Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:30 P.M. EST
MR. GIBBS: Before we get started with a few questions here let me just make one quick scheduling announcement. The President will travel to Lorain County in Ohio on Friday, January 22nd, the next stop on the White House to Main Street tour. During the visit, President Obama will meet with Ohio workers, local CEOs, small business owners, and other local leaders about ideas for continuing to grow the economy and put Americans back to work.
Q: Sorry, we didn't understand the county --
MR. GIBBS: Lorain County in Ohio, January 22, 2010.
Q: Thanks, Robert. Happy New Year.
MR. GIBBS: Happy New Year to you guys.
Q: A few questions about security and today's meeting. Will the President be unveiling any new steps or policies today, or would you characterize this as a recapping on what the government has done since the incident?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me break up the meeting, which is scheduled for about 2:30 p.m. in the Situation Room. I think you guys have the participants. The meeting is scheduled now to go almost an hour and a half. At the conclusion of the meeting the President will make a public statement.
I think -- not getting ahead of what he'll say, I think you'll hear the President give a candid update on where we are in the review, outline the specific steps that have been taken to strengthen security in our country, and in particular, our airports, over the past several days, and go through some timelines about additional security announcements that may be forthcoming.
Q: Will he take questions?
MR. GIBBS: Say again?
MR. GIBBS: No, he's just making a statement.
Q: So additional steps that may be forthcoming, but not necessarily steps to be announced today?
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Q: Will he be challenging the agency heads about, in their purview, what went wrong and seeking some accountability there?
MR. GIBBS: As you know, the President requested this review right after the incident that took place on Christmas Day. Many of those reports -- the reports have come in; some have -- one agency's came in a little bit late because of an incident that happened that you all are aware of. The President has had an opportunity to review those initial reports with Mr. Brennan in the Oval Office for about an hour yesterday, along with other members of his national security team here at the White House.
I think you heard the President's statement over the break, and he's -- the President has a series of questions that he's asked all of us to look into. And he'll start going through those questions and looking for answers that are satisfactory to him and to the American people.
Q: Is there any talk within the White House, to the degree you can speak about this, about any kind of military response against suspected terrorist-training facilities in Yemen, for example?
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to get into information like that. Obviously, you should pose also that question to the Pentagon. I think suffice to say, and you've seen this over the past several weeks, we are strongly supportive of the efforts by the Yemeni government to take strong action and root out terrorists that are members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. We'll continue to do so and continue to be supportive of those efforts.
Q: The President has come back from the holiday with quite a bit on his plate, and now --
MR. GIBBS: He left with quite a bit on his plate, so yes.
Q: Still there on his return. Now counterterrorism has shot up the list and taken greater prominence than anyone would have expected because of the bomb plot. The question is, is there any concern within the administration that this may distract him from his other domestic priorities such as jobs, economic recovery, and health care?
MR. GIBBS: First of all, let's understand -- the President understands and believes wholeheartedly that keeping the American people safe and secure is his first job. Nobody here would ever describe that as any sort of distraction.
Secondly, I think if you look at -- and you'll hear the President discuss this today -- the actions that we have supported in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Somalia, as I just mentioned to Ben, in Yemen, are not things that have happened since the 25th of December; those things were happening -- have been happening for quite some time. So the notion that somehow this got put on the President's plate in the intervening 10 days I think is something -- given the amount of time that he's spent working on these issues, I don't think I would agree that somehow this is something that's been put on his plate over the last few days. These are obviously threats, and places in the world that are supportive of terrorists and terrorist organizations have been something the President has been dealing with since the transition, before he was even sworn in.
Q: But, arguably, the President would come back from the holidays to deal with things like job creation, economic recovery. He spent his first day back yesterday and a large chunk today in meetings that are very intensive meetings about how to fix the problems on --
MR. GIBBS: But my point would be, Matt, that I don't think that -- we didn't have a mindset that this problem didn't exist prior to December 25th. The President spends, as you know, each day getting a daily intelligence update --
Q: Nobody is saying that. They're saying you blew it. There was no coordination.
MR. GIBBS: Helen, let me just answer -- let me just answer Matt's question and then we'll get to your question.
The President has spent part of every day since he's been here working on terrorism, working on terrorist threats, working on dealing with extremists. We've talked about Afghanistan; we've talked about Pakistan; we've talked about many of these issues.
I wouldn't quibble with the fact that the President has a full plate. I don't think that you would find that the -- the President wouldn't find his plate altogether a lot fuller than it was, quite honestly, just a few days ago. He's used to carrying around an otherwise full plate.
Q: Some of the measures, the reforms that the President and the administration are talking about, including tighter security, more stringent safeguards on visas, people being added to the selectee and no-fly lists, and other things having to do with challenging intelligence assumptions -- can you look at Abdulmutallab's path from Yemen to Ghana, to Nigeria, to Amsterdam, to Detroit, and show us, tell us how these new reforms would have perhaps detected him along that path?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me not get into that. I think the President will begin to get into that some today and in the coming days as the review continues and wraps up.
I think what you'll hear, again, from the President -- part of what you'll hear from the President today was -- is to go into a number of steps that we have taken but also to walk people through the systemic failure that the President pointed out had happened in his remarks last week.
Q: He also in his remarks mentioned human failure. And so far, as far as I know, nobody has lost their job or been reprimanded. Not to take on Admiral Blair, but it is the job of the Director of National Intelligence -- specifically that job was created to connect the dots. Is anybody at all going to lose their job over this?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Jake, the review is ongoing. I think you'll hear the President begin to address aspects of that review today. I think the President is anxious to sit down -- he's obviously spoken with a number of these individuals over the course of the many days and is anxious to sit down with them as a group and walk through this. I think the President has discussed ensuring that adequate steps are taken to ensure the American people's safety, and that's what he'll be discussing and working through today.
Q: One final question, if I may. How cooperative has Abdulmutallab been after he was arrested and since he got a lawyer?
MR. GIBBS: The subject, as you know, was taken from the plane in Detroit. FBI interrogators spent quite some time with him. I don't want to get into all the specifics, but I think they would agree and I would say that he has provided in those interrogations useful intelligence.
Q: And since he got a lawyer, anything?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get into all of what he said, but again, I think the interrogators have believed that he has provided them with useful intelligence.
Q: Thanks, Robert. What would the President say to the American people who have deep concerns that some of the same questions that are being asked now were asked after 9/11? All these years later obviously there's been some breakdown, communication breakdown, information-sharing, within the intelligence community.
MR. GIBBS: I think the President will get into some of that today. I think the American people will hear directly from their President today on some of those failures. I don't want to get too far ahead of the review itself. I think there are some substantive differences from what we saw in the pre-9/11 days that have, and were, addressed between that incident over the past eight years. There are --
Q: But there is some skepticism, though --
MR. GIBBS: -- hold on a second -- I think while there are some -- while this involves intelligence, I think some of the problems are not completely analogous to -- you'll hear the President talk about that, I think you heard John talk about that over the weekend, and I think -- the President's charge in these reviews, both in the watch listing and in the detection capabilities review that's being done by the Department of Homeland Security -- the President is as frustrated as I'm sure many American people are. We've spent a lot of money in the intervening years. We have set up new positions, we've stood up new agencies, so to speak. We have to ensure, and I think the President will strive to do so, to reassure the American people that all that can be done is and will be done in order to protect them.
Q: A question on health care. CSPAN television is requesting leaders in Congress to open up the debate to their cameras, and I know this is something that the President talked about on the campaign trail. Is this something that he supports, will be pushing for?
MR. GIBBS: I have not seen that letter. I know the President is going to begin some discussions later today on health care in order to try to iron out the differences that remain between the House and the Senate bill and try to get something hopefully to his desk quite quickly.
Q: I have a couple questions. Before Pearl Harbor the Navy didn't talk to the Army, the War Department didn't talk to -- was there a lack of coordination on all the security information we've had? And what is the core reason you think -- or your President thinks for terrorism?
MR. GIBBS: He's your President, too, Helen, so --
Q: What do I think?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, you asked me about my President.
Q: I thought it was our President. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I agree. You just -- you added a "y" to "our" and somehow came up with "your." (Laughter.) Go ahead, I'm sorry, I interrupted your question --
Q: -- think there is any coordination -- don't they have a coordination failing on intelligence?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, building on what I just talked about with Dan, I think the President said quite clearly there was a systemic intelligence failure.
MR. GIBBS: Yes. The President will discuss that more today and what the review has preliminarily shown, and will begin to go through some of the things that we have done as well as -- the team will begin to work through all the additional steps that the team and the President believe must be taken to ensure the safety and security of the American people -- that, as I said to Dan, I don't think when we get through to the review and -- I don't think it's completely analogous to some of the walls that the bureaucracy had constructed prior to 9/11. I think some of that obviously has been knocked down and there is a greater amount of information-sharing, and there's a greater amount of sheer intelligence that's collected.
The President wants to know where the systemic failure happened and what we're going to do to ensure that we can do everything in our power to make sure it doesn't happen again. I think you'll hear the President talk about that.
Q: Does he think that's possible? And also, what is the core reason of why they want to blow us up?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know that I'm the best person to speak for some of their actions.
Q: But you have information, you said.
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I think that for whatever awful and murderous reason that people seek to get on planes and do innocent people throughout the world harm, I can't speak to the type of deranged mentality that leads somebody to do that.
Q: You don't know who is motivating all this?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I can certainly name a few of them. I think the President, though, his job is to in this instance do all that we can to ensure that every step is taken to prevent it from happening in our airlines.
Q: That isn't answering my question.
MR. GIBBS: Maybe then I misunderstood your question.
Q: What is the core reason? Has the administration decided why these people --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there are a number of reasons. And I think they have stated in various messages and videos all sorts of reasoning for why they seek to do what they do. I don't think any of it in any way would ever rationalize the actions of what we saw on Christmas Day.
Q: I'd like to return to her original question. There are some people who believe that the only reason this was not a catastrophic disaster was luck, that Abdulmutallab screwed up in making this device work. And, as Helen said, a lot of people believe the President and his administration simply blew it. Would you agree with that?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think I'm going out on a limb to say the President has said there was a systemic intelligence failure, yes.
Q: How bad -- the average person would say they just blew it. Is that going too far?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know what the substantive difference between the two are.
Q: Okay, so it's the same thing, basically.
MR. GIBBS: I think the President quite clearly said that a failure of our intelligence service happened -- intelligence services happened in allowing what we saw on Christmas Day to potentially transpire. Absolutely. I think the President said that about a week ago.
Q: Does the President take any personal blame for that? Does he believe that he did not pay enough attention to these issues in his first year in office?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't -- I don't think that's the case, no.
Q: So the fact that he had this incredibly full plate did not, as you say, distract him from spending the time needed?
MR. GIBBS: We've spent an awful lot of time talking about -- you've asked me a lot of questions, most of which I can't answer on camera, about different activities, and the President -- nothing has distracted the President from keeping us safe.
Q: In Hawaii, a lot of people -- well, while he was in Hawaii a lot of people back here, critics, accused him -- his initial response of being slow and weak and said he should have come home from Hawaii and dealt with this thing on a full-time basis. What does he feel about that?
MR. GIBBS: You were in Hawaii, right?
Q: I was.
MR. GIBBS: I recall you guys being somewhat busy.
Q: We were a bit busy.
MR. GIBBS: The President worked on this throughout his time in Hawaii. He worked on it before he left and he's worked on it since he's come back.
Q: What about that idea, though, that it was -- his initial response, waiting three days, was slow; his first statement was kind of matter-of-fact, as people said. Is that --
MR. GIBBS: It keeps pundits employed, but I don't --
Q: Can I ask you one other question on privacy? On full-body scan, how important is privacy in all of this? Do you think -- does the President believe the American people just have to get used to the fact that they're going to have to undergo these embarrassing procedures?
MR. GIBBS: I think the administration believes -- and I would point you specifically to DHS on this -- that we can easily achieve a balance that allows us not to give up our privacy but at the same time protects us from those that seek to do us harm.
Q: A few follow-ups just on everything. First on the -- a follow-up to Ben's question about ruling out -- ruling in or out military -- U.S. military intervention in Yemen. Is it fair to say that the President's position during the campaign -- for instance, on Pakistan, which was, if they don't act, we will -- that's his position when it comes to all things al Qaeda? And so that could be regardless of country, regardless of border? Is it fair to assume that the President's position is the same?
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to draw blanket -- I don't want to parse your question, but at the same time -- suffice to say this government and this administration makes use of actionable intelligence. How about that?
Q: And so when it comes to al Qaeda and Pakistan, there's no reason to think that Yemen -- I know you don't want to -- there's no reason to think --
MR. GIBBS: Chuck, I think I answered Ben's question. You understand that I'm not going to get into what we do with actionable intelligence.
Q: Fair enough. A follow-up on Jake's question about Abdulmutallab lawyering up. It's been reported that he has not -- he's clammed up over the last few days. Does the President believe that if he were an enemy combatant that they'd still be able to get intelligence out of him?
MR. GIBBS: Abdulmutallab spent a number of hours with FBI investigators in which we gleaned useable actionable intelligence. A decision was made in this case similar to previous decisions that have been made with Richard Reid, with Zacarias Moussaoui, with Jose Padilla. The FBI investigators believed they got useful information from this terrorist, and I don't see, despite what you hear otherwise, I don't see -- I honestly don't see the point that is being made when you look at past decisions that were made by other administrations.
Q: You said that the FBI got actionable intelligence. So --
MR. GIBBS: And you know I'm not going to go into talking about what --
Q: I understand. Well, can you at least say, without saying what it is, can you say have there been plans implemented since you received this intelligence?
MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get into -- I think it would be a bad precedent for me to set to begin to discuss that intelligence from here.
Q: And finally on the meeting today, is the President going to be issuing to the intelligence folks in particular -- I mean, I understand this is sort of two parts here, the security -- homeland security aspect of this and the intelligence-gathering aspect -- is he going to, after receiving these reviews, at least to all of them -- how is he going to make sure that the review process continues, I guess? I mean, is he setting benchmarks that he's going to, like, be saying, look, I want to know that this is happening now --
MR. GIBBS: I don't think the review will end today. I think we'll have more on this in the next few days. Let me -- one part of your question -- I don't think the President -- I think what we have to do is make sure that we're not in the mindset of looking at homeland security and intelligence as two different silos. I think what Dan and what Helen have said is -- and what this review the President has asked us to concentrate on -- is to ensure that that information can move across, that it -- I think the problems that were gotten into pre-9/11, 2001 were information that were in silos and couldn't be -- couldn't go across, and I think clearly that's one of the things the President is going to delve into.
Q: But it does seem as if -- that you believe there -- that the systemic failure and human failures happened more on the intelligence side, more so than on the security side of things. Is that fair?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, yes. Though I will say this: Again, one of the things -- again, you know the President has two reviews. One of those reviews is a detections capability review based on substances and this individual getting on this plane with what he had.
Q: A couple of things. First, the British government yesterday and today said that they have passed on the information about Abdulmutallab and his time in Britain to U.S. intelligence. Do you have any comment on that? And do you have any description of the nature of that?
MR. GIBBS: Like I said to Chuck, I'm not going to get into intelligence matters as in the review -- as well as discussing that aspect of the ongoing review.
Q: Okay. And second, we know from these agencies already that a lot of these reports were them saying they weren't to blame, somebody else was to blame.
MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, this is based on?
Q: Based on people from those agencies saying, well, our report basically says that we are -- and Secretary Clinton yesterday said --
MR. GIBBS: Let me say this. Let me short-circuit your question. A week ago, the President went out and said we had a systemic failure. When the President did that, the President -- we're going to move beyond agency finger-pointing. We're going to break down whatever silos exist from information being collected and shared. That came from the President. I don't think anybody should misunderstand how that should flow to each and every agency.
This is a far more serious game than trying to figure out which agency can blame which other agency. That's not the point. The point in this is to take every conceivable and knowable action to ensure that what we collect is processed -- that as it's gathered, it's processed, and that it's used to prevent something like this from happening. The President will ensure, and I can assure you today, that the President will discuss this in the Situation Room.
The President will not find acceptable a response where everybody gets in a circle and points at somebody else. The American people won't accept that.
Q: Can you give us a little bit on what the President intends to talk about with Democratic leaders this afternoon? Is this going to be an actual negotiation? Are they just trying to set up a process for considering the health bills? What's the --
MR. GIBBS: Let me -- we'll have a few sentences of a readout afterwards. Obviously they will talk about -- look, I think in terms of talking about health care, they'll talk about the great vast majority of the two bills that coincide, and we will I think begin to talk through how we work out what limited number of differences there are.
Q: Okay. And there's been some talk of not having a formal conference committee on Capitol Hill, to just sort of do this informally, probably behind closed doors. Does the President have a view about whether this should be an actual conference committee or just be negotiated out?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President is anxious to get the differences worked out and get a bill to both houses and passed out of them. I think you can go back and look through the past many years and see where situations -- where they work out the differences between two bills -- it happens very similarly to what the President is engaged in now.
Q: Okay, just lastly, why can't you answer the C-SPAN question --
MR. GIBBS: I did.
Q: Well, you didn't, because you said --
MR. GIBBS: I said I hadn't seen the letter, which I haven't --
Q: Why do you need to see a letter? I mean, this is something the President said during the campaign and he talked about he wants everything open on C-SPAN --
MR. GIBBS: Dan asked me about the letter and I haven't read the letter.
Q: Well, I'll just ask you about having it on C-SPAN --
MR. GIBBS: I answered Dan's question and I answered this before we left for the break, Keith. The President's number-one priority is getting the differences worked out, getting a bill to the House and the Senate. We've filled your newspaper and many others with the back-and-forth and the details of what's in these bills. I don't want to keep that from continuing to happen. I don't think there's anybody that would say that we haven't had a thorough, robust, now spanning two calendar years' debate on health care.
Q: There are a lot of reasons not to do it on C-SPAN -- people could showboat. Does he regret making that statement during the campaign?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q: You talked about the agencies finger-pointing, but does the President feel like, yet, that he can conclude which agencies dropped the ball more than others? And can we expect to hear that later today?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President will be candid about what we've found. And I think in the coming days we'll have more on what happened and why.
Q: And does he still -- going back to Jake's question, does he still have full confidence in Blair and Panetta?
MR. GIBBS: He does. And the President will -- and those agencies will continue to take part in this review process and we'll continue to find out what happened.
Q: And one last question. Friday is the next jobs report. I'm not going to ask you to guess what's going to happen, but --
MR. GIBBS: The last time I did that, the market went haywire. (Laughter.)
Q: But does the President have --
Q: -- I need a short-stock --
MR. GIBBS: Just write down what I say, not what you thought I'd say. (Laughter.)
Q: Over the past few months, though, around the jobs report, the President has had events, either the jobs summit or the Allentown event. Is there anything planned this week around that?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think that there's a specific -- the President will make comments about the report. I have not looked through the block schedule, but I don't -- there's no travel that's planned for that day.
Q: Or anything here, any sort of --
MR. GIBBS: No. Like I said, he will do a statement and respond to the jobs report.
Q: The President said he would hold people accountable. Can you define what that will be and how the American people will know it's happened?
MR. GIBBS: Major, I think I discussed this earlier. This is -- accountability is part of the ongoing review. You'll hear the President talk about where we are in that review process as that review continues.
Q: Does accountability necessarily mean someone needs to lose their job?
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to get ahead of the end of the review.
Q: So it's possible that accountability would not include someone losing -- that doesn't have to be a necessary measure of it. Is that correct?
MR. GIBBS: I'm going to wait for the review to take -- to finish and announcements to come after that.
Q: The President also said that there were pieces of information that had they have been put together would have prevented the suspect from getting on the plane. John Brennan said Sunday a couple of times that there was no smoking gun. Can you help the American people understand that, those two statements?
MR. GIBBS: I think what you heard the President say and what you heard John say are the same in that -- and you'll hear more of this from the President and as this review transpires -- information in different places collected but not analyzed and shared as it should have been added up could have, as the President said he believes, prevented this individual from getting on an airplane. Was there -- I think what John was saying, was there one piece of all of this in one location in two or three sentences? I think what John said, the answer to that is no.
Q: So this is not a matter of inept gathering, it was the speed with which it was -- it should have been shared, is that fair?
MR. GIBBS: I think the President will address this directly today.
Q: On health care, I just want to round out this conversation. Does the President believe that the standard that he set during the campaign -- and it was more than once, you and I heard it several times --
MR. GIBBS: Three, I think.
Q: It got favorable crowd reaction every time. Does he believe the standard that he set during the campaign of an open dialogue in which the American public can evaluate around any kind of table or with any kind of cameras present dialoging back and forth on health care has been met --
MR. GIBBS: I think that --
Q: -- therefore, there is no need to go down this road?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think the American people have -- I do not believe the American people have lacked for information on what's in these bills, the political and policy arguments around different people's position. I think that's been well documented.
Q: Okay, let me put it this way. What's going to be determined in these negotiations is the final product; not what one body of the legislature believes is necessary and the other disagrees with, but what the final implication will be for the American public.
MR. GIBBS: And that final implication of that product will then go to the House, where 435 sworn members will debate and discuss and ultimately vote on. Then that final implication of the product will go to the Senate, where 100 equally sworn members will debate and discuss that topic. And then hopefully it will come to the White House in an intervening time period where I assume that product will be debated and discussed before the President signs it into law.
Q: But before reaching the House and Senate floors the public doesn't need, in the White House opinion, to see it?
MR. GIBBS: I think you can get a sense of where -- you have at least the property lines of what we're talking about because one set is in the House bill, one set is in the Senate bill, and it's different policy proposals that we've been talking about since it was a lot warmer outside than it is now.
Q: Last question --
MR. GIBBS: I think we started back when it was cold, and then it got warm and now it's cold again.
Q: Back to Flight 253. You said this was an intelligence agency -- intelligence agencies failed. Did the State Department fail in any way? Yesterday Secretary Clinton said, "We met all the interagency requirements." Is the President satisfied with a response like that, that interagency requirements were met, therefore everything is okay?
MR. GIBBS: Let me do this -- I don't want to single out -- you'll hear the President speak about this review later. I'm not -- I think when the President talked about systemic failure he does not absolve any agency in this process as our review looks through what happened. I think, again, if --
Q: Should an agency know that if they say, we followed all our necessary procedures and this still happened, that's good enough?
MR. GIBBS: Let me just say this, let me say -- if everybody had done everything that they could, I think you'll hear the President -- you've heard him say and I think you'll hear him say again, that we wouldn't be discussing Flight 253 on Christmas Day. And until -- unless or until we can be convinced that we're doing everything in our power to ensure that we're taking those steps, the President will not stop asking questions.
Q: If I could just follow up on that. Isn't one of the problems the fact that some people were abiding by protocols and those protocols are inadequate?
MR. GIBBS: There's no question, and I think one of the things that -- I mean, we talked about this in the initial days afterwards. We have -- one of the reasons why the President has asked for John specifically to go through this watch listing, there are -- there's a TIDES database -- there is a terrorist screening database from which TIDES is a larger pool that is drawn into this terrorism screening database; from the terrorism screening database, a subset of that makes up the selectee and ultimately the no-fly list.
We have to ensure that protocols that have been in place and developed since -- for many, many years, don't prevent either information-gathering or information-sharing so that somebody that's on the TIDES list can't go to the screening -- the database screening list and ultimately to selectee and no-fly.
I think you'll hear the President talk about -- had all this information that is gathered and collected been fully analyzed, I think the President -- you heard him say and he'll reiterate that what somebody -- what started in the TIDES database, which is a sort of global record system of individuals of concern, doesn't get birthed up into something like the selectee and the no-fly list. There are no doubt that we have to examine the existing protocols as the tactics and techniques of terrorists change to ensure that we are staying ahead of what they're planning.
Q: Is one of the goals to make that a real-time procedure, meaning -- let's say you're not on the no-fly list but you're maybe in TIDE, and there is something about your presentation at the airport -- cash, one-way, no luggage -- that instantly pushes you up the system --
MR. GIBBS: I don't want to get ahead of --
Q: But is that the theoretical goal --
MR. GIBBS: I think what --
Q: -- something that has a real-time component to it?
MR. GIBBS: -- what John Brennan will do is look through the different protocols, the different ways that information is gathered, and how we move people from TIDES to screening, ultimately to selectee and no-fly. Look, some of the reasons -- I think you heard John say, cash that's used in Africa to buy a plane ticket may not altogether --
Q: -- not necessarily --
MR. GIBBS: Right -- isn't necessarily going to be something where somebody says, oh, wait a minute, that individual should -- now, that plus a series of other things all analyzed together could, and should, take somebody from a larger pool into a selectee or a no-fly. There's no doubt about that.
Q: Robert, can you describe how the attempted bombing is affecting the administration's thinking about Guantanamo Bay and closing the facility?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, first and foremost, we have undergone a rigorous process to analyze all that were at Guantanamo Bay. Some have been transferred to their home countries, some to other countries either because they -- the task force determined that it was okay to do so, or in some cases judges have ruled in habeas cases that the government no longer has an acceptable reason for keeping that individual. Again, the task force will look through those.
We've obviously worked through legislation to reform military commissions. We've indicted individuals in Article III courts, and some of those trials will begin soon. And I think you heard John say this over the weekend, that one of the very first things that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula used as a recruiting tool was the existence of Guantanamo Bay. John has stated clearly that we are not going to make decisions about transfers that -- to a country like Yemen that would -- that they're not capable of handling. And I think that while we remain committed to closing the facility, the determination has been made that right now any additional transfers to Yemen is not a good idea.
Q: Can I just follow on that --
MR. GIBBS: Sure.
Q: -- because that potentially moves up the number of people that might be sent to the Thomson prison. Can you --
MR. GIBBS: I can't quantify -- again, what I just said to Michael -- obviously we're not -- we would not move additional people into Yemen right now.
Q: You will not?
MR. GIBBS: Not.
Q: Robert, you said the -- if the protocols were inadequate and these things are being reviewed, should Americans be fearful of flying, either domestically or internationally?
MR. GIBBS: I do not believe so.
MR. GIBBS: Because -- well, I believe that the system that we have right now, the enhanced security procedures that have been implemented, provide a measure of safety and security for travelers either going domestically or traveling to and from this country overseas. You'll hear the President discuss today what has been done through DHS and TSA for additional screening activities and different security protocols to ensure that safety.
Q: On a separate matter, on the Fort Hood review, does the President plan to make a statement on his assessment of the review that was presented to him in Hawaii? And will that review ever become public?
MR. GIBBS: I will check on that. I know that the President received from John, on the 23rd, prior to leaving, some -- a preliminary investigation into that. I know they discussed some of that while he was there and have discussed that since coming back, and I know at some point we will finish that review and make it public.
Q: At some point will he make a statement on that, though, on his assessment or --
MR. GIBBS: I think so. First and foremost, we're focused on the meeting and the assessment today.
Q: A couple questions on the third uninvited state dinner guest. What was the President's reaction to learning that there was yet another one?
MR. GIBBS: You know, I'm not going to get into this -- yesterday we directed, and we will do so today, based on a criminal investigation, direct you to the Secret Service.
Q: How does that affect the criminal investigation?
MR. GIBBS: Just -- because I've talked to the lawyers and that's the recommendation that was given to me.
Is that both your questions?
Q: Well, there were a couple of others that are not part of a criminal investigation --
MR. GIBBS: Well, if it's that incident, then I'll --
Q: May I just follow on this one, please?
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead.
Q: Thank you, Robert. On North Korea, does the President make any decision to delist North Korea as terrorist country?
MR. GIBBS: Say that one more time.
Q: Does the President make any decision to delist North Korea as terrorist country?
MR. GIBBS: Has the President made a decision?
MR. GIBBS: No. Our posture on that has not changed.
Q: Today marks one year exactly since the President nominated Dawn Johnsen to lead the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department. Does he plan to renominate her and the others? And more broadly speaking, how does he respond to criticisms from liberal organizations that he hasn't put enough muscle behind getting his judicial and executive branch nominees confirmed?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know what decisions have been made about nominees that have, as a result of being -- having passed a year, need to be renominated. I can certainly check on that. I would say that we are proud of our record of getting individuals into government, though disappointed at the pace in the Senate in working through both executive branch and judicial nominations.
Q: Thank you, Robert. You said earlier that the President had full confident in Admiral Blair and Director Panetta, correct? Does he have the same confident in Secretary Napolitano?
MR. GIBBS: He does.
Q: And there has been no sounding out of people outside the administration to wait in the wings for a possible shakeup?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q: The other thing I wanted to ask was, do the intelligence chiefs who were -- who have been meeting with the President, do they feel the interrogators had enough time with Abdulmutallab before the lawyers came in?
MR. GIBBS: It's my understanding the FBI does believe so, yes.
Q: And the CIA and NSA --
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked directly to them. I can certainly look into that. But again, if you look at decisions that were made about Richard Reid, if you -- Richard Reid, after I think less than three days, had already been indicted, which puts him in the criminal justice here. He was tried in Boston and is now at a maximum security facility in Florence, Colorado. The same is true for Zacarias Moussaoui. He entered the U.S. criminal justice system, and convicted not far from here and sent to Colorado, as well.
Q: Robert, was the President, before December 25th, was the President ever briefed by things like the TIDES list and how that works, or airport security, or did he ever ask? Was he assured that all this worked ever before this?
MR. GIBBS: I don't know the full answer to the degree to which they had gotten into the TIDES database or that. I can certainly see if -- obviously the President spends a lot of time learning about and discussing potential threats.
Q: Does the administration have any response to the effigy that was found in Georgia? And are there any concerns about increased demonstrations like these happening against the President?
MR. GIBBS: I'd point you to the Secret Service on that. I don't have anything on that.
Q: Thanks, Robert. Thirteen state attorney generals sent a letter to congressional leaders saying that if a Nebraska clause isn't in the final health care bill that they would bring legal action, based on equal protection clause and arbitrary spending. Does the President believe the Nebraska clause is constitutional if it meets the --
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to the President specifically about the letter from the attorney generals. I do not believe that -- I do not believe that anybody has legitimate constitutional concerns about the legislation.
Q: Is he supportive of the Nebraska language then --
MR. GIBBS: He's supportive of the Senate bill, so I don't know what that leads you to conclude.
Q: Since the Christmas Day incident involving Flight 253 there's been increase scrutiny upon people flying into this country from 14 mostly Muslim countries. I'm curious -- I've heard this from many people -- why did it take eight-plus years post-9/11 to get to this point as far as increased scrutiny on those individuals flying into those countries? And also, will this continue for the foreseeable future?
MR. GIBBS: Well, DHS and TSA have put into place for that foreseeable future enhanced security. They're not chosen by -- they're chosen by what have been determined as state sponsors of terrorism. That's how that list currently has been and in other ways has been devised in the past.
Q: Should this have happened, like, a lot earlier -- I mean, post-9/11 -- just to get to this point where we are right now?
Q: Not all 14, Robert.
Q: Only four --
MR. GIBBS: I will double-check on this.
Q: Did the President play any role in John Cherry's decision not to run for governor of Michigan? And is the White House playing any role now in talking to Democratic candidates about running?
MR. GIBBS: I can check with -- none that I'm aware of in the decision by the lieutenant governor today. And I can check with Political Affairs about something ongoing.
Q: Thank you, Robert. Robert, Chairman Charlie Rangel of Ways and Means suggests that the conference will be just this side of a rubber stamp. Is there anything specific that the President would like to see be included at this point in a final conference bill? And does the President accept that at this point this will just be pretty much a quick run-through?
MR. GIBBS: No, look, we've discussed in here over the course of many months what will ultimately be or what is ultimately part of the few differences in each one of those bills. That's what the President will, and leaders on both the House and Senate side, will go through. Again, we hope this is a process that because of the sheer nature of how much in these bills are -- these bills have in common, that this is a process that we can conclude and ultimately get a bill quickly to the President's desk.
END 2:19 P.M. EST
Robert Gibbs, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/287539