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DoD News Briefing, Thursday, June 25, 1998

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
June 25, 1998 1:45 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

Let me start with two announcements. First, as you all know, two years ago today terrorists killed 19 airmen at Khobar Towers, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. These terrorists are still at large, and as Attorney General Reno said last night, the United States is still working hard to bring them to justice. A remembrance was held today at Patrick Air Force Base for the airmen who perished at Khobar Towers, and it's an appropriate time for all Americans to remember the sacrifices and the risks that American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines face every day as they do their duties.

As you know, following the Khobar Towers bombing, the Defense Department worked very hard to improve force protection all around the world -- particularly in the Middle East, but all around the world -- and we have made a number of very significant changes in our force protection procedures. Nevertheless, the effort to protect our forces from terrorists is never ending and we can never be 100 percent sure that we have done enough, and therefore we are always striving to do more when we see threats before us.

Second, I'd like to announce that next week at Crane Army Ammunition Activity in Indiana, the Army will destroy the last of 3.3 million non-self-destructing landmines. This is to comply with the presidential order that all non-self-destructing antipersonnel landmines in our arsenal be destroyed except for a small number that are needed to continue our defense in Korea and to continue training. So, since May 16, 1996 when President Clinton ordered the U.S. to get rid of its stock of non-self-destructing antipersonnel landmines, the Army has destroyed 3.3 million, or will have by June 30th. This will actually complete the destruction earlier than anticipated. I think the original deadline was December 31, 1999.

That will be open to media coverage. I think 80 landmines will be destroyed next week on June 30th to bring that to the end.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Is there a point of contact on that, Ken?

A: There is a point of contact which I don't have here, but DDI will give it to you.

Q: On the Saudi bombing, is there frustration in this building at the apparent lack of progress two years after this blast in bringing people to justice? And when are the American people and the families of the victims going to get some kind of progress report on how the investigation is going?

I mean all we get so far, including from the FBI, is that the investigation is in progress, and the FBI's the spokesman on it and they don't seem to be saying much about it at all.

A: In answer to your first question, there's frustration in this government with the inability to bring these killers to justice. It transcends the Defense Department. There is clearly frustration here, but there's also frustration in the Justice Department and throughout the entire government. However, it frequently takes a long while to bring terrorists to justice, and as the Attorney General said yesterday, that effort is continuing and it will continue until we find out who did this, who's responsible.

Second, last year or early this year, the government did meet with all of the families of the airmen who perished at Khobar Towers. The Attorney General addressed them, the Secretary of Defense addressed them, and the Director of the FBI addressed them, along with Air Force officials. This was an effort to bring them up to date on what has happened since the bombing and to listen to some of their concerns, and there are meetings with family members from time to time. I suspect there will be another one sometime in the future. We've made a very strong effort to stay in touch with the family members.

Q: Two points on this particular issue. One, the Saudis have solved the case, and they're not doing any more investigating, but have they shared with this government, to your knowledge, the details of their investigation?

A: As I've said many times, this is the FBI's job, to investigate, and as the Attorney General said, the FBI is continuing its work. So I don't want to comment on where the investigation stands or what one group has said about it or another group.

Q: Has the Department of Defense been able to share any of the light shed by the Saudis with the families that you mentioned?

A: I think it's very clear the investigation is not complete in our minds and is not complete because no one has been brought to justice.

Q: The second point has to do with this article about Janet Reno about Iran being thought to be the perpetrator of this terrorist act, having supplied explosives, etc. A number of our intelligence people here in the United States believe it's Iran. Is there any more light shed on that or do you have any more comment on that?

A: It's up to the FBI to comment on the results of the investigation.

Q: Is the Pentagon satisfied with Saudi Arabia's cooperation in these matters?

A: I think we're frustrated with our inability to bring this investigation to a close.

Q: Does that frustration stem from a lack of cooperation by the Saudis?

A: The frustration stems from the fact that we don't know who did this yet and we haven't been able to bring them to justice. There are a number of reasons for that.

Q: The Senate passed an in-house amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill today, supposedly to head off a Pentagon end run on the BRAC process. They seem to think you folks are about to close bases without congressional authorization. Other than the Secretary saying a couple of times that that independent base closing was a possibility, are there any such plans for either base closing or major restructuring that warranted this amendment?

A: First of all, that amendment is extremely unfortunate. As the Secretary said to the Senate, it will tie his hands and make it more difficult for him to manage the Department. He's also told the Senate that he believes that the inclusion of this amendment in the Defense Authorization Bill puts the entire bill at risk. He's made it very clear in his comments to the public and his comments to Congress that we have excess base capacity, it's costing us too much money, it will hinder our ability to fund readiness and modernization in the future, and it will ultimately be a stone around the neck of the men and women in the military. So this is an unfortunate amendment.

In terms of future plans, I think it's very clear that the Secretary is looking at a variety of plans to make the Department operate more efficiently. One of those was two more BRAC rounds. He has not given up on the hope of achieving additional BRAC rounds in the future, in the next century, actually, because neither of the BRAC rounds he proposed this year would have taken place until after the year 2000. He will continue to press that case and look for other ways to cut back unnecessary expenditure and infrastructure. That's all I can tell you right now. I can't be more specific.

Q: The Air Force has plans to create, or looking at creating what they call superbases which would help alleviate the problem they're having in supporting their Air Expeditionary Forces from spread out facilities. Are you, or has the Secretary been made aware of those plans, and is there any problem with that...?

A: The Secretary has discussed those plans with General Ryan, the Air Force Chief of Staff. The Secretary strongly favors reforms that will make military deployments more efficient and more effective, and General Ryan has told him that this type of change would do that. This is precisely the type of management change, important management efficiency, that could be choked off by the amendment as I understand it. The Secretary, in a letter to Congress, has said that the amendment would "seriously undermine my capacity to manage the Department of Defense," and it's precisely because of restrictions on this type of change that he said that.

Q: Can we get a copy of the letter?

A: We'll get you a copy of the letter.

Q: When was that written?

A: Relatively recently. I don't have the date.

Q: Can you update us on the state of NATO planning for military intervention in Kosovo?

A: It continues. First of all...

Q: Aren't we past the option stage now? There's a story in the Early Bird about the direction being given to come up with detailed plans.

A: That's true.

Q: When did that happen?

A: It happened yesterday or the day before. But, basically, the Military Committee was instructed to look at nine options. They looked at those options. They've narrowed them down to a much smaller number of options -- two or three, possibly four options -- and now the job is to take the next step which is to take these options which are just described in a sentence or a paragraph or two, and turn them into more detailed contingency plans. When they do this they'll come back, they'll report this up the chain to the political authorities, the Permanent Representatives of the North Atlantic Council, and they'll have to decide what to do next.

So far no one has made a decision to deploy force in Kosovo. We're still at the stage of coming up with sort of a road map for doing that should the decision be made to move forward.

Q: Do these options that were narrowed down from nine to two, three or four, did they satisfy the Pentagon's insistence that any air campaign include a suppression of Yugoslav air defenses?

A: The exact details of these options are still being worked out, but I think it's clear in our mind that we have to be able to survey and deal with any threat that might be posed to American or NATO planes flying over Kosovo.

Q: What was that word, survey?

A: We have to know what the threat is and be able to deal with the threat.

Q: Suppress?

A: Suppress would be a way to deal with it, yes.

Q: When are these options or these contingency plans supposed to be complete?

A: I think we're looking probably not at next week, a couple more weeks, I would guess.

Q: The story that I read said they were supposed to report back next Wednesday.

A: I don't think the process will be completed for at least another week and perhaps longer is my sense from talking to people who are involved in the process.

Q: Is that all, is there planning going on in this building or is it all Brussels...

A: There's always planning going on in this building. Any day or night there's planning going on in this building, I can assure you.

Q: In this narrowing of options, does this actually involve options for Serbia in particular, or does this involve options for operations in Albania and Macedonia?

A: It involves options over Serbia.

Q: Are you seeking permission from Albania or seeking cooperation from Albania for potential operations down the line in that area?

A: I think Albania, which is a member of the Partnership for Peace, has made it very clear that it would welcome some military support, but I'm not aware what we've made a specific request at this time. It's premature. No one in NATO, and no member of NATO that I'm aware of, has made a firm decision to employ force over, in, or around Kosovo at this time. That's a decision that will have to be made after more planning and more consideration is complete.

Q: Options over Serbia. So the contingency planning that's going on now in NATO does not include the positioning of ground forces in Albania, Serbia, Macedonia, you name it.

A: There's actually, as I understand it, a two-track process. The track of putting preventive deployments into Albania and Macedonia began prior to looking at a more robust list of options which included some air options. My understanding is they're still looking at the possibility of preventive deployments, but I think that right now a central element of the thinking is to find a way to make sure that any military action is closely integrated with political goals. So there's a seamless connection between what our political and diplomatic goals are on the one hand and what our military options are on the other hand. It's that knitting together that I suspect will take a little bit of time, and that is one of the things that's happening both in Brussels and in other capitals outside of Brussels.

Q: But they're only studying uses of air power?

A: You asked me about, over Kosovo essentially, and that's what they're looking at is primarily air power.

Q: When will NATO reach the point when it will decide or must decide whether or not it will first go to the UN and seek a resolution and...

A: I can't make a prediction when NATO will make decisions like that. Right now the primary focus is on the continuing diplomatic efforts to find a solution. As you know, Richard Holbrooke is in the area. He has been meeting with Milosevic, he's been meeting with President Rugova and he's also been meeting with representatives of the UCK. And he's been meeting in countries, he's been to Macedonia, he's been to countries in that area as well. So there's a full fledged diplomatic initiative underway and that continues.

We've said from the very beginning, and it remains the case, that we prefer a diplomatic solution. We're working very hard to try to craft one now.

Q: Then this planning, going ahead with the supposition that it will be a NATO operation, you will not have to seek UN...

A: I think, as you know as well as anybody, NATO members differ on this, and it's something that will have to be sorted out. The United States doesn't believe that a UN Security Council resolution is necessary. We think it would be helpful and desirable, but not necessary to act. Other countries have different views, and that's one of the things that will be sorted out. Right now, I think the primary focus is on the diplomatic efforts to achieve a solution.

Q: Can you go back and re-explain, you said there's a two track process?

A: They started out initially looking at preventive deployments along the border, right? They sent teams down to Macedonia and Albania. They came back and reported. Before they were able to make their report officially to NATO, the Defense Ministers met and decided that there should be a broader range of options on the table. They came up with a list of nine options. The preventive deployment people were still working on their plans and, I think, have made a presentation to NATO by now.

In the end, everything's going to be considered all together. In the end, in an effort to put together a package that involves diplomacy backed by the credible threat of force if necessary, will all be knitted together. That's one of the things that's happening right now. No one has made any decision to use force. NATO continues to work on planning.

Q: So the contingency planning that's going on that we're talking about now that was decided upon yesterday, the narrowing of the options... Have in fact then the two tracks been put together now? Do those narrowed options...

A: Whether they have been, formally or not, eventually they will end up together, yes.

Q: So they are considering both preventive deployments as well as uninvited type action.

A: What do you mean by uninvited?

Q: You would be invited into Albania or Macedonia. You wouldn't be invited into Serbia or Kosovo.

A: No decision has been made to use force. Obviously, if a decision were to be made, we and other allies who already have troops in Macedonia would have to look at the security of those troops, among other things. We also would want to look at what the impact of any military action over Kosovo or in Kosovo would mean for Albania, so all of these things would have to be joined together eventually in planning. But we're a long way from that right now. We're focusing primarily on diplomacy.

Q: Can you update us on the employment status of Linda Tripp? Does she come into the Pentagon at all to do any work? Or is she still working entirely..

A: She is working at home and has not been in here for some time. I don't remember the exact date.

Q: What are her duties at this point? Is she producing any sort of work product for the salary that she's drawing?

A: The terms of her flexi-place agreement, which allow her to work at home, grant her administrative leave for time she spends with the Office of the Independent Counsel. She has been spending large amounts of time -- I don't have the hours here -- with the Office of the Independent Counsel and she reports those to us as she's required to do.

She has been given a specific assignment and presumably she's working on that assignment. I don't think we've received any reports from her recently on the progress of that assignment.

Let me just speak to the broader point here. This, as I've said before, is a somewhat unusual situation that I think is awkward for her and awkward for the Department. We're trying to make it work as well as we can. This is the arrangement we have before us now.

Q: Her attorney has said that she has been, in effect, demoted because she doesn't have the kind of responsibilities she had...

A: I've addressed that many times, and I'm sure you have my answer on the record. But she is getting the same salary, $88,000 a year plus a little, $88,200 a year I think it is, and she has the same title.

Q: The fraternization report...

A: There has not been... There were some meetings, as you probably heard yesterday on this. They were not decision meetings, they were discussion meetings, and the discussions continue. What we're hoping to do is to bring to closure the two remaining initiatives that the Secretary launched about a year ago. The first, of course, was the Kassebaum Baker Report. He's already acted on that report, adopted a whole package of recommendations designed to improve the standards of basic training. And also to ensure a separation of men and women in barracks. That's the first point.

The second point was the good order and discipline, and the third was a review of specific rules on adultery. We hope to bring those two issues to closure under the -- bring them together under a Statement of Good Order and Discipline relatively soon, but work on that isn't complete.

Q: The meeting yesterday included who?

A: There were several meetings. I don't want to get into a laundry list of who...

Q: Was the Secretary...

A: The Secretary did go to one of the meetings, yes.

Q: The Korean submarine?

A: The North Korean submarine. We have reports from South Korea that they found eight bodies on the submarine. The submarine has been raised. That's about all I know about it.

Q: That should account for everyone, right?

A: We believe so.

Q: Is it known how they died?

A: I don't know. The South Koreans may know by now, but I don't know.

Q: How about the nature of the North Korean mission?

A: I don't know what the nature of their mission was. In the past these submarines have been used to infiltrate people into South Korea, but I don't know what this mission was. I think that's among the issues that will come out in the course of the South Korean investigation.

Q: At the technology transfer hearings on the Hill, an official from the Defense Technology Security Administration has raised a lot of allegations that that agency has essentially been defanged and that he is constantly being suppressed when he points out the security problems of technology transfers. His name is Peter Leitner. He's raised some serious allegations.

A: First of all, you should be on the Hill for those hearings because there is a Defense Department official, Frank Miller, who is going to testify about the operation of the Defense Technology Security Administration, and deal directly with Mr. Leitner's charges.

The agency processes some, or reviews some 21,000 export licenses a year. We believe that the agency works effectively to stop damaging technology transfers. I'm sure there is debate within the agency from time to time among employees as there is probably even in news organizations about what actions to take in response to specific licensing requests. But Frank Miller will testify that we believe the Defense Technology Security Agency is doing a good job. It certainly attempts to enforce the law designed to prevent damaging transfers of technology.

Q: One follow-up on Linda Tripp. If she spends 40 hours a week in Ken Starr's office or working with the Independent Counsel, does that count as work time? Does that count against her time she's been asked to provide DoD with the hours that she's spending with them? Does that fulfill her requirement for a work week, as it were?

A: My understanding is that it would qualify as paid administrative leave and count as work time.

Q: So if she spends the entire week or month or so there, then that fulfills her requirement.

A: Yes.

Q: Can you comment on the report that the President will nominate Richard Danzig to be Secretary of the Navy?

A: I think I'll let the President make his own announcement about that.

Q: Has Secretary Cohen made a recommendation?

A: Secretary Cohen has made a recommendation to the President and we'll just let the President make his own announcement.

Q: You mentioned about the Army destroying the last of its non-self-destructing landmines...

A: Antipersonnel landmines.

Q: Can you just give us an update on the efforts to destroy sarin nerve gas in stockpiles? There was an item in one of the newspapers saying that some of the last sarin had been destroyed. How is that program progressing, to destroy stockpiles of sarin nerve gas and how much do we have left at this point?

A: Well, a lot's been destroyed and we still have some left. We had large stockpiles of sarin. My understanding is that at Johnston Atoll, 2.6 million pounds of sarin has been destroyed and that is all of the sarin that was set to be destroyed at Johnston Atoll. There still are quantities of sarin left. Also, 3.6 million pounds of sarin have been destroyed at Tuelle Chemical Agent Disposal Facility in Utah. We still have some amounts to be destroyed at other chemical disposal facilities.

Q: Do you have any rough number of how much is left before we're completely rid of sarin in our stockpile?

A: I don't, but we can get you that. It's just a question of adding up a lot of numbers here. There's still a fair amount left. We can get you that.

Q: On the mines, you mentioned mines in Korea. How many mines has the United States got in Korea? Were you talking about the buried mines or mines stored...

A: In Korea, where we continue to use non-self-destructing antipersonnel landmines as part of a very clearly delineated and fenced off demilitarized zone, we have made a commitment to find alternatives for all landmines by the year 2006. We will keep mines in Korea until we develop an alternative. There are mines in the ground there, and we also have a stockpile of probably close to a million non-self-destructing antipersonnel landmines in Korea for use in the event of military action.

Q: Aside from the buried mines?

A: Yeah, that's a stockpile there aside from the buried mines.

Q: How many buried mines?

A: We've never described the number of buried mines.

Q: Would it be in the tens of thousands?

A: I think it would be safe to say that as a minimum.

Q: Has the late Admiral Jeremy Boorda been exonerated by Mr. Dalton?

A: I think you should talk to the Navy about that. Secretary Dalton has taken a step to clarify the status of Admiral Boorda's decorations, and the Navy can describe what that was.

Q: The alternatives to landmines, how is that research going?

A: Well, it's going. We've got some time, but the services are working on that and I can't give you a specific rundown right now of where we stand, but the services have been working on it and will continue to work on it. They're reviewing over 20 alternatives or concepts for alternatives right now. Some are lethal and some are non-lethal. That is, there could be the possibility of non-lethal barriers that could be erected quickly. They're looking at working with industry to come up with new proposals.

Q: The Secretary has a couple of speeches over the coming days. What are the topics of them?

A: He's in Illinois today at Scott Air Force Base, and he's participating in a seminar on defense reform. This was organized by General Kross who briefed you here a month or six weeks ago on work of the Transportation Command. General Kross has been a leader in finding ways to bring some of the innovative solutions industry has found to transportation to the way the Air Force operates. So, for instance, the Chairman of Federal Express and the Chairman of some other major corporations will be meeting with Secretary Cohen to talk about some of their transportation initiatives.

Tomorrow he'll be at Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Denver to talk about environmental remediation and some of the progress we've made there. He'll be meeting with corporate and political leaders in Colorado to talk to them about defense issues. And then he'll be going on to an annual conference hosted by former President Gerald Ford in Beaver Creek, Colorado to talk about, at a private conference, to talk about nuclear security issues and some weapons of mass destruction issues.

On Monday he'll need to talk to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, and we'll get you the title of that speech. I don't have it with me right now. Then he stops off at Tinker Air Force Base on the way back, in Oklahoma.

Q: I'm sorry, is he in Beaver Creek for this conference through the weekend?

A: I think he leaves on Saturday.

Q: One thing further on the landmines. What is the US stockpile of self-destroying landmines?

A: I don't have that figure.

Q: Will you take that question?

A: We'll try to get the answer for you.

Q: With regard to this issue of nuclear disarmament and the like, General Habiger last week told us about some very hopeful things in the inspection, mutual inspection regime between the United States and Russia; that he has actually seen guidance systems that had been detargeted on Russian missiles. A very hopeful confidence building measure.

Would the United States like to see both the Russians and the United States to have some kind of random inspection of missiles to see that in fact they are detargeted? Because I understand he could have been shown something that was simply detargeted for his benefit. Some kind of random inspection?

A: I don't know what our current procedures are for monitoring this. I don't think we have current procedures, and that's certainly one of the things we could talk about with the Russians in the future. I'm not aware that we have plans to do that at this stage, though.

Press: Thank you.