Remarks to the Travel Pool
NSA Operations Center
National Security Agency
Fort Meade, Maryland
June 4, 2002
10:45 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: How're you doing?
QUESTION: Not bad, sir. I wanted to ask you, yesterday you said, in Little Rock, that
a better job could have been -- a better job needs to be done to prevent terrorism.
Does that mean in hindsight -- which, obviously, is 20/20 -- a better job could
have been done?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think there's no question that the FBI, for example,
did not have as its primary mission a prevention of an attack. And now it does.
In other words, the FBI was a fine law enforcement agency, chasing down white
collar criminals and people that were committing crimes in America. And that's
good and that's still an important function of the FBI. But now the focus is
on -- the primary focus is on preventing a further attack. So the mission has
changed, and that's a positive change.
In terms of whether or not the FBI and the CIA were communicating properly,
I think it is clear that they weren't, and that they -- now we've addressed
that issue. The CIA and the FBI are now in close communications, there's better
sharing of intelligence. And one of the things that is essential to win this
war is to have the best intelligence possible; and when we get the best intelligence,
to be able to share it throughout our government.
And as you've seen the reforms that both Director Tenet and Bob Mueller have
put in place, a lot of those reforms had to do with how able the two are able
to talk to each other. And it's a very positive reform.
QUESTION: Had the reform been put in place beforehand, if the FBI had been --
THE PRESIDENT: I haven't seen any evidence --
QUESTION: -- could the attacks have been stopped?
THE PRESIDENT: I've seen no evidence today that said this country could have
prevented the attack.
QUESTION: Mr. President, President Mubarak told the New York Times this morning that
he is proposing the idea of declaring a Palestinian state and then negotiating
the hard things -- borders -- later. Does that make any sense to you?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I look forward to talking to President Mubarak. I'd rather
-- you know, I think it's probably wise for me to listen to what he has to say
and not read it, you know, through the filter of a fine newspaper. So I'm going
to look forward to my meetings with him at Camp David.
QUESTION: He also -- one of the things he said in that was that the Egyptian intelligence
services had told the United States that they were expecting an al Qaeda attack
a week before September 11th. Is there any -- do you know of any reason to believe
THE PRESIDENT: No, listen, there's all kinds of speculation. As I said, I have
seen no evidence that would have led me to believe that we could have prevented
the attacks. And, obviously, if we could have, we would have prevented the attacks.
QUESTION: Sir, is there any concern at all that all this finger-pointing between the
FBI and the CIA is distracting them a bit from the mission at hand, preventing
future terrorist attacks?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, one of the things I've said is that, for example
-- yes, I'm concerned about distractions from this perspective: I want the Congress
to investigate, but I want a committee to investigate, not multiple committees
to investigate. Because I don't want to tie up our team when we're trying to
fight this war on terror. So I don't want our people to be distracted.
In terms of the gossip and the finger-pointing, level three staffers trying
to protect, you know -- trying to protect their hide, I don't think that's of
concern. That's just typical Washington, D.C.
But what I am concerned about is tying up valuable assets and time, and possibly
jeopardizing sources of intelligence. And that's why it is very important that
the Congress do investigate, but they do so in a way that doesn't jeopardize
our intelligence gathering capacity. That's why they have intelligence committees
on Capitol Hill, and that's the appropriate forum, as far as I am concerned,
for these investigations.
QUESTION: Mr. President, you've got a lot going on foreign policy wise right now, the
Middle East meetings later this week, the continued efforts here. Is this all
moving Iraq to the back burner?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think you need to read my speech that I gave at West
Point. If you haven't, I'll get you --
QUESTION: I was there, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh. I think you need to have listened to my speech I gave at
West Point. (Laughter.)
The war on terror is -- and my strong desire to protect our homeland is of paramount
importance to me. And I think people understand my position on these closed
regimes that harbor and desire to have weapons of mass destruction. And as I
said in my speech, we use all the tools at our disposal to deal with these nations
that hate America and hate our freedoms.
And one option, of course, is the military option. But as we've said repeatedly,
I have no plans on my desk at this point in time. But, nevertheless, these nations
that I have named need to take -- they need to take America seriously. When
it comes to defending our freedoms, they need to be worried about how we defend
our freedom. We're very serious about this, and we expect them to change their
QUESTION: Mr. President, good morning, sir. Do you plan any new initiatives on -- to
combat global warming?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I've laid out that very comprehensive initiative. I read
the report put out by a -- put out by the bureaucracy. I do not support the
Kyoto treaty. The Kyoto treaty would severely damage the United States economy,
and I don't accept that. I accept the alternative we put out, that we can grow
our economy and, at the same time, through technologies, improve our environment.
QUESTION: Sir, are you concerned about the morale in the intelligence agencies, given
the criticism that's been lodged so far, and is that part of what you're going
to be talking about today with the employees of the NSA?
THE PRESIDENT: I believe morale is high. I glean that from the leaders with
whom I meet on a regular basis. These -- our intelligence communities understand
they are on the forefront of one of the most important wars in our nation's
history. And they're -- I think I'm more worried about them being overworked.
These good people are putting in long, long hours.
And one of my jobs is to remind those who sacrifice on behalf of our nation
that we appreciate it a lot. And I'd rather have them sacrificing on behalf
of our nation than, you know, endless hours of testimony on congressional hill.
The appropriate place to do that, of course, is the intelligence committees.
And, again, I repeat, the reason why that's important is because we have got
to guard the methodology -- methodologies of our country, of how -- it's important
for us to not reveal how we collect information. That's what the enemy wants,
and we're fighting an enemy.