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White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
Washington, D.C.
September 12, 2001
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QUESTION: Well, some other action that was going on. I mean, obviously the four planes that we know were hijacked, clearly -- I mean, were no threat to Air Force One.

MR. FLEISCHER: There was real and credible information that came in to the White House, and that is the reason why the White House, Air Force One, took the actions that it took, in accordance with all existing plans. And that also included, yesterday, as those who traveled with us knew, that we were not going to indicate where Air Force One was heading to.

QUESTION: Ari, involving one of those planes -- one of those four planes, Ari, is that where the credible threat, or can you say? Or are we talking about something totally different?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, you're asking me, in essence, what the source of information is, and I think the American people --

QUESTION: No, haven't we accounted for those four planes and what their targets were? Which, by deduction, you would assume there was something else that we're talking about targeting Air Force One. Can we make that assumption?

MR. FLEISCHER: I am not going to lead you any further as to speculating about what was the nature of the threat to Air Force One. But as I indicated, and I'll say it again, it was real, it was credible and --

QUESTION: Can you say it was not one of the four planes that we have accounted for?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to speculate about the nature of it.

QUESTION: Could I ask you this question? Was the President's original destination, upon departure from Sarasota, Andrews Air Force Base?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm just not going to get into those type of details about Air Force One's operations and its locations.

QUESTION: I'm just wondering if it was your intention to return to Washington, and then you changed plans?

MR. FLEISCHER: Suffice it to say, if people suspected that the likely location of a return of Air Force One would be to Andrews Air Force Base, if the President were returning to Washington, it would be wise, and in the interest of the country, for Air Force One not to return to the location that would have been predictable.

QUESTION: Ari, all the fingers are being pointed at Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan; he is being helped by, supported by Taliban and bases in Pakistan. So are we talking about now going against Afghanistan or Pakistan? And if it happened, then it is all in the name of Islam. So is it time now for the United States not to wait anymore, more innocent people will be killed in the name of terrorism?

MR. FLEISCHER: I was asked earlier about who we believe is the source of this. And I indicated that the United States continues to gather the facts about that information. So your question presupposes the answer, and I'm not prepared to do that.
Q Surely, investigators have uncovered reams of credible information that you've chosen not to release. Why did you decide to release this information to us today and just this information?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because just as the President said in his remarks this morning -- and I'm quoting from the President -- "The American people need to know that we are facing a different enemy than we have ever faced." And the President, having said that, thought it was appropriate to let the American people know the lengths to which those who perpetrated these terrorist acts were prepared to go in an attack on our nation.

QUESTION: Were there any other targets that we don't know about?

MR. FLEISCHER: These are the only ones that I'm aware of, Campbell.

QUESTION: Is the President satisfied, and should the American people be satisfied, with the performance of the intelligence community in this country, given what happened yesterday?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that the intelligence community and the nation's military are the best in the world. And, clearly, something yesterday took place in New York that was not foreseen, that we had no specific information about. But the President's focus right now is on helping those who have lost their -- the families of those who have lost their lives and those who are suffering in this tragedy; and then on taking whatever the appropriate next steps should be.

QUESTION: Does he want to know what went wrong? Has he asked to find out where the gaps were?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think at the appropriate time the President will ask all appropriate questions. But the President is focused now on getting help to those who need help in New York, here at the Pentagon and on to talking with his national security team about any appropriate actions.

QUESTION: Ari, in terms of the President's statement this morning that this was an act of war, was it the realization that both the White House and Air Force One were targeted that elevated his language to talk about an act of war? Was it a threat against the head of this country that elevated it to that level?

MR. FLEISCHER: John, I think that the actions against the soil of the United States are what led the President to say that this was an act of war against the United States.

QUESTION: But why not use the word "war" last night in his televised address to the nation? What changed overnight to ratchet up that rhetoric?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that you are just going to continue to hear the President speak out on a regular basis, and the President will share his thoughts with you as his thoughts develop as a result of the conversations he has with the security team, and as he thinks this matter through in his mind, and shares information with the public.

QUESTION: And how much money are you talking about in this spending request? You know, are we correct to assume it's in the billions of dollars?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's a correct assumption. And, again, once we have specific information, more specific than that, I will get it to you. But the President made it clear that this should not be an open-ended commitment.

QUESTION: But a ball park in tens of billions?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll have -- as soon as the information is better developed in our conversations with the Congress, I'm going to do my best to provide it to you in specificity.

QUESTION: What are you hearing from the President's financial working group about a possible timetable to reopen the markets? And how important is that to not only investors in this country, but to the global economy?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, on the first part of your question the Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as the Department of Treasury, are looking at that matter. And so I'm going to leave that answer up to them.

But, obviously, as the President said today, the federal government and all our agencies are conducting business, but it is not business as usual. But the President is cognizant of the fact that it's important to get as much back on line as quickly as is possible, and all the agencies of the government are tasked with doing so.

QUESTION: Ari, given the President's language today, is there any discussion here of asking Congress for a declaration of war?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, again, as the President said, there were acts of war that were carried out against our country. And the President will continue to work with Congress on any appropriate measures at the appropriate time.

But, you know, this is also a different situation from situations our nation has faced in the past, and the President is cognizant of that. As the President indicated, in this case, as we ascertain information, we are dealing, at least at this point, with nameless, faceless people. And it is a different type of war than it was, say, when you knew the capitol of the country that attacked you.

So we will continue to work with the Congress on appropriate language on the appropriate time.

QUESTION: So, just to try to understand your answer, given what you said, since it is unclear who has done this, or officially unclear who has done this at this point, is it less likely that there will be a request for a declaration of war?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I didn't indicate one way or another. I said that the President will continue to work with Congress on appropriate language at the appropriate time.

QUESTION: So you're not ruling it out, then?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've answered the question.

QUESTION: Are you planning a major expansion in the Sky Marshals program?

MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, that's a question that you need to talk to the Department of Transportation about. They'll be addressing all issues dealing with airline safety.

QUESTION: What is the President's mood right now, his state of mind? How is he -- through the day?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I gave you some indication about the meeting with members of Congress. And I really have to say that it was a striking meeting, in that the leaders of our nation in the Congress, regardless of party, and in the White House, are resolute and are shoulder to shoulder. And that is the President's mood.

I indicated yesterday that the President is determined, and I think that is still a fitting description of the President.

QUESTION: There are administration officials who are describing him as more angry than they had ever seen him. Do you see that?

MR. FLEISCHER: I see him as determined. There's no question that the President has strong thoughts and strong feelings. But the President also is focused on this matter in a way that -- again, I just go back to the meeting he had with the members of Congress. He is focused on rallying our nation, on helping those who need help at this time -- in New York and at the Pentagon -- expressing his sorrow to the families involved, and ascertaining all facts and all information so that the United States can and will do the right thing.

QUESTION: Ari, has he heard from or reached out to former Presidents for advice, for counsel, for support?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have any information, Kelly, about any former Presidents that he's talked to beyond what I indicated yesterday.

QUESTION: Ari, as to the meeting with the leaders of Congress today, does the President come out of that thinking he has carte blanche in a response, et cetera?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President does not think that. The President is going to want to continue to consult. The President is going to continue to lead. But the President understands that at all times, it's important to work with Congress. But it's particularly important now to consult with the Congress.

One of the greatest strengths of our country is that we are a constitution-based democracy. Our Constitution and our nation have survived acts of terror and attacks on our nation before. And the President knows that the strength of our nation comes from that Constitution, which gives an important role to Congress. And he will continue to consult closely with Congress and its leaders.

QUESTION: Ari, on the threat to Air Force One, are you really saying that this was an assassination plot that either went awry or was thwarted by our reactions, the U.S. reaction?

MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, I'm not going to speculate about that. I'm just going to share the information that I've shared about what the targets were, and I think you can draw your own conclusions.

QUESTION: Let me ask you about the idea of willingness to attack those who host terrorism. Is this a change in the U.S. policy for how we treat these countries who may not have participated in the act, but may have known that these terrorists were in-country? Is this a change in U.S. policy? And, if so, where does it come from?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you know, I'm not -- I don't know if this is a change or not. Of course, given the fact that President Bush has been in office, now, for nine months, this is, I think, an example of how President Bush is going to address this in a resolute manner. The President's words speak for themselves about what he said and why he said it, and everyone should be clear about what the President said.

QUESTION: Ari, the President is outspoken about his religious faith. Can you tell us if he's had any conversations with pastors or religious leaders over the course of events of the last two days?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I have not asked him that, so I do not know.

QUESTION: He quoted the Bible in the speech last night. Is it safe to assume that his religious faith is sustaining him during the crisis?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that in all things, the President's religious faith sustains him, particularly at a time like now.

QUESTION: Before this occurred, the Congress and the President were at odds about the budget and about spending this year. As a result of this patriotic meeting today, does the President have any reason to believe that that will be resolved more easily?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think there is no question there is a real sense from members of Congress and the President about the importance of working together on all issues. And as always, the government, the President, all agencies, will continue to work closely with Congress. And there will be other important issues that get addressed, as this international issue gets addressed.

QUESTION: Ari, will the President have to dip into Social Security surplus to get for these terrorist funds? And one unrelated question: how can you declare war against a nation when you don't know the nation involved?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's one of the answers I gave earlier when I was asked that question --

QUESTION: You don't declare war against an individual, surely.

MR. FLEISCHER: And that's why I indicated that we would continue to work with the Congress on appropriate language at the appropriate time. But as the President just said, this is a nameless, faceless act at this point. And so that's where the President is on that.

As for Social Security, you know, again, the fiscal year will end on September 30th. We will have more specific information at that time. But clearly the situation has changed. But the President was always going to be mindful of the economy, will always be mindful of the need to help our nation's seniors. And that's another reason it's so important that the government is up and functioning -- seniors are receiving their Social Security checks.

And as the President said, it's not business as usual. But the business of the nation and the government is going on.

QUESTION: Does he feel he has to have a declaration of war to go after known terrorists?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's speculating about what the President is going to do, and I'm just not going to do that.

QUESTION: No, it isn't. I mean, this would be an MO. Would we really go --

MR. FLEISCHER: That would presume a certain action by the President, and so I'm not prepared to comment.

QUESTION: Ari, you said earlier that the President has spoken with his father. Can you tell us, is former President George Bush any kind of adviser throughout this crisis management?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I've indicated throughout the year, when the President speaks with his father, he speaks with him as a son, and also as someone who speaks with former Presidents. And in all his communications with former Presidents, the President has asked me to keep those confidential. And I will continue to do so.

QUESTION: Ari, as a result of the extensive briefings that the President has now had since the attacks of yesterday morning, does he have any reason to believe that there are any further attacks that may be planned?

MR. FLEISCHER: As the President indicated today in his remarks, it is not business as usual. And there are heightened security and tightened security measures in place. He has also said that our nation is going to move forward. So at all times, the United States government will continue to be vigilant and protective of its citizens. We do live in an open and free society. But obviously the attacks that were planned yesterday were executed yesterday.

QUESTION: Ari, on airport security, I know that the Department of Transportation will do a briefing, and of course the FAA is sort of putting out a directive for tighter security standards. Is the President calling for any review, right off the bat, now, of security procedures at airports? I mean, does he see any more federal needs in such a way, of sort of federalizing security at the nation's airports?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is confident that Secretary Mineta is fully addressing this matter. Secretary Mineta has been in regular contact, not only with the airlines, but also with the intelligence community, as well as with other authorities as part of the President's team that he has put together to address this matter -- not only in the sense of one agency's responsibility involving travel, but also how all other government agencies can contribute to the safety and security of the American people in helping the Department of Transportation to carry out its mission.

QUESTION: So is the Secretary then conducting a review right now of all security procedures?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a question you should address directly to the Secretary.

QUESTION: Ari, has the President started to contemplate his military options with the national security team today?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, any questions dealing with what military options the President may or may not be considering is a question, I'm sure you can appreciate, the American people do not want answered publicly. And I'm just not going to discuss that issue.

QUESTION: Ari, you spoke earlier today about the President's desire to go to New York City. Have you gone any further down that road today?

MR. FLEISCHER: John, the President would like to go to New York City. The President's heart goes out to those who live in New York, to the families who have lost loved ones and to all New Yorkers, and to all Americans who look at New York and see a beautiful skyline that is now altered.

But the President is also cognizant of the fact that nothing should be done that would in any way hinder the ability of those who are carrying out the rescue efforts to find survivors and get them out. And any time the President travels, it does create issues for people on the ground, and the President is not going to try to do anything that would make anything harder for the people who are carrying out their number one priority.

So at the appropriate time, the President will go to New York. But the President's first focus is on making sure that the rescue workers are able to conduct their jobs.

QUESTION: Can you give us a little more detail on the President's day after, or following the meeting with congressional leaders? Was anyone else at this lunch with Cheney? What happened between -- after the lunch with Cheney and right now?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President and Vice President Cheney had lunch in the private dining room right off the Oval Office. The President then made additional phone calls to foreign leaders, and began a meeting just a little while ago with his national security team.

QUESTION: Did he make any phone calls outside of foreign leaders? Did he call anyone else?

MR. FLEISCHER: I only have a rundown on the foreign leader calls, Jim.

QUESTION: Ari, about the phone calls. I'm a little puzzled why it was necessary to talk twice in a day to President Putin. My question is, have the two presidents confirmed their desire to meet according to the schedule that is known -- in China and then in Texas?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me just say on the question of how many times they spoke, the President is going to continue to reach out and talk to people, per his judgment, about how to bring about a coalition that will rally the world against terrorism. And it's, I think, a sign of the strength of the world reaction in response to this act of terrorism in New York.

As for any further scheduling of events, we're going to keep you informed about anything. But I have no information about any changes in the President's schedule beyond the immediate short-term. And so you should not anticipate any, unless and until -- and you may not be advised. They may all be underway just as planned. But events are just beginning, and we are going to keep you informed.

QUESTION: Is an emergency session of the G-8, though -- that the Italians seem to be suggesting now -- is it something that the White House is considering?

MR. FLEISCHER: Questions of the G-8 involve the finance and treasury ministers, so that's a question you should address to Treasury.

QUESTION: Ari, can I ask again, by saying that these are acts of war, what exactly does that mean practically, when the President says that? Where does that take him?

MR. FLEISCHER: That the United States was attacked. American soil was attacked. And the President will describe this, as he always has and he always does, in a frank and forthright fashion.

QUESTION: And therefore, is there -- does that pave the way for an action by Congress?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you're getting at a question that I've addressed earlier. I think that --

QUESTION: I'm just trying again to --

MR. FLEISCHER: The words the President used speak for themselves.

QUESTION: Ari, is the President seeking any further Security Council action, to your knowledge?

MR. FLEISCHER: At the United Nations?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have any further information on that. That's something you should talk to State about.

QUESTION: And Ari, there are some major international gatherings scheduled in the United States soon -- the IMF/World Bank meeting here, the U.N. General Assembly. Is the President considering any action in regard to those, suggesting perhaps that they be cancelled or moved?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated earlier, the President's schedule for the next several days is being revised, so that the President can spend the maximum amount of time focused on what has taken place. Any other events that are on the President's schedule beyond a week, two weeks, an extended period, we will deal with those events as they become closer.

QUESTION: Because he believes that those should still take place as scheduled in these cities?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I think it's too soon to say. This act of terrorism took place yesterday, and the government is continuing to gather the facts about it. And as decisions are made, as events come upon us per the schedule on the calendar, we'll share those decisions with you.

QUESTION: On the phrase "act of war", are you saying that is just a phrase describing what happened? Or does it carry any legal, or political, or constitutional significance?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the American people know that when the United States is attacked in the manner it was attacked, this is an act of war. And I think there is no other way to describe it. And I think that's what the American people expect from their President, is a President who will talk with them straight and direct about it.

QUESTION: Well, I was asking, does it also carry some sort of legal, congressional, or constitutional significance? Or is he just describing what happened?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, anything dealing with Congress is something that the President will work Congress on, appropriate language at the appropriate time.

QUESTION: Ari, I wonder if you could respond to, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld talked at length about his concerns about sloppy handling of classified information. He says this is something that's happening daily. Does the President share his concerns? Is there something the President wants to do about it? And is there any sense -- it's sort of concerned with why the Secretary brought this up -- a sense that mishandling or sloppy handling of classified information contributed to these four attacks?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, that's not the sense. At a time like this, it's a very healthy reminder to all concerned that this is not business as usual. And anybody in the government who is in receipt of classified information must at all times obey the law that makes that information classified for a good reason, because it's to protect the security of the country and individuals around the world.

QUESTION: Members of Congress, is that what he's talking about?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to address specifically, but it's a wise reminder to all concerned.

QUESTION: Ari, is it -- going back to Air Force One, is it fair to assume that once he decided to leave Nebraska and head for Washington, that it was -- that you were confident that the threat was over at that point?

MR. FLEISCHER: To leave Nebraska and head back to Washington? Yes. On the flight to Nebraska from Louisiana, the President indicated that he wanted to get back to Washington as soon as possible. He was advised at that point, the recommendation to him was it would not be prudent to return to Washington at that time, given the information that we had here in Washington.

Following his meeting in Nebraska, the President made the determination to return. And obviously it was safe enough for him to do so.

QUESTION: Ari, we started off this briefing by you saying that there was specific and credible evidence that the plane that hit the Pentagon was originally targeted for the White House.

MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.

QUESTION: Do you have specific and credible evidence on the intended target of the aircraft that went down in Pennsylvania?

MR. FLEISCHER: Do not.

QUESTION: Ari, going back to the --

QUESTION: Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yeah, you haven't had one yet, so let's go here and then there.

QUESTION: Ari, Secretary Powell said today that he had also spoken to Chairman Arafat, with Sharon, and with Shimon Peres, indicating that he also wants to try and get some motion into discussions in the Middle East. Now, given that this incident may be totally unconnected with anything going on in the Middle East, doesn't the President now feel that perhaps the volatility which has existed there probably should -- more measures must be taken to get that to subside?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think from the President's point of view, this is a wake-up call to all concerned that terrorism must be combatted in all its forms and in every way. And this presents people with an opportunity to work together now, to move beyond the disputes of the past. And we'll see what events unfold as a result of this.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Ari, will we see the President again today, or hear from him?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll keep you informed.

END 4:36 P.M. EDT