Well, here's a non-anwer to question 1:
Q I understand that the House Intelligence Committee was briefed yesterday on the NSA wire tapping program, and I understand that at least some of the members present asked either General Hayden or Mr. Gonzales why they couldn't tell more success stories. So it's interesting to me that news of this is coming out today. So my follow question is, did the NSA wire taps, did they play any role in any of these arrests that you talked about, and in disrupting this particular plot?And number 2? You'll get no answer for that one becuase no one asked it. So, now I have a third and fourth: 3) Why bring this up now if the W, Rove and Co is so tight lipped about everything related to the WOT (barring a few nasty leaks)? And 4) Is it not just another dirty political trick to try and link the NSA illegal spying program and some activity that foils terrorists? Here's at least one reporter trying to nail this down:
MS. TOWNSEND: As I said to you, we use all available sources and methods in the intelligence community, but we have to protect them. So I'm not going to talk about what ones we did or didn't use in this particular case. And I wasn't at the briefing yesterday, so I can't speak directly to that.
Q So you can't say that this is a direct result, a successful result of that initiative?
MS. TOWNSEND: I wouldn't say one way or the other. I wouldn't comment on it.
Q Hi. I had essentially the same question related to the NSA. Is there nothing at all that you can tell us in any regard as to whether the NSA surveillance was at all instrumental?
MS. TOWNSEND: No, I'm sorry, I can't. It continues to be a very sensitive program. It's resulted in successes, but I can't relate it in any way one way or another to this particular plot.
Q As a follow up, because certainly in the light of the hearings going on this week, and the criticism for this surveillance, it would seem that the President talking about a success story such as this sort of skirts the question of the NSA. Is it wrong for us to put two and two together?
MS. TOWNSEND: The point -- as I said in my opening statement, the point of the President's speech was to talk about the international cooperation. This was not meant to be a speech about the NSA surveillance program.
Q And following up on what Toby asked before, at the time last October when the President first revealed this plot there were a number of stories quoting anonymous counterterrorism sources as claiming that we shouldn't be claiming this as a disrupted plot because it never got far enough to be disrupted, and suggesting that the administration was claiming credit for more than had been accomplished. Can you respond to that?Well, now if you pop on over to Scotty's own press briefing, you see the reporters try to ask a similar question as to the timing of the terrorist trapping revelation:
MS. TOWNSEND: I think that -- I obviously don't know who the anonymous counterterrorism sources are. What I would say to you is -- suggest to you there are people who don't appreciate and truly understand what the timeline was. This was not only blessed, if you will, from bin Laden on down through Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, who was the operational chief at the time, but it showed the linkage through the terrorist network with Jemaah Islamiya -- JI -- it showed the relationship between the group. It required us to work with our international partners in the information exchange. It required information gleaned from detainee debriefings to be operationalized and turned around. And you can see from the timeline the arrests, one by one, it's the cell leader, it's KSM, it's the members of the cell, it's ultimately Hambali. I mean, the chronology of it makes very clear that these people continued to plot against us not only past 9/11, but Hambali continued through JI and his operatives to plot other attacks. And so it was critical that they all be gotten and put in custody in order to disrupt potential attacks against the United States. So, I mean, there is no question in my mind that this is a disruption. And this is -- it's not about credit, it's about protecting the American people. And the American people are absolutely safer as a result of these arrests.
Q Can I ask you a question about the timing of the speech today? Why now, given the ongoing discussion that is taking place about tactics in fighting the war on terror, why did the President seek to disclose the details today, specifically?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, for the reasons I just stated. This is a speech that we have been working on for the last few weeks. The President has been having an ongoing discussion with the American people about the war on terrorism. This is the nation's highest priority. It's the President's top priority. It's about protecting the American people. And we're always looking for ways to inform the American people about our efforts and provide them additional information. As you know, it takes time to declassify information. And as time goes by, you might be in position to share more information about plots that were disrupted. Remember, back in October, the President talked about, I think it was, 10 or so plots that were disrupted or broken up. And we provided some general information at that time. One of these was the plot that the President talked about today. But I think it's -- what he was highlighting -- the purpose of the speech was to highlight the strong international cooperation that is going on.
Q But is it just a coincidence? You had February 6th circled on the calendar for the hearings, the NSA hearings. Is it just a pure coincidence that this comes out today?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're talking about the -- let me mention, the terrorist surveillance program is a vital program, and it's been a very valuable tool. I'm not going to get into discussing any of the tools that may have been used when it comes to disrupting this plot. We provided you some additional information about this plot. But the purpose of this speech is the way I stated it. And I would discourage you from suggesting otherwise.
Digging a bit deeper into the text of Scotty's press briefing from today we see some one does actually ask my second question, but still gets no answer:
Q A couple things, Scott -- thanks. Since the President said that there were 10 plots that have been thwarted, have there been additional plots that the White House is prepared to acknowledge have been thwarted?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any additional beyond what he has said today and beyond what he said previously. But we are always working closely with the international community. I think one thing that was emphasized earlier today by our Homeland Security Advisor was how, now, we have real-time intelligence; we are getting actionable intelligence on a real-time basis. And that's very different from the way it was prior to September 11th, when the international community had a more bureaucratic structure in place where you had to go through various levels of the bureaucracy within the international community, and various levels of paperwork to have that kind of sharing of information and cooperation.
That has changed. The international community recognizes that terrorism is a threat to us all, and we're working together on a real-time basis to share information and act on that intelligence. And that's what we will continue doing. We know that terrorists want to continue to strike the civilized world, and all of us need to work together to defeat them and continue to bring them to justice.
Q On the subject of information-sharing, the Mayor of Los Angeles, Mr. Villaraigosa, today is complaining that he got no notification at all that the President planned to disclose this information about an alleged attack plot on his city. In fact, he said, "I'm amazed the President would make this announcement on national television and not inform us of the details through appropriate channels." Insofar as you said earlier that the White House is always looking for ways to inform the American people and keep them up to speed, why disclose the details of a plot that's now four years old?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Carl, first of all, in terms of -- I haven't seen what the Mayor said, I've been in meetings with the President, so I'll take a look at that. But my understanding was that we did reach out to officials in California and Los Angeles to let them know, I think it was yesterday, that the President would be talking about this. And the word I heard was that there was great appreciation for the notification that we provided. That's very important.
And in terms of this plot, again, over time you're able to look at things and possibly declassify it when it -- in a way that won't compromise ongoing counterterrorism operations, or won't compromise sources and methods. And so we're very sensitive to making sure that we don't do anything that would jeopardize sources and methods. But now that we're at a point where we believe that that information could be shared, we wanted to share it with the American people and highlight the kind of international cooperation that is going on.
There's a lot -- I think you ought to keep in mind, there's -- you know, the law enforcement community, intelligence community, is working day in and day out, around the clock, to do everything they can to protect the American people. It's no accident that we haven't been hit again since September 11th. But we know that there is a determined enemy that continues to want to strike us. And we've got to continue working 24/7, using every tool in our arsenal, to disrupt the plots, to prevent attacks, and to bring the terrorists to justice. That's what we are doing.