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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 11, 2005

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

Play Video  Video (Real)

1:15 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. I'd like to begin by updating you on the situation that occurred here at the White House and the Capitol just a short time ago. First of all, as you all are aware, the President was off-site, getting in a bike ride after returning from a four-day trip overseas. And secondly, back here at the White House -- first of all, the top priority of the Secret Service here at the White House is the safety and security of the people who work here every day. And they have certain security precaution protocols that are in place, and those security precaution protocols were followed in this instance.

Let me give you a little facts about what happened. At approximately 11:59 a.m., the threat level here at the White House was raised to yellow. There was a Cessna plane within about 15 miles of the White House. It was north of the White House. Shortly after that, around noon, fighter jets were scrambled. At approximately 12:01 p.m., the threat level was raised to orange. The plane was within 10 miles, and an evacuation and moving of people to more secure locations began at that point.

Let me just point out that the Cessna was traveling in restricted airspace toward the White House and Capitol. The pilot was not responding to efforts to communicate with the plane. And then, at 12:03 p.m., the alert level was raised to red. And at approximately 12:11 p.m., the alert level went back down to yellow. The plane at that point was turning west and traveling away from the White House and Capitol. And at 12:14 p.m., the all-clear was given.

The pilot and the plane are now on the ground. It was escorted by a fighter jet and a Blackhawk helicopter. And the Secret Service and local authorities will be interviewing the pilot, if they are not already.

And in terms of other officials, as I said, the President was off-site at the time. He was informed by his detail; the detail that was with the President was notified and informed the President at that point. Mrs. Bush, as well as Mrs. Reagan, who is in town, were here at the White House and they were taken to a secure location. The Vice President was evacuated and has since returned to the White House.

And with that, I think I will just go to you all's questions.

Q Were the First Ladies evacuated, too?

MR. McCLELLAN: They were taken to a secure location.

Q Can I just go back through a couple of things here? You say at 12:03 p.m. the alert level was raised to red. So how close was the Cessna to the White House at that point?

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I'm sorry, I should have mentioned that up top, but the Cessna was within three miles of the White House before it turned west and started traveling away from the White House.

Q And goes back to yellow at what point?

MR. McCLELLAN: It went back to yellow at 12:11 p.m.

Q When it's about --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's when the plane had turned west and was moving away, or traveling away from the White House.

Q I'm just finishing up the time line. Mrs. Bush and Mrs. Reagan were put in a secure location in the White House -- so the bunker, I assume?

MR. McCLELLAN: I will just leave it at that they were taken to a secure location.

Q In the White House?

Q On the grounds?

MR. McCLELLAN: They were here at the White House and they were taken to a secure location.

Q You can't say on the grounds or off the grounds? All right. But you're saying that -- but the Vice President was actually evacuated --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.

Q -- off the grounds?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct.

Q That's correct. Why the distinction, given the history of this?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Secret Service has security precaution protocols that are in place. And as I mentioned at the beginning, those precautions were followed. That's what they have in place. And it was consistent with the protocols that were in place.

Q And just one final one on the color coding --

MR. McCLELLAN: And for obvious reasons, I don't think I want to get too far into the details of what those security precautions are.

Q The color-coded levels -- I mean, these correspond to the Department of Homeland Security, right? In other words, is this the first time red has ever been reached, the red levels have been reached at the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you might want to double-check with the Secret Service. I think that these are a threat level system that they have had in place maybe for some time that preceded even the Homeland Security threat system -- threat advisory system.

Q -- a different color-code system, though?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it has -- I think it has the same colors. You might want to double-check with the Secret Service.

Q But if it predates that Department of Homeland Security's color-coded system, then it's a different --

MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on a second, James. You might want to check with the Secret Service. I think that that's correct. I'm not sure that that's correct, but I think that this has been a system that was in place even before the Homeland Security advisory threat level was put in place.

Q Between noon, when the fighter jets were scrambled, and 12:11 p.m. when the all-clear sounded, who was in a position to give the authority, if necessary, for those fighter jets to fire on the plane?

MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, it never came to that point, I don't believe. I don't have any more details in terms of what occurred in terms of that. But I don't --

Q I guess I'm asking --

MR. McCLELLAN: My understanding from the briefing I received following this situation or this incident, I did not receive any information to that effect.

Q Who was in charge, who would have made the call if this was at threat level red, too serious a threat to allow to continue?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President was at an off-site location, and he was informed, and he was informed of the situation that occurred. And obviously, there are protocols in place for that, as well. But the President was being kept well-informed of the situation that was going on.

Q By whom?

MR. McCLELLAN: By his security detail that was traveling with him. But I don't want to speculate that it ever came to that. I was not informed that it ever came to that. But there were fighter jets that were scrambled; they were trying to get in contact with the pilot of the plane. The pilot was not responding to their efforts to communicate with the plane. And I'm not sure that it ever came to that point, because the plane turned west and started traveling away from the White House when it was within that three-mile radius of the White House.

Q And then, finally, the pictures -- more generally, these pictures of somewhat frantic evacuations of the heart of the American government are being broadcast all around the world. Is it fair to say that, really without doing anything here, there's been an achievement by terrorists to demonstrate to the world that this country and capital can be rattled by a Cessna that --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't agree with your characterization. Let me, first of all, say that we are grateful for the job that the Secret Service does and that all our homeland security officials and local authorities do to protect the people that work at the Capitol and that work here at the White House. They do an outstanding job. They have security protocols that are put in place. They followed the security protocols -- at least when it comes to the White House, I was informed that those security protocols were followed and that the actions they took were consistent with those protocols. So we are grateful, I think all of us in this room, for the job that the Secret Service does, both the President's detail, as well as the Uniformed Division here at the White House. They do a great job, and they were doing a great job, I think, in terms of evacuating people and moving people to more secure locations as this situation was developing. We appreciate those efforts.

In terms of other people around the world, we have to remember that we are a nation at war, and there are still people that seek to do harm to the United States and seek to carry out attacks on the United States. This was a situation that we don't know the exact details of why this plane was traveling in the restricted airspace at this point. It's being investigated. The pilot is being questioned, or will be questioned shortly, and let's see what the facts are.

Q Scott, a couple questions. Do you know if the fighter jet went up -- were they scrambled with shoot-down authority?

MR. McCLELLAN: John, I don't have the information on that. Like I said, those fighter jets were scrambled at around the noon hour and they escorted -- at least one of the fighter jets I know, along with the Blackhawk helicopter escorted the plane to the ground. And I'm not aware that it came to that point.

Q I'm just following up on Terry's question. I would assume with the plane only three miles away from the White House, it would have had some commander on the ground that had --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not aware that it came to that point, because, as I said, at some point it did turn west.

Q Yes, I'm just saying, at the time, if it was that close to the White House, you would not have time to call the President and say, do we have the authority to shoot it down.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are protocols that are in place for this, as well.

Q Second question. Who was it -- I mean, we have all these coordinated evacuations at the Capitol, the Supreme Court, here at the White House, elsewhere. Who raised the alarm? Was it NORAD? Was it this other office out in Herndon?

MR. McCLELLAN: There's communication centers here at the White House; there are communication centers outside of the White House. I think they were all in contact with one another, and probably all of those that you mentioned were involved in this. Because when the plane enters the restricted airspace, there are defense officials that see that, and they start to take steps when that occurs if the pilot is not in contact with those who are trying to reach --

Q So do you know if it was NORAD or the FAA that first raised the alert?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll see what else I can find out. I don't have that information at this point.

Q What, if any, actions did the President take after he was notified?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President is on his way back to the White House right now. He should be arriving --

Q Did he stop his --

MR. McCLELLAN: He should be arriving at any point. I'll see if I can get you information later in the day if there's any additional information to share.

Q You don't know if he stopped biking, or got in touch with someone, or --

MR. McCLELLAN: He was notified and informed about it by his detail, and like I said, that's what I have at this point. He should be arriving here at the White House at any moment, and then we'll have more information and we'll talk about that at that point.

Q I think what we're getting at is we'd like to know whether he was on the phone with somebody at the time that there was a red alert; whether he could have conceivably given a shoot-down order; or whether, as John suggested, somebody was empowered to do that. I think that's important because this is such a short time frame, you're talking about something that's within three miles of the White House.

MR. McCLELLAN: Right, David, I understand that, and I understand the question. I appreciate the question that you're asking. But I -- from everyone I've talked with, all those that were involved in this from the White House perspective, I didn't get any indication that it came to that point. The plane did turn away from the White House and started traveling away from the White House. But there are protocols in place for this. That's why the fighter jets were scrambled; that's why they did try to make contact with the plane. But I don't want to try to suggest that it came to that point, because I'm not informed in any way --

Q I'm assuming it doesn't get any higher than red --

MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on. I'm not informed in any way that it did come to that.

Q But it did. If it's red alert, it can't go any higher. So, I mean, if it gets any closer than three miles you don't have a lot of options if it keeps coming. So I think we just want to know within the bounds of security, what was in place.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I understand and, as I said, I appreciate the question. We'll try to keep you updated as we learn more about this. This just occurred a short time ago and I wanted to make sure I came out here and gave you all the information and the facts that we knew at this point. And if there's additional information to share with you, obviously I will get you that information.

Q Scott, for example, we know that on September 11th --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep going around the room.

Q For example, we know September 11th, it was the Vice President who gave the authorization to shoot down, if it was necessary. So we're just wondering who would have been in --

MR. McCLELLAN: John, let me keep going, and I'll come back to you if I can. James, go ahead.

Q Scott, you gave us a fairly detailed, minute-by-minute countdown of actions that were taken, the raising of the alerts. You also told us separately that the President was informed by his detail. Can you tell us where in that chronology the President was informed? After the code reached a certain level, or what have you?

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll get you that information later in the day. As I said, the President is returning to the White House. But I wanted to get you what facts we knew at this point.

Q Scott, so when the alert went to red and the plane was three miles out, is it safe to assume the reason why many of the persons were not evacuated from the Old Executive Office Building and even from the West Wing is because it was too close, there was nothing to do at that time?

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, there's a protocol in place for a situation like this. Some people were evacuated, and then at some point people were moved to a more secure location because that was the appropriate step to take at a certain point in time.

Q Well, according to some sources, some of the people in the Old Executive Office Building were not told, and they found out by watching the television. So what is the protocol for that type of situation?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that that's the case, April. I know that I checked with the Secret Service and people were informed about the situation that was going on. They took appropriate steps. The Uniformed Division -- I think you saw them around the White House complex, taking appropriate steps, as well. And we appreciate the job that they did.

Q Scott, one quick question on this, and then another subject.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let's stay on this subject, and then I'll come back to the other subject. This isn't a press conference where you can jump subjects and take away from other people.

Q Right. When you -- those collection of questions you're going to come back on, can you also find out for us, is there a standing order -- in other words, is the authorization that we were discussing before no longer necessary if a plane comes within a certain region around the White House? Are pilots now authorized to make that judgment themselves once a plane is within a certain territory?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure that's the case. Let me get you some additional information. And I'll get it to you all later today. And like I said, I don't -- I know you all are asking this question, I appreciate that you're asking this question, but I'm not sure that in this situation it ever came to that point. So I want to emphasize that point because I think I would have been informed --

Q Yes, but separate and apart from that --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I would have been informed about it. But I will look into that and get you more information on that, as well.

Q What is that point?

Q Scott, two questions. Where was the President biking? And two, was the plane forced to turn west, or did the plane turn west on its own?

MR. McCLELLAN: What I was told was that it turned west at some point when it came within that three-mile radius of the White House.

Q Where was the President biking?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President was in an off-site location. I'll leave it at that. Your colleagues were there covering it, so I think you all are aware of where he was. But from this podium, I think I'll just leave it he was at an off-site location.

Q Can you tell us, on the time line, when the fighter jets essentially intercepted the plane? You said the fighter jets and a Blackhawk helicopter escorted it to the ground.

MR. McCLELLAN: They were scrambled around noon. I know at some point after that, they tried to make -- or there was communication that people were trying to communicate with the plane at some point within this time frame that I gave you, this timetable that I gave you of when everything occurred. But, no, I don't have any more information than what I gave you on that.

Q Scott, a follow-up -- this is a crucial point -- did the pilot have a radio on the plane? Did he ever at any point have conversation with the U.S.? Because the implication is it could have been a failed suicide attempt and then he --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, like I said, there were efforts to communicate with the pilot and the pilot was not responding to those efforts to communicate with the plane.

Q At any point, was there a response, and was there a radio on the plane?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I don't have those details. The pilot is going to be questioned, if the pilot is not being questioned already. They will be investigating this matter. The investigation is ongoing at this point, I should say, by the Secret Service and by local authorities. I think those are all questions that they'll be able to answer as the investigation proceeds forward.

Q Finally, you said something about Blackhawk helicopters. We thought they were F-16 -- were there Blackhawks?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, this was a Border and Customs helicopter.

Q Not F-16s at all?

MR. McCLELLAN: There was a -- I believe that there was a fighter jet and a Blackhawk helicopter. There may have been additional aircraft, as well, that escorted that plane.

Q Was that an ICE Blackhawk?

MR. McCLELLAN: My -- yes, my understanding was that it was a Border and Customs helicopter, so it --

Q So it would be ICE, right?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- probably so, but you might want to double-check with Homeland Security on that.

Q Scott, concerning threat levels, former Secretary Ridge yesterday indicated there might have been some ongoing --

MR. McCLELLAN: Can we stay on this current situation, and then I'll be glad to come back to your question? Does anybody else have any questions on this current situation? Go ahead.

Q Scott, why did the -- why didn't the internal emergency notification system go off here in the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that there were -- there was a notification system that was going off.

Q No, it wasn't.

Q It's called April Ryan. (Laughter.)

Q Yes, thank you.

Q After 9/11, there was a system put in place for this voice announcement that comes over the speaker --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.

Q -- if there is a certain level of emergency.

MR. McCLELLAN: My understanding from the initial conversations I had following this situation was that protocols were followed that were in place. And let me look into it to see if there's more. You might want to direct those questions to the Secret Service, as well.

Q It did not go off at all.

MR. McCLELLAN: The Uniformed Division was evacuating people, as well as moving people --

Q We did not know anything about that. We did not know anything about that -- seriously.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me just mention that the Uniformed Division was evacuating people on the property, as well as moving people to a more secure location.

Q There was a report of a flare being seen during this episode. Was that part of the fighter jet's attempt to contact the plane --

MR. McCLELLAN: That may have been --

Q Can you give us details --

MR. McCLELLAN: It may well have been. I don't know -- I don't know on that, but it may well have been.

Q Scott, just to close the loop on the helicopter and the fighter jet, they scrambled from where?

MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to direct those questions to the Department of Defense, in terms of the fighter jets. And in terms of --

Q You're going to provide additional information --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that I will get into all those details, but the Department of Defense might be able to provide you with some additional details on that. And in terms of the Blackhawk, I think you ought to direct that to the Department of Homeland Security.

Q You're saying that for security reasons, you can't answer whether they were already in the air, they were --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think I'll leave it to those two agencies to get you that information. They can probably provide you with that. I don't have that information at this --

Q Can you --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have the information at this time. If I get something else I can give you, I will. Okay.

Q Scott --

MR. McCLELLAN: Is this on this subject, Les?

Q Yes, it is.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, go ahead.

Q The restricted airspace, has it ever changed in the last two or three years? And how big is it?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's changed since September 11th, and my --

Q How big is it now?

MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to double-check with authorities. I think there's a 25-mile area. But, obviously, there's Reagan National Airport; they have certain procedures that the planes departing from there follow. I think this was a general aviation aircraft, so it was not a -- it was not a commercial --

Q Well, 25 miles -- it's been extremely enlarged, then, to 25 miles since 9/11?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you can get those facts. I don't have those facts in front of me right this second.

Go ahead, James.

Q Scott, could we find out your personal experience here, what you were doing at the time, how you learned of the threat, your actions and so forth?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. I was notified by staff and --

Q "Staff" meaning who? Your staff?

MR. McCLELLAN: My staff, yes. I was first notified by my staff. And what else do you want to know?

Q When were you evacuated?

Q What actions did you take? Where did you go?

MR. McCLELLAN: I moved to a secure location, I'll leave it at that.

Q Did you make any calls before you did that?

MR. McCLELLAN: No.

Q Would you just clarify, are you saying that everybody, including staff, in the West Wing and in the EOB, to your knowledge, was either evacuated or brought to a secure location?

MR. McCLELLAN: They were either evacuated -- what I know is that people were either evacuated or moved to a more secure location, at least in the White House complex. I don't have more on the Executive Office Building, but I think they were being evacuated and moved, as well.

Q But what about those who stayed in their office and watched it on television?

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, there comes a point at some point in time when you're going -- when you have a situation like this, where it is safer to move someone to a more secure location within the compound.

Q But, Scott, what about those who watched it on television in OEOB and found out about it that way?

MR. McCLELLAN: April, I appreciate your concern here. Let me try and take the questions one at a time here, though.

Q In one of the issues here, you've got eight minutes -- between 12:03 p.m. and 12:11 p.m., where the plane is within three miles of the White House and then, I presume in that eight-minute span the plane heads back west and it goes back to yellow. Can you now, or at some point, give us some sense of the sequence of --

MR. McCLELLAN: My understanding is that right about 12:11 p.m. is when the plane turned west.

Q Right. So there was eight minutes here when things are moving pretty rapidly here -- and then you've got an eight-minute window here where the plane is three miles away from the White House, and then eight minutes later it goes down to yellow because the plane is moving away. So what happens in that eight-minute span? And I think that goes to the question, too, about shoot-down authority. Like Terry pointed out, I mean, like, when do you get to that point, where --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that question has already been asked, and I told you that I would provide you with additional detail as I can on that.

Q And as I say, the sequence in that eight-minute period of time, any more detail there I think would be helpful.

MR. McCLELLAN: Right. Well, in terms of between 12:01 p.m. and --

Q -- 12:03 p.m. and 12:11 p.m.

MR. McCLELLAN: It was right about 12:01 p.m., that's when I think the evacuation process began here at the White House, right around that time, when the plane was about 10 miles north of the White House. And then it was 12:11 p.m. approximately when the plane had turned west, and then the threat level went back down to yellow, and then the all-clear was given at 12:14 p.m.

Q But do you understand what I'm asking you -- what happens between 12:03 p.m. and 12:11 p.m., when the plane was within three miles of the White House, and then at 12:11 p.m., it goes back to yellow -- because I think at that point the plane is 25 miles out and heading west. So what happens in that eight-minute span?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry -- at 12:11 p.m.?

Q At 12:11 p.m., you said that the threat level went back down to yellow, indicating the threat is passing here. It's not gone but it's passing. And I think at that point, the plane -- well, I know at some point the plane is 25 miles away, back heading towards west --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, at that point, my sense is that that was when -- between the red and yellow, at approximately 12:11 p.m., is when it was still within three miles. But that was when it turned and started traveling away from the White House at some point within that 12:11 p.m. time period. That's why the threat level went back down to yellow at that point.

Q But David's point is what was going on in that eight-minute period?

MR. McCLELLAN: What was going on where?

Q Between 12:03 p.m. and 12:11 p.m. That was clearly a critical period of time, right?

MR. McCLELLAN: Right.

Q You have to decide whether you're going to shoot the thing down, or whether it's responding --

MR. McCLELLAN: I know you're getting into this question again. I think this question has been asked. Like I said, I have nothing to suggest that we were at that point by any means. So I don't want to suggest that. But I will look into that and get you all that additional information as I can.

Q The question is when you get to that point --

MR. McCLELLAN: I understand. That's what I'll get you additional information on. But I think you can appreciate I wanted to come out here and make sure you all had the facts --

Q Yes, we do.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- about what occurred. And as we get additional information, I will be glad to provide that information to you.

Q Why is that -- the President was off-site, but, obviously, he's still in the area somewhat. Why is it that there isn't a procedure that when something like this happens, he would automatically get taken to some sort of secure location?

MR. McCLELLAN: There are protocols in place, and I think that those are decisions that the Secret Service makes based on those protocols that are in place. And I think in this instance, they took the appropriate steps.

Q Just decided that the threat was not serious enough?

MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to direct those questions to the Secret Service. But I think they took the appropriate steps, following the protocols that were in place.

Are we still on this subject?

Q Yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me go to Goyal, and I'll come back to you, John.

Q I have one more on this and then another one on --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me stay on this subject, Goyal.

Q Yes, this one.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay.

Q Where did the plane come from? And also are we calling this a terrorist act now?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, this is something that's being investigated at this point. That's the way I would describe it. There's an ongoing investigation. I don't know the facts at this point because the plane was, just a short time ago, escorted to the ground, and the pilot is being interviewed by local authorities and Secret Service to determine what was going on

Q The Secret Service did not alert people in the basement of the press room that there was a problem. The sound system did not go off. How can you be confident that protocols were followed, when clearly here we know they were not? Were others -- were all staffers in the White House alerted about this problem and evacuated by the Secret Service?

MR. McCLELLAN: Keith, a couple of things. One, that was my initial conversations with the Secret Service that the protocols were followed. I specifically asked about what occurred here in the press area, as well. I know that you all -- I saw some of you all leaving when I was being moved, as well. And then I understand from Secret Service that at one point, they decided to move some of you that were still here and had not left the premises to a more secure location within the complex. And I believe that was down in the basement.

Q Are you confident that the staffers, all staffers at the White House were told by the Secret Service that there was an imminent danger?

MR. McCLELLAN: Keith, as far as I know, in the White House, the Uniformed Division, as well as the Presidential Detail were taking the appropriate steps to either move people off the property or move people to a more secure location on the property. That's the understanding that I have. Obviously, we'll learn more as time goes and you might want to direct some of those questions to the Secret Service.

But as I emphasized at the beginning, the number one priority for the Secret Service when a situation like this occurs is the safety and security of the people in this building. And we appreciate the job that they did today. We are grateful for the job that they do every day.

Q Scott, to the best of your knowledge, is this the most serious violation of restricted airspace since 9/11?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that I can characterize it at this point, John.

Q I mean, I know that there was the thing with the Kentucky governor's plane last June, but it didn't seem to come as close as this plane did.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure that that's the case. You might want to look back at that and check that.

Q Scott, if we can just clarify something. You said at 12:03 p.m. the alert went to red because at that point the plane was within three miles?

MR. McCLELLAN: I understand at that point it was within three miles.

Q And it doesn't turn west for the next eight minutes, it's going at a pretty good clip, it sounds like it got closer than three miles to the White House.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me double-check that, to verify that fact.

Q Scott, can you clarify whether or not this is the first time --

MR. McCLELLAN: Because it went to orange at 12:01 p.m., as I pointed out, and that was when it was 10 miles out.

Q And then three miles, and it doesn't turn west for another eight minutes. So it sounds like it's still coming --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me make that -- it went back down to yellow at 12:11 p.m. At some point before that, obviously, it had to turn west and be traveling away from the White House. So thank you for -- no, thank you for clarifying that, because they wouldn't go back down to yellow if it were still traveling toward the White House.

Q Right. And I guess what I'm asking, if you can establish the closest that the plane came to the White House.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it was just within three-and-a-half miles. I don't think it was too much closer than that.

Q Scott, was it red through --

Q Three, or three-and-a-half --

Q -- from 12:03 p.m. to 12:11 p.m.?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, it would have been that entire time.

Q And was this the most serious alert since 9/11?

MR. McCLELLAN: John was asking me to characterize that. To my knowledge -- I mean, I don't know of another time when we were at that level for that period of time. But, as I said, that's what I can recall. You might want to double-check with the Secret Service on that. I couldn't verify that for you from this podium.

Q Actually, my question was, is this the closest that an aircraft has gotten to the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, that -- I don't know that that's the case, either. As you pointed out, there was the governor's plane, the governor of Kentucky's plane -- I'm not sure how close that came.

Q You just used the figure three-and-a-half miles, within three-and-a-half miles. What is the --

MR. McCLELLAN: Within three miles.

Q Three miles?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.

Q Okay, very well.

MR. McCLELLAN: I hope I -- well, I didn't mean to use three-and-a-half, if I did.

Are we still on this topic, or are we ready to move on to other topics?

Q Another one here on this.

Q One more.

MR. McCLELLAN: One more? One more, go ahead in the back.

Q -- that the Secret Service has a pecking order of who they're going to save, the President, the First Lady and then the press would be -- (laughter) --

Q Way down. (Laughter.)

Q We might be below Barney and Ms. Beazley. (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: I think everybody is a priority for the Secret Service, and everybody's safety and security is the priority for the Secret Service. There are a lot of personnel that work here at the White House. Obviously, there's a detail that is assigned to the President, there's a detail assigned to the Vice President, as well as Mrs. Bush, and they take their steps, as well. And then others around the White House are taking steps at the same time. So I don't think I would characterize it that way.

Q Scott --

MR. McCLELLAN: Wait, are we jumping subjects now?

Q No, I've got one more.

MR. McCLELLAN: Ed Chen. Who's in your seat?

Q Evildoers.

Q I just want to be clear on the color --

MR. McCLELLAN: Stop the name-calling.

Q -- on the color alerts. The feeling is not as good back here. (Laughter.) This is totally separate from the post-9/11 Homeland Security alert system, first of all, right, the color scheme? And is it --

MR. McCLELLAN: I believe that's correct.

Q And so, how far back does it go, and how many -- how many colors?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I don't have that for you. You might want to double-check with the Secret Service on that.

Are we ready to jump subjects now?

Q Yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, David Sanger had the first one, so I want to go back --

Q Actually, I have one last question on this subject, if I may, please. Who was the most senior official not evacuated from the White House, and who remained in charge here after all these evacuations?

MR. McCLELLAN: There were senior staff that were here at the White House at the time.

Q That were not evacuated?

MR. McCLELLAN: There was some senior staff that was taken to a more secure location.

Q And some senior staff was not evacuated to a more secure location?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that.

Q Okay. So the senior staff was evacuated, is your understanding, correct?

MR. McCLELLAN: As I said, I know that there was some senior staff that was taken to a more secure location.

Q Who was in charge? Who was giving orders here?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me double-check all that for you.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay.

Q Was this the first time you had seen the interior of a secure location?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'm not going to go beyond just being moved to a secure location.

Q Scott, is there a bathroom in the secure location?

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, are we ready to move? Go ahead.

Q The North Koreans today --

MR. McCLELLAN: It's not the Greenbrier --

Q Right. There's no room service. The North Koreans said today that they had pulled the rods from their reactor. There's some reason to be skeptical of their claims. Is there any independent verification of this from the --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think that those are intelligence-related matters. You know that I don't get into discussing those matters from this podium. I will make the point that all parties to the six-party talks have concerns about North Korea's behavior. North Korea's provocative comments and provocative steps that they take only further isolate it from the rest of the international community. We want to get North Korea back to the six-party talks because we believe that is the way forward to achieving our shared objective with all the other parties to the talks, and that is a nuclear-free peninsula. And so that's what our focus -- that's where our focus remains at this point.

Q When you're done answering all the questions, you have to go back on today's incident, if you could also find out if there is an unclassified answer to the question of, do we believe the North Koreans are telling the truth in this particular incident.

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I don't think we're going to get into discussing intelligence-related matters. But that's why I made the point that provocative comments and steps by North Korea only further isolate it from the international community. And we would hope that North Korea would agree to return to the six-party talks soon so that we can talk in a serious way about how to move forward on the proposal that we have on the table. And I think all parties to the talks are urging North Korea to come back to the six-party talk process.

Q Scott, what can you tell us about the -- what you know now about the hand grenade in Georgia, whether one was tossed near the stage, whether you guys believe the story?

MR. McCLELLAN: The Secret Service, along with the FBI, are looking into it. In terms of what happened or what it was, I think there are different reports about that. It's an ongoing investigation at this point.

Q Has anyone seen the device? As of last night, no one had even seen it.

MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to check with the Secret Service. As of this morning, I don't believe that we had. But you also heard from the -- I believe the Secretary of the National Security Council in Georgia making some additional comments this morning, as well. And at this point, it's just an ongoing investigation. You probably want to direct that question to the Secret Service and see if there's additional detail. I have not heard additional detail from the Secret Service, and I've been being kept apprised of what we do know.

Q On that, Scott, is the President frustrated that Georgian authorities did not inform U.S. officials until hours after the President left that there was even such a device?

MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate that question. I think that we still need to gather the facts, let the investigation continue, and we'll see what we learn from that. Let's let the investigation process, and then maybe we can get more into those questions at that point.

Q On that same subject --

MR. McCLELLAN: Welcome to the White House.

Q Thanks, Scott.

Q Did they consider moving the President off the stage at any point in time, do you know?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Was there any discussion about moving him off of the stage, out of that area?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'll get you additional information as we can on those -- oh, you're talking about Tbilisi?

Q Yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, in terms of -- in terms of what the Secret Service did? I think that they've responded to that through their Public Affairs Office. You might want to look back at what they said on that very matter. But in terms of, if the President was ever in danger, the Secret Service obviously would have taken steps to make sure that he was in a secure location.

Q So there was never any discussion about moving him?

MR. McCLELLAN: No.

Q Or getting him off the stage?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. Again, we didn't know about the incident until after the event.

Q Yes, we didn't, but they might have.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, the Secret Service has publicly responded, saying that they were not aware of the incident until we were informed by Georgian authorities. And I think the initial contact came somewhere a couple hours after the event, and after we had departed.

Q Do you know if -- how they determined that it was inactive, the grenade?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that that's been determined or not at this point. I've heard the Georgian Secretary of the National Secretary Council speak to that, I think. But I don't know that that's been determined from our standpoint, because, going back to the earlier question here that was asked whether or not we'd actually seen the device, meaning the Secret Service or FBI, and the last I had heard, we had not. But that was earlier this morning, and they were keeping me apprised of any new details.

Q Just one more question on that same subject -- before he ever spoke, there were reports coming out of the region -- on our wire anyway -- that the crowds had grown impatient and they were breaking through the police lines. They were tired wading through security. So it was clear from the get-go, before he ever even got there to speak, that there were quite a few people who had been -- who had gotten through without being checked. Was there any concern at that point?

MR. McCLELLAN: Keep in mind this was a very large crowd -- estimates anywhere from 150,000 upwards of 250,000, 300,000. And in terms of the security, the people, as I indicated earlier this morning, the people that were closer in to the President had all gone through a sweep, or been through the magnetometer. The people further out that were further back from where the President was may not have been, but you ought to double-check that with the Secret Service. But those that were close in to the President were.

Q -- expressed some concerns before the speech ever even occurred that this had happened and that maybe the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, if the Secret Service had concerns, they would have taken appropriate steps.

Q On a different subject, if I might move on. On the Bolton nomination, what role did the White House play in the coordination of this briefing that took place, involving personnel from the National Security Agency -- or, actually, it was the DNI -- Deputy DNI, General Hayden -- what role did the White House place in the briefing, in coordinating the briefing between the Deputy DNI and the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee that took place last night?

MR. McCLELLAN: That took place last night?

Q Yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we were returning from our trip last night. Let me see if I've got additional information to share on that. But if you're talking about making sure that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has the information they need to do their job, which is to make a decision on his nomination, we have worked to make sure that they have the information they need to be able to move forward on the nomination. We hope that they will move forward tomorrow and vote his nomination out of committee. And then his nomination can be voted on, on the floor of the United States Senate. We believe he will be confirmed. We look forward to the Senate moving quickly to get him in place. We want to see him at the United Nations so he can get about doing the important work of reform. John Bolton is exactly the kind of person we need at the United Nations.

There's an excellent piece by Ed Meese and James Baker in one of the major papers today, talking about how uniquely qualified he was, and how he was a person of high integrity, and that he would do a very good job as the ambassador to the United Nations. And I think those are people that are highly respected and people that have worked very closely with John Bolton in the past.

Q I will not forget that you characterized that op-ed as "excellent" the next time you say at that podium that you don't do press reviews. But my question on the NSA --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think they're reporters.

Q All right. On the NSA intercepts question, had the White House been involved at any time leading up to the briefing in terms of clearing what material could be divulged to the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee?

MR. McCLELLAN: You just asked this question a second ago. I don't have any more information in terms of that. I know that we -- that the State Department has worked to be very responsive to what the committee needs, and to make sure that they have the information they need to do their job, and they have kind of been the lead in terms of coordinating those responses.

Q One final question on the subject, if I may. The Senate Intelligence --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think yesterday in their briefing, the State Department referred reporters to the National Security Agency for the questions of that nature, and what they were doing to respond to the committee, as well.

Q They've got a terrific press shop over there. My final question on it. The Senate Intelligence Committee has, in addition to sort of acting as the interlocutor in the receipt of this information of the NSA intercepts, has, in addition to that, also begun conducting its own interviews of witnesses. Some of these witnesses have already been interviewed twice by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And I'm wondering if you regard it as unwelcome that there is now a second committee that is acting as a fact-finding body in the Bolton nomination.

MR. McCLELLAN: We respect the role of the Senate in the confirmation process and we are here to work closely with them to get his nomination through the confirmation process so that he can get up to the U.N. and start doing the work that we need him to do.

Q Scott, did you say why Nancy Reagan was here? What was she doing here at the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: She's in town I think for a recognition ceremony for her husband. And she's staying at the White House while she's in town.

Q Scott, the President's fellow Republican, Governor Schwarzenegger said on network TV this weekend that groups such as the Minutemen are rising up to guard our borders because the federal government is failing to secure the nation and more manpower is needed on our borders. And my first question, does the President believe Governor Schwarzenegger is wrong or right?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes that we need to continue taking steps to strengthen our border security. We have taken a number of steps since September 11th, and we will continue to take additional steps to secure our border. And one thing that we can do that will help in that regard is to move forward on the President's immigration reforms.

Q The President's Department of Homeland Security held a press conference in Douglas, Arizona, from which they barred editor and publisher Chris Simcox of the Tombstone Tumbleweed, who is one of the organizers of the Minutemen. And my question, is the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, what event was this?

Q What?

MR. McCLELLAN: You lost me in the first couple minutes of your question.

Q Chris Simcox is an accredited Arizona editor, and he was barred from this press conference by the Department of Homeland Security.

MR. McCLELLAN: Which press conference? I'm sorry, which press conference?

Q And he was --

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, which press conference?

Q In Douglas, Arizona. Is the President appalled by this exclusion of an accredited newsman?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know the facts about that. I think you ought to direct it to --

Q But the U.S. senators -- his U.S. senators were there. Kyl and --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you ought to talk to Homeland Security. I don't keep up with all the press --

Q Will you check on this?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- conferences that they have across the nation. I would refer you to the Department of Homeland Security.

Q Scott, the House Ways and Means Committee starts hearing tomorrow on Social Security. What do you think needs to happen to end this stalemate on private accounts, in particular?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me make a couple of points. The President has put forward ideas for permanently strengthening Social Security and making it better for our children and grandchildren. We would hope the Democrats would now come to the table.

President Clinton just recently was interviewed by a news organization and he said, himself, that the Democrats need to come up with a plan for strengthening Social Security and that they should do that within the next couple of weeks. I think this interview occurred last week. So we hope the Democrats will start coming to the table, instead of simply saying what they're against, or offering "no" to everything that is proposed. We welcome people that are putting forward ideas for solving this problem that will make it permanently sound and make it better for our children and grandchildren.

The President's at the table, and we welcome Democrats coming to the table and working with us to solve this problem for the American people. That's what the American people want us to do. They want us to work together to get this done this year, because it's a problem that only gets worse with time. It's an additional $600 billion a year, each year that we wait. It's an unfunded liability that needs to be solved and fixed this year. And so we hope that Democrats will start putting forward their ideas so that we can work together and get something done for the American people.

Q Scott, on Social Security again, a poll just released minutes ago by Americans United to Protect Social Security and -- coming from Charlie Rangel, is talking about African Americans' overwhelming disapproval of the President's privatization plan. The study finds that 74 percent of African Americans under 30 oppose the plan, younger African Americans are not buying Bush's argument that the current Social Security program is unfair because blacks die younger. And they're also saying that blacks that are in church, 83 percent disapprove of the Social Security plan, the investment plan of the President, and 53 percent of black Republicans are against this. The President has made an effort to attract low-income persons, as it relates to his investment plan, and he's also talked -- and you've said from your podium -- the magic of compound interest. What happened to the magic, when it relates to the black community?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me point out a couple of things. I think in survey after survey, you see that the American people in overwhelming numbers recognize that there are serious problems facing Social Security. That was the first phase of our efforts to strengthen Social Security. It was to educate the American people about the problems facing Social Security. I think all Americans, including the African American community, are concerned about their retirement security.

By strengthening Social Security and allowing people, if they so choose, to invest some of their own savings in voluntary personal accounts, we will make sure that their retirement is more secure. And that's why it's so important to get this done, because if we don't act this year, it's only going to grow worse with time. In just three years, the baby boomers start to retire. In just ten years, just over ten years from now, you're going to see the Social Security system paying out more than it takes in, in taxes. And that's why we need to fix it, so that it will be there for our children and grandchildren.

Nothing's going to change for those seniors, including African Americans, who are retired now or who are near retirement. This is about making sure that it is there for our children and grandchildren and allowing them the opportunity that federal employees and members of Congress have through the Thrift Savings Plan to be able to set aside some of their own money and realize the great rate of return that members of Congress are from investing in a secure mix of bonds and stocks.

The President believes very strongly that all Americans ought to have the opportunity, if they so choose, to be able to realize a greater rate of return on their own retirement savings. This is their retirement savings, this is about trusting people, and we want to make sure that all Americans have the opportunity to have a secure retirement, and that no American retires in poverty, as is the case today.

Q -- this is back on the Bolton question -- have you been given assurances that every Republican on that committee was going to vote --

MR. McCLELLAN: We've been in close contact with members of the committee, and we are -- we believe that John Bolton will be voted out of committee and that he will be confirmed on the floor of the Senate. Obviously, I'm not going to get into individual discussions, but we have worked to make sure that senators have the information they need to be able to move forward on the nomination. We hope that the Foreign Relations Committee will move forward tomorrow and vote him out of committee, so that his vote can proceed on the floor of the United States Senate and then he can be confirmed and get to the United Nations and start doing the important work that we have going on there right now.

Q Scott, about the 3:00 p.m. -- is the President going to be lobbying them at 3:00 p.m.?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't expect -- the President has made his views known. He believes that John Bolton is the right person at the right time for this important position, and he's made his views known very clearly. The purpose of the briefing this afternoon is to talk to these members of Congress about the great trip that the President just returned from, and to update them on the efforts going on in the Baltics and what's happening --

Q You don't expect that to come up?

MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on -- and what's happening in Russia and what's happening in Georgia. I don't know what questions they may ask, but I'll be there and be able to provide you a read out afterwards.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

Addendum Responses to Questions from Today's Briefing

Q Scott, a couple questions. Do you know if the fighter jet went up -- were they scrambled with shoot-down authority?

MR. McCLELLAN: As I indicated, there are protocols that were put in place following the September 11th attacks. The protocols are classified. They do not require presidential authority.

Q Scott, you gave us a fairly detailed, minute-by-minute countdown of actions that were taken, the raising of the alerts. You also told us separately that the President was informed by his detail. Can you tell us where in that chronology the President was informed? After the code reached a certain level, or what have you?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President was informed by his Secret Service detail. The President’s detail was informed when the decision was made to raise the threat level at the White House to yellow. A determination was made that the threat posed no danger to the President since he was at an off-site location, and protocols were in place to protect people in the area of the threat. Those protocols did not require any presidential authority. Given such circumstances and the fact that the plane turned away from the White House, the decision was made to inform the President upon conclusion of his bike ride.

Q Scott, so when the alert went to red and the plane was three miles out, is it safe to assume the reason why many of the persons were not evacuated from the Old Executive Office Building and even from the West Wing is because it was too close, there was nothing to do at that time?

MR. McCLELLAN: There are protocols in place. Some people in the White House complex were evacuated, some moved to a more secure location and some notified to remain where they were. At a certain point in time, it is safer to move people to a more secure location within the White House. As with any situation like this, there will be a review of the response. Any appropriate steps to improve the protocols will be taken if needed.

Q Scott, why did the -- why didn't the internal emergency notification system go off here in the White House

MR. McCLELLAN: As with any situation of this nature, the White House and Secret Service will review the response and make any improvements if necessary.

Q Are you confident that the staffers, all staffers at the White House were told by the Secret Service that there was an imminent danger?

MR. McCLELLAN: See above.