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The White House, President George W. Bush

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 8, 2004

Press Briefing by Senior Administration Officials on Secure International Travel
Media Center
Savannah, Georgia

3:07 P.M. EDT

[ ... ]

The G8 countries plan to move forward with an action plan to secure international travel, particularly air travel. We look forward to moving forward with 28 specific actions which will be backed by time lines and will be backed by specific plans for carrying these out.

I can give you a flavor of some of the things that we have in mind. First of all, access to each other's information on suspicious travelers, including through real-time exchange of data on lost and stolen passports, data exchange on visa watch lists and advanced passenger information, and exchange on a reciprocal basis of information on terror watch lists. We also intend to cooperate on identifying techniques for high-risk analysis of travelers and on best practices for countermeasures.

[ ... ]

Q I'm wondering, a lot of these things, or at least some of them, specifically the information exchange, you've already had in place for the EU, which -- so I'm just wondering, how many of these 28 specific items are entirely new in their formation, and is there -- does anyone have any idea how much all this is going to cost?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All of them are new in at least some very important respects. And the information exchange that we are talking about developing here will go beyond the arrangements that we've made bilaterally with the European Union on things like advanced passenger information systems and PNR, passenger name record. So every single thing in here will push this agenda forward, including with the European Union.

The price tag question I'm not in a position to give a firm answer to. These are things that, certainly, the United States recognized as we must do, and I think our G8 partners do, as well. I must say that when we negotiated this approach, it was a very collegial negotiation because there is a recognition throughout the G8 that this is a threat to all of us, and to others around the world. And clearly there is a price tag, but I don't have a number for you today.

Q Can I just follow up with one thing? I mean, clearly, the threat here is exacerbated by whatever is the weakest link in the whole world transportation system. And I'm just wondering, I mean, isn't it relatively -- I mean, obviously, experience shows that anyone is a target, and any amount of security can be thwarted. But aren't there weaker links outside of the G8 that should be -- that should be addressed here, in terms of countries?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One of the things that you'll see when leaders move forward with this initiative is that there is a very heavy emphasis on capacity building and collaboration. We intend to push back our borders by making sure that we are cooperating with all of the countries that send air passengers, and, for that matter, sea freight to the United States. And all of the other G8 countries are adopting this same philosophy of pushing back our borders. That means that there is a premium on cooperating with countries that may have the will, but don't have the capacity to work on this.

[ ... ]

Q I have a question about the ease of travel. We remember the good old days, when you used to be able to roll up for and take a plane, and you didn't have to take your shoes off and take your belt off. Is there a danger that air travel is just becoming too unpleasant? I mean, in some ways, you could argue that the terrorists have already won, by making it so difficult to get on a plane. You have to be there so many hours in advance. You don't have these problems in Europe when you take a plane, for instance, from Paris to say Barcelona. It's not half as difficult as it is here.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All of the G8 countries have taken the view that we can have air travel be more secure and more efficient at the same time. One of the things that -- one of the reasons we want to focus on screening methodologies is that it can help us make sure that we are focusing our enforcement and screening activities on those passengers that we know least about. A number of the G8 countries had successful experiments in facilitated air travel, and this initiative is about secure and facilitated air travel.

For example, between Mexico and the United States, and Canada and United States, there are a number of frequent traveler programs that let known travelers who cross the border on a frequent basis be so identified, and they can, sometimes, just pass through electronically. I believe France and Switzerland have a similar program.

So part of the work program, one of the initiatives that we will be working on will be improving our mutual understanding about how to carry forward these methods, the risk analysis, so that we can have secure travel, but, particularly, for frequent travelers, travelers who are known, we can expedite their movements without compromising security. And we do want to make sure that any type of screening methodology that we might develop in this regard would be fair and would be objective.

[ ... ]

There are 28 action items in the Safety Initiative. They fall into four broad categories. Let me just run through those. First is document interoperability through international standards. That looks at issues like the issuance and standards for the issuance of secure passports -- biometrics, for example. The second, international information exchange. That is, agree on what data related to each passenger you need to collect, and then try to get access to it as early in the screening system as is possible. Third, to reduce the MANPADS threat. There's already been some work done in this area, including the assessment -- an assessments guide on the vulnerability of G8 airports. That guide will be used by all of its members, then, to assess the smaller secondary airports, as well.

And then, the fourth broad category focuses on cooperation and capacity building. In the wake of the holiday aviation threat this last New Year's time period, what we discovered working, most particularly with the U.K., France, and with Mexico, was our need for 24-by-7 access to civil aviation points of contact so that we could exchange not only threat data, but also cooperatively decide what was the best way to manage that threat -- the best way, one most secure, ensuring the safety of civil aviation, but also, in a way that was -- met the needs of, sort of, bilaterally and multilaterally, our partners. Those 24-hour points of contact are part of the action plan,; that's already in place.

We will also work to have an agreed upon airport inspection and enforcement regime; that is, what are the best practices that we have found since our renewed and increased focus on the safety of civil aviation.

We really must look at standards for information gathering and what those data points ought to be. As I mentioned, we need to acquire them as early as possible. One of the things we found during the holiday threat period was that we -- you don't get the kind of data you need until very late in the process; that is within that last 60 minutes when someone's boarding. When that information is incomplete and you try to go through that data, what you find is you have multiple hits against very common names because there's insufficient identifiers. This pointed out a bunch of things, not only the need to get the information earlier in the process, but the need for very specific points of data on individual passengers.

We have seen over -- based on our experience post-September 11th, the urgent need to develop standards for tamper-resistant travel documents. And that comes back to the notion of biometrics, for passports, for visa. We need to get better at processes for the intel-based screening of passengers and the sharing of information related to terrorism watch lists.

This sort of thing brings me to -- I mentioned in passing the notion of visas. The Department of Homeland Security, under the leadership of Secretary Tom Ridge, is spending an enormous amount of energy and time trying to refine our visa processes, not just the documents themselves, but the procedures and processes that people go through with consulates, American consulates around the world.

As you've heard me say, here in the Safety Initiative -- but it applies more broadly -- we want to encourage people to take advantage of American educational institutions, medical intuitions, and commerce, business here. To do that, people have to feel comfortable with our travel procedures, and that we have to make them more user-friendly. We believe we can do that by the Safety Initiative and the review of the visa process that's going on at the Department of Homeland Security while ensuring safety standards and security.

That's sort of a brief overview of the initiative, and I'm happy to take questions.

Q How much time will be given to the discussion of these 28 points?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know off the top of my head the exact amount of time. I will tell you that a lot of work went into for both the Roman group and the Leon group, so there's been a tremendous amount of work already done. There's basic agreement among the sherpas. So I don't know that there needs to be a lot of time among the principals. I think the details have basically been worked out in advance.

Q With regard to air travel screening methodologies, and we kind of touched on this a little bit earlier with the previous speaker, but I wanted to go into greater detail -- is there a protocol in place right now specifically barring the use of political affiliation and/or race and ethnicity as identifying characteristics in their screening?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The answer to the question seems so obvious that I want to say yes. I can't say that I personally have gone and looked, but I feel relatively confident that that is the case. Those are not factors for screening.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And if I could add, we have made it very clear in this document that we are not going -- we're only going to base these screening methodologies on appropriate and objective criteria. And so that is the plan, going forward, as you suggested.

Q I'm curious, in the first category where you talk about document interoperability, and then when you were discussing that the U.S. visa process -- are you pushing the rest of the G8 to adopt U.S. visa issuance standards, including, say, the U.S. visa program? Are you telling the G8 that you would like to see them start photographing and fingerprinting people on arrival?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me parse the question.

Q I know they're two different things here. But as far as I was -- well, the impression I was under was that document interoperability, which I think might, or possibly could cover what you were talking about, had to do only with biometric passports and other travel documents, not necessarily the process by which one is granted a visa or a G8 country grants a visa to someone, or how they are treated when they arrived at a given airport by the immigration people.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right. The safety initiative focuses on the biometrics, the interoperability issue of passports. And that is what -- what should be the standards for, say, something like a smart chip in the future, and trying to agree upon the basic standards for that. The fingerprint issue is a hugely controversial issue. We have our own U.S. requirements for U.S. documents; we are working through that. And what this provides us is really a forum to discuss those issues with our G8 partners.

Did you want to add anything?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. Just on the visa point, one of the things that other G8 countries have very much stressed is that the receiving state, at the end of the day, has to control their visa process. So there is an interest in expediting visa processes, and we are talking about that as one of the principles. But the bottom line remains that the receiving state has to set these policies. And the United States was not the country that argued most strenuously for that principle.

Q -- included in these 28 -- visa issuance procedures and the handling of people when they arrive at an airport, i.e., fingerprinting and photographing, is not a part of the 28 points?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Visas are not specifically, but I consider a visa a travel document. So I think all -- I think travel documents are on the table.


Q I asked this before, but I'm just going back to what you said about the need to ease the flow of travel. And you talked about the complaints you hear every day from the traveling public. Is there a sense that -- do you recognize that maybe the security measures that are being taken since September 11th have been a bit heavy-handed, or that just too broad? Have they taken the fun out of travel?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I'd start by saying this is clearly a pop quiz for me because I didn't hear your answer. So let's see if I pass, okay? (Laughter.) I would say to you that I would not describe the security measures as heavy-handed. What I would say to you is this is an initiative and an effort to try and direct them and focus them in a more tactical way so that they're applied and not interruptive -- they're applied appropriately to those who are deserving, and not to those who are really not the subject of our interest in terms of law enforcement intelligence.

Thank you very much.

END 3:35 P.M. EDT