CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Clark, Stufflebeem Hold Pentagon Briefing
Aired February 11, 2002 - 12:02 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: To the Pentagon, now, that briefing is beginning at this point.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
VICTORIA CLARK, PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: September 11th and and every once in a while it's useful to reflect on that fact and what this is all about, this war on terrorism that we're engaged in. And I'd like to read you very briefly the bio of one of the employees here at the Pentagon who was killed in that attack on September 11.
And he was Commander Patrick Dunne (ph). He was 39 years old. He was as a planner and a strategist in the Navy Command Center at the Pentagon. The son of a Newark policeman, he came from a Navy family. His father served in World War II and the Korean War. Commander Dunne and one of his brothers were U.S. Naval Academy graduates.
His wife Stephanie (ph) used to wave the Naval Academy flag from the roof of their home in Italy when the USS Lasalle headed out to sea with her husband, who was the ship's executive officer. Pat's favorite thing was to be at sea, she recalled. If the ship was rocking, he was happy.
Commander Dunne was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. We will not forget him. We will not forget the thousands that were killed on September 11. And we will not forget why we're doing what we're doing.
We are joined in this fight with the world at large. Dozens of countries have engaged in the war on terrorism, and we continue to have their support. The work of our men and women in uniform has yielded much success in a short amount of time, in just five months. We have eliminated the Taliban rule from the government. We have turned the country of Afghanistan back to the people. The Al Qaeda continues to be on the run, and we have disintegrated some of their capabilities.
CLARKE: The Al Qaeda continues to be on the run, and we have disintegrated some of their capabilities.
As we've made clear, one of the objectives is to prevent Afghanistan from being returned or going back to being a haven, a free-ranging field, if you will, for terrorists; helping rebuild Afghanistan helps to further that goal. And just a few of the efforts thus far include the delivery of thousands of tons of food, preventing the feared starvation of 6 million people in Afghanistan; the opening of the Jordanian medical field hospital in Mazar-i-Sharif that has, since January 8 alone, treated 10,000 patients and conducted 134 surgeries; the printing of the Kabul Weekly, the Kabul Weekly independent newspaper banned by Taliban since 1996. the Kabul Weekly printed it's first issue last month. It endorses supporting democracy and human rights, and it denounced terrorism. A Spanish hospital opened today.
Here at home, we've increased our security measures and information-gathering to prevent future attacks by terrorists. And as I said, a lot of progress has made. We have a lot more work to go in the war on terrorism, but we will endure. And one of the reasons we have been successful is because of the incredible people in uniform, who do such a great job day in and day out. One of them is sitting next to me, is Admiral Stufflebeem. And before he stands up here, I'd just like to congratulate him on being assigned to the Harry S. Truman will he will take command of the Carrier Group Two, but for the time being we still have him.
ADM. JOHN STUFFLEBEEM, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: Thank you.
I'll try hard not to smile too much.
Well, good afternoon everyone.
Very briefly, as you recall, we had military personnel on the ground in the vicinity of Zhawar Kili recently, investigating the site that was targeted at the beginning of last week. That team has now left the area. The intent was to exploit any intelligence that could be gathered as a result of a strike.
As of today, I can report that the team has recovered some documents, some clothing, two missile fins, an empty box used for a handheld radio, some AK-47 ammo pouches, and some 300 rounds of 50 caliber ammo, and, yes, some human remains.
To give you an update on the detainees situation, we have a total of 463 detainees in U.S. control; 209 in Afghanistan and 220 in Guatanamo Bay. And we're expecting the arrival of another 34 detainees in Gitmo in a few hours and that would put the number on the ground there at 254.
STUFFLEBEEM: With that, I think Charlie will take (OFF-MIKE).
QUESTION: Admiral, I'd like to ask both you and Tori, is there any indication that the people who were killed in that CIA missile strike last week were not senior Al Qaeda and might have, in fact, been innocent people, as reports indicate? And also there are reports that people captured them in the raid north of Kandahar three weeks ago, 27 people. Some of them were beaten. Are you looking into that? And if that's true, doesn't that just add fuel to charges that you might not be treating detainees properly?
CLARKE: That's three questions.
STUFFLEBEEM: Yes. We do not know who were the individuals at the strike site in the vicinity of Zhawar Kili. The reason that we had an exploitation team in there was to gather the evidence and to, hopefully, positively identify who it was or who it was not.
I won't get into the intelligence-gathering specifics of that, but the indicators were there that there was something on tour that we needed to make go away. It'll take some time. That team has only just left the area early this morning, so it'll take some time for them to get that material out and where it can be actually exploited further. So don't have an answer for you now, as to who the identity were of the individuals who were killed there.
There are no initial indications that these were innocent locals and I base that on the facts that this team, in addition to just looking at the site where the strike occurred, also did some exploration in the surrounding area to include some caves, a nearby village and talking to locals.
STUFFLEBEEM: So, I think that that sort of puts us in a comfort zone right now, is that these were not innocents.
Your second question now, getting back to the raid previously, Hazar Kadam and specifically those 27 detainees. As was reported here, I believe last week, there is a formal investigation. There is an officer who has been formally appointed to do that, and he is in the midst of conducting that investigation to report it up through the chain of command of General Franks. And I believe ultimately back here to the secretary.
It is our policy, as it is in all mishaps or incidents that are investigated by the military, not to comment on that while it's ongoing. And certainly, while I appreciate the desire and urgency to want to get ground truth, as we all would like to be there to provide any details as they're being discovered, now would just be premature and may draw wrong conclusions. In terms of the beatings that had been reported, there is no information that we have heard that that is in fact the case.
Now, I will tell you on a personal level, having been through military training with Special Operating Forces -- and in my case it was training, where as a senior officer, I was in a prisoner of war training environment, and the Special Operating Forces came to get me out.
It's not a pleasant experience for anybody to have to endure that. The team gets on the ground and secures the area. If they're being fired at, they return the fire to suppress it. And then once the firing has stopped, they secure the area to try to get as many people as they can.
And in that initial encounter, you don't know who's good. You don't know who's bad. You don't take the chances. You just secure the area, so everybody is treated the same. And it's relatively harsh, I would say.
Once identified -- identities are established, it's quite a different mode, but as a training prisoner of war, I was pretty well roughed up and I think it was because you can't tell or believe exactly who's who. And you have to got to secure the area and make sure your team is secure and have positive control over the situation. So, that's the only thing that I can offer to you as reality.
CLARKE: I'd just add two things to that.
CLARKE: One is the general state of confusion. To say that the situation -- to say the conditions in Afghanistan are confusing is an understatement, you know. And it's impossible to say these people are on this side and these people are on the other side. People are on multiple sides, and they switch sides. There was a great deal of confusion about information in general, and we do always try to get to ground truth.
In this particular instance, to repeat what the admiral says, we have no evidence that those sort of beatings took place, but the secretary and General Franks have asked the land combatant commander to look into it further -- to look into that because we want to make absolutely sure things are being done properly. And that's just a general part of our process.
We look into things. If anything has been done improperly, then we will address it, and we'll take steps to make sure things are done better going forward.
And then the third part of your question which is about Guantanamo and the treatment of the detainees there. It has now been several weeks, I guess, since the first detainees arrived. There has been an almost constant presence of the media there. There have been several visits by congressional delegations. There have been visits by officials from other countries. The ICRC has been down there. And everyone who's been there and everyone who's seen with their own eyes knows what we know, which is, these detainees are being treated very, very well.
QUESTION: Regarding the on-the-ground investigation by American personnel at (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the aftermath of that missile strike, The Washington Post reported today that a reporter at the scene was threatened to be killed by an American officer. Are officers actually authorized to threaten use of deadly force against reporters under that circumstance?
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, I don't know the specifics of what happened there at the site. I would ask us all to think of a couple of things, though. One is as American soldiers and certainly as the professionals trained in the arms that they are, they're there, first of all, to secure this area to be able to collect evidence -- evidence is not the right word -- to collect intelligence and, in this case, also some forensics.
To secure that area would be to try to discourage anybody from getting in there to either disturb it or to collect things of their own and that's traditionally done whether it's here in the United States for an accident mishap or anyplace else.
STUFFLEBEEM: To believe that a U.S. American serviceman who knowingly threaten, especially with deadly force, another American is hard for me to accept.
I also have to put myself on the ground of that military commander of that particular exploitation, and if someone presents himself there's no way for us to know -- but he may not know that that was a Washington Post reporter, he may know that somebody wants access onto the site and he's denying it.
It would make a lot more logical sense to me that he is pointing out that there are hazards in this area. This is not a friendly area, this is an area where we have armed people there for the protection of ourselves in case we're shot at. I think that if there was any reference to physical harm in there, it's just a reality of the situation and not that the U.S. forces would bring that upon someone.
QUESTION: May I do a follow-on on that issue please? Admiral, we're getting, obviously, information that is disjointed and sometimes conflicting. Out of the Senate, after CIA Director Tenet testified, we had heard that there was a convoy of SUVs and it stopped for some reason (UNINTELLIGIBLE) got out, one was well protected, et cetera, et cetera. Then we hear that this place was about 11,000 feet up on the side of a mountain.
Can you clarify it? First of all, it seems illogical that a convoy of SUVs would be up a mountainside in Afghanistan 11,000 feet high. Tell us what you can about the location, the locale, were these people in a truck, were they on foot, whatever you can tell us.
STUFFLEBEEM: I can't give you very many specific details of the actual strike site, because I just don't have them. What I do know is that that they were individuals who were not in vehicle, who were targeted. This was a meeting. This meeting happened to be on a hillside, and whether actually it was a mountainside I'm not so sure.
And 11,000 feet is not uncommon for an altitude of the area. It's a very high altitude area. You recall that a couple of the helos that we've had have gone down recent in poor weather have all been at this 9,000-11,000 foot range, and that's pretty much where we're at here.
STUFFLEBEEM: So I'm not surprised that there were not vehicles out there. And in fact, there were. The vehicles were not actually part of the strike. The strike occurred away from those.
QUESTION: There was a meeting today. What was the meeting about? STUFFLEBEEM: Well, I don't know what the meeting was about, but...
QUESTION: There was a meeting going on or outside...
STUFFLEBEEM: Somebody had obviously driven there. They had gotten together and were outside the vehicles, away from the vehicles, and they were targeted.
QUESTION: What time of day was that, do you know off-hand, that that strike occurred?
STUFFLEBEEM: I'm sorry, I don't know. I believe, if I recall, it was a morning daylight strike, but I...
QUESTION: Admiral, could you at least broadly talk about what the indicators are that you were referring to earlier when you said that there were indicators of something (UNINTELLIGIBLE) going on here? At least without, perhaps, getting into specifics, what do you mean by that? And what are some of the broad categories? What are the broad indicators?
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, I appreciate the question. It wants to get to the exactness of the truth, and that also gets into developing intelligence specifics. So I won't do that, but let me say that the anecdotal reports of what I hear, of what has been recovered from that site to date, include things like weapons and ammunition, include things like communications systems or at least things that would give you the impression that there may have been communication devices; documents in English, having to do, like, with applications for credit cards possibly or maybe for airline schedules.
So the intelligence that was garnered to be able to facilitate to strike, the initial indications afterwards would seem to say that these are not peasant people up there farming.
QUESTION: But is it fair to say that these people had been observed or have been watched by American surveillance aircraft for some time? Or had the CIA been looking at these folks for more than the few minutes before the attack?
STUFFLEBEEM: It's my understanding this was not a surprise, chance encounter, visually.
QUESTION: But not many people were there?
STUFFLEBEEM: I do not know.
(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: Where's the evidence being taken to be looked at? There was some talk earlier that you had DNA samples from bin Laden's family. Is it going to be compared against that somewhere?
CLARKE: The evidence gets brought back to the continental United States. I don't know where.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) FBI lab or to a military lab?
CLARKE: I don't know. Do you?
STUFFLEBEEM: I do not know either.
QUESTION: Would the United States be able to identify bin Laden's remains from DNA?
STUFFLEBEEM: I can't verify for you now the repository or -- I can't even verify that we have bin Laden DNA to compare it to, at this point. But I can substantiate that we are trying to gather DNA for identification purposes.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) his family?
STUFFLEBEEM: Right now, I'm just going to limit it to just the strike site, and we're going to get forensic evidence out of this particular strike site. We photograph, we videotape and, where possible, we bring back physical samples. And this all gets catalogued.
To say that we have bin Laden DNA now and can use it to compare it with, I can't say, because I don't know that. But you've got to have evidence to be able to be catalog them. And as you build more evidence and get more evidence, then you can start to compare things, one to another, and rule things out, as well as confirm.
QUESTION: When can we expect the Pentagon to release either the photographs or the videotape of this site and some of the evidence that was gathered?
CLARKE: I don't know.
STUFFLEBEEM: I don't know either.
QUESTION: Maybe we can make that as a request.
CLARKE: We can certainly make that as a request.
QUESTION: I'm curious, you said you don't know who was killed in this attack, whether it was civilians or the Taliban.
STUFFLEBEEM: No, I'm sorry.
CLARKE: We don't know exactly who it was.
STUFFLEBEEM: We don't know the identities of the individuals involved. QUESTION: But you're convinced they're Taliban?
STUFFLEBEEM: We're convinced that...
CLARKE: We're convinced it was an appropriate target. Based on the observation, based on the information, that it was an appropriate target. We do not know yet exactly who it was.
QUESTION: And I'm curious, in this uncertainty, why would you attack this with a missile, as opposed to going in with special forces team, perhaps, surrounding the area and trying to find out who is who, rather than sending a missile? It might be a more proper way to do this, perhaps?
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, if you, in fact, you have a quick reaction force that is on standby in close proximity, and where vehicles have stopped and congregated and people have gotten out and are having a meeting, if you have a team that's ready to pounce, maybe so. If, because of the location of where it is and because of the type of a system that you're using to monitor these areas, you don't have that and you have the information that would leave you to believe that the time to be able to take advantage of this would be now, rather than lose it, I think that this probably the best weapon that was available at the time in the location.
QUESTION: Were you afraid these people were going to get away? I mean, you had them under surveillance. Why wouldn't you just instead go in and make sure you know who's who? They could be scrap dealers, they could be Taliban, they could be civilians.
CLARKE: I'd say, again, based on the information they had and the observations, they believed it was an appropriate target. And again, we're somewhat at a disadvantage here, since it was not DOD per se. But they thought it was an appropriate target, and they used what they had at the time.
QUESTION: When you mentioned the English documents, and you said -- I believe you said, airline schedules and possible credit card applications (UNINTELLIGIBLE) using that as a possible example or were those papers found there -- English papers, airline schedules and credit card applications, were those found...
STUFFLEBEEM: Those are representative examples of what was recovered from the site.
QUESTION: Back to attack on Afghanistan. And a handful of reports are saying that Osama bin Laden may have been killed. On the other hand, some had said here on this podium several times that the may be vanished or killed or disappeared.
And finally, the Pakistani president has said several times and also (UNINTELLIGIBLE) report that Osama bin Laden -- Pakistani president said that he may have been killed and because of kidney disease or he had kidney dialysis or something machines were imported from Pakistan to Afghanistan.
So what is the reality here or who can we believe, some reports are saying now today that he's in Pakistan?
STUFFLEBEEM: What you have to believe is, we do not know where Osama bin Laden is.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) really real information.
CLARKE: There's lots of information.
CLARKE: There are lots of reports. Some are more valid than others.
QUESTION: Do we get a sense of how many individuals were killed in this direct attack on Monday?
STUFFLEBEEM: I don't know. I mean, I've not seen any of the video from the weapons systems, so I can't tell you that I know. The sense that I have talking to people from the command is that it was a small group.
QUESTION: But were all of them killed, or did some of them get away?
STUFFLEBEEM: I haven't heard of any reports that indicated that anybody survived this particular strike.
QUESTION: Any evidence that anybody got to this site before our team got there?
STUFFLEBEEM: Not much. Because this is an extremely remote area, it's also (UNINTELLIGIBLE) tough, climate-wise. It is fair to say that this U.S. exploitation team was not the first either human or animal to have gotten to the scene.
QUESTION: And that's because there were graves? That someone had buried some of the remains? Is that what the evidence was, that someone else had been there, or...
STUFFLEBEEM: No, I think that -- in some cases, it can be particularly gruesome to come upon human remains that may have been exposed to the elements for some period of time.
And in addition to that, it's obvious when there are pieces of things that are inexplicably in the location they ordinarily might not be in. When you would see an impact crater, for instance, why would this be way over there when, in fact, everything else was over here? So it gives you the evidence that somebody or something was there before. QUESTION: But you're basically saying it could have been an animal. It doesn't have to have been a human being. It might have been just animals.
QUESTION: Yes, if I could go back to your characterization of this being an appropriate target, we understand there are great limitations on what you can say in this regard, but we really could use a little more guidance as to why you thought it was an appropriate target.
What can you give us that would help us understand why the CIA thought it was OK to pull the trigger?
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, let me try. First of all, you have got to appreciate that this was intelligence that was brought to a point of action that was not DOD's. And while it's been reported more than once, many times, that there is a very close working relationship between other agencies and the Department of Defense, that's not to say that there is total information sharings at a real-time basis all the time.
So I don't know what all information the agency may have had that caused to say, "Now it's time to act." But they are confident that they had the right indicators and the right information that they felt comfortable to go ahead and prosecute the attack.
And what we have seen so far, and I'm talking about, you know, somebody who has literally come out of this environment only hours ago and only has stuff under their arms to just say, "Well, we have things like this," the indication is this is not, you know, this is not some innocent person up there trying to eke a living out.
QUESTION: May I follow? As long as the Department of Defense is saying that, "We don't know everything because the CIA is doing this," and given the fact that the CIA doesn't hold daily briefings, is it possible to get someone from the CIA to come here, given the fact that we're talking about the CIA now having an offensive capability they've never had before? The rules have changed in that regard. Is it possible the rules could change so that we could question them directly about this?
CLARKE: We're happy to ask. I think I know what the answer will be, but we're happy to ask.
But I would, without talking about this specific incident, generically speaking, they observe, they use surveillance, they look for a combination of things. And it can be the kind of people, it can be the kind of equipment and weapons they might have, it can be the kind of vehicles, it can be the nature of the activity. But it's often a variety of things that they put together and say, "OK, this leads us to believe it is this kind of target," speaking in a very generic fashion.
STUFFLEBEEM: One thing, too, that might help you a little bit. If you're tracking vehicles coming from different locations that come to a meeting place, and you have some information about the source of those vehicles or who might have been in the vicinity where those vehicles departed from, that also is a way you can build a mosaic, and then when they've collected together and having a meeting.
QUESTION: Is that what you believe happened in this case?
STUFFLEBEEM: I would tell you that I don't know what to believe. I've become smart enough now in this job to question everything and to ask for, you know, who can verify what it is that I'm seeing and reading.
STUFFLEBEEM: No, no, I've learned this through the school of hard knocks.
QUESTION: A couple of cleanup questions. One of them is, were there fresh graves? Were any of the people buried?
STUFFLEBEEM: None that we -- I've not heard any information to indicate that.
QUESTION: Did you find -- I don't know a delicate way to ask this -- bodies? Did you find pieces of bodies? Yes?
QUESTION: Pieces of bodies, OK.
And then sort for a decision-making question. When you say that there is sharing of information between the Defense Department and the CIA in situations like this, the ultimate call to pull the trigger in this is not something that CENTCOM or the Defense Department -- do you have a veto, do you have -- you monitor and say, "OK, we concur"? Can you tell us about how you decide in action situations like this where they have the lead and the Defense Department does not?
STUFFLEBEEM: I only know -- I think -- I only know one small part of how the command and control coordination is done. The agency and the Central Command work very closely together on and just about everything that's going on in Afghanistan.
However, having said that, and let me caveat that, that the agency also will have objectives of what they have people doing. We may be supporting that or we may not be. And because of the time sensitivity to it, we may not even be totally aware of all those actions that are going on.
So I believe that the agency has objectives and they have requirements and operations that they answer to their bosses to and that it would require permission of DOD to continue. I think there are other operations that have occurred where they have come and asked for assistance of DOD and, therefore, DOD, in fact, did have -- I think a veto's an incorrect way to describe that -- but I think that without that assistance, you couldn't go ahead and get that operation completed.
QUESTION: Admiral, can you explain why this predator was tracking this -- I mean, was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) some advanced intelligence for several hours -- why tactical aircraft would have not been called in? It seems to me that those tactical aircraft can get from end to another in Afghanistan in several hours.
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, I cannot give you the specific answers to this situation because I just don't know what was on call, what was busy doing something else, or what was in the immediate vicinity that could be called on.
I also don't know the specifics of the command and control of this particular operation; i.e., the controller of this unmanned air vehicle, which happened to be an armed unmanned air vehicle, may not have had the command or the control coordination that he would just pick up the phone and be able to call in or provide the coordinates to tactical air if, in fact, they were near in the environment.
STUFFLEBEEM: You would also recall that in -- sometimes in the past, when we had unarmed air vehicles that, in some cases, the information that had been generated didn't necessarily get to the shooter, and when the shooter got there, that particular target was no longer there.
And so, I think what you're seeing now is an adaptation of the technology that, in a sense, you have an armed vehicle there which can see this target and have met the criteria for whomever is controlling that operation to say, "I can strike that target and I have a weapon to bring to bear on it now, rather than lose this opportunity."
QUESTION: I wanted to follow up a little bit on Jack's (ph) question. And my question basically is does the CIA have greater latitude in the striking a target than the military?
In other words, I'm thinking back to the time when Rumsfeld, the episode of Rumsfeld, reportedly, hearing that Osama bin Laden was in the site, but JAG stopped it and so therefore, the (OFF-MIKE) Does the CIA have greater latitude in striking and is that one reason why they're going after so many things, recently?
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, you're asking us to divulge, if you will, some of the CIA operating procedures and so...
QUESTION: Not really, I'm asking if they have greater latitude to pull the trigger in the military.
STUFFLEBEEM: I don't know if they have more latitude to conduct offensive military lethal operations than the U.S. military does.
I do know that it is not precisely the same. And so, it may not be necessarily wider, but it may be that they have more autonomy in a particular area where maybe General Franks has decided, for uniform people, not to be quite as decentralized.
QUESTION: In other words, is there someone watching out to, say, to have a second opinion of, no, we don't think you should kill these people, based on that sort of information?
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, in the operations where we're working together and sharing and comparing, where it's only going to be asking each other, "Do you think it's a good target?"
STUFFLEBEEM: "We're not so sure. We think maybe we should do something else." And we'll work to resolve that.
In the case where the agency is doing its thing, obviously, they're probably not picking up these phones and calling around and say, "Hey, can you send in some, you know, some ground forces there and collect these up?" Because, I think, if we could or had been able to do that, we might have.
QUESTION: And that was the case, in this instance, that it was autonomous example to say, "doing its thing," as you said.
STUFFLEBEEM: This was a case where Central Command was not actively participating or coordinated with this particular strike at that time.
QUESTION: But any assistance at all, or is this completely a CIA operation?
STUFFLEBEEM: The best honest answer is, I don't know what the coordination was prior to this vehicle being airborne in this sector at that time.
During that time, I understood that this was an agency mission at that point. And there was coordination with DOD afterward, and some of the evidence is the fact that we put a exploitation team in on that particular site rather than them doing it themselves.
QUESTION: ... military, after the fact, to check this site?
STUFFLEBEEM: No, U.S. military went up there.
QUESTION: Did the intelligence or was it just CIA intelligence?
STUFFLEBEEM: I don't know. I really don't know if, in fact, we had contributed early on into this. But again, we're sharing a lot of information, and so what pieces of it were useful for this, I don't have the specifics.
QUESTION: Admiral Stufflebeem, I don't think I've every heard a military officer stand up here and say, "I don't know what to believe anymore." I'm very curious as to what you meant by that comment. And in addition, just how tough is the target? I mean, it just seems increasingly -- every target is increasingly problematic. So as you go down the road in Afghanistan and the targets have changes, because they're less fighting in the country, just how tough is the target set really getting?
QUESTION: I mean, how do you stop having problematic targets like all of these in recent days? But your first -- I'd really like to know what you meant: I don't know what to believe.
CLARKE: Let me say what I think he meant, and then you can correct me.
No, no, I mean it. That's fine. But I mean it. It goes to what we were saying earlier about the confusion. To say that this is a complex situation in which information which may be good one day is bad the next day is an understatement, and people that were doing something three months ago were doing something else two months ago, and then it changed last week.
The secretary was talking about this a little bit last week. There can be three versions of a story and those three versions can be correct, and we have all learned the hard way, and you all know to say, first reports are wrong, second reports are often wrong.
So given the very unconventional nature of the circumstance in which we find ourselves, we try to deal with what we consider to be hard and fast information, and I think that's what he was reflecting. Now you can correct me.
QUESTION: And how do you get past having problematic targets now?
STUFFLEBEEM: OK, well...
STUFFLEBEEM: All right. Since I have become an operations briefer as part of my regular responsibilities that I have on the Joint Staff, I have learned, I think, through your eyes to question what appears to be facts. And I find myself using that as a technique when I'm challenging my briefers, who are telling me things or when I'm just asking questions. And I'll give you plenty of references.
There was a report that came in early on in the strikes about, "Well, here was an F-18 dropping this particular precision-guided weapon on that target." Well, as an F-14 pilot, knowing what a weapon system looks at, I said, "That's an F-14 display." And so I wondered, Does who's providing this information up know exactly every weapon system that's coming up? I learned that wasn't the case.
I have learned to believe that -- and the most recent example was here is a ground force securing a site to be able to try to develop intelligence, Zhawar Kili. The report is, a Washington Post reporting -- I think if I heard it right -- Washington Post reporter showed up and asked for access to the site and was told some things.
STUFFLEBEEM: If I were -- who am I -- where I am right now, I would say how does that guy know he's a Washington Post reporter? I mean, any set of credentials that are carried in Afghanistan today have got to be hard to believe. Because when you pick some of these people, they've got multiple identity cards. They've got multiple passports. They've got multiple names and certainly multiple stories. And so you really find in the essence of that answer, getting now to your second one, is how problematic this part of the world is.
We knew from the beginning that Afghanistan was a difficult place to be. We didn't know that much about it. It was a very remote and harsh environment, and once we got in there, the more we learned about is the more difficult it is to operate, certainly as Americans, in a difficult country like this. Because you hear a piece of information from this individual who will tell you things like, "You ought to go hit those guys because they're Al Qaeda." But then that individual says, "Well, I'm not Al Qaeda. I'm anti-Taliban."
And now you've got to start asking yourselves. Well, where in here -- you know we heard today from this report about a -- I think maybe from that Post report, individuals who would say you should have come and listened to the locals to get more information about this. But when you go talk to locals, what you're getting is that you did the right thing, or you did the wrong thing, and you could get both stories for the same thing.
QUESTION: How do you know you're not being played off of one warlord?
STUFFLEBEEM: Because you don't ever rely on that one piece of information anymore. If that one guy's going to tell you one thing, thank you very much. I appreciate having that information. I'm going to go to others. I'm going to try to keep building this thing until I get a mosaic if I can put it together and look for other indicators.
QUESTION: Have you made any changes in your own targeting procedures to try and reduce the number of problems? And just my last point there is how do you feel about, as a briefer, the quality of information that you've been getting to brief with?
STUFFLEBEEM: I think that the problems that you're seeing are getting pretty far down now into some details so that every individual strike or every individual operation can get some pretty fine examination where we couldn't get it better. I mean, there are reporters on the ground. There are more forces on the ground, but there also are shifting allegiances still, to this day. There are people in the country with their own personal agendas -- those who are being paid, those who have yet to be paid, those who want to get paid.
There's a lot of that stuff, and therefore, it is more problematic in that regard, but I also feel that we're -- because we're putting our own eyes on these targets, we're collecting our own evidence and adding that to what it is that we hear from individuals, we're getting a much better and clearer picture of what it is that we need to do next. Now your last part was... QUESTION: The quality of information you feel, if you have this issue, what's the quality of information you feel you've been getting from the military, as a briefer, standing up here?
STUFFLEBEEM: I think the quality is good, but what I have done as an individual, as an operations briefer, is, instead of just accepting the reports that I have at first read or first brief, I thank the individuals very much who come to see me, maybe in front of them will go ask the question of somebody else on the phone, or maybe I'll wait until later to do that thing.
And so I've been able to glean some facts and correct some things, so that I've been able to bring to you what I think is the best information available.
CLARKE: I wanted to add something to that. There was a slight suggestion in the way you asked that question that "all these problems" -- the fact of the matter is that for the five months or since the four months since the military operation started, the great majority of the strikes have been very successful.
CLARKE: They have been the target -- where we hit the targets we intended to hit. We have gone to great lengths and for the great majority of the time have avoided civilian casualties.
What you have going on right now is there are circumstances in which there may be some questions, there may be some issues. So appropriately, we are looking into them.
But if you step back for a minute from the interest over the last two or three days and take a look at the whole picture, the whole picture has been quite good. And in those instances where there are questions, we will look into it.
QUESTION: Torie, if it turns out that when all the facts are in that there has been a mistake made here, how committed are you to getting those facts out? I mean, will you conclude...
CLARKE: Very. The secretary has said that from up here. I mean, let me, again, talk about why we look into these things; because we want to do things right, because we want to make sure we're hitting the right targets, because we want to avoid civilian casualties.
So if there are reports, if there is information that leads us to believe something may not have worked right, then we will look into it, we will investigate it, we will address it, and if there are steps we can take -- if something has gone wrong -- if there's steps we can take to prevent it going forward, then, of course, that's what we'll do. And we are committed to releasing the information, the results that we can.
QUESTION: And as the head of Public Affairs for the Pentagon, do you have a problem with the American news reporter for one of the major U.S. newspapers being threatened with deadly force to prevent him from covering the operations of U.S. troops in the field?
CLARKE: I don't know -- I don't believe -- agree with the premise of your question. We don't know the circumstances of what happened on the spot as you all know because many of you have been out there with the men and women in uniform. We go to great lengths and we go to great effort to put you with the men and women in uniform so you can see for yourselves what is going on with these military operations. Just a few weeks ago, some of the people in this room spent time with our Special Forces teams so they could see for themselves. So when we can, we are facilitating as much access, as much news and information as possible.
I just don't agree with the premise of your question here. We don't have enough information about what may or may not have happened. But it is a very dangerous place, there's still a lot of dangerous things going on and for someone -- just because someone walks up and says, "Here's my ID that says I'm a reporter..." -- Masood was killed by people who said they were reporters.
QUESTION: In your proof -- I take from what you're saying that it was an identification problem.
CLARKE: We don't know...
QUESTION: If you could have properly identified that reporter as a Washington Post reporter then things might have been different?
CLARKE: It's that...
QUESTION: Somehow I don't think that's the case.
CLARKE: Well, we don't know what the circumstances were at the time. But to the extent that we can facilitate access for the media and it doesn't in any way endanger or harm an operation, it doesn't get in the way of what they're trying to do -- in this case, an investigation in a very dangerous place -- it doesn't in any way put in harms way the men and women in uniform, or the reporters themselves, then we will try to facilitate it, and the experience backs it up.
QUESTION: I just want to put a very fine point on this, if you can help us to the extent you can.
QUESTION: You've said that there were several hours of intelligence, so several hours of following this particular vehicle (UNINTELLIGIBLE) people. At any point in the intelligence gathering...
CLARKE: I didn't say several hours. I don't know if it works that way.
QUESTION: It was said last week.
QUESTION: It has been said. At any point in those several hours, was there evidence, specific evidence, that this person -- these people were Al Qaeda people or was it merely a situation where they met several indicators -- security, deference, some of the things that we've talked about -- and that is enough to rise to the level of pulling the trigger? I'm still a little confused about that.
CLARKE: I don't know, so I can't help you. STUFFLEBEEM: I do not know the specifics to say these fit a profile that we were tracking for Al Qaeda or these fit the profile we're tracking of pro-Taliban. I don't know. I suppose somebody does. Unfortunately, I don't.
And I had been tracking this, at least at my level, for what I do and in my real job, so to speak, and what I do here now in this part of the job is if I see pro-Taliban, if I see Al Qaeda, I'm not distinguishing between the two. We're after both.
So the fine point, I just -- I don't know which of those...
QUESTION: Under the DOD's rule, since there does seem to be some difference between DOD and CIA on this, could you -- could the Pentagon, essentially, pull the trigger on a strike like this, merely if someone met several indicators or does it -- like we've talked about -- or does there need to be a specific other piece that came out of an Al Qaeda meeting, it looks like a certain member that we believe we've identified or does merely meeting some indicators allow you, under your rules, to fire?
STUFFLEBEEM: Yes. There are -- I call them trip wires, if you will, but indicators would be fine. There are indicators that we look for and with those indicators or those trip wires having been met, we do conduct strikes.
Some of those are very time-sensitive strikes and then some of the sensitivities, they may go up as high, possibly, as even General Franks, to say "I authorize this." And in other indicators, he may delegate that to lower-echelon commanders. It is even -- I'm sure that, at least in the right of inherent right of self-defense, an on- scene commander can make a determination, if those indicators are met.
QUESTION: Well, sir, can you make one thing clear, sir, that if the strike was for Osama bin Laden and then the CIA wanted to hit him with that missile, can you clarify that Osama bin Laden was still alive, under CIA attack in Afghanistan?
STUFFLEBEEM: It's impossible to answer the question. I understand the desire to want to know what we know about Osama bin Laden, but we don't know.
The best thing to say about Osama bin Laden is that, there is not yet enough indicators that tell us that he has died, to believe that he is dead, and therefore, we make an assumption that he is alive, and we don't know where he is. But we're looking for him and would intend to find him.
QUESTION: Well, we don't believe General Musharraf's statement that he's dead.
STUFFLEBEEM: We do not believe the statements that he is dead.
QUESTION: Admiral, I just wanted to follow-up. Are we at a tougher time in targeting in Afghanistan now, do you think where we're in sort of this gray area -- the Taliban regime is gone and now we're trying to sort out who's Al Qaeda, who's Taliban, who's a civilian? And if so, do we have to check and double-check the information we're getting? Is it more difficult to try to find out who's an enemy?
STUFFLEBEEM: In one sense, yes. It is more difficult to develop targets now than it was, certainly, in the beginning where the targets were just so openly visible.
The Taliban has vanished. Al Qaeda have vanished.
We are constantly -- and I do mean constantly -- chasing reports from all over the country as to a pocket of Al Qaeda here, a sighting of Taliban there. And we are working exceptionally hard -- I think it's fair to use a big "E" word in that case -- to go after multiple ways to say -- I'm not going to go off on just this one report. That one report may be enough to go ahead and send out, you know, an evaluation team to go find out. And most of these reports, in fact, are coming up empty.
And this is what I was getting back to earlier about stop talking about chasing the shadows. It's a shadow war. These are shadowy people who don't want to be found. And so, you're going after all these reports as to where this individual or where these groups may be and what they may be doing. And so when you get upon it, there's nothing there.
QUESTION: And, you know, clearly, we don't know what happened with the missile attack yet; you're still trying to sort out who those people were. But with the attack north of Kandahar, you realized the 27 people held in detention, so clearly those people weren't the ones you thought they were. The question is, what is being done since then to make sure you have the right information? Are you coming up with new procedures or...
CLARKE: On that, on the 27, I'd clarify slightly, clearly they were not people that we thought we wanted to have. We have turned them over to the Afghan interim government. But we've decided those are not people that we needed to have.
The investigation is still under way to determine what happened, who was who, et cetera.
CLARKE: And we will put out as much information. Don't know who they were. But clearly they were not people that we felt we wanted to have.
In terms of we, the United States, the kinds of people we want to have control over are high-value people, if you will, high-value assets.
STUFFLEBEEM: But let me just answer one last point on that one. We're not collecting every former Taliban, especially mid-level or lower-level people. We're interested in the leadership. And so we are being offered many people to help screen, as have been screened, if they're under detention already. There are still those who would be collected, if you will, or put into detention, and they will be screened.
In the case of these 27, we got them ourselves, we screened them and determined that we did not wish to keep them, and we turned them over to the Karzai interim government. What they've done with them is sort of their business.
I don't have the identities of those 27. I do know there's an interest to find out who they are and were they Taliban or former Taliban. I'm back now into my mode of sort of sitting where you sit when I start thinking about whom some of these people would be.
If I were picked up in a raid and I had had my weapon taken away from me or put it down and surrendered or was physically subdued, and I ended up going to Kandahar and go through some interrogation, then probably the last thing I'm going to do is tell you, "Yes, I confess, I'm Taliban." They probably are giving us stories that we can't verify.
QUESTION: It's a question for you. It's about several things that you've said here today indicating that CIA has a different operation system when it comes to making a decision about when to pull the trigger then the Pentagon does. You've also indicated that at this particular time it was a CIA operation. Are we to deduce from that that the Department of Defense is distancing itself from this attack in any way? CLARKE: Absolutely not. And I was actually looking for an opportunity to say the coordination, the cooperation has been pretty extraordinary. And I think people in uniform would probably say that just in the last three or four months it has improved to an extraordinary degree, that kind of coordination and cooperation. We're just trying to be straight with you about what we know about this particular strike.
STUFFLEBEEM: I think it's fair to say that at this time of that strike we were not active participants in that operation. So I'm trying to differentiate rather than separate. We are working more closely together now than we have anytime in anybody's recent memory. But we both are conducting offensive operations, and as a result, they may not always be meshed or completely integrated all the time.
QUESTION: Admiral, at the risk of changing the topic, when do you leave the Pentagon? When do you start (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? What are you going to be doing?
STUFFLEBEEM: Well, just because I'm smart enough to know not to talk into the absolutes, I think I'm leaving the 10th of April at 18:30, but I'm not tracking it too closely.
And I have a training track to endure, or to go back and refresh and learn things, on my way to the Truman Battlegroup, which I will join in the summertime as the commander.
QUESTION: Do you have anything you'd like to say to the American people since this is your last briefing?
CLARKE: Oh, we'll have him back between now and then.
STUFFLEBEEM: The trouble of giving a farewell speech is that it won't be the farewell, so...
HEMMER: Pretty fascinating briefing today at the Pentagon. The last part of that, Admiral Stufflebeem giving the indication that he has been promoted. Sometime in April he anticipates to be heading out from the Pentagon there. But prior to that, the bulk of questioning today, really centered around this attack that took place a week ago -- a week ago Monday in eastern Afghanistan. Show you a map here. This is the Zhawar Kili area. It is south of Tora Bora, right along the border with Pakistan.
Here's what happened. An unmanned Predator drone fired a Hellfire missile at a group of individuals on the ground at a fairly -- a high altitude. Anywhere between 10,000 and 11,000 feet, right there, and the Pentagon indicating at this point that they have collected some information, evidence on the ground. There's some documents and some body parts and some weapons as well. They also say this was not a surprise encounter, in their words, indicating that they could have been tracking this group for some time, possibly hours, possibly more than that.
Also, they say they are convinced that it was an appropriate target. This after some reports this past weekend had indicated that those that were targeted on the ground may not have been Taliban or al Qaeda fighters.
A few more things here. There is evidence, they say, that others got to there before the U.S. team arrived, possibly, if not humans, there could have been animals in the group, and the forensic testing right now is still underway, no clear indication as to when those results will be made public regarding the number involved here and the identities of those involved. That's the briefing from the Pentagon as we get off and running on a Monday afternoon.
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