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Remarks Announcing Counterterrorism Initiatives and an Exchange With Reporters

September 09, 1996

The President. Thank you. Let me begin by thanking the Vice President and the commission for all their hard work and for this excellent action plan. This is partnership at its best, Government and private citizens, Democrats and Republicans, joining together for the common good.

As the Vice President has said, we asked the members of this commission to do a lot of work in a little time. They rolled up their sleeves; they delivered. We know we can't make the world risk-free, but we can reduce the risks we face, and we have to take the fight to the terrorists. If we have the will, we can find the means. We have to continue to fight terrorism on every front by pursuing our three-part strategy: first, by rallying a world coalition with zero tolerance for terrorism; second, by giving law enforcement the strong counterterrorism tools they need; and third, by improving security in our airports and on our airplanes.

The Vice President's action plan goes to the heart of this strategy. So I want everyone to understand that whenever this plan says, "the commission recommends," you can understand it to mean, "the President will."

Today I will direct the Federal aviation authority to instruct their personnel in the field to convene immediately those responsible for security at our Nation's 450 commercial airports so they can strengthen security as a team. I will direct that all airport and airline employees with access to secure areas be given criminal background checks and FBI fingerprint checks. I will direct the FAA to begin full passenger bag match for domestic flights at selected airports. And I'm proud to say that several of the commission's recommendations will be put into place immediately.

Last Thursday, Secretary Pena announced a rule to require more accurate and detailed passenger manifests on international flights, a priority for families of victims of aviation disasters. Families of victims also deserve a single point of contact for receiving information. That is why today I will sign an Executive order to give the National Transportation Safety Board the job of coordinating the response for families of victims. And our military has agreed to provide, starting next week, several dozen canine teams for key airports.

But as the Vice President's action plan makes clear, there is much more which must be done, and we cannot meet that responsibility without willingness to commit our resources. Shortly, I will submit to Congress a budget request for more than $1 billion to expand our FBI antiterrorism forces and to put the most sophisticated bomb detection machines in America's airports.

As a result of these steps, not only will the American people feel safer, they will be safer. Close to half our requests will be used to make the improvements in aviation security the Vice President and this commission have asked for.

As I said, we want to put the most sophisticated bomb detection equipment for screening passengers, baggage, and cargo in America's airports. We should do this as quickly as possible. We want to significantly expand the number of FBI special agents dedicated to fighting terrorism. We want to expand the use of bombsniffing dogs in our airports—the no-tech program the Vice President has recommended— and train additional bomb-sniffing dogs for Government use as well.

In addition to improving security in airports and airplanes, the focus of the Vice President's plan, we want to use these funds to keep advancing the other two parts of our strategy, combating terrorists beyond our borders and here at home. We need to continue to improve security at our military and diplomatic facilities overseas so we can better protect those who wear our Nation's uniform and serve our Nation's interests abroad. We need to continue to expand our intelligence capabilities to combat terrorists worldwide. We must train and equip fire departments and medical teams so they can respond to biological or chemical attacks like the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway. We must tighten protection at a number of high profile public sites including Government buildings, national landmarks, and national parks.

These counterterrorism funds are a smart investment in our Nation's security and our people's safety. I urge Congress to join with me in combating terrorism by giving us the resources we need to do the job right. As I requested, the Vice President and this commission took just 45 days to deliver their action plan. Now Congress should act with the same dispatch before they leave in October to pass the funding that will bring these security measures to life. Our people deserve no less.

There are other areas where Congress can and should act to strengthen our fight against terrorism. We need new laws I have proposed to crack down on money laundering and to prosecute and punish those who commit violent crimes against American citizens abroad, to add taggants to gunpowder used in bombs so we can track down the bomb makers, to extend the same police power we now have against organized crime to tapping all the phones a terrorist uses so we can better prevent terrorist attacks. And I again call upon the Senate to ratify without delay the Chemical Weapons Convention.

We need all these laws, and we need them now, before Congress recesses for the year. Terrorists don't wait, and neither should we. The American people should be grateful that the Vice President and this fine commission didn't wait and in fact delivered on their mandate within just 45 days.

Thank you very much.

TWA Flight 800

Q. Are you any closer, Mr. President, to finding a solution to the TWA crash?

The President. Well, we don't have an answer for you. They are continuing to work, and they continue to piece the evidence together, but we don't have an answer now.

Q. Do you think a missile caused it?

The President. Excuse me?

Q. A missile?

The President. It would be wrong for me to comment until I see the people who are doing the reports' final report.

Counterterrorism Technology

Q. Mr. President, the high sophisticated technology that you mentioned this morning for screening passengers for bomb detection technology can see through clothes. Do you expect there to be a major debate over privacy issues and civil rights in connection with the deployment of this technology? And could it thwart some of the commission's actions?

The President. Do you want to answer that?

The Vice President. Let me respond to that. We think that particular concern has been greatly overstated in some of the preliminary reports. That's only one of several technologies that are discussed in this report. Incidentally, the commission is recommending the establishment of a civil liberties advisory board to review and give advice upon any of the recommendations that might raise privacy or civil liberties concerns. But we think that particular concern has been vastly overstated.


Q. Mr. President, in Iraq are we abandoning Kurdish rebels who took a stand against Saddam Hussein and now are being hunted down by his forces?

The President. Well, what we know of what is happening is that the Kurdish forces themselves are continuing to fight. Obviously, Saddam Hussein is supporting one side over another now. But the primary fight is being carried on between the Turkish forces—I mean the Kurdish forces, excuse me. We're doing everything we can to get out of Iraq American citizens and those who have worked with us. And we have done everything we could to make it clear to the Kurds that we think that there should not be any cavalier killing of civilians and others who are not combatants in this.

As to the intelligence matters, I can't comment. But we are doing everything that we believe we can do and that we think is appropriate.

Hurricane Fran

Q. Have you gotten any updates on the damage from Hurricane Fran and anything else that you can do to—particularly for the people suffering from the flooding?

The President. Yes. I got updates all weekend on the extent of the damage, and I expect to hear from Mr. Witt today about where we are with the floods and whether we need to do any more to go back to try to get some extra help for the—it's quite extensive, and I think it's—the hurricane itself, except for the terrible loss of life in North Carolina, was not as damaging as we thought it would be, but the aftermath of the flooding has been, I think, worse than was anticipated. And so I expect to get a more updated report today in terms of what else should be done. And when I know something, I'll say.

The Vice President. Could I add a brief word on that, Mr. President?

In fact, a couple members of the commission coming from Virginia were impeded in their attendance at this event this morning by the flooding. And I want to single out retired General Mike Loh, who worked so hard on this commission report. And the other members of the commission are listed in the back. Not all of them could make it here this morning, and a couple of them for that reason.


Q. Mr. President, do those that you are trying to get out of Iraq include the members of the Iraqi National Congress, who are apparently holed up in a mountain hideaway somewhere and hoping for political asylum?

The President. I think it would be better for me not to comment now. I'd like to stay with my first statement. We're doing everything we think we can to help anybody that needs to be out of Iraq.

Q. Mr. President, what are your concerns about the building strength of Saddam's ground forces, though?

The President. Well, the main thing that we wanted to say was first of all, the United States has done a great deal to help the Kurds over the years. And we've worked very hard. They make it more difficult to help them when their leaders continue to promote fights within the Kurds, within the Kurdish faction. And as you might expect, Saddam Hussein would try to take advantage of that.

Our ability to control internal events in Iraq is limited, but what we did do, which I thought was important, was when we found that what he had done contravened the United Nations resolution and constituted repression of his own people by carrying forward the military attack on Irbil himself, what we did was to expand the no-fly zone and enforce it and take out air defenses, which means that every day he has to pay a price in terms of his capacity to maneuver in his own country and threaten his neighbors.

And so we have done what we thought was appropriate there. I would still like to do more to help the Kurds, but frankly, if you want the fighting—for the fighting to be ended, the leaders of the various factions are going to have to be willing to go back to the peace table and talk it through. We have worked very hard with them, but that's a decision they're going to have to make, which will have a lot to do with the fate of their own people.

Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:02 a.m. in the Oval Office at the White House after receiving the initial report of the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security. In his remarks, he referred to President Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

William J. Clinton, Remarks Announcing Counterterrorism Initiatives and an Exchange With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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