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DoD News Briefing, Thursday, April 9, 1998

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
April 09, 1998 2:40 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Sorry for the late start.

I have two announcements to make at the very beginning. First is early this morning at approximately 6:35 a tornado touched down at Fort Stewart, Ga. We have only sketchy reports at this time, but this is what we know so far. There was one fatality, an NCO assigned to the 24th Combat Support Group; there were six injuries, two of them critical. One of the soldiers has been Medevac'd to a civilian hospital in Savannah, Ga. There are some damages at Fort Stewart including one destroyed building, some harm done to a motor pool, numerous downed power lines, roofs blown off, and the power grid at Fort Stewart is off and water is also shut down at this time. Roads in and out of the post are closed except for essential personnel. Schools are closed on the post. The 3rd Infantry Division, which is stationed at Fort Stewart, is conducting round-the-clock operations from post headquarters to deal with the results of the storm and to return the post to normal operations as soon as possible.

Q: All injuries and deaths were to soldiers?

A: Yes. These are all, I believe, soldiers who were hurt at 6:30 this morning -- approximately.

The second announcement is that later today at 4:30, in this very room, the Air Force will announce the winner of the competition to build the Joint Air To Surface Standoff Missile known as the JASSM. The two competitors are Lockheed Martin and Boeing. One of those would be selected as the winner. And the contract, we assume this program will be about $3 billion to build 2,400 advanced long range standoff attack missiles. They'll have a range of more than 100 nautical miles. These are highly advanced new weapons designed to improve the ability of our forces to strike high priority, well defended targets from long distances with little or no threat to U.S. airplanes launching the missiles.

The missile will be designed to launch from a variety of planes including the F-16, the F/A-18, the B-52, the B-1 and the B-2, and over time perhaps more airplanes will be able to carry it as well.

Recently when Secretary Cohen briefed here on his proposals for two new rounds of base realignment and closing, he said that we have to start planning for tomorrow's weapons today. And we also have to begin thinking about how to fund them, particularly expensive new weapons that will be purchased in the 21st Century. He noted that savings from BRAC will be necessary to generate the funds to purchase weapons such as the JASSM, the F-22 and other 21st Century weapons that we have on the drawing boards today.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Could you comment, would there be any DoD involvement in a potential cooperative effort with Thailand to take Pol Pot elsewhere or some type of education, international court?

A: Did you say education? Or adjudication? Adjudication. I think he might be beyond the educable stage.

First of all, I'm not going to comment on any details about a possible operation in this respect, but we have said many times over the past several months and years, actually, that we're prepared to work with, or in support of, efforts to bring Pol Pot to justice. He is, we believe, a war criminal who is guilty of genocide in the 1970s, and he should be some place under trial. Beyond that, I don't think I'm prepared to comment.

Q: Can you say if the President has asked the Department to engage in planning in this effort?

A: I think that the agency primarily in charge of bringing criminals to justice is the Justice Department, and it would be best to ask them questions about Pol Pot and they can answer them at their own discretion.

Q: Can you comment on reports that the Thai military had him at least briefly in their custody last week, and let him go?

A: Well, it is known that from time to time he's been back and forth across the Thai border. I can't comment on when he was last in Thailand or under what circumstances, but he has moved back and forth over the years. I think those movements may have continued until recently.

Q: The New York Times said that President Clinton has ordered the Defense Department along with State and Justice to "devise plans for the arrest and trial of Pol Pot". Can you give us any guidance on whether that's an accurate statement?

A: Without getting into specifics here, we have made it very clear in the past that we think Pol Pot should be delivered to some international tribunal where charges of genocide can be heard against him. That's been our policy, it remains our policy. We are prepared to work with other nations to do that. But the details of how we will work, if we will work with other countries, I think should remain vague at this time.

Q: Can I go back to the storm damage at Fort Stewart for the moment?

A: Sure.

Q: Is the U.S. Army at all, in addition to the effort that they're making to restore the base to operations, are they engaged in any other relief operations to help neighboring communities or anything? Is there any disaster relief being provided by the U.S. military?

A: I believe that some Reserve and Guard units and other Army units have provided some help, but I will get you details on that, or Colonel Bridges will get you details on that. We typically do in situations like this.

Q: Are you any closer to a decision on (inaudible) sanctions on the results growing out of the recent Pakistani missile test? Also, any comment on any of the reports that maybe there wasn't a test? And a third thing, any growing concern here over the intensification of missiles and other worrisome weapons in South Asia?

A: I don't think our concern is intensifying, because it's been quite intense for some time. We made it very clear both to India and Pakistan that we believe an arms race is not in the interest of stability in the Indian subcontinent region. We believe that it will not advance the security of these two countries. It could well weaken the security of these two countries. We have appealed to them to stop an arms race.

In addition, we have been working very hard over the years in discussions with China and North Korea and other countries to try to get them to stop promoting the proliferation of missile technology in Asia and elsewhere, particularly the Middle East. And we have achieved some success with China. We're continuing to work with North Korea in that regard.

One of the points we're making is that missile technology can come back to haunt any state that allows proliferation, and that in this world, no state can be immune from the threat of increasing missile technology. So that continues.

In terms of the reports of a test, we believe the test took place. We know that Pakistan has an active program to develop missiles, and they do test them from time to time.

Q: Any closer to any decision on possible sanctions?

A: As you know, we have imposed sanctions against Pakistan in the past under the Missile Technology Control Regime. We're continuing to review this particular case. We're in the advanced stages of that review, but I don't think we've reached a decision yet.

Q: What's the Defense Department's reaction to the proposal from ACDA that they be given a role in approving weapons development in the Pentagon?

A: We believe we have an interagency system now that works. It's a system that has been in place since the days of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty I, SALT I, under the Nixon Administration.

The way that works is when the Department of Defense starts designing or planning a new weapon system, it also sets up an internal analysis to look at the arms control implications, if any, of that weapon system. This is done with the Acquisitions and Technology Division, now Under Secretary Jacques Gansler in charge. But everybody in DoD with an interest in the system is included in that review.

In practice, people at State and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and the National Security Council are informed and fully consulted as we continue work on the weapon system. Their lawyers and their policy people are fully engaged in reviewing the system as it goes forward.

We think this has worked, and we don't see any reason to change that system. Just as recently as the last few years we've been discussing in the interagency forum the arms control implications of some of our missile defense technologies that we're developing. As you know, the Russians have raised some questions about that. We work very hard to develop demarcation rules that will segregate work on our theater ballistic missiles from national missile defense, etc.

Q: Can you just clarify, did they actually ask the Defense Department for a formalized role in weapons development? Has Secretary Cohen said to Secretary Albright, no thank you?

A: There have been discussions between John Holum who is the Under Secretary of State and the head of ACDA, and Under Secretary Walt Slocombe, about this. Our concern is basically that we continue to develop the weapons that are in the nation's interest, that prepare us for future threats as well as current threats, and that we do this in an interagency way that allows everybody to comment and discuss the arms control implications of these weapons.

The Defense Department has been a very strong proponent of arms control agreements for a long period of time. We think it helps limit the threats we have to face, it helps make the world more predictable, and that is what makes it easier to reduce the threat of conflict. So we have nothing against arms control agreements. What we think we have today is a system that allows us to develop the weapons we need with proper attention to the implications of arms control agreements, and we think we've developed a system that in fact allows us to build new weapons that are compliant with the treaties that we at the Defense Department want to honor.

Q: Did Mr. Slocombe finally reply to the letter from Mr. Holum?

A: As of an hour or so ago, I don't believe he had sent over his reply. That may have happened in the last hour.

Q: ...Iran has received some warheads from a former Soviet Republic. Have you any comment on that?

A: I've seen a wire service account of that story. We have no evidence whatsoever that that's the case. We, of course, worry about this type of thing and we've had extensive conversations with officials in Russia and elsewhere about preventing just this type of transfer of dangerous technology, either nuclear technology or technology that will allow countries like Iran to build longer range missiles.

We've set up a program called the Nunn/Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program which is designed to... Or Congress has set up this program, and we execute it. The program is designed to prevent nuclear technology from falling into the hands of rogue nations.

Kazakhstan has been very cooperative in that program over the years, and it's been a real beneficiary of that program. Kazakhstan is one of the three former Soviet Republics that is now nuclear free as a result of the Nunn/Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. They used to have close to 2,000 nuclear weapons and now they have none.

As you may remember, in 1994 we shipped out of Kazakhstan nearly 600 kilograms of highly enriched uranium which they called to our attention and asked us to move out of Kazakhstan for safe keeping so it wouldn't fall into the wrong hands. So we work closely with Kazakhstan to prevent this type of proliferation. We have no evidence that Iran has been able to purchase nuclear warheads from Kazakhstan or from other Soviet Republics.

Q: Has the Russian government given assurances that they've been able to account for all of the warheads from the former Soviet Union, and how much confidence do you have in those assurances?

A: We are working closely with Russia on precisely that issue. I think you've heard one of their former Defense Ministers, Mr. Rodionov, discuss the Russian government's determination to maintain strict control over fissile material. We are providing under the Nunn/Lugar program -- in fact I believe you saw some of this outside of Moscow the last time you were there with Secretary Cohen -- we are providing equipment to them to help them secure fissile material, and I think they are working hard to do that.

Q: Are you aware of any other individuals who've refused to take the anthrax vaccination besides those that the Navy and the Air Force have spoken of in the Gulf?

A: I believe there are a total of 16 people so far who have refused anthrax vaccinations.

I should point out that we believe that, our records show that 25,547 people have received shot number one in the Gulf; 10,952 have received the second shot; and a handful, I think three people according to my latest figures, have received the third shot. The third shot figures do not include Secretary Cohen and General Shelton, both of whom have received their third shot in the vaccination program.

Obviously we launched this program to protect our troops. Not just those in the Gulf, but ultimately all active and reserve troops -- 2.4 million in all -- against the threat of anthrax. When these shots are eventually given to everybody, they'll be given in a very routine way, just as we vaccinate people against measles, tetanus, yellow fever, polio, etc.

So 16 people so far out of nearly 26,000 people have refused, and they are being subject to the type of punishment that normally falls on people who disobey orders.

Q: On Indonesia. In the middle of February U.S. Marine Corps in Okinawa, namely 31 MEU, went to Indonesia. I'd like to know what was the purpose of that, if you have it.

A: I don't know, but we'll find out. I assume they went there on a normal training exercise, but I don't know and we will get you that information. If you talk to Colonel Bridges here, he'll get it for you.

Q: On anthrax, how does the 16 refusals compare with your average yearly tetanus booster or whatever? Do you get a lot of refusals of that? And what happens to those people? Can't people refuse shots in the armed services?

A: That's a good question. Well one, they cannot refuse shots because they are ordered to have these shots for force protection measures. We have to be able to deploy people in all conditions. We have to make sure that their medical records are up to date. So shots are required as a condition of service in the military.

You've asked a good question about how this compares with people refusing measles shots or tetanus shots, and I just don't know. My recollection from getting these shots years ago is that I didn't have a lot of time to ask questions about what they were giving me shots for. I suppose one of the issues here is that there's been quite a lot of publicity about the anthrax shots and people have had, I guess, some time to think about it. But maybe they haven't taken the time to study the need for these shots, or also the safety of the vaccine.

Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness, Rudy de Leon, just returned from the Gulf. He made an inspection tour over there precisely to look at the progress in giving the anthrax shots to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in the Gulf. What he found was that at the time he went, 21,000 people had been vaccinated. This was late last week. He found only two had shown very, very mild reactions to the shot. One had a fever and some muscle aches; the other had a slight skin rash and some mouth sores. But they passed very quickly.

So this has been proven over the years to be an extremely safe vaccine.

Q: Given that all the medical literature shows that this is a safe and effective vaccine, is this phenomenon of some small number of troops refusing to take the shots, is that, would you say, a sort of Gulf War illness hysteria? An irrational fear of Gulf War illnesses generated by the experience during the Gulf War?

A: I can't psychoanalyze why these people have not taken the shots. Under Secretary de Leon reported back after his trip that there was a common thread to the refusals. And that was that the refuseniks cited reasons that tended to be more emotional than factual in their opposition to taking the shots. Several of the service members indicated that they just didn't feel good about having the shots.

As I said, I don't know specifically why each one of these people is refusing to take the shots, but we have worked very hard to discuss the need for these shots -- that is protection against a possible future threat; and the safety of the vaccine. We've worked very hard from this podium and elsewhere. The Secretary has done an interview with Armed Forces Radio and Television on this topic to educate the troops about the safety of the vaccine and the force protection importance of taking it.

In addition, we've put a very extensive amount of information on the Internet on DefenseLINK about this, and that's available to any soldier, as many do now have computers with them and they can tap into the Internet.

Q: You said that the refuseniks, as you called them, were subject to the type of punishment that normally falls on people who disobey orders. Can you elaborate on what sort of punishment they face in this case?

A: It's non-judicial punishment, generally. Two of the sailors have been discharged as a result of this. They can get a reduction in rank. They could suffer a monetary penalty as a result of this, a reduction in pay over a period of time, or they could be discharged.

Q: And the discharge is honorable or dishonorable?

A: I don't know the circumstances of the discharges.

Q: Can you give us a readout on the Secretary's meeting with President Ramos today? The focus of discussions and the length of discussions.

A: Secretary Ramos is finishing a lengthy term as President of the Philippines. I think the elections there are in May. During that time he has worked hard on economic development and a number of other important projects. He wanted to talk to Secretary Cohen about, first of all, an overview of political, economic conditions in Southeast Asia, in the Asian region, particularly given the economic difficulties in Indonesia, Thailand, Korea and elsewhere.

In addition, as you know, the Philippines and the United States signed in January or February a status of forces type agreement that will allow American forces to begin training again in the Philippines -- not to be stationed there but to go there on training operations and missions. They discussed that.

He also had some particular issues he wanted to bring up about cleaning up waste and other products at Clark Air Force Base and Subic Bay Naval Station, which the U.S. abandoned several years ago at the insistence of the Philippines. So those were among the issues they discussed.

Q: What about the thing with the bells?

A: The bells is more of a White House issue than a military issue, and I think he planned to discuss that...

Colonel Bridges has corrected my imprecise knowledge of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The sailors who were discharged were discharged for refusal to get shots and for other instances of misconduct, not for refusing shots alone. Discharges are not given for refusing one shot, but rather for a pattern of misconduct.

So the other types of penalties they could get would be, they could range from a pay penalty, a reduction in grade, isn't that correct? And various restrictions could be placed on them for a period of time.

Q: On the status of forces agreement between the Philippines and the United States, the sticking point was always the possibility of U.S. forces that are deployed in the Philippines for exercises would not come under Philippine legal jurisdiction for any crimes they committed. What was eventually resolved on that?

A: I'm afraid I can't answer that. We can get you a copy of the agreement. All these status of forces agreements have common elements, and some of them have country specific elements, but I just don't remember this one. We'll see if we can get you a copy.

Q: How long was their meeting?

A: It was this morning and I don't know the exact time. I think it was scheduled for 30-45 minutes. I can check on that.

Q: Are you able to add anything to the Le Monde report that Radovan Karadzic might consider surrendering to the War Crimes Tribunal?

A: I certainly hope that he's considering surrendering to the War Crimes Tribunal, because Bosnia would be a lot better off if he were in the Hague. But beyond that, I've seen the report, I've seen speculation for some time that he is weighing the advisability of turning himself in, and I hope he does. It would certainly be a big step forward in trying to heal the wounds in Bosnia and also a big step forward in bringing indicted war criminals to justice.

We've made some progress on that. A total of 78 people are under open indictment, and I think 30 of those have... Twenty-five of them I think are in the Hague already. One or two may have died. But of the 78 people indicted under open indictments, I think 40 are still at large. But large numbers of them have either turned themselves in voluntarily -- more than a dozen in the last couple of months -- and then some have been detained in the last several months as well, so we are making progress.

Q: In talks with Ramos, has the Secretary suggested any specific type of training operations or say anything about when they might begin? Is there any, do you have any word...

A: I'm not aware that they got into that level of specificity. I think it was a more general discussion about geopolitical and economic conditions in the Asia Pacific area.

Q: Did the question of military aid or did training to the Philippine military come up?

A: I'm not aware that it did, but we can double check on that.

Q: Did President Ramos bring up anything about Philipine military needs, equipment needs?

A: That's a variation of the earlier question. I'm not aware that he did, but I'll check on that. I was not at the meeting.

Q: Colombia.

A: Not the District of.

Q: No. Wilhelm said last week that his staff was working on an assessment of the insurgency situation in Colombia. Is there any sort of high level thought being given in the building to a new strategy in terms of assistance to the Colombian government vis-à-vis the insurgency, not the counterdrug stuff?

A: Our primary focus in Colombia now, and I believe in the future, will be on counternarcotics. We now have 216 people working in Colombia. There are military, civilians and contractors. Most of them are involved in running three radar stations that police, monitor air traffic into and out of Colombia. A lot of the narco-trafficking takes place by plane.

The number of Americans in Colombia has varied between 175 and 275 in the last year or so, depending on what operations we have there.

Our work with the Colombian military has been in the counternarcotics area, and we have not been engaged in counterinsurgency training with them. My expectation is that that is likely to continue.

Q: Isn't it hard to separate the two sometimes? Because the guerrillas seem to be heavily involved in narcotic activities.

A: The guerrillas do seem to be supported to some degree, and sometimes a considerable degree, by their involvement with narco-trafficking or their protection of narco-traffickers. They also derive money from kidnapping and extortion. So they have -- I guess they have multiple income sources.

These are sometimes difficult distinctions to draw, but we are trying to focus as best we can on countering the narco-trafficking.

Q: There have been some reports that instead of fixing their old Huey helicopters, that there's some plans to really give them a substantial qualitative improvement of more advanced helicopters.

A: There has been some talk about their need for Cobra helicopters, for instance. We have not received a request from the Colombian government for Cobra helicopters. If we were to receive such a request we'd have to make a decision on how to respond to it.

We'd have to evaluate their need for advanced weapons as well as their ability to maintain them and their ability to fly them. But we haven't gotten a request yet, so we haven't started that type of analysis.

Q: The Persian Gulf. When will the United States begin to withdraw troops and ships to start to return to the more routine level of force deployment in that region?

A: That's a good question and the answer is I don't know because those decisions have not been made. We do review force levels there from time to time. We have to do this in the context of the political situation, how the inspections are proceeding, overall compliance beyond the inspections alone is proceeding, what Iraq is doing to dismantle or get rid of his weapons of mass destruction -- chemical, biological, long range missiles, etc.; and where it stands on its commitment to dismantle its nuclear program. So that's under review. No decision's been made. I don't know when one will be made.

Q: Considering that Iraq has granted the UN inspectors access to the sensitive sites and those inspections have been completed, wouldn't it be likely that the United States would, say, move to a one-carrier presence in the Gulf sometime soon?

A: I think it's premature to say that. As Secretary Cohen has pointed out many times, compliance with the inspection regime is only one small part of what Iraq has to do. Remember the goal of the UN mandate is not only that Iraq allow inspectors into palaces or presidential sites or other sensitive places. The goal is the complete dismantlement of their weapons of mass destruction program. That is the weapons they have now and their ability to build these weapons in the future.

In that regard, there have been and still are considerable failings on the part of Iraq. Ambassador Butler, who is the head of the UN Special Commission, has said that their biological weapons program is a black hole. There have been UNSCOM reports, technical evaluation missions, multinational missions -- one led by a Russian -- that have been to Iraq earlier this year and found a pattern of stonewalling and deception on the part of the Iraqi authorities in providing information to UNSCOM.

As you know, [Iraq] has declared that it filled 50 warheads for SCUD missiles with chemicals, it has not been able to... It claims to have destroyed all 50 of them, but can only account for having destroyed 20 or 30 of them, and cannot account for having destroyed the others, so we don't know if they've been destroyed or not. In addition, they've said that they filled 25 warheads with biological agents such as anthrax. They have not been able to prove to UNSCOM that they have dismantled or eliminated any of these 25 warheads. So there is concern on the part of the UN Special Commission and its members that Iraq is still protecting these weapons and refusing to destroy them as required by the United Nations. As long as those doubts persist, I think that Iraq will not have... It will be found to be non-compliant with the UN resolutions and the sanctions will remain.

Q: Any new guidance on the Cuba threat assessment? I see Fidel Castro's been reading about it anyway.

A: Well, and may be listening to broadcasts about it. I don't know whether he can do that or not, whether the Cubans protect him from listening to your broadcasts or not. But at any rate, the last I heard, the report was about to go to Secretary Cohen. His concern remains that the unclassified version of the report reveal as much as possible of the flavor and information in the classified version. His staff has been working hard to make that happen. I don't know whether he's had a chance to read the reports yet. If he hasn't, I assume he'll do it relatively soon.

I believe that he will make the report available to those who requested it in Congress before he makes it available to the public, but ultimately, the unclassified version will be public.

Q: Has this report become somewhat of a political football?

A: Only in the press. I think in the building, we don't see it as a political football at all. This is an intelligence analysis that was done at the request of Congress. It's pretty straight forward. And as I pointed out here last week, much of the information in the report was made public two years ago in basic information about the size of the Cuban military, its defensive posture, the fact that it spends a lot of its time supporting itself by growing food and provisioning itself in other ways rather than doing exercises. It has some equipment problems that you might expect in a country that's encountering economic difficulties. So many of these facts have been out there for some time.

Q: Is the report supposed to be just a conventional order of battle kind of military assessment, or does it go beyond that to survey symmetrical kinds of threats that Cuba might pose?

A: Actually, the Congress made fairly specific -- laid out fairly specific requirements that had to be considered. We had to look at Cuban military capabilities. We had to look at threats that Cuba could pose to U.S. national security including but not limited to unconventional threats such as encouragement of massive destabilizing waves of immigration into the United States, attacks on citizens or residents of the United States if they're carrying out protests near Cuban territorial lines. We were supposed to look at the potential that Cuba has for developing chemical or biological weapons. We were instructed to look at the potential for internal strife in Cuba that could involve citizens or residents of the United States. So there were a number of issues that were required by Congress. It's not just looking at the size and the equipment of the Cuban military, it's much broader.

I suppose also the report will look at Cuba's intelligence gathering techniques, what can be said about that in the unclassified report, I'm not sure, but that's one of the issues we'll look at as well.

Can I just answer your question, sir, about the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit from Okinawa? It stopped in Bali for a port call in March on its way to a training exercise in Australia. I think this was probably more recreational, an opportunity to view the beauty of Bali, which I understand is one of the world's most stunningly beautiful places, rather than a training mission.

Q: NATO expansion. There's been some criticism about numbers in terms of the U.S. contribution to NATO expansion. I was wondering if you could update us on if the Pentagon is sticking by the numbers that were given weeks ago on...

A: The Pentagon is sticking by the latest figures that came out of the review which were, of course, much lower figures than came out about a year ago. The reason for that is, obviously, that there are fewer countries joining... The initial review assumed more countries joining in the first round than the three who have been proposed, and there were other significant procedural differences as well. But the latest figures focus primarily on the NATO common costs that would be necessary to help these countries bring their forces up to NATO standards.

Press: Thank you.

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