(Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld conversation with Marvin Kalb, The Kalb Report: Journalism at the Crossroads)
Kalb: Thank you very much. Hello, and welcome to another edition of the Kalb Report. It's a monthly public policy forum that is cosponsored by the George Washington University, the National Press Club, and the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard. It is generously funded by the Knight Foundation. Hodding Carter is here someplace. And thank you, Mr. Carter.
I'm Marvin Kalb, executive director of the Washington office of the Shorenstein Center. This is a very special edition of the Kalb Report for two reasons. First, we're part of an annual convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, and in that capacity we are both proud and honored to be here. And second, because our guest is one of the busiest people in this very busy capital, a Cabinet officer who meets regularly with the press, so regularly, in fact, he's become an instantly recognizable celebrity on C-SPAN, and it's none other than the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
The secretary, as we all know, is no newcomer to Washington. He was first elected to Congress in 1962. He joined the Nixon administration in 1969, serving as director of the Office of Economic Opportunity. In 1973 he entered the world of diplomacy, becoming the U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In 1974, returning to Washington, he joined the Ford Administration, acting first as chief of staff, then as secretary of Defense from 1975 to 1977. From then until now, Secretary Rumsfeld has worked as a senior executive in the business world, but also as a special envoy, an ambassador, and a member of many presidential commissions.
Okay, Mr. Secretary, let me start with a story from Ron Nessen's book, it's called "It Sure Looks Different From the Inside."
Rumsfeld: Be careful. I still think of you as "Private Kalb."
Kalb: I know! (Laughter.) And I'm ready, sir -- (laughing) -- at any time!
Kalb: I had one stripe, and very proud of it!
But let's put our minds back, and in this audience I'm sure there are those old enough to put their minds back, to April 30, 1975. It was the last day of the U.S. military engagement in Vietnam. And Nessen read a presidential statement to the White House press corps saying that the U.S. evacuation from Saigon had then been completed. Only then did everyone learn that that's not quite true, there were still 129 U.S. Marines still at the embassy, still waiting to be evacuated.
So the question came up as to what are we now going to say to the public. And Secretary Kissinger, perhaps humorously, said, "Why don't we blame it on the Pentagon?" And then one presidential adviser suggested that we "say nothing." But you, Secretary Rumsfeld, were quoted as saying; "This war has been marked by so many lies and evasions that it's not right to have the war end with one last lie. We ought to be perfectly honest." Quote, unquote.
I think that's a remarkable statement, and it ought to be in not one book, but many.
And I'd like to start with that concept of how a major government official deals with the public through the press in the midst of a war.
During the Vietnam War, for example, when you made a comment like that, looking back, did you, yourself, ever feel the need, for whatever reason which you would explain, to engage in evasions, lying, if necessary?
Rumsfeld: No. I have -- I've never had any need to lie to the press or felt any desire to. What you have is your credibility, and that is the only thing that gives people and governments traction.
I'll never forget coming back as ambassador to NATO and serving as President Ford's -- chairman of his transition, and chief of staff of the White House thereafter, and there was such a feeling of distrust in this country and in the press corps that you could say, "That's the ceiling," and the reaction would be, "Why is he saying that? What does he really mean?"
And there's no question but that I don't answer things I don't want to answer. I don't discuss future operations. I don't discuss intelligence matters. I don't reveal classified information. But the idea that government needs, for whatever reason, to actually actively tell something that's not true to the American people or the press, I just haven't in -- gosh -- you actually started me here a little later than I actually came. I came in 1957 to work on Capital Hill, right out of the Navy, when Eisenhower was president. And in that time, I've just not ever known a situation where it was necessary to do anything other than what I do.
Kalb: But there were -- you wouldn't have made the comment if there were not, in fact, many lies that were uttered by government officials and a great deal of evasion during the Vietnam War. Why do you think that government felt it necessary to do that?
Rumsfeld: Well, I'll give you an example. When I was a congressman, just before the -- I came into the executive branch -- I was in Laos, as I recall, and meeting there with people. And it became clear that the United States was conducting bombing out of there in targets that were in Cambodia, as I recall.
Rumsfeld: And the United States government made a conscious decision to, in effect, deny that we were doing that because it was the view of the governments of those two countries that they -- it would be awkward for them if, in fact, it became known that they were allowing the United States government to drop bombs on the territory of their country. Fair enough.
Now in the current war we're in, there are plenty of countries that don't want their people or the world to know how they're helping us. They're helping us with intelligence. There may be even some cases where we have people on their bases, and they don't want it known in their country that American aircraft or American pilots or people are physically in their country. All we do is, we just don't discuss it. We don't go out and say they're not there. We just simply go about our business and ask the press if they come in to not mention that -- what's going on in that country. And that's part of the understanding. Seems to me a perfectly acceptable way to do it. The reality is, however, that countries that do that may have very good reason. But it -- over time, the truth comes out. (Chuckles.) So it's kind of a short-term policy, I think.
Q: And during the Vietnam War again -- I keep going back there because so many of the roots of the disputes and disagreements between the press and the government go back to Vietnam -- did you feel, and you were a congressman in a lot of that war and then after within the government -- that lying or evading the truth paid off? Did it help -- you were saying it's a short-term benefit, perhaps -- did it actually help win the war? Is there a single illustration where lying in pursuit of a certain objective in the war actually helped us win the war?
Rumsfeld: It seems to me that if you take that instance, the answer is no, it probably didn't help. And there probably would've been a way to do it short of lying when you're talking about the Vietnam conflict --
Rumsfeld: And just by not discussing something. And on the other hand, if you take the war on terrorism but that if a country comes to us and we say to them, "We'd like to share intelligence with you. We'd like to have base over-flight rights. We'd like to be able to do X, Y and Z," and they say, "Look, we'll do all of those things, but we don't want you to discuss it publicly," and we've got a choice of either accepting that arrangement and gaining the information we might need to catch terrorists, to stop them from killing thousands more Americans, you bet your life. We take it on that basis. But we don't go out and say something that's inaccurate about it. The reason you don't do that, it seems to me is pretty simple. You lose so much more if in fact people cannot believe what you're saying. And you --
Kalb: The people of the U.S. cannot believe what you're saying, or the allies?
Rumsfeld: People in the U.S. or people around the world -- allies too. You simply must be believable if you're going to get any kind of traction in what it is you're trying to accomplish.
Take the classic example with General Eisenhower's invasion of Normandy. He did not -- to my recollection, anyway -- go out and actively lie, but he engaged in a lot of disinformation. He had General Patton training people over in England. He had everyone doing a lot of things that made it look like they were going to go into another target area -- Calais, as I recall -- and trying to create the impression and confusion in the minds of the Germans, to save American lives.
Now was that appropriate? You bet.
Kalb: But he could do that and deal with the press at that time on a pretty firm assumption that the press corps was not going to run that kind of a story. They would hold back even if they were brought into the loop. Can you do that today?
Rumsfeld: Oh, sure.
Kalb: You've got --
Rumsfeld: Oh, sure. We do it. I mean, we have people who have been embedded in Special Forces units that have agreed not to use the names of those people, not to use their faces, and to not discuss a specific direct action, and yet they come away, having been positioned with these folks, so that they have a very clear understanding of what a wonderful job they're doing and what a difficult job they do, and then come back and report on it within the constraints, which is roughly what happened during World War II. There were constraints, although it was much more severe in those days. There was actually censorship.
Kalb: I read from many of the reports -- I mean, I've been reading and preparing for this interview -- any number of reporters, for major newspapers and less-than-major newspapers, a deep irritation with the constraints that were imposed by the Pentagon upon their ability to function in Afghanistan, for example. And they don't feel that they were treated -- many of them don't feel that they were treated right at all and that you guys were leaning all over them, and excessively.
I don't have the impression that Eisenhower had that kind of rebellion under way among the press corps, because the press corps at that time was sort of on board. Do you -- again, it's the same question. Do you have the feeling that they are at this point, or should they be?
Rumsfeld: Oh, goodness, now you're asking me Harvard-type questions. (Laughter.) I -- (chuckles) -- I don't know if I want to leap into those -- "or should they be?" The fact of the matter is that this is a different period. It's the age of television, and the press corps is a very different press corps than it was when I came here in the '50s and the '60s and worked here in the '70s.
Kalb: In what way?
Rumsfeld: Well, it's larger. It -- the appetite is just enormous for information -- 24 hours, seven days a week news. The numbers of people involved are -- is much larger. So coping with that appetite is not an easy thing to do for government. The --
I guess the thing that I think about with the press is that they've got their job, and we've got ours. Anything we can do to communicate with the people in the Defense establishment, millions of people, the people in the United States of America, the allies and coalition partners we're dealing with, where we can communicate with them through the press, is probably useful to help them understand what it is we're doing, why we're doing it, and what we hope to accomplish. That means that you can deal with people --
People are uneven, just like people in government or business, and the press are uneven. Some are very experienced and have a great body of knowledge; some are quite new at it, as everyone has to be at some point. And therefore it is not a bloc that you're dealing with, you're dealing with individuals, it seems to me, who happen to be together. And one can deal with some on a total background basis and have high confidence. You can deal with others where you might not want to do that.
Kalb: You've been disappointed yourself in the course of this war with press performance?
Rumsfeld: No, I haven't, particularly. I guess it's because I really didn't have any expectation level to be -- (laughter).
Kalb: You mean you had very low expectation? (Laughter.)
Rumsfeld: No. No, I was without an expectation as to what I expected. (Laughs.) But therefore I haven't been disappointed. I think you take the world like you find it. You get up in the morning, and you deal with what you have to deal with.
I would correct something. Maybe I'm wrong, and the people in this room certainly know more about it than I do, but I think the idea of characterizing what's going on in the press with respect to the Pentagon as a rebellion is just a misuse of the word.
Kalb: Okay. Good.
Rumsfeld: Yeah, I -- we ought to get you a dictionary.
Kalb: What would -- (laughter).
Rumsfeld: I mean, I've seen rebellions, and this isn't one.
Kalb: The idea of using the dictionary -- (laughs) -- that's the important --
Rumsfeld: Yeah. But, I mean, there's no question that there have been some people who have criticized the Pentagon. Sometimes there are people who didn't really know what was going on. And their criticism was misdirected. Other cases, it was a difference of opinion.
My impression is from the press that there's almost no level to which you can feed them that they will not want more. (Laughter.) And therefore I expect a certain amount of unhappiness and unease, because, I mean, what's their goal? Their goal is to get into the paper and to get on the television and to see that that information out of the institution they happen to be covering gets out there. And some days it's a dry well, and some days I just smile and say, I don't know the answers, or, We don't -- We're not going to talk about that. And that's not a happy day for the press.
Kalb: But would you acknowledge that there's a difference between the quantity of information provided and the quality of the information?
Rumsfeld: Of course there's a difference. I understand the meaning of those two words.
Kalb: Right. (Laughter.) And because you do, there would be -- there would be an effort made, perhaps, to limit the quality of the information that is provided. In other words --
Rumsfeld: Why would one want to do that?
Kalb: I don't know. That is a good question -- (laughter) -- that would be asked of the Pentagon.
Rumsfeld: I mean, I wouldn't want to limit the quality or the quantity.
Kalb: I mean, I have sat --
Rumsfeld: Unless there's a very good reason to --
Kalb: I've sat in on a couple of sessions that your Assistant Secretary of Defense Torie Clarke has had with scholars and journalists, and she meets very regularly with bureau chiefs. There are quite a few contentious sessions.
Rumsfeld: I've been in a couple.
Kalb: There are serious questions. You've been at some of them yourself.
Kalb: So maybe the word "rebellion" is wrong, but there is dissatisfaction. And I'm wondering --
Rumsfeld: Has there ever not been dissatisfaction on the part of the press --
Kalb: You're anticipating my question. (Light laughter.) Is there, then, in your mind, as you see it, a general expectation that the relationship is never going to be a cozy one, there's always going to be many rough edges, and you guys do the best you can and reporters will try to push the limits of what it is that they can get, and you are prepared to live with that as a common arrangement?
Rumsfeld: And we do live with it. But if you think about it, we have put press people on ships, we've put press people in Special Forces units, where I don't believe they've been before during the kinds of activities that these people have been in.
There was an expectation on the part of some folks that this was going to be like Desert Storm 10 years ago, that there was going to be a long period of getting ready, we'd have the press there reporting getting ready, then they'd go in and there'd be a line, and they could work like Ernie Pyle and Bill Malden did behind the lines and be there. This war's different. It's a totally different situation. And so people were wishing, my goodness, why can't we get more information? The fact of the matter is, we didn't have people on the ground for a while. When we did, they were in very dangerous circumstances. As they got a little better adjusted and in closer cooperation with Afghan units we began putting press people in.
So the fact that they wished for more does not make them bad people, it just was an unrealistic expectation.
Kalb: I don't think they're bad people at all, I think they're doing their job. And there are quite a few reporters who believe that -- go back to the Vietnam War again -- that after the Vietnam War the Pentagon made up its mind to limit press access to the battlefield as much as it possibly could. And if you go through the record of --
Rumsfeld: All the people who were in the Pentagon back then have long since retired.
Kalb: Well, they seem to have left some children behind, because you've got -- (laughter) --
Kalb: -- you've got Panama, Grenada, the Gulf War, the beginning of this war, even aspects of the continuation of this war where free press access to the battlefield is denied.
Rumsfeld: Oh, no. No. Any press person can go in any part of Afghanistan any day of the week. They could before. All they had to do was go.
Kalb: But they couldn't go with American troops.
Rumsfeld: They did. The minute we could put -- the minute we put American troops in, within a very short period of time press people were connected to them.
Now, the press people did not -- a lot of -- some of them who went in got killed, going into Afghanistan.
Kalb: Yes. Yes.
Rumsfeld: It's not a very tidy place, even today. But no one was denied ability to go in and be in any part of that country or any part of the battlefield.
Kalb: Mr. Secretary, how --
Rumsfeld: And then saying that we denied them that it seems to me is unfortunate.
Kalb: No, but how -- no, but how do you -- how do you account for the fact that an American officer would use his weapon in a threatening way against an American -- a reporter simply trying to cover a story? And this did happen to a Washington Post reporter. I am astounded by that. And I don't understand it, and I'm sure you've been asked this question before, but maybe you could help us all understand it. How do you do that? You know that it's an American reporter, he's doing his job, and it's the Washington Post. How do you turn a gun on a guy like that?
Rumsfeld: First of all, I've not been asked that question before that I recall. And I wish I had. (light laughter.) I'd have a better answer. (laughter) I have not had a chance to talk to the reporter. And if the reporter's here, I'd like to see him afterwards and hear about it, because --
Rumsfeld: -- I don't know that it happened quite that way myself.
Rumsfeld: I find that if three people observe an event -- a car accident -- and you take him away and ask him what happened, you get three different impressions of it. And that's why we have more than one newspaper in America, because we get --
Rumsfeld: -- it's a useful thing.
Is it possible that one person in the United States armed forces who had never been in that circumstance before and was faced with a decision and was holding a weapon and was asked a question, or was challenged by a person, and he turned around, and the weapon happened to be coming around with him, and that the person legitimately felt threatened, and that the person with the weapon legitimately did not feel that he was threatening that person, or that that person conceivably could be threatening the reporter because he had concluded, for whatever reason, that if that reporter did what the reporter had said he intended to do, that it could put some of his people at risk or inhibit his ability to carry out his mission? There are a lot of ways that that circumstance could have happened in a way that is less black and white than you're characterizing it.
Kalb: I'm sure that's true. I'm sure that's true. I'm only going with what it is that the reporter said happened to him, and he's a good, experienced reporter.
Rumsfeld: And he was there and I wasn't. And I'm going with putting my --
Kalb: And he's got pretty good contacts with these people.
Rumsfeld: Yeah. I'm trying to put myself in the shoes of the person with the weapon and ask, what might have happened that would have led that reporter to legitimately feel threatened. And --
Kalb: Did you have -- did you feel the need to check that out?
Rumsfeld: Apparently not sufficiently. (Laughter.)
Kalb: Mr. Secretary, let's talk about leaks for a minute. On September 12 --
Rumsfeld: I'm not -- I'm against leaks.
Kalb: I know that. (Light laughter.) Shortly after the 9/11 attacks you said on September 12 -- in fact, you were furious --
Rumsfeld: No, I wasn't. I don't get --
Kalb: You -- you seemed furious.
Rumsfeld: I don't get furious. No. I get cool.
Kalb: You get cool.
Rumsfeld: I get angry, but not furious, yeah.
Kalb: You were coolly angry -- (light laughter) -- at Pentagon officials who you said had leaked classified information to reporters. And you were --
Rumsfeld: True. No, to anybody.
Kalb: To anyone.
Rumsfeld: Doesn't matter about reporters. I'm --
Kalb: You said, They have violated the law, they frustrate our efforts to track down and deal with terrorists. My question is --
Rumsfeld: And it can cost people's lives.
Kalb: Absolutely. Six months later now, have you ever taken action against a Pentagon-leaker of information?
Rumsfeld: Not that I can think of.
Kalb: Does that mean that there have been no leaks?
Rumsfeld: Oh! (Laughs.) Goodness, no. (Laughter.) Goodness, no. This place would be out of business. (Laughter.)
No, I'll tell you about leaks. When a person takes classified information and gives it to someone who is not cleared for classified information, whether the person's from the Pentagon or any department of government, they're violating federal criminal law. And they ought to go to jail. That's not complicated.
Kalb: What are the laws they are violating? Just --
Rumsfeld: The laws relating to classified information are quite strict as to who may be given access to that information. And so to the extent that people violate the rules with respect to classified information, they are breaking federal criminal law.
Now, they are also potentially putting people's lives at risk, and that's a very -- it's a terrible thing to do. So, then that's one problem.
The other problem is what do you do about it. Now, I get up early, and I stay there late at night, and I work when I get home, and I like working, so I don't feel like a martyr, so don't get me wrong. But I do not have time -- nor does anyone I know have time to spend -- to engage in witch hunts inside the department, trying to find people who have tried to make themselves look important and butter up to some newspaper reporter or some other person in government, or some person in the neighborhood -- to make themselves look big.
I have seen instances in government where these kinds of hunts have gone on, and people are brought in for polygraphs, and everyone is --
Kalb: You have not done that?
Rumsfeld: I've never done it. I know people who have. And I have seen it happening.
Kalb: But on this stint as secretary of Defense, that has not happened?
Rumsfeld: I have not. I have not.
Kalb: You shifted from you have not done that to it has not happened. "I have not done it."
Rumsfeld: It has not happened to my knowledge in the Department of Defense.
Kalb: I mean, because you're the boss at the Pentagon, and if there was a witch-hunt or people were being called in and polygraphed, you would know it?
Rumsfeld: I would think I would know about a polygraph. I might not know if people had been called in a department well below me -- there are dozens and dozens of departments. It's entirely possible that some middle-level person could know of a leak in the office and call people in and discuss it with them. I haven't.
Kalb: And you're not aware of it?
Rumsfeld: And I'm not aware of it. But --
Kalb: What about --
Rumsfeld: Well, what happens is it chills an institution.
Kalb: Yes, it does.
Rumsfeld: If you start taking people who get up, work hard, care about the country, dedicated, and you don't know who leaked, and then you start calling in all these innocent people, and pretty soon you are slapping a heavy case on them that -- "You were only one of five people who knew this -- we don't know whether to believe you or not." And you think of the loss of productivity and the loss of morale, and the difficulty in an organization. My impression is we will find enough people who do it by accident, without going around chilling your own organization and distracting them from their very important work. So I just don't do it.
Kalb: Mr. Secretary, you were on this September 12 occasion, and again on October 22nd you returned to the subject of leaks. You spoke about the violation of federal criminal law. On both of those occasions you spoke very vigorously and forcefully on this issue. And a number of the reporters who cover the Pentagon have told me in preparation for this that there was in fact a chilling impact that your comments had on the building, and only now in the recent month or so have people in the building who normally would talk to a reporter begun again to talk to reporters.
Rumsfeld: I better go back down there. (Laughter.)
Kalb: You mean and frighten them again?
Rumsfeld: Look, when I used the word "chilling," I was talking about chilling meaning that people who are honest and not leaking being called into an office and slapped with a polygraph, or if not accused at least a question raised about their integrity. That is what I meant by "chilling."
If what you meant by "chilling" is that the people who used to leak are afraid to now, then God bless chilling. (Laughter.)
Kalb: Then we get to a definition -- we get then to a definition of what is a leak, because --
Rumsfeld: Well, I'm talking about the taking classified information from a person who is cleared for it and giving it to someone who is not, regardless of who that person is.
Kalb: Supposing a reporter comes to an office of an assistant secretary, and says, talk to me about Iraq. I mean, what are we going to do? How does it work out? And the reporter, as you said yourself at the beginning -- there are serious reporters who are trying to do serious work. And what they are trying to do is figure out what is really going on -- what is the U.S. going to do here? That to me is not a leak. That to me is sort of a background session, right?
Rumsfeld: Sure, yeah.
Kalb: Okay. But you are dealing with classified information.
Rumsfeld: No, you're not. You shouldn't be -- or you should be in the slammer.
Kalb: But everything is classified, isn't it?
Rumsfeld: Everything is not classified.
Rumsfeld: No, indeed. No indeed.
Kalb: What about the conversations that --
Rumsfeld: Let's take Iraq. Let's pretend that the president was thinking about doing something about Iraq.
Rumsfeld: Let's not use Iraq, it will end up in the newspaper. (Laughter.) Let use Iraq -- take Country X. Let's say that the president was thinking about doing something in Country X, and he went to your assistant secretary, and he said, Develop me some plans as to what we might do about Country X. And in comes his favorite reporter, and says, Gee, what are you thinking about in Country X? And the fellow feels the compulsion to say, Gee, we are thinking of doing this to Country X, and the fellow goes off and writes it in the newspaper. Now, is that good for the United States? Is that helpful to people's lives who might be involved in doing something to country X? I think not.
Kalb: What about stories that -- you just cited one that I think we could both agree on very easily, because if it's going to hurt the troops or --
Rumsfeld: You bet.
Kalb: -- whatever, nobody is going to do that. What I am talking about are stories, which end up being not really military operations and secrets of that sort but embarrassments, political embarrassments --
Rumsfeld: Get them out.
Kalb: -- saying the wrong thing that sort of stuff.
Rumsfeld: Yeah, get them out. Embarrassments happen every day. Everyone makes mistakes. They all get out eventually. My rule is --
Kalb: That's not --
Rumsfeld: Shove it out.
Kalb: That's not what bothers you then?
Rumsfeld: No, of course not.
Kalb: That sort of thing?
Rumsfeld: Of course not.
Rumsfeld: Absolutely not.
Kalb: Okay. There was an odd sequence a month or so ago about the Office of Strategic Influence.
Rumsfeld: There was an odd what?
Kalb: Sequence of events. You know, it erupted one day in the New York Times on the front page, and then suddenly within a week the office was disbanded, and it seemed to some of us it was almost like a calculated Pentagon leak designed somehow to undercut the viability of an operation of this sort. You are the boss -- how did that happen?
Rumsfeld: I don't know. I did not spend a lot of time going back and trying to figure it out. You are right; it did smell a little like somebody might have done it. But I -- as I say, I didn't devote any time to doing it, trying to track down who did what to whom.
When something is as soiled as that office became in a relatively short period of time, it struck me that you'd be swimming against the current so hard trying to leave it that the attitude was cashier it and start fresh. We still have to do what we have to do, as I said in the press briefing today, we indicated that the office had been decided that it would be disbanded by the director of policy, Doug Feith, who was in charge of that. That was a minor piece of all of his responsibilities. And he made a conscious judgment to do that, and I told the press that that's the case. And -- but I have not gone back and tried to track it down.
What we do have to do is to see that we as an institution do an awful lot better job of dealing with the important kinds of information that are important to our success. And I mean the terrorist training manuals taught people to lie about who was hurt in a battle, and to go out and tell people that they were innocent civilians, and to say that they were hospitals, and to take people from hospitals and move them over into buildings that had been bombed, and pretend they were hospitals -- and then call the press in and have them get pictures of these quote/unquote "hospitals" that weren't hospitals, and make the United States look bad. There were efforts to make it look like it was against their religion, the Moslem religion. There were efforts to make it look like it was against Arabs or against the Afghan people.
We can't just sit there and allow the press to report everything that Osama bin Laden is saying and everything the Taliban are saying and everything the terrorists are saying, and have it repeated and repeated and repeated, and not find a way to rebut it when it is not true. I mean, the fact that the United States had been giving $137 million a year to that year prior to September 11th in Afghanistan because of the drought and because of the starvation, says something, it seems to me.
Kalb: You want to get that message out above and beyond the fact that it has been reported in the press and by the press, picked up by foreign news agencies all around the world. I mean, it wasn't a secret that we were giving that kind of money. You were dissatisfied that it didn't have a sufficient oomph, enough of a bounce? And you --
Rumsfeld: Well, let me put it this way: I have not had time to go back and count column inches or minutes on television. But if you think -- if you think that the stories about what we were doing from a humanitarian standpoint, the positive stories, received one- twentieth of the coverage -- that false stories about civilian casualties -- I mean, it isn't even a close comparison. And if we just said, okay, fine, that's how the press does it -- anything that is against the United States or against civilians or is bad is a lot more newsworthy, and you know that, and everyone in this room knows that. And as a result it gets on the front page of the paper. Anything that is humanitarian or is constructive is not going to sell newspapers. It is not going to grab attention on evening news, and as a result it's not going to get the attention. Now, you know that.
Kalb: I know that. And what I am trying to get at from you is to understand what it is that you feel you can do -- I mean, you made this effort with the Strategic Influence Office -- clearly it didn't work. But the problem remains.
Rumsfeld: It does.
Kalb: And so, as you said your self -- and I can read you the quote, but it's too long -- that you are going to find other ways of doing the same thing. And the question then becomes: What is it that you would actually do to get your message out? Would it in any way involve -- let me be direct -- the hiring of a subsidiary organization to give inaccurate information or misleading information to a foreign news organization?
Rumsfeld: No that's not the business the Pentagon is in.
Kalb: You're not going to do that? Okay. And you will not engage, as you said before, in dissembling or lying, but telling the truth to the American people? That's a fact? Right?
Rumsfeld: That's right.
Kalb: Okay. So do you have a way of handling this problem now, or is it still something that you are working on?
Rumsfeld: We don't do it very well. I mean, let's face it. For one thing, you have got to know what's being said. And it's hard to know what's being said. It's a big world. And someone has to look at what's going on al Jazeera. What are they saying on the --
Kalb: So it's a lot of research that has to be done --
Rumsfeld: It takes a good deal of understanding of who is saying what, and why are they saying it? And what needs to be done by whom to get the counter to it, the truth out, and see that it is rebutted in some reasonably timely fashion?
Now, when you are in the middle of a war, and you have got a whole pile of people out spreading information that is not correct, you have to -- you can't just hope that it's all going to work out well.
Kalb: I got you. Okay. Mr. Secretary, in the time that I have left, I have two questions. One, I find it fascinating that a Secretary of Defense -- you -- spend so much time with the press. You must consider it very important. It's a big piece of your day.
Rumsfeld: Well, first of all, let's get the facts right. It is --
Kalb: Okay, you spend no time with the press. (Laughter.)
Rumsfeld: I mean, it is not a big piece of my day.
Kalb: It is not?
Rumsfeld: No. I get up at five o'clock, come into the office about 6:30. I leave about 7:00, 7:30 at night, work an hour and a half at home. And I'll bet you I spend preparing for a press briefing -- well, today is a good example --
Kalb: You didn't prepare at all? (Laughter.)
Rumsfeld: I didn't prepare. (Laughter.) My -- I mean, when I prepare for a press briefing it's somewhere between three and five minutes. Why? Because I tend to talk about things I know something about, and I tend to say "I don't know" if I don't know about them. Therefore I don't have to do a lot of stuff. I --
Kalb: So why do you appear before the press? You could still spend that hour doing something else.
Rumsfeld: I could. It's actually a half hour. You've --
Kalb: Or a half-hour -- well, you are spending an hour here.
Rumsfeld: You're wrong by 50 percent. But it is literally the press briefings are somewhere between 30 are 40 minutes, generally, and I may do -- I suppose I've done in the time I've been secretary of Defense an average of one to two a week. I occasionally come over to the old Shoreham and see you -- like now.
Kalb: Right. We are very grateful to you.
Rumsfeld: I have some meetings on background with press people, because I think giving them a chance -- and me a chance to talk to them without being quoted is a useful thing from time to time.
Kalb: Why do you spend the time with the press? What's in your mind? What is the value?
Rumsfeld: I get asked to do it by people in government and by people in other countries.
Kalb: In other countries?
Rumsfeld: Mmm-hmm. (Affirming.) Who feel that the person who is intimately involved in the global war on terrorism can be helpful to them by seeing that the subject matter has some structure on a fairly regular basis, because it tends to get tugged away by a lot of multiple voices talking about it, different press perceptions of what's going on in the global war on terrorism, different views by people who are against it. So you get all of these different views. And to the extent a person who has a relatively central role in it can once a week or twice a week -- or three times a week, whatever it may be in a given week -- take the subject, readdress it, develop a construct for the phase we are in, and enable people in the department, in the government and elsewhere, to test that as a way of approaching it that it's helpful.
Now, I don't know if it's helpful or not, but I keep getting asked to do it, so I tend to do it.
Kalb: Well, I have a feeling -- let me just -- my vote is keep doing it. I think it's quite remarkable for a government official to provide that kind of access to the press on a regular basis, and journalists pressure access. And let me just tell you that there was an article in the Wall Street Journal on December 31st of that year, of last year, and I have it right here, and it says: "The best new show on television? Rumsfeld press briefings -- Americans relax and swoon." CNN described you as a rock star. (Laughter.) Fox described you as a babe --
Rumsfeld: What you see is what you get. (Laughter.) No rock star.
Kalb: "A babe magnet" for the -- (laughs) -- 70-year-old set. (Laughter.)
Rumsfeld: Listen, with your gray hair, I wouldn't knock the 70-year-old set. (Laughter.)
Kalb: I'm talking about the 80-year -- (laughs) --
Rumsfeld: I'm 70 in a month or two.
Kalb: And you're also famous for talking straight. And one illustration of that, you were asked a month or two ago about where is Osama bin Laden. And you answered, "We do hear six, seven, eight, 10, 12 conflicting reports every day. I've stopped chasing them. We do know of certain knowledge that he is" -- (laughs) -- "that he is either in Afghanistan, or in some other country, or dead." (Laughter.)
So in straight talk -- that kind of straight talk -- (laughter) --
Kalb: -- give us -- by the way, we're going to the audience now, and there are microphones around, and stands for mikes. So if you want to ask a question, please go to the microphones, stand up, and we'll get the secretary's last answer and then we'll turn directly to you.
Rumsfeld: Let's have some questions from the Pentagon press corps who felt chilled. (Laughs.)
Kalb: Ah -- oh, that's good. That's good. That's good. Maybe tomorrow you can get them.
But anyway, in straight talk, how are we doing overall in this war against terrorism? We've had it six, seven months now. The remaining superpower in the world. How are we doing?
Rumsfeld: Well, we're doing pretty well. It's a whole new experience for this country to be dealing with not against -- going against armies, navies or air forces, but going against terrorist organizations that are very difficult to confront. But if our first goal was to stop the Taliban from governing Afghanistan, that's been achieved. If a goal was to put so much pressure on the global terrorist networks that it makes it difficult for them to conduct terrorist activities, to recruit people, to raise money, to easily move from country to country, we're doing that. Does that mean there won't be any more terrorists attacks? No. There are plenty of cells and people out there who have been trained and who know what they're doing and probably will be able to get enough money and fake passports to do what they want to do. But it is -- the pressure is working, and we've gotten wonderful cooperation from countries. NATO has got AWACS planes flying over our country as we talk today. And so many other countries -- dozens and dozens -- have been cooperating.
So I feel quite good about the first phase. We're trying to train some folks in Yemen and the Philippines and in Georgia -- local people -- to do a better job at their special forces direct action against terrorists. And we are doing maritime interdiction in -- and a lot of things that aren't seen that are out there happening. People are being arrested, people are being interrogated, and bank accounts are being frozen. And so I feel that this first phase has worked pretty well.
Kalb: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Start. Give us a name and a question.
Q: Thank you. Sir, I'm Judy Christie. I'm the editor of The Times in Shreveport, Louisiana, the home of Barksdale Air Force Base. And I'm very interested in what you're saying about the need to limit classified information. I appreciate that.
However, as the editor of a community newspaper in a military community, I do feel like there is non-classified information that we have difficulty getting from the Department of Defense. We've sought access to Diego Garcia and been denied. We had great luck, and we appreciate your help with going to Guantanamo Bay. We've been told by the Air Force, for example, that we're not to use the last names of people we interview by telephone who are on the mission in Afghanistan. Some of those restrictions, to be quite honest, don't seem to be fair to the people in our community who want to follow these military people who are over there fighting for our country. And we really appreciate those people.
Could you just comment on ways we might deal better with the non- classified aspects of this war and the people affected?
Rumsfeld: Goodness. I'll try.
If you think of an enormously -- an enormous institution, the Department of Defense, and the fact that there are multiple leadership centers throughout it, and they go down through hundreds of thousands of people, and no one is going to write instructions at the top that are sufficiently micro that they could be executed by some public affairs officer way down at the bottom and, therefore, they have to make decisions, and they undoubtedly make some right and some wrong.
And I -- all of us have trouble getting information out of the Department of Defense -- (laughter) -- not just the press. (Chuckles.) It is a difficult thing because it is such a big institution.
We're trying to create a culture, a feeling in the department that the press has a perfectly legitimate role, we respect it, and we want the department to deal with them as straightforwardly as is humanly possible, and just draw the line on classified information. There is no question but that there are a number of people in the defense establishment who do jobs where their lives would be more at risk if their names were known. And to the extent they're doing various types of antiterrorist activity, their families conceivably could be at risk if their names were known. And therefore, there is a policy that certain categories of people's names are not permitted to be used.
Kalb: Thank you very much.
Q: Yes, Mr. Secretary. I'm Kay Reed, editor of the Albany Herald in Albany, Georgia. I'm not asking for classified information, but if you were to lay out for us as to how far out the Department of Defense has its strategy in the war on terror, how far out does that go, and in what detail, acknowledging the fact that at any given time you have to shift your plan?
Rumsfeld: There was no road map available to the president or to me on September 11th. What we have said is that it is policy to go after terrorists where they are and to go after countries that harbor terrorists and provide sanctuary and haven for terrorists.
The problem with terrorism is there isn't any way to defend against it, because they can go at you at any place, at any time, using any technique, and it's physically impossible to defend everywhere at every time, against every technique. Therefore, you must go after them so that the plan is that. And the president has listed a series of terrorist organizations that exist. He has listed a series of countries that have been harboring or financing or providing sanctuary to terrorists, and he has suggested to people that if you're on their side, you're on the wrong side. And the coalition partners that have been developed around the world are systematically looking and going after those folks wherever they are. And that, essentially, is the plan.
Kalb: Thank you.
Q: Deborah Howell, Newhouse News Service.
We recently had a reporter in with the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan. And it was generally a very good experience. And we had lots of access and got lots of great stories. And so what you're --
Rumsfeld: Are you listening, Marvin?
Kalb: I am -- with both ears. (Laughter.)
Q: So what you were saying about that is true. On the other hand, Rumsfeld: Uh-oh. (Laughter.)
Kalb: I hope you're listening to this. (Laughter.)
Q: -- we had to agree and did to military censorship of our stories. And --
Rumsfeld: You didn't have to.
Q: Well, no, but then we didn't get any --
Rumsfeld: You voluntarily did to go in there.
Q: Right, right, right. And that we made that trade-off --
Rumsfeld: No -- slight distinction.
Q: We agreed to that.
Q: For the access. But the reporters' stories were censored of information that he -- he couldn't tell us the information that was censored from his stories. Okay. But then he finds out the next day that the information censored from his stories was in the Pentagon briefing the day before, and leaving us in a very strange position of not being able to put into his story information that was already public, because he had made an agreement. And so I wonder if you could make some refinements on that.
Rumsfeld: Well, we ought to try.
Q: It happened not once but several times.
Rumsfeld: Yeah. First of all, you have to appreciate who's doing the censoring. These are people that are asked to come in and serve in the military. They're young people. They're trained to shoot a rifle and fly an airplane and drive a ship. And at some moment they're asked to censor press people's writing. Are they experts at it? No. Are they likely to make mistakes? You bet. So can we ever expect anything approximating near perfection with respect to people who censor? I doubt it. We -- it can get better if the war's long and if the people stay in the jobs long enough -- the individuals do -- to get better at doing it.
The second answer I would make is this:
There is a country that invited us in, and we accepted, on the basis that we would not let the world know that we were there and that we would not bring press people in unless they had agreed to that. And at a certain moment in recent weeks, I was meeting with the head of that country again, and I said to that individual, "Say, we're still not telling people we're there, but it's getting to be a pretty well-known secret, and don't you think it's about time that you allowed us to do that? And don't you think your people are now sufficiently acclimated to the idea that we've been there and Afghanistan's been dealt with? And I would think that you would feel less at risk than you would have, and did, when we first asked to come in."
He said, "You're right. Go ahead and say it." And I did.
So it may have happened that the person censoring did exactly the right thing and that -- just didn't know that I had talked to the head of that country, and the head of that country had at that moment -- the day before allowed us to use the name of the country and the name of the base.
That's an example. That's illustrative. It may not fit your facts, but --
Q: I would just suggest that an appeal process to the military censorship that goes up the line might be very valuable.
Rumsfeld: I think it would be. And if I had been Torie Clarke, I would have had one by now. Where's Torie? (Laughs.) (Laughter.) I think that's a good idea, because what it does, it's like lessons learned. And we do that all the time with military activities, and you need to keep improving the process.
Q: And Torie does know about this.
Kalb: Thank you.
We're running out of time, so if these two gentlemen would just ask their questions one behind the other, and then the secretary could answer them. Go ahead.
Q: Jay Shelledy, the Salt Lake Tribune. Mr. Secretary, you believe that members of your staff who leak classified information should be punished. Would that belief also extend to members of Congress? And as you'll recall, that within 48 hours of September 11th, one good senator from the state of Utah was telling the world that we have the capability of monitoring cell-phone calls of terrorists, to a national television audience.
Kalb: Thank you very much.
The next question, please?
Q: Mr. Secretary, if you look at the wrinkles on my face, you'll know I've been listening to you for a long time. And I've especially been listening to your press conferences. And I wish -- I know it's not in your job description, but if you were an editor, you would get high marks from me. My question is, these questions that you get, some of them are inane, some of them show that we are not researching our subject. If you had -- this is not in your job description either, but if you could just -- you've got a nice audience here. If there are two or three things you'd like for reporters to prepare for before they come to one of your press conferences, if you'd share that with us, we'd appreciate it.
Kalb: An interesting question. Go ahead, Mr. Secretary.
Rumsfeld: Well, with respect to the first question, the problem of classified material is not a problem for my staff uniquely, it's for anybody who has access to classified information to be more careful with it. On the other hand, people can make mistakes. I mean, I understand that. People can not know something is classified or they can not have been reminded that something was classified, and make an honest mistake. And we live with that as a society.
What advice would I give to people? Golly. I really don't think about it that way. I do not get up and say to myself, "How can they do their job differently than they're doing it?" I keep worrying about how I can do my job better than I'm doing it. I think that I -- I happen to like people in the press. I just I know it's a strange, idiosyncratic -- (laughter) aspect, but I do. And I've enjoyed them, and they for the most part are knowledgeable and interested in things that I'm interested in. So I don't feel it's a burden to deal with people at all. And I know we all have areas of ignorance. Goodness knows I do. I demonstrate it every day, that there are things that I just don't know about. And the fact that someone from the press may not know something when they ask a question I think is not something that should be surprising. We're all human beings, and we all get up and stick our legs in our britches one at a time.
Kalb: Thank you, sir.
Our time is up.
I want to thank ASNE for having us. We'd like to come back. I want to thank C-SPAN for being here. I want to thank the Knight Foundation for making this possible. I want to thank our cosponsors, the George Washington University, the National Press Club, the Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard.
But most important, I want to thank the Secretary of Defense for being so generous with his time and so thoughtful and needling at the same time in some of his answers.
You've been very generous indeed, and I think you, sir.
Rumsfeld: Thank you, sir. Appreciate it. (Applause.)
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