|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 7, 2001
Wednesday's Homeland Security Briefing
Press Briefing by Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
Listen to the Briefing
11:40 A.M. EST
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I thought I'd like to give you an update on homeland security
activities over the past several days, and then respond to your questions.
The President's directive was to coordinate a national homeland security strategy and an integral part of that effort involves governors and local officials. And we continue our outreach to those officials this week as we -- begun last week.
We've had a couple opportunities this week to talk to
Governor Hodges of South Carolina, Governor DiFrancesco of New
Jersey. We'll be meeting with Mayor Morial of New Orleans and five or six
of his colleagues. As you know, he chairs the League of Cities.
One of the other challenges that the Office of Homeland Security -- and it's a wonderful challenge -- is to integrate all the Americans who want to help be part of homeland security into a national strategy. And, to that end, this week the National Organization on Disability visited the office.
Obviously, they've got some unique and very special challenges that we'd have to deal with, but they also have some very unique and, I think, probably helpful ideas and we want to integrate them in the process of developing a national strategy.
I'll be meeting with the business executives of the Business Roundtable. Again, the national strategy didn't say just a public sector strategy -- it involves the private sector, so we've got to continue to work with our friends in the private sector, as well.
NASCAR dropped by and said, what can we do to help. And, obviously, they're involved in huge, outdoor public events. They've got ideas relative to security. We think there will be ways that we could learn from them, and they may learn a thing or two from us. But, again, it's just fusing all of these groups and all of these Americans who want to help this President and help their country. And we continue to find ways to integrate them into the development and, ultimately, the implementation of both the short and long term homeland strategy.
The first couple of weeks we've spent some time on the Hill. Today, I concluded my fourth caucus visit. Last week I was going to try to hit the House Democrats and the House Republicans on the same day. Former colleagues from the House on the Democratic side kept me a little longer than we anticipated, so we had to postpone that meeting to the Republicans. Today, we concluded that this morning.
And, again, the international interest in supporting our effort -- not only in Afghanistan, but here at home -- is reflected in the visit of the Ambassador from Great Britain, Chris Meyer, who spent some time with me yesterday. Again, this is a country that, unfortunately, has had real world experience with political terrorism of different sorts. He brought some of the security people in. We will be putting together a team to sit down with him and the other members of our international coalition that are helping us in the war in the Afghanistan. But they also, again, want to be participants and helpful in addressing our homeland security needs, as well.
That reflects some of the activity of the Homeland Security Office. Finally, you should know -- I think four post offices remain closed: Brentwood, Trenton, the Stamp facility in Kansas City and the Pentagon sub-station. I should note that the post office has received they estimate about 10,000 hoaxes they've had to deal with, which has resulted in closing different post offices for various periods of time.
They've investigated and to follow it up, and they've made 25 arrests. And, obviously, the Postal Inspectors and the Department of Justice will move as aggressively to bring them to the courtroom and to justice as quickly as possible.
Q Do you think that the anthrax flow now has been stopped, really? Do you have any better idea of the source? There seems to be some indication -- well, the Pakistani letter turned out to be negative -- is that right -- do you think it's more at home, the whole source?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, I am hopeful, like the rest of America, that the anthrax has stopped permanently. But there's nothing in --
Q Is there any --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, we certainly haven't seen, nor detected, any other sources of new anthrax. Obviously, we move systematically and aggressively to still deal with the traces of the problem in Trenton and in Washington, D.C.
The investigation continues to preserve -- we haven't included or excluded either a domestic or an international source for the anthrax. There have been some suggestions that it could be domestic, but that has not been confirmed in any manner, shape or form.
Q Can I follow on that, Governor? Because Barry Mawn, of the New York FBI is quoted in today's Boston Globe as saying it was produced in the U.S. He said, "It was made here." Is that incorrect?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, he may have a suspicion that it was made here. But, clearly, in talking with the FBI Director and other individuals involved in the FBI, there is no credible evidence that points specifically, at least to date -- it may be his suspicion, his instinct; because, clearly, a microbiologist with some sophisticated equipment that could be in this country or elsewhere, we don't know each origin.
And so I would say, it may be his suspicion, but has been confirmed by the investigation.
Q He also said he believed that an individual, rather than a group, is responsible. He said the FBI suspects an individual rather than a group. Is that your suspicion, as well?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, it is -- we have not ruled out whether this was an act of an individual or a collective act, whether it was a domestic source or foreign source. And I think. hopefully, one of these days we'll be able to answer both questions. Today, we cannot.
Q Can you tell us where we are in terms of the FBI, the threat that was issued last week and the state of alert in the United States?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: We're still on alert. We're still on alert.
Q And for how long is that expected to continue?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I think this heightened sense of awareness -- I mean, one of the challenges is to take the legitimate anxiety and fear that Americans still have and just -- we will be on alert indefinitely. And when we have specific information from credible sources, we will appropriately give it to the law enforcement community.
Q So there's no change in that status from last week?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: No change.
Q But the FBI was specific bout something happening, or -- alert over the next couple of days. A couple of days has passed, nothing has happened, so is this just sort of a general state of alert, indefinitely?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I have talked to a variety of governors about this issue, and many of them, even before that alert, had deployed initial state police, initial national guard, they've really beefed up their security, not only around public facilities, but have worked with the private sector to enhance security around their facilities, as well.
I suspect that there will be an ebb and flow as governors who are on a heightened state of alert, redeploy their resources. But for the time being, we believe America should stay on alert.
Q Governor Ridge, one of the problems of anthrax seems to have been the preliminary tests are taken; sometimes they're right, sometimes they come back with the opposite -- positive negative. There seems to be two outfits coming out with new tests. The Mayo Clinic is one, I think Walter Reed is -- and another one. Is your office trying to get them? Because they also are going to need government approval to be able to go out to the public. What are you doing about it?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: You would be amazed at the number of -- they're not solicitations, but inquiries we have received in the Office of Homeland Security about the potential application of this or that technology. Clearly, not only will we look to the private sector to help us identify some of the problems, but also come up with some of the solutions.
So we are in the process of vetting out some of these recommendations. And whether it's through the United States Army, through the Selective Service, through the Office of Science and Technology, there is enough expertise within the federal government to take a look at these things. And if they appear to provide a commercial solution, a quick turnaround that has application to our environment, then we follow it up.
Q Is it feasible this stage? Does it seem feasible --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I'm not in a position to make a technical judgment, but we want to explore all potential ideas and suggestions, particularly when they seem to be further along in terms of research and development.
Q You mentioned that you had talked to officials in South Carolina, New Jersey and New Orleans. What's your assessment right now of security at U.S. port facilities? How much cargo is actually being screened, and what prospect is there for actually securing the amount of cargo that comes into the United States?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: The Coast Guard, Customs officials, everybody that had a remote connection or a direct connection with maritime security has really ramped up all their assets and, frankly, probably deflected some assets that were involved in other areas to provide the highest possible state of security.
One of the things that has happened, again, that's very, very reassuring, that there has been tremendous integration, and many examples -- and Governor Hodges' provided me one, where some of the facilities are publicly owned by the state, others are federal facilities, and they've integrated their resources.
So, again, it is a point of vulnerability because of international commerce. These are our eyes on the world, windows on the -- as it were. The opportunity for us to move in and out of our commerce, hundreds of billions of dollars worth of commerce, so we take that security, enhanced security. But we're looking continually, day by day, for ways to improve it.
Frankly, I think one of the things they have done to enhance security, they're inspecting more of the cargo than they've ever done before. They've identified ships that they're bordering out in the sea. Instead of giving 24 hour notice with regard to cargo and crew, they're giving 96 hour notice, so they can match the crew with any list that they may have generated.
So they've heightened security, they've integrated a lot of their resources with local and state resources. And they've tried to move the perimeter outside the ports as part of the enhanced security.
Q Can I go back to John's question? When you issued the threat, initially, last week, you indicated that there was specific intelligence that an attack might be imminent. You say we're on an alert indefinitely. But are we still getting that type of intelligence information?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, the alert, as I recall, as you recall, last week from multiple sources deemed credible over a specific period of time. Obviously, that frame of reference, the calendar has passed, but we ask people to stay on that same heightened sense of alert.
Q But I'm not asking you about the alert, I'm asking about the intelligence. Are we getting the same kind of indications that an attack might be imminent?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: We get threat reports on a daily basis, and the challenge and one of the most difficult challenges within the intelligence community is to assess these reports and to assess the credibility and to go back and, if possible, interrogate the sources of these reports. We get them every day. And for that reason, we keep everybody at a heightened state of alert.
Q I know you get them every day, but I'm wondering if the intelligence that you're getting now is similar to the intelligence you got before, which said that an attack might be imminent?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: The intelligence that we get every day suggests that an attack or attacks could be imminent. But there has been no suggestion of specific venue or weapon of terror that might be employed.
Q The FBI counterterrorism chief testified on the Hill that they did not know how many labs produced anthrax. You, this morning, said on the Hill there were 80 to 90. Can you explain, did you guys find that out overnight? Did he just not know? Can you explain why you know and he didn't know?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: The reason I knew -- and I don't know it to be true, absolutely -- but I saw it was referenced during that committee hearing. And we know there are several dozen university laboratories and pharmaceutical laboratories and there are several dozen laboratories out there that have access to the anthrax strain.
The FBI and the Department of Justice have been in the process of talking to individuals associated with those laboratories to follow up and determine if there is any leads, any information they can glean from the people who are participating in that research. I cannot tell you whether they have exhausted the list and they have contacted everybody they want to talk with.
They're clearly aware of the list, they're aware of the facilities, they're aware they've got the need. So it is a part of an ongoing, daily, intense investigation as they follow up leads on anthrax, follow up leads on the New York tragedy, follow up leads on the hoaxes that they have to take as a serious -- potential serious threat. So you've got the law enforcement community totally engaged in a variety of different investigations, some of which, unfortunately, lead them down a false path.
One final question.
Q On the tests, a few days ago there was an apparently inaccurate report that bentonite was the binding agent in the anthrax that was tested from the Daschle letter. I assume we now know what the binding agent was. And can you tell us what that suggests about the source of the anthrax?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: There were accounts of reports that said bentonite was the binding agent; none of those reports ever came across my desk. The reports that came across my desk suggested that they were looking to see if that was a component of the anthrax. And we concluded without internal investigation that it was not.
Q What was the binding agent?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: The ingredient that we talked about before was silicon. But there's no additional information with regard to additional characteristics that have come across in any of the additional tests that we've conducted since that time.
END 11:57 A.M. EST