9/11 panel chief backs Bush on report

No sign that warning was fumbled, Kean says

February 11, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - The chairman of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks said yesterday there were "no smoking guns" in classified Oval Office intelligence reports to suggest that President Bush and his senior White House aides fumbled an intelligence warning of the possibility of a terrorist strike before the attacks.

The comments from the chairman of the panel, former Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey, are likely to be welcomed at the White House. Kean made them the same day the White House relented in the face of a subpoena threat and agreed to allow all 10 members of the independent panel to review a summary of the intelligence reports, the so-called President's Daily Brief, which the Central Intelligence Agency prepares each morning for the Oval Office.

Citing executive privilege, the White House had insisted the information be limited to a four-member delegation from the panel, including Kean, that was allowed to review edited sections of the reports last year.

Until yesterday, White House lawyers had blocked the commission from providing all 10 members of the panel with a report summarizing information in handwritten and computer-generated notes taken by the four-member delegation.

The White House has said consistently since the Sept. 11 attacks that Bush had no credible, specific intelligence that would have allowed him to pre-empt the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Kean suggested that his review of the daily intelligence briefings that reached Bush's desk supported the White House view.

"There were no smoking guns, nothing that would make you sit up and say, `Wow,'" said Kean, who read portions of the daily intelligence briefings that reached both Bush and President Bill Clinton.

The daily intelligence reports are among the most highly classified documents in the federal government, and the White House acknowledged previously that a report presented to Bush in August 2001 mentioned intelligence suggesting the possibility of an al-Qaida strike using commercial aircraft.

Other commission members suggested yesterday that it was too early to make a judgment about whether Bush and his aides had ignored intelligence warnings before Sept. 11.

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