Statewatch News online: UKUSA - Blunkett-Ridge press conference, 1 April 2003

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Date: April 1, 2003

The United States and the United Kingdom are strengthening their partnership in the war on terror, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and British Home Secretary David Blunkett told journalists after their meeting in Washington April 1.

In his opening remarks, Ridge said he and Blunkett explored the sharing of best practices, joint training exercises, the security of cyber and physical infrastructure, border and transportation security, research and development, and science and technology.

Blunkett announced that "a joint working group," or "contact group," is being established so that the two countries are "actually working on that best practice, learning from each other, and being able to develop the very similar approaches which are necessary to protect our population."

Blunkett said they will also develop joint exercises and enhance work on border protection and surveillance, on biometrics and identification, and on visa and passport controls.

There is nothing in the current threat information that suggests that simultaneous attacks against the United States and the United Kingdom "are imminent," Ridge said, "but we know -- both our intelligence communities know full well that the United States and the United Kingdom are potentially subject to attack. And if they would occur simultaneously, we want to be in a position to reinforce and to assist each other."

Ridge also responded to questions about the security alert level in the United States, supplemental funding for homeland security, consolidating the so-called "watch lists" of various agencies in the federal government, and revocation of citizenship for those involved in terrorism.

Following is the Homeland Security Department transcript:

SECRETARY RIDGE: Good morning, all. It's good to be with you this morning. Sorry for the brief delay. I'm certainly honored to welcome the Home Secretary from the United Kingdom, David Blunkett. We're grateful that he took time today to spend time with us. The Secretary and I have just finished another productive meeting, building on the series of meetings we had when I visited the U.K. several months ago, where we discussed strengthening the partnership between our two countries in fighting the war on terror. We shared ideas that will benefit both of our countries in the area of homeland security, and we explored additional areas of cooperation, specifically the sharing of best practices, joint training exercises, the security of cyber and physical infrastructure, border and transportation security, research and development, and science and technology.

The United Kingdom has extensive experience in battling the challenge of terrorism at home. This relationship will benefit the strong homeland security partnership that our countries have developed since the attacks on our country on September 11th. The United Kingdom has been a critically important ally in bringing our attackers to justice, and we look forward to continuing to work with them to battle terrorism at home and abroad.

The Secretary and I have discussed a couple of different ways and issues that we believe it is in our mutual interest as friends and allies to work together on, and I've actually asked the Secretary to elaborate on some of these initiatives in his opening remarks to you. So, again, it's my great pleasure to introduce the right honorable Secretary David Blunkett.

SECRETARY BLUNKETT: Thank you for being with us. I'd just like to underline immediately the unprecedented level of cooperation that we now have, which has been built up over the last 18 months, and has been enhanced by the development under Tom Ridge of the Homeland Security Department here, and the work that we've been doing on what we call resilience civil contingencies and counteracting internal terror and the threat to our population in the United Kingdom. And that is why I'm so very pleased indeed this morning, not only to reaffirm our cooperation, not only to build on the steps that have already been taken, but to go a stage further. We are announcing today that we will establish a joint working group, a contact group, which will involve officials from the
Homeland Security Department and our own department in developing the work collaboratively so that, instead of just sharing best practice, they're actually working on that best practice, learning from each other and being able to develop the very similar approaches which are necessary to protect our population.

All of us know that we've never faced a threat like the one that has developed since the 11th of September 2001, and that the way in which the United Kingdom and the United States are working together ensures not only that we face that threat in a better shape and in a way that allows us to understand that best practice, but also that it actually means that, because we are partners, including with the conflict in Iraq, we need to be more vigilant and we need to be more aware than others across the world believe -- and I think they're often wrong -- believe is necessary for them.

So we are intent on developing joint exercises which will be built on the domestic exercises that you're undertaking in terms of counter terror and in terms of protection of the public, and the exercises that we're engaged in, in the United Kingdom, so that we can look at what might formulate the necessary steps to protect us from simultaneous attacks, from joint attacks, and we're going to look at firstly desktop and then physical exercises in enhancing our capability and our protection.

We're also, as Tom Ridge has described, enhancing our work on border protection and surveillance, on biometrics and identification, on visa and passport controls, which will be sufficiently co-terminus, to make it possible not to interrupt unnecessarily business and commerce, but which will provide the security that you want and you need in terms of the future.

The pooling of research and training, the development of joint facilities that help us, for instance, with the danger of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear imports, and the danger that people are transferring the capability across the world, we need to work together on those. And, of course, on cyber and electronic attack, which would disrupt our commerce.

We're also collaborating closely on the development of new assessment techniques. You have the new TTAC [phonetic] facility. We have developed still further our joint terrorism and assessment center so that we can better pull together the information we have from the lessons we've learned in terms of dealing with terror from Ireland that Tom Ridge described.

All of this means that we are literally shoulder to shoulder. We explored whether I should say "hip to hip," but we decided "shoulder to shoulder" was probably a better description -- (laughter) -- in terms of the joint threat that faces us, and the joint working that we'll see off that threat for the future.

Thank you very much indeed.

SECRETARY RIDGE: Thank you, David.

Ladies and gentlemen?

QUESTION: Secretary Ridge, do you think that the chance of a simultaneous attack against Great Britain and the United States has been increased because of these two countries taking the lead in the war with Iraq? I mean, is that why you're doing this particular --

SECRETARY RIDGE: Oh, no, I think we have to prepared for -- and we are prepared domestically and we plan and work on the possibility of simultaneous attacks. But I think that it makes eminent good sense for two allies that are working together to develop best practices, two allies and friends working together on the science and technology of detection and protection, two friends and allies to engage in some responsible thinking with the possibility that we might have to endure simultaneous attacks and how we can be mutually supportive of each other in that process.

There's nothing in the contemporary threat information that we have that suggests such attacks are imminent, but both our intelligence communities know full well that the United States and the United Kingdom are potentially subject to attack. And if they would occur simultaneously, we want to be in a position to reinforce and to assist each other.

SECRETARY BLUNKETT: Yes, that is exactly the meaning I had. The thinking we're engaging in from today is, of course, by its very nature, for the future rather than for the weeks and immediate months ahead. So we're preparing for a very different world. And some of those attacks would not necessarily -- in fact, it's almost certain would not replicate what we've seen so far. So that's why I mentioned, for instance, cyber and electronic attack, which could disable the commerce of the future. All of these things we need to be aware of, and we need to ensure that those who are thinking of using those techniques are aware that we are literally on the ball, ahead of them, rather than waiting for something to happen and then chasing that eventuality once it's occurred.

Q: Secretary Blunkett, I was wondering, you say you've had so much success with the IRA. But the IRA and al Qaeda are very different organizations. How has your experience with the IRA helped you deal with al Qaeda?

SECRETARY BLUNKETT: Well, up to the Good Friday Agreement, which was brokered by our Prime Minister and was helped, it has to be said, by the U.S. administration, we had 30 years of conflict, not just in Ireland, but on the mainland of Britain. Of course, they are different in the sense that we had an identifiable opponent who, in the end, we could sit down with and find a way forward. That isn't true of al Qaeda and the network that exists across the world, the loose network.

Nevertheless, the techniques of intelligence and surveillance and the security techniques have to be and are developed from that experience. And we are able to share that with you, just as the experience that you've had internationally between the CIA and our intelligence service and GCHQ have been shared for many years. And we need to enhance and build on that. And we are learning all the time.

One of the things, I just want to make the point, Tom, is that the techniques that are used now by international terrorists and the organized groups behind them funding, facilitating those groups are using the best of technology, the most up-to-date methodology and government across the world, our government, your government, has to be ahead of that. And that is a major challenge, not just in terms of getting the right facilities in place, but actually being ahead in those rapid reaction techniques, which it's easy for groups working as cells to undertake, and it's more difficult for government.

Q: Mr. Blunkett, several years ago, right after the embassy bombings, the British government, at the American government's request, arrested three guys, Fawaz and a couple of other characters, on charges of being co-conspirators in the 1998 embassy bombings. I went to a hearing at the House of Lords in the Parliament building more than a year ago, at which the House of Lords ultimately dismissed their appeals against extradition. And yet those guys have still not been extradited.

Moreover, I think there's another guy named Rasheed Ramda, who the French have been trying to extradite in connection with the Paris subway bombings since 1996 and he still hasn't been extradited. I saw that in the material out of the Justice Department that you're changing your extradition laws. But, as I understand it, a lot of this power is up to you as Home Secretary. You have the power of the signature to extradite these people. Why hasn't more been done to get these people, you know, before the courts?

SECRETARY BLUNKETT: Forgive me if I don't get into the French Ramda case while I'm in the United States. I'm dealing with that with the French, as we all are.

The situation is this, that our outdated extradition procedures, both bilaterally with the United States and across the globe, are being completely reviewed and revised. I have legislation in front of Parliament at the moment that cuts out all the major delays, all the prevarication and the additional judicial blockages that are currently available to those trying to avoid extradition, even when I've certificated, as I have, those who should be transferred to the U.S.

I signed yesterday with John Ashcroft an updated extradition agreement, which will facilitate that, and will make it possible to immediately take steps when someone is identified and the proper evidence has been transferred, to take those steps to extradite, rather than the prolonged procedures we have at the moment. But I am, as part of the legislation, removing the layer on layer of judicial blockage.

Regrettably in our system, even the words of the House of Lords do not conclude the final blockage that exists through the judiciary, through appeals, in terms of the exact process for transfer. All of that will be dealt with in the new extradition legislation. So I plead guilty to the historic and arcane procedures that we've been operating and I put a plea of mitigation in terms of sorting them out.

Q: Secretary Ridge, we've now been at orange alert for a matter of weeks and the war appears that it's going to go on for some time now. Is there any reason to expect that we would not be at orange alert for the duration of the war? And how is the country going to maintain that? You're obviously seeing many, many complaints. Do you consider those complaints from states and cities legitimate?

And what on earth can be done about it if this level has to be maintained for a long time?

SECRETARY RIDGE: I think it's pretty clear that, in anticipation of military activity in Iraq, at the President's direction, we added an enhanced layer of protection around the country called Liberty Shield. And with the collaboration of governors, major city mayors, the first responder and first preventer communities, we know that we do have an additional level of protection around this country, which we will sustain as long as the -- the threat and the -- our military activities in Iraq require us to sustain it.

It is in anticipation of absorbing some of those costs and helping defray some of those costs that the President has requested substantial dollars from the Congress in the supplemental, as you know, for the first responder community, for governors and for mayors, there's a request for $2 billion. And we applaud the commitment of both chambers and both parties of getting these dollars appropriated between now and the Easter recess. We want to work with them every step of the way in order to achieve that goal, so that we can ease some of that financial burden that we've asked them to sustain with these dollars. As soon as we get them, it's our job to get them out and distribute them as quickly as possible. We're prepared to do that.

By the way, we also have the $1 billion plus that is in the pipeline now to get out to help our governors and our mayors absorb some of the costs of the added level of protection that they've given this country for the past 18 months.

Q: Democrats in the Congress have made it clear that they will not augment the money in the supplemental for Homeland Security because of the tremendous cost being incurred by the governors and by the mayors. Can you oppose this?

SECRETARY RIDGE: I've tried to explain to my colleagues in public service on either side of the aisle and in both chambers that if you take the dollars that are still available from the 2002 supplemental, you add it to the dollars that Congress appropriated in the 2003 budget, you add it to the dollars that we hope we receive in the supplemental, you add it to the $3.5, nearly $4 billion to combat terrorism in the 2004 budget, assuming they can complete their activity by October 1st, there will be $8 [billion] to $9 billion available to our states and local communities. And I think that's an enormous investment and we want to make absolutely certain that every single dollar is expended on what we need to not only help absorb some of the costs of Liberty Shield, but also to build a
broader national capacity to prevent a terrorist attack, reduce our vulnerability or respond to one if it occurs.

Again, the figure that I hear fairly frequently is in the $8 [billion] to $9 billion range. But, in fact, if they honor our request for the supplemental and honor the request for the 2004 budget and conclude that process in a timely basis, that's precisely the amount that will be available to these states and local communities. And then we have to be concerned not just about inputs and dollars but how well they're expended and outcomes. And I think with the infusion of that dramatic amount of dollars, we have to be equally concerned that they are spent appropriately.

Q: Sir, have you taken steps to improve the computerized information sharing about watch lists and databases of terrorism information that your respective intelligence communities may maintain and operate?

SECRETARY RIDGE: Yes. One of the first priorities we have within the new Department is to consolidate the watch list information that is generated from different agencies within the federal government to ensure that it is available to all of the agencies. As you well know, we have several departments and units that develop their own watch lists. Our first priority, our first IT priority is to consolidate these watch lists so that the people at the borders, people at the airports and the respective agencies have access to that broader list of names, the aggregate of those names. And we are moving rapidly to a point where we'll be able to tell you that it's done. We're not quite there
yet, but we will be there shortly.

Q: Mr. Blunkett, you introduced new asylum laws today that allow you to revoke citizenship for people you say abuse the privilege. Would you like to see the Abu Hamza subjected to those laws?

And, Secretary Ridge, are these laws something that you would like or intend to introduce in the United States?

SECRETARY BLUNKETT: Firstly, could I say that the laws are designed to ensure that, where people have had dual citizenship or where they have the opportunity of an alternative citizenship and they've abused the taking of nationality within the United Kingdom, we believe we have the right to withdraw that, and therefore to be able to expel that individual from the country. If I named any individual here in Washington, never mind back in London, I would immediately allow their lawyers a field day in terms of what decisions I'd already ratified. I don't intend to allow anyone the pleasure of doing that. So you'll forgive me for not responding to a particular individual in a particular set of circumstances.

SECRETARY RIDGE: Thank you all.

Q: Secretary Ridge, did you intend on following those examples as well? Secretary Ridge? The second part of the question of whether or not the United States, if you intended on similar laws here in the United States to revoke citizenship if someone is found to be connected to a terrorist organization, or sort of blanket laws revoking citizenship?

SECRETARY RIDGE: I think it's clear that in the post 9/11 world, that at some point in time that may be a matter that we consider in this country as well. But I would tell you, at this time, that is not something that is presently under consideration. But let's not suggest that some time down the road it might not be.

We have matters dealing with immigration and asylum that we're dealing with on a regular basis. Whether or not that comes to the fore and we deal with it, remains to be seen. Under the circumstances, as the Secretary has described, it's entirely possible. We certainly haven't undertaken that review presently.

SECRETARY BLUNKETT: Thank you very much.


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