White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
Washington, D.C.
October 9, 2001
12:10 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President this morning called President Wade of Senegal. President Wade expressed his solidarity and support for the global antiterrorism campaign that is launched by President Bush. The President -- President Bush thanked President Wade for his support in this effort. And President Wade expressed his powerful thought to the President about the importance of bringing peace to the region. He said to the President that Islam is a peaceful religion and that all democracies have a common cause in eradicating terrorism.

The President, earlier this morning, convened a meeting of his National Security Council, and he will meet with German Chancellor Schroeder at 3:00 p.m. in the Oval Office.

A couple other updates for you for the day. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher will brief at 12:30 p.m. today. Secretary Rumsfeld of the Department of Defense will brief at 1:00 p.m. today. And at 1:30 p.m. today, Dr. Condoleezza Rice and Governor Ridge will announce additional efforts to coordinate our American government's response and actions in the war on terrorism.

One final announcement. President Bush will welcome NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson for a meeting tomorrow, October 10th, in the Oval Office.

And with that, I'm more than happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Ari, should the American people be prepared next to see ground troops in Afghanistan?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to discuss any of the operational aspects of the campaign.

QUESTION: You're not ruling out the use of U.S. ground troops?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not discussing it. Obviously on that type of question, if that were to be the case, that's information that those people who are fighting us in Afghanistan would love to know. And I'm not going to provide it.

QUESTION: Can you tell us why the President decided to issue the memo to the key Cabinet officials on secrecy? What prompted it, what individual leak, if you will?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me read to you from the memo in question, which is a memo that the President has sent to his members of the Cabinet who would routinely brief Capitol Hill about matters relating to the military or relating to intelligence. And reading from that memo directly it states that, this administration will continue to work to inform the leadership of the Congress about the course of and important developments in our military, intelligence and law enforcement operations. At the same time, we have an obligation to protect military operational security, intelligence sources and methods, and sensitive law enforcement investigations.

And I think that says it all about the memo. It's an effort to make certain that Congress has the information that it needs, while making certain that nobody is put in a position where they inadvertently could give any information that could harm anybody's life, as a very sensitive military campaign is underway.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what prompted the memo?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's an overall concern to make certain that information is protected, to save lives, and not put anybody in danger.

QUESTION: Was there -- in general, but was there not a specific incident?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, rather than focus on any specific incident, it's a reflection of the President's ongoing concern to make certain that nothing classified is released inadvertently that could put anybody's life in danger. Really, what's changed here since routine notification would go up to Capitol Hill, are we are at war. And the price of an error is now too high. And the President wants to make certain that all people in government are protected, so that nobody can make any mistakes and put anybody else's life in danger.

QUESTION: Well, let me just follow up one more time. Was there not at least one incident where the President was upset by what was said by a member of the Congress who had received a classified briefing?

MR. FLEISCHER: Rather than harken back to any, if there was, one event, I think it's best just to leave it as the President's overall concern. This is something you've heard the Secretary of Defense talk about very publicly as well. It's an ongoing concern from the administration to make certain that nothing classified is inadvertently released that could put somebody's life in danger.

QUESTION: Has the administration opened an inquiry?

QUESTION: Does the President believe that Congress --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the answer on that is no.

QUESTION: What was her question?

QUESTION: There's no inquiry on any leaks that might have already occurred?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: Does the President believe that Congress in particular is at risk for leaking classified information?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, these warnings have gone out to everybody. This is what we in the White House staff have been instructed, by the President, this is information Secretary Rumsfeld has discussed it about his employees and others in government. This applies to anybody who could possibly have classified information.

The memo itself, of course, is directed at Congress. But you've heard this in other ways about other government agencies, including our own White House.

QUESTION: So, does he believe that the Congress is not being well managed when it comes to maintaining the secrecy of classified information?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's a reflection of the fact that our nation is now at war, and the rules have changed. It's a reflection of the reality that disclosure of information in a time of war is far different from an inadvertent disclosure at a time of peace. It could literally mean the loss of lives of people who are embarking on missions.

QUESTION: But, Ari, the last paragraph of that memo says the President notified the leaders of the Congress of that decision. Those conversations have been described as angry, animated, and that the President did cite a specific thing he was very upset about. Do you dispute that?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, rather than focus on any one event that may or may not have taken place, the President's concern is broad. That doesn't mean it wasn't specific, but his concern is also broad.

QUESTION: Ari, does the release of information that there is certainty within intelligence communities of another terrorist attack, does that constitute putting people's lives in danger, or is that public information?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I'm not going to go down any potential line of things that may or may not be classified, if that's what you're asking me to do. But I think again, the memo speaks for itself.

QUESTION: Is that the kind of information you think should be classified?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't discuss classifications. I don't make the decisions about what information gets classified.

QUESTION: Ari, can I ask you about the anthrax? What is the latest the White House knows about the investigation going on in Florida?

MR. FLEISCHER: The investigation in Florida is continuing through the FBI's efforts, in coordination with Florida State Department Health officials, as well as Centers for Disease Control.

The last information I have on this is that there has been no changes in the state of Florida in terms of any additional information. So what is known right now is there is one person who was diagnosed as having anthrax who died last week. There is a second person who they have found -- I think the word is -- no, it's the spores -- let me get you the precise word on what it is they have found in one nostril for the second patient in Florida -- exposure. And it's an important distinction, and that's why I wanted to make sure I go the precise word out. I think the precise information is most helpful, suggesting exposure.

There was a report this morning which turned out apparently erroneous in Northern Virginia. So what I think you're seeing is, as Secretary Thompson said last Thursday, you're seeing a heightened sense of awareness, you're seeing government officials do everything in the government's ability to get information to the people on the ground, to answer all questions, and I think also at a time like this, you're going to see increasing reports, because people are becoming more sensitive, more aware, even if those reports deal with the flu or with other symptoms.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a follow-up. Since so far the area seems to be circumscribed to a certain country or a certain city in the state of Florida, are precautions being taken that there is enough medicine around in case other people need to start taking antibiotics, or --

MR. FLEISCHER: Secretary Thompson addressed that on Thursday last week, and he said that there are sufficient supplies across the country that are positioned, if necessary.

QUESTION: Nothing has come to anybody's attention that would indicate that it's necessary?

QUESTION: NATO aircraft are patrolling on the East Coast or about to be; radar planes. Is this the first time we've ever called on NATO to protect us here at home? And why is this necessary? Is it a sign that the U.S. military is overextended?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, it's a sign of cooperation with NATO. When NATO invoked Article V, saying an attack one nation is an attack on all nations, it means we're going to work together in whatever manner that the military in this case thinks is the most effective manner to secure our national defenses, along with our NATO allies.

DOD can give you more specific information about had it been done before and exactly how it's going to work. The reports are -- I confirm the report is accurate, but DOD can give you the more detailed information on it.

QUESTION: But is it because we are overextended, that we needed them to come here to patrol our --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think DOD can give you the best answer about why they take the steps they take in terms of the effectiveness.

QUESTION: Ari, can I go back to the other topic? The congressional leaders who are allowed to be briefed, are they being instructed not to share information with their colleagues on the Hill?

MR. FLEISCHER: They've been clearly told about the importance of keeping information that is sensitive, treating it in a manner so it is not released.

QUESTION: So that he's not sharing it with other members of Congress? Are they specifically being told that? Is it being limited to --

MR. FLEISCHER: Keith, I haven't heard every conversation that's been had with every leader, so I can't answer that fully.
Q So, Ari, what is the response from some members of Congress who feel that they're not being fully consulted, that they're being left out of the loop by this?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the memo makes very plain, it still is important to share information with the Congress, to discuss matters with the Congress, and that still will be done. The question is, discussion of any information that is of such a classified nature or is classified, that it would not be germane to members who are not listed as the Speaker, the Minority Leader, the Majority Leader or the chair of the ranking members of the Intelligence Committee.

QUESTION: So this memo does have the effect of dramatically limiting the number of eyes, if you will, on Capitol Hill that can see this information?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: What I was getting at really is that you're not -- just to follow on that, you're really not briefing Congress, you're basically just briefing about five or six select members of Congress.

MR. FLEISCHER: It's quite clear, it's briefing the leaders of Congress.

QUESTION: Ari, there are other members of Congress, certainly, who are cleared to receive classified information: the Chairman of the Foreign Relations and International Affairs Committee --

MR. FLEISCHER: It's not a question of cleared to receive information, this is a question about how the administration is going to work with Congress in the dissemination of information that's classified.

QUESTION: Why wouldn't, for example, the leader -- the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, ranking member -- Armed Services ranking member -- why wouldn't they be able to receive this information? Is there some --

MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President has made the determination that at a time of war like this, he wants to make certain that every step is taken so that there cannot be a loss of life as a result of an inadvertent release of information. And therefore, the President has decided that he wants to make certain that the agencies that report to him provide information in a fashion that is a smaller circle to members of Congress.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, how can those committees and those committee chairmen do their proper oversight if they don't get the information?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think they are able to do so, and that's why the information is shared with the Intelligence Committee, as well as the leadership.

QUESTION: But Armed Services and Foreign Relations are directly responsible for oversight of armed services and foreign relations. How can they be of help if they don't have the information?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because not every aspect of their job deals with having immediate information that of classified nature about what may be happening on a military operation on an operational sense.

QUESTION: But Ari, connect the dots. A larger circle was being briefed initially. And now you've restricted it to the four leaders plus the chairmen and ranking members of the Intelligence Committee.

MR. FLEISCHER: Correct. Exactly right.

QUESTION: Was the assessment made that in the case of the Foreign Relations or the International Relations Committee and the Armed Services Committee that the chairmen and the ranking members or the other members could not be trusted?

MR. FLEISCHER: John, it's not a question of people not being trusted, as you put it.

QUESTION: Then why pull back?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's a question of the determination made by the President that in a time of war, the usual rules do not apply, and that the President is going to err on the side of protecting lives, so that inadvertent information -- inadvertent release of information cannot occur.

QUESTION: I understand that point completely, but they were being briefed at the beginning.

MR. FLEISCHER: And that requires necessarily a tightening of the circle about who has access to all this information that I described. It does not mean that members of Congress will not continue to receive information; they will continue to receive information. And the President makes that perfectly plain in his memo to the agencies when he said that we will continue to inform the leadership in our critical military intelligence law enforcement operations.

But I remind you, even in peacetime, not every member of Congress had access to every bit of classified information.

QUESTION: Yes, but you did pull back; that was John's point.

QUESTION: Because the President was not happy --

MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. I acknowledge it. It's plain as the memo reads --

QUESTION: You pulled back because the President was not happy?

MR. FLEISCHER: -- that the circle has been diminished, because the President is going to make certain that every step is taken to protect lives from the inadvertent release of information. That's correct.

QUESTION: And the upshot of it is that the conduct of the war policy and its oversight is now being done by the Executive Branch and six members of Congress?

MR. FLEISCHER: The information-sharing on the matters that are described in this memo will be available to six members of Congress -- actually, it's eight.

QUESTION: Sorry -- the congressional role of its contribution to the war policy and its oversight is now going to have to fall into the hands of those eight people?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President is very satisfied with the sharing of information and the decision he's made.

QUESTION: Does this cover information about the possibility of threats of attacks on American soil, or is it just about overseas military?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's information that is classified in nature. I can read it to you again, if you want -- consistent with --

QUESTION: Any classified information?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me read -- I think you have copies of the memo, so you can take a look and read it for yourself. But the memo makes clear it's classified information.

QUESTION: It seems to be any classified information. So that's anything that the White House decides should be classified and they don't want to share with Congress.

MR. FLEISCHER: The classification decisions are made by the appropriate intelligence officials. And, again, the President is going to make certain that this information is provided to the Congress so the people who need to know it will have full ability to have it, and he wants to make certain that the circle is diminished, so that nothing inadvertent can happen.

QUESTION: Isn't it a huge shift of power to the Executive Branch?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct -- that's what the President has decided.

QUESTION: Ari, is there any precedent -- did the White House Counsel's Office -- is there any precedent for limiting the circle in wartime to this small, in terms of briefing Congress?

MR. FLEISCHER: I would have to check with some historians. I can't tell you of the top of my head.

QUESTION: Gulf War, World War II -- any time when so few members of the elected leadership of this representative government have been informed of the operations of the Executive Branch?

MR. FLEISCHER: I very much appreciate your desire to have a large group as possible of people who have this information, but I've said about all I'm going to say on this topic. The President has done this for a reason, the President stands by it, and it's the right thing to do, in the President's opinion. And that's why he's done it. He is aware of the types of questions you're going to ask about this, but the President has done it deliberately, because this is a time of war and in his judgment, this is the best way to save lives and protect lives of the people that he is putting in harm's way in the course of this war.

Yes, this is a determined decision by the President.