Bush Lauds Terror War Progress

President Bush outlines his re-election agenda to the Republican Governors Association.
CBS
America is "breathing down" the necks of terrorists and will never relent, President Bush said, marking the first anniversary of the Homeland Security Department.

In a speech to some 200 department employees, Bush said the United States was cutting off the terrorists' money supply, chasing down terrorist leaders and disrupting their networks. This came amid claims that while the administration is more aware of threats, it is not doing enough about them.

"We are relentless," Bush said, adding that two-thirds of the key leaders of the al Qaeda terrorist network have been captured or killed. "We are strong. We refuse to yield. The rest of them hear us breathing down their neck. We're after them. We will not relent. We will bring these killers to justice."

His speech came as an internal Justice Department investigation concluded that continuing delays in the integration of FBI fingerprint files with U.S. Border Patrol databases were leaving the country vulnerable to terrorists.

Inspector General Glenn Fine said the latest projections are that the two systems won't be combined and automated to check every illegal alien until at least 2008.

Bush urged Congress to pass his Project Bio-Shield legislation, which he says will speed the development of new vaccines and treatments for biological agents that could be used in a terrorist attack. "Attack from a chemical or biological weapon is one of the gravest threats our country has ever faced," Bush said at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.

He also urged Congress to renew key provisions of the Patriot Act that expire in 2005. Passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the act expanded the government's wiretap and other surveillance authority, removed barriers between FBI and CIA information-sharing and provided more tools for terror finance investigations. Critics contend the law undermines civil liberties and privacy rights.

Bush devoted most of his speech to outlining numerous government programs aimed at protecting Americans.

He said the United States has strengthened its borders to keep out criminals, terrorists and dangerous materials, has stepped up border inspections and improved access to data bases to identify possible threats. The Department of Homeland Security is checking ships and analyzing manifests to prevent dangerous cargo from entering by sea, and has employees posted at foreign ports to check ships loading shipments bound for America, Bush said.

He said federal air marshals are flying on hundreds of commercial flights everyday.

"We're determined to protect Americans who travel by plane," he said. "We're determined to prevent those planes from being used as weapons against us."

In addition, Bush said the nation is working to improve the security of communication systems, power grids and transportation networks, is helping chemical plant operators better defend against attacks and is working to defend the nation against chemical and biological weapons attacks.

"We've placed sophisticated equipment to detect biological agents in many metropolitan areas," he said, adding that the nation now has in hand enough smallpox vaccine to immunize every American in the case of an emergency.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., the ranking Democrat on the Government Affairs Committee, agrees that the United States is safer as a result of actions by the Homeland Security Department, but says national leadership on the issue is missing.

"On the one-year anniversary, I call upon the administration to commit itself to the real work of securing the homeland and fulfilling the promise of the Homeland Security Act," Lieberman said.

Former Democratic Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia, who is backing John Kerry as the Democratic presidential nominee, says the administration has a failed record on homeland security.

He says cities need more money to provide security; fire departments do not have enough radios or breathing apparatuses; many cities don't have equipment needed to determine what kind of hazardous materials emergency responders may be facing; cities need more money to protect ports; and security at chemical facilities is lacking.