GLENVIEW, Ill. – President Bush (search) on Thursday acknowledged "deep institutional failures" in the nation's defense that led to the 2001 terrorist attacks, and he said he would seriously consider the Sept. 11 commission's (search) recommendations to better anticipate threats.
"The job's not done, and this report will help our country identify even more steps to better defend America," Bush said.
But he was silent, however, on one of the panel's key recommendations — to create a Cabinet-level national intelligence director, who would oversee the 15-agency intelligence community. The idea got a cool response on Wednesday from Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge (search), who said, "I don't think you need a czar."
Bush said the panel's report was "serious and comprehensive." He called for better coordination among intelligence agencies, increased collection of intelligence by humans and better technology to track enemies anywhere in the world.
"I agree with their conclusion that the terrorists were able to exploit `deep institutional failings' in our nation's defenses that developed over more than a decade," Bush said.
"We will give serious consideration to every idea because we share a common goal — to do everything in our power to prepare for and to stop any terrorist attack."
Bracing Americans for the possibility of another terrorist attack, Bush said: "They intend to strike the United States again. They're seeking increasingly powerful weapons that would allow them to kill our citizens on an unprecedented scale. That's the reality of the world we live in today."
Bush spoke at Northeastern Illinois Public Safety Training Academy (search) here just hours after the independent panel released its 575-page tome in Washington. While the panel's report focused Americans on the nation's vulnerability to attack, Bush highlighted steps he says he's taken to better safeguard the nation.
He said the administration has: Melded more than 20 agencies with 180,000 personnel into a single Department of Homeland Security. Spent millions of dollars to equip first-responders and help them communicate. Made improvements at ports. Helped develop and stockpile vaccines and antidotes for chemical and germ weapons. Found faster ways to send local officials information on evolving threats. Refocused the FBI on homeland defense, and improved the way investigators share information.
"We will work tirelessly to disrupt and prevent terrorist attacks, and if an attack should come, America will be prepared," Bush said.
His words seemed a direct response to a four-word conclusion in the executive summary of the report: "The nation was unprepared."
Bush fought the creation of the panel, resisted the release of documents and battled against letting national security adviser Condoleezza Rice address the panel. At a Rose Garden ceremony earlier in the day, however, Commission Chairman Thomas Kean praised the president for allowing "unprecedented access to documents."
The panel faulted long-running intelligence lapses that gave the hijackers an opening to attack. It described shortcomings of both the Bush and Clinton administrations, but did not affix blame to either president.
Asked whether Bush believed his administration could have done anything differently in the months leading up to the attacks, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the blame blankets several presidencies. "You're sitting here trying to play a blame-casting game," he said. "That's not the purpose of the report. The report points out that the blame lies squarely, lies squarely with Al Qaeda."
In his response to the report, Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry said he would restore alliances to share the burden of fighting terrorism, better coordinate intelligence agencies and strengthen homeland defenses. He supports the panel's recommendation for a national intelligence director.
Kerry said the challenge ranges "From better protecting our transportation systems, to safeguarding our ports and infrastructure, to improving our emergency communications systems and integrating our watch lists, to providing our first responders with the resources they need to do their jobs."
Bush on Thursday also signed an executive order instructing government agencies to consider the needs of people with disabilities when preparing responses to emergencies, such as natural disasters and terrorist attacks.
After his speech at the training center, Bush participated in a Republican Party fund-raiser at the home of Illinois businessman Pat Ryan, whose company, Aon, lost 176 employees in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Ryan is the Illinois finance chairman of Bush's campaign.
About 100 demonstrators gathered to protest Bush's visit to Illinois, where he also was attending a Republican Party fund-raiser in affluent Winnetka, just outside Chicago. About eight people with Bush-Cheney campaign signs chanted "Four more years." Anti-Bush protesters shouted back, "Four more months."