http://apnews.myway.com/article/20040323/D81G56900.html 9/11 Panel Cites Bush, Clinton Inaction Mar 23, 10:09 AM (ET) By HOPE YEN (AP) U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld waits to host an honor cordon for Colombian President... WASHINGTON (AP) - The Clinton and Bush administrations' decision to use diplomatic rather than military options against al-Qaida allowed the Sept. 11 terrorists to elude capture years before the attacks, a federal panel said Tuesday. The Clinton administration had early indications of terrorist links to Osama bin Laden and future Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as early as 1995, but let years pass as it pursued criminal indictments and diplomatic solutions to subduing them abroad, it found. Bush officials, meanwhile, failed to act immediately on increasing intelligence chatter and urgent warnings in early 2001 by its counterterrorism adviser, Richard A. Clarke, to take out al-Qaida targets, according to preliminary findings by the commission reviewing the attacks. "We found that the CIA and the FBI tended to be careful in discussing the attribution for terrorist attacks," the bipartisan report said. "The time lag between terrorist act and any definitive attribution grew to months, then years, as the evidence was compiled." Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, appearing on CBS's "The Early Show" Tuesday, said, however, the commission will not make any final judgments about the Clarke allegations or other assertions until it has reviewed all the evidence. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told the commission that "President Clinton and his team did everything we could, everything we could think of, based on the knowledge we had, to protect our people and disrupt and defeat al-Qaida." The preliminary report said the U.S. government had determined bin Laden was a key terrorist financier as early as 1995, but that efforts to expel him from Sudan stalled after Clinton officials determined he couldn't be brought to the United States without an indictment. A year later, bin Laden left Sudan and set up his base in Afghanistan without resistance. In spring 1998, the commission found, the Saudi government successfully thwarted a bin Laden-backed effort to launch attacks on U.S. forces in that country. The Clinton administration turned to the Saudis for help. Clinton designated CIA Director George Tenet as his representative to work with the Saudis, who agreed to make an "all-out secret effort" to persuade Afghanistan's Taliban rulers to expel Bin Laden. Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faisal, using "a mixture of possible bribes and threats," received a commitment from Taliban leader Mullah Omar that bin Laden would be handed over. But Omar reneged on the agreement during a September 1998 meeting with Turki and Pakistan's intelligence chief. "When Turki angrily confronted him Omar lost his temper and denounced the Saudi government. The Saudis and Pakistanis walked out," the report said. In conclusion, the report said "from the spring of 1997 to September 2001, the U.S. government tried to persuade the Taliban to expel bin Laden to a country where he could face justice," the report said. "The efforts employed inducements, warnings and sanctions. All these efforts failed." The report was part of the commission's two-day hearing focusing on the two administration's failed responses to the threat from al-Qaida. Scheduled to testify Tuesday were Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, as well as their counterparts in the Clinton administration, William Cohen and Albright. They were appearing as part of the panel's review of failures in diplomatic and military strategy. The hearing comes following explosive allegations in a book released Monday by Clarke, Bush's former counterterrorism coordinator and a holdover from the Clinton administration, who is expected to testify Wednesday. He said that he warned Bush officials in a January 2001 memo about the growing al-Qaida threat after the Cole attack but was put off by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who "gave me the impression she had never heard the term (al-Qaida) before." The commission's report Tuesday said Clarke pushed for immediate and secret military aid to the Taliban's foe, the Northern Alliance. But Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, proposed a broader review of the al Qaida response that would take more time. The proposal wasn't approved for Bush's review until just weeks before Sept. 11. The 10-member commission had invited Rice to testify, but she has declined on the advice of the White House, which cited separation of power concerns involving its staff appearing before a legislative body. Other potential diplomatic failures cited by the commission: - The United States in 1995 located Mohammed in Qatar. He was then a suspect in a 1995 plot to plant bombs on American airliners in Asia. FBI and CIA officials worked on his capture, but first sought a legal indictment and then help from the Qatari government, who they feared might tip Mohammed off. In 1996, Qatari officials reported Mohammed had suddenly disappeared. - The U.S. government pressed two successive Pakistani governments from the mid 1990s to pressure the Taliban by threatening to cut off support. But "before 9-11, the United States could not find a mix of incentives or pressure that would persuade Pakistan to reconsider its fundamental relationship." - From 1999 through early 2001, the United States pressed the United Arab Emirates, the Taliban's only travel and financial outlets to the outside world, to break off ties, with little success. Scheduled to testify Wednesday are CIA director George Tenet; Rice's predecessor, Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger; and a new witness added Tuesday to fill Rice's slot, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. On that day, the panel will review intelligence and national policy coordination.