Bush Opposes Independent
September 11 Probe

By Steve Holland

BERLIN (Reuters) - President Bush said Thursday he opposed a special commission probe into official handling of pre-Sept. 11 terror warnings, opting instead for a Congressional inquiry to protect intelligence.
"I, of course, want the Congress to take a look at what took place," Bush told reporters during a news conference in Berlin with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.
"But since it deals with such sensitive information, in my judgement, what's best for the ongoing war against terror (is) that the investigation be done in the Intelligence Committee," Bush said.
House of Representatives and Senate Intelligence Committees are holding a joint investigation into the failure to uncover the plot to hijack four airliners and crash them into targets in Washington and New York in September.
But Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and other Democratic leaders want an independent commission after disclosures suggesting the White House missed hints last year that critics say might have helped prevent the attack.
House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt said in Washington he was disappointed by Bush's statement, saying he hoped the president would change his mind and accept an independent commission, noting there was some Republican support for this.
This would be "not for the purpose of placing blame, not for the purpose of questioning motives, but to get the facts out on the table for the American people so that we can all do better the next time something like this happens," he said.
Bush said that, because "we're still at war," it was important the information he received "be protected because we don't want to give away sources and uses and methodology of intelligence gathering."
The president's comments came as he faced U.S. reporters for the first time since the revelations that he was briefed prior to the September attacks that Islamic militant followers of Saudi-born dissident Osama bin Laden might try to hijack American aircraft.
The United States blames bin Laden's al Qaeda network for the attacks in which 19 men hijacked four U.S. commercial aircraft, slamming two into the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center and a third into the Pentagon. The fourth crashed in a Pennsylvania field after a scuffle between passengers and the hijackers.
The debate over an independent commission flared after last week's disclosure, confirmed by the White House, that Bush received an analysis on August 6 raising the possibility of al Qaeda seeking to hijack planes.
Critics have seized on that analysis and on a recent disclosure that an FBI agent in Phoenix recommended last summer that his superiors look for al Qaeda members training at U.S. flight schools as evidence the Bush administration did not do everything it could to prevent the attacks.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has come under fire for what lawmakers say were missteps in failing to act on the memo written by FBI agent Kenneth Williams in July, and not correlating that with the August arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, who sought flight lessons in Minnesota and is now charged with conspiring in the September 11 attacks.
FBI Director Robert Mueller briefed the Senate Intelligence Committee on a plan to restructure the bureau so that such lack of communication would not occur again.
Bush expressed confidence in the Central Intelligence Agency and the FBI and said both agencies were doing a better job since Sept. 11.
"Communications are much better than ever before," he said. "They are doing a much better job of sharing intelligence."
The congressional investigation got off to a rocky start when the head of the investigation resigned and lawmakers accused the Justice Department and CIA of stonewalling their requests for access to some key documents and witnesses.
But lawmakers said it was now progressing more smoothly and they expected to hold their first hearings in June.


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