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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 30, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:03 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President this morning spoke with
President Aliyev of Azerbaijan and President Kucharian of Armenia. The
conversations focused on their strong expressions of support for the war on
terrorism, and President Bush welcomed their support. All three Presidents
reaffirmed their commitments to peace and stability in the Caucasus region, and
to advancing efforts to reach a peaceful settlement, with regard to the
President Bush underscored the importance of Congress taking final action to pass authority to waive restrictions on assistance imposed by Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act. Once that waiver is granted to the President by the Congress, which is now pending, that will allow the President to do more with Armenia, as well as Azerbaijan, to fight terrorism and to facilitate deeper cooperation in the region.
Following the phone calls, the President met with his intelligence advisors, with the Homeland Security advisors, Governor Ridge, and then he convened a meeting of the National Security Council.
The President later today will arrive at the Wootten High School in Rockville, Maryland, where he will participate in a Lessons for Liberty program. This is a new initiative that the President is declaring to declare the week of November 11th through 17th as National Veterans Awareness Week. He will ask schools throughout the country -- public, private, as well as home schools -- to invite a veteran to speak about their experience in serving our country, the significance of Veterans Day, and the importance of supporting the ideas of liberty, democracy and freedom.
The President will return to the White House following that. He will have several meetings here, and then -- including a meeting with the co-chairs of the Commission to Strengthen Social Security. Social Security remains a very important issue to the President, saving and preserving Social Security, while allowing younger workers to have more options in the Social Security system.
The President later this afternoon will depart for New York, where he will throw out the first pitch in the World Series tonight at Yankee Stadium. And I do not have any additional announcements, so I'm pleased to take your questions.
Q The warning that was issued yesterday was based on credible information from multiple sources, as you've said. Was that connected in any way with Halloween, with the date of Halloween coming up?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I've heard no such reports that it may be connected with that.
Q Do you think you've learned a lesson now to tell the American people more, without giving away state secrets? I mean, you just leave people up in the air, saying be on the alert. For what?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, the American people have heard everything that we know. They --
Q They haven't heard everything you know -- I hope.
MR. FLEISCHER: The information that led to the issuing of this threat did not contain specific information, for example about what sites, what state. If any of that were provided, we'd be sharing it. That's the best way to prevent terrorism from happening. The warnings that we have do not include any such information.
Q You just keep people in a state of high tension. There must be a little bit more that you can give.
MR. FLEISCHER: If there were more, it would be provided. That is what we know. And it was of a generalized nature, there was no specific information about any one site, or any one region, or any one state. It was generalized information, which obviously has reached a credibility threshold where the Attorney General, along with the concurrence of the President, made the decision to notify the 18,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide.
Q Can you describe some of the debate internally about -- just as there was with the October 11th alert, the debate within the administration about whether that was the prudent thing to do?
MR. FLEISCHER: David, I'm not aware of anybody in the administration who questioned it. So I just can't answer that. I know what the process was and what the decision was. And you also have to keep in mind that any time the government is going to send an alert to 18,000 law enforcement personnel -- communities across the nation, it's going to become public. And once it does, everybody in this room is going to say, why didn't you tell us? So also, there's a logical determination made that if it's going to get shared with such a wide universe, the proper thing to do is fully and forthrightly inform the American people and the press.
Q Can I follow up on just one thing? Is your information as nebulous as you're trying to transmit to the public?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, I've told you what the information was.
Q -- you act on as --
MR. FLEISCHER: You heard it from Governor Ridge at this same podium just an hour ago. My answer is no different from what the Governor said to you. The information is as described. It is general information about a threat to the United States, with no more specificity, that will take place sometime in the next week or so. And that's why that information was shared.
Q Governor Ridge suggested to us that some of the information was gathered from associates of al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. Can you expand in any way on what he meant when he said that?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I don't want to get into anything more than that. I don't want to indicate who may be passing along information to the United States, where this information could come from. Suffice it to say, it came from sources that were deemed credible enough to take this public step.
Q So the public should conclude that this is something, if, in fact, it occurs, might possibly be sponsored by al Qaeda?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to speculate on who might be behind it.
Q Ari, do you have any idea how many al Qaeda operatives there might be in this country and abroad who are trained, ready to go, to carry out these or make good on these threats? And any idea how many al Qaeda operatives might have been caught up in the worldwide dragnet since September 11th?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I don't have any reliable, hard information on that. As you know, al Qaeda operates in some 50 to 60 nations worldwide. And the United States has been very vigilant, particularly since September 11th, in trying to identify anybody who might be associated with al Qaeda. And those efforts remain ongoing.
Q And what about the number of operatives who may have been swept up in this worldwide dragnet?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I don't have any hard, reliable facts on that -- figures on that.
Q Ari, you say you can't give information about the threat, but could it be also -- from what I understand, it can be abroad. It doesn't necessarily have to be inside the United States, it could be the American interests abroad. Is that right?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's a very interesting question, because you've put your finger on something. The fact of the matter is that Americans abroad, particularly in our embassy community, have been living with this nature of threat for quite a number of years. They have gone about their normal lives, every day, showing up at their various embassies. But you've heard repeatedly throughout this summer, heightened states of alert announced for our embassies, particularly in the Mideast area. So to people who have worked abroad, this is not anything new. But the information in this threat pertained to the United States. Other threats have been received, as I indicated, over the summer.
But that's another example of how people have gotten used to this. The fact of the matter is, our diplomatic community, people who serve in the embassies, have been living with this for years. And they go about their normal lives every day, showing up at work, taking their children to school, and doing all the things that normal Americans do, in a heightened security environment.
Q Can I ask about the World Series? Is the President, aside from being a baseball fan, trying to send a message by going to the game tonight?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, sure he is. The President is going to the game at Yankee Stadium because, one, he is a sports fan, and two, because of the events in New York City, for helping to do what all Americans are doing now, which is keeping the country doing what it typically does at this time of year. The World Series is a time of great excitement for many Americans. The President's going to participate in that, just like many Americans watch and enjoy the World Series. It helps to keep the fabric of our country strong.
Q Did he give any thought to the alert that the FBI has just issued, and the danger of traveling in public?
MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously, the President follows the advice of the Secret Service, and he has full faith in the ability of the Secret Service to keep himself safe any time, anywhere.
Q But it was considered a prudent precaution to have the Vice President someplace else?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q There are an increasing number of world leaders of Muslim nations who are calling for a pause in the bombing during Ramadan, and there are polls in even Western European countries that show a declining support for U.S. military action in Afghanistan. How concerned is the President that support for the military operation is on the decline around the world?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, the President is confident the support is strong for the operation, strong among the American people and strong elsewhere. And the President knows that this military operation is about saving lives and protecting citizens, not only here, but abroad. Keep in mind that citizens from 80 countries were killed when the terrorists attacked America on September 11th. And the President is mindful of that fact.
And the President is waging this war because our country was attacked, and our country will defend itself. He will keep building the coalition, keep working with the coalition, but he will take the actions necessary, in concert with our friends, to protect America.
Q But isn't there hard evidence, in the statement of these leaders and in polls, that that support is not as strong as it was several weeks ago? And is it -- are the actions of the U.S. constrained at all by what is obviously a cooling towards our operations?
MR. FLEISCHER: First, I just don't want to accept the premise of that. I think when you hear people say that they hope the operation of the military bombing, for example, will be over soon -- who doesn't? Who doesn't wish it would be over soon? But that doesn't mean they're saying, stop it. They understand that the risk to terrorism is a risk to themselves, as well.
And this is a chance for this generation to take action, to do something for the next generation and the generation after that, in the President's opinion, to make the world a safer world. And the President is determined, the President is resolute. And the President understands that the American people are patient, they know it may take years, and he appreciates the strong support that the American people have shown toward their government and toward the military.
Q So no constraints on U.S. military options by overseas opinion?
MR. FLEISCHER: Anything that would deal with military options, the Pentagon will be happy to discuss with you.
Q Ari, is the President going to meet with moderate Republican lawmakers this afternoon to lobby them on the aviation security bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will be meeting with members of Congress to discuss the aviation bill that is pending in the Congress. As you know, the House will shortly vote on an aviation measure. And the President thinks it's very important for the House to pass a bill that protects the traveling public. The President has laid out a series of specific initiatives involving strengthening cockpit doors, putting air marshals on airplanes, and having an increased federal role in the supervision of screeners and in the background checks of screeners. So he will be meeting with members of Congress as that vote approaches.
Q Do you know how many, who is he meeting and --
MR. FLEISCHER: As always, once those meetings take place, we post the members who arrive for the meetings, and we will do so again.
Q It's just the House, right?
MR. FLEISCHER: Today's meeting -- yes, the Senate has acted, so the action is in the House.
Q Ari, related to that, the Democratic National Committee yesterday conducted about 30 rallies around the country to try to pressure lawmakers and to put out the public message that the President's position is flat wrong on airline security. Does the President view this as the first significant open breech in what had been a new tone of cooperation and bipartisanship? And, if so, what does he intend to do about it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President believes that there's a balance to these things; that on the one hand, it's appropriate for Congress to do what it normally does, and as Congress acts, it's not uncommon for various groups to get involved and to speak their mind and make their point.
I think the President would be disappointed if this turned into a party-building exercise that was done involving the Democrat National Committee and unions, for example, as an effort to somehow diminish the President, politically, or to build up Democrat loyalty and support from unions. I think the President would be disappointed if that were the case.
Q Does he believe that is the case now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I said, I think there's a balance to these things, and we'll just have to see what steps people take to make their points.
Q Do you still maintain his overall attempt to create and stick with this bipartisan atmosphere, even though it tends to and has tended to aggravate some of his own Republican partisans?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President is going to continue to work very closely with members of Congress from both parties. And I think, depending on the issue, you're going to see a different lineup on how many people are willing to act on a bipartisan fashion. Many issues will have a bipartisan result on the Hill. Other issues may not. And the President is going to continue to push for passage of items that are on his agenda.
The economic stimulus bill is a case in point. Clearly, on energy legislation, opening ANWR, there is bipartisan support to open ANWR. There is bipartisan support to pass an energy bill. Those actions are being stalled now in the Senate, and the President thinks that's much to the detriment of an independent energy policy for America.
Q Ari, as has been pointed out here previously, there have been these kinds of terrorism warnings in the past, even before September 11th. I'm wondering where this Office of Homeland Security fits in in all of this, and who has the ultimate say in issuing these warnings.
MR. FLEISCHER: This is a joint decision that was made. The President was informed about some of the intelligence information at his morning briefing yesterday, and then there was another meeting that was convened that involved the FBI, Governor Ridge, Dr. Rice, and they reached conclusions at that time. The President concurred in the conclusions that they reached. That led the FBI to put out the statement it did.
Q And ultimate decision authority?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ultimate decision authority would rest with the FBI. They're the agency of contact. But as I indicate, there's a collegiality to these things, there's a joint approach.
Q Ari, the Senate Finance Committee Chairman is expected to outline a plan on the stimulus package today, much along the line of the President's. You said yesterday there's a possibility that the package might never reach the President's desk, it's pretty much in the hands of the Senate. How do you expect this to advance if there's no indication on the part of the White House that there's some flexibility on the spending side? It seems you've drawn the line in the sand on that.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President believes very strongly that there has already been $55 billion worth of spending approved by the Congress and signed into law by the President. So on the spending side, it's taken care of, it's been done. So if members of Congress now say, we want to spend more, the President thinks that the spending has been taken care of. The President thinks the best way to stimulate the economy is not through spending, but is through tax incentives that help get the economy growing again -- rebates that allow people to have more money to spend in the economy, incentives for businesses to invest in new plant and equipment. That's the President's view.
Q This is a follow-up to a question asked during the last briefing. There's concern among the employees in the DOA and in the Cohen Building who do not have testing and medicine available. Only those who directly work in the mailroom are allowed to get tested at this point. What is the White House policy on general testing for everyone who enters the building? And who makes the decisions on which buildings get tested and get antibiotics?
MR. FLEISCHER: These decisions are made based on the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control, working with the local health officials and other agencies on the ground. And the protocol has been that once something is discovered in a mailroom, for example, the people who work in the mailroom or visit the mailroom are tested. That's been the pattern that has been followed.
And, for example, in the case here with the White House, where our remote facility tested positive with small traces of anthrax, they tested all the people who worked at the remote facility, who visit the remote facility or who handle the mail here. There was no suggestion that everybody in the White House needed to be tested. And as I announced this morning, as a result of those tests now, which are some -- more than 400 tests, there has not been a single positive case of anthrax found. All of the results are now conclusively negative.
So it's always a question of finding the right balance between testing those who will be most likely to come into contact, and not overreacting, not straining the capacity of our system where everybody in entire buildings are tested who very well may not need any testing, because of the time spent with testing those people could take away from the time and the resources necessary to target the affected community, which has typically been the people in the mailrooms or who visited the mailrooms.
Q The chain of command, does it come from the CDC?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is a health matter, and protocols for health matters are set by the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control.
Q Ari, is there advice you can give to the American people on finding this balance between being on high alert and going on with their normal lives? Is maybe "normal" not the right word?
MR. FLEISCHER: Larry, I think that when it comes to the balance of going on with normal lives and with adjusting to a heightened state of security alert, the American people get it. They do understand that it's possible to do both. They do understand it's possible to go to work every day, to take their children to school every day, to enjoy after-work, after-school activities, while knowing that the law enforcement community is on a heightened state of alert.
I've seen nothing in America to suggest the country is otherwise understanding of it or accepting of it. Nobody likes it, but I've seen nothing that suggests I've seen nothing that suggests the country doesn't understand it.
Q Well, actually, I've given a couple of speeches, and I've got to tell you that the constant question in various forms that I get everywhere is, how do you strike this balance. Because normal is not really what you're telling people to do. You're telling them to also be on alert. I don't know, I'm just wondering if there was some advice of how to balance the two. And I do think there's concern out there.
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question there's concern. There's no question there's anxiety. There's also reason and calm, which also is in the finest traditions of this country. There's been no challenge ever raised to our country before that the people of this country did not meet.
And you say it's not normal, and you're correct. Neither is war. And our nation is at war. War is not a normal status for the United States of America, but make no mistake, our country is at war and that's why everybody is being asked to adjust to this new environment. It's not like life was on September 10th. Governor Ridge addressed that this morning when he said that he can't know when life will return to the way it was prior to September 10th. Events on September 11th have obviously affected the American psyche and affected our country, affected the actions we're taking. But make no mistake; every time in every generation the American people and the government have been tested, the American people and the American government have risen to meet that challenge and have led the world in making the world a safer, better place. That is the case, too, in the war against terrorism.
Q On the meeting with the House members, just a quick question. Will the President specifically ask them not to include in the legislation federalizing the workers?
MR. FLEISCHER: The way the President typically does this at these meetings is he makes his case. The President will explain to the members of Congress who come down here why he thinks it's so important to have the safest possible way of protecting the traveling public. What the President will say is that, in his estimation, the way to do it is not by forcing a rigid one size fits all, put everybody on the government payroll approach, to allow some flexibility in the hiring, and allow some flexibility so that federal security experts, federal workers with federal standards can supervise a work force that can be partially federal, but not fully federal.
That gives a flexibility that also allows for much more ability of the people who are in charge at the federal level to discipline or to fire somebody who does not do their job well. I think it's common experience that when somebody is on the federal payroll and the Civil Service, it's almost impossible to get them out of their job, it's a job for life. And I don't think the American people take comfort knowing that the screeners behind those machines inspecting their bags when they go through will be there forever, even if they do a bad job. The public wants to know that discipline can be taken if discipline is needed.
Q Did the President call the meeting to make his case, or did the House members ask to meet with him?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's probably a little bit of both. I mean, this is not uncommon; the President has often had members of Congress down to discuss issues on the eve of the vote.
Q If I could, in the very beginning, you talked about waiving something to allow trade -- I'm sorry if this is a stupid question, but what are we waiving to allow --
MR. FLEISCHER: This is called Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, and it's a provision that the Senate has already moved to eliminate. It's now pending in a conference committee in the Congress -- that prohibits the United States from having certain military contacts and additional activities that could help in the war against terrorism with Azerbaijan. And the Congress is taking that up shortly, and the President is calling on the Congress to finish what the Senate started and to send him that authority so he can waive it, and therefore, engage in military-to-military contacts with Azerbaijan, which will help win the war against terrorism.
Q Ari, you keep on saying that you don't want to federalize these workers because it may be difficult to get rid of them if they don't perform their job functions appropriately.
MR. FLEISCHER: And other reasons.
Q The government was willing to take that chance with 1,760,000 other federal employees; why not this group?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President doesn't think the solution to every problem in America is to put everybody on the federal payroll.
Q But if that's the reason, you can't get rid of them, as I've said, you've taken that chance --
MR. FLEISCHER: The best way, in the President's opinion, to promote security is by taking a look at the lessons of Europe and of Israel. Europe and Israel used to have all screeners on their federal payrolls, and then they changed and now they have a system much like what the President is proposing, which is a much more flexible system, allowing for some private involvement under federal supervision. And I have to point out that since those steps were taken in Europe and in Israel, the number of hijackings has gone down. So there's a body of evidence that suggests that there's good reason not to put all screeners on the federal payroll. And the President believes that it's important for Congress to look at the lessons of Europe, to look at the lessons of Israel, and to provide some flexibility for the federal government, which will have vigorous oversight of screeners.
Q A two-part. New York Times columnist Bill Safire wrote, in a moment when the U.S. is dispatching bombers and soldiers to kill the assassins of 6,000 of our citizens, harbored by the Taliban, it is the height of hypocrisy to demand that our ally, Israel, refrain from hunting down killers harbored by the PLO. And my question is, do you think that Safire and the New York Times are irresponsible to write and publish this?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's always their right to publish anything they choose. But from the President's point of view, and also from the words of Prime Minister Sharon and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yassir Arafat, the two of them have committed themselves to a peace process, and that's a process that is of dialogue, not of violence. And so that's why the President has called on them to honor their word, now given, to follow the political discourse.
Q You and the President, as regular readers of the Washington Post, are undoubtedly aware of Congresswoman McKinney's apology for Mayor Giuliani asking for the $10 million. And yesterday she claimed in the Post that she is the "protector of U.S. military personnel who are otherwise powerless." You saw that, didn't you?
MR. FLEISCHER: I read parts of it.
Q Since nationally syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg has described Ms. McKinney as "aggressively stupid, pugnaciously ignorant, moronic and dim-witted," surely you won't dismiss this with a no comment evasion because that would suggest that you agree with Goldberg, wouldn't it? How do you and the President feel about her statement?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've not discussed this matter with the President and I'm not familiar with the second person's statements.
Q Ari, I wanted to ask you about General Musharraf. He's facing enormous pressure in Pakistan, a great Muslim population there. He repeatedly continues to be asking for the military campaign to be over soon. The President is going to be meeting with him in less than two weeks in New York. Can General Musharraf hold on to the position that he's been -- with all the problems he has in sight? My question is, does the White House think he can continue if the bombing continues and he faces internal opposition?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's important to read General Musharraf's statements in their totality. He has said that he hopes the bombing is over soon. Everybody hopes that. He's also said that he is a member of the coalition, that Pakistan is going to do all it can to support our efforts, and that he support America in the war against terrorism. So it's important to see everything he said, not just one snippet.
But President Bush hopes the bombing will be over soon, and President Bush understands that the bombing can be over immediately if the Taliban were to hand over Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants and to dismantle Afghanistan as a place that harbors terrorists. But unless that happens, the American campaign will continue, because this is about protecting our country and defending our freedom. And the President is resolute on that. And so, too, is the country.
Q Ari, did the President waive sanctions against Pakistan yesterday as a reward to General Musharraf for joining the coalition?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President did that because he thought it was the appropriate policy to take, and also because he wants to provide a package of aid to Pakistan, as you've been seeing a regular series of announcements on that front.
Q Ari, what is the Social Security meeting about? It's with Moynihan and the other chairmen, and is he going to get a specific proposal?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's interesting, because even with all this going on, and the war against terrorism in Afghanistan and the military planning that the President has been involved in, as well as the domestic meetings of the home front counsel on the anthrax attacks, the President has also been keeping a busy agenda on other domestic issues.
Last week he met for one hour to discuss Social Security and how best to reform the Social Security system. A commission the President appointed will make its recommendation to the President in December for how best to reform the system. And as events are going on abroad and at home, the Social Security system is still going broke. The Social Security system still is in need of reform and repair. So the President will be meeting with the co-chairs of the Social Security Commission today to discuss their efforts, what they're working on, and to ponder what steps should come next after the Commission makes its recommendations.
Q Who did he meet with last week?
MR. FLEISCHER: Internal White House meeting -- the Secretary of the Treasury was there and other White House advisors on Social Security.
Q And he still plans to push this issue during the election year next year?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President continues to believe very strongly that it's important to make certain that those who currently receive Social Security will have a full guarantee that their Social Security will be there, but also to make certain that younger workers are not put into a lifetime of paying higher taxes for benefits that they're never going to receive. And that's the likely course of Social Security unless action is taken. So he wants to make certain that we have a system in mind that doesn't turn its back on young workers, that helps them as well.
Q He's going to take action next year, he's still going to push this next year?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, Keith?
Q He's still going to push this next year, on next year's agenda?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President continues to believe it's very important to have a reform in Social Security, so that younger workers can get the money that they paid in.
Q You're not saying that he's going to do that next year?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think next year is next year. But the President certainly still
believes Congress needs to do this.
Q There's been some reports in recent days that the administration is preparing a new package of aid for Pakistan. It could range from $300 million to several billion dollars. What's the status of that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The administration is taking a look at a variety of ways to help our ally, Pakistan. And I'm not going to go beyond that. If there's anything to announce, it will be announced.
Q Back on yesterday's alert, the President has called for more complete information-sharing between federal and local law enforcement agencies. Yet the Assistant Chief of the D.C. Police says he learned about yesterday's alert from television. Governor Gilmore says he's not at all satisfied with the information-sharing going on now, he chairing a task force on terrorism. Is the President comfortable with it? Does he feel that more needs to be done, and specifically, what and how?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is satisfied. The President yesterday, at his --
Q With the current level of federal to local information sharing?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. The President does believe that all the appropriate steps are being taken. There's always room for improvement. There's always room to do more. And the agencies of the government will continue to work with all authorities, local and federal, to convey information, to share information. That's why Governor Ridge, at the President's direction, yesterday did a conference call with all governors. I can't tell you exactly how many were on the phone. They were all invited to participate in the call. Congressional leadership was notified.
And so that is the way to disseminate information, and, of course, through the public disclosure of the information and through the dissemination electronically to 18,000 law enforcement officials across the country, that's a very effective way for word to get out.
Q And does the President dismiss the dissatisfaction of local law enforcement officials?
MR. FLEISCHER: Local law enforcement officials received the notification directly, electronically, as a result of the FBI alert.
Q Going back to aid to Pakistan, I have no problem for the U.S. aid package, it could be billions. But did it work to because is Pakistan really helping the United States in what we expected? And, number two, we still don't have Osama bin Laden, and they promised that they will help the United States in this coalition if we help them.
And also, according to The New York Times, Secret Service was in war with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, and also with the Taliban. And finally, General Musharraf was also one of the -- of al Qaeda, which President Bush banned, and it is on the list. And I guess I don't know whether he's still on or not. So what I'm saying is, where do we stand today, as per --
MR. FLEISCHER: Any questions there? (Laughter.) You know, I think Secretary Rumsfeld said it very well yesterday, when he said that the United States is very satisfied with the cooperation of General Musharraf and Pakistan -- that Musharraf is doing a very good job in a very difficult situation. The United States understands all the sensitivities involved. And the President and Secretary Rumsfeld are satisfied with the activities taken in a very complex part of the world, amidst many of these sensitivities and difficulties.
Q On the national level, Americans are in fear because they are fear to go to the airports, to the post office, to the malls, to the shopping, anywhere. What message does President Bush have for us, and do we need to wear gloves when we go to pick up our mails at the mail boxes? How this fear can go away that we are having today?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President understands that the American people are worried, the American people are anxious. But he also sees how calm the American people are. And this is why, again, I remind you that what the President believes is that in every generation, there has been a test of our country. And the President understands that this now is a test of this generation and this government to take action in the war on terrorism, both domestically and abroad, to protect people so that our children and our grandchildren can live a life that is free from terrorism.
The President has every full faith and confidence that the American people, as they always have, will meet that challenge. And that's what the President sees. That's what the President hears, and that's what the President knows.
Q Is the United States government boosting supplies in the Strategic Oil Reserve? And if so, why?
MR. FLEISCHER: The energy report that the President put together last spring, that was sent -- publicly released, called for a review about whether or not the Strategic Petroleum Reserve should be increased. That review is underway. No decisions has been made. The President has not made any decisions. And once something is decided we will, of course, share that information. It is a possibility --
Q Has he gotten a recommendation?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is a recommendation that goes back well before the attacks on September 11th.
Q Generally speaking, does the President think this is a more urgent piece of information to consider and a decision to make, considering what's going on in the Middle East and in South Asia?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is going to be one of many things that the President takes a look at and decides. And I'm not going to characterize them until the President makes his decision. Suffice it to say it is under review.
Q Is Yankee fan Hillary going to meet him --
Q I have a follow up.
Q I'm sorry.
Q Ari, has he gotten a recommendation yet?
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, you've already had your two. Dick.
Q Has he gotten a recommendation, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, he has not.
Q How many confirmed cases of anthrax do we have? The numbers 14 and 15 have been floating around. And secondly, is one of the aims of the warning that we had yesterday, which, frankly, raises more questions than it answers, obviously -- is one of the aims of that warning to deprive anyone planning a terrorist act of the element of surprise? Is that part of the strategy here?
MR. FLEISCHER: On your second question, clearly, there is no doubt that putting the nation on a higher alert status can very well disrupt or prevent a terrorist attack. And it may be the type of thing that we won't know it. It's possible that terrorists would have taken an action, they would have seen a stepped-up presence of law enforcement officials, and scrapped the action they had planned to take. It's entirely possible, and we may never know it, again, that the last alert presented a similar result, as a result of the last alert that a terrorist action could have been planned and, frankly, was thwarted, was disrupted. And this is the nature of combatting terrorism. They prey on terror. They prey on an open society. And taking the efforts to step up law enforcement helps prevent their actions.
On the numbers, Governor Ridge was referring to, accurately, the 14 cases that were known. And then, of course, you have the new cases in New Jersey and New York, that there's a preliminary and then a positive. And the Center for Disease Control has a very stringent criteria, after the cultures are received, before putting something into the final positive category. So you can say there are 14 for certain. There are two other suspect cases that are, based on what we know now, likely to become confirmed anthrax cases. And that would bring it to 16 if those two do develop in finality. All indications are that they will.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 12:38 P.M. EST