Briefing by Fran Townsend, Assistant to President Bush for counterterrorism and Homeland Security Via Conference Call

WASHINGTON, Oct. 9 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is a transcript of a press briefing via conference call by Fran Townsend , Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security: 10:36 A.M. EDT MR. STANZEL...


MS. TOWNSEND: As you've likely heard me say before, the terrorist-extremists problem is not new to the war in Iraq . Obviously we were attacked on 9/11 and in the USS Cole, in East Africa , and from extremists -- al Qaeda long before we were ever inside Iraq . There is no question now that you see, and we know by their own words, by bin Laden's and Zawahiri's own statements, they view the battle in Iraq as a fundamental battle for them. So we face them there. That is core to al Qaeda's strategic efforts and operational efforts right now, and so -- but we can't presume that that's the only place we confront them. We know that they continue to plot and plan against us here in the United States .

And so this document talks about being both on the offensive and defensive -- not just outside the United States , but inside the United States using efforts and capability that we've built inside the FBI to prevent terrorist attacks, inside DHS, inside the Justice Department . And it really brings us back to why we need permanent FISA reform.

Q Was there an al Qaeda in Iraq before the war in Iraq ?

MS. TOWNSEND: You know, we've been through this. There is no question that there were extremists inside Iraq and throughout the region prior to the war in Iraq .

Q But was it al Qaeda?

MS. TOWNSEND: You know, I -- we've been through this. Every time I walk into the press briefing room we go through this, and what I will say to you is there should be no question that there were like-minded Islamic extremists inside Iraq and throughout the region. And certainly that there is extremism inside Iraq and throughout the region is not a result of the war in Iraq , it is a fundamental front in the continuing war on terror.

Q Thanks.

Q I would like to ask whether you've changed your assessment of the risk of severe hurricanes and, if you have, whether that's due to a changed calculation of the dangers posed by global warming.

MS. TOWNSEND: John, I'm not a scientist, nor a subject matter expert on the prediction of hurricanes. I will tell you that we are coming now to the end of the hurricane season -- or the most active period of the hurricane season will end about the middle of this month. It has not thus far been as active a season as it had been predicted. I don't know to what the scientists attribute that to. We look at things like water temperatures and wind shears coming in across the Atlantic, and off the coast of Africa . All of these things play into the strength and activity in the hurricane season.

Q Okay, but you can't say whether you've increased - whether the temperatures that you're projecting have increased since the last time you went through this exercise?

MS. TOWNSEND: John, I will tell you, it's a question better asked of the scientists. Of course what I focus on is both the preparedness in the event of a hurricane and the response, should there be a catastrophic hurricane.

Q Just back on al Qaeda, the report says that al Qaeda is likely to intensify its efforts to place operatives inside the United States . And I was wondering what leads to that conclusion, and how serious that threat is, and what's being done to mitigate against it?

MS. TOWNSEND: Well, as you know, the National Intelligence Estimate that was issued said that was the capability -- that was one of four capabilities, and it was the one that al Qaeda was still seeking to acquire -- that there was not evidence that they had been able to get people across the border.

Obviously there are two -- actually, three major things that we do to deal with that: We look for intelligence around the world, but particularly overseas; we have increased border security efforts and screening on the part of the Department of Homeland Security; and third, inside the United States , it is the single highest priority of the FBI and the Justice Department to work to identify any potential al Qaeda affiliated operatives inside the United States . And so if you look at it, it's a multi-layered approach, it starts overseas with our intelligence efforts and working with our allies around the world. There is then the border security effort and then there's the internal effort here inside the United States .

Q Is there any sense of a time frame of when al Qaeda will be making these efforts? Or are these efforts already underway?

MS. TOWNSEND: Oh, there's no question they're not only underway, they're ongoing and have been.

Q Okay. One other things is the report also says that al Qaeda has protected its top leadership, replenished its operational lieutenants and regenerated a safe haven in Pakistan's tribal areas. So I'm wondering how has that -- how has al Qaeda been able to do that if, as the White House contends, Pakistan is being so cooperative, and Musharraf, in particular?