Pentagon Regular Briefing, October 19, 2000
DoD News Briefing
Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
October 19, 2000 - 2:10 p.m. EDT
Q: Can you give us the latest update on the Cole situation and the
recovery of bodies? And also, is there a time deadline for this
investigation that you've --
Bacon: Well, our goal is to complete it as soon as possible. It took
-- I would say it would take several months, but our goal is to
complete it as soon as possible. We'd like to have the benefit of the
lessons learned as soon as we can, and clearly both General Crouch and
Admiral Gehman are very experienced and I think will know exactly how
to approach this.
Q: Should U.S. Naval ships in that region have been fueled by tankers
out at sea? I think General Zinni this morning said that that used to
be the practice about 10 years ago. And if that's the case, why was
that policy changed?
Bacon: Well, Admiral Clark addressed that a week ago. And I don't
think you were here for that briefing, but you should read the
transcript. And what he said was that when single ships travel, they
are not refueled by oilers. They don't have oilers traveling with
them. Oilers travel with groups of ships, not with single ships. And
that has been the process for a long period of time. I don't know
exactly how long.
I thought that General Zinni, from the accounts I've read and the
small amount of his testimony I was able to see, gave a very clear
account of why our ships had used the Port of Aden, balancing the
opportunities and the risks of using Aden versus other ports. And he
made it very clear that this is a region that's fraught with risks,
and there's no risk-free refueling port in the region. But you can
draw your own conclusions from what he said.
I want to go back to answer the rest of Bob's questions, which I
neglected to answer, about status with the Cole. Eight sets of remains
that were recovered over the last several days will start their
journey back from Bahrain to Dover and should arrive sometime
tomorrow. Five sets have been returned already. Eight new sets are on
the way. That will raise the total to 13. And they will fly nonstop
from Bahrain to Dover in a C-141, as I say, arriving sometime
The Navy is making good progress on the remaining four sets of
remains, but I don't have anything to announce right now. We may have
something to say later in the day.
Q: What about the ships' status? Is that -- any change in the --
Bacon: No, there's no change in the ships' status. In general, ships
in the Central Command area of responsibility are still out to sea.
They are not in ports. And they're being refueled and replenished out
to sea right now -- out at sea.
There are a number of ships in the vicinity of Aden right now. I think
the two in the harbor, as I understand it, are still the Cole,
obviously, which can't move, and the Tarawa. And there -- other ships
are in the vicinity of Aden.
The next big event, after we complete the recovery of the bodies, will
be the recovery of the ship. And it is taking a little longer to
outfit the Blue Marlin for that operation than anticipated. It doesn't
look -- it appears that the Blue Marlin will arrive in Aden around the
end of this month, October, and probably leave with the Cole on board
sometime during the first week of November. That looks like the
current schedule at this stage.
Q: A couple of questions. What happens to the crew when the Cole goes
back? Will they come back to Norfolk, or will they stay on board and
ride it back?
Bacon: My impression is that a very small group will remain on the
ship as she comes back. It'll take about a month for her to cross the
Atlantic. And most of the crew will fly back.
Q: There's also -- there's a lot of -- to switch subjects, there's a
lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on that I'm sure you've
seen, where -- people questioning why were we there at all; we should
have known, with everything going on in Israel and Palestine, that it
would be dangerous to pull in there. What do you have to say to these
Bacon: Well, first of all, we have no clear link between this event
and what was happening between Israel and Palestine. As the FBI
investigation continues, we'll learn more about what happened and how
it happened, how it was orchestrated. But the early returns make it
look like this is something that had been in the works for some time,
probably long before the recent frictions between Israel and the
Palestinian Authority. But we will find out about that.
And I thought that General Zinni gave a very clear description of how
he and others made the decision that was made to go to Aden.
Q: Yeah, one of the things he complained about was human intelligence
and the lack of it that we have over there. Can you give us an
assessment of where the military, the official military stands on
that? Is there adequate --
Bacon: I think that the Director of Central Intelligence, George
Tenet, has said that human intelligence is an area where we need work
throughout the government, and I have no reason to disagree with him
Q: Ken, what is it that makes you say it appears that this was in the
works for some time, long before the Palestinian uprisings?
Bacon: The president of Yemen gave a very lengthy interview yesterday
-- you can read the transcript of it -- it's available on the Foreign
Broadcast Information Service -- in which he talked about some of the
details, the house that had been rented, and some of the work that had
been done over a period of time. He wasn't specific on that, but from
reading that, it was my impression that the preparations had been
taking place for some time.
Q: Can you describe, if you haven't already, the difference between
what Gehman and Crouch will do, and the difference in what the Navy's
own investigation of Cole?
Bacon: Sure. The Navy has started what's called a JAG manual
investigation -- stands for Judge Advocate General -- manual or rule
book investigation. It will look at what happened on the ship itself;
it will only look at what happened on the Cole. The convening
authority for this is a captain. And he will look at whether the ship
followed proper Navy procedures for the circumstances it faced. Given
the threat condition it was operating under at the time, did it check
all the boxes and follow the proper procedures? It will start, you
know, from the moment they decided to go to Aden and look at all the
preparations they made for the arrival in Aden for the refueling. And
so it looks at the ship itself, and it will decide whether people
performed adequately, given the rules they were subject to.
What General Crouch and Admiral Gehman will look at is broader than
that. They will look at intelligence assessments. They will look at
the rules of engagement, the operating rules for CENTCOM. They will
look at the whole string of decisions that led to sending the ship
there, not just the performance of the crew of the ship itself and,
therefore, it will be much broader than the Navy JAG Manual
investigation that's already started.
Q: Is there any indication, Ken, that the rules of engagement in any
way tied anyone's hands in terms of a response to this attack?
Bacon: Well, I think it's probably too early to comment on that,
beyond what Admiral Clark said last week, and he gave the distinct
impression that they did not. He was quite explicit about that, but I
think that's one of the things that certainly will be looked at, both
by the Navy and by the Cole panel.
Q: On September 22nd, Osama bin Laden and members of the Egyptian
Islamic Jihad went on Qatar TV -- it was probably a tape, not a live
shot -- but there was a tape played of Osama bin Laden and Egyptian
Islamic Jihad officials making pretty specific threats against
American forces, and specifically threatening attacks on ships. Now,
there are some within the administration who said they were unaware of
these bin Laden threats. Did the Pentagon, did CENTCOM, did the U.S.
Navy, did the Cole, get any kind of threat assessment or warning as to
the threats being made Osama bin Laden and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad?
Bacon: Well, that's precisely the type of question that the various
panels will look at. And I think rather than rifle shoot at questions
like that, it's better to look at the whole pattern.
That's one of the reasons Secretary Cohen is setting up this Cole
Panel. It will look at the full panoply of intelligence factors that
were available, whether intelligence reached the right people at the
right time, whether the information was as accurate as it could be,
whether there was a proper distinction between general threats and
specific threats. These are the type of questions they'll be looking
at. Rather than try to answer these questions piecemeal, I think it's
better just to let the panel do its work and try to release a complete
report as soon as possible.
Q: Ken, the initial reports we received last week were that the boat
that came up alongside the Cole and exploded was part of the mooring
operation. I have seen reports since then that suggest that it wasn't,
that it somehow blended in with the mooring operation or infiltrated.
Does the Pentagon have an opinion as to whether this boat was, in
fact, assisting in the mooring before the explosion, or was it an
Bacon: The Pentagon has many opinions, and the opinions change over
time. And this, again, is a reason to wait for a complete assessment.
There are three ongoing now: one by the FBI, which is looking at
culpability; another by the Navy, which is looking at what happened on
the Cole itself and whether proper procedures were followed; and then
the third, broader assessment being done by General Crouch and Admiral
Gehman. So I think that we will have a clearer idea of what happened
as we begin to close these various inquiries. We're not there. We're a
long ways away from knowing. There are still very contradictory
reports coming in. And rather than speculate, I think I'd just to wait
until it's finished.
Q: Could the Cole Panel recommend disciplinary action if anybody has
been found to have fallen down on the job?
Bacon: Well, the Cole Panel is set up as a lessons-learned panel. And
it's designed to review force protection in the broadest possible
interpretation of that term and to come up with recommendations for
improving force protection. So it is not designed as an accountability
panel, it's designed to be a lessons-learned panel.
Q: The JAG panel would do that, if anyone does it?
Bacon: They are looking at specifically at what's happening with the
Q: Well, who in the -- if somebody in the chain of command made a
mistake or missed something, who -- is it the Cole Panel that would
bring that out?
Bacon: If the Cole Panel made it clear that there was a lapse that
could be attributed to various people or procedures, that would be
highlighted by the panel, and then the leadership of the department
would decide what to do next. But it would be based on a complete
inquiry by the Cole Panel.
Q: Once the Cole is moved out of that region, what is U.S. presence in
that region going to look like?
Bacon: What is the presence in the region going to look like?
Bacon: Well, typically we have -- well, in the Central Command area,
which is the Middle East, East Africa and stretching over to Pakistan,
the Central Command area generally has a carrier battle group in it,
and as many as 20,000 to 25,000 U.S. forces.
Q: I guess my -- what I'm trying to ask is, is there going to be any
difference since the Cole --
Bacon: Well, difference where? In Aden? Or the difference in Aden in
Well, Toby, our presence there was intermittent. We didn't have a
full-time naval presence in Aden. Ships went in there -- I think 27
ships over the last 18 or 19 months went in to refuel.
But I wouldn't anticipate that our presence would be any greater than
that in Aden. Ships will continue to ply the waters and the ports in
the area as appropriate.
Q: Including Aden?
Bacon: Well, I don't think we can -- I think we need to -- we need to
review the conditions at the time. We had embassy bombings in Africa
last year; we didn't shut down our embassies in those towns -- in the
areas where we had the bombings. We've had security problems in Saudi
Arabia; we've made changes in our force deployment patterns, but we
haven't left Saudi Arabia.
So we will have to look at the conditions -- look at the alternatives,
and that will be done over time.
Right now, for obvious reasons, what we're concentrating on is
recovering the remains, stabilizing the ship, and moving forward with
the FBI investigation in Aden.
Q: And are you looking at any other ways in which you can accomplish
refueling in the area without the ships going into port?
Bacon: Well, right now, we are doing that, because the ships aren't in
port. They're all out at sea. And we are doing that -- obviously to do
that on a full-time basis, we need more oilers in the region, and
that's something we can do. I don't think the Navy's made a firm
decision about this. I think General Zinni made it clear that in
response to very specific threats in the past, ships have left port
and have left ports before they completed their port visits and went
to sea in order to be in a more secure environment. And so I'm sure
that we'll continue to review the security situation in individual
ports in the area as a whole and make the appropriate decisions.
Q: But the refueling stops have been suspended for the time being.
Bacon: They have been. That's what I said. All the ship are at sea,
and they're being refueled at sea.
Q: And so would a resumption of the refueling be dependent on the
conclusions of the panel's final report, or --
Bacon: No, I mean, I think the Navy will have to review its operations
and review the security factors in the area in making a decision. I
think what you're asking me is, are all Navy ships going to stay at
sea permanently --
Bacon: -- in the CENTCOM AOR and never go into port, is that what
you're asking me?
Q: No, that's not what I'm asking. I'm asking whether refuelings in
Aden will resume.
Bacon: I think it's premature. This happened a week ago. Let's figure
out -- let's let the FBI figure out what happened. Let's let the Navy
complete its review and let the Cole panel complete its review. And
based on what we find, the Navy will have to make decisions. I
wouldn't expect a decision about refueling in Aden to be made
immediately. For one thing, the Cole is going to be tied up at the
dolphin, it looks now, until the end of the month. So nothing's going
to happen until the end of the month in Aden.
Q: In fact, it could be several months if you're going to wait until
the review panel --
Bacon: It could be. I just, I don't want to speculate. I'm not going
to give a deadline for making this decision. We'll have to make it
based on the best information we have about intelligence, about force
protection measures, about changes in force protection measures and
overall conditions in the area.
Q: The Cole was headed to the Gulf to help in the -- enforce the
embargo against Iraq.
Bacon: Mmm hmm.
Q: Now, that force is light one destroyer. Will the Navy send another
destroyer, perhaps from the 6th Fleet or all the way from Norfolk, to
Bacon: It's a good question, and I don't know the answer. I'll try to
find out. I mean, clearly, right now our primary concern is supporting
the Cole in Aden, and there are a number of ships that are helping to
Q: Are the Hawes and the Cook going to break off and go back to the
Bacon: Well, at the appropriate time. I think they'll stay to provide
support and protection, but I don't know for how long.
(To staff.) Do you know for how long they'll stay? I don't think that
decision has been made.
Q: Separate subject, if that's been exhausted --
Q: Could I just ask one more?
Bacon: Just a second. Toby, do you have another one on this?
Q: You said that it looked like this was planned long before the
uprising by the Palestinians. Does that fact in itself suggest whether
this was a state-sponsored attack or whether it was an independent
Bacon: I think it's too early to answer that question. I hope that the
FBI will be able to answer precisely that question and other
questions, but it's too early at this stage.
Q: Is the military standing ready at this point, in the event that if
you find out who did this attack on the Cole, to take some sort of
military retaliatory attack, like cruise missiles?
Bacon: The military is always ready to do any job assigned to it by
the national command authority, and I can't be any more specific than
that. I think we have to wait for the FBI to complete its work before
it's fair to speculate about what happens next.
Q: But how likely is that type of a retaliatory measure --
Bacon: Well, we don't talk about things like that. I think it's just
premature to speculate where the FBI investigation will lead. And -- I
mean, I know speculation is never premature for the press. But it's
premature for me to speculate about where the FBI investigation will
lead. It's only been going on for a week -- actually, a little less
than that because they didn't get there immediately, although they got
there very, very quickly. They are still moving people and equipment
in. I think there was a press conference today by FBI Director Freeh
from Aden. I've seen interviews with the President of Yemen both
yesterday and today commenting on the pace of the investigation, and I
think you should rely on those. But it's -- the -- I've not seen
anything attributed to the FBI that suggests they're on the brink of
figuring out how this happened or who's responsible. They're hoping,
obviously, that they'll be able to do that soon.