U.S. Department of DefenseRumsfeld: Good afternoon.
October 22, 2001
Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
At Whiteman Air Force Base on Friday, a number of you will recall that I was asked repeatedly about newspaper reports that had appeared that morning concerning U.S. Special Forces inside of Afghanistan -- reports that appeared, obviously, as the result of someone in the Pentagon leaking classified information. When I was asked those questions, the U.S. Rangers were still in Afghanistan, which of course I knew. I knew that they had not cleared Afghan airspace or returned. As a result, I refused to respond to the questions.
The fact that some members of the press knew enough about those operations to ask the questions and to print the stories was clearly because someone in the Pentagon had provided them that information. And clearly, it put at risk the individuals involved in the operation.
I recognize the need to provide the press -- and, through you, the American people -- with information to the fullest extent possible. In our democracy, the work of the Pentagon press corps is important, defending our freedom and way of life is what this conflict is about, and that certainly includes freedom of the press. And you can be certain that I will answer your questions directly when I can and that we'll do our best to give you as much information as we can safely provide.
This weekend, for example, we released footage of those Special Forces operations -- the first time, to my knowledge, that such footage has been provided. But we cannot and will not provide information that could jeopardize the success of our efforts to root out and liquidate the terrorist networks that threaten our people. To the extent that the Taliban and the al Qaeda know the goals and the purposes of our operations, they will be in a better position to frustrate those goals and those purposes. It is not in our country's interest to let them know when, how, or even why we're conducting certain operations.
The Americans who conduct those operations are a tough and proud bunch. Their cause is a just one. It's to stop terrorists from killing Americans and others. They are dedicated to that cause, and they are ready, at a moment's notice, to risk their lives for it.
And they are not a force that's sent out against their will. They're an all-volunteer force of patriotic Americans whose fellow citizens, men and women and children, have been attacked by terrorists.
And my heart goes out to the families and friends of the two members of the helicopter crew who were killed in the helicopter accident and crash in Pakistan.
Needless to say, I'm proud of those brave Americans, and I know that the American people share in that pride.
I noticed that the press is now reporting on the meetings that Torie Clarke and I have had with members of the Pentagon press corps and with some of their bureau chiefs. I have in those meetings indicated my support for the principles of how the Pentagon and the press can deal with each other during a period of conflict. I've also agreed, as some may have read, to have daily press briefings here, five days a week. Some will have more substance than others, I suspect. It's not clear to me that it's necessary or even desirable, but I've acquiesced in that, and we will be available.
We certainly want to work out ways to work with the press that makes the most sense from all of our standpoints. Because the nature of this conflict is so different from previous ones, I suspect that old models won't work and that what we'll have to do is to work together and find ways that do make sense as we go forward, because of the notable differences between this conflict and previous conflicts.
Q: Mr. Secretary, two questions, but I know by your proviso, I'll pull a Jamie McIntyre: one for you and one for General Myers, if I may.
You came down a couple of weeks ago and you were rather incensed about classified information -- leaks of classified information, and you sort of threw down the gauntlet in this building, saying that people would be sought out and punished. Are you now trying to find out who leaked the information as to Friday's raids?
And to General Myers. Even though you're not going to tell us specifically, you did give us a pretty good rundown on the Friday raids. Are commando-type raids ongoing, as we speak, in Afghanistan?
Secretary, the leaks?
Rumsfeld: As a matter of fact, I am too busy, then, to run around trying to find who did that. I don't know if anyone is, to be perfectly honest. I'd certainly hope that the people who were parachuting in don't find the person.
Myers: In terms of ongoing -- perhaps ongoing ground action, we simply can't talk about that right now. Like we said Saturday: Some things are going to be visible, some invisible.
And I'm not going to get into the details.
Q: Well, a follow-up: One could assume it would be more than just the Friday, is that correct?
Rumsfeld: That's three. (Laughter.)
Q: A follow-up, sir. I'm allowed a follow-up!
Q: Mr. Secretary, what is the rationale for not explaining where the operation forces attacked the airfield over the weekend? Inasmuch as the bad guys know what was attacked and there's no big surprise to them, why not reveal to the American people where this operation took place?
Rumsfeld: We probably could.
Q: Would you? Where did they take place?
Rumsfeld: I'm trying to think if there -- what was the logic. (To General Myers) You had the press briefing.
Myers: Yes, and we said it was about 60 miles southwest of Kandahar. And it's a --
Q: But you refused to name the airfield, which made no sense to us. I was just wondering what the rationale was.
Myers: If I'd have known the name of the airfield at the time, I would have named it. This is not one that is on most -- this is not one that is in a letdown plate for --
Q: Dry lakes airstrip?
Myers: It's a relatively unimproved airstrip.
Q: That's dry lakes airstrip, then -- (inaudible) -- right?
Myers: I'll check it. [Bibi Tera, about 80 miles from Kabul]
Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, you seem to be suggesting that the news-media reporting on Friday somehow jeopardized or put in jeopardy the lives of U.S. troops.
Rumsfeld: It did not. They all returned safely.
Q: And I was going to say, if that was the case, I was wondering what in particular you thought jeopardized the mission.
Rumsfeld: No, no. I just think that the idea of someone in this building providing information to the public and to the al Qaeda and to the Taliban when U.S. Special Forces are engaged in an operation is not a good idea, besides being against -- a violation of federal criminal law.
Q: Well, which information reported on Friday prior to the operation do you think crossed the line?
Rumsfeld: I think --
Q: (Inaudible) -- question.
Rumsfeld: I think that the release by a person in the government who had access to classified information to the effect that the United States of America was planning and was about to engage in a special operation in Afghanistan clearly was (a) a violation of federal criminal law, and second, it was something that was totally in disregard for the lives of the people involved in that operation. Anyone who decides that it's -- for whatever reason, maybe they want to seem important, maybe they want to seem knowledgeable, they totally disregard the fact that people's lives could be put in jeopardy by giving notice to the al Qaeda and the Taliban that U.S. forces were planning to make an entry into their country. That does not seem complicated to me, and it seems so self-evident, that it just floors me that people are willing to do that.
Q: Mr. Secretary, you, in your opening remarks, pointed out that there was video coverage of this operation for the first time -- a special operations --
Rumsfeld: I think so.
Staff: Yes, sir.
Q: But this was video coverage and selection of material that was controlled absolutely by the military and the government. Could you talk about why that's preferable, in your opinion, to having these decisions made by media independent of government?
Rumsfeld: Well, in the normal conflict you have a front and you have media embedded in the U.S. troops. In the case of the special operation, where people parachute in to a hostile environment, it obviously is not some place that the press is going to be parachuting in with a very small -- relatively small number of American Rangers and special forces doing that.
Q: Why is that?
Rumsfeld: Because -- why is it that the press should not be parachuting in?
Q: As opposed to a military photographer, who is still necessarily -- is still a cameraman with camera equipment.
Rumsfeld: Well, it seems -- I'm amazed at the question. I would think that the world would fully understand that it does not make sense, when a handful of American soldiers are parachuting into a hostile place and are going to be fully occupied in dealing with the opposition forces and shooting them, to the extent it's necessary, collecting intelligence, photographing things so that they know what's going on, and then being extracted -- the idea of embedding a press pool into that group seems to me to be outside of the realm of reasonableness.
Q: But, then again, Mr. Secretary, you can put reporters on the Kitty Hawk, let's say, couldn't you?
Rumsfeld: That's true.
Q: Will that happen?
Rumsfeld: It might. And it is possible at some point we could do that. We just have not thus far because of the discussions we've had with the people involved, and they felt that it would not be appropriate at this time. And it may very well become appropriate at some other time.
Q: Can you say why it would not be appropriate?
Q: Mr. Secretary, you had -- actually, I have to ask two questions, because Jamie touched on one. What would you say if people in the White House were leaking this, number one? And number two, also could you clarify, over the weekend, Secretary of State Powell seemed to indicate that the military would prefer stopping its action before the winter sets on. Can you clarify that?
Rumsfeld: Sure. We're back at two questions for everybody. It would sure be easier if we did one, we could get a lot more people in.
I couldn't care less where the source of the leak is; the responsibility is the same. It puts people's lives at risk and it's just terrible.
It is terrible. And I just can't imagine people being that irresponsible that they're willing to do that.
With respect to Secretary Powell's remarks, I've not read them all. I haven't seen a transcript. I've read a few press reports. Clearly, there's been a lot of talk of the weather. It makes things somewhat more difficult in the northern part of the country.
But there's no timetables on this. The task is clear. We're going to root out al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership and the Taliban government, and that's just a part of the effort that will be conducted worldwide.
Q: Did you -- did your guys come out with more people than they went in with on this? Did you bring someone out?
Rumsfeld: You know, here -- let me explain the problem here. The short answer is no, we did not take any prisoners or bring out any detainees for interrogation.
Q: Or defectors, volunteers, people who wanted to come out?
Rumsfeld: The answer is no.
Now I don't know that answering it that way makes a lot of sense, and let me tell you why. They may not know whether we did or not. In war, things are confused, and they may not know. And so it may have been better for me -- and I thought about this before I came down here and decided to answer it just the way I have -- but in the future, I'm not going to. (Chuckles.)
Our goal is not to demystify things for the other side. This is a very complicated set of problems. The goal is to confuse, it is make more difficult, it is to add cost, it is to frighten, and it is to defeat the Taliban and the al Qaeda.
And I answered it honestly because it just struck me it would be a useful example. But in the future I'm not going to answer it.
Q: Well, can I just ask you something, then?
Q: I mean, I do understand what you're saying, but as members of the news media, with great respect, how do we evaluate your credibility when you are answering us? Can you say to us, "I'm simply not going to answer," or are you opening the door, with great respect, to the possibility of less than truthful answers?
Rumsfeld: No, absolutely not. I've already announced that from this podium. You will receive only honest, direct answers from me, and they'll either be that I know and I'll answer you, or I don't know, or I know and I won't answer you. And that'll be it.
Rumsfeld: We'll make this the last question.
Q: Sir, if I could return to what we were discussing earlier --
Rumsfeld: You bet.
Q: -- without in any way impugning your promise that you're not going to not tell the truth to us, do you worry, however, that by withholding so much information and by withholding so much access, that may undermine the credibility, ultimately, of the United States government's story of what's going on?
Rumsfeld: First of all, we're not withholding so much information. I am admittedly withholding some information that I think would put American lives at risk, or would jeopardize the effort we're engaged in. But in terms of saying it's a lot, it isn't. The press in this -- this is a very open society, and the press knows, you know, almost as much as exists and almost as soon as it exists. And the idea that there is some great iceberg down there that's not known, below water, it's just not surprising that people would imagine that, since they know, by our own testimony, that there are things they do not know, and therefore they imagine the worst or the biggest or the most. But it's just not true. The press does know the overwhelming portion.
And you will find that we will be uniformly honest from this podium -- not just Rumsfeld, but Myers and everyone else that we send down here, to the best of our knowledge.
And to the extent we make a mistake, we'll come down the next day and clean it up.
But clearly, we do not want to undermine the effort, and it strikes me that how the press handles this new conflict will also contribute to the success of it.
Q: Do you have time for one policy question?
Rumsfeld: I don't. (Laughter.) I really don't.