Department of Justice Seal

Attorney General Ashcroft Transcript

News Conference with FBI Director Mueller
DOJ Conference Room
October 29, 2001

ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Good afternoon.

The administration has concluded, based on information developed, that there may be additional terrorist attacks within the United States and against United States interests over the next week. The administration views this information as credible, but unfortunately it does not contain specific information as to the type of attack or specific targets.

Consequently, a terrorist threat advisory update has been issued to 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the country through the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, known as NLETS. We have notified law enforcement to continue on highest alert and to notify immediately the FBI of any unusual or suspicious activity.

We ask for the patience and cooperation of the American people if and when they encounter additional measures undertaken by local law enforcement or federal law enforcement authorities and others who are charged with securing the safety of the public.

As always, we urge Americans in the course of their normal activities to remain alert and to report unusual circumstances or inappropriate behavior to the proper authorities.

Additional security alerts and security measures have been or are being taken by a number of governmental agencies, including the INS, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Energy, among the departments who have been notified of the alert.

Governor Ridge has also discussed this heightened state of security with the governors, who are asked to take appropriate precautions based upon security assessments in their respective states.

Mr. Director?

MR. MUELLER: Thank you.

Good afternoon. On every occasion when the government has received credible information, we have chosen to warn our colleagues in the law enforcement community, and we are doing so again today because we have such information, even though it is not specific as to intended target or as to intended method.

I should add that I have just come from addressing the International Association of the Chiefs of Police, and I know how difficult it is for the officers they represent and all other state and local officers out there to respond without greater detail. Even given that, I believe it is advisable to alert law enforcement and local authorities as to what knowledge we have received.

We are again asking them and, through them, local communities to remain extremely vigilant. Doing so gives us a force multiplier that could well prevent another terrorist attack. And we appreciate their willingness, however difficult, to join in this national effort.

Thank you.

Q Director?

MR. MUELLER: Yes, ma'am?

Q Do you consider that the earlier threat advisory you put out, October 11th, helped to avert such an attack?

MR. MUELLER: It is very difficult to tell, but it may well have helped to avert such an attack.

Q Mr. Director, can you give us a sense of whether this is electronic information or from a human source?

MR. MUELLER: I cannot -- I cannot get into the source of the information, for obvious, I think, reasons.

Q Director, what realistically should Americans do with this information? You never rescinded the last one, and my assumption is that most Americans already are on a heightened state of alert.

MR. MUELLER: I think that is -- that is true. However, when we have received this additional information, specific as to time but not as specific -- not specific as to other details, we think it is important to put it out there so chiefs of police, other law enforcement entities can again refocus their efforts on potential targets in their communities.

ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: May I just make a comment there?

We have decided to share with the American people that we have alerted law enforcement. And that's important. Because we are alerting law enforcement and conferring with them, we think this gives people a basis for continuing to live their lives the way they would otherwise live them, with this elevated sense of alertness or vigilance.

I trust the American people to be able to understand, in this context of conflict, where there is a front overseas and there is another front here in the United States, that they can make good judgments and can understand this kind of information. And we are sharing it exactly in the context that the director has indicated. It is not specific, but it is information that we think the American people have a good, mature judgment and capacity to accommodate and to understand. And it's with that in mind that we are speaking to them about a notice that we are providing to law enforcement.

Q General, did you brief the president about the warning? And did he agree with the release of this warning to the people?

ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: The president is aware of this situation, was made aware of the situation early in the day.


Q Do you have any concerns that if you issue these alerts and nothing happens, people may not take them seriously, and next time --

ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: No. If people take these warnings seriously, they go about their lives, but they participate with patience in the additional steps that are taken by law enforcement authorities, they are very likely participating in the prevention of terrorism and in the disruption of terrorism.

There is no reason for a success on the part of the American people in forestalling or otherwise delaying or interrupting terrorism, for that to lull them into a false sense of indifference. It's important for the American people to understand that these are to be taken seriously, but by taking them seriously on a continuing basis, we can have the good outcome of avoiding very serious additional terrorist problems.

Yes, sir?

Q Mr. Director, you said the other day that the earlier warning could have been conceivably related to the anthrax attacks. Do you think that this warning could in some way relate to anthrax intelligence?

MR. MUELLER: I would be speculating if that were -- on that issue. I have no reason to believe at this point in time that it is related.

Q Do you have reason to believe that this is a more credible threat than the last threat that you --

ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I think we clearly stated we believe this threat to be credible, and for that reason it should be taken seriously.

Thank you.