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America's New War: Ari Fleischer Gives White House Briefing

Aired October 30, 2001 - 12:02   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: White House spokesman Ari Fleischer has stepped up to the podium for his afternoon briefing, and so we will go immediately there.


The president this morning spoke with President Aliyev of Azerbaijan and President Kocharyan of Armenia. The conversations focused on their strong expressions of support for the war on terrorism, and President Bush welcomed their support. All three presidents reaffirmed their commitments to peace and stability in the Caucasus region and to advancing efforts to reach a peaceful settlement with regard to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

President Bush underscored the importance of Congress taking final action to pass authority to waive restrictions on assistance imposed by Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act. Once that waiver is granted to the president by the Congress, which is now pending, that will allow the president to do more with Armenia, as well as Azerbaijan, to fight terrorism and to facilitate deeper cooperation in the region.

Following the phone calls, the president met with his intelligence advisers, with the homeland security advisers, Governor Ridge, and then he convened a meeting of the National Security Council.

The president later today will arrive at the Wooten (ph) High School in Rockville, Maryland, where he will participate in a "Lessons for Liberty" program. This is a new initiative that the president is declaring to declare the week of November 11-17 as National Veterans Awareness Week. He will ask schools throughout the country -- public, private, as well as home schools -- to invite a veteran to speak about their experience in serving our country, the significance of Veterans Day, and the importance of supporting the ideas of liberty, democracy and freedom.

The president will return to the White House following that. He will have several meetings here, including a meeting with the co- chairs of the commission to strengthen Social Security. Social Security remains a very important issue to the president, saving and preserving Social Security, while allowing younger workers to have more options in the Social Security system. The president later this afternoon will depart for New York, where he will throw out the first pitch in the World Series tonight at Yankee Stadium.

And I do not have any additional announcements, so I'm pleased to take your questions.

QUESTION: The warning that was issued yesterday and was based on credible information from multiple sources, as you said, is that connected in any way with Halloween, with the date of Halloween coming up?

FLEISCHER: No, I've heard no such reports that it may be connected with that.

QUESTION: Do you think you've learned a lesson now to tell the American people more without giving away state secrets?

QUESTION: I mean, you just leave people up in the air saying, "be on the alert." For what?

FLEISCHER: The American people have heard everything that we know.

QUESTION: We haven't heard everything you know.

FLEISCHER: The information that led to the issuing of this threat did not contain specific information, for example, about what sites, what state. If any of that were provided, we'd be sharing it. That's the best way to prevent terrorism from happening. The warnings that we have did not include any such information.

QUESTION: There must be a little bit more that you can give.

FLEISCHER: If there were more, it would be provided. That is what we know, and it was of a generalized nature. There was no specific information about any one sight or any one region or any one state. It was generalized information, which obviously has reached a credibility threshold where the attorney general along with the concurrence of the president made the decision to notify the 18,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide.

QUESTION: Could you describe some of the debate internally about just as there was with the October 11 alert, the debate within the administration about whether that was the prudent thing to do?

FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of anybody in the administration who questioned it. So I just can't answer that. I know what the process was and what the decision was.

And you also have to keep in mind that any time the government is going to send an alert to 18,000 law enforcement personnel, communities across the nation, it's going to become public. And once it does, everybody in this room is going to say, "Why didn't you tell us?" So also, there is a logical determination made that if it's going to get shared with such a wide universe, the proper thing to do is fully and forthrightly inform the American people and the press.

QUESTION: May I follow up on this one thing? Is your information as as nebulous as you're trying to transmit to the public?

FLEISCHER: I told you what the information was. You heard it from Governor Ridge at the same podium just an hour ago. My answer is no different from what the governor said to you. The information is as described. It is general information about a threat to the United States with no more specificity than that will take place sometime in the next week or so. And that's why that information was shared.

QUESTION: Governor Ridge suggested to us that some of the information was gathered from associates of Al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. Can you expand in any way on what he meant when he said that?

FLEISCHER: No. I don't want to get into anything more than that. I don't want to indicate who may be passing along the information to the United States, where this information could come from.

Suffice it to say, it came from sources that were deemed credible enough to take this public step.

QUESTION: So the public should conclude that this is something, if in fact it occurs, might possibly be sponsored by Al Qaeda.

FLEISCHER: I'm not going to speculate on who might be behind it.

QUESTION: Ari, do you have any idea how many Al Qaeda operatives there might be in this country and abroad, who are trained, ready to go to carry out these or make good on these threats? And any idea how many Al Qaeda operatives might have been caught up in the worldwide dragnet since September 11?

FLEISCHER: No. I don't have any reliable, hard information on that. As you know, Al Qaeda operates in some 50 to 60 nations worldwide. And the United States has been very vigilant, particularly since September 11, in trying to identify anybody who might be associated with Al Qaeda. Those efforts remain ongoing.

QUESTION: What about the number of operatives who may have been swept up in this worldwide dragnet?

FLEISCHER: I don't have any hard, reliable facts on that -- figures on that.

QUESTION: Ari, you say you can't give information about a threat, but can it be also -- our understanding is it could be abroad. It doesn't necessarily have to be (INAUDIBLE) United States. It could be an American interest abroad. Is that right?

FLEISCHER: Well, that's a very interesting question, because you've put your finger on something. The fact of the matter is that, Americans abroad, particularly in our embassy community, have been living with this nature of threat for quite a number of years. They've gone about their normal lives everyday showing up at their various embassies.

But you've heard repeatedly throughout this summer, heightened states of alert, and now it's for our embassies, particularly in the Mideast area. And so to people who have worked abroad, this is not anything new.

But the information in this threat pertained to the United States. Other threats have been received, as I indicated, over the summer.

But that's another example of how people have gotten used to this. The fact of the matter is, our diplomatic community, people who serve in the embassies, have been living with this for years. And they go about their normal lives everyday, showing up at work, taking their children to school and doing all the things that normal Americans do in a heightened security environment.

QUESTION: Ari, at the World Series, is the president -- being a big baseball fan -- trying to send a message by going to the game tonight?

FLEISCHER: Well, sure he is. The president is going to the game in Yankee Stadium because, one, he is a sports fan, and, two, because of the events in New York City for helping to do what all Americans are doing now, which is keeping the country doing what it typically does at this time of year. The World Series is a time of great excitement for many Americans.

FLEISCHER: The president is going to participate in that just like many Americans watch and enjoy the World Series. It helps to keep the fabric of our country strong.

QUESTION: Can you give any thoughts on the alert that the FBI agency issued and the danger of traveling in public?

FLEISCHER: Obviously, the president follows the advice of the Secret Service, and he has full faith in the ability of the Secret Service to keep himself safe anytime, anywhere.

QUESTION: And it was considered a prudent precaution to have the vice president someplace else.

FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: Ari, there's an increase in the number of world leaders of Muslim nations who are calling for a pause in the bombing during Ramadan, and there are polls in even Western European countries that show a declining support for U.S. military action in Afghanistan. How concerned is the president that support for the military operations is on the decline around the world?

FLEISCHER: The president is confident that the support is strong for the operation. It's strong among the American people, and it's strong elsewhere. And the president knows that this military operation is about saving lives and protecting citizens not only here, but abroad. Keep in mind that citizens from 80 countries were killed by the terrorist attack in America on September 11, and the president is mindful of that fact.

And the president is waging this war because our country was attacked and our country will defend itself. He will keep building the coalition, keep working with the coalition, but he will take the actions necessary in concert with our friends to protect America.

QUESTION: But isn't there hard evidence in the statement of these leaders and in polls that that support is not as strong as it was several weeks ago?


QUESTION: And is it -- are the actions of the U.S. constrained at all by what is, obviously, a cooling towards our operations?

FLEISCHER: First, I just don't accept the premise of that. I think when you hear people say that they hope the operation of the military bombing, for example, will be over soon, who doesn't? Who doesn't wish it would be over soon?

FLEISCHER: But that doesn't mean they're saying stop it. They understand that the risk to terrorism is a risk to themselves as well, and this is a chance for this generation to take action to do something for the next generation and the generation after that, in the president's opinion, to make the world a safer world.

And the president is determined, the president is resolute, and the president understands that the American people are patient, they know it may take years, and he appreciates the strong support that the American people have shown toward their government and toward the military.

QUESTION: So no constraints on U.S. military options by overseas opinion?

FLEISCHER: Anything that would deal with military options, the Pentagon will be happy to discuss with you.

QUESTION: Is the president going to meet with moderate Republican lawmakers (OFF-MIKE)?

FLEISCHER: The president will be meeting with members of Congress to discuss the aviation bill that is pending in the Congress. As you know, the House will shortly vote on aviation measure, and the president thinks it's very important for the House to pass a bill that protects the traveling public. The public has laid a series of specific initiatives involving strengthening cockpit doors, putting air marshals on airplanes and having an increased federal role in the supervision of screeners and in the background checks of screeners. So he will be meeting with members of Congress as that vote approaches.


FLEISCHER: As always, once those meetings take place we post the members who arrive for the meetings, and we will do so again.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) just the House, right?

FLEISCHER: Today's meeting? Yes. The Senate has acted, so the action is in the House.

QUESTION: Ari, related to that, the Democratic National Committee yesterday conducted about 30 rallies around the country to try to pressure lawmakers and to put on the public message that the president's position is flat wrong on airline security. Does the president view this as the first significant open breach in what had been a new tone of cooperation and bipartisanship? And if so, what does he intend to do about it?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think the president believes that there's a balance to these things, that, on the one hand, it's appropriate for Congress to do what it normally does. And as Congress acts, it's not uncommon for various groups to get involved and to speak their mind and make their point.

I think the president would be disappointed if this turned into a party-building exercise that was done involving the Democrat National Committee and unions, for example, as an effort to somehow diminish the president politically or to build up Democrat loyalty and support from unions.

FLEISCHER: I think the president would be disappointed if that were the case.

QUESTION: Does he believe that is the case now?

FLEISCHER: Well, as I said, I think there is a balance to these things. And then, we'll just have to see what steps people take to make their points.

QUESTION: Do you still maintain his overall attempt to create and stick with this bipartisan (INAUDIBLE) even though it tends to, it has tended to aggravate some of his own Republican partisans?

FLEISCHER: I think the president is going to continue to work very closely with members of Congress from both parties. And I think from, depending on the issue, you're going to see a different line-up on how many people are willing to act in a bipartisan fashion. Many issues will have a bipartisan result on the Hill; other issues may not.

And the president is going to continue to push for passage of items that are on his agenda. The economic stimulus bill is a case in point. Clearly, on energy legislation and opening ANWR, there is bipartisan support to open ANWR. There is bipartisan support to pass an energy bill. Those actions are being stalled now in the Senate. And the president thinks that's much to the detriment of an independent energy policy for America.

QUESTION: Ari, as has been pointed out here previously, there have been these kinds of terrorism warnings in the past, even before September 11. I'm wondering where the Office of Homeland Security fits in in all of this? And who has the ultimate say in issuing these warnings?

FLEISCHER: This is a joint decision that was made. The president was informed about some of the intelligence information at his morning briefing yesterday. And then there was another meeting that was convened that involved the FBI, Governor Ridge, Dr. Rice, and they reached conclusions at that time. The president concurred in the conclusions that they reached. And that led the FBI to put out the statement it did.

QUESTION: The ultimate decision authority?

FLEISCHER: Ultimate decision authority would rests with the FBI. They are the agency of contact. But as I indicate, there is a collegiality to these things. There's a joint approach.

QUESTION: Ari, the Senate Finance Committee chairman is expected to outline a plan on the stimulus package today much along the line of the president's. He said, yesterday, there is a possibility that the package might never reach the president's desk. It's pretty much in the hands of the Senate. How do you expect this to advance if there is no indication on the part of the White House that there is some flexibility on the spending side? I think they've drawn a line in the sand on that, or am I wrong?.

FLEISCHER: Well, the president believes very strongly that there has already been $55 billion worth of spending approved by the Congress and signed into law by the president. So on the spending side, it's taken care of, it's been done.

FLEISCHER: So members of the Congress now say, "We want to spend more." The president thinks that the spending has been taken care of. The president thinks that the best way to stimulate the economy is not through spending but is through tax incentives to help get the economy growing again, rebates that allow people to have more money to spend in the economy, incentives for businesses to invest in new plant and equipment. That's the president's view.

QUESTION: This is a follow-up to a question asked during the last briefing. There's concern among the employees in the VOA and in the Cohen Building, including me, do not have testing and medicine available; only those who directly work in the mail room are allowed to get tested at this point. What is the White House policy on general testing for everyone who enters the building? And who makes the decisions on which buildings get tested and gets antibiotics?

FLEISCHER: These decisions are made based on the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control working with the local health officials and other agencies on the ground. And the protocol has been that, once something is discovered in a mail room, for example, the people who work in the mail room or visit the mail room are tested. That's been the pattern that has been followed.

And for example, the case here with the White House, where our remote facility tested positive with small traces of anthrax, they tested all the people who work at the remote facility, who visit the remote facility or who handle the mail here. There was no suggestion that everybody in the White House need to be tested.

And as I announced this morning, as a result of those tests now, which are more than 400 tests, there's not been a single positive case of anthrax found. All the results are now conclusively negative.

So it's always a question of finding the right balance between testing those who would be most likely to come into contact and not overreacting, not straining the capacity of our system where everybody in entire buildings are tested, who very well may not need any testing. Because of the time spent with testing, those people could take away from the time and the resources necessary to target the affected community, which has typically been the people in the mail rooms or visited the mail rooms.

QUESTION: But your chain of command is, it doesn't come from the CDC?

FLEISCHER: The protocol -- this is a health matter. And that -- protocols for health matters are set by the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control.

QUESTION: Ari, is there advice you can give to the American people on finding this balance between being on high alert and going on with their normal lives? And is maybe "normal" not the right word?

FLEISCHER: I think that when it comes to the balance of going on with normal lives and with adjusting to a heightened state of a security alert, the American people get it. They do understand that it is possible to do both. They do understand it's possible to go to work everyday, to take your children to school everyday, to enjoy after-work, after-school activities, while knowing that the law enforcement community is on a heightened state of alert.

I see nothing in America to suggest the country is otherwise not understanding of it or accepting of it. Nobody likes it. But I see nothing that suggests the country doesn't understand it.

QUESTION: Well, actually, you know, I've given a couple of speeches, and I've got to tell you that the constant question in various forms that I get everywhere is, how do you strike this balance?

QUESTION: I mean, because normal is not really what you're telling people to do. You're telling them to also be on alert. You know, I -- I don't know. I mean, I was just wondering if there was some advice of how to balance this, too. And, you know, I do think there's concern out there.

FLEISCHER: There's no question there's concern. There's no question there's anxiety. But there's also reason and calm, which is also in the finest traditions of this country. There's been no challenge ever raised to our country before that the people of this country did not meet.

And you say it's not normal and you're correct -- neither is war, and our nation is at war. War is not a normal status for the United States of America. But make no mistake, our country is at war and that's why everybody is being asked to adjust to this new environment.

It's not like life was on September 10. Governor Ridge addressed that this morning when he said that he can't know when life will return to the way it was prior to September 10. The events on September 11 have obviously affected the American psyche and have affected our country, have affected the actions we're taking.

But make no mistake, every time in every generation the American people and the government have been tested, the American people and the American government have risen to meet that challenge and have led the world in making the world a safer, better place. That is the case, too, in the war against terrorism.

QUESTION: Ari, on the meeting with the House members, will the president specifically ask them not to include in the legislation several federalizing the workers?

FLEISCHER: The way the president typically does this at these meetings is he makes his case. The president will explain to the members of Congress who come down here why he thinks it's so important to have the safest possible way of protecting the traveling public.

And what the president will say is that in his estimation the way to do it is not by forcing a rigid one-size-fits-all, put-everybody- on-the-government-payroll approach, to allow some flexibility in the hiring, allow some flexibility, so that federal security experts, federal workers with federal standards, can supervise a work force that can be partially federal, not fully federal. That gives the flexibility that also allows for much more ability of the people who are in charge at the federal level to discipline or to fire somebody who does not do their job well.

I think it's common experience that when somebody is on the federal payroll in the civil service, it's almost impossible to get them out of their job. It's a job for life. I don't think the American people take comfort knowing that the screeners behind those machines inspecting their bags when they go through will be there forever even if they do a bad job. The public wants to know that discipline can be taken if discipline is needed.

QUESTION: Did the president call the meeting to make his case or did the House members ask to meet with him?

FLEISCHER: It's probably a little bit of both. I mean, this is not uncommon. The president has often had members of Congress down to discuss issues on the eve of the vote.

QUESTION: If I could, in the very beginning you talked about waiving something to allow trade. Sorry if it's a stupid question, but what are we waiving to allow more trade?

FLEISCHER: This is called Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, and it's a provision that the Senate has already moved to eliminate -- it's now pending at a conference committee in the Congress -- that prohibits the United States from having certain military contacts and additional activities that could help in the war against terrorism with Azerbaijan. And the Congress is taking that up shortly, and the president is calling on the Congress to finish what the Senate started and to send him that authority so he can waive it and therefore engage in military-to-military contacts with Azerbaijan, which will help win the war against terrorism.

QUESTION: Ari, can I follow (INAUDIBLE) question here? You keep on saying that you don't want to federalize these workers because it may be difficult to get rid of them if they don't perform their job functions appropriately.

FLEISCHER: And other reasons.

QUESTION: The government was willing to take that chance with 1,760,000 other federal employees. Why not this group?

FLEISCHER: Because the president doesn't think the solution to every problem in America is to put everybody on the federal payroll.

QUESTION: But if that's the reason, you can't get rid of them, as I said, you've taken that chance...

FLEISCHER: Because the best way, in the president's opinion, to promote security is by taking a look at the lessons of Europe and of Israel. Europe and Israel used to have all screeners on their federal payrolls, and then they changed, and now they have a system much like what the president is proposing, which is a much more flexible system, allowing for some private involvement under federal supervision. And I have to point out that since those steps were taken in Europe and in Israel the number of hijackings has gone down.

So there's a body of evidence that suggests that there's good reason not to put all screeners on the federal payroll. And the president believes that it's important for Congress to look at the lessons of Europe, to look at the lessons of Israel, and to provide some flexibility for the federal government, which will have vigorous oversight of screeners.

QUESTION: Two part. New York Times columnist Bill Safire wrote, "In a moment when the U.S. is dispatching bombers and soldiers to kill the assassins of 6,000 of citizens harbored by the Taliban, it is the height of hypocrisy to demand that our ally Israel refrain from hunting down killers harbored by the PLO." And my question is, do you think that Safire and The New York Times were irresponsible to write and publish this?

FLEISCHER: Well, it's always their right and publish anything they chose. But from the president's point of view and also from the words of Prime Minister Sharon and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, the two of them have committed themselves to a peace process, and that's a process that is a dialogue, and not of violence. And so that's why the president has called on them to honor their word now given to follow the political discourse.

QUESTION: You and the president, as regular readers of The Washington Post, are undoubtedly aware of Congresswoman McKinney's apology for Mayor Giuliani, her asking for the $10,000. And yesterday she claimed in The Post that she is the, quote, "protector of U.S. military personnel who are otherwise powerless." You saw that, didn't you?

FLEISCHER: I read parts of it.

QUESTION: Since nationally syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg has described Ms. McKinney as, quote, "aggressively stupid, pugnaciously ignorant, moronic and dim-witted," surely you won't dismiss this with no comment evasion because that would suggest that you agree with Goldberg, wouldn't it? So how do you and the president feel about her statement?

FLEISCHER: I have not discussed this matter with the president, and I'm not familiar with the second person's statements.

QUESTION: I want to ask you about General Musharraf. He's facing enormous pressure by the Muslim there. He repeatedly continues to be asking for the military campaign to be over soon. The president is going to be meeting with him in the length of two weeks in New York. Can General Musharraf hold on to the position that he's been placed in with all the problems he has inside? That's my question. Does the White House think he can continue when the bombing continues and he faces internal opposition?

FLEISCHER: I think it's important to read General Musharraf's statements in their totality. He has said that he hopes the bombing is over soon. Everybody hopes that. He's also said that he is a member of the coalition, that Pakistan is going to do all it can to support our efforts and that he supports America in the war against terrorism. So it's important to see everything he said, not just one snipit.

President Bush hopes the bombing will be over soon and President Bush understands that the bombing can be over immediately if the Taliban were to hand over Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants and to dismantle Afghanistan as a place that harbors terrorists. But unless that happens, the American campaign will continue because this is about protecting our country and defending our freedom.

FLEISCHER: And the president is resolute on that and so, too, is the country.

QUESTION: Is the president lifting sanctions against Pakistan yesterday as a reward to General Musharraf for joining the coalition?

FLEISCHER: The president did that because he thought it was the appropriate policy to take and also because he wants to provide a package of aid to Pakistan, as you've been seeing a regular series of announcements on that front.

QUESTION: Ari, what is the Social Security meeting about? It's with Moynihan and the other chairman. And is he going to get a specific proposal?

FLEISCHER: Well, it's interesting, because even with all that's going on in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan and the military planning that the president's been involved as well as the domestic meetings of the home front council on the anthrax attacks, the president has also been keeping a busy agenda on other domestic issues.

Last week, he met for one hour to discuss Social Security and how best to reform the Social Security system. A commission the president appointed will make its recommendation to the president in December for how best to reform the system.

And as events are going on abroad and at home, the Social Security system is still going broke. The Social Security still is in need of reform and repair. So the president will be meeting with the co-chairs of the Social Security commission today to discuss their efforts, what they're working on and to ponder what steps should come next after the commission makes its recommendations.

QUESTION: Who did he meet with last week?

FLEISCHER: Internal White House meeting. Secretary of the Treasury was there and other White House advisers on Social Security.

QUESTION: And just lastly, does he still pledge to push this issue during the luncheon here next year?

FLEISCHER: The president continues to believe very strongly that it's important to make certain that those who currently receive Social Security will have a full guarantee that their Social Security will be there but also to make certain that younger workers are put into a lifetime of paying higher taxes for benefits that they're never going to receive. And that's the likely course of Social Security unless action is taken. So he wants to make certain that we have a system in mind that doesn't turn its back on young workers and helps them as well.


QUESTION: ... he's still going to push this next year, on next year's agenda?

FLEISCHER: The president continues to believe it's very important to have a reform in Social Security so that younger workers can get the money that they paid out.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) do that next year.

FLEISCHER: Well, I think next year is next year. But the president is certainly -- still believes Congress needs to do this.

QUESTION: There have been some reports in recent days that the administration is preparing a new package of aid for Pakistan, ranging from $300 million to several billion. What's the status of that?

FLEISCHER: The administration is taking a look at a variety of ways to help our ally, Pakistan.

FLEISCHER: And I'm not going to go beyond that. If there's anything to announce it'll be announced.

QUESTION: Back on yesterday's alert, the president has called for more complete information sharing between federal and local law enforcement agencies, yet the assistant chief of the D.C. police says he learned about yesterday's alert from television. Governor Gilmore says he's not at all satisfied with the information sharing going on now. He's chairing a task force on terrorism. Is the president comfortable with it? Does he feel more needs to be done, and specifically what and how?

FLEISCHER: The president is satisfied. The president, yesterday at his...

QUESTION: With the level of federal-to-local information sharing?

FLEISCHER: That's correct. The president does believe that all the appropriate steps are being taken. There's always room for improvement. There's always room to do more, and the agencies of the government will continue to work with all authorities, local and federal, to convey information, to share information. That's why Governor Ridge at the president's direction yesterday did a conference call with all governors. I can't tell you exactly how many were on the phone. They were all invited to participate in the call.

Congressional leadership was notified. And so that is the way to decimate information and, of course, through the public disclosure of the information and through the decimation electronically to 18,000 law enforcement officials across the country, that's a very effective way for word to get out.

QUESTION: Did the president dismiss the dissatisfaction of local law enforcement officials?

FLEISCHER: Local law enforcement officials received the notification directly, electronically, as a result of the FBI alert.

QUESTION: Going back to aid to Pakistan. I have no problem putting U.S. aid package for the billions, but is it worth -- because is Pakistan really helping the United States at what we expected? And number two, we still don't have Osama bin Laden and (INAUDIBLE) promised that they will help the United States in this coalition, if we help them. And also, according to the New York Times, his (INAUDIBLE) with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda and also with the Taliban. And finally, General Musharraf was also one of the (INAUDIBLE) of Al Qaeda, which President Bush banned, and it is on the list, and I guess I don't know whether he's still on or not. So what I'm saying is, where do we stand today as far as...

FLEISCHER: Many questions there.


You know, I think Secretary Rumsfeld said it very well yesterday when he said that the United States is very satisfied with the cooperation of General Musharraf and Pakistan, that President Musharraf is doing a very good job in a very difficult situation, and the United understands all the sensitivities involved, and the president, Secretary Rumsfeld, are satisfied with the activities taken in a very complex part of the world and miss many of these sensitivities and difficulties.

QUESTION: On a national level, as far as, American are at fear because -- they are at fear to go to the airport, to the post office, to the malls, to go shopping, anywhere. What message does President Bush have for us, and do we need to wear gloves when we go to pick up our mail at the mailboxes, and how this fear can go away that we are having today?

FLEISCHER: I think the president...



FLEISCHER: The president understands that the American people are worried. The American people are anxious.

But he also sees how calm the American people are. And this is why again I remind you that the president believes that, in every generation, there has been a test of our country, and the president understands that this now is a test of this generation and this government to take action in the war on terrorism both domestically and abroad to protect people so that our children and our grandchildren can live a life that is free from terrorism.

FLEISCHER: The president has every full faith and confidence that the American people -- as they always have -- will meet that challenge. And that's what the president sees. That's what the president hears. And that's what the president knows.

QUESTION: Ari, is the United States government boosting supplies in the strategic oil reserve, and if so, why?

FLEISCHER: The energy report that the president put together last spring that was sent up, publicly released, called for a review about whether or not the strategic petroleum reserves should be increased. That review is under way. No decisions have been made. The president has not made any decisions. And once something is decided, we will of course, share that information. It is a possibility -- this is a recommendation that goes back well before the attacks on September 11.

QUESTION: Generally speaking, does the president think this is a more urgent piece of information to consider and a decision to make, considering what's going on in the Middle East and in South Asia?

FLEISCHER: Well, this is going to be one of many things that the president takes a look at and decides. And I'm not going to characterize it until the president makes his decision. Suffice it to say, it is under review.

(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: Ari, has he gotten a recommendation...


FLEISCHER: No, he has not.

QUESTION: How many confirmed cases of anthrax do we have? The numbers 14 and 15 have been floating around. And secondly, is one of the aims of the warning that we had yesterday, which frankly, raises more questions than it answers, obviously, is one of the aims of that warning to deprive anyone planning a terrorists attack of the element of surprise? Is that part of the strategy here?

FLEISCHER: On your second question, clearly, there's no doubt that putting the nation on a higher alert status can very well disrupt or prevent a terrorists attack. And it may be the type of thing that we won't know it. It is possible that terrorists would have taken an action and they would have seen a stepped-up presence of law enforcement officials, and scrapped the action they had planned to take.

It's entirely possible, and we may never know it again, that the last alert presented a similar result. As a result of the last alert, a terrorist action could have been planned and, frankly, was thwarted, was disrupted. And this is the nature of combating terrorism. They prey on terror. They prey on an open society. And taking the efforts to step up law enforcement helps prevent their actions.

FLEISCHER: On the numbers, Governor Ridge was referring to, accurately, the 14 cases that were known, and, of course, you have new cases in New Jersey and New York, that there's a preliminary and then a positive. And the Centers for Disease Control has a very stringent criteria after the cultures are received before putting something into the final positive category. So you can say there are 14 for certain. There are two other suspect cases that are, based on what we know now, likely to become confirmed anthrax cases. And that would bring it to 16 if those two do develop in finality; all indications are that they will.

Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Ari Fleischer wrestling with a lot of questions this morning about the president's warning, the warning from the government yesterday, that the nation should be on high alert, highest alert, because of new, credible information that terror groups are planning some sort of an attack. They are not able to tell us what form it will take, where it will take place, or anything else, according to Ari Fleischer, other than the fact that the information is credible enough.

But as you just heard, reporters coming back at him time and again, asking what are the American people to believe when the information is so sparse?

At one point, he said, people who live and work in American embassies abroad have lived with this kind of uncertainty for years. He said, they go to work, they send their children to school, and yet we live this way.

He did say, he reminded us again, the nation is at war, make no mistake, life is not like it was on September 10th.

And just one other point before I bring in our senior White House correspondent John King, when Ari Fleischer was asked about support for the U.S. military campaign against Taliban and Al Qaeda, in Afghanistan, he said, we don't see support declining, we don't accept that premise, everybody wants this war to be over soon, including the president, but that does not mean we will stop; we are serious about what we are doing, and we will continue, and the American people are patient.

Let's bring in John King right now.

John, the questions keep on coming about what this threat is all about and how Americans can go about their lives in any semblance of a normal way.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Judy. The president calls it a new normalcy, not one area, a heightened sense of alert, and the administration urging people to go about their business.

And looking at the conduct here, the morning after the new alert, if you will, on the one hand, President Dick Cheney kept apart from the president again, just in case the White House is a target of a terrorist strike, they do not want the two leaders in the same location. So Mr. Cheney being held at a secure location, taking part in conferences, but not here on the campus. A new security precautions.

On the other hand, the president once again saying go about your business. You see him having some regular meetings at the White House, discussing issues like Social Security, also planning to travel to New York City to throw out the first pitch of game 3 of the World Series in a city devastated by these terrorist strikes.

So the president, on one hand, trying to strike a note of normalcy. On the other hand, the vice president off campus.

And at an earlier briefing with the new homeland security director, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, very much same line of questioning, how does the administration strike this balance? Governor Ridge saying the administration believes the administration has a responsibility to issue these alerts and publicly to the American people. He said the administration decided to do so in this case, again late last night, because of multiple intelligence information that he says was linked to associates of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network. .


TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: We think it is very important since September 11th for America to remain on the highest possible alert. When we get this kind of information, we put it in the public view so they understand that, again, we are getting some intelligence that suggests we may again be the focus of an attack or attacks.


KING: And again, the administration saying that intelligence data is not specific, as to where or when a strike might com, except for in the indications for multiple sources deemed credible the high possibility they say of strikes on the United States, or on U.S. interests overseas, within the next several days to one week -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: John, you get the sense that through Ari Fleischer's briefing that they knew they would be challenged on this when the information they were making public was so little, and I guess was taken aback when we heard him say the American people have now learned everything we know about this. But you do get the sense from them that, you know, this wasn't an easy call for them.

KING: It was not an easy call, but remember, when they issued the alert on October 11th, the FBI put out a written advisory on its Web site. This all goes out electronically to 18,000 state, local and federal law enforcement agencies around the country, everybody from the local sheriff in a tiny rural part of America, to the Coast Guard and harbor patrols that patrol the coastlines of America.

The information, in the administration's view, would have been made public. If they would have just wired this out law enforcement agencies last night, reporters would have found out about it somehow, either by a leak from a local law enforcement official, or by encountering higher security somewhere, and then answering asking questions. So the administration's position is, that if it is going to put this out, it might as well announce it to the American people, but you are right, a very shortage of information about exactly what the threat is.

WOODRUFF: But still, John, you know, having the attorney general come out and having Tom Ridge come out does take it to a somewhat higher level, even if it is the very same threat.

KING: You are exactly right, but they believe that is necessary. As the president said yesterday, every American is now a foot soldier in the war on terrorism.

WOODRUFF: All right, John King at the White House.




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