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Briefing on Scope and Charter of Task Force Assessing Saudi Bombing

Presenters: General Wayne Downing, U.S. Army (Ret.)
July 10, 1996 10:00 AM EDT

Wednesday, July 10, 1996, 10 a.m.

General Downing's task force with regard to assessing the terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia. Also participating are Kenneth Bacon, ASD(PA), and Lt. Gen. James R. Clapper Jr., U.S. Air Force, (Ret.)

Good morning. Well, without further ado, I will introduce General Wayne Downing, who has been asked by the Secretary to [pause due to audio difficulties] -- General Wayne Downing as you know, came out of retirement. -- this is the longest introduction in history with the least to say -- came out of retirement, he'd been the Commander-in-Chief of the Special Operations Command, to perform a very important assessment for the Secretary and for the President. That is to look at the circumstances behind... that led to the bombing in Dhahran. But more importantly to recommend changes that can be made to lower the risk that such a tragedy will happen again. He's come here to describe the procedures for his assessment which will be ongoing over the next 45 days or so. General Downing.

General Wayne Downing: I'm afraid to get up here after that auspicious beginning. It's kind of an historic event for me and a little bit ironic also you know, I spend 34 years in the military in uniform. This is the first time I've been in this room for a press conference and I'm not here in uniform, you know, I'm here in civilian clothes. I guess the moral of that story is you can run but you can't hide and you never really can escape.

What I'd like to do is this morning -- Ken and I were talking -- and he thought it might be a good idea as we kicked this assessment off to come in and talk to you folks a little bit and get your questions about what it is we're going to do. So, what I'd like to do is to talk you a little bit about what my tasking is. What we've been asked to do. A little bit about how we're going to do it and since we're just starting, I really don't have anything to report as far as facts that we've gathered. So, it's very safe to talk to you this morning.

Here's what the President, through the Secretary of Defense, has asked me to do. Basically take a look at the Khobar Towers bombing. Do an assessment of that particular event. Take a look at other areas in the CENTCOM AOR -- area of responsibility -- to find out what kind of lessons learned that come out of this particular event. Now, this is not a criminal investigation. This is not an investigation to determine culpability. This is an investigation to assess the facts and to make recommendations.

If I find anything, certainly of that nature, I will pass that on to the appropriate people, primarily the Central Command and the chain of command. But, my mission is to do what is similar to a safety investigation in the service and that is find out what happened. And, by finding out what happened, see how we can apply those lessons learned to the future.

And, I've got a target date of 15 August. That is very ambitious given the scope of my charter. And, if I need a little bit more time, I can ask for that time and I can take it. I am, however, going to tell the Secretary, at his request, of anything critical that I may find as I go through this investigation that might have immediate application. In other words if I find something significant that we need to do right away, I'm not going to wait until the 15th of August. I'll tell the Secretary right away and we'll take appropriate action on those kind of things.

I can tell you I've gotten great support as I've put this team together. I have a team of 25 or 30 core people who are experts in different areas of anti-terrorism. I've got one other retired general officer with me on the team, sitting over here is Lieutenant General Jim Clapper. Jim retired in September of '95 and many of you will remember he was the former director of DIA.

We also have access to different people in the community as we need them for consultations. I have liaison and good points of contact with other critical elements of the U.S. government including the CIA, the FBI and the State Department as well as other different agencies within the Department of Defense and I'm getting very, very good cooperation. Both the President and the Secretary of Defense have pledged to me anything I need, I will get full cooperation as I go throughout this particular assessment.

So, with that as an introduction, let me now go ahead and open it up to your questions.

Q: What sort of cooperation do you -- have you asked for, or are you expecting from the Saudi government? What do you need from them?

A: Well, what we'd like to get from the Saudi government is talking to all the eyewitnesses that actually saw that event. We would also like to talk to the folks in Saudi Arabia who were responsible for physical security. One of the things that we're going to be looking at is the division of responsibility overseas between the U.S. forces for physical security and the host country forces. And, we want to make sure that -- that those seams between those two cooperations have been well-covered and find out what kind of lessons we can find out from Khobar Towers.

Q: Do you mean -- you will be able to talk the civilians?

A: We have asked to be able to talk to those people. I'm going into this thing with the assumption that I'll be able to talk to the key people that I need to talk to.

Q: Is part of what you're trying to do is to do a backup threat assessment [inaudible] part of those facts and circumstances are determined by what the threat is or is not. So, are you going to get into that kind of ...

A: I -- we will not make a threat assessment. We certainly will look at the threat assessments that have been done by the intelligence community, both before this event, as a result of Riyadh. See how that information was disseminated, how it was understood at different levels of the chain of command and then see what it is today. General Clapper, would you like to add anything to that?

General Clapper: No, I think you've -- you've covered basically -- I was hoping to be able to hide there under the chair. I think General Downing has covered in general terms, and at this stage of the process that's what we're doing, is sort of building our interrogatories, if you will, the kinds of questions we want to ask. I think it will be an attempt to look at other facilities in the theater as sort of a snapshot, based on what we learn from our assessment.

Q: General Clapper and General Downing, would you be trying to find the persons who are responsible? I understand that's not your main venue but looking for this will you be trying to determine if -- who was responsible for the bombing? Whether it was a third country or?

A: Well, that's -- that is a separate endeavor that the FBI is working with the Saudi government. That will not per se be a main tenet or a main purpose of this assessment task force and we would, you know, not like to interfere or jeopardize with that. We will obviously be liaisoning and coordinating with those who are in the lead for that -- for that aspect of the overall evolution.

Q: May I do a follow-up on that. Yesterday, at the SASC hearing, Secretary Perry said two things which were quite germane to all of this. One, that if another country is found to have been involved in the bombing, the U.S. would retaliate and also that U.S. leadership was unaware of the potential power of a 3,000 to 5,000 pound bomb going off in Saudi Arabia. It looks as though the lines are a little blurred here. In your investigation in talking to the FBI will you be trying to find out what kind of explosive was used? What kind of detonating device was used for the power? And, General Clapper, with your former contacts, is there anything you can hint to us now as to what kind of explosive was used?

A: Again, that's not our main function -- would be to do that -- since that is an ongoing investigation in which the FBI is participating with others with the whole Saudi government. They have certainly the technical expertise, the forensic capabilities to delve into exactly those issues. We do not plan to do that in our effort.

So, I think it's at least in my mind a fairly clean line of division of effort functionally as to what we will do versus what -- what will be done in terms of actually determining who was responsible and the exact nature of the weapon.

Q: Putting your former DIA hat on just for a second, what do you hear from your former sources? Can you shed any light on what was used?

A: I really can't. I've been, you know, this is a new thing. I am in the, you know, the start up phase here getting -- trying to get smart on -- on this whole evolution. So, I -- I think it would be probably premature and inappropriate for me to, you know, just share speculation with you at this point because I really haven't gotten into that. The investigation itself is underway so I wouldn't want to say anything that would jeopardize that.

Q: What are your travel plans as of now? Who are you going to see in Saudi Arabia in terms of the monarchy?

A: It's my intent to talk to every member of the chain of command, from General Peay, right down to the sentries on the roofs at Khobar Towers. We'll also talk to the key people in the other countries in the area of responsibility. We'll start off here in the United States next week and we will interview as many people as we possibly can. We'll then move and go into theater.

Our principle focus to begin with is Saudi Arabia, not only Dhahran but the other sites in Saudi Arabia and then we plan to visit some other key sites in southwest Asia and the Middle East. And, these are primarily defined by areas where we have large numbers of U.S. military and where there is a threat, a possible threat to these forces.

I anticipate we're going to be on the road for probably the next 2-3 weeks as we gather facts.

Q: On your core, do you have any outside, private sector security consultant as part of your team? Can you provide a list also of all your team members and their expertise?

A: We can provide that list to you. We have not now brought in any civilian security consultants; but certainly they're out there and if we need their expertise we will call on them.

Q: And, how are you funded?

A: We're funded by the Defense Department.

Q: How much [inaudible]?

A: How much is it going to cost?

Q: Yes. Do you know what they said 'here's $100 million, go do it?'

A: Well, it's nothing like that. I think the primary cost for the study will be just the pay. Most people, the vast majority of our people are active duty military. We do have a few civilians, a few people like General Clapper and myself who are retired and then the air travel there and back. I don't think this is going to be a very expensive assessment.

Q: On your point of that threat assessment. Just to clarify that, I think the Secretary said yesterday that some of the intelligence estimates were not tactically useful, fully, anyway. And, then, in view of the notion that you're going to provide recommendations on preventing future terrorist attacks, won't you have to 'assess the assessments' if you will?

A: Certainly. And, we will look at the usefulness of the information. What did it mean? How was it interpreted? And, this type thing. Yes, we will be.

Q: Request a new threat assessment? You don't think that's adequate to make recommendations and...

A: If that's required, we will certainly make that recommendation. I would be surprised if we don't see that we've got some very, very up-to-date threat assessments.

Q: What do you anticipate will be the most difficult part of this investigation?

A: Well, that's an interesting question. I think going through and finding out what happened, talking to the eyewitnesses is going to be fairly easy. I think that's pretty straight-forward. We have a lot of facts there. We have a lot of people that we need to talk to. I think figuring out what the division of responsibility is --supposed to be -- between ourselves and the host countries will be challenging as will be the division of responsibilities within the government. So, but we're going to try to get a hold of those things and lay those out.

We certainly are relying on a lot of things that were done in the past. I think all of us on this group have read the Long Commission report on the Beirut bombing -- very, very interesting. A lot of parallels there but also a lot of things which are dissimilar.

We have also, are reading and consulting all the previous vulnerability assessments that have been done in that area. So...

Q: Just a follow-up. Why do you think the -- getting into the division of responsibility will be challenging?

A: I think we're going to have to get into different people's perceptions as to what their responsibilities were. I think we also have to do this in a manner which is fairly deft and diplomatic; and we've got to recognize that we're dealing with governments which are very much different than ours and societies which are very, very much different than ours. So, we've got to find the facts but we've also got to do these in a manner where people are helpful to us and we can do this stuff properly.

Q: One of the things that Secretary Perry said yesterday was that he anticipated there will be additional attacks in the Gulf and some may come soon. Can you talk about the sense of urgency with which you are taking up this task?

A: Well I think, you see by the timeline the real sense of urgency here. This is -- a study done of this magnitude in 45 days is a very, very short period of time. The Long Commission, for example, took 90 or 120 days to look at the Beirut bombing. Certainly, the Secretary and the President want us to get out there. Want us to determine any immediate vulnerability so that people can react to them very, very quickly. Quite frankly, I'm going to be surprised if we get out there and find things -- many things that haven't been done, many of the immediate action type things. Because I can tell you from just the brief time that I've been on this assessment team there's a real sense of urgency out there by all the commanders to protect their forces. They are concerned about it. They do recognize that there's a threat and -- and it is a new threat. Certainly, the magnitude of that particular device that -- that went off shows a major escalation in the threat and so there's going to have to be -- and there are, I think -- some extraordinary things being done out there in the theater to protect our forces.

Q: How much of these threat assessments... were any of these threat assessments conducted at DIA? How involved were they if at all in the assessments? And, were any of these assessments for that region in particular done under your watch, general?

A: Jim, why don't you come up and address that?

General Clapper: Well, this is an area of the world, of course, that was under scrutiny -- monitorship by the DIA when I was -- I was director. Although all the immediate sequence of events starting with the bombing incident in Riyadh, happened after -- after my watch. I am in the process now, it's my intent to read every report that was put out at every level. In fact, I started that this morning to -- as best I can -- reconstruct the sequence of events starting with the earlier incident and sort of working forward. As to the level of reporting, it's my impression, and this is preliminary, that there was extensive reporting done on the situation at the national level. But, the key thing here is it's one thing to report. It's quite another if, you know, was the report received? Did somebody react to it, think about it and do something about it. And, that's what we had to get into here. And, of course, one of my tasks, I think is to access the effectiveness of all that.

Q: General Downing, you come from a special operations background. Do you anticipate that there will be a requirement for a more active role for special operations forces in protecting U.S. forces overseas?

A: I think they already are involved actively in protecting U.S. forces. One of the core missions of our special operations forces is combating terrorism. Combating terrorism has two dimensions. Counter-terrorism, which are the means that we take to actively deter, to punish someone for a terrorist act to actively prevent it. And then anti-terrorism -- anti- terrorism being the passive measures. The measures we take to protect ourselves. We for many, many years have been involved in security assessments for different elements of the U.S. government and so I anticipate that we'll stay active in both of those particular roles.

Q: Do you anticipate that you will be more aggressive in that particular... counter-terrorism, going after these people overseas?

A: Well, that is always an option. You know, that's always an option and as you know there's a wide variety of factors and courses of action that get considered when we're going to do these kind of things; but certainly using special operations forces is an option that we have.

Q: If you find during the course of your search individuals that didn't do their job the way they perhaps should have, will you be pointing fingers at them? Will be you saying here is a major, this colonel, this major, this captain, whatever, this general, didn't do what this individual should have done. Will you be pointing fingers?

A: Specifically, we're not charged with doing that. In fact, specifically, the Secretary has told me this is not a culpability exercise. However, he has told me that if I find instances of malfeasance of duty, of this type of thing, that I'm to report that to the chain of command and we'll let them handle it.

Q: [Inaudible] The culpability assessment -- do you know?

Mr. Bacon: He'll report it to the chain of command and it will go through normal procedures after that. He's not the judge, and that would be handled in normal disciplinary channels. Thank you very much.

General Downing: In closing let me say we've got a big task ahead of us. We'll probably see you sooner than we would like to. I anticipate though that -- that we're going to be able to come up with many of the answers and I think we're going to be able to come up with some things which I hope will be useful, especially for the long-term. We've got great support both from the Secretary of Defense and from the President, himself, on this particular issue and now we're ready to get on it. Thanks very much.

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