News

TRANSCRIPT

DoD News Briefing


Thursday, June 4, 1998 - 2:10 p.m. (EDT)
Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)

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Q: I know the subcommittee hearing on the set-aside heard testimony on biological/chemical attacks here in the United States. I know recently you held, this weekend, some drills on the possibility of these kinds of attacks here in the United States. But what is the Pentagon or the Department of Defense doing to prepare for such an attack? Would it be possible? What are you doing to prevent such an attack?

A: We have actually a very extensive program and that program is getting more robust all the time. Obviously our first concern is force protection and making sure that our forces are able to do their job in any type of battle environment. So we have been putting more money into detection.

We've been putting more money into protective clothing, better protective clothing, more protective clothing.

We, of course, have made a decision to vaccinate everybody in the active duty and reserve force against anthrax, and that has started. More than 40,000 people in the Gulf have already been vaccinated.

We have signed a contract to buy a large variety of vaccines and to stockpile those vaccines to protect our troops against other types of biological toxins beyond anthrax. For instance, plague is the type of thing we'd be looking at.

Here, in the country itself, we are not primarily responsible for dealing with terrorism or dealing with the types of villainous people who may use biological or chemical weapons, but we are working with FEMA and other agencies to train indigenous law enforcement forces in 120 cities, so-called first responders, to help them deal with chemical and biological and other types of terrorism.

In addition, Secretary Cohen announced in March that we are setting up a Guard/Reserve program to help them have teams, rapid reaction teams that will be able to deploy in support of domestic law enforcement agencies should they be needed, and I think we will set up the first ten of these teams in 1999, fiscal 1999 which begins October 1st. We actually had a fairly extensive briefing on that and can get you a copy of the transcript.

In the building itself, we did have an Exercise, CLOUDY OFFICE, last weekend. Chemicals were part of the exercise. It involved a group of insurgents who broke into the Secretary of Defense's office, and in the course of taking hostages some chemicals were inadvertently released. This exercise was designed to test our ability to deal with casualties, to decontaminate people very quickly, and to hold the health impact to a minimum. I think it was a very successful exercise in showing where we're strong and where we need to be stronger.

We've been taking a number of other steps which I probably shouldn't get into right now, to deal with the possibility of chemical or biological attack close to the Pentagon, and will continue to pay attention to that.

Q: Health care officials yesterday said that while you are working with FEMA and local law enforcement agents to prevent civilians from being harmed, that not enough is being done, and health care officials from Mississippi to Virginia are saying these people are not even prepared, and the 120 cities you mentioned that you guys are working with to prevent this from happening, the committee hearing yesterday came out with the conclusion that none of these people are prepared, or not even between now and a year from now, to be prepared to prevent such attacks on civilians.

A: First, of course we can always do more. This is a problem that has only emerged recently on the national consciousness. It's one that the President has become personally involved with, and the Secretary of Defense as well. We are beginning to take actions, I think, at an accelerating pace.

Second, I want to point out that the United States military is not responsible for protecting people in the United States against domestic criminality. That's the job of police forces. And we cannot, just as we cannot make the entire world safe, the U.S. military cannot train doctors in every town in the country. We are working aggressively and appropriately with all sorts of agencies to make sure that we all learn the same lessons and work together to deal with these problems. But ultimately, communities themselves and states are going to have to begin to figure out how to deal with these problems on their own.

Yes, there's a lot more to do, and yes, we're doing our best to address these problems, but remember, what the military does is strictly limited by a series of laws that restrict what we do domestically. We only provide support to domestic law enforcement and health care agencies.

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Press: Thank you.