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DoD News Briefing - October 8, 1996

Presenters: Captain Michael Doubleday, USN, DASD (PA)
October 08, 1996 1:45 PM EDT

Tuesday, October 8, 1996 - 1:45 p.m.

Captain Doubleday: Good afternoon.

I have just one announcement to start with.

Today at the Defense Ministerial of the Americas in Argentina, Secretary Perry announced plans to establish an Inter- American Center for Defense Studies to help strengthen civilian expertise within countries in the hemisphere, to ensure full civilian participation in defense matters, and to promote healthy civilian/military dialogue throughout the hemisphere. The Center will initially be housed at the National Defense University here in Washington, D.C., and DDI has the full text of the Secretary's announcement in Argentina.

With that, I'd be happy to answer your questions.

Q: Mike, is the computer study from the CIA over here yet? And if not, when do you expect to get it?

A: We do not yet have the computer data that the CIA has been working on. We have not yet received it. The CIA is continuing to work on their data. We have had some technical discussions with them, and we hope to receive the data soon.

Q: Did they give you any indication when it might be coming?

A: I don't, at this point, have a prediction on exactly when we will receive their data.

Q: Do you expect it this week?

A: I think some time soon, but I don't really want to pinpoint an exact time at this juncture.

Q: Once you get the data, how long will it take the Pentagon to finish its analysis?

A: Again, I don't want to be tied to any time table. We'll work it very quickly, but it will take some days to incorporate our data.

Q: What will this computer model actually show?

A: Jamie, let me just tell you that our plan is that once we receive the data and once we've had an opportunity to incorporate the information that we have here in the Department, our plan is, as soon as we can do that, to have a briefing for the media as a way of communicating with the public all of the relevant information. I would like to postpone until we actually, A, get the data; and B, incorporate our information with the data to answer a lot of the details regarding this model data.

Q: The reason there's two stages in this, the CIA part and then the Defense Department part, that's because what, they're describing the geographical area and then you're figuring out what troops are in that area?

A: Their data will take into account several different factors that have come out of interviews, climatological data, some investigations that have been done regarding the amount of munitions, those kinds of things. Our data includes information on troop locations, primarily; unit locations on the days in question.

Q: We had a backgrounder on the subject. Is it the Pentagon's contention that although sarin is basically fatal, up until now, the Pentagon knows of no sarin-related fatalities anywhere in the Gulf theater?

A: That's a correct statement.

Q: So the investigation, trying to figure out where this is going, presumably will show some sort of dissipation geography, and then you'll go to those units and try to figure out whether anybody in those units was affected. But certainly we already know that you won't find anybody that was killed as a result of this, because you're saying that as a fact, now...

A: That is the case.

Q: You're looking for injuries or potential long-term side effects.

A: Right. What we know at this point is that there were no cases where anyone died from any kind of chemical exposures during the Gulf War. We also know at this point, we have no confirmed instances of acute symptoms regarding chemical exposure. But we have underway in the Department, as you know, a very extensive investigation which is proceeding on several fronts. The investigation includes a review of operational reports from the time, intelligence reports and health related reports. It also includes an outreach program to Gulf War veterans, wherein we are not only contacting but clinically evaluating those who were involved in the Gulf War and who have concerns about their health as a result of their participation in the war. We have, at this point, evaluated more than 20,000 Gulf War veterans as a part of that effort.

Q: Is the task force, or has anyone else in this building or elsewhere, including the VA, to your knowledge, gone back to do any investigations, even back to World War II on the cause and effect of low level exposure to sarin. Unless I'm incorrect, the Germans used it in the gas chambers of some of the death camps. Has anyone checked the population around those places to see if there's any correlation of those symptoms to what the GIs say they experienced after Desert Storm?

A: There have been reviews of the research literature that exists on this subject. There are only a very limited number of research projects on this subject. Dr. Steven Joseph, in his testimony, which is a matter of public record, addressed some of those, and kind of summarizing what I know of the research at this point is that it is very limited on that subject. But I would refer you to his testimony to get some detail on that.

Q: There have been reports from veterans groups and some news organizations that several pages of the NBC logs from CENTCOM are missing and they refer specifically to this incident at Khamisayah. Can you comment if indeed they are lost?

A: Beyond the fact that we're looking into that, and that is being done by the Gulf War investigation group, I don't have any specifics. Yes?

Q: ...be lost over...

A: I can't characterize it, other than the fact that we are looking into the matter further.

Q: Is it unusual that these particular pages would have disappeared over the last couple of years?

A: Again, we want to look into it. This particular log was maintained by a unit in the Central Command Command Center during the course of the war. What I don't have information on at this point is how that particular desk was manned. Was it one individual? Was it a group of individuals? Was there any continuity with regard to the people who were standing watch there? Or was it done just by those individuals who were experts? Was the log maintained only when there were incidents to report, and when there were no incidents, there were no entries made? All of those kinds of things would be part of what they have to look into.

Q: Do you think that's what it is, though, that there would not have been logs of those days?

A: At this point, based on our long experience with making premature judgments, I would have no way to characterize exactly what the circumstances were regarding that log.

Q: Two weeks ago when you made the logs available in DDI and that question was posed, the answer was specifically, this came out as a FOIA request. They then went back and FOIA'd for the missing log pages that aren't there, and were told by the FOIA folks that there were no other pages, and therefore that there's nothing missing. Are you saying that may not be conclusive?

A: What I'm saying at this point is that we need to look further into it and talk to the people who were actually involved in maintaining the log.

Q: That's supposedly what the FOIA request is. That's what they did when they FOIA'd the log. Is there some reason now that you have to believe that...

A: I just think that we need to be very careful, and as a result of that, there are further contacts being made.

Q: I thought we were told last week that the officer who was in charge of this unit or in charge of keeping that log had phoned in to say, or had been contacted and said, the reason there were no logs was that she was in the hospital for minor surgery and there was...

A: There was contact made with the individual who maintained the logs or at least one of the individuals who maintained the log. We do have some preliminary information, but I think we need to marry that with other data that we may find in looking into this further.

Q: Just for the record, why don't you say what this particular officer said?

A: David, I would like to, just for the record, hold off until we've got a fuller investigation conducted on this so that we really have a handle on what occurred.

Q: Did you check with CENTCOM public affairs on what they're saying about these missing pages?

A: They should be saying what we're saying. Do you know something that I don't?

Q: They said they think these pages were destroyed through routine housekeeping, that they were first looked for in 1994, apparently after the Senate requested these documents. At that point the pages were found missing. This is a period, like a ten- day period that is absent from this log. The sequence of the pages indicates these pages existed, but they're not available. It sounds like they're missing as opposed to never occurring.

A: What you're telling me is ample proof that we need to finish looking into this, get a full and complete answer, and then I'll get back to you...

Q: ...your public affairs officer.

A: Thank you.

Q: There were reports over the weekend that after the end of the war, Iraq may have used chemicals against some of the Arabs near Basrah in Saddam's attempt to get rid of the marsh Arabs. I can't remember if that happened or not? Do you have any information on that?

A: Again, I think this is a circumstance where the story, as I recall it, came from a newspaper report that appeared over the weekend, and for the most part, it was based on intelligence information that was not finally evaluated. As a result of that, we're taking a further look into those reports also. But, at this point, I don't have any way to confirm that that event actually occurred, or to deny that it occurred. We've just got to look into it.

Q: Can you tell us whether there were, in fact, intelligence reports that U.S. soldiers were close enough to determine whether or not mustard gas was used, and whether the specific reports of this being used by Iraqi troops in the south of Iraq?

A: If there are intelligence reports..?

Q: Are there intelligence reports that suggest Iraqi troops were involved in chemical attacks against other Iraqis...

A: I believe there is, as I say, a not finally evaluated intelligence report that refers to such a possibility.

Q: How does that mesh with the Pentagon's contention that Iraq never employed chemical weapons? I know you said, you were referring to U.S. troops. But isn't this at least some evidence that there might have been a possibility that they did employ chemical weapons against their own people?

A: First of all, as I say, this is not finally evaluated. We're looking into it. I think at this juncture we ought to hold off until we can come to some conclusion on this.

Q: This is a five-year-old piece of intelligence, Mike.

Q: What is a not finally evaluated intelligence report?

A: What frequently happens in an effort to get information out to commanders in an expeditious way, rather than put intelligence through any kind of vetting process that would open it up to a long analysis, it is put out very quickly to people who may be able to make some use of it. And this piece of paper was evidently one of those types of intelligence reports.

Q: In all the Iraqi POW debriefs, all the Iraqi prisoners, was there any mention from the Iraqi prisoners that they saw or deployed or were with units that had chemical weapons?

A: Frankly, I don't know the answer to that question. We can probably take that question and see if we have anything we can provide on that.

Q: These raw intelligence reports you referred to, were they among documents that were briefly made available on the GulfLINK Home Page and then taken off?

A: That's correct.

Q: So haven't you known about these reports for some time?

A: We've got a very extensive research effort going on in connection with our investigation. It involves thousands and thousands of pieces of paper. Whether this particular one has been fully evaluated yet, I can't say. What I can tell you is that we're looking further into it.

Q: Can you describe your extensive research organization? How many people, where are they working, what are they doing?

A: It's actually two different groups. There's one group of investigators who follow up on the various incidents that have been reported. It's made up of a variety of experts, including investigators, and then others who have some expertise that may be helpful. That's a group of about 12 people headed by an Air Force colonel. Then there's another group of people which is a joint service effort, which is actually looking through intelligence documents, operational documents, health documents, hundreds of thousands of these documents. I don't have an exact number of the total people involved in that effort, but we can get that for you.

Q: Can we get video of these people going through all these documents?

A: When you say video, what do you mean?

Q: Take a camera up there and get pictures?

A: Why don't you talk to Jim Turner and we'll see what we can do for you on that. We might be able to help you out.

Q: What do you mean by not finally evaluated?

A: Raw. Very raw.

Q: I understand that. Were these claims by the Shia that...

A: I believe...

Q: ...or did the CIA in fact confirm that there was use and simply has not evaluated what that meant?

A: Usually it is a claim by someone who has communicated with an intelligence source. That's normally what it is. But I can't tell you in this particular case. I'd have to go back and look at...

Q: ...CIA confirm that in fact it was used and just hasn't...

A: There is no confirmation in this piece of paper, I can tell you that. As I say, it's raw data.

Q: Back to the medical issue. If a soldier who was potentially in that area and is now suffering from something, that soldier can already get free medical help from the government, right?

A: This is the primary thrust of our entire program. That is the first priority we've always had with regard to Gulf War illness is to treat those who are ill. That occurs on two fronts. Both the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs have a very extensive program to not only treat, but to evaluate those who think they may be suffering from some kind of illness as a result of their participation in the Gulf War.

Q: The question is, if it now develops that their illness is related to some sort of exposure, does anything change for them? Is there a liability, for example, on the part of the Department of Defense? Is there some sort of additional benefit they might get? Are we looking at some sort of Agent Orange type of sweeping array of grants? Or does nothing change at all in terms of the medical...

A: First of all, I think it's premature to say. We have a very extensive investigation going on at this point. But as yet, we have found no kind of common cause for any of these unexplained illnesses.

Q: Can you just, for the record, say how many... I've heard widely varying figures about how many Gulf War veterans are suffering from some sort of illness. What's the figure...

A: I'm not sure I have a number for you. I'll see if we can get some number from Health Affairs. On unexplained illnesses?

Q: Yes.

A: I'm not sure that we have a pinpoint number, but let us take that question and see if we can answer it for you.

Q: The Birmingham story which refers to the intelligence reports mentions the use of mustard gas on March 2nd, and I think on March 12th, and maybe March 20th or something like that. We had troops very close to Basrah, certainly on March 2nd. Do you have any evidence or was any mustard agent detected by the military?

A: I think what we've got to do is to look at this one further. The only mustard detection that I am aware of in the entire course of the Gulf War which relates to an individual occurred with a sergeant who went into a bunker, rubbed up against the walls of the bunker, and subsequently experienced some blistering. That is, later in the day, he experienced some blistering. His exposure to very low level mustard was confirmed by a Fox vehicle.

Q: You're saying you have to look at this further. These are documents, this is an incident that happened five years ago. These are documents that were available more than a year ago that we're aware of. Now they're reprinted by a newspaper, and now you're saying it's time to look into it. Isn't this why the Pentagon has a credibility problem?

A: Jamie, all I can tell you is this is an incident which is being looked at, that I do not have sufficient information to explain it to you, and that we should wait until we're in a position to do so.

Q: Will you check to make sure that somebody hasn't already evaluated this intelligence and made a determination that, in fact, it's incorrect, and that you're just not aware of...

A: I'll be happy to take that question and see if that, in fact, is the case.

Q: Surely all these reports over the last couple of weeks have led veterans groups to seize on this as a demonstration that somebody at the Pentagon or the Central Intelligence Agency or within the government is trying to hide something from them. Can you address this question, whether or not somebody, somewhere is trying to hide something...

A: I think our efforts to put information out is indicative of our desire to one, get information to vets and to the general public; and secondly, I think if you have seen the recent testimony, you know that we have made some recent changes to our approach to Gulf War illnesses. During the backgrounder last week, we announced that Assistant Secretary of the Navy Rostker has been put in charge of this action group that is taking a look at various aspects of our organization and assessing what it is that we're doing right and correcting any problems that he sees in the organization that we have working for us. We've reached out to the National Academy of Sciences and to the Institute of Medicine to take a look at not only our approach, but many of our medical programs. We announced increased funding for some of the medical research which is going on. We have a very comprehensive program to try and get to the bottom of this, but I think that what everyone is looking for is the one thing that we are not in a position to give at this point, and that is the answer to the overall mystery that confronts us, which is, what is the cause of these illnesses that are afflicting Gulf War veterans. Unfortunately, the answer to that may take quite some time to get to the bottom of.

Q: Again, the perception is, on the part of a lot of veterans, is somebody within the government is really making a concerted effort to hide material from them. Do you think that's going on?

A: That absolutely is incorrect. This is a major project that we have, but it involves many, many different pieces of paper. Essentially what we're trying to do here is to reconstruct history in sufficient detail that we can pinpoint numbers of munitions which were located on a certain day in a certain place in a certain part of a country where we were very quickly trying to destroy those munitions. We know that the Iraqis were involved in not only moving the munitions at various points in time, but that they had a very considerable deception effort going on. So we're confronted with a lot of challenges in putting this together. We've got people working on it very diligently, but we don't have all the answers yet. We're working hard to get them. And we're also working very hard to provide those answers as quickly as we possibly can. But I think that one of the things that we've learned is that where we too rapidly respond to questions with answers that are incomplete, it later proves to be not a wise thing to have done.

Q: Because of this problem, have we changed the way we conduct battle on the battlefield? Knowing that this type of situation could arise somewhere else in the future...

A: Certainly that's one of the things that we're looking at, but I think it's premature at this point to say that we've actually changed any doctrine as a result of what we see. Certainly the lessons learned in terms of troop security, with regard to deployment into areas where there are unfamiliar environments, is one of the things we're going to be looking at in the future. This 'unfamiliar environment' is probably a term that you're going to hear a lot about in the next few years, because that's one of the challenges that we're going to have to be looking at, and it refers to the possibility that chemical agents, any kind of agents used in weapons of mass destruction may actually be confronting troops. Not necessarily used against them, but may confront them in other ways, and it's an issue that we're going to have to deal with in the years ahead.

Q: What about better medical recordkeeping? The Pentagon's been criticized that this whole effort's been made harder because of the lack of an adequate medical base to deal with it. What have you done to improve that situation?

A: I don't have a lot of detail, except that I can tell you that in the case of Bosnia, the recordkeeping there is significantly greater than it was during the deployment to the Gulf region. Certainly we learned a lot from the Gulf experience that required a lot of very detailed recordkeeping on that and other issues related to operations.

Q: Let's go back for a minute, if we may, and revisit the bombing at the Al Khobar Towers. It's been many months. Every time we have asked in this forum for a progress report, we've been told from that podium to check with the Saudi government or the FBI. Neither is conclusive, neither is really realistic for us. But since a lot of time has gone by, is the Defense Department at all concerned that there's been no progress? Does the Defense Department feel that the Saudi Government is stonewalling, foot dragging, doing anything else? Covering up? Anything you can tell us at all about the investigation?

A: Frankly, Ivan, I have not done a recent check, but the last time I did check, we were very pleased with the progress that was being made, although there have been no arrests yet. We felt there was a very thorough investigation going on, and certainly based on General Downing's experience in working with the Saudis on his assessment of what occurred there, he received very good cooperation from the Saudis. But again, I do not have any kind of an assessment -- recent assessment -- from the FBI on this.

Q: General Downing made it very clear that his mission was not to find culpability. And as we understand it from the General and from the briefing, his whole thrust was not to discuss any of that with the Saudis. To this date we have had no investigation. You correctly say no arrests have been made. It's pretty well accepted conclusively in any kind of terrorism or criminal investigation that the more months that go by, the less chance there is of bringing anybody before the bar of justice. It's been a long time, and we have no progress, no visible progress.

A: Again, I do not have any information that I can provide you on that one today.

Q: ...give us an update on it, please?

A: I really don't think it's the place of the Department of Defense to give you an update on the Saudi investigation. I really do feel that the Saudis will have to provide that, and the FBI has been keeping in touch with them. You might want to check with the FBI.

Q: We've come full circle, Mike.

Q: March 4 was when they blew up the bunker at Khamisayah?

A: Bunker 73. Right.

Q: The CIA estimates sarin in rockets were in there. They modeled that. The CIA model showed a plume blowing away from that. Joseph said now, within a 25 kilometer radius, there were 4,000 to 5,000 American troops. What units were in there?

A: I don't have a unit list for you right now.

Q: We've been after this unit list now, this has been going on four weeks. You're contacting these units, are you now?

A: We are, indeed.

Q: So why can't we have the names of these units?

A: We should be able to get those for you, but I know this is going to be a part of our more comprehensive briefing once we get the CIA modeling...

Q: (Inaudible)...information, in other words.

A: Well, we are not. If we have the information, we will certainly provide it.

Q: This is the March 4, not the March 10. You're waiting for the March 10 model. The March 4 model has been completed. Why are you holding back this information? I don't get it.

A: I don't say that we are. We'll try and get it for you.

Q: On Iraq, what can you tell us about redeployments of U.S. assets that were over there?

A: I can tell you that the carrier CARL VINSON departed the Central Command area of responsibility today. That leaves, of course, quite a considerable force in the region. We have the aircraft that are deployed to the Prince Sultan Air Base. We have the F-16 fighters in Bahrain. We have the aircraft carrier USS ENTERPRISE operating in the Persian Gulf. And we have some [F-]117s which are deployed to Kuwait. In addition to that, we have the three Army battalions that are currently training with the Kuwaiti armed forces as part of INTRINSIC ACTION along the border between Kuwait and Iraq.

Q: The B-52s?

A: The B-52s remain on-station.

Q: Diego Garcia or Guam?

A: In Diego Garcia.

Q: When are the [F-]117s going to be brought back?

A: We will announce any movements once they occur, but I have nothing to announce at this time.

Q: Back to the question on credibility, to try to get more specific here. Was it premature, wrong, whatever, for the Pentagon to come forward and conclude that it could find no indication of a Gulf War syndrome in its epidemiological survey? And is it premature to say that no chemical or biological weapons were used when clearly there's a lot of information the Pentagon doesn't know?

A: I think throughout the many times that various people from the Department, various officials from the Department have been here, their reports to you and others have been, have provided updates on a program which is ongoing, and they have made it very clear that this is an ongoing program, that we continue to look at the matter, but the data at that particular point in time provides whatever information has been able to be drawn from the data. I don't think it was at all wrong to provide these updates, because based on the scientific data, the medical data that has been accumulated to this point, we know of no single cause that we can point to which is causing these unexplained illnesses, but we're continuing a very extensive program which was directed by the President of the United States when he said, 'leave no stone unturned in looking into this matter.' As a result of that, we've got, as I say, medical research that's going on, clinical evaluations that are going on, document reviews that are going on, and all of the other assessments that we have underway.

Q: Is it possible that sarin exposure may be linked to this?

A: At this point I don't think we can say.

Q: But...

A: I think what we need to do is to continue the research that we've got, and I will make a commitment here that, once we get the CIA data and have had an opportunity to incorporate our data with it, we will have a very comprehensive roll-out of what that information leads us to conclude at that point in time.

Q: Will you give us a one-day notice of when you are ready to do that?

A: I would love to give you a one-day notice, and I will hope to be able to do that, but I can't at this point tell you how much of a warning we will have.

Q: No eight o'clock Friday night deal?

A: True. This is a subject which requires an earlier in the day briefing in order to fully comprehend it.

Q: On the School of Americas, the release by the Pentagon a couple of weeks ago of these excerpts from the old training manuals resulted in a fresh round of stories and criticisms of the Pentagon. Has this resulted at all in any sort of fresh look at that situation? Is anything being done or is that a closed case?

A: The Secretary has asked the DOD/IG to review the assessment that was made in 1991 -- I think it extended into 1992 -- with an eye toward seeing what actions were taken as a result of that 1991-92 review, and the safeguards that were instituted in the immediate aftermath of that investigation. They're also going to validate some of the in-place procedures for preventing a recurrence of this kind of thing.

Q: This new institute that you just announced, how does that interact at all with the School of the Americas?

A: There is no real interaction. You'll notice when I told you about it earlier, it focuses on civilians, and it is an extension of the Williamsburg conference that occurred last year, where this kind of educational opportunity was discussed. Dr. Perry, at this year's meeting, made the announcement and indicated that it was going to be located, at least initially, over at NDU as a means of getting it started. But again, what this does is focus on, primarily on civilians who are involved in the democratic oversight of military operations. This is a very important part of what Dr. Perry feels is necessary in a democracy. So it's an effort to educate those who will be charged with this responsibility. There will be some military people involved in the school, primarily to provide some interface with the civilians who are going to be trained. It differs from some other institutions which have training programs underway in that the courses, the seminars are going to be shorter in length. I think instead of 6 and 12 month programs, we're talking of seminars here which will be probably 2 to 4 weeks in length. But Dr. Perry's statement goes into more detail. You might want to take a look at his words to see how he has characterized this school.

Q: Just to be clear, this DOD/IG review, is it limited to looking at the 1991 review or does...

A: That's the starting point, looking at the 1991 review that was done and to see the actions that were taken as a result of that '91 review.

Q: Will it also examine the underlying purpose of the School of Americas and whether or not...

A: No, that's not the purpose of it at all. The School of the Americas, I think we've talked about it before, the School of the Americas, of course, which was located in Panama for some period of time and then moved to the United States, it continues to operate and we feel it provides a very important training opportunity for military people from South American nations. It had a training role for a long period of time, but we feel the school has provided some very valuable training not only in basic military skills, but also in human rights and issues that are very important to the United States Government, in the course of teaching those who attend the school.

Press: Thank you.

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