DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon
MR. BACON: Good afternoon.
QIs this another security issue --
(Laughter, cross talk.)
MR. BACON: It's to keep you guys on your toes for a change.
Let me start with a couple of announcements.
First, Secretary Cohen is going out to Fort Wayne, Indiana, later this afternoon to speak at Purdue University at the invitation of Senator Richard Lugar. He'll talk about the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program and the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici program to deal with domestic terrorism. And we will not have a copy of that speech in advance, but we'll have a copy tomorrow.
Because you're leaving this afternoon, I'll have to end this briefing at 2:15, which is good, because General Clark is going to be here at 2:30 to brief on Bosnia. As I said the other day, we're approaching the fifth anniversary of our deployment to Bosnia, and General -- fourth? Fourth anniversary, and General Clark -- no, it's the fifth. We went in '94, didn't we?
QWell, the first -- '95 --
MR. BACON: Anyway, an anniversary is coming up -- a big anniversary. (Laughter, cross talk.) And General Clark will be here to discuss it with more precision than I am.
Second, another announcement is that today in Korea General Thomas Schwartz relieved General John Tilelli as commander in chief of the United Nations Command and also of the Republic of Korea/U.S. Combined Forces Command, and the commander of U.S. forces in Korea.
With that, I will take your questions. Yes, Charlie?
QKen, does the verdict yesterday at Fort Campbell show that the "don't ask, don't tell" policy has failed, as many are charging? And do comments by the first lady that if she is elected to the Senate she will work to overthrow the "don't ask, don't tell" policy she says has failed, is that causing any consternation or questions over here at the department?
MR. BACON: Well, you've packed a number of questions into one heading. And let me deal with the second part first.
Obviously, Mrs. Clinton, like every citizen and every political candidate, has a right to comment on Pentagon policies. Many political candidates do. And she is absolutely right. If she is dissatisfied with this policy, the place to go is Congress because the United States military, the Department of Defense, is trying to implement as best as possible a policy promulgated by Congress.
She said that gays and lesbians -- this is according to the New York Times -- already serve with distinction in our nation's armed forces and should not face discrimination. We agree with that totally. They should not face discrimination. Last August, shortly after this heinous event took place at Fort Campbell, Secretary Cohen said that the department is determined to implement the homosexual policy with fairness to all concerned. He went on to say, "I've made it clear there is no room for harassment or threats in the military," and that "I've instructed the military services to make sure that the policy is clearly understood and fairly enforced." And we will continue to work with the services to make sure that the policy is fairly enforced.
QBut the "don't ask, don't tell" policy is an administration-slash-Pentagon policy, and she is speaking out against it. She is the first lady. You're commenting on her comment as a candidate for office. How about her comments as first lady?
MR. BACON: As I said, every American citizen has a right to comment on Pentagon policies, and many do. And I don't think I'll say anything more about that.
QAnd how about -- excuse me. How about the verdict yesterday? Does that show that this is a failed policy, as many are charging?
MR. BACON: This was a murder crime. And the sentencing, as I understand it, was just recently completed in this proceeding today, and that Private Glover was sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of premeditated murder. He does have a possibility of parole. Generally, parole will not even be considered until he's served 10 years, and generally the minimum penalty or service is 15 years before parole is considered.
I think it's -- there were certainly very disturbing charges made in the course of this trial about the atmosphere at Fort Campbell. And the commanders at Fort Campbell have said that after the trial is over, they will review the compliance with the "don't ask, don't tell" policy and all the relevant procedures and regulations that flow from that policy. So there will be a complete review at Fort Campbell after this is over. As you know, there is one more trial that will begin next week.
The military has been instructed by Secretary Cohen to follow this policy fairly and in a very non-discriminatory basis. They are all in the process of working on new training programs and new guidance for their trainers. We anticipate that that guidance will be out and followed very quickly. But as a result of the review that Secretary Cohen called for earlier, they are all in the process of coming up with new guidance for training of commanders and others so that everybody understands the policy.
I think what's very important is for commanders to understand that the policy is, at its very bottom, a policy against harassment and against discrimination, and that's the policy that the secretary expects everybody to follow.
QA couple of questions on this topic following Charlie. I mean overall, do you believe that "don't ask, don't tell" is a success? You said that the department is working at implementing it, but do you think that it's a successful policy?
MR. BACON: Well, let's look at what the policy is. Prior to 1994, the law said that homosexuals could not serve in the military. And they were questioned on whether they were homosexual or not. And if an applicant for the military said "yes," then they were barred from military service.
The "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue" policy changed that and said that homosexual people, gay or lesbian people, can serve in the service; there is no bar to their being members of the Armed Forces. But it did say that they could serve as long as they did not declare their homosexuality by making statements or through acts. And it also said that the military should not ask people about their sexual orientation and should not pursue people on the basis of their sexual orientation -- and that no one had an obligation to tell what their sexual orientation was.
So that law has been changed, and it has allowed people to serve in the military, regardless of their sexual orientation. In that regard, I think the law has been a success.
What has been alleged is that there is a lot of harassment of homosexual service members within the military. We have always said that every time we have clear evidence of harassment, we will investigate that. And there are cases where we have investigated detailed allegations of harassment.
Going beyond that, in August Secretary Cohen made it clear, and as he had before, shortly after he took office, that there is no room for a climate of harassment, whether we are talking about -- which goes beyond specific instances of harassment -- there is no room for a climate of harassment or discrimination within the military, based on sexual orientation.
That's the policy. I don't think that you can declare the policy a failure based on one gruesome murder at one Army post. So I think we have to look more broadly, and that's what commanders have been instructed to do, to look at the climate on their bases and to make sure that everybody is operating in compliance with this policy.
QKen, as part of the testimony down at Fort Campbell, there was a lot of testimony talking about drinking, especially underage drinking and there was -- drunkenness played a major part in this murder. But there didn't seem to be any first sergeants or any commanders that weekend who were around the barracks who even knew what was going on. And it really seemed to paint a picture that, aside from the anti-gay aspects of it, that underage soldiers were drinking without limit. I mean, is this something that is of concern to commanders -- drinking on base, on hours, by underage drinkers?
MR. BACON: Certainly all substance abuse is of concern to commanders, whether it's alcohol or other substance abuse, and alcohol -- excessive drinking is a form of substance abuse. Commanders spend a lot of time trying to deal with, to prevent such things as drunken driving by members of their units, and I'm sure that this is one of the aspects that the Fort Campbell command will look into after this legal proceeding is over -- whether, as charged in this disturbing testimony, as I said earlier -- whether, as charged, there was, one, rampant drinking that went undisciplined or unnoticed by the authorities.
QDo you have any sense of how many people are discharged every year for -- I mean, can you be discharged for being drunk all the time or having a substance --
MR. BACON: Oh, yes. Absolutely. I mean, people are discharged. I don't have the figures on that. I don't know whether we do have figures, but if we do, we'll try to get you the figures. But people lose their jobs all the time in the military, and if people -- for drinking -- and generally, they are given an opportunity through counseling or through a 12-step or other program to deal with a drinking problem. And if they succeed, then they are allowed to continue with their military careers. If they do not succeed in conquering a drinking problem then they certainly can be discharged.
QOne of the critiques of the don't ask/don't tell policy and the way it's been implemented, by gay liberation groups, is that the number of people discharged since don't ask/don't tell for homosexual conduct or whatever has gone up a lot, and that's one of their complaints. And in light of that, does this policy seem to be working?
MR. BACON: Well, we've plowed this ground many times in this briefing room. The main reason that the number of discharges has increased is that there has been an increase in the number of people who are making statements about their sexual orientation. So under the rule, if somebody declares himself or herself homosexual, they can be discharged. More than 80 percent of the discharges are based on statement cases. The number of discharges for so-called "acts" has actually declined, but the number of discharges based on statements has increased.
So I think it's important to make distinctions about why people are leaving. If people make a voluntary disclosure, then they are subject to discharge under this, under this rule.
QThe SLDN has charged, regarding the Fort Campbell case, that the Pentagon and the military were "accomplices," quote, unquote, because the military, the Pentagon was aware of sort of an escalating harassment of gays in the military and because commanders at Fort Campbell knew that Specialist Winchell was being harassed and didn't do anything about it. How do you respond to these charges?
MR. BACON: We don't believe that there has been escalating harassment of gays in the military, and I don't believe that the evidence shows that. It has not -- in the all the traveling that top officials of this department do, whether they're military or civilian, it's not an issue that generally comes up, that this is a problem for commanders.
Obviously, society as a whole has become much more accepting of gays and much more liberal about gays, which might be one of the reasons why there is more talk about homosexuality both in the military and outside the military. But I am not aware that there is an escalating -- or a climate of escalating harassment, which is, I think, what you meant to say, in the military.
QWell I -- that's what I said.
MR. BACON: Yeah?
QYes, Ken, regarding recovery operations for the Egyptair flight, the 990 Flight, I wanted to ask specifically about Navy assets, especially divers. Have the divers been busy? Have they simply been standing by? Is there any action out there in the crash zone?
MR. BACON: I think you'll appreciate with all the other things I've been looking at in the last week I haven't followed that. We will get you the answer to that question. Obviously, the Navy stands ready to help the National Transportation Safety Board in any way possible, weather permitting. And my understanding is that there has been a hiatus in the search for parts, remains of the plane, but that there -- the Navy is about to start again to search for particular parts. But you should check that with the Navy.
QIs there --
MR. BACON: And really, you should probably check it with the NTSB, because they're the people who are in charge.
MR. BACON: Yeah.
QThis is a two-part question, but I have to ask your indulgence for the lead-up here.
After one of his top criminal investigators confessed to committing a crime, the Pentagon's acting inspector general wrote a letter to the judge hearing the case asking for leniency. And in that letter, Donald Mancuso, the acting inspector general, said, quote, "There's no evidence that Mr. Hollingsworth has ever done anything improper relating to his duties and responsibilities as a DCIS agent and manager," unquote. This is from his letter to the judge. The first part of the question is do you think that that was proper, for the top legal officer, or enforcement official, legal enforcement official of the department to write such a letter to the judge on behalf of a confessed felon? Secondly, is Mr. Mancuso still under consideration to be the Pentagon's inspector general, instead of acting?
MR. BACON: This is an issue that I have not been briefed on, and I'll have to get back to you. I haven't read the letters; I'm not -- I mean, I know what the case is, I know the basic charges in the case. But I'll have to get back to you with a specific answer.
QThere was an incident in Montenegro yesterday involving Yugoslav troops taking control of at least a portion of an airport there. Are you aware of what the situation is there now, what happened last night, and what, if anything, the U.S. and/or NATO is doing about this incident?
MR. BACON: Well, my understanding that there -- this incident was shrouded in some confusion and remains shrouded in confusion. There were reports out of Montenegro, the Montenegrin radio and television service, charging that this was a misinterpretation of something that was happening at the airport. I think that what we know is that some Serbian military people -- we believe MPs -- did drive some trucks onto the airport runway and temporarily shut down the airport, but that the airport has been cleared and is now performing normal flight operations.
In addition, both the Montenegrins and the Yugoslavs are talking about the circumstances that may have led to the closedown of the airport, and those talks continue. But in the meantime, the airport is functioning.
And this seems to, as I say, be a somewhat confusing incident. It could be related to some work that Montengrins were doing. The Montenegrins claim that it was a misinterpretation by the Serb soldiers about some actions they were taking at the airport, that they were going to repair a vacant hangar or do some work on a vacant hangar, and the Serbs mistook what they were doing.
There also has been a dispute about the control of airports and ports within Montenegro. The Montenegrin Parliament last month passed a law saying that it planned to take over and run airports and ports, which raises questions about where the revenue flow goes and who controls them. The Yugoslavs -- Belgrade never commented on this parliamentary proclamation, but apparently they are now talking about the terms of what this means and how it might work.
So I think we need to wait for time to elapse, but in the meantime, the airport is working.
QYou have no interpretation as to what the cause of this might have been, other than perhaps a bureaucratic -- was this Belgrade's sort of ham-handed way of sending a message to Montenegro, which seems to be trying to move toward greater and greater independence?
MR. BACON: No, I think it's premature to reach that conclusion right now, given the confused reporting that's come out in the press.
QAnd what's the U.S. position or the NATO position on greater independence for Montenegro?
MR. BACON: Well, as you know, Secretary Cohen met with President Djukanovic of Montenegro several weeks ago. We're in favor of democracy in the Balkans. And we don't think the problem is too much democracy in Montenegro. We think the problem is too little democracy in Yugoslavia.
QAnd are we willing to back Montenegro in any effort they might be involved in for greater independence?
MR. BACON: We are very supportive of democracy in the Balkans.
QAnother topic. It's six months since the ending of the air war over Kosovo, but the Pentagon still hasn't released any of the detailed facts and figures about the conduct of the air war by the U.S. aircraft and Armed Forces, such basic stuff that came out after the Gulf War, like which aircraft flew which sorties on what days, what bombs were dropped; the most basic stuff that was released after the Gulf War, the Pentagon still refusing to release it. Do you know why or when that situation might be remedied?
MR. BACON: Well, you know, we did the first cut at an After Action Review that came out, in the fall, after Labor Day. And at that time, we said that there would be a more detailed After Action Review coming out early next year. And I would anticipate that some of that information will be in that After Action Review.
I guess I disagree somewhat with your characterization. I think during Operation Allied Force, Major General Chuck Wald here in his briefings, released a lot of information. I think General Clark at NATO, and the other NATO briefers, released a lot of information about sorties and what types of planes were doing the sorties.
But if you are asking for a specific list of how many sorties did a particular F-16 fly, we did not release that. I am not sure we will next year, but I would anticipate more detailed information.
QDo you know why you wouldn't anticipate it'd be released? That sort of material was released after the Gulf War.
MR. BACON: Well, I think in this case, it's just a question of pulling everything together and doing a complete review of the effectiveness of the campaign. And in the course of that, I would anticipate that more information will be released when we finish that rather detailed statistical review.
QBut meanwhile, the failure to release it means that nobody else outside can do an analysis of the effectiveness of the campaign. Is that the Pentagon's objective?
MR. BACON: No. And I think that's a mischievous suggestion. (Laughter.)
QKen, the Navy has decided to at least temporarily delay the assignment of Rear Admiral Green to Puerto Rico. And the government of Puerto Rico says that it doesn't want to talk to the Navy about anything. Is the secretary reassessing his recommendation to the president on how the department should proceed to get that range back open?
MR. BACON: Well, thank you for asking that question, because I meant to make an announcement about that at the very beginning. But let me tell you what's happened. The Navy, after discussions [within the U.S. government and] with officials in the Puerto Rican government, has decided to postpone Admiral Green's arrival in Puerto Rico. As I said on Tuesday, he was expected to arrive tomorrow, Friday, and to set up his new command down there, and there was to be a ceremony. That has been delayed as talks between the administration and the Puerto Ricans continue.
So when we believe the climate is productive and open, more open than it is now for productive talks, Admiral Green will go down there. But the Navy concluded after its discussions that this wasn't the right time.
QWell, if I could follow, the resident commissioner, Carlos Romero-Barcelo, has written a letter suggesting that the administration ask former Senator Mitchell to get involved in this situation, much as he has in Northern Ireland. (Laughter.) Has the Department had that suggestion run by?
MR. BACON: Senator Mitchell is clearly capable of resolving disputes. I haven't heard of that particular suggestion, and I don't know whether it's something that's being considered at the White House. I think we have put together a group of people to examine the stakes, the Navy's needs, and the demands of the people of Puerto Rico and Vieques. It was the Rush panel, so-called Rush panel, that came up with a report. Their recommendations were modified somewhat by the secretary of Defense and sent to the White House, which has accepted the recommendations in that package and those are the terms that remain on the table right now.
As I said on Tuesday, part of the plan is to allow for a cooling-off period so people can study what's in the package and come to some conclusions about it and begin a dialogue. We're hoping that we can begin that dialogue between the Navy and the people of Puerto Rico -- (phone rings in background) -- but unless that's the governor calling -- (laughter) -- the time isn't quite right to begin that dialogue.
QKen, can you say whether --
Q (Inaudible) -- the admiral's visit has been postponed, I think you said, "as talks between the administration and the Puerto Ricans continue." What kind of talks are going on? And who's leading it now? I mean, the White House was kind of taking the lead on it before; the president. Is it back over here now, over there, and what talks are going on?
MR. BACON: There are talks going on between people in the White House and people in Puerto Rico.
QThe White House is still kind of taking the lead --
MR. BACON: Yes. Yes, they're continuing the contacts.
QAnd other than the lack of progress with the admiral, is there -- has there been any other development on the Vieques situation regarding protesters or anything else?
MR. BACON: There are still some protesters around Camp Garcia, but the number has declined dramatically, I believe, from about 200 to around seven at last count. But there still are seven is what I understood.
MR. BACON: Yeah. Obviously -- the point is that the number can rise and fall. But my understanding is that there still are some protesters outside Camp Garcia, but it's a small number.
QClearly sooner or later the Navy is going to leave Vieques like -- under most -- any plan that's been considered. Is there a rigorous effort underway for alternative sites for this sort of training? And if so, is there any progress to report?
MR. BACON: Well, I mean, you're absolutely right, that the letter Secretary Cohen sent to the president does say that the Navy's prepared to leave after five years. It's also prepared to work with the people of Puerto Rico to stay longer if they agree that the Navy should stay longer. But the Navy is prepared to leave at the end of five years. So yes, the Navy is taking the appropriate steps to figure out what to do next. But these aren't easy decisions to make and easy arrangements to make. And in the meantime, what it has to do is to make sure that all of its battle groups are ready for deployment at the appropriate time.
QTwo questions that have no relation to each other whatsoever. First, on Vieques. Would it help Admiral -- wouldn't it help the discussions if Admiral Green was going down there, because isn't that the reason why he was being sent down there, and it's sort of a "show faith"? And the second one is about -- I think General Zinni said this morning about a missile threat from Iran. So do Admiral Green, and then we'll launch into the missile threat. How's that?
MR. BACON: Well, I mean, I don't have much more to say about Admiral Green, that the Navy based on --
QI mean, isn't it a show of good faith to send him down? So doesn't that kind of diminish your ability to negotiate with Puerto Rico if he's not there?
MR. BACON: As I said, there are still contacts between the government of Puerto Rico and the administration, largely through the White House. And we're waiting for a propitious time to send Admiral Green down there. The Navy concluded after its discussions that this wasn't the best time, so they've postponed the visit for a while.
QGeneral Zinni spoke this morning and he talked about a missile threat from Iran. He said very soon they expect to see a Shahab-3 missile tested. It's a missile that could eventually be outfitted with a weapon of mass destruction, and it could reach Israel. He said that he thought the threat was less from Iraq these days than it is from Iran, and I wanted to know OSD's assessment's of it. That's the guy in the field. What are you hearing from your intelligence people here?
MR. BACON: Well, certainly in the unclassified version of the National Intelligence Estimate on missile threats, that estimate that was issued several months ago, it does talk about the Iranian missile development program and mentions the Shahab family of missiles. And you're right, they are an emerging threat.
I think that right now, Iraq's ability to develop new missiles has been very limited by the sanctions, and probably by its, also, inability to sell large amounts -- larger amounts of oil than under the oil-for-food program. So sanctions and revenues have limited its ability. This is obviously what the U.N. intended until Iraq complies with the terms of the U.N. resolutions in terms of abolishing its weapons of mass destruction program. So I think they've probably had less resources to apply to this than Iran has recently, so it's not surprising that the Iranian program would be operating a faster pace than the Iraqi program.
QKen, regarding the incident involving the bug at the State Department, after the State Department discovered the bug this summer, was there a sweep done of the Pentagon? And are there any plans to rescind the building passes for the Russian military officers who have them for the Pentagon?
MR. BACON: I do not believe that any Russian military officers have building passes to the Pentagon.
QI think it's a small number.
MR. BACON: No. At one point in the early '90s, a very small number had building passes for a very short period of time. But the passes were revoked, for one reason because the Russians refused to grant reciprocal passes to U.S. military officers in Russia. So those passes have been revoked since the early '90s. I don't know the specific year. But I don't believe that any Russian military officers now have passes to the Pentagon.
And I don't want to get into details about our counterintelligence operations, but we do have counterintelligence operations.
QAre you confident that the Russians aren't bugging the Pentagon?
QRight now? (Laughter.)
MR. BACON: Maybe they're bugging this briefing!
QI hope they are bugging this briefing! That would be confusing to them.
QSneak out the way you came in!
MR. BACON: I just tell you that we take appropriate counterintelligence measures.
QHas a sweep been conducted of any areas of this building? Are you planning a sweep in the aftermath of yesterday's incident?
MR. BACON: I don't want to get into procedures. But I think you can be assured that we try to take appropriate measures to protect our national treasures in the building.
And just to be clear, we were talking about Russian military officers. Did any Russian diplomats have building passes to the Pentagon?
MR. BACON: Not that I am aware of, no. That would really be more of a State Department issue, but I am not aware that any Russian officials have passes to our buildings.
QDo you have better security than the State Department? (Laughter.) Have they been -- (inaudible)?
MR. BACON: I can't comment on the State Department's security. It takes me a long time to get in the building. (Laughter.) So let me answer before we go on, Bill, to answer as best I can a question that Andrea asked.
You asked how many service members were discharged for alcohol abuse, I believe. What we have is an answer that says how many have been discharged for substance abuse. And the last year we have figures for is fiscal 1998. And 6,085 service members were discharged for drug or alcohol abuse. I don't have a breakdown between drug or alcohol abuse.
QDo you know if that's up or down from the previous years?
MR. BACON: I don't know. I don't know. Obviously, we can find out.
QWould you try one on Chechnya? But forgive me if this doesn't work.
But basically, the Russians have almost finished their encirclement of Grozny. And I would ask; the United States has been critical, Western Europe has been critical, about the tactics and the strategies the Russians are using in Chechnya.
What other strategy could Russia use that might be favorable? Could they do a siege of Grozny and asking for the surrender of those combatants inside, rather than a military pounding? Can you say?
MR. BACON: I am probably one of the last people in the world that should be commenting on Russian tactics. But let me tell you what President Clinton has said and Secretary Cohen and Secretary Albright, and all the leaders of our foreign-policy team.
We believe that ultimately, the Chechen situation will be solved diplomatically and politically, not militarily, and that the Russians would be better off looking for a diplomatic or a political solution to this problem than a military solution.
And I think President Clinton has been very clear about that. He spoke about it in his press conference yesterday. He spoke about it extensively in Istanbul at the OSCE summit. And I think that his comments have been echoed by other officials in the government, and I don't really have much to add to that. But that's the primary differences between an attempted military solution and what we think will be preferable and longer-lasting, a political solution.
STAFF: Thank you.
QSo basically, Ken, you are saying that Russia should be out of Chechnya?
MR. BACON: Chechnya is part of Russia. I'm saying that this particular issue should be resolved politically, not militarily, and that's what President Clinton -- I'm echoing President Clinton's comments.
STAFF : Okay. Thank you very much.
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