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DoD News Briefing, Tuesday, April 21, 1998

Presenters: Captain Mike Doubleday, DASD (PA)
April 21, 1998 1:45 PM EDT

Captain Doubleday: Welcome to the briefing.

I have no announcements, so let me try and answer some questions.

  • Q: Operation Auburn Endeavor. How many aircraft and how many personnel do we have in Georgia?
  • A: I have just a very few things that I want to say about what's been reported.

A team of U.S. government specialists is on the ground in T'bilisi helping the government of Georgia better secure its nuclear material. This effort is part of our continuing cooperation with states of the former Soviet Union to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Because the operation is ongoing I will not be able to provide any further details at this time.

Q: Can you just confirm the amounts?

A: I want to leave it right where it is.

Q: How about any... Can you define whether there's U.S. military involvement?

A: Well, it's actually... When I say a team of U.S. government, it's an interagency team that includes representatives from several departments of the executive branch.

Q: What about the issue of prospective buyers for this nuclear material? Can you talk about who has been interested, if any actual offers have been made?

A: I think just in general, without referring to this specifically, I think you're well aware that the policy of the United States over the past several years since, in fact, the breakup of the Soviet Union, has been to try and do whatever we can to try and prevent the proliferation of these weapons of mass destruction and it is our concern that in the aftermath of the breakup -- that the weapons should certainly be controlled. We've already taken steps, in that regard, to remove weapons from four of the republics that had them before to Russia, to destroy a large number of the weapons. So that's kind of the overall context in which we're working here.

We have concerns that there are nations and perhaps groups that may be interested in getting their hands on such material, and that's why we've taken these steps in the past.

  • Q: You may have said this, I came in late. Is this under the auspices of the Cooperative Threat Reduction program? (inaudible) funding in the DoD budget?
  • A: It certainly has that aspect to it. But it goes beyond that because, as I say, it's an interagency team that is involved.

Q: Are we buying this material from the government of Georgia?

A: I will leave it until the operation is completed before I get into a full briefing on exactly what we're going to do with the material.

Q: ...by the end of this week that you'll be able to get into that? A: I hope it will he very soon.

Q: Do you have concerns about their safety? Is that the problem?

A: I think that we're always concerned in any kind of sensitive operation about the safety and security of the individuals who are involved. We've taken steps in this case, as we do always, but you can certainly understand that I'm not going to detail what those steps are.

Q: Did you have a credible threat or is this just a general concern because of the atmosphere in Georgia?

A: To my knowledge it's a general concern that we would take in any kind of a situation like this.

Q: Was there something in particular that set off alarm bells in this particular instance?

A: I am not aware of anything that has set off alarm bells other than the fact, as I say, we're always very sensitive to the security in these kinds of operations.

Q: Have there been other similar operations in any of the other countries of the former Soviet Union?

A: I think you're aware that back in 1994 we conducted an operation with [the] Department of Energy to remove weapons grade enriched uranium from Kazakhstan.

Q: How much did we get from that?

A: Six hundred kilograms.

Q: And how much is believed by DoD to be in Georgia currently?

A: I don't have a figure that I can give you right now, a total figure.

Q: How about a ball park estimate? Is it as much as was removed from Kazakhstan?

A: I think it's considerably less than that.

Q: Can you tell us something about the stability or lack of it in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia?

A: I don't want to get into a characterization other than to say that I think some of the events of the recent past speak for themselves, and we have taken action that is appropriate to what we believe to be the security situation.

Q: This was something that the government of Georgia wanted to have done for some time, right?

A: As I say, I don't want to talk about this specific operation until it's been completed. And I will tell you now that we will provide somewhere here in Washington a full briefing on the operation when we can.

Q: Slightly more generally speaking, not having to do specifically with this uranium, is there a concern that particular government rogue nations or independent groups are actively shopping around in the former Soviet Republics for nuclear materials?

A: I cannot give you specifics on that other than to say in general we know there are certainly nations and groups that could be interested in this kind of material, and we've taken steps in this particular case to maintain security. But overall, that is the purpose of our Cooperative Threat Reduction program -- which is to ensure that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is under control and that we put an end to it in any way we can.

Q: Are there other developments like this under negotiation with other former Soviet Republics?

A: I think you can understand that if there are, I would not be able to talk about them. And I frankly have no specifics that I have been made aware of.

Q: On a somewhat related subject, are you aware of press reports coming from Israel, I believe it was the week before last, and do you have any comment? The reports basically were saying government sources within Israel, there had been a secret report leaked or something about four tactical nuclear weapons having been sold or transferred, at least, to the possession of the Iranians during the breakup of the Soviet Union in '91, '92. Does that ring a bell?

A: Frankly, the way you describe it does not ring a bell. There have been reports similar to that which we have discussed here -- Ken has discussed over the last couple of weeks, about which we had absolutely no confirmation. But the way you describe it, I've never read those reports.

Q: Something coming out of Israel to the effect that Iran has tactical nuclear weapons.

A: I'm not aware and I have no information on that.

Q: In the Persian Gulf, any decisions to step off the 2.0 carrier presence in the Gulf, or reduce any of the aircraft or ground troops in the Gulf?

A: The troop level in the Gulf remains at the level we've had for some time, and there have been no decisions to make any change in the level. I can give you a rundown of that.

We've got presently about 37,200 people located there. There are 29 U.S. ships and about 355 combat aircraft.

Q: Do you have the status on the DIA report on the Cuban threat? Or lack thereof. I know the Secretary was reviewing it.

A: Right. I don't have any change in the status. I know that the Secretary wanted to review that. He actually received an advance copy at one point, but he has not yet completed his review as far as I know. You may be aware he's on a trip presently, finishing up, and we expect the Secretary back in the city sometime either very late tonight or early tomorrow.

Q: Is it true that the Castro government is giving support, funds, training, some kind of support to one of the guerrilla groups in Colombia that's trying to overthrow the Colombian government that we're aiding?

A: I have nothing on that. I'll see if there's anything that we could provide you on that one.

Q: The Brookings Institution says in a report released today that the Department of Defense is underestimating by tens of billions of dollars a year, or about two-thirds, the true cost of maintaining the U.S. nuclear arsenal. I wondered if you have any comments.

A: I certainly don't since I haven't seen what they're talking about at this point. Is this a report that supposedly has been sent to us?

Q: It has been bounced off the Pentagon for...

A: First of all, I'm not aware of the report so I don't have any comment on it.

Q: Can you confirm a report yesterday, I believe it was in Defense News, that UAE decided to buy up to 80...

A: I saw that report. I can't confirm that. I'll let the UAE make their announcement.

Q: Linda Tripp's attorney came out recently and said that Ms. Tripp wants to return to her duties at the Pentagon, her former duties. Is the Pentagon willing to allow her to return to her job as she left it here?

A: I think, as you know, Linda Tripp continues in her position as a public affairs specialist, GS-15. She's not been demoted, and contrary to the assertions of some, there is no plan to fire Linda Tripp.

Her present assignment is to draft standard operating procedures for the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference. This is the program that she's worked on for the past two years. She's doing that from home under the flexi-place arrangement that we have set up for her.

Q: How's she coming on that project?

A: I would characterize her as performing her duties as assigned in that regard, but beyond that I wouldn't want to characterize it.

Q: Is there a deadline?

A: Let me just continue on, I want to make one other point.

Over the last several months, a significant portion of Ms. Tripp's official duty time, duty hours, has been devoted to meetings with the Office of the Independent Counsel. Those demands on her duty time continue.

We decided that absences occasioned by the time that she spends in those requirements would have an adverse impact on the time and travel associated with the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference, this is being planned now for June of this year. As a result, those work duties have been assigned to someone else. They will continue working for this year's Joint Civilian Orientation Conference in the planning and the interface with individuals who are going to be participating in that. Linda Tripp is involved, as I mentioned before, from her home in this standard operating procedure that she's putting together, which draws upon her experience of the last two years. That work could be performed anywhere.

Q: Just to be clear, the Pentagon does not plan to let her return as the director or I'm not sure what the right word, to JCOC.

A: I want to put this in terms that are meaningful to us here. It is... She is a GS-15, a public affairs specialist. She remains that. Much as I am a Navy captain.

The specific assignments that she is given change from time to time, but are certainly commensurate with whatever it is she has in the way of experience. In this case, public affairs specialist, GS-15.

So the work assignment that she has been given, the specific duties that she has been asked to carry out, have to do with the standard operating procedure. And as I mentioned before, the requirements for JCOC which require travel and time here in the building, a lot of telephone conversations on the phone with individuals who are part of that conference. Those have been assigned to someone else and will remain so for this year's JCOC.

Q: You also mentioned that a significant portion of her duty hours are spent working with the Independent Counsel.

A: Right.

Q: Do you have a number of hours or...

A: I would refer you to the Office of the Independent counsel for a rundown on how many hours she's spending with them, but it is significant.

Q: Does she provide a time sheet to the Department of Defense?

A: I'd have to check on that. There may be such a thing.

Q: If she is providing, spending a significant portion of her time with the special counsels office, it sounds like she's not doing very much for the Department of Defense anymore.

A: What I can tell you on that is she is performing her assignments that we have given to her, and beyond that, I'm not going to characterize how it is.

Q: But doing it very slowly. If most of her time is not spent working for the Department of Defense, she obviously can't be spending very much time doing anything for this...

A.: I'm not going to characterize how much time.

Q: The hours she spends with the Office of Independent Counsel, those are charged as administrative leave...

A: That's my understanding, correct.

Q: ...she is paid for.

A: Right. She is paid for that period of time.

Q: How long is this manual that you expect her to provide, the standard operating procedures? Are we talking a three page set of...

A: I think that's somewhat up to Ms. Tripp. It is something that... Our expectation is that it will be useful to those who have this duty assignment in the future. I think some of you are aware, the way this program has worked in the past is that frequently we assign an officer and sometimes an individual who is here on a special program for a period of a year to assume some of the responsibilities associated with the planning and carrying out of the program, so what we're looking for is the kind of information that will enable individuals like that to quickly get up to speed and know how the program operates.

Q: What kind of civil service or any other kind of protection does an employee who is a Schedule C have for their job? In other words can the President at his discretion decide to fire a person with or without cause from a Schedule C position because it is a patronage job?

A: I think that everyone is aware that a Schedule C essentially serves at the pleasure of the organization which she is serving. The administration that she or he is serving. So basically, that can he terminated at any time.

Q: And there's no particular protection. No civil service protection...

A: The Schedule C employees do not have the same civil service protection that other individuals, that... The Schedule Cs do not have the same kind of protection that civil servants have.

Q: Is this the Secretary of Defense who would make this decision? Is it Ken Bacon? Who would make the decision that the Defense Department is no longer getting value, from a patronage employee...

A: I think you're asking me to speculate on something that I'm not in a position to speculate on. I think Ken has talked about this in the past. This is a situation that is somewhat unique, and we're handling it as best we can.

Q: In her particular case she had previous civil service... So she's...

A: That situation is unusual in that she was a career civil servant before she became a Schedule C, but she is in a Schedule C position right now.

Q: Just to make sure, talking in general as to who has authority over the position for a Schedule C, does that take a presidential decision, that the pleasure of the President is no longer there, or in general for a Schedule C... How far...

A: In general, I would say that these kinds of decisions for this level of Schedule C is determined at a much lower level.

Q: So the immediate superior or...

A: Immediate superior or certainly at the Assistant Secretary level or below.

Q: Would it be correct to say that this time away from work and her involvement with the Office of the Special counsel would impede her chances of advancement in this job?

A: I don't want to characterize anything that may come in the future with regard to this case.

Q: You gave her JCOC responsibilities to somebody else some weeks ago...

A: Months.

Q: Was it months ago?

A: Right.

Q: So has anything changed with regard to her status in the last few weeks, or this is just sort of an update on...

A: Nothing has changed. As I say, she remains exactly what she has been since she came into the position. That is she is a public affairs specialist, GS-15.

Q: Do you have an update on the anthrax inoculations in the Gulf?

A: I think I actually do have something that I can give to you on that. There are a total number of 31,478 individuals who have received the first shot; 21,371 who have received the second shot; and 2,223 individuals who have received the third shot.

Q: How many people do you have that have refused to take the shot?

A: There are a total of 14 Navy personnel and two Air Force personnel. Two of the Navy personnel have been discharged from the Navy.

Q: Are there two more?

A: I am aware of a total of 16 that are presently on active duty who have refused to take the shot.

Q: All enlisted, or some officers?

A: I don't have a breakdown.

Q: Are you identifying those who have been discharged?

A: No, because I believe they were discharged under administrative circumstances, and I certainly don't have their names.

Q: If you refuse to take a shot, what's the penalty?

A: Well, we leave that up to the individual commands. Normally it's handled with what we in the Navy call non-judicial punishment which is the kinds of administrative measures that a commanding officer has to ensure order and discipline in his command.

Q: Is it mandatory for all those serving in the Gulf to have the inoculations?

A: Yes.

Q: ...Anthrax, and those who refuse could be sent to other theaters, other assignments?

A: No. First of all, I think everybody needs to understand that the decision on the anthrax vaccination was not a decision that was made in any way hastily or without a lot of research and thought. In fact the process took many, many months. Ultimately, if you'll recall back in December when the Secretary made his first announcement regarding this program, involved certain areas that he wanted to look at even further. Among those were the further testing of the stockpile of the vaccine.

It also included, by the way, an operational plan for the vaccinations along with a communications plan to ensure that those who were going to be vaccinated understood why they were being vaccinated and what the vaccine was for, and the safety of the vaccine. So there is quite an elaborate communications process, quite an elaborate operational plan that is in place which was all put in place because this is a very important force protection issue... That's what it gets down to.

In the considered, very considered judgment of officials of the Department -- both health officials, military officials, and ultimately the Secretary -- the determination was because of the threat that we face in certain areas of the world, particularly in the Persian Gulf, we should utilize this vaccine which has been proven effective over the years, to be effective against anthrax.

So we've got this program in place, it applies to all individuals serving in the Gulf region. It is not voluntary. It is similar to the other kinds of vaccines that we give to anybody who serves in the military and goes into areas of the world where they need protection. That is exactly what we've got here.

Q: If you've got some people who refuse to take the shot, they've taken --they've gone, they've taken their non adminis... Whatever -- their punishment, and they still won't take the shot, what do you do with them?

A: Frankly, I can't tell you except that, I think that the individual commands, and certainly the commanders in the field, are going to have to make a determination as to what steps they're going to take.

I think that one of the things that we need to ensure that service personnel understand is that this is for their own protection, and it is also to ensure that we have a fighting force that is fully ready to fight should it ever become necessary to do so. And you can't have a situation where individuals can pick and choose which of the force protection measures they're going to sign up for when you're in a military situation. This is a situation that we believe requires this vaccine. We believe that it will protect individuals who are put into parts of the world where anthrax weapons could possibly be used, and we feel that the vaccine is very safe, well tested, and is not going to be a problem for individuals who take the vaccine.

I think that all of you are aware that the Secretary and the Chairman, the Deputy Secretary and other senior officials have taken the vaccine. I believe the Secretary and the Deputy Secretary, and the Chairman have actually taken their full initial shots. And I think if you find that you look into the research that has been done on this vaccine, that it has been proven to be safe and effective, and a real force protection measure that we should employ.

Q: Can you bring us up to date on the search for a new Army Secretary and a new Air Force Secretary. What's... It's been a number of what months? What's taking so long in each case?

A: I have nothing that I can announce to you about those positions at this point. When we can, we'll be glad to do that, but I just don't have anything on that.

Q: I wanted to see if there was anything further on the napalm shipment.

A: The napalm shipment is at China Lake, California. The Navy is working very hard to develop alternative disposal means. We believe that the napalm can get disposed of in a very safe way. We are working, that is to say the Navy is working very hard to find out a contractor who can do that.

Q: I think Ken indicated last week, that you have had inquiries from companies who are looking to do this?

A: Yes. There have been -- not in addition to those who submitted bids originally when this disposal was first put up for bid. There were some who were not selected in the process. There are individuals from that category in addition to some additional companies who have indicated that they would be interested in bidding when the contract is put up for rebid.

Q: [inaudible]

A: Our desire is to do it as quickly as possible.

Q: Weeks or...

A: I can't give you any more than that, just to say that we want to do it very quickly. There is a time constraint on the time that the napalm can be stored at China Lake, so we want to not only comply with that deadline, but there is also, as you're probably aware, a concern about the containers in which the napalm is stored.

It's been in storage for 25 years now, and we're interested in putting it to some environmentally safe use as a fuel, so we're looking for a way that we can do that appropriately and safely.

Q: Last week the government of Mexico announced the use of bloody force in Chiapas to solve the impasse in Chiapas. Does the U.S. government have any comment on that?

A: I think I'd best leave it with the government of Mexico.

Q: Can you comment about a report recently to the European parliament concerning the development these last years of U.S. and British eavesdropping system called Echelon.

A: I'm sorry to say I have absolutely nothing on that.

Press: Thank you.

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