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DoD News Briefing, Thursday, July 18, 1996

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
July 18, 1996 1:40 PM EDT

Thursday, July 18, 1996 - 1:40 p.m.

I'd like to start by welcoming all the journalism students from American University and George Washington, is that right? They're all here aspiring to become Jean Meserves or John Ropers. And -- beginning -- Ivan Scotts, Steve Komarows, Pat Sloyans -- I mentioned earlier, John Palmer, Jim Mannion, Mike -- I know him - - Charlie, Susanne, David, Tammy, Mark. At any rate, welcome.


I'd like to start with a brief announcement about the Pentagon involvement in helping the National Transportation Safety Board forge through the -- the tragic crash, TWA Flight 800. The NTSB has asked the Navy for the following help: First, divers and support equipment to assist in the recovery of recorders and wreckage. This will include pinger locators for helping to find the flight recorders. These devices that pick up the pinging sounds emitted by the flight recorders. Also, hand- held locator units which can be used from boats on the surface to help locate the flight data recorders. And side-scan sonar which will help map the underwater debris field, both to give a picture of how the debris settled after the crash, which may be useful in determining what happened, but also to help locate pieces of the plane that have settled in the water. A Navy diving and salvage assessment team left National Airport at 12:45 today en route to the scene to determine how many, exactly how many people and what sort of equipment and how much equipment we should devote to this task in assistance to the National Transportation Safety Board.


But we stand ready to provide the help that's been requested and any additional help that may be requested in the hours and days ahead. I'd like to make just one other point which is no military installations have been placed on a higher alert status after this crash. As has been described from this podium over the last week or so, many of our military installations are already on a very high state of alert against threats of all kinds and we did not feel that , based on what we know so far, there's any reason to change that alert status.

Q: Worldwide?

A: Worldwide.

One other point. I'll just -- I'll reiterate what's already been said by Governor Pataki and other officials on the scene that very early on, elements of the New York Air National Guard from West Hampton Beach, New York, fielded assets which were used in the early moments of the search and we recognize the good work they've done and thank them for that.

With that, I'll take your questions. Charlie?


Q: Ken, is there any indication whether DIA might be used in this investigation in any way at all, the FBI, NTSB?

A: Well, the FBI, of course, is performing an investigation and it will draw on assets from all across the government to help it and we will provide whatever help we can.

Q: Is there any indication, in the military sector at all, again, referring to DIA, about any threats at all involving private or civil airliners, that you know about...

A: As far as I know there were no threats issued before this flight took off about the airline, about the flight, or about the route. I'm not aware that there were any threats beforehand. Now, we have checked the system, obviously, to produce this judgment. We'll continue to check all our information on this. But at this time, we're not aware of any previous threats. Yes, Susanne?

Q: Was it just coincidence then, that the Secretary chose yesterday to speak of his concern over terrorist threats, specifically against the military, of course? But has there been any recent increase in the number of reports and things that he said he gets a stack of all the time? But was there -- was it just a coincidence that he chose yesterday to speak on that issue?

A: Absolutely. There has been a significant increase in the frequency of threats in Saudi Arabia. There's been some increase in threat activity in Bosnia and several other places. We think this is tied to the Dhahran bombing. Frequently there are more threats following the bombing. Whether they're harassment, or that they're disinformation, whether they're copy cats, whether they're just opportunists who get their kicks from making harassing phone calls, we don't know. But that's one of the reasons why the state of alert is -- is very high in Saudi Arabia. But I want to be very specific that the increase and threat frequency has occurred in localized areas, such as Saudi Arabia.

And the State Department has spoken about that very exclusively. So, it's -- it's no secret that this has been going on. Ivan?

Q: You mentioned divers. Has there been a request for submersibles or salvage, or, and/or salvage equipment?

A: Not that I'm aware of. Well, they have asked us for assistance in recovery of wreckage. As I said, a team of divers and other experts is on its -- its probably there by now, and it has gone there to assess exactly what we have to send up.

Q: Once you... I mean, once the divers go down and find it, if they find large pieces, it probably will be the assistance -- some kind of salvage vessel to bring it to the surface?

A: They probably will. I'm not denying that they'll do this. I'm just telling you right now we're in the process of deciding what we have to provide. We'll provide everything we can to help in this effort. We just don't know the scope of what we -- what we have to do right now. Jean?

Q: How long before the personnel and equipment is in place and ready to be used?

A: Well, that's a good question. I don't know the answer. I think with these pinger locators can be there very quickly, but we'll check on that for you. Part of it will depend on exactly what sort of equipment we decide we have to provide. Pat?

Q: Outside role in the and the bombing of Dhahran -- Iran, Iraq -- where are we on that?

A: We're still investigating. There are several -- the investigation is proceeding along several paths. And I think now we don't have enough information to choose one path over another path. And I'm not going to describe the paths to you. But we're pursuing leads in several different areas, and we don't have anything that would cause us to favor one over the others.

Q: Any, number one, have the Saudis made any arrests? And number two, has the getaway car ever been found?

A: The getaway car has not been found, as far as we know. Those reports over the weekend were not correct. And, I'm not prepared to talk about arrests. That's something the FBI will have to address. Bill?

Q: Yes Ken, pardon if this question has been asked already. Is there anything in the Defense Department assessment, especially regarding those terrorists who are operating, and inspired by the whatever organization in the Middle East, those hit us? Is there any indication from our investigation in the Middle East that the United States, the continental United States proper might be under an increased threat of terrorism at a time which we have an alert for that, and is this -- does this indeed -- do with the bombing, and it certainly seems to be -- is this one in a series -- is there a series of attacks against us at the present? Can you comment?

A: I'd like to start with the last point first. The President was very clear that we should withhold judgment on this until we have facts. We do not have facts now, and we cannot tell you whether this was a bombing or not. We have no idea right now whether it was -- we do not have the information necessary to make any conclusions about what caused this. That's one of the reasons we're working so hard as always to get the flight data recorders, and to pick up as much information -- as many pieces as possible -- in order to rebuild the plane and figure out what happened. So, it is premature to rush to judgment as to the cause of this crash.

And your first point, the answer is no. We do not have, that I'm aware of, any increase in -- in threats against the continental United States.

Q: Okay. And now just to follow, you were with Mr. Deutch yesterday, I believe with the Congress. Was there anything you can say about penalties being assessed by our government to -- to terrorists groups in recent weeks?

A: No. Yes, Charlie?

Q: Change subject?

A: Let's finish on this first. Mark?

Q: Are you aware of any -- any additional requests from the Olympic Committee for more Pentagon security support?

A: No. I don't believe there has been any additional requests. The security there is pretty extensive as it is, but we'll certainly entertain any requests they make, but I'm not aware that any have been made. Tammy?

Q: If I could just return to the threat issue. Have there been any threats received from known organizations, for example, Islamic Jihad or Hezbollah, recently since the Khobar bombing promising more?

A: Threats made where? Anywhere?

Q: To the U.S. government -- threats against U.S. facilities?

A: Not that I'm aware of. No. Jean?

Q: Are any of the personnel that you're providing in New York underwater explosives experts, to look at, help with that part of the investigation?

A: That is a good question and I don't know the answer. I'll try to find that out. Do you know the answer, Doug?

Colonel Douglas Kennett: I don't know. I'll go find out.

A: We'll -- we'll get the answer for you. I think that they answer may be that they're going up there to find out exactly what they have to provide, but certainly, this is something the Navy could do and would be prepared to. Pat?

Q: Any of our NSA assets intercept transmissions from this plane?

A: I'm not prepared to talk about that. Steve?

Q: Does DoD aid in the forensics of a case like this, or is that civilian authorities only?

A: We'll do what we're asked to do. Jean raised the point of underwater demolition or explosive experts. Presumably, that's an area in which the Navy would have more expertise than the New York City Police Department, for instance, or the New York State Police. But we will respond to requests as we get them from the National Transportation Safety Board, the FBI and others who may request our services. Ivan?

Q: I'm told the DoD often blocks seats on European-bound carriers -- American carriers. Did we have anybody aboard that plane last night?

A: We are in the process of trying to find that out. And we don't have the answer to that question right now. Charlie?

Q: Follow-up on Pat's -- on the NSA. I know you don't discuss what the NSA does or doesn't to do. Would you challenge the statement by the TWA spokesman this morning that as far as TWA knows, there was no indication from the flight crew that anything was amiss before the plane went down. Would you challenge that?

A: I wouldn't challenge it, but I have no independent -- we don't know of anything amiss. That's the TWA spokesman -- or an official. I think I'd let him speak about what they knew or didn't know at the time. I'm not in a position...

Q: Well, I guess what I'm saying is did the NSA find anything that would challenge what this guy said?

A: I know what you're trying to ask me. I think that I'll just let the TWA speak for themselves on this.

Q: Would it be fair to say that the NSA is reviewing older intercepts and tapes to see, in hindsight, if there were any threat?

A: It'd be fair to say I'm not going to talk about the NSA's activities.

Q: Would it be fair to say the intelligence community is reviewing...?

A: It's fair to say the intelligence community is constantly reviewing information in its files as it gets new information which might shed light on the old information. And you can be sure that they are working very diligently now, with all their resources to find out what happened here. But as I say, that shouldn't be taken as an indication that we think this is a terrorist act. We're approaching this investigation with a free and open mind, right now. And it's premature to make any conclusions about what caused it.

Q: Do you care to change the subject?

A: If you want to continue on this path -- this unproductive path -- very well, you can, but --

Q: I've got one more on the same thing if I may. Is anyone on this building investigating the possible linkage between what happened last night, and the hijacking of the TWA plane in Beirut 12 years ago?

A: We are investigating all possible connections like that, as are other authorities in the government. That's the standard approach to situations like this. So, we are always looking for patterns. Having said that, we don't know whether this is a terrorist act, I repeat again. But, you can be sure that we're looking at all information, in every way we can, to get any clues as to what happened here. Charlie?

Q: Was Perry informed of this last night? Was he called at home, or did he...

A: I don't know the answer to that question. I'm sure he was informed of it, but I don't know that personally.

Q: Could you take -- did you...

A: I will take the question. Charlie?

Q: On Saudi Arabia?

A: Yes.

Q: Could you go beyond -- are you prepared this time-- to go beyond the signals yesterday that -- that the movement of the troops will be made rather quickly and the plan will be handed over rather quickly; decided rather quickly? Could you give us any -- any time frame on when it might start -- fairly concrete time frame on when the move might begin?

A: I can't go beyond what we said yesterday. We hope to make the decision. I would say, in the next couple of weeks -- firm decision. We're dealing now; we're talking to the Saudi government, we're talking to Congress; and we are preparing to move forward as fast as we can. But we still have to get in some final proposals from CENTCOM and these have to be evaluated before we can make a decision.

Q: By firm decision, do you expect that it will be a matter days after that when -- when -- the full preliminary teams begin to make the move?

A: I think after we have a chance to decide exactly what we're going to do and discuss it with the Saudi government and secure their support for what we're going to do, we will be to move quickly. I would say, in and out of days when we begin, whatever we decide to do. But as I say, we've got to wait until that decision is made.

You asked a question earlier about underwater explosives experts and we have not received any requests from the National Transportation Safety Board to provide Navy underwater explosives or demolition experts. If we get such a request, we'll obviously respond as quickly as we can.

Q: Has General -- has General Downing provided any feedback, or preliminary reports?

A: Yes, there -- what his team has -- General Clapper has already made a suggestion for improving intelligence delivery in the CENTCOM area. And that is being worked and it may already have been accomplished. So, in line with the Secretary's recommendations or requests, that as soon as General Downing and his task force decide on improvements that can be made in security, intelligence, etcetera, he asks that we get these requests immediately so they can be acted on right away. We're not going to wait until [August] 15th, or thereafter, to make improvements that can enhance the security of our soldiers and airman. So --

Q: What were his suggestions?

A: Just had to do with accelerating intelligence delivery. Jim?

Q: Could you describe what the joint fusion cell is that the Secretary mentioned in an interview with PBS last night?

A: Yes. It's similar to what we've done in Bosnia and in fact I think -- maybe it's before you were covering the building regularly, but there was a briefing by several intelligence officials late last year on some of the intelligence improvements that have been made in Bosnia. One of them was the so-called "Intelligence Fusion Cell".

The idea basically is to take national strategic intelligence, which we gather around the world, all the time, and to combine it very quickly and as effectively as possible with local or tactical intelligence. So we bring together the big picture and the little picture, the area picture as quickly as possible. This is something that helps us see patterns. It's something that can keep information from falling between the cracks. It's a way to focus both U.S. and other allies and host nation intelligence services on the same pieces of information at the same time. So you create a faster turnaround time, faster analysis and an analysis on a broader base of data then we would if we worked in more traditional ways.

Q: And that -- and that was established since the bombing of -- Khobar Tower bombing?

A: It's in the process of -- of being set up now. Charlie?

Q: Will these divers be SEALs? Could I ask -- could I ask also maybe later today, if concrete information becomes available, you can give us some cheat sheets on what will be provided and -- descriptions of it...

A: Well, when we know -- when we know who's going and what we're taking with them, we will give you a complete list of the units, the identity of the types of people they are, and the equipment they're taking with them. Yes. And I assume that will be relatively soon, but I don't know that. These people should report back today on what they need, and we'll try to get it up there as soon as possible. Anything else?


Q: This might be of interest: So you must be able to confirm at Janet Reno's press availability this morning, she volunteered that there have been two telephone calls after the crash claiming responsibility? One through a Tampa TV station, I believe, and I don't know about the other. Also, a rumor at least, over the Justice Department that this plane, this 747, had come in from Athens; and that they're asking if it had been a security swept since it had come from Athens some hours before. Do you have any knowledge of this?

A: Well, I saw Janet Reno's statement -- Mike McCurry's statement about the call to the Tampa TV station. I don't have any independent confirmation of that. There have been a number of calls to news organizations. That's fairly standard after -- after an event like this, no matter what caused it. There are people trying to claim responsibility or hoping to shed some light on what happened.

On the -- so there have been calls. TWA announced last night that the plane came from Athens and TWA has announced today that the plane was unloaded when it got to New York. And it was it was checked out in Athens before it left. It was checked out in New York when it arrived. They've issued very complete statements, so I would refer you to TWA. This isn't the type of activity that the Pentagon normally would follow very closely. It's more for the National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA to check this type of thing.

Q: Just one more, Ken. Have there been any arrests or any charges or anything in the swastika affair down -- down at Fort Bragg?

A: No charges have been leveled yet, that I'm aware of as of earlier this morning -- couple of hours ago. No charges have been filed.

Q: Any suspects being held?

A: Well, they -- I think you should talk to the Fort Bragg authorities about that.

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