DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth Bacon, ATSD(PA)
Tuesday, April 18, 1995 - 1:30 p.m.
Mr. Bacon: Welcome to the Pentagon.
The briefing is going to be in two parts. I'll start out and then we'll have a senior military official from the Joint Staff brief you on the investigation of the Somalia documents.
I'd like to begin with a statement that Secretary Perry issued earlier today. The statement is as follows:
"On behalf of all the men and women of the Department of Defense, I extend my deepest sympathies to the families of those on board the Air Force C-21 aircraft that crashed last night in Alabama. The next-of-kin notifications are continuing, so I am unable to mention all of those killed in this tragic accident individually. They were dedicated public servants and military officers serving the United States Air Force and Army with great distinction.
"One of the passengers was Clark G. Fiester, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition. Clark has been a colleague and friend for 38 years when I first hired him in private industry. When I became Deputy Secretary I recruited Clark to come out of personal retirement and return to public service. His vast experience working in and around defense industry and government for four decades helped us build a truly outstanding acquisition team in the Department of Defense. We will miss him.
"The Air Force has already appointed an investigation board to determine the cause of this tragic accident. In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all of those lost during this time of grief."
That statement was issued earlier today.
I'd be glad to take your questions on this or anything else.
Q: What can you tell us about the cause of the accident?
A: I can't tell you anything about the cause of the accident. The Air Force has begun an investigation and as soon as they have the facts, there will be a report from the Air Force.
Q: Are there any preliminary indications, like it might have been struck...
Q: Anything from pilot's statements or anything that they might have hit something...
Q: Is there any stand-down ordered for similar type aircraft?
A: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: Do you know how many of these C-21s are in the United States fleet?
A: I'm afraid I don't. You should ask the Air Force that question.
Q: Is this an NTSB investigation or is the Air Force going to investigate it jointly with the NTSB? How does that work?
A: (To staff.) Do you know the answer to that?
Staff: An Air Force accident, the Air Force investigates.
A: I think the Air Force is investigating it on its own.
Q: No NTSB involvement at all?
A: No, as far as I know.
Q: What was the in-flight emergency that the pilot...
A: I don't know. If you're getting the impression that you should wait for the Air Force to complete its investigation before I, or anybody else, will answer questions, that's the right impression to get. Anything we say now would be preliminary until the investigation is complete. We just don't want to be in the position of putting out information that might be found to be incorrect later on.
Q: Where were they going and for what purpose, and why were they traveling on military aircraft versus commercial?
A: This was an entire military group that was going down to an acquisition conference in Texas. They were headed to Randolph Air Force Base in Texas. They were diverted to Maxwell because of the in-flight emergency. They were on their way to Brooks Air Force Base, Texas, to present an acquisition reform briefing to personnel at Human Systems Center at Brooks.
Q: When was that conference scheduled?
A: I don't know whether it was scheduled for today or not, but I assume it was scheduled for today. It was last night that the crash occurred.
Q: You say they were diverted to Maxwell. How long were they diverted before the crash occurred? In other words, how long were they aware that there was a problem...
A: I don't know that. All this information will come out in the investigation.
Q: What's the Pentagon's policy on the use of such aircraft for transportation within the U.S.?
A: The Pentagon policy? We'll get that for you. This was a group of Air Force officials--senior officials--going to an acquisition conference.
Q: How many were actually going to the conference of the total peopleeight-- killed?
A: I believe that virtually all of them were going to the conference. There were two space availables on board.
Q: Do you know the approximate hourly operating cost of that aircraft?
A: I'm afraid I don't.
Q: Can you find that for us?
A: We can.
Q: On the problem in Somalia, can we get a couple of questions on the record from you in response to this? For example, does the Pentagon feel that the United Nations is a safe place for classified U.S. intelligence information?
A: We'll deal with all those questions afterwards. You have the documents we're issuing there.
Q: You have nothing to say on the record about that?
A: We're going to deal with those after this in a separate briefing.
Q: Can we deal with Bosnia for a moment?
Q: Alain Juppe has made some very tough statements at the United Nations this morning indicating that France--if certain things can't happen--that France is going to pull the plug on their peacekeeping forces. Do you have any view on the difficulty the French now feel they are in? Do you feel that the situation there is now changing vis-a-vis UNPROFOR in support of the nations involved?
A: First I'd like to say that the killings of the French soldiers was unnecessary, brutal and outrageous. I fully understand the French concern about this.
We believe, and I think our allies share this belief, that UNPROFOR has served and is serving a very valuable purpose in Bosnia. Later today we'll release the copy of the text of a speech the Secretary is going to give tonight at Annapolis in which he will quantify some of the benefits that have been produced by UNPROFOR forces in terms of reducing the number of civilian casualties in Bosnia over the last two years. It's really extraordinary how much safer and calmer Bosnia is today because of UNPROFOR's presence there. The killings have been reduced by more than 100,000 a year over the last two years. We hope that UNPROFOR will be able to stay and perform this job as the parties continue to look for a way to find a peace agreement.
As I understand it, what the French have asked for is an emergency session of the Security Council to consider a resolution that, among other things, will call on Bosnia and Serbia to agree to a continuation of the cessation of hostilities agreement and to agree to a real ceasefire which, of course, has become badly frayed in the last few weeks. We support that. We support all efforts to bring lasting peace and stability to this war-torn area of the world.
Q: How about stronger measures--which is what he was also calling for?
A: He's asking UNPROFOR to do more to protect the members of his force. We also believe that would be appropriate.
Q: What are the kind of stronger measures he might be referring to, since the Chiefs of all the contributing countries, you may recall, met in the Hague and came up with a long list of things and it all evaporated? What additional steps would the U.S. suggest might be taken to make it safer for those UNPROFOR troops?
A: You're aware of the plans that were developed after the Hague meeting and they involved strengthening the UNPROFOR force with people and equipment. Those plans are still there. They haven't been enacted yet. I don't know what Foreign Minister Juppe will call for when he gets the Security Council meeting. He plans to make a lengthy presentation. All we have now is a very sketchy... We just have a copy of the resolution which is very short.
Q: The basic position of the U.S. Government is they want UNPROFOR troops to stay, even though the U.S. itself is not contributing any troops?
A: I believe France wants UNPROFOR troops to stay as well. It just wants them to stay in a safer environment.
Q: What time was Secretary Perry notified of Mr. Fiester's death?
A: I do not know.
Q: Wasn't there a list of what the U.S. was going to contribute to this beefing-up project?
A: There was, yes.
Q: Do you still have it up there?
A: I may still have it here. Let me check...
Q: ...the U.S. ever actually coming up with that equipment?
A: This was a list. A series of steps had to be taken before this plan was put into effect, and those steps were never taken. First of all, the UN had to embrace the plan, and the UN didn't embrace the plan. So the plan was agreed upon at the Hague and countries were asked if they would provide the people and equipment necessary. There were requests put out to various countries. The next step was to have the UN consider the plan and act on it. That step was not taken.
I don't have the information here. We'll get it for you.
Q: Do you agree with the apparent French finding that it was Bosnian soldiers--Bosnian troops--that somehow killed French peacekeepers?
A: I don't have a position on that.
Q: Do you have any indication regarding Guatemala that any records were altered or destroyed now that you've had some of these documents turned in to the IG and General Counsel?
A: 7,400 documents have been turned in so far. If I told you that we had reviewed them all you wouldn't believe me, so I'm not going to tell you that. More documents are still being turned in.
As I said last week, we have never had any indication that documents were improperly destroyed by Department of Defense personnel. We still do not have any indication. But the investigation is continuing. In fact, I'd have to say it's in a fairly early stage.
I don't have any reason to believe that this conclusion will change, but until the investigation is over, we can't say with certainty what the findings will be.
Q: Has there been any advancement with that at all--with that investigation? Or are you going to hold everything back until the investigation is complete? Are we going to hear anything about it...
A: I hope we'll be able to give you some progress reports. Having said that, you're probably going to hound me every time I or Dennis come up here for a progress report.
If we can break out findings, we will give you those findings. But our main goal here is to complete the investigation, get as full a picture as we can of what happened, and give you and Congress and the public a full report.
Q: On the Executive Order on classified material signed yesterday, what does the Pentagon need to do to comply with that order?
A: There are basically three parts to the Executive Order. The first part will require the declassification of most documents--there are some exceptions, but most documents that are 25 years or older. We believe there are approximately 50,000 cubic feet of such documents. To give you an idea of how many documents that would be, this room is less than 30,000 cubic feet, so it would be a room that... Enough documents to fill every square inch of this room and another room almost its size. Those documents will be declassified.
We have, I believe, under the terms of the Executive Order, five years to release those documents. Fifteen percent of the documents have to be released in the first year. So we will be releasing those documents as quickly and as soon as we can.
The second part of the order requires that documents that are classified today remain classified for only ten years, so the second part will put in motion a series of declassification steps beginning ten years down the road. There are, of course, exceptions to that declassification mandate, but most documents will be declassified within ten years.
The third part affects the classification procedures that apply to documents on a day-to-day basis. I've been informed by the General Counsel's office that that will not change dramatically from our current procedures.
Q: How many pages are in a 50,000 cubic feet...
A: When we get them here you can count them. I have no idea. (Laughter)
Q: I don't know if this came up or not, but on the McNamara book, does the Pentagon agree with former Defense Secretary McNamara that the Vietnam War was a terrible mistake and unwinnable?
A: I have not spoken to the Secretary or General Shalikashvili about that. I would be very wary of saying "the Pentagon" agrees with any single statement. But I can't comment on that.
Q: You don't have any comment at all?
A: I'm not going to comment on it, no.