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Monday, March 22, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Clarke says White House ignored al-Qaida warnings

By Ted Bridis
The Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — President Bush's national-security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, "looked skeptical" when she was warned early in 2001 about the threat from al-Qaida and appeared to never have heard of the terrorist organization, according to Bush's former counterterrorism coordinator.

"Her facial expression gave me the impression that she had never heard the term before," wrote Richard Clarke in a new book critical of Bush's response to the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Clarke, expected to testify tomorrow before a federal panel investigating the attacks, recounted his meeting with Rice as support for his contention that the Bush administration failed to recognize the risk of an attack by al-Qaida before Sept. 11, 2001. Clarke retired in March 2003.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of Clarke's book, "Against All Enemies," before its publication today.

White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said Clarke "makes the charge that we were not focused enough on efforts to root out terrorism. That's just categorically false."

Bartlett said Clarke's memo to Rice in January 2001 discussed recommendations to improve security at U.S. sites overseas, not inside the United States. "Each one of these, while important, wouldn't have impacted 9-11," Bartlett said.

Clarke harshly criticizes Bush in his book, saying his decision to invade Iraq generated broad anti-American sentiment among Arabs.

"Nothing America could have done would have provided al-Qaida and its new generation of cloned groups a better recruitment device than our unprovoked invasion of an oil-rich Arab country," Clarke wrote.

"One shudders to think what additional errors (Bush) will make in the next four years to strengthen the al-Qaida follow-ons: attacking Syria or Iran, undermining the Saudi regime without a plan for a successor state?"

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said yesterday he doesn't believe Clarke's charge that the Bush administration was focused more on Iraq than al-Qaida during the days after the terror attacks.

"I see no basis for it," Lieberman said on Fox News Sunday. "I think we've got to be careful to speak facts and not rhetoric."

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., said yesterday on ABC's "This Week" that although he has been critical of Bush policies on Iraq, "I think it's unfair to blame the president for the spread of terror and the diffuseness of it. Even if he had followed the advice of me and many other people, I still think the same thing would have happened."


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