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DoD News Briefing - Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
November 07, 2000 1:35 PM EDT

Q: We're going to start without Charlie.

Bacon: Anything happening today? (Laughter.)

Q: Thank you! (Laughter.)

Bacon: All right, I'm ready.

Well, it's a large, boisterous Election Day crowd, I can see.

I've got three announcements, okay?

Bacon: First, tomorrow, at 10:00 a.m., Secretary Cohen will honor 33 senior executive service members with the Presidential Rank Award. This is the top award that civilians get throughout the government, and there are 33 of them here in the Pentagon. So he'll be doing that at 10:00 tomorrow. I must say, with some pride, that one of them is in the Public Affairs operation, Bob Taylor, who is the deputy director of the American Forces Information Service and used to, as a military assistant, serve in the front office some years ago.

Second, also tomorrow, Secretary Cohen will host a full honors ceremony, meetings, and a press conference with the Polish minister of Defense, who is Bronislaw Komorowski. And that will begin at 11:00. The press conference, I think, will be around noon tomorrow.

And finally, in the future category, Secretary Cohen and Mrs. Cohen will host a dinner in Los Angeles on November 30th to honor Jack Valenti and to recognize the more positive treatment that the film and television industry has been giving the military over the last several years -- certainly a change from 10 or 15 years ago. It's played, we think, an important role in helping recruiting and maybe even retention. This will be done in connection with the USO, and we'll have more details on that as the time approaches.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Can I just ask a question about Iraq?

Bacon: Yes.

Q: Has this -- the Iraqi commercial flights that have begun recently represent a Iraqi success in further eroding the effectiveness of the no-fly zone?

Bacon: I think you'd have to distinguish between the sanctions and the no-fly zone; the sanctions, economic sanctions, that were imposed to force Iraq to meet certain provisions of U.N. Security Council Resolution -- I think it's 688. The no-fly zone was imposed to keep Iraq from attacking its neighbors or attacking its own people; namely, the Shi'a in the South and Kurdish people in the North.

We think the no-fly zone has been successful in preventing Iraq from -- certainly from mounting attacks against its neighbors, but also from attacking its own people. And we think that they will continue to be successful, even if Iraq continues these civilian flights, the Baghdad to Basra shuttle, for instance.

Q: Doesn't it in any way affect the enforcement of the no-fly zone, complicate it?

Bacon: The purpose of the no-fly zone is to prevent Iraq from mobilizing forces to attack its neighbors or its own people. We do not think that these civilian flights will interfere with that at all, that we can discriminate against -- we can discriminate between military flights and mobilization flights on the one hand, and civilian flights on the other.


Q: When the no-fly zones were first announced, it was said that they barred all flights, fixed-wing and rotary flights, below the 32nd Parallel, originally, and above the 36th Parallel. When was it interpreted to mean that civilian flights, such as the ones that have now begun, were not included in the air exclusion and --

Bacon: Well, the purpose of the no-fly zones has not changed in the least, and that is to prevent military mobilizations. In 1997, Iraq did use some helicopters to fly pilgrims to and -- at least from the Hajj, back from the Hajj, and we allowed that and made it very clear that we weren't going to shoot down civilian aircraft that didn't pose a military threat to Iraqi neighbors or to its own people.

That's our policy. It was our policy in '97, it's our policy today.

Q: Well, how do you know that these planes are, in fact, civilian planes? Aren't they converted military transport planes?

Bacon: Well, they've used a variety of planes. They've used some helicopters, they've used some smaller planes we would call puddle jumpers, and they have repainted some IL-76s to use to carry passengers. And I think they've used them at least once, an IL-76, on the way -- from Baghdad to Mosul.

These flights tend to go on a -- they've only been doing it for three days, but they tend to be on a fairly predictable pattern. They leave in the morning from Baghdad, they come back in the afternoon. We can clearly distinguish between the civilian flights, both by the size of the planes and by their routes and other ways, and military flights. And we'll continue to do that.

Q: Do you receive any notification from the government of Iraq about the flight plans or flight paths of these aircraft?

Bacon: No, except they are filing -- or following normal procedures and filing internally their flight plans, et cetera.


Q: Ken, you said you can discriminate between the civilian aircraft and other things. Is there any danger to those civilian aircraft, given the activity of surface-to-air batteries and things like that?

Bacon: Well, that's actually a very interesting point. The Iraqis have been firing wildly at times at the coalition U.S. and British planes enforcing the no-fly zone. And obviously, there is some risk that, due to lack of communications or over-enthusiasm, that they might fire at one of their own planes. We don't -- we are being very careful to deconflict civilian from military planes. We hope they are being as careful.

Q: Doesn't it, though, make it more complicated? If Iraq were to continue to send more and more civilian planes into the no-fly zone, which you've said the United States would not shoot down, for obvious reasons, doesn't that then make it more complicated in enforcing the no-fly zone ban against military aircraft?

Bacon: It's easy to distinguish between fighter aircraft, clearly, and large transport aircraft; civilian transport aircraft. We think that we have, with our radar assets, our surveillance assets in the area, the ability to distinguish. And we have spent a lot of time monitoring Iraqi air traffic and a lot of time monitoring Iraqi behavior, and we think that we know enough to make those distinctions.

Q: Have you had any change in procedure or policy to ensure that there isn't any mistake, that U.S. pilots don't accidentally shoot down any civilian aircraft?

Bacon: Well, it's long been our procedure and policy to avoid shooting down Iraqi civilian aircraft, so there has been no change in that policy.

Q: But, I mean, in terms of the procedures. Have you done -- now that there's another complicating factor, has anything been done to -- a new procedure instituted there does have to be a visual identification of an aircraft before it could be shot down? Have there have been any changes to ensure that an accident doesn't happen?

Bacon: There have been appropriate changes made to make sure an accident does not happen.

Q: Can you tell us anything more about these changes?

Bacon: No.

Q: But what's been the pattern recently on military incursions from -- (inaudible)?

Bacon: I don't recall seeing any information about military incursions for some time. Now, the incursions have been episodic, when they have occurred, and they have tended to be very -- very narrow, short incursions, where they dart back and forth across the boundaries to the no-fly zone. But I -- in the information I've been seeing, I haven't seen any evidence of incursions recently.


Q: Is the whole fall military exercise cycle, is that over with in Iraq? Are things back to where they normally are? Can you give us an update on that?

Bacon: Pretty much over. As you know, some troops, including the Hammurabi Division, had moved southwest of Baghdad several weeks ago, and they have largely now returned to their garrisons. So I'd say that's pretty much over.

Q: New subject?

Bacon: Sure.

Q: Apparently there are some complaints from the servicemen stationed overseas that they did not get absentee ballots in time to vote in today's election. Do you know how many servicemen overseas did not get their ballots, and do you know why this is?

Bacon: Well, I don't. My understanding -- first of all let me just say that the military votes at a much higher rate than the civilian population as a whole. In 1996, 64 percent of the people in the military voted, and I think it was compared to 49 percent for the population as a whole. So, this, I think reflects probably several things. One of course, the military stresses the importance of voting and there was a "get out the vote" campaign in the military; two, because people are working in their nation's service, they obviously have a direct interest in the policies of the nation and the leadership of the nation, so they have an interest in voting for those leaders and who the leader should be.

My understanding is the way -- of course many people have to vote by absentee ballot, and that's for two reasons: One, they might be stationed abroad, and two: Even thought they're stationed in the United States, their home of record could be Texas or California, or Florida. So if they happen to be in Watertown, NY and their home of record is in Florida, they would vote in Florida.

My understanding is that they have to write their local communities or states and get absentee ballots. So this is something that military people have to do on their own. It's not centrally controlled by the Pentagon or the Department of Defense. We encourage people to vote; we tell them how to vote; we tell them how to get absentee ballots, but it's up to them to request the absentee ballots on time.

Q: You tell them how to vote?

Bacon: We don't tell -- (laughter) -- we tell them how -- the procedures for voting. We don't tell them which boxes to check. And we explain the procedures to them; probably better than the procedure explained to you.

But at any rate -- and so they're responsible for getting their own ballots. Now I think we have a California voter here -- is that basically an accurate description?

Q: Certainly.

Bacon: So, this is something they have to do on their own.

Q: The wire said -- this is a story on something called WorldNetDaily.com -- Lieutenant Dave Gai, Defense Department spokesman says -- whenever this article was written -- "We're trying to get more information.

We don't know if they were delayed through the mail.

The support team for the USS Cole may not get their ballots, due to intermittent mail. Some ballots could very well be delayed for a number of reasons.

That sounds like the Pentagon is somewhere in the chain of transmitting the absentee ballot to the servicemen.

Bacon: If you -- yes, that is precisely right, just as if you sent a letter to a person aboard ship, or when you were on ship once, and if your mother sent you a letter, or a girlfriend, it would be at some point collected by the Navy and delivered to the ship. But it was up to the mailer of the letter or the mailer of an absentee ballot to get it in the mail at the right time, and get it to the right address, where it would then be picked up -- an APO box or FPO box -- and delivered to the ship.

So yes, the military does make the final delivery, and to the extent that there may have been difficulty getting planes or delays in getting planes in and out of Aden, that could happen.

The fact of the matter is, though, that sailors on the Cole were advised about how to vote by absentee ballot. They were advised on how to get the absentee ballots. And my understanding is that at least some of them did vote.

Now if people requested the ballots too late, it could have been a difficulty, or if there was a hiccup in the mail, just as if there -- if you were trying to vote absentee in the United States because you planned to be traveling, and there was a hiccup in the mail, you might not get your ballot on time.

Q: Well, what does it --

Bacon: I'd like to point out that that news service is the same news service that's been spreading an absolutely false story about President Clinton going to Vietnam on a Navy ship, which he's not planning to do. So I think you have to be careful about some of these news stories.

Q: While I'm asking you to set it straight, what is the Federal Voting Assistance Program? Is that a Pentagon program?

Staff: Yes.

Bacon: Yes. That is a program that encourages people to vote and helps them vote.

Q: And do they have any role in delivering the absentee ballot?

Bacon: Well, as I say, it's a -- no, they work with the local election officials to resolve problems, if there are problems. But let me, again, repeat the procedure.

Q: No, I -- (off mike) --

Bacon: But apparently you don't understand.

Q: No, I do. I do. Do you know any instances, are you aware of any instances, where delays in delivery of mail to deployed units, overseas units, have made it impossible for servicemen to cast absentee ballots?

Bacon: I am not personally aware. It would not surprise me if there have been problems, but I'm not aware of those problems.

Q: So, you sounded like you had checked specifically on the Cole. Why -- were there complaints that some members of the Cole had not been able to --

Bacon: No. The same Lieutenant Gai quoted in that article informed me that people on the Cole had received briefings on how to vote by absentee ballot. I don't know when these briefings occurred --

Staff: Before the ship left.

Bacon: Before the ship left; so they occurred some time ago. But they were briefed on how to vote. This shows how far-sighted the workers in the Federal Voting Assistance Program are, because even months before the election, they were briefing sailors on the need to request absentee ballots early enough so that they could arrive on the ship in time for them to get back by election day.

Q: Sorry I brought it up. (Laughter.)

Q: I've got a couple more questions on it, actually.

Bacon: Sure.

Q: This FVAP office that is sort of in charge of giving information on this, I would think are they -- would they get complaints if people were not getting ballots? Would that -- how would you know whether people are having problems or not? How do you know that?

Bacon: Well, apparently somebody talked to this Internet service. But I assume they could go to an official on the ship or at the base and say, "I haven't got my ballot."

Q: But how would you know back here? In other words, on what basis are you answering our questions today?

Bacon: Well, I'm answering your questions completely on the basis of procedure; what the procedures are --

Q: Right, so you don't know. There could be --

Bacon: -- and I think -- I think -- let me just point out; the most important thing for everybody to realize is that the Pentagon encourages people to vote, but it -- and it tells them how to vote; that is, it tells them the procedures to follow, and the procedures generally involve requesting an absentee ballot from a local authority well enough ahead of time so that the person can get the ballot returned by election day. That's the primary role we play.

Q: A follow-up question. Back in '96, for instance, 12 percent of the military, more than 100,000 people, wanted to vote absentee --

Bacon: Right.

Q: -- and failed to meet their deadline; something like 130,000 people. They didn't get the ballot in time, they didn't ask for it in time, whatever -- it didn't work; they didn't get to vote. Did you do anything differently this time to make sure that wasn't -- that number wasn't so high?

Bacon: The reason I brought up the example about the Cole and pointed out that they received their election briefing well before they deployed, so that they had plenty of time to request their ballots, was to illustrate that we try to get this information out very early. We don't wait until November 1st to tell people that they have to receive an absentee ballot and mail it back on time. So the AVIP program -- I'm sorry, the Federal Voting Assistance Program is designed to give people enough advance notice so they can get their absentee ballots in.

Q: Let me try it this way. Are you aware that the Federal Voting Assistance Program has received any complaints from service members who, for one reason or another, were unable to cast an absentee ballot?

Bacon: I'm not aware that they have received an unusual number of complaints.

Q: Well, what's the usual number?

Bacon: I don't know. I don't know about complaints. I mean, they may have received complaints, but what I'm trying to explain is, if a -- we know that 2,000 --

Q: (Off mike) -- trying to explain.

Bacon: Yeah.

Q: We're just trying to get the fact on how many complaints --

Bacon: I don't know that. We'll try to find out how many complaints. But --

Q: Can you take that for the record? Because --

Bacon: I will take it for the record, but I want to be perfectly clear about one thing. Okay? When we give you this answer, we are going to preface the answer, at the top of the answer, we're going to give you a paragraph that says the Federal Voting Assistance Program cannot make it possible for a person to vote on time if he or she requests the absentee ballot too late. We cannot make the clock turn backwards. It's a great program, but it can't make the clock turn backwards. So the entire success of the program is predicated on getting information out early so people can get their ballots in time to vote. [Update: the Federal Voting Assistance Program, which is administered by the Department of Defense, does not maintain statistics on complaints for non-receipt of absentee ballots. The program advises it has not received widespread reports of servicemembers' difficulties in receiving absentee ballots on time. There are generally scattered problems on a small scale basis reported to the FVAP in its ombudsman role; the FVAP works with local election programs to resolve these difficulties. More information on the Federal Voting Assistance Program is available at http://www.fvap.gov/ ]

Q: I have one that you'll like! (Laughter.)

Bacon: How can you be sure? (Laughter.)

Q: Isn't it also true that shifts go to sea with write-in ballots, so that if you fail to get your absentee ballot in time, you can still write in who you want for president, Congress and Senate?

Bacon: They do have -- there is a standard Form 186 -- write that down -- (laughter) -- which is known as the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot.

And if there are deployments where people can't get their mail on time because there are disruptions in the mail service, they can avail themselves of this Standard Form 186 to file a ballot, and that is that they can vote for federal officeholders, such as president, senator, representative and even, in some cases, governor, which, of course, is not a federal office.

Then they would mail this to their home voting jurisdiction, so they would not hand this to the officer of the day. They would give it -- they would have to put it in the mail and get it in in time to be counted under whatever the deadline is for absentee ballots. Sometimes, absentee ballots are being counted after the Election Day. There is usually some period of time; if they're postmarked by a certain date, maybe by Election Day, they can be counted for several days, maybe even a week afterwards, depending on the mail service.

So they can get those. Thank you for pointing that out. You're right. I loved that question. It was a great question, and --

Q: (Inaudible.)

Bacon: You can also get information on the website, and if you'd like to log on to http://www.fvap.gov/ -- and I'd be glad to write that down for you afterwards -- you can get more information.

Q: So in some -- (inaudible) -- DefenseLink, also?

Bacon: You can get more information on the voting program. I've discovered a treasure trove of information right here on my briefing card,

Q: You're very informed.

Bacon: And I'd also like to say that members of the Cole battle group received 2,100 ballots, I believe, under this Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot program, so they at least could vote in federal elections.

Q: The what?

Q: Go ahead.

Q: When you say the Cole Battle Group, you mean all the ships that were in Aden after the --

Bacon: Yeah. Not just the Cole itself, because it only had, what, 300 people on it, but people --

Q: Right.

Q: The Tarawa and all those.

Bacon: Right. In the -- it was the GW Battle Group, I believe.

Q: So it --

Bacon: Now, other people -- that's not to say that only 2,100 people in that battle group voted. Other people followed the normal order and wrote in to their hometown of, you know, Greenfield, Massachusetts, and got the ballot and filled it out and sent it in.

Q: Just to be absolutely clear, are you saying that if a member of the military that was deployed overseas had a problem voting, it wasn't your fault?

Bacon: I'm saying it is not the Pentagon's fault. But everybody in the Department of Defense encourages -- encourages -- voting. And we have worked very hard to encourage voting, and we're sorry if there were some glitches that may have prevented people from voting on time.

Q: The premise of this Internet story is basically that there is some plot to suppress the military vote, which they assume will be Republican. Now what would you say to such a --

Bacon: Well, I have no idea what the military vote will be, but the premise of that story is ludicrous.


Q: Has there been any change in the threat conditions in the Gulf, either up or down? Any of the countries that were on Threat Condition D -- have they gone off that, or any -- are there any countries where -- that have gone to a higher threat condition since the last one?

Bacon: None has gone to a higher threat condition. One, Bahrain, has moved from Threat Condition Delta to Threat Condition Charlie.

Q: As of when? Do you know?

Bacon: I think it was as of -- I don't know exactly when, but since the last briefing.

Q: On the 2,100 ballots, they received 2,100 absentee ballots?

Bacon: I believe that they received --

Q: (Off mike.)

Bacon: -- 2,100 of these federal write-in absentee ballots, the standard Form 186.

Q: (Off mike) -- put to sea with 2,100, or those were mailed to them?

Staff: I think the Tarawa deployed with those.

Bacon: They were sent 2,100 such ballots. I don't know when they were sent.

Q: And so those were for the seven ships that were in the --

Bacon: Right.

Q: Okay.

Bacon: Right. But I want to point out that many of these people, I'm sure, because they were well briefed by the Federal Voting Assistance Program, had already secured absentee ballots from their hometowns, such as Springfield, Illinois.

Q: Can you clarify something? Because it seems to be a little confusing. When you said the Cole battle group --

Bacon: I mean the battle group including the Cole.

Q: -- did you mean the group of ships that were with the Cole --

Bacon: Right. Right.

Q: -- or do you mean the group of ships in the Persian Gulf that the Cole was supposed to be part of?

Bacon: That's what I'm talking about.

Q: Which one?

Q: So it's the George Washington Battle Group --

Bacon: It's the George Washington Battle Group.

Q: Okay. Fine.

Q: Okay.

Bacon: Yes, Tony?

Q: The president, on Saturday, vetoed the Intelligence Authorization Act, citing the anti-leak provision. Where did the Pentagon come down on that in terms of the internal deliberations? Were you for a veto or against a veto?

Bacon: Well, first of all, we are against leaks -- that's the first point to stress -- and we are for ways to stop leaks. There were obviously differences within the government about the best way to do this. Some people felt that the provision in the Intelligence Authorization Act was the best way to proceed; others felt that it was too clumsy, too sweeping a provision, and that's the way the president came down in deciding to veto it. I think it's not fair to say that the Defense Department had a monolithic view on this. Members of the department were very involved in the considerations.

Q: Where was the weight of the opinion, though? Was it for -- was it that the provision was too draconian or well-crafted?

Bacon: The weight of the opinion was that we have to do a better job of controlling leaks than we have; that leaks are dangerous to serving military personnel, and dangerous to our ability to collect intelligence, and that we will work with Congress to find the best possible way to do that. Obviously, there were a range of feelings in the building about this particular provision. Members of the department participated actively in conversations at the White House. And I don't want to talk about individual advice.

Q: Did Cohen render an opinion?

Bacon: I don't want to talk about individual advice that anybody gave to the president.

Q: He's the secretary.

Bacon: He is the secretary.

Q: He's not like some Joe Colonel.

Bacon: He is the secretary, and he has made it very clear from this first day in office, and he will make it clear to his last day in office, that he's not going to describe, or certainly allow me to describe, private advice that he gives to the president.

Q: Ken, in the course of analyzing the legislation, was there at least an opinion or a voice that this building chronically over-classifies, and that a lot of these leaks of classified information, it's not really classified information at all, that there's a chronic problem with the "secret" stamp here?

Bacon: Did you read the president's veto message?

Q: Yeah, I did --

Bacon: Well, I mean, he alluded to the fact that there can be over-classification or misclassification.

I don't think anybody disagrees with that. There are many problems with our classification system. And it was that realization, in part, that led to his decision to -- as I read the veto message -- his decision to veto the bill. Having said that, many of the leaks that have come out, that have been published in the last several years, have been, in fact, damaging leaks based on legitimately classified information. They have been damaging because they reveal sources and methods and, therefore, make it harder for us to deal with our allies in intelligence-sharing operations and harder for us to carry out our normal intelligence-gathering operations.

Q: Many of the leaks? I mean, most of the leaks here is the Washington Times getting signals intelligence. That doesn't seem like "many."

Bacon: I would say many leaks have been damaging.


Q: Different subject?

Bacon: Sure.

Q: One of the major candidates running for president in the election today has talked about reviewing the deployments of U.S. troops overseas with an eye toward possibly cutting back. I was just wondering if -- you may not have this information handy, but perhaps you can take this question. Can we get a snapshot of where we currently are, where the United States is in terms of how many troops are deployed and how many missions, ongoing missions overseas, just as sort of a baseline as we write stories in the coming days, either information that you have, or could --

Bacon: Well, no. I mean, I have that information, and you can easily get it from Captain Taylor and his team. But the biggest deployment is -- well, first of all, we have 100,000 people, approximately, forward deployed in Europe, and approximately 100,000 people forward deployed in Asia. They include, of course, 37,000 people in Korea. So that is the largest single deployment. They've been there for a long time. I wouldn't call that an exercise. It's been a very long-term deployment. And according to President Kim Dae-jung, he would like those soldiers to stay there no matter what happens on the Korean peninsula.

The largest deployment right now under any operation is Operation Southern Watch, and that's approximately 17,000 people. There are approximately 6,000 people deployed for Operation Joint Forge, which is the Bosnia operation. Not all those are in Bosnia; some are in adjoining countries. But there are also approximately 6,000 people deployed in Operation Joint Guardian, which is in Kosovo, and not all of them are in Kosovo; some are in Macedonia. So those are the two -- three largest operations.

Then there are currently 2,300 people, mainly Army people, deployed as part of Operation Desert Spring in Kuwait. Those are the -- and there are approximately 1,900 people deployed in Turkey today as part of Operation Northern Watch.

So those are the half dozen or so largest deployments at the current time.

Q: Those are people not primarily based in Turkey?

Bacon: Well, the -- Operation Southern Watch, people move in and out and they go in rotations. So some people -- the commander will be there a year, I believe. Other people would come in for 45, 90 days, 120 days, whatever, depending on what they're doing. So there is -- the number would be about the same in any given day -- 1,900 people -- but the actual people would change.


Q: I don't know what the standard procedure is on this, but has Governor Bush asked for or gotten a briefing from the Pentagon? I remember there was an issue of whether he wanted one on national missile defense. He hadn't offered -- or you had offered, but he hadn't taken advantage of that.

Bacon: Secretary Cohen did offer such a briefing, and he did not avail himself of it. I am not aware that he has had a briefing from the Defense Department.


Q: Can I ask you about Diego Garcia?

Bacon: Sure.

Q: The British Supreme Court ruling that the inhabitants there had been illegally moved off the island and they should be allowed to return. What's the Pentagon's take on that? And would the return of the islanders constitute a threat to the base's security?

Bacon: Well, we clearly have strategic interests in Diego Garcia, but this is right now a matter for the British authorities to sort out.

So, we're watching it with interest, but it is a matter internal to the British courts, at this stage.


Q: Ken, is the Cole headed south, to come around the tip of Africa, to come -- is it on its way home first?

Bacon: Yes, she's on her way home.

Q: Is it taking the southern route around the tip of Africa?

Bacon: Right. Right.

Q: When do you expect it -- when did it leave and when do you expect it back?

Bacon: I can't remember the exact day she set sail, but it's anywhere from 32 to 45 days, I think, depending on the sea states, and the contract is that she'll go back to be delivered to Norfolk. So --

Q: Who is accompanying her? Is she being -- are there any other ships?

Bacon: The Cook. The Donald Cook, United States Ship Donald Cook.

Q: That's the only one, though?

Bacon: Right.

Q: So it's been decided it'll go to Norfolk, as opposed to -- I don't know --

Bacon: That may not be her final destination. I think the Navy has not yet a decision on where she'll be repaired. They have 30 -- at least 30 days to make that decision, while she's in transit.

Q: Can you tell us anything about these reports coming out of Aden about four people being arrested in possible connection with the -- do you know anything about any of those details?

Bacon: I cannot -- that's FBI agent. I just deal with voting policies. (Laughter.)


Q: Is everything that you tell us, by definition, unclassified?

Bacon: Is everything I tell you, by definition, unclassified?

Q: From the podium.

Bacon: That's a tricky question. There are certain questions that I can only answer by referring to classified information, and I do this carefully, after consultation with our intelligence authorities, to make sure that I don't answer questions in a way that causes any problems. And I meet frequently with people from the various intelligence agencies. They come to my briefings and they advise me on how to deal with classified information. So I think that's the best answer I can give you. I refer to classified information a lot. I work very hard not to give away details that would damage our ability to collect classified information.

Q: But do you, in fact, have the authority to make that judgment call on items that might be included in classified information; that you would, in effect, declassify them when you announce them at a briefing?

Is that --

Bacon: Well, I think technically, the agency or person who classifies the information is the person to declassify it -- the declassifying authority. What I try to do is figure out ways that I can respond to your questions without compromising our intelligence apparatus.

So, without putting too fine a point on it, there are certain types of questions that can only be answered with references to classified information such as, where are Iraqi troops on a given day? And that was one of the concerns that I and other spokespeople had about the provision of the Intelligence Authorization Act that, read in a very narrow way, it would prevent reference to classified information in answering everyday questions.

Q: Thank you.

Bacon: Sure.

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