Former President George W. Bush on Thursday defended some of the cellphone data-gathering tactics used by the National Security Agency that have caused a public uproar in recent weeks, saying America’s “still at risk” and it’s about “connecting the dots” in the war on terror.

“There’s kind of a view that maybe they’ve gone away – they haven’t,” Bush said, referring to terrorists. “And now, techniques used to prevent attacks have been disclosed. I don’t know if you remember after 9/11, Congress had hearings, right? And you know what the hearings were about? We didn’t connect the dots. Well, we didn’t have the tools there to connect the dots.”

“One of the killers makes a phone call from San Diego to somewhere, how come you didn’t know? We didn’t have the tools. We’ve got the tools. Now the people in Congress are saying, ‘Why are you connecting the dots?’ It’s a tough assignment for the president. It is.”

Bush made the comments as part of a private, hour-long talk he gave during the annual general assembly meeting of the Western Riverside Council of Governments, which consists of representatives from city councils and public agencies in that region of Southern California – known as Republican-friendly territory.

The former president’s paid appearance was closed to the public and media.

The College Fix obtained an audio recording of the president’s address, during which he also spoke on the economy, immigration, Sept. 11, baseball and other topics in a dinnertime talk that was at times casual, at times serious.

Although Bush did not mention the Patriot Act by name, his comment that “techniques used to prevent attacks have been disclosed” was apparently in reference to recent revelations that the government collects American’s phone records and similar data for national security purposes.

Bush did not specifically address the news that, under President Barack Obama’s administration, government agencies have used the 11-year-old law to exponentially increase the amount of mass data collected on Americans, including emails, social media posts and similar information.

Bush also did not mention the data-mining program PRISM, which reportedly connects the dots between all the metadata collected by the government from companies such as Verizon and Google.

The disclosure about PRISM – made earlier this month by former NSA tech consultant and government whistleblower Edward Snowden – generated a firestorm of controversy, and prompted Americans to question whether they prefer freedom and privacy over a sense of safety.

Bush, in his talk, said Americans are “still at risk.”

Commenting on his thoughts the morning of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush said “I vowed … I would do everything within the law to protect the United States of America, that is by far the most important job of the president.”

The Patriot Act was signed into law during the aftermath of the attacks, in October 2001.

“I’ve made a lot of tough decisions … but I hope my citizens understand that they are all designed to uphold the constitution and protect the American people,” Bush said. “People forget – there are a lot of threats. … Until free societies marginalize radicals, this nation is still at risk. We are in an ideological conflict, facing people who murder the innocent to advance their point of view.”

It was at this point Bush defended “connecting the dots” through clandestine technologies.

Bush also touched on the notion of democracy spreading across the globe, and America’s role in that movement.

“One of the things that really troubles me is isolationism,” he said. “I promise you, if the United States withdraws from the world, vacuums are created, and in the vacuums will flow elements that are not in the interest of human kind. We’re badly needed.”

Bush, who launched the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11, spoke on what some people contend is the slow pace of democracy spreading in the Middle East as a result of American interventionism.

“People say, ‘Well, there’s no democracy yet.’ Well, you know what I understand about democracy? We enslaved Condi’s relatives for a hundred years,” he said, referring to Condoleezza Rice, a black woman who served as secretary of state for Bush.

“What are we talking about instituting democracy and fairness?” he said. “Democracy is a work in progress. It takes time. … We’ve gotta have some patience, some perseverance – and faith – that the democratic system is the only way for there to be peace in the long run. … I believe the Arab Spring is the beginnings of peace.”

Jennifer Kabbany is associate editor of The College Fix.

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Move over FBI, CIA and the armed forces.

The real reason America has not seen a huge wave of terrorist attacks in America over the last decade?

There’s no real threat of it.

“Terrorism is not such a huge problem,” argues Charles Kurzman, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and author of recent book “The Missing Martyrs.”

Kurzman gave a speech Monday at the University of South Florida, and the student newspaper, The Oracle, chronicled his claims:

“If even 1 percent of the world’s billion Muslims, or even 1 percent of Muslims in the U.S. who number in the millions, were interested in doing this violent activity, there is no way they could all be stopped,” Kurzman said. “We would be seeing attacks, we would be seeing arrests, every day and all over. And yet we’re not – we don’t see it.” …

In his lecture, Kurzman referred to several translated documents from the Taliban and al-Qaida, attempting to recruit people in America. These documents told how simple it was to be a terrorist, blowing up a car or cutting the brakes on a truck. “These ideas are simple. Anyone who wanted to be could be a terrorist, and yet we see so little of it,” he said.

Kurzman said the expectations of terrorism stem from disproportionate fear in the world.

“We haven’t seen the level of violence we were prepared to see after 9/11 to be braced for,” Kurzman said. “Yet our resource allocation still seems to be tilted in the direction of those major threats that have not materialized.” …

“We have this idea that we live in a dangerous world and we need to be protecting ourselves constantly in a permanent state of emergency,” he said. “We are living in a relatively peaceful time. … One of the unremarked phenomena of our era is that war between governments has almost entirely disappeared.”

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A Supreme Court decision on whether universities can use race as an admissions factor is expected by June, however the court of public opinion has already weighed in on the matter – and Americans of all stripes stand largely against affirmative action, according to a variety of recent polls.

In those surveys, at least half if not more of those polled voiced opposition to race-based preferences.

Take a Rasmussen national telephone survey, which found only 24 percent of likely voters were in favor of using race as a factor in college admissions, while 55 percent stood opposed, and the rest were undecided. That survey was conducted 11 months ago.

More recently, a survey released in October found that 57 percent of Americans ages 18 to 25 – so-called young millennials – are opposed to racial preferences in college admissions or hiring decisions. In other words, nearly six out of every 10 opposed the practice.

“Although most younger millennials are firmly opposed to affirmative action programs in college admissions, relatively few report that they were hurt in the college admissions process because of their race or gender,” states a report on the results of the survey, conducted by the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, & World Affairs at Georgetown University and the Public Religion Research Institute.

Results also indicated 47 percent of those in that age group “oppose programs that make special efforts to help blacks and other minorities to get ahead because of past discrimination.”

What’s more, the survey found “support for affirmative action programs diminishes considerably when younger millennials are asked specifically about affirmative action for college admission.”

The same month that survey was released, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Fisher v. the University of Texas, which deals with race-conscious college admissions in America’s public universities.

Most of academia has expressed support for the University of Texas, which aims to continue its practice of using race as a preferential factor in admissions decisions. Administrators and faculty at elite schools have also chimed in, defending the notion of “diversity” in the classroom. All members of the Ivy League, the nation’s top liberal arts colleges, and other big-name schools, have filed amicus briefs on University of Texas’ behalf.

Yet the higher education community’s overwhelming support for racial preferences is not mirrored by the general public.

This month, the American Enterprise Institute released a political report that compiled public opinion on a variety of issues, including affirmative action. In its publication, the organization cited data from a 2010 survey by the National Opinion Research Center which found that a vast majority of Americans – 81 percent – oppose affirmative action policies that favor African Americans.

What’s more, only between 44 and 62 percent of blacks polled voiced support for various minority preferences, the poll found. AEI’s public opinion analyst Karlyn Bowman notes, in an interview with The College Fix, that results on such a sensitive topic are always swayed by how pollsters’ frame the question.

Nevertheless, she points to perhaps the most consistent of all affirmative action data available, an annual survey by the UCLA-based Higher Education Research Institute. The poll has found that, since 1995 and every year since, roughly 50 percent of college freshmen believe race-based university admissions preferences should be abolished.

“You could balance a glass of water on that line it’s so flat,” Bowman says.

Fix contributor Danielle Charette is a student at Swarthmore College.

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