Condoleezza Rice, President Bush’s national security adviser, testified Thursday that Mr. Bush was warned a month before the Sept. 11 terror attacks that the F.B.I. had detected “suspicious activity” that suggested terrorists might be planning a domestic hijacking.
In her long-awaited sworn testimony before the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, Ms. Rice acknowledged that the special intelligence briefing that had been requested by Mr. Bush and presented to him on Aug. 6, 2001, at his Texas ranch had carried an ominous title: “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States.”
Under often harsh questioning from Democratic members of the panel, Ms. Rice dismissed the importance of the still-classified August 2001 report that had been prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency, describing it as “historical information based on old reporting — there was no new threat information.”
There has been dispute within the administration over the accuracy of the intelligence in the report, and F.B.I. officials have said that it appears to overstate the scope and significance of their counterterrorism efforts before Sept. 11.
Some of the details in the report have been acknowledged previously by the White House, including its reference to possible hijackings. But Ms. Rice suggested in her testimony on Thursday that the warnings were more explicit than previously known and that the F.B.I. was actively investigating the possibility of a terrorist strike within the United States.
“The F.B.I. was pursuing these Al Qaeda cells,” she said. “I believe in the Aug. 6 memorandum it says there were 70 full-field investigations under way of these cells. And so there was no recommendation that we do something about this. The F.B.I was pursuing it.”
Ms. Rice was one of two high-profile witnesses appearing before the commission on Thursday, but the only one to testify in public. Former President Bill Clinton was interviewed in private after Ms. Rice’s testimony and told the panel that since the attacks he had asked himself repeatedly what his administration could have done to prevent them, members of the commission said afterward.