Background: Hijack Warnings
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SPENCER MICHELS: The political fallout over the CIA hijack alert continues to mushroom. At a fund-raiser last night, Vice President Cheney responded to Congressional Democrats who had criticized the Administration for not reacting to the CIA Warning to President Bush in August that al-Qaida might be planning a hijack operation.
DICK CHENEY: What I want to say to my Democratic friends in the Congress is they need to be very cautious not to seek political advantage by making incendiary suggestions as were made by some today that the White House had advance information that would have prevented the tragic attacks of 9/11. (Applause) Such commentary is thoroughly irresponsible and totally unworthy of national leaders in a time of war.
SPENCER MICHELS: This morning on the “CBS Early Show,” House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt was asked if critics in the Democratic camp were behaving irresponsibly.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: We have a duty and a responsibility to keep the American people safe. Obviously that didn’t happen on September the 11th. We’ve got to do better in the future. And with this information, finding out what happened at the CIA, at the FBI, in the White House, maybe we can do a better job in the future.
SPENCER MICHELS: At the center of the political and media storm is a series of clues that arose in the spring and summer of 2001. In April and May, U.S. Intelligence reported growing threats from Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.
The FAA issued the first of four general security alerts about the danger of hijackings. On July 5, the coordinator for counter terrorism at the National Security Council told dozens of federal agency officials, “something really spectacular is going to happen here soon.”
In the same month, an FBI counter terrorism agent in Phoenix sent a memo to FBI headquarters warning that Islamic militants were trying to gain access to U.S. flight schools. On August 6, President Bush received a classified CIA Briefing that bin Laden’s network might try to hijack U.S. planes.
Nine days later, Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested in Minnesota after raising suspicion at a flight school. At the White House today, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer fielded questions for an hour. Fleischer was asked about a 1999 Library of Congress report prepared for the National Intelligence Council.
REPORTER: There’s a very clear sentence here, where it talks about al-Qaida’s retaliation to cruise missile attacks against training camps in Afghanistan, and says, “suicide bombers belonging to al-Qaida’s martyrdom battalion could crash-land in aircraft packed with high explosives into the pentagon, CIA Headquarters, or the White House.”
ARI FLEISCHER: This document was described… it is not a piece of intelligence information suggesting that we have information about a specific plan or that they are going to. It describes… the title of report, if I recall, is “the psychology and the sociology of terrorists.”
REPORTER: This is pre-9/11 material. Nobody, either in the President’s CIA briefings or in a principal committee, said, “you know what? These lunatics have talked about flying planes into buildings.”
ARI FLEISCHER: This report from 1999 about the thinking, the psychology of terrorism; was available in 1999 to members of Congress, the previous administration. It existed in some form, which did not come to the attention of this administration when we took office on January 20.
SPENCER MICHELS: Asked about the President’s mood, Fleischer said Mr. Bush understood that second- guessing is second nature to a lot of politicians.