CRAWFORD, Texas – President Bush (search) said Monday there was no warning in a pre-Sept. 11 intelligence memo that "something is about to happen in America" before the nation's worst terrorism attack. He said U.S. intelligence services may be due for reforms.
"There was nothing in there that said, you know, 'There is an imminent attack,"' Bush told reporters. "That wasn't what the report said. The report was kind of a history of Usama's (bin Laden's) intentions."
Democrats have suggested there was more to the memo, the center of an election-year skirmish over the president's anti-terrorism policies before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. He said he would answer more questions at an East Room news conference Tuesday night. It will be the first formal news conference of the year.
Bush is coming under intense scrutiny for his anti-terrorism policies before the 2001 attacks. The criticism threatens Bush's political standing seven months before he stands for re-election, with the war on terrorism his strongest selling point.
At the center of the brouhaha is an intelligence memo from Aug. 6, 2001, showing that Bush received reports from as recent as May 2001 about possible terrorist plots in the United States.
The memo specifically told Bush that Al Qaeda (search) operatives had reached American shores, had a support system in place and were engaging in "patterns of suspicious activity ... consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks." It did not provide specific times or places for potential attacks.
Standing alongside Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at a joint news conference, Bush minimized the importance of the memo.
"There was nothing in this report to me that said, 'Oh, by the way, we've got intelligence that says something is about to happen in America,"' Bush said.
Citing statements by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Bush said: "Now may be the time to revamp and reform our intelligence services."
He said the memo brought him some comfort when it outlined efforts by the FBI to prevent attacks. "Had they found something, I'm confident they would have reported back to me," Bush said.
The president has been on the defensive since the White House, under pressure, released the memo Saturday.
The document has "nothing about an attack on America. It talked about intentions, about somebody who hated America -- well, we knew that," Bush said Sunday.
"I was satisfied that some of the matters were being looked into" and had any specific intelligence pointed to threats of attacks on New York and Washington, "I would have moved mountains" to prevent it, Bush said during a visit to Fort Hood, Texas, 50 miles from his ranch here.
A Republican member of the Sept. 11 commission backed that up Monday.
Former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson told a morning news show that "no reasonable American could hold the president responsible for the attack."
"If I'm the president and I get a special briefing that I've asked for, and he asked for this, and said the FBI is conducting 70 field investigations about this, then I assume the FBI is on top of the job," Thompson said. "The president is not an FBI agent."
Commission member Jamie Gorelick, a former deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, told a different morning show "there is a major game of finger-pointing going on around here. Our job is to get to the bottom of it."
Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., said public figures "shouldn't be scapegoating" and said he believes serious questions must be raised about whether the FBI is equipped to deal with terrorism.
Bayh said most Western governments have separate counterterrorism departments. "We don't. We need to ask ourselves, maybe the time has come to do that," he said in an interview on network television.
The memo's contents are somewhat of a surprise because for two years, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice (search) starting with a May 2002 news conference left the impression that the document focused on historical information and that any current threats mostly involved overseas targets.
Rice first outlined the then-classified memo's contents at a news conference in May 2002. The "overwhelming bulk of the evidence" before Sept. 11, she declared, was that any terrorist attack "was likely to take place overseas."
The 500-word document mentioned two current threats: suspected Al Qaeda operatives might have cased federal buildings in New York and that, according to a phone call to an American embassy in the Middle East, a group of supporters of Al Qaeda leader Usama bin Laden (search) was in the United States to plan attacks with explosives.
The FBI later concluded that two Yemeni men photographing buildings in New York were tourists.
To accentuate the potential domestic threat, the memo told Bush the FBI had 70 investigations related to bin Laden under way.