Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–October 23, 2014 – 1:03 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. It’s nice to see you. I’m joined at the briefing today by David Cohen from the Treasury Department. We spent a lot of time over the last several weeks, even months, discussing the strategy that the President has put in place to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.
We have, for understandable reasons, spent a lot of time talking about our strategy related to the military — military airstrikes by our coalition partners. We’ve talked a lot about our effort to train and supply local forces on the ground to take the fight to ISIL. We’ve talked a lot about our ongoing diplomatic efforts to build a broad international coalition.
But another core component of this strategy is our efforts to shut down ISIL’s financing. This is David’s area of responsibility and expertise, and so he’s here to give you some brief remarks at the top and to answer your questions about it.
So with that, David, why don’t you get us started.
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: Thanks, Josh. Good afternoon, everybody. So what I thought I would do is briefly recap a speech that I delivered earlier today describing Treasury’s role in leading the effort to disrupt the financing for ISIL, which is part of the, as Josh mentioned, the overall effort to disrupt, degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL.
So I began by sketching the key source of ISIL’s current revenue, and noted that ISIL presents a somewhat different terrorist financing challenge for a couple of reasons. One, it has obviously amassed wealth at a pretty rapid clip. Much of its funding, unlike sort of al Qaeda and al Qaeda-type organizations, does not come from external donations but is gathered — internally gathered locally in the territory in Iraq and Syria where it currently operates.
But nonetheless, ISIL’s financial foundations can be attacked through the application of some tried and true techniques that we’ve developed over the past 10 years at the Treasury Department, and with some modifications on some of these approaches.
So with respect to ISIL’s sources of revenue, obviously ISIL’s sale of oil has gotten a lot of attention. Our best understanding is that ISIL, since about mid-June, has earned approximately a million dollars a day through the sale of smuggled oil. There’s been some progress recently in beating back ISIL’s ability to earn money from the sale of smuggled oil, in particular due to the airstrikes that have been conducted on some of the ISIL oil refineries.
Second, ISIL has earned about $20 million this year through kidnapping for ransom, through receiving ransoms to free innocent civilians, often journalists, that it has taken hostage.
Third, ISIL earns up to several million dollars per month through its various extortion networks and criminal activity in the territory where it operates.
And finally, as I mentioned, external donations are not right now a significant source of funding for ISIL, but it does maintain some really significant links to Gulf-based financiers, as a spate of Treasury designations we did last night — last week, rather — or last month, highlights.
So we are leading a three-pronged effort to combat ISIL’s financial foundation, closely linked up with the other members in the U.S. government of the anti-ISIL coalition, as well as with international counterparts.
So first, we’re focused on cutting off ISIL’s funding streams. With respect to oil, we are looking very carefully at who the middlemen are who are involved in the sale of the oil that ISIL is smuggling. At some point, there is someone in that chain of transactions who is involved in the legitimate or quasi-legitimate economy. They have a bank account. Their trucks may be insured. They may have licensing on their facilities. There is someone who our tools, our designation tools can influence. And so we are looking very carefully at identifying who the people are that are involved in this chain of transactions that we can apply our tools against.
Secondly, we are working to turn the growing international norm against paying ransom to terrorist organizations into a reality. This year there were two U.N. Security Council resolutions that very clearly came out and said that paying a ransom to terrorist organizations is something that no country, no member state should be involved in. This is something that has been longstanding U.S. policy, longstanding U.K. policy, and something that we’re trying to get our partners around the world to turn from a norm into a reality.
Third, we are looking at these external funding networks. Although it is not currently a significant source of revenue, there is obviously a big pool of money out there that has historically funded extremist groups. Very focused on ensuring that this does not become a more significant means by which ISIL is able to fund itself.
And finally, on the crime and extortion networks, the best way to address this, again, is through the military activity and other activity on the ground to push ISIL out of the territory where it’s currently operating. But it does sort of play into our second line of activity, which is to prevent ISIL from gaining access to the international financial system. So as it has funds at its disposal, it’s critically important that it does not get access to the financial system through the bank branches that are in the territory where it’s currently operating.
There are dozens of bank branches in Iraq where ISIL is currently operating. We’re working closely with the Iraqis and with others around the world, both in the private financial sector and in the public sector, to ensure that ISIL is not able to gain access to the international financial system.
And the third line of effort is to apply sanctions against the key leaders in ISIL. It has a relatively sophisticated, complex organizational structure. We’re going to look to designate the leaders, designate the people who act in CFO-like capacities, as well as to designate those outside of Iraq and Syria who are providing support to ISIL.
So with that, why don’t I take a few questions?
MR. EARNEST: Olivier, you want to start us off?
Q Please. Thanks, David. Do you have a sense of ISIL’s overall net worth? I realize that these analogies are not perfect, but do you have a sense of where they are in overall net worth? And could you maybe give us just where they rank either in income or in overall wealth against other notable extremist groups?
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: There’s no question that ISIL is among the best-financed terrorist organizations — leaving aside state-sponsored terrorist organizations — that we’ve confronted. I can’t give you a precise figure on what its current net worth is. But I think an important point, though, is to not confuse funding with financial strength.
ISIL has massed millions of dollars in funding, but a terrorist organization’s financial strength turns on its ability to continue to tap into funding streams, its ability to use the funds that it has, and also its expenses, ISIL, in its ambition to control large swaths of territory — cities, towns and millions of millions of people — has a significant expense side of its balance sheet. And as we work to cut off its access to revenue, ISIL’s ability to deliver even a modicum of services to the people that it’s attempting to subjugate will be stressed. And so its ability to continue to hold that territory against a population that in the past has shown a willingness to push back against al Qaeda-types is going to be stressed.
Q And one more. You said that external donations are not right now a significant source of revenue. Again, I’m sorry, can you put a dollar amount on what that means? How much smaller is it than a million dollars a day from smuggling oil, or $20 million this year from ransom?
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: It is smaller. In September, we announced designations that included sanctions against a Gulf-based facilitator — actually, a Syria-based facilitator who received $2 million from Gulf-based donors.
So I don’t mean to suggest that this is an insignificant source of financing, it’s just in comparison to their other revenue streams right now, it’s not as important to them.
Q Which countries are most lenient toward paying ransoms? And how do you approach this problem?
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: Look, we approach this problem by lots of quiet diplomacy, working with the countries, and making the point — which I think is both logical and, frankly, has borne out — which is that the payment of ransoms just encourages further hostage-taking. And so we all have an obligation to protect our citizens. And the best way to protect our citizens is to take away the incentive in the first place for terrorist organizations to take hostages.
The U.S. policy against paying ransoms has been longstanding, and it applies across the board to any hostage-taker. But in the context of a terrorist organization that is taking hostages, this policy has even more force, because we know that the funding that comes from the ransoms is used by these terrorist organizations to fund all of their violent activities. And so the best way to translate what is this emerging international norm into practice is really to make the case to our partners around the world that payment of ransoms ultimately redounds to the detriment of all of our citizens.
Q Is it mostly European nations that are lenient towards paying, or is it Gulf States? Or who exactly?
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: Look, I’m not going to identify any particular countries that are involved here. There are, as evidenced by the fact that ISIL has received $20 million or so this year in ransom payments, there are still ransoms being paid. And I think it’s incumbent on everybody and the anti-ISIL coalition and more broadly to adhere to the Security Council resolutions and to not pay ransoms.
Q What would be an example of the external funding sources that you talked about a minute ago? An example or two?
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: Well, an example are these donor networks in the Gulf where money is collected. There are bundlers, essentially, who collect funds and move the funds out of the Gulf into Iraq and Syria.
I mean, one of the things we’re concerned about — and again, we have recently designated some individuals who are involved in this activity — is the use of social media to solicit funds, and the ability, frankly, to move beyond sort of person-to-person fundraising and to use social media as a way to raise funds, bundle those funds, and move them out of the Gulf into Syria and Iraq. And so that’s something that we’re very focused on.
Q You mentioned going after the middlemen when it comes to dealing with the oil revenue generated by ISIS. Do you know who is buying that oil ultimately? Are there nations buying it?
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: I don’t think it’s — that’s what we’re looking into. And our intelligence community and our partners are highly focused on identifying exactly who it is in these smuggling networks that are involved.
These smuggling networks didn’t just pop up overnight. These are historic, longstanding smuggling networks that have been the way by which all sorts of commodities, including oil, have been traded over the years. But what’s different now, frankly, is that the oil that had previously moved through these smuggling networks, we now know that that oil finds its origin with ISIL. And anyone involved in the sale of this oil is, frankly, assisting ISIL, funding ISIL.
And so, in the past, if some of these people in these networks were willing to sort of turn a blind eye as to where the oil came from, that’s no longer tenable because this oil, everybody should know, is coming from ISIL-controlled territory, and trading in this oil is just funding ISIL.
Q And do you know how much money is coming from the West? Is there any money coming out of the U.S.?
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: Obviously it’s something that my counterparts in law enforcement are carefully looking at. I don’t have any indication that there’s any funding coming out of the West, or certainly out of the United States for ISIL. But it’s something where we’re looking carefully.
Q It was a problem during the battle against al Qaeda during the Bush administration, that there were organizations within the United States that were targeted by law enforcement.
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: I don’t have anything on that.
Q What more can you tell us, David, about the expense side of the balance sheet? What is ISIS spending money on?
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: Well, they spend money on fighters. They pay for their forces to some extent. But they also attempt to deliver something approximating services, public services. They are trying to provide electricity. They’re trying to provide water. But recently, I think in Mosul, there has been serious problems in the delivery of electricity and delivery of water.
But one of the things that ISIL has tried to do, which is, frankly, different from terrorist organizations of a sort of prior era, is to act as if they were a real state, a real government in the area where they are controlling; so to not try to govern entirely at the point of the gun, but also through some effort to deliver services. And so that is expensive.
The Iraqi government’s budget for the provinces where ISIL is currently operating for this year was well over $2 billion. Now, I don’t mean to suggest that ISIL is intending to deliver anything like the services the Iraqi government was intending to deliver, but that gives you an idea of sort of the scale of the expenses that ISIL, if it’s trying to sort of pretend to be a government, would be facing.
Q Can you talk once more about the donations they’re getting on social media? Are these small-dollar donations, big-dollar donations?
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: Look, I think it’s all of the above. You see these appeals on Twitter in particular from well-known terrorist financiers, ones that we’ve designated, that have been designated at the U.N., asking for donations to be made to — and they’re quite explicit — that these are to be made to ISIL for their military campaign. And that makes the efforts of countries in the Gulf that are quite intent on preventing funding from going to ISIL — the Saudis, for instance — it makes their efforts more difficult, because these are appeals that are made over social media and made broadly.
Q Just to go a little deeper into the expense side of the balance sheet, and in particular given what happened yesterday in Ottawa, can you give us a sense of how that funding is used, either for the influx of foreign fighters, or is there is any way in which is supports homegrown terror?
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: Well, I think that’s another element of the expense side of the balance sheet, which is to bring in foreign fighters — and there have been something like 15,000 foreign fighters that have come into Syria and Iraq over the last several years from 80 or so countries, including a dozen or so from the U.S. — those foreign fighters — it costs money to bring in those foreign fighters. Some of them are self-funded, but there is a serious concern that ISIL can use some of the funds it has, essentially, to pay for the fighters to come into the area, which is one of the reasons also that we’re focused on keeping ISIL out of the international financial system. Because their ability to fund someone who wants to travel from wherever into Iraq or Syria, that’s obviously made easier if they can send a wire transfer, and more difficult if they’re not able to.
Q Is there any indication that that money has been used with the dozen or so Americans?
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: I don’t have any indication on that.
Q David, in your speech today, you also obviously offered condolences to Canada but mentioned that we have to remain vigilant in the face of terror. Were you saying specifically the administration believes it was a terror attack yesterday?
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: I wasn’t, no. I will defer to Josh.
Q Do your efforts against paying ransom extend to private companies and families who might have people taken captive? And is that a tough argument to make?
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: Look, what we’re focused on is, in any situation where someone is taken hostage, first and foremost making efforts to do everything in our power — military, diplomatically, through intelligence and law enforcement channels — to free that person. And I think the rescue attempt that was conducted earlier this summer, an effort to free Jim Foley, was an indication of how seriously this administration takes the obligation to protect American citizens.
And what we’re focused on, on the no ransoms policy, is making sure that we reduce and hopefully someday eliminate the incentive for these kidnappings to occur. And we are highly focused on who it is that is receiving ransoms and who’s involved in the solicitation of ransoms. And those are all people who are vulnerable to our actions.
Q Do they include families and private companies?
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: Look, the bad actors here are the people who are taking the hostages —
Q I understand.
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: — and that’s who we’re focused on.
Q What is the preferred currency of ISIL?
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: Well, I assume the preferred currency of ISIL, like the preferred currency of everyone around the world, is the U.S. dollar. I think mostly what they have access to are Iraqi dinars.
MR. EARNEST: Justin, I’ll give you the last one.
Q I just wanted to drill down on the million-dollar-a-day oil revenue. You said, I think in your speech earlier, that that was from mid-June to today. But you also said that airstrikes have started to degrade some of that. So what I’m wondering is, is the million-dollar constant, which represents both ISIL, gaining more sort of sources of oil revenue, but being degraded by airstrikes? Or is it something like they were maybe making $2 million back in June but now it’s half a million over time? Can you just kind of explain —
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: I would say it’s a pre-airstrike number.
Q Okay. So you don’t have a number for since the airstrikes have started?
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: Right.
MR. EARNEST: Thank you, David, for your time.
UNDER SECRETARY COHEN: Thank you, everybody.
Q I thought you were going to bring Hurricane and Jordan in with you. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: That would have made for a good photo op, wouldn’t it?
All right, I actually don’t have any announcements at the top. So, Darlene, do you want to get it started with questions?
Q Sure. Thank you. On the attack in Canada yesterday, the gunman there was said to have been a recent convert to Islam. The Prime Minister described him as “an ISIL-inspired terrorist.” So I was wondering if this individual had ever been in the U.S. Had any U.S. officials been monitoring him or watching him? And is there any reason to believe there might be some sort of similar attack planned against the U.S. — Washington or anyplace else in the U.S.?
MR. EARNEST: Darlene, let me start by saying that our hearts go out to the victims of the despicable terrorist attacks that occurred in Canada this week. Canada is one of our closest allies, partners and friends in the world, and we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in solidarity. We’ve been clear that we are grateful to Canada for its steadfast commitment to countering violent extremism wherever it occurs, whether overseas or here in North America. And we’re going to continue to work closely with our Canadian colleagues to combat this serious threat.
Prime Minister Harper said it very well yesterday. He said that the Canadian people will not be intimidated. In fact, they will strengthen their resolve and not allow a safe haven for terrorists who seek to do harm.
President Obama yesterday offered Canada any assistance that’s necessary in responding to these attacks. And our respective national security teams are coordinating very closely, including again today. As the President said yesterday, when it comes to dealing with terrorist activity, it is clear that Canada and the United States have to be entirely in sync. We have been in the past and we will continue to be in the future.
As it relates to the threat that we face here, you have heard the President on a number of occasions talk about the risk that the U.S. faces from so-called lone wolves. These are, again, individuals who, in some cases, can be radicalized over the Internet. You’ve heard David discuss the robust efforts that are underway by ISIL to use social media to recruit and radicalize people around the world.
I should have preceded this aspect of my answer by saying that there continues to be an ongoing investigation in Canada, so I’m not in a position to discuss any details about this individual that is the subject of an ongoing investigation. But what continues to be of continued focus here in the United States are our ongoing efforts to counter violent extremism. It is a critical component of our nation’s counterterrorism strategy. And there was a report that was released a couple of years ago by the White House that was called, “Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States,” and that was a strategy where the administration at the federal level would work closely with partners at the local level to ensure that we’re doing everything necessary to mobilize resources and counter violent extremism.
That, of course, includes the use of law enforcement resources. But this goes beyond just enhanced community policing. This includes efforts through schools, through mental health professionals to make sure that every instrument of government can be used to work with local communities to combat this threat.
The administration at the federal level and at regional offices across the country has also sought to engage community leaders in this effort. There are a couple of pilot projects that are underway right now in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and in — I believe that it’s — actually, it’s Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Boston, where there are federal officials who are engaged in a pilot program to work closely with local law enforcement but also with community leaders to make sure that the messages recruiting vulnerable youth to engage in violent extremism are properly countered by community leaders that have influence over young people in these communities.
So this is an effort that has been ongoing for a number of years at the direction of the President. The President himself has identified the risk of a lone wolf terrorist as something that is significant, and this is something that the President talked about before this incident in Canada. It’s something that he talked about before we saw the emergence of ISIL as a significant threat to the United States. The President even talked about this risk prior to the Boston bombing that occurred at the finish line of the marathon a couple of years ago. So this is something that has long attracted the attention of the United States and the Obama administration. And the administration has laid out a very multifaceted strategy for combatting it.
Q So you can’t or won’t say whether this individual was known to U.S. authorities?
MR. EARNEST: I’m not in a position to talk about any details related to this specific individual.
Q On the fence-jumping incident last night, Congressman Chaffetz said today that there may be some changes needed to maximize the pain of climbing over the fence. Is that something the President or the White House would agree to if it were a recommendation from one of the reviews that are currently underway of the Secret Service? It seems like a simple solution.
MR. EARNEST: I guess it brings to mind a variety of colorful images — (laughter) — to pursue an approach along the lines of what Congressman Chaffetz recommends.
Q Well, a higher fence.
MR. EARNEST: Well, fortunately —
Q Not necessarily a painful one, but higher.
MR. EARNEST: I see. Fortunately, the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security is working closely with the General Counsel at the Department of Homeland Security to conduct a review about the security posture around the White House. They’re considering a wide range of things, including the deployment of personnel, the deployment of technology and even physical obstacles, like a fence, that are critical to protecting the First Family, the White House, and those of us who work here.
That is a review that we anticipate will be completed in the next couple of weeks. That review will then be considered by an independent panel of experts that’s been assembled by the Department of Homeland Security to ultimately make some recommendations to the Secretary of Homeland Security and to the leadership of the Secret Service about what steps are necessary to strike the proper balance between the top priority, which is safeguarding the President and his family and the White House complex, while also preserving the White House’s status as the People’s House, as a tourist destination where thousands of Americans a day can come through the White House, tour the seat of the executive branch of government, and walk out the front door. That is a very unique — that is part of what makes the White House such a unique building, but it also makes for a very unique challenge to the agencies and professionals who are responsible for protecting.
Q Last question. Is the answer still no on Ron Klain testifying at Congressman Issa’s Ebola hearing tomorrow?
MR. EARNEST: Yes. And the reason for that is, obviously yesterday was his first day on the job, so he’s very focused on the task in front of him. And we have heard expressions of concern from Democrats and Republicans in Congress about the need for the federal government and the international community to deal with the very serious threat of Ebola, and we certainly would welcome expressions of bipartisan support for ongoing efforts to do exactly that.
Q What was the President’s reaction to this latest fence-jumper?
MR. EARNEST: I did not have the opportunity to speak to him. I’ll share with you my own observations, however, if you’re interested. What I took note of is the way in which yesterday’s incident underscores the professionalism of the men and women of the Secret Service. These are individuals who literally at a moment’s notice are prepared to spring into action to protect the White House, to protect the First Family, and to protect those of us who work here every day.
And that is not [sic] a difficult task. There is obviously no margin for error. It is a task that they approach with seriousness and professionalism. And again, because I’m speaking for myself but I know it’s a sentiment that is shared by the First Family, we’re very appreciative of their efforts.
Q Back on Canada, when the President said there should be renewed vigilance, what exactly was he talking about? And if you could say, what assistance are we providing the Canadians? Have they asked for anything yet?
MR. EARNEST: Steve, the communications between the federal government here in the United States and Canada have principally been led by the State Department. Obviously there is a significant U.S. diplomatic presence in Ottawa that I understand is not that far from where the violence occurred yesterday. So there is a robust structure in place to lead those communications and ensure that offers of assistance reach their destination.
But based on the fact that the Canadian officials have determined that this is a terrorist incident, you can expect — you should expect that U.S. officials who are responsible for our counterterrorism efforts have also been in touch with their counterparts in Canada to offer assistance and to coordinate both in the investigation and in any needed response.
Q So “renewed vigilance,” what did the President mean?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think he meant a couple of things. The first is, as he mentioned and as I mentioned today, there continues to be extremely strong counterterrorism coordination between the United States and Canada. We value that strong working relationship. That strong working relationship enhances the security of the American people and the Canadian people. And there is a high priority that’s placed on ensuring that that relationship continues to be strong, and we’re going to continue to reinforce our efforts to ensure that that’s the case.
The second thing — and I think this may be more directly about what the President was referring to — are our ongoing efforts to counter violent extremism; that the risk that is posed by a lone wolf terrorist is something that has been of significant concern to the President for many years now, and there’s a strategy that we have put in place that goes beyond just enhanced community policing, but that efforts can be made at the grassroots level in communities across the country to counter the violent messages that are being sent by ISIL and other ideological extremists to try to recruit vulnerable youth.
And there is a very important role for the mainstream Muslim community in this country and around the world to play in this effort as well, that there are respected religious figures who can effectively counter the extremist messages that are being widely distributed in an effort to appeal to the youth in some communities both in this country but in countries around the world.
And the Obama administration has made it a priority to engage these local leaders and mobilize them in this effort. We’re pleased with the kind of strong partnership that’s been established in a number of communities across the country. But it’s important for us to continue to be vigilant both about the threat, but also about our ongoing efforts to counter it.
Q Speaking of the social media aspect of this, is there anything more that the administration can do? Obviously you want to respect First Amendment rights, but is there anything more you can do to crack down on these social media efforts that ISIS is using to recruit people in the West?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the question that you raise does raise some constitutional questions. And so I’d refer you to the Department of Justice that may have some more insight into what that — how best to counter those messages while also protecting the First Amendment rights of Americans. But as a general matter, there are a couple of things I can say about that. It’s not — it doesn’t have to be solely about essentially shutting off the message that’s coming from another country. What also is effective is lifting up the message of, in this case, mainstream Muslims that have an interpretation of Islam that is much more in line with the vast majority of those who practice that religion.
And that is part of why — an important part of why we have worked so hard to engage community leaders in cities across the country, particularly in the Muslim community, and that there are Muslim religious leaders that share the administration’s concern about youths in their community being targeted and recruited by violent extremism. And there is a natural overlap where we can work closely with them to make sure that they have the resources and opportunity to make sure that their voice is heard in this situation as well. Because I think that many of these youths will find those voices and those messages similarly persuasive.
Q Are leaders in the Muslim-American community doing enough? Does the President want to see them do more to make sure that message gets across?
MR. EARNEST: I think there’s an opportunity for everybody to do more to ensure that we are succeeding in this effort.
And that said, we have been very gratified by the kind of response that we have seen from mainstream Muslim religious leaders across the country. Again, these are leaders of communities who understand that there are youths in their communities who are being targeted by extremists around the world, and they are concerned about the wellbeing of the people in their community, particularly children and young adults.
Q It sounds like this gunman in Canada tried to leave the country or maybe wanted to leave the country, but his passport was pulled at one point. It sounds as if this concern about foreign fighters may not come into play in every case, in every scenario, because you don’t necessarily have to travel in all of these cases. Some of these folks can be radicalized in their own communities.
MR. EARNEST: Well, the details about this individual are still under investigation, so I’m not in a position to confirm some of reports that I also have seen about his attempts to travel —
Q Passport —
MR. EARNEST: — or his passport, or whatever. But you’re right that based on what has been reported, this individual would be in a different category than a foreign fighter, right? The foreign fighter threat that we have identified are individuals who have already traveled to the region and could return home to carry out acts of violence. But there has been, long before even ISIL emerged on the international scene, a concern about the risk that’s posed by individuals who live in communities in the West, become radicalized or even self-radicalized through social media, and carry out acts of violence.
And again, this is a scourge that has struck this country as well. The Boston bombing I think is a recent high-profile example of that. And this is a threat that is very difficult to counter, because we’re talking about individuals that are inherently cut off from some of the other connections to society that the rest of us I think take for granted. That’s why we’re working so hard to work closely with the leaders in these communities to try and spot these problems on the front end — because, again, it’s in the interest of the government as well as the leaders of these communities to try to protect at-risk youth.
Q And there’s been some talk about having a CVE summit here at the White House. Has any progress been made towards scheduling that or having that?
MR. EARNEST: This is something that has been a subject of extensive discussion here at the White House. I don’t have any announcements to make in terms of the status of our ongoing planning on that, but I hope to have an update on that soon.
Q And I’m sorry, I’m taking too much time, but getting back to the fence-jumper — do you agree, though, that what happened last night, not only the good work of the men and women of the Secret Service but of the dogs, the canine units of the Secret Service —
MR. EARNEST: I do.
Q — that this was an example of lessons that were learned from the previous incident in September, and you saw an improvement in the performance of the Secret Service last night? Is that a fair assessment? You may not want to say “improvement” because they may not want to hear it that way.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what I would say is, for — it’s difficult for me to talk about this without talking about the security posture that’s in place. And there still is an investigation about what exactly transpired last night, but I do think it would be fair for anyone to conclude that the results of last night’s efforts were better than the results that related to the incident that occurred last month here.
Let’s move around. Go ahead, Bill.
Q How can you say that when you put up an extra perimeter of security after what happened last month and the guy still gets over? He was unarmed, but he could have certainly been armed, he could have been much more dangerous than he was. So why are we all happy about that? It’s good that they got him, I guess, but isn’t anybody concerned that he got over in the first place?
MR. EARNEST: Bill, I share your assessment that it’s good that we got him. (Laughter.)
Q That’s a courageous stand. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: It is. It is. It’s a cold-hearted, clear-eyed assessment of the situation, and it’s one I’m prepared to deliver from here.
But look, there is an ongoing review of the security posture at the White House, and if there are additional steps that can be taken to improve the security posture at the White House, to more effectively repel individuals who might be seeking to jump the fence, then that’s certainly something that will be considered as a part of that review.
Q Another row of bicycle racks?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I’m not going to make any — unlike Congressman Chaffetz, I don’t have any — I’ll leave the security posture to the experts who will make their own determination about what would be an appropriate measure to safeguard the White House while at the same time balancing that with the need to ensure that people understand that the White House is something that is accessible to the public. It’s a place that thousands of tourists visit on a daily basis, that there is a free-speech zone that can be a pretty colorful place right out in front of the White House, most days.
Q It’s still accessible, clearly.
MR. EARNEST: Well, and it’s still a place that hundreds of us show up to work at every day. And there are a number of precautions that the Secret Service takes both to ensure our safety but also to ensure that we can get in and out of the complex in a relatively efficient manner.
So there are a lot of competing priorities here. The number-one priority, however, is ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the First Family and the broader complex, and I think those — that will continue to be the priority of the Secret Service moving forward.
Q But isn’t anybody surprised that last night’s jumper was able to make it over the fence despite the extra precautions taken?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, in terms of the security posture that’s in place and the risk that this individual may have posed to the complex, I’d refer you to the Secret Service.
Q Josh, on security, I just want to talk about Canada. Obviously there’s a lot of debate in Congress, there’s a lot of conversation within the administration about the southern border, and rightly so. But what does the administration think about — and are there any steps you’re taking to make sure the northern border is secure, especially in light of what happened yesterday?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Ed, we do have a very important counterterrorism partnership with the Canadians, and we work very closely with them to ensure the safety and security of our two populations. And that includes making sure that the border between our two countries is properly monitored, and in a way that protects the citizens on both sides of it.
Q On immigration, last year the administration freed about 2,200 people from immigration jails. And at the time, we were told by Jay Carney and other officials that the reason we were going to save a lot of money and that the people who were freed did not have major criminal records. And USA Today has now gotten some of those records and published a story saying that most of the people that were released did not have criminal records — that’s true — but some of them had very, very serious criminal records — charges of kidnapping, sexual assault, drug trafficking, homicide. Does the administration have any regrets about telling the Congress, telling the public that we’re not releasing people with serious criminal records, and it turns out some of those people were charged with sexual assault and very serious crimes?
MR. EARNEST: Ed, I can’t speak to the individual cases of those who were mentioned in that report. But what I can tell you is that the administration continues to place a priority in ensuring that the American public is protected and is safe. And that has been a top priority of the immigration reform policy that this administration has pursued, that strengthening —
Q But how can the public trust you saying that when several months ago Jay Carney said, don’t worry about it, we’re not releasing anybody who’s dangerous?
MR. EARNEST: Time and time again, we’ve talked about why we believe it’s important for us to increase security resources at the border to protect the border. We’ve talked a lot about how we believe that the deportation policy in this country should be focused on those individuals that pose a risk to the community. And that will continue to be the focal point of our efforts.
Again, I’m not in a position to discuss individual cases, however.
Q A couple short ones on midterms, to wrap up. In Atlanta, the President — among the African American radio stations that you have mentioned the President would be talking to ahead of the midterms, he did an interview with an Atlanta station where he said if Michelle Nunn wins that race, the Democrats are going to keep the Senate. And I’m wondering, usually the President doesn’t make it that specific. I mean, he’s pushing for votes in important — but I guess I’m trying to get at, is that just a device to turn people out in that particular race, or does the President really believe that that is the pivotal race? That if the Democrats win that seat, they keep control of the Senate?
MR. EARNEST: I think the President is mindful of the electoral map and understands what will be required to elect enough Democratic senators, reelect enough Democratic senators or to elect enough Democratic candidates —
Q There are a whole series of these races that are very pivotal —
MR. EARNEST: That’s correct.
Q And he’s saying, if we win this one we keep it. So I’m just trying to understand, is that just kind of an election-year, hey, let’s win? Or does the White House really believe that’s the one?
MR. EARNEST: I think the message that the President was trying to deliver, Ed, is that the challenge facing Democratic candidates in a state like Georgia, where Democrats on the statewide ticket at least in Georgia have faced a pretty difficult electoral environment over the last generation or so, that what he — the observation that he’s making is that even in a difficult environment like Georgia that a Democratic candidate can prevail, that that might be an indication that Democratic candidates in other races are faring well, too, in environments where there is a stronger track record, at least recently, of electing more Democrats to statewide offices.
Q Last one. A state right near there where there is another important race is North Carolina. The Democratic senator, Kay Hagan, was asked in an interview about the President’s leadership, and she said that he’s been late to the game on a whole range of issues. She mentioned Ebola and the CDC, and was pressed — you know, are you saying he hasn’t shown leadership on some of these issues — a strong leadership — and she said, certainly there are issues that I think certainly not, that he has not shown strong leadership. I know that there have been candidates, it’s old news that they’ve been distancing themselves, but for a Democratic senator to say a Democratic President has not shown strong leadership — how do you react to that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I react to that I think by saying that Senator Hagan is somebody that has a track record and credentials for getting results for the people of North Carolina, even if it means criticizing members of her own party, even it means criticizing the leader of her own party. I think that’s a testament to her character and leadership and her commitment to serving the people of North Carolina. It doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with her assessment.
Q That may be what it says about Hagan. What does it say about the President’s leadership?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think it says about the President’s leadership is that he takes all these responsibilities very seriously. And I think if you look at the situation related to responding to Ebola, to putting in place measures that are driven by his administration to counter violent extremism, that there are a whole range of threats that the President takes very seriously, has worked assiduously to protect the American people.
Q Josh, is there any concern here at the White House that the two attacks in Canada this week will in any way weaken the resolve of the Canadians in the fight against ISIS or al Qaeda?
MR. EARNEST: I think I would take Prime Minister Harper at his word when he says that the Canadian people will not be intimidated. And I think he delivered that message pretty forcefully. And we certainly have valued the contribution that the Canadians have made to our broader international coalition, and that was a message that was very well received by the President and by the American people. And it is indicative of the kind of strong relationship that endures between the United States and Canada, and it will certainly be on full display as our friends and allies in Canada are going through this very difficult time.
Q I want to ask another question about the midterms and about Georgia, specifically. The state Democratic —
MR. EARNEST: A lot of interest in that race.
Q Well — the state Democratic Party there this week apparently sent out mailers with pictures of preschool-aged kids with signs that read: “Don’t Shoot.” These mailers I guess are meant to ramp up, turnout of African American voters. On the backs it says, “If you want to prevent another Ferguson in their future, vote.” Does the White House agree that if African Americans don’t come out in large numbers this fall that there will be more Fergusons?
MR. EARNEST: Steven, I haven’t seen the specific mailer in question and I’m not sure what was motivating the individual who may have put it together, so I’m going to withhold comment on it.
Q Josh, I have three subjects I want to hit you with fast.
MR. EARNEST: Okay.
Q On the jumper last night, aesthetically — you talked about there could be some changes. Aesthetically, should we expect to see some changes? I.e., the fence that surrounds the White House has been in question ever since we’ve been hearing most recently with these jumpers. Could we indeed see something aesthetically change once this review is complete?
MR. EARNEST: It’s possible. It’s the subject of this ongoing review by the Department of Homeland Security. I will just say that these officials, as they conduct this review, are mindful of the need to balance what is obviously the top priority, which is the safety and security of the First Family and the White House complex, with the need to preserve public access to the White House because it is the seat of the executive branch of the United States of America.
So I think the point is, it certainly would be possible to build a multi-story, bomb-proof wall around the 18-acre complex of the White House, but that I don’t think would be striking the appropriate balance that I described earlier. So this is the subject of an ongoing review, and we’ll have the professionals determine both what is necessary to protect the First Family, but also what is necessary to balance these other important priorities.
Q So the balance could be a fence with a curve, or it could be higher, something like that?
MR. EARNEST: I wouldn’t prejudge the outcome of the review. We’ll let the experts focus on it. And after the review is issued and after the independent panel of experts has had an opportunity to consider it, then we can talk about it a little bit more.
Q All right. Other two subjects. On Ferguson — we understand that the Attorney General is “disappointed about the leaks from the grand jury,” and he finds it irresponsible. What are your thoughts about that, as it kind of signals to some that the police officer, Darren Wilson, is going to get off?
MR. EARNEST: April, I’ve seen the reports and I’ve seen the reports about the leaked documents. But this is the subject of an ongoing investigation and it’s not something that I’m going to comment on from here.
Q Even though your Attorney General is saying that he’s disappointed?
MR. EARNEST: April, I believe that the report that you’re citing is citing an anonymous official with knowledge of the —
Q I talked to someone from Justice, so I’m telling you what they told me — disappointed.
MR. EARNEST: Okay. So someone anonymously characterized to you the Attorney General’s views. I’m not questioning the veracity of that person’s comments to you, but I am pointing out that I’m talking in a much more public setting and I’m not going to do that because there is an ongoing investigation right now.
Q And the last question. With the frustrations and concerns in this nation about Ebola, I’m thinking back a couple months ago when the President made this big push for people to invest in Africa. Has this Ebola scare kind of tapped down some of the excitement about businesses going to sub-Saharan Africa and investing in Africa?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the first thing I would observe is that we were — that this Africa summit that the President convened here in Washington, D.C. in August occurred right sort of at the beginning of public attention focusing on this Ebola outbreak in West Africa. And I think in the context of that summit we saw a lot of excitement and interest about the opportunity that exists for Africa — not just for the African people, but also for American businesses who are interested in new markets.
So there continue to be very exciting opportunities in Africa. And I have not detected any reduction in the interest and, in some cases, even passion for strengthening the ties between the United States and Africa, and capitalizing on those connections to benefit both the African people but also the American people back here at home.
Q Josh, talking about the midterms, what’s the President’s reaction to Senator Begich calling him not relevant?
MR. EARNEST: I didn’t actually — I didn’t see those comments. He certainly — again, Senator Begich is certainly entitled to his opinion, but I think the vast majority of Americans would agree that whoever the sitting President of the United States happens to be is relevant in a lot of important ways.
Q Sure. This is the flipside, though, of the comment that a lot of the President’s supporters — including Bill Clinton — have said, that it’s not about what’s two years from now; this is a six-year proposition. So it’s a sentiment that exists in both a positive and a negative connotation. These are senators running for a longer term, saying that, please elect me for this longer term. Does the President at least agree that there’s a sentiment there — does he agree with the sentiment, rather, that these are people who are running for a longer term and that he’s not going to be here for the entirety of it?
MR. EARNEST: Well that’s a basic fact of arithmetic, so I would concede that. But at the same time, these individuals — as the President himself has said — these are individuals that have their own names on the ballot. And that is what voters will evaluate. And the President is interested in doing everything that he can to support those candidates who are passionate about prioritizing an agenda that benefits middle-class families, because the President believes that policies that support middle-class families are in the best interest of the country. Our economy grows from the middle out, so the more that we can invest and support middle-class families the better off our economy will be.
And so the President is passionate about that, and the President will continue to passionately advocate for the election of candidates who share that point of view.
Q A couple for you on different topics. You talked about striking the right balance between security and the traditional role of the White House as a tourist destination. Is there — will there be — one person whose job it is to be, like, a public advocate? The person who says to the security people, that’s fine but we need to do X, we can’t do this, we can’t put up that 18-foot wall, the moat with the alligators — no way. (Laughter.) Is there one person whose jobs it is, sort of like a devil’s advocate or a public advocate — is there one person whose job that is?
MR. EARNEST: Let me clarify one thing. It’s not just that the White House is a tourist destination. So certainly it is and it’s one that’s enjoyed by I believe it’s thousands of tourists on a daily basis. It’s the fact that the White House stands as an important symbol of our democracy, that it is a place — that it’s the People’s House, that it’s a place that is so accessible that thousands of people can tour it on a daily basis. And so it’s not just protecting a popular tourist destination; it’s about protecting the symbolism of that popular tourist destination continuing to be accessible to the American public and to the individuals who are responsible for electing the person who lives there. So I did want to clarify that.
That said, you’d have to check with the Secret Service to be sure, but I think even they would tell you that they’re mindful of this need to protect the President, protect the White House, but also to protect the symbolism of the White House as the People’s House. I think even they would convey to you that that is a priority that they share. And I’m confident that it will be taken into account as the ongoing security review is conducted.
Q Okay, so there’s not one person whose job it is to make this argument?
MR. EARNEST: No, I don’t think that there is sort of an ombudsman, if you will, in this matter.
Q A czar. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: That seems to be a popular word choice. It would be a little ironic to have a White House czar, though, wouldn’t it? (Laughter.) So I can definitely rule out the creation of a White House czar.
Q I appreciate that.
Q Moat master. (Laughter.)
Q That’s better, actually. And David raised the issue of countries that are — where people are open to paying ransom for people abducted by ISIL. Has the President ever raised that issue with another world leader directly in his many phone calls? Has he ever said, by the way, I also need you to maybe do something about the fact that your businesses or your government is paying ransoms?
MR. EARNEST: That is putting me on the hook to account for a large number of phone calls, some of which aren’t even public, most of which haven’t been read out in a lot of detail. But I will say as a general matter — and I do think that we’ve probably said this before — that the President has on a number of occasions made the case to other world leaders about the benefits of the position that’s taken by the United States. And that is specifically that no one should pay ransom to extremist organizations or terrorists who are holding hostages. And as painful as that policy decision is, it is clearly in the best interest of the global community for that policy to be in place.
Q Do you have a sense of when the last time he would have done that is, either to a group or to an individual?
MR. EARNEST: I’m trying to think about the last time that might have occurred and I’m just not sure.
Q Your guys’ old friend, David Axelrod, was quoted in Bloomberg Business Week today. The story is kind of about the President’s reluctance to maybe embrace the optics or the politics of situations, and Axelrod said there’s no doubt that there’s a theatrical nature to the presidency that he, the President, resists; sometimes he can be a little negligent in the symbolism. And so I’m wondering what your reaction to that is, and if you would concede that the President’s reluctance on that front has sort of hurt him politically and Democrats headed into the midterm elections.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I would say that the President did an interview with Chuck Todd on the first airing of “Meet the Press” when he was the host and the President said almost exactly this thing word for word. So this is an assessment that the President has acknowledged before in terms of his occasional inattention to some of the optical aspects of his role.
At the same time, I do think it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest that there is any direct political consequence for this, either in the upcoming elections or, frankly, in any elections at this point. But, again, I know that this is for the benefit of your reader, something that you consider very carefully and you’ve certainly considered it more carefully than I have. But the general view about the President’s attention to those aspects of his job is something that the President himself has discussed before.
Q Is there any effort to address that? I mean, it’s something the President mentioned then, but also in his “60 Minutes” interview about golfing after sort of — after I think the death of James Foley being announced. Are there any steps that you guys are undertaking to maybe play more politics, since it seems to be something that is kind of a constant criticism and something that the President has acknowledged himself?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the President is — I don’t think I would characterize it as politics and I don’t think I would characterize the decision about the President’s activities after discussing the tragic death of Mr. Foley as politics. I think it’s something slightly different than that.
But I do think that the President, again, in the context of that “Meet the Press” interview did discuss his own desire to try to be more attentive to those aspects of the job.
Q Is there a frustration among I guess you guys — I think maybe we hear it privately — but a frustration that there’s these sort of shiny ball objects that come up again and again that perpetuate this sort of criticism? Another point in this piece is that lots of these crises seem to eventually be resolved — HealthCare.gov is an example. A huge media criticism, but then a success that maybe didn’t get covered as much. Is that something that you guys feel is unfair and has maybe contributed to the President’s declining approval ratings?
MR. EARNEST: I think the short answer is no. But it has not escaped the attention of those of us at the White House, that what the President is focused on can, on occasion, be different than what others might be focused on. The President is the one that’s focused on results and the one that’s focused on solving problems. And there’s an important role for the news media and for advocates and for even other politicians to play in shining a light on problems that need to be solved.
And there is — this is probably even a core aspect of human nature, that there is less attention focused on the solutions, and some people observe that that makes the news a little depressing sometimes. But at the same time, there’s also I think a pretty legitimate reason for that, which is we should be focused on the problems because we have a government and leadership in this country that’s focused on solving them.
So I think the attention to those is understandable, but it is where there can sometimes be a slight misalignment between our approach to these challenges and the approach that’s, again, taken by the news media or by pundits or even other politicians who would rather spend more time talking about the problems when we’re actually focused on taking those problems and turning them into solutions.
And I think the President’s track record when it comes to things like the issue of unaccompanied minors at the border is a pretty good example of that — that there was, understandably, a lot of attention around this problem — but because of the efforts of this administration to work diplomatically with countries in Central America but also to focus our resources at the border, that this is a problem that has not been entirely solved, of course, because Congress has — congressional Republicans have been resistant to passing comprehensive immigration reform.
But the situation at the border is now better than it has been in a couple of years when measured by the number of unaccompanied minors who are attempting to cross into the country. And then that’s just sort of one example of where there’s persistent focus on the problem.
The President and his administration at the direction of the President comes in and, through a lot of hard work, puts in place a solution. But by the time that solution is put in place, everybody has sort of moved on to something else. So that is, again, I think that’s probably — there’s an aspect of human nature that’s involved here, but it does account for the different perspectives that are sometimes on full display in this room, at least.
Q A couple questions related to last night’s incident. I know you said that you haven’t discussed it with the President. Do you know if he has been briefed, and by whom? And regarding the dogs, who you omitted mentioning earlier but then gave due credit to, are these animals something that you and other White House staffers interact with? Do you know — are they integrated into the fabric of White House life or are they largely — they’re doing something else and you don’t actually see them often because they’re really only deployed in these situations?
MR. EARNEST: In terms of the President’s briefing, I don’t know the degree to which he has been briefed on this, but we’ll take a look at getting an answer to that question and maybe we’ll just append it to the briefing transcript when we get it out tonight to make sure that everybody gets it. So we’ll get you an answer on that. **
As it relates to the K-9 Unit of the Secret Service, the animals that performed so bravely last night are not something that we come into regular contact with here. I think that there is probably a good reason why these animals are kept at some remove — (laughter) — from employees and others who frequent the grounds of the White House.
Q Is that a reflection on them or you, Josh? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: Maybe both. Maybe both. But I think the individual last night probably saw pretty vividly why we all keep our distance. (Laughter.)
Q And then just briefly, I know you can’t comment in great detail — you obviously compared the handling of the incidents. Can you say broadly whether there has been a change in procedure in terms of handling potential jumpers as a result of what happened in September?
MR. EARNEST: For a detailed accounting of that, I’d refer you to the Secret Service and they may be able to be in a position to give you a better update on that. I do recall from earlier discussions about the security posture at the White House that in the aftermath of the incident from a month or so ago, there were some changes that were immediately put in place to strengthen the security around the White House complex. Jim noted earlier the bike rack that is in place — or maybe it was Bill that noted that — in front of the North Lawn of the White House. So there are some measures that have been taken, some of which are plainly visible to those of you who frequent the White House, some of which may not be readily apparent. But for a detailed account of any of those, I’d refer you to the Secret Service, who may be able to share more information with you about that.
Q Josh, just to follow up on Juliet and then a separate question. As you know, members of Congress, when this first happened a month ago, whatever it was, their concern was not a single jumper but what would happen if there were multiple jumpers who were in coordination. So in a serious way, can you respond whether there are now procedures in place where if that were to occur, that what we saw last night would happen multiple times along the fence?
MR. EARNEST: That’s a pretty detailed question about our security posture and I’d refer you to the Secret Service in terms of what resources and strategies they put in place to try to counter it. I’m not sure that they’re going to be in a position to talk about that publicly I think for obvious reasons but you should try.
The overall security posture of the White House is certainly part of the review and I think that would certainly be a threat that they would have to consider.
Q Secondly, on Ron Klain, can you tell us whether the President is encouraging him to talk to members of Congress as the new coordinator, separate and apart from whether he can testify tomorrow, to reach out to lawmakers, to talk to them about the procedures in place, to discuss their ideas?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know if he’s had any conversations with members of Congress so far. This is, of course — he’s a day and a half into the new gig here, so —
MR. EARNEST: Well, there obviously is a pretty robust staff in place to maintain our relationships with members of Congress. So we have a Leg Affairs department, At the NSC, there are a contingent of folks that are responsible for talking to members of Congress about national security issues. So there are people who are principally responsible for that. At the same time, I wouldn’t rule out the occasional conversation between Ron and a member of Congress.
He, obviously, is somebody who brings with him to the job some well-established relationships with Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. So I wouldn’t rule out that he may put those relationships to use over the course of this assignment.
Q Can you fill in any of the blanks about where he’s working, does he have a staff and what he’s compensated?
MR. EARNEST: I don’t know where his office is right now. I’ve been in several meetings with him, but he’s not been in my office and I haven’t been in his. At this point, he’s being paid as a consultant to the White House, because, as I mentioned earlier, this is a relatively short-term assignment that he’s currently focused on, on the order of five or six months. So he’s being paid as a consultant at a salary that’s in line with the salary that’s paid to other assistants to the President.
In terms of the size of his staff, I don’t know that he has anybody onboard yet, but I assume that at some point he’ll have at least an assistant to help him take on this important role.
The other thing is that he obviously is stepping into a role that is already at the hub of a pretty extensive infrastructure; that as he works with other members of the National Security Council and other folks at CDC and HHS, there’s a pretty robust infrastructure already in place. So it’s easy to plug him in there. I would not anticipate that he’ll need a large contingent of staffers to help him do his job. But we’ll see.
Q And will you continue to speak for him, brief us, or will he do that himself?
MR. EARNEST: As I have mentioned earlier, I do not, and Mr. Klain does not envision the role that he has now as being one that is what you would describe as a public face. I wouldn’t rule out the occasional, again, the occasional conversation with a reporter, possibly a briefing here, but that is pretty low on his to-do list. He’s got a lot of other things that he’s focused on right now to ensure that the whole-of-government approach that the President has pursued to dealing with this Ebola situation is up to the standards that the President has set.
Q And he’s is going to visit the CDC next week, right?
MR. EARNEST: I have heard that, yes, that he’s planning to travel down to Atlanta next week and to meet with some of the officials at the CDC that have been working on the situation for quite some time now.
Q Two clarifications. I think they’re going to be quick. (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I’ll try.
Q First on the White House fence-jumper issue. So there’s this investigation —
MR. EARNEST: First on the what?
Q The fence-jumper issue.
MR. EARNEST: Oh, yes.
Q So I know there’s this independent panel that’s sort of looking at best practices, and then that goes as recommendations to the Department of Homeland Security?
MR. EARNEST: The way that this works is the review is currently being conducted by the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, Ale Mayorkas. Typically, the Deputy Secretary at a Cabinet agency is responsible for the functioning of the various components of that agency. Secret Service is obviously a component of the Department of Homeland Security, so he has the responsibility for ensuring that that component is functioning properly.
So he’s going to conduct the review. He’s going to work closely with the general counsel at DHS to conduct that review. Once that review is completed, which should be the first week in November, I believe, he will then turn over that review to a panel of independent experts that the Secretary of Homeland Security has named. They will review his report and put forward a series of recommendations to the Secretary of Homeland Security and to the leadership of the Secret Service about specific measures that should be taken to strengthen security at the White House.
They will offer up some recommendations about what the permanent leadership of the Secret Service should look like, and they will also make recommendations, if necessary, about additional areas for review at the Secret Service.
Q So here’s my question — in sort of this effort to strike the balance, if these recommendations come in, and the President doesn’t feel that it strikes the right balance — it goes too far one way, they want to keep people on the other side of Lafayette Park, whatever it is, would the President say, you got to go back to the drawing board, or is this a decision that would be made totally independent, free of any influence or decision-making from the Oval Office?
MR. EARNEST: No, I feel confident that as decisions are made about how to implement these additional security measures, that the White House will be consulted and in the loop on that. But this will be something that is driven, however, by those with the most security expertise at the Secret Service.
Q And secondly, on these efforts to get at ISIS financing, these sanctions that are potentially being plotted, one of the criticism of the sanctions on Russian, for instance, has been a lot of these individuals don’t have a great deal of assets in the United States. There’s only so much that the U.S. Treasury is able to do on its own. Is that a fair criticism in these types of potential sanctions, as well? How many of these ISIS financiers have assets in the United States? What can the Treasury really do on its down to try and limit the flow of revenue?
MR. EARNEST: This is an excellent question. I regret that David is not here to answer it.
Q I tried earlier.
MR. EARNEST: No, no, I know. I’m not blaming you. I’m not blaming you, to be clear. But let me give you my understanding of it. You may be able to get somebody at the Treasury Department to give you a more cogent explanation.
What we have done to deal with the situation in Ukraine, in terms of applying sanctions to Russia, is that we’ve worked very hard to coordinate the application of that sanctions regime with our partners in Western Europe. And those partners in Western Europe are economies where some of the targets of these sanctions do have some exposure. And by working closely with our partners in Western Europe, we have been able to impose a substantial economic cost on the Russian economy and on senior members of that government because we’ve been able to work in coordination to maximize the impact of the sanctions.
A similar strategy is being employed in this situation, as well. David did make reference to the fact that we are working closely with the other 60 members of this broad international coalition to pursue this strategy. And shutting down the financing of ISIL is part of this strategy. And he’s working very closely with other members of our coalition to apply sanctions in a way that will maximize the financial impact of the regime.
And that is why — he made reference to the fact that he travels fairly frequently to the region of the world where you would anticipate that individuals who are closely aligned with ISIL would have significant exposure. And so we are working very closely with our partners in this international coalition to coordinate and maximize the impact of this sanctions regime.
Q And you’re confident that they’ll go along with it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, that’s something that is obviously the subject of regular discussion. I think that we have been quite pleased — and again, David would have a more tangible assessment — but it’s my understanding that we’ve been very pleased with the cooperation that we’ve gotten from members of the coalition because they understand that this is an important part of the strategy.
Tamara, I’m going to give you the last one.
Q And it’s really quick. When that Homeland Security review of the fence-jumping incident comes out, or is completed, will it come out? Will we get it? Will there be some amount of it that is released to the public or not?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, I would anticipate that there will be some aspects of the review that will not be made public. They would relate to basic facts about the security of the White House that we would understandably need to keep private.
That said, I would anticipate that some aspects of the review will be made public. And that’s something that we’ll have to work through once the review has been completed.
So, Chris, I recognize that I skipped over you. I don’t know if you had something that —
Q Well, yes, let me just ask you really quickly —
MR. EARNEST: There was no slight intended. Okay.
Q — because of something the President said last night, which is that the facts weren’t known totally about Ottawa, but that it was something that we have to factor in. He said, in the ongoing efforts we have to counter terrorist attacks in our country. Is there, beyond that, always ongoing review, any new meetings, any new strategies that they’re looking at as a result of what was seen yesterday?
MR. EARNEST: I think it’s too early at this point to say — after all these attacks have only occurred in the last couple of days. But I’m confident that our counterterrorism professionals are very mindful of this risk that has existed for some time. And I think this — these latest incidents only underscore the high stakes of the success of the strategies that we’ve put in place.
And so if there is a need to refine or update or strengthen that strategy, I’m confident that these — that our counterterrorism professionals have all the authority that they need to do exactly that.
Q Kind of a subset of that, is there a review ongoing now of security at government buildings?
MR. EARNEST: There’s not one that I’m aware of beyond sort of the regular assessment and reassessment that is done on an ongoing basis.
Thanks a lot, everybody. Have a good afternoon.
2:19 P.M. EDT