Vice President Dick Cheney has defended domestic surveillance and other controversial federal measures to detect potential terrorist threats in the United States. Cheney, who usually shuns the public spotlight, spoke in a rare question-and-answer session with reporters in Washington.
Vice President Cheney says America is winning the war on terror, and that a key sign of success is the fact that no terrorist attacks have been launched on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001.
Cheney says the success is due to two factors. First, the United States has acted aggressively to confront terrorists abroad - what he termed "taking the battle to the enemy overseas." But he also credited domestic efforts to make the United States less vulnerable to attack.
"The terrorist surveillance program has been very important," said Dick Cheney. "We have been engaged in a debate about the wisdom of the program and whether or not it is legal. It clearly is legal, we believe. The extraordinary measures we have taken to defend that nation at home are in no small part responsible for the fact that we have not been hit [attacked] again since 9/11."
Civil liberties groups and others have criticized the federal government's program to monitor domestic telephone calls for possible terrorist activity. The Bush administration has said such surveillance only occurs when at least one party in the phone conversation is believed to be a foreign terrorist operative.
Vice President Cheney was speaking at a Washington awards ceremony for distinguished members of the news media.
In response to a question from a reporter, he criticized media disclosures about secret government operations relating to national security. He said such disclosures ultimately aid America's enemies, and can make allies reluctant to cooperate with the United States on sensitive matters out of fear of exposure.
Turning to Iraq, the vice president was asked if the Bush administration underestimated the strength of the insurgency that erupted after U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. He said, "I think so."
"If I look back on it now, I do not think anybody anticipated the level of violence that we have encountered [in Iraq]," he said. "An area where I think we were faced with difficulties we did not anticipate was the devastation that 30 years of Saddam's rule had wrought on the psychology of the Iraqi people."
Cheney said the insurgency has been dealt major defeats by the will of Iraqis to participate in elections, to forge a new constitution, and establish a democratic government representing the country's major ethnic groups.