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DoD News Briefing with Secretary Cohen and Admiral Clark involving USS Cole

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
October 12, 2000 3:00 PM EDT

(Special briefing on the incident involving USS Cole. Also participating in this briefing was Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark)

Cohen: Good afternoon.

At 5:15 this morning, Washington time, a large explosion blew a hole in the hull of the USS Cole as she was mooring at Aden, Yemen, to refuel. According to current reports, five sailors are dead, 36 are wounded, and 12 are still missing. These numbers are likely to change as we learn more.

I want to take this opportunity to express my deepest sorrow for the sailors, who died defending our national interests, and to extend my condolences to their families.

This is a sad day for America, for the Navy, and for the families of the lost and the wounded sailors.

At this time, we do not know the cause of the blast, and the Navy is concentrating on caring for the wounded and controlling the flooding on the USS Cole. Admiral Clark, the chief of Naval Operations, is going to have more to say about this in just a moment.

However, according to an eyewitness account, the explosion occurred when a small boat that was participating in the mooring approached the USS Cole. I want to repeat that we do not yet know the cause of the explosion. If, however, we determine that terrorists attacked our ship and killed our sailors, then we will not rest until we have tracked down those who are responsible for this vicious and cowardly act.

The United States is a global power with global responsibilities, and as a result, we face global risks. In the wake of this tragedy, I want to be very clear about one point. We will continue to protect our national interests around the world, in the Middle East, and elsewhere. No one should doubt our resolve to remain a force for peace and for stability, and no one should assume that they can force us to retreat. No one should assume they can attack us with impunity.

All Americans can be proud of the men and women who protect our country around the world. The world is safer because of their service, and their dedication to our ideals of freedom and security makes their loss even more painful.

Force protection is my top priority when I deploy troops, and it's the top priority of every commander. But we know that our vigilance cannot eliminate all risk. In the wake of this tragedy, we have increased the alert level of all of our forces around the world, at home and abroad. The Navy has dispatched medical teams and additional security teams to Aden. And British and French officials have offered assistance to evacuate and to treat our wounded. The Departments of State and Justice have dispatched investigators to learn what was responsible for the blast.

The tragedies that test our strength and our resolve occur and have occurred in the past. We have passed the tests of measuring up to those responsibilities and we will pass that test once again today. I would like to ask all Americans to join me in the prayers for the families of those who were killed and wounded. Their loved ones were serving all of us.

Before I turn this over to Admiral Clark, I'd like to say we are prepared to answer as many questions as we can this afternoon, but information continues to come in by the minute, and we want to make sure that we'll keep you updated as the day progresses. But we'll try to answer as many as we can, understanding some of the limitations that we have.

Q: Mr. Secretary, just very briefly, can I ask, do you, do you suspect terrorism? And how could anything but a large explosive device or explosives cause a hole like that in the side of a ship --

Cohen: I think, as I've indicated, if, as it appears, that this was the act of terrorists, then we will certainly do everything in our power to track them down and hold them accountable. We don't want to reach a conclusive judgment at this point. It has the appearance of an act of terrorism.

Admiral Clark has some photographs which he will share with you. You should also know that we have asked the networks not to continue to run photographs, pictures, of those who have been wounded, since have not yet been able to notify all of the families.

And so we prefer to make that notification immediately ourselves and hope that that request can be abided by. But Admiral Clark does have some photographs of the ship, which will -- and he will explain in greater detail the nature of the impact on the ship itself.

Q: Mr. Secretary, has anybody claimed responsibility for this?

Cohen: Not to my knowledge. There's been no claim of responsibility at this point.

Q: A follow-up. If you find someone, credibly, who is responsible, do you plan any kind of retaliatory attack?

Cohen: Well, as I've indicated, we will take appropriate measures to hold those responsible.

Q: How about the reports -- I'm sorry -- that two men were aboard that small boat and apparently stood at attention just when the blast went off?

Cohen: Well, I'd like to wait for the full inquiry in this. There have been a number of reports. I think right now Admiral Clark would like to brief you on some of the details and then we'll answer those questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, this is a part of the world which has been tense for years. Force protection is always very high. With all due respect, what are your concerns about how a potential terrorist could have penetrated U.S. military security? How could they have approached a U.S. military asset? How could something like this happen?

Cohen: As I've indicated in the past, there are -- we are a global power. We have global responsibilities and there are risks associated with that. We take force protection as a very highest of priorities. Admiral Clark is going to brief you in terms of the measures, basically, that we take to protect our forces. We don't go into detail specifically in what measures we take, but we are at a very substantial state of force protection. We continue to be at that state of protection, have actually increased it even further. But every area in the region certainly poses potential risks to our soldiers, Marines and airmen and -- and other forces.

Q: And briefly to follow up, you say you've raised the alert status of U.S. forces around the world. Can you tell us, are there any other threats or warnings that you have received today against U.S. military forces?

Cohen: I don't want to go into specific threats as such. We think it's just prudent, in the wake of what has happened, to make sure that we are more aware of what is taking place. So it's just a precautionary measure.

Q: Secretary Cohen, was there any intelligence that indicated that this attack might have taken place? Even looking back in retrospect, were there any warning signals that you missed that this threat might have existed?

Cohen: I don't think we missed any specific threats.

There are general threats in the region, and we understand that. And that's the reason why we have such precautionary measures we take. I believe that Admiral Clark will indicate that the nature of this particular situation would not have -- been very difficult if not impossible to protect against this type of incident.

Q: Could I follow that, sir? Is this an example of asymmetric warfare that you've warned about is in our future?

Cohen: Well, the answer's yes. This is precisely the kinds of threats that we face where countries are unwilling to take us on head to head, but will resort to acts of terrorism in order to achieve their goal. If, again, if the facts substantiate that this was a terrorist act, it would fall under the category of using an asymmetrical means of attacking a larger force.

Q: Mr. Secretary, do you think that --

Clark: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I'll get right to the point.

The secretary has already indicated that our indications are that this event occurred at approximately 5:15 this morning East Coast time while the ship, the USS Cole, was mooring at a fueling facility in Yemen.

The guided missile destroyer Cole was apparently attacked by terrorists in a small boat. And I say "apparently" because the investigation is going to have to reach the bottom line on this situation. But from a personal point of view, and what I know about the ship and the events that have been described to me, I have no reason to think that this was anything but a senseless act of terrorism. At this point, as the secretary has indicated, nobody has claimed responsibility for this act.

Let me first say that all of us in the Navy -- and I have been called by people from across the -- around the world today -- all of us are deeply saddened by the loss of our shipmates. They, like generations of sailors before them, have made the ultimate sacrifice serving their country.

I want to also commend the crew of the USS Cole. As we speak, there are 250 men and women on that ship battling for their ship and battling for their shipmates. They have performed superbly. They have done what they need to do to control and limit the flooding and the damage that has occurred to the ship.

The commanding officer reports that they have the situation under control.

Now, we do have some photos to show you, and they're going to appear over here on this side. And this first picture is a photo of the Arleigh Burke Class -- the DDG-51 class.

[ Slides shown during this briefing are available on line through http://www.defenselink.mil/news/#SLIDES ]

Next slide, please.

This, of course, is where the event occurred; down here in Aden.

Next slide.

And this is a picture of the damage to the hull. And you can see that it is generally midships and the immediately damaged area is in one of the main engine rooms and an auxiliary engineering space.

Give me the next slide, please.

Now this is a close-up of the hull -- of the hull and the hole in the hull. And you can see that the damage has occurred at the water line, and you can also get a picture of the nature of the damage in the way the metal is bent and so forth. The hole is generally 20 feet high and 40 feet across. As I indicated before, the captain indicates that they have the flooding under control. In fact, they did very early in the evolution.

And I would just like to say at this point that some of you know that until a few months ago, I was the commander in the Atlantic Fleet. And I remember specifically this ship and the George Washington battlegroup of which she is part of, and going through the training and certification for this group of ships as they were preparing to deploy. They are trained in the specifics of force protection. And they are also -- when they arrive in theater, as was the case in this situation, they are required to submit to their theater commander, via the chain of command, a force protection plan. And they, in fact, submit such a plan for every port visit that they are involved in.

Such was the case here. The planning was done, it was approved by the immediate superior in command, and they executed the plan as it was specified.

Now, you all have heard the reports throughout the day. The secretary has just indicated that there are now five fatalities on USS Cole. A dozen are missing. We are working very hard to make the notifications to all of the families, and let me say that we're not talking now just about notifying five families. We are talking about 300 people that are on this ship, and all of them want to know the circumstances regarding their loved one.

We have set up -- the commander in chief of the Atlantic Fleet, Admiral Natter, has put procedures into effect to support the families. The media has been reporting the 1-800 number throughout the day, and that activity is progressing.

The secretary has also made reference to the point about those injured that were on television, and I am so appreciative of the willingness of the networks to cease with those reports, because the fact of the matter is, we're talking about 300 families and we have not completed all of the notifications. I want to thank all of you who were involved in that. It is very much appreciated by Navy families.

You can imagine how I feel. My heart goes out to the family members of the crew of the Cole. This is a very difficult and trying time for them. I am heartened, though, by the way people in the nation have -- are reaching out to them and people, specifically, in the Hampton Roads area and, of course, those crew members' families are from around the United States.

The secretary has described the eyewitness account that has been passed to us regarding the small boat approaching the USS Cole. Let me just say that the ability to deal with this kind of attack is limited by this circumstance. This small boat, by report, was involved in the mooring evolution. This was not a conventional pier, if you will. Rather, it was a fueling -- it's called a fueling dolphin, but it is, in effect, a fueling facility out in the middle of the harbor.

The mooring evolution, instead of being alongside of a pier, there are several mooring buoys that the ship attaches lines to.

Small boats come to the ship and the lines drop down to them and the boat takes the line to the mooring buoy. This is what happened in this circumstance. And the report I have is that this small boat was involved in that activity, and then returning from one buoy came alongside.

The crew is continuing to control the damage. They do have power aboard. There were reports today that they did not have power. Early in the evolution they did lose power. Their emergency supplies are operating and have been for the bulk of the day. They have the fuel required on board to continue operations in the near future.

We have two ships en route to scene; two United States ships are now around 300 miles away and are closing the port of Aden, and expect them to be there sometime tomorrow. They're making best speed to get there.

We are also heartened by the support of other nations. And the secretary mentioned the support from the French, and they have a ship en route, and the British also have a ship that is en route. And I am told, just before I came in here, that the French had an airplane on the ground that was supporting our people.

As we started this conference here at about 3:00 [p.m. EDT], it was our -- the time line was that our first aircraft would arrive there that has a surgeon aboard and some other medical support. It has some security people to enhance the security, and there are also some people there to help us assess the damage so that we can then do follow-on planning to determine the future course of action.

In closing, again I just want to express my appreciation to the people who are reaching out to the men and women and the families of the United States Ship Cole.

Q: Admiral, why did the Cole stop in Yemen to refuel? And will you suspend refueling stops at Aden for the future?

Clark: Well, let me say first of all that the decision for suspension of ops would rest under the control of the unified CINC, in this case General Franks. You know, in Goldwater-Nichols, he is responsible for the operations and the decisions on where that kind of activity takes place.

But let me put it in context.

The ship is coming from Norfolk, through the Mediterranean, then down through the Red Sea. If we go back to the chart, if you go back a couple of slides, somewhere in this area you're going to have to fuel unless you have an oiler along with you. And so the decision was made to use this port. We have been in there on three other occasions in the last six months, since last May. And the decision was made to utilize this facility.

As the secretary indicated earlier with regard to a specific threat warning in that area, all of the circumstances that they would -- all of the information that would be available to the unified commander in chief would be used to make a judgment about where you were going to have the ship pull in. And as the secretary indicated, I know of nothing, no kind of a warning or a threat indicator that would have made this something that the unified CINC would have decided.

Q: The Navy's reduced the number of oilers in recent years. Do we accept more risk by having fewer oilers?

Clark: Well what, in any circumstance, if you were always self-contained, that's a nice position to be in. The reality is that any battlegroup is operating with that kind of support. But we do not have enough ships to assign one to -- this ship was transiting independently, and we don't have enough resources to -- by the way, let me say today I have 101 ships in the United States Navy deployed to the four corners of the Earth. Cole is one of those 101.

Q: Can you tell us anything about the suspect boat? Was it a steel vessel of some size?

Clark: I can't tell you. I do not have any of that kind of information.

Q: You don't know whether it was under contract by the Navy?

Clark: I have no idea how that setup works (inaudible).

Q: What kind of security procedures were followed? Were there armed security personnel on the deck? And did they have any of the fleet anti-terrorism support teams that normally go with ships?

Clark: I described earlier the requirement to have an approved force protection plan. Then there are a series of threat conditions in every theater in the world. Their threat condition posture was threat condition Bravo. I have talked to the commander a number of times today and reviewed the bidding on this, and they were in the posture that they were required to be in for this threat condition and entering this port, which would include armed personnel topside.

Now, the reason that -- and the secretary alluded to this -- in the scenario that I have described to you, any commanding officer that was working in a situation in a port like this has to assess the threat and the movement of ships and boats and so forth in the harbor. And a boat that was involved in the mooring evolution he wouldn't -- and was currently involved in it he would not expect to be a threat. And I believe that to be the circumstance.

Q: Admiral, would you tell me please, if it's a small boat, the type of (inaudible) boats that take mooring lines out, what kind of explosive would be aboard a boat of that size? And we're told that Arleigh Burke class destroyers have three inches of steel at the water line. Was this a shaped charge, do you believe? What could have caused a gaping hole of this size?

Clark: I can't answer that. I'm not an explosives expert. I can tell you this: these are exactly the questions that need to be answered in the investigation. And the FBI is en route to the scene to deal with these kinds of questions. Let me answer a specific with regard to the Arleigh Burke and her capability.

She has different thicknesses upon her hull and throughout the ship. It's not all the same in any given one place. I would tell you that the steel at this -- at the point of the water line is 51,000 pounds per square inch. And it is approximately half-inch steel. And so obviously this was a significant explosion.

Now, I think it's important that, you know, the -- this is a warship. And one of the things to look at here is that they have power back on the ship and, you know, the crew is working hard to -- they're fighting for their ship. The damage from the picture you could see is basically localized to that area. I don't have significant information about what the conditions are inside. It was inside the -- inside that picture, inside the engine room, and I really don't have any information.

Q: Admiral, two questions about the port. How much advance notice did the port of Aden have that the Cole was coming in, first? And could you take us back into 1999 when the decision was made to use this port to refuel? Because Yemen is well known to be a headquarters for Hamas and several other terrorist groups.

Clark: I don't have the specific time line, but I believe that it was 10-12 days that -- somewhere in that time frame that the request to come into the report goes in through the embassy and so forth, and then the process is put in place for the contractor to execute the refueling.

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Clark: Let me go to part number two.

I really can't talk to the specifics in '99; I can just say this: We have been working to improve our relations with Yemen for some time. And I'm sure that that was at the heart of the motivation of the unified commander as they are improving our relations in that part of the world. But with regard to specifics, you'd need to talk to the CINC.

Q: One might conclude from your earlier statements that a shortage of oilers for the -- or just simply the stresses of deployment, resulted in this ship making a refueling stop in a more dangerous port, and had you had more resources, that might not have been the case.

Can you tell me whether that's a fair --

Clark: I'm on record: I'd like to have more resources. But never would we send an oiler -- I can't recall a circumstance in my career where we sent an oiler with a single ship.

Q: Mr. Secretary?

Q: Admiral, have you had a chance to talk to the ship's captain, or could you share with us any details from the crew that you might have heard -- received?

Clark: I certainly have not talked personally to the ship's captain, you know; he is a busy man. I have been speaking with the naval commander in the theater, Admiral Moore, and that's where I have my feedback. Our comments have been confined to the steps -- the actions that we need to take and the actions that are being taken to support this ship the way she needs to be supported.

Q: Admiral, was the -- the boat that was involved in the explosion, was it a government boat, a Yemeni government boat, a contractor boat?

Clark: I do not know.

Q: (inaudible) -- reportedly had two men on that boat, and are they dead, Admiral?

Q: Sir, any relation with the conflict in the Middle East?

Q: Secretary Cohen, can you --

Q: Is there a relation to the conflict --

Cohen: Is there any relation? We have no information that it would be related to the conflict in the Middle East.

Q: Mr. Secretary, can you review for us your assessment of the terrorism situation in Yemen? Who operates there? Who concerns you? Do you see Osama bin Laden and his network as being active in Yemen right now? And do you have any reason to believe that his network or associates could be involved in this incident?

Cohen: Well, we really don't have enough information to make any judgments at this point. We do know that terrorists are operating throughout the region, not just in Yemen but throughout the entire Middle East. It's pretty fluid; there are various groups who move in and move out. And so it's generally a high alert area for virtually every area in the Middle East.

But I think it's just premature to make any link between Osama bin Laden or anyone else at this point until we have more information.

We're still, as Admiral Clark has pointed out, we're still bailing out the water to make sure we don't take on more water in that particular ship. And you will note, from that last photograph -- and I think the admiral pointed out to me -- that there have been a number of reports of how badly the ship was listing, but in fact, if you look at that last photograph you will see a sailor up on the deck who is standing straight up over the gaping hole.

So it's a serious blow; they are working hard to maintain the ship and they deserve great credit for that.

Q: Can you give us an idea of what your game plan is for the wounded, and where do you plan to take them, how you plan to do that, and when?

Clark: Yes, I certainly can. The medical -- I said that one, the first medical assist team is arriving and should have arrived since we came down to this event.

Q: That is from Bahrain?

Clark: They are coming from Admiral Moore's theater, and -- wherever exactly they were. I expect that they were from Bahrain.

Q: Admiral, what questions will you ask -- (cross talk)?

Clark: Just a minute.

Q: Sorry.

Clark: And then, on the next flight, which is also in the air, is a larger medical assistance team. There is also another aircraft inbound, a medevac aircraft that will be able to move people to a location that will be determined by the surgeons on scene. They will make the recommendations, and I expect all of that activity to occur over the evening hours here in the United States.

Q: Did you have trouble getting any of these medical aircraft on the ground because of the condition and the length of the runway in Aden?

Clark: I have not been notified of any problem in that regard.

Q: Secretary Cohen -- (inaudible) -- on the latest Iraqi troop movements and whether you see anything sinister happening there?

Cohen: Well, there have been identified, in the press accounts, some Iraqi movements to the west. This a also a training cycle for the Iraqi military. But we're watching it very closely, because of the ambiguity of the situation, to make sure that Saddam is not using any training cycle in order to take advantage of any developments in the Middle East or elsewhere. But we have not seen any specific move that would indicate that he is -- intends to cause any major controversy.

Q: Admiral Clark --

Q: Mr. Secretary, you and the admiral have been very careful to talk about an "apparent act of terrorism." Do you have in mind any other scenario or possible cause, other than terrorism, that might have brought this about?

Cohen: I don't have in mind any other cause of this, but again, I don't want to reach a judgment at this point. We have a team over there, they will make an assessment, and we will follow it up very quickly. There will be bomb experts. They will investigate the nature of the material that was used. That will help us reaching judgments about how it occurred and perhaps lead to those responsible for it. But I simply don't want to speculate at this point. We said it's apparent. I want to leave it at that until such time as we can say conclusively what it was.

Q: How many people were observed on the boat? And were they doing anything unusual? There were reports that they were standing at attention --

Clark: I've heard the same reports you have. I don't know if they're accurate or not.

Q: Sir, was anybody observed on the small boat?

Clark: I am told that two individuals were observed on the boat, but that is the same kind of hearsay. I've heard a number of reports. I have not heard a report that said anything other than two, with regard to number count.

Q: Was the small boat destroyed and are they dead, Admiral -- the two people? Was the small boat completely destroyed by the blast --

Clark: I frankly never asked the question.

Q: Admiral, on three occasions when you refueled in the past -- since May in Yemen, was this a fairly standard procedure - that you had boats from the area help with mooring? It became almost a routine event?

Clark: That is absolutely a standard procedure in every port you go into in the world. You know, this is a large warship, and so, as it is approaching a pier, instead of getting close enough to stick itself into the pier or something, virtually always you have a boat that assists you in getting the lines over. Then the lines help you moor the ship. So that's very standard.

Q: So that's attributed to the whole issue of it would be hard to detect a threat here?

Clark: Well, that's exactly right, and the fact that the individual apparently, by report, was involved in the evolution.

Q: And the fueling hadn't started yet, right?

Clark: No. They will still tying up when this -- as this --

Q: So the fuel could be exploding because it didn't leak from the line --

Clark: That's correct. No, that's right.

Q: Was there a pilot on board for this evolution?

Clark: I do not know.

Q: Does the Cole's crew include any women? And were any women among the injured?

Clark: The USS Cole is a mixed-gender ship. I'm not going to -- frankly, I don't have detailed knowledge of the injuries. But I do know that men and women were injured. But I don't have any idea what the balance would --

Q: Admiral, you talk about the force protection plan, and you said that force protection plans are in place. But wouldn't it make sense to send Navy personnel out to make sure that these boats coming toward you are actually part of the tender operations and not some sort of a threat? Is that a lapse, that you let these people come up so close to the boat without knowing, really, exactly who they are?

Clark: Well, in my view -- and you can accuse me of 31 years of experience in this and being involved in this activity and then just sort of taking it for granted.

But the reality is, is that when you enter a port like this, you make contact with the port officials, you always do before you enter; you wouldn't think of going in without having them verbally clear you in. They tell you who -- that the individuals are there to support you. You make assumptions about the credibility of that support. And I think that's appropriate, and that's the way we deal with people all around the world. We don't automatically suspect people that are sent forward to help us in an official way. This kind of support takes the tone of -- the arrangements made -- we send our request to the embassy and they deal with the local people there. And I will tell you that the first report I had from this via Admiral Moore was from an embassy support person.

Q: If you really don't know who's coming towards you, wouldn't it be wise to send some Navy personnel out before it gets close to the ship to make sure that these are in fact --

Clark: Well, I think that's the same question, and the answer I just gave you would be the same.

Q: Sir, does this appear to be an inside job, then?

Clark: I think that you're going to have to get the -- we will all get the answer to that as the investigation moves along. I gave you my personal opinion, based upon what I know now. I have described the information that I have available to me, and I can't tell you that the info that I've shared with you is 100 percent accurate, I mean, I have reports, and that's what I'm sharing with you.

Q: Admiral, you mentioned an 800-number for families. Is there anything other -- specifics you have that families can do or what's set up for families in the Norfolk area?

Clark: I've been in contact with the leadership in Norfolk several times today, and I have been in contact with the chief of Naval Personnel who is working this. We have 32 operators online answering responses. The backlog has gotten to the point where an individual might wait -- the maximum I've heard so far is up to two minutes to get a response. They are calling in and given information on their loved one and the information that they are seeking.

We've also set up a facility at Norfolk at the Air Station there where they have 24-hour support for the families, and people on-scene to assist them. And they're doing everything that they know how to do to support them.

You can understand the anxiety that exists within the families. Every one of them wants to know what is the status of their loved one. I wish that there was a way to get an instantaneous report to each and every family. There isn't a way to do that. We are, for example -- because the record communications channel was down as a result of the explosion -- we have been passing this information verbally.

And you can imagine how important it is for us not to make a mistake on one of the individuals and what category they might be in.

Q: Admiral? Could you --

Clark: And so this is -- it's taking some time. They're working at it. They've got people committed to it, large numbers of people committed to it so that we can properly support the --

Q: Admiral, could you assess the damage on the ship in a little more detail beyond what's on the water line: how many compartments were flooded, where the fires --

Clark: No, I can't give you -- I can give you a little information. I said the main areas are one engine room and one auxiliary engineering space. That is a space that would hold pumps and various kind of valves for the control of fluids and so forth around the ship. The spaces adjacent to that space have also been affected, but I don't know to the extent, and that includes -- I understand the messing and berthing -- messing area where the crew eats and a living space. But at this point in time they're at an evolution with a maximum number of people assigned to operating stations when you're coming in, and we call it the special sea and anchor evolution. And during this period there are a large number of people on the forecastle and on the fantail handling the lines. You've got people in every location in the ship that have the maximum number of people required to execute this kind of evolution. This is a varsity event when you're mooring the ship. So that's the posture the ship was in, and I just don't have any other detail that I can share with you at this time.

Q: (Inaudible) -- about where the casualties were?

Q: Admiral, are you saying that essentially this was -- there's no way this could be anticipated or prevented, at least --

Clark: What I'm telling you is that because force -- the secretary has made it real clear to us in uniform where force protection stands on the priority list. And that is the reason that the kind of -- the extent of events occurs before they go into a port like they did here, as I described to you, specific plans, force protection plans for entry into this specific port.

I can tell you, when I came in the Navy we never ever did things like this. This is the kind of steps that we're taking now to protect our people. So my view is that -- and the scenario that I've described to you is that it would be extraordinarily difficult to have ever observed in time to do anything about this kind of situation and to have stopped it.

Q: My question to you then is what do you do now to make sure this doesn't happen -- now that you know that this is a possibility, what do you do now? To make sure this doesn't happen again?

Clark: The investigation will give us all of the details into this, and then we will evaluate those findings and we will come to judgments about any steps that we can take to mitigate the risk.

But I have to say, you know, let's understand: 101 ships around the world today, and we do not live in a low-threat environment around the whole world. And so risk does exist, and we will never be able to take steps to eliminate all risk.

I make this point to say that this is about the young men and women who serve our country, and we can't lose sight of this. Their service involves some risk, and it's part of their service that they go to the four corners of this Earth and represent this nation and our interests. And so I don't -- I won't prejudge what those findings might be, but I can assure you that an event like this will not occur without receiving the attention of the highest levels of leadership in our department. And that includes myself.

Q: Is there a risk of the ship being lost completely as a result of the damage?

Clark: It is -- I have described the events to you the best way I know how. The captain --

Q: -- the phrase, "fighting for the life of the ship."

Clark: Well, I said fighting for their ship. And I was careful in the way I said that. I don't want to give the impression -- and if I did, I'm glad you asked the question. They're fighting for their ship. And I make that point because, look at this hole. See, the water is still free-flowing here. So the flooding challenge is not over. They have it under control, all right? The ship is listing, by last report, four degrees, which is not a significant indication of progressive damage. And so, based on the information now, I see no such -- no such threat. They are doing a great job containing the damage.

Q: Admiral, how long does it take for the USS Cole to refuel? Was this a four-hour operation, six-hour? What was sort of the window of opportunity?

Clark: I can't really answer. I don't know what her fuel load was. Nominally, you would pull into a port, though, like this and you'd look at an hour or so to get tied up and get all the lines over, and then maybe two to three hours to execute a fueling evolution. But that's soft, because I don't know how much fuel she needed.

Cohen: Thank you very much.

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