A former White House anti-terrorism adviser has accused US President George Bush of ignoring terrorism threats before the 11 September attacks.
Richard Clarke, Bush's top official on counter-terrorism who headed a cybersecurity board, told CBS 60 Minutes in an interview to be aired on Sunday he thought Bush had "done a terrible job on the war against terrorism".
"I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11," Clarke told CBS.
Clarke, who was an adviser to four presidents, says in a book to be published next week the Bush administration should have taken out al-Qaida and its training camps in Afghanistan long before the attacks of 11 September, for which the network was blamed.
"I think the way he has responded to al-Qaida, both before
9/11 by doing nothing, and by what he's done after 9/11, has
made us less safe," Clarke told CBS.
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice said the Bush administration followed former President Bill Clinton's policy on al-Qaida until it had developed its own terrorism strategy.
In a transcript of a NBC News interview, made available by the White House on Saturday, Rice said terrorism was a high priority for Bush from the outset of his term.
"We did pursue the Clinton administration policy and pursued it actively, until we could get in place a more comprehensive policy - not to roll back al-Qaida, but to eliminate al-Qaida," Rice said.
Rice insists terrorism has always
been a high priority for Bush
She said Bush had been in office only 230 days when the 11 September attacks happened.
"Even if we had been able to do it in 190 days, or 150 days, it was a policy that our counter-terrorism people told us was going to eliminate al-Qaida over three to five years," she said. "This was not something that was going to stop September 11th."
Asked why the government did not retaliate after intelligence in Spring 2001 showed al-Qaida was behind the bombing of the USS Cole warship in Yemen, Rice said:
"We were concerned that we didn't have good military options, that really all we had were options like using cruise missiles to go after training camps that had long been abandoned and that it might have just the opposite effect, it might, in fact embolden the terrorists, not frighten them, or not think that they were being taken seriously."
Against All Enemies
CBS said Clarke asserted in his book, Against All Enemies, that Bush ignored ominous intelligence "chatter" in 2001 about possible terror attacks, but Bush's national security counsel, Stephen Hadley, said Bush did hear those warnings and was impatient for intelligence chiefs to develop a new strategy to eliminate al-Qaida.
"I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11"
Bush's former top official on counter-terrorism
"All the chatter was of an attack, a potential al-Qaida attack overseas. But interestingly enough, the president got concerned about whether there was the possibility of an attack on the homeland," Hadley told CBS.
He said: "The president put us on battle stations. He asked the intelligence community: 'Look hard. See if we're missing something about a threat to the homeland.' "
Clarke, who left his position in February 2003 after 30 years in government service when the White House transferred functions of the cybersecurity board to homeland security, said Bush's decision to invade Iraq had strengthened terror groups.