United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share


DoD News Briefing, Thursday, April 23, 1998

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
April 23, 1998 2:25 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Welcome everybody. I'd particularly like to welcome sons and daughters who are here with their parents today as far as... Derek Gertz, and I think we have in the back Thompkins, and I think there are some Girl Scouts here

  • Michelle, Laura, Lorena, Kodai, Sherry, Moriah, Alicia are all here I think with a Girl Scout troop. Welcome. And you're free to come any day you want. You don't have to just come on April 23rd, which happens to be Shakespeare's birthday or Take Your Daughter to Work Day. Anytime you want to come, you can come by and enjoy the Pentagon briefing. [Laughter] I do. I don't know why you shouldn't. Let me just start with one announcement here, which is that on Monday, April 27th, Secretary of the Navy John Dalton will host President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter at a ceremony to name a Seawolf Class submarine after President Carter. That will take place at 1:15 and you can get details from the Navy on that. There will be a brief press availability featuring President Carter and Secretary Dalton afterwards. And following that ceremony, Secretary Cohen who unfortunately has a conflict and cannot be here, will meet privately with President Carter on Monday afternoon. The ceremony will be in the courtyard if the weather's good.

That's it. If you have any questions I'll answer them.

Q: I guess you figured you'd get this one first. Were the U.S. and our allies planning to arrest Karadzic as the Washington Post reports, and is a French officer suspected of spilling the beans to Karadzic?

A: As I'm sure you will appreciate, I can't comment on the details of any possible operations that might have been under consideration at any time. I think the French have issued a statement on their behalf, and I would refer you to their statement about answers to questions about any French officers.

Q: You say you can't comment on the details. Can you at least confirm something, that there was a plan to arrest him? And can you say whether or not, aside from that, whether a French officer was suspected of getting too close to Karadzic?

A: I can't answer any of those questions. What I can tell you is that it's very clear from our statements and from our acts that we are determined to help the appropriate agencies bring indicted war criminals to justice. We've had considerable success in doing that over the last several months. A number of indicted war criminals have been detained by SFOR and turned over to the International Tribunal, and a larger number have turned themselves in.

We believe that Karadzic should be in the Hague -- should be tried on the charges that have been brought against him. We believe that's true of him, and it's true of every indicted war criminal who is still at large.

Q: Do you support the French statement then that while the officer -- they confirmed that the officer was liaising with Karadzic and they worried that apparently he was getting too close to him, so he was removed. But they denied that he told them anything. Do you support that statement?

A: I think the French statement speaks for itself.

Q: Ken, what about the larger question of whether or not this incident has in any way degraded the trust that NATO commanders have in the French participation in SFOR and whether or not there's been, now there's any element of distrust.

A: First, let me say the French have played a fundamental and important role in bringing peace to Bosnia. They were a part of UNPROFOR. They hosted one key meeting in 1995 that helped lead to the Dayton peace process. The signing of that was in Paris, as I recall. They have been very strong, reliable members of IFOR and now SFOR. They have about 3,000 troops participating now in SFOR. As you know, they control one of the three sectors. We have a strong working relationship with the French. I expect that working relationship to continue.

Q: Apparently there have been no arrests of war crime suspects in the French sector in Bosnia. Some have suggested that's because of a reluctance or a lack of aggressive action by the French. Can you offer any explanation about why there have been no arrests of war criminals in the French sector while there have in the U.S. and British sectors?

A: I cannot address that issue, but the French stated today -- very clearly I felt -- in their communiqué issued by the Ministry of Defense, that all persons accused of war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal must be judged by that Tribunal. I think they've made it very clear that they are in favor, as are we and the British and the other SFOR allies, into doing everything necessary to bring these indicted war criminals to justice.

Q: Does the Secretary have any plans to discuss this issue with Richard during the visit?

A: First of all, I'm glad you brought that up. Minister Richard is scheduled to come here next week, and they will of course discuss a wide range of issues. NATO enlargement will be one, Partnership for Peace will be one. They will discuss peacekeeping in Bosnia. They will discuss the situation in Kosovo. A wide range of international issues and some bilateral issues as well. So the general question of how the Bosnia mission is going will certainly be one of the issues under discussion. Today, as a matter of fact, Secretary Cohen and Minister Richard did talk. They talk from time to time. This was one of their conversations.

Q: Were there any protests lodged or anything of that sort?

A: No. It was a good discussion. They have a warm and productive working relationship. They've met several times. Secretary Cohen visited Minister Richard in Paris. They've met in Brussels, they've met in Munich, they've met in Maastricht, and next week Minister Richard is scheduled to come here in response to an invitation that Secretary Cohen made some time ago.

Q: ...conversation today?

A: I don't know who... I think it was initiated by Secretary Cohen. I'll double-check on that.

Q: Just to be very precise. I don't think you actually precisely said. Did this topic come up between the two?

A: They talked about their general relationship. I don't want to characterize the conversation. Typically we don't talk about phone conversations between Secretary Cohen and his counterparts.

Q: Just to be clear here, you are saying categorically that there is no annoyance on the part of American officials about the way the French have conducted themselves on this issue in Bosnia.

A: I'm saying that we work closely with the French in Bosnia and elsewhere, and that our relationships with them are good. They're a fundamentally important part of SFOR. We work closely with them in the SFOR context. General Clark thinks the French are doing a good job in SFOR. I think I'll leave it at that.

Q: Is there any circumspection in the sharing of intelligence in regards to other operations between the United States and the French...

A: Since we don't talk about intelligence, we don't talk about the sharing of intelligence either.

Q: Is there any reason that we shouldn't believe that the general statements of support that we're hearing from you and other members of the Administration are simply glossing over a rift between NATO commanders and the French in Bosnia?

A: I think all of you who have traveled to NATO meetings in Brussels and elsewhere have seen the relationship that develops between Defense Ministers. All of you who have been to Bosnia, and many of you have, have seen how well the multinational force is working there. This is an important accomplishment. We expect the relationships, which are good, to continue to be good.

Q: There's another question that arises. If this is true, was it a French government move or was it simply on the part of an individual officer? Is there any indication that if this happened it might have been other than an individual...

A: Nice try, Charlie, but we're not going to talk about operations or what people may have said about operations.

Q: Did the French offer an assurance at one point at any time that this officer would be court-martialed?

A: Sorry?

Q: There was a report that the French said at one point that this officer would be court martialed because of his meetings with Mr. Karadzic, and that that never happened. Was there an assurance that he would be court-martialed?

A: The French military justice system is something I'll leave for the French to discuss. It's not something I'm going to get into.

Q: Were we given an assurance that he would be court martialed at one point, though? That does have to do with us.

A: It's a matter of the French to discuss -- if they want to talk about the functioning of their own military justice system.

Could I go back and correct one thing that surfaced in a question? An indicted Serb war criminal turned himself in to the French in the French sector on March 4, 1998. So there has been a war criminal turning himself in to the French in the French sector.

I think it's important to point out here that while there's been a lot of focus -- and I think very understandable focus -- on efforts to detain people indicted on war crimes, many people in the last, more than a dozen people in the last several months have turned themselves in. One of the reasons they've done that is they've seen the handwriting on the wall. They've seen that the members of SFOR are in fact serious. They've seen that the International War Crimes Tribunal is serious about trying to bring indicted war criminals to justice. So we have had some considerable progress in the last couple of months on this, and I would anticipate this progress to continue.

Q: You said you talked with Richard today and you said they discussed a wide range of issues including Bosnia. Was the call initiated because of this incident?

A: I didn't say what they discussed. I said they will discuss a wide range of issues, including Bosnia, when Minister Richard comes here next week.

The Secretary and the Minister talk from time to time when issues of mutual concern arise.

Q: Was it because of this issue that the call was initiated?

A: As I said, I don't want to get into the specifics of the phone call.

Q: Since they haven't really bagged any war criminals, does the Pentagon feel that there's a lack of resolve on the part of the French to go after war criminals?

A: I don't think that I would accept that term -- since they haven't "bagged" any war criminals. The issue here is to bring war criminals to trial in the Hague -- indicted war criminals to trial in the Hague. And I'm convinced that the French mean what they say in their statement today that they are determined to help the International War Crimes Tribunal bring indicted people to trial in the Hague. I have no reason to doubt that.

Q: Secretary Cohen today met with the Prime Minister of Macedonia. Did he, as reported, has he given assurance...

Q: Montenegro.

Q: I'm sorry, the President... Did he give any assurances that...

A: Jamie, don't let these guys rattle you. [Laughter] I knew you meant Montenegro, and I knew you meant the President. [Laughter]

Q: Can I have that part taken out of the transcript? [Laughter]

A: I don't think we have the same privileges to revise and extend remarks here that exist elsewhere in town.

Q: Strike that last remark! [Laughter]

Q: Did Secretary Cohen receive any assurances that Radovan Karadzic would not be allowed to visit his family and relatives, apparently, in Montenegro?

A: I wasn't at that meeting and I can't comment specifically on what was said, but I have read elsewhere that the Montenegrans have made that statement.

Q: I've read it too, I was just trying to see if you could confirm it. Whether we know it's true or not.

A: As I say, I wasn't at the meeting and I didn't discuss that aspect with him. It was a very good meeting and they talked principally about the problems in Kosovo and also the efforts by the President of Montenegro to promote economic reform and also political reform in Montenegro.

Q: While you say you weren't at the meeting, you obviously have knowledge of what they discussed.

A: I have a paragraph here that I'm reading from. It's a very good paragraph, but it doesn't happen to mention anything about Radovan Karadzic.

Q: Would you take the question?

A: I will take the question.

Q: Can we just also have the record show that I mixed up Macedonia and Montenegro after you mixed up... [Laughter] I just want to be sure it's reflected in the transcript.

Q: Jamie McIntyre, CNN... [Laughter]

A: Thanks, Jamie.

Q: Can you tell us why there was a photo op scheduled with the Secretary this morning that was canceled? Can you tell us why that was canceled?

A: We actually decided that given the size of the Montenegran press corps, and the fact that all they wanted was showing the Secretary shaking hands, that we could accomplish that outside where they met, rather than in the office. They only had half an hour allotted to the meeting, and we thought it would be smoother all around to handle it outside.

Q: It had nothing to do with the fact that you didn't want the Secretary to take questions?

A: Plus it was an extremely nice day and we thought that the Montenegran press would rather be outside rather than inside.

Q: You said there was no way the Administration is willing to address this issue today?

A: Address what issue?

Q: The French and the situation in Bosnia.

A: We have a very long record of not talking about actual or reported operations, and I think the reasons for that should be clear to all of you who cover this building.

Q: The questions don't have to do with the operation at all, though.

A: All the questions have to do with the operation because if you answer one question you've got to answer a lot of other questions.

Q: Not necessarily.

A: We're not going to talk about anything that compromises our planning or our operations or that goes beyond what we've already said.

Q: Just a quick question. Did the Secretary speak with General Clark today about this by any chance?

A: He did speak with General Clark. He frequently speaks with General Clark.

Q: He spoke with him today?

A: Yes.

Q: On this subject?

A: I said he frequently speaks with General Clark. I wasn't in the room when they spoke, but he did speak with General Clark.

Q: Masters of Download. The nature of the material, software they reportedly downloaded, and how much currency that software would actually have on the market in terms of selling it to terrorists.

A: Anybody can go into the Internet and find their site and get this stuff. I've done it, you can do it as well. Let me just give you a general description of what they did and what they didn't do. Because what they did differs significantly from what has been described that they did.

First of all, there was no compromise of classified or critical systems as a result of what happened. This happened last fall. It's not something that just happened. It happened last fall, and we were aware of the attempts to penetrate the system last fall when it did happen.

Second, the materials they downloaded do not, and I stress, do not, control Department of Defense systems such as the global positioning system, nor did the intrusion have any adverse affect on the readiness of our forces, the capability to command our forces or to carry out our operations.

Having said all that, we take this and other intrusions seriously. It is being investigated by the proper authorities, and we have, since last fall, made some changes in this system to make it more difficult to conduct the type of intrusions that this group, Masters of Downloading, did.

Q: A spokesman for the National Infrastructure Protection Center in testimony before Congress in March quoted a DISA statistic that they estimate as many as 250,000 possible attempts to enter DoD type computers in 1995. Has that number increased, and has there been a change in the pattern of hacking attempts where it's become maybe more concentrated?

A: That figure, 250,000, came, as I recall, from a General Accounting report, a GAO report that came out I think in May of 1996. Basically 250,000 is an arithmetic estimate and it's based on a certain assessment that DISA makes of its own computers. It's a...

Charlie, do you have some good information you want to play on these computer penetration attempts? [Laughter] I wondered if maybe you had tape recorded that hearing and we could actually... It's like going on the Internet where you can push a button and hear a video report, see a video report or hear an audio report of what's going on.

Q: Let the record reflect that I accept that quietly. [Laughter]

A: At any rate, it was an estimate, and in 1995 DISA itself received reports of approximately 500 actual incidents. These could be viruses, they could be what they call malicious code. Some people might think of all computer codes as malicious, but these are maybe distorted codes or rewritten codes, various intrusions or other probes.

Since they believe that only 0.2 percent of efforts to intrude are reported, they extrapolated that there could have been as many as 250,000 attempts based on the fact that there were 500 actual reports. Their statistical surveys have found that only a very small percentage of actual attempted intrusions are reported, and therefore, they multiplied it out to get the 250,000.

Q: When you say reported, do you mean detected or...

A: They said reported, but I suppose it could mean detected, as well.

Q: The number of those detections or reported intrusions, are they increasing sharply since '95? Do you have statistics which...

A: I do, actually. Write these down. In 1992 there were 53 attacks. These are based on the information that the Defense Information Systems Agency maintains on officially reported attacks; 1992, 53 attacks; 1992, 115 attacks; 1994, 255 attacks; 1995, 559 attacks; 1996, more than 725 attacks; and in 1997, there was a decline to 575 attacks.

Q: Can you say whether the French are behind any of these attacks? [Laughter]

A: Mais non. [Laughter]

Q: ...aren't able to get into classified systems (inaudible), a danger or a risk. How secure are your telecommunications systems, the classified information? Are these hackers, could they be a threat to that type of system?

A: First, we believe that the classified systems, the Secret, classified systems are much harder to break into, obviously, than the non-classified systems. Many of our non-classified systems use commercial telephone lines, etc. We think that the classified systems are secure. It's the non-classified systems where we've had the biggest problems, and this is a matter of growing concern to the Defense Department, and it's one that we're spending more and more time on.

The Deputy Secretary of Defense, John Hamre, has issued a series of policy directives in the last couple of months, ordering ways to improve the security of our computer systems. We're spending approximately 3.6 billion dollars on computer security over the next five years. We're appointing individual officials by name to each computer network to be in charge of security so there will be sort of a central person to reach out to whenever there's a security problem, somebody whose responsibility it is to make sure that the networks are as secure as possible.

We're looking at a variety of other steps that can be taken to make our computer systems more secure.

Q: ...the one, you said it wasn't related to GPS. What did it do?

A: As I understand it, it was a system that, first of all, it was software. What they were able to download was some software that is used to automate recordkeeping functions and some management functions on a portion of a network that did deal with some communications and possibly some navigation, some positioning information. But what they were able to download was the software. We don't have any information that they manipulated it in a way that was damaging to the system.

Q: Is that illegal?

A: It's certainly impolite. [Laughter] I'm not prepared to say whether it was illegal. But it is being investigated by law enforcement authorities to make that determination right now.

Q: Have there been any successful penetrations into classified systems?

A: Not that I'm aware of, but it's something that I will double check.

Q: Was this incident last fall in any way related to the incident that Mr. Hamre spoke of that occurred in February..

A: No. Not that we're aware of.

Q: I understand that a Joint Task Force is being formed to deal with protecting the Pentagon computers. Is this still in the conceptual stage, or have the blocks actually started coming together?

A: I can't answer that question. We are taking, every week, new steps to improve computer security, and the most fundamental step that we're taking is to increase awareness of the problem. And that was one of the, as I said, one of the signal achievements of the exercise the Joint Staff ran, ELIGIBLE RECEIVER, to improve the awareness of people within the Department of what the computer security issue is. We are also taking a number of other steps that involve looking at all sorts of software that's bought commercially to find out whether it adequately serves the needs of preventing viruses or setting up firewalls between systems, that type of thing. So we're doing a lot.

One of the main things that Deputy Secretary Hamre has done is to issue instructions to all the services and all the military commands to spend more time dealing with computer security. One of the things I pointed out last week was that we're trying to develop better computer counterintelligence capabilities so that we can learn more quickly when systems are being penetrated, who's penetrating them, and try to one, stop it; and two, find the cause of it and take appropriate action with law enforcement authorities if necessary.

Q: Can I follow up on just that question? Because this factor you cited of .2 percent intrusion after detected is just appallingly low. I don't know if that's...

A: That's not what I said. The exact quote here is that they think that only, this is a quote from DISA, that "only 0.2 percent of incidents report."

Q: But we don't know what that means. I have no idea what it means.

A: I'll try to get the DISA report. DISA has testified before Congress on this. We'll get you the testimony. I'll give you a perfect example.

You might turn on your computer -- you or I might turn on your computer and after you put in a disk and/or downloaded something from the Internet, and it might, a virus detector might say that a virus has been detected. Do you regard this as an intrusion or an attack on your computer system? If so, do you report it or do you say maybe I have a malfunctioning disk and not report it. I think it's that type of thing.

It's obviously, it's a big system. As I said the other day, there are, I think, over two million computers that were concerned about... There are thousands and thousands of local area networks and thousands of long distance networks as well, so it's a massive undertaking to find out exactly what's going on.

One of the things we're trying to do is to centralize the recordkeeping and to regularize it in a way so that it's much easier to keep records, and it's easier for everybody to understand what's going on because they're working from a common set of definitions.

Q: If DoD knew about this back in the fall and it was so horrible, why wasn't it announced just like the February attempts were announced?

A: Well, first of all, as you can see from the figures I read, there are hundreds of attacks, several hundred attacks every year that we detect; there may be, or that are reported. There may be many more that aren't reported. We're not in the business of announcing every time somebody... This is more than one a day. We're not in the business of going out and announcing these things. For one thing, I think there's sort of an echo effect or an imitator effect here. We don't want to encourage copycats. We don't want to encourage more teenage hackers than there already are trying to figure out ways to get into the DoD systems.

Q: Are these attacks, are they getting more serious? Are the hackers getting more sophisticated? Are we seeing the equivalent of spray painting graffiti, or are we seeing something more serious?

A: We have to take all of it seriously, even innocent youthful attempts to break into Pentagon systems, because we basically don't want people trying to fiddle with our information in any way. I don't think I can quantify the seriousness of these various attacks. Sometimes it takes us awhile to figure out exactly what's going on. There's also the question of how much of the iceberg is above the water, how much is under the water. We take all of these things seriously.

Q: Can you confirm that U.S. military aircraft helped remove some type of material from Georgia, nuclear-related uranium?

A: We are in the process of securing some highly enriched uranium in Georgia. I can't get into the schedule right now. I noticed today that the United Kingdom has issued a statement saying they have agreed to accept a small amount of highly enriched uranium which will be used for medical research in the United Kingdom. So I would expect that we might be able to provide more details at another time, but not now.

Q: There has been fresh blood shed in the last 24 hours in Kosovo. Some 200 armed KOA, Kosovo Liberation troops, cross-border assault. What is the reaction of the Pentagon to this and the reaction, I guess to the Russians? They are quite upset about it.

A: We're upset about it as well. We have called on both sides, the Kosovar Albanians and the Serbs, to exercise restraint. We think this is a problem that should be resolved diplomatically. That's what the contact group has set out to do. It's had some meetings. It will have more meetings to review progress.

This is not progress. This is moving backwards. It will inflame the situation in Kosovo and I think make a diplomatic resolution more difficult. So we condemn the violence and we call on all parties to work diplomatically to resolve the problem.

Q: Can you confirm that this action in Kosovo involved cross-border into Albania?

A: I cannot confirm that. Basically what I've seen is news reports on this.

Q: The Cuba assessment. When is it coming?

A: Good question. I hope it's coming soon, but I can't give you any firm estimate of when.

Q: Can you define soon to be this week, next week...

A: I think given my miserable track record I'm defining soon on this issue, that I'd rather avoid trying to quantify it.

Q: Can you give us a status report on the general counsel investigation into the circumstances regarding the retirement of General Hale?

A: It's ongoing. I don't know when that will finish.

Q: Do you have any other details about what...

A: No, but it wouldn't be appropriate even if I had details, which I don't. It wouldn't be appropriate for me to give them to you.

Q: Do you know when they'll be finished?

A: That's the first question you asked me and I said, no. I don't know when they'll be finished.

Q: Is General Reimer's role in this one of the things that's being examined?

A: I think I would like to withhold all comment on this until it's complete and ready to release publicly.

Press: Thank you.

Additional Links

Stay Connected