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DoD News Briefing Tuesday, September 8, 1998

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
September 08, 1998 2:10 PM EDT

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

Let me start with three brief announcements. First, as you know, the Navy is sending the USS GRAPPLE up to Halifax, Nova Scotia to help find remains from the SwissAir plane that crashed -- SwissAir 111. The GRAPPLE will arrive tomorrow and presumably start work then. We posted a picture of the GRAPPLE on the Internet so you can download that if you want to. There will be approximately 30 to 40 divers with the GRAPPLE to help with locating pieces of the airplane. The GRAPPLE is outfitted with a sonar device that helps it map the ocean floor, and also a laser device that maps the ocean floor and can detect pieces of the plane suspended in the water or even partially buried under the ocean floor.

Second, the United States is participating with 27 other countries in a Partnership for Peace exercised called COOPERATIVE BEST EFFORT. It begins on Thursday in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. This exercise will concentrate on peacekeeping operations, and the soldiers involved will be doing first aid, convoy escorting, refugee handling, setting up checkpoints and other types of activities that take place in peacekeeping arrangements. There will be 22 U.S. personnel participating in the exercise which will run from the 10th to the 18th of September.

To head off your questions, this was planned some time ago. This is part of the PFP scheduled exercises.

Finally, tomorrow, weather permitting, a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster will transport the whale from the "Free Willy" movies from Newport, Oregon to Iceland where the whale will be put into a tank in colder waters and, I guess, ultimately released into the oceans if things work well. So tomorrow, a whale of a story for you -- a Globemaster carrying a whale to Iceland.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Ken, does the United States or the Pentagon have any evidence to support or refute North Korea's claim that what the United States and Japan said was a Taepo-Dong missile launch on the 31st, I believe, was in fact a satellite launch. And there are reports by the Tass News Agency that North Korea may be ready to launch another missile tomorrow.

A: On the first question, we are not able to confirm the North Korean assertion that it launched a satellite on August 31st. US SPACECOM, the Space Command, is in the process now of looking at a wide array of evidence that we have collected about this and will take some time to complete the analysis. But right now SPACECOM has not observed any object orbiting the earth that correlates with the orbit announced by the North Koreans in their public statements.

Second, SPACECOM has not observed any new object orbiting the earth in an orbital path that could correlate with North Korean claims.

Third, to the best of our knowledge, no U.S. radio receiver has been able to depict radio transmissions at 27 MHz. That's the frequency range in which North Korea said this satellite was broadcasting.

Having said all of that, I want to stress again that we're still looking at the facts. We're still analyzing the information that has been collected about this, and that will continue for some time.

Q: Is it possible that there could be an item there in orbit but it's too small to detect? How small can you go?

A: Much smaller... The Space Command can detect items much smaller than this satellite would be. So I don't think that's the issue.

The first issue here is that no matter what the purpose of the August 31st launch was, whether it was to launch a satellite or to do something else, it did demonstrate that the North Koreans have an ability to delivery payloads over a longer range with the new Taepo-Dong I missile, and that, of course, is worrisome. The North Koreans have said they were doing this to launch a satellite. So far we cannot confirm that they have successfully launched a satellite.

Q: Do you have any indication, defense officials said previously that you had indications that North Korea was going to launch a missile and therefore you were monitoring closely. Are there any indications that North Korea might be preparing to launch another missile or a satellite or whatever? And are you ready to monitor that?

A: You can be sure that we'll be ready to monitor any launches that we suspect are about to take place. We were ready to monitor this last launch. That's one of the reasons we were able to collect some information on it. As I say, it takes awhile to correlate and analyze all that information, and that's what the Space Command is doing now.

Q: Then you suspect that another is about to take place. Are there indications...

A: I don't want to comment on that at this stage.

Q: Is there any indication that there may have been a third stage from this rocket?

A: I think we should let the Space Command and the intelligence authorities complete their review on this before we get too deeply into the details. They still are doing that, and I think it would be premature to make firm statements about the exact equipment that was used and the exact purpose of the launch or the degree of success that they've realized in their launch at this stage.

Q: Can you talk about any efforts that might be underway to try and retrieve the missile that was fired?

A: I'm not aware that there are. That doesn't mean there aren't. I'm just not aware of any specific efforts.

Q: Now that you say they've demonstrated the ability to deliver a payload over a longer distance, do you think that U.S. troops in Japan and other areas of the Pacific are facing a greater danger from North Korea?

A: I think that any country that would contemplate using weapons to attack United States troops abroad would have to expect a very swift and decisive, perhaps even a massive response. I'm sure the North Koreans are aware of that. If they're not, they should be aware of it now.

Q: In light of North Korea's growing capabilities, are you guys reviewing the pace of missile defense work?

A: First of all, missile defense work is something into which we're putting a lot of time, money and effort, as you know, for theater missile defense and national missile defense as well.

Let me divide the two. Most of the reports recently have been about theater missile defense programs, the THAAD program and some of the problems with that program. General Lyles has been down here to brief you on that, and I think you have a pretty good sense of where that program stands now.

The national missile defense program is one where we have a so-called "three plus three" program. Three years in development and then starting in the year 2000 three years to deploy if a decision is made to deploy in the year 2000 -- in other words, three years from a decision to deploy, to actually deploy.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have reviewed the national missile defense program and the theater missile defense programs recently, and it is their belief that these are important programs, that they are currently on the right schedule for the threats that they believe we face, and more importantly, it's not simply a question of adding money to these programs or setting arbitrary scheduled acceleration goals. It's a matter of making the current programs work. That's what the missile designers and builders are trying to do right now.

So the answer is, we have not set out to accelerate either one of these programs. We believe we are working as quickly as we can, and what's more, we don't believe at this stage that a huge infusion of money into either one of these programs would produce commensurate results at this stage.

Q: On that subject, both houses of Congress are expected to consider this week or next the resolution one way or another, kind of goad the Clinton Administration into speaking up for national missile defense. Neither one of them have a time table, neither one of them dictates a... one says as soon as possible but the other just declares it as a policy.

Does the Administration have any difficulty with either of those two resolutions?

A: The issue, I guess, is realistic expectations at this stage. The military and the leadership of this Department -- Secretary Cohen, General Shelton, everybody on down -- very much wants to develop a better theater missile defense capability and we're working on several programs to do that. The question of national missile defense is complex and very contentious politically. On that program the Chiefs believe that the current "three plus three" program is about as ambitious as we can be. It's both a fiscally and tactically prudent schedule, the "three plus three". We're getting close to the end of the development period, and into the period where we would be willing to deploy in three years after a decision to deploy.

So we are working on both of these programs. Obviously we need to do more and have more success with the theater missile defense program. It's been a very technologically challenging program. It's a difficult problem, one that can only be resolved by hard work at this stage.

Q: The PFP exercise you mentioned earlier in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, do you know how many U.S. forces will be assigned?

A: Twenty-two.

Q: Who will be in charge for the entire exercise of those 27 countries?

A: I'm not sure I know who the commander is of this, but we can find out for you.

Q: It was important defense news that the U.S., Israel, and Turkey are going to have another joint military exercise soon in the Mediterranean. Do you know where exactly, when, and for how long?

A: As you know, we had an exercise called RELIANT MERMAID that involved U.S., Israeli, and Turkish naval forces. It was a humanitarian, I think a search and rescue exercise. We are currently planning a similar exercise, but the details haven't been worked out, and one of the details that has not been worked out is the timing of the exercise.

Q: Are you going to invite Greece since it's for stability and peace in the area?

A: I'm sure that we will invite observers from other countries, and we would be happy to have the Greeks observe a humanitarian exercise.

Q: But did you propose that to the other two participants, Israel and Turkey?

A: As I said to you, the planning is in the very preliminary stages and I'm not sure we've reached the level of invitees yet.

Q: The last question, according to an extensive story in the Washington Times the other day, your servicemen in Turkey are suffering a lot in [unintelligible] via the same methods that were in the movie Midnight Express. In one case, for example, Turkish strikers beat up an American serviceman in front of his pregnant wife and three year old daughter. The paper was speaking about "controlled terrorism". Any comment of the Department of Defense?

A: What movie did you mention?

Q: Midnight Express.

A: I haven't seen that movie...

Q: The same methods exactly for the story.

A: Was that a movie about Turkey?

Q: Not exactly.

A: I haven't seen that movie so I can't comment on that or its methods. Let me just tell you that the strike is continuing and that the paramount goal of the U.S. military commander at Incirlik and also at Ismir is the safety and security of the American community. There have been several incidents but the Turkish police are working with the military security forces to hold those incidents to a minimum, and we are working hard one, to protect the people; and two, to resolve the strike. But there has not been, I don't believe there's been a meeting between the union and the negotiators for the military since late last week. I think the 4th of September was the last meeting.

Q: Can you give us a little later post-strike assessment in Afghanistan? The effectiveness of the Tomahawk strikes. Were they actually duds? And is Bin Laden on the move, has he left Afghanistan?

A: I'm not prepared to answer any of those questions.

Q: The General Counsel's office has for some time now been reviewing the services' equal opportunity policies regarding early retirement and promotions as well. Last week the Air Force settled a lawsuit in which it agreed to pay $3.5 million to 85 white colonels who said they were forced out of the service early because of those existing policies.

Has the General Counsel's office A, completed its review of that language? And B, if so, did that have any kind of a role playing effect on the...

A: I'm afraid I don't know. I'll get the answer to the question and get back to you on that.

Q: Can you give us an update on the status around the Iranian border, movements of troops or exercises there in regards to Afghanistan?

A: Sure. The Iranians had a military exercise along--fairly close to the border, I think within 20 kilometers of the border with Afghanistan. According to Iranian reports they had 70,000 people involved in that exercise. The maneuvers have ended, but they've decided to leave their force there in the area. We have observed that they have left a fairly substantial force in the area--in the border area, and it has with it some tanks, artillery, APCs, at least one anti-aircraft battery, etc.

Having said that, the leaders of Iran have said that they do not plan to attack and that they are leaving their troops there for defensive reasons and the UN Security Council has called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute between Iran and Afghanistan. We cosponsored a resolution calling for the safe passage out of Afghanistan of various Iranian personnel.

So right now the troops are there, the Iranian leadership has said they do not plan to attack, and the UN Security Council has called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute. I think, in sum, that's the situation.

Q: On the terrorist strikes, do you anticipate ever being prepared to discuss more detail about BDA and so on, or not? If not, why?

A: I think ever is a long time. There may be an appropriate time for us to discuss them, but it's not today.

Q: What will trigger being able to talk about that in more detail?

A: Well, I think that everybody can appreciate that one aspect of this operation was to retain a fairly tight clamp on information -- both before the operation began and also after the operation took place. I think there's a strong feeling within this building and within the Administration generally that in this grave new world of terrorism, where we can expect greater challenges from terrorist organizations around the world, that we need to probably say less when we do more. And we want to preserve as many options as possible. One of the ways we want to preserve those options is to, when we think it's appropriate, say as little as possible to give as little information away to those who may be on the receiving end of future operations.

Q: Why is that different now... What's different about terrorism now? If it's not state sponsored, what's specific about non-state sponsored that requires this level of...

A: I'm not sure that it's just a question of whether it's state sponsored or not. I think it's a question of trying to retain maximum flexibility, maximum surprise, and to do both of those things in order to achieve maximum effectiveness.

One of the things that we have seen time and time again is that the more we have talked about our capabilities, the more we have given specific examples of what our capabilities are and pointed to specific incidents where our capabilities are worked or not worked, we have seen the enemy taking responsive action, and the responsive action could range from moving its operations to going underground with the operation so they're harder to spot and harder to attack, to changing the way it communicates which makes them harder to track, to taking a variety of other steps.

There was a lot of thought given to this operation, a lot of thought given to the mechanics of carrying it out and also what we would say before and what we would say after. The decision has been made to say very little about this. I think this is a decision from the President on down. This was something that was discussed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Advisor, all who were involved in making the decision.

Q: In the briefing by the Secretary and the Chairman a couple of assertions were made about the plant in Sudan that was attacked. One, that Bin Laden had an ownership stake in it; and two, that it didn't make medicine. These both seem to be not true. I wonder, was the intelligence just bad or did the officials briefing just make a mistake? Why did they say that?

A: I think that I should let the intelligence community talk about the intelligence, so I invite you to direct those questions to the appropriate people. But we believe now, as we did at the beginning, that this plant does make Empta [corrected to say: this plant had evidence of Empta present], a precursor for VX. We went to considerable efforts to get soil samples from around the plant. We do believe there is some financial arrangement between Usama Bin Laden and elements in the Sudan, possibly those related to this plant. I think we've been very clear from the beginning that the main reason that we launched this attack was we believed they were trying to develop a capability to produce VX which is a weapon of mass destruction.

Q: So you would say, for example, that legitimate medicine was just another activity which would not change your view of...

A: The fact of the matter is we've learned in Iraq where we've had considerable experience trying to sort out exactly what their weapons of mass destruction programs are, we've learned there that almost all facilities that produce chemical or biological weapons appear to be, are said to be, or are disguised to be dual use facilities. Frequently the same type of equipment that you need to produce a fertilizer or feeds could be used to produce biological weapons, for instance, or some of the equipment you could use to produce pesticides could be used to produce chemical weapons. So we assume that many of these facilities either are or appear to be dual use facilities.

Q: A senior intelligence official told us after that attack, right from that podium there, that the United States had no evidence that commercial products were being produced and sold by that plant. How could we be so far off base? It's obvious...

A: As I said, I think those are questions that are best directed to the intelligence community.

Q: Was Secretary Cohen quoted accurately in the New York Times several days ago when I believe basically he said that the United States did not know until three days after the attack that the plant made medicines? Was he quoted accurately on that point?

A: My understanding is he was, yes. I wasn't there when he said that, but my understanding is that was an accurate quote.

Q: So when you attacked it then, you did not believe it was a dual use facility, you believed it was solely a chemical weapons plant?

A: Well, we believed it was a plant producing, that was using a precursor that we believe is only used to produce VX. Whether it was producing it there or whether it was combining it with other substances I think is still open to question, but we believe that Empta was in use there.

Q: Let me try it this way then, in retrospect, not knowing until three days afterwards, what is Secretary Cohen's opinion now of the intelligence that his Department was given and that military targeters were given about this facility? How satisfied is he with the intelligence that he didn't know about?

A: Secretary Cohen is, I think, very confident that the intelligence that the government developed on Empta at that facility is correct intelligence.

Q: Right. But what I'm asking is, how happy is he about the fact that the United States didn't know until three days afterwards that that plant made pharmaceuticals?

A: The main point here is that we launched an attack for a reason which was to disrupt a program that we think could lead, was going to lead to the development of VX. I don't think there's any doubt within the government that we succeeded in doing that and that we were right, that our intelligence was correct about the Empta.

Q: You said in a bit of digression there that it might have been combined with other products in the plant. What specifically are you referring to?

A: I don't want to get into details.

Q: But your understanding was it could have been used in other products in the plant? It was used in other products in the plant?

A: No. The question is... Empta is a precursor. It's not VX itself. So the question is, was it being produced there or combined with other elements there to produce VX.

Q: Other elements to produce VX.

A: Yes.

Q: So you're saying that plant might even have been capable of making VX itself? I think that's a new...

A: I'm not saying the plant was capable of making VX. I'm saying we thought this was a plant that was a part of a program or part of a scheme to manufacture VX. Where it fit in, I'm not going to comment at this stage.

Q: The Western engineers who consulted on the building of that plant basically say that it did not have the necessary equipment to do... It could produce something on the level of Empta but it could not make VX.

A: There have been a series of reports on this, and I understand that studies and investigations will continue on this.

Q: In the same vein, the Pakistani government as late as the end of last week has been saying to its official press that five U.S. cruise missiles landed in Pakistan and killed 11 Pakistanis. Are you saying that right now you can't even refute that?

A: I'm saying I'm not going to comment on bomb damage assessment at this stage.

Q: Has the Secretary been in touch with anyone in Russia about the state of military forces there given the disturbances and the economic and...

A: I'm not aware that he has. Obviously our government is devoting a lot of attention to that right now. I'm not aware of specific phone calls that the Secretary has made to Russia or had from Russia. He did discuss that this morning at one of his meetings, discuss the situation in Russia. He is following it carefully, along with other people in the government.

Q: I have learned that you will soon issue a review of East Asian strategy.

A: Right.

Q: When will you have that?

A: That's a good question. I thought it was going to be ready about a month ago. I'll try to get a date. I know the draft has been around for awhile, and I would hope it would be out relatively soon.

Q: On SwissAir, you talked about the GRAPPLE going up. Is the Department sending anything else, any forensic experts up to help the Canadians?

A: We will send what the Canadians request. I'm not aware of a firm request at this stage. Something could have come in this morning. But we will be as forthcoming and as helpful as we can be in response to the Canadian request.

Q: Did you monitor anything from the SwissAir cockpit?

A: I don't know.

Q: Dr. Gansler is quoted last week as saying that the Defense budget is in a death spiral and that major programs may have to be canceled. Does the Secretary share that opinion? Can you enlighten us as to what programs are on the block?

A: I can't enlighten you about specific programs, but I can tell you that the mathematics of the defense budget are clear and cruel. If we aren't able to achieve the savings that we want to get and need through BRAC and other means, savings that we hope to channel into procurement and readiness over the next decade or so, we won't be able to have as much procurement or spend as much money on readiness as we plan to do. I think Secretary Cohen made an allusion to this last week when he was at Fort Drum in Watertown, New York. He pointed out that he was asked a question about BRAC and the need for BRAC and he said that our procurement plans in the future for a series of big ticket items -- aircraft in particular -- are based on generating savings from BRAC. If we don't get savings, that way or other ways, we will either have to do one or two things. We'll have to get more money from other sources, or we'll have less money to spend. That is the cruel math of the defense budget.

Press: Thank you.