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DoD News Briefing Thursday, December 3, 1998

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
December 03, 1998 1:30 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

Sorry I'm late. I was actually on the Internet exploring NORAD's new Santa web site. Have you had a chance to look at that, yet, the Santa web site? It's pretty slick. You might want to log onto it. It's www.noradsanta.org. It contains a lot of interesting information including Santa secrets. It answers the question, is there a Santa? It has a lot of nifty graphics. And all this is done free to the taxpayer and free to the government by organizations working with NORAD.

Q: Any details about the (inaudible)?

A: Well, it does talk about how NORAD tracks Santa. So it's one of the things you can find out. I don't want to reveal a lot of the secrets that are on this web site here, but you can get them on your own by logging onto the address I gave you.

Q: Do they have a historical track record?

A: They do. They have apparently been tracking Santa for 43 years, and they do have quite a lot of historical information. Some of it goes back several thousand years because they've done some research and incorporated it into their information base.

So I commend this to all of you who are interested in tracking Santa for the next couple of weeks. Of course the information accumulates and builds to a real pitch of excitement by Christmas Day.

Q: Is this the first year you've had this web site?

A: It's the first year I've spoken about this web site. It going so well, I may do it every year.

(Laughter)

I believe NORAD has done this in the past, but they do have a lot of rich history on there, so I urge you to log on and find out for yourselves.

Any more questions about NORAD's Santa web site?

Q: Are you through?

A: I'm not through. If you have more questions, I'm ready to answer them on NORAD or any other topic.

Q: How does the SecDef feel about the release of Jonathan Pollard? The President has asked his senior advisors...

A: The President has asked the Attorney General and the Director of Central Intelligence and the Secretary of Defense to give him recommendations by January 11th, and Secretary Cohen will do that. I think it's premature to discuss what his recommendation will be until then.

Q: It seems that Pollard's activities affected this building as much or perhaps more than any other...

A: As I said, I don't want to suggest that there will be... President Clinton has reviewed this now twice and has decided against releasing Jonathan Pollard. He has now undertaken another review. I have no reason to expect that there will be major changes in the advice he gets from some quarters, but I think we just have to let that play out. Every department will look at the information at its disposal and make up its decision and send it to the President.

Q: Could you tell me, in the past has this building opposed any release of Jonathan Pollard?

A: In the past, it has. Yes.

Q: Is there anything in particular that the Secretary will be doing between now and January 11th in preparing...

A: Our goal is to pull together a unified Department of Defense position on this. That's the Secretary's goal. He'll be, obviously he'll be getting input from the Navy and he'll be getting input from various intelligence offices in the Department of Defense, and he'll pull that together into one recommendation and send it to the President.

Q: Will he be reviewing the damage that was done by Pollard, espionage activity?

A: I'm sure that various agencies will reassess the damage. Yes.

Q: Does he get a specific assessment from the Defense Intelligence Agency on this, or...

A: We haven't... We just got the letter fairly recently and we're in the process of organizing to produce a response. I don't know the details of exactly what will happen, but we are trying to pull together information, views, analysis from all parts of the Defense Department, package it into one recommendation, and send it over to the President.

Q: How long has it been since there's been a review of this situation?

A: I think the last one was in '95 or '96, I believe.

Q: You said on two separate points here, that number one, the building has in the past opposed the release of Pollard. But you also said, correct me if I'm wrong, that you had no reason to believe that there would be any change...

A: I'm not aware that there is new information available at this stage. But one of the reasons for having a review is to look at what's out there. I'm not aware that there is any new information. But one of the things that all people will be looking at is whether there is new information or whether it should be viewed in a different light. That's all part of the analysis.

Q: A new subject.

A: Okay.

Q: Can you tell me if the Secretary is satisfied with the Navy's handling of the disposition of the case against Admiral John Scudi who apparently now will be allowed to retire and receive an honorable discharge after non-judicial punishment instead of proceeding to any sort of criminal proceeding?

A: I haven't had a chance to discuss this case with the Secretary. It was handled entirely by the Navy through their own judicial process. As you know, he's incurred a fairly substantial penalty. He'll be giving up, if you assume an average life expectancy for Admiral Scudi, who is being reduced in rank to Captain Scudi as a matter of fact, he'll be giving up almost $600,000 in income, depending on the inflation rate you choose. And as I said, he's taken off the list to be promoted to two star admiral and he's being dropped back to the rank of captain from the rank of rear admiral lower half.

In addition, he is giving up some immediate income and facing some other penalties. So I'd say this is a significant penalty, but I have not discussed it with the Secretary.

Q: Is there a chance that the Secretary of the Navy would not grant him an honorable discharge?

A: I think that's a question you'll have to ask the Secretary of the Navy. I haven't discussed it with him either.

Q: If he were to get an honorable discharge and say someone like Kelly Flinn received a less than honorable discharge, doesn't that simply fuel the perception that senior officers have one standard and there's a tougher standard for junior officers and enlisted people?

A: First of all, there are a lot of "if's" in your statement, at least two "if's", so there are hypotheticals built in there. I think rather than speculate about what type of discharge he will get, we should just wait and see what the facts are. I don't know what type he'll get.

As you pointed out, Kelly Flinn, Lieutenant Flinn, got a general discharge which was part of a settlement in lieu of a court martial.

I think that rather than speculate, we ought to find out the facts of what type of discharge he's getting.

The facts of each case are different, and, therefore, the outcome of each case is different.

Q: A change of subject.

Yesterday the spokesman at the State Department said that negotiations with Panama to continue to use Howard Air Force Base for the drug interdiction, they were dead. Those negotiations died I think back in September. My first question is, is that the way the DoD sees it? That Panama is not going to be available at the end of next year for U.S. basing?

And second, was there any success this past trip of the SecDef to find other Latin American nations that would base the U.S. planes used in that drug interdiction?

And finally, can you comment on the choice of Puerto Rico as the new headquarters for that drug work?

A: You've asked a lot of questions.

First, we are preparing to move all U.S. troops out of Panama, as scheduled, by the end of 1999. We see nothing that will interrupt that movement. We did have some discussions with the Panamanians about a continued U.S. presence, but those discussions did not amount to anything.

Howard Air Force Base--specifically, we plan to be out by May 1, 1999.

Some of the military elements are either in the process of moving to or have been moved to Puerto Rico. That includes the U.S. Army South, also, some of the, I think the Air Force headquarters, will be moved there as well.

In addition, we would like to negotiate access to military facilities in the Caribbean and in Latin America. We would like to have access to what we call a forward operating location, another one in the Caribbean. We would probably like one or two in Central America and maybe access to several forward operating locations along the Andean spine of South America.

We're in the process of talking to countries about that, and those talks are continuing.

Q: Has Colombia turned the U.S. down entirely on basing?

A: I'm not aware that we have, specifically, we have reached the point of asking people and sealing deals at this time. One thing that is very clear to us and to our friends in the region is that a continued U.S. presence in the region has many benefits. Those benefits were demonstrated by our rapid response to the devastation of Hurricane Mitch. We had aircraft in Honduras, and as a result they were able to begin rescue operations even before the storm had ended. That probably contributed to saving hundreds of lives that might not have been saved if we didn't have helicopters and planes in the area.

In addition, the fact that we had aircraft in the area at Soto Cano made it easier for us to begin the aid flow very quickly.

So I think there are a lot of benefits to continuing U.S. presence in the region. I'm confident that other countries appreciate those benefits, and I'm confident that we will be able to negotiate access to locations as we need to.

Q: I heard the Secretary might address the graduating class of the Marshal Center in Garmisch on his upcoming trip to Europe. Can you confirm that?

A: He's currently scheduled to do that, yes.

Q: Do you have a rough sketch of the itinerary?

A: I don't have it on me, but we can get it for you.

Q: An F-18 question. The Secretary received a letter a week ago from Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin asking that he commission an Inspector General's review of the performance issues on the F-18. The Senator asked that the IG look into this before the next batch of money, about $2.5 billion, be put on contract.

What's the Secretary's current thinking on whether to launch or initiate an IG review?

A: The Secretary's been out of town most of the time since that letter arrived, and it seems to me, looking back on it, it reached the press before it reached his office. I was very surprised by that.

But I don't believe he's, obviously he'll look into the situation and respond to the letter. I don't believe he's done that yet.

Q: Can you take the question in terms of when he is going to respond? There's a lot...

A: Well, we're going to respond to the letter and I think probably the best way to handle it is when he responds to the letter I'm sure Senator Feingold will release the response to the letter, but we'll try to release it to you as soon as we can.

Q: What's your response to the latest Iraqi charge that the use of depleted uranium munitions during the Gulf War has resulted in a health hazard that's resulting in increased cancer rates in Iraq? Can you comment on that?

A: I think that it's completely unfounded. I understand that Saddam Hussein or Iraq is holding a conference on environmental hazards or degradation in Iraq now. I suppose being called an environmental violator by Saddam Hussein has about as much weight as being called a human rights violator by Saddam Hussein. He attacked Iraq... He attacked Kuwait and started a war during which he refused to withdraw from Kuwait, and therefore, provoked attacks by an alliance against him. When he left Kuwait he set oil wells on fire fouling the atmosphere for weeks and even months and creating a health hazard. He has used poison gas against his own people, the Kurds, and he has used poison gas against the Iranians.

If there is an increased incidence of cancer, and we only have the Iraqi assertions that there are at this stage, but if there are increased incidences of cancer among children, it could well be that this comes from the use of mustard gas in that area by Iraqi forces during its war against Iran.

There was a study done, a medical study done of the impact of birth defects and other health problems among Iranian children born of parents who had been the victims of mustard gas attacks by Iraq. The article was called "Congenital malformations in the progenies of Iranian chemical victims." It shows that the rate of malformations among children of parents who had been gassed by Iraq was eight to ten times higher than the malformation rate in children from parents who had not been gassed.

So I think there's a, if there is a higher incidence of cancer, it could well result from the use of gas in this area.

We, of course, have done extensive research on depleted uranium. We did use depleted uranium rounds in the war against Iraqi tanks. We destroyed 3700 out of about 4200 Iraqi tanks faced during the war. So these depleted uranium rounds fired either by aircraft such as the A-10 or by tanks were extremely successful. I would argue that the primary health threat faced by somebody hit with a depleted uranium round was the explosion of the tank in which he was sitting, not anything else.

Depleted uranium is just that. It's uranium that has had its radiation content reduced dramatically. It is a heavy metal and is about as radioactive as lead, maybe somewhat less so. We don't believe that normal exposure to this creates cancer and we have not found that to be the case. We are still examining the results of exposure to depleted uranium, but in the case of the Gulf War we do not believe there is a link to cancer. We have not found one at this stage.

One of our studies actually involves 33 American veterans who were seriously injured in friendly fire incidents involving depleted uranium, and I think Dr. Bernard Rostker briefed you on this some time ago because he's done a paper as part of his studies of Gulf War illnesses. Thirty-three of those people have fragments of depleted uranium in their body, and we have not found that there has been any higher incidence of cancer among the offspring of these soldiers than normal.

Now this is not dispositive and it's hard to be dispositive because we don't have good medical information from Iraq about the health history... One, we don't know if these allegations are true. Merely because they've been made by the Iraqis does not make them true. Two, we don't have enough other information about exposure to poisonous gases or fire from burning oil wells that may have wafted from Kuwait over Iraq, or other exposure to potentially carcinogenic materials to know what to make of these charges.

Q: Is there any evidence that you're aware of that exposure to the dust that's created from expending one of these munitions presents a health hazard in any form? And two, would you support some sort of independent international health study to answer the question more definitively?

A: First, I'm not aware of any studies that show that the dust leads to cancer, a higher incidence of cancer. On the second point about an independent review, it's my understanding that Iraq did invite the World Health Organization in to review the health of children in southern Iraq, that the World Health Organization produced a report which the Iraqis have refused to release.

Q: New subject?

A: Sure.

Q: On North Korea. I was wondering if you could comment first on the Pentagon's response or any steps that might be taken following North Korean threats yesterday of putting its forces on alert over this issue of their second nuclear site, as well as what the latest estimate is on when they may test another missile?

A: I don't want to get into intelligence estimates or analysis. I've certainly read many reports in the press that there's an expectation that North Korea may test another missile this month. It's the third day of the month, I guess time will tell.

We know that they have tested missiles in the past and assume they'll test missiles in the future, so it wouldn't be hugely surprising if they were to have another test. It would, however, be very disappointing if they were to test again because we've urged them not to proceed with tests, and we've urged them not to proceed with missile sales to other countries as well. And we will continue to urge them against further tests because we think it's destabilizing.

Q: [Jeremy] seemed to be steering people away from that imminent test yesterday at the State Department briefing yesterday. Without going into intelligence details, can you tell us have there been any signs that they might be preparing for a test soon?

A: You mean like public newspaper articles in the North Korean press? (Laughter)

Q: No. Have there been any signs that North Korea...

A: How can I do that without going into intelligence details? I just think that certainly there are a lot of newspaper reports suggesting that they're preparing for another test. I can't confirm those reports and I can't talk about our own intelligence analysis.

Q:...of my question about the North Korean Press Agency yesterday came out with a story that said that North Korean forces were being put on alert to go to war with the United States should it come to that over the suspected nuclear weapon site that we want to get access to. Have there been any changes in the status of our forces in South Korea in response to that?

A: First of all, the North Korean forces have recently started their winter training exercise which they undertake at about this time of year annually.

Second, they from time to time make bellicose statements suggesting that they're about to be attacked. I'm not aware that there's any basis for these statements right now. They may be doing this more for internal reasons than for eternal reasons. I can't psychoanalyze the North Koreans and the public statements they make.

Third, our forces in South Korea are very alert all the time. We monitor what the North Koreans are doing and I'm not aware at this stage that there is anything out of the ordinary going on beyond the winter training exercises that usually take place at this time of the year.

Fourth, were the North Koreans to miscalculate and take some unfortunately provocative action, we would be ready to respond very quickly and very decisively.

Q: Some of the North Korean statements by the North Korean military were directed at this new military strategy that calls for, U.S. military strategy that apparently calls for an offensive response in case of attack rather than just repelling a North Korean assault. Has the U.S. briefed the North Koreans in any general sense on any... on what their strategy is now...any changes in it?

A: We do not have a practice of briefing the North Koreans on our military posture or strategy. (Laughter)

Q: Well, --

A: And I'm not aware that we've started recently. But let me address the bigger issue.

There was a newspaper story alleging a new operating plan or strategy toward North Korea. I'm not aware that that was an accurate account. I'm not aware that it was accurate.

Q: You're not aware it's accurate.

A: Right.

Q: One of the things that report said is that the outline for this plan would be briefed in, or would be laid out to the North Korean in generals talks. Has that...

A: There haven't been any recent generals talks that I'm aware of. There were some talks. I don't think there have been any recent ones.

Q: Will there be one sometime tomorrow?

A: No.

Q: In New York?

A: Tomorrow there will be talks in New York, but those are over access to the underground facilities that we want to analyze.

Q: Drawing from the Washington Post article, today's, the 3rd, it says how does the United States respond to the general staff of North Korean's People's Army saying that Washington was heightening tension by demanding inspections and talks aimed at preventing North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and long range missiles, that it's our fault that there are heightened tensions.

A: I think that's balderdash.

Q: One of the Defense Ministers in North Korea said something along the lines of our People's Army will blow up the U.S. territory as a whole if the U.S. starts a war on the peninsula.

A: We don't talk about operating plans. We have a very significant military force in South Korea to protect the South Koreans and to protect our interests. That's all I can say about it.

Q: The Secretary was on the Hill yesterday briefing senators about Iraq. Can you give us any readout of that session? Was there any reason for it to be taking place?

A: Well, it was requested by members of the Senate. As you know, members of the Senate have been in town this week to deal with internal elections, leadership posts, etc., and some members of the Senate asked for a briefing. We hadn't had an opportunity to do normal consultations in terms of meetings back in November because most members of Congress weren't here immediately after the elections. Fifty senators showed up and they were brought up to date on the situation with Iraq by Secretary Cohen, Secretary Albright, National Security Advisor Berger, and I believe also the Chairman, General Shelton was there.

They talked about the events of November 14th and 15th, what led up to the...what led to our decision to launch an attack and then call it back, [or before it started to cancel the plans.] They talked about the negotiations with the UN. They talked about the inspections taking place and the ones we assume will take place in the future...hope will take place in the future. And that was basically it. It was a briefing...to bring them up to date, just as the President and Secretary Cohen and General Shelton and Mr. Berger brought the press up to date and the nation up to date on November 15th at the White House.

Q: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson complained afterwards that, well, the current session I guess is being fairly lively and that people did complain to the Secretary that there'd been too much threatening of bombing and then no bombing taking place. Did Secretary Cohen have any description of the meeting that coincides with that? Or is that...

A: I think that our policy has been described by President Clinton and by Secretary Cohen. I think we've put Iraq on notice that they won't have the type of notice next time that they had last time. And that they should comply with the UN Security Council mandates and allow the inspectors to do their job.

Q: Housekeeping. Does the Secretary plan to send a nomination up to the Hill any time soon for an Air Force Secretary?

A: I'll have to check on that. I don't know exactly where that stands. It's clearly one of the important decisions on his agenda. I just don't know exactly where we are in the process, but I'll check.

Q: How about the meeting today with the Pakistani Prime Minister. Could you fill us in on it?

A: There were several elements to it. One, as you know, there have been some discussions between Prime Minister Sharif and President Clinton about ways to resolve the F-16 controversy. Those discussions were continued here. I have no more details about those.

The Secretary also discussed our concerns about proliferation with the Pakistani Prime Minister, and other areas of bilateral and regional interest.

Q: There are also reports that the New Zealanders are going to buy the F-16s. Is there any...

A: I've seen those reports, and I think we should just wait until, to see if and when there's an announcement to be made. We hope there will be something to say soon, but there isn't right now. When an announcement is made it's likely to, I think it should, appropriately come from the White House.

Q: Is there a chance, did they discuss the possibility of resuming or renewing military cooperation between the United States and Pakistan?

A: That broadly was one of the questions, but the more immediate question was what steps can Pakistan take to address our concerns about non-proliferation that would be necessary in order to help reestablish a fuller military relationship.

Q: Tomorrow there will be a historic cooperation between the U.S. Navy and the PLA. Something called SAREX?

A: Yeah. We have had search and rescue exercises with Hong Kong before. This search and rescue exercise is another one with Hong Kong. It is my understanding that there could be some participation by a Chinese ship in this exercise. It is, as I said, a search and rescue exercise.

Our participation is relatively modest. I think it's limited to aircraft. There is a Coast Guard aircraft helicopter. I think there's a Navy P-3 involved, and there may be one other aircraft involved as well. And a relatively limited number of people. I there may be just 22 Americans involved in this and some air assets from Hong Kong. And now I understand also a ship from the Chinese navy.

Q: This does set a precedent, does it not?

A: The Chinese have participated in, they have observed military exercises that have been orchestrated by the United States before, but I'm not aware that they have actually participated in an exercise like this.

Q: Does yesterday's apprehension of this General Krstic, an indicted war criminal in Bosnia, indicate an increased or renewed effort to round up war criminals in Bosnia?

A: I think it indicates a continuing effort to make sure that war criminals are brought to justice in the Hague and tried to see if the indictments are...if they stand up.

From the very beginning our policy has been that war criminals should turn themselves in or they should be apprehended by local police forces. In times when the SFOR forces or IFOR forces have run across war criminals in the course of their ordinary business, they have apprehended them and turned them over to the Hague for trial. That's my understanding of what happened this time. But our policy continues, and that is that all indicted war criminals should be in the Hague for trial.

Q: But this was clearly a trap set. This wasn't just in the normal course of business. This was clearly a trap that was sprung on Krstic when he arrived at the scene. So does that indicate that we are going to become more active in enforcing the mandate on the Hague?

A: The international community has from the very beginning believed that war criminals should be in the Hague and we continue to believe that. The basic policy has not changed, and that is, that when we run across them in the normal course of business we apprehend them and turn them over to the proper authorities if the conditions are appropriate. Part of making the conditions appropriate is to do this in ways that don't present unusual risks to SFOR troops. So sometimes steps are taken to make sure that the risk is minimized to allied troops.

Q: Why, since both Serb leaders Karadzic and Mladic have been under open indictment for crimes against humanity for so long, why has there been no attempt to take either one of those two into custody?

A: Without discussing whether that's correct or not, I think it should be very clear every time an indicted war criminal is apprehended or turns himself in for trial, it should be very clear that this is what can happen to any indicted war criminal in Bosnia.

Q: Did you mean to suggest that there have been active attempts to take Karadzic and..

A: I'm just not going to comment on your characterization of it. The lesson is that these indicted war criminals should be in the Hague for trial and that applies to Karadzic and it applies to Mladic as well.

Q: Just a quick one, back to the...

Although there hasn't been any formal announcement that they would go to New Zealand, is there an expectation on the Pentagon's part that if and when such a deal was made, that Pakistan would be reimbursed with the proceeds of the sale? From what I remember, they paid a certain amount for these F-16s they never received.

A: President Clinton has made it clear that he'd like to resolve this in a mutually beneficial way. I think that would obviously involve some sort of compensation to the Pakistanis. How that can be done is still being worked out. Or if it can be done is still being worked out. This is something the Administration has been working on for some time.

Press: Thank you very much.