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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 31, 2005

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

Play Video  Video (Real)

1:09 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good afternoon everybody. I want to begin with a couple of readouts. First of all, the President spoke with Prime Minister Allawi this morning. This is part of their ongoing discussions about the situation on the ground in Iraq. And, as you know, the President has been speaking with him on a regular basis and he continues to serve as Prime Minister at this point.

Then this morning, as you're well aware, the President was pleased to welcome the bipartisan Commission on Intelligence Capabilities to the White House and to receive their official report. He had a good discussion with the commission in the Cabinet Room. He thanked the entire commission for their hard work. The President also talked about the importance of fixing the problems the commission highlights in the report. And he talked about the importance of making sure that our men and women in the intelligence community have the tools they need to do the job that they work to do every day on behalf of the American people.

And he talked about how the nature of our enemy has changed and how the intelligence community must, as well. As you all are aware, we have taken a number of important steps and this report will build upon what we are already doing. He also talked about the importance of the Director of National Intelligence. This report comes at a very opportune time, as the Director of National Intelligence is going to be having his Senate hearing and hopefully confirmed quickly. It's important that the Director of National Intelligence have the authority to do his job, and the President made it clear that he would.

And the President also let the commission know that the distinguished person to my left here will be overseeing the implementation process. He also then asked the commission -- he wanted to hear it from the commission and asked them a number of questions throughout the discussion. The commission talked about the importance of having an integrated intelligence community and they talked about the importance of continuing to improve our information sharing. They note in the report some of the progress that has been made on that front.

They also talked about the importance of expanding our human intelligence capabilities. And the President ended the meeting by saying he wanted to make sure that he could continue to use the members of the commission as a resource, and the commission expressed that they were committed to continuing to help as we move forward on the recommendations that they outlined.

Following that meeting, the President met in the Situation Room with relevant Cabinet Secretaries whose departments may be impacted by the recommendations in this report. And the President stressed to the Cabinet members the importance of taking the recommendations in this report seriously. He said that these were very thoughtful and good ideas that have been outlined in the report, and he talked about the importance of moving forward quickly to review the recommendations and then implement the recommendations and let them know, as well, that Fran Townsend would be in charge of the implementation process. And then the Cabinet received a briefing from the White House staff on the report, similar to the one that the President received earlier this week.

And Fran is here to talk to you a little bit about the process and how we move forward on reviewing the recommendations and then implementing the recommendations. Then she will leave. She'll take some of your questions that you have on that topic, and then she's got to go to another meeting, I know, here shortly. So I would ask you to direct all the questions you have for her to her, and then we'll let her go and then I'll take whatever other questions you have.

All right, thanks.

MS. TOWNSEND: Well, let me start by saying, I am working back from -- as you know, the executive order that established the commission said that the President would consult with Congress within 90 days of receiving the report. And so we will begin the process of review using that 90-day time frame, and break it into 30 -- basically, 30-day slots.

The President was perfectly clear that he was pleased with the report, that he wanted a review of the recommendations, and then brought to him any disagreement about implementation. I asked the Cabinet members and agency heads present in the Situation Room to identify for me those recommendations of the commission that they agreed should be implemented, and identify those, as well as identify for me those they believed needed additional principals' level discussion, or where it was relevant to only a single agency, those issues that might need discussion between the relevant agency head and the White House.

Once we've identified those where they want principals' level policy discussion, I will then be -- I will then schedule those meetings to ensure, in a timely way, we are making progress on a regular and continuing basis throughout the 90 days. By the end of the 90-day process, obviously, we will need to identify what we expect only to be a handful, a small handful, of things that may need legislative -- new legislation, and then we'll -- we obviously plan to work with the commission and with Congress on those provisions.

Q What recommendations are you fairly certain will be approved?

MS. TOWNSEND: Well, I'm -- it's dangerous for me to sort of give you my opinion.

Q What would need legislative action?

MS. TOWNSEND: Well, we've -- I got this, we've gotten it this morning, really for the -- formally for the first time. So what we've asked is, the lawyers will look at it, the lawyers will suggest to us which ones they think require legislation, and then we'll move from there.

Q It's been three-and-a-half years since the September 11th attacks, when the President first issued the call for the intelligence agencies to reform themselves to meet the threats of the 21st century. Here we have another report saying that they haven't done that. Scott said it this morning, that they haven't done that. What's the problem? Is it that these agencies are so unwieldy that they can't reform themselves? Have they not been listening to the President? What's going on?

MS. TOWNSEND: Well, in fairness, I think the commission, when you look at the whole report -- I grant you, it's a large document -- when you look at the whole report, even the commission acknowledges we've enjoyed some successes, particularly in the counterterrorism area, because of the efforts of the CIA's counterterrorism center, the FBI -- we have disrupted some plots. I think you have seen some progress. You've seen the establishment of what was TTIC, the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and now the National Counterterrorism Center. There are still some hiccups. It's not perfect yet. We need to constantly work to refine that.

The DNI -- the establishment of the DNI is the mechanism that we should use as the vehicle for implementation. I'm going to run the coordination of the review process and the implementation -- interagency implementation process. But by and large, and you'll see, of the 74 recommendations, I think 51 of them apply to the DNI. And it will be important that we make sure that those get implemented in a fulsome way.

Q But the report would suggest that it's far more than a few hiccups. It's more like a massive case of gastroenteritis here that you're trying to deal with. (Laughter.)

MS. TOWNSEND: Well, look, there is no --

Q With an additional case of diverticulitis on top of that. (Laughter.)

MS. TOWNSEND: No question, more needs to be done, and it will require the attention of the DNI.

Yes, sir.

Q Madam, in preparing this report and also implementing, what role the U.N. and the international community play and will play to implement the report? How and what things international community and U.N. can do and should do?

MS. TOWNSEND: Well, this is really -- the commission's report is really directed to the United States intelligence community. To the extent that we need the help of our allies, we enjoy good relationships with many foreign liaison services. But I don't expect those relationships to be disrupted by any of the recommendations. In fact, only strengthened.

Q The report found that the intelligence analysts did not feel political pressure to alter their findings about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. How can the President guarantee that now and in the future intelligence analysts won't find political distortions and won't come to political distortions in their findings? And is this something you're going to work on at all?

MS. TOWNSEND: Well, I think when you look at the entirety of the report, they talk about what intelligence professionals call trade craft. And it goes to training and analysis and strengthening training mechanisms to ensure good analysis.

The other point that the report makes which is very -- as far as I'm concerned, very important, is it not only says policy makers and decision makers should ask questions, they did ask questions in this instance; they should continue. And they shouldn't be, sort of, cowed by the notion of being accused of politicization. It's an important part of the process, the give and take between the policymaker and the analyst, to be asking the right questions and the hard questions.

What we need is we need to improve collection and analysis both so we're sure that the underlying facts that the analysts are relying on is as good as we can give them, and that the analysis, itself -- we understand what are facts and what are judgments in the analysis.

Q So is it your perception that there's no need for further protections against political pressure in the intelligence community?

MS. TOWNSEND: We'll have to look at the commission's recommendations, but I can't recall off the top of my head any part of it that suggests that needs to be strengthened right now.

Q I have two questions. Does your portfolio only last for 90 days, and then do you go with Negroponte, or do you stay here at the White House?

MS. TOWNSEND: Based on the President's charge to me, I expect that my responsibility, in terms of the review and implementation, will last until he's satisfied that the job is done.

Q So you're staying here, though, you're not going with Negroponte?

MS. TOWNSEND: That's correct.

Q All right, and one other question. How are you going to get foreign spies and know they're reliable? That's the age-old question. How are you going to get good agents on the ground? They're not going to be American citizens -- how are you going to check their background?

MS. TOWNSEND: It's a matter of asking the right questions and identifying those things, what is it that you can confirm. You may not be able to confirm that a single, individual source, looking at that in an isolated way, is telling you the truth. But you have to take that as part of an overall picture that's painted by the intelligence and evaluate it in that way.

Q As the President said, the report says very little about the dangers and the weapons programs that were basing from some of our most dangerous allies -- I mean, adversaries. How can the administration support a policy of preemption, when we don't really know what we're up against?

MS. TOWNSEND: A little bit, as you can imagine, Deb, I'm going demur here. This is well beyond my remit. I'm really looking right now at the process of going through the report and analyzing the commission's recommendations.

Q Is this discussion being held in the executive branch? Are they reviewing that policy?

MS. TOWNSEND: I'm going to give that to Scott.

MR. McCLELLAN: Do we have any more process questions, and then I'll be glad to go into questions.

Q So when Judge Silberman was talking about the DNI's responsibilities outrunning his authorities, is that going to be part of the review, even though the DNI is a brand new piece of legislation, a new position? Will that be under review, potential legislative change?

MS. TOWNSEND: I don't expect so. I probably would have said it a little bit differently. I mean, I think what it's a matter of is making clear what the DNI's authorities are, and that his authorities and his backing by the President is commensurate with his responsibilities. And they've laid out a number of ways in which we can do that that don't require legislation. I think the first order of business is to make sure we review those and we implement those as appropriate.

Q Can I follow up and ask a process question. Where is the DNI going to be housed, physically, with his staff, once confirmed?

MS. TOWNSEND: I think they're in temporary space right now, and that's -- I would refer you, once John Negroponte is confirmed -- hopefully, quickly -- he's going to have to make a number of decisions, but I couldn't begin to give you --

Q But we can't say for sure that he'll be in the CIA at Langley?

MS. TOWNSEND: That's really a decision that's left to him. I mean --

Q But my understanding is that there's some real technical questions about the security of a facility that he would need, so that there are just a very few existing ideas. So I was just wondering, that is unsettled?

MS. TOWNSEND: That is an issue that will be left to the DNI to decide.

Q Fran, this is a process question. How soon might we see some executive orders in response to this report?

MS. TOWNSEND: You will begin to -- the review process will begin right away. And as I said, I asked those Cabinet members and agency heads present this morning to go through the report and identify those things that we can do quickly, those things that require additional review --

Q Days, weeks, months?

MS. TOWNSEND: -- and I think you will begin to see us taking -- first of all, the review will start right away and you will begin to see action in a matter of weeks.

Q The report was very specific in saying that in order to be able to do his job, or her job, the DNI needs to have the cooperation of the Secretary of Defense. Was that message conveyed to Don Rumsfeld today?

MS. TOWNSEND: It was conveyed to all the Cabinet members present, to keep an open mind as they go through the recommendations and the importance of supporting the effort that the DNI has been charged with undertaking.

Q Where are they now located? You said "temporary," can you tell us where they are?

MS. TOWNSEND: I think that they have got temporary office both in the EEOB and here on the compound. But as I say, that's really just temporary, until -- you've got to get the DNI through the process, confirmed, and up and running, and with a staff before you can make permanent decisions.

MR. McCLELLAN: One last process one over here, and then Fran has got to go.

Q Can you say to what extent this report will guide your thinking in how much and what kinds of authority the DNI should have?

MS. TOWNSEND: I'm sorry, say that again.

Q Can you say what impact this report will have in how you go about delineating the authority that the DNI will actually have?

MS. TOWNSEND: Oh, I think the report -- look, the wonderful thing about the report is I think it's very pragmatic in its approach. The President welcomed the report, and frankly noted its candor and its bluntness, the frankness of it. And it has taken a very practical approach. That's actually -- it makes my job a whole lot easier. I don't have to discern what they meant. They've made pretty clear what they meant, and particularly where it regards the recommendations to strengthening the hand of the DNI. I think if you look at the 51 recommendations, relevant to him, yes, it will shape our view of how to do that because the recommendations are very specific.

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, thank you.

MS. TOWNSEND: Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: And I will see you all tomorrow. No, I'm just -- (laughter.)

Okay, now I'm here for you guys.

Q Scott, why hasn't Negroponte been -- are you worried that it has taken too long to get him confirmed? How much of a hindrance is it?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, his hearing is going to happen very shortly. The Senate is preparing to move forward on those confirmation hearings, and we hope the Senate will move forward quickly to confirm him because we do have a lot of important work to do, and the Director of National Intelligence will be vital to the implementation of the recommendations that we move forward on.

Q Scott, you demurred from answering this, this morning in anticipation of the report's release, so let me ask you again, the report suggests --

MR. McCLELLAN: I demur from answering again.

Q Not now. (Laughter.) Well, you may try. (Laughter.) The report suggest that there are a lot of decisions being made on North Korea and Iran and their nuclear capabilities, weapons of mass destruction and whatnot, without really having any kind of an idea what's going on, because the report says that the information that you've got on North Korea and Iran is just -- it's almost -- to use the word from the report -- worthless as the information that you had on Iraq.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one of the things -- I think you brought it up to Fran, as well, a minute ago -- one of the things that is pointed out in the report, and that one of the commissioners brought up in the meeting in the Cabinet Room was that the intelligence community has really been organized and structured for a different mission, for the Cold War mission, to confront the threat from the former Soviet Union. And there have been -- and the report points this out, we have taken significant steps to begin the transformation of the intelligence community.

Fran talked about a couple of those. We've transformed -- we've worked to transform the FBI. We implemented many reforms after the attacks of September 11th. We created the Department of Homeland Security. We have passed the intelligence reform legislation, which the President was pleased to sign into law. And we've been moving forward on recommendations from that -- or moving forward on the provisions in that legislation, including the appointment of the Director of National Intelligence.

What we've also got to do is look at this report and take the lessons we've learned from some of the shortcomings in the intelligence community and apply them to the threats that we face today. And you bring up two countries, North Korea and Iran. North Korea and Iran are two countries that have a history of deceiving the international community and a history of not complying with their international obligations. And we're working very closely with our partners in the international community on both those issues. And we're working to convince both those countries to abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions.

Q But as the commission report points out, history is not enough, that presumptions and assumptions can become incontrovertible arguments if you don't have appropriate intelligence. So can you be confident about the decisions that you're making regarding North Korea and Iran if you don't have the level of intelligence on them that you had on Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's why --

Q And the commission points out how good the intelligence you had on Iraq was.

MR. McCLELLAN: You talk about Iraq, and one of the things we did was, when we saw that the intelligence was wrong or that there were some shortcomings in the intelligence, the President said we must find out why and take steps to fix any problems. And that's exactly what we've done. That's why he appointed the bipartisan commission on intelligence capabilities to look at some of the shortcomings, to look at where the intelligence was wrong and how we can fix that. And they've put forward some very useful and thoughtful ideas. The President is very interested in the recommendations that they have put forward. They have a whole chapter on those two countries, as well. And they talked about the different areas where we need to continue our improvements in the intelligence community and continue our improvement in intelligence capabilities.

But we're dealing with regimes in this world, some regimes, that operate out of closed societies and have a history of deception and a history of conceiving [sic] their activities from the international community. And the President believes it's important to continue working closely with our partners in the international community to confront these threats, because the consequences of underestimating those threats is too high in a post-September 11th world, and that's something the President talked about earlier today.

Q Sorry to beat a dead horse, but if I could get to the point of the question -- or try to one more time -- can you have confidence, making the decisions that you are on North Korea and Iran, knowing as little as you do about their programs?

MR. McCLELLAN: We've got to continue to work to improve our intelligence capabilities, and we've got to continue to confront the threats posed by the regimes in North Korea and Iran. And that's what we're doing. We're pursuing diplomatic approaches to get them to open up to the international community and fulfill their international obligations. That's what we're working to do.

Q Question. After the death of Terri Schiavo, today, the President said --

MR. McCLELLAN: Can we stick to the report and then come back to -- I'll be glad to come back to you on that question.

Q Sure.

MR. McCLELLAN: Are there any other questions on the report at this point? Or do you have enough from Fran and me?

Okay, go ahead.

Q Do you anticipate that the report will prompt any review or change in policy toward North Korea or Iran?

MR. McCLELLAN: We are continuing to pursue diplomatic solutions to both those issues. We continue to support the efforts of our European friends. Remember, these -- and it's not un-similar to what we faced with the regime in Iraq, in terms of their history of deceiving the international community -- these are two areas -- two regimes that have a history of not complying with their international obligations. And we're saying, along with the rest of the international community, you need to meet your international obligations. You need to comply with your international obligations. It's important that those regimes take steps to become more a part of the international community. And the way to do that is to abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions.

Q Okay. The President said that in cases where there are serious doubts and questions, the presumption should be in the favor of life. Should we expect to see the President now pushing for new legislation regarding changes to the way we make end-of-life decisions, the appeals processes for innocent -- possibly innocent inmates on death row, and other issues where life hangs in the balance?

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, this is a day of sadness, and the President expressed his condolences to the parents of Terri Schiavo and to all those who supported her and prayed for her during the past few weeks. This has been a difficult period.

The President viewed this case as an extraordinary one. There were extraordinary circumstances involved in this case. But the President has also made it very clear that he believes our nation should build a culture of life, that we should be working together to build a culture of life in America, and that means protecting life at all stages, particularly those who are at the mercy of others, like Terri Schiavo.

Now, Congress has been working -- or looking at some legislation. They're talking about some ideas. That's something they're looking at. Obviously, we would look at it if it came to our desk.

Q On the Terri Schiavo case, in a statement, Tom DeLay expressed disappointment at federal courts for what he says was their ignoring the intent of the Terri Schiavo law. His statement actually was quite forceful. He said a time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today. Given the fact that the President felt strongly enough to interrupt his Easter recess to rush back here to Washington to sign that very legislation, does the President share that sentiment?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President is always going to stand on the side of defending life. He's made that very clear through his words, as well as through his action. We have taken important steps, through legislation, to promote a culture of life in America. But, ultimately, the President believes that we have to change our culture and we have to change hearts. And that's something that will require continued diligence on behalf of all Americans who want to build a culture of life. There are many ways we can work together to promote a culture of life in America.

Now, in terms of this specific situation, I think you've heard the President's views on it. We would have preferred a different decision from the courts. That's why the President supported the legislation that was passed by Congress, and he is saddened by this situation, and he is saddened on this day.

Q Does he feel that the courts erred?

MR. McCLELLAN: He would have preferred a different outcome. But, ultimately, we have to follow our laws and abide by the courts.

Q I respect the President's --

MR. McCLELLAN: And I remind you what he said. The legislation that he signed was something he supported after we explored all our options, and we felt it was an opportunity for the parents to -- another opportunity for the parents to try to save their daughter's life.

Q I respect the President's position, and I know it's sincere and heartfelt, but the bottom line is society ends up paying for cases like this. And with Medicare and Medicaid running out, Social Security is a -- I mean we're talking about a lot of money to prolong life for a long period of time. Who's going to pay for these cases?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President believes in valuing each and every life, and that's the President's view. The decision he made, in this instance, was based on principle. It's a long-standing principle of the President's. And we will always stand on the side of defending life.

Q So this means the federal government has to pay for these cases through Medicaid?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure. I wouldn't -- in terms of Medicaid, I think the President's views are very well known, in terms of his views on Medicaid. We want to make sure that the Medicaid system is modernized and working to meet the needs of those who need it, particularly those who are people with disabilities.

Q Some people might not get funds while other people get an inordinate amount of funds to stay alive.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure exactly what cases you're referring to, you're making a general statement. If you have a specific instance you want to refer to, let me know.

Q Scott, a question on India and Pakistan. A little boy in Pakistan who will receive medical care in Indian hospital. He said that, time has come that now if my wounds can heal, why not 55 years of wounds between India and Pakistan? What he meant was really possibility was there to heal the wounds of (inaudible), including education and health care. And I'm calling on my friend, President Bush, to put a cap for 10 years not to sell weapons to -- any country should not sell weapons to India and Pakistan. They could let them spend more money on health care and education because they are so behind on these issues. Otherwise, millions of people are dying of disease and lack of education and all that. I hope he will reverse his decision not to sell any weapons to these countries.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, education and health care are important, they are priorities for this President, as well, in his country. In terms of those countries, I think you need to address those questions to those countries. But we do a lot to support other countries as they develop their -- educate in developing countries as they develop their educational institutions and health care institutions. And we will continue to do so.

Now in terms of these two countries, they are both partners in the global war on terrorism, and we are working closely with both to confront the threats that we face today. And we've been talking about some of those earlier today, and we will continue to do that. And we are going to continue to show support for our partners in the global war on terrorism.

Q One year ago, the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York confirmed reports that for the fourth year, they were still conducting a criminal investigation of Bill Clinton for "pardongate." And my first question, is this and the absence of any reported action on the Sandy Berger case due in any way to the President's wish that neither of these two men go to prison, like Martha Stewart did?

MR. McCLELLAN: I still welcome you back to the briefing room. (Laughter.) Les, the President is very much focused on his agenda and on the future and how we can move forward together to get things done. I think those questions are best directed elsewhere.

Q The President's fellow Republican and Congressman, Tom Tancredo, has announced that he will be in Tombstone, Arizona tomorrow to address the Minutemen and tell them they are not vigilantes, but a neighborhood watch to help the Border Patrol, because poll after poll reports that 80 percent of Americans want our borders secured against illegal entry. A question, does the President believe that Mr. Tancredo is right or wrong?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President agrees that we need to continue to take steps to improve our border enforcement. We've taken a lot of steps to better control our borders and to prevent people who shouldn't be coming into this country from entering the country.

Q What about Tancredo?

MR. McCLELLAN: And in terms of the issue of the Minutemen, I think we talked about this on Tuesday. The views --

Q Does he agree with Tancredo or not?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- the views I expressed the other day are still the same. If you're talking about individuals who are looking at -- for suspicious activity, it's important that they report that activity to the proper authorities for action. And if you're talking about people roaming around that are armed and untrained and seeking to take action into their own hands, that raises a lot of concerns.

Q Like the Minutemen? Are they armed and untrained?

MR. McCLELLAN: That raises a lot of concerns, because it can lead to people getting hurt. And that's why the proper authorities are the Department of Homeland Security officials, and our border control agents who work on a daily basis to prevent people from entering this country.

Q You won't even mention Tancredo. Has he been kind of wiped away or what? He's your fellow Republican.

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think you've heard his views and you've heard the President's views, as well. And what we need to do to --

Q Not on Tancredo, I haven't.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- you've heard the importance of making sure we have a safe, orderly and humane migration system. Members of Congress express their views all the time. The President does, too.

Q Does the President have a message today specifically to Michael Schiavo?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you heard the President's message earlier today.

Q Scott, do you have a -- does the U.S. have a reaction to the announcement from the European Union today of new trade sanctions in retaliation for the Byrd amendment?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and the United States Trade Representative Office put out a statement on that earlier today expressing our disappointment at the decision and talking about how we would continue working to comply with the WTO decision in this instance. And they also talked about how this is not something that affects our trade laws here, and that we're going to continue to vigorously implement our trade laws to make sure that Americans are treated fairly. And that was the thrust of their remarks.

Thank you.

END 1:39 P.M. EST