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ASD PA Clarke Conference Call with Regional Media

Presenters: Victoria Clarke, ASD PA
January 17, 2002

(Conference call with regional media.)

Q: I'm just going to start my tape and we're going to talk a little bit about, as specific to Pennsylvania as we can as far as what's going on. They told me that you would be able to talk a little bit about Pennsylvania's role, and of course everybody in the country is taking pride in what their people are doing right now in the military. It's just, it's one of those things, it goes back to the Gulf War, it was the same thing.

Can you tell me a little bit and tell the people that are listening a little bit about why they should be proud of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvanians that are in the military.

Clarke: Sure. Just to throw your words back at you, everyone in Pennsylvania really should be proud of what the men and women in the U.S. military, including the Guard and Reserve, are doing in the war on terrorism.

For many people until September 11th there wasn't a whole lot of real life experience, if you will, with the U.S. military. Now we all see day in and day out just what incredible jobs those men and women are doing.

Pennsylvania has made a huge commitment on the Guard and Reserve front and almost 1500 people are serving in the Guard and Reserve that have been activated. Harrisburg I know has a few hundred people in the Air National Guard and the Marine Corps Reserve. Pittsburgh clearly, quite a few again in the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve. And these people are serving a variety of functions. Some are participating in the combat air patrols that are overhead protecting cities, major areas around the country; some are providing an important number of specialties in terms of logistical support, security support, and I'd say more than ever people are becoming aware of just how important the Guard and Reserve is.

Q: We also gave up a pretty good governor.

Clarke: You did give up a very, very good governor who's doing a fabulous job on homeland security.

Again, September 11th has changed things in so many ways. Prior to September 11th people fortunately got up every day, and we've lived in relative peace for quite some time, and we've [been] blessed for a long time with good neighbors and unique geography. The thought of attacks on our homeland was not forefront in our mind. It clearly is now, so a huge deal of appropriate focus is being put on homeland security. How do you make sure people are as safe as possible, how do you make sure we can prevent as many potential attacks as possible, and so there's a new focus, a new energy and it's going to take extraordinary leadership. It's new turf for a lot of people, but Tom Ridge is doing a fabulous job and has a lot of support in this Administration.

Q: And none of us up here certainly doubted the job he would do.

You mentioned about the flights, the protective flights. I live about four miles from Three Mile Island so I saw some of those flights when we had those, well, we had a pretty tense week around TMI as I'm sure you're aware of a couple of months ago.

I'm hearing, though, a lot of talk about concern about the stress on the pilots, concern about the stress on the equipment, and there's consideration to cut down those flights. What can you tell me, the latest on that?

Clarke: The latest is this. Making sure the American people are as safe as possible is our number one priority and that has several different elements to it. It has to do with what you would think of in the simplest terms defense, protecting the American people from future attacks. That's one of the reasons we have the combat air patrols up there, and I'll come back to that.

At the same time you can never protect against every attack of terrorists, you just can't. That's why it's so important to go on the offense and to go after the terrorists and those who harbor them and foster them and sponsor them where they live, where they work, to go after those who have been financing them, to go after those who have been providing support around the world. You have to go after them and you have to root them out at the source, because as I said, you just can't protect against every possible conceivable attack.

The combat air patrols have played a very important role in terms of homeland defense, homeland security, and they will continue to do so.

What we're assessing right now is what's the appropriate mix and balance? One of the things you need for readiness, to make sure we can prevent against attacks, for instance, this is in the generic sense, is to make sure people have the right amount of training versus actual work. And so we're focused hard on making sure we have the right balance.

This came up in the briefing room the other day, I think, or in a session with some other media. Giving the bad guys, if you will, a playbook as to what we're going to do and when we're going to do it is not a smart idea, obviously. If you start saying where we're going to have combat air patrols and where we don't have them, when we have them and when we don't have them, you lose part of the deterrent effect.

So we are taking a hard look at what's the best appropriate use of our resources and our people and our protections, but we certainly won't be telegraphing exactly what we're doing and where we're doing it.

Q: Nor should you, and I certainly wasn't asking that.

It ticks me off sometimes when I watch the national, especially the cable news networks. New Year's Day I was watching, I think it was Fox -- don't hold me to it. I saw them come on and say well, you know, a bunch of helicopters have just taken off from Camp Rhino and they're heading to the northeast and this is where we think they're going. There's been a lot of that going on, even though they say we don't want to put out any information that could help the enemy. That's got to drive you guys nuts.

Clarke: Actually, if you want to generalize, the overwhelming majority of the media we found has been very very responsible and has been very respectful of national security considerations, of the need to make sure we don't put people's lives at risk. So in general they've been quite good. The Pentagon press corps in particular and it's partly because they've been working here for a long time, they understand the sensitivities, have been very good about those sorts of things.

Occasionally someone just can't help himself or herself and they do go out there and report on things that shouldn't be reported on. We try very hard not to comment about operations that are underway. In an age of 24x7 news, in an age in which technology makes it possible for all sorts of people, including the bad guys, to have access to that sort of information it just doesn't make sense to give them a heads-up, to give them a sense of where we're going and what we might be doing next. So we try very hard to stay away from talking about ongoing operations and to a large extent the media's been quite responsible about that.

Q: Speaking of the media and the American public in general, you folks are aware that America is just having kind of a love affair with Secretary Rumsfeld. They love this guy. What can you tell me about him?

Clarke: Words like that make us nervous.


Q: They love the guy. People are eating up these press conferences where he comes out, he's funny, he's personable. It's not the kind of thing people are used to seeing from a Defense Secretary.

Clarke: I think, I'll tell you what we hear and what gets sent back to us by way of e-mails, letters, phone calls from the general public. What they say to us is he's talking very straight with us. He's telling us this is going to be a long and difficult campaign. He's telling us there will be good days and there will be bad days. He is a straight shooter and that gets through and people seem to respond very positively to that.

Q: I want to, and it's my fault, I kind of veered off the Pennsylvania subject but I did want to get to a couple of those things.

Pennsylvania is no stranger to sacrifice when it comes to wartime and the Gulf War that I mentioned before, when the SCUD missile took out some of our folks from the Westmoreland County --

Clarke: Right. Quite a few of your folks.

Q: That was a horrible, horrible day here. But again, it comes back to that whole thing about we have a lot to be proud of here. And I don't think, and correct me if I'm wrong, I don't think there's anybody in the Pennsylvania military infrastructure that is thinking twice about their mission.

Clarke: I agree completely. We have traveled constantly over the last, well before September 11th but especially since then, have traveled constantly to many countries around the world, and in almost every place the Secretary has an opportunity to meet with the troops, to talk with them, to engage them in conversations and what comes through loud and clear is they know exactly what we're doing and why we're doing it. And we are doing it, quite simply, to defend America. And it is to protect our people, it is to protect our way of life, it is to preserve the freedoms that we enjoy, and I agree with you. I don't know if there has ever been a clearer sense of purpose of what we are about here.

I also think you're hearing the feeling of what we sense, that people are very forward-leaning in this. They know that this is so important that to prevent future tragedies such as what happened on September 11th we need to put people's lives at risk. And the men and women in uniform, I wish everybody in Pennsylvania, I wish everybody in America could see what we see day in and day out. They are so willing and so eager to do that because they know the cause is so important.

Q: Absolutely.

Before I let you go I have to ask you this, were you in the Pentagon on September 11th?

Clarke: I was.

Q: Where were you? I mean how close were you to where the impact was?

Clarke: Well, as everybody knows the Pentagon has five sides. I was actually in a small command center somewhat in the center of the building up on the floor the Secretary's office is on. We were actually, several of us were there because we were there working on what had already happened, the two planes hitting the World Trade Center and discussing that. It was about 9:38, I guess is when the plane hit the Pentagon.

How do you describe how unfathomable it is for a commercial airliner to hit your building?

We were sitting in this room in this command center focused on the issue at hand, which clearly it was terrorism. Commercial airliners had hit the World Trade Center. Even when we felt this huge thump, the building shook and this loud noise, the first instinct most of us had was that it must have been a car bomb. It never occurred to us that it was another commercial airliner.

But again, an extraordinary day, as tragic as it was, and we lost a lot of people here -- almost 200 of our colleagues. As tragic as it was, what you've seen people do that very day, the people who went charging into the building to get out their colleagues from the wreckage and the fire. And every day since then the spirit of commitment has been extraordinary. So in many ways it's a very uplifting experience.

Q: I'm sure. You know what amazed me was when, after the dust settled, so to speak, and we got a chance to really see what happened, it amazed me that a jetliner traveling that fast really only penetrated two sections of that building.

Clarke: Right.

Q: That's a heck of a building you're in.

Clarke: Well you know, if you look for the silver lining in anything the side of the building that they hit was the side of the Pentagon that had recently been renovated. There's been a renovation going on here for about ten years. That section had just been completed. There were actually some offices where they were waiting for the tenants to move in. Again, a small saving grace there that some people weren't there. But because it had been renovated it had been reinforced and that actually prevented the crash site from being worse than it was.

Q: It's actually kevlar, is that the material that's in the bullet-proof vests? I heard that that was built into the walls there and actually helped too.

Clarke: There were all sorts of things put in -- reinforced beams, special coatings on the windows to keep them from shattering, and even in the wreckage itself, I remember being out there a few hours after it happened and the wreckage itself, in portions of the building that had come down the windows were still in place, some of the windows were still in place.

Q: That's amazing. Absolutely amazing.

I've probably taken up too much of your time already.

Clarke: No, I appreciate your doing this.

Q: Absolutely.

Clarke: It's important topics and the people of Pennsylvania have every right to be extraordinarily proud of their men and women and they are largely young ones who are just doing an incredible job every single day. So I just say thanks to all of them, and I hope we can do this again.

Q: And as someone who's up here every day doing this job, I can tell you that to a man I haven't met anybody that doesn't fall into that category. We're all extremely proud. And you folks are doing a great job down there too.

Clarke: Thanks a lot.

Q: All right. Take care.

Clarke: Bye.

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