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DoD News Briefing, Thursday, March 26, 1998

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
March 26, 1998 1:45 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

I'd like to welcome 14 journalists from Central and Eastern Europe who are here in Washington as part of a USIA/VOA sponsored program. Welcome.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: What's the Pentagon's and the Secretary's reaction to a GAO report suggesting that Congress should delay funds at least a year to Lockheed Martin for the initial F-22s because of problems with testing (inaudible)?

A: We, of course, have seen that report. We're studying the report and the whole issue right now. We believe the F-22 program should remain on its current schedule. It's an important program. It's important that we get the F-22 up and flying and into the force as soon as possible. But we will continue to review it, and make the program -- our goal is to make the program work. We right now are sticking on the announced schedule.

Q: So you would oppose any delay in funding at this point?

A: At this stage we want to stay on the schedule which is to get the delivery of the first two production aircraft, I believe, in FY99. That's what the contract calls for right now.

Q: You say to stay on schedule, but the Air Force plan is to move the award of the contract up almost nine months.

A: The issue as I understand it, in the GAO report, is whether to slip the contract from what is currently called for. The current contract... As I understand it, the GAO asked for a 12 month slip in the program. That is not something we're contemplating right now. We want to stick with the program.

Q: There was testimony yesterday that on that schedule, about four percent of the testing of that airplane will be done by the time there's a commitment to production. Is the Secretary comfortable with so little testing before there's a production commitment?

A: One of our options, of course, is to increase the testing rate and to get more of the testing underway. My understanding, and I'm not an expert on aircraft testing, is that the early tests are by far the most important tests, and that the first several hundred hours of tests are where you're most likely to find out what the problems are, if any. And to begin to figure out ways to deal with them.

There is a long testing program for this plane, and the fact that it hasn't been completed is not a surprise because we have some more time to do it. But one of the options open to the Air Force and one that they're pursuing is to try to find ways to accelerate the testing so more will be completed.

Q: Why the rush? What's the threat? There's no threat out there for 10-20 years, according to the DIA, that we have to worry about... the aircraft we'll already have flying. So what's so bad about delaying it to make sure you're not buying a pig in a poke?

A: First of all, I don't think that buying a pig in the poke is the issue right here. The Air Force has a good routine for testing these planes, and has done it many times in the past, obviously. The issue is bringing on-line a new fighter to replace some of the aging fighters in the inventory. The F-15s and the F-16s were basically developed in the '70s, and this is a fighter that will come on-line in the 21st Century. It will really be the backbone of the Air Force in the 21st Century. And they would like to bring that fighter on as soon as they can to start the training and the workup that goes with introducing a new weapon into the force.

Q: The Air Force was asked if there was another airplane that had ever gone into production with that little bit of testing, and the answer was the B-1B. We know what a wonderful success that was. It's still being...

A: Otto, I don't think you listened to my earlier answer which is that this is not a static program. The amount of testing done today is not necessarily the amount of testing that will be done at the time these planes come into production -- these first two models come in. So there is time left to do more testing and the Air Force plans to accelerate the testing rate.

Q: It isn't even flying now, however.

A: They have flown the F-22.

Q: They have flown it but they're not flying it now.

A: That is correct, but they will fly it more.

Q: When?

A: I can't answer that question. We'll get the Air Force to answer that question.

Q: It's had a lot of problems. It's delayed... they had a rusting fuel tank or a leaking fuel tank, really basic materials caused it to stretch out its first flight for four or five months. It hasn't flown one hour out of Andrews. I haven't heard they were going to take off any time soon. It looks like they're delaying this test program.

A: The issue here is whether they go ahead and meet the current contract. My understanding is the Air Force plans to stick with the current contract.

Q: Could you address the threat? What is the threat? According to DIA, there's nothing that can knock down the F-16, which is already flying and could be kept in production for 10-20 years.

A: George, I think you always have to weigh the preparation and the time needed to prepare for a threat that could develop in the future, with waiting until the threat actually develops. Clearly, it's more prudent to develop new weapons that can deal with future threats before the future threats are there, rather than afterwards. And obviously this whole conversation has illustrated that it takes a long while to bring sophisticated new technology into the force.

The Air Force, I think, planned prudently to give themselves plenty of lead time to prepare for a future threat. At the time this program was contemplated, of course, we were looking at a different threat picture than we are now, but we can't be certain that in 10 or 20 years there won't be a significant new threat on the horizon from a competing country. Were we to sit around and wait for a new threat to develop, I think you'd be criticizing the Air Force for sitting on its hands while its competitors were sneaking up on it.

Q: The real question, though, is making sure the plane -- you can validate the plane's performance before you go into production.

A: I think the Air Force is fully satisfied that it will be able to do that. But this is something that's going to be reviewed by Mr. Gansler, it's going to be reviewed by Gen. Ryan and his experts in the Air Force, and they will continue to review it as required.

Right now my understanding is that the Air Force plans to move ahead on the current schedule.

Q: Secretary Cohen has been holding up a Navy airplane for several months because there were problems discovered during testing. That's where wing drop surfaced. Why is there an unwillingness to hold up an airplane that hasn't been tested?

A: I don't believe that the F-18 has been held up. I believe that the question is would the next amount of money be released sometime this month if the wing problem were not resolved.

The Navy believes that it has resolved that problem. That is being tested today, as a matter of fact. I don't know whether the test is going on as we speak, but there was a test scheduled for today. An operations test and evaluation team is flying, as you know, the plane with the new wing design, at the Patuxent Naval Air Station.

So yes, he believes in testing. Yes, he believes in making sure that the planes work. He has discussed the F-22 as recently as yesterday with Gen. Ryan, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. Gen. Ryan has told him that it is his belief that the current schedule is doable, that the current schedule should be adhered to, that the testing will be accelerated, and that the problems should be worked out.

But that's exactly why we have tests -- is to learn about problems and work them out, you're right. No one wants to put a plane that doesn't work into the air. The Air Force has expressed confidence as recently as yesterday to the Secretary that they'll be able to make this work.

Q: The Secretary said he didn't have a comment on the issue of whether the Mexican military was involved in drugs. In the intervening hours is there any response from the Pentagon that you might have to that story?

A: Well, first of all, I'm not going to comment on a specific intelligence report. But I can talk a little bit about the Mexican situation.

Approximately 60-70 percent of the cocaine that comes into this country comes in through Mexico. The Mexican government and the U.S. government has made control of narcotics trafficking a high priority item. We have been working with the Mexican government, specifically we've been working with the Mexican military since 1995 when Secretary Perry went to Mexico, to begin discussions with them about heightened cooperation between the U.S. and the Mexican military.

We, last year, trained about 830 Mexican military officials in counternarcotics and other operations. This year we'll train a thousand or more. We do this, at the request of Mexico, in areas that make sense to them. Mexico's a sovereign country. They have designed their own program, and come to us and asked us for help when we can provide it. We try to be as responsive as possible.

We've also provided them with some helicopters and some fixed wing aircraft and other equipment to aid their counternarcotics operation.

The Mexican government has expressed extreme concern about corruption, by narcotics dealers and other narcotics forces, of their police force and other institutions in Mexico. The Attorney General has been very outspoken about that, and other Mexican officials have as well.

The military on its own has been investigating corruption within the military, and where they have found examples of corruption they have taken action and made it clear that they want to root out narco-trafficking corruption in the Mexican military.

These are the facts. They, as you know, arrested a senior general because of his dealings with narco-trafficking forces in Mexico.

So the Mexican military is carrying out, I believe, the antidrug function in a responsible manner. At the same time, they are very aware of the opportunities that any drug-related operation offers for corruption and they're trying to attack that when they can.

Q: The Attorney General this morning could not comment on the alleged or the intelligence reports that are reported in that...

A: I did not comment either. I made a general comment about the Mexican military.

Q: A spokesman for the State Department denies that the source was credible. I believe he described the source as being Gen. Gutierrez Rebollo, and said this man was not credible. But is that what the DoD also ascribes to, that...

A: I didn't say that. What I said was I'm not going to comment on the specific intelligence report. I did comment more generally on the role that the Mexican military is playing in policing counternarcotics operations in Mexico and on what Mexicans themselves have said about the risk of corruption from dealing in countering narco-trafficking.

Q: Specifically it says that Mexican generals, higher officers, have been meeting with drug traffickers regularly. Mexican drug traffickers. Is that thought to be true or...

A: I've told you that I'm not going to comment on the specific report about an intelligence matter.

Q: Linda Tripp. Can you tell us the Pentagon's findings of the investigation of her employment application?

A: I can tell you that the investigation is complete and that as a result of the investigation she has been told that she will retain her security clearance. That's all I can tell you on it at this stage.

Q: Can you tell us whether she correctly or incorrectly answered the question about her arrest?

A: I think that's all I'm going to say at this stage.

Q: Is she going to remain in her current position?

A: This particular inquiry has no impact on her current position.

Q: She will remain...

A: Right.

Q: Does she need a security clearance to do her current job?

A: She was granted the security clearance when she came here. Actually, she had a security clearance before she came here because of other work she'd done in the military, and she retained it.

Q: Is there a level or type of...

A: One of the things we learned from all of this, and we're learning new things every day about the Privacy Act and other acts, is that we're not supposed to reveal security clearances. So I can't comment on the level of her security clearance.

Q: Can you tell us about the review into the release of the information about her security clearance...

A: That is continuing. It started out in the General Counsel's office. It has now been taken over by the IG's office. I wouldn't read anything into that. The review is continuing and is not complete.

Q: Has she come back to work into the building at all, or is she continuing...

A: She has not. That's something that is under review and could happen in the future.

Q: What work is she doing day by day?

A: She's been assigned to... She's spending a lot of time dealing with the Office of the Independent Counsel, but she has been assigned a very specific task which is to put down basically a manual of procedures for the program she's been working on for the last couple of years, the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference.

Q: Can you quantify the amount of time she's spending with the Office of the...

A: I cannot.

Q: Before you had some numbers, like ten hours...

A: I did. Those were older numbers. I don't know whether those numbers... Obviously they're no longer accurate, and I don't have the new numbers.

Q: Is that per week? Is that what that was?

A: I think there was a question outstanding on that. Another thing I've learned is that I'm not supposed to quantify how much time she's spending with the Independent Counsel.

Q: When does the current 30 day period end on the flexitime?

A: I think that it ends, the current 30 day period ends sometime in April, about the third week of April.

Q: So you have extended it?

A: It's been extended... It's basically just gone on. There was no specific order issued extending it. As I say, this can be reviewed and changed at any time, but right now she continues to work at home.

Q: Is her work with the Independent Counsel, is that on her time or is that on DoD time?

A: As I understand it, it's on something called administrative leave which is allowed under this arrangement.

Q: Is she paid during that period?

A: She is.

Q: Kosovo. There are reports in the press in the last couple of days of an increasing guerrilla gathering of, I think, Albanians to counter the Serb army, the Serb police in Albania. Does the administration view this as a threat to stability in Kosovo, number one? And the threat of increasing guerrilla activity, is that what the administration sees coming?

A: We've made it very clear that both the Kosovar, the Albanian forces in Kosovo, and the Serb forces in Kosovo, should exercise restraint. The only way that there's going to be a peaceful solution to the problems in Kosovo is if both sides exercise restraint at this stage.

I think the contact group is working very hard in order to prevent more fighting and in order to make it clear to both sides that the way to resolve this is through negotiations and diplomacy, not through force. In fact there are discussions going on today at the UN, I understand, on the dimensions of an arms embargo that would apply to Kosovo or Serbia. Kosovo is part of Serbia.

Q: A leading Indonesian dissident has apparently written President Clinton complaining about U.S. troops training Indonesian special forces, asking why they're being trained, and claiming that these Indonesian troops are used to beat up on dissidents at home, people at home. Could you explain why the training is going on, and what the status of it is now?

A: Yes. I can. We have a program which is reported on every year to Congress, sometime in April, called the JCET for Joint Combined Exchange and Training program. This is a program that is designed, actually, to educate and train our special forces all around the world. To give them an opportunity to work with and learn about the military procedures and establishments of other countries. The JCET program takes place in about 95 countries -- is taking place in about 95 countries this year. It involves sending small teams of special forces people out to work with the militaries of other countries. This is valuable for a number of reasons.

One, if we ever have to, for instance, do an evacuation operation in a country, as we had to do in Africa several times last year, our knowledge gained from the JCET program is very helpful. We've learned about the geography of the country, the climate, we've learned about the military procedures, we've gathered a lot of information through these programs, so if we ever have to do emergency action, this program is very helpful.

Another reason it's very helpful is that in this age of increasing coalition peacekeeping, we work with detachments from other countries all around the world in places like Bosnia, Macedonia, etc. DESERT STORM was another perfect example of that. It is the special forces that put together liaison teams that work with groups from other countries. For instance, there is a special forces team working with each representative from third countries in Bosnia. They help them integrate into the force as a whole, they provide communications. As you know, the special forces people all have to have proficiency in another language. So people who have proficiency in Indonesian would work regularly with Indonesian forces; people who speak Malaysian or Thai would work regularly with forces from those countries on training exercises.

The JCET program is not designed to train the forces of other countries. It's designed to train our special forces in how forces of other countries operate.

I think the letter from Mrs. Megawati asserting that we are training the Indonesian forces is wrong. We are actually in Indonesia training our own forces.

Q: Are they training our forces?

A: No, we're training... If you want to learn how a military operates you don't go there to discuss stock car racing and stamp collecting. You go there to discuss military tasks. So they work together doing parachute jumping and other types of military tasks to learn how we operate. We learn how they operate, they learn how we operate in this way. But the goal...

Q: ...Indonesian way to parachute, or do they learn the American way to parachute?

A: No. We basically work with them so we can find out how they operate.

Q: How many U.S. trainers are there now?

A: I don't think there are any there right now. But they move in and out on a fairly regular basis in small groups. In Indonesia -- the last report we have on this is for FY96 -- as I say, reports go up every year in April to Congress. There were ten exercises in Indonesia last year, ten exercises under the JCET program in Indonesia last year.

Q: By small groups, how many people are you talking about?

A: I think there were approximately -- I don't have figures on the number of Americans who were involved. They worked with approximately 800 Indonesians in the course of these exercises.

Q: I'm sorry, you don't know how many Americans?

A: I don't have it right here. We can find out. I just don't have it right here.

Q: When we visited Indonesia, the SECDEF went down and saw the Indonesian special forces spitting out bats. Did you see any U.S. trainers down there at that time?

A: That's a particular skill that the American special forces have yet to learn, how to spit out bats, but it's one at which the Indonesians are very good. But it's actually one of the things we learn... One of the things the Secretary saw was how the Indonesian special forces deal with snakes. One of the things we learn when we train in different climates, jungle environments, different environments, is how to deal with the types of wildlife, flora and fauna, that people would encounter in these countries. But no, we have not yet learned the bat spitting technique of the Indonesian military.

Q: Did the SecDef see any U.S. trainers when he...

A: He did not see any U.S. trainers while he was there. We saw only Indonesian...

Q: ...snakes.

A: Sun snakes.

Q: A follow-up to an earlier colloquy on whether you found any justification for the Army's double standard of releasing information that's unclassified to Congress and refusing to respond to a Freedom of Information request on the same...

A: First of all let me answer Charlie's question here.

The average number of U.S. troops on a JCET mission is from 10 to 40, going there for maybe a month or a couple of weeks at a time. But the groups can be as large as 100. And, as I say, this is really a program to familiarize our Special Forces with the militaries of countries all around the world.

To answer your question, I've had a discussion with Gen. Meyer on that, as I believe you have too. The Army, he told me, is working on this. I assume he'll get back to you as soon as he can.

Q: Did it strike you that there was a double standard at work here? Releasing something to Congress and then refusing to respond...

A: George, you and I have had many discussions about this. You know what my views are on this. We're trying to get the problem solved, but we haven't done it yet.

Q: On the same issue, if you're no longer observing whether people are complying with Freedom Of Information regulations... I mean, this is a clear violation. If you don't do it, who do we turn to to protect our interests in this area?

A: There's an established procedure under the law for working under the Freedom of Information Act. You probably know it better than I do.

Q: If you don't support the Freedom of Information as Secretary Cohen pledges he will to the letter and the spirit, if you're not riding herd on it, who is?

A: In this particular case that George Wilson has brought up, I happen to think the Army's position doesn't make a lot of sense. I've talked to the Army about it. The Army has assured me that they're going to try to get to the bottom of this thing.

The Freedom of Information Act in general -- if we believe that information is going to be released under the Freedom of Information Act, we try to put it out before people have to go to the trouble of filing for these things. There is not uniform control. The services get requests and respond individually to those requests. Some of them go to the Office of Secretary of Defense. We try to be as responsive as possible.

Q: Can we go back to Yugoslavia for just a minute? The Secretary said this morning that arms sales by Russia would violate the Dayton Accord. That's confusing to me. As I understand, they have a long-standing relationship selling arms. They just concluded a big agreement late last year. Is there anything wrong with that?

A: I think the point to focus on is what the contact group is trying to do now. After their meeting yesterday, they agreed to negotiate the terms of an arms embargo. That is going on in New York today. As you know, the contact group includes Russia, the U.S. and four other countries. So I think we have to wait for those particular negotiations to be completed. I don't know the terms of the current rules about imports into Serbia.

Q: (Inaudible) see whether this applies to deals that have already been made or to future ones or...

A: Right.

Q: ...to deliveries that haven't come yet or whatever.

A: Usually embargoes have a number of levels to them and they cover certain types of weapons, but not all types of weapons.

Q: Is the Pentagon trying to ascertain the veracity or accuracy of that report of an agreement in principal to sell Yugoslavia MiGs and other weapons?

A: I'm sure that the State Department is working on that.

Q: A two-part question on defense contractor overhead. In checking on the Lockheed Martin, whether they're going to bill you for the antitrust thing. I'm told they have at least 12 major contracts, scores of minor contracts, and their legal costs are not broken out, they're submitted in a lump sum form as part of their overhead. I'm told, too, to find out whether they're billing you for this antitrust legal cost, it would require an army of defense auditors to actually break out those costs or demands.

So my question is, have you or the Secretary of Defense or Mr. Gansler asked Lockheed Martin to segregate the legal costs to make sure taxpayers don't pay for it or subsidize it?

A: My understanding is that the law is very clear. These costs, the costs of carrying out an antitrust suit, defending an antitrust suit in court, are not allowable costs. We expect that the company will honor the law and therefore will not try to make the government improperly pay for costs that they cannot legally charge the government.

Q: But you have no mechanism to make sure of that, other than a massive audit, right?

A: These companies are under audit all the time.

Q: The other... I see Northrop executives are going to give themselves $150 million in bonuses and stock options to reward themselves for staging this merger. Will they be, will that be part of an expense submitted to the Pentagon and reimbursed by taxpayers?

A: I don't believe such bonuses like that are covered by the Defense Department.

Q: Again, I guess it's a question of who's looking into the... executive compensation and bonuses are part of their overhead. Will there be any separate audit to make sure these things...

A: We will examine that, but I cannot imagine that those bonuses would be covered. And my understanding is that the bonuses have been delayed.

Q: Pending the merger. But you reimbursed Lockheed Martin $32 million for its bonuses when they merged with...

A: That's not a true statement, as you know. We've discussed this at great length in the past. Much of that was for worker retraining, as I understand it, and those were very carefully audited payments that were made to the company, and they did satisfy the letter of the law.

Q: Just in terms of, again, the Lockheed Martin/Northrop Grumman merger, during the eight month process I'm wondering when DoD first unofficially told the companies of concerns about the merger.

A: The Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust, Joe Klein, said at the press conference earlier this week, on Monday, that we had communicated to the lawyers for the companies, as well as to the companies themselves, on many different occasions, our reservations about the proposed merger.

Q: Do you know when, though?

A: No. What he said was that this information can be released at the discretion of the company. If the company authorizes the Justice Department to release this information, the Justice Department would be very glad to do so. In terms of the Defense Department, the Deputy Secretary of Defense and others did express concerns about parts of the merger proposal from time to time over the last several months to representatives of both the companies.

Q: So your reaction to Lockheed officials saying it came as a big surprise in March, which is what they say -- they thought everything was going along fine for seven and a half months, and then March came along and they got this briefing and they were surprised. What is your reaction to that?

A: My reaction is that there was no basis for that statement. They should not have been surprised. The government had been dealing with them and expressing its concerns for a long period of time before March.

Press: Thank you.