DoD News Briefing - Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to the briefing. Our mid-afternoon briefing for you, Charlie. I'd like to start with just a couple of announcements.
First -- (phone rings, laughter).
Q: First, turn off all cell phones.
Bacon: First, turn off all phones and pagers. That's the first announcement.
Secretary Cohen will speak at the Special Operations Command change of command ceremony tomorrow. Army General Peter Schoomaker will retire, and he will be replaced by Air Force General Charles Holland. So that's tomorrow, it's open to the press, at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.
Q: What time is that?
Bacon: It is in the morning, I believe, at 11:00. But I'm not certain.
Bacon: Ten o'clock. Ten o'clock in the morning.
Second, on Monday Secretary Cohen will go to Columbus, Ohio to address the John Glenn Institute of Public Service and Public Policy. That will be at 4:00 Eastern Standard Time Monday. And he will talk about assuring American security in the 21st century. And for those of you who want to follow this on your computers, it will be web cast starting at -- first with a media availability at 3:35, and then the speech starting at 4:00.
Finally, I'd like to welcome 15 students from the Joint Officers Public Affairs course, their annual visit to the Pentagon. They're training to be Tim Taylors and Craig Quigleys. We're glad to have them here.
With that, I'll take your questions. Charlie.
Q: Ken, first, is this thing tomorrow going to be piped back from MacDill?
Bacon: The MacDill? I don't think we've made plans to pipe it back.
I don't anticipate a newsworthy speech. It will be the type of -- well, he's going to congratulate General Schoomaker for doing a great job as commander in chief of the Special Operations Command. He'll talk about the contribution that Special Operations Command forces make to our engagement policy around the world.
Secretary Cohen, in a way, is the father of the Special Operations Command because he sponsored the legislation that created the Special Operations Command in the 1980s.
Q: That's a good angle. (Off mike.) (Laughter.)
Bacon: Yeah. But that's not a new fact. (More laughter.)
Q: Is there going to be an availability?
Bacon: Currently, there is not one planned.
Q: Now on Aden. Can you fill us in on the threat escalation situation there, in Aden?
Bacon: I cannot. There was a bomb threat there, as you know, aimed against the hotel. Fortunately, nothing has happened at this stage. But we did receive a called-in threat, and security measures were taken. The ambassador has addressed that from the theater. And I really don't have anything to add to what she said.
Q: Where was the call received? And when? At the embassy?
Bacon: I don't know those details. She's spoken to that, and those are available on the wires. There have already been extensive wire service coverage of this. She's made a statement about it, and I don't have much to add to what she said.
Q: Can you tell us about the video teleconference that the secretary had this morning with the CINCs, as to topic, and so forth?
Bacon: Sure. The secretary held a video conference call with all the commanders in chiefs, as well as the service chiefs and the service secretaries. And the topic was force protection. This was chaired by the secretary and by General Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
The format was that the secretary and the chairman each made opening remarks, and then, through the wonders of electronics, they spoke to the commanders around the world, the regional commanders: the European Command, the Pacific Command, the Central Command and the Southern Command, and also General Schwartz, who is the commander of our forces in Korea. In addition, they spoke with the functional commands: the Strategic Command, Special Operations Command, the Transportation Command, Joint Forces Command -- and I'm sure I've left one out, but all the regional and functional commands.
And as I said, the topic was force protection. The goal basically was to make a good system better, and to use the concern that's been generated by the attack against the Cole as an opportunity for the all CINCs, commanders in chief, to make sure that they are reviewing their force protection postures and their procedures; to make sure that they're making any necessary changes.
And it was actually very useful because every commander in chief got to hear what the other commanders in chiefs were doing.
And they were also able to bring up some common concerns that they all share.
Q: What kind of concerns?
Bacon: Well, for instance, resources. We have funded all force protection measures, but obviously if there's going to be enhanced force protection in certain ways, it would require greater resources.
Q: Well, did Secretary Cohen or General Shelton say it's clear now that we need to make some improvements, and here's some things we need to do? Or did he just say what's your ideas?
Bacon: No. They -- and I don't think I'll get into specifics, because it's not very worthwhile to protect our troops by listing specific comments that were made, but both the secretary and the chairman had some specific directions that they gave, and then the commanders reported back on actions that they are taking and actions that they plan to take and actions that would be worthwhile to take in the future. One common concern for instance is using more -- finding new technological solutions to question like perimeter defense, security, detection. That's something we've devoted a lot of time to, a lot of money, but we do have some other projects in the pipeline. They could be accelerated over time. But that's one aspect that everybody commented on, the need to embrace and utilize the latest technology for force protection, perimeter defense, detection, et cetera.
Q: Was there any discussion of perhaps -- and this is a view that is expressed by other agencies -- that the Defense Department gets too bent or too worried in the aftermath of a situation like this? In other words, a speech from headquarters saying, you know, take all the necessary precautions, but don't go crazy.
Bacon: Well, I'm glad you have raised that particular point. First of all, I don't believe, and I know Secretary Cohen does not believe that one can be overzealous in pursuit of force protection. But you have to take this in context, and the context is, we have a worldwide mission to perform, and we are not going to stop performing that mission. We need to remain forward-deployed. Our ships will be at sea. Our soldiers will be exercising around the world. Our airmen will be flying. Our Marines will be deployed in their amphibious ready groups. And the Coast Guard also will continue to patrol sea lanes around the world.
So, given the fact that we are a power with worldwide responsibilities, we have to figure out how best to deploy in ways that reduce the risks our troops face.
We will never be able to eliminate the risks, but we can take steps to reduce the risks. And, as I've said many times, and as the secretary has said, there is no absolute level of force protection; you never reach a perfect level of force protection. It's something for which you always strive. And this was just another part of our effort to do a tough job a little better than we're already doing it.
Q: How did they discuss the nature of the threat? I mean, I think a question on a lot of people's minds is whether the U.S. believes there's some broader attack going on here that goes beyond any specific incident?
Bacon: Well, I think everybody who makes a career of serving in the military understands that we live in a dangerous world. And so the idea that we live in a time of threat isn't new to any of the CINCs.
There was no specific discussion of threats. What there was was a general and universal appreciation of the fact that our soldiers, sailors, airman, and Marines face threats everyday. And that we have to do the best possible job we can to protect them against those threats.
So, there was not -- this was not an opportunity -- the purpose of the call was not to talk about threats, it was to talk about force protection.
Q: Can I have two questions that came out of testimony that was on the Hill yesterday?
Q: Could I ask you one question before we -- just on the same thing?
Q: I know that the secretary has occasional radio teleconferences with the CINCs, but is it at all unusual to have that broad of a participation of -- you know, there were commanders and surface chiefs and surface secretaries all at one time? Is that normal?
Bacon: I can't -- I mean, he has video conference calls frequently. Usually they're a little more specific than this as to participants; maybe a smaller group. But this isn't unusual for him to do that. I don't know when the last time he did it was. But this is an important issue and everybody sees it as an important issue. They did before the call, and they did certainly after the call.
Q: Did it -- still following up on that --
Q: Did anyone during this conference call express concern that current force protection measure are inadequate?
Bacon: No. People talked about steps they are taking to make a good system better.
And I think there is wide appreciation throughout the military, from the newest private to the most senior admiral, that the Pentagon has done an awful lot since Khobar Towers in 1996, and that force protection is atop everybody's list of priorities. But it doesn't mean that there aren't ways to improve force protection, and the point of this conference call was to focus on some of those steps that can be taken.
Q: If you say there's a growing understanding that you possibly need to improve and possibly need more resources, what steps are you going to take now to put together a pool of money and fund some of these improvements, and where will the money come from? Do you have any kind of ballpark figure, what you're looking at here?
Bacon: No, I don't think we're looking at that stage. But I -- in my conversations with commanders around the world, they generally say that if they make specific requests for force protection, those requests are granted. I can't say that happens in every particular case. I mean, everybody has to set priorities.
But you have to realize that the easiest way to protect our forces, I suppose, would be to bring them back and to put them into huge, well-protected forts in the middle of nowhere in the United States. We're not going to do that. We have to continue to sail, we have to continue to deploy. And so the question is, given our worldwide responsibilities, how do we perform them in the safest possible way?
Q: Just a small point. Was the Coast Guard included in this meeting?
Bacon: The Coast Guard was not included in this particular SVTS [secure video teleconference system].
Q: (Off mike) -- what time was it, and how long did it last?
Bacon: It began at 11:00 and ended at 12:16.
Q: And on to some other questions. Yesterday on the Hill, some interesting things came out at the House Armed Services Committee hearing. Walt Slocombe said that there are -- in talking about the NSA [National Security Agency] report that the Washington Times had reported on, he talked about a separate intelligence report that came out about 12 yours before the bombing. He said at the time that it didn't mention Yemen specifically. But since then, an intelligence official has confirmed to me that in fact it did include Yemen and several other countries.
What more can you tell us about that? How specific was it? And how was that disseminated?
And then I have another question.
Bacon: Okay. First, on those two reports, I'm probably going to give you less detail than you would like for the simple reason that obviously, this -- every time is a sensitive time to talk about intelligence. This is a particularly sensitive time to talk about intelligence. We not only have the FBI working to trace down every single lead as to who performed the dastardly bombing of the Cole, but we also have troops throughout the Middle East on heightened alert, certainly in parts of the Middle East. And so we want to be as careful as possible not to say anything that would compromise our ability to collect intelligence from the widest number of sources.
There were two reports. One appeared the day before the bombing of the Cole, the other appeared about 12 hours after the bombing of the Cole. These reports were similar to dozens of other reports that are received in the course of an average week or an average month, in that they contained some information that lacked specificity. There was nothing specific in these reports that would lead anybody to assume that, one, an attack was imminent, and two, the target of the attack. Both reports did mention the word "Yemen", but they mentioned many other places as well. At least the first one mentioned several other places. The reason a country -- there are many reasons why a country name may appear in a report that are separate from where a -- a prediction as to where a terrorist act may take place.
The second question had to do with dissemination. Reports -- these reports were both disseminated to NavCent, which is the Central Command's naval forces in Bahrain. Typically the NavCent people, if they receive a report that is highly specific or contains any element of urgency to it, immediately will pass that report on to every operating unit that might have an interest in knowing that information. I do not know whether these reports were passed on to the Cole. That's one of the issues that will be determined.
But the reports did not provide enough specificity to allow any skipper or military commander to make a decision to change behavior based on these reports. I think I can say that without fear of contradiction.
In general, skippers in the Gulf will receive a daily intelligence report, and they will receive a daily terrorist warning report. That is a distillation of what the CentCom intelligence officials believe is the most relevant information to them. In addition -- and this is a daily digest that they would receive, a daily report. In addition, there can be other reports, depending on the urgency and specificity of those reports. If anything comes up in the course of the day that people in Washington determine or people in the unit -- in the area determine is useful to a particular commander, whether he's a naval commander or a land-component commander, that is passed on as quickly as possible.
Q: Did you say they receive two different reports, one on intelligence, one on the terrorist threat?
Bacon: The discussion yesterday was on -- about two reports, one of which was a -- the second of which was a distillation of the first. And that's frequently the case that what you'll see is that intelligence information is presented in many different forms as it goes through a process of analysis, going from raw intelligence to highly refined intelligence, where it's combined with more intelligence. What determines what commanders get is the urgency of the intelligence.
Q: But in terms of the daily reports, you said there were -- that commanders in the Gulf receive a daily intelligence report and a daily terrorism threat report.
Bacon: That is my understanding, yes.
Q: Ken, at that hearing yesterday, they also learned that a Defense -- an analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency resigned apparently because he felt his input or analysis wasn't being used properly. Is there -- I know you issued a statement on this yesterday, but can you just explain whether there was any information developed by this analyst that would have helped prevent or anticipate this attack on the Cole?
Bacon: Well, first of all, let me say that he was a good analyst.
His analysis was published frequently by the Defense Intelligence Agency. The agency had enough confidence in him to send him earlier this year to a force protection conference in the Middle East to report on the agency's views and the way it contributes to force protection determinations and calculations. So, he was a good analyst.
He also, in a discussion with Admiral Wilson yesterday -- Admiral Wilson is the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency -- said that he had no intelligence which would have led him or anybody else to predict the attack against the Cole. He had nothing of that precision that would have allowed him or anybody else to make a prediction of what happened to the Cole.
Admiral Wilson, as I think all of you know because he's appeared here many times behind this podium with slides and videos and commentary, is a straight-talker. And he is also completely committed to getting intelligence -- useful intelligence -- out to the troops as quickly as possible. That's his job and he does it extraordinarily well. He has absolutely no interest in preventing useful intelligence from getting to the right people in time. And he is -- will meet with this analyst in the next few days to review with him exactly what the analyst's concerns were, and take any appropriate action that he determines is worthwhile after this discussion.
I don't want to prejudice this discussion; the discussion will be private, and I don't anticipate I'll report to you on it. But Admiral Wilson wants to find out exactly what was on the analyst's mind and that involves going considerably beyond the letter that he sent to Admiral Wilson a week or so ago.
Q: Senator Roberts yesterday didn't say that the analyst's information specified the Cole. What he said what that the analyst felt that if his analysis had been included in the DIA report, that perhaps the threat condition would have been higher, and therefore the precautions against such an attack would have greater.
Bacon: I can't comment on that, and I don't believe Admiral Wilson can comment on it until he's gone over exactly what the analyst meant by that. All I can tell you is there is no percentage in making an inaccurate or overly-loose prediction about threats.
Everybody wants to use intelligence to the best possible effect to protect troops. And this is not an issue of trying to withhold information. Everybody is devoted to trying to get the information out as quickly as possible, and in the most useful form. Now this requires judgments -- analysis requires judgments, whether you're analyzing facts to put together a story, or you're analyzing facts to write a book, or analyzing facts to put together intelligence. It requires judgments, and it requires editing.
So, there are probably room for differences on what matters and what doesn't matter, but these differences I think would be narrow because everybody in these jobs is devoted to trying to get intelligence out as quickly and as usefully as possible.
Q: Was this analyst associated with the report on the 11th that was also under discussion yesterday? Was he in any way involved in the production of that report?
Bacon: That report wasn't produced by the Defense Intelligence Agency. So the answer is no.
Q: The answer's no. Is there any thought on Admiral Wilson's part of trying to bring him back into DIA? He's resigned --
Bacon: Well, I don't think Admiral Wilson -- first of all, he resigned, and so he made the decision to go. Presumably if he made the decision to come back, because he was a good analyst, Admiral Wilson would consider that very thoughtfully. I don't want to speak for Admiral Wilson, but I don't think -- I know that there was nothing in this analyst's performance that would preclude his coming back.
Q: And one follow-up on the -- the stuff on Yemen. There was frequent mention here and yesterday that -- of the lack of specificity in these intelligence reports that -- the report that came out 12 hours ahead of time. But Yemen -- I mean, there really aren't that many U.S. assets in Yemen. It is essentially, as I understand it, an embassy and visiting ships. So any report that mentioned a threat in Yemen would by nature be fairly specific as to the target, not --
Bacon: I think you're presupposing more than you should about this report.
Q: In terms of the context in which Yemen was mentioned?
Bacon: I can't get into the details of the report. But all I can tell you is that there was a lack of specificity in this report.
Q: Getting back to those two reports, is it fair to say that the first one was just included in a digest or compendium of a variety of threats, and then the second one was sort of a highlighting, a refinement of that same information?
Bacon: That's not fair to say.
Q: It's not fair to say.
Q: Ken, did either of these reports make any recommendations to commanders in the field as to what they should do about this intelligence? Or was it simply information?
Bacon: They did not make recommendations.
Q: And a follow-up. When the commanders get these daily digests, or these briefings, do they have any ability to inquire behind that and to get more information? If they are uncomfortable with what they've been told or want to know more, are there channels where they can quickly do that?
Bacon: Yes. And what's more, they -- if the reports raise in their minds any doubts about what they're doing, they have the ability to call up through the chain of command and to say, "I've just read a report which raises in my mind questions, and I'd like to discuss with you the possibility of changing our plans."
And that commander -- any commander has that right.
Q: But they have to do it that way, as opposed to sitting at some computer terminal and getting the raw information at the push of a key?
Bacon: It's a difficult question to answer. There is a large amount of intelligence information available to any commander at any time. The intelligence agencies work very hard to digest, analyze this information in a way that makes it useful, just as news reporters do. You have a large number of facts you deal with every day, most of which never get into your stories. So it is a question of making judgments. Obviously, these judgments are always easier to make in retrospect than they are ahead of an event.
Q: Ken, earlier this week, a local television station in New York did a series of pieces where the reporter apparently went out and rented motorboats and went to three different naval facilities on the East Coast, and during the course of several hours on the water, went right up to submarines, to ammunition ships, and the Enterprise. They never encountered any security, they were never told to go away, they never saw any water-borne security of any kind.
First of all, do you have a comment on what it tells us about how open we are in our country? Is it something that the Navy or the Pentagon should be concerned about?
Bacon: I didn't see the report, so I'd better not comment on it. All I can tell you is that it's very clear to me, following the conference call this morning, and certainly before the conference call, that security is a concern all around the world, not just in the Middle East, not just in Asia, not just in Europe, but in the continental United States as well.
Q: Well, Ken, what John is describing is no secret to any boater who has been out there. You know, it's pretty common knowledge that you can bring your private craft fairly close to U.S. naval vessels. And the public might be surprised to find that out.
But is there going to be any change in that procedure?
Bacon: I'm not a boater, so I can't -- I don't know whether it's common knowledge or not. But I can tell you that all security procedures are under review. Whether there will be a change or not, I can't predict at this stage.
Q: Ken, just to follow up. Can I ask you a little bit about the security procedures that were in effect for the Cole, because we learned also at yesterday's hearing, Senator Levin called our attention to the standard operating procedure or the standard terrorist prevention measures under various threat conditions, and under the threat condition -- actually, it was under Threat Condition Alpha, which is included in Bravo, if you go to Bravo, it specifically says that unauthorized craft should be kept away from a ship. It says that the ship should identify and inspect work boats.
Do you know if -- was any of that done? Was there any effort to keep any unauthorized craft -- was there any way --
Bacon: I -- Jamie, I can't comment on that now. That's exactly why we have an inquiry going on now. General Crouch and Admiral Gehman are on their way to the region to look for themselves at the situation. There's a Navy inquiry going on at the same time. We will get the answers to all these questions at the appropriate time. But rather than comment in an ad hoc way, I think we should wait until these inquiries are complete.
Q: Is it a concern that a small boat goes up and the guy puts his hand on the hull of the Enterprise or touches a U.S. submarine while it's sitting in a domestic port?
Bacon: Well, as I said, there are -- there is a review going on now of force protection all around the world. That was one of the points of the conference call. And I cannot comment specifically on what the Navy procedures are on any base domestically.
Q: However, you did say that all the forces in the United States were at Threatcon Alpha.
Bacon: I didn't say that.
Q: But immediately following the attack on the Cole, there was a notice put out that all forces worldwide would be at least at Threatcon Alpha.
Bacon: That is correct.
Q: So these boats in question should have been under that threat --
Bacon: Well, I'm not going to comment on this specific incident that I have -- I'm sure this was an ABC station that did this.
I did not see the reports. (Laughter.) But maybe you could make them available to me, and I'll send them to the Navy, and they can comment. But I can't comment on these specific details.
Q: When will Admiral Gehman and General Crouch be in Aden? How long? And what's their --
Bacon: I'm not going to give their itinerary, for obvious reasons.
Q: They're there now?
Bacon: I'm not going to give their itinerary.
Q: In Aden, can you talk about the plans for the next days and weeks, about what the footprint will look like in Aden, and what the forces will be doing and that sort of thing? It's about 5,000 people now?
Bacon: Well, there are 5,400 people afloat on a number of ships. And there are, I think, about 280 people in Aden on the ground. That number is coming down and, I anticipate, will continue to come down.
The attorney general noted today that the FBI is beginning to bring back some of its investigators because they've completed their work. They're bringing back much of their equipment as well. They had a laboratory set up over there. And they've reached the point where they can repatriate these agents and bring them back to the United States, and so they're doing that. And as the investigatory footprint shrinks, I assume that the security footprint that -- would shrink as well. But that's going on now and, I think, will continue to over the next few days.
Q: I know you don't like to talk about specific threats, but there was a piece on the wire overnight that contained specifics about the threat in Qatar and Bahrain, talked about the threat against the school in which American children went -- go, talked about threats against the embassies. Can you in any way talk about that?
Bacon: I'm not going to talk about --
Q: It cited a "senior Defense official."
Bacon: I'm not going to talk about anything specific. I think it's very clear that in Bahrain and Qatar, where we have Threatcon Delta, Threat Condition Delta, that there have been threats, sometimes multiple threats, and that they're ones we take seriously. Therefore, we've put our forces there on the highest state of alert.
Q: Aside from Bahrain and Qatar, are there any other places in the world where U.S. forces are at Threat Condition Delta?
Q: And Yemen. What about Threat Condition Charlie? Are there any --
Bacon: Well, throughout the Middle East in the CentCom AOR, Charlie exists except in the places where Delta is the applicable level.
Q: You said that the FBI finished its work. Which part of their work have they finished?
Bacon: Well, I think they should talk about their own project. I only mentioned it because they come back in Air Force planes, so that's why I know that they're leaving with some of their equipment. But I think it's more appropriate for the FBI to describe the scope of their work and the schedule of it than for me.
Q: Ken, is there any consideration or move afoot to bring home dependents from Bahrain, military dependents?
Bacon: Not that I'm aware of at this stage.
Q: Ken, for the second time, the president of Yemen has made reference to a particular group that's being focused on in terms of responsibility. I'm wondering, at the Pentagon, how much credibility or authenticity the Pentagon puts in the comments of the president of Yemen.
Bacon: First, I'd like to say that the Yemeni government continues to be extremely cooperative and they're working in partnership with us -- Director Freeh has said that we're the junior partners in this effort -- to get to the bottom of what happened and who's responsible. Beyond that, I can't comment on any particular names right now.
Q: Ken, if military aircraft, you said, were bringing back FBI personnel, have any U.S. military aircraft brought back any Arab-speaking suspects on behalf of the FBI or the Justice Department?
Bacon: I can't answer that question. That's really a question for the FBI to answer, what's happening in their investigation.
Q: A few years back, I know the Marine Corps FAST [Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team] teams were, I guess -- that accompanied Navy ships were pared back. Is there any talk now to at least incorporate those on some ships that are now deployed somewhere or anything like that? I know at the hearing yesterday it was mentioned that this particular crew, it was the first time that they were actually in this area, so I didn't know if that was one of --
Bacon: This particular FAST team, or the crew of the Cole?
Q: The crew of the Cole.
Bacon: I can't say specifically whether there is thought being given to deploying FAST teams or groups of Marines with every -- additional Marines with every naval ship.
What I can tell you is that we're looking at a variety of potential changes -- the services doing that on their own, and we're doing it corporately at the Department of Defense. And, of course, we'll be helped in that effort when we get the reports back from General Crouch and Admiral Gehman, when they complete their work.
Q: Thank you.
Q: One more. Now that you have specified the threat conditions in Yemen, Bahrain and Qatar as Delta and Charlie, can you give us your assessment as to where Incirlik is?
Bacon: I could, if I knew, but I'm just not sure I know accurately what it is.
Q: Can you give us any update on what the actual security threat is at Incirlik?
Bacon: No, I can't.
Q: Okay, thank you.
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