Fighting terror will define your careers, VP tells Mids

Cheney addresses first Naval Academy class to have entered after 9/11


ANNAPOLIS -- Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking to the first Naval Academy graduates to enter the school after the Sept. 11 attacks, laid out a grim picture yesterday of enemies "still desperately trying to hit us again," as he defended President Bush's anti-terrorism policies.

Addressing 980 midshipmen on a steamy day in Maryland's capital city, Cheney said terrorists are working to "establish a totalitarian empire." They are hoping, he added, to acquire unconventional weapons, "to destroy Israel, to intimidate all Western countries, and to cause mass death here in the United States."

Battling terrorism will "define much of your career," Cheney told the class.

Bush is to bring a similar message today to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., where he is expected to thank the cadets for stepping forward in a time of war. Bush will draw parallels between "the long war with Islamic radicalism" and past military challenges in the nation's history, according to White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.

Bush will say that "your generation will bring us victory in the war on terror," Snow told reporters.

Cheney, speaking to an audience of about 27,000 here, defended the National Security Agency's warrantless surveillance program as "absolutely essential to the security of the United States."

He sought to stoke the graduates' enthusiasm for joining the war effort, telling them that while "the enemies that struck us may be weakened and fractured, they are still lethal and still desperately trying to hit us again."

"They doubt our strength, and they believe that America will lose our nerve and let down our guard," Cheney said.

The vice president portrayed the NSA eavesdropping program as part of the government's "urgent duty" to track down terrorists before they attack Americans.

"The terrorists view the entire world as a battlefield, and those of us in positions of responsibility must do everything we can to figure out the intentions of an enemy that likely has combatants inside the United States," Cheney said.

He rejected allegations that the program monitors domestic calls. "That is not the case," he said tersely, repeating administration assertions that it targets only international communications.

"It's hard to think of any category of information that could be more important to the safety of the United States," he added.

Cheney spoke just minutes after a bipartisan majority of senators voted to confirm Gen. Michael V. Hayden, a former NSA director, as the new head of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Cheney's presence at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium added an element of solemnity to an otherwise festive day. Midshipmen raucously cheered a seat-shaking flyover by six F/A-18 Hornets from the Navy's "Blue Angels" precision flying squad. Some pumped their fists or leapt triumphantly as they received their degrees and commissions, and the class shouted jubilantly as the graduates threw their caps in the air at the end of commencement.

A gray and drizzly sky that had some audience members huddled under yellow plastic slickers gave way to bright but sticky weather as Cheney delivered his 24-minute speech in his trademark low monotone.

The vice president veered off his bellicose theme for a few light moments, teasing midshipmen about the long-standing tradition by which the president can absolve them of punishment for "minor conduct offenses." Bush "took the view that we should be lenient. Me, I could have gone either way," Cheney said dryly. "But he's the boss."

Cheney told the same joke four years ago, the last time he spoke at a Navy commencement.

But the war hung heavily over the celebration.

Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter, who introduced Cheney, told midshipmen, "You came here knowing full well that we were a nation at war and that you would be going in harm's way" in the years ahead.

Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, the academy's superintendent, told the class that "our nation now relies on your passion, your leadership ... your character as we fight the terror war. I assure you, you are ready."

The Class of 2006 showed Cheney its appreciation with polite applause, and then gave him a mug and jogging suit in the academy's blue and gold.

Cheney is scheduled today to speak to graduates of Natrona County High School in Casper, Wyo., where he and his wife, Lynne, graduated in 1959.

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