Pentagon Regular Briefing, October 17, 2000

DoD News Briefing Tuesday, October 17, 2000 Presenter: Rear Adm. Craig R. Quigley, DASD PA (Also participating was Rear Adm. Stephen R. Pietropaoli, Navy chief of information.) Quigley: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'd like to welcome nine graduate students from American University to today's briefing. They are covering our brief today as part of their course on public affairs reporting and to experience how the Department of Defense interacts with the news media. Welcome to you all. Secretary Cohen will participate in the memorial service tomorrow to honor the dead and missing sailors who served aboard USS Cole. The service will be at 11 a.m. at Pier 12 at the Norfolk Naval Station. The memorial service is open to all military members, civil service employees, retirees, and their families. In a call shortly before I came into the press room, our understanding is that the president does plan on attending the service tomorrow, but I will defer to the White House to make that more definitive. But that is our working understanding at the moment. And while local officials -- mayors and whatnot -- and selected guests have been invited, space limitations preclude an invitation to the general public at large down in the Hampton Roads area. I would like to provide you an update in several areas. I know several of you have expressed interest in one or more of these areas during the course of the morning, so I'll try to be as comprehensive as I can. The status of the injured, first: A total of 33 of the injured, as you know, were at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. A total of -- (to staff) -- how many of those now have been moved to Norfolk today, to the Portsmouth Naval Hospital? Staff: All but the two -- Quigley: Two. Two, I believe, yes. All but two of the six that had stayed behind, that were the most seriously injured, are now en route to the Portsmouth Naval Hospital in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. The other two's medical condition still precludes safely transporting them, although the intention is to move them forward as soon as they are medically stable. And that is just good medicine in order to do that. A total of six sets of remains have been found on board the Cole during the course of today. We are working to identify the remains and to contact the next of kin of those individuals, and that notification and identification process continues as we speak. Q: The Navy was saying seven. Quigley: There was confusion earlier in the day -- six, seven. The correct number is indeed six. Q: And were these among the reported missing, or were two of these among the reported dead? Quigley: I don't have clarity on that, Mik, I'm sorry. The ship itself remains stable. She's providing her own electrical power. As we have discussed, I think, in the last couple of days, there are other ships in Aden as well: guided missile frigate Hawes, the guided missile destroyer Donald Cook are both there. Two of the three amphibious ships from the amphibious ready group in the region have arrived over the course of the day -- the Anchorage and the Duluth. The USS Tarawa should arrive tomorrow. By the time we get in tomorrow morning, she will have arrived. And the tug Catawba is also due to arrive tomorrow, and that will bring the total to seven ships in the area of Aden. The Navy signed a contract yesterday with the Norwegian owners of the heavy-lift ship Blue Marlin. This vessel, I think you all have seen considerable discussion on her capabilities. She is currently in port in Dubai and is scheduled to leave on Thursday headed for Aden. That will be about a four- or five-day transit to get to Aden, and approximately another six or seven days to prepare the Cole for loading onto the Blue Marlin and then start her trip onward from there. No final decision yet as to exactly where Cole will be taken. We're still doing the evaluation of the damage to the vessel and where repairs can best be effected. Q: How much was the contract? Quigley: About four and a half million dollars. You need to be very precise with your calculations of where you place the supporting structures, the keel blocks and the like, as you prepare to place the Cole on board the Blue Marlin. You've got to make sure that you do your naval architecture computations quite precisely, to make sure that you certainly do no further damage to the vessel and she is adequately supported as she is lifted out of the water onto the Blue Marlin, and head on from there. I think that kind of hits the high points of updates that have been of interest to several of you during the course of the morning, and with that, I'll take your questions. Bob? Q: Craig, the Yemeni government says that they have recovered some bomb-making equipment or materials. Can you shed any light on what the nature of that material is and the suspects who have been -- Quigley: No, I can't. I've seen the reports, Bob. I've seen the initial report and, I think, a couple of updates, but so far I can't move that further along for you. I'm sorry. Q: Have they shared any of that information with anybody from the U.S. government? Quigley: I don't believe it's been shared with the Department of Defense. I can't vouch for any other elements of the government. Tom? Q: Have investigators been allowed on the ship yet, or if they have not, when will they go aboard the ship? Quigley: I believe that there have been a variety of people that are essential to the conduct of the investigation, as well as the engineering analysis; certainly medical personnel and others that have come and gone from Cole. Yes, Toby? Q: Is there any indication at all yet on who is responsible for the bombing? Quigley: Let me use that perfectly understandable, honest question as an opportunity to say something clearly to you all. The Department of Defense is not in charge of the investigation ongoing into the attack on the Cole. The FBI has the lead. Are we cooperating? You bet we are. Formally through the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, all -- literally all of the sailors on board the ship, the Department of State, certainly the embassy -- Ambassador Bodine right there has been very active in a leadership role in this. This is very much a team effort, if you will, of several different elements of the United States government. But I cannot address and will not address in the days and weeks ahead the progress or findings of any elements of the investigation. I know those are perfectly honest, legitimate questions that you have in that regard. But I can't do that. By the same token, there will be questions, again, that you will ask in the days to come that we will probably be slower than normal in responding to your questions. We will be very cautious. We will err on the side of being overly conservative in the days ahead to make sure that we don't inadvertently provide information to you all that would somehow be detrimental to the conduct of the investigation being done. Will that slow the process down on the provision of information to you and through you to your readers and listeners and viewers? Yes, it will. That is certainly the -- not the intent is to obscure or to slow the process down any more than we have to. But were we to inadvertently disclose some information that might prove to be a very important element of the investigation, that would be a terrible outcome. And we are all pulling towards the same goal, and that's trying to find out what happened; if we can possibly do so, hold the parties accountable that perpetrated this act. But we need to be cautious in the days ahead. So I just want to say that clearly from the podium. Q: When you say "to hold the parties accountable," does that mean some sort of military action, as happened in 1998 with the cruise missiles? Quigley: I wouldn't try to predict that today. But as the president has said, as Secretary Cohen has said, that we would hold the parties accountable, and I think I'll just leave it at that. John? Q: Can you lay out the deployment of these additional ships, sort of the personnel involved and why is it necessary to bring so many additional ships and military personnel to bear on a port city that's already overwhelmed with Americans? Quigley: Sure. In no particular order, the Catawba is a tug, and she would be used in the days ahead to help position the Cole on board the Blue Marlin when she arrives in the vicinity of Aden. The closest two ships to the scene and those vessels that are now most familiar to the crew of Cole and to other officials that are involved in the process were indeed the frigate Hawes and the destroyer Donald Cook. For -- and so they have remained as a -- the first on the scene and have been more actively involved for a longer period of time than any of the other vessels. Q: What do you gain by the -- Quigley: The three vessels of the amphibious unit, amphibious readiness group that -- two today and the third tomorrow -- provide a variety -- these are very large ships -- very capable medical facilities, large capability to provide food, laundry services, extra bunks, for not only the military personnel but some of the other U.S. government personnel to possibly move ashore and -- or move afloat onto these vessels and reduce the American footprint ashore and move some of the people involved in the salvage, in the investigation and what have you on to one or more of these very large amphibious ships. They also have excellent communications capabilities, and helicopters on each and every one of them that are designed to carry large amounts of people or cargo. So they bring a variety of capabilities to the equation that we are very confident that we'll find useful -- Q: Do you feel that the Americans on the shore are at risk? Is that what you're implying? Quigley: This is the site of a terrible attack that happened just a few days ago. We have moved both U.S. security personnel in over the past several days and are getting wonderful cooperation from the government of Yemen as well. And yet I certainly think that it would be better to err on the side of caution in this case. And it's felt that by moving some of the footprint of the various American investigators and salvage folks and what have you from hotels and other facilities ashore onto those naval vessels, that we improve our security posture. Q: You think that sending several thousand Marines to a small city like this sends the right signal? Quigley: Well, the Marines that are embarked on the three ships of the amphibious ready group are a pretty self-contained group. They have -- All their facilities that normally support them afloat will still remain in place. There is excess capacity built into an amphibious ready group by design, so that you could handle casualties, medical emergencies, evacuations of embassies overseas, and whatnot. So as any amphibious ready group would deploy from the United States to overseas, there is excess capacity built into that, by design. We hope to capitalize on that in the days and weeks to come for those American personnel that find themselves in Aden. Dale? Q: It sounds like you're going to turn some of these ships into floating barracks for some of the folks that have flown in to assist in the investigation. Can you tell us roughly how many people you expect to be taking care of aboard? Quigley: We don't have that worked out yet. Some will be in a -- the function that an individual or a group of individuals is carrying out there in Aden can be performed just as well from one of the amphibious vessels as ashore. In other skill sets, that certainly won't be the case, so we've still got to sort that out as to specifically which individuals might be moving on board one of the vessels and which will be staying ashore. Q: I wanted to get back to the investigators aboard the ship. Are they working side-by-side with those trying to keep the ship afloat and those searching for the bodies, or will you wait until that work is done and then have the investigators go back and do a more thorough job? Quigley: Well, I don't think it's quite literally side-by-side, but, I mean, the individuals that are conducting the investigation, gathering evidence and what have you, you're working very closely and very hand-in-glove. And as you know, we've got a very concerted effort ongoing to recover the remains of the sailors that are still missing, and to do that requires quite a bit of cutting and removal of debris and moving it aside. We're being very cautious before any such moves are done to make sure that the investigators -- we're not surprising the investigators, and perhaps inadvertently moving something or altering something's position in a way that would have an adverse impact on the investigation. So it's a cautious approach, trying to accomplish both things as quickly as we can. Q: How many Marines were on the -- Q: Craig, are there any plans to put any of the Marines on shore? Or has permission been sought for them, perhaps, to use their helicopters to deploy -- perhaps in hot pursuit of suspected bombers in the countryside in Yemen? Quigley: Well, you have two groups of Marines that are already on the shore, and that's the two Marine FAST [Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team] platoons. But if you're referring to the Marines of the Marine Expeditionary Unit, to the MEU, that are coming with the amphibious ready group, I don't think there's -- in any substantial numbers there's any intention to move them ashore. No. Jamie? Q: As long as you're providing clarity, can you just clarify what "Operation Determined Response" refers to? What comes under that operation? What's the definition for that? Quigley: The provision of security to the -- I mean, the commander of the Joint Task Force that's been assigned, answering both to the American ambassador there as well as to the commander-in-chief of the U.S. Central Command, that person's charter is to provide security for the U.S. personnel that are there, and to coordinate the efforts of the response: the access, the divers, the salvage people; the various talents that are being brought to bear to help repair and stabilize the ship itself, recover remains -- Q: Will all of these seven ships come under Operation Determined Response? Quigley: Yes. Q: Those seven ships? Quigley: Yes. Q: But those -- what about any -- Quigley: At least for the time being. At least for the time being. Q: What about any aspect of the criminal investigation or the pursuit of the -- whoever were the perpetrators of this; is that part of Operation Determined Response as well? Quigley: No, the investigation is a separate element. I mean, that's certainly an element that we're supporting. But -- and if there's an issue of coordination or something, I'm sure that the lead FBI investigators would not hesitate to approach Admiral Fitzgerald and try to work it out. But this is very much an interagency process that's going on there. And the key to success is communication -- talking amongst yourselves to resolve ambiguities and provide clarity as to who can do what and with whom, and how you go about doing it. Mik? Q: What can you tell us about the explosive device that was used to attack the Cole? Quigley: Nothing yet, I'm afraid. Q: Nothing? Quigley: No. Q: Can you -- can you -- Quigley: Pam? Q: Can you go through the number of Marines on each of the ships? And is it 100 in two FAST platoons, or is it 50 in Aden? Quigley: There are a total of 101 Marines in the two FAST platoons, approximately 50 each. Q: Okay. Quigley: And you are looking at 2,100 Marines total, split among the three amphibious ships. But I don't know the breakout by ship. We can get that for you. Q: That's okay. And how many of the dead have been recovered? It's six bodies today that haven't been identified, and then was it five that have been returned? Quigley: Correct. Q: So it's a total of 11, six of whom are still unidentified -- Quigley: Correct. Q: -- leaving six bodies yet to be recovered. Quigley: Right. Q: If you can't describe the explosive device, could you describe in better detail what we can't see beyond that hole in the hull, the kind of damage that this device wrought? Quigley: I have not been provided great detail in that regard. A statement of the obvious, I guess: the blast and the destruction near the hole is certainly more severe than that further away from the hole in the port side. That goes into an engineering space; the damage is extensive in the engineering space. It is certainly less as it moves out. But you still have extensive damage. That's one of the elements of work that is still ongoing, is a precise assessment of the damage to the ship. As you prepare in the days ahead to lift the Cole on board the Blue Marlin, you want to make sure that you have supporting pieces both for her keel as well as the sides in the right places so that you provide adequate support to a damaged vessel. Every ship as it comes out of the builders' yards has a very precise docking plan, and with complete knowledge in hand of where you place your support members as you would go into a dry dock, let's say, for an overhaul, or a painting of the hull, or something like that. You have changed the physical characteristics of the distribution of weight on board the Cole by the damage that she has suffered. So you really need to be precise here as to where should I change the placement of those support structures so that I can provide good support for the hull as she comes out of the water. Q: So is the damage so extensive that the Cole could actually break in half? Quigley: I don't have that understanding, Mick, no. But you could make it worse if you don't support it properly and let the damaged section receive inadequate support. It's very possible that that section right there might need some additional support, or certainly the placement of support pieces in different locations other -- different from an intact vessel of that same class. So these are the sorts of details that the engineering assessment team from Naval Sea Systems Command, Norfolk Naval Shipyard are there to provide as well. Q: Admiral, as you look toward the -- Quigley: Jimmy, I'm sorry, hold that thought. Steve? Pietropaoli: The assessment so far is that there's no structural impediment to lifting it. You're right, they have to be careful in how you place the blocks, in any case, even with a perfectly intact ship. But with respect to the damage now, there's no structural impediment to using the Blue Marlin. Q: The keel clear? The keel is fine? Quigley: Yes. Yes. Go ahead. Q: As you look toward the future, what practical steps can be taken to increase security for U.S. warships that are refueling in foreign ports? Are there any practical steps that can be -- what can be done to increase security? Quigley: I think the first step needs to be to find out in detail what circumstances we had in place here. If you take a look at other attacks on American forces in the past, each time that we have reviewed the procedures in place we learn something. And we moved out as quickly and intelligently as we could, I think, to try to build upon those lessons learned to try to make it better for the future. So I think this needs to be a two-step process, in answer to your question: first we find out what happened, and then we take a hard look at what we might do, knowing that, to change procedures in the future. Q: Well, what kinds of procedures could you -- could possibly be instituted that would increase security? What kinds of things are you talking about? Quigley: But I think you need to do it in the order that I described, Jamie. I can't predict what the investigation will find. So we can't be kind of going -- charging ahead without knowing where that will take us. Q: But you can predict that the investigation will find that a small boat exploded next to the USS Cole and severely damaged it, took a lot of lives, and so -- I mean, for instance, could you put a security perimeter around a ship with smaller boats, or something like that? I'm just -- Quigley: Well, we could hypothesize many possible answers to your question, but I just don't think that's the right way to go. I think you need to do this in a sequential process, as I've described. So I don't think I can give you a good answer today. Q: Let me try this one more time by turning it around, then I'll drop the subject, which is, are there no good options for increasing security for ships? Is this simply a risk that has to be accepted? Quigley: I would never say that there's nothing you can do. But I'd say that making intelligent choices as to any changes that you might choose to put in place needs to wait for what we have learned from the investigation. Dale? Q: Admiral Clark said Sunday that there was a harbor pilot on the bridge of the Cole, a Yemeni officer, helping to steer the ship to its mooring. Was he taken into custody after this occurred? Is he -- do you know where he is at this point? Quigley: No, I don't. Q: And had the husbanding agent come aboard, or anybody representing him? Quigley: Sir, I don't have either of the answers to those questions. I know there was indeed a harbor pilot aboard, as there typically is when naval vessels will enter foreign ports. But I don't know the answers to your questions, Dale. Yes, sir? Q: A State Department spokesman this morning told me about an increasingly -- it look likes -- increasingly like a terrorist act. Does it mean that nearly a week after, there is a slight doubt that it is not a terrorist act? Quigley: Well, I think you're always going to have a slight doubt. I mean, it's that -- always that temptation to jump to a conclusion. Many have said over the past few days that we have many reasons to suspect that this was indeed a terrorist act, and no good ones that come up as to why we would not call it as such. But it's just a reluctance, I think, in order to put the cart before the horse. This is a very obvious question; you'd think it would have a quick and obvious answer. I just would have to stay with all signs point to that, but, you know, any other contributing factors, we just don't know yet. That's another reason to do a thorough investigation. Q: A follow-up. Can you totally exclude an accident? Quigley: I don't think there's any evidence, physical evidence that we have seen so far, that would support an accident. Chris? Q: Mik asked about the explosive itself. Has there been no determination yet -- I don't know, you'd swabbed the blast area, determined whether it's C-4 or some other form of explosive? Has no determination been made as to what type of explosive was used? Quigley: Probably a great question to ask the FBI. Q: You have no awareness of whether they've made a determination in this area? Quigley: I need to stick with what I said in the beginning. The FBI is and will remain in the lead on the investigation part, and I would defer to them. Whether they choose to piecemeal answers to their findings, it's their call. Q: And no determination as to the size of the explosive charge that was used, if you don't know what type of explosive it is? Quigley: No. Q: And back to Jamie's question for a moment. You have these other ships coming into Aden now. Have additional or different security procedures been adopted by those ships, given what has just happened here? Are they providing for a perimeter? Quigley: Yeah, perfectly -- Q: Are they investigating small boats before they approach the ships? Has any additional measure been taken to protect those ships? Quigley: Now let me start with the last question first, and I'd say yes. The tragedy that befell the Cole last week is something that -- we certainly don't want to be letting our guard down now to put any other vessels or individuals at any more risk than they would normally be as they arrive in that area to assist in the repair and recovery of the Cole. We have taken a very hard look -- State Department, FBI, Navy, U.S. Central Command -- at the security procedures in place, made adjustments where we felt it was appropriate. I hope you'll understand that I'm not going to be real forthcoming on what some of those adjustments might be. But we're pretty confident that we have the correct security procedures in place for the forces that we have in the vicinity of Aden to support recovery efforts for Cole. Q: And have those measures also been taken for ships throughout the region? Quigley: Certainly in the area of responsibility of Central Command, yes. Q: All right. So -- Q: Does that involve -- are the U.S. forces providing harbor security in the area where the ships are? Quigley: You've got the two FAST platoons, whose focus, full-time focus, is security. The crew -- crew members of every ship are very aware and are on a -- very much on their toes. Q: Do the FAST platoons have boats? Quigley: I don't know if they brought their own. They certainly have access to vessels there. I don't know if they brought their own, though, Jamie. Q: Would it be safe to say that it would be difficult to get close to an American ship in a small boat at this point? Quigley: Yes, sir. That would be an accurate way to put it. Pam? Q: Have you all had any intelligence intercepts in the last five days suggesting that there continues to be danger? Have there been any threats made or anything gathered from HUMINT? And then could you also tell me how dangerous is the work that the folks are doing in recovery? Are they -- is the -- it keeps getting characterized on television as "dangerous," but how dangerous is it? Is the boat in any -- Quigley: Let me take the first one first. Without providing a specific answer, Pam, due to security classifications on that issue, we're always very much aware of any general or specific threats that are communicated to Americans around the world, whether they be DoD personnel or travelers abroad. You evaluate each and every one that you receive for its credibility, for its specificity -- or lack of it -- and you take the appropriate action from there. That's just a procedure that is followed around the world by both DoD and Department of State, as well. Now, on the recovery and the salvage and the diving operations that are going on, yes, this is dangerous work. Anybody that has been even a sport scuba diver over the years has a good understanding of its inherently dangerous work. When you're working around a damaged ship with the integrity of some of the parts that you're trying to work your way through in order to find remains and whatnot, it just adds a level of difficulty and an inherent sense of danger to all that. Q: So the diving -- Quigley: But these divers are very well trained. They're very much aware of their surroundings. It's something that they work very hard to be quite good at. Q: They're going in the flooded compartments under -- they're not just inspecting the outside; they're actually going into the damaged area? Quigley: Correct. Both. Q: Where are the divers from -- Quigley: I don't know off the top of my head. Staff: You can get the -- they've got the MDSU designation. Quigley: Yeah. Let me -- it's a Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit, and it has a number attached to that. I don't know which one it is. [The divers are assigned to MDSU 2, Explosive Ordnance Disposal [EOD] Mobile Diving Unit 6 Detachment 8, and EOD Mobile Diving Unit 8 Detachment Bahrain.] Tom? Q: Getting back to security and lessons learned, does the Pentagon anticipate setting up any sort of commission or separate investigation, similar to Khobar Towers, after this criminal investigation is done, or is that too early to -- Quigley: Yeah. Secretary Cohen has not come to that decision yet. I don't have anything for you on that today. Should he do so, I mean, we would certainly announce that when the day comes. Pat? Q: Has there been any change in security arrangements at U.S. ports where Navy ships are tied up? Quigley: Hampton Roads, San Diego, something like that? Q: San Diego -- Quigley: You know, the entire Navy, the entire Department of Defense is very much aware of what happened to Cole. I think it's safe to say that everybody is putting a little bit more emphasis on security, no matter where you might be found; even in your home port or any overseas location. Pam? Q: The Air Force general that was in charge of Dhahran saw his career end as a result of that attack. Has anything come up that would indicate the skipper of the Cole doesn't need to worry about his career? Quigley: Nothing I have seen yet. I think the commanding officer of the Cole has done a magnificent job in continuing to lead his crew and coordinate the efforts there, at the center of an incredible amount of attention and focus, as it should be. But I think he's done a magnificent job so far in leading his crew. Q: There was one report that he -- I forget the exact term they used -- "locked and dogged" some of the hatches below -- the commander did this. As a result, they think the damage to the Cole was less than would have happened had he not taken that action. Do you know anything about -- Quigley: I don't know the specific -- I had not heard that description as you describe it, although it is typical. I mean, you have water-tight classifications of hatches, doors -- any sort of a water-tight or fume-tight boundary on a ship. As a ship comes and goes in different conditions and different locations, you can either set or relax a particular water-tight condition that would be in place for any given evolution. But I have not heard a description as you describe it. Q: Can you take that, please? Can you look into that? Quigley: I think that's going to be one of those things that they're going to try to ascertain what was the condition of all of the various hatches and doors, and what not, to try to determine the blast pattern. And I don't think I'll be able to get that detail. Q: Is that standard operation for a ship putting in for refueling? Quigley: I'm sorry? Q: Is that standard operating procedure for a ship putting in for refueling to lock-down and close all those hatches? Quigley: Yes. You would see an increased level of water-tight security put in place whenever you enter a port, period. Jamie? Q: Among the initial reports was one that this small craft assisted the USS Cole in attaching the mooring line to a buoy. Is there any reason now to think that -- is there any less confidence in that account at this point, after all the people on the ship have been interviewed? Quigley: Another great question to ask the FBI. I'm sorry, I can't provide that. Q: The two sailors in Germany, what's their condition? Serious? Critical? Do you know? Quigley: Well, the doctors there are evaluating their condition on a daily basis. And they understand that everyone is eager to have them home, but they need to -- Q: What is their condition? Serious? Critical? Stable? Quigley: I don't know. Pietropaoli: -- medically stable, it's not life-threatening. But they're just -- it's not appropriate to travel. Quigley: Yeah, unwise to travel. But they are stable, yeah. Q: Housekeeping. Tomorrow -- is there a press plane going down with Cohen? Quigley: I don't know yet. I don't think it will be a separate press plane. There may be some seats on one of the aircraft. Please, if any of you do wish to go, would you see either Brian Whitman or Captain Tim Taylor and let them know your desires. We'll try to accommodate, but I don't have that answer yet. Yes, sir. Q: Can I venture a different topic question? Quigley: Sure. Q: Because of the incident last Thursday, we never really got a more detailed debrief on the conversation that the secretary had with a North Korean -- besides that initial readout that evening. Do you have any more you can give us on exactly what they discussed and if they made any progress in any of the areas of -- nonproliferation, for example? Quigley: Yeah. Let me take that, and I'll do what we can, and then post it by close of business today. [The joint communique resulting from the visit is available on line at] Q: Thank you. Quigley: Thank you all.