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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD(PA)
February 13, 1997 1:30 PM EDT
-- Also participating in this briefing is Dr. Bernard Rostker, Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Gulf War Illnesses.

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

I just want to remind you that at 5 o'clock today Secretary Cohen will have a full honors ceremony for Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, making his first visit here to see Secretary Cohen. He's been here before to see Secretary Perry, but this will be his first visit to see Secretary Cohen. They have met before, but not in the Secretary's current capacity. If you want to cover this, for security reasons, unfortunately, you have to be out there an hour early, but we've held the blizzard off, so it's not all bad.

Also, tomorrow, and I think you should have been invited to this, all of you. If you haven't, you can certainly go. Tomorrow at 11 a.m., Deputy Secretary White and General Shalikashvili are both hosting an Armed Forces Full Honor Review which is the formal welcome to the Department of Secretary Cohen. That will be at Conmy Hall at Fort Myer tomorrow at 11. You're all free to go to that. If you need more details, see Terry Mitchell in DDI.

Q: On the Netanyahu visit, do you have a list of subjects that they intend to discuss?

A: Can I just finish with my announcements, and then we can get to that.

Q: Sorry, I thought you were finished.

A: This is a very important announcement, and I want it to be up front so you don't miss it.

We have a Blue Top, this afternoon release, noting that the Department has let $25.3 billion of contracts last year to small businesses. That's a total of 23.7 percent of the contracts let. You can get more details on that from Glenn Flood.

Now I'll take your questions. You were asking me about the meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

First of all, the main reason for his visit to Washington is to talk about the Mid-East peace process with President Clinton and Secretary Albright. That's going on right now. I believe they met for lunch, then they're going to have a meeting, and there will be a press conference after that meeting at approximately 4 o'clock.

His visit to the Pentagon, as I said, is one, to sit down and talk with Secretary Cohen in his new capacity as Secretary of Defense, and it will give Secretary Cohen an opportunity to make several points. The first is one that the President also will make which is the better the peace process goes, the more stability we have in the Middle East and the better it is for both Israel and the United States. That's a very important point, one clearly that Prime Minister Netanyahu understands.

Secondly, the U.S. has been, is, and will be committed to helping Israel maintain a qualitative defense edge in the region. We will review with Israel our common threat assessments, any difference we have in those threat assessments, any agreement we have with particular focus on the challenge of slowing or blocking the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East and other changes that can threaten stability in the Middle East. There will obviously be some discussion of specific defense cooperation such as the Arrow Program or the Nautilus Program, but I wouldn't expect that there would be a lot of details on this because Defense Minister Mordechai is scheduled to meet with Secretary Cohen here in March, and I would expect that the detailed discussion would be reserved for that time.

Q: Speaking of the United States committed to Israel keeping its qualitative edge, does the United States consider that if Saudi Arabia formally asked for F-16 jets, the United States could sell those jets and still allow Israel to keep its qualitative edge? And has Israel registered any kind of advance protest or any kind of advance fear of such a sale?

A: I think those questions are premature. I saw a report yesterday saying that Prince Sultan does not plan to discuss F- 16s when he comes here later this month. He gave a lengthy speech in which he dealt with the F-16 issue in Saudi Arabia a couple of days ago.

Q: But he said in that same speech that they are interested in F-16s, and you yourself said from the podium that Israel is shopping for weapons in this country.

A: Saudi Arabia.

Q: Saudi Arabia, I beg your pardon.

A: Prime Minister Netanyahu was quoted in the wires yesterday as saying that such a sale would be of concern to him, and Prince Sultan, the Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia, was quoted on the wires yesterday as saying that they don't plan to discuss this issue with the United States when he comes here later this month.

I want to go back to what I said last week or the week before. We do not have a firm proposal from Saudi Arabia. I think it's quite clear that we won't have a firm proposal from Saudi Arabia later this month. This is an issue that may be discussed later, but won't be discussed with Saudi Arabia this month.

Q: Would the sale of 100 or so F-16s change the balance of power in the Middle East according to this building?

A: This discussion is premature, because that is not an issue that's going to come up later this month when Prince Sultan comes here, by his own admission.

Q: It could come up this afternoon from the Israeli side.

A: It could come up this afternoon, but I'm not going to discuss this because Prince Sultan has said that he's not going to come with a request.

Q: Let me rephrase the question. From what you just said, you said we want to enable Israel to retain a defense edge. Are we also committed to maintain the balance of power in the Middle East?

A: We will do nothing that compromises Israel's qualitative edge.

Q: With the improved stability in the Mid-East, the spreading peace process, does U.S. military aid to Israel decrease, stay the same, or increase?

A: We've supplied about $30 billion worth of military aid to Israel since 1979, and my anticipation is that this is... That it will stay pretty much at the same level it's been at. But this is ultimately an issue for the President and for Congress to decide.

Q: What if there's further progress of peace with Syria?

A: We hope there will be. When there is, we'll look at the changed dynamics, if that occurs. But one of the pillars of peace since the Camp David process has been the ability of Israel to defend itself in any situation. That remains something to which we're committed. We hope that the peace process ultimately, over time, will reduce the need for arms. We're not there yet. The peace process has a long way to go, and that's the point of the discussions between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Clinton today, looking for ways to accelerate negotiations towards a comprehensive peace.

Q: With the Camp David process, though, we also expanded significantly our aid to Egypt.

A: That's true.

Q: Now do we expand aid to Yassar Arafat and Jordan if we get a peace agreement there?

A: As you know, there is economic aid going to the Palestinian authority.

Q: Change of subject?

A: Yes.

Q: Can you help to clarify a story today quoting a Navy study regarding pregnancies. One part of the story says that Navy women assigned to ships have a higher unwanted pregnancy level, a higher abortion rate than shore duty women. Another part of the story is saying the survey found that women at sea have a lower pregnancy rate than Navy women on shore and civilians. Can you set the record straight on that?

A: Actually, Bernie Rostker, Mr. Persian Gulf Illness, is in the other part of his life the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower, Womanpower, and Reserve Affairs. He's the man deals with these statistics, so I would like to have Bernie take that because no one is better qualified to answer that question than Bernie.

Dr. Rostker: The facts are that the pregnancy rate afloat is lower and in fact markedly lower in combatant ships. The pregnancy rate for women in the Navy is lower than comparable pregnancy rates for women in civilian life across the board. Moreover, it's not a problem.

The Navy could not do without women today. They are an important part of the all volunteer force. I have personally been on ships that have women. The story is that there is no story. I would invite any of you to join me or take advantage of the opportunity to visit and cruise with the ships.

Q: Can you say what those rates are?

Dr. Rostker: I don't have them here, but we can get you those.

Q: That's the essence of...

Q: Are you familiar with those studies?

Dr. Rostker: I'm familiar with the rates. I just don't have them here. Ken grabbed me on this. But those are rates and issues that we deal with all the time. We look at them several times a year. The things that stick in my mind were the decrease from pregnancy rates in the general population and the very low pregnancy rate for women on combatants.

The amount of non-available time is a little larger for women than men, but completely within the realm of the Navy to handle the issue.

Q: Do you have any guidelines as to what percentage of a ship's female contingent would expect to become pregnant during a six-month deployment?

Dr. Rostker: I don't have it off the top of my head, but we can get you those numbers.

Q: Can you also provide the general age range that you're dealing with, average age of women on these ships?

Dr. Rostker: They are from 18 to 40, because they're from the raw recruits to senior petty officers.

Q: Do you keep statistics at all, how many of those women are married?

Dr. Rostker: I don't know the answer to that question. Probably not. We do keep statistics on pregnancy rate by age, by officer/enlisted, by grade. More prevalent in the junior enlisted, very rare in the senior enlisted and in the officer ranks. But much lower than in the age specific civilian cohort, and the lowest rates are on our combatant ships.

Q: What do you think about the suggestion made in that report that these women be put on long term medication such as [inaudible] or other types of pregnancy preventatives?

Dr. Rostker: Birth control methods are available to women on a voluntary basis. This is a personal decision. It's the policy of the Department of the Navy that pregnancy is a normal course of service life for a woman, obviously, and that we will do everything we can to accommodate that in the normal career. We do not automatically separate women because they are pregnant. After 20 weeks the woman must be removed from the ship and would spend the rest of her pregnancy on shore duty. There is a convalescent period, and then the expectation is that the woman would go back to a like billet. So if she was in a sea billet, she will go back to a sea billet. She must provide for the care of her dependent child, just as any single parent or married person must provide for the care of their child, and if they can't do that, that could possibly constitute a hardship, but that would be a hardship regardless of gender on somebody who had a dependent that needed care. But the vast majority go back to the types of positions they have and continue in their naval service.

Q: Oftentimes the charge is made that these women are getting pregnant so they can get off the job. What evidence do you have of that...

Dr. Rostker: I have the anecdotal evidence of talking to women on the ship and how proud they are to serve on the ship. Women literally fight to get on ships. The biggest problem we have is women who don't tell us about their pregnancy because they want to stay on the ship. That's more of a concern for us than women who want to get off the ship. And if they do get off the ship, we return them to the same type of duty. You can't trade sea duty for a permanent shore position. You will go back to sea unless you want to leave the Navy on a hardship.

Q: What is the Navy's bottom line, then, on women and men training together and serving on ships together?

Dr. Rostker: It has not been a problem. It has been a huge success, and I would encourage you to go out on the carriers, on the small boys, on the destroyers where we have women. As I said, the story is that there is no story and that they've done so well.

Q: I believe I read on this subject that male/female sexual relations were prohibited.

Dr. Rostker: We prohibit fraternization. We strongly discourage relationships aboard ship that would be detrimental to good order and discipline. That's not the way we want to run our ships, and that's well understood.

Q: Is there a penalty for the women or for the men that might be responsible?

Dr. Rostker: There is a penalty only if it is fraternization in the legal sense, which is within the chain of command, and any abuse of power. We take that very seriously.

Q: What do you mean...?

Dr. Rostker: If it's a petty officer and a seaman. If it's a chief and a seaman. That would be frowned upon and disciplinary action would be taken because that constitutes fraternization and potentially an abuse of authority, and we are very concerned about that.

Q: Of equal rank, there is no infraction?

Dr. Rostker: There's no infraction, and we try to discourage intimate situations that would be not conducive to a good workplace, just as one would have in any workplace, and remember, people are on 24 hours a day. But our main concern in that regard is fraternization.

Q: Do you have similar statistics that show what the absence rate for men is when you provide us with all those other numbers, and what the reason is for the highest absent rate for males?

Dr. Rostker: Yes. The reason is discipline for males, which is much lower in females; it's not quite comparable in the totality of the numbers. We lose more days with females, but again...

Q: Discipline?

Dr. Rostker: Discipline.

Q: You mean they're thrown in jail?

Dr. Rostker: No, no, no. Mast or other... Men are more likely to miss a sailing than women are, which is a disciplinary action. But traditionally in the services, women have had a lower discipline rate than males have. Again, all of this is within the noise level of the normal operation of a ship.

Q: Not only absentee rates, but by now you've had several major deployments on major ships, and you've got a pretty good in discipline track record. Can you provide not only absent without...

Dr. Rostker: We'll provide...

Q: General statistics on...

Dr. Rostker: ... the last briefing we have internally that tracks the various trends and numbers.

Q: Do you have anything that indicates shipboard conception?

Dr. Rostker: No. It's very difficult to know when a person conceives. We do not.

Q: You can take date of birth and subtract nine months, but...

Q: Are they U.S. citizens if they're on a ship?

Dr. Rostker: Let me tell you, they don't give birth on the ship. We do have a maximum rule. When we estimate 20 weeks of pregnancy, women are taken off all of the ships.

Q: Isn't this an administrative nightmare for an executive officer of a ship to have to cycle people on and off?

Dr. Rostker: We rotate people on and off all the time. I wish we had it stabilized so that you had a crew that trained up and they all went to sea together. That is absolutely not the case. There's constantly turnover in a ship, even in the middle of a deployment. So that is not a problem. And with lead time, the Bureau is able to put a relief in place. So it really isn't...

What would be more of a problem, given the size of the Navy and proportion of women in the ships is if we didn't have women, we'd start gapping billets. What we had before we allowed women, for example, to go to sea is we would have an aviation squadron and the senior aviation chief might be female, and she could be with that aviation squadron as long as they were dockside, and as soon as they went to sea, we couldn't take her to sea with us. That made no real sense, but that's the way we operated for a long time. Today that woman goes to sea and she is the senior chief on the Nimitz in one of the aviation squadrons. That's a true story, because I talked to that person. She missed a lot of deployments when she was an aviation technician, but now with the ability to go to sea she doesn't miss that, and we have more continuity from the shore side to the sea side than we had before.

Q: Do you have any idea how many women are on how many combat ships right now?

Dr. Rostker: I don't have it, but I can give that to you. Actually what happened is the number of women at sea actually decreased until late last year or early this year because we were decommissioning ships. Now we're coming back up and the size of the women afloat is increasing. And increasing, going on more and more combatants.

We also, I think you'd be interested to know, just don't put one woman on a ship. When we put women on a ship we go in, we do a ship mod, and there has to be a critical mass. That critical mass is not just young recruits. It's the entire chain of command, so there is adequate supervision in terms of chiefs and lead petty officers, first class petty officers, and recruits. So we make sure there is an adequate supervision... And female officers. We make sure there is an adequate supervision and support system for the women when they go on ship.

Q: One more question on this, sorry to belabor it. But the Navy basically does not want sailors -- male and female -- on ships to have sexual relations. The Navy does not want pregnancy coming from shipboard. So why is there not regulation, why is there not an off-limits on quarters to enforce this?

Dr. Rostker: First of all, we don't have mixed gender berthing compartments. There are female berthing compartments and male compartments. When I say berthing, that's what they're called, berthing compartments.

Q: B-E-R. [Laughter]

Dr. Rostker: A term of tradition for the Navy. But they are totally separate and they don't mix. We don't want situations on any of our ships that are detrimental to good order and discipline and the operation of the ship in the most professional fashion. The part we are absolutely concerned about is any abuse of authority, any harassment, anything that would be in the chain of command that would be viewed as fraternization.

Q: So the Navy really does not prohibit sexual relations on board ships...

Dr. Rostker: We recognize it as a biological fact of life, and it is not a court martial offense, to the best of my knowledge, to do that except to, to be engaged that way, except in the context of the fraternization regulations.

Q: Isn't it a Captain's Mast though or Article 15 if the captain views it as disrupting good order?

Dr. Rostker: It could.

Q: Isn't that the routine punishment for...

Dr. Rostker: It depends upon the circumstances, Pat. There's no hard and fast rule in this regard. It depends upon the circumstances.

Mr. Bacon: Why don't you direct them all up to CHINFO for these figures? Admiral Pease and his crack staff are standing by ready to give you all these figures.

Q: But you're the policy...

Dr. Rostker: I am the Senior Advisor to the Secretary of the Navy on these issues.

Q: Another service that's had great problems recently that they're dealing with...

Dr. Rostker: I think I've read about that.

Q: Do you have a sense that this is a problem, still, in the Navy? Do you see reports of rape and harassment and sodomy to the number that you're seeing in another service here? Not to be critical, but just to offer some perspective about where this problem is?

Dr. Rostker: The Navy has not been without its problems, and the Navy, as an institution, has learned a lot from Tailhook. For example, we initiated a hotline system in 1992. We have a very aggressive system in the Navy and the Marine Corps for sexual harassment. In the Navy, for example, if a charge is raised, it must be dealt with or reported to Navy headquarters within two weeks, and then reported again every two weeks until it's cleared. The Marine Corps has a slightly different but similar policy. The Navy has gone out many years ago and created a handbook on sexual harassment and it talks about red lights and green lights and which shoulder you can touch, and everybody laughed at it, and it is very effective. People know, you look at the human relations questionnaires, and you'll see sharp improvement in the Navy on these issues with the Navy getting very high marks, particularly on the issue of does the Navy get the word, do you understand about sexual harassment policies and the like, and we can share that data with you. Part of it is OSD data. We have our own questionnaires that go out.

After the Aberdeen situation, we went out in both services and did a whole range of focus groups with particular emphasis on our schoolhouses. That went from mid-December to mid-January. Those focus groups were not only with trained facilitators, but had a, if you will, a relief valve through chaplains and legal. So if an issue came up that in the focus groups had a legal aspect, there was a lawyer there to immediately take the case. Thank the Lord we had no cases that they had to immediately take, certainly none that I know of.

Q: What kind of focus groups...?

Dr. Rostker: We found that there is a high degree of understanding of what the Navy policy is. That doesn't mean that we can be complacent. It doesn't mean that I couldn't be surprised tomorrow morning. But it means that the leadership is focusing on it and has been focusing on it. We were burned very badly in Tailhook, as you know, and it's caused a great deal of focus on these issues. When we put women at sea it caused a great deal of focus on these issues to make sure we didn't have those problems, and we're very diligent about that. But we're talking about men and women and unlike equipment, they tend to be unpredictable and do funny things at times, but we are quite diligent in watching this.

Q: You say you went out in December and January and looked for complaints? You asked people...

Dr. Rostker: We asked, we had focus groups throughout the United States and we can get you information. CHINFO can provide that information also on our focus group program that went out in December and January.

Q: Does Congress still require you to flag the records of men who were at Tailhook or had some...

Dr. Rostker: Yes, we still have a Tailhook certification process.

Q: Have you asked this new Congress to undo that yet?

Dr. Rostker: The last... We have not. The last understanding with Congress is that we would go through one round of Tailhook certification, and once Congress had passed, had reviewed the record the first time, in light of Tailhook, we would not certify for subsequent promotions. But we still have that, and there is a general requirement coming out of that for all services, that we examine all adverse information through the process, and that we deal with it and notify Congress of any adverse information of anybody we are bringing before the Congress for promotion. We have a whole vetting process now that follows the selection process to make sure we have reviewed all records.

Q: You've indicated, and I want to ask you this specifically, you found an indication of superiors, especially training facilities, superiors preying on the trainees?

Dr. Rostker: That's right.

Q: No hotline reports, nothing through...

Dr. Rostker: Not that I know of. We had an incident about a year and a half ago in San Diego, and it was dealt with very quickly and directly. But I, certainly at this point none are pending in my jurisdiction.

Q: But you went looking for it, right?

Dr. Rostker: Yes, sir. We went looking for it through the focus group process. Again, we can brief you on that whole process that we went through.

Q: How many schools does the Navy have? Where did you look?

Dr. Rostker: We have all of our, in some ways it's a little easier than the Army. All of our recruit training now is at Great Lakes. A great deal of our A School training, our initial technical training, is at Great Lakes, Pensacola, some in San Diego. We have a limited number of places, and they tend to be schoolhouses directly. We also, in this process, looked at the transient barracks where people would come in on a temporary basis for a day or two or three, and to make sure that in those environments we also were not seeing anything that was out of the ordinary.

Q: Last night in a long lead story on the Rather show on CBS the Gulf War Syndrome came up. Without getting specific, first of all, what was your reaction to it? And secondly, anticipating a follow-up, the story, at best, implied that the Department of Defense was inefficient in its handling of data. So again, just basically, how do you feel about that?

Dr. Rostker: One of the things that was very clear to me when I took on this job... Remember, I had an incubation period where I was able to go around and talk to everybody -- with a team go around and talk to everybody -- before I had come to the conclusion and shared that with Secretary White, that we needed to change our resources and change our focus. In that regard, some of the things that you saw were some of the things that led me to the conclusion we had to do things differently.

The other thing that came clear was, and I plowed all of the ground that CBS reported on, was that there were real people here. When Denny Ross talked about what he knew and why he reacted to the 1991 UN message, that that wasn't a conspiracy. That was an analyst trying to do his job. I was eager to see the face of the people who made these decisions get before the American public, and it happened that CBS asked for our cooperation in putting that story together, and frankly, I facilitated the access to those analysts -- both at the CIA, and they were eager to do that, too, although you didn't see Larry Fox's face. But we made sure that DIA would make Denny Ross available... He was the guy who made the call.

You saw him say 'they didn't tell me'. We asked and they didn't tell me. There's actually a little bit more of a story, and I can share that with you. In fact, you can see that story on GulfLink, because as we have been working towards putting our Khamisiyah narrative together, which I had hoped to be able to share with you today but it just isn't ready -- I'm looking forward to doing that next week -- As we were putting that story together, two pieces of information that had, unfortunately, remained classified became critical, and I ordered them, as soon as I saw them, I ordered them declassified. CIA was very forthcoming in doing that and publishing it on GulfLink. You can find that on GulfLink today, just by going into CIA and looking at the latest release.

What those two pieces of paper talk about was the fact that where Denny said they didn't tell me, in fact the intelligence community tried to find out what unit was at Khamisiyah, and the intelligence folks contacted ARCENT, the Army component commander in the Gulf. They were told, and it's in the messages, that the 24th Infantry Division was in that vicinity. That's correct. It was in that vicinity, but they were not at Khamisiyah. The demolitions at Khamisiyah were done by the 37th Engineer Battalion of the 20th Engineer Brigade, an element of the XVIIIth Airborne Corps, but not the 24th Division. So the people who tried to get, for Denny and the rest of the community, tried to get this information, were given a bum steer as to where to look.

The second message that was declassified accounts or recounts a phone call to Fort Stewart, to the 24th, asking them about or what they did at Khamisiyah. Actually what's redacted is the name of the individual they called. We have subsequently spoken to that individual. He has no specific recollection of the phone call. We have spoken to his supervisor who has no specific recollection of being told about the phone call. So it wasn't like they didn't tell me because they didn't want to tell me. The intelligence community, and I can't tell you which arm because that was sources and methods, but the intelligence community went out, went to ARCENT, went to the 24th Division, and got bad poop.

Q: Why can't you tell us whether it was CIA or DIA?

Dr. Rostker: It was CIA.

Q: Why can't you tell us...

Dr. Rostker: I can't. It was what was redacted.

Q: The individual, you mean?

Dr. Rostker: The individual. The name was redacted for privacy purposes. You'll see the message, the addresses and who sent to who, but it was all within the intelligence community, and you can read the words yourself. It was a bum steer. The guy, whoever they went to in ARCENT, knew the 24th was up in that area, in fact they were in that area, but they were to the east of Khamisiyah, and that just got everybody off on the wrong track.

Q: Maybe I'm confused, but I guess those of us who have been covering the Khamisiyah story with you, with others here that perhaps know a little more than people just watching the tube. And I have the greatest respect for David, but I didn't see the news last night. What was the news peg last night? What was the news story?

Dr. Rostker: You'd have to talk to David.

Q: What did you see on the news story?

Dr. Rostker: What was the question Dan Rather asked at the beginning? It was, was there a cover-up or was this bungling? He comes to the conclusion that it wasn't a cover-up. That was the news story.

Q: So it was inefficiency or bungling?

Dr. Rostker: That's the way they highlighted it, and they answered their question.

Q: What the news was, here is another CIA disclosure. That they went to ARCENT and ARCENT... ARCENT goes to the 24th, or CIA goes to the 24th?

Dr. Rostker: CIA went to the 24th. ARCENT simply tells them that the unit that was in the area was the 24th Infantry Division.

Q: Did the CIA tell ARCENT we're looking for chemical exposure of the troops? We may have a chemical exposure thing?

Dr. Rostker: They indicate that in the message, but I think the important part of the message is trying to find the troops, and they got off on the wrong track.

Q: But they did contact the 24th, is that right?

Dr. Rostker: They contacted a person in the 24th who six years later has no recollection of that, and we find no other... That's where the trail ends.

Q: Did this individual say he heard a lot from the CIA?

Dr. Rostker: He has no recollection of ever being contacted.

Q: By the CIA?

Dr. Rostker: By anybody on this issue.

Q: Don't you find that strange, given the heightened awareness and the questions that were being asked during the Gulf War, even before the troops went over, the concern about chemical warfare by Saddam Hussein, that somebody wouldn't remember something like that...

Dr. Rostker: I don't know the way the question was asked. The question may well have been asked, which implied, is were you guys at Khamisiyah or a place called Khamisiyah? If I were the person in the G-2 section who got that question I would have said no, and that would have been the end of the conversation.

Q: Wouldn't you check a map?

Dr. Rostker: They weren't a Khamisiyah.

Q: According to the commanding general they were within 30 to 40 klicks...

Dr. Rostker: They weren't at the ammo dump at Khamisiyah. That's like saying are you in Baltimore, and I'm saying no, but I'm within what, 50 miles of Baltimore. The question is, was I at Baltimore.

Q: Did you talk to General McCaffrey after this?

Dr. Rostker: Yes. I have talked to him, yes.

Q: What does he say now? His entire division was there, or...

Dr. Rostker: It's very clear that the database that we have been relying on, that the Army put together, is built from the bottom up. In other words, the people, the technicians who built the database were looking for pieces of record that would have position, time, and unit. We followed through, what Pat's talking about is General McCaffrey's concern. We followed through and reassessed the journals that General McCaffrey suggested we reassess, and it showed no more light on a bottom- up. What is very clear is we've got to come top-down. We've got to bring the G-3s in and sit down and compare their recollections and the bottom-up database. We don't have a good picture. We will be doing that with the Army who is the executive agent for this. We'll be doing that in the spring. But we concur with General McCaffrey's concern that we don't have a good picture. So you would have to say at this point the 20,000 is the best number we have, but not a final number.

Q: This spring you could revise it substantially.

Dr. Rostker: Right. We could. One of the other things you need to know is that Khamisiyah lies next to a major highway, and over the ten days of the period that we have identified, we don't know who transited that highway. So I can only tell you, we have one estimate which we are quite agreed with you, Pat, is not a definitive estimate, and we will be trying to get a better picture of who may have been there during the ten-day period.

Q: Why do you have to wait until this spring?

Q: Why can't you do it by next week? That's what we want to know.

Dr. Rostker: Because I've got other things I need to do next week, like do the Khamisiyah narrative, like continue to work on the questionnaires we're getting back from Khamisiyah. In good order, we will do this.

Let me remind you that the main thing you get if you're within 50 kilometers is a letter which says please come in if you have a health concern. That request goes out to everybody all the time. If you have a health concern, we want you to come in. So there's no great ticket here by being or not being, as far as our database is concerned, within the 50 kilometers. But we are committed to try to get the best picture, and in an orderly fashion we will bring in the people who can give us a top-down view, as well as having a bottom-up view.

Q: It goes to the heart of your survey of people in the area of Khamisiyah, doesn't it?

Dr. Rostker: I agree with you. It is not a 100-percent sample of the people in Khamisiyah, so we will, instead of calling it a 100-percent sample, we will say it is a sizable sample. We've sent out 17,000 questionnaires. That should give us a good sense of what went on around Khamisiyah and the health impacts, and we will be doing subsequent inquiries. But I'm just not there yet.

Q: When you say this spring, do you mean the vernal equinox or...

Dr. Rostker: I'm just starting to talk to the Army about the need to do this and when we're going to set it up. We have not set a date.

Q: They don't want to talk about it, I don't think.

Dr. Rostker: No, the Army has agreed that they will work with us and sponsor a conference to bring in the higher level people to compare the two approaches, but that takes a bit of preparation, and we have just started that. I can't give you a date because I don't have a date.

Q: It's hard to get anybody better than Barry McCaffrey, isn't it?

Dr. Rostker: But Barry is not the only unit that was up there. There are other units in the XVIIIth Airborne Corps. If we have a problem in Khamisiyah we may have problems in other places. We want to do it in a way that is most productive, that gives us the best information.

Q: Can we try a few questions for Ken?

Press: Thank you.

Mr. Bacon: Thank you very much, Bernie. Bernie just came by because standing here and taking your questions is a lot more fun than all the alternatives he had today. [Laughter]

Q: The Korea defection. What does the Department believe the significance of that, the defection of the North Korean high level official?

A: I think it's another sign of strains in North Korea. A sign of possible strains afflicting the regime, as well as the country as a whole. We already know that they're facing a hunger problem, a food shortage. We know that their training levels have been substantially below their norms for their military recently. We know that it's a regime that appears to be changing the way it deals with the outside world, that's less hermetic than it was in the past. We know that for one good reason alone, which is the Framework Agreement signed in 1994, under which they agreed to give up their nuclear program and to deal with us and other countries to help them reconstitute a domestic civilian power program.

So we, I think, will learn more over time from this than we know now. It only happened recently. We have not yet spoken with the defector, Mr. Hwang. It's probably premature to draw firm conclusions as to the significance until there's more time to learn what he is saying.

Q: ...in terms of any heightened alert on either side of the line? Is there any increased tension because of this defection?

A: We have not seen anything along those lines yet. I say we have not seen anything along those lines.

Q: Has the U.S. military attache's office at the Embassy in Beijing asked to participate with the South Koreans in interviewing Mr. Hwang? And does the U.S. have anything to say about Mr. Hwang's freedom to leave China?

A: We work very closely with our allies, the South Koreans. I don't know what conversations we've had with them on this particular case, but I would expect that we would continue to work very closely with them on this, and with all issues affecting the political stability of the Korean peninsula and the security of the Korean peninsula.

Q: The U.S. DIA would expect to be invited by the South Koreans to participate?

A: I think I've said all I'm going to say about our close relationship with the government of the Republic of Korea.

Q: Can you run through what you know about Mr. Hwang's role in the North Korean government and how high level he really is?

A: Much of this has been reported in the press, and you can read it as well as I can. He is in his early 70s. He has helped educate the current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Il. He helped write many of the ideological tracts and monographs that were issued by the North Korean regime over the years. He ran the Kim Il Sung University for quite some time, and it was in that capacity that he tutored Kim Jong Il. He was close to Kim Jong Il's father, Kim Il Sung as an advisor, as a ideological advisor among other things. He has not only educated Kim Jong Il but many of the top leaders of Korea. He has a job that's equivalent to being the Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, House International Relations Committee. He is married, reportedly married to a relative of Kim Il Sung's, and therefore Kim Jong Il's. He has been one of the major figures in North Korean external relations. He's a figure who's been allowed to travel. In fact he was coming back from a trip to Japan where he, among other things, was trying to raise money to help North Korea deal with its food shortages.

Q: As Secretary Cohen testified yesterday before Congress on the issue of missiles to Cypress, quote, "It's a very sensitive situation. Things are getting really out of hand. It could provoke a conflict."

I am wondering why, since Mr. Cohen imposed already the (inaudible) moratorium over Cypress which existed, and the Cypriot president accept the fact of the U.S. proposal of not deploying those missiles for the next 16 months, even without any kind of guarantee. Could you please elaborate, why Secretary Cohen is so anxious now at this particular time?

A: As has been stated from this lectern, from Nick Burns' lectern at the State Department, and from Mike McCurry's lectern at the White House, we believe that all disputes between Greece and Turkey should be resolved peacefully. Not just this dispute in Cypress but all disputes between those two NATO allies should be resolved peacefully. And we believe that the introduction of high performance weaponry onto Cypress and into the area can only destabilize the situation. And we've made that very clear. It remains our view. That's what Secretary Cohen was expressing.

Q: In the same testimony, Secretary Cohen stated regarding Cypress, quote, "should [inaudible] certain types of missiles that could provoke the other side to try and take them out."

Based on this statement, the Turkish military today, in Ankara is thinking about preemptive strikes against the [inaudible] for Cypress. Therefore, I would like to know what Secretary Cohen meant exactly with this particular statement.

A: Secretary Cohen meant that introducing new sophisticated weapons into that theater is provocative and therefore dangerous and destabilizing, and we're against that.

Q: And according to a U.S. memo attributed to DoD in January, "Advance authorization has been granted by the Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis for the Greek armed forces to retaliate immediately [on an equal way] if Turkey attempts any bilateral (inaudible) of Cypress or in the Aegean. If Turkey," according to the same memo, "will attack in Cypress, Greece will reply against targets in Turkey, and not in Cyprus, such as bridges, military bases, etc. If Turkey responds (inaudible) to hit in the Aegean, taking over the Greek islands, Greece will retaliate and taking over an island, too."

Q: Could you please confirm this memo? Clarify why Greece, (inaudible) to take over islands which are Greek.

A: I know nothing about that memo, and therefore, I can't comment on it.

Q: What did you say?

A: I know nothing about that memo, and therefore, I can't comment on it.

Q: Are you aware of any kind of special precautions or movements of forces in SFOR in anticipation of this Brcko arbitration agreement?

A: First of all, both the leaders of the Serb side, Madame Plavsic, and the leader of Bosnia-Herzegovenia, President Izetbegovic, have stated that they plan to cooperate with the arbitration decision and to do their best to make it work. So we don't anticipate that there will be big trouble when this decision is announced, probably tomorrow.

Secondly, General Crouch has met with Madam Plavsic, and she has also said that she believes that the parties must fully support the upcoming decision.

Beyond that, there have been meetings at Camp McGovern, which is where the U.S. forces are based nearby, of local police authorities and civic authorities, and they have said that they will support the decision no matter how it turns out, so there have been statements from the leaders and from the local police and civic officials that they do not anticipate problems, and hope to cooperate.

Having said that, the U.S. has about 1,000 people stationed at Camp McGovern which is approximately five kilometers away from Brcko, and over the last several days, weeks, they have increased their patrols, they have increased their surveillance. There has been a very extensive education campaign underway using radio, using newspapers, meetings, etc., to reach out and talk to people on both sides to help prepare the way for this decision, and to impress upon them the importance of reacting peacefully to whatever the decision is.

There are also, we don't anticipate that there are going to be problems. SFOR is not the police force in the area. We have, working with the allies in the contact group, actually increased the international police task force in the area from about 120... We're in the process of increasing it to 120 from approximately 20 now. It will be up to the local police forces, working under the guidance and in cooperation with the IPTF, to provide the police network that would respond to demonstrations or very local security problems.

So over the short term the IPTF is being increased. Over the longer term, the members of the contact group will look at trying to create maybe a new police force that can work with or monitor the existing police forces, the Serb and the Bosnian police forces in the area. But that's a longer-term solution.

SFOR will continue to provide area security, just as it does now. It will continue to focus on stability throughout the entire country, leaving the police to do the police tasks.

Should there be problems, and as I say we don't anticipate problems, we do have a fairly robust reserve network, reserve forces in the area that can be moved in quickly. There are both theater reserves and there are out-of-theater reserves that could be moved in if necessary. But those are basically the changes that we've made so far.

Q: The Congressional Budget Office has another report out today on the Department's tactical aircraft programs. It says the cost of the F-22 and the Joint Strike Fighter seem to have been substantially understated by the Department, and it suggests that all the Tac Air programs are unaffordable.

Is Secretary Cohen comfortable with those cost estimates now? And does he think the programs are affordable as now projected?

A: As was explained to you during the background budget briefing last week, the Secretary of the Air Force has asked the contractor to take a very hard look at the F-22 program costs, and the whole cost of the program now is under review, and I think it would be premature to comment on it. Also, the whole question of Tac Air, the mix of Tac Air, the affordability of Tac Air, the way Tac Air fits into our strategy, is under review as part of the Quadrennial Defense Review right now. I think that Secretary Cohen will withhold his conclusions until one, he gets firmer cost estimates on the F-22 program and maybe other programs; and two, until he has a chance to evaluate Tac Air in the context of the QDR findings.

Q: Does Secretary Cohen remain confident in the leadership by Secretary West and General Reimer on the issue of sexual harassment?

A: Yes. He has confidence... He has been talking to them on a regular basis about what's going on with sexual harassment. It's a multi-part approach to the problem. It's a problem that cannot be resolved immediately.

As you know, there's first the judicial part, the prosecution of people who have been charged, the examination of those charges, and the legal proceedings that follow from the charges. TRADOC has done a review of training. There has been a review throughout the Army of the sexual harassment rules and some refresher courses given throughout the Army and all this. That's pretty much complete now except for reserve units. The Secretary of the Army has set up a senior panel to look at training and to recommend changes that might be necessary to deal with this problem. That panel was supposed to complete its work and submit a study in June with, I think, a preliminary study in May. There's also an Army IG investigation into a variety of questions including the reaction of the chain of command at Aberdeen and other places to these charges.

Underlying all of that, of course, is the hotline which continues to receive calls from people throughout the Army, and in fact sometimes from people from other services as well, because the hotline number has been so publicized that people from other services are just calling that number as the one they see. Those cases are being investigated.

I think more than 1,000 cases have been turned over to the CID for an investigation. So this is an aggressive program with many components, not all of which can be completed immediately.

Q: He's confident in their leadership.

A: Yes, he is.

Press: Thank you.

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