WASHINGTON – The presidential memo of August 2001, a touchy subject in National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's (search) testimony in front of the Sept. 11 commission, indicated that Al Qaeda was attempting to send operatives into the United States to hit a target with explosives three months earlier.
The presidential daily briefing, or PDB, was given to Bush on August 6, 2001 — a month before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Several people who have seen the memo have told The Associated Press there were various reports Usama bin Laden (search) had wanted to strike inside the United States as early as 1997 and continuing into spring of 2001.
The sources who read the presidential memo spoke on condition of anonymity because the White House has not yet declassified it. The White House was expected to release the text of the briefing, entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States," on Saturday.
Current and former officials also say that in August 2001, intelligence officials had two uncorroborated reports suggesting terrorists might use airplanes. They say one report suggested Al Qaeda members were considering flying a plane into a U.S. embassy.
The officials say the reports — among thousands of varied and uncorroborated threats the government gets every month — weren't deemed credible enough to tell the president or the national security adviser. They say neither report involved the details of the plot that shook the country on Sept. 11.
As od Friday night, the White House is 80 percent of the way toward declassifying the briefing.
"We have every intention to declassify it," Sean McCormack, a National Security Council (search) spokesman, said Thursday, before the White House began the declassification process.
PDBs are a compilation of information from law enforcement and intelligence agencies to keep the president updated on threats around the world. They normally are circulated among only a select group of top administration officials.
A senior Bush administration official said the document, entitled "Bin Laden Is Determined to Attack Inside the United States," is historical, rather than threat-based.
But since it was discussed during testimony given by Rice to the Sept. 11 commission on Thursday, the PDB has emerged as the focal point for debates over how vigorously the Bush administration acted against Al Qaeda (search) before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The White House at first resisted sharing the document with the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States, much less giving it out to the public, but that was before the sharp questioning led Rice to reveal the name of the document. Rice insisted that the briefing paper didn't reveal any specifics about an impending attack on the United States.
Commissioners already have seen the Aug. 6, 2001, PDB but want it released to the public "because we feel it's important that the American people get a chance to see it," commission chairman Thomas Kean (search) said.
The Aug. 6 report is one of a handful of PDBs that the commission has successfully lobbied to see during its investigation. During her testimony on Thursday, Rice said the commission's access has been "exceptional." She did not say whether she thought the PDB should be released publicly.
Aides say Bush, who is spending the Easter weekend at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, watched all of Rice's testimony on Thursday and thought she did a "terrific job" defending the administration's counterterrorism record.
Bush has seen little impact on his job approval ratings as a result of the decision to allow Rice to testify, but polls show that since the first week of the year, the president's approval rating has dropped about 10 points.
On top of that, a Fox News-Opinion Dynamic poll conducted over the last 48 hours shows the percentage of respondents who believe launching the war in Iraq was "the right thing to do" has dropped steadily since last summer to a new low this month. Only 50 percent of Americans still support the decision to go to war while 44 percent do not. The margin of error in the poll is 3 percent.
The polls were taken as the U.S. forces suffered the heaviest week of losses since the war, the result of Sunni and Shiite insurgents launching attacks on foreigners in the country.
Fox News' James Rosen and The Associated Press contributed to this report.