W. House Got Early Qaeda Warning

The White House was warned just days after President Bush took office in January 2001 that al Qaeda posed a serious threat to the United States and the entire Islamic world, and that a review of U.S. policy toward the terrorist organization was "urgently" needed.

That according to a newly released memo from former top counterterrorism official Richard Clarke to Condoleezza Rice, then Mr. Bush's national security adviser.

A copy of the memo was posted Thursday on the Web site of the National Security Archive. The memo was mentioned by Clarke as part of his controversial testimony at last year's Sept. 11 hearings on Capitol Hill but had not been released by the government until now.

In the memo, dated Jan. 25, 2001, Clarke requests an immediate meeting of top-level national security officials to discuss the al Qaeda threat. That meeting did not place until Sept. 4, 2001, just one week before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Critics of the Bush administration, including Clarke himself, have charged that the White House ignored warnings about the impending danger of al Qaeda prior to Sept. 11.

Clarke writes that al Qaeda "is not some narrow, little terrorist issue that needs to be included in broader regional policy. Rather, several of our regional policies need to address centrally the transnational challenge to the U.S. and our interests" of the al Qaeda network.

He calls al Qaeda an "active, organized major force that is using a distorted view of Islam to achieve two goals: to drive the U.S. out of the Muslim world… [and] to replace moderate, modern Western regime in Muslim countries with theocracies modeled along the lines of the Taliban."

Clarke concludes, "We would make a major error if we underestimated the challenge al Qaeda poses."

By Joel Roberts