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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
October 09, 1997 1:30 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

First I'd like to welcome a group of students from West Virginia University School of Journalism. They're in Washington to learn how the city works, and of course you're an important part of the city so that's why they're here.

I've got a couple of other announcements to make. Let me bring you up to date first on MIRACL.

As you know, two opportunities to test that laser were missed last week. The Secretary has asked the Army to continue to look for opportunities to test that laser before the target satellite goes into eclipse later this month. So there should be several other opportunities and they will try to perform that test before it goes into eclipse on the 23rd of October.

Q: In layperson terms, what does it mean to go into eclipse?

A: Basically, I can only give you a layperson's answer because I'm not an expert on satellites. But the satellite is in an elliptical polar orbit. It goes over the poles. As the earth tilts, as we get toward the shortest day of the year -- December 21st or 22nd -- it spends less and less time in sunlight. It requires sunlight to recharge its batteries with solar panels on the satellite.

The Air Force says that the batteries are losing power and before the batteries lose power entirely, the Air Force has to put the satellite into sort of its final orbit -- the orbit from which it will ultimately come into the atmosphere and disintegrate. It has to be located in the right place to do that. They need enough battery power to be able to do it. So they need to make these adjustments before it gets too dark, before it spends too much time in darkness. That's what limits the amount of time available to perform these tests.

There are a lot of other complexities about the angle at which it appears in the sky and the time of night, because these tests are done at night, etc. But in the short term, there's a race between the battery life and the angle of the earth.

Q: When's the last possible date?

A: The 23rd is when the Air Force believes this satellite will go into eclipse, so it has to be done sometime before October 23rd.

Q: Have you got any guesses on the next 14 days when...

A: Given the record so far, I think it's better for everybody to stay away from guessing on dates. I certainly am going to strive to stay away from guessing on dates.

Can I just finish with the second announcement, and then we can move on to MIRACL or anything else.

The second announcement concerns our force in Macedonia which is the United Nations preventive deployment force called UNPREDEP which has been in Macedonia for some time. We are going to reduce the size of the U.S. component of that force by 150 personnel. That will be done over a two-month period beginning about now.

The reason this is happening is that the U.N. Security Council has reduced the size of the overall U.N. force in Macedonia to 750 from 1,050 people. So our component, which has been about half of the force, will also be reduced accordingly.

These soldiers are primarily from the 1st Battalion of the 6th Infantry Regiment in Baumholder, Germany. There are also, however, some National Guard troops assigned to that mission in Macedonia.

Q: So we're going from 500 down to...

A: You've got it. Five hundred to 350.

Q: What other nationality of the U.N. component...

A: It varies, but I think they're generally from the Nordic countries. I can check on that, but in general they've come from the Nordic countries. We will confirm that.

Q: Is that considered less or has something changed all around that has caused the U.N. to reduce it's...

A: This mission was initially set up during the war in Bosnia. It was part of the strategy to contain the war from spilling over into neighboring countries. Obviously the Dayton Peace Accord and the compliance with that Accord has helped to contain the problems in Bosnia and prevent them from metastasizing elsewhere. The U.N. feels that, in light of that, it can get by with a smaller force in Macedonia.

This force is reviewed every six months.

Q: Why keep it at all?

A: That's a question the U.N. will ask. I don't know when the next review period is.

The U.S. feels that this force has been a valuable contribution to stability in the area, and that it still has a contribution to make, but it's ultimately a U.N. decision.

Q: It went in in what, '94 or '95?

A: I think it went in July 12, 1993. There's a Blue Top on this, by the way, so you can get your facts from that.

Q: Iraq. Can you bring us up-to-date on whether there've been any violations in the last 24 hours?

A: I don't believe there have been any in the last 24 hours.

Q: This morning Secretary Cohen said that enforcement had been tightened. Can you describe how enforcement has been tightened?

A: Yes, it's been tightened in three ways. I'm talking primarily about the southern no-fly zone which is the no-fly zone that principally contains Iraq from either from attacking its neighbors or positioning itself to attack its neighbors.

First of all, the... And I'm not going to get into numerical detail here, but just to give you a sense. The Operation SOUTHERN WATCH flights are flying farther north than they were before. In other words, they're going deeper into the no-fly zone or the box as it's called -- closer to the 33rd Parallel than they were before.

Second, the packages of planes, the numbers of planes, flying are larger than they were before. They're now at what they call in the theater, surge levels.

Three, we are in the process of building up our forces in the area. You know that the NIMITZ battle group will be on station and ready to fly in the area sometime this weekend. That's a group that includes the NIMITZ: two cruisers, the USS PORT ROYAL and the USS LAKE CHAMPLAIN; a destroyer, the USS KINCAID; a guided missile frigate, the USS FORD; an attack submarine, the USS OLYMPIA; and a fast combat support ship, the USS SACRAMENTO.

In the mean time we still have there the Air Expeditionary Force -- 22 Air Force planes in Bahrain supplemented by two B-1 bombers who will stay on for awhile. They're supported by tankers, two KC-135s which will also remain in theater until mid-October or later, if necessary. Additionally, two Tomahawk capable cruisers -- the STETHAM and the DR RAY -- that were conducting maritime intercept operations in the Arabian Gulf, were extended until arrival of the NIMITZ to provide additional naval power in the area, the NIMITZ battle group.

So that's what we've done, the three things. They're flying further north, there are bigger packages, and we've enhanced both supporting naval and air power.

Q: Just to clarify a couple of points, although they're flying further north, am I understanding you right, they're still staying south of the 33rd? They're not flying beyond the 33rd, is that correct?

A: The no-fly zone extends to the 33rd, and we have not flown over, beyond the declared no-fly zone.

Q: It's further into the existing zone. There's been no extension...

A: Right. It's not an extension of the existing zone.

You know last year we extended the no-fly zone up to the 33rd. We extended it by about 60 miles.

Q: Can you give us any current status of Iraqi air defenses around the 33rd or slightly north thereof? What have you seen in terms of activity?

A: Nothing particularly unusual, but there are some... First of all, Baghdad, which is about 30-40 miles north of the 33rd, is very, very heavily defended. It's ringed by air defense sites. There are a couple of other heavily defended areas that are within the no-fly zone, and our planes work hard to avoid getting into the range of those SAM sites. But there have not been unusual developments in the Iraqi air defense system recently.

Q: There are active SAM sites inside the no-fly, but as long as they don't paint us it's okay?

A: We have not been... We can respond to being painted and there have not been reasons to respond.

Q: But they're active within the southern no-fly zone.

A: There are SAM sites there. They have not been acquiring our planes.

Q: What do the B-1 bombers have to do with enforcing the no-fly zone?

A: What do they have to do with enforcing the no-fly zone? They're part of a package of military assets that would allow us to respond if called upon to deal with targets in the area.

Q: You mentioned, for instance you mentioned that these cruisers were Tomahawk capable. Did you just do that in passing, or is there some suggestion here that the United States might use B-1s or cruise missiles to respond to violations of the no-fly zone, or would it be limited to try and shoot these planes down if they violate the no-fly zone? There's a suggestion here that this might go beyond just shooting at these planes.

A: There is a suggestion that, I think it's not a suggestion. It should be very clear. We have a powerful military force in the Gulf ready to protect our interests there. We have, in the past, used a variety of military assets including Tomahawk missiles and aircraft to protect our interests, and we will be able to do that in the future.

Q: I guess the question is, if the Iraqis are good enough, getting good enough at these minor incursions so they can do them in locations and at times where they don't get shot down but they continue, is there then an option with these other weapons to do something else in retaliation for violating the no-fly zone?

A: I think we've shown in the past that we are prepared to protect our interests and to enforce the no-fly zone. We've used a variety of military assets to do that. I'll leave it at that.

Q: Are there any pending requests from Central Command for any other assets in addition to the NIMITZ?

A: Not that I'm aware of.

Q: By sending U.S. planes deeper into the no-fly zone, closer to the 33rd Parallel, and therefore closer to some of the Iraqi air defenses, particularly those north of the 33rd, are U.S. pilots at any additional risk?

A: Any military mission involves some risk. But I can tell you that these missions are designed to hold risk to a minimum while still completing the mission. They are very meticulously designed.

Obviously when you go deeper, you incur some risk, but there are other ways to compensate for that risk, and we are trying to do that.

Q: Are you getting from other ways, other than strictly the violations of the no-fly zone, other indications of intent to stir up trouble by Saddam Hussein? Any intent to engage us in some fashion?

A: It is always difficult to measure intent, particularly Saddam Hussein's intent. But we don't see now other unusual activities.

Q: What about attacks on the U.N....

A: That remains extremely bothersome, their unwillingness to comply with UNSCOM and to help it do its job.

Q: (inaudible)

A: As I say, Saddam Hussein has not...is displaying hostility which is very bothersome.

Q: Are the two viewed as linked? The no-fly zone violations and the hostility toward the U.N.?

A: I think that we look at all his activity across the board, and our goal has been to get Saddam Hussein to comply with U.N. mandates and rules, which he has steadfastly refused to do. He has not cooperated with UNSCOM. In fact he's been hostile to it. He has not returned prisoners or lists of prisoners to Kuwait. He hasn't returned military equipment to Kuwait. There are a whole series of things that Saddam Hussein has refused to do -- all of which when added together, even before you get to things like surgical no-fly zone violations, suggest that he bears continued watching, and that's what we're doing. That's what we've been doing since the end of the Gulf War, and we'll continue to do that until his behavior changes.

Q: Is there a suspicion at all that he's attempting to lure U.S. planes into areas where there's a heavier air defense to attempt to shoot part of the planes down?

A: I don't think there's any reason to assume he's trying to do that more than he has sometimes in the past. It's always the risk to which we're attuned. Because we're aware that that's possible, we try to make adjustments to reduce the risk as much as possible.

Q: Secretary Cohen also said this morning that if Iraq continued to violate the zone they would "bear the consequences". Was he referring to anything other than them being shot down?

A: I think I'll just let the statement speak for itself.

Q: You mentioned that obviously Operation SOUTHERN WATCH has been going on for some time now. Does the Pentagon have any estimate as to how much the U.S. has spent on this since 1991?

A: I'm sure we can get some estimate. We will attempt to get some estimate.

Q: Do you have any reaction to this latest round of rather intensive Iranian exercises in the Gulf and how they impact on this tightening of the southern no-fly zone? Any concerns about deconfliction?

A: No. I'm not particularly worried about that at this stage.

Q: I take it you're declining, without getting into specifics, you're declining to rule out any response if they keep violating this no-fly zone. Is that what you're doing?

A: I want to be very clear about what I've said. We have shown in the past that we are willing and able to enforce the no-fly zone. We have a powerful military force in the area. That force is powerful all the time, 365 days a year. It's in the process of being augmented. I'll let the facts speak for themselves. Rather than speculate about the future, I'll just point to the fact that we have protected our interests there in the past.

Q: Without just air power.

Q: Do we already have pre-approval from the countries in which our aircraft are bed-down to enforce the no-fly zone?

A: Well, we're enforcing the no-fly zone. We're flying every day. We have rules of engagement which are understood by our pilots and certainly by the host countries.

Q: The northern no-fly zone, are there any adjustments being made there, and is the ongoing operation that Turkey is conducting against Kurds in the north hampering the enforcement of the no-fly zone now?

A: Two things. One, our Air Force in the north is much less robust than it is in the south -- first. Second, we do deconflict our operations over the northern no-fly zone with Turkey, and that does limit our flights to some extent.

Q: It was announced that the Iranians were intending to use their three submarines in this exercise in the Gulf. Would those submarines be permitted to get into the sea-space of the NIMITZ and other U.S. fleet components?

A: I don't think I'm going to get into operational detail like that.

Q: Do you have numbers on how much less robust the Air Force in the north is than in the south?

A: I don't have them right here with me, but it's... It varies a lot according to what we have in the Gulf, obviously. But it's considerably smaller. It's a powerful force in the north, but it's much smaller than the force in the south.

Q: Half?

A: Less than half.

Q: Are there indications that Iraq is flying more and does the U.S. have an estimate of how many of its aircraft are viable, how many can actually fly?

A: We do. Yeah. (Laughter)

Q: Can we take a vote as to whether or not you'd like to...

A: Any more questions on this?

Q: To get back to the submarine question...

Q: Will you answer those questions? Will you take those questions?

A: No. I don't think I'll answer them or take them.

Q: They're flying more?

A: I don't know the answer to that question about flying more. I'll try to find that out.

Q: We used to get numbers on operational Iraqi aircraft all the time. That doesn't sound like a very deep, dark secret.

A: There are about 184 operational Iraqi aircraft we estimate. Fighter aircraft.

Q: To get back to the submarines, has any message been sent to the Iranian government about our expectations of what they'll do around the NIMITZ and what might cause us to make some kind of response?

A: First of all, let me take that particular question. But on the NIMITZ itself, we have ships in the Gulf all the time. We operate with enormous attention to force protection at all times. The Iranians understand that. I don't anticipate that there will be any problems with this deployment by the NIMITZ in the Gulf.

Q: A follow-up to the operational Iraqi aircraft. You don't have a breakdown of what kind of aircraft they have?

A: I think I've probably said enough. I was talking about fighter aircraft. About 180 fighter aircraft.

Q: U.S. made, Russian made?

A: Iraqi aircraft? I'll just leave it at the gross figure.

Q: What is the latest on efforts to turn back the television stations in Bosnia?

A: Turn back the television stations in Bosnia?

Q: Yeah.

A: First of all, of the three stations that were seized... Of the four stations that were seized, three are functioning now, because one was hit by lightning. We estimate that approximately 70 percent of the people in the Republic of Srpska can receive signals from these three broadcast stations now.

The Office of the High Representative continues to operate these stations. A study group has been set up to review the current situation and to come up with recommendations or options for the future management of these stations, and that hasn't completed its work yet. I don't know when it will. So SFOR continues to control the three transmitters that are continuing to broadcast.

Q: ...around the transmitters?

A: Yeah. I believe that to be the case. But clearly, we're in a position to run them either by troops being in the area or by the people who are actually at the transmitter sites running them.

Q: Programming is still controlled by the local people, though? As long as they comply?

A: The OHR, the Office of High Representative, is seeking assistance from Western sources to obtain entertainment and other programming. There is news programming going on, there's some programming produced by the OHR and others. They're looking for entertainment programming, and maybe your company can help them. Disney ABC would be just the right company to help.

Q: On Bosnia, the recent voluntary surrender by ten war crime suspects, how important are those suspects? How big a fish are they, and what difference is that making in putting pressure on other war crime suspects we've turned in under the Dayton Accord?

A: I think there are a couple of... First of all, one of the people, Kordic, who is the Vice President of the Croatian Community of Herze-Bosna, was a very big fish. He has been indicted for participating in the murder of civilians in several Muslim villages in the spring of 1993. This whole group was involved in the murder of civilians, the alleged murder of civilians in Muslim villages in the spring of 1993. I think there were eight villages in all. Kordic, in the indictment has been listed as one of the ring leaders and the major people. I can't give you the details because I don't have them, but we can get them for you or you can get them from the War Crimes Tribunal. But he is quite an important person. Recently, while I was in Europe, I noticed that the BBC ran footage of British soldiers coming on -- who were there in UNPROFOR at the time -- coming on to some of the villages that had been the targets of Croatian troops, and the devastation and the death that was there was quite appalling. That film must be readily available and maybe your networks have similar film to that.

But these are indictments, and they will be considered in the proper legal form in the Hague. People will decide whether these people are guilty or innocent.

The lesson here is, first of all, the Dayton Accord leaves the primary responsibility for rounding up indicted war criminals and turning them over to trial in the Hague to the formerly warring parties. The Croatians have complied with that by turning over this group of ten people.

Second, most of the non-Serb indicted war criminals have now been rounded up. That is the Bosnians and the Croatians. So it puts more pressure on the Serbs to comply with the terms of the Dayton Accord since the Croatians and the Bosnians already have done that largely.

Third, I think this follows, of course, the July effort to capture some war criminals by British special forces. I think the lesson is clear, that the international community is serious about bringing indicted war criminals to justice. We have been working hard with the formerly warring parties to convince them to do that, and this is a sign that those efforts are succeeding.

Q: How many military personnel are working in the White House, and what is the Pentagon's position about the operation of the White House Communication Agency?

A: The White House Communication Agency? It has 851 people in it -- military people. This agency, which was set up in 1941 at the beginning of World War II, basically runs the White House communications operation, which any of you who have traveled with the President and the White House press know is quite an amazing and an effective organization. That's their primary job is to run the communications and signals operation for the White House.

Q: It was announced this morning at Justice, I believe Ms. Reno spoke to the issue as well, that this White House communications section, especially those involved with the taping in the White House, would be under investigation and possible subpoena by Grand Jury or the task force, the Justice Department's task force. I take it that the DoD people in the White House will do everything they can to cooperate and safeguard the evidence. Am I correct?

A: The evidence seems to be very public, from what I can see, if you want to call it evidence. But we will certainly do everything necessary to cooperate. We have received no official notification of what you just mentioned, but we certainly will cooperate.

Remember, this White House Communications Agency is a military unit assigned to the White House to perform work for the President and White House officials. We will cooperate fully with any legal inquiry.

Q: Is it under Pentagon control?

A: The White House Communications Agency, which goes by the acronym of WHCA, is under the control of WHMO which is an acronym that means the White House Military Office. So WHCA is under the administrative control or operational control of WHMO, the White House Military Office. That's run by a civilian in the White House. But the Chief of Staff of the White House Military Office is an Air Force colonel, currently an Air Force colonel.

Q: Are there any guidelines or regulations that prevent the military personnel at the White House Communications Agency from working campaign events for the President?

A: I'm sure there are, but I don't know... There are extensive regulations governing the operation of this, but... I don't know how they work specifically on campaign events.

The fact of the matter is, the President is an indivisible man. He's President all the time, no matter what he does. He has to have a certain amount of communications support, he has to have security whether he's operating in a political capacity or a governmental capacity. My assumption is that these people support him no matter what he does. That's clearly understood. But I will check into whether there are specific regulations on this.

Q: What do the videotapes have to do with supporting the operations of the Office of the President? These are just...

A: The job that the White House communications office does is very clearly defined, and it's divided into several categories. These categories are treated in different ways for funding and other purposes. All of this has been laid out in documents which are public, regulations which are public. There is a law that sort of divides the telecommunications function on the one hand from other functions that they perform, and they've been put into basically three other baskets. The first is audiovisual; the second is stenographic support, because it's the White House Communications Agency that provides the transcripts, for instance, of Mike McCurry's briefings, or of other briefings and events that are done at the White House; and the third is wire service support. It's through the White House Communications Agency that the news wires that the White House gets are acquired and brought into the White House.

So for those three areas -- audiovisual, stenographic, and news wire support -- there is some reimbursement from the White House to the Defense Department for performing those services. For telecommunications, that money comes directly out of the DoD budget. This is laid out, I believe, in the 1997 Defense Authorization Act. You can go read that Act, Section 912, and find it all for yourself.

Q: It sounds like you have, anyway.

A: I have a very good staff.

Q: Going back to Croatia for a second, has there been any quid pro quo, any favor from the U.S. or return gesture back to Croatia in return for these ten folks coming forward and being sent off to the Hague? Any training promises like we're doing to the Bosnian One Muslim Federation?

A: Are you asking me are we rewarding Croatia for honoring an agreement that it signed?

Q: Any enticements or inducements for their living up to the terms of their responsibilities?

A: Clearly compliance with Dayton makes it easier for us and other countries to deal with the formerly warring parties. But beyond that, I can't give any specifics. I just don't know. We'll try to find out.

Q: Have any members of the White House communications office, any of the active duty military, have they been either subpoenaed or volunteered to appear before a Grand Jury to back up the statements of the White House about how and when these tapes were first discovered and turned over? Has there been any request for any of them to appear or...

A: The answer to that is no.

Q: Are you anticipating...

A: I can't anticipate things like this. What I did say is we will cooperate with anybody looking into this, and we have been cooperative all the way along.

This is an agency comprised of very skillful technicians who provide certain services to the White House. These services are basically communications and a few other services that I listed probably while you were out of the room but you can see in the transcript.

Q: Since the tape (inaudible) came to light, has the Secretary or anyone here in the Pentagon initiated any sort of formal or informal review either by the General Counsel's office to see if, just to basically ensure that the Pentagon knows what happened and is prepared, in case there's some subpoenas, etc.? Is anybody in the building today looking at this?

A: Yes.

Q: Can you tell us who?

A: Look. Of course we are looking at what happened. We've been discussing things with members of the White House Communication Agency. But it's mainly just to make sure that we have been responsive to requests that we have received. And based on what I know so far, we have been responsive to those requests.

As I said, I can assure you that we will continue to be responsive to requests that we get. But we are looking at the situation. This is not an agency that has been without scrutiny in the past. It has been examined by Congress and it's been examined by the Inspector General. There are public documents describing what this agency does. It does not have anything to hide. It's an agency that provides, as I said, very specialized, highly technological services to the White House. Over the years it's been determined that this agency can do it more efficiently than by bringing in a bunch of other disconnected agencies. There are certain security issues that have to be addressed so there's a certain comfort in having a military operation with experience going back to 1941 dealing with these issues.

Q: Are all the relevant, those matters, records relevant to the Justice Department investigation under the control of military personnel, and are they secure?

A: My belief is yes, they are under control of military personnel and they are secure. But I have not made a personal investigation. I have not been down to the Anacostia Naval Yard where this agency is headquartered to check out its records' security procedures. But my belief is yes, that they are secure.

Press: Thank you.