State Department Noon Briefing, October 20, 2000

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING FRIDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2000 12:35 P.M. (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED) Q: There has been discrepancy or kind of back and forth about whether you are calling this an apparent terrorist attack or you have, in fact, decided that it is a terrorist attack. Can you clarify the position on this, and also talk about reported warnings that the State Department and/or other agencies received about threats to American interests abroad and when they received these warnings and who they notified? MR. BOUCHER: The question of what it is called, I mean, I think we have from the beginning sort of said it appears to be a terrorist attack. That is quite clear to all of us. It is probably abundantly more clear every day as we proceed into the investigation. At what point the investigators want to make some kind of statement that it was terrorism, I think we have to leave to them. And I think all you have is some of us deferring to them to make that declaration, if it is appropriate for them to make at some point. It is clear to everybody that this was terrorism. The Yemeni president, I think, has called it a criminal act. Obviously, the investigators will make whatever formal declaration is made, but I think, to all of us who have looked at this, to you all who have looked at this, we certainly all are convinced that that is what it is. But whether there is some sort of formal thing that has to happen in the investigation, I would leave that to the investigators. The investigation is continuing. They are still working. As Director Freeh noted yesterday, the Yemeni police and security authorities are running the investigation, the United States obviously playing a very strong role in support of those efforts. We have praised the Government of Yemen - and I will do that again - for the excellent cooperation we have had, the very good investigative work that they have done thus far. The FBI presence, obviously, there is temporary. Director Freeh cautioned against speculating as to who might have been responsible, noting that such conclusions will be based on facts uncovered as the investigation proceeds. So I know there is a lot of reporting out there on that today. Now, with that introduction, let me get to the second part of your question, which is questions of warnings and information we may have had. First, I have to say I can't talk too much about the specific information because we don't comment on intelligence matters. I would note a couple of things, though. First of all, we routinely share threat-related intelligence information with our posts overseas, as well as with friendly governments; but, in addition to that, we have a very clear policy not to have a double standard when it comes to informing Embassies and the American public about possible terrorist threats. When we receive information about a possible threat to Americans that is specific, credible, and cannot be countered, we make it available to the public through our consular information program. And, indeed, you have just seen that yesterday - or the day before yesterday - we did put out information that individuals may be planning terrorist actions against the United States citizens and interests in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula and Turkey. We have put out announcements like that in the past when we had information that we needed to inform our posts and the public about. More on this? Q: To follow up on that, yesterday in a hearing on the Hill, it came out that there was no real vetting process from our Embassy in Yemen. Are there any kinds of repercussions at this point given -- MR. BOUCHER: I know people are looking to cause trouble on this, and I'm just not going to get into that. The investigators are going to have to look at how this specific attack happened. The military, I believe, has looked into the procedures, is looking into the procedures for establishing security as appropriate at the ports. We and the military and the admirals and the generals have said the same thing to you all along - they make these final decisions in consultation with us and other agencies around town. We are in this together. If we can learn anything from this attack that helps us make American sailors and soldiers safer overseas, as well as Embassy personnel, we are going to do that. I am sure we will all be looking at what happened and how one can do a better job in the future and help protect people. And that is what this is all about, but I'm not going to get into these games, frankly. Q: Not the specific - just in a more general sense, though, if you do receive a threat that is able to be countered rather than just a very vague - or if there was something that you couldn't do to counter the specific threat, that you wouldn't issue a public warning, you would just beef up that area where -- MR. BOUCHER: No. I mean, if there is no danger to people, we don't need to tell them about the danger. I am sure we have had instances in the past where there might have been a threat against a specific flight where we could have gone to the airline and said, "Cancel this flight. Book your passengers somewhere else." In that case, people get rebooked but you don't need to make a big announcement because there is no danger to people. So situations like that or where there is a specific target or a specific thing where somebody gets arrested and the threat is countered, then obviously we don't have to tell people there is a danger because there is no more danger. Q: This might be overly obvious, then, but since we didn't get a travel warning about Yemen until after the blast, you're saying that there was no specific information received in advance, as has been -- as at least mentioned, speculated in the press - against US interests in Yemen? MR. BOUCHER: I think you don't have to infer that from the travel warning. I think you have to accept the fact that we have said that. There wasn't a specific warning of this kind of attack in Yemen. I think you should, however, be aware of the Consular Information Sheets in places like that where we would, I am sure, talk about the possible dangers of Yemen and the fact that it is a place of considerable potential in terms of violence and dangers like this. Q: Since it really kind of falls to the State Department to make not just the host government but the host country feel comfortable with all the investigators there, and repeated issues in the newspaper, including today, about how uncomfortable the people of Yemen may be with such a strong US military presence there now with all the investigators that have come in, what is the State Department doing to try and make the people of Yemen more comfortable? Are they even asking maybe military officers not to be in uniform, or what are some of the things that you may be considering? MR. BOUCHER: Frankly, I don't know what sort of local guidelines we might have established. I know our Ambassador has been on the scene working closely with the military. The number of people there actually fluctuates because of the different teams that need to be in there to do different things. We have the medical and the military and the recovery and the families and the investigators, different kinds of people that go in at different times. And then as the ability of the military to house people offshore or otherwise take care of their people grows, then some people can move out to ships. But at this -- Q: Is this something that you all are asking them to do, to not be such a visible presence in -- MR. BOUCHER: I wouldn't put it in terms of asking. I think, first of all, the first goal of this is to take care of the people who were injured; and then, second of all, to get the investigation under way and find out who did this. So that remains the priority. And we have said all along we have had excellent cooperation from the Yemeni Government on this. They have helped us out, and I think they share those goals as being the first goals. Now, how we manage that in the process, I will check and see if we have issued any instructions from Washington but, in most of these cases, our Ambassador is on the scene. She works with the people on the ground and the local government to try to make sure that we do accomplish those goals, but we accomplish them without too much disruption and inconvenience to the people around us. Q: You may not have anything on this because it came up just before we came in, but Ned Walker was meant to testify to a closed session of the Senate Armed Forces Committee this morning, and it didn't happen. Do you know what the problem - what came up? MR. BOUCHER: I think he didn't testify because the Pentagon, which was in the lead, either rescheduled or wasn't able to attend or something like that. So the military was in the lead on this one, so when the hearing was canceled he didn't go either. Q: But he's still planning on speaking tonight, yes? MR. BOUCHER: Is he? Q: Actually, Richard, they said - they were kind of blaming it on the State Department. They said that it was the State Department that wasn't ready to give testimony. MR. BOUCHER: Well, who is "they"? I mean, Ned - I talked to Ned this morning, and he told me he was ready to go up on the Hill, but the thing was canceled because the military wasn't going to be there. Q: No, I'm not denying that. I'm just saying that, I guess -- MR. BOUCHER: Well, tell "they" they are wrong, okay? (Laughter.) MR. BOUCHER: If you would. Q: Well, I mean, Senator Warner's office is saying that it was the State Department that -- MR. BOUCHER: All right. Well, you can tell "they" that they are wrong, if you would, on my behalf. Q: I think they told him - (inaudible) - for a delay. (Laughter.) MR. BOUCHER: Well, there you go. .... Q: Mr. Ambassador, I had a question about the Cole. Let's go back there just a step. Has there been any other warnings of any kind that you can share with us about any actions against this beefed-up force that is in there, especially the Marines and the FBI and those guys? And, secondly, are those US personnel being protected by some kind of a perimeter? Do they have a base unto themselves that is safe? MR. BOUCHER: On the first question, any other warnings of any kind against anybody that we have in Yemen, undoubtedly the answer is probably yes, but I don't have anything that I can share with you. I mean, I don't know for sure. I haven't seen anything myself, but I don't think it is worth us going to look for something that we wouldn't be able to share. On the second issue, they provide, as part of the package of people who go in, as part of the operation that goes in, they make arrangements for security. So they are very well protected in these situations. Q: They are well protected? MR. BOUCHER: As well as possible, yes. Everything that they can do. (The briefing was concluded at 1:05 P.M.)