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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Roundtable

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
May 17, 2002

(Media roundtable with Nick Childs, BBC; Thelma LeBrecht, Associated Press; Tom Gjelten, National Public Radio; Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg Press; Alex Belida, Voice of America; and Ivan Scott, independent CBS Radio stations)

Q: One, as you've heard Senator McCain said yesterday that [inaudible] difficulty getting the transformation accomplished. Do you agree?

Rumsfeld: I think we're going to win the day and that in fact we'll be able to move forward roughly along the lines that we've outlined. I think it's important for transformation to be sure, and you need to keep going forward. A step back isn't helpful.

Q: The second part is a lot of time was spent you answering [inaudible] you sort of being taken to task, particularly by Jim Bunting and in some ways the chairman, for not notifying the Congress before you went public and canceled the program. The implication was that with you having served in the Congress and the White House and twice here, with your political savoir fare there was no excuse for it. How do you feel about that?

Rumsfeld: Well, you know, it's an interesting question. We have had dozens and dozens and dozens and dozens of hearings up on the Hill. We had had members of the House and Senate down to the Pentagon week after week after week after week. We have I think 400 people in the department engaged in congressional relations. The interaction is continuous. There are briefings with the staffs, the briefing with the members, we get asked questions all the time, we get asked for particularized thinking, we get asked the status of things and that's good. That's healthy. The Congress has a responsibility.

Then the question comes when someone is about ready to make a decision, how do you, and what process do you do then? And transfer it over to me in the interagency process, for example. I go to dozens and dozens of meetings. I have every opportunity in the world to see the president and send him written materials, give him my advice, ask for a hearing on a subject, tell him I want to brief him on something, tell him before he makes a decision I'd like him to be aware of this, this and the other thing. I do it every day.

Now am I in the room the minute he makes the final decision? No. Do I need to be? No. Do I have every opportunity in the world to let him know what I think? You bet.

There isn't any way in the world that we're living in to consult with somebody on what you're about to do and say here's what I'm about to do to one senator or one congressman and not have it within 20 minutes to the press, and then the other congressmen say you didn't consult with me.

So the idea that there's some way that you can have instantaneous notification or consultation in a way that they feel included at the end of the process is an unrealistic expectation, I think. What is realistic is that we have an obligation to keep them apprised as we go along, they have an obligation to ask for information to the extent they'd like more, and we have, as I say, a near continuous process.

The Crusader. There's nothing new about this at all. There have been hearings on it. There's been public analysis of it. There have been articles written about it. The president's spoken about it on a number of occasions. I've been briefed on it over a period of a year and a half or a year and a quarter, whatever it's been. It seems like six. And it should come as no surprise.

I mean anyone who was concerned about it had every chance, and we had meetings and discussions.

So I think that what we have to do is figure out a way that there's a better understanding of how things happen. If something leaks to the press and then someone is concerned about it that they weren't aware of it before it happened, that's unfortunate, but it is I think almost a way of life in this town.

Q: Mr. Secretary, it falls to me this time around to ask a variation of your least favorite question -- [Laughter]

Mullah Omar actually surfaced in a purported interview with Mullah Omar in an Arabic language newspaper in London in which he claims --

Rumsfeld: When was this?

Q: It just appeared today.

Rumsfeld: I haven't seen it.

Q: In which he claims that Osama bin Laden is still alive. The question is what would you have to say about the whereabouts of senior leaders? And secondly, there is a new operation that has reportedly gotten underway today, Operation Condor. We know very little about it, so anything you can shed on that would be of benefit.

Rumsfeld: I guess the response is this. I don't have any current information on the whereabouts or even the existence of either Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar. We continue to see scraps of information, people saying they're here, there and the other place and they're alive or they're dead or they're sick or they're hiding or they're running or they're doing something, but none of it seems to prove out.

I think it is interesting that there hasn't been any good hard information in what is now turning out to be quite a period of time. Since December is the last time I saw any reasonably hard information.

I don't draw any conclusion from that. I think that what the goal is for the president is to put pressure on terrorists and terrorist organizations and countries that are harboring or providing safe haven for terrorists, and to try to do it with sufficient speed and intensity that the chances of their getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction and using those against our country or our deployed forces or our friends and allies. That is what provides impetus to this effort. There isn't any way to defend against every terrorist act. We know that. They can strike anywhere at any time using a whole host of techniques. And you can't defend everywhere at every time against every conceivable way that a terrorist could attack you.

That means that you have no choice but to go after them and that says to me that the president's approach is exactly right and we're doing exactly what we should be doing.

With respect to Condor, I don't know that I want to get into it specifically except to say that there have been in the past, there are now, and there will be in the future a variety of efforts where coalition forces will be conducting sweeps through areas that we have reason to believe could or might or do have varying concentrations of al Qaeda or Taliban, and we're trying to do it in various parts of the country and in cooperation frequently with forces on the other side of the border in Pakistan so that the possibility of escape is reduced. There's nothing unusual or unique. We'll continue for the foreseeable future, it seems to me, and I tend not to get into details about them.

Q: Nick Childs from BBC.

Rumsfeld: BBC, my goodness. I've been there --

Q: Not the same person.

Rumsfeld: I know it's not, but I just remember that my answer came out a little different, different context than I'd expected. [Laughter]

Q: We worked on that closely with them.

Rumsfeld: Did you? Did you --

Q: I had that impressed on me from all points of the compass.

Rumsfeld: Good.

Q: A couple of al Qaeda-related questions.

First of all the White House has been saying that there was a battle plan to dismantle al Qaeda or a war plan in effect to dismantle al Qaeda in the works before 9-11 actually happened. Could you say if that was the case and how close --

Rumsfeld: I don't have knowledge of it. You'd have to talk to the White House.

Q: They said the Pentagon was being asked to look at options before 9-11.

Rumsfeld: It may very well be at some one of those NSC sub-group levels that there were discussions like that, but I don't recall anything at my level.

Q: Another Afghan-related question. There was a report in a British newspaper today saying that a special envoy of the European Union has visited the prison camp run by General Dostam in Mazar-e-Sharif and said that he was horrified by the conditions --

Rumsfeld: Who was this person?

Q: It was the special envoy, Mr. Peter Clover, from the European Union. Said that he was horrified by the conditions he'd seen in which the Taliban and Pakistan prisoners there were being held. Have you seen any reports of this and do you have any response?

Rumsfeld: I have not seen the prisons that are being referred to. We have no role with respect to them. We have over a period of months now screened most if not all of the prisoners that other countries have taken that could be considered Taliban or al Qaeda and we've received and taken the ones that we had an interest in. With respect to anyone else in any prison camp I have no knowledge personally about it. I've been to a lot of prisons in my life and I've never seen one I liked or thought was particularly attractive, but I don't know what he had reference to.

Q: He was talking about, he said they looked emaciated and generally was horrified by the conditions.

Rumsfeld: I haven't been there.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I need to get your reaction to news that just broke a couple of hours ago about a 1999 Congressional Research report on the Hill, that among the scenarios they talked about was that al Qaeda could detonate a Chechnyan-type building-bunker bomb at several buildings, suicide bombings. [inaudible] al Qaeda martyrs [inaudible] could crash an aircraft packed with explosive into the Pentagon [inaudible] into the CIA or the White House.

This wasn't a policy document, but --

Rumsfeld: Who wrote it?

Q: This is the Congressional Research Service.

Rumsfeld: From the Library of Congress?

Q: Yes. [inaudible] unspecified [inaudible] agency.

Any reaction to the scenario laid out there in '99? [inaudible] what did you know and when did you know it.

Rumsfeld: I'm not knowledgeable about the report you're referring to and I wasn't in the government, obviously, until last year. However, we all know that there's been a great deal of talk about hijacking for a decade or more and there have been hijackings that date back many, many years.

We also know there was the Oklahoma bomb situation and some buildings, hijacking airplanes -- I don't know that there's anything there that's notable.

Q: Can I ask you a question on the Foreign Affairs article that was just published? There's an interesting section here about, as you wrote, "As we change investment priorities we must begin shifting the balance in our arsenal between manned and unmanned capabilities [inaudible] between stealthy and non-stealthy systems, between sensors and shooters."

My question is this. To what extent will that kind of thinking drive your investment reviews of some of the major programs? I'm talking about the tactical aircraft programs, the F-22, Joint Strike Fighter, and F-18, and apply it to a tradeoff of manned aircraft or unmanned?

Rumsfeld: I don't know that it implied that tradeoff; I don't think it said that. I think what it said is a shifting in the balance of them. That means somewhat more of one than otherwise might have been the case in a previous period.

Tradeoffs, however, that can be from any source. In other words you can make tradeoffs between ships and planes. You can make tradeoffs between health care and investment and research and development.

I think it's a mistake to think of linear tradeoffs or directly connected tradeoffs necessarily because one of the things we've been trying to do is to balance risks that are multiple risks, people risks, modernization risks, transformation risks, and all of those against each other. It's a very hard thing to do and it's a very difficult thing to -- it's a quite easy thing to compare two aircraft or two artillery pieces. It's also easy to compare two war risks. Would I rather have this extra risk in the Middle East or that extra risk in Northeast Asia, for example? What's hard is to weigh an immediate risk in Northeast Asia against an investment in a weapons capability that won't be there for eight years.

Q: A la the Crusader?

Rumsfeld: Well, a la anything. It's just a hard thing to do. I've been through this. Trying to persuade this institution that cruise missiles were desirable 25 years ago when they didn't exist and when they cut into the budgets for other things -- ships, guns, tanks and planes -- but the attraction for me was their versatility. They could be launched from land, sea or air; they could carry any type of warhead, highly accurate, and difficult to defend against. So we pushed and pushed. And when they tried to negotiate them away in arms control negotiations we got it stopped, for the most part. One of them was negotiated away, the land-based.

On the other hand, institutions tend to want to perpetuate themselves as they are, but improve themselves. So it should be of no surprise that every service wants to get a better ship or a better artillery piece or a better tank or a better whatever it is.

I literally was told by everyone in the Army that the M1 tank should have a diesel engine. We made a conscious decision that everyone in the Army was right, it would be nice to have another diesel engine, but it would also make sense to step off and for the first time have the first generation of turbine engines because of the advantages that could be seen. It was a tough sell, and we never did sell it. It got the turbine engine but not through persuasion ultimately, simply because someone had to make a decision. The Congress was upset and there were hearings that were held. It was a difficult situation, but it was the right decision and it's worked well.

There is no champion for something that's new. There was no champion really except individuals for unmanned aircraft.

Q: My question follows on that because it's about your relationship with the senior uniformed leadership in the building right now.

There were a lot of questions yesterday from senators about the degree to which [inaudible], for example, was consulted on the Crusader cancellation. This is an old issue that you've heard about and that was around a lot last summer when there was a lot of grousing about whether these guys had been taken out of consideration. Now it seems to be coming up again.

On a couple of occasions you've criticized some of the things that some senior officers have said. Can you --

Rumsfeld: Like what?

Q: I was just thinking for example of when General Kernan talked about the forces being tired in March. Remember that?

Rumsfeld: Yes.

Q: Can I just, as you generally, how would you characterize your relations with the uniformed leadership here, and more generally the relation between civilian and military leadership in the Pentagon? And in the context of transformation and revolution and so forth, so you see some of these guys maybe as needing to be challenged?

Rumsfeld: First of all I think you've got to begin with a fact and that is that the senior military leadership in this Department are truly wonderfully talented, fine human beings. They have come to the top of their disciplines and their fields and their professions and it doesn't happen by accident. These are people who have gone through every hurdle and performed well.

General Kernan is a terrific person. What he said in the context that he said it was not incorrect. There are some elements that are tired. He said he's visited with some people who were exhausted, and that's true. On the other hand, what I said was not a criticism of him; it was also true. That was as I travel around the country and the world I see wonderful people that are not exhausted. Their morale is high. They're upbeat. They're proud of what they're doing; they're delighted and pleased to be serving their country in a cause that they know is worthwhile. I did not want an imbalance to get into the discussion. That is why I commented on it and I did not comment in a way that was critical of him. It was to put his comment into the proper context, I think, and I hope that's what I did.

In this room is where we meet, the senior military leadership and the senior civilian leadership. I don't, I've never gone back and counted, I don't know why, and maybe I should. But I would guess I've had more hours in this room with the senior military leadership in this building than many secretaries have had in an entire tour. And I think anyone of them that's asked would tell you that.

We are very open with each other; we're very direct with each other. There isn't a senior military leader in this building, when I say senior, I mean very senior, --

Q: Four star --

Rumsfeld: Well, now, chief of staff or vice chiefs of staff or joint staff and chairman and vice chairman and CINCs, a large number, but for the most part they're 4's or some 3's I guess, who hasn't spent hour and hour and hour with me and with Paul Wolfowitz and with these folks. And you don't spend that much time with people and not get to know a bit how they think.

I don't know what anyone else would say but there is no question but that they all know that they have every opportunity in the world to talk to Paul Wolfowitz or me or the senior civilian leadership. They do. They come in and say I want to talk about this or I want to talk about that or I'm concerned about this or I would like to think about that or have you thought about this. It happens all the time. Every day. It is a very easy, relatively informal set of relationships that have evolved because of the intensity of the discussions.

Now you can't make changes without intense discussions. You can't do it. You don't command things in this department that they change because you have to lead by persuasion. You have to learn and you have to discuss and you have to analyze and you have to calibrate a direction that is going to take into account the things that need to be considered. And there's no one person wise enough to be able to divine what an answer would be, which is why when I first came here people said gee, why don't you start firing people, why don't you start shutting down programs? I said look, I'm just not smart enough to do that. I've got to sit down and engage these people who I respect, and that's what we've done.

Now I'm perfectly willing to make decisions after I've done that, and we do engage, and they all know they've got every opportunity, and I've been briefed in this room on Crusader with military and civilian people in here aplenty. And so has Paul.

So in this last case, is it too bad it leaked out in a way that made it look bumpy? Sure. But you pick up and go on. That's life.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I have learned -- I need to ask you about next week's Bush-Putin meeting, but before I do may I just ask one quick question about the issue about the hijackings. Democrats are saying that like either an outside commission or a full investigation to determine what the government knew and when they knew it. I wanted to hear your reaction to that. They were also thinking of tying that commission as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill. I wanted to hear your reaction, and I did want to ask about Russia.

Rumsfeld: The United States of America is unique among most nations of the world and certainly among English-speaking democracies. We do not have a domestic law enforcement agency. We do not have a domestic intelligence agency. Most, if not all of the English-speaking democracies do of one sort or another.

The United States has the FBI, which is not a law enforcement agency as such. It's an intelligence agency. It is what it is. But the CIA exists, but it does not cross over into the domestic side. That is unusual and it was fashioned that way as a safeguard for our country.

The stuff about hijacking that's coming up now has to be looked at in that context, it seems to me. Foreign intelligence that would come in would be the Central Intelligence Agency's information, or it might be the FBI's interaction with foreign law enforcement agencies. They have people around the world that are connected to them. Anything that happens domestically tends to be, in the first instance, a local law enforcement issue. A number of organizations like Customs and INS and Border Patrol, all of which have a role in this.

So you've got this unusual structure for a country that's served us well for a couple of hundred years. But the question has to be asked, how does it fit today? I think that out of the discussion that's taking place will come some reflections on that and I don't know what the answer is. But I know that, for example, the president of the United States doesn't pick up the phone and tell a government what its state police should do. That isn't how it works in the federal system.

So all of these first responders for law enforcement things tend to be villages, counties, municipalities and states. And I think that's, the hijacking thing ought to be looked at in that context.

I don't know, I guess the other thing I would say about it is what I said earlier, that I think that hijacking for terrorist purposes of the type we're talking about, we need to do our very best to try to defend against it and we are. And certainly the American people can be assured that there's been an enormous number of steps taken by the federal government to try to provide ways to learn more about potential terrorist acts and to deal with them before they occur, and if they do occur to mitigate the effects after they've occurred.

And I think we have to be realistic. The likelihood is that because it's not possible to defend it in every place at every moment that there will be another terrorist attack. We should just face that reality.

Russia.

Q: Yes. Next week a Bush-Putin meeting, obviously in the, looking ahead to the U.S. military relations with Russia it's going to be post-ABM withdrawal and after the nuclear signing deal. How do you see U.S.-Russian relations? And also do you think the U.S. should share missile technology with Russia?

Rumsfeld: I think the relationships will continue to evolve as they have. I think it's pretty clear that the president and Mr. Putin are both of a mind that it would be preferable for Russia and preferable for the West if Russia turned West and integrated its economy with the West and became politically and diplomatically more associated with the West rather than with Iraq and Iran and North Korea and Cuba and the kinds of countries that the old Soviet Union used to have an affinity for. So I think that will proceed apace.

In terms of exchanging information on missiles, I don't know that either one of us need each other's technologies on missiles. You may be thinking about missile defense.

Q: Yes.

Rumsfeld: Yeah, which there has been some discussion about and I guess that remains to be seen. There's been some discussion about that in NATO and that's off into the future but there have been plenty of people who have thought about it and discussed it.

Q: Let me ask a quick question on transformation, [inaudible]. Two issues were on the table yesterday with the hearing; I won't repeat them. But there was a third implied issue which is comparable to BRAC and that is, Mr. Secretary don't come up here and cancel these very expensive programs that mean jobs and dollars in our states without coming up here and getting permission first.

It goes back to what Pete Aldridge said. How are you going to transform, how are you going to modify or even cancel expensive weapon systems with this Congress?

Rumsfeld: There's no question but that Congress is Article 1 of the Constitution. Congress controls the purse strings. And Congress will supply money or not supply money for various things depending on how they ultimately decide they think they should be done. That's always been the way in our country. I don't know that there's anything notably new about that. That means to the extent we're going to be successful in transforming we're going to have to persuade the Congress that in fact this is what's in the national interest.

Does that mean that there aren't going to be individuals who are going to be affected by their circumstance in their state or in their constituency? Of course they'll be affected. No one ever said that every member of the House or Senate would be omniscient with respect to any subject. They said that together the product that would be produced by a bicameral legislature would be better than would be the case with a king or a dictator. So we don't expect everyone -- I'm always amused when I get asked the question, gee, you're getting opposition in Congress. I'm not seeing anything where somebody isn't opposed to it. That's the way it is. We expect that. We've got a big country with lots of different perspectives and viewpoints.

So if you go up there for a hearing and five people are unhappy about something and ten are quiet and five are happy, the newspaper prints that five are unhappy and how are they ever going to get anything through? The way we're going to get it through is going up there and talking to them. We're not looking for 100 percent. All we need is 51 percent.

Q: You said earlier, "I think we'll win the day." What gives you that air of confidence? Was yesterday's questioning [inaudible] you're going to win the day? Or --

Rumsfeld: I feel good about yesterday. I'm surprised this [Holland] or whoever she was, said she thought that was a tough day.

Q: It was a long day.

Rumsfeld: It was a long day, but my goodness, I felt good about it. I felt we got a lot of good support from people and it gave us a chance to get the record out so that people can see what the arguments are. I was quite pleased and encouraged by it.

Q: Legislatively you think the Senate now, the committee will go along with you and not support [inaudible]?

Rumsfeld: We don't know. We're working the count just like everybody else does and we'll see, but if they don't, then you go to the Floor. And if you don't, then you go to the President for a veto; the override takes two-thirds. My impression is the reason we'll end up with our position prevailing is because it's the right position. It's a position that makes sense. I think it will develop sufficient support to prevail.

Q: Is the president helping you?

Rumsfeld: You bet he is. He is.

Q: Did me make calls?

Rumsfeld: He didn't make calls; he was up there yesterday talking to a bunch of folks.

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