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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Briefing

Aired October 23, 2003 - 13:53   ET

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

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to the Pentagon without delay. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld addressing reporters. We're going to listen in a bit.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECY. OF DEFENSE: The mesh worked for a short period, and pretty soon they started hitting soft targets, people going to and from where they were working.

I mention this because it is a point that I've tried to make from time to time, namely that a terrorist can, in fact, attack at any time and any place using any technique. And free people are not able to defend at every place at every moment of the day or night against every conceivable type of technique. The advantage is with the attacker.

And the only way to defeat terrorists is to take the war to them, to go after them where they are, where they live, where they plan, where they hide, go after their finances, go after the people who harbor and assist them and reduce the number of them and the number of people supporting them and the number of people financing them so that the numbers of new terrorists coming into the process, trained and financed and ready to go out and kill innocent men, women and children across the world, so that that number is reduced.

That's the president's policy. It's the correct policy.

How many people looked up "slog" in the dictionary? Just be honest.

QUESTION: Quagmire. Isn't that right?

RUMSFELD: What?

QUESTION: Quagmire.

(LAUGHTER)

RUMSFELD: How many of you did? How many? Some of you did. I'll bet you a few of you looked it up. You just don't want to admit it. You're embarrassed.

How many of you had heard that word recently?

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: Except for me.

(LAUGHTER)

I mean, I went home, and my wife said, "You sure that's a word?"

QUESTION: It's a British word, isn't it?

RUMSFELD: And I said, "Oh, I'm sure it's a word, but I just haven't heard it for about 20 or 30 years and..."

QUESTION: Thought you'd resurrect it?

RUMSFELD: I thought I'd bring it back into active competition.

The Oxford Dictionary, I'm told by Mark, has a definition of slog -- the preferred one, I believe -- which is: "Slog, to hit or strike hard; to drive with blows; to assail violently." And that's precisely what the U.S. has been doing and intends to continues to do.

QUESTION: Is that what you thought it meant when you wrote it?

RUMSFELD: It's close enough for government work.

(LAUGHTER)

It's not only the Oxford Dictionary's preferred definition, it's mine.

We're finding these terrorists where they are and we're rooting them out, and we're capturing and we're killing them. It's difficult work. It won't be over anytime soon.

And I will close by saying it will be a long, hard slog indeed.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Larry said that you were not trying to reveal any, quote, "hidden truth," were the terms he used, about the war on terrorism or the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. What do you think? I mean, what does that mean?

And are you disturbed that this memo was leaked?

RUMSFELD: No. I think I understand what happened. I sent it to four people. One of the people was out of town and his office received it, thought, "Gee, those are interesting questions; I'll staff it out," circulated it to a number of people, so that by the time the boss got back, he'd have their thoughts.

And one of the people that it was circulated to, obviously, thought I'd issued it as a press release.

(LAUGHTER)

Which, I might add, was not the case.

QUESTION: But even though you've asked for investigations of numerous leaks in the department, you're not going to ask for an investigation into this? Can you...

RUMSFELD: First of all, I don't think I have asked for investigations in numerous leaks.

QUESTION: One time.

RUMSFELD: I can recall one time. In my life, can recall one time.

QUESTION: And Bill Larkin -- but a lot of money and a lot of people were asked about that. It was a long investigation, so I just wonder if...

RUMSFELD: Just once, I believe. Not many. I just want to make sure everyone gets on the right wavelength here.

No, I certainly don't. I understand it happened and those things happen. Life goes on.

QUESTION: Was it a classified document, sir?

RUMSFELD: No, it wasn't. Just a personal memo from me. Nothing was in it that was classified or should be classified.

QUESTION: Sir, regarding your -- you're asking for thoughts regarding the possibility of a new institution to be created with the specific purpose of fighting terrorism better. You must have your own thoughts along those lines. And I'm wondering if you might be able to share them with us.

RUMSFELD: I don't. I really am at that stage where I -- I met with those combatant commanders, I listened to what they had to say. Each one is a serious, talented, well-organized, well-staffed, disciplined person. They reported what they were doing in the global war on terror, which they do every two or three weeks to us.

And, as I listened to it, I started asking questions. I started taking everything they'd said, adding it up, and saying to myself, "Gee, have we've got eyes up off the ground, across the horizon far enough? Are we looking out far enough in a way that would enable us to think of ways and approaches that might make us be able to do still better than we're currently doing?" And that's what it had to do with.

I went back to the office, and I thought to myself that it would be useful to get that down, those things that just came to my head. And I started writing them down and sent the memo out just four people with the thought that it would be helpful.

I reread the memo in the paper and thought, "Not bad."

QUESTION: What about the critics who are out there saying that the administration is putting a happy face on the war on terrorism publicly but privately this memo indicates that things are not so happy? That in fact... RUMSFELD: For those that are attentive here in this room, know that that's not what we've done here. What we have done is we've put out a very straightforward, accurate, to the best of our ability, and balanced view of what we see happening and what we believe to be the case.

And there's been no mystery about the fact that this is -- from the very beginning -- we've said this global war on terror is a tough one. It's going to take a long time. It's going to take cooperation of a lot of countries. It's going to take all elements of national power.

These were things that have been said and repeated consistently for 2.5 years.

QUESTION: Are you saying that the DOD is not capable of changing fast enough to be successful in the war on terrorism?

RUMSFELD: Big institutions don't change fast; that we know.

First of all, it isn't the task of the Department of Defense to be successful in the global war on terror, it's the task of our country, all of our governmental agencies, public and private, as well as 90-plus other countries. So no one department of government can do it all.

And the questions that I raised is: Are we organized?

First of all, I look to my own department and say: Are we doing everything that we can do within our capabilities and our statutory authority?

And then I look beyond it and say: Are there things that we're not arranged to do that we can, within our own resources, adjust ourselves as to how we're organized, trained and equipped to do a better job for a new set of problems?

And I continuously ask questions like that. I've been doing it my entire life and I probably will continue doing it.

Then the question beyond DOD is: Is the U.S. government properly organized? And I think of things, for example, like the fact that USIA doesn't exist anymore, and is it appropriate -- might there be a need for some new element, a 21st-century version of that, that could help the United States as a country communicate with the world on some of these important issues?

So it was more of a searching look that was involved in this memorandum.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, point of information: Disinclined...

RUMSFELD: You came late and now you interrupt everyone else who's had their hands up. I just can't imagine you doing that to your friends, your associates here. It shocks me.

QUESTION: You raised a point of definition, though. You know that's, sort of, a pet thing of mine.

RUMSFELD: What is?

QUESTION: Definitions of words.

RUMSFELD: Uh-oh. I didn't get into that when you were here.

QUESTION: Disinclined though I am to be disputatious, the American Heritage Dictionary...

RUMSFELD: There are a lot of different definitions, I know that.

QUESTION: This is its preferred definition: "To walk or progress with a slow, heavy pace; plod as in slog across the swamp."

RUMSFELD: Right. I've seen that one.

(LAUGHTER)

I read the one I liked and...

(LAUGHTER)

... if you had been here you would have found out about that.

RUMSFELD: I'm going to take two questions and then I do have to go back to work.

QUESTION: If you're characterizing this memo as simply thinking out loud with your top aides, given the political climate in Washington, how problematic is to have this thinking-out-loud memo out there for members of Congress especially to chew over, for presidential candidates to chew over right now?

RUMSFELD: It's life. It's the way it works in this town. I don't think anyone who's ever come into a position like secretary of defense is asked to cage their brain and stop thinking. And that is what we're here for is to try to think of the best interests of the American people and to ask the kinds of questions that are important and are probing.

And it seems to me that that's a very constructive, useful thing to do. I've been doing it all my life. I intend to keep on doing it. And I think that if they're fair questions, it's a good thing for people to chew them over.

And I must say, I was having yesterday morning with a group of Congressmen, Democrats and Republican alike. They ended up coming down here and talking about it. And I think that the memo served as a very useful vehicle for discussing with them important aspects of the global war on terror, which they as members of the Congress consider as important. And I think they should consider them as important.

O'BRIEN: Donald Rumsfeld slog with Pentagon reporters continues. One more question. We'll be monitoring that for you. Slog works no matter what definition you choose in this case. And we'll keep you posted on what happens there.

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