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DoD News Briefing - Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
January 16, 2001 2:40 PM EDT

Tuesday, January 16, 2001 - 2:40 p.m. EST

Bacon: Good afternoon. Good evening, Charlie.

Q: Good evening.

Bacon: Hey, let me start with a couple of announcements.

First, tomorrow morning at 10:00, the armed forces review and award ceremony will honor Secretary and Mrs. Cohen at Conmy Hall at Fort Myer. I think many of you have been invited to that, but if you haven't, you can go cover it because there's press coverage arrangements. That's at 10:00 tomorrow.

Second, I'd like to bring you up to date on what's happening in El Salvador in response to the damage caused by the earthquake over the weekend, on Saturday. We have deployed five helicopters to El Salvador, and they have moved so far more than 45 tons of cargo and 127 people, including some journalists, to the earthquake damage sites where the mudslides occurred. They are supported by 45 military personnel. That's aircrews and the humanitarian assistance support team that's been deployed down there. The helicopters are three UH- 60s and two CH-47s.

Now, they were deployed on a 72-hour mission, which the CINC can do automatically. And my understanding is the ambassador right now is talking with the local officials about the future use, if any, of these helicopters in the operation. The El Salvadorans have been using their own helicopters as well. We have been very much involved in providing transportation and assistance in the region.

Tomorrow the deputy secretary of Defense, Rudy de Leon, is going down to Fort Benning, Georgia, to open the new Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. And he will be participating in that ceremony. This is the -- what used to be the School of Americas, and it's been restructured under a new board of directors with a new curriculum and a new managerial setup. So that will happen tomorrow.

Finally, the moment that many of you have been waiting for, just as exciting as the budget, is the new Annual Defense Report is out. I commend it to your attention. It actually is a wonderful summary of what's happened over the last four years, but also, more important, where we're going, what our plans are for the future. And it talks about our acquisition programs, our training programs. It focuses in particular on some issues, of some steps we've taken to protect the United States against chemical, biological and nuclear attack, if they should occur; asymmetrical warfare, so to speak, types of training programs we've been involved in; the work of the National Guard in that area. So this is available on the web, and I think we have some copies back there. [The report is on the Web at http://www.dtic.mil/execsec/adr2001/ ].

This report, along with the budget, are probably the two fundamental reports charting where we're going in the future. So it's a good book to read.

And with that, I will take your questions.

Charlie?

Q: Is there going to be any decision on initial reproduction of the F-22 by Saturday, or is that going to be left to the next administration?

Bacon: I don't know the answer to that question. The last time I inquired about it, last week, we were still awaiting Air Force completion of the so-called exit criteria; a number of steps that have to be met. I don't think that all those criteria have been met yet, and until they are, the Defense Acquisition Board can't sit on this. But I will double check to make sure that the Air Force action is still pending. [Update: the F-22 DAB will be held when the Air Force has completed required events.]

Q: Well, would you take the question?

Bacon: I will.

Jamie?

Q: On the Navy's JAG manual investigation of the Cole incident, has the secretary of Defense received that report yet, and has he forwarded it to the Joint Chiefs chairman, and do you anticipate a release of that this week?

Bacon: The secretary of Defense has not received the report from the Navy yet and, therefore, he has not been able to pass it on to the chairman.

I anticipate that the report will be sent to the secretary relatively soon. I don't know whether it'll be today or not, but in the next few days, certainly. And I think the secretary would like to complete work on that report before he leaves office.

Yes?

Q: Ken, on Commander Speicher, the Gulf War pilot, what is it that the Defense Department would like the Iraqi government to say or do in this case? And do you have some reason to believe that they have information beyond what they've already said? In fact, they said they have no other information.

Bacon: Well, first of all, we -- as you know, the designation of Commander Speicher has been changed from "killed in action" to "missing in action."

Having said that, we do not know whether he's alive or not. We don't have any evidence that he's alive at this stage. We have some evidence to suggest that he may have survived the crash. This is evidence that has been developed over the last number of years. We don't know what happened after that.

So we have asked the Iraqi government for any information that it may have that illuminates, one, did Commander Speicher survive the crash and two, what happened to him after that. We would hope that they would have some records on this that they could provide to us, but we don't have specific knowledge of what they may have. They have claimed that they don't have records. But some of their statements have been somewhat disingenuous, because they only go back to 1995, when we, as you know, sent a representative in with the International Committee for the Red Cross to look at the crash site. And that was a mission on which we developed some of the information on which we subsequently based the change in status.

So we have asked the Iraqis to provide whatever information they have about what happened between 1991, when the plane was shot down, and 1995, certainly, and thereafter, if they have any information.

Yes?

Q: So why are you saying that they have been somewhat disingenuous? Just because they didn't have any information before '95?

Bacon: No, what I'm saying is the stories I saw over the weekend dealt only with the mission that went in, in 1995, to look at the crash site. It didn't deal with what had happened between 1991 and 1995. The interesting issue is what happened right after the crash.

Yes?

Q: But you have a certain body of information in the 1995 time frame, when the visit to the site was made, and in early '96, when the Navy made the redetermination that he should be listed as "killed in action." Why didn't you make this decision back then? Can you clarify at all what has led the U.S. government to make -- to wait since '96, essentially, and make this decision now?

Bacon: This has been a process of an analysis and information collection that's been cumulative over a long period of time. We have information from several different sources that I can't go into. And all I can tell you is that it took a while to accumulate and to analyze the information that led to this decision.

Q: Can you indicate that some of this was developed since the '95-96 time frame?

Bacon: Yes, some of it has been developed since '95 and '96.

Yes, George?

Q: A different issue, to close the loop on something. The administration, the White House, did not put Donald Mancuso on its recess appointment list after Congress adjourned.

Does that represent the Defense secretary's loss of faith in his qualifications to be inspector general because of the Deutch affair or any other issue?

Bacon: No. The secretary has always been supportive of Donald Mancuso. As you know, he has decided to resign and he submitted his letter of resignation -- or at least announced his plan to resign some time ago.

Q: He's already left.

Bacon: Then he has resigned. But no, there is no loss of faith that I am aware of.

Yes?

Q: On a different issue, the Congo, there are a couple hundred Americans in the Congo and it seems to be falling apart today. Are there any U.S. military assets moving or is there any consideration to putting things in place for a potential NEO?

Bacon: I'm not aware that there is, but I'll -- and if there was, I might not be able to talk about it, but I'll check into that. [Update: no military assets have moved.]

Q: On the case of Stephen May, the Arizona state representative.

Bacon: Right.

Q: The Army apparently has dropped that case and will allow May to continue to the end of his commission or term when it ends in May. Does this represent any sort of a change of policy or set any sort of precedent for other members of the Guard or Reserve who make public their homosexuality?

Bacon: No.

Q: Why not?

Bacon: Because the Army regulations are very clear that in cases where the Army has begun involuntary separation procedures, a decision voluntarily to resign will end those procedures, and what happened here was very much in keeping with other cases. In other words, if an involuntary separation procedure is begun, those procedures can be stopped at any time if the person submits a resignation. And that's, in fact, what Lieutenant May has done. He has notified the Army of his intention to resign after his current term of enlistment expires, and that's on May 11th, 2001.

Pat?

Q: The missing Navy pilot. That happened on the first night of the Gulf War.

Bacon: Right.

Q: And he was the only plane downed. And it was at night. And we have this very elaborate search-and-rescue operation staged just for this very purpose. Was there a search-and-rescue mission that night for the pilot and the plane?

Bacon: I can't answer that question. You're asking me about something that happened well before I got here, and I just -- I don't know the answer to that question.

Yes?

Q: Depleted uranium?

Bacon: Yes.

Q: Something that didn't come up last week in the discussion about the health impact was, do the armed forces continue to acquire and deploy depleted uranium munitions, or have they -- are they being phased out and replaced by some other form of penetrating projectile?

Bacon: The depleted uranium is used primarily in two types of munitions. It's used in -- I mean, it's used in several types of munitions, but primarily in two types. It's used in 120-millimeter tank rounds and it's used in 30-millimeter rounds fired by the A-10. It's primarily for anti-armor, and those are its main uses. I'm not aware that either the Army or the Air Force is phasing out depleted uranium rounds for those two uses.

Now, I do think that a lot of the commentary on this has been somewhat misguided in a number of ways. One, of course, principally, there's absolutely no scientific linkage, based on all the studies we've done, there's no scientific linkage between exposure to depleted uranium and leukemia. But in addition, there's an assumption that this depleted uranium is under constant use. It isn't. It's used in combat, and it's not used on a day-to-day basis in Kosovo or in Bosnia. So it's not as if we're using depleted uranium rounds today or last week or last month. Some were fired during the Operation Allied Force, and a much smaller amount was fired in Bosnia in 1994 and 1995. But it's used only in combat situations. I mean, it's used some in training, but it's not used in training in Kosovo or Bosnia.

Q: But since its last usage in combat, or maybe even before that, is there an alternate weapon which is available both for use by the Army and the Air Force which is as equally efficient in its goal?

Bacon: I'm not aware that there is. Now, the Navy has used depleted uranium rounds for its close-in, anti-aircraft guns. And they are now using -- they're replacing the depleted uranium rounds with tungsten rounds. But this is a different millimeter round than the 120-millimeter or the 30-millimeter rounds that are used by the Air Force.

Q: I have a follow-up.

Bacon: Yes?

Q: The concerns in Europe, there are reports they are focusing on the presence of plutonium in these DU-tipped weapons, and they base this in part on a DoD report of last December regarding the use of these weapons in the Gulf War that the "DU stock may contain trace levels of" -- and they mention others, including plutonium. In terms of the health risks that everybody is worked up about in Europe, what can you say about the presence of plutonium in these weapons and the health risks to the soldiers, to the NATO soldiers?

Bacon: We have done extensive studies on depleted uranium rounds -- and whatever trace elements may be included in depleted uranium rounds, I've not aware of these plutonium allegations, but I'll check into them -- and the extensive studies we've done, particularly since the Gulf War, have not found a relationship between the types of health problems the Europeans are talking about and the use of depleted uranium. And we have studied this --

Q: But plutonium is a carcinogen.

Bacon: Pardon?

Q: Plutonium is clearly a carcinogen.

Bacon: Well, as I said, I would look into that. I'm not aware of that, and I will look into that.

But what I'm telling you is that we have looked at the depleted uranium rounds that we use and we have not found a connection between those and adverse health impacts. We have talked about -- we obviously put out instructions about avoiding depleted uranium dust and in cases where somebody would go into a tank carcass shortly after a depleted uranium round had knocked it out.

We have put out information about that, but in terms of the normal exposure, we do not think it offers any health risks.

Yes.

Q: On the Stephen May case, this DoD policy that avowed homosexuals should not serve in the military, why allow him to continue on for another five months and resign on his own rather than forcing him to go now?

Bacon: Well, I mean, this is a legal proceeding that's been underway for some time. And we're only talking about, really, four months from now. I think his date is May -- less than five months, certainly. This just seemed to be the -- an acceptable way out for both parties. And that's what we're doing.

Q: Has he been showing up for his service, and will he continue to do so? Or, at least -- has he not been -- ?

Bacon: Well, I think he is meeting his obligations as a Reservist.

Q: So he will continue to --

Bacon: Yes.

Q: He hasn't been barred from that during --

Bacon: Not that I'm aware of, but I'll double-check on that. I'm not aware that that's the case. [Update: Yes, he has been meeting his obligations as a Reservist.]

Yes.

Q: On the precedent question, you said the Army regulations allowed him to accept a voluntary separation. But have they ever actually done that? Have they ever permitted that to happen, for somebody to voluntarily separate?

Bacon: Well, all these cases are different. But it is my understanding there have been other voluntary separations that have stopped proceedings like this.

Q: Thank you.

Bacon: Well, wait a minute. Let me take these three other questions.

Q: Yes. On Vieques, the governor of Puerto Rico has come out with a new health study claiming that residents in Vieques are exposed to vibroacoustic disease caused by the Navy shellings and gunfire support as well as bombing. Has the department studied that report?

Bacon: Well, my understanding is she announced this report in the New York Times over the weekend, or at least in an article in the New York Times. We certainly will study it, but we don't have a comment on the scientific merit of that study at this stage.

Q: She's calling on -- the governor of Puerto Rico is calling on the president to put a halt to all bombing or training at this time until the this study is conducted. Does the department support halting bombing at this time?

Bacon: We have an agreement reached with the previous governor of Puerto Rico that provides a process for a referendum. And we've set the date for the referendum in November of this year. We think this process is fair to both sides. It gives the Navy and the Marine Corps time to continue their training, and it gives the -- under very limited conditions obviously, and it gives the people of Vieques time to work with the Navy and the Marine Corps on this issue and then to have a vote. So we think this is a valid process, and we would like the process to go forward.

Q: One last question. It will be two years since the death of David Sanes [Rodriguez], the employee on the range that was accidentally killed. How many battleships have gone into -- been deployed over Iraq and how many planes have been flying over Iraq without having received the live-fire training that some people say they need in order to be prepared?

Bacon: Well, I believe they all get live-fire training before they get to the Gulf or to the Mediterranean. Some of the -- as you know, they can do -- they're not doing live-fire training with lethal rounds on Vieques now, but they have found other places to do their live-fire training. But it does complicate the training cycle. But we can get you -- we can get you figures on the number of ships and planes that have deployed.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Can I just ask one more on Vieques? There has been some reporting that the new governor of Puerto Rico has been trying to persuade President Clinton to, in his last days, make some executive order or something to stop training on Vieques permanently or whatever. Is there any truth to that?

Bacon: You'll have to ask the governor of Puerto Rico and the White House about this. I can't comment on what their relationship may be. I do think that this is something of intense interest to Congress, and I think that Congress has passed legislation that will implement the agreement that was reached between Governor Rossello and the administration. And it would be -- this is something that involves more than White House, it involves Congress at this stage, and certainly the training proficiency of the Navy and the Marine Corps, as well.

Yes?

Q: Ken, there is some information coming out of a trial in Miami where five Cuban nationals have been charged with spying on military installations in Florida. And I'm particularly interested in MacDill Air Force Base, where apparently they were intercepting signals from the tower and trying to find out where -- the movement of the aircraft from MacDill, and trying to figure out if, when Cuba -- if Cuba would come under attack, that they could signal Havana.

Do you have any information of when we found out about this and any damage assessment or anything like that?

Bacon: I'm only vaguely aware of the trial, and I think you'd have to go to the Justice Department for that information.

Q: Ken, one last -- on housekeeping, and it pains me a little bit to bring this up, but this briefing was scheduled for 2:30, and you didn't arrive to brief us until 2:40. And some of us find that a little disappointing. It seems to be becoming a pattern.

However, we've talked about it among us, and I don't want to speak for everyone in the press corps, but we've decided that we'll give you one more chance.

Bacon: I appreciate that. I guess I find that the longer I stay here, the more I realize I don't know. So it takes me longer and longer to prepare for the briefing, because I seem to know less and less. So that explains it.

See, if I'd prepared longer, I might have been able to answer that question about MacDill Air Force Base. But because I had to rush in here, in a vain attempt to try to be on time, my preparation was cut short, so I provided --

Q: We all have deadlines.

Bacon: But -- that's true. But yours is not for several hours.

Thank you.

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