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DoD News Briefing August 22, 1996

Presenters: Captain Michael Doubleday, DASD PA
August 22, 1996 2:30 PM EDT

Thursday, August 22, 1996 - 2:30 p.m.

Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon.

The Joint Interagency Task Force East will host representatives from more than 40 nations and dependencies during a Caribbean counter-drug orientation visit from August 27th to 29th in Key West, Fla. The orientation visit brings together representatives from coast guards, marine police, maritime law enforcement, and the militaries of Caribbean nations which have an interest in maritime and aviation counter-drug operations.

Retired General Barry McCaffrey, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and Robert S. Gelbart, who is the Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, will be among the speakers from the United States. There's a press information center which will be open to assist interested media in covering the event. For more information you can call the public affairs office at (305) 293- 5294. We also have some details on this one in a press advisory.

With that, I would be happy to try and answer some of your questions.

Q: Can you put into context for us this latest report on possible chemical weapons detections during the early part of the Gulf War that was posted on the Internet this month?

A: Yes, Jamie. As you know, we have a very extensive program, which the President has directed that we undertake, to examine thoroughly the issues concerning illnesses among some of the Gulf War veterans. As part of that, the Department established an investigative team to examine comprehensively the military records related to the war.

The report that was cited in this morning's news account was essentially one which had been put up on GulfLink, which is one of the communication vehicles we use to make sure this information gets out to people. And it was posted on about the 5th of August.

There is really nothing new in this report. In fact, the report -- the elements of the report appear in this June 1994 report which was put together by the Defense Science Board after it became evident to the United States that there had been instances of possible chemical detections during the early part of the air campaign.

What you have in this report today is simply a recapitulation of those early reports that were done primarily by Czech chemical weapons teams, but also by some French chemical weapons teams.

Q: It seems to me that I recall the Czech reports, and some of these other ones, were checked out and basically ruled false alarms because follow-up reports didn't confirm them. But this report on the, I was reading, termed two of those reports "credible;" and five other instances it termed "not thoroughly substantiated, but could not be discounted."

A: Right.

Q: Doesn't that seem to indicate that they're putting a little more weight on the credibility of those ...

A: Jamie, we've always been very careful in the way we characterize these reports, primarily because the protocols associated with chemical weapons detection can be very involved. And involved not only in initial detection, but follow-up, which can confirm the detection.

Unfortunately, in each one of these instances, there is no potential now for any confirmation of the detection. And even at the time, although in two of the reports which we term "credible," there was a confirmation conducted by the teams which got the initial reading; in the other cases, the five other cases, that was not possible.

I want to point out two other things. One is that other than a single U.S. soldier who happened to be accompanying one of these teams on one occasion, there were no U.S. personnel who were in the vicinity of these detections at the times that they occurred. And when the U.S. teams were called in to verify the detections, they were unable to do so.

The reason they were unable to do so was a function of two things. One was the time that had passed between the initial detection and the time that they were called in to confirm the detection. Secondly, the low level of detection, the amounts of agents that were involved, even in the initial detections, were so very low that it was not at all surprising that the agents would have dissipated had they actually been there in the first place.

Q: Just to be clear, does the Pentagon now believe that these detections, or these cases where detectors went off, believe them to be false alarms or false positives, or do you believe they were indicative of an actual chemical presence?

A: We believe in at least two of the cases they were credible detections, but we do not know what it was that was detected or under what circumstances those detections occurred. In other words, we are being very cautious about these incidents, primarily because we do not have any independent confirmation of any aspect of them other than the fact that we have great confidence in the equipment that the Czech detection unit was using at the time.

There are some other important things that I want to point out in connection with these. As part of our overall program to look into Gulf War illnesses, we have these investigations that are going on continually, and in fact you will see additional reports come up on GulfLink in the future. This just happens to be one of the first ones. But this is just part of our program. Our program is actually a four-part program which involves, first and foremost, treating the troops. This is a part of the program where we have looked at about 20,000 clinical cases -- we've evaluated 20,000 clinical cases in connection with these Gulf War illnesses.

The second thing that we're doing is the basic research into possible causes of these Gulf War illnesses.

We also have a declassification process going on, and you've seen a lot of the documents which have been declassified that have also been put up on GulfLink.

The fourth one, the one that I've been talking about, is this investigation team, and the investigation team not only put together this report -- this compilation of data which had occurred from reports that were done by the Defense Science Board earlier, and by other sources -- but they are also the group that uncovered the information regarding to the Kamisiyah demolition that was done.

And I think kind of the bottom line to what I'm trying to point out is, that we're trying to find as much information as we can; we're trying to handle the information in a responsible way. But we are also trying to get it out to the public and to concerned veterans so that they can take a look at it.

Q: What do you say to critics, which include members of Congress, some of the Gulf War illness victims and their advocates, who say that the information that's come out in this report and in recent reports over the summer undermine the Pentagon's credibility on this issue?

A: I, frankly, don't see how they get to that conclusion, since we have gone out of our way from the very start to make information public related to any of these instances.

I was here in the Pentagon when it first became apparent that there were these Czech detections, and I know we went to great lengths to make certain that not only the veterans groups be made aware of the detections, but that we made it widely and publicly known that these events had occurred.

We assembled a special panel. We have a report, which many of you have gone over before, from a panel that was headed by Dr. Lederberg of the Defense Science Board to take a look at this information. And we have spent literally millions of dollars, not only in taking a look at clinically evaluating Gulf War veterans, but also taking every other possible route that we can to uncover any kind of information we can which would be relevant to Gulf War illnesses.

One final point I'd like to make is, that there is no country who was involved in the Gulf War which has yet been able to put together one of these detections with any kind of a medical problem which existed with an individual who was exposed to these possible chemical weapons at the time of these detections.

Q: Does your research show, in the June 1994 report you said essentially the same thing, that two reports had some credibility, but the others couldn't be discounted. Or is that a new refinement that you've come up with?

A: No. If you look at the report, it goes down in about the same way. Those two Czech reports were the ones that seemed to have the greatest potential -- for one, they had gone back and they'd been able to confirm with the equipment that they had, they had been able to confirm that they actually did get a reading. In the other cases they were unable to do that as they went back to try and confirm on a second attempt. As I say, when the U.S. teams were called in to confirm the reports, we were never able to do so.

Q: If there's no new information in this report that came out on August 5th, why a new report?

A: We have said that we're going to go through the information. We're going to assemble it in a way that we can put it up on GulfLink, and we did so. It was certainly indicative of the detail that we are going into and looking over all of the previous reported incidents where there have been any kind of operational reports that may refer, relate, or have some future impact on Gulf War illnesses. Our whole goal in this is to put this together in a way that it can be recaptured in the future and can also be made available to others who want to review our data to see if they can shed any new light on Gulf War illnesses.

Q: It was announced that the State Department, about an hour and a half ago, that the embassy in Moscow received the terms, a brief outline of the terms of the ceasefire that General Lebed had negotiated near Grozny today. I wanted to ask you this. Has Secretary Perry spoken with the Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, or any others in the defense establishment in Russia, regarding the confusion about who has what authority, who's acting under Yeltsin's orders, what are Yeltsin's orders? First, was Secretary Perry in touch with the Russians?

A: No. Secretary Perry has not been in touch with the Russians on this subject. Secretary Perry is taking this week for a little well-deserved vacation, so he has not been in the building.

Q: All right, are there others in the building that have any ...

A: To my knowledge we have not been in contact in this building on that subject.

Q: Espionage?

A: Yes. (Laughter)

Q: It was learned yesterday that an Army private had been arrested and charged with espionage in June. I am curious as to whether there is a policy regarding making public information about people arrested inside the military for espionage or comparable charges, and whether it's the Pentagon's view that this particular case was handled properly.

A: Because this is an ongoing case, I really can't comment on the specifics of this case. With regard to a policy, I don't believe there is a policy other than under normal circumstances, and unless there is some overriding legal consideration, any kind of a charge, which is essentially criminal in nature, would be made public.

Q: Is there any guidelines, though, on the length in which one ...

A: Guidelines on how long ...

Q: . .. military, without making such information public?

A: No, I don't believe there are any guidelines. The normal procedure would be maximum disclosure, as early as possible.

Q: The Army said yesterday that they're under no obligation to make public information about such arrests, and there is no policy, as far as they're concerned, about making an announcement of any kind if an Army soldier is arrested for espionage.

A: Again, I don't want to get involved in this particular case other than in a kind of generalized way. I would just say that it's the policy of the Department of Defense to make maximum disclosure any kind of information that is not classified in nature.

Q: Do you also know, in general, if there are any guidelines in terms of how long an individual can be held without having any contact, say, with their family? There have been accusations in this case ...

A: In this particular case, again, I think the Army has some people who they can provide you after the briefing who can shed some light on that. Under military law, any soldier who is placed in pre-trial confinement has the right to consult with an attorney and to have a military magistrate review the necessity for confinement within 48 hours. My understanding is that both of those rights occurred in this case.

Q: But there is no standing policy on the release of information other than the general guideline not specific to ...

A: Not specifically with regard to this kind of a case. I am not aware of it. But if you look at our overall kind of policy regarding release of information, I think the bottom line to that is that if it is not classified and if there is public interest, that it is the policy of the Department of Defense to make it public and to release it to the news media.

Q: Do you know if there's any intention to review the Army's actions in this case? Because the only reason this did come out was because some documents were made available to a Fayetteville newspaper, and then only in response to questions and after great and lengthy delay did the Army admit that they had the gentleman yesterday and had charged him.

A: I am not aware of any kind of a review that is underway or planned. If there is such a thing, I'll keep you posted.

Q: Anything on the Marine plane?

A: I don't have a great deal on that one, but let me just give you what I do have.

A U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18 disappeared from radar this morning while conducting a routine air training mission approximately 40 miles from Wallops Island, Virginia. The U.S. Coast Guard is currently conducting a search in the area where the aircraft disappeared from radar. The missing aircraft is a single seat aircraft.

Q: No sign of the pilot?

A: To my knowledge, as of this moment, there is no sign of the pilot.

Q: Could you tell us if there is also in this situation, given the number of recent air crashes, whether the Secretary or someone in the building intends to make a review of air safety measures? I know Air Combat Command is intending to review safety issues on Friday. But it seems that there have been a couple of service-wide problems.

A: Susanne, I am not aware of any kind of a formal review that is in the offing in connection with aircraft accidents. I will say that, in general, the Department, and certainly the services specifically, are very interested every time there is an aircraft accident. For this reason, the services conduct a very extensive aircraft accident investigation. The whole goal of the investigation being to ultimately achieve a zero-defect safety record -- a perfect safety record.

As it happens, this year for the Air Force is, so far, a very safe year. It is even better than last year's, which was a record safety year. But that is not to say we're perfect, yet. And as a result of these accidents, there are a number of aircraft accident investigations that are going on, and those accident investigations are reviewed not only by the services, but do come to the Department, and then are disseminated to the other services that were not involved in the accident because of the overall goal to try and make sure that everybody has a safe flying environment, one which is accident free.

Q: Is there any concern, though, that with the drawdown there's been too much of a flying OpTempo, that people are putting in too many hours?

A: We certainly are watching that very carefully, but to my knowledge there is not any evidence that that has played a role in these accidents at this juncture. But again, that's certainly one of the many, many aspects they will be looking at.

Q: Back to espionage for just a moment.

A: Yes.

Q: Has the foreign national involved in this situation been placed under arrest or ...

A: I have no detail on that at all. I'm sorry, I just don't.

Q: Back to the crash, the F/A-18. You said there was no sign of the pilot.

A: Right.

Q: Does that mean there's no sign of the airplane itself, either?

A: They do have a site, but I don't have any specifics on that. I don't know whether there has been any kind of debris that's been sighted.

Q: Can you explain the Navy's decision to move the MISSOURI to Honolulu?

A: I can't, other than the fact that I know there was a release that was put out last night, and the Navy will, I'm sure, be able to give you a lot of detail about how that process was conducted.

Q: What did Mr. Dalton say in that announcement?

A: Let me see if I've got a copy of it here.

The announcement simply says that the Honorable John H. Dalton announced yesterday that the Navy has selected the USS MISSOURI Memorial Association, Honolulu, Hawaii, to acquire the historic battleship USS MISSOURI for use as a memorial and a museum. He went on to say that in addition to Honolulu, organizations in Bremerton, Washington; Long Beach; and San Francisco, California, submitted applications to the Navy. According to Navy officials who evaluated the applications, all of the cities' proposals included comprehensive plans to maintain the ship and operate it as a museum and a memorial. Secretary Dalton expressed gratitude for the patriotic expressions of grass roots campaigns and the strong backing from public officials. He said he made the difficult choice only after a detailed evaluation of all the technical, financial, historical, and public interest. "This was a very tough decision since all the proposals were so excellent and impressive. I am genuinely sorry the Navy doesn't have a USS MISSOURI to give each of the cities."

Q: The Israelis successfully tested an Arrow, intercepting a SCUD, I believe metal-to-metal impact. Is this anti-ballistic missile, is that something the U.S. has got a license to manufacture? Will we have to buy it from Israel?

A: I don't happen to know, but I do know there are people back in DDI who are up to speed on that one and who could help you.

Press: Thank you.

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