News

TRANSCRIPT

[EXCERPTS]DoD News Briefing


Tuesday, March 24, 1998 - 1:40 p.m. (EST)
Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)

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Q: Does the anthrax story in Britain have any implications for the United States? Did Washington receive any intelligence on this? And were any precautions taken for the possible movement of anthrax into this country?

A: Well, you've asked a number of questions there. First, I can't talk in any great detail about intelligence, but we do not... First of all the English have responded to some information that they received about possible efforts to transport anthrax into the United Kingdom. We have been in touch with them about this, and are trying to seek more information from them.

They have no indication that any plot had been implemented to bring anthrax into the United Kingdom. What they had was some information that somebody might be talking about this or thinking about it. Therefore, they took certain precautions in their ports and their airports.

We do -- the FBI informs us that we're not aware of any similar threats against the United States at this time. Obviously it's something that we look at very, very carefully, and if we received information like that we would respond to it in a serious way.

One of the things that Secretary Cohen talked about last week in his speech to the National Press Club was a new program that he initiated to get the Guard and the Reserve involved in domestic response to possible chemical or biological threats. So this is something that we're thinking about and working on to prepare ourselves for, if some threats like this should arise. But in this particular case involving reports of possible efforts to smuggle anthrax into the United Kingdom, we have no such reports about the United States at this time.

Q: This kind of a threat, is this a practical scenario? Could terrorists in theory transport anthrax in perfume bottles or liquor bottles? Is that a viable way to do that? And the larger question, is the United States vulnerable to that kind of terrorist attack now?

A: First of all, I'm not an expert on transporting anthrax, but I've been told that it would be extremely dangerous and somewhat difficult to load anthrax into a bunch of small perfume bottles. It would have to be done in a very sterile, secure and stable environment. The bottles would have to be well washed to make sure that no deadly material got on the outside. Obviously, it could be done, but it would not be easy to do, and it's not the type of thing that somebody could easily do in his apartment.

Q: How is it usually weaponized? Anthrax?

A: Probably the best way to weaponize it would be to aerosolize it so it could be sprayed. But the Iraqis have admitted putting it into, putting anthrax and other biological agents into the warheads of 25 SCUD missiles, and they have not provided any convincing evidence that they've destroyed those 25 warheads.

Also, they have admitted putting biological agents into artillery shells and other delivery methods, and they have not fully satisfied UN inspectors that they've eliminated all of those, either. In fact, Richard Butler, who is the Director of the UN Special Commission, UNSCOM, has called the Iraqi biological warfare program a black hole because of their inability to penetrate the depth of it and the magnitude of the program and what they've done to get rid of, if anything, to get rid of their biological weapons that they've created.

Q: Iraq has told the United Nations that it arrested a senior official that was in a position to provide some of this information. Will there be any attempt to talk to this scientist by the UN or the United States in some kind of forum in which he might be free to actually share information about Iraq's germ warfare program?

A: I think that's a question that's probably more appropriate put to UNSCOM. My understanding is that UNSCOM people have talked to this scientist, Al Hindawi, in the past, but they have not been able to do it alone or one on one. They've always talked to him in the presence of Iraqi security officials, which might have a chilling effect on his openness in conversations with UNSCOM inspectors. I'm sure that UNSCOM will make an attempt to talk with him.

It's worth noting that some of the most significant information that UNSCOM's received has come from defectors, specifically Saddam Hussein's sons-in-law who left in 1995, I believe, and went to Jordan, and provided much more information about the biological weapons program than Iraq had provided voluntarily on its own to UN inspectors. So defectors like this could be very valuable. I don't know what arrangements UNSCOM is trying to make to talk to Dr. Al Hindawi.

Q: Was he in fact trying to defect, do we know?

A: I've only seen the news accounts of that, and I don't have any independent confirmation of what they said.

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Q: Are there any changes in U.S. forces in the Gulf at all?

A: No. There's been no significant change.

Q: What are the numbers now?

A: I think the total numbers right now are in the range of around 40,000. They go up and down depending on who's moving in and out, but that's what they are about now.

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Q: Any change in the status of Iraqi forces? Any movement...

A: Nothing significant. They've basically been returning to, I would say, a more standard deployment. Both the air forces and the ground forces had been dispersed. They've largely come back into their barracks, in the case of ground forces, and back to their airfields in the case of air forces. The Republican Guards also are returning to a more normal posture.

The other aspect of their unusual deployments had been their missiles -- anti-air missiles. They had been, as you know, moved around quite considerably of the last couple of months. They are returning also to a more standard posture of not moving quite as much and sort of going back to their normal deployment areas.

Q: Any plans to reduce the carrier presence to one? Or is the Pentagon still proceeding with the plan to keep two there indefinitely?

A: There is no current plan. That's a decision the President will have to make on recommendations from Secretary Cohen and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. But right now there has been no such recommendation.

Q: I take it when you said there's been no significant change, none of the B-52s, the F-117As or the AEFs have been returned?

A: No.

Q: They remain at their levels that they were...?

A: Right, exactly.

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Q: Over the weekend the Post reported on a report by General Welch citing problems with the missile defense program. What's your response to that?

A: One, we've always known that ballistic missile defenses are one, very important and a high priority program in the Pentagon; but two, a very complex program. That's what the Welch report focused on, some of the difficulties and complexities in the program. We're in the process of evaluating that report, and deciding how best to proceed with the program.

As you know, last year, as part of the Quadrennial Defense Review, Secretary Cohen decided to increase the amount of money in the Theater Missile Defense Program, I believe, in order to deal with some problems that the designers were encountering. I don't know what the response will be to this report, but we'll respond as quickly as we can to some of the concerns that were raised.

Q: Has Secretary Cohen seen this report?

A: He's certainly aware of the report. I don't know if he's actually read the report, but he's certainly aware of it. The Theater and National Missile Defense Program is one that he's followed very closely, both as a Senator and as Secretary of Defense.

Q: I think there's been a disconnect. One of your representatives said that report was classified, and my understanding is it's not classified. I guess my question is...

A: My understanding is that not only is it not classified, but it's actually been around and available to the public for some time.

Q: I asked one of your representatives yesterday about it and he said it was classified.

A: I'm here to tell you that you can have a copy.

Q: Lockheed/Martin is virtually a subsidiary of the federal government and of the Pentagon. How are you going...

A: I am not sure I accept that characterization. I'm not sure that Lockheed/Martin would accept the characterization either.

Q: They'd be out of business pretty quickly without the Pentagon. My question goes to the point of their legal department now that we've locked horns with them over this merger. Who is making sure that they're not being reimbursed to fight the Defense Department on this merger issue?

A: You asked me this question before and I haven't become any more of an expert on legal billing rules than I was before, but my understanding is that there are very clear accounting rules for the allocation of expenses to the Defense Department. I don't know this beyond a shadow of a doubt, but I'd be very surprised if fighting the government on an anti-trust case is an allowable business expense for the legal departments of these companies.

Q: It is. It is an allowable expense...

A: No, I said I would be very surprised if it is an allowable legal expense, but I will..

Q: I wouldn't be surprised. That's why I asked you...

A: Let's get a definitive answer to that, and we'll get it to you in writing.

Q: Is the Air Force and the Navy supportive of your position, or are they in fact endorsing...

A: It's not the job of the Air Force or the Navy to give advice on anti-trust matters. It's the job of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. And yesterday, Secretary Cohen sent a letter to Attorney General Reno stating his views on the case, and I think you got a copy of that letter. I don't think the Army, the Navy, or the Air Force has investigated the competitive issues raised by this proposal in great detail.

Q: If they're deposed, though, in this litigation, will the service chiefs support Secretary Cohen's position on this, or will they pursue a different course?

A: I assume that the service chiefs, after reviewing the facts, will agree with the Secretary of Defense on this.

Q: But you haven't reached that yet?

A: I haven't spoken to the service chiefs about this. As I said, it's not their job to make decisions about anti-trust matters. It's the job of the Secretary of Defense to advise the Justice Department in cases like this, and he did do that.

Q: One last question, back to missile defense for a moment. It's been 15 years since President Reagan announced his dream of having a peace shield that would render nuclear missiles obsolete. What would you say to critics who say that billions of dollars and 15 years later, the United States isn't really that much closer to deploying any sort of credible missile defense system.

A: First of all, our deterrence, our main protection against attack by missiles has always depended on deterrence. That's why we have a very significant and sophisticated nuclear force, and that is in three areas -- bomber dropped weapons, intercontinental ballistic missiles stationed on land, and sea launched ballistic missiles that can be launched from submarines. That deterrence worked very well during the Cold War against Russia and against China.

We have made it very clear to so-called rogue nations, smaller countries that are working hard to develop weapons of mass destruction, that they would face decisive, swift, and devastating responses from us if they were to use weapons of mass destruction against us. That is, if they were to use missiles to launch nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons against us.

I think the deterrence is still a major factor in protecting this nation from the use of weapons of mass destruction. But we can do more than deter with counter-force, and we are attempting to do that. We're attempting to set up a defense system that would work against a limited number of missiles fired by an enemy country. It's not easy to do.

In the theater missile defense area, it's somewhat easier if you know that you have troops in an area and you know the direction from which attacking missiles may come because then you can orient your defenses to deal with an attack from a certain direction. It makes it somewhat easier. A national missile defense system is somewhat more complicated because we wouldn't know exactly, theoretically we wouldn't know, where the missiles would be coming from.

I think that while the Reagan program of creating a shield is something that many people felt -- many people felt that program would never succeed, and that it was a pipe dream. But it has spurred considerable research in the area of missile defense, and we're trying to turn that research now into workable systems. We have had some success in the theater missile defense area. We're working to improve that and broaden our theater missile defenses at the same time that we're trying to develop a very limited national missile defense system, and that work goes on.

Q: Are you on track for that 3 plus 3 plan?

A: We've made no decision to abandon that plan, but obviously we have always said that the longer we can wait... And remember, what the 3 plus 3 plan involves is a development phase and then being able to deploy within three years from the decision to deploy. Secretary Perry was very clear and other leaders in the Department have been very clear that the later we can wait to deploy that system, the better off we will be. We'll have a more technically advanced, sophisticated system that will have a higher chance of working and probably cost us less money in the long run. So I think that threat analysis is going to be a very important part of that decision. Right now that remains our program. Obviously we've got to evaluate our technical proficiency and progress in deciding when we'll be able to deploy a system.

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Press: Thank you.