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ASD PA Clarke Interview with WTAX-AM Radio

Presenter: Victoria Clarke ASD (PA)
May 08, 2002 9:30 AM EDT

(Interview with Jack Jackson, WTAX-AM Radio, "The One-Eyed Jack Show.")

Jackson: It's 8:37 at WTAX and on the phone with us now Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs for the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Victoria Clarke. What should I call you?

Clarke: Whatever you'd like. Some people call me Victoria, like my father when he's really mad at me, and others call me Torie, but completely up to you.

Jackson: I love your voice.

Clarke: Thanks.

Jackson: I do. By the way, in the studio also with us this morning Scott Bandemide who's an NRA lobbyist and he was a guest earlier. When he found out you were coming on he said can I hang around? I said of course, not a problem.

I would be very, very, very impressed, Torie, if I could end up with, for my office wall, an autographed picture from you and from the Secretary also. You are very nice and we'll take care of it and send it on its way.

Jackson: Excellent.

Clarke: I've got to believe, though, that your walls are pretty covered with a lot of important people. I don't know if you've got much space left.

Jackson: We have some really neat pictures, we really do, and some autographs and things.

You know, in looking at your biography it's interesting because I was talking about you earlier this morning and I've talked about you several times in the past because I'm a big fan of the Secretary's and I watch all the press conferences and I think you're probably, through my columns, already aware of the fact that I collect all the press conferences, dump them on a CD, have huge files of them.

You get a look on your face sometimes at press conferences that when I'm sitting at my work station at home watching I'm thinking she's saying hey, here's the look guys, you better watch it now. You're getting in trouble here. Is that what that look means?

Clarke: It's less that. It's more what I call the Far Side moment. What you're tempted to say versus what you know you really should be saying. [Laughter] So oftentimes it's attempting to make sure you maintain control of your emotions.

Jackson: I think you do such an excellent job.

Clarke: You're nice to say so. You and my mother! [Laughter] You're in good company.

Jackson: I'm sure that they're fine people, too, your parents that is.

I have to ask a serious question here. It's my understanding, I got a call from a friend who's in the 10th Mountain Division.

Clarke: Right, doing a great job.

Jackson: On a satellite phone. They are awesome people, I'm telling you. I'm so impressed with our military. And he told me, this was just a few days ago, he told me that he had just landed in Georgia, is that correct?

Clarke: That very well could be correct. We have probably a couple of dozen people on the ground in Georgia. Over the next several weeks and few months it could go up to as many as 150 people. It might not always be 150 total, but it will ebb and flow and never exceed that.

We have made very clear we think one of the important things to do in the road ahead in the war on terrorism is to work with friends and allies and help them with some training and equipping and assisting so they can fight the terrorism in their own back yards. So we're doing that with Georgia, we've got small numbers of people that will be helping out in Yemen, and of course people know about what's going on in the Philippines.

Jackson: Torie, a follow-up, as they say in the press room, he's telling me that that's what you would tell me, but he also said what's happening is there's two huge valleys that are training facilities and currently have a large number of al Qaeda or terrorist organizations in them, and that we are about to do those guys in. Is that correct?

Clarke: If someone is talking about what might happen in the future they ought not to be doing that.

Jackson: And I know that.

Clarke: We tend to, if you watch the briefings you've heard the Secretary say this 100 times, we've made a very conscious decision that we let other countries talk about what is going on in their country. We had the Minister of Defense from Georgia here yesterday, as a matter of fact. We let them talk about those things because we think that's appropriate and we try very hard not to talk about what may or may not happen in the future.

Jackson: That's an excellent point, 8:41, and I say excellent point because I read 15 to 30 newspapers every day, seven days a week.

Clarke: Wow, good for you.

Jackson: I watch, there's not a talking head show on television that I do not watch. I videotape 24 hours a day four channels, sometimes six channels, and then try to go through and sort what I want to view and what I don't want to view.

My point being, and it doesn't matter, the Washington Times is one of my favorite newspapers, the Washington Post and the New York Times are one of my least favorite, but I still read them every day. I see a ton of newspaper articles out there that two weeks later we find that the stories just are not accurate. They're just not true.

Clarke: I'd actually say two things. I'd say in general we think the press corps is doing a pretty phenomenal job of covering very very difficult, unusual, unconventional kinds of things in terms of the military action. We really do think that in general they're doing a good job. I know for certain when you talk about, if you want to generalize about one group of them, the Pentagon press corps, they're very responsible, they're very sensitive to the concerns we have of protecting operational security and protecting the safety of these incredible men and women in uniform who are doing so many good things. So we are very pleased and gratified overall with the kind of coverage the give.

It is an unconventional war. Things are, you know better than I do, one of the first rules is first reports are often wrong. So you're constantly balancing the need and desire to get news and information out quickly with the need and desire to try to make it as accurate as possible. So I think in general they do a pretty good job. But sure, with anything, we often after two, three, four weeks after an operation, we often find we've got new and different information than we had in the early days.

Jackson: Yes, but many times the Secretary or yourself will sit on the information until you've got it confirmed that okay, this is actually what happened and then it's released, and sometimes the press reports it, and I'll read a story and I'm going wait a minute, I know this can't be accurate, and a week later it's gone. The story's disappeared. Or I hear the Secretary at a press conference say those early reports many times turn out to not be true, and I admire him when he does it, and I admire the fact also, and please let him know, that when he, and I think I can detect from time to time, an occasional point where he tends to be starting to get a little irritated with the press and he stops and kind of just takes a breath and he goes okay, let's go through this very slowly, and da, da, da, da, da, and goes right down point A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and I'm thinking how does he do that? Because I would be hot if I were him.

Clarke: He doesn't get hot.

Jackson: Doesn't he, really?

Clarke: He does not get hot. This is -- He does not get hot. He actually, you can tell when he's not pleased about something because he tends to get quite quiet. He tends to slow down and speak very carefully and very precisely. That's a good tip-off.

Jackson: Which is saying in a way to anybody that's paying any attention at all, you should listen to this.

Clarke: If he starts to get very quiet and speak very slowly and very precisely you can feel the temperature drop in the room.

Jackson: Absolutely. [Laughter] And you can see it in the press conferences, too. I love that.

The reason that I talked about the stories that tend to not be true that get printed or reported, we have a lot of different stories that keep talking about, and the Secretary keeps saying hey, Pakistan is our friend. They are doing great things. We're working very closely with them, and he's mentioned Saudi Arabia several times in that same vein, as well as the President has. At the same time, stories keep getting printed that makes the average individual when they read them, because they don't read every day and they don't study every news story that comes out, it makes them think that Saudi Arabia may not be quite the friend that it's made out to be, and Pakistan may be harboring Osama bin Laden or some of his top aides if he still remains alive. Would you agree with that? That we get those two different feelings there?

Clarke: It's absolutely understandable that people get lots of different feelings and lots of different vibrations at different times. I repeat myself but it's worth repeating we're in very unusual circumstances in very unconventional times. Different countries, the Secretary likes to say different countries have different domestic concerns and considerations, they live in different neighborhoods, they can't always nor should they always act exactly the way we do or say exactly what we say, that's just not human nature.

Over the years we have been very pleased and gratified with the kind of support we have gotten with Saudi Arabia, and we continue to be pleased with that. These are very challenging times for a lot of different people, a lot of different leaders. They're trying to figure out how do you manage the extremism in the region? How do you manage these kinds of hostilities against different types of people in different governments? So again, we want to tread very carefully but in general we've been quite pleased with the kind of support we've been getting from Saudi Arabia.

In terms of anybody saying anything about where UBL [Osama bin Laden] may be or not be, those sorts of things, we really get every week. We get dozens of reports. He's in this part of the world, he's in that part of the world, he's alive, he's dead. If we knew for certain and anybody really knew for certain and told us we would have him and we're continuing to pursue that. But as people on this side of the world know, there's that fellow from North Carolina, a much smaller geographic location than Afghanistan, an area in which the law enforcement authorities can and do operate freely looking for him, and he's been missing for some years. It's hard to find an individual.

But in general I think people have been trying very very hard. The Pakistani government knows it is not in their interest to have the UBLs of the world or that type of people running loose, and they've been extraordinary, no two ways about it, very, very difficult domestic considerations, and Musharraf and his leadership have been extraordinary in their cooperation with us on a variety of fronts -- the law enforcement front, the military front. Again, we let them talk about those things, but under very difficult circumstances their cooperation's been pretty phenomenal.

Jackson: 8:47. I would agree also. It just irritates me sometimes when I see the newspaper stories or hear a story on one of the major networks where it sounds as though that's not the case, and we may be having some sort of a huge conflict with whatever country, and I keep thinking gee, we've got a great President, we've got a great Secretary of Defense, they're constantly shuttling these people in and out, back and forth and working with them and talking to them face to face. It isn't like we're sending, and Colin Powell of course is doing a good job too.

We've got to take a quick break and we'll be back. 8:48 at WTAX.

[Break taken]

Jackson: Good morning it is 8:50, ten minutes away from the hour, and on the phone with us this morning the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Torie Clarke. And their web site, by the way, defense web site is, DefenseLink.mil. Anybody, and I signed up for these a long time ago, also in the studio with us National Rifle Association lobbyist Scott Bandemide.

Torie, we probably should tell everybody that if they would like to be signed up and get e-mails from the Department of Defense they can do that, correct?

Clarke: Absolutely. If they go to DefenseLink.mil and then we have another web site that is really coming up in the world, as we say, called DefendAmerica.mil [sic DefendAmerica.gov] which gives you more stories produced by some of the AFIS, the American Forces Information Service reporters, more of a snapshot if you will of the ongoing activities in the war on terrorism. But go to either of those places and you can sign up for the alerts about press briefings and things like that.

Jackson: Keep in mind, Torie that we only have like three listeners for this little bitty station.

Clarke: I've heard of a few more than that.

Jackson: [Laughter]

Clarke: I've heard it's a "must listen".

Jackson: That ploy's not going to work, is it? I was going to try to get some secret out of you. I love it. [Laughter]

Clarke: Let me ask you a question because it is very very hard when you work in a place the size of the Pentagon, 23,000 people here, some two million around the world, thousands of issues going on all the time, it's hard to keep perspective, it's hard to stay calibrated. What are your listeners telling you? Whether it's about the war on terrorism or just national security issues in general, that we ought to be thinking about? What are things that we're not focused on that you think, based on what you hear from your listeners, we should be?

Jackson: I think the one thing that I hear most often in kind of a, and it comes across in kind of an underlying tone, they're concerned that the war's not going well. They don't hear about a battle or a contact with an enemy and then they hear at the same time that we haven't found Osama bin Laden, that --

Clarke: Right.

Jackson: -- and all these different stories. They get this impression, and again, I think it's something they don't even want to mention because they do it quietly, and it's like oh, I don't know if the war's going that well or not.

Clarke: Right. I hear what you're saying. It's interesting. We are about exactly where we thought we would be at this stage of the game. There's no perfect road map, we're in such an unconventional war. But we're about where we thought we would be. We said all along from the very early days of the military action which started on October 7th, so what is that, almost exactly seven months, that there would be times where you'd see a lot of military activity, there would be times where you wouldn't see things, but that doesn't mean things aren't going on.

For instance right now there are teams of people, scores of people in various parts of eastern Afghanistan that are continuing to root out the remaining pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban. There continue to be activities around the world in which we're working with other countries, sometimes more quietly, sometimes more publicly, on law enforcement efforts, on freezing assets so these terrorist organizations don't continue to be funded. So there are a lot of things going on but I hear what you're saying. Sometimes it's more visible than others, and when it's not, people can have questions in their mind.

Jackson: Obviously we were spoiled by Desert Storm and people think that --

Clarke: Right.

Jackson: Even though the Secretary and the President both have said early on that this is going to take a long time. This is not something that's going to be over in a short period of time. I still think people thought well, they're just hedging their bets there so that when it ends very quickly --

One other thought. If we were to capture Osama bin Laden tomorrow or find him dead and identify him tomorrow, don't you think there would be a lot of people that would say that's the end of it?

Clarke: I don't think so. I don't see the research and the polls and the surveys the way I used to in my various other jobs because we just don't do that around here, but everything I see and hear is that the American people have an incredibly high level of understanding of just how difficult this will be. They also seem to have an incredibly high level of understanding that it's not just about UBL. There are any number of people that could step up in this place.

So I think people get that. I think they do understand that it will be long and difficult and that it's about more than one or two people.

Jackson: When you get up in the morning do you go all right, I get to go to work today?

Clarke: Yeah, I really do. It's --

Jackson: I think that shows.

Clarke: I'm a big sports fan and I would always be amused when I'd read these articles, you'd have some incredible athlete who was doing amazing things and he or she would say I can't believe I get to get up every day and do this and they pay me. That's about how I feel.

You know people in the military. They are extraordinary. It is just such a kick and such an honor to be able to work with them that I really do get up every day like that.

Jackson: I have to touch on this because of a situation we have, or may have come from our Guard base right here in Springfield. Anything, any word at all as to when the investigation is going to end on the Canadians that were killed by friendly fire?

Clarke: No. They said loosely it would take a couple of months. We're working very closely with the Canadians. I think the joint investigative team may have actually gotten itself together and hit the ground in Afghanistan just within the last day or so the work is underway and it will be done very thoroughly and very methodically and in very, very close cooperation with the Canadians. But I have to say I would love to use this opportunity to talk about the Guard and Reserve for a second.

We have some 70,000-80,000 Guard and Reserve from around the country that are actively participating in the war on terrorism. They're doing a great job. There are about 420 from Springfield alone, over 3,000 from the state, from Illinois. We couldn't do it without them. Sometimes when I'm out speaking to different groups or I went home to see my folks last week, people will say what can I do? Tell me something I can do? I always say if you are an employer and you've got somebody in the Guard and Reserve, support them to the best of your abilities because it's such an important role that they're playing. And if you know somebody in the military or you see them on the street, thank them for the good job they're doing.

Jackson: Absolutely. Couldn't agree more. Couldn't agree more. And I just hope that things changed a little bit, will change in the coming months in Canada. We've had people that have flown from Canada down here, been in the studio, their broadcasting company was down here videotaping a show and it goes on and on up there. I just, I feel so, a great deal of concern for the family if it was a Springfield, somebody out there serving our country because sometimes things like that happen in a war.

Clarke: Right, it underscores what we say all the time. It's a very very risky business. Every time you've got a plane or a helicopter in the air or you've got something moving on the ground the chances of something bad happening are there. And it's such a tragedy and your heart really does go out to the families of everybody involved.

Jackson: Obviously it does. Absolutely right.

Torie, thank you very much, I appreciate it.

Clarke: thank you very much. Great way to start the day.

Jackson: Would you do this again?

Clarke: Absolutely.

Jackson: All right.

Clarke: Thank you.

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