WASHINGTON -- In the weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush was told by U.S. intelligence that Osama bin Laden's terrorist network might hijack American airplanes, prompting the administration to issue a private warning to law-enforcement agencies, the White House acknowledged Wednesday night.
But officials said the president and U.S. intelligence did not know that suicide hijackers were plotting to use planes as missiles, as they did against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"There has been long-standing speculation, shared with the president, about the potential of hijackings in the traditional sense," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said. "We had general threats involving Osama bin Laden around the world and including in the United States."
He said the administration, acting on the information received in early August, notified the "appropriate agencies" that hijackings "in the traditional sense" were possible. The warning was never made public, he said.
The development, first reported by CBS News, comes as congressional investigators intensify their study of whether the government failed to adequately respond to warnings of a suicide hijackings before Sept. 11.
Fleischer would not discuss when or how the information was given to Bush, but a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the president was made aware of the potential for hijackings of U.S. planes during one or more routine intelligence briefings last summer.