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DoD News Briefing, Tuesday, June 29, 1999 - 2:30 p.m.

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
June 30, 1999 2:30 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: I don't have any statements or charts to compete with General McDuffie's, so I'll take your questions, if you have any more questions.

Q: On the anthrax vaccine. In the past officials, including yourself, have talked about how safe the vaccine is. Yet there's a document that's come to light signed by Army Secretary Caldera that talks about "unusually hazardous risks associated with the potential for adverse reaction" in some recipients of the vaccine. How do you square the two?

Mr. Bacon: First of all, the newspaper article to which you're referring makes an egregious error. It substitutes the subject of a sentence. As every newspaper person knows, if you substitute the subject of a sentence, you can change the meaning of the sentence entirely.

The newspaper article refers to a legal document that was signed by Secretary Caldera to allow the manufacturer of the vaccine, a company called Bioport -- the successor to the Michigan Biologic Products Institute -- to allow it to receive indemnification under federal law. Certain standards have to be met in order to receive indemnification, and this memo was designed to meet those standards.

We all buy insurance for things we don't anticipate will ever happen, such as fire insurance for houses or libel insurance for newspapers. This was the company seeking a type of insurance, indemnification from suits, should they arise.

The fact of the matter is that everything we know about this vaccine makes it, shows us that it's incredibly safe. There was extensive testing before the vaccination process began. Secretary Cohen ordered that a number of tests be met. Those tests were met. Since we began vaccinating members of the armed services against exposure to anthrax, almost 900,000 shots have been given. The adverse reaction rate is a minuscule .009 percent. There have been 79 adverse reactions out of nearly 900,000 shots given so far. This is a lower adverse reaction rate than in the DPT vaccine that all our children have received and that we have all received in the course of our lives many times over. So this has turned out to be an extremely safe vaccine.

Remember, the reason Secretary Cohen decided to require vaccination against exposure to anthrax was that we believe this is a clear and present danger facing our troops today. We know that Iraq and other countries have developed and weaponized anthrax. Therefore, it is an exposure against which we are protecting the troops.

Exposure to anthrax is about 98 percent lethal. That is if you're not protected and you are exposed to anthrax, you have more than a 98 percent chance of having an adverse reaction, which is usually death. So this seemed to be a very sensible act to take, requiring vaccinations. Secretary Cohen did that. He has had three shots or four shots now. I've had three shots. My hair is growing more robust than ever. (Laughter) I sleep better. I eat better, run farther. It's been nothing but a great experience. (Laughter)

But I do urge you to compare the memorandum that Secretary of the Army Caldera signed with the article, because there is one fundamental substitution of a subject in a sentence. I think when you read the third paragraph of the memorandum -- which we'll make available for you in DDI -- and compare it to the article, you'll find it's the old "bait and switch" trick that none of you would perform, but has been performed in this case, and I think much to the disservice of a program that has been designed to protect America's soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.

Q: What did you think about the Ocalan verdict in Turkey? And have any of the bases been put on heightened alert in the aftermath of that?

Mr. Bacon: I'm not aware that our bases are on heightened alert. They always -- of course, we practice security at the source, and local commanders have the requirement to review the security situation at all times and take appropriate reaction to it. I'm not aware that there's been any change.

The Ocalan verdict is something that was produced by Turkish courts, and I understand that there is a built-in review procedure. I don't think it would be appropriate for me to comment further on it, because my understanding is that under Turkish law there will be a review.

Q: This is, basically, about the fact that the United States has to transfer military bases in Panama as well as the canal to the Panamanian government by the end of the year. How this process is going? And where the U.S. soldiers are going to go now? They're going to be reassigned to another country? Can you elaborate a little bit?

Mr. Bacon: First of all, we, I believe, are right on schedule if not ahead of schedule for removing our military people and facilities from Panama. You are absolutely right, we made a treaty agreement in the 1970s to turn over the canal and all our military facilities in the Canal Zone to the government of Panama, and we are right on schedule for doing that.

We have closed down most of the military facilities. As you know, the headquarters of the United States Southern Command moved to Miami. They are well established in Miami. We are in the process now of replacing the airport facilities we've used in Panama with forward operating locations in the Caribbean and other places so that we can carry out our surveillance and other activities that are a part of the counter-drug program and our general security program. We're well on our way to doing that.

Q: The situation affects you politically in some way, the U.S. presence in Latin America?

Mr. Bacon: We'll retain a strong presence in Latin America. It will be more diffuse than it was when we were operating out of Panama. I want to be very clear that the forward operating locations are not bases. They are places from which our forces will be able to operate.

We have a naval presence that we maintain in the area, and of course, we have very strong, and I would say much stronger military-to-military relations with almost all countries in Latin America today than we did ten years ago. So we have constant exchanges going on with the armed forces of Latin American countries.

As you know, Secretary Cohen has been to a Defense Ministerial meeting in Cartajena, Colombia last year, late last year. He maintains strong contact with many of his colleagues in the area. Defense Minister Jorge Dominguez from Argentina was here several weeks ago. They held a joint press conference. He has traveled in the area, and I'm sure will travel again in the next year or so, so we do have strong relations with a number of Latin American countries.

He had a trip scheduled to Mexico, which he had to cancel because of Kosovo -- or postpone, I should say -- and I'm sure we'll get to Mexico at another time.

Q: The Department of State disclosed yesterday that via secret dialogue between Greece and Turkey (unintelligible) in Ankara, agreed to waiver all the U.S. weapons transferred illegally to Cyprus in violation of U.S. law. According to Department of State, the weapons are already out of Cyprus.

In the Department of Defense, did you have any involvement in this process?

Mr. Bacon: I have nothing to add to what the Department of State said to that.

Q: But did you have any involvement in...

Mr. Bacon: I just don't know the answer to that question, which is why I'm not going to add to what the Department of State said.

Q: Have there been any incidents between U.S. forces and anyone else in Kosovo since the last time we met? Any shooting incidents?

Mr. Bacon: Well, yes. Since the last time we met, there have been, and I think that came out over the weekend. There was an incident on Friday and an incident, I believe, on Sunday. I checked about half an hour before coming in here if anything had happened today, and was told "no, we had no reports of incidents today."

Q: The Romanian Defense Minister awhile ago said that in his meeting with Cohen he had discussed a project to make the eastern borders of Romania militarily impassible. Can you explain what that project's all about?

Mr. Bacon: I wasn't in the meeting. He explained it during the press conference, and I would refer you to the Romanian ambassador, who was in the meeting and I'm sure would be glad to talk about it further.

Q: Is the United States going to help Romania strengthen its defenses on the eastern border?

Mr. Bacon: Jim, I've given you the only answer I can give you. I was not in the meeting. I refer you to the Romanian Embassy to elaborate on the statement made by the Romanian defense minister.

Bill?

Q: I was going to follow up the question on Panama and ask if the United States military sees the Panamanian military and their police as being competent to take over the security of the Panama Canal? Do we have confidence in Panama?

Mr. Bacon: They have every interest in running the canal competently, efficiently, and skillfully, and I'm sure they will. The canal has been largely run by Panamanians for some time. I've visited the canal. I've seen the Panamanian staff running the canal. I'm sure that they will be able to run this.

For one thing, it is an economically important artery for Panama. A large number of ships pass through there. It's particularly important for countries like Chile and others in shipping products from the west to the east -- countries on the west coast of Latin America rely very heavily on the canal.

So I assume that Panama will run this as the economic lifeline that it is.

Q: Is there anything by way of treaty that still aligns us or makes an alliance for the United States and Panama to cooperate on the strategic protection of the treaty and Panama for that matter? Has that all gone by the boards?

Mr. Bacon: I'm not aware that there is, but I'll double check on that question with Brian Sheridan and get an answer for you. But I'm not aware that there is.

Jim?

Q: There was a report today that all the mines in Guantanamo have now been removed. Is that accurate?

Mr. Bacon: Yes.

Q: As of when?

Mr. Bacon: On our side. Now remember, there's a line, there's a border area and there were mines on both sides. I think it's very important for everybody to realize that we have removed the mines on our side of the line. I do not know what the Cubans have done on their side of the line. It would be a great disservice for me to suggest that all the mines on both sides of the line have been removed, because I don't know that. But on our side they've been removed, and they've been gone for probably four to six months.

Q: During General Zinni's visit to Pakistan last week, did he discuss any arms deals with the officials he met?

Mr. Bacon: He was going to Pakistan to talk about ways to reduce tensions between Pakistan and India, and I'm not aware that he did talk about arms deals with Pakistan.

Q: Will Secretary Cohen be meeting with President Kim Dae Jung in his trip here this week, or next week?

Mr. Bacon: I'll check on that. I haven't looked into the schedule. He had a very good meeting with him the last time he, Secretary Cohen, was in Seoul. I would not be surprised if they meet this time, but I'll find out for sure.

Chris?

Q: Do you have a price tag yet for NOBLE ANVIL and for our part of JOINT GUARDIAN? Do you think the supplemental will be enough to pay for everything through the end of the fiscal year?

Mr. Bacon: The last time I talked to our esteemed Comptroller he told me two things. One, he does not yet have final price tags -- this was the end of last week. But having said that, he believes that it's quite likely that the supplemental we have received so far will pay for two things. One, our participation in Operation ALLIED FORCE, and the JOINT GUARDIAN participation through the end of this fiscal year. But that was his guesstimate based on what he knew so far. He did not yet have final figures, and he was working to get them. I haven't seen Comptroller Bill Lynn yet this week. I don't think he's here, as a matter of fact. So I assume that when he returns, he'll complete those calculations and will share them with Congress and with you at the appropriate time.

Q: The new estimates from OMB suggest that the federal budget surplus is going to be substantially larger than had been predicted. Is the thinking here now that given that and given the failure of the Secretary's initiative on BRAC, that there will be an attempt within the Department to substantially increase the long- term funding over the FYDP and beyond?

Mr. Bacon: What makes you think his initiative has failed?

Q: For this year, at least.

Mr. Bacon: For this year, clearly, it's been delayed. But we will be back. There's always room for efficient government, and that's what BRAC is. BRAC is a way to cut unnecessary spending and to rechannel money we don't need to spend on unused facilities into modernization, training and readiness. So we will, I'm sure, be back next year making the same reasonable case that we made this year, looking for more men and women of reason to respond to our case.

Having said that, as you know, President Clinton asked for a $112 billion increase in the Defense budget over six years in the budget he submitted earlier this year. That is working its way through Congress. There's some indication that we'll get more money than that, more money than we requested.

Obviously, we will look at our budget needs as we prepare for next year's budget, but I think it's premature to talk about any further increases than what the President has requested so far.

Steve?

Q: One question about the anthrax. What countries besides Iraq are known to have weaponized anthrax?

Mr. Bacon: Certainly, Russia at one time had an active anthrax program. Iraq has weaponized it. We believe that North Korea has an anthrax capability. And there may be other countries as well that have anthrax capabilities.

But it only takes one country to launch anthrax against our troops to inflict heavy damage, if the troops have not been vaccinated. That's why we have adopted this program to require all members of the military to be vaccinated against anthrax exposure.

Chris?

Q: On that same issue, you said the company was called BioPort, the successor company, that was seeking indemnification, whatever it's called. Anyway, is it normal for a company doing contracting to the federal government to get essentially subsidized indemnification? Or would they get just private insurance like any other company?

Mr. Bacon: Well, the Secretary of the Army has issued a statement, which I commend to your attention, on this very issue. He says that there is a provision in the law to indemnify companies against certain types of product liability risk, and that in this case it seemed a reasonable measure to take. I'm not an expert on product liability or any liability, probably, so I can't tell you how often this provision of the law is invoked by the government.

Q: Can you explain why it was a reasonable measure to take in this case?

Mr. Bacon: I think the memorandum does explain why it was a reasonable measure to take, and I commend that to your attention.

Press: Thank you very much.