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News Briefing on Terrorist Threats
Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend

CQ Transcripts Wire
Tuesday, July 17, 2007 12:35 PM

TOWNSEND: Good morning, everyone.

Earlier today, the director of national intelligence briefed the president and senior staff on the new national intelligence estimate on the terrorist threat to the homeland.

The DNI has delivered the NIE to Congress and has released the unclassified key judgments, which you should now have.

The Office of the DNI has already briefed the media this morning on the report and the key judgments and so I will not go into much of that detail.

What I would like for you to know is how we are responding to the threat noted in the report.

It is important to understand what the NIE is and what it is not.

The NIE is an intelligence community product that lays out baseline judgments and assessments on a particular topic. While there have been many NIEs and intelligence products over the last six years that focus on the threat faced from Al Qaida and terrorism, this NIE is the first ever focused on the terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland.

It is intended to provide a strategic understanding of the terrorist threat to the homeland over the next three years and to give the intelligence communities baseline judgments in order to help policy-makers develop and prioritize government actions.

That said, it is not a document that specifically focuses on daily tactical threat reporting and the government's operational response. It is a strategic assessment.

Early last week, a classified report was leaked to the press entitled "Al Qaida Better Positioned to Strike the West." While I will not discuss the contents of that classified document, it is important to note that the report referenced an important trend in development for decision-makers to action.

Trends develop over time, so the analysis and the facts in the NIE and the classified report were not a surprise to decision-makers and have been the subject of extensive discussion, planning and action over a considerable period of time.

To those responsible for protecting the homeland from Al Qaida and the threat of terrorism, the information in these reports is not new. On the contrary, the NIE reinforces the seriousness of the terrorist threat against the homeland and confirms much of what the president has been saying since September the 11th.

We are facing a persistent terrorist enemy led by Al Qaida that remains driven and intent on attacking the homeland and that continues to adapt and improve its capabilities.

Our greatly increased worldwide counterterrorism efforts since September the 11th have constrained the ability of Al Qaida to attack the U.S. again and have led terrorist groups to view the homeland as a harder target to strike than it was on 9/11.

Our worldwide counterterrorism efforts over the past five years have helped disrupt a number of plots against the U.S. At the same time, the NIE notes concern that this level of international cooperation may wane as 9/11 becomes a more distant memory and perceptions of the terrorist threat diverge.

Al Qaida will continue to attempt visually dramatic mass casualty attacks in the homeland. And they will continue to acquire and employ chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials and will not hesitate to use them if they develop sufficient capability.

TOWNSEND: The NIE assesses that Al Qaida will enhance its capabilities to attack the homeland through greater cooperation with regional terrorist groups.

Of most concern is that Al Qaida will try to exploit the conflict in Iraq and leverage the contacts and capabilities of Al Qaida in Iraq, its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the homeland.

We will face challenges from the spread of radicalization tied to the global, violent Islamic extremist movement, with the possibility for some within the homeland to become sufficiently radicalized so as to view the use of violence in the homeland as legitimate.

The NIE also refers to the homeland threats from Lebanese Hezbollah, the states sponsored and supported by Iran, and the threat from single-issue groups, as well as the challenge of adapting our homeland defensive efforts and tools to detect and disrupt plots in an era of globalization and technological advances.

The NIE notes that Al Qaida and its affiliates have sought safe haven in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas of Pakistan and replaced senior leaders and operational commanders that have been captured or killed.

Al Qaida continues to attempt to create global terrorist alliances, raise resources and recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for homeland attacks.

Importantly, the NIE assesses that Al Qaida has protected or regenerated three of four key elements in planning an attack on the homeland: a safe haven in Pakistan, operational lieutenants and top leadership.

The NIE found although we have discovered only a handful of individuals in the U.S. with ties to Al Qaida's senior leadership since September the 11th, Al Qaida will intensify its efforts to place operatives here in the homeland.

As a result of these factors, the NIE concludes that we are currently in a heightened threat environment.

I hasten to add, we have no credible information pointing to a specific imminent attack or the timing or execution of such an attack.

TOWNSEND: But the warning is clear, and we are taking it seriously.

We should be clear that despite a resurgent Al Qaida threat and some of their capabilities, they are weaker today than they would have been if we had not taken strong action against them over the last five and a half years.

Furthermore, when we discuss Al Qaida's capabilities, we must put it in the context of a stronger, more capable U.S. government.

Because of the president's commitment to our homeland security, we have more and better intelligence, military and law enforcement resources and the capability to confront an enemy who is weaker now than it would have been absent our aggressive effort to confront and defeat them.

So what are doing to confront the threat outlined in the NIE and the near-term threat from Al Qaida?

First, I want to be clear that we will talk about as much as we can, but consistent with our need to protect our most important and effective tools in this fight. This means we can speak of some things in only general terms and others not at all.

Second, to place in context what we are doing, I should explain how this fits into ongoing counterterrorism efforts. Almost six years after September the 11th, we have not been attacked and I am often asked why.

Because the president has made clear that job number one is to protect the American people from an attack. And his strategy for doing this has been clear and unambiguous.

We have gone on the offensive, attacking our enemies and the things that they need to operate and survive. We have strengthened our defenses through a host of homeland security programs, including increasing our intelligence, military and law enforcement resources, ensuring greater information sharing with state and local officials, increasing grant programs, protecting critical infrastructure and strengthening our border security.

At the same time, we have strengthened our government institutions and our laws. We established DHS. We established national security divisions at Justice and the FBI.

TOWNSEND: We have a DNI. We have a National Counterterrorism Center. And we have enacted legal regimes like the Patriot Act.

This is why we now urge Congress to modernize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to update an antiquated law so that it is technologically neutral, so that we can effectively fight a 21st- century enemy.

But there is yet another factor, and it is the most difficult to explain. It is what we do not know.

What is our enemy's calculation? Is it a large, spectacular, mass casualty attack or smaller, multiple explosive devices, like the ones we saw recently in London and Glasgow?

We cannot know the enemy's calculation, nor when it will shift. We prepare for and anticipate both, with the realization that the enemy only has to be right once, while we must be right every day, all the time.

It is important for the American people to know that focusing our government's attention and resources to the threat from Al Qaida is not new and is not a reaction to the NIE or to any other single report.

Our intelligence, military, law enforcement and homeland security communities are constantly evaluating the threat and making determinations on how best to respond.

Three times a day, at the National Counterterrorism Center, our intelligence, military, law enforcement and homeland security communities review current threats and how we are addressing them.

Every day in the field, law enforcement and homeland security officials are working side by side with state and local police and authorities to uncover leads and information to thwart any ongoing terrorist activity.

Every week, senior counterterrorism officials meet here at the White House to discuss the current and strategic threats and to organize efforts to wage the war on terror.

The president's daily briefings, intelligence briefings, routinely include terrorism matters. And he gets counterterrorism and homeland security updates from Cabinet secretaries and agency heads.

In addition to all of that, as we have done during other periods of heightened threat, we have focused additional attention and resources on this.

In this case, the White House assembled relevant principals and deputies earlier this year to preview regional terrorist threats -- for example, in Europe, the Arabian Gulf and North Africa -- as well as on the current and strategic threat from Al Qaida.

As a result of those meetings, the president directed actions to be taken regarding priorities and engagement with our regional allies. The president personally raised his concern over the emerging Al Qaida threat with heads of state in June on the margins of the G-8. And as a result of those discussions, FBI, CIA, DHS have engaged their European counterparts.

In addition, senior interagency officials have met with their counterparts in Italy and Germany already. And a similar meeting is scheduled in Paris later this month.

As a result of the Homeland Security Council principals meeting in May, we established an interagency task force, under the leadership of the National Counterterrorism Center, to develop additional options and measures for acquiring information and disrupting potential terrorist attacks on the homeland.

TOWNSEND: The task force is charged with evaluating new intelligence, and considers measures that may help disrupt the threat.

This group reports to the White House Homeland Security Council deputies and principals committees on a regular basis.

As part of this effort, departments and agencies have been reviewing their current operations and based on intelligence are enhancing where necessary efforts to better respond and address the heightened threat environment. These efforts span across departments and agencies and involve a broad range of activities.

Some of the measures that we have taken will be visible, and others will not.

The visible ones, like the increase in transportation-related security in the wake of the failed attacks in London and the attack on Glasgow Airport, you will see. Others will not be visible, focusing instead on gathering more intelligence and leads.

In addition to our expanded efforts to disrupt tactical plotting, national security and homeland security officials have been focusing for the past several weeks on additional steps that can be taken to constrict Al Qaida's global reach.

To do this, we are strengthening our cooperation with partners in key regions to undermine Al Qaida's attempts to tap into and to coopt regional networks for their own strategic purpose.

For example, we continue to work with President Musharraf and the Pakistani government to capture key Al Qaida operatives and pressure Al Qaida and the Taliban in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas. Al Qaida has made several attempts to assassinate President Musharraf and the Pakistanis understand the threat that Al Qaida and violent Islamic extremism pose to their country.

We will continue to press them to take action to ensure that no part of Pakistan remains a safe haven for terrorists.

In North Africa we are working with our partners to counter Al Qaida's expansion into the Maghreb, evident in the emergence of Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. This group has claimed responsibility for recent terrorist bombings in Algeria, including the April 11th and July 11th attacks.

As you know, at the president's direction, I am just back from discussions with our allies in Morocco, Algeria and Libya, to discuss these very concerns.

In the Arabian Gulf, we continue to strengthen efforts to dismantle terrorist cells, stem terrorist financing and undercut the ideology used by Al Qaida and its supporters to justify the murder of innocents.

This year, for example, Saudi Arabia has made an important series of terror finance arrests, and are investigating the brutal murder of a senior Mubaha (ph) officer at the hands of an Al Qaida-related cell. Their investigations are continuing, and we continue to work with them.

On my trip, I met with the Saudis, with whom I consult approximately four times a year. And I also met with the Qataris.

TOWNSEND: In Europe, as I mentioned, we're building up already strong relationships to increase information sharing and counterterrorism cooperation, while building awareness of the nature of the threat and the challenges posed to Europe.

We have also looked at additional ways of disrupting Al Qaida's network. This includes countering Al Qaida's violent message and the group's attempts to exploit grievances and suffering of local groups for its own benefit.

Thwarting the short- and long-term threats to the homeland from Al Qaida and its like-minded adherents requires real and often hard international commitments and action from our partners and allies.

This is why we have not relented in our engagement with foreign counterparts to ensure that we are taking steps to increase information sharing and joint actions to dismantle and discredit terror cells and networks.

We must remember, terrorism is not a threat we face alone. It is a threat faced by our allies around the world, in London, in Bali, Madrid, Riyadh and Islamabad.

We cannot win this war alone. We need our allies to win. They fight the threat just as we do, and just as our heroes on the battlefields around the world are injured and die in the fight, our allies fight and die as well.

I have outlined some of the steps that are being taken to address the heightened threat environment, but this is not just a federal responsibility. This must be a national effort. This means that all parts of our society have a responsibility and a role to play.

State and local officials have a direct responsibility to protect their citizens and we will continue to work with them, as we do on a daily basis, to share information and take collective action to protect the homeland.

As I mentioned, we need Congress' continued support to ensure that we have the necessary tools and resources to protect the homeland. And this must include passing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act modernization bill that will make America safer by improving our intelligence capabilities while protecting the privacy interests of Americans.

And to the American people, this means being better informed and more aware, reporting suspicious activities to local authorities, just as a store clerk did in New Jersey, which ultimately helped to unravel the Fort Dix plot in May.

TOWNSEND: We must be clear why the NIE addresses the continuing threat to our homeland from Al Qaida.

We work to disrupt and defeat terrorist plots every day, while anticipating and preparing for future attacks. Our efforts develop as the trends and threats develop, and we will continue to fight this way as long as we are threatened by an enemy who seeks to do us harm.

I am happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Why has the administration continued to say things that the president said -- in 2005, "We have put the enemy on the run and now they spend their days avoiding capture" -- given that they have now regenerated elements of their homeland attack capability and they safe havens in Pakistan?

How can the administration have said these things?

TOWNSEND: Well, they're not inconsistent. Actually, we have kept them on the run. They do seek to avoid capture every single day.

The fact is, look, you're looking at a developing...

QUESTION: That's a very cheery picture about what's going on, given what you see here today. I mean, you may have kept some of them on the run. You've talked about leadership -- taking out the leadership over the years.

TOWNSEND: Two-thirds of Al Qaida's leadership from 9/11 has been captured or killed. It's absolutely right.

QUESTION: And they've regenerated.

TOWNSEND: That's right. And they bring up people who have less operational experience because they want to do us harm. They're intent to do it. And they also have tried to be adaptive, just as we have tried to be adaptive to the techniques that we know that they use.

There should be no question in anybody's mind: Despite our successes, this is an enemy that remains determined. And it remains determined to try and understand if there are vulnerabilities that they may exploit. It requires us to be equally adaptive at capturing or killing them.

QUESTION: There's a report out that of one of two known Al Qaida leadership councils is meeting regularly in Iran. I was wondering if you could confirm that or say that it's not true, or maybe just expand on that a little bit.

And then, secondly, the first bullet does mention that the administration worries that the international corporation will wane. With all that you say that you're doing, why would the administration be worried about that?

TOWNSEND: Well, the NIE highlights a concern that international cooperation may wane as two things: We get more time and distance from the September 11 attack and as views of each country diverge on what the actual threat is.

The threat takes different forms in different places. I mentioned the assassination attempts on Musharraf. In London, it's clearly less sophisticated attacks targeting civilians.

As you see the threat differently, the concern, I think, that the NIE is trying to articulate is that people -- the international cooperation may differ.

We work very hard to make sure that's not true. I was in seven countries over the course of eight days talking to our allies around the world. I will tell you that I'm not, in the near term, concerned about a waning of international cooperation. It's actually as strong as it's ever been.

On your earlier question about this -- I'm sorry, say it again, a (inaudible) council?

QUESTION: Yes, it's -- one of two known Al Qaida leadership councils is apparently meeting regularly in eastern Iran and we're wondering if that is accurate or not.

TOWNSEND: I've not seen the report that you're referring to.

We have heard reports over the years that there are Al Qaida -- senior Al Qaida leadership members in custody in Iran. As you know, Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and Hezbollah and we do not have counterterrorism cooperation from the state of Iran. So it's difficult for me to make a comment on internal Iran matters.

QUESTION: It says this is in the NIE, though, and I think there's only one little reference to Iran in the unclassified version.

TOWNSEND: Right. And you know I'm not going to refer to anything in the classified briefing.

QUESTION: I wonder if you could explain what possible reason there could be for Al Qaida's ability to reconstitute itself, aside from U.S. strength is being diverted in Iraq -- special ops forces and various other military means -- and the U.S. diplomatic abilities, if you will, are compromise in countries that oppose our operation in Iraq. What else could account for Al Qaida's ability to regenerate?

TOWNSEND: Well, there's no question -- I mean, I think there's a tendency to try and suggest that Al Qaida core and Al Qaida in Iraq are two separate things. Let's step back for a minute because I think that is not accurate.

Clearly, what we know is the Al Qaida that attacked us on the September 11th was an Al Qaida that is led by Osama bin Laden and caused the killing of 3,000 Americans. That same Al Qaida headed by bin Laden is the same Al Qaida that Zarqawi, when he becomes the emir of Al Qaida in Iraq, swears by loyalty to. So it's the same organization.

This isn't a question of diverting.

We also know from intelligence -- and the president referenced this when he gave the speech at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy commencement -- we also know that bin Laden communicates to Zarqawi to create a cell inside Iraq that'll be used to plan and plot attacks against the American homeland.

TOWNSEND: And by the way, that wasn't just a one-off; because we also know that they tried to move Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi from Afghanistan to Iraq.

These aren't separate conflicts. These are clearly a single conflict by a single determined enemy who is looking for a safe haven. And if they don't have safe haven in Afghanistan, they look for safe haven someplace else. They'd like to find it -- and bin Laden's been quite clear -- they'd like to find it in Iraq. But if they don't find it in Iraq, they're going to look for some place else, whether that's northern Mali, in the Maghreb, or that's Somalia in West Africa.

QUESTION: So a Senate intelligence report, in May, came out, saying the president was warned before the war in Iraq that if you go in and invade Iraq, you're going to give Al Qaida more opportunities to expand its influence.

Now you were just laying out, a moment ago, how bin Laden was talking to al-Zarqawi, trying to expand his influence in Iraq after the war began.

And now, you're also saying today this report clearly says that Al Qaida is going to try to take advantage of the gains it's made in Iraq to strike the U.S. homeland.

So doesn't this report show that the war in Iraq has made America less safe?

TOWNSEND: Well, let's -- as long as we're going to talk about what the NIE says about Iraq, let me quote it directly.

TOWNSEND: "We assess that Al Qaida will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of Al Qaida in Iraq, its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the homeland."

It's not talking about gains in Iraq. What it's talking about is capabilities in Iraq.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... contacts and capabilities.

TOWNSEND: Right, contacts and capabilities.

These are people who have a relationship with Al Qaida core. These are people who are in Iraq attacking us there. And they've made Iraq their end-all, be-all.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... says "to energize a broader Sunni extremist community, raise resources and recruit and indoctrinate operatives."

You don't consider those gains for Al Qaida?

TOWNSEND: Well, there's no question that that's their objective. There's no question in any war, whether it's this war or historical wars, that our enemy seeks to take advantage for propaganda purposes of activities on the battlefield and actions on the battlefield.

QUESTION: But the president was warned before the war that that would happen, that Al Qaida would try to use the war for recruitment, to expand its influence.

(CROSSTALK)

TOWNSEND: OK, so -- well, what's the answer to that? So we should leave them and we should not disturb our enemies anywhere in the world because they may use it for propaganda value? I don't think so.

QUESTION: But if the president was warned before the war that this was actually going to help Al Qaida gain influence, now you have a report suggesting maybe it has gained influence from the war in Iraq. Isn't that something that the president ignored?

TOWNSEND: You're assuming this is a zero-sum game, which is what I don't understand.

The fact is, we were harassing them in Afghanistan. We're harassing them in Iraq. We're harassing them in other ways non- militarily around the world. And the answer is, every time you poke the hornet's nest, they are bound to come back and push back on you.

That doesn't suggest to me that we shouldn't be doing it. It suggests -- we hardly need to be warned that they're going to use this for propaganda purposes. They're going to.

QUESTION: But did the tie exist between Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden before we went into Iraq?

TOWNSEND: This is ground long covered, and it's not...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Zarqawi and OBL: Did that happen before we went into Iraq?

TOWNSEND: Let me (inaudible).

QUESTION: Two questions.

Following what Ed was just discussing, can we at least acknowledge that Al Qaida has become more battlefield proficient based on what's happening in Iraq, that they are having much more opportunity to test and practice their operational capabilities because of the conflict there?

TOWNSEND: There's no question that every place they seek to fight, when they're fighting, they are honing battlefield capabilities.

Let's step back for a second.

We've seen a recent spate of bombings in Pakistan against the Pakistani military. They're honing their skills there.

We've seen a spate of bombings, car bombings, in Algeria. They're honing their skills there.

Everyplace they fight and they confront government forces they're honing their abilities.

Are they honing their abilities in Iraq? Absolutely, just as they are in other places where they bomb innocent civilians around the world.

QUESTION: For the citizen watching this and hearing that in Pakistan there is a safe haven, why should that American citizen not say, "Well, why don't we go into Pakistan and deal with it that way?"

TOWNSEND: There's no question, the president's made perfectly clear, if we had actionable targets anywhere in the world, putting aside whether it was Pakistan or anyplace else, we would pursue the targets.

There's a number -- but it's hard for me to say to you, what would the -- what is the target, what is the opportunity, what is the likelihood of success, what is our confidence in the intelligence? You'd have to know all those things for me to accurately, sort of, predict for you. And that's one of those things you're only going to know when all those factors come together.

But there's no question, President Musharraf is taking on extremism. He gave a speech after the seizure of the Red Mosque and said, "We are going to battle extremism in every nook of Pakistan and we are going to -- we are going to rid Pakistan, all of Pakistan, of extremism."

So he's clearly committed to taking it on. In the last -- just this month, they've lost upwards of 80 soldiers in the fight. So there should be no question that Pakistan takes it seriously for their own reasons. And we're working with them to encourage them to deny Pakistan as a safe haven. They don't want Pakistan as a safe haven themselves.

QUESTION: Let me try another approach on the Iraq issue.

To what extent has the war turned Iraq into an unprecedented training ground, breeding ground for terrorists? You didn't have the sophistication with the IEDs and the other things that this war has developed.

TOWNSEND: Well, there's no question that we've watched developing tactics. But they're also being fed -- lest we suggest that Al Qaida in Iraq is the only enemy inside Iraq -- it's not.

We know very well, and you've heard briefings from DOD, about the transfer of advance technology into Iraq to advance some of this by Iran.

TOWNSEND: And so it's -- this is not the -- Al Qaida in Iraq is not the only enemy in Iraq. And interestingly enough, recently, we've seen Sunni tribal groups walk away from Al Qaida in Iraq.

QUESTION: (inaudible) they do emphasize in this report.

TOWNSEND: No, no, that's right. I mentioned that just to put it in context that it's not the only enemy we face in Iraq.

QUESTION: Fran, years ago this administration had said something about the fact that Osama bin Laden wasn't really the major threat anymore. He was just trying to maintain and survive.

Now you're saying that he's feeding into -- we know that he's feeding into the Iraqi intelligence -- I mean, not Iraqi intelligence, but the Iraq Al Qaida, and not only that, but they've pledged allegiance to him.

What is the NIE -- the unscrubbed version of the NIE saying about Osama bin Laden and the threat by Osama bin Laden? Because this administration does not talk about him. They keep talking about Al Qaida as a whole, not about the man who attacked the United States on 9/11 and the threat that he poses now.

TOWNSEND: OK.

First, obviously, what is declassified from the NIE is not a decision I make. And so if you want more out of that NIE, you're talking to the wrong person.

QUESTION: How many pages was the NIE compared to this couple of pages that we got scrubbed? We need to know what is in it about Osama.

TOWNSEND: You've got -- the unclassified judgments are a page and a half, I think.

TOWNSEND: The classified -- to give you a sense, the classified key judgments were about two and a half pages.

But, again, I'm in the awkward position. I can't talk to you about what's classified. And so, you've got -- there was a briefing today by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. I can't talk to you about what's in there.

Let me step back for a second now, and talk to you about...

QUESTION: Can you acknowledge he was in there, in those pages, his presence, what he represents to Al Qaida, the significance to Al Qaida in Iraq and Pakistan? Can you at least make that acknowledgement?

TOWNSEND: You need to talk to the director of national intelligence.

I'm not going to refer to you -- we're not going to do this one question at a time about, well, is Osama bin Laden in there? And the next question will be, is Zawahiri in there?

QUESTION: But you brought him up on that podium, Fran. I mean, essentially, a minute ago.

TOWNSEND: That's right.

QUESTION: And we want to go in as reporters trying to find out what is this man posing to this nation. You're saying we're at a high level and he's still the head.

He's not the head on the run the way you're talking anymore. A couple years ago they said he was on the run, just trying to maintain. Apparently not anymore. He is a threat.

TOWNSEND: There's no question that Al Qaida core, bin Laden and Zawahiri, have worked to regenerate their ability to communicate. This is what the NIE references when it talks about top leadership.

There's no question that bin Laden and Zawahiri continue to be a threat to the security of the American homeland, not to mention the security of innocents around the world.

There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that capturing or killing bin Laden continues to be the highest priority for this country. The president is regularly briefed on it, there are enormous resources, military and intelligence, that are devoted to it and will continue to be devoted to it until we're successful.

QUESTION: Has American intelligence improved at all over the few years?

And also you talked about actionable targets. If there are actionable nuclear targets in Iran, would the U.S. go after them?

TOWNSEND: OK. Let's back -- let me start with the last one first.

Obviously, Iran's nuclear capability is not the subject of the NIE. The NIE does not talk about Iran's nuclear capability. So it's just not relevant to this whole discussion, frankly.

QUESTION: But you said there's not actionable targets. If there are actionable targets...

TOWNSEND: We're talking about actionable terrorism targets. If there are actionable terrorism targets, we work against them with our allies. There are no options off the table in actionable intelligence terrorism targets.

Now, what does that mean?

TOWNSEND: And we ought to be clear about what it means.

It means that we work with allies around the world. We will work with our partners to use their capabilities and ours and the most effective tools to address those targets, wherever they are.

QUESTION: How about intelligence? I asked whether our intelligence has improved.

TOWNSEND: Our intelligence has absolutely improved.

We have increased the amount of resources. Obviously, I can't talk about the top line to the intelligence budget because it's classified.

We have increased our intelligence resources, particularly in the area of our collection capability. And I will tell you, it should not go passed unnoticed here, as we talk about the contents of the NIE.

We are in a better position, we have a better feeling and can talk more, particularly about the intelligence threat, the terrorism threat because our intelligence has improved.

We have, far and away, a better sense out of the intelligence community about the threat we face today than we have at any other time in the last six years.

QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about the internal threat?

The NIE says that the internal Muslim terrorist threat is not as likely to be as severe as it is in Europe. What should Americans who are concerned about the so-called homegrown terrorism take from that?

TOWNSEND: Well, I think it's obvious that we worry about domestic radicalization. We've seen, sort of, like-minded inspired groups, whether it's the JFK plot or the Fort Dix plot. People -- Americans rightly worry about that.

I will tell you that the president was, as you know, at the Washington Islamic Center. Most Muslim Americans worry about it, too, and want to understand what our goals and objectives and how they can assist us. Because it's a threat to them, just as it's a threat to any other American.

This is not -- and the president has said it -- this is not an effort directed at Muslims or against Muslim Americans in this country. It's directed at a very small fraction of violent extremists who believe that the use of violence is a legitimate tactic.

And so we worry about it here. But we've only seen it in a limited sense; not in the larger sense that, I think, our allies, say, in London or Paris have seen.

QUESTION: So you -- well, credit goes to the law enforcement authorities, as far as any attacks have not taken place here in this country.

QUESTION: But also, there are the reports that the U.S. is fighting this war beyond -- outside the U.S.

My question is that now you're confirming that Osama bin Laden, which we have not been talking about in -- for some time, is now alive and he is head of the Al Qaida. I mean, all the -- most of the attacks taking place is under his leadership.

And I'm sure somebody knows where he's hiding. And also, you confirmed that Al Qaidas are now taking safe haven in Pakistan.

The Pakistani government has told the U.S. that they will not allow, under any circumstances, anybody to enter that area where Al Qaida and Osama bin Laden is.

So where do we stand working in the future, catching Osama bin Laden and all those hiding in safe haven in Pakistan?

TOWNSEND: Well, there's no question that when we talk about Pakistan, we're talking about -- and bin Laden -- we're talking about the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas.

As you know, President Musharraf, in an effort to extend the writ of the Pakistani government in a way that has never been before, entered into this agreement with tribal leaders in the area.

It hasn't worked for Pakistan. It hasn't worked for the United States. It's clear that President Musharraf is serious about taking action in the tribal areas. We've seen a whole spate of activity over the course of the last several weeks.

And I think it's fair to say, President Musharraf is committed to the fact that he will not permit that to be a safe haven and we will work with him to ensure that that safe haven is denied to them.

QUESTION: And to follow-up quickly, as President Karzai of Afghanistan is coming to meet with President Bush here at Camp David, he has been complaining that...

(AUDIO GAP)

TOWNSEND: I think the president looks forward to getting a sense from President Karzai of his take on it.

QUESTION: Fran, is it a fair reading of the key judgments you've released today that the Federally Administered Tribal Areas that you discussed is in fact the central front in the war on terrorism, to use the president's phrase?

And, if so, tell us how if at all you have renegotiated your own operational arrangements with General Musharraf -- President Musharraf so that we would have greater access in there?

TOWNSEND: OK.

Well, to use the president's phrase, Iraq is the central front in the war on terror.

QUESTION: Is that supported by the key judgments, Fran?

TOWNSEND: There is no question -- based on the statements of bin Laden himself, not to mention others in Al Qaida -- that they regard Iraq as the central front in the war on terror.

The other piece to this -- you asked me about arrangements with President Musharraf. It is no secret there have been a series of very senior-level U.S. government officials to engage with President Musharraf and address this very issue, beginning with the vice president. And obviously there are conversations between the president and President Musharraf. Secretary Gates has been out, Deputy Secretary Negroponte and a raft of senior intelligence officials.

We will continue to work with the Pakistani government to address the threat that comes from the tribal areas. It is a serious one, but it's not only a serious threat to us; it's also a serious threat to the stability of Pakistan.

I'm obviously not going to go into the details of it, because I'm not going to put our people or Pakistani officials at risk. In the last two weeks, they've had nearly 80 killed and I'm not going to do that.

QUESTION: When the report speaks of Al Qaida -- the judgment that Al Qaida will intensify its efforts to put operatives here, is that implicitly saying that there are ongoing efforts to put operatives here? What can you say about that?

TOWNSEND: We assume, because we have to, that they're trying to place operatives here. It's their way of being able -- it's one of their critical enablers.

You heard me talk about what do they need to operate and survive. You need people to launch attacks. And so we assume that they are doing that or they are attempting to do that.

TOWNSEND: I will tell you, that goes a long distance, I should think, in explaining the president's absolute passion for comprehensive immigration reform.

What we want to do is take agents and have them focused on the terrorism threat and the infiltration threat so they're not worrying about illegal migrants who are here coming for economic reasons.

There is huge effort devoted to -- whether it's in the Department of Homeland Security, whether it's by the Transportation Security Agency, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement -- devoted at addressing that threat.

And, frankly, it is frequently cued and enabled by other federal government partners, whether that's the CIA, the FBI and their colleagues in the government.

QUESTION: Can I ask you then as a follow-up, if you assume these things, how much comfort should that lend people that you really don't know what's going on?

TOWNSEND: Well, it's not -- I'm assuming you're not suggesting that I should wait until I know that they've infiltrated somebody.

A lot of the reason we assume it is based on, look, we have thousands of men and women in the intelligence community around the world, 24 hours a day collecting intelligence to help us cue our screening and enforcement efforts.

It's not that we, sort of, have no clue and so we blindly do this. We do it based on better intelligence than we've ever had before, so our efforts are quite focused.

QUESTION: Fran, you've said that we've not been -- in the six years since the September 11th attacks, we've not been attacked. And I'm often asked why.

Are we any closer to finding out who carried out the anthrax attacks that followed those, the September 11th attacks?

TOWNSEND: Obviously, that's an ongoing investigation. I'm sure Director Mueller would be delighted to answer that.

QUESTION: Doesn't that count as a terrorist attack? I mean, that is a subsequent event, right, so it's...

TOWNSEND: It does in my mind.

QUESTION: Is it shorthanding it too much to say that General Musharraf, from his efforts in the tribal areas there against Al Qaida, is the key person, the point man in protecting the United States, and whether he has success there or not is the whole ball game?

TOWNSEND: No, it is not accurate because we work together as a partner. We work jointly, whether it's with his intelligence service, his military, our military. We work together as partners. To suggest that it's kind of all on his shoulders, I just don't think it's fair and I don't think it's accurate.

QUESTION: Does he give us all the operational capability the United States would like to have?

TOWNSEND: You know, it's funny. I'm glad you asked me that because, frequently, when people ask me about our counterterrorism cooperation, our allies around the world, the suggestion is: Do they give you everything you want? That is almost never the case.

And you know what? If I only cooperated with those who gave me 100 percent of what I thought I needed or wanted, I wouldn't have a whole lot of allies around the world.

Every ally is important. Every ally comes to the table in the fight against terrorism through the lens of their own national interest. What did they need to get in the fight? What's the threat to their own internal stability or the security of their own people?

And so we always work to strengthen those alliances. We always work to find more common ground so that we're more closely aligned. But it doesn't mean that we get everything we want. But we also can't walk away from people just because we don't get everything we want when we want it.

QUESTION: What kind of percentage do we get from Musharraf?

TOWNSEND: I'm not going to -- it's really a tempting invitation. I'm not going to do it.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Fran, I have a question about your trip to Libya.

TOWNSEND: Sure.

QUESTION: Why were you there and what happened in your exchange with Gadhafi that led to the U.S. sending an ambassador back there after you delivered the letter?

TOWNSEND: What led me to be there is the president sent me.

TOWNSEND: The president asked that I deliver a letter while I was traveling through North Africa. The letter, the contents of the letter is not public. I understand some of it has been made public. We raised -- first of all, we acknowledge, of course, the historic decision to renounce terrorism and to turn back his weapons program.

On the other hand, as with all of our allies around the world, we have issues of concern. We handle them privately and bilaterally, but they include things like making sure that the victims of the La Belle disco bombing and Pan Am 103 get fully compensated, among others. There were other issues of concern.

We will continue to work with the Libyans. I also raised -- as you can imagine, given Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and Al Qaida's attempt to extend its reach -- ongoing sort of regular counterterrorism matters that we believe are a common threat both to the Libyans and to us.

The Libyans have agreed to accept an ambassador. But there are more issues, and we need more progress. And I think it's fair to say that both the Libyans are frustrated and we're frustrated because we both want more out of that relationship. But it's going to take time.

I mean, this is a country on whom we had imposed sanctions for a long period of time. I think we have to be patient and have slow and small confidence-building measures, and we're prepared to begin down the path to see that kind of progress.

(AUDIO GAP)

TOWNSEND: I'm not going to go -- I think there's been a readout of some of the things that were contained in the letters. Of course, we are concerned about the Bulgarian nurses. I'm not going to go into details of that private conversation.

QUESTION: Fran, I think a lot of Americans watching this will have two very simple questions. Where is Osama bin Laden and why, nearly six years after the president said we would get him dead or alive, do we not have him? How has he possibly eluded our grasp?

TOWNSEND: Well, there is no question that we have put extraordinary resources against finding him. If I could answer directly with a pinpoint on a map where he was, he wouldn't be there.

The question is...

(AUDIO GAP)

QUESTION: Can you talk about the extraordinary resources?

TOWNSEND: Military, intelligence and law enforcement resources.

QUESTION: Any operations you can share with us?

TOWNSEND: No.

QUESTION: Do you know if Osama bin Laden is still on a dialysis machine. Is he still ill? What? I mean, could you tell us about that? I mean, because it...

TOWNSEND: She thinks I'm a doctor...

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: No, seriously, I mean, it might be laughable, but people are finding it hard, six years, this man is sick, moving around from cave to cave and can't be found, with a dialysis machine...

TOWNSEND: Have you ever been to the tribal areas?

I suspect not.

QUESTION: No, I haven't, but I've seen some great pictures from Ken Herman as to the rough terrain over that way, so...

(LAUGHTER)

TOWNSEND: It's not exactly easy. If it were easy, he'd be dead.

QUESTION: But it's not easy for him to travel around with medics and machinery, if he's sick. I mean, is he -- do you know, from your intelligence, if he's still sick? What do you know about it?

TOWNSEND: (OFF-MIKE). Thank you.

END

.ETX

Jul 17, 2007 12:17 ET .EOF

Source: CQ Transcriptions

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