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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
November 02, 1999 2:00 PM EDT

MR. BACON: Good afternoon.

Patrick, a particular welcome to you.

Let me start out with a couple of announcements. First, the secretary has appointed a group of outside experts to provide advice and guidance on the Nokuen-Ri investigation. Let me just run through who they are. All the military people are retired, but I won't say that after each one.

Army General Robert W. Riscassi, who is the former commander in chief of U.S. forces in Korea; Pete McCloskey, the former representative from California; Dr. Ernest May, how is an historian; Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor, of the Marine Corps; Donald Gregg, the former U.S. ambassador to Korea; Colonel Young Ok Kim, the former commander of the First Battalion, 33rd Infantry Regiment, Seventh U.S. Division, during the Korean War; and Don Oberdorfer, former Washington Post reporter and author of the authoritative book, "The Two Koreas," that came out a couple of years ago.

Now, this is the third part of a three-part structure. The first part, obviously, is the actual investigation, which is being run by Army Secretary Louis Caldera. He has set up a team of people which is being headed by the Army inspector general, Lieutenant General Ackerman, who just returned from South Korea over the weekend. He was there on Friday and actually visited Nokuen-Ri, the bridge site.

The second part is the steering group, which is headed by Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness Rudy de Leon. And the purpose of that group is to coordinate with the rest of the government and make sure that all resources of the department and the government are made available to the task force that has been set up by Secretary Caldera

And then the third group are the outside experts that will provide sort of oversight and advice.

The secretary met briefly with them this afternoon while they were having lunch, right after the press conference with Prince Sultan, went in and thanked them for the task they were undertaking, answered some questions about the scope of the investigation, heard a few suggestions that they had, and then went off to give the speech that you probably saw to the Fletcher School symposium. So that's the latest on the Nokuen-Ri investigation.

The second announcement has to do with some visitors from the National War College. I think we've got 14 students here from the National War College. We greet them.

And the third is on Y2K, which I know is a big topic for you. If you'll look at this hat, you'll see it's a countdown to Y2K. (Laughter). It points out that there are exactly 59 days and about nine or 10 hours --

Q (Off mike.)

MR. BACON: Nine hours? -- 59 days, nine hours, 45 minutes and 20 seconds left to Y2K.

So in that regard, as you know, we've set up this center for Y2K strategic stability in Colorado, which will be jointly manned by Russian and U.S. teams around the transition time. It will be open for a press tour next Tuesday, November 9th, from 2:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. You can shoot B-roll. I assume that you'll have local affiliates go out and do that for you. But at any rate, there'll be tours and demonstrations of the Cheyenne Mountain Center on November 9th. And you can contact the SPACECOM public affairs office for more information on that.

Finally, when this meeting, this briefing concludes, we have a Navy team here to brief you on the process of diving and salvage in connection with the crash of the Egypt Air Flight 990. And they'll be able to talk about the Grapple and salvage operations generally. It'll be on the record, on camera, and it will be led by Captain Christopher Murray, who is the supervisor of diving for the Naval Sea Systems Command. So we thank you for coming down here and doing that.

With that, I'll take your questions. Charlie.

QKen, could we clear up how many Egyptian military officers and defense officials were on that -- on Flight 990 and what they were doing in this country?

MR. BACON: No. We don't have a full account yet of how many there were. We're still working on that with the Egyptian government. They were here for a variety of purposes. There were approximately 33; could be one or two more, could be one or two less. That's in the process of being sorted out now.

The reason it's difficult is that they weren't here as a single group doing one thing. They were here for a number of purposes, including visiting contractors, taking courses, and other business. They all happened to come together on that flight to return home. And we are in the process of working with the Egyptian government to sort out exactly who they were and how many. If they had been here all under U.S. auspices under one program, we would have a better handle on who they were and the numbers, but they weren't.

Pat?

QOn the Korean investigation, the Army inspector general reports to the Army, the Army reports to the secretary's advisory commission?

MR. BACON: Well, basically, the work is being done by the secretary of the Army and his task force, which is headed by Lieutenant General Ackerman. On that team there are several other people, including -- well, there will be a number of people from the inspector general's office; there will be somebody from the Asia Pacific Korea desk, Jim Gelb his name is; Rear Admiral Quigley is on there from my office; there'll be a representative from State or from the embassy; Major General Gil Meyer is on there and John Veroneau, who is about to become the assistant secretary -- the Senate willing -- the assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs -- will all be on that task force working with the Secretary of the Army.

Now, this group has already started its work. They went to Korea, they met with their Korean counterparts. They agreed to establish a bilateral coordination group between the Korean investigators on the one hand, the American investigators on the other. They agreed to rules, or modalities, as diplomats like to say, for exchanging information and also exchanging interview records when they start interviewing. They also will share their draft reports when the draft reports are done. So we're working hand in hand with the Koreans on this.

So far, the Army group has been looking at records. They haven't started interviewing anybody yet, but they've been looking at records that the historians and other offices have.

QWell, what's the chain of command?

MR. BACON: The chain of command is that basically the secretary of the Army will produce a report that will go to the secretary. He will be able to deal and will deal with the two other groups. One, he'll get advice from the experts. He can rely on them for information, to make recommendations, whatever. I assume the experts will be going to South Korea. And he also will be able to work with the steering group to make sure that all the barriers are removed to getting information, all the barriers are removed for working seamlessly with the South Koreans. That's what the steering group will help do.

Yeah.

QKen, will the outside experts be sitting in on any of the interviews or conducting interviews themselves?

MR. BACON: I'm not sure that they will. I don't think that's been worked out yet. They had their first meeting today. They'll mainly be available for advice. They will go to North Korea -- I mean, South Korea. They will make recommendations as appropriate on the organization and the course of the review.

Now, what they said was that they want the review to be as fast as possible, but they also want it to be as thorough as possible. So this will characterize the balance that the team will have to meet throughout: that is, to be as speedy as possible, but to be as thorough and as close to the truth as possible.

QSo there will be a single report, or multiple reports, or --

MR. BACON: There'll be a single report, I expect.

QKen, was it decided what -- the final decision on whether or not there's full immunity for the survivors?

MR. BACON: As I said last week, that's not a question that's under consideration. No decision has been made on that. It's premature right now. The goal is to get to the facts. And we'll decide what comes after that later on. But we just want to get the fullest accounting of the facts we can.

QHow do you do interviews until you've decided that question of immunity?

MR. BACON: Well, this is something that the experts may make a recommendation on at some point, and the task force itself may make a recommendation on. But right now there has been no decision to grant immunity. The only decision is to move forward as quickly as possible with a thorough, far-reaching investigation.

QKen, is it fair to say that the advisory group will be bringing in a professional historian's view, like Ernest May, to ensure that the Army product is intellectually honest and doesn't try to cover up?

MR. BACON: I don't think that cover-up is on anybody's mind here. I think everybody realizes that our goal is to get to the bottom of this, to figure out what happened. We obviously have one purpose, and that's to uncover the truth, wherever it is, whatever it is.

We have two constituencies, basically. The first constituency is the people of Korea, the Republic of Korea. But we also have to have another constituency in this country which is the veterans who fought, the veterans who fought in Korea who deserve a full accounting of what happened.

And so I anticipate that what we'll have is as complete and factual an account as we can get. And this advisory group, many of these people have had a long history in Korea. Pete McCloskey, Representative McCloskey, fought in Korea; Lieutenant General Trainer fought in Korea; obviously, Colonel Kim did. Don Oberdorfer served in Korea as a young soldier and has written extensively about it. Ernest May, as you pointed out, is an historian. And obviously, Ambassador Gregg, who was the ambassador to South Korea is knowledgeable.

Yes?

QAfter the Nokuen-Ri came to light, there have been a number of reports about possible other additional incidents in other locations. Have any of those reports proven to have credibility to the point where you're now looking at investigating them? Are there any other investigations in the works?

MR. BACON: No. The only investigation in the works right now is the Nokuen-Ri investigation. Our primary responsibility, Secretary Cohen has said, is to finish that. Then we will look at the evidence of others and weigh that. If there's credible evidence, we'll make a decision on how to proceed. But we'd like to get the Nokuen-Ri one done first. Obviously, in the course of that we may discover facts that relate to other accounts, but that will emerge as the investigation or review continues.

QGeneral Thomas Schwartz, last week during his nomination hearing to be the new commander of U.S. Forces in Korea, was asked what impact these allegations will have on long-standing U.S.-Korean relations. He felt the impact would be, quote, "negligible" because the U.S. and Korea have a long-standing, close relationship. Does the Pentagon have that view at this point, that the impact is negligible at this point?

MR. BACON: Well, in one respect, yes; in another respect, I think the impact will be to affirm the strong relationship what we have and the trust we have with the Republic of Korea.

Secretary Cohen wrote President Kim Dae Jung a letter several weeks ago, which we can make available to you if you haven't seen it already, in which he expressed his determination to work with the government of Korea and to get the facts out as quickly as possible. But he also said it was very important that we build on the strong relationship that we have and do nothing to weaken the strong defensive alliance that we have against North Korea. And I think the Koreans agree with that 100 percent.

He has spoken with Defense Minister Cho. Defense Minister Cho will be here, I believe, on November 23rd. They'll continue their discussions on this and other topics. But there is -- I think there is a strong feeling of trust, of the need to work together. And as I said, Lieutenant General Ackerman has already reached an agreement to share draft reports, to share interview records, and to share basic documents with his Korean counterpart group.

QCan we return just a moment to the Egypt Air crash?

MR. BACON: Sure.

QJust so we have it on the public record, were there any military aircraft, ships, operations of any kind, operating anywhere near this area? Did any of the military systems pick up any aspect of this plane going down; communications, radar, heat signatures, anything else?

MR. BACON: I cannot answer that question. But I believe -- I cannot answer it definitely. I believe the answer is no.

QTo all the above?

MR. BACON: Yes. But I will check again on the picking-up SIGINT, IMINT, radar, anything else. But I will double-check on that.

QAnd on the same subject, you have a list -- you have the manifest of the passengers. You are not aware of any of these people or any schools they have attended recently, any programs they have participated in recently? Or are you waiting for a complete list of all the officers?

MR. BACON: I am waiting for the Egyptian government to make a decision that the appropriate time has come to release the manifest and information about people on the manifest. The last we checked with them, which was this morning, they asked us not to release any details because they have not notified all the next of kin. And I think they are in the process of doing that now.

When they have completed that, then I assume that the manifest will be released and we can discuss who these people were and what they were doing. But they have asked us not to talk about what they were doing at this stage, because that would identify some of the people. So that's where we stand.

QSo you have some awareness at this point, but you are just not at liberty to discuss it?

MR. BACON: That is correct. And I don't know how accurate my awareness is. We have reports on what some of the people were doing over here but not on what all of the people were doing here.

QIs there any reason to believe -- there was some speculation yesterday that these people may have constituted targets.

MR. BACON: I would urge you away from all speculation. I'm going to stick with what the head of the National Transportation Safety Board has said, which is it's too early to rule in anything or to rule out anything. We just simply do not know enough to make any conclusions about what might have happened or what could have been the cause of it.

QBut you have no reason to believe that these people would have been targeted in any --

MR. BACON: I have no reason to believe that, based on what I know, that there was any targeting or any terrorist involvement. But it's -- frankly, it's too early to make a statement that's definitive. We just don't know enough, as the head of the NTSB has said, to rule in anything or rule out anything right now.

QThe Bright Star was last month. Every two years American forces and, I gather, a lot of other countries join with the Egyptian Army maneuvers in Egypt. Has there been any fundamentalist protest about the Bright Star exercises in the past?

MR. BACON: Not that I'm aware of. I'm not aware that there were this time, either. I didn't read about them. But I haven't asked the question if there were any fundamentalist protest. These are very huge exercises. I think there were 73,000 people in the last Bright Star exercise. The main complaints came from Iraq, as I understand it.

Yes, Bill?

QKen, there was another successful test of the Arrow anti-missile system in Israel yesterday, to along with our test -- I guess it was about a month ago -- of the kill vehicle. Is everything on track, as far as you can see, technically speaking? Is everything on track now to meet the June or early summer deployment decision? And when is the next test of our U.S. system?

MR. BACON: We'll find out when the next test is. I don't know. There are a couple of more tests scheduled before June, as I understand it.

The Arrow, of course, is a different system entirely, and it doesn't have anything to do with our national missile defense system. It's a much shorter-range system. It's designed to deal with attacks coming from a known direction. So it's a different system. But as far as I know, with our NMD research and development, everything's on track to make a decision next summer.

QIs "hit to kill" now a viable and workable reality?

MR. BACON: We've succeeded in one test with NMD, and we've succeeded with one out of several tests in TMD. Obviously, it remains a demanding technology. We've shown we can do it. And we'll proceed to work on the technical difficulties.

QThank you.

QKen, ask a question? The military pay raise that was just passed? That doesn't seem to alleviate the situation of thousands of troops on some sort of government assistance to make ends meet. Is the military trying to do anything to fix the situation of soldiers on food stamps? I mean, it seems to be somewhat incongruous that people have to put their lives on the line, yet are dependent on government assistance to eat.

MR. BACON: Well, first of all, I think you're absolutely right in highlighting the importance of the pay increase, but you're absolutely wrong in saying it's made no impact. In a technical sense it's made no impact because it hasn't taken effect yet. But when it does take effect on January 1st, it will have, I think, a rather salutary impact on pay. It's 4.8 percent. It's the largest pay increase in years. An E-2 with under two years of service now makes a basic pay of $1,075 a month. When this 4.8 percent pay increase takes effect, he or she will make $1,127.40 a month.

Now, that's just the basic pay. In addition, they have two elements of tax-free compensation. The first is basically a food allowance, which is $250 a month. That's tax-free. And the second is a housing allowance, which varies according to geographical location. If a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine lives on base, they don't get this; if they live off-base they get it. But if a young soldier, E-2, lives in Washington D.C. and off-base and has a dependent, she would get a VHA, or variable housing allowance, of $723. So her total compensation, including food, would be $2,048 a month.

Now, the reason that some members of the military are on food stamps -- there are two reasons, basically. I've just walked through the whole package of benefits that they get. Under the Department of Agriculture rules -- and it's the Department of Agriculture that defines the poverty line above or below -- that determines whether you get food stamps -- under the Department of Agriculture rules, the food or subsistence allowance and the housing allowances aren't counted in income. So, for the case I gave you, that would mean that $973 a month wouldn't be counted in the base income. What would be counted is the base pay of $1,075 a month.

So that explains approximately why 60 percent of the military people on food stamps are on food stamps. If you counted everything in, their income level wouldn't qualify.

The other reason is that people who qualify for food stamps tend to be young people, young enlisted people, or low-ranking enlisted people with large families. Approximately 60 percent of the people in the military today are married. Even some young people in the military, particularly if they marry somebody who had a previous family, can have several children. I don't know what the cutoff is, but if you had large family and were low-ranking, you could qualify for food stamps.

We think it's regrettable that people in the military do qualify for food stamps, but it's more a function of their family size than of military pay.

Yes?

QKen, can you give us a further readout on the meeting yesterday concerning Vieques, specifically when Secretary Cohen expects to make a recommendation to the president? And in light of the declaration again yesterday by Puerto Rico that there's -- it's nonnegotiable, that the range will not be used again for bombing or shelling, what is there to talk about?

MR. BACON: Well, first of all, I don't think Secretary Cohen has made up his mind yet on when he plans to send the report to the president. I don't know what the next step will be. You are absolutely right that the Puerto Ricans have been unyielding in their insistence that there be no more use of the range at Vieques. There's more to the report than just that. There are other elements that deal with economic obligations of the Navy, et cetera. The secretary I don't believe has had a chance to talk with Undersecretary de Leon yet, or with his Chief of Staff Bob Tyrer, who was also at the meeting. He'll talk with them and decide what the appropriate next step is. I assume that Secretary de Leon will make a recommendation to the secretary about what to do next, but we'll have to wait until he does that.

Chris?

QThere's apparently been an administration decision to participate in a program to provide Yugoslavia -- Belgrade with heating oil through the winter months. Was this building, was the Defense Department, involved in the decision-making on this? Will the Defense Department participate in any way in implementing this? And is there anything else that you can tell us about this program?

MR. BACON: Well, my counterpart Jamie Rubin discussed this yesterday at the State Department. My understanding is that this is not a Defense Department program. It's something that will be handled with money from elsewhere in the government. And I wouldn't expect that there'd be any Defense Department involvement or military involvement in this program. I mean, there are already commercial ways to get fuel oil to Yugoslavia, and I suspect those will be used.

QWas DOD asked for an opinion or to sign off on this?

MR. BACON: I am not aware that we were asked for an opinion, but I'll take that question.

QOne more question on Egypt Air. Does the U.S. government have a policy of not allowing large numbers of military officers to fly together on a commercial flight? And are you aware of whether Egypt has a policy like that?

MR. BACON: No, I don't know what the Egyptian flight policies are.

Egypt has a huge military. And they have very large FMS Program, Foreign Military Sales Program, with the United States. They spend about $1.3 billion a year over here on a variety of weapons.

We co-produce Abrams tanks in Egypt with the Egyptians. They have bought a variety of aircraft, F-16s, a variety of helicopters. And of course, when they buy these weapons, they have to buy spare parts; they have to train people. They have reasons to come over and talk to contractors. And some of the people over here were talking to contractors. So there are people coming in and out of the United States from Egypt all the time, military officers.

Currently, we reckon there are about 73 Egyptians in various courses in the United States, IMET courses primarily. These obviously -- they're still here, so they weren't on the airplane. But they're in a whole variety of courses, involving contract management or medical care, et cetera. And they are coming and going all the time. Having said all that, I don't know what their rule is or our rule in terms of putting people on commercial aircraft.

Okay.

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