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Rice opposes public panel to probe 9/11

Rice says congressional oversight committees are the "proper venue" for investigating intelligence missteps.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration does not support a public commission to investigate the intelligence failures leading up to the September 11 attacks, fearing such disclosures could harm the war against terrorism, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said Sunday.

Rice told CNN's "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer" the Senate and House intelligence committees, which already are investigating what went wrong, are the "proper venue."

"In the context of this ongoing war, it is extremely important to protect the sources and the methods and the information so that we can try and disrupt further attacks," she said.

"The problem is that this is an act that is not finished. It is ongoing. We are still fighting a war on terrorism."

The idea of a probe by a panel of outside experts, similar to the Warren Commission that investigated the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, has gathered steam in recent days with the revelation that President Bush received a CIA briefing August 6 that said al Qaeda operatives might be preparing to hijack a plane.

In addition, the FBI has come under heavy fire for not passing along information gathered from field agents in Phoenix, Arizona, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, that men of Middle Eastern descent were training in U.S. flight schools.

But, unlike the Kennedy assassination, "this is not a single event ... and then it's over and you investigate it," Rice said. "This is something that is continuing, and that is the most important aspect of this.

"I'm sure the American people would agree that the most important thing is to go forward in a way that might help us to prevent this happening again, even though no one can give assurances that we will not have another incident."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, agreed, saying that kind of inquiry would not work in the middle of a war against terror.

"We don't need to get into some kind of open firefight either between parties or between individuals," she said on the same program.

Feinstein said the House and Senate Intelligence committees are conducting "very active inquiries" and said that the people involved were professionals.

"I think we are going to be able to get to the heart of where the system needs changing," she said.

House Majority Leader Richard Armey, R-Texas, pointed out the Warren Commission did not head off second-guessing about Kennedy's assassination.

"We need real professionals to bend over this business together professionally. We've got good people on these two committees," he said, appearing on the program with Rice and Feinstein.

"Let them do their work and take confidence in the professional ... patriotic, serious commitment by the people on these committees."

In the wake of the furor over the August briefing, some administration officials and GOP lawmakers have blasted Democrats for insinuating that Bush might have had advance knowledge of the attacks. Bush criticized what he termed the "second-guessing."

"If people are reacting to anything, it was the sense that somehow this president was not sufficiently concerned about the threats that we foresaw to act on them," Rice said.

"No one believes that anyone in the leadership, in either the Congress or the administration, wants anything but the best for America. But we do have to pull together and not point fingers."

Leading up to September 11, "clearly everything did not work just fine, and no one is saying that," Rice said. "The idea that somehow everybody has said, 'Well, gee, everything is fine,' is simply not true. We are looking for improvements."

Armey said with the passage of the Patriot Act that intelligence agencies are still learning how to work together.

"We do have new abilities, new protocols, new responsibilities and new authorities in these agencies, and we must learn how to use them properly," Armey said.

On Saturday, administration officials said that "increased chatter" in terrorist circles, similar to what was discovered before September 11, indicates al Qaeda may be planning another attack.

Asked how serious the potential threat might be, Rice said. "We take everything ... very seriously. ... We are on a higher state of alert than we were prior to 9/11."




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