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DoD News Briefing - Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
October 31, 2000 1:30 PM EDT

Bacon: Good afternoon. Let me start with several announcements. First, tomorrow night, Wednesday night at 8:20, Secretary Cohen will speak at the Edmund S. Muskie Award Dinner for Distinguished Public Service, where he will receive an award. In fact, he will receive the Edmund S. Muskie Award for Distinguished Public Service and make some remarks about the state of our national defenses. That's tomorrow at 2020.

On Thursday, Secretary Cohen and Janet Langhart Cohen will unveil a permanent exhibit in the Pentagon dedicated to the USO, United Service Organizations. That's at 11:00 on Thursday. General Tilelli will also be there, who is now president of the USO since his retirement from the Army, and two entertainers -- Mickey Rooney and Gerald McRaney, the former "Major Dad " -- will also be there. They have participated in U.S. programs in the past. This will mark the 60th anniversary of the USO.

General Shelton is traveling and today through November 2nd he will be at the Asia Pacific Defense Chiefs Conference in Honolulu. This is sponsored by Admiral Blair, the commander-in-chief of the Pacific Command. And he will be meeting with defense chiefs from Australia, Brunei, Canada, India, Japan, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Republic of Korea, Russia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga.

Q: Indonesia's still excluded, right, as they were last year?

Bacon: They are not on this list, Charlie -- extensive list, but it doesn't include Indonesia.

Two items of interest to the reserves and the National Guard. On Thursday we'll have a ceremony recognizing employers who showed their -- show special support for the guard and the reserves. And we also have today a bluetop on new dental benefits for the families of members of the guard and the reserve who deploy with the active duty forces.

And we have three groups of visitors.

First, a group from the National War College. They are studying information media and national security -- 13 students from the War College; welcome.

There is also a group of Air Force Public Affairs Company-grade Officers in the PACE program, which is Air Force Public Affairs Company-grade Officers for Excellence.

And finally, we have a bunch of journalists from Canada, Algeria, and France; bienvenu.

And with that, I'll take your questions.

Yes, Charlie.

Q: Ken, the U.S. embassy in Kuwait City says that the threat level among U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait has been increased due to what they call threats and tension in the area.

Has that Threatcon Delta you've gone to?

Bacon: Yes. Yes, in both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the U.S. forces are now at the highest alert level, which is the Threatcon Delta.

Q: Is that due to any specific threat to forces in those two countries, or because of the overall situation?

Bacon: It is due to credible threat information involving unspecified targets.

Q: So it's now in five countries, or is there still a Threatcon Delta in Yemen -- in Aden?

Bacon: Well, it's in Aden. Aden, and then four countries.

Q: Aden, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia.

Bacon: Right.

Yes?

Q: So if I remember the Qatar and Bahrain situation, there you had some specific targets mentioned but you didn't have a credibility measure at the time you put those in, but this time you feel it's credible.

Bacon: Yes. But against unspecified targets.

Q: Could you give us the number of troops in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait? You earlier gave us the numbers in Bahrain and --

Bacon: It's approximately 5,000 in each place. It varies, but that's approximately it.

Q: When did the level raise up, in the last day or two?

Bacon: Yesterday.

Q: How many planes do we have in each location?

Bacon: I don't have the answer to that. [There are about 40 U.S. military aircraft in Kuwait and about 60 in Saudi Arabia.]

Q: Could we get that later? As long as we have the number of troops, can we get the number of planes?

Bacon: Probably not, but we'll look at it.

Q: Was this raised yesterday, I mean this alert status?

Bacon: I'm sorry?

Q: Was the alert status raised yesterday?

Bacon: Yes, it was.

Q: And can you tell us anything more about these threats? Are they linked to any specific organization? Is there any ties with, for instance, Osama bin Laden?

Bacon: I've said all I can about the threats.

Q: Did the threats link to the decision to keep ships out of the Suez for now?

Bacon: Well, there is no decision to keep threats -- ships out of the Suez Canal for now.

Q: Can you elaborate on what the situation is regarding the canal?

Bacon: Well, the situation is this. Ships pass through episodically, and I think there is a false impression that ships go through daily or weekly. They do not. They tend to go through in groups. And sometimes weeks can elapse between transits of our shops. We happen to be in a period now where we do not foresee any ships going through, and have not. Even before the Cole situation, there were no ships scheduled to pass through the Suez Canal for some time. I don't want to get into details, but several weeks. So there can be periods of four to six weeks when ships don't transit through the canal.

Q: Could you explain -- could you tell us about why the Cole isn't going through Suez?

Bacon: Well, the Cole is in the process of being loaded right. In fact, if we put the lights down, I have some pictures, and we can talk a little bit about the Cole and the Blue Marlin. This is the Cole being towed out of Aden out to sea. And you can see the next picture is the Blue Marlin on the right and the Cole obviously on the left. You can see the Blue Marlin is submerged, and the Cole will be positioned over the deck of the Blue Marlin, and then the Blue Marlin, when the Cole is in the right place, will be pumped out and will rise up again and then carry the Cole. And you can see more of this in the next picture.

Q: What day were these pictures taken?

Bacon: These pictures were taken, I believe, yesterday or the day before. There is the Cole, the mast of the Cole is just behind the bridge of the Blue Marlin, and she's positioning herself to be brought across the deck. And then you can get one more picture of this. I think there's one more perspective.

Now, the Cole is basically positioned over the deck of the Blue Marlin, but the Blue Marlin is still submerged. And the next step -- now, what's happening today -- the reason I'm showing you all these pictures is to lead up to this point -- this important point: It's going to take several days for the Navy to be certain that the Cole is ready to travel on the Blue Marlin. So we're in the process of doing some testing to make sure that the ship is well seated on the Blue Marlin, well buffered, et cetera, before the voyage begins. So it'll be several days before the voyage of the Blue Marlin begins.

Q: And will that voyage involve a trip through the Suez Canal?

Bacon: And that voyage will involve a route that will be chosen by the Navy at the time the ship leaves.

Q: But it's already on deck now, is that right?

Bacon: Well, this is -- what they're doing is experimenting with the best way to put the Cole on the deck of the Blue Marlin. So that is not the final positioning. They're going to spend several more days working on getting the best position.

Q: The Navy originally said it would take 24 to 36 hours to do this. It's already been a couple of days. Have they encountered some unexpected problems?

Bacon: No, I think they just want to be very careful. This isn't the type of thing the Navy does every day, and they want to make sure that the ship is well seated and secure before the Blue Marlin takes off.

Q: Ken, isn't it already out of the water?

Bacon: Sorry?

Q: Isn't it already out of the water?

Q: It's not in that picture.

Bacon: No, not in this picture. She may be out of the water by now, but still not expected to leave for several days.

Q: Where is that picture? Why can't we see that picture?

Bacon: I don't have that picture. These are the latest pictures I have.

Yes? There may be later pictures posted today, but these are the latest ones I have now.

Q: Posted where?

Bacon: Posted on DefenseLINK, which I'm sure you check every day --

Q: Hour.

Bacon: -- for the combat camera images.

Q: So that's the starboard side. Are we going to see pictures of the port side?

Bacon: Well, you saw a picture of the port side; the first picture I showed.

(To staff) We'll show the first picture again, please?

Q: A picture of the port side with the ship out of the water.

Bacon: Right there.

Q: That's the old -- that's the same -- essentially the same thing we've seen every day.

Bacon: Well it hasn't changed.

Q: In other words, when it comes out of the water, it will be different. It will be different?

Bacon: It will be out of the water. Right. Right.

Q: Are we going to see that picture?

Bacon: I can't promise that you will. But --

Q: Because?

Bacon: Because it's a type of battle damage assessment. We know that CBS will do very excellent battle damage assessment. But we think that we'll just let -- we may well not show that picture. That will be determined later.

Q: Ken?

Bacon: Yes?

Q: One more on the Suez Canal. There's sort of this popular wisdom going on that the Cole will not travel through the Suez Canal because of a terrorist threat, because it would be vulnerable. Is that true or not?

Bacon: As I said, the Navy will make a decision and announce the decision, or not, at the appropriate time?

Q: On what basis will it make the decision?

Bacon: The Navy will make the decision on what it determines is the best and safest way to transport the Cole back to the United States.

Q: Do we know where it's going in the United States? It's going to Norfolk, or another location?

Bacon: I believe Norfolk is the leading possibility right now.

Yes?

Q: Ken, on the Suez Canal, aside from the Cole's route, it's been reported that the Navy made a decision, or someone in the U.S. military made the decision not to transit the canal for the time being. Is that not true?

Bacon: Let me just explain it again. There were no ships scheduled to go through the canal. The only ship that was scheduled to go through was the Donald Cook. The Donald Cook is going to accompany the Blue Marlin bearing the Cole. So, wherever the Blue Marlin goes, the Donald Cook will go. After that, there is no scheduled transit through the canal for some time.

Q: (Off mike.)

Bacon: A matter of weeks. As I said, the ships pass through episodically, sometimes with gaps of four to six weeks between transits. Typically what you have is a battle group coming through that might have four, five, six ships. They'll come through not together but in sequence. And then you have some singletons or doubletons going through from time to time. So there are long gaps when no ships transit, no Navy ships transit the canal. Obviously, commercial trips go through all the time.

Q: (Off mike.)

Bacon: Well, all I'm saying is, the mere fact that there's not a ship going through today or tomorrow or next week doesn't necessarily mean anything.

Q: But Ken, weren't there ships -- aren't there ships now in the Persian Gulf that were scheduled to have port calls in the Mediterranean that will now have port calls in other parts of the world --

Bacon: I don't know how to be clearer about this. There are no ships -- there were no ships, there are no ships now scheduled to go through the canal for several weeks.

Q: (Off mike) -- saying, though, that there was -- the Pentagon or CentCom issued instructions prohibiting ships from going through. That's what the reports were saying. And you're saying there were no such reports?

Bacon: Right. I'm saying the mere fact that ships aren't going through the canal doesn't mean that any instructions were issued.

We are evaluating, with the Egyptians obviously, the security situation in the canal; we do that all the time, so do the Egyptians. We both have a very fundamental interest in keeping the canal secure.

Q: No instructions have been issued?

Bacon: No instructions have been issued, right.

Q: Can you tell us what are the fees that American warships pay for going through the Suez Canal?

Bacon: I cannot.

Q: They do pay a fee?

Bacon: Yeah, they do; they pay extensive fees. I just don't know what they are; we're trying to get them. We've asked and so far we haven't found the right "green eyeshade" guy in the Navy to tell us that. [Fees are based on tonnage. The fee for an aircraft carrier is about $440,000. Fees for other warships typically range from $10,000 to $100,000 each.]

Q: But it's in the neighborhood maybe, of a million dollars for the --

Bacon: Well, I think it varies on the size of the ship, obviously, but we'll try to get those figures. I mean, I can't imagine that they're impossible to get.

Yes.

Q: Just to be clear: Since the Cole -- well, since October 12th, there have been no ships that were scheduled to go through the Suez Canal whose itinerary has been in any way changed so as not to go through the Suez Canal?

Bacon: No, that's not what I said. One ship was scheduled to go through the Canal; the Cook. And the Cook's route will be determined when the Blue Marlins route is determined.

Q: But other than the Cook, there were no other --

Bacon: That is my understanding; that there was a gap of a number of weeks.

Yes.

Q: Ken, has the Pentagon given commercial shippers any advice -- U.S. commercial shippers any advice about whether they should use the canal?

Bacon: Not that I'm aware of, no.

Q: I have a little more different subject?

Bacon: Sure.

Q: Could you give us a readout --

Bacon: Are we through with this?

Q: Well --

Q: Go ahead.

Q: On a Cole-related subject: It's reported that there've been discussions between the Pentagon and certain members of Congress about where the Cole will be repaired.

Has Secretary Cohen or OSD had any discussions with Senator Lott or the Mississippi Delegation about sending the ship to Ingalls?

Bacon: I'm not aware that we have, but my belief is the Navy will make the decision. And of course there are a number of factors -- a number of factors will be part of the decision. But, I think that's all I have to say about it now.

Yeah?

Q: Is the total ARG [amphibious ready group] going to stay in the Aden area for the time being, or is it to be split up, or what's going to happen with it?

Bacon: Well, the Tarawa will be involved in transporting some people from the Cole and she may or may not go back to Aden, depending on the need to house people in the Aden area, Americans who are still there. There are very few Americans on the ground now, ashore, in Aden. There are still quite a few in the area, but most of them are now bunking on ships and it'll depend, in part, what the needs are to support those people.

Q: Could you explain what happened today? Apparently, the government of Yemen has refused to allow either small boats from American ships or American helicopters to land? In other words, the investigators that are on the ships have been unable to get on the shore today.

Bacon: I'm not aware that's the case. I mean, it could well be; I just hadn't heard that.

Yes?

Q: Ken, has anybody -- has the Navy talked to you at all about how well the Aegis equipment actually survived the blast? You know, the multi-million-dollar Aegis suite of electronics that is supposed to take a combat hit? Is this thing able to protect itself and detect targets now?

Bacon: My understanding is the electronics is in pretty good shape. I think we'll have a better idea once we get the ship back and test her. But my understanding is that many of the combat systems are in good shape.

Yes?

Q: Where's the crew going? How many are staying with the boat and where are the --

Bacon: I don't know what the breakdown is. The overwhelming majority of the crew will come back to Norfolk, or to their home station.

Q: Do you know when?

Bacon: It depends on when the ship gets underway. But shortly after the ship gets underway, they'll come home.

Q: Will they be flying back, or taking another ship?

Bacon: They'll be coming back -- they'll be using what we call "intermodal" transportation.

Q: Which, in English, is?

Bacon: They'll be traveling on more than one type of carrier.

Q: Do you know where its captain will be?

Bacon: The captain, I believe, will stay with the Cole.

Q: For the entire transit?

Bacon: Yes. And a small contingent from the crew as well.

Q: Any new information on the Cole condition? Have the general and the admiral been to Aden in the last --

Bacon: They are returning today from Aden, and elsewhere in Europe, and they -- I mean elsewhere in the region. They went to Europe first, and then they went down to Aden. I don't know where else they stopped. We're hoping that they will be here on Thursday. Our current plans are that they'll be here on Thursday for a briefing to report as much as they can.

Q: New subject?

Bacon: Are we through with this?

Q: Are we done?

Bacon: Okay.

Q: Can you give us a readout on Cohen's meeting with the Chinese general?

Bacon: Yes. It was a very good meeting.

Q: Excellent. What else happened?

Bacon: They discussed China-Taiwan, and the American belief in the one-China policy, but also our firm belief that any differences between China and Taiwan should be resolved peacefully. Secretary Cohen talked about our commitment to security and stability in the Asia Pacific region, and the need for us to remain forward-deployed in the region with approximately 100,000 troops. They talked about -- he brought up the question of arms transfers and the need to control arms transfers, both from China and Korea; talked about missile sales in particular. He talked about the need for increased transparency so that the U.S. and China can have a better understanding of our military operations and aspirations, and talked about ways to improve military relations, understanding between the two countries.

Q: Did China ask the U.S. to curb its military sales to Taiwan?

Bacon: That's not -- I don't know whether that came up specifically, but it certainly is their standard position, yes.

Q: And the press service sent out something with an article on Congress' solution for the food stamp problem in the military, and it seems to be different from what the Pentagon wants to do. Could you talk a little bit about that and how their plan squares with what you-all want to do? Because I think they're offering a cash payment.

Bacon: Yeah. The Floyd Spence Defense Authorization Bill for fiscal year 2001 does contain a food stamp solution that is different from the one we proposed. I think the important thing about the new bill is that it does address the food stamp problem, as we have been trying to do, and is taking action to reduce this problem in the military.

It does so by substituting cash payments -- or giving cash payments of up to $500 per month to families that qualify for food stamps. And this will alone -- the additional income will eliminate the need for food stamps; that is, make them ineligible for food stamps by increasing their income for a certain percentage of the number. I don't know the number. Captain Bloxom is here and he can give more details on this if you want, now or later. Families, if they qualified, would still be able to get food stamps, but the cash payments would make it less likely that some families would qualify for food stamps than today.

There's another change, which is -- as you know, people live on base and those who live off base have their housing treated differently. If they live on base and live in free military housing, the value of that housing is not counted in their income. If they live off base and get a basic allowance for housing, which is a cash payment they get, or a payment they get, it is counted as part of their income. So what that means is that somebody living on base in free housing would show, for the purposes of the Agriculture Department, which administers food stamps, a lower income than somebody of comparable rank and family size living off base and receiving a housing allowance.

For the purposes of this provision, the value of on-base housing would be imputed as part of income, and that would affect their ability to receive a cash payment, but it would not affect their ability to receive food stamps. The meaning of that is that there is an attempt to treat people on base and off base equally, but it doesn't actually change their eligibility for food stamps because these are determined by the Agriculture Department, not by the Defense Department.

So this is complex and it's more complex than the plan we proposed, which was basically a plan to use debit cards to increase the efficiency of food stamp distribution and to give people more purchasing power for every dollar received because the debit cards would be used in commissaries.

Q: You have opposed the idea of just giving these folks a pay raise or a stipend because it makes the pay table unfair, so if someone has a smaller family they don't get the extra money. Is the Pentagon going to continue to oppose --

Bacon: Well, the president signed the bill and he issued a very lengthy signing statement when he signed the bill. He did note this provision. It is true that we had opposed solutions that would produce the result that this solution is producing, and that is that two people of the same rank with different family sizes could receive different take-home pays. We did oppose that.

Q: Ken, wouldn't also the -- not your solution, the other solution would just give people cash in which they could spend it on anything. Your solution would, in effect, have made these people buy food with money --

Bacon: Right, that's true. It was targeted --

Q: Instead of getting food stamps, they would just get money, but the money would have had to have been spent on food.

Bacon: It would have had to have been spent in the commissaries with a debit card; right.

Yes?

Q: Has the secretary taken a position on the legislation now pending before the president on disclosure of classified information? And if so, is he making any specific recommendation for a veto or for signing?

Bacon: Well, that's in the defense authorization -- that's -- sorry -- in the intelligence authorization bill, which is not as much in his lane of responsibility as the defense authorization bill.

Q: It attacked officials here.

Bacon: Yes. His general counsel is actively engaged in discussing this issue with the Justice Department and other aspects of the government. I'm not aware that Secretary Cohen himself has taken a view on this. He's certainly aware of the provision, but I'm not aware that he's taken a view.

Q: Are you at odds at all with the secretary on this, with your reportorial background? I mean, the secretary lamented in a speech, a recent speech to CSIS, that one of the worst disappointments he's had as secretary is the leaks of classified information to Washington newspapers. He said he often read memos to him in the paper in the morning before they reached his desk. And you sharply, sharply attacked this. Is there any difference between you two on this?

Bacon: No, but I think that there is a lot of room for confusion on what this provision would mean and what it wouldn't mean. The provision basically says that people who disclose classified information could be liable for criminal penalties. It won't make it any easier to find the people who leak information than it is today. It doesn't do anything to give the government more powers to seek out and find those who leak classified information.

What it does say is that people who reveal classified information, whether wittingly or unwittingly, if they are caught doing that, could be imprisoned and pay a fine of up to $10,000. It has a slightly different standard than the current law does for determining when somebody would violate the law by leaking classified information. It's a somewhat broader standard.

It does not in any way that I can see punish journalists for publishing classified information. In that way, it's no different from current law. It does not speak to the people who publish classified information; it speaks to the people who provide classified information improperly.

Q: So this wouldn't be like the National Secrets Act in Britain or anything like that?

Bacon: Well, I mean, some people in Congress have said that that is what it's like, but it is different, in that my understanding of the National Secrets Act, and my understanding is just based on what I read about it, is that people who publishing classified information can be held liable to prosecution. This does not contain that provision -- in part, because we have a First Amendment in our Constitution.

Yes?

Q: Speaking of classified information, it was reported in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that low-observable radar stealth technology has been transferred to the Russians. Is the Pentagon aware of that? Any kind of investigation going on that they have a hand in?

Bacon: I am not aware of that, but I'll check into it. I don't know what I can tell you once I check into it, but I'll check into it. [The Department is aware of this matter. It was a joint investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations. No data obtained in this case indicates that information provided to anyone outside of allowable channels was classified, nor does any data in this case indicate that passed information represents a degradation of the U.S. lead in the area of stealth technology. The Russian Academy of Sciences did have access to and use of U.S. supercomputers for the purpose of running computations using a modeling code that the Russians developed, but at no time did the Russians have access to classified information within the supercomputers. It's important to note that the Russians' use of the supercomputers was not unlawful, as current U.S. laws only cover the export of supercomputer hardware, not the use of the supercomputers themselves. There is no indication in this case that the Russians' use of the supercomputers was detrimental to either the U.S. Air Force or the U.S. government. The case opened in 1997 and closed in 1999.]

Q: Thank you.

Bacon: Sure.

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