USIS Washington File

22 August 1998


(McCurry cites effort to move against terrorist assets) (3370)

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts -- Press Secretary Mike McCurry says
that President Clinton's August 22 executive order to the Treasury
Department to block all financial transactions between the bin Ladin
terrorist group members and US companies and individuals is part of
the "sustained effort that the President has in mind when it comes to
dealing with terrorism in this new world that we live in."

In a news briefing that day at the President's vacation retreat,
McCurry explained the move as part of the effort "to use information
about the economic infrastructure of these groups to attack their

He denied a reporter's suggestion that this action "is largely

The financial action against the bin Ladin group, McCurry said,
enables the US government to make "an assessment here in the United
States of what assets, if any, they might have domestically. But then
we can go to foreign governments and request that they do as we have

According to McCurry, "as we have this information and know more about
the transactions, we can go to these governments and ask them to begin
to trace out what they know about the financial holdings of these
groups or how they do business or where they do transactions or how
they move money from place to place.

"So this is really the beginning of a process, this is something that
will now -- will allow us to go to other governments in the days and
weeks ahead and continue to work to break down the financial
infrastructure of these groups," McCurry said. He added that the
United States will begin working through the Treasury Department and
US diplomats "to contact the financial entities overseas that we think
might play a role in giving financial support to this network."

Following is the White House transcript:


Office of the Press Secretary

(Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts)

August 22, 1998


Edgartown Elementary School

Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts

11:12 A.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know why I agreed to do this on camera, but I
guess it's going to be easier -- easier than doing back-to-back
interviews, doing it on camera. Okay, Saturday. The President, as most
of you know, is finally on vacation, at last, and is taking the day
just to really, truly relax and enjoy himself. He's had a lot on his
mind this week on multiple fronts, and so today is a day that he
really, I think, is finally doing what he came up here to do, which is
to relax and enjoy himself a bit.

He's not planning to do anything for the balance of the day. There was
some report from out at the farm that he might go out tonight or Mrs.
Clinton and Chelsea might go out, or some combination of them might go
out. I think everyone knows that Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea have been
here a couple of days, Chelsea has been out seeing her friends from
Stanford that are here and other kids that she knows that are up here
vacationing, and I wouldn't be surprised if Mrs. Clinton got out at
some point today.

I think the President had a very busy week and a somewhat stressful
week, and so I think he's planning on just going down and taking a few
days off. So he may stay in -- or, depending on how he feels later, he
may go out and play some golf tomorrow. So he's really definitely in
vacation mode.

The President is, either right now or shortly, going to talk to
National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and get just an update on what
some of our latest information is with respect to the military action
that's been taken. Obviously, the President is well aware of the
efforts we're making on other fronts,

Including the financial front that you heard about earlier today. The
President will get a report based on military intelligence that --
there are somewhat better imagery now of the six camps that were
attacked and that has increased our confidence in the assessment that
you all were given yesterday.

I think the President will hear that we have severely damaged the
ability of the Osama bin Ladin network to train and operate from these
camps that were attacked. We're now more confident that the damage at
each of the six camps is moderate to severe.

The President will also get an update on international reaction that's
been assembled for him down in Washington, and beyond that, I don't
think there's a lot of new information. It still, as you heard from
Mr. Berger yesterday, going to be a matter of days before we have a
complete assessment. So this still is in the nature of a preliminary
assessment. But as we get more information and see more, we're able to
verify some of the initial judgments that the Pentagon was able to
make about the attack.

Q: So, Mike, what you seem to be saying is that these reports that
maybe we missed a camp or two are not accurate, we hit every target
that we wanted to hit.

MCCURRY: The information that Mr. Berger will convey to the President
is that each of the six camps sustained some level of damage and the
assessment at this point is it's likely to be moderate to severe in
each case.

Q: Do we have any more idea as to whether there actually was this
meeting going on that was the trigger for this action?

MCCURRY: I don't know if we have any further information on that or on
individual human casualties. There's a lot, by the way, a lot that you
will see reported and a lot of people making a lot of statements on
behalf of a lot of people, but I would take all of that with some
measure of skepticism.

Q: Mike, you used the word severe. Yesterday the assessment was
moderate to heavy; today you're saying moderate to severe. Are you
suggesting that the damage is even worse, or are you just confirming
yesterday's assessment?

MCCURRY: No, I'm not -- this is confirming and giving us more
confidence in the assessment that we gave you in the preliminary
yesterday. I'm not playing with terms of art there.

Q: You just said we should take with some measure of skepticism some
of these reports. Are you referring to the phone calls ostensibly
being made by spokespeople for bin Ladin?

MCCURRY: That's correct. That and other reports that are occurring. A
candid statement would be that we don't know a lot about individuals
who may or may not have been at that camp. We just don't have solid
information on that, and

I think you have to be skeptical about information that you're hearing
that is coming from other sources.

Q: But do you folks take seriously the threats that are apparently
being directed against the United States by bin Ladin?

MCCURRY: Absolutely. This is a very dangerous group of people. They
are very likely going to continue the type of work that they have done
and Americans will continue to be at risk. One attack is not the kind
of sustained effort that the President has in mind when it comes to
dealing with terrorism in this new world that we live in. It is going
to require the kinds of tools that the President announced today and
the ability to use information about the economic infrastructure of
these groups to attack their activity. But they are going to continue
to do what they do, and they're going to continue to threaten
Americans and they will very likely at some point take more lives. And
we are well aware of that and doing everything we can to protect
Americans from that threat.

Q: Just to follow up, you have no reason to believe that bin Ladin was

MCCURRY: We have no change in our assessment yesterday that we just
don't have information that we are confident in to know about his

Q: -- any countries joined in with the economic boycott? And because
they haven't, is this largely symbolic?

MCCURRY: No. Remember that you heard some folks earlier today say that
this is the first step that we've taken. What we do by putting in
place these additions to our specially designated terrorism list,
adding these individuals on, we then are able to, first, make an
assessment here in the United States of what assets, if any, they
might have domestically. But then we can go to foreign governments and
request that they do as we have done.

Very often we find that when we seize assets or block financial
transactions by any groups and go to other governments and ask them to
do likewise, the first question they ask is, well, have you done this,
have you taken these same steps, have you frozen assets. So, of
course, it's important for us to do so. But then as we have this
information and know more about the transactions, we can go to these
governments and ask them to begin to trace out what they know about
the financial holdings of these groups or how they do business or
where they do transactions or how they move money from place to place.

And as we learn more -- and we will now be in a position to learn more
having put these measures in place -- we can go to governments and ask
them to do specific things with respect to specific accounts. So this
is really the beginning of a process, this is something that will now
-- will allow us to go to other governments in the days and weeks
ahead and continue to work to break down the financial infrastructure
of these groups.

Q: Did Mr. Clinton bring that up when he talked to world leaders? You
said he was back in Washington making a number of calls.

MCCURRY: This did come up in one of the calls, it didn't come up in
every call. But other governments will be made aware of the action
that the President has announced today, and we will begin working
through our Treasury and diplomatic people to contact the financial
entities overseas that we think might play a role in giving financial
support to this network.

Q:  Can you tell us who he called and how they responded?

MCCURRY:  No, I'm not going to get in specifically to that.

Q: Does the act have provisions that are likely to drive a wedge
between the U.S. and other countries by threatening foreign companies
that do business with Osama bin Ladin, a la Helms Burton?

MCCURRY: I think in this case it works somewhat differently because
these are not raw sanctions that affect all types of companies. They
could conceivably affect particular financial institutions; but
remember, they also affect particular accounts that some of these
individuals may have and may maintain. So it's not the kind of broad
economic sanctions that are designed to change the behavior of a
government. This is to break down the sources of financial support for
specific people and specific networks, which is a different kind of

Q: Mike, with all the security measures being taken in the aftermath
of the strikes, is the President concerned that America will be moving
toward a fortress situation?

MCCURRY: No, and the President specifically said today we are not
going to lose those precious things that mean so much to us as
Americans: the freedom to express ourselves, the freedom to travel,
the freedom to move about. But we live in a world that is more
dangerous now and we have to be conscious of that and we have to take
those steps that are necessary to increase our safety.

There are things the government can, will and is doing to protect
Americans, but there are things that individual Americans will have to
do themselves -- just to be more conscious of what the risks are.

Q: Mike, to what extent is the President involved in or aware of some
of the things that are going on in Washington today? We understand
they're putting up these concrete barriers around the Washington
Monument, other places are being fortified.

MCCURRY: Well, the President knew that there would be steps taken that
would increase security. I don't know that he's been briefed in detail
on each and every thing. And we are acting to protect American
installations around the world, and have also very carefully advised
Americans that are in parts of -- well, all around the world,
everywhere, in fact, and in specific places where we think there's an
increased threat, to be especially conscious of their own situation
and their own security.

Q: -- gravity to the precautions that are being taken in Washington

MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any specific threat in Washington. But there
are good reasons to take precautions generally, just to protect some
of those facilities.

Q: Has the President expressed any satisfaction to you or to anyone
else that some of those on Capitol Hill who were questioning the
timing of this are no longer asking those questions and have now
announced their support? Has the President expressed satisfaction?

MCCURRY: I think the President was well aware of the criticism that
might instantly come because of the timing, but also well aware that
as people learn more the information that was available to him that
they would quickly see it was very important for him to act, and act

Q: Does he accept the kind of quick judgments that folks made to
question that -- I don't know how to delicately put this --

MCCURRY:  I think that's the question he just asked.

Q: But I'm talking about the quick judgments. Does he accept them as
valid to make those initial questions about timing?

MCCURRY: As I just said, the President was well aware that people who
had instantly jump to the wrong judgment and as they got more
information and had more access to information they would understand
why it was right for him to act, and act swiftly.

Q:  How did he take it personally, though?  Was he hurt, was he --

MCCURRY:  No, he was not surprised by it.

Q: Do you know anything about these reports of journalists being taken
into custody?

MCCURRY: I'm aware that there apparently is a report, or at least a
question about that. I've checked in our government; we don't have
information on that. Remember that we do not have the capacity to
assist individuals who are in that region -- either in Pakistan,
because of a lack of a consular facility there, or in Afghanistan,
because of lack of an embassy there. So we have strongly and
repeatedly advised American citizens not to travel in that area. And
we're not aware of any American citizens who are in that area.

Q: Mike, has the President got any plans to talk to Yeltsin this
weekend, do you know?

MCCURRY: The President, as I have told some of you, did exchange
correspondence with President Yeltsin. And he talked to him not long
ago with respect to the Russian economy. He will see him again soon. I
don't rule out that at some point he may call and speak to President
Yeltsin and I'll let you know if he does.

But these two Presidents have done a lot of work together over the
years. They know each other quite well and they are going to be in a
position to conduct extensive conversations soon at a summit meeting.
So we'll be working closely with them.

Q: But he hasn't spoken to him since Yeltsin made the comments that he
was outraged --

MCCURRY: That's correct. But we certainly have had diplomatic contact
with the Russian Federation and we're aware of a lot of the statements
that have been made by the government.

Q: Is the President concerned that those comments, compounded with
Russia's financial problems, are really going to cast a shadow over
the summit?

MCCURRY: I think the President knows that there are a lot of issues
that they're going to be dealing with at the summit and that they're
going to work through those issues, as they always do when they meet.

Q: Mike, on Tuesday you said that the President, after he arrived, had
contact with members of Congress, where he was asking, sort of gauging
their reaction to the speech Monday night. Is he still dealing with
that issue or have the attacks in Sudan and Afghanistan sort of taken
all his time?

MCCURRY: Well, he's talked to a lot of different people in the course
of the day yesterday -- not today, because I think he's basically
taking today off. But in conversations that he's had with people since
the military action Thursday, he's talked about both that. And
probably some of those conversations have also talked about his own
situation, too. Given the people he's talking to, some of whom are
friends, some of whom are close political supporters, he probably has
dealt with both issues.

Q:  Has the President made his peace with his family?

MCCURRY: I think he's working at it and my guess is that they've still
got work to do. I think they're doing that in private and I'm not
going to give you a play-by-play account. But I think there is a
healing process that needs to occur, and as far as I can tell, it's
underway but it's not done yet.

Q: But is he still talking with members of Congress specifically about
whether they have confidence in his speech Monday night?

MCCURRY: I think his conversations have been a little more
sophisticated than that, but they've been private.

Q: Mike, has there been any more security added -- our Washington desk
wants to know -- to members of the President's Cabinet or any other
members of the White House staff?

MCCURRY: I think I'm not going to comment on specific steps that are
taken on security. It's always best, I have been told, to just refrain
from talking about the things that we do or don't do because that
makes whatever we do more effective.

Q: Mike, there are a couple of reports out this morning that the
President is considering a second national address on the Lewinsky
matter. Is that true, is he considering it?

MCCURRY: I think the President has many advisors and many of them are
rendering their advice sometimes in the newspapers. When the President
elects to take any of that advice and do something, I'll let you know.

Q: Mike, on the financial assets, do we know how much bin Ladin has?

MCCURRY: We don't. In fact, one of the purposes of the action today is
to allow us to go pulse financial entities and actually determine
whether there is any amount that can be attributed to US sources. As
you've heard, we don't anticipate that that's going to be much. But
this allows you to do the kind of check. And, of course, we will now
go to other governments and encourage them to do the same kind of
check, and that's when you might get a better sense of what the
structure, nature and monetary value is of his holdings.

Q:  Do we have any idea how much he inherited?

MCCURRY: There may be -- we may have somewhere in our government an
assessment of that, but it might not be in a way that I can share it
publicly. I don't think that we have any publicly available dollar
amount that I can give you.

Q:  Do you know where he is right now?  Bin Ladin?

MCCURRY:  No, we don't know his whereabouts or his condition.

Q:  -- finally to talk about Dorothy West's memorial service?


Q:  Is the First Lady going, is the President going, either one?

MCCURRY: I mean, I think it's today, right? And they're staying in for
the day, so I don't think they're planning to attend.

Q:  And neither is Mrs. Clinton?

Q:  -- tonight --

MCCURRY: Not today, no. We put a lid on until 6:00 p.m. We're going to
check again later in the afternoon and see what his plans are for
tonight. As I said earlier, I wouldn't be surprised if at some point
Mrs. Clinton goes out. She's had a few days off, but I think he
hasn't, so he may just take a few days down now.

Q: But do you know if the First Lady is going separately to the
Dorothy West service?

MCCURRY:  No, she has no plans to do so that I am told.

Q: Mike, when you say you don't know his whereabouts or his condition,
that sounds like maybe he was in the camp and escaped injured or
something. Are you suggesting that?

MCCURRY:  There are lots of maybes in that statement, correct.

Q: Mike, the story in today's paper is about more gifts that President
Clinton gave Monica Lewinsky -- a box of chocolates, Alaskan stone
carving --

MCCURRY: I've seen those stories, but I'm not familiar with that and
you need to work that story with sources who have been helpful for you
from the President's legal team or others who are knowledgeable. I'm
not knowledgeable about any of that.

Q: Just a quick two-part question. Is the President following -- is he
receiving newspapers each morning, is he aware of what's going on in
the press? And, two, is he concerned that as more reports like this
continue to come out that he may not have laid the issue to rest in
his Monday night speech?

MCCURRY: I don't think he is spending a lot of time absorbed in that
particular matter. I think he's spending time with his family. He's
got news accounts available to him if he wants them. But I think he's
on vacation.

Okay.  Thank you.

Q:  Are you going to brief tomorrow?

MCCURRY: I'm not planning to. I did this only because we're kind of
winding down and, as you gathered from this briefing today, we're kind
of moving into the vacation mode. So I think that will -- tomorrow you
all know you've got a lot of people from the administration who will
be out on the shows talking, and I think you can make do with that.
And we'll be more relaxed up here for the balance of the vacation.

Q:  Thank you.

(end transcript)