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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
February 18, 1997 1:30 PM EDT
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our briefing.

First, I'd like to welcome Brigadier General Strandberg, the Defense Attache from the Swedish Embassy here, who's brought nineteen Swedish War College students with him to the briefing. Former Secretary Perry visited Stockholm several months ago and had a very good visit there, so we're glad to have you here today.

I'd also like to welcome twelve students from the Advanced Non-Commissioned Officers Course at Fort Meade, Maryland. They are all Army public affairs experts, and they're visiting the Pentagon for the day. One of them, Sergeant First Class Heller, used to work for Colonel Bridges here. Welcome back.

Just two other brief announcements. Thursday, February 20th -- this is for people who like unmanned vehicles -- there's going to be a roll-out of the Global Hawk, which is a new high altitude unmanned air vehicle observation plane at Teledyne Ryan's San Diego facility. You can get more information on that from the Directorate for Defense Information. This is a UAV that's designed to have a range of fourteen thousand nautical miles and stay up for about forty-two hours at altitudes as high as sixty- five thousand feet.

Finally, tomorrow, Carolyn Becraft, who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Personnel Support, Families, and Education, will announce awards for a Spouse Employment Demonstration Project, which was an important part of the Quality of Life Initiative that came out of the Marsh Report last year -- maybe eighteen months ago. One of the recommendations was that the military find ways to find more jobs for spouses. There was a contest among installations to come up with good ideas, and she's going to announce funds to the top ten contestants for good ideas in this area.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Ken, you and the Air Force have previously stated that the Air Force is restudying the Khobar Towers issue and the report that [was] issued earlier, but on repeated questions, previously you've declined to characterize how the Pentagon or how Secretary White found their earlier report, and now the New York Times reports that White indicated some dissatisfaction with the report exonerating General Schwalier. Could you comment?

A: What I've said previously is that the Secretary of the Air Force and the Deputy Secretary of Defense concluded that more work needed to be done on the Air Force report, and that work is in the process of being done. I don't think I have much more to say beyond that. That work is underway now and probably won't be done for another month or two, I would guess, on the part of the Air Force.

Q: I wonder if the Deputy Secretary feels that Schwalier should not have been exonerated, or that perhaps not enough evidence was given to support the exoneration by the Air Force?

A: I can't tell you either of those things because this work is continuing. I think I would just like to let the work continue and let the Air Force complete the work before commenting on what they finally come up with.

Q: Is there a deadline given, or when do you expect ...

A: No, there's not been any deadline. But, as I said, I think it's at least a month, and maybe more, off before it will be completed. But probably farther, probably longer than a month before it's completed.

Q: Just a procedural question on this. Once the Air Force submits a formal report to the Secretary, does the Secretary have the authority to not accept the recommendation and do something different, or change the decision? What is his authority in this process?

A: The Secretary, first of all let me just go back on the history of this thing. Secretary Perry asked for this report on August 30th. He sent a memorandum to the Secretary of the Air Force. This was when he received the Downing Report. Before he even read the Downing Report, he forwarded it to the Secretary of the Air Force and asked her, Sheila Widnall, to consider the findings and the recommendations in the Downing Report. He went on to say, "I ask that you consider and, as you deem appropriate, take action concerning issues raised in the report regarding how the Air Force organizes, trains, and equips to support forces deployed to a unified command." Then, he went on to say, "I have made no determination as to any individual actions or omissions, subjects on which I defer to your judgment and disposition." This was what the Secretary asked.

He went on to say, "Please advise me, as appropriate, of the results of your review. If during the course of your review you identify matters that I should consider or refer to another component or element of the Department, please so advise me."

So, what he expected at the time was that he might get a report that would suggest actions for him, and I think it's appropriate to conclude that Secretary Cohen, who has not followed this closely, he has been briefed on the situation, but he has not read any earlier version of the report, he has not been involved in this process. But whatever report comes out could have some recommendations in it that Secretary Cohen would want to act on.

Q: So, therefore, the report in and of itself is not binding, and Cohen can elect to do something other -- it's just a recommendation?

A: First of all, I think it's difficult to talk about the report being binding or not without having some idea of what the recommendations are. The report could conclude that no action is necessary; it could conclude that a range of actions is necessary; it could make various conclusions about disciplinary actions. But the report is not finished, so it's premature to talk about the findings of the report at this stage.

Q: We're just talking procedure here. Can he overrule it or can't he?

A: The report is to him, and he can do with it what he wants.

Q: There seem to be some questions arising from UNHCR officials regarding Zaire -- renewed concern about the level of violence there, and suggestions that perhaps the international community, including the United States, should reconsider some sort of deployment or action there. Do you have anything on that about reconsideration from the Pentagon's point of view?

A: There is not now a reconsideration of our actions in Zaire. As you know, we decided not to get involved in East Africa several months ago, at the end of last year, and I'm not aware now that there is new consideration of involvement.

Q: Based on former Secretary Perry's instructions to the Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, they, in turn, instructed General Record to be the convening authority for any disciplinary action regarding Khobar Towers. As a matter of process, can the Secretary of Defense override a convening authority's decision? And isn't that command influence?

A: First of all, I'm not going to, obviously, answer a question that suggests there's going to be command influence. Second, I don't know about the convening authority. I'll get a legal opinion and we'll get back to you on that.

Q: Can you help us with Peru? There seems to be conflicting stories over whether or not the United States is going to help Peru in helping gain the freedom of the hostages at the Japanese residence. There's a published report saying that U.S. commandos would work with Peruvian troops. Also, a statement from an embassy spokesman who apparently said that helicopters and other resources have been offered. Can you set the record straight for us?

A: Are you referring to the report that said a 7 minute rescue operation from helicopters, in the middle of the night, is being planned in which there could be as many as ninety casualties? Is that the report you're talking about?

Q: That's the initial report. That's not what I was asking about, however.

A: We have not been asked to do anything to help the government of Peru. This is a matter for the Peruvian government to take care of, and they've made it very clear that they plan to take care of it. They are working through negotiations and other ways to solve the problem.

Q: Return to John's question for a minute about Zaire. Are there still any U.S. troops or support personnel still there? I know we were making some surveillance flights over the region ...

A: I'm almost certain there are not, but I will double check on that.

Q: I wanted to ask you a CWC question. A couple of days ago the White House indicated that it would offer language to the Senate to get CWC ratification that if chemical weapons were used -- I think against U.S. troops and possibly civilian populations -- we would have a policy of massive military retaliation. I was wondering if you could explain what that military policy is and does it, in fact, still include all weapons other than the use of chemical weapons by the United States?

A: Let me go back and repeat what's already been said about this, because our position hasn't changed. Secretary Cheney and Secretary Perry both said that if any country used chemical weapons against our troops they should expect a counter- attack that would be absolutely overwhelming and devastating; that could involve the full range of weapons in our arsenal. That remains our policy today.

In addition, as you probably know, because you follow this very closely, General Shalikashvili has testified before Congress on this issue, and he said that DESERT STORM proved that retaliation-in-kind is not required to deter the use of chemical weapons. In other words, President Bush made a very firm statement to Iraq, prior to DESERT STORM, in which he warned them against using chemical weapons against our troops and said they would face devastating consequences. And, they did not use chemical weapons against our troops.

Q: Has that now been expanded to include a chemical attack against civilian U.S. populations? Or, is it solely just against U.S. troops?

A: I think that any country that were to use chemical weapons against the United States, against U.S. civilians, or against U.S. forces, could expect a devastating and decisive response from us.

Q: Could I just ask you a quick Khobar follow-up. If you're trying to assess General Schwalier's responsibility towards this, of course, then you have to look at what the threat was that he was planning against. That brings me to the question, has there ever been a final resolution on the size of the bomb, and therefore, the size of the threat? And, as you work through this whole assessment, is anyone in the [Pentagon] building still looking at trying to resolve the difference in assessment between DSWA and the Air Force?

A: First of all, I didn't say we were trying to assess General Schwalier's responsibility, and I want the record to be clear on that, because that would not be an accurate report of what's going on.

Q: I'll be happy to rephrase the question.

A: Please.

Q: Is there still any ongoing assessment, anywhere within the Department of Defense or the military services, trying to resolve the stated discrepancy in the size of the bomb that went off at Khobar between the DSWA -- the Defense Special Weapons Agency -- assessment and what was in the Downing Report? Or has the Department accepted it will never know the size of the blast and the bomb?

A: Secretary Perry and others, as you know, thought that the bomb size was much larger than what General Downing concluded. General Downing believes he was right in his conclusion. There has been, right now, no reconciliation of those two points of view. I'm not aware of a continuing effort to reconcile them, but I will try to find out.

Q: In Brussels, today, Madeleine Albright proposed the immediate creation of a NATO/Russian brigade. I was wondering if you could explain what that would be for and how large it would be, any other details?

A: My sense is, she suggested this as one type of continuing cooperation between NATO and Russia. It's one of a number of ideas that's been discussed, over the last few months or weeks, for encouraging more cooperation between NATO and Russia. It grows, organically, out of what's been going on in Bosnia with Russian participation in an American division as part of IFOR and now SFOR. It also grows organically out of the Partnership for Peace program, where U.S., Russian, and other units have trained together in various exercises. As you know, Russia sent a unit to Fort Riley, Kansas, in 1995, to train with the 1st Infantry Division.

So, this is a proposal, it's an idea, and it represents the type of thinking we're doing to integrate Russia more closely into European security affairs.

Q: Do you have any idea what size the brigade would be, given the fact that Russian brigades and NATO brigades and U.S. brigades are different ...

A: I'm afraid I don't. I think one issue is that right now, as I understand it, there are not standing NATO brigades. What we have in NATO are contributions by individual countries. I guess there's the EuroCorps, which was a French/German unit that was put together to exercise together, but other than that, I don't think there are standing NATO brigades, per se.

Obviously, we have gotten a lot of experience -- over the last couple of years through the Partnership for Peace and also through IFOR and SFOR in Bosnia -- in working together in multinational groups of troops. I think we would find some way to build on that if the Russians thought this was a good idea. We would try to find some way to build on that.

Q: Sorry to bring you back to the Khobar thing again, but if you could clarify, there was, in the report today, a comment about the pressure being applied by close aides to the new Secretary of Defense. Are you saying that Senator Cohen's aides have not expressed an interest in this investigation, have not expressed an opinion?

A: First of all, let's take that statement that was made. The Deputy Secretary of Defense is clearly a close aide to the Secretary of Defense. The Deputy Secretary of Defense has been very involved in working with the Secretary of the Air Force on this issue. So, one close aide, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, has been involved.

Secretary Cohen and his immediate staff, the people he brought with him and has appointed to jobs in this building, have not been involved in this. He's been briefed on this, he's been kept up to date in what's happening, but this has largely been the work of the Deputy Secretary of Defense, working with the Secretary of the Air Force, to complete the report.

Q: Related to the Soviet brigade. There used to be an intra-government committee that would regulate sales of defense- related weapons to the Soviet Union and now Russia. And, apparently, we've made a sale of super computers to the Russian nuclear weapons facility. Are you aware of that?

A: I read the Wall Street Journal article about it ...

Q: I'm talking about the Newsday article on Sunday, the day before. (Laughter)

A: Unfortunately, I was not on Long Island on Sunday and I missed the article. But, we will get more information for you on that. I can't answer the question. I don't know.

Q: Given the North Korean defector situation, I'm sure the statement is true now, as you said last week, but no unusual troop movements on either side along the DMZ.

A: That's right.

Q: Any request from China or South Korea for any U.S. assistance?

A: Not that I'm aware of, no. Beyond the fact that we've been dealing with North Korea and other countries to find ways to alleviate the food problem that North Korea's facing today. But, we have, in terms of military aid, no.

Q: In Brussels, today, again the French Foreign Minister proposed a joint European/U.S. command at AFSOUTH. Any reaction here to that proposal?

A: Mrs. Albright was in Brussels at the same meeting. We're having continuing discussions with the French on that issue. We are perfectly prepared to engage in commands where there are European deputies. AFSOUTH is an example of where there have been, and will be in the future, European deputies. But, there's been, as of now, no change in our position.

Q: So a command where there's an equal responsibility ...

A: That's an old proposal. You asked me about that several weeks ago. There has not been a change in our position on that proposal. But, I'm not aware of the specific proposal. If a new proposal was made in Brussels today, I'm not aware of what that was, and Mrs. Albright, who was there, should be the one to comment on that.

Q: In recent days there has been confirmation that millions of years ago an asteroid hit this planet, led to the extinction of dinosaurs and life as the earth knew it at that point, and it took four thousand years after that for the earth to recover. If something of a less catastrophic incident would happen today from an asteroid, does the Pentagon have any plans that they would move into action, move troops around this country to help in such a tragedy?

A: The short answer is, no. But, there's a much longer answer, which is that, as you know, there is currently a joint NASA/U.S. program that tracks near objects in space, and this program is getting more and more ... as I say, it's one that's getting ... it's increasing its capabilities to follow space objects as we learn more from telescopes and have better detection capabilities. There is going on, something called the Near Earth Asteroid Tracking Program, NEAT. Under Secretary Kaminski has put together a working group to investigate what possible future threats could be from asteroid collisions with the world, and looking at ways to cooperate between the Defense Department and NASA for possibly dealing with these.

The issue is sixty-five million years ago, clearly. And, eighty-nine years ago, when a large asteroid exploded, coming into the atmosphere over Siberia, and devastated trees over a huge area, we did not have the capability to spot asteroids whose orbits were changing far out in space. Now, we're developing such a capability. As we develop such a capability, the question arises, "Should we prepare ourselves or develop systems that might be able to respond to an asteroid disaster that we could perhaps detect years ahead of time or predict years ahead of time?" So, that issue is now being studied by the Pentagon in connection with NASA. There's a working group set up by Under Secretary Kaminski on this that will have a report later in the year.

Q: If this were to happen today, then, the answer is, No. We would be defenseless against an asteroid coming through the atmosphere?

A: Is this a variation of the types of questions the Defense Department gets on the Hill all the time? (Laughter)

Look, asteroids range in size from very small objects, which turn up as they come in, to very large objects. I think the definition of an asteroid is something that could be as large as five hundred miles across. I think the meteor that landed in the Gulf of Mexico sixty-five million years ago was maybe 6 miles across, is that correct? So, they come in a wide variety of sizes. Right now, we have the capability to warn people of some potential asteroid disasters. I think the astronomers believe that in many cases we might have a fair amount of time to respond to a falling asteroid.

Q: This working group, can you tell us when Dr. Kaminski established it? And, as a follow-up to that, what forced him to do it now?

A: It was not spurred by the movie or the mini-series. It was something that really flowed naturally out of an increasing ability to track asteroids through this Near Earth Asteroid Tracking program. As I said, it's a follow-on challenge as we learn to do tracking more precisely, and predict asteroid events more precisely than we've been able to in the past.

Q: Do you know when he set it up?

A: It was set up some time ago, several weeks ago, I think, and they're supposed to report in October of 1997.

Just to give you an idea of predictive capabilities. We and NASA predict that in November of 1999 there could be a major meteor storm involving tiny fragments of asteroids and comets that could damage spacecraft or satellites, for instance. If you've been watching the space shuttle and Hubble telescope stories on television, and reading about them over the last couple of days, you'll know that one of the things they're doing is repairing tears in the surface of the Hubble telescope from collisions with little particles in space. So, this is something we're aware of on a variety of planes, and something we're going to be working on increasingly in the next couple of years as we look for additional ways to protect spacecraft.

Q: Is there a terms of reference from Dr. Kaminski?

A: Let me check on that. I don't have it here with me, but we'll check on that and see what we can get.

Press: Thank you.