White House Had Plan For Al Qaeda

Osama bin Laden was at Tora Bora when U.S. aircraft began bombing on Nov. 30. but escaped because U.S. ground troops were not sent to pursue the al Qaeda leader, The Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing intelligence officials. 020417, GD AP / CBS

Shortly before the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, U.S. security officials prepared a presidential order to dismantle the al Qaeda network later blamed for the attacks, the White House said Friday.

The proposed order, which contained plans later used in the U.S.-led attack on Afghanistan, had not reached the desk of the President Bush by the time suspected al Qaeda members launched hijacked-plane attacks that killed about 3,000 people last Sept. 11, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

"The focus of it (the directive) was how to dismantle the al Qaeda network," Fleischer said. "It had not yet been shared by the president."

Speaking to reporters, Fleischer shot back at Democrats who questioned possible White House intelligence failures in the wake of Wednesday's disclosure that Bush was alerted in August 2001 to the possiblity of a hijacking by al Qaeda members.

A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says the options memo was prepared by Bush's foreign policy team as threats of terrorism spiked.

It was dated September tenth, and sat on National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's desk awaiting Bush's review when the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were struck.

Some key Democrats were also aware of the possibility of a terrorist attack, Fleischer said. He said Bush hoped Democrats would not "play politics" with the issue.

The call against politicizing the attacks comes three days after the White House defended a Republican fundraising offer of a photograph of Bush on Sept. 11 in exchange for political donations.
  • John Esterbrook

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