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Secretary Cohen Media Availability at Morristown Airport, Morristown, NJ

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
May 28, 2000

Friday, May 28, 2000

Media Availability at Morristown Airport, Morristown, NJ

Congressman Frelinghuysen: Good morning. Thank you very much for coming. I'm Rodney Frelinghuysen. I represent the 11th Congressional District. Let me thank you for being here this morning.

It's an honor to welcome Secretary Bill Cohen, the Defense secretary, to New Jersey, and most particularly to the 11th Congressional District.

As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, the committee on Defense Appropriations, I've had an opportunity to get to know Secretary Cohen. And let me first of all pay tribute to your role as Defense secretary, and particularly what you do each and every day to support our young men and women in the field.

The secretary shared with me that in the three-plus years that he's been Defense secretary he's traveled over 750,000 miles which is a lot of territory, and visiting a lot of our young men and women not only in the United States but throughout the world.

We have just come from Picatinny Arsenal in Rockaway Township which is I think our nation's primary or premier research and development facility for armaments. The work of the men and women of Picatinny Arsenal is of particular interest to me since I represent the area, but I do know that it's very important to the Army. Ninety percent of the Army's lethality is developed up at Picatinny and I think Secretary Cohen got a flavor of the good work of the men and women who work in research and development. Every time a young person bears a weapon or shoots a mortar or directs tank fire, the brain power behind those munitions is developed up at Picatinny. It may not be well known, but I know the secretary knows it and appreciates it. So it's an honor for me to welcome Secretary Bill Cohen here this morning.

Thank you very much for being here, Bill.

Secretary Cohen: Thank you.

Thank you very much. Let me say that I'm here for a couple of reasons. Number one, Congressman Frelinghuysen invited me to come here. Number two, I admire the work that he does in Congress, and he follows in the footsteps of his father whom I served with too many years ago in the House of Representatives.

So it's a pleasure for me to be here, to have an opportunity to get a very brief tour of the arsenal and to say how important it is to our ability to remain the most powerful nation in the world, to have the best fighting force in the world, to see our soldiers who go out into the field have the kind of equipment that allows them to carry out their mission, reducing the risk to them by having greater lethality, mobility, tactical advantage, full awareness of the battlefield -- all of that is required today and what tomorrow's warriors need.

We have great leadership in our military today, especially at the arsenal. So I wanted to be here to have a chance to look at some of the new systems that are being developed. It's very exciting to see the combination of industrial input as well as our own unique capabilities in scientific developments produced in DARPA and other agencies. All of that is very important to the future Army that we're going to have.

We're in a transition phase now where the Army is going to become more mobile, certainly lighter but with greater lethality. As a result of that the kind of technologies that are being developed today are going to be terribly important to the future. So I wanted to be here for that reason.

Secondly, I wanted to point out that we're approaching a very important weekend -- Memorial Day weekend, in which there will be quite a few celebrations. A celebration in the sense that we remember all of the sacrifice that has been made on our behalf over the years by the men and women in uniform. All of us sleep more safely under the flag of freedom as a result of the sacrifices that have been made. We will commemorate that over the weekend in a variety of ways, but I think it's important to take this opportunity to extend our thanks to all the men and women who have served in the past, who are serving us now, and will serve in the future, that we have a great country and we will keep it as long as we have a strong military to back up a strong (inaudible).

With that, let me and Congressman Frelinghuysen entertain your questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, if the Department of Defense inspector general found that Mr. Bacon and Mr. Bernath (inaudible), why did you not have charges brought against them?

Secretary Cohen: There are no charges that I would bring against either individual. The Justice Department found that there was insufficient evidence to charge them with a crime. Both gentlemen are now under civil litigation for alleged violations of the Privacy Act.

What I did was to look at the inspector general's report and it noted a number of things. Apparently, contrary to allegations that were made, there was no attempt or intent to injure Ms. Tripp's credibility or her reputation. They were seeking to respond to a question from the press and felt that the Freedom of Information Act was very much involved in their minds. There was no attempt to orchestrate any campaign to discredit Ms. Tripp. The inspector general found no such conspiracy as such between either White House personnel or others in the Executive Branch. So this was something they responded to.

I think they made a mistake, and I said so. I thought it was not up to the professional standards that they normally demonstrate. I looked at Ken Bacon's background in particular, and I found that he has not only been a distinguished journalist himself, but he has served the Department of Defense very well and in an outstanding fashion for many years. So weighing that against a major mistake that he made in this particular case, I found that a reprimand, and a public reprimand, was appropriate under the circumstances.

This is not something that we would lightly dismiss, and in the final analysis because there were the extenuating circumstances, namely that he was not acting at anyone's behest; he did not initiate the disclosure about Ms. Tripp; I felt that his entire record should be taken into account. But it is by no means any small matter when you get a public reprimand from the secretary of Defense.

Q: Ms. Tripp's lawyers are calling for him to be fired. Is there any...

Secretary Cohen: I've made a determination that I don't intend to fire him. I intended to reprimand him and to do so in a public fashion.

Ms. Tripp and her lawyers obviously are involved in litigation right now and they are pursuing their remedies in the courts.

Q: (inaudible)

Secretary Cohen: What impressed me the most were actually the people who were at the arsenal. The talent that we have I think many times goes unnoticed and unrewarded by society in general. But we have a tremendous pool of talent at the arsenal. Young people, older people, who are dedicated to developing the kind of technologies that will help us in the future.

A number of things that we looked at were quite impressive. The non-lethal munitions were quite impressive. The kind of barrier protections, non-lethal barrier protections that were demonstrated today. The kind of new munitions that are smart munitions that will allow our soldiers to stand at very long distances and be able to take down enemy forces with absolute precision. All of that was displayed today. It would be hard to pick out one single type of...

Q: (inaudible)

Secretary Cohen: Based on what I've seen, Picatinny will continue to be a very important part of our nation's national security. Every facility, every time a base closure process is put into effect, every facility has to be considered. But when you measure them and you weight them, you look at the contribution that this arsenal is making to our national security, it has to I think bode very well for the future. I can't predict what will take place in the years to come, but when you see the kind of talent and support that the community has for the arsenal, the role that it plays in the development of these new technologies for munitions, all of that weighs in favor of the arsenal.

Q: There's a great deal of concern over landmines over the years, (inaudible). Would you like to do more on (inaudible)?

Secretary Cohen: We are spending a great deal of money on landmines and alternatives to landmines. For example, we uniquely have developed smart landmines as such, those that self-destruct after a set period of time -- with the exception of those that are located in Korea.

We have even agreed to give those anti-personnel landmines up by the year 2003. We are looking for ways in which we can find alternatives to our anti-tank mines that include some small amount of anti-personnel landmines in them. Called (inaudible).

But it's important that we look at alternatives. But the most important thing from my perspective is that we always have to keep in mind that we are not using those kinds of mines with the exception in Korea that pose a threat to innocent human beings or animals. Ours are self-destruct types of mines.

So we don't pose a threat to innocent life but there are many countries that do. So we are the leader, number one, in protecting innocent people. But secondly, we are also the leader in demining.

We have spent some $400 million since 1993 on demining activities and teaching other countries how to demine. I think we probably contribute, some 25 percent of all the people who are engaged in demining, have been trained by the United States and are funded by us.

So we have a leadership role in demining activities. We are exploring new technologies to see if we can come up with technologies that will further this effort.

But ultimately what we have to make sure that we do is that we have an absolute obligation to protect the men and women who are out there in the field, and to protect their lives. So we always have to keep that in mind, that this is a force protection measure. Our technology is designed to protect them while not posing a threat to innocent people. We will continue to explore new frontiers in that effort.

Q: Mr. Secretary, (inaudible) another Clinton whitewash and coverup. What's your response to that? And did the president directly advise you to issue (inaudible)?

Secretary Cohen: The president has never had a conversation about this matter with me. I have not had a conversation with anyone in the Executive Branch on this matter. So any allegations about whitewash or conspiracy are completely unfounded.

I look at the record, I look at the inspector general's report, I weighed Mr. Bacon's service to this country and pointed out that he made a mistake. He made a bad judgment. He did not do so, according to the inspector general, with malice. He did not do so with the intent to injure Ms. Tripp. He made a mistake and a misjudgment. I had to weigh his complete service to the country under these circumstances.

I made a judgment that a public reprimand was appropriate, and that's what the decision was.

Q: What about Mr. Bernath? Are you considering removing him from his position as the head of the...

Secretary Cohen: His investigation still continues. The inquiry still continues and hasn't been completely resolved yet, so I have to reserve some judgment. (sic) [His investigation has been completed.]

Congressman Frelinghuysen: Thank you very much.


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