Press briefing incl. FBI Dir. Mueller & Homeland Security Dir. Ridge
DIRECTOR MUELLER: ...[W]e in the FBI realize that the general threat warning that was issued last Monday was frustrating to many law enforcement officials. However, as we work to prevent future acts of terrorism, we believe in the FBI and I believe in the Homeland Defense Office that we have a responsibility to keep everybody informed, even when the level of information may not be as specific as any of us would like.
By issuing the warnings, we are sending a strong signal to terrorists that we are focused, prepared and united in our determination to keep them from attacking our freedom.
Q Given the fact, Director Mueller, that the threat advisory on the western suspension bridges apparently contained the suggestion that it not be shared with the media, could Governor Davis' release of it have jeopardized ongoing investigations?
DIRECTOR MUELLER: We put out that warning to law enforcement with the expectation that it would go to the senior officials in any particular state. And with regard to what that senior official does, that is up to that senior official in the state.
Q: Governor [Homeland Security Dir. Ridge], could you give us your perspective on what happened yesterday with this threat warning on suspension bridges in California, what might have been learned from what happened; and whether or not you're considering at all some kind of perhaps more regularized threat warning -- sort of like the military does, with some threat-con level that would clue people in as to what level of alert they ought to be on?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: One of the challenges for this office and for the country, in creation of a national homeland security force, is that it's a federal government, and that we have to deal with different levels of -- different political jurisdictions. And so the integration of federal data collection and information gathering, the state intelligence and information sharing on the local is something that we have done in the past, but it's pretty clear that given the events of September 11th, how we go about approaching the new normalcy, how we go about dealing with this new environment has created some real challenges for us.
The information was sent out and it noted that it was uncorroborated test information. I think we can safely assume that once we send out from the federal level to the state level and suggest that it remain within law enforcement, there's not too much that's kept secret once that kind of information is made available to somebody in the country.
And the Governor exercised his discretion and made a judgment.
Q But you admitted just a couple days earlier that if you sent it to law enforcement, it would get out anyway, so you released it. Why didn't you release this?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Remember one of the criticisms of the alert -- and everybody is trying to be constructive about this, I understand -- was that the alert that went out Monday, with the exception of a time frame, did not offer any additional information as to the location, the type of weapon and the like.
This, although uncorroborated, targeted a time frame and a place. It was based on that information that again it was sent out to the law enforcement community. Governors of all 50 states, since September 11th -- and I think it's very important to note this, and their state police and their local police and their emergency responders -- have really upgraded dramatically the security enhancements at potentially vulnerable targets.
Again, given the federal nature -- and each governor and each county executive and each region makes different assessments as to the best way they can harden those targets and the best way they can interdict or prevent a terrorist attack.
Obviously, Governor Davis thought that one thing that he could do to enhance the security of people using those bridges was to make a public announcement. We did not encourage him to do so.
Q In light of that, though, Governor, following up on Terry's questions, are you going to have conversations maybe with other governors, lessons learned here, in terms of for future, that the best guidance --
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Yes.
Q So what will your advice be to governors?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: Great question. We are learning every day. We're in constant conversation. I had -- Wednesday I had four conversations with four governors. Yesterday, I think I talked to two or three. As we work our way through better coordination, better communication, we view every response to every single incident in the light of what can we do differently, what can we do better.
You know, America post-September 11th is dramatically -- unfortunately, dramatically different than September 10th. So we look at every one.
Q Is the threat level today the same as the threat level you announced on Monday? Should Americans go into this weekend believing that the threat level is the same as you announced for a heightened state of alert last Monday? And are you doing anything to try to rank these levels, so that there are different levels of warning?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: For the time being, Bill, we want people -- whether they're involved professionally in security and law enforcement, or the public generally -- to be on the highest possible state of alert. I know that seems -- some people suggest that that is a contradictory message. But the bottom line is, is that what the terrorists want us to do is to be so preoccupied with the threat that we forget what it is about being America and going about our business of being America.
Director Mueller I believe said it very appropriately. We have the eyes and ears of citizens who can help us in this effort. We didn't think we'd have to enlist them, given the security concerns that the country had on September 10th. But as of September 11th, the need, and one of the reasons that the alert goes out, was just to remind all Americans, regardless of whether their daily responsibilities have anything to do with domestic security, that your eyes, your ears, your being alert, your being on call to respond to the inquiries that the FBI has made, to -- if nothing else, that an employee in the airlines now, that they're just a little more suspicious, a little more attentive; that individual providing security on the street corner; the local police officer at a high school athletic event -- just everybody keep their eyes and ears -- be attentive, be on guard, but go about the business of being America.
Q What is the nature of the threat now? I mean, you must be getting new information all the time. Is it worse than it was on Monday? Does it still expire in a week? As far as I know, the first treat that you issued never expired, either.
GOVERNOR RIDGE: We know that bin Laden and al Qaeda have set up terrorist cells around the world. And we know that both internally and externally there are people who would murder innocent Americans. And we know that it may be a long time -- perhaps we'll never be able to identify and detain every single human being, whether they're located in this country or elsewhere, that would do us harm. The world has changed since September 11th, everybody has said it, and everybody probably gets tired of reading it and saying it. But it is a fact, and a reality that we deal with.
That simply means that as we go about building on what I found to be a rather extraordinary infrastructure of homeland security when I first walked into the office, while we go about building out on that -- on those organizations and those people, we enlist America, citizens, to help us in that effort. So be alert and go about the business of being Americans.
Q Are we still -- until Monday, or does it still end on Monday, it's still a week-long threat?
GOVERNOR RIDGE: We're going to keep everybody on the Monday alert, that attentiveness indefinitely.
Press availability by President Bush
Q Mr. President...if you could just comment on how California Governor Davis handled that FBI alert yesterday, and if you think your administration wants to issue any guidelines for state and local authorities to handle this in the future?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, as a former governor, I didn't particularly care when the federal government tried to tell me how to do my business. When I was the Governor of Texas, I was elected by the people of Texas, and I handled my state's business the way I thought was necessary. And I think any governor should be able to conduct their business the way they see fit.
I think what should be noticed is, is that we are constantly in touch with state and local authorities as to general and/or specific threats. Part of the homeland defense is active and strong communications, so that governors, and/or local authorities, can harden targets, respond to uncorroborated evidence, and to protect their people.