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Administration defends lengthy al-Qaida review
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration said Sunday it moved as swiftly as possible to develop a plan on how to eliminate al-Qaida -- a process that took eight months and wasn't complete until one week before the Sept. 11 attacks.
The Clinton administration had handed off to the incoming Bush team detailed assessments of the threat, and offered ideas on how to counter al-Qaida.
But Bush officials took issue Sunday with a report in the Aug. 12 issue of Time magazine that said the current administration's review of its predecessor's briefings became bogged down in bureaucracy.
The current White House denied receiving any firm plans for dealing with al-Qaida.
"The Clinton administration did not present an aggressive new plan to topple al-Qaida during the transition," said White House spokesman Sean McCormack.
"We were briefed on the al-Qaida threat and what the Clinton administration was doing about it. These efforts against al-Qaida were continued in the Bush administration."
According to Time, Clinton's anti-terror czar, Richard Clarke, offered detailed proposals: arresting al-Qaida personnel, choking off the group's financing, aiding nations fighting the organization and beefing up covert action in Afghanistan to deny al-Qaida sanctuary.
Clarke, who stayed on in the Bush administration, also called for a substantial increase in support for the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and for planning of air strikes on Afghan terror camps.
But a senior Bush administration official said Sunday the Clinton White House offered the incoming Bush team only ideas on how to "roll back" the threat over a three- to five-year period.
Soon after it began studying the issue, the Bush administration decided a "rollback" was inadequate, and began planning for eliminating al-Qaida altogether, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, attended a meeting during the transition at which the Clinton and Bush teams discussed counterterrorism issues.