Text of Sunday's news conference by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, as transcribed by e-Media MillWorks Inc.:
RIDGE: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
President Bush has told you, and I have reiterated the promise, that when we have specific credible information that we will share it. This afternoon we do have new and unusually specific information about where Al Qaeda (search) would like to attack.
And as a result, today the United States government is raising the threat level to Code Orange for the financial services sector in New York City, northern New Jersey and Washington, D.C.
Since September 11, 2001, leaders of our commercial financial institutions have demonstrated exceptional leadership in improving its security. However, in light of new intelligence information, we have made the decision to raise the threat level for this sector in these communities to bring protective resources to an even higher level.
This will allow us to increase protection in and around those buildings that require it and also raise awareness for employees and residents and customers and visitors. We know, and we know from experience, that increased physical protection and added vigilance from citizens can thwart a terrorist attack, and that is our goal.
Now, this is the first time we have chosen to use the Homeland Security Advisory System (search) in such a targeted way. Compared to previous threat reporting, these intelligence reports have provided a level of detail that is very specific.
The quality of this intelligence, based on multiple reporting streams in multiple locations, is rarely seen, and it is alarming in both the amount and specificity of the information. Now, while we are providing you with this immediate information, we will also continue to update you as the situation unfolds.
As of now, this is what we know: Reports indicate that Al Qaeda is targeting several specific buildings, including the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in the District of Columbia, Prudential Financial in northern New Jersey, and Citigroup buildings and the New York Stock Exchange in New York.
Let me assure you -- let me reassure you, actions to further strengthen security around these buildings are already under way. Additionally, we're concerned about targets beyond these and are working to get more information about them.
Now, senior leadership across the Department of Homeland Security, in coordination with the White House, the CIA, the FBI and other federal agencies have been in constant contact with the governors, the mayors and the homeland security advisers of the affected locations I've just named.
We've talked with executive leadership of the companies that own these businesses and operate these buildings, the people who know these facilities best. We have told them at this time there is no information that indicates a specific time for these attacks beyond the period leading up to our national elections.
Though of course just because we know where but not precisely when, that does not mean that we cannot take pre-emptive action. Just the opposite. When collection activities provide specific information, we can tailor security measures to the particular vulnerabilities of those potential targets.
Now, understandably, security measures at each facility will not be uniform in nature, given the scope and the scale of building architecture, access to and from roads and other variables. And certainly we will not broadcast our security intentions to our enemies.
But you may expect to see special buffer zones to secure the perimeter of the buildings from unauthorized cars and trucks, restrictions to affect underground parking, security personnel using identification badges and digital photos to keep track of people entering and exiting buildings, increased law enforcement presence, even more robust screening of vehicles and packages and deliveries.
These and other security measures, both seen and unseen, create added layers of protection to an already vigorous security effort around this country.
So let me be clear. While we have raised the threat level for the financial services sector in the affected communities, the rest of the nation remains at an elevated or code yellow risk of terrorist attack.
Rest assured, rest assured that the most talented security professionals and law enforcement professionals around this country are working hard every single day to protect all regions of this country and all sectors of our economy.
Over the course of the last year, and since the horrific day of 9/11, more permanent protections are in place than ever before. I suspect that many of you have seen them. They have become part of our daily life: additional airport security, including screenings and air marshals and hardened cockpit doors.
You've seen more visible law enforcement officers on trains and subways and other transportation systems. You've seen increased inspections at our nation's ports or at our border crossings. And this summer, given the volume of symbolic events and large gatherings, we have ramped up protective measures more than ever before. And we paint a partial picture.
Thousands of radiological pagers have been given to law enforcement around the country and more are on the way. At work are more hazmat technicians, undercover agents and emergency response teams, and more K-9 units capable of detecting explosives and weapons of mass destruction, advanced air-monitoring technologies that can check for biological pathogens are operating in key locations. Well, along with smart security professionals, these technologies help bring the national Democratic Convention to a safe conclusion.
State-of-the-art equipment like this is now being installed to protect the Republican National Convention in New York later this year.
This equipment and added personnel will bolster security measures already being put in place at Madison Square Garden and throughout the transportation systems in New York City.
These added security measures mean that from curb to the cockpit, at our ports of entries and borders in between, in our public places, in cyberspace, on air and land and sea, we are better protected than we ever have been before.
We bring you this information today, and again we'll continue to update you if new specific information becomes available, because with this kind of information comes action. There is much we can do to remain vigilant, to be on watch, to be aware of unusual patterns or vehicles, and to report suspicious activities.
And so this afternoon I ask our citizens for their watchful eyes as we continue to monitor this situation. I certainly realize that this is sobering news, not just about the intent of our enemies, but of their specific plans and a glimpse into their methods.
But we must understand that the kind of information available to us today is the result of the president's leadership in the war against terror, the reports that have led to this alert are the result of offensive intelligence and military operations overseas, as well as strong partnerships with our allies around the world, such as Pakistan.
Such operations and partnerships give us insight into the enemy, so we can better target our defensive measures here and away from home.
The terrorists should know in this country this kind of information, while startling, is not stifling. It will not weaken the American spirit. It will not dampen our resolve, for our resolve is indivisible and unyielding, which is a weapon infinitely stronger than the plots and the plans of those who wish to do us harm.
Al Qaeda wants to intimidate us and prevent us from enjoying our lives and exercising our freedoms. And yet liberty, liberty has no greater protection than the collective will of the American people. So, together, let us take inspiration from this strength and use it to our utmost to keep our great nation safe and free.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, would you say it's fair to say that what has been uncovered here is a specific plot?
I think it's fair to say that we have more specific information about potential targets that I think you can conclude may be the subject of a particular plot.
Again, what is extraordinary about these particular sites is the considerable detail or quality of information regarding those sites. So, again, we have no specific information that says an attack is imminent, but given the specificity and quality of information around these sites, obviously one would conclude, if you were considering the potential attack, these might be among the targets.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) how the apprehension of the woman with the South African passport in Texas factored into this? Was she a catalyst in the threat reporting you're talking about?
RIDGE: Well, first of all, that investigation is still ongoing. The FBI is doing a great job of following it, but to date, based on what we know in that investigation, there's no connection between that individual who was apprehended at the border to the information and the targeting that I've discussed with you this afternoon.
QUESTION: Mr. Defense Secretary, does the intelligence indicate basically physical threats against these institutions or electronic attack to screw-up or fuzz-bust, whatever you want to say, electronics commerce among the financial sector?
RIDGE: I think when we look at the infrastructure protection, there are three concerns we would have: the physical destruction, the cyberinvolvement or perhaps those inside might cause damage or destruction.
The analytical piece that's associated with this would suggest that based on what we have gleaned so far, the preferred method of attack or what's being suggested in the reporting is car and truck bombs -- the physical destruction or attempted physical destruction of these facilities.
QUESTION: Do any of the these security measures portend a disruption inadvertent of the financial markets or any (inaudible) prevention of destruction? Will they be transparent to traders and those involved in the markets?
RIDGE: I think, I'm not quite sure I understand the question, but let me try to answer it this way. These are significant institutions that relate to our leadership role in the international economy, but to a certain extent, it's really not the destruction of a single building will not undermine the greatest and strongest economy in the world. So to a certain extent, they're almost iconic.
They're visible targets perhaps known around the rest of the world.
But the fact of the matter is, as I said before, the financial services industry since 9/11 has built in systems of protection, and protection of the systems that help regulate and help control the equity markets, the flow of currency in and around the entire world.
QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit more about the nature of the intelligence? You said specific, credible and multiple sources. Is it coming from interrogations, the Internet, interceptions?
RIDGE: I will just -- I will tell you that -- just to stay consistent with what I said before, multiple locations, multiple sources, and you can read into that, because of -- again, I think it's very important to point out that most of those sources are related to the extraordinary offensive effort we have taken overseas.
Playing strong offense overseas, in many different ways, the military, the CIA, the partnerships, our global partners, gives us a capability to prepare better defense back home.
QUESTION: Were the recent arrests in Pakistan a key contributing factor to the information flow that you're getting now?
RIDGE: Well, we will not comment on the specific sources, but let me just go back again and say the coalition that we have built, and the alliances we have built, have been instrumental and very much a part of our intelligence-gathering operation.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what are you advising the people who work at these businesses to do? Tomorrow is a workday. Should they go to work? Should they stay away?
RIDGE: We have talked to the security professionals at those buildings and the leadership, and I think the employees most appropriately would get guidance from their employer.
I would like to think, as sobering and as difficult as this news is, and the kind of anxiety that it would generate, that the folks that work at those particular sites or stroll through the neighborhood, through those streets, would have the resolve and maybe a little bit of defiance to say, "Well, we know what you know. And we're going to go about leading our lives. We're not going to let threats or this kind of information turning into fortress America. We're going to keep on being America."
QUESTION: Secretary Ridge, related to the targets in New York City, do you have any information that would connect this plot to the pre-election threats you talked about, or more specifically, the upcoming Republican Convention in New York City?
RIDGE: The consistent reporting stream -- and I think it was back on July 8 when we had a press conference here where we talked about several sources that generally had discussed the possibility of attacking us to try to undermine our democratic process. And I think one could reasonably infer that this could be part of that effort.
But I don't think you necessarily should put a time frame around when these targets, if they were ultimately the subject of an attack, would be attacked. I mean, given the specificity of the information, you've got to appreciate that and consider that in light of the broader general threat to try to disrupt the democratic process.
But I don't think you can conclude that it's framed in that fashion, and I think I'll let on background some of the intelligence folks explain it in greater detail.
QUESTION: Do you have any reason to think that other financial centers like Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles are at higher risk now than they were?
RIDGE: At this juncture, the answer is no. But I also have to reiterate the fact that there are multiple sources. And we're doing everything we can to analyze the information. And if we would have the same kind and quality of information as I've told over 200 people in a conference call that I had just before we came here -- a lot of the homeland security advisers and those from around the country -- we would share it with them in the same fashion.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I thought that New York was already on an orange alert level. So are they now, the financial institutions, going to red, the highest?
RIDGE: I think you're right in saying that historically New York maintains, sustains a general higher level of alert and vigilance than most cities. I think if you asked Commissioner Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg, they would say, "We have the highest level of vigilance, and the highest level of awareness and the highest level of security."
On top of that, they'll be working particularly with the companies that own these specific locations, reviewing the vulnerabilities, taking a look at what additional protective measures they should put or could put in place, given the reporting.
So I don't think they're necessarily going to take...
RIDGE: You would have to ask Commissioner Kelly. I don't think he's necessarily going to take the city up. The level of security in New York City is not only higher -- they call their level now orange.
But remember, for the past couple of months, an administration-wide effort has taken place. And a lot of those initiatives are in addition to what New York puts in place permanently.
On top of that, you can put a third layer, which is the layer of security we have brought into play because of the Republican Convention, the same level of security, more people are more technology associated with the convention, so you have a higher baseline for New York, initiatives we have undertaken with them during the past several months. And on top of that, independent of the first two, even more security, people and technology, because the convention will be there.
So New York City is a very high level of security right now.
QUESTION: This is a new approach for Homeland Security to sort of target particular cities and sectors and say this is the areas we're raising to orange, not the entire country. Is this sort of a surgical approach you plan to do in the future, considering the financial cost to the rest of the country?
RIDGE: We have announced a change in the threat level about half a dozen times, and I think we've tried to explain to the public that, one, we know it raises the level of anxiety. We also know that it imposes a certain cost on communities, because much of the response is labor-intensive. We also said all along if we had the opportunity based on specific and credible information, we could apply it surgically.
And here we have, according to the reporting we have available now, a fairly confined area and a fairly specific -- not exclusively, but a fairly specific -- sector of the economy. I mean, these weren't the only targets, but again fairly specific sector of the economy. So I think it demonstrates if nothing else the flexibility and appropriate application and focus of resources where we need it most and when we need it. And that's now.
STAFF: You have time for one more question, Mr. Secretary.
QUESTION: I'm sorry, sir, so we're talking about a specific geographical area, and not -- when you say financial services sector, you mean a specific geographical area of New York, correct?
RIDGE: No, we're taking a look at northern New Jersey, New York City and Washington, D.C. You can see what the institutions represent from the list I gave you, both domestic and international major institutions.
There are other -- I think it's reasonable to infer from that that for the time being, targets of economic opportunity, or iconic economic targets, are at the heart of their interest.
And therefore, until we get more information, because we're still rolling out more information, still getting more information, still analyzing more information, we just thought confined area, financial sector, seems to be the primary focus.
Let's raise it to orange, review vulnerabilities and assess protective measures, even at other financial institutions that may not be on the list, just as a precautionary measure. It seems to indicate a clear intent, and until we can conclude otherwise, we think it's best to move in that direction.
Thank you very much.