In a long-anticipated public appearance, President Bush's national security adviser Condoleezza Rice Thursday repeatedly cited flaws in U.S. intelligence agencies for hampering the administration's ability to foresee or stop the deadly suicide hijackings.
And she cautioned that while the FBI and CIA have made marked improvements since Sept. 11, 2001, the job is not complete.
"I really don't believe that all of our work is done, despite the tremendous progress that we've made thus far," Rice testified to the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Terry McGovern, who lost her mother at the World Trade Center, said she was very disappointed in Rice's testimony. Her mother was also working there at the time of the 1993 bombing of the center, and if she had known about the August 6, 2001, memo that warned of an al Qaeda attack, "she would have stopped going to work at the World Trade Center.
"I wanted to hear why the public wasn't told of what they knew ...," she said on CBS News' The Early Show. "I think there was a big question about why we were not given this information."
CBS News re-interviewed 471 adults nationwide Thursday night after Rice's testimony. These respondents were first interviewed as part of a national poll conducted, so the survey looks at true changes in individual opinions over the last week.
"There is nothing there to suggest that the president was given information about a threat, a specific threat, to the United States of America," said White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett, also on The Early Show. "Trust me, if the President of the United States thought that there were operations to hijack planes to crash into New York City and Washington, D.C., he would have moved heaven and earth to prevent it."
Commission member Bob Kerrey faulted the Bush administration Friday for "a lack of follow up" on the information that it had.
Kerrey, a Democrat and former U.S. senator, said on The Early Show he was shocked at Rice's assertion that systemic problems of coordination within the bureaucracy were a factor.
"If a liberal Democrat had done that," he said, "Republicans would have gone nuts. It's like blaming society, blaming the structure. Look, everybody that comes into national security knows that the FBI and the CIA don't talk to one another."
Monica Gabrielle, who lost her husband at the World Trade Center, disagreed with Rice's claims that there was no indication of an attack within the U.S.
"This was an entity that was determined to strike," she said. "And I fault them for not following the dots, connecting, not having the communication necessary."
Among the missed signals was a July 2001 memo by a Phoenix-based FBI agent warning that al Qaeda terrorists might have been undergoing flight training at U.S. schools and the August 2001 arrest of student pilot Zacarias Moussaoui on immigration charges. Moussaoui has since been charged with conspiring in the attacks.
The CIA also failed to share information about two of the future hijackers after they were spotted attending an al Qaeda meeting in Malaysia in January 2000.
"The government was completely unprepared for this," Kerrey told co-anchor Harry Smith. "These 19 men defeated the United States of America with $350,000, at a time of heightened security alerts when we knew al Qaeda cells were inside the United States."
"There was a lack of accepting responsible and pushing blame to the agencies, and information not getting to her," Gabrielle told Smith.
Her husband Rich worked for Aon Corporation, an insurance brokerage firm, and was on the 78th floor of the south tower — roughly where the plane hit.
"The buck has to stop somewhere," insisted Monica Gabrielle. "As National Security Adviser, I would have thought she would have been able to say 'we failed.'"
"There's no person in this White House or administration who doesn't think every day about the loss of life on 9/11. There's no person who has taken a sworn oath to defend America who does not think about what we could have done differently," said Bartlett. "The fact of the matter is it is al Qaeda and the terrorists who caused the harm on 9/11."
Kerry said Rice should have accepted some blame for Sept. 11 in her testimony Thursday.
"I'm willing to take responsibility. I was in the Senate for 12 years. I'm willing to shoulder some of the burden and say to the families that 'your government let you down,'" he said, echoing testimony given by former counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke last month.
Kerry insisted it's not partisan politics: The Clinton administration also did not do an adequate job of fighting al Qaeda.
"I was far more critical of the Clinton administration," he said. "I think there were significant failures then."
Gabrielle agrees the blame goes back before the Bush administration, perhaps even before the Clinton administration, "but that does not take away the fact that the Bush administration was in power. It was their watch."
McGovern, whose mother Ann also worked for Aon in the south tower, said the Bush administration is inviting the criticism.
"They have really used 9/11 as an example of one of their great successes, obviously, in the campaign," she said. "I don't think 9/11 was such a great success for this administration."