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01 April 2003

U.S., U.K. to Strengthen Anti-terror Partnership

(Ridge, British Home Secretary David Blunkett's statments) (3430)

The United States and the United Kingdom are strengthening their
partnership in the war on terror, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security
Tom Ridge and British Home Secretary David Blunkett told journalists
after their meeting in Washington April 1.


In his opening remarks, Ridge said he and Blunkett explored the
sharing of best practices, joint training exercises, the security of
cyber and physical infrastructure, border and transportation security,
research and development, and science and technology.

Blunkett announced that "a joint working group," or "contact group,"
is being established so that the two countries are "actually working
on that best practice, learning from each other, and being able to
develop the very similar approaches which are necessary to protect our
population."

Blunkett said they will also develop joint exercises and enhance work
on border protection and surveillance, on biometrics and
identification, and on visa and passport controls

There is nothing in the current threat information that suggests that
simultaneous attacks against the United States and the United Kingdom
"are imminent," Ridge said, "but we know -- both our intelligence
communities know full well that the United States and the United
Kingdom are potentially subject to attack. And if they would occur
simultaneously, we want to be in a position to reinforce and to assist
each other."

Ridge also responded to questions about the security alert level in
the United States, supplemental funding for homeland security,
consolidating the so-called "watch lists" of various agencies in the
federal government, and revocation of citizenship for those involved
in terrorism.

Following is the Homeland Security Department transcript:

(begin transcript)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
Office of the Press Secretary
April 1, 2003

JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE WITH SECRETARY TOM RIDGE AND BRITISH HOME
SECRETARY DAVID BLUNKETT

U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Briefing Room
10:40 a.m. EST

SECRETARY RIDGE: Good morning, all. It's good to be with you this
morning. Sorry for the brief delay.

I'm certainly honored to welcome the Home Secretary from the United
Kingdom, David Blunkett. We're grateful that he took time today to
spend time with us. The Secretary and I have just finished another
productive meeting, building on the series of meetings we had when I
visited the U.K. several months ago, where we discussed strengthening
the partnership between our two countries in fighting the war on
terror. We shared ideas that will benefit both of our countries in the
area of homeland security, and we explored additional areas of
cooperation, specifically the sharing of best practices, joint
training exercises, the security of cyber and physical infrastructure,
border and transportation security, research and development, and
science and technology.

The United Kingdom has extensive experience in battling the challenge
of terrorism at home. This relationship will benefit the strong
homeland security partnership that our countries have developed since
the attacks on our country on September 11th. The United Kingdom has
been a critically important ally in bringing our attackers to justice,
and we look forward to continuing to work with them to battle
terrorism at home and abroad.

The Secretary and I have discussed a couple of different ways and
issues that we believe it is in our mutual interest as friends and
allies to work together on, and I've actually asked the Secretary to
elaborate on some of these initiatives in his opening remarks to you.
So, again, it's my great pleasure to introduce the right honorable
Secretary David Blunkett. David.

SECRETARY BLUNKETT: Thank you for being with us. I'd just like to
underline immediately the unprecedented level of cooperation that we
now have, which has been built up over the last 18 months, and has
been enhanced by the development under Tom Ridge of the Homeland
Security Department here, and the work that we've been doing on what
we call resilience civil contingencies and counteracting internal
terror and the threat to our population in the United Kingdom. And
that is why I'm so very pleased indeed this morning, not only to
reaffirm our cooperation, not only to build on the steps that have
already been taken, but to go a stage further. We are announcing today
that we will establish a joint working group, a contact group, which
will involve officials from the Homeland Security Department and our
own department in developing the work collaboratively so that, instead
of just sharing best practice, they're actually working on that best
practice, learning from each other and being able to develop the very
similar approaches which are necessary to protect our population.

All of us know that we've never faced a threat like the one that has
developed since the 11th of September 2001, and that the way in which
the United Kingdom and the United States are working together ensures
not only that we face that threat in a better shape and in a way that
allows us to understand that best practice, but also that it actually
means that, because we are partners, including with the conflict in
Iraq, we need to be more vigilant and we need to be more aware than
others across the world believe -- and I think they're often wrong --
believe is necessary for them.

So we are intent on developing joint exercises which will be built on
the domestic exercises that you're undertaking in terms of counter
terror and in terms of protection of the public, and the exercises
that we're engaged in, in the United Kingdom, so that we can look at
what might formulate the necessary steps to protect us from
simultaneous attacks, from joint attacks, and we're going to look at
firstly desktop and then physical exercises in enhancing our
capability and our protection.

We're also, as Tom Ridge has described, enhancing our work on border
protection and surveillance, on biometrics and identification, on visa
and passport controls, which will be sufficiently co-terminus, to make
it possible not to interrupt unnecessarily business and commerce, but
which will provide the security that you want and you need in terms of
the future.

The pooling of research and training, the development of joint
facilities that help us, for instance, with the danger of chemical,
biological, radiological and nuclear imports, and the danger that
people are transferring the capability across the world, we need to
work together on those. And, of course, on cyber and electronic
attack, which would disrupt our commerce.

We're also collaborating closely on the development of new assessment
techniques. You have the new TTAC [phonetic] facility. We have
developed still further our joint terrorism and assessment center so
that we can better pull together the information we have from the
lessons we've learned in terms of dealing with terror from Ireland
that Tom Ridge described.

All of this means that we are literally shoulder to shoulder. We
explored whether I should say "hip to hip," but we decided "shoulder
to shoulder" was probably a better description -- (laughter) -- in
terms of the joint threat that faces us, and the joint working that
we'll see off that threat for the future.

Thank you very much indeed.

SECRETARY RIDGE:  Thank you, David.

Ladies and gentlemen?

QUESTION: Secretary Ridge, do you think that the chance of a
simultaneous attack against Great Britain and the United States has
been increased because of these two countries taking the lead in the
war with Iraq? I mean, is that why you're doing this particular --

SECRETARY RIDGE: Oh, no, I think we have to prepared for -- and we are
prepared domestically and we plan and work on the possibility of
simultaneous attacks. But I think that it makes eminent good sense for
two allies that are working together to develop best practices, two
allies and friends working together on the science and technology of
detection and protection, two friends and allies to engage in some
responsible thinking with the possibility that we might have to endure
simultaneous attacks and how we can be mutually supportive of each
other in that process.

There's nothing in the contemporary threat information that we have
that suggests such attacks are imminent, but both our intelligence
communities know full well that the United States and the United
Kingdom are potentially subject to attack. And if they would occur
simultaneously, we want to be in a position to reinforce and to assist
each other.

SECRETARY BLUNKETT: Yes, that is exactly the meaning I had. The
thinking we're engaging in from today is, of course, by its very
nature, for the future rather than for the weeks and immediate months
ahead. So we're preparing for a very different world. And some of
those attacks would not necessarily -- in fact, it's almost certain
would not replicate what we've seen so far. So that's why I mentioned,
for instance, cyber and electronic attack, which could disable the
commerce of the future. All of these things we need to be aware of,
and we need to ensure that those who are thinking of using those
techniques are aware that we are literally on the ball, ahead of them,
rather than waiting for something to happen and then chasing that
eventuality once it's occurred.

Q: Secretary Blunkett, I was wondering, you say you've had so much
success with the IRA. But the IRA and al Qaeda are very different
organizations. How has your experience with the IRA helped you deal
with al Qaeda?

SECRETARY BLUNKETT: Well, up to the Good Friday Agreement, which was
brokered by our Prime Minister and was helped, it has to be said, by
the U.S. administration, we had 30 years of conflict, not just in
Ireland, but on the mainland of Britain. Of course, they are different
in the sense that we had an identifiable opponent who, in the end, we
could sit down with and find a way forward. That isn't true of al
Qaeda and the network that exists across the world, the loose network.

Nevertheless, the techniques of intelligence and surveillance and the
security techniques have to be and are developed from that experience.
And we are able to share that with you, just as the experience that
you've had internationally between the CIA and our intelligence
service and GCHQ have been shared for many years. And we need to
enhance and build on that. And we are learning all the time.

One of the things, I just want to make the point, Tom, is that the
techniques that are used now by international terrorists and the
organized groups behind them funding, facilitating those groups are
using the best of technology, the most up-to-date methodology and
government across the world, our government, your government, has to
be ahead of that. And that is a major challenge, not just in terms of
getting the right facilities in place, but actually being ahead in
those rapid reaction techniques, which it's easy for groups working as
cells to undertake, and it's more difficult for government.

Q: Mr. Blunkett, several years ago, right after the embassy bombings,
the British government, at the American government's request, arrested
three guys, Fawaz and a couple of other characters, on charges of
being co-conspirators in the 1998 embassy bombings. I went to a
hearing at the House of Lords in the Parliament building more than a
year ago, at which the House of Lords ultimately dismissed their
appeals against extradition. And yet those guys have still not been
extradited.

Moreover, I think there's another guy named Rasheed Ramda, who the
French have been trying to extradite in connection with the Paris
subway bombings since 1996 and he still hasn't been extradited. I saw
that in the material out of the Justice Department that you're
changing your extradition laws. But, as I understand it, a lot of this
power is up to you as Home Secretary. You have the power of the
signature to extradite these people. Why hasn't more been done to get
these people, you know, before the courts?

SECRETARY BLUNKETT: Forgive me if I don't get into the French Ramda
case while I'm in the United States. I'm dealing with that with the
French, as we all are.

The situation is this, that our outdated extradition procedures, both
bilaterally with the United States and across the globe, are being
completely reviewed and revised. I have legislation in front of
Parliament at the moment that cuts out all the major delays, all the
prevarication and the additional judicial blockages that are currently
available to those trying to avoid extradition, even when I've
certificated, as I have, those who should be transferred to the U.S.

I signed yesterday with John Ashcroft an updated extradition
agreement, which will facilitate that, and will make it possible to
immediately take steps when someone is identified and the proper
evidence has been transferred, to take those steps to extradite,
rather than the prolonged procedures we have at the moment. But I am,
as part of the legislation, removing the layer on layer of judicial
blockage.

Regrettably in our system, even the words of the House of Lords do not
conclude the final blockage that exists through the judiciary, through
appeals, in terms of the exact process for transfer. All of that will
be dealt with in the new extradition legislation. So I plead guilty to
the historic and arcane procedures that we've been operating and I put
a plea of mitigation in terms of sorting them out.

Q: Secretary Ridge, we've now been at orange alert for a matter of
weeks and the war appears that it's going to go on for some time now.
Is there any reason to expect that we would not be at orange alert for
the duration of the war? And how is the country going to maintain
that? You're obviously seeing many, many complaints. Do you consider
those complaints from states and cities legitimate? And what on earth
can be done about it if this level has to be maintained for a long
time?

SECRETARY RIDGE: I think it's pretty clear that, in anticipation of
military activity in Iraq, at the President's direction, we added an
enhanced layer of protection around the country called Liberty Shield.
And with the collaboration of governors, major city mayors, the first
responder and first preventer communities, we know that we do have an
additional level of protection around this country, which we will
sustain as long as the -- the threat and the -- our military
activities in Iraq require us to sustain it.

It is in anticipation of absorbing some of those costs and helping
defray some of those costs that the President has requested
substantial dollars from the Congress in the supplemental, as you
know, for the first responder community, for governors and for mayors,
there's a request for $2 billion. And we applaud the commitment of
both chambers and both parties of getting these dollars appropriated
between now and the Easter recess. We want to work with them every
step of the way in order to achieve that goal, so that we can ease
some of that financial burden that we've asked them to sustain with
these dollars. As soon as we get them, it's our job to get them out
and distribute them as quickly as possible. We're prepared to do that.

By the way, we also have the $1 billion plus that is in the pipeline
now to get out to help our governors and our mayors absorb some of the
costs of the added level of protection that they've given this country
for the past 18 months.

Q: Democrats in the Congress have made it clear that they will not
augment the money in the supplemental for Homeland Security because of
the tremendous cost being incurred by the governors and by the mayors.
Can you oppose this?

SECRETARY RIDGE: I've tried to explain to my colleagues in public
service on either side of the aisle and in both chambers that if you
take the dollars that are still available from the 2002 supplemental,
you add it to the dollars that Congress appropriated in the 2003
budget, you add it to the dollars that we hope we receive in the
supplemental, you add it to the $3.5, nearly $4 billion to combat
terrorism in the 2004 budget, assuming they can complete their
activity by October 1st, there will be $8 [billion] to $9 billion
available to our states and local communities. And I think that's an
enormous investment and we want to make absolutely certain that every
single dollar is expended on what we need to not only help absorb some
of the costs of Liberty Shield, but also to build a broader national
capacity to prevent a terrorist attack, reduce our vulnerability or
respond to one if it occurs.

Again, the figure that I hear fairly frequently is in the $8 [billion]
to $9 billion range. But, in fact, if they honor our request for the
supplemental and honor the request for the 2004 budget and conclude
that process in a timely basis, that's precisely the amount that will
be available to these states and local communities. And then we have
to be concerned not just about inputs and dollars but how well they're
expended and outcomes. And I think with the infusion of that dramatic
amount of dollars, we have to be equally concerned that they are spent
appropriately.

Q: Sir, have you taken steps to improve the computerized information
sharing about watch lists and databases of terrorism information that
your respective intelligence communities may maintain and operate?

SECRETARY RIDGE: Yes. One of the first priorities we have within the
new Department is to consolidate the watch list information that is
generated from different agencies within the federal government to
ensure that it is available to all of the agencies. As you well know,
we have several departments and units that develop their own watch
lists. Our first priority, our first IT priority is to consolidate
these watch lists so that the people at the borders, people at the
airports and the respective agencies have access to that broader list
of names, the aggregate of those names. And we are moving rapidly to a
point where we'll be able to tell you that it's done. We're not quite
there yet, but we will be there shortly.

Q: Mr. Blunkett, you introduced new asylum laws today that allow you
to revoke citizenship for people you say abuse the privilege. Would
you like to see the Abu Hamza subjected to those laws?

And, Secretary Ridge, are these laws something that you would like or
intend to introduce in the United States?

SECRETARY BLUNKETT: Firstly, could I say that the laws are designed to
ensure that, where people have had dual citizenship or where they have
the opportunity of an alternative citizenship and they've abused the
taking of nationality within the United Kingdom, we believe we have
the right to withdraw that, and therefore to be able to expel that
individual from the country. If I named any individual here in
Washington, never mind back in London, I would immediately allow their
lawyers a field day in terms of what decisions I'd already ratified. I
don't intend to allow anyone the pleasure of doing that. So you'll
forgive me for not responding to a particular individual in a
particular set of circumstances.

SECRETARY RIDGE:  Thank you all.

Q: Secretary Ridge, did you intend on following those examples as
well? Secretary Ridge? The second part of the question of whether or
not the United States, if you intended on similar laws here in the
United States to revoke citizenship if someone is found to be
connected to a terrorist organization, or sort of blanket laws
revoking citizenship?

SECRETARY RIDGE: I think it's clear that in the post 9/11 world, that
at some point in time that may be a matter that we consider in this
country as well. But I would tell you, at this time, that is not
something that is presently under consideration. But let's not suggest
that some time down the road it might not be.

We have matters dealing with immigration and asylum that we're dealing
with on a regular basis. Whether or not that comes to the fore and we
deal with it, remains to be seen. Under the circumstances, as the
Secretary has described, it's entirely possible. We certainly haven't
undertaken that review presently.

SECRETARY BLUNKETT:  Thank you very much.

SECRETARY RIDGE:  Thank you.

(end transcript)

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Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)