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Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh Holds a Press Briefing

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SABRINA SINGH: Good afternoon. Just a few items here to pass along at the top and then happy to take your questions.

So today, the United States announced plans to expand four new sites in the Philippines under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement -- Arrangement, following the Secretary's visit in February -- Naval Base Camilo Osias in Santa Ana, Cagayan, Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela, Balabac Island in Palawan, and Lal-lo Airport in Cagayan.

In addition to the five existing sites, these new locations will strengthen the interoperability of the United States and Philippine Armed Forces and allow us to respond more seamlessly together to address a range of shared challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, including natural and humanitarian disasters. The Department of Defense will work in lockstep with the Philippine Department of National Defense and Armed Forces to rapidly pursue modernization products at these locations. 

The United States and the Philippines have stood shoulder-to-shoulder as friends and allies and more -- and for far more than seven decades, unwavering in treaty commitments and our shared vision for a more peaceful, secure and prosperous region.

And before I get to questions, I just want to congratulate one of our very own, Idrees Ali, on his engagement this weekend. So congratulations to you.

And with that, I will take your questions. I'll start with Associated Press.

Q: Hey, thanks for doing this. One question on the announcement. So what, if any, additional U.S. military assets would be moving into help develop these bases? 

And then secondly, on the spy balloon, can you give us an update on what sort of intelligence the U.S. has been able to gather from the balloon? And speak to reports that the balloon was able to transmit intelligence back to China that the U.S. could not prevent.

MS. SINGH: Sure. So I'll take the first -- your last question first. So on the balloon itself, right now, the FBI is lead, still assessing the parts that we were able to recover from the balloon. As we mentioned early on when we first started tracking the balloon, we do know that the balloon was able to be maneuvered and purposely driven along its track but not going to get into specific sites it was able to hover over.

But what we did do is take precautionary steps to limit the intelligence value that it would be able to collect and, you know, again, we -- we took steps to protect our own military installations from foreign intelligence collection.

And I'm sorry, I think you had another question on the balloon but I just didn't remember the second part.

Q: It was on the -- being -- being able to transmit to China and were you able to prevent intelligence from some of these sites from China being able to collect from the balloon?

MS. SINGH: Because of the steps that we were able to take, we were able to prevent transmission of -- of certain aspects of our sites to be transmitted, just because of what we were -- the precautionary steps that we were able to take.

But in terms of transmission back to -- to the PRC and what was able to be transmitted back, I just don't have further information for you at this time. As of right now, we're still doing an assessment of what exactly the intel was that China was able to gather, but we do know that the steps that we took provided little additive value for what they've been able to collect on from satellites before.

And then you had an -- a question on the -- EDCA and specifically what would -- your question was on just what ... 

Q: (Inaudible) military (inaudible).

MS. SINGH: Sure. So this is going to be -- we're not seeking permanent basing here, so you're going to see an increase of rotational forces in the region, but this is more about supporting combined training, being able to respond to natural disaster, humanitarian disasters in the region but this is really about regional readiness.


Q: Just to -- another follow-up on the Philippines sites.

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: Could you get into, like, a -- what these sites are and, like, what capabilities would be using them? Are we talking about ports where warships and submarines would stop? Are we talking about airfields? What does it look like?

MS. SINGH: Well, as I mentioned, one of them is an airport expansion but some of these sites would include areas to further our training, which would of course include naval assets, but I think what's most important is that the expansion of EDCA just makes our training with the Philippines just more resilient. It is about creating regional readiness but also being able to respond to any type of disaster or any type of humanitarian disaster that could arise in the region.

Q: And if I could just follow up, regarding the Iran-backed militia attacks in Syria, I think last week we heard that there had been six diagnoses of TBI. Do you have an update on that? And has there been additional diagnoses?

MS. SINGH: I don't have an update on additional diagnoses of TBI or their condition but I'm happy to take that question and get back to you.

Yeah, Jen -- Jennifer?

Q: Sabrina, back to the spy balloon, is there new analysis suggesting that the Chinese were able to collect in real time more intelligence than -- from the spy balloon than you first realized?

MS. SINGH: No, I think what we said at the very beginning was -- still holds true to today -- as soon as we realized that they were collecting intelligence and hovering over our sensitive sites, we took measures and put into place measures that limited the additive value that the balloon could collect on.

Q: So did you know at the time that they were able to transmit back in real time to Beijing ... 

MS. SINGH: Well, I ... 

Q: ... or is that new?

MS. SINGH: I wouldn't be able to say that they were able to transmit back to Beijing. We just don't have -- I -- I just don't have that type of information at this point.

Q: So you're saying that is not confirmed at this point?

MS. SINGH: That is not confirmed at this point.

Q: And can you -- how confident are you that the mitigation measures that you took actually worked or is there new evidence suggesting that some intelligence was collected, despite the mitigation efforts?

MS. SINGH: Yeah -- no, thanks for the question. So we are confident in the measures that we did put in place. I -- I know I -- I sound like a broken record, I don't mean to, but what we know is that the intent of this balloon was surveillance and that what -- the measures that we put in place didn't -- did not -- had limited additive value for what they were able to collect over our sensitive sites.

Q: You mean it -- maybe -- you mean that the mitigation efforts limited ... 

MS. SINGH: Correct, I'm sorry. The mitigation efforts that we put into place had little additive value for the PRC. 

Q: OK. And is it true that the -- that you've learned that the spy balloon had the ability to self-destruct and did not self-destruct and do you know why?

MS. SINGH: I just wouldn't be able to say at this time that something that, as I mentioned earlier, the FBI is looking into at Quantico -- and -- and we are certainly in touch with them. We've been off -- we've offered resources to the FBI but I just wouldn't be able to comment further at this time.

Yeah, Janne?

Q: Thank you -- thank you, Sabrina. I have two questions.

MS. SINGH: Sure.

Q: It has been reported that nuclear production activities have been detected at the Nyongbyon Nuclear Facility in North Korea. What is the Pentagon's analysis of these activities?

MS. SINGH: Thanks, Janne, for the question. So I've seen the reports of that but I just don't have anything to add at this time. We continue to monitor, you know, things that are -- activity in the DPRK but I just don't have anything further to add in -- into those reports.

Q: OK. This -- this kind of (inaudible), do you see North Korea conduct another nuclear test soon? It's your view?

MS. SINGH: We haven't seen any indications right now. Again we continue to monitor testing and, you know, activities of the DPRK. But our end goal here is the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as you -- as you know. Um, and so I just don't have -- have more to add at this time. 

Q: Question on...


Q: ... North Korea, Kim Jong-un's sister, Kim Yo-jong, warned President Zelenskyy of Ukraine that United States nuclear umbrella is use -- I mean, useless. And Kim Yo-jong actively defended Russia. How would you react to that? 

MS. SINGH: I just want to make I'm understanding. Can you repeat the question? 

Q: OK. North Korea, Kim Jong-un's sister, Kim Yo-jong, warned President Zelenskyy of Ukraine that the U.S. nuclear umbrella is useless and that Kim Yo-jong actively defended Russia. How do you react? 

MS. SINGH: I wouldn't really be able to respond to that. I -- I think, as we've said before, we continue to monitor the activities of -- of the DPRK. And we continue to assess, you know, and work with our allies and partners in the region. Our goal and our allies' goal is the full de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And I'll just leave it at that. 

Q: The nuclear umbrella is, you know, into South Korea. 

MS. SINGH: Mm-hmm.

Q: But the U.S. nuclear umbrella -- I'm sorry. 

MS. SINGH: (inaudible) 

Q: Nuclear umbrella to South Korea. But this meaning is that they're regarding, you know, Ukraine or North Korea or, you know, South Korea, they involve with all those areas. Why they, you know, underscore United States nuclear umbrella.

MS. SINGH: I wouldn't be able to speak to those comments of why they're underscoring the United States. We are a responsible nuclear power that will continue to act responsibly and would encourage others to do so. 

I'll go to Idrees in the back. 

Q: Just to double check on (inaudible) the balloon. 

MS. SINGH: Sure. 

Q: You can confirm that there was real time transmission back over at military bases, right? (inaudible) 

MS. SINGH: I cannot confirm that there was a real time transmission back from the balloon back to the PRC at this time. 


Q: (inaudible) specifically? 

MS. SINGH: Correct. I cannot confront that...


Q: OK. And your analysis is ongoing on that? 

MS. SINGH: Correct. 

Q: OK. And then just a separate topic on...

MS. SINGH: Sure. 

Q: ... Syria. Have there been any more attacks on U.S. forces over the weekend? And has the U.S. carried out any attacks against Iranian-backed forces as well? 

MS. SINGH: Again, I'm sorry?

Q: Iranian-backed forces in Syria. 

MS. SINGH: No, there -- I mean, as far as I'm aware there have been no updates -- or no attacks on U.S. forces over the weekend and no further strikes from U.S. forces on IRGC-backed groups. 

I'll come to Lara, and then go to Matt. (inaudible), Lara, over here. Right here, yes. 


MS. SINGH: One day we will be back in the PBR. But today is not that day. 

Q: That will be a good day. 


Q: So two questions. 

MS. SINGH: Mm-hmm. 

Q: First of all, follow-up on the spy balloon. 

MS. SINGH: Sure. 

Q: It is possible that China could have collected sensitive information from military sites before you put these measures in place? Was there time for that to happen? 

And then secondly on the -- the Philippines, you mentioned modernization projects. 

MS. SINGH: Mm-hmm.

Q: Could you say more -- could you be more specific about what these entail? 

MS. SINGH: On the modernization products -- or projects, let me take that and get back to you just to get you some more specifics on that. 

On the balloon and -- on your first question on being able to collect data over military sites, I mean, you have to remember that we start tracking the balloon around January 27th. So when the balloon was coming over and up through the United States, dipped into Canada, and then dipped back down, we were already taking precautionary measures at this time to mitigate any type of an intelligence collection that the balloon would be able to pick up. 

And I think by that point we had already identified that it was a PRC-affiliated balloon. So, I think the measures that we put in place certainly limited what the PRC was able to collect. And that was on due diligence on our part. 

Q: So, you were able to predict the path of the balloon? Or, you knew what it was going to go over?

MS. SINGH: I don't think we would say that we were able to predict the path, but we were following the balloon. And as it did traverse over sensitive military sites, and as we mentioned early on when we -- January, early February, we did see the balloon begin to hover over military sites, that certainly gave us pause and -

Q: That's after it reentered the United States --

MS. SINGH: Correct. 

Q: -- right? OK. 

MS. SINGH: Yes. And when it dipped back down through Canada, yes. Yes. Ryo? I'm sorry and then I'll come back to you. 

Q: Thank you. Hi. Thank you very much. I want to throw (inaudible) about the new locations that the U.S. and the Philippines agree on. That three out of the four new locations are in the Luzon Island, which is very close to Taiwan. So, how much do you assess such new locations will help enhance a U.S. ability to respond to our contingency in the Taiwan Strait? 

MS. SINGH: Well, this is more about regional response, regional readiness. This is an arrangement that we have with the Philippines that goes back many years. And in -- is an investment in our cooperation with the Philippines in order to better -- for better interoperability. But the -- it's not just about the region's also for our forces to be able to spawn to any type of disasters, whether it be natural or humanitarian. So, this is about, you know, again, we do not seek permanent basing in the Philippines and this is just one additional aspect that will increase training between our two countries. 

Great. Matt, yes.

Q: Thanks, Sabrina. I just had one quick -

MS. SINGH: Sure. 

Q: One quick one on the balloon. When you talk about the mitigation efforts that the U.S. took, my understanding was that was mostly involving kind of limiting the information footprint, limiting the signals that the U.S. was using so as to not leave very much for that balloon to be able to intercept or to scoop up. Can you say whether there were also efforts to intercept any outgoing transmissions from the balloon as it maybe tried to transmit back to Beijing?

MS. SINGH: That's a great question, unfortunately, that gets into our intelligence capabilities, which I just wouldn't want to -- I just wouldn't be able to speak to on that front, so I'll just leave it at that. Yes, Dan? And then --

Q: Thanks. Just on the balloon. When you say that you can't confirm that it was transmitting, the balloon was transmitting back to China, is that because that's classified or that's because you -- the Defense Department does not know, it cannot determine that?

MS. SINGH: That's a great question. That's something that we're analyzing right now. That's something that we've been looking into that's why we're doing some of the analysis at Quantico, and I just don't have an update for you on that just yet. 

Q: So, when do you anticipate this assessment would be wrapped up? 

MS. SINGH: I don't want to put a timeline on anything, as that could take a while. But it's certainly something that, you know, we can get back to you on. 

Q: And is it still possible that as you go back over old data using the information you now have since that incident that there were other balloon flights around -- in U.S. airspace that have not, so far, been recognized or publicly acknowledged? 

MS. SINGH: Well, there were -- I mean, we did mention at the time there were previous balloons in and around the United States and during the previous administration. Is that what you're referring to or?

Q: Yes, you did acknowledge -

MS. SINGH: Yes. 

Q: -- a certain number during the Biden and Trump administrations. 

MS. SINGH: Yes. 

Q: I'm asking, were there more flights that you've since recognized or you think you might recognize as you go over old data? 

MS. SINGH: No, not that I'm aware of. I think that's all that we assessed and I don't -- I mean, I don't have any other data to indicate otherwise. But it's certainly something that we continue to assess and that's how we knew going back that we did see three incursions during the Trump administration and then one at the start of the Biden administration. 

Q: So, if you could dis -- it was -- it is -- is it -- would it be possible for the Defense Department to release more information about the previous flight during the Biden administration? Exactly -- exactly what happened? What was the response? Were you aware that it was a Chinese airship? Did you believe it was a Chinese balloon?

MS. SINGH: I think it -- I think during this time earlier this year we did give you some of those details. I'm happy to go back and find out if there's any more that we can release at this time, but I just don't have anything more to share at this moment. 

Q: Sorry, and then I'm going to throw you one more separate. 

MS. SINGH: I hope it's a balloon question.

Q: It's not balloon, sadly -


Q: -- for you. East China Sea, Japan said that it documented sort of a record number of hours of incursions by Chinese vessels and aircraft in and around the Senkaku Islands.

MS. SINGH: Yes. 

Q: What -- what's your assessment what's going on there? And how concerned are you about that? 

MS. SINGH: Well, I'd refer you to those nations to discuss their ship movements. But, from here at this podium and the secretary has spoken about this, we've been clear on our concerns regarding PRC escalation and provocation, particularly in the East China Sea and South China Sea. And so, we continue to cooperate and coordinate with Japan. But I would refer you to those nations to discuss their ship movements. 


Q: Yes, so I'm going to take another bite at the apple, at the Philippine sites.


Q: I assume as part of any agreement the U.S. made with Manila that there was an understanding on how many U.S. troops would be rotated through. Can you give us an idea of how many troops you expect to be in the Philippines as part of this -- these new sites? And second part of that is, can you give us an idea of when those new rotations may begin? 

MS. SINGH: In terms of how many will be rotational I can get back to you on the exact number. And in terms of when I'd also have to get back to you on when that's going to start. I just don't have that at the top of my fingers right now. Yes, right here. 

Q: Thank you, Sabrina.

MS. SINGH: Yes, nice to see you. 

Q: (Inaudible) to Syria. The decision to Pakistan the deployment of the Georgia H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group near Syria, what are your assessments that lead you to put that carrier strike -- still there near Syria? And do you have any plans to change your footprint inside Syria? Thank you. 

MS. SINGH: So, I'll take the last question first. No plans to change our footprint at this time in Syria. In terms of why the USS George W -- H.W. Bush carrier was repositioned, I mean as you saw, we saw increased attacks from IRGC affiliated groups targeting our service members across Syria, and so as a precaution we did move the carrier to be slightly closer, but it's still in the purview of UCOMM. But it was in response to, of course, what we saw as increasing attacks on our service members in the region. 

Yes, of course. Right here in the back and then I'll come back to Mike and rap it up. 

Q: Thank you for taking my question. Regarding the air defense agreement reached last week, Nordic Air Defense Agreement between Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark, how will -- how do you think this will impact U.S. DOD Artic Security strategy? And when might we be able to see the Arctic Security Strategy...

MS. SINGH: Well...

Q: ... DOD strategy?

MS. SINGH: Sure. This is a -- a partnership and an agreement with friends and allies, and something that we -- you know, will strengthen our countries' cooperation together. I'm happy to get you more on the agreement itself, but that's all I'll really say for now at this time.

Yeah, sure.

Q: Sabrina, just a clarification on George W.H. (sic) Bush. So the -- that ship was actually close to Turkey during the -- the coup -- excuse me -- during the earthquake efforts. And would you say that it changes position coming closer to Syria? That's one. And also, it was also on way back to San Diego. It -- do -- do you think that it changed its schedule and extended its schedule in Mediterranean?

MS. SINGH: Yes. Yes, it did change its schedule and repossession closer in order to be in a closer position to -- to Syria.

Q: It -- it -- and then is there any time? Like, how -- how -- for how long it change its schedule to...

MS. SINGH: I'm not going to get into more specifics on the timeline, but what I can say is, is that we are taking precautions, of course, to protect our servicemembers, as we saw an increase in -- in strikes on our bases and -- or our -- our facilities and our -- and our servicemembers in the region.

I'm going to go to -- oh...

Q: (inaudible). I'm sorry. Would you rule out that this is only because there were some strikes or attacks against U.S. forces, but has nothing to do with the -- a possible potential contingent action against Iran in case Iranian regime go -- goes -- go ahead with -- goes ahead with its nuclear program?

MS. SINGH: This was about the attacks that we saw on our servicemembers in the region and response to that.

Yeah, Mike?

Q: Yeah, the British Defense Ministry is assessing that General Gerasimov's tenure in Russia as the chief of the general staff there may be shaky owing to Russia's failures in the Ukraine. Is that a viewpoint that's shared here in the Pentagon?

MS. SINGH: I wouldn't be able to say one way or the other. "Shaky" I'm not sure is the -- the right word. I think we've certainly seen failures that the Russian military has not been able to execute on the battlefield and failures in their command-and-control. I wouldn't be able to speculate on Mr. Gerasimov's future. I would leave that to the Russians to do instead.

Q: Or (inaudible)?

MS. SINGH: Or -- or -- yes, or that.

All right, thanks, all.