Pentagon Regular Briefing, October 19, 2000

DoD News Briefing Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA October 19, 2000 - 2:10 p.m. EDT Q: Can you give us the latest update on the Cole situation and the recovery of bodies? And also, is there a time deadline for this investigation that you've -- Bacon: Well, our goal is to complete it as soon as possible. It took -- I would say it would take several months, but our goal is to complete it as soon as possible. We'd like to have the benefit of the lessons learned as soon as we can, and clearly both General Crouch and Admiral Gehman are very experienced and I think will know exactly how to approach this. Yes. Q: Should U.S. Naval ships in that region have been fueled by tankers out at sea? I think General Zinni this morning said that that used to be the practice about 10 years ago. And if that's the case, why was that policy changed? Bacon: Well, Admiral Clark addressed that a week ago. And I don't think you were here for that briefing, but you should read the transcript. And what he said was that when single ships travel, they are not refueled by oilers. They don't have oilers traveling with them. Oilers travel with groups of ships, not with single ships. And that has been the process for a long period of time. I don't know exactly how long. I thought that General Zinni, from the accounts I've read and the small amount of his testimony I was able to see, gave a very clear account of why our ships had used the Port of Aden, balancing the opportunities and the risks of using Aden versus other ports. And he made it very clear that this is a region that's fraught with risks, and there's no risk-free refueling port in the region. But you can draw your own conclusions from what he said. I want to go back to answer the rest of Bob's questions, which I neglected to answer, about status with the Cole. Eight sets of remains that were recovered over the last several days will start their journey back from Bahrain to Dover and should arrive sometime tomorrow. Five sets have been returned already. Eight new sets are on the way. That will raise the total to 13. And they will fly nonstop from Bahrain to Dover in a C-141, as I say, arriving sometime tomorrow. The Navy is making good progress on the remaining four sets of remains, but I don't have anything to announce right now. We may have something to say later in the day. Q: What about the ships' status? Is that -- any change in the -- Bacon: No, there's no change in the ships' status. In general, ships in the Central Command area of responsibility are still out to sea. They are not in ports. And they're being refueled and replenished out to sea right now -- out at sea. There are a number of ships in the vicinity of Aden right now. I think the two in the harbor, as I understand it, are still the Cole, obviously, which can't move, and the Tarawa. And there -- other ships are in the vicinity of Aden. The next big event, after we complete the recovery of the bodies, will be the recovery of the ship. And it is taking a little longer to outfit the Blue Marlin for that operation than anticipated. It doesn't look -- it appears that the Blue Marlin will arrive in Aden around the end of this month, October, and probably leave with the Cole on board sometime during the first week of November. That looks like the current schedule at this stage. Yes? Q: A couple of questions. What happens to the crew when the Cole goes back? Will they come back to Norfolk, or will they stay on board and ride it back? Bacon: My impression is that a very small group will remain on the ship as she comes back. It'll take about a month for her to cross the Atlantic. And most of the crew will fly back. Q: There's also -- there's a lot of -- to switch subjects, there's a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking going on that I'm sure you've seen, where -- people questioning why were we there at all; we should have known, with everything going on in Israel and Palestine, that it would be dangerous to pull in there. What do you have to say to these critics? Bacon: Well, first of all, we have no clear link between this event and what was happening between Israel and Palestine. As the FBI investigation continues, we'll learn more about what happened and how it happened, how it was orchestrated. But the early returns make it look like this is something that had been in the works for some time, probably long before the recent frictions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. But we will find out about that. And I thought that General Zinni gave a very clear description of how he and others made the decision that was made to go to Aden. Q: Yeah, one of the things he complained about was human intelligence and the lack of it that we have over there. Can you give us an assessment of where the military, the official military stands on that? Is there adequate -- Bacon: I think that the Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, has said that human intelligence is an area where we need work throughout the government, and I have no reason to disagree with him on that. David? Q: Ken, what is it that makes you say it appears that this was in the works for some time, long before the Palestinian uprisings? Bacon: The president of Yemen gave a very lengthy interview yesterday -- you can read the transcript of it -- it's available on the Foreign Broadcast Information Service -- in which he talked about some of the details, the house that had been rented, and some of the work that had been done over a period of time. He wasn't specific on that, but from reading that, it was my impression that the preparations had been taking place for some time. Q: Can you describe, if you haven't already, the difference between what Gehman and Crouch will do, and the difference in what the Navy's own investigation of Cole? Bacon: Sure. The Navy has started what's called a JAG manual investigation -- stands for Judge Advocate General -- manual or rule book investigation. It will look at what happened on the ship itself; it will only look at what happened on the Cole. The convening authority for this is a captain. And he will look at whether the ship followed proper Navy procedures for the circumstances it faced. Given the threat condition it was operating under at the time, did it check all the boxes and follow the proper procedures? It will start, you know, from the moment they decided to go to Aden and look at all the preparations they made for the arrival in Aden for the refueling. And so it looks at the ship itself, and it will decide whether people performed adequately, given the rules they were subject to. What General Crouch and Admiral Gehman will look at is broader than that. They will look at intelligence assessments. They will look at the rules of engagement, the operating rules for CENTCOM. They will look at the whole string of decisions that led to sending the ship there, not just the performance of the crew of the ship itself and, therefore, it will be much broader than the Navy JAG Manual investigation that's already started. Jim? Q: Is there any indication, Ken, that the rules of engagement in any way tied anyone's hands in terms of a response to this attack? Bacon: Well, I think it's probably too early to comment on that, beyond what Admiral Clark said last week, and he gave the distinct impression that they did not. He was quite explicit about that, but I think that's one of the things that certainly will be looked at, both by the Navy and by the Cole panel. Q: On September 22nd, Osama bin Laden and members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad went on Qatar TV -- it was probably a tape, not a live shot -- but there was a tape played of Osama bin Laden and Egyptian Islamic Jihad officials making pretty specific threats against American forces, and specifically threatening attacks on ships. Now, there are some within the administration who said they were unaware of these bin Laden threats. Did the Pentagon, did CENTCOM, did the U.S. Navy, did the Cole, get any kind of threat assessment or warning as to the threats being made Osama bin Laden and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad? Bacon: Well, that's precisely the type of question that the various panels will look at. And I think rather than rifle shoot at questions like that, it's better to look at the whole pattern. That's one of the reasons Secretary Cohen is setting up this Cole Panel. It will look at the full panoply of intelligence factors that were available, whether intelligence reached the right people at the right time, whether the information was as accurate as it could be, whether there was a proper distinction between general threats and specific threats. These are the type of questions they'll be looking at. Rather than try to answer these questions piecemeal, I think it's better just to let the panel do its work and try to release a complete report as soon as possible. Dale. Q: Ken, the initial reports we received last week were that the boat that came up alongside the Cole and exploded was part of the mooring operation. I have seen reports since then that suggest that it wasn't, that it somehow blended in with the mooring operation or infiltrated. Does the Pentagon have an opinion as to whether this boat was, in fact, assisting in the mooring before the explosion, or was it an outside part? Bacon: The Pentagon has many opinions, and the opinions change over time. And this, again, is a reason to wait for a complete assessment. There are three ongoing now: one by the FBI, which is looking at culpability; another by the Navy, which is looking at what happened on the Cole itself and whether proper procedures were followed; and then the third, broader assessment being done by General Crouch and Admiral Gehman. So I think that we will have a clearer idea of what happened as we begin to close these various inquiries. We're not there. We're a long ways away from knowing. There are still very contradictory reports coming in. And rather than speculate, I think I'd just to wait until it's finished. Yes. Q: Could the Cole Panel recommend disciplinary action if anybody has been found to have fallen down on the job? Bacon: Well, the Cole Panel is set up as a lessons-learned panel. And it's designed to review force protection in the broadest possible interpretation of that term and to come up with recommendations for improving force protection. So it is not designed as an accountability panel, it's designed to be a lessons-learned panel. Q: The JAG panel would do that, if anyone does it? Bacon: They are looking at specifically at what's happening with the ship, yeah. Q: Well, who in the -- if somebody in the chain of command made a mistake or missed something, who -- is it the Cole Panel that would bring that out? Bacon: If the Cole Panel made it clear that there was a lapse that could be attributed to various people or procedures, that would be highlighted by the panel, and then the leadership of the department would decide what to do next. But it would be based on a complete inquiry by the Cole Panel. Q: Once the Cole is moved out of that region, what is U.S. presence in that region going to look like? Bacon: What is the presence in the region going to look like? Q: Yes. Bacon: Well, typically we have -- well, in the Central Command area, which is the Middle East, East Africa and stretching over to Pakistan, the Central Command area generally has a carrier battle group in it, and as many as 20,000 to 25,000 U.S. forces. Q: I guess my -- what I'm trying to ask is, is there going to be any difference since the Cole -- Bacon: Well, difference where? In Aden? Or the difference in Aden in particular? Well, Toby, our presence there was intermittent. We didn't have a full-time naval presence in Aden. Ships went in there -- I think 27 ships over the last 18 or 19 months went in to refuel. But I wouldn't anticipate that our presence would be any greater than that in Aden. Ships will continue to ply the waters and the ports in the area as appropriate. Q: Including Aden? Bacon: Well, I don't think we can -- I think we need to -- we need to review the conditions at the time. We had embassy bombings in Africa last year; we didn't shut down our embassies in those towns -- in the areas where we had the bombings. We've had security problems in Saudi Arabia; we've made changes in our force deployment patterns, but we haven't left Saudi Arabia. So we will have to look at the conditions -- look at the alternatives, and that will be done over time. Right now, for obvious reasons, what we're concentrating on is recovering the remains, stabilizing the ship, and moving forward with the FBI investigation in Aden. Q: And are you looking at any other ways in which you can accomplish refueling in the area without the ships going into port? Bacon: Well, right now, we are doing that, because the ships aren't in port. They're all out at sea. And we are doing that -- obviously to do that on a full-time basis, we need more oilers in the region, and that's something we can do. I don't think the Navy's made a firm decision about this. I think General Zinni made it clear that in response to very specific threats in the past, ships have left port and have left ports before they completed their port visits and went to sea in order to be in a more secure environment. And so I'm sure that we'll continue to review the security situation in individual ports in the area as a whole and make the appropriate decisions. Q: But the refueling stops have been suspended for the time being. Bacon: They have been. That's what I said. All the ship are at sea, and they're being refueled at sea. Q: And so would a resumption of the refueling be dependent on the conclusions of the panel's final report, or -- Bacon: No, I mean, I think the Navy will have to review its operations and review the security factors in the area in making a decision. I think what you're asking me is, are all Navy ships going to stay at sea permanently -- Q: No. Bacon: -- in the CENTCOM AOR and never go into port, is that what you're asking me? Q: No, that's not what I'm asking. I'm asking whether refuelings in Aden will resume. Bacon: I think it's premature. This happened a week ago. Let's figure out -- let's let the FBI figure out what happened. Let's let the Navy complete its review and let the Cole panel complete its review. And based on what we find, the Navy will have to make decisions. I wouldn't expect a decision about refueling in Aden to be made immediately. For one thing, the Cole is going to be tied up at the dolphin, it looks now, until the end of the month. So nothing's going to happen until the end of the month in Aden. Q: In fact, it could be several months if you're going to wait until the review panel -- Bacon: It could be. I just, I don't want to speculate. I'm not going to give a deadline for making this decision. We'll have to make it based on the best information we have about intelligence, about force protection measures, about changes in force protection measures and overall conditions in the area. Yes. Q: The Cole was headed to the Gulf to help in the -- enforce the embargo against Iraq. Bacon: Mmm hmm. Q: Now, that force is light one destroyer. Will the Navy send another destroyer, perhaps from the 6th Fleet or all the way from Norfolk, to help? Bacon: It's a good question, and I don't know the answer. I'll try to find out. I mean, clearly, right now our primary concern is supporting the Cole in Aden, and there are a number of ships that are helping to do that. Q: Are the Hawes and the Cook going to break off and go back to the Gulf -- Bacon: Well, at the appropriate time. I think they'll stay to provide support and protection, but I don't know for how long. (To staff.) Do you know for how long they'll stay? I don't think that decision has been made. Chris? Q: Separate subject, if that's been exhausted -- Q: Could I just ask one more? Bacon: Just a second. Toby, do you have another one on this? Q: You said that it looked like this was planned long before the uprising by the Palestinians. Does that fact in itself suggest whether this was a state-sponsored attack or whether it was an independent terrorist group? Bacon: I think it's too early to answer that question. I hope that the FBI will be able to answer precisely that question and other questions, but it's too early at this stage. .... Q: Is the military standing ready at this point, in the event that if you find out who did this attack on the Cole, to take some sort of military retaliatory attack, like cruise missiles? Bacon: The military is always ready to do any job assigned to it by the national command authority, and I can't be any more specific than that. I think we have to wait for the FBI to complete its work before it's fair to speculate about what happens next. Q: But how likely is that type of a retaliatory measure -- (inaudible)? Bacon: Well, we don't talk about things like that. I think it's just premature to speculate where the FBI investigation will lead. And -- I mean, I know speculation is never premature for the press. But it's premature for me to speculate about where the FBI investigation will lead. It's only been going on for a week -- actually, a little less than that because they didn't get there immediately, although they got there very, very quickly. They are still moving people and equipment in. I think there was a press conference today by FBI Director Freeh from Aden. I've seen interviews with the President of Yemen both yesterday and today commenting on the pace of the investigation, and I think you should rely on those. But it's -- the -- I've not seen anything attributed to the FBI that suggests they're on the brink of figuring out how this happened or who's responsible. They're hoping, obviously, that they'll be able to do that soon.