DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD(PA)
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
First of all, I'd like to welcome Julian Fota from the Romanian Ministry of Defense to today's briefing. He's the Special Assistant to the Secretary of State and the Chief of Defense Policy in Bucharest. Welcome.
We also have, I believe, a group of 18 students from American University escorted here by Assistant Professor Carol Ashkinaze. This is a group of American students as well as students from Argentina, Canada, and the Czech Republic studying here under the auspices of the journalism semester program at AU. They've already met, I gather, with some of you. Dana Priest, I think, has talked to them, and Steve Komarow and Rick Newman. So you could probably ask a lot of tough questions at this briefing, and if you feel so moved, go ahead. I'll do my best.
Tomorrow Secretary Cohen will meet with the Commanders-in- Chief of the various regional commands, the areas of responsibility from around the world who are in town for their semi-annual two-day conference. The President will be coming here also to meet with them at 10 tomorrow, and you can talk with Colonel Bridges or the other members of the DDI team about covering that. There will be arrangements to cover the arrival and also there will be a pool, the White House Pool, obviously, here to cover the very beginning of the meeting between the President and the CINCs.
With that, I'll take your questions on these or other issues.
Q: Two questions, one relevant to that, one not relevant to it. The Secretary has done ABC with David Brinkley and company on Sunday. He's done Larry King. Why is it taking him so long to meet with the regulars of the press corps? Is that indicating in any way his lack of access to us? And secondly, perhaps a peripheral question. What will be the status of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs who is now in front of the podium?
A: You've asked me that question so many times, I ought to be able to get the answer down. I'll see what I can do.
On the first question, I'd like to point out first, Secretary Cohen held his first interviews with the press that reaches the military directly. He met with the Army Times publications, with Stars and Stripes, and with the American Forces Press Service. Then he did an interview with Armed Forces Radio and Television on Friday morning, and that was broadcast during commercial breaks during the first quarter of the Super Bowl.
He had a longstanding promise to Larry King to grant an interview early in his time here. He's been on the Larry King show more than half a dozen times, and he kept that promise.
He did this week, without David Brinkley, because it was a good opportunity for him and Secretary Albright to introduce themselves in their new jobs to the public, and they both decided to take that opportunity.
He plans to have a press conference here at 3 o'clock on Friday afternoon. At that time he will report on what he's done his first week in office, some of his plans for the weeks ahead. I believe also he'll be able to talk some about the CINCs' conference and what went on there. That his plan for meeting the press. I think that he'll answer many of your questions on Friday.
The second part of the question is that I'm here. I'm functioning as his Assistant Secretary of Defense, and I intend to continue functioning that way. I might just...
Q: We hope you stay for a long time.
A: Thank you.
Q: Does he... Do you plan to continue...
A: Well let me just explain to you...(Laughter)
That's a very good point. It's a two-person decision.
Secretary Cohen met on Friday afternoon with the top civilian and military leadership of the building -- the Assistant Secretaries and above on the civilian side; and the Chairman was also there and the Chiefs of the services, as well as the Service Secretaries.
He talked about how glad he was to be on board as Secretary of Defense and how much he was looking forward to working with the people in that room. He talked about his goals, basically repeated what he had said during his confirmation hearings, the importance of attracting and maintaining a ready force, about proceeding with modernization. And he said that he basically planned to work with the current team, but said there would be changes over time. He didn't plan to make precipitous or sweeping changes, but that there would be changes. He talked about his standards for employment with him, and said that he had never paid any attention to political affiliation and that he had no political litmus test whatsoever, but that he would evaluate people over the next several months on the basis of competence, on the basis of performance, and on the basis of compatibility. And left it at that.
So this is a reasonable way to start. He's been in the job now four days and is working closely with many people in the Department and getting to know what they do and who they are, and what their areas of responsibility are, and that will continue over the next weeks and months.
Q: Could you describe a little bit about what he plans to do in his discussions with the CINCs, what topics they'll be hitting? Or will this be more the CINCs' briefing the Secretary?
A: The CINCs' conference is actually organized by the Chairman. He does this twice a year to bring himself and the senior leadership up to date on what's happening in the areas of responsibility around the world, and then also to talk about common issues such as force protection, training, readiness, deployability, etc. The Secretary will spend as much time as he can with the CINCs over the next two days, both as a group, but also he'll meet with many of them one-on-one. He met this morning, for instance, with General Joulwan, and he'll be meeting with other CINCs separately as well. So it's basically the conference that the Chairman calls twice a year with his warfighters to discuss their readiness to carry out the missions that have been assigned to them.
Q: On a larger level, though, this will be the last opportunity the CINCs will have to get together before the Secretary has to decide who is going to replace General Joulwan in Europe and who's going to eventually replace the Chairman this fall. Is he taking this opportunity to actually do interviews and look down that line?
A: It's premature to do that. Of course he's met many of these generals and admirals over the 18 years he's spent on the Senate Armed Services Committee, but he will travel around and meet many of these officers in their commands over the next several months. He will talk to them in greater depth in the months ahead. This is really an opportunity for him to meet the senior commanders as a group and to hear their view of the strategic and tactical considerations they face in their areas of responsibility.
Q: Last night on Larry King Live, Secretary Cohen made reference to the fact that he would have to be thinking about and keeping an eye out for a replacement for General Shalikashvili when he completes his second term. And just a point of information, is there a reason that Shalikashvili could not serve, theoretically, a third term? Is there any sort of legal bar to that, or is it possible that he might be considered for a third two-year term?
A: You mean is there a 24th or 22nd Amendment, whatever it is, applying to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs? No, there is not. But General Shalikashvili has told the Secretary and he's also told Sandy Berger, the National Security Advisor, that he does not want, that he will not serve a third term and doesn't want to be considered for a third term. You may some day walk down the Chairman's hallway here, and I think if you do that you'll find that, I don't think you'll find that there's any Chairman who has served more than four years. I could be wrong, but from a quick tour down there a couple of months ago, I think that four is the maximum they tend to serve -- two terms, that is.
Q: But that's a custom, it's not ingrained in law somewhere.
A: It's a custom, but as General Shalikashvili said to me this morning, I've been in the Army for 39 years. It's been a great career, but 39 is enough.
Q: Saudi Arabia. There's a new warning to American citizens that's been issued by the State Department, a terrorist warning. Last week we had Louis Freeh and then Ms. Reno confirming that there was a lack of cooperation on the part of the Saudis that might make it impossible to definitely pin this act against our troops at Khobar. What is the reaction of the Defense Department to these developments in Saudi and especially the investigation? This new warning... Is the new warning prompted by the fact that finding the culprits and punishing them is not proceeding and this is emboldening terrorism?
A: On the question of the warning, you probably would be better advised to talk to the State Department about that than to me; but my understanding is the warning was contained in an embassy message that was just a routine updating of a message that had been issued the month before, and that there was nothing particularly new about that warning. But you should really talk to my friend Nick Burns at the State Department about that.
Q: I will and do often, but let me just follow. What about the increased likelihood of attack based on the fact that there is no culpability yet in those attacks that have occurred against Americans?
A: Since the OPM SANG bombing in November of 1995, and certainly since Khobar Towers last June 25th, our troops have been on a very high state of alert, and diplomats and American citizens generally have been very alert to unstable conditions or attacks. There's nothing new about this. I don't think there's any higher state of alert today than there was last week or last month.
Q: Is the DoD upset like Mr. Freeh and Ms. Reno were upset about the investigation?
A: Director Freeh, as I said here last week, is conducting that investigation. He's received quite a lot of cooperation from the Saudis already and a lot of information. He needs some new information from the Saudis and he's in the process of discussing that with them. We have assurances from the highest levels of the Kingdom that they will cooperate fully, and we expect them to do that.
Q: Couldn't the Saudis be asked questions by FBI investigators to ask the suspects, would this not be satisfactory, and videotaped and recorded?
A: I think that I should let the FBI discuss the mechanics and progress of the investigation. That's not my job here.
Q: You mentioned that force protection was going to be the topic discussed at the CINC conference. Have each of the CINCs been tasked to come up with a status report or a resource requirement or increased force protection? Can you elaborate a little bit on that?
A: The CINCs did that last year. And force protection is one of a number of issues that is really a constant concern of commanders and comes up at all these conferences. So it's nothing new or particularly emphatic about the fact that it's coming up at this conference.
Q: Since they did this major review last year, what is this year that...
A: As I've said many times, there is no absolute level of force protection. It's something that has to be talked about and studied and reviewed all the time, and it's just, as we review readiness all the time, we review force protection all the time. It's...
Q: Are you aware of any concerns on the part of any particular CINC that they need to beef up protection in a certain location and...
A: I'm not. It's my understanding, quite the contrary, that everything the CINCs have asked for has been granted in the force protection area. When I say everything, it's a flat statement. There may be some timing problems, things may be on the way to being done that aren't completed. But it's my understanding that we have responded aggressively to all requests for greater resources or changes in procedures that have come from the CINCs.
Q: Has the Pentagon now inspected General Schwarzkopf's private logs? And did they contain any reference to Khamisiyah or any information on chemical exposure?
A: The answer is yes. The logs have been read, and the answer is that the finding was there was darn little in there about chemicals. As you know, General Schwarzkopf said there's nothing in these logs at all about chemical contamination of my troops. And I have not read the logs myself, but somebody on my staff has read the logs. There are only tangential references in there to chemicals, and I would say that General Schwarzkopf's description of his own logs is adequate and accurate.
Q: By darn little and tangential references, do you mean that it doesn't reveal any alleged...
A: There's nothing in there about Khamisiyah, first of all. And the general references are to the broad topic of chemicals. General Schwarzkopf and General Powell have both said in interviews that the possibility of chemical and biological use by Iraq was an early and constant concern. As you know, President Bush warned Iraq against using chemical or biological weapons or any weapons of mass destruction before the war, said the consequences would be grave and swift. They remained worried about this. The troops were trained and they were prepared to deal with chemicals, but we do not have any evidence that chemicals were used by Iraq during the war.
Q: ...references to chemicals?
A: As I said they were general references to a concern that chemicals could be used, but there were very, very few references to chemicals in there. I have not read the logs myself, and I would rather not hold myself here as an expert on them, but the member of my staff who did read them said that there were certainly not what he would call any smoking guns in there at all. He references where, as I said, not... He didn't find them even particularly interesting. They were much more in general than specifics.
A: I believe the answer is no. The logs are still the private property of General Schwarzkopf, they've been determined to be that. They have been read by members of the staff of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. General Schwarzkopf will testify before that committee tomorrow. I'm sure that he'll be questioned about the logs, and I'm sure that he'll talk extensively about what is in the logs and what isn't in the logs.
The staff members have had an opportunity to take notes, and I suppose that you can find out from their bosses, the Senators, tomorrow what they think they found in the logs.
Q: ...on the Persian Gulf Syndrome. Have you got any other new input, such as findings from the Fox vehicles or any other new developments on the Persian Gulf Syndrome?
A: I don't have anything new now. No. We do hope over the next month or so, to be able to release, as Dr. Rostker has said, a number of narratives. One will be on Khamisiyah, sort of walking through exactly what we knew and when about Khamisiyah. What happened, who observed it, who was there, etc. There will be another one that will deal with the ever popular topic among the press of the so-called missing logs and will be quite an in- depth analysis of what's been done to locate those logs and what we've found.
Q: What about the CIA study that's still not...
A: The CIA study is still a study underway.
Q: Have you found the logs that are missing?
A: Basically we have not found most of those logs, but what we do have is, we have found many other things.
A: No. First of all, there are logs and there are logs. Those were just one set of logs. But rather than get into this now, I'd rather wait until all the work's done and then we'll have somebody come down here and talk to you in great detail about logs.
Q: Do you have a status report on the General Record assessment of Air Force culpability in Khobar Towers? Is that going to be...
Q: Can I just ask one more question on these logs? The Schwarzkopf logs were brought up here, right? You didn't have to go down there to...
A: There was a set of the Schwarzkopf logs here in the Inspector General's office. That set has been here since I believe 1994 because there was a legal... They had to be reviewed by lawyers in 1994 before people in the Department could make a determination as to whether these logs were General Schwarzkopf's private property or not. In the course of making that determination, a set was sent up here...
Q: This is not the edited version, this is the unedited version.
A: Right. this is not the redacted version, right.
Q: The General Records assessment and why it is not working its way...
A: The Record report is still under review, and when the review stops it will be made public.
Q: Can you describe to us where it appears to be stuck, on what issue?
A: No, I wouldn't want to describe that to you. I don't think it's appropriate. (Laughter)
A: It's been reviewed by Pentagon lawyers, it's been reviewed by Deputy Secretary White, and I believe now it's still being reviewed by the Air Force.
Q: Just a procedural issue on this. He was a convening authority on this investigation or review, is that correct?
A: The Secretary was the convening authority. The Secretary asked the Air Force to look into various points raised by the Downing Commission report.
Q: In a letter signed by Widnall and Fogleman, wasn't General Records designated the convening authority for any disciplinary action?
A: He was designated, yes. But it's a report to the Secretary.
Q: You say these are still being reviewed by the Air Force. I was under the impression the Air Force had reviewed them and sent the report on. Has it been bounced back to the Air Force?
A: The report has never been finally submitted, and until, as you probably all know since you're all writers or producers of products, until it actually appears, it's still subject to review. This report has been subject to continuing review and consideration. It is not yet complete.
Q: Is that what's delaying it? Is there dissatisfaction with it at high levels?
A: The report is not yet complete. It is not yet complete.
Q: While this review continues, what's going to happen to General Schwalier's scheduled promotion?
A: I'm afraid I can't comment on that. I don't know.
Q: ...February 1st. Doesn't the Secretary of Defense or the Secretary of the Air Force have to make some sort of decision...
A: That's just an issue I can't address.
Q: There was an article in the Army Times about hollowness in the forces. What is the Secretary doing to follow up on these questions that are being raised. Is this a concern of his?
A: The overall issue of readiness is one that's very much a concern to him. I'd just like to say first on that article that any attempt to define or describe today's Army in terms that were used two decades ago to describe the Army is just totally off base. I think that any commander you would speak to in the Army, any official of the Department, and any soldier you would speak to would say that the Army today is better trained more professional and better equipped than the Army of 20 or 25 years ago.
The overall question of readiness is one of great concern to the Secretary, and it's also of great concern to the people who are conducting the Quadrennial Defense Review now. A lot of the issues raised in that article, issues of force size to match force structure, of readiness, are issues that are being considered in the Quadrennial Defense Review.
The Secretary has been briefed on the article and is aware of the charges that were made in it and is determined to use the QDR to find the best possible way to balance readiness with force structure and force size.
Q: At the Friday meeting last when the Secretary met with you and the Service Chiefs, given the fact that Secretary Perry was the most paripetetic Secretary in the history of this building, I think that is if not a fact close to it, did he indicate to you that he plans to travel extensively and often? Perhaps as often as his predecessor?
A: He hasn't phrased it in those terms. He did note that last year as a Member of the Senate he traveled between 150,000 and 200,000 miles, so he's clearly not a stay-at-home. He very much plans to get out and visit troops, both at home and abroad. His first foreign trip has not been set yet in terms of a date, but it will clearly involved a visit to troops in Bosnia, and probably other troops in Europe and maybe sailors in the Mediterranean as well. He may take, before that, a domestic trip or two, also to visit troops.
Q: On a different topic, do you have the logistical details for next week's budget exercise? When the briefing's going to be, when the embargo is going to be lifted?
A: If you can talk to Susan Hansen about that, she'll have those details. I don't have them.
Q: A reference yesterday in the New York Times to the use of commandos to hunt down war criminals produced a spate of stories about what the U.S. was considering in that. Can you clarify for us whether there's been any change since December when we first heard this talk of a special police force? Whether that idea or concept has evolved in any different form since then?
A: Yes, I can clarify that. There has been no change.
Q: So there's no, nothing under consideration at this time to use any U.S. military forces in order to assist in the hunt for war criminals?
A: That is correct. We are now talking with our allies about ways that we can improve efforts to bring indicted war criminals to justice. We're looking at a variety of options, but fundamental to all those options is the understanding that the stabilization force, SFOR, has a set of very clearly defined jobs outlined in the Dayton Accords, and that it is not a police force that will go out chasing down war criminals.
Q: I understand that you're ruled out the SFOR, the stabilization force. My question is whether there was any consideration or whether it's an option or a possibility that other U.S. military forces might somehow be involved in some sort of special force.
A: The allies are looking at a variety of options. The United States believes firmly that this is a civilian police function.
Q: Is there any thought given to special training, special military training to someone like U.S. marshals...
A: At a time when we're looking at options, it's not really appropriate to talk about what people are looking at. These are questions that are being discussed internationally. When solutions are arrived at, we'll disclose them.
Q: But you are saying that you see the position of the Defense Department or that the Clinton Administration as well, that this could be a civilian police function.
A: The primary responsibility for bringing indicted war criminals to justice is with the countries, the former warring factions That's assigned to them by the Dayton Accords. They have not succeeded in bringing many of them to justice at this time, so bringing them to justice is a problem. The allies are looking at ways to succeed in bringing indicted war criminals to trial. There are a number of options under consideration and I'd rather not discuss the options right now because they're only options. There haven't been any firm decision.
However, this is not the job of SFOR. That's clear in the Dayton Accords. We believe that it is the job of civilian police authorities. So one of the questions is how can civilian police authorities be strengthened or empowered to go out and find war criminals and bring them to trial.
Q: Is that the DoD position or is that the administration position? And is there a difference?
A: I think I've said enough about this. It s very clear to everybody looking at this, it has been from December when we started talking about it, that this is a civilian police function.
Q: When you talk about strengthening the civilian police authorities, you're talking about some kinds of international police authority and not strengthening police authority within the country.
A: Well, there's an international effort to find a better way, a more effective way, to bring the indicted war criminals to trial, yes.
Q: Would the United States be prepared to take part in an international police force?
A: All of this has to be, we have to see what the details of the plan are at this stage, but we are very actively involved in discussions about this, but the discussions right now are at the stage of looking at options.
Q: So the U.S. has not yet signed on to this...
A: There is no plan.
Q: There is no plan or we're not committed yet?
A: There is no plan and therefore, we can't be committed to a plan that doesn't exist.
Q: ...options that rules out the use of SFOR military troops in such a police force?
A: I'll say for the third time, we believe this is the job, this is a police function.
Q: Who is we?
Q: But in listening to your careful wording, in your endeavor to be precise, it would appear that you're not absolutely ruling out that there could be some U.S. military participation in some kind of a future...
A: I'm telling you, Jamie, as clearly as I can, this is a job for civilian police forces. I have nothing more to say about it. If you didn't get it, I can say it again. It's a job for civilian police forces.
Q: It's hard to get exactly what you're saying because you've left the door open...
A: I'm saying that this is a job for civilian police forces.
Q: Is that the view of the Pentagon and the White House?
A: The Dayton Accords are very clear about how indicted war criminals are to be brought to trial. What we're looking for are ways to be able to deliver on that important pledge which is to try to bring them to trial.
Q: I just was trying to get clear whether there was unanimity on your...
A: I understand what you're trying to do. I'd just like to repeat again that bringing war criminals to trial is a civilian police function.
Q: These options that are under consideration to strengthen the effort, without going into any of the options, can you tell us whether they would require new authority from the United Nations or some other body?
A: No. I can't tell you that.
Q: When are we going to see this videotape of Bosnian Serbs attacking Muslims trying to move back into their homes?
A: That's an interesting question and I can't answer that. I've spoken today to authorities in Europe about getting a copy of the tape over here, but I think that it should be reviewed first by the Secretary and the Chairman. I have nothing to promise you or tell you about when or if. I don't know that.
Q: Has General Crouch made a decision not to release it?
A: I just can't tell you whether or if this tape will be made available right now.
Q: Just for the record, we're being told that Crouch's preliminary decision is that he does not want to release this...
A: I don't think I want to get into internal discussions about this tape.
Q: That is the classic case of trying to bury bad news by burying the evidence.
A: I think it's premature to make that statement about that.
Q: Then make us a promise that we'll see the tape.
A: I think it's premature to make a statement that this is going to be buried.
Q: Has the Secretary had a chance to get into the QDR process? Do you have any guidance on that? And what's the status of the soon-to-be two months late National Defense Panel?
A: The National Defense Panel will not be three months late. (Laughter)
Q: Going back to this tape for a moment.
Q: What about the Secretary's involvement in the QDR?
A: The Secretary is very interested in the QDR. He has discussed this with the Deputy Secretary. He will be involved in the process at the appropriate time. I don't believe he has yet, since he's been Secretary, had a detailed briefing on it. But I believe that will come relatively soon.
Q: Just going back to the videotape for a moment. Since it seems to be unlikely we're going to see it any time soon, can you just tell us what the tape purportedly shows and who shot it?
A: I think I'd rather... I have not seen the tape, and therefore I'd rather not comment on it. That's one of the things we're trying to do is see the tape.
Q: Back to the National Defense Panel. The Congressional language creating the whole QDR process says that this panel is supposed to consult during the process. Is there any concern that this delay is going to delay the entire process? If these folks aren't in place to consult and nobody's consulted them, are they going to have to sort of catch up?
A: I think they'll be able to catch up. I hope the panel will be appointed relatively soon. We've been in very intense and productive conversations with Congress about the panel, and it should be set up relatively soon. I think that because the type of people on this panel already have a firm background in defense, that they'll be able to acclimate themselves very quickly to the questions that are being considered.
Q: There's some reporting from France that there's been some discussions between France and the United States about SOUTHCOM and NATO and there might be some kind of shared authority over SOUTHCOM. Is that how you read that?
A: No, it's not how I read it. There have been discussions, and there will not be shared authority.
Q: But they're talking about some sort of compromise formula. What would that be?
A: We have not seen a compromise formula that is acceptable to us at this stage. We're continuing to discuss this with the French. We're very interested in resolving this issue. But our stance on this has been clear from the beginning, and that was when President Clinton sent a letter to President Chirac last fall, and our stance has not differed from that moment. That is that Allied Forces South, the NATO command, must be under U.S. command. We have not yet found a proposal that we can accept, but we're still talking with the French about ways to resolve our differences.
Press: Thank you.