|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 9, 2001
Friday's Homeland Security Briefing
Press Briefing by Director of Homeland Security Governor Tom Ridge and EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
Listen to the Briefing
1:05 P.M. EST
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Last night, I had the privilege to join the President of the United States in Atlanta, Georgia, for that extraordinary speech and that call to service to the American people. I recalled the evening when the President introduced the Office of Homeland Security, on September 20th, and introduced the then-Governor of Pennsylvania as assuming the responsibilities of that office.
The next day, I proceeded to complete the final two weeks of my tenure as governor. And from the very first time I appeared in public, people came up to me and said: Congratulations. What can I do to help? And the phones started ringing that Friday morning in the governor's office, and it's been ringing ever since. This morning, the phones started ringing in the White House Office: What can we do to help? And I think last night, the President very appropriately tapped in to the extraordinary desire on the part of America to commit some part of themselves, in some small way, to enhance homeland security.
As we have been doing every day since I took over this position, we're looking for ways to engage both the public and the private sector to help build this extraordinary support, and build toward a national strategy to provide homeland security.
My own experience as governor -- and I think Governor Whitman would probably share the same experience -- we have several thousand volunteer fire departments. We learn now that we view our firefighters as a part of a homeland security team. It's pretty clear that one of our outreach efforts might very well be in that public safety arena -- volunteer fire departments, law enforcement support and the like, public health, added on to public safety, and domestic preparedness in some fashion.
I have had the good fortune, over the years, of working with the incoming chairman of the National Ad Council. He and I, David Bell and I, have talked about the need to work with the National Ad Council to inform and inspire people to respond to this call and to participate in this national homeland security effort. So we -- I think over the past several years, if you ask governors and you ask volunteer organizations, the desire, the willingness of America to participate had slowly eroded. People weren't volunteering, weren't as involved, as engaged in their community as they have been engaged before.
But I think as of September 11th, there is a renewed spirit of service, a renewed spirit of public service, a renewed willingness to become engaged in supporting and providing security for your community and your country. So I look forward to the tasking of that challenge.
There is an inventory of things we believe we can give America to choose from to help us in this battle against terrorism, and I'm confident that by the time we merge both public and private intellect and resources, we'll come up with an inventory of challenges as well as opportunities for America to answer their President's call.
Since September 11th, in responding to our war on terrorism, every single member of the Cabinet, every single member of the administration has been looking for ways in their individual capacities that they could enhance their ability to prevent an attack or detect an attack, or respond, potentially, if an attack occurred. And Governor Whitman has been at the forefront of those kinds of efforts, during her leadership of the EPA, and she certainly intensified them and has intensified them from September 11th on.
So I'd like to turn the podium over to my friend and neighbor, former colleague, Governor Whitman.
ADMINISTRATOR WHITMAN: Thank you, Governor.
GOVERNOR RIDGE: You're welcome. Thank you, Governor.
ADMINISTRATOR WHITMAN: I appreciate it. As many of you know, since September 11th the Environmental Protection Agency has been very active in promoting the security of America's drinking water and waste water systems, and of chemical facilities across the country.
In many ways, that's just a continuation of what our mission is: To protect America's health and environment. And so, this has just been an extension of what we do as normal course of business. But this effort has included a very real and aggressive outreach to the water companies, to the sewage treatment companies, to the chemical manufacturers, to give them the best possible advice and information on what they can do to secure their various facilities.
We've issued, since September 11th, a number of security and safety advisories for the operators of these facilities, giving them the best-possible information that we have so that they can apply it to their particular sets of circumstances. And in addition, in cooperation with the FBI, we've advised every single law enforcement agency in the country on what they need to look for and steps that they can take to help prevent an attack on any water system or waste water system.
We've also greatly accelerated work that was already in process in the pipeline, as they say, but in process to enhance the security at water utilities, to give them the tools they need to be able to do vulnerability assessments, and that was due to be available to them next year; in fact, we have speeded that up, working with Sandia Labs.
And these tools and training are beginning later this month; in fact, in the next week we will begin to provide the vulnerability training and the training for the personnel that is necessary. We have also been working closely with the CDC and Department of Defense to ensure that we have the very best available science on how to identify and, if necessary, treat the contamination of the water supplies.
The good news here, if there is good news, is that it takes more than a teaspoon or a cupful of a biological or chemical agent to disrupt a water supply and to jeopardize or threaten the health of a municipality or city; in fact, it would take a truckload to do it. And so with the heightened security that we have with the local police forces and with the companies themselves, we feel that kind of thing is highly unlikely. We are doing everything we can to put in place the maximum amount of security measures that will ensure that people can be comfortable about their water systems.
The same is true with the chemical companies. We have been working very closely with their organizations and groups to ensure that we are in constant and instantaneous communications with them. When necessary, if there's any kind of warning or any kind of activity that we're seeing of which they need to be aware, or they feel that we need to be aware, they will let us know. And that has been very important.
On the water side, we have been working with the American Water Works Association and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies. And on the chemical side, it's been primarily with the American Chemical Council, for the safety of all these facilities nationwide. This close communication we have had really has helped in our ability to respond quickly and to enable them to respond quickly.
We have also been working with both of those organizations to ensure that their major members are running their employee names against the FBI watch list database, so they can be sure of who they have in place who have access to the water or access to the chemicals.
And so really what we're doing is, as I said before, an extension of what has been our role from the very beginning, but it is a very meaningful extension that should give a level of comfort to the public, that we are doing everything -- this government, this administration, is doing everything possible to ensure that we have in place everything necessary to prevent and, if necessary, respond to any kind of further attack. And we are actually feeling very comfortable as far as water supplies are concerned, that it would be very difficult to carry out the kind of attack that could result in true health implications to a general population.
Q Governor Ridge, on Monday another former governor, Montana's Marc Racicot, delivered to homeland security an assessment on energy security, the security of the energy infrastructure. Do you share the report's concerns that a significant part of the infrastructure is at unacceptable risk?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: This administration, including Secretary of Energy Abraham, has been in discussions since September 11th with energy companies. And we share their concern that there are many points of vulnerability. And this is, again, one more example where we need to work in a collaborative way with our friends in the private sector to assess different risks and come up with a long-term strategy to meet the enhanced security needs that this war on terror will require for us.
We got that 42-page report. Secretary Abraham has been working with them. And frankly, if I might, he will join me sometime next week. I mean, one of the reasons that we are going to ask members of the Cabinet to join with me from time to time is to alert you to the kinds of steps that have been undertaken since September 11th. And a lot of initiative, a lot of build-up, a lot of enhancement, a lot of communication with the private sector as well. I mean, every day, these departments and agencies are looking for ways to improve security. So Secretary Abraham will join me next week and maybe give you even more specific examples of how they work together.
Q Since the last time you were here to brief us, are we any closer to finding out who sent the anthrax letters, whether it's from a domestic or international source?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I'll refer to the answer I gave you the last time. It's a wide range, from domestic to international. We're still no closer to identifying specifically the origin of the anthrax and/or the perpetrators of that challenge that's confronted America.
Q Can I follow on that? Because the FBI has been at that podium and not been bashful about asking the American people to help with clues and with leads. You're obviously stumped here about the source of these mailings. Why not share with the public more specifically what is known, what the leanings are, what the suspicions are, and maybe the public can fill in some of those gaps?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I think the FBI, and to the extent that any other agency has been involved, they've been very forthcoming. I mean, we've showed you copies of the letters and asked people if you've seen similar correspondence with similar writing. We've told you the nature of the characteristics of the anthrax we have. Whenever we get a series of tests, we share that information with you.
The challenge here is obviously enormous, but I think the law enforcement community, thousands and thousands of men and women, both at the federal level, the state level and the local level are not only following leads that have some legitimacy to it, but the world is now more complicated, because they're also following up on potential terrorist attacks and threats, which more often than not, turn into hoaxes. So they have a very aggressive, very intense campaign, and as soon as we get additional information to share with you, we will.
Q Can I follow up one point, though? Can I just follow on the point, you think at this point, the anthrax --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I didn't think I said you could, but go ahead. (Laughter.) You win.
Q Sometimes you've just got to push a little bit. You know about that. The point is that, at this point, do you think at this point the anthrax crisis -- the initial threat has been shut down? Is it over?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I think it's difficult to make that assessment. I think we're prayerful, we're hopeful. We hope that this is the last we ever see and have to deal with it in any way, other than talking about it. But we can't -- I can't give you that 100 percent guarantee. The only guarantee I can give you that's 100 percent is the FBI and law enforcement is working very hard to track down the source and the perpetrators.
Q Governor Ridge, you mentioned working with the National Ad Council. We know that Karl Rove is going to California to talk to the movie industry on Sunday. What is the idea here? What is it that you want to accomplish? And are you looking at ads and public service announcements and so forth as primarily a domestic operation, or will you do that internationally as well?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I think it remains to be seen. I think the primary focus, initial focus, will be domestic. And I think just as the Ad Council had volunteered, and we've had some preliminary discussions, I think the people in Hollywood again are another group of Americans who want to figure out a place for them so that they can be helpful in this war on terror. I don't think Karl's going out there with any prescriptive plans just to engage them in that conversation, like we're going to engage the Ad Council and anybody else that wants to help.
Q Governor, I wanted to ask you two questions. One, can you clarify, where do things stand regarding that FBI alert issued more than a week ago? Is that still --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: The time period has elapsed. Remember, I think was a specific time period that we talked about. One of the reasons we gave the national alert -- but we want people to continue to be vigilant. The fact that the time period has elapsed, we're still at war. And I still want Americans to be alert and be vigilant.
Q Governor Ridge?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: It worked before; you might want to try it. (Laughter.)
Q Here's the question, sir. On the airport security, the incident in Chicago had a major impact across the country -- that security breach a few days in Chicago.
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Yes, sir.
Q The same company that handled the Chicago security has just landed two new contracts, I think at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. What is being done --just signing them isn't going to solve the problem. What is being done to make sure the companies that hire and supervise these people are doing the right job?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I think that alert, in addition to other challenges that we've had with that particular company, has heightened the attention of the Department of Transportation on how they perform their duties. Clearly, the larger national answer will occur once the Congress resolves these issues around airport security, when we know as a matter of course, as a matter of legislation, there will be heightened competency, heightened training, and just a much better staffing -- professional staffing -- at all of our airports.
Q Can you give us some more details on plans --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Governor Whitman is here.
Q Well, I actually have -- two questions. One, could you give us some more details on the proposed use of additional National Guardsmen, and also --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, the President will be making that -- giving you the specific -- more specific information later on today, and subsequent to his public discussion of that, I'll be communicating with the governors. But I just, as a former governor, I just would assure them and you that they'll be given some more flexibility with additional resources.
Q And for Governor Whitman, could she just give us her assessment of security within the chemical industry? She mentioned that along with water.
Q And then I've got a follow-up, please, on that.
ADMINISTRATOR WHITMAN: We've been working, obviously, very closely with them and they have taken this very seriously. From day one, I've had several meetings with the leaders of the chemical industry and the councils, and I think it's probably the first time in EPA history where we were all in the same room together, we agreed -- it's probably not going to happen again, but we did. Everybody is focused on the goal.
They're in heightened awareness. They're doing a good job. Obviously, there are a number of different facilities of different size that have chemicals. We are looking and working very closely with the Department of Transportation on the transport of chemicals, the storage of chemicals on site, and the security there. I don't know that you could get any higher awareness than we have today on the importance of directing resources to those efforts of securing chemicals on site.
So they are doing as good a job as they can do right now, and they're very aware of where their vulnerabilities might be.
Q Can I follow up on that, please? It's a serious question from somebody who has lived for 20 years in New Jersey. There has always been a problem with illegal dumping of chemicals, as you well know, that get into the water system and the beaches and the sand dunes. Is the EPA -- are you working with any criminal elements, frankly, to speak, as they have an expertise in dumping these lethal chemicals? (Laughter.) Are you asking for their help in how to counteract this? It's a serious question.
ADMINISTRATOR WHITMAN: I wouldn't know any of the criminal elements. (Laughter.) In New Jersey, we don't have those things. Don't forget, The Sopranos is all make believe. That's really not New Jersey. (Laughter.)
Q Seriously, there's a problem with illegal dumping.
ADMINISTRATOR WHITMAN: We're working very closely with the FBI, and the FBI is working very closely with the chemical companies, and through us. We are maintaining a continuous communication so that -- I don't know who they work with, and I don't want to know who they work with -- (laughter) -- but I can assure you that everything that can be done is being done at this point by the various agencies.
Q This week you met with the U.S. Conference of Mayors. I understand that they have a major concern about communication from the White House to the local level, and words were that the local government and the local emergency response will be the militia of sorts. Could you talk to me about that meeting and tell me what really came of that to soothe their concerns about emergency preparedness?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I think we had a terrific meeting with Mayor Morial of New Orleans, and several of his colleagues. I had met with a larger group the previous week, and again, they recognize, as I think all of America does now, that the first line of defense, the first line of offense, potentially, is your local police department, your fire department, and many of the volunteers you have engaged there.
One of the challenges that they feel that they could -- it would be easier for them to meet is if there was more communication about threat, more communication about any potential challenge to their communities. We talked about ways of addressing that.
When Justice reports, has something to share nationally, they send it out to 18,000 local police chiefs. The Mayors said, even though they're local police chiefs, they may be involved in the same building, they wouldn't mind getting a simultaneous notice. I mean, there are some very practical things I think we can do to expand the coverage of information to local officials.
They've looked for assistance in more training, more professional training for their police forces and their fire departments. We are going to work on that issue through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
I thought it was a very positive meeting. Their offer to work with the administration was as generous and gracious as any we've received. And I think we're developing a pretty good partnership there.
Q To follow up, the first response will be local, not federal, then? Is that what they're saying?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, I think we've seen, unfortunately, with the events of September 11th and the anthrax crisis, the first responders -- be it public health or public safety -- are the citizens of that community. And it's pretty clear that when the President said we need a national strategy, he meant federal, state and local.
And the Mayors very appropriately, and the county commissioners, they don't want to be excluded from the discussions, because they know they are on the first line.
Q Can you talk a little bit about -- should the public be concerned about, in the search for suspects, that a lot of civil liberties are being curtailed? We read that the government now would breach the attorney-client privilege, which is one of the hallmarks of the legal system in this country? Are you concerned about that?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: I think the Attorney General has been exceptionally careful, and FBI Director Mueller, very precise in the directions they have given to the law enforcement community with regard to constitutional protections, and I am very comfortable that during this time of challenge in our war on terror, they will be very careful of making sure that those constitutional guarantees are protected.
Q Governor, not to step on the President's message, but what do you say to some advocacy groups who say that just by putting National Guard troops at the airports, they are just a show of force. They're not doing anything to actually screen passengers. So until you actually do something to screen the passengers, the nation's airlines are no more safer than they were?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Well, I think the desire to enhance the security at the airports is legitimate, and we continue to find not just one answer, but there have to be multiple answers.
Clearly you want to increase the public security, you want to do a better job of baggage handling. And that's exactly what we're doing. We have increased the number of federal air marshals on our airplanes. I think the airlines have taken the dollars that Congress appropriated and they've strengthened the cockpit doors. So there are a variety of things on a variety of fronts that both the public and the private sector continue to move on, to continue -- to continue to improve and enhance security at our airports.
Thank you very much.
END 1:27 P.M. EST