DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD(PA)
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our briefing. I'm glad to see all these sons and daughters here with parents to take in this entertaining slice of Pentagon life.
I'm sorry I'm late. I know you children are probably never late, and I know how annoying it is to be kept waiting for an adult, so I apologize for that.
Q: What about your daughters?
A: I wish my daughters were here, but unfortunately, they're otherwise engaged. And I didn't bring them because I knew they would ask very tough questions, and probably questions I couldn't answer.
Aside from the young people here today, I'd like to welcome several others as well. Ms. Somlak from Thailand is here. She is the Foreign Relations Chief in the Government Spokesperson's Office in the Office of the Prime Minister of Thailand. She is one of our many visitors here under the USIA International Visitor Program. Welcome.
I'd also like to announce that in just 15 minutes, and I'd be glad to end the briefing before that to accommodate this, Secretary Cohen is presenting the Environmental Security Awards for Excellence. That's at 1400 in the Pentagon Courtyard. That, of course, is open to coverage.
Finally, I'd like to announce that a Russian general, General of the Army Igor Sergeyev, who is the Commander in Chief of the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces, will be in the United States between April 28th and May 6th as part of a military-to- military program under the Nunn/Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. This is part of a series of exchanges that were initiated several years ago. Admiral Chiles, for instance, who was then the Commander-in-Chief of our Strategic Command visited Russia in August of 1995. I know that General Habinger has been over there, as well, to Russia, and will probably be returning as part of this exchange program.
With that, I'd like to again welcome all the children.
Let me ask the children a question first. Do you know who Newt Gingrich is? Who is Newt Gingrich?
Young Person: Speaker of the House.
Mr. Bacon: Exactly, and do you know what he said about the Pentagon?
Young Person: No.
Mr. Bacon: He said it ought to be turned into a triangle. (Laughter)
Here's my question. Do you think the Pentagon would be as much fun to visit if it were a triangle?
(Chorus of "No's".)
Mr. Bacon: Good.
Now do you have a question for me?
Young Person: Why do you meet with the press?
Mr. Bacon: I meet with the press because it's great fun -- for me and for the press. (Laughter)
Seriously, there are more than 15,000 reporters in Washington covering government, and I think it's the second-most common acknowledged profession after lawyers in Washington. About ten percent of the reporters are registered to cover the Pentagon -- about 1,500 reporters are registered to come here and cover the operations of our military, the way the Pentagon spends its money, the way it trains people, the way it protects our national interests. We have a common exchange. They ask me and my staff questions every day, and we do our best to answer them as best we can. So this is really our way of getting information out not only to you, but to the public generally about what's happening with America's military and what the men and women in the military are up to -- including your dad.
Q: Can you bring us up to date on the A-10 crash? Including whether this plane just shattered when it hit or whether there might be bulk wreckage at the bottom of the mountain, and the prospects for recovering the pilot?
A: I can't answer most of those questions because we just don't know. Weather has dramatically limited our ability to explore the extent of the wreckage. As you know, last night the Air Force announced that they have confirmed that this is the lost A-10, and we have recovered small fragments of the plane.
The Air Force left, I believe, two special operators on the mountain last night. It was their hope to establish a rope or some ladders or whatever, a way to get down to the wreckage early this morning and to try to get down and explore more fully what's there. Unfortunately, the weather has turned bad and they were not able to, because of the steepness of the terrain, the depth of the snow and the bad weather, they were not able to get down to the wreckage site. Therefore, they're in the process now of being removed from the mountain. This will probably be the last helicopter flight to the mountain today, and depending on the weather, we don't know when they'll be able to get back. It does depend on the weather.
There was, as I understand it, about a 48-hour window of good weather, comparatively better weather, and that's in the process of shutting down now. Bad weather is coming in, and that will affect the pace of the search. That's basically all I know right now.
Q: Do you have any information on, is the Secretary making any calls on the Chemical Weapons Treaty today, or... Obviously he's testified, but is there anything else he's doing last minute?
A: He's made a number of appearances on television; he stood side by side with the President at the White House and spoken at an event there. Not the latest one because he was testifying yesterday, but a week or so ago. He has been making calls. I don't know what calls he's made today, but he has been talking fairly regularly with his former colleagues in the Senate about the importance of passing the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Q: Just a clarification if you have it off the top of your head, otherwise if you could take it. In yesterday's appearance before Senate Armed Services, Secretary Cohen used two figures. He said that NATO enlargement was going to cost $100 million per year over 10 years, and I'm assuming that's out of the U.S. pocket, but I wasn't sure whether he was talking all the NATO countries or just U.S. Then he gave a grand total estimate that he attributed to the Pentagon of $25 to $37 billion for the enlargement. What's he including in that? Direct cost, indirect cost, U.S. costs, allies' costs?
A: Let me just give you a brief answer, but there is a very extensive study on this that was completed about a month ago and DDI would be glad to give you a copy of that study.
Q: I've read that, but I still couldn't make these figures...
A: Basically, according to the Department of Defense estimates in a study done earlier this year, the total cost of NATO expansion -- direct, indirect -- to current members of NATO and the countries that will come into NATO. The total cost between 1997 and 2009 will range between $27 billion and $35 billion.
Q: And the $100 million a year enlargement costs were U.S. costs?
A: It's basically the direct cost of enlargement for the U.S. that will be approximately $150 to $200 million a year. That's incremental costs beyond what we're already paying, obviously. So this is actually a small increment on the base of what we pay to maintain forces in Europe today as part of our NATO obligation.
I want to go back to this, though, that the overall cost of $27 to $35 billion covers a period of 12 years -- from now to 2009 -- and it covers both NATO's 16 members today and any new countries that come into NATO.
Q: That $150 million to $200 million a year, what proportion or perhaps all of it will come out of the DoD budget?
A: I don't know that. I would suspect a fair amount, but I'll try to get a more precise breakdown on that for you.
Q: It would either have to be you or State, right?
A: Right. I assume that most of it would come out of our budget. I would assume that most of it has to do with programs to encourage interoperability and connection between the new members of NATO and the old members of NATO to try to get us all on radio systems that work so we can talk to each other, and command and control systems that fit well together.
Q: Just a clarification on that. You said that $25 to $35 billion includes current NATO countries and future ones.
A: Uh huh.
Q: Is the range due to the number of countries that will joint NATO? Obviously, that isn't determined yet.
A: First of all, that isn't determined, what numbers, first of all, will join in the first round. And second, there could well be other rounds after 1997, after the Madrid Summit. We assume that NATO will select some countries to join first, but the door will remain open for the other 12 countries who aren't first in line. So there will be future opportunities for other countries to join.
Q: Is that the reason for the range?
A: The reason for the range -- there are probably several reasons. But one reason is humility, that we don't claim to be able to be totally precise about estimates such as this. The second is, of course, uncertainty about the number of countries joining and when they'll join, what the schedule will be for joining.
Q: I thought you said $25 to $37. Do I understand you're saying $27 to $35?
A: What I have here is $27 to $35 billion. But all of this is in a report. There's no mystery to this. You say you have a copy of the report, we'd be glad to have somebody sit down and explain the report to you, if that would help.
Q: No, I couldn't determine which was direct, indirect, from what they put down.
Q: Yesterday Kurt Campbell was asked about the illegal diversion of U.S. machine tools by China. He said he'd have to see what the party line was and recommended that we ask you.
Is the Pentagon concerned about this diversion of machine tools to a military factory?
A: The Pentagon is concerned about any violation of export control laws that may affect improperly a country's defense production capacity. This was mainly a commercial operation. It was licensed by the Commerce Department, as I understand it. It's one we've been following very closely. And we, of course, reviewed it at the time and we will continue to review such sales and make recommendations on them. But this was done for commercial reasons. The allegation is that the machinery has been used now for military reasons, and...
Q: Is that in fact the case?
A: That's what the allegation is. As I say, this is not something the Pentagon has primary responsibility on. This is a Commerce Department issue, and they're the people you should direct your question to.
Q: I understand the Pentagon opposed the initial sale for just these concerns, that they could be diverted. Was that, in fact, the case, too?
A: We reviewed it, and in the end we recommended approval of the export subject to safeguards, and the safeguards were designed to ensure that the material was used for civilian use. If those safeguards have failed or if they've been diverted, then we made it clear that we were not for that. We wanted this to be a commercial sale, not a military sale.
Q: When you say safeguards, what are you talking about?
A: The safeguards were when and how it was supposed to be used. They were safeguards designed to ensure that they were used for commercial purposes, in other words, the stated purposes. As you know, the whole thing is under investigation. There's a Grand Jury investigation going on, and I think we should wait for a final court ruling or legal system ruling on what exactly happened here. But we made it very clear that we felt this was appropriate only for commercial purposes.
Q: Just for the record, and because the Internet, I'm told, is aflutter with people who are suspecting that the U.S. military did, in fact, train those Peruvian commandos or it was involved in some way in that embassy siege. Could you explain, look the camera in the eye and provide what information you can about DoD's involvement?
A: I'd be glad to look the camera in the eye and talk about the lack of involvement by the Department of Defense in this hostage rescue operation.
We did not participate in any way in this rescue operation, nor did we participate in the planning of the rescue operation. There was not a Department of Defense role in Peru's successful effort to rescue its hostages from the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima. I can't be clearer than that.
I read a poll recently that said that seven percent of the American public relies on the Internet as its primary source of news. Given the number of questions I get about the Internet, maybe it was 70 percent, not 7 percent. But people are frequently asking me about stories on the Internet. So I'm glad to answer this story as clearly and as directly as I can. The Department of Defense was not involved in helping the Peruvian government rescue hostages from the Japanese ambassador's house in Lima.
Q: What about training to help them...
A: We did not do that, either. We have, and it's probably important that I sort of walk through here exactly what our relationship is with Peru and actually with a lot of countries.
We have a number of military-to-military relationships with many countries in the world, including Peru. One of the most fundamental and ongoing programs is called IMET, International Military Education and Training. That's a program where we bring officers, military people from Peru to the United States to be trained in places like the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. They may get English language training. It may be as basic as that. A lot of IMET funds are spent on English language training. But it's to help officers and non- commissioned officers learn how the American military operates, and to get some advanced training or just basic language training. That program has been going on for some years. In the current fiscal year it's very small. It's $450,000. That's what we anticipate in FY98 as well. That trains about 100 students.
In addition we have, of course, counter-narcotics or counter- drug operations with Peru. As you know, the national media pool -- some of you may have been on it -- deployed to Peru last year to witness a Riverene operation taking place in Peru. Peru has been a very cooperative and significant participant in counter- drug operations that are run by the United States in Latin America.
We also provide to the State Department a certain amount of training, police training or even counter-terrorist training from time to time to countries in the area, and we had provided such training in Peru in July of 1996. This was fairly general training, and of course it was not done with the idea that there would be Peruvian hostages held in an embassy in Lima just several months later. But it was generic counter-terrorist training.
When the hostages were taken in December of 1996, we stood up something called an immediate response team which is an interagency task force of counter-terrorist experts. It's designed to go into situations where Americans are at risk and to help extricate them.
As you know, some of the initial hostages were Americans, but they were released fairly early in the drama. There were, I think, over 400 hostages initially, and over a period of days and weeks that number came down to the 72 who ultimately were released.
We sent a team that first went to Panama and then moved from Panama down to Lima, Peru, to stand by to provide any help requested by the Peruvian government in getting Americans or others out of the Japanese ambassador's house, out of captivity, but they never called upon this team. They decided not to use the team. After the Americans were released from captivity, the team returned to the United States and did not remain in Panama. We did not leave other military people in Panama to help the Panamanian military and police train for this operation. This was something that they handled on their own, and devised their own way to train their military, and they did it very successfully.
Q: Did we leave equipment?
A: We did not. I don't think I can be more clear than I was at the beginning. There was no U.S. military involvement in this hostage rescue operation.
Q: Was there any advance word given? I know the Secretary said they were not entirely taken by surprise, but was there any unofficial... How much...
A: The Secretary said that we had some indications that something might be in the works, and I don't want to go beyond that.
Q: And you speak for the National Security Agency as well, right?
A: The National Security Agency is part of the Department of Defense. I speak for the Department of Defense on this issue.
Q: U.S. intelligence operating during the course of this...?
A: I speak for the Department of Defense, and I'm not prepared to speak any more broadly than that. You'll have to ask question to other agencies.
Q: I'm just wondering if you could update whether Secretary White or Secretary Cohen have had a chance to review the Air Force's report.
A: I know Secretary Cohen has not, and I don't believe Secretary White has, either. But I know that Secretary Cohen, who has been devoting most of his time to the Quadrennial Defense Review, has not yet had a chance to delve into that rather voluminous study.
Q: So that may well put off until after May 15th whether he'll have a chance to look at it?
A: I don't think I want to make a prediction on the time, but he hasn't had a chance to review it yet.
Q: The latest sexual assault case on Okinawa, and what the Secretary feels about it, and whether the Pentagon worries that this might be another blot on U.S./Japanese relations.
A: I think this case is still... First of all, the Air Force sergeant involved is being held by Japanese authorities. He has, to the best of my knowledge, he has not been formally charged. We are worried about any action by American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, by any American military personnel, that violates American standards of behavior or Japanese laws. I think we have to wait and see what the allegations or charges are here, how this turns out. But we're disturbed and the Secretary is very disturbed about anything that violates the standards of good manners, good neighbors, and good discipline.
Q: The Secretary, when we were in Japan recently at both Yokosuka and Yokota, spoke to groups there and reminded them that they were ambassadors for the United States, in obvious reference to what's gone on here. Does that frustrate him in any way that these things appear to keep occurring despite attempts by the United States to train its troops not to do this kind of thing?
A: We will continue to train our troops. This is, of course, not at all comparable to earlier well publicized problems in Okinawa. It seems to be a different situation. As I say, there's been no charge yet, so it's difficult to comment on exactly what happened. But people are not perfect, life is not perfect. We face challenges every day, and we will continue to do our absolute best through training, through example, through exhortation, to ensure that our military personnel -- abroad and in the United States -- follow the absolute highest standards of behavior.
Q: Smoking. The DoD policy on smoking is?
A: The DoD has a policy to discourage smoking. As you know, the Pentagon is a smoke-free building. Many military installations I believe, in fact, all military installations are now smoke-free. Our policy is smoke-free throughout the Department.
Q: Does the Pentagon have a view on the legislation that's being proposed on Capital Hill regarding veterans who smoked and federal government liability for their habit?
A: That is a Veterans Administration issue now. I'm not aware that we do have a policy on that. That's something that the Veterans Administration is pursuing.
Q: Other than having smoke-free buildings and bases, is there a specific policy for employees, active duty and other employees of the DoD?
A: Our goal is to reduce the number of smokers in the military and in DoD. Right now we estimate that 32 percent of military personnel smoke, and that compares to 31 percent of the population as a whole. So basically we're in line with the smoking level and the population as a whole. We have a DoD goal to reduce that number of smokers to 20 percent by the year 2000. You might ask, how do we pursue that goal? One way we pursue it is by proscribing smoking in the Pentagon and other DoD buildings.
As you know, the military commissary system recently increased the price of cigarettes sold in commissaries to eliminate or sharply reduce a subsidy that they were getting. That happened last year. That's something that should make smoking more expensive and less attractive to members of the military. Also we carry on an education campaign. If you watch Armed Forces Radio and Television, if you travel abroad and have a chance to watch that, you'll see there are a number of anti- smoking messages there about both the cost and the health damage caused by smoking. So we are working on this.
The individual services have their own policies. The former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General McPeak, established a goal of a tobacco-free Air Force when he was Chief of Staff. I think all services now conduct smoke-free basic training, where basically they don't allow smoking during basic training; and they run educational sections on the health costs of smoking. So this is something to which the Department's committed and will remain committed.
Q: Has the Defense Department in court ever been found to be or suggested to be liable for illnesses as a result of smoking?
A: I'm afraid I can't answer that question. I just don't know.
Q: Has the Department looked into recruiting people who don't smoke? Or would that involve discrimination?
A: That's an interesting idea. I've never heard it suggested before, and I would suspect it would be rather difficult to do.
Q: Excluding people who don't smoke.
A: I suspect it would raise more legal issues than it would resolve.
Q: As for bearing the brunt of the thousands of lawsuits that the VA is involved in, that's not an issue that DoD is involved with?
A: You asked me that question before, and I said I don't know. That's primarily a Veterans Administration concern right now.
But the fact of the matter is that society's views on smoking have changed dramatically since the early '60s when the first Surgeon General's report came out linking smoking to cancer. I think this is one area in which American society has made considerable progress. We have a much clearer view of the risks of smoking today than we did 30 years ago. As a result of this, institutions throughout the United States -- colleges, universities, high schools, the military, hospitals -- which used to allow smoking, don't allow smoking any more. So I think the military is right in the middle of this changing American response to tobacco.
Q: The Iraqis, there are reports that there were two more Iraqi helicopter flights to the border areas, and the Iraqis are saying that this reflects their intent to travel freely in the no- fly zone. Can you confirm those flights? And have they actually picked up any pilgrims down there?
A: My understanding is that they have not picked up any pilgrims, that the pilgrims are still en-route to the pickup point which is, as I said, just across the Saudi border near a town called Ar' ar.
There are currently about 10 Iraqi helicopters there and a couple of busses, as well, as I understand it, waiting to pick up these pilgrims, but the pilgrims haven't arrived yet.
In terms of Iraq's statements, I don't really have any comment on that. I think Iraq is trying to make a mountain out of a molehill here. We should keep this whole incident in perspective. They've sent down a handful of helicopters to pick up a small number of pilgrims returning from the Haj. I think they're trying to hide behind religion, or to manipulate the Haj pilgrimage for political reasons. We're not going to play that game. We've stressed that we're not going to interfere with their efforts to bring pilgrims back from the Haj, and we've also made it very clear that we continue to enforce the no-fly/no- drive zone which is designed to prevent the Iraqis from accumulating military power in the southern part of their country, and we're certain that given our vigilant policing of the no-fly zone, we'll be able to do that.
Q: I believe it was yesterday, Senator Christopher Bond wrote a letter to Secretary Cohen and Secretary Albright in part accusing the Pentagon of taking sides in the Czech competition for fighter aircraft. He accuses the military attache' in Prague of pushing Lockheed's F-16 over the F-15. Can you just give me the official Pentagon position on what role it should or shouldn't play in international arms deals when two or more U.S. companies are involved?
A: I'll be glad to do that, but before I do let me make it very clear that I'm going to separate that particular letter, which I have not read, from our statement of general policy. So I don't mean to comment on that letter in any way because I have not read it myself, and I've not had a chance to talk with anybody in the Department about the letter. But our policy is not to take sides in promoting one company over another when American companies are trying to sell military equipment to a foreign country. In other words, we're even-handed. That's our policy. We present facts, we try to facilitate, we try to get buyers in foreign countries linked up with hopeful sellers in the United States. That's our policy.
Q: Has Secretary Cohen had any contact recently with his former colleague Senator Lott regarding the Senator's reported concerns about the way ship contracts are being apportioned between builders in his state and other states?
A: I' m not aware that he has spoken to Senator Lott about that recently. I'm not saying that he hasn't. I'm just not aware that he has.
Q: A quick question on Bosnia. We're sort of six months into SFOR now, and the equip and train program is well along. Are we near a decision point now in terms of reducing the size of the force?
A: I'll have to get back to you on that. My sense is that that is still several months off. That our first decision point was going to occur in the summer. As you know, we've just rotated out one brigade for another. That brigade is getting settled. There are about 7,500, maybe a few more American soldiers there now in Bosnia. I think that we'll look at the size of the force in a few months, but not now.
There is a complicating factor, of course, which is that the municipal elections have been delayed. That's something we'll have to take into account when we look at the required force size to carry out our mission there and to provide broad area security. I think now the municipal elections are scheduled to take place in September, and that's, of course, one of the factors that will come into play.
Q: But just for the record, does that alter your commitment to having SFOR out within an 18-month period?
A: It does not, and I think Secretary Cohen made that very clear when he was in Bosnia. The NATO goal and the Administration commitment is to have American forces and SFOR out by June of 1998.
Q: Any reaction to the Iranian exercises in the Gulf? Any notice of what they're doing? Any sense of offensive training on their part?
A: There seem to be very large and extensive readiness exercises going on in Iranian territorial waters -- 12 nautical miles off the Iranian coast and along the coast. The Iranians have publicly called these readiness exercises. They've announced them, they've called attention to them. They follow, I think last Friday was Iranian Armed Forces Day, so they seem to be timed pretty much to follow or happen around the time of Iranian Armed Forces Day.
We're watching them very carefully. We do not consider them to be a threat or an impediment to our operations in the Gulf. Our efforts to interdict smugglers, intercept people trying to break the embargo continues unimpeded.
Q: Is this going to facilitate this new smuggling route inside the Iranian territorial waters that they're taking out of Iraq that 5th Fleet is so concerned about now as these exercises are going on?
A: Well, the exercises, of course, won't last forever. It's not my sense that the point of these exercises is to facilitate smuggling. I think the point of the exercises is to test the readiness or improve the readiness of Iranian forces in fairly widespread air/sea/ground operations.
Press: Thank you.