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DoD News Briefing, Tuesday, May 5, 1998

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
May 05, 1998 1:30 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

I have no statement. I have nothing to read. And you'll find out if I have anything to say by asking me questions. [Laughter] Charlie, good afternoon. It's rare that I beat you here, but today I did.

Q: Is it true that the White House volunteered to talk to Lockheed as they said in the statement yesterday on the Peters...

A: First of all, the Secretary has signed today a memorandum in which he accepts Mr. Peters' proposal to recuse himself from being involved in any contracting issues involving the Sacramento Air Logistics Center. That means that the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition and Management, Darlene Druyun, will fill the role of being the Chief Acquisitions Officer.

In addition, the Secretary plans to appoint the... Actually it will be the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology, and the Deputy Secretary will appoint independent advisors to monitor and assist in source selection to make sure that it's done in a manner that is consistent with the request for proposals. You can get a copy of this memorandum if you'd like, after the briefing.

I think there are two important points to make about the situation and that is that nothing in the memo represented a change of policy. The policy of this Administration and of this building is competition between public and private bidders for work, and the memo was designed to produce that type of competition.

Second, to the best of my knowledge, no one spoke to Lockheed about whether it was going to become a bidder for work at the Sacramento Air Logistics Center.

Q: Is the Secretary aware of the Army problem with this new truck?

A: The Secretary read your story in the Early Bird yesterday and is aware of it. I'm not sure that he was aware of it previously, but he's aware of it now.

Q: The question is whether they're going to go ahead and buy 9,000 more of these trucks before this problem is sorted out.

A: That's primarily a decision for the Army to make because the Army is the contracting authority here. Secretary Cohen does not survey this contract. This is a contract that's handled at the Army level. But my understanding...

Q: If you believe the Army, it was under Gansler's acquisition authority for this contract. This is a major, $15 billion contract.

A: I do believe the Army, and what the Army told me was that the chief contracting authority is an Army officer here. But I think the point to focus on is what's being done about the problem. And my understanding is that since the Army discovered the problem late last year they have done some surveys. They have placed operating restrictions on approximately 4200 trucks as they checked them out to find out if they share a common problem which they believe is a drive train problem.

They, so far, have found about 100 trucks that have this problem. My understanding is that the contractor has devised a method for fixing, identifying and fixing the problem, and the contractor will do that at its own expense. So that is now underway.

I cannot answer the question about what's going to happen with the rest of the contract. I think that's something that the Army and the contractor will have to work out. Clearly the Army doesn't want to buy more trucks that are subject to the same drive train problems that seem to affect some of the trucks in the initial amount they've purchased.

Q: Some of these trucks have kicked over without the drive shaft problem. Some officers are concerned it may have too high a center of gravity. How many... I had trouble finding out one, how many rollovers have occurred with this new truck since it was fielded; and two, how many troops have been injured by it?

A: That's something you would be better off querying the Army about. My understanding is that they have found three rollovers that they attribute to drive shaft problems, and there were no fatalities in those rollovers. In fact, I think all drivers were uninjured in the rollovers in those three cases. But the Army would have better figures. I saw you used a figure of 12 in your story, so I assumed that that was a figure that came from some reliable database.

Q: But there was no central source accumulating how many rollovers this truck has been involved in, just from the sheer height of the truck, unrelated to the drive shaft.

A: It's my understanding that the Army is the best source of information on this, and I'm sure they'll be glad to give you this information.

Q: Can you tell me why you're seeking a waiver to delay the moratorium on antipersonnel mines? Go a little bit beyond the text of the letter...

A: The issue is a moratorium on the use of antipersonnel landmines that is supposed to take place on February 12, 1999 and last for one year. This was included in a piece of legislation that was passed several years ago. The Administration is asking Congress to be relieved of this moratorium, and what the Administration has said -- and the military feels very strongly that this is the case

  • that this moratorium will damage the ability of the military to carry out operations and to protect troops.

As you know, last year when the President decided not to sign the Ottawa Agreement, he based this decision on the need to protect the safety of American troops. It was really a force protection decision. And, also, to allow our troops to carry out their military operations in the most efficient way. We now use self-destructing antipersonnel landmines that do not pose a lingering threat years after the battle is over. These mines explode in a matter of hours or days after the battle is over so they don't remain hidden in the ground.

At the time the President announced his decision last year, he said that we needed an adequate transition period to seek out alternatives to antipersonnel landmines. He promised that we would stop using antipersonnel landmines by 2003 in everywhere but Korea, and in 2006 in Korea. Obviously, a moratorium that takes place for one year beginning on February 12, 1999 runs contrary to the idea of giving the military time to transition away from antipersonnel landmines to some alternative.

It's the military's feeling, and they expressed this in the letter that you referred to -- the letter from Secretary Cohen and General Shelton to the Senate Armed Services Committee -- that the moratorium would dramatically limit our ability to fight and win battles in places such as Korea.

As you know, there is an exception in this moratorium for international borders and in clearly identified demilitarized zones such as the DMZ between North and South Korea. But that DMZ is only four kilometers wide. This policy, if it were to take effect on February 12th, would make it impossible for the American military to use antipersonnel landmines between the DMZ and Seoul, for instance, if Seoul were under attack.

Now there's an alternative to antipersonnel landmines, and that is to use greater forces, to deploy more forces very quickly in the early stages of battle. If we were to do that in Korea, we would have to deploy 17,000 additional troops, 350 additional tanks, 410 additional Bradley Fighting Vehicles, 24 additional helicopters, and 144 other aircraft. So it would mean a very substantial increase in our forces in a very short period of time because we assume that in Korea our warning would be very, very short.

When you look at specific examples like that, and the military has analyzed many of them, it's concluded that at a time when our forces are being drawn down -- our forces are now 36 percent smaller than they were at the end of the Cold War; at a time when our forces are operating in a more expeditionary manner, deploying from the United States to places like the Gulf or Bosnia and continuing our deployments to Korea, that it is an unacceptable risk to endure this moratorium next year. So they're asking Congress not to require them to move forward with the moratorium.

Q: Talking about a transition period and looking for alternatives, can you say what sort of movement you're making in the search for alternatives?

A: There's a program underway, but it's based on the President's determination that we have until 2003 to eliminate APLs everywhere but Korea; and 2006 in Korea. So it's a program that is a five to eight year program. But some of the things we're looking at are barrier devices of certain sorts; we're looking at certain monitoring arrangements that might substitute along with artillery or other means for antipersonnel landmines. But we do not have a firm substitute at this stage, and our program is based on the idea that we have several years to develop one.

Q: Does that include the Claymore? Is that part of the...

A: I don't know specifically which mines...

Q: On the surface it seems increasingly as an assault, but it's designated as a mine.

A: The main concern here is that if there were an attack in a place like Korea, or if Iraq were again to attack Kuwait or Saudi Arabia or one of its neighbors and we went in to defend, that the type of mines that we have to deploy with artillery or through aircraft to channel the battle, particularly in the early stages of battle, or to protect our own troops, that would be forbidden to us. And at a time when our forces are getting smaller, the Joint Chiefs have decided that this is just an unacceptable risk.

So we are talking to Congress, writing to members of Congress and appealing to them in other ways to give us relief from this moratorium.

Q: If Congress doesn't go along are you saying then that that list of people and material that you just read off is then going to be shipped to Korea?

A: No, I didn't say that. What I'm saying is to illustrate what would be required to replace the use of antipersonnel landmines in our war plans. It's that level of commitment of additional people and equipment. But I'm not prepared to say right now that we would immediately have to increase our troop levels in Korea by 50 percent. That 17,000 would be approximately a 50 percent increase in our troop level there.

Q: [Inaudible]

A: Well, I think it's something the military would have to consider. It would have to relook at a number of its battle plans to make sure that they one, protected our troops as much as possible; and two, were as efficient as they are now.

Q: There are reports in London today that the Pentagon was caught trying to hack into computer files of a British-based dolphin conservation charity. Can you comment on those reports and what branch of the U.S. military is involved and why they might be doing that?

A: It's the first I've heard that we're trying to use our computers to tap the brains of dolphins, but I will look into it.

Q: I understand this is a charity doing research into military use of dolphins and they claim that...

A: This is the first I've heard of it, sir. I'll just have to find out what I can and get back to you. If you talk to Colonel Bridges here at the end of the briefing, we'll get back to you.

Q: Following this briefing we're scheduled to get a briefing from some senior defense officials on the subject of readiness. Can you just tell us, just generally, are we going to hear that readiness is better than we think, or worse than we think?

A: I think I should leave them to describe what you're going to hear, but in very brief terms you'll hear that Secretary Cohen and General Shelton and the Joint Chiefs are concerned about readiness. They believe that the first to fight forces are highly ready and prepared to go when and where they have to go. And that maintaining readiness throughout the force is a challenge, but it's a challenge that is being addressed aggressively by the services today. The key to being able to maintain readiness is congressional action on several pieces of legislation -- reprogramming for money in the final quarter of 1998, fiscal 1998, as well as work on the 1999 defense budget and the supplemental for Bosnia in 1999.

Q: Are these briefings a not so subtle attempt to influence Congress or to make the case to Congress on...

A: These briefings are a bold attempt to educate the press about readiness.

Q: I think the Secretary said maybe last time we saw him or whatever, that the 1st of May was the date at which things would start cutting, shortfalls would start actually cutting into operations and training. Has there been any...

A: That was based on a failure to pass the supplemental for fiscal 1998, and Congress did pass that, for which we're very grateful. So those plans have been set aside because the supplemental was passed.

There are basically four things that have to happen to maintain fiscal readiness and military readiness, and one was passage of the supplemental.

Q: Why is this briefing on background coming up on readiness? What's so secretive about readiness that they can't discuss it openly?

A: There's nothing secretive about readiness. That's why we're giving you a briefing.

Q: Then why not on the record? Why on background?

A: I read in newspaper and wire service stories all the time anonymous people talking, so we thought we would help you. [Laughter]

Q: Why not on the record?

A: This is more of an education than anything else, and it just seemed to us that the easiest way to do it was on background.

Q: Is this about new metrics to measure readiness that you're thinking about adopting?

A: No. We have adopted some metrics in the past and that may be discussed. One of the issues with readiness has been to make sure that we have an accurate way of assessing readiness and making sure that what we hear anecdotally is reported to us from the field in actuality.

Q: Back to my original question on the memo, why is it necessary for Mr. Peters to recuse himself?

A: I'm not sure that in an absolute sense it's necessary because he's as committed to competition -- to free and open competition between public and private bidders -- as everybody else. But certainly, from a political standpoint, I think, Mr. Peters felt it made some sense for him to do this, to remove himself as a target of criticism here. And also to remove any question about the bidding process.

Q: Has the Secretary heard complaints that the gentleman ought to basically be fired from Capitol Hill? Has he received phone calls...

A: I think he's read the same AP story you've read.

Q: And his reaction?

A: Well, his reaction is that Mr. Peters has suggested a fine way to deal with this issue, and that's recusal.

Q: ...Mr. Peters did anything wrong?

A: I think that what we want to focus on now is resolving this problem and going ahead. Obviously, this has been awkward for everybody involved. What he's certain about is, that this Administration, this building under his direction, is committed to free and open competition for work at the depots.

Q: Can you comment on sort of the larger charge that's been leveled by members of Congress that the Administration is playing politics with the base closing process and therefore undermining the supposedly independent nature of this process and poisoning the well for future base closings?

A: What's at issue here is maintaining the Administration's policy and the policy of Congress for full and open competition for work at the depots. I think that the action today makes it very clear that we're determined to do that. One of the things the Secretary is going to do is have the Deputy Secretary and the Under Secretary for Acquisition and Technology set up an independent review authority to look at the bidding process.

Q: The Pentagon's policy has been privatization. [There] hasn't been privatization in place now for some time. That memo talks very specifically not just about setting up a competition, but encouraging Lockheed to keep the business in Sacramento. It talks about this other option that Lockheed might have in South Carolina and goes on at length about what would be necessary to get Lockheed not only to bid, but to, if it was, do the work on the KC-135 in Sacramento.

A: The fact of the matter is that a process is going to be set up to make sure that this bidding is handled in the fairest possible way and that the contract is let in a squeaky clean way. And I'm confident that will happen.

Q: What does that say about good faith when the Pentagon has to set up a process to stop White House meddling in the whole issue?

A: It says that, first of all I don't accept the premise of that question. I think it's a mischievous premise, and wrong. Beyond that, I think what it says is that we're determined to make sure that this process is totally transparent and that people have faith in it.

Q: Could you detail what the independent review authority is going to be again?

A: Well, it hasn't... It will be some, like somebody who might have run the GAO at one time. It will be some person who's skilled in government contracting procedures and accounting techniques, etc. And it may be more than one person. But that person will just, will be independent of the Department and will review the source selection process to make sure that it's conducted appropriately. And the reason we're doing this is to eliminate some of the fears that have arisen that this process won't be handled fairly.

Q: The new Defense Minister of India, George Fernandez, has declared publicly that China is India's potential threat number one, and further said India should awaken to the fact that Chinese military activities and alliances, notably those involving Pakistan, Burma, and Tibet, have begun to encircle India. He also cited the fact that there were new airfields being built in Tibet by the Chinese, that they have stored nuclear weapons there, and there's a listening post on an island apparently out in the Indian Ocean. I think that's called the Cocos Islands. What is the view of the Department of Defense of Mr. Fernandez' particular warning about the Chinese? And is he accurate in what he's citing?

A: I don't want to get into commenting on India's views of its defensive challenges. I will say that this Administration has made it very clear that an arms race on the Indian subcontinent is destabilizing in that area and could have much broader dangers. We urge all countries in that very heavily populated area to avoid arms races. That's been our policy and it remains our policy.

Q: Is there an arms race in progress on the part of the Chinese?

A: As I said, I'm not going to comment on India's views of the threats it may face.

Q: Can you tell us anything about where the Pentagon IG's investigation is involving General Hale?

A: I can tell you that it is in progress.

Q: Is it anywhere near being completed as some reports have said?

A: I suppose it depends on your view of complete. But I would say that it's at least several weeks away from being completed. At least.

Q: Has the Secretary made a recommendation yet on the troops in the Gulf?

A: Any recommendation he's made would be made to the President and would be private.

Q: So has there been a decision yet?

A: The Administration is in the process of discussing that issue, but there's been no decision made yet.

Q: Has a recommendation gone to the White House?

A: We're in the process of discussing that issue and no decision has been made by the Administration.

Q: And on the Tomb, has he made a decision on that?

A: He's not. He has the report. He hasn't read it yet, hasn't been briefed on it. But that will come relatively soon.

Q: Cuba?

A: The Cuba report will be out this week.

Q: What day?

A: Not today.

Q: Just to clarify on the IG investigation and the situation with General Hale, do I understand it correctly, that that investigation will look at whether or not the Army made the correct decision in allowing him to retire while the investigation, while he was being investigated? Is that one of the things that will be looked at in that investigation?

A: The subject of the investigation is General Hale. It's not the Army. I don't want to go further than that. I think I'd just like to wait for the report to come out. I have not followed the details of that investigation or the report, which isn't finished yet, very closely.

Q: Didn't the Secretary say that the General Counsel was going to look into that...

A: The General Counsel is going to look at that as well.

Q: They have not completed their look at that?

A: I think they'll wait for the IG to complete its work.

Q: Is the Pentagon consultations on the Tomb issue bound in the existence to idea either from organized groups or families?

A: My impression, and I haven't sat in all the consultations, but my impression from talking to people who have met with veterans service organizations, with members of Congress and their staffs, and with the families, is that most people appreciate the balance that the Pentagon is trying to strike here between protecting the sanctity of the Tomb of the Unknowns on the one hand and full accounting for those killed in action on the other hand. And I think everybody appreciates that DNA testing gives us a tool today that we haven't had in the past and certainly didn't have in 1972 when Lieutenant Blassie's plane was shot down and others were shot down over, near An Lac. And we didn't have in 1984 either, when these particular remains were put in the Tomb of the Unknowns.

It's not my impression that there's been a lot of opposition to the idea that has been recommended by the staff, which is that the remains be taken out and examined with new DNA testing techniques.

Q: Have you had any objections from the families...

A: I haven't spoken to every member of the families. I've read probably the same accounts that you have. I think there are different degrees of commitment to this process, but I don't think anybody is steadfastly against it. And we take very seriously the views of the families and we have been talking to the families. But my sense is that they understand what we're doing.

Q: Have you had a chance to look at the GAO's report of April 30th, I guess, on the year 2000 problem in the military?

A: Not in any detail. We believe that we're -- I think the GAO report reflects some old information. We think we're moving forward on schedule, and I'd be glad to have somebody come down and give you a briefing on the year 2000 issue and what we're doing to deal with it.

Q: I guess the Italian Prime Minister's visiting tomorrow, and I'm just wondering if the damage that was done to U.S./Italian relations by the accident, the Marine jet accident, is it your estimation that the damage has been repaired, or how would you characterize the state of whether that...

A: It clearly was a terrible tragedy. We've apologized to the Italian government. We've apologized to the families of the deceased. We have made some payments to the families of the deceased to cover burial and other costs.

I think the Italians are impressed by the seriousness with which we've taken this accident, the thoroughness of the investigation that took place in Italy, and now the thoroughness of the legal proceeding that's taking place here concerning the crew of the plane.

Q: You mentioned the recent advances in DNA testing that were not available when the Vietnam remains were interred. Is it outside the realm of possibility that perhaps the World War II or Korea remains could be identified through these new DNA techniques?

A: That's a good question which I can't answer, and one of the things we plan to do is get somebody down here from the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory to talk about the procedures if the Secretary makes the decision to exhume. At that time I think you could ask him or her that question.

Q: Are you aware of any increased smuggling by Iraq, of oil out of Iraq, for sale in violation of UN sanctions?

A: I guess the answer to that question is increased compared to what?

Q: In recent weeks or months.

A: That's exactly the right frame of reference in weeks or months. Starting in early January, there was a dramatic decline in the amount of oil smuggled out of Iraq. It fell by approximately 90 percent or so from the level at the beginning of January to say late January, early February, there was a 90 percent reduction. That low level of smuggling continued through March and April, until about the last week of April when the smuggling began to increase. It has gone up somewhat, but it's still probably less than a third of what it was at its peak in late December or early January.

So the question is why is this happening? One, why was there such a rapid decline in the amount of oil being smuggled out? And two, why is it now going up?

There are a couple of reasons. One reason why it declined is that we have become more aggressive in enforcing the embargo. Our maritime interdiction force has become more aggressive in its activities. There are two or three destroyers devoted to this on an average day. But I think the main reason is that Iran became less receptive to the smugglers. The smugglers have been sort of skirting the shore of Iran, working sometimes hand in glove with Iranian naval units, and that stopped in early to mid January. Iran became hostile to the smugglers.

In the last couple of weeks we've seen an increase in the smuggling volumes. They're still far below the peak, but they have gone up two or three times from the low points in March and April. It appears to be happening because Iran may be less vigilant in controlling the smugglers now than it was say in March or early April. We don't have a good explanation for why that's the case.

Q: A quick Linda Tripp update. Has she produced any work product lately? And what is the status of that investigation into the release of her Privacy Act material?

A: The investigation continues. She is spending a lot of her time dealing with the Independent Counsel but she has been doing some work on her project. I don't believe she's submitted anything concrete, but she is in touch through e-mail with her supervisor.

Q: For the second day, fighting is raging in Kosovo and the Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milov has warned that full scale war could erupt in Kosovo, and the Albanians are closing the border as best they can. Do you have any comments on these reports?

A: Well, the Contact Group is working very hard to apply diplomatic pressure against primarily the Serbian side to show restraint, but we've also made it very clear to the Kosovar side as well that they should show restraint. We think that diplomacy is the way to avoid dangerous fighting here, and that's what we're working for.

Thank you.