Text of Bush's Press Conference
Your question, do I feel -- yes?
QUESTION: Personal responsibility for September 11th?
BUSH: I feel incredibly grieved when I meet with family members, and I do quite frequently. I grieve for, you know, the incredible loss of life that they feel, the emptiness they feel.
There are some things I wish we'd have done, when I look back. I mean, hindsight's easy. It's easy for a president to stand up and say, now that I know what happened, it would have been nice if there were certain things in place.
For example, a Homeland Security Department. And why -- I say that because that provides the ability for our agencies to coordinate better and to work together better than it was before.
I think the hearings will show that the Patriot Act is an important change in the law that will allow the FBI and the CIA to better share information together.
We were kind of stovepiped, I guess is a way to describe it. There was, you know, kind of departments that at times didn't communicate -- because of law, in the FBI's case.
And the other thing I look back on and realize is that we weren't on a war footing. The country was not on a war footing, and yet the enemy was at war with us. And it didn't take me long to put us on a war footing.
And we've been on a war ever since.
The lessons of 9-11 -- one lesson was we must deal with gathering threats, and that's part of the reason I dealt with Iraq the way I did.
The other lesson is, is that this country must go on the offense and stay on the offense. In order to secure the country, we must do everything in our power to find these killers and bring them to justice before they hurt us again. I'm afraid they want to hurt us again. They're still there.
They can be right one time; we got to be right 100 percent of the time in order to protect the country. It's a mighty task.
But our government has changed since the 9-11 attacks. We're better equipped to respond. We're better at sharing intelligence. But we've still got a lot of work to do.
QUESTION: Mr. President, I'd like to follow up on a couple of these questions that have been asked.
One of the biggest criticisms of you is that whether it's WMD in Iraq, postwar planning in Iraq, or even the question of whether this administration did enough to ward off 9-11, you never admit a mistake. Is that a fair criticism, and do you believe that there were any errors in judgment that you made related to any of those topics I brought up?
BUSH: Well, I think, as I mentioned, you know, the country wasn't on war footing, and yet we're at war.
And that's just a reality, Dave. I mean, that was the situation that existed prior to 9-11, because the truth of the matter is most in the country never felt that we'd be vulnerable to an attack such as the one that Osama bin Laden unleashed on us.
We knew he had designs on us. We knew he hated us. But there was nobody in our government, at least, and I don't think the prior government that could envision flying airplanes into buildings on such a massive scale.
The people know where I stand, I mean, in terms of Iraq. I was very clear about what I believed. And, of course, I want to know why we haven't found a weapon yet. But I still know Saddam Hussein was a threat. And the world is better off without Saddam Hussein.
I don't think anybody can -- maybe people can argue that. I know the Iraqi people don't believe that, that they're better off with Saddam Hussein -- would be better off with Saddam Hussein in power.
I also know that there's an historic opportunity here to change the world. And it's very important for the loved ones of our troops to understand that the mission is an important, vital mission for the security of America and for the ability to change the world for the better.
Let's see. Ed?
QUESTION: Mr. President, good evening. I'd like to ask you about the August 6th PDB.
QUESTION: You've mentioned it at Fort Hood on Sunday. You pointed out that it did not warn of a hijacking of airplanes to crash into buildings, but that it warned of hijacking to obviously take hostages and to secure the release of extremists that are being held by the U.S.
Did that trigger some specific actions on your part in the administration, since it dealt with potentially hundreds of lives and a blackmail attempt on the United States government?
BUSH: And I asked for the briefing. And the reason I did is because there had been a lot of threat intelligence from overseas. And so, I -- part of it had to do with the Genoa G-8 conference that I was going to attend. And I asked at that point in time, let's make sure we are paying attention here at home, as well. And that's what triggered the report.
The report itself, I've characterized it as mainly history. And I think when you look at it, you'll see that it was talking about a '97 and '98 and '99.
It was also an indication, as you mentioned, that bin Laden might want to hijack an airplane but, as you said, not to fly into a building, but perhaps to release a person in jail. In other words, he would serve it as a blackmail.
And of course that concerns me. All those reports concern me. As a matter of fact, I was dealing with terrorism a lot as the president when George Tenet came in to brief me. I mean, that's where I got my information.
I changed the way that the relationship between the president and the CIA director. And I wanted Tenet in the Oval Office all the time. And we had briefings about terrorist threats. This was a summary.
Now, in the -- what's called the PDB, there was a warning about bin Laden's desires on America. But, frankly, I didn't think there was anything new. I mean, major newspapers had talked about bin Laden's desires on hurting America.
What was interesting in there was that there was a report that the FBI was conducting field investigations. And that was good news, that they were doing their job.
The way my administration worked, Ed, was that I met with Tenet all the time. I obviously met with my principals a lot. We talked about threats that had emerged. We have a counterterrorism group meeting on a regular basis to analyze the threats that came in. Had there been a threat that required action by anybody in the government, I would have dealt with it.
BUSH: In other words, had they come up and said, this is where we see something happening, you can rest assured that the people of this government would have responded and responded in a forceful way.
I mean, one of the things about Elizabeth's question was, I stepped back and I've asked myself a lot, is there anything we could have done to stop the attacks? Of course I've asked that question, as have many people in my government. Nobody wants this to happen to America.
And the answer is that had I had any inkling whatsoever that the people were going to fly airplanes into buildings, we would have moved heaven and earth to save the country, just like we're working hard to prevent a further attack.
Let's see -- Jim?
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. You mentioned the PDB and the assurance you got that the FBI was working on terrorism investigations here. The number they had used was 70.
But we learned today in the September 11th hearings that the acting director of the FBI at the time now says the FBI tells him that number was wrong, that he doesn't even know how it got into your PDB. And two of the commissioners strongly suggested the number was exaggerated.
Have you learned anything else about that report since that time? And do you now believe you were falsely comforted by the FBI?
BUSH: No, I heard about that today, obviously, and my response to that was, I expect to get valid information. As the ultimate decision maker for this country, I expect information that comes to my desk to be real and valid.
And I presume the 9-11 commission will find out -- will follow up on his suggestions and his recollection, and garner the truth. That is an important part of the 9-11 commission's job, is to analyze what went on and what could have perhaps been done differently so that we can better secure America for the future.
But of course I expect to get valid information. I can't make good decisions unless I get valid information.
QUESTION: Has the FBI come back to you, sir?
BUSH: No, I haven't talked to anybody today yet. I will, though. We'll find out.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
Two weeks ago, a former counterterrorism official at the NSC, Richard Clarke, offered an unequivocal apology to the American people for failing them prior to 9-11. Do you believe the American people deserve a similar apology from you, and would you prepared to give them one?
BUSH: Look, I can understand why people in my administration are anguished over the fact that people lost their life. I feel the same way. I mean, I'm sick when I think about the death that took place on that day. And as I mentioned, I've met with a lot of family members, and I do the best to console them about the loss of their loved one.
As I mentioned, I oftentimes think about what I could have done differently. I can assure the American people that had we had any inkling that this was going to happen, we would have done everything in our power to stop the attack.
Here's what I feel about that: The person responsible for the attacks was Osama bin Laden. That's who's responsible for killing Americans. And that's why we will stay on the offense until we bring people to justice.
© 2004 The Associated Press