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Context of 'May 15, 2002: Bush’s ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US’ Warning Is Leaked to Public'

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The CIA has “developed general information a month before the [9/11] attacks that heightened concerns that Osama bin Laden and his followers were increasingly determined to strike on US soil,” the Associated Press will later report. A CIA official will affirm, “There was something specific in early August that said to us that [bin Laden] was determined in striking on US soil.” [Associated Press, 10/3/2001] Further details about this information will remain unknown. However, the October 2001 article mentioning it could be describing an early, incomplete account of the CIA-produced Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” from August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001). The full title of that PDB will be made public in May 2002 (see May 15, 2002), and the full text of it will be made public in April 2004 (see April 11, 2004).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6, 2001. Advisors wait with classified briefings.President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6, 2001. Advisors wait with classified briefings. [Source: White House]President Bush receives a classified presidential daily briefing (PDB) at his Crawford, Texas ranch indicating that Osama bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners. The PDB provided to him is entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” The entire briefing focuses on the possibility of terrorist attacks inside the US. [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Newsweek, 5/27/2002] The analysts who drafted the briefing will say that they drafted it on the CIA’s initiative (see July 13, 2004), whereas in 2004 Bush will state that he requested a briefing on the topic due to threats relating to a conference in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001, where Western intelligence agencies believed Osama bin Laden was involved in a plot to crash an airplane into a building to kill Bush and other leaders (see April 13, 2004). The analysts will later explain that they saw it as an opportunity to convey that the threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the US was both current and serious. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260] The existence of this briefing is kept secret, until it is leaked in May 2002, causing a storm of controversy (see May 15, 2002). While National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will claim the memo is only one and a half pages long, other accounts state it is 11 1/2 pages instead of the usual two or three. [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Newsweek, 5/27/2002; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] A page and a half of the contents will be released on April 10, 2004; this reportedly is the full content of the briefing. [Washington Post, 4/10/2004] The briefing, as released, states as follows (note that the spelling of certain words are corrected and links have been added):
bullet Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US (see December 1, 1998). Bin Laden implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and “bring the fighting to America” (see May 26, 1998).
bullet After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a -REDACTED-service (see December 21, 1998).
bullet An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told -REDACTED- service at the same time that bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative’s access to the US to mount a terrorist strike.
bullet The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden’s first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the US. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself (see December 14, 1999), but that bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaida encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaida was planning his own US attack (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001).
bullet Ressam says bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation.
bullet Although bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveyed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993 (see Late 1993-Late 1994), and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.
bullet Al-Qaeda members—including some who are US citizens—have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks (see January 25, 2001). Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were US citizens (see September 15, 1998), and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s (see November 1989 and September 10, 1998).
bullet A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks (see October-November 1998).
bullet “We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [REDACTED] service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman and other US-held extremists” (see 1998, December 4, 1998, and May 23, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223] According to the Washington Post, this information came from a British service. [Washington Post, 5/18/2002]
bullet Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York (see May 30, 2001).
bullet The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full-field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related (see August 6, 2001). CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group or bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives (see May 16-17, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223]
In retrospect, the briefing is remarkable for the many warnings that apparently are not included (see for instance, from the summer of 2001 prior to August alone: May 2001, June 2001, June 12, 2001, June 19, 2001, Late Summer 2001, July 2001, July 16, 2001, Late July 2001, Late July 2001, Summer 2001, June 30-July 1, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Early August 2001). According to one account, after the PDB has been given to him, Bush tells the CIA briefer, “You’ve covered your ass now” (see August 6, 2001). Incredibly, the New York Times later reports that after being given the briefing, Bush “[breaks] off from work early and [spends] most of the day fishing.” [New York Times, 5/25/2002] In 2002 and again in 2004, National Security Adviser Rice will incorrectly claim under oath that the briefing only contained historical information from 1998 and before (see May 16, 2002 and April 8, 2004).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Islamic Jihad, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Los Angeles International Airport, Condoleezza Rice, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, World Trade Center, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Commission, Ahmed Ressam, Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The New York Post has a banner headline on May 16, 2002.The New York Post has a banner headline on May 16, 2002. [Source: New York Post]The Bush administration is embarrassed when the CBS Evening News reveals that President Bush had been warned about al-Qaeda domestic attacks in August 2001 (see August 6, 2001). [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Washington Post, 5/16/2002] CBS’s David Martin reports: “The president’s daily intelligence brief is delivered to the president each morning, often by the director of central intelligence himself. In the weeks before 9/11 it warned that an attack by Osama bin Laden could involve the hijacking of a US aircraft.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 113] Bush had repeatedly said that he had “no warning” of any kind. Press secretary Ari Fleischer states unequivocally that while Bush had been warned of possible hijackings, “[t]he president did not—not—receive information about the use of airplanes as missiles by suicide bombers.” [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Washington Post, 5/16/2002] “Until the attack took place, I think it’s fair to say that no one envisioned that as a possibility.” [MSNBC, 9/18/2002] Fleischer claims the August memo was titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike the US,” but the real title is soon found to end with “Strike in US” [Washington Post, 5/18/2002] The Guardian will state a few days later, “[T]he memo left little doubt that the hijacked airliners were intended for use as missiles and that intended targets were to be inside the US.” It further states that, “now, as the columnist Joe Conason points out in the current edition of the New York Observer, ‘conspiracy’ begins to take over from ‘incompetence’ as a likely explanation for the failure to heed—and then inform the public about—warnings that might have averted the worst disaster in the nation’s history.” [Guardian, 5/19/2002] Current deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will point out in 2008: “The [CBS] report left much open to question. Was it suggesting that the president had received info that should have led him to act? Was it just a possible warning sign, like many others that may have gone unheeded? Or was it something else, possibly a nonspecific bit of intelligence from years earlier?” McClellan will write that the uncertainty “mattered little to Democratic leaders in Congress. They saw an opportunity to attack the president’s strong suit—his leadership in the war on terrorism—and cut into his enormous popularity ahead of the midterm elections that coming November.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 113]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), David Martin, Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush, Scott McClellan, Ari Fleischer, Joe Conason

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice holds a press conference to respond to the public leak (see May 15, 2002) of the title of President Bush’s August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Brief item entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001).
Presidential Daily Brief - She asserts: “It was an analytic report that talked about [Osama bin Laden]‘s methods of operation, talked about what he had done historically, in 1997, in 1998.… I want to reiterate, it was not a warning. There was no specific time, place, or method mentioned.” [White House, 5/16/2002] In April 2004, Rice will testify under oath before the 9/11 Commission and repeatedly assert that it was “a historical memo… not threat reporting” (see April 8, 2004).
Comment by Philip Shenon - Author Philip Shenon will later comment, “She failed to mention, as would later be clear, that the PDB focused entirely on the possibility that al-Qaeda intended to strike within the United States; it cited relatively recent FBI reports of possible terrorist surveillance of government buildings in New York.” After rereading the transcript of the press conference, Shenon will call it a “remarkable document,” because “To many of the Commission’s staff, it offered proof of how, to Condoleezza Rice, everything is semantics. A threat is not a threat, a warning is not a warning, unless she says it is. The word historical appeared to have an especially broad definition to Rice. To her, a warning that was a few weeks or months old was of relatively little value because it was ‘historical.’”
Aircraft as Weapons - Rice also says, “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon—that they would try to use an airplane as a missile.” However, various government agencies were well aware of the concept of planes as missiles, including the FBI (see August 27, 2001), the Defense Department (see April 17-26, 2001), and the White House itself (see June 20, 2001). Shenon will point out that this news conference occurs eight months after the attacks, yet Rice is “suggesting that in all that time, no one had bothered to tell her [of these reports].” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 213, 237-239]

Entity Tags: Philip Shenon, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On May 16, 2002, CBS News broke the story that President Bush was given a Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) one month before 9/11 entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see May 15, 2002). Some Democratic politicians immediately criticized Bush for not acting on this before 9/11. The next day, White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett tells the Washington Post that such comments by Democrats “are exactly what our opponents, our enemies, want us to do.” The news website Salon comments, “This is the most direct statement by an administration official to date suggesting that dissent aids the enemy.” Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) similarly comments, “For us to be talking like our enemy is George W. Bush and not Osama bin Laden, that’s not right.” [Salon, 5/21/2002]

Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, Trent Lott

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A New York Post graphic illustrates the numbers of Americans that believe in several possible high-level conspiracies.A New York Post graphic illustrates the numbers of Americans that believe in several possible high-level conspiracies. [Source: New York Post]According to a poll by Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University, 62 percent of Americans believe it is possible that some people in the US government had specific advance warnings of the 9/11 attacks, but chose to ignore them. Thirty-two percent of respondents think this is “very likely,” and only 30 percent say it is unlikely. The national survey of 811 adults also inquires about respondents’ opinions on other alleged high-level conspiracies. It finds 42 percent think it likely that some people in the government knew in advance about the plot to assassinate President John F. Kennedy in 1963, 37 percent think it possible that the government is hiding the truth about UFOs, and 81 percent think that oil companies conspire to keep the price of gasoline high. [Scripps Howard News Service, 11/23/2007; Scripps Howard News Service, 11/23/2007; WorldNetDaily, 11/24/2007] The New York Post reports the survey in a story titled, “‘Blame US for 9/11’ Idiots in Majority,” which refers to “the popularity of crackpot conspiracy theories.” [New York Post, 11/24/2007] Ironically, in May 2002 the same newspaper had a prominent front-page story titled, “Bush Knew: Prez Was Warned of Possible Hijackings before Terror Attacks” (see May 15, 2002). [MSNBC, 11/26/2007] A previous Scripps Howard/Ohio University survey in July 2006 found that 36 percent of Americans thought US government officials assisted in the 9/11 attacks or deliberately took no action to stop them (see July 6-24, 2006). [Scripps Howard News Service, 8/3/2006]

Entity Tags: Ohio University, New York Post, Scripps Howard News Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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