Bush administration goes on offensive to contain criticism

Sunday, May 19, 2002

WASHINGTON -- The White House dug in for a protracted political battle as new details emerged about a pre-Sept. 11 warning to U.S. intelligence that terrorists might try to fly airliners into government buildings.

While Democrats demanded answers, the Bush administration sought to put out of bounds any criticism of how the president handled advance information.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday: "I think that any time anybody suggests or implies to the American people that this president had specific information that could have prevented the attacks on our country on September 11, that crosses the lines."

Reports surfaced that two years before the Sept. 11 attacks, during the Clinton administration, an analysis prepared for U.S. intelligence warned, "Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaida's Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives (C-4 and semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the CIA or the White House."

Until the report became public, the Bush administration has asserted that no one in government had envisioned a suicide hijacking before it happened.

Democrats suggested the expansion of inquiries into what the White House and federal law enforcement knew about possible terror attacks.

Fleischer said the administration was aware of the report but the document did not contain direct intelligence pointing toward a specific plot, but rather included assessments about how terrorists might strike.

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