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August 6, 2001, briefing

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QUESTION: I'd like to ask you about the August 6, [2001] PDB [presidential daily briefing]. You've mentioned it at Fort Hood [Texas] on Sunday. You pointed out that it did not warn of a hijacking of airplanes to crash into buildings, but that it warned of hijacking to obviously take hostages and to secure the release of extremists that are being held by the U.S.

Did that trigger some specific actions on your part in the administration, since it dealt with potentially hundreds of lives and a blackmail attempt on the United States government?

BUSH: And I asked for the briefing. And the reason I did is because there had been a lot of threat intelligence from overseas. And so, I -- part of it had to do with the Genoa G-8 conference that I was going to attend. And I asked at that point in time, "Let's make sure we are paying attention here at home, as well." And that's what triggered the report.

The report itself, I've characterized it as mainly history. And I think when you look at it, you'll see that it was talking about a '97 and '98 and '99.

It was also an indication, as you mentioned, that bin Laden might want to hijack an airplane but, as you said, not to fly into a building, but perhaps to release a person in jail.

In other words, he would serve it as a blackmail.

And of course that concerns me. All those reports concern me. As a matter of fact, I was dealing with terrorism a lot as the president when [CIA Director] George Tenet came in to brief me. I mean, that's where I got my information.

I changed the way that the relationship between the president and the CIA director. And I wanted Tenet in the Oval Office all the time. And we had briefings about terrorist threats. This was a summary.

Now, in the -- what's called the PDB, there was a warning about bin Laden's desires on America. But, frankly, I didn't think there was anything new. I mean, major newspapers had talked about bin Laden's desires on hurting America.

What was interesting in there was that there was a report that the FBI was conducting field investigations. And that was good news, that they were doing their job.

The way my administration worked, Ed, was that I met with Tenet all the time. I obviously met with my principals a lot. We talked about threats that had emerged. We have a counterterrorism group meeting on a regular basis to analyze the threats that came in.

Had there been a threat that required action by anybody in the government, I would have dealt with it.

In other words, had they come up and said, "This is where we see something happening," you can rest assured that the people of this government would have responded and responded in a forceful way.

I mean, one of the things about Elizabeth's question was, I stepped back and I've asked myself a lot, Is there anything we could have done to stop the attacks? Of course I've asked that question, as have many people in my government. Nobody wants this to happen to America.

And the answer is that had I had any inkling whatsoever that the people were going to fly airplanes into buildings, we would have moved heaven and earth to save the country, just like we're working hard to prevent a further attack.

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