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 Home > News & Policies > November 2001

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 15, 2001

Press Briefing by Secretary Abraham and Governor Ridge
Press Briefing by Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham And Director of Office of Homeland Security Governor Tom Ridge
Department of Energy
Washington, D.C.

11:04 A.M. EST

SECRETARY ABRAHAM:  Thank you all very much.  And I want to begin by obviously welcoming Governor Ridge to the Department of Energy.  We've just seen some of the technological wonders the men and the women of this department have developed for homeland security and the war on terrorism.  And I think you can see, Governor, why I'm so proud to be the Secretary of this department.

I want to just start by acknowledging and paying special thanks to two individuals who help us make this all work so well; one who couldn't be here today, General John Gordon, who heads up the National Nuclear Security Administration, doing an outstanding on just a variety of fronts, in addition to overseeing our lab work and our nonproliferation programs.  Linton Brooks, our Deputy Administrator for National Nuclear Proliferation is here on behalf of NNSA.  Thank you.

And to Jim Decker, who is the head of our programs in the science division, I want to welcome Jim as well.  He's the acting director of programs that are leading funders of basic research, as well as the largest government sponsor of the physical science research programs in the United States.  We saw examples of the specific wizardry that this funding has created.  And, Jim, I want to thank you for a great job.

I also want to just say that we are also joined by the heads of three of our national labs -- Paul Robinson, John Brown, Bruce Tarter.  Thank you all for being with us and for the great work done at these facilities.  Our other labs are represented here, and we're proud of all of them.

As Governor Ridge and I have discussed over the last several weeks, our national laboratories are probably among America's best-kept secrets.  They are the source of unparalleled technological progress, and they're going to help us win this war against terrorism.

In the weeks since September the 11th, Americans have been asking where we will get the technology we need for the detection of chemical, biological or nuclear attacks.  Who will develop the means to protect us against terrorist threats, and who is looking over the horizon so we're prepared for tomorrow's threats as well.

Well, the answer to those questions is very often these national laboratories.  Just consider what we have seen today:  decontamination foam from the Sandia Laboratory, which can rid buildings of anthrax.  A Palm Pilot computer that can be transformed into a nuclear detection device, which comes from the Lawrence Livermore Laboratories.  A joint program between Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore, which has developed a network of sensors that can be placed in the vicinity of large public gatherings, or even large areas, a system that can detect biological attack with great speed, that gives us the time for swift countermeasures.  And the list goes on and on.

And I just have to tell you, when I was helping lead this little tour today, I felt a little bit like Q in those old James Bond movies, with Governor Ridge as our James Bond.  (Laughter.)  I don't know that the labs have the capabilities of transforming me into the James Bond figure, but if you could go to work on that, I'd be appreciative.  (Laughter.)

But I know many of you will want to know which of these technologies that we've seen today are currently in use or ready for deployment.  And I want to just say up front, as you can appreciate information about how and when and where these technologies are used is often very sensitive.  We are not in a position, obviously, to answer the specific questions which relate to the deployment of the technology; although our Office of Public Affairs will do its best to help where it's appropriate.  And I would direct any questions along those lines to them.

The bottom line, Governor, is that we have many of the tools for homeland security, and to help this nation fight the war on terrorism. Staying one step ahead of our adversaries has never been as important as it is now.  Everything shifted, new battle lines have been drawn.  The administration and this Secretary recognize and appreciate the work which our labs do.  And we want the American people to realize it and appreciate it as well.

This department and our national labs will spare no effort to provide the nation with the instruments it must have to defeat terrorism and to defend our citizens in this difficult time.  So, Governor, I want you to think of the men and women of this department as one of your most important assets in this battle. And, again, I want to welcome you to the Department of Energy.

Ladies and gentlemen, Governor Tom Ridge.  (Applause.)

GOVERNOR RIDGE:  Thank you very much.  Actually, Spence, that was quite a tour.  I think we could have stayed there for hours longer, and I suspect that the national labs would have had many other exhibits available to us if we would have had a little bit more time.  And I want to thank you for the opportunity to spend a little time both with you and the extraordinary group of people with whom you work and whom you lead.

I said shortly after I was given the opportunity to serve my President and my country in this capacity as Director of Homeland Security, that America should be reassured on a daily basis that, literally, hundreds of thousands of their fellow Americans, even prior to September 11th, had been going to work every single day, trying to devise ways to make our homeland more secure.

And now that I've had the opportunity to serve in this capacity for now all of five weeks and have had an opportunity to see with great clarity and specificity the kind of work that hundreds of thousands of Americans have been doing every single day, I'm absolutely confident -- I'm absolutely confident of our ability to rise to the challenge that the President has given us, an that is create a national strategy for homeland security.

And you have to know, at the heart of that strategy, to detect, to prevent, to respond to terrorism attacks, at the heart of that technology, at the heart of that effort, at the heart of that strategy, will be technology.

When I was governor, we invested hundreds of millions of dollars in technology to enhance certain capacities that the state of Pennsylvania needed:  communications and information systems, public health.  But we take the technology we have available to us in the national labs and configure it to provide for homeland defense.  And I assure you and I assure the public generally, we will be investing substantial dollars in technology to help enhance our domestic security as well.

Today, you've shown the American public, Mr. Secretary, and me some of the technological wizardry that has been or will soon be put to use to protect and defend our country.  We are a very welcoming country.  We're a very trusting country.  We allow millions and millions of people who are not citizens to come in on a regular basis and visit, and even live and take up residence here.

We are an incredibly open country -- open borders, open cities, open society.  We can't, nor do we ever want, to change this.  It is truly one of the unique characteristics of this great country.  However, we are now facing an unseen foe that has proven it will take advantage of our openness whenever it can.

So the challenge is fairly straightforward:  How do we preserve our openness.  How do we preserve the unique qualities of America and protect ourselves at the same time.  How do we enhance security at airports without discouraging people from flying.  How do we keep the United States Mail flowing smoothly.  How do we expedite the flow of people and goods across international borders. How do we secure the homeland.  How do we become safer.

The answer, in large measure, across a wide possible spectrum of applications, is technology.  Later this morning, I'll be addressing the Fletcher Conference to lay out the framework for how we are developing a comprehensive national homeland security plan.

In the months and years ahead, technology-based solutions will be a huge component of that plan.  You've given me a great deal of insurance; and more importantly, I think you've offered to the public today, all of America, a great deal of assurance that American ingenuity is already at work developing that technology.

And so, on behalf of the President of the United States, I want to thank everyone at the Department of Energy, the national labs, that has worked so hard.  You've got the qualities that guarantee that we will prevail in our war against terrorism.  Ingenuity, a relentless spirit to get things done, a commitment, a resolve.  And I'm absolutely confident, through the application of technology, both from the public and private sector, we will dramatically enhance in a very short period of time our goal to make our homeland more secure than it has ever been before.

So I want to thank you, Mr. Secretary, and I want to thank the Department of Energy employees for giving me the opportunity to spend a little time with you this morning.

The Secretary and I would be happy to take any questions.

Q    Governor Ridge, the Bush administration has consistently said that a strong national energy policy cannot occur -- a strong national security cannot occur without a strong national energy policy.  Earlier this week, the administration announced that it would fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to protect against future supply disruptions.  But that process is going to take three years, under the current plan.

If the administration is serious about filling this reserve and protecting U.S. consumers and this economy from a supply disruption, why doesn't the administration go out and purchase this oil now, fill up their reserve in three or four months, now that prices are low.  Would you recommend if prices keep dropping that they go ahead and do that, and not wait three years?

GOVERNOR RIDGE:  Well, first of all, I think the President's goal is to fill up the Strategic Reserve over the next three years.  The prices are low; indications are that they may continue to go lower.  And it's just part of a scheme of things that the President is asking, and the administration is doing, in order to secure the energy security that we require.

I think it's pretty clear -- and I'll let the Secretary speak to this -- but we feel strongly about the ability to start drilling more domestically as well.  So I think as you take a look at the national strategy, whether it's energy security, economic security, there are many pieces to that puzzle.  And just a ramp-up of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is a piece of the energy puzzle.

SECRETARY ABRAHAM:  Well, Tom, you've asked me that question many times in the period that led up to it.  As I told you, we were engaging in a very deliberate review of the process and what the considerations, the pluses and minuses were, what was the nature of the threat, if any, that we perceived.

We concluded that it was in the long-term interest of the country to have the reserve filled.  At the same time, we did not see the kind of immediate threat to disruption that would necessitate taking action that was too precipitous.

At the end of the day, we have right now about 540 million barrels of oil in the Reserve; that's somewhere in the vicinity of 53 days worth of reserves.  If we fill it entirely, that expands the number to about 68 days.  I think we can do it at the pace we're talking about.  If things change, we can reconsider the policy.

But we're trying to do it in a way that balances all the issues, that range from energy security and cost considerations to implications on markets and a variety of other factors.  But I think we're doing it the right way.

Q    Governor, there are some people who specialize in studying al Qaeda who think that perhaps Osama bin Laden and his followers might be more apt to take terrorist action because of the way the military campaign is going on the ground in Afghanistan.

I'm wondering how you would gauge the threat level at this point, and if it's different than it was, let's say, one week ago?

GOVERNOR RIDGE:  I think it is -- it makes a great deal of common sense to conclude that if you are putting pressure on your enemy in one area or one venue, they may choose to act out in a separate area or a different venue.  And so that is one consideration that obviously is in play.

But I think our state of readiness and wariness is as high as it has ever been, and will remain that high until we have apprehended bin Laden and dismantled al Qaeda.  That is not to say that once that bin Laden and al Qaeda have been dismantled and apprehended, that we would not continue to work very aggressively toward enhancing our homeland security.

Q    Yes.  The Times of London and other publications today have reported that forces have invaded a safe house in Kabul where nuclear secrets or blueprints, I believe was the term used, were recovered; Osama bin Laden's blueprints for some sort of nuclear device or nuclear technology.

It has been reported widely and he, himself, has admitted that he would like to use nuclear weapons.  There has been lots and lots of evidence that he has certainly tried to acquire them, at least a dirty nuke.

One of the exhibitors here has nuclear bomb detection material here.  What kind of assurance or reassurance can you give citizens of this city and of New York and perhaps other places as well that they are safe from a nuclear attack?

GOVERNOR RIDGE:  Well, one of the challenges as we have faced a bioterrorist threat over the past four or five weeks is the notion that our responsibility as a country is to be prepared for biological and chemical and radiological and nuclear.  And the mission of providing homeland security is to enhance our capacity to detect, prevent and even respond to those kinds of events.

And I would say the fact that we have discovered that one of the safe houses that bin Laden's associates or al Qaeda had some materials relative to a nuclear threat is certainly consistent with his statements that he would like to acquire that capacity.  It is not to say, it does not confirm that he has the capacity, it just says that whether it's bin Laden or some other potential foe of this country, we have to be prepared for all eventualities, including a nuclear threat.

Q    Governor Ridge, you've seen a lot of technology today, but there are also technologies which could be used or may be already used at NASA, at NIH, at the EPA, a lot of agencies.  How can you kind of integrate those technology departments and technologies to make them more effective and useful?

GOVERNOR RIDGE:  I'm not sure I quite understand the question.  We have seen a variety of technologies that have applications at different parts of the national security plan.

Q    In this department; there are technologies all around the other agencies as well.  And you have a lot of projects running, possibly some of them similar, some of them different.  How are you going to integrate to make them more effective and useful?

GOVERNOR RIDGE:  The challenge to pool all of the public research and private research, I might add, is one of the more significant ones for the Office of Homeland Security.  And the President's scientific advisor, as well as the leadership at the national labs, as well as leadership in the private sector, help us determine which technology has the greatest potential for immediate application to reduce the most pressing threat.

So I think the assessment of capacity -- technology capacity and application will be done by the scientists in conjunction with what we perceive to be immediate threats.

One of the biggest challenges we have right now and one of the reasons that I believe you saw so many exhibits out there with regard to biological and chemical, is that in enhancing the capacity of our first responders, the policemen, the firemen and others who arrive at a scene to determine the kind of environment that they and those who would follow on have to work in.  So these assessments are ongoing, and they're done both with the resources and capacity of the public sector, the federal government; but our friends in the private sector help us as well.

And I just wanted to add, you know, the information that I've been told this morning that was gleaned from that house related to al Qaeda, was, much of that information could have been taken right off the Internet some years ago.  So there was nothing unusual about that information; it was available to the public through other sources other than through the al Qaeda network.

Q    Have you come up with a plan for coordinating security at privately-owned energy facilities -- pipelines, refineries?

GOVERNOR RIDGE:  I know that the Secretary of Energy -- and I'm going to let him talk more specifically to it -- but I will tell you that the Secretary of Energy and everyone in this government, in every department, in every agency, since September 11th, has been moving forward, working with the private sector where appropriate, to enhance security at public facilities; and I'll let the Secretary talk about the energy facilities.

SECRETARY ABRAHAM:  Thanks, Governor.  One of the issues that we tried to begin addressing, literally our first month in office, was emergency preparedness.  And, obviously, the nature of threats changes, the magnitude of threats can change.  But having a significantly enhanced and aggressive emergency response operation at the department has been one of our priorities this year.  And I'm happy to report we've made great progress on that even before September 11th.

What we're trying to do, obviously, is to work with the private sector, because other than in the area of the nuclear reactor industry, the control and responsibilities are exclusively in the private sector.  But we've been working very closely with -- on a very coordinated basis with the various sectors of the energy industries, from the gas and petroleum industry, oil, pipeline industries, electricity generation, electricity transmission and so on.

And what we've been doing is trying to do several things:  One is to identify priorities.  Certainly, all of us can sit around and speculate about possible areas in which problems could occur.  Our job has been to set those priorities, working with the private sector.

The second thing we've done is to dispatch teams and to work in the ground, which we've already begun doing in key parts of the country based on those priorities with the private sector, with the states and local authorities, to determine what adequate security protection might mean.

Finally, we're working with Congress and within the administration to identify some additional authorities that we think would help make this process more effective.  You've heard some of that debate already, I think.  It ranges from the need to perhaps modify some of the antitrust laws to allow for the pooling of information so that people can share information that relates to security matters, without running afoul of those laws.

We also are concerned about making sure that the disclosure requirements that might be involved don't put us in a more vulnerable position because we have to make available to the public through FOIA, or more specifically, people in the world who might wish to do evil, information that could allow that to happen.

So we're working on it on a priority basis, I think with a little bit more authority to work on a basis more like that which exists in some sectors we can get this job done.  I'm very pleased with the progress we've made since September 11th.

GOVERNOR RIDGE:  Just one final comment.  You should know that the Office of Homeland Security has received -- it's fair to say -- dozens if not hundreds of ideas relative to the application of technology.  And we are going to channel them through the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and some of them may end up in these national labs.

So as I say, the country's desire and willingness to respond and to use technology to enhance our security is robust, it's -- and it's that kind of creative genius that I think we can count on to -- in making our homeland more secure in the years ahead.

Q    Secretary Abraham, could you comment on yesterday's OPEC cut, and what impact that will have on the domestic U.S. economy in the near term?

SECRETARY ABRAHAM:  Yes. I'm not sure that there was a cut made yesterday, actually.  As I interpreted the actions that were taken, it was, I think, a decision to make a decision at a later time.  We have said from the first day of this administration that we believe markets should be allowed to work in the oil sector.  We haven't changed from that position.  That has been my private, as well as public, message to both OPEC and non-OPEC producer countries.  We think that's the best way for prices to be set and we also think it's the most consistent way for us to ensure that we have a growing world economy; and that's a priority.

I would just say that the other night, I think Alan Greenspan, in a speech, made a very interesting point.  He said that since the 1970s, the overwhelming and profound message with respect to the oil sector is that it's been a story of market power, rather of the power of markets rather than market power.  And I share that view, and I think that will continue to be the prevailing way by which the oil sector operates in the future.  (Applause.)

END       11:28 A.M. EST