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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 2, 2004
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:48 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. A couple updates to begin with. Last year, the President proposed the creation of the Millennium Challenge Account and the Millennium Challenge Corporation. With the passage of the omnibus spending bill, the President's vision is now reality.
This initiative represents a major innovation in the way the United States conducts foreign assistance. The Millennium Challenge Account will provide aid and assistance to countries that meet performance standards on political and economic development. And with the MCA, new funds will be devoted to projects and nations that govern justly, invest in their people, and encourage economic freedom.
We are grateful to the Congress for passing the Millennium Challenge Account funding. And today at 4:00 p.m., Secretary Powell will chair the inaugural meeting of the Millennium Challenge Corporation.
Now an update to the President's schedule. The President is currently having lunch with Dr. Kay. This is an opportunity for the President to hear directly from Dr. Kay and hear about what he has learned as the former head of the Iraq Survey Group.
And tomorrow, the President looks forward to meeting with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan here at the White House. The two leaders will discuss a range of issues of mutual concern. The United Nations has an important role to play in international affairs, and the President looks forward to his meeting tomorrow with Secretary General Annan.
MR. McCLELLAN: We'll get you all that information later today.
With that, I'll be glad to go into questions. Steve.
Q Scott, when do you expect the commission's work to be done?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, the President spoke earlier today and said that he will be announcing the formation of a bipartisan independent commission to take a broad look at our intelligence capabilities. We are still working on finalizing everything and getting all the commission members in place. I do expect the President will have more to say about that announcement this week, and we'll certainly keep you posted on the timing of it.
I think in terms of the time line, I would just stress that it is important that the commission's work is done in a way where it doesn't become embroiled in partisan politics. We want the commission to be able to take a broad look at our intelligence capabilities, particularly relating to the dangerous new threat we face from weapons of mass destruction and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. That's a very high priority for this administration in the 21st century. And so the President will have more to say on that soon, but it's important that they have the time to do a thorough job, looking at our intelligence capabilities.
Q Scott, on that point, I mean, it's a convenient thing for the incumbent President to do, which is to basically say, let's set up a commission, but don't report back to me until after the election. Why shouldn't this President face the facts of the intelligence-gathering and the case that he made to go into Iraq, in time, where the results of such a commission to be laid out to the American people, who are going to making a decision about whether he should stay in office?
MR. McCLELLAN: David, I think, first of all, the decision to confront Saddam Hussein was because he was a gathering threat. We made that very clear. And if you're going to get into talking about intelligence, let's talk about what we knew. Our intelligence was based on views shared by -- and intelligence agencies around the world, and the United Nations. Saddam Hussein was a gathering threat, there was no debate about the fact that he was a threat.
We knew he had weapons of mass destruction, we knew he had used chemical weapons on his own people. He had the intention and he had the capability. Dr. Kay has spoken to that in his testimony before Congress. He has made it very clear that Saddam Hussein was in clear violation of his international obligations -- and, in particular, Security Council Resolution 1441, which was one final opportunity for Saddam Hussein to come clean or face serious consequences. And we followed through on serious consequences.
Q Can I just follow up on one point? The President is speaking very cryptically about this, in terms of why we need such an examination of pre-war intelligence. Shouldn't the American people conclude that the only reason to call for such an investigation is because the President now believes that this administration got it wrong when it came to assessing the intelligence and the threat that Saddam Hussein posed?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, David, I think I just pointed out that the intelligence that we had prior to the war was intelligence that was shared by agencies around the world --
Q So what? So maybe everybody was wrong. What's the --
MR. McCLELLAN: It was intelligence shared by -- it was shared by the United Nations. But the bottom line didn't change --
Q What does it matter who had the intelligence --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- the bottom line didn't change.
Q -- if it was bad, it was bad.
MR. McCLELLAN: And the bottom line didn't change: Saddam Hussein was a dangerous man in a dangerous part of the world and Dr. Kay --
Q You're not answering the question.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let's talk about --
Q Is this an admission that the administration got it wrong?
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, I would like to make my points and I'll welcome your questions, as well. But let me get --
Q You're not answering the question.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're not giving me a chance to finish what I started on, David. Let me continue.
It's important that we look at the facts and what was known. And it's also important that we -- as the President made clear last week -- that we look at what we learn on the ground and compare that with what we knew before. The work of the Iraq Survey Group is ongoing at this point.
But we already know from Dr. Kay, from his testimony, from the progress report that he oversaw as head of the Iraq Survey Group, that Saddam Hussein had the intention and had the capability. He was a threat. He was a gathering threat. And in this day and age, in a post-September 11th world, it's important that we confront those threats. And we are doing so in a number of different ways --
Q Then why do we need this commission? If you're so convinced everything was honky-dory, why do we need a commission?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's important -- it's important that we not only look back, but that the commission looks forward to look at ways we can improve our ability to meet the challenges we face in confronting the new threat we face from weapons of mass destruction and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The security challenges that we face in the 21st century really present us with new, more complex and more difficult intelligence challenges.
And we're no longer in a Cold War, where intelligence focused on large-scale deployed forces. We are now in a war on terrorism. You have outlaw regimes in secret, closed societies that seek to conceal their conduct through deception and denial. You have terrorist organizations, like al Qaeda, who seek to inflict maximum harm on America, on our friends and on our allies. And that's why the President believes it is important for there to be a broad assessment undertaken by an independent and bipartisan commission to look at those challenges and how we can address those challenges.
Q Why now, Scott? I mean, obviously, this comes at a particular time in a debate over WMD, why did the President choose this week to announce this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is something he started looking at early last week and he directed the White House to begin work on setting up the commission. Like I said, he's going to be -- he will have more to say on it very soon, but it's for the reasons I stated, because of the global security threats that we face in the 21st century and the challenges that our intelligence community faces in confronting those threats.
Q Right, that's been --
MR. McCLELLAN: But it should be a broad look at our intelligence. It will look at Iraq and it's important -- but that -- let me remind you, that the work of the Iraq Survey Group is ongoing at this point. It's important for them to gather as many facts as possible so that we can do a good, full look at what we learn on the ground and compare that with what we knew before.
Q Well, I understand the broader concerns, and obviously that's something the President has talked about before. But, obviously, the President started talking about this, thinking about this a day or two after David Kay testified on the Hill, several days after he had come back and given interviews in which he said it appears that there was no large stockpile of weapons. Obviously, that had to be a factor in the President's thinking.
MR. McCLELLAN: We are learning more from Dr. Kay. He has now stepped aside and Charles Duelfer will be taking over for the Iraq Survey Group. Dr. Kay has pointed out that it's very important for the Iraq Survey Group to complete its work. Dr. Kay has pointed out that the intention and capability were there. That means there was a threat. And he said that it was potentially more dangerous than we thought prior to the war.
Q It's perfectly clear that you want the Iraq Survey Group to finish its work. But this does appear to be an implicit acknowledgement that the President now shares David Kay's view that we're unlikely to find large stockpiles, and would like to find out why.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I think Dr. Kay pointed out that there's still work to be done by the Iraq Survey Group, there's still sites to go to, people to interview, and that work is ongoing of the Iraq Survey Group.
Q -- said we were wrong.
MR. McCLELLAN: But I'm not getting into prejudging the Iraq Survey Group. That work is ongoing at this point. We need to let them gather all the facts that they can. We need to let them draw as complete a picture as possible so that we can look at that. But it's important to look at this in the context of the broader threat we face from weapons of mass destruction and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
Q I understand that. Does the President share David Kay's view that we're unlikely at this point to find large stockpiles --
MR. McCLELLAN: I can tell you what we believed before the war, and I've gone through a little bit of that here today. It was what was believed by intelligence agencies around the world. But what we know -- what we know is that what we've already learned from Dr. Kay only reconfirms the fact that Saddam Hussein was a gathering threat and that it was the right decision to remove his regime from power. But let's let the Iraq Survey Group complete their work. But we're already learning more and it's important to look at this in the context of a broad assessment of these new threats that we face.
Q Scott, you've said on many occasions that we don't know the full story yet, we have to wait to hear the full story. Intelligence sources have called David Kay's statements a rush to judgment. They keep on saying that there's a lot more work by the ISG to do. If there is, in fact, a lot more for the ISG to do and we don't know the full story yet, what's the value in launching a commission into the intelligence at this point?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I just -- one, the President is going to talk more about this when he announces the commission. But I think he addressed a little bit of it earlier today, and I've addressed some of it already here from this podium. We face a number of serious global security threats in the 21st century, none more important --
Q Don't --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're asking me why; let me finish here. But none is more important and more serious than the threat from weapons of mass destruction and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. We're no longer in the Cold War era, where intelligence was focused on those large-scale deployed forces. We are now in the war on terrorism, and the war on terrorism is a different kind of war and it's going to be a long war. And that's why we should take a broad assessment, to look -- not only look back, but look ahead at ways that we can improve our ability to confront these threats.
Q I've heard that, your point when you made it a little while ago. I'm just wondering, you keep saying this idea that we don't know the full story, so how can you examine if there was a problem if you don't yet know the full story yet. On the other hand, you're saying, well, let's start examining the potential problems with Iraq, because that's part of the mandate of this commission, before we know the full story. So I'm wondering how do you reconcile those two things?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said that, one, this is a broad assessment, so you need to keep it in that context. But we are --
Q -- into Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish. We're already learning more. We learned already from the initial progress report of the Iraq Survey Group that Saddam Hussein was in clear violation of his international obligations, and that that was a final opportunity to comply or face serious consequences. But we are learning more. The President right now is having lunch with Dr. Kay to hear more about what he has learned since that time. And it's important for the work of the commission to begin, and as we gather all the facts that we can from the Iraq Survey Group, they can look at it in that context, as well.
Q Scott, I was just trying to reconcile those two ideas. You stood here for a week saying, we don't know the whole story, how can we have an answer if we don't know the whole story. And then you're striking this commission to look into a story that you say isn't finished.
MR. McCLELLAN: One, it's a broad -- let me try to help clarify --
Q I understand that you --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, let me try to help clarify for you.
Q But Iraq is --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's a broad assessment; that work is ongoing and it's important that they complete their work, that they draw -- that the Iraq Survey Group draws as complete a picture as possible. And we can incorporate all those facts into the commission. But we already are learning some things, and we already have learned a great deal from the work of the Iraq Survey Group. There is still a great deal for them to complete. That's why their work is ongoing. But we can begin the process of taking this broad look at these threats -- at the intelligence related to the threats we face in the 21st century, particularly from weapons of mass destruction and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
And so that -- it's important that that work begin.
Q Scott, just to follow up on David's question. The bottom line on the timing of the report of this commission is that the American people, when they go to the polls to choose the next President in November, will not have the answers about what went wrong with the prewar intelligence and what responsibility, if any, this President and this administration had in that failure. The President, in essence, in announcing this commission and expecting it to report after the election is keeping the voters in the dark.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, again, he's going to have more to say on this, on the scope and the timing of the commission here soon. But the American people know that the decision that the President took was the right decision to confront a gathering threat and remove that threat. This is --
Q But they don't have all the facts.
MR. McCLELLAN: They have facts already that show that Saddam Hussein was in clear violation of Security Council Resolution 1441.
We will continue to talk about the threats that we're confronting in this 21st century and the ways in which we're confronting them. There are a number of different ways we're confronting threats. That's why it's important that we have a commission that takes a broad assessment and looks at the intelligence related to threats we face from other countries as well.
What we're learning from Libya. That's an important one as well for the commission to look at.
Q There's no chance of any kind of interim report, of any kind of update for the American people?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, let's -- the commission hasn't even been announced officially at this point. We're still working on finalizing everything that goes into the commission and finalizing the makeup of the commission. We're going to have more to say when it's announced. So I wouldn't jump to any conclusions yet, in terms of the scope and the timing on issues of that nature.
Q Can I ask a question about the broad mandate that you're describing? Would this include not just a look at how the intelligence was gathered, what might have been wrong in that or in its analysis, but in how it was used and how essentially it was sold? In other words, is the President willing to put himself and his top aides under the microscope a little bit?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, keep in mind that the -- right off the bat, that the intelligence was shared by agencies around the world, it was shared by the United Nations. There was a lot we knew about Saddam Hussein, there was a lot we knew about his history. And given what we knew and given the facts of September 11th, we could not afford to rely on his good intentions. That's why we confronted that threat.
But, again, what's important is for the commission to have full access to all the information they need to do their job. I'm not going to get into all the scope, issues at this point, until the commission is -- everything is finalized and it's announced.
Q So you aren't ruling anything out? This commission could at the end of the day say, the intelligence was flawed and the Bush administration made too much --
MR. McCLELLAN: What I'm saying is that we're not announcing the commission today. We will be in short order -- the President has made that very clear. And we'll have more to say about it at that point.
Q With thousands dead, would the President feel any personal remorse that he took this country into war based on false information? And I have a follow up.
MR. McCLELLAN: Based on the information that we knew Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. We knew that he had used chemical weapons on his own people. We knew --
Q But they didn't have -- Hans Blix kept telling you, Scott Ritter kept telling you --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- we knew that he failed to account for stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. He went to great lengths to conceal and hide his weapons of mass destruction programs. He refused to comply with his international obligations for 12 years and some 17 resolutions. This was a -- this was a dictator who sought to dominate the Middle East.
Q Many countries have defied resolutions.
MR. McCLELLAN: This was someone who had mass graves and torture chambers and rape rooms.
Q Does he feel personally, at all -- does he feel bad about this?
MR. McCLELLAN: It was the right decision. It was the right decision to confront Saddam Hussein and remove him from power.
Q I'm asking you, what is his personal reaction to having false information take us into war?
MR. McCLELLAN: Saddam Hussein was a gathering threat. And what we have learned today only reconfirms the fact that he was a gathering threat. The decision that the President made was the right decision, in the interest of doing everything we can to protect the American people from the new and dangerous threats that we face in the 21st century. We know he had the intention, we know he had the capability, and we acted to remove that threat.
Q My follow up is, will he cooperate with this panel totally and not stonewall and give the documents and give the notes and so forth and let people testify?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said that this commission will have full access to the information they need to do their job. And we will have more to say on this when he announces it.
Q A few more on this subject. When you describe the broad mandate here, can you tell us specifically will they be looking at the failure to detect Iran's reprocessing -- I'm sorry, their uranium enrichment capability, the failure to detect the Libyan enrichment capability? Will they specifically be looking at the Pakistani scientist? Does the President envision each of those as areas in which the commission should go deep?
MR. McCLELLAN: In fact, you mentioned some issues that relate to exactly what I'm talking about, and when I say that this will be a broad assessment of our intelligence capabilities, particularly related to weapons of mass destruction and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. And certainly there is information that we're learning now from Libya that we did not know, we did not realize that -- how far along their nuclear capability was. They are now working with us --
Q But that was --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- they are now working with us to eliminate those programs, and that's important. That happened since our decision to move on Iraq.
And so it's important --
Q If you won't tell us --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what I'm saying that --
Q Well, tell us whether you plan for them --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- that the global intelligence challenges that we face in this age, in this 21st century are new, they're harder, they're more complex. And that's why we need to take a look -- a look not only back, but a look forward at ways that we can improve our ability to confront these threats.
Q Scott, you told us on Libya -- would you give us a sentence or two about what questions you expect the commission to deal with on Iran and, particularly --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm going to wait until the announcement is made, and then you'll have more information on the scope at that point. But you mentioned some areas that related directly to intelligence and weapons of mass destruction.
Q So allies are not off the table here? We would look at Pakistan, as well?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'm going to wait until the announcement is made. But it's important that we look broadly at our intelligence capabilities specifically related to weapons of mass destruction and the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
Q Scott, back on the timing issue. It seems like it's canceling itself out. One minute the administration said, okay, we're so concerned about this we're going to do campaign damage control and have an investigation. And the next minute, now you're saying because of partisan politics, we're going to wait until after the election. If it's such an urgency, why not now? The commission can be shielded, why not give the information --
MR. McCLELLAN: There are some people who have made that same argument, and they're the same people that have suggested an extension for the 9/11 commission. It's important that they have the time to do their work and do it thoroughly.
Q So if they do it thoroughly after the election -- you're basically sending people to the polls to vote for a President, not knowing if he went to war --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't necessarily agree with that.
Q Wait a --- no, no, no. Well, how are we going to find out the information until the investigation is conducted?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's a lot of information that has already been publicly released. I would point you back to the progress report by the Iraq Survey Group. Dr. Kay is certainly already talking about what he has learned even since that time. And the Iraq Survey Group is going to continue their work, and we want them to complete their work as soon as they can, but it's important that they have the time to gather all the facts that they need.
But it's important -- I think you would agree with me, it's important for, as we look at Iraq, to have all the facts that we can gather. And Dr. Kay is the one who said --
Q After they gather -- after the election.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- Dr. Kay is the one who said that it's important for the Iraq Survey Group to complete its work. And Charles Duelfer, the new head of the Iraq Survey Group, will make decisions on when that work is complete and the time line on that.
Q But with everything that happened in the last election, people are saying --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, but I think --
Q Wait a minute. Wait a minute.
MR. McCLELLAN: You're making assumptions about things that may or may not be known at certain points.
Q You just said -- you just said you don't want partisan politics. That's after the election, after the 2004 election. So the American public will go to the polls literally with no information about what this -- the President's investigative team, what you've come up with, and they would just go to the polls, blindly voting for a President --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that presumes a lot of things I don't necessarily agree with.
Q Scott, what does the administration hope that this commission will do that is different from what the six other panels currently investigating prewar U.S. intelligence on Iraq and WMD, that they are doing? And, also, will David Kay be on the commission?
MR. McCLELLAN: The short answer is that this will be a broad assessment related to weapons of mass destruction and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Obviously, there are already congressional committees, as well as the CIA, that are looking into prewar intelligence related to Iraq, and that's important that they continue their work as well. But this is a commission that will take a broad assessment of our intelligence capabilities in the 21st century.
Q And will David Kay be on the commission?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'm not going to get into any names on the commission.
Q Is he being considered?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm just not going to get into -- and you shouldn't read one thing -- one way or the other into that. But I'm just not going to get into any of the names on the commission, but I would not read anything into that.
Q We're hearing elsewhere that the threat that led to the cancellation of some flights in recent days has now passed? Is that true? Can you tell us --
MR. McCLELLAN: Are we off this issue?
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, let me stay on this issue, Mark, and I promise I will come to it.
Q Talking about these doubts about the intelligence, and faulty intelligence, what does this say that the intelligence the President receives every day, and does he have any concerns about the leadership of the CIA?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President addressed this very issue last week.
Q He did, before he had decided to --
MR. McCLELLAN: He has great confidence in Director Tenet. He has great confidence in the hardworking men and women in our intelligence community whose number one priority is the safety and the security of the American people.
Q Well, how about -- now does he look at the intelligence he receives every day in kind of a different way, thinking that maybe this isn't accurate?
MR. McCLELLAN: He looks at his intelligence -- that's how he begins his day, by looking at the intelligence reports he receives, and he takes that intelligence very seriously. And he is always asking questions of those who brief him on those topics.
Q Does he have any doubts about its accuracy, authenticity?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, intelligence is always the best judgment of our experts in the field and our analysts back here. And he has great appreciation for the job that those in our intelligence community do. Many of them go to great risk to provide us with the intelligence we need to confront the threats that we face in this day and age.
Q That's really not an answer, Scott. I mean, does he have doubts or doesn't he? I'm sure he appreciates the hard work that's being done, but does he trust the intelligence? And if he does, then why is he convening this panel?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just said -- well, the reason he is convening this panel -- let me go directly to that -- is because of the global security challenges we face in the 21st century. I've made that very clear. And given those new threats that we face, weapons of mass destruction and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, particularly when you're talking about outlaw regimes in closed societies and terrorist organizations like al Qaeda, the President believes it's important that we have the intelligence capabilities we need to confront those threats. And they're doing -- and our intelligence community is doing a great job in pulling together intelligence to confront threats. But --
Q You don't expect anybody to believe that this is about anything other than determining whether we go it wrong in Iraq or not, do you?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish. Let me finish.
As I was saying, intelligence is something we take very seriously. It's very important that we have the best intelligence possible and that's why the President believes we should have a broad look at our global intelligence that relates to the new threats that we face. As I said, that intelligence, in this day and age, that is pulled together to confront these threats, it's new, it's more difficult and it's more complex. And that's why it's important to do a broad assessment of our global intelligence challenges.
Q But how can he have faith in what he's told in the intelligence briefing?
MR. McCLELLAN: Ed, do you have anything on this?
Q Is anything being done differently, in terms of getting intelligence to the President, than about 10 days ago, to make sure he gets better, more correct intelligence?
MR. McCLELLAN: Ed, I think you're making a lot of assumptions there. One, I never get in a discussion of the intelligence he receives for a lot of reasons.
Q But just the process, ensuring the accuracy.
MR. McCLELLAN: I would point out, I mean, someone was about to bring up what we're doing on the home front to protect the American people. One thing that this administration does is take intelligence seriously. And when we have actionable intelligence, this President acts on it to protect the American people, and to protect our friends and allies. And he has great confidence in the work of our intelligence community. And they are working hard, day in and day out, 24 hours a day, to make sure he has the best intelligence that they can pull together.
Q Would you clarify one thing? No one disputes the fact that Iraq is part of this review. What is it that the President wants this commission to look into regarding Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Exactly what he has said, that we should look at what we learn on the ground through the Iraq Survey Group and compare that to what we believed before the war.
Q To see whether the intelligence was accurate or not?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, intelligence is always your best judgment. I think people will tell you it's never going to be a hundred percent, but it's important that we do as good a job as possible. And the President appreciates the work of our intelligence community. So that's what --
Q Can we move on to a different subject?
MR. McCLELLAN: Are we still on this subject?
Q Yes. Here, here, here.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, so who has this subject? Roger, Jeff, and Steve. Okay, we'll go in that order.
Q We have other questions.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll go to Mark first, after this.
Q I just want to make sure, the Iraq Survey Group and its findings, that will be folded into the commission, as well --
MR. McCLELLAN: What will be folded into the commission?
Q Whatever the findings are of the Iraq Survey Group.
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. It's important that all those facts that they gather be looked at in this broad context.
Q But it will become part of the commission's report whenever it does report; is that correct?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's the plan, that's the intention.
Q -- have its own independent --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, no, no, it's not -- yes, the Iraq Survey Group is doing its work, separately and apart from this commission. But it's important that their work -- that the commission look at their work as part of this broad assessment of our intelligence capabilities.
Q How does the President have confidence in intelligence-gathering capabilities of the CIA if, as Dr. Kay has said, we got it all wrong? And, you know, here's the head of the CIA, George Tenet, how does he remain in place if this information was all wrong? He was head of the CIA when 9/11 occurred, when the USS Cole was bombed. It seems like that this failure of intelligence goes back quite a long ways, and, you know, once again, the fingers start to point --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let's talk about, we got it right that Saddam Hussein was a grave and gathering threat. We got it right that he had the intention and capability. He was a threat. We got it right. And it was the right decision to remove him from power.
But as I pointed out -- and that's why the President will be announcing a commission here soon, to look at the global intelligence challenges that we face in the 21st century. It's important that we take a broad look at our intelligence capabilities, particularly related to the two issues that I mentioned, weapons of mass destruction and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Those are the serious new threats that we face in the 21st century.
Q Paul O'Neill lost his job when the economy was tanking, okay. Why is George Tenet still in place?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, the intelligence that you are talking about related to Iraq was intelligence that was shared by agencies around the world. It was intelligence that was shared by the United Nations. It was Saddam Hussein's choice to continue to defy the international community. He was given every opportunity, including one final opportunity, to come clean.
But that's why I pointed out that we, in the context of the new threats that we face, we are dealing with outlaw regimes and closed, secretive societies. These are outlaw regimes that go to great lengths to conceal their conduct to deceive and to deny and to hide. And that's why it's important that we make sure that we're doing as good a job as possible to gather the intelligence and be able to confront these threats.
Q Briefly, what sort of qualifications are you looking for, for members of this commission? And what was the Kay lunch all about? Did the President want to get some advice from him or what, exactly?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I don't know if they're -- they're probably finished by this point, but I've been here briefing you all, so we'll try to get you more information as we can. But it's for the reasons I stated at the front, that, obviously, one, the President very much appreciates the work of Dr. Kay and his service as head of the Iraq Survey Group. And Dr. Kay presented a progress report a few months ago; obviously, there is more that he has been talking about, that he believes he has learned since then. And so the President wants to hear what he has learned and to get his views.
MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of qualifications, I think, one, that you can expect this panel will be bipartisan, it will have the independent authority to do its job. I think the President will be looking for people who are distinguished individuals, people who have a record of public service and dealing with intelligence, as well as people that may be continuing to serve in a public role.
Q Scott, can I ask one more on this before you move on? In his daily briefing, how can the President have any confidence in the idea that the intelligence that he is presented with on some of the most urgent threats facing America, decisions on which he makes the difference between war and peace, have any bearing on the facts?
MR. McCLELLAN: Have any bearing on --
Q On reality.
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, John, I think I just addressed some of this. Our men and women in the intelligence community work around the clock to do everything they can to protect the American people. Their highest priority is the safety and security of the American people. And they work together -- this intelligence information, and pull together the best judgments possible.
Obviously, if there are ways going forward that we can improve our abilities to address these new threats that we face, we want to do that. That's why the President has made it very clear it's important that we have a bipartisan independent commission to take a broad look at our intelligence capabilities.
This is a different day and age that we live in from the Cold War period. And there are harder and more complex intelligence -- the intelligence challenges that we face are harder and more complex.
Are we off this?
MR. McCLELLAN: And I will start with -- I will start with Mark first.
Q Thank you. The aviation threats, is it, indeed -- the threat that we had in the last few days, is it now over? What can you tell us about the threat?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I think that when Secretary Ridge announced that we would lower the threat level from high to elevated, he made it very clear, that he said, "We have not let our guard down, and we will maintain particular vigilance around some critical resources." One of those he cited was aviation security. There remain some ongoing concerns about aviation security. That's why we have gone to extraordinary steps to make sure we're doing everything we can to protect the American people who use our airlines.
And I would just reiterate what we have done in terms of hiring and training professional screeners, putting federal air marshals on flights, reinforcing cockpit doors. And we have been working very closely with the airlines on these issues. It has been very much working in a cooperative way. But when we have specific intelligence that comes to our attention, we act on that intelligence, we share it -- and that's what you are seeing done here.
But at this point, we do not have any new threat reporting, targeting specific flights, like we did over this weekend and today. But we will continue to stay on -- our homeland security officials will continue to stay on top of this matter. There may be times in the future when we get this type of intelligence, and we will take appropriate precautions.
Q The specifics that caused cancellations in the last few days, there is -- officials no longer consider that a threat?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there was intelligence based on specific threat reports. And we didn't -- although the information was specific, it was not specific as to the method in which they sought to carry out their acts.
But, no, at this point, we do not have any new threat reporting targeting specific flights like we did over the weekend and today, as well.
Q Was that information connected to the Super Bowl?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I'm not going to get into specific discussion of intelligence matters when you have ongoing issues here that we are working on to make sure we are protecting the American people. And I would point out that we continue to -- our airlines and our homeland security officials involved in aviation security continue to be vigilant and make sure that we are working hard to take all appropriate precautions.
Q You keep mentioning that -- in going over the intelligence that it's not just for our intelligence, it's international intelligence that's shared. Have you thought of considering adding an international component to this agency to oversee how the intelligence work?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I think that I'll wait on the scope. But I mean, this will be an executive branch-appointed commission, it will be bipartisan, it will be independent. And its focus will be on our intelligence capabilities, our intelligence capabilities here. But, obviously, I mean, when you take that into consideration, you look broadly at intelligence gathering, and a lot of the intelligence that was gathered was done in cooperation with others.
Q Tomorrow starts the review of the Good Friday agreement. The President's point man has left to go over and assume -- help in that process. He revealed last week that Irish -- that Ireland's justice minister is concerned over the trading of funds between Sinn Fein and the IRA. Since Sinn Fein raises funds in the U.S., based on the blessing from the President, is he going to consider this new information?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll be glad to look into it and try to get you and update.
Sarah, go ahead.
Q Thank you. Scott, Russia is planning to conduct its largest mock attack by its nuclear forces in two decades. This maneuver includes a simulated attack on the United States. Is the Cold War heating up again? And is the President concerned about this new Russian show of nuclear strength?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, on the Cold War, but I haven't seen that specific report. But I would point out that we are working with Russia in a number of different ways in the war on terrorism. That's a threat that we both face in this day and age and there are ways that we can continue to work together. Secretary Powell talked a lot about this on his recent trip to Russia.
Q This is a serious question. Many viewers were really shocked by what they saw yesterday in the Super Bowl at half time. What does this say about America's morals, the society's morals? And does the President have any criticism or comments to make about this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I think the FCC has already said that they're looking into the matter. I think our view is that it's important for families to be able to expect a high standard when it comes to programming. I think the FCC is looking into it right now.
Q Can they penalize anybody?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, the FCC is looking into it. So you might want to address further questions to the FCC.
Q On the budget, the President has repeatedly called for Social Security personal savings accounts, but they're not included in the budget this year, yet he mentioned it in the State of the Union. Why isn't it a budget proposal?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I think that our -- my colleague, our OMB budget director, addressed this issue earlier in his briefing. But it is a priority for the President. We need to take steps to say, we've strengthened Social Security. One of the recommendations of the commission that he appointed was for there to be a national dialogue on this very issue.
The President believes, philosophically, trust people and believes it's important that those -- that those receiving Social Security in the future be able to invest a small portion of their Social Security taxes into personal retirement accounts. He'll continue to talk about it, and it's important that we continue to have a national dialogue on that very issue.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thanks.
END 1:28 P.M. EST
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