1 hour, 8 minutes ago
By Steve Holland
CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - President Bush (news - web sites) dismissed the significance on Sunday of an Aug. 6, 2001, intelligence document he received that told of possible al Qaeda preparations for hijackings, but a top aide to Democrat John Kerry (news - web sites) said it should have set off alarm bells.
Bush said the document, which he had requested to learn more about the al Qaeda threat within the United States, provided no intelligence warning of a specific attack.
"I am satisfied that I never saw any intelligence that indicated there was going to be an attack on America -- at a time and a place, an attack," Bush told reporters.
The White House made public the page-and-a-half document on Saturday night. It told Bush a month before Sept. 11, 2001, that al Qaeda members were in the United States and the FBI (news - web sites) had detected suspicious activity "consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks."
"It said Osama bin Laden (news - web sites) had designs on America. Well, I knew that," Bush said.
The release of the memo had been demanded by members of the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks, and Democrats on the panel who had already seen it had questioned whether Bush could have done more to stop the attacks.
The document, entitled "Bin Ladin (sic) Determined to Strike Inside the US," was likely to intensify the election-year debate in Washington over whether the Sept. 11 attacks could have been prevented in spite of Bush's insistence the U.S. government did everything it could to head them off with the information at hand.
"I certainly think that the president could have done more," said Rand Beers, a foreign policy adviser to Kerry and formerly a counterterrorism adviser to Bush.
He told CNN's "Inside Politics Sunday" that the memo, coupled with other threat information received during the summer of 2001, "certainly suggested that someone should have been out shaking the trees to find out what more we knew and what we could do about it."
The declassified report said al Qaeda members, including some U.S. citizens, "have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks."
Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic member of the 9/11 panel, told CNN's "Late Edition" the document "provided a substantial amount of information as late as May of 2001, suggesting, among other things, that Al Qaeda cells were in the United States and that individuals in those cells were behaving in a way consistent with possible hijackings."
The Bush administration, he said, "didn't know that 9/11 was going to happen, but I think the author of this memo was alerting the president to the possibility that the strike that we were all anticipating in the summer of 2001 might well occur within the United States."
Bush made the remarks after attending Easter services with U.S. troops at Fort Hood, Texas.
"Had I known there was going to be an attack on America, I would have moved mountains to stop the attack," he said.
But he left open the possibility that some government agencies might have been able to do more.
"Well, that's what the 9/11 commission should look into, and I hope it does," he said. "It's an important part of the assignment of the 9/11 commission."
The document told Bush the FBI was conducting about 70 full field investigations throughout the United States that it considered related to Osama bin Laden.