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White House Press Briefing

Aired November 25, 2002 - 12:30   ET


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you now to the White House.
Ari Fleischer is giving the briefing, talking about homeland security.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: ... America's ability to have homeland security will be improved.

QUESTION: Why isn't it a hindrance that the FBI and the CIA will not be under the same department?

FLEISCHER: It was the judgment of the experts, and this is why the president made the proposal he did, which obviously was greeted with large support in the Congress, to make certain that the FBI and CIA continue to have their independent roles. The president thought that was very important.

And one reason for that -- and this is a lesson of September 11 -- is the president thinks it is absolutely essential for this president and all future presidents to have an empowered director of both the FBI and the CIA to come -- separate and apart from the Cabinet secretary -- and brief the president on what it is that their agencies are doing, that their involvement in their functions and the functions of their agencies are so important that he wants to make certain that they have that distinct identity, and they have the ability and the means to carry out their missions, as well as the responsibility of knowing that they will, indeed, be measured by the president of the United States on a regular basis.

QUESTION: Hasn't the president's moral clarity on this war on terrorism been undermined by the fact that Pakistan, who's suppose to be an ally, who's reportedly transferred nuclear technology to North Korea, and now that the Saudi government is under investigation for transferring money to hijackers?

FLEISCHER: Well, one, on the question of Pakistan and North Korea, I think that September 11 changed many things and a new government, if you will, and Pakistan is not always doing things that they used to do. And so, times have, indeed, changed. Not everything that took place years ago gets repeated today.

And on Saudi Arabia, your question is?

QUESTION: They're under investigation for transferring money to the hijackers. FLEISCHER: OK. First of all, the country is not under investigation. A certain set of circumstances involving a transfer is being looked at. Well, I think that if you take your...


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the investigation is the investigation, isn't it?

FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think that you can define relations with a country around the fact that an investigation may be taking place. It's a much more complicated world than that. And so, I don't think it changes moral clarity.


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) when the president comes out and says you're either with us or against us. All Americans understand that. What seems to be a little bit more questionable is when somebody who's supposed to be an ally like Pakistan is helping -- has spoken this axis of evil and you're constantly on the defensive about what the Saudis are or not doing.

FLEISCHER: What were the dates of those transfers?

QUESTION: You tell me?

FLEISCHER: As I indicated...


QUESTION: ... quite sure. I mean, tell me. You're saying vaguely that -- so are you saying that they -- well, you tell me what the dates are.

FLEISCHER: As I said...


QUESTION: ... transfer of stock.

FLEISCHER: As I just indicated to you, what took place September 11 changed many things, certain things happened under different governments in Pakistan in a time period not represented by Pakistan today. Events change and so do nations.



FLEISCHER: I think in regard to the question that you asked concerning the newspaper story, it was clear from that story that this is not immediate history several years ago.

QUESTION: Why should anyone believe that transferring 170,000 people from 22 different agencies will result in a more efficient bureaucracy? Bureaucracy, we generally judge to be inherently inefficient.

FLEISCHER: The issue isn't the number of people; the issue is the mission of the people. And the mission to protect the homeland currently is scattered throughout 22 different agencies reporting to 22 different bosses.

And the president thinks that you can enhance security as a result of bringing these 22 agencies together under one roof, where their entire focus is going to be their primary mission: protecting the homeland.

And as a result of this new mission that it will, indeed, bring people together with more expertise, more sharing of information behind that mission.

If I can, I'll give you a couple examples of it. There are several agencies in the government that have dual purposes. Take the Secret Service, for example. They were originally started during the Civil War for the purpose of fighting counterfeiters. They did not have a presidential protection mission until actually in a final authoritative way from the Congress till 1951. The Secret Service has that dual mission.

Coast Guard has a dual mission of being able to protect and rescue people who may, perhaps, be lost or drowning at sea, with protecting the coastline against any ships that may approach with hostile intent or smuggling, et cetera.

The purpose of putting them in a new department is to create a sense of all these workers with their primary mission, their core function of why they exist is to protect the homeland. They will, indeed, continue to carry out their secondary missions. But it's a reflection of the fact that their missions now are secondary when it comes to those other important priorities, those priorities will remain under way, but their core mission becomes protecting the homeland much in the same way that September 11 changed the mission of the FBI from an agency that had a long history of prosecuting arrest, developing evidence so arrests could be prosecuted and to now preventing terrorism. September 11 changed many of the missions for the federal government. This change brings many of the security agencies of the federal government together under one roof to better protect the American people.

QUESTION: In the year or so that it will take time to get organized, what's going to change? I mean, nothing.

FLEISCHER: No, I just disagree with that. I think the experts do, as well. By putting together these people under this one roof with the one purpose in mind to protect the homeland, you're going to see better interaction among these agencies, better coordination...


QUESTION: ... for a year.

FLEISCHER: I think they're going to get there over a period of time as it ramps up. But to suggest that because it may take time is a reason it shouldn't be done is to suggest that our government should never be flexible and should never respond, that our government can only remain the same. And the president doesn't accept that.

QUESTION: I wasn't suggesting it shouldn't be done. I was just questioning whether it would indeed be more efficient.

FLEISCHER: And I think the answer, as I indicated earlier, is yes.

QUESTION: First of all, congratulations, again, and I wish you a happy married life.

FLEISCHER: Thank you.

QUESTION: Question going back to North Korea and Pakistan.

SAVIDGE: You've been listening now to the morning briefing, Ari talking about homeland security. A historic day at the White House. In less than about an hour, President Bush will put his name on the dotted line, making into law the homeland security bill, the largest reorganization in over 50 years, and of course CNN will be bringing that to you live.


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