For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 8, 2004
Press Briefing by Senior Administration Officials on Secure International Travel
3:07 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon. As President Bush stressed to us yesterday in one of the briefings, he is very much focused on the fact that we remain engaged in the war on terror. And one of the things that we have to be particularly alert to is that terrorist threats can still be made against our transportation system, which would be a threat to our citizens and to world commerce.
The G8 countries plan to move forward with an action plan to secure international travel, particularly air travel. We look forward to moving forward with 28 specific actions which will be backed by time lines and will be backed by specific plans for carrying these out.
I can give you a flavor of some of the things that we have in mind. First of all, access to each other's information on suspicious travelers, including through real-time exchange of data on lost and stolen passports, data exchange on visa watch lists and advanced passenger information, and exchange on a reciprocal basis of information on terror watch lists. We also intend to cooperate on identifying techniques for high-risk analysis of travelers and on best practices for countermeasures.
One thing that we've already put in place is a 24-hour aviation point of contact to address the sort of imminent crises that we experienced during the holidays, when there were specific terrorist threats against specific airline -- air carriers.
We also are going to move forward on action on MANPADS. And these are the shoulder-fired missiles that risk taking down a civilian airliner. We've agreed to accelerate our work on destroying excess and obsolete MANPADS. We're going to further strengthen controls on the transfer of MANPADS. And we have completed work on a methodology for assessing the vulnerability of specific airports to MANPADS.
Finally, as an example, we have agreed on the development of a port security auditing methodology that will help ports all around the world assess how prepared they are to deal with the threat that their ports would be used to further a terrorist objective.
With that overview of what our goals are in the area of secure and facilitated international travel, we'll be happy to take some questions.
Q I'm wondering, a lot of these things, or at least some of them, specifically the information exchange, you've already had in place for the EU, which -- so I'm just wondering, how many of these 28 specific items are entirely new in their formation, and is there -- does anyone have any idea how much all this is going to cost?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All of them are new in at least some very important respects. And the information exchange that we are talking about developing here will go beyond the arrangements that we've made bilaterally with the European Union on things like advanced passenger information systems and PNR, passenger name record. So every single thing in here will push this agenda forward, including with the European Union.
The price tag question I'm not in a position to give a firm answer to. These are things that, certainly, the United States recognized as we must do, and I think our G8 partners do, as well. I must say that when we negotiated this approach, it was a very collegial negotiation because there is a recognition throughout the G8 that this is a threat to all of us, and to others around the world. And clearly there is a price tag, but I don't have a number for you today.
Q Can I just follow up with one thing? I mean, clearly, the threat here is exacerbated by whatever is the weakest link in the whole world transportation system. And I'm just wondering, I mean, isn't it relatively -- I mean, obviously, experience shows that anyone is a target, and any amount of security can be thwarted. But aren't there weaker links outside of the G8 that should be -- that should be addressed here, in terms of countries?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One of the things that you'll see when leaders move forward with this initiative is that there is a very heavy emphasis on capacity building and collaboration. We intend to push back our borders by making sure that we are cooperating with all of the countries that send air passengers, and, for that matter, sea freight to the United States. And all of the other G8 countries are adopting this same philosophy of pushing back our borders. That means that there is a premium on cooperating with countries that may have the will, but don't have the capacity to work on this.
Last year, we established something called SeaTAG, the counterterrorism action group that's focused on giving technical support. You will see when you get the details on these documents that there are a number of areas where we are going to share our expertise and know-how with countries so that we don't have a weakest link.
Q I believe that the EU parliament has gone to the court concerning the passenger data exchange. Isn't that preventing U.S. from working this smoothly? And also --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're very comfortable with where things stand on the passenger name record issue with the European Union. We have had the strong support of the College of Commissioners in the European Union. We believe that what has been worked out is fully in keeping with the privacy laws of Europe and with all of the international standards on privacy. One of the things that we are committed to is moving forward with this air security agenda in a way that respects privacy. We think we're doing it, and we think that our arrangement with the European Union will stand.
Q I understand ports already have a fairly extensive security plan in place and they're fairly far down the track on that. How is the new guidelines that you developed -- will that change that or further that? How will that fit in?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As you know, we started this whole effort to strengthen the security of our transportation systems two years ago at the Kananaskis Summit in Canada. And as you rightly point out, one of the big focal points there was the container security initiative, which we have successfully brought to many, many partner countries all around the world.
One of the things that we have determined as we move forward with container security and making sure that as these millions of containers that travel around the world do so, that they don't carry terrorists or terrorist supplies in them, is that we've noticed that it's particularly important to have ports, themselves, have strong security mechanisms in place.
So we want to develop an auditing methodology and a checklist among the G8 that we could later move forward with in the International Maritime Organization. As we've stressed, these systems sometimes are only as strong as the weakest link. So while we need to have strong and secure ports within the G8 countries, we want to make sure, as well, that all of the members of the International Maritime Organization have access to this sort of know-how, the know-how about how to conduct a good audit of their ports, how to identify weaknesses. And then if they do identify weaknesses, they can come to us and others to get help to remedy those problems.
Q I have a question about air marshals. Is that something that's going to be included in this initiative? Are all G8 members now agreed on air marshals? Do they all have air marshals on board or prepared to use them? And what sort of measures are you going to sort of take to move that forward?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There is agreement that when you have specific threats against specific flights, it's important to have a shared approach about how you deal with those. Part of that is this establishment of a 24-hour-a-day contact group, so that you can have instantaneous exchange of information about these sorts of problems.
A second area where we are going to be cooperating is developing shared approaches to the most effective countermeasures that you can take. Some of these countermeasures may be countermeasures that you take on the ground, in ways that you step up even further airport security in a heightened threat environment. Some of the enhanced measures that you may consider taking under these sort of circumstances would involve either air marshals or some type of security personnel on board air craft. So this whole issue of how you take stepped-up action in a heightened threat environment, when there might be a specific threat against specific airlines, is very definitely a part of this work program.
Q I have a question about the ease of travel. We remember the good old days, when you used to be able to roll up for and take a plane, and you didn't have to take your shoes off and take your belt off. Is there a danger that air travel is just becoming too unpleasant? I mean, in some ways, you could argue that the terrorists have already won, by making it so difficult to get on a plane. You have to be there so many hours in advance. You don't have these problems in Europe when you take a plane, for instance, from Paris to say Barcelona. It's not half as difficult as it is here.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All of the G8 countries have taken the view that we can have air travel be more secure and more efficient at the same time. One of the things that -- one of the reasons we want to focus on screening methodologies is that it can help us make sure that we are focusing our enforcement and screening activities on those passengers that we know least about. A number of the G8 countries had successful experiments in facilitated air travel, and this initiative is about secure and facilitated air travel.
For example, between Mexico and the United States, and Canada and United States, there are a number of frequent traveler programs that let known travelers who cross the border on a frequent basis be so identified, and they can, sometimes, just pass through electronically. I believe France and Switzerland have a similar program.
So part of the work program, one of the initiatives that we will be working on will be improving our mutual understanding about how to carry forward these methods, the risk analysis, so that we can have secure travel, but, particularly, for frequent travelers, travelers who are known, we can expedite their movements without compromising security. And we do want to make sure that any type of screening methodology that we might develop in this regard would be fair and would be objective.
Q In your opening statement, you talked about 28 specific actions with specific timetables. Can you give us -- what are those timetables? What's the timetable for the implementation of the 28?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, each one has a different one, but most of these actions have time lines and benchmarks for the end of this year, this calendar year, and for the end of 2005. We believe, based on cooperative work that produced this list, that these are all things that we can and must move on very urgently.
And so there is a very active follow-up program that's been developed. The United States intends to take stock at the end of our presidency at the G8 on how much of this work has been done and whether the benchmarks that were set for the end of this year have been met. We will be handing off our presidency to the United Kingdom, a country that is every bit as serious about secure and facilitated air travel, as are we.
And so we're confident that the pressure will be on over the course of 2005 to move forward with the rest of this work program and to make sure that the benchmarks and milestone set for the end of 2005 are achieved, as well.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon. I'm going to talk to you this afternoon for a little bit about the secure and facilitated International Travel Initiative. We are expecting agreement by the parties by the conclusion of the summit. The purpose of this initiative is really to increase the security of land, sea, and air transportation, but also work to increase the efficiency of the flow of people, cargo, and conveyances across borders.
In a post-September 11th environment, we work very hard where security has been the priority with regard to the -- without much regard, I should say, to the impact. The idea now is in a more balanced way to ensure the utmost, in terms of security, but to take those measures in a targeted and focused way in order to improve the efficiency in our transportation systems across borders, and particularly in the beginning with our allies.
There are limited law enforcement resources, as you all know. The idea is to use them in a targeted and focused way against the bad guys, while easing the flow of travel among -- in terms of commerce and legitimate travel. We will ensure that information is shared with our allies, and at the same time, ensure -- work to ensure that it is protected from misuse and fully respects international privacy obligations. The agreement among the G8 members will acknowledge that.
The idea in terms of working to achieve the safety objectives is to make sure -- really, three major goals. One is to regularize, modernize, and harmonize the global travel systems by reducing -- and thereby, reducing the vulnerabilities that terrorists seek to exploit, and, as I said, while ensuring the efficiency of the flow of commerce and travel. By doing that, we believe that we will increase traveler confidence by putting predictability and confidence into the system, at the same time, minimizing the inconsistencies, which are the, sort of, objections and complaints we hear, all of us hear, every day by the international traveling public.
By doing those things, we're going to speed the border processing. And that should be across the board. There will be -- as with any initiative, you will see some inconsistency of application in the beginning. We believe you'll very quickly, however, see the efficiency that's gained in terms of the legitimate traveler, and the focus of secondary screening and law enforcement efforts being directed where they're most needed against those who raise questions or concerns among the international law enforcement and intelligence communities.
There are 28 action items in the Safety Initiative. They fall into four broad categories. Let me just run through those. First is document interoperability through international standards. That looks at issues like the issuance and standards for the issuance of secure passports -- biometrics, for example. The second, international information exchange. That is, agree on what data related to each passenger you need to collect, and then try to get access to it as early in the screening system as is possible. Third, to reduce the MANPADS threat. There's already been some work done in this area, including the assessment -- an assessments guide on the vulnerability of G8 airports. That guide will be used by all of its members, then, to assess the smaller secondary airports, as well.
And then, the fourth broad category focuses on cooperation and capacity building. In the wake of the holiday aviation threat this last New Year's time period, what we discovered working, most particularly with the U.K., France, and with Mexico, was our need for 24-by-7 access to civil aviation points of contact so that we could exchange not only threat data, but also cooperatively decide what was the best way to manage that threat -- the best way, one most secure, ensuring the safety of civil aviation, but also, in a way that was -- met the needs of, sort of, bilaterally and multilaterally, our partners. Those 24-hour points of contact are part of the action plan,; that's already in place.
We will also work to have an agreed upon airport inspection and enforcement regime; that is, what are the best practices that we have found since our renewed and increased focus on the safety of civil aviation.
We really must look at standards for information gathering and what those data points ought to be. As I mentioned, we need to acquire them as early as possible. One of the things we found during the holiday threat period was that we -- you don't get the kind of data you need until very late in the process; that is within that last 60 minutes when someone's boarding. When that information is incomplete and you try to go through that data, what you find is you have multiple hits against very common names because there's insufficient identifiers. This pointed out a bunch of things, not only the need to get the information earlier in the process, but the need for very specific points of data on individual passengers.
We have seen over -- based on our experience post-September 11th, the urgent need to develop standards for tamper-resistant travel documents. And that comes back to the notion of biometrics, for passports, for visa. We need to get better at processes for the intel-based screening of passengers and the sharing of information related to terrorism watch lists.
This sort of thing brings me to -- I mentioned in passing the notion of visas. The Department of Homeland Security, under the leadership of Secretary Tom Ridge, is spending an enormous amount of energy and time trying to refine our visa processes, not just the documents themselves, but the procedures and processes that people go through with consulates, American consulates around the world.
As you've heard me say, here in the Safety Initiative -- but it applies more broadly -- we want to encourage people to take advantage of American educational institutions, medical intuitions, and commerce, business here. To do that, people have to feel comfortable with our travel procedures, and that we have to make them more user-friendly. We believe we can do that by the Safety Initiative and the review of the visa process that's going on at the Department of Homeland Security while ensuring safety standards and security.
That's sort of a brief overview of the initiative, and I'm happy to take questions.
Q How much time will be given to the discussion of these 28 points?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know off the top of my head the exact amount of time. I will tell you that a lot of work went into for both the Roman group and the Leon group, so there's been a tremendous amount of work already done. There's basic agreement among the sherpas. So I don't know that there needs to be a lot of time among the principals. I think the details have basically been worked out in advance.
Q With regard to air travel screening methodologies, and we kind of touched on this a little bit earlier with the previous speaker, but I wanted to go into greater detail -- is there a protocol in place right now specifically barring the use of political affiliation and/or race and ethnicity as identifying characteristics in their screening?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The answer to the question seems so obvious that I want to say yes. I can't say that I personally have gone and looked, but I feel relatively confident that that is the case. Those are not factors for screening.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And if I could add, we have made it very clear in this document that we are not going -- we're only going to base these screening methodologies on appropriate and objective criteria. And so that is the plan, going forward, as you suggested.
Q I'm curious, in the first category where you talk about document interoperability, and then when you were discussing that the U.S. visa process -- are you pushing the rest of the G8 to adopt U.S. visa issuance standards, including, say, the U.S. visa program? Are you telling the G8 that you would like to see them start photographing and fingerprinting people on arrival?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me parse the question.
Q I know they're two different things here. But as far as I was -- well, the impression I was under was that document interoperability, which I think might, or possibly could cover what you were talking about, had to do only with biometric passports and other travel documents, not necessarily the process by which one is granted a visa or a G8 country grants a visa to someone, or how they are treated when they arrived at a given airport by the immigration people.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right. The safety initiative focuses on the biometrics, the interoperability issue of passports. And that is what -- what should be the standards for, say, something like a smart chip in the future, and trying to agree upon the basic standards for that. The fingerprint issue is a hugely controversial issue. We have our own U.S. requirements for U.S. documents; we are working through that. And what this provides us is really a forum to discuss those issues with our G8 partners.
Did you want to add anything?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. Just on the visa point, one of the things that other G8 countries have very much stressed is that the receiving state, at the end of the day, has to control their visa process. So there is an interest in expediting visa processes, and we are talking about that as one of the principles. But the bottom line remains that the receiving state has to set these policies. And the United States was not the country that argued most strenuously for that principle.
Q -- included in these 28 -- visa issuance procedures and the handling of people when they arrive at an airport, i.e., fingerprinting and photographing, is not a part of the 28 points?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Visas are not specifically, but I consider a visa a travel document. So I think all -- I think travel documents are on the table.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Any additional questions?
Q I asked this before, but I'm just going back to what you said about the need to ease the flow of travel. And you talked about the complaints you hear every day from the traveling public. Is there a sense that -- do you recognize that maybe the security measures that are being taken since September 11th have been a bit heavy-handed, or that just too broad? Have they taken the fun out of travel?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I'd start by saying this is clearly a pop quiz for me because I didn't hear your answer. So let's see if I pass, okay? (Laughter.) I would say to you that I would not describe the security measures as heavy-handed. What I would say to you is this is an initiative and an effort to try and direct them and focus them in a more tactical way so that they're applied and not interruptive -- they're applied appropriately to those who are deserving, and not to those who are really not the subject of our interest in terms of law enforcement intelligence.
Thank you very much.
END 3:35 P.M. EDT