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Press Briefing by Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen

October 31, 1994

The Briefing Room

2:30 P.M. EST

SECRETARY BENTSEN: Good afternoon. A month ago, I announced that Treasury would do a study, review the security of the White House. There is nothing more important to me, nor to Secret Service, than to see that the leaders of our country are protected. So, today, I'd like to discuss the structure and the composition of the review, and also comment on the creation of an advisory committee.

As we said from the outset, the review would cover every aspect of how the White House could be attacked, from the ground or from the air. So, Saturday's event will add to the factual base, but nothing new insofar as protection measures for the White House.

I want to announce that I have appointed a committee of distinguished experts to advise those who will be conducting the examination, and I've approved a charter for the examination itself.

The advisory committee will be chaired by the Under Secretary for Enforcement Ron Noble. We've been working on this one for some time. We received the last acceptance insofar as one of the advisory members on last Friday. The members have agreed to volunteer their time, their expertise, their judgment and their insight at their expense.

We want their independent advice to be certain that the review is comprehensive and it's objective; that its findings are backed by the facts, and that the recommendations are sound. We take our responsibility to protect the President, the Vice President and their families very seriously. We want the best advice that's available.

These individuals include some extremely qualified and well-respected Americans. They are Robert Carswell, a former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury; William Coleman, a former Transportation Secretary; Charles Duncan, a former Secretary of Energy and Deputy Secretary of Defense; retired Air Force General and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman David Jones; Dr. Judith Rodin, who is a psychologist and President of the University of Pennsylvania; and former CIA and FBI Director Bill Webster.

I've created a three-tiered structure to review it. And Ron Noble and Secret Service Director Eljay Bowron to both support it. There is a Secret Service investigation of the events that will be under Secret Service Director Bowron. And in addition, there is a Treasury review team where the project director, former Justice Department lawyer and now private sector attorney, David Douglas. The review team will work with the Secret Service, review their findings and assist in the drafting of a report of these incidents. And there is an advisory committee.

In closing, I want to just as quickly go over the scope of the inquiry we will be making and tell you that we anticipate having a report ready by mid-January. For obvious reasons, there will be both a classified and an unclassified report. I have asked that the review examine the details surrounding both incidents, and the dangers posed to the White House Complex and those the Secret Service is charged with protecting from any assault, from the air or from the ground.

And as I said last month, I have directed that the review examine the adequacy of the procedures and policies now in place to deal with the risks. It also will look at the effectiveness of the methods that are now in place for communicating threat information directly to the Secret Service from all authorities -- local, state and federal.

In addition, the review will examine whatever means might be available, including state-of-the-art technology, to better protect the White House and our national leaders. Lastly, and very important, the review will take into account the need to keep the White House as open and as accessible to the public, consistent with the needs to protect not only our President and his family, but also protect one of the most foremost symbols of the United States and what this nation stands for.

I can take a few questions, but you understand, I can't touch on anything directly connected with it.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can you tell us what has been done since the plane crash to improve communications and security here at the White House? And are you concerned that it took civilians to bring this man down, and that it took the Uniformed Secret Service men too long to get over the fence?

SECRETARY BENTSEN: Is that all of it? All right. Let me state that the internal things that have been done to further protect the White House from the air cannot be made public. Let me further state that I thought that the Secret Service did a remarkably good job. They were there very quickly, and they responded, I think, effectively and with judgment.

The last thing I wanted to see was someone firing weapons in a crowd like that. Even with full accuracy of someone shooting, hitting the target, nothing to stop that bullet from passing on through and hitting innocent bystanders.

Q: Is it possible, Mr. Secretary, to have both, as you say, an open White House and the kind of security that you need? And would part of a plan -- do you think that something will definitely have to change? Could it be the kind of closing down of any of the streets around here that has been proposed before?

SECRETARY BENTSEN: Well, those options will be examined, but I can't arrive at a conclusion without the study.

Q: Is it possible to have an open White House and adequate security?

SECRETARY BENTSEN: Well, obviously, you can't have a totally open White House. You have to achieve a balance insofar as making it accessible as you can to the American people, and, in turn, giving the protection that's necessary for this nation's leaders and their families.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what steps have you taken to make sure that no one can right now just go up on Pennsylvania Avenue and do exactly the same thing that happened on Saturday?

SECRETARY BENTSEN: Well, what you also find is when the President moves, Secret Service changes its mode of operation at that point. So I think that what you're also seeing is a situation where Secret Service was in the Middle East, an area where you have a great deal of terrorism, and had worked very closely with the security people in each of those areas. We've had folks placed in each of those areas, and they were able to get through that successfully. And the situation here is one where the President's life was never in danger.

Q: So, what has been done? What has been done since Saturday to make --

SECRETARY BENTSEN: Let me get somebody else now. Yes?

Q: Mr. Secretary, the man that was detained is a Hispanic. And lately, there has been a very tense atmosphere in the United States because this Resolution 187 in California, without trying to link the two situations --

SECRETARY BENTSEN: Sounds to me like you are. (Laughter.)

Q: What kind of impact something like that resolution has in potential dangers like this?

SECRETARY BENTSEN: Well, I don't think it has any correlation. I really don't.

Q: Mr. Secretary, just to follow up both Andrea and Wolf's question, you still haven't told us whether there are, in fact, any specific measures that have been taken in the interim on the ground here while this review is being done --

SECRETARY BENTSEN: Those things are being reviewed, and such final actions to be taken have not been determined, and obviously I cannot get into the specifics of that.

Q: And if I could just finish the other part of the question. You said you were satisfied with how fast the Secret Service got there. But, in fact, there was some time between when civilians subdued this man -- they did --

SECRETARY BENTSEN: Of course; civilians were standing beside him. I well understand that. You know, I've been shot at. I understand that.

Q: There are no police outside the gate at all. Is that something that you're contemplating making the change about?

SECRETARY BENTSEN: Well, obviously, we'll look at all those options. They'll be examined. You know, I can remember very well standing on the Floor of the House of Representatives, and saying to someone lying between the seats, get up and look at these fools firing those blanks, and having him look up and say, look at the hole in the seat beside you. (Laughter.) I've been here; I understand that. And I must tell you, it never bothered me, though. (Laughter.)

Q: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to go back to the President's remarks after the plane crash incident where he said the White House should be open. And a kind of a three-part question. One is -- (laughter) --

SECRETARY BENTSEN: I can't remember three.

Q: Will this review focus at all on the President's personal habits? This particular President loves to go into crowds and things like that. Number two, do you have any commitment from President Clinton to make any changes or abide by any recommendations of the report? And then, going back to Ann's question, is there a presumption that Pennsylvania Avenue would not be closed going into this?

SECRETARY BENTSEN: Let me take it in reverse order. No, there is no presumption. That is something that will be under review. Second, is the President's personal habits taken into consideration by the Secret Service and how they work to protect him? Absolutely.

Q: In this review.

SECRETARY BENTSEN: And it will be in this review. And third, insofar as telling the President he's going to have to change his personal habits, we'll leave that up to you. (Laughter.)

Q: Well, Mr. Secretary the President, it's up to him to decide what recommendations to accept, isn't that true?


Q: He has the ultimate say on anything that's proposed.

SECRETARY BENTSEN: That's the way it is.

Q: And that also involves every day of his own security. Secret Service can tell him to do certain things, but he can say, hell, no, I won't go, or whatever. Is that right? (Laughter.)


Q: He has the final say?

SECRETARY BENTSEN: He has to decide. It's his decision. But, obviously, I'm sure he'll give it some consideration.

Q: This fellow got off something like 20 shots. Is it just luck that nobody got hit before he was subdued?

SECRETARY BENTSEN: Because of where he was firing, what my deep concern would have been if he had been able to reload what he might have done at that point. None of us know, obviously.

Q: Mr. Secretary, without telling us specifically what changes have been made in security at the White House, would it be possible tonight for a small plane to fly in the way the one did six weeks ago and landed --

SECRETARY BENTSEN: I'm not going to comment on that.

Q: There are changes that been made which --

SECRETARY BENTSEN: I will not comment on that.

Q: Mr. Secretary, the FBI said here publicly that they're on record they'd like to close Pennsylvania Avenue, but yet, there is this problem with access to people. As head of the Secret Service --

SECRETARY BENTSEN: I think that's an overstatement of what they have said -- the question of closing it, period. I think that there were questions in the past about closing it to vehicular traffic, or perhaps at some point if a ceremony was out there -- changes in the mode of operation. And when the President is out there, obviously, there is a change in the mode of operation of the Secret Service.

Thank you very much.

END 2:45 P.M. EST

William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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