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DoD News Briefing, Tuesday, May 19, 1998

Presenter: Captain Mike Doubleday
May 19, 1998 1:45 PM EDT

Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon.

Let me start with a couple of items that may be of interest to you. The first one is I want to let you know about a blue top that we're going to be putting out this afternoon regarding our participation in the next INTRINSIC ACTION exercise.

We do these within the framework that we have with Kuwait, and the exercise, of course, is being run by the U.S. Central Command's Army component. It involves Kuwaiti forces. This one is '98-2. The exercise, which lasts until mid-August, is designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships, improve readiness and interoperability between the United States and Kuwaiti armed forces, and to enhance U.S. military force capabilities to deploy quickly to the region and to provide continued U.S. ground presence in Kuwait.

I think you know from your visits over in the region that these units do not deploy with equipment. They take equipment which has been prepositioned there. There are 1,200 U.S. Army soldiers from Headquarters, U.S. Army Forces, Central Command, Fort McPherson, Georgia, and elements of the 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas, that are involved in this one.

The deployment will include a battalion task force, combat support units, and combat service support units. The exercise represents an opportunity for U.S. Army forces to exercise with Kuwaiti armed forces in Kuwait, while demonstrating U.S. capability and commitment to the region.

Q: I'm sorry Captain, did you say when it will start?

A: The exercise is scheduled to begin... I don't have the exact date. The deployment has actually started right now, so it will be later this month.

Q: While we're in that part of the world, has there been any decision yet on the carrier, on whether or not to go down to one carrier? And also, how about a drawdown of any other forces or assets in the region?

A: First of all, there is no decision on any kind of adjustments to any of the forces in the region. I can give you a rundown of what we've got there right now.

I think you know we've got two aircraft carrier battle groups that are operating in the region and a total of 27 U.S. ships, approximately 355 aircraft. The total number of personnel in the region right now is 35,300.

Q: When will the INDY exit the Gulf?

A: I think some of you know that there is a date which has been established before, but I just want to emphasize there's been no final decision on its departure from the Gulf.

Q: What is that date?

A: You'll have to check with the Navy on what the date was.

Q: The INTRINSIC ACTION that you just announced, is this going to involve a troop rotation or are these 1,200 troops in addition to those on the ground?

A: I think you're referring to the fact that the first INTRINSIC ACTION involved a similar number of troops and they actually left Kuwait in early May.

Q: So this is a virtually continuous operation?

A: It frequently takes on the complexion of a completely continuous operation, right.

Q: Is that departure that you just mentioned, early May, is that why we're down to 3500?

A: No, 35,000.

Q: I mean 35,000. Is the departure, is it basically sort of a rotation? I think the number was about 37,000 before.

A: It varies, and I think that the latest numbers are a reflection of the INTRINSIC ACTION group that has departed the area. It will go up slightly when the new group arrives there.

Q: Just to clarify, essentially what you're doing is you're rotating some fresh troops in for this exercise.

A: Right.

Q: And you're maintaining the same level of forces...

A: The level of forces remains the same.

Is there anymore on that one? I have one more announcement to make and then we can move on.

The Deputy Secretary of Defense, John Hamre, today is announcing the selection of Dr. Jay C. Davis to head the effort to stand up the proposed Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The standup will occur on the 1st of October 1998, but Dr. Davis will assume his duties as head of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency standup effort -- this is the effort that tries to pull all of the organizations together before they actually, officially commence work on the 1st of October. He is assuming that responsibility in June.

Dr. Davis is a nuclear physicist at Lawrence Livermoore National Laboratory. He's currently serving as the Associate Director for Earth and Environmental Sciences. We have a copy of a press release that outlines this announcement available for you in DDI.

With that, I'll try and answer some of your questions.

Q: Indonesia. Could you tell us the status of the USS BELLEAU WOOD and whether she will, in fact, go to COBRA GOLD?

A: I think many of you are aware that we have an ARG that is enroute to COBRA GOLD, and, indeed, that deployment continues. Our expectation is that, indeed, BELLEAU WOOD and the other ships of that amphibious ready group will be participating. Those other ships, by the way, are USS DUBUQUE and USS GERMANTOWN.

Q: That's the schedule... That's scheduled to ...

A: This is the 17th in the COBRA GOLD series that we do on an annual basis, and so we're adhering to that schedule.

Q: I mean the BELLEAU WOOD's participation was scheduled.

A: That's correct.

Q: Is there any adjustment at all to BELLEAU WOOD's schedule, though, to sort of be in a position to respond...

A: Well, we're not certain at this point if there are going to have to be any adjustments. The exercise doesn't start for a few days. I know there is a port visit, but I don't think there have been any announcements yet out there in the region about what they're going to do with regard to the port visit.

Q: Where was that port visit scheduled?

A: Phattaya, Thailand, which is a coastal city.

Q: When is it scheduled to take place?

A: I believe it was to start, also, in a couple of days. It was going to precede the exercise. The port visit was originally scheduled to take place, I think, to start later this week.

Q: Did the BELLEAU WOOD ARG -- did it change its route at all because of the unrest in Indonesia, or did it just proceed as planned?

A: I can't predict what will happen in the future. Right now I can tell you it's proceeding along a course that will take it through the Strait of Malacca, as I recall, and into the area so it can participate in COBRA GOLD.

Q: On Indonesia, do you know if the CINCPAC's trip to Indonesia is now off, or is there a chance of him...

A: I think we said last week that there had been consideration of the CINCPAC visit, that it did not occur. I know at this point of no plans to put it back on in the immediate future. But I would imagine that at some point he will visit there.

Q: There's a bipartisan move afoot in the Senate to release the F-16s withheld under the Pressler Amendment. Has the Pentagon started to look at the potential release in terms of whether those airplanes pose any kind of proliferation problem? Could they be nuclear capable airplanes, or converted?

A: I am not aware of any kind of an effort such as you outline, no. But I think that if you saw some of the comments yesterday from Sandy Berger on the subject you kind of have the Administration's position on that subject.

Q: Could I bring up the issue of Iran? Specifically, the Washington Times today reported that there is an internal struggle for power in Iran, and, more of interest I think to the military, that the Revolutionary Guard are also showing disenchantment within their ranks, and instability. This information came from Iranian resistance sources, but it was confirmed by State Department sources, according to this article.

Are you aware of any instabilities within Iran?

A: I have seen nothing that indicates that.

Q: On the subject of missile technology transfers to China, can you say whether the Pentagon has concluded whether or not the assistance that some U.S. companies have provided China has, in fact, increased their military capability in their missile program?

A: I think that some of you are aware that there is a criminal investigation being conducted by the Justice Department now. In fact, at the request of State Department, about a year ago, the Department of Defense conducted an assessment.

We, because of the Justice Department criminal investigation, are restricted in the materials that we can provide both publicly and to the Congress on this subject. Although we have been asked by Congress to provide some information regarding this assessment, because of the investigation we, at this juncture, have been unable to provide that information.

Q: In general terms, isn't it pretty well known that that assessment concluded that some of these technology transfers had, in fact, helped China's missile capabilities?

A: Jamie, I think that what I've just said is about as far as I can go. That is that we've got an investigation, and as a result of that I can't provide you information, nor can I provide you any paper on this subject at this point.

Q: Can you say, however, who it was or which element of DoD conducted that investigation?

A: I can't say what element. I can tell you, though, that we in the Department did an assessment and that was done in the summer of 1996. We provided the information to the State Department. We have conferred with Justice recently on this subject, and as a result, our communications with Justice were occasioned by requests from the Hill for the assessment that we had done. But as I say, we're unable to provide the assessment to the Hill because of this criminal investigation that's being done by Justice.

Q: Did Justice ask you not to provide it to Congress, or is that the Pentagon's position?

A: No, it was our concern that it would be a problem in the course of this investigation, and there was a communication with Justice, and they indeed confirmed their belief that it would be a problem.

Q: Has the Pentagon recommended against the waiver of satellite launches by China?

A: I'm just not going to march down that road at all.

Q: That's really nothing to do with the investigation. That's pre...

A: I hear what you're saying, but I'm just not going to get into that one at all.

Q: The most recent waiver I think was in February of this last, of this year actually, wasn't it? So that's completely unrelated to this investigation.

A: Yes, but I think you're also aware that we have an interagency process, and the end result is that either a waiver is granted or is not granted, and I don't want to parse out what our recommendations are in those things.

Q: It's still real secret that the Pentagon has generally opposed these waivers. In general. If we could generalize...

A: I'm not going to generalize, thank you very much. (Laughter)

Q: ...on that May of 1996 report? Is it Confidential or Top Secret or Codeword?

A: I'm not going to give you the classification other than to say it is classified. I don't want to whet your appetite.

Q: Can I ask you about a number of amendments that look like they're likely to be attached to the Defense Authorization Bill as it's considered by Congress this week? One of them, by a couple of congressmen, would require the Department of Defense Inspector General to conduct another investigation of the Air National Guard unit once known as the "Boys from Syracuse" who have been complaining that they were not treated fairly. Does the Department have a position on whether or not it would support the DoD/IG reviewing the facts of this case?

A: Jamie, I think you may be aware that there have been three different investigations already conducted on this matter. And the National Guard is already on record as saying that they stand by the previous investigations that have already been conducted on this subject. I don't, at this point, know of any reason why we would want to reinvestigate something that has already been investigated three times.

Q: Are you by any chance aware of another amendment to the bill that would essentially exempt the U.S. military from provisions of the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty that apparently would place some limits on U.S. military exercises because of emissions requirements?

A: I have no specific information on that one. I think we will be able to get you some information if you'd like us to do a little follow-up on that.

Q: I guess the intent of the amendment is to provide a waiver for the military, and I'm just curious if the Pentagon supports that effort.

A: Let me get you a response. I don't want to do that off the top of my head.

Q: The story in the Post this morning suggests that the Secretary has pretty much given up on BRAC authorization out of Congress this year. Can you give us any more details on what steps he might be taking in the coming weeks to deal with generating more cash for modernization?

A: I think it's no secret that the Secretary feels very strongly that we need two more rounds of BRAC. He's said this on many occasions. He also feels that Congress has, within its own authority, the means to change the BRAC process, to make it a better process, if they feel that is warranted.

The Secretary, without a BRAC, is going to be left with the regrettable decision to adjust the program with regard to three elements. Either readiness, quality of life, or modernization. And he has said many times in the past that he feels that we need to get rid of excess infrastructure so that we can afford the modernization that we owe our troops of the future.

So I think as the article this morning indicated, he doesn't yet have a specific plan in mind as to how he is going to proceed, but I think it's pretty clear that something will have to be done in the future in the absence of a BRAC.

He feels, also, that BRAC is the best way to proceed for the Congress, and it's the best way to proceed for the military, and it's the best way to proceed for any communities that might be the subject of a BRAC round. I think that any of you who have looked into the BRAC process know that there are certain support elements that we can provide because of the BRAC process in terms of working with communities to ensure that they can put together a comprehensive plan to deal with base closings. We can help them with the base closure process. We can provide certain assistance to individuals who are affected by the closure. All of those kinds of things come with BRAC legislation, and it's certainly a great benefit to communities that have closed in the past. And because of the way the BRAC process has worked, I think that any of you who have looked into this know that there are a lot of communities which actually have, in a fairly short period of time, been able to employ significant portions of the workforce that lost their jobs with the government as the result of a base closure.

So all of those things certainly support the idea of these two additional BRAC rounds that the Secretary has pushed for, and that we continue to believe need to be supported on the Hill.

Q: Just to follow that, as you know, there is a proposal circulating on the Hill to have a congressional study of how the BRAC process might be improved this year and then perhaps to proceed to legislation next year based on what that study comes up with. Does the Secretary not feel that that's sufficient, that there has to be some kind of action by him this year? That a study for a year won't do it?

A: I have not heard from the Secretary any reaction to that proposal or to any kind of a change in the timetable. I think overall, though, he remains convinced that the BRAC process needs to be accomplished and it needs to be accomplished in a way that gives us a BRAC round in 2001 and 2005, which admittedly is quite a ways off. But the results of those BRAC rounds, and the savings that we anticipate getting from them, are already a part of the program.

Q: When does push come to shove come? For example, if they don't get the BRAC approval this year, they can still get it next year and it would still go off in 2001, right?

A: I have heard some indications that that indeed is true. I think, though, that the fact that we asked for a BRAC round last year, we asked for a BRAC round this year, the track record is not one that would give a great deal of confidence to anyone. So we continue to feel that we need this, and we need it in accordance with the timetable that the Secretary has specified. But I have not heard that there is a drop dead date that we are going to move into these other actions, other than that the Secretary will be faced with some very difficult choices that he'll have to make in the future.

Q: Has he started reviewing what those choices would be?

A: As I outlined for you, the choices are going to be: readiness, quality of life and modernization. As they put together various budgets, they've got to figure out how we're going to adjust those accounts if we don't get the savings that we anticipate getting.

Q: Are you saying that the Secretary already ruled out the possibility of DoD -- his using his own authority of closing bases?

A: I don't think anything is ruled out at this point.

Q: You said readiness and...

A: I think that everybody in the Department who has looked into this closely realizes the benefits of BRAC. The process of closing bases any other way is, if anything, an even more lengthy and arduous process because of studies -- individual studies -- that have to be done and the possibility of the political pressures being brought to bear to put a halt to any of the ideas that come forward.

The whole BRAC process is one that puts all of this together in a manageable form, makes it discussed in a very transparent way in public hearings which are available to city managers and those who are trying to protect bases. It allows for review by the Congress, and as I outlined just a minute ago, it also offers a lot of support that we can provide to communities that are presently host to military facilities that would be closed as the result of a BRAC round.

So I don't think anybody has ever come up with a better process. I think we acknowledge there are other processes, but we also acknowledged that those other processes are even more difficult than BRAC is.

Q: In terms of how much of a possibility Secretary Cohen feels right now that using his unilateral authority to, without a BRAC round... Can you give us an idea what his...

A: No, I can't. I don't think we're quite at that point. But I think he has made it clear in speeches and in answering your own questions in the past, that this is not a cost-free operation. To keep bases we don't need costs money. And the choice that we have to make is, are we going to put money into bases we don't need at the expense of the forces and the equipment that we do need? That's the difficult choice that he is faced with, and that the Department will have to be dealing with in the future if we don't get these BRAC rounds.

Q: As you said, and the Secretary has also said, these two BRAC rounds are already included in the future plan.

A: Right.

Q: Given its importance, is there any indication that the Commander in Chief will actually get out on this issue and try and help the Secretary convince Congress that this is something needed, crucial?

A: I have not seen any indication of that, although I think that even people up on the Hill who have a problem with the BRAC process realize that we have excess infrastructure, and they also support the modernization effort. So I don't think there's any debate there. It's, as some of you have heard other senior leaders in the Department express, certainly our representatives on the Hill have a responsibility to the constituents that they represent, but they also have a larger responsibility to the nation as a whole. In this particular case, it may be that the responsibilities that they have to the nation as a whole to get rid of these unnecessary bases and this unnecessary infrastructure is one that needs to take precedence.

Q: The Pakistanis are almost certainly going to test -- have a nuclear test -- and the Indians have said that that's their right and they should. So what we have, if that happens, is both sides know that the other side has some capability of destruction. Doesn't that add up eventually to a mutually assured destruction? What could be bad about that kind of a standoff? I suppose it would be bad if they deployed, but what's wrong with their testing, and knowing that they each have weapons?

A: I think it's no secret to you, Bill, or anybody else that we have been working for many years to prevent the proliferation of all kinds of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. We feel that this is a very important issue and we do not see any good coming out of tests on either side in this issue.

Q: Has there been any decision from Walter Reed on whether or not there's enough material in the DNA -- in the remains to have good DNA testing, a good DNA match?

A: First of all, the process on the DNA is progressing, as we briefed over the last several weeks. The initial anthropological and forensic examination was done at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at Walter Reed. And then on Friday, the 15th of May, there were some samples from the remains transported to the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rockville. That's where the process stands right now.

Rather than provide kind of an update on this, which is only partial, I think from here on out the way we'll proceed is once we get a final conclusion on this thing we'll make an announcement. But we're not going to be in a position to kind of give where we stand on all of this other than to say that it is progressing at this point.

Press: Thank you.

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