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DoD News Briefing, Thursday, March 11, 1999

Presenters: Captain Mike Doubleday, DASD PA
March 11, 1999 1:50 PM EDT

Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon. I have no announcements, so we'll move immediately to your questions.

Q: Sir, what about this anthrax mini-rebellion aboard the ROOSEVELT? To what extent are we having service personnel refusing to have an anthrax inoculation?

A: Actually, although we don't have exact numbers, our assessment at this point is that less that one-tenth of one percent of the force that has been vaccinated has refused to take the shot.

The present numbers are -- we have administered something on the order of 616,000 vaccines. So the numbers of those who have refused to take these vaccinations have been very small.

The total population that has been vaccinated at this point is something over 218,000 service personnel. You may recall that the vaccination is actually a series of shots that occurs over the course of 18 months, and then there is a booster annually given after that.

I'd just like to say that the sole reason that this program was authorized by Secretary Cohen gets down to force protection. What we're talking about here is medical measures which are designed to protect individuals in the U.S. military who may at some future time be put into a theater where anthrax is a threat. And this series of vaccinations will enable service personnel to operate in that kind of an environment.

The Department did not move into this program, this anthrax immunization program, hastily. This was a program that was started -- at least a review of the safety and effectiveness of the program was actually started in the early 1990s and it was only after it had been studied, that the service chiefs had looked at it very carefully, that we understood the threat, and that we understood the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine, that Secretary Cohen authorized this force-wide vaccine program.

I think I should also point out that the services, particularly the Army in the area of Special Forces, have a lot of experience with this vaccine. It is a vaccine that they have been using since the 1970s, and there are individuals who are still employed by the services, particularly the Army, who have actually been receiving this vaccine for 25 years without any ill effects.

Our belief is that service people who have any doubts about this should talk to their chain of command, their senior NCOs, chief petty officers, to learn more about it. And if those individuals are unable to answer their questions, then there will be medical people who will be able to address any concerns they have on the medical front.

But this is a program that we, of course, will be pursuing for the years to come, and in fact ultimately this shot will be much like any other vaccine that we give our troops in order to make sure that they are not exposed to diseases that could incapacitate them.

Q: Has anyone actually been discharged for refusing to undergo the vaccination?

A: Yes. Although I can't cite for you the numbers, the refusal to take the shot is essentially a refusal to follow an order, and in some cases, in these very limited number of cases where individuals have refused to take the shot, the services then must dispose of the case in ways that they find appropriate, and most often this is through administrative measures which result in the individual being discharged.

Q: That process of discharge, what kind of discharge is that?

A: In most cases it would be an administrative discharge. Now it is impossible to state categorically that that is always the case because frequently an individual who refuses to take the shot may also be involved in other kinds of infractions. If that indeed is the case, it's up to the commanding officer to determine what the character of the discharge should be depending on the circumstances of the discharge.

Q: Can you remind us, does an administrative discharge still entitle the person to any of their benefits?

A: We should probably give you a full rundown. But if the discharge is honorable, then the individual is eligible for a number of benefits.

Generally speaking, the individuals who have been discharged for refusal to take this shot, in addition to the fact that we're talking here very, very, very small numbers, are also very junior personnel. And as a result, the benefits that we're talking about are primarily limited to some pretty basic benefits, not the kind of benefits that are associated with annuities and that kind of thing.

Q: I had one other question. Can you tell us, have all of the service chiefs undergone anthrax vaccinations?

A: Frankly, I don't know whether all of the service chiefs have. I do know that the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Deputy Secretary of Defense have all received their shots, and, in fact, if anyone would like to see an example of them receiving their shots, those pictures are not only posted here in this corridor, but also on the Web.

Q: Would you mind taking that question, if the heads of the military services where people are so concerned about this...

A: I would ask that you go to the individual services, rather than have us deal with questions of that type.

Q: Related to this, to what do you attribute this reluctance? As an outside observer, I would say some people might fear the government, because of the Gulf War experience, that the government isn't telling them all they should about what shots they're getting. In other words, do you think some of this might be sort of post-Gulf War Syndrome...

A: I am certainly aware that there is a lot of information -- some of it, by the way, I believe, is misinformation which is available to people on various Web sites regarding anthrax, and also the anthrax vaccine.

I would just point out that part of our program was designed to educate men and women in uniform as to the safety and effectiveness of this vaccine to answer their questions, and that we in the Department also have a Web site which has been up and operating for several months now, and which I would encourage individuals who have questions about the vaccine to study so that they can very quickly get answers to their questions.

I can't, because of the absence of any kind of a full blown study that's been done on reasons for refusing to take the vaccine, cite for you any particular reason, but I do know that we realized early on there would be a lot of questions from service personnel about the vaccine and that we had a very deliberate program that was instituted in parallel with the decision to do the force-wide immunizations so that people would have at the command level and at the national level a whole variety of information that they could draw upon in order to become comfortable with the vaccine.

Q: Can you tell us, Mike... What can you tell us, what are you at liberty to tell us about the military's perspective? Can the military confirm any of these stories that the Trident II M-88 warhead technology may have fallen into the hands of the Chinese? Or for that matter the neutron bomb? Any of these very important nuclear deterrents?

A: First of all, Bill, as I think you're aware, this is a subject that has been addressed both by the National Security Director and also by Secretary Richardson. I should not comment on that particular aspect of the case primarily because it is not a DoD laboratory that is involved in this particular case.

What I can say, though, is that I think you're aware that there are several steps that have been taken over the years with regard to the transfer of technology or the concerns about transfer of technology, that is to say U.S. technology, to the Chinese. And most of you are familiar with the fact that we have in place between the Department of Defense, the State Department, Commerce, and any other appropriate agency of the federal government, we have in place a review process to ensure that when there are instances where American businesses ask to sell technology to the Chinese, there is a very deliberate review process that is undertaken to ensure that our very sensitive technology is protected. So that's one thing that has occurred.

The other thing, I think you've seen from the reporting that there is -- there has been a continuous effort to prosecute to the full extent of the law and to investigate any of these instances where there are concerns about the transfer of technology.

So other agencies in the government have done that. For the most part, we have not been involved in that aspect of...

Q: Can you even say that there is a concern about the transfers of these kinds of technologies? If there has actually been some harmful technology that's gotten loose?

A: I will leave it to the Department of Energy and the NSC to comment on that.

Q: The Pentagon is concerned with foreign weapons developments.

A: Yes.

Q: Are you concerned that the Chinese have deployed a warhead similar to the W-88?

A: Bill, I think you're aware that we watch developments in China very carefully, and we certainly are concerned when we see technological advances on the part of the Chinese.

I am not in a position to confirm anything about deployments on technology at this point. But I can say that it is a subject that we watch very carefully and that we will continue to watch.

We, one, want to make sure that our sensitive technology is protected. We also want to ensure that weapons development in other countries does not become destabilizing.

Q: Recently the Pentagon sent a report to Capital Hill regarding the military balance to Taiwan Strait, and one of the elements it contained was that China was deploying a number of short-range missiles.

Do you know if these missiles will be nuclear-tipped or conventional-tipped?

A: I don't know the answer to that question. We are working, however, on an unclassified version of that report which we hope to be able to provide to you to explain that further.

Q: This was an unclassified report, the one that they released from the Appropriations Committee.

A: Okay.

Q: It's a second report that's classified which has to do with theater missile defense, but...

A: Theater missile architecture.

Q: This is one that said basically they were building up missiles, short-range missiles in particular.

A: Right.

Q: And my question would be do we think those missiles will be nuclear-tipped or conventional warheads or chemical...

A: I cannot answer your question. I'll see if we can get you an answer.

Q: What's the latest information you have on the F-18 accident with the Marines in Alaska?

A: I have no information for you on that. Have you checked with the Marines on that one? I'm sorry, I just don't have any detail on that at all.

Q: A follow-up to a story we had today that said that North Korea was seeking to purchase uranium enrichment technology from a Japanese company and that there were indications that Pakistan may be involved.

Is the Pentagon concerned that there is now a covert North Korean nuclear program underway?

A: First of all, I cannot comment on an alleged intelligence report regarding North Korea. What I can tell you about that is that we have over the years been very concerned about developments on the nuclear front in North Korea. As a result of that, we have an agreed framework. I think you're aware that there have been concerns expressed by the U.S. government to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea regarding certain sites where we have some concerns about their developments. There are a series of ongoing talks which are aimed at allowing inspectors to get into that site to assess exactly what is going on. I think that's indicative of the level of concern that we have regarding the development of nuclear capabilities in North Korea.

Q: The agreed framework was supposed to freeze the North Korean nuclear program.

A: That's correct.

Q: By your comments are you saying now that you don't believe that that program is frozen still?

A: By my comments I am actually indicating that we have nothing to indicate that the North Koreans are not abiding by the agreed framework. But we would like to see firsthand to assure ourselves what is going on at some of these sites. I would refer you to the State Department for an update on how those talks with the North Koreans are going to gain access.

Q: What are the concerns that you mentioned having about North Korean nuclear development?

A: I think you know the concerns that we have. We want to assure ourselves that no such development is going on.

Q: Do we have any information that at any time in the past a Japanese trading company has been approached by North Korea for...

A: I cannot comment on any alleged contacts that may have occurred. Anything else?

Q: Anything on the U.S. sale of weapons to Egypt supposedly announced over the...

A: I don't have anything independent of what has come in from the traveling party, and we can certainly get you kind of a rundown on what those items were. Secretary Cohen talked about it earlier today.

Q: Can you give us an update on [Cavalese] and maybe indicate what exactly is the scope of the review, the 30-day review that Admiral Prueher is going to be undertaking?

A: Yes. It's Admiral Prueher. The Secretary yesterday appointed Admiral Prueher to work in conjunction with an Italian military official who will be named in the next several days in an effort to review the steps that have been implemented by the U.S. and the Italian authorities in Italy to ensure that we have the highest level of operational safety for flights operating in Italy.

A lot of steps have already been taken. We can provide you with a rundown of those if you'd like that level of detail. But basically what occurred was that last Friday President Clinton and the Italian Prime Minister agreed that it would be helpful to review the steps that have been taken on the operational and safety front to ensure that we did have the highest level of safety.

So what Admiral Prueher will be doing is looking at the steps that have been implemented and reviewing with an Italian counterpart whether there are additional steps that need to be taken to ensure that this kind of tragedy will not occur in the future.

Q: But it seems like something where... Is there any investigation or any pending or potential investigation... If the pilots aren't responsible for this accident, and then this investigation of 30 days is not looking into sort of who may be responsible, is there anything that the Pentagon is doing to try to figure out who the responsible parties may be in terms of the demands certainly of the Italian Prime Minister and the German families are making about wanting to sort of finger some people for this accident?

A: I think you're aware that there is a judicial process that is going on, which is going on down at Camp Lejeune. Lieutenant General Peter Pace is the convening authority for that action. Until that action is completed, I would not have anything that I could say about what other steps might be taken, except I would like to point out that Lieutenant General Pace early in this process, right after the tragedy, ordered that an investigation be undertaken. And as a result of that investigation, there were a number of findings, among which were that there was a leadership problem within the squadron, and as a result of that the squadron commanding officer as well as the safety officer received non-judicial punishment. So there has been some action that has already been taken.

On the safety and operational front, there have been a number of steps taken not only by the Marine Corps but also by the Air Force officials in Italy to increase the safety of operations out of Aviano.

So there are a number of steps that have occurred as a result of investigations. We will await to see what the judicial process does on that front.

Q: If I can ask one more question. Is the issue of further compensation for the families something that you're discussing? Is that something where there may be an announcement when Scharping is here next week?

A: The issue of further compensation for the families is actually handled under a very well defined process. Essentially, claims for all of the survivor families, surviving families of the victims of that tragedy, 20 who were killed in all, have been contacted to educate them on this process.

The claims are actually filed with the authorities in Italy. Under the Status of Forces Agreement, we, the United States, pay 75 percent of any of the claims that are adjudicated by the Italians, and the Italians pay 25 percent. This takes us -- us being the United States -- out of the process of determining the size of any kind of settlement that is ultimately determined by the Italian government. They are in the process of doing that now.

My understanding is that 16 of the 20 families have already filed claims, and the process is ongoing now to settle each of those claims.

The claims range in size from I think it's 800-plus-thousand dollars to several million dollars.

I would just like to add on this, the United States is working very aggressively to settle those claims as expeditiously as possible. But as I mentioned before, we are not part of the adjudication of those claims. The claims are actually in the hands of the authorities in Italy.

Q: So there just wouldn't be anything -- the Pentagon or the U.S. government wouldn't simply just say in addition to I guess the $65,000 that we're giving, here's another $100,000 and we'll be responsible for these claims? You're waiting for the claims to happen.

A: We are waiting for the claims to occur. Right.

We will write the check.

Q: There's a debate taking place on the Hill right now on the proposal to send U.S. troops into Yugoslavia as part of a peacekeeping force there. Is the Pentagon at all concerned that this serves to send a mixed message to Milosevic at a fairly crucial time in these negotiations? And can you just restate the Pentagon's position on participation in this peace force?

A: Well, I think there are others around town who have done the political analysis and I will leave that to them.

But I can tell you that the President and the Secretary have made it very clear that troops would only be sent to Kosovo to implement a peace agreement, following a peace agreement wherein both parties sign up to the agreement, where both of the parties are behind the effort to implement a peace, where NATO has agreed to take on this responsibility, and where we can go in in an essentially permissive environment. In other words, the fighting will have stopped and that the implementers, NATO forces that might be involved in this peace implementation, are not going to be the targets of the formerly warring factions if an agreement is reached.

So although there is a lot of focus on this issue since there -- on Monday there will be a reconvening of the negotiations, we are not yet at the point where we have an agreement and we are not yet at the point where NATO has signed up to take on this task until we actually do have an agreement and there is a cease-fire.

Q: There's a concern on the part of the leadership here or military planners that the United States would be getting into yet another long-range commitment of troops halfway across the world with no certain end date and the fact that the military is being stretched fairly thin. A common complaint around here is -- it sort of applies to everything from recruiting to retention, OpTempo, PersTempo. Is this a matter of concern among the uniformed leadership here?

A: I think any time we look at the possibility of a military operation we do so with a very objective eye to see what kind of impact that's going to have on other operations that we have ongoing, what kind of an impact it's going to have on personnel. And for that reason, the Secretary has been very clear that in this particular case the percentage of U.S. participation vis-a-vis the European nations that are going to be contributing to a NATO force is significantly smaller than the percentage was when we went into Bosnia.

In this case it's something on the order of 15 percent. That equates to something slightly less than 4,000 people.

We undertake these operations because we are ordered to do so by the civilian leadership. There is a very deliberate process that the national command authority goes through any time an operation is undertaken. It involves not only civilian leadership in the Department and within the government, but also military leaders.

So military people, the Chairman namely, have a very major role in any kind of deployment decision.

Q: Back to the China nuclear espionage. The Pentagon has a very ambitious program this year of military-to-military exchanges with China.

A: Right.

Q: Are there any plans, in light of this spy case, for cutting back on those exchanges as a sign of displeasure with the Chinese?

A: At this point I know of no plan to cut back on our military-to-military contacts.

I will say this. The program of contact with the Chinese military has been done in a very deliberate fashion. It is a program that is actually fairly small in scale. It has started with contact at the highest levels. Admiral Prueher, when he was Commander in Chief of the Pacific Command, made a visit to China. There have been other contacts that have gone on over the years. We have some of our civilian leadership here in the building who have visited China in the past.

Our belief is that it is to our advantage to maintain contact with counterparts in the Chinese military, to pursue a policy of engagement with the Chinese, even in the face of some of these alleged incidents, because it is beneficial to us. It's beneficial to us on several fronts, not the least of which is that we get to know Chinese officials better, we understand them better and they understand us better, and what our reservations are with their programs and policies.

Q: Are you concerned that it's going to be beneficial to the Chinese as well in terms of their learning about things such as battlefield medicine or air safety?

A: I think that although there may be some benefits to the Chinese, our overall view is that any information that we share with the Chinese is information that is not detrimental to the United States.

Q: Just a quick clarification. You said at this time you don't plan to curtail them. Is any thought being given to curtailing these in light of the espionage case?

A: I know of no thought that is being given to curtailing them.

Q: George Robinson, the Defense Minister of Great Britain, has called for closer EU, European Union, and NATO, closer ties with the intention in the future to be able to provide an all-European force where the U.S. would be absent in case of need. I would ask you, has this come to the DoD as a welcome, as something that will take some stress off of U.S. forces? Or what?

A: We believe that NATO is the most effective security apparatus probably in the history of the world. We believe that NATO and the structure that already exists within NATO is the structure that should be used in the future. I would just leave it at that.

Q: So not warmly..

A: I would just leave it with we believe that we have great success with NATO.

Q: Thank you.

Press: Thank you very much.