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IN THE NEWS - Hearings on Sept. 11th Attacks - 2004-03-28

Broadcast: March 27, 2004

This is Steve Ember with In the News, in VOA Special English.

Hearings took place this week into intelligence and law enforcement failures before the attacks on the United States in two-thousand-one.

The Bush administration is disputing accusations that it did not consider terrorism an urgent threat before September eleventh. Officials said they had worked throughout that year to prepare a plan to deal with the threat from al-Qaida.

Former anti-terrorism official Richard Clarke made the accusation Wednesday in Washington. He spoke before an independent commission of former lawmakers and officials. There are five Democrats and five Republicans.

Mister Clarke has worked in four administrations. He helped direct anti-terrorism policies for almost ten years. Mister Clarke says the administration did not take his warnings seriously. He says he had called for action against al-Qaida and its Taleban supporters in Afghanistan before September eleventh.

Three-thousand people died in the attacks of that day. Hijackers flew planes into the World Trade Center and the military headquarters at the Pentagon.

Mister Clarke told the commission that intelligence agencies warned repeatedly in two-thousand-one that al-Qaida appeared ready to attack the United States. He said he expressed his concern in a letter to National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice a week before the attacks. Mister Clarke also accused the administration of harming the war on terrorism by invading Iraq.

Republican members of the commission accused Mister Clarke of making baseless accusations in an effort to sell his new book. They questioned his truthfulness. They also suggested that he wanted to help the presidential campaign of Democratic Senator John Kerry.

Democrats on the commission said the accusations by Mister Clarke should be taken seriously. They said his years of government work showed that he had been trusted by presidents from both parties.

Condoleeza Rice has noted that Mister Clarke defended the policies of the administration in the past. Mizz Rice has spoken to the commission, but would not do so publicly.

The commission held two days of public hearings this week. The members also heard from Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Officials from the administration of Bill Clinton also spoke. And so did the head of the Central Intelligence Agency. George Tenet has served under both presidents.

Mister Tenet was asked why two administrations have been unable to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. He said there had been some disagreement among intelligence officials about whether the C.I.A. had permission to kill the leader of al-Qaida. Mister Tenet said even if he had been killed, that would not have prevented the attacks.

The commission is expected to hold more hearings next month and to release its findings in July.

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.