Bush Defends His 9/11 Record

2001/9/14 George W. Bush puts arm around firefighter Bob Beckwith, at World Trade Center crash site, New York City, photo AP

President Bush said Tuesday he would have acted quicker against al Qaeda if he had information before Sept. 11, 2001, that a terror attack against New York City was imminent.

"We have been chasing down al Qaeda ever since those attacks," Mr. Bush said.

In his first direct response to criticism raised in a new book by Richard Clarke, his former counterterrorism adviser, Mr. Bush denied that he ignored Osama bin Laden and the threat of the al Qaeda terror network before the terror attacks while at the same time rushing to blame Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

"The facts are these, George Tenet briefed me on a regular basis about the terrorist threat to the United States of America, and had my administration had any information that terrorists were going to attack New York City on Sept. 11th, we would have acted," Mr. Bush said. Tenet is the CIA director.

Mr. Bush did not mention Clarke or the Iraq war in his response, but reviewed the progress of the U.S.-led war on terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001.

"We've captured or killed two-thirds of their known leaders and we're still pursuing them. And we will continue to pursue them so long as I am the president of the United States," he said.

"We're making progress. There is more work to do. This country will stay on the hunt," he said.

Mr. Bush's remarks were the latest salvo in a White House effort to discredit Clarke.

The administration has accused Clarke of inaccuracies and election-year grandstanding in a book that is sharply critical of Mr. Bush's leadership in the war on terror.

Clarke "wasn't in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff," Vice President Dick Cheney asserted Monday.

Cheney suggested Clarke "may have had a grudge to bear," that he had left the White House after being passed over for a promotion.

The broadsides have been driven by Clarke's interview on CBS News' 60 Minutes in which he said Mr. Bush missed opportunities to rein in or thwart Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network while plotting to attack Iraq.

Clarke's claims are contained in a new book that is scathingly critical of administration actions. The book is published by Free Press, a subsidiary of Simon & Schuster. Both CBSNews.com and Simon & Schuster are units of Viacom.

Cheney, in a telephone interview with radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, said Clarke "clearly missed a lot of what was going on" during the two years he worked at the Bush White House.

Rice that she had been ill informed about al Qaeda when Clarke brought it up to her.

"We were all very aware of the al Qaeda threat. What I asked Richard Clarke to do was develop ideas that we could use to push forward the strategies against al Qaeda," Rice told the CBS News Early Show.

Rice said Clarke's response was a list of ideas that had been around for several years.

"The president needed more," Rice said. "He needed a strategy for al Qaeda that was going to eliminate al Qaeda."

And the president's press secretary, Scott McClellan, told a White House briefing: "His assertion that there was something we could have done to prevent the Sept. 11th attacks from happening is deeply irresponsible. It's offensive and it's flat-out false."

The ferocity of the White House response has everything to do with the coming election, in which theb president has made his leadership in taking the fight to Afghanistan and Iraq an applause line at every stop, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Plante.
  • Rebecca Leung

Comments