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Pentagon Briefing

Aired September 26, 2002 - 13:15   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Live to Washington, D.C., the daily Pentagon bringing with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld speaking to reporters right now.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: ... NATO bases, commands and headquarters; the same kind of a process we've been going through here in the United States of getting ourselves rearranged for the 21st century.

The deputy director of central intelligence, John McLaughlin (ph), presented a detailed briefing to the NATO defense ministers on the threat posed by Iraq, its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and its ties to terrorists, and its connections to al Qaeda. His excellent presentation was preceded that morning by the release of the white paper or dossier that Tony Blair issued in London; Prime Minter Blair.

Iraq, needless to say, is continuing to deny that it has weapons of mass destruction programs or weapons of mass destruction and is in the process of playing the international community along in New York.

Our interest, as President Bush indicated, is compliance with U.N. resolutions and disarmament of Iraq's WMD programs and weapons.

General Pace?


Good afternoon.

Yesterday, coalition aircraft struck two air defense facilities in southern Iraq in response to our forces being fired on. They used precision-guided munitions to strike Iraqi air defense facilities in two locations -- Al Kufah, which is approximately 80 miles south of Baghdad and Al Basra, which is approximately 245 miles southeast of Baghdad. These strikes were in self-defense.

In Afghanistan, U.S. Special Forces have uncovered yet another large weapons cache, this time in a suspected farm's dealer compound near the town of Orgun in southeast Afghanistan near the Pakistan border. They recovered large amounts of mortar rounds, artillery rounds, rockets, anti-personnel mines, heavy machine gun ammunition and the like.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

RUMSFELD: Charlie?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Condi Rice was interviewed on television last night. And she said that al Qaeda had -- I believe she put it -- taken refuge in Baghdad.

And she also said that suspected al Qaeda captives had told the United States that al Qaeda has been trained by Iraq in how to make chemical weapons. Could you shed any light on either of those, including whether or not these al Qaeda in Baghdad might be senior al Qaeda?

RUMSFELD: The knowledge that the intelligence community that shared intelligence information among the coalition members has of the al Qaeda relationship with Iraq is evolving. It's based on a lot of different types of sources of varying degrees of reliability. Some of it admittedly comes from detainees, which has been helpful -- and particularly some high ranking detainees.

Since we began after September 11, we do have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad. We have what we consider to be a very reliable reporting of senior level contacts going back a decade and of possible chemical and biological agent training. And when I say contacts, I mean between Iraq and al Qaeda. The reports of these contacts have been increasing since 1998.

We have what we believe to be credible information that Iraq and al Qaeda have discussed safe haven opportunities in Iraq, reciprocal nonaggression discussions. We have what we consider to be credible evidence that al Qaeda leaders have sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire weapons of mass destruction capabilities.

We do have, I believe it's one report indicating that Iraq provided unspecified training relating to chemical and/or biological matters for al Qaeda members. There is, I'm told, also some other information of varying degrees of reliability that supports that conclusion of their cooperation.

QUESTION: Are there indication senior al Qaeda are in Baghdad or Iraq?

RUMSFELD: The problem with it is that when intelligence is gathered it's gathered at a moment, and then that moment passes, and then there's the next moment and the moment after that. We certainly have evidence of senior al Qaeda who have been in Baghdad in recent periods. Whether they're currently there or not one never knows, because they're moving targets.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, are you making clear to say that Saddam Hussein, there's no intelligence that you've seen that Saddam Hussein has a direct tie to September 11?

RUMSFELD: I didn't address that.

QUESTION: Have you seen any -- or is there any intelligence that Saddam Hussein has any ties to September 11?

RUMSFELD: I think I probably said what I'd like to say about al Qaeda and Iraq.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, can we follow up that just a little bit? Much of the criticism, congressional and others, domestically and overseas, is that neither you nor the president have proven the case, so to speak, about a possible attack on Iraq. Do you know something that we don't know that perhaps you're not willing to share with us, but you know...

RUMSFELD: I hope so.


QUESTION: We hope so, too, but do you know of direct linkage between Saddam Hussein and the use of weapons of mass destruction (OFF-MIKE)? And further than what you just told us, do you know of any direct linkage between him and the al Qaeda you're not able to share with us?

RUMSFELD: Look, I think it's very important for people to think what's taking place right now in the Congress. They're trying to connect the dots after -- what happened before September 11th, and how could that information have been pieced together, and fashioned into a picture, a roadmap that said September 11th is coming.

It is enormously difficult to do it a year after it happened. It is vastly more difficult to do it before something happens. And the task we have is to try to take all of these pieces of information and draw conclusions that are in the interests of the American people and the people of the world.

It is not possible to find hard evidence that something is going to happen two, four, six, eight months or a year down the road. You will have known it happened after it happens.

And when you're dealing with weapons of mass destruction and you're dealing with countries like Iraq that have used weapons of mass destruction, and countries like Iraq that have active development programs for those weapons and have weaponized chemical and biological weapons, you have to recognize that the evidence piles up.

Now, anyone will be always able to say, even after the fact, that there isn't sufficient evidence, that you don't have proof beyond a reasonable doubt. You'll know an event occurred, but even after it occurs it's very difficult to get perfect evidence. Our goal is not to go into a court of law and try to prove something to somebody.

Prime Minister Blair put out a white paper on this issue. The president of the United States went to the United Nations. Members of the House and Senate have been briefed extensively on this set of issues.

And in every case it is a puzzle, it is a task of taking these disparate pieces and putting them together so that people can make their own judgment, it's not for us to prove anything. What they have to do is they have to say, What does a reasonable person conclude are the risks from this? Are the risks greater of the U.N., for example, trying to enforce their resolution or are the risks greater of not doing that? Always there are risks on both sides.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, in making that evaluation one of the things allies might want is a little more information about the sources on that. Are you sharing any of that with them in the presentations to NATO and elsewhere?

RUMSFELD: Sure. Sure. John McLaughlin gave a very detailed and excellent briefing to our NATO allies, and other countries that are not in NATO have been briefed as well.

QUESTION: Could you bring us up to date on the state of play on Pentagon planning for training, providing military training to Iraqi opposition members, in terms of the numbers or notification to Congress and so forth?

RUMSFELD: General Pace can?

PACE: Thank you, sir.

RUMSFELD: He's been in town, I've been out.

PACE: As you would expect, we're looking at all the military options, that if we're called upon to do something in Iraq or elsewhere in the world, that we can present to the leadership of our country.

One of the things that you look at is the opportunity to take opposition forces and assist them in their training. So we are looking at that as an option. We have not briefed the secretary on that yet, and when we're ready to bring forward to him a plan that we think is a reasonable option to pick if he wants to, we'll do that.

QUESTION: Training that would be in offensive operations, or would it be for support functions?

PACE: We'll look at the whole spectrum of military operations and see what we think is reasonable to be able to accomplish in the time available, and make recommendations on a spectrum of things so we can pick at the right time what is appropriate, if anything is appropriate.

QUESTION: What do you think the timetable should be, and how soon are you going to...

PACE: We are going to have a time line that goes from today through a couple of years from now, and we will just lay that out and have this available and be able to talk to the secretary when he needs the data.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, is the information that you have told us about this morning new? And why is the administration, in a very orchestrated pattern, putting this out now? RUMSFELD: I've been out of town, and I don't know anything about an orchestrated pattern. What I know is I was asked questions when I walked in here, so I responded. If that's an orchestra, it's a funny orchestra.

QUESTION: Condi Rice said it last night. Ari Fleischer said it a few minutes ago.


QUESTION: And you were using almost exactly the same words.

RUMSFELD: Well, the way that happens -- first of all, with respect to the first part of your question, much of the information is not new. Some is, some isn't. It is cumulative. It keeps coming long as interrogations take place.

Second, before I left town to do the briefing in Europe I asked what portions of these things that we know might be appropriate to declassify and would no longer cause any harm to anybody if they were made public.

And the words that I've used are basically the response I got to my request and which I used with our NATO allies on an unclassified basis.

QUESTION: The words are very carefully chosen, and I wonder if we can go over some of them. You said that there was...

RUMSFELD: Think if they were poorly chosen? That'd be terrible.


QUESTION: Carefully chosen.

You said there was one report, a single source, of unspecified training by al Qaeda of some kind of chemical weapons training.


QUESTION: In the world of journalism, one source, unspecified type of training is highly unspecific.

RUMSFELD: Yes. Don't print it.


QUESTION: But you're obviously trying to make a political point with this.

RUMSFELD: No, I'm not.

QUESTION: But it doesn't seem...

RUMSFELD: No, I'm responding to your questions. I walk in and I get asked a question. QUESTION: You're laying out what you say are specifics, but it's very, very vague. Is there more specific intelligence to back up...

RUMSFELD: Well, sure.

QUESTION: ... a single source of unspecified type of training?

RUMSFELD: Well, sure. I know who the source is.

QUESTION: Do you what the specific kind of training is, without telling us?

RUMSFELD: That I don't have high confidence in, because...

QUESTION: Do you have more than one source that indicates this that you can't reveal to us?

RUMSFELD: On that particular matter, yes.

QUESTION: And on one of your other issues, you say there's credible information that Iraq and al Qaeda has discussed safe haven, the issue of safe haven.


QUESTION: Is Iraq providing al Qaeda safe haven?

RUMSFELD: I guess that's a question of semantics.

QUESTION: Just because you talk about it doesn't mean you do it, I guess.

RUMSFELD: That's possible. Although we know there are al Qaeda in the country, and we know they've discussed with Iraq safe haven. Now, whether the ones that are in the country are there under some sort of grant of safe haven or not happens to be a piece of intelligence that either we don't have or we don't want to talk about.

QUESTION: You also said...

RUMSFELD: You follow me? Wait a second ...

QUESTION: Yes, I follow you. I mean, what you're creating is an innuendo by this rather than flatly stating...

RUMSFELD: No, no, no, what we're doing is -- we're saying is in response to questions, and an enormous appetite on this subject, we're trying to be very, very careful about saying what we think we can say that is useful to the public, not inaccurate, precisely phrased and defendable without compromising sources and methods.

Now, that's not something people just get up and blurt out a bunch of words about. So when Ari Fleischer uses words that are quite similar to those that we've cleared, one ought not to be surprised. And nor should one say it's an orchestration or a symphony or an opera or anything else. (CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... about on the one point. You said, I think, that you have solid evidence of the presence of al Qaeda in Iraq, including some in Baghdad. And when you said that I wasn't clear what time frame you were referring to, whether or not that is current.

Do you currently believe they're in Baghdad or are you only talking about al Qaeda in the north in Kurdish-controlled areas?

RUMSFELD: Specifically not, with respect to the last part of your question. We're not only talking about al Qaeda in the northern part.

QUESTION: So you currently believe there are al Qaeda in Saddam Hussein-controlled areas?

RUMSFELD: I thought I said it precisely the way I wanted to. I can't know whether, as we sit here talking, the information that was accurate when we got it is still accurate today.


RUMSFELD: But if you're asking, is it current in the last period of days or weeks, the answer is yes.

QUESTION: OK. That is what I was asking. I'm sorry I wasn't clear. So it's not 10 years old, as you say some of your information goes back.

RUMSFELD: Nor is it a year old. Nor is it six months old.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up very quickly then, I'm sorry. When you lay out this, does this, in your mind, everything you've said here so far today, add to the bill of particulars against Iraq?

In other words, so far you have talked about regime change in this administration as a result of their failure to comply with U.N. resolutions and their WMD program. Does their sheltering of al Qaeda and providing this harboring to al Qaeda now add to the bill of particulars? Does this become one of the reasons for regime change beyond what you've already stated?

RUMSFELD: You say that and we've talked about regime change in this administration, but the fact is, it's been the statutory policy of the United States government since 1998, in the prior administration. The prior Congress, three Congresses ago, and the prior administration adopted that as the policy. This president has accepted that.

QUESTION: But given the fact it's his policy as well, does this evidence you've laid out today add to the bill of particulars?

RUMSFELD: Well, I suppose the answer is yes. It wouldn't be something one would want in their background sheet suggesting they're model citizens. I mean, are you saying, does it help Iraq's image in the world to be providing haven for al Qaeda or does it hurt it?

QUESTION: No, sir. I'm sorry. What I'm really asking is, you've laid out evidence of their sheltering of al Qaeda, (OFF-MIKE) regime change has been discussed because they're not, in your view, obeying U.N. resolutions. Are you now pursuing regime change in addition because they are sheltering al Qaeda? Is this another reason for it?

RUMSFELD: Oh, well, gee, I don't know.

That would be up to the president and the Congress, who are working with resolutions and the U.N. I mean...

QUESTION: No opinion on the matter?

RUMSFELD: Well, I certainly do not think that it recommends somebody very highly -- a country very highly if they're providing haven for al Qaeda. It is not something you'd want on your background sheet.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, if the U.S. had solid information that al Qaeda members were in Iraq and you knew where they were, would U.S. forces strike immediately?

RUMSFELD: You know, I guess the answer is probably no. These people are not in large concentrations of thousands or hundreds. They're in populated areas. They make a practice of being near civilian hospitals and mosques and things like that. How would you strike immediately without doing just enormous damage?

I mean, that's one of the great advantages that terrorists have, is they can live in cities, they can live in mountains, they can operate on border areas, they can function in ungoverned areas. They have a lot of advantages.

QUESTION: Do we have any restraints right now about attacking Iraq right now? I mean, what they weren't in cities, what if they were out in an open area, would we have restraints simply because we're not ready to go?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I see what you're saying.

Well, I mean, we fired some response options this week. So I mean, if there are things going on that our aircraft were fired at and we fired on some radars that existed there, as I recall.

They were radars?

MYERS: Correct, sir.

RUMSFELD: I guess -- I don't know that I want to go into what we would do if we happened to see a single individual who was high value wandering around in the Iraqi desert away from the population.

QUESTION: You said earlier, "We certainly have evidence of senior al Qaeda in Baghdad." Can you identify for us today who those senior al Qaeda in Baghdad may be, if they're still there.

RUMSFELD: I could, but I won't.

QUESTION: Are they sufficiently senior to the level of Osama bin Laden, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? Are they in the top 10, top 15? When you say senior, how do you...

RUMSFELD: Clearly it's not Osama bin Laden, if that's what you're asking.

QUESTION: Are they in the top 15, the top 20?

RUMSFELD: I don't know. I'd have to go back and get the latest list. They are people of interest.

QUESTION: Since you were willing to lay out some of the particulars about the presence of al Qaeda in Iraq, are you willing to tell us what evidence the U.S. has of al Qaeda in Iran? And recent intelligence...

RUMSFELD: I've been talking about this for weeks. There are al Qaeda in Iran. There are a lot of al Qaeda in Iran. Iran is providing haven. And they're telling their people they are not; the government is. And they're not telling their people the truth. And they are there. And they do not like it when we say that. But they are.

QUESTION: And what can you tell us about recent U.S. intelligence which had detected certainly what appears to be a new terrorist training camp in far eastern Iran?

RUMSFELD: There are terrorist camps in a variety of countries. They -- this has been going on for some time. Some are quite sophisticated. Some are much less so. They can be bombed and blown up and be back in business in three weeks.

The problem is not so much terrorist training camps. It's a country that provides a haven for terrorists, so that they can train on a continuing basis and so forth. And that is notably unhelpful.

I have no idea -- I'm going to go stop.

QUESTION: I want to return to the question of preemption if I could. In the new national security strategy, and also in your testimony last week up on the Hill, the word preemption and prevention was used almost interchangeably, but as a matter of military doctrine and of international practice, there is a distinction. I was curious if, in this current threat environment, you see that distinction blurring. And when we talk about Iraq, although no decisions have been made, do you see it as a preemptive war against an eminent threat, or a preventive war to keep them from becoming a greater threat?

RUMSFELD: I would have to go get my dictionary and talk to some experts on international law. You're right, there are differences in those words, and their meanings, and their historical use. And I may be a bit sloppy in using them somewhat interchangeably.

I often use more than one. And the reason I do is to try to add dimension to what people are hearing.

I mean, if you thank about it, defense is one word. And you can do that in a variety of different ways. Everyone agrees that self- defense is legitimate, legal, domestically, internationally, and it's accepted. The concept of anticipatory self-defense is also something that goes back historically, a long time: People have always preferred to have battles take place not on their real estate, but on somebody else's real estate. And as they see things developing, they have attempted to stop them before they actually adversely affected their population and their real estate.

Prevention is also -- has a connotation that's somewhat more acceptable than preemption. It sounds a little fairer, if there's such a word, that you're trying to prevent something from happening at the last minute, is the implication -- the connotation of that word to me.

Preemption is slightly different in the sense that it suggests that you have reason to believe something's going to happen, could happen, that is notably unpleasant, and you make a conscious decision to go out and stop that from happening.

Now, what would you call the Cuban Missile Crisis action by President Kennedy? In my view, establishing what he called a quarantine, what the world thought of as a blockade, and preventing if you will the Soviet Union from placing nuclear missiles in Cuba, that was certainly self-defense, it was certainly anticipatory self- defense, it was certainly preventative, and we were very close to a crisis of historic proportions.

And I think it's not unfair or inaccurate to say that he took a preemptive -- he engaged in preemption.

QUESTION: Just to clarify one thing about why now with these details, yesterday you were asked about a connection between al Qaeda and Iraq, you said "Oh, certainly there is." And then for more details you said, "It's unhelpful to get into a lot of detail because it just changes our capabilities of going things." Yet today...

RUMSFELD: It does.

QUESTION: ... you know, why today with the specifics on some of these details?

RUMSFELD: Well, I didn't give any details. I gave a very, very carefully phrased set of sentences that I had previously suggested to the intelligence community they might want to consider concluding that they not longer need to be classified.

It turns out I was close to right, and there they are. And they're not terribly different from what I said previously. They just have the benefit of having been thought through and not off the top of someone's head. QUESTION: What changed between yesterday and today, though, that you're allowed to say?

RUMSFELD: I arrived home.

QUESTION: And it was waiting for you on your desk?

RUMSFELD: Yes. I asked a week ago. I talked to the intelligence community over a week ago and I said "Here are a set of things that look to me like it would be a useful way to demystify this," and it came back, you know, three-quarters saying "Fine, not going to be a problem."

So it was there on my desk when I got back and think of it as anticipatory self-defense.


QUESTION: Since the relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq apparently goes back a decade, does the evidence point to an Iraqi role in the first World Trade Center attack in 1992?

RUMSFELD: I'm not going to get into it.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, on these strikes on Iraq -- both you and General Pace, if you could both respond -- of course, as you know, Iraq is saying this is on civilian centers. I wonder if you could just respond about the difficulty in moving mobile air defenses near civilian areas, and how you would respond.

RUMSFELD: Let me tell you a problem I have. I'm going to be off by an hour or two. But for the sake of argument, an international wire service...


... early this morning -- and I had forgotten whether it's our time or somebody else's time, but I think it's out time -- say for the sake of argument, plus or minus 6 o'clock -- gets a report out of Baghdad: Americans are bombing and killing civilians and what a terrible thing it is. Runs it. Bang. It goes out there on the wire.

How many outlets are connected to that wire service? Hundreds. Hundreds. Bang. It gets printed.

An hour later: Iraqi-Baghdad says civilian casualties, bombing, bad stuff, and the United States still hasn't commented. Something like that. This is close enough for government work. Hundreds and hundreds of outlets get that and print it and run it and put it on television and so forth and so on.

It's not true. It isn't true.

How do you do that? How do you catch up with all of those people who read that? How do you...


QUESTION: What wasn't true?

RUMSFELD: It's just -- go ahead. It's what he already explained. It's the attacks -- it's the response options in Iraq. It was not true that we killed a bunch of civilian...

PHILLIPS: All right, a humorous and a little sarcastic Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld right now sort of ripping the dissemination of information via the wire service.

But on a much more serious note, as he stands side by side with General Peter Pace, the defense secretary talking about interrogations continuing to take place with the enemy, and that more intelligence on terrorists has been surfacing.

Rumsfeld talking about the credible evidence proving a link between al Qaeda and Iraq. The defense secretary saying the administration now has specific proof that Iraq provided some type of training to al Qaeda with weapons of mass destruction.

Meanwhile, General Pace saying that they are continuing to look at all military options with a timetable stretching from today to a few years down the road.


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