Let me start with a few introductions.
First of all, I'd like to welcome ten Russian journalists to the briefing. These are editors in chief or management executives of newspapers throughout the Russian Federation, and they are here looking at the business of journalism during a three-week trip around the United States.
We also have 17 journalism students from The American University School of Communication. They're here to learn about the coverage facilities and the process that results in our news briefing. They're led by Assistant Professor Sean Kelly, himself a former Pentagon correspondent. The students are from colleges and universities around the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, and they're all spending a semester at American University learning how journalism is practiced in Washington, D.C. I hope they have an opportunity to talk to some of the journalists who are here, also.
I would also like to welcome Joy Kurtz and her husband Scott. Neither Scott nor Joy is a stranger to these kinds of proceedings. Joy is a producer for WFTV an ABC affiliate in Orlando, Florida; and Scott is a cameraman there.
On the announcement side, Dr. Bernard Rostker, who is the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, will go on a nine city town hall tour starting on Sunday in Cleveland, Ohio. This is being done to address the concerns of Gulf War veterans across the country. The tour is sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. These are informational forums that are going to be held from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in each one of the cities, local time. There is a Blue Top which has been distributed which has all the dates and locations which you can refer to if you're interested in following up on that.
Those of you who are here, and anybody who is in the building is welcome to attend a teleconference this afternoon in the video teleconference facility in the Army Operations Center. This will be at 3:30. Major General James Hill of the U.S. Army Forces Command and Major General John Costello, who is the Commanding General of Fort Bliss, are going to provide a briefing and answer questions on Exercise Roving Sands '97 which kicks off tomorrow. This is one of the largest exercises we conduct in the United States. It involves more than 20,000 servicemembers from all branches of the armed forces, and three allied nations. They use facilities in military installations and training ranges throughout Texas and [New] Mexico for that exercise. For those of you who are going to attend the briefing, meet in Room 2E641 at 3:15 and the Army will provide an escort to see that you get to the videoteleconference facility.
With that, I'd be happy to try and answer some of your questions.
Q: Mike, now that the Marines have taken over in Brazzaville, have there been any changes? Has the [USS] Nassau moved any closer? Could you fill us in on that?
A: There are no changes other than the one you mentioned, and let me just go through that a little bit.
Marine Corps Brigadier General Guy Vander Linden took over command of the Joint Task Force which is located at Brazzaville in Congo. He took control of the operation from the Army which had been operating there since we deployed to the region. We have, as you are aware, Charlie and others, we have a special Marine air/ground task force which is on-scene and embarked in USS Nassau operating off the coast of Zaire. The actual location of the ship is about the same as it's been. They are still in a very watchful and prepared mode, ready to help out if required, but at this point there has been no request for any kind of evacuations that would involve the Marines.
We have at this point slightly over 200 military personnel in Brazzaville. We have just under 60 who are located in Libreville. We've got a couple of people located in Kinshasha for the purpose of communications and support from that side. But right now they're just watching and waiting.
Q: When is the swap-out with the [USS] Kearsarge supposed to take place?
A: I think that you probably have seen the release that was put out. Kearsarge is scheduled to depart from Norfolk, Virginia today to relieve Nassau. That will be some time later this month. Embarked in Kearsarge is the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit; on board USS Nassau is the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Q: Can you tell us when the Secretary will receive the Record report from the Air Force and when we might expect that the Secretary will make some sort of decision about the report's recommendation that no one be published for the lapse of security in Saudi Arabia?
A: The time frame on this is that the actual report on the investigation into the bombing at Khobar Towers was transmitted to the Office of the Secretary yesterday. Now the report itself is quite extensive -- lots of supporting documents, footnotes, that sort of thing. I don't have any time line that I can share with you at this point on how long a review will take place before it actually moves to the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary, but it has been formally transferred to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Q: Last time it was formally transferred to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, it was... We were told by a briefer at this podium that it was returned and told it needed more work. Does the Office of the Secretary of Defense now consider the report complete?
A: The office has not yet had an opportunity to review this very extensive report, and until that occurs, I can't tell you what the outcome will be.
Q: Can we turn briefly to the search for the missing A-10 in Colorado? At their briefing out there this morning they said that a team had been assembled to take a 'fresh look' at the evidence, I gather all the way across the board. Can you tell us what the fresh look team is doing and why that is necessary if you have a good team on it?
A: I actually have no further information for you on that. The search is being conducted and coordinated by the Air Force from Colorado. Although I've seen those reports, I don't have any further insights into any kind of a fresh approach.
Q: Do you have any kind of an estimate on costs so far for the search at this point?
A: No, I don't. I know there are several different agencies involved in the search. But as you probably imagine, the cost is not, at this juncture, our primary concern. Our primary concern is to try and find the pilot and to locate the aircraft, if possible
Q: Has anybody said that they're going to put an end date to this thing, or is there a point when... Are we going to wait until the snow melts?
A: There is certainly no end date. I think the search will continue as long as there is some hope that we'll find something, as long as technology allows us to search in any kind of coordinated way. And how long that will be, I can't say.
Q: You say you have no new information. Does that mean that this team that is being assembled is not a DoD team, it's an Air Force team?
A: It's an Air Force team. We receive reports from time to time through the Air Force on how the search is going. But as I say, I don't have any insights in any kind of change in their approach that they've made out there.
Q: You say as long as technology allows us to have some hope that something may be found. Technology is being fairly roundly defeated by the quantity of snow and the ruggedness of the terrain, is it not at this point?
A: I think that technology has been applied very effectively in this case. If you were here for the briefing that was given last week by the Air Force and how they're progressing on this, it was only through a very careful analysis and through the interviews that the Air Force has had with people who may have seen something, that they constructed a fairly tight area where the aircraft may have crashed. As a result of that, they've been able to pinpoint the search in a fairly confined area. They've certainly used aviation technology in a variety of forms, including helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, SR-71s, U-2s. They've used photo-intelligence to locate anything that would add to their ability to pinpoint the area where the aircraft might be. It is true at this point they've not found the aircraft, but as I say, I think they want to continue as long as they have anything that would indicate to them where they could look productively.
Q: How common is it for the Air Force or any of the services not to be able to find a plane that crashed like this?
A: It's very unusual. I think the Air Force can provide you some specifics on that, but it is quite unusual for an aircraft to go missing more than 24 hours. And in this case, we're about to reach the two-week point.
Q: Is the B-2 flying again, and is there any analysis of what happened...
A: The B-2 is -- I believe -- is flying again, and it appears that it was simply a problem with a single aircraft.
I may have said something earlier, I may have incorrectly identified the locations where this exercise is going to take place. It is Texas and New Mexico. If anyone misunderstood me, please, I stand corrected.
Q: On the briefing at the Army's Operation Center, the video teleconference, is that available for videotape recording?
A: We'll try and find out while we're here.
Q: On the Aberdeen trial, referring specifically to Elaine Sciolino's article in the New York Times witnessing, I believe, testimony yesterday and Friday. What is the Department of Defense reaction to the appalling -- I believe -- appalling revelations that are coming out of this trial?
A: Bill, I think you know that because this is a trial in progress we're very restricted in what we can say regarding the judicial proceedings that are going on. I think the statements earlier which have been made by the various officials of the Department in a very generalized sense are a matter of record, and we'd be very happy to provide them to you.
Q: Do you think the chain of command broke down at Aberdeen, and strict rules of social behavior between the sexes were broken? And what is the military doing to keep blackmail, keep this imposed silence from happening again on a base where people are being abused?
A: I think as we talked last week, there is an Army review of this entire situation that is expected to be presented to the Secretary of the Army later this year, sometime this summer, which will address many of the problems which have been identified so far. But in addition to that, I want to remind you that there are procedures set up in every location, every unit, every command that I'm aware of, for hotline calls to various officials so that if there are problems that can't be worked through the chain of command there is an approach that individuals can take to surface these problems.
Certainly the history of the U.S. military is one that depends very heavily on the chain of command, and when the chain of command operates appropriately, is an extremely effective way of managing people and managing problems and solving problems.
Q: Can a trainee/recruit under the control of a sergeant be assured that a higher-up in the chain of command will protect them if they tell the truth?
A: I think the Army is looking at this whole matter. They have taken steps to ensure that a system exists which will, indeed, protect recruits, as every branch of the service does.
Q: There's a published report that North Korea was preparing to deploy a new class of long range missiles that could reach South Korea and Japan. Can you confirm whether that's the case or not? Is that something the United States is looking into or concerned about?
A: I certainly am aware of the report, but I'm not in a position to discuss intelligence matters. I do want to point out, however, that we monitor very closely the developments in ballistic missile programs such as this one very closely. We've done that for many years. We'll continue to do that kind of monitoring. We're very concerned about the development and possible deployment or export of such missiles. I also want to point out that there are talks which are scheduled to take place next month in New York City regarding North Korean missile- related activities.
Q: On Panama, with this officer charged with negligent homicide after he allegedly made one of his subordinates go on a run, that he later died, apparently, of heat stroke. Do you have anything on that?
A: I don't have any further details. I've of course seen that release that was put out by the folks down there in Panama, but I don't have details beyond that.
Press: Thank you.