DoD News Briefing - Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
Tuesday, January 9, 2001 - 2:00 p.m. EST
(Also participating: co-commissioners of the USS Cole Commission, retired Army Gen. William W. Crouch and retired Navy Adm. Harold W. Gehman)
Cohen: Shortly after terrorists attacked the USS Cole, I asked General Crouch and Admiral Gehman to conduct a review of lessons learned so that we could improve security procedures. They have produced a thorough report with some 30 findings and accompanying recommendations. [The report is on DefenseLINK at http://www.defenselink.mil/pubs/cole20010109.html ]
In their work, they found that the military has dramatically strengthened force protection procedures since the terrorist attack against Khobar Towers back in 1996. Nevertheless, they found that terrorists are determined to intimidate and prevent the United States from pursuing our worldwide national security interests, and they will continue to tenaciously look for exposed seams in our force protection armor.
Their fundamental conclusion is that we must view terrorists as a relentless enemy and, quote, "confront the terrorists with the same intensity and discipline that we have used in the past to defeat conventional antagonists." Now, I agree with this conclusion. As our conventional superiority increases, we must pay greater attention to combating asymmetric threats, including terrorism. General Crouch and Admiral Gehman are going to outline to you proposed changes in training, organization, enhanced force protection for in-transit forces, intelligence and logistics, before taking your questions. All of these recommendations are designed to make a good force protection system better so that our enemies will find it more difficult and more costly to interfere with our efforts to maintain peace and stability around the world.
I want to thank General Crouch and Admiral Gehman for a job extremely well done in a very short period of time. Their recommendations are going to help the men and women in uniform deal more proactively with threats posed by terrorists around the world. I am transmitting this report to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with instructions that he review the recommendations and advise my successor on how best to act on the report.
Some of the recommendations will require budgetary and training changes that may take some time to implement. Others can and should be adopted quickly. When I asked General Crouch and Admiral Gehman to undertake this review, I directed them to focus on force protection improvements and not to address matters of individual culpability.
Nevertheless, I have asked the chairman, who is my principal advisor and focal point for force protection, to review the Crouch-Gehman report to see if it raises any accountability issues that should be pursued further. And a copy of my directive to the chairman is going to be available after this press conference. I make this referral without any preconceived notion that someone in the chain of command was either inattentive or negligent, but rather to review all of the circumstances surrounding the attack so that we can have a full account of what happened on the ship and off. [Secretary Cohen's memorandum to the chairman is on DefenseLINK at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Jan2001/cohen20010109.pdf ]
And as I noted during the memorial service for the victims of this attack, every night all of us sleep under this blanket of freedom because men and women in uniform sail and patrol in harm's way. And as secretary of Defense, I understand that even America's best efforts cannot remove every risk that our soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines are going to face, although we will always strive to do exactly that.
We have to continue what we started, and that is to protect our nation's interest, to protect our men and women in uniform, and to subdue the enemies. And we have to continue to thank the soldiers, the sailors, the airmen, and Marines, and their families, for all that they do to protect us.
Let me answer a few of your questions and yield to Admiral Gehman and -
Q: Mr. Secretary, are you concerned, if no one is blamed or held accountable in this, and punished, that it will smack of a whitewash?
Cohen: Well, we have separate investigations under way. As I just mentioned a moment ago, I asked General Crouch, Admiral Gehman to focus on force protection improvements. That was their sole mandate.
We have a JAGMAN [report of an investigation conducted in accordance with the Manual of the Judge Advocate General], which will be forthcoming, hopefully in the next few days, certainly before the end of my tenure. I want that report to come to me before I leave office. And we will look at issues of accountability under those reports.
But I have asked for the chairmen to review not only this report, with recommendations, but also to look at all accountability issues.
Q: Are you comfortable and confident that the captain of the Cole did everything he should have done to implement force protection procedures for the ship the day it was bombed in Yemen?
Cohen: I really can't answer that question at this point, because it would prejudge the report that's going to be forthcoming to me in a few days.
Q: Are you comfortable with the recommendation that says the standing rules of engagement were adequate?
Cohen: I trust the judgment of Admiral Gehman and General Crouch that the rules of engagement are sufficient.
Q: Mr. Secretary, there's an implication in the recommendation that there was somewhat of an intelligence failure here. Is that the case? Did the CIA let us down once again? Was there no warning of the terrorist activity in Aden, or DIA didn't get the message through?
Cohen: I think what the report points to is that the ship did not have specific intelligence tailored to its visit to Aden and that we need to have much greater intensity of focus, with the intelligence tailored to meet the commanders of the ships and then all of our commanders, for that matter; that there was not specific intelligence communicated to the captain of the ship; that the warnings that were received were general in nature and not directed against this ship; and that they were -- they preceded this tragedy at least a month prior to that time. So one of the recommendations would be to get much greater focus on intelligence that is focused for the ships and for all the commanders.
Q: Mr. Secretary, where was the breakdown? Was it central command? Was it DIA? Again, was it CIA? Was it Fifth Fleet? We know that the CINCs tend to be rather autonomous in the way they operate. Does that concern you at all?
Cohen: Well, under Goldwater-Nichols CINCs are specifically delegated the responsibility to have that kind of authority. And so we delegate to the CINCs that responsibility. So it's not a breakdown, it's actually a fulfillment of Goldwater-Nichols. The issue in this particular case -- and again, we have to wait for other reports to be forthcoming -- is whether or not we need to have greater coordination in terms of setting threat conditions, or changing the name from Threat Condition because it may be confusing with threat levels, to remove as much confusion, to have greater coordination between our intelligence communities, to have greater coordination between the Department of State and the Department of Defense, to make sure that there are no misunderstandings that occur in terms of making assessments about what needs to be done.
So it's clear that there was a seam in our force protection armor, as I've phrased it, that there are institutional changes which have to be made and improvements which have to be made to try and prevent this from taking place in the future, once again with a caveat, that as good as we get or will get in the future that terrorists are bound to examine other ways of finding vulnerabilities. We saw when we started to really strengthen the force protection elements for fixed sites, for our fixed bases, they have since -- they moved to our embassies, bombing the embassies in East Africa. And as we take additional measures here with our fleet, no doubt they will look for other softer targets to go after. But we still, nonetheless, have an obligation to do everything that's within reason to provide the best protection that we can for our men and women in uniform, and that's precisely what the Crouch-Gehman is designed to do.
Q: Mr. Secretary, you say that the ship didn't have specific intelligence tailored to its visit to Yemen. Are you saying that that intelligence existed and did not get to the ship, or did the intelligence not exist at all in this government?
Cohen: Well, I think that the two gentlemen who are about to take the podium should address that specifically. But I believe that the intelligence, as far as this intelligence about this attack against this ship, did not, in fact, exist for dissemination.
Q: And could I just ask a very quick follow-up on a related subject? Since October 12th now, is there anything you can point to that is being done better already to protect U.S. Navy ships pulling into harbor? What is different since October 12th?
Cohen: Again, I'm going to defer to Admiral Gehman and General Crouch. A number of steps have been taken. The first things we did -- we had a teleconference with all the CINCs to ask all of them to review their force protection measures. We suspended the visits to Aden and to other areas till such time as the CINCs were satisfied they had taken specific measures. But there are a number of things. I have a long list I can get to you after the press conference to point to things that we have done since that time. But I believe that Admiral Gehman and General Crouch will also address that.
Q: Mr. Secretary --
Q: Mr. Secretary, there is a rising political storm in Europe right now on the issue of depleted uranium rounds, and increasingly the United States appears to be isolated on this issue. Now even Britain is launching an investigation into the health effects. It appears as though our allies don't believe the research that the Pentagon has been putting out, that there's a credibility gap here. What can you say to the Europeans to try and ease their obviously growing concerns on this issue?
Cohen: Well, we have tried to point out in the past we did in fact provide NATO with warning instructions, in terms of what measures should be taken; that we have found no scientific leak -- link, rather, between the depleted uranium and leukemia, as some have alleged. We have not been able to find any substantiation of that scientifically. We have advised the members of NATO what steps they should take in dealing with this.
I suppose if there were any deficiency to be found, it would be in the failure to pick up fragments of destroyed vehicles or tanks that -- in which the depleted uranium projectiles were used.
But beyond that, I think adequate warnings were given, and there is a very low risk of coming into contact with this, provided there is sufficient protection taken.
Q: Is there any consideration of a moratorium on the use of depleted uranium munitions while these investigations by America's European allies are going on?
Cohen: We have not considered that at this point, no.
Q: Well, why not?
Q: Mr. Secretary, tomorrow President-elect Bush is going to be coming here. What are some of the things, the key things, that you'd like to be telling him, and is the Cole, the terrorism, part of that? And is there any regrets, leftover things, that you'll be handing to your successor?
Cohen: (Chuckles.) Well, first, let me say apparently this is my last opportunity to address you behind this podium, but that I think that the selection of Donald Rumsfeld is a truly outstanding choice. I have known Don Rumsfeld for some time and I've worked very closely with him on a number of issues, and I think he'll be a great secretary of Defense.
I called him last week and I was sitting behind my desk and I said, "Don, I'm sitting here making a list of 10 things I think you should address." And then, "Unfortunately, however, it's now up to 48." (Laughter.) And we chuckled about that on the phone, but he came to my office a few days ago and we sat down and went through all 48 of the items, for two hours, that I wanted to alert him to, all the way from NATO issues, relations with China, Russia, some of the other major issues he will have to contend with, budgetary and otherwise. So we did spend two solid hours dealing with those issues.
Tomorrow I expect it to be much more thematic in dealing with President-elect Bush, and give a general briefing on some key issues but then to talk about our strategic issues, and then have a briefing with the Joint Chiefs and others. So I don't expect to get into too much detail, and that's what his new secretary of Defense will do. And he'll have his confirmation hearings, I'm told, on Thursday, and I would expect them to go quite well and to have a very strong level of support from the committee.
Q: On your list to Rumsfeld, what was the first item?
Q: What were one and two on your list? Yeah. (Laughter.)
Cohen: I'd have to go -- I mean, I started to prioritize and I said it's too difficult. I think of all the issues, certainly we have to keep the focus on the people in the military; recruitment, retention, quality-of-life issues, to begin with, certainly, because without having the best and the brightest continue to be in the military, then all of the sophisticated equipment that we have will not be of any use to us. So focusing upon what we need to do to make sure that we continue to retain and to recruit the best possible people.
I did talk about budgetary issues, and tomorrow I hope to make an announcement in terms of what kind of budget he can look forward to in the near future. And I think it will be a very positive message that will be delivered.
I talked about the need to address issues involving Russia and China and how we conduct those relations. I discussed the emerging issues that will be in NATO EU -- what does ESDP really mean; how should we insist that we approach NATO's relationship with the European security defense policy? I gave a speech over at NATO recently and I indicated I would make that available to him with more specificity.
We talked about national missile defense and I outlined my own views on NMD and how I felt it had been approached and needed to be approached, understanding that there may be a much different view from President-elect Bush, but to talk about the political dynamic as well as the technical aspects of that.
I talked about terrorism issues -- weapons of mass destruction in those countries who are developing weapons of mass destruction. I talked about our relationship with enforcing the no-fly zones in Iraq; about the sanctions regime which is in place and perhaps how to address those issues in the future -- the whole spectrum that involves our national security.
Q: You can tell us all 48, it's okay. (Laughter.)
Cohen: I'm not -- I mean I checked off but that's just a small sample of what we talked about.
Q: Mr. Secretary, one on the -- out of the report, the second finding here talks about "the national security strategy of engagement lacked a coordinated focus." This is a rather damning indictment of eight years of the Clinton administration's national security policy, and you've defended it over the last three or four -- three years.
Cohen: Oh, I do.
Q: Were you surprised by that finding?
Cohen: I absolutely am committed to the engagement strategy. What the report says -- and I'll let the two experts address this for you -- what the report suggests is that we have an engagement policy, which they also strongly endorse; that we have focused -- we've done a great job in terms of force protection, I mean in the last four years in improving it. We have not done as good a job in terms of so-called "in transit" force protection. And if we are going to continue our engagement policy and send our ships into areas that do pose risks to our sailors, then -- or on fixed installations -- then we've got to take more proactive measures, not simply act out of a defense-oriented mentality, but to take a much more aggressive stance. One of the recommendations would be, for example, that the CINC engage in much more active negotiations with host nations so that we can insist upon certain force protection measures that can be taken dealing with the sovereignty issues, but making sure that we put our emphasis on force protection and make it compatible with the sovereignty claims of the country but to make sure that that CINC or, more specifically, the component commander of the CINC who has responsibility and should have responsibility for these become actively engaged to make sure that these additional measures are taken. So I believe that the admiral and general will strongly endorse the engagement policy because it's one that we think is important for the security of this country.
Q: Mr. Secretary, are you going to do anything to implement this report? I know you have a very short time left. But this is hardly the first report to suggest that tactical commanders need intelligence funneled to them from national intelligence authorities.
Cohen: I'm going to do whatever we can to quickly -- again, a number of steps have been taken already. Some of the recommendations -- and they will outline them for you -- can be implemented immediately. Some will require additional resources. Some will require additional training and will take several months to implement. So we will do whatever we can in the immediate term, but also hand over to Secretary-designate Rumsfeld the responsibility for acting on this should he choose to do so, and I believe that he would.
Q: Mr. Secretary, this is turning out to be different than the embassy bombing. You're not retaliating so far. So as you come sort of to the end of your term, could we get your thoughts on, you know, what do you do about bin Laden? Are you having -- do you -- are we past the era of a military strike as the fundamental response? Can you find a bin Laden target to hold at risk for an attack like this? What do you do?
Cohen: Well, we will certainly hold -- if it's bin Laden, and that has not been established yet. But if it is, in fact, bin Laden we certainly would hold him accountable and have a full range of options available. I wouldn't specify military as being the first or the only. There are other options available as well, and in addition to criminal prosecution, diplomatic action, economic measures that can be taken as well as potentially military. But we first have to make sure that we have the right person or persons and organizations responsible for the attack before any action is taken.
We also have the right, of course, to take preemptive action to prevent future actions from being -- direct terrorist actions from being leveled at our people. But I wouldn't say that military is the only option. It is one of many options available.
Q: Mr. Secretary, getting back to your recommendations to the incoming secretary of Defense, people and budgetary issues, the president, when he announced Donald Rumsfeld as his choice, said that he wanted to match the most recent pay increase for military people, and the Bush campaign seems to think that he can do that for one -- an additional $1 billion a year, $4 billion. Does that add up, in your mind?
Cohen: I won't get into the numbers. I think that President-elect Bush is going to call for a sufficient -- for an increase that will be sufficient to keep his campaign promise in that regard, and I wholeheartedly endorse it. We need to pay our people more, and we will. And unless we're able to pay them more and to compensate them in a number of different ways -- and I've talked about some in the past, the housing inequity, for one -- it will take -- I put, as I recall, allocated about $3 billion in the budget just for reducing the inequity of people who are forced to live off-base versus those who have the benefit of living on.
So I believe that the budgetary projections are going to be quite positive in terms of what President-elect Bush will have available, but I think even more will be necessary. We still have to address that so-called "bow wave" that's out in the future. He will still have to address, as he has pledged to do, the issues that he's concerned about in terms of looking at tactical aviation, to see whether or not he's going to either support or modify or reject some of the programs currently in existence. He will certainly want to focus, as he has talked about, a new generation of systems and perhaps skipping some existing weapons programs either on the drawing boards or on the assembly lines. He will have all of that at his -- on his plate, and he'll have a very strong manager in Don Rumsfeld to give him recommendations.
Q: Mr. Secretary, on page nine, this report suggests that you or your successor elevate training in anti-terrorism and force protection to the equivalent of a primary mission area, to instill a force protection mind-set into each service. That seems to imply that the services haven't had that kind of a mind-set. What are we to conclude, if that's the case, in light of what happened at Khobar Towers, that the services still have not had a force protection mind-set?
Cohen: Well, I have said and stated over and over again, since the Khobar Towers bombing, that force protection should be a key element of everything that we do. That mind-set apparently has in fact been adopted when it comes to fixed facilities and to a certain degree on the part of the Air Force, as far as their in-transit flights.
It's apparent it has not been across the board or certainly with sufficient intensity when it comes to in-transit movement of ships. There's very strong force protection when the ships are at sea, and they focus very carefully on anything that might be moving on the seas or about them.
The gap or the seam has been when they move into a sort of semi-in-site status, on-ground status, with the refueling. That's where the seam has existed.
And so I think the -- Admiral Gehman and General Crouch will say that we have to change the mind-set so we become much more aggressive, that we become much more proactive, that force protection must be equal to the mission itself. And we have to continue to stress that, and we have to continue to train for that and educate for that. And to the extent that that has not been done, then it certainly would point to some deficiency in that regard.
But that has been the emphasis since '96, since Khobar, and we just have to place, apparently, more emphasis and to raise that to an even higher level, given the fact that all the predictions are that we're likely to see more and more asymmetric threats, more and more acts of terrorism, and we can expect that as we increase the force protection with respect to in-transit ships, that they're likely to move into more vulnerable targets, such as unprotected hotels or malls or other places where civilians may be.
Q: Are we talking domestically as well, within the continental United States?
Cohen: Absolutely. This is -- one of the recommendations you may note -- I don't know what page it's on, but we don't have a force protection assignment for the U.S., Canada, Russia, and Mexico.
So we can anticipate, if you look at the Hart-Rudman committee or commission recommendations, that -- they have indicated that they anticipate that a terrorist act will in fact occur on American soil within not the immediate future, but within a fairly foreseeable time frame. We have to have force protection just as strong here as we have anywhere else.
Q: One more question about the Cole, if I may. There are sources in this building that have told us -- naval sources -- that, admittedly, although hindsight is 20-20, if the master of the Cole had put picket boats out of his own boats, if he had manned the high-pressure fire hoses on deck, it might have been sufficient to at least discourage, if not prevent, the attack. Any thoughts on that?
Cohen: I think I'd like to wait until the JAGMAN report has been submitted to me before commenting on that.
Q: General Zinni testified before the Senate about the diplomatic initiative involved in refueling, which is essentially a political diplomatic decision. Did that cross your desk? Was the National Security Council considered, or was this pretty much in the CINC's hands?
Cohen: In terms of the engagement strategy, that is something that has been adopted by the Clinton administration. We support the forward deployment of our forces.
With respect to the decision in terms of which port, which area, that is largely delegated to the CINC to make a determination in terms of whether or not our diplomatic policies, supported by a military presence, can be effectively pursued and carried out. So it's a combination. I think General Zinni was acting consistent with the overall foreign policy objective of engagement and he made a decision that this was something that we should pursue from a military point of view in putting Aden on the list of ports to visit.
Q: So does this really get approved by either State or NSC?
Cohen: I don't think there's any specific review of which ports or of Aden, no.
Q: Mr. Secretary, several NATO members adopted screening of their own troops, peacekeeping forces, in Kosovo to see if they have high levels of uranium. Is the U.S. intending to adopt similar procedures?
Cohen: Frankly, I haven't made that determination yet. We have, I think, taken the kind of precautions that are necessary or warranted for depleted uranium, but certainly we can look at that if there is any concern.
Q: Mr. Secretary, going back at least to Beirut, the Beirut bombings, every time a terrorist act occurs there's a great hue-and-cry about we need better intelligence, that the troops who -- down to the troops who need it. I mean, this could have been written 20 years ago. I mean, what is the problem with getting intelligence to people who need it, and why should this report actually work?
Cohen: Well, it's not a question of this report working. It's a question of this report saying, here is again what we have to focus on that we haven't done sufficiently in the past. We have talked about having the need for greater HUMINT, or human intelligence, for years. It's hard to do. It's hard to get people on the ground in areas that we don't have either the cooperation of the local government or you don't have the assets that are trained in the language, or are native to the country. It's hard to develop assets that can give you this kind of information. It takes -- I think if you talk to the CIA or the DIA, it takes -- it can take five, 10, 12 years to develop reliable sources -- human sources to get this kind of information.
And so as we're moving into -- if you're talking about going into countries like Iran or Iraq or Libya or any of the other countries -- or North Korea or over -- in this particular case, throughout a very tough region -- it's hard to develop those assets. But what the report is saying is we've got to focus with greater resources, we've got to put this at a higher level than it has received in the past.
You're correct that there always has been a call for greater human intelligence, and also from, as I recall, General Schwarzkopf, saying during the Desert war, as such, in Iraq, that he needed greater tactical intelligence than he -- than perhaps he got at any given time.
So, it's a tough job, but you can't diminish it; you have to raise it and constantly try to address it by putting more resources and a greater focus on it.
Q: Secretary Cohen, could your referral of this report to General Shelton with an eye toward reviewing possible further accountability result in yet another investigation?
Cohen: No. It shouldn't be another investigation. General Shelton, following Khobar, was designated -- the chairman, not General Shelton -- but the chairman of the Joint Chiefs was designated as the focal point for force protection for the secretary of Defense. And within -- and J-34, in fact, was established so that, in fact, you would have members of the joint staff focus specifically on force protection.
So this would be -- this secretary of Defense calling upon the chairman to have a professional military officer at the highest level review this report as well as the one that will be forthcoming, hopefully, in the next few days, or before I leave, in terms of what took place on the ship and what accountability should be made.
Q: Well, If I --
Cohen: So, he is going to make -- I wouldn't ask him to give me his professional advice. It does not call for a separate investigation on his part.
Q: Well, how can he render an opinion on accountability when the Crouch-Gehman Commission was specifically told not to look at accountability?
Cohen: I've asked him to look at this report in terms of his recommendation of what he would recommend in terms of accepting each of the recommendations by this report. In other words, is there anything in here, Mr. Chairman, that you think is not feasible? Is there anything in here we should do today or tomorrow or within six months? What do you recommend? These obviously involve budgetary matters. Give me your best judgment in terms of what we can do and what's not feasible. So he can review this report and say, I think they're all good.
Q: Well, I understand that --
Cohen: So that's all I'm asking him for, is his advice on this report.
Q: I mean the JAG Manual doesn't touch on accountability above the ship, and they do not explore the issue of accountability for the chain of command.
Cohen: That's right.
Q: Is that what Hugh Shelton is supposed to do?
Cohen: I would ask him to look at the full chain of accountability -- the chain of command for accountability, yes.
Q: So is that an investigation or is that --
Cohen: I don't think it takes a separate investigation, no.
Q: Why aren't you asking him to do that, to have a separate investigation that looks into what happened within the chain of command and if anyone dropped the ball within the chain?
Cohen: Because then it would be another investigation, and I don't think it requires that. If he decides that he thinks it requires an investigation, he can do so. But that's not a mandate from me. What I'm simply saying is give me your best military advice on what you know are the facts, what took place as far as the -- with the Cole, and you can make a judgment based on what you read in this report in terms whether there's any accountability higher up the chain. That's, I think, within his expertise. If he feels he needs a further investigation, he will do that.
Ultimately it has to come back to the secretary of Defense. Ultimately it's the secretary of Defense who must pass the ultimate judgment. And because of the Khobar Tower bombing and because the chairman has been designated as the, quote, "focal point for force protection," I think that the next secretary of Defense will also want to have the judgment of the chairman of the joint chiefs.
Q: And exercising the natural perversity of the news media, let me just ask the other part, the other, opposition question, which is, what do you say to people who say you're just looking for someone to blame?
Cohen: Not at all. As a matter of fact, in this report from -- the Crouch-Gehman report, you'll find an expression to the effect that there should be no zealous search for not scapegoats but for accountability, which carries it to the extreme that you would have an imbalance where commanders in the future would fail to take action for fear of any repercussions. There's a delicate balance that has to be maintained, that you want commanders to have the flexibility necessary on the front lines but also be held accountable in the event that they fail out what would be reasonably expected given the threat, given their equipment, given the training, and given their own command position.
So it's not to try to pin the tail on anyone as such of culpability, but to simply say to the families of those who have been lost, to all the men and women who are serving today, we will insist upon standards, we expect that our commanders and those in charge of the lives of our men and women in uniform to measure up those standards. But this is not a fault-finding investigation to try to find someone to pin the blame on and look for culpability, but rather to look to see whether or not certain actions could have been taken, should have been taken which may have either reduced the risk or mitigated the effect in this particular case and will serve as notice in the future. And it may be -- and I said in my statement I have no prejudgment on this. I don't have any prejudgment whether there's any dereliction or negligence or anything else. But rather I think we owe it to the families of those who are wounded and those who are lost that this accountability be at least looked at.
Q: Mr. Secretary --
Cohen: I don't want this to be the longest --
Q: Another question on intelligence. You said there was no specific intelligence -- ?
Cohen: For the ship.
Q: For the ship, that there would just be an attack on the ship. But was there any intelligence that didn't get to the captain that would have caused a higher threat condition, or maybe bypassing A? Was there anything that -- ?
Cohen: Again, Admiral Gehman and General Crouch will address this issue. I believe in their report they -- I think you note that they did not have notice that the embassy had been closed because of demonstrations, because of the conflict in Israel, of the demonstrations taking place in Israel. But that's the only thing I think that was not communicated that they had -- that was available.
Q: Mr. Secretary, given that you're now on notice that you have a deficit both in terms of force protection and intelligence procedures, have you considered altering operations in the near term, and could you assess the nature of the risk that U.S. forces face in this theater and in others until those deficits are remedied?
Cohen: Well, a number of steps, as I've indicated, have been taken to minimize those threats. There have been alterations made in terms of planned stops. There have been a number of things taken which Admiral Gehman will outline for you in the short term and immediate term. So we're always -- I mean, I tried to make this point: wherever our forces are deployed overseas, there's an element of risk involved. We have done our level best, certainly, in those high areas to reduce that for the fixed installations. We have -- we need to do a better job as far as the ships in transit, and that's what this commission report addresses.
Q: Mr. Secretary, the Yemenis are saying today that some suspects fled to Saudi Arabia. So how do you characterize the level of cooperation of the Yemenis and Saudis in this matter?
Cohen: Well, I leave that to a judgment from the -- for the FBI. My understanding is, there's been a very good level of cooperation between the Yemeni government and FBI officials.
Q: Mr. Secretary, four years ago you played a very critical role in essentially ending the career of General Schwalier over the Khobar Towers bombing. He was selected for major general; you decided to oppose that.
This situation seems awfully similar, from what we gather. We have two commanding officers who didn't do everything they could have, but in which case both of the services claim that even if they had, it wouldn't have been able to prevent the disaster that happened. Could maybe compare and contrast these situations and bring us to your thinking on this and why you aren't personally looking for someone to hold accountable, to sort of get that force protection point across?
Cohen: A number of assumptions you've made -- there has been no judgment rendered on the part of the Navy, to my knowledge, on the investigation. It's being -- in the process of being completed, so I don't think it's fair to say that the Navy has made any assumption. We'll wait for the Navy to make its report.
And there are a number of differences, certainly, one can point to between this case and Khobar Towers. But I think it's premature for me to get involved with such distinctions, since I have made no judgment about this matter and will not make one until I receive the report and the JAGMAN.
Q: What are your future plans?
Cohen: I intend to start my -- a small consulting group. I intend to lecture whenever I can. I intend to try to get back to do a little bit of writing. I intend to stay engaged in foreign policy/defense policy issues, as an outside observant -- and perhaps have a different pace of life for a while.
Q: What didn't you like about this job?
Cohen: I love this job.
Q: What --
Cohen: This is the best job that one can have in government. And I say, bar any position in government, this is the best, because you're representing the best military in the world. And for those of you who come to work here every day, I don't need to tell you the kind of excitement you feel when you're around people who are so highly motivated and dedicated and patriotic and they're can-do people. There is no other -- there's no other department, there's no other agency in government that has, I think, that kind of spirit.
So I have loved every moment of being here. There have been sad moments. Being out at Andrews Air Force Base and receiving the bodies of those who were killed during the bombings. The USS Cole and, you know, going down and meeting with the families, or seeing the V-22 go down with 19 Marines aboard, and previously to that. There are those moments when it's not -- it's not something you point to with great satisfaction, but I will tell you, I have never had a job -- and I didn't consider this to be a job. This really has been a joy, for me and my wife Janet. I mean, I can't -- if she were here, she would tell you even more emphatically what it has meant to us to be with the people who serve us.
So I would say, I leave this not with regret, because a four-year time frame for this job, I think, is probably more than enough. Some have done it longer, but I think there are more demands today than ever before. And many of you know that we have traveled something like 800,000 miles in four years, and that doesn't count the trips to Capitol Hill or over to the White House. But it's very demanding in terms of what is required of a secretary of Defense.
And you may have a different process when Don Rumsfeld takes over, but I think that today, because of the globalization, because of technology, because of the relations that we have to keep in repair, it's a much more demanding job than you'll find in most positions. And so it's been -- it's been, as I've said, it's been the most demanding job but the most exhilarating position you can possibly have.
Q: (Inaudible) -- segue, but when you look back, do you feel at any point the scandals of the White House affected the Cabinet or affected your ability to carry out their jobs? Did they touch on you at any point?
Cohen: No. As a matter of fact, President Clinton, I would say, to his enormous credit, at no time -- at no time -- was there ever a political dimension to a decision that had to be made affecting the Pentagon, other than talking budgets, how we work our way through budgets and would OMB agree to this or that. I mean, that's normal. But at no time during my four years was there any hint of political factors being taken into account at the most crucial of times.
You may recall there was a moment when we executed Desert Fox, and I had received some anxious phone calls from Capitol Hill. And they said, "The House is on fire up here, you'd better get up here right away," because we had decided to conduct those bombing missions on the eve of the impeachment resolution that was about to come out. There was no decision made ever by President Clinton that had anything to do with what was taking place on Capitol Hill. The timing had nothing to do with it. And yet there were people up on the Hill who said it must be a political motivation here.
And I recall getting that phone call and I went up that night with Chairman Shelton. It was a closed session of the House of Representatives, and the Senate was invited. There were about 400-plus members who were there that night, and Chairman Shelton and I spent about three hours in front of the members. And it was a memorable moment for me. I had not been in the well of the House for 20 years, and I didn't expect to go up there that night. But I also wanted to make very clear why we chose to do what we did at that time. And it had nothing to do with political factors.
And so, I give President Clinton a great deal of credit for the way in which he conducted his policy pertaining to the military and national security. Nothing that was going on at the time had any impact on me. Whether it impacted other members, I can't say.
Q: One of the things in the campaign was that this building had lost respect for the executive branch. Throughout the four years you've been in office, have you seen respect within the military for President Clinton grow, diminish, or remain about the same?
Cohen: Did you ever see him when he went overseas with the troops? I think that was a pretty good indication that they supported him. He had a great rapport that he established with the military. And if there were any doubts about it in the beginning, I think he removed them over the course of his administration.
Okay, well this is last appearance. I must say you have always treated me with courtesy. And I appreciate having the chance to travel with many of you over the last four years. I will miss that part of it. And I expect I'll have a chance to see you from time to time in a different capacity.
Gehman: Ladies and gentlemen, since we last spoke to you upon our return from visiting the USS Cole at Aden Harbor, we formed a small team -- about 30 people. We've been hard at work. We conducted a review, not an investigation. And I would just like to say that the significance of that statement lies in the fact that we did not take sworn testimony, we did not take verbatim testimony, and we did not give anybody any kind of rights advisement. Therefore it's impossible to take our review and turn it into any kind of an accountability, because there's been no -- all the procedures have not been followed, I mean, and we did that on purpose.
We specifically did that on purpose.
The significance of that is that it was -- that people opened up to us. We were able to enter into a dialogue and get their views and their opinions very clearly and very straightforward, since they weren't being quoted and there was no verbatim testimony.
Our review was conducted in the context of the national security strategy, as the secretary said. The national security strategy includes the pillar the United States will be engaged actively around the world. We took that as an assumption. Our review was intended to determine how you do it more safely, not to question it.
There -- I think you will understand -- and as we briefed you the last time -- there are parts of our review which are classified. We take a great deal of burden upon ourselves to not transit to our potential challengers and terrorists everything that we're going to do to protect our troops. That just wouldn't be wise, and we would ask you to help with that matter.
I see you have the unclassified report. That is the unclassified report. It is complete, and I see you have it.
Our intent now, in the next 15 or 20 minutes, is to very quickly go through it, and then we'll be delighted to answer your questions.
Crouch: Let me set a couple of facts in your memory, as I'm sure they probably remain: that the Cole was trained at -- the crew of the Cole and the ship originated in Norfolk, where -- which trained for six months, in a work-up from February to July. It then proceeded from Norfolk to the Red Sea via the Mediterranean.
It entered the Central Command area of operation by entering the Red Sea on the 9th of October. It, as the chart shows, transited then to Aden, arriving there on the morning of the 12th of October. And as you remember, the explosion occurred at about 11:20 that morning. The ship was en route to the Arabian Gulf.
Admiral Gehman and I, as we told some of you, went as quickly as we could to Aden, as soon as we were able to proceed. We interviewed as many people as we could, but the important point is that we boarded that ship. And we were able to not only walk the decks but below decks, and saw the damage. That was extremely important to me particularly, as a soldier, to gain an understanding of what had occurred.
I want to reemphasize to you, if you don't remember anything else from what we're going to say: that crew saved that ship after that explosion. There was a time of about two and a half days when the ship was in serious jeopardy, and at one point where valves and seals failed which allowed the water to rush back in. This was long after the explosion. There was no electric generator, there was no power, it was dark, and at that point there were still shipmates, the remains of shipmates that were pinned in the damage. The crew itself was able to rise to that occasion, a tremendous motivational effort, and were able to overcome that damage and save the ship.
Now, as we conducted this review, one of the things that came out to us immediately was that since Khobar Towers, Department of Defense has made tremendous improvement and paid a tremendous amount of attention to force protection. It focuses on, and we have focused on installations and fixed facilities, a natural result of Khobar Towers. The results have been a significant amount of attention worldwide by all commanders on force protection, on taking care of our troops. Nevertheless, as the secretary said, the terrorist, who is very persistent, has gone after our vulnerability.
Now, we organized in terms of this report into five areas: organization, intelligence, force protection, logistics and training. There are 30 findings which you have, with attendant recommendations. They are not prioritized. They are simply stated as we worked our way through them in terms of the organization that I've given you.
For the initial finding.
Gehman: The first area and the chapter that we're going to talk about is the chapter on organization. There were three findings under organizational matters. The first one recommends that the secretary continue the improvements inside the department that were made as a result of the attack at Khobar Towers and further consolidate all of the functions of combatting terrorism in the department, probably at the assistant secretary of Defense level. We did not designate which assistant secretary of Defense; that would have taken an organizational review beyond our purview, but we did find that whereas much has been done to combat terrorism, that we can go one step further to consolidate policy, oversight, championing of resources and things such as that.
The second recommendation has to do with coordination in the interagency. We would like to enhance and make a little more strong the engagement activities of all the departments. The Department of Defense is not the only department that's conducting engagement activities, and Treasury, Commerce, State, as well as Defense and others all have engagement activities. And we believe that further coordination and consolidation of activities would be to the benefit of everybody. The Department of Defense has a very aggressive engagement activity. We support that. This review was based upon finding ways to do that better, and we are recommending that the agencies do more to coordinate their activities.
The third area has to do with host nation internal security apparatuses. Transiting units, in particular, are dependent to more or less degree upon the host nation security forces. International law prescribes that the host nation is responsible for the security of transiters. Nevertheless, under U.S. law, the commanding officer is also responsible. It's a shared responsibility. It's in the department's best interest that host nation security forces be capable and willing to help us with our force protection roles. In many of these places that we visit, the host nation is either unwilling or unable to provide that support.
Since it's in the Department of Defense's best interest to have good, robust host nation security forces, not armies, navies and air forces, we think that there should be some ways in which we can do this better.
Right now, the processes by which the Department of Defense assists in host nation security forces is a convoluted policy that's -- a convoluted process that involves waivers. It's by exception and all that sort of thing.
We're very, very good at military-to-military support. What we're talking about here is military-to-non-military support, and we would like to see that process streamlined.
Crouch: We have a number of recommendations, as you've seen, as far as force protection is concerned. I'll take you through a good many of them.
They begin with improving the manning. And what this means is, we need full-time manning of force protection experts provided to CINCs and component commanders and, in certain cases, to transiters as we augment them as they transit in areas of high threat. There need to be people on board ships, airplanes, and in place, under the command of U.S. commanders, to assist these transiters.
We also need to be able to provide very high-quality sustained assessments of places like -- vulnerability assessments in places like airports and ports, to ensure that the -- not only the component commander and the commander in chief, but the transiter himself knows what the conditions are from a sustained reporting basis and an assessment of what has occurred in and around that location in the past.
We need to continue technology development and to focus on that in terms of force protection.
There are initiatives that we can take that are extremely important, that will provide better technological advancements in terms of force protection, as well as fielding now and the distribution of some equipment and training on that equipment that will do things like give us better stand-off distance for ships and aircraft in ports and airfields.
We need to simplify the establishment of the threat level. It's confusing. There's a simple way to achieve that. And that, along with a simplification of the system known as threat conditions, so that the terminology is not easily interchanged, will be of some real benefit, we think, to users.
We found that the rules of engagement are fundamentally sound. We spent a good deal of time working our way through those rules of engagement. But we also found that force protection by definition is defensive, and so we think that we're not interested in becoming offensive, but we are in gaining the initiative and so that we equip ourselves and our transiters to be fully ready to deal with whatever threat might impend that we equip our commanders to be able to take such actions as will allow them to gain that initiative.
Q: Will you be explicit?
Crouch: I will.
Q: Thank you.
Crouch: We focused on a process called operational risk management. It is a process that now exists inside the Department of Defense, and services use this in varying degrees, particularly with safety. It's a routine thing in aviation safety to measure what the risk is from the intended activity. We think this needs to be better standardized in making these kinds of force protection decisions. And finally under force protection, we should give the commander in chief of a geographic area a better incident response capability.
Gehman: The third area that our findings are grouped in is intelligence, the area which you asked a lot of questions about. We found no credible intelligence that could have predicted the attack on board the USS Cole. That does not mean, however, that we did not find there are some things that we can do better in the intelligence community to help us mitigate the risk to our transiting units.
And we outlined them in our findings.
First of all, units like transiting units do not have their own organic analysis capability. They rely on tailored intelligence support from some outside activity. And we recommend that -- particular the theater -- the theater intelligence centers focus some resources on tracking, dedicating intelligence products overwatching and advising these transiting units as to the risks into the areas in which they are going. So, whereas we found no tactical, actionable intelligence that would have predicted this attack, all transiting units could be better served by tailored intelligence support.
On the other side, transiting units need to be trained better to demand better intelligence from the system. They need to ask more difficult questions. We refer to it in an old military doctrinal term as IPB, intelligence preparation of the battlefield. They can't do IPB because they don't have intelligence resources. But they have to do some kind of an IPB-like process by which they ask the right questions.
We found that the Department and the intelligence community has shifted resources for analysis and collection away from Cold War missions and toward the anti-terrorist mission, but only at the margins. Without getting into details, we think that that shift should continue, and that, once again, more assets should be devoted toward the fight against terrorism, particularly assets in the SIGNINT, HUMINT, and language skill area.
And lastly, as mentioned by General Crouch, there are some intelligence parts of the vulnerability assessments that we think that can be improved, particularly vulnerability assessments need standards; standards with respect to frequency, how they're conducted, who conducts them. We believe that standards -- requirements will -- standards would equal some requirements; requirements equal resources -- logistics.
Q: Can I just ask you, just very briefly, isn't that a rather damning indictment at the Cole -- (off mike) --
Gehman: Let us get to that at the end.
Q: -- only at the margins?
Gehman: We'll be pleased to address that at the end.
Crouch: In the logistics area, we found that the logistics -- it wasn't practical to try and put some kind of security classification on a commercial activity which, in effect, providing those goods and services to a transiter is.
What we did find was that are some techniques that we can use such as the component commander in the area being able to establish his force protection requirements as we start into that kind of a contracting process, and then secondly, trying to ensure that the contractor, the goods and services provider, has an interest in, in the way that we provide for the contract, force protection for those people to whom he's providing -- in other words, to our consumer of those goods and services. That can be done. It is a shift in our process, but one which we strongly recommend.
Gehman: The last area we covered was training. The Cole received all the DoD-required force protection antiterrorism training. As a matter of fact, the Cole crew exceeded the DoD requirements for force protection and antiterrorism training. Nevertheless, all that training, in our view, did not result in the kind of posture that we think is required to deter these very tenacious and clever opponents. We believe therefore that antiterrorist and force protection training should receive additional priority up to a priority which is equal to the unit's primary mission. What that will do is cause resources, time in the schedule, dedicated OPFOR [opposition forces], and other training tools to be available equal to the other training regimes. What we are attempting to do here is to suggest that the training needs to be of sufficient sophistication to be able to recognize the unexpected rather than just react to the expected.
Specifically, we highlighted deterrence training. Deterrence, the ability to deter an opponent, is a rather sophisticated capability. It cannot be widely dispersed easily to everybody. It involves vigilance, it involves the visible appearance of readiness and resoluteness and the impression that you are able to react to the terrorist. It requires a little bit more training than is currently being conducted. We've made some other procedural training area suggestions such as the commanding officer needs to be able to sustain the training, not just his work-ups, but throughout the time after he is certified.
The Department of Defense training for commanding officers, we made some recommendations on how that could be more sophisticated, and the Department of Defense training for force protection officers we made some suggestions as to how that could be enhanced to make these people more able to counter the threat.
The terrorist threat is extremely dangerous. It is enduring. It's not going away. They are persistent, they are tenacious, they're a patient opponent. We have to deal with that. We are tremendously impressed by the actions that the Department of Defense has taken, particularly as it relates to installations since Khobar Towers, and I say to you one more time, that crew of the Cole saved that ship.
Now, what questions do you have?
Q: Gentlemen, I want to ask again, why have intelligence priorities and resources changed only at the margins since the Cold War, especially after Khobar Towers? Is it stupidity?
Gehman: No. Intelligence -- intelligence priorities have shifted. It's a question of degree. The attack on the Cole -- and we attempt to do this in our report -- the attack on the Cole has to be taken in its historical and cultural context. In other words, the terrorist is painting a pattern for us here and we're beginning to realize what that pattern is. And as we do that, we shift our priorities. Our report urges that further shifts in priorities be conducted.
Q: General, you were talking about, in your report, about being more proactive. My words, not yours. But being active as opposed to defensive. Going back to my question to the secretary, did you at all get into the possibility of using such things as picket boats and fire hoses on the Cole and, if so, would you tell us about it? If not, would you give us some examples of how you can be more proactive to combat this kind of terrorism for ships in transit, or forces in transit?
Crouch: First, as you know, the Navy is investigating the conduct on the Cole. Secondly, in general terms, the kinds of things we're talking about is not setting a pattern, ensuring that we have the right kinds of stand-off distances for the decision process by commanders. I'd prefer not to go into any more specific details than that, I think, for obvious reasons.
Q: What would you like in an ideal harbor, like the port at Aden, to happen outside the ship? In future ship visits, when you go in, what does the U.S. government and the Navy want from that port that is not there now?
Gehman: Well, keep it in mind that we're talking about risk mitigation here. We can never eliminate the risk. What we are suggesting is a rather sophisticated equation; that is, it isn't one thing. There is no silver bullet.
We would like -- we would like the host nation to be involved in the security of the unit in order to give the commanding officer the time and space to recognize a threat. Now, I can't -- I'm not saying perimeters or anything like that, but the commanding officer has to have some time and space to pick out the good guys from the bad guys.
We would like the host nation to help us with the sovereignty issues of warning, controlling civilians, and all that sort of thing. We would like the host nation -- we mentioned the contracting things. General Crouch mentioned that there are ways to make the logistics providers part of the security equation. And there are ways to do this and there are -- it's situationally dependent. It depends on the nation that you're in. So I can't -- I'm not going to give you a formula, but there are things that can be done.
Q: But would you make port visits specifically contingent on security arrangements with the host country?
Crouch: There's a -- I mentioned operational risk management. That is a decision process that you find the component commander is in the center, like a fulcrum, trying to balance engagement activities and force protection, and one of the techniques that we recommend in a standardized way that they use is this kind of a decision process of deciding what is the risk, can we mitigate the risk, is it reasonable to proceed or not, and then make that kind of a decision. And that's what we mean by that process.
Q: If that had been done on the port of Aden on October the 11th, what would the component commander have decided?
Crouch: I'm not going to second-guess a component commander with what his decision process would have been, nor am I going to try and put myself in the place of the man that was making the decision at the time.
Q: Admiral, you said --
Q: On the intelligence issue, I see this group coming in from Norfolk, transiting the canal, and coming into Aden at a time when there was great violence in Israel -- the Intafada, the Palestinian uprising -- and the embassy in Aden, the American embassy had been closed because of this --
Crouch: Several days --
Gehman: Several days before, but not on the day of the visit.
Q: Not on the day. But there was a lot of volatility in the country at that point. Was that ever communicated to the captain of the Cole?
Gehman: The CO that --
Crouch: We --
Gehman: We're being -- the reason we're hedging here is, we're being careful not to get into JAG manual investigation business as to what the CO knew and what he didn't know. That's within the JAG manual investigation.
We found no breakdown in the intelligence dissemination process.
Q: Gentlemen, if I can ask you, implicit in -- really, in every finding here is that there were lapses or oversight in security throughout the region, throughout the system, that may have contributed to the attack in some way, directly or indirectly. Do you agree with that?
And to throw out a couple examples, you mentioned the security of the host nation. Was security in the port itself provided by the Yemenis not strong enough?
And another example is, you mentioned the regularity of operations; we need to move that. Had we in fact developed a pattern of visits to Aden that tipped off the attackers that we were coming in, and thus they were prepared? Apparently, they tried this in January on another visit.
You seem to dance around all of those issues of what caused this to happen or what may have contributed to it.
Crouch: Well, the last thing we did was dance around the issues. What you have are 30 recommendations based on the charge from the secretary of Defense that we do a review of policies, procedures, and systems external to the Cole, and examine those and make recommendations back to him. And that's exactly what we have done.
It does not mean that we found that the Defense Department was lacking in force protection. What it did was take it to the next step from what has already been done and focus on in-transit forces to be able to make specific recommendations on things that can be done to improve their security.
Q: You know, I understand and respect what it is that you did. I think the question that a lot of people want to answer is, was there a lapse? Was there a problem? Were there things, or a series of things that contributed in some way to this attack being able to happen, in your view?
Gehman: We, of course, were not charged to find culpability or performance factors. So we didn't. We did not look into accountability and all those sort of things. We looked at policy and procedures. We used the Cole event as a catalyst for our examination, and we found processes that we thought could be done better. But we did into attempt, and I would ask you not to read into any of our findings a failure by anybody or any organization.
Q: So, what did you think when you heard Secretary of Defense Cohen say, while you were sitting over here, that he plans to refer this report to Joint Chiefs Chairman General Hugh Shelton and ask him to render his professional opinion about whether there should be some further assessment of accountability? Is that possible from the document that you've produced?
Gehman: We believe that -- we believe that we were pretty scrupulous in not drawing any conclusions about personal culpability or professional performance at any place. If the chairman reads our report and determines that one of these processes that I mentioned didn't work very well, I suspect he probably will want to know why. And that's how that will probably take place. But you can't do it from our report.
Q: But again, sirs, the examples that I cited weren't necessarily individual culpability. The example of the regularity of operations. The security of the port itself and the arrangements that were there. You mentioned your grand finding is that there was a scene, in a way. And what I'm trying to get at is, did you find that there were scenes in the process or in the system itself that contributed to this attack being able to happen?
Crouch: What we found in the process is, is as it relates to our charge, which was in-transit forces, that there were things that we can do better, and as we worked our way through this thing, everything from the deck of that Cole to interviews here with policy- makers in Washington and throughout the Defense Department, we went after how do these systems work and how can they contribute?
I mean, obviously, we had this explosion. What can we do to try and improve those systems to, as the secretary charged us, provide better force protection to our troopers?
Q: General, I mean, you examined -- these recommendations are based on your examination of the events surrounding the explosion on the Cole rather than on a universal survey of DoD policies involving any assets in transit anywhere in the world. Is that correct?
Crouch: No, sir.
Crouch: No, I would disagree with that.
Gehman: Absolutely not!
Crouch: We used the Cole --
Q: (Off mike)?
Crouch: Yeah. We used the Cole as a catalyst. But we then reviewed DoD policies worldwide and the whole force protection antiterrorism regime in its entirety, even to including, even though the secretary didn't tell us to do this, where it may have led across the river. And -- so no. These recommendations are widely applicable not just to CENTCOM and not just to the Cole, but to force protection worldwide in particular. And this is where I'd like to get back to the previous question.
Even though our -- the Cole was the catalyst for our review, the approach that we took was not to find out what went wrong in the case of the Cole, but how can we do engagement activities more safely in the future. And that was the foundation and the catalyst for our review, not trying to find out what went wrong in the case of the Cole.
Q: Can I follow? Many of the subjects you've touched on here on a worldwide basis, leaving the Cole aside, interagency coordination, funding, and intelligence-sharing, for example, were touched on specifically in a pair of presidential decision directives issued in 1997 that set up a specific process to deal with each of the problems you have highlighted here as not working. Could you address specifically the failures you found in the structure created by PDD 61 and 62 -- or 62 and 63 --
Gehman: We looked at those. We did not find any failures, we found places where this could be done better.
Q: But, sir, one of those specifically creates a national coordinator for counter-terrorist activity and sits the responsibility for doing just what you're talking about in the National Security Council. You can't suggest that the secretary of defense should take over that responsibility.
You also -- the PDD also specifically tasks the intelligence community to shift resources from Cold War targets to terrorism in very explicit public language. You're saying that that didn't happen. Can you address those two specific points?
Gehman: Sure. We are not suggesting the Department -- the secretary of Defense take over this function. What we -- the words that we used in our recommendation was that the secretary of defense initiated a proposal for an interagency process. This is -- in no way did we suggest or mean to suggest that this is the role of the secretary of Defense.
Q: Well, but does this suggest there's not an interagency process?
Gehman: We found that the interagency coordination, while it is done, could be improved.
Q: Could you specifically cite what it is about the existing interagency process, under the national coordinator for counterterrorism at the NSC, that specifically requires approval of where -- I mean if you're talking about it needing improvement, then there must have been some shortfall.
Gehman: We're talking about two separate things, at least I think I'm hearing two separate things. One is counterterrorism, which we didn't really deal with in this report. The other is engagement activities. It's the engagement act -- the coordination of engagement activities that we think can be better coordinated.
The reason that we said that is because we found, by personal interview, that all the departments in the executive branch are conducting engagement activities, some more aggressively than others, some better-financed than others, some better-resourced than others. And it tends to have one section of folks out in front of others. And we found that to be dissatisfying. There is coordination that goes on right now, but because of the variety of resourcing and manpower and things like that, we think that there needs to better resourcing.
Q: Admiral Gehman, on November 2nd you said, "If we find a performance problem -- some organization just forgot to do something -- we will report that." Did you find any organization that "just forgot to do something?"
Gehman: Wherever we found an "oh my gosh" we reported it to the individual on the spot at the time. Now, remember now, we didn't take verbatim or sworn testimony, so any time we found something that said, you know, that we went like that, the command or the individual was informed right on the spot.
We didn't make lists of things that people did wrong or things like that.
Furthermore, remember, we're looking at procedures and processes. At any place in the report where we found a process that we weren't particularly happy with, it's in the report that we thought this could be improved. And I suppose that -- I don't know this, but I believe that the chairman will probably take a look at that.
Q: General, a lot of what you recommended here seems almost self-evident -- the things that you suggest that should be done. If I'm right in that, why wasn't it self-evident? Why wasn't it done before? Why did it take something like the Cole to bring these matters to the fore, especially after what's happened in places like Beirut and Khobar Towers?
Crouch: As we've stated in a couple of different ways, but obviously not clearly enough, we've focused, in the wake of the Beirut bombing, but specifically after the Cole, on places where U.S. forces are massed -- that means installations -- and where the greatest risk was. And commanders took that on. The secretary gave instructions, and the chain of command executed that.
There are some things here that can apply in both cases. But our focus was clearly on in-transit forces. That means ships and airplanes, small detachments that are --
Q: Well, let me just try it another way. We've always known or we've known for a long time that when you strengthen things in one area, the terrorists find someplace else to hit you. So given that, why didn't we anticipate this better? We knew we'd strengthened things on the ground after Khobar Towers. We'd done a better job at bases. So why didn't somebody say, "Hey, there's 500-foot ships running around here. Those are pretty big targets"?
Crouch: Yeah. I -- very frankly, I think we've done a -- as we've said, a pretty good job with -- in post-Khobar. No one had ever gone after a ship like this before.
Q: Do you two think that Bravo was the right threat con for Aden harbor, given what was known at the time?
Gehman: We did not review the performance or the judgment of field commanders. The best we can answer your question is, we found no intelligence to suggest otherwise.
Q: Do you have personal opinions on that?
Gehman: We don't do personal opinions.
Q: You recommend giving equal weight and resources to force protection as you do the actual mission. What has that -- does that not mean that you reduce your -- the number of missions you could perform, as well as perhaps instill a bunker mentality among the forces?
Gehman: No, I don't think so at all. In all of our services -- we looked at the training standards and requirements of all of the services, and all of them have force protection as a requirement, and they all say things like "second to none" and things like that.
Nevertheless, they do in their documents have stratums or categories of training and primary mission areas receive the top priority.
We do believe that this threat is enduring, it's dangerous. People are dying from it. It is not a transitory threat. It's not going away. So we are suggesting that it's time that these fine gradations in priorities go away and that anti-terrorism force protection get the same priority, particularly, particularly since the net result of all of our recommendations is a fairly sophisticated and mature risk-mitigation regime. It really can't be done just by basic training. It really is a fairly sophisticated approach that we're taking, and it has to be done in the training regime.
Q: When you found that you need to shift transiting units from an entirely reactive posture, can you do that effectively without changing any of the standard rules for engagement?
Gehman: Yes, you can.
Crouch: There's plenty of flexibility in those rules of engagement. What you're looking for, without getting into too much detail in terms of technique, is trying to get distances established and in terms of training of not only the on-board forces, but any augmentees, which I mentioned and you can read in that report, that we recommend be provided, and particularly in high-threat areas, to give that kind of opportunity for the commanders to take that kind of initiative.
And initiative, back to your first question, if I might, gets you away from bunker mentality. Bunker mentality is not a form of force protection when you're thinking proactively and in terms of establishing the initiative.
Q: You've heard the secretary's response and you're now also facing now a change of administration. Do you have -- and the General -- do you have any concerns that your report is basically going to be just put on the shelf and gather a little dust?
Gehman: We have an opportunity tomorrow, and have been requested by Secretary Rumsfeld's transition team, to brief them on our findings, and we set apart a good portion of time to do that.
Crouch: We also expect that there will be congressional hearings. So no, we have no concerns that this will be put on the shelf.
Q: Admiral, one of your findings seems to be that between the secretary -- the State Department and the Defense Department, there is perhaps some ambiguity on who sets the threat levels for certain countries.
In the case of Yemen, was that an issue? And just a factual question related to that, you were saying that the embassy had been closed some days before. Was it closed on the day of the Cole attack? And was the information known to Commander Lippold?
Gehman: You do threat levels.
Crouch: The threat level that this refers to, who establishes the threat levels in a particular area of responsibility, we made recommendation to try and simplify that process. The threat level in Yemen, depending on the -- who had made the announcement was either at significant or high at that point, so the threat level from that standpoint was not -- was not a factor as far as I'm concerned.
Q: Can you give us a --
Q: And that factual question about the embassy?
Gehman: The embassy had been close a few days prior to the port visit due to the uprise -- Palestinian uprising and then had been reopened by the time of the Cole visit.
Q: Can you give us a sense of how much more detailed and how much more -- how much thicker the classified portion of the report is? Is it three times this big? Is it about this big? Can you just give us a sense of that?
Gehman: In the classified report, there are the same number of findings. You essentially have everything except specifics which we believe would be -- would aid the other side and which we'd be giving away vulnerabilities. But you essentially have the report.
Crouch: Or techniques. Or techniques.
Q: Can we get back to the host nations? You talked about a greater emphasis on military-to-non-military support. Can you elaborate on that a little bit? What more needs to be done, and maybe more money from the U.S. government to help some of these --
Gehman: Well, we have found a lot of places that what these nations really need is not a navy or an air force, what they need is a coast guard or what they need is a paramilitary force of some sort. In the case of Yemen, for example, a coast guard would be -- something more like a coast guard.
The rules and regulations on mil-to-mil support and mil-to-mil assistance don't -- make that hard to do. I mean, it can be done, but it's done by waiver and exception, and it's kind of outside the mainstream. So we would like to see those kinds of things streamlined a little bit. And that, by the way, will take probably congressional legislation.
Q: General Zinni mentioned that he thought the budget for such activities was woefully inadequate. Would you agree with that?
Gehman: Resources is also one of our recommendations, yes.
Q: And lastly, Zinni also said that he thinks it was a mistake for us to, as he said, to cut and run from Yemen; that the first thing we should have done is sent a ship back in there to refuel. What do you think about that?
Gehman: The only thing I can say is that the premise of our report reflects our views that the national strategy of engaging in these regions around the world is a good one. It's in the U.S. best interests, and there are steps that we can do to mitigate the risk to our servicemen.
Q: So he's right. We should have sent a ship right in there right after that --
Crouch: Well, I wouldn't draw any, or that kind of a conclusion or put us in a position of commenting on something that he was willing to state at that time. What we are committed to is the continuation of that strategy of engagement and balancing it, as we've discussed here, with risk mitigation to protect our troops.
Q: Should we make every effort to send a ship back into Aden?
Gehman: We --
Crouch: That's -- that's the commander-in-chief's --
Gehman: That's correct.
Crouch: -- decision, and he has the resources and the mechanisms to furnish him the right information to decide what to do.
Gehman: We can't answer that question, because we did not review the policy of engagement with Aden. It wasn't in our charter.
Q: Admiral, as a veteran surface warfare officer, is it your judgment -- and I believe you commanded a destroyer along your career somewhere -- is it your judgment that if you, as commander of that ship, had put armed boats in the water and gone into Aden harbor, that this incident could have been prevented?
Gehman: I don't know. We did not do an in-depth study of how this thing could have been prevented, and I just don't know what it would have taken to prevent this thing.
Crouch: And to take him away from that, since you're now talking to a tanker -- (laughter) -- that thought process has to come from the Navy and their investigation that focuses on the ship itself.
Q: Sir, I'm curious about the term that -- about your recommendation to change the term "threatcon." Seems to me threatcon is almost instinctively understood by service members. What do you hope to gain by recommending that that's changed?
Crouch: What we're recommending is you have the term "threat level" and you have "threat condition," and even inside the Commission, as we would get into a discussion of what is the the threat level as opposed to the threat condition, we would get the terms intertwined.
We need to separate these two so that the troopers that are implementing this understand what the established level is, which is an intelligence requirement, and what the -- whatever the replacement term, hopefully, for "Condition" is, which are operational terms that reflect measures.
Q: Thank you --
Q: Admiral Gehman?
Staff: Last question -- (off mike).
Q: Admiral Gehman, just to follow the -- thank you. Just to follow the question you were asked a moment ago, to my knowledge, none of the ships that preceded the Cole into Aden had put picket boats in the water. Was any direction or guideline given to the skipper of the Cole that that was something he should not do? Did he have the freedom to do that, or was some guidance given to him that no, you don't do that?
Gehman: That's really a JAG manual issue.
Crouch: Yes. That's --
Gehman: That's a JAG manual issue, what he did and what he didn't do and why did he do it and why he --
Q: Well, I guess I was looking for what he was told as versus what he wasn't told.
Gehman: Once again, as you have heard, there are 62 measures to be taken in Threatcon Bravo. Again, obviously for security reasons I'm not going to tell you what they all are. But he had -- there were a lot of measures that he had at his disposal, and they were satisfactory to make a -- to mitigate the risk of this visit.
Thanks a lot.
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