Transcript: Fleischer's Early Morning Briefing for Reporters
(Terrorist attacks and aftermath) (4150)
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer met with reporters in the White House briefing room early September 12 to update them on the work of the federal government following the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington the day before. He was expected to brief again later in the day.
Following is the White House transcript:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
September 12, 2001
PRESS GAGGLE BY ARI FLEISCHER
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
9:57 A.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good morning. Thank you for allowing me to do this in the Briefing Room under the usual gaggle rules. Let me get into the events of the day.
The President arrived in the Oval Office at 7:05 a.m. this morning. And he has already had his intelligence briefings from the CIA Director and from other national security officials. He called Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister Chretien; they expressed their resolve to stand united against terrorism. He thanked Prime Minister Chretien, particularly, for the role that Canada played in being very helpful to the United States in handling the commercial airline traffic that landed in Canada.
The President at 9:30 a.m. began a meeting of the national security team. As you know, at 10:45 a.m., the President will issue a statement, will make remarks at the end of that meeting. At 11:30 a.m., a bipartisan, bicameral leadership meeting of the Congress is coming down to meet with the President and the President will look forward to talking to members of Congress and throughout the White House at all levels. The Congress has been talked to and will continue to be talked to. Their role is always very important.
Let me give you a bit of a summary from all the various agencies and what they are doing. You may have heard some of this before, but let me try to summarize the current play from the agencies and how they're carrying out the President's directive to bring help to those who have been injured and to do everything the federal government can do to help save lives.
The FBI, the INS, the U.S. Attorney's Office, U.S. Marshals and other agencies have deployed and are deploying teams to investigate these acts of terrorism in Boston, in New York, in Pennsylvania, at the Pentagon. A website has been established. If anybody in the country has any information to provide, at www.ifccfbi.gov. And there is a toll-free number for family and friends of possible victims to leave contact number for a future time when more information is available. And that is 800-331-0075.
The Department of Health and Human Services has sent four disaster medical teams, each consisting of 35 doctors, nurses and EMTs, to New York City, and three to Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia. They have shipped emergency medical supplies from the Center for Disease Control to New York City, and they have activated the 6,000-member U.S. Public Health Service Commission Corps.
The Department of Transportation is controlling movement of all vessels in U.S. waters and is conducting a review of immediate airport security measures to increase travelers' safety. I think you can anticipate information out of the Department of Transportation at some point later about resumption of flights when that will take place.
And FEMA has named Ted Monette as the Federal Coordinating Officer, with a wide-ranging authority to coordinate federal responses. FEMA advance teams are on the ground, including four urban search and rescue teams. FEMA has also established a help line for victims and others who have been harmed by the disaster, and that number is 800-462-9029.
I'd be happy to take questions.
QUESTION: Has the President made up his mind or is there any way to know who actually did this, and master-minded it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, the full resources of the government are involved in collecting information that would give the government all indications. I'm not at liberty to discuss the results of all that, but rest assured the full resources of the government are dedicated to that, as the President indicated.
Q: But there are results? He does have a final result?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I did not indicate there was a final result.
Q: Does the sophistication and scope of this operation suggest that there might have been some state sponsorship?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, I'm not going to speculate about what any of the information that is being gathered indicates.
Q: Ari, do you know anything about an evacuation of the Agriculture Department this morning?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard anything about that.
Q: Any federal buildings that reported any trouble today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing has been brought to my attention. And I do want to caution everybody -- yesterday there was a series of information provided that was aired, that turned out to be wrong. So I will do everything in my power to check, to help keep everybody accurate; but I have not heard a thing about that.
Q: Ari, given that the scale of the attacks yesterday and the level of mortality involved, can the President assure the American people that a U.S. response would be commensurate with that level?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, as the President said yesterday in his words, America has stood down enemies before and we will do so this time. We will defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world. And I think the President's words speak for themselves on that matter.
Q: Ari, which members of the national security team are here and what makes up the team? And do you know anything more about his -- how much the President slept last night, if he was able to get a few hours sleep?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'll get an indication of who is in the room at 10:45 a.m. as, of course, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, other military authorities. I'll try to provide you additional names, but -- go ahead, Sean.
MR. McCORMACK: Chairman Shelton, Director Tenet, Dr. Rice and others.
Q: What's the thrust of that meeting?
Q: Any overnight --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President did not receive any updates overnight.
Q: What's the purpose of the NSC meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you can anticipate at a time like this the President collect the latest information and to discuss appropriate steps and actions, meets with his national security advisors so that they can provide the President with the latest information; and that so he is in the strongest position to make all judgments he deems wise.
Q: What is he looking for out of the leadership meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, at a time like this, one of the greatest strengths of our country that has always kept us secure is that we are a democracy. And our nation has always prevailed. And one of the reasons we have always prevailed is because our constitutional system keeps us strong and free. Congress is a vital and important part of that. Communication with Congress is a vital and important part of that.
Our government functions, functions well, and has been tested before and has never failed the test. And we will continue to work closely with Congress.
Q: Is that largely a symbolic meeting, though, or do you expect to be -- for him to brief leaders?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is an important meeting. There will be additional briefings. There were briefings on the Hill last night, for example, conducted by the National Security Council, with members of Congress. There will be additional briefings today by White House or security officials with members of Congress. Congress has an important role and they will be worked with closely.
Q: Ari, is there anything to suggest that this might not be over? And the extra security precautions that are being taken at airports, is the President confident that they will screen for the type of weapons that we understand were involved in these hijackings?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the Department of Transportation will give you specific information about their beefed-up safety operations. But, you know, there is just no question this was a well-coordinated, planned attack that was executed yesterday morning. And we believe that the perpetrators have executed their plan and, therefore, the risks are significantly reduced.
Q: How do you know that? I mean, what indications do you have and what else besides what DOT is doing, what other precautionary methods are you taking to try to ensure that nothing --
MR. FLEISCHER: The reason we know this is because of the resources of the federal government are committed to learning things. And I indicated the risk is significantly reduced. Obviously, the President returned to Washington yesterday; the government is open for business today. And that is the course that we are on.
Q: But, Ari, considering the enormity of the information that U.S. resources did not know yesterday, why do you feel confident that you know enough today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I answered the question by saying that this was a coordinated attack that was executed yesterday and we believe that the risk is significantly reduced. The United States will remain vigilant and the United States will do everything it can to continue its vigilance.
Q: There is nothing to suggest that this might have been the first wave?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, I'm not going to speculate.
Q: Ari, a couple of questions. One, is the President going to ask Congress for a sum of money, in terms of emergency aid? I know Joe Allbaugh talked about FEMA needing some more money. Two, can you just follow up on Deb's question about how late the President was briefed last night, if he was up watching any coverage or if he got any sleep or made calls?
And number three, any sense of how close you are to determining who is responsible.
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. Ask me the first one again.
Q: What was the first one? (Laughter.)
Q: Emergency aid.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President believes the number one priority must be to save lives and to help those who were injured, and to help the cities that are involved. Money will be not a consideration. Doing what is right to help the American people is his only consideration.
As for last night, the President, after the Oval Office address, went into a meeting of his security team. The meeting lasted a little over an hour. And then the President returned to the residence and, as I indicated, he did not receive any additional updates or information in the course of the night. He received his first information updated early this morning upon arrival into the Oval.
Q: Did he call anybody over the night or --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President did not call anybody overnight.
Q: -- gather from the answer to your question, that you do expect to have emergency spending request of Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't rule it out; I think that's a possibility.
Q: But no idea of an amount at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q: On that point, Ari, if I may. You hate to bring up, sort of, budget matters at a point like this, but obviously the President had said that dipping into Social Security would only be appropriate -- and one of the cases he mentioned was severe emergency. Does this constitute a severe emergency and would you expect there to be no limits on what kind of spending we would make in an effort to both help those who have been injured and killed, as well as pursue those responsible?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that this is the definition of a severe emergency and the President's first focus is on helping those who have been injured and getting the resources in place so that emergency workers and authorities have everything they need to save lives. And the President is focused on that goal.
Q: One other thing, if I may. The airlines are concerned about restoring confidence and the potential financial implications for airlines if people stop flying. Is there any talk of what the federal government can do to help restore confidence in flying? Have you had any calls, taken any steps in that regard?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, as I indicated, the Secretary of Transportation is going to address that today.
Q: Do you know what time, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Don't have times.
Q: Ari, is the President upset that we had such a lack of intelligence and information and that we apparently have lost the human factor -- the Middle East and otherwise -- in terms of intelligence?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I think from the President's point of view, the United States has the best intelligence and the best military in the world. As you know, upon his election he went to the CIA and met with the CIA. I think that's a sign of how much importance the President attaches to intelligence information and its role in keeping our society safe and free.
Q: Did he have any warning --
MR. FLEISCHER: But you said, is the President upset. Colin Powell addressed that this morning, in indicating, saying it yesterday as well, that there were no specific warnings that were received.
But you asked about the President's mind set, was he upset. I can just tell you in the many conversations I've had with the President -- whether it was this morning or traveling with him and being really in a small cabin with him for almost all of yesterday -- I have just never seen a man so determined to do what is right to protect our country. That's his mind set.
Q: But that doesn't answer the question. Why didn't we know some things that we should have known?
Q: Does he consider it an intelligence failure?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, I think that when you live in a free society, even one that has the best intelligence like the American system, it does everything it can to prevent acts of terrorism. There have been many times in the past -- some reported, some not -- in which our intelligence services did interdict and stop terrorist incidents. And we are a free society; we do everything in our power as a government to protect. Obviously, yesterday was a day that all measures taken were met with a series of suicide bombers in airplanes.
Q: But has he commissioned an analysis of what went wrong? Does he want to know what happened?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I think in all due course, all items will be looked at. The President's focus right now is on helping to save lives and take appropriate action.
Q: So, Ari, there's been all this talk recently about missile defense as a way to defend ourselves against these rogue acts by rogue states or terrorist groups. Does this suggest that there should be a reassessment of that strategy?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. The two are not connected. The United States still faces risks of many natures. This was a terrorist risk that was carried out in a different form of delivery, within our borders. But that does not mean there are not other threats out there that also need to be addressed, per missile defense.
Q: But isn't this the sort of contingency that we should be putting the type of effort that this administration is putting towards missile defense on, to try to prevent?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely, there is far more emphasis in the government, in terms of the spending on preventing acts of terrorism, than there is in missile defense. Lopsidedly, overwhelmingly -- I think it's something like $11 billion is spent on counterterrorism and deterring terrorism.
Q: But you're thinking of spending upwards of $200 billion on missile defense.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's budget request for this year is $8 billion.
Q: In the long run.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, in the long run, there's increased funding for terrorism as well. The President has that in his budget.
So no, it's an irrelevant comparison.
Q: Is the initial judgment here about airport security that a lot more money needs to be spent, a lot more people need to be involved, a very different system needs to be in place?
MR. FLEISCHER: I mean, these are questions that I think the Secretary of Transportation is going to get into. Dick?
Q: Ari, many of the newspapers this morning and lots of the people that have been talking on TV over the last 24 hours are calling this an "act of war." Does the President see it as an act of terrorism, or perhaps as an act of war, albeit a different kind of war from the ones this nation has faced in the past?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to refer you back again to what the President said last night. And the President will express himself on any other issues. But I will refer you at this moment to what the President said last night.
Q: Ari, is there any reason to believe that this noon deadline for resuming flights is going to get pushed back at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to speculate about it. I want to make sure that any answer I would provide would be definitive, and I have not got a definitive word yet from the Department of Transportation.
Q: But is it under discussion right now, at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to speculate. I know that they're going to take the appropriate action to resume activities in a way that provides safety.
Q: Ari, on a more parochial matter. I understand that the White House doesn't have the final say, but does the White House have any thoughts on police requests to postpone the IMF meetings?
MR. FLEISCHER: I need to get an update on that. I cannot tell you right now.
Q: On a similar parochial issue, how will this affect the President's scheduled travel to New York for the United Nations Summit, the Shanghai APEC Summit, even just domestic travel?
MR. FLEISCHER: In the near-term, the President's schedule is going to be substantially changed to focus on handling the terrorist acts that have taken place. Longer than near-term, I'm not going to speculate about additional possible changes in the President's schedule. But suffice it to say for the next several days or so the President is going to remain focused on the crisis and the response to it.
Q: Does he want or intend to travel to the sights of the attacks?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, Terry, he does.
Q: He does?
MR. FLEISCHER: He does. And, of course, the President wants to be with those who need comfort. The President wants to express his gratitude to the rescue workers and to the ordinary citizens who have done so much, in many cases risked their jobs -- risked their lives to save people. Clearly, the first priority has got to be not to do anything that would interfere with the rescue efforts that are currently underway. And the President is respectful of that.
Q: Do you expect the U.N. General Assembly session to go on as planned?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I indicated short-term; I'm not going to speculate about anything longer term.
Q: Beyond the President's --
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't heard. I just haven't heard. I think in fairness, a lot of people are going to assess what they're doing, and it's just too soon to make some judgments. But I have not heard anything on that point, so don't take that as a lean one way or another.
Q: Ari, do you have details on the correspondence that he had last night from President Putin or the communication that --
MR. FLEISCHER: I anticipate I'll be able to get you additional information on that and several other communications the President has had a little later today.
Let me take just a couple more, and then I'm going to be back to brief on camera later this afternoon. We don't have a hard time for you yet. What we're going to try to do is coordinate, there are going to be likely several Cabinet members and other announcements being made to provide the maximum information to the press and to the public. And so we have a series of coordinations to conduct.
Q: Will the President ask members of Congress when they come up here today to pass something resembling a declaration of war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, the President in half an hour will speak for himself.
Q: Ari, on the point of President Putin, there was a report this morning that the Russian President had a great deal of difficulty reaching the American President yesterday. Can you --
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no information on that.
Q: He made several calls, couldn't get through.
MR. FLEISCHER: Don't have anything for you, Jay; I can't confirm that.
Q: Ari, what about the potential affects on the economy, of this? And we're not just talking about air travel and a diminution of air craft loads. How about the overall affect on the economy? Could this potentially take the slow growth and drive us into recession?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think that I am qualified to answer that question. That's an economist question that also remains -- there are just several variables that I think people have to give some time to fully analyze the impact of this.
Q: Is that an aspect of it that the President is concerned about?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's focus is on the lives and the President's focus is on the appropriate response.
The President, of course, cares at all times about the economy, but at a time like this, his first focus is now on the incident.
Q: Ari, does an incident like this lead the administration to want to fight harder on behalf of removing some restrictions that currently apply to CIA, such as more latitude to commit assassinations or hire foreign agents with criminal backgrounds?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think now is not a time to speculate on any of those structural issues. I was asked earlier about how did this happen. There will come an appropriate time.
Q: Ari, is it too early to know whether this will affect the -- that will be presented this fall.
MR. FLEISCHER: Will it affect the what?
Q: The defense reform that has to be presented this fall.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to speculate about that -- speculating about that would get into what type of action is going to be required and reaction to this, and I'm just not going to speculate.
Q: Has the President spoken to any pastors that he knows, or any other religious leaders in the last 24 hours?
MR. FLEISCHER: I know that the meeting yesterday of the national security team began with a prayer that was led by the President. The President asked everybody to pray.
Q: Has he talked to his father?
MR. FLEISCHER: He has.
Q: The meeting last night or the one in Nebraska?
MR. FLEISCHER: The one last night, I can tell you that. The meeting in Nebraska, I do not know.
Q: When did he talk to his father and what was that about?
MR. FLEISCHER: He talked to his father yesterday.
Q: From where, at what point during the day?
MR. FLEISCHER: Aboard Air Force One.
Q: -- flight?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have to take a look; I don't recall.
Q: He called his father?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know.
Q: You usually don't disclose the contents of those conversations.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
Q: Can you today?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q: Was the Vice President in the national security team meeting that's going on now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q: Is the former President reaching out to world leaders on behalf of his son?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't heard that. Okay. I'll be back for the briefing.
Q: Did he call the --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to give any details about conversations with his father.
Q: Did he call --
MR. FLEISCHER: He did. The President did, from Air Force One en route back to Washington yesterday, call Solicitor General Ted Olson to express his condolences about the death of his wife, Barbara.
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)