View Header


                     Office of the Press Secretary
                          (New York, New York)  
For Immediate Release                                     July 25, 1996
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                      CHIEF OF STAFF LEON PANETTA,
                       Holiday Inn at JFK Airport
                           New York, New York    

2:55 P.M. EDT

MR. PANETTA: Good afternoon. What I would like to do is to summarize very briefly the President's meetings that he had today, and then introduce Peter Goelz, who will speak specifically to the meeting with the families; then ask Secretary Pena as well as David Hinson from the FAA to speak to the additional security measures that the President announced today.

First of all, the President went to a briefing that lasted approximately a half hour on the issues related to the Flight 800 incident. He met with officials from the Transportation Safety Board. He also met with members from the FBI, those directing the FBI investigation; members of the Coast Guard; obviously, other federal, state and local officials, including both Senators, the Governor, Mayor Giuliani, and congressmen who were also present as well that represent the area where the accident took place -- or the event took place.

The discussion included the recovery efforts, talking about the recovery efforts, talked about the state of the investigation, discussed the situation related to the families and the various efforts being made to try to deal with the family situation. And, in addition, we requested that all resources that were necessary would be made available to both the Navy, the Coast Guard, as well as to local officials to ensure that we do, A, find out what the cause of this accident was -- again, the cause of the crash -- but beyond that, also asked what could be done to try to better service the families.

The President then went to the Ramada Inn where he spoke to the families. He began with approximately a half hour of remarks. Those remarks, the reason they lasted that long was because they were interpreted both by a French interpreter and an Italian interpreter for those families from those countries that were affected.

He basically began by expressing condolences on the part of himself and Hillary, as well as the United States to those families from abroad. He assured them that the first priority was the recovery of their loved ones and the identification of their loved ones; that, while a good job had been done with regards to the search efforts and with regards to the investigative effort, that not a good job was done with regards to communicating with the families. And as a consequence, it was extremely important that our first priority be to ensure that the families are informed first and foremost of any news regarding the cause of the crash.

In addition to that, he made clear that James Lee Witt would be assigned -- James Lee Witt who is the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- would be assigned the responsibility of working with the families, working with the National Transportation Safety Board officials, the Red Cross and other officials, state and local, to try and coordinate the effort to provide that information to the families, as well as provide whatever necessary support needed to be provided for the families.

He then closed by asking that Hillary and he have the opportunity to be able to meet individually with each of the family members to hear their concerns, and to be able to express their condolences personally to each of them, which he did for approximately two hours.

Let me just conclude by saying we have announced specific steps, as you know, to better coordinate the information related to this investigation. All coordinated information will be done through Bob Francis, who is head of the National Transportation Safety Board, who is the person responsible for the investigation under the National Transportation Safety Board here. They will have two briefings each day. All information is to be coordinated through those briefings of all of the agencies, both federal, state and local that are involved.

Information will be provided to the families prior to those briefings so that they will have advance notice of any information and will not have to rely on secondhand information. So they will have that kind of expedited information. And lastly, as I said, the families will be dealt with through James Lee Witt as his personal assignment.

It is extremely important that in addition to this we made announcements with regards to further security steps as well as with regards to the formation of the Gore Commission. And I will let the Secretary speak to that specifically.

Let me right now introduce Peter Goelz, who will provide a summary of the specific discussions that were made with the President and the family members.


MR. GOELZ: Thank you. As Mr. Panetta said, the President met individually for over two hours with the family members who were there, and he had a private word for every one of them. Many of them brought their family -- their extended family members because this kind of tragedy touches more than just one person, it touches a whole variety of members of the family.

There was one family that was flying to Paris for a wedding, and that wedding will never occur now. The family members wanted to show the First Lady and the President pictures of their loved ones. It was a somber, sorrowful morning. But on top of that, to a person, the family members were deeply appreciative of the President and the First Lady's visit. And they were comforted that the President was watching over this, that he was applying more resources to this effort and that they knew that the Chief Executive of this country cared about them.

It was also important that he met individually with the family members from both France and Italy. They have been here in the United States since shortly after the accident. This is a foreign country, there are always language problems; and the President had translators with him and he spent a considerable amount of time answering their questions and answering their concerns.

I thought it was a tremendously helpful morning. I have been here since early Thursday morning of the accident and have been briefing and working with the families virtually non-stop since that tragic morning, and I was -- I felt tremendously heartened, and I had many, many other family members who I know personally come up and say how much it meant to them that the President and the First Lady came.

MR. PANETTA: Secretary Pena.

SECRETARY PENA: Before Peter leaves, I want Peter to know how much we appreciate his extraordinary work. He has been wonderful in working with the families. And, Peter, we thank you. Cynthia Coogan from my office has been here with you and I know the both of you have worked very hard on this. So, thank you very much for your hard work. Thank you, Peter.

Aviation safety and security is our highest priority. Last year the President issued a directive to all departments in the government to review our security measures and to increase them. In August of last year, the FAA took the first step by providing additional security measures throughout our airports in our country. In October of last year, it was further increased. And today's announcement by the President is an additional increase of those security measures.

Now, I am not at liberty to describe the details of all of those increased security measures announced today. But let me give you a glimpse of what passengers and the public will be seeing, generally.

Number one, you will be observing increased inspection of bags as they go through the check-in facilities at airports. There will be observed increase intervention of passengers. You will observe that curbside checking of international flights will no longer occur. To the extent that off-airport hotels currently have permission to transfer luggage, that will no longer occur. And so those are some of the obvious things that traveling public will see. There are many other measures that are being put in place which I cannot describe today for obvious reasons.

In that vein, we are asking that the traveling public -- and we very much appreciate the support of people in the last couple of years when we have had heightened security measures in cooperating with us to get the job done -- but we're asking people to do the following things when they come to airports.

Firstly, clearly label your luggage and be prepared to answer questions about your luggage. Have photo identification available. Be prepared to have your carry-on and your checked baggage inspected. Arrive early, and after checking your bags, proceed promptly to departure gates.

So by doing those things, I think whatever inconvenience and delays that we will see will be at least mitigated to some extent if people come prepared to the airports.

The second announcement the President made today has to do with the Gore Commission. The Vice President will be in charge of putting together a very broad-based commission of industry, government officials and others to review both aviation security and safety in three areas. The Vice President will terminate his review of security matters within 45 days and issue that report to the President.

We believe that this is a very appropriate thing to do in light of the questions being asked. And of course, a number of government agencies from Justice, DOT, FAA and others will be working with the Vice President in that regard.

So that summarizes the President's announcement today. I'll be happy to answer more specific questions. At this point, perhaps we'll have the FAA Administrator make some comments if we haven't answered those. Let me have David first talk and then we'll answer your questions.

MR. HINSON: Ladies and gentlemen, the security measures -- the additional security measures the Secretary has outlined will be given in more detail in a briefing in Washington this afternoon at a later time, and we will be able to answer more detailed and specific questions. But as the Secretary said, there are a number of measures which we cannot discuss for security reasons. So those details will be made available at that time.

I think it's appropriate now for the Secretary and myself to take your questions. So I'll step back.

Q Secretary Pena, there's indication now that upon the first reading of the two black boxes there's nothing apparently on those two black boxes that show anything new. Is that what you're hearing upon your -- of the first inspection of those two black boxes?

SECRETARY PENA: As of today, and as we've tried to do all during this investigation, the only person speaking on that matter will be the National Transportation Safety Board. So Mr. Francis will be responding to all questions regrading the investigation. We believe that will be very helpful in ensuring that we have consistent and clear information. So please address that question to the NTSB.

Q Secretary Pena, can you say what the overall cost of the security changes will be and what you think that cost is eventually going to be in terms of when it's passed down to the consumer?

SECRETARY PENA: Well, for obvious reasons, we can't give you a detailed estimate of cost because that might give a better understanding of what we're actually doing. But let me say this: There will be additional costs, and there will be inconvenience to passengers, and will be delays. But we have found that every time we have increased security in our airports and with our airlines that the traveling public has been very supportive and very cooperative. And we very much appreciate that support. And I believe the American people will understand why these measures are being taken, will cooperate, will come prepared. And we will find a way to make this as convenient for people as possible.

Q When you talk about increased inspection, what sorts of inspection are you talking about? Are you talking about manual? Are you talking about increased use of X ray? Could you tell us what measures --

SECRETARY PENA: With all due respect, I cannot discuss publicly all of the specifics of the heightened security measures we are putting in place. I alluded to the ones that are the most obvious because you'll be able to see them. But beyond that, I would prefer not to give you any additional details on any further measures we are taking. And there will be some, and there are some.

Q If I could follow up, then what would be the criteria for having someone's luggage hand-searched? Would this be a hit or miss, ad hoc basis?

SECRETARY PENA: Again, I will not be able to answer that question because if I give you the criteria, then people who are going through the lines will know what the criteria are. So for security reasons, I cannot give you the criteria.

Q Can you give us some feeling for how many bags will now be subject to inspection? I mean, is it one in 100? Is it one in 10,000? I mean, how --

SECRETARY PENA: I hate to repeat the same answer but, for obvious reasons, I cannot give you the actual number because that will give you a sense of what we are actually doing. Let me simply say that there will be more inspection of bags. There will be more interviews of passengers. There will be delays. There will be inconvenience. There will be longer lines. And so we're asking people to come prepared with photo IDs and prepared to have their luggage -- particularly when it is checked in -- to be inspected.

Q How long have you been considering these measures?

SECRETARY PENA: Well we are continually reviewing our security measures throughout the country based on overall threat assessment that we get from various agencies. So I would suggest that this is something that is the next generation of the increased security that we started last year in August and then in October, and now.

Let me make one point that you haven't asked about. The security measures that are announced today by the President have no connection to this investigation. Let me repeat that. The President has said that we do not know the cause of this tragedy, so the security measures that are being put in place are simply prudent and responsible measures to institute in light of a long standing security threat in our country. When the investigation is completed or when the NTSB determines a cause, we may then adjust those security measures accordingly.

Q Mr. Secretary.


Q One of the considerations is to get new machines that can detect the plastic explosives. But Congressman Oberstar has estimated that could cost between $1.5 billion to $3 billion --


Q Billion. How would the U.S. pay for that?

SECRETARY PENA: First of all, we have in place today a number of those machines -- the CTX 5000 -- in a couple of airports. They had been tested from November of last year. Depending on how many you order, the cost of those can come down. Today, the estimate of those costs is about one to $1 million to $1.3 million apiece. So if we make a decision -- and this is going to be reviewed by the Gore Commission -- to increase those machines in other parts of the country, I think, presumably -- and the commission will look at this -- there will be an initial responsibility on the part of the government to pay for that.

But long-term, the overall long-term question being asked is who ultimately has responsibility for paying for heightened security, for example, for the remainder of the decade, in the next century. And that question, finally, has not been addressed. The Gore Commission will address that.

Q Of course, you would probably need about 75 of those machines, he has estimated.

SECRETARY PENA: No, we have not yet made a determination of how many more we would install. Remember, we are still testing the ones that we have in place today.

Q How much additional delay should airline passengers expect, especially on international flights, given these new procedure?

SECRETARY PENA: Let me have the Administrator address that.

MR. HINSON: It would be, first, a function of the size of the airplane. So a 200-passenger airplane would incur less delay, probably, than a 400-passenger airplane. I know that seems simple, but it's important. I would suggest, depending upon the time of day and the day of the week, from 15 minutes to a little over a half hour.

We had some experience with this in Los Angeles during the Unabomber incident, you will recall. And what the airlines had expected did not materialize and, in fact, there were very few delays. The airlines were very capable and able to deal with the issue. So, obviously, the delays will go down as the air carriers and the airports become more facile, I guess is the word I would use, in dealing with the issue -- more experienced with these new measures.

Q Mr. Hinson, will commuter aircraft also be involved in these new regulations?

MR. HINSON: Yes, these regulations cover both international and domestic flying. And there are no longer any different rules, Wolf, for large airplanes and small. We put into place last year one level of safety for all air carrier aircraft with more than 10 seats -- 10 or more seats -- in the United States.

Q When you suggest that there's no connection, Secretary Pena, to the TWA crash, the timing of this announcement, though, today must be connected to the TWA crash, isn't it?

SECRETARY PENA: Wolf, that's why I made the point because that is an obvious question to ask. I simply want to emphasize again -- and the President has emphasized this time and time again -- we do not know the cause of this tragedy. It is premature to speculate. However, in light of the fact that we started to install heightened measures last year, this new incremental measure, we believe, is prudent and responsible in light of the overall generalized threat to our country. But, again, there is no connection to this tragedy.

Finally, if and when -- and we know that the NTSB will make a determination here of where this is likely to head -- depending on that determination in the future, we will be prepared to make additional or other security measures if appropriate and if necessary.

Q If you can't tell us how much needs to be spent no these immediate new security measures, can you tell us if you have to seek additional funding from Congress for these steps?

SECRETARY PENA: No. As respects the immediate steps that were announced today, no additional funding is required from the Congress. These costs will essentially be borne by the airlines. To some extent the FAA will have some additional costs in terms of its inspectors. But it will not require any supplemental funding for the FAA's budget. So these are measures that primarily will be -- the costs will be borne by the airlines and the airports involved.

Q So does that mean additional ticket -- add-ons to the ticket prices and or ticket price wars?

SECRETARY PENA: Again, realize that we have been doing this now for some time. We started this back in August. We increased it again in October, and now today. And I don't think ticket prices have been affected one way or another by those measures. So we should not see any significant change there. In fact, some airlines are involved in reduced pricing at the current moment.

Q It's still unclear what difference it's going to make to the average passenger . I mean, you said bring photo ID; you already are supposed to bring photo ID. You say have your bags checked; you already are. So it's arriving 15 minutes earlier at the airport or --

SECRETARY PENA: Let me be a little more specific on the things you will observe. First of all, you won't have curbside checking for international flights. So that will be an inconvenience and a further delay. Secondly, when you're physically standing in line going through the check provision, there will be additional inspection of bags and there will be additional inspection and interview of passengers. So you'll see more questions being asked, more analysis being done.

And then, things like off-base -- off-airport base hotels which now have checking facilities, that will no longer be permitted.

So those are some observable things that you'll be able to see. Beyond that, there are other things which will cause some additional delays. But again, we believe the American people understand the need for these. They have always been very supportive of these measures when we have put them in place. So we're trying to provide some advance notice to passengers to be prepared when you come to the airport. And in that fashion, working together, I think we can minimize the disruptions and the delays. But we think these are prudent things to do today.

Thank you very much.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 3:15 P.M. EDT