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Defense Department Operational Update Briefing

Presenters: Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Public Affairs Lawrence DiRita and Deputy Director for Operations, J-3, Joint Staff Brig. Gen. David Rodriguez
March 04, 2004 1:10 PM EDT
Defense Department Operational Update Briefing

            MR. DIRITA:  Good afternoon.  I think everybody remembers General Rodriguez.  I'm very glad that he was able to join us today.  We'll give you an operational update.

 

            First, I'd just like to mention -- express the condolences of all of us to those nearly 200 Iraqis -- and that number may change -- who were killed by the terrorist attacks inside of Iraq this week, Karbala, Baghdad.  Obviously, it highlights once again many -- some, anyway -- who wish not to see this transition to democracy succeed in Iraq.  And it also highlights the fact that Iraqis themselves now are dying in defense of their own country and as targets of terrorists inside Iraq.

 

            We're obviously going to continue the coalition, working with our partners in Iraq, moving forward.  On the same week that this happened, obviously we've had some great progress, with the passage of the transitional administrative law, which will be signed later this week.

 

            So progress continues.  It's going to be punctuated by circumstances such that we saw this week, and we offer our condolences to those involved.  But we will -- the commitment is what the president has said it is, and we'll continue with the -- our engagement with our partners in Iraq.

 

            With that, I'll ask General Rodriguez to make a few statements.

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  Thank you, Mr. DiRita, and good afternoon.

 

            Let me provide an operational update on Haiti.  Elements of the Air Contingency Marine Air Ground Task Force continue to arrive in Haiti.  We currently have approximately 1,000 U.S. Marines in Haiti, who are there to secure the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, to help promote the  constitutional political process, to create conditions for the arrival of the U.N. multinational force, secure key sites and facilitate humanitarian assistance -- specifically, the Killick Coast Guard base, the presidential palace, the U.S. embassy and other governmental residence, as well as the international airport, which is operating 24 hours a day, to support the multinational force movements.

 

            The Southern Command commander, General Hill, is continuing to assess the situation in his region, and is in discussion with multinational partners who are contributing their forces for this international effort.  Our forces are well prepared to carry out this mission and we continue to monitor the situation as it develops.

 

            And with that, we'll take your questions.

 

            Q     Larry, General, can you say -- the U.S. Marines who are in Haiti, are they instructed to stop looting, and are they also instructed to disarm rebels if necessary?

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  Right now, the situation in Haiti is the looting and the crime is down significantly.  We continue to support the Haitian police as they go out and do the security and stabilization process in Port-au-Prince, and the Marines on the ground have the appropriate rules of engagement to properly accomplish their mission, and I just described the mission there.

 

            Q     So the mission doesn't include stopping looters or disarming the rebels?

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  We're going to support the Haitian police, who are handling that very well right now.  The looting has decreased significantly.  And then, like I said, we are not there for law enforcement.  The Haitian police are able to accomplish law enforcement tasks at this point in time, and we're going to support them and continue to help them do that.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  And a couple of points on the question of disarming. Some of the large rebel groups have already indicated their intention to disarm.  Secondly, Haiti unfortunately is a country in which there has been some significant degree of criminal activity for a period of time that certainly predates the current political crisis.  It's unfortunate.  It's a very unfortunate circumstance in that country, but to say that there will be some level of law enforcement against which we're going to measure our mission would be -- just would not the right way to understand that mission.  General Rodriguez has described the mission.

 

            In the back?

 

            Q     Well, can you tell us a little bit more about what "support the Haitian police" means?  I mean, if they have a situation where   they need to have extra arms or they need extra troops to capture a group of looters, are the Marines going to provide that kind of assistance?

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  At this point in time, we do not foresee that level of challenge down there to the Haitian police.  The majority of the looting, as I described, has tailed off significantly as soon as the multinational force started arriving there, and we do not foresee that level of commitment in the future.

 

            Q     What --

 

            MR. DIRITA:   Which I really -- have to really emphasize once again, that does not mean -- it is correct what the general said.  By all reports that we're getting through official channels and through observation, the situation has calmed down dramatically in the Haitian context.  But this is a difficult environment.  The mission is as described by General Rodriguez and as delineated by the secretary and the chairman on Monday, which is to go help create the conditions to help for a more secure and stable environment, and to kind of begin the process of getting this multinational interim force in.  And those forces are, indeed, arriving.  So --

 

            Q     Can you describe any specific agreements that the U.S. military or diplomatic corps inside Haiti has reached with these opposing forces to lay down arms, to end the violence?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  I cannot.  And I think I would just refer you to the State Department.  I don't know the nature of those kinds of discussions.  I mean, certainly, from a security and stability environment, we're involved in those discussions, but it's really a matter for the embassy to be working with the various groups.

 

            Brett.

 

            Q     In Iraq a letter has surfaced from a number of groups that says that Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi was actually killed in northern Iraq in bombing earlier on.  Do you have evidence that he is alive?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Well, you want to start?

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  There is no direct evidence of whether he's alive or dead at this point that we have.

 

            Q     So you're operating on the assumption that he is running this terrorist network.

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  Yes.  Yes, as General Abizaid mentioned yesterday, right.

 

            Q     General Abizaid also mentioned that there was a tie between that network and the Iraqi intelligence service.  Can you elaborate at all on that?

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  No, I can't.  That -- as they do connect -- collect all the intelligence associated with all the attacks that's been going on and everything, that has started to emerge as a link, as -- as he mentioned yesterday.   And that's all we're going to talk about it at this point.

 

            Q     Well, if you don't have evidence that he's alive or dead, then how do you know that that letter was his?  I mean, it has been attributed to him, and -- so I'm --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  There's enough information that suggests that Zarqawi is involved in the activity in Iraq.  It's -- you're never  certain about anything when you're trying to establish the kinds of information gathering that we must do in a place like Iraq.  It's difficult, it's a challenging intelligence environment, as we all know.  But there's enough evidence, or indication, information that Zarqawi has an interest in Iraq, that the procedures that we've seen are procedures that are consistent with al Qaeda generally, and I think that's about where we'll leave it.  There's -- I think General Abizaid's testimony yesterday was -- is as good as we have the moment, as we're prepared to discuss at the moment.

 

            Q     But are you certain about the authenticity of that letter --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  We've discussed that before.  The people who conduct those kinds of verifications believe that it's authentic.  There are people in this government that I don't -- I'm not responsible to or for that believe that it's authentic.  And we -- that's the best we can do is accept that assertion.

 

            Q     It was the letter from him -- written by him, right?  I mean, that was -- that's --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  That's the belief.  That's the belief.

 

            Q     (Off mike.)

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Well, you make assessments on these things.  I don't know what the term evidence is in this case.  You gather what you can and then you make judgments.  That's what -- that's how intelligence is used.  It's rarely -- unfortunately, rarely smoking- gun type of intelligence; it's the kind of thing where you evaluate a lot of sources and a lot of methods, and then you say:  This is how competent professionals who do this for a living would assess this. And then policymakers, on the basis of those professional assessments, make policy decisions.

 

            Q     Do you have any reason to believe he's dead?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  No, we don't.

 

            John?

 

            Q     Can you characterize the operations along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan?  The secretary said the other day that there are no DOD employees involved there.  That leaves a wide range of activities that are possible.  Can you just characterize for us what exactly is going on there?

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  In the border region in Afghanistan, obviously we have CJTF-180 over there operating.  We have got many people along that border because of the challenge that it presents, and also the routes back and forth for the leadership of al Qaeda to move.  And we continue to work offensive operations to capture and kill those key operatives.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  And inside Pakistan, the government and the military of Pakistan is very aggressive and has been quite -- I would just say aggressive again -- in that region in the search for foreigners, terrorists, suspect personnel.  And they're rounding people up.  But they're being -- the Pakistan army is being very effective in those areas.

 

            Q     I realize there are sensitivities about this.  But if Pakistan asks us for assistance on their side of the border, is there any reason why the U.S. military wouldn't cooperate with them?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Well, without discussing sort of military operations, or indeed, speculative military operations, the government of Pakistan is being very cooperative in the global war on terror and is being very cooperative in particular with the hunt for Taliban and al Qaeda in their country.

 

            Q     I have two questions, neither of which is related to the other.

 

            The first question is, could you straighten us out on the money with regards to the Army and OSD on funding the additional body armor and Humvees?  There's a lot of confusing information that came out in testimony this week where the Army said one thing and Dov Zakheim said another.  So if you could straighten us out on that.

 

            And my second --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  I am certain I cannot straighten you out.  So -- (laughter).  But I'll get somebody that can at least make a stab at it.  I'm just not that person.

 

            Q     All right.  And then the second question -- this one is definitely in your area.  There was a report out of Kuwait over the weekend that the U.S. military or the Pentagon would be putting together news packages that could go directly to small-market media.  I was wondering if you could discuss what the reason is behind that, what you hope to accomplish.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  I have not heard anything about it.  I mean, I've heard that there are people that are trying to think of a lot of ways to continue --

 

            Q     (Off mike.)

 

            MR. DIRITA:  I didn't say that.  I said I hadn't heard anything about it.

 

            Q     But aren't you in charge of Public Affairs?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  No, every day I learn how little I'm in charge of Public Affairs.  (Laughter.)  But I have not heard that.

 

            I've heard that there are people that are trying to think of, as we're responsible to do, a lot of different ways to get the story out of the amazing work that's being done by the U.S. military and the coalition in the Central Command area of responsibility.

 

            As to specific proposals that are being made, look, people float specific proposals all the time around here.  I have not seen this specific proposal.  I know that people are thinking through -- what do we do to really get the story out.  And whatever we do to get the story out will be aggressive and consistent with the sort of media guidelines that we've published in the past.

 

            Q     Would it have to go across your desk in order for that to happen?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  My desk isn't big enough for everything in this department to go across my desk, when it comes to Public Affairs.  I have a distinct opinion and view on how we should be trying to communicate the mission of the military in Iraq and Kuwait and Afghanistan and broadly in the global war on terror, and I will continue to be involved in those things.  But again, I don't -- I can't speak to whatever specific proposal you're offering.

 

            Q     And what do you think has been wrong with the news coverage that would compel you guys to put something together yourself?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  People -- media outlets will cover the story as they see fit.  I think -- as I said -- as I've said to a lot of reporters  before, bureau chiefs, other media professionals, this is an interesting thing, and -- but I'm not a media professional, so I wouldn't know how to deal with it.

 

            It's interesting that people who know only what they know about Iraq based on what they see in the media -- television, radio, newspapers in the United States -- again, this is a data point, and I don't know what to do with it -- when they go there, they come back with a distinctly different view of it.  Sometimes it's better, sometimes it's worse, but it's certainly different.  In almost every instance that we've talked, for example, to members of Congress, that tends to be their reaction.  "Geez, I didn't know that.  I didn't know this."

 

            We have a responsibility or at least a desire to get better information made more available to the American public, so that they can see the great work that's going on with our Iraqi partners, with the coalition forces, who are doing just tremendous work, who feel they're doing tremendous work.

 

            It's not for me to referee how the media covers it.  I just make -- it's an interesting observation that when people go there, they come back with a modestly different view than when they started.

 

            So -- enough on that one.  John (sp)?

 

            Q     What is the right way to characterize Zarqawi's association/relationship with al Qaeda?  We're kind of seeing it across the map.  On one hand, you know, he's just called al Qaeda. But on the other -- I mean, you look at the letter, you know, and it's -- I think it's characterized as communication between, you know, what seem like two separate entities.  Where do you put it, put the relationship?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  It -- and the al Qaeda network is sometimes -- you know, it's a huge puzzle, and it's a network that's tough to put all the lines and faces and places, like we do, in straight lines all the time.  But he has a long-term affiliation with al Qaeda, and he is clearly one of the senior al Qaeda leaders that we have been pursuing since 11th September, and it will continue to be that way.

 

            Q     I'd like to ask you about the discussions that General Hill is having with other countries.  Are there meetings going on now in SOUTHCOM?  What are the issues that they're trying to work through and how many countries have offered troops and how many troops?

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  The exact things are all being worked out as far as the numbers of countries who will do it and how many forces they'll provide.  But they're going through those meetings right now and the coordination to get that done.  There have been many forthcoming at this point in time, and what they work out is how they're going to integrate into the multinational force, which currently we're leading in Haiti.  And then the logistics support and some of those things are the challenges that we normally work through when we get other countries to support a multinational force there.

 

            Q     Could you say what countries at least are taking part --

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  The three that are there right now I can tell you are the Canadians, the French, as well as the Chileans are there already.  And we continue to have several more that we hope to come very soon.

 

            Q     In what numbers right now?

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  The numbers are about 600 total from those three.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  And I think to just expand out, I don't think it's just General Hill.  I know that the State Department is working hard to find -- to work with potential partners in this multinational interim force, so --

 

            Q     General, a couple things.  First of all, how confident are you about the information you're getting about foreign fighters, former regime elements in Iraq?  There's a story in The Washington Post this morning talking about the CIA operatives there feeling very frustrated and they need security to go out.  How confident are you in the information?  And also, could you define what you mean by senior al Qaeda leaders?  Zarqawi?  I mean, I think we probably think of senior al Qaeda leader as someone like Zawahiri or bin Laden.

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  Right, but if we look at the senior al Qaeda leadership, we're looking at about 10 to 15 personnel and everything that are really up at the top of that network, okay?  And that's what I talk about as the senior al Qaeda leadership -- leader.

 

            Q      One of the top 15 people in the al Qaeda network is Zarqawi?

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  Mm-hmm.

 

            Q     You said remaining, or out there, or does that include all the ones --

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  That includes all the ones that have been wrapped up right now.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Yeah, and this is based on the best understanding that we have, which is always going to be sort of as close as you can get based on -- this is a very -- (laughs) -- shadowy group that morphs a lot, that changes its -- I mean, this is not something that we could say we know that there's a pool of X and we've got two-thirds of X, or something.  It's what we believe and that's going to change over time.

 

            Q    Now, was --

 

            Q    Can we go back to -- oh, I'm sorry, go ahead with that.  But just don't forget that other question.

 

            Q     Okay.  Was he elevated to that top 10 to 15 just recently? Was it post-Afghanistan or post-Iraq that he was elevated to the 10- to-15 level?

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  They've pretty much been going after him, like I said, since 11 September and everything, and he was one of the initial ones that has been one of the, you know, senior leadership, in that core of the network that we believe is operating.

 

            Q     Can we go back to the intelligence question and how confident you are about what you're getting in Iraq?

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  The intelligence has continued to improve.  We have a tremendous amount of Iraqis that have come forward over time to help us out on that.  All the intelligence services and personnel that are involved in that would obviously love to do better, so there's always frustration when they can't deliver, you know, the 100-percent solution which they always pursue.  But we continue to improve our intelligence as we go on here, and we get more and more, like I said, from the Iraqi people.  So that has helped us.  So I'm confident that we're doing a pretty good job with what we got and turning that very quickly into operational actions that can capture or kill the people that are hurting us, whether it be criminals, former-regime loyalists or foreign fighters.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  And that leads us, if I can -- and we'll get back to you, Nick, but the general made a very important point, which we've made before, but it just is so valuable that it's worth emphasizing. There are just an enormous number of Iraqis who are now involved in security inside of Iraq.  In fact, they are by far the largest single entity of security forces inside Iraq.  The number is plus or minus a couple hundred thousand, probably, across the range of security activities.  That has greatly sharpened the amount of information that's coming in, and the military commanders there have said that countless times, that their intelligence has gotten so much better as Iraqis have gotten more and more involved in their own security.

 

            But it also gets to the question that some have raised about concerns that there's -- about the security circumstances in various parts of Iraq.  There are now 200,000 Iraqis involved in security inside of Iraq, and it's important to bear that in mind because increasingly we are asking Iraqis and Iraqis are desiring to take responsibility for their own security.  And in many parts of the country, they're doing just that and we're providing a supporting element to them.  And Iraqis on the Governing Council have been clear on their desire for that to be the case, and we desire -- it's a shared interest -- that Iraqis do more of their own security, and indeed they are doing more of their own security.

 

            And as we march toward this point at which Iraqis not only will be more and more responsible for their own security but will assume responsibility for their own sovereignty, what is sovereignty but the ability to defend it?  And Iraqis are going to continue to be a not only critical but perhaps the most important component in the partnership.

 

            And I only make that point because there's some question as to how's the security in Iraq under the circumstances that we saw this week, and who should be doing what.  And there's an ongoing desire to see that Iraqis do more and more, and they are doing more and more, and it's a good thing.  And it doesn't mean -- and General Kimmitt spoke about it the other day in Baghdad -- that we won't -- it's not going to be 100 percent for quite some time.   It is still a dangerous place because there are people who wish us ill.  But Iraqis are heavily involved in their own security, and to suggest otherwise is to -- one would have to really question why somebody would want to do that.

 

            Yeah, John?

 

            Q     Is Zarqawi presumed to be THE leader of the opposition in Iraq, and do you know of any relationship between him and the former general, Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri?

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  I don't know that we would characterize -- there's no question that Zarqawi, based on the information that we have, has expressed a serious interest in disrupting the activities in Iraq in ways that were described in the letter that the professionals believe is a letter from Zarqawi.  The situation, as we gather more information, could change and we could learn that he's working in concert with somebody who's existence we're not even aware of at the moment.  But the fact is, at the moment, based on the procedures we're seeing, the tactics we're seeing, the information that we feel confident enough in to assess as accurate, he is a very important element in the desires that people have to destabilize the progress in Iraq.  Is he number one or number two?  I'm not sure it's a very fruitful exercise.  He's clearly somebody that has an interest in seeing that the transition to democracy in Iraq be disrupted and he's, as a result, somebody that we care about a great deal.

 

            Q     Larry, General, do you have any further information on the 15 or so suspects who were taken into custody in conjunction with this week's bombings in Karbala and in Baghdad, such as who they are, who they were working for?  And there were also reports that several of them, maybe a half-dozen or so, are Farsi speakers.  Any indication that they have Iran connections?

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  Yes.  I think yesterday General Kimmitt put out clearly there are five Farsi speakers in that group and the other 10 were suspected of being from Iraq.  And those interrogations are ongoing right now, and there's been no resolution to those interrogations yet.  And they're going through the investigation right now.

 

            Q     Was there any more on the Farsi --

 

            Q     Would you clarify one thing on --

 

            Q     -- the Farsi speakers?  It's the language of Iran, but they speak it in Afghanistan, they speak it in Iraq.  Do you know where they --

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  Right.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  And also let me add another, you know, sort of curious but -- not curious but important thing to remember: this holiday that's being celebrated is an important Shi'a holiday. Karbala is a Shi'a capital, if you will, and so it's almost certain that there would have been Iranians attending the ceremonies.  So it's -- what we know is what we've said.  We've not drawn conclusions. It's -- there happened to be people who were apprehended that speak this language, but it's almost certain that there were Iranian victims in this as well, so --

 

            Q     Can we just clarify one thing on Zarqawi?  That's the first time I've heard him characterized as top al Qaeda leadership.  He's always been characterized to me as a freelancer, as tied to al Qaeda, as a part of Ansar al-Islam, but never directly in the top 10 to 15 of al Qaeda.  I want to make sure that you are -- we're getting what you're saying.

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  Well, the -- that's -- you're probably right. When I said that, I probably didn't say that exactly correctly, okay? But the senior leadership and the links with al Qaeda -- he has a strong link to al Qaeda, with the senior leadership of al Qaeda, and we believe while he may not -- when I say "senior al Qaeda," I do not mean exactly the four or six guys in the center of that piece that we think are there and stuff, but he's linked very closely to the senior leadership of al Qaeda.  Is that clear?

 

            Q     Can you explain the link?

 

            Q     Not -- of the top 10, he's linked to Zarqawi?

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  Right.  By -- yes.  "Linked" rather than "(top ?)", Jaime.   Yes.

 

            Q     Okay.  Can you explain the link?

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  The link is like we talked before and everything.  The communications, the characteristics, the spreading of -- the tactics, techniques and procedures that they use and the spreading of the terrorist ideology.

 

            Q     I think we need to be perfectly clear here.  We have been told that after Afghanistan, the Iraqi leadership was sort of re- drawn.  And -- because some were eliminated, some were elevated --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  The Iraqi leadership, or al Qaeda?

 

            Q     I mean -- I mean, the al Qaeda -- and some were eliminated. In those flow charts, or whatever you call them, is Zarqawi's face and name within the top Iraqi leadership --

 

            Q     Al Qaeda.

 

            Q     -- or, al Qaeda leadership as the U.S. intelligence community, military understands it today?

 

            GEN. RODRIGUEZ:  All I can say is, he is --

 

            Q     When you look at that chart, is he on that chart?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  We're not -- first of all, that's based on the best intelligence we have.  And without describing charts that people in this department or other departments would use to go out and determine priorities and resource allocation, let's just -- let me just say -- and I'm afraid this'll probably -- we'll do our best to clarify.  But Zarqawi is somebody in whom we are very interested, who clearly has relationships to al Qaeda.  There's no question about that.  Where he fits into a pecking order is not our place to discuss at this podium. And we're certainly not going to discuss sort of flow charts and   things that may have been described to you, because it's just not the place to do that.

 

            Q     Okay.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  What do you got?

 

            Q     My colleague Jim Miklaszewski had a report on earlier this week that's been getting some attention on Capitol Hill.  It suggested that the United States -- and Jim, correct me if I'm mischaracterize this in any way -- missed a couple of opportunities in which it might have been able to kill Zarqawi when it failed to attack the terrorist training camp in northern Iraq before the war.  And it further suggested that there might have been some hesitancy on the part of the administration because it might undercut the argument for going to war with Saddam Hussein.  Could you comment on whether, A --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Well, I hate to have to admit it here; I didn't see Mr. Miklaszewski's report.  I'm sure it was wonderful.

 

            Q      But were opportunities -- well, members of Congress have been reading it into the --

 

            Q     Into the record.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Right.  The -- it has been an objective of this government since September 11th, for sure, and before that in some ways, to hunt down and root out al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. It is certainly the -- it was certainly the priority of this administration after September -- of this government after September 11th of 2001.  We've gone about in a very aggressive way doing that since September 11th in ways that are known and in ways that are not known publicly.  There's an awful lot of work that's gone on to capture or kill senior terrorist leaders around the world.  And we've done that and talked about it to some extent.

 

            With -- there's -- without discussing specific items of intelligence and specific operations, there's -- since September 11th, when the president identified as a priority for this government the global war on terror and the attempts that we would make to capture and kill terrorists, we've had operations that have been conducted, to some extent, that have been successful to some extent that we've not talked about.  But we've not generally discussed specific operations.

 

            Certainly -- and again, I've not seen the report -- we are aware -- Secretary Powell, for example, when he made the case for Iraq, talked about Zarqawi.  We are aware that there were relations, or at least connections, between Mr. Zarqawi and -- or at least we believed that to be the case --

 

            Q      (Off mike) -- as well.  But so --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Right.  So it's not -- it's certainly understood that there was potentially some relationship.  But the degree to which that relationship was clearly understood, the degree to which that could -- that information or understanding could lead to actionable intelligence is --

 

            Q     But the -- but weren't there -- were there not plans drawn up to attack that camp?

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Well, you know we don't talk about military plans.

 

            Q     Well, now that it's over -- the war is over.  You already attacked those.  We're talking about history now.  We're not talking about military --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Well, that's -- we just don't talk about military plans, and we certainly don't talk about, well, did some -- did a plan come forward and somebody decide to recommend or not recommend something to the secretary of Defense and to the president?  We -- that's just not something we talk about.

 

            What we talk about is --

 

            Q     Considering --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  -- it is a priority of this government to root out terrorists.  It was a priority of the government for regime change in Iraq.

 

            Q     Well, considering the number of administration officials who have criticized the previous administration for failing to take actions that they say may have made a dent in the war on terrorism, isn't it legitimate to then question if there were plans, in effect, that might have made some difference, that weren't executed by this administration?  And that's all we're asking.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Well, then you should ask it of an administration official who has criticized the previous administration, but I haven't.

 

            This is a difficult challenge.  Going out and finding terrorists is a  very difficult thing to do.  It's based on intelligence that you make your best assessments on and go out and do it.

 

            The policy of regime change in Iraq was the policy.  The policy of rooting out terrorists in the global war on terror is a policy. And we've been proceeding apace on both those policies.

 

            Yeah, Tony?

 

            Q     I have a less --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  I'm almost out of time.

 

            Q     Okay.  This is a Capitol Hill question.  It's nothing to do with Iraq.  But speaking of Capitol Hill, there's -- the Senate Armed Services Committee wants these e-mails from the administration about the Boeing tanker deal.  Your nomination and three others are being held up until something gets resolved.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  It is?

 

            Q     (Chuckles.)

 

            Q     You know that.

 

            MR. DIRITA:  And then you think I could talk about it?

 

            Q     Well, but what's the latest thinking on what to give, when to give, or to give anything --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  There's been an awful lot of discussion back and forth about how best to provide the information that the committee is asking for.  Certainly in the case -- the general issue, which is tanker lease, we've announced a variety of things we've done to sort of address what -- where we go from here, what's the best approach and things like that.

 

            With respect the kind of back-and-forth discussions about what information can we make available that the committee wants or needs, that's just something we're always engaged in.  And we're certainly engaged in that question.  Some senators on that committee are seeking very specific information, and that information is being reviewed to determine what's appropriate to provide.

 

            Q     Well, you're steeped in Hill culture.  You've worked up there and you've studied it.  How is this going to be resolved?  Did you think --do you see it -- the Pentagon's going to give something up, some kind of -- there will be a compromise, or will -- are the lines as strongly drawn that no compromise --

 

            MR. DIRITA:  Things tend to get worked out, and I suppose things will get worked out here as well, or I'll stop having to do briefings down here.  (Laughter.)

 

            I'm all done.  Thank you very much.

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