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President Bush Defends Handling of Hijack Warning

The president told Air Force cadets and officers in a Rose Garden ceremony, ”Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people.”

Democrats in Congress, as well as some Republicans, have begun to question if more could have been done to prevent the attacks.

The president denounced such “second-guessing,” and said he and his administration would do “whatever it takes to prevent the enemy from attacking America again like they did and causing thousands to suffer and to mourn and to grieve.”

Condoleezza Rice, the president’s national security adviser, acknowledged yesterday that the administration had general intelligence about possible attacks, but nor specific information regarding timing, targets or how the attacks would be carried outs. She said officials had the impression the attacks would likely target Americans overseas.

In the days before the attacks, a memo was reportedly being prepared for the president recommending action to dismantle bin Laden’s network, but that paper had not reached the president’s desk, the Associated Press reported.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer on Friday said those recommendations resembled “what you saw put into place frankly, rather quickly in our operations in Afghanistan — through work with the northern alliance to dismantle al-Qaida and the Taliban.”

Members of Congress are asking to know more about what the White House knew before Sept. 11 and to see several CIA and FBI reports. The memos in question include a confidential CIA analysis given to the president in August and an earlier internal FBI report warning that a large number of men of Middle Eastern decent were training at U.S. flight schools.

“What we have to do now is to find out what the president, what the White House knew about the events leading up to 9/11, when they knew it and, most importantly, what was done about it at that time,” Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri said on Thursday.

Gephardt told CNN inquiries would also center on what Congressional intelligence committees were told ahead of the Sept. 11 attacks.

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