- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2002

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. President Bush said yesterday that comprehensive intelligence collection is the best way to prevent another attack against America but the federal government has "got some work to do" to get there.
As Congress prepared to open hearings today to investigate whether intelligence agencies missed clues before September 11 that signaled a terrorist attack was imminent, the president said knowing the plans of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network was the only way "to make sure we're ready for whatever happens."
"In this new war, against this shadowy enemy, it's very important that we gather as much intelligence as we can," Mr. Bush said at a downtown convention center crammed with 2,000 supporters.
The president's comments followed a day after Newsweek reported the CIA tracked two of the September 11 hijackers to an al Qaeda meeting in Malaysia in January 2000 but failed to notify the FBI before the pair entered the United States.
While not addressing the Newsweek report specifically, Mr. Bush said: "We learned that we've got some work to do at home, that we can do a better job of defending the American people, which we are going to do.
"We know we've got to do a better job on our borders, understanding who's coming into the country, and who's leaving, and why they're here, and why they haven't left. We know that we need to do a better job of that, in order to defend the homeland."
Critics, including Democrats expected to run for the presidency in 2004, charged that the administration failed to act on "red flags" that they said clearly pointed to an imminent attack. Among those clues, they said, were an Arizona FBI agent's proposal that the bureau check flight schools where Middle Eastern men were training, and an Aug. 6 CIA briefing in which Mr. Bush was told the al Qaeda network planned to hijack U.S. commercial airliners.
Mr. Bush said a reorganization of the FBI will address many of the problems identified after the September 11 attacks especially its lack of communication with other intelligence agencies.
"The FBI is changing. And they're doing a better job of communicating with the CIA. They're now sharing intelligence. The FBI is changing its culture.
"The FBI, prior to September 11, was running down white-collar criminals, and that's good. It was worrying about spies. That's good. But now they've got a more important task, and that is to prevent further attacks," the president said.
Mr. Bush came to Little Rock, where Bill Clinton once presided as state attorney general and then as governor before he was president, to encourage the Democratic-controlled Senate to finish work on reauthorization of the 1996 welfare-reform act. He visited a small church set up in a warehouse to tout stronger components for the plan, while arguing against proposals to scale back new welfare-to-work requirements.
"In order to make sure that we continue with good welfare law and good social policy, we should not weaken the work requirements of welfare," he said, referring to suggestions to reduce the mandatory 40-hour workweek. "Anything that weakens the work requirement in a welfare-reauthorization bill hurts the people we're trying to help."
The program, pushed through Congress in 1996 after Republicans took control, had dramatic results over the next four years, a new report showed.
Nearly 5.5 million fewer people were dependent on the program and the poverty rate fell 2.4 percent to 11.3 percent the lowest rate since 1979, according to the report by the Department of Health and Human Services.


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