|Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings|
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 29, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:25 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. I want to begin with one thing the President mentioned last night in his remarks, and then I'll introduce our special guest for the day.
Last night the President let our troops know that during this time of testing, the American people stand firmly behind them. This July 4th is a time for all Americans to express their support and gratitude by thanking our men and women in uniform. The President last night talked about the Department of Defense website, Americasupportsyou.mil, and this is a website where people can find out about ways they can support our troops in their local communities across the country.
After the President's speech last night, the website was experiencing more than 10,000 hits per second. Prior to the speech, it was about 103 hits per second. The President greatly appreciates the response from the American people, and encourage everybody to do what they can to continue to support our troops, particularly those who are in harm's way.
All right. And today, we --
Q What was a hit? What does it mean?
MR. McCLELLAN: It means people actually going to that website and clicking on that website --
Q And would they sign up for anything or --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- with their mouse. That's just the number of hits on the website. But it shows that there was a huge response to the President's call to support our troops, and he appreciates that.
Let me introduce our guest here today. The President's Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend is with us today. As you will recall, we have been undergoing a 90-day interagency review process on the recommendations from the Silberman-Robb commission, and Fran is here to brief you all on the response to the recommendations in that report, and then take whatever questions you have. And I'll be around if there are any remaining questions at the end of her presentation.
Thank you all very much.
MS. TOWNSEND: Scott, thank you. I would tell you that the Americasupportsyou, I am wearing the pin for it. It is a logo that I think expresses the heartfelt emotions of most Americans.
Before I begin, let me just say, we managed to get through in 90 days the commission's entire report, which was a substantial one, largely because of the President and Vice President's leadership and commitment. The President was very personally committed to the process and involved. As you know, he and the Vice President have repeatedly told the American people that our greatest terrorism threat is a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist in an American city. And so the leadership that they provided and the commitment of each and every one of the Cabinet Secretaries in their departments to get through this review and to find solutions that would, in fact, strengthen America's intelligence capability was substantial and appreciated.
I'd call for particular attention the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Ambassador Negroponte's office. As you know, Ambassador Negroponte was confirmed in the midst of this review. He's standing up a new office that is of critical importance. And we -- really, the staff work and staff support that Ambassador Negroponte's office provided was of enormous help.
I'm going to start -- I have a couple of boards here to give you a sense -- there were 74 recommendations, some of which were classified. As we went through them, the principals in the Cabinet recommended to the President that we endorse for implementation the objectives and the principles contained in 70 of them. There was one not endorsed. That is a classified recommendation, but I think people, as they've gotten briefed, those who have access to the classified material, would say to you that although we did not endorse the one classified recommendation, the spirit of that has actually picked up in those that we have adopted. There are three that require further study.
Let me talk for a moment about what I think you will find, in terms of the major recommendations that have public and congressional interest. Under the DNI's leadership, we will establish a National Counterproliferation Center, consistent with the WMD Commission's recommendation. The Attorney General will lead the reorganization of the Department of Justice, including a new Assistant Attorney General for a national security division. Likewise at the FBI, the Attorney General, working with the Director of National Intelligence and the Director of the FBI, will lead a reorganization of the FBI -- the establishment, if you will, of a service within a service, that is, a national security service that pulls together the FBI's intelligence capabilities, including counterintelligence and counterterrorism.
You saw this morning, the President signed an executive order relating to weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation sanctions. This really is intended to take what we found to be a very effective tool against terrorism targets, in terms of blocking and freezing of assets, and expand that to counterproliferation targets.
We have also -- the DNI, working with the Director of CIA, will reorganize the management of the human intelligence at the CIA. You'll recall, the commission's recommendation was to establish a new directorate at the CIA, separate and apart from the directorate of operations. You will find the DCIA and the DNI will work on an implementation plan over the next 30 days. But the discussions related to that involve not a separate directorate, rather a senior official who would coordinate inside the intelligence community, human intelligence -- national intelligence, excuse me -- but keep the directorate of operations as focused as they need to be in this time of war in terms of operations, clandestine HUMINT operations.
Okay. There were three recommendations I mentioned that require further study. First, there was -- in chapter one, the commission recommended that the Director of National Intelligence hold the organizations accountable for failures, in terms of the WMD analysis. The three organizations called out specifically in the commission's report were NGIC, the National Ground Intelligence Center; the DHS, the Defense Human Service; and WINPAC, which is a CIA counterproliferation office.
Much work has been done in terms of accountability. The DNI, as you can imagine, having just stood up an office, has not completed that review, and so that will require additional time for the DNI. Second, there is a DOD component at the Pentagon, called the Counterintelligence Field Activity. The Secretary of Defense has undertaken a review of CFA, and that has not yet been completed. One of the questions -- one of the recommendations of the commission was, what are the extent of its authorities and what should they be within the Pentagon. And that is still under review.
Third, and lastly, in terms of the NCPC, there is discussion in the commission's report about the extent of its jurisdiction in terms of interdiction issues, and that will need additional study while the stand-up and implementation of the NCPC is underway.
Okay. The President committed to Congress that he would, at the end of the 90 days, identify those recommendations that we believed would require legislation. We don't expect this is the end-all, be-all of the list, but the major ones that we find would note for you -- you'll recall the 9/11 Commission report, as well as the Silberman-Robb report talked about the need for oversight reform in Congress. And we believe that that requires additional action on the part of the Congress.
Second, amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, that is, amending it to extend the duration of orders related to agents of foreign powers who are non-U.S. persons. The creation, as I mentioned, of an additional assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, for national security. And then the renewal of the Export Administration Act. I just call to your attention in the box what we talk about is, as the DNI implements his responsibilities in terms of looking at what's required in the community to strengthen the community, personnel authorities, it may require additional changes and we've not -- we've left that to him to identify as he implements the report and, frankly, his responsibilities.
This has been -- as I started out, this has been an extraordinary process. In terms of what the DNI receives -- and I tell you, it has been a privilege and an opportunity to lead the review, but now this really becomes the DNI's -- part of his responsibility in terms of overseeing the implementation of it. They have been very, very helpful. And what we've tried to provide them is, in addition to just the matrix, which you see in the unclassified form -- as I mentioned, there is a classified annex, and for each of those recommendations the interagency working groups have provided the Office of the DNI with a draft implementation plan. So there is a more detailed plan behind each of these that the DNI can use as is appropriate.
I guess -- Scott, if it's okay, we'll start with questions. I'm literally going to go row by row. Here we go.
Q Some people are saying that your response to the recommendations is a big win for the CIA because you're leaving the human spying operations under their control, and a big loss for the FBI, which now has to go through a much bigger internal reorganization as a result of these recommendations. How do you respond to that?
MS. TOWNSEND: I would tell you I view the recommendations and the implementation of them as a win for the American people. This was not -- and the agencies did not approach this as a zero-sum game where some won and some lost. The Intelligence Reform Act made clear the CIA's responsibility for coordinating national intelligence operations overseas. I know that the Directors of CIA and FBI have discussed that, and I think they're perfectly comfortable with the arrangement as it is.
Q Is there an overall time frame that you have for implementing this entire package of recommendations? How long would it be before this new structure is in place?
MS. TOWNSEND: Well, I think there are different time -- we've actually been -- I think, we've set some -- for some of the most important ones, we have set specific time frames; others, we've left within the responsibility of the DNI. For example, on the HUMINT restructuring, I think the time frame for that is a report back, initially, in 30 days. On the FBI and DOJ restructuring, there's an initial report back in 60 days. But we wanted to be careful not to overburden the system. We're going to implement them all and the DNI will oversee it, but some of them we asked for implementation plans and set time frames. And I'm pretty sure that's in your matrix.
Q This extends the FBI and Justice Department jurisdiction very far, doesn't it? Much further than what it has been?
MS. TOWNSEND: No, I don't think -- I don't think that's right. I don't think it extend its jurisdiction.
Q Does it go beyond domestic and far -- abroad and so forth?
MS. TOWNSEND: Well, the FBI performs overseas liaison through its legats, and the National Security Service, which focuses the FBI's intelligence collection capability and enforcement capability here in the U.S., but it gives them no new authorities.
Q Could you talk a little bit more about how you envision the National Counterproliferation Center? The commission recommended that it would be a small office, not like the NCTC, which grew. In fact, the commission said less than 100 people. Does the administration see it that way? And what other details can you provide about the center?
MS. TOWNSEND: Yes, I think we do see it that way. We don't envision it as large. But I will tell you, some discretion in that regard has got to be left to Ambassador Negroponte. This will be a center under his office, and he's going to need some time to set it up. But I think that, by and large, you'll find -- and I know there will be a briefing later today from the DNI's Office -- but I'd suggest in terms of the details in their vision that you address that to them.
Q Can less than 100 work, something that small?
MS. TOWNSEND: Well, I don't -- I would -- that's why I said I don't want to be held to less than 100, but it will be -- I think we have all subscribed to the idea that it will be a smaller operation than the NCTC.
Q At the end of the day, how does this really make the country safer?
MS. TOWNSEND: Look, I think absolutely. We've taken a lot of steps to strengthen the intelligence community, the establishment of the DNI being first and foremost among them. The fact is, we believe that there are additional steps we need to take to further strengthen the intelligence community. But a stronger, more vibrant intelligence community produces between intelligence products upon which good decisions can be made. And so, I think the steps that we're taking to strengthen the intelligence community help us to prevent terror attacks, and thereby do keep the country safer.
Q Does this just rearrange the deck chairs, though?
MS. TOWNSEND: No, I don't think it does. I mean, I think there are very practical, substantive consequences to this. I mean, if you pull together, for example, with the FBI -- the changes both at the FBI and Justice, one, you bring together the natural pieces between the law enforcement and the lawyers in terms of working together, and you strengthen the ability for even with the FBI the operators and the intelligence folks to work more cohesively together on common targeting, common analysis, and you get better product. The whole idea here is, what we want is better results, better products upon which really good decisions can be made.
Q I know yesterday, I think Mr. Sam Nunn, the former Senator, and also Mr. Roemer, a member of the 9/11 Commission, they testified that Osama bin Laden or al Qaeda may have hands on a nuclear bomb. Pakistani scientists, including Mr. A.Q. Khan met with Osama bin Laden. Where do we stand as nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists, including Osama bin Laden --
MS. TOWNSEND: We enjoyed enormous success in bringing down the A.Q. Khan network and getting Libya to renounce its WMD program. And we've enjoyed a lot of success there. We continue to mine that information and that intelligence for additional leads, and we work against it every day. The question really, from Silberman-Robb was, how can you strengthen that capability and make it more effective, and that's really what this was focused on.
Q Can you also talk a little bit about the existing process towards ending the turf wars and the friction between these agencies and how you expect to deal with what has been described as sort of ongoing resistance to the reform effort for the last four years?
MS. TOWNSEND: I'll tell you what. I mean, this is a little bit of urban legend. Bureaucracies never sort of feel great about changing the rules of the road, I will grant you. But I will tell you, I expected -- I thought it was going to be a very difficult chore to get through 74 recommendations and hundreds of pages of a report, and didn't know how far we would get in the 90 days. I found people really committed to -- they wanted -- they want the community to settle down, know what their responsibilities are, and be empowered, then, to act on those responsibilities. They want the authorities commensurate with their responsibilities.
These people -- I will tell you, the commission was very interesting to me. The commission acknowledged, we've enjoyed a great deal of success. The FBI has disrupted plots at home, and CIA has disrupted plots away. And while there have been mistakes and places where we're weak and we need to strengthen it, people are very committed. And I have not seen the sorts of bureaucratic struggles that you might expect.
Q Some people in the FBI have said that the new National Security Division chief should come from within the agency to have more credibility with the rank and file there. But others have said it needs to be someone brought in from outside, to bring a fresh eye. Does the White House have a view on that?
MS. TOWNSEND: You know, I have no view. And I will tell you that that's not really where I think the White House's most value read. You've got to really rely -- the Director of the FBI has been enormously committed to the transformation. He's undertaken a lot of steps and been very successful, and I really leave that -- that will be a joint decision between Director Mueller, the Attorney General and the DNI.
Q On the classified recommendation that was not implemented -- without giving away any kind of sensitive information or going into anything like that, can you just help the American people in a general sense sort of understand why that implementation -- that recommendation might not have been implemented or was not endorsed?
MS. TOWNSEND: Sure. The recommendation was suggesting that we should move covert action planning from the CIA, and move that into the National Counterproliferation Center and the National Counterterrorism Center. There were persuasive and strong arguments made against doing that, and we believe that the reorganization of the CIA and the strengthening and placing a senior official at the top of the HUMINT organization will meet the same objectives. There will be strategic planning and additional resources devoted to that, in that context.
Q Could you explain why it took this study to put on the table the issue possibly of holding an organization accountable for errors? And, two, along that same line, why does it need further study to see if an organization needs to be held accountable?
MS. TOWNSEND: Well, I'm not sure I think that it required -- I mean, there were a number of steps in terms of understanding where accountability should be. The commission spent a lot of time and had the benefit of thousands of pages and hundreds of hours of interviews to come to their recommendation. To be fair, I think it's important -- the DNI comes to this after that report, and the commission's recommendation is that he should look at this and assign organizational accountability, and I think he just deserves a fair amount of time to be able to do that.
Q But it would seem that once all of this WMD issue began, that there was accountability and that would have been not even a question to put into this study.
MS. TOWNSEND: Well, look, in terms of -- one of the things we have found is there were institutional and bureaucratic weaknesses that needed to be closed; that we needed to put resources, we needed to put capability into these organizations. And so part of it -- the first and foremost priority was close any gaps and strengthen our capability. That's what we've moved to do first. I don't dispute the commission's recommendation. I think we do need to look at accountability, and that's where we are now. But the first goal was to really strengthen our capability and understand how to do that.
Q In addressing these institutional bureaucratic weaknesses, would you say that this overall extends the authority of the DNI? And in particular, the commission suggested the DNI's authority over the FBI was too vague. How do these restructurings give the DNI more authority to direct and coordinate FBI national security operations?
MS. TOWNSEND: I think you want to look at the directive that the President signed, and it's part of the public record now. The President makes perfectly clear that the DNI needs to have both visibility and the ability to reach down all the way from the headquarters element down to the field element. That has to be done consistent with the Attorney General's authority over the FBI. But if there was any doubt in anybody's mind about what the DNI's authority is and whether or not the President was going to empower the DNI, that question shouldn't remain today.
Q This whole commission came about because the administration and the intelligence community made judgments about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq which have not materialized. Is there anything in this restructuring that you can point to now which, if it had existed then, would have made it less likely for such a colossal misjudgment to occur?
MS. TOWNSEND: Well, I have to tell you, the -- one, I characterized this -- I think it's an unfair characterization to say it's simply a restructuring. That's why you've heard me say in response to a number of questions it's a fundamental strengthening of our intelligence capabilities. It's not simply a moving the boxes; it's not simply a restructuring. And I think that goes to the heart of what is the direct answer to your question.
The fact is if you got a strengthened, more integrated centrally controlled under the DNI intelligence capability, you are less likely to suffer from gaps in reporting. But that doesn't -- I mean, you've got to understand, when you're arraying your intelligence capability against hard targets -- that is, enemies who by their nature not only want to hide information from you, but they're trying to deceive you -- you always are going to have that risk to contend with. It is more likely that you will be able to get good, solid intelligence on which to make decisions by a strengthened community, and that's what we seek to do today.
Q If I could just, then, follow on that. When you say "strengthening," is there anything concrete, besides reorganization, that you can point to? Are there going to be more -- substantially more people in the field, for example, gathering? Is there a number that you can cite -- collectors, field officers, whatever -- that would underscore your point about it being strengthened, rather than just reorganized?
MS. TOWNSEND: Yes. The President has said before -- I forget the number, I think it's 50 percent of additional agents -- I have to go back, I'm sorry, I don't have the number off the top of my head -- but we have been pretty clear both with the CIA and FBI about strengthening the capability, and particularly with the CIA, increasing the number of case officers and analysts that we have to put against the problem. And that is a huge priority for the President. That's got to be arrayed against -- inside the budget. And one of the things we walked away from is all of these recommendations, if you look at them as a whole, will have serious budgetary consequences that have to be considered. But that, again, goes to the heart of the DNI's authority to make those judgments and make those tradeoffs inside the intelligence community.
Q It was 50 percent. And how far along toward that 50 percent goal are you, do you know that?
MS. TOWNSEND: I don't know it off the top of my head, but I have to tell you I'm pretty sure that that's a classified answer that I couldn't give you anyway.
Q Could you give us the details of some of these companies whose assets were frozen, where the nationality is not obvious? And also, explain why this wasn't done sooner?
MS. TOWNSEND: One, I am not the best person to ask for the details behind the companies. To the extent we can get that for you, I'd refer you to the National Security Council. Two, we've been working within the interagency community on this project, and it required a good deal of coordination. This is no doubt a high priority, but it required a good deal of coordination within the interagency process.
Q Could you give us a little bit more detail on the changes you envision happening to human intelligence? It sounds like you're not backing the creation of a new directorate. What exactly would change under these recommendations, and what's the thinking behind it?
MS. TOWNSEND: I don't want to preclude the discussions that will naturally take place between the DNI and the Director of CIA. And I encourage you to ask the Director of CIA. I will tell you what we've said is, what you need is a senior person, senior to the DDO, that will coordinate across the community. I will tell you, in a time of war, the DO is fully employed in clandestine operations, many of which have been very successful in the war on terror. And what you don't want to do is distract him with having to try and coordinate within the community. And so what we're suggesting is, you want a senior person to that who then will be responsible for not only supporting the DO, but also deconflicting and coordinating across the community. And that person will naturally have to rely on colleagues from DOD and FBI.
Q And this would be a separate person from the new position that's already been created in the DNI's Office?
MS. TOWNSEND: Yes. It would -- we're talking an organization -- we're talking about the organization within the CIA.
Q The commission's report said that the intelligence agencies were "dead wrong" about WMD, to use their two words. So has anyone been fired, disciplined, transferred or similarly dealt with because of that flaw?
MS. TOWNSEND: The commission didn't talk about holding individuals accountable. The commission talked about, and when we looked at the report, talked about organizational accountability. I know that there have been internal reviews in each of those organizations. I'm pretty sure there's been an Inspector General review, at least one. And so I would refer you, in terms of individuals, I would refer you to the organizations.
Q Didn't the President want some changes in terms of the people who gave him this lousy information?
MS. TOWNSEND: The President wanted a stronger, more capable intelligence community, and that's, today, what we're doing.
Q Well, just to follow up on both Peter and April's question, it asked for further study, but it's really sort of administrative, sort of bureaucratic talk here, when it talks about the DNI's going to review the need for reforms, in terms of methodology, and you say a number of steps as to where accountability should be. Why didn't you just say in the recommendations that the DNI would look at the need for assigning responsibility, and, over a period of time, assign it?
MS. TOWNSEND: I think that is what I said. We weren't going to do it as part of the White House review. The commission called on the DNI to do it. The DNI -- all I'm saying to you is, the DNI wasn't prepared to do that today. The DNI needed additional time, seeing that he's been sworn in and standing up an office. But that is what you will find, and I encourage you, when the press availability is in the DNI's Office, to put that question to them.
Q How will the American people know if this effort is succeeding?
MS. TOWNSEND: What you will see -- more than not, because, unfortunately, the people in the intelligence community labor in the shadows, which means while we've talked a good deal about what the failures have been, you rarely hear about their successes. That is and is going to continue by necessity. The fact is, where we see it, where policymakers see it, is in the quality of the product, in the quality of the operations, in the successful disruptions of terrorist plots, both at home and away, and by the blocking and freezing of counterproliferation assets, the interdiction of counterproliferation targets. You see it in terms of the activity that the federal government is better positioned to take today as a result of the changes.
Q Could you confirm the report that this fellow Brill is going to be in charge of the National Counterproliferation Center? And also, could you say a little bit more about how this National Security Service works and how the DNI will exercise this authority over those elements? Because the concern has always been those operations on American soil against U.S. persons should continue to be supervised by the Attorney General rather than the DNI. Could you say a little bit about that?
MS. TOWNSEND: Sure. On the first question, the head of the National Counterproliferation Center will report to Ambassador Negroponte, and so your question is better put to him than to me.
In terms of the National Security Service, you're quite right, the sort of tone and tenor of your question is a good one. The fact is that you'll notice in the directive signed by the President to the Attorney General and the DNI, setting guidelines, setting a time frame for implementation, he acknowledges that this has got to be done within U.S. law and with protection for American privacy and civil liberties. Typically, the Attorney General issues guidelines. The directive calls for the Attorney General to work with the DNI to issue guidelines to safeguard just those things.
Q Can you tell us -- this is just a little bit off topic, but since we've got you here -- can you tell us something, a little bit about the December 2003 alerts and this analysis of the al Jazeera ticker?
MS. TOWNSEND: No one was more surprised than I was to see that in the press. That's a classified matter and I won't discuss it. Sorry.
Q Madam, may I follow now my own question, please? Today we don't have access to Mr. A.Q. Khan and we are still relying only what he really told the Pakistani authorities. And also, how can we make sure that al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden doesn't have any -- these or nuclear weapons which were part of the 9/11 report?
MS. TOWNSEND: You know, we work with our Pakistani partners every single day, and we work in a very integrated and comprehensive way with them. It's the sort of vibrant relationship that we -- four years ago, three-and-a-half years ago, we could not have imagined. It's a result of the personal investment of the President; it's a result -- I mean, President Musharraf has suffered two assassination attempts -- and so it's working together with them the we found to make us most effective.
That's true around the world. It's true in terms of our relationship with Saudi Arabia; it's true in terms of our relationship with Afghanistan. All those partnerships have made us stronger. And really, the best way is to fight counterproliferation, it's the executive order -- that's the way that you fight against -- you strengthen human intelligence and penetrate networks. That's the best way to ensure that you keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists.
Thank you, everybody.
MR. McCLELLAN: Anything else? I'm here for whatever other questions you have.
Q On this, or other subjects?
MR. McCLELLAN: On any subject.
Q Did you take anything at the top before Fran?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I just made a brief remarks --
Q So what do you make of all of the Democratic criticism of the President's speech last night, particularly the very harsh words that Senator Rockefeller had --
MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't see exactly what he said. You might want to refresh me on what he said.
Q -- perpetrating a fraud on the American people.
MR. McCLELLAN: I would just say that I don't think politics and pessimism help us complete the mission. The President is focused on completing the mission. And last night he outlined a very clear strategy for the way forward that the American people heard. That strategy is to stand up Iraqi security forces, and as we do that, to stand down American forces. And that's the way forward in Iraq. And it's important that we all focus on completing the mission so that our troops can return home as soon as possible.
Q Can I follow on that? Part of what Senator Rockefeller said was that by using the references to 9/11, that the President was trying to click a patriotic button that would make people more patient. He called it "amazing." He further said that there was no connection between Osama bin Laden, Iraq and 9/11, and effectively was saying the President was using that national tragedy. How do you respond to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: And who made any suggestion of a link to the attacks? What the President was talking about was that September 11th taught us important lessons. It taught us that we must confront threats before they full materialize, before they reach our shores. That's why the President decided we were going to take the fight to the enemy. We are taking the fight to the enemy abroad so that we don't have to fight them here at home. We are on the offense, not defense. And that's the way you fight and wage and win the war on terrorism.
Q I guess the question Democrats have is, is the enemy in Iraq the same enemy that struck the United States on September 11th, 2001?
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, the President talked about it last night. He said the terrorists have chosen to make Iraq a central front in the war on terrorism. They are the same -- they have the same hatred and -- let me back up -- they have the same ideology of hatred and oppression that the terrorists who attacked us on September 11th held. These are the same kind of people. They are terrorists who seek to dominate the Middle East. The Middle East is a dangerous region of the world, and the President made the decision that we could no longer ignore these emerging threat that were building in the Middle East. The Middle East was a breeding ground for terrorism for decades; we looked the other way or tolerated dictators for the sake of peace and stability in the Middle East. We got neither. Threats were emerging and the terrorists thought that history was on their side. They attacked us at the World Trade Center in 1993; they -- you saw the attacks on our troops in Somalia and the attack on our Marines in Lebanon. They launched attacks in other civilized countries, as well.
Then September 11th came. War was brought to our shores. And the President made a decision that the terrorists were going to be the ones that were going to be on the defensive. We were going to take the fight to them. And when you engage the enemy abroad, this is what happens. The enemy recognizes that a free Iraq is going to go right to the heart of their survival because it will help send a powerful message to the rest of the Middle East and help transform that region to bring about freedom and democracy, which is the way to defeat the ideology that they espouse.
Q So while the President isn't arguing that Saddam Hussein and his regime were behind 9/11, he's saying that essentially they're the same kind of people?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, remember, we talked about how his regime was a sworn enemy of the United States. And what the terrorists did was choose to make Iraq a central front in the war on terrorism. No matter where you stood on the decision to go into Iraq -- we talked about the decision about why we went into Iraq -- I think all of us can recognize that the terrorists have made it a central front in the war on terrorism. The President quoted Osama bin Laden last night. The President has heard from his commanders, General Abizaid, who oversees that theater. And General Abizaid has talked about the importance of succeeding in Iraq and Afghanistan, and talked to the President about how when we succeed in Afghanistan and Iraq, it will be the beginning of the end for the terrorists and their ideology.
If we were to lose in Iraq, it would simply be the beginning of the beginning. That's why it's so important that we succeed in Iraq. And you heard General Vines talk about it, as well. If we weren't fighting them abroad, we'd be fighting them here at home. And the President quoted him last night, as well.
Q Last night, the President did not give a timetable. He said he wouldn't give a timetable. But over the weekend, Don Rumsfeld said that the insurgent activity could last into 12 years and by then Iraqi forces will be policing themselves. What guarantee is this administration going to give U.S. forces will not be in Iraq for 12 years, or 20 years, or 30 years?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think, April, first of all, to correct you, Secretary Rumsfeld was talking about typical insurgencies. And I think he was talking about five to 12 years, somewhere in that range. And that's what he was talking about. And so --
Q He said Iraqis will be policing themselves --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I just wanted to put it in context.
The President, as you heard last night, laid out a clear way forward. As we stand up Iraqi forces, we will stand down American forces. We are making good progress in terms of training and equipping the Iraqi security forces. The President talked about the three new steps we are implementing as part of that strategy to ensure that Iraqi forces are able to defend themselves so that our troops will no longer be needed. And the President said we will be there as long as necessary, but not a day longer. And it is wrong to set artificial timetables. It sends the wrong message to the Iraqis. It sends the wrong message to our troops. And it sends the wrong message to the terrorist who can simply say, okay, we'll just wait it out, and as soon as they leave, then we'll begin launching our attacks again.
Q Listening to your answer, am I wrong in assuming that some U.S. presence will be in Iraq for as long as it takes, it could be 12 years, 20 year, or 30 years? Am I wrong --
MR. McCLELLAN: You're trying to set artificial timetables now.
Q No, I'm not. Rumsfeld gave a year this weekend.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you have to look at the progress that's being made. There's a two-track strategy. The President outlined it last night -- the political track and the military track. And it's important that we continue moving forward on both.
Now, in terms of the political track, there are some clear time lines that are set up for the Iraqi people to draft a constitution, adopt it, and elect a permanent representative government. Every step of the way, the Iraqi people have been meeting the time line set out on the political front. And as you move forward on building a lasting democracy, that also helps defeat the terrorists and the regime elements who want to turn back to the past.
We are -- and our generals, our commanders on the ground have briefed the President and told him about the great progress we're making to train and equip Iraqi forces. They are taking the lead now in terms of the number of forces that are protecting their country. They have some 160,000-plus forces. That's the largest number of security forces of any nation that are operating inside of Iraq. And they're starting -- and let me finish, they are -- we're seeing more and more that they are standing up and fighting and taking the battle to the insurgents. And the Iraqi people are also providing us more and more intelligence. So there's great progress being made on that front.
And we had, remember, back in -- during the elections, I believe it was around 160,000 some troops in Iraq, and now it's down to around 135,000, 138,000 troops in Iraq. And as we move forward and the Iraqi forces are prepared to defend themselves more and more, then our troops can come home.
Q -- troops going in, but as long as it takes, could -- as long as it takes, if that is 20 years, is that as long as it takes?
MR. McCLELLAN: April, you're trying to get us to set artificial timetable, and we're not going to --
Q Rumsfeld said 12 years this weekend. I didn't give you that number, your own Defense Secretary gave it.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's not exactly what he said.
MR. McCLELLAN: And I'm not going to get into setting artificial timetables. And you have to look at the progress being made on the ground.
Q He gave numbers. I'm asking the question.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Goyal.
Q Scott, according to an international survey done around the globe, India comes from the top as far as liking the President and the United States, as far as fighting against terrorism is concerned, followed by Poland. But it's strange -- that most of the countries hates America and the President -- that where we give billions of dollars, mostly in the Muslim and Arabic world. How can we change this? And we are still giving billions of dollars, and they keep burning the American flag and effigies of the President and hates America and still they have not changed?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's a lot of propaganda that terrorists seek to spread and seek to portray an image of the United States that simply is not true. And that's why we'll continue to reach out to the Muslim world and talk to them about what America stands for and point to our compassionate acts.
You bring up a region where there -- where the tsunamis hit. And I think if you look at Indonesia, for example, and the support we've provided there to the people, they see the true compassion of the American people and they see what America stands for. And tomorrow the President is going to be giving a speech leading up to his trip to Scotland next week for the G8 summit, where he'll be focusing on the continent of Africa, and talking about how we are acting to help the people of Africa, the people in these developing countries move forward to a brighter future, and helping them to improve their lives, working in partnership with the countries of Africa.
Q Scott, can I have a quick follow-up on global public opinion? What is the status right now of Dina Powell's confirmation? And what is the administration's view of delays on the Hill regarding that?
MR. McCLELLAN: She's been confirmed. And she is in the -- well, she was already beginning to focus on her job even prior to her confirmation, but she was confirmed last week. We appreciate the Senate moving forward on that nomination in a fairly quick manner. And she is getting about the important work she has to do over the Department of State.
Q In this issue of the administration making the point, the President making the point, better to fight the terrorists there, if you don't fight them there, you'll be fighting them here in the U.S., is there an implied statement that if there were an attack here, the Iraq policy would, therefore, be a failure? Is there an implied statement that continuing the Iraq war means there won't be an attack here?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't think anyone has made that statement. What we've said is that it's important to take the fight to the enemy to try to prevent attacks from happening in the first place. The President has said we're not going to wait for another attack to happen. We're not going to sit back and let this be simply a law enforcement matter. We are -- we realize that this is a war. The President recognized that we are in a war, and it's a comprehensive war. The President took a broad look at the war on terrorism. He is implementing a comprehensive strategy. Part of that strategy is staying on the offensive and going after the terrorists and bringing them to justice, and disrupting and dismantling their networks. And we have made great success in terms of doing that.
Some took a view that the war on terror was simply about Afghanistan, and the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The President recognized that the threats we face in the 21st century are dangerous threats, and that we must be on the offense. He also recognized that what we're up against is an extreme ideology, an ideology that is founded on hatred and violence and oppression and no regard for human life and that supports tyranny and a totalitarian outlook. And the President said to defeat that ideology we must continue to support the advance of freedom and democracy abroad. And it is critical that we support the advance of freedom and democracy in the broader Middle East.
There is great progress being made when it comes to the advance of freedom. The people of the Middle East saw the Iraqi people defy the terrorists last January when they showed up in large numbers, some 8 million voters, to say we want a free and peaceful future. You've had -- the Palestinian people have great hope before them with disengagement plan. They have shown up and elected new leaders, leaders that are committed to the improvement of their lives.
You have elections that have taken place in Lebanon. Afghanistan has moved forward on electing their President. They're moving forward on elections later this September, as well. So the President took a broad look at this and recognized that the war on terrorism is much broader than simply just Afghanistan.
Q Scott, since the President is strongly opposed to any discrimination against the Jewish people, could you tell us why the Bush administration has just continued to make the Jewish state of Israel the only nation on the world where the U.S. embassy is not located in it's capital city? And I have a follow-up.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, for the same reasons we've stated before, Les. There are national security reasons here. And that's why it has been extended again.
Q The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, introduced by Senator Bob Dole, a good Republican, requires that relocation of our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem unless there are national security concerns, which President Bush has just claimed there are, and he has for every year of his presidency. And my question: Since we are opening a U.S. embassy in Baghdad, how on Earth can the President claim Jerusalem is more dangerous than Baghdad?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, right now in the Middle East it's a very hopeful period for the Palestinian period and for the people of Israel. And we've got to keep our focus on the step that is before us right now. It's an important step. That is the disengagement plan. That's where our focus is. The President this afternoon is receiving an update from General Ward, our security coordinator, who is helping the Palestinians restructure and unify their security forces, and from the U.N. special -- or the Quartet special envoy, Jim Wolfensohn, who is helping the Palestinian people make sure they have the institutions in place and the economy in place to take over the Gaza area once Israel withdraws from there.
Q Well, is Baghdad -- do you believe that --
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, hang on --
Q -- is more dangerous --
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, Les, it's --
Q -- is less dangerous than Jerusalem?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, Les --
Q Do you? I mean, could you answer that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think that's a distinction to get into. I think that the focus needs to be --
Q You don't want to answer that question.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- on moving forward on the disengagement plan and making sure that's successful, because then it will help us move forward on the rest of the road map. But we need to take that step right now and focus our efforts there.
Go ahead, Sarah.
Q Scott, thank you. Has the President made a firm decision regarding Guantanamo? Has he decided to keep the detention center open?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you've heard us talk about that recently. There -- these are dangerous individuals who are there. These are the type of individuals we're talking about when we talk about an ideology of hatred and oppression, the same kind of people that we're facing now in Iraq that seek to strap bombs onto themselves and carry out suicide attacks on innocent civilians. That's the nature of the enemy we're up against. These are dangerous individuals, and they're there for a reason.
In terms of Guantanamo Bay and the facility, there has been no better alternative that has been brought to our attention for dealing with these detainees. In terms of dealing with these detainees, we're always looking at their disposition and how to move forward. As Secretary Rumsfeld has said, we'd like to see many of these return to their country of origin, once we have assurances that they'll look after them. Now, there have been some that have been released that have actually returned to the battlefield and taken up arms against us again, and we don't want to release those who would later be picked up on the battlefield again, attacking -- attacking our forces. I think the Department of Defense can point out some of that to you -- back in the region.
Q Scott, regarding -- regarding troop strength in Iraq, has the advice the President has been getting been unanimous in saying that troop strength is adequate, or has he been hearing from anyone questioning its adequacy?
MR. McCLELLAN: You've heard from the commanders, they testified last week, and the commanders on the ground are the ones we look to, and they have said, we have the troops we need. And what's important now is to train and equip the Iraqi security forces. That's where their focus is, to get them trained and equipped so that they are fully prepared to defend themselves, both from internal threats and external threats. And that's where our focus is. But if the commanders ask for more troops, as the President said, they would get them. They will have what they need to complete the mission. We've always made that commitment.
Connie, go ahead.
Q Thank you. Maybe I missed this, but have you issued a new statement about the 17 Americans apparently lost in Afghanistan? And if they were shot down, what does it say about --
MR. McCLELLAN: I've not heard any update on the status of the crew aboard the helicopter. I think I would leave that to the Department of Defense to speak further about it. The last report I heard publicly did not know the status of the individuals on board the helicopter. So until the Department of Defense spoke about that issue and knew the status of those individuals, I wouldn't want to get ahead of them.
Q If they were shot down, what does it say about the status of the --
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, the Department of Defense is the one where you ought to be asking those questions right now.
Go ahead, in the back.
Q Yesterday after the President's speech, Senator Kerry said that in his last trip to Iraq, every commander, from the generals to the majors, told him that they needed more troops. Would you say that Kerry was lying?
MR. McCLELLAN: You heard from the commanders last week. I think the commanders testified before Congress.
Q More broadly on Afghanistan, when the President met with General Abizaid and Secretary Rumsfeld last week, did they give him any kind of an update on the situation in Afghanistan? And can you share with us the President's view right now on the security situation there? Is it deteriorating? Is that a concern --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that's best, in terms of the security situation, best to direct those questions to the Department of Defense. I'd like to let them give you the assessment, because they're the ones in the best position to make those assessments. There is great progress that has been made in Afghanistan. There's still security threats we're working with the Afghan government to address and the Afghan forces to address. There's some remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban that continue to try to wreak havoc in that country and kill innocent people. And we continue to go after those remnants.
Q Scott, can you clear up something about the atmospherics of last night? A Bragg PAO told me that the White House had left somewhat ambiguous how the troops should comport themselves during the speech last night, that he didn't want a big pep rally with the rousing hooahs that you always get at most of these base speeches. But then, at the same time, you weren't really expecting that there wouldn't be any applause, and that the person who went up to instruct the troops on protocol sort of overinterpreted what the White House was looking for. Is that a fair assessment?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I was with the President ahead of the speech when he was visiting with many of the families of the fallen, so I wasn't there when whoever the military officer was that spoke to the troops. But this was a serious address to the nation. My understanding was that we did talk to the military and talk to them about that, and that's why you saw at the beginning of the speech that instead of applauding, the troops simply stood up and stood at attention. And I think that they recognized that this was an address to the nation, this was not a rally-type event.
Q Right, but is it safe to say that you weren't expecting there to be no applause until a White House advance person, either caught up in the moment or whatever, started it?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President appreciates the warm reception he had at Fort Bragg both from the families of many of our fallen that were there he was visiting with beforehand, as well as the troops at Fort Bragg -- the troops who have been serving on the front line in the war on terrorism. He appreciated the warm reception he received and was pleased to give that address at Fort Bragg. I don't know of many Presidents that have gone to Fort Bragg on two occasions. This was his second occasion to go to Fort Bragg. But many of the men and women serving from Fort Bragg are doing an outstanding job, helping us to defend our freedoms and helping to advance freedom and democracy in the broader Middle East.
Q Thank you, Scott.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.