updated 4/30/2004 10:28:55 AM ET 2004-04-30T14:28:55

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, said in a speech six months before the Sept. 11 attacks that the Bush administration was “paying no attention” to terrorism.

“What they will do is stagger along until there’s a major incident and then suddenly say, ’Oh my God, shouldn’t we be organized to deal with this,”’ said Bremer at McCormick Tribune Foundation conference on terrorism on Feb. 26, 2001.

Bremer spoke at the conference shortly after he chaired the National Commission on Terrorism, a bipartisan body formed by the Clinton administration to examine U.S. counterterrorism policies.

The remarks drew attention on the same day Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney appeared before the Sept. 11 commission to explain the precautions they took to prevent a terrorist attack after taking office in January 2001.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan did not comment on the Bremer remarks directly.

But he said, “The actions we took prior to Sept. 11 demonstrate that we took the terrorist threat seriously. The first major foreign policy directive was a comprehensive, aggressive strategy to eliminate al-Qaida.”

The foundation is a charitable organization founded by Robert McCormick, former editor and publisher of The Chicago Tribune.

At the speech, delivered in Wheaton, Ill., Bremer, whose diplomatic jobs included a stint as ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism, said a war against terrorism would be unending.

“If you call it a war, you suggest there’s a victory,” he said. “I would argue there is no final victory in the war against terrorism any more than there is in the so-called war against crime.”

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