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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?
The Press: Please.
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.
The Press: 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
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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: Do they include families and private companies?
Under Secretary Cohen: Look, the bad actors here are the people
who are taking the hostages --
The Press: I understand.
Under Secretary Cohen: -- and that's who we're focused on.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: I thought you were going to bring Hurricane
and Jordan in with you.
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?
The Press: Sure.
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
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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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 --
-- to pursue an approach along the
lines of what Congressman Chaffetz recommends.
The Press: Well, a higher fence.
Mr. Earnest: Well, fortunately --
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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
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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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 --
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: -- 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: That's a courageous stand.
Mr. Earnest: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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 --
The Press: 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.
The Press: 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 --
The Press: There are a whole series of these races
that are very pivotal --
Mr. Earnest: That's correct.