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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
May 01, 1997 2:00 PM EDT
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our May Day briefing.

May Day, as you know, is an old pagan festival to honor the beginning of spring, so it's appropriate that we're all here together on May Day to discuss any issues that arise.

I want to...

Q: Are we the pagans or are you?

A: Maybe we're all pagans.

Let me start with a brief announcement. I want to welcome Gillian Lusk who is the editor of Africa Confidential, a London journal. She's here today as part of the International Visitors Program with the USIA. Welcome.

I also want to make sure that everybody got the exchange of letters between Deputy Secretary White and Secretary Cohen, which I think are available now in DDI. If you haven't gotten them, you can get them there.

As Secretary Cohen said, he's looking for a replacement much like Dr. White, with the same skills -- managerial, being able to deal with Congress, knowledge -- knowledgeable on defense issues -- and that search has already started. I can't predict for you when it will end, but it's underway.

Finally, of course, we have the letter that Secretary Cohen sent to Senator Rudman last night, and that's available also in DDI.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Why weren't we told yesterday that White had announced he was leaving, and that he'd exchanged letters? Why did it drift out in a Washington Post article?

A: I can't explain that. He announced it late yesterday afternoon. The letters were available some time after that.

Q: How late?

A: He announced it at a staff meeting at 5:30, made a public announcement to the staff. We have a staff meeting every Wednesday afternoon, so he announced it around six o'clock.

Q: ...kind of thing happens that perhaps we have some kind of call-out, at least to the wires and the networks on...

A: Noted.

Q: Should we read anything into the fact that John White is leaving on the same day that Warren Rudman is going to take over as sort of a Special Advisor on Gulf Illness affairs? Was the Rudman appointment in part because White, who is also charged with overseeing Gulf War Illnesses is leaving? Any connection?

A: There is absolutely no connection. You should read nothing into it.

Let me just walk through... Secretary White was asked by Secretary Cohen, then Senator Cohen, to stay on when Senator Cohen was nominated, and to stay on through the transition. He feels that he's done that. He also feels that he's gotten the QDR basically wrapped up.

As you know, he ran something called the Commission on Roles and Missions before he became Deputy Secretary of Defense. That looked at a number of organizational questions in the Pentagon, and one of the things it recommended was that there be a quarterly review, a four-year review of Defense Department policies, weapons programs, etc. So there's some symmetry here. He came in on the Commission on Roles and Missions and he's leaving at the end of the Quadrennial Defense Review process which will be, as I said last week, out on May 19th.

So he has a house in Cape Cod and looks forward to spending the summer up there looking at the waves and reading books, which I must say, is a delightful way to spend a summer.

Q: But this doesn't reflect any dissatisfaction with his oversight of the Gulf War Illness issue.

A: Not at all. And we have Bernie Rostker here, whom you know, and also Robert Walpole of the CIA, who's handling Gulf War issues for the Acting Director George Tenet. They'll take your questions later, if you have any, on the PAC Report.

But Secretary Cohen made it very clear in his letter to Senator Rudman that he thinks that Dr. Rostker is doing a fine job. I think that's shared by everybody who's examined the work that he's done.

It's no secret that as the PAC has pointed out, and many other people, that we did not do an aggressive job early on in trying to get to the bottom of what happened in the Gulf. I think since Bernie Rostker was appointed in the fall of 1996, no one can fault the thoroughness or the aggressiveness of our approach to that. We have not answered all the questions, we have not completed all the investigations. We still don't know what caused Gulf War illnesses. We may never know, but we're working very hard to find out. I think it's very clear in both the Secretary's letter and in his comments today that he believes that Dr. Rostker has done and is doing, a very, very thorough job.

Now Dr. White appointed Dr. Rostker. He was the one that Dr. White turned to last fall when he realized that we had to put more juice into our efforts to uncover what went on in the Gulf. Since then Bernie has not only assembled a team of about 140 people to look into this, he now has more people answering phone calls about his efforts than we had in the entire Gulf War investigative team before he took over. He's going around the country now talking to veterans groups. He's taking a pit stop here in Washington in the middle of an 11 city tour. He's spent a lot of time on the Hill. He and his staff have spent over 400 hours talking with the staff of the Presidential Advisory Committee. When people have questions, when people need explanations, Bernie's been there to answer them and to give the explanations; so there is absolutely no connection between Dr. White's departure and naming Senator Rudman, and there's no suggestion that naming Senator Rudman to this advisory role suggests any dissatisfaction with what Bernie's doing.

Q: Back on Dr. White, how come the search for a successor isn't further advanced? On the sequence I've made out by the letters, Secretary Cohen's said for months that he was going to have to find a new Deputy Secretary. Has he submitted a name for his candidate to the White House?

A: Dr. White only spoke to the Secretary, I believe, earlier this week, maybe late last week, but it was only in the last couple of days that Dr. White sat down with Secretary Cohen and told him that he'd decided that he wanted to leave at the end of June. So it hasn't been something that has been known to anybody until the last couple of days.

We have exactly 60 days to find a replacement for Dr. White and to get that person confirmed and into the job, and Secretary Cohen, I think, is confident that he'll be able to do it before Dr. White goes.

Q: But I thought that, as I say, Dr. White had made it clear always to Secretary Cohen that he wanted to go after the transition.

A: What he said was that... You've read here about the transition. Transitions end when they... It's the time he chose to go, and the time he chose to tell the Secretary. But I don't think there's any...

Q: ...[Inaudible] importance of the Deputy Secretaryship in running the building internally...

A: I think you're leaping to a conclusion that we won't have somebody to replace Dr. White by June 30th. I think the chances are extremely strong that there will be somebody ready to go. That there will be a baton hand-off in the Deputy Secretary's office. It actually will probably be a hand-off of huge reports like this. But there will be a hand-off, and it will be accomplished very smoothly, I'm confident.

Q: Do you know what Warren Rudman is specifically going to do? Is he going to be paid? Will he have a suite of offices? Will he have a big staff? Who pays him? All those kinds of things.

A: Sure, I can answer all those questions.

He will not be paid. As you know, Senator Rudman is the author of the Gramm/Rudman/Hollings Bill which is designed to eliminate deficit spending. He's a man who is careful with federal dollars, and he does not plan to accept any money from the government. He doesn't want to cost the taxpayers one cent.

He will not have a permanently assigned staff, at his choice. He will rely on briefings from Dr. Rostker and others in the Department. I'm sure he'll go by and talk with Mr. Walpole at the CIA and others there. Dr. Rostker has had a chance to meet with Senator Rudman this morning. It was a very worthwhile, amicable meeting, went on for about an hour and a half. What the Senator said was that he would rely on us to provide information, and help as he needs it. But he doesn't plan to hire anybody.

He does also plan to talk to veterans and veterans groups. He plans to talk to members of the Presidential Advisory Committee and its staff. He'll talk to anybody he thinks has relevant information to him.

His job basically, as the Secretary said, is to serve as an ombudsman; to look at complaints that are made about the thoroughness of our investigation, the thoroughness of our efforts -- to evaluate them. He will report as necessary to the Secretary. He doesn't necessarily plan to submit a written report to the Secretary at the end of his term. In fact there is no defined end to his term. He's just there to serve, to help provide a set of eyes and ears for the Secretary. That's number one.

Number two, he will look specifically at the issue of cooperation between the Pentagon and the CIA. He will look very specifically at the effectiveness of getting intelligence information to soldiers in battle. One of the things we've learned in the last few months from examining through Bernie Rostker and others what went on in the Gulf is that there were sometimes disconnects, and sometimes information didn't get into the right hands at the right time. So one of the things he'll look at is how to improve that process.

Finally, as the PAC pointed out, the PAC raised some concern about the integration of various strands of the investigation underway today. We believe that Bernie Rostker is the integrating person here in the Pentagon. To the extent that there may be other levels of integration with other agencies. Senator Rudman will be available to sort of oversee broadly what's going on here, at the CIA, and in other agencies and make sure that this is pulled together.

Q: What is the connection between Rudman's appointment and the just-released PAC report which, again, is critical of how this Department is handling the investigation?

A: There's a rather direct connection.

The report -- and Dr. Rostker will talk about this later on -- the report made a number of findings, and the Secretary wanted an independent view of the adequacy of these findings, and an independent view of what we're doing to meet the suggestions in the report. But he also, as I said, wanted somebody to look broadly at complaints, about the adequacy of our work here, and he wanted somebody to look very specifically at the intelligence cooperation and integration issues.

Q: If looking at intelligence -- cooperation and integration is such a big part of it -- why the decision to make him reporting solely to the Secretary and not equally to the Secretary and the DCI?

A: I think that's a distinction without a difference. The letter made it clear that the Secretary has spoken to George Tenet, who is now the Acting Director, and we anticipate will be the Director when confirmed. I think they're completely together on this. The letter that Secretary Cohen sent yesterday was read at the CIA. Mr. Walpole himself read the letter and commented on it. I don't think there's any light between us on this.

Q: Will Mr. Rudman be issued the highest level of security clearances to get full access to CIA information?

A: As you know, he's a member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. I suspect his security clearances are high enough to handle anything that he'll have to do as a member of that Board. But there will be no impediments to his ability to look at information and to seek out the facts that he needs.

Q: Does the Senator look upon this position as a full-time job?

A: Absolutely not. He's a member of a major law firm, the Paul Weiss law firm, and he'll continue to do work connected with that firm. He has an active life. Last night he flew himself up to New Hampshire to give a speech and came back early this morning to meet with Dr. Rostker, so he'll continue to do his job.

Q: If the Senator really does have as one of his tasks to listen to veterans and then to see if their complaints are justified and so on, isn't he going to need a staff? That's IG type work.

A: The Senator said that he's willing to listen to people who want to talk to him. I suppose that's within reason. He is, as I said, he's a man who has other things to do in life. This is not a full time job. He'll do what he thinks is necessary to provide the advice the Secretary has requested. But he's determined that he does not need a staff.

Q: The intelligence job -- I mean, after the Gulf War it became clear that the problems of fusing intelligence of different sources, getting national technical stuff down to the tactical level, was a problem. There's been a vast amount of work, hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on it since, by a vast array of... in the intelligence community. Are you saying that Senator Rudman is going to review the work that those committees have done?

A: No. I'm saying he's going to look at specific issues that arise in connection with the broader Gulf War studies or investigations and make sure that we are doing everything possible to prevent the type of disconnects that happened in the past.

You're absolutely right. We have made significant progress in getting intelligence down to the shooter -- the soldier in the foxhole and his commander. And you've sat through briefings here in the past by general officers who have reported on what we've done in Bosnia. We all believe that we've made significant progress.

However, it was clear as a result of the Scott O'Grady shootdown that despite the progress we had made since the Gulf War until 1995, that there were still problems. There is never a total solution to a problem like this. You can always tweak the system to make it better. This is just another effort to find a way to make the system function as well as it can for the people who have to use the intelligence.

Q: But these are far too technical questions. Are we saying that Senator Rudman is...

A: Senator Rudman was a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee; he's a decorated combat veteran from the Korean War; he is a member now of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. I think he's very well schooled in these issues. He's traveled extensively as a member of the Senate around the world visiting troops, and I think he has the requisite knowledge to do this job.

Q: Nobody's arguing that the guy has an appropriate resume to cover this thing, but with all the concerns you're listing, doesn't this warrant a full time person to be able to do this kind of thing?

A: We have a full time person in Dr. Rostker.

Q: But an advisor, somebody coming in here looking at this. Why part time? Why not full time?

A: As I said, he's an advisor. The Secretary...

Q: ...massive amounts of information coming through there. It just seems like...

A: I don't think Senator Rudman or Secretary Cohen doubts his ability to provide the type of advice, the type of second look that he's been asked to provide.

Q: So you don't consider this just a cosmetic appointment?

A: Absolutely not. I don't think that anybody would consider Warren Rudman a cosmetic appointment to anything. He has a well known record as being outspoken, as being substantive, as being direct, and of telling people what he thinks. That's one of the reasons Secretary Cohen asked him to do this job, because he's sure that he'll get unvarnished, useful advice from him.

Q: Could you give us a read-out on the Ukraine visit, what the elements of these agreements are that they signed?

A: Sure. There were three agreements signed. Two of them dealt with medical care, and one of them dealt with a continuation of the Nunn/Lugar program in Ukraine.

As you know, the government of Ukraine decided in 1993 to abolish its nuclear weapons, but then it had the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world, probably about 2,000 nuclear warheads. It did this with the assistance of the Nunn/Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program.

The agreement they signed on the Strategic Nuclear Arms Elimination Agreement basically provides an additional $47 million earmarked to help them destroy some remaining delivery vehicles and silos. They've shipped out all the nuclear warheads. They still are destroying some of the infrastructure of the strategic arms arsenal that they had. It will also mean that they can begin planning for the destruction of SS-24 missiles. They've been concentrating primarily on SS-19s.

There were two medical agreements. One is the Reciprocal Health Care Agreement that says simply if Ukrainian military people or their dependents stationed in the U.S. for more than 30 days have medical problems, they can have access to U.S. military medical facilities. One of the things we're doing in cooperation with Ukraine now is training some of their NCOs and other military personnel to help them with their military reform plans. So there are Ukrainian personnel in the United States.

The third agreement was basically a statement on the intent of future military medical cooperation, and it says simply that the Department of Defense and the Ukrainian Health Affairs Agency will examine ways in which we can cooperate in the future. It doesn't commit us to do anything. It commits us to an examination.

Q: Do you know if the $47 million is on top of....

A: I'm afraid I don't, but we can easily find that out.

Q: Do you have anything on the number of missiles -- both the 19s and the 24s -- that are left to be destroyed?

A: I don't, but we can get those numbers for you.

Q: There was mention of this Polish/Ukrainian, I guess [inaudible] Brigade?

A: It's a Polish/Ukrainian Brigade, as I understand it, and this is something that's really being worked on more by the British and some other countries than by us. We've been involved in it.

As you know, there is a Baltic Battalion which involves people from the Baltic countries working in connection, primarily, with Scandinavian countries led by Denmark, as a matter of fact. There's a Baltic Battalion that's been set up. This would be similar to that. It would be a peacekeeping battalion. It would train together. It would be designed to develop a level of professionalism and readiness that would allow it to go into peacekeeping operations relatively quickly.

Q: The U.S. has no role in that?

A: We've been involved in it. The lead has been taken by other countries, but we have been involved in it.

Q: Can you confirm reports that this coming weekend there is to be a top level meeting on the Defense Review, making final decisions, that kind of thing?

A: I can tell you that on every weekend there are top level meetings on the Quadrennial Defense Review, and there will be top level meetings this weekend as well.

Q: This is not a final meeting, per se?

A: I don't want to predict when final decisions will be made on this.

Q: Is there a projected date for the release of the QDR?

A: Yes, May 19th. It's a Monday.

Q: I know that in the past you've said everything was on the table, they're looking at everything. But does that look at everything include the possibility, can you confirm, of possibly cutting two Army divisions?

A: Everything has been on the table, but that possibility is off the table.

Q: What else is off the table? [Laughter]

A: I think you should approach this QDR with a healthy sense of expectation. It should be like looking forward to Christmas or Hanukkah. It's something that you don't want to know everything before it happens ...[laughter]... and you want to leave an element of surprise. The present will be opened at the appropriate time.

Q: Speaking of presents... You mentioned the possibility of having a preview of the strategy prior to the rest of the review. Will that happen, or will it all come at once?

A: In a sense it's happening in a running way in that the Secretary has given a number of speeches in which he's talked about the strategy of shape, respond, and prepare. Some of those speeches have been relatively detailed. But he does not now plan to break that out, and we'll present the whole package.

Q: Do you know when he's going to meet with the President? Will it be this week?

A: I'm always hesitant to announce the dates or times of meetings with the President so they can change. You should ask the White House.

Q: Can you say it's planned for this week as opposed to next week?

A: I'd say ask the White House.

Q: Not to ruin the surprise but since you've given us a little sneak peek here... [Laughter]

A: I've given you a peek at what's not under the tree.

Q: Is it fair then to infer that significant cuts in force structure are not on the table any more?

A: The final decisions have not been made, and I suppose that significant is a term that people define in different ways. But I think you should wait and see, and I'm not going to talk more about...

Q: Can you narrow it down a little more. Is one division off the table?

A: You want me to narrow it down just as much as I did in the last answer?

Q: More. Is one division off the table now...

A: Charlie, we're not going to get into salami slicing here.

Q: Is there still some intention to brief the leadership of Congress or at least the military committees on the 15th, pertaining to the 15th report date?

A: We have ongoing with Congress discussions, and those discussions will continue, and I think Congress will be assured that the report will be released in a timely way.

Q: You stated that it's due for release on the 19th, but it will go to Congress on the 15th.

A: It will be discussed with some members of Congress before the 19th, yes.

Q: The Armed Forces Committee?

Q: Can we have Dr. Rostker?

A: Sure. Bernie is here, and I'm always glad to have him.

NOTE: The remainder of this briefing, with Dr. Bernard Rostker and Robert Walpole, CIA Special Assistant for Persian Gulf War Illnesses, is available on DefenseLINK, a World Wide Web Server on the Internet, at: http:/www.defenselink.mil/