THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
The Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: Let me read one statement first, before I take questions, on the death of Rosemary Nelson in a car bombing in Ireland.
The killing today of Rosemary Nelson, a leading human rights leader in Northern Ireland was a despicable and cowardly act by the enemies of peace. Our deepest sympathies go out to her friends and family. It is long past time for the bloodshed to end, once and for all. We urge all the proponents for peace to unite to condemn this act and reject violence. We urge the parties to move forward with implementing the Good Friday Accord.
Q If I could just ask about that killing. In light of that killing and the political deadlock in Northern Ireland, what will the President be saying to the Irish political leaders when they come here on Wednesday, especially on the issue of decommissioning of weapons?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, without getting into any of the specifics, I think the President will use the St. Patrick's Day celebration and the gathering of Northern Ireland leaders here in Washington on Wednesday to reiterate the importance of moving forward and implementing the Good Friday Accord. It is manifestly in the interests of all the parties to keep moving forward and build on the success to date and to not turn back on it in return to an era of violence.
Q Is it fair to say, Joe, that the President expected disarmament before now?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we have seen good progress on the accords, but there is more work to be done. I don't know that there's a timetable, in particular, on that. But I think Wednesday is an important day, as leaders do gather here for their traditional St. Patrick's Day celebration, and the President looks forward to discussing these issues with them and encouraging them to move forward on the process.
Q Republicans continue to complain about the China business. The latest one is one of them, Senator Inhofe. Today, on the floor of the Senate he said, for years, Mr. Clinton covered up the theft of top secret data, didn't report it to Capitol Hill. It's the worst example of this President acting in his own self-interest. Some may quibble a bit over the characterization, but what do you have to say about it?
MR. LOCKHART: I think Senator Inhofe is not very well informed on this issue. I think we moved very quickly and decisively to deal with the problem when it came to our attention. This is a problem that took place in the mid-1980s and when it was brought to our attention, investigations started and we have moved and taken a series of steps to increase counterintelligence and to address the vulnerabilities at the national labs.
As far as informing Congress, I think there were some 17 separate briefings over the last three years. So the appropriate committees in Congress were informed.
Q It's still hard to understand, is it not, that when a particular scientist, who has now been fired, was investigated, beginning in 1996, why it took until now to decide he was someone who ought not to be in a sensitive job.
MR. LOCKHART: I think you're short-circuiting the facts here, so let me take a minute on this. The investigation was begun by the FBI, and the CIA also looked into this, and it was the determination of those investigators that the best way to do this -- because these sorts of cases are not easy to investigate, particularly those that go back 10 and 15 years, and that's the allegation here, that information, nuclear information was somehow transferred during the 1980s -- so that the best way to go ahead and try to build a case was to allow the gentleman in question to stay in the particular job he was in, under surveillance. And that's what they did. And we have no reason to second-guess that decision.
Q How long has he been under surveillance, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the investigation began sometime in 1996. I'd refer you to the FBI for the actual start dates.
Q Well, then he continued it all the way -- I mean, whatever he was supposed to be doing?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there were various steps taken and security clearances -- at certain points they limited his ability to get at certain information. But, again, these were decisions that were made by those charged with the investigation in order for them, in their judgment, to build the best case they could.
Q Joe, how confident are you that China actively engage in espionage -- dismissed allegations of a spy as a farce.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, as others have said, there is information that nuclear-related information was transferred. There is an assessment going on now, a damage assessment -- this, again, happened in the mid-1980s, but we do believe that it did happen.
Q The fact there was a transfer, does that mean that the Chinese actively sought it out, or could it have been handed over the --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that is part of the assessment that's going on now. As far as the actual investigation, I'd refer you to the FBI.
Q So you're not sure who instigated this transfer?
MR. LOCKHART: The very particulars in the investigation, I'd refer you to the FBI.
Q Berger said it was a significant loss --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not disputing that.
Q Is that suspect free to leave the country if he wants to? He's not been charged, but he's been dismissed, so he could leave, right?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know the answer to that.
Q A follow-up on --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Do you understand why the law enforcement authorities couldn't wiretap him during these three years?
MR. LOCKHART: Do I understand why? There are basic regulations that cover the permissibility of wiretaps, I assume. Again, I don't know the details of this. I assume that the guidelines were followed.
Q When is the Cox Committee report going to be made public?
MR. LOCKHART: We are working very seriously and in an aggressive manner with the committee trying to get this done. We've got the first information to them by their deadline, we're trying to get things -- things that normally can take years, we're trying to get done in months here, so when the process is finished from around the government, we will work with the committee to release what's appropriate to release.
Q The Chairman does not agree that you're working as expeditiously as he thinks you should.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I can assure you and I can assure the Chairman that we are.
Q Is it the White House position that as much of the report as possible should be made public?
MR. LOCKHART: Sure. I think as much should be made public with an eye towards those protecting sections that go to sources and methods and go to ongoing investigations. There's no reason in the world to jeopardize an ongoing investigation now.
Q Cox says that he believes, and others say, that the problem persists; it wasn't settled with the dismissal of this scientists. He believes that there is an ongoing problem of a leakage of secret material.
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any particular instance that he is referring to. I can tell you that when we took a look at the labs, we saw that there were vulnerabilities at the labs, and the President took decisive action, passing the PDD, or issuing the PDD in February of 1998. We've brought on new people, we've doubled the counterintelligence budget. When we realized the issues at play here, we moved decisively to make sure that these vulnerabilities were addressed.
Q They never turned up during the Reagan era? This was all through the '80s you say it was going on and nothing happened?
MR. LOCKHART: Helen, I can only tell you what we know, which is that this was brought to the attention in a comprehensive way in 1997 to the White House, and we've moved quickly to address the problem.
Q We've talked about serious damage, substantive damage. Would the Chinese have a W-88-style warhead today if it wasn't for the American information?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, this goes back to the 1980s, and an alleged improper transfer of information. That is something that is currently being looked at in the damage assessment and I can't preclude -- I can't look forward to know what the experts who are looking at this will conclude.
Q What new panel will Admiral David Jeremiah head?
MR. LOCKHART: One of the things that the Cox Committee recommended was doing a comprehensive damage assessment, which we are in the process of doing now, and then in furtherance, further have an independent panel of experts look at the damage assessment. So my understanding is that he will head that panel, though will independently review the damage assessment that the CIA is doing to make sure that they have covered all the bases.
Q Sources in the Department of Energy have told me not only that security has been a joke for years, but that the museum, especially at Los Alamos, are very explicit, and any scientist who walks into that museum in Los Alamos can virtually learn about miniaturization just by looking at it. Did you look into that situation?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, on a very specific question like that I'd refer you to the Department of Energy. But I can tell you in a broad way, the vulnerabilities at the Department of Energy are something that have existed now for many years. When this was brought to our attention, the President moved aggressively to address them and we think we have addressed them.
Q But the specific problem -- apparently is a very serious problem. And these Chinese groups that are going to be able to --
MR. LOCKHART: Again, short of countries we don't trade with, we have the toughest export standards with the Chinese. We take very great care to make sure that the information we'd like to keep to ourselves is kept to ourselves.
Q But this is worth looking into, because you're talking about an academic situation.
MR. LOCKHART: I understand that, and I'm certain that the Department of Energy can help you with that.
Q Joe, the Chinese Prime Minister said today that this will cast a negative environment for his trip to Washington next month. Do you think that this casts a cloud over his trip and does the President intend to raise these allegations with the Chinese Prime Minister?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I certainly believe that this issue will come up as part of the broad relationship we have with China. This is an important issue and it's important that we've addressed it the way we have. But we have a national interest in engaging with the government in China and we're going to continue to do that on a broad range of issues, from security to nonproliferation to trade to human rights. So I believe all of these issues will be on the table.
Q By repeatedly suggesting that the alleged espionage occurred in the '80s, do you mean to suggest that your predecessors, the Republican administrations, were somehow lax in dealing with security at these labs?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think we'll have to look at the assessments that are going on. We are learning from these -- you know, from this incident we are learning that the security should have been tighter and we have addressed that.
But I do think it's important to understand the context and the timing of this, because there are those who are arguing that somehow that this President was responsible for something that happened back then. And that's not the case. But it is our responsibility to make sure that we actively and aggressively address the counterintelligence needs of the labs, and we've done that.
Q Joe, with the dismissal of this scientist, is it possible to say to the American people that the problem is now isolated? Or is there a broad-based investigation now to determine whether there are other spies in the national labs?
MR. LOCKHART: Certainly we will take any steps necessary if there's information that leads us to believe that there is espionage going on. We have a very serious counterintelligence there. We are very involved in a damage assessment. So we will take whatever steps we need. We believe we've addressed the basic vulnerability of security at the labs and we have done that effectively. But this is an issue that you can never rest on and we will continue to be vigilant.
Q So as of this afternoon there is no reason to believe there is ongoing espionage in addition to this case?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any specific information about ongoing espionage at the labs.
Q Beyond that, after the alleged incident in 1985, was this suspect not engaged in any kind of espionage over a 14 year period before he was fired?
MR. LOCKHART: I can tell you that the FBI has watched closely and looked at this person for three years and they haven't brought charges. So they are continuing to work on this case. They will continue to develop information as need be, but as of this point in time they do not have the ability right now to bring charges.
Q How do you know it goes back to the '80s?
MR. LOCKHART: Because that's what, in looking at the information when we went in and looked, I mean, that's what the investigators turned up, that this was something that happened -- I don't know if we have a precise date on it -- but information that leads us to believe it was sometime in the mid-'80s.
Q Is the e-mail problem fixed?
MR. LOCKHART: As far as I know. My understanding on the e-mail is there are two separate types of e-mail. One is classified and one is unclassified. Unclassified obviously a lot of people have access to, and classified e-mail is something that only very few people with top clearance have.
Yes, just like here, there are different e-mail systems all around our government that are separate and apart. My e-mail is unclassified and you could all tap into it and you would be very bored. But there are certain people in sensitive positions --
Q Follow you around, should we?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q -- says that we have many Chinese exchange students at Los Alamos and they are --
MR. LOCKHART: We obviously have exchanges, government-to-government, with a number of people. But as far as the specifics of that, I'd refer you to the --
MR. LEAVY: -- the labs do nonclassified work like climate change and arms control --
MR. LOCKHART: There is -- this goes to both questions, the e-mail -- that there is an enormous amount of work to be done. Climate change is one, where this is not classified, where sharing information is essential to the kind of work that's going on.
Q I'm a bit confused about -- he was fired from his job on mere suspicion, or is there anything firmer than that?
MR. LOCKHART: My understanding in talking to the Secretary of Energy, he was fired for being noncooperative with the investigation.
Q You haven't concluded yet that he's the leaker?
MR. LOCKHART: I'd refer you to the FBI that's running an investigation on this subject as we speak.
Q How much time do you give Slobodan Milosevic to make up his mind on accepting a NATO peacekeeping presence in Kosovo?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to put a timeline on this, but I think the very positive developments of this morning, the Kosovar Albanians agreeing to say yes to the peace agreement will really focus attention on the Serbs and President Milosevic. He now faces a stark decision between moving forward and doing what we believe is in his best interests, pursuing a path of peace -- or pursuing a path that's best described as intransigent and aggressive. And we believe that if he continues along that way that the threat of force, the NATO force, is very much on the table.
Q When will the Kosovars sign this agreement?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that's something that's being worked out. But they have agreed, they told Secretary Albright last night on the telephone and then sent a formal letter this morning, which I shared with you, indicating their intention to sign.
Q Is it your understanding that the Serbs are still refusing to even discuss the possibility of NATO peacekeeping troops coming?
MR. LOCKHART: I think their position is -- you're accurate in reflecting their position as being against a NATO post-implementation force. Our position is well known as favoring one. The talks began again today. I haven't gotten an update of whether that's been taken off the table or whether they have been able to talk about that.
But that does accurately reflect their position and we think, and the international communities believes that a post-implementation force is crucial to provide the kind of confidence that the Kosovar Albanians need to go forward with this process.
Q Why have the Kosovars not signed already? What has to happen before they put pen to paper?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think they, in their communication with Secretary Albright, have talked about some sort of signing ceremony. And the logistics of that, if that were to happen, haven't been worked out. But we believe that they will sign and the onus is not on President Milosevic to decide where this process is going.
Q Joe, when do you expect the Senate to take up the Holbrooke nomination?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know if there are any hearings scheduled. It's our hope they take this up as soon as possible. There's a lot of important work going on. We believe that Ambassador Burleigh has done a great job of leading our mission there. But Mr. Holbrooke, particularly in a time with so much going on in the world, is needed at the U.N. It's our hope the committee will take this up as quickly as they can.
Q Is there any thinking that Milosevic may accept a NATO-Russian force, instead of a solely NATO force?
MR. LOCKHART: I have not seen anything from the Serbs that indicates that that would somehow be a mitigating factor. It's our view that, as part of the peace plan, we need a NATO implementation force, and that's something they'll have to accept.
Q Are you planning on doing anything with Congress to reassure critics in Congress that this is a good idea?
MR. LOCKHART: We have consulted extensively with Congress. We will continue to consult extensively with Congress as the process moves forward.
Q Joe, are you concerned that Mr. Holbrooke's nomination might be jeopardized by the administration's move to reform the U.N. -- I'm sorry, to amend the U.N. reforms package that was agreed to last year by Congress?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that would be very unfortunate if they tried to tie Mr. Holbrooke's nomination to another issue. We believe that Mr. Holbrooke is a well-qualified and experienced diplomat that will do a fine job of representing the United States at the United Nations.
On the Helms-Biden reforms, they are now -- it's now two years that they've sat in Congress, and there are some adjustments that need to be made that reflect the fact that two years have passed and the reform bill has not passed. So we think these are two separate issues. We're going to work with Congress on a bipartisan basis to get the adjustments to the reform package. But we think that Mr. Holbrooke's nomination should go forward separately.
Q Have they been linked? I mean, has Congress tried to link that unfairly, do you know?
MR. LOCKHART: The only place I've seen that is in a newspaper report this morning. That's the only place I've seen it.
Q Every member of the Armed Forces has been ordered to take the anthrax vaccine because of the fear that rogue nations might use that in the future. Now some members are refusing because they believe, somehow, there would be a health problem down the road.
To try to set the example, the Secretary of Defense has taken it, and every member save one of the Joint Chiefs. Would the President, as Commander-in-Chief, think he ought to take the anthrax vaccine to try to demonstrate that it is, in fact, safe to use?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not aware, myself, of any movement to have that happen, so I'd have to look into it.
Q Will you ask him?
MR. LOCKHART: Certainly.
Q So the President has not?
MR. LEAVY: Joe, we don't comment on -- we don't comment on his vaccines that he gets or doesn't get.
Q When does he leave tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: We're still working -- do we know that for sure, on the timing? We're still working on it. I would expect it to be sometime in the afternoon.
Q What would be the afternoon?
Q Between 12:01 p.m. and about 5:00 p.m. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: I find the rest of them very helpful, Wolf. When you need information, just --
Q Palm Beach.
Q Palm Beach, of course.
MR. LOCKHART: In the back, I'm sorry.
Q Do you have any changes in the Palm Beach schedule to announce?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't --
Q Is he raising money?
MR. LOCKHART: -- when I can, I will.
Q What is he doing in Palm Beach? Raising money?
MR. LOCKHART: He's actually going, tomorrow, to Stewart, Florida, where he'll attend a fundraiser.
Q Joe, with the First Lady considering a run for the Senate, is there any truth to the speculation she may be trying to distance herself from the President for political reasons?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think I'll deal with real questions here, and not speculation, rumor and gossip.
Q Well, here's a real question --
MR. LOCKHART: Okay.
Q -- some of his friends are saying that they've decided, the Clintons, to move to New York after his term of office ends. Can you tell us whether the President has decided where he's going to live after he's out of office?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't tell you because I don't know. I'm not aware of any decision on location, location, after the White House.
END 1:44 P.M. EST