WASHINGTON (CNN) — Bush and Clinton administration officials on Tuesday defended their responses to terror threats, insisting they did all they could to eliminate the possibility of deadly attacks against the United States.
Testifying before an independent commission investigating the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the Bush administration began focusing on the threat from Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network, even before it took office.
And the Clinton administration debated whether to launch airstrikes to kill bin Laden at least three times in 1998 and 1999, but decided against them because of doubts about the intelligence and concerns about killing civilians.
“There were three occasions. Each time, the munitions and people were spun up,” former Defense Secretary William Cohen told the panel. “They were called off because the word came back, ‘We’re not sure.’ “
The question of whether both administrations did all they could to thwart terrorism took on new meaning after the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York City, Pennsylvania and suburban Washington, which killed nearly 3,000 people.