Bin Laden Docs de-classified

WASHINGTON — President Bush, trying to defend his war strategy,
declassified intelligence Tuesday asserting that Osama bin Laden
ordered a top lieutenant in early 2005 to form a terrorist cell that
would conduct attacks outside Iraq — and that the United States should
be the top target.

The information mirrored a classified bulletin from the
Homeland Security Department in March 2005, reporting that bin Laden
had enlisted Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, his senior operative in Iraq, to
plan potential strikes in the U.S. The warning was described at the
time as credible but not specific and did not prompt the administration
to raise its national terror alert level.

The declassification of the intelligence came a day before Bush
was scheduled to speak about terrorism at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Bush, who is battling Democrats in Congress over spending for
the unpopular war in Iraq, will argue that the terrorist threat to
America is real, said Frances Fragos Townsend, the White House homeland
security adviser. She said Bush would talk about why Iraq is an
important battleground in fighting terrorism abroad to prevent attacks
on U.S. soil and highlight previously reported successes in foiling
terrorist attacks.

The Bush White House has intermittently declassified and made
public sensitive intelligence information to help rebut critics or
defend programs or actions against possibly adverse decisions in the
Congress or the courts. On a few occasions, the declassified materials
were intended as proof that terrorists see Iraq as a critical staging
ground for global operations.

Democrats and other critics have accused Bush of selectively
declassifying intelligence, including portions of a sensitive National
Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, to justify the U.S.-led invasion on the
ground that Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed weapons of mass
destruction. That assertion proved false.

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