While faulting institutional shortcomings, the bipartisan report being released Thursday does not blame President Bush or former President Clinton for mistakes contributing to the 2001 terrorist attack, Bush administration officials familiar with the findings said.
The report, which is the culmination of a 20-month investigation into the plot that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, describes the meticulous planning and determination of hijackers who sought to exploit weaknesses in airline and border procedures by taking test flights.
A surveillance video that surfaced Wednesday shows four of the hijackers passing through security gates at Washington Dulles International Airport shortly before boarding the plane they would crash into the Pentagon. In the video, the hijackers can be seen undergoing additional scrutiny after setting off metal detectors, then being permitted to continue to their gate.
White House officials and congressional leaders were briefed on the panel's findings, and Bush was to receive a copy just before today's 10:30 a.m. release on the commission's Web site and in bookstores.
The president, bracing for a report that will be sharply critical of the government's intelligence-gathering, said Wednesday he looked forward to reading it. He also said his administration was doing everything possible to combat terrorism, a major theme of his re-election campaign.
''Had we had any inkling whatsoever that terrorists were about to attack our country, we would have moved heaven and earth to protect America,'' Bush said. ''I'm confident President Clinton would have done the same thing. Any president would.''
Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism czar in the Clinton and Bush administrations and now an ABC consultant, said on the network's ''Good Morning America'' the commission avoided controversy. ''To get unanimity they didn't talk about a number of things, like what effect is the war in Iraq having on our battle against terrorism. Did the president pay any attention to terrorism during the first nine months of his administration? The controversial things, the
controversial criticisms of the Clinton administration as well as the Bush administration just aren't there.''
''What they didn't do is say that the country is actually not safer now than it was then because of the rise in terrorism after our invasion in Iraq.''
One administration official said the 575-page report concludes that Bush and Clinton took the threat of al-Qaida seriously and were ''genuinely concerned about the danger posed by al-Qaida,'' but didn't do enough to stop the terrorist organization headed by Osama bin Laden.
There was a ''failure of imagination'' to provide either Bush or Clinton with new options to deal with al-Qaida, the official said. There also was a failure to adapt to the post-Cold War era, and people just kept trying the same kinds of things that didn't work, the official said.
While administration officials offered a preview of the report, their summary was far from a complete accounting of the commission's findings.
Less than four months before the presidential election, the commission's work already has ignited partisan debate over whether Bush took sufficient steps to deal with terrorism in the first year of his administration.
The report will propose a national counterterrorism center headed by a new Cabinet-level national director of intelligence. The director would have authority over the CIA, FBI and other agencies, while congressional oversight also would be strengthened.
The commission described a rapidly changing al-Qaida threat that has become more dispersed and harder to detect. A national intelligence chief would coordinate information-sharing and intelligence analysis to thwart al-Qaida terrorists who are keenly interested in launching a chemical, biological or nuclear attack, commissioners say.
The Bush administration is reserving judgment on that recommendation, and officials doubt it could be approved by Congress this year.
Four administration officials briefed reporters on the content of the report Wednesday on condition of anonymity because it has not been publicly released.
''There were deep institutional failings within our government,'' an official said. ''And that's what they really examine at some length over a long period of time -- that there were a variety of factors spanning many years and many administrations that contributed to a failure to share information amongst agencies for both legal and policy reasons.''
The official said, the commission found the FBI was not set up to collect intelligence domestically, in part because of civil liberties concerns.
The report lists a series of missed operational opportunities to stop the hijackers, such as the bungled attempts to kill or capture bin Laden and the FBI's handling of terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, who was arrested in August 2001 before the hijackings, the official said.
It also ''debunks'' some theories that once circulated widely, such as that the Saudi government had funded the hijackers and that the White House allowed a group of Saudis to slip out of the country just after Sept. 11 when all planes were grounded, the official said.
Commissioners have said the report also will fault Congress for poor oversight of intelligence gathering and criticize government agencies for their emergency responses to the attacks. The harshest criticism will be leveled at the FBI and CIA.
The 10-member panel declined to recommend a separate domestic spy agency modeled after Britain's MI5, as some outside experts have suggested, deciding that reform efforts by FBI Director Robert Mueller were on the right track despite the FBI's historical focus on law enforcement, said Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas.
AP White House Correspondent Terence Hunt also contributed to this report.
On the Net:
Sept. 11 Commission: http://www.9-11commission.gov