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DoD News Briefing

Presenters: Captain Mike Doubleday, USN, DASD (PA)
January 20, 1998 1:30 PM EDT

Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon.

At the last briefing I incorrectly stated that anti-tank landmines would remain in place at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, while the anti-personnel mines were being removed. This was incorrect.

All of the U.S. mines, including the anti-tank mines, will be removed. More than 50,000 mines, including both anti-personnel and anti-tank mines were deployed on the U.S. side of the buffer zone at the base back in 1961. They will be removed and replaced by layered defense measures including some sound and motion sensors which will provide the appropriate security under the present circumstances for our armed forces down there at Guantanamo Bay.

With that, I will try and answer some of your questions.

Q: Can you tell us what the Department is doing in regards to this investigation about the individual who may be able to be identified in the Tomb of the Unknown?

A: Susanne, this, of course, is an issue that is very sensitive. We're presently in the process of looking into the matter very carefully.

What we want to do is to determine, does the current science enable us with confidence to conclude that the remains in the tomb could be identified; and secondly, if we have a possible association with a specific individual, is it in the best interests of all concerned that we go ahead and do so. I think you can imagine that this is an issue that we will want to examine very carefully before we take any steps regarding those remains.

We certainly have an obligation to family members of those individuals who are still missing. We have an obligation to family members who have unresolved questions. We also have an obligation to all of those who have served in wars in the past, and who view this site as very hallowed ground.

So this is a process that we will pursue with a great deal of diligence, but one which will require a lot of study before we come to a final conclusion as to exactly what our recommendations will be.

Q: But there are enough questions that have been raised thus far. Can you tell us what the questions are that have been raised thus far that are forcing you to do this review?

A: The questions are questions that have been raised by a family whose son was lost, shot down in 1972, who believed that remains presently at the Tomb of the Unknown may be, in fact, their son.

The questions have to do with whether there was information at the time of the interment back in 1984, that would have resolved this case.

Now in fact back in 1984, science had not progressed to the point that it has today, and much of the work that we have been doing out in Hawaii to identify individuals whose remains have been recovered, had not progressed to the point that it has now. Back in 1984 the determination was that these remains would not be able to be identified. There was not the science necessary to do that.

Q: When this pilot was shot down apparently his remains, several months later, were recovered with an ID, with a wallet, and with money, which I don't think there's much dispute about that. But then those were lost somewhere along the line.

A: My understanding is that... And I should say here that this is all part of the review that we will be looking at. But at one point in the recovery of the remains there were some effects that were also recovered. Those effects, however, did not reach Saigon and have not been in the possession of anyone in the U.S. Government since sometime in the immediate hours after the recovery of the remains.

Q: So it's not in dispute that they did have...

A: There were effects that were recovered. There was an inquiry that was done back in 1980. As I understand it, a board met which took all of that into consideration, along with the science that was available to identify the remains, and concluded that this set of remains could not be identified at that time. And it was at a subsequent period four years later, that this set of remains was selected to go into the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Q: Having the given that in 1980 it was decided that the remains most likely were not of this Air Force pilot; but taking a step back further, why were those remains chosen when no doubt there were other remains that never had a name attached to them? Why were not other remains used?

A: That is part of the process that we will be going through. I can't at this point describe to you the process. I simply don't know it.

Q: The military has been very thorough about identifying remains. Are there now in Hawaii or anywhere else in the system, any unidentified remains? And how many are there?

A: First of all, let me just say that the answer to that question is a very complex one. Because it is a function of not only the state of the remains; also the state of science; but also the availability of relatives of individuals who are lost. So given the number of unknowns, I don't think it's possible to state categorically an answer to that question.

Q: Can you approximate? For example, there was a story at the time, in the mid '80s, to the effect that at that time there were only a handful of unidentified remains, suggesting...

A: I can't give you a number, except to say that the number of remains which are either unknown or which are difficult and presumed to be impossible to identify, is very, very small.

Q: Who is carrying out the Pentagon's review of these two matters, and when do you expect it to be...

A: Well, it's a number of people. We've got people in the POW/MIA office, people in the Personnel and Readiness office, and I'm sure there will be other individuals throughout the building who would be involved in this.

Q: Between 1972 and 1980 there was this set of remains which was believed to be that of this Airman Blassie. That's correct, is it not?

A: There was a category of remains at the time which was "believed to be", and my understanding is that there was a set of remains which was, for a period of time, identified as believed to be the remains of this individual.

Q: Is it that set of remains that is interred at the Tomb of the Unknown?

A: That's another thing that we will need to look at, to make absolutely certain that that is the case. That certainly is what the family believes, and there are individuals who believe that, too, but that's one of the things that we'll want to look into before we make any final decision on this.

Q: That's not a certainty, is it, at this point?

A: I don't believe that the Department is unanimous in its feelings on that issue at this point.

Q: In 1984 when this particular set of remains, now interred at the Tomb of the Unknown, was selected, were there other sets of remains which were also available or candidates to be interred at the Tomb of the Unknown, or was there only this one set?

A: No, there were others at the time.

Q: What has happened to those sets of remains? Where are...

A: I can't answer that question just yet. I hope to have a fuller picture of exactly what happened. But as you can imagine, the activities and process that led to the selection of these remains back in 1984 are not readily available, and may actually only be available because some of those who were involved in the process are still alive and can describe them to us.

Q: The deliberations was destroyed, wasn't it?

A: That's my understanding.

Q: Why was that?

A: Well, the process of the selection of unknowns historically is one in which a selection is made, and then the records surrounding the selection are destroyed to protect the sanctity of the site, and in keeping with the overall philosophy that the remains are known only to God.

Q: Are there other graves in Arlington or other military cemeteries of... containing the remains of unknown servicemen from Vietnam?

A: There are other graves of unknown individuals in national cemeteries around the world, in fact. Regarding Vietnam, I can't specify any kind of a number and we'll have to get back to you on how many of those might exist.

Q: If it's learned that these remains are in fact of the individual in question, Lieutenant Blassie, will they not have to be removed?

A: We are some ways away from that, and I don't want to speculate for you on what the outcome is going to be. I want to stress that we're going to go through a very careful process before we arrive at any kind of decision as to what we're going to do on this issue.

Q: It seems that it may be possible for the bureaucracy to go through a very careful process, but ultimately the only way to find out will be to disinter the remains. Is that possible to do without any great disturbance? Is that what the reluctance is? The chance that it's truly an unknown and not the... The allegations are that yes, indeed, this panel did know. It wasn't just known to God. So...

A: First of all, regarding the site, I think if you've been out there there would be disruption at the site. The grave site would have to be disrupted if there were any action taken regarding this set of remains. So that is one of the considerations that we will have to think about before we come to a final determination.

Q: You talked about the process, and a recommendation will be made. Who will make the recommendation? Is that something that the Secretary of Defense will determine, or will he have to get presidential approval for a decision?

A second question is, given the state of military science in this sort of activity, are we ever going to have a future unknown?

A: To answer your first question first, I can't at this point, since there are a number of traditions, directives, and perhaps even laws that may apply to this site, I don't think we at this point know who would make the final determination, but I can assure you that there would be a lot of coordination not only within the Executive Branch but also with the Congress regarding any action we would take regarding the Tomb of the Unknowns.

With regard to your question on the state of the science, I have heard a number of people express the opinion that science has now progressed to the point where we will probably never again have an unknown as a result of a war.

Q: What about the second part of Susanne's question, this allegation that the identity of the body was known, and that the political pressure at the time to get a Vietnam unknown soldier was so great that that was essentially swept aside?

A: I can't answer that question, and I'm not sure that anybody would be able to. Most of the people in the building here today were not in the building at the time the decision was made, but we'll look into it and see, and try an learn as much as we can about that period of time.

Q: There were more than one set of remains available to be chosen to be interred at the Tomb, is that not correct?

A: That's correct.

Q: This arose as a result of questions by the family and other individuals. Who else besides the family was interested in the case?

A: I think it has been a subject that's been discussed on the Internet for several days, if not several weeks, but I don't know any specific individuals that have raised the issue beyond the family to the Department.

Q: If the remain of this soldier are still unknown, is it the fact that these remains belonging to the soldier of the Vietnam War itself?

A: Right. I'm not sure what your question was, there.

Q: I'd like to make sure that the remains of this soldier are remains from the Vietnam War.

A: That's correct. It's from that war.

Q: There's been a question, you mentioned that there were a handful, or a very small number, I'm not quite sure exactly what you said, about, of unknown remains.

A: Right.

Q: Can you explain why that was given the number of deaths in the conflict?

A: Right now?

Q: Even at that time, that there existed only a very small number of potentially unknown remains.

A: First of all...

Q: ...three or four could have been unknown.

A: Keep in mind, this was back in the '80s when the recovery of the remains was extremely difficult, so that the number of remains that were in process was not as great as it was in subsequent years.

We have had, for many years now, a very active program to resolve each one of the missing in action cases and all of the cases that arose as a result of the Vietnam War -- people who were killed, people who were missing.

The process that we have at the laboratory out in Hawaii is such that even at the time I think most of the people who worked out there felt a commitment to continue working cases until they could resolve them. And that resolution would be to identify the set of remains.

Science has also progressed in this issue, and we now have processes that were not available back in 1984.

Q: I know you said it's going to be a very careful process, but can you give any kind of a ball park estimate, whether it be months or years, or how long it will take for a recommendation?

A: No, I don't want to forecast a time period for you. We're going to do this in a very deliberate way and we'll want to, as I say, not only consult with family members, but also within the Executive Branch and also with Congress to make sure that everyone understands what the issues are and how we intend to proceed.

Q: You're not ruling out the possibility that the identify could be determined and the body still left there.

A: At this point I just don't want to forecast for you what the outcome will be.

Q: Have you touched on the missile agreement made with General Chi Haotian and the Secretary yesterday?

A: This was an issue that had arisen before and which Secretary Cohen discussed during his visit to China, and Secretary Cohen indicated that he had received assurances during the visit that indeed they would not make any further shipments of those missiles.

Q: What I really wanted to ask about is, there are allegations that the Chinese continue technical assistance with advisors in Iran in the building of an intermediate range missile called the Shabab III, and they've also provided some technology, possibly even guidance systems to the Iranians. I wondered if any of that was talked. The other technical assistance that China is giving Iran in their weapons program.

A: I know that many of these non-proliferation issues were discussed by the Secretary during his visit, but I don't have a specific readout on details of what was discussed.

Q: Do you have an update on the search for a new Army Secretary?

A: I don't have an update on that, but it's not surprising that we would first hear from a White House announcement rather than from me on that subject.

Q: I'm wondering if you could give a status on the domestic violence panel that was supposed to make a report back to the Department headed by Frank Rush? Supposed to make a report to the Department in January?

A: I will have to do a check with them to see if we can give you a status report on that. I don't have it off the top of my head, no.

Q: Do you have a status report on Iraq and any of the activity that the U.S. and its allies may be seeing on the ground that might make you more or less nervous about the situation?

A: The Iraqi forces remain primarily in garrison, and as far as we can see they are not on alert status.

Q: And the numbers on our forces?

Q: Should they be? (Laughter)

A: I didn't hear that question and I'm not sure I want to.

The status of our forces is that we have more than 24,000 U.S. service personnel in the Gulf area; about 24 Navy ships of which 13 are combatants and 11 are support ships; and more than 320 aircraft.

Q: Has a decision been made officially... I guess I should ask if orders have been issued to replace the NIMITZ in the Gulf?

A: There is a deployment order, and the Secretary of Defense, who will be visiting the aircraft carrier INDEPENDENCE later today will have an announcement to make. I'm not going to steal his thunder. But I think all of you are aware that INDEPENDENCE has been conducting carrier qualifications and there has been a lot of work in the last ten days or so by the ship to be ready for a deployment.

Q: There's a report on the Internet that a former secretary in public affairs was subpoenaed to give an affidavit concerning a possible relationship with President Clinton. Can you shed some light on that?

A: I think, as you know, that particular case... The Judge has it under a gag order and if you're interested in details of that employment matters here, I'd be glad to see you or one of the people down in DDI can see you after the brief, but I don't want to get into it during the briefing.

Q: Are you saying the Judge has this particular case under a gag order or the Paula Jones case under a gag order?

A: The case that you just mentioned is under a gag order.

Press: Thank you.

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