U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has vigorously defended the Bush Administration's anti-terrorism policies in the months leading to the September 11th (2001) terrorist attacks.
Mr. Ashcroft spoke (Tuesday) in Washington before the independent commission investigating the attacks. He said he was "greatly interested" in protecting the American people against terrorist attacks after becoming Attorney General in early 2001.
Mr. Ashcroft contradicted earlier testimony by former acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard, who said the Attorney General did not consider terrorism a top priority. He denied a statement by Mr. Pickard, who quoted Mr. Ashcroft as saying he didnot want to hear terrorism-related information any more.
The Attorney General also criticized the Clinton Administration for placing restrictions on the sharing of FBI intelligence information with criminal investigators. This, he said, made investigating the possible terrorist plans against the United States more difficult.
Speaking earlier in the day, Clinton Administration Attorney General Janet Reno said the FBI did not know how to deal with the large amounts of intelligence it collected before the attacks.
For his part, former FBI Director Louis Freeh said his agency lacked the resources and authority to halt terrorist activities before September 11th.
The remarks come on the day the commission released a report criticizing the performance of U.S. law enforcement agencies prior to the attacks.