MR. MORRELL: Hey, guys, good afternoon. Good to see you all safely back from your various travels.
To our Jewish colleagues, many of whom are off today in observance of Rosh Hashanah, I wish you all a happy new year.
It will be an eventful week for Secretary Gates. I want to give you a quick rundown of the next few days, and then we'll move on to your questions.
At 9 a.m. tomorrow at the National Press Club, Secretary Gates, along with Health and Human Services Secretary Sebelius, will announce the launch of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, a new public-private effort to combat suicide across the country. In his remarks, Secretary Gates will discuss how suicide has impacted our military, some of the steps the department has taken to fight this scourge, and his confidence that Army Secretary John McHugh, as co- chair of the alliance's executive committee, will be able to make significant contributions to the national effort.
On Saturday the secretary will join President Obama and Chairman Mullen at the Pentagon memorial for a wreath-laying to honor the memory of those 184 killed here on September 11th, as well as those who sacrificed their lives in the fight against terrorism since.
Wednesday of next week, the secretary will welcome Russian Minister of Defense Anatoly Serdyukov to the Pentagon for the first time. The secretary has invited his Russian counterpart here for a two-day visit, where they will discuss items of shared interest to our bilateral defense relationship, including defense reform. I think as many of you know, both men are now aggressively pursuing efforts to change the way business is done in their respective militaries.
Finally, on Thursday afternoon the secretary will host a working lunch with French Minister of Defense Hervé Morin here at the Pentagon. They will likely discuss Afghanistan, Iran, defense cooperation, and several NATO issues in the lead-up to the Lisbon head-of-state summit in November, including missile defense, command structure reform and NATO finances. This meeting -- and this point is of interest to you all -- will be followed by a joint press event here in the briefing room that afternoon.
And if you would indulge me with one personal remark, I would like to extend my condolences to Jim Miklaszewski and his family on the passing of Mik's father this week. So Mik, if you're out there, we wish you and your family well during this difficult time.
With that, let's get on with it. Anne, how are you?
Q Just fine. Welcome back -- (off mike).
Last week the secretary made some supportive comments about President Karzai's commitment to the corruption fight, and specifically appeared to endorse Karzai's plans or views of what to do about the U.S.-backed corruption task forces.
Today comes word that Karzai will want to do as a lot of U.S. officials feared, and extend Afghan control over those task forces. What is the secretary's view of the current Afghan government plan for those task forces? And did he give President Karzai too big of a pass last week?
MR. MORRELL: I, frankly -- I read the article I think you're referring to, and I don't think that there is news in there. I don't think it describes events that have changed since the secretary was last -- in Kabul last week. So by -- what I -- what I mean by that is, the circumstances detailed in that article were not unaware -- the secretary was not unaware of those circumstances when they had a conversation. And I think the things he said then stand today as they did last week, which is: We're dealing with a sovereign country here. These anticorruption efforts are vitally important to the ultimate stability of -- and success of that country, but they have to be Afghan-led, as he underscored during the joint press conference with President Karzai.
But he went on to make a second point: is that they have to have international credibility, as well. It's that combination that he thinks is important and that we will work with the Afghan government to try to ensure takes place: Afghan-led, internationally credible.
Now, do they have the means now to do this on their own? I don't think anyone has suggested that. I think there is outside expertise, advice, that can be brought to bear to help the Afghans deal with this difficult problem. And so there will clearly be a role for American experts, other outside experts, to try to assist in this process.
But they will do so under the structure of an Afghan-led initiative that will hopefully, combined with this outside expertise, be perceived as credible and effective in going after this threat to our efforts there.
I would underscore one thing, Anne. And that is I think -- and I don't have the transcript in front of me -- but I think you saw President Karzai, standing next to the secretary, embrace both those points: Afghan-led and internationally credible.
Q So just to be specific, though, the secretary would be -- is okay, then, with a task force structure in which -- (inaudible) -- investigators and advisers do not have decision-making roles, but are basically helpers/advisers, you know?
MR. MORRELL: I think he is comfortable with the -- with the arrangements that he discussed with President Karzai last week. And afterwards, they both came out and said it should be Afghan led and it needs to be internationally credible. I think that arrangement is one he believes can work and hopefully will work.
Q The Florida pastor who's threatening to burn Korans, he said that if he was directly contacted by the Pentagon, the White House, the State Department, that he might rethink this plan. Has there been any attempt by the Pentagon, or does the Pentagon plan to call this pastor and ask him specifically, instead of doing it through the media, to call off this --
MR. MORRELL: You are a very effective conduit through which to get a message out. I mean, Lord Almighty, it's -- the president of the United States has done so now, on national television. The pope, through his spokespeople, have done so. Sarah Palin has done so. (Laughter.) The commanders in the field have done so. The Secretary of State has done so. The Secretary of Defense, through me and others, has done so.
So I think the message is out there loud and clear. It's impossible to miss the message that is coming from the leaders of the United States military, the United States government, our diplomatic leaders, some of our -- you know, from all walks of life, frankly. Religious, across the political spectrum. This is not a smart thing to do. This has the potential to further endanger our forces already in harm's way in Afghanistan, in Iraq, elsewhere in the Central Command region, or, frankly, anywhere around the world where we operate in predominately Muslim countries.
That said, to answer your question most directly, that possibility is currently under discussion within the administration. That is an active, ongoing discussion in which the secretary is a participant. I don't believe they've come to any resolution yet, but let's stay tuned. You know, I'll be around the rest of the day, and I'll be happy to update you as the situation develops. But I think it has gotten to the -- you know, clearly you alluded to the fact that this -- that this pastor has suggested that if he were called -- the quote I have here, from a very reputable newswire, Agence France Presse, is "I don't think a call from them is something we would ignore," referring to the White House, the Pentagon or the State Department. Suggesting, I think, that he would likely call off the event if called by a member of the Obama administration.
This is obviously of serious concern to us. We believe it could seriously endanger our forces. So this is something we are actively discussing within the administration in terms of taking this unusual measure of calling this pastor and trying to convince him that it is not the right thing to proceed with.
Q Can you be any more specific? When you say you are actively discussing it, are you from this podium, since you're speaking about these discussions, raising the possibility that it would be the secretary that would call him?
MR. MORRELL: You know, they have suggested or he has suggested, through you all, that the White House, the State Department or the Pentagon. I think we have been clear from the outset that we are particularly concerned about this, given the fact that our forces operate, you know, in almost every corner of the world, and we have hundreds of thousands of forces in the Central Command region. We feel particularly exposed here, in light of how closely we operate with -- in the -- with people of the Muslim faith.
And so I think we want to make sure that every measure is taken to try to avoid this potentially inflammatory situation. Pardon the pun, but it could -- it -- this is far more than setting blazed [sic – ablaze] in a disrespectful way to holy books at a small church in Florida. The ripple effect -- the potential ripple effect here is very real. We aren't -- this is -- this is not a threat that we are sort of conjuring up. We have seen it happen before. When holy books, the Koran in particular, have been disparaged or alleged to have been disparaged in the past, we have seen worldwide, at times violent, protests. We saw it with the erroneous Newsweek story back in 2005, which led to the deaths, I think, of 15 people, and very bloody and violent protests around the world. We want to avoid a repeat of that.
We've seen thus far already, at the mere threat of this burning, protests in Afghanistan.
We saw more there today. So it is a very real concern for us.
Q May I follow up, Geoff? What I'm asking specifically -- and let me just walk through this -- you have laid out a very particular case here about the threat to U.S. troops and beyond. So, one, again, is the Secretary of Defense amenable to the possibility of himself calling the pastor in Florida?
And, two, given the case that you just made, this has been going on for days now. If it is of such concern to the secretary, why -- unlike Secretary Clinton, unlike the president, why has he not come out publicly and only done this through his staff spokesman? Why has he not come out publicly and articulated his concerns?
MR. MORRELL: Well, to the first point, which I think was -- because it was a while ago -- it was, is he considering doing this? I made it clear he's an active participant in these conversations. I made it clear that we have real vital interests at stake here. So I think there will be a collective judgment made about who the best person is, if there is -- if this is the proper course of action, to call this pastor. But let's let those conversations take place, and then I'll be happy to update you over the course of the afternoon.
There is no reluctance on the part of the secretary to weigh in on this issue. He has done so through me, he has done so through other appointed spokespeople in this building. Just because you personally have not seen him because we have not had an opportunity for him to appear in public over the last couple of days, does not mean in any way that he does not -- that he takes this issue less seriously than the president of the United States does, than the secretary of Defense [sic – State] does, than his commander in Iraq or Afghanistan -- commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan do. So rest assured, he is as concerned about this as everyone you have seen on television speaking to this, if not more so, because he feels such a personal responsibility for all of the troops under his command around the -- around the world.
Q But if he did this, are you not opening the door --
MR. MORRELL: Sure.
Q -- eventually to copycats?
MR. MORRELL: Absolutely, and that's one of the reasons this is -- to your second point -- why this is not an easy decision. I mean, this is the pastor of an obscure small church in Florida who has been given an incredible international platform due, frankly, not to General Petraeus's comments or any other member of the government's comments, but because of extraordinary media coverage. And so yes, we do open the door to the possibility that there are other extremists out there who all they want is a call from so-and-so to be walked off the ledge, to be talked off a ledge. But this may -- we may now find ourselves in a situation where we believe the risk to our forces outweighs the potential bad precedent or slippery slope that's set by a phone call such as this. So that's the kind of discussion, I presume, that is taking place.
Q Just a quick follow. Is there any -- is there any talk that Secretary Gates will issue guidance to bases around the world to elevate their threat posture, readiness over the weekend if it happens?
MR. MORRELL: Our commanders in the field know best what the threat is to their forces where they are and how to deal with that threat. So those situations are almost always handled at a local level. I am sure that if commanders feel there's a heightened threat due to this potential event on Saturday, they are taking actions or will take actions. But I'm not aware of -- I -- I'm not aware of any in particular that have been taken, and there have certainly been no mandate in the department in terms of what action to take.
Okay, have we exhausted this? You guys must be sick of this story, right?
Q Yeah, so today an Iranian dissident group made an announcement at the Press Club.
This group has ties to the MEK. They announced the discovery of what they believed to be a new nuclear site in Iran, 80 miles west of Tehran. They believe it's being used -- it will -- upon its completion, will be used for nuclear purposes. Have you -- have you been made aware of this nuclear site? Is the Defense Department aware of it? Is this new to you?
MR. MORRELL: You know, Justin, I think you have brought this to my attention, so, no, it -- I am not aware of it. I don't know that we are aware of this group's claims.
You know, what I would tell you is what we have -- what we have said time and time again, including as recently as the most -- the most recent IAEA report. And that is that, practically irrespective of the validity of this group's particular claim, Iran is clearly not in compliance with its international obligations, and we urge them to take steps to assure the international community that their nuclear program is solely for civilian purposes. We are, you know, clearly, less than confident that that is the case. They have not done enough to this point to assure the world that they are pursuing a peaceful nuclear program dedicated exclusively to civilian purposes.
So -- but I can't speak to the claims of this particular group. We haven't seen them. I don't know how valid they are. I don't know that it would necessarily be surprising that there are -- we've long talked about there being multiple sites that are of concern to us. I don't know if this site is one that they have discovered, that our intelligence experts have not seen. I find that hard to believe, but we shall see. I just am not familiar enough with it at this point.
Q Okay, so it's possible that the intelligence community is aware of this; just not the Pentagon, not you. That's what -- that's what you're telling me?
MR. MORRELL: No. I think what I'm telling you, Justin, is that there is an event you quoted to me that took place today at the National Press Club that I am not personally familiar.
Q I'm not asking about the event. I'm asking you about the nuclear --
MR. MORRELL: Well, if I'm not familiar with the event, and it's a group announcing that they have found something new and different about Iran's nuclear program, I wouldn't be familiar with their findings, either.
That said, in my quick initial check based upon your interest in this, our sense is we don't know the validity to this group's claims because we haven't seen this group's claims yet. It could be as I'm talking to you now that we are fully aware of the site which they speak of, or it could be that the intelligence community is not familiar with the site. I am not in a position to tell you at this point.
I can tell you, as I did just a moment ago, that we have long been concerned about Iran's nuclear ambitions and whether or not they are indeed, as they claim, pursuing a program exclusively for peaceful civilian purposes. They have not done enough to ensure the international community that that is genuinely their intent.
Q Different topic. I wonder if you could add to this report overnight that the White House economic delegation to Beijing came out of meetings with the sense that there is going to be a renewal of U.S. military exchanges with China by the end of the year. Can you add to that or confirm it?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I saw -- I saw the statement put out by the White House, and that clearly is encouraging. It is in sync with some of the messages that we've been -- that we've been getting. What I would tell you is that through that meeting and other lanes of communication, the Chinese have clearly signaled their interest in resuming military-to-military discussions, and we are right now exploring how best to do that.
You know, I would underscore the fact that, you know, it has been -- the -- it has been the interest of President Obama and President Hu that their respective militaries do engage more often, more -- and better -- and -- so that we can avoid any misunderstandings, miscommunication, miscalculations.
Obviously, since those ties have been suspended, those engagements have been suspended, I think dating back to February, in the wake of arms sales to Taiwan, we have not been meeting the mandate set forth by our respective presidents. So we do look forward to resuming military-to-military communication, exchanges, discussions with the Chinese, and we're right now working on how best to proceed with that.
Q By the end of the year? Is that --
MR. MORRELL: I mean, I -- I think, clearly, I think there -- you know, the two presidents are going to be getting together early next year, so I think it makes sense to -- you know, to make progress on this issue from when they announced it last year -- or when they last met, before they next meet. So we very much would like to make progress before the end of the year. Obviously we're now down to the final few months of the year. Schedules are -- have been largely set by this time. But we're going to work to see what we can do to resume this military-to-military dialogue by -- you know, as soon as possible.
Q (Off mike.)
MR. MORRELL: Sure you may.
Q Yes, my name is Deng Hui (ph) with the China Press.
MR. MORRELL: Pleasure to meet you.
Q Thank you. And have you scheduled the defense dialogue between the two countries? And is it possible for the Secretary Gates to visit China this year, within this year?
MR. MORRELL: The first -- I mean, there has been, as you know, a suspension of all military engagement, really, with China. With the exception, I think, of Admiral Willard being a part of a -- of a larger U.S. delegation that traveled to China earlier this fall -- or this summer, pardon me -- as part of these economic and trade talks, there really has been no engagement on a military-to-military basis.
Are we amenable to Secretary Gates traveling there? Sure. If the schedule permits, that's -- you know, there was an invitation from the secretary's counterpart for him to travel there. It was then, I guess, retracted. And so if it is being extended again, as it appears to be, we're going to certainly look for the possibility of trying to schedule that before the end of the year.
I would remind you, this is not engagement for the sake of engagement. We're not just looking for a reciprocal visit by Secretary Gates. What we are looking for is a resumption of productive, transparent, military-to-military engagement, so that we can both gain a better understanding of what our ambitions are, what our intentions are, when it comes to our military budgets, how we operate, where we operate and so forth. And so -- and in addition to the fact that the secretary just believes, that these kinds of exchanges are just very helpful in avoiding misunderstandings, miscalculations and so forth.
Q One more question?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q And so now that North Korea is willing to come back to the six-party talks, will the USS George Washington still go to Yellow Sea to join the naval exercise?
MR. MORRELL: The USS George Washington will indeed exercise in the Yellow Sea again. We have suggested that will take place. We have said that will take place. I don't think we have determined a date yet, but rest assured, the George Washington will operate in the Yellow Sea, as it does in other international waters.
It's not an affront to the Chinese. It's not meant to send a message to the Chinese. It's meant to send a message to the North Koreans about their behavior.
But clearly we believe that we have the right to operate in any and all international waters, respecting, of course, territorial boundaries. But that is our intent, for the George Washington to return to the Yellow Sea, just as it’s operated there in the past. But I'll -- we'll get back to you at a later date with precisely when that will next take place.
Q Do you have any (new schedule ?) to the U.S. (conducted ?) military exercise on these -- (inaudible)?
MR. MORRELL: I don't have -- we don't -- you know, obviously there was this tropical storm which delayed the most recent round of exercises. I don't think we've announced a date to resume those exercises yet, but I'm sure we will let you know as soon as we've nailed one down.
Q Hi. On the Futenma issue, Japanese Defense Minister Kitazawa announced that United States and Japan agreed to discuss the possible joint use of Futenma Replacement Facility. But this was not included in the so-called bilateral or Experts Study Group report which was recently published. Did United States actually agree to discuss about this possible joint use?
MR. MORRELL: I think, Yoso, as you are aware, the ministers have agreed to look at joint or shared use of, frankly, all facilities in Japan, the FRF among them. But the mandate of the Experts Study Group was to look at the facility's location, configuration and construction method.
So looking at shared use was beyond the scope of their mandate, as were a slew of other issues. So that was never their charge.
However, there is a separate consultative process that will, indeed, study, you know, the expansion of joint and shared use of U.S. military and Japanese facilities in order to improve the effectiveness of the alliance's defense posture. So we do anticipate those discussions to take place. They just weren't a part of this first -- the working group -- the experts' group, their mandate, okay?
Okay. You also had another question that you sent me, I think. It was about the Ospreys. And what I would say to you there is yes, we anticipate that Ospreys will indeed operate in Japan. And we've -- and we've told the Japanese government as much. You know, where and when and how are things to be determined. But this is obviously an incredibly effective form of airlift that will enhance our alliance capabilities. And so we do anticipate the deployment of Ospreys to our facilities in Japan at some point.
Q Geoff, you mentioned the potential risk to troops because of the Koran-burning. But at the same time, there are these -- up to a dozen soldiers now charged with premeditated murder of Afghan civilians, chopping off body parts, keeping body parts as souvenirs.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q How worried are you about the reaction to these charges, especially considering it doesn't concern one person but multiple people in the unit?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah. Listen, allegations like this are very serious, and that's reflected, I think, in the fact that the charges levied against these individuals are very serious.
It -- this is now in the military judicial system, so I'm not really at liberty to speak to the specifics of it, but let me get to two points that I think I can talk about. First of all, you know, these allegations haven't been proven yet, but they're serious nonetheless. But they are, I think you all would agree, an aberration in terms of the behavior of our forces, if true, around the world. You know, we've got 150,000 men and women deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan right now whose mission is to protect the Iraqi and Afghan people. They are risking their lives to protect the Iraqi and Afghan people. They are willing to lay down their lives to ensure that they are -- they and their families are more secure. So I don't believe the allegations here against these few individuals are representative of the behavior or the attitudes of the entire force.
That said, it clearly -- even if these allegations are proved to be untrue -- is unhelpful. It does not help the -- you know, the perceptions of our forces around the world. And so, the sad part about this is, even if these individuals are vindicated, even if they're not true, the damage will have been done. The people in that area who are impacted by these alleged incidents will think differently of us as a result of that, so how our forces behave in the field, how they treat the -- you know, the host peoples that we interact with, is really vitally important to the ultimate success of our missions. And so it is a real concern of ours.
Q And one follow-up question. The father of one of the soldiers who's charged says that he called the DOD tip line to try to report some of this, and that the person on the tip line told him: Look, he just needs to keep his head down while he's deployed, and deal with this when he gets back.
I mean, does it raise some questions about -- that there seems to be an attempt, several times, to report this, and yet nothing was done for several months afterwards?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah, I don't -- again, this is under adjudication right now, so I'm not familiar with the claim you make.
That's disheartening to hear, if that is indeed the case, because if someone is trying to reach out, trying to notify us, trying to head off a potential problem, that's something we need to pay attention to and heed that warning.
I'm not familiar with it. I don't know if it's accurate or not. We can try to see if that's something that within the confines of the investigation we are permitted to speak to. So let's see if we can find that information out for you. I'm just not familiar with it.
Q Quick acquisition issues. What's the latest timetable, notional timetable, for a tanker selection? There was a wire story this week suggesting it could be as late as into December.
MR. MORRELL: I think we've always been -- we've been consistent on this from the get-go. We anticipate the awarding of this contract to take place this fall.
Q No more clarity than that?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean, we have never offered more clarity than that. And yet that is a pretty precise period of time. That's -- I know of no change to that -- to that timeline. We still anticipate at this point awarding this contract this fall. So I think -- sounds to me like the story was probably a little overblown. I don't know of any change to the timeline.
The -- I mean, I would remind you -- and not that I'm suggesting that this is going to happen -- that the fall, you know, goes from what, September the 21st to December the 21st. So there is a window there. So there's, I suppose, the potential for it to -- you know, given that timeline, for it to go into December.
I don't know anything more than what we have always said, was we will award this contract in the fall. And that has not changed.
Q And another quick one. Ash Carter back in the summer unveiled an efficiency initiative that dovetailed with the secretary's hundred million -- hundred billion dollar savings initiative. This was tailored toward industry.
MR. MORRELL: Yeah.
Q What is the status of his directive to industry --
MR. MORRELL: I think he --
Q (Short audio break) -- the initiative?
MR. MORRELL: Yeah. I think you will likely hear more on this issue probably in the next few days. So maybe as early as next week we'll have more for you on that. So he's working on that. You know, this is part of -- this is one of the four pillars of the efforts that the secretary has mandated take place in order to make this building run more efficiently and also provide for our forces enough investment to sustain the current force structure and the requisite investment in modernization.
And given, you know, the 1 percent real growth that we anticipate having over the next several years, we need to find savings within ourselves to sustain the force structure and ensure proper investment in modernization. So, clearly the efforts of Ash Carter in terms of working with industry to find a way for us to be more efficient and more effective and better stewards of the taxpayer dollars is going to be a key component to this overall effort.
Q Can you give any broad -- some of the broad conclusions that will be coming out of it?
MR. MORRELL: Well, I think, first of all, he's -- you know, he came to this podium, introduced by the Secretary of Defense, and foreshadowed, you know, what he was going to be working on. He will come back here in the next several days and tell you precisely what his guidance is going to be to industry. So let me just wait till then. And he'll be with you shortly, I assure you.
Q How significant is this meeting next week with the Russian defense minister? It is the first time in the Pentagon. (Off mike) -- indicated they want to talk about missile defense.
MR. MORRELL: I think it's significant. And you know -- you know, there's -- for journalists, I think it provides great color. I mean, here is Secretary Gates, who made his career, you know, analyzing the Soviets, and here he is as the Secretary of Defense for the first time inviting his Russian counterpart to come to the building. And it so happens that they are both taking on very bold, very ambitious reform initiatives within their respective militaries, and I think they want to talk about how that's going. You know, they face, you know, economic or fiscal challenges of their own. They also face demographic challenges due to an aging population. They also have -- historically have had a very different military in terms of how -- you know, the balance of the officer corps and noncommissioned officers and enlisted and so forth. And so I think this will probably be a very interesting conversation as they both sort of wrestle the bureaucracies, the institutional forces in their -- in their militaries. It won't be limited to that by any means. They're going to talk about a wide range of issues.
Listen, I think, Michael, to the question on missile defense, missile defense invariably comes up in every conversation we have with the Russians because we do think we have a -- there is a mutual threat here in, you know -- you know, missiles being launched from rogue states such as Iran in -- towards Europe. We have assets there. We have forces there. We have U.S. nationals there. They are obviously -- they obviously live on the continent. They are well within range of an Iranian attack. And so we think there is merit to work on this system together.
And we've tried to make that clear time and time again. There clearly has been reluctance on their part to do so, but we don't give up hope, and we will continue to engage in conversations. But that is not the express purpose of this meeting. This is -- this is a meeting that has virtue unto itself. The -- for the two leaders of -- you know, the two civilian heads of these militaries to get together and discuss areas of mutual interest is important unto itself. This is not designed to make break -- make headway or a breakthrough on missile defense.
Q Yeah, can you describe the impact, if any, on if the Senate doesn't pass the defense authorization? Where it's going to --
MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean, listen. Operating under a continuing resolution does present challenges to us. We're not unfamiliar with this territory. We've done so many, many times before. So we're not in a situation that we're worried about running out of -- that we're going to run out of money. But we do, under this -- you know, because we operate according to the previous year's budget figures. But we are concerned about the restrictions posed by a continuing resolution, and there's a litany of them, but chief among them would be, I think, our inability to launch new programs and so forth.
So we are in discussions with the -- you know, with the -- with the committees about how to deal with that situation. And historically the way we've dealt with it is that we have been given some latitude or some special authorities where necessary in our theater of operations.
So if there is an urgent need, if there is something that the forces need or the operations need that is inhibited under the continuing resolution, we would have more latitude there to do things. So that's where the discussions stand right now.
Q Are you concerned it's not going to happen, though? Or is it --
MR. MORRELL: I mean, listen, our -- what we've always -- the appropriations bill has always been the one that's of chief concern to this bill. And the authorization bill is of secondary concern, but it clearly provides us with authorities that we need, and so it inhibits our -- without it we are -- we are somewhat hamstrung. That's why we are in discussions with the committees about how we can acquire some special authorities during this period, under the continuing resolution, to ensure that we have flexibility in the field to address new challenges. And that's being worked on. We anticipate it'll have a successful outcome, and so we're okay right now.
Q Geoff, going back to the theme of troops being at risk, there was a report out last night that there is a contractor that provides translators for Afghanistan in Dari-Pashtu --
MR. MORRELL: It was an ABC News report, Luis. You don't give your own news organization credit.
Q The ABC report -- (laughter) -- has indicated that this contractor --
MR. MORRELL: (Laughs.) (Off mike) -- investigates.
Q Yes -- that this contractor may have fudged proficiency requirements established by the DOD and the Army. Are you concerned that U.S. troops in the field in Afghanistan may be at risk because this company or other companies may be pushing translators who are -- who are not up to the task?
MR. MORRELL: Luis, to tell you the truth, it was the -- you know, your story -- I mean, I watched the story last night.
It was the first I have ever heard of a -- of a -- of a translator issue. Other than the fact -- listen, since we -- you know, post-9/11, translators have been at a premium, obviously, for this department and the whole of government. Anybody operating in the region has been in need of expert translators. And as we're surging forces into Afghanistan, particularly in areas which have, you know, multiple dialects and languages, that expertise is needed more than ever.
But I had -- you know, the only -- the only context I've ever heard concerns about translating is the need for more of them. I've never heard, as your story alleges, that they are -- they are passing themselves off as more expert than they actually are.
But what I would tell you with regards to your story and the allegations in it is that I think this is a matter that the -- that the Army is currently looking into. So I'm going to -- you know, they're investigating this allegation of fraud. And I don't think I can provide comment beyond that, given the legal constraints and also my lack of knowledge about their particular investigation.
Yeah, go ahead.
Q John Harper with Asahi Shimbun. Will Cyber Command be hosting any media events in the next couple of months, and how open will the organization be, in general, to the media?
MR. MORRELL: I would hope that they would be as transparent as possible, given some of the operational security issues that are inherent in their work. I don't know of any plans in particular, but I'm sure if you reach out to them or if you reach out to press operations -- I have over here Captain Darryn James, newly promoted, who may be able to help you facilitate such a request.
Q You talked about authorization, but I was wondering, are you preparing for contingencies in case there won't be a new defense -- actual defense appropriations bill for several months?
MR. MORRELL: You're speaking of what? You said the authorization bill?
Q Gordon asked you about authorization, but I'm curious about particularly the actual new budget may be delayed for several months. And I'm wondering whether the building's already preparing for such a contingency.
MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean, you know, our fiscal year is relatively new at this point. I mean, so we still have -- you know, we still have the -- I'm sorry, we're coming up to the end of this fiscal year. I think we are less concerned in terms of the authorizations at this point. I feel as though we are in a good position with our -- with our funds. We have the OCO. We have the supplemental, so I think we're in good shape there. The issue most acutely has been the authorization. And so -- but if we have some latitude with the CR, then we'll be okay on that front as well.
So I don't know -- I have not -- you know, they're not back yet. I don't think we've been updated particularly on the schedule at which they're going to take up -- you know, I think the Senate hasn't completely marked up the FY '11 budget proposal yet, but I think all the other committees have completed their markup, and hopefully they'll take this up soon thereafter. But I think, luckily, we still have some time on the clock to do so.
Q (Off mike) -- secretary have any further involvement in the START ratification -- there's a draft, I guess, ratification resolution going around now and -- (off mike).
MR. MORRELL: You saw that -- well, there was a -- you saw -- I mean, I know there was a story in your -- on your wire service yesterday about a letter that he had sent up to the Hill in response to some questions that were asked during his last testimony up there with Senator [sic – Secretary] Clinton, and so that was sort of following up on that, providing some more clarity on the enforceability of the treaty.
They've testified several times. I mean, I think, you know, those -- the principals have testified several times, let alone all the experts. So I mean, I -- I don't know if I have it in here, but there are just -- there are hours and hours and hours of testimony and documents that have been provided the committee so that they feel more -- as comfortable as possible with taking this matter up. Obviously, we hope the committee will vote it through and that the -- that the full Senate will be allowed the opportunity to vote this up or down as soon as possible, because right now, as you know, we're without -- you know, START has expired. We're without a lot of the verification methods and restrictions that were under the previous treaty. And so we want to get under this agreed-upon, negotiated new START as quickly as possible.
But I don't -- if your question is, is the secretary about to undertake any other sort of public or private lobbying effort to get this through, I know of no plans to do so at this point. But he is always available, you know, to answer questions of concern from members if that will help move this along.
Q Geoff, is that going to complicate at all his meeting with his Russian counterpart?
MR. MORRELL: I mean, I think -- I don't -- frankly, I don't know if it's gone through the Duma yet either. So they may have their own challenges in terms of ratification. But I don't -- you know, I -- I don't anticipate it being a cause for concern. I think they both have an interest in getting this ratified by our respective legislative bodies. But that's not -- I don't think that's a -- that's expected to be a sticking point.
Q When you say the schedule for the remainder of the year has been largely set, can we assume that the department has ruled out the -- not having any two-plus-two with Japan by the end of this year?
MR. MORRELL: I don't think we've ruled anything in or out. I don't think we've come to a date yet when we would have such a meeting. So, I mean, obviously you're trying then to coordinate four principals' schedules, which is always a challenge. But I don't think -- I wouldn't read anything into the fact that -- we haven't arrived at a date yet. We just haven't gotten there.
Okay? Luis? You had second thoughts?
Q Different story. The Purple Heart is -- I believe -- has it been authorized for TBI?
MR. MORRELL: Purple Heart has not been. [Correction: Each service ensures members who sustain a concussion/mild TBI are awarded the Purple Heart if the two basic Purple Heart criteria are met: wound was the result of enemy action or occurred in action with the enemy, and the wound required treatment by a medical officer.]
Q If it were, what -- under what guidelines would the Purple Heart be authorized?
MR. MORRELL: Well, listen, the Purple Heart -- I mean, there are very precise and prescriptive guidelines governing the awarding of Purple Hearts that have -- that have been -- that have stood the test of time and have been thoroughly analyzed.
I think this question was asked at least a couple of years ago, and I think there was an internal review in terms of looking at the possibility of changing the criteria so that Purple Hearts could be awarded for TBI or PTS. And I think the determination was made that that does not fit the bill. It doesn't lessen the -- you know, the suffering or the seriousness of -- associated with those battle injuries, but I don't think that people think this is an appropriate medal for those types of injuries.
I would point to the fact, though, that the White House has announced that another Medal of Honor -- the president is bestowing another Medal of Honor, this one on an -- on an OEF veteran who is also, like every of the others in this conflict, is being awarded posthumously for his heroic efforts in Afghanistan several years ago.
I think that this is the first one, if I'm not mistaken, whose actions took place while Secretary Gates was in this office. So that is a new development as of today.
All right? Thanks. Good to see you all.
(C) COPYRIGHT 2010, FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC., 1000 VERMONT AVE. NW; 5TH FLOOR; WASHINGTON, DC - 20005, USA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. ANY REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED.
UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION CONSTITUTES A MISAPPROPRIATION UNDER APPLICABLE UNFAIR COMPETITION LAW, AND FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. RESERVES THE RIGHT TO PURSUE ALL REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO IT IN RESPECT TO SUCH MISAPPROPRIATION.
FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. IS A PRIVATE FIRM AND IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. NO COPYRIGHT IS CLAIMED AS TO ANY PART OF THE ORIGINAL WORK PREPARED BY A UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE AS PART OF THAT PERSON'S OFFICIAL DUTIES.
FOR INFORMATION ON SUBSCRIBING TO FNS, PLEASE CALL CARINA NYBERG AT 202-347-1400.