Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to the Pentagon for the second installment of a three-part briefing. I'll be followed by General Dale Vesser who is the Deputy to the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, and he will walk you through the latest in the series of reports that are being issued by Dr. Rostker and General Vesser and their staff.
But before that, I'm here to take your questions on anything but the African Crisis Response Initiative, on which you should be sated by now.
Q: Could you tell us a little bit about why the decision was made to pull troops from what they're calling the Mexican border?
A: I would be glad to do that.
As you know, the entire policy is now under review and that review has several elements to it. One is whether it's appropriate for troops to be involved in border patrol activities. Another is, if it is appropriate for them to be involved in border patrol activities, what are the proper operating procedures for them? What's the proper relationship between them and the Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies? Another question is, do they have adequate legal protections? We wanted to make sure while that review was pending, that they do have adequate legal protections. We viewed that question and decided that it would be most appropriate to suspend operations while we reviewed that. So that's what we did.
Now let me tell you what the formal consequence of this is. What we're talking about is a very small subset of the support we provide law enforcement operations along the border. They are called listening posts and observation posts. These generally are performed by very small teams of soldiers and Marines, three or four at a time. They go out and position themselves, they patrol an area along the border, and if they see a suspicious activity, such as suspected drug smuggling, then they would call in the Border Patrol or other law enforcement agencies to actually perform apprehensions. They don't apprehend people themselves. They provide that information to others.
Q: How many people were involved in (inaudible)
A: That's what I'm trying to tell you. At any given time along the border, there might have only been two dozen people actually performing this activity. They'd be part of a larger operation, maybe 200 people assigned to the whole operation; but teams would be moved in and out, they would relieve each other, they would be resupplied, etc., so you'd have a big group of people performing that job, but at any given time, actually on the border, there might be two dozen people.
Typically there would be three missions. Each mission would have perhaps two hiding points or observation points. Each one of those observation points might have three or four people in them at a time. As I said, they go out for a couple of days, three or four days, and then another team would come and replace them. So by the time you get the circulation in and the supply, it adds up to a bigger group.
Q: Were they conducted all along the border?
A: If we only had three missions out at any given time, on average...
Q: Was it in every state?
A: They could be in California, they could be in Texas, they could be in New Mexico, various places along the border. But the actual listening post/ observation post part of the mission, involved a relatively small number of people; really a handful of people at any given time.
Q: Are they being concerned, the Defense Department, that the shooting risk for the security of the civil population was compromised in any way?
Q: And the security of the operations themselves?
A: As I said, we were concerned that the soldiers and Marines performing these missions have adequate legal protection, and that's what we're reviewing. We suspended the operation to provide that review, to give us time to complete that review.
Q: After the investigation is completed for the legal process of this case...
A: I think that remains to be seen, because that depends on what comes out of the ongoing policy review that looks at the support the Pentagon is providing generally to the mission, and specifically what our role should be right along the border.
Q: Is there the will, is there the desire here in the DoD, especially though at the White House, to redeploy military once these matters have been cleared up? Legal matters and whatever else? Or can you say?
A: First, the military is very committed to providing support to the war on drugs. I think we provide between $800 [million] and $1 billion worth of support a year to the war on drugs. We perform mainly reconnaissance, listening, observation activities. We do provide information that is used by law enforcement agents in seizing illegal drugs. We recently provided information that assisted in the seizure of several tons of illegal drugs in the Caribbean, just within the last few days. Along the border itself, we estimate that every dollar of DoD money spent on supporting the border operation yields about $50 in seizures of illegal drugs, so we think we're playing an important role.
We will continue to play a role of some sort. The question is what that role will be. I can't answer your question specifically until the review that's currently underway is completed.
Q: Barry McCaffrey said this was a prudent move, this suspension, then he says, "We absolutely must protect American citizens along the increasingly dangerous southwest border who are threatened by powerful and violent international drug traffickers." Who's going to fill the gap with the military gone? Is there enough law enforcement there to protect American citizens?
A: First of all, you're presupposing that the military will be gone. I want to repeat again, it's under review and we haven't finished that review and reached a final policy decision.
Right now there are a small number of people who would have been patrolling the border, are not patrolling the border. There are still many more people in the Border Patrol patrolling the border. There were always more people in the Border Patrol than there were in the military patrolling the border. That's their job. They continue to perform that job. So the border is not unguarded, it's not unpatrolled; that work continues. Obviously, if the military were to decide and if Congress were to decide that military assets would be more appropriately deployed elsewhere, then the Border Patrol would have to be enhanced in some way to fill that gap. But that decision hasn't been made yet.
Q: What do you mean by adequate legal protection? Are you talking about specific authorization under a certain law? Any guidance from Congress? Or are you talking about whether these people need to be protected from lawsuits? I'm not quite clear what you mean.
A: I'm basically talking about their liability to civil or criminal legal action for performing their jobs under the rules of engagement and the procedures that have been assigned to them by the military, and that has to be sorted out. Clearly right now, that issue is the issue that's in dispute. That's something that domestic law enforcement agencies are looking at and it's something that we want to look at as well.
Q: Are you working with the Justice Department on this, or...
A: We will. We are in very close contact with the Justice Department on that entire issue, for a variety of reasons. One, General McCaffrey is stationed over there at the Justice Department running the counter-drug operation, but we've also been working with their legal eagles on a whole variety of issues associated with this.
Q: Were these two playing any role in immigration, or is it just counter-drug?
A: I believe that their focus is counter-drug. I will get you a clearer answer on that, but their assignment there is to assist with the counter-drug operation.
Q: When do you expect the review to be completed? Can you describe a little bit what is left in terms of U.S. military counter-drug efforts to patrol the border, either by air or... You said this represented only a small part.
A: There are other parts that provide intelligence, surveillance, electronic listening, things like that. That continues. There are some engineering troops along the border providing various types of assistance.
This order focuses just on those people doing listening and observations -- what you would consider to be military-like patrols where people are actually sort of walking point along a certain area, observing what's going on on the other side of the border and in the border corridor.
Q: As for how long you expect the review to last?
A: It's always risky to assign a life to a review.
Q: Who's doing the review?
A: The review's being done by the SOLIC people, and the Joint Staff are involved in it. So it's under Assistant Secretary Allen Holmes. It's basically under the policy shop. I would guess it would be done within the next month or so, maybe sooner.
Q: Does this affect state deployment of National Guard assets in counter-drug interdiction?
A: I can't answer that question. I have not looked into that aspect of it.
Q: Can you take that?
A: I will take that.
Q: The people from Redford, Texas say that they recognize there is a danger of drugs at the border; but there's also danger of drugs in Washington, D.C., and there are no patrols in Washington, D.C. How do you respond to that?
A: I respond to it by saying that I disagree fundamentally with the premise, that there are no patrols in Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C. has an extensive police department, the FBI's headquartered here, all sorts of law enforcement agencies are here.
Q: My mistake. I was referring to the military patrols.
A: First of all, as you know, the military's involvement in law enforcement is strictly limited by the so-called Posse Comitatus Act, a 19th Century law. Congress asked the military to get involved in a very limited way, which is mainly to provide eyes and ears and support, not as a real law enforcement agency that apprehends people. We assist law enforcers. Congress decided that was appropriate. Now we're reviewing it to decide whether it is, but I don't think that there's a legitimate comparison between Washington, D.C. and the border area of the United States. They're entirely different operations.
Q: Secretary Widnall said yesterday that she passed on General Fogleman's request to retire to the Secretary. Has he taken action on it? Does he intend to shortly? There was evidently a change in practice -- Congress no longer has to pass on retirement requests like that.
A: It has not reached the Secretary. As I understand it, it's still in the Air Force. One of the wonderful aspects of our system is there are a number of offices that have to process requests like this. It's still in the Air Force. When it leaves the Air Force it goes to the Joint Staff. After it leaves the Joint Staff it goes to the Office of Assistant Secretary Fred Pang, and he then does whatever paperwork is necessary and passes it on to the Secretary. I can't tell you how long that will take.
Q: Will you let us know when it's been acted on?
Q: Has the Secretary discussed with General Fogleman his...
A: He has not. He has not spoken to General Fogleman, as far as I know.
Q: When do you expect the Secretary to issue his decision on possible discipline of any Air Force officers found...
A: I think it will be relatively soon. I hope this week.
Q: Does he plan to talk to General Fogleman about that before he makes the announcement?
A: He does.
Q: Has anyone set a time for naming a replacement for General Fogleman?
A: Again, sometimes these things take longer than they might, but we hope it will be done relatively soon, possibly this week.
Q: Name a replacement possibly this week ?
Q: Has the Secretary already interviewed people for the position?
A: Yes. He's been interviewing people... He started several days ago. He -- based on General Fogleman's comments, as reported in the press -- thought that he might be in a position to need a new Chief of Staff of the Air Force so he had gone looking into this. And that continues. He has not completed, yet, his interviews.
Q: Was the Secretary already contemplating asking General Fogleman to resign?
A: He was basing his action on what he'd read about General Fogleman's views.
Q: Only from reading newspaper articles he began interviewing a replacement?
A: It's hard to imagine, but people actually take newspaper articles very seriously. [Laughter] What's on TV as well. We take TV very seriously.
Q: I have to suspect that if other Air Force officers were interviewed for the job that word got back to General Fogleman. Was it the Secretary's intention to show him the door?
A: That was not his intention in interviewing other people. He felt that it was necessary, if there were to be a resignation, to be able to move quickly to fill the gap.
Q: Have the two men ever spoken at all about General Fogleman leaving early?
A: They have had a conversation about news reports that General Fogleman was thinking of leaving early.
Q: Can you enlighten us on that conversation?
A: No. I think if General Fogleman wants to talk about it, he can. But it was a very casual conversation. It happened several weeks ago.
Q: You said based on these reports that General Fogleman's views... You're referring to the fact that the General has made it known that he would resign if he were overruled on disciplinary action in the case of the Khobar Towers. Is that what you're referring to?
A: I'm talking about news reports that made that statement.
Q: I'm trying to get at what views was the Secretary looking into when he began looking for a replacement?
A: He was responding to news reports that alerted him to the possibility that General Fogleman might be thinking of resigning.
Q: Over what? What reason?
A: The news reports said that he might resign over the Khobar Towers report.
Q: And they did discuss together news reports that indicated Fogleman might resign over Khobar Towers. They discussed the news reports but not the substance of the reports?
A: The Secretary noted that he'd seen the news reports.
Q: Did he ask General Fogleman if they were accurate?
A: They discussed them. It was a private discussion.
Q: Should we interpret this to be Secretary Cohen's senior personnel policy? Is this a one-time only, or is Secretary Cohen's policy that he will start interviewing candidates before people resign or ask for early retirement? How far should we take this as a policy?
A: Not very far. [Laughter]
Q: You see this as pretty much a singular kind of event?
A: This was a unique event.
Q: So he's not interviewing anybody else for any other jobs right now?
A: Well, he is because he still has other jobs to fill. There are a series of jobs he has to fill.
Q: I ask you seriously...
A: Actually, that's a very good question because he has been, as you know, filling not only CINC jobs, but he's had to fill the job of the Chairmanship and the Vice Chairmanship, so he has been talking to senior military officers in all the services over the last several months. This is part of a continuing process. It's not something that starts and stops. Those discussions will continue.
Q: No other jobs where he contemplates people...
Q: Can you describe Secretary Cohen's personal feelings about General Fogleman? His statement yesterday, while complimentary, was extremely reserved, it seemed to me, and terse, short. Do these guys respect each other? Are they friends?
A: I think that the Secretary's statement was completely explicit. He applauded General Fogleman for his courage, his vision and his dedication. He noted the contribution that he's made to the Air Force and to the nation. He's been in the Air Force for 34 years. He was a skilled combat pilot in Vietnam. He has done a very good job at all levels of command throughout his career. He's had a good impact on the Air Force. He has provided assertive and visionary leadership, and the Secretary noted all of that.
It was General Fogleman's decision to resign, and the Secretary said that he respected that decision.
Q: Was the Secretary unhappy about the report that General Fogleman was going to resign? Did he express unhappiness to the General about those reports?
A: I'm not aware that he did. He asked him the question. He said I see on CNN this report, what does it mean?
Q: I hate to bring it up again, but going back to what you said before about the Secretary reading news reports and then as a result beginning to interview. It doesn't seem very encouraging about some of the relationships between top Pentagon officials. Are we... Should we be concerned that there's maybe a leadership disconnect in the Pentagon?
A: I don't think so at all. I don't think there's any reason for concern.
Q: On the Khobar report, has the Secretary communicated the results of that report to the Chairman or other members of the Joint Chiefs?
A: The Secretary is still working on the report.
Q: Considering we've discussed this anticipated difference of opinion, isn't he kind of telegraphing that he's going to overrule the Air Force on this?
A: The Secretary has not discussed his decision with General Fogleman or with the Air Force.
Q: How about with the Chiefs?
A: He's still working on the report.
Q: What's the time phase here between naming your replacement and the Khobar report? Which will come first?
A: It's hard to know. [Laughter] My best guess is that it will be a race to see which one comes first.
The problem with projecting a personnel action is that there are a lot of people who have to sign off on it. All the Secretary does is make a recommendation to the President for something like this. But I think it will come relatively soon. That's my anticipation.
Q: General Fogleman's statement expressed a concern, to quote him, that "I may be out of step". Does the Secretary consider that General Fogleman is out of step? And if so, in what way?
A: The Secretary didn't say that, General Fogleman said it, and I don't think it would be appropriate for me to comment on that.
Q: The General is not available to the press for an interview or for a press conference or anything. Is that coming from the General?
A: Yes, it is. I think General Fogleman issued a very full statement yesterday, and I commend that statement to you. He, in that statement, mentions Khobar Towers, mentions a number of issues, and I think it was a clear statement of his view.
Q: On the Khobar decision, can you tell us, does the Secretary intend to come down and discuss that with us, or will he release the paperwork on it? How is he viewing putting out his decision on this?
Q: How are we going to learn about it? I'm saying, is he going to come personally...
A: My expectation is that he will come down and announce his conclusions and the reason for those conclusions and take some questions.
Q: A related area. We reported about an Air Force memorandum that said there were major problems, a draft memorandum which discussed low morale, equipment problems, maintenance problems, within the Air Force. Did that have anything to do with General Fogleman's decision to retire, or are you concerned about these apparent problem?
A: We're always concerned about reports of low morale, reports of equipment problems. But I'm not aware that that was a factor in his decision.
General Fogleman has served as Chief of Staff of the Air Force with great energy and with great vision. He came with strong views of what the leadership of the Air Force should do, and I think he did that. I think there's widespread agreement that he led the Air Force with conviction and clarity and energy. He has decided that he wants to retire, and that's a decision he made, and we respect that decision. But he did not describe everything that was behind his thinking about his retirement. It may have just been that he decided it was time to do something else.
Q: In interviewing people for this vacancy, is Secretary Cohen talking to them about the findings of the Khobar report that he expects to issue and seeking any kind of agreement, a pledge that they won't disagree with him publicly if they have a disagreement?
A: I have not been in on these meetings so I can't report from any personal knowledge of what's going on, so I'd rather not comment on the meetings at all. But just let me say generally that a disagreement is not something of which Secretary Cohen is afraid. He carries on an active dialogue with people all the time on his staff, in Congress, in the Administration about a variety of issues. He comes from a legislative background where people spent their time in discussion, debate and dialogue over very serious issues. He understands the power of the process of working through issues by discussing them. I don't think the issue here is disagreement.
What happened is that General Fogleman, for reasons that he discussed somewhat in his statement yesterday, decided to retire. This is not a question of Secretary Cohen not wanting or not being able to deal with disagreement. He deals every day with very complex issues about which reasonable people can differ. He understands that every day he and the military have to deal with one overriding problem which is that there is always a long list of things people would like to do, would like to buy, training exercises they would like to finance, at a time of limited budgets, when there is not an infinite amount of money to spend on these things. Choices have to be made all the time. There are always differences over what the choices should be. But in a process such as we have set up, these choices can be made. They involve certain amounts of disagreement and then an acceptance of what the decision is in moving forward.
So this is not a question of not being able to accept disagreement.
Q: Just to clarify, to follow up on that. However, is it the Secretary's view that, in fact, once he does make a decision and he makes it public, that he expects, down the road, full support from the Chiefs and not public disagreement after he makes a decision?
A: He sees himself as the leader of a team, yes.
Q: So he expects public support from the Chiefs after his decisions are made public?
A: There is an expectation that the most effective way to move forward is to move forward as a team. But what we're talking about here is a situation where General Fogleman decided to retire. And again, I point you back to his statement which is very explicit about this. He said he wanted to defuse the perceived confrontation "between myself and Secretary Cohen over the Khobar Towers terrorist bombing last year". He also said that he did not want his institution to suffer. "I'm afraid that it will if I am seen as a divisive force and not as a team player."
I think he's very aware of the importance of team play here, and I think that elements of this statement are very gracious. So I commend you to reading the statement, because I think it's pretty clear.
Q: What is the normal process here? Does Dr. Widnall assemble a list of candidates and forward it to Secretary Cohen, or does he just take it upon himself to look at the four stars and maybe three stars in the Air Force and pick out a list for himself?
A: He consults with his advisors -- the Secretary of the Air Force, the Chairman, the Vice Chairman...
Q: He doesn't formally get a list from Dr. Widnall? She's not like a nominating authority in any way?
A: I will have to check on what happened in this case. I will get the details for you.
Q: Can you say whether in that very brief and casual conversation they had, that General Fogleman did, indeed, confirm that the report was accurate and that perhaps the Secretary ought to take a look at finding a replacement for him? It's not that there was any major disagreement here...
A: No, I...
Q: ...agreed this was a development that was going to come to pass.
Q: How many people has he interviewed so far, and where did he get those names, if not from Secretary Widnall?
A: I don't know how many people he's interviewed and, as I say, he's been talking with his advisors, and there are ways... You don't have to get names on paper. You can talk to people on the phone, you can talk to them in your office, and you can talk to several people in a very short amount of time and get names. But as I also want to point out, he has, he's been Secretary of Defense for six months and he, like every Secretary of Defense, like every Cabinet official, has to spend a lot of time picking the best people for the jobs. He has spent a lot of time meeting with senior military officials because of the jobs he's had to fill -- the Commander in Chief of the European Command, of the Southern Command. He had to look for a Chairman, a Vice Chairman. So he's gone to CINCs' conferences, he's traveled around and visited a number of CINCs on their home turfs, at their headquarters, he's been to Special Operations Command, Central Command. He's been out to the Pacific Command, he's been to the European Command, he's been to Korea. So he has had a chance to not only meet these people in meetings, not only meet them in his office, but also to meet them in their operational capacities.
Q: Has he settled on a choice?
A: No. To the best of my knowledge he has not, because the process is continuing.
Q: Has he offered the job to anybody?
A: Wait a minute. What's the logic here? [Laughter]
Q: Whether he's offered the job to anybody.
A: Well, if he hadn't made a choice, I don't know why he would offer the job to somebody. It's not my impression that he has yet.
Q: Do you know for how long he has been calling people or contacting them prospectively...
A: I don't know the precise date.
Q: Days, weeks, months?
A: Days. But I don't know the precise time.
Q: A quick one on what you were just saying, are we to conclude that he's only considering CINCs for these jobs?
A: I wouldn't conclude that.
Q: Dr. Hamre...
A: He's a wonderful man. He was just sworn in... I should have begun my briefing with this because it probably would have taken an entirely different direction. He was just sworn in as Deputy Secretary, and that's one of the reasons I wasn't here at precisely 1:30. He gave a very, very gracious speech. He's firmly on the job in a repainted office, doing his work.
Q: Can we get copies of his remarks?
A: We did record them, so I think we probably can get copies. I'll look into that.
Q: Has the Secretary officially appointed somebody to act in his place as comptroller?
A: I'm not aware that he has yet. He is working very hard on finding a permanent replacement to Dr. Hamre to serve as comptroller, and that process is actually fairly far along.
Q: Before you leave Khobar entirely...
A: I thought I had. [Laughter]
Q: Can you give us any kind of an update on the status of efforts to find the culprit? To determine...
A: The efforts are vigorous, but they're being handled by the FBI, and I really can't comment on what they're doing across the river at the FBI.
Q: Do you have any response to the landmine report issued by Human Rights Watch?
A: Yes. I have not read the landmine report, but I did read the account of it in the clips this morning. I was a little, I guess, startled that the account of the report didn't mention that we have moved away from the types of landmines that stay in the ground and remain threatening for weeks, months, or years afterwards. We've moved entirely to self-destructing landmines with the exception of the landmines we've deployed around the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea where landmines have been established for a long time.
We understand that landmines are a problem. The administration has committed itself to the eventual elimination of anti-personnel landmines, and the military has moved entirely to deployments of self-destructing anti-personnel landmines with the exception of Korea, as I mentioned.
Q: Do you agree with the premise of the article that says, basically it destroys the foundation of your argument, in that more Americans are killed by American-built landmines than are...
A: The report was historical. It went back and it looked at events that happened 30 years ago, 25-30 years ago. We have moved away from deploying that type of landmine. I think the report actually supports the foundation of our policy, and the foundation is one, we are moving toward the eventual elimination of anti-personnel landmines. In the meantime, we have moved to self-destructing landmines, and those are landmines that can be deployed to protect our forces, to provide important perimeter defenses, and then they can be set to either blow up or deactivate themselves at a certain period of time when they're no longer necessary for perimeter defense.
So I think it actually supports what the goal of our policy is, which is to reduce the threat of anti-personnel landmines to forces that we're not arrayed against.
Q: Congress this week is wrapping up the defense bills before they recess. Is the Secretary doing anything specific this week to try and defuse some of these controversial issues that White House officials are saying would cause the President to veto at least the authorization bill?
A: He met yesterday with Congressman Murtha. He meets with congressmen quite regularly, talks with them on the phone quite regularly, and he's doing everything he can to try to get a bill that we can support.
Q: There's a report in the South African press that some South African defense officials were going to meet with some Pentagon officials for discussions, possibly this week, and that somehow the South African Defense Minister was opposing those because of U.S. policy towards Cuba. Do you know anything about that?
A: The South African Defense Minister was here yesterday, had a very good meeting with Secretary Cohen. There will be another meeting this afternoon. I was not in the meeting yesterday because I was doing something else. All reports are that the meeting went very well.
Q: Did the issue of U.S. policy towards Cuba come up?
A: I'm not aware that it did. I'm not aware that there were any discordant notes in the meeting, but I will check specifically to see if that topic came up.
I might point out that, as you know, Vice President Gore and Deputy Prime Minister Ambeki from South Africa run something called the Binational Commission which has been set up to deal with a number of bilateral problems or issues between the U.S. and South Africa. These are issues that -- agriculture, science and technology, energy, are among the issues they're dealing with. One of the things they're looking at is whether one of the committees of this Binational Commission should be a defense committee, and if we can devise a sort of cooperative defense relationship that could come under the umbrella of the Binational Commission. That's what they've been discussing over the last couple of days.
Q: Are there any current agreements between Defense and the South African Defense Ministry regarding arms issues?
A: I'm not aware that there are, but I will check into that.
Q: The army is delaying its report on sexual harassment and the IG report, even though they're completed. Has the Secretary been briefed on them at all? And does this delay concern him?
A: The Secretary has not been briefed yet. He was to be briefed today, but the briefing did not occur. He will be briefed relatively soon, I suspect, on this, but he has not been briefed. One of the reasons that the Army delayed the report was that it wants to devote more time to how to implement the recommendations of the report. I suspect that the Army may wait and brief Secretary Cohen, they'll wait until they've completed their work on the recommendations. In other words, the cures to the problems that might be highlighted by the reports.
Q: Sort of a related issue, Congresswoman Susan Maloney met with Brenda Hoster today and later said she plans to introduce legislation to force funding for a bill that was passed in 1988 under which the Pentagon was supposed to collect data on sexual abuse and misconduct in the military. Can you say why that law hasn't been followed so far, for almost ten years?
A: First of all, I thought that was a law that applied not just to the Department of Defense but to states and localities as well. I believe we are working on the collection of data and that it basically involves the creation of a reporting system. This came up a couple of years ago, as I recall, and you are right, the work is not complete and it continues. I'll try to get a more detailed account of where we stand. We're working toward that completion.
Q: Did DoD officials meet with Li Gun, the North Korean UN Rep when he was in Washington this past weekend? If so, what can you tell us?
A: I don't know the answer to that question. My suspicion is we did not, but I will find out.
Q: Has the PLA finished their naval exercises, and with what effect?
A: I'll get you an answer to that.