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Dr. Johnson-Winegar Interview With CBS 60 Minutes

Presenter: Dr. Anna Johnson-Winegar
February 16, 2003

60 Minutes: Dr. Winegar, are you satisfied that U.S. troops sent into Iraq to fight will have enough training and enough protective gear to survive a chem/bio attack and keep on fighting?

Winegar: Absolutely. I can tell you without equivocation that this department has made the protection of our men and women one of its very highest priorities.

60 Minutes: Under those circumstances why am I hearing from GAO, from Chris Shays, who is a Republicans, I can't tell you how many people here in Washington and elsewhere say it's just not true.

Winegar: The fact is that we have made a concentrated effort over the past several months to ensure that each and every individual is provided with adequate protection. We have the new improved protective gear that is provided to every service member prior to deployment. We had made significant improvements in our detector capability so that we know when a chemical or biological agent is in the area. We can provide advance warning and the troops are well trained, they have the best equipment in the world, and this country has made this a high priority.

60 Minutes: You're talking to a man who has not heard this, talking to me, from anybody, from anybody -- GAO, Chris Shays, people who have studied training. Forgive me, but that's a hell of a bet of you're making and a promise that you're making to the American people. What you're saying is that these people are prepared, they have the gear, the gloves, the boots, the helmets, the suits, etc., and an inventory system that is going to get all of this material to them if they need it, when they need it. That's what you're prophesying.

Winegar: What I'm telling you is that we rely upon a comprehensive system to provide overall protection from chemical and biological agents and that encompasses things such as detection and warning in conjunction with individual protective gear.

60 Minutes: Well all I can tell you is the GAO has called the Pentagon's inventory management system "horrific. It's a hodge-podge of systems that cannot connect with each other so they simply can't identify, track, or locate many of the components for the protective gear."

Look, you and I have one thing in mind and that's the protection of those people in the field.

Winegar: Absolutely.

60 Minutes: And I would love to believe you. But up to now you're the first person that has said this to me.

Winegar: Well I can certainly tell you that over the past few months we have made this an increasingly higher and higher priority

60 Minutes: This was low priority, everybody agrees it was low priority for a long time.

Winegar: And I can tell you that every service member who is deploying to the area of operations has been provided with two of the new JSLIST, that's Joint Service [Lightweight] Integrated Suit Technology item --

60 Minutes: What if they're in a contaminated area?

Winegar: The suits --

60 Minutes: Wait a minute. What if they're in a contaminated area and somehow they've either been incontinent in their suit or they use it up and the heat and so -- How are they going to change from one suit to another in a contaminated area?

Winegar: Our troops are trained and advised on their change-out procedures, where to go, how to wash down, how to take off contaminated gear, and that's why we have a backup suit. The suits that we have are good for 45 days of wear. They can be laundered. Obviously the training procedures indicate that once you know you've been exposed you have 24 hours in which you should remove the garment and put on a clean garment.

60 Minutes: Uh huh.

Winegar: And we emphasize this during all types of training procedures. That's why we've made sure that --

60 Minutes: Training procedures.

Winegar: Yes.

60 Minutes: Where are these training procedures done?

Winegar: They're done in a number of places.

60 Minutes: Where?

Winegar: They're done within the United States --

60 Minutes: Where?

Winegar: -- military bases. Every individual receives training.

60 Minutes: Wait a minute. I'm asking where, under battle conditions, are these training procedures taking place?

Winegar: The training procedures are done in a number of different places under a variety of different circumstances.

60 Minutes: I would imagine you would have the names of them right like that.

Winegar: I can't name every single base.

60 Minutes: Just name one or two.

Winegar: Certainly Fort Leonard Wood, Fort Hood, Fort Lewis, just to name a few of --

60 Minutes: None of those are really desert training. We're talking about Iraq in mid-summer conceivably.

Winegar: Yes. And they do provide refresher training once people arrive in theater.

60 Minutes: The Navy is short one million protective suits and boots, they're told. The Air Force has fewer than half the suits it needs we are told. Marines have fewer than half the boots they need. These aren't my figures. These are either GAO figures or Chris Shays figures.

Winegar: The figures that you're quoting I believe are for a full-scale requirement. What we have done is to make it a priority for those individuals going to the CENTCOM theater, that they have the highest priority. And again, as I said, I can guarantee you that every individual receives two complete outfits of all the protective gear that they need.

60 Minutes: And everybody is going to get them.

Winegar: Yes.

60 Minutes: The new lightweight protective suits, the JSLIST suit?

Winegar: Yes.

60 Minutes: They're in short supply. Isn't it a fact that while some units are clamoring for more of these suits, other units with too many suits are selling them on e-Bay for $3 apiece?

Winegar: All I can tell you is that we have significantly increased the production of those suits and there is no shortage now for the units that need them.

60 Minutes: And the units that had too many of the suits?

Winegar: I'm not aware of any units that had too many of the suits.

60 Minutes: They destroyed them, even though other units needed them. They were destroyed. Again, I am the captain of the information that's been told to me by GAO.

Winegar: The suits are sometimes used for training purposes and once the training exercise is completed those suits are then destroyed only because we have more new suits in production now and we are confident in the supply of the suits that we have.

60 Minutes: Somewhere out in the field up to 250,000 defective protective suits with holes and torn seams, part of a batch of 800,000 protective suits that were distributed. Are you aware of that?

Winegar: I am aware of that report and I can tell you with complete confidence that we have made every effort reasonably possible to identify the location of those defective suits and they have either been returned or destroyed.

60 Minutes: The military located half a million of them, but as many as a quarter of a million are still out there. The military has no idea where they are. All I can give you, again, is what I have heard.

Winegar: We have put out repeated messages to the field identifying those suits by manufacturer, by lot number. Let me --

60 Minutes: Is that Isratex?

Winegar: That's correct. Let me assure you one more time, there is nothing that is a higher priority for me personally and for this Department of Defense than --

60 Minutes: I believe that, I totally believe what you're saying, that you believe it. Then why is it that, you have the NBC program?

Winegar: That's correct.

60 Minutes: Standing not for our competition, but standing for nuclear/biological/chemical?

Winegar: That's correct.

60 Minutes: And the troops in the field call it NBC means nobody cares.

Winegar: Well, for the Pentagon it's certainly a very high priority, and to develop a defense for nuclear, chemical and biological agents is certainly a high mandate and we have put an enormous amount of resources into addressing this problem. We do not take it lightly. And let me be sure that you understand, this is at the highest levels of the leadership. And I know that the Chairman --

60 Minutes: What do you mean, highest levels of the leadership?

Winegar: The Chairman and the Secretary have both spoken to the Congress and to the press on this and have assured everyone that we are prepared, that we are ready. We take it very seriously, and I can personally attest to that also.

60 Minutes: A U.S. Army audit last July found that over 70 percent of the units they reviewed were not proficient at operating their chemical/biological gear? That was last July. And this is an Army audit.

Another Army audit, quote "Many soldiers in units were not prepared to operate in a chemical or biological environment." Close quote. A U.S. Army audit.

Winegar: I certainly think that since the time of those audits the department has put a significant increase in attention on this problem and clearly readiness posture is a very important aspect of our overall defensive posture.

60 Minutes: There have been charges that you are trying to keep bad news, and I'm saying you were trying to keep bad news. Forgive me for being so direct. You've given us 15 minutes. I've had hours and hours but you've given us 15 minutes because you have a plane to catch. Some congresspersons tell us that the Pentagon has been trying to keep this bad news from the American public. Question, then why has the military retroactively classified those Army audit results that have already been made public?

Winegar: I was not aware that the Army had classified them.

60 Minutes: They retroactively classified stuff that was already unclassified and made public.

After a chemical or biological attack, how would the soldier and his equipment be decontaminated?

Winegar: We have a number of different procedures that involve a wash-down type of procedure with a decontaminate solution. For a biological --

60 Minutes: Out there in the field?

Winegar: Yes. That's correct. For a --

60 Minutes: You know that it takes 20,000 gallons of water to decontaminate 800 soldiers. If you're out in the field, 20,000 gallons of water to decontaminate 800 soldiers. Where in the dickens are you going to get 20,000 gallons of water to do it with?

Winegar: Well in addition to the water type of wash-down we have other types of decontaminating procedures including pads, absorbent pads that can be used to wipe off the agent. So it's a combination of a number of different procedures that we can use.

60 Minutes: The U.S. Army Inspector General says there are no medical shelters to treat wounds in a contaminated area. So if a soldier is in a contaminated area, he gets shot, the bullet goes through his suit, they can't treat his wounds because there are no medical shelters, and there are insufficient medical doctors who have trained, trained to do this work in battle conditions.

Winegar: Oh, I think we've made a tremendous increase in the number of medical doctors that have been trained to work with people who have been contaminated with chemical and biological agent. We've done both in-person training and on-the-Web training and training through a variety of means, and I think we've made great progress in that area.

60 Minutes: Well I'm glad to hear that because that's not the information that, just this morning. There has been no tracking system to identify and locate the few military doctors who have been trained to treat chem/bio victims.

Look, Dr. Winegar, these are tough questions for you to handle and they put you out here and everybody tells me you know your brief and you know your job. Everybody respects you. For you to be given the chore in 15 minutes, which is all that you can grant us, instead of Mr. Rumsfeld who is upstairs some place, to answer these questions, and you put your reputation on the line. What assurance can you give parents who may be looking in at this moment, and to our sons and daughters in uniform who might have to face a chemical or biological attack in Iraq. What assurances can you give them?

Winegar: I can give them the assurance that this Department of Defense and this country, the United States of America has, without a doubt the best equipment in the world. It is world class. It is sought after by many other nations. We have made this a very high priority. Not only do we have a program where we are constantly procuring more of the items that are available today, we are continuing to invest in a very robust science and technology program so that we know about the latest advances.

60 Minutes: So the Congress people and others who have been talking to us -- GAO, etc. -- who raise these issues are simply crying wolf?

Winegar: I think it's everyone's duty to make sure that we're all making sure that this remains a very high priority, and the fact that the Congress has raised this issue, yes, there have been a number of congressional hearings. Yes, there have been GAO reports that have been issued.

60 Minutes: The classified hearings that we are not quoting from because we don't want to quote anything that's not on the public record, they are more vivid even than the things that I'm saying.

Winegar: I think the only answer I can give you to that is that this is a high priority, we have made significant improvements in our posture. We have devoted countless resources to this -- personnel resources, financial resources. We have brought this to the attention of everyone from the field commander all the way to the Chairman and to the Secretary.

60 Minutes: All I keep hearing is the senior commanders are, first of all they don't believe it. They've never fought a war like this before, the senior commanders. They were wrong in Desert Storm, the senior commanders. Are you worried at all about the quality and the condition of the gas masks?

Winegar: Absolutely not. Our gas masks are unparalleled and without a question can provide ultimate protection against chemical and biological agents.

60 Minutes: U.S. Army audit released two years ago found 62 percent of the gas masks examined had "critical defects that could cause leakage". And an Army spokesman said that many of the small tears in the gas masks could simply be fixed with duct tape.

Winegar: Well certainly I think that we have made it an increased priority, that people are now looking at their gas masks. We have provided the adequate type of testing in the field to make sure that the masks don't leak. And again, I have to assure you that with the high priority that's been placed on this no one, no one, whether it's the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman, the individual combatant commander, the field commander, myself, or anyone here in the Pentagon would do anything to put an individual in harm's way. Nothing.

60 Minutes: I would think that would be absolutely true.

Winegar: It is.

60 Minutes: And the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has said we're ready.

Winegar: We are.

60 Minutes: Do you expect there will be chemical and biological attacks by Saddam Hussein?

Winegar: Well, I know that he has the wherewithal to do so. I certainly can't make a prediction as to what his rationale may or may not be --

60 Minutes: Colin Powell today, I was watching up at the UN, and it seemed to me he was saying -- That's what he was talking about. Chemical and biological --

Winegar: Biological agents. Yes. I was fortunate to be able to listen to part of it myself and clearly he went through the evidence that we have that indicates that they have the production capability and the weaponization capability. What we don't know, what I certainly don't know, is what will be the trigger event, what will be the deciding factor to initiate the use of these particular agents.

60 Minutes: Are you aware of the fact --

Winegar: We are --

60 Minutes: Are you aware of the fact that U.S. troops in Kuwait in just the past few weeks have found that half of their gas masks had useless training filters?

Winegar: I think that problem has been corrected.

60 Minutes: I know, but come on.

Readiness reports. Unit readiness reports, which means that a unit is ready for battle, right?

Winegar: That's correct.

60 Minutes: As a matter of practice they've not included either chem/bio training or equipment.

Winegar: It's my understanding that now they do. There is a long list of items that they check for and a few chemical/biological ones have been added to that monthly unit readiness report.

60 Minutes: Good. I feel like a bully. I do.

Voice: As of when did they add -- I think it's three out of 69 and as of when did they start to do that? Mike, do you want to ask that? In the readiness report. Do you want to ask it?

Winegar: I believe it's been within the last year that those particular items related to chemical and biological defensive posture have been added to the monthly unit readiness reports.

60 Minutes: Why is there this skepticism out there, Republican and Democrat? I mean I've known Chris Shays a long time and he is not one to go off half-cocked. He knows a great deal.

Winegar: Uh huh.

60 Minutes: I talked to him this morning again on camera. It's at odds with what you have been telling me, Dr. Winegar.

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky wrote a letter to the Secretary.

Winegar: That's correct.

60 Minutes: It was sent in November, outlining some of this stuff.

Winegar: That's right.

60 Minutes: She never received an answer. Why?

Winegar: I believe an answer was prepared.

60 Minutes: She has never received an answer. She told me so this morning.

I know we're all busy and this place is busy as the dickens. I'm glad you've said what you've said and I want to get this out as soon as possible because --

Winegar: It certainly is a very high priority issue. I don't know how I can emphasize that to you any more. That everyone, whether it's on the military side, the people that are responsible for operations and readiness, and those of us on the acquisition and technology side which is my background and where I come from. We're responsible for, as I said, providing the particular equipment that is needed today as well as investing in the future so that we don't have technological surprise about new things that are coming along.

I know that the individual unit commanders, the combatant commanders and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are working very hard to --

60 Minutes: I'm sure they are.

Winegar: Working very hard to ensure that everything that those individuals that are deployed need to fight this war should there be a war, should the President decide to do that. My part and my contribution to that is in the area of chemical and biological defense.

60 Minutes: And everybody says that you know your brief. Everybody has confidence in you, and you're asking the American public --

Winegar: Yes I am.

60 Minutes: -- to have confidence in you, that you are saying what is the fact. So it's a question of -- The proof will be in what happens in the field should that kind of thing go forward.

Winegar: Absolutely. And of course we all hope that nothing like that happens.

What I can tell you is that we are prepared for the worst. We have world-class equipment. We've made this a high priority. Our young men and women are aware of the issues. They are trained. They have the best gear in the world. They know what to do.

60 Minutes: Should we not be doing this report, Dr. Winegar? In other words, this is very sensitive. We don't want to give Saddam Hussein, obviously, clues about anything. But by the same token --

Winegar: We want to give the message to our young men and women in uniform as well as to their families and friends --

60 Minutes: So we should be doing this.

Winegar: -- that we are prepared, absolutely. And that we do take this very seriously. It's a very high priority. We have done the best we can. We have world-class equipment. We understand the issue. We know what chemical and biological agents are.

As you said, when Secretary Powell spoke this morning to the UN he went through a list of things that we know about Iraq's capabilities.

60 Minutes: And what they might very well use.

Winegar: That's correct. And we know how to detect those things. We know that our individual protective gear works against those things. We have made this a high priority. Everyone understands and knows that this is very very important.

60 Minutes: Thank you very much.

Winegar: Thank you.

[Taking camera shots][

60 Minutes: I did my best to ask you every mean question imaginable, which I, and I succeeded.

Winegar: I've testified before Congress and Shays' committee a number of times. I've met with him personally. And I --

60 Minutes: So you know what he says.

Winegar: I know what he says. And I know he has the best interest of everybody at heart, and I agree. He's doing his job and I'm doing my job.

60 Minutes: The GAO, you know, [inaudible] and then all of a sudden they call and say huh uh, we can't go on camera. I said we're going to report what you told them.

Winegar: Uh huh.

60 Minutes: Suddenly they got afraid of going on camera and talking about it. You don't look that fearsome.

Winegar: Thank you.

Voice: I gather what you're saying is all those reports are a few months old and there's been a huge across-the-board push on every chem/bio front imaginable.

Winegar: Absolutely.

60 Minutes: Is it conceivable that these reports that I'm hearing from GAO or Chris Shays, that these are --

Winegar: A snapshot in time.

60 Minutes: Old news.

Winegar: At a particular point in time. The last hearing that his subcommittee had was October 1st. That's a number of months ago and I can give you specific things that we've done since then such as ramp up the production of the JSLIST suits. We're now getting 90,000 a month of production of those. We have initiated vaccination programs for anthrax and smallpox. We've done a number of things over the past few months and this is a daily item of interest and discussion here. There's not a day that goes by that we don't talk about some more proactive measure that we can take.

I can't tell you strongly enough what a high priority this is and how very very important it is to us.

60 Minutes: So some place along the line somebody finally understood -- I mean really, this story is about senior commanders who said come on. First of all, it's never going to be used by the enemy. And secondly, [inaudible] about that.

Is the training up to speed now? Because unless you know how to use this stuff, how to identify --

Winegar: Why have it if you don't know how to use it?

60 Minutes: Yeah.

Winegar: Exactly right.

60 Minutes: In battle conditions.

Winegar: Absolutely.

60 Minutes: And be able to keep on fighting.

Winegar: Absolutely.

60 Minutes: And you think that the training now is such, the people who are going to be on the line out there are getting the training they are going to need?

Winegar: Absolutely. I think it's such a high priority that it would be inconceivable to me that people would not make absolutely certain that they have the equipment, that they know where it is, that they know how to use it, and they have the confidence that it's going to work. That's the message that I want to give them.

I have confidence in this material and I hope that each and every person who uses that has that same degree of confidence.

Voice: You said it wasn't a high priority, or you seem to admit it wasn't a high enough priority before. Is it just in the last few months that it has really taken on this high priority life?

Winegar: I think that's perhaps a little unfair. It's always been a priority. It's always been in the Department of Defense budget, one of the programs that we've conducted for a number of years. But the sense of urgency is continuing to increase. I think that would be a fair way to characterize it.

60 Minutes: And that's within the last few months really that it's ramped up.

Winegar: Absolutely.

60 Minutes: And these guys are, the people who have been talking to me are giving me old news and just as you say, that was a snapshot in time.

Winegar: That's correct.

60 Minutes: And you take the snapshot today --

Winegar: It's significantly improved. Significantly improved. Across the board.

60 Minutes: You're a hell of a lady.

Voice: Can you just ask, because I know you're going to have a perfect answer, and it's not too little too late.

60 Minutes: So it's not too little too late?

Winegar: Absolutely not. We have enough. We are well protected. And we have confidence in the equipment that we have.

Voice: And I think the question was referring to -- That answer --

[Multiple voices]

Voice: The answer you just gave, is that also applicable to training?

A; Absolutely. Yeah.

Voice: Okay.

You've been very gracious, thank you.

Winegar: You're more than welcome. And I'm sorry about the limited amount of time.

Voice: We appreciate getting any of your time.

Voice 2: I can tell you from personal experience just coming from overseas this summer that even before this we were training, I and everybody in my command was trained at least a couple of times a year. We checked our masks for seals and we had to do it on a regular basis.

Voice: Then why does the Army audit find that 62 percent of the masks that are checked on a regular basis won't work?

60 Minutes: Talk to him.

Voice 2: I can tell you from my experience, putting my mask on and making sure the seal was correct, having to take my people out of their jobs to --

60 Minutes: -- says that the training which should take place down in Southern California, what's the name of the training base?

Winegar: Irwin.

60 Minutes: He says "They are not using something like that which is the closest thing to Iraq."

Winegar: I think that may be old information, too. I tried to get a current [inaudible].

[Multiple voices]

Voice: So he's giving us old news and you're giving us the current situation.

Winegar: Well, old as in a couple of months ago. This is such a fast-moving issue that I get [inaudible] every day. How many suits do we have, [inaudible] units have, how many people [inaudible] on a daily basis. And with all due respect to Congressman Shays, I don't think he gets -- It is a very high priority.

[Multiple voices]

60 Minutes: I'm sure that's true.

Winegar: It's not that he doesn't ask.

Voice: -- there then needs to be resupply of equipment.

Winegar: Yes.

Voice: The GAO says oh, man, resupply would be another "high risk". Are you concerned about resupply?

Winegar: That's certainly an issue, I'm not a logistician. But what I've been told is that the resupply is going to be an essential area so they then have the flexibility to defend it here, there or whatever. And we're talking about how far forward we should pre-position things. Is having some things in Europe close enough so we can get it there in a few hours or do you really need to have it literally in the theater. As I said, I'm not a logistician.

60 Minutes: But you're confident.

Winegar: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

60 Minutes: You're a hell of a lot more attractive than those guys.

Winegar: Thanks.

And I will check on that letter to Representative Schakowsky because I know we helped draft the answer. I cannot tell you whether --

60 Minutes: She said she never got an answer.

Winegar: I can't tell you whether Secretary Rumsfeld --

60 Minutes: Sent it.

Winegar: -- decided not to sign it or something, but the way things work here, which I'm sure you can understand, is they send it to somebody to develop it --

60 Minutes: [inaudible]

Winegar: It was very nice to meet you.

60 Minutes: It was a pleasure.

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