State Dept. On-The-Record Briefing November 9, '01

Published: Wed 14 Nov 2001 09:38 AM
State Dept. On-The-Record Briefing November 9, 2001
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Office of the Spokesman For Immediate Release November 9, 2001
November 9, 2001 Washington, D.C.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This informal, on-the-record, press briefing took place in lieu of the regular daily press briefing. No index has prepared for this briefing. No audio is available.
12:42 P.M. EST
MR. BOUCHER: Let me on the record tell you a couple of things that you will probably be interested in, in terms of the news of the day.
The first is that our employee who had anthrax, it looks like he will be released from the hospital today. That is very good news. Probably later.
QUESTION: To be released today?
MR. BOUCHER: To be released later today, we think. And that is very good news. We are glad to hear that.
Testing continues, cleanup continues. No new positives, several new negatives from white powders overseas, and the cleanup of the testing - - sorry, the testing at our Sterling, Virginia facility is continuing, and they are doing the cultures. So results are still pending on that, but we might have that soon.
QUESTION: I'm sorry, results are pending on some places overseas also?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. You know, you get a white powder, you test it, so a lot of --
QUESTION: But no positives back? All negatives?
MR. BOUCHER: All negatives.
QUESTION: All negative?
MR. BOUCHER: All negative replies of cultures, except for the ones we've talked about, the pouch in Lima, Vilnius, and Yekaterinburg.
QUESTION: Can you go back to your employee? Do you want to put a name on him, since he is in the paper, and his daughter is talking to The Washington Post and stuff?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I don't think I do at this point. I hadn't seen it, but if he wants to talk or his daughter wants to talk, that's fine. We are somewhat restricted by privacy rules, and we leave that to individuals.
Second thing. The Taliban said the other day that they had an American -- the International Committee of the Red Cross now has information about the individual. He is not an American citizen. He is not an American. I think he is Pakistani. But his family lives in the States. We are working with them and the Red Cross about return of the remains.
QUESTION: Pakistani --
MR. BOUCHER: The Red Cross is really doing it.
QUESTION: So we don't -- we have no -- do we know if he was an American resident? We know he wasn't a naturalized citizen?
MR. BOUCHER: Not now. He is certainly not a citizen, and (inaudible) --
QUESTION: But he -- his family lives here?
MR. BOUCHER: Not a resident either.
QUESTION: Who are you working with?
MR. BOUCHER: The International Committee of the Red Cross is really doing the working with the family on remains, and to some extent, our Embassy is helping out.
The third thing to talk about, there are some stories in the newspapers today about visa processing. There is one story about visa processing, about slowing down visa processing because of security checks, and that is something that we're doing during an interim period. We have talked to you before about security opinions, how we check. Some applicants we check extensively, based on information from embassies. All applicants get checked against the databases that we have of information on people, and I think we have told you that, pursuant to the President's announcement of the new task force on terrorism, pursuant to the new legislation about sharing of databases, that we are going to be sharing more information, getting more information.
In fact, in the last month or two, we have actually gotten about three times as many names into our database from the law enforcement and intelligence agencies, as we have before. So that is always helpful to make sure we have a regular flow of information.
QUESTION: These are names of suspects -- people that you're going to - -
MR. BOUCHER: People who may be ineligible for a visa because of security or law enforcement or other reasons.
QUESTION: And that number has tripled in the last month?
MR. BOUCHER: Yes. We're getting now three times as many a month as we had in the past.
QUESTION: Wait a minute. So three times -- you're getting three times as many, or it tripled?
MR. BOUCHER: We are getting three times as many every month. We got three times as many in October than we did in months earlier this year. And a lot of that has to do with the extensive intelligence and law enforcement effort that is under way to identify individuals.
Furthermore, there will be a period of visa processing when the various databases won't be linked up, we won't have all the information together. And that is going to mean that for some people in some countries it's going to slow down the processing. For the several months it's going to take us to link these name-check databases together, or otherwise figure out the linkages of the database information, certain individuals in some countries, we're going to have to ask them to wait a little longer while we send information back and get it checked, and then get it back to the embassies.
QUESTION: So it's not automatically 20 days? Or it's just however long it takes?
MR. BOUCHER: It won't be for every individual. It will be for certain individuals from certain countries, and it will take about 20 days to do that.
So visa processing, for a period of several months, will be slower for some individuals in some countries.
QUESTION: Have you picked the countries?
MR. BOUCHER: No, I can't give you a list of countries.
QUESTION: It's not a question of categories of people being slowed down; it's a question of individuals being slowed down? Are we talking about men of fighting age, for example, or are we talking about people whose names have cropped up in investigations formally?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, certainly anybody whose name has cropped up in an investigation who is already on a database would be looked into extensively before any question of visa issuance would arrive.
We will look at people of a certain age, of a certain background, and do careful checks against different databases with them. So I'm not going to go into complete detail on this. I'm sorry. We do our security checks on visas without doing that.
But --
QUESTION: Do these people ever consult --
MR. BOUCHER: Let me -- I'll finish the sentence.
MR. BOUCHER: But yes, we do look at people who have a certain background, certain age, certain origins --
QUESTION: A certain gender?
MR. BOUCHER: -- and decide that they might need a more extensive check, and that will take somewhat longer for those people.
QUESTION: People like that, do they (inaudible)? Or do they ever consult lawyers? And if they consult lawyers, does -- wait a minute --
MR. BOUCHER: All the time.
QUESTION: -- are they consulting -- all the time, right. And law enforcement agencies now claim the right to listen in on these conversations. And I wondered if this taints the State Department's investigation on all sorts of constitutional --
MR. BOUCHER: I didn't read those articles thoroughly, but no.
QUESTION: Richard, I thought that -- I don't understand the --
MR. BOUCHER: These are visa applicants overseas, as far as I know.
QUESTION: People are going to make the argument -- and I'm not certainly making it now, although I might later -- that this is racial profiling. That what you're doing has been highly controversial when it's been done domestically, and people like the Attorney General, who is now partly in league with you guys on this --
MR. BOUCHER: We work very closely with the Immigration Service and Justice, yes.
QUESTION: -- have come out against racial profiling. What do you say to that argument?
MR. BOUCHER: I would say that, as a nation, we have a right and a duty, in fact, to make sure that our borders are secure, and that people to whom we issue visas are qualified applicants. We certainly want to promote the process of travel and exchanges and people coming to spend money and go to school and visit their relatives. But we have to do that in a safe manner, and we have to do it in a manner that lets us check and make sure that we're not letting people in who might cause us harm. And that requires, to some extent, some more extensive checks on various individuals, various categories of individuals, and we'll be doing those checks.
We've done that in the past for various categories; we'll do it in the future. This more extensive set of checks that could require this delay for a lot of people is going to be a temporary period, until we can get the database information knitted up, so that we can go back and know that when we do our regular database check, it will cover all the possible information.
QUESTION: And doesn't this clash with what you just got through doing over at the Foreign Press Center today? Trying to tell -- you're launching this big campaign to tell people, in the Muslim world particularly, that this is not a war on Islam; and the same day, that your pricey, new -- I don't know about pricey -- your new Madison Avenue ad woman launches this thing. You're basically telling these people to go to hell.
MR. BOUCHER: No, we're not. We are telling them come to the United States, but you might have to wait a little longer before we give you the visa. The issue is the safety and security of the United States, and the reason that we are down here talking about this is because we are up front, and we are trying to explain, as much as we can within our security procedures, to some applicants that they may have to wait a little longer, for an interim period of time. And then once we get the system back working the way it should, once we know that our standard database checks will cover all the possibilities, we will be able to get back in several months to the kind of speedy, efficient, courteous, careful and pleasant visa processing services that we offer now.
QUESTION: So you're acknowledging this is unpleasant?
QUESTION: You won't, really? Even on background? I mean, isn't this kind of a -- isn't this kind of a -- it's nothing you -- something you want to do.
MR. BOUCHER: Nobody likes to wait. On the other hand, nobody likes to let in people who might not be qualified for US visas. And we have an obligation to our nation to make this a safe process for Americans, to make sure that we welcome people who want to come here, but don't welcome people who might mean to cause us harm.
QUESTION: Well, it's not the way -- I think it's being singled out because of your ethnic or racial orientation, like a black guy trying to get a cab in Washington, DC needs a white woman to get the cab for him. I mean, you know, you're focusing on especially people of --
MR. BOUCHER: I don't see any analogies that --
QUESTION: Well, you're focusing your suspicions on people because of their race, or because of their ethnic or national background. Or gender -- no, I don't think gender.
QUESTION: Gender, yes.
QUESTION: Well, gender, too.
MR. BOUCHER: Look, we have a lot of different security procedures for people of various backgrounds and origins. I'm not in a position, because of the way the systems work and the kind of information we have in the databases, to be able to go into too much detail. But we do security advisory opinions on certain kind of people already, people with certain affiliations or backgrounds, and this is another group of people that we're going to have to do a certain amount of checking on to make sure that we do check every piece of information we have. That's an obligation to the American people that we have to make our visa processing system as safe as we can.
QUESTION: Well, I just want to know, can we -- is there any other subject, before some of us have to go off to arrange interviews -- do you have any other --
MR. BOUCHER: Yes, that's right. The Secretary is doing some interviews in about 15, 20 minutes with some television people.
Let me do two things quickly, then. For those who want to know more extensively, the UN has been able to carry out polio vaccination for five million children inside Afghanistan over the last several days, from the 6th to 8th.
QUESTION: That seems -- how the hell -- I mean, I couldn't believe it when you said that at the Press Center. I'm like, how do you get fund -- how do you fund -- that's just physically impossible. Unless you have like 150 doctors handy.
MR. BOUCHER: All right. And they've been doing this, and I think what we would say, this demonstrates that when the Taliban doesn't interfere, we and the United Nations can do things to take care of people in Afghanistan. And we are glad that this was accomplished. And Lynn will have -- the Press Office will have a few more details about the organizations and the US money that has gone into those organizations.
As far as what the Secretary is going to do at the United Nations, he will go up, as you know, this afternoon. Tomorrow and Sunday he will be with the President in the President's events, including the bilaterals. And then he will have meetings on Sunday, and then on Monday, with various groups, like the European Union, like the Gulf Cooperation Council. I think the Group of Eight ministers will get together on Monday. There will be a meeting of the Six-Plus-Two, hosted by the United Nations. That is about Afghanistan.
He will also have bilateral meetings with Foreign Minister Shara of Syria, and he would look forward to having meetings with Foreign Minister Peres and Chairman Arafat, if their travel plans bring them to New York. We're not certain about that yet. And he also looks forward to talking to Foreign Minister Ivanov during the course of the weekend. But I don't think that is precisely pinned down as far as scheduling yet.
QUESTION: Russians say 10 o'clock Saturday. They say that -- 10:00 p.m. Saturday night.
QUESTION: And the Palestinians say Arafat is definitely coming.
MR. BOUCHER: I will have to go check on the timing. I've heard different.
QUESTION: That's why I'm (inaudible) by the way. If you hear --
MR. BOUCHER: I've heard different pieces. I don't know for sure.
QUESTION: But do the three - Shara is on, of course, but --
MR. BOUCHER: Shara is on.
QUESTION: That's what others would like.
MR. BOUCHER: You know, if Peres and Arafat, we don't know travel plans yet. And Ivanov, we know he'll be there. I don't just have a final time for when.
QUESTION: So the other two, of course, could be Sunday or Monday or not at all? You're going to fit them in when you can?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, it's not so much that. It's we don't know definitely when they're coming, and when they're going to be available.
QUESTION: Did you get an answer on the CTBT conference, which opens on Sunday?
MR. BOUCHER: Not yet. No final decision, as far as I know.
QUESTION: There is an answer on the fourth Geneva convention, though.
MR. BOUCHER: There is an answer on the fourth Geneva convention meeting.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: That's been Palestinian.
QUESTION: Richard, can you give or post a response to the arrest of a newspaper editor in Zimbabwe yesterday?
MR. BOUCHER: For those who really care, yes. All right, let's see. A newspaper editor in Zimbabwe.
Daily News editor Geoff Nyarota and his business associate Wilf Mbanga were arrested yesterday and charged with filing fraudulent investment and licensing documents for his newspaper. The United States calls for their immediate release.
The arrest follows an announcement by the Government of Zimbabwe that the Daily News must halt operations due to violations of investment law and exchange control mechanisms. This arrest and related harassment of the free press reflects a regrettable trend in Zimbabwe, framed by the deterioration in the rule of law and state-sponsored violence directed against the political opposition.
The United States continues to call on the Government of Zimbabwe to cease its harassment of the free press, reestablish the rule of law, and take steps to ensure that the will of the people is respected in the upcoming presidential election.
QUESTION: Can I ask one last question on the visa thing? Why didn't you decide to simply check all visa -- give more time to all visa applications, given that you have this need to improve the database system, instead of creating the impression that you are targeting a particular group of individuals, who you are simultaneously trying to attract? If you see what I mean.
MR. BOUCHER: Because we are still trying to bring people to the United States as smoothly and efficiently as possible, consistent with our standards of safety for Americans and for people who come and live in America. It wouldn't be fair to all visa applicants to slow down processing for all applicants if our primary concerns are only about certain individuals or groups.
1:02 P.M. EST (###)

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