Ashcroft criticised over 9/11

Mr Ashcroft attacked the administration of President Bill Clinton as he fended off accusations over his own action before the September 11 attacks.

His testimony came after a preliminary report from the panel said he rejected an FBI plea for increased counterterrorism funding the day before the September 11 attacks.

But Mr Ashcroft moved to blame many of the intelligence failures before September 11 on the Clinton administration, contradicting evidence already given by several officials to the panel.

He said: “The simple fact of September 11 is this, we did not know an attack was coming because for nearly a decade, our government had blinded itself to its enemies.

“The old national intelligence system in place on September 11 was destined to fail.”

A preliminary report by the commission on action taken by US intelligence and law enforcement agencies before the al-Qaeda attacks of 2001 said counterterrorism advisors were stunned by the lack of emphasis put on terrorism by Mr Ashcroft.

The report said that on May 9, 2001, the attorney general told a federal hearing the Justice Department’s highest priority was to “protect citizens from terrorist attacks.”

“On May 10, 2001, the department issued guidance for developing the fiscal year 2003 budget that made reducing the incidence of gun violence and reducing the trafficking of illegal drugs priority objectives.”

The report said Dale Watson, the first head of the FBI counterterrorism division, “told us that he almost fell out of his chair when he saw the memo, because it made no mention of counterterrorism.”

The commission added that the budget prepared for fiscal 2003 did not increase counterterrorism funding over 2002 but that the FBI had sought increased finance for improved technology.

“Acting FBI director Thomas Pickard told us he made an appeal to Attorney General Ashcroft for further counterterrorism enhancements not included in this budget proposal. On September 10 (2001), the attorney general rejected that appeal.”

The report added that a former FBI director accused Mr Aschroft of spurning his warnings about a possible al-Qaeda attack.

Thomas Pickard, an acting FBI chief in 2001, told the commission he briefed Mr Ashcroft weekly in June and July about the increasing terrorist threat.

The report quoted Mr Pickard as saying that after two briefings “the attorney general told him he did not want to hear this information anymore”.

Mr Ashcroft denied having made any such comment to Mr Pickard.

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