DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD(PA)
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome to our briefing.
First, I'd like to welcome a cadet from the Coast Guard Academy, Abraham Banks, who is here for the summer. His twin brother just graduated from the Air Force Academy. Secretary Cohen was out there to give an address and shake the hand of every cadet, so he shook the hand of Shane Banks -- newly minted 2nd Lieutenant Shane Banks of the Air Force. We're glad to have you here.
I'd also like to announce that Brigadier General Robert Dees, who is the Acting Director for Operational Plans an Interoperability of the Joint Staff will be here at two o'clock to brief you on the JCS concept for future joint operations. Any of you who want to be brought up to date on that, there was a report released earlier this month, should be here for that at two o'clock.
Finally, let me bring you up to date on the end of our operation in Brazzaville, the Congo. As you know, we sent in early June, earlier this month, a team of 12 people called a European Survey and Assessment Team, EUCOM Survey and Assessment Team, down to Brazzaville. This team was comprised of a couple of communicators, a couple of security people, and also some people trained in sort of assessing the situation in preparation for helping to get our people out, if necessary.
As you know, we relied primarily on the French to get our people out over the last several weeks. Yesterday, we did withdraw the final number of Americans who wanted to leave Brazzaville. They were escorted out by this 12-man team and by the French. They left in an MC-130 aircraft from the 352nd Special Operations Group in Mildenhall, England.
Let me just fill you in. During this entire mission this group evacuated 57 people and one dog from Brazzaville. But that mission is complete now, and it was completed without incident.
With that, I'll take your questions on this or any other issue.
Q: I hate to beat a dead horse, but there's a lot of open slots in the building. Is the Administration ever going to get to filling some of these?
Q: I heard this morning, someone said there were more "Acting" Secretaries or Assistant Secretaries than ever before. Is that true?
A: I have no idea whether that's true or not, but it's not really relevant. What's relevant is that the building is functioning on all fronts; we're hitting to all corners of the field. Right now the Secretary is very close to announcing decisions on a number of important jobs, and I would expect those announcements to... actually, they have to be announced by the White House, but I would expect them to be coming relatively quickly.
As I say, we're functioning in all sorts of areas, and we'll continue to do that while these people go through the clearance and confirmation process.
Q: Those pending announcements, can we assume those are replacements for Dr. White and Dr. Kaminski?
A: Dr. White, Dr. Kaminski are two; Dr. Dorn, who has just been named head of the Lyndon Baines Johnson School in Texas. There will be a replacement announced for him relatively quickly. I don't think there's any particular hang-up. These things always end up taking longer than reasonable people think they should. They certainly end up taking longer than the people who are going to get the jobs think they should take, but it's all part of the process.
Q: Does your "relatively quickly" also apply to the new Chairman?
A: That's several weeks off, I think, before the new Chairman is named. I don't want to be pinned down on that. Work goes on on that. I wouldn't expect anything immediately.
Q: Now that the operation in Southwest Asia to extract Kansi is over, and the FBI men who were involved in the extraction actually have talked on the record and on camera, can you provide a little more information about what the DoD role in this was?
A: I'm afraid I can't. We provided an aircraft, a C-141 aircraft, and I just want to leave it at that. This was a law enforcement operation, and it's up to the FBI to talk about what support it got from us or other agencies. But I'd rather not discuss it.
Q: Was there cooperation between American and Pakistani militaries?
A: I just said it's a law enforcement operation. It's up to the FBI to provide whatever information they choose.
Q: Congressman Traficant in the House is proposing an amendment that would essentially allow the use of military personnel as augmentees on the Southwest border to detail suspected drug smugglers or suspected illegal immigrants until somebody could come and question them and arrest them if necessary. What is the Department's view on this?
A: I haven't seen that legislation or proposed legislation and I haven't had a chance to talk to anybody about it. But as you know, there is a law known as posse comitatus that prevents the use of the military in domestic law enforcement operations. The support that we provide along the border under Joint Task Force 6 is just that. It's support. It's intelligence, it's monitoring, observation, but we don't get into the business of detaining or arresting people. That's up to law enforcement officials.
So that's our overall policy. Without having seen the Traficant proposal, I can't comment more specifically.
Q: If I can go back to what you can talk about on the Kansi issue on providing an aircraft and transportation, could you just explain to us what you can; explain to us what type of plane, where they flew out of, that sort of...
A: I've said all I'm going to say on that.
Q: You don't even know what type of aircraft was used?
A: I named the type of aircraft, a C-141.
Q: Do you know where they flew out of?
A: I appreciate your relentless questioning on this topic, but I'm not going to talk about it. This is a law enforcement issue, and we provided support in the form of an aircraft and that's all I'm going to say. You can keep asking me questions. I think I've got the answer down. I'm hoping you'll get it down and stop asking me these questions.
Q: Different subject. Khobar? Where is the Secretary in his review of the report? And do you anticipate final review from the Secretary, a decision from him, if you will, by the time the anniversary comes around next week?
A: The Secretary and the staff are very actively involved in the review. I cannot predict for you when his analysis will be complete. It's not something he wants to drag on. He wants to get it done as soon as possible, but I can't give you a specific date.
Q: Is it in the realm of possibility that it could be done before the 25th?
A: Today's the 19th, is that right? It's possible, but probably not likely.
Q: Can you provide as succinctly and concisely as possible sort of a Pentagon position on the landmine issue?
A: First of all, we support the President's policy. That's our view. The President announced his policy almost a year ago and we support it. We're working to make that policy come out as planned. Basically, we have dramatically stepped up research on alternatives to landmines. We have continued to provide de-mining assistance around the world, but particularly in places like Bosnia. We are working towards the eventual elimination of landmines. That's what the President has proposed. And we are supporting the Administration in its efforts to work through the UN Conference on Disarmament to deal with landmines. That's what we're doing.
The policy was clearly stated. I talked about it several weeks ago here on the anniversary of the President's announcement, which I think was in late May, as I recall. I'd be glad to give you a copy of that briefing. I went into considerable detail in the steps we were taking, but I've just outlined them pretty much in general terms.
Q: Can I go back to Khobar for a moment? The Secretary's trip to Saudi Arabia. What was discussed, if anything, about this Mr. [Al-]Sayegh, who has now, I believe, just made his second appearance in the U.S. District Court here in Washington. Did the Saudis say anything about wanting to have him come to Saudi? Was this an issue?
A: It was not an issue. The Secretary informed the Saudis that the deportation from Canada was expected to happen shortly. He met with the Saudi officials prior to the deportation. He informed them that we expected the deportation. He also informed them that he would be indicted on a charge that was unrelated to Khobar Towers. He transferred that information, and the Saudis said thank you for the information.
Q: Is the Defense Department receiving full briefings from debriefings of this fellow by the FBI... I take it he had some very critical information regarding Khobar.
A: Well, I think it's unclear how critical his information is at this stage. First of all, the fellow's only been here a short amount of time. He's being handled by the FBI and it's a law enforcement issue. They're in charge. We will be involved as appropriate.
Q: On the '98 budget, it's rapidly not moving anywhere on the Hill right now. (Laughter) Are there any real showstoppers this year that the building sees as far as proposals, changes, that sort of thing?
A: As you know, we're working hand in hand with Congress. Letters are flying back at a rapid pace. The Secretary sent a letter up on the B-2 bomber yesterday stating his opposition to nine more B-2s. He sent up a letter on depot issues. We're quite encouraged, actually, by the Senate's position on depots. We're encouraged by the fact that several Senators have announced that they plan to propose an amendment on the floor to call for a BRAC process. We're hopeful that that will gather support as members of Congress realize that if we don't save money by cutting out unnecessary bases, reducing the cost of carrying unnecessary bases, we won't be able to modernize as quickly as we think we need to modernize our force. So we're hopeful that reason will prevail as more people listen to our arguments.
Right now I think it's too early to talk about showstoppers. It's very much in play. Congress is listening to us, we're listening to them, and we're working hard to resolve the problems.
Q: Two related questions. One, the House National Security Committee approved the Defense Reform Act in 1997, which recommends in the view of some, some pretty radical changes at the Pentagon in terms of staff and things like that. My question is, it seems to me that the QDR, National Defense Panel, that whole process was set up to kind of identify things like that as well as the Defense Reform Task Force the Secretary set up.
Does the Pentagon, first of all, agree with this legislation? Also, is it in any way detracting from this whole defense review process that was set up last fall?
A: First of all, John Hamre, the comptroller, has said that we agree with the principle, the direction, but not all the specifics of the Spence proposal. That is our view. I can't comment, I have not actually read the Spence proposal. As you know, I just got back late last night.
But I think the important point to make about it is Secretary Cohen is interested in reform. He's interested in trying to make the Defense Department more efficient, and to make the civilian side of the Defense Department leaner and more productive. To cut out overlap, to cut out duplication in any way possible. That's what the Defense Reform Task Force is doing.
So we're glad that Congress shares that goal. I think that suggests that Congress will support the proposals made by the Defense Reviews Task Force later this year when it completes its work. That Task Force is moving forward aggressively. You've written about some of the initiatives that they've launched already; you've written about some of the topics they're studying.
I don't know whether the Spence proposal will make it through with one part of the legislative process right now. But the important thing is that we're all unified in trying to find a way to make the Pentagon function more efficiently.
Q: Has there been or are there any plans to have a Hamre/Grassley makeup session? (Laughter) Getting Dr. Hamre and Senator Grassley together to iron out their differences? Are there any plans?
A: I'm not aware that it has. Obviously, this is a painful and unproductive situation and we would like to get it behind us. We think that the comptroller, John Hamre, has been making very laudable progress towards dealing with inherited problems of financial management. Has he completed the job? No. He'd be the first to admit that. But he's working hard on it. And to the extent that he can work with Congress, he'll be more successful and everybody will benefit from that progress.
But we have not sought this dispute and we hope that we can move forward with Congress to solve the financial management problems that still remain at the Pentagon.
Q: Does Secretary Cohen intend to review the proposal by Barney Frank to modify consensual sex rules in the military
A: That's a legislative proposal, and that's one the Congress will have to consider and we'll react to it as we see how it goes through the legislative process.
Q: Do you think it should go through the process? Should it be changed?
A: It's up to Congress to decide what it wants to legislate.
Q: What is the Pentagon's view on whether Tim McVeigh should be allowed burial in a military cemetery?
A: That's a Department of Veterans Affairs issue.
Q: It was reported that the (inaudible) meeting Greek Deputy Secretary Yanos (inaudible) and that DoD Under Secretary Jan Lodal gathered here at the Pentagon. They discussed (inaudible) some military initiatives over Cypress and the Aegean Sea. Could you please clarify what types of military initiatives they discussed.
A: What types of military issues they discussed?
Q: ...As it was said, even by Nicholas Burns.
A: They primarily discussed the Holbrooke appointment and the approach that he'll take to trying to resolve the crisis situation. That was the main focal point of their conversation. They also discussed various ways to improve relations between Greece and Turkey. In that regard, one of the issues they focused on were the confidence building measures that have been proposed by the NATO Secretary General Javier Solana. Those have been described in the past. But that was the gist of the meeting. It was 30 minutes long so they didn't have a chance to go into great detail about all issues involving Greece and Turkey.
Q: ...answer to the proposal which has been...
A: I don't know that. That's really something that's being brokered by the Secretary General, and I think it would be most appropriate to ask the NATO people about that.
Q: Your mapping agency, NIMA, stated for the public record that he has been advised recently by the Department of State to include in the U.S. maps in the future the island of (inaudible) as under Greek sovereignty, and (inaudible). Could you please comment and confirm?
A: That's true.
Q: It's true?
A: Yes. In fact there's a new map that was issued at the end of 1996 that makes it very clear that the island is under Greek sovereignty as it always has been. That map is a nautical map for mariners, and it's available to the public. So you can go and check for yourself to make sure that the island is listed under Greek sovereignty. **
Q: I'm raising this question because it's a kind of dispute between the DoD and the Department of State...
A: There's no dispute. There's no dispute here.
Q: ..that to the State Department that the island is Greek...
A: These questions are actually decided by the State Department. They have an official geographer over there. In fact the title is the Office of the Geographer and Global Issues at the State Department. He's the guy who decides the appropriate nationality of properties around the world. We follow his advice.
The reason this was listed as undetermined sovereignty, it was listed that way because a mistake was made. As soon as the mistake was called to the attention of the Defense Mapping Agency, which of course no longer exists because it's been subsumed into NIMA -- the National Imagery and Mapping Agency -- it was changed. So I don't think it's fair to characterize this as a dispute. This is something that we cleared up as quickly as it was called to our attention.
Q: Could you discuss the Pentagon's reasoning in curbing the promotion of cigarettes?
A: Smoking is a costly habit to the military and to the taxpayers of the United States. We lose over $500 million a year in health-related costs, and close to $400 million a year in lost productivity from smoking breaks. That's the main reason we're trying to reduce smoking in the military. We have fairly ambitious goals, and we're actually well on the way to meeting those goals. Working as part of the Administration's program to reduce smoking and improve health in the country, we're trying to reduce the number of people who smoke in the military to 20 percent by the year 2000, and that would be down from 32 percent today. That 32 percent, however, is down sharply from 51 percent of the people in the military who smoked in 1980. So there's been a significant change in the military as there has been in other parts of the population, to reduce smoking.
One of the other things we're doing, of course, is following the FDA rules or proposals that prohibit the sales of tobacco products to people under 18, to minors, in other words. But there are a number of steps underway and proposed steps to reduce smoking in the military. I think we're heaving success, but we have a way to go.
Q: The issue has caused some consternation in Congress. Is the Secretary going to step in to deal with some of the House members in particular, that seem to be quite unhappy with it?
A: My understanding is that the consternation in Congress has to do with jurisdictional issues. I don't think anybody in Congress, that I know of, is in favor of harming the health of soldiers by encouraging smoking. I'm not aware of anybody in Congress who's in favor of reducing the productivity of soldiers and civilians in the Defense Department by encouraging smoking. I'm not aware of anybody who believes that we should encourage smoking for any reason in the military. Quite the contrary, I think there is growing unanimity across the political spectrum that smoking is costly and harmful and we should not encourage it.
So as I say, I believe it was a jurisdictional dispute involving notification and consultation. I know that Mr. Pang is working very hard to consult with the subcommittee involved. The House subcommittee, I believe, has the word "welfare" in its title, and we, I believe, share a common commitment to improving the welfare of soldiers. Welfare will be improved as smoking is reduced.
Q: But the intent to remove the individual that works for Mr. Pang, does the Pentagon view that as being a negative step on the House members' part?
A: Our primary goal here is, as I stated earlier, to reduce the number of people in the military who smoke. We've been approaching that from several directions, and we will continue to work toward that goal.
Q: Just to follow that, why doesn't the Pentagon just take these products out of the commissaries and exchanges altogether? Just stop dealing in them completely?
A: It's a balance. We are trying to work through educational means rather than through withdrawal of products. I think we're making progress on that, but we need to go further.
What we have tried to do, and have done, is to increase the cost of tobacco products sold in the exchanges. They used to be in commissaries. They've been moved to the exchange system now. That has actually led to a reduction in sales of tobacco products. The market does work. People respond to higher prices. I anticipate that the higher prices will continue to discourage smoking.
Q: In view of the continued buildup and deployment of the Chinese cruise missiles by the Iranians, does the Defense Department or did the Secretary in his trip see any positive signs regarding Iran in the change of government to Mr. Khatami? Is there anything there that would say that relations might improve between the U.S. and Iran?
A: Of course he has not, the newly elected President has not taken over yet, as I understand it. We are waiting to see if there is any change in Iran's policies. We hope there will be changes. But I think we have to pay attention to actions, not to words. Our primary concern right now is that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. I think that was clear in the Mikonos bombing trial, the verdict that was handed down in Germany recently. There's a trial going on, I believe, in France that also looks at state-sponsored terrorism by Iran in France. So the first sign is, are they willing to stop sponsoring terrorism? That would be a very, very good sign that they want different and improved relationships with the United States, and indeed, with Europe as well. Because as you know from your reading about this, the verdict in the Mikonos bombing trial has very much disrupted relationships, economic relationships, and diplomatic relationships, not only between Germany and Iran but also between members of the European community and Iran.
The second issue is the military buildup in the Gulf. The question that was discussed during Secretary Cohen's trip to the Gulf was why is Iran continuing to build up its naval and other forces in the Gulf? What are they up to? What are their intentions? What are their goals? Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council are quite concerned about this continuing military buildup by Iran in the Gulf. A cessation of that would also send a very positive sign that Iran is interested in new relations not only with us, but more particularly with its neighbors in the area.
The third is the Iranian program to build weapons of mass destruction. Why are they doing that, what are their goals, what do they have in mind? Do they want to intimidate their neighbors, do they want to intimidate other nearby countries maybe out of the area such as in Europe and other places. An Iranian initiative to stop its program to develop weapons of mass destruction would send a very clear and convincing sign that they're interested in new, improved relationships with the West.
Until we begin seeing evidence that they want a new relationship, I think we have to be careful about predicting that there can be a change. I don't think there can be a change until we see new actions by the Iranian government.
Q: As of yet there are no new actions?
A: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: North Korea has been increasingly saber-rattling over the last few days over the U.S./South Korean military exercises. Have there been any indications of military activity by the North along the border? Unusual military...
A: Not that I'm aware of, but I have not checked on that particular point so I want to be careful about how I answer it. I'm just not in a position to answer it right now, but I'll get back to you on that.
But let me just say that both sides conduct military exercises on a regular basis and these are necessary to maintain readiness. We watch the North Korean exercises every carefully, and they clearly watch the U.S./Republic of Korea exercises very carefully.
Q: Could you make the letter Secretary Cohen sent on depot maintenance and B-2 available if they're not already out?
A: We'll make those letters available and also there's a statement of Administration policy on the Authorization bill which was just handed to me and we can make that available to you as well. So those three things -- the letter on the depots, the letter on the B-2, and the statement of Administration policy. You can get all those afterwards.
Q: You mentioned earlier that Dr. Hamre had publicly stated that the Pentagon supports in principle the defense reform legislation. Was that...?
A: He supported the goals of the defense... I read that in the Early Bird when I was someplace in the Middle East. So yeah, I guess it was reported in the press. He said that we support many of the goals of that legislation. He was not supporting the proposal. He said we support the goal of improving management.
Q: I want to go back to something. There's a piece of legislation that you're willing to talk about. Why can't you give an opinion or the Secretary's opinion on Barney Frank's legislation dealing with consensual sex and that it needs to be changed?
A: There are thousands of legislative proposals made every year. We don't comment on every single legislative proposal that's made.
Q: This is critical to this Department. It's one of the major issues...
A: We'll wait and see where it goes in Congress, and if it's appropriate and necessary, we'll comment on it. I have not had a chance to review Barney Franks' legislation so I can't tell you exactly what our view is on that, but I can tell you this, that we believe that the don't ask, don't tell policy -- and I think that's what you're really asking me about -- is working.
Q: Consensual sex between adults.
A: As I said, we don't have a particular comment on this proposal right now. Let's see where it goes in Congress.
Press: Thank you.
** -- In this briefing, I mistakenly said that the Aegean island of Imia is "under Greek sovereignty." In fact, the sovereignty of that island is in dispute between Greece and Turkey.
It is long-standing U.S. policy not to take a position on conflicting claims to sovereignty, or on other countries' boundary disputes. We believe this policy helps us to act, where appropriate, to facilitate the resolution of such disputes.
The State Department spokesman said on February 1, 1996: "Both Greece and Turkey claim sovereignty to that particular islet. We have decided, upon reflection, that we will not proclaim our view of sovereignty."