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Secrets and security

Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, recently blamed prior administrations for not doing enough to address the growing threat of terrorism over the last 20 years. This, according to Rice, "emboldened" groups such as al-Qaida to rachet up their attacks.

In a speech before the National Legal Center for the Public Interest, Rice suggested that the 9/11 attacks were the consequence of weak responses by past administrations to attacks on Marine barracks in 1983, the World Trade Center in 1993 and the USS Cole in 2000, among others.

If, as Rice says, past administrations were not as vigilant as they should have been, then what about the Bush administration, which is refusing to turn over documents integral to the investigation of an independent 9/11 commission? Among the documents the commission is seeking are summaries of CIA intelligence briefings the president received in the weeks before the attack. Citing executive privilege, the White House similarly refused to grant access to these materials last year to House and Senate investigators.

From the start, the administration has been less than friendly toward any effort to investigate the executive branch's activities related to the 9/11 attacks. President Bush initially opposed the creation of an independent commission. And, since getting under way, the leaders of the commission have complained about difficulties in gaining access to key documents and witnesses.

If Rice believes the Clinton administration and even the prior Bush and Reagan administrations responded inadequately to the growing terrorist threat, isn't it vital we now have a full accounting? Our estimated $30-billion intelligence apparatus can't be reformed until we know precisely what went wrong and why. Unless the White House offers its full cooperation, the commission chairman, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, will have no choice but to subpoena the documents, setting the stage for a possible court battle.

The Bush administration has been one of the most secretive in modern history, jealously guarding the president's public image. But politics and ego should take a back seat to national security in this case. Before Rice points any more fingers, the White House has some disclosing to do.