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
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
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?
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.
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
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.)