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DoD News Briefing - Thursday, July 2, 1998

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
July 02, 1998 1:30 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

To prepare for the 4th of July and for this briefing I read the Declaration of Independence and I'd like to start with an historical quiz. What's the relationship between the Declaration of Independence and today's military?

Press: We give up. (Laughter)

Press: They're words that are hard to understand?

Mr. Bacon: This is actually interesting. There are no acronyms in the Declaration of Independence actually, it's very clear.

Most of the Declaration of Independence is a long bill of particulars, a list of charges against the English monarch and among other things it says that he has -- the English monarch has, "kept among us in times of peace standing armies without the consent of our legislature and he has effected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power." So the connection is civilian control of the military.

That's a brief historical note for you, just to prepare you for the 4th of July.

In light of that, Deputy Secretary Hamre will be the keynote speaker on Saturday the 4th of July at Mount Vernon at a ceremony commemorating George Washington's recall to active duty. This is the 200th anniversary of his recall to active duty which occurred on July 4, 1798. If you're interested in covering his speech you can contact the Director of Defense Information for more details.

Also on the topic of fireworks I'd like to bring you up to date on our support for the firefighting in Florida. As of today there are 601 members of the National Guard from Florida and Georgia helping to fight the fires in Florida and there are also 35 active duty military and civilian personnel helping with command and control and headquarters activities.

The Marines have dispatched a 16 man team from Camp LeJeune to build a medium girder bridge to allow heavy equipment to reach the fire area. This is a bridge that will be able to carry bulldozers and heavier equipment to go across some of the existing bridges down there.

Finally, I'd like to announce that Secretary Cohen will be in New York on Monday and he will visit the Times Square recruiting station with Mayor Giuliani. Mayor Giuliani was very instrumental in keeping the recruiting station in Times Square. It is one of the most active recruiting stations in the country. Secretary Cohen is going to be in New York spending part of the day reviewing with our advertising agencies our recruiting advertising, and our ways of reaching young men and women to attract them to the military. As part of that, he'll be at the Times Square recruiting station at 1:30 and probably will take some questions with the Mayor at that time.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Ken, what is the Pentagon's reaction to CNN's statement today retracting its report on Operation TAILWIND?

A: First, I saw the statement made by Tom Johnson the Chairman of the CNN News Group read on television. I have not yet had a chance to read the entire report which I understand is 54 pages long. We're obvious gratified that CNN retracted a report that we believe was not accurate. All the work we've done in reviewing the report suggests the two charges it made, one that sarin nerve gas was used during Operation TAILWIND in Laos in September of 1970 and that that mission, Operation TAILWIND, was designed to track down and kill defectors. We believed those charges were wrong and that's what our review shows so far. We hope that that review will be complete by the end of next week or early the week after.

Second, I was glad that CNN apologized to the men who participated in Operation TAILWIND. They felt, I think, personally betrayed and hurt by the report. They performed a valiant mission. Every single man in that mission was injured. They were running low on ammunition by the end of the mission. They believe the mission was highly successful in collecting very valuable information about the logistics procedures of the North Vietnam Army, the way they resupplied themselves up and down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. That was the primary benefit of that mission to the war effort in 1970.

So seeing that apology I think was very helpful to the men who participated in that mission and felt betrayed by the original report.

I guess my third comment is that the original show, which ran on June 7th, ran with a lot of hype and hoopla and a lot of promotion that served to carry these allegations all around the world, and I hope that CNN is as energetic in making this retraction and clarification so that people do understand what the true facts of this mission were.

I think that these shows are seen all around the world. They have a considerable amount of impact and I hope the retraction will get the same publicity that the initial charges did.

Q: What effect will this have, if any, on the completion of the Pentagon's own investigation?

A: It will have no impact on it. Our investigation will continue. It's, as I say, nearing the final stages now. I went to a meeting yesterday in which we reviewed the progress of each one of the services and the historian of the Joint Staff. We've been quite aggressive in assembling documents. We've tried to talk to people who participated in all aspects of the mission. Principally, those are the 16 special operators who actually participated in Operation TAILWIND, the pilots who flew the planes that protected Operation TAILWIND, and the Marine Corps helicopter pilots who evacuated the participants in Operation TAILWIND. We have also talked to the men who actually loaded munitions onto the planes just to make sure that they knew what they were putting onto the planes that participated in protecting this mission.

So the work continues. It's not over yet. We think we have a pretty good picture into what happened, I think a very clear picture into what happened. As I've said, nothing we found so far reaches the conclusions that CNN originally announced. Everything we've found so far backs up the retraction, the forthright retraction that CNN has made.

Q: The men who loaded the munitions on the plane I don't think anyone else has talked to up to this point. What did they say was the gas or the agent employed?

A: They said that they were certain that they were loading tear gas onto the planes, not a more lethal gas such as sarin. They said that had they been loading a more lethal gas onto the plane they would have used entirely different procedures and they would have been thoroughly briefed on what they were putting onto the plane in order to avoid dangerous, potentially lethal mistakes in putting the munitions onto the plane. They had no doubt that what they were putting onto the plane was CS or tear gas, rather than more lethal sarin.

Q: Have you discussed or uncovered any evidence at all that sarin was even present in the theater in Vietnam, anywhere in the area?

A: I certainly have not. That is one of the things that we are still looking at, but to the best of my knowledge, the closest sarin got to Vietnam was Okinawa. After 1969, when President Nixon said he would renounce the first use of chemical weapons and said he was going to begin to destroy our stockpiles of lethal chemical weapons, he renounced the first use of lethal chemicals, we began to destroy those stores on Okinawa, and I believe all of the sarin that was on Okinawa was destroyed at Johnston Atoll in the Pacific.

Q: What timeframe?

A: I don't have the years, but that's one of the things we should address in the report.

Q: Were those cluster bomb munitions or were there some other form of sarin...

A: I don't have full details on that. We should have that in the report. There were some cluster bomb munitions, I believe, in Okinawa, but I don't believe they got any closer than Okinawa.

Q: You said you found nothing to substantiate the claim that Operation TAILWIND was designed to track down and kill defectors.

A: Right.

Q: Does that hold for all U.S. operations during the Vietnam War, or is there... Are you leaving open the possibility that other operations...

A: I don't mean to leave open that possibility, but this investigation has looked principally and maybe entirely at Operation TAILWIND. But we have talked to a number of experts on defectors. First of all, we officially list only two people as having defected to the other side during the war in Vietnam. There were rumors throughout the war that there were many more defectors, but we believe there were only two. One of those died in Southeast Asia in the mid '70s. He, I believe, was married to a Cambodian woman. The other is now back in the United States, turned himself in, I believe, in the '80s or the '90s and is now back living in the Western United States.

I am not aware that there were missions designed to track down defectors, but I have not made an encyclopedic look into that and I don't believe this particular investigation is doing that. It's looking specifically at TAILWIND.

I would be glad, if you're interested in pursuing this and making available to you an expert on defectors who works here at the Pentagon and has spent a lot of time tracing down every single deserter and so-called defector during the period in -- that we believe -- remained in the theater. We have a pretty good account of what happened to most of these people.

Q: There is a fairly detailed account in a book by Monica, the last name escapes me, citing I believe a Marine colonel who claims that he was assigned to assassinate...

A: That came out last year. I haven't read the book, I have read about it. My understanding is that it focuses primarily on a Marine named Garwood who is the defector who now lives in the United States. I do not believe there is evidence to support accounts of trying to track down and kill Garwood. But as I say, I'd be glad to set you up with somebody who can talk in much more detail about that case.

Q: Did the report that you were preparing address the possibility that in some of the designations for these weapons that use different kinds of gases, CBU-15, 19, etc., that there might have been along the line some confusion in which there was something used that was called at one point CBU-15, but it was not sarin gas?

A: It will address that particular point, yes.

Q: Can you share with us anything about that?

A: There were changes in designations over time and it's possible that could have led to an erroneous conclusion. There will be an explanation of these designations and a timeline detailing how the designations changed over time. But, at the very most, that would be only circumstantial evidence that sarin was used. What is very powerful and compelling, I find in this case, is talking to the people who participated in the mission, particularly the medic who has spoken publicly and also who spoke to our investigators here last week, that it's very clear when you talk to people who participated in the mission that had they been operating in a cloud of deadly sarin nerve gas they wouldn't have survived the mission. And in fact tear gas was used specifically in order to protect them and help them survive the mission. It was because tear gas was used that they were able to get onto the helicopters in the landing zone. The tear gas disabled the enemy and gave them enough time to get out. Even so, one of the helicopters was hit on the way out, but all 16 people managed to get out alive.

The story of this mission is really a story of incredible bravery and heroism by all 16 of the Americans who participated in it. I hope that's one of the facts that will come out in our report, and maybe it comes out in the CNN report as well, but I haven't read the lengthy analysis that's been done.

Q: Do you feel the CNN report has damaged the credibility of the United States in dealing with other nations in trying to rid the world of its chemical weapons?

A: That's hard for me to assess. Clearly it doesn't help with our credibility. Clearly, Iraq made some statements after this report came out about, alleging falsely our use of deadly chemical weapons. We have worked very hard in this Department, led by Secretary Cohen, to focus worldwide attention on the risks posed by weapons such as VX and sarin and biological weapons such as anthrax. They are a threat to civil and stable countries and we're trying to address that threat. This report certainly did not help to establish U.S. credibility in this respect. It may have helped in focusing world attention on the dangers of these weapons.

Q: Going back to your comment earlier about your belief that the closest sarin may have gotten to the theater was Okinawa. Can you explain, first of all, whether that would have fit into U.S. policy at the time...

A: It did not fit into U.S. policy at the time. I believe that whatever was in Okinawa got there before President Nixon made his declaration in 1969. Then it was a question of getting it out over time. I think you can appreciate that any lethal material has to be moved carefully, and we had to set up facilities for disposing of it, and we have disposed of that sarin at Johnston Atoll. So my understanding is that shortly after President Nixon made his 1969 policy statement we began looking at ways to destroy lethal nerve gas such as sarin and to move it to the destruction points, the incinerators, basically.

Q: Could you give us an update on developments in the no-fly zone around Iraq? Have there been any additional threats to any allied aircraft? Any paintings?

A: No. There have been no additional threats. Secretary Cohen said he hoped this was an isolated incident and it appears that it has been that. We have noticed a little increase in defensive movements of Iraqi air defense assets. As you know, when they're worried about the security of the air defense assets they move them around and we have seen a slight increase in movement in these assets, but we have seen no additional threats, no additional illuminations. A U-2 flew two days ago after this happened without incident. This reinforces our initial belief that this was an isolated incident.

Q: Do you have any report of any battle damage? Did the missile actually hit the SAM site?

A: We have no indication that it did hit the SAM site, and in fact although we're still looking, I don't believe we've found any damage so far.

It may help to understand how the HARM missile operates. They're designed to detonate above a radar installation and to spread, to shoot out a stream of shrapnel that destroys the radar. So if it were to detonate over a lake, as the Iraqis said, they said actually went into a lake, or if it were to detonate over the ground or even over some buildings it might be very difficult for us to detect where that detonation had occurred because what you get is a rain of shrapnel down, little pellets, basically, rather than a building that explodes.

Q: You say it appears to be an isolated event. Do you have any evidence that would suggest it was an action by a rogue operator?

A: Well, the short answer is no, we don't. I suppose you could conclude that that might have been what happened, but it could have been a mistake. A number of things could have led to this. They could have been making a test. It doesn't look like that's what they were doing, but there are a number of things that could have happened.

We don't have a good explanation for why this incident occurred.

Q: Let me turn that question around then and ask it the other way. Do you have any evidence to show that this was ordered by Baghdad?

A: We do not.

Q: Do you have solid evidence in fact that the planes were targeted?

A: I believe it to be solid evidence. There were multiple reports of radar illuminating these planes, and it was not just a nanosecond beam of radar. It lasted for some seconds. So, I think, we have pretty firm evidence that it was an illumination.

Q: Has the pilot who fired the missile, is he still in theater or has he been brought back to the United States?

A: I assume he's still in theater. I mean, this is what pilots are trained to do, protect their colleagues when they're flying in dangerous areas. Although fortunately we have not had to fire many missiles in this area recently, this was the first one fired since November 4th of 1996, pilots live with the expectation that this could happen on any mission and they're very well trained to deal with this. That's what happened in this case. It's their business.

Q: Has this particular missile site, this exact location, been reconnoitered? Has it been tested since? And what did the photo reconnaissance show?

A: I already went into the damage assessment. I can't answer the question as to whether it's been tested since.

Q: Is there any new direction to U.S. pilots in terms of how they might respond to being painted in the future or to other allied pilots?

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

Q: Can you say that patrols are regular in numbers...

A: The patrols have continued without interruption and my understanding is without change. Now, we gather a huge amount of information every day in this area that is used to plan the missions we fly. And one of the main points of gathering this information is to make sure that the missions are as safe as possible. They have to go over certain areas to do their job and we need to know what threats they face over those areas, so we are constantly gathering information and making adjustments in the mission such as the number of planes that fly, the time they might fly, etc. So it's not... We don't fly by rigid, pre-set patterns. We're always responding to the information we get. But there has been no major change in the pattern of flight in Operation Southern Watch.

Q: There was a story in the Washington Times today about a letter from Trent Lott saying that the U.S. military is sub-par, that it is not up to old standards. Can you address some of the criticisms or the concern that he was expressing in that letter? Is it accurate? Does the military have some of those same concerns?

A: First, it is certainly higher than old standards if you go back to 25 years ago when the all volunteer force started, when generals and admirals were worried about the so-called hollow force. This force is many, many times better than that force is.

I think our deployments show that we're ready and able to do our job, that the troops are well trained and well equipped and well led. The Chairman has said that, the Chief Operating Officers of every service have said that. And they've testified -- they've said it in Congress, they've said it in reports to Congress, and they've said it in this briefing room, just are recently as about a month ago.

Obviously we have some concerns about readiness and we've worked very hard to address those concerns. We've made a number of changes in the last year or so. First, we have improved the readiness reporting system. Secretary Cohen wanted to make sure that the anecdotal reports of readiness problems were adequately evaluated and that if -- he wanted to make sure there wasn't a disconnect between anecdotal reports from the field and the type of formal reports that military leaders were examining here in Washington. So we've made an effort to make those readiness reports more detailed.

Second, we are in the process of asking Congress to reprogram about a billion dollars in the current budget, fiscal 1998, into readiness. That's primarily into spare parts for the Air Force and the Navy. In addition, in the budget cycle for fiscal 1999 and the budget that was announced in February, we added another billion dollars for fiscal '99 for readiness. A lot of that is for spare parts.

So we are taking steps to respond to readiness problems as we see them arise. I think that some of the problems that have been brought up by members of Congress frankly have been solved already. One of those problems deals with the shortage of infantrymen in the Army. There was a shortage of infantry soldiers. That has been largely cured by getting more soldiers, training more soldiers in infantry and getting them out into the field.

The Navy made a miscalculation in recruiting for the current year, and as a result in April they were about 13 percent behind their recruiting goal for the current fiscal year, 1998. They are putting more money into recruiting, more money into advertising. They've assigned several hundred new people to recruiting jobs and they believe that they are on the way to repairing that problem, just as the Army repaired its infantry shortage problem by devoting more attention to training more infantry soldiers.

Q: The Army partly solved its problem by simply lowering its goal so that they didn't have to get so many.

A: The Army is getting smaller, but all the services have gotten smaller since 1989. They're at the point now of leveling out.

Q: How does military pay compare to the civilian sector which is another problem, the pay issue?

A: We're in the process of, as you know, there are established reviews of pay, and I'm not an expert on military pay. I'd be glad to get somebody down here who is. I think what we find is that, the answer is it all depends. There are some jobs in the military that are paid equal to or above civilian counterparts. There are other jobs that are not paid as well. Clearly, the most obvious jobs are, for instance, pilots. That's been a problem, particularly for the Air Force. Many pilots are leaving. We've increased reenlistment bonuses for pilots but there is still an exodus of pilots from the Air Force.

There are problem in other areas such as enlisted electronics technicians and repair people in the Air Force and the other services. These are highly marketable skills. The unemployment rate is low, the economy is booming. And so there are many opportunities for well trained people in the civilian sector. That's one of the things we're looking at.

We're also looking at the whole pension situation. As you know, a law that passed in 1986, or took effect in 1986 changed the formula for calculating pensions. We are monitoring what impact this is having on people's propensity to stay in the service for 20 or more years, whether it means more people are getting out in mid career who might have stayed before the pension changed.

Q: A hardware question -- THAAD. It's been several weeks since the Pentagon was expecting to hear back from Lockheed Martin on what they want to do. Can you update us at all on whether the Pentagon has come to any decisions on whether it wants to bring in another contractor...

A: I can't update you on that right now. I think we're going to have a briefing on July 9th by General Lyles on THAAD, and he will answer, I hope, all your questions on THAAD.

Q: Do you have anything on the Aviano case proceeding, the recommendation for court martial?

A: I really don't. That's an issue that's now under review by Lieutenant General Pete Pace, and the report has gone to him and he'll review it and decide what to do next. That's where it stands now.

Q: Mr Lott is saying what many in the Congress have voiced for years now, that there would be more money available if the Clinton Administration would permit it, more in the budget. Now we have a surplus in the budget. Does the civilian leadership of the Pentagon have no interest in having an increase say for acquisition, an increase to slow tempo, will you take any more money from Congress?

A: The answer is Congress determines how much money we get. They have boosted our budget somewhat beyond what we asked for in the last couple of years, and we've been thankful for that and used that money.

We are always looking at our resources and comparing them to our modernization, readiness, personnel, and other needs, and that review goes on all the time. If we reach the point in the Pentagon where we decide that we cannot do the job that's been assigned to us with the current resources, I'm sure that we'll request more resources. But right now we're sort of in the middle, we're sort of between budgets. We're just starting a new budget cycle. That's exactly the type of question that's being asked. There's been no decision, but we're constantly looking at that.

Q: If you suddenly find yourself, the Congress being generous, giving more than you request, you'll take it?

A: Well, yes. Yes.

Q: Any developments on the Hale report that the Army got back...

A: The Army is continuing to study that. I don't know... Obviously the report raises some complex issues. I assume they're trying to resolve them as quickly as possible, but they've only had it for about a week.

Q: If I can try again on Aviano. The lawyer for the pilot is claiming that there's tremendous political pressure for his client to be court martialed and that's why he's being court martialed. Do you have any reaction to that?

A: I think that the reports that have come out so far have been extremely clear, and I have nothing to add to those reports.

Press: Thank you.

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