DoD News Briefing

Thursday, February 19, 1998 - 1:40 p.m.
Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.

Let me bring you up to date on the crew of the B-1 that crashed yesterday. As you know, all four crewmen were recovered. They ejected from the plane and they are now in hospital care. Two are listed as in good condition and two are in stable condition. We can get you their names and specifics if you want them, from DDI later.

In addition, I'd like to announce that at 1400 today, 2 o'clock our time, the FBI is going to hold a press conference involving a law enforcement action that took place last night in Las Vegas, near the Las Vegas area, in which they impounded a vehicle that was reported to contain a possible biological agent. I don't know what they found. We dispatched four members of an Army technical escort unit from Dugway Proving Ground in Utah and a lab technician at the request of the FBI to help in that investigation. As I say, the FBI will have details on that later today.

Finally, let me bring you up to date on where we stand on deployments to the Gulf. We now have about 400 aircraft in theater -- that's U.S. and allied aircraft, principally U.S. aircraft, but British aircraft as well, some French connected with Operation SOUTHERN WATCH. Two hundred sixty-seven combat aircraft are involved, of that larger number of 400.

The brigade that's being filled out has started to move, the headquarters have started to move. An armored battalion has also started to move to the Gulf to join the battalion that was already in the Gulf exercising under INTRINSIC ACTION. These are from the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Ga.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: Was the material found in Las Vegas found to be a biological agent?

A: I said the FBI is going to have a press conference at 2 o'clock and they'll announce what they found.

Q: Did the military experts find out whether or not it was... You're just simply not going to say.

A: I'm going to let the FBI announce the findings of their investigation, judging from the information they've accumulated on their own as well as the information they've received from the Army technical escort officials who helped them.

Q: I take it the military is in no way connected to this other than...

A: We were clearly supporting a domestic law enforcement agency. This happens from time to time. I think there have been about a dozen responses in the last six months where military people have been deployed at the request of domestic federal agencies -- sometimes the FBI, sometimes other agencies -- to provide support. The law enforcement work, of course, is done by the FBI or by local police, not by the military.

Q: What do they do, the people from Dugway?

A: These are people who are trained to deal with chemical or biological agents. They have the proper clothing and material for dealing with it. They know how to put it into special canisters that can be used to ship it to a lab so it can't break open in shipment. I think you've seen pictures of those in the past. They have lab technicians and laboratory equipment that can help them evaluate the stuff, so that's what they do. They secure it and they help analyze it.

Q: That's what they did in this case?

A: That's what they did in this case, yes.

Q: How about the suspicious package in the Pentagon that sealed off a large slice of the building an hour or two ago?

A: I'm afraid I don't know anything about that. I was sealed in my own office and this escaped me, but we'll try to get more information for you on that.

Q: Can we switch to Iraq?

A: Sure.

Q: Can you update us on the status of Iraqi forces, their dispersal, any unusual military activity on the part of the Iraqis.

A: Probably in a minimal way I can do that. There is some dispersal taking place now. It seems to be for defensive reasons. It is not the type of movement that is enhancing their offensive capability. We've noticed some aircraft moving around, some movements of ground forces -- nothing particularly dramatic at this stage. As always, there's near continual movement of air defense assets and that's continuing as well.

We believe, as I said, that the movement is for defensive reasons, and in fact the movement of the air defense assets makes them probably less capable of firing when they're in the midst of movement than they would be otherwise.

Q: While we're on that subject, a "white paper" released by the White House a couple of days ago on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, missiles, reports that the Iraqis have deployed some short range missiles which are legal under the UN sanctions. Is the Pentagon concerned that with any type of action those missiles could be loaded with unconventional warheads or conventional warheads and fired in the region?

A: First, the reason we're involved in the current crisis with Iraq is because of our concerns over unconventional weapons, particularly chemical and biological weapons so, yes, we have an overarching concern about their possession of chemical and biological weapons and also their willingness to use those weapons as demonstrated by past behavior.

We have made it very clear to them, starting in 1990 or 1991, just before the Gulf War, that if they were to use any chemical or biological weapons against our forces, our friends or our allies, that we would respond very quickly, very decisively with devastating force. We've repeated that many times. I've repeated it, Secretary Cohen has repeated it, and I think they, I hope, they've gotten that message.

We have a broad program in the Gulf to equip our soldiers with the latest in masks -- the new masks and the new light weight chemical protective suits or protective suits, the so-called MOPP gear that is going over there. We have deployed new detectors for both chemical and biological weapons -- a Portal Shield and a biological detective system, the so-called BID system; so we have a general concern about this.

Q: How about the missile part of that, though? These are short range missiles...

A: They are allowed under United Nations, I believe it's under United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, to allow... They are allowed to have some short range missiles, as I understand it.

We basically monitor their movements very closely, particularly in the Southern No-Fly/No-Drive Zone, and I think we would want to move very quickly if we saw them positioning shorter range missiles that they might be able to use against our troops near the southern part of their country.

Q: Do we know where those missiles are? You say they're in the southern part...

A: I didn't say they were there. I said we monitor the Southern No-Fly/No-Drive Zone very carefully. We fly many sorties a day monitoring activity in that area. Were we to see evidence that they were moving missiles like this into position that might allow them to attack our troops, we would respond. That's what we're allowed to do under the terms of the No-Fly/No-Drive Zone. It's designed to prevent them from mobilizing attacks against Kuwait or Saudi Arabia or against our forces in those areas.

Q: Do they have a capability of weaponizing...

A: They have declared... I want to be very careful here and make a separation between these short range missiles that Bill asked me about and other missiles. They have declared that they did put chemicals, deadly chemical agents into 50 missile warheads, and that they put biological agents into 25 warheads. They declared that to UNSCOM.

They also declared that they destroyed all of the chemical warheads. UNSCOM has been able to confirm the destruction of 30 of the 50 warheads they declared having filled with chemical agents.

So there are 20-such warheads. These are basically SCUD warheads, SCUD missile warheads, that UNSCOM has not been able to confirm having been destroyed by Iraq.

In addition, UNSCOM has not been able to confirm the destruction of any of the declared 25 biological warheads. So there's a total of at least 45 warheads that UNSCOM has not been able to confirm as having been destroyed.

Q: Can't they be used on some of the short range missiles?

A: I said I wanted to keep it separate. I don't know whether they can be used on the short range missiles.

Q: Can I go back to the issue of what is happening in Iraq? Specifically, has Saddam begun to move civilians into his off-limits areas, his palaces, potential target areas of airstrikes? Yesterday in the discussion there was quite a bit of dissent, and it was based on the probability of killing hundreds of civilians.

Can you address that issue? Isn't that really the major stumbling point as far as public, American public and world opinion is concerned?

A: I think the major point before the American public, and I think before the world, is the fact that he possesses weapons of mass destruction, and that he's shown a willingness to use those weapons in the past. I think that's the reason we're involved in this crisis.

I am not aware of any current information that he is moving people around buildings he thinks may be targets at this time.

Q: Can you provide clarification on whether or not American aircraft, strike aircraft, will be able to fly from Bahrain?

A: The Emir has indicated to President Clinton that that will be the case; they will be able to fly from Bahrain, and we have no reason to doubt that.

Q: The public statement which was made the other day was a misstatement or just a public statement and not a government to government statement?

A: We are operating on the assumption that we will have the authority to carry out our plans. That authority has been confirmed at the highest levels.

Q: The commitment that the U.S. currently has from Saudi Arabia to allow us to use their airfields, what is that commitment?

A: Once again, without getting into specifics, we believe that we will be able to carry out our current military plans.

Q: Can you describe the difficulties it has presented his planners of trying to figure out which forces they can use from some of our friendly Gulf states and which ones they can't? Does that complicate the planning at all? Or is it just straight forward, no problem?

A: My impression from talking to General Zinni, the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Central Command, is that he is confident he will be able to carry out his current plans. Without getting into details of those plans, I think I have to accept his statements on that.

Q: I think yesterday Secretary Cohen said they would not use B-2s in the region, and I wondered if you could tell me why again, and also, did General Zinni request them at any point?

A: General Zinni did not request the deployment of B-2s. So I'm not aware that B-2s were actively considered by the people who were putting together the force package for any potential military operation in the Gulf. The B-2, of course, was designed for a very specific mission. This is not that mission. The B-2 doesn't have the same operational experience, nor does the Air Force have the operational experience for the B-2 that it has with the B-52 or some other planes. Those are reasons that might explain why General Zinni didn't request it. He has requested some long range heavy bombers, as you know, and I think he feels those are adequate to meet the need.

Q: Just to follow on Bahrain. The naval forces that the United States has in the Gulf use Bahrain as a base of operation. Has there been any indication from Bahrain that they don't want that arrangement to continue?

A: Not that I'm aware of. The naval forces have been using Bahrain as a base since 1948.

Q: The air forces that we have there, are they staying there or are they being moved to any other countries?

A: My understanding is that there are no unexpected force movements within the theater at this stage.

Q: What about our other ally in the general area of Turkey? Have they expressed a willingness to allow strike aircraft to fly from their territory in case of an air attack?

A: I'd just like to go back to what I said earlier which probably seems like a mantra to you now, but we're quite confident that we'll be able to perform our military plans with the support we have from the countries in the area.

Q: Which hospital is the crew from the B-1 located in? What have they said about the crash?

A: They actually are spread among several hospitals. One is at the... Two are at the Fort Campbell hospital, Fort Campbell, Ky.; and two are at the Vanderbilt Hospital, which must be Vanderbilt University. And two are in good condition and two are in stable condition.

Not much has been said about the crash. The Air Force will investigate the cause of the crash, and until they complete that investigation I think it would be premature for me to talk about that.

Q: Has the Pentagon seen anything like this before?

A: I guess until we know why it crashed, it's hard to say whether we've seen anything like this before. That's exactly what the Air Force is going to be investigating. But there have been crashes of B-1 bombers before. The latest one before this one was on Sept. 19, 1997, in Alzada, or near Alzada, Mont., and all four crew members were killed in that.

Just to fill you in on this, there have been a total of 12 Class A mishaps involving the B-1. The Class A mishap is the loss of a plane or more than a million dollars worth of damage from an accident. Of those 12 mishaps, six have been crashes and six have been severe damage of more than a million dollars.

Q: Back on Iraq. Has there been any... I know the Secretary has spoken of this, but has there been any reconsideration of the idea of setting some type of time line or deadline for Iraq? Particularly after Mr. Annan comes back.

A: The President today reiterated that he has not set any deadline, and I think it would be inappropriate to set a deadline at any time before Mr. Annan, the Secretary General of the U.N., completes his discussions in Baghdad and comes back to report to the U.N.

Q: ...consideration about doing it if he comes back empty-handed?

A: That's a hypothetical. The President obviously is monitoring the situation very carefully, but he said just several hours ago that he has set no deadline.

Q: Based on the somewhat raucous town meeting yesterday, is the Pentagon concerned that the American people are divided over possible military action? And the second part of that, are you also concerned about the perception overseas that the United States public doesn't really support this?

A: First, the polls show that there is strong support for military action against Iraq if necessary. I don't think that anything that happened in Columbus, Ohio, will change those polls.

Second, military action, whenever it's contemplated, and certainly whenever it occurs, is an extremely serious matter. It's exactly the type of matter that should be debated by the American public. This in Columbus was an opportunity for that debate to begin. And as you saw, it did begin.

It's not surprising that people are against the use of force in situations like this. Some people would oppose the use of force in any situation on religious or moral or other grounds. So it's not surprising that we encountered that type of opposition.

I think if you sat through that entire debate and listened carefully to the questions as well as the answers, what came out was many more people supporting our policy than opposing the policy, and of those who support the policy, the possibility of military action if diplomacy fails. I would say many of those might even urge more aggressive military action than we're planning right now.

The President has weighed these concerns very carefully and settled on the policy we're pursuing. That policy, of course, is we hope diplomacy works. We see force as only a last resort. If force is used, it will be used to pursue well defined military goals.

Q: Mr. Berger on Friday expressed the view that there was sufficient deterrent to keep Saddam Hussein from hitting Israel, which he did of course in the Gulf War by missile or otherwise, thus escalating the situation and drawing retaliation from Israel. So what is that deterrent? What is the deterrent that the United States holds here to keep this, contain a surgical strike just to that? And secondly, Saddam has sacrificed greatly, Ken, to retain his weapons of mass destruction. Certainly he has a plan to use those weapons. Wouldn't that fit into some kind of retaliation against Israel? Or us?

A: He clearly is working very hard to protect and maintain his weapons of mass destruction, and the question is why. The question is what is his future goal? That's why we don't want to take a risk in letting the UNSCOM process fall apart, and should we fail diplomatically to get UNSCOM inspectors back on the ground, we think it's significantly important to do something to restrain his ability to continue with his weapons of mass destruction program, and to continue the threat to his neighbors.

I can't psychoanalyze Saddam Hussein and tell you what he thinks and why he's doing what he's doing today. All we can do is look at what he's done in the past, look how he's chosen to allocate his resources, and the choice he's made, actually, to restrain the growth of his resources dramtically by not taking actions that would lead to the end of sanctions. He is giving up oil revenues of approximately $15 billion a year by continuing to live under the U.N. sanctions regime and not moving to have those sanctions lifted by getting rid of his weapons of mass destruction. I guess it comes down to where I began. I cannot tell you exactly what's in his mind. I think we have to operate on the basis of what he's done in the past and the threat that he might try this in the future.

Q: What I was getting at is what is in our minds about a deterant to contain military action to airstrikes and keep him from retaliating? What's in our mind?

A: We have had extensive discussions with the government of Israel. We have a very strong commitment to the protection and security of Israel. That commitment's undiminished by anything that has happened up until now and would be undiminished by anything that Saddam Hussein might think of doing to Israel. I think that's what Mr. Berger was referring to.

We've made it very clear publicly and privately over a long number of years that we're committed to Israel's security.

Q: Is the United States providing Israel with a list of specific things to help them defend themselves or protect themselves in case of an attack by Iraq?

A: We've had extensive discussions with Israel and I don't want to go beyond that at this stage.

Q: In a general way?

A: I said we've had extensive discussions, and I think I don't want to characterize those discussions with any more specificity except extensive.

Q: The Italians evidently have said that they will formally go ahead and act to prosecute the Marine crew involved in the accident. Can you say what the prospect for that might be?

A: I'm afraid I can't right now. The entire incident is unfortunate, what happened in Italy. It's under investigation and I can't say anything more about it while it's under investigation.

Q: On a different subject, evidently there's a report out that there's been more prosecution, supposedly, of gays in the military. Four times higher every year. Has the Pentagon had a chance to look at that report, comment on it?

A: Before I answer that let me say... I hope no one regards this as my encouraging you to rush out of here, but I understand the building is now all clear. There was a suspicious package on the 3rd floor between the 7th and 8th corridors. It turned out to be a box of trash sealed with tape. [Laughter] So that alert is over.

Now turning to the SLDN report. I'm glad that you were intrepid enough not to be discouraged about coming to this briefing by whatever security concern was afoot in the building an hour or so ago.

The SLDN report. I've looked at the report. I have not had a chance to study it. Officials in the building have met with officials from the Service Members Legal Defense Network to discuss the report. And we may be meeting with them in the future to discuss the report. Until we complete our study review of the report, I think it would be premature to say anything specifically about this new report.

But Secretary Cohen made it very clear last year after their 1997 report, that he was committed to the fair and effective implementation of the policy. He issued a statement in that respect last spring. Under Secretary Dorn, who was then the Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness, issued a memorandum to all of the military departments and to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs notifying them that they should take every effort possible to make sure that the policy is implemented fairly and fully. That remains our commitment.

As you know, last year Secretary Cohen asked that a review be made of the 1997 policy -- the 1997 report that came out from the SLDN. That review is almost finished. I hope it will be ready for release sometime in the Spring, in the next couple of months. And that, again, is not a review of the policy itself which is set by Congress, but it's a review of how well or how poorly we implement the policy and the design of the review is to make sure that the policy is clearly understood and equitably applied in a way that is fairly reflective of the policy's goals.

Q: Back on the Persian Gulf. Has a decision been made on where a joint information bureau might be located out in the Gulf?

A: That's an interesting question. The short answer is no, but I hope that a decision will be made relatively soon.

Q: On the brigade going to Kuwait, I don't know if this has come up before, but are they going to get any vaccinations for anthrax?

A: The issue of... As you know a basic decision has been made in principle to vaccinate all the forces, but there are four questions that have to be answered before that vaccination can begin. We had anticipated that that review process in answering the four questions would take several months, into the summer or so. We're in the process of looking at accelerating that whole process for the people going to the Gulf, but that decision hasn't been made yet. And if there's anything to say on it, I would hope to be able to say it relatively soon, but right now it's premature.

Q: Does the Secretary have any plans to travel in the coming days?

A: Not that I'm aware of. He, as you know, had planned to go to South Africa with the Vice President. The President has asked the Vice President to delay his trip, so the Secretary has also delayed his trip. I don't know when that will be rescheduled. The President announced that earlier this morning.

Press: Thank you.