White House Daily Briefing, May 26
|Wednesday May 26,
THE WHITE HOUSE
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I want to begin with a world leader call today. The President spoke with President Kwasniewski, of Poland, earlier today. The two leaders discussed the United Nations Security Council resolution on Iraq and the way forward in Iraq. They talked about the importance of the June 30th transfer of sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government, and they also discussed the election schedule heading forward in Iraq. The two leaders also discussed the possible role NATO may play in Iraq's future. And they said that they looked forward to seeing each other at the D-Day Celebration in Normandy in the coming couple of weeks.
And then the President also met with President Bongo, of the Gabonese Republic, earlier today. The two leaders discussed Gabonese and African support for the war on terrorism. They talked about the need to address the trafficking in persons, and they talked about the possibility for economic growth and development in the Gabonese Republic and the region.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Did they talk about -- was there any pledge of oil for the United States?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they talked about economic development, things of that nature. I'll try to see if I can get you more information. I actually didn't attend this meeting earlier today.
I also want to begin with some additional remarks:
We remain at war on terrorism. We know the terrorists want to attack America and our interests abroad. The President knows the best way to win the war on terrorism is to stay on the offensive and take the fight to the terrorists before they can carry out their attacks. We have received credible intelligence reporting over the last couple of months indicating terrorists may attempt to attack us here at home, or our interests abroad over the next few months, during this summer or fall time period. Memorial Day represents the start of our summer period here in America, and it is important for all Americans to be on a heightened state of awareness and vigilance as we enter this serious threat period.
We have to be right 100 percent of the time; terrorists only have to be right once. That is why we will continue waging the war on terrorism abroad while ramping up our efforts here at home. Our homeland security and law enforcement officials continue to work 24-7 to make sure we are doing everything we can to prevent and disrupt attacks here at home.
And the Attorney General, John Ashcroft, and FBI Director Robert Mueller will be holding a news conference today at 2:00 p.m. at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to discuss the threat situation and talk further about some individuals that we want all Americans and others to be on the lookout for that could pose a danger to the United States.
And with that, I will be glad to go to your questions.
Q: Scott, I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about how this warning was arrived at, and what level of participation the President had, what intelligence was brought to his attention, how that approval process --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President receives intelligence briefings on a daily basis. He is constantly updated about the threat situation. And these are -- obviously, all threats we take very seriously, but the intelligence we've been receiving over the last couple of months is something we view as credible and points to the possibility of attacks during this summer or fall time period. And that is why Secretary Ridge has been out there talking about the high-profile events that are coming up over the next few months, and how those events represent an attractive target, possibly, for terrorists to carry out their attacks. And that is why we have been ramping up our security Efforts at those events, and in other ways. We've been working through the interagency process to make sure we're coordinated at federal, state and local levels. So there are a number of ways we've been acting to address these threats, and the President is constantly updated about the threat situation.
Q: Can I follow on a different topic? When the President has conversations about a potential role for NATO in Iraq, there doesn't seem to be a high level of confidence that NATO is able or prepared to do something like that. Is there something that is more targeted that the President has in mind that he'd like to see from NATO in terms of the security role in Iraq? For instance, perhaps just providing security for the elections, or other kind of more particularized role for them?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, the discussions on NATO's role in the future of Iraq have really just been getting underway, and we will continue having those discussions leading up to the NATO summit in Istanbul. And we expect that that topic will be discussed further during the NATO summit in Turkey. And I would point out that NATO already has -- there are some 15 NATO countries already in Iraq providing support for the security situation and helping with our efforts to build a free and peaceful Iraq for the Iraqi people. But those are discussions we'll continue to have leading up to NATO, and at NATO, as well.
Q: Scott, back on terror for a second. Has the President been advised that al Qaeda operatives are actually within the borders of the United States plotting attacks?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we receive, as I pointed out, a constant stream of intelligence reporting, and the recent intelligence reporting has pointed to the possibility of attacks during the time period I mentioned.
In terms of the possibility of terrorists being here in the United States, we have to work under the assumption that there are terrorists here. And the intelligence reporting we have seen from time to time indicates that there may well be people in place ready to carry out attacks. But we do not have specific information about the timing, or target, or nature of those attacks.
Q: Is there anything more concrete than an assumption or a belief that they may actually be in this country?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are individuals that were al Qaeda operatives that we've apprehended in the past. And certainly, before the September 11th attacks, there was an al Qaeda cell in the United States plotting to carry out that attack. And we know the terrorists continue to want to harm America, or harm American citizens abroad, and that is why we have to work under the assumption that there are operatives here in the United States wanting to carry out attacks.
Q: But you have nothing definitive that there actually is a cell that you may have identified?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said -- well, that's why I said that we've received reporting from time to time that suggests that there are operatives in the United States. And we have to work under that assumption, and that's what we will continue to do as we remain very vigilant in the way we approach these threats and try to stop these threats from happening in the first place.
Q: One more question on this. So if you believe that there are al Qaeda operatives in the United States, does that point to a failure of systems to keep them out of this country? Were they here prior to the initiation of those systems designed to keep people out of this country? And how does it change the calculus for how you --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, John, we are a free society. And we know that there certainly are terrorists that would like to try to enter America to carry out their evil acts. And that's why we have taken unprecedented steps to strengthen our homeland and against possible attacks. We have taken a number of steps to make sure that we are prepared to respond to any attacks and to prevent attacks from happening in the first place. And certainly we've improved our intelligence-gathering and sharing. And that's why it's important to remind the American people that if they have information that can be helpful, they need to come forward with that information. That can help us prevent attacks from happening in the first place.
Q: Scott, since you're not raising the terror alert, should we assume that the threat is not as serious as it has been in the past when you have raised the alert?
MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, all threats we take very seriously. And like I said, this is credible intelligence reporting that we have continued to receive over the last couple of months. And just because the threat level may not be raised doesn't mean we aren't taking additional measures to try to prevent attacks from happening in the first place. We are working through the interagency process at the federal level and at the state and local level to make sure that we are doing everything we can to prevent an attack from happening in the first place. We are constantly working to improve our intelligence-gathering and sharing information. We have -- which I think the Attorney General will talk about here shortly -- put a task force in place to look at this serious threat period and take steps to make sure that we are coordinating our efforts to stop something from happening in the first place.
Q: I wonder, is this -- is the factual basis for your statement here, for Secretary Ridge's appearance this morning, increased threat? In other words, is the country in greater danger now than it was a couple months ago? Or is it the fact that there are these big events and you're concerned that that might be an opportunity? Is there more information that the country is going to be attacked, or is it just the calendar?
MR. McCLELLAN: There's a continuing stream of intelligence reporting that we're receiving. That's what I would point to. There are also a series of high-profile events coming up, and you have to couple those together and look at the possibility of an attack being carried out on the United States, or being carried out on interests abroad. And we take those threats very seriously. There is multiple sourcing that we have looked at to look at the credibility of this information we have been receiving. And I think the Attorney General and Director Mueller will talk about that here shortly.
Q: Is there more of it? Is there more of it now than two months ago?
MR. McCLELLAN: I would describe it as a continuing stream of intelligence reporting that we deem to be credible and that it indicates that they want to carry out an attack during this coming time period.
Q: It does? It does indicate that they want to attack during this time period?
MR. McCLELLAN: It indicates that they may want to attack during this time period, yes. And that's why it's important to keep the American people informed as we head into this summer time period, and as we head into these high-profile events that could be an attractive target for terrorists.
Q: What are you advising Americans to do, Scott? Not got to some of these Memorial Day events, cancel plane flights? What exactly?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, terrorists want to spread fear and chaos, and they want to try to disrupt our lives. It's important that we go about living our lives. We live in a post-September 11th world, and there is a new way of thinking when it comes to looking at these threats. That's why we are waging war abroad on terrorists, and that's why we are ramping up efforts in the homeland to prevent attacks from happening, and be fully prepared to respond if an attack does occur. And the American people should always remain on a heightened state of awareness, particularly when they're at high-profile, symbolic events where there are large gatherings of people present.
Q: And do what during this heightened --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if they see suspicious activity or information, then they should report that information to the appropriate law enforcement or other officials.
Q: You said the terrorists may want to attack in this period. Of course, the view is the terrorists may want to attack in any period. How is the intelligence now different from it was, say, last summer, when we also had July 4th worries about terrorist attacks; from Christmas, when we actually increased the terror alert and took people off planes? How is this different from all of the other stuff --
MR. McCLELLAN: And when you point out the Christmas period, remember we talked about how we had more specific information at that time period. What we're receiving now is not necessarily specific in nature, but it is credible intelligence reporting based on the sourcing that we have looked at.
Q: But you're simply saying that you've got a lot of things coming up. You've got a summit; you've got July 4th; you've got the election campaign. How important is the election campaign in this --
MR. McCLELLAN: And we are always looking at these threats, and always working 24-7 to make sure that we are acting to prevent attacks from happening in the first place. The President's number one priority is the war on terrorism. And the best way to win that war is to go after the terrorists where they are, and bring them to justice before they can carry out their attacks. But we also have to be fully prepared here at home. And that's why we are better prepared today than we were yesterday, and we'll be better prepared tomorrow than we are today. We are constantly looking at ways we can improve the security here at home.
Q: Some have suggested this is the highest threat level since September 11th. Would you go that far?
MR. McCLELLAN: Jim, I don't know that I would characterize it that way. I've seen these anonymous sources that some of that reporting is based on, and I don't know who those anonymous sources are. I would characterize it as a very serious period of threats that we are in.
Q: One last thing for you. Is there information that there are more al Qaeda operatives in the U.S. than were, say, at Christmas or last summer, in previous periods when we were concerned --
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, they're going to be talking about some specific individuals that we believe pose a danger to the United States, that may have information about possible plots to carry out attacks, or may be involved in planning attacks.
Q: But we've been looking at them for a long time, haven't we?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, it's not necessarily that they're in the United States, but it's people that we should be aware of. And I think Director Mueller will talk about how we're reissuing some of the bulletins saying to be on the lookout for these individuals, that when we go out there and talk about this information, more information can come forward and help us be prepared to find these individuals.
Q: Scott, you have the White House telling us about this possible period of attacks; you have the Director of the FBI and the Secretary of Justice coming out in a few minutes to talk about it; Secretary Ridge talked about it. How come it's not worth raising the color alert?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Why isn't it worth raising the alert?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's something we evaluate on a daily basis, and we're always looking at that and looking at the intelligence we have and the intelligence that we receive going forward. We learn more information as time goes by, as well, and we'll continue to evaluate the threat level. The threat level is at an elevated level, which suggests there is a significant risk of terrorist attack. But just because we're not raising the threat level doesn't mean we aren't acting in a number of different ways. And certainly, as I pointed out, we are better prepared today than we were the other day, or than we were a few months ago. And so we're better prepared to respond to these attacks. And you have to take that into account, too -- are better prepared to prevent these attacks from happening in the first place.
Q: Scott, I'd like to ask a question on a different subject. The New York Times says that the prison abuses have been much more widespread than acknowledged by this government -- 37 deaths of inmates. I want to know why the President doesn't give a worldwide order to all of our military prisons that we should abide by the Geneva Accords. And I have a follow-up.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, the President made it very clear that the Geneva Conventions do apply in Iraq --
Q: To all prisons? Guantanamo?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- we made that very clear. And in terms of Guantanamo Bay and the al Qaeda detainees there, we're talking about the threats that we face right now --
Q: You call it a war. They're prisoners of war. Why do you make a distinction, which has led to so many abuses by not abiding by the rule of law.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't know, when you say "so many," what exactly you're referring to. General Taguba looked into the reports of abuses at Abu Ghraib and he talked about how it indicated that there were a small number of individuals involved in those incidents we saw in these appalling photos. And at the same time, the military is taking a comprehensive look at matters. They're looking to see if there is a bigger problem there just to make sure, and they'll continue to investigate this.
Q: My follow-up is, how could he say Rumsfeld did a superb job, Sanchez did a fabulous job? You mean only the MPs are to blame for this horror?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, there are ongoing investigations right now, Helen, and it's important that we show the world that when these kind of abuses come to light, that we take them seriously, we act by pursuing those responsible and bringing them to justice, and we act by making sure we put steps in place to prevent something like this from ever happening again. That's exactly what we are doing. And we want anyone who was involved in these kind of abuses to be brought to justice. And that's what the President expects.
Q: Why don't you say the law applies to all the prisons run by the military?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has made it very clear that the Geneva Conventions do apply in Iraq, and that when it comes to al Qaeda and the Taliban, that they should be treated humanely and consistent with the Geneva Accords.
Q: Scott, if I can take you back briefly to the terror warnings. The only PDB we've seen is, of course, the one that was released from August 6, 2001. When you compare the kind of warnings the President is being told about now to what we saw in that PDB, can you tell us, first of all, whether the indication that an attack could come in the United States is solely because we're hosting the G8 Summit, or are these separate and distinct from the summit, which are always --
MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, that's not pointing to a specific target or a specific timing of an attack. What we're saying is there's intelligence indicating that they would like to carry out their attacks over the summer or fall time period, and that you have to keep in mind that there are a number of high-profile events, they're symbolic events, there are large gatherings of people at those events. The terrorists would like nothing more than to try to carry out an attack like that against a large gathering of people.
Q: In that PDB in 2001, the President was specifically told that all the targets were not in the United States. In this particular case, is it a mix of threats that you're seeing, both domestic and abroad? I know you, obviously, have a NATO summit meeting coming up in Istanbul.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, the intelligence reporting that we're receiving suggests it could be here at home, or it could be against our interests abroad. And I think that the Director and Attorney General will talk more about that later.
Q: Scott, a few on the World War II memorial and terrorism. There will be a number of World War II veterans at the memorial dedication. They're in wheelchairs, they don't have very good mobility. In light of this terrorist threat, do you suggest that they not come to the dedication?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. We are taking a number of steps to ramp up security around these type of events. And as I said, there's nothing specifically pointing to these events, but those events certainly represent attractive opportunities that terrorists might try to attack. But you can see it here in D.C., the steps that are being taken to make sure that that event is secure. And certainly, the President of the United States is going to be attending that event, and there are unprecedented measures being taken to make sure that the area is secure.
Q: Are you going to have special medical procedures, though, in place, to help them out, and to help them --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that the Homeland Security Department and others who are involved, the local officials who are involved in these efforts can talk to you more about some of the specific measures and steps that they have in place.
Go ahead, Ed. I'll come to you next.
Q: I'd like to ask about the quality of the information coming into Washington and into the White House, because we know from the last few years some of that intelligence has not lived up to their billing. To what extent -- how confident is the President in the current state of the intelligence coming in on the terrorism threats? And to what extent are we evaluating the credibility of these --
MR. McCLELLAN: You always have to evaluate that. That's why it's also important to share that information. That's why it was important to create the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and take other steps to improve the sharing of intelligence information. We deem this intelligence information that we're receiving to be credible, and it's based on multiple sourcing.
Q: Scott, in the past, the President, has criticized John Kerry for saying that fighting terrorism was more of an intelligence-gathering, law enforcement operation than a military one. And now you're having this news conference with law enforcement officials trying to get information to help fight the war on terror. Isn't that hypocritical for the President to be criticizing John Kerry for what he's doing --
MR. McCLELLAN: Not all it. I don't think you've maybe been listening to what the President has been saying. He's saying that the war on terror is fought on many fronts, but the best way to win the war on terrorism is to take the fight to the enemy. And this is a war. This is a broad war against terrorism. September 11th changed the equation and taught us that we must confront threats before it is too late. And that's exactly what this President is doing. But the war on terrorism, the President has said from very early on, is fought on many fronts. It's fought on the law enforcement front; it's fought on the diplomatic front; it's fought on a number of different fronts -- the terrorist financing front, for another example.
Q: In March he said -- at a speech in California, he said -- quoting John Kerry, saying exactly that, "the war on terror is far less of a military, far more of an intelligence-gathering, law enforcement operation," the President said he disagreed with that, and pointed to the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, as an example.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. And what's your question about that? That statement stands. Those who suggest that we are not at war on terrorism, that it is not a military operation --
Q: Why do you not have Secretary Ridge at the news conference?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- don't have an understanding of what we're facing in the 21st century.
Q: But why is Secretary Ridge not at the news conference?
MR. McCLELLAN: Secretary Ridge has been out there talking about these threats that we face prior to today even, and he was certainly on the morning shows earlier today. But that's why I said the war on terrorism is fought on multiple fronts. There's the law enforcement front; there's the terrorist financing front; there's the diplomatic front; and there's the military front. And certainly, from the military standpoint, that's the way we go on the offensive and take the fight to the enemy. That's the way you win the war on terrorism. That's the way you stop attacks from happening in the first place.
Q: Scott, my question is related to some of the other questions. But with the FBI and Homeland Security warning of possible new terrorists attacks, does the President still plan to attend high visibility functions such as the dedication of the World War II Memorial this Saturday? And what about the G8 and the NATO summit in Turkey?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, he looks forward to attending those events. There's been no change in his schedule. And as I pointed out, you need to look at all the measures that we're taking to secure those events. There are a number of steps that we've taken, working both at the federal level, and state level, and local level.
Q: Can you walk us a little bit through the timetable for when the President sort of became aware of this, and what got him to the threshold of putting this out now? I know he gets a daily briefing.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Secretary Ridge has been talking about some of these high-profile events previously. And in terms of now, you have the Memorial Day weekend coming up. That kind of kicks off the summer time period for us. And the intelligence we've been receiving indicates that terrorists may want to attack us during this time period. But the President receives his intelligence briefings every morning. It's one of the first things he does when he starts his morning. And he has continued to receive intelligence over the last couple of months indicating what I said earlier.
Q: Scott, could I ask about the Amnesty report, which we talked about in the briefing earlier, and its contention that the U.S.-led war on terror has resulted in the worst attack on human rights and the rule of law in 50 years? Helen talked about Guantanamo and the decision not to apply the Geneva Accords there, but let me just specifically quote from the report. They blame this administration for "picking and choosing which bits of international law it will apply and where." What is your response to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, my response is that the war on terrorism has resulted in the liberation of 50 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the protection of their rights. People in those countries did not have the kinds of protections that we're used to in the United States. And now they do. So the war on terror has helped protect human rights for some 50 million people.
Q: So does that justify -- does that end, protecting those people, and obviously the American people, as well, justify the means of picking and choosing which bits of international law it will apply and where?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has been very clear in terms of applying international law to detainees -- if that's what you're referring to, which I suspect it is. He's made it very clear that whether or not the Geneva Conventions apply, that those detainees should be treated humanely. And you have to keep in mind that al Qaeda is not -- does not represent a nation. It is not a party to the Geneva Conventions. The United States is.
Q: They're human beings, aren't they?
MR. McCLELLAN: And certainly Iraq was. And the Geneva Convention applies in the Iraq. And in terms of the al Qaeda and Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the President has made it very clear that he expects our military to treat them humanely and consistent with the Geneva Accords. But we also have to remember, as we're talking about today, that we are at war on terrorism, and that it's important to talk to these individuals and gather as much information as we can to try to prevent attacks from happening in the first place. These are individual at Guantanamo Bay who were involved, or want to help carry out attacks against the American people.
Q: So why don't you charge them and try them?
MR. McCLELLAN: And these are dangerous people. And despite that, the President has made it clear that he expects our military to treat them humanely and consistent with the Geneva Accords.
Q: They also, by the way, accuse the administration of, in effect, giving a green light to places like Uzbekistan and elsewhere to basically shield under the war on terror for some pretty awful human rights abuses.
MR. McCLELLAN: The United States of America is a leading advocate of protecting human rights, and we will continue to be.
Q: Scott, on the question of post-June 30th military operations in Iraq, London is continuing to say that the final political control would rest with the new Iraqi government, whereas we had Colin Powell saying yesterday that, ultimately, if it came to it, U.S. commanders would have the final say. Both Mr. Blair and Mr. Powell can't both be right. Which one has got it right?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think that we're saying the same thing. One, the Iraqi government, come June 30th, will have full sovereignty. We've made that very clear. And we've also talked about how we work in partnership with the Iraqi interim government going forward. We will work in partnership with that government. We will work in close cooperation with the Iraqi security forces. We want to get to a point where the Iraqis are able to provide for their own security. Right now there are ongoing security threats that they face. And we will be there to partner with those security forces as we train and equip them to assume those responsibilities in the future.
There are certainly a number of examples elsewhere, where we have worked out the security arrangements with the sovereign government that is in place. We carry out this kind of cooperation in Afghanistan, on a daily basis with the government in Afghanistan.
Q: I'm aware of that. But let's say push came to shove, who would have the final say?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me make clear, the United Nations Security Council resolution points out that the multinational force under unified command will be in Iraq with the consent of the Iraqi government, and it also talks about how we will be providing a letter to the President of the United Nations Security Council outlining the relationship between that interim government and the multinational force.
Certainly, we have made it very clear that American troops will be under American command. Iraqi forces will be under an Iraqi chain of command. And we're going to work together to address these security threats. If the United States forces are in a position where they need to protect themselves, they will do so. But there are plenty of examples of where we've worked in close cooperation with governments that are sovereign to support their security efforts.
Q: Would you clarify on the letter -- it's a letter the U.S. will write to the Secretary General --
MR. McCLELLAN: It will be an agreement between the multinational force and the interim Iraqi government. So that's the way you should look at it, an agreement between those entities, talking about the relationship. It will be provided to the Security Council.
Q: Has the President given any consideration to delaying his acceptance of the nomination until Columbus Day if Senator Kerry delays his acceptance of the nomination until Labor Day?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, Les, and the campaign is the best place to address these types of questions.
Q: The Washington Post reported at length about the superintendent of the Naval Academy ordering a revision in the 81-year-old song, "Navy Blue and Gold," that all references to men will be eliminated. And my question: Does the Commander-in-Chief believe it is fair to do this when the Academy continues to virtually shave the heads of all incoming male plebes, but none of the female plebes?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, the President has --
Q: Does he think that's fair, as Commander-in-Chief?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, the President has confidence that our military leaders can address these issues appropriately.
Q: It's my understanding that the U.S.-driven peace agreement has been reached in the Sudan. This is a terrific event, considering the nature of the conflict in Sudan, and the fact that they have quite a bit of oil that could certainly help us out in this current crisis. Is this -- is it true that a deal has been reached, and will there be a signing ceremony here in the United States?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me just tell you what I know, in terms of the latest situation in Sudan. There is progress being made, is my understanding. Darfur is a serious human rights crisis and a humanitarian disaster has been brewing. And we believe ultimately the situation needs to be reversed, to allow those who have been displaced to return to their homes safely.
And just yesterday, the Security Council adopted a statement on this that strongly condemns those ongoing acts of violence and the widespread human rights abuses. We're talking about human rights issues earlier in this situation. But there is some progress being made toward a comprehensive peace agreement, and that is where we're working to get in the Sudan.
Q: Senator Danforth has been working there for several years to lead this drive for a peace agreement. And it's my understanding that one has been reached.
MR. McCLELLAN: We've continued to work very closely on that. I don't have the latest update on -- in terms of whether or not one has been reached. But we've continued to work through the efforts of Senator Danforth to get to a comprehensive peace agreement. We worked very closely with the international community and the parties there on those efforts.
Q: Scott, two questions. One, can you please describe about President's phone call with the Prime Minister of India, Mr. Singh, this morning -- how long they talked and what they discussed and what were the --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it was a little more than five minutes. It was a congratulatory phone call. I talked about it a little bit earlier today. The President congratulated him on assuming the position of Prime Minister, and the two leaders said they looked forward to working with each other to continue to build upon our strong relations. And the President also talked about the importance of continuing dialogue with -- between India and Pakistan.
Q: Second question, going back to the terrorists. So many people have been blaming the law enforcement agencies that they're not doing enough. The question here is that they have been working like this for 24 hours a day and seven days a week. You think they have -- they may have been misled by the people, because some of -- if the al Qaedas are in the United States, like during 9/11, that some people were harboring them and helping them, because they were staying somewhere in the U.S., with someone, and people knew. So you think we should have a public -- where do they stay and how they can help the law enforcement agencies?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I would point out that this President certainly learned the lessons of September 11th. And that's why we are, on the one hand, waging the war on terrorism on the offensive, but we are also taking unprecedented measures to strengthen our security hear at home. That is a reason we move forward on creating the Department of Homeland Security and bringing those 22 agencies together to make sure that their top priority was on combating terrorism and preventing attacks from happening in the first place. You are going to hear from two individuals here, very shortly, who have also made sure that those departments and agencies focus their efforts, first and foremost, on preventing attacks from happening in the first place.
And so we are working very closely at the federal, state and local level, to address these threats. We have worked to ramp up our border security and to improve our port security. We have strengthened our aviation security in a number of different ways. So there are any number of steps we are taking to protect the homeland, and we will continue to build on those efforts, because we will not rest as long as there are those out there who want to harm Americans.
Q: Just very briefly. Do you have anything else on what the President told President Bongo on the trafficking in persons? Human rights groups says that President Bongo's government is actively complicit in trafficking --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me see what else I can get you on that. Let me see what else I can get you.
Q: Just on today's announcement. Would you consider the effort to prevent terrorist attacks in this country part of the overall war on terror?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, part of a war on terrorism, preventing attacks from happening in the first place.
Q: Is it not true that by federal statute that that effort, within the borders of the continental United States, is primarily a law enforcement operation?
MR. McCLELLAN: Protecting the homeland? We're working on a number of different fronts. You learn information together, from your efforts overseas. You learn information from cracking down on terrorist financing.
Q: Is it not true that within the United States that efforts to prevent terrorism is, in fact, a law enforcement operation?
MR. McCLELLAN: John, the war on terrorism is fought on many different fronts. And it's also part of that war on terrorism, is making sure we're protecting the homeland. And that's the way I would describe it.
Q: Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 1:51 P.M. EDT
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