Eavesdropping to Go On, Cheney Tells Midshipmen
Naval Academy Revels Over Graduation, Reflects on War


By Ray Rivera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 27, 2006; Page A03

Vice President Cheney highlighted America's intelligence efforts yesterday as critical tools in the fight against terrorists at home and abroad and vowed the administration would continue a controversial eavesdropping program that he said has been wrongly dubbed "domestic surveillance."

"I want each one of you to know that the president will not relent in the effort to track the enemies of the United States with every legitimate tool in his command," Cheney said during a graduation address at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. "This is not a war we can win on the defensive. Our only option against these enemies is to monitor them, to find them, to fight them and to destroy them."

Although support for the administration continues to sag nationally, Cheney found a receptive audience of close to 27,000 in the graduating midshipmen and their friends and families at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Cheney said Bush authorized the National Security Agency after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to intercept a certain category of terrorist-linked international communications. "If people in the United States are communicating with al-Qaeda, they are talking to the enemy -- and we need to know about it," he said.

The administration has been under fire since the New York Times revealed in December the existence of warrantless NSA wiretaps of Americans' international calls. USA Today recently reported that the NSA also collected millions of phone records from U.S. businesses and homes.

The highly classified program was "improperly revealed to the news media, some of which now describe it as domestic surveillance," Cheney said. "That is not the case. We are talking about international communications, one end of which we have reason to believe is related to al-Qaeda or to terrorist networks. It's hard to think of any category of information that could be more important to the safety of the United States."

The future Navy and Marine officers, clad in white-and-black uniforms, sat in rows on the field as Cheney somberly listed terrorist attacks at home and abroad, starting with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and including the Sept. 11 attacks. He reminded the Class of 2006 that it was the first to enter the academy after the twin towers fell.

"I'm guessing that more than a few of you were inspired to military service by the attack on our country," he said. "In these four years, the war on terror has influenced the course of study at our service academies, and it will define much of your career leading American sailors and Marines."

In lighter moments, Cheney singled out the only two graduates from his home state, Wyoming. "I would have expected more," he said, "considering Wyoming's maritime traditions and the breadth of our coastline."

And he drew loud applause when he reminded the class that the football team beat Army four years in a row.

The 3 1/2-hour ceremony under gray skies was filled with military pomp and ritual. A cannon boomed 19 times upon Cheney's arrival, and the Blue Angels thundered over the stadium in a single pass so low that remnants from their contrails drifted onto the field.

Keeping with tradition, the vice president, as keynote speaker, pardoned all midshipmen on restriction for minor conduct offenses, saying he had discussed the idea with President Bush.

"The president took the view that we should be lenient," he said. "Me, I could have gone either way. But he's the boss."

Cheney then shook the hands of each of the 980 graduates as they received their diplomas.

After the celebratory hat toss ending the ceremony, the stadium was a mix of tears and applause as family members descended onto the field in another ritual: pinning Marine second lieutenant bars and Navy ensign boards on their graduating loved ones.

"Oh, man," said Tristan Gerritsen of Baltimore, commissioned as a second lieutenant, as he hugged his comrades. Although his immediate plans are to go to graduate school, he hopes to fly. "I have an air contract, and, hopefully, I will be flying jets," he said.

For 23-year-old Marshall Pagaling of Sacramento, receiving his commission as an ensign was an extension of a family tradition.

"My other son graduated from the academy in 2003, and now he is flying and in the Marine Corps," said his mother, Sharon Hagan.

Theo Williams, 22, of Artesia, N.M., credited his parents and supportive relatives for his graduation and commission as a naval officer. "I couldn't have done this by myself," said Williams, his mother, Donna, at his side.