Advanced Warning?

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AP
Just days before a commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks holds its first public hearings, a former top anti-terrorism official is accusing the Bush administration of ignoring clear-cut warnings that Al Qaeda was going to attack.

The White House is crying foul, and says the charges by a former top terrorism advisor to the Bush administration are politically motivated.

Clarke, in and in a new book, charges that in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush aggressively ordered him to look for a link between Iraq and the attacks, despite being told there didn't seem to be one.

The White House denies trying to manipulate intelligence. In an unusual round of Sunday interviews - Communications Director Dan Bartlett raised questions about Clarke's motivation:

"If he had such grave concerns about the actions that we've taken over a year ago in Iraq and the consequences it would have in the war on terror, why is it only now that he's raising these issues in the middle of a political campaign?"

Clarke says what the president did do to fight terrorism has made the country less safe, and feels it's outrageous for the president to campaign on the success of his anti-terrorism efforts.

"He ignored it!" says Clarke. "He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe. We'll never know."

Clarke will tell more of what he knows this week. He'll testify before the special commission looking into the intelligence mistakes that led to the Sept. 11 attacks, and will likely offer a disturbing counterpoint to his fellow panelists, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"His book might be called, 'If Only They Had Listened To Dick Clarke,'" one administration official tells Newsweek. The White House also claims records show the president was not in the Situation Room at the time Clarke recalls, and a spokesman for Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says one part of Clarke's account is a "fabrication," Newsweek reports.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., says he doesn't believe Clarke's charge that the Bush administration - which defeated him and former Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 election - was focused more on Iraq than al Qaeda during the days after the terror attacks.

"I see no basis for it," Lieberman said on a Sunday talk show. "I think we've got to be careful to speak facts and not rhetoric.

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., said in broadcast interview that while he has been critical of Bush policies on Iraq, "I think it's unfair to blame the president for the spread of terror and the diffuseness of it. Even if he had followed the advice of me and many other people, I still think the same thing would have happened."

"We took our eye off the ball because of a preoccupation with Iraq," Biden noted. "I am much more concerned about the safety of my granddaughter in school here in Washington because of al Qaeda than I am with 10 Saddam Husseins."

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says Clarke's claim that the Bush administration did not pick up on the importance of the al Qaeda threat is "a very serious charge."

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry says he wants to study Clarke's book before making any remarks.

"Several chapters are being FedExed out to me here," Kerry said before returning to the ski slopes of nearby Sun Valley. "I have asked for them and they should be out here tomorrow."

While Kerry was reserved in his comments, campaign aides have been raising the issue with journalists traveling with the presumptive Democratic nominee, leaving little doubt that Kerry eventually will speak on the issue.

Clarke's allegations are also made in a book, "Against All Enemies," which is being published Monday by Free Press, a subsidiary of Simon & Schuster. Both CBSNews.com and Simon & Schuster are units of Viacom.