THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS
June 26, 1993
The Briefing Room
8:33 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: This is a BACKGROUND BRIEFING. Your
briefers will be [names deleted].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you, Dee Dee.
Let me begin with a chronology of the information and events that led
to the President's decision to take action against Iraq this evening.
Immediately after the Kuwaitis reported to us in April about the
suspected assassination plot they had uncovered, the President
ordered that a thorough investigation be conducted. During the
course of that investigation, he received continuing reports about
its progress from the CIA and the Justice Department in their
The President received a briefing on the final reports
on Wednesday of this week and copies of the final reports on
Thursday. Wednesday evening and Thursday evening he met with his
senior advisers to consider the reports and the options for an
Following those discussions, the President decided it
was necessary to respond quickly and firmly. He concluded that there
was a real and present danger; that if we failed to act and to act
now, the Iraqis might continue attempting such acts of state-
sponsored terrorism. He believed quick and firm action not only
would help deter future acts of terrorism by the Iraqi regime that
would imperil Americans in Iraq or elsewhere, but also would have the
effect of discouraging state-sponsored terrorism by others.
Therefore, the President ordered a response that would
target an Iraqi facility for carrying out terrorism while minimizing
loss of innocent life. The President ordered that we should act as
directly and as immediately as possible, consistent with thorough and
careful preparation. All of his national security advisers supported
This American action was taken based on the self-defense
provisions of Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, which states that
nations have the right to respond in self-defense to armed attacks.
Our response was proportionate, intended to disrupt Iraq's terrorist
capabilities, and to deter future attacks.
The President ordered this action without intending to
pass individual judgment on the subjects arrested in Kuwait. This
about the guilt of a government, not the guilt or innocence of 16
Finally, I should inform you that the President today
spoke with President Bush, a number of world leaders, and the
bipartisan leadership of Congress about this action. Secretary
Christopher has flown to Maine to present to the former President the
evidence of the plot and to discuss our response.
Let me now ask my colleague to discuss with you the
information and evidence that led to our conclusion and this
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you, and good
evening. On 14 April 1993, while former President George Bush was
beginning a three-day visit to Kuwait City, Kuwaiti authorities
thwarted a terrorist plot, seizing a powerful car bomb and other
explosives and arresting 16 suspects, led by two Iraqi nationals.
In the succeeding two months, U.S. investigative teams
from the FBI and the intelligence community have conducted a thorough
investigation of this operation. Based on that review, the Justice
Department and the Central Intelligence Agency have concluded that
Iraq planned, equipped and ran the terrorist operation that
threatened the life of President Bush in Kuwait City in April.
Further, it is the firm judgment of our intelligence
community from all sources of evidence available to it that this
assassination plot was directed and pursued by the Iraqi Intelligence
Service, or IIS.
Let me now talk about the evidence that forms the basis
for these conclusions. First, the forensics. A car bomb hidden in a
Toyota Land Cruiser was smuggled across the Iraq-Kuwaiti border by
the suspects during the night of 12 April 1993. This bomb and the
other explosives that were seized have been directly examined by FBI
forensic experts. In the judgment of these experts, key components,
including the remote control firing device, the plastic explosives,
the blasting cap, the integrated circuitry and the wiring were built
or modified by the same person or persons who built bombs previously
recovered from the Iraqis. Certain aspects of these devices have
been found only in devices linked to Iraq and not in devices used by
any other terrorist group. According to the forensic experts, other
explosives seized in this plot, including cube bombs, contain
components built by the same person or persons who built similar
devices recovered in the past from the Iraqis.
The car bomb itself possessed devastating power. It was
a sophisticated device involving a complicated manufacturing process
and was well hidden in the vehicle. It contained approximately 80
kilograms of explosives. It was constructed to allow detonation by
manual remote control or by timer. The forensic experts have
concluded that this bomb had the power to kill people within a radius
of 400 yards.
Now, to the suspects. The FBI conducted extensive
interviews of the 16 suspects now on trial in Kuwait. The two main
suspects, Ra'ad al-Asadi and Wali al-Ghazali, are Iraqi nationals.
They told the FBI that they had been recruited and received orders in
Basra, Iraq, from individuals they believed to be associated with the
Iraqi Intelligence Service.
These suspects told the FBI that their Iraqi recruiters
provided them with the car bomb and other explosives in Basra on 12
April 1993. One of the suspects, al-Ghazali, told the FBI that the
he was recruited for the specific purpose of assassinating President
Bush in Kuwait City. The other main suspect, al-Asadi, told the FBI
that his task was to guide al-Ghazali and the car bomb to Kuwait
University, where President Bush and the Amir of Kuwait were
scheduled to appear and to plant smaller explosives elsewhere in
Now, let me conclude by providing the overall
intelligence assessment. During and immediately after the Persian
Gulf war, Saddam, through his controlled media, indicated that
President Bush would be held personally responsible for the war and
would be hunted down and punished even after he left office. Various
classified intelligence sources support the conclusion that the Iraqi
government ordered this attack against President Bush.
From all the evidence available to it, the CIA is highly
confident that the Iraq government at the highest levels directed its
intelligence service to assassinate former President Bush during his
visit to Kuwait on 14-16 April 1993.
And now I'd like to turn the podium back to my
colleague, who will lead the question and answer period.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Stick around.
Q [name deleted], these photographs that you have
over here. Can we use those on camera? Is this part of the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, and we have
photographs that we will, I believe, be handing out that you could
Q Could I ask you, the conclusions of the FBI and the
CIA were made apparently about a month ago, and when we've been
talking with White House officials before on this, they said that
they were waiting for the trial to end before any decision would be
made on any type of retaliation. What has hurried up the decision
now? Why are you making it at this time? What has changed over the
last couple weeks?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No official who was a
part of the decision-making process specifically in this case could
make an informed statement that we were waiting for the end of the
trial. That was not our intent. It was always the President's
intent to insist that there be a thorough and comprehensive
investigation; and that when that investigation was completed, then
he would decide when and how to act. There was never a judgment
throughout this process to wait to the end of the trial.
There have been various stages of the investigation.
And perhaps I should ask my colleague to comment on this. But there
have been a number of trips back and forth between Kuwait and the
United States by FBI agents who were carrying out this investigation.
They would go out; they would carry out their questioning; and then
they would come back; we would review where we were; and then they
would continue the investigation.
The facts are that the investigation was concluded and
the reports delivered to the President on -- the final reports
delivered on Thursday. As I said, the President had met Wednesday
night after being briefed on those reports for a few hours with his
advisers here at the Residence; and then met again with his advisers
Thursday evening for a few hours; and after some very exhaustive, and
I might add exhausting, meetings, he reached his conclusions and
issued the order Friday.
Q Has the President spoken with President Bush since
this attack was initiated? And can you give us a little bit more in
way of details on his communications with Bush during the
deliberations on this -- who your liaison was and how all that
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: During the course of
the investigation, I met twice with -- I spoke once on the telephone,
and then [name deleted] and I met with General Scowcroft to keep him
informed of the course of the investigation so that he could keep
President Bush informed. And then this afternoon around 4:00 p.m. --
5:00 p.m. -- between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. -- 4:37 p.m. --
(laughter) -- anyway, yes, let's stipulate 4:37 p.m. -- just one more
bit of misinformation from this podium. (Laughter.) No, no, no --
(laughter) -- anyway, sorry, I've been wanting to say that -- no.
(Laughter.) No, between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. today the President
called President Bush and they had a good conversation. The
President described the both -- or reviewed, anyway, the information
that we had and the decision that he had made. And President Bush
supported, my understanding is, that decision. And then as I said,
Secretary Christopher did fly up to Maine to go through this with
Q Brent Scowcroft is in Maine this weekend. Was his
trip connected with this operation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
Q What makes you think that this action would be
sufficient to deter Saddam to resort to similar action in the future?
I mean -- hasn't really received this kind of message. What makes
you think this action would be sufficient?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we have no way,
of course, of guaranteeing that this message will be sufficient. But
we believe that this is a very strong message. It is directed at the
heart of his capabilities for carrying out terrorist actions abroad.
To try to figure out what Saddam -- what is in Saddam Hussein's mind
is the path to madness. But nonetheless, what we can do is to try to
do everything we can to deter future terrorist actions by Saddam
I might add, if I may, that we are, as I said, doing
this under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, which says that nations
have a right to self-defense. And we are acting unilaterally. We
are not acting pursuant to the U.N. resolutions. Nonetheless, we
hope that there will be a kind of a spinoff effect here in which this
action will demonstrate how very serious we are in our determination
that Saddam Hussein abide by all relevant U.N. resolutions.
Q What leaders did he speak with? Did he speak, for
instance, with the Saudis or any of the other leaders in the region?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think I'd rather not
run through the complete list. Let me say that he did --
Q Can you characterize the kind of --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. That he called
our major allies and he called our friends in the region, probably --
he either called or sent messages to. And I would guess there were
probably about a dozen of them over the course of the day. And a
number of them he spoke -- yes, during the course --
Q It as all done today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: A couple yesterday and
the rest today.
Q And can you say what kind of reaction he had during
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Generally, very
Q Has this section of the U.N. Charter ever been
invoked before by the U.S.? And if it's not is this a signal as well
to Muammar Qadhafi?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, in fact, President
Reagan invoked Article 51 in his response to Libyan terrorism in
1986. And I'm sure it's been invoked other times as well.
Let me add one point about Article 51, which is that the
purpose of the authority given to nations to act in self-defense is
to deter further aggression. And that is why we are emphasizing here
the importance of the message we are trying to send to Saddam Hussein
that we will not tolerate state-sponsored terrorism by him. And
again we hope that that message will also go to others in the world
who would contemplate state-sponsored terrorism.
Q If I could ask two things. One, you mentioned that
the action was designed to avoid loss of innocent life. But it would
also seem that since it was done on a Saturday in the evening, it was
designed to avoid the loss of potentially guilty life as well -- that
you were trying very hard to avoid killing people by doing it. What
was the thinking that went into the decision to do it at a time when
the building would be largely -- presumably largely empty?
And the second question, perhaps if your colleague could
run through for us when the FBI agents went and how the -- what the
stages of the investigation were that led up to the conclusion?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President's order
yesterday afternoon was that we send a powerful message. Those were
not exactly the same words. And we believe that this attack on the
IIS does that; but because we are interested in a proportionate
response that we seek to avoid the taking of life.
I might add one point on the timing and why it was on a
Saturday night. It might have been possible to carry out the attack
last night, but Friday is the Muslim Sabbath and we preferred not to
take action last night out of respect for that fact.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I may ask my colleague
to correct me freely if I get it wrong. The FBI moved in
immediately, as it has in the past when there's been a terrorist
attack on Americans under the Extraterritorial Statute forbidding --
making it a crime to commit terrorist attacks on Americans, passed in
Then the FBI went over and interviewed the 13 to 16
people who had been arrested. They had already been interviewed by
the Kuwaitis. We separately interviewed them. Then there was a
stage in which the FBI did extensive forensic work -- very, very
extensive and detailed forensic work. And then finally, there was a
stage in which we returned to Kuwait, the FBI did, in order to check
on some remaining problems that we were worried about, that we wanted
to know what the answers were to -- check on things that seemed
confusing and that we were able to straighten out.
Q Can you give us any sense of what types of things
you're talking about that were confusing? Was is forensic questions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There were forensic
questions; there were interview questions; a variety of things. We
just wanted to make sure that every i was dotted and every t crossed.
Q There have been reports that the prisoners in the
hands of the Kuwaitis were tortured in the process of getting
confessions from them. Is the FBI satisfied that it has them
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The FBI made efforts to
make sure that the people they talking to were not tortured. They,
of course, can't tell for sure, but the FBI interviewers were
satisfied that they were not tortured. You have to worry about that
so we put very great emphasis on forensics. You have to worry in
general about whether people who confess anywhere and are reliable in
their confessions. So we put very great emphasis on the forensics as
Q If I could just ask one other question. Is there
any reason to thing there might be some connection between the
terrorist activity that was uncovered in New York this past week and
the Iraqi conduct?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We don't think there's
any basis for saying there's a connection at this time.
Q Any question about the actual -- deciding that Bush
was the target? It's been fairly clear throughout this whole thing
that obviously there's a lot of evidence linking the bomb to Baghdad
than ascertaining, as we understood it in the final days, that Bush
was the target was trickier. The document and your colleague's
comment is that you had one source and then some intelligence sources
which led you to believe that you were -- quote -- "highly
confident." Does that mean certain?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think as far as we're
concerned from an assessment point of view, we're certain. The facts
bearing on the matter are that, again, the suspect, al-Ghazali, who
we generally refer to as the bomber or the shooter, was tasked
specifically to kill President Bush. He was to be guided across the
Iraqi border into Kuwait by another suspect, al-Asadi. The other
suspect also was to guide the -- al-Ghazali to the environs of Kuwait
University. And, clearly, Kuwait University was a place where
President Bush was to appear.
Now as we go on, there are actually some additional
details. The bomb was to be placed essentially in the environs where
-- yes, we also have some intelligence sources clearly that indicate
this on a classified basis. The bomb was placed in an area -- or the
bomb was to be placed in an area where it could be detonated as
President Bush's motorcade was to go by. The bomb has, as you know,
a fairly large lethal radius. al-Ghazali was to essentially move to
a distance of between 300 and 500 meters away and to detonate the
bomb manually using this radio control device.
The bomb had a secondary mode, which was essentially a
timer in it. And the backup plan was, failing the ability of al-
Ghazali to essentially detonate the bomb in the environs of Kuwait
University where President Bush was, he was to move the bomb -- the
car bomb to Bush Street in Kuwait City and to activate the manual
timer which, when activated, then had a four and a half hour delay on
One of the things not mentioned in the statement also
was that al-Ghazali was issued a bomb belt -- a belt -- an explosive
belt; and he was instructed by his -- what we believe to be now his
Iraqi Intelligence Service handler that if he was unable to get the
car bomb into the vicinity of the target, he was to essentially put
himself in close proximity to President Bush and to detonate this
bomb belt. We have not -- as far as we know, the bomb belt has not
Q Knowing the threats against him before he went, was
Bush warned not to go? And are there threats against U.S. officials
all over the world? Are we going to bomb them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I can't speak to
what the specific Secret Service posture was with regard to
protecting Bush -- and Bush was under Secret Service protection. But
we clearly would -- the intelligence community, and I think the law
enforcement community, would have thought that President Bush would
have been under some kind of risk if he had gotten in that close
proximity to Iraq.
MS. MYERS: This will be the last question.
Q But did you tell him so?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I have no information
that he was told -- and I don't have any information that he was not.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We had no advance
warning of the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the answer to
your question is that we did not have advance warning of this plot.
Q But you knew that his life was threatened from time
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He was aware of that
Q You spoke to a message sent to Saddam Hussein, but
what kind of a message do you think you are sending to the Muslim
world in general? I mean, this is an administration which has
refused to use force in Bosnia where Muslims have been killed, and
you have just used force against Saddam. So how do you think the
Muslim world in general is going to interpret your action tonight?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The fact is that if
this plot had succeeded in the way it was apparently intended,
hundreds of Kuwaitis would have died. Those Kuwaitis were Muslims.
Muslims are the victims of terrorism in the Middle East. And I
believe that most of them will welcome any effort that tries to deter
future terrorism in that area.
This is an action, I hope, that will potentially save
many Muslim as well as non-Muslim lives, both in the Middle East and
Q Could you just put it into political perspective --
the charm offensive. Why do you think Saddam Hussein ordered this
operation in Basra when he did? Is it part of a continuing Iraqi
test of President Clinton? And, as you know, there are continuing --
there is a continuing standoff in Baghdad right now with U.N. weapons
inspectors. What's going on, in your assessment?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: First of all, I do not
believe that this plot was part of an effort to test President
Clinton. As my colleague -- excuse me, a senior intelligence
official said, it was a long time ago that Saddam Hussein said that
he wanted revenge for this. And it happened to be at that time that
President Bush was going to Kuwait. So I don't think this was part
of a charm campaign or not part of a charm campaign. I think it was
specific to that event.
What is going on now -- again, let me emphasize that we
are not taking this action under U.N. Security Council resolution
authorities. This was an attack on an American President and on
America, and America alone is responding. At the same time, as I
said, I hope -- the President hopes -- that the -- one consequence of
this action is that it will convince Saddam Hussein all the more of
our seriousness in insisting, as we have been insisting for many
months now, that he abide by the relevant U.N. resolutions.
Could I just add one other point before we go, which is
that George informs me -- perhaps out of residual loyalty to the
accuracy of this podium -- (laughter) -- that in fact -- that the
President did call President Bush at 4:40 p.m. this afternoon, which
is very close to 4:37 p.m., or at least good enough for government
END9:00 P.M. EDT
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