TYSONS CORNER, Va. – The Patriot Act (search) is vital to law enforcement officials "on the front lines" of the War on Terror in their efforts to prevent future attacks on America, President Bush said Friday.
"One of the most important tools to combat terror is the Patriot Act," Bush said in remarks at the National Counterterrorism Center (search) outside Washington. "The Patriot Act has helped save American lives and it has protected American liberties. For the sake of our national security, the United States Congress needs to renew all the provisions of the Patriot Act and, this time, Congress needs to make those provisions permanent."
Bush also pressed Congress to renew the expiring provisions on Thursday in Ohio.
"It doesn't make any sense to me, that if something is working, why should it expire," Bush said Friday.
On his visit to the nation's new facility charged with pooling and analyzing information about terrorist threats, Bush also announced his selection of retired Vice Adm. John Scott Redd (search), who recently held an operations post in Iraq and was executive director of the presidential commission on intelligence failures, as director.
"He's a man of enormous experience. He has served our country with distinction," Bush said.
If confirmed by the Senate, Redd, 60, would replace John O. Brennan, the center's interim chief.
Redd served 36 years in the U.S. Navy, commanding eight organizations at sea from a destroyer to a fleet. He founded and commanded the Navy's Fifth Fleet in the Middle East in 1995 and has held top policy posts at the Pentagon. Since retiring in 1998, he has served as chief executive officer of a high-tech education company and deputy administrator and chief operating officer of the now-defunct Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.
The center Bush visited was created as part of the wide-ranging overhaul of the nation's spy community, spurred by what critics called the government's failure to collect, understand and share critical information before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks (search).
Pols Say Patriot Act Will Be Renewed
The Patriot Act, Congress' nearly immediate reaction to the attacks, allowed expanded surveillance of terror suspects, increased use of material witness warrants to hold suspects incommunicado and permitted secret proceedings in immigration cases.
Now, 16 provisions are set to expire later this year. Congress has begun working on renewing them amid fresh criticism from members of both parties that the law undermines basic freedoms.
But other lawmakers from both sides of the aisle also approve of the job the fairly new law is doing.
"There may be a few tweaks but I think in the main, everyone is convinced the Patriot Act has made a difference in our ability to get terrorists before they attack our country again," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, told FOX News on Friday.
Although some provisions, such as law enforcement's access to library records, may need to be reviewed, "I think the Patriot Act should and will be renewed," former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., told FOX News.
Although groups like the ACLU argue that under the law, "domestic terrorism" could be applied to pro-choice protesters and others, Graham, who used to chair the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that's quite a stretch that likely won't be seen.
"I don't believe that is a serious concern, whereas I do believe it's a serious concern we have a significant number of trained operatives here either to commit terrorist acts inside the United States or are here to support those who would commit those acts."
Librarians and civil liberties advocates have been up in arms over the provision that allows law enforcement to check library records if they suspect terrorist activity. But in an interview with "FOX and Friends" on Friday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales noted that that power has never been used.
"But the truth of the matter is, if we know that a terrorist is about to blow up, say, New York City, and we know that they are using a library computer to get information, to help them pursue that terrible act, yes, we're going to exercise the authorities under the Patriot Act to get the information that we need to prevents such activity from happening," Gonzales said.
Patriot Act Hearing Gets Rowdy
A Justice Department inspector general report released Thursday, which looked at pre-Sept. 11 intelligence operations, chronicles how the FBI missed at least five opportunities to uncover vital information that might have led agents to the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers. The report also found that CIA employees and four FBI agents assigned to the CIA's Usama bin Laden unit didn't effectively give information on terror suspects in the United States to the FBI.
"Prior to the attack, we kind of all went about our own merry way. There was some interagency dialogue, but not a lot. And we learned a lesson about having walls between our agencies and we're tearing those walls down," Gonzales said in the interview with FOX News.
He said the 16 provisions up for renewal are "critical."
"The sharing of the information provisions are so critical, because these investigations are so complex, they're complicated, and it's very, very important for the law enforcement community and the intelligence community to be sharing information," the attorney general said. "In addition, the Patriot Act does give the law enforcement community tools to go after terrorism-related activities ... they're very important tools in fighting the war on terrorism."
Bill Gavin,a former FBI assistant director, told FOX News on Friday that the Patriot Act has been a tremendous help in facilitating communication between officials at various law enforcement agencies since it was enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"I think we would have had a better chance of stopping what happened that day" if the Patriot Act had been in place in September 2001, Gavin said. But he noted that there were "cultural differences" between agencies back then as well, such as law enforcement at the FBI not being able to talk well with intelligence gatherers at the CIA.
"It really was a huge hazard" before Sept. 11, he added. "The Patriot Act in that area has been a huge help to both agencies .. impediments aren't so much the system itself but some individuals within the systems and those barriers are being broken down as fast as they can."
The House Judiciary Committee on Friday met to discuss reauthorization of the Patriot Act but the hearing ended abruptly when committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., abruptly gaveled the meeting to an end and walked out, followed by other Republicans. Sensenbrenner declared that much of the testimony, which veered into debate over the detainees at Guantanamo Bay (search), was irrelevant.
Sensenbrenner left Democrats shouting into turned-off microphones at the raucous hearing as both sides accused each other of being irresponsible and undemocratic.
Hearing witnesses included: Chip Pitts, chairman of the Amnesty International USA Board; James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute; Deborah Pearlstein, director of the U.S. Law and Security Program of Human Rights First; and Carlina Tapia Ruano of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Tempers flared when Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., accused Amnesty International of endangering the lives of Americans in uniform by referring to the prison at Guantanamo Bay as a "gulag." Sensenbrenner didn't allow the Amnesty representative, Chip Pitts, to respond until Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., raised a "point of decency."
Meanwhile, Michael Battle, director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys at the Justice Department, on Friday answered Patriot Act questions during the daily "Ask the White House" Web chat session.
Separately, Bush on Friday named members of an oversight board being created to make sure the government's counterterror investigations and arrests do not trample privacy rights and civil liberties.
Bush picked Texas lawyer Carol Dinkins, who was deputy attorney general under former President Reagan, to chair the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and Alan Charles Raul, an administration official in the former Bush and Clinton administrations, to be vice chairman.
The other members chosen by Bush were: Lanny Davis, once a crisis manager in the Clinton White House; former Solicitor General Ted Olson; and General Electric Co. executive Francis X. Taylor, a former head of diplomatic security and counterterrorism coordinator at the State Department.
FOXNews.com's Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.