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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 22, 1999
                          PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                     ATTORNEY GENERAL JANET RENO,
                         AND RICHARD CLARKE, 
                           The Briefing Room            

11:45 A.M. EST

MR. LEAVY: As you know, the President announced an expansion of the administration's effort to combat the emerging threats of biological, chemical and cyber terrorism. Today, just to go over the details of that and to answer your questions are the President's National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure, and Counterterrorism, Dick Clarke; Attorney General Reno; and Secretary of Health and Human Services Shalala.


MR. CLARKE: The message that we want to get across today is not that we know of an imminent attack -- we do not know of any imminent attack being planned on that United States using chemical or biological weapons, or using cyber attack techniques. But we do want to raise consciousness, in the American people, in the scientific community, in the corporate community, and in the Congress, that such attacks are growing increasingly likely.

And as the President said, we need to be ahead of the power curve; we need to be prepared to defend ourselves against those attacks, and in so doing, perhaps to prevent them; at least to be able to mitigate their effects.

The President's announcement today puts our money where our policy is. It's a proposal to spend next year $2.8 billion defending against these two types of threats. That's an increase of 40 percent in federal expenditures over two years ago for cyber defense, to defend America's cyberspace. It is a doubling of the funds over two years for chemical and biological weapons defense.

There are several initiatives within that program. There's $500 million on the critical infrastructure applied research initiative. There's $400 million to research defenses against chemical and biological weapons. There are plans for two networks to defend DOD and federal computer systems. There is a cyber core, a core of federal employees highly trained and skilled who would operate federal government computers, defend them against attack and be able to respond to an attack. There are funds to assist industry groups, which would come together to form their own computer defense facilities. And there is a reinvigoration of the public health surveillance system, to allow us to detect chemical and biological attacks when they occur.

Here to explain the background to all of this are two Cabinet members who have been personally vigorous in urging the President to increase funding, to increase attention on these programs. First, the Attorney General.

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Thank you, Mr. Clarke.

As the President said this morning, our nation has benefitted greatly from cyber technology. It makes America work better than ever before. Intricate networks, power grids and computer systems make up what we call our national infrastructure. If that infrastructure is attacked, we all suffer. That is why we must, and we are, doing everything we can to protect it.

At the Department of Justice we have taken steps to protect it. At the Department of Justice, we have taken steps to protect our critical infrastructure. Since 1998 we have launched the National Infrastructure Protection Center. The Center's mission is to detect, prevent and respond to cyber attacks on our nation's critical infrastructure, and to oversee investigations in this field. It is a true interagency, public-private partnership. Our goal is to have federal agencies working together with state and local officials, working together with the private sector, to exchange information to provide for early detection, to understand the technical issues involved, and to be prepared to prevent it whenever possible.

To what the President has announced today builds on this effort and solidifies this administration's commitment to the protection of our infrastructure, which is so vital to this nation.

And now I'd like to recognize Donna Shalala.

SECRETARY SHALALA: Thank you, Janet. Thank you very much.

We're all here talking about a kind of scenario that we hope that our citizens never have to confront. But the point is to be prepared. And my job -- and this is the first time in American history in which the public health system has been integrated directly into the national security system -- is to be able to provide tracking and treatment for victims.

And one way of thinking about this is if there is an outbreak -- Peggy Hamburg's (phonetic) here, who used to run the New York City Health Department -- if there's an outbreak on the New York City subway system, our ability to deal with that depends on the strength of the health system in New York City --their ability to track and to manage whatever the outbreak is and individual patients as they go to different parts of the health care system.

The tracking system becomes very important, the surveillance system, because, frankly, if there is an outbreak in any major metropolitan area, people spread all over that metropolitan area. And it's our ability to manage the consequences of the outbreak through a health system -- not just the public health system, but also the private health system. That kind of surveillance system, that kind of tracking system at the national level, working with local officials is what we've been building here, starting, actually, when we started in the administration, but with a lot more energy over the last two years because of the President's keen interest and the investment of substantial resources.

This budget that the President is proposing is $230 million for fiscal year 2000. That's up from $158 million this year, and it has four components for us -- strengthening disease surveillance and the public health network. We're working with the states, of course, to improve their disease surveillance. The medical and the public health response: We're trying to merge the public health system and the medical systems here so that they work together. The surveillance systems are, in general, in this country run by the public health side; the delivery systems, treating the victims, run by the medical people. And we're merging the two of them for these purposes.

The pharmaceutical stockpiles -- we have to be assured that the volume and the range of needed pharmaceuticals can be made available quickly. These are not just vaccines we're talking about, we're also talking about antibiotics and about vaccinating large numbers of people within a relatively short period of time as part of the response; and about the research that's needed to do that as well as the stockpiling facilities.

And finally, the research components. We need to better understand the disease agents of bioterrorism. We also need not only vaccines, but the treatment protocols. We have a number of them; now we're upgrading them. This is a continuous improvement strategy.

What the President announced today is significant and the integration, I can't emphasize enough, of the health leaders in this country -- from me to the local leaders to the state leaders -- into this, which is essentially a systems approach, is very significant.

Q What is this story that Saddam is trying to perfect some sort of agent that won't attack Arabs, but attacks Westerners?

SECRETARY SHALALA: That actually would make it pretty good for me and Helen. (Laughter.) And, Sam, you're in big trouble. (Laughter.)

I think the point that we're making is whatever it is, this country intends to be ready and to have a system in place to respond.

Q Have you heard that? Is that just an old wives' tale or is there actually --

MR. CLARKE: I think that's an old wives' tale.

SECRETARY SHALALA: I think it's actually an old Arab's tale.

Q Madam Secretary, is there any city in America that can identify and cope with a biological weapons attack today?

SECRETARY SHALALA: There are cities who have been putting systems in place for some period of time, and that includes New York, where Peggy Hamburg, Dr. Hamburg, provided the leadership. She's now the Assistant Secretary of the Department in charge of the government's health pieces of this bioterrorism network. And that's a significance, I think, of her appointment, too, because she's put it together at the local level. So there are cities.

The point is we want every place in the United States to be prepared. Remember, we have disaster systems in this country. So it's not a new subject matter to us. It's the introduction of bioterrorism and the fact that if there is an outbreak some place, calling in the Marines is not the solution. It is making sure that you have a public health system, a surveillance and a treatment system, as well as whatever the judicial and the military responses are that are appropriate.

Q Madam Secretary, how do you respond to critics who say that by its very nature you cannot predict a terrorist attack and that this is just sort of throwing money away, and it's a political -- to make people feel better?

SECRETARY SHALALA: You also can't predict natural disasters, as we have learned very well in this country in the last 48 hours, for example. So the point is to have a system in place for surveillance and treatment, so that what we're trying to do is to anticipate. And that's what good leadership is about.

Q Madam Secretary, do we have any defense against ICBM missiles that would distribute this kind of --

SECRETARY SHALALA: I think you've got the wrong -- (laughter.)

Q Whoever it is, do we have any defense against ICBM missiles that might deliver this kind of thing?

MR. CLARKE: Let me just say we have no intelligence that indicates there is an ICBM-based threat carrying chemical or biological weapons.

Q What about the threat to rain missiles on Los Angeles?

MR. CLARKE: I'll try again. We have no intelligence that indicates there is a current ICBM threat against the United States with chemical or biological warheads. One of the reasons that the President is looking at a limited ballistic missile defense system, and one of the reasons behind this chemical and biological defense preparation initiative, is our concern that that kind of threat could emerge in the future. That's one of the reasons we're doing all of this.

But as I said at the top, we don't know of any such threat today.

Q Attorney General, is there a civil liberties issue here? The ACLU seems to think that in setting up a national program and coordination, there may be.

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: What I have instructed the Center to do -- the National Infrastructure Protection Center -- and the FBI, is to work with our lawyers. And we have recruited and trained lawyers who have the technical information and expertise together with the legal expertise to ensure that what we do complies with the Constitution, complies with privacy rights. And we believe firmly that we can continue to meet our obligations in law enforcement in this era of new technology while at the same time complying with the Constitution in every way.

Q That hasn't been worked out yet -- in other words, they're looking at it?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: No, they're working on it daily, as we address issues of search and seizure, as we address issues in computer crime. We are addressing those issues daily. And so far to my satisfaction at least, based on everything I know, we've have been addressing those in accordance with the Constitution.

Q Attorney General Reno, the President today described the first wave of cyber terrorism from attacks by hackers at this point -- computer systems from universities to financial institutions. Can you tell us how big of a threat that is?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I'd like to address -- there are many young people who are far better skilled in cyber tools than I am. They know a lot more about computers than I do. And some of them just don't think it's wrong. They have become very able and adept on computers and they like to challenge themselves and see what they can do. One of the things -- one of the points that has been made to me is we've got to let everyone know that it is wrong to invade another person's computer. It is wrong to invade and upset and confuse the data base or disturb the data base. And I think this is one of the responsibilities that we all face and that our public schools face in terms of preparing ourselves for the cyber age.

Q But aside from it being wrong, how much of a threat is it?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I think it's a problem that we deal with and we trace and we, again, take appropriate action as based on prosecutions that have been successful to date.

Q Attorney General, the President said in the New York Times interview that this is the kind of threat that keeps him awake at night. You, too? Or do you -- I mean, do you worry about this?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: After six years in this job, I get a good night's sleep. (Laughter.)

MR. CLARKE: Let me expand a moment on the previous question about the hackers being a threat. We're not talking about a few teenagers violating the law and getting into a computer system and having some fun -- even though it's illegal and it's serious and we have to deal with it. That's not the threat the President's talking about.

The President's talking about something called information warfare, where a nation or a terrorist group or a criminal cartel could do a systematic national intrusion into the computer systems that control the electric power grids, the telephone networks, the banking and finance system, the transportation nodes, and effectively shut the nation off. In other words, just as in World War II, nations flew bombers over each other's countries to try to destroy infrastructure by dropping bombs. What we're concerned about is in the future nations will have that same capability to destroy each other's infrastructure, not by bombs, but by cyber attack. Now, we can prevent that if we have cyber defenses.

Q Mr. Clarke and Ms. Reno, Los Angeles is one of the cities that have received both chemical and biological training. And yet in the anthrax hoaxes that we've seen, citizens of Los Angeles have been held for four hours and even longer while people look for anthrax, which is not contagious. What's going on here? Are people -- are the trainees, the people who have been trained, not getting the message, or -- and are civil liberties being violated by these unnecessary detentions?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: What we are trying to do in the effort that is now underway, which Congress has approved and the administration is pursuing, is we have proposed the development of a national domestic preparedness office. We are working, if that is accepted, we are working with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense, FEMA, the specialists, the experts to number one, identify the best means of detection; number two, to work in conjunction with the public health and the medical community in determining what is the appropriate response; and working with lawyers at the Department of Justice to determine what are the implications with respect to privacy and to civil rights.

Q Attorney General Reno, Mr. Clarke, whenever the government starts sharing information about threats with big companies and not with the general public, that raises certain concerns. Are those fair concerns, and how do you plan to address them?

ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: This is one of the issues that we are working with state and local authorities, as well as with the private sector, with emergency managers at the state and local level, to make sure that we get out the information that is appropriate and relevant in the best way possible. There are a number of issues involved -- how do we disseminate classified information -- and we're working through those issues; how do we disseminate information so that it does not unduly alarm people. I think in whatever role you're in, whether it's in forecasting tornadoes or in these circumstances, you've got to balance fully informing the public with not frightening them into inappropriate action.

Q Mr. Clarke, you had said that there is no apparent threat of ICBM. Was there any apparent threat before the Iraqis starting showering missiles on Tel Aviv?

MR. CLARKE: What I said was we have no indication that there are chemical or biological weapons on warheads that can reach the United States today. In the case of Iraq in 1991, where I happen to have some background, we had a very good idea that they had Scud missiles and that they might attack Israel. That was part of the assumption that went into the planning of the war. We thought we knew how many they were; we thought we knew where they were. Similarly, today, we have a very good idea we knew where they were. Similarly, today, we have a very good idea about where ICBMs are and how many ICBMs there are that can reach the United States.

Q But what defense do we have against these?

MR. CLARKE: As I said, we do not now have a defense against ICBMs. The President has proposed that we look at a limited ABM defense system. That's one of the things that the Secretary of State, who leaves tomorrow for Moscow, will be discussing with the Russians next week.

Q Thank you.

END 12:00 P.M. EST