House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
October 8, 2001
12:40 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President this morning spoke to New Zealand
Prime Minister Clark, Korean President Kim and Chinese President Jiang. The
President discussed the military operations in Afghanistan, as well as other
fronts in the war against terrorism.
The leaders reiterated their support and discussed with the President ways to
cooperate. And they all said they were looking forward to seeing each other
at the upcoming APEC meeting in Shanghai.
The President also convened a meeting of his National Security Council earlier
this morning. He attended the swearing-in of the new Director of the Office
of Homeland Security, Governor Tom Ridge. And later this afternoon he will participate
in the signing ceremony of a proclamation in honor of Christopher Columbus.
Before I take your questions, one note on upcoming briefings. At 1:00 p.m.,
Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and General Myers will brief at the Pentagon.
At 1:30 p.m., Attorney General Ashcroft will brief. And then there is a background
briefing I referred to earlier, at 1:45 p.m., later today.
QUESTION: Ari, the United Nations has been informed that this is going to be
a broader campaign than just Afghanistan. Where else is the United States prepared
MR. FLEISCHER: What you're referring to is a letter that was sent to the President
of the United Nations in accordance with a -- United Nations Security Council,
in accordance with Article 51, the charter that always give the nations a right
to self-defense. That's a communication required at the time of a nation like
the United States acted in its self-defense.
The letter states what the President has been saying very publicly all along,
that the United States reserves the right to defend itself wherever it is necessary.
That's what that letter is a reference to.
QUESTION: That's a pro forma communication and does not indicate plans to broaden
the attack beyond Afghanistan?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a required communication in accordance with invoking United
Nations rights that all members have. That's what that is.
QUESTION: And so we are putting the United Nations and Secretary General on
notice that this campaign could, down the line, as the President has said, include
other states which harbor terrorists?
MR. FLEISCHER: The letter from Ambassador Negroponte made the same points that
the President has made in multiple speeches about the United States reserves
the right to take any action as it sees fit in our self-defense.
And the first paragraph of the letter cites explicitly Article 51, which is
the self-defense part of the charter that all nations have as part of the United
Nations. That's what that letter is.
QUESTION: Does it also reserve the right to present evidence before it attacks
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to read the letter in its entirety, Helen, to see if
there is any reference to that.
QUESTION: Ari, what sort of end game does the President have in mind for the
government of Afghanistan? The United States has been reluctant to engage in
nation-building. But what do you do after the Taliban is gone? And, secondly,
can the Taliban bring the attacks to a halt if they still hand over bin Laden
and meet those demands?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that judging from the statements made by the Taliban,
it's very hard to tell what they want, what they're going to do, or what they
say, because they contradict themselves so often. But suffice it to say, the
United States will work with those who want to create a peaceful Afghanistan,
an economically developing Afghanistan, and an Afghanistan that is free from
QUESTION: But do you have a plan to reconstitute the government of Afghanistan
after this is over?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not the job of the United States to engage in nation-building
of that manner.
QUESTION: So do you just walk away, or what?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, that's not what I said. I just indicated to you, and this
has been something that has been handed out to you previously, in the declaratory
policy, which you have a copy of. Let me read from it:
"We do not want to choose who rules Afghanistan, though we will assist
those who seek a peaceful, economically developing Afghanistan, free of terrorism."
QUESTION: Ari, if I could just come back to the Negroponte letter for a second,
what other nations has the White House identified as sponsors of state terrorism
that would be included under the Negroponte letter?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Negroponte letter speaks for itself when it talks about the
right of the United States to take other actions in accordance with our self
defense. And if you're asking me to provide a list of any nations that it may
or may or not apply to, I decline to do so.
QUESTION: On that point, this letter is in reference to the Security Council
resolution passed the day after the attack. So I want to make sure I understand
this correctly. The United States is notifying the Security Council it may seek
other targets if they are thought to have been involved in the September 11th
attacks, not a part of this larger campaign against global terrorism, is that
MR. FLEISCHER: The letter is a reference to our collective self defense, following
armed attacks that were carried out against the United States on September 11th.
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
MR. FLEISCHER: Please. Could I stop you if I tried? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It would be an interesting contest to see -- (laughter.) There apparently
is some concern being expressed in some quarters of the administration that
Al Jazeera is rebroadcasting on a rather regular basis the Osama bin Laden tape.
The President, as you mentioned earlier this morning, saw it. A, does he have
any concern about this being rebroadcast to a particular audience in that part
of the world? And, coupled with that, is there any concern that there has not
been any strong or even modest support given from other Arab nations about what
the joint coalition has undertaken?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has been gratified by the support he is receiving
around the world, including nations in the Middle East. And that continues to
be the case. That is the message that the President and the Vice President and
the Secretary of State have been hearing in the phone calls that they have been
QUESTION: They've been hearing that privately?
MR. FLEISCHER: They have been receiving that message, yes.
QUESTION: That has not been expressed publicly?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is no concern about that.
QUESTION: How about the repeating of the Osama bin Laden --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: How about the continuous playing of the Osama bin Laden tape? It is
a rather inflammatory tape. It makes some very direct references to people in
the Muslim world. Is there any concern that the President has about that message
getting out repeatedly?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. There is nothing I have heard the President express about
that. You know, the President saw the tape yesterday and his reaction to it
is mostly that this is really not about Osama bin Laden; this is much broader
than that. If Osama bin Laden was gone tomorrow, the war would continue beyond
So that one person, that one tape, is not what this is about. This is an entire
network of terrorists that has global reach and those who continue to harbor
those terrorists who have carried out an attack on our country. And any statements
made by one person, Osama bin Laden or otherwise, are not what the President
is focused on. He's focusing on a multiple front effort that involves a series
of actions to win this war on terrorism.
QUESTION: You're not concerned at all about the protests, the kind of things
that are erupting on the streets, when maybe you are hearing from the leaders
privately, but you aren't concerned about the control they may be maintaining
in their own country?
MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell, there were protests prior to the action the United
States took. There have been protests before and I anticipate there will be
protests in the future. That's the reality. The United States will continue
to work with our ally nations in a way that promotes stability and security
and cognizant of the different needs that different coalition partners or different
QUESTION: How are you working with them, specifically, in the countries where
MR. FLEISCHER: On diplomatic fronts, on political fronts, on a host of fronts.
QUESTION: This morning you said that the President believes bin Laden "virtually"
took responsibility for the attacks in his speech which was aired yesterday.
Why, if he believes that, are you all of a sudden down playing Osama bin Laden's
role in this and saying it's about much more?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm repeating what the President has said from the very beginning,
that this is not just about one man. And I don't think that surprises anybody.
This is about an entire network that has people in place in some 60 countries
that presents a threat to the United States, that presents a threat to other
nations around the world.
You've heard it said from the Vice President, from many people. And I said it
just moments ago and I'll say it again: if Osama bin Laden is gone today, this
effort will continue tomorrow. It's much bigger than any one person.
QUESTION: And can you elaborate on why the President thinks Osama bin Laden
virtually took responsibility for it in his speech yesterday?
MR. FLEISCHER: I did not bring my translated copy of his statement here to the
podium with me, but it's clear in the statements that Osama bin Laden made.
QUESTION: Ari, the President has said a number of times I believe that this
campaign is about justice, not revenge. What is the difference?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the American people know what that difference is, and
it's one of the reasons the United States has been such a beacon of liberty
around the world throughout our history. Our nation was attacked, innocent civilians
were killed. It is the right, under international law, under the United Nations
charter and under everything that makes us a good country, to take actions to
defend our people, and to do so because we were attacked and because others
are at risk.
And as the President has said repeatedly, through his tears, he sees an opportunity
to do something for the next generation so they will not have to endure what
our generation has gone through -- not only in what took place in New York on
September 11th, but in a previous bombing in the World Trade Center, around
the world in other terrorist acts.
And that's justice, to put an end to that so others can live in a more peaceful
world. And that's the goals of the President.
QUESTION: With the explosions and anti-aircraft artillery going off again right
now in Kabul, can you confirm a second wave of attacks in underway now?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated at the top of my briefing, Secretary Rumsfeld
is going to brief at 1:00 p.m. And such announcements, or anything to say about
things military will be made by the Secretary.
QUESTION: But you were the one who yesterday announced that the President had
a statement. Can you not just confirm that a second --
MR. FLEISCHER: Ann, it's a discipline that I'm going to begin to exercise and
I think many of you have heard me say this privately. All operational details
describing events will come from the Pentagon, not the White House.
QUESTION: Ari, last week, Secretary Thompson from that podium said that the
case of anthrax in Palm Beach County, Florida, was an isolated case. It turns
out that that is not the situation. What more can you tell us about further
cases and the investigatory avenues?
MR. FLEISCHER: What the Secretary said on Thursday last week was it did not
appear be -- he said it appeared to be an isolated case, based on all the information
that was available when he made his statement on Thursday last week.
The Center for Disease Control and the FBI are investigating the situation in
Florida, and are working very closely with local Florida officials in the health
department about the status of any potential anthrax episodes in the building
where the first person worked, who the Secretary referenced last week.
So the FBI is investigating now.
QUESTION: It is a cause of great concern that anthrax, either bacteria or spores
have shown up inside a building?
MR. FLEISCHER: It is a source of concern and that's why the FBI is investigating,
along with the CDC.
QUESTION: Is it now a criminal investigation as opposed to a health matter?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'd have to address that to the FBI to see if they've given
it that definition; I can't tell you that. I don't know the answer to that.
QUESTION: Going back to your repeated comment that the war is more about Osama
bin Laden, is he still, is the President
MR. FLEISCHER: Not about
QUESTION: Not about Osama bin Laden, I'm sorry. Is he still, as the President
put it, only recently on a wanted dead or alive list?
MR. FLEISCHER: There has been no change in how the President thinks about that
QUESTION: So he still feels that he is wanted dead or alive?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that on multiple fronts it is imperative
for the United States and other nations around the world to take action, not
only against one person, but against the entire network of terrorists. And that
way we can help protect the world so these type of attacks don't happen again.
QUESTION: But, previously, he went out of his way to single this guy out.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm shared with you the President's thinking.
QUESTION: Ari, in regard to the protests, apparently the Palestinian Authority
to keep the protests under control actually opened fire today. Do you have any
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no immediate response to that. I think, again, it's a
reflection of the volatility in that region of the world that still has ties
to the overall peace efforts in the Middle East, and another reminder, even
in this new fashion, of the importance of developing political peace talks,
security peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, even though in this
case it did not appear to be directly related to any events in Israel.
QUESTION: Ari, going back to the same question, it seems like the White House
is taking the onus off of Osama bin Laden by saying this is not really about
one person. How can you say that when he is the head of this network, and how
can you say that when this man has been on television saying what he will do
if there is not peace in his country, there will not be peace here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because, April, if it wasn't this one man who was on television,
he will be followed by another one man and another one man who is on television.
It's just not about any one person.
QUESTION: But it also leaves some people to wonder, and some critics are saying,
well, if you're not looking at Osama bin Laden, it's okay not to get him, but
to get everybody else. Is he still -- yes, because it's taking -- first it was
Osama bin Laden was the prime suspect. Now it's pulled back.
MR. FLEISCHER: The statements have been consistent from day one. Osama bin Laden
is the prime suspect in the al Qaeda organization. That's always been said.
QUESTION: Is it clear that you want to have Osama bin Laden in custody, as well?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing has changed since I answered the question two minutes
QUESTION: Ari, you have a National Security Advisor, you have a National Security
Council. Now you have an Office of Homeland Security and a Homeland Security
Advisor. Is there any overlap?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is overlap by definition and by design. Just as the National
Security Council, which has successfully operated since 1947, has obvious overlap
with the Department of Defense, with the Central Intelligence Agency, with the
National Security Agency and others.
It is done to overlap on purpose. That way it can fulfill its coordinating function.
The President announced Governor Ridge today to a post of Director of Homeland
Security for the purpose of coordinating the some 46 agencies that have jurisdiction
over what is called homeland defense.
QUESTION: The impression is that national security deals more with foreign issues
and this will deal more with national issues. Is that the basic assumption?
MR. FLEISCHER: There can be other overlapping interests, because there will
be other components to both jobs that can overlap domestically or internationally.
But I will refer you to the handout which you have describing the functions
and the executive order defining the mission of the Office of Homeland Security.
QUESTION: Basically, Condoleezza Rice practically has unlimited access to the
President. Will Tom Ridge have the same type of --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think anybody who knows the President's relationship with Governor
Ridge knows how much access he will have. He will play a very central and important
role in protecting the United States from terrorist attacks.
QUESTION: A follow-up on Randy's question. The bombing in Afghanistan is causing
great fear and chaos there quite naturally among the civilian population. There
have been reports of revolts in towns along the Iranian border; warlords returning,
claiming their piece of the Afghani pie. Doesn't the United States have an obligation
to prepare for the restoration of civil order to protect the innocent civilians?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States is working as we speak to protect the innocent
civilians. And that is why, as part of this effort, the United States has been
getting food into the Afghani people.
QUESTION: I am talking about the restoration of some form of civil order, as
this chaos descends on that country.
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I can read it to you again. But you heard many times what
the position is, that we will work with those who seek to create an Afghanistan
that is peaceful, that does not sponsor terrorism, and that is developing, economically
QUESTION: And I guess I'm asking, what does that mean?
MR. FLEISCHER: It means just that, we are going to continue to work with those
QUESTION: Ari, I am going to follow up on Terry and ask another one. Do you
see a need for an interim sort of international administration of a post-attack
MR. FLEISCHER: My answer stands. No change in the answer.
QUESTION: Secondly, in bin Laden's statement yesterday, there was language urging
his supporters to act swiftly and so forth. Did you view that as a general statement,
or did you see any kind of cues for specific actions that he was trying to broadcast?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, he has made and the Taliban have made so many different
statements, that -- separate and apart from anything they do or say -- it remains
important for Americans to remember that this is a time of war, and that people
need to keep that in mind. And that is why security has been beefed up across
the country and all government agencies are on a heightened state of alert.
QUESTION: Ari, in the past, Presidents have tried to kind of smooth the way
between the FBI and the CIA, to make them work closely together, to overcome
all the turf battles that exist there. And I don't know a President who, I would
say, was successful at that. What makes this President think that by handing
-- by giving his imprimatur that Tom Ridge can succeed in doing what no one
has ever succeeded in doing before?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me offer you two reasons. One is, our nation is at
war. And wartime has the ability to bring people together in different agencies
and in different parts of the government in a way that peacetime does not allow
And at times everybody understands in their different missions, at their different
agencies, that this is the time to work together and to put the national interests
first. As was said earlier in the East Room today -- I think Governor Ridge
said it -- the only turf is the turf you stand on, and that turf is America's
soil. And that's why he was reminding everybody that their mission is to serve
Secondly -- and I do think this is fair to say -- the President has a strong
track record of bringing people together to build strong teams that work well
together. And I think you see that every day in this administration. And that
will be the spirit that is brought to the effort that Governor Ridge is leading.
QUESTION: You've talked a lot about how different this war is. One of the most
unusual things about it, it seems, is that we're dropping bombs and food on
the same nation. Can you share with us some of the thinking that went into that,
other than the obvious point that we're striking into terrorists and not trying
to strike the Afghan people?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a very interesting notion because this does illustrate what
a different war this is, not only in the conventional military side, but on
so many other sides. But there's no question about it -- the United States is
demonstrating to the people of Afghanistan, as we have even before today, because
of all the food aid the United States has provided to the Afghani people, that
our commitment to them remains a humanitarian one. This war is not against the
Afghani people, this war is against the oppressive Taliban regime and those
who practice terrorism.
But it goes so much beyond that. And I cannot stress to you how important this
is, as you cover this war and you focus on it, to think about this war in a
different way than you viewed World War II or previous wars our nation has fought,
even more recent ones. In so many ways, a person sitting at a computer terminal
wearing a suit, who was able to shut down and dry up terrorist money plays just
as valuable a role on the financial front as people do on the military front.
And that is the President's focus. That's how the President approaches this.
And that's why it's perfectly understandable that in the wake of yesterday's
action, there's a focus on things military.
But the President is focused far beyond that. And that's why these other actions,
helping people to have food, helping people -- the work being done by the Treasury
Department, to dry up money, to take it away from the terrorists so it can't
be used to finance their actions, efforts around the world to arrest terrorists
through domestic systems of justice, all of those are the multiple fronts on
which this war will be fought, unlike previous wars. And I can't stress to you
how important it is to have that mind set as you approach this.
QUESTION: We're also dropping leaflets over there, that I believe say -- offer
to protect and reward people who help us. Is that meant literally, in the case
of the people who lead us to bin Laden? Is there any type of reward being offered?
MR. FLEISCHER: I believe there already has been a reward offered on that case,
on that matter. The FBI has had a standing $5 million reward for quite a period
QUESTION: Ari, following up on the multiple fronts, could you talk a little
bit about the message campaign in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries, that
this is not an attack on Muslims? Can you tell us, if you can, what are the
messages going out through the commando solo plane that's above Afghanistan?
Give us a little fill on how you're doing that and who else is involved.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me give you what I can from the White House. A lot of this
deals with the State Department and others involving the Voice of America. But
the United States is going to use all channels available, including the Voice
of America, to reach audiences in Afghanistan and beyond. We do have broadcasting
capabilities to get messages to the people of Afghanistan.
And as you can see from the reactions of the people of Afghanistan, there is
a serious question about how much support the Taliban has from the people it
purports to represent. And the United States will continue to work to get information
to those, so they can have full knowledge about what is happening in Afghanistan
from a source other than a repressive Taliban regime that has not shared all
the information with the people that it seeks to represent.
QUESTION: Ari, the declaratory policy, as you said, suggests that the United
States would support anyone who will build a peaceful and economically viable
government to replace the Taliban. What if no one capable of doing that steps
forward after the --
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, again, I just think you're getting way ahead of where
events are. The actions are going to continue. They began with the financial
actions the President took in the Rose Garden. And you can keep asking the question
any number of ways, but the answer remains the same.
QUESTION: -- the declaratory policy of the United States is confident in that?
QUESTION: You just mentioned the front on the financial end of this. Are there
new accounts that have been frozen? Is there any Treasury Department activity
that you can tell us that is updated from the announcement the President made
in the Rose Garden? There has been some hints from Treasury that more accounts
have been found, more things have been frozen. Can you update us on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have any updates for you today from this podium, but
there very well could be. But that's going to mostly come from Treasury, unless
QUESTION: Is this going to be an ongoing and daily effort, and you're not going
to necessarily notify us every day about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. Well, I -- on the notification, we'll notify as often
as is possible. But that is the action being taken by the Department of Treasury.
I don't have any updates for you today.
QUESTION: Can you tell us concretely what Governor Ridge is doing today, give
us some idea of why this is not just a new layer of bureaucracy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure, the Governor began his day -- he met with the senior staff.
He met with the President. He's a part of the senior staff. He participated
in the President's FBI briefing. He will be part of the National Security Council
briefings as required, when his issues come before them. He will -- I think
I indicated he met with the President earlier. And today is his first day. We'll
have information for you at the appropriate time, when the first meeting of
the Homeland Security Council will take place, which is going to be chaired
by the President.
But his job is going to be akin to the NSC job, focused on terrorism, as the
NSC has a broader mandate to focus much more broadly on all matters of security.
QUESTION: He does not have a permanent seat on the National Security Council
or in the intelligence briefings that the President gets?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
QUESTION: Ari, just to follow up on that, you made a reference to the $5 million
reward. I believe when that was posted, it was for information leading to the
arrest and conviction of bin Laden. Do you know, have those restrictions changed?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me see if I can't get you any additional information on that.
I saw that when I was over at the FBI last week. And that could be something
you might want to take up at 1:30 when General Ashcroft briefs.
QUESTION: You say you are not interested in nation building in Afghanistan,
or anywhere else for that matter. You say that you are willing to work with
all those elements in Afghanistan that are interested in security. What is the
functional difference between that and nation-building?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, you've tried multiple ways to get me to give you a different
answer, but I am going to refer you right back to the Afghanistan declaratory
statement. That is the answer.
QUESTION: What are the boundaries here? What will you not do because you are
not interested in nation-building?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I have answered the question as well as it can be answered.
QUESTION: The President has said repeatedly that this is obviously going to
take a very long time. Is he, in a sense, trying to prepare people for turning
on their television sets even months from now and seeing bombing campaigns still
going on in Afghanistan or even other places?
MR. FLEISCHER: He is trying to prepare the American people and, frankly, I think
the American people are prepared, I think they do understand it, that this can
last months if not years. But you refer again back to the bombing campaign.
It will be on so many other fronts than that. It can include that, it may be
beyond that, it may be other things that the American people don't see that
But on a host of fronts, the war against terrorism is going to last a long time.
And I think the American people have come to understand that. In fact, I think
they understood it rather quickly. The President has been very up front about
saying that, yes, this can last months if not years.
QUESTION: What do you do when, in a sense, it becomes routine, that we get so
used to seeing all this, how do you maintain the level of support that the President
is enjoying now?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think because the American people have a very firm understanding
about what's happened to us. This was not any ordinary terrorist incident. This
was a willful and deliberate, well-planned and well-coordinated attack on the
World Trade Center and on the Pentagon by people who have abilities throughout
the world to inflict further harm on the United States and on our friends and
on our allies. And they understand that we're talking about people who, as the
President has put it, live in the shadows, who live in caves. And this a matter
that is going to take some considerable time to address.
But from all indications, the American people understand that. And I think this
will be a case where the United States, based on the plans the President has
made, has reacted in a measured fashion, will continue to react in a fashion
that targets action where action needs to be targeted, and was done in a methodical,
well-planned fashion, and I think that is how you always keep the support of
the American people.
QUESTION: Ari, how much longer does the White House plan on taking these extra
steps to preserve the line of succession by keeping the Vice President away
from the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll keep you informed. If there are changes to that, you will
QUESTION: Ari, on his first full day as a wartime President, at least in the
military sense, can you share with us a little bit about his temperament? I
mean, we see him in public, you see him in private. What's his mood? Is he doing
something different in his routine? Can you share a little behind-the-scenes
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I was asked this yesterday, how the President, what
mood the President was when I talked to him in the Oval Office prior to the
action beginning. And I can only tell you that from everything I see, he is
resolute and he is determined.
I think he is steeled by the fact that he has such a clear understanding about
what this is about. He's described it as the first war of the 21st century,
and a very different type of war. I think he's understood that from the beginning,
that the war on terrorism is totally different than the previous conventional
wars our nation has fought. And I think when you see him meet with the victims
and the families of people, the families of the victims in New York or Pennsylvania
who came down to the White House, he takes a lot of strength through that.
And as I indicated, through his tears, he sees an opportunity. And I can only
tell you, that's what I see in private. I see somebody who is --
QUESTION: But since last night when the bombs first started falling, any change
at all, anything noteworthy?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't report that there is. It's the same resolution, it's
the same determination that I think has carried him forward since September
QUESTION: What is he doing this afternoon -- I mean, aside from his public events,
but behind the scenes this afternoon, is he have any special meetings or any
sense of what he's --
MR. FLEISCHER: He's always receiving briefings and information and updates,
could be making phone calls or other meetings.