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Bush Denies Improper Response to al-Qaida Threat
Paula Wolfson
VOA, White House
23 Mar 2004, 21:28 UTC

President Bush is defending his handling of the war on terrorism in the wake of new allegations by a former top aide. Mr. Bush says he responded appropriately to the terrorist threat based on the information at hand.

The president's former counter-terrorism coordinator claims President Bush ignored signs of a threat from al-Qaida prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Richard Clarke alleges Mr. Bush was fixated instead on Iraq.

The president denies that was the case. He says he got daily briefings on the terrorist threat from Central Intelligence Agency chief George Tenet in the days leading up to the attacks.

"Had my administration had any information that terrorists were going to attack New York City on September 11, we would have acted," he said.

Speaking to reporters at the end of a meeting with his cabinet, President Bush detailed action the United States has taken against al-Qaida in the aftermath of the attacks, from the deployment of U.S. troops to Afghanistan, to the international campaign to cut the flow of money to terrorist organizations.

"We have got intelligence officers all over the world collecting information so that we can act," he said. "We have got a strong network of cooperative governments trying to chase down terrorist money and to prevent that money from being spread around to cause harm."

They were his first public comments on the allegations contained in Richard Clarke's new book on the war on terrorism. And they struck a distinctively different tone from the verbal assault on Mr. Clarke's credibility unleashed Monday by administration officials.

The president referred only to the allegations themselves, while the earlier White House criticism sought to call Richard Clarke's motives into question. Spokesman Scott McClellan described the allegations as irresponsible and flat-out wrong. He joined others, including Vice President Dick Cheney, in noting the timing of the book, charging it is being published now for political reasons in the midst of a heated presidential campaign.

Mr. Clarke has denied any political motives. He has said that after devoting 30 years of his life to public service, he thought it was his duty to get the facts out.