...there was simply no excuse for the near-total indifference of the new president and his top Cabinet officials to strenuous warnings from the outgoing Clinton administration and the government's counter-terrorism experts that something terrible was coming, fast and hard, from Al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden's gang, they said repeatedly, was planning "near-term attacks," which Al Qaeda operatives expected "to have dramatic consequences of catastrophic proportions."
As early as May 2001, the FBI was receiving tips that Bin Laden supporters were planning attacks in the U.S., possibly including the hijacking of planes. On May 29, White House counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke wrote national security advisor Condoleezza Rice that "when these attacks [on Israeli or U.S. facilities] occur, as they likely will, we will wonder what more we could have done to stop them." At the end of June, the commission wrote, "the intelligence reporting consistently described the upcoming attacks as occurring on a calamitous level." In early July, Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft was told "that preparations for multiple attacks [by Al Qaeda] were in late stages or already complete and that little additional warning could be expected." By month's end, "the system was blinking red" and could not "get any worse," then-CIA Director George Tenet told the 9/11 commission.
It was at this point, of course, that George W. Bush began the longest presidential vacation in 32 years. On the very first day of his visit to his Texas ranch, Aug. 6, Bush received the now-infamous two-page intelligence alert titled, "Bin Laden Determined to Attack in the United States." Yet instead of returning to the capital to mobilize an energetic defensive posture, he spent an additional 27 days away as the government languished in summer mode, in deep denial.