The so-called presidential daily briefing, or PDB, delivered to Bush on Aug. 6, 2001 — a month before the Sept. 11 attacks — said there were various reports that Osama bin Laden had wanted to strike inside the United States as early as 1997 and continuing into the spring of 2001, the sources told The Associated Press.
The same month as that briefing of Bush, U.S. intelligence officials received two uncorroborated reports suggesting terrorists might use airplanes, including one that suggested al Qaeda operatives were considering flying a plane into a U.S. embassy, current and former government officials said.
Those August 2001 reports — among thousands of varied and uncorroborated threats received by the government each month — weren't deemed credible enough to tell the president or his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, the officials said. Neither involved the eventual Sept. 11 plot.
The sources who read the presidential memo would only speak on condition of anonymity because the White House has not yet declassified the highly sensitive document, entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike Inside the United States."
The memo reads, "The FBI indicates patters of suspicious activity in the United States consistent with preparations for hijacking," sources told CBS News Correspondent Bill Plante.
Some members of the Sept. 11 commission see the document as a striking exception to other intelligence which focused on possible terror attacks overseas, but Rice contends the information was unspecific and old, reports Plante.
That declassification process is expected to be completed soon, allowing the Bush administration to make the document public in a historic disclosure of secret presidential intelligence briefing materials.
The sources said the presidential memo included a series of bullet items that brought Bush through a history of mostly uncorroborated intelligence that cited al Qaeda's interest in hijacking planes to win the release of Islamic extremists who had been arrested in 1998 and 1999 as well as the travelings of suspected al Qaeda operatives, include some U.S. citizens, in and out of the United States. It suggested al Qaeda might have a support system in place on U.S. soil, the sources said.
The document also included FBI analytical judgments that some al Qaeda activities were consistent with preparation for airline hijackings or other types of attacks, some members of the commission looking into the Sept. 11 attacks said earlier this week.
The second-to-last bullet point told the president that there were numerous — at least 70 — terror-related investigations under way by the FBI in 2001 involving matters or people on U.S. soil, the sources said.
And the final bullet told the president of a recent intelligence report indicating al Qaeda operatives were trying to get inside the United States to carry out an attack with explosives, the sources said. There were no specifics about the timing or target, the sources said.
The sources said the briefing memo did not provide the exact date of that intelligence but made clear it was in the 2001 time frame, and that FBI and other agencies were investigating it. The information had been provided to intelligence and law enforcement agencies well before Bush's briefing, the sources said.
They said the final bullet in the presidential memo was based on an intelligence report received in May 2001 that indicated bin Laden operatives were trying to cross from Canada into the United States for an attack.
A joint congressional inquiry report into the Sept. 11 failures first divulged the existence of the May 2001 threat report last year but did not reveal it was included in Bush's briefing. The congressional inquiry described the intelligence this way:
"In May 2001, the Intelligence Community obtained information that supporters of Osama bin Laden were reportedly planning to infiltrate the United States via Canada in order to carry out a terrorist operation using high explosives."
In her testimony Thursday to the
Current and former government officials familiar with terrorism intelligence told the AP that in the same month Bush received his briefing, U.S. intelligence received two uncorroborated reports — among hundreds — suggesting terrorist might use planes but that neither reached the president or Rice.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said one report in August 2001 said there was uncorroborated information that two bin Laden operatives had met in October 2000 to discuss a plot to attack the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi using an airplane.
That report stated the operative would either bomb the embassy using the airplane or drive the airplane into it, according to information provided congressional investigators and cited in their report released last year.
Separately, the CIA sent a warning to the Federal Aviation Administration in August 2001 asking the agency to advise commercial airliners that six Pakistanis in Latin America, not connected to al Qaeda, were considering a hijacking, bombing or sabotage of an airliner. That warning did not have specifics on a time or location but said it could involve Britain, Canada, Mexico, Malaysia, Cuba, among others, according to information made public by the congressional inquiry.
Rice stated emphatically on Thursday she did not see any such reports about al Qaeda using a plane as a weapon until after Sept. 11, suggesting the intelligence may have reached someone lower in the White House.
"To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Chairman, this kind of analysis about the use of airplanes as weapons actually was never briefed to us," she said. "I cannot tell you that there might not have been a report here or a report there that reached somebody in our midst."