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Rice Testifies That FBI Warned Bush about Potential Attacks

By Philip Shenon

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s national security adviser, testified Thursday that President Bush was warned a month before the Sept. 11 terror attacks that the FBI had detected “suspicious activity” that suggested terrorists were planning a domestic hijacking. She said he was also told that the bureau was conducting 70 investigations of possible al-Qaida terrorist cells operating within American borders.

In her long-awaited sworn testimony before the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, Rice acknowledged that the special intelligence briefing that had been requested by Bush and presented to him on Aug. 6, 2001, at his Texas ranch had carried an ominous title: “’Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.”’

Under often harsh questioning from Democratic members of the panel, Rice dismissed the importance of the still-classified August 6, 2001, report that had been prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency, describing it in her testimony as “historical information based on old reporting -- there was no new threat information.”

There has been dispute within the administration over the accuracy of the intelligence in the report, and FBI officials have said that it appears to overstate the scope and significance of their counterterrorism efforts before Sept. 11. Some of the details in the report have been acknowledged previously by the White House, including its reference to possible hijackings.

Rice was one of two high-profile witnesses appearing before the commission on Thursday, but the only to testify in public. Former President Bill Clinton was interviewed in the afternoon and told the panel that since the attacks he has been asking himself repeatedly what his administration could have done to prevent the tragedy, members of the commission said afterward.

In a statement released after the three-hour session, the commission described Clinton as “forthcoming and responsive” and thanked him for “the excellent cooperation that he and his associates have given to us.”