24 September 2001
Excerpt: White House Says Information on Terror Networks Classified
(White House spokesman Ari Fleischer Sept 24 press gaggle) (2350)
Asked if the Administration would release evidence of bin Laden's
involvement in terrorism, White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer told
reporters at the White House in Washington September 24 that the
information gathered remains in classified form.
The spokesman also cautioned reporters about the sensitive and
"private" nature of Secretary of State Powell's ongoing dialogue with
world leaders who are aiding investigators.
"The secretary has said, repeatedly, all roads lead to the al-Qaeda
organization. We have a growing body of evidence, and at the
appropriate time, things will be made public. But I can't go beyond
that now," the White House spokesman stated.
Questioned further about a shift in balance from "openness and rights
of individuals" towards security concerns, the spokesman stated that
as even "as America is preparing for war...the Constitution will be
"It's a reason that you see the president so strongly speaking out to
remind the American people about treating Muslim Americans and Arab
Americans with respect. Our nation has had a checkered history --
these are helpful, important reminders of how to fi
nd that balance in a free society that prepares for war," he said.
Asked about Taliban responses reported in the media, the spokesman
stated, "The only statement the president is looking for is that they
will agree to the demands that he made in his speech Thursday night
about "turning over Usama bin Laden, turning over
the top tier -- all the terrorists who are operating in Afghanistan,
shutting down the bases."
The White House spokesman told reporters the Administration remains
mindful of fundamental foreign policy objectives related to Russia,
India and Pakistan including human rights and nuclear proliferation.
Following are excerpts from the unofficial transcript of Fleischer's
comments prepared by the Federal News Service:
Q So, Ari, yesterday the secretary of State was suggesting you were
going to show us some evidence of bin Laden's guilt. Is that now off
the table, after the president's comments today?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think, as the secretary just said, that he -- I
think his words were "as we are able." And so right now the status of
any information that remains classified -- of course, ever since the
attack took place, the government's been
investigating it, and the information is classified in its present
form. If any of that changes, what the secretary is obviously
indicating is, we always will share with the American people
everything we can as events develop.
Q But you're saying -- yesterday he was suggesting it was imminent,
that it was going to happen today.
Q And it's obviously not going to happen today --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think he said "soon," and I don't think he
defined what "soon" meant. And you just heard him say out there "as we
Q So it's all depending on what the meaning of the word "soon" is?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's consistent with what the secretary
Q Is this information that you're gathering in part to share with
other countries who have asked to see hard evidence or encouraged the
U.S. to put forward hard evidence?
MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell, it could be, but -- you know, some nations
might want that, but I think that's also predictable, that of course
in the course of conversations with other nations, most of which is
secure -- that conversations are held, and you kno
w, we take a look at their information. We're not the only nation in
world that collects intelligence. They have information. And it's a
cooperative process with many nations. There will be nations where the
secretary has discussions, and obviously a lot
of the conversations the secretary has, in and of themselves, are
private and, therefore, you know, for a better word, classified
conversations that don't get reported.
So since the attack took place, the intelligence services, a lot of
people have been collecting information about who's behind it. The
secretary has said, repeatedly, all roads lead to the al Qaeda
organization. We have a growing body of evidence, and at
the appropriate time, things will be made public. But I can't go
beyond that now.
Q Ari, the past indictments won't cover it. I mean, we're all quite
convinced of the past indictments. But you really do need something
more, and I think whatever you can put out legitimately, without
harming, should be done at some point, at least, becau
se I don't think you can keep relying on saying that he was indicted.
Yeah, we know that. You know, does it apply here -- (off mike).
MR. FLEISCHER: Ken?
Q Ari, do you know how many banks and how many foreign countries might
have assets of these organizations?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's no hard number on it, but that's what is so
distinctive about the action the president took today. This broadens
the existing authority that has been used in the past, in three ways.
It expands the coverage of the existing execu
tive orders from terrorism in the Middle East to global terrorism. It
expands the class of targeted groups to include who provide financial
or other support to terrorist groups. And it make clear our ability to
block U.S. assets of foreign banks who refus
e to freeze terrorist assets abroad. And that third point is a
powerful point. It sends a real signal to other nations, who may have
more assets in their banks than are held in American banks, that they
need to take action, and the United States is prepar
ed to act if they don't.
And you'll hear more about this from Treasury, but that's a very
powerful tool that, to my knowledge, has not been used before,
certainly is not currently in place. And this broadens the existing
executive order to take that action.
(On Russia in Chechnya)
Q Ari, the president talked at some length this morning about his
conversations with President Putin and the degree of cooperation that
he believes is possible.
One of the things the Russians have made clear is that they expect a
much -- a lot more understanding from the United States and other
countries as well about what they've been doing with Chechnya. They
view the war in Chechnya as just another front of th
e global war against terrorism. Is the need to keep the Russians
conciliated going to constrain U.S. officials in talking about a war
which, in the past, we have identified as a rampant violation of human
MR. FLEISCHER: The president has said repeatedly that throughout this,
in all the actions we take and as we gear up for war, there are
enduring American principles that will not change. And concern about
human rights and life is always going to be one of
those enduring principles. But you heard the president say in the Rose
Garden how strong the cooperation has been with Russia, and he's very
pleased. The conversation with President Putin on Saturday was a 45-
to 50-minute conversation. It was very long.
So there's a lot of good cooperation underway.
Q Does he buy the Russian argument that their war in Chechnya is in
fact another front in the global war against terrorism?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that there's no question that there is
terrorism that's a risk to Russia, and the president has always said
that. You know, that's one of the reasons that in his meetings with
President Putin, one of the things that they immed
iately both talked about was threats to Russia from unstable regimes.
And there's always a question of carrying out any activities in a way
that reflect America's enduring principles.
Q Chechnya is a fight also for independence and freedom.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I've addressed the question.
Q Do you have any comments on the Taliban's threats about American
support of Israel?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I'm not familiar with exactly which comments
were made about Israel, Connie, so if there's something specific, let
me know it. But there have just been so many different statements
coming out of the Taliban. The only statement the
president is looking for is that they will agree to the demands that
he made in his speech Thursday night about turning over Osama bin
Laden, turning over the top tier -- all the terrorists who are
operating in Afghanistan, shutting down the bases that a
re training the terrorists, and allowing the United States access to
those bases to make certain they're shut down.
Q It's the usual holy war if the U.S. continues its support of Israel.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you know, the president talked about that in his
speech to the nation. And he said that it is the goal of the al Qaeda
organization to drive Israel out of the Middle East and it is the
stated goal of Osama bin Laden to kill Christians
and Jews. It's a reminder to the American people about the seriousness
of this war because it's a war that has been proven now to go beyond
words from the terrorists. They've shown a willingness to act on them,
and in the process they've killed thousands
of American citizens in the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and in
the crash in Pennsylvania. And it's another sign that this is real and
this is serious.
Q Ari, the president said that in developing this list of individuals
and organizations that support terrorism, a lot of classified
information was used.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
Q And that it would remain classified. How much of a problem is it
going to be when people start challenging that, either in U.S. courts
and saying, "Prove that my nongovernmental organization supports
terrorism," or when other governments or banks overse
as get the letter from the United States? How are we going to
demonstrate this without using classified information?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you know, unfortunately, it's not a new issue.
There have been cases in domestic spying, for example, where
information is obtained that is sensitive. And we are a system of
grand juries and juries and trials, and our nation has found
that balance before. So I think it's an important issue where there is
always the need to balance the need for secrecy with the needs for
rights. And I think that the government is sensitive to that and was
working hard to address that. We've heard -- I'
m not aware of any complaints from foreign nations. Obviously, the
president just took this action today, and I can assure you this
action was prefaced with a host of phone calls with foreign nations,
in a collaborative, cooperative effort with foreign na
Q May I follow up? The courts in the past have ruled against the
government's position when the government has refused to provide
classified information. Will the president and the administration be
seeking a change in the law from courts granting greater
MR. FLEISCHER: That's probably a question you ought to ask Treasury.
But, you know, one of the things that's notable here is that
throughout -- I think it's, if not all, but many of the National
Security Council meetings, the White House counsel is presen
t. And the reason of that is the respect for the law. And it's one of
the interesting elements, that there is always a balance in a free
society, democratic society like ours, is how to prepare for war and
gear up for war, which necessarily involves a lot
of secret information, with the legal rights of Americans. And it's a
question of balance. And I think, frankly, it is the press's job to
keep its eye on that balance. But right now I don't see anything that
indicates any problems abroad.
Q One more general question. Does the administration believe that
balance should shift, given the circumstances? Should the balance
shift a little bit more towards security and away from openness and
rights of people and --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the right balance has to be found. But there's
no doubt that America is preparing for war. These are not the normal,
peaceful times. And that does entail differences, but those
differences have to be always found in a way that meets
the satisfaction of the American people and does so in a way that's
respectful of the Constitution at all times. I mean, the reason that
our nation is so strong is because of that Constitution. That
Constitution has been tested in previous wars and has s
tood the test of time.
It's a reason that you see the president so strongly speaking out to
remind the American people about treating Muslim Americans and Arab
Americans with respect. Our nation has had a checkered history --
World War II, for example, with the internment of th
e Japanese. And these are helpful, important reminders of how to find
that balance in a free society that prepares for war.
Q The president's current opinion about secret evidence and whether or
not that -- those rules should remain, or -- I know that during the
campaign, he had told Arab Americans and Muslim Americans that he was
going to seek to lift secret evidence rules.
MR. FLEISCHER: There's -- the president's position on that remains
unchanged. And as I've indicated to similar questions before, the
issue here always is targeting the lawbreakers and going after
lawbreakers in a way that's consistent with our Constitutio
Q Ari, does the lifting of sanctions on Pakistan and India for their
underground nuclear tests in 1998 signal that we may be more accepting
of such activity from other nations in the future, in return for them
being more accepting of our missile defense p
MR. FLEISCHER: No, Bill, as Secretary Powell said yesterday, that has
been a(n) issue that had been actually under discussion for quite some
time, that's been talked about with members of Congress, and the
action was taken. So --
Q Can we say we'll oppose, obviously, further underground --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the government's dedication to anti-
proliferation measures remains strong.
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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