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Commission on 9/11 Paints Picture of Failure

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two days of testimony before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks have revealed that U.S. officials from President Bush (news - web sites) down failed to respond adequately to growing signs that a terror strike was imminent in the summer of 2001.

Senior officials of both the Bush and Clinton administrations have faced tough questioning by commissioners, suggesting that the bipartisan body could issue an extremely critical report in late July.

For Clinton officials, that may affect the way historians judge their tenure. But it could be a much bigger problem for Bush, coming at the height of his re-election campaign.

This week's testimony has made it much clearer that there was a wealth of intelligence available in the summer of 2001 indicating that a major terrorist attack was coming.

Commissioner Jamie Gorelick, a deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton (news - web sites), said she read the intelligence briefings given to Bush before Sept. 11 and the information on the gathering threats "would set your hair on fire."

But Richard Clarke, the head of counterintelligence under both Bush and Clinton, said he could not get the incoming Bush administration in 2001 to convene a top level meeting to even discuss the threat.

Finally, Clarke wrote to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice (news - web sites) asking her to imagine how she and others would feel if an attack did happen and killed hundreds of Americans. The letter was sent on Sept. 4 -- one week before hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon (news - web sites).

American University historian Allan Lichtman said the commission's report in July would be all the more damaging if it is unanimous. "Much will depend on whether the commission divides along partisan lines or whether it remains unified in its conclusions," he said.

Commission co-chairman Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, clearly intends to try to present a united report, even in the pressure cooker atmosphere of a presidential campaign.

"We have been meeting for over a year. We haven't yet had a vote where five Democrats were on one side and five Republicans on the other," Kean told Fox News.


Edited by shirini

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