THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:40 P.M. EST
Q When will the plaque go up?
MR. LOCKHART: It will be up over the weekend, I hope.
Q Where are you going to put it?
MR. LOCKHART: Right there. So I have something to look at that actually means something when I look that way. (Laughter.)
Let me get started because this will be painfully -- or painlessly -- short, because I think the President covered most of the issues. But let me start by reading a statement from the President on East Timor: Over the last several months the United States has worked with our partners in Southeast Asia to help East Timor in its transition to independence and peace. I am proud we were able to support the efforts of the Australian-led INTERFET force which has brought security and hope to East Timor.
With the mission accomplished, INTERFET is now handing responsibility to a U.N. peacekeeping mission through which the countries of the region will once again provide the vast majority of troops. Today I am announcing that the United States will continue to support our friends and allies in this important endeavor. A small number of U.S. officers will serve as observers in the U.N. mission. As part of their normal exercises, other U.S. personnel will contribute to humanitarian efforts such as rebuilding schools and restoring medical services.
These efforts will complement our financial contributions to the peacekeeping operation, as well as humanitarian and development assistance to East Timor that will total over $70 million this year. We will continue to stand by Indonesia as it continues its hopeful democratic transformation. In this way, we will contribute to the birth of two new democracies in a region where freedom and tolerance are taking root, and we will bolster the ability and willingness of the countries in that region to take the lead in building peace.
Q -- number of observers?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the Pentagon can give you an exact breakdown, but we're talking about a number that is less than 100 and is less than, I think, what our maximum strength was during the INTERFET force. I think, as described here, it will be a number of rotational missions involving things like humanitarian assistance, medical service, dental service, engineering and rebuilding expertise. And that will continue over the next few months.
Q Does this mean you're announcing the withdrawal of some peacekeeping troops and that these people are --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there's a transition, now, between the Australian-led INTERFET force and the U.N. peacekeeping mission, which we will change our activity to reflect the new mission. Overall, the numbers, I think, don't change that much. I think we had something like -- we currently have something like 25 personnel there. I think as they transition here, that number will go up to less than 100.
But again, I think that's reflective of the commitment the President made when this force was put together at the end of last year, and is somewhat smaller, I believe, than where we were at our maximum commitment during the months when the INTERFET Australian-led force was intact.
Q Joe, anything on arrest warrants in the hacking case?
MR. LOCKHART: I've seen the reports and I have to send you to the FBI on that. I don't have any independent confirmation of that.
Q What's the situation in East Timor right now? What's it like politically or whatever? I mean, is there much -- what is it like on the ground there, or what's it like to be there?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, obviously, things are a lot better. Things -- as the statement indicates, we're helping to promote and help take root democracy and tolerance. I think the fact that we're moving to this U.N. force indicates progress, but there's still a lot of work to be done. And that's why, I think, the nature of the mission has changed. The personnel will change some, but the commitment stays at about the same level where we have been over the last several months.
Q Joe, can I come back to the question from this morning? What exactly can the government do in the hacking case? I mean, they're going to be -- we're going to have that summit on Tuesday, so what can you guys actually do?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we're already doing a lot. If you're looking at one particular case, I think we rely -- and this case, we rely on the investigative abilities that the FBI provides, and other agencies. But I think you have to -- when you want to look at the government's role in this, you have to take a somewhat broader view. Protection of critical infrastructure has been a priority for the President over the last three or four years. We have a real investment in that. I think the budget for critical infrastructure is over $2 billion now.
I think if you look at security, cyber-security, there's almost $100 million for that alone in this year's budget. And I think what the President can do -- I think what the President can do is mobilize the efforts of government, both what we do here as far as protecting federal assets, but also working with the private sector, which I think has worked very well under the leadership of Secretary Daley over the last three years.
As far as how we can help, how the private sector can bring their expertise to protecting federal assets, that's an ongoing conversation. The good news here is that we've done a lot of work on this. There is a lot of effort already been put into it, and when these people sit around the table on Tuesday, they're not going to have to introduce themselves to each other. They've been working part of this together over the last few years, and I think it's one of the reasons that we've been able to see the kind of explosion in information technology that we've had without a preponderance of these sorts of incidents that we've seen over the last few days.
Q But is the federal government's role pretty much just restricted to protecting infrastructure and, you know, the federal system? Or is there a role in trying to assist in this private sector as well?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I think there is. You know, one of the things the President talked about is our effort to sort of bring on bright young people and get them involved so that they're using their talents and energies for protecting the system rather than breaking into the system. So I think there are ways -- this goes to the way that I think the President approaches many of the challenges we face, as far as public-private partnerships, providing the tools both people and companies and industries need to succeed, whatever the challenge is.
So we, obviously, have an important role of protecting federal assets. But I think you'll find agreement in the industry that we've worked well together on these issues, and will continue to work well together.
Q Joe, given the incredible speed of technological innovation, is the government confident that the money you outlined, $100 million for cyber-security and the $2 billion for critical infrastructure, is really enough money to give law enforcement the kind of cash and technical resources that it might need to actually track these --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think there's been a consensus -- and this, thankfully, has not been an issue where there's been a lot of partisan battling -- that we have the right balance of investment, both in terms of what we do with critical infrastructure at the federal level and what we do with industry. But this is obviously an area that needs constant attention because things change so quickly.
And I think that's one of the reasons that the President looks forward to getting together with experts in this field on a regular basis, which he's done over the last few years, and one of the reasons why Tuesday's meeting makes sense, because you have a lot of people who have a lot of real-time information about what's going on that can help not only in the short-term, but, as far as the federal government's concerned, our emphasis is on the long-term, providing a long-term solution to this. And we have investigative authorities that are looking at the situation that goes on now, as far as the companies that have been impacted.
So I think it's like any public policy process. The actual exchange of ideas in meetings like this helps to make sure that there's a check on whether we're doing enough, whether the resources we're putting into this are going into the right area, whether there's something new that's happened in the technology that we have to address. So I think this probably more than any other issue we have, faces constant reassessment because of the changing --
Q The President is not looking for more money right now?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we're going to have -- I think he's going to bring some new ideas to the table on Tuesday that he'll discuss with some of the leaders. I don't know, I mean, we've just done our budget, so I wouldn't look for new budget items. But it's within that, and in the programming of what we do, I think we're always open to the latest and best advice we get from people who make a living doing this.
Q Joe, on the peace process in Northern Ireland and Israel, this morning the State Department said Syria is not doing enough to curb Hezbollah. In Northern Ireland, the IRA refuses to turn over its guns. But in both cases today, the President didn't point to the IRA, and he didn't point to Syria as a problem in either peace process. Why is he taking this kind of neutral stance?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think he's taking a neutral stance. I think he's working privately and very forcefully in both of these areas. The State Department is right in their statements that we expect Syria to be more effective in their influence, and that we expect restraint and the actions of today undermine our ability to move forward on an overall peace process. But I think the President has taken the position that he can work effectively dealing with the parties directly.
More specifically on Northern Ireland this week, he's been on the phone with the leaders several times this week, and will remain engaged as today goes on. It's his view that rather than publicly injecting himself in the debate here, it's better to work this privately.
Q What is the U.S. government's viewpoint of the IRA's refusal to --
MR. LOCKHART: The U.S. government's viewpoint is that all parties should keep the commitments they've made and fully implement the Good Friday Accords, and beyond that we prefer to work with the parties privately to move this process forward.
Q Joe, just back on the cyber issue for a second. You've had these critical infrastructure protections in place for a while, you talked about programs the government has had. Is the private sector going to take this seriously now?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the private sector is taking it quite seriously. But I think you've seen from remarks from the companies, there are some vulnerabilities in the system that they have not worked out an effective defense to. I think you have to put in perspective what's happening here as far as the attacks on the system. I think it's, so far to date, or at least from what I've seen, it's an operation that seeks to disrupt rather than dismantle or to destroy a system or to find some financial advantage.
I mean, I don't know much more than you do about this because I have not talked to the FBI, but I don't think there is any sense that there's any complacency in the private sector and I think there's an awful powerful incentive for these companies to protect their customers, their businesses. And I think, by and large, they do a very effective in that. And the purpose of getting together is to see where we can share information and where we can, in an joint effort, do something that helps protect both the federal assets and critical infrastructure and those in the private sector because they are very important.
I mean, all you have to do is read the economic report to the President yesterday to understand how important technology is, e-commerce, as far as expanding our economy and producing jobs and promoting prosperity in this country.
Q Do you have a week ahead?
MR. LOCKHART: Got one here, but I think we've got some more questions.
Q Are you looking at any legislation that would increase the penalties for cyber-terrorism?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that we have anything along that line, but certainly if the industry, if that is a concern they bring to us, it's something we take quite seriously. I think there are serious penalties in place for those who are apprehended and convicted of any kind of cyber crime, cyber-terrorism. But it would be something that, if the industry felt that more needed to be done, it is something we would take a look at.
Q What is the -- of the President's Internet? Does he use the Internet frequently? And if so, what sites is he hitting up?
MR. LOCKHART: He did some home shopping around Christmastime, which I think was widely reported. I think he as been the first to discuss his own limitations in computer literacy. But, actually, I think he has a firm grasp of the technology and what the government needs to do to both protect our assets and promote economic growth. I think if you look at the last seven years, and you look at what the President and the Vice President, and particularly his leadership, and you talk to people in the high-tech community, you understand that we've been a partner rather than an impediment to economic growth. So I think he does have a very keen understanding of what we can do as a federal government to help promote economic growth in that sector.
Q Joe, when the President goes on line, do you make sure there are no secret files on his computer -- there's no John Deutsch factor there?
MR. LOCKHART: I think I'm comfortable in asserting without any doubt that he hasn't generated any secret files on that computer.
Q Why would that be? How can you be so sure?
MR. LOCKHART: Because you've got to sit there and type at it to generate them. (Laughter.)
Q Joe, any more on who is being invited to this meeting?
MR. LOCKHART: Should I go now, because I'm starting to feel like I'm getting in trouble.
No. I think the invitations were going out tomorrow. I know there were some reports in the newspaper about people being invited. Those were inaccurate. I think they may have reflected somebody's idea of who should be invited as this process goes along here. But we're going to cast a pretty wide net. I think the invitations are being made today and, hopefully, by Monday, I can give you a sense of who is able to attend.
Q Joe, the President seems to have weighed in on genetic patenting in an interview with The Los Angeles Times. Has he made that official with the Patent Office, or is there anything official he can do about it?
MR. LOCKHART: We have a policy on that. Basically, this is something that we did a lot of work both with the NIH, HHS and the Human Genome Project. And the policy is that the underlying genetic code that's found needs to be shared immediately with the public. There is a system where, within 24 hours, the President recognizes that there is a utility and patents for discoveries that are derived from that information, but the base information needs to be provided with the public on an immediate basis and shared.
And that's something that he feels strongly about, and we will continue to monitor, as this project gathers more energy and there are more discoveries that are made, to make sure that that is committed to. That's something that we have done and, I think in other governments, particularly the British government -- because that's the other main centerpoint of the genome research -- agrees with us.
Q Joe, does the President worry about how it looks when he names a big-money Democratic contributor and fundraiser like Haim Saban to a federal advisory post, as he did yesterday?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think he does. I think the President believes that financial support, or being a friend, doesn't disqualify you from service to the government. This is someone who has remarkable skills that have been demonstrated in the business community, in the philanthropic community, in the civics community. And I think it would be a sad day if we became so cynical in this country that we felt that people who participated in the process by helping candidates financially had to be disqualified from serving a government.
Q Joe, has the Counsel's Office made any progress or reached any conclusion on Senator Feingold's suggestion for a suspension in federal executions?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think the Justice Department more likely would be doing work on that. I know there was a report, which I heard on the radio this morning, that somehow -- that there was a moratorium on the federal death penalty. That is not accurate. I don't know where that came from.
There is an ongoing review that Eric Holder is managing, looking at whether there is a racial bias, inequality, in death penalty sentences. That's the only thing that I'm aware of currently. But I think, as the President indicated, the information that came out of the governor of Illinois, and what they've done, has raised some questions. I know that Senator Leahy also has some ideas and some legislation that we've been asked about. But this work is being done at Justice, and I don't have any formal information on a --
Q You said that the Counsel's Office was looking at Feingold's letter --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. But this is being done in conjunction with Justice. And I don't have any news to impart at this point on whether -- how we will formally deal with either of these ideas that either Senator Leahy or Senator Feingold's put forward. We're working with -- the Counsel's Office is working with the Justice Department, and when we have something I'll let you know.
Q Have you seen Senator Leahy's legislation, and any official comment on it?
MR. LOCKHART: I talked to the Counsel's Office late yesterday. They were aware of it, but hadn't had a chance to review it. So I think I have to punt on that again.
Q As far as defending federal government sites from cyber-terrorism, is the government reexamining its own pay schedule to attract and retain people in these positions, given how much more lucrative it would be on the private sector side?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think one of the things we've done in sort of the spirit of sort of the ROTC, to try to bring people along and provide them with benefits in return for providing expertise to the government on these things. So I think we have a number of innovative programs.
I think we believe that they're on schedule and on pace. I don't think there is any fundamental rethinking of the strategy because, by and large, the strategy is working. We've put ourselves in a position where we are effectively addressing the current threats and looking out over the horizon of what threats may be developing. And as things change, we'll have to remain flexible, but we think we've done -- we've budgeted at the right level of funds to deal with the threat that we face now.
Q Joe, do you think Republicans in Congress are going to be receptive, then, to the budgeting plans for cyber-terrorism and that whole area?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think they will. I don't think this has been an issue that's been particularly partisan. I think that -- and I don't want to speak for the Republican majority, but it's certainly our hope that as we move forward, this is an area that we won't have to spend a lot of time knocking heads and pulling teeth.
Q Joe, the British government has suspended the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland. Will the President, as he indicated earlier this morning, have a statement?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I expect that we'll have a piece of paper on that subject in short order.
Q Will it be on camera?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Oil is about to hit $30 a barrel today. Is the White House still ruling out releasing oil from the SPR?
MR. LOCKHART: Our position has not changed, as articulated by Secretary of Energy Richardson yesterday. We're doing what we can as far as LIHEAP; we're doing what we can as far as trying to move product into the worst-hit areas. But at this point, we don't think manipulating or using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in a way to manipulate prices would be consistent with the statute.
Q Week ahead?
MR. LOCKHART: Week ahead. Saturday, the President's weekly radio address will be broadcast at 10:06 a.m. No other public events. Sunday, no public events. Monday, the President will address Hispanic American groups here at the White House at 11:50 a.m. Open press.
Tuesday, February 15th, the President will meet with President Aliyev of Azerbaijan. The President will later meet with representatives of e-commerce sites, Internet service providers, Internet security companies, and network equipment manufacturers on his own team, working on this issue.
Wednesday, the President will hold a press conference.
Thursday, the President will deliver the keynote address at the official opening ceremony of the National Summit on Africa.
MR. LOCKHART: Rewind -- just kidding. No, he will. He's actually going to do it.
Q What time?
MR. LOCKHART: It doesn't say here. They didn't write it down.
Q 7:00 a.m. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: They didn't want me to tell you, but I told you anyway. It's not on the week ahead.
Q Where will it be? Here?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it will be in the East Room, and we'll probably do it in the early afternoon, like we normally do.
Q -- say hello --
MR. LOCKHART: The President believes it's important as far as enriching and protecting our democracy that he spends time on a regular basis with the esteemed members of the Washington press corps. And you're all invited, too. (Laughter.)
Thursday -- Friday, no public schedule. Saturday, radio address. That's all we've got.
Q What's the radio --
Q What was Thursday?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm sorry, Thursday, the President will deliver the keynote address at the official opening ceremony of the National Summit on Africa. You remember that's the thing that is going on in Tanzania that Nelson Mandela has helped bring together a number of countries there. And the President will, through the magic of 21st century technology, beam his voice into that conference and address the delegates there.
Q And the radio address subject?
MR. LOCKHART: The radio address is celebrating the success of the Family and Medical Leave program and some ideas about how to make that program stronger. But everything I just said is embargoed until 10:06 a.m. tomorrow.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:05 P.M. EST