- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2004

President Bush yesterday warned that the United States is still the prime target for international terrorism as he praised the year-old Department of Homeland Security for chasing down terrorist leaders and breaking up their networks.

The United States, which has gone 29 months without a terrorist attack, is safer, the president said, but he added there is still much work to be done.

“Life in America in many ways has returned to normal. And that’s positive. It means that we’re doing our job,” Mr. Bush told Homeland Security employees gathered at the Ronald Reagan Building in the District.

“But life will really never return to normal so long as there is an enemy that lurks in the shadows, that aims to destroy and kill. Our enemies are wounded but they are not broken. They still have a desire to strike America again. That’s the reality with which we live.”

Marking the one-year anniversary of the creation of the department — which merged 22 agencies with 180,000 employees into a single department — Mr. Bush vowed to continue the U.S. effort to capture or kill terrorists who threaten Americans.

“We are relentless,” he said, noting that U.S. forces have captured or killed two-thirds of the key leaders of the al Qaeda terrorist network in Afghanistan. “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.”

Mr. Bush urged Congress to renew portions of the Patriot Act before they expire this year, noting that the federal government already uses the powers granted by the act to catch embezzlers and drug traffickers.

The president also outlined efforts his administration had taken to make Americans secure, including strengthening U.S. borders to keep out criminals, terrorists and dangerous materials, increasing border inspections and improving access to databases to identify possible threats. Next year’s budget includes $3.6 billion more than this year’s, which amounts to a doubling of funding since 2001.

But Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, sent out an e-mail to White House reporters cataloging what he said were failures by the administration on homeland security.

Former Sen. Max Cleland, Georgia Democrat, representing the Kerry campaign, said in a conference call with reporters that cities need more money to provide security and haven’t been given enough federal money to protect ports, secure chemical facilities or prepare to respond to biological attacks.

“It’s a very serious situation when we have a failure of the president and this administration to fund adequately and organize adequately the Homeland Security Department,” Mr. Cleland said. “In so many ways, it is really duct tape and plastic, all smoke and mirrors, all hat and no cattle.”

Mr. Cleland, a veteran who lost three limbs in Vietnam, said Mr. Bush should get no credit for preventing another terrorist attack on America.

“Keeping al Qaeda on the defensive in Afghanistan is part of the reason that we haven’t been attacked,” he said. “I don’t think homeland security is the reason for us not being attacked. They can attack us at any time.”

But the Bush camp hit back, noting that Mr. Kerry “led the fight in the Senate against the Department of Homeland Security, voting against it six times.” Mr. Kerry did, however, vote for the creation of the department, the campaign said.

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