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Defense Secretary Rumsfeld Holds Press Conference at Whiteman Air Force Base

Aired October 19, 2001 - 16:40   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm told that Secretary Rumsfeld is now taking questions at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri. Let's listen.


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) St. Louis. There is a report out concerning people in St. Louis regarding Boeing being beat out for the JSF, the joint strike fighter, by Lockheed Martin -- the report in "BusinessWeek Online" last night.

I wanted to see what is the reaction to that. Is that accurate? Is it inaccurate? What is the status of the JSF? And I know you only like one question at a time, but let me just get this in there so you can move on...

RUMSFELD: He listens.

QUESTION: ... that if it comes down...

RUMSFELD: Why do you ask four then?


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) so you wouldn't get too mad at me.

If it goes to one or the other, would there be a possibility of some split of the work?

RUMSFELD: Well, I have a strange situation where I am not getting involved in major acquisition activities because of some illiquid investments I still own. So I am aware that that decision, however, has not been made. I do not know what press reports you're referring to, but I happen to have heard this morning before I left that the decision on the Joint Strike Fighter has not been made, nor has the second aspect of that decision been made.


RUMSFELD: Exactly.


RUMSFELD: Isn't it fantastic?

QUESTION: You studied ways to reduce the cost of the military prior to the 11th of September, some suggestions...

RUMSFELD: And I still am.

QUESTION: Right. And that the B-2 particularly is an anachronism in an age of (OFF-MIKE) -- that it cost too much to operate and to build. Can you comment on that (OFF-MIKE). Can you comment on whether the B-2 costs too much (OFF-MIKE) United States military now faces?

RUMSFELD: First of all, you're right. The country does have to deal with asymmetric threats, and they're serious. And it's not simply terrorism or ballistic missiles. It's also cruise missiles and potentially cyber-attacks. And we as a people who are heavily...



... as a country we're heavily...


I love it.


We have to be able to deal with those asymmetric threats. That does not mean that more conventional capabilities -- ships, guns, tanks and planes -- are not needed. One of the reasons we do not have to compete with major navies or air forces or armies is because we have a major Air Force, Army and a Navy. And that alone serves as a deterrent to dissuade people from thinking that that is the way they can advantage themselves against the United States or the West.

RUMSFELD: We ought not to allow pendulums to swing too far and things to become faddish. It is clearly true we've got to transform the military. And we have to do it in a way that we're capable as a country of being able to assure the American people that we can help to provide for their national defense and their security.

You don't do that by addressing only a single threat. You need to address the clear threats to be sure, but as our transformation work has shown, we have to do more than that. We have to be able to deal with capabilities regardless of where they come from. And the B- 2, obviously, it's being used in this conflict already.


RUMSFELD: I do. I think it's got distinctive capabilities. And it's got the ability to reach long distances. It has the stealthy characteristics and it has a terrific payload.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you noted this plane here which is capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction. If, as you say, we eventually find out that anthrax or some other biological agent has been used against the United States in an attack, would you support the use of weapons of mass destruction against those people?

RUMSFELD: I tend to give my advice to the president. I'm old fashioned and those are presidential decisions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, how real do you think the bioterrorism threat is?

RUMSFELD: It is real.


QUESTION: Is it serious enough that Americans should be greatly concerned about it? You were commenting (inaudible) regarding the smallpox and anthrax.

RUMSFELD: I think the president's advice is good.

RUMSFELD: I think people should be in a state of somewhat heightened awareness and sensitivity. And yet we have to go about our lives and do what we do, and that's what free people do.

And the government has to do what it can to be sensitive to the potential of those threats, and one of the ways to do it is exactly what we're doing, and that's going after the people who are likely to use it. And we have to do it, and we have to do it aggressively and we have to do it successfully.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you get a sense that that people in the military are particularly concerned about being a target of bioterrorism? You got two questions about that from family members. What can you say to allay their fears that they might be specific targets (OFF-MIKE).

RUMSFELD: I would say that it is probably no more likely than any other particular target; that the terrorists have different patterns and their purpose is to frighten people and to alter their behavior. And clearly military targets are military targets, but so too are civilian targets like the World Trade Center. Economic targets are not out of the range of possibility.

QUESTION: On the plane ride over, you characterized when the military role will be over in Afghanistan. Can you characterize that for us?

RUMSFELD: Well, I don't recall quite what I said, but the military role -- let me re-phrase it. The task in Afghanistan will be over when Afghanistan is no longer a haven for terrorists that are free to move around the world and threaten free people with powerful weapons and carnage.

And that means that as long as you have the Al Qaeda enormously influential in the country, as long as you have the Taliban government, which is tied so tightly to the Al Qaeda, facilitating and harboring them, the rest of the world is not safe.

RUMSFELD: And it's our job and the coalition's job -- the many countries who've signed up to be helpful from a military standpoint, a financial, an economic, in terms of intelligence gathering -- it's our collective task to see that we take care of that threat. And the only way to do it is by going to Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary?


QUESTION: Given the effectiveness of antibiotics in dealing with anthrax, is there any less impetus in the military to vaccinate everyone? Because, you know, the program's been kind of flawed.

RUMSFELD: That's a question that is ahead of us in the future. As you well know, the sole company that was working on the problem has had a great deal of difficulty. And as a result, we don't even have an option at the present time of providing that kind of assistance.


RUMSFELD: It could.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, could you tell us anything at all about reports about ground troops in Afghanistan? Can you tell us anything at all about that?

RUMSFELD: I could.


RUMSFELD: I won't. I have no desire to discuss the subject. It is very clear that there are troops on the ground. There have been for many years. They are fighting against the Taliban and have had varying degrees of success in different parts of the country -- the Northern Alliance in the north, various tribal groups in the south. And we are encouraging them. And to the extent we can assist them in being more successful, clearly it puts greater pressure on the Taliban and on the Al Qaeda.


QUESTION: Speaking of those anti-Taliban forces that have been on the ground, you said on the plane ride over here that we're now providing food, ammo and supplies, too. Human Rights Watch says that there is a General Dostam, who has a long history in Afghanistan of rape and other things. Are you concerned about the alliance we're now forming with such unsavory people there in Afghanistan?

RUMSFELD: If one wants to discuss "unsavory," I think we would start at the top of the heap with al Qaeda and Taliban. The damage they've done, the lives they've destroyed, the people they've displaced, the people that have starved, the people that have been imprisoned and killed -- these are particularly vicious people. And there is no question but that Afghanistan has been fighting for many, many years. It fought against the Soviet Union. It has been fighting among the various factions. The factions have varying degrees of experience with respect to their activities against each other.

I don't think that you're going to find very many angels in that situation, and I do think that it is perfectly proper for us, given the threat to the United States, the thousands of lives lost, to say that our principal interest at the moment is to stop the threat of terrorism outside of Afghanistan.

It would be wonderful if the United States and other countries could be helpful in a post-Taliban Afghanistan that would have a government that would provide reasonable food and opportunities for its people in a humane way. Whether that will be possible, I don't know. Nation-building has not been an easy thing for the rest of the world to do. The success has been modest.

And clearly the people of Afghanistan ultimately are going to decide which of the generals and which of the politicians are going to end up in what various positions they might seek or aspire to. It is not something that we're likely to be able to determine for them.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you presumably today met with some of the pilots who have returned...


QUESTION: ... from Afghanistan, as you said dropping the 5,000- pound bombs. What are they telling you? What's their attitude? Do they think they're getting the job done?

RUMSFELD: There is no question in their mind that they are proud of what they do. They do it exceedingly well. And they are a piece of the task. They do something that is distinctive and they do it very, very well. That portion of the job that they've been assigned, there is no question but that they are getting that piece of the job done.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, are we going to have to go to some other places besides Afghanistan to get this thing done?

RUMSFELD: There is no doubt in my mind.

QUESTION: Tell us about the simulator a little bit.

RUMSFELD: We had such a short time because I was bracing to get out here to meet all of you, that we basically used the simulator to give me a sense of the flexibility they have to re-target in flight, and we did not have the normal kinds of enjoyment one would in a Link trainer.

QUESTION: What kind of plane did you fly in the Navy?

RUMSFELD: The last one I flew was a carrier-based sub-chaser called an S2F -- a Grumman tracker.


But all the planes I flew are in the museums, so don't go looking for one.


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, (OFF-MIKE), there is great concern within the St. Louis, Missouri area that if Boeing were to lose the JSF contract that it would in effect shut down, costing thousands of jobs in the St. Louis area. Could you comment on that issue? Are you concerned about that if it goes one way or the other?

RUMSFELD: I have commented to the extent of my competence on the subject at the moment. QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is this the first time you've been close to a B-2? And secondly, any plans to buy some more?

RUMSFELD: It is not the first time I've been close to a B-2, and we're in the process of building the 2003 budget at the present time and I have not heard from the Air Force whether or not they have plans to add to them or not.


RUMSFELD: I am going to excuse myself, except for this last question.

QUESTION: What did you tell the families and the soldiers here...


RUMSFELD: I told them that we're proud of them, we appreciate what they do, and that the country's lucky to have such wonderful men and women who voluntarily put their lives at risk and disrupt their lives to serve their country and to help protect freedom for all of us.

Thank you very much, folks.

WOODRUFF: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visiting Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri.

That's the home of the 509th wing of the Air Force, the home of the B-2, the stealth bomber -- telling reporters and really serving as the administrative spokesman as he has in so many days over the last month or so -- articulating a mission for the U.S. military, once again saying, "I'm not going to answer questions about ground troops."

You heard a lot of local questions. The hometown reporters asking about the fate of the B-2 and other military contracts.




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