News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

October 7, 1999
Presenter: October 7, 1999

(Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry Shelton; U.S. Army, and Commander in Chief, U.S. Joint Forces Command Adm. Harold Gehman, U.S. Navy)

GEN. SHELTON: I know most of you were here for my remarks during the ceremony, so I'll keep this very brief. But it is great to be here today at Norfolk with Admiral Gehman and with Secretary Cohen for the establishment of Joint Forces Command.

The new name accurately, I think, more accurately captures what this command's role in leading the transformation of our armed forces is really all about, and that's to meet the security challenges of the 21st century. Joint Forces Command, of course, will continue to lead the way for us in terms of integration, in terms of experimentation, in terms of joint doctrine development and testing, basically to make sure that we achieve the superb -- and maintain the superb war-fighting capabilities that this nation has embodied for a number of years and, of course, as is embodied in Joint Vision 2010 as we look to the future.


Mr. Secretary?

SEC. COHEN: Mr. Chairman, I think that I should reserve any comments after that endorsement of what we've been able to achieve.

Let me just say that what we have witnessed here today really is a reflection of what we initiated under the QDR, Quadrennial Defense Review. That so many times, the Department, the Pentagon has been criticized for simply looking to the past and not the future. What we have witnessed today is that we are indeed stepping into the future by preparing our structures, our strategy, our training, our doctrine to deal with the kind of threats that we are most likely to face. So, as Admiral Gehman has said, it may be subtle, but it is profound. This is a very important command, and we believe it is consistent with what the president has called for in terms of charging all of us to look to our department to see what needs to be done to face the kind of threats that he and all of us fear are the kinds of threats we will face know not only now but certainly in the next century as far as chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons.

So it's my pleasure to be here. Both the chairman and I were in Asia just a few days ago, but for a variety of reasons, not only to testify yesterday before the Senate, but we certainly had planned our schedules to make sure that we were here because it does mark an important transition in dealing not only with the past, the present, but also, very importantly, with the future.


Q: General Shelton, I'd like to ask you about a different aspect of the unified command plan, that of assigning to Space Command responsibility for computer networks (inaudible). Do you see the vulnerability of the military computer systems increasing? And how will this change that?

GEN. SHELTON: I don't think there's any question that as we look to the future, that our information systems throughout America, and specifically within the Defense Department, will be more and more subject to attack if an adversary elected that as one of the asymmetric means in which they could go against the United States. And so with that in mind, as we looked at potential threats out to 2010, 2015, that became one of the key elements of how we start getting organized and how we use the great capabilities that we've got internal to the Defense Department to protect our systems, as well as eventually be able to use, if the national command authorities elected to do so, some of the same capabilities in benefit of ourselves.

So we initially want to protect our own information systems. That starts off with the Joint Task Force for Computer Network Defense. That task force stood up about six months ago, has already got a good capability. It will get progressively better. And then, as we look to the future, it provides for adding the ability to use some of these same techniques if we elected to do so and if the president made that decision, or ourselves.

Q: But why Space Command?

GEN. SHELTON: There's a great -- one of the things that we did not want to do as a part of the unified command plan is necessarily create more headquarters or more bureaucracy, so to speak, try to keep the tooth-to-tail ratio going in the right direction, that's toward the tooth. Space Command has some built-in potential in that regard, in terms of the types of experts they have, both in computers, communications and space assets. And so it was almost a logical fit for them to take on that additional responsibility.


Q: Mr. Secretary, one of the areas of responsibility that the Joint Forces Command is attempting to take on is providing military support to the civil authorities in the event of civil disturbances and also in the event of a terrorist attack (inaudible) hypothetically either biological or chemical or some sort of nuclear (inaudible) in a metropolitan area. Several concerns that this is an erosion of popular (inaudible); that it would be more appropriate for law enforcement agencies to respond to these things to deal with the -- be the first (inaudible). But I think a lot of military people feel the same way.

Why should the public not be concerned about the military's growing role in what has historically been a responsibility of civilian law enforcement?

SEC. COHEN: I could be mean and ask you to repeat that question, but let me say that the key word is "civil support."

I think what the public should be concerned about is, if we have a biological or a chemical, or indeed even a nuclear, attack, what sort of support can the military, which is best suited to help organize logistics, transportation and support -- to civilian authorities?

Under this Joint Task Force, it's very clear it is subordinate to civilian control; that it would be a lead agency, which would either be the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Justice Department, FEMA; that they would call upon the capabilities of the military to help organize responses to deal with the consequence management of a weapon of mass destruction, by way of example.

I believe the American people should be very concerned about the nature of the growing threat and how the talent, the expertise, the doctrines and training that our military has, can be in support of. This is not in any way to undermine civilian control of the military. It's not in any way to undermine the doctrine of "posse comitatus".

But I believe that the American people, as we have seen in so many other instances in which there is a natural disaster and people look around say, "How can our National Guard, how can our Reserves, how can they help deal with a flood, a hurricane or something that has caused enormous casualties and displaced and homeless people, who need medicine, shelter, clothing, and which our National Guard and others have been helpful in providing that kind of relief and support?"

So it really is civil support under civilian control. And the American people should not be concerned about it; they should welcome it.

Q: Mr. Secretary, why not train civilian authorities -- and train civilian authorities to deal with --

SEC. COHEN: In fact, we are doing that. That's one of the reasons we have been going out and helping to deal with some 120 cities, all across America, to help train the so-called first-responders; to help them prepare, to identify the nature of any attack that might come through a biological agent or a chemical agent, to help them organize to deal with such a catastrophe.

So we are in the process of helping to do precisely that. This would complement that. This is not in any way to subordinate or undermine that but to complement it.

STAFF: Thank you.

Q: And would -- (inaudible) -- on this question, sir?

ADM. Gehman: The only additive remark that I would make to the secretary's remark is that this Joint Task Force is simply going to work within the U.S. military. I should think the taxpayers would be upset if they thought we weren't preparing to help out the citizens in case of a catastrophic event. And in no way does the mission of Joint Task Force Civil Support in any way suggest a civil mission or any slop or gray areas. This is our effort to organize ourselves to help out the FEMA or the Department of Justice.

Thank you very much.

Q: Thank you, sir.

SEC. COHEN: I want to add one other final point, and that is this is entirely consistent with and in response to President Clinton's executive orders calling upon -- directives, PDDs -- to call upon each agency to develop plans and proposals to deal with the threat of weapons of mass destruction. So we are in fact following a directive to try and hopefully fully prepare for this kind of catastrophe.

Thank you.