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DoD News Briefing, Thursday, January 22, 1998

Presenters: Captain Mike Doubleday, USN, DASD (PA)
January 22, 1998 1:45 PM EDT

Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon.

First I want to let everybody know that following this briefing in the studio here we will have available for your questions officials from several foreign organizations involved in demining efforts in Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia, and Cambodia. They have been attending the International Mine Action Center Workshop sponsored by DoD's Assistant Secretary for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict which was held at Fort Belvoir this week. As I say, that will follow this briefing.

Also I want to take just a minute here to go over a few of the highlights of the SFOR action that occurred this morning and tell you a little bit about it before I take questions.

I think most of you know that NATO's Secretary General Solana made an announcement this morning that SFOR had detained a previously indicted war criminal. What I can tell you about that situation was that early this morning in the town of Bijeljina in this SFOR action, U.S. troops detained an individual by the name of Goran Jelisic. He is a Bosnian Serb who is wanted by the International War Crimes Tribunal for a variety of crimes. He is one of only seven individuals out of 20 open indictments charged with genocide.

His crimes include murder, crimes against humanity, torture, plunder, and cruel treatment. He was, in the 1992 timeframe, the commander of the Luka prison camp which was near Brcko and it is in connection with his assignment there that he conducted himself in a way that led to these indictments.

He is quoted in a recent interview that he conducted with a Dutch newspaper as calling himself the "Serb Adolf". He had, in various other situations, challenged the international community to bring him to justice. That occurred today.

Although he was armed, my understanding is that no shots were fired. No one was injured save Jelisic and he sustained a bruise to his face. He has now arrived in the Hague, having been transported there via a C-130 aircraft. He was escorted by a variety of representatives from a number of nations.

Right after the detention action, he was transported to a helicopter landing site, put on a helicopter, and taken by helicopter from Bijeljina to the Tuzla area where the process of turning him over to the International War Crimes authorities was carried out. Subsequently, as I say, he was put on the C-130.

Earlier today Secretary of Defense Cohen who made a brief stop at Elmendorf Air Force Base en-route back here to Washington from his Far East trip commented on the case and indicated that it sends a clear message that those individuals who have been indicted by the War Crimes Tribunal should understand that eventually they will be apprehended. They should turn themselves over. They belong in the Hague where authorities there can determine the appropriate actions that should be taken in connection with these indictments.

With that little rundown, I'd be glad to try and answer any questions I can on this.

Q: How many U.S. troops were involved in the action? Can you give us any breakdown of the types of assets that were used?

Q: And which unit?

A: Actually, I'm not in a position to do that. I think that everyone should understand that as we have done in the past, these detention actions involve a variety of SFOR units. I will tell you that we certainly want to make sure that our own troops, and I know this is true of other nations, are adequately trained and equipped to carry out whatever missions they're assigned, and that certainly is true in this kind of operation.

I can tell you that Americans... This occurred, of course, in the multinational division north area which is the sector that is led by a U.S. general, and it involved extensive U.S. troops, but I'm not going to get into specific numbers or what units they came from.

Q: The rules of the road over there, as stated from this podium many times, are that if SFOR forces run into these people they may or may not apprehend them. So can we assume that they just ran into this guy driving down the road?

A: What we can assume in this one is that they certainly observed this individual. He was apprehended outside his apartment, as I understand it. They observed him. The situation was such that they could detain him and turn him over to authorities in a way that the operational commanders, including General Clark, who is the overall NATO commander, and General Shinseki who is the operational commander there in Bosnia, felt that this was an appropriate action to take and could be taken without any undue risk to the troops involved. I think the results speak for themselves on that score.

Q: Does this apprehension require any special deployment order from outside of the NATO chain of command or any special approval from Washington to go ahead?

A: I think Mike McCurry spoke on this this morning and indicated that the President had approved this action that was taken by U.S. troops, but that's not unusual. I think you know that any kind of activity that is undertaken by NATO and involves U.S. troops is briefed to the President and he approves our involvement in those activities. This is no exception.

Q: What about the deployment order... Did any additional assets have to be deployed to the theater in order to carry out this mission?

A: All I can tell you about that is, as I mentioned before, we wanted to make sure, as we do in any operation, that we have the appropriate people assigned to SFOR who can carry out an operation. That's been the case since the day we got there and it will remain so until we leave.

Q: Can you help us understand your reluctance to even talk about which units were involved?

A: Excuse me?

Q: Why are you reluctant to even talk about what units were involved?

A: I think that the best way to describe this is that this is a journey, not a destination. As such, I think that to get too much into the details could perhaps reveal a little more than should be revealed. So we're going to keep our cards close to our vest and continue as we have in the past.

Q: Can you at least say whether or not these were special forces or were part of the regular peacekeeping forces?

A: No, I'm not going to go beyond what I've said.

Q: There's been quite a lot of training among different forces, different nationalities, even inside SFOR for these snatch operations. Can you tell us if troops of any other nationality other than American were involved in the operation?

A: There were troops of other nationalities involved in the operation, and as I just indicated, there were a number of nations represented on the aircraft that transported Jelisic to the Hague.

Q: The snatch operation itself?

A: I'm not going to get into any more than I've said on that score.

Q: Can you describe the reaction from the gentleman when he was immediately taken, and what his reaction might have been when he was awaiting transfer in Tuzla?

A: Nervousness, is the way I understand it. But beyond that, I don't have much more. This is an individual who previously had boasted that he had a loaded weapon with a number of bullets in it. The first eight or nine of them were intended for SFOR troops and the last one was intended for himself.

Q: How long had he been living in that apartment, do you know?

A: I can't tell you that, I just don't happen to know. There may be somebody over in the SFOR area that could provide that degree of detail.

Q: How many is he charged with killing?

A: More than 16 are named in the indictment that we have seen. And the indictment, by the way, since it's an open indictment, you can get copies of it. As I understand it, it's available on the Internet. It goes into quite a bit of detail by name of individuals he is accused of killing, or participating in the murder of.

Q: There was, in the past it said here that if you bumped into suspected war criminals, you would then take action. Doesn't this mark really a shift in your policy because now you said you had this man observed for some time, and now you seem to be stepping up...

A: I didn't indicate how long he had been under observation. All I said was he'd been observed and he was detained. I don't want to give away any time lines or indicate anything on that part of it.

But it does not indicate a shift in our approach to things. The primary shift there is that war criminals all along have known that if they are encountered by SFOR troops and the situation is such that they can be detained without undue risk to the SFOR troops, they will be detained. I think as the Secretary said earlier today that this is a clear signal to them that that policy is still operational and that they should take action on their own to turn themselves in to the Hague.

Q: How can you maintain this isn't a shift if this is the first war criminal picked up by U.S. troops?

A: I think you've seen that in the past the U.S. has been a participant in the previous actions where war criminals were detained. If you'd like, I'll go through that list of occasions which goes back to July of 1997 where the British troops detained one indicted war criminal and killed another. Those two were Bosnian Serbs. On the 6th of October there were 10 Croatian indicted war criminals who turned themselves in. Then of course on the 18th of December, there were Dutch forces involved and taking the lead in the detention of two Bosnian Croats. So I see this as a continuation of a policy that has been much in evidence before. The U.S. has participated before. I think that those who are war criminals should walk in fear.

Q: Has anyone in the building been asked for information from Mr. Starr about the employment of Ms. Lewinsky, in particular Mr. Bacon?

A: At this point the answer is no. There has been no request for information that we have received. But clearly, let me go one step further. This matter is one that the independent counsel has made very clear that he is going to investigate, and as such, I am not able to discuss this issue in any detail at all.

Q: Can you say if her computer has been seized or anything like that at all?

A: No, that has not occurred.

Q: Some sources claim that your office may have instructed public affairs staff not to discuss Ms. Lewinsky with reporters. Can you comment on whether such a order was given?

A: I will say this, the guidance that we give everybody in connection with any issue -- this or any other one -- is you should discuss only those things that you know something about. I think that's very good guidance in this particular case, and that's the guidance we'll continue to follow.

Q: Can you tell us what kind of employee she was? There's certainly a wide range of stories and rumors and things. You were one of her employers.

A: Rather than march down this path, let me just indicate that we'll provide whatever information we can which is a matter of record through DDI, but I'm not in a position to get into this issue.

Q: Has the Defense Investigative Service been asked by the FBI or the independent counsel to begin to do some of the...

A: To my knowledge, no.

Q: ...advance work to...

A: Nothing like that has happened.

Q: ...phone calls, that sort of thing, lists, anything like that?

A: No. To my knowledge nothing like that has happened yet.

Q: Was anyone in the Pentagon aware that Tripp was working with Starr? Were her superiors told?

A: I'm just not going to march down... I'm just not going to march down this road.

Q: Since Ken Bacon was her immediate supervisor, will he be available to talk for the record? Since he was her boss?

A: To the news media? I'll have to await his return here to Washington to get you an answer on that one. We'll try and answer some of the information that we may have for the record, but that one I don't know the answer to.

Q: Can you say whether there were any... for example, Pentagon IG or other sorts of investigations generally about her behavior as an employee at the Pentagon, while at the Pentagon?

A: There were no investigations. None.

Q: Can you tell us anything about Linda Tripp's status? She hasn't been in the building for a couple of days.

A: She's certainly an employee of the Pentagon. She remains an employee. And I would anticipate that she would return as soon as she can.

Q: What's her status now? Is she on leave? Is she on sick leave?

A: She is at home. She is participating in the actions that she has responsibility for, and she'll continue to do that.

Q: Are there any Pentagon rules about surreptitious recording of conversations by one person or another? Or are you covered by the state or other federal rules?

A: I can't answer your question. I will try and get you an answer, but I don't have that.

Q: You said she's participating in the actions from home?

A: Yeah.

Q: Is she on administrative leave, or...

A: No, no. She's able to do what she needs to do from there. She is responsible for something called the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, and we're at the stage of that process where she's looking at various nominations and there are other activities that she can do from home and participate by telephone in meetings that require her participation.

Q: There is a newspaper report saying that apparently Ms. Lewinsky had confided in Ms. Tripp that Ms. Lewinsky had had an affair with a senior Pentagon official. Is DoD going to look into that, or...

A: I'm just not going to go down that at all. I have nothing for you on any of that.

Q: Is it unusual for somebody who supervises no one and has no advanced degrees to have a salary of $88,000?

A: You mean in the case of...

Q: Of Linda Tripp.

A: You're saying that she has no advanced degrees and so she...

Q: She has a job which is basically a coordinating, logistics kind of job, and she seems to have a pretty healthy salary for that kind of responsibility. Is this uncommon?

A: I don't have any idea what the scorecard is throughout the Pentagon, but I will tell you that the work that she does involves very high level coordination and a lot of work with organizations outside the building, and her salary level is commensurate with the responsibilities and the activities that she's required to do.

Q: Did her predecessor have a similar range in salary?

A: Frankly, I can't recall who her predecessor was or what the salary range was.

Q: Can you have that question taken?

A: We'll see what we can do for you on that, yeah.

Q: What was Lewinsky's security clearance level?

A: She had a top secret clearance which is not unusual for a person who is the administrative assistant to an assistant secretary of defense, which her boss was. And she handled a variety of material including classified material. But I think the point should be made that just because an individual holds a security clearance does not mean that they necessarily have access to the contents of secure communications, secure papers. It's simply that you cannot entrust any level of secure papers, classified papers, to individuals who do not have the requisite security clearance.

Q: Do you know how much she used that on the job?

A: Well, every day her boss receives classified information.

Press: Thank you.

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