President  |  Vice President  |  First Lady  |  Mrs. Cheney  |  News & Policies 
History & ToursKids  |  Your Government  |  Appointments  |  JobsContactGraphic version

Email Updates  |  Español  |  Accessibility  |  Search  |  Privacy Policy  |  Help

Printer-Friendly Version
Email this page to a friend

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 6, 2002

Department of Homeland Security Press Briefing
Press Briefing by By a Senior Administration Official on President's Announcement on Homeland Security
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

3:10 P.M. EDT

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, good afternoon. I'm pleased to have the opportunity to spend some time with you this afternoon, providing some texture and some information prior to the President's address to the country this evening.

Months and months before the President created the Office of Homeland Security he directed the Vice President of the United States to begin the task of taking a look at the current structure of the federal government and the means at the disposal of this administration to deal with the possibility of terrorist attacks. I think by direction, that was on May 8th.

As a part of that discussion he assembled a small staff and they began to take a look at the whole range of issues that we've all, both publicly and privately, discussed since September 11th. But there was this effort within the administration prior to September 11th to deal with the possibility of a terrorist attack, and deal with the many forms of possibility that terrorists can use to terrorize and undermine the country.

Remarks by the President in Address to the Nation
I think the Vice President basically briefed you, perhaps even here on September 20th, prior to the President's speech that night, and announced the creation of an Office of Homeland Security, and indicated that the President would identify the Governor of Pennsylvania as moving into that new position.

The directive, that I'm sure many of you have read, to the Office of Homeland Security was to design and then implement a comprehensive national strategy dealing with homeland security. The process of designing that strategy is involved in outreach not only to the federal agencies and the federal government, but to state and local government, to the private sector, to discussions I've had with Senators Hart and Rudman, and Governor Gilmore in reviewing what a lot of the experts who had talked about the need to be better prepared for a terrorist attack had written in previous months and years -- in consultation. In other words, you're right, I wasn't up there testifying, but I had a lot of good conversations with members of the House and the Senate, frankly, about individual pieces of the package that the President is going to talk about.

I mean, I could talk to Senators Graham and Senator Shelby and Congresswoman Harman and Porter Goss and Burton and others, and talk about information fusion and analysis. I could talk to Senator Stevens and Senator Byrd and others about the role of FEMA. And the list goes on and on. So during the course of our conversations with members of the House and the Senate, we got a feel for how they felt about reorganizing government, where they thought the priorities were, and how we could best affect together a change in the organization of government to meet the challenge of dealing with a permanent, enduring vulnerability, and that is of terrorism.

We've always operated that it's a permanent condition. And the President has said over and over again, his job, his primary mission is to protect and defend America, its citizens, and our way of life.

As you recall, on October 8th, we were -- I was sworn in, and within a day or two I believe we had a meeting -- the President convened a meeting with congressional leaders. It was at that time, as we were asking the congressional leaders to wait, to give us a change to build a staff, do the analytical work we thought was necessary in order to advance a national strategy to the President, that we indicated to the congressional leadership that reorganizing government was an option that the President wanted us to take a look at internally with the Office of Homeland Security.

The process of the culmination of those discussions, that consultation and outreach, both the public and private sector, lends itself to the President's remarks tonight where he calls for the creation of a Department of Homeland Security. I think some of you may have received some information, but I'd like to just distill it down into four basic components, if I might.

There is no -- presently within the federal government, there is no central venue where information from all the sources available to the federal government can be fused and analyzed. The CIA does their own analysis, the FBI does their analysis, but you've got the DEA, the NSA, Customs, INS. We have multiple agencies who are in the process of gathering information, much of which relates potentially to domestic terrorism. But we don't have a central venue where it's all fused for analytical purposes.

One of the four components of the new Department of Homeland Security will be an information analysis and critical infrastructure protection, where we have the analytical capability coupled with a vulnerability assessment, coupled with the responsibility within that department, depending on the threat, depending on the vulnerability then to give prescriptive direction to either the federal government, the federal agency, the local government, whatever, to adopt certain measures depending upon the vulnerability, depending on the threat.

It's a seamless effort to do an analysis in the same area where we -- in the same component that has done the vulnerability assessment, and depending on the analysis, to give specific direction as to what things need to be done. It's not operational, in the sense that nobody is controlling satellites, nobody's hiring spies, nobody's doing any of that. It's an analytical function. Some place where all -- as many pieces of the puzzle can be turned up. It's about managing the knowledge and the information we have in this country in a different way, in a 21st century way.

The second component has to do with providing strategic direction on behalf of the federal government to deal with weapons of mass destruction, radiological, nuclear, biological and chemical. And you'll see from the information that we're going to look to the Livermore Laboratory and have that become a center of excellence to help us deal with the development of technology. We will look to other public and private research institutions to direct research based on threats, based on vulnerabilities.

But we need within -- the President has concluded that there needs to be someplace within the executive branch of government to give a strategic vision to the research and development that has an impact on either detection, protection or response to a weapon of mass destruction. So, from time to time, these dollars will come other the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and they will direct them to the NIH, the CDC, to Lawrence Livermore, to Sandia, whatever. But strategic direction to much of the research that heretofore has been done, but more on an ad hoc basis, not with an eye toward addressing specific needs based on specific potential threats.

The third you've written and reported about with some interest is border consolidation. The INS, Customs, Coast Guard will be included in that consolidation. But there's another element that is included in there, as well, and that's the new Transportation Security Agency. We will unify the agencies responsible for our borders.

Again, very consistent with the President's belief that you enhance your ability to protect America if there's a clear chain of command, and if you match authority and responsibility with accountability. So you're going to have the INS, you're going to have the Coast Guard and you're going to have Customs. You're going to have the Transportation Security Administration; you're going to have the Border Patrol; you're going to have the animal and plant health inspection, a little piece of the Department of Agriculture that -- and we couple it with the Department of Transportation.

And then finally, as you know, FEMA operates as an independent agency, but it will now become the fourth critical component of the new Department of Homeland Security. It has core competencies that lend themselves to working with state and local governments to deal with disasters -- historically ,to deal with either manmade disasters or accidentally caused by arson or what have you, or natural disasters precipitated by Mother Nature. So they've got the core capacity, they have the relationships. Now they become the agency that has primary responsibility to deal with all hazard response: preparedness, response, and recovery.

Interesting, had a couple conversations earlier today. I had 50-some people on a conference call that included governors and homeland security advisors, and we had another conference call where we talked to some mayors and others around the country. And we've been dealing with them on a very -- on a regular basis for the past eight months. And to give you an example of how practically I think -- and I believe they'd be very supportive -- at least they certainly sounded that way when I talked to them. It depends, I guess, on the details. But right now, there are five or six agencies that have grant programs that the cities and the states can apply for, in order to get federal financial assistance to deal with preparedness and response and recovery.

We think -- the President believes that we ought to have a one-stop shop; that if it is a national plan, then we need to integrate the states and the federal governments, and we need to make it easier for them to access federal dollars. And our return response to them is, we want to issue those dollars. Those dollars should be delivered based on a statewide plan.

So those are the four basic components. A couple final thoughts, and then I'd be happy to respond to some questions I'm sure that you all have.

This is -- the Office of Homeland Security has always operated that the condition with which we are confronted is a permanent condition. It is an enduring vulnerability. And I guess the question the President asked of us on October 8th was, are we organized as a government to maximize our ability to detect, prevent and respond to a terrorist attack? That's part of the mission implicit in his executive order.

We'll never be able to eliminate surprise, ladies and gentlemen. This very complex world, when you've got thousands and thousands of terrorists, and cells all over the world, so I can't guarantee you that we can eliminate surprise. But I can say that is our belief, certainly the President's belief, that if we rethink the structure of government, and align authority with accountability, and create one agency whose primary mission is homeland security, while we may not be able to say that for all times we've been able to avoid a surprise attack, we can say that we've made a dramatic improvement in our ability to protect and defend the interests of this country, its citizens, and our way of life.

I think in times of crisis, we ask our leaders to do big things, to respond to the crisis. The President is providing that leadership tonight by asking the Congress of the United States to do a big thing. Look, I spent 12 years up there. You and I both know that when you start putting these agencies and departments together, a lot of men and women up there spend a lot of time waiting to become committee chairmen who have responsibilities over some of these things. I mean, this is going to cause -- this is a real challenge for Congress, and we say that in a very respectful way, because we're asking them to rethink the kind of partnership relationship they have with the homeland security function. And I'm convinced that if we couple congressional leadership with presidential leadership, we'll do a great thing for America, and be better prepared to defend ourselves against future terrorist activity.

Q Can I ask you a couple of different scenarios, and how do you explain how, with this new agency, things would be different? The first is, lets say a CIA agent picks up something overseas that there's going to be a chemical attack, a terrorist attack in Omaha, Nebraska. The second scenario would be, that actually happens in Omaha, Nebraska. How does this agency deal with those two prospects different from how the order of the world is now?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If -- the whole question of intelligence analysis and dissemination of information calling for action is one of the most complicated we have in this country. It's one of the toughest jobs that anybody has in the executive branch, in order to identify and sort out between rumors, speculation, misinformation and actual fact that gets you to where you want to go. And so without commenting on the specific hypothetical that you propose, under any set of circumstances, I think if you have a central clearinghouse turning up pieces of the puzzle -- because it's never that direct, at least in my eight months of experience -- we will be in a better position to deal with that information in a way, and give the kind of advice we want to give to the people of Nebraska or anyplace else.

Clearly, there may be -- and I'll conclude with this -- there may be times when the credibility is so strong, the information is so precise, and the direction is so clear, but by and large, just trying to disseminate through rumor, misstatement, misinformation and some fact -- it's in tiny little pieces, sometimes it's discrete, sometimes it's not -- in order to give some direction.

Q What about the second scenario, where it actually happens, so it's more of a response function? How would this agency deal with that differently than the existing agencies?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, this Department -- again, we still have to work with Congress to get it done. But if FEMA is the agency that's given the responsibility to help that state and that community prepare, you'd have a consolidation of all the federal dollars coming in through one agency, rather than five or six. You would have FEMA working with them on building up a capacity to respond. Depending on the nature of the capacity, if it was a biochemical attack, under this, we're going to bring some of those resources that -- the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile, that will be under the control, not under HHS, but under the control of this department or agency.

So, again, you will have under the control of one Secretary and one agency, the ability to help communities prepare to respond to the attack, as well as the resources available to help them if an attack occurs.

Q The last point that you made in your opening address, some 88 committees and subcommittees on the Hill now have jurisdiction for homeland security -- have you made a calculation as to how far that will be whittled down? And I have a second question.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure. We respect the fact that the committee organization has developed over the decades, in response particularly to challenges that Congress has had and tried to respond to. And we don't presuppose to give them direction as to how to deal with the challenge of reorganizing in order to respond to -- to determine what their response is to a new approach to protecting America. That's up to them --

Q -- come down to the low double digits?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I have no idea. Let them decide how they reorganize themselves, if they choose to do so. That's strictly their prerogative.

Q -- making a wild assumption here that you just might be the nominee for Secretary. The President has said repeatedly that he was very comfortable and wanted to keep you as a confidential counselor, very much in the same way as Dr. Rice is, and that he wasn't particularly comfortable with you up on the Hill before congressional hearings talking about homeland security. Why is he suddenly comfortable with that whole idea now?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I will have a lot to say to Congress in the time ahead. We'll just -- all I'll tell you is that the President has never done anything other than protect what he believed to be a very important constitutional principle. And that is, the President of the United States should have -- is entitled to have -- and he's not only protecting his prerogative, but future Presidents' prerogative -- people around him that are accountable to him -- accessible to Congress, but accountable to him; not subject to the call of one of the 88 subcommittees or subcommittees.

So I think the President's resistance to the notion of testifying is based on preserving not only himself, but for future Presidents the constitutional prerogative to have advisors.

Q Is that a suggestion then that he saw the need for the creation of a Department of Homeland Security superseded his needed to keep you as a confidential advisor?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you raise a very, very good point, because it is my belief as part of the examination of the current structure that this President and future Presidents will be well-served if they entertain the idea of having an Assistant to the President for Homeland Security remain in the White House, because you're still going to be interacting with the Department of Defense from time to time, with the intelligence community, with the Department of the Interior, with the Department of Justice. So it is not inconsistent to have a Cabinet-level department whose primary mission -- primary mission is to protect and defend America from terrorist attack and have a homeland security advisor.

Q Are you a candidate for that job?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm the Homeland Security Advisor right now. I've got one job and I can only do one at a time.

Q All these disparate parts of the government which will come under the jurisdiction of this government right now don't have compatible systems, administratively, IT, or otherwise. What kind of time frame are you looking like at -- I mean, they aren't even geographically located together -- what is that going to be like, and what will it do to the budget, which right now the White House is saying will remain neutral?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But they all have IT budgets. You raise a very good point. I mean, one of the -- it is our hope -- let me back up -- that as we send specific legislation to the Hill that this new Cabinet secretary and the men and women with whom he or she works in order to protect America will be given the freedom to manage -- i.e., we'd like to see some flexibility built in here, number one, so that they can move people and resources around in times of crisis or emergency. I think that's critical.

Number two, one of the advantages of having one department is that the question of whether or not INS, Customs, Coast Guard and TSA have one or more different platforms, computers, software, is resolved by the secretary. And I think you can avoid conflict and bring a lot more efficiency to the deployment of technology this way. You don't have to coordinate it, you can man it and it's done.

Q I have two questions. Number one, the fusion of intelligence -- was that always part of the original proposal or was it really influenced by the disclosures over the past several weeks, over the FBI and CIA communicating properly?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One of the opportunities the President gave to me with such a wide portfolio of -- gave me a chance to take a look at all of government through the lens of security was to interact with former members of the intelligence community, with members of Congress. I mean, I've had various interesting conversations with Senator Shelby and Senator Graham and Porter Goss and others. I've talked to former members of the CIA, I've talked to General Brent Scowroft. We've talked to a lot of people out there about intelligence fusion and analysis. And at a fairly early date, it was pretty apparent that while we had the ability to capture a lot of information, to be able to manage that information and use it more effectively would be -- should be a 21st century way of dealing with a new threat.

Q Before the disclosures came to light over the past -- it was well before that, you're saying?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can reference -- yes, absolutely. I mean, this has been an ongoing process. And if you talk to the Vice President, that concern about intelligence fusion and how you deal with all that information is one of -- a longstanding concern of his, as well.

Q -- timing is not because of all the leaks in the last couple of weeks about what happened -- then what is the -- why is this happening now? And also, it's my understanding -- the FBI and the CIA will still be independent agencies.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We'll be a customer of those agencies.

Q Right. So how will you guarantee that they actually give you the information that you need?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's a very good question. One, we're doing it -- we're making the announcement now because we're done with our work. It's been an ongoing process. It's pretty simple and straightforward, and that's it. But we -- again, the legislative language we send to the Hill will be proscriptive, in that those agencies are to share that information by legislative directive with the new Department of Homeland Security, as it relates to domestic terrorism.

Q On that point, on the intelligence focus, how is this different from the CIA counterterrorism center, which includes FBI personnel? How will this system work differently than the system that is now in place, which has been continuously improved since September 11th --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It has been continuously improved. And the FBI Director has -- his reorganization is going to improve their ability to aggregate and then analyze information. And I can't say to you there might not be some overlap and some redundancy, but you can never have too many eyes and too many ears and too many minds. But at the end of the day, they will do their work, and their analysis, and make that available to the Department of Homeland Security. The FBI will do their work and analysis, and they'll make it available, and Customs and DEA and everybody else.

And then we'll have the Office of Homeland Security, with the benefit of their analysis, looking for trends, looking for MOs, and then coupling the analysis with the threat assessment -- coupling the threat assessment with the vulnerability assessment; then determine based on that information whether we give specific direction to agencies or state and local government.

Q In other words, Homeland Security people would be looking at the same body of information that the counterterrorism center is, but making their own analysis?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I suspect that there will be -- the body of information will be broader, significantly greater than it is now. And another couple sets of eyes, and a couple sets of -- a couple more minds looking at fusion. But we want to be as efficient as we can. But if you're going to ever have redundancy, having a few more people take a look at what's out there, perhaps drawing different conclusions, and pressing the envelope a little bit further I think is -- force protection.

Q Forgive me, but I don't see any numbers in here of how many people this actually involves -- all these different agencies, combined into one.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's totally -- it's a reorganization of existing structure. There will end up being about 170,000 people in this agency. The budget will be, right now, $37 billion and then --

Q Haven't you been opposed in the past to creating such a department, such an agency?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Personally, or as the Office of Homeland Security?

Q Well, both.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I just -- if you take a look at some of the things we -- reorganizing government to meet the needs and opportunities of the 21st century is something that I think President Bush has embraced, I've certainly embraced, and it's certainly part of the mission that -- I was given the responsibility to look at that. And if you'll -- I'll go back to the first meeting we had with congressional leaders and specifically indicated to them that part of my mission was to look at the reorganization of the government.

Q You're not opposed to a Cabinet agency --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I have been -- if I've told my colleagues, former colleagues on the Hill once, I've probably told them a hundred times, one, the President has tasked me to take a look at -- I've had conversations with Senator Lieberman and Diane Feinstein about different ways of reorganizing government to meet this. But I've said to them, we may come back with a recommendation about reorganization. That doesn't necessarily mean that you should conclude that I believe that the President shouldn't have an advisor on homeland security. It's my judgment both ought to be a permanent part of the infrastructure of the executive branch. But we have always been supportive of the notion that there was always a possibility to reorganize.

And as you know, I tried to reorganize -- there was a lot of discussion up on the Hill when we tried to reorganize the borders. That was an initiative -- the response was delayed, but now it's a part of the President's plan. So that's good.

Q -- a piece of this is certainly reorganization. But there's a lot of policy nuance that the President was expected to present to the nation. For instance requirements for chemical plants, or what you would expect in civil defense initiatives, that kind of thing. Where's the rest of the President's national strategy right now?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's a very appropriate question. We have indicated publicly that we'd like to get -- for his review, July 1. Because this is the centerpiece of that national strategy. But, again, with the Office of Homeland Security -- what our group has been doing for the past couple months is working with critical infrastructure within the private sector to come up with standards and best practices. And that work product and a way forward would be part of the overall national strategy.

Let me give you an example. You are going to see in the reorganization of this that we have the threat analysis and the critical infrastructure piece together, because they fit. You have to have somebody looking at the threat -- if it's real, if you need -- whether it's in Nebraska or anyplace else, you've got to go to it. You've got the threat analysis, you've got the vulnerability analysis, you've got to communicate protective conditions.

President Clinton, in, I think, May of '98, directed nine or ten, or I think 12 agencies to come up with a critical infrastructure plan, and then put them into a cohesive unit by January of 2003. Well, ladies and gentlemen, they're not close. The bottom line is that there has been a lot of talk about doing that. This will help consolidate it, this will help accelerate it. So you've got threat analysis, vulnerability, and if we think there's something that needs to be done, we can give specific direction to the entities to do it.

Q When would you expect the President to talk to the American people about the rest of his plan?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Listen, the President sets his own schedule and his own time frame. I give him advice, but not on scheduling.

Q The Secret Service right now is charged with protecting the life of the President and the Vice President, and the function belongs to the Treasury Department. What will happen to Secret Service under --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Secret Service reports directly to -- thank you -- two other components. Secret Service reports directly to the new Secretary for Homeland Security, for a variety of reasons. You highlighted the most important; they've got to protect the President and the Vice President of the United States. They also have responsibility over national special security events. And while we can't have everything declared a "nation special security event", because so much of our way of life and our recreation around large audiences and public events, they'll be in a position -- and, frankly, we're working on a plan right now where you can bring in the NCAA or NASCAR or these organizations and say, here's how we think you ought to address security issues. They also have a cyber-security team; it fits in with our critical infrastructure protection plan. So they have a direct report.

And the other direct report to the Secretary is intergovernmental. This is a national strategy, we have to continue to build on the relationships we have with the governors and the mayors.

Q Sir, no doubt that you're doing your best to protect Americans from further terrorist attacks of any kind. But some Americans here who look like foreigners are worried about what is their future, how can you protect them? Because now many of them are suing a number of the airlines, because of discrimination and all that. So how -- what will be the -- how will you protect them as Americans?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think at the very heart of a homeland security strategy is not compromising our way of life and making sure that the freedoms that we all enjoy are preserved. And from the President on down, these issues, and the sensitivity to these issues, are very much on our minds. And I understand that the lawsuit has been initiated on behalf of four or five people. I happen to believe the face of terrorism is changing all the time, and will change in the future. And so it's a lesson to be learned that we have to be real careful before we point an accusatory finger.

Q -- Americans are still living under fear. What message do you have for them, because one day we hear that there's a threat of terrorist attack, and another day everything is fine. So what message do you have for Americans living still under threat?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't believe the administration has ever indicated to Americans that one day we're under threat and then the next day that everything's fine. We've had, using the new National Threat Advisory System, an elevated level of risk since its initiation. By the way, the comment period has expired. The Attorney General has got about 700 comments about that.

I will just tell you that the second piece of that advisory system is one that most people have ignored, and that is -- and this is an agency that will be able to promote it even quicker -- depending on the level of threat, these are the protective measures that we recommend to you to take. And again, we are trying to develop a national system and get the input not just of federal government and federal agencies, but of state, local, public leaders, and the private sector, as well.

Q Will the Secretary of Homeland Security be able to call up the Director of the FBI and ask him to investigate a certain particular thing, if he deems it necessary?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Based on the -- again, we don't

have any operational responsibility, but if the Secretary of Homeland Security, based on their threat analysis, deems something should be investigated further, that's exactly what we would want them to do.

Q But what if the Director of the FBI doesn't want to do it?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the way this structure is being arranged and the kind of relationship that I've seen between the intelligence community and the Cabinet, I don't anticipate that to be a problem. But there's always a final arbiter, and it goes even higher than the Director of Homeland Security.

Q Was the Director of the FBI consulted in -- as this document was put together? He was asked about that today.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The -- and I also believe his answer was that he would let the President make his announcement tonight, and come back to the Hill and give an answer, and I think I'll let him give the answer when he goes back to the Hill tomorrow.

Q Following up on an earlier question, sir, what's going to happen to the Secret Service component involving currency and counterfeiting?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As you'll note, when you see the restructuring, many of these Departments and agencies have multiple tasks. They will continue to do those tasks. But if you scrub them down, you'll see that either their primary mission or a significant part of the mission warrants their inclusion under this Department. They'll continue to do that.

By the way, I just wanted to be so flip about that. Over time, the Secretary -- the Director of the FBI and I have had many, many discussions about the need to get information together, and to analyze it, and the need for new technological architecture to facilitate the processing of more information.

Q But why can't you say if he was consulted or not, sir?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Because he said that he would answer the Senator's question tomorrow, and I want to leave it to the Director of the FBI to answer the Senator's question, not me.

Thank you.

END 3:45 P.M. EDT

Printer-Friendly Version
Email this page to a friend


More Issues


RSS Feeds

News by Date


Federal Facts

West Wing