White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan joined White House press secretary Robert Gibbs at the briefing today.
TAPPER: On Monday, there were 12 individuals in the U.K. who were arrested on a suspected terrorist plot. I was wondering if you could tell us anything more that we know about that? Any — anything about their intention. And also, if the problem of intelligence sharing has been solved, if you could explain why Director of National Intelligence Clapper did not know at 3:45 on Monday about those arrests in an interview with Diane Sawyer that you and Secretary Napolitano did — how that’s possible that hours later he had not been told…
BRENNAN: I would be pleased to address that question.
TAPPER: Thank you very much. He admitted that today, as you know.
BRENNAN: What was that?
TAPPER: That he didn’t know –
BRENNAN: Let me address your first question first, and I will defer to my British counterparts to provide information about the status of their investigation. We are in constant contact with the British. We were since the beginning of this takedown of the individuals in Britain, to work with them closely to find out whether or not there’s any nexus here to the homeland, find out what we can about their motivations, intentions, and where their operational planning was going. So that is ongoing.
On the second issue, Jim Clapper is, I think, the consummate DNI. He was working on developments in the Korean Peninsula, in terms of political/military developments. He was focused on trying to provide support to the Congress as far as the START treaty deliberations were concerned. He was engaged in a variety of classified matters.
Should he have been briefed by his staff on those arrests? Yes. And I know there was breathless attention by the media about these arrests, and it was constantly on the news networks.
I’m glad that Jim Clapper is not sitting in front of the TV 24 hours a day and monitoring what’s coming out of the media. What he is doing is focusing on those intelligence issues that the president expects him to focus on and to make sure that we don’t have conflict in different parts of the world. He continues to focus on those.
And the — his not being briefed yesterday afternoon, this is something that they’ve acknowledged that he should have been briefed on. They’ve taken steps to correct that now. And if that happens again, I’m sure that he is going to be au courant as far as a takedown overseas.
TAPPER: Just one quick follow-up. Is that an — by implication are you suggesting that the arrests, that the threat was not serious enough to have risen to that level at that point?
BRENNAN: No, what I’m suggesting is that there was the sharing of the information from the British to U.S. officials. We were in touch with the British throughout the day — and continue to be so.
There was no action that the DNI had to take. There was nothing that was required of him to do. And so he was focused on those matters that required his direct and personal attention, and he was giving full attention to those matters.
And the president was very appreciative that he was focused on that.
There is going to be a continued interaction with the British on this. There may be things that the DNI person will need to be involved in. But as of that time, there was nothing that the DNI needed to do or to be engaged in that would have required him to set aside other pressing intelligence matters to get briefed on things that were being put out in the press.
TAPPER: What’s the fundamental principle underlying the president’s belief that the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was important? Is it national security, is it equality, is it both? Is there something else?
GIBBS: I think it’s all of that. I think the president believed it was — it was unjust. And I think — I believe that we had a number of brave men and women that were willing to sign up for their country, willing to serve their country and willing to die for their country. And I think the story that the president opened his remarks with today is — was one that was quite moving. I think that the president is glad to see this day come, on the grounds of both greater equality and an enhancement of our national security.
TAPPER: Is it any less unjust that those same brave troops can’t get married to somebody of the same sex?
GIBBS: Well, that’s not what the — not the bill we were signing today, Jake.
TAPPER: I understand that. But if that principle is important to the president about those brave troops being able to have equality –
GIBBS: I would –
TAPPER: — should they have marriage equality, also?
GIBBS: I would refer you to his remarks on that.
TAPPER: His remarks are that he thinks that marriage is between a man and a woman.
GIBBS: And that he supports, strongly supports civil unions and –
TAPPER: But the military doesn’t recognize civil unions.
GIBBS: I understand. I — you didn’t ask me what the military recognized; you asked me what the president believed, and that’s what I’ve said.
TAPPER: Well, just to pinpoint it here, it’s unjust to not let them serve –
GIBBS: Jake, to pinpoint it here, I’m not here to make news on that issue. Dan –
TAPPER: I’m just trying to point out the fact that this principle seems to have a border.
GIBBS: I understand –
TAPPER: You know, it doesn’t apply — it doesn’t apply to everything.
GIBBS: I understand what you’re trying to point out.
TAPPER: All right, can I ask one question about Israel?
TAPPER: Is there any consequence at all for the Israeli government constantly disagreeing with the administration’s position on housing settlements, or is there not?
GIBBS: Well, again, I — as we’ve discussed many times in this room, Jake, we have — we have — our government has had a position that dates back I think probably to the administration of
Lyndon Johnson about our views on housing. And we will continue to make our position known, again, as we have for many administrations. That does not stop our efforts to remain engaged in a comprehensive peace process. We understand as a country what happens — or I should say we understand as the world what happens when our country is not engaged and involved in the process of active — actively working with each side to bring about a comprehensive peace. That is a long and bumpy road, but the president will continue to do that.
TAPPER: It’s the same basic idea at play with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, that we continue to engage with them even if they do things we don’t like that are — that harm what we perceive to be our national interests.
GIBBS: Meaning what?
TAPPER: The ISI and its reluctance to, as the Af-Pak report said, that there’s still safe havens. And yet you still –
GIBBS: I’m happy to address the — I don’t know if you were trying to link a series of those things. Obviously we have important bilateral relationships where we agree and we disagree within those relationships.