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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with CNBC

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
May 20, 2002

(Interview with Alan Murray, CNBC)

Q: Mr. Secretary, we want to talk about transformation of the military, but before we do that let me ask you about the news of the day if I can. Vice President Cheney was on TV on Sunday. He said, "I think that the prospects of a future attack on the U.S. are almost a certainty. It could happen tomorrow, it could happen next week, it could happen next year, but they will keep trying and we have to be prepared."

Is there some new information we're talking about --

Voice: I'm sorry, can we stop one second?


Q: Mr. Secretary, we want to talk about the transformation of the American military but before we do that let me ask you about the news of the day. The Vice President was on TV on Sunday and said, "I think that the prospects of a future attack on the U.S. are almost a certainty. It could happen tomorrow, it could happen next week, it could happen next year, but they will keep trying and we have to be prepared."

Is he talking about new information there, about imminent attacks?

Rumsfeld: We get new information all the time. Some of it is valid and some of it proves not to be valid. There is no question but that the Vice President is exactly right. We have to know that there are hundreds and hundreds of these people trained in terrorist training camps. They had massive a fundraising activity base, very well trained, and they have been disbursed all across the world including the United States of America. It is only realistic to expect that there will be another attack, and we do have to be prepared. Although I would rephrase that slightly.

The only way to deal with terrorists is to go after them. You can't defend every place at every time. Even if you know there is going to be an attack, it's almost impossible. You simply have to go find them where they are and dry up their money and arrest them and capture or kill them.

Q: But we have been doing that since September 11th. Have we reduced the risk? Is the risk lesser today than it was on September 12th?

Rumsfeld: Oh, my goodness, yes. We have reduced it in several ways. One is we've taken a whole host of steps here in the United States. The American people are on a state of heightened awareness. We are obviously; if you go to an airport you can see the changes that have been made. We are much more careful at our border and our ports. We have combat air patrols flying sometimes over the United States and sometimes on strip alert in various parts of the country. We've done a series of things that make, that have improved our ability to discover and deal with and mitigate if one occurs, a terrorist attack.

In addition we have gone out to find them. We've been drying up their money, we've been arresting a lot of them, we've been interrogating hundreds and hundreds of them and piecing together all of this information. There is no question but that we've done a great deal since September 11th, and indeed before September 11th in particular.

Q: So the best defense is a good offense?

Rumsfeld: It is really critical that you go after them.

When you think about it, when you're walking down the street a terrorist could go after a person or a building or anything using any conceivable technique at any time of the day or night and you can't defend in every place at every time against every thing. It's not possible. Realism forces us to accept that fact. Therefore we have to go after them.

Q: So if I knew what you know, if I had access to all the information that you have access to, how should I feel about my safety as an American living life in America? Should I feel safe?

Rumsfeld: Well, when you know there are terrorists out there who are determined to kill innocent people, that's what a terrorist does. They kill innocent people -- men, women and children. Clearly we have to be aware of that. Should that alter our lives? Answer, not noticeably. We ought to get up and go about our business just like we all do. But do we have to be realistic and say my goodness, that is a very clear possibility, it's not a probability that there will be additional attacks? There will be.

Q: Were you surprised at the level of outcry over the news of the last week that there was going to be more attacks and, I guess really what I'm asking is has America gone back to sleep too quickly? Have things gone back to normal too quickly?

Rumsfeld: I guess I don't know that there was such an outcry and I don't think people have gone back to sleep. I think the American people are fully aware of the risks that exist. There has been a great deal of discussion about it, a great deal of analysis, and the fact is there are a number of global terrorist organizations and a number of states that are harboring them and a number of people that are financing them and the American people know that.

Q: We now know that on August 6th President Bush got a briefing at the ranch raising the possibility of al Qaeda being involved in hijacks. We now know there was an FBI agent in the Phoenix office who sent in a memo saying hey, watch out for these flight schools, al Qaeda could be doing things there, we need to keep an eye on it.

In retrospect, do you think anyone dropped the ball there? Do you think that information should have been responded to in a better way than it was?

Rumsfeld: Oh, goodness. I'm not going to get into that. The law enforcement agencies and intelligence-gathering agencies gather all kinds of information. A lot of it is supplied to the Pentagon so that we can, for example, and the State Department, so we can be sensitive about risks to embassies, our U.S. military forces overseas, our ships, planes, and we have various threat alerts that we put out.

But if you took a year and looked at all the press information that arrives in one command, say General Franks' Central Command, there is so much -- It's just mountainous.

Q: And you can't respond on high alert to every single one of them.

Rumsfeld: Well you can't, or else the terrorists have won. What you have to do is go find the terrorists because if they can jerk you around --

The other thing they do is they will put out a threat to see how you're going to react to it. They go to school on it. They'll issue a threat, make sure we hear it, watch what our reaction is, then they know what the reaction is. So you have to make sure that what you're doing does not inform them and assist them in what they're trying to do, namely to harm.

Q: Let's turn the topic here a little bit if we can. You've been talking a lot about transforming the American military. Can you tell us in concise terms what you mean by transforming the military. From what to what?

Rumsfeld: Sure. First of all, it is not from something to something. It is a process. It is a procedure. You never start from an untransformed state to a transformed state and then go back. If you do, you're in an untransformed state.

Transformation really can be almost anything. It can be a new satellite, for example, that gives you a capability that didn't exist before, and in a significant way it transforms how we function, how you deal with something.

It can be old platforms, exactly the same one, but by providing interconnectivity and improved real time communication or better situational awareness as to what's taking place on a battlefield, within a battle space, that can be transformation.

I've also gone to the point of saying that probably the most transformational thing of all is finding people who think right, who are not stuck in the past, who are willing to look at things [inaudible], and who don't believe that simply because something has always been done that way that it must be done that way. So I think it's a culture, almost, in a sense. I should say in addition to the other things it's a culture.

Q: How do you talk to the military about transformation? Is it like when you were running a company, when you were running Searle or General Instruments, you were by reputation a turn-around guy. Is this like that? How do you change the mindset?

Rumsfeld: What we do is we go in that room next door, the senior military and the senior civilian leadership, and we must have had eight meetings of two, two and a half, three hours each, talking about what transformation is so that we had a common understanding of it. We went through a whole briefing.

If we were to brief the President, if we were to brief the Congress, if we were going to brief our troops about what this thing called transformation is, what would we say? How would we say it? How would we get from where we are to where we think we need to be? We did that. We ended up with everyone in the room, all the senior military and senior civilians, coming away with an understanding of what it's about and what it means to their service, what it means to their function here in the office of the Secretary of Defense. It's hard work and it is not simple. There's no bumper sticker for it.

Q: What kind of conflict are we preparing for? Obviously in the '50s and the '60s we knew who the adversary was, we knew where they were, we knew how they might or might not come at us. What kind of conflict are we preparing for now?

Rumsfeld: We have switched our strategy from a threat-based strategy, described in what you just mentioned, the old Soviet Union, to what we call a capabilities-based threat.

We can't know exactly where a threat is going to come from and we cannot know who will bring that threat necessarily. Nor can we know exactly what kind of capabilities will be used.

What we can know is we have vulnerabilities. We know that. We know what we have strength in and what we have weaknesses in, and we know that the people who don't wish us well look at that and say to themselves there's no point in developing a big army, navy and air force trying to go up against the United States. So they look for asymmetrical ways they can go about it, and certainly about as asymmetrical as you can get is flying an American airliner into this building. But things like ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, cyber attacks, terrorist attacks, weapons of mass destruction, chemical, biological, nuclear, radiation weapons. All of those things have the advantage of an asymmetrical approach to it. So when we say capabilities based we can imagine the kinds of things people can do to us and the kinds of capabilities we need to deal with those potential threats.

Q: Let's bring the Crusader in here because that has really become a symbol of transformation. It was conceived in a different world, a world where the Cold War was more of what people were thinking about.

You announced on May 8th that you wanted to cancel the program. We subsequently had on our show J.C. Watts from Oklahoma, Tom Rebeau who is the Chief Executive of United Defense. Both of them said it's not going to be canceled. We're going to make sure that this gets done.

Who is running the ship here? How do you work in a world where you can go through your deliberative process, you cancel the system and these folks say it's not going to be canceled, we're going to make sure Congress puts it in place.

Rumsfeld: Well, how do you do that? I guess the latest example of that problem was Dick Cheney canceled a weapon system ten years ago and it's still here.

Q: Which system was that?

Rumsfeld: Well, he went after a couple of them. But it is a hard thing to do that. We're going to end up terminating the Crusader.

Q: You're confident you can win against the entrenched force?

Rumsfeld: Well, you're quite right. They are a powerful force. The defense contracting community gives a lot of campaign contributions to people, it's very energetic, (inaudible), lobbies up on the Hill. The Congress under Article 1 of the Constitution has responsibility in this area and they have the power, obviously, to fund or not fund. They control the purse strings.

On the other hand it seems to me that in this case it is necessary, given our country's circumstance, that we put the scarce dollars in things that will in fact provide us the kind of capabilities we're going to need in the next decade or two or three. You cannot buy everything. Resources are finite. People of the United States know that. They know when they get up in the morning they can't have everything they want so they make choices. The Congress is going to have to make choices, just as we've had to make choices. And it seems to me that when the dust settles it would be very hard, for example, for the Congress to get two-thirds to override a presidential veto. My hope is that we won't have to get to that point.

Q: And after that, what else might be on the chopping block? People talk about the F-22, they talk about the V-22 Osprey. You're going to have to squeeze some resources -- the Crusader isn't the end of it, is it? That's not transformation in and of itself.

Rumsfeld: In our Defense Planning Guidance which we've just completed, we do have a series of things that we're studying and you see, Congress is still up there worrying about the '02 supplemental and the '03 budget. We're working on the '04 to '09 budget. 2004 to 2009 budget. And the process we're in goes in through the summer to a budget bill in the fall, then it goes to the President for his consideration, and then it goes to Congress in February.

What happens is we have to make decisions now as to what we're going to put in our '04 to '09 budget. And as we make those decisions, they become public. And as they become public, they happen at a time when Congress is looking at the '03 budget and the '02 supplemental. So we've got three budgets layered one on top, a process, three different processes going on. So it's not an easy problem. But I think the American people understand that we have to make choices, and I think the members of Congress pretty well reflect the American people.

It's not surprising that there are people up there who disagree with it. We don't expect 100 percent agreement.

Q: You said before that the biggest danger in this kind of transformation is that you end up getting married to the weaponry or the systems or the programs that were part of the past. How do you, as you look at the probabilities and the risk, calculate whether the danger of fighting the present war so that it becomes what you're focused on and maybe you miss the next threat that isn't the al Qaeda in the caves in Afghanistan, but is something more conventional.

Rumsfeld: For example our vulnerabilities in communication. (inaudible) There are all kinds of asymmetrical ways that [they could] deal with our country.

The tradeoffs we have to make are tradeoffs between not apples and apples or even apples and oranges, but apples and automobiles, so to speak. We have to look at all of the things that relate to human beings, how important the men and women in uniform are, what we need to attract and retain them in the service. We have to then balance expenses in that category against modernizing an aging aircraft fleet or against transforming, meaning investing in research and development now that won't pay off for five or ten years.

You try to compare improved housing, reducing substandard housing against an investment in research and development that won't pay off in 10 years and it's pretty clear what most people want. They want the housing.

So our task is to balance those things in a way that is in the best interest for our country. The Crusader is a perfect example. It's a fine piece of equipment, a perfectly good artillery piece. The question is, is it needed more than some of the other things in this budget, and the answer is it isn't needed and I hope the American people let the members of the House and Senate know that.

Q: Is this battle to transform the military going well from where you sit? Is it harder than you thought it would be?

Rumsfeld: Oh, no. It's always hard. It's always hard. Change is hard for people. We know that. You get up in the morning and the first thing you want to do, you don't want to change, you want to do what you're doing. It would be much more fun for me if I could just go up to Congress and say golly, every single thing in there is just wonderful, I just think it's perfect, and we'll just keep getting more and more, and then you find you don't have enough to do it and then something has to stop and then somebody doesn't like it. It would be much more fun to be in favor of everything.

Q: Let's talk about the things you are in favor of. We've been talking about the downside of transformation. Let's talk about the upside.

One of the things we saw in Afghanistan was that a lot can be done with unmanned vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles. How far is that going to go? I know you have a lot of Global Hawks on order, a lot of Predators on order. Can you have unmanned combat vehicles? How much can be done without people in the pilot seat?

Rumsfeld: More. There's no question about it. We're doing things today with unmanned aerial vehicles that people didn't dream of in the last decade. There are more things that can be done. Of course satellites are unmanned aerial vehicles. Think of all that's done there. But it is not simply something we can do, it's something others can do. For example, one does need to be concerned about that because other countries have UAVs, unmanned aerial vehicles.

But they can also be used, there are things you can do for example on the ground. There are (inaudible).

So we're going to be looking out over the coming decade for more.

Q: How successful were those in Afghanistan? What's the report card?

Rumsfeld: If you ask the Pentagon testing office they will tell you they weren't very good and the reason is it's because they aren't fully developed. They weren't deployable, which happens a lot in a war. When there is a conflict you take what you've got, whether or not it's battle tested and ready to go, and you use it. That's what we did. We used the Predator unmanned aircraft that didn't have de-icers, for example. Some weren't armed which some later were. They were imperfect. Some crashed for a variety of reasons we're still looking into. But overall, they really made a very fine contribution. Global Hawk barely got into the fight, but it has distinctive capabilities that are better, and there are a family of these aircraft.

Q: These things are enormous users of information and of band width on the satellite system. How are you going to deal with that? You're turning the Pentagon into a massive communication agency.

Rumsfeld: The appetite is enormous, you're quite right.

Q: Does it mean you're going to be going into the satellite business?

Rumsfeld: Well, we're already in the satellite business to some extent. I think people are finding ways to get bigger band width. Compression is one way. There are other things, efficiencies, people are finding more efficient ways to do it. There are some new technologies on the drawing board that could fairly extensively expand band width. So I think we'll be fine. We can't afford to give up any of what we've got.

Q: This is your second tour of duty as Secretary of Defense and I wonder what your impressions are as you return to Washington. How has it changed? How has the Pentagon changed? And maybe what's (inaudible) about Don Rumsfeld?

Rumsfeld: Well you know, the first thing you have to say is the men and women in uniform are the same. They're just terrific. They voluntarily put their lives at risk and they go off on hardship posts away from their families, and we just have to be enormously appreciative of what they do for our country.

The town is a different town, Washington, D.C. I came here in 1957, it was kind of a sleep town. President Eisenhower was in office. And then served during the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford years. Came back during the Reagan period for a bit. It's become, I think, somewhat less civil in the interaction. I think television has had a part in this. I think that the constant news cycle and the feeling that people have to constantly be saying something dramatic and against somebody else in a way that is "newsworthy". Good news is not news when (inaudible). So there tends to be a certain edge to things that didn't used to be here but I suppose [we can all live with that].

Q: (inaudible)

Rumsfeld: Oh, I think caring about people, caring about what you're doing, not getting mired down in your shoelaces and in the weeds, and constantly lifting your eyes up to the horizon and trying to plant some standards down the road so that people know where you're going, having priorities.

Q: Is leadership the same in business as it is here in the Pentagon?

Rumsfeld: It's similar. Unless you're a Mozart or an Einstein where you go off in a corner and do something brilliant, all the rest of us who aren't brilliant do what we do with other people. And that means we have to lead not by command but by persuasion. That, you have to be willing to invest in people, care about people, pick the best people, and then establish priorities and get at it.

Q: Going back to the Crusader fight, if you're in business the people -- You wouldn't have the people who work for you upon the Hill lobbying against you. You wouldn't have your suppliers up on the Hill lobbying against you. Is that different from the way it was when you were here the last time around? And is it right?

Rumsfeld: It's not wrong. It's the way we've arranged ourselves. We said as a society we'd rather not have a dictatorship or a monarchy. We're going to have a democratic system, so we take the marbles and we divide them. Give some to the legislative branch and some to the executive and some to the judicial branch, and what one has to do is get up in the morning and recognize that that's what it is and you just have to be a little more persuasive than you do in business.

Q: What makes a good day for you? What makes a bad day?

Rumsfeld: Oh, golly. A good day is when you feel that you've in fact moved something, a project forward. There is so much resistance here in town to things that sometimes you feel you take two steps forward and one step back. But accomplishment for me is feeling that I've been able to put some structure into a problem that helps other people see how that ought to be thought of and how we ought to move forward in that direction.

Q: Do you have more good days than bad days?

Rumsfeld: Oh, you bet.

Q: On that note, thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to us.

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