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DoD News Briefing, Tuesday, March 24, 1998

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
March 24, 1998 1:40 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our briefing.

First I'd like to begin by announcing that General Mike Ryan, the Air Force Chief of Staff, will be here at 2:30, along with General John Hawley, the Commander of the Air Combat Command, to talk to you about the Air Force experience with the Air Expeditionary Force. That's at 2:30 this afternoon.

I'd also like to welcome 28 students who are here from American University representing a number of countries. Welcome to our briefing. And a delegation of public affairs officers from Canada with whom we have very close working relationships in this office. Welcome to you, as well.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Does the anthrax story in Britain have any implications for the United States? Did Washington receive any intelligence on this? And were any precautions taken for the possible movement of anthrax into this country?

A: Well, you've asked a number of questions there. First, I can't talk in any great detail about intelligence, but we do not... First of all the English have responded to some information that they received about possible efforts to transport anthrax into the United Kingdom. We have been in touch with them about this, and are trying to seek more information from them.

They have no indication that any plot had been implemented to bring anthrax into the United Kingdom. What they had was some information that somebody might be talking about this or thinking about it. Therefore, they took certain precautions in their ports and their airports.

We do -- the FBI informs us that we're not aware of any similar threats against the United States at this time. Obviously it's something that we look at very, very carefully, and if we received information like that we would respond to it in a serious way.

One of the things that Secretary Cohen talked about last week in his speech to the National Press Club was a new program that he initiated to get the Guard and the Reserve involved in domestic response to possible chemical or biological threats. So this is something that we're thinking about and working on to prepare ourselves for, if some threats like this should arise. But in this particular case involving reports of possible efforts to smuggle anthrax into the United Kingdom, we have no such reports about the United States at this time.

Q: This kind of a threat, is this a practical scenario? Could terrorists in theory transport anthrax in perfume bottles or liquor bottles? Is that a viable way to do that? And the larger question, is the United States vulnerable to that kind of terrorist attack now?

A: First of all, I'm not an expert on transporting anthrax, but I've been told that it would be extremely dangerous and somewhat difficult to load anthrax into a bunch of small perfume bottles. It would have to be done in a very sterile, secure and stable environment. The bottles would have to be well washed to make sure that no deadly material got on the outside. Obviously, it could be done, but it would not be easy to do, and it's not the type of thing that somebody could easily do in his apartment.

Q: How is it usually weaponized? Anthrax?

A: Probably the best way to weaponize it would be to aerosolize it so it could be sprayed. But the Iraqis have admitted putting it into, putting anthrax and other biological agents into the warheads of 25 SCUD missiles, and they have not provided any convincing evidence that they've destroyed those 25 warheads.

Also, they have admitted putting biological agents into artillery shells and other delivery methods, and they have not fully satisfied UN inspectors that they've eliminated all of those, either. In fact, Richard Butler, who is the Director of the UN Special Commission, UNSCOM, has called the Iraqi biological warfare program a black hole because of their inability to penetrate the depth of it and the magnitude of the program and what they've done to get rid of, if anything, to get rid of their biological weapons that they've created.

Q: Iraq has told the United Nations that it arrested a senior official that was in a position to provide some of this information. Will there be any attempt to talk to this scientist by the UN or the United States in some kind of forum in which he might be free to actually share information about Iraq's germ warfare program?

A: I think that's a question that's probably more appropriate put to UNSCOM. My understanding is that UNSCOM people have talked to this scientist, Al Hindawi, in the past, but they have not been able to do it alone or one on one. They've always talked to him in the presence of Iraqi security officials, which might have a chilling effect on his openness in conversations with UNSCOM inspectors. I'm sure that UNSCOM will make an attempt to talk with him.

It's worth noting that some of the most significant information that UNSCOM's received has come from defectors, specifically Saddam Hussein's sons-in-law who left in 1995, I believe, and went to Jordan, and provided much more information about the biological weapons program than Iraq had provided voluntarily on its own to UN inspectors. So defectors like this could be very valuable. I don't know what arrangements UNSCOM is trying to make to talk to Dr. Al Hindawi.

Q: Was he in fact trying to defect, do we know?

A: I've only seen the news accounts of that, and I don't have any independent confirmation of what they said.

Q: Linda Tripp. Can you update us on what the review has found of whether or not she disclosed all appropriate information when she applied for...

A: I really can't. That review is complete, but the results have not been communicated to her or her lawyers yet, so I think I should hold off on that until the appropriate communication is made.

Q: Do you know when that will be?

A: I don't know, no.

Q: The Greek Foreign Minister, Theodhoros Pangalos is in town. The Greek Ambassador has dispatched the news that he's going to meet with Secretary of Defense William Cohen. Do you have anything on that?

A: I don't... I'll have to check and see if that meeting's on his schedule.

Q: Mr. Pangalos in his speech today (inaudible) confirmed that during his talks here in (inaudible) U.S. officials proposed moratorium and the creation of a no-flying zone similar to Iraq over Cypress, with U.S. military guarantee. How do you see Pangalos' idea of the U.S. military involvement?

A: Well your account of it is the first I've heard, and I think I'd like to learn more about it before I respond to the idea. That's something we'll look into. If you have a copy of his speech in English, maybe that would help us look into his proposal.

Q: Are there any changes in U.S. forces in the Gulf at all?

A: No. There's been no significant change.

Q: What are the numbers now?

A: I think the total numbers right now are in the range of around 40,000. They go up and down depending on who's moving in and out, but that's what they are about now.

Q: What's the status of the investigation of the guard whose handgun discharged and killed a former GI on March 7th?

A: That investigation is being done by the FBI, and I don't have an update on the status. I'll try to find that out.

Q: The family at the funeral apparently complained that they had heard nothing from DoD, either explanation or letter of sympathy. Was there any kind of communication?

A: I don't know that that's the case or not the case. I'll check into that as well. This is something that the FBI has been monitoring, has actually been conducting. I have nothing new on it, but I'll check.

I want to go back to Susanne's question. The approximate number of U.S. forces in the Gulf now is 36,800, a little less than I said earlier.

Q: Any change in the status of Iraqi forces? Any movement...

A: Nothing significant. They've basically been returning to, I would say, a more standard deployment. Both the air forces and the ground forces had been dispersed. They've largely come back into their barracks, in the case of ground forces, and back to their airfields in the case of air forces. The Republican Guards also are returning to a more normal posture.

The other aspect of their unusual deployments had been their missiles -- anti-air missiles. They had been, as you know, moved around quite considerably of the last couple of months. They are returning also to a more standard posture of not moving quite as much and sort of going back to their normal deployment areas.

Q: Any plans to reduce the carrier presence to one? Or is the Pentagon still proceeding with the plan to keep two there indefinitely?

A: There is no current plan. That's a decision the President will have to make on recommendations from Secretary Cohen and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. But right now there has been no such recommendation.

Q: I take it when you said there's been no significant change, none of the B-52s, the F-117As or the AEFs have been returned?

A: No.

Q: They remain at their levels that they were...?

A: Right, exactly.

Q: There are reports out that the Navy and Air Force are concerned about pilot shortages. How concerned is the Pentagon about that?

A: This is a problem, and the Navy and the Air Force are working very hard to combat the problem. But the problem really emerges from the free market more than anything else. Airlines are booming -- right now air traffic is booming and airlines are doing very well, and they're hiring a lot of pilots. They can offer the pilots more money and different benefits than the military can. So that's what's happening.

Q: Besides the military offering more money, what can be done to entice them to stay?

A: I think that money is an important element, but I think there are two other elements. One, of course, is patriotism. Many people enjoy being in the military and enjoy doing the type of work that military pilots do. Also, it's an entirely different type of flying. It's much more exciting flying an F-18, F-15, F-16 than flying a 757. So I guess it depends on people's personal calculations. They have to weigh their devotion to their duty, the excitement and fulfillment they get from flying off carriers or out of Air Force bases in high performance jet fighters, or completing very important transportation and refueling missions for TRANSCOM. They have to weigh that on the one hand against the demands on their family from being in the military, and also the pay.

One thing the Joint Staff is working very assiduously on now is trying to find ways to make service in the military somewhat more predictable, particularly for members of the Air Force, so there will be fewer expeditionary deployments, for instance. They're looking specifically at the very high demand, low density professions in the military -- such as AWACS crews would be one; some of the electronic warfare expertise in the military, trying to find ways to reduce the time they spend away from home, reduce the time they spend on distant deployments. That's not easy to do and it will never be possible to eliminate this type of deployment, but to the extent that we can make the deployments more predictable, I think it might make it somewhat less onerous on family life for some of the pilots.

Q: Can you comment or react to the topic I brought up to Secretary Cohen this morning about the confirmation that General Lebed gave last week here in the Congress and around, that are well documented reports for some months, that the Russian military is not getting paid and their officers are having to moonlight just to make it, that many of their ex-soldiers are being recruited by the Russian Mafia, and that morale is dismal in the Russian military. Can you respond to that report?

A: There have been pay and morale problems in the Russian military for some time. We know that and the Russians know it. And it's one of the reasons that the Russians are now working hard to reform their military, to downsize, to try to get a smaller, better trained, better paid, better maintained military. It's a tough job. We've gone through that ourselves over a period of years. We did it without the baleful economic conditions that Russia faces today. But they're working on that. It is a problem they face, and they're trying to address the problem.

Q: Just to follow if I could, briefly. General Lebed also said that many Russian nuclear scientists, atomic scientists, were still unemployed, they were for hire. The obvious danger of that I think is apparent. But he said also that when he went back to Russia after tipping off 60 Minutes to the suitcase bomb or the missing nuclear devices business, he was arrested or taken to the procurator and charged with giving away state secrets. He said, how can that be? How can you hold me because the state denies the existence of these things? They let him go. So, can you react any further to this particular problem of nuclear materials and nuclear devices?

A: What I'd like to react to is the question you asked about Russian scientists. That's one of the issues that we're trying to address through the cooperative threat reduction program. We realize that it's important for Russian scientists, particularly in the nuclear field, to remain employed, and that's one of the things we're trying to work on in providing training and other help so that they will have jobs to go to and not feel that they have to sell their services to people we may not want them to sell their services to. This is an area of big concern for us, and it has been for several years. We are trying to work with the Russians on that.

Q: The status of the Air Force Secretary nominee, Darrly Jones?

A: He remains the nominee and I don't believe a hearing has been scheduled yet, but we are working with Congress to try to get that moved along as quickly as possible.

Q: What's your understanding for the delay?

A: I think right now some members of Congress have asked the SEC to look into some reports that appeared in a Florida newspaper involving his participation in an investment banking or financial operation, and the SEC, as I understand it, is looking into that. When that's completed, I assume that they will find as investigators have in the past that there's not a problem, and the nomination will then move forward.

Q: Four party talks. No agreement of preliminary talks of the four party talks? Are you disappointed in this one? And in future talks, isn't possible U.S. can talk about U.S. troops in Korean Peninsula with North Korea?

A: First of all, these last four party talks, the last session, were held under sponsorship of the People's Republic of China, and we appreciate their participation in these talks and their sponsorship of the last round of talks.

Second, nobody expected that we would meet with rapid success in these four party talks. These are extremely difficult issues that have lingered for more than 40 years, and it's going to take awhile to resolve them. The important thing is that there's now a dialogue under way between North Korea on the one hand, and South Korea, the U.S. and China on the other, and the four countries are working to expand that dialogue.

I can't make any prediction as to how quickly issues will be resolved. My guess is it will take a considerable amount of time, but as long as the dialogue continues we're better off than we were before the four party talks began.

Q: The Secretary said this morning he hadn't talked with General Sergeyev. But, has he had a chance to since then, or is there any kind of militar-to-military contact going on at all?

A: No, he has not spoken with General Sergeyev, as far as I know. He's been tied up in meetings since he spoke to you about that. We have seen press reports quoting Kremlin officials and others in Russia saying that they anticipate that Marshall Sergeyev will remain as the Minister of Defense, and that Mr. Primakov will remain as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and that Andre Kokoshin will remain in his previous post. In fact, I believe many of these people may still be in their jobs doing their work, sort of awaiting final resolution of this personnel change in Russia.

But it's the right of parliamentary countries to change governments from time to time, and I gather that President Yeltsin has decided to exercise that right, at least vis-à-vis some of the people in his government.

Q: Have you seen any change in the status of Russian nuclear or conventional forces?

A: We have not. I think the Russian leaders, particularly President Yeltsin, have made it very clear, that one, he doesn't plan to change policies; he plans to change personnel. And two, the personnel changes will be concentrated primarily in the economic area. His main concern is the lack of adequate progress on his economic reforms.

Q: Over the weekend the Post reported on a report by General Welch citing problems with the missile defense program. What's your response to that?

A: One, we've always known that ballistic missile defenses are one, very important and a high priority program in the Pentagon; but two, a very complex program. That's what the Welch report focused on, some of the difficulties and complexities in the program. We're in the process of evaluating that report, and deciding how best to proceed with the program.

As you know, last year, as part of the Quadrennial Defense Review, Secretary Cohen decided to increase the amount of money in the Theater Missile Defense Program, I believe, in order to deal with some problems that the designers were encountering. I don't know what the response will be to this report, but we'll respond as quickly as we can to some of the concerns that were raised.

Q: Has Secretary Cohen seen this report?

A: He's certainly aware of the report. I don't know if he's actually read the report, but he's certainly aware of it. The Theater and National Missile Defense Program is one that he's followed very closely, both as a Senator and as Secretary of Defense.

Q: I think there's been a disconnect. One of your representatives said that report was classified, and my understanding is it's not classified. I guess my question is...

A: My understanding is that not only is it not classified, but it's actually been around and available to the public for some time.

Q: I asked one of your representatives yesterday about it and he said it was classified.

A: I'm here to tell you that you can have a copy.

Q: Lockheed/Martin is virtually a subsidiary of the federal government and of the Pentagon. How are you going...

A: I am not sure I accept that characterization. I'm not sure that Lockheed/Martin would accept the characterization either.

Q: They'd be out of business pretty quickly without the Pentagon. My question goes to the point of their legal department now that we've locked horns with them over this merger. Who is making sure that they're not being reimbursed to fight the Defense Department on this merger issue?

A: You asked me this question before and I haven't become any more of an expert on legal billing rules than I was before, but my understanding is that there are very clear accounting rules for the allocation of expenses to the Defense Department. I don't know this beyond a shadow of a doubt, but I'd be very surprised if fighting the government on an anti-trust case is an allowable business expense for the legal departments of these companies.

Q: It is. It is an allowable expense...

A: No, I said I would be very surprised if it is an allowable legal expense, but I will..

Q: I wouldn't be surprised. That's why I asked you...

A: Let's get a definitive answer to that, and we'll get it to you in writing.

Q: Is the Air Force and the Navy supportive of your position, or are they in fact endorsing...

A: It's not the job of the Air Force or the Navy to give advice on anti-trust matters. It's the job of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. And yesterday, Secretary Cohen sent a letter to Attorney General Reno stating his views on the case, and I think you got a copy of that letter. I don't think the Army, the Navy, or the Air Force has investigated the competitive issues raised by this proposal in great detail.

Q: If they're deposed, though, in this litigation, will the service chiefs support Secretary Cohen's position on this, or will they pursue a different course?

A: I assume that the service chiefs, after reviewing the facts, will agree with the Secretary of Defense on this.

Q: But you haven't reached that yet?

A: I haven't spoken to the service chiefs about this. As I said, it's not their job to make decisions about anti-trust matters. It's the job of the Secretary of Defense to advise the Justice Department in cases like this, and he did do that.

Q: One last question, back to missile defense for a moment. It's been 15 years since President Reagan announced his dream of having a peace shield that would render nuclear missiles obsolete. What would you say to critics who say that billions of dollars and 15 years later, the United States isn't really that much closer to deploying any sort of credible missile defense system.

A: First of all, our deterrence, our main protection against attack by missiles has always depended on deterrence. That's why we have a very significant and sophisticated nuclear force, and that is in three areas -- bomber dropped weapons, intercontinental ballistic missiles stationed on land, and sea launched ballistic missiles that can be launched from submarines. That deterrence worked very well during the Cold War against Russia and against China.

We have made it very clear to so-called rogue nations, smaller countries that are working hard to develop weapons of mass destruction, that they would face decisive, swift, and devastating responses from us if they were to use weapons of mass destruction against us. That is, if they were to use missiles to launch nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons against us.

I think the deterrence is still a major factor in protecting this nation from the use of weapons of mass destruction. But we can do more than deter with counter-force, and we are attempting to do that. We're attempting to set up a defense system that would work against a limited number of missiles fired by an enemy country. It's not easy to do.

In the theater missile defense area, it's somewhat easier if you know that you have troops in an area and you know the direction from which attacking missiles may come because then you can orient your defenses to deal with an attack from a certain direction. It makes it somewhat easier. A national missile defense system is somewhat more complicated because we wouldn't know exactly, theoretically we wouldn't know, where the missiles would be coming from.

I think that while the Reagan program of creating a shield is something that many people felt -- many people felt that program would never succeed, and that it was a pipe dream. But it has spurred considerable research in the area of missile defense, and we're trying to turn that research now into workable systems. We have had some success in the theater missile defense area. We're working to improve that and broaden our theater missile defenses at the same time that we're trying to develop a very limited national missile defense system, and that work goes on.

Q: Are you on track for that 3 plus 3 plan?

A: We've made no decision to abandon that plan, but obviously we have always said that the longer we can wait... And remember, what the 3 plus 3 plan involves is a development phase and then being able to deploy within three years from the decision to deploy. Secretary Perry was very clear and other leaders in the Department have been very clear that the later we can wait to deploy that system, the better off we will be. We'll have a more technically advanced, sophisticated system that will have a higher chance of working and probably cost us less money in the long run. So I think that threat analysis is going to be a very important part of that decision. Right now that remains our program. Obviously we've got to evaluate our technical proficiency and progress in deciding when we'll be able to deploy a system.

Q: I just wonder if I could ask you to put some attention on what looks to me like a double standard in obeying the law and spirit of the Freedom of Information Act. Under old business, last year I and some others asked the Army for some material about exceptions granted to people who want to be buried in Arlington Cemetery. Since then, the Army, who is in receipt of these formal requests, has released the requested information to Congress, all of which is unclassified information, but they're still refusing to release the information to people who have requested it under the Freedom of Information Act.

Now, as I remember the Freedom of Information Act when it was passed, it was to open up public information, not to have a double standard -- one for Congress and one for others. So I wonder if requests that were made last December haven't taken an inordinately long time to fulfill, especially since the information is not classified.

A: That's a very legitimate question and I'll try to get the answer.

Q: ... people in the Army withholding that, aren't they in violation of the law and subject to legal discipline?

A: I'm not a lawyer, Pat, and I'm not going to make a quick decision or comment condemning anybody for being in violation of the law. What we'll do is we'll check and find out, I'll ask the Army why it's taking them so long and see if we can get an answer, or better still, the information..

Q: But you're the chief enforcer of the Freedom of Information Act, are you not?

A: I think the General Counsel's office is more the enforcer of the Freedom of Information Act.

Q: I thought that was strictly under you. The lawyers did what you told them to.

A: It actually used to be under my division, but it's been moved to the Washington Headquarters Services, so it's no longer under Public Affairs. This happened about a month ago.

Press: Thank you.

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