Vice President Defends Bush Administration, Says U.S. 'Failed' to Anticipate Attacks
By Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON (May 19) - Vice President Dick Cheney said on Sunday that a new attack on the United States was ''almost certain'' as U.S. intelligence officials picked up signals that a fresh al-Qaida strike could be in the works.
Speaking in two television interviews, Cheney also sought to blunt criticism the Bush administration failed to pick up hints last summer that critics believe might have helped prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.
''In my opinion the prospects of a future attack against the United States are almost certain,'' Cheney said on NBC's ''Meet the Press'' program. ''(It's) not a matter of if, but when.''
''We don't know if it's going to be tomorrow or next week or next year, partly because I think we're having some success at disrupting the organization, making it more difficult for them to carry out their operations,'' he added. ''But the prospect of another attack against the United States is very, very real.''
A White House official said on Saturday U.S. intelligence officials have detected ''enhanced activity'' that points to a potential new attack against the United States or American interests abroad.
The FBI also warned of a possible plot by Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network, which the United States believes carried out the Sept. 11 attacks, to detonate bombs in U.S. apartment buildings.
The comments came as The New York Times reported U.S. intelligence agencies had intercepted a series of messages among al-Qaida operatives indicating the group was attempting to launch an attack as big as or bigger than the one on Sept. 11.
Quoting unnamed intelligence and law enforcement officials, the Times characterized the communications as vague but disturbing, saying they were so general they have left President Bush and U.S. officials uncertain about the timing, location or method in any new potential attack.
'THERE WERE FAILURES'
On Sunday, Cheney acknowledged the U.S. government failed to anticipate the Sept. 11 attacks, which killed more than 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, and partly blamed a system that did not adequately coordinate information from intelligence services and domestic law enforcement.
''There's no question but what there were failures. We obviously did not know what was about to happen. We were unable to prevent it,'' he told ''Meet the Press.''
But Cheney also voiced anger at what Bush has called ''second-guessing'' by Democrats who last week pounced on the disclosure that the president had received an Aug. 6 briefing evoking the possibility of al-Qaida hijacking.
''There is nothing in there that's actionable intelligence,'' Cheney said of the Aug. 6 written analysis, which he said dealt mostly with the history of al-Qaida strikes and did not provide the kind of specific information needed to prevent an attack.
Critics have suggested the White House failed to piece together a string of hints that, in retrospect, appeared to presage the attacks on America.
These include a 1999 report written for the CIA that said bin Laden-linked suicide bombers might slam an explosives-laden plane into the Pentagon, the CIA or the White House and a memo written in July by an FBI agent in Phoenix urging his superiors to investigate Middle Eastern men at U.S. flight schools.
''The fact that the FBI had this explosive memo that was sent from Phoenix ... and it just sat there for months and months -- it was not even transmitted to the CIA ... just shows we have a long way to go in terms of sharing information,'' said Sen. Richard Shelby, the Alabama Republican and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
''I still have a deep sense of anger that anyone would suggest that the president ... had advance knowledge that he failed to act on,'' Cheney said, saying he was not convinced the government could have prevented Sept. 11 even if information like the FBI agent's memo had made its way to the White House.
Speaking on the ''Fox News Sunday'' program, Cheney said it was ''almost impossible'' to create a fool-proof defense against attacks, noting that Israel -- with a vaunted intelligence service and a much smaller geographic area to protect -- had not been able to prevent a string of suicide bombings.
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