Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
1:30 P.M. EST
MS. MYERS: A quick statement on Jamie Gorelick.
"I applaud Attorney General Reno's choice of Jamie Gorelick to be the next Deputy Attorney General for the Department of Justice. She has ably served my administration with great distinction as General Counsel of the Department of Defense, and I am confident Jamie will continue to bring her sharp legal mind, penetrating analysis and tremendous management capabilities to her new assignment.
I look forward to working closely with Attorney General Reno and Jamie Gorelick in fighting for passage of a tough, smart crime bill, and to give the American people a Justice Department that is innovative in its approaches and solutions to crime."
Q: Are you satisfied with the Russian government's response so far to the arrest of Rick Ames?
MS. MYERS: Well, as you know, we are quite concerned about this. We've communicated that at the highest level. Secretary Christopher called in the charge here last night. Ambassador Pickering met with his counterparts in Moscow this morning. We've communicated our unhappiness about this and lodged a formal complaint. We do expect the Russians to take some action, and that action will have an effect on the future of our relationship.
Q: What's the U.S. response to President Yeltsin's call for a one-day summit among the superpowers?
MS. MYERS: There's a tremendous amount of diplomatic activity on Bosnia at this time. A summit at the heads of state level would require a lot of preparation. We're doing a lot of the ground work now, and if that's an appropriate step we'll certainly take a look at it.
Q: Have you responded to him yet on this?
MS. MYERS: We haven't made a formal response that I know of. I'll double-check, but not that I know of.
Q: Doing the groundwork for what?
MS. MYERS: For moving diplomatic process forward.
Q: Senator DeConcini is calling for a freeze on U.S. aid until we have further response from the Russians on the espionage case.
MS. MYERS: Well, again, we've communicated our unhappiness to the Russians directly. We take this matter quite seriously and the future of our relationship will certainly be affected by their response. We have communicated that we want them to take action, and we expect that to happen.
Q: If they continue their current response --
Q: What action?
Q: What is their response?
MS. MYERS: I can't give you specifics on that.
Q: The current response is that they are not denying it, they're not responding with any kind of acknowledgement, nor are they apologizing and withdrawing any of their diplomats. Now, if that's the case, should there be a freeze on U.S. aid?
MS. MYERS: Well, again, I'm not going to speculate about what they'll do. We've communicated our unhappiness about this. We've made it clear that we expect them to take action. We'll see what happens. I think it's premature for me to speculate about whether or not they will take actions that we've asked for and how that will affect the future of U.S. aid.
Let me just make a couple of other points. I can't get into the specifics about what we've asked, but let me make a couple points here. We have no illusions. The Russians may have changed the names of some of their security agencies, but they haven't changed all their practices. We know that. We take this incident seriously. We've asked for action.
The second point is that our relationship with Russia is based on what is in our interest. That's been our approach all along. It is in our interest, it is in America's interest for Russia to move toward a democratic government and market economy. We'll continue to press for that. Specifically what happens over the next few days will depend on the action that they take.
Q: Have they taken any action yet at all? Have they responded in any way, in any tangible way?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: Did the President have a meeting here today with the CIA on what kind of damage was done?
MS. MYERS: No. The President's asked for a review to determine the national security implications of this event. And Director Woolsey was here, but that's part of a series of regular national security meetings that the President has with his senior advisers. This issue of Russia did come up, but not in terms of an assessment.
Q: What DeConcini asked for was a 60-day freeze. Is there anything in the pipeline right now -- if you were going to freeze aid, is there anything to freeze?
MS. MYERS: I'll have to take that in terms of specifically -- we have requests in both '94, and then, as you know, we just put a request for additional funds in the '95 fiscal budget. All of the '93 aid has been mostly allocated; a lot of it appropriated. We're in the process of spending the aid that was allocated in '94. So I suppose it could affect those funds. I'll take the question and post the answer.
Q: When you say we have no illusions, they're saying, what's the big fuss about; we both spy; everyone knows it. In fact, Primakov suggested in 1992 that they would quit if we quit and we said, no, no deal. So what is the big fuss about?
MS. MYERS: Well, I'm not aware of Primakov's comments, but this is a serious issue. It has implications for America's national security. We take that most seriously, and we've communicated that to the Russians. This is something that I think that has direct implications on U.S. security interests, and we are going to review it to determine the national security implications and we are going to do what we can to make sure that our counterintelligence operation is adequate to protect U.S. security interests.
Q: Is this having any impact on the U.S. response to the Bosnia proposal, or is that on a totally separate track?
MS. MYERS: Well, the Bosnia proposal is on a totally separate track. I think we've done what we can to outline U.S. interests in that area. Diplomatic discussions are moving forward. The meeting in Bonn yesterday was productive. There are conversations ongoing today.
Q: Are you saying you don't -- the President doesn't want -- the President wants some gesture from the Russians, but he does not want to rock the boat in terms of our relations?
MS. MYERS: I think "rock the boat" is the wrong way to look at it. I think we're going to continue to have a Russia policy that serves U.S. national interests. That, we believe, is a policy that moves the country toward democracy and a market economy. That's been the objective of our policy since the beginning of the Clinton administration and continues to be the objective of our policy. Now, as I said, the action that they take over the next days will have an influence and an impact on the relationship, but Russia moving toward a democracy is still in our interest.
Q: Just to try to follow on Andrea -- what did the Russians do here that was so -- that we find so outrageous or so contrary to our understanding of the rules of the game?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to get into a philosophical discussion about the rules of the game. But I would say that we are very concerned about it. We're concerned about the impacts that it may have had on U.S. national security. We're reviewing that. We are reviewing our own counterintelligence operation to make sure it's effective to protect those interests.
Q: Well, I don't understand why the U.S. intelligence community would be upset about this. I'm not quite sure I get why we're expressing this absolute outrage to the Russians that they've just apparently did a better job or a good job.
MS. MYERS: That's certainly not the basis of our objection. I think in the post-Cold War world, we are building a relationship that is beyond the Cold War and one that I think they've expressed in pursuing in building a more open and allied type of relationship. I think this has some implications for that. And it's troubling to us. We've asked them to take action, and we expect that they will.
Q: So what's troubling is that -- because this started, allegedly, in '85 --
MS. MYERS: Correct --
Q: is it troubling that it continued, given the new relations?
MS. MYERS: I think the relationship is changing, and the Russians as well as the United States has expressed interest in seeing that relationship change and grow; to move beyond a Cold War type of relationship. This has implications for that. And I think the relationship has changed during the period outlined in the affidavit.
Q: Can you confirm a CNN report that several lives were jeopardized, maybe some people were executed; that the Ames, both of them, are now cooperating?
MS. MYERS: I've seen the report, but cannot confirm it.
Q: You've been saying that the President was aware of this for about 10 months since the investigation has been taking place --
MS. MYERS: More or less.
Q: Roughly. Was there any thought at that point when he was made aware of this to quietly urge the Russians to stop this; in other words, to bring it up with Yeltsin and to quietly urge them to stop it so that aid could continue and it would not jeopardize the relationship?
MS. MYERS: I can't get into the specifics of that, other than to say that the decisions about our relationship were based on what we thought was in our best interest. And during the course of the investigation, precautions were taken to protect U.S. national security interests as best as possible. But beyond that I can't get into it.
Q: So you're saying that he could not bring it up because of the security interests or it was in the process --
MS. MYERS: I would just point out sort of generically that during the investigation we did what we could, or the United States did what it could, to protect national security interests without compromising the investigation -- or to pursue the investigation without compromising national security at the same time.
Q: Can you tell us philosophically -- you say you don't want to get into philosophy, but -- or confirm the report CNN had and others had -- can this country maintain normalized assisting relations with a country that takes its espionage to killing agents and kills friendly agents?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to answer that question.
Q: But you're not going to rule it out either?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to engage in a philosophical debate about espionage.
Q: Are you saying that because Russia now receives aid from the United States it should be held to a different standard than it once was in terms of its espionage activities?
MS. MYERS: I'm simply saying that our relationship has changed and is changing as Russia moves toward a democratic government, a market economy and into the family of nations. And I think that has implications on many, many levels, but I'm not going to get specific about that.
Q: Has the United States given to the Russians the names of diplomats it would like to see withdrawn?
MS. MYERS: I can't comment on the specific action that we've asked them to take other than to say we do expect them to take action.
Q: Dee Dee, two questions. First, you talk about our changing relationship. Obviously, we both still have intelligence operations. Does that mean we no long compromise their agents?
MS. MYERS: Again, I can't comment on intelligence.
Q: The second question -- presumably, over the 10- month investigation, we spent some of that time trying to deal with who this man's handler -- Ames' handlers were -- and trying to deal -- trying to assess the damage to our agency. Why then did we make a big splash about it? Why not quietly dismiss the man and tell the Soviets, get his handlers out of Washington?
MS. MYERS: Again, I think that we feel it's important. This is serious -- we take it seriously. And I think it's obviously going to be a fairly public case -- once the affidavit was unsealed, the case became quite public. And I think it's important for us to express publicly that this is serious; we take it seriously; and to make clear that we expect the Russians to take some action.
Q: So that it was important for us to express that to what, to underscore the new relationship -- is that a goal?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think, clearly we are moving toward a different kind of relationship with Russia. And again, we expect them to take action, and that will have some influence on how that relationship develops. This is a serious issue. This is a potentially -- has implications for national security. It's not something that we take lightly or something that we care to ignore. And I think that we've made our position on this clear.
Q: The question is how do we then further enhance our security by making the big public spectacle out of it that we have?
MS. MYERS: I'm not sure that that -- how do we further enhance security by making this public?
Q: No, by making it a spectacle, not making it public.
MS. MYERS: I wouldn't say that we're making it a spectacle. But I think that the public has some interest in knowing what steps this government is going to take in response to this quite serious charge. And I think that is certainly something that is within the public's interest and the public's right to know. I don't think we've -- I think we've been very straightforward about what we're doing, but I don't think we've been sensational about it in any way.
Q: Has the President personally talk with any members of Congress who are worried about the impact on foreign aid?
MS. MYERS: I don't know.
Q: What's the question?
MS. MYERS: The question was has the President talked to any members of Congress who were personally worried about the implications for foreign aid. He's talked to a number of members of Congress. None of the conversations, to my knowledge, have been specifically in reference to this espionage case. But I can't say for sure that it hasn't come up.
Q: Could you check on that for us?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q: Does the White House believe at this point that Yeltsin knew or at least you believe that he knew --
MS. MYERS: We don't know.
Q: Does the President plan to make a call any time soon or communicate any time soon --
MS. MYERS: He has no plans at this time.
Q: One last question. Do you acknowledge that the United States does, indeed, spy on Russia?
MS. MYERS: I don't comment on intelligence.
Q: One way that, traditionally, intelligence agencies have tried to keep that kind of thing from happening was to monitor people's spending levels and make sure their spending wasn't wildly out of line with what they were earning. That doesn't seem to have happened in this case or, in other words, it doesn't seem to have worked. Does the President have any concerns or has the administration taken any steps to take a look at how this could have gone on, this sort of large spending could have gone apparently unnoticed?
MS. MYERS: Two points on that -- I think, one, yesterday, the President complimented the FBI and the CIA for a thorough and effective investigation. I think the details of that investigation will probably never be made public. The second thing is he's asked for a review of our counterintelligence operations to make sure that it is as effective as it needs to be in preventing this kind of thing.
Q: I guess I'm a little confused still about what the White House's stand is on whether or not this should impact the $900 million request for foreign aid. DeConcini wants to freeze it. Is that an overreaction?
MS. MYERS: I think what we've done is, again, communicated -- lodged a complaint at the highest levels. We've made it clear that we expect the Russians to take action and that that action will have some effect on the future of our relationship. And beyond that, we haven't said anything.
Q? One of the things that was said in the affidavit is that one of the ways that they got on to Ames was discovering computer records indicating that he had disclosed the name of one of our spies over there. Doesn't that lead one to think that there is a little hypocrisy in this American reaction, they're spying on us?
MS. MYERS: I'm not -- this is a serious matter. I'm not sure that's quite been our reaction. This is a serious matter, though, and it has implications for national security. And I think that it is perfectly appropriate that we take it seriously, that we lodge a complaint at the highest levels and that we expect appropriate action on behalf of the Russians. I think that is an appropriate response.
Q: When you say that, though, Dee Dee, why is it not incumbent upon the U.S. government to state what its policy is on
spying on Russia when it's expecting Russia to abide by some certain standards that you're only willing to get at on the margins?
MS. MYERS: Because I can't comment on intelligence.
Q: The affidavit in court comments on this, saying that we lost an asset over there because of Ames, and that's how we -- that's one of the things we discovered in his records.
MS. MYERS: I think that you all understand that because of the nature of the court case I can't comment on specifics that are in the affidavit or things that might in any way affect the outcome of the trial.
Q: You can respond to a question about the hypocrisy.
MS. MYERS: And my response to that is that I think that, given the seriousness of this and given the implications for U.S. national security, I think that our response has been appropriate.
Q: If the Russians do not respond in what you consider a reasonable period of time, could that sour relations over such things as Bosnia eventually?
MS. MYERS: Well, I don't want to speculate on what may or may not happen, other than to say that it will have some influence on our relationship, and then to emphasize that we have a broader relationship that we believe is in our interest. And so we will continue to pursue a relationship with Russia that we believe furthers American interests.
Q: The CIA requires that its employees take a lie detector test every year. How did he get through?
MS. MYERS: You'd have to check with the CIA.
Q: So you're basically not commenting on the DeConcini freeze proposal?
MS. MYERS: Correct. I mean, I'm just not -- the administration hasn't taken a position on that.
Q: What's the level of concern right now on the part of the White House and the administration that there could be other calls similar to what DeConcini is talking about? He says that he is hearing a lot back home that people are concerned about tax dollars being spent on the Russians, et cetera.
MS. MYERS: Well, again, I think that the one point we're trying to make, I'm trying to make today is that we have a relationship that we believe is in the best interests of the American people and of the American government, which is to help Russia in its transition toward a democracy and toward a market economy; which means we'll have to spend less money on an arms race, that we'll have a whole new market of individuals to sell U.S. products to, that it will reduce tensions in the world, and that Russia can become a force for resolving disputes elsewhere around the world as we're seeing in Bosnia. They certainly have played an effective role in Bosnia over the course of the last week or so.
That is in the U.S. interest. That is in the best interest. That's not to say we don't take this incident seriously, that we haven't demanded action from the Russians, that we won't continue to press them on that. But I think it's important to keep in mind what is in the best long-term interest of the United States. And I will again point out that we don't have any illusions about the Russians.
Q: Why did the President compliment these two agencies that waited, what, from '85 to discover this? It's obviously sloppy work to look into counterintelligence and see a man spending $540,000 on a house, driving a Jaguar and he's making $70,000 a year and nobody put anything together?
MS. MYERS: Again, I can't comment on what might have been happening over the course of those years other than to say that the actual investigation that focused on Ames and his wife was actually, I think, fairly concentrated -- a 10-month investigation that produced what appears to be a strong case -- I'm not suggesting that they're guilty -- but it put together a strong case. And I think that the two agencies worked closely together and the President thinks that that's a good sign.
Q: But he doesn't think that they're pretty late in the game?
MS. MYERS: He thinks that the investigation into the Ameses was carried out effectively.
Q: You said a couple times that the U.S. and Russia are moving to a new relationship. What is that new relationship?
MS. MYERS: It's a post-Cold War relationship that I think focuses on mutual economic and security interests. We're working to help them in that -- again, transition to democracy and to market economy, which will not only raise the standard of living for people in Russia, but will create a market for Americans. It will also reduce tensions in the world as we move beyond having our nuclear weapons pointed at each other.
Q: Is that one in which, as Senator DeConcini apparently has suggested where the Soviet -- where the Russians should not be spying on the United States at all?
MS. MYERS: Again, I think -- we have no illusions about the Russians.
Q: We have illusions about us. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: We have no illusions about any of this.
Q: what came out of the Bonn meeting yesterday and what the next steps are in Bosnia besides this Yeltsin summit idea?
MS. MYERS: The Bonn meeting was productive. I think they discussed some next steps. I don't have a specific readout on it other than the sense that it was --
Q: Do you know what any of the steps are?
MS. MYERS: They haven't been decided on yet; discussions are still ongoing.
Q: Do you know what any of the suggestions are, or any consensus on anything?
MS. MYERS: We've intentionally said very little about the diplomatic steps under discussion, and I think we'll stick to that. But Ambassador Redman and Steve Oxman were both there and thought the meeting was a productive one.
Q: So what do you do next?
MS. MYERS: Well, that's what we're -- that continues to be under discussion. I think for the moment, the exclusion zone remains in effect. We're looking at how best to move toward a negotiated settlement in the rest of the country and what our options are to help that process along.
Q: Are you concerned at all that General Rose's request for air strikes yesterday was turned down?
MS. MYERS: It wasn't turned down. What happened was, there was an attack on UNPROFOR troops. They were unable to -- NATO and the U.N. were ready to respond; in fact, NATO planes were in the air. But they were unable -- UNPROFOR was unable to determine or to identify an appropriate target and so air strikes were never officially requested.
Q: There have been reports that, in fact, the ultimatum is not being complied with and that up to 50 percent of Serb weapons are still under their control. NATO troops and U.N. negotiators are still trying to work out some arrangement so, in fact, the U.N. hasn't taken control of all the weapons. Do you agree that that's the case? And, if so, isn't that a weakening?
MS. MYERS: That's inconsistent with all of our reports.
Q: What are your reports?
MS. MYERS: Our reports are that Serb weapons within the exclusion zone are under -- with perhaps a few exceptions -- I think it's a little difficult to get all the information and things change a little bit on the ground during the day -- but that Serb weapons and Muslim government, Bosnian government weapons, for that matter, are under UNPROFOR control.
Q: All of them?
MS. MYERS: I don't want to say categorically all of them, but there may -- but to the best of our knowledge, the UNPROFOR is in control of Serb weapons on the grounds; the exclusion zone is in effect. Any weapons that were not under UNPROFOR control would be subject to bombing, but to the best of our ability, we think that the policy's been successful and that the Serbs have complied.
Now, I don't think we've ever tried to suggest that there may not be points at which a renegade operation or weapon would be in the exclusion zone not under UNPROFOR control. But the point remains that if we find those, they will be subject to air strikes.
Q: But there are reports that there are weapons that the U.N. has still not been able to take control of and they're merely monitoring them, and they're still negotiating with the Serbs.
MS. MYERS: Our information is that UNPROFOR is in control of Serb weapons. And the other thing is that UNPROFOR and NATO working very closely together on the ground and they will make a determination about what's best -- whether the weapons are under their control and what steps are necessary if they're not. And, again, U.N. and UNPROFOR are in close contact on that. The ultimatum stands and any weapons that are effectively in the exclusion zone outside of UNPROFOR control will be subject to air strikes.
Q: Dee Dee, you used the term a moment ago "renegade weapon." Is that a new element being injected to this equation here, or is that just your choice of words?
MS. MYERS: That's just my choice of words. I don't mean to signal a change in policy.
Q: Two questions to clarify some things on the Russian story. You said that you've lodged a complaint at the highest levels. The highest we've heard about is the charge and a senior --
MS. MYERS: Highest diplomatic levels. Secretary of State to the charge here, and our top diplomat in Moscow --
Q: To whom?
MS. MYERS: To -- we haven't released the names, but to senior government officials in Moscow.
Q: heads of state?
MS. MYERS: No. Highest diplomatic levels.
Q: You said it was premature to tell if they will respond. When will it not be premature to expect a response?
MS. MYERS: It would be premature to comment, I think, on things that might happen after their response. We haven't set a deadline, but we expect a quick response.
Q: But you were asked if you could tell if they were going to respond. I think you said it's premature to tell.
MS. MYERS: I think I said it's premature to speculate about what the impact on Russian aid would be.
Q: At this point, are you aware of any diplomats who have been withdrawn from the Russian mission here?
MS. MYERS: I'm not aware of that, no.
Q: Why shouldn't the American people expect the President to pick up the phone, call Boris Yeltsin and say, hey, cut this stuff out?
MS. MYERS: I think that the American people expect the U.S. government to communicate with the Russian government at an appropriate level, and I think we've done that.
Q: Why not president to president? They've got this fabulous relationship, we've got this new relationship.
MS. MYERS: We've decided that we believe that the diplomatic steps we've taken are appropriate.
Q: I just want a little bit of clarification here. We are asking them to voluntarily take action, right? And why is it, again, that you can't tell us or give us some indication of what these actions are that we are asking them to voluntarily take?
MS. MYERS: I think given the nature of the discussions that we prefer not to discuss that publicly at this point.
Q: Well, if we're so outraged and concerned about what's happened again -- and I guess maybe you spoke to this a little while ago, but maybe I didn't hear it -- why don't we just go ahead and take some action of our own? Why don't we expel some diplomats, expel some of these suspected contacts, something like that?
MS. MYERS: I think, again, given the nature of our relationship and given the evolving nature of our relationship, we thought the best course of action was to file a formal complaint with them and to make clear to them that we expect them to take action. That was our chosen course of action, and we believe it's appropriate.
Q: Although you haven't given the Russians a date for them to act, have you given yourself a date in which to expect a response or not to do something about it?
MS. MYERS: We have not created a hard time line, no.
Q: Do you expect the President will have any comments on this Russian espionage business if asked today at the event? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: We could have a pool on that if you want. He has no formal statement on it and is not planning in any proactive way to make a comment on it. I would not stand here and try to guess whether or not the President might answer a question.
Q: Dee Dee, any thought to what this might mean for Pollard?
MS. MYERS: I don't think there's any connection between the two, and we still haven't received the Justice Department's recommendations on that.
Q: in the sense that Senator DeConcini was saying in his news conference just a little while ago that he feels that because Russia is the intended recipient of about $14 billion in U.S. money, he thinks there should be a separate action on their part in the same sense that Israel is the recipient of a good chunk of U.S. money. Do you see a relationship that way as to how we treat one to the other.
MS. MYERS: I think that we'll continue to treat both in ways that we feel is consistent with our best national interests.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:00 P.M. EST
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269572