For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 12, 2001
the James S. Brady Briefing Room
9:57 A.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good
morning. Thank you for allowing me to do this in the
Briefing Room under the usual gaggle rules. Let me get into
the events of the day.
The President arrived in the Oval Office
at 7:05 a.m. this morning. And he has already had his intelligence
briefings from the CIA Director and from other national security
officials. He called Prime Minister Blair and Prime Minister
Chretien; they expressed their resolve to stand united against
terrorism. He thanked Prime Minister Chretien, particularly,
for the role that Canada played in being very helpful to the United
States in handling the commercial airline traffic that landed in
The President at 9:30 a.m. began a meeting
of the national security team. As you know, at 10:45 a.m.,
the President will issue a statement, will make remarks at the end of
that meeting. At 11:30 a.m., a bipartisan, bicameral
leadership meeting of the Congress is coming down to meet with the
President and the President will look forward to talking to members of
Congress and throughout the White House at all levels. The
Congress has been talked to and will continue to be talked
to. Their role is always very important.
Let me give you a bit of a summary from
all the various agencies and what they are doing. You may
have heard some of this before, but let me try to summarize the current
play from the agencies and how they're carrying out the President's
directive to bring help to those who have been injured and to do
everything the federal government can do to help save lives.
The FBI, the INS, the U.S. Attorney's
Office, U.S. Marshals and other agencies have deployed and are
deploying teams to investigate these acts of terrorism in Boston, in
New York, in Pennsylvania, at the Pentagon. A website has
been established. If anybody in the country has any
information to provide, at www.ifccfbi.gov. And there is a
toll-free number for family and friends of possible victims to leave
contact number for a future time when more information is
available. And that is 800-331-0075.
The Department of Health and Human
Services has sent four disaster medical teams, each consisting of 35
doctors, nurses and EMTs, to New York City, and three to Washington,
D.C. and Northern Virginia. They have shipped emergency
medical supplies from the Center for Disease Control to New York City,
and they have activated the 6,000-member U.S. Public Health Service
The Department of Transportation is
controlling movement of all vessels in U.S. waters and is conducting a
review of immediate airport security measures to increase travelers'
safety. I think you can anticipate information out of the
Department of Transportation at some point later about resumption of
flights when that will take place.
And FEMA has named Ted Monette as the
Federal Coordinating Officer, with a wide-ranging authority to
coordinate federal responses. FEMA advance teams are on the
ground, including four urban search and rescue teams. FEMA
has also established a help line for victims and others who have been
harmed by the disaster, and that number is 800-462-9029.
I'd be happy to take questions.
Q Has the
President made up his mind or is there any way to know who actually did
this, and master-minded it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, the full
resources of the government are involved in collecting information that
would give the government all indications. I'm not at
liberty to discuss the results of all that, but rest assured the full
resources of the government are dedicated to that, as the President
Q But there are
results? He does have a final result?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I did not
indicate there was a final result.
Q Does the
sophistication and scope of this operation suggest that there might
have been some state sponsorship?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, I'm not
going to speculate about what any of the information that is being
Q Ari, do you know
anything about an evacuation of the Agriculture Department this
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard
anything about that.
Q Any federal
buildings that reported any trouble today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing has been
brought to my attention. And I do want to caution everybody
-- yesterday there was a series of information provided that was aired,
that turned out to be wrong. So I will do everything in my
power to check, to help keep everybody accurate; but I have not heard a
thing about that.
Q Ari, given that
the scale of the attacks yesterday and the level of mortality involved,
can the President assure the American people that a U.S. response would
be commensurate with that level?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, as the
President said yesterday in his words, America has stood down enemies
before and we will do so this time. We will defend freedom
and all that is good and just in our world. And I think the
President's words speak for themselves on that matter.
Q Ari, which
members of the national security team are here and what makes up the
team? And do you know anything more about his -- how much
the President slept last night, if he was able to get a few hours
MR. FLEISCHER: You'll get an
indication of who is in the room at 10:45 a.m. as, of course, the
Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, other military
authorities. I'll try to provide you additional names, but
-- go ahead, Sean.
MR. McCORMACK: Chairman
Shelton, Director Tenet, Dr. Rice and others.
Q What's the
thrust of that meeting?
Q Any overnight --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
did not receive any updates overnight.
Q What's the
purpose of the NSC meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think
you can anticipate at a time like this the President collect the latest
information and to discuss appropriate steps and actions, meets with
his national security advisors so that they can provide the President
with the latest information; and that so he is in the strongest
position to make all judgements he deems wise.
Q What is he
looking for out of the leadership meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I
indicated, at a time like this, one of the greatest strengths of our
country that has always kept us secure is that we are a
democracy. And our nation has always
prevailed. And one of the reasons we have always prevailed
is because our constitutional system keeps us strong and
free. Congress is a vital and important part of that.
Communication with Congress is a vital and important part of that.
Our government functions, functions well,
and has been tested before and has never failed the
test. And we will continue to work closely with Congress.
Q Is that largely
a symbolic meeting, tho, or do you expect to be -- for him to brief
MR. FLEISCHER: This is an
important meeting. There will be additional
briefings. There were briefings on the Hill last night, for
example, conducted by the National Security Council, with members of
Congress. There will be additional briefings today by White
House or security officials with members of
Congress. Congress has an important role and they will be
worked with closely.
Q Ari, is there
anything to suggest that this might not be over? And the extra
security precautions that are being taken at airports, is the President
confident that they will screen for the type of weapons that we
understand were involved in these hijackings?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think
the Department of Transportation will give you specific information
about their beefed-up safety operations. But, you know, there is just
no question this was a well-coordinated, planned attack that was
executed yesterday morning. And we believe that the
perpetrators have executed their plan and, therefore, the risks are
Q How do you know
that? I mean, what indications do you have and what else
besides what DOT is doing, what other precautionary methods are you
taking to try to ensure that nothing --
MR. FLEISCHER: The reason we
know this is because of the resources of the federal government are
committed to learning things. And I indicated the risk is
significantly reduced. Obviously, the President returned to
Washington yesterday; the government is open for business
today. And that is the course that we are on.
Q But, Ari,
considering the enormity of the information that U.S. resources did
not know yesterday, why do you feel confident that you know enough
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I answered
the question by saying that this was a coordinated attack that was
executed yesterday and we believe that the risk is significantly
reduced. The United States will remain vigilant and the
United States will do everything it can to continue its vigilance.
Q There is nothing
to suggest that this might have been the first wave?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, I'm not
going to speculate.
Q Ari, a couple of
questions. One, is the President going to ask Congress for a
sum of money, in terms of emergency aid? I know Bill Albaugh
talked about FEMA needing some more money. Two, can you just
follow up on Deb's question about how late the President was briefed
last night, if he was up watching any coverage or if he got any sleep
or made calls?
And number three, any sense of how close
you are to determining who is responsible.
FLEISCHER: Okay. Ask me the first one again.
Q What was the
first one? (Laughter.)
Q Emergency aid.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the
President believes the number one priority must be to save lives and to
help those who were injured, and to help the cities that are
involved. Money will be not a consideration. Doing what is
right to help the American people is his only consideration.
As for last night, the President, after
the Oval Office address, went into a meeting of his security
team. The meeting lasted a little over an
hour. And then the President returned to the residence and,
as I indicated, he did not receive any additional updates or
information in the course of the night. He received his
first information updated early this morning upon arrival into the
Q Did he call
anybody over the night or --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the
President did not call anybody overnight.
Q -- gather from
the answer to your question, that you do expect to have emergency
spending request of Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't rule it
out; I think that's a possibility.
Q But no idea of
an amount at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q On that point,
Ari, if I may. You hate to bring up, sort of, budget matters
at a point like this, but obviously the President had said that dipping
into Social Security would only be appropriate -- and one of the cases
he mentioned was severe emergency. Does this constitute a
severe emergency and would you expect there to be no limits on what
kind of spending we would make in an effort to both help those who have
been injured and killed, as well as pursue those responsible?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that
this is the definition of a severe emergency and the President's first
focus is on helping those who have been injured and getting the
resources in place so that emergency workers and authorities have
everything they need to save lives. And the President is
focused on that goal.
Q One other thing,
if I may. The airlines are concerned about restoring
confidence and the potential financial implications for airlines if
people stop flying. Is there any talk of what the federal
government can do to help restore confidence in flying? Have
you had any calls, taken any steps in that regard?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, as I
indicated, the Secretary of Transportation is going to address that
Q Do you know what
MR. FLEISCHER: Don't have
Q Ari, is the
President upset that we had such a lack of intelligence and information
and that we apparently have lost the human factor -- the Middle East
and otherwise -- in terms of intelligence?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I
think from the President's point of view, the United States has the
best intelligence and the best military in the world. As you
know, upon his election he went to the CIA and met with the
CIA. I think that's a sign of how much importance the
President attaches to intelligence information and its role in keeping
our society safe and free.
Q Did he have any
MR. FLEISCHER: But you said, is
the President upset. Colin Powell addressed that this
morning, in indicating, saying it yesterday as well, that there were no
specific warnings that were received.
But you asked about the President's mind
set, was he upset. I can just tell you in the many
conversations I've had with the President -- whether it was this
morning or traveling with him and being really in a small cabin with
him for almost all of yesterday -- I have just never seen a man so
determined to do what is right to protect our
country. That's his mind set.
Q But that doesn't
answer the question. Why didn't we know some things that we
should have known?
Q Does he consider
it an intelligence failure?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, I think
that when you live in a free society, even one that has the best
intelligence like the American system, it does everything it can to
prevent acts of terrorism. There have been many times in the
past -- some reported, some not -- in which our intelligence services
did interdict and stop terrorist incidents. And we are a
free society; we do everything in our power as a government to
protect. Obviously, yesterday was a day that all measures taken were
met with a series of suicide bombers in airplanes.
Q But has he
commissioned an analysis of what went wrong? Does he want to
know what happened?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I think
in all due course, all items will be looked at. The
President's focus right now is on helping to save lives and take
Q So, Ari, there's
been all this talk recently about missile defense as a way to defend
ourselves against these rogue acts by rogue states or terrorist
groups. Does this suggest that there should be a
reassessment of that strategy?
FLEISCHER: No. The two are not
connected. The United States still faces risks of many
natures. This was a terrorist risk that was carried out in a
different form of delivery, within our borders. But that
does not mean there are not other threats out there that also need to
be addressed, per missile defense.
Q But isn't this
the sort of contingency that we should be putting the type of effort
that this administration is putting towards missile defense on, to try
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely,
there is far more emphasis in the government, in terms of the spending
on preventing acts of terrorism, than there is in missile
defense. Lopsidedly, overwhelmingly -- I think it's
something like $11 billion is spent on counterterrorism and deterring
Q But you're
thinking of spending upwards of $200 billion on missile defense.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's
budget request for this year is $8 billion.
Q In the long run.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, in the
long run, there's increased funding for terrorism as
well. The President has that in his budget.
So no, it's an irrelevant comparison.
Q Is the initial
judgment here about airport security that a lot more money needs to be
spent, a lot more people need to be involved, a very different system
needs to be in place?
MR. FLEISCHER: I mean, these
are questions that I think the Secretary of Transportation is going to
get into. Dick?
Q Ari, many of the
newspapers this morning and lots of the people that have been talking
on TV over the last 24 hours are calling this an "act of
war." Does the President see it as an act of terrorism, or
perhaps as an act of war, albeit a different kind of war from the ones
this nation has faced in the past?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to
refer you back again to what the President said last
night. And the President will express himself on any other
issues. But I will refer you at this moment to what the
President said last night.
Q Ari, is there any
reason to believe that this noon deadline for resuming flights is going
to get pushed back at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to
speculate about it. I want to make sure that any answer I
would provide would be definitive, and I have not got a definitive word
yet from the Department of Transportation.
Q But is it under
discussion right now, at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not
going to speculate. I know that they're going to take the
appropriate action to resume activities in a way that provides safety.
Q Ari, on a more
parochial matter. I understand that the White House doesn't
have the final say, but does the White House have any thoughts on
police requests to postpone the IMF meetings?
MR. FLEISCHER: I need to get an
update on that. I cannot tell you right now.
Q On a similar
parochial issue, how will this affect the President's scheduled travel
to New York for the United Nations Summit, the Shanghai APEC Summit,
even just domestic travel?
MR. FLEISCHER: In the
near-term, the President's schedule is going to be substantially
changed to focus on handling the terrorist acts that have taken
place. Longer than near-term, I'm not going to speculate
about additional possible changes in the President's
schedule. But suffice it to say for the next several days or
so the President is going to remain focused on the crisis and the
response to it.
Q Does he want or
intend to travel to the sights of the attacks?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, Terry, he
Q He does?
MR. FLEISCHER: He
does. And, of course, the President wants to be with those
who need comfort. The President wants to express his
gratitude to the rescue workers and to the ordinary citizens who have
done so much, in many cases risked their jobs -- risked their lives to
save people. Clearly, the first priority has got to be not to do
anything that would interfere with the rescue efforts that are
currently underway. And the President is respectful of
Q Do you expect
the U.N. General Assembly session to go on as planned?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I
indicated short-term; I'm not going to speculate about anything longer
Q Beyond the
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't
heard. I just haven't heard. I think in fairness,
a lot of people are going to assess what they're doing, and it's just
too soon to make some judgements. But I have not heard
anything on that point, so don't take that as a lean one way or
Q Ari, do you have
details on the correspondence that he had last night from President
Putin or the communication that --
MR. FLEISCHER: I anticipate
I'll be able to get you additional information on that and several
other communications the President has had a little later today.
Let me take just a couple more, and then
I'm going to be back to brief on camera later this
afternoon. We don't have a hard time for you yet. What
we're going to try to do is coordinate, there are going to be likely
several Cabinet members and other announcements being made to provide
the maximum information to the press and to the public. And
so we have a series of coordinations to conduct.
Q Will the
President ask members of Congress when they come up here today to pass
something resembling a declaration of war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, the
President in half an hour will speak for himself.
Q Ari, on the
point of President Putin, there was a report this morning that the
Russian President had a great deal of difficulty reaching the American
President yesterday. Can you --
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no
information on that.
Q He made several
calls, couldn't get through.
MR. FLEISCHER: Don't have
anything for you, Jay; I can't confirm that.
Q Ari, what about
the potential affects on the economy, of this? And we're not just
talking about air travel and a diminution of air craft
loads. How about the overall affect on the
economy? Could this potentially take the slow growth and
drive us into recession?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't
think that I am qualified to answer that question. That's an
economist question that also remains -- there are just several
variables that I think people have to give some time to fully analyze
the impact of this.
Q Is that an aspect
of it that the President is concerned about?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's
focus is on the lives and the President's focus is on the appropriate
The President, of course, cares at all
times about the economy, but at a time like this, his first focus is
now on the incident.
Q Ari, does an
incident like this lead the administration to want to fight harder on
behalf of removing some restrictions that currently apply to CIA, such
as more latitude to commit assassinations or hire foreign agents with
MR. FLEISCHER: I think now is
not a time to speculate on any of those structural issues. I
was asked earlier about how did this happen. There will come
an appropriate time.
Q Ari, is it too
early to know whether this will affect the -- that will be presented
MR. FLEISCHER: Will it affect
Q The defense
reform that has to be presented this fall.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to
speculate about that -- speculating about that would get into what type
of action is going to be required and reaction to this, and I'm just
not going to speculate.
Q Has the
President spoken to any pastors that he knows, or any other religious
leaders in the last 24 hours?
MR. FLEISCHER: I know that the
meeting yesterday of the national security team began with a prayer
that was led by the President. The President asked everybody
Q Has he talked to
MR. FLEISCHER: He has.
Q The meeting last
night or the one in Nebraska?
MR. FLEISCHER: The one last
night, I can tell you that. The meeting in Nebraska, I do
Q When did he talk
to his father and what was that about?
MR. FLEISCHER: He talked to his
Q From where, at
what point during the day?
MR. FLEISCHER: Aboard Air Force
Q -- flight?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have to take a
look; I don't recall.
Q He called his
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know.
Q You usually
don't disclose the contents of those conversations.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
Q Can you today?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q Was the Vice
President in the national security team meeting that's going on now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q Is the former
President reaching out to world leaders on behalf of his son?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't heard
that. Okay. I'll be back for the briefing.
Q Did he call the
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to
give any details about conversations with his father.
Q Did he call --
MR. FLEISCHER: He
did. The President did, from Air Force One en route back to
Washington yesterday, call Solicitor General Ted Olson to express his
condolences about the death of his wife, Barbara.