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Pentagon Spokesman Quigley Addresses Reporters About Spy Plane Row With China

Aired April 3, 2001 - 1:31 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The Pentagon, now taking questions on the spy plane standoff -- so we'll listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

REAR ADMIRAL CRAIG QUIGLEY, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: ... no shortage of rumors on what has happened around that plane for the last three days.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... not know whether or not?

QUIGLEY: To the best of my knowledge, there is nobody that has certain knowledge of the activities around that plane. But again, there is no shortage of rumors about people who supposedly know.

QUESTION: Is there intelligence that's either conflicting or perhaps ambiguous about what's going on around the plane?

QUIGLEY: What we know and what we think we know about the activities around that plane are classified, and I can't and won't share them with you.

QUESTION: If equipment were to be taken off the plane, would that necessarily give the Chinese a better opportunity to figure out how the plane works and what its capabilities are?

QUIGLEY: I'm not going to follow that speculative path. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Are there standard procedures for what the crew of any plane like this should do if they're forced to make an emergency landing like this?

QUIGLEY: The crews of aircraft, the crews of ships, the crews of submarines have emergency destruction procedures, and these are practiced on a regular basis.

You do an inventory, Rick, of the equipment that you have on board your vessel or your aircraft to ascertain which pieces of equipment would be most valuable to a foreign government in learning about our capabilities and limitations. You then try to devise a plan where, should that vessel or aircraft become disabled or a situation like this, where you would land an aircraft on foreign soil, you would try to carry out as much of that emergency destruct plan as you could in the time that you had available to you.

It is prioritized. It is thought through well in advance and...

QUESTION: And it's practiced?

QUIGLEY: It is practiced on a regular basis, yes.

QUESTION: Were they out of communication...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... indications this crew did follow these procedures?

QUIGLEY: No, we don't.

QUESTION: Do you know long it would take...

QUESTION: Have you had any communication from the plane indicating that they had...

QUIGLEY: The subject simply was not addressed.

QUESTION: Do you know how long it would take on this kind of a plane to carry out this entire procedure to get rid of...

QUIGLEY: No, I don't, because we don't have knowledge of the activity on board the aircraft.

The aircraft commander's principle motivation after the collision was safely landing the plane. The plane had been damaged in the collision, so priority one was getting safely on the ground. And what activities were being carried out by the other members of the crew, whose responsibility were not the safe flight of the aircraft, we simply don't have that knowledge.

QUESTION: Craig, actually a three-part question. Without divulging classification, tell me if you can or will: One, how long did it take the plane to fly the 70 miles from the point of midair collision to a safe landing? Two, what was the altitude when the collision occurred? And three, were there any transmissions in the open, where the pilot or any crew member talked about what was going on, such as the plane's firing or attempting to fire, or harassing or anything else?

QUIGLEY: Let me take those in kind of a different order, if I could. There was all kinds of rumors yesterday and today about the firing of weapons by the Chinese fighters. We have absolutely no indication that was ever the case. It was about 15 to 20 minutes, it's my understanding, from the time of collision to the time the plane put down at Hainan. And what was the second one again, I'm sorry? QUESTION: Just what was the altitude of the aircraft when the midair collision occurred?

QUIGLEY: I don't know.

QUESTION: Admiral, the Chinese claim that the plane entered Chinese airspace and landed on Chinese soil illegally. And therefore, it is not entitled to the kind of immunity that was invoked early in this incident. What is the U.S. position on the status of that airplane?

QUIGLEY: First, you have the collision that took place clearly in international airspace.

Now, there's an issue here as to whether or not the aircraft was in what the Chinese claim to be an exclusive economic zone, but that's kind of moot. There's no motivation here to mine the seabed or do any sort of economic benefit from this aircraft being in the airspace.

So you need to start with an understanding that this plane was in international airspace.

When the collision occurred, it broadcast a Mayday over 121.5, international air distress frequency. All nations monitor that frequency around the world. That is a universal standard for an aircraft who is declaring an emergency on board. Then it is also standard procedure for an aircraft, who has declared an emergency, to divert to the nearest airfield so they can safely put down. You have very much a human life issue here.

Let me give you one example of that. In 1993, during the Bosnian conflict, a U.S. F-16 had a flameout in the air, returning from a mission over Bosnia. It jettisoned what it could to lighten the load, declared a Mayday and put down on an airfield in Slovenia.

Now, this was minutes and all the warning that the pilot could give, because all he had at that point was his airspeed and altitude, and no engine. And he put down on that airfield in Slovenia without warning, or any more warning than he could provide, that he was coming to a foreign nation's runway.

After that happened, the Slovenian government provided assistance to the pilot, allowed access to a repair crew to come in, repair the aircraft, and ultimately it was flown out of Slovenia and back to its base.

So this has its origins, really, I think in maritime tradition, where we come to the aid of mariners in distress on the high seas all the time, and consider the principle the same. It's not like this was a choice.

The aircraft commander clearly felt that the aircraft was in danger, and he had 24 lives that he was responsible for. So his goal was to put that aircraft down as quickly as he could and broadcast his intentions via 121.5 on the international air distress frequency, and put down. Now, as far as the sovereignty issue of the aircraft itself, when a state-owned aircraft, which this is, is on foreign soil in this country and in all countries, when you have diplomatic exchanges, military visits, any purpose for a state-owned aircraft to be on another nation's soil, it is common diplomatic practice to not have that aircraft subject to inspections or boarding, unless you are so specifically invited by the nation that owns the aircraft in the first place.

I'll use an example of a NATO ally that might be visiting here in the United States in Washington, D.C., would have a state-owned airplane for a minister of defense or something to visit, might be on the tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base, maybe at Dulles. And while that aircraft is on the ground here, we do not feel that we have the authority and would not attempt to try to go aboard those planes without the specific invitation of the nation that owns those aircraft.

QUESTION: Did the pilot have any contact with the military base in China before making the landing? Did the pilot have permission? Did the Chinese give permission to land?

QUIGLEY: I don't know that. I don't know that one.

QUESTION: Do you know where the crew is being kept? There have been some reports that they are being held separately, separate from one other, do you have any...

QUIGLEY: No, I don't have knowledge of that. I have not heard anybody, nor the Chinese, for that matter, offer a description of where the crew are being housed.

QUESTION: And Ambassador Prueher, has he met with the crew yet, do you know?

QUIGLEY: Yes. Well, no. I don't think Ambassador Prueher did. The consul general, and I think there's a total of six persons, I believe, counting the consul general in that party, that met with the air crew maybe an hour or go or so now.

And as Secretary Powell said, about 12:30, I think, today, I think the meeting was still going on, as he was speaking. I think it is now complete, but we don't have any feedback yet from the meeting.

QUESTION: There is a little bit of feedback from the meeting. The diplomats who returned told reporters standing outside that the crew would not be coming back immediately, and there was still negotiation ahead on that.

Is a delay in having the crew freed acceptable to the Pentagon?

QUIGLEY: We're not at all clear why there's a delay involved here.

We would like to see the prompt, safe return of all 24 crew members. The president made that clear yesterday. secretary Powell said that again this morning. And it is certainly the view of the Department of Defense, in the same vein.

And I don't have any feedback from the meeting, but clearly there was a meeting with Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials that preceded our team's meeting with the crew members. I don't know what was discussed there. Maybe State could offer a readout. But I do not understand why the 24 cannot be released immediately.

QUESTION: What are you calling these 24 crew members? Are they prisoners, hostages, captives, detainees, guests?

QUIGLEY: I think the term is ambiguous at this point. I don't have a good answer to your question.

QUESTION: At what time was the last transmission? The incident time you figured was 9:15 local time. What time was the last transmission from the guy on the ground?

QUIGLEY: Well, it would have been shortly after the plane was on the ground, so it would have been roughly 20 minutes or so after that point.

QUESTION: You don't have the exact time.

QUIGLEY: No, I don't.

QUESTION: And you're saying the only communications with the plane on the open channel was essentially a Mayday and the fact that the plane was going to land. You all received no other communications indicating that they were destroying equipment or doing...

QUIGLEY: Correct. But I need to be clear here. On the 121.5, that is only a frequency that is used for international air distress.

QUESTION: But essentially that's an open channel.

QUIGLEY: Now, another circuit was used for what was just asked and that was to -- we understand, from the aircraft commander, that the plane had safely landed on the runway there at Hainan, and that everybody on board was safe and uninjured, and that was the last communication until today...

QUESTION: No indication...

QUIGLEY: ... that we've had from the aircrew.

(CROSSTALK)

QUIGLEY: No, sir.

QUESTION: I'm sorry to press a point, but I don't really understand your answer about the term for these people being ambiguous. Unless you can clarify it, they clearly are being held against their will, so what are they? And you don't see very -- the Pentagon doesn't seem very hard-nosed about this.

QUIGLEY: Well, again, I'm not clear as to which diplomatic term is appropriate here.

So in my mind, at least, I don't understand the clarity of the term that should be used. I would defer to the diplomats on that.

QUESTION: And if I can follow up on that again, it just doesn't seem like the Pentagon leadership, as the head of the U.S. military, seems publicly very concerned. Is Secretary Rumsfeld ever planning to appear in public and voice his concerns about this? We haven't heard from him.

QUIGLEY: I don't know if his intentions are to do that. Clearly, we believe that there is a diplomatic solution to this incident and not a military one. It is our aircrew. They are military people. There's a military aircraft on the ground.

But if you think of a military solution to this, that's not the way ahead. The way ahead is a diplomatic one. And that's why the lead at this point -- and I would expect it to stay -- with the State Department.

QUESTION: Does he not want to express his concern for the families?

QUIGLEY: We all are expressing our concern for the families of the individuals. That's very, very clear on a variety of person's parts.

But your question is really more on the way ahead with the Chinese government, and the lead in that regard is, and will stay, with the State Department.

Let me make a point also, that's something that -- I know a lot of you have used the term "spy plane" and "spy plane standoff" and lots of really punchy subtitles in your various articles.

Spying, to me, implies espionage. Spies take part in espionage, and that's not at all what we're talking about here. This was overt, routine surveillance and reconnaissance, which is carried out around the world on a pretty regular basis by a variety of nations, United States among them. But it is carried out in international airspace, under international rules.

And the term "spy" and "spy plane" and "24 spies on board" and stuff like...

(LAUGHTER)

... just doesn't reflect the actuality of that. So I would ask for your help in some of that.

QUESTION: If you had a human being with everyone of your radar frequencies and telecommunication details, and captured him outside this building, would he be just doing reconnaissance?

QUIGLEY: Say that again. QUESTION: If you had an individual illegally having all your radar frequencies for the United States and telecommunications, voice communication details recorded, found him outside the building, would he be conducting reconnaissance or would he be a spy?

QUIGLEY: I'm not sure how to -- yes, how did he get there? But I prefer to stay with what we have here.

And we have an airplane here that is flying in international airspace, and it is conducting very routine surveillance and reconnaissance. And this is something that is very overt.

Again, I think of spy and I think of covert, and I think of disguises and stealing things and stuff like that. And that's absolutely not what this aircraft was doing, and it needs to be treated differently.

QUESTION: Was this done on a fairly regular -- was this sort of like the fifth day in a row or five out of 10 days it was in that same airspace and nothing had happened before that?

QUIGLEY: I don't have the numbers at my disposal right now. But again, in that part of the world and other parts of the world, this is something that we routinely carry out in accordance with international law.

QUESTION: How experienced was the crew and the captain?

QUIGLEY: I don't know. I don't have their flight hours or anything like that.

QUESTION: At this point, is it too strong to say they are hostages? When do you start using that very strong noun about what they are?

QUIGLEY: Same answer I gave.

QUESTION: Could you talk about the decision yesterday to pull the destroyers and to send them on their way? I'm told that it was Ambassador Prueher's decision, because he didn't want to militarize the situation; he wanted to keep it diplomatic. Is that correct?

QUIGLEY: Actually, Admiral Blair, as those ships were leaving Hong Kong for a port visit and headed home from an Arabian Gulf deployment -- and they were going to be headed east, OK, as you leave Hong Kong you're going to turn east and you're going to head to the West Coast of the United States and their home ports.

Before they got too far, Admiral Blair just thought it was prudent that, if they could possibly serve some purpose in the search- and-rescue operation for the Chinese pilot, then let's just not let them get too far away before we might actually want to use them, and then it would be too late, and I've got to turn them around and it's going to take some more hours, and that time lost would be critical. And he didn't know what the answer would be. So he thought that the prudent course of action would be to just have them loiter in a position well off the coast, again, in international waters, until that could sort itself out. And late yesterday...

QUESTION: You don't think that it's at all intimidating...

QUIGLEY: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: You don't think it's at all intimidating to have two of the best destroyers in the Navy...

QUIGLEY: Not where they were, you know, over 100 miles in international waters. I don't think so.

That was not the motivation. The motivation was to have them available should they be useful and the Chinese find them desirable to participate in the search and rescue for the pilot. The Chinese did not express interest in having assistance from those vessels, so they were released to go on their way. And as of last night, they were headed east and headed home.

QUESTION: You describe this U.S. surveillance mission as routine. Is it also routine, and does the Pentagon have any objection to the Chinese sending up fighters to escort these missions...

(CROSSTALK)

QUIGLEY: Again, I would say that's pretty routine as well, Jamie, but the issue is one of flight safety. Clearly, you saw here that a terrible accident occurred. I don't think either nation or the airmen from either nation took to the skies that day with the intention of having a collision in the air.

It was an accident, to the best of anybody's knowledge.

QUESTION: Have there been close calls in the recent past?

QUIGLEY: There have been several fairly close approaches by Chinese fighters to surveillance flights in the past three, four months.

QUESTION: What has been the U.S. response to that?

QUIGLEY: We have expressed our concerns to the Chinese, thinking that they were flying too close, creating an unsafe situation.

QUESTION: In this case, who ran into whom?

QUIGLEY: Don't know that yet. There's all kinds of theories on that, but that's yet another reason to want to have some pretty full discussions with our aircrew.

QUESTION: That seems to be a step back from what Admiral Blair said only hours after the incident, an indication that this P-3 could not have been in the position to do the kind of maneuvers that the Chinese claimed it had done.

QUIGLEY: I think that would typically be the case. But again, we, in the absence of hard facts here -- and, again, that goes back to being able to talk to our aircrew in detail -- you just can't say unequivocally that this is what happened. We just don't know that yet.

QUESTION: Broadcasting on the international distress frequency, or 121.5, which has been that frequency, as you know, since the '40s, if he had 15 to 20 minutes, it would be not only customary but almost mandatory that he give the nature of his emergency.

And a midair collision would not be the true nature. You'd have to say: I lost a piece of a wing, lost of engine, having difficulty maintaining a safe level of flight, all of these things.

Was there any of that we know of?

QUIGLEY: I don't know one way or the other.

QUESTION: The Chinese have demanded that the U.S. stop these kind of surveillance and reconnaissance flights, and they have demanded an apology from the United States. Are either of those things in the...

QUIGLEY: "I don't know" is the honest answer to your question.

We need, again, to be able to have pretty detailed discussions with our aircrew to hear their side of things. We're very confident that we know the location of the collision, that it was in international airspace. We really need to have the discussions with the aircrew to really get the nitty-gritty details here before we have a good understanding of exactly the circumstances.

QUESTION: They are saying, they do not want the U.S. to ever conduct this kind of reconnaissance flight again; it is an affront to their government. Is that acceptable to the United States?

QUIGLEY: I don't think that's what we're considering doing, no.

QUESTION: Will you stop the flights?

QUESTION: Admiral, you said a minute ago that there was a transmission from the aircraft after it was on the ground. What's our information about why those transmissions ceased? Did the Chinese take some steps to block them?

QUIGLEY: We don't have that information.

QUESTION: OK. A second question, are there circumstances under which the commander of this airplane would have been instructed to put the plane in the water, rather than land it in a foreign country?

QUIGLEY: I don't think we would try to second-guess his judgment. There's nobody in a better position to understand what the right course of action to save those 24 lives would be than the aircraft commander.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... his judgment, about what his instructions would have been. A standing order, for example, rather than let this aircraft and this equipment come into the possession of a foreign government, ditch it.

QUIGLEY: I don't think there is such a standing guidance. An aircraft commander surely knows that's an option, but it's a snap judgment. It's a very quick decision you need to make, and you have to come to the decision that you think is best for the safety of the lives that you are responsible for.

QUESTION: Go back to your use of the example that visiting foreign plane comes here, and you say it had have diplomatic immunity from any kinds of search or seizure. That's a plane that's entered this country with having filed all the proper flight plans...

QUIGLEY: True, true.

QUESTION: ... got all the flight clearances. This is a different situation.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: They let them land. They didn't shoot them down.

QUIGLEY: I understand your point, but it's not like that this was a capricious decision. I mean, this was a very deliberate decision made by an aircraft in distress, where the aircraft commander felt that he was at risk.

QUESTION: Having made that decision, are you really sure that, under international law, he's entitled to all of this immunity that goes with an aircraft that's visiting under more regular circumstances?

QUIGLEY: I think given the unusual circumstances of the aircraft's arrival on the runway at Hainan, I would hope that that would be a consideration being given that, yes, you're right, we did not follow the normal procedures of requesting diplomatic clearance and all that. There was nothing normal about this. This was anything but a routine evolution that was going on right there.

QUESTION: But you would hope that they would be nice. But I'm asking, do they have the same obligations -- as a legal matter -- do they have the same obligations as they would if this had been a...

QUIGLEY: We would interpret it the same way. We would hope the Chinese would as well. And I would think that were a situation like this to happen at a U.S. airfield somewhere in the world, we would understand that, again, this was not a planned, routine thing. This aircraft was in extremis and needed to put down.

And their circumstances of how they got there, given the immediate -- you know, the fact that a collision had just preceded this -- should be taken into account in providing the same sorts of status as you would on a normal diplomatic mission, as I described before.

QUESTION: Have you stopped the routine surveillance flights?

QUIGLEY: Not that I'm aware of, no.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Yes, you had said that you hoped to follow a diplomatic way to settle this. Are you following the president's lead by not coming out and saying anything...

QUIGLEY: I always follow the president's lead, ma'am.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: He doesn't seem to be so diplomatic in his response. So that's why...

QUIGLEY: I'm not sure how to answer your question. I mean, there is a consensus amongst the senior leadership of this nation that, certainly, the president is following this one very closely. You heard his comments yesterday. The secretary of defense is. The national security adviser is.

But of those various individuals, the secretary of state, through diplomatic channels and the embassy in Beijing and the consul general, are the principal lead agency, if you will, in working our way through this.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Surveillance of these planes is routine and overt. What are they looking for exactly? And what kinds of things are they intercepting?

QUIGLEY: They conduct electronic surveillance and reconnaissance.

Let me go to an example of a regular P-3. One of the great advantages of this very old airframe is its very long legs. It has a wonderful capability to stay out in the air for extended periods of time. And we use this to take a look at very broad pieces of the world's oceans for a variety of reasons.

And there is great value in having the ability to have a plane with very long legs conduct reconnaissance and surveillance in various spots around the world for a variety of reasons.

QUESTION: How important is the Pacific region -- a broader question here -- how important is the Pacific region to United States? We seem to have a lot of troops over there. We're doing a lot of surveillance. QUIGLEY: Oh, the Pacific is very important. I mean, if you just look at the Pacific Command's area of responsibility, it is our largest unified command in the U.S. Department of Defense. You've got dozens of countries in that part of the world. We have very strong economic ties to that part of the world. Some of our strongest friends and allies in the world are in the Pacific region. So it's a very important part of the world to us, yes.

QUESTION: How often do we conduct the surveillance off the coast of China -- once a week, once a month, several times? How many times?

QUIGLEY: I don't have a number for you. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Have there been any EP-3 surveillance flights in that area since this...

QUIGLEY: In the last three days? I don't know.

QUESTION: Are there any scheduled for the next week or so?

QUIGLEY: It's not a schedule that we announce.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

QUIGLEY: Yes, I'll see if I can that find. Yes.

QUESTION: Does China conduct similar surveillance flights surveying the airspace of other nations?

QUIGLEY: Say that again, I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Does China conducts similar surveillance flights or other nations in the region?

QUIGLEY: I believe China has a plane with at least a comparable mission. I'm unclear as to its capabilities, but it does not have -- it tends to have its airplanes, its surveillance aircraft, stay closer to the Chinese coast, taking a look at conditions near their actual coastline. But they have an aircraft with a very similar mission, yes.

QUESTION: Has there been a change in our surveillance posture in recent weeks, months?

QUIGLEY: No, I don't think so.

QUESTION: Beside the Mayday call and the other communication you referred to when the plane landed, were there other communications from the aircraft between the moment of the collision and the landing?

QUIGLEY: Not that I'm aware of, but I'm not sure either, but not that I'm aware of.

QUESTION: By that, I include also, in addition to a voice communication, some other form of electronic transmission.

QUIGLEY: Yes, and I don't have that, and I don't know.

QUESTION: Craig, given the emergency conditions aboard the plane after the collision, the brief time between that and the landing, and I gather the last message from the pilot was that the Chinese were boarding the plane, do we assume these sensitive intelligence items were compromised? Do we have a worst-case assumption here?

QUIGLEY: I don't think we're going to make an assumption. I think we're going to try to ascertain fact.

QUESTION: And by that, you mean?

QUIGLEY: I think we're going to try to ascertain fact. Eventually, we want to get the aircraft back. We consider that a piece of American property. And the sooner we can fly the airplane out of there, the sooner we'll have good answers to that question.

QUESTION: The issue is, did they have enough time to destroy the sensitive equipment, the sensitive equipment aboard, in a very brief time, emergency conditions? Is the presumption that the Chinese, who boarded that very quickly, compromised these items or not?

QUIGLEY: Again, we just don't know, Pat. We don't know. We know it was a limited amount of time between the collision and actually the plane touching down. How much of the emergency destruct process had been carried out by the time they landed, we just don't know.

QUESTION: Admiral?

QUIGLEY: Yes.

QUESTION: Do we have any information on the Chinese pilot?

QUIGLEY: I do not. I believe the last I heard was last night, our time, which is day time China time, and I believe the search and rescue activities were still ongoing, but that's pretty old. That's at least 12 hours old. You would need to check with the Chinese to see if that's going.

QUESTION: Was any communication intercepted between the two Chinese fighter pilots, that could give us some indication?

QUIGLEY: Not that I'm aware of, no.

QUESTION: Going back to your point that this plane is U.S. property, there have been circumstances when the United States has not returned aircraft when other countries have requested that it be returned.

For example, if a defector flies an aircraft on to a U.S. airfield, is there are an obvious line, in your mind, when the United States would return an aircraft to a country requesting it and when it would not? QUIGLEY: I would think that each and every one of these circumstances is unique, in the true definition of the word.

And you had an accident here that preceded a very unexpected and unplanned landing at another nation's airfield. I'd like to think that that would be a factor in their decision-making process, to take that into consideration, and both the release of the crew and the return of the aircraft, as an instance of the right thing to do.

QUESTION: Well, when would the United States not do that?

QUIGLEY: I can't answer your question. I don't know.

QUESTION: What are the status of U.S.-Chinese military-to- military exchanges? I think that we just finish up some visits in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

QUIGLEY: We did.

QUESTION: Anything coming up? And what's the status of those?

QUIGLEY: The USS Blue Ridge, the command ship, the flag ship for the U.S. Seventh Fleet just finished, I believe, two weekends ago, a visit to Shanghai. Admiral Blair has just discussed the mil-to-mil program on a trip that he had made, maybe three weeks ago, something in that ballpark.

We also owe the Congress a report on -- what? -- the way ahead on mil-to-mil exchanges for the rest of 2001. And don't have that completed yet, but would anticipate completing that soon.

QUESTION: What do you have planned in the coming days and weeks?

QUIGLEY: Nothing that I'm aware of, no.

QUESTION: During the visit of Admiral Blair, was the question of the aggressive Chinese intercepts raised? And, if so, what response did the Chinese give?

QUIGLEY: I don't know.

QUESTION: To what extent is this building concerned about the technology itself being compromised by the Chinese? By that I mean, you described an older airplane with long legs and can do a loiter and reconnaissance. The technology is fairly well-known, because a lot of it's been declassified, but to what extent is the building concerned that we're going to lose the crown jewels of Navy surveillance or reconnaissance, if the Chinese have enough time to get into the plane and pick it apart?

QUIGLEY: Yes. Clearly, the technologies here that would be of interest are not those of the airframe or the power plant or something like that. It's a very old technology, but it's very reliable and it serves our purposes well.

The complexities and the sophistication of this plane are the electronic equipment that it carries. It is, indeed, sensitive. It is not material. It has capabilities and limitations that we would not like to share with other.

So, yes, we're concerned, and we're concerned more than anything else about the crew and wanting to get them back. But once that is solved, then we really want to get our plane back.

QUESTION: Well, was there concern initially that this could be a crippling intelligence blow to the U.S. or more along the lines of they can get some advantages but we're not really sure how much?

QUIGLEY: Again, it's one of those things we're going to want to discuss with our aircrew, because we don't know, as we've discussed before, we don't know how much of an emergency destruction procedure they may have carried out in the time that they had.

QUESTION: Then the crew will do a damage assessment?

QUIGLEY: Oh, absolutely. Having fully functional equipment is one thing; having destroyed or at least partially destroyed equipment is a very different issue.

QUESTION: You say you rehearse the destruction of sensitive equipment aboard this aircraft, as you do ships. How much time does it take to destroy the sensitive equipment and details aboard this plane?

QUIGLEY: It varies by model of plane, type of ship. It is a prioritized list, so you start with the most important first. To completely carry it out, I don't know the answer to your question.

QUESTION: Fifteen, 20 minutes?

QUIGLEY: I don't know.

QUESTION: How do you do it?

QUIGLEY: If it's electronic equipment, you disable it in a variety of ways, whether it's physical destruction, whether it's electronic zeroing of equipment, whether it's the shredding of classified papers and things of that sort.

You just say, "What is it about this equipment that would provide information to a foreign government that I don't want to share?" And then you say, "Now, there's a lot of things in this piece of electronic equipment. What is the real sensitive part?" And so you prioritize your efforts in that way, and work down so as to not share the capabilities and limitations of the gear.

QUESTION: Craig, I know there are differences, but there are also some striking similarities.

Do we have another Pueblo situation here? Did the North Koreans, I forget, did they ever release the Pueblo. I know they released Commander Bucher, after for holding him for sometime, and the crew. But if they did not release the Pueblo, is it then possible that the Chinese will never release this aircraft?

QUIGLEY: I don't know on the ultimate fate of the Pueblo. I should probably know that, but I don't know whatever happened to the ship.

We're certainly not looking at that situation here. We hope to get our crew released. Shortly after that, to get the plane repaired, fly it out of there and put this behind us and move on.

QUESTION: Admiral, what conditions do the Chinese want met before they'll release the crew? And what conditions did they place on this meeting with the crew: limited time, certain questions, anything like that?

QUIGLEY: I don't know. I'm sorry. Maybe through diplomatic channels, they can answer that.

QUESTION: And we've had no demands from them, no...

QUIGLEY: Not that I'm aware of, no.

QUESTION: They haven't told us what it will take to release the crew?

QUIGLEY: To my knowledge, the Chinese have made no demands on the government of the United States.

QUESTION: If the plane was damaged enough to force and emergency landing, is it a safe assumption that it was a really rocky flight down and the people were mostly likely strapped into their seats rather than running around with pick axes to strengthen...

QUIGLEY: I don't think we know that.

QUESTION: With the Pueblo, the significant develop there was the North Koreans capturing our code machine and giving it to Russia, and it compromised our codes for a number of years.

QUESTION: They didn't have enough time to destroy the equipment. So it gets back to how much time should they have aboard the plane to destroy this equipment?

QUIGLEY: About 15 or 20 minutes is the answer to your question. Now how much of that was carried out in that time, I don't know.

QUESTION: We don't know how much time they need to do this?

QUIGLEY: No.

QUESTION: Admiral, without China's blessings, is there anything we can do to get the crew back?

QUIGLEY: That would not be where our efforts are at this point; it's to continue to discuss this in diplomatic channels.

QUESTION: Just to go one more time on that flight. From the Pentagon's point of view, from the U.S. military point of view, not a military solution. But from your point of view, is there any thing to discuss with the Chinese? Why is this open to discussion? Why aren't you just saying you unequivocally want the crew back?

QUIGLEY: Well, I would think that we've probably made that pretty clear to the Chinese in our diplomatic discussions with them. But what the contents of those discussions were, I don't know.

QUESTION: The Chinese describe the surveillance operations as provocative. What would be the reaction of the U.S. if they flew off the coast of California, let's say?

QUIGLEY: If another nation, any other nation, chose to fly in international airspace off the coast of the United States, it would remind me of something that happened dozens of times during the years of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union flew Bear long-range reconnaissance aircraft down the east coast of the United States.

We routinely sent U.S. fighters up to take a look and escort them for a while. But in all those cases, they were in international airspace and complying with international law.

QUESTION: Did the Bears ever land in the U.S.?

QUIGLEY: Not that I recall, no.

QUESTION: What if they were to land in circumstances similar to this, would the United States consider it appropriate to board that plane?

QUIGLEY: I would like to think that our response, given the circumstances of some sort of a collision or an in-air emergency of any kind, fully understanding that this was not a planned, intentional event, if that aircraft was in trouble and it needed to safely land somewhere, we would do whatever we could to allow a safe landing of that airplane and consider that a sovereign piece of whatever country owned that aircraft.

QUESTION: We wouldn't be curious to know what was inside?

QUIGLEY: You might be curious, but there's a big difference between your curiosity and boarding it as an unwelcome guest.

QUESTION: Is there any military-to-military dialogue under way between Chinese...

QUIGLEY: Well, if there was over the weekend, in trying to ascertain the status of the crew, I think at this point that's shifted mostly to the diplomatic side.

QUESTION: Is there any talk of cutting off military-to-military relations until this is handled?

QUIGLEY: Not that I have heard discussed, no.

QUESTION: You just expressed concern for the Chinese family. Does the United States ever discuss compensation to a Chinese government? Because I know they were very interested to hear anything on compensation.

QUIGLEY: Well, I know we discuss compensation with a variety of governments for a variety of reasons over time. I think the first step here is to try to ascertain the details of how the collision occurred. And we need to start at the beginning, and that's the beginning.

QUESTION: Who was the military person at this end that had military discussions over the weekend?

QUIGLEY: I believe it was through the defense attache in the embassy in Beijing. I believe there were people here in the Pentagon that were in contact, but I don't know who that was.

QUESTION: Senior person?

QUIGLEY: Yes. Yes.

QUESTION: Are you purposefully trying to tone down the language from the podium today, as opposed to yesterday and the day before, by other officials? Is there any doubt in your mind that this aircraft was flying straight and level? There is a lot of information to indicate that, and that if there was fault in this accident, 99 percent was not the slow-flying American aircraft.

QUIGLEY: A typical flight path or a flight pattern for this type of aircraft is, indeed, straight and level.

I sound like a broken record, but we still need to talk to the aircrew to ascertain the conditions of flight, the attitude of the aircraft and things of that sort, at the time of the collision, before we can say with certainty.

QUESTION: If, indeed, there was a fault from the American aircraft, would the circumstances be changed and would the state of the aircraft be different? In other words, if the EP-3 had caused the collision, would you be as certain that it should be returned as it is?

QUIGLEY: Again, I think we need to take this one step at a time, and first, we need to try to figure out the actual cause of the collision.

QUESTION: Isn't it just a basic fundamental of physics on the sea and in the air that whoever is the more maneuverable, faster craft is the one that gets out of the way?

QUIGLEY: Generally speaking, yes. Generally speaking, yes. I'm thinking of a supertanker and speedboat; that analogy comes to mind.

QUESTION: Another subject?

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: This time you will welcome a Vieques question, for a change.

(LAUGHTER)

OK. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus met with the president yesterday.

QUESTION: They presented a letter signed by at least 110 congressmen, asking for an immediate demand and permanent cessation of training in Vieques.

The president is quoted as saying...

ALLEN: They are changing subjects, so we will pause from our coverage of this very lengthy Pentagon briefing today with Rear Admiral Craig Quigley, taking many questions about this standoff with the Chinese. He wanted to point out, over and over again, that the Pentagon still considers this an issue for the State Department and that they would like a diplomatic solution to this. And that's why, when one reporter asked where is Defense Secretary Rumsfeld on this, he said it still lies in the hands of the State Department.

He also pointed out that there's been no information about activity in or around this plane on the island of Hainan, and he also wanted to point out the sovereignty of the state-owned aircraft, saying that it's common diplomatic process not to have the aircraft boarded or inspected. This was in response to a reporter's question about a statement by the Chinese today saying that international immunity is waived because this airplane did not have permission to land, and that China has the right to handle the case.

And finally, the admiral wanted to take issue with terms used in reporting the story, like "spy plane standoff," which you see on your screen. He took issue with that term that many are using, saying that this aircraft was indeed not spying, but that it was conducting overt electronic reconnaissance and very routine surveillance.

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