- The Washington Times - Friday, May 24, 2002

BERLIN President Bush yesterday rejected Democratic demands for a special commission to investigate the administration's handling of terror warnings before September 11 and refused to release the contents of an Aug. 6 briefing that mentioned the possibility of airline hijacking.
"I, of course, want the Congress to take a look at what took place prior to September the 11th," Mr. Bush said during a joint press conference with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. "But since it deals with such sensitive information, in my judgment, it's best for the ongoing war against terror that the investigation be done in the intelligence committees."
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and other Democrats have called for an outside commission to investigate what the president knew and when he knew it.
Mr. Bush suggested that the commission might lack the discretion of House and Senate intelligence panels.
"There are committees set up with both Republicans and Democrats who understand the obligations of upholding our secrets and our sources and methods of collecting intelligence," the president told reporters on the lawn outside the chancellor's headquarters. "And therefore I think it's the best place for Congress to take a good look at the events leading up to September the 11th."
However, Mr. Bush balked at Mr. Daschle's demand to turn over to Congress a written intelligence briefing the president received Aug. 6. The briefing mentioned the possibility of hijacking, but it did not envision planes being used as missiles against buildings.
"One of the things that is very important is that the information given to the president be protected because we don't want to give away sources and uses and methodology of intelligence-gathering," the president said.
"We're still at war," he added. "We've still got threats to the homeland that we've got to deal with. And it's very important for us not to hamper our ability to wage that war."
Although Democrats such as Mr. Daschle of South Dakota and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri were quick to raise questions last week about whether Mr. Bush missed warning signals before September 11, they have ratcheted down their criticism this week amid signs of a public backlash. Aware that Democrats are shifting their focus to lapses of the broader intelligence community, Mr. Bush was careful to praise the agencies that sift through terrorism warnings.
"I've got great confidence in our CIA and FBI," he said. "I know what's taken place since the attacks on September 11th: Our communications between the two agencies is much better than ever before; we're doing a much better job of ensuring intelligence."
The president said such communication must take place with America's allies as well.
"We have to share intelligence between friends," he said. "One of the things that we're learning is in order to bring this war on terror, we've got to have the best intelligence-gathering possible."
After the press conference, Mr. Bush gave a speech to the German parliament in which he portrayed the war against terrorism as NATO's new reason for being.
"For the United States, September the 11th, 2001, cut a deep dividing line in our history a change of eras as sharp and clear as Pearl Harbor or the first day of the Berlin blockade," he said. "There can be no lasting security in a world at the mercy of terrorists, for my nation or for any nation.
"Given this threat, NATO's defining purpose our collective defense is as urgent as ever," he added. "After the Cold War, during the relative quiet of the 1990s, some questioned whether our trans-Atlantic partnership still had a purpose. History has given its answer."
The president's speech was briefly interrupted by three members of parliament from the Party of Democratic Socialism, the successors to the former East Germany's communist party. The trio held up a bedsheet with the hand-painted message: "Mr. Bush and Mr. Schroeder, stop your wars."
An usher snatched the bedsheet away as members of the conservative Christian Democratic Party jeered at the protesters and told them to leave. The commotion momentarily distracted Mr. Bush from his prepared text, although he did not mention the incident.
A Party of Democratic Socialism leader apologized to Mr. Bush and said the protesters didn't represent the party.
Commenting on America's strong alliance with Germany, Mr. Bush made a rare public reference to his father's presidency, which coincided with the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent reunification of Germany.
"More than a decade agofl my father spoke of Germany and America as partners in leadership," he said. "And this has come to pass."
Mr. Bush said that partnership extends to the rest of Europe as well.
His comments were viewed as an attempt to assuage fears of a growing U.S.-Russian alliance that would overshadow Europe.
"We must lay the foundation with a Europe that is whole and free and at peace for the first time in its history," Mr. Bush said. "This dream of the centuries is close at hand."
Still, the president made clear that such a dream is not possible without the cooperation of Moscow, which recently softened its opposition to plans to expand NATO to Russia's borders later this year.
On Tuesday, NATO will hold a summit with Russia in Rome.
"Russia has its best chance since 1917 to become a part of Europe's family," Mr. Bush said. "America and Russia must throw off old suspicions and realize our common interests with Russia."

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