Long, Tough War Ahead, Bush Says
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 17, 2002 The United States is in the midst of a war against a determined and fierce enemy, President Bush said today at the White House.
"Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful (Sept. 11) morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people," the president told Air Force Academy cadets and other guests gathered on the South Lawn.
During a ceremony to present the Commander in Chief's Trophy to the Air Force Academy Falcons football team, Bush responded to reports that he'd received advance warning of a possible terrorist attack. "Second-guessing," he noted, seems to have become "second nature" in the nation's capital.
The president said he wanted the troops to know that he takes his job as commander in chief seriously and that his most important job is to protect the American homeland.
"I'll do whatever it takes -- and I know you'll join me in doing whatever it takes -- to prevent the enemy from attacking America again like they did and causing thousands to suffer and to mourn and to grieve," he vowed. "We will use the might of America to protect the American people."
The nation is in for a long struggle, Bush said. "This is a tough war. This is an enemy that's not going to quit." The enemy thought America's people would "just roll over," or "file a couple of lawsuits."
"They found out we think differently here in America," the president said. "We think differently because this is a nation that loves our freedom, loves our country. And this is a nation that has got citizens who are willing to sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves."
In order to protect innocent lives, Bush said, "this country must have the will and the determination to chase these killers down one by one and bring them to justice. And that's exactly what's going to happen, so long as I am president of the United States of America."
Bush pointed out that the trophy ceremony was being held to honor the Air Force Academy football team. "We're also here to honor (service members)," he said on the eve of Armed Forces Day, "... the men and women who wear our uniform and who are willing to sacrifice for the greatest nation on the face of the earth." Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice responded a day earlier to the same reports as the president.
"It's grossly inaccurate to suggest that the president had any kind of a warning about Sept. 11," Rumsfeld said during a telephone interview with Rush Limbaugh. "In my view, all appropriate actions were taken according to the threat situation as far as it was known.
"It's really much ado about nothing," the secretary said. "To my knowledge there was no warning, no alert as to suicide attackers in airplanes. There've always been concerns about hijacking. That's been true for months and years as a possibility."
Throughout the spring and summer, he noted, U.S. officials received numerous threat reports, but "without any specificity as to what might happen." At times, he said, the State Department sent out cautions and warnings to their embassies, and the Defense Department had set different threat levels for various areas around the world.
Threats come in many varieties, Rice said at a White House news briefing. "Very often we have uncorroborated information; sometimes we have corroborated but very general information," she said. "But I can tell you that it is almost never the case that we have information that is specific as to time, place or method of attack."
After providing a chronology of threat reports received during the spring and summer, she concluded that the bulk of the evidence indicated an attack was likely to take place overseas. As a result, the State Department and the Defense Department were on very high states of alert.
"The embassies have very clear protocols on how to button up; so does the military. That was done," she said. "But at home, while there was much less reporting or chatter at home, people were thinking about the U.S., and the FBI was involved in a number of investigations of potential al Qaeda personnel operating in the United States."
On Aug. 6, 2001, Rice said, the president received a daily briefing, which was "an analytic report," not "a warning briefing." The report talked about Osama bin Laden's methods of operation and his activities in 1997 and 1998.
The briefing mentioned hijacking," she said, "but hijacking in the traditional sense." According to the report, the most likely scenario involved terrorists taking over an airliner, holding passengers and demanding the release of one of their operatives.
"I want to reiterate, it was not a warning," Rice stressed. "There was no specific time, place or method mentioned." The report talked about "a potential hijacking as a method that al Qaeda might employ, but no specific information saying that they were planning such an attack at a particular time.
"I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use a hijacked airplane as a missile," Rice concluded.