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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Secretary Hagel and Gen. Dempsey from the Pentagon Briefing Room

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin E. Dempsey
June 26, 2013

            SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL:  Good afternoon.  I had one announcement I want to make, and that is the president is very proud and very pleased, as I am, to announce that the president is nominating General Dempsey and Admiral Winnefeld for second two-year terms in their respective offices as chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

             So I enthusiastically endorse that nomination, and I would add, at the risk of embarrassing General Dempsey, that I think, if there was ever a time to have this team in place here, in these jobs, at a very difficult challenging time, to have Dempsey and Winnefeld in these roles is the right time.  They're the right two leaders.  And the four months I've been here, they have been immensely helpful to me in every way.

             So I'm very proud of the president's announcement, and I'm very pleased that, with concurrence of the United States Senate, I will have the opportunity to work with these two distinguished leaders of our country for another two years.  And I think America is very fortunate to have General Dempsey and Admiral Winnefeld.

             So that's enough for General Dempsey and Admiral Winnefeld, but that's my announcement.  And I know General Dempsey may have a word or two and then we'll take questions.  Thank you.

             GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY:  Thanks very much, Mr. Secretary.  Admiral Winnefeld and I are proud to serve alongside you and the brave and courageous men and women of our armed forces.  They really are without equal.  I was reminded of that once again this week while traveling into the heartland of America, in our Midwest. 

             I went first to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.  The spring floods there have soaked the prairie, but our airmen work diligently to keep about a third of our intercontinental ballistic missile fleet safe and dry in the face of 80 inches of snow this winter and the flooding.  Extraordinary work in extraordinary difficult circumstances.

             I also stopped at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, and our team there is the model for active and reserve integration.  I met with airmen who operate and maintain our Minuteman III ballistic missiles, our B-52s, and our -- and our B-2 fleets.

             In our discussions, I was asked about the future of our nuclear enterprise, and I reaffirmed my commitment to a reliable, secure, and modern nuclear triad.  The visits there also reaffirm my complete confidence in the surety and readiness of our strategic nuclear deterrent capability.

             A stop at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois led me to visit U.S. Transportation Command, and it proved equally impressive.  Too often we take for granted the unfailing ability of our transportation professionals to move and sustain the force.  With their indispensable commercial partners, by the way, they provide a decisive strategic advantage for our nation.  The public-private partnerships and global distribution system that they manage is also vulnerable and not just because of budget uncertainty.  Reliance on unclassified communications, Internet networks, exposes us to increased risk from cyber intrusion and attack.

           And I'll have more to say on this issue, that is, defending the nation at network speed, tomorrow at a speech I'll be giving at Brookings -- at the Brookings Institute. 

            At each stop of my trip, one thing was always clear, that -- that is that our joint force is made up of the very best that our nation has to offer.  Each and every one of them is also a volunteer.  And I mention this because we're about to mark the 40th anniversary of the all-volunteer force on the 1st of July.  And I would suggest that we should use that occasion to reflect on one of our nation's finest achievements, and that is what we have a professional military composed entirely of volunteers.

            And with that, I, too, am prepared to take your questions.

            SEC. HAGEL:  Thank you. 

            Lita?

            Q:  Mr. Secretary, one quick question on the DOMA announcement today.  Do you have any assessment -- either of you -- on the cost this may be at the Pentagon for extending these benefits? 

            And then on -- my question actually has to do with Syria.  You both on occasion had expressed concerns about arming the rebels and where those arms may or may not end up in the hands of other terrorist groups.  Now that the administration has gone ahead and made a decision to do that, have your concerns been alleviated?  Do you think there's a lesser chance now that there will be weapons ending up in the hands of terrorists?  And do you at this point have any sense that the U.S. military is playing any role at all in the arming?

            SEC. HAGEL:  On DOMA, I put out a statement an hour or so ago and essentially said we, the Department of Defense, will move very swiftly, expeditiously on implementing the law, the decision of the Supreme Court.  We think it's the right decision, and we're looking forward to taking that decision and implementing the required next steps.

            As to the cost, no, we don't yet know because we just received the -- the decision.  We are now, of course, exploring all the pieces, but make no mistake:  It will be a decision implemented in every way, as it should be.

            Let me ask General Dempsey to respond to the DOMA piece.  He may have something in addition.  And we'll take the Syrian question.

            GENERAL DEMPSEY:  No, on DOMA, I mean, the Joint Chiefs have been very clear that we'll follow the law of the land, and the law of the land has just changed, and we will now, as quickly as possible, assess what that means.  I'm sure there will be some cost, but we'll figure it out, because we'll follow the law of the land.

            SEC. HAGEL:  On Syria, I think the central point of your question is always going to be a factor.  The opposition represents many different groups.  And we will always be and have to be assured that assistance we give to the Syrian military council gets to the right people, and that isn't a decision that can be answered quickly.  It's a constant process of assessment.

            So that still remains as part of the overall objective and what we're -- we're trying to do.  We support what the decision is and what the president decided to do.  As to your question, direct military and U.S. military involvement there, no.

            Marty?

            GENERAL DEMPSEY:  Well, the only thing I'd add is, you know, we -- we support the decision that was made to provide direct support to the Syrian military council, the details of which I won't discuss, but we support the decision.

            Militarily, what we're doing is assisting our partners in the region, the neighbors of Syria, to ensure that they're prepared to account for the potential spillover effects.  As you know, we've just taken a decision to leave some Patriot missile batteries and some F-16s in Jordan as part of the defense of Jordan.  We're working with our Iraqi counterparts, the Lebanese armed forces, and Turkey through NATO, and that's -- that's what we're doing at this point.

            Q:  So the Snowden leaks have come out just as -- as the Bradley Manning trial is underway.  And it seems as if all the steps that were taken in years past to try and eliminate the insider threat from the leaks have not been sufficient.  And I'm wondering what kind of steps you believe the department needs to take in order to address the insider threat and -- and whether or not you think there's been enough accountability for this event, both within the NSA and perhaps within contractors like Booz Allen?

            SEC. HAGEL:  Well, first, that's, as you all know, essentially an NSA issue, an intelligence community matter.  We in the Department of Defense are not untouched by any of that.  The threats are constant.  We are evaluating threats and how to counter threats and improving technologies and dealing with all the dynamics that go into protecting our nation's secrets and protecting our security interests.

            Contractors are part of that, and the essence of that, again, is trying to stay ahead of the threats and assessing those threats and assuring as best we can measures to make every availability of new technology to stop them.  It's an imperfect business.

            But in the Snowden case, when you've got an individual who's willing to break the law, as he did, then he broke the law.  And I don't know how you can ever completely 100 percent guard against someone who wants to break the law and violate the statutes and the interests of our nation.

            So I think that's another part of this.  So, yes, we -- we are constantly having to upgrade our systems and evaluate and assess, and we do that on an ongoing basis. 

            Marty, you want to add anything?

            GENERAL DEMPSEY:  No, I would take -- not to the -- to the safeguards and accountability, but let me put a plug in for the thousands of men and women who work up at CYBERCOM and the National Security Agency who -- who work and protect this nation in accordance with law, with oversight by the judiciary, the executive branch, and the Congress of the United States, because they -- they do incredible and very important work for the nation.

            SEC. HAGEL:  I might add on that, I -- I was in the United States Senate when we passed most of these laws that set up the systems that we are working with today.  They are legal, and they do protect the United States.  And I think that's part of what General Dempsey is referring to, is that we need to keep that in some frame of reference and also not understate what these men and women who devote their lives to the security of this country put themselves through and -- and put their lives on the line in many cases to secure this -- this country.

            Q:  If I could follow up on that, both of you, with your hat on as senior members of the national security team, what damage did Snowden do?  Did he simply cause embarrassment to the United States by revealing this information or is it your feeling -- can you explain what damage he did, what advantage he may have given terrorists at this point? 

            And, secondly, not hypothetical, Russia has yet to give him back.  If the Russians do not give him back, what does that do to the United States military-to-military relationship with the Russians?  Can you go on business as usual?

            SEC. HAGEL:  I would hope that the Russians do the right thing here and turn Snowden over to the United States.  He has broken laws, and I think -- as far as I know, the decision of the Russian government -- at least a final decision hasn't been made yet.  Maybe it has.  As far as I know, Snowden is probably still at the airport in Moscow, unless you all know something different.

            As to the damage done to this country, I've said, General Dempsey's said, others, yes, there was damage done to this country by the Snowden leaks.  And we are assessing that now.  But make no mistake:  This violation of our laws was a serious security breach in our national security apparatus.

            General?

            GENERAL DEMPSEY:  It is too early to tell.  There was damage.  The extent of the damage will -- will be determined.  But it -- just simply stated, if -- if our adversaries are witting and -- and know the way in which we tried to gain information about them, then clearly they will seek to change their tactics and we'll be in a position of trying to adjust our tactics, as well.  But we'll know more about that soon.

            Q:  Is the military-to-military relationship (OFF-MIKE)

            GENERAL DEMPSEY:  Well, the military-to-military relationship, you know, we -- I've said this before.  We have a -- a relationship with Russia that has equal parts of common interests and cooperation and friction.  And the friction tends to be in ballistic missile defense, Syria.  But the points of cooperation are counterterror, counternarcotics, the northern distribution network out of Afghanistan.  We're going -- we're going to put this one on the negative side of the ledger, but we've got to work through it.

            Q:  Can it go on?  Can you...

            GENERAL DEMPSEY:  Yeah, I think so.

            SEC. HAGEL:  Tony?

            Q:  Question for you on the strategic review and, for General Dempsey, on Syria.  First, on Syria, can you recount the practical and operational difficulties of establishing a no-fly zone?  And under sequestration cuts that have impacted readiness, how realistic is it the United States could even conduct a sustained no-fly zone, albeit in support of NATO allies?

            And for Mr. Secretary, the strategic review, can you bound expectations a little bit in terms of -- now that it's complete and that you've been briefed on it, is that a menu of potential cuts, given your view of where dollars may lie over the next 10 years?  And what will the public learn about the impact of sequestration on the military, once this report is released?

            SEC. HAGEL:  You want to start?

            GENERAL DEMPSEY:  Yeah, I'll go first.  A no-fly zone, by the way, is just one option of many that we have analyzed and -- and prepared.  It will be difficult, because the Syrian air defense system is sophisticated and it's dense.  As I've said many times, if that is a decision that the nation takes that we want to impose a no-fly zone, we'll make it happen, and we can do that with a combination of standoff munitions, electronic jamming, long-range attack, and close air attack.  We -- we can, if asked to do so, establish a no-fly zone.

            My concern has been that -- that ensuring that Syria's airplanes don't fly addresses about 10 percent of the problem, in terms of the casualties that are taken in Syria.  And if we choose to -- to conduct a no-fly zone, it's essentially an act of war, and I'd like to understand the plan to make peace before we start a war.

            Now, that said, you asked about readiness.  We are suffering some readiness shortfalls right now because of the combination of the continuing resolution and -- and the sequestration.

            As you know, we -- we have resources that are at heightened states of alert in the vicinity of the Korean peninsula, in the gulf, because of potential provocations with -- of Iran.  Clearly, we still remain very deeply engaged in Afghanistan.  And the question for the nation will be -- and for our elected leaders -- where will we prioritize our resources?  But if that becomes a priority, we can make it happen.

            Q:  (OFF-MIKE)

            SEC. HAGEL:  The Strategic Choices and Management Review that I directed about three-and-a-half months ago was focused primarily on the fiscal guidance, based on preparation for planning for F.Y. 2015 through 2019.  Now, that doesn't disconnect from the reality of what we're sailing into, starting Oct. 1st F.Y. 2014.  We started out working on the assumption that the budget -- the president's budget 2014 that I presented to the Congress -- and all of our team did -- is the underlying budget, that is the underlying number.

            Now, that said, we wanted to assess all the options based on what may occur or continue to occur in the -- in the interest of preparing this enterprise to do the job that it is charged to do, and that's the security of this country.  That means prepare option one, what is our budget in the world look like if sequestration continues?  It doesn't mean we accept it.  It doesn't mean anything other than what -- what happens if that continues?  You know the numbers, what we're dealing with this year.

            What would be the way we would then have to manage our security interests for F.Y. 2014?  That's not disconnected from the larger intent of framing up financial guidance for 2015 through 2019.  We know, again, starting from reality of the Budget Control Act of 2011, Army's announcement yesterday having not much to do with sequestration, it was -- it was starting to implement the decisions made in that Budget Control Act of 2011, bringing our Army down from 570,000 to 490,000 and so on and so on.

            So we continue to do that, to implement those essentially about, what, $490 billion over the next 10 years in cuts.  On top of that, if we have to live with sequestration, how do we then prepare?  So that's what it was about.  This is not a plan.  It was exactly what the title implies, Strategic Choices and Management Review, review all the components of our budget, our responsibilities, prioritize those based on these different scenarios, so that -- so that we could be as prepared as we could be to make sure that the president is assured that he's got the options and -- and this country is capable to carry out the requirements to assure our national security.

            There will be no rollout of any grand plan on this.  Everybody is involved.  I'm assessing that now.  They were right on time with their -- with their numbers when they came in.  This was managed mainly by the deputy secretary, Ash Carter.  General Dempsey was involved.  All of our uniformed and civilian leadership was involved, top to bottom, which I wanted that.  We looked at everything.

            And based on those numbers, based on those assessments, based on those possibilities and different scenarios, then that will inform our leadership as to how we prepare for next year's budget, as we present it in early 2014 for 2015, but also in the event that we're going to be living with sequestration, then I can't -- I can't do anything else, nor can the leadership, but try to get ahead of this and prepare.  That's what it's about.

            Yes?

            Q:  Mr. Secretary, if there isn't an international conference on Syria until the end of the summer, will the U.S. still send weapons to the Syrian opposition?  Last night, General Idris told NBC's Richard Engel that those weapons are supposed to start arriving in two weeks' time.  Is that true? 

            And, General Dempsey, in terms of spillover, has Lebanon asked for U.S. military help?  And do you plan to send the U.S. military to Lebanon?

            SEC. HAGEL:  Well, my quick answer to your question is -- as you know, this really -- the day-to-day negotiations and all the aspects of this is being handled by the State Department.  I mean, we're a part of that, but Secretary Kerry and his team have got responsibilities of -- of carrying it out and implementing this and working with us on it.  So I think that's -- that's what I would say, to answer your question on this, with...

            Q:  (OFF-MIKE) weapons will be coming in the next couple weeks to...

            SEC. HAGEL:  Well, you'd have to ask -- the timeframe and the timetables and assessments of how they get in and who does what and what exactly is being sent -- and I'm not going to get into any of those details, because that's still pretty classified.

            GENERAL DEMPSEY:  We have a mil-to-mil relationship with the Lebanese armed forces now.  I've had since I -- since I commanded CENTCOM, actually, about four or five years ago.  And we've made a recommendation that as we look at the challenges faced by the Lebanese armed forces, the Iraqi security forces with a re-emerging al-Qaeda in Iraq, and the Jordanians, that we would work with them to help them build additional capability.

            But this -- when you say would we send the United States Army or the United States military into Lebanon, I'm talking about teams of trainers, and I'm talking about accelerating foreign military sales for equipment for them.  This is -- this is about building their capability, not ours.

            Q:  I have a question on Egypt for you, Chairman Dempsey.  As you may know, the Egypt Army chief, General al-Sisi, gave President Morsi and the opposition a few days to reach an agreement in order to prevent the country a bloodshed.  I would like to hear from you, what are your thoughts in regards -- what -- where Egypt is going to?  And do you think -- do you believe that the Islamists in Cairo have misruled the country?

            SEC. HAGEL:  As I think you know, may know -- most of you do know, some of you were on the trip with me -- I was in Cairo for a day a couple of months ago and met with President Morsi and General al-Sisi and had an opportunity to hear from them directly and clearly on -- on the status of where things are and were then.

            Egypt is going through, as everyone knows, a very difficult time.  And I think the military has been very responsible in this.  When you look at the demographics of Egypt and the kind of social issues they're dealing with and unemployment and all that goes into this, this is -- this is a set of dynamics that are going to require some time to work through this.  And I think where we can continue to be supportive is -- is a democratic government, respecting the rights of -- of all individuals.  And that's -- that's what we are going to continue to -- to do.

            GENERAL DEMPSEY:  You know, Jill, sometimes you and others might read back to me something I've said in the past and say, "You know, back in 2010, you said the following."  I've -- I've said for a very long time that, as the Arab Spring -- or whatever we call it today -- would manifest itself in that region of the world, where a different relationship between the governed and the governing was -- was evolving, that there would be transactional moments, that people who were not yet expert at -- at the act of governance would struggle and that it would probably be a generation before things became a stable platform.

            And that's -- I think you're seeing that play out across the Arab world, which is why these issues are long-term issues.  They're not to be solved overnight. 

            The Egyptian military, in my conversations with them, and I have a phone call scheduled -- a pretty fairly frequent occasion -- with my Egyptian counterpart tomorrow.  And in my last conversation with him, he assured me that -- that the Egyptian military wants to be a force for stability and a calming presence, not -- not a force that will seek to create instability.  And I can only take him at his word at this point.

            Q:  Mr. Secretary?

             Q:  Mr. Secretary, can you guarantee that servicemembers who live in states where marriage is defined as between one man and one woman will now be able to get federal benefits, considering DOMA is no more?

            SEC. HAGEL:  Well, my answer to your question is going to be the same answer I gave at the beginning here.  I haven't had more than two hours just to -- I've read the basic opinion.  I haven't talked to any lawyers about it.  I haven't talked to any really of our people any depth, so I think I have to leave it there.

            I've got a responsibility to carry out the law of the land, the decision that the Supreme Court made today based on this place.  Obviously, we're going to deal with the -- work with the Justice Department and all the other executive offices in complying with that law of the land, which we're very pleased to do and will do and do it expeditiously, but to get beyond that, I don't know.  But I just -- I don't want to go any further than that until I know more about it.

            GENERAL DEMPSEY:  Yeah, if I could add, because sometimes there's the impression that the military in particular will find a way to fight this or fight that.  We actually have done what I think is a very credible job of ensuring as much equality as we can possibly provide to men and women who serve this country in uniform voluntarily.  And will -- we will do what we can for them within the limits of the law, but we haven't had time to -- to figure out what that means yet.

            Q:  And if I could follow up, wasn't the issue of states' rights settled in 1865?  Wouldn't that give the federal government the ability to extend rights to servicemembers in these states?

            SEC. HAGEL:  Well, you may want to address that to the attorney general.  But -- but thank you for your question, unless Professor Dempsey here would like to...

            GENERAL DEMPSEY:  No, I -- but I'll Google it.  I'll be on Google as soon as I finish the press conference.

            SEC. HAGEL:  But thank you.

            Yes?

            Q:  Mr. Secretary and General Dempsey, when the White House said letting Snowden leave Hong Kong is going to have an active impact on China-U.S. relationship, is there any negative consequence for U.S.-China military relations?

            SEC. HAGEL:  Well, I would make just one general comment, and General Dempsey can, obviously, respond.  We're very disappointed in the -- in the Chinese government in how they've handled this.  And it could have been handled a different way.

            But in addition to that comment, I would say that, you know, relationships are not built around just usually one or two issues.  It's a composite.  And so there are many areas where we cooperate with the Chinese and other areas where we are in competition with the Chinese.

            And I think it's important that we both work toward the common interests of our countries to try to find some common purpose.  And this was an occasion, I think, where we had an opportunity to do that.  But that was the decision of the Chinese government.

            GENERAL DEMPSEY:  I have nothing to add to that.

            Q:  Will you keep the dynamic and momentum you're having with the Chinese, your counterparts now, in the future?

            SEC. HAGEL:  Yes. 

            Q:  Yeah, thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Your predecessor about a year ago had tasked Deputy Secretary Carter to work with the Indians to remove bureaucratic hurdles in increasing India-U.S. defense trade.  Had you get a chance to sit down with him, talk (inaudible) review your policy with India?  And has -- when do you think he's going to submit his report to you?

            SEC. HAGEL:  I'm sorry.  Who -- who are you...

            Q:  Secretary Panetta had appointed Deputy Secretary Carter to work with Indians on removing bureaucratic hurdles to increase India-U.S. defense trade.  This has been a year now.

            SEC. HAGEL:  Yes.

            Q:  So have you got the chance to sit down with him and review your India policy?

            SEC. HAGEL:  I have not, but I can tell you that that India-U.S. relationship is a very important relationship.  I think the president has made that clear.  Secretary Kerry recently noted that in his visit.  We believe that, and we'll continue to work toward a closer and closer relationship.

            And I think we had made some progress.  General Dempsey (inaudible)

            GENERAL DEMPSEY:  Yeah, and militarily, as you know, our commander of U.S. Pacific Command manages that relationship on a day-to-day basis for the secretary, and he's got a trip upcoming to India very shortly.

            SEC. HAGEL:  Yes?

            Q:  Mr. Secretary?

            (CROSSTALK)

            Q:  Yes.  Back on Syria. As you may know, some of the non-lethal aid that's been promised to Syria is still not arrived.  Recognizing that some of that is being coordinated outside of this building, I'm just wondering if you could speak to -- is it frustrating at all to find that some of this aid that may help the opposition in Syria still isn't there when the -- when the war is clearly happening in real time?

            SEC. HAGEL:  I don't think I would add anything I've already said about it.  General Dempsey?

            GENERAL DEMPSEY:  No, look, we -- we manage our global transportation network.  As I mentioned, I was out at TRANSCOM.  And I actually -- I have to go back and see how much of the -- of the aid is frustrated, meaning not yet delivered.  I -- I don't have that committed to memory.

            Q:  (OFF-MIKE) on India, Mr. Secretary (OFF-MIKE)

            STAFF:  Thank you, everyone.

            SEC. HAGEL:  OK, thank you.  Thank you.