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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD (PA)
May 23, 1995 2:30 PM EDT

Tuesday, May 23, 1995 - 2:30 p.m.

(NOTE: Participating in this briefing were Mr. Bacon, Dr. Stephen Joseph, Assistant Secretary of Defense, Health Affairs and Dr. Ashton Carter, Assistant Secretary of Defense, International Security Policy)


Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our Tuesday briefing.

We have a triple header today. First, Dr. Stephen Joseph is going to talk about our latest effort to get to the bottom of the Persian Gulf illness syndrome. Then I will take your questions. Finally, Ash Carter will be down to talk about a GAO report on the Cooperative Threat Reduction program that's generated, we think, some garbled stories, and just sort of walk you through that and take your questions on that report.

With that introduction, we'll start with Dr. Joseph.

Dr. Joseph: Thank you.

This is another in the series of occasional updates, but today with a specific purpose -- to talk about the new $5 million of research on Persian Gulf illness issues in the President's budget.

Let me use the opportunity also to drop in a line in the series of where we are with our comprehensive clinical evaluation program. We have now completed work on over 10,000 patients. We've had 20,000 register all told; 15,000 wanting an examination. Probably by mid or end July we'll be putting out what I believe will be the definitive clinical evaluation of those 10,000 patients. You've seen the recent report on the first 2,000. The 10,000 will be out later this summer.

But my primary purpose today is just to say a word about the $5 million in additional Persian Gulf health-related research. There is a broad agency announcement that's in the Commerce Business Daily today talking about this research which will be for independent investigators, peer-reviewed research investigators external to the federal government.

The research that we're asking for is in three broad areas. One is epidemiology, the distribution of symptoms and illness across a population. The second is for research on the topic of pyridostigmine bromide. This is the anti-nerve gas preventive treatment about which there have been some concerns that perhaps this and perhaps in combination with other chemical compounds, may have been responsible for some symptoms. Then we have a category of clinical research, looking at specific issues such as leishmaniasis, that tropical disease, and other clinical issues.

We've asked investigators to submit proposals within 90 days, and we expect to make the research awards this fall.

That's basically it. That $5 million will be part, that's new money which will be part of a package of about $15 million in clinical activities and research in the '95 budget.

We have an announcement. I'd be happy to answer any specific questions that you have. If you want the particulars on the Commerce Business Daily announcement, we can get you that, or you could call Mr. Craig Lebo at (301) 619-2036, especially if any of you are interested in competing for the research activities.

I'd be happy to respond to any questions or comments you have.

Q: Why is the independent study, why should it go to independents instead of relying on the studies that have been done so far? And did you narrow it down to causes in one area, whether it was chemical related or it was something there?

A: Much of the initial research that was funded in '94 and now in '95 as well, is research that's being carried on by Army or other military investigators. This $5 million was specifically earmarked to be done by independent peer-reviewed investigators in universities or independent research foundations to broaden the marketplace for research so that ideas that might have a bearing on the issue from outside would have a chance to be funded.

The second part of your question, as I've said when I've talked about the clinical study, nothing we have seen so far points to any single or unique cause of a large number of symptoms in a large proportion or even a significant proportion of the Persian Gulf events. So we have no target that we're shooting at in terms of the research because we think... We have no target that we think is a probable cause. That's why the research is focused on epidemiology, looking at populations of vets who served in the Persian Gulf, and looking at their symptoms and how they fall out, this one issue of the pyridostigmine which has been of considerable speculation in the media and elsewhere, and then general clinical research studies. There's nothing specifically focused that we think is a direct lead to follow.

Q: What is your evaluation of the studies that have been done by DoD so far? Do you think there's an excellent chance that independent research is going to find something?

A: As I've said in the other briefings from the clinical evaluation, and as I think will be borne out when we finish our analysis of the 10,000, we don't see any indication of a single or unique cause. There are clusters of symptoms, most of which -- remember, in that first 2,000, 85 percent of those patients had definable, specific diagnoses when they got through the clinical exams. So we expect to see clusters of symptoms that are explainable in traditional ways in medical diagnosis. I don't think we've any evidence that makes us expect to see something unusual or a new disease or whatever. But that's the issue, and that's why we're doing the research. There's a good deal of concern, some controversy, various theories that people have raised that there might be one particular agent here or another, and it's important for us, and the commitment the President has made is that we will try to follow every lead that seems reasonable.

I think you said something in your comment that I do want to come back to. The Department has said repeatedly, and continues to state, that we see no evidence of chemical or biological warfare agents as having been used in the Gulf War playing a part in this syndrome.

Q: To clarify. You have three topics listed, but there are going to be more than three studies. I take it there's a pool of money and...

A: Yes. There's a $5 million pool of money. It depends on the scientific merit of the various proposals. But we want to fund a number of studies in each of these three areas -- epidemiology, pyrdo and clinical studies.

Thank you.

Mr. Bacon: Before I start, I'd like to announce that we have a group of public affairs officers from the Defense Logistics Agency in the back, so if you have any questions on procurement or disposition of equipment, I'm going to refer them all back to them.

Q: Can they tell us how long it would take equipment to get into Bosnia? (Laughter)

A: Do you have another way of phrasing that question? (Laughter)

Q: In the Congress today the Procurement Subcommittee of the House National Security Committee is expected to put through their version of the bill which it appears is going to recommend cancellation of the third Sea Wolf with some of the resulting money going back to Electric Boat for submarine-related work but not production of a third Sea Wolf; for $500 million for long lead money for more B-2 bombers; for the full funding of the eight C-17s; and then in the morning, the Research and Development Subcommittee put in additional money and took out some money from theater missile defense, and to increase national missile defense. Will you comment on any of those areas?

A: Sure.

First of all, on the B-2s. As you know, we recently released a study in which we concluded that there is not a need for more than the 20 B-2 bombers we've already acquired. That study was based on the conclusion that they would not add significantly to our ability to roll back attacks in the earliest days of an operation; and two, that the money would be better spent on precision-guided munitions. So we do not think this is the right way to be spending money at this stage, and we hope we will be able to convince Congress of that. We're in the process now of briefing members of Congress and appearing at hearings on the B-2 study. Of course this is just one step in a rather long process between a bill and a law, and there will be many opportunities to revisit this.

I'm not aware of the details of the plans for diverting money from a third Sea Wolf to work at Electric Boat. I'll just simply restate what our policy is. As you know, we're moving toward a class of new attack submarines that will be quieter, smaller, and more efficient than the Los Angeles Class of submarines which are beginning to reach the end of their age. We believe it's important to keep two yards going, and I gather this is designed to do that. Without knowing the facts I can't comment on that, but the Sea Wolf is a bridge, the third Sea Wolf is a bridge to the new attack submarine and as I said, it's designed to keep the yard at Electric Boat in New London going so that one, we'll have a surge capacity for nuclear submarines if needed; and two, that we'll have some measure of competition in the future between the nuclear boat building capability at New London and the nuclear boat building capability at Newport News.

I've forgotten some of the other things you mentioned there, but those are two comments.

Dr. Carter has arrived, and we'll talk some about the Cooperative Threat Reduction program and answer your questions.

Dr. Carter: Thanks.

The reason I'm speaking to you today is that the Department was very disturbed, and I know Secretary Perry was deeply disturbed by news accounts that have appeared in the last two days of a draft GAO -- General Accounting Office -- report which accounts give a severely distorted version of the progress that is being made in the Cooperative Threat Reduction or Nunn/Lugar program.

Secretary Perry has written to the two requestors of this GAO study to express his concern about those distortions; to correct those distortions. I should say that the GAO itself has assured us that it did not leak this report and has apologized for the way this draft has been misused.

For those of you that aren't familiar with this process, a GAO draft report like this one is sent out for comment to the agencies whose programs are being audited, and in a state where it has not been reviewed by GAO's management either. It says right on the front that GAO has not submitted it to its final review, nor had we seen the report until Friday. I think the first press report about it was on Monday. So the process is that we get to comment on the report and then GAO, based on that, issues a final report.

What I really want to comment on is the press accounts of that report.

The first point I'll make is that in fact the GAO draft report, and I think you'll see this when it's finally released, makes a number of very positive statements about the CTR program, including noting that in its dismantlement portion, which is by far the preponderant portion of the CTR program, it has been in very important measure responsible for the decisions by three states Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus -- to become non-nuclear states.

In the case of Kazakhstan, that aspiration became fact a couple of weeks ago. The last nuclear weapons left the territory of Kazakhstan. I'll just remind you that had Kazakhstan retained those nuclear weapons, they would have made Kazakhstan the fourth most powerful nuclear nation on earth after Ukraine, which were it to retain its nuclear weapons would be the third most. The governments of these countries have stated the Nunn/Lugar program, that it's been instrumental in them arriving at their decisions to be non-nuclear states, and that it's now assisting them in carrying out those decisions.

All together in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus, 2,500 warheads that were targeted at this country have now been deactivated; and 1,000 warheads of those 2,500 that were in -- in fact more than 1,000 -- that were in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus returned to Russia.

I mentioned that Kazakstan became nuclear free in April. Seven hundred and fifty missiles removed from their launchers, and 630 strategic launchers and bombers eliminated. This is the elimination part of the program, the dismantlement part of the program.

I brought some pictures here just to remind you about these aspects of the program. This is Dr. Perry's trip to Engels Air Base in March. That is a Russian technician. That is a Bear intercontinental bomber -- the kind that you used to see flying down our coast chased by one of our air defense interceptors. That is an American made metal saw provided under the Nunn/Lugar program which, as you can see, is slowly making little pieces out of big pieces of that bomber.

This is an SS-19 missile in Ukraine. It came from a helicopter just as we left this helipad. This is an American HUMV down there provided under Nunn/Lugar. This is a truck that was refurbished by the Nunn/Lugar program that has just pulled this SS-19 missile out of this silo and is taking it to a facility, has drained the fuel out of it -- the fuel being stored in storage containers we're providing -- to a facility in Dniepopetrovsk where it's again going to be chopped into little pieces. That facility was provided by us under the Nunn/Lugar program.

So this is not something that you can't visualize and see and touch. This is real contributions to our security under this program.

Let me go on to some of the specific points against that backdrop that the news reports make.

One statement made was that the CTR program, or Nunn/Lugar program, Cooperative Threat Reduction, has done little to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation or to improve control of our fissile materials. That is not dismantlement, but proliferation. I'd like to give you some examples of where that is clearly not the case.

The first example I'd give you is PROJECT SAPPHIRE completed this last fall, where 600 kilograms of highly enriched uranium were removed from Kazakhstan. That was a project not only funded by Nunn/Lugar, but inspired by Nunn/Lugar in the sense that because we were working with the Kazakhstani officials on nuclear weapons and fissile material safety and security that we even knew about that stuff. It was because of our good relations with them, fostered through the Nunn/Lugar program, that they let us take it away -- take it to Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

I'll give you another example. Just last week, or maybe it was the week before, General Maslin was here, who is in charge of nuclear weapon safety and security in Russia. He brought with him a film which he showed to us, asked us not to show to you, but I'll only describe what it contains, which is, it is a film of Russian 12th Main Directorate troops handling nuclear warheads with our safety and security equipment. As Maslin himself attested, that equipment is in use and is materially contributing to the safety and security and control of nuclear weapons in the hands of the Ministry of Defense.

We are rapidly increasing that program. Just in the last few weeks, you probably know that Dr. Perry signed an agreement for another $20 million worth of assistance to the Ministry of Defense in that area shortly before the summit. Maslin, one of the uses to which that will be put is basically computer hardware and software, because Maslin says that the manual procedures that have been in use in the Ministry of Defense for inventory control can't keep up with the numbers and the complexity of the movements that are going on now as these nuclear weapons are shipped around from where they're deployed to where they're going to be dismantled.

So it's not the case that Nunn/Lugar hasn't made material contributions to preventing proliferation.

I want to give you another example of how it is making that contribution which was also, again, a very distorted picture was given in these news accounts. That has to do with the International Science and Technology Center. What the news report said is that some of the scientists supported, who had received grants from the center, were also doing work on weapons of mass destruction. That is, in fact, true of some of those scientists. Let me explain to you why.

The Science and Technology Center is designed to give alternative employment to scientists who have given their careers to weapons of mass destruction. So it is in fact a requirement of the program that you have worked on weapons of mass destruction in your career. Far from being a disqualification, that is the qualification for this program. What the program tries to do is assist the transition of these weapons workers into some non-weapons work. Because otherwise, our concern is that they're going to go to Iran or Iraq or Libya or somewhere else and try to earn their livelihood there based on their specialized knowledge of weapons. So we want to turn that specialized knowledge of weapons to some related civil purpose, and to ease them in that transition.

During that period of transition they can, and in some cases they do maintain residence at their institute, where they may be continuing with part of their time to do weapons work. But where they are is in their institute in Russia making this transition from weapons work -- not in Pyongyang making a transition to foreign proliferation work. That's the whole point of the program.

Again, there's a fact taken from the GAO report, misrepresented in the press as a problem with the program. In fact it exemplifies the purpose of the program.

Likewise with a comment made in these press reports about defense conversion projects to the effect that the facilities that are being used for defense conversion are excess capacity of the former Soviet weapons arsenal. In fact that also is sometimes true. But again, that is related to the purposes of the program.

Let's take Russia now -- now Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus. The same story applies in the other places. But to take one example, the Moscow government has cut orders from these factories so there is substantial unused capacity. The fact that they've cut those orders is very much in our national security interest. The plant managers, however, who had their orders cut, face a crisis. They are trying to think what they're going to do with that excess capacity. Their choices are to lobby the Moscow government to rearm, and we don't want them to do that; to sell weapons abroad, make weapons with that excess capacity to sell abroad, we don't want them to do that; or they can just sit tight, in which case their workers are going to cause a social revolution; or they can convert and use those factories to make something else. Turn that excess capacity to peaceful purposes. That's what our program is for. So the fact that excess capacity is being reoriented to peaceful purposes, far from being a problem with the program, is the point of the program.

Next, the press report claims there were no audits and examinations of Nunn/Lugar programs in the recipient countries to see what was being done with the assistance provided, which I'll remind you is only goods and services, not cash. In fact, that assertion is not true, and the GAO draft report is out of date in that respect. There have been two audits and examinations in Russia, there will be more in the future; there has been one in Belarus; and there will be one in the next couple of months in Ukraine. So that's just not true.

The GAO draft makes only one recommendation for altering the funding of CTR, and that is a recommendation to reduce slightly by about a third one part of the program this year dealing with chemical weapons demilitarization. Just let me remind you that Russia has 40,000 tons of chemical agent and has treaty obligations to get rid of it, and of course we have safety and security considerations that make us want to get rid of it as well. We have a Nunn/Lugar program to jump start their elimination program.

Press reports say two things, make two claims. One, that we haven't agreed to a technology with Russia for eliminating the chemical agent. Again, not true. Our technical people are validating that technology, seeing how to make it work, and then we're going to build a pilot plant to begin to eliminate this chemical weapons agent. There is no disagreement about the technology with the Russians.

Second, the report says that the Russians have no program established and funded to eliminate all the chemical weapons agent. Again, this is not, from our point of view, a problem. This is not a problem with our program. It is the problem that our program is meant to solve. The whole point of our program is to jump start the Russian program through this pilot plan to get them going on elimination. So these two comments -- one inaccurate, the other beside the point.

The GAO report does note, I want to say, that among many nice things it says about the CTR program, and when it's finally released you'll get to read them, that the Nunn/Lugar program is, the implementation of it has taken off very greatly in the last year. That's a point we've made to you before. That disbursements are going up very rapidly. It makes a comment that's very helpful to us. In fact, the disbursement, which a lot of people track, in fact understate the value of the work performed under the program. We're grateful to GAO for having made that observation.

Those then are the points that have appeared in the press over the last couple of days. I think you can see that each and every one is inaccurate, misleading, or misses the point. And because there's going to be debate over the next couple of weeks about this program, we think the debate ought to be on the basis of the facts and not on the basis of leaked draft reports, misconstrued and erroneously reported.

Now I can take some questions.

Q: Not having seen this draft, it seems as though one of the implications of the thing is that money is fungible. You give somebody money to do some things, that that frees up capacity over here to do some things that you may not wish to happen. Any thoughts on that?

A: Yes. We don't give them money. That's what's wrong with that thought. We do defense conversion, for example. We go in and tear out the inside of a factory that was making weapons, and we have a picture of that somewhere, and we install equipment -- in this picture you'll see here making modular prefabricated housing. This is what we put in when we took out the weapons equipment. It's a little hard to make weapons of mass destruction out of plywood.

Likewise, when we assist in nuclear weapons safety and security, for example, we give equipment to them. We, for example, have given them equipment and it helps them to install it in rail cars to make the rail cars safe for nuclear weapons transport. We go and we see our stuff right there. That's what audits and examinations is all about. So it's equipment supplied for a specific purpose which is then used for that specific purpose. So they can't take it to the bank or take it to the pawn shop and cash it in, and we're not giving them cash. So we know where every nickel goes and what purpose it's used for, and there isn't a possibility of diversion.

Q: Where did all of the misinformation in the press reports come from? Did this misinformation come from the draft report?

A: Yeah, there would be a sentence in the draft report, and then that corresponds to a sentence in the report, in the news account. But in most cases it's out of context.

There are some parts of the GAO report, obviously, it being a draft, that are incorrect. I gave you two examples of things that are just incorrect. And we would, in the normal course of things, correct those. Say you guys are a little out of date, the normal process. I'm sure the final report won't contain those errors, but there are errors in the GAO draft report. Then there are misrepresentations based on a misconstruction of the draft report by those doing the reporting. I gave you some examples of that where a reporter thought something in the report was evidence of a problem with the program. As I tried to give you examples, they are in fact the rationale for the program, so that understood properly, they prove the point. It's because they're getting things completely backwards that I'm here.

Q: The GAO is not misunderstanding the situation.

A: I'm sure that when we review the GAO report with the GAO we will have disagreements with the GAO. Not only about facts, but about their judgment. That's normal. I'm sure there will be places where they think we're doing less than we could do. That's normal. But that's not a problem. Having a GAO report of the CTR program is a normal thing, we're used to that, we don't have any problem with that. We've had a lot of interaction with the GAO personnel in the course of it. It's when a selective, when a leaked draft version is used selectively to misrepresent aspects of the program that we have to object, and that's why we're objecting today.

Q: Who was the report to? What members of Congress has requested it?

A: This is a draft report that was requested by Congressman Spence and Congressman Kasich.

Q: You mentioned that with a debate coming up, are you looking to a specific proposal? Have you been made aware of a specific proposal to slash or zero out the Nunn/Lugar program?

A: No. In fact I'm very hopeful that this program, which virtually everybody who is familiar with it agrees is a good deal for us. Dr. Perry calls it defense by other means. Other people say this is millions to save billions.

This little number right here contains six warheads. Last March we went to the same base with Perry, and not far from here we went to the command post that controls these missiles. We looked at the wall where they had the targets for these missiles. These targets were the United States. So this little number right here used to carry six warheads aimed at us. Now with our own stuff, we're carting it away. That's a pretty damn good deal. I think most people who get familiar with this program understand that of all the assistance programs so-called, this one assists us. So no, I'm not concerned that people who are familiar with the program as it is won't support it. I think we'll get good support. It's when you have inaccurate and misleading information that you have to correct it. That's why I'm here correcting it.

As I said, the report itself does not recommend cutting the Nunn/Lugar program. It made one recommendation, and only one recommendation about reduced funding, and that was a small thing to one program, the chemical demilitarization program. I explained why I disagree with that judgment, and we will disagree with them as they turn the draft report into a final report. I think the report will end up being a constructive thing, but it's being misreported now by those who want to misrepresent the value of this program.

Press: Thank you.

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