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DoD News Briefing, Thursday, September 17, 1998

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
September 17, 1998 1:55 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

First, tomorrow is National Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Recognition Day. There will be a ceremony here at 11:00 in the morning hosted by Secretary Cohen at which retired Air Force Colonel Norman McDaniel will speak. He was an electronic warfare officer in an EB-66 plane shot down over North Vietnam on July 20, 1966 and was held as a prisoner of war until February 12, 1973. That's tomorrow at 11:00 on the parade field outside.

Second, Dr. Rostker, who is the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, will hold another in a series of outreach meetings at Camp Pendleton, Calif., on September 22nd, 23rd to explain Gulf War illness issues, research and care to military members and their families. This is open to the press, and if you have questions on that we can get you more information, or your news organizations more information.

There are ten journalists from Africa here. Welcome, bienvenue. We're glad to have you here. We also have a National Radio and TV correspondent from Lithuania. Unfortunately, his name is beyond my ability to pronounce, but we welcome you as well.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Could you clarify for us, there are reports out of Japan that part of this North Korean missile might have landed near Alaska. Do you have any information about that?

A: I have no information about it. First of all, as I understand it the only way we have to trace the debris of this missile is through radar tapes, and there is considerable disagreement within our own intelligence community as to how to interpret these tapes. We are continuing, our analysts are continuing, to meet to try to reach a consensus position on this and other questions stemming from that August 31st missile launch.

Q: Is there any evidence that there was a warhead that might have gotten...

A: I'm not aware that there is any evidence of a warhead.

  • Q: On the same point, I guess I'm confused about your statement that there is considerable disagreement in our own intelligence community because the State Department I believe has already publicly said they believe it was an attempted yet failed satellite launch, and I believe this Department said the same thing.
  • A: I'm talking about the dispersion of the debris. The question Susanne asked dealt with the dispersion of the debris from the missile.

Q: But there's no disagreement about what it was.

A: We believe that they tried and failed to launch a satellite. That hasn't changed.

Q: Will you then just explain a little bit further the question of the disagreement over the dispersal of the debris field. Can you quantify the ranges where the disagreement is? Nautical miles versus nautical miles?

A: No, I don't choose to do that. It's a disagreement on interpreting data at this stage. It could well be resolved. But I don't think whether it went X or X plus 1,000 kilometers is really relevant. What's relevant here is what I stressed last Tuesday and what the State Department has stressed as well, is that that three stage missile with a solid fuel third stage was an advance that shows they have greater capability to fire payloads over longer distances. That is worrisome to us. We are engaged in missile talks with the North Koreans, and we hope that we can succeed in those talks, in convincing them not to continue. But North Koreans are not easy to deal with on these issues.

Q: Is there disagreement about whether this third stage actually reentered the atmosphere or whether it simply burned up and never reentered?

A: That, I believe, is part of the disagreement -- exactly what happened to the third stage.

Q: Whether there was reentry?

A: Well, whether any debris actually reached the ocean.

Q: You said Tuesday that based on the information you had, you estimated the capability of the North Korean missile at 4,000 to 6,000 kilometers which would put it in the range of Alaska going in that direction. So I'm a little confused as to what the disagreement is about the debris field near Alaska. What's the disagreement...

A: I didn't say anything about anything near Alaska. I didn't talk about Alaska. Depending on the path the missile took, where it was aimed, it would go different places.

Our belief is that they attempted to launch a satellite and failed.

I was asked a specific question about dispersion of debris and I said that that is still being analyzed by the experts who pay attention to this stuff.

The dispersion of the debris is not necessarily an indication of what the reach of this or any other missile would be. The reach of a missile is a combination of a number of factors. One is the amount of fuel it carries, which determines how quickly it accelerates, what velocity it attains. The second is the weight of the missile, specifically the weight of the payload. There's also consideration of what that might be, how much the payload might have weighed in this situation. It takes a huge engine, a large rocket to launch a large payload, and a much smaller rocket to launch a smaller payload over whatever your distance range is.

I suppose you could make an analogy to a race car. There are three considerations. You could have a huge engine on a heavy race car that would be slower than a comparably sized engine on a much lighter race car, so the size of the engine, the propulsive unit and the weight of the vehicle are both factors. A third factor would be the solidity or strength of your vehicle. If you had a huge engine on a very light race car, it would go very fast but it would fall apart if it weren't strong. It would shake apart. So another aspect is the strength of the vehicle and its ability to withstand pressures, both going up and coming down.

So there are a number of considerations here that come into play in determining what the capability of this missile or rocket would be and the effectiveness of its payload.

Suffice it to say it is our conclusion, and we've said this many times, that what they attempted to do was a failure. They attempted, by their own admission, to launch a satellite and we believe they failed.

Q: Does the Pentagon believe that the solid fuel capability was indigenously developed or acquired?

A: I think that we do not have a theory on that at this stage.

Q: Is there still any evidence that the North Koreans, any evidence of activity around that launch site that could indicate preparation for another launch?

A: Not that I'm aware of. No.

Q: Is this missile and the dispersion patterns and all of that the reason for Mr. Hamre's sudden trip...

A: No. That trip I believe had been planned before. He's going to both Japan and Korea. He's meeting with troops in both places. As you know, we have 100,000 troops forward deployed in Asia, about 100,000 troops, and he's going to meet with some of those troops.

Q: There have been some reports that Swiss and French laboratories failed to confirm what a U.S. Army laboratory found on some Iraqi warhead parts. Does the U.S. stand behind its findings of VX on these Iraqi warhead parts, and are you doing anything to look further at this?

A: The answer is yes. The U.S. does stand behind its findings and yes, we are working hard, UNSCOM is working hard, to try to assemble more information on the dimensions of the Iraqi chemical warfare program.

I think you're referring to what happened earlier this year. In June, UNSCOM announced, I believe it was UNSCOM that announced that a U.S. lab had found traces of VX which is a very deadly and persistent nerve gas, on fragments of warheads from an Iraqi destruction range. From that, UNSCOM reached the conclusion that Iraq had attempted, had weaponized, in other words placed VX into warheads on SCUD missiles.

Forty-four fragments were brought to the U.S. from the Al Hussein destruction site, a site where Al Hussein missiles were destroyed in Iraq, and they were analyzed using two scientific techniques. On about a quarter of those fragments, a quarter of those 44 fragments, the analysts found traces of decomposed VX.

The results were then tested or reviewed by a special UNSCOM team. This is a team of 13 people from seven different countries appointed by UNSCOM to review the findings of the U.S. lab. That team included representatives from Switzerland, from France, from Russia, and from China. The 13 people on that team unanimously concluded that the U.S. findings were valid and that there were, in fact traces, of decomposed VX on some of these fragments. So they agreed that the U.S. findings were valid.

Based on that, the question became not whether Iraq had attempted to weaponize VX but how many warheads it had weaponized with VX. What we're dealing with here is something like an archaeological site. It's a large area with thousands and thousands of little fragments that have been collected and taken to a warehouse. These are fragments of missiles that the Iraqis have destroyed themselves.

So the question came, could we tell... Since the Iraqis have refused to tell us, the Iraqis, in fact, have insisted that they have not weaponized any VX into warheads, they have not placed VX into warheads. We, UNSCOM has concluded that Iraq did put VX into warheads. Now UNSCOM is trying to find out how many warheads may have been weaponized with VX.

So it went back in and got 80 more fragments, collected 80 more fragments. Swabs of these fragments were taken. Half of them were sent to a Swiss lab and half of them were sent to a French lab.

The issue now is whether they have found VX on those fragments. Whether or not they do, will not invalidate the U.S. findings which have already been reaffirmed by an UNSCOM team because their fragments came from a different part of the destruction area.

So it's like if you were trying to analyze different types of grass in a large field, you might find bluegrass in one corner of the field and zoysia grass in another corner of the field. Just because you find zoysia grass in the northwest corner of the field doesn't mean that Kentucky bluegrass or fescue wasn't growing in the southeast corner of the field. So that's where the situation stands.

I don't believe that the Swiss and the French labs have yet reported their results officially to UNSCOM, but when they do, if those results are that they found no trace of VX, it will not invalidate the U.S. findings of VX on fragments taken from another part of the destruction field.

Q: Iraq is making noise that it will completely stop cooperating with inspectors unless the U.N. changes its decision on the sanctions review. Have we picked up anything from intelligence of protected troop movements or anything like that?

A: No. We have not picked up anything that we would conclude were movements of that sort.

Q: The helicopter crash off of Ocean City, Calif. Can you expound on whether or not the crew members have been found, or what's the status of that crash?

A: The last I checked two hours ago, the crew members had not been found. There were apparently four crew members on a Marine Corps helicopter, UH-1, crashed around midnight last night practicing night flight operations. To the best of my knowledge, they have not found any of the crew members yet, but we'll double check on that.

Q: A second question is about Marine Sergeant Charles Little who has wrote a memorandum to President Clinton asking why he's being discharged for an adulterous affair. I was curious if the military was going to change any of their positions in regard to this or where the military stands as far as President Clinton is concerned?

A: First of all I'm not familiar with Charles Little's letter to the President so I can't comment specifically on that. The Uniform Code of Military Justice is the law under which the military operates. That, of course, is passed by Congress. We don't anticipate any change in that, or any change in the way the law is enforced.

Q: President Clinton does not fall directly under the UCMJ?

A: He does not. He is a civilian. He's not a uniformed member of the military.

Q: Indirectly related to the North Korean missile launch and missile proliferation by the North Koreans. I would ask about the U.S. reaction to the success in the Israeli Arrow 2 Program. I understand within a year Arrow 2 may be operational, and I would simply want to know what is... Is Arrow something that could be available to Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, other threatened allies of ours? And what specifically, I understand the Arrow 2 is different than the THAAD. Can you tell us about the distinction between the two? Is there anything the Arrow can do that the THAAD has not yet been able to do?

A: I am unable to give you a lengthy technical description of the Arrow, but in principle I'm sure the program would be available to other allies should they need it.

What I can tell you about the Arrow is that it is designed for a situation where the owner of the Arrow knows the vector of attack. It is designed specifically to deal with attacks from that area. It's not movable. It doesn't have a 360 degree field, as I understand it.

We face a different issue when we deploy our troops around the world in both theater missile defense and national missile dense at home, which is not knowing all the time from which direction we might be attacked. So we need a different sort of system that has a broader defensive field. That's my understanding of the primary difference, but I think probably I should get you a precise description of the Arrow and how it differs from other theater missile defense possibilities.

Q: Is it possible, or do you know if it's possible, if the range and the speed of the Arrow could...

A: I've told you everything I know about the Arrow. You can ask me a 100 questions from now on and I'm not going to answer one of them. I will try to get you some more information on that.

Basically, though, the Arrow is being developed by Israel, and Israel, as you know, tested the Arrow earlier this week, I think on Monday, and maybe your questions about the Arrow's capability would be more properly directed to Israel.

Q: The United States does, though, have a contract arrangement with Israel for taking the technology, using it by the United States, and possibly by allies, is that...

A: I didn't say that. What I said was that theoretically if the Arrow works in Israel and if other countries found that it could help them meet their defensive needs, theoretically I would imagine the Arrow technology or some parts of it could be available to other American allies. But I haven't looked into that particular aspect.

Right now I think the Israelis are continuing to develop the program, and I suspect a lot of people would like to wait and see how the program develops.

Q: Can you give us any further readout on the meeting Tuesday with the President and the CINCs and the service chiefs? Did the President indicate when he would respond to the concerns that were expressed about readiness? Did he ask them for more information? Anything you can tell us more about that meeting?

A: Not really. I think that the descriptions have been pretty complete. He listened attentively, he took notes, he said that he felt that they had made a strong case that readiness problems had to be dealt with, but gave no indication of what his response would be. As I said on Tuesday and we've said before that, numbers were not discussed at the meeting.

Q: Has there been a decision yet to scrub those military web sites? And could you say how many web sites there are, and the sorts of information that would be removed from them?

A: First of all there has been no decision signed out on the question of web site security. I do not know offhand how many military web sites there are, but there are a lot I can tell you. Hundreds may understate it. But the policy has not been signed out yet by Deputy Secretary Hamre.

Q: Do you have any sense of the kind of information that you're concerned about...

A: Some of it is personal information such as social security numbers, home addresses, telephone numbers, home telephone numbers, things like that. Some of the information would deal with very specific information about the capabilities of weapons, particularly weapons that are being developed through the contracting process, that might come out through the contracting process. A third area would be anything that looked like, that might provide very detailed floor plans of facilities, for instance certain types of facilities.

Those are the types of issues that we're looking at now, and as I said, this is something of concern to the Joint Staff and also to Secretary Cohen and Deputy Secretary Hamre.

We've been looking at a way to balance the convenience of the web sites and to make them helpful and functional without giving away information that might lead to compromises of personal or other types of security.

Q: What can you say about the way in which this problem developed? Was it a lack of oversight and planning in terms of web site technology? Or... Why are we seeing this now?

A: First of all, as I said on Tuesday, we're trying to act before real problems develop. The best problems are ones you head off before they become bad problems. That's what we're attempting to do. We're attempting to make people more conscious of web site security issues. That's really the goal of the policy that's in draft form now.

Q: But in terms of planning or strategizing before web sites were even created...

A: I think that web sites bring out creativity and a desire to disclose information in people. That's what they're designed for and many of the people who have designed these web sites want to make them as sort of full of information as possible.

All we're asking commanders to do, or we will ask commanders to do, is to review the web sites with a couple of basic principles that deal with personal and other types of security, and to make sure that they don't give out information that could compromise our very legitimate security needs.

Q: Were technical requirements for arms, or for weapons development contracts being put on web sites?

A: I listed that as an example of the type of thing we'd be concerned about. I don't want to get into specifics. I don't think it's appropriate to do that right now.

We estimate that there are about one thousand Department of Defense web sites, but there is no central registry of web sites in the Department so we don't have a clear number. Any of you who have logged onto DefenseLINK, and I hope all of you have, because it's the window into the public affairs office at the Department of Defense, and the best way to get information quickly and cheaply. Any of you who have logged into that know that you can go from DefenseLINK which is the DoD web site into web sites for each of the services, for instance. From there you can go into web sites for a specific unit. Sometimes even specific ships. So there's this sort of multiplication effect where you go into the Navy web site and from there you can go into many other web sites down to carrier battle groups or ships. You can go into web sites for particular units or wings and the Marine Corps, Army, and Air Force.

Then of course many agencies, many defense agencies, also have their own web sites, and many installations. For instance if you wanted to learn the history of Moody Air Force Base, you could find the Moody Air Force Base web site and it would give you a history of the base and tell you who the commander was and the command structure and what units are assigned there. I'm sure you can do this for almost any installation in the military. Moody is one I happen to have explored myself. It's quite an exciting web site. If any of you are interested in the history of Moody Air Force Base, I commend it to you.

Q: Is there any [inaudible] to deploy more units on the Afghan border? What can you tell us about what you're seeing there, and what their intentions appear to be from the way they're deployed?

A: I can tell you from what Iranian officials have said publicly, which is that they're planning to conduct military exercises in Iran along the border with Afghanistan, and that some officials -- including the Foreign Minister -- have been quoted as saying that they have no intention of military action against Afghanistan at this stage.

We believe that they are in the process of deploying between 40,000 and 60,000 people into that area and that they plan to carry out some exercises over the course of next week.

Q: That's 40,000 to 60,000 on top of units which have already been there?

A: I think that will be the total number there.

Q: On Kosovo, there seems to be a fairly active discussion both in Brussels and in other quarters of the administration about renewing a direct military threat against Milosevic and the possibility of airstrikes. I'm wondering why this discussion now, what's changed, and what are the pluses and minuses of it?

A: The main factor that's changed is the date and time of year. We're now in late September, winter is approaching, and everybody sees the possibility of humanitarian disaster in Kosovo as winter approaches.

We estimate that there are some 250,000 displaced people within Kosovo. Those are people who have left their homes or their towns and moved to other, safer areas to avoid military conflict. In addition, we believe that more than 40,000 residents of Kosovo have moved across the border into Montenegro, and that as many as 20,000 refugees have gone into Albania. So there is a significant refugee problem.

The concern is finding ways to get shelter and food to refugees or displaced people before winter begins and if we can't get them adequate shelter, to find ways to take care of them during what could be a severe winter.

So I think the possibility of a humanitarian problem is one factor that's changed. A greater recognition that we're on the verge of a possible humanitarian disaster. The President talked about that yesterday at his press conference.

President Milosevic's forces continue to fight against the UCK, continue to drive people out of villages. There's been no sign that he's prepared to stop. So I think his continuing policy of violence and repression on the one hand and the impending closeness of winter on the other hand have come together to generate more concern about the situation in Kosovo.

Q: What would be the point now? Would it be to put an end to the fighting? Would it be...

A: First of all, our goal remains unchanged, and that's to achieve a diplomatic solution to the problem. Obviously that has not worked yet. So one reason for using military force would be to give some help to the diplomats by showing Milosevic that we're serious in saying he should end the attacks and end the violence and allow people to move back into their houses and fix them up in time for winter so they can be warm and safe.

No decision has been made to use military action. We remain committed primarily to getting a diplomatic solution. NATO, as you know, has come up with a range of plans, some involving airstrikes, and some involving sending in ground troops to enforce a cease-fire agreement, but unfortunately, we don't have a cease-fire agreement.

So one of the things we would like to achieve is a cease-fire agreement that might lead to a cessation of two things. One, the attacks by the Serbs against the Kosovar Albanian forces, and two, provocative attacks by the Kosovar Albanian forces that then lead to retaliatory or return attacks by the Serbs.

Q: The fact that you say that Milosevic is not prepared to stop, does that then mean that there's any point in continuing the negotiation or discussion process?

A: I didn't say he's not prepared to stop. I believe what I said is he hasn't stopped.

Q: I believe you said there's no sign he's prepared to stop.

A: Well, there is no sign now that he's prepared to stop, and one of the reasons for considering military force would be to convince him that it makes sense to stop. But as I said, that decision to use military force has not been made and that's something that's a matter of discussion within our government, and between our government and our NATO allies.

Q: But what I guess I'm trying to ask is, given the fact that you said there's no sign he's prepared to stop and military force could be the thing that helps convince him to stop, does it make any sense, is there any reason to continue the negotiation process without also having military force?

A: We clearly have developed military options. Those military options are so-called on the shelf at NATO and ready to be pulled off and activated when NATO makes that decision. So far NATO has not made such a decision. I can't go further than that.

I think our policy has been clear from the very beginning as to achieve a diplomatic solution. So far it's clear to everybody that it hasn't worked.

So the question is, what can we do to make it work? What can we do to reach the type of cease-fire agreement or cessation of hostilities that we seek, and that is absolutely crucial to allow people... if people are to return to their houses and be able to weather the winter safely. So these are the issues that we're addressing in our government and they're the issues that are being addressed throughout the governments of NATO countries.

Q: You talked about being on the verge of a humanitarian disaster. Is there any preliminary planning, contingency planning being done for some sort of humanitarian airdrops such as were conducted over Bosnia in order to deliver food to these refugees?

A: We're looking at a variety of options. One is of course, we've already provided some support to non-government organizations, $11 million already, and the President announced recently we were going to provide 20 additional millions of dollars. So we are trying to help and support the current infrastructure there.

In addition, we are looking at the possibility of providing some rations. We have rations in packets called humanitarian daily rations. We are working on ways to deliver large numbers of those.

We are beginning to look at a range of ways to provide humanitarian assistance, but I don't have any specifics at this stage. I think it's premature to talk about specific plans.

Q: But among the options for possibly delivering these humanitarian daily rations, the last time they were delivered in large quantities to refugees in the winter, or to people in the winter, was in Bosnia where they were dropped from planes.

A: We know we can drop rations from planes. We're looking at a variety of options and I don't want to be specific right now about what we're looking at. But obviously, theoretically, that is an option for providing humanitarian assistance. There are other ways to get food to people as well.

Q: We know about our own allies. What do we know about how Milosevic, [inaudible] allies, particularly Russia, are looking at this situation? Is one of the reasons for our caution we don't know where the Russians stand on it?

A: Well, the Russians clearly want a diplomatic solution. Mr. Primakov, when he was the Foreign Minister before he became the Prime Minister, was involved in some efforts to broker a diplomatic solution. Mr. Milosevic went to Moscow to have conversations with Minister Primakov.

I think that anybody who pays attention to the situation in Kosovo knows that the shortening time to winter is putting more pressure on everybody to reach a solution, so I'm not sure that people's views on what's appropriate may be changing. But that's something that will be worked out diplomatically. I can't tell you what our latest discussions have been with the Russians on this.

Q: I'm wondering, is the threat of military intervention at all still credible? And I'm wondering as a result of that what's the state of play between us and our allies?

A: First of all, I believe the threat of military action is credible. There was a lot of discussion in Bosnia in 1994 and 1995 about whether airstrikes were appropriate, whether they could work, whether there was support for airstrikes. After a long period of negotiations and many meetings including a very important meeting in Paris in May or June of 1995, and then a very important meeting in London I think in July of 1995, the allies agreed to launch airstrikes and did so, and I believe those airstrikes contributed measurably to bringing the parties to the table at Dayton. That led to the Dayton Accord which has brought peace to Bosnia.

So I think that we've proven in the past that air power properly used can certainly have an impact on people's willingness to sit down and negotiate.

We have been talking to our allies. We have plans. These are NATO plans, they're not U.S. plans. There's a lot of concern about this in Europe. The Bosnian situation has arisen as an issue in the German elections, for instance, the election campaign going on today. So there's quite a lot of concern about this in Europe. The EU, the European community, has talked recently about starting its own diplomatic initiative to try to broker a peace agreement or a cease-fire agreement in Kosovo. So we're in the process of dealing with our allies on this.

I think that everybody is becoming more concerned as the humanitarian crisis becomes more obvious and more imminent.

Q: Is there less concern now that the use of force, airstrikes or what not, would embolden the Kosovar rebel forces and in fact encourage that insurrection, lead to conditions that would be ripe for a diplomatic solution?

A: Before our government and other governments make a decision on the use of force they'll have to look at a lot of factors. Certainly one of those factors is what using force would do to the balance of power within Kosovo. I do think that...

Q: Has it changed, though? There's been an offensive now for a couple of months at least, and whereas the rebels were once quite strong, they now seem to be in a fair amount of disarray.

A: It is certainly true that the Serb forces, both the special police, the so-called MUP and the Serb army, the VJ so-called, have been extremely aggressive in their efforts to stamp out opposition. They have not succeeded. The opposition continues to come back and to come back. So the standoff continues. But I think most analysts would agree there has been a change in the balance of power in Kosovo. How that's weighed by the decisionmakers remains to be seen, and it would be one of the factors that they would consider, but there are many other factors. I think right now the primary factor, the primary concern, is the worry about humanitarian problems.

Q: Not only do we face humanitarian disaster in Kosovo, but on the other border of Milosevic's Serbia there's been what appears to be a political disaster. Mrs. Plavsic has been ejected, rejected by the Serbs, and I wonder now if with hard line Serbs in control if the U.S. feels that NATO will be in greater jeopardy or have less cooperation?

A: First of all, I don't think we know whether hard line Serbs are in greater control today than they were yesterday. The election results are incomplete. The votes are still being counted. There are a number of absentee ballots. There are other ballots that have to get special treatment, so that counting still goes on. It's the OSCE, the organization for security and cooperation in Europe, that's doing that right now. When they finish their counting, they'll give their results.

Certainly some newspaper reporters have leapt to the conclusion that the elections haven't turned out well for the pro-Dayton forces. I think time will tell whether those reports are correct.

Q: We'll know probably in a day or two. Would this be considered a setback if the hard line Serbs take control?

A: I think we, one, should wait until the results are complete before we comment on them; and two, it's always been clear to us that the people of Bosnia ultimately are responsible for their own fate. There will only be peace and security and stability in that area if they want peace and stability there. Elections, of course, are one way for them to vote on their vision for the future.

But we don't know yet what the results are going to be. There are still ballots being counted. There have been talks of challenges on both sides, so we'll just have to wait and see how this turns out.

Q: The issue of COSCO. The Port of Long Beach people say that DoD has submitted a report on whether COSCO, the Chinese shipping company, is a security threat to the nation. That's been submitted to the conference committee on the defense authorization bill. Do you know, has that report been completed and is there any intent to make it public?

A: I'll have to double-check on that. The last I heard it had not yet been transmitted, but that was several days ago and that could have changed. So we'll check and find out.

Press: Thank you.