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Background: Fighting Terror

May 20, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


TERENCE SMITH: FBI Director Robert Mueller became the third senior administration official in less than 24 hours to warn of the ongoing terrorist threat to the nation.

Mueller, whose Bureau has borne the brunt of criticism for failing to act on warnings prior to September 11, said that walk-in suicide bombings like those plaguing Israel are “inevitable” in the United States.

SPOKESMAN: Condoleezza Rice on “Face the Nation.”

TERENCE SMITH: Yesterday the administration sent two of its most senior voices out on the Sunday talk show circuit to sound further warnings.

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: The prospect of another attack against the United States is very, very real. It’s just as real, in my opinion, as it was September 12.

ANCHOR: Not a matter of if, but when?

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Not a matter of if, but when.

TERENCE SMITH: The Vice President and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also sought to respond to criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of terror-related intelligence reports before September 11– in particular, one that reached the President while he vacationed in Texas last August.

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: It was one more sort of rehash, if you will, of the material that was out there.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The fact is with intelligence, unless you have some sense as to when, where, or method, and that it’s… it’s pretty specific, it’s hard to react.

TERENCE SMITH: Senior democrats reacted sharply to the latest information about what was known and when.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: We need to look at who did what, who knew what, and what they did about it.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: We have to ask, “Why didn’t somebody put all that together and notify the President, as commander-in- chief, what was going on?”

TERENCE SMITH: Both Congressman Gephardt and Senator Lieberman reiterated bipartisan congressional appeals for an independent commission to investigate the intelligence failures leading up to September 11.

The Vice President said he was against it.

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: It’s very hard for that kind of commission to do what needs to be done in terms of safeguarding the nation’s secrets. I think there’s a tradeoff here, frankly, between safeguarding that national interest, which is very much at stake here, and satisfying what sometimes becomes a search for headlines on Capitol Hill.

TERENCE SMITH: Meanwhile, a special joint investigation by members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees is already under way.