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DoD News Briefing - July 23, 1996

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
July 23, 1996 3:30 PM EDT

Tuesday, July 23, 1996 - 3:30 p.m.

Mr. Bacon: Welcome to our briefing.

I, first of all, would like to welcome Mark Brzozowski back. Colonel Brzozowski, as you know, was in Tuzla running the JIB there -- the public affairs operation. Did a great job. We were able to pry him back here from General Nash's hands only by sending Lieutenant Colonel Donna Boltz over as his replacement. We're glad to have him back. He's tanned, rested and ready after his leave, and here with us. So welcome.

With that, I'll take your questions -- on Mark Brzozowski or anything else.

Q: What part is the military taking in this investigation, specifically in the crash investigation?

A: We're supporting the FBI and the NTSB, and the primary role the military is playing is to provide naval support to the people who are trying to locate and retrieve parts of the plane. And as you know, we have a fairly long list of equipment that the Navy's provided to the National Transportation Safety Board, which we can give you. I can give it to you now or we can give it to you later.

Q: More specifically, have you been asked to simulate missile firings from the area or test where missiles might have been fired or angles at which they might have been fired from the sea?

A: No, I'm not aware that we've been asked to do that. I think it's premature right now. There's still, as I understand it, three main theories of what caused this. Until we get more information to allow people to narrow down and focus on just one of those theories, I think it's premature to start doing the type of simulations you asked about.

Q: Have you been asked to take part in any chemical testing or anything like that?

A: Not that I'm aware of, but remember, the FBI and other agencies have ample skill and experience in those areas.

Q: I understand. I'm asking if you, to your knowledge...

A: I'm not aware that we've been asked. I would frankly be surprised if we'd been asked to do that, but we stand ready to provide any assistance we can.

Q: Can I do a follow-up on that particular question? One of the investigative reporters from ABC reported there were military exercises taking place in the area at the same time. The flare that people saw going upwards could have in fact been coming downwards from a C-130, or been something else coming up from the ground as part of that military exercise. Was there a military exercise in the area? And if so, were any kind of pyrotechnics or flares used?

A: I'm not aware that there were any military exercises in the area. I've been told by the Joint Staff that there were not. There was a P-3 flying down south to participate in an exercise, considerably south of Long Island. It was flying over the location of TWA Flight 800... It was about 3,000 feet over it, and it was several miles south of TWA 800 when the disaster took place.

Q: Did it drop any flares?

A: It did not drop any flares.

Q: It didn't see anything?

A: No, nothing of note.

Q: Do you have information on the National Guard exercise involving a helicopter and a C-130?

A: I know there was a C-130 in the area. I don't have information on a National Guard exercise. As I say, I'll double check this, but my understanding from the Joint Staff was there were not exercises taking place at the time, but I will double check.

Q: They're not calling it an exercise. They're calling it a training session or something, just where two aircraft from the Air National Guard... Not a formal exercise.

A: I'll check on that.

Q: To follow on Charlie's question about missiles, apart from simulating, what have you done to eliminate the possibilities that any missiles might have been fired, any missiles might be missing from any military arsenals, any missiles might have been detected in flight?

A: This is replowing old ground that people have been over for the last week or so, but we have made available all our radar tapes or sightings to the analysts who are looking into this crash. We have not seen any signs on those radar tapes from our own analysis or from their analysis of something that looks like a missile. Now this is a theory, and the idea that a missile may have been involved is one of three theories that the investigators have said they're holding open now.

There are, as I understand it, and the Pentagon is not doing this investigation so this comes from watching what you and others and CNN and ABC and all the news media have been reporting, there are some eyewitness accounts that make it sound as if a missile could have been involved. There is precious else to support that at this stage. But until the investigators have more information about what might have caused this disaster, I don't think they're willing to rule anything out, and I think that's reasonable on their part.

Q: How does the military interpret those eyewitness accounts? As erroneous? As inconclusive?

A: It's not our job to interpret them. We are clearly doing what we can to support the investigators. Until there's more information, it's very difficult to comment with any authority or knowledge about what happened. That's why there's still three theories, because the investigators have not been able to find enough information to allow them to focus on one of the three possible causes of this. There may be more possible causes when they get into it, but they've narrowed it down, as you know, to three.

Q: When you say your radar doesn't show any missiles, are you discounting that one of the three?

A: You're trying to force me to make a judgment. I'm not going to make a judgment. I'm not an investigator. The FBI is investigating this. We provide information to the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board as requested.

I think we have to wait until we get more evidence before anybody can talk with knowledge about what happened.

Q: Some experts say the radar would not have picked up a shoulder-fired missile as small as a Stinger-type or something comparable. Do you have any word from the radar people in DoD or air traffic control either affirming that or negating that statement?

A: It would have been difficult for these radars to have picked up a shoulder-fired missile.

Q: Can you possibly elaborate just a little more on that as to what would differentiate the types of radar that would pick up that type of information and whether civilian radars do or don't? If you could give us a little bit more background on what determines the ability of a radar to provide reliable information of any type?

A: Without trying to take sides on whether or not a missile was involved, because I really don't know, and nobody knows right now, and I want to stress that for the third or fourth time.

The two arguments against a missile being involved are, one, range; and two, lack of signals on a radar. I'm not an expert on radars, so I can't give you a detailed explanation of what sort of radars might pick this up and what sort of radars might not pick it up, but nothing in the radar leads anybody to believe that there was a missile involved.

The FAA radar probably could have picked this up. There were other radars involved that would have been extremely unlikely to have picked it up, in fact didn't. No radar has picked up anything that looks like a missile trail at this stage. So those are the two arguments against missiles being involved. Range. This plane was generally outside the range of any shoulder-fired missile in the general inventory. Then you could ask other questions. Could it have been fired from the water? That is a question they're looking into.

I'm just not in a position to comment in any way as to what caused this crash, and you shouldn't be asking me. You should be asking me. You should be asking the FBI. They're the people doing the investigation.

Q: Some of the DoD people are finding the wreckage, I understand, the main section, the fuselage has been found. Do you have any knowledge as to the condition of that fuselage, what the damage might indicate?

A: No.

Q: Nothing from that?

A: No, but that's exactly the type of information that will come from the National Transportation Safety Board and the FBI. We're basically working for them to help them complete their investigation.

Q: Any news on the black boxes?

A: No.

Q: In this report this morning, can you make any comment at all about a boat that was rented in the afternoon and then returned, and people left without getting their deposit?

A: I think you should ask the FBI or the Coast Guard about that.

Q: Maybe you can help me with this, though. Is there a worldwide alert that there might already have been planned and in place other terrorist attacks against U.S. assets abroad and in this country? Is there any kind of alert?

A: Not that I'm aware of. We, as you know, after the OPM SANG bombing in Saudi Arabia last November, have had our troops in Saudi Arabia and some other areas on high alert. They've been on very high alert in Bosnia and some other parts of the country. Certainly all our troops are aware of terrorist threats now, and that was true before the TWA 800, but I'm not aware of any specific alert. Whenever there's a disaster like this, reasonable people look at their security arrangements and take steps to improve them, and I assume that's going on in the commercial sector as well as the government sector, not just in this country, but all over the world.

Q: There's been no heightened alert attributable to the Khobar bombing and the possible sabotage...

A: We are at the highest possible level of alert in parts of Saudi Arabia and other parts of the world.

Q: A senior defense official called that a "critical" state of alert. Is that correct?

A: We can't be at a higher level of alert than we're at. Charlie.

Q: There's been speculation on the possible shoulder-fired missiles. Have you done anything to intensify or reintensify efforts on behalf of the State Department and this building to reacquire Stinger missiles which were passed out in Afghanistan?

A: That's an interesting question. We made a very concerted effort after the Afghanistan War to reacquire or collect as many of these Stingers as possible. I'm not aware that there's been a new effort since this disaster took place. The question you asked, of course, presupposes that a missile was involved, and we don't know that.

Stingers aren't the only shoulder-fired missiles available in the world today. They are fairly common weapons around the world.

Q: Can you give us a breakdown on numbers of missiles that might have been, that were sent to Afghanistan, and the number that have been reacquired...

A: We'll check and see if we have that. I don't have the numbers at my fingertips. If we have them, if we can get them we'll provide it.

Q: The State Department said it would pay for the trips of family members back to this country who are living in Saudi Arabia. Does that apply to DoD military family members? And what is the building policy on whether or not they should return home or stay there?

A: Overall, we are still working out the final details of the return policy, but yes, we will pay. What the State Department announced, the policy they announced authorizing a return means that any government employee, any dependent of a government employee who comes back will come back at government expense, so that will be done.

As I say, details are still being worked out. I would expect that the final details will be resolved quickly, maybe even today; probably, more likely, tomorrow. And we would hope that the first people volunteering to come back will come back next week some time, I would guess.

Q: Are you encouraging people to come back, or not discouraging, or...

A: I think before I can respond completely to that we ought to have our policy in place. When it's in place it won't be a secret policy, but I would just like to wait until all the policymakers and lawyers and others, the CENTCOM people and others have gone through it and worked out the final details.

Q: Can you tell us how many dependents might be involved in this?

A: Yeah, there are about 1,000 DoD civilian and military dependents, and it's about a two-to-one military to civilian ratio. I don't have the exact numbers, but...

Q: In Saudi or all of CENTCOM?

A: That's in Saudi Arabia.

Q: While we're on the subject of Saudi, has anyone released what type of explosive was used in that bomb?

A: No. It's not been released yet.

Q: Has Secretary Perry received any new security recommendations from General Peay or anyone else in the theater regarding force protection in Saudi and did he discuss any of this morning on the Hill?

A: He received from General Peay today the recommendation for protecting the forces in Saudi Arabia, including a possible relocation of forces. That is now under review, the General Peay/CENTCOM recommendations are under review. We've already started discussing this with people in Saudi Arabia, and we'll discuss it further with them as we reach our own conclusions on what to do.

Q: Is the relocation Riyadh as well as Dhahran?

A: That's exactly the type of question that we'll answer as we go through General Peay's recommendations and decide, make our own decisions about what to do.

Q: Can you say whether there's anything besides force relocation being discussed at the moment?

A: Yes, in short, there are other things being discussed, but they're of the type we've already discussed here. They're passive defense measures and active defense measures. We've talked fairly extensively about some of the passive defense measures that took place before the Khobar Tower bombings and some that have taken place after the Khobar Tower bombings. We've also talked a lot about creating an intelligence fusion cell and doing some other things to improve intelligence collection and dissemination.

Q: When would you expect that fusion cell to be up and running?

A: I think basically it's pretty much going. It's a question of improving what's already there and making it more helpful, more robust.

Q: Is this plan from General Peay and the Saudi leadership, have they generally agreed on this plan; and would it entail the movement of, as you said, 3,000 to 4,000 military personnel?

A: I'd rather hold off until the plan is actually evaluated and complete. I know it's unsatisfactory to you. The Saudis have used the figure 3,000 to 4,000 troops, we've used the figure 3,000 to 4,000 troops, I don't think there's going to be a huge change in that; but that's what we're looking at, in that area, and we'll work out the final details quickly.

Q: This plan that's been proposed to the Secretary has generally been approved by the Saudi leadership. This isn't...

A: We've been talking with the Saudis about this. The Saudis first proposed relocation in November, so this has been a continuing dialogue with the Saudis. General Peay did not submit a plan that had been chopped by the Saudis. The Saudis are very aware of what's in the plan. There's a dialogue going on. That dialogue will continue. We expect support from the Saudis for this plan.

Q: Just to clarify something. You said the Saudis proposed relocation in November.

A: The Saudis first brought up the idea of relocation in November.

Q: Do you know is that proposal forces in Riyadh or forces in Dhahran or both?

A: Riyadh.

Q: On Friday or Thursday of last week, at a terrorism task force on the Hill, the House side, several expert witnesses testified that the Saudi Arabian government was much weaker than was generally thought. Does the United States have full confidence in the Royal Family to protect American citizens in the Kingdom and the basic confidence of their security apparatus there?

A: We have confidence in the Saudi government. We're working very closely with the Saudi government. Saudi Arabia has been and generally is a very secure place, but it's facing a threat; we're facing it together. Clearly in the last nine months or so there's been more terrorist activity there. The Saudis, as I said are working very diligently to deal with this, as are we. We're partners in this.

Q: In the last briefing I asked you if DoD had any block seats filled with DoD personnel and you were going to check. Did we ever get an answer on that?

A: I believe there was only one DoD employee on the plane -- a civilian employee. We did not have a block of seats on the plane.

Q: All the previous questions about detection dealt with radar. What about satellite? Has anything turned up on military satellite?

A: Nothing significant.

Q: Nothing significant?

A: Nothing helpful.

Q: What was there that might even be...

A: We have, as you know, ways of detecting all sorts of things, and we did detect an event that we believe was the explosion of the plane. But it doesn't add any new information. We already knew the plane exploded. We didn't need outside monitoring sources to tell us that, and it didn't provide any information that would help lead investigators to a conclusion as to why this happened.

Q: Nothing that preceded the event?

A: No. Nothing that preceded it.

Q: The only strong indication you've had that we've heard about until now was that people saw what they believed was an explosion. Now you're telling us that the satellite saw something that appeared to be an explosion...

A: We know the plane blew up, right? And we know it fell into the water.

Q: People say they saw something that appeared to be an explosion. There's been no...

A: The plane's in parts underwater. People saw it blow up. I don't want to get into semantics about what happened to the plane. Something happened to the plane and it fell into the water. That's what we were able to confirm. (Laughter)

Q: Olympic security. Is there any discussion going on for providing any additional military or reserve personnel for all types or any types of security down there? Also, is there any discussion about bolstering self-protection forces around areas where U.S. troops are residing around the Atlanta area?

A: We have taken prudent and thorough security measures working with local and state and federal authorities. We aren't primarily a law enforcement or a protection agency domestically. What we've done is in support of other authorities, and we've done what they have asked us to do. We've also taken, we believe, prudent steps to protect our own soldiers down there, some of whom are living in an area close to the Olympic operations.

Q: Were any changes made in your thorough measures working with the local authorities, any changes made since the Flight 800 disaster?

A: I'm not aware that they have been. They may have been, I'm just not aware of them.

Q: A quick follow-up to the TWA issue again. The radars that you referred to, can you comment more on this? Are they at military facilities in the area?

A: The main radar, of course, is the FAA radar. Then there was a fleet air support facility called the FASFAC which is down in Norfolk, I believe, but it basically used the FAA radar. It just had a relay that brings FAA radars into its facility so it can monitor naval air traffic in the area. There was a NORAD radar that picked up something. There was a naval radar in the area. There were several military radars, but as I say, they didn't, they have not produced anything that would help investigators determine what happened, nor would they produce anything that strengthens one of the various theories about what happened to the plane.

Q: Is that naval radar in the area the P-3?

A: No, there was a ship in the area about 180 miles away.

Q: They're automatically recorded on videotape, are they?

A: The ship didn't record it because its radar was on low and it was out of the range of the radar.

Q: What about the others? The FAA and the others?

A: Yeah, they did record it. They have the tapes and they're able to analyze the tapes.

I want to follow-up on two things that came up earlier. There was a New York Air National Guard unit, the 106th Air Rescue Recovery Wing in West Hampton Beach, New York, had one HC- 130 and -- is this two helicopters -- in the air about ten miles away from the scene of the crash when it occurred. They witnessed the accident and they were the first on the scene to provide assistance. They stayed on the scene for about two hours, and then returned to their base. Later the HC-130 went out again and worked until about 3 a.m. deploying flares to help ships.

Q: Which unit was that again?

A: It was the 106th Air Rescue Recovery Wing from West Hampton, New York. The flares that are used by this National Guard unit are gravity type flares that are dropped from the plane and float on the water. That's what they were using to help illuminate the crash scene after...

Q: Were those the flares that people saw, or they dropped them after the...

A: They dropped it afterwards.

Q: They didn't drop any before, during the exercise?

A: Not that I'm aware of. We've checked pretty closely what was going on in the area around the time.

The second thing, on the Stinger missiles, the DoD wasn't involved in the Stinger missile program in Afghanistan, it was other agencies that were involved, and they might be the people with whom you should check.

Press: Thank you.