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DoD News Briefing; Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD(PA)

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD(PA)
April 29, 1997 3:00 PM EDT
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

We delayed the briefing so you could follow the verdict in the Simpson trial. Let me just open with a brief statement about that, and then I'll take your questions.

The jury has considered the evidence and found Sergeant Simpson guilty of rape charges brought by the Army. However, this proceeding is not yet over. Sergeant Simpson must be sentenced. If the sentence calls for a punitive discharge or confinement of more than one year, then his conviction will automatically be forwarded to the Court of Military Appeals. Until that review is complete, it is inappropriate for me or any other Department official to comment further on the ruling.

Q: How long does it take to reach that final process, usually?

A: The main consideration is the sentencing, and the sentencing consideration could start today. It's more likely to start tomorrow. It's hard to predict how long that will take. Then there will be an automatic appeal, and I can't tell you how long that appeal is likely to take.

Q: . ..Court of Military Appeals, Ken, or is this the overall Judge Advocate General?

A: We'll find out the details of that.

Q: Will members of the military jury be made available to reporters? Will reporters have access to them as in a non- military case?

A: I don't know the answer to that question. My guess is not, but in this case, the verdict is pretty clear, and it's probably inappropriate for them to comment on it at least until the final proceedings are complete, and that's the review by the Court of Military Appeals.

Q: Would you at least be able to say how many of the jury voted to convict?

A: This is something that the Army has been dealing with and will deal with. That's their decision to make.

Q: On the Zaire situation, the apparent agreement today with Mobutu and the rebel leader, Kabila, does that appear to lessen the chances, as of now, that there will be an evacuation by the U.S. military?

A: Our hope has always been that we could find a peaceful settlement to the problems in Zaire. That's why Ambassador Richardson is over there. That's why he's trying to get Mobutu and Kabila to meet. We hope there will be a resolution that will make any sort of an evacuation unnecessary, but we'll have to wait and see. We're hopeful. It's a good sign that they've agreed to meet. We're hopeful that this does lead to an end to the conflict and an ability for Zaire to move on in addressing its problems, including problems involving refugees.

Q: On the QDR, can you run through what's going to happen here? When will this go to the Hill? When are you going to have briefings? When is it going to be distributed? Do you get something before the 15th?

A: It's most likely to go to the Hill on the 19th. It will be formally announced on the 19th. The Hill will be briefed on the 15th. As the Secretary said today, he will review the status of the undertaking with the President, and he'll also discuss it with members of Congress before it's released publicly.

This is a large undertaking that involves a basically strategic assessment and statement that will guide our thinking over the next 10 to 15 years, and then a series of decisions that are made to implement the strategic statement. Those involve decisions, really, across the board in affecting procurement, affecting base structure, affecting end strength, affecting the way the Pentagon does business, how it buys things, how it maintains inventories, how it dispenses certain services, how it provides repair services. Over the next week or so, the Secretary, who has been briefed extensively on every aspect of the QDR process -- there have been briefings virtually every day for the last two or three weeks, running through various decisions that have to be made, presenting the options, laying out the pros and cons of choices on one side or the other side, he will then sit down with the leaders of each one of the services and other leaders in the Department, and begin making the decisions that flow logically from the strategy statement and from the reviews that he's had. That will be happening between now and the time that it's announced on May 19th.

Q: When's he going to meet with the President?

A: He will be meeting with the President later this week, according to the firm plan, but that's always subject to change.

Q: Does that mean decisions will be made by the end...

A: Some decisions probably will be made by then, but it's unlikely that every decision will be made by then. He's said many times that this is a process, it's evolutionary. Once the document is completed and delivered to Congress, the process continues but in different ways. There's still the National Defense Panel; the Chairman has to present some comments later in the year on the findings; and also Congress will, of course, review it. So this will be a process that will take, certainly, the rest of this year and probably well into next year and the year after it to complete.

It's not going to be quick and it's not going to be easy, but I guess I should frame the whole enterprise by saying that this is not a process that began because our military is in great trouble or in extremis in any way. We basically think our military is extremely strong, we think it's well trained, we think it's well equipped, and we think that it is performing its job extremely well wherever it's been deployed -- whether it's to maintain presence around the world, sea presence, air presence, land presence, or in peacekeeping operations such as Bosnia, Haiti, etcetera, or evacuation operations such as the one we had in Albania. We think the military is performing extremely well.

What we're trying to do is decide what challenges face us over the next 10 or 15 years and how best to organize ourselves and fund ourselves to meet those challenges.

Q: This morning the Secretary indicated that maybe there might be some proposals to close military bases. He said that they've known for a long time... I can't remember his exact words. At capacity, I think, and he said it's time to look at the infrastructure.

Will a specific proposal to close bases be included in the...?

A: I think it's too early to talk about any specific proposals now. As I said, he has not made... He said he has not made formal decisions. He will be making formal decisions, committing them to paper over the next week or so, and I think that he should be the one to announce the decisions that he makes, and he will.

Q: When the Secretary meets with the President later this week, is that just to get him up to speed on what's been accomplished so far? Is the President going to be involved in any way in making some of the decisions?

A: The President is the Commander-in-Chief, and the geometry of the military -- how it's funded, what it does -- is a primary concern to him. He has paid a lot of attention to the readiness and training of the United States military. He meets with the CINCs and the Chiefs at least once a year, usually more often than that. He's traveled around and met our troops in the Gulf and in Germany and other places. He talks frequently with the Chairman and the Vice Chairman, talks frequently with the Secretary of Defense. He has increased the Pentagon Budget from time to time over the last few years to pay for quality of life and other important needs. So he is very concerned about maintaining a ready and capable military. The Secretary will talk to him in that context to bring him up to date on what we're doing and what the plans are for maintaining our military strength over the next decade or more.

Q: The QDR is focused on what kind of military the nation should build between now and the year 2005, correct?

A: Some of the decisions have implications beyond that, yes.

Q: My question is, does the QDR, we've been told that everything's on the table, but that's in the context of what do we need between now and 2005. Does the QDR mean that the budget projections that you gave this year for the next five years are also on the table? Or are they a hard skeleton and the QDR will work within the budget projections that you announced earlier this year? In other words, is the whole five year defense plan on the table, and therefore, subject to change to fit the QDR? Or vice versa?

A: Our hope generally is to work within... We're looking at a series of decisions, some of which will take place... They won't all take place at the same time. It will take time to put some of these decisions into place. I'd rather not get into the specific schedule at this time. I just don't think it makes sense.

Q: All I'm really asking is can we assume that the budget projections given earlier this year for the future are still firm and will be firm, and the QDR will fit inside it?

A: I can't answer that question. I have these charts in my mind and I just have to go back and check them before I give you a firm answer.

Q: Two-fifty [$250 billion], plus inflation basically.

A: Basically that's what we're assuming. We're assuming the steady state is 250 [billion dollars] plus inflation, and that's the world we're preparing to live in.

One of the issues is, given the fact that, as the Secretary said many times, and as the Chairman has said and Secretary Perry said before that, we're under-investing right now in modernization, in new equipment, and particularly new equipment for the future. We have to figure out a way within a fairly steady state budget to channel more money into modernization, and that's one of the challenges of the QDR, is to reallocate the money within the $250 billion plus inflation.

Q: But that's already in your budget. You do show an upward trend of the future in procurement, for instance. I'm just trying to see if you go back to square one with that whole five year plan or whether the QDR will live up to the figures we were given earlier this year. The procurement goes up in your five year plan.

A: Yes, but we would like it to go up more. So there will be rearrangements within the budgetary totals.

Q: Including the totals. The categories.

A: We assume the top line will stay the same. There will be rearrangements under the top line. That's one of the points of the QDR is to make sure that we have the spending categories right and the spending emphasis right as we move into the future.

Q: To get back to Brian's question, when this report comes out, when this document comes out, should we view this as the military's recommendations to the President and Congress? Or is this the Administration's recommendations? Or are the two inseparable?

A: Congress directed the Secretary of Defense to undertake this review and to produce a report by May 15th, and he will report to Congress by May 15th, or some members of Congress by May 15th. He is the President's Secretary of Defense. He is going to meet with the President and review his conclusions, findings, thinking about this. One of the things he'll be doing is to make sure that the President thinks this is logical, makes sense, and represents his thinking, because it doesn't do him any good as Secretary of Defense to present a document that doesn't have the President's support.

But it's the Secretary of Defense who's been charged by Congress to come up with this report.

Can I say one thing first about going to clear up some unanswered questions. I said earlier in terms of the Simpson verdict at Aberdeen that there is an automatic appeal to the Army... It's the Army Court of Criminal Appeals if the sentencing includes a punitive discharge -- that is for bad conduct or dishonorable discharge, or a confinement for one year or more. If the Army Court of Appeals upholds the verdict, then the individual can appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. So there could be two more steps there.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces does not have to accept the case. If it does not accept the case, then the defendant could appeal to the Supreme Court. He could ask the Supreme Court to consider his case.

So beyond the sentencing, which is the next step, there could be three more considerations of this.

Q: A small detail, but what happened with the other counts besides the rape counts?

A: What I saw, my information is based on what I saw on CNN before I came in here, CNN reported that he was found guilty on 18 of 19 rape counts. That's the extent of my information, but I think those are the counts that most people were following most closely.

Q: Is the Department of Defense able now to make comments now that these decisions have been rendered on this overall...

A: I've already said everything I'm going to say on this, and that was my opening statement. Since then I've explained the legal mechanics of appeals, but I have nothing to add to my opening statement. As I made very clear, this is not a completed process. It's still open to appeal, and I don't want to say anything and I don't think you'll find anybody in the Department, I hope you won't find anybody in the Department, saying anything that could prejudice the consideration of the appeals.

Q: The appeals are based on the fact that he was convicted of something which could call for a sentence beyond this, or would they be based on the fact, depending on how he's sentenced? Suppose he was not discharged and sentenced for only one year. Then is there an appeal? Do you see my point? These are based...

A: Charlie, I see your point. I think you're dancing on the head of a pin here.

Q: I'm not dancing on the head of a pin. The fact is, this is automatically appealed as of right now.

A: It is automatically appealed if he is given a sentence which involves a punitive discharge or a sentence beyond one year. Since he has not yet been sentenced, it would be hypothetical to talk about the future. But those are the facts. We'll have to wait for the sentencing. After the sentencing occurs, then we'll go into the appeals process.

Q: Is the Army Appeals Court and the Pentagon appeals court based here, the military appeals court based here?

A: I'm sure that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces is based here. I assume the Army's appeals court is based here, as well.

Q: About the famine in North Korea, there are reports that the situation is worsening. I was wondering if you could tell me the Pentagon's assessment on how much of a threat this causes to the peninsula and overall security along the peninsula.

A: I think you can look at the food shortages in North Korea on several levels. The first, of course, is humanitarian. We have reports from non-government organizations, from the news media, from others, of widespread starvation or famine in North Korea. I can give you a few facts.

Generally, food is distributed by the central government to about 65 percent of the population in North Korea. The military has its own distribution system, collective farmers have a separate distribution system, but in general, about 65 percent of the population receives a ration from the central government. That ration has been decreased dramatically over the last couple of years.

There have been a number of problems with the North Korean agricultural program. We think that the main problem is widespread mismanagement over a long period of time -- lack of fertilization, lack of proper crop rotation, exhaustion of the land, etc. In addition, there have been floods and natural disasters which have further curbed food production.

The rations now are quite low. They probably constitute about 15 to 20 percent of what we would consider here, what our Department of Agriculture would consider the minimum daily caloric requirement. In addition, many citizens of North Korea are going out and foraging for food. In other words, they get a ration. Some of those rations are now coming from local governments or from collectives themselves rather than from the central government. There seems to have been some change in the distribution setup . But they get their ration, and then in addition, they're going out and foraging on their own.

If you take their ration on the one hand and what they're able to get through foraging on the other, it probably adds up to about maybe 80 to 90 percent of the minimum daily U.S. caloric intake requirement. So judged by American standards, these are pretty minimal diets.

So there's the humanitarian problem. There were reports recently of children starving.

There's a second problem, of course, which is an economic problem. Because people are going out to either plant their own food or forage for food, they're not always showing up in their factories or other places of employment. There have been reports recently from visitors to North Korea that say that in some areas only one in 20 factories seem to be operating because people are off trying to get food. So the humanitarian problem of low rations, not enough food, translates into an economic problem.

We do not yet see signs, and I think it's very difficult to predict that we will see this, but we don't see signs that this is translated into a political problem. The country has a very strong military, a very strong security force. Its leadership appears to be secure. Therefore, we don't see political turmoil or disarray in North Korea today -- we don't see political instability.

The question you raised goes beyond these three issues -- humanitarian, economic and political, to stability. Peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea is and has been for some time a military threat to South Korea. It has a huge army -- the fourth largest in the world, 1.4 million people. The army appears to be better fed than the population as a whole. And the army is continuing to train, but some types of training have dropped off from past patterns.

We do not see signs of heightened military readiness in North Korea; we don't see signs that any sort of military action is imminent in North Korea. But I want to be very clear, that most of the army -- about 50 percent of it -- is arrayed along the demilitarized zone. They have one of the world's largest artillery forces along the demilitarized zone trained on South Korea. They would be able to launch a very potent military strike in a very short amount of time.

Having said that, we and the Republic of Korea also, have extremely effective, powerful, well trained and well fed forces. We can respond with devastating force to any attack that came from North Korea. We're prepared to do that, we're trained to do it, and that's why we're there.

Right now the security situation on the Korean peninsula is really unchanged. It has been a potential tinderbox for some time, and it remains a potential tinderbox, but we don't see new factors in terms of troop movements, in terms of planning, that leads us to believe the situation is any more dangerous today than it was last month or last year.

Q: You said 1.4 million -- I guess you meant...

A: I meant to say 1.2 million. It's about 1.2 million. and of course there are also six million people in the North Korean Reserves, so it remains a very powerful and well trained military force, and the country appears to be largely under military rule.

Q: Can you characterize the dropoff in military training and do you attribute this to be mainly due to economic problems?

A: I think we don't have enough knowledge about North Korean thinking to be able to explain these. Any explanation I gave now would be speculation and I'd rather not speculate about it.

Q: I wanted to expand on your point if I could, Ken. The VIP defector from North Korea to the South has said recently two things. I want to see if you feel they're propaganda or based in fact. One, that war is likely or imminent. And two, North Korea now has nuclear weapons. Despite the fact that there doesn't seem to be any change in military posture, what's the current intelligence of this building? Is war likely? Any more likely than it was before? Before being the past few months or a year. And two, do we now believe that North Korea does, in fact, have nuclear weapons?

A: We have believed for some years that North Korea may have generated or accumulated enough plutonium to make at least one nuclear weapon. We don't know whether it has. We believe that it acquired enough plutonium to be able to do that.

The point to make about the security situation on the Korean peninsula is that the clearest way for both countries to remain stable and safe, and the clearest way for North Korea to solve its domestic, economic, and humanitarian problems is to reach a peace agreement on the peninsula and to concentrate on economic growth and political reform rather than military buildup. That is what we've been trying to achieve in talks with the North Koreans; President Clinton has proposed the four party talks. Those talks have not gotten off the ground as much as we'd like. We are hopeful that they will.

In some ways, North Korea has been more forthcoming in the last couple of years than in the past. It's cooperated some on searches for the remains of U.S. soldiers from the Korean War; it signed, most significantly, the framework agreement in 1994 to freeze its nuclear program, and it's stuck to that.

As you know, there has been some humanitarian aid granted by Japan and the United States, South Korea, and other countries to North Korea. So there is a little more engagement now with the international community than there has been in the past.

Q: Let me ask you very specifically. Do we feel war is likely based on what this VIP has been reporting now that he's in the South?

A: We feel that war has always been a threat on the peninsula. It remains a threat on the peninsula. We do not see signs today that it's more likely than it has been in the past months or recent years.

Q: If I could follow up. The defector, Mr. Hwang, in a report that was published last week, spoke about casting a sea of fire on the south from the North; spoke of blackmailing the United States into inaction by threatening Japan with annihilation. And now we have, I believe, the No Dong missile, the North Korean missile that can reach Japan, has been deployed, is operational. And Ken, I would ask what does the Department say about the capabilities of that missile? Can it carry a nuclear device?

A: I'm not going to comment on the No Dong missile. There have been some reports in the Japanese press about that in the last couple of weeks, and I don't want to get into intelligence information on that or any other missile system that hasn't been discussed publicly before.

Q: What do you think about Mr. Hwang's credibility, and have we actually talked to him yet?

A: We have not talked to him yet. We are getting back- briefed by the South Koreans.

As you know, South Korean authorities at the highest level have promised that we will have access to him. I wouldn't anticipate that will happen for several weeks, but we will have a chance to talk to him.

I'd just point out that defector Hwang used to be "Mr. Ideology" in Pyongyang. He was the person who was sort of in charge of their ideological or propaganda program. Much of what he said recently is what North Korea has been saying for years about raining a sea of fire down on its enemies, etc. So beyond that, beyond saying that his comments aren't particularly new, don't have a particularly new ring to them, I don't want to say more.

Q: In the conference with Mr. Qichen this afternoon, will Secretary Cohen and the Chinese, our people and the Chinese, be going over these issues about Korea? Especially the credibility of Mr. Hwang?

A: Without getting into specifics, I'm sure that Korea will be one of the issues that Secretary Cohen and Foreign Minister Qichen discuss.

Q: . ..technology for the machinery that's being used for the military aircraft?

A: That particular issue is under investigation within their own government right now. But certainly the issue of technology and technology transfer will come up in the conversation. I'm sure that some of you were able to go to the briefing that Nick Burns gave at the State Department last night after the meeting between Secretary Albright and the Chinese Foreign Minister in which he ran through the main topics under discussion, and technology transfer was one of the main topics they discussed.

Q: Can you tell us the capability of the newly developed nuclear bomb, if it can penetrate underground very deeply, and destroy the bunkers in rogue countries?

A: In rogue countries?

Q: Yes.

A: I don't think I want to talk about that today. (Laughter)

Q: . ..deployed?

A: That's not something I'm prepared to discuss today.

Q: Can I ask you to comment, there's a story in Jane's Defence Weekly, and it quotes a Defense Department official, Kurt Campbell. It says that North Korea has chemical weapons stored near the South Korean border, close to the DMZ zone. He said these weapons are stored in tunnels or buried with the other North Korea's inventory of artillery pieces, etc. He says there's "nothing the U.S. can do about it if North Korea wanted to roll out artillery and fire on Seoul." That's a direct quote. At the same time he said the U.S. doesn't believe any such attack is imminent. Any comment?

A: What's your question?

Q: My question is, is this true? Are there chemical weapons stored near the...

A: Kurt Campbell is our building's expert on North Korea and the Asia Pacific area generally. I think he speaks with some knowledge about that. But I also point out that he said that we do not believe that any attack is imminent.

We, I think, made it very clear before Desert Storm, that we were prepared to respond to any use of chemical weapons by Iraq with devastating force. We've made it very clear in congressional testimony recently on the Chemical Weapons Convention which the Senate recently ratified. I think any country in the world should know that we are ready and able to respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction in a very quick and aggressive way.

Q: Do we have chemical weapons in South Korea?

A: I don't want to... We do not use chemical weapons. We are destroying our supply of chemical weapons. That's a decision that was made by President Reagan. We have made it clear many times that we believe that we could respond to a possible chemical attack in a devastating way without ourselves using chemical weapons.

Q: Back to the annual report. Last year's report mentioned specifically with regard to East Asia and U.S. forward deployed troops, that that level would be kept at approximately 100,000. This year a specific figure was not used. No figure was used. I'm wondering, given all the controversy that's been going on in Okinawa with regard to the number of U.S. forward deployed forces in East Asia, isn't it sort of a glaring mission? Is it... Are we supposed to interpret something from that?

A: Secretary Cohen recently visited Japan and Korea and said on every stop of that trip that we plan to maintain forward deployed forces in the Asia Pacific region of about 100,000. Vice President Gore said that on his recent trip to the area. Secretary Albright said it on her recent trip to the area. President Clinton has said it. I believe he said it in connection with Prime Minister Hashimoto's visit here last week, and Prime Minister Hashimoto talked about the value of continued American forward deployment in the Asia Pacific region. So I have not read every word of that report and can't vouch that the 100,000 figure isn't in there, but I think there has been adequate commentary on it by the highest levels of our government to convince anybody who cares to listen that we remain forward deployed and committed to forward deployment at about 100,000 people in the Asia Pacific.

Q: I guess my point is, until the QDR comes out anyway, this is sort of a guiding, something we in the press and public have to go on... The person who wrote it, were they asleep at the switch that day or off the reservation? It's going to be scrutinized...

A: I think I've answered your question. If you'd like, Colonel Bridges would be glad to give you a handful of transcripts where we mention our commitment to maintaining forward deployed forces of approximately 100,000 in the Asia Pacific. I consider it a non-issue. I think the QDR has reached a point where I can pretty much assure you that you won't see any change in that coming out of the QDR.

Q: A quick footnote on that, I know that the Secretary has an introductory letter in that report, but has he had time to make that his own? Should we assume the whole report is his?

A: He inherited a defense program and he has defended that program on the Hill and he has defended the program in the annual report. So yes, he signed it. He sent it to Congress.

Q: We were talking earlier about North Korea. That information that you had with regard to how many people were foraging, the minimum caloric requirements and so forth, where did that information come from?

A: There has been information that's come out of NGO organizations and others. There are people here in Washington who have been over there with humanitarian organizations, looking at the food situation. There have been reporters there recently. I saw just today a CNN report with footage from North Korea. So there have been people over there who have had a chance to observe at least some of the conditions.

In addition, we do know there have been some defectors who have been talking about the conditions in North Korea, so there are a variety of sources.

Q: In response to these heightened reports of famine there. As far as you know, have we stepped up any operations -- whether it be intelligence gathering in the North -- to get a better picture of what's really going on there?

A: We have always been aggressive at gathering information about North Korea. South Korea is also very aggressive at gathering information about North Korea. I don't think there's been any change in our intelligence posture.

Q: On Friday there was an incident in downtown Washington involving what was originally thought to be a biological agent, and it was responded to by the FBI and by the District government. The District government is one of... The only city governments, municipal governments, at this point that has received some training from the Pentagon in how to respond to that. I understand there's a special health unit in Washington that as been trained to spring into action on these situations. Can you tell us what sort of role you have played in that situation and what other assistance the military offered on Friday?

A: What kind of role the District of Columbia special health unit played in that situation? That's what you want to know?

Q: Right.

A: Let me deconstruct your lengthy question, if I can use an academic term. The Defense Department did give some limited training to a unit of the D.C. Government called the Metropolitan Medical Strike Team. We did that training prior to the inauguration in January of 1997.

In addition, as you know we have a new program that's being put into effect under a piece of legislation called Nunn/Lugar/Domenici, which is a domestic preparedness law to help... It calls for the federal government to train state and local governments in ways to deal with weapons of mass destruction.

There will be assessments done of the WMD response capabilities of 27 cities this year, and Washington, D.C. is among those cities, but I don't think the assessment has taken place yet. I think it takes place maybe next week, the end of this week or next week for Washington, D.C.

To refer specifically to the medical strike team in the District of Columbia, that's part of a broader, hazardous material team, I gather. In the District of Columbia. That was the team that was called out by District authorities in the course of this threat last week.

Q: Was the special health team called out?

A: It's not my impression that it was, but the FBI ran this operation. We didn't run the operation. It was the FBI that was in charge.

Now the FBI issued a press release on April 24th in which it said that the District's hazardous materials team performed superbly. The "it" referred to the broader hazardous materials team, which is sort of the father of the medical strike team, in the District.

Q: . ..or any other military unit specializing in biological or chemical hazards to assist the FBI on Friday? Was it made by telephone?

A: The only assistance I'm aware we gave was that the material was taken to the Naval Medical Research Institute where it was evaluated and found not to be a biological agent.

Q: Since the military is working on this preparedness program with cities, is the military at all involved in assessing how the district performed in this situation?

A: As I said, this was an FBI operation. The FBI ran it. We provided the help the FBI asked us to provide -- no more, no less. The FBI actually complimented us on the help we provided through the Naval Medical Research Institute. I think they're the people to comment on what happened in the District and what sort of people rallied around to help resolve that potential problem.

Press: Thank you.

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