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Bush Calls For Greater Wiretap Authority
Dividing the Sept. 11 attacks into four "stages," Bush said that each had exposed gaps in the nation's defenses. Osama bin Laden had found in Afghanistan a safe haven for terrorists to train and plan the attacks. Al-Qaeda operatives were able to enter the United States undetected and, once here, to transfer money and move about freely. Finally, they were able to pass through airport security and board planes with box cutters they used to take control of the aircraft.
After the attacks, his "new doctrine" of holding nations harboring or supporting terrorists responsible had allowed the removal of the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and the installation of a democratic government, Bush said. Diplomatic, financial and intelligence initiatives had ensured that "al-Qaeda can no longer move widely without fearing for their lives."
Noting that the Sept. 11 commission that investigated the attacks and other inquiries had recommended a series of intelligence and institutional reforms, Bush recited what he called major changes in federal law enforcement that allowed the Justice Department and the FBI to concentrate more attention on terrorism. Walls that prevented intelligence and criminal investigators from talking to each other had been torn down by the USA Patriot Act, he said, and the establishment of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) allowed information-sharing between federal officials and their state and local counterparts.
Bush defended his initiation of a domestic "terrorist surveillance program" as vital to stay in front of the terrorists. The 2001 program secretly authorized the National Security Agency to monitor phone and e-mail communications between people in the United States and suspected terrorists abroad without first obtaining a warrant.
The program was "leaked to the news media" last year, and "was then challenged in court," Bush said. He said his administration. "strongly disagrees" with the ruling of a federal judge in Michigan who last month declared the program unconstitutional. "We are appealing it, and we believe our appeal will be successful," he said. "A series of protracted legal challenges would put a heavy burden on this critical and vital program."
Although Bush claimed credit for domestic reforms after the attacks, many of them -- including the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, the ODNI and the NCTC -- were implemented in the face of initial administration resistance. The Sept. 11 commission, which last December assessed the administration's reform record as mediocre at best, has remained unimpressed. Six months after that report card, commission chairman Thomas H. Kean told Congress this summer that "our perspective now . . . is just about the same. There is still a great deal we have to do and still haven't done to protect the American people."
A report titled "9/11 Five Years Later: Success and Challenges," issued by the White House Thursday to coincide with Bush's speech, focused more on events overseas than at home. In it, the White House took credit only for adopting "a comprehensive approach" toward such priorities as maritime and aviation security, noting, "our Homeland is not immune from attack."
Congressional critics have focused on the administration's shortcomings in securing chemical plants and aviation cargo, and in scanning shipping containers for radiation. The Department of Homeland Security is far behind schedule in developing industry-specific plans to protect vital facilities, while states are resisting calls to overhaul national requirements for ID cards.
Interoperable communications -- a problem in the Sept. 11 attacks and in Hurricane Katrina last year -- remain a fundamental problem for emergency first responders, with 82 percent of states reporting recently that such efforts were still "in progress."
DeYoung reported from Washington. Staff writer Spencer S. Hsu in Washington contributed to this report.