Monday, September 9, 2002
(Telephonic Interview with the David Lawrence Show)
Q: It occurred last year. That's not what's going on. What's going on is that they are absolutely reflecting that which you're thinking about. You're not seeing it in the chunks, you're not seeing it in any sort of long-form, 24-hour- a-day thing because nobody uses the media that way. So bear that in mind when you hear the next yammerhead on television telling you there's too much time being spent covering the one-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks.
Joining us on the line now is Bryan Whitman. Hey Bryan, how are you, sir?
Whitman: I'm fine. How are you today?
Q: Thank you very much for being on with us. I appreciate it very much.
Bryan Whitman is, let me make sure I've got you right here, it's Deputy Assistant SecDef?
Whitman: Correct. For Public Affairs.
Q: All right, for Public Affairs. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs.
Who's the team that you work with there?
Whitman: I'm on the Office of the Secretary's staff here.
Q: And the other people that we see on television is in your crew, right?
Whitman: Yes. Victoria Clarke.
Q: Right, exactly. And Torie Clarke who did a fabulous interview with Sam Donaldson at the Talk Host Convention that was held at the Grand Hyatt earlier this year, she's just stellar, and you've just got a stellar crew down there. You should be very proud of how you guys have comported yourselves this past year. I'm sure that other people have told you that, I'm not the first one, but it makes me proud to know that my tax dollars are going for people who know what they're doing.
Whitman: I appreciate that. We do work hard at it.
Q: Bryan, your day on Wednesday is going to be jam-packed. What time are you going to start?
Whitman: Well we do have a ceremony that's starting at 9:30 a.m. in the morning over around the impact site.
Q: Which is at the Pentagon itself right by the helicopter pad, right?
Whitman: That's correct, yes. It's going to be about an hour-long ceremony that's going to be attended by President Bush, the Secretary of Defense, of course, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Myers, will all make remarks.
Q: I understand that just today, just this morning the last of the displaced persons from the Pentagon moved back into the newly rebuilt offices, is that correct?
Whitman: Well they have been moving in for the last several days and I do believe that we have finished occupying what we call the E-Ring, which is the outermost ring of the building where Flight 77 impacted.
Q: This was ahead of schedule I assume, right? They hadn't planned on having everybody back in within that period of time because of the recovery efforts and then the rebuilding efforts as well as the planning for the strengthening of the defenses, right?
Whitman: Well that's interesting. It was shortly after American Airlines Flight 77 stuck the building and Mr. Lee Evey looked at the construction, or the rebuild effort that was in front of him, he got essentially a commitment from those contractors who were working on the building that they thought they could get this done within a year, and at that point in time it really solidified their commitment when they made that goal of having it completed by September 11th, one year later, to really getting down to business and getting the job done and the effort has been tremendous.
Q: And they were actually finished last week or the week before, right?
Whitman: That's correct. It was last month, actually, where the last piece of limestone was actually placed on the outside of the building, and of course there's still work being done inside the building. But as you indicated the E-ring, the outermost ring, has now been reoccupied by people that were in those offices.
Q: If we looked at pictures of the Pentagon and that face of the Pentagon last year and this year would we notice any difference? Has it been reweathered to match the rest of the limestone?
Whitman: Well that's interesting, because right now it will look a bit discolored from the rest of the building but that was a decision that was made. This limestone was taken from the same vein as the original limestone so that as it weathers down it will blend in with the rest of the building and hopefully over time it will be difficult to determine exactly where the new limestone is versus the original limestone.
Q: In terms of public notification, are there going to be any plaques? Is there going to be any sort of demarcation as to what happened? Or is it going to follow very carefully, because this is still the headquarters of the military and it still has to have a certain decorum and a certain operating stance. Is there going to be anything that will mark this event on the face of the building?
Whitman: The last piece of limestone that was placed into the building last month is a piece of the original limestone that was charred during the fire that ensued after the crash, and that piece of limestone has been engraved with the date on it and it was placed in, like I said, last month.
There will be a memorial that will be built in the months and years to come out around the impact site there for which the planning is going forward on now.
Q: Let me ask you the question that we've been sort of dealing with for the past ten minutes or so before we hedge on. That is the notion that we're spending too much time looking back a year ago and memorializing and remembering and we're spending too much effort and too much of our media attention on the events of September 11th to the detriment of looking forward, perhaps. What is your take on that?
Whitman: I think we need to do both. First of all we need to use Wednesday on the one-year anniversary to remember those who died, who perished in these attacks. To remember the 189  individuals that were killed here in this building and the nearly 3,000 up in New York.
It also serves, though, as an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the work that yet has to be done, and the challenges that are out in front of us and there are many. We are closer to the beginning of this war against terrorism than we are to the end, and it's going to take commitment and resolve for many years to come.
Q: We're talking to Bryan Whitman. He's the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs down at the Pentagon.
The first thing that pops into my head, as you know we're going to have the ceremony, President Bush is going to be there, all the world's eyes once again on September 11th are going to be pointing towards two locations. I've got to put my news guy hat on for just a second here rather than my human interest guy hat and ask you what about the heightened alert? What about the height of the alert that we're going to be on for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. We're talking about a perfect opportunity for bad guys to gain notoriety once again. What's going on in that area?
Whitman: I wouldn't want to get into any particulars of any security measures that are being taken, because obviously to discuss them would enable people to try to defeat them. But let me assure your listeners that we in the Defense Department are taking all necessary and appropriate measures to keep people safe and secure.
Q: Have you guys had a chance to review some of the latest video that's been coming out of Al Jazeera where they've got wooden sticks pointing at maps and looking at American Airlines pilot cockpits and all that stuff. Have you guys had a chance to look at that and do you have any reaction to it?
Whitman: I have to be honest with you, I just saw it before I got on the phone with you and I haven't had a chance to really analyze it so I guess I'd better reserve my comment on it until I've had an opportunity to do that.
Q: During the course of this year there have been a lot of back and forth about whether or not we as a nation have been pushed and prodded and forced to give up some of the freedoms that we have enjoyed because of this lock-down, this tightening of security. When you look at this past year, and back in the beginning everybody was like oh, we're going to become a police state. When you look back at this year and General Ashcroft's maneuvers and Secretary Rumsfeld's workings and so on, and just the way the Congress and the President have worked in some cases together, and in some cases not together on things, do you feel that we have put ourselves in a position where we're enjoying less freedoms in the hopes that we'll be more secure? Is that how we have to look at these or do you have another take on that?
Whitman: I guess I would say that for all Americans the war against terror won't be over until they can go about their business without having to fear any of the type of activities that we witnessed last year. I would say that Americans need to continue, though, to remain vigilant because another attack could occur at any time. However, I think also at the same time that in many of our public spaces -- airports and other places -- we're much safer today than we were during, before September 11th.
In the process of the past year we've taken actions that have put terrorists on the run. We're making it harder for them to communicate, we're making it harder for them to organize and finance their activities, so we are making some progress but there is a long way to go still.
Q: When you look at the military and you look at the different branches of the armed services, in almost every other point in our history when we have had an attack like this, and probably the most parallel event would be Pearl Harbor, there was a groundswell as there was last year here in the United States, of patriotism and for Pearl Harbor in joining up, because we had obviously declared a pretty conventional war against Japan and the whole business of joining up the military was almost, in many cases forced, but it was willfully done.
Have you seen in an all-volunteer Army, Navy, Marines, Air Corps and Coast Guard, have you seen an increase in volunteerism, in signing up for these? Are we better off than we were last year at this time?
Whitman: The support from the American people has been tremendous for the military.
In terms of recruiting, we have not had any particular difficulties. Each of the services has been making their recruiting goals for this year. It's a real testament to what Americans are willing to do when their very way of life is being threatened.
We've had, as you may know, 41 casualties since we started military operations back in October. Forty-one young Americans that have made the ultimate sacrifice as we fight terror globally. I think that as far as the American support for what we're doing, it's never been better.
Q: Are we going to find ourselves in the position as we go after people like Saddam Hussein, are we going to find ourselves in the position where this ugly hydra gets one head chopped off and two other heads rear themselves in place? We're in a position right now where we're being criticized by some of our supposed partners and some of our supposed supporters for not waiting for some sort of world-wide mandate to go after people who want to kill us. Are we in danger of losing the support of the world on that front at this point? And I've got a follow-up on that in terms of President Bush. But just give me what your thoughts are there.
Whitman: I think that it's important to note first that the world community has been with us. There have been 90-some countries that have been in some way part of the coalition from time to time. There's only about 180-some countries in the world, so nearly half the world countries have been supporting the efforts to date.
Q: We've got some pretty big countries, though, that are saying don't do it. France, they don't want us to do this without some sort of mandate and it's certainly not coming from them. Are we finding some of our biggest partners siding away from us on this?
Whitman: Well first of all the question kind of presumes that we've made some sort of decision to take military action in Iraq and it should be noted that the President has not made any decision with regard to that. But I don't think when it comes to the end of the day that American interests when it comes to terrorism, when it comes to weapons of mass destruction, I don't think that America's interests are so unique that there won't be plenty of countries around the world that will be there when we need them.
Q: The biggest issue that I've seen so far is the conundrum of Saudi Arabia. This is a country where we're supposed to be basing many of our troops. This is a country that in many cases we look at their laws and we look at their customs and so on and it just violates our sensibilities. Certainly it's a conflict when you look at them being our allies, our friends, and them also being the allies and friends of many of the countries that we are diametrically opposed to.
How difficult is it to ride the line there at the Pentagon with our Saudi neighbors?
Whitman: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been a very good ally over many many years and we enjoy a very good relationship with the Saudi government.
With respect to countries that can support us at various times, we have to realize that everybody wakes up in a different part of the world with different domestic concerns, with different regional problems that have to be addressed. And as we go forward, there will be times in which countries will be able to provide support for the war against terrorism and other times when they won't. And like I said, I don't think at any time will America's interests be so unique that there won't be plenty of countries around the world that will be able to support our efforts as we go forward to rid the world of terrorist activities.
Q: In the Public Affairs department, and I know you've got to go here soon. In the Public Affairs department what are your goals for Wednesday? What are you trying to get out to the American people? What is your message?
Whitman: It's really two-fold. It's remembering those who have perished, those who have made the ultimate sacrifice on the battlefield, to be with our colleagues and remember those that have died here in the building as well as in New York and Pennsylvania. But it is also an opportunity for us to really commit ourselves to the work that has to be done yet, and to look towards the future, to bring a sense of resolve because we know that the task ahead of us is going to be very difficult. It's not going to be easy. And on Wednesday we'll have an opportunity to look both backward as well as forward.
Q: Are you going to get much sleep between then and now?
Whitman: It's going to be busy here at the Pentagon but it's been busy here for the last year and I'm sure it will be busy in the days ahead.
Q: All right. Bryan, I appreciate you spending time with us, I very much do, and I look forward to possibly seeing you on Wednesday if we can catch a moment.
Whitman: Thanks very much.
Q: Bryan Whitman is the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense ....