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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
December 04, 1997 2:00 PM EDT

HEADLINE:: DoD News Briefing, March 20, 1997

DoD News Briefing Thursday, March 20, 1997 - 2 p.m. Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to the briefing.

I just want to set the record straight on one thing. There was a story in the Washington Times last week about a report that had been requested by the House Committee on National Security on the Chemical Weapons Convention which is, of course, something that we in this building support strongly and the Administration supports strongly.

The article said that this report to Congress had been delayed by two people in the building. That is not true. The report was not delayed for any reason -- policy or otherwise -- by Jan Lodal or by Sally Horn. I thought my quote in the article made it clear that it had not been delayed, but I just wanted to set the record straight. That report will be done very soon, maybe by the end of this week, and sent to Congress.

Q: Since you brought it up, why was the report not submitted according to the deadline?

A: The time set was December 31, 1996, and unfortunately, due to a clerical error, nobody really focused on the report until it was too late to complete it by December 31, 1996. So there were several levels of reports required. This was actually not required by the authorization law that was passed by both houses of Congress and signed and enacted by the President. This was a reporting requirement included in the House version of the bill that ultimately became the law.

So in going through the reporting requirements, of course we look at the ones that are firm legal standards first, and then do the other ones. We try to be responsive to all of these requirements. We're asked to file hundreds and hundreds of reports in the course of the year, and this one just, people got onto it late. But the report will be gotten soon.

Q: Speaking of time tables and this question has a contradiction built into it, but does the proposed QDR time table, is it still firm?

A: Yes. Very much so. That was reiterated as recently as yesterday by Secretary Cohen.

Q: On Zaire, is there any move toward... France has told it's citizens they should get out of Zaire, and in fact has moved planes to Congo and other neighboring countries. Is the United States making any move in that direction? Is there any move now towards, aside from the study group there, is there any move towards moving U.S. citizens?

A: As you know, we did say that citizens were free to leave and encouraged them to leave if they wanted to. There has not, as far as I know, been an ordered departure of U.S. dependents from Zaire. That's a decision that's made by the State Department. The last I checked, which was within the hour, no such decision had been made.

Q: I take it that, would U.S. military be used to remove those people?

A: No. No. An ordered departure in this case would not involve U.S. military people. The geography of Kinshasa is important in this regard. It's right on the river. And Brazzaville in the Congo is a 10 or 20 minute boat ride across the river. There are ferry boats running constantly across the river. The easiest way to go is by boat. It would take much more time to drive to the Kinshasa International Airport and fly out than it would to take a boat across the river to Brazzaville in the Congo. So that's the preferred method and the easiest method of leaving at this time.

Q: Then what is the purpose of this survey team?

A: The survey team is looking at a variety of things. It's looking at communications, it's looking at medical facilities, it's looking at security arrangements, it's looking at logistics, it's looking at places where helicopters could go to pick people up in Brazzaville if they come across. We're just scoping out a wide range of possible outcomes. Right now there's been no request by the Ambassador for military assistance in getting people out of Zaire. We're just going down there to look at the situation in case there is such a request.

Q: What is your assessment of the situation down there as of today? We're hearing that it's heating up badly again.

A: The situation in Kinshasa, as I understand it, is relatively calm now. The issue is whether it will change and change quickly. If that were to happen, we would want to be positioned to operate very quickly to get people out.

Q: What is your assessment of what is happening down there? I'm not talking about the level of violence in Kinshasa, but in the country. How do you look at the broad movement of the rebels and the stability of what is left of the government and all that sort of stuff?

A: First of all, the rebels are some distance away, about a thousand kilometers away from Kinshasa. So the rebels are not a pressing force on the capital. The biggest question I think the country of Zaire has to face, and people living in Kinshasa have to face right now, is what is the future of the government.

President Mobutu's son has announced that he is going to return to Zaire tomorrow. Time will tell whether that, in fact, happens. But that's what the expectation of his son is at this time. You've read the same reports I have about the talks of a possible coup. I can't evaluate those reports from here, certainly. I'm not an expert on Africa. But this talk is in the wind, and I think we have to pay attention to the fact that there could be rapid change in Kinshasa. I'm not predicting it, but it's the job of the military to be ready to provide assistance if asked. So far we haven't been asked. We're trying to position ourselves to provide such assistance if we are asked.

Q: With the understanding that what we're discussing is contingency planning for a military evacuation that may not be ordered, can you just tell us anything about the alert, the status of the planning. Is it advanced planning? Have units been identified? Have any troops been alerted? Is there any consideration of moving planes to preposition equipment or people so you'd be ready in case there's a sudden change in the situation?

A: All I can tell you now is we sent in an assessment team, and that we are taking prudent efforts beyond that to be ready to do whatever we're requested to do. So far we have not been requested to do anything, and beyond that, I'm not at liberty to provide more details.

Q: How many helicopters have moved close...

A: I can't go into any other details at this stage. At the appropriate time, we'll tell you what we did or didn't do. But right now we have an assessment team of about 30 people in the area and they are assessing.

Q: A little over a week ago you commented on the issue of COSCO and its attempt to lease space at Long Beach. Congressman Hunter is going to introduce legislation this afternoon that would bar any foreign-owned company from taking space at the former Navy base at Long Beach. This is in the process of , you know, unfolding.

A: This would mean if Japan wanted to rent space there, they'd be barred from doing it? Is that your understanding of the bill?

Q: From the preliminary assessment of the bill, that's what it sounds like. This one seemed to be interfering with the

BRAC...

A: How about Australia?

Q: I don't know what extent of it is with this bill... But the it seemed to me it would interfere with the BRAC law as it now exists since Long Beach has been going through this process and following BRAC legislation. Any comment other than what you've made?

A: As is obvious from my questions, I haven't seen the bill, and I'm not familiar with the terms of the bill. I have your description of it. But let me just be clear about where this stands from the Navy's standpoint now. The naval station in Long Beach was ordered closed in the 1991 BRAC and the Navy moved out on September 30, 1994. There's not been an operating Navy facility since September 30, 1994, and it's been empty. It's an area of about 200 acres, as I recall.

The City of Long Beach is the reuse authority and under the BRAC process, the military turns over vacated property to a reuse authority, and then the reuse authority, in compliance with its name, decides how to reuse that, and most of them try to get, they try to use it either for government purposes or they try to get private industry in. That's what the City of Long Beach is endeavoring to do. One of the companies they've been talking with is COSCO, the China Ocean Shipping Company, which of course, has been operating out of the Port of Long Beach for the last 15 years in a smaller capacity. Now it wants to expand its space because it's become a much bigger factor in world trade. China has, and COSCO itself.

So any arrangement made would be between COSCO and the City of Long Beach or the Port of Long Beach, not between the Navy and

COSCO.

The property has not yet been turned over to Long Beach, and the reason is that the BRAC process is quite a lengthy and complex process. Right now there's an environmental impact statement up for review, and that is now open for public view, and then there will be a period of time for the Navy to comment on the comments that come in from the public. There's also an issue involving historic preservation, as you probably know.

In the mean time, of course, Long Beach wants to hold on to the possibility of leasing this property to COSCO so they can use it in a beneficial and profitable way for the people of Long Beach. There are two other competing cities hoping to lure COSCO to use their facilities. One is Seattle, and one is Los Angeles.

The members of Congress, Mr. Hunter and Mr. Cunningham, and two Senators -- Boxer and Feinstein from California -- have raised concerns about whether there's a security consideration here. We will look into that. We will ask that question. But I want to point out again that right now there is no Navy operation taking place at the Naval Station Long Beach. That's been closed down since 1994.

China, of course, has been operating here as... COSCO has been operating in the United States commercially for some time. We will look at this, though. Secretary Cohen has said that we will look at it, and we will.

Q: The years that COSCO operated there was while there was a Navy presence in Long Beach.

A: Yes. Well, it didn't operate at Naval Station Long Beach. There is the naval station...

Q: Next door.

A: Well, not right next door. There's the naval station, there's a naval yard which has a dry-dock and ship repair facilities as opposed to the naval station which just has wharves and piers. And then there was a commercial shipyard, there is a commercial shipyard in Long Beach that is a little farther south of the naval facilities. The naval yard has been closed down as well, by BRAC. It is in the process of being closed down and I think will be vacated this year as a naval facility. There are still some naval people there, but this entire drama only applies to the naval station in Long Beach.

Q: There was a headline or two that said that this transfer had been put on hold.

A: That's incorrect. The transfer has not been put on hold. Transfers like this take a long time. Even if everything went right and sort of lickety split from now on, it's unlikely that the transfer could take place much before the end of the year or some time in the second half of the year. So we're talking several months, maybe as many as eight or nine months. It could happen before that. As I say, there's not only the environmental issue, but there's now an historic preservation issue as well, and now the concerns have been raised about security there.

It has not been put on hold. The Navy has not slowed its process. There were reports to that effect. Those reports are wrong. The Navy has not put this on hold at all. In fact there's a letter which is available to anybody -- I'll be glad to get it to you -- laying out the entire process. It was a letter that was sent by Mr. Cassiday and the Navy Department to Representatives Hunter and Cunningham I think on Monday evening in response to their request.

Q: You said earlier, back to Zaire, that the United States is taking prudent measures, and yet you refuse to say whether helicopters have been moved in the area. Can I ask why the secrecy on that? When the United States almost got involved in Zaire the second time earlier this year or last year, you said that relay points had been set up in several African countries and went into some detail about the number of forces that were being moved in and aircraft... Why won't you say whether helicopters are being moved closer?

A: This isn't the time to go into detail. I can tell you that aside from the assessment team, I don't believe anything else has been moved.

Q: Can you fill us in on what's happened at Aberdeen today? I understand there may have been some plea bargaining with one of the officers who had been charged facing a court martial.

A: I saw a really excellent summary of this by pool reporter Mark Brender up at Aberdeen on one of the television stations just before I came in here, and I thought actually, since he is a pool reporter, that you could take what he said and use it on the air exactly. But let me tell you my understanding of what happened at Aberdeen today.

Charges had been filed against Captain Derrick Robertson. He'd been charged with a number of violations of military rules. He'd been charged with violation of a lawful regulation; he'd been charged with rape; he'd been charged with forcible sodomy; he'd been charged with conduct unbecoming to an officer; he'd been charged with adultery, indecent assault, and obstruction of justice. He entered a guilty plea today which was accepted by the Army, in which he plead guilty to a violation of a lawful general regulation. He plead guilty to consensual sodomy rather than forcible sodomy. He plead guilty to conduct unbecoming to an officer. And he plead guilty to adultery. He plead not guilty to rape, not guilty to indecent assault, and not guilty to obstruction of justice. There has been no sentencing yet to these guilty pleas. Sentencing could happen soon, possibly today, but I'm uncertain about that. He will face a maximum of sentence of ten years and six months plus dismissal from the service as a result of these guilty pleas. That's what happened at Aberdeen today.

Q: Sir, one thing from what you said. Are we to take it from this that this ends the case against Captain Robertson? He will not face any additional charges now on rape or indecent assault? This is part of the plea agreement?

A: My understanding is that this does end the case. Now I believe that these were all charges based on the facts gathered from one potential witness, and I believe this will end the case for Derrick Robertson, yes.

Q: He didn't just plead not guilty to rape and indecent assault. The Army dropped those charges.

A: This was an arrangement that had been worked out by Robertson and Robertson's attorneys and the Army.

Q: So the Army withdrew those charges in return for guilty pleas on the other charges.

A: Yeah. This happens all the time.

Q: He plead not guilty...

A: Essentially he was found not guilty as part of the plea arrangement. In other words, he accepted guilt for some of the charges, but not all of the charges.

Q: A lot of people aren't familiar with the military system of justice who are watching this case, and are surprised to discover that people can face jail terms for something like adultery, which traditionally is not a crime that's well prosecuted in the civilian area. Can you explain just in general terms, not perhaps relating to this case specifically, but why it is that it seems a crime like adultery or consensual sex is seen as a serious violation in the military?

A: Let me take the two. First of all consensual sex between an officer and an enlisted person or between a sergeant and a trainee is a violation of good order and discipline, and it's a violation of rules that prevent fraternization, and it's a violation of rules that, as well as decent conduct, that is designed to prevent leaders from putting trainees or lower ranking soldiers into positions where they may feel they're taken advantage of. Positions that they may feel they can't, demands they can't escape. That's why consensual sex between officers and enlisted people or between higher ranking people and lower ranking people, sergeants and trainees, is proscribed.

Adultery is also something that undermines good order and discipline, and undermines ethics in the Army. Adultery is a crime in all the services, not just the Army. It's part of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Q: Secretary Cohen said today that there are critical food shortages that are looming in Albania. Could you elaborate on that? And also, apparently there were a couple of other missile firing incidents earlier this week, if you could go into that, and whether that force, whether the ARG is going to remain there much longer?

A: First, let me bring you up to date. We have now about 140 Marines, which is a reinforced rifle company in Tirana, and they're protecting two areas. One is the American embassy and the second is the residential compound where American diplomats and other officials lived. They will remain there until the State Department is able to arrange security on its own to protect these two areas, or until the threat environment changes to such an extent that the Marines won't be necessary any longer.

The Marines did take out 14 people today including one American citizen and 13 third country nationals, so there is still some evacuation taking place, although it's at a pretty low rate. There are helicopters going in fairly regularly to supply the Marines with food, water, and other equipment. So there's plenty of space for them to take people out.

I think as you can tell from the fact that only one U.S. citizen came out today, that we basically have taken out the people who want to leave or the people the embassy thinks should leave, the Americans. There still are some others, third country nationals, and a very few Albanians who have come out.

In total, about 860 people have been taken out of Tirana. Less than half of those, 395, are American citizens. The others are other nationalities.

The Marines will stay there as long as they're needed. They will be resupplied as long as they're there. So there will be some Marine ships off-shore supporting them. Whether the whole amphibious ready group stays there, I don't know. I don't know how long they'll stay, but there will be enough to support the Marines on the ground.

In terms of food, there is a concern primarily about the poor transportation system in Albania, the ability to move food around. The question of whether farmers will be able to plant their crops this spring and raise them successfully. The economy's in chaos. There's disorder. I think that food has to be a concern. I'm not aware that there's starvation taking place now, but it's something that the non-government organizations and others are beginning to worry about as a future threat.

Q: Is there concern that food shortages will rekindle the violence there?

A: It's a dicey situation. It's certainly not yet stable, and we have to be concerned that any sort of problem could retrigger a higher rate of violence of more disorder bordering on chaos as we saw there last week.

Q: Are the helicopters being shot at still?

A: No. I'm not aware that they're being shot at. You asked about a report that a...

Q: ...missile had been fired.

A: Yeah. There have been conflicting reports about this. The AC-130 believes it was shot at and it dispatched flares. It was outside the range of the missile that shot at it, and the missile exploded when it hit the flares, so the flares triggered the missile and it didn't come close to the AC-130. Subsequent tracks from others observing the operation seemed to confirm that a missile was, in fact, fired at the AC-130. This was from around the area of the Port of Durres, and since then the AC- 130s, when they fly, have changed their routes and have been flying more out over the Adriatic, outside the range of missiles.

As I said, the plane was outside the range of the missile and it deflected the missile with flares.

Q: When did this happen?

A: I believe this happened on Sunday or Monday.

Q: Was it a day or night?

A: It happened Monday, I believe it was during the day.

Q: AC-130s based at Brindisi?

A: I'll check that. I'm not positive that it's based in Brindisi. Colonel Crowley says it is based in Brindisi.

Q: And you returned fire?

A: No, they dispatched flares and moved off.

Q: Have the 130s been used at all? Have they fired on anything?

A: No, I'm not aware that they have. The Cobra helicopters, I believe, were the only American asset that's ever returned fire.

Q: Was there another shoulder-fired missile that was observed being fired? Apparently at some sort of an aircraft, U.S. aircraft.

A: There was an earlier case.

Q: No, this was later.

A: I'm not aware of that. I'll double-check that.

Q: In this case with the AC-130, was there a guess about what kind of missile was fired at the plan. Was it also a shoulder-fired?

A: Yes, it was a shoulder-fired missile.

Q: The AC-130 is just hovering around, routine surveillance. They haven't opened fire, have they?

A: No, no, they did not open fire. I think they would have known it if the AC-130 had opened fire.

Q: One related question. Has the building revisited TWA- 800 at all after all the late rumors/reports about missile firings?

A: Well, we have checked this very carefully. The FBI has checked the Navy records, the FBI has checked the inventories. The FBI has interviewed people. And the FBI is convinced that no Defense Department involvement was possible here. And that's been their conclusion for a long time. It's the Navy's conclusion. It's the conclusion of the Defense Department. There is absolutely no evidence to the contrary. That has remained the case for months.

Q: But they're not ruling as one of the probable causes..

A: We are ruling out that any military missiles were involved from the U.S. military.

Press: Thank you.