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DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD(PA)

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD(PA)
May 06, 1997 1:30 PM EDT
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to the Pentagon.

Let me start by saying that tonight Secretary Cohen will give a speech, which is open to press coverage, to the Business Executives for National Security [BENS]. This is at the Eisenhower Award Dinner at 8 o'clock. If you want to contact anybody there at BENS, as the organization is called, it's (202) 296-2125. The contact is Marcia Johnston.

Second, as I hope you all know, Under Secretary Kaminski will give what promises to be his last press conference this afternoon here in an hour, 2:30. He will talk about some of the challenges of protecting the defense industrial base in an era of mergers.

Finally, tomorrow at 12:30, it's actually at 11:30, the Secretary of the Navy, John Dalton, will receive the annual International Security Leadership Award on Capital Hill. This is something that is awarded by the National Security Caucus. Past recipients have been Ronald Reagan, George Bush, former Senator Nunn, and former Senator Heflin.

With that, I'll take your questions?

Q: Do you have any comment on the sentence of 25 years of Sergeant Simpson in the case at Aberdeen; and if you won't comment on that, as you declined to do last week, how about the charge by the defense that black drill instructors are being singled out for charges here?

A: That charge is absurd. This is an issue of sexual misconduct. The jury heard the charges brought by the government. It convicted Sergeant Simpson on those charges, and it sentenced him. As you know, there is an appeal process. There is an automatic appeal for any sentence longer than a year. This was a sentence of 25 years. So there will be an automatic review of the conviction and of the sentence. I can't comment on the specific case until that appeal is finished, the appeal process is completed.

But this was a case involving sexual misconduct. The case was vigorously argued and vigorously defended. After weighing the charges and the evidence, the jury made its decision. I think the decision of the jury is very clear, that it's a case involving sexual misconduct.

Q: It has nothing to do with race?

A: It has nothing to do with race.

Q: Has the DoD looked at the Army's handling of this situation? Have any questions been raised about the level of the Army -- as to the fact that all of the accused are black. A question has been brought up by the NAACP, and obviously been brought to Togo West. Has the DoD looked at this independently?

A: This case, as I said, is still ongoing in that it's subject to appeal. There's an automatic appeals process of this conviction and of this sentence.

The fact of the matter is that these were serious charges of sexual misconduct. The jury has heard those charges and it's issued its ruling.

Q: But Sergeant Simpson aside, the larger question that appears to continue to come up is the question of whether -- as was charged today -- black drill instructors are being singled out.

A: There are approximately 2,000 drill instructors in the Army at any one time. Approximately 48 percent of the drill instructors in the Army are minorities. So there's a one in two chance that a drill instructor brought up on some charge will be a minority, just looking at the fact that 48 percent of drill instructors are minorities.

The Department has allowed this case to go forward and be prosecuted in regular order, and it has been. We have never seen this as a racial issue. This is an issue of not following the rules. It's an issue of alleged sexual misconduct and those allegations have been upheld, most of them have been upheld by the jury in this case.

Q: The Department of Defense does not believe that this Aberdeen matter is being perceived in the military as a racial matter and is having racial repercussions within the military?

A: We believe this is being perceived as an issue of alleged sexual misconduct. Those allegations have been upheld in the form of a conviction -- almost all the allegations were upheld in the form of a conviction by the jury. I don't know how much more explicit I can be about this. You all read the testimony. You all followed this trial. You heard what the allegations were. You heard what the defenses were. You make up your mind. This is a question of sexual misconduct.

Q: The defense lawyer today said that the Army has a real problem with its mixed gender early training. He called it a catastrophe that the Army is not facing up to. This is a guy in uniform who defended Simpson. Do you have a comment on that observation by this lawyer?

A: The question of mixed gender training has emerged as a political issue. It's certainly emerged as an issue on the mind of the American public. And it's certainly an issue that has received very close attention and thoughtful analysis in this Department.

The Army officials believe they should train as they fight in integrated training, integrated units. That's their view. They've testified to that many times.

Secretary Cohen has made an effort to go out and look at basic training facilities. So far in his several months in office he's been able to look at an Air Force basic training facility at Lackland Air Force Base [Texas] and an Army basic training facility at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. What he's heard at those facilities is that it makes sense to have integrated gender training. In the Army he heard it from the commanding general of the Training and Doctrine Command, General Hartzog, all the way down to trainees at Fort Jackson. And in between, he talked to colonels and majors and captains and drill sergeants.

This is something that we will continue to look at. We're always looking at ways to make our training better. But right now the thinking is that this is the best way to train for the Army.

As you know, the services choose, and the Marines have chosen to train differently. They've chosen to separate their training until the very end of basic training, or until they get into advanced training, I guess; so they have chosen a different way to do it. But the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy have found that mixed gender training works best for them.

The Secretary of the Army has set up a Senior Review Panel which is looking at a broad range of issues involving basic training and the relationship between trainers and trainees. And I'm sure this is one of the issues they'll study.

Q: The defense lawyer also said that the military policy is grossly flawed; that any woman behind closed doors can ruin the career of a drill sergeant. Do you have a comment on that kind of allegation? Understand, this is coming from a guy in uniform.

A: I understand that. I guess the best advice is not to get behind closed doors. In many training bases, including Fort Jackson, there is a buddy system. There's now a buddy system at Aberdeen, where women always travel together, in two's. That is set up specifically to prevent the possibility of abuses either by the trainers or by the trainees.

But the Army has clear rules. This case involved the violation of those rules.

Q: Doesn't that imply a basic lack of trust of the Defense Department in its trainers? And isn't trust essential to a well- maintained military?

A: Trust is essential to a well-maintained military. You were focused on one case here and one training base. As I said, there are 2,000 drill sergeants. As was stated at Aberdeen today by the spokesman there, the overwhelming majority of these drill sergeants are doing these jobs according to the rules. They're doing them very effectively. This is a tough line of work. If you look at the soldiers, how well our soldiers perform in places like Bosnia and Haiti, in Kuwait where they go on temporary deployments, in Korea. I think it's clear to everybody that our soldiers are very well trained. They're well trained because the drill sergeants are good. I don't think it implies a lack of trust.

Q: What about Zaire? Is the fear that the United States might be closer to conducting removal of American citizens there with...

A: We've been prepared for several weeks, of course, to take out citizens if they need to come out. Our hope now, and our hope for the last several weeks, has been that there will be a peaceful resolution to the political problems in Zaire.

I think there are good signs that both the advancing forces, the so-called rebel forces of Laurent Kabila and the Zairian forces, want there to be a non-violent solution. The Zairian Chief of Staff, Mahele, has talked about the need for a soft landing. He's in the process of trying to communicate with the rebel leaders to win assurances that there can be a soft landing, a non-violent solution. We hope that will be the case. That's our goal as well.

We would like a non-violent solution to this that leads to democratic change in Zaire.

Q: Are you moving closer to a decision? These rebel forces are...

A: No, we are not moving closer to a decision. We have to wait and see what happens. We have always been there at the ready to bring out Americans if they're at risk; and if the Ambassador requests assistance in bringing them out. We do not want this to happen. We would like there to be a peaceful solution, a soft landing. That's our hope. If that happens, there should be no need for an evacuation, and our Marines and other military people can go home.

If there is disorder or chaos or danger, the Ambassador will make the call and we will provide the service he desires in getting first the embassy people out and then the other Americans and some third country people, as well, out of Kinshasha. But our hope is that we don't have to do that.

Q: Do you know the approximate cost of how much it's costing to keep all the Marines and other military assets in the area?

A: I'm afraid I don't, but of course Marines would be at sea on the [USS] Kearsarge whether they were off the coast of Africa or not. They might be in the Mediterranean or someplace else, but they would be sailing around. So that's not a high marginal cost.

The difference would be for the land operations, and we haven't calculated that. We have set up some intermediate staging bases, as you know.

Typically the State Department pays for evacuations.

Q: Can you update us on the Kearsarge's position? Last we heard it was like 200 miles off. Is that...

A: I don't know exactly where it is right now, but that's about right. It's been staying about 200 miles off on what they call Simba Station. I think Simba is the Swahili word for lion, and...

Q: (inaudible)

A: Yes.

Q: About how many aboard?

A: I can give you the exact numbers even if I can't give you the exact location of where it is. There are 2,402 people on the USS Kearsarge. That includes 1,119 Marines. I'm sorry I can't be more precise. (Laughter) Actually, the numbers are probably wrong, because some of the Marines are now in Brazaville and some of them at Pointe-Noire. So there are supposed to be 283 people, largely Marines, in Brazaville; and there are 10 people, I assume all Marines, at the coastal port of Pointe- Noire. That's the port from which Mobutu left to go on the South African ship.

Q: How many Americans in Zaire?

A: We believe that, first of all, there are under 40 people in the embassy right now. Under 40 official Americans. There are probably between 200 and 400, probably closer to 200 Americans in Zaire right now. We assume most of them are in the Kinshasha area, although some could be missionaries spread around the country. It's always difficult to know exactly how many people are there because they don't have any requirement to register with the embassy when they come into the country.

Q: A couple of issues that were raised by Tony Hall this last week over at the State Department and elsewhere around town. Congressman Hall noted that his travels, led by the North Korean Department of State, that there were thousands of North Korean soldiers that did not fit their uniforms, that were physically attenuated -- thin. He also noted that the situation was far worse than expected, and he recommended immediate increases in food aid and in medical aid to North Korea. I see that today in news that the talks yesterday between the North and the South on this food aid have broken down.


Could you address especially those soldiers and what the United States or what the international community should do with the army of North Korea problem?

A: First I want to congratulate you on being a fast learner and picking up the Pentagon lingo. Physically attenuated as a definition of thinness is truly a good Pentagon term. I'll try to remember that for future briefings. (Laughter)

I spoke at great length about the food situation in North Korea last week, and I don't want to run through all those figures about caloric intake again, but I think you were here for that or you can get a copy of the briefing if you'd like. There are clearly severe food shortages going on in North Korea. North Korea has been trying to turn food aid into a political weapon, I believe, in their discussions with us and with the South Koreans as well.

We have provided a fairly substantial amount of food to North Korea, and we're prepared to provide more on a humanitarian basis, but there are talks going on with us and with other countries on a variety of topics. I think there has to be a willingness by the North Koreans to recognize the depth of the problem and to accept food aid. That's a pre-condition to getting more aid in there.

I can't explain why the talks between the North and the South on food broke off, but that is an indication of some of the complexities of the negotiations that have been going on.

Q: You skipped the subject matter of thousands -- not just a few, but thousands of North Korean soldiers...

A: Physically attenuated.

Q: ...physically thin and perhaps getting desperate with hunger. Is there any policy that this Administration has regarding how to deal with that problem?

Q: A "feed the enemy" program. (Laughter)

A: We actually have, one of the issues here is to make sure that food aid that's given to North Korea is not siphoned off to sustain its military, but actually reaches women and children and the people who are at the greatest risk. In the past, the military has been better insulated from starvation -- in the recent past -- than the rest of the population as a whole. There have been reports coming out of North Korea of children starving to death. We know that there's vast foraging for food; that many of their industries have basically shut down because workers don't go to work. They go out and they root around for greens or bark or other things they can eat to supplement their very small diets. Even with the foraging, they're probably managing to consume only 80 to 85 percent or less of what we consider the minimum daily caloric requirements for an adult. There are real problems.

But as I say, there have been discussions underway to try to ameliorate those problems, and those discussions will continue.

Q: Can you update the policy of North Korea on MIA issues?

A: I cannot. Those talks are going on this week. They're part of a series of talks that have happened over time, and I don't have anything for you on that.

Q: Who are those family members who are going to meet the North Koreans this Friday?

A: I don't know. We'll get you more information on that.

Q: Are you going to give us a briefing after the MIA talks on Friday? The family members of the MIAs will be meeting North Korean...

A: We will do the best we can on that to give you a report.

Q: Will that meeting be in New York or in Washington?

A: I thought the meeting was in New York. (Off mike) Isn't that right? Yes, that's where the meetings are taking place.

Q: Do you have a comment on the report that the Secretary has decided to add $2 billion to the national missile defense as part of the QDR?

A: From the very beginning we said that the QDR would be strategy-driven and not necessarily budget-driven, and it could involve increases in spending as well as decreases in spending. This is one area in the course of our analysis where we found we needed more money to stick to the schedule. So there will be some additional funds. I think the way you should state it is probably up to about $2 billion, because it's not clear how much more money has to be put in over the next five years of the defense plan. It could be in the range of about $1 billion to about $2 billion, according to our current calculations.

Q: But this is to meet the deadline?

A: Remember, it's the three plus three program. The first three years are development, and that's supposed to lead to integrated system tests by fiscal year 1999. To stay on that program, the ballistic missile defense office decided that it needed more money. As currently structured, there wasn't enough money in the program in order to develop a national missile defense system to test at the end of the three year period, so there will be more money put in. The exact amount will depend on how much we decide we have to add.

The second part of the three years, of course, is deployment. And that, there is no commitment yet to deploy. The program is designed to develop a program, a national missile defense system, and then to evaluate the threat after it's developed. And from the time we decide to deploy until actual deployment will take another three years.

Q: How about physically attenuating the base structure? Could you walk us through the plans for the BRAC and mechanics? It's been widely reported on the wires...

A: I cannot walk you through the plans or the mechanics. I can speak at great length about the BRAC process and would be glad to give you a history lesson on what we've done in the past, but let me just tell you what Secretary Cohen has said and what's shaping his thinking in this regard.

We've had four rounds of base closures and realignments, as you know. As of today, we have contracted our base structure -- both at home and abroad -- by 18 percent. In other words, we've reduced our base infrastructure by 18 percent. During that same period, we have reduced the size of the force by 33-1/3 percent, and of course we've reduced our procurement spending by almost 70 percent from its peak before the end of the Cold War.

So the reduction in base infrastructure has not kept up with the reduction in force.

When the current BRAC round, the last BRAC round is completed in 2001, the contraction in the base structure will have been 21 percent, which still lags behind the 33 percent reduction in force.

So Secretary Cohen looked at that and concluded that we are carrying and paying for more infrastructure than we need. He concluded that we had to cut our infrastructure, and one way to cut is to seek another BRAC round, so he will seek additional base closures. There will be other ways that he'll focus on as well, or the report will focus on, to cut infrastructure spending. It may be that he'll mention a few of those tonight in his speech to the Business Executives for National Security, because he'll be dealing with the adoption of business practices, sort of a revolution in business practices at the Defense Department.

Q: One clarification. If he does seek an additional BRAC, would the mechanics be that the Administration would send a bill up to request that from Congress? Or would he just make it part of the QDR report? How would that be executed if he decides to formally request that?

A: Of course we're part of the Administration, so it would be the Administration that would fall in behind further base reductions. I expect we would submit legislation. We would request legislation establishing another BRAC Commission, is my sense.

Q: There is no such bill pending up there now, right?

A: I'd say that's definitely true. As far as I know, there's nobody in Congress pushing for more BRACs right now.

Q: Lastly, could we definitely say that you intend to ask for another BRAC?

A: I think what you can say for sure is that he intends to look for ways to reduce the base structure.

Q: Are you interested specifically in bases, depots? Can you say where he thinks there should be savings?

A: There's over-capacity in depots as well, so we'll be looking at depots as well as bases.

Q: The national missile defense issue. The Administration's three plus three plan, the logic behind it is largely we don't want to rush in terms of deploying a system. We also want to sort of take another look at what the threat is a couple of years down the road.

This morning, Mr. Tenet in his confirmation hearing before the Senate subcommittee, said that the national intelligence estimate on the ballistic missile threat, which I guess was completed in '95, and said it was about 15 years out, he said there were some things, in his opinion, that were not looked at in that estimate -- proliferation, transfer of scientific expertise to rogue nations, things like that.

Can you say whether or not three plus three is still the position of the Administration, will stay that way, or is that something that also could be opened for another look in terms of this whole debate about more money?

A: Three plus three is still the Administration's position. I'm not aware of any systematic effort to change that schedule right now. The conclusion was, as Mr. Tenet said at his hearing, that we have some time, and as you know, the program is calibrated to put off deployment as long as possible on the theory that as long as we can work on development before deployment, we can develop a better, more technologically advanced system. That's what we would like to do. We would like to deploy at the last prudent moment in order to get the system that best meets whatever threat we face at the time.

Q: When you said earlier, he will seek additional base closings, you're talking as part of the QDR. It's just not exactly determined how to do it.

A: We'll get into the details of this later. There will be plenty of time to talk about the details. But one of the conclusions of the QDR is that we have to shift money into modernization from other accounts. One of the accounts that has stood out in the analysis is infrastructure, including bases. So there will be a recommendation in the QDR as the Secretary himself has indicated, and you've written about that. He said it publicly at a media availability with a foreign leader a couple of weeks ago and he's talked about it a couple of times since.

But if you look at the numbers, you're, I think, led pretty directly to this conclusion, and those were the numbers I gave earlier.

Q: Given the political pain this BRAC process involves, is there any way this building can reduce infrastructure without a BRAC process?

A: In theory, yes. But closing bases is never easy. But the BRAC process, which set up a commission to process recommendations and make its own recommendations, turned out to be a pretty effective way to do this. It's time consuming, it's emotional, but it worked. I'm not sure that anybody's come up with a better way to close bases. But that's not to say somebody couldn't come up with a better way to close bases. We'd certainly be open to a faster, more efficient, less emotionally draining way to do it if we could find one.

Q: What is his estimate of base closure savings that have been achieved, and how much more would he like to see?

A: In the current BRAC process, the four rounds of BRAC, when that's complete in 2001 and the last BRAC base is closed under the BRAC process, we'll have generated net savings of $14 billion. Remember, it costs a lot of money to close a base, to deal with any environmental damage that might have occurred over time, to deal with other requirements, legal requirements, etc. We believe there will be annual recurring savings from having closed these bases of $5.6 billion a year, so these savings accumulate year after year.

Q: The $14 billion number takes into account all four BRACs?

A: Yes.

Q: Over four years?

A: It's longer than that. The first BRAC was back in '88, wasn't it? Isn't that when it started? The first round was in '88.

Q: So that's '88 to today... Well, to 2001.

A: Because you're no longer sustaining these bases, you have annual savings. And I can't answer your second question.

Q: A backup plan. What if it doesn't fly? Is the Pentagon putting all its eggs in this basket, saying we're going to save all this money by another BRAC round?

A: I think you'll find when you see the report that it's much broader than BRAC. There are many more recommendations than closing bases. So there will be multiple approaches to channeling money out of support, infrastructure, other types of spending and into modernization which we think is the best way to maintain our effectiveness in the future. But basically, Congress will have to go through the same set of choices that the military has faced, and that is making choices between supporting things like bases and buying new weapons to make our troops more effective in battle. There will be a series of tradeoffs and they will have to weigh these tradeoffs and decide how each defense dollar is best spent. The recommendation in this regard will be that we can spend some defense dollars better by modernizing our force than by maintaining a base structure that's larger than we need.

Q: A number of Japanese politicians visited the Senkaku Islands I believe today or yesterday, underscoring Japanese sovereignty over those islands. I wonder if you have any general reaction to that, any possibility of raising tensions in that area? And I wonder if also you could comment as to whether the U.S. regards the Senkaku Islands as falling under the U.S./Japan security treaty, and therefore obliging U.S. involvement in defense of those islands were there to be an attack there.

A: This has been a political issue in Japan and in China. It really falls under the State Department here, and I think I'll let them comment on those islands.

Q: On Iran. The Tehran Times has said that Iran threatens to close the Straits of Hormuz if there's any action taken by anybody against Iran. And I wanted to ask, Ken, does the U.S. military have sufficient assets on hand there to prevent any kind of strait-closing action by Iran?

A: We have a very powerful naval force in the 5th Fleet. I think it's fully capable of protecting our interests in the area. It's shown to be in the past, and I think it can accomplish that in the future.

I will point out, as I have in the past, that virtually all of Iran's oil exports pass through the strait, so they would be hurt gravely by any action that interrupted oil commerce in the area.

Q: But you believe that the U.S. could preempt any Iranian military action?

A: I believe that we have adequate military force to defend our interests, and I think the Iranians understand that.

Q: I just wanted to try again. The commander of the U.S. Navy in Japan, Admiral Haskins, said when he was asked about or addressing the issue of island tensions over sovereignty of different islands in East Asia, said that one of the U.S. roles of deployment in the area is to deter the rise of any hegomonistic power; and he also said that we...

A: I don't know anything about these islands. I'm not going to make a statement on the islands. It's not because I don't care about the islands, it's not because I don't care about the political pressures in Japan and China, it's because I'm not prepared to make a statement. The State Department does talk about these islands. I will look at what our position is on the islands and get back to you. It's not that I'm trying to dodge the issue, I just don't know what to say to you. So rather than say anything, I'm making it very clear that I'm saying nothing.

Press: Thank you.

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