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DASD PA Whitman Interview with WTOP Radio

Presenters: Bryan Whitman, DASD PA
September 12, 2002

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

(Interview with Mike Gallagher, WTOP AM Washington)

Q: Bryan G. Whitman has been the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs since May of 2002. He joins us here on the Mike Gallagher Show as we continue this very historic, from the scene of this very historic ceremony, this commemorative event looking back a year ago today, the events of 9/11 as it affected the Pentagon and the people who worked here.

Mr. Whitman, first of all welcome to the Mike Gallagher Show. How are you, sir?

Whitman: Thank you, Mike. It's good to be with you.

Q: As I look at your biography and I see that from August 1997 to May of 2002 you served in the Pentagon press office as the Deputy Director for Press Operations so obviously the events of 9/11 2002 have a great impact I would think to you personally as you look back a year ago today.

Whitman: Oh, absolutely. They do for; they hold a special meaning for everybody that was in the building on that day as well as for Americans I think across the country. But yes, it will be a very special observance tomorrow, an observance that will allow us to look back with some sadness as well as some pride because we will be mourning our lost friends, loved ones, but we also have -- colleagues -- but we also have to admire the extraordinary accomplishments of the American people. This ceremony will give us an opportunity to look forward also.

Q: There's no question. Today's ceremony really does seem to focus I think on the true spirit of the American people. I've enjoyed and appreciated learning about the father who lost his son who I believe was a Navy meteorologist if I'm not mistaken, and he was killed at the Pentagon, and the father who is a contractor and a construction worker and a laborer had some very very tough times losing his only boy, his only child to this devastating event, and yet finally went to the spot where his son was killed and with his bare hands and with his labor and his effort began that rebuilding process which has become known as the Phoenix Project, and it sort of was liberating for him to know that he was putting back a piece of what was destroyed in his son's honor and memory.

Whitman: It's just amazing Mike. That's one of many many touching stories, but that is certainly a shining example of the way in which this terrible terrorist attack has brought people together.

Q: It's brought out the best in people.

Whitman: It has. It truly has. And I think one of the things that we've learned about America and Americans is that the terrorists were wrong. They miscalculated. They thought that these attacks would expose us as being soft or spoiled and perhaps divided, but it's done exactly the opposite. Americans have become united, they've become committed, patriotic and determined to stand and fight against terrorism and to preserve our free way of life.

Q: Let's talk about the President's commitment to battle terrorism. As a pretty opinionated radio talk show host I am distressed at much of the mainstream press and its coverage of the President and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's message to the world that Saddam Hussein needs to be gotten before he gets us. It's a pretty simple message. It's a clear message that is supported by volumes of intelligence and our government's knowledge that this is a man who wants to have his hands on weapons of mass destruction, would certainly never blink at putting those in the hands of more terrorists to wreak more havoc on the United States. And yet to pick up Newsweek Magazine this week, for example, they won't even make the case that there's a connection between Saddam Hussein and Iraq and terrorism. There just seems to be a reluctance, this resistance to understand how going after Saddam Hussein is part and parcel of what we must do to defeat the evildoers as President Bush calls them. Correct?

Whitman: Well Mike, I certainly don't want you to be frustrated. I think this national discussion is a very important part of the process and the media serve a very vital role in that, but we are at a critical point as you have pointed out. We as American people and as the nations of the world have a challenge in front of us and that is the challenge of weapons of mass destruction and how we're going to deal with that. And the nexus between terrorist states, terrorism and these weapons of mass destruction. We have to decide as a people how we are going to approach that threat and if we know that there is a threat out there are we going to wait until that threat fully materializes in order to do something about it? I think there are many that think that we cannot wait until that threat fully materializes before we do something about it.

Q: Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld is widely applauded and yet criticized by some for having this kind of, I think, this refreshing, shoot-from-the-hip attitude, a very direct approach, and yet there are I think politicians playing political games who say he's not giving us enough information, he's not forthcoming enough.

It seems tom e this guy must be a delight to work for. In all the years you've had of public service and service to your country, what a remarkable man Donald Rumsfeld seems to be.

Whitman: Secretary Rumsfeld certainly seems to be a person that is well suited and perfect for this time in our nation's history. I certainly enjoy very much working for Secretary Rumsfeld. He is a very straightforward individual and I think he connects well with the American people when eh speaks very plainly about the challenges that confront us.

Q: And this plain-spoken style, it seems to be in short supply these days. I mean let's face it, you know government bureaucracy better than most. In your role as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs you have to be very careful, you have to choose your words carefully, and yet this is, like you said, Rumsfeld seems to have a style that resonates very well with most Americans.

Whitman: I wouldn't venture to say that the Secretary doesn't choose his words very carefully because I think he does. I think he understands the importance of communicating with not only the media but with the people and Congress as well as our international coalition partners and he does it, like I said, in a very straightforward, matter of fact method.

Q: I'm going to ask you to go out on a limb just a moment if you will, if you're interested. We've had a lot of conversation this week on the Mike Gallagher Show about Scott Ritter, the former U.N. weapons inspector and former Marine who has been blasting President Bush and this Administration, who has been basically I think a propaganda tool, a mouthpiece for Saddam Hussein. You were the primary department spokesman for arms control issues, nuclear weapons programs and policy, counterproliferation initiatives, technology security, so this is an area that you're well familiar with. Care to venture an opinion as to what in the world is up with Scott Ritter and why he's saying these terrible things about America from Baghdad?

Whitman: First of all without commenting on anyone in particular I think it's important that everybody have a voice that wants to have a voice on this issue. Like I said, the national discussion which has ensued in the past couple of weeks is important and it's important for the American people to be made aware of the threats that exist out there and for there to be a debate like any democracy has in how we should proceed in protecting U.S. interests and the American people.

Q: But having said that, there just is no doubt in the United States mind collectively as a government, as an intelligence-gathering entity that Saddam Hussein and Iraq is a definite worldwide threat.

Whitman: Well it is U.S. government policy that calls for a regime change in Iraq. So I mean the Congress and previous Administrations as well as this Administration have spoken on that.

Q: I tell you, I admire your service to this country and I appreciate you spending some time during this very difficult day because I know as you said, the myriad of emotions that we're all feeling as we spend this time at the Pentagon must be profound and now I guess it's sort of onward and upward. We get past this week and then go after the bad guys, right?

Whitman: Well Mike, it's been said and I think it's very true that we are closer to the beginning of this war on terrorism than we are the end, and the events of today are going to also serve as a catalyst to recommit this department as well as all Americans, I think, for the days, the years ahead as we continue this effort to make society free of terrorism.

Q: Bryan Whitman, thank you so much for spending some time with us on the Mike Gallagher Show. Best of luck to you, sir.

Whitman: Thank you for having me Mike.