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U.S. Department of Homeland Security  
  

Transcript of Secretary Tom Ridge and TTIC Director John Brennan During Media Availabity

Washington, D.C.
Contact: 202-282-8010
October 30, 2004

Secretary Ridge: During the past couple of days, obviously, Americans have seen two videotapes, Azzam the American and bin Laden tapes.  And what is really new are the tapes, not the threat.  I mean, America has been dealing with the general threat to our homeland now since September 11th.  And John Brennan, as you know, the Director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, and I thought it would be appropriate to come out and put those videotapes in a little bit more substantive context in terms of what America has been doing during the past several months and for John to give a little insight, in terms from an analytical point of view about the tape.

First of all, I think America should be reassured that during the past year, particularly in the post-Madrid environment, there has been a nationwide effort initiated within the federal government and across the federal government, but on down to our partners at the state and local level to significantly increase the levels of the security and preventive measures we have in place.  They are permanent, they are sustainable and they will last far beyond the election, and as I said before, most of them are permanent.

So there have been many, many permanent security enhancements over the past several months.  Every single day, we look for ways to integrate people and technology to make our country safer.  We have been able to do that and we will continue to do that in the days and months and the years ahead, so I think that's important to note.

Clearly, we are safer today than we were six months ago, and it is because of the collaborative effort, not just administration-wide within the federal government, but down to the state and local level because we have engaged our partners in those jurisdictions as well.

I think it's important to also note that we're not here this afternoon to tell you we're going to raise the threat level.  Again, we have significantly enhanced the protective measures that we've taken.  Clearly, if the information warranted, we reserve the right.  Again, we remind everyone that the analysis of intelligence and information is a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week proposition, and we're not here to raise it to Orange.  

But we don't have to go to Orange to take action in response either to these tapes or just general action to improve security around the country.  

For example, last night, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security sent out an information bulletin to the state and local -- our state and local law enforcement partners.  That's something we have done probably 150 times over the past year or so with bulletins and advisories, so we're connected quite well with them.  

The FBI is going to take excerpts from the Azzam the American tape, put it on its website, and we're going to ask Americans to take a look at the website.  If there's any information that you have that could help identify the individual on the tape, the FBI would like to hear about it.

Earlier today, I had an extraordinary conference call with about 350 individuals around the country:  Homeland Security advisors from the states and major cities, chiefs of police, again, bringing them up to date as to what we have done, what we can continue to do together.  And we don't have to go to Orange to add additional security measures around the country.  And in the hours and the days ahead, we'll increase our Coast Guard patrolling of the harbors, we'll change some of the inspection protocols at our land, our Ports of Entry and our airports.  And we will work with our cities to reroute, as we've done from time to time in the past, hazard material, be it in truck or railroads around some of our major urban areas.  We've already been in contact with the advisory groups we've set up with the private sector.

So what we're telling everyone is that we understand the tapes are new, the threat is not.  Our effort nationwide, down to the local level, to enhance security is ongoing.  We are far safer today than we've ever been before, and we'll continue to work with our partners at all levels of government and in the private sector to continue to add security so that we can enjoy -- enjoying living in America, living in the greatest country on the face of the Earth in the days and months and years ahead.  

John?

Director Brennan:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Obviously, the intelligence community is treating both of the videotapes that have been released over the past week very seriously, and we are carefully looking at both the videotape that was broadcast from Osama bin Laden, as well as Azzam the American.  

We're looking very carefully at them to see, in fact, whether there's a correlation and to look at the themes that come out from it, the content.  And clearly, it's repetition of many of the themes we've heard before from al Qaeda, in terms of the criticism of U.S. policy and their intent to carry out additional attacks like they did on 9/11.

I think it's important, though, to put these tapes, these two tapes, into the broader context, into the broader body of strategic intelligence that we have about al Qaeda's plans to carry out attacks and its attempts to carry out attacks here in the homeland.

And so what we're trying to do is to look at these tapes in the context of the other intelligence that we have, and I don't think the intelligence community needed a videotape from bin Laden to tell us, in fact, that he is determined to carry out attacks here.  I don't think the American public needed that, either.  

But what we're trying to do would be from the intelligence perspective is to analyze these tapes and make sure that we understand what they mean, what their significance is in the broader context of the intelligence that we have, and then ensure that we are able to provide that information to the Department of Homeland Security, to the FBI and to others, so that they can act upon that intelligence.

So this has been a constant process over the past 24 hours in particular, because of the bin Laden tape, but we're going to continue this effort in working very closely with Secretary Ridge and others.

Secretary Ridge:  Yes.

Question:  Mr. Secretary, here we are just days away from the election.  First of all, are you asking for any particular precautions or advising any particular precautions around election day?  And second, did the politics of the presidential election have anything to do with how your Department is handling this latest tape?

Secretary Ridge:  First of all, I think those men and women, those volunteers who go and report on election day to help us with this very important process, and those who vote, ought to feel safe and be comforted by the fact that, through the good work of the National Governor's Association and the National Association of Secretaries of State and other state and local organizations, they've had their eye on protecting -- taking care of the polling places on election day for quite some time now.

And so, first of all, we want to make sure that people feel safe and comfortable about going to vote.  And it's a critically important day and people should feel safe about going and exercising their right.

With regard to what Homeland Security is doing, it's just the juxtaposition of the two tapes that give us reason to come out and have this discussion, the public discussion with you in the context of the analysis from the intelligence community to remind Americans that every single day the Department of Homeland Security, with its federal partners -- and those are agencies across the administration, as well as with our state and local partners, as well as with the private sector, look to increase security.  We've done that with a certain intensity over the past six months.  Most of these are permanent, they are sustainable, and they'll go and exist long, long beyond election day.

Question:  But were you reluctant to raise the threat level because the election is only days away?

Secretary Ridge:  We will raise the -- first of all, we reserve the right to raise it.  Secondly, we don't have to raise it to enhance security in certain areas.  And we will always be dictated by the specific intelligence and its credibility.  And, as I said before, today as we speak, we are at Yellow.  Depending on, again, the process that is ongoing over the next day or two or week or two, we certainly reserve the right to go up if the information warrants us going to Orange.

Question: If I could follow on that --

Secretary Ridge:  It's driven by the intelligence, it's driven by the information.

Question: If could follow on that, are you concerned because of these tapes specifically about the election?  Or are you looking at other events this weekend, say the NFL football games, the Marine Corps Marathon, or are you looking even past that?

Secretary Ridge:  Well, I think first of all, Americans should take some comfort that these major public events and those who sponsor those events have a good working relationship with Homeland Security, with the FBI, with the Secret Service.  Again, since 9/11, there are security enhancements at these public events that a lot of Americans probably aren't even aware of.

Question:  Will people start seeing things when they go to gatherings now, like football games tomorrow?

Secretary Ridge: Business as usual means that there's more security and more protection and prevention at these kinds of public events than there's ever been before.  So we ought to take some comfort in that.  I mean, we have held not only seminars with the sponsoring organizations, but we have frequent contact.  We do, FBI does, Secret Service.  I mean, we are locked up pretty tight with these sponsoring organizations around the country to add security to these major public events.  And we have been doing it and we'll continue to do it.

Question:  Gentlemen, do you have an initial assessment of what you think the goal of Osama bin Laden was in issuing this particular tape and using these particular words to address the American people?

Director Brennan:  Well, I think it's clearly directed to the American people.  He says that up front.  And what he's trying to do is to explain his actions over the past number of years, pointing out U.S. policies that he objects to.  And also I think he's trying to say that even though he has not been able to carry an attack, he has been successful in certain areas.

There's no specific threat information in there.  This could be part of a campaign in terms of trying to get out a message to the American people, following on the heels of the Azzam tape.  So what we're trying to do is to really understand its significance, its meaning, and then put it into that context.

Secretary Ridge:  I think it's important to know, however, and John can confirm this, there's no specific intelligence that targets election day, polling places, and the like.  The threat has always been directed to the American homeland, and we need to understand that.  

But because of that, we've also engaged the governors and mayors and state and local law enforcement community for the past 45 to 60 days, since it's their responsibility to provide security and just take whatever steps they need to make sure that we have the right balance between security and an open and accessible electoral process.  And that's exactly what's going on and people ought to feel good about that and comfortable going to vote.

Question:  Director Brennan, as an experienced intelligence analyst, I'm wondering if you can answer this question.  I know there have been schools of thought inside the intelligence community that have said tapes are followed within 50, 60 day window by an attack.  And then there's another school that says there are so many tapes, there are so many attacks, you can almost always find a correlation.  I'm wondering what you, yourself, as the Director TTIC, think about that correlation between messages like this and potential attacks?

Director Brennan:  Well, I think if you look back, and the facts tend to speak for themselves, there have been a number of broadcasts from al Qaeda -- video tapes, audio tapes -- from bin Laden, from Zawahiri, that have not been followed by such attacks.  And so what we try to do is to put it, again, into this context of what could be significant, what is its meaning, what's the relevance of the timing, why was it broadcast now, what are they trying to accomplish by it?  And the fact that it is coming several days before the election and directed to the American people, it seems like it's a message to the American people.

Now, are there other aspects of it that we have to better understand?  That's what we're trying to do right now.  But, again, looking at over the past several years, there have been a lot of broadcasts that have used old footage of bin Laden, but have included, in fact, new audio messages from him that have not, in fact, been accompanied or followed by those types of attacks.

Question:  Secretary Ridge, to some degree, were you expecting something before the election to come from al Qaeda?

Secretary Ridge: I would refer to my friend who's got life experience in the intelligence community.  The only thing we've learned is to expect the unexpected, but not to be surprised that bin Laden would appear again publicly and direct a general threat to the American public.

It is -- the news of the two tapes, it's not news that we are the primary target of this hatred and this evil.

Question:  Do you --

Question:  Director -- go ahead.

Question:  Director Brennan, I'm wondering if you can just speak a little bit further again as an experience analyst.  In terms of the content, what are maybe the five things that have jumped out at you as the most interesting elements of this tape?  And especially if you can talk about the whole 18 minutes.  The American public has only seen, you know, a few and had those translated for us.

Director Brennan:  Well, there are a couple of things that strike me.  Bin Laden tries to give a historical context for his desire to strike out against the United States.  He hearkens back to Lebanon in the early 1980s.  There are a number of references to how he and al Qaeda have been able to follow on 9/11 with additional types of efforts that have, in fact, caused harm to the United States.  I think what he's trying to do is to show, or to try to demonstrate, that al Qaeda, as an organization, is still effective, even though they have not, in fact, been able to do something here in the States.

So there are a number of themes.  And, again, it's consistent with what we have heard earlier.  He's directed some of these same themes against the European nations, to their policies.  He's directed them previously against the United States.

So there -- the content in there is sort of suggestive of a person who is looking for a way to justify the organization's continued existence and that there is still something there.  And so it's clearly, again, a massage to the American people.

Question:  Do you think it's surprising that the intelligence community has not been able to follow the people who are delivering the tapes to al Jazeera and staking them out?  Do you think that's a fallacy in our program?

Secretary Ridge: Well, I would let the intelligence community speak for themselves, but I think they do everything conceivably possible, both human and technological, to identify and apprehend those responsible for the making of the tapes, the transportation of these tapes, and distribution of the tapes.  I -- again, there were some -- some circumstances around the Azzam the American tape that were a little bit unusual.  But I know they're doing everything they can every day to go to the source.

Question:  Can you elaborate?  What was unusual?  What were unusual about the Azzam tape to you?

Secretary Ridge: Well, I think there's a distinction as to how they were delivered and made available to the American public and I'll let John speak for that.

Director Brennan: Usually, al Qaeda tries to have their broadcast come out through al Jazeera, and this one, as we know, ABC News was involved in.  So we look at all the ways that al Qaeda utilizes, in an era of mass communication and mass media and that you can move things very easily, swiftly, internationally.  What we're doing is we're trying to, again, understand a lot of the aspects of this episode.

Question:  Have you been able to understand the relationship between those two tapes, if there is one?

Director Brennan:  We're looking at it very closely right now.  That's exactly what we're doing.

Question:  No conclusions yet?

Director Brennan: Well, obviously, common themes.  You know, al Qaeda, the references to U.S. policies, the types of things that they are critical of, what they're determined to do.  So, yeah, we're looking at content, we're looking at a lot of different things as far as the correlation between the two tapes.

Thank you.

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Related Web Resource

See FBI Website to help identify Azzam the American.