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DoD News Briefing - Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
September 05, 2000 5:05 PM EDT

(Also participating in this briefing was Dr. Detlef Puhl, spokesman for the minister of Defense of Germany)

Bacon: Well, good evening. As you know, we had hoped and anticipated that Secretary Cohen and the German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping would be giving a briefing at this time. Unfortunately, Minister Scharping had an accident coming into the building at the Mall Annex. The security barrier went up and stopped his car. He was shaken up. And let me just explain what happened and his condition. His condition is, we think, very good. His spirits are certainly high. But he is currently at Arlington Hospital for some precautionary tests.

At about 16:05 this afternoon, the minister and his motorcade were entering the Mall Annex. The first car, a police escort, went through the gate with no incident. But when the minister's car, a gold Lincoln, got to the gate, the gate went up and lifted the car up. The minister was sitting in the back seat with Brigadier General Peter Goebel, the German defense attache to Washington. Both were injured. The minister suffered an abrasion on his forehead and a cut on his foot. I believe it was his right foot. He was immediately brought into Secretary Cohen's dining room, where he was met by Colonel John Baxter, a flight surgeon, and a medical team. He was pale when he arrived -- a little bit of blood on his forehead -- was quickly cleaned up -- color returned. He asked for a glass of water.

He spoke to his family by cell phone to report on what had happened. His spirits seemed good and he was very lucid, talked to his staff. And the doctor, after bandaging his forehead and his foot, determined that he should go to Arlington Hospital for further tests. He did go there. He's there now. Secretary Cohen went with him.

Obviously, the meeting they were scheduled to have between 1605 and 1700 was cancelled. And the dinner that Secretary Cohen was going to have for Minister Scharping tonight has also been cancelled. Nevertheless, Minister Scharping hopes to have a meeting with Secretary Cohen, perhaps tonight, to discuss the issues that brought him to Washington in the first place. These issues include a full discussion of the German military reform plan, the progress that Germany is making on the Defense Capabilities Initiative. There's been substantial progress, particularly in areas of airlift and some other areas. And my German colleague, Dr. Detlef Puhl, can talk about that and also talk about the minister's condition if you have questions of him.

Brigadier General Goebel, the defense attache, as I said, basically had a bloody nose, a little bit of blood on his shirt as a result. He said he was in good shape, but he also went to Arlington Hospital for precautionary tests. There was also a personal security agent, an American named John Salazar, who was hurt, seemed to sustain a little bruise to his -- he had an abrasion on his chin, and hurt one of his hands, and, I believe, may have hurt his leg as well. He also went to Arlington Hospital for a checkup.

As you know, we have had problems with the security gate at the mall entrance before. Approximately two years ago, the Japanese defense minister was injured when he was entering through that same gate when his car was hung up on a barrier. Since then, we have made a number of changes.

The most significant is that we changed the entire control system for the security barriers, both at the Mall Annex, at the mall entrance and also at the river entrance. We moved to a new, electronically controlled system with a different set -- moved from a key system to an illuminated button system in the guard shed, and we had had no problems with this system until today.

There was one other incident involving a car in a Chinese delegation that was an entirely different trigger. That did not involve locking the system down in so-called "parade mode," which had been done today. That is, when you know a motorcade is coming, the guard presses a button that's supposed to lock the system down to let multiple cars come through, something we do approximately twice a week, as you know, because we have people coming in and out all the time. And that was done this time.

We have launched a full investigation, at Secretary Cohen's instructions, obviously, to find out why this system apparently malfunctioned this time or exactly what caused the problem. We don't have any evidence now or indication of what caused the problem. And they'll be working tonight and tomorrow until they find out what did cause the problem.

Finally, Secretary Cohen is obviously upset by this, upset first that Minister Scharping was injured and inconvenienced by this, and upset that the system malfunctioned. It is something that he and his staff are determined to sort out so it doesn't happen again. But we are grateful that the injuries are light and that Minister Scharping appears to be in very good shape, very alert, and indeed wants to get back to work as soon as he can.

And let me ask Detlef Puhl if he has anything to say, and then we'll take your questions.

Puhl: No. That was just a great explanation of what happened.

Q: Can we get the spelling of your name?

Puhl: Yes. D-e-t-l-e-f. That's the first name. D-e-t-l-e- f. P-u-h-l.

Q: P-u-h-l.

Puhl: Right.

Q: And Goebel's spelling, too?

Puhl: Peter, P-e-t-e-r.

Q: G -- ?

Puhl: G-o-e-b-e-l.

Q: And he is -- what service is he?

Bacon: Army.

Puhl: Army.

Bacon: Brigadier general.

Q: Brigadier general. Thanks.

Q: Was Minister Scharping ever unconscious?

Q: Was he lying on the ground?

Puhl: I don't have the impression that he was unconscious. He was just a little bit pale and feeling not well.

Q: We had heard that he had been lying on the ground out there. Is that true?

Puhl: Yes.

Q: Was he -- for what reason, do you know? Why?

Puhl: Because he was -- he had been jumping in that car and probably bumped the head against the roof of the car.

Bacon: And he broke his glasses.


Q: Did the security barricade go down and the car roll off of it, or did they get out of the car while it was on the barricade?

Bacon: I cannot answer that question, because I was not there.

Q: Well, the car, I think, is still on it.

Bacon: The car is still on the barricade. Maybe -- you were in the motorcade.

Puhl: I was in the third car behind the one, and I -- we just saw the car hop up a little bit. But apparently the barrier was not all the way up, but it just -- the car happened to be right on it, and then probably was stopped by the barrier.

Q: Do you know when the -- the most recent one was the Chinese, I think it was a military officer, wasn't it?

Bacon: I believe that was in January. But that was an entirely different situation. That was a situation where the -- one, the motorcade was not expected, so they had not put the -- they had not deactivated the gate by putting it in "parade mode," which is supposed to lock it down for multiple cars.

Two, the Army escort car bringing in the Chinese put his key card into the -- you know, whatever you call it -- the processor, it's the same thing that everybody does coming into the building, and so the gate went down for him, but it only goes down for one car. The driver of the Chinese car behind him didn't realize that the gate would come up again, and attempted to drive through. All the gates have signs that say "No Tailgating." This fellow essentially tailgated and did not have a card that would allow him to put the gate down. So it's apples and oranges, in that that was a problem caused by a different reason.

We don't know what caused this problem, but the gate was supposed to have been locked down in parade mode to allow multiple cars to come through.

Q: Ken, is this is the same gate that the Japanese minister was --

Bacon: It is the same gate.

Q: The same gate?

Q: And Secretary Perry's car was hit by a gate at this entrance.

Bacon: Secretary Perry's car was hit by a gate coming from the heliport, beyond the building.

Q: Do you know how many times cars have been hung on the gate, Ken? Is this dozens of incidents like this?

Bacon: I'm afraid I don't know how many --

Q: I mean, it's not only defense ministers that get hung, it's other people as well?

Bacon: Well, we're trying not to hang anybody on our gates, any authorized entrant.

The point of the gates is to hang up unauthorized entrants.

I just don't know how many times the gates have malfunctioned. And I must say, we don't know exactly what caused this either. It's subject to investigation.

Q: Do you know if the barriers have ever prevented a person with malicious intent from getting into the Pentagon grounds?

Bacon: Well, that's a seemingly simple question with a complex answer, because the mere fact that the gates are there and up, probably act as a deterrent to many would-be malefactors. But I can't tell you how many people, if any, have been hung up on the gates.

Q: So you've never hung a bad guy on that gate, to your knowledge?

Bacon: I don't know that for a fact. I don't know the answer to that question. It's a good question; I'll try to find out the answer.

Q: And a question for Detlef, if we could. Obviously your government is taking this with graciousness; it wasn't intended by the United States. But is there concern about visiting an American Defense secretary? (Laughter).

Puhl: I think you exaggerate just a little bit. No, of course not.

Bacon: Yes?

Q: I seem to remember in the Japanese incident, if I do remember correctly, President Clinton was surely rapidly informed, and I believe he called the Japanese government at that time -- it may have been Prime Minister Obuchi -- to apologize, if I do remember correctly. So, I'm curious; has the head of the German government been informed of this incident? Is it -- is your government --

Bacon: I do not know if he has been, but we'll certainly take that question.

Puhl: I just know that Secretary Cohen was there right away. He came right away and came to the gate and greeted him while he was still lying down on the floor and so -- took care of him.

Q: Was he asked -- when he got out of the car, was he asked to lay down because he might be seriously hurt, or did he stagger and fall down because he was --

Puhl: No, at first, coming out of the car, at first he was sitting down; being held by one of his security people. And then, a few minutes later, he lay down.

Bacon: Yes, Pam?

Q: As an eyewitness, could you say, was it a -- was the car fairly violently moved, or was it -- did it look violent? I mean, did it just look like a little --

Puhl: I didn't see that much. I was two cars behind, and I didn't obviously expect anything like this to happen, so I didn't watch out for this.

Q: Right.

Q: Do you know what caused the cuts? How he got cut?

Bacon: He was obviously propelled upward and forward, and I think, Detlef, you may want to address this, but he apparently bounced up and hit the ceiling and then he went forward and hit the seat in front of him -- that's how he broke his glasses.

Puhl: There is some metal stuff in the front seat, in the back of the front seat, and obviously he was pushed against the front seat and both his leg -- he hit this metal stuff, whatever that is.

Q: Is this an armored limousine? Is this an armored truck?

Puhl: I don't think it was, was it?

Bacon: I don't know the answer to that, either, Sid.

Q: Was he wearing a seatbelt? (Laughter.)

Puhl: I have no idea. (Laughs.)

Bacon: He was not wearing a seatbelt.

Q: He was not?

Bacon: Neither he nor General Goebel was wearing a seatbelt.

Q: Are we paying the medical bill? The U.S.?

Bacon: I assume that we'll pay all medical bills, but I frankly haven't asked that question. I'm sure that we will not bill the German government for the medical bills. (Laughter.)

Q: Do you know the cost of the barrier system? How much it cost to install?

Bacon: I don't. Well, the barrier system has been there for some time. What was changed after the Japanese defense minister's accident was the control mechanism; the electronics that control the barriers. And I don't know what the cost of that was.

Q: Ken, you know, all joking aside, and all the snickering aside, there have been a number of accidents now. People are getting hurt right now, today, this afternoon. Has anything been put into place as a temporary measure to try and alleviate this happening again before there is a cause of this particular incident? Is there some stopgap? Is there anything, or is it just business as usual with this system until you find a reason for this accident?

Bacon: Well, first, I agree with you 100 percent. There is nothing to laugh about here, and there's nothing to snicker about.

This is a serious, possibly tragic situation. Fortunately, in this case, no one was badly hurt, but you could imagine a situation where someone could have been hurt. So we are fortunate that that did not happen.

Second, the system has been working well, according to the head of the Defense Protective Service, Chief Jester, until this incident. We don't know what caused it.

Clearly, the goal articulated by Secretary Cohen in his instructions to the DPS and also to Doc Cooke is to find out what happened and to take steps as soon as possible to make sure it doesn't happen again.

We're always looking for the right balance between security and access, and unfortunately, the system here failed to provide access when it was required to do so. Why that happened, we don't know, but we'll do our best to find out.

Q: But at the moment, I mean, your VIPs -- the secretary, the chairman, and all kinds of people -- are going to continue to come in and out of these barriers for the next several days, until you do have a cause. So nothing has -- will -- there's no temporary measures --

Bacon: There is an investigation going on tonight, and we will try to sort out what happened as soon as possible and take action. But if you're asking me, are we disarming all the barriers, no, of course not. We still face a mandatory need to provide security to the building, and we'll do that. What we need to find out is why the security system malfunctioned when it was supposed to be in a parade or lock-down mode.

Q: Ken, would keep us informed, as soon as you find out, what the hospital says about his condition, what --

Bacon: Yeah.

Q: -- and your -- okay?

Bacon: We will.

Q: Can you take the question of, number one, what the barrier system cost, and number two, what the fix cost, the fix that --

Bacon: Yes.

Q: -- that obviously didn't work very well --

Bacon: Right.

Q: Thank you.

Bacon: Well, I think it's unclear. I wouldn't jump to conclusions. Clearly it didn't work in this incident, but we'll find out what it cost.

Q: Ken, the system had been switched into the parade mode? You said it was supposed to --

Bacon: I am informed that it was in fact in the parade mode. That was the first thing that was checked.

Q: Is there a person that actually does that, who switches --

Bacon: It's done by pushing a button.

Q: Okay.

Bacon: And when the button for parade mode is pushed, it lights up.

So there's no doubt when it's pushed in.

Q: And once it's in parade mode, apparently --

Bacon: Well, parade locks it down. Yeah.

Q: -- then the only ways to raise the boundary are if you use a key.

Bacon: No, there's no key. There used to be a key, before the Japanese --

Q: In other words, it locks it down in the parade mode --

Bacon: Since then, one of the things that was changed was the key system was eliminated to a less -- a more fail-safe system.

Thank you.


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