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How did Times Square suspect get on plane? White House briefing

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THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary
___________________________________________________________
For Immediate Release May 4, 2010

PRESS BRIEFING
BY PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

3:59 P.M. EDT

MR. GIBBS: Yes, ma'am.

Q A couple questions on the Times Square bomb suspect. We have a report out from law enforcement officials saying that he has been connected to a terror training camp in Pakistan. Are we now looking at someone who is not a lone wolf but someone who might have connections to an overseas plot?

MR. GIBBS: I'll just say this -- we're in the middle of an active and ongoing investigation. We are -- part of that active and ongoing investigation is to examine the time that this individual spent in Pakistan. But I don't have anything more to discuss on that.

Q Have you been able to rule out the idea that he was acting alone?

MR. GIBBS: Again, this is an ongoing investigation, and I don't have anything further on it.

Q And then, one of the things that hasn't really been explained very clearly is how he actually managed to get on this flight. He was on the no-fly list earlier that day; his name was very well known in the law enforcement community. So how did that happen? How did he make it through?

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we're -- there's a process going back and looking at all that happened. I think it is important to understand that the system is built with necessary and built-in redundancy so that if a name is added and a carrier misses the added name, that Customs and Border Patrol, once a manifest is locked, runs those names through a center and can identify anything that a carrier may have missed.

I think Secretary Napolitano and others said today -- again, talked about the fact that that was built-in redundancy. CBP caught and apprehended that individual before the plane left, and even would have, I think she said, done so -- we had the authority to either have the plane land or turn around.

So, again, there's a series of built-in redundancies, this being one of them, where Customs and Border Patrol checks a locked manifest to ensure that, again, if there's a mistake by a carrier, it can be double-checked.

Q So is this a case of a mistake by this carrier?

MR. GIBBS: Well, that's part of the investigation we're looking at.

Q Has the President spoken to anyone at BP yet?

MR. GIBBS: Spoken with anybody --

Q Anyone at BP yet?

MR. GIBBS: Not that I'm aware of.

Q And do you feel that BP is now responding appropriately to the oil slick?

MR. GIBBS: Well, Steve, I don't have a lot to add from yesterday in terms of this. Obviously there are many different things that BP has expertise on and are working on, most notably capping the well. We are focused on responding to the leak and ensuring a minimal amount of environmental or economic disruption. That's our focus.

Q And what about this federal law that may or may not require -- or BP would be capped at $75 million in payout?

MR. GIBBS: Understand this -- there is -- they are fully liable for cleanup and recovery costs per the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. The cap is not in place if somebody is found to be either grossly negligent, conduct willful -- involved in willful misconduct, or in violation of federal regulations. As you know, there's an investigation ongoing as to the cause behind the spill.

In addition to that -- I checked on this at the conclusion of yesterday's briefing -- folks in the administration were working on legislation to lift that cap and extend it. Obviously we've got a situation where $75 million could easily -- we could easily top $75 million in a short period of time.

We understand that. This law was passed and signed 20 years ago. So there are failsafes that are built into that law that remove the cap based on the conditions that caused the spill, and our administration will work with Congress, Democrats and Republicans, to change that cap and ensure, as I've said and as the President has said, that BP is the responsible party, they're the cause of this spill, and they'll pay for everything involved in this spill.

Q Is there another cap that you would support in this legislation?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think Senator Menendez, his bill is at $10 billion. I have -- they're working with and thinking through various caps. Again, I would -- suffice to say, our admonition that BP will pay for this leak is -- they will pay for this leak.

Yes, sir.

Q Regarding reports from the Pakistani government that Faisal Shahzad had been at a training camp, did U.S. intelligence -- had the Pakistanis -- before this incident took place, had the Pakistani government told the U.S. government in any way about Faisal Shahzad having attended this camp?

MR. GIBBS: I can go back and see whether any of that came across. I would say this about the government of Pakistan. Obviously we're in close contact with them and working with them on a number of issues surrounding this.

Q The no-fly list -- is there a difference between how airlines treat passengers on the no-fly list who are flying into the U.S. and how airlines treat passengers on the no-fly list who are flying out of the U.S.?

MR. GIBBS: I would point you to DHS, Jake, on the specifics of that.

Q The 9/11 Commission recommended that there be increased security not only on people coming into this country but people leaving this country, and there have been criticisms that that last part has not really been acted on.

MR. GIBBS: I can check with folks here. Again, I think -- I do think it is important to stress that, as I said a minute ago, the system is built with mechanisms -- duplicative mechanisms in order to ensure that if -- again, if a carrier isn't picking up a change in the no-fly list, that that change can be caught when Customs and Border Patrol go through the manifest again prior to the flight leaving.

Q Regarding Abdulmutallab and this incident with Shahzad, it would seem that both times the American people got lucky; both times Abdulmutallab and Shahzad failed to detonate the bomb, but had it not been for the terrorists' -- the attempted terrorists' failure, we could be looking at disasters.

I know the President credited vigilant, innocent bystanders who called it in, but it would seem, at least based on what NYPD says, the reason the incident didn't happen is because the bomb wasn't going to work. Does the President -- does he just feel lucky? I mean, it feels like we dodged a bullet here again.

MR. GIBBS: Well, Jake, I think as the President said today, this is a reminder of those that seek to do this country and its citizens -- its innocent citizens harm. It is why we must remain vigilant. It is why we are proud of the law enforcement that we have; that, as you heard Commissioner Kelly discuss, was able to go from the scene of this possible incident on Saturday night and have somebody apprehended some 53 hours later; the vigilance of, as you mentioned, citizens that are -- that noticed suspicious activity. And that's why the President and this administration will continue to take all the steps that are necessary to keep our country safe.

Q Does the President look at this incident and say, my God, it's just because this guy was incompetent that the bomb didn't go off; we need to take step A, B, C, D?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, we've got, Jake, a very active investigation in which we'll have course to look at all of the circumstances surrounding this and change whatever needs to be changed.

Q So no feeling of relief by the President?

MR. GIBBS: No, there's -- look, Jake, suffice to say each and every day the President receives information that -- of aspects of individuals that seek to do this country harm. Each and every day his job is to do all that he can to ensure, with his administration, that that doesn't come to pass.

Obviously there is a tremendous relief that nobody was hurt, and great thanks for those that, in a short period of time, have done the job they needed to do to track this individual down.

Q Robert, I want to follow on that because as Jake points out, the Denver case, the Christmas Day case, now this case, there seems to be an increase. We've known since 9/11 that terrorists --

MR. GIBBS: Remember also there's the Headley case in Chicago. You mentioned the Denver case, which, for those unfamiliar, that's Zazi, an individual through -- let me make sure I'm careful here -- through methods is discovered and apprehended. So, look, I think maybe the tell of this is law enforcement that continue to do a superb job in keeping us safe.

Q Right, but this had been happening since 9/11 a lot in the shadows. And now in recent months, on the President's watch, the American people are seeing these play out a lot more, and coming very close, as Jake said, to actually being terror attacks with lives lost. What do you think is going on here? Do you think the terrorists are increasing of their efforts much more now than they were just a year or so ago? Is there -- do they see an opportunity?

MR. GIBBS: Ed, I can't speak to the patterns that they're involved in. I can speak to the patterns that this administration is involved in and the fact that we have greatly increased our tempo as it relates to terrorist activities throughout the world on a number of continents. I think that's -- the President has been very focused on that since the time he came to office.

Q On the no-fly list question, you said it's being investigated now. But after the Christmas Day terror attempt, there were also all kinds of reviews here by the White House. And in that case --

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me just make sure that I understand. There's an active and ongoing investigation that is working through a whole host of issues. So, yes.

Q But after the Christmas Day attack, the President ordered reviews here of his administration about the terror watch list, et cetera. And then he came back to the White House after being in Hawaii, January 5th, said, "I want specific recommendations for corrective actions to fix what went wrong. I want those reforms implemented immediately so that this doesn't happen again." And yet here we are four months later, someone is put on the no-fly list and is able to get on a plane anyway.

MR. GIBBS: Well, Ed, let's not -- let's get the course of the facts here before we jump to any series of lies and what-fors based on the fact that this is an individual that was put on the no-fly list, and as a course of how the no-fly list works, Customs and Border Patrol identified and apprehended that suspect. So that person was on the no-fly list, and that plane didn't fly, and that individual didn't fly.

Q But in the case of the Christmas Day bomber, he was not on the no-fly list; he was on a separate terror watch list. So the President said he ordered reviews to sort all of this out. So how can the American people have confidence in these various terror watch lists, no-fly lists, if people are still able to get on planes? In both cases they were able, despite being on various lists --

MR. GIBBS: Well, Ed, obviously you're talking about two different cases and, quite frankly, two different lists. You're talking about a TIDES list and you're talking about a no-fly list. Again, Ed, I think it's important that your viewers understand the individual was on a no-fly list, and as a result of being on that no-fly list, and the Customs and Border Patrol checking the manifest, once locked for a flight leaving this country the same way they do in checking inbound flights that come from overseas -- that individual was pulled off of a plane.

Q A plane that had already left the gate. I mean, it had left, and they then pulled it back.

MR. GIBBS: We're working through some of the tick-tock, but understand this, Jake, that the list identifies people that are not allowed to fly. This individual was identified, as a course of Customs and Border Patrol, and apprehended. He didn't fly.

Q Initially because an airline employee saw that he paid cash at the last minute and then alerted folks. So he did --

MR. GIBBS: But, again --

Q -- but the plane did leave the gate.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm checking on some of the tick-tock on this. Understanding, again -- let me go through some of the tick-tock on this and I'll get back to you.

Q One last thing on the timeline.

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q The President -- the car started smoking, as we understand, at about 6:28 p.m. on Saturday night. The President, when you put out a release on Saturday night, said that he was briefed on this at 10:45 p.m. Is that the first time he was briefed, and are you concerned that there was four hours between when this started -- I know he can't be on top of every single situation in the world, but this is Times Square, it was shut down. Are you concerned about the time -- it took four hours before the President --

MR. GIBBS: No, Ed, I was at -- I was sitting on the same stage you were, and reading e-mails from the Situation Room about --

Q That's not my question. So you were being notified.

MR. GIBBS: There were many of us that were being notified. In fact, I was sitting -- from where I was sitting, the vantage point -- the person that I could see most squarely was the mayor of New York. So throughout the course of this, yes, I'm checking and seeing updates about a possible situation, which, in all honesty, Ed, we get a lot of, whether it's something that might come from a flight or some -- a passenger might say something that -- we went through this on the trip to Prague.

So obviously many of us were alerted. John briefed the President right after he left -- right after he left the dinner.

Yes, sir.

Q Robert, you mentioned the Headley case after Zazi, and Times Square and the Christmas bomber were all mentioned. Is it the White House -- the perception of the White House that there has been an increase in attempted attacks over the past -- during the President's --

MR. GIBBS: No, I just -- Ed was listing high-profile cases, and I just added one to that list. I don't know, Chip, in terms of looking at statistics, whether that's the case or not.

Q You also said in response to that that the President has increased the tempo against terrorists on continents around the world.

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q Do you think part of this is in response to that?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know. Look, there are obviously people that seek to do this country harm that are opposed to what the President outlined in Afghanistan, in terms of increasing our military presence in order to ensure that the Taliban and its extremist allies aren't allowed to take power in that country again and provide a safe haven for al Qaeda in a situation that they had prior to 9/11 that allowed them to train and plan the attacks that were executed on that day without disruption.

So whether it's increased tempo, whether it's Afghanistan, I don't know the answer to it exactly. I'm sure there are some that have cited both of those for -- cited both of those decisions for their misguided and murderous rages.

Q Is it the President's working assumption that there are other people out there right now planning these kinds of attacks?

MR. GIBBS: Safe to say, Chip, each and every day and each and every night both the President and all of those charged at a federal, state and local level in keeping this country safe are on alert for anything that could happen. Obviously we are vigilant in all that we do.

Q And are there some attacks, or at least plots, at some form -- at some level that never become known publicly?

MR. GIBBS: If I say yes, then they'd become known, wouldn't they? (Laughter.)

Q You don't have to say what they are. You wouldn't have to say what they are.

MR. GIBBS: I would simply leave it at the fact that, look, the President and the team come across a lot of information every day about those that seek to do this country and its citizens harm.

Q And you said earlier that the administration is in close contact with Pakistan and working closely with Pakistan. Is the President personally involved in that? Has he made any calls to anybody --

MR. GIBBS: The only calls that he's made that I know of this morning, or this afternoon -- well, he called the head of the Customs and Border Patrol to thank him for the great work that they did in this case. And he spoke with the governors of Arkansas and Mississippi about flooding.

Q On the Supreme Court, can you rule out this week yet?

MR. GIBBS: I will say -- many of you have e-mailed me throughout the morning and the afternoon about -- I even got -- even got an e-mail early afternoon about whether I could rule out all of tomorrow.

So I will just -- I will just simply say that when the President informs us that he's made that decision, we will notify you as to when that announcement will be. I'm not going to every day rule in or rule out when that might be. (Laughter.) Sorry, I -- you guys will give me a calendar of, like, circle possible days and sort of narrow this thing down. No, I don't -- I have -- I said almost the same thing yesterday, exact same thing yesterday, that --

Q That was then.

MR. GIBBS: -- that did not cut down on any of my e-mail traffic. So I will not penalize any of you all for --

Q Circling a day would be very helpful.

MR. GIBBS: All of them that end in "y" are still applicable.

Q Can you lay out -- you mentioned there's a series of redundancies with the no-fly list at the airport. Can you lay out an ideal case how this works? As I understand it, the airlines check the no-fly list against the passengers, and then they --

MR. GIBBS: Let me get -- I can see if -- I would point you to DHS in terms of -- I'll say this. Contact DHS about what they're going to publicly give you. I don't -- I'm happy to say there are built-in redundancies. I don't think it would make a ton of sense to enumerate publicly exactly what the process is in the event that somebody uses that to figure out how to get around anything.

Q I guess -- what I hear you saying is that essentially the system worked because the CBP was able to detect this person and yank them off the plane. Did they miss any opportunity to do that, or was that their first opportunity to detect this person, they availed themselves of it, and it was successful?

MR. GIBBS: Again, I'd point you to DHS. But whatever term you want to use, Savannah, the no-fly list provides a list of individuals not allowed to fly; checking that through a locked-in manifest for that flight. Customs and Border Patrol identified an individual that shouldn't be allowed to fly, and he wasn't.

Q Do you think the system worked if a person on the no-fly list was able to get on the plane?

MR. GIBBS: Savannah, I think the system is set up to provide, as I said, the type of redundancy which any good system would be set up to do. A suspect was identified, surveilled, apprehended, is in custody, is being questioned, is providing, as the Attorney General and others have said, useful and valuable information, and will soon start the process, the legal process of being brought to justice.

So whatever term you want to use, a suspect was identified, and in a rather short period of time is providing information that is helpful, and is in the process of soon formally entering the justice system.

Q Lastly, Secretary Napolitano indicated that even if the plane had taken off, that DHS and the CBP had the authority to turn the plane around.

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q Do you think the President, though, is concerned about a set of policies, a set of procedures that would allow that to happen? I mean, in other words, once the plane has taken off, it's not as though it's easy come, easy go -- I mean, then a person on the no-fly list potentially could cause some havoc. I mean, is there any policy change that --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say this -- well, first and foremost, I don't know what -- I'm not entirely sure what you're alluding to, but I would say that obviously each passenger and their luggage is screened as they would be for any flight. So I'm not -- I don't know what, if you were alluding to something, I think it's important to understand that --

Q Just wondering -- yes --

MR. GIBBS: -- that both sets of that screening happens as a matter of every flight.

Q But he wasn't subject to extra scrutiny, was he?

MR. GIBBS: I don't know the answer to that. But he went through the process of being screened.

Q I guess I'm just trying to -- do you think the President is comfortable with the way these procedures are set up? Nothing about this set of facts jumps out at him as saying, maybe we can do a little better?

MR. GIBBS: Again, Savannah, I think we are -- we will obviously, as we would and as we do in every situation, evaluate everything. But, again, there was a system that provided a name on a list intended not to have an individual fly. Customs and Border Patrol, using that system, found that individual and he was apprehended and wasn't allowed to fly.

Yes, sir.

Q Who, if anyone, at the White House was consulted on the procedures you used to interrogate the suspect?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I would say questioning and interrogation, on those aspects -- obviously, John Brennan here. The intelligence community, including the CIA, the Director of National Intelligence, the National Counterterrorism Center and the Department of Homeland Security have all been part of those decisions.

Q Was the high-value detainee interrogation group -- was that deployed for this?

MR. GIBBS: The questioning draws on the expertise and the resources of the HIG.

Q But, wait, it draws on the --

MR. GIBBS: Expertise and the resources. I am not going to get --

Q So it wasn't actually deployed?

MR. GIBBS: I'm not going to get into the identities of who's exactly in the room, but, again, it draws on the resources of the HIG, yes.

Q And on a much comparatively lighter note, could you talk about why the White House will or will not get involved at the Hawaii special election, which looks like a division between two Democrats that's going to hand a Democratic state to a Republican?

MR. GIBBS: Well, let me get some answers for you on that. I have to admit I have -- I love Hawaii, but I've been focused on flights and oil today. But we will get you something on that, I promise.

Mark.

Q Robert, in lieu of circling a day on a calendar, can you say whether the President has completed the process of interviewing candidates for the nomination?

MR. GIBBS: I'm not sure.

Q Has he spoken to Justice Stevens about his replacement?

MR. GIBBS: I can check on that. I don't know the answer to that, to be honest with you.

Q And in his speech today at the Business Council --

MR. GIBBS: I'm just laughing -- not at you, Mark, but April, who started this process many weeks ago, appears to have in her head formulated a different way to ask what she asked several weeks ago. So I want you to --

Q I look forward to it.

MR. GIBBS: Don't worry, we'll get back there, April, and you can try one more time. If you'd like to follow behind Mark, sure. Let me make sure Mark is done, I'm sorry.

Q My last question. In his speech to the Business Council, the President again today urged them to rein in their lobbyists. Doesn't the President think corporations have as much right as anybody to express their view and try and get their wishes done in Congress?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I think what the President was speaking specifically about is, as those lobbying activities relate to financial reform.

The President believes that financial reform is in the best interest of those on Wall Street, those on Main Street, and all those that do business with both. We have to have a system in place where the rules of the road do not allow what happened almost two years ago from happening.

I don't think any business believes that the economic downturn that was accelerated greatly by, and in many ways caused by, some of the risky decisions that were made on Wall Street -- I don't think any of those businesses think it's been a great time for them.

The President believes that one of the ways to put our economy back on that strong foundation is to have strong rules for the road with financial reform.

Q But if the company believes that the Wall Street reform that he wants is not in the company's best interests, don't they have the right to lobby against it, as on any bill?

MR. GIBBS: They have the right to be wrong that it's not in the best interest of this country -- or that company to have strong rules. The President vehemently disagrees with that. And I think -- again, I don't know of a business that can look back at the time, dating back to 2007, and think this was a -- think this was a robust time for them to be selling what they're selling or to offering what they're offering, based on the fact that it's hard to sell those products when 8.5 million people have lost their job.

The President believes that it's in the interest of all those involved, including business, to support strong financial reform.

I'm sorry, let me go to April.

Q Yes, following up on the Supreme Court, just in one of your answers, it seems like he's close to -- if he has not, he's close to finishing up his interview process of the potentials. Is that today, tomorrow, sometime this week? (Laughter.) No, seriously, I mean, the way you --

MR. GIBBS: That would sort of narrow down the decision-making process if I could close down the decision --

Q I mean, but no, no, no, the questioning or interviews are somewhat different than the process -- the ending of the process. I mean --

MR. GIBBS: Well, I said this. I think I said -- I hope I said that this is a process that's not yet finished.

Q So when the President went into it, he had a mindset of what he was looking for in a candidate. Has he -- in the midst of talking to all of these potentials, has he somewhat come away with what he wants and maybe even got more than what he expected in his conversations with you guys?

MR. GIBBS: I, April, for a lot of reasons, don't want to get into what he has imparted to us about those conversations.

Q Now that we're midway or close to the end of the list -- I mean, not the list, but the process, possibly -- could you tell us about the list of potentials? Could you tell us -- I mean, not --

Q Names would be good. (Laughter.)

Q I would love --

MR. GIBBS: I realize, April, that you've --

Q Phone numbers.

MR. GIBBS: -- you've narrowed this down for me. Poor Mark was way too subtle. He just -- you know, what about tomorrow or maybe later this week. All you want is the date in which the process of his decision-making will be concluded and the names with which he'll go through that decision-making process. (Laughter.)

Q I want information.

Q She wants an exclusive. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I appreciate the opportunity to be more fulsome on each of those questions, but I will demure.

Yes, sir.

Q Robert, can I follow up --

MR. GIBBS: I'll come back. I'll come back.

Q Robert, back to the New York car bomb case, first a factual question. At the time of the suspect's arrest, did he have any dangerous weapons or tools in his possession?

MR. GIBBS: I would -- I don't offhand know the specific answer to that, Ed. I'd point you to the Department of Justice.

Q And Secretary Napolitano earlier said that -- characterized this as a one-off event. Is that statement inoperative?

MR. GIBBS: Again, I think rather than getting into characterizing a lot of these things in the midst of an active investigation, I think we will just simply continue that process of the investigation and have more to say as it transpires.

Q Finally, can you give us any information about the suspect's path to U.S. citizenship and what he was doing in the United States?

MR. GIBBS: Nothing that I want to discuss, no.

Wendell.

Q Elie Wiesel says the moment of tension between the U.S. and Israel is now gone after the President's lunch with him today. Did they reach a meeting of the minds on settlement expansion in East Jerusalem?

MR. GIBBS: I think you heard -- I think you heard Mr. Wiesel talk about his lunch with the President. They had an opportunity to both talk about and agree on the need to move forward with that peace process. I'm not going to get -- I don't want to go further than he would in characterizing what they discussed.

Q On the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Florida Senator Nelson, who is one of the people sponsoring the legislation that would raise the economic damages to $10 billion, also says that the President's hopes for expanding offshore oil drilling are dead on arrival. Is the briefing today -- I think it's going on now --

MR. GIBBS: I think there's -- I believe there is with Secretary Salazar --

Q And a host of other officials.

MR. GIBBS: Yes.

Q Is that intended to maybe facilitate the passage of this legislation, to deal with some of the concerns that the spill has on people who might have been prepared to support the President?

MR. GIBBS: No, this is a bipartisan, bicameral briefing on the federal response thus far, as you mentioned, on the BP oil spill, the actions that we've taken to date. Wendell, the President has asked for Secretary Salazar, as head of the Department of Interior and has purview over drilling issues, to investigate what happened with this incident and to report back to him in 30 days. And what we have said is that the President would use all of that information to make decisions going forward on our offshore policy.

Q As for critics who are calling this your Katrina, is there -- President Obama's Katrina --

MR. GIBBS: Can I say this -- I watched FOX yesterday.

Q I really didn't want you to go there. (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: But you sort of -- you opened both the double doors and voila, here I am. (Laughter.)

Q But it wasn't just FOX calling this your Katrina.

MR. GIBBS: No, no, but FOX had the very special and unique interview with Michael Brown -- you opened it and I had to do it -- who for those who weren't let in on the big secret, Mr. Brown, FEMA Director Brown under Katrina, intimated on FOX, and it wasn't -- I will editorially say, didn't appear to be pushed back on real hard -- that this spill was leaked on purpose in order for us to walk back our environmental and drilling decisions, and that the leak that we did on purpose got out of control and now is too big to contain.

So suffice to say, Wendell --

Q What is his attribution? What is his -- Mr. Brown's attribution?

MR. GIBBS: I can only wish that the network that you work for had asked that prior to interviewing him yesterday.

Q But reporters in here asked that.

MR. GIBBS: Well, you should --

Q So I'm asking you --

MR. GIBBS: You should call headquarters, my friend, and --

Q I'm asking you --

MR. GIBBS: -- ask for somebody who makes the decisions to put people like that -- because I got to tell you, Wendell, I'm not entirely sure that a factual answer that I might give to any one of your questions is going to change the notion that your network put out the former FEMA director to make an accusation that the well had been purposely set off in order to change an offshore drilling decision.

Q Nor would that affect the reporting I do.

MR. GIBBS: I didn't intimate that it did. Again, I would -- you and Major should --

Q If we can, let's move on from it.

MR. GIBBS: You could get on a conference call and maybe do some work. Go ahead.

Q Are there lessons learned here?

MR. GIBBS: From?

Q This oil spill -- from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think we, first and foremost, are focused on the efforts that I discussed on capping this well and ensuring what escapes from that well doesn't do damage to the environment or to the local economy, and ensuring that we've got mechanisms in place to deal with the possible spread. We will have a chance to go back and look at the conditions that led to -- and that's what Secretary Salazar is tasked to do, to look at that and to make evaluations as to anything that could have been done differently.

I will say the Coast Guard responded immediately to distress calls of a fire and explosion aboard the BP Deepwater Horizon with four vessels as part of those recovery efforts.

Q Robert, in that list that you gave us earlier of recent terrorist acts, Major Nidal Hasan, is he on there, too, the Fort Hood shooter?

MR. GIBBS: I would add him on there, too, sure.

Q And in developing these connections to Pakistan, are you also looking at the apparent reversal, economic reversal that this guy has suffered recently as a possible motivation?

MR. GIBBS: Again, I would say at this point in the investigation I think any and all leads are being actively looked at in determining where this individual went and what this individual was intending to do, sure.

Q Hello, Robert.

MR. GIBBS: How are you? Welcome.

Q I'm good. You aren't always going to do these this late, are you?

MR. GIBBS: No, I apologize. I originally was scheduled to do this right -- this would have overlapped with the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security. And I didn't think that that made a whole lot of sense for you guys. So we will try to do these at a more sane hour.

Q Accepting your argument about this process of redundancy, so I'll ask this question in our own process of redundancy --

MR. GIBBS: That's pretty good. (Laughter.)

Q Do you -- so accepting that, I can see how a passenger could get on a plane past airline personnel, even though they're on a no-fly list. But once they're on that plane, before it leaves the gate, does this mean that there is no -- I mean, it's a no-fly list, so the plane -- there's not in the background these redundancies checking planes so that they don't even take off before the backup regulators can attest that everyone on that plane is not on a no-fly list? And is it even, as a practical matter, possible for planes to be held at gates until all the people who can weigh in on this do weigh in?

MR. GIBBS: Let me -- again, let me try to get better clarity from DHS, because I think what you're asking -- well, let me just take a look at whether the -- I think I know what you're saying, in terms of when the redundancy happens.

Q Does it happen before the person flies?

MR. GIBBS: Let me get with DHS and others on that.

Q And then, possibly wouldn't that conflict -- I mean, federal regulations limit or hold airlines accountable for their taking off on time, and they're penalized if they too often don't take off on time. Is there a conflict there between federal regulations on takeoff and --

MR. GIBBS: I can check on that. That's not something that I've heard talked about today, but I can certainly check on that.

Q Robert, admittedly you have all these redundancies and backups and the rest of it. My question is to the President's view of all this. Is he not troubled that the first layer was a pass through, that the suspect got on the plane despite being on the list?

MR. GIBBS: Mark, we're in the process of -- we're in the process of -- at this early hour. We will go back and see the time in which the information was added. There obviously is a carrier element to all of this in -- and we will investigate whether that carrier element was acted upon.

Q -- the fact that the man was on the plane. So is that not troubling that he got through that first layer?

MR. GIBBS: But I think it's important to understand that the reason that that redundancy is built in is because you don't want to leave any and all of this completely up to a carrier. You want --

Q Right, I'm not suggesting that. I just want to understand what you're saying.

MR. GIBBS: No, no, I'm saying -- but I just want to -- I just want to make the point that that's the reason the system is designed in a way that ensures that the action of one isn't -- doesn't determine the entire outcome. And so that's -- that's the reason that I think it's important to understand that even at that point there is a step beyond -- quite frankly, this is somebody who -- this is a locked manifest, this is, "Here are the people that are on our plane as part of that flight plan and can be double-checked through Customs and Border Patrol," sending that list to a center to be checked against the no-fly list.

Q And say, "Here is the list of people on our plane. See you later, we're taking off." I mean, then the plane left the gate.

Q I understand what you're saying about all the other layers and all that, but there is still the fact that the man was on the plane, the plane pushed back. And the President does not find --

MR. GIBBS: Again, we're looking --

Q -- the President does not find that --

MR. GIBBS: No, no, I would say this, Mark. We're going to look at every aspect of what happened, again, understanding that the way this system is designed is to ensure that many actions can check the actions of others. And in this case, that's why the no-fly list identified this individual.

Yes, ma'am.

Q Bridging back to the Supreme Court, do any of the events of the last three days make the President reluctant to choose someone like Janet Napolitano if she's in a role that he thinks he needs her in? Have her chances of being chosen been decreased?

MR. GIBBS: I wouldn't say that. Obviously I think he is enormously grateful for the work that she has done and the amount that just over the -- as you said, over the past few days -- please don't read anything into the fact that I'm lauding her for the current job to -- obviously the President has a number of choices in front of him. I'd use this opportunity just to say that I think the President believes that she is and that many people that work throughout law enforcement and at DHS are doing a terrific job.

Q So she's the pick or she's not? (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: I could just -- I can only -- I'm just thinking in my head like what exactly are the headlines saying right now as I say nice things about --

Q Just rule it out.

Q Anything else you want to say --

Q "‛Napolitano might be picked,' says Gibbs." (Laughter.)

MR. GIBBS: Yes, exactly. I can only -- this will be fun to watch.

Q On something completely different --

MR. GIBBS: Spin the wheel, I'm ready.

Q Tomorrow at the Cinco de Mayo event that you're having, is the President going to talk about immigration reform?

MR. GIBBS: I will admit, I have not looked at the remarks.

Q The reason I ask is because he -- the last time he talked about it on Thursday he caused I guess you could say some confusion about where he stood and there's been a kind of strong reaction from the Hispanic community about that. I'm just wondering --

MR. GIBBS: Let me -- I will check --

Q And is there anything else he's doing now that he's not going to New Jersey?

MR. GIBBS: I have not gotten any scheduling updates, no.

Q So the only thing that you know of is the --

MR. GIBBS: As best I know, we have not added an additional event.

Q Margaritas?

MR. GIBBS: Say again?

Q Margaritas?

MR. GIBBS: Let's hope.

Q Speaking of immigration, the President has obviously been pretty critical of the law in Arizona, calling it misguided, suggesting it may even violate federal civil rights laws. What are his thoughts on the calls to boycott Arizona? Would he agree with that?

MR. GIBBS: I have not heard him render an opinion on that.

Q Robert, Senator McCain said this morning that it would be a mistake to read Shahzad his rights for questioning. Do you have a -- how do you analyze that?

MR. GIBBS: Carefully. Again, I think it's important to understand that these are decisions that are made in consultation with the intelligence community and with highly trained counterterrorism officials who have -- are no less vested in getting every last bit of information from an interview or an interrogation than is possible. I think the insinuation somehow that that is not the case I think is somewhat of an affront to law enforcement, on a day in which I hope we laud what they've done.

Some of the comments have been curious, I'll admit. To mention that -- one of the comments was, "I know he's an American citizen, but still" -- a unique viewpoint.

Q Was that a factor at all in the decision about when to Mirandize him?

MR. GIBBS: Well, as the Attorney General said, there was a -- originally interviewed under a national security exemption and, as I understand it, the guidance was after checking with those in the intelligence community that that task was given to, again, those highly trained counterterorrism officials. He has -- he waived that, and at least when I was coming out, I was under the impression he was continuing to be questioned.

Q I think he said public safety exemption.

MR. GIBBS: I'm sorry, public safety.

Q Can I also just quickly ask you, do you know if the administration is considering taking any steps to stop test drilling in the Arctic?

MR. GIBBS: I can check.

Q To block test drilling that's scheduled to begin in the Arctic.

MR. GIBBS: Do you have dates for -- let me -- test drilling in Alaska?

Q Arctic.

MR. GIBBS: Okay, let me check.

Yes, sir.

Q Is the national security exemption and the public safety exemption basically the same thing?

MR. GIBBS: I meant to say public safety. I was, in my head, thinking the same thing, so I have not created a new exemption yet.

Q On the costs of the oil spill, in terms of what BP is liable for, is it just damages, or are you keeping tabs on the costs of sending the Coast Guard, and all the federal costs, the C-130s that had to be flown?

MR. GIBBS: That is -- well, that has been discussed. That is part of the cleanup and recovery efforts that BP would be liable for, yes.

Q Robert, if the President thought that drilling was safe when he made his -- relatively safe, in that there were few accidents like these -- when he made his announcement five or so weeks ago, why would he not just change his mind at this point, kind of akin to the governor of California and say, "I was mistaken, it's obviously not safe, I want to walk back from my announced policy."

MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think it's -- I think there are a series of things you want to examine and investigate as part of what may or may not have happened. Is there -- I mean, is there a -- is there a technological -- was there a technological failure? Are there additional steps or -- I hate to use the word since we've done it a lot today -- redundancies in a blowout preventer as part of a valve that is or isn't part of what's -- may or may not be required by law now?

Again, understanding, Richard, that even in the area of the Gulf that we were -- that we're discussing, there are lots of active wells. So the President -- I will say this, and I heard him say this yesterday -- the President believes that domestic production has to be part of our overall comprehensive energy strategy; that not -- we cannot -- even as we have invested a lot of money and helped others invest even more in wind and solar power, that alone isn't going to change it. The President's decision on loan guarantees for a nuclear plant, that alone won't change it. There are a host of things that we have to do to solve our growing dependence on foreign oil. And the President will -- is eager to know the findings of this investigation, and we will use those findings to make any of these decisions moving forward.

Q Just quickly on the $75 million, raising that cap, could that be retroactive to apply to this situation?

MR. GIBBS: As I understand it, the legislation introduced by Senator Menendez and others does go back and do that retroactively. Obviously we would be supportive of that.

Q Robert, a couple more questions on the spill. You talk about with great confidence that you're going to be able to recoup this money from BP, yet the laws that currently exist requires the determination of gross negligence. Should we assume that --

MR. GIBBS: The law -- well, let's be clear. Under that law, those are the three cap-lifting exemptions that the legislation that I just talked about would seek to change, and we have been working on efforts to do that.

Q Is it constitutional to retroactively alter a law so that it applies to a retroactive circumstance?

MR. GIBBS: I think it's been done in -- I've been asked about retroactivity as it relates to other compensation, yes.

Q Also, it appears from a briefing with Congress today that this particular platform had been inspected shortly before the accident, perhaps as soon as two weeks. Can you sort of explain what you know about that?

MR. GIBBS: I don't have anything beyond what Assistant [sic] Secretary of the Interior David Hayes in the briefing that we would have done last Thursday made mention -- I forget the exact time period that he made mention of when that rig had been inspected. I can go back and see. That's all I've seen or heard on that.

Q And one quick question on terror -- on the Times Square plot. We've been fairly lucky, as you mentioned before, in terms of the ineptitude of these folks. Do you think the American people ought to brace themselves for the inevitability in the not-too-distant future that we're going to see a successful terrorist attack on American soil?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I can't -- Glen, I would rather just simply leave it at the fact that, as I said earlier, this administration, this President are doing all that they can within their power to prevent anything from happening. I'll just leave it at that.

Q Did the security -- any of the security changes put into place in the wake of Flight 253 help in the detection and apprehension of the Times Square suspect?

MR. GIBBS: I've asked John that question, and I have not been able to get something from him on that yet.

Yes, sir.

Q Just a real quick question on the Middle East peace process on a day in which Elie Wiesel met with the President. It was reported on Friday that President Obama had spoken to European leaders and told them that if talks between Israel and the Palestinians remain stalemated in September or October, he'll convene an international summit on achieving Mideast peace. Can you confirm if -- whether the President is going down that road?

MR. GIBBS: Let me check with NSC. I have not heard that, but I will check with them and see if they have anything on it.

Yes, sir.

Q Listening to you, I get the impression that unlike Governor Schwarzenegger, unlike certain officials in Virginia, the President is committed -- we need an energy mix for our energy security. Now, does that stance change if they can't cap off that leak and the damage gets much greater? Does he change his mind at some point?

MR. GIBBS: On the plan that he announced in March?

Q On the need -- yes.

MR. GIBBS: I certainly wouldn't -- look, I would not rule it out. Again, the reason the President asked for Secretary Salazar to do this particular investigation was to examine what happened, and whether or not there was anything that could or should have been done that would likely have prevented something like that from happening.

And absolutely he told us very specifically that though the 30-day period does not augment any leasing or drilling activities that I'm aware of, the President wants to use that investigation to inform anything that might happen going forward.

So obviously he will take that into accord. There are -- there are, as I've said, there are many, many wells that have been drilled and explored in that section and area of the Gulf. Obviously there was -- this is a little bit more unique because it is in 5,000 feet of water, not in several hundred or a hundred feet of water. And obviously that's something the President will want to look at.

Thanks, guys.

END 4:55 P.M. EDT

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on May 4, 2010 6:11 PM.

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