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DoD News Briefing - 2 Jul 96

Presenters: Captain Michael Doubleday, USN, DASD (PA)
July 02, 1996 2:30 PM EDT

Tuesday, July 2, 1996 - 2:30 p.m.

Captain Doubleday: Now if there are additional questions on other subjects, I will attempt to answer those, Charlie?

Q: Mike, the Air Force reported at about 5 p.m. yesterday, after a lot of deadlines, that JSTARS had been grounded because the wrong rivets were used to put these planes together and are being used, in fact, to put these planes together. How big of a problem is that on a $9 billion program?

A: Charlie, I regret to tell you that I have no information on that, I'd have to refer you to the Air Force, I just don't have any details at all on this.

Q: Defense doesn't have an opinion on this, doesn't know about this?

A: That's correct Charlie. I just simply don't have any information.

Q: Mike, the Air Force general in charge of the Wing in Dhahran, reportedly knew about the Saudis refusing, not once but twice, to move the perimeters back and allegedly did not report up the chain of command. One, is that true? Two, any reason why he did not? Three, what is he saying?

A: Ivan, let me tell what I can about this situation and to try and put it into some perspective as I know it. First of all, I want to point out that there is an investigation, an assessment I think, is a more correct term, which is going to be undertaken by retired General Downing, at the request of Dr. Perry, to look into actually two aspects of this thing. One, he's going to be trying to uncover what he can about why this thing happened. And secondly, what we can do in the future to reduce the chances for this kind of thing happening. Now having said that, I am aware of some statements coming out of Dhahran regarding the situation there and I think the general premise of your question is incorrect. That is to say the cooperation that has gone on between the U.S. forces in Dhahran and the Saudis regarding security at the base has actually been excellent. The Saudis have been very cooperative. I think that most of the people in Dhahran who have addressed this, certainly Dr. Perry following his visit, addressed the subject of cooperation with the Saudis.

 

As I say, it has uniformly been very appropriate and continuous. What occurs normally at any kind of overseas base is that there are a number of tools that a base commander has at his or her disposal to assess the kinds of threats that the base may come under. And in the case of the Air Force, there is a team which is put together by the Office of Special Investigation which can actually go out to a base and take a look at the threat assessment. As a result of that, the base commander is provided with not only an assessment of the threats but also a kind of a tally sheet of some of the actions that the base commander may want to take to improve security. In the case of Dhahran, this was done. It was done in the summer of 1995, and that assessment of course, is based on -- the one key term is the threat. Now in the summer of 1995, keep in mind that in the kingdom there had never before been any kind of terrorist attack. That was the environment, that was the threat, no terrorist attacks. Then we had the car bomb that occurred in November of 1995, that changed the equation. The threat, as a result of that, was changed and as a result of that there was another one of these assessments done for the base commander.

 

Just to put kind of a marker down as to what the threat was, keep in mind that the November car bomb was, first of all, a car and the amount of explosives was two to three-hundred pounds. (inaudible) assessment made, another tool with which the base commander can talk to the host government officials to try and implement some upgrades to the security. Now this was a process which was underway and as I understand it the local commander at the base had had his people, at the working level, verbally communicate to Saudi officials who were their counterparts, some of the things that they wanted to do to increase security at the base. And in fact, a lot of those things had been implemented. Let me give you some examples.

You talk about access to the base, how do you get into a base? If any of you have traveled around the United States you that there are some bases in the United States that you can just drive on to, there are other bases that require an I.D. to get into. In the case of Saudi Arabia, usually it requires some kind of either an identification card or identification papers to get into the base. Then once you get into the base, what is going to happen? In some cases there is an inspection and in the last few days, I think you've seen mirrors being used to inspect the undercarriages of various vehicles, so this kind of thing can be done. So there are a number of these security upgrades that can be put into play. But as Dr. Perry has pointed out, the cooperation that was occurring between the Saudis and the U.S. base officials in Dhahran was very good and it was a continuing process and one of the things that had been talked about was the business of this perimeter, and it is the one, of course, that everyone is focusing on at this point but it is not the only thing that had been requested and discussed amongst the Saudis and the local base officials.

Q: In a sense, I ask you what time it is, you're telling me how to build a watch. Let me ask it again, very simply. Did this brigadier general know that he had been refused or his staff had been refused, not once but twice, to extend the perimeter and if so did he send the word back up the chain of command and if not, why not?

A: Well, Ivan, what I can tell you is that, one, as far as I know, as far as I know, at this point and time it was not a matter of refusal, it was a matter of ongoing discussions and so the matter of this issue of the perimeter never rose above the local level in Dhahran.

Q: Is that normal, why, I mean doesn't he answer to anybody? I mean the chain of command is the chain of command. You'd think he'd do a CYA Message...

A: The cooperation, Ivan, as I mentioned before was an ongoing process and it had been a subject of a communications dialogue between U.S. officers on the base and Saudi officials and that process was continuing.

Q: So just to understand what you're saying, Captain Doubleday, is that the Saudis never refused a U.S. request to move the perimeter back, that it was under study?

A: That the request was a matter that was being reviewed by the Saudis, was being discussed with the Saudis but, at least from our preliminary look at this point, it was not something that had been refused by the Saudis.

Q: The comment by Secretary Perry on this subject were, if I have this correct, the fact that he had, he had not been told about it til' Saturday, about this refusal or the fact that it was maybe a discussion, that suggests that he did not, in his own conversations, with the base leadership, which he had just visited, has visited prior this year, hadn't raised the question in other words, the Secretary asking the U.S. military officials, is there anything you need, is there anything I, as the Secretary of Defense, can help you get? The indication is that he is not asking those questions.

A: John, the Secretary visited Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, my recollection is in January of 1996. He visited again after this latest bombing attempt. But if your question is did the Secretary go over to Dhahran to discuss security at the base before this bomb attack? Every indication I have is that no he did not go over there to discuss security at the base in Dhahran.

Q: In view of the fact that there was a request for an extension of the security zone, and a response wasn't in a timely fashion, how is it that our own...

A: But Ed, I just, the thing about it is, everybody is saying in a timely fashion, but what I'm trying to communicate here is that this was an ongoing discussion, this was an ongoing discussion that was taking place between U.S. and Saudi officials. Now if we had perfect hindsight -- if we have perfect foresight -- I think that people would have been able to foresee what was going on here, but keep in mind, keep in mind again, the threat that we are talking about, that these people were addressing in Saudi Arabia was a car bomb, a singular event that occurred in November of a magnitude of two to three-hundred pounds.

Q: Mike, the reason for them to want to extend the security zone, so during that process, why didn't they move people out of the buildings, out of harm's way based on their...

A: Well I think that's probably something that this investigation or this assessment, will get into. I cannot tell you why they didn't take certain actions, but I can tell you that there was this ongoing assessment.

Q: Mike, it seems as though there is a slight rewriting of history going on here. The general who provided the original piece of information in Saudi Arabia said that he had twice asked and twice been refused. Now the Pentagon is saying no, no, no, it wasn't a refusal, it's an ongoing discussion. Why do you suppose the base commander has a slightly different interpretation of the response he has gotten in the Pentagon?

A: All I can tell you, at this point John, is what I know from the information that has come into the Pentagon. I think that we're going to have to wait until General Downing has done his assessment before we get a fuller understanding of exactly what went on and the timing of when it occurred.

Q: Is the Pentagon satisfied with the pace of the discussions? Why were they letting all of this drag out for so long? Why was the base commander....

 

A: Well, the question is not what the Pentagon was satisfied with but what the local commander was satisfied with. The local commander is the individual who is responsible for security at his base. And the local commander felt that there was an ongoing dialogue and that security enhancements had taken place, and were taking place, and that they would continue to take place.

Q: Did he ever notify the Pentagon that he had been rejected by the Saudis?

A: Keep in mind that the local base commander doesn't communicate with the Pentagon, the local base commander communicates with a chain of command that goes through the Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base. But if your question is, was the Pentagon aware of this particular issue of the perimeter security, the answer is no.

Q: Do you know how far up the chain of command the local commander's concerns reached?

A: My understanding is that it never left the theater. It remained at the local level there, the base level.

Q: Is General Schwalier in any trouble or is he going to be the subject of investigations for failing to pass this information on?

A: I'm certainly not in a position to point fingers at any individual on this. What I can tell you is that the local base commander was addressing the issue of security of his base with the host officials that he had to deal with; and he was doing it in a way that he felt addressed the threat, as he knew it, as had been provided to him through this threat assessment.

Q: Speaking of the threat, Mike...

 

A: Yes?

Q: You say that the U.S. military could not anticipate an equivalent 5,000 pound TNT explosive...

A: You're putting words in my mouth, I never said such a thing but go ahead with your question.

Q: Okay, let me go back. Let me go back and put it this way. After Beirut, the bombing at the barracks, that truck carried about 5,000 pounds of TNT, nobody expected that. Was it then not even possible that we could figure on that much explosives getting into Saudi Arabia after...

 

A: Well you can hypothesize any amount of explosives that you want to, but I'm talking about a specific environment here, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, an environment that up until November of 1995 had never experienced any kind of bombing whatsoever. And when it did experience a bombing, it experienced one which was a car bomb and one which was of a magnitude of two to three-hundred pounds of explosives. What occurred here was entirely different from the, what I would characterize as a kind of a terrorist environment that existed in Beirut some years ago.

Q: Mike, if that's true, that that was the threat that they were dealing with, why was the local commander interested in moving the security perimeter to a much greater distance if they weren't concerned about the ...

A: Well I think that the answer to that is that the kind of the tally of possible security upgrades that had been provided to him included moving the security perimeter out but it also included the business of putting up what are called these Jersey barriers. Now the Jersey barriers serve two purposes. One, to establish a perimeter, and secondly, to deflect the blast and indeed, the Jersey barriers had been erected.

Q: Did the Saudi government have some legitimate concerns or perhaps logistical problems that might have accounted for their delay in granting a request for....

A: Well I think anytime you...

Q: Is it possible to move this, were there roads that needed to be re-routed, anything?

A: Well, there may have been that and I think General Downing will probably provide a fuller understanding of that but as I understand it, this parking lot was a parking lot that served a major park in the area and also there was a mosque nearby and from what I understand at this point there may very well have been concerns about the impact on the local community on simply closing off what was the parking place to this park.

Q: Should officials at MacDill and at the Pentagon have been made aware of the Saudis resistance to expanding the perimeter?

A: Well, again I could say that if everybody were equipped with perfect foresight, it might have been something that could have been provided up the chain of command. But let me also say that there are literally thousands of military installations that the United States either operates or inhabits all over the world and we have to adhere to some kind of chain of command to address the issues that can be handled at the local level. This was a case where the local commander was addressing the concerns that he had and was, according to the information we have at this point, he was satisfied with the pace at which those security upgrades were being implemented.

Q: How long is it appropriate to allow discussions like this to drag out when lives are on the line?

A: Well, keep in mind, this is not done in isolation. There were a number of upgrades that had already taken place. I mentioned these Jersey barriers that were put up. I mentioned that there had been an increased presence for access to the base. There had been, on the U.S. side, watches placed on top of the buildings so that they could spot suspicious-looking vehicles on the perimeter. In fact, that was the watch that first sighted this suspicious vehicle that turned out to be containing the bomb. So there were a number of these things that were already in place. I don't think that anybody in my position, is in any position, to second guess the pace at which a commander feels that he needs to implement these kinds of upgrades.

Q: So given the information that you have now, are you saying that the Pentagon is satisfied with the way that General Schwalier handled this, in a sense that he's the local commander?

A: Well I don't think that, again, I'm in a position to in any way characterize whether something was done quickly enough or expansively enough. What I am telling you is what I can at this point and we will have to wait for the assessment by General Downing to find out again, what the cause of this was and any kind of steps that we should be taking elsewhere in the region to prevent this kind of thing from happening again.

Q: Were the APs, their police, informed by Saudi authorities of the suspicious tanker, number one...

 

A: No, go back. Historically, the tanker that was sighted, was sighted by the U.S. personnel on the top of the building, they were the ones who saw the tanker...

Q: I mean before when they tried to go through a checkpoint, a Saudi woman took their license...

A: I'm not certain about that aspect of it, that's a part of the investigation that...

 

Q: How about checkpoints, Mike?

A: Sure.

 

Q: Were these, are our checkpoints at that base, were they or will they be basically hardened so they can be defended against a suicide bombing vehicle?

A: Give me a little bit more of what you're talking about.

Q: In the Beirut case, where the bomber, where the truck just drove through the checkpoint...

A: Had already been done. Had already been done. If you'd look at the, like when you'd get into the Pentagon these days, you know you take a certain circuitous route to get into some of the parking lots, that kind of thing had already been implemented at the base in Dhahran.

Q: Getting back to the Beirut analogy, briefly, there is this issue of the concentration of U.S. personnel in a terrorist environment in a big building...

A: In a terrorist environment, that's a key point.

Q: Okay, we've already gone over the fact that there was in November of the previous year...

 

A: A threat which had occurred with a two to three-hundred pound bomb. A singular event, yes.

Q: But still a terrorist act, directed at U.S. personnel who were still there this year. Now is any thought being given to this notion of maybe coming up with some alternative to the concentration, I mean realize that...

 

A: I'm not going to forecast for you exactly what results may occur in the aftermath of this. I think that part of that will depend on what General Downing uncovers in his assessment and part of it is up to the local commanders there.

Q: When will Downing begin that assessment?

A: He has already set up an office and I can't give you a timetable for exactly what his movements will be but his goal is, at least according to the letter that I've seen or the memo that I've seen from Dr. Perry, is to complete a written report within 45 days or to get back and indicate how much longer he might need to complete the report.

Q: When were the conversations first held with Saudi officials about the perimeter and can you explain the changes in access...

A: I can't give you a timetable but go on with your next one.

 

Q: The changes and access since the November bombing, is it not, but before November there wasn't I.D. required and mirror inspections?

A: No, I think, again I can't give you a detail on that. What I can tell you is after the November bombing there were additional upgrades that were put into place. Those included things like the Jersey barriers, they included things like increased presence of Saudi guards at the gate, they included things like U.S. Air Force personnel on top of the buildings, they included more surveillance. All of those kinds of things had been put in place since November. Exactly what had occurred before that, I can't tell you, although I'm sure that the General Downing report will look into that.

Q: You mentioned these barriers, I'm a little confused here. Was the sequence of events that the truck went through this increased checkpoint?

A: No, didn't ever get into the compound.

Q: So it's not on the base...

A: There's the situation where the truck was parked up near the perimeter of the compound.

Q: So the checkpoint didn't help. Where were the barriers?

A: But again, but what we're trying to do at any kind of a base where there is a threat is to guard against a whole variety of threats. One of the threats may be unauthorized penetration of the compound so you certainly look at, again a whole variety of things that you're going to guard against.

Q: Well you're giving us the impression that some of these things might, may have helped. Where were the barriers? Did they come into play?

A: Yes, they actually did, deflected some of the blast. It was on the perimeter, on the perimeter of the base, of the compound. I don't want to give you the impression that this is a base. This is a compound. If you remember from when you were over there that this is a slightly different thing. The base, these compounds are not actually located on the bases.

Q: Mike, if extending the perimeter was any one of a variety of things under discussion, and these discussions that we know of have been going on for at least two weeks to a month or longer, why is it then that within days after the truck bombing, the perimeter was immediately moved back to the...

A: Because the threat had changed dramatically by that time, Ivan.

Q: It happened so quickly then, I mean, why didn't... I'm trying to get an order of magnitude here. If that was moved back, what other things then were under discussion, were also put into play? It seems to me that this is something that is vaulted into number one defense against any future terrorism, which it kind of proves my question that why wasn't this sent up the command and something addressed to it earlier?

A: Well, let's go through your questions one by one. What's number one?

Q: Number one is, I go back to the original question that I'm still waiting for an answer to Mike. One, regardless of whether this was a local condition or what have you, when the general knew about it, and obviously he did know that this, staff people said, or he knew that at least twice, the Saudis, during this so-called ongoing discussion had refused to move the perimeter back, why didn't he at some point during this discussion send the word up the chain of command?

A: I can't answer that question, I've given you as much as I can on that one. I can tell you what happened, I can't tell you motives. What's your second question?

Q: And the second part of the question is, you talk about the perimeter as only being one of a variety of things under discussion as part of security, and what I'm asking is, if that's true -- underlining the word variety -- why then would days after the blast was the perimeter moved back to the originally requested 400 feet? I mean it seems that this is folded into the number one category.

A: The answer to that is, the threat had changed dramatically. It had gone from a threat of two to three-hundred pounds to one of four to five-thousand pounds. Yes, Charlie.

Q: One thing to kind of straighten this whole thing out. Are you down-facing the local command, because he told reporters that his request was twice declined or refused by the Saudis to move that perimeter back and you say here as far as I know it was not a matter of refusal, you're saying as the commander told you he misspoke or misinterpreted....

A: What I am saying is that it was a continuing process. A continuing process.

Q: Was there any refusal of any kind...

 

A: There were security upgrades that had been implemented but it was a process that was continuing.

Q: He said he twice asked to move the barriers back and they refused to do it. Are you saying no they didn't refuse to do it? That ...

A: Charlie, all I know at this point was, it was a continuing process and some of the actions that had been requested by the commander's people had indeed been implemented and were responsible for the blast that probably minimized the impact of the blast to the extent that was (inaudible)...

Q: But you're saying that they didn't refuse to move the barriers back?

A: All I can tell you about what happened with the barriers is that that particular request had not been acted on.

Q: Are you saying that this commander had reason to believe that his request was going to be approved, it was just a matter of time?

A: I can't again, predict for you what he thought.

Q: Mike, are there any other vulnerable points on that base that are at issue with the Saudis that have not been acted upon, any other place....

A: I'm not going to point out vulnerabilities, thank you very much.

Q: Is there any other place that we might get hit that hadn't been remedied?

A: Excuse me?

Q: Are there any other places...

 

A: I can't forecast that for you.

Q: Have U.S. commanders abroad, or indeed in this country, been given any instruction about special precautions to take with the Independence Day holiday coming up with regard to possible terrorists? Traditionally the holidays been ....

A: Not that I am aware of. Yes, did you have a question? Wait, one more.

Q: Was this the only security request still under discussion with the Saudis, this the expanding the perimeter?

A: No. I think there were some others too. I can't describe the others but this was not, first of all this wasn't a singular request but it was one of a number, a number had already been implemented. There were others that were works in progress. Yes, John.

 

Q: A question about access of reporters in Saudi Arabia, the number of reporters are in the process of being kicked out of Saudi Arabia in order to even talk to military spokesmen, American reporters have to give 24 hours notice...

 

A: To U.S. people?

Q: Yes, to get through the gates to go in and see American personnel because the Saudis won't let the American reporters through the gates and is the Pentagon doing anything to try and convince our friends, the Saudis, that we believe in a slightly different form of freedom of press than do they?

A: Yes.

 

Q: Yet these restrictions on American reporters, freedom of access to American officials exist and stay there, right?

A: We have communicated to the Saudis that we believe that there should be access for U.S. reporters to the bases.

Q: You have expressed that, yet there is no change in their positions -- it's just tough luck...

A: Well this is another one of those continuing processes but it was... let me just say that there was added impetus put to it last night.

Q: By who?

A: By officials in this building. Yes, Jaime.

Q: You described earlier that cooperation with the Saudis was excellent. U.S. officials, in private, have said that dealing with the Saudis on some of these issues, including the one that Jack just raised, has been slow and frustrating. Do you dispute that?

A: I will leave it exactly where I have it at this point.

Q: Is there any consideration to taking an official DoD pool over to Saudi Arabia....

A: We've already done it and the pool elected to disband the day after they got in, thank you.

Q: Probably because they couldn't get any information.

A: Excuse me, go on.

Q: Do we take these most recent warnings, does the Pentagon take these most recent warnings for bombings in Saudi against us seriously and do we take these terrorists as having the same capabilities as they had last Tuesday?

A: We take all the kinds of threats seriously.

Q: Will Secretary Perry be appearing before Senator Specter's committee next week?

 

A: I can't tell you exactly what committees, I do know that he plans to testify -- has said that he will testify up on the Hill but I can't tell you at this point which committees he's going to testify before.

Q: Would he be accompanied by General Shalikashvili?

A: I don't know.

Press: Thank you.