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U.S. Department of Homeland Security  

Press Releases : Transcript from Secretary Michael Chertoff Press Briefing on the London Bombings

Secretary Chertoff

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
Contact: 202-282-8010
July 7, 2005

Secretary Chertoff: Ladies and gentlemen, good morning. This morning we are closely monitoring the bombings that occurred in London. I have spoken to the President and my counterpart, the Home Secretary in the United Kingdom. The thoughts and prayers of the American people are with the victims of this tragedy and with our friends in Britain.

In light of today's attacks in London, the United States government is raising the threat level from Code Yellow, or Elevated, to Code Orange, High; targeted only to the mass transit portion of the transportation sector -- and I want to emphasize that -- targeted only to the mass transit portion of the transportation sector. This includes regional and inner city passenger rail, subways, and metropolitan bus systems. We are also asking for increased vigilance throughout the transportation sector.

Currently, the United States has no specific, credible information suggesting an imminent attack here in the United States. However, we know the tactics and methods of terrorists as demonstrated by the horrific rail bombings last year in Madrid. The intent of al Qaeda and its affiliated organizations to attack in Europe and in the United States has been well documented and continues to be reflected in intelligence reporting.

We've already taken additional measures to secure transit systems since 9/11, and since the railway bombing in Madrid. At the direction of the President, we are working with the Department of Transportation, our other federal partners, state and local officials, and transportation authorities to take all necessary precautions and to increase the security of our transportation citizens -- systems and the citizens who ride them.

We have asked state and local leaders and transportation officials to increase their protective measures, including additional law enforcement police, bomb detecting canine teams, increased video surveillance, spot-testing in certain areas, added perimeter barriers, extra intrusion detection equipment, and increased numbers of inspection of trash receptacles and other storage areas.

We ask the public to remain alert and to report any suspicious activity, particularly in or around transportation systems to local police authorities. But we are not suggesting that people avoid public transportation systems; rather we are asking that they use those systems, but with an increased awareness of their surroundings.

We have been in continuous contact with federal, state and local authorities, as well as with our allies in the United Kingdom and overseas. We are concerned and we look to the United Kingdom authorities as they continue to investigate this incident. We are reviewing intelligence streams and information out of London very closely and will continue to provide regular updates to the public when information becomes available.

Again, our thoughts and prayers are with the British people and the grieving families. America stands with you in this time of crisis to assist and support you in every way possible. Terrorists may bomb and attack and attempt to use weapons of fear to shake the confidence and will of free nations and free people, but they will not succeed. We have a more powerful arsenal. It includes our resolution and our resiliency, an unyielding determination to do what we can and must to keep our citizens and our allies safe, and to track down those who perpetrate incidents like this and to bring them to justice.

Now, I thank you and I'll take a few questions before I get back to work.


Question: What indication do you have that these attacks were caused by al Qaeda? And what credibility do you give the Internet message that was posted earlier this morning?

Secretary Chertoff: We obviously carefully evaluate any message, whether it be on the Internet or whether it comes in any other form to see whether it's credible. We're making those kinds of judgments as we speak. The Prime Minister has already indicated his presumption this is a terrorist act, and I think based on common sense, given what we've seen, that seems a pretty sensible prediction.

Yes, Pete.

Question: Mr. Secretary, do you know of any information that any similar attack is planned for the U.S.? And if not, why raise the terror threat level?

Secretary Chertoff: We don't have any specific credible information of an attack that's imminent in the United States. Nevertheless, I think prudence suggests that when we look at what happened in London, when we consider the typical way in which al Qaeda has carried out its tactics, which includes simultaneous activity in various places, common sense again tells us that we ought to make some reasonable adjustment in the threat level with respect to those elements of the transportation system which parallel what was the focus of attack in London. And I want to remind you at this point that, of course, we have a general elevated level of preparedness all across the country in terms of transportation and all other sectors, which we've had in place now for some years, and which does give us an increased sense of security, even on a day-to-day basis.


Question: Was there any intelligence stream or chatter in the months before this to indicate that something like this was afoot, or did the London bombings take us completely by surprise?

Secretary Chertoff: I'm not aware of any specific intelligence that suggested this was going to take place. Again, obviously, for years now we've lived in an environment in which we've had general intelligence reporting about the intent of terrorists to carry out acts, both against us in the United States and against our allies. And it's been that mindfulness that has led us to, again, keep an elevated sense of preparedness as we go forward on a day-to-day basis.

But we're going to continue to review and see what intelligence is out there as we go forward in the future.

Question: Mr. Secretary, is there any calls for significant increases in funding to better secure transit? Senator Schumer said he proposes an extra $100 million be added to the budget. But do you think there's sufficient funds? Should more money be added to better secure transit by grant funds from DHS?

Secretary Chertoff: I think we are looking comprehensively at the issue of security policy. We've done a fairly extensive review over the last few months. And we're going to be coming out with some policy proposals about what we need to do to enhance our preparedness and to make sure we're doing the best we can to optimize the protection we give our infrastructure.

I wouldn't make a policy decision driven by a single event. I think our priority here is to get to the bottom of this, make sure we understand what the dimensions of this set of acts are, who perpetrated them, determine whether any lessons and intelligence that we're going to gain from this, and then move forward.

Question: Mr. Secretary, with the millions of commuters across our country, is it even possible to make these transit systems safe?

Secretary Chertoff: I think our transit systems are safe. And in the time period since 9/11, and, frankly, in the time period since Madrid, we've worked with Department of Transportation, with our state and local partners all across the country to raise the level of everyday protection. And that includes detection equipment, it includes police presence, it includes protocols. So I actually think we have a very safe system. But the fact remains, we've had an incident in London. We feel that at least in the short-term we should raise the level here because, obviously, we're concerned about the possibility of a copycat attack.

But again, we operate from a base line of preparedness that is much, much stronger than it was prior to 9/11, and, frankly, stronger than it was prior to Madrid. So I think that's something which ought to reassure the American public, whether they travel on trains, or whether they're in other forms of transportation.

Thank you very much.

Question: Have you moved any of your staff to alternate locations?

Secretary Chertoff: We're here. You can see I'm here. We're going to continue to monitor the situation. Again, we always as a matter of prudence have in place alternative measures if we need to take steps because of some kind of an interference with our ability to operate out of this facility. But again, this is not an occasion for undue anxiety. It's an occasion for a sense of sympathy and solidarity for our allies over in Britain, a renewal of our determination to keep our country safe, and a measured and appropriate response in terms of dealing with what has happened overseas.

Thanks very much.