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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 26, 2006

Press Briefing by Tony Snow
James S. Brady Briefing Room

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12:49 P.M. EDT

MR. SNOW: Sorry to keep you waiting. As you may know, just a few minutes ago the Russian government confirmed that the bodies in Baghdad were, in fact, those of four Russian diplomats who have been murdered by al Qaeda in Iraq. Obviously, we're deeply saddened and we send condolences not only to the families, but to the Russian people. We'll have a formal statement available soon on that. We were trying to get it to you, but it's not quite yet available.

From this morning's bupkis list about ongoing activities between the United States and Japan: the U.S. and Japan do, in fact, have a vigorous program of missile defense cooperation. And last week's agreement was not in response to any specific threat, although it is part of a program designed to meet the long-standing North Korean threat. They exchanged notes -- we exchanged notes to cover procedures to be used in developing a 21-inch version of an SM-3, that's a Standard Missile-3, ballistic missile interceptor, which is an improved version of the current SM-3 model, which was tested last week off the coast of Hawaii.

So with those preliminaries, questions. Terry.

Q The President seemed upset today about the leak of the terrorist financing program last week. Is it safe to assume from his reaction there's going to be a leak investigation?

MR. SNOW: I will refer any questions about leak investigations to the Department of Justice, as well as any questions about how one may proceed, in terms of legal options. We covered this in the gaggle this morning.

Look, I think it's important to recognize that the President -- the President called it a "disgrace." Why? Because here you have a program that was demonstrated as legal and effective; that had demonstrated its worth, in terms of helping apprehend Hambali, the mastermind of the Bali bombing; of finding a man in Brooklyn who had contributed $200,000 in terror financing; had broken up a number of terrorist cells; and may also have been helpful -- at least according to press accounts -- in tracking down some of those who have been responsible in planning the subway bombings and the bus bombings in London.

With that kind of demonstrated efficacy, the question is why on earth make the editorial decision that this program no longer should be effective by exposing it? And that, I think, is the kind of thing that has the President concerned. But I'm going to defer any question about, sort of, legal dispensations until later.

Q He referred to "the" newspaper, "a" newspaper -- is he talking about one newspaper, in particular, or is talking about the three newspapers?

MR. SNOW: No. I'll tell you what happened is The New York Times clearly was in the lead on this one, it was ahead. And as it was getting ready to publish, other newspapers made inquiries and we asked questions. But this was one where The New York Times clearly was leading and everybody waited until it posted its piece on line to do their own publications.

Q We're told the Vice President is going to make similar comments at his appearance today. With the President and the Vice President, in essence, going after The New York Times today, are they trying to create a chilling effect on media outlets that might cover stories of this nature?

MR. SNOW: I don't think so, no. No, I don't think so. It's a very good question. No, if The New York Times decides that it is going to try to assume responsibility for determining which classified secrets remain classified and which don't, it ought to accept some of the obligations of that responsibility; it ought to be able to take the heat, as well. So the administration certainly is going to lay out its concerns and what it may mean for the safety of the American people and the integrity of the process of developing intelligence that can permit us to track down terrorists and prevent them from killing again.

That's what this is all about. It's about what we can do in a time of war. Traditionally in this country in a time of war, members of the press have acknowledged that the Commander-in-Chief, in the exercise of his powers, sometimes has to do things secretly in order to protect the public. This is a highly unusual departure. It's interesting, The Times, talking about this being a -- this program having been a departure from previous banking efforts. This is also a departure from long-standing traditions here in the United States.

So it is -- it's not designed to have a chilling effect. I think what it's -- if The New York Times wants a spirited debate about it, it's got it. But, certainly, nobody is going to deny First Amendment rights. But The New York Times and other news organizations ought to think long and hard about whether a public's right to know, in some cases, might overwrite somebody's right to live, and whether, in fact, the publications of these could place in jeopardy the safety of fellow Americans.

Q But it seems to me that in the NSA's spying -- if I could just diminish it that way -- case in December, that the President called that a shameful lack and there should be an investigation, an investigation has proceeded. But we're still not at the point where any "charges" have been made, or anything has been filed. It's the same kind of outrage we hear now from the President. But is there a legal leg to stand on, or is the administration that worried about it, that there would be --

MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not going to try -- as you know, there really is a process, the criminal referral process, by which people would investigate whether these things -- these kinds of revelations and leak would violate the law. We'll have to see whether such things -- and typically, referrals are not made public, and certainly I'm not going to do it now. But here's -- this administration really went the extra mile with The Times. It cited legal justification, and we went through this the other day. The International Emergency Powers Act of 1997, the United Nations Participation Act, Executive Order 13224 -- it talked about the safeguards that had been put in place. Before subpoenaing SWIFT, somebody in the United States of America had to cite specific authorizing intelligence. That request was then reviewed by an outside auditing board.

Data was not provided on a real-time basis, but after a delay, sometimes of several months. The whole idea was to track networks, not simply to chase people around. It could not be used on American citizens who were engaged in law-abiding activities. It couldn't even be used for unrelated activities that may, themselves, have been criminal, such as drug trafficking or bank fraud. So there have been a whole series of things. The administration did everything it could not only to lay out in as great a detail as possible what the program was, but to make the case that it would not be in the national security interests.

In response, one of the things Bill Keller said is, "It is not our job to pass judgment on whether this program is legal or effective." Well, it is your job to exercise editorial judgment. All of us got into this business -- I've been in journalism 27 years -- when I got into the business, one of the things that everybody learns is you have to exercise editorial judgment. I daresay many people in this room have been faced with difficult decisions in their careers, and probably all of us have had stories where we killed them because there was somebody's own privacy right or interest involved.

So you simply cannot say, we got this story, we're going to publish it, but we don't have to worry about whether it's legal or effective. In this case, I think it does bear on the debate.

Jessica.

Q Two questions on this topic. One, do you have any information from agents or intelligence officers who work with the SWIFT program that any investigation had been compromised because of the release of this information?

MR. SNOW: It's a little early to say. The answer is, we don't. But on the other hand, you've got -- it's very early. I think at this point it would be a little difficult for somebody

to say, immediately, there had been a change. I honestly don't know the answer.

I suspect that the kind of evidence you would have here would be negative evidence, which is a certain kind of activity would simply decrease in frequency, therefore make it much more difficult to track.

Q Okay, second question. You said that is the right -- is the public's right to know greater than somebody's right to live. How about Congress's right to know? We've asked you a couple of times when Congress is briefed, and who?

MR. SNOW: Well, here's an interesting thing, because does all Congress need -- there are two pieces of data that are relevant. Number one, there doesn't seem to be any evidence that anybody in Congress has been offended by the existence of this program. In fact, quite the contrary, Congress has actually been pushing Treasury to engage in even more aggressive surveillance of all cross-border financial transactions, period, and so the Treasury Department has been doing it.

Number two, the intelligent -- relevant members of the intelligence committees have been informed about this. This has not been done in a vacuum.

Here's another thing: In the piece, The Times made note of the fact -- I think what it said is -- what was the exact term that they used, that the administration had -- oh, goodness -

MS. PERINO: Enlisted.

MR. SNOW: Enlisted, "had enlisted the aid of Democrats and Republicans" in some form. Why not tell us who, in fact, had approached The Times? Why not go ahead -- in the issue of full disclosure, why not talk about the members of the 9/11 Commission? Why not talk about members of the intelligence committees?

It does seem to me that if you're going to do it, play by the same rules. Let's find out who was in favor of the program. Because I think you may find -- and maybe I'm wrong about this -- but I have not heard after the TSP program, there were members of Congress who said, we've got to have hearings about this. I have not heard a big outcry in this particular case.

Q With the TSP program, the White House revealed to us when the briefings happened and how many, if not the names. Will you reveal the same with this program?

MR. SNOW: I would direct those questions to the Treasury Department because, again, Secretary Snow and members of the Treasury did all of that stuff.

Q So is the White House calling on Treasury to release the --

MR. SNOW: I'm not calling. I will invite you to make the phone call, and you can get what information you can.

Q A question on Iraq.

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q While Prime Minister Maliki has indicated that those who carried out attacks on Americans and Iraqis would not be offered amnesty, his package sort of leaves open the possibility that those who perhaps planned or financed such attacks might be granted some kind of forgiveness. What would be the reaction by the administration?

MR. SNOW: We talked about this, this morning -- I'm not going to get into the position of reacting to things that don't yet exist. The Iraqi government is now in the process of trying to figure out the difficult but absolutely vital business of reconciling groups of people who at times have been at odds. And this is Sunni, Shia, Kurds, many others -- people in various portions of the country. And that is an absolutely essential exercise, as our generals have said from the very beginning. Yes, there's a military component, but the endpoint of the engagement in Iraq is political, is to have a government that can govern independently and freely. And it's a government that, as the President said, can sustain itself, govern itself and protect itself and defend itself, can do all of these things.

This is one of the first steps. The Prime Minister is now saying, okay, I've got 24 points here, we need to talk about how to proceed on the path of reconciliation. We absolutely support that goal, and we will see going forward what kinds of details may emerge in the deliberations between the Prime Minister and the parliament.

Q Tony, I know General Casey has not put out a fixed timetable as Democrats have, but he does seem to be laying out what you might call phased redeployment -- two combat group brigades by the end of the year rotating out. Does the White House think that's a better approach in the long-term than a fixed timetable?

MR. SNOW: Again, the problem is General Casey proposes lots of things and actually laid out more than one option and everybody is fastening on one. It is certainly something that's under consideration, but I would warn you again saying this is what he's saying, this is what he wants. The President has made it really clear. When General Casey makes a recommendation -- note "when," it hasn't happened yet, there's not a firm recommendation; he has not recommended, okay, let's do this by the end of the year -- when he makes a recommendation, the President is going to follow it. He trusts General Casey, and he's made it clear.

The other thing is from the political point. There are a series of differences between what was being debated on the Senate floor last week, and what would happen -- let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that you get the two battalions out by the end of the year. What's the difference? I think that's really kind of the political question you're interested in.

Difference number one, the deployed -- the redeployment or the moving of battalions would be based on conditions on the ground, not on the calendar. Number two, the ultimate goal would be to win, not to get out. And those are really the differences. If you take a look at the focal point of some of the resolutions last week being debated, the focal point was to get out. The United States does want to get out, but only when victory has been secured, and that is by developing the kind of Iraq that we've talked about many times.

Q But unlike Senator Kerry's plan, Senator Levin's plan didn't call for phased redeployment beginning by the end of the year. He left it open --

MR. SNOW: Well --

Q -- it said beginning by the end of the year, which is what appears General Casey is saying, he wants to begin it --

MR. SNOW: He wants to begin it based on the conditions. What Senator Levin did not mention is conditions on the ground. What Senator Levin wanted to do was to get out. There was no talk about victory strategy, there was no talk about working with the Iraqi government. It was just, we need a phased redeployment, get out, the idea being that that might provide the right kind of stimulus.

The United States understands that the Iraqi government cannot become wholly dependent, does not want to become wholly dependent. So you have a balance. And as the Iraqi units become more capable -- and again, I want to stress not merely the military units, but the more important part is the police units, because some of the police units have behaved very badly, and the toughest part is going to be for the Iraqi people to gain faith, to build faith in those police forces which are going to be essential in cities like Baghdad and Ramadi and so on. So all those things have to happen.

So, again, conditions-based is sort of the term of art we use, but it's true. You don't move until the conditions warrant.

Q Thank you. Tony, the President talked about the dramatic efforts to convince North Korea not to launch a long-range missile. U.S. Navy ships in the area probably have the capability of shooting down that missile if it is launched. Has the President given the order to shoot it down?

MR. SNOW: Even if he had, I wouldn't tell you. Look, I think we're way ahead on this, once again. Let's not play the "if/when" game. The President has a number of options available to him. But the most important option right now is to work diplomacy and we're very happy to see that the Chinese government has formally relayed what we have said, which is we find it to be very provocative. And the Russian government has been in contact, and the South Korean government has been in contact, and the Japanese government has been in contact.

In other words, the other five members of the six parties with North Korea in the six-party talks have made it clear: We don't want a launch. And we are hoping that there will not be a launch, and that is really the focus of all efforts right now. Should there be, then we can provide you all the information on potential responses.

Q Tony, you said a moment ago that there should be a spirited debate over the decision to publish the details on the program. Obviously, outside the walls of the White House you have members of Congress calling for indictments, you have political allies at the White House calling reporters "traitors," and basically says it's committing treason just by publishing it. Do you share those feelings? And, if so, as a former journalist, as you cited, are you comfortable with that kind of rhetoric about the media?

MR. SNOW: You know, I'm not going to engage in name-calling from here. And the other thing is, in terms of the legal issues, there really is a process for doing it. What you have is legal authorities taking a look at the law. I understand the passions on it, and that, obviously, motivates some of what has been said in The Times.

Look, this is an issue that needs to be studied carefully, but, ultimately, also -- and I think you're right, Peter -- people have got to step back and take a careful look -- The New York Times, consumers of news, everybody -- to figure out in a time of war what is the best way to proceed so that you can maintain the integrity of intelligence information that may be useful in saving American lives and defeating -- especially in the case of al Qaeda, a very different kind of enemy; it is dispersed, it is inchoate, it operates in cells rather than large-standing armies, and therefore requires much more sophisticated and varied kinds of intelligence than any enemy we've ever faced before.

So how do journalists discharge their obligations responsibly, and how does the nation proceed effectively in fighting a war on terror? Those are all issues we're going to have to debate.

Q Can I ask one follow-up, also? You've said that this was a departure from previous wars where journalists may have been willing to hold things back. Apart from the Bay of Pigs in the '60s, what are other historical examples --

MR. SNOW: Well, I mean, it seems to me -- for instance, D-Day, you had embedded reporters who just said, oh, by the way, we're going to France tomorrow. I don't know whether people were in on the Enigma program in World War II. There have been a number of cases -- keep in mind that reporters quite often in the past did travel with troops, and they did know things that were going to happen and they did know overall schemes. In fact, they knew battle plans that they may have thought were totally foolhardy. But they did keep them confidential.

Q Tony, Senator Lugar joined the numbers of those who are calling for direct talks with North Korea. It seemed as if Chris Hill at some point even was almost on the verge of getting to that, and then he was kind of -- the muzzle was put on him and he had to walk back some of the progress that has been made, at least that's what it appears. What is the real objection that the U.S. has to direct talks with North Korea -- not unconditionally, but maybe on condition that they walk back from this missile on the ground, that there would be a possibility for that?

MR. SNOW: A couple of things. First, I hesitate to characterize -- to share your characterization with the Chris Hill situation.

This government's position has always been pretty much the same, which is you've got the six-party talks, come to the six-party talks. Why? Because you've got a unified front involving your neighbors plus the United States, and let's figure out a way to resolve the nuclear issues regarding North Korea.

Now, if the North Koreans return to the six-party talks, according to the September 19th agreement, there is an opportunity to parallel track, for speaking with the United States. That is our position. We respect Senator Lugar, we respect Senator Hagel, but we're not going to back off.

The other thing is, why, at this point, reward what seems to be possible bad behavior? This is a time when you need to have all of the five parties negotiating with North Korea to stand together, rather than looking for ways to drive them apart. Effective diplomacy means holding a number of states together so that, unified, they can assert their influence on North Korea. Let's face it, in terms of direct economic impact, South Korea and China have far more to say about what goes on in North Korea than we do, and therefore, it's essential to make sure that they're an integral part of any ongoing discussions with the government in Pyongyang.

Victoria.

Q Speaker Hastert apparently told the Majority Leader Boehner last week that the immigration bill was effectively dead because Republicans are so divided on it. And then The Post reported that, in fact, he told also President Bush that it was stalled or effectively dead. What's the President's reaction to this and does he see any way for it to be revived?

MR. SNOW: Well, number one, I'll have to get back on the characterization with the President, because that's not my understanding. It's not my understanding it was described as effectively dead. Speaker Hastert is going to have -- Speaker Hastert is going to hold hearings now, July/August, and as I said the other day, fine, we welcome that, have a debate about it. I think it's important for the American people to be able to hear what the President has to say about immigration and what Republicans have to say about it. It's worth getting people to start comparing and contrasting what has been suggested so far in Congress.

The President is not giving up on this. He still believes in comprehensive reform, and he is going to continue working with members of the House and the Senate to try to find some way of reaching that goal of comprehensive reform -- not just border security, but also taking a look at employers and figuring out ways to identify illegals, creating a path to citizenship, making sure that those who got here illegally go through a whole process which includes fines and taxes and good behavior and employment and all of that. All of those are essential parts of a comprehensive solution, because I think Americans, many of whom say that this is an important issue to them, don't want just part of it solved, they want the whole thing fixed. And so that is the debate I think you are likely to start hearing develop over the next few months.

Furthermore, the President has encouraged members of the House and Senate, who aren't talking -- and this is why I wonder about the characterization of the Speaker's comments, because he has directed members of the House to be talking with members of the Senate. So I think there are still ongoing discussions between members of both chambers on how best to proceed.

Q Does the President acknowledge that the issue is dividing Republicans and that could be troublesome in this election year?

MR. SNOW: Well, it's also dividing Democrats. Ask Senator Kennedy. Senator Kennedy is pushing back against --

Q Well, you speak for the President and you don't speak for Senator Kennedy.

MR. SNOW: Well, no, I don't. That would be safe to say. Yes, there is division within Republican ranks, and the President is hoping to use persuasion to create unity.

Q Tony, in 2004, Congress designated the Mt. Soledad 43-foot memorial cross in San Diego as a National Veterans Memorial. The San Diego City Council has voted against donating the land. And now, federal Judge Gordon Thompson has ordered the city to "tear down this cross" by August the 1st, or face fines of $5,000 a day. And my first of two questions: Can we count on the President to sign an executive eminent domain order transferring this land to the National Park Service, rather than allowing this destruction of a memorial to our Armed Forces dead?

MR. SNOW: Believe it or not, I've got an answer to that, but I don't have it with me.

Q I'm delighted to hear that.

MR. SNOW: But I don't have it with me, though, so I'm going to have to attach it as --

Q You don't have it with you?

MR. SNOW: I'm afraid -- somehow I was thinking of other stuff today, Lester, but I'll tell you what I'll do, is we will -- because we have been asking for guidance on it, believe it or not, and so we will try to attach it as an asterisk. If it's not fully cooked, I'll make sure it's cooked tomorrow so you can ask me again. *

Q All right. Since this action by this judge was due to one atheist's protest, the White House can surely provide assurance that the crosses in Arlington Cemetery will be protected, can't you?

MR. SNOW: I think that's -- yes.

Q Good.

Q Because you guys are taking such an aggressive stance on media disclosure, I'm wondering if you can tell us -- without giving any specifics -- if there are any programs the administration has asked the media to keep secret that any members of the media have and are currently keeping secret?

MR. SNOW: I honestly don't know, Jessica. I'll try to find -- I don't know. And, obviously, if we want to keep them secret, I'm not going to tell you.

Q No, but without specifics --

MR. SNOW: But if I can find out a number -- but, honestly, I really don't know. It's a good question, and I don't have an answer. And we'll see if we can get anything for you, but I don't know -- maybe -- does anybody in the room have any secret programs you're working on that we're helping you out with? (Laughter.)

Q Several. (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: That's your fillings, Lester. (Laughter.)

Q Oh, you funny man.

Q Can I follow on immigration? Governor Schwarzenegger, as you know, has declined to send 1,500 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. What's the White House reaction to that, since that was a pretty big part of the President's national --

MR. SNOW: That, actually, is not correct. Is that the Schwarzenegger and the border story?

MS. PERINO: I think that it was overblown.

MR. SNOW: Yes, I think that's overblown. And to tell you what, Ed, I was so much boning up on foreign policy stuff, but I think that story has been blown out of proportion, and I'll provide additional guidance for you. But I don't have it with me. **

Q Tony, you said that you welcomed -- the White House welcomed debate over this financial disclosure issue. What will be the proper forum, other than in the courts, for a debate like this to take place?

MR. SNOW: I think the press has always been a forum for debate, hasn't it? That's sort of where -- you don't debate in the courts. That's where you look at allegations of breaking the law. But short of that, I think people are -- I have a feeling that there are going to be many robust exchanges. It's one of the reasons why Bill Keller, I think, decided to publish kind of an open letter to people from whom he'd heard. So, no, I think that's the appropriate forum, really.

Q Tony, the State Department just released a report that, as far as protecting the homeland is concerned here, and fighting terrorism also, to the U.S. And they have done their job as far as (inaudible), arresting so many terrorists who wanted to work in the U.S. here. And instead of going to Afghanistan and, as I said last week, that terrorists, including Osama bin Laden, they are watching what we are doing here, including this briefing. So that means somebody is protecting them somewhere. So do we have access, and why don't we (inaudible) to these (inaudible) who are -- somebody is protecting them somewhere. And also --

MR. SNOW: I believe that is the full-time occupation of many people. It is a difficult thing to track down a terrorist in a geographically formidable area and simply say, hey, anybody here know where bin Laden is? It doesn't quite work that way. People get killed trying to do that sort of thing. It requires enormous resources and bravery to try to find secrets like that, and obviously we're trying to.

Q Thank you.

Q Just to follow --

MR. SNOW: We'll finish this question, then we'll do the "thank you." (Laughter.)

Q Again coming back to Afghanistan and India. There were some more bombings in India and Kashmir, and (inaudible) are being attacked by the terrorists day-by-day in Kashmir and also in Afghanistan -- same problem, same complaining from the Afghanistan President, that there is terrorism also in his country and has not stopped yet.

MR. SNOW: I'm sorry, repeat that last part. Who's complaining of terrorism?

Q The President of Afghanistan. President Karzai.

MR. SNOW: President Karzai is talking about -- yes, and that's why we're trying to fight terrorism in Afghanistan.

Thank you.

END 1:16 P.M. EDT

* The Administration is actively reviewing administrative and legislative options for preserving the Memorial.

** The Administration is actively working to immediately strengthen our border with the assistance of National Guard troops as the Border Patrol is expanded, and we are reaching the targets of deployment as rapidly as possible. The National Guard believes they can reach the 2500 number by the end of June, and it has said that California is aggressively supporting the border operation. The National Guard can provide more details on specific deployments.