Wednesday, Nov. 13, 1996
[This media activity occurs following testimony before the President's Advisory Committee on Gulf War Illness at the ANA Hotel, Washington, D.C.]
Deputy Secretary White: ...No I don't. We've been meeting intensively on Zaire for the last several days. I've been out of touch this morning. So I'm really not current on Zaire.
Q: But what are your concerns about the risks to U.S. troops should a deployment occur?
A: Well again I'm not current. This is an important situation. We, the U.S. Government, are deeply concerned about what's going on in the country and we're working with our allies and with the countries in the region to fashion the best solution we can. I think, from my point of view, as we say, I've been at this all morning. This has been a very important meeting for us. I welcome the opportunity to talk to the committee to reinforce the Department's commitment to our people, the men and women who served in the Gulf. Our foremost objective is to take care of them, and if they're sick to make sure they're cared for. And beyond that, to leave no stone unturned to make sure that we're doing everything we can to find out all that we can with respect to illness and treatment and also with respect to the operations in the Gulf and how they relate to the people who served there and their particular concerns today.
Q: Did you talk to Dr. Deutch about vetting the March 10 plume? Is that what's the Pentagon's going to do now? Apparently, I didn't get that from your statement yesterday at the time.
A: Dr. Deutch and I have talked about the issue of using these models to try to understand whether or not ...How they are effective with respect to the information we need. We have stood up an independent panel of people to give us advice on that. They will give me a report on the 15th of December.
Q: But are you going to vette or approve the CIA model of the plume at the pit...?
A: It's not a question of vetting or approving. It's a question of making sure that the technical experts are comfortable with the way we're doing the modeling. Not just the CIA model -- there's a whole set of models that we're using in this regard -- or at least examining.
Q: Mr. Secretary, Miss Latkin said that the incident now being modeled -- the incident discussed in the 1 November CIA press briefing -- was actually far more serious than the earlier incident (4 Mar 91) with a greater probability of Americans being exposed to chemical agents. Is that your understanding and does that raise the possibility that there's 20,000 soldiers...
A: We're taking both of these incidents equally serious. As I said in my testimony this morning, this is a situation where given all the evidence, we have to presume that soldiers were exposed to some toxic substances. Therefore, we're operating on that assumption. We're just going to continue the investigation in many dimensions as I described -- IG report by the Army, extensive modeling, interviewing the people -- we sent certified letters to the people in that unit to make sure that we learn from them. Then we've done this broader outreach to some 20,000 people. Captain Doubleday: We've got time for one more. You have one over there?
Q: How serious a mistake would it be for the President to take away the investigation of chemical exposures from the Pentagon?
A: It's not a question of taking away the investigation. We have a responsibility to our people. That means we have to go in, and this very complicated -- it is now a five-year-old activity with hundreds of thousands of people involved -- understand what happened. We're committed to doing that. The issue is to make sure that we do it well, that we do it thoroughly and completely, and the American people are satisfied that we've done so. That can only be done through devices of oversight by independent experts from outside the Pentagon, and we're ready to go to those oversight panels now.
Q: Thank you.