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Tom Ridge, Spencer Abraham Hold Press Conference

Aired November 15, 2001 - 11:11   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Now Tom Ridge, director of homeland security.


TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: ... opportunity to serve my president and my country in this capacity as director of homeland security, that America should be reassured on a daily basis that literally hundreds of thousands of their fellow Americans, even prior to September 11, had been going to work every single day trying to devise ways to make our homeland more secure.

And now that I've had the opportunity to serve in this capacity for now all of five weeks and have had an opportunity to see with great clarity and specificity the kind of work that hundreds of thousands of Americans have been doing every single day, I'm absolutely confident, I'm absolutely confident of our ability to rise to the challenge that the president has given us, and that is create a national strategy for homeland security.

And you have to know, at the heart of that strategy -- to detect, to prevent, to respond to terrorism attacks -- at the heart of that effort, heart of that strategy will be technology.

When I was governor we invested hundreds of millions of dollars in technology to enhance certain capacities that the state of Pennsylvania needed -- communications and information systems, public health. But we take the technology we have available to us in the national labs and configure it to provide for homeland defense. And I assure you and I assure the public generally, we will be investing substantial dollars in technology to help enhance our domestic security as well.

Today you've shown the American public, Mr. Secretary, and me some of the technological wizardry that has been or will soon be put to use to protect and defend our country.

We are a very welcoming country, we're a very trusting country. We allow millions and millions of people who are not citizens to come in on a regular basis and visit and even live and take up residence here. We are an incredibly open country -- open borders, open cities, open society. We can't, nor do we ever want to change this. It is truly one of the unique characteristics of this great country. However, we are now facing an unseen foe that has proven it will take advantage of our openness whenever it can. So the challenge is fairly straightforward: How do we preserve our openness, how do we preserve the unique qualities of America and protect ourselves at the same time? How do we enhance security at airports without discouraging people from flying? How do we keep the United States mail flowing smoothly? How do we expedite the flow of people and goods across international borders? How do we secure the homeland? How do we become safer?

The answer, in large measure, across a wide possible spectrum of applications, is technology.

Later this morning I'll be addressing the Fletcher Conference to lay out the framework for how we are developing a comprehensive national homeland security plan. In the months and years ahead, technology-based solutions will be a huge component of that plan. You've given me a great deal of insurance, and more importantly, I think you've offered to the public today, all of America, a great deal of assurance that American ingenuity is already at work developing that technology.

And so on behalf of the president of the United States, I want to thank everyone at the Department of Energy, the national labs, that has worked so hard.

You've got the qualities that guarantee that we will prevail in our war against terrorism -- ingenuity, relentless spirit to get things done, a commitment, a resolve. And I'm absolutely confident to the application of technology, both from the public and private sector, it will dramatically enhance in a very short period of time our goal to make our homeland more secure than it has ever been before.

So I want to thank you, Mr. Secretary. And I want to thank the Department of Energy employees for giving me the opportunity to spend a little time with you this morning.

The secretary and I would be happy to take any questions.

QUESTION: Governor Ridge, the Bush administration has consistently said that a strong national security cannot occur without a strong national energy policy. Earlier this week the administration announced that it would built a Strategic Petroleum Reserve to protect against future supply disruptions, but that process is going to take three years under the current plan.

If the administration is serious about filling this reserve and protecting U.S. consumers and this economy from a supply disruption, why doesn't the administration go out and purchase this oil now, fill up the reserve in three or four months, now that prices are low? Would you recommend, if pricing keep dropping, that they go ahead and do that and not wait three years?

RIDGE: Well, first of all, I think the president's goal is to fill up the Strategic Reserve over the next three years. The prices are low, indications that they may continue to go lower, and it's just part of the scheme of things that the president is asking and the administration is doing in order to secure the energy security that we require. I think it's pretty clear -- and I'll let the secretary speak to this -- but we feel strongly about the ability to start drilling more domestically, as well.

So I think, as you take a look at the national strategy, whether it's energy security, economic security, there are many pieces to that puzzle and just a ramp-up of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is a piece of the energy puzzle.

SPENCER ABRAHAM, ENERGY SECRETARY: Well, you've asked me that question many times in the period that led up to it. As I told you, we were engaging in a very deliberate review of the process, and what the considerations, the pluses, the minuses were, what was the nature of the threat, if any, that we perceived. We concluded that it was in the long-term interest of the country to have the reserve filled. At the same time, we did not see the kind of immediate threat to disruption that would necessitate taking action that was too precipitous.

At the end of the day, we have right now about 540 million barrels of oil in the reserve, that's somewhere in the vicinity of 53 days of worth of reserves. If we fill it entirely that expands the number to about 68 days. I think we can do it at the pace we're talking about. If things change, we can reconsider the policy.

But we're trying to do in a way that balances all the issues that range from energy security and cost considerations, implications on markets, and a variety of other factors. But I think we're doing it the right way.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Governor Ridge, there are some people who specialize in studying al Qaeda who think that, perhaps, Osama bin Laden and his followers might be more apt to take terrorist action because of the way the military campaign is going on the ground in Afghanistan. I'm wondering how you would gauge the threat level at this point and if it's different than it was, let's say, one week ago.

RIDGE: Well, I think it makes a great deal of common sense to conclude that if you are putting pressure on your enemy in one area or one venue, they may choose to act out in a separate area, a different venue. And so that is one consideration that obviously is in play.

But I think our state of readiness and wariness is as high as it has ever been, and will remain that high until we have apprehended bin Laden and dismantled al Qaeda. That is not to say that once bin Laden and al Qaeda have been dismantled and apprehended that we would not continue to work very aggressively toward enhancing our homeland security.


HEMMER: Tom Ridge answering the question many of us still wondering. Jeanne Meserve asked it -- of CNN. He's saying at this point the state of alert does remain. And we have been, as many people know -- we, as a country, have been on the highest state of alert in some time.

Tom Ridge there with Spence Abraham, the director of energy -- the energy secretary, I should say; the director of homeland security is Tom Ridge -- talking about the future and how technology can be used as an energy source here in the U.S.




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