RICE BRIEFED reporters in the wake of congressional demands to know what President Bush was told Aug. 6 when he was informed at an intelligence briefing about the danger from Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network. Rice repeated the administration’s insistence that the al-Qaida information referred only to a general threat from bin Laden involving jetliners. She said Bush and U.S. intelligence did not know that suicide hijackers were specifically plotting to use planes as missiles, as they did against the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon. At the same time, the FAA was issuing a series of memos to airlines, known as “information circulars,” warning of heightened threats to commercial aviation, primarily overseas. “There was a lot of chatter in the system” through June and July, Rice said, enough that Bush eventually picked up on it himself and asked for the Aug. 6 briefing. Asked by a reporter, “Why not tell Americans?” Rice replied: “You would have risked shutting down the American civil aviation system with such generalized information. You would have to think five, six, seven times about that, very, very hard.” She added, “Even in hindsight, there was nothing in what was briefed to the president that you would go out and tell the people.” War plans in place before Sept. 11 RICE: NOT A WARNING Rice, asked repeatedly why she believed the briefing did not constitute a warning that should have been acted upon publicly, said intelligence officials believed the threat likely involved a standard attempt to hijack an airliner and hold the passengers hostage to force the release of an al-Qaida operative. She said the goal was believed to be the release of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, who is serving a life sentence in Minnesota for terrorist acts. LATEST DEVELOPMENTS THE WAR • U.S. planned for attack on al-Qaida • Pakistani police believe body is Pearl's • Complete coverage THE HOME FRONT • Rice: Pre-Sept. 11 alert too general • Families angered by report • Complete coverage “I want to reiterate it was not a warning,” said Rice, adding that the briefing focused on analysis of bin Laden’s history and operations. “There was no time, place or method mentioned.” Members of Congress in both parties, however, said the information clearly indicated an imminent threat and suggested that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks might have been averted. The Senate Intelligence Committee plans to expand its investigation into what the administration knew before Sept. 11, Chairman Bob Graham, D-Fla., told reporters Thursday. He and other members of the committee said the White House’s acknowledgment illustrated the degree to which U.S. intelligence agencies failed to coordinate their activities before Sept. 11. Lawmakers said the alert should have been connected with other indications the government received of an imminent attack, especially a recently revealed memo from the FBI’s Phoenix office warning of suspicious activity by Arabs at U.S. flight schools. The memo said al-Qaida could organize such flight training, but administration officials said it offered no evidence that bin Laden was behind the students who raised the concern. In another internal FBI document, mentioned in testimony last week before a Senate panel by FBI Director Robert Mueller, a Minneapolis agent raised the possibility that Zacarias Moussaoui, a French flight student of Moroccan descent who was arrested in August, might be planning to “fly something into the World Trade Center.” A senior U.S. official told NBC News’ Robert Windrem on condition of anonymity that the FBI made the CIA aware of its arrest of Moussaoui in mid-August but never told it about the Phoenix memo.