Attorney General Reno's Weekly Media Briefing, Oct. 12, 2000

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE WEEKLY PRESS BRIEFING BRIEFER: ATTORNEY GENERAL JANET RENO JUSTICE DEPARTMENT, WASHINGTON, D.C. 9:31 A.M. EDT THURSDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2000 ATTY GEN. RENO: Good morning. Earlier this morning, there was an explosion adjacent to one of our destroyers which was docked in a port in Yemen. Our hearts go out to all those who survived, to those who were injured, to the families of those who were killed. We will do everything we can to find out what caused this tragedy. The FBI is working together with the Defense Department and other investigative agencies to investigate the accident -- the incident. The FBI has already dispatched local resources to the scene, and it is sending investigators, explosive experts and an evidence response team. Q: And can you tell us the nature of the resources that the FBI is sending to the region in terms of -- (inaudible.) ATTY GEN. RENO: No, we will do everything that we can. Q: Ms. Reno, whatever you can say about whatever warning we may have had. Did the United States receive any kind of warnings? Do we have any reason to think at this point who might be behind it? ATTY GEN. RENO: I can't comment further at this time. Q: Do we know the nature of the explosives? Were there witnesses? ATTY GEN. RENO: Again, from this distance, I don't think we should comment until we have more complete facts. Q: Ms. Reno, will the U.S. federal government be on a heightened state of alert both in terms of within the U.S. and naval facilities around the -- and military facilities around the world? ATTY GEN. RENO: That is an issue that is being addressed. Q: Do you know if this is connected to the current unrest in the Middle East, or is it -- ATTY GEN. RENO: I think it would be premature to say. Q: Ma'am, do you have the latest figures in casualties, killed and injured? ATTY GEN. RENO: The latest figures I have were five killed and 30 injured. But we will try to keep you advised as to what we know. Q: Ms. Reno, when was the department notified and how? ATTY GEN. RENO: We were notified this morning. When I came in, I was given the notice. I don't know exactly what time we received it, but it came from the Defense Department. Q: From DoD? ATTY GEN. RENO: That's as I understand it. Q: Is the FBI establishing -- I'm sure they have contacts with the Yemeni authorities. Are they setting up a liaison office in Yemen? ATTY GEN. RENO: As I indicated, we've already dispatched resources from that area to the scene. Q: Ms. Reno, what can you tell the American people about Yemen in terms of whether there's been terrorist activity in that country and whether we have any sense that terrorist groups operate out of Yemen? ATTY GEN. RENO: I think it would be important now to assess everything that we have -- we're working with everybody else. But until we have more complete facts, I don't think it would be helpful to comment. Q: Is the FBI the lead investigative agency? What's the coordination between the FBI and the DoD on this? ATTY GEN. RENO: No, on matters beyond our borders, the State Department heads the effort, but we will work with everybody and provide whatever support we can and conduct such investigation as is appropriate. Q: Does the Justice Department have a direct role in addition to the FBI resources that have been dispatched to the region? ATTY GEN. RENO: That would be premature to say. Obviously we're all involved in it in terms of what should be done based on the information that is developed. Q: Ms. Reno, the evidence response team, will that come from the U.S.? And do you have any indication of how soon they'll be prepared to go? ATTY GEN. RENO: What we're trying to do is respond as quickly as possible. And the FBI, I am sure -- I talked to Deputy Director Picard this morning because Director Freeh was en route. We will provide whatever resources we possibly can. Q: Did you get the impression that that -- Q: Director Freeh was en route to Yemen? ATTY GEN. RENO: No. I don't know where he was en route to. Q: Oh. Q: Did you get the impression -- sorry -- that that team will be on its way today? ATTY GEN. RENO: I would very much hope. Q: You say the -- did you say the Department of State was taking the lead in this matter? ATTY GEN. RENO: The Department of State, in any matter that occurs overseas, is the lead agency, and as we are for anything that is domestic. Q: Is CIA and Justice coordinating at this point? ATTY GEN. RENO: We're -- Q: CIA? ATTY GEN. RENO: Again, I have described our efforts, and I think to go further would be premature at this point. Q: Did you say that Director Freeh was involved? ATTY GEN. RENO: No, I said he was en route someplace. I don't know. I could not reach him at the time I called. But he's not en route to Yemen. Q: But will a senior FBI official go to Yemen to take charge of at least the bureau's efforts there? ATTY GEN. RENO: I'm sure that the FBI will have all appropriate personnel available and at the scene. Q: What the best information that -- (inaudible.) What's the latest and best information you have about precisely when and how this occurred? ATTY GEN. RENO: When or how what? Q: When and how this incident occurred. ATTY GEN. RENO: I've given you the best information I have. Q: When you say next to a destroyer or adjacent to one of our destroyers, do you know how close the explosion was? ATTY GEN. RENO: No, I don't. Q: Do you know if the victims are members of the U.S. Navy or the U.S. military? ATTY GEN. RENO: I am told that they are, but that should be subject to confirmation from the Defense Department. Q: Ms. Reno, one other question. Did you get any indication of the size or force of this explosion or how much damage it did to the ship? ATTY GEN. RENO: I think that would be more appropriate for the Defense Department to address. Q: Last question: Have there been any credible claims of responsibility? Anything that's happened since the attack to make you -- to lead the direction in one way or another -- lead the investigation one way or another? ATTY GEN. RENO: I should not comment any further. Q: Ms. Reno, you've been careful in your remarks not to use the word terrorism or attack. What is the best assessment of what we have here so far? ATTY GEN. RENO: I think it would be premature to comment. Q: Has there been a meeting this morning that you can describe to us of U.S. officials in any manner to discuss this matter and to organize? Since there's so many different parts of the government involved, can you give us a sense of that? ATTY GEN. RENO: All I can tell you is that the FBI has met to organize and respond as appropriate. Q: Will you be -- you and other officials be briefing the President any time soon on this initial investigation? ATTY GEN. RENO: We will provide whatever information is developed. I'm sure that the President has been briefed. Q: What is your role vis-a-vis the -- did the FBI take this initiative on its own, or were you involved in its decision to deploy resources to the region? ATTY GEN. RENO: When I called Director -- Deputy Director Picard, he was already responding. .... Q: I just want to follow on that. Is there -- could you, looking at history, address how the FBI has been involved in cases perhaps similar to what happened in Yemen, what the role of the FBI might be -- ATTY GEN. RENO: I'm not going to discuss it in connection with any other matter, because that would cause people to conclude that we think they are equivalent or something. I think it would be more appropriate to see what is developed and at an appropriate time -- (beeper is heard) -- you-all are certainly beeping an awful lot! (Laughter.) Q: (Off mike) -- our machines. Q: Beeping. Q: (Laughs.) Q: Ms. Reno, on the Yemeni -- ATTY GEN. RENO: Let me -- so I think it would be important for us to have a better grasp after we get people on the scene. Q: Ms. Reno, on the Yemeni explosion, we say "local resources" are sent to the scene. Are you talking about FBI resources already in position in the Middle East? ATTY. GEN. RENO: We're trying, as I understand it, to get those FBI representatives closest to the area who can provide support; we're trying to get them there. Q: And do you know if the destroyer was on its own, or was it part of some screen for an aircraft carrier group? ATTY. GEN. RENO: I think it would be important that the Defense Department comment.