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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
June 26, 1997 2:00 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

Let me start by announcing that tomorrow Secretary Cohen and Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker will appear here at 10:30 to talk about the Kassebaum Baker panel that will be looking at mixed gender training and issues associated with that. They will announce the members of the panel and take your questions on how the panel's being set up, what its work pattern will be, its charter, etc. That's tomorrow at 10:30.

Second, I'd like to welcome an alumnus of the Directorate for Defense Information, Steve Manual, who's here with some students from Penn State University. We're glad to have you back. I see that one of them even has a camera, which shows that they're well qualified for the photojournalism course. They've met the first requirement, which is to have a camera.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: You've released -- I don't know if it's a final result or a preliminary result or what -- on the laser investigation today, and you say that this investigation hasn't supported your suspicion that the helicopter was illuminated by a laser. Yet you say the investigation is continuing. Is this thing over or not?

A: Let me walk you through that and try to explain it the best we can.

The answer is, it is not over. The books remain open. We continue to evaluate the facts.

The facts as we know them right now are that on April 4, 1997, a Canadian helicopter carrying an American naval officer was performing a routine surveillance mission over Puget Sound. As part of that mission it flew over a Russian commercial ship, the Kapitan Man. It took pictures. The helicopter and the crew on the helicopter took pictures of the ship as it flew over.

The person taking the pictures reported, that evening, eye injuries. The eye injuries were evaluated by doctors on several occasions, and the doctors concluded that the injuries were consistent with those that could have been caused by a repetitive pulse laser.

Because of the injuries and also because of the photoanalysts' initial conclusion that there was a red light on board the ship that could have been a laser, the U.S. demanded to search the ship and a Coast Guard team did, in fact, search the ship; and it found no physical evidence of a laser on the ship.

So we have on the one hand, injuries that are consistent with those that could be caused by a repetitive pulse laser. On the other hand, we found absolutely no suggestion that there had been a laser on board ship or that the source of the laser, if a laser caused these injuries... no suggestion that the laser emanated from that ship.

This incident has been under analysis for some time, and the analysis has taken several forms. Part of the analysis involves what happens to the person's eye. If the injury was, in fact, caused by a repetitive pulse laser, that's the type of laser that is used in a range finder. You can buy these things commercially. The injuries would heal, and they would go away. And they should heal and go away in several weeks. It varies, of course, from person to person. But as of the last medical examination in May, the lesions on the retina in the fellow's right eye had not healed and gone away. This is somewhat anomalous for lesions caused by a repetitive pulse laser.

So one of the issues here is to continue examining the fellow's eyes to see if the healing pattern fits with what doctors would expect to occur if the lesions had been caused by, say, a range finder laser. There may be other facts that come to bear as the medical books remain open, so the books aren't closed. That's why the investigation continues. We're, in a sense, waiting now to evaluate medical information and as I said, other information may come to light. So that's why the report you read said that the investigation remains open.

Q: Has there been any attempt to find any metal object or anything on the bottom, whether or not a laser might have been thrown overboard, or is that...

A: Not that I'm aware of, but let me walk you through some of the circumstances here, because they are confusing, they're complex, and they're somewhat anomalous, and in the end they're inconclusive. So it may help just to go through some of this.

First of all, have they handed out the pictures yet? There are pictures available, but the initial picture, as you saw here, the initial red dot that led the photoanalysts to think there was a laser, was right here. The Navy has determined that this was a running light -- a port running light. The starboard running light, which is green, is over on the other side. So they rejected this picture as indicative of a laser.

Then the question arises, where else could a laser have been on the ship? The type of laser that could have been responsible for these lesions, as I said, is what's called a repetitive pulse laser. It might be the type you could get commercially, would be maybe the size of a camcorder. So it would be small and easy to conceal. That's true.

However, the lesions he had on the retina of his right eye would have required an exposure of about 30 seconds to that type of laser. A continued exposure of about 30 seconds. The type of repetitive pulse laser that is hand-held and small and therefore easily hidden, only pulses about ten times a minute, or every six seconds. So in order to get the number of lesions he had, he would have had to have a consistent, constant exposure of about 30 seconds. That is pretty much impossible given the way the helicopter was operating and moving around the ship. Also, if someone had been out with a direct line of sight laser focusing on this helicopter for 30 seconds, presumably that person would have been seen. You could not direct this type of laser through a window.

Now as you saw in the picture, this red light appears to be behind a window. You couldn't send a hand-held repetitive pulse laser, you couldn't transmit it through a window and make it work, so the person would have had to be out on the deck some place to have aimed this laser. There's no evidence in all the pictures that were taken that anybody was on the deck. We could not locate anybody who would be using a laser.

Secondly, a repetitive pulse laser sends invisible light. This is red light. A ruby laser would send red light. That's a different type of laser entirely. The type of repetitive pulse laser that the doctors at Brooks Army Medical Center in [Brooks Air Force Base, Texas] determined created this injury was an invisible light, repetitive pulse laser called a neodemion laser. I can spell that if you're interested in the technicalities here.

So again, on the one hand, we have injuries that appear to be consistent with laser exposure. On the other hand, we don't have the pattern of activity. We found no evidence of a laser generating machinery on the ship; and two, we were unable to spot any sort of activity that was consistent with the type of exposure that would have produced the lesions this fellow had in his eye. That's one of the reasons that it remains mysterious.

It could have been a fixed laser, but there was no sign that there had been a tripod set up, no sign that anything had been attached and removed. You might say well a tripod sustaining a bigger laser might have been very easy to move. Again, it would have had to have been outside a window on the outside of the ship. It wasn't obvious in any of the photographs. There was actually a layer of dirt or grime on parts of the ship that would have made it pretty easy to see if there had been a tripod set up there or if people had been running around moving equipment on the deck of the ship, and there was no indication that they had been.

Again, it's inconclusive. We have evidence on both sides. But what the analysts -- both in the Navy and the Army Medical Research Detachment people at Brooks -- determined was that it was not possible to tie these injuries to a specific laser on board the ship.

Q: Was the ship completely searched? All areas of the ship? Or only certain areas?

A: The ship was searched for about two hours. The team, the Coast Guard team, I think there were two teams, and then an interviewing team as well, some searchers and some interviewers. They were granted access to every part of the ship to which they requested access with one exception. There was a library to which the crew could not find the keys. They did not go into that library.

So you can say "Aha! Obviously, they were hiding a laser in that library." But again, you have to look at the pattern of the injuries and the type of exposure that would have been required to cause those injuries. They do not find that the pattern of the injuries is compatible with a laser having been used on the ship.

Q: What other ships were in the area at the time?

A: There were several American ships in the area.

Q: Did they take pictures of them, too?

A: I don't know whether they took pictures of them or not.

I've been told here that I have maligned the Army by misidentifying the Brook Army Medical Center as Fort Brooks. It's actually the Brook Army Medical Center. So I apologize to the doctors, nurses and Army corpsmen at the Brook Army Medical Center in Texas, and I'll be careful not to do it again.

Actually, it's a Brooks Air Force Base. This is confusing, isn't it? [Laughter] The Brook Army Medical Center is at Brooks Air Force Base. But I apologize to all concerned.

Q: Did the helicopter overfly any other ships? You said there were other ships in the area. Did they photograph or overfly any other ships?

A: They were flying back and forth around the harbor. I don't have a map of the route it took, but there were other ships in the area. It's a very busy harbor, Puget Sound, that whole area is a big area, a main commercial shipping line.

Q: Was the reason that they were looking at the ship because this freighter was suspected of having submarine detection equipment on board?

A: This was a routine surveillance mission that goes on all the time involving U.S. and Canadian forces, and I think you can imagine that they'd be more likely to look at Russian ships than American ships, but they look at ships of all sorts from time to time, and they happened to be focusing on this ship.

Q: Wasn't the USS Ohio outbound about the same time?

A: The USS Ohio was outbound, not at the time these pictures were being taken, however. They had already passed. They'd passed several knots from each other.

Q: We reported they had suspected that this ship had intelligence gathering, had done intelligence gathering in the past and had submarine detection. Was that the reason...

A: We have no evidence that this ship has submarine detection equipment on it.

Q: Did you suspect that it did?

A: As I said, there's routine surveillance, and I think it's reasonable to assume we'd be more likely to focus on Russian flag vessels than American flag vessels or some of the other ships, but we focus on a variety of ships.

Q: On the running light, it appears from the photograph that it was daytime. Do you know what time this occurred, and is it normal that ships would have their running lights on in the daytime?

A: This ship had all its running lights on that day, and I gather it is normal -- at least for this ship -- to have all its running lights on, and it's not uncommon for other ships to have all their running lights on. This, I believe, occurred at about 1600, or 4 o'clock in the afternoon, on April 4th.

Q: Has the U.S. Government formally asked the Russian Government for an explanation, and have they responded?

A: We, of course, dealt with the Russian Government because we had to tell them we were planning to board their ship. Their ship was kept in the harbor until the boarding party could get there and go on. After the inspection took place and the incident was over, after we'd evaluated the results, we did say to the Russians that we were protesting the incident, and we asked them to make sure that Russian commercial ships do not use range finding lasers inappropriately.

Q: Did the doctors who examined the American officer have any other alternative explanations for what possibly could have caused this?

A: My understanding is they did not. They looked at the lesions and decided that they were consistent with what could have been produced by a repetitive pulse laser. They focused in on the exact wave length of the laser. In fact there was fairly extensive testing of lasers to try to duplicate these results. Also to duplicate the results through a camera, because the fellow was taking pictures at the time he thought he had spotted the laser, which the Navy subsequently determined, and the investigator subsequently determined, was a running light.

Q: Have there been past cases where Russian ships have lased U.S. pilots?

A: I'm not aware of anything recently and under these circumstances. But as I say, we have not concluded that they lased this helicopter or this pilot.

Q: You say in the report that there's no physical evidence tying the eye injury of the American officer to a laser located on the Russian merchant vessel. Where else could it have come from?

A: We don't purport to answer all the questions here. We've done our best to answer the questions and we have not been able to nail this down. We have not been able to make a link between something that emanated from this ship and the lieutenant's eye injuries.

Q: Where else could it have come from?

A: I can't answer that question. The report doesn't answer that question, either. As I said, the fellow will remain under continuing eye examination, and we'll see what sort of results that produces, but right now we can't explain where this would have come from.

Q: Did the investigators look at the possibility that there was some type of a twin laser, for instance a red laser that could have been used to be able to locate it, and a repetitive pulse laser that maybe you couldn't see because it operates in invisible light.

A: The investigators... I can't tell you if they looked specifically at that. The investigators did not go into this investigation trying to find or not to find anything. They went in with the assumption that there was a laser beam that had come from this ship because the fellow's injuries were consistent with a laser beam.

They were unable to find, as the report says, any physical evidence that the beam came from the ship. And there are a number of elements to that not being able to find physical evidence. The first was not being able to find any laser equipment on the ship; not being able to turn up any evidence from their interviews that there had been laser equipment on the ship; nor being able to explain the pattern of the injuries based on what they saw both from their examination and what they saw from the photographs they took of the ship which were fairly extensive; nor from the, knowing what type of pattern of use would be required to produce those injuries, they were not able to find any evidence that that pattern of use had existed on the ship.

So you have on the one hand the injury; but on the other hand, no physical evidence that the injury was produced by equipment on the ship. The physical evidence extends beyond just the search of the ship.

Q: So what caused the injury? You have no idea what caused the injury.

A: The report doesn't reach a conclusion on that and I can't go beyond the findings of the report.

Q: And you consider that a thorough investigation?

A: I consider this a thorough investigation, yes, but it's an investigation that's continuing.

Q: The timeframe for the injury on the helicopter, does that fit the timeframe for the surveillance of that ship?

A: The photographer experienced no pain, that was reported in the investigation, while he was taking pictures. The pictures were being taken somewhat after 4 in the afternoon, close to 4 in the afternoon -- a little later. When the pictures were examined at about 8 in the evening, several, four hours later, the fellow came across the photograph that you have with the red light on it. He and other analysts concluded that this could be a laser.

Later in the evening the fellow reported eye pain and was examined. First, I believe, in Canada, and then later in Texas. Based on those examinations, the doctors concluded, as the report says, that the lesions on his retina were consistent with what could have been produced by a repetitive pulse laser. But then the next step is can we find any other evidence that a repetitive pulser laser was on this ship or emanated from this ship and the answer is, no. We have not been able to find that evidence. That's where we stand.

Q: Is he still having eye pain and he can't see very well, or does he simply have lesions on the retina?

A: Apparently what happened to him, and I'm not an expert on eyes except on eyeglasses [Laughter], apparently there has been no degradation of vision at any point during this, according to the medical accounts that I've read. Now I have not spoken to the fellow, so I can't... I can only tell you what the doctors have reported after analyzing him. Apparently he does have some discomfort, but there's no degradation of vision.

Q: It was originally described as temporary damage to his eye. Is this still considered temporary or...

A: If it were caused by a repetitive pulse laser emanating from something like a range finder, and that's what they think is the best description of might have produced this, then it would be temporary and his retina would heal and it would go away.

Q: Then it would heal?

A: Well, I said it varies, but in several weeks, in a number of weeks it would heal. But I can't say for sure, and of course everybody heals at a different rate. So one of the questions is, what will continuing examination of his eyes reveal? Will it reveal a healing pattern consistent with what you'd expect after exposure to one of these range finder type lasers? Or would it be sort of anomalous to that and therefore perhaps suggest another cause? We don't know that, and I'm not trying to suggest that there is any other cause right now. All I'm trying to say is that the medical evidence remains incomplete, and that's one of the things we're continuing to look at. I think you have to describe this as a mystery. One part of the mystery is the medical analysis right now.

Q: You said there was some period of time between this incident on the ship and his reporting of pain or other symptoms. Is that typical for injuries with a repetitive pulse laser? Or is it the sort of thing where as soon as one's injured one goes, "Oh, my eye!"?

A: No, it's typical that you would not feel it. There would be no pain at the time, as I understand it. Fortunately, I don't believe this has ever happened to me, so I can't speak from personal experience, but that's my understanding.

Q: Who is the lead agency in the investigation? Who was involved in it?

A: This investigation is based on work done by the Office of Naval Intelligence, work done by the Joint Staff, work done by people in the policy shop of the Pentagon, and work done by doctors at the U.S. Army Medical Research Detachment at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas.

Q: Do you know if the investigators went back and looked at a 1988 incident involving a U.S. military Navy aircraft, either a P-3 or a C-130, where a female intelligence officer suffered a laser... Do you know if...

A: I have not seen any evidence that they've done that, but there is one report that I have not finished. What I've read is the version of the report you've read, and a classified version of that report which is strikingly similar to the one you have; almost no difference whatsoever. And I've read some other analysis by the Joint Staff, and a summary of the ONI report, but I have not read the entire ONI report. In the course of my conversations, that has not come up.

Q: Korea. It was reported late last week that U.S. intelligence people are involved in debriefing Mr. Hwang Jang-yop, is this correct? Does U.S. military intelligence now have access to this man as was promised to Secretary Cohen?

A: Yes.

Q: Can you say anything more about what's happening?

A: No. [Laughter]

Q: Let me go to an article in the Wall Street Journal. Can you confirm that the Pentagon is involved in a plan for receiving refugees from North Korea, possibly in a crisis, or providing relief directly to North Korea?

A: Let me put this in context. The military, obviously, spends a lot of time planning for all sorts of contingencies or eventualities. For most of the time the U.S. military has been stationed in Korea, it has planned for a possible military attack from the North Koreans, and that's what we spent most of our time planning to respond to. In the last year or so, the military in the United States and also in the Republic of Korea has obviously paid a lot of attention to the economic and nutritional conditions in North Korea, and decided that they should begin to look at other contingencies as well, and one might be what would happen if there is, in fact, massive starvation, massive health problems, in North Korea that could lead to perhaps an exodus from North Korea or something else. So yes, they have begun to look at a broader range of contingencies.

Now to say that we're planning to do something I think is pushing it a little too far. What we're doing is looking at a range of possible outcomes.

We have no evidence that there is significant political instability in North Korea today. We have no evidence of large, imminent problems of disorder at this stage. But we are watching the situation very closely, and we are planning appropriately for what could conceivably happen in the future.

Q: There was a report released on Capital Hill today by the House National Security Committee called "Sexual Misconduct in the Military - A Congressional Interim Review." You may have seen a copy of it. Have you any reaction to it?

A: I thought it was a constructive report. It's a preliminary report. They're continuing their work. Their work, of course, shadows or runs parallel to work that's going on in the Pentagon today -- both work that the Secretary of the Army is doing, or his task force is doing, and also work that the Kassebaum Baker Task Force will perform, and that will be announced here tomorrow, more details on that.

I felt that they have done some careful analysis in the early stages of their quest, and I think that one thing is very clear from their conclusions and the constructiveness of their conclusions, and that is that they see these problems in the Army as not just the Army's problems, but America's problems. Problems that could affect the readiness of the Army or the order of the Army, are problems that we all should care about and all want to resolve. And this committee seems very determined to try to help resolve them in the most constructive, efficient way.

Q: Do you have anything on the meetings of Minister of Defense Apostolos Tsohatzopoulos with Secretary William Cohen here at the Pentagon and the Under Secretary Jan Lodal at the Greek Embassy the other day?

A: I don't have anything to say about Ms. Lodal's meetings at the Greek Embassy. You should probably ask officials at the Embassy on that. As far as the meetings between the Greek Defense Minister and Secretary Cohen, they talked about the topics I predicted they would talk about. They talked about NATO expansion, they talked about Bosnia, they talked about Cypress, and they talked about confidence-building measures in the Aegean. It was a good discussion, it was wide ranging, and that's all I can tell you about it.

Q: Any disagreements?

A: I don't think I want to characterize it in terms of agreement or disagreement. We're strong allies with Greece. We're strong allies with Turkey. We are committed to working closely with both.

Q: Back to the laser, did the investigation look at whether or not Russian ships -- military/civilian -- have the capability or have in the past used a repetitive pulse laser or perhaps a neon helium laser which could have produced the red light?

A: I want to go back and say that it is the view of the Navy analysts that this was, in fact, a running light and that it was not a laser. That's their conclusion from looking at the photographs and all the other evidence they have. In terms of the broader question of whether they have the capability, that was not examined across the Russian fleet. What they did was look at this one incident and the circumstances surrounding the eye injury and asked themselves the question, what could have produced it, can we find any evidence that it was produced by a laser? The answer is that the injuries were consistent with a laser but they found no evidence that the laser emanated from that ship.

Q: Do you suspect that the laser emanated from the ship?

A: I think I have to stick with the conclusions of this report which was done by a bunch of analysts, and they are not able to tie a laser to the ship. I can't go beyond their findings. I'm a secondary recipient of this report. I've talked to them, I've talked to some of the people who pulled the report together, and I think the report accurately expresses what their conclusions were at the end of this investigation, or at this point in the investigation because, as I said, certain questions remain open.

Q: It seems that they're trying very hard to absolve the Russians of any complicity...

A: I don't think there's any effort to absolve the Russians of complicity in this or anything else. I think there was an effort to investigate this fairly and accurately. I think that's what they attempted to do. From the best of my knowledge that's what they did, and they were unable to explain the injuries based on what they found on the ship.

Not all questions are answerable, at least not answerable immediately. This is one of them.

Q: Secretary Cohen said that one of the things they were going to look at was whether or not there was a thorough search. We reported that the searchers had instructions to search only public areas of the ship. Is that in fact the case?

A: No.

Q: And were they limited to two hours? Did they have just two hours to look at the ship? It's a fairly large ship, and you would think that they would require more time.

A: As I said, I believe there were two search teams and an interview team on the ship. I don't know how large these teams were, how many people were on each team. The team, with the one exception that I mentioned, did not feel limited in any way as to where they could search, and they felt they had free reign of the ship with the exception that I mentioned.

Q: One other question on the sexual report. The report said that basic training programs are not properly training recruits. That's a rather strong indictment of the training process. Do you have anything to say about that?

A: First of all, we think that our armed forces are very able to perform their job. We think the troops are well trained and ready. So in a general sense, I believe that basic training is satisfying its goal of training people to be productive soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. At any specific training base, people are always evaluating how well the training goes; and a number of the issues raised in this report such as the ratio between drill instructors and trainees, such as the qualifications of the drill instructors, such as the content of the training, such as the introduction of new trainees to a military environment are being reviewed now by the Secretary of the Army's Task Force and will also be reviewed by the Kassebaum Baker Task Force. It's precisely to get to the bottom of questions like that that we set up these very serious investigations.

Press: Thank you.