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DoD News Briefing - Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
November 14, 2000 1:30 PM EDT

Bacon: Good afternoon. A couple of announcements. Wake up! Wake up! These announcements are going to rock you back on your heels!

First, right after I step down from this podium, the Navy will introduce its new Personal Financial Management Program. The comptroller of the Navy will be here, along with retired Admiral Jerome Johnson, who is the chief of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. So that's right after this briefing. Very important. Better financial management by young sailors and Marines is a crucial element to helping them manage their lives better.

Second, today at 4:30, we will have the backgrounder on the secretary's trip to the Middle East.

And third, on Thursday, November 16th, we will observe the Great American Smokeout. And Secretary Cohen has issued a very detailed statement to military members and their families, in which he strongly urges them to cut down on smoking and tobacco use of all sorts as a key step toward a healthier life.

I might just point out here that although the military has made great progress in reducing smoking, it hasn't been great enough. The cigarette smoking rate has declined from 51 percent in 1980 to 29.9 percent in 1998, but that's still well above the national goal of 20 percent by this year, the year 2000, as set in the Healthy People 2000 objective.

So, we're off by 50 percent on that goal. And, in addition, there's actually been an increase in the use of cigar and pipe smoking over the last several years. So, while cigarette smoking has come down, pipe and cigar smoking has gone up.

Finally, on Saturday, November 18th, the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic, General William F. Kernan, will hold a daylong symposium at Old Dominion University in Norfolk on the European Union and NATO: Rivals or Partners? And among the speakers there will be General Wesley Clark, the former SACEUR and also Dr. John Hamre, the former deputy secretary of defense.

As you know, Secretary Cohen released a rather lengthy, detailed paper on precisely this topic at the last NATO defense ministers meeting in Birmingham, England. And that paper is on the Internet as well as a background briefing about that by Frank Kramer. So if you're interested in this topic, there's plenty out there.

That'll take me to questions.

Charlie.

Q: Can you just brief me on the trip? I realize there'll be a briefing later on it. I assume the secretary is leaving tomorrow instead of today as announced last week. Is there any reason why he delayed it? Was is security concerns? Have there been any direct threats against the secretary and --

Bacon: As I said last week, the final details are being worked out and I think I'll just leave it until the background briefing to talk about that. But obviously security is an issue with any trip the secretary takes. And it's an issue with this trip as well.

Q: Is he going to the same countries, just the three --

Bacon: He's -- we're going to talk about all those details at the background briefing.

Any other questions?

Q: Could you talk to us a little bit about what we read today in the Washington Post with regard to the rules of engagement and the orders that were given to the crew of the Cole on deck? Are you able to confirm that those sailors were correct in their characterization of their crew direction?

Bacon: I have nothing to say about that story. As you know, we have a number of inquiries underway right now; one by the Navy, another by General Crouch and Admiral Gehman, another by the secretary of the Navy, looking specifically at measures that could be taken to improve fleet security.

All of these inquiries are ongoing. The idea is to produce a holistic picture of what happened from start to finish, and I just don't want to speculate on various slices of these inquiries until they're completed.

Q: Will those sailors -- are they in any trouble for talking and going on the record about it?

Bacon: It's a free country. People can talk to the press, but what we want is a complete picture of what happened.

Q: Can you just say, without, maybe, referring to the Cole specifically, but just generally speaking, what would the procedure be in terms of whether sentries on a ship would have ammunition in their guns or at the ready, if they are operating under Threat Condition Bravo, as was the case with the Cole? Can you just speak generally about --

Bacon: That's a very penetrating question, which I am going to deflect. There is no question of that type that doesn't bear directly on the inquiry, the inquiries that are currently underway. And I think we should respect the process. We all want the most complete explanation of what happened and why and the way to get that is to allow the inquiries to reach their conclusion.

Tom?

Q: Let me try one more stab at it. Who determines the rules of engagement? Is it, in fact, the captain, or the CINC?

Bacon: That's a more complex question. Basically, the activities that -- the actions that should be taken are laid out generally in military instructions that conform with the various threat warnings or threat conditions, and then every commander files an individual force protection plan for various events, and those force protection plans will lay out specific actions that are supposed to be taken. So --

Q: And they're approved by the CINC?

Bacon: They are approved by the CINC or his representative.

Q: But you can't even say whether or not it would be unusual for sailors who are assigned sentry duty on a ship to be issued their ammunition but not load their weapons, or is that -- can you just say whether that is normal --

Bacon: There is nothing I can say about this that won't have some sort of impact, real or imagined, on the investigations.

I have a clear goal, which is to say nothing that would cast any light on the inquiries that are ongoing. And that means not answering these questions.

Q: Try casting light on what peacetime rules of engagement, wherever in the world, allow a serviceman with any service to do if he feels threatened.

Bacon: Nothing I can say about this will avoid the possibility of misinterpretation or over-interpretation, and I'm just not going to create that risk. So I'm not going to talk about this story. I'm not going to talk about -- all these are wonderful questions, but this isn't the time to answer them.

Yes, Dan?

Q: Let me try one -- a slightly different tack. Other than the guidance on the threat conditions, do commanders in the field get any other guidance from the CINC when they're setting the rules of engagement, or do they simply look at that general guidance I think we've probably all seen -- draw up rules of engagement, send them up, get them approved or disapproved -- or is there some further guidance that the CINC provides?

Bacon: It depends a lot on the situations. It depends a lot on what the intelligence is. I don't think that -- there is a certain amount of flexibility here, and -- I mean, there are rules, but there are ways to interpret the rules. And this particular procedure is designed to provide them most appropriate force protection plan for the circumstances into which the ship is going. And I don't want to say anything more beyond that.

Q: Generally speaking, though, aren't U.S. troops allowed to defend themselves if they feel threatened? I mean, isn't that a sort of basic rule of engagement, whether troops -- wherever they're deployed, in Kosovo or Bosnia or anywhere? I mean, if a U.S. military personnel deployed in an operation believes that they're threatened or their life is in danger, aren't they authorized to defend themselves? Isn't that sort of one of the -- isn't it rule one?

Bacon: Well, of course I'm not responding in any way to the article in the Washington Post this morning, but you've heard General Joulwan and General Clark and many other people from this podium speak about robust rules of engagement designed to protect American soldiers in the Balkans.

And the whole point of rules of engagement is to allow military people to protect themselves. But the rules of engagement have to fit the circumstances at hand.

Thank you.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Is there anything -- we didn't get up to all the other subjects. Can I ask you on one other subject?

Bacon: If you want to have more -- if you have other subjects, I'll --

Q: Well, I do want to ask you about the --

Bacon: There was no evidence from the questions that there were any other subjects.

Q: Well, one small other --

Q: Then we'd probably dispose of you --

Bacon: Called back by popular demand! You want -- you have questions on the Great American Smoke-out? (Laughter.)

Q: (Off mike) -- a very small number of absentee ballots from ships that were -- where mail service might have been interrupted because of the attack on the Cole. They have some ballots coming back to the United States now. Do you know anything about how many ballots are involved and where they came from and when they get here --

Bacon: Well, I'd be very -- I'm going to give you a figure, but I must tell you that I have no confidence in this figure.

Q: This is --

Bacon: But with this lead-in, the figure is six. I've been told there are six absentee ballots coming back from Bahrain, and they're supposed to arrive today, and --

Q: Who told you?

Bacon: My staff told me that based on conversations with the Navy.

Q: Arriving in Florida today?

Bacon: They will arrive, I understand, in New York. And then they will quickly be shot down to Florida and other -- if any of them are going to Florida. I don't know where these are going.

But I've been told that there is a small number, a handful, of absentee ballots. And --

Q: It's whole military? Only six --

Bacon: No, no, this is from Bahrain. This is from the Tarawa Amphibious Ready Group and the ships -- maybe some other ships. But basically, there were no -- I mean, typically, what happens is that the mail is collected on board ship, and at appropriate times it's picked up and brought back to the United States, I think to New York, where it's then processed and sent out to other places. There were no mail pickups from the Tarawa until recently, until she arrived in Bahrain recently -- no mail pickups in the month of November, and the reason was that she was generally off Aden and involved in the Cole situation.

But my understanding is that there are about six -- there are supposed to be about six absentee ballots. Now, the number could be more, but that's what I've been told.

Q: And again, these came from how many ships?

Bacon: Well, there were seven ships initially that were operating with the Tarawa. But they could be the Donald Cook, they could be the Cole, they could be the Duluth, the Catawba -- is that one? --

Q: So these were collected and brought back --

Bacon: They were collected from other ships, into the biggest ship, and then they were brought back to Bahrain. They were then taken off, sent to a post office, and then --

Q: You don't know whether any of these were actually going to Florida, or what other states they might be going to?

Bacon: Of course, the way things are going, six votes could be determinative.

Q: That's why we're asking.

Bacon: But I don't know how many are going to Florida, if any. It could be that they're going other places.

Yes, Dale?

Q: Has the Tarawa pulled into port at Bahrain?

Bacon: My understanding is that at least it was off-loaded. I don't know whether she's in port or not, but she's in the area.

Q: So are other ships now pulling into ports --

Bacon: No, they're not pulling port; they're still operating at sea. I may have misspoken there; but she's in the Bahrain area, and the mail could have been brought off by helicopters.

Yes?

Q: So you're clear that these six, or how many ever it turns out to be, are from ship? Because you also have the -- what? -- 1,100 folks in Bahrain, who presumably --

Bacon: Yeah, but there are fairly regular flights from Bahrain to -- back to the United States.

Q: Okay. Would you characterize these as ballots that were cast -- absentee ballots that were cast on the ship and are now --

Bacon: That's my understanding; right. Yeah. That they were collected from the Tarawa and maybe from other ships.

Q: When will we find out where they're going?

Bacon: Well, I don't know. I mean, generally I guess you have to call the United States Post Office, and maybe some guy there could tell you where they're going.

Q: Do you have any numbers from any of the other ships over there as to how many folks got their absentee ballots in beforehand?

Bacon: No. No. We don't keep central records on this.

Yes?

Q: Can I ask a business question? The Pentagon, this week, approved Raytheon and Thomson-CSF, a French electronics company, to get together in a joint venture. It's somewhat significant because French companies, in general, at Thomson had a reputation for not safeguarding U.S. security -- their technologies. Can you give us a sense of what assurances they gave the Pentagon that allowed for the approval?

Bacon: I can't. I'll find out for you, but I just don't know myself.

Q: Okay, thank you.

Bacon: Okay.

Q: Oh, wait a minute.

Bacon: You! You haven't been here for months, and then you show up and ask a question at the last minute?

Q: You've been the guy who's been away, not me. When the Cole explosion was first described here, it was said that the little boats were helping it moor. And that story went on for two days until Navy Times did a time line and then pointed out that the mooring exercise was all over. My confusion is that, if anything, these modern ships have instant communications. I mean, they can talk to you as quickly as you can talk across the river to the Wall Street Journal. Was there any attempt, or any conviction in this building that perhaps they were trying to gild the lily a bit, and not come forth with the fact that the mooring was all over and therefore it was less confusing than portrayed by Secretary Cohen two days in a row?

Bacon: No.

Q: I mean, why the confusion? Why were they saying for two straight days that this boat was participating in the mooring exercise?

Bacon: First of all, I believe, actually, it was longer than that that the -- I believe it was longer until the story was corrected. And I think Admiral Clark explained it very clearly. He said that it just was not on anybody's mind. They were concentrating on the ship, on saving the ship and taking care of the wounded, recovering the dead. This is what they were concentrating on. It wasn't until, actually, until Navy Times, based on an e-mail, filed an inquiry to the chief of Naval Information that the Navy began to look into the time line and found that the initial report had been incorrect, and as soon as they found that out, they corrected it. Admiral Clark did that himself, and that happened within, as I said, I think it happened a week after the initial report.

Q: And the other question was, how much did the Cole have to pay the Egyptian Canal Authority to transit the Suez Canal?

Bacon: We have all that information. You can get it from DDI. I just don't have the figure in my head.

Q: Could you get that?

Bacon: Sure.

Q: At one time, it was a million dollars.

Bacon: No, no. It's not that at all. I think a carrier pays far less than that. It's based on weight and, obviously, a destroyer would pay much less than a carrier. So it's not -- I don't believe it's a million dollars for a carrier. It's less than half that. [Costs to transit the Suez Canal are based on tonnage. A carrier typically costs around $440,000. Costs for other ships typically range from $10,000 to $100,000.]

Q: Thank you.

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