DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
In the interest of saving your time, I have no opening statement and I'll leap directly to your questions.
Q: Can you tell us about the tank engineer in Detroit, Mich., and whether or not... why there have been no charges filed nor arrests made if this guy admits that he's been passing classified information...
A: I can tell you that the FBI is investigating this issue, and they will be the source of information on this as the investigation continues. I have nothing to say about it.
Q: Isn't DIS also looking into this, though?
A: The FBI is in charge of the investigation, and they're in charge of making responses to the press on the investigation.
Q: Is he still on the job?
A: He has been put on leave, and his building pass and parking pass have been withdrawn as the investigation continues.
Q: Does that mean with pay?
A: I do not believe so, but I will find out.
Unidentified speaker: [Inaudible]
A: With pay?
Unidentified speaker: Yes.
A: Administrative leave with pay.
Q: Can you give us any indication at all about whether or not the information that's in dispute here would have been sensitive or damaging information or the level of... whether this would have been anything that would have been particularly damaging or violated any major security breach?
A: I cannot.
Q: Are you looking into the possibility that there was a security compromise here?
A: Of course. That's what the FBI's looking into.
Q: Is DoD looking into that?
A: Yes, of course we are. Of course. We take this seriously. But the issue is being handled by the FBI.
Q: I take it there was no inkling of what was going on here until this guy admitted questions in a security clearance that he had perhaps passed along this information, as he says, inadvertently. But there was no indication before this that there was any passage of information. That's what ticked off the investigation, is that not right?
A: I think we should let the FBI complete its investigation and then talk about its investigation in the appropriate forum. This isn't the appropriate forum to talk about the FBI's continuing investigation.
Q: Has DoD had any discussions with the Israelis as to the situation?
A: Right now the investigation is being done by the FBI and they're handling it.
A: I'd be glad to take more questions on this riveting topic. (laughter)
Q: Can you fill us in on the visit of the Saudi Defense Minister next week? When he's coming to the Pentagon.
A: First of all, he is not coming here as the Saudi Defense Minister. He's coming in his -- We're talking about Prince Sultan -- He's coming as an emissary of King Fahd in his capacity as Deputy Prime Minister. He will meet with a range of people while he's here. He will come to the Pentagon on Wednesday, February 26th to meet with Secretary Cohen, and others while he's here.
Q: Is he heading the delegation or is the Foreign Minister?
A: No, he's heading the delegation. He is bringing a large delegation of people with him.
Q: Do you know if they're planning to discuss the Saudi Government's interest in purchasing F-16s?
A: Prince Sultan has said that will not come up. He's said that publicly, last week. I only have his statement to go on, but I think we have to assume that his statement gives an accurate assessment of what he plans to discuss and doesn't plan to discuss.
Q: Will he be discussing the progress of the investigation of the bombing at Khobar Towers?
A: We assume that will be one of the topics of discussion, yes. But more broadly, we'll talk about our program to improve the security of the U.S. military people serving in Saudi Arabia to protect our interests in the Middle East.
Q: Considering he's not coming here to give a speech to the Secretary of Defense, does the Pentagon or officials at the Pentagon or Secretary Cohen plan to raise the issue of the Saudi Government's interest in F-16s?
A: Prince Sultan has said that he doesn't anticipate discussing that issue while he's here, and I assume that because he's coming without that on his agenda, it won't be discussed.
Q: Is the United States interested at all in the possibility of selling F-16s for oil instead of cash?
A: Charlie, I don't want to discuss F-16s because I don't think this is going to be an issue for discussion next week, and I don't know why we would waste our time discussing it today. It's not, according to Prince Sultan, going to be on the table next week.
Q: I don't know that it would be a waste of time at all discussing it. This is a multi-billion dollar sale. Is the United States willing to accept oil instead of money?
A: We have no proposal or request from Saudi Arabia to sell them F-16s. So if we have no proposal, we have no proposal to trade F-16s for oil, we have no proposal whatsoever. And we don't anticipate having a proposal next week.
Q: Can you provide us with an update on the story that came out of Croatia regarding the teenagers who, according to the newspaper in Croatia, managed to get into highly sensitive and classified Pentagon files?
A: They did not. The Croatian newspaper was in error on that issue. They did, apparently, get into some computers at Anderson Air Force Base in Guam, but to the best of my knowledge, they did not get into any classified files. It was entirely in unclassified territory.
Q: Given what you've said, have there been any arrests or any plans... I would assume it's still illegal, whether or not sensitive information is compromised or not.
A: Are you talking about these fellows in Croatia? Have we arrested these people in Croatia?
Q: Yes, or have the Croatians...
A: I'm afraid I can't answer that question. I know that the issue is being investigated by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and I'm not aware that action has been taken against these fellows whom I believe are teenagers at this time.
Q: Could you just give us any more detail on what sort of computers they actually did gain access to at Anderson Air Force Base at Guam? Does Anderson Air Force Base have a home page or something? What kind of...
A: I'm afraid I don't know that.
Q: Was it through the Internet or straight through to Andrews?
A: I've told you everything I know about it. You can ask me more questions from now until doomsday, and I won't know anything until I leave this stand.
We can get you more information on that, but all I know is that they did not get into classified information.
Q: There's a story out of Camp Lejeune about a Marine colonel withdrawing from the investigation of a hazing incident, the videotaped hazing incident, because of an allegation that the colonel himself had participated in such an incident. Do you have anything on that specifically? And more generally, do you have anything on the Pentagon efforts to look at the whole hazing issue? A progress report.
A: We have a letter we can release to you from the Chairman to the Secretary about the steps that the Joint Staff is taking on hazing, and this is obviously a continuing project at the Joint Staff and among the services. The specific case you mentioned, I've seen a wire service report that Colonel John Hertel has removed himself, and I believe that to be correct.
Q: Could you explain the situation about the theater missile defense system project between the U.S. and Japan Government? The New York Times reported that the Japanese Government is going to refute that project, but a Japanese official denied that.
A: Yes, the report was in error. Japanese officials have denied that the report is accurate, and our discussions with Japan on theater missile defense are continuing.
Q: When do you expect the Japanese conclusion about that?
A: These discussions have been going on for some time. It's a very complex issue. They're scheduled to continue for some time, and I can't give you a firm date on when the Japanese Government will make a decision. I think that's a question you should ask the Japanese Government. They'd have the best fix on it.
Q: Monday marks the first anniversary of the Brothers to the Rescue attempt to fly toward Cuba and they're going to -- even though no flight plans have been filed yet -- they plan to send a flotilla of planes down there. Is the U.S. military going to take any extra precautions at all or change any schedules of ships or put any extra planes on alert or do anything different as Brothers to the Rescue fly in that region again?
A: First, as you know, this is mainly a law enforcement issue, not a military issue. The two government groups that enforce or police the area down there, or the Coast Guard who monitor the ship traffic and the FAA which monitors the air traffic, they've been working extensively with Cuban/American groups in the U.S. to explain the rules, and they will be the ones who will be enforcing the rules on the anniversary or at any other time, as a matter of fact.
So the military's job is very limited, and it's just to provide support to the FAA and the Coast Guard. To the best of my knowledge, we do not plan any different procedures or heightened alerts on February 24th, which is the one year anniversary.
Q: What is this limited... Provide support? What do you mean, provide support?
A: We certainly provide radar support, we can provide communication support, there's usually a Navy ship in the area from, I think it's from Joint Task Force 110, usually over the horizon, but it can help the Coast Guard if necessary. The planes we have stationed in Florida are there to protect the United States against airborne attack. That's their job. That will continue to be their job.
Q: The commander at Darmstadt was taken off command. I was wondering if he's part of the investigation into a rape and sexual harassment, and overall, why was he removed?
A: He was removed because charges were made against him. They were actually sexual harassment complaints made against the commander. So far, about 70 people have been interviewed as part of a fairly broad investigation, and 11 alleged victims have been identified in this investigation. This was basically an in- processing center in Germany. Three suspects have been identified and have been relieved of their duties at Darmstadt. So it is a continuing investigation. One instructor has been accused of rape -- in fact two instructors have been accused of rape and one has been accused of cruelty and maltreatment of a subordinate. These investigations are continuing. There will be legal proceedings to determine whether the charges are correct or not, and those will occur in due time.
Q: Do you have any details on what the commander's been charged with?
A: I do not. He has actually been administratively reassigned pending the outcome of an investigation. I'm not sure there have been any charges leveled against the commander at this time.
Q: What was the date of that reassignment?
A: We'll get you the date of the reassignment.
Sorry, there's a correction here to the Prince Sultan title. He is the Second Deputy Prime Minister, not the Deputy Prime Minister. I apologize. I assumed the Crown Prince is the Deputy Prime Minister.
Q: In the cases at Aberdeen, one of the alleged victims, Jessica Bleckley, told the Washington Post that she was pressured to sign a statement which resulted in part for the criminal charges being dropped against one of the staff sergeants there. Is that a matter of concern, or will there be any independent review to see if, in fact, she was pressured to sign any kind of statement?
A: I think that question is probably more appropriate for the Army, but let me tell you what I understand the circumstances to be. My understanding is that first of all, an Army spokesperson has denied that Jessica Bleckley, a former member of the Army, was pressured into signing the statement. Second, the way the statement emerged was based on, the statement was written based on conversations and faxed down to Jessica Bleckley, who as I said, is out of the Army and who is now in South Carolina. She read the statement, signed it, and faxed it back. This was a long distance telephonic/fax relationship and the Army has denied that there was any pressure applied to Ms. Bleckley.
Q: Did they offer her the opportunity to amend her statement after she made the public charges that she did press?
A: My understanding is that they did and she has denied to amend it.
Q: One general question, as these cases start to work through and we begin to get some of the results of these hearings, is there a concern, particularly in these cases where these are closed administrative hearings, and we don't hear any of the evidence in the case, but we only hear the results -- for instance, two soldiers recently were found not guilty of the charges against them. Are you concerned at all that the secret process creates a perception in the public that these charges aren't being vigorously pursued?
A: I think that anybody who has followed this sad affair knows that these charges are being very vigorously pursued and that the Army, and indeed, the entire Department of Defense, is very, very determined to get to the bottom of this to change the culture that produced these problems, and to make sure that the zero tolerance rule is very strongly enforced. I think every action the Army has taken shows that.
As I've said before, there are five major actions that the Army has taken here. The first is that it has brought charges and begun judicial and administrative proceedings against a number of people.
Second, the Army Chief of Staff ordered a comprehensive sexual harassment teaching program at all levels of the Army, and that's supposed to be completed on March 31st in the active duty, and May 31st in the reserve components.
The Secretary of the Army, third, has ordered the Inspector General to review and assess the sexual harassment policies throughout the Army and the way they are enforced.
Fourth, of course, has been the hotline, and that hotline has generated, to date, 1,128 complaints and those have all been looked at. Some have been close already. Some have been referred to other Army agencies, but 264 of them have produced ongoing CID investigations.
The fifth point, obviously, is the one that Secretary of the Army Togo West announced here, which is his senior review panel to evaluate Army sexual harassment policies. So I think that this has been a very aggressive program to deal with the problem. This program will continue until the problem goes away.
Q: I guess there's an expectation from some in the public that they're expecting to see convictions. If they don't see convictions, that it may reflect the level of intensity that these cases are being pursued. Could you comment?
A: As you know as a student of the military justice system, there are court martials under the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, and then there are also non-judicial proceedings or administrative proceedings. There have been several administrative proceedings so far. The most recent one, obviously, is that Staff Sergeant Nathaniel Beach has decided to go ahead with an administrative proceeding. He has accepted that option which was offered to him earlier rather than a court martial, which he had initially requested. Already another Sergeant First Class accepted a discharge in lieu of a court martial. But there are court martial proceedings at Aberdeen pending against now three other people. So there will be court martial proceedings.
Q: What kind of discharge are they getting? Bad conduct, dishonorable?
A: I guess a discharge...[off mike] You can advise me on this. What is the discharge...?
Unidentified Speaker: Other than honorable.
A: Other than honorable.
Q: Let's go back to Prince Sultan for a second. Can you tell us who from DoD is going to be part of the delegation that will meet him when he arrives on Sunday?
A: I'm afraid I don't know that. I'll find out.
Q: On the illegal sale of super computers to Russia, is the Pentagon concerned that these computers will be used to enhance Russia's nuclear weapons?
A: As you know, we have rules that limit super computer sales to Russia. This sale is being investigated now by the Commerce Department and by the Justice Department, and I think I'd like to withhold comment on it until they have a clearer idea of how this happened, where the computers have gone, and what they're being used for.
Q: The other question on that is do you know or can you find out if any cooperative threat reduction funds were used to purchase it?
A: I don't know that. We can try to find that out.
Q: The former head of military intelligence said today that Saddam Hussein is moving five divisions towards Basrah, and that he now has 11 in Southeast Iraq. Is the Pentagon aware of this kind of movement? And is it planning any sort of new troop deployments?
A: I'm not aware of that report. I'm not aware of any unusual Iraqi troop movements, but I will check. It would be pretty hard to move, you said five divisions, surreptitiously. So I assume if this were happening, we'd know about it.
Press: Thank you.