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Defense Department Operational Update Briefing

Presenters: Secretary Of Defense Donald Rumsfeld; and General Richard Myers, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
November 23, 2004 2:30 PM EDT

Tuesday, November 23, 2004 2:30 p.m. EST

Defense Department Operational Update Briefing

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Good afternoon.  To any who might question the transformative power of freedom, we witnessed it last week in a visit to Latin America.  Not so many decades ago, a number of the countries in that region were traumatized by civil war and/or dictatorships. Today they are mostly peaceful democracies.  Factions that previously took up arms now seek to influence through the battle box -- ballot box.

 

            Latin America's successes should give heart, I think, to those that are seeking freedom in Iraq.  The coming months in Iraq will be crucial, to be sure.  Elections are now set for January 30th, less than 10 weeks from now, and that will offer the diverse groups in the country, minority and majority groups, an unprecedented opportunity to settle disputes as part of a political process rather than by force of arms.  Most Iraqis are embracing this opportunity with some enthusiasm.  Reports are that already some 200 Iraqi political parties and individuals are registering to compete in the elections.

 

            Of course, for democracy to succeed, areas of the country cannot remain under control of insurgents, regime holdovers, extremists and foreign terrorists.  At the request of the interim Iraqi government, Iraqi security personnel and coalition forces have been freeing Fallujah and other areas from the murderous enemies of progress.

 

            Operations in Fallujah and elsewhere demonstrate anew the extremism of those opposing Iraqi democracy.  Over the past two weeks, a single military unit found 191 weapons caches, and 431 improvised explosive devices in one sector of Fallujah alone.  Soldiers and Marines have found large IED-making facilities, and facilities for making vehicle-borne bombs.  They have discovered torture rooms, including one that had a human-size wire cage, and others with bloody handprints on the wall.  And 66 of 77 mosques that have been inspected by Iraqi forces in Fallujah were being used to store weapons and to conduct their terror campaigns against the people of Fallujah and against coalition forces.

 

            No doubt attacks will continue in the weeks and months ahead, and perhaps intensify as the Iraqi election approaches.  I suppose this has to be expected.  The extremists have a lot to lose, and Iraq was a violent place long before its liberation.  But if the coalition is steadfast, and it will be, eventually we will see the last vestiges of this dying order fade away.

 

            Predictably we're hearing from those who say the Iraqis cannot pull off a transition to democracy -- can't be done.  Let them tell that to the people of Afghanistan who braved the threats and violence to elect their first democratic president, or to the people of Asia or Eastern Europe, or Latin America, for that matter.  History has shown in most every region of the world, when people are given a chance to rule their own lives, they seize it.  And why should we believe that the people of Iraq will choose any differently?

 

            One final note.  As our country prepares to celebrate Thanksgiving, we will take time to remember the truly outstanding men and women in uniform who continue to bring the hope of freedom to millions around the world.  We thank them.  We thank their families and their loved ones.  And we will particularly remember the families and loved ones of those who have given their lives in service to our country and those in hospitals, whether in Germany or here in the Washington area or elsewhere around our country, who are recovering from their wounds.  They will all be in our thoughts and prayers.

 

            General Myers.

 

            GEN. MYERS:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary, and good afternoon.

 

            Let me just add on to what the secretary just said.  I want to express the condolences of all the joint chiefs of staff to those who have been killed or wounded, to their families, their loved ones, their friends, over this entire global war on terrorism.  As the secretary said, they're doing what they do so we can live in this country, our friends and allies can live in peace and freedom.  So we owe them a real debt of gratitude, and we will remember them, especially as this holiday season progresses.

 

            I recently returned from a trip to Iraq and Europe.  I visited with General Abizaid, General Casey in Baghdad, General Metz in  Baghdad and leadership in Fallujah.  I also met with Prime Minister Allawi and members of his cabinet.  There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Iraqi people, from the senior government leaders to the average citizen, recognize the importance of their role and their mission in creating a free Iraq.  We continue to take the battle to the enemy.  Fallujah is no longer a terrorist stronghold.  Iraq and multinational forces will continue to pursue terrorists and criminals throughout Iraq to improve security and pave the way for the January 30th elections.

 

            During my visit to Iraq, several things became clear.  The first, since I hadn't visited before the interim Iraqi government was installed, the biggest difference was just seeing Iraqis taking more charge of their own destiny, particularly Iraqi security forces.   And we saw that in Fallujah and we saw it in the north Babil area just south of Baghdad.

 

            We also saw that intimidation is becoming the preferred tactic of the enemy.  The horrific murder of Margaret Hassan and other brutal slayings demonstrate the insurgents' determination to go to absolutely any length to prevent Iraqis from stepping forward to assume critical roles at all levels of government.  Yet courageous Iraqis continue to volunteer to serve in the Iraqi government, and their leadership is absolutely key to their success in Iraq.  The preponderance of enemy forces are, we think, former regime elements who will stop at nothing to prevent a free and democratic Iraq, yet they have no alternative solution except to rule by terror and by fear.

 

            Our troops are performing magnificently across the board.  Every day our troops are bravely facing the enemy, and they understand the importance of their mission, and their morale is high.  As elections draw near, and as they have continuously since the start of this conflict, our leaders on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to look at force levels necessary to ensure safe elections can take place.  As we flush out insurgents in places such as Fallujah, it is important to have the appropriate force levels to maintain a secure environment.

 

            Make no mistake:  The insurgents will continue to employ, in my view, inhuman tactics as they attempt to disrupt the elections.  Let me assure you, though, the Iraqi people and the coalition have the will and the determination to prevail.

 

            And with that, we'll take your questions.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Charlie?

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, in an administration that prizes solidarity, have you and the senior civilian and military leadership in this building been working behind the scenes on the Hill to torpedo the Senate intelligence bill?  And what are your objections to that bill, sir?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, Charlie, I think you probably know me well enough to know I wouldn't be doing that.  The fact that the New York Times editorial says that I'm obviously lobbying against the President's stated policy is nonsense.

 

            I was asked by the White House to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee well before the president established a complete position on intelligence reform.  He had come out in favor of the NID and in favor of the NCTC.  I went up and testified and supported the NID and the NCTC, and then gave my personal views, which I said were not administration views.

 

            Somewhat later, a week or two or three, again, well before the President adopted a specific position on some of the details, I was asked to brief the intelligence -- in the intelligence room in the Senate on Iraq, and in the House.  Dick Myers and I went and did that. Again, I was asked my views; I supported the President's position.  At that point he had elaborated one more point, and that was that he wanted to make sure that we did not interfere with the chain of command, in addition to supporting the NID and the NCTC.  That's been my position.

 

            The New York Times is wrong.  The congressmen who are saying that I had blatant opposition to the bill is incorrect because the bill didn't exist in the form that it currently is, and the President didn't have a position on the bill at the times that I was briefing him.

 

            Needless to say, I'm a part of this administration.  I support the President's position.  And I haven't been close to it because I've been out of the country, but my impression is that the -- that it looks close; it looks like the House and Senate are having a typical conference where you have a lot of differences, and they've been sorting through those and kind of working their way along.  And my impression is that without question, I favor reform in the intelligence community, as the President does.  And I have a feeling that they're close.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, some members of the House Intelligence Committee say that the Senate version of the bill doesn't protect tactical intelligence from the warfighter because it concentrates too much on overall intelligence.  Would you agree with that, sir?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  No, I'm not knowledgeable enough to agree or disagree.  I am supporting the President's position.  I am a part of his administration.

 

            The difficulty, I suppose, that comes up is the same piece of information can simultaneously be tactical battlefield information and at the same time be national intelligence.  We all know that.  These things don't fall into neat bins where they're one or the other.  So this is tough stuff.  This is hard work to do what they're doing up there, and my impression is that the legislative process is working its way.

 

            Q     General Myers, can you explain --

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, following up on that --

 

            Q     General Myers, can you explain the circumstances of your letter to Congressman Hunter, which does appear to lend support to one version of the bill over the other.

 

            GEN. MYERS:  You bet.  When senior officers go before the Senate Armed Services Committee to be confirmed, one of the things they ask you, would you be willing to provide your personal opinion if it differs from that of the administration on whatever matter.  And, of course, you tell them yes, you will.  And that was the situation --

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  If you want to be confirmed!  (Laughs; laughter.)

 

            GEN. MYERS:  Only if you want to be confirmed!

 

            And Chairman Hunter called and asked for my opinion on a certain matter that related to intel reform, and I was obliged to give him my opinion, and I did that.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, were you aware General Myers was sending a letter opposing -- raising serious concerns about the bill?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Not only was I, but the White House was.  I mean, we had discussed this matter internally.  They knew our positions, the White House.  And it had been as things evolved, people were opining on this and talking about that.  And they were fully aware of the chairman's position, just as I was.  And we also were fully aware of the requirement that a uniformed military personnel when they're asked by the House or the Senate committee's their views would give them their honest views, and he did.

 

            Q     So just to be straight, you did support the legislation that was blocked this weekend?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I support the president's position.  What they're in is a very complicated negotiation up there, and they're trying to resolve a series of final four, five, six items, as I understand it. As I say, I haven't been involved in it, I've been out of the country. But the President's position is evolving as the negotiation evolves.  I'm a part of this administration.  If I didn't want to support the President's position, I wouldn't be in the administration, and I do intend to support it.

 

            Q     And Charlie's question, did you lobby anybody behind the scenes on it?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  And the answer is absolutely not, and it's just plain inaccurate to say, as The New York Times editorial does, that I have.  (Inaudible.)

 

            Q     Do you agree with the chairman's letter?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I did exactly what I said I did.  I testified at the request of the White House prior to the time the president had a position on all the details.  I didn't want to.  I said I thought it was not a good idea to testify until the President and the administration had a position.  I went up there at their request and I did testify and I did tell the truth and said what I thought, and it's a matter of public record.

 

            Q     Do you agree with the chairman's letter?

 

            Q     General Myers?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Why don't we -- why don't we get it to the other side?

 

            Q     General Myers, to sort of attempt to cut to the bottom line here, subsequent --

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  You don't think we gave you the bottom line?

 

            Q     Not just yet.  (Laughter.)  Subsequent to the President stating his position on intelligence reform you wrote the letter, and the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff last Thursday, when requested, told the House Armed Services Committee that they supported your position. So now can you tell us, yourself and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, do you still oppose -- and Mr. Secretary also -- do you gentlemen still oppose shifting budget authority and appropriations and responsibility for the NSA, the NRO and the Geospatial Agency from the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, over to a national intelligence director?  Are you opposed to that?  Is that your best military advice to the Congress?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  The answer for me, I support the President's position, and it's one that's evolving as those complex details are being worked out as to what that set of relationships ought to be.

 

            Q     Sir, with all due respect, that is the language in the bill at the moment.  Do you --

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, you can't say that because there are -- there's a debate over what will go in that bill and there are differing positions.

 

            Q     That's the language in the bill that was not supported over the weekend by -- did not come to a vote in Congress.  So my question, very precisely, still stands for both of you.  Mr. Chairman, did you and the Joint Chiefs still oppose shifting those programs to a national intelligence director?

 

            GEN. MYERS:  My position on the particular issue is as stated in my letter.  And the Joint Chiefs can speak for themselves, and I guess they did in a hearing last week when I was gone.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Yes?

 

            GEN. MYERS:  Haven't changed.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, Secretary Wolfowitz has told Chairman Warner that there will be a competition now on whatever future alternative is determined to take for a tanker recapitalization or new tankers.  Can you say with certainty that the Air Force can oversee a fair competition, given the recent revelation of Secretary Roche's e-mails that personally attack EADS CEO Ralph Crosby?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I was out of town.  I was told about Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz's letter.  I certainly agree with it.  And that will be the policy of the department.

 

            Q     Do you think the Air Force can run a fair competition given that there is a revealed position here that the Air Force leadership has a personal problem with Ralph Crosby?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I don't know anything about that part of your question.  What I can tell you is this:  There is a law, and the Department of Defense will adhere to the law, and that is not a complicated thing to do.  We will do that.  And the law specifies what it is we should do, and we will do that.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary --

 

            Q     Which law are you referring to?

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, within the hour, SACEUR General Jimmy Jones at the National Press Club talked about one of your favorite topics, transformation, but he also said that soon a NATO training team of two (thousand) to 3,000 members will begin training parts of the Iraqi security force, but he also said one of the problems with this transformation is that up to 11 NATO countries would not take part. Do you feel NATO can still be relevant if all its members don't take part in military action?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Well, I've been around a lot of years involving NATO, and I've heard the "NATO may be irrelevant" charge leveled probably every two or three years for the last 30 years.  And lo and behold, NATO has survived.  It is not a single-headed organization; it's a consensus organization today involving some 26 nations -- up from 15 when I was over there.  And that means there's always going to be a give and a take and a tug and a pull.

 

            Now, is it a problem?  Yes.  Let me explain why this issue that General Jones raised is a problem.  If you have headquarters and units and the 26 countries assign people to those units and those headquarters on the basis that when NATO decides to do something the NATO countries will then do that, and then all of a sudden one or two countries raise their hand and say:  "Wait a minute.  We agreed that NATO could do it, but we're not going to let our people in those headquarters do it," now that's a problem.  And that's a problem that the ambassador there is working on; it's a problem the secretary- general's working on.  

 

            I mean, it's kind of like if you've got a basketball team, and you have five people trained together week after week after week. Comes to be game time and two of them stick up their hand and say, "Gee, I don't think I'm going to play this week."  It would be better if they were on the bench and somebody else had been training for the last period of weeks.  And so that's something that NATO's going to have to work on.

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary --

 

            Q     Question for General Myers.  Mr. Secretary, a question for General Myers.  You just came back from Iraq.  We continue to hear reports that some field commanders feel like they need more troops.  We read them.  We see them.  You were there.  Did anyone ever raise that issue with you? I understand no official requests have been made, and if they are, troops will be coming forward.  But is there any indication from anyone you talked to over there that they feel they could use more troops, they need more troops?  And can we expect something like that in the future?

 

            GEN. MYERS:  We were trying to look -- when I was over there discussing with the commanders, I did meet with the 1st Cavalry Division commander and the Marines out in Fallujah and the 24 MEU down in north Babil.  So I didn't see all the commanders; I saw that group. And I talked to General Metz, as I said, and General Casey.  And we talked in general terms about troop requirements.

 

            And when we think about troop requirements, let's just not focus on the United States of America.  Obviously, we're a big part of the troop-contributing nations over there, but Iraq would be next and the coalition would be after that.  And so we've got to think it in that whole context.

 

            So we talked about all those issues.  We talked about how the insurgency might develop over the next few months, the next couple of months as we march towards elections, and what kind of security might be required and what help Iraqi security forces might need and the Iraqi government might need to provide that support.  So we did talk about that.

 

            And as you recall, Fallujah operations were still continuing at that point, and a lot of force had been sent to the Fallujah area and some of that had not gone back to where it came from.  So I think part of what we heard was colored by that.

 

            But as I mentioned in my opening statement, this is something that commanders over there continually review.  The commanders I talked to would bring it up through General Metz and General Casey and General Abizaid, and they would make some evaluation of what is appropriate, and they would bring it forward here to the Pentagon. And --

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  But as you know, we will have more troops because the Iraqi security forces are going up, and we've decided to overlap some troops during the election period.  So you're going to have additional troops during that period from both of those two sources.

 

            Bob?

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary --

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Bob.

 

            Q     Yes.  I'd like to ask you a question about once you get to the election on January 30th and beyond, does that open the opportunity then to begin to withdraw American forces from Iraq?  And at the same time, how will you know when the time has arrived that Iraqi forces are capable of handling the security task on their own?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I mean, General Myers hit it on the nose.  The answer is that the security situation on the ground is going to determine whether or not you increase or decrease troops or leave them where they are, knowing that during this period the Iraqi security forces are coming up.

 

            And we just had a briefing this morning from General Casey and General Abizaid, and the report on the units of Iraqi forces that have been involved in Fallujah and elsewhere during this period have been generally pretty good, and that they've performed well.  There were some instances where it was not perfect, but pretty good.  And they're -- I think the feeling is that they're gaining confidence in particularly a number of the units of the Iraqi security forces.

 

            So I'm -- I mean, my feeling is that what we'll see after the elections, at least what I hope we'll see, is that the Iraqi people participate fully, as they did in Afghanistan; that they feel that they have a stake in the future of that country; that the level of violence that we expect to increase between now and then, through that period, is at a level that is -- nonetheless permits the elections to take place.  I was very pleased with the pronouncements of the Iraqi government saying that they wanted the elections, they intend to have the elections, and they intend to have them everywhere, despite the fact that it's uneven from a security standpoint.  Time will tell. We'll see what happens.

 

            Yes?

 

            Q     Sir, in terms of the Iraqi security forces --

 

            Q     General --

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Oh, excuse me.

 

            GEN. MYERS:  Let me just say, just one minute.

 

            Afghanistan is not a bad model, I mean -- and I don't know if it's a perfect model, but what happened there after elections for the presidency was that many of the Taliban, as we're finding out, are now considering their options and looking more toward political participation as opposed to terrorism as an activity.  Pretty significant.  But that's sort of how that's developing.

 

            And I think elections in Iraq are going to be one more step on the path towards a stable and secure and a democratic Iraq.  It won't be the final step, but it will allow us to start then looking at, if events dictate, how we can rearrange ourselves, the coalition, and Iraqi forces, for that matter.  It -- again, in my trip there, the Iraqi performance of the forces, the several thousand they had in Fallujah, they have a unit in north Babil that operates with our 24 MEU very effectively -- remarkable integration of forces.  And as they build up the forces, as they build up particularly the leadership of those forces at the colonel and general officer level, and so forth, then I think we can anticipate them being able to handle more of their own affairs.  And that, of course, is, in the end, going to be the goal.

 

            Q     General Myers?

 

            Q     You talk about these particular units have performed well. Overall, are the Iraqi security forces on schedule?  Are you today where you thought you would be in terms of numbers, and more importantly, quality of Iraqi security forces?

 

            GEN. MYERS:  I think generally we're on track with where we want to be.  What we measure today are those trained and those equipped, and that's working pretty well.  I mean, there are some cultural differences between how armies behave and what they expect, and so forth, that people have to get used to; for instance, when troops like to take leave and what they expect in terms of their terms of service.  Those will be worked through.

 

            The point that we need to continue to focus on is a very serious point, is the leadership issue.  And if you want -- and this is universal; it doesn't matter what culture you're in.  But if you want performance out of people, if you want loyalty out of people, if you want people under hardship to perform and to stick to it, then good leadership is one of the ingredients -- one of the key ingredients -- and that's what we have to work.

 

            Q     (Off mike) -- people I've talked to is that those units that have Americans embedded or advisers are doing better than those that don't.  Do you have a breakdown of how many have embedded American advisers and --

 

            GEN. MYERS:  We do.  I don't happen to have it with me.  And that's another potential way ahead, by the way, and we've done that in many places around the world, where we'll put a few people with a unit and they can bring them training skills, the mentoring and intelligence fusion, operational planning capabilities that could be very helpful.

 

            Yes?

 

            Q     Mr. Secretary, I had a quick question -- a follow-up on the Boeing issue.  You got a letter on Friday from Senators Warners, Levin and McCain asking for an expanded management accountability review of the whole tanker issue, including current and former DOD and Air Force employees.  What's your take?  Should such a broad review be launched?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  My understanding is that a letter came in.  I don't know if it was to me or the deputy.

 

            Q     (Off mike.)

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  But it -- the deputy took it, met with the inspector general, reviewed what the inspector general has already done, reviewed what they have under way, and discussed with him what remains to be completed.  And a response based on that meeting and based on the work that the IG has done will be going back to them, as I understand it.  Needless to say, it's a -- the -- I'd rather have the deputy give you the precise details, because I wasn't in the meeting.  

 

            Q     As the leader of the department, are you concerned that there's this perception that one person, one Air Force official, is able to take billions of dollars of procurement -- that's what the senators ask.  They ask how could one person have done this?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  I've spent time thinking about that, and as a matter of fact, I wrote down some thoughts about it.  It's interesting.  I'm not going to have the facts correct, so I won't try to give you numbers.  But she was -- let's for the sake of argument say she was there for a 10-year period, roughly, that spanned a couple or three, two or three administrations.  She was a civilian deputy undersecretary of the Air Force for acquisition, was her title.  There was also a military deputy undersecretary for acquisition, and above her was an assistant secretary for acquisition and a secretary of the Air Force, and then off to the side is the undersecretary for acquisition and logistics and AT&L -- technology and logistics -- all of whom are involved in acquisition.

 

            It turns out that during her 10-year tenure, the secretary of the Air Force changed two or three times, with periods of acting.  The assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition changed several times, with periods for acting vacancies.  And as you know our entire department operates generally somewhere between 20 and 25 percent vacant in presidential appointees, Senate-confirmed, because of the nature of the ethics reviews, the FBI reviews, and the Senate confirmation process, which means we end up with about a quarter of the people who are supposed to be here operating the department not there at any given moment.  The third key position was the military assistant under -- assistant -- or undersecretary for -- or under -- what was it called?  Deputy.  (Laughter.)  Deputy assistant secretary for acquisition is the military side, and I'm told that there's some rules that apply there that -- from I think Goldwater-Nichols -- that that individual can't make major acquisition decisions.

 

            So what you had with all these vacancies over a 10-year period, you had a -- the only continuity was that single person, who's now plead guilty and is going to go to jail.  When you have that long period of time with that person the only continuity and no one above her and no one below her, over time I'm told what she did was acquire a great deal of authority and make a lot of decisions, and there was very little adult supervision above, below or on the side.

 

            Now is that how it happened?  Well, first of all you have a person who's a criminal, who broke the law in there.  And then the question is how could a criminal, over a sustained period -- (chuckles) -- succeed without being noticed, which is, I think, your question and certainly the question I asked myself, and it's worrisome.  And I think that part of the -- I've given you part of the answer.  You have too much turbulence on the military side, too much turbulence plus vacancies on the civilian side, and a person who has continuity -- the only one with continuity -- who is going to break the law.  And what they were able -- what she was able to do over a period of time is acquire enough authority and enough -- apparently enough buffers around her that others didn't have transparency into what she was doing.  I'm told that when Secretary Roche and Secretary -- Assistant Secretary Sambur came in, they looked at that situation, were uncomfortable with it, and began taking authorities away from her and trying to reestablish a different arrangement in that office, and that that was one of the reasons that apparently she began negotiating for her departure, because her authorities were being eroded.

 

            Now is that definitive?  No.  Is it an impression I have at this point?  Yes.  Have I stopped looking and worrying and thinking about it?  You bet I haven't.  It's a serious thing when you've got a war going on and you have someone in the department conducting -- engaging in criminal activity, which she confesses to, of that magnitude, that it's not caught. Obviously, there's something needs to be changed, and I think a lot has been changed.  But we're going to have to make sure that doesn't happen elsewhere.

 

            Thank you very much.

 

            Q     And a follow-up on continuity, please?

 

            GEN. MYERS:  Thank you.

 

            Q     Will you be staying around for a second term -- speaking of continuity?  Have you talked to the president yet about that?

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  No!  (I'll ?) have to do that (sometime ?). (Laughter.)

 

            Q     Going to have Thanksgiving with the troops, Mr. Secretary? (No audible response.)  ####

 

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