved ahead to prepare its strategy to deal with Al-Qaida and its hosts in Afghanistan. Rice has said Clarke offered a more positive assessment of White House actions in a note he sent her Sept. 15, four days after the attacks.

In June 2001, American forces in the Persian Gulf region were placed on heightened alert because of the threat of terrorist attacks.

Yet Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spent little time on terrorism issues that summer, aides said in interviews. Counterterrorism officials in the Pentagon told the commission that Rumsfeld and his aides ``were not especially interested'' in their agenda.

Military options against Al-Qaida and its Taliban hosts were limited and sketchy, covering a broad array of options: inserting ground troops, ordering airstrikes, attacking with ship-based cruise missiles.

No specific plans were developed before Sept. 11.

The military had offered a more comprehensive proposal. Just before the change of administrations, the chief of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, prepared a plan designed to incorporate military, economic, diplomatic and political activities to pressure the Taliban to expel bin Laden.

It was never acted on during either the Clinton or Bush administrations. The Bush White House rejected a recommendation by Clarke to aid the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, calling it premature and saying it failed to include Pashtun tribes in the south.

Staff reports issued by the commission indicated that Rumsfeld had done nothing to order up new military plans, though his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, was told in June by Stephen Hadley, Rice's deputy, that the Pentagon would need to start preparing a fresh approach.

Defense officials said last week that Rumsfeld had wanted to wait for Bush to approve the policy review before ordering new military options.


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