White House Briefing, August 14, 2003

 

Thursday  August 14, 2003

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(MCAS Miramar, California)
August 14, 2003

PRESS GAGGLE

BY SCOTT McCLELLAN

AND

A SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL

Aboard Air Force One

En route MCAS Miramar, California

12:48 P.M. CDT

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good afternoon, everybody. I want to start with an important news development. And what I want to do is I 'm going to have some brief remarks on this, and then I'm going to have a senior administration official give you a little bit more information. And then we can do the rest of the gaggle, and I will authorize you all to go ahead and call this in to your desks, this news.

Earlier this week, Ryuduan bin Isomuddin, known as Hambali, was captured. He is now in custody of the United States government. Hambali was al Qaeda's chief representative and senior planner in Southeast Asia. He was operational chief of Jemaah Islamiya, the violent Islamic extremist group based in Indonesia. Hambali's capture is another important victory in the global war on terrorism and a significant blow to the enemy. The United States will be relentless in its pursuit of terrorists, in order to rid the world of the scourge of terrorism.

And now I want to bring in a senior administration official to give you a little bit more information.

Q: Can you spell the name?

MR. McCLELLAN: This will be in the transcript: Ryuduan, R-y-u-d-u-a-n, then bin, b-i-n, and then Isomuddin, I-s-o-m-u-d-d-i-n. And Hambali, H-a-m-b-a-l-i. That's what he -- he is known as Hambali.

Now let me switch to the senior administration official. He'll give you a little bit more information.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hambali is one of the world's most lethal terrorists. He's a 39-year old. The 39-year old Hambali was al Qaeda's chief representative in Southeast Asia and operational chief of Jemaah Islamiya. His lengthy terrorist credentials include the Bali nightclub bombings in October, 2002, that killed nearly 200 people.

Q: He was the main guy for that? Is that what you're saying?

Q: Mastermind?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. Hold on a second. And a deadly series of church bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines in December 2000. He's a leading suspect in the bombing of the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta earlier this month. He's also -- Hambali is a close associate of the September 11th mastermind, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, KSM.

Q: You said -- I'm sorry, I missed that. What's the connection there?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He's a close associate.

Q: And spell that other person's name, please?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: KSM, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, K-h-a-l-i-d, S-h-a-y-k, M-u-h-a-m-m-e-d. Again, he's who we previously captured.

Q: Would you mind spelling the name of that syndicate? What's the name of that al Jemaah? Can you spell that, too?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Jemaah Islamiya. J-e-m-a-a-h, I-s-l-a-m-i-y-a.

Q: And he is a chief in that organization?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He's the operational chief of Jemaah Islamiya. Hang on a second, I'm going to give you a little bit more information. As I was saying, he is the leading suspect in the bombing of the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta and close associate of Khalid Shaykh Muhammad. Hambali facilitated the January 2000 meeting in Malaysia that included two of the September 11th hijackers.

Q: KSM did?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Information obtained from a senior al Qaeda detainee and corroborated by other sources indicates al Qaeda tasked Hambali shortly after September 11th with recruiting pilots to participate in additional hijackings inside the United States.

Q: Can you repeat it, from the Malaysia meeting?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes: facilitated the January 2000 meeting in Malaysia that included two of the September 11th hijackers.

Q: And who was this? Is this the guy you talked --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We'll see what additional information I can get you. Let me continue. As I was talking about, on these additional attacks that Hambali was involved and participating in, the sources also indicate that an al Qaeda leader in Pakistan earlier this year provided Hambali a large sum of money for a major attack. Information obtained from Hambali will assist in our ongoing efforts to neutralize the threat.

Again, as was previously stated, this is a significant victory in the global war on terrorism and a devastating blow to the enemy. He was one of the few remaining senior planners of al Qaeda and their most important link to terrorist groups in Southeast Asia.

Q: Their most important link, l-i-n-k?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. His detention effectively diminishes the group's lethal capabilities and global reach. It's still important to remember that this fight has captured -- that al Qaeda remains a threat to the United States, our allies and interests around the world.

Q: Can you go over that key sentence: it effectively diminishes the group's --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Their lethal capabilities and global reach.

Q: That's al Jemaah or al Qaeda?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's -- the importance of which is magnified in the series of high profile arrests of al Qaeda operatives around the world in recent months. It effectively diminishes the group's lethal capabilities and --

Q: Which group?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What I'm trying to tell you is that -- al Qaeda. This is a significant victory.

Q: al Qaeda.

Q: Can you go over again -- after September 11th, Hambali was recruited to find pilots for further attacks? Is that what you were saying?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right, to participate in additional hijackings inside the United States.

Q: That's something that we have known before. I know we've known about the meeting in Malaysia.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's why I wanted to put this in perspective, the importance of this, the importance of the capture of Hambali.

Q: Is there new indication that there were plans --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you can double-check some of this with the Central Intelligence Agency.

Q: And the Pakistani money for further attacks was in 2003, what you just said about that --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was earlier this year, that's correct.

Q: Was that major attack thwarted, or was that J.W. Marriott?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's what I said, information attained from Hambali will assist in efforts to neutralize the threat.

Q: When you said, sources indicate al Qaeda leader of Pakistan provided him a large sum of money for a major attack.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right.

Q: Was that attack --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Information obtained from Hambali is going to assist us in our ongoing efforts to neutralize that threat. We have ongoing efforts to neutralize the threat, among many others.

Q: -- is going to assist us or has assisted us?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I said, information obtained from him will assist us in our ongoing efforts to neutralize this threat.

Q: Can you tell us anything about where he was captured, or any of the details of the operation? A U.S. military operation, other helpful countries?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was a joint operation, but I cannot get into the details of that operation at this point. It did involve others.

Q: In Indonesia?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.

Q: Other governments?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I cannot get into those details, those specifics at this point.

Q: When did he actually --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Earlier this week.

Q: Are you -- is this the first news that any --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Remember, this is going to be very helpful in helping us obtain information about current and future threats, this capture.

Q: Are you telling us this, the first news of this coming out from anywhere? Like, DOD isn't briefing on this or anything like that? Is this --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I am announcing it. I am announcing it.

Q: Where was the capture?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, I can't get into the specific details of that.

Q: Was it in the U.S.?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Southeast Asia.

Q: Can you tell us in what part of the world he is being held right now?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I can't get into those kind of details at this point.

Q: Is he being held by the U.S. government?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's what was said, he's in the custody of the United States government.

Q: Why did you choose to make this announcement instead of CIA or --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is a significant announcement. This is a significant victory in our global war on terrorism. And as you have heard from -- as you have heard what an evil person he is, that's what I wanted to describe for you, the importance of the capture of Hambali.

Q: Will the President be making reference to this today?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, listen to his remarks. I expect he may.

Q: Do you know when he was told about this?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yesterday.

Q: Do you know by whom? Condi Rice?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In his briefings, his intelligence briefings.

Q: He was told yesterday?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.

Q: Do you know anything about his reaction?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, again, you might want to listen to his remarks.

Q: I want to make sure I'm a thousand percent clear on something. He says, an al Qaeda leader in Pakistan provided him a large sum of money for a major attack. Is that something that we thwarted or one that may still be brewing, or what?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's what I said. We have ongoing efforts to neutralize such a threat. And we are -- the information that we will obtain from Hambali will help us in those efforts.

Q: So it wasn't the J.W. Marriott or something that's already happened?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: At this point, he is going to be interrogated. We will be able to learn more information about current and future threats. But we take all threats seriously and we confront those threats. We address those threats. Intelligence is something that we take very seriously. And that's why this is such an important victory.

Now, do we want to go back to Scott for -- are we through with this?

Q: Hambali, himself, provided the information about the Pakistani-al Qaeda funding, or that information came from somewhere else?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I said -- I believe you're talking about -- which part are you talking about?

Q: The Pakistan money. Who was the source of that information?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sources, sources that we have. We had senior -- we had information -- that's what I pointed out -- information from a senior al Qaeda detainee, and corroborated by other sources, about the initial efforts where Hambali was tasked with recruiting pilots to participate in additional hijackings. And then I said, those sources -- referring to the same sources -- also indicate that a large sum of money --

Q: The beginning of that sentence was, information --

Q: And he --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He will be interrogated about current and future threats in our custody, and that's why I said, in that context, we will be able to obtain additional information from him to help us in our ongoing efforts to neutralize this threat.

Q: One last time. You have from sources, detainees, that al Qaeda provided Hambali with a large sum of money for a major attack?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right.

Q: Where? Here, in the United States? What do you know about the attack?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's -- the information that I'm sharing with you at this time is what I have here. We have ongoing efforts to -- we will seek more information from Hambali on that.

Q: What's the language on the other part -- the first part of the sentence, information obtained --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I've been through this. I've been through this. We're going to have a transcript on this.

Q: I just want to make sure I get it right. Was information obtained by --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're going to have a transcript on this.

Q: I just want to make sure --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think --

Q: -- got it right: information obtained by U.S. government says --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Will help us in our ongoing efforts to neutralize the threat.

Q: Not what I'm asking, sorry. The part about him recruiting 9/11 hijackers. How do you know that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: From a senior al Qaeda detainee and other sources that corroborated that account.

Q: He wasn't recruiting 9/11 hijackers, he was recruiting future hijackers post-9/11?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's correct.

Q: All right.

Q: I thought this was the January 2000 meeting.

Q: No, no, no, that was the Malaysia meeting.

Q: Malaysia meeting.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, different meeting. That was two of the September 11th hijackers.

Q: Can you be precise about --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We'll have a transcript for this.

Q: What was precise alleged role in the Bali nightclub? Bali mastermind, facilitator?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He's their -- as I said Jemaah Islamiya's is chief operational planner in southeast Asia.

Q: Would it be an over-statement to call him the mastermind of that attack?

Q: He's responsible --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He's the operational chief, I would describe him as the operational chief of -- is Jemaah Islamiya. They have been linked to the Bali bombings.

Q: Linked?

Q: He has been linked, or Jemaah --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Jemaah Islamiya -- look, Central Intelligence Agency can probably provide you additional information that -- but this is already, this is information that is already out.

Q: And as a senior administration official, does the White House -- are you doing this here because the White House is eager to take partial credit or a large share of the credit for this?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're announcing this because of the significance of this capture. We're announcing this because there's a significant development in our ongoing war on terrorism. And to provide you with information about this individual and the fact that he is someone who has a long history of wanting to harm America and our allies and others around the world.

Q: I just can't recall another occasion where the White House announced a capture like this. I'm sure it's happened, but I can't recall.

Q: Why did you announce it today, and not yesterday, when the President was informed? Was this in order to link up with the remarks at Miramar or not to step on --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're announcing it as soon as we are able to make this information public. A lot of times there are -- well, for a number of reasons, sometimes these announcements are not made exactly when they happen, and that involves national security issues, other reasons about why. But we were able to go ahead and make this announcement public and wanted to share the information with you.

Q: Does this person, Hambali, go into a judicial process now? What happens there?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He's being detained and interrogated at this point.

Q: Indefinitely?

Q: Can you say, his detention, which agency is interrogating him?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He's in the custody of the United States government.

Q: Can I ask one --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right, we're going to go back -- other matters?

Q: Back to Scott.

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, thank you everybody. The President had his usual briefings this morning. Now we are on our way to the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, where the President will thank our men and women in the Armed Services, and their families for all that they are doing, and provide an update on the war on terrorism.

Let me give you a little bit of information about the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar. First of all, there are going to be about 12,000 military personnel and families there, and they include personnel and families from the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, Camp Pendleton, and the Naval Base Coronado.

Following the remarks, the President will have lunch with military personnel.

Miramar Marine Corps Air Station is a 24,000 acre installation, located in the northern suburbs of San Diego. It is one of the largest military bases in the area. Miramar maintains a military personnel force of more than 10,000 and an additional 2,000 civilians. It's home to approximately 225 aircraft, and is the headquarters for the 3rd Marine Air Wing and the Commander of the Marine Corps Air Base's western area.

Following his remarks there --

Q: Can you --

MR. McCLELLAN: The President, again, will have lunch with military personnel. Then this afternoon, also at Miramar, he'll have an interview with the Armed Forces Radio and Television. And once all that has been aired by the Armed Forces Radio and Television, we'll make the transcript available -- that probably won't be until this weekend, from what I understand.

Q: When is the transcript going to be available?

MR. McCLELLAN: After it's aired on Armed Forces Television.

Q: This weekend?

Q: Can you just make a transcript available?

MR. McCLELLAN: As we always do.

Q: -- on a day like today, that might be --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, you will not have it before it airs on Armed Forces Radio and Television, it'll be after it airs. That's the way we always do it, because they're the ones he's doing the interview with -- just like if it would be with you.

Q: Is that broadcast around the world by that network, the Armed Forces Network?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's wherever they broadcast, yes, I believe so. I'll double-check that.

Then he makes remarks at the Bush-Cheney 2004 dinner in San Diego this evening, before we depart for Newport Beach, where he overnights.

Q: Does this Marine base have a special connection to the Iraq war?

MR. McCLELLAN: There a number -- and I think the President will talk about it in his remarks -- there are a number of military personnel at this base that have recently returned from Iraq. And, you know, I think there are more than 70,000 men and women from bases in southern California that were deployed in Iraq. So you've got these other bases that will have military personnel and families there, as well.

Q: Is he going to say anything new today, in terms of this update? I mean, I was led to believe earlier -- like, a week or two ago -- that he was going to make some sort of significant military speech. Is that not the case today?

MR. McCLELLAN: He will provide an update on the war on terrorism and talk about the important work that we are doing both in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere in the world to win the war on terrorism.

Q: So it's a new speech?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q: Is it a new speech?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's an update. It's an update on the war on terrorism. So listen to his remarks, he'll provide an update.

Q: Is he going to track closely with the 100-day report we got last week?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let him make his remarks and you'll hear from him directly. But, certainly, yes, he'll talk about the progress being made, talking about the difficulties that remain. It'll be that type of --

Q: Is he going to go beyond what he said with Rumsfeld and the military advisors last week? Is it going to be any different than that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Wait for his remarks. You'll hear them all shortly --

Q: Is he going to --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- as soon as we land --

Q: All right. Is he going to mention Arnold's name?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that he made -- we've made very clear our position on the California recall election. I think you have what our view is on that.

Q: Will he even joke about it, do you think?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, listen to his remarks.

Q: The campaign says there will not be a single candidate at either fundraiser, today, tomorrow. Is that your understanding?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, double-check with the campaign. I'm not aware of any.

Q: Scott, there was a report in the paper this morning that the administration has decided to sort of not seek further U.N. endorsement in order to gain the support of more --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I know. I saw the article. Our policy remains the same. First of all, the U.N. is involved in Iraq. They have a special representative, Sergio de Mello, who is working closely with Ambassador Bremer. I think we have also pointed out that under Resolution 1483, countries are participating in the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq. That resolution provides authority for countries to participate and help. Again, this is a coalition-led effort. The U.N. is involved in Iraq. And there are a number of countries participating in Iraq under Resolution 1483.

Q: But is it a challenge for the President to explain to these military personnel and their families that they're going to have these long deployments, a year at least, without, perhaps, what some people would say, if you got more U.N. support, you would get more foreign troops and could alleviate some of the stress and --

MR. McCLELLAN: I wanted to finish on one point. We are continuing to talk with other countries that want to participate in Iraq and help, and we will continue to do so. But in terms of Iraq, the President will continue to express our gratitude to our men and women in uniform and their families for the sacrifices they are making. This is an important cause, it's a just cause, that's part of our global war on terrorism and bringing democracy and security and freedom to Iraq will help bring peace and stability to the Middle East. And that will be significant in our overall efforts in the global war on terrorism. The President will continue to express our appreciation for all our troops are doing, and for their families.

What else?

Q: I've got a quick Liberia question, and I wonder if you can preview tomorrow, as well. Rebels handed over parts of Monrovia, Liberia today. They were holding some of these important places, including a vital port. Is the President watching these developments day by day? Is that --

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, absolutely.

Q: -- that changed?

MR. McCLELLAN: Now, I do understand that the rebels are -- have been pulling back. We are, as the President said, doing what we can to support the ECOWAS mission in Liberia, ECOMIL, in their efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Liberia. And we will continue to work closely with ECOMIL about how we can help facilitate their efforts. But again, ECOMIL is in the lead, and we are there to provide support.

Q: This would seem to be encouraging development today. Do you know enough about it to say what --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you ought to stay in touch with the Pentagon on the latest developments. But I do understand that the rebel forces are pulling back. The President noted yesterday that it's important to secure and open the port so that humanitarian assistance can be provided to those who have been suffering in Liberia, to the people of Liberia. That's what we're working to do.

Q: One more question for you or the Senior Administration Official. Do you know if in the intelligence briefing the President got yesterday, was it on-site briefers, or was he -- I know he usually talks to Tenet and --

MR. McCLELLAN: Video-conferencing.

Q: It was video-conferencing?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.

Q: Can you talk about tomorrow's tour at all --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me get you -- I'll get you more on that later. But, again, that's to -- well, the short version, the President will talk about National Parks Legacy Project and our initiatives to reduce the backlog and improve maintenance of our national parks, which are --

Q: Backlog --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q: The backlog?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, there's been a backlog on maintenance and repair projects at national parks, it goes back years. And we've taken significant steps to reduce that backlog and improve maintenance and make our parks where they are -- make our parks where they are enjoyable for all Americans.

Q: Part of the $5 billion pledge over certain --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's $4.9 billion, yes, we've made significant steps in that direction, are continuing to work with Congress to provide additional funding in those efforts.

Q: Do you recall how many years that was? Four point nine billion over --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll double check it. All right. Thanks everybody.

END 1:15 P.M. CDT

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