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April 16, 2004
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CIA's Tenet did speak to Bush before 9-11, spokesman says


By Stewart M. Powell
Hearst Newspapers


    WASHINGTON -- CIA Director George Tenet met with President Bush at least eight times in the 42 days before the catastrophic terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, a CIA spokesman said Thursday, correcting Tenet's testimony that he hadn't talked with the president during the entire month of August.
    Bill Harlow, spokesman for the agency, said CIA records showed Tenet briefed the president on national security threats once during Bush's 27-day ranch vacation, on Aug. 17, and again at the White House on Aug. 31. He also met with the president at least six more times during the first eight days of September.
    Bush has established the practice of receiving daily face-to-face intelligence briefings by the CIA chief.
    Tenet's contacts with Bush during that period are significant because the CIA director was the highest ranking U.S. official who was aware of both the FBI's arrest of flight student Zacarias Moussaoui in Minnesota and the CIA warning to Bush that Osama bin Laden was "determined to strike" inside the United States.
    The CIA warning memo to Bush on Aug. 6, 2001, also noted that the FBI had detected "patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks."
    Tenet learned of Moussaoui's arrest on Aug. 23 or Aug. 24 in a CIA memo entitled "Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly," investigators disclosed Wednesday.
    Tenet's spokesman said "as far as we know" the CIA chief did not mention the arrest of Moussaoui to Bush on Aug. 31 or at subsequent meetings before the Sept. 11 attacks.
    Tenet's testimony to the independent Sept. 11 commission on Wednesday that he had not spoken to Bush during the entire month of August raised eyebrows on the 10-member bipartisan panel.

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    Harlow said Tenet apparently did not mention Moussaoui's arrest to higher officials because the CIA's only involvement in the case at that point was to help gain access to data on Moussaoui's seized laptop computer if the FBI could not obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act subpoena to examine the laptop's hard drive.
    Tenet was briefed on the arrest of Moussaoui as "something that the FBI was dealing with in Minnesota" rather than something requiring CIA follow up, Harlow said.
    Former Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard, who served as acting director for 10 of the 11 weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks, told the inquiry Tuesday that he had learned of Moussaoui's arrest in Minnesota on the afternoon of Sept. 11 -- after the attacks.
    Word of Moussaoui's arrest never reached the White House National Security Council's interagency Counterterrorism and Security Group, former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke testified on March 24.
    After the Sept. 11 attacks, FBI agents obtained the legal go-ahead to examine the hard drive on his laptop. It contained information on using crop-dusting airplanes.
    Moussaoui was charged with federal conspiracy counts as an accomplice to the 19 suicide hijackers and awaits federal trial in Alexandria, Va.
   
   

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