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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
November 13, 1997 1:30 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

I'm going to start with an acronym test. Who can tell me what OSAGWI means?

Voice: Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illness.

Mr. Bacon: Special prize to the lady from NBC. We have, actually, Bernie Rostker right here who is the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Gulf War Illness and he's going to speak on his latest information papers and case narratives after I finish.

It's actually appropriate that Bernie is here to talk about his continuing research because the issue of the day is, in fact, chemical and biological weapons and Iraq's continuing efforts to obscure, hide its program to build chemical and biological weapons from the rest of the world. That's the issue that the UN has been grappling with and will continue to grapple with today in light of Iraq's continuing refusal to accept the type of surveillance that's been called for -- monitoring that's been called for by UN resolutions.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: I understand that the next 48 hour U-2 window will be sometime next week. Can you tell us when it will begin?

A: The notification has gone to the UN, as Mr. Butler said, and the period begins sometime this weekend. It's actually longer than a 48 hour period. In some cases we notify them of extended periods, and this is one of those cases. But the period will open over the weekend. I can't give you any more specific facts on when the flight might take place.

Q: It could be Saturday?

A: I think it's... It could be late Saturday. I think it begins, specifically, at 1800 on Saturday, but I'll get the specific time. It's in the notification.

Q: Our time? U.S. time?

A: I'll get the specific time.

Q: The last time the U-2 flew, Iraq said it remained out of range of any of its anti-aircraft defenses. Are you confident that on the second flight you can also remain out of the range of Iraqi air defenses?

A: I don't think I want to get into discussions of the mission. The mission will be flown in a way that meets the requirements of the UN, of the special commission. That's the determining factor for how it flies and when it flies.

Q: I guess I'm just asking, are you confident that the risk to the pilot will be minimal?

A: I'm confident that we will balance two competing and very important factors. The first is minimizing risk to the pilot; and the second is completing the UN requirements. Obviously these planes are designed to fly in hostile environments. They've been designed, really, to fly against SA-2s or in SA-2 environments. They do have some electronic countermeasures on them. They fly very high, as you know, which is part of their protective technique. I'm sure that we will do everything we can within the mission profile to reduce the risk to the pilot.

Q: One more followup. Has there been any consideration to deploying the SR-71 Black Bird, which is a much faster plane and many feel is impervious to a missile threat because of its high speed?

A: I'm not aware that there has been any consideration given to deploying the SR-71.

Q: Do you expect just one flight in this window, several, or...

A: I expect we'll fly to meet the UN requirements, and I don't think I'll be specific on numbers.

Q: ...the SR-71? If it further reduces risk to the pilot, why not use it?

A: Our feeling is that the U-2 is an extremely adequate plane for the job that's laid out for it, and that the SR-71 is a much more costly plane to fly. I'm not prepared to balance the risk reduction factors of the two planes because I just don't know how the risk reduction factors compare.

Q: If we are informing the Iraqis, or the United Nations is informing the Iraqis of what the window is in terms of the number of days, is it a security issue that prohibits you from telling us what that window is, or...

A: I can tell you what we've told the Iraqis, I just don't happen to have the piece of paper right here. When we get that, I can tell you what we've told them.

Q: Can you describe the Iraqi air defense picture now -- where they have moved their missile batteries, or at least in general terms?

A: I cannot describe it in any specificity. I can tell you they've been continuing to move their missiles around. I think there are two reasons for this. One, they clearly as admitted by Iraqi officials, are disbursing their military assets because they fear an attack. This has caused them to disperse their air force and to disperse their ground troops and their artillery, etc., over large areas. They've also been moving their air defenses I think for two reasons. One to disperse them for defensive reasons and probably to increase the sense of offensive surprise they think they may be able to get by moving them around and making it more difficult for us to know where they are.

Having said that, we devote a considerable amount of time and attention to following where their air defenses are, and I think we do a pretty good job of knowing where they are from time to time.

Q: Often you have said that this entire situation is a dispute between Iraq and the United Nations. Is that still the feeling in this building today?

A: Yes, it is. The President spoke to that earlier today.

Q: In light of the removal of the inspectors from Iraq, is the Pentagon moving any additional forces to the region?

A: We are not. We have very significant forces there. We have about 18,500 soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors in the area now; a very substantial naval fleet; and about 200 combat aircraft.

Q: Whereabouts in the Med is the GEORGE WASHINGTON now, and how long would it take it to reach the Gulf if needed?

A: I believe it's in the Central or Eastern Med at this time, and it would take about seven or eight days for it to reach the Gulf; but it has not been ordered to go to the Gulf.

Q: Can you give us a rundown on who the Secretary is talking to and meeting with today on the Iraq issue?

A: He spent several hours at the White House with the President and the President's other National Security Advisors. He obviously has been talking to people within the building and will continue to do that throughout the day. He has talked from time to time with some of his foreign counterparts.

Q: When you count the U.S. military assets that are available in the region, do you also count the B-2 bombers that are at Whiteman Air Force Base because of their ability to fly all the way around the world?

A: All our assets have the ability to fly all the way around the world with proper support, but we don't count them all. We count the ones that are actually in the area.

Q: What's the purpose of General Zinni's trip to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait?

A: He's talking to our friends in the Gulf about the situation, telling them what he sees the stakes to be and getting their sense of how they feel about it.

Q: Have we asked them for anything?

A: I don't believe that he is asking them for anything right now. It's more an information exchange trip.

Q: What is your concern for the members of the inspection team that are Americans in Iraq at this point? Their security?

A: I think the issue right now is when they get out, and Mr. Butler has made it very clear that they'll all be leaving except for a small skeletal force tomorrow by plane. He's rejected the Iraqi attempt to divide the Americans from the rest of the inspection team.

I have no reason to fear for their safety right now. I think they're international workers in pursuit of an international mission and they should be respected and treated like all UN workers around the world.

Q: When they leave by United Nations plane tomorrow, will that United Nations plan in fact be a U.S. military aircraft?

A: I don't know the answer to that question.

Q: Have you seen any unusual Iraqi troop movements or military activities?

A: No, not that I'm aware of.

Q: The Iraqi Foreign Minister called on the Saudis not to allow any attack on Iraq territory from Saudi Arabia. Has there been any request for Saudi Arabia to support these flights, or has Saudi Arabia indicated one way or the other whether or not it would permit attacks on Iraq from its territory?

A: We're not talking attacks now, we're talking diplomacy. This is a diplomatic dispute between Iraq and the United Nations. So far Saddam Hussein has succeeded in uniting the Security Council behind a tough resolution that the Security Council would not have passed 10-14 days ago -- it's passed it now unanimously. The Security Council is going back into session this afternoon to consider what additional actions to take in response to Iraq's intransigence.

This is basically Iraq showing itself that it's an outlier, far outside of the international community and refusing to follow the norms of international behavior.

Q: Have Saudi Arabia or Turkey indicated whether or not they would permit U.S. strikes of Iraqi territory from their territory?

A: I said this is a diplomatic dispute right now and it's being dealt with by the UN against Iraq and that consideration continues today in New York.

Q: So there's been no request to either country -- whether or not to allow strikes from their territory?

A: It remains a diplomatic dispute. We are pursuing all diplomatic means. That's what the President said today, and that's what Ambassador Richardson plans to do this afternoon before the UN Security Council.

Q: Are you saying that Iraq has lost and you win, and has not made any gains militarily, and that they in fact have not won but has lost his ploy?

A: I think it's clear that they lost. They succeeded in uniting the UN Security Council against it. They've succeeded in isolating themselves as completely outside the bounds of international behavior. I think it's very clear that they've lost this dispute.

Q: You think the allied coalition will be as strong as it was back in '91, or is as strong as it was six years ago?

A: Right now the UN Security Council is unified in its approach, and the discussions before the Security Council continue in the next phase of this -- how to compel Iraq to honor the Security Council resolutions.

Q: There's a report on one of the wire services that the British aircraft carrier Invincible is moving into the Mediterranean. Have the British informed the United States about what the ultimate destination of that carrier is? Will it be going to the Persian Gulf?

A: It actually is moving on a pre-planned deployment from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean. As far as I know, that's where it plans to stay. Obviously the Mediterranean is closer to the Persian Gulf than the Caribbean is, but Defense Minister Robertson talked with Secretary Cohen today and told him that this is moving as part of a pre-planned deployment in the Mediterranean.

Q: You say the Iraqis have lost, but they did succeed in kicking out the American weapons inspectors, or they will have, and they're going to leave, so why haven't they won?

A: As I said, they've unified the Security Council, and now the Security Council's task is to decide what to do next. In order to compel Iraq to abide by the UN resolutions. This is an affront to the UN. It's an affront to the Security Council, and the Security Council will start deciding this afternoon what to do next.

I think they've lost because they have turned disunity into unity against them.

Q: Since this Administration has said that Iraq has these weapons and are building them, if the UN does not decide to go in again after them, does the United States then have an obligation to do so?

A: The question of what happens next is one that I can't answer and nobody can answer at this stage. This remains a dispute between the Security Council and Iraq, and it's up to the Security Council to decide what to do next.

Q: When you say it's a diplomatic issue at the moment, that there are potential diplomatic steps that could be taken against Iraq, that it's not an automatic hair trigger that once these weapons inspectors leave that it's something that will take U.S. military response?

A: I can't speak about what the Security Council is going to do, but that's the body that's considering the next steps right now.

Q: But you're saying they're diplomatic rather than military?

A: Well, they can consider a whole range of options. By diplomatic, I mean that right now this has triggered diplomatic discussions at the UN among diplomats, that's why they're diplomatic discussions, on the UN Security Council, and they'll decide what to do next.

Q: ...has said they will not participate... Is it true the French have told the United States they will not participate in any military action?

A: Well, I think the French speak for themselves, but...

Q: Have they informed the Pentagon or the United States that they will not participate?

A: I am not aware that they have told us that. I think the French, like everybody else, realize that this is a serious challenge to the authority of the UN and the authority of the Security Council, and they're committed to do everything they can to resolve this dispute.

Q: If Iraq has lost, what can be gained from a military action that would draw sympathy to their cause?

A: I'm not talking about military action. I'm talking about the UN Security Council. You are the people who are talking about military action.

Q: I wanted to ask you about the story we had on the Tamara radar. Authorities in the Czech Republic said they're investigating whether there was an attempt by Bulgarian arms dealers to broker a deal for five purported anti-stealth radar to Iraq. Are you aware of this investigation? Is the Pentagon concerned about this? Is it cooperating with the Czechs in trying to block this deal?

A: First if all, my understanding is that the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Baklav Claus, has denied that they've sold this system, which is actually not a radar system, to Iraq, and he called the reports that it had sold these nonsense. He also said they would do everything they could to prevent such a sale from taking place. The Bulgarian Trade Minister has also been quoted in the press as denying that they were somehow involved as the middleman for this sale.

I understand that the story did not deal with the Bulgarian government, it dealt with private Bulgarian arms dealers who might be working as middlemen in this. I also saw, although I wouldn't put much credence in this, a quote by Mohammed al-Sahaf, the Foreign Minister of Iraq, denying that they'd done this.

We're not aware, based on these reports and our own information, we're not aware that this has taken place.

Q: We didn't report that it had taken place, that it was in the process and that they were trying to acquire them. Are you aware that Iraq is trying to acquire...

A: As you've also reported, Vice President Gore discussed this issue with Prime Minister Claus. They assured us that they will do everything they can to prevent this from taking place.

Q: Did this come up in meetings between Claus and the Secretary?

A: I'm not aware that it did.

Q: Does Iraq have the capability to shoot down U-2s flying at their operational altitude with former Soviet supplied SA-2s or some other weapons? If so, what do they have that can reach that high?

A: The only weapon they have that can reach that height is the SA-2, and that basically is the threat that the U-2 has been modified to fly against and has flown against successfully over the years. That's the only weapon they have. I'm not an expert on SA-2s, or on the U-2 for that matter, but it is theoretically possible that they could shoot down the plane. It is also highly possible that the plane would be able to evade being shot down. But nothing is absolutely certain in this world.

Q: To followup on Bill's question, is there an assessment from the Pentagon or the Air Force whether the Czech system was in fact able to track and engage F-117s or B-2s?

A: First of all, it's not a radar system. It's a family of passive collection devices that collect a variety of signals. They can collect the identification friend or foe (IFF) signals if they were on, but fighter aircraft don't fly with those on, on combat missions. It could collect various types of signals intelligence including radio broadcasts, but typically fighter aircraft don't talk to each other as they're flying, or they hold their communications to a bare minimum. And it can pick up various signals that could be emitted from weapons or from the planes themselves. What it does is, through a series of collectors, triangulate the signals in a way that makes it theoretically possible to pinpoint the location of the airplane.

So it's not a radar system that could pick up a plane in the classic sense, and it doesn't really deal with radar evasion since it's not a radar system. It's a system of other collectors, first of all.

There have been claims made by the manufacturer Tesla, a company that I believe is either in or very close to bankruptcy right now, that it can in fact defeat stealth systems, but we don't have any evidence that that's the case.

Q: Neither to track or engage?

A: We don't have independent verification that this system can in fact defeat the purpose of the stealth system which is to evade detection.

Q: Sarah Lister. Can you tell us what the Secretary's reaction was to her quote saying the Marines were an "extremist" organization?

A: First let me say that Mrs. Lister has written a letter to General Krulak the Commandant of the Marine Corps apologizing for the remarks that she made, and in that letter she said that her remarks were inappropriate and wrong. The Secretary agrees with that characterization.

Q: Will she be reprimanded in any way? She's on her way out, but is there any way the Secretary can make his displeasure known other than saying...

A: I think the Secretary is satisfied with the apology that Mrs. Lister has made. He agrees with her 100 percent that the remarks were inappropriate and wrong. Her characterization and his characterization as well. And I think he's satisfied that this has been handled in the proper way with a formal apology to the Commandant.

Q: Can you help us understand how a senior Army official could say something like that?

A: I cannot. But she does explain the circumstances of her remark in the letter, and the letter is available from the Army. She goes into considerable detail.

Q: Has she spoken with the Secretary today?

A: I'm not aware that she spoke directly to the Secretary, but there were conversations involving the Deputy Secretary on this issue.

Q: She characterized her comments as inept and inappropriate, but she went on to say that it was taken out of context. Could we get a copy of the transcript so we can unscramble sort of what...

A: I don't have a copy of the transcript, and I'm not aware that the Department of Defense or the Department of the Army made a copy of the transcript. I think this issue is over.

She has apologized to the Commandant. She wrote him a lengthy letter, and here's a copy of the letter -- you can see it's a lengthy letter. You can get that letter from the Army and read it for yourself. But she apologizes, flat out. She said she shouldn't have said what she said.

We live in a world where people make mistakes and they apologize for the mistakes and move on. That's what's happening here.

Q: It's difficult for us to come to a conclusion about whether it was taken out of context unless we know what the context was.

A: I understand that, but I can't help you if I don't have a transcript or a copy of the tape.

Q: Would it be safe to say she is no longer in the running to replace Secretary West?

A: I don't believe she ever was. I think she's made it very clear that for private reasons she wants to leave public service, and she plans to do that on November 21st.

Q: Did she offer to resign or was there ever any consideration on the part of the Secretary or Deputy Secretary that she should resign?

A: I think that the facts in this case speak for themselves. She apologized directly to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, the Commandant has received the apology, and I believe that this issue is past. She said the remark was inappropriate and wrong; the Secretary of Defense agrees that the remark was inappropriate and wrong. He thinks the apology was the proper way to proceed on her part.

Q: But there was no discussion of resignation? You didn't really answer that directly.

A: I think that the letter speaks for itself.

Q: Going back to the U-2 just for a moment. Since you're impeccably well informed on most issues, do you happen to know what altitude the U-2 was flying at when it was shot down over Russia in 1960 with Francis Gary Powers aboard, and how many SA-2s were fired at it when it was shot down?

A: Ivan, I was in high school in 1960. You might have been covering the building. (Laughter) You're probably in a better position to answer that question than I am.

I'm sure that we can go back and check the encyclopedia and find out, but I'm afraid I just don't have that information at my fingertips.

Q: Do you have a departure date for Secretary Togo West to go to the Veterans Administration?

A: I'm afraid I don't. To the best of my knowledge, he hasn't been formally appointed.

Q: A question on Iraq again. The Security Council is meeting today at 4:00 or thereabouts. Do you expect that to sort of shift the whole issue from diplomacy to these other spheres?

A: I don't have any expectations about the Security Council meeting except that they'll take this issue very seriously.

Q: Another on Iraq, and hopefully the last. There is an ABC poll that says if the Iraqis fire on a U-2 that eight out of ten Americans would favor military retaliation, where as 55 percent or so of Americans would favor retaliation if the inspectors are in fact removed. My question would be, are the U.S. inspectors vital to what the UN does? Is the UN going to go on with its inspections with U.S. support out of the country? Is it really that big a deal insofar as getting that job done -- the yanking of U.S. inspectors?

A: The issue here is not yanking of U.S. inspectors. The issue is Iraq's determination or effort to foil the entire inspection process. It happened to focus on the U.S. inspectors, but what Iraq's done is equivalent to an ex-convict trying to pick his own parole officer. Iraq is trying to dictate to the UN how it does its business. This business happens to be vitally important. The reason is that Iraq has not only made chemical and biological weapons in the past in great quantities, it has actually used chemical weapons against Iranians and against its own people. In 1984, it used a nerve agent, tabon, against Iranian troops, becoming the first country in the world ever to use nerve agents in combat. It's also used chemical weapons against its own people, the Kurdish minority of Iraq.

So we believe that two things, basically, prevent Iraq from continuing to build chemical and biological weapons, perhaps restart its nuclear program, and to move forward with efforts as it has in the past to construct long range ballistic missiles, including missiles that could reach as far as Paris. Those two barriers are one, the UN inspections under UNSCOM; and two, the sanctions that are imposed against Iraq.

Now Iraq has mischievously tried to make this a dispute over sanctions relief. That's not what the dispute is over. It's a dispute, pure and simple, over Iraq's efforts to build weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq could have the sanctions lifted if it met all the terms of the UN resolutions, including the cessation of its work on weapons of mass destruction. It has conveniently obscured that issue in all these tirades and lengthy talks that we hear from Tariq Aziz and the Foreign Minister and others over the last couple of days.

The issue is clear. If Iraq wants sanctions lifted, it has to comply with the UN mandates, and it refuses to do that. Its efforts to throw out the inspectors is just one more sign that it is steadfastly refusing to comply with the UN mandates. It wants to continue with its weapons of mass destruction program.

We think these weapons would be a threat not only to our troops, but to other countries in the region, and maybe countries quite far away.

Q: Can UNSCOM inspectors continue without U.S. personnel, at least temporarily? Could it be successful?

A: Ambassador Butler, the head of UNSCOM, has determined that Iraq should not be allowed to set the terms of the inspection team. It should not be allowed to dictate to the UN how it should do its job, and the Security Council agrees with him. That's why they voted unanimously on the resolution yesterday.

Q: Has the tripwire for the use of military intervention become any tighter today than it was yesterday?

A: We continue to have a range of options available to us and the UN has a range of options available to it. Now the UN is going to have to determine how to respond to the latest affront by Iraq, and they will start doing that this afternoon at the Security Council.

Q: If I could go back to Lister for a second. There are some folks who take her comments as evidence or proof that there's some sort of disconnect or gulf between the Administration and the military. What do you say to those folks to put their concerns at ease?

A: First of all, I'd say that those concerns are clearly wrong. I think that this Administration has worked very hard for the welfare of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. I think the evidence is extremely clear.

First, this is the first Administration ever to build into the five year plan the full military pay raise allowed by law. In the past, pay raises were a residual. It was something you got around to after you'd taken care of other things. We have built it into the five year plan. It's there for everybody to count on and for Congress to address year in and year out. We've made a big effort to improve quality of life starting with housing, but also dealing with day care which has recently received a lot of very praiseworthy comments from the First Lady and other people. I think we're trying very hard to deal with the operation tempo problems that are affecting many people in the military. We're working with Joint Staff and Under Secretary DeLeon trying to build more predictability into deployments so people can have more certainty over how to structure their lives than they have over the last couple of years. It's a difficult issue, but we're working hard on that.

But I think, most of all, what we've done is paid for the training and the weapons necessary to have a strong and ready force; because ultimately, the best thing you can do for the people who serve our country in uniform is to give them training and the leadership and the tools they need to do their job as well as possible. I think this Administration has sought to do that.

Q: What do you make of some of the hoopla over the perceived political correctness in this agenda. Is that just a canard?

A: I believe so, yes.

Q: You mentioned chemical and biological weapons. Does the Pentagon currently believe that Iraq has a covert stockpile of chemical or biological weapons?

A: In terms of biological weapons, Iraq has said that it destroyed stockpiles of biological weapons in 1995 or after the Gulf War. We have absolutely no confirmation that that's happened. They've never given us any confirmation that it happened. We assume that they do have some stockpiles of biological weapons. One, for instance, is anthrax.

Now the inhalation of just one-ninth of a millionth of a gram of anthrax is fatal within five to seven days 100 percent of the time, and anthrax is a very long-lasting, shelf-stable biological agent that can be stored for long periods of time. So I think it's quite possible that they do have some of that stored.

They've also made botulinum toxin in the past. That kills people within 36 hours by paralyzing respiratory muscles.

They have in the past manufactured VX which is an extremely lethal chemical. If you had a drop of VX on your finger you'd be twitching to death probably within three to five minutes. You would be racked by seizures and would die nearly instantly.

They've also, as I said, made sarin nerve gas, as we know from our research during the Gulf War; and they've made mustard gas as well.

So I have to assume that... They themselves have admitted that they have dual capability plants. What do you think the two capabilities are that they're talking about that they've admitted they have on their own?

So yes, I think this is a real and present danger, and that's why this current dispute between Iraq and the United Nations has such strong and dramatic consequences, and that's why the UN is taking it so seriously.

Q: It was reported, though not that extensively, that in the recent days you are sending to Incirlik Air Base, Turkey additional air and electronic power. I wonder what is the purpose and if you could say anything about the types and the amount of equipment.

A: You mean the equipment that we sent there recently?

Q: Yes. (inaudible).

A: I've talked about this over the last couple of briefings, but we have sent four additional F-16 fighters to Northern Watch, and we've sent five additional tankers. I think the last time I spoke on this we'd only sent one tanker, but since then we've sent four more.

Q: What is the status of this base in Turkey, since a year ago you announced that it's going to be closed?

A: The base is still operating and I believe that we've reached an agreement in the not too distant past to continue operating out of that base. I don't know the details of that.

Let me just stress, going back to the planes again, the reason that the forces in Incirlik were augmented was to help us police Northern Watch. We wanted to extend the length of the patrols flying over Northern Iraq. This is in the no-fly zone that's north of the 36th Parallel. The addition of additional planes and tankers will allow us to spend more time on station over the northern no-fly zone, and that's why we made these changes. The decision to make these changes actually was made several weeks before the latest dispute between Iraq and the United Nations.

Press: Thank you.

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