THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY RON NOBLE, UNDER SECRETARY OF TREASURY FOR ENFORCEMENT AND CARL MEYER, SPECIAL AGENT, UNITED STATES SECRET SERVICE The Briefing Room
2:54 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: Following will be a briefing. It will begin with a statement by Ron Noble, who is the Under Secretary of Treasury for Enforcement. Carl Meyer, Special Agent with the United Secret Service will follow with a brief statement. And then both will be available for questions, as will Richard Griffin, who is the Assistant Director of the United States Secret Service.
So, Ron Noble.
UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: Good afternoon. I've been in touch with Secretary Bentsen since 2:30 a.m. this morning. Secretary Bentsen is traveling back to Washington and asked me to read the following statement in his behalf.
There will be two phases of inquiry into the aircraft crash that took place at the White House early this morning. First, the Secret Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Aviation Administration, National Transportation Safety Board, and Metropolitan Police Department have combined their resources to investigate this incident and pursue any appropriate law enforcement action.
The investigation will focus on this particular case. At the present time, the Secret Service will coordinate public information on the investigation. Second, I have asked Ronald K. Noble, Under Secretary for Enforcement, and Eljay Bowron, Director of the Secret Service, to lead a thorough review of the procedures used to protect the President and First Family in such incidents.
This review will be coordinated with the White House and all relevant federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. And we'll call upon the advice of outside experts as appropriate. The review will be completed in 90 days.
Nothing is more important to me and to the Secret Service than the protection of the President, the Vice President and their families. And I expect that this comprehensive review will help the Secret Service carry out this mission.
As I am sure everyone can appreciate, it has long been standard practice at the Treasury Department and the Secret Service not to comment on the security measures surrounding the protection of the President and First Family. Any comment on the security procedures used by the Secret Service would run directly contrary to their protective responsibilities.
That concludes Secretary Bentsen's statement.
Let me just add that I plan to pursue this investigation in the most thorough, exhaustive and complete manner possible. I will work closely with Eljay Bowron, the Director of the Secretary Service, and members of his staff to ensure that the review analyzes all available information. I also plan to consult with other appropriate officials to gain the benefit of their expertise and experience.
As Secretary Bentsen made it clear, the Secret Service takes its protective responsibilities very seriously. And I am confident that I will have their full cooperation on this review.
Now before I ask Carl Meyer to speak, he's a Special Agent with Secret Service, let me just do some anticipation. Due to the fact that your questions will require security-specific answers from me, which I will not provide, you're probably going to get frustrated. You'll want to know today things that I don't have the answer to. You'll want to know today the results of a review that has yet to begin. You'll want to know today, right now, this moment, facts that the investigation has yet to resolve completely.
We don't want to give out inaccurate information. Usually following every tragedy, inaccurate information follows, initially. I was here when the Waco tragedy occurred, and that's what happened, and people suffered because of it.
So at this point, I would like Carl Meyer to speak about what the joint federal and local law enforcement investigators have determined to this point, and afterwards, the two of us will field those questions that we feel we can answer without jeopardizing the security of the President, the First Family and the Vice President and his family. Thank you.
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: What I can do for you right now, very quickly, is give you what we do know, and try not to belabor the obvious. At about 1:49 a.m. this morning, a single-engine Cessna crashed into the South Grounds of the White House. Now, it appears that this plane was stolen from the Harford County, Maryland Airport sometime after 7:30 p.m. last night, September 11th.
At 3:45 a.m., the medical examiner, the D.C. medical examiner, pronounced the pilot dead, and the cause of death appears to be injuries that he sustained in the crash. An autopsy has not yet been performed.
The pilot has been positively identified, and he's been identified both in fingerprints and by next of kin. And his name is Frank, middle name Eugene, and his last name is Corder. We know that he's a white male, and he's 38 years old, and right now we have no fixed address for him and no employment history as well.
The preliminary investigation, though, has determined that Corder has a prior history of mental illness. Now, as Mr. Noble said, an investigation is being conducted. It's a combined effort by the Metropolitan Police Department, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the Secret Service. And with that, can we answer some of your questions.
Q Mr. Noble, can you tell us to the best of your knowledge, so far, how something like this could happen?
UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: That's precisely the sort of question I can't answer.
Q Well, were there any shots fired? Can you tell us that?
UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: I can't tell you anything --
Q Were any shots --
UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: May I finish, please? You don't want me to prejudge the investigation or the review that I'm conducting; so, at this point, I've gotten my directive, my mandate from the Secretary, and I just can't comment on at this point --
Q If you don't know how it happened, how can you assure the American people that the First Family and the White House are currently safe --
UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: Well, let me tell you that, speaking on behalf of Secretary Bentsen and Director Bowron of the Secret Service, you know, it's probably obvious to everyone here that there is no important mission than protecting the First Family, and they take it seriously. And you and the American public should rest assured just as if you had a security measure or an alarm system in your house, you wouldn't give me the code for it. I'm not here going to give you at this point any specific answers until I complete the review.
Now I said you would be frustrated. I said you would want to know things right now before the review began, and I just can't answer them. I'm sorry.
Q Well, can you at least tell us when and how the Secret Service became aware that this plane was on the White House lawn?
UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: I'm not going to tell you anything about the facts concerning that -- for the reasons -- for the reasons that I've stated. Now, you can laugh or snicker and react the way that you have, but I'm sorry. It just happened this morning at around 2:00 a.m., and at this point, I think it would be inappropriate to go into any details?
Q Is there anything on motive? Any suicide note? Anything about his mental illness? Did he have a hostility to the President in any way, or --
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: No, it's really too preliminary to get that kind of information. But there are things that we check when someone comes to our attention like that. And when we try to assess their dangerousness, the things that we're going to take a look into are obvious. It's going to be their criminal history and it's going to be their mental history, and that's all part of the investigation right now, so --
Q Did you have a record on him at all?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: I can tell you that there's being information developed in both those areas, both in criminal and mental, but I can't get too specific on that. Part of that, too, is because of the Mental Health Act and their right to privacy and the family's right to privacy. We're really enjoined from getting too specific with that.
Q His family, sir, is saying that he has no prior history, that there may have been some alcoholism, but not mental illness. Are you including alcoholism when you --
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: I would include substance abuse in a treatment center like that as being mental illness.
Q What center was that?
Q And others have said that he worked as a truck driver at Baltimore Washington International Airport. Do you have --
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: I have no information about that. I'm sorry.
Q You don't have any reason to believe that that's not true, then?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: No.
Q Did he ever threaten the President? Is there any record of him threatening the President?
Q Was he on the Secret Service threats list?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: I don't know, to be quite honest with you, and even if we did, it's still a little too preliminary for me to get into that.
Q Mr. Meyer, was there any evidence that he was armed, or whether there was a bomb aboard the aircraft?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: It's still very preliminary, but I can tell you, I can speak to the explosive portion of it. As soon as that plane came in, the first thing that we looked to make sure is that it wasn't just a plane crash, and that was searched. And we determined that there were no explosives or hazardous devices on board.
Q Was the plane fired upon by you?
Q How was that search conducted?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: And no weapons.
Q Was the plane fired upon by you?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: I'm sorry?
Q Was the plane fired upon by your agents, or --
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: A little too early to get into that. I --
Q You would know that question, whether there were --
Q It's a yes or no answer, sir. -- yes or no answer.
Q And how would that hurt the security of the President by letting us know whether or not --
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: The answer is no.
Q What about this report that there was a 14-second window during which the plane was discovered flying in this prohibited zone over the White House?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: I have no idea where that came from, where the time sequence -- maybe somebody is supposing that. I can't really speculate on it, because I just don't know.
Q Can you tell us if it came to your attention?
Q Do you know that the route that the airplane took?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: It appears from the witness statement that it came southbound along 17th Street, made a big Jturn around and approached from the south, is what the initial investigation has determined.
Q As if in a landing action, is that not what it looks like?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: Well, if that's going downwind on the final, yes. You could say that.
Q Did it come to your attention before or after it crashed?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: It appears that as it was coming in is the first time it was spotted by our Uniform Division officers.
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: Visually, yes.
Q But no radar detection?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: That, I don't know. I don't have that information.
Q And how much time did they have between the time when they first visually saw it and the impact on the South Lawn, approximately?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: I think enough time to run for cover. I don't think there was all that much time, to be quite honest with you.
Q Enough time to get off a shot?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: I don't know.
Q Was it a suicidal landing, or was he deliberately trying to make a safe landing on the White House?
UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: We don't have the answer to that.
Q Mr. Noble, this is the second incident in which an airplane has landed on the White House. There was one in 1974, now one in 1994. Does this not show that the problem with security -- aerial apparatus?
UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: I'll be able to answer that once I've conducted the review.
Q Was there any radar contact at all?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: I don't know that, but I'd like to just go a little further with your question. The Secret Service is continually going over our security practices. And I can tell you that specific to that question and air space around the White House, we work regularly with the military, with the FAA, always looking at the security features that are in place, and in an effort to enhance them. So that's an ongoing process, as is all security.
Q Did you ask for a tactical radar over the last 10 years? Have you asked for a tactical radar of Treasury and been denied that because of -- during the budget process?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: I don't know.
Q Was there any radar contact early this morning?
UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: I have know knowledge as to the first question. As to the previous question, I have no such information. I've read it or heard it, but I have no information to confirm what you said about a request of the Treasury Department with regard to radars and the like.
Q Was there radar or radio contact at any point during the night with this plane?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: With this plane? I don't know. We'd have to direct that to FAA. But I can tell you that there were a couple of things that I understand from my preliminary discussion with FAA. That is, that an aircraft, if it doesn't have a transponder, a transponder turned on, that's one type of tracking for it. There's another one that picks it up at a certain altitude. Somebody coming in at treetop with a transponder turned off, it's very likely that they're not going to be detected by FAA.
Q indications are the plane was that low, sir?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: It sounds like it. When it turned around from the witness accounts -- and I don't know this firsthand - - that it was coming in almost at treetop.
Q The suspect came from the same area that the President appeared in yesterday. Has any connection been established between the two?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: We're sure looking into it, but I don't know that that connection's been established.
Q treatment center? He was in a treatment center?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: I don't know that.
Q If President Clinton had been in the White House, would there have been greater security from the roof of the White House --
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: I can tell you that security is different for every occasion, and it's based on a lot of things --the available intelligence, the threat assessments, the President's physical location. Security is never the same. So can you assume then that because he's at another location that security is different there? Yes, that would be a safe assumption. But I don't really want to get into the specifics of that. But our resources, our efforts, our manpower, agent power, police officers, would have been geared towards where the President was at the time.
Q Secretary Noble, could you elaborate on what your review is going to entail and what your goals are in this review?
UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: Yes, the goals are to find out whether the procedures currently in place were followed concerning the security of the President, the First Family, the White House complex -- to see whether the procedures that are currently in place are adequate, and to see whether there needs to be any modification as it relates to the procedures currently in place, and then to report to the Secretary, following the report.
Q It's anticipated this is going to take 90 days?
UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: My boss told me it was going to take 90 days, so it'll be done in 90 days.
Q I want to go back to the discussion of his treatment for substance abuse. There's a report that he was taking flying lessons and that the flying instructor rejected him when he became aware he was using drugs. Can you confirm that? And was the treatment you were talking about at the VA medical center at Perry Point?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: I don't have any of that information at all -- whether he was treated -- what did you say, Perry Point? No, I don't have information to that --
Q They've referred us to you when we asked that question up there, Carl. Why would they do that if you didn't have an answer?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: Well, the only thing that I think that they can acknowledge is the fact that he was a patient, if that's the case.
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: At Perry Point. That's the only thing under the mental health -- that I was explaining to you earlier -- that there's certain things that we're enjoined from discussing -- treatments, diagnoses and the like. But if that was the case, that he was a patient there, and we can sure find that out, Perry Point can give you that information. We have just asked them -- we've asked everybody who's involved here, and the Baltimore office, if they're investigating up there, to use us until the dust settles, as the central clearing house.
Q specifically, can you say whether he was a patient there for whatever?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: I don't know that. I don't have that information.
Q Do you know whether the transponder was turned on or off on the aircraft?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: I don't even know if there was a transponder in there. It's still too early. That wreckage -- those of you who saw it -- was pretty compact. I think it's going to take a little while to straighten that out and find out just what was in there.
Q Could you go through what exactly the procedures were once you were aware that this plane was here, then what did you do?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: My understanding of it -- of course, I wasn't there, but I'll try to capture what occurred -- when the officers saw the plane, they obviously notified over the radios, the Secret Service, or they notified our command center, that there was a plane coming in. Once it did crash --
Q What time --
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: The time was approximately -- let me just check this again for you -- 1:49 a.m.
Q the time of the notification?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: It occurred immediately. There's officers out there posted who would have seen this thing coming in. So it occurred instantaneously -- let's put it that way. And as the notifications went in, the first thing that we had to determine was, what was the situation. I mean, was this just a plane that ran out of gas? Did somebody have a heart attack? We just didn't have a good sense of what was involved here.
Or, was it a diversion? Was something going to come? So we immediately deployed and put our emergency plan into action, which includes a number of things, one of which is to check that aircraft to see if it had any hazard devices on it, whether it be bombs or whatever. And then notified the various departments who would be involved -- the fire department, obviously, the fire and rescue, and the others we get in to cover each of those scenarios -- just what exactly was it when we didn't know what we had. So it took a little while, and it will take a little while for us to find out just what that is.
Q The very fact that this could happen, is that a lapse in security procedures -- the very fact -- de facto a lapse in your security --
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: That's getting a little ahead of us here. And I'm just not prepared to respond to that because we haven't had a chance to take a look. As I mentioned earlier, everything that we do, we look at, we're constantly updating our security measures and that's where I have to leave it.
Q if the transponder was turned off and it comes in at treetop level, that he was hard to detect or impossible to detect. So are you saying this could happen again the exact same way?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: I'm just not that conversant with how this operates. Just in my initial briefing, it was explained to me the various forms of radar that are used and how they were, one, relying on a signal that initiates from the aircraft, others, by bouncing a signal off the aircraft. And I'm just not that conversant --
Q Do you know enough at this point, Mr. Noble, to be able to assure the public that this cannot happen again -- tonight or tomorrow?
UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: I know enough at this point to tell you that the President, the First Family, the Vice President and the Vice President's family have full confidence in the ability of the Secret Service to protect them and their families. And for me to speculate about what specific event might or might not occur would be inappropriate for me to speculate at that point.
Q Were any of his plans change today because of this incident, in the routine that he might be --
UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: I'm not going to answer that question, respectfully.
Q Why not?
UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: For probably an obvious reason to some people, and that is, any time you talk about a pattern being changed or any time you talk about addressing a particular event in a certain way, it might lead other people to anticipate future occurrences. So for that reason, I would not answer it.
Q The agent said earlier that the suspect had a prior history of mental illness. And I'd like to clarify that. Do you mean above and beyond any possible bout with alcohol abuse?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: I don't have that information. I'm sorry. It's just too preliminary.
Q No, I'm trying to find out what you told us. I'm just trying to clarify what you meant.
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: Sure. Okay --
Q prior history of mental illness.
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: Well, that's really all I mentioned, because that's all I know -- that he has a prior history of mental illness.
Q What kind?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: I can tell you that when the Secret Service investigates that category of mental illness, that would include everything from a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenic -- undifferented, all the way to alcoholism. I mean, that's the whole gamut of mental history. So, what we have been able to determine through our Baltimore office is, yes, in that area, we're developing information. And I don't have much --
Q In terms of the information you're developing and the interviews with the family, do you know of any animus against the Clintons, any political agenda here?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: It's really too early to tell, but preliminarily no. It does not appear to be directed towards the President. Very preliminary, please. That's as --
Q And do you have any information that he was at the Aberdeen event?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: No.
MS. MYERS: We're going to take one more question.
Q You're saying no, he was not there, or no, you don't have any --
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: No, I don't know whether he was there.
Q Does he have a criminal record, prior criminal record?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: Yes.
Q What is it?
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: I don't know, but I can tell you that I have seen his --
Q Are you talking about a couple of arrests, or is this guy -- don't have any felony convictions -- do you --
SPECIAL AGENT MEYER: The only reason I know that is because when his photograph came to us it was a police photograph from one of the Maryland police counties. That's all I know.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END3:14 P.M. EDT