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DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA
March 31, 1995 1:30 PM EDT

Thursday, March 30, 1995 - 1:30 p.m

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

Yesterday Deputy Secretary Deutch sent a letter to the Hill detailing some of the impacts of congressional delay on completing work on the supplemental for 1995. We can provide this letter to you if you want in DDI, but I just want to give you a sense here, that the issue is if we do not get money by April 7th, what impact will it have on training and readiness among the various services, and he asked services to detail some of the impacts this would have.

For instance, the Navy said it would have to reduce the scope of the overhaul of several ships including the USS EISENHOWER and the USS INDEPENDENCE.

The Army said it would have to curtail a majority of its training events and cancel many National Training Center exercises. There's a list of some of the damaging impacts that this would have.

We remain hopeful that the conferees will complete work on this by the time they leave on April 7th.

Q: You previously had said March 31st, now its April 7th. Is that the real drop-dead date?

A: Yes, it is. And the reason is that Congress goes away. We have to know several things.

The first question is, are they going to pass the supplemental at all? The second question is, if so, when?

The longer the uncertainty goes on, the harder it gets for the services to juggle their accounts. If they know for sure that Congress will pass the supplemental and they'll get the money, they know that for certain but they don't know the date, then they can continue because they know that they'll get the money and they can make up what they might have taken out of one account, they can put it back in. If we don't know for sure and there's a risk that it will hit some legislative hang-up, then they have to start taking restrictive spending actions. That's the risk we would face if nothing is done by April 7th. Congress wouldn't be back until May.

Q: What would the impacts be?

A: Reduced training exercises and reduced readiness.

Q: So does that hurt the military?

A: Reduced training and reduced readiness would hurt the military. As you know, we've devoted a lot of time, money, and energy to maintaining the best trained military in the world. It will remain a very strong, ready, highly disciplined and supple military, but it will not remain trained to the very edge of its abilities, which is what the current budget is designed to do.

Q: Is it possible that several of the divisions could fall to the level that they did last year?

A: I don't think I could speculate on that, but it certainly will be true that some units will show a decline in readiness rating, if this were to... If we were not to get the money we've requested.

Q: To fight two major regional conflicts nearly simultaneously...

A: I don't think that will be the case. As you know, we basically have a tiered readiness situation where the units that have to go quickly are at the highest state of readiness. That will remain the case. But it will create problems. It will create a lot of difficult training problems and a lot of difficult financial problems.

Q: So what you're saying is that you can go past this weekend even if you wish you had the money this weekend, but April 7th is drop-dead.

A: We wish we had it last weekend. We can go one more week. The problem we run into if we don't get certainty on this by April 7th is there's a three week congressional recess. We don't know when or even if they would be able to pass the supplemental when they come back. At some point the services have to make a prudential decision that they can no longer continue betting that they're going to get the money.

Q: But if you know on April 7th that they will pass the supplemental, you just don't know the details, then you can go beyond April 7th.

A: Yes, if we knew for certain that they would pass the supplemental.

Q: If the conferees announce an agreement but it hasn't been voted on, would that be sufficient?

A: That should be sufficient, yes. We would rather have a firm vote on it, obviously.

 

There's always an element of uncertainty until the thing is actually enacted into law. You want to eliminate that element of uncertainty.

Q: Turkey. The Turks say they are proposing to the United States that Turkish forces in the Iraqi no-fly zone be put under American command. Is that an idea that you have heard? Is that something the U.S. looks at favorably?

A: We have not heard that proposal. We have seen a report that Dr. Gonesay has discussed that with defense officials, but he has not discussed that with defense officials.

Q: How about elsewhere in our government?

A: It wouldn't do them much good to discuss it with Commerce Department officials. He's apparently over here as part of a U.S./Turkish Joint Economic Commission. I'm not saying he's discussed it with anybody, but in the building [Pentagon] we can't find people with whom he's discussed it, so we're not aware of this as a proposal.

We've been reassured many times by the President and the Prime Minister of Turkey that this will be a short-lived operation, and we expect it to be a short-lived operation. The Secretary said recently that no time limit has been given, but we cannot accept a permanent extension of this effort in the Kurdish area of Iraq.

I also saw, just before I came in here, a wire service report quoting the Turkish Foreign Minister in which he said, "Contrary to false reports and misunderstandings, the duration and scope of the operation is limited. As soon as the PKK camps and facilities in the region have been eliminated, our troops will withdraw." That's a story that ran today.

Q: So if Turkey were to propose putting Turkish forces under some sort of American command in that zone, that is not something you would look at favorably.

A: We would not look at that favorably.

Q: Could you comment on reports that operational information or possibly intelligence information from Operation PROVIDE COMFORT flights over Northern Iraq somehow filtering its way into the Turkish military infrastructure and is being used against the Kurds in Northern Iraq?

A: We are not providing any support whatsoever to the Turkish military operations in Northern Iraq.

I've inquired specifically about the information out of the AWACS and, as you know, the AWACS monitors air traffic, and what the Turks are mainly interested in is ground traffic. They're attacking targets on the ground. We are not providing information to them to allow that operation...

Q: What about information from the Military Coordination Committee that is on the ground that travels throughout Northern Iraq? Is information from them provided to Turkish troops?

A: As I say, we don't get into detailed discussions of intelligence sharing operations, but we are not providing them with information they can use in this operation. Operation PROVIDE COMFORT gathers information about what's going on in the air. The Turks are interested in what's going on on the ground.

Q: Any reaction to the New York Federal Judge's ruling on gays in the military, the don't ask/don't tell policy?

A: We believe our policy is constitutional, and we intend to defend the policy. The Department has told the Department of Justice that we want them to appeal the decision. We assume the Department of Justice will decide to appeal the decision. But they have not announced a formal decision to appeal it yet. That's a decision that's made by the Solicitor General, not by the Department of Defense. But I noticed that Department of Justice spokesman Carl Stern has said that they plan to defend the policy.

Q: If this ruling is not reversed, what impact will it have on the military?

A: I don't want to speculate on that. I want to point out one thing about this ruling, which is that it only affects the six plaintiffs in the case. It does not prevent the Department from carrying out its current policy.

Q: So the Department will continue to enforce the policy?

A: Yes. This is our policy, and we will continue to enforce the policy.

Q: Can you tell us how many individuals have been dismissed since the new policy has been... Or if there are a number of cases sort of in limbo?

A: You'll have to ask DDI for the specific number of people who have been dismissed since the policy went into effect, because I don't have that. I have figures on the number of people who have been discharged under the homosexual policy over the last four years. It's a very small percentage of total discharges. But to get the...

Q: What was that?

A: There were 949 discharged in 1991; 708 in 1992; 683 in 1993; 597 in FY94. These are all fiscal years. I'm sorry, the percentage of discharges as a portion of active duty forces, it's not of total discharges, is basically slightly less than 0.4 percent.

Q: Any idea how many of the '94 are under the new policy?

A: I just said I do not, and you'll have to get that information from DDI. They have that information.

Q: There's been criticism from some of the advocacy groups that there is a difference in how this policy has been implemented out in the field, that some people are reacting quite harshly to it, others not so much. What type of action has the Department taken to ensure that the policy is fairly enforced across the board?

A: We investigate every charge we get about unfair application of the policy. We have not found that the policy has been applied unevenly or unfairly.

Both the Secretary and General Shalikashvili have commented on the policy and say from their standpoint it seems to be working very well. It seems to be working very well from the standpoint of the commanders. That has been our experience, and it remains our experience.

Q: Of the six service members that were involved in the suit, three are currently under discharge proceedings. What happens to them, and can you identify them by last name, please?

A: I cannot identify those by last name, but we'll get you the information.

The discharge action has been stayed. This order stays all action directed at those six defendants. It does not change our policy in relation to all of the other people in the military.

Q: .4 percent of discharges. That's not .4 percent of the total number of people leaving the military...

A: No, no. I said it is the discharges as a portion of the active duty forces. In other words, those are not, I'm not telling you that this is a tiny percentage of the total number of discharges. I'm telling you the discharges represent a very tiny percentage of the active duty forces. That's what that figure shows.

Q: There are at least two dozen gay men and women serving in the reserves on active duty, who remain on active duty because their court cases are in process or their discharge is in process. This has been going on, in some cases, in the case of Keith Meinhold, for over two years. What evidence do you have to support your claim that their presence in their units is detrimental to good order and discipline?

A: We are enforcing a law that was passed by Congress. That is our policy. The policy was based, the law was passed after 14 days of hearings. There's a very extensive legislative record. This is basically what we presented as evidence in the Able case. We referred to the legislative record in the hearing that produced this law. It's a section of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1994.

Q: Has the presence of these people in the units been detrimental to good order and discipline?

A: Commanders must have made that decision. The commanders enforce the policy, and they're the ones who make the decisions here.

Q: What about the 24 or how many there are who are actually still serving? Have those people proved to be hurting morale or discipline in their units?

A: You know as well as I do that there have been reports from their units that some of them are serving very ably and are very capable members of their units. Some have received awards. But I cannot go through a point by point discussion of all 24 people.

You are all referring, or referring largely to cases brought under the old law. There are four cases pending now under the new law. There have been rulings in two of the cases, District Court rulings in two of the cases. One, obviously, is the one today, the Able case. There was recently a ruling in Washington, I believe in the Seattle Federal District Court, involving a Navy Petty Officer, 2nd Class, Mark A. Phillips, who was discharged. The Court upheld the discharge. That case had a slightly different factual basis than the Able case did. The Able case is a case about the statement. In other words, the six plaintiffs stated that they were gay. The Phillips case is a case about acts. He was charged with homosexual acts, and the Judge upheld the policy vis-a-vis acts. In the Able case, the Judge has rejected the policy vis-a-vis statements.

There is a second statements case that's going to trial next week in Alexandria called the Thomason case. That, as I said, is like the Able case, is a statement case, but there's one difference, which is that the military had actually initiated discharge proceedings against Thomason, who's a Navy lieutenant. He brought the case to stop those discharge proceedings. In the Able case, the plaintiffs stated they were gay and initiated the case before discharge proceedings were begun, as I understand it.

Q: Even though this only affects six people, it nonetheless sets a precedent of sort. Doesn't it really make it more difficult for DOD and its commanders to enforce the policy because of all the questions arising out of it?

A: I haven't noticed that this policy has gone without question from the very beginning. It seems to me there have been questions raised all the time in the press about this policy, and from various gay rights and human rights groups. So the policy has been questioned from the very beginning. But it is our policy, and we continue to enforce it, and we intend to continue to enforce it until or unless it's changed. But we believe this policy is the right policy.

Q: Did you have to make a decision and send over that request to Justice in the past couple of hours, or had you already told Justice, if we lose this we want to appeal?

A: We've been in discussions with Justice Department. Remember, Justice argued the case. We've been in discussion with the Justice Department over this from the beginning. I don't mean to suggest that we're not going to appeal this case. I have every expectation that the Justice Department will appeal it. The formal decision by the Solicitor General has not been made to appeal it.

There are many avenues to the Supreme Court. Phillips is trying to get his case taken on appeal, the fellow who lost in Seattle. There could well be an appeal of the Thomason case, no mater how that turns out, the one in Alexandria.

Q: Let me ask a couple of questions about the Guatemala case and what the Defense Department and/or the Army is doing to investigate allegations made to Congressman Torricelli, that they are involved in some sort of cover-up and that uniformed personnel may be...

A: What's your question?

Q: What do you know, what actions has the Defense Department taken? What do you know about the case? Start with that.

A: First, the President, Secretary of Defense, everybody in the chain of command, takes these assertions very seriously. Today you probably know the President announced that he has asked the Intelligence Oversight Board to conduct a government-wide review of all the allegations surrounding this case. When that review is complete, the results, the conclusions will be made public -- to you, to Congress certainly, and to anybody else who is interested.

Specifically as part of that review, the National Security Agency has asked its Inspector General to review the handling of documents, materials, databases, etc. that may relate to this case, and the Army has also launched an internal investigation. Togo West, the Army Secretary, did that yesterday, as did Admiral McConnell at NSA.

In addition, the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Oversight has sent a memorandum to the Inspector General of the Army, the Inspector General of the DIA and the Inspector General of the NSA asking for a full investigation, and asking them to make sure that they've secured all documents, materials, etc. that might be relevant to this. That's where we stand right now.

Q: All of this chain of investigative events has been set off because of a single anonymous letter, or is there reason to believe that the single anonymous letter has elements of truth to it?

A: First of all, I think you don't have the time quite right because there was a lot of congressional and administration interest in this before the anonymous letter was sent to Congressman Torricelli. That letter added some assertions that hadn't been previously out there. The President had already vowed that he would have a full investigation of this. Now we have other allegations to investigate. We're in the process of investigating them.

Q: So the chain of events which you have talked about was set off last week by Torricelli's first barrage of charges, but the new set of investigations that you're talking about today, my understanding is, is the result of the anonymous letter?

A: The initial information about this case focused on the CIA. The new information, it's not information, it's an allegation, an assertion, as you correctly point out, made in an anonymous letter of unknown veracity at this stage, I might point out. That's one of the points of this investigation is to find out whether these allegations are correct.

That anonymous letter of untested assertions triggered a look in other areas. That's the NSA and the Department of the Army.

It's like being in a rainstorm. At the first sign of rain, we erected umbrellas. The rain keeps coming, and we're putting up more umbrellas. We're trying to figure out what's going on here. But we started this at the first sign of rain. As we have to take more actions, we're doing it.

Q: Is there any reason to believe that a uniformed military officer working at the NSA at this point, that there is any credence to the allegation that he was involved in destroying documents? Is there any reason to believe that that is true or false at this point, on the basis of what you know at this point?

A: I have no reason to believe that it's true or false, because that investigation has not been completed.

Q: In that process, therefore, what has happened to the individual named, Colonel Daniel D. Day? Is he still working there? What is going on with him?

A: I don't know that. In a sense, you're asking me to break out one part of a broader investigation and comment on it. It would not be fair for me to do that because there's a broad investigation going on, and all this has to be handled together, and that's what we're trying to do.

Q: Is it fair to say that in the initial broad investigation, that the Executive branch, anyway, did not have a clue that the NSA might be involved in the kind of activity which has been alleged in this anonymous letter?

A: I don't think it's fair to say that the NSA was involved. That's one of the things we're trying to find out. We do not know whether the NSA was involved. We don't know if the Army was involved. We don't know whether the named colonel was involved. We don't know any of those things. That's why we have investigations, to find things out.

Q: But you weren't looking at the Army before. You weren't looking at the NSA before, and you weren't looking at this named colonel at the NSA prior to this letter, correct?

A: It was not being handled with the same degree of urgency that it is now. I can't tell you that there isn't somebody in the government who wasn't beginning to ask questions about this. I'm sure there were. There are people in the government asking questions about everything at every minute of the day, but clearly it's receiving more attention now than it was before.

Q: Did Deputy Secretary of Defense Deutch cancel his trip to Moscow because he has become a congressional lightning rod on the ABM Treaty?

A: No, he did not. He canceled his trip to Moscow because he decided that, with his confirmation hearings as Director of Central Intelligence coming up probably in early May -- he needed the time to prepare for those hearings, while continuing to perform his job of Deputy Secretary of Defense. It was just not a time... He could not spend a week or more to go on a trip.

Q: Who will take those over, and how soon will he or she go?

A: I believe the State Department is announcing today that Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott is going on a trip to Russia, the Ukraine and Turkey. That was the trip that Deputy Secretary Deutch was going to go on. There will be two Defense Department representatives on that trip -- Jan Lodal, who is the Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; and Joseph Nye, who is an Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.

Press: Thank you. .

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