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DOD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell
April 29, 2010

                 MR. MORRELL: Good afternoon, guys. Sorry I'm late. Good to see you all. 

                 I have a brief opening statement, mostly focused on some upcoming events, and then I'll be glad to take your questions.

                 Earlier today, Secretary Gates met with the minister of foreign affairs of Poland. The secretary again expressed his condolences to Minister Sikorski for the loss of Poland's president and so many others in that tragic plane crash almost three weeks ago.

                 Secretary Gates also visited with the Swedish minister of foreign affairs this morning, and tomorrow he will sit down with the minister of defense for Lithuania and the Kuwaiti deputy prime minister, all those here in the Pentagon.

                 Looking ahead to next week, Secretary Gates will speak at the Navy League's annual conference here in Washington. That takes place on Monday; I think it's roughly midday. While he has addressed military service organizations in the past, this will be the first time speaking to a Naval audience of this sort. 

                 And his remarks will focus on three topics: first, the kind of leaders the Navy will need in the future; second, the changing nature of naval warfare and what that means for future procurement plans; and finally, the necessity of being realistic about budgets and costs going forward.

                 In particular, the secretary will emphasize the need to reexamine the basic assumptions about the size and structure of the battle fleet, in light of a changing strategic environment and in light of the nation's fiscal situations -- situation, rather.

                 He will offer his views on some of the future capabilities he believes our Navy will have to have, and caution against the trend toward ever-more-expensive platforms that we can only afford to buy in very limited numbers.

                 On Friday, the secretary will resume his recent leadership lecture series by traveling to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and talking to students at the Army's Command and General Staff College. 

                 As he did at the service academies recently, the secretary will speak on leadership and service. But here, Secretary Gates will tailor his message for this audience of combat-tested and experienced field-grade officers. He will cover such issues as the stress on the force, the future of conflict, and the special role these officers will play in sustaining and shaping the Army.

                 The secretary will then travel on Saturday -- this is Saturday before Mother's Day -- to Abilene, Kansas, where he will speak at the Eisenhower Library on the 65th anniversary of the Allied victory in Europe.

                 In his remarks, the secretary will reflect on General Eisenhower's national security policies and approach to defense spending as president, and the lessons applicable to the difficult budget choices we face today at a time of financial -- of economic and fiscal duress.

                 I think all three of these speeches will be of interest to you, but I would draw your attention in particular to the Eisenhower speech. It's on a weekend; it's on a Saturday afternoon before Mother's Day.

                 Some of you will be traveling out there with us. Those of you who won't be, we'll make sure and get you a copy of this on an embargoed basis well before the speech, because I know deadlines for Sunday papers are earlier.

                 But I want you to take special note of this because he will deliver, I believe, a very strong message on fiscal responsibility.

                 Okay. With that out of the way, let's get down to business.

                 Ann (sp)?

                 Q     What resources is the military considering sending down to the Gulf to respond to the oil spill?

                 And also, Obama has said that BP should be responsible for the cleanup, the costs of the cleanup. Would the military require any kind of reimbursement for the resources that they send down there?

                 MR. MORRELL: Part two, I think we're getting ahead of ourselves, because we're right now in the process of determining what, if any, help we could provide at the president's direction to help alleviate the problem that is under way down there in the Gulf.

                 We have, as a department, been in very close contact with both the White House and the Department of Homeland Security on this issue over the past couple of days. I can tell you that Northern Command, the Joint Staff, the Navy, the chairman and the secretary have all been involved in this.

                 And we are right now in the process of assessing what capabilities we might be able to bring to bear that would be helpful. But we have come to no conclusions yet as to what those might be and whether they would be of much assistance to the effort down there.

                 I can tell you this: the secretary is prepared for us to help in any way; that there is a full-blown effort within this department to try to find the kinds of things that could be helpful. But we have not identified particulars yet that I can offer to you.

                 Q     Can you give examples of anything that they looked at, like an amphib ship possibly going down there? We heard something from the Navy about boom equipment.

                 MR. MORRELL: I can't, because we're still in this evaluation process. And, hopefully, we can move quickly on it so that if we can provide resources, we can do it quickly. But I can't offer something that hasn't been identified yet as something that would be helpful for this particular situation.

                 Q     And my other question, is there precedence for the military requesting reimbursement for the deployment of resources in environmental cleanups or similar --

                 MR. MORRELL: I don't know, but there certainly is precedent for us requiring reimbursement for the deployment of military equipment and personnel. Haiti is the most recent example of that.

                 But no, I don't know, in terms of environmental disasters, what we have done in the past. Yeah. 

                 But suffice it to say here, guys, this is receiving top-level attention in the department. It is very clear, based upon the press conference you just saw at the White House a few moments ago, that the president is very concerned about this issue and has directed the full breadth of the federal government to be helpful.

                 This department wishes to be helpful if we can. We are right now in the process of analyzing what we have that could be effective in this particular situation. That review is under way right now.

                 I'm not in a position to identify any particular capabilities, platforms, equipment, that we are prepared to offer at this point. But it is being worked, as we speak. Okay?

                 Yeah, (Dan ?).

                 Q     On this report to Congress on Afghanistan, some possibly worrying trends about the Afghans' attitude towards the government in Kabul.

                 What's your view on that? What does this say about the effort, the war effort, if you have this kind of poll results from the Afghans?

                 MR. MORRELL:   First of all, I don't think it's polling. I don't think there was actually polling done. I think there's a set of data that has determined this that we clearly believe to be reliable.

                 Let me just say, let me take it up a notch and then deal with that particular question.

                 I think these two reports, the 1230, and the 1231 report, did not offer, frankly, any surprises. They reflect where we thought we would be at this point in the campaign plan, which, by the way, is still very early. And, in fact, I think the period covered by this report would not have reflected the benefit of having very many of the surge forces in-country.

                 That said, there are clearly positive indicators in these reports, but there are also some sobering signs as well. And you point to one of them.

                 Let me point to a positive first.

                 There -- we are heartened that there is growing governance in areas where stability and security have taken root. There are places in RC East, there are even places in RC South, particularly where the Marines have been for some time, where we are seeing governance evolve. So that is heartening, and we are buoyed by that.

                 You point to one of the more sobering aspects of this, that of the 121 districts that that are of particular interest to us, only 24 of those fully support the Afghan government. There are varying degrees of support district to district, but I think it is our belief that until there is full support we will likely have problems in those districts. So that is a number that clearly has to grow.

                 That said, let me put it in perspective by adding that I think there are 80 districts that we are particularly focusing on, and that we hope by year's end to be working in 48 of them.

                 And so there is -- we still do not have a presence in all of these districts, and we haven't brought, you know, combat -- you know, security operations, civilian support, you know, international aid, Afghan governance, outreach, those kinds of things into all of the districts that were -- that were measured here. And so we still have to get into those before we probably can expect to see a high degree of confidence in the government. And the game plan ahead of us is to be in, as I said, 48 of those districts by the end of the year. And so hopefully, by doing so, we will start to see those trends move.

                 I would say overall we are buoyed by signs of progress. But again, it's still early, and people's perceptions where we have been and where the Afghan government has been with us are moving in the right direction. But overall, there are still clearly too many fence-sitters, and that's what we need to work to change.

                 Yeah, Donna.

                 Q     The report noted the lack of trainers that continues, even though the international community has offered up more trainers, and I understand more even since the report ended. How supportive do you see the secretary being in providing additional U.S. troops, as has been reported by some, to fill some of those vacancies?

                 MR. MORRELL: Well, you provide additional U.S. troops -- I mean, obviously, we're not providing additional U.S. troops above and beyond the 30,000 surge forces. The secretary always has, at his -- as his discretion, the ability to adjust, at the commander's request or advice, the allotment of those forces, sort of what kinds of forces he is sending to theater.

                I don't know if there has been -- if there's any consideration under way to perhaps changing the dynamic of the kinds of forces that we're sending to make up for the gap that still exists between the numbers of trainers we have and those we need. I have not heard any movement on that. But obviously that is something, if the commander believes it's necessary, the secretary will certainly take a look at, and they'd figure out if they needed to make adjustments accordingly.

                But you know, this shortfall in trainers has -- you know, although it has diminished, has continued to be a problem, and it needs to be addressed. And we'll have to see if ultimately it requires us to address it. But I have not heard any update on that.

                Yeah, Kevin.

                Q     On the other side of the border, in Pakistan, there are recent reports that the number of U.S. troops there continues to rise, but pretty incrementally -- by the dozens. Is that rate of increase of, you know, U.S. personnel in Pakistan helping the Pakistanis? Is it -- is it a good sign or is it a frustrating sign? Is this a breakthrough or are we still, you know, fighting the tide here to get into Pakistan to achieve the objectives that have been --

                MR. MORRELL: I would -- I would view it as a positive sign. I mean, this is -- this is in a -- this is a relationship that has clearly been evolving. It has been progressing. It is growing closer, if not day by day, then week by week. Clearly, there are some -- you know, there are some days you take two steps forward and there may be a day you take a step back. But overall, we are making strides in our relationship with the Pakistani military.

                We clearly enjoy very good relations with General Kayani by virtually everybody in this department -- the secretary, the chairman, General McChrystal, the head of ODRP in Pakistan. So that is a positive development.

                And what we've said, Kevin, all along is that we -- and the secretary uses the analogy of we're in a car together, but they're behind the wheel and they got their foot on the accelerator. And we're going to go in the direction at the rate that they feel comfortable with.

                And we are heartened by the fact that they do want more assistance from us, particularly -- and this is -- I think you were referring to the story that's in The Washington Post today, which is us providing technical assistance for the F-16s that are about -- that will soon be provided to Pakistan. And the F-16 sale is a -- is a sign of this burgeoning relationship between us and increased defense cooperation between our two countries. And so the personnel that are going there in advance of the arrival of those planes is to assist the Pakistanis so that they can operate these sophisticated warplanes.

                Another sign of this progress is, as you know, there has been some concern on the Pakistanis' part about the rate at which they are reimbursed for coalition support funds -- further efforts in the war on terror on our behalf within their borders. We have made great strides over the past few weeks to try to accelerate reimbursement payments to the Pakistanis, and I think -- I don't think I came prepared with my -- with my notes on this subject, but I think we have, I think, in total about $600 million that is en route or will soon be en route in the next few weeks to Pakistan to reimburse them -- reimburse them for their operations over the past year. There are still outstanding receipts that need to be reimbursed, and those will take place hopefully on a quicker timetable than they traditionally had.

                One of the things that's been problematic in the past is sort of trying to get enough of our personnel in country to assist them with this so that we can move this more quickly. And so we've been urging the Pakistanis to provide more visas for our personnel to work in the embassy there.

                I think we've seen some progress on that count, but there probably is still more that could be done so that we could be more helpful to them with regards to getting money back -- which they clearly, given the fiscal situation that they're in, are in need of as well.

                Yeah, Joe.

                Q     Hey, Geoff. Two of the seven deputies that work at the Personnel Readiness Directorate in the department within the past six weeks -- one of those, the director of the Wounded Warrior Program, has openly said he understands that Secretary Gates was not happy with the -- with the Personnel Readiness Directorate, and in particular with the Wounded Warrior Program. I wonder if you could comment on that.

                MR. MORRELL: I'm not going to discuss -- as I -- and I -- you know, listen, I've got this question from a few other people because they've noted at least one of these changes in personnel over the past few days. I'm not going to discuss any particular person or any particular job.

                I will say more widely, though, that this is a vitally important office in this department. They are charged with taking care of our most precious resource, our men and women in uniform. The secretary made clear in his FY '10 budget when -- the first budget that he really put his imprint on, and when there was a rebalancing of spending, that the number one -- our number-one strategic asset in his estimation was our -- were our forces, and that we needed to invest properly in them.

                With all that said, given how important that office is, it has been or had been without leadership since January of 2009, until Dr. Stanley took over -- I would say two months ago I think he came on the job. So I think there was a 14-month span there in which the -- that very important office was without leadership. And I think many of the -- if not the deputy undersecretary positions, the assistant undersecretary positions were vacant during that time, including the assistant secretary of Defense for Health Affairs -- who the president, if you noticed, has just nominated finally a replacement for.

                So, vitally important, without leadership for more than a year. Dr. Stanley's now on the job. When he comes in, Secretary Gates sits him down and says, "Welcome, Cliff. You've got a job to do. You've got to take this incredibly important office and take a hard look at it, and make sure that it is running properly because I don't think it is. And I don't think it is adequately serving our men and women in uniform. And take a hard look from top to bottom, soup to nuts, see who's good, who's bad, what's working, what's not, and make the changes necessary to better serve our forces."

                And that is the process that's under way. He clearly has a -- he clearly has a mandate. He clearly has wide latitude. And he is in the midst of evaluating and making changes as he sees necessary. And there will likely be more changes coming.

                Q     It's been characterized as a purge in some circles. Would you call it a purge?

                MR. MORRELL: No. I think it is a reorganization. It is a reevaluation followed by a reorganization. But I don't think it would be fair to call it a purge.

                Yeah, Gordon.

                Q     I have two questions. One on that.

                The secretary likes deadlines. Has he given Dr. Stanley a deadline to --

                MR. MORRELL: It's a very big office in charge of a very big portfolio. And I think he understands that it will likely take Dr. Stanley, as capable as he clearly is -- a guy with a lot of experience in this building and a lot of experience outside this building -- it will probably take him some time to do this.

                 But obviously the secretary is -- is one who likes to see results sooner than later.   And I think Dr. Stanley's aware of that.   And it's in his own interest to try to get his office staffed appropriately so that he can do his job as well as I'm sure he'd like to be doing it.

                And we have -- this is not -- you know, this is not a situation where he has been charged with, you know, "You alone go in there, and make it happen." We have provided support to him. Some of the best people that the services can offer, that OSD can offer have gone into P&R to assist him in this effort. And that reflects how important the secretary believes this is and how seriously we're taking the situation.

                Q     Second question, a clarification on a smaller point, on the report that came out yesterday on Afghanistan. It said total of the surge will be there by August '10. But ISAF really refers to it as the -- all of the troops will be on the ground by winter.

               Is the secretary confident it's going to happen -- (inaudible) --

                MR. MORRELL: Well, I think what we've always said -- we've always been very clear about this, that the surge forces will be there by the end of the summer, not by winter, by the end of the summer. That is what we are shooting for. That is what we are on target to achieve. I think we've got half of the surge forces there now, some -- some 15,000, some -- I think roughly 15,000 are there now. And -- and we're on target, on track to get the remaining 15,000 there by the end of the summer.

               Q     And they think they're on track on that.

                MR. MORRELL: Who's they?

                Q     Kabul, ISAF, McChrystal?

                MR. MORRELL: Yeah.

                I mean, is it a challenge? I mean, it's a challenge to absorb all those troops and the associated equipment.

                But that's the president's direction. He wants -- he wants this to be a surge, not an -- not a prolonged deployment. We're trying to flood the theater with as many forces as possible very quickly to change the momentum, to change the dynamic on the ground. We're clearly having some success to that end already. But we need the rest of those forces there as soon as possible to really maximize this opportunity.

                Yeah. Mike.

                Q     On Iraq, we've seen some recent violence. We've seen some American troops killed recently with EFPs after a pretty calm period. Former Ambassador Ryan Crocker said he's a little bit nervous. He says that he believes that we may not have a government in Iraq until perhaps the August deadline.

                Is it time for the department to consider perhaps sliding the August deadline in terms of the troops drawdown in Iraq?

                 MR. MORRELL: First of all, it's not for the department to decide. This is -- this is presidential policy.

                 The president has -- when he came into office, I think, a few weeks thereafter, went down to Camp Lejeune, and made an announcement about the way ahead in Iraq.

                 Included in the announcement was the -- his direction that by September of -- pardon me -- 2010, we would transition from combat operations to advising and assisting the Iraqis exclusively. I say "exclusively." Obviously, we need to maintain the capability to continue to conduct counterterrorism operations, and we will do that.

                 That said, we have a commander on the ground there who believes that that is the right policy and who believes that we can achieve that policy by the target date of August 31st of -- of 2010.

                 So that -- that is still the path we are on. He is still confident -- General Odierno is -- that we can draw down our forces to 50,000 by September. Obviously, we're closely monitoring the security situation in Iraq.

                 But I've got to tell you the truth, Mike. Despite the fact that there clearly -- you know, the elections were supposed to take place in December. They got delayed until March. They were an overwhelming success.

                 The period after that -- although it has been protracted, and we are still not -- still don't have a certified vote, and there are challenges going on, the period after that, with notable exception, been a relatively calm one. It has been consistent with what we have seen in the weeks preceding the elections.

                 What's more, we've had some considerable success in that period, killing the -- three of the top al Qaeda leaders in -- in Iraq and capturing some major Shia terrorist leaders as well. So I think people, overall, feel as though the security situation is such that we can continue on the course we are on, and safely draw down to 50,000 by September.

                 Obviously, if something cataclysmic were to happen, the commander has the ability to come to the secretary, and the secretary has the ability to go to the president and say, "We need to reassess." But nobody anticipates that being necessary at this point.

                 MR. MORRELL: Yeah. Jim.

                 Q     You had mentioned the secretary felt that the undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness's office wasn't working adequately.

                 What led him to that conclusion?

                 MR. MORRELL: Well, you know, this is probably a good question to put to him some time.

                I think you've heard him talk in the past about the disconnect he feels at times when he is visiting troops at installations around the world; and speaking to them and their wives -- their spouses, pardon me -- about how they are being cared for by the department; and then coming back to the Pentagon and getting briefings about how we are caring for our forces and their families; and coming to the conclusion that they don't jive, that they don't -- that there is a disconnect between what he is being told in the building and what he is hearing from -- from troops and their families in the field.

                 And so he's been trying to get at that problem for some time. And clearly, we have done -- made a lot of progress over the last couple of years in providing additional benefits and services and care and support to troops and their families. That's undeniable. But we are still in a situation where people feel as though there are issues that need to be addressed.

                 And the secretary is not going to rest until he feels as though this building is being as responsive as it possibly can be to the needs of our most treasured assets: our troops and their families.

                 Q     And when you said you expect more changes are coming, do you know for a fact that more people will be let go?

                 MR. MORRELL: Well, again, you're using the term "let go." I have referred to a reevaluation and a reorganization that's under way, and that is still ongoing.

                 Yeah. Alex (ph).

                 Q     Geoff, do you have anything further on the incident between the Iranian aircraft and the U.S. Navy ship in the Gulf last week? Anything on a response or a level of concern -- a heightened level of concern for the situation?

                 MR. MORRELL: I don't.

                 I mean, I saw those -- I saw the press reports, as you did. I mean, I just saw that -- what -- it was 1,000 yards away. It was 300 feet altitude. It was --looked like an old -- like a -- some sort of prop plane. And it flew by. I mean, that is a heavily trafficked area. We operate there. They operate there. Lots of people operate there.

                 I don't think, you know, our crews were alarmed by it. I don't think anybody here is too worked up about it. Frankly, it's just not that unusual for -- you know, the Strait of Hormuz is incredibly narrow. And there's a lot of traffic going through there. But, thankfully, our crews are incredibly well trained, incredibly disciplined. And they are very aware of the rules of engagement and -- and the procedures that are -- that should be taken in circumstances like this, and do an incredible job at avoiding -- avoiding risks of accidental or inadvertent conflict.

                 Q     Is there a channel for communicating with the Iranians to express any concern or request for this not to happen again?

                 MR. MORRELL: I don't know that there is a reason to. I don't think anybody is -- I mean, if there were a reason to, I'm sure we'd find a way to do so. But I don't think it's -- I think it's been noted by all of you and perhaps hyped by some of you, but I don't think it is of concern to the Navy and -- nor anybody else in this building.

                 Okay? Yeah. Louis.

                 Q     Just a formality. You're citing press reports.

                 Are you confirming that the incident took place?

                 MR. MORRELL: I think we have confirmed. I think the Navy has confirmed it.

                 Q     (Off mike.)

                 Listen, I trust the Navy. If they've confirmed it, I take their word for it. Their confirmation is good enough for me.

                 Yeah. Tony.

                 Q     One quick follow-up on the oil question. When do you feel you're going to have the assessment done about what resources -- what resources, if any, you could provide?

                 MR. MORRELL: Let me -- I think it's clear that this is a -- this is a priority for the president and his administration. So we're going to work as quickly as possible to get him the answers he's looking for.

                 And I can't tell you precisely. I would imagine that this would be something we'd be able to provide an answer on today, but I haven't been told that. But given the priority that's been -- that's been made of it, we're working very hard to get answers.

                 Q     (Inaudible) -- a kind of Navy question. He's speaking before the Navy League on Monday. You've got a looming, multibillion dollar decision on whether to buy more F-18 E and F airplanes --

                 MR. MORRELL: Mm-hmm.

                 Q     -- from the Boeing Company. There's supposed to be a certification due by May 1st on whether, in fact, the secretary feels it's cost-effective to go forward with this expenditure of dollars.

                 What's the status of that review?

                 MR. MORRELL: I -- you said it. It's -- we have something that's due to Congress on -- on -- on May the 1st. I believe that's Saturday. And so I think we've still got a couple workdays left to get it done. And it's still being worked. And I don't have -- I don't have anything to share with you conclusively on that yet.

                 Q     By maybe by Friday night or so? Or --

                 MR. MORRELL: Certainly by Saturday --

                 Q     Very good.

                 MR. MORRELL: -- when it's due. I think we're going to tell the Congress before we tell Tony, though.

                 Q     I don't know.

                 (Laughter.)

                 MR. MORRELL: With any luck. With any luck.

                 (LAUGHTER)

                 Q     To give an example (of a possibility of what he's ?) going to talk about -- on Monday he's going to talk about the changing nature of naval warfare, you said, and the realistic -- the need to be realistic about budgets. That's to me sounds like he might be announcing some sort of, you know, budget cut to the Navy area or something like that. No?

                 MR. MORRELL: No. No. This is a -- sorry -- I don't want to -- thank you for asking, because I don't want people freaking out.

                 No, this is -- no, this is a -- this is a slightly more elevated conversation than that. This is -- he's asking some questions, some of which, frankly, he doesn't have the answers to, but just noting changes that he's observed, changes in the -- in the geopolitical situation, changes in the -- in -- in, sort of, naval resourcing around the world, changes in our fiscal situation, changes in other countries' fiscal situations and how do we, sort of, balance all that; and how do we budget according to all that; and what do we buy based on all of that. And it raises questions and tries to be thought-provoking, but this is not about announcing budget decisions.

                 Q     Is he going to flesh out the rationale for this new multi-billion dollar Ohio-class nuclear boomer replacement program? You know, the Navy --

                 MR. MORRELL: I mean, I think, Tony, you've heard him, particularly when he testified, I think, before the House Appropriations Committee on Defense recently --

                 Q     Right.

                 MR. MORRELL: -- talk about the very difficult situation the Navy will eventually find itself in vis-a-vis its procurement budget and its pursuit of the next-generation boomer submarine, which had the potential, at least in the late teens, to be gobbling up almost all of the procurement budget.

                 And so this is the kind of issues that have to be wrestled with by the Navy. Can they afford for one platform to devour that much of its budget? Do they have to figure out another way of -- or do they -- they have to certainly consider how do you meet your requirements and how do you deal with the ever-increasing cost of -- of these naval platforms? And how do you also deal with the constraints of -- of the federal budget, given the fiscal situation we're in? Those are the kinds of things.

                 But again, it's not -- he's got a speech to give. I don't want to give it myself. But those are the kinds of issues. And that's why you should come to cover it --

                 Q     (Off mike.)

                 MR. MORRELL: -- Tony Capaccio of Bloomberg.

                 Yaso (ph).

                 Q     Hi. In Tokyo there were some official discussions on Futenma. I'm wondering --

                 MR. MORRELL: On what? (Laughter.)

                 Q     I'm wondering if DOD sees any development on the issue. Or how do you characterize the current status of this?

                 MR. MORRELL: Yaso (ph), I hate for you to keep coming here and getting on the Metro each week only to hear me say I have nothing new for you on that subject. So you should e-mail me in advance and say, "Mr. Morrell, are you going to have anything new today? I'll save my $1.50 for Metro." (Laughter.)

                 Q     Dollar ninety-five. 

                 MR. MORRELL: Dollar ninety-five. 

                 No, Yaso (ph), I have nothing new for you on that. I really don't. But let's stay in touch. Okay?

                 Q     Yes.

                 MR. MORRELL: Yes, please?

                 Q     Investigation into the sinking of a South Korean ship is ongoing now. Do you know if the investigation has arrived at a final --

                 MR. MORRELL: I think you said it: It is ongoing. My understanding is that it has not come to a conclusion yet. It is still very much under way. We are providing support to that investigation. I think we have a naval forensics team on-site assisting the -- assisting the Republic of Korea. 

                 But the investigation proceeds and has not arrived at any definitive conclusions yet. And so we are certainly not in a position to comment on it beyond that.

                 Q     What do you think, United States, has North Korea involved any of these incidents?

                 MR. MORRELL: Do we think that? Well, we're going to try something novel here. We're going to let the investigation conclude and arrive at -- at a determination based upon facts. And once that has taken place, then we'll make a judgment about what did or did not happen. But it's not helpful to do that prematurely.

                 Yeah, Chris (sp).

                 Q     One quick follow on the oil spill. I know you're going through this review right now of assets and potential assets, but are you looking at not only DOD assets that could be deployed out at sea, but also DOD assets deployed on shore if the spill got that close to the coast?

                 MR. MORRELL: I think, given where the situation is right now, Chris (sp), the focus is on what can we do at sea, where this problem still remains. If it were to evolve to that -- and hopefully it doesn't. Hopefully, you know, the legions of people that are working this are able to stem this from -- from arriving on shore. If it were heading that direction and we were called upon to look at those kinds of things, I'm sure we would be responsive if we could be.

                 But I think the focus of our efforts right now is dealing with the threat at sea right now and trying to see if we can offer anything that could help them -- you know, whether it be -- anything we could help them. I don't even want to speculate on what it could be.

                 Q     Is it a matter of help or is there a point where the government just says, look, we're taking over and this is what we're going to do?

                 MR. MORRELL: Listen, I'm the last guy you should ask. I mean, talk to -- talk to DHS or somebody out there who's working this problem. My sense is we're very much -- the government is very much involved in this, but working -- you know, you have to remember this. Frankly, much of the technology and the assets that can be brought to bear to be helpful in situations like this reside in industry. I mean, they're the ones who have made incredible investments in deep submersibles and -- and how you deal with the fallout from, you know, catastrophic events like this.

                 So, frankly, you want to work, I believe, hand in glove with industry here because in some cases they're going to have, you know, greater -- better assets than we would. But that's just me from up here.

                 Justin.

                 Q     Obama is pushing Congress to change the make-up of proposed Iran sanctions to include a cooperating-countries provision. Critics in Congress are saying this would essentially allow the Chinese and the Russians to continue doing business with Iran's energy sector as normal; sort of defeating the purpose of the sanctions; calling it a watered-down, do-nothing deal. 

                 So is this how you understand that proposal? And did Gates weigh in on this decision at all? Does he agree with it?

                 MR. MORRELL: Did Secretary Gates weigh in on it? Just teasing.

                 Listen, I -- this is a question that's best directed to my friends at the -- at the State Department. They're the ones who deal with sanctions. So I'd really talk to them.

                 Yeah, Ann (sp).

                 Q     In light of the reports today that Mehsud, the Pakistani Taliban leader, is actually, in fact, alive, after U.S. and Pakistani intelligence officials had declared him dead after the drone strike, are there any concerns in this building about the quality of intelligence that we're receiving in that part of the world?

                 MR. MORRELL: I mean, frankly, I've seen those reports. I don't know how much stock people put in them. I think we've always been very careful from -- from this podium in particular about talking about individuals and their fate.

                 The only thing I would add to that -- I don't know -- I can't tell you definitively one way or another. Part of that is I don't think we ever officially commented on any of these. 

                 But I can also tell you that I certainly have seen no evidence that the person you speak of is -- is operational today or is executing or exerting authority over the Pakistan Taliban as he once did. So I don't know if that reflects him being alive or dead, but he clearly is not running the Pakistani Taliban anymore.

                 Q     Well, does Secretary Gates have any concerns, though, about the -- the mixed intelligence that we've received on -- on this guy's health, which I would imagine -- (off mike)?

                 MR. MORRELL: No. I think there -- listen, there are always reports -- there are always conflicting reports about almost every circumstance that we're involved in around the world. And that's what makes the intelligence business so hard. And he, above all others, knows that. He lived it for -- for 30 years.

                 All right, have we exhausted it? Is everybody done? Have a great weekend, and we'll see you next week at the Navy League speech on Monday. I think it's at the National Harbor.

                 Q     What time is that?

                 MR. MORRELL: I think it's around midday at the National Harbor.

                 Okay? Thanks.

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