DoD News Briefing

Tuesday, October 31, 2000
Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and former U.S. Senator John H. Glenn
(Media availability at the John Glenn Institute of Public Service and Public Policy, Columbus, Ohio)

Q: What is the Defense Department doing to prevent another attack like the one on the USS Cole?

Cohen: Well, as you know there is no 100 percent guarantee of safety in anything that we do, and the USS Cole, the attack on the USS Cole reminded everyone, I hope, of the dangers that the men and women who are serving us in uniform face every day.

We tend only be galvanized by something like this of tragic proportions when we see it occur, and tend to overlook what they face every day.

So we will take whatever measures we can that are reasonable and prudent and forward looking, understanding that when we're forward deployed in any part of the world, but especially in that part of the world, it's very, very dangerous. We are there in order to introduce and maintain stability. And if there is stability, the world will continue to prosper. If there is instability and conflict and interruption of supplies of energy coming from that region it will affect the economies of the entire world.

So we will have lessons learned from this incident. We now have an internal inquiry going on headed up by General Crouch, a four-star Army general retired; and Admiral Hal Gehman, again, a four-star admiral who has since retired. They will conduct an inquiry in terms of the nature of the precautions that were taken, the protective measures, the force protection measures that we adopted, then look at the standard and see what was done, and could it have been prevented. Then we will learn from this and see what we can do differently, if we can do things differently.

But I should point out, this is not Navy-specific as such. Because Air Force, Army, Marines, all face similar types of dangers throughout the world, so we will have lessons learned from this and also see what we need to do in other parts, in other services. We have had some very hard lessons from things that have occurred in Beirut, also Khobar Towers, and elsewhere.

So it's dangerous out there. It's dangerous globally. This is something that calls our attention to just how dangerous it is, and how brave our men and women are who serve us. And when you look at the details of what they were able to do after being hit, and how they really worked around the clock to save the ship while all of the smoke and the fumes and the twisted metal, and the people who were killed and those who were severely wounded, while the rescue attempts were going on, they were also bailing out that ship by hand at times because they lost energy. They were taking on as much as ten gallons a minute of water, which they were bailing out by buckets until they got the energy restored again. So all of that was going on.

That tells you how really capable those young men and women are who are serving in our military today, in the Navy, and how heroic they are and were.


Q: Osama bin Laden. There have been many reports that he is behind the attack. I was wondering if you could confirm that and also tell us whether or not there has been a link that the FBI has found, the Defense Department, or the Yemen investigators have found, to bin Laden.

Cohen: The answer is there has been no link established at this time. We are looking very closely at Osama bin Laden to see whether or not he in fact or his organization or those organizations that he supports through his financial network are in some way connected to this incident. We don't reach any conclusive judgment at this point and are reluctant to do so until we have all the facts so that we don't raise either expectations about something that cannot be established. We want to be very careful, very responsible.

We have indicated that we are going to hold those who were responsible for this terrible crime against the USS Cole and the people on that ship, we're going to hold them accountable, and we're going to track them down, and we're going to see that justice is done.

But what we don't want to do is reach conclusions when we don't have the facts yet. So the FBI is working very assiduously on this. I met with Director Freeh last week and he brought me up to date on his investigation, he went over to Aden, and they continue to work very hard in gathering information, looking at the fragments that are being raised from the USS Cole, looking at the substance of the kind of explosives that were used so that we can then determine whether there was a link to the groups that use this type of technology to create the damage that they did.

So I think it's premature at this point. We will continue to investigate it and make sure that we get all the facts.

Q: Is your investigation being hindered by the Yemen (inaudible) who are not allowing full American disclosure there? Is that investigation being hindered at all?

Cohen: Well as of last week the Yemeni officials were being quite cooperative. Whether that continues to exist I think remains to be seen.

There always are situations when you're dealing with another country that they are protective of their own investigatory techniques and procedures. We have found that in dealing with other countries in the region. But we are working, we have a very strong ambassador who is there, and she has been working closely with the Yemeni authorities. Director Freeh as of last week said he was getting good cooperation. We hope that that will continue.

Thank you.

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