National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told reporters Thursday that intelligence officials had detected “spikes” in terrorist threats in June and July of 2001, but that this information pointed to possible attacks against Americans overseas.
Rice also told reporters of a specific briefing given to the president in early August detailing threats posed by al-Qaida that included so-called “traditional” hijackings. According to the national security adviser, the president never considered making the nonspecific intelligence public.
“You would have risked shutting down the American civil aviation system with such generalized information,” Rice said. “You would have to think five, six, seven times about that, very, very hard.”
Despite the decision not to detail the al-Qaida information to the public, White House officials said they had “notified the appropriate agencies” about similar intelligence.
“Domestically, through normal security channels, the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration were made aware of general information that, while mentioning hijackings, did not include specific and detailed warnings,” White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
During her afternoon briefing, Rice repeatedly stated that the al-Qaida briefing included no specific warning of attacks within the U.S. and she added that there was no intelligence to suggest a hijacked airliner would be used in an attack like those on September 11.
“I don’t think that anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon,” she said.
The revelations prompted some Congressional leaders to call for an inquiry into whether the intelligence agencies or the White House could have done more to prevent the September 11 attacks.
“What we have to do now is find out what the president, what the White House knew about the events leading up to the events of 9/11, when they knew it and, most importantly, what was done about it,” House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., told reporters.
“There was a lot of information. I believe and others believe, if it had been acted on properly we may have had a different situation on Sept. 11,” Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said.
The news of the White House meetings came just days after it was uncovered that a memo from the FBI’s Phoenix office warned of suspicious activities by Middle Eastern Arabs at American flight schools. The memorandum, written in July 2001, sparked new questions from Congressional leaders.
“There should have been bells and whistles going off,” Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “My question is: Was this information communicated to a central source? Was action taken? “
Senators Edwards and Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham, D-Fla., said they would continue to investigate whether U.S. intelligence agencies could have done more to prevent the attacks that killed some 3,000 people.