Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:37 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hello. I have nothing to start with, so --
Q: Is the United States concerned about Turkey's plans to conduct military operations in Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebels?
MS. PERINO: You're talking about the action they're discussing in their parliament today?
MS. PERINO: Let me go back a couple steps. We have long been supportive of Turkey, to make sure they have what they need in order to stop terrorist activity in northern Iraq. And the Iraqi government is in agreement with that, as well. And on September 28th, the Turks and the Iraqis came together on an agreement to work together, cooperatively, against terrorism. We're supportive of those efforts. And I think it's hypothetically charged to talk about an incursion or an invasion, so I think I'll decline to comment on that.
Q: Or some type of military operation inside of Iraq. Is that a matter of concern to United States?
MS. PERINO: I think it's a hypothetical. Right now we're focused on cooperating with the Turks and the Iraqis to make sure that the PKK can be stopped, that the violence that threatens not only Turkey, but Iraqis, as well, can be curtailed right there in northern Iraq. And the Iraqi government is committed to working hand-in-hand with the Turks on that.
Q: In what way are you cooperating with the Turks in stopping the PKK?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'll leave it -- I don't have specifics, I'd have to refer you to the embassy or to the military -- our presence over there in Iraq.
Q: Is the United States going to take any additional -- you keep saying that you're cooperating with Turkey -- are you actually going to take any steps on the ground to help them in what they intend to do to fight the rebels?
MS. PERINO: Well, I will decline to speak on specifics. I would tell you that, to the extent that we find any terrorists or terrorist activity, we provide information or make sure that that is stopped in whatever way -- whatever means are necessary to do that.
Q: Dana, you said this morning in the gaggle that the White House did not leak the information about the bin Laden tape. How do you know that?
MS. PERINO: Well, this is -- let me take you back. This is the -- there was a private company that contacted the White House to let us know that they had found the Osama bin Laden tape, asked us if we wanted to have the federal government review it. When -- the standard practice at the White House is to take that phone call -- to take that request and direct it to -- directly to the DNI's office. So we do not ask to have that information just solely reviewed at the White House, we immediately turn it over to the National Center for Counterterrorism.
That's what Fred Fielding and Joel Bagnal did, the two people who were aware of the link. And it went to the DNI -- I'm sorry -- it went to the NCTC. And to the extent that we have Americans coming forward to provide us information, whether it be a private citizen or a private cooperation, or anybody in America that can provide the government information, we take it very seriously that they should, one, feel comfortable that in providing that information, that their sources will be protected; and that we will act on it, if necessary. We appreciate what they did. This was a cause of concern that the information was leaked. And I would have to refer to the DNI's office in regards to any possible investigation into that leak.
Q: But I guess my question is, Fielding and Bagnal both knew about the information; you're positive they didn't leak it or take it --
MS. PERINO: Correct.
Q: -- or take it further than the DNI's office?
MS. PERINO: We asked that the company contact NCTC directly and get that information to them directly.
Q: So they didn't contact NCTC, the SITE company did. Who did Fielding and Bagnal contact? DNI?
MS. PERINO: I would check on that. I know that they asked for the company that called to contact NCTC directly. I don't know who else they might have called within our government -- possibly the DNI's counsel's office. But I'm not positive. I can check.
Q: My question is, you're saying they contacted these other places. The company asked them not to. So how do you know that the leak didn't come --
MS. PERINO: No, no, we asked --
Q: -- from Fielding or --
MS. PERINO: Because I've talked to Fred.
Q: Okay, that's my question.
MS. PERINO: I have talked to Fred. And what we do is we ask -- the call comes in from the company, and then Fred said, we'd like for the federal government to be able to look at this, thank you, but don't send it to me, send it directly to the NCTC -- the National Center for Counterterrorism -- which was what was -- taken place here.
Q: Dana, following on something else in the gaggle this morning -- Deputy Prime Minister in Iraq is quoted in a recent Washington Post article as saying, "I don't think there is something called reconciliation. There will be no reconciliation as such." And in the same article, a Vice President says, "There's been no significant progress for months." When you're asked about this, you often point to this agreement in -- I think it was late August -- this statement of purpose, which is now six weeks old. It's getting really hard to find any evidence of forward progress in reconciliation. Would you agree with that?
MS. PERINO: I can understand how some people would see it that way, and I know that the Iraqis are --
Q: What other way is there to see it?
MS. PERINO: Excuse me?
Q: What other way is there to see it?
MS. PERINO: Sorry?
Q: What other way is there to see it?
MS. PERINO: Well, I said that -- well, I think that if you're in the Iraqis' shoes and you're looking at what is a complex situation, and you have a de-Baathification law that's in front of parliament, and that parliament needs to act, you have a president, President Talabani, who is bringing people together to work on the national oil law, and you have provincial elections that are moving -- that they're trying to move forward as well -- those are the three big key issues.
But on the -- at the provincial level, at the local government level, there is reconciliation taking place. And there -- in practice, some of these things are working. For example, I've pointed to before, the central government is providing the provinces with funds in order to run their services so that there is a buy-in from the local public, that they feel that they are getting response from their government, and it's starting to really take hold in those local provinces. And the central government, the federal government, is starting to take notice. And they know that they need to get this work done. I believe that they're committed to it. The President presses them on it, and he believes that they'll get it done.
Q: -- White House has a driving interest in keeping nuclear arms out of Iran. I'd like to ask you, does any country in the Middle East have nuclear arms?
MS. PERINO: Oh, I would leave it to those countries to announce whether they do or not. I think that there's public information about that, Helen.
Q: No, no, no, I want to know if the White House knows that there -- what do you mean? They're not going to announce it.
MS. PERINO: I'm not prepared to say anything beyond what has been publicly stated --
Q: You don't know whether any other country in the Middle East has nuclear arms?
MS. PERINO: Helen, I will let those countries speak for themselves.
Q: Or do you refuse to say?
MS. PERINO: I'll just refuse to say it.
Q: Dana, I have a question on the timing of the National Strategy for Homeland Security memo put out by the White House this morning.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q: Why now? Why today? Does it have anything to do with an effort to influence lawmakers who are taking up FISA legislation on the Hill today?
MS. PERINO: No. No, I -- not that I'm aware. This is a document that -- it's not unusual for a strategy document to be updated every five years. The first one was done in 2002, it's now 2007. The document was finished and soon as it was finished and all the "i"s were dotted and the "t"s were crossed, we were able to get that information out to you today.
Q: So it's just a mere matter of coincidence?
MS. PERINO: I've not heard anything otherwise, no. There is a FISA debate coming up. We would have liked to have ended that debate in August by having the Intelligence Surveillance Act law become permanent. Unfortunately, Congress only gave us a six-month window, so we have to take that up again. And I think we'll start -- tomorrow I think there's a mark-up on Capitol Hill. So we'll take it from there.
Q: Do you think anything in this report that comes out today should speak to members of Congress as they begin that debate?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that -- I think that it's a thoughtful and well-discussed document within not just the federal government, but working with state and local governments, pulling in the different pieces of intelligence that we have from the National Intelligence Estimate and other places to find out what is our threat, how is it evolving and how do we make sure that we have a strategy to keep up with it; and that we're planning not only for terrorist attacks, but also for natural disaster catastrophes that could have struck our country, as well. We learned a lot from the Katrina lessons learned document, that was able to be inputted into this. Remember, the first document was 2002; Katrina happened in 2005; it's now 2007. So it's an appropriate time to update the document.
Q: The al-Masri case that the Supreme Court ruled on today -- since it's no longer before the courts, are you able to say anything more about it? Was this man, indeed, abducted? Was he mistreated? Was this a case of mistaken identity?
MS. PERINO: I am not in a position to say anything different, no.
Q: Nothing at all?
MS. PERINO: I'll check and see if there's anything else, but I would doubt it. But let me check and see if there's anything more we can give. I am not prepared to at the moment.
Q: What do you say to those who point to the history of the state secrets doctrine that was litigated in this case, and say this administration has used that doctrine far more than the previous ones?
MS. PERINO: Well, I would say that this is a country that's facing unprecedented threats that we've not dealt with before, in terms of al Qaeda and other terrorists. I believe that the Justice Department is judicious in applying the State Secrets Act when it goes in front of the courts. And the fact that the Supreme Court agreed with us is, in our opinion, a good thing.
Q: When you refer questions about the leak of the bin Laden tape to DNI, is that a way of suggesting the leak might have come from DNI?
MS. PERINO: No, no. The Director of National Intelligence, as the overseer and coordinator of all intelligence agencies, that's the appropriate place for me to refer you.
Q: You expressed concern about the leak. Is it because of the damage it may have done to SITE, or the damage it may have done to national counterterrorism efforts?
MS. PERINO: I think it would be both. I'm not an expert in -- as regards to how it affected this one particular company, though I read their account of it in the paper and have no reason to disagree with it. But I think from the larger context, what the President wants is to make sure that to the extent that the American public is alert and that they hear about a threat that they think that their federal government should know about, we want them to come forward and tell us about that.
Q: And so the leak could discourage those efforts?
MS. PERINO: President Bush and this administration has felt strongly about leaks about classified information and intelligence. We don't think that it serves the American people well. And so that is the concern -- concern from that standpoint, as well, just on the overall issue of leaking of classified or intelligence information.
Q: Following up on that, to what extent are you concerned that this story splashed on the front page of the Post and discussed here is going to put a chill into anyone's desire to share anything with the White House or with intelligence agencies?
MS. PERINO: I don't make editorial decisions at any of the nation's newspapers. This is a story that they had, and they ran with it. And I don't disagree with that.
Q: I'm not talking about their motives. I'm talking about the fact that somebody in this administration leaked it. To what extent does that put a chill into anyone else --
MS. PERINO: As I said, we're concerned about it, and what we want is for the American people to know that if they have information they should feel comfortable to give it to us, and to make sure that their sources are protected. And so that's why I refer you to the department of national intelligence -- I'm sorry -- Director of National Intelligence and his office to see if there's going to be any additional follow-through or process evaluation or a leak investigation. We just don't do leak investigations out of here.
Q: But can these people be assured of that, based on what's happened in this instance?
MS. PERINO: I think that -- well, I would hope so. I think that this is a very isolated incident, and I'm sure that the intelligence community takes it very seriously, as well.
Q: Can I follow on that? Has it happened before? Is this the first time this has ever happened?
MS. PERINO: I don't know -- the first time that I'm aware of. I don't know if it's ever happened before.
Q: Yes, thank you, Dana. Two questions. New York Governor Spitzer's approval of state driver's licenses for illegal aliens has been deplored by New York Mayors Koch, Giuliani and Bloomberg. And my question: Does the President agree with them, or with Spitzer?
MS. PERINO: We'll stick with our REAL ID Act which the President encouraged Congress to pass and that he signed into law.
Q: The Washington Examiner reports that the White House has declined to comment on Chris Matthews' statements, "God help us if we had Cheney during the Cuban missile crisis. We'd all be under a parking lot," and the Bush administration has "finally been caught in their criminality." Why does the White House allow itself to be silenced by such accusations from this person?
MS. PERINO: I don't feel silenced. I just feel like it's not necessary for me to comment on a commentator's point of view.
Q: Are you also silenced by the new Hillary Clinton campaign --
MS. PERINO: That's three. No more. (Laughter.) Goyal.
Q: Wait a minute --
MS. PERINO: No, you tricked me -- you tricked me, I'm going to Goyal.
Q: What about Sandy Berger? I mean, they had three --
MS. PERINO: I'm not commenting on Sandy Berger, either.
Q: No comment on Sandy Berger?
MS. PERINO: No.
Q: Two quick questions. One, there was a presidential election in Pakistan and General Musharraf received more votes, but there is no official statement yet. But last week, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was here and I talked to her, and what she said was -- a deal between the two are there, and she is returning -- but she said that U.S. should support the democracy in Pakistan, full democracy, not the General's military.
MS. PERINO: What's your question?
Q: Well, what do we --
MS. PERINO: We do support full democracy.
Q: -- the Prime Minister --
MS. PERINO: We do support the full democracy in Pakistan. We wanted there to be free and fair elections. And the Supreme Court is now -- in Pakistan -- is currently looking at that. And so until there's a final decision, we will decline to comment from here.
Q: Second, on Burma. As far as the situation in Burma is concerned, it's not the first time this general, or dictator, in Burma -- in 1988 also he killed 3,000 innocent democratic people there -- democracy there. Now each time he does that, and then after killing scores of people and putting thousands in prison, and then everything is quiet and nobody talks about -- after 15 years.
MS. PERINO: What's your question, Goyal?
Q: So where do we stand on this? And we'll continue like this, like innocent people will get killed, and then we'll just keep quiet after --
MS. PERINO: The President and Mrs. Bush feel very strongly that there should be an immediate move to a peaceful transition to democracy in Burma. And we are calling for an immediate return of U.N. Envoy Gambari to Burma in order to start to forge that peace.
Q: Thank you.
END 12:47 P.M. EDT
Dana Perino, Press Briefing by Dana Perino Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/276117