DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. I'd hate to interrupt all this joking and laughter with a briefing, but that's exactly what I'm here to do.
First of all, I'd like to start by welcoming 14 officers from all services... Even the Navy? All services, yes, all services here as part of the Joint Officer Public Affairs Course. It's a two-week course to train public affairs officers in the mysteries of joint operations. So we welcome you, and hope you learn a lot.
With that, I will take your questions.
Q: A German newspaper is reporting today that the UN suspects that the Iraqis are building new missiles, and that the United States is considering a possible cruise missile strike on Iraq. Have you any comment on that?
A: First of all, I think you should probably check with the UN about what their conclusions are. As you know, UN inspectors under UNSCOM go to Iraq from time to time to monitor their compliance with UN Security Council resolutions. Iraq has been notable for its lack of compliance with those resolutions. It has failed, for instance, to give a complete accounting to Kuwaiti POWs, MIAs. It has failed to return equipment that it captured from Kuwait during the Gulf War. It also does not grant free access to the UNSCOM inspectors, and as you know, that's led by Rolf Ekeus.
The UN sanctions against Iraq prohibit it from building missiles. We know, and UNSCOM has reported this in the past, that we believe they are hiding as many as 18 to 25 SCUD missiles in Iraq. This is against the sanctions. We've made it very clear to Saddam. Saddam continues to violate the UN Security Council resolutions in a number of respects. I've enumerated those before. We think it would be wise for Saddam to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions. We've said that many times in the past. We'll continue to say that. You'll have to go to UNSCOM in particular to ask them what their reports are, what their latest reports are. Obviously I can't describe what our future actions will be, but we've shown time and time again that we're prepared to protect U.S. forces and prepared to protect our interests in the Gulf.
Q: Does the Pentagon see any evidence that they are rebuilding their missile forces?
A: I think that the UNSCOM inspectors are those who go in from time to time, and they're the people who should talk about what Iraq is or is not doing at this time. I would just refer you to UNSCOM on that.
Q: Are there indications in this building that as far as you know, they are hiding inventory or that they might be building new inventory?
A: We believe that they possess an operational SCUD missile capability of about 18 to 25 missiles. Some of those have been hidden.
Q: But you have no direct indication that they're building new ones?
A: I told you, and I'll say it again. You should talk to UNSCOM about what UNSCOM's findings are about Iraq from its latest visit there.
Q: Is the U.S. currently looking at a strike as an option?
A: I'm sort of wondering how quickly or how slowly or how evasively to answer that question. Would you like to give us all our contingency plans? We don't discuss operational plans. You know as well as I do from sitting here and watching our actions over the last couple of years that we're fully prepared and fully ready to protect our troops and our interests in the Gulf.
Q: In the past when there have been heightened tensions in the region, the U.S. has moved additional assets into the Persian Gulf. Are there any such movements underway now?
A: We have about 20,000 to 21,000 military personnel in the Gulf right now. That number bounces up and down according to ship deployments, primarily -- whether we have Marine Amphibious Ready Groups there and whether we have carriers in the area. There's a carrier there about nine out of every 12 months, and sometimes in times of tension there are two carriers there. There are Marines on station there, usually for at least six out of every 12 months. So there is a fairly steady rotation of Marines and carriers through the area. We can augment our forces with Air Expeditionary Forces from time to time, and also with Army forces going in to exercise with prepositioned equipment. This happens in a normal rotation. There is nothing abnormal happening right now about force levels in the Gulf. But I want to point out that we have about 20,000 or 21,000 people there now, and that's a very substantial force.
Q: Can you tell us what the Secretary of Defense's reaction is to these stories about the Sergeant Major of the Army? He did profess quite recently the zero tolerance policy. I'm wondering how he'll apply that here.
A: First of all, he's been briefed on the situation. He was briefed yesterday on the situation. His staff was briefed yesterday. Secretary West called Secretary Cohen shortly after learning of the charges. The Army has announced that it's conducting an investigation of the charges, and that investigation will continue and Secretary Cohen is confident that the Army will investigate the charges quickly, fairly, and fully. Beyond that, these are charges that have to be investigated.
Q: Secretary Perry had a meeting with the top enlisted personnel from each of the services fairly regularly. Do you know, is Secretary Cohen planning to continue that?
A: Yes. Secretary Cohen is planning to continue the so- called Senior Enlisted Council which is the senior enlisted representative of each service. For instance, the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, the Sergeant Major of the Army, etc.
Q: Has he had a chance to have an intro meeting with them yet?
A: He has met with them, yes. He met with them as a group. It was actually more than a week ago. He met with them right about the time he was sworn in as Secretary.
Q: Do you know what Secretary Cohen's response was to West when West told him about this latest episode?
A: Secretary Cohen is very concerned about these charges. He's very concerned about incidents of sexual harassment. He's made it very clear that he has a zero tolerance policy. He has talked with the Secretary of the Army about the investigations that are going on on a number of occasions, but right now these are investigations going on in the Army. The Army has set up commissions. The Army has generated an IG investigation as well of a number of topics related to sexual harassment. And Secretary Cohen believes that the Army is proceeding adequately along the path that it's laid out for itself at this stage.
Q: Have there been any departmental actions about the Marines "winging" of their graduates? That has been commented on, but I don't know if there's any specific action that's been taken by the Department.
A: Let me go into that briefly. As you know, on Friday Secretary Cohen announced that he had asked the Chairman, General Shalikashvili, to meet with the Chiefs to discuss hazing. General Shalikashvili did that on Saturday. He met with the Chiefs and discussed a number of issues including hazing. He asked the Chiefs at that time to report back to him. To look at their anti-hazing policies, regulations, directives, etc.; to review records that they may have about hazing incidents; to talk to commanders about hazing; and to report back to him about one, any additional actions that are needed, and also what the status is of dealing with hazing incidents in their services, whether they consider it to be a significant problem, whether they have recent incidents of hazing, etc. They will report back to him relatively soon, probably within the next week or so. And General Shalikashvili will then assemble this information, his staff will study it, and he will then make recommendations to Secretary Cohen. They'll decide to do the next step after that.
The point is that this is not a back burner issue. The Secretary asked the Chairman to do this on Friday, the Chairman did it on Saturday, he started the services working on the problem, getting back to him with information. That will happen relatively soon. Then they'll make recommendations to Secretary Cohen.
Q: At the hearing today, evidently there were some comments made, concerns of males and females training together. What's the Secretary's position on that? Does he believe this should be an issue that... Another look taken at that as well?
A: The Secretary addressed this during his confirmation hearings, and I don't have the text of those hearings in front of me, but my recollection is that he said that we would study training and all questions raised by training situations.
As you know, the Army and the other services have men and women training together -- the Army, the Air Force and the Navy have men and women training together. The Marines do it separately in basic training -- I'm talking about basic training here. Men and women train separately.
Today on the Hill the Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Staff both emphasized their commitment to coeducational or combined training. They think that works well for the Army because men and women deploy together in the Army and they should train together. The Marines have a different philosophy.
Secretary Cohen has not said that he would change this, either in the Marines or the Army, but he does plan to take a hard look at training. My guess is that some of his early trips with the Senior Enlisted Council will focus on training and what it takes to turn a civilian into a soldier, sailor, airman and Marine, what works and what doesn't work and what changes might have to be made.
Q: He said he wanted to make some domestic trips first...
A: I don't believe he has scheduled any domestic trips yet.
Q: There's some indication that the Sergeant Major Hoster's allegations were put in the chain of command back in June. That people in the chain of command to Secretary of the Army, Army Chief of Staff, and even your office at the Pentagon should have been aware of this back in June. Can you elucidate on that?
A: Not much, no. I know that allegations have been made. All of these charges will be investigated. Let me just talk a little bit about how that's going to happen.
As you know, Sergeant Major Hoster mailed her complaint to the Criminal Investigation Division of the Army. It arrived yesterday afternoon. So the CID will begin to investigate the complaints. It will look at all aspects of the complaint -- both the complaint as it applies to Sergeant Major of the Army McKinney, and the complaint as it applies to other people as well, whether they performed their jobs or didn't perform their jobs.
If the CID determines that there are not criminal charges to pursue, it will then turn over the investigation to the Army Inspector General's office and it will follow on with that. Right now we have allegations. Sergeant Major of the Army McKinney has denied the allegations. I think we just have to approach them with a sense of fairness and let the investigators determine what conclusions are correct.
Q: Were you familiar with Sergeant Hoster personally?
A: I don't believe I met her, but I could have met her on one of the Senior Enlisted trips, but I don't have a recollection of that.
Q: You have no personal knowledge of...
A: No. I did not...
A: No. I did not deal with her directly and I had no personal knowledge of this until yesterday.
Q: Because he's a Sergeant Major of the Army, are you comfortable as the Department spokesman, that the Army is capable of investigating itself in this situation?
A: I am. I think that so far the results of the sexual harassment charges at Aberdeen and Fort Leonard Wood and elsewhere have shown that the Army is doing an aggressive job of investigating itself and of investigating these charges. But I want to point out again, these are charges. They are not proven. I think we have to be fair in treating these as charges until they're fully investigated. But I think it's very clear from the number of people who have been brought up on court martial charges at Aberdeen, for instance, that the Army is moving very aggressively on a number of fronts to deal with sexual harassment.
Q: Did you talk to Colonel Gaylord about this? He apparently heard from the sergeant back in June...
A: I'm not an investigator. These are going to be very fully investigated.
Q: I know that, but I'm asking you did you talk to Colonel Gaylord about this?
A: I did not. I have not spoken to him about this.
Q: As of last June, were Army officers under mandatory instructions to pass on allegations of sexual harassment when a female subordinate came to them, or did they have the option of dropping it there?
A: I'm afraid I cannot answer that question. I don't think it's fair or worthwhile for me to talk at all about the details of this case until it's been fully investigated by the Army authorities, and that's happening. It is happening now and they'll proceed as quickly as they can. I don't know the answer to that question. But even if I did know the answer, I think you would have to know more than just the answer to make any conclusions about what went on here.
Q: The Secretary expressed his desire to work for early ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Senator Helms released a letter yesterday that indicates that he's going to hold that treaty hostage for all the other foreign policy goals of the Senate leadership. Do you know if the Secretary has any plans or if he has so far had any conversations with his former colleagues in the Senate about moving this treaty along?
A: He has spoken with Senator Daschle, I know, about the Chemical Weapons Convention, and he does plan to speak to other senators about it. I don't know whether he has yet. He has said publicly on a number of occasions that he's a strong advocate of this treaty.
Just to go back in history, it was during the Reagan Administration that the decision was made that America should destroy its chemical weapon stockpiles by I think the year 2004. It was during the Bush Administration that the Chemical Weapons Convention was signed. So this is a project that this country has worked on across two decades, and across three administrations. And it is something that has had strong political support from both ends of the political spectrum over time, and he will work aggressively to get this treaty ratified, this convention ratified.
Q: Back to sexual harassment for a moment. Does Secretary Cohen have any intention to meet with the Siegfried Panel, or does he consider that an Army affair and he won't get into it until they report?
A: His inclination is to let the Army do its work here. The Army has charted a pretty clear path, and that path has a number of parts to it. One, obviously, is the panel. The other is the IG investigation. The third is the disciplinary actions against people. The investigation of charges that have been brought against people, and disciplinary actions where appropriate. The fourth, of course, is to follow through on all the charges that have been called into the hotline.
So I think he'll just let the Army proceed with its work there until it's completed. I think the panel is supposed to complete its work in May, and I think the IG investigation should be completed in a couple of months, I would think.
I want to just point out one other thing which is that the Chief of Staff of the Army directed a comprehensive sexual harassment teaching program for all levels of Army command, and that's supposed to be, all active duty soldiers are supposed to be trained not later than March 31st, and all Reserve soldiers not later than May 31st.
Q: That was issued when?
A: I'll get the date for you on that. I don't know. I think it may have been issued back in November, but I'll get the exact date. We can also get you, I can either give you now or we can get you a brief description of what this training is supposed to involve.
Q: Another sergeant was charged, or announcement was just made a short time ago, about yet another sergeant at Aberdeen being charged with a series of counts.
Q: Was that one of the soldiers who had been under investigation? Was this as a result of a hotline call? And how many... What's the breakdown of instructors there in terms of how many have been relieved and how many are still available as instructors?
A: At Aberdeen there were spaces for 44 drill sergeants; 42 of those spaces were filled. A total of 20 people at Aberdeen have been relieved of their duties dealing with trainees. Ten of those were drill sergeants; ten were other training cadre -- platform instructors, etc. Because Aberdeen is an active duty training operation, it can request people to fill vacancies and get those vacancies filled very quickly. So those vacancies have been filled and the training has continued.
Q: Filled by people brought in from other facilities?
A: Yes, other drill sergeants from elsewhere who have been trained to take on these tasks. There's a lot of turnover there anyway, not for this reason, obviously, in normal periods. But over the past two years 76 drill sergeants have been assigned to Aberdeen, so there's a fair amount of turnover.
Q: And this new sergeant that was charged today, do you know where that came from? A phone call to the hotline or...
A: I would refer you to the Army on that. I don't have immediately the information on that, but the Army can get you all the information. They put out a very detailed news release on this, which they'll be glad to give you.
Q: That release, unless I'm mistaken, said the fellow was charged on January 30th. Do you know why there's been a delay of four or five days in announcing it after he was charged?
A: It does say that. I don't know. As I said, you should ask the Army. This was issued by the Army. It was actually issued by Aberdeen. I don't know why there was the delay. For all I know, this may be very standard, there may be some legal reason for it.
Q: Do you have any status update on the QDR Panel?
A: The QDR Panel, I'm out on a limb here saying that it won't be three months late. It's already a little over two months late. I think it will happen very soon. I hope it happens very soon so I won't have to answer any more questions on when we plan to name the panel.
Q: Moving on to Bosnia for a second. The town of Brcko was under arbitration, has been the focus of at least U.S. forces over there for the last couple of days. Sources in the Pentagon say that different kinds of equipment have been prepositioned in the area, as well as additional reconnaissance flights. I thought you could maybe give us an update on sort of what things are like on the ground there, and also if you have any details on what kind of equipment is being prepositioned there. Details on that?
A: I'm afraid I don't have those details. I know there have been some heightened patrols. They have been moving in new fencing materials, etc. But beyond that, I just don't have details at this stage. Camp McGovern, which is one of the main bases for American troops in Bosnia, is very close to Brcko, as you know. It's just on the other side of the Posavina Corridor, and that's the area where our preparations have been focused.
Press: Thank you.