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Pentagon Press Briefing

Aired December 23, 2003 - 13:04   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We got to go to the Pentagon. Donald Rumsfeld's addressing reporters.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: ... looks about the same. Some of the faces are the same I see.

The holidays are upon us and that certainly is a time to give thanks for our country's many blessings. And there's no greater blessing than the courage of the young men and women who wear our country's uniform. They are all volunteers. They willingly put their lives at risk so that all Americans can live in peace and freedom.

Sunday's announcement that Time magazine has named the men and women of America's armed forces as the 2003 person of the year is a wonderful and certainly a well-deserved recognition of their remarkable achievements, and there have been many.

At this time last year a vicious dictator ruled Iraq. He was a man who took pleasure in having dozens of people thrown off the tops of several-story buildings to their death, whose security apparatus tortured innocent men, women and children, and who murdered literally hundreds of thousands of people over his time in office and piled their bodies in mass graves.

Today Saddam Hussein has been removed from power. The man who terrorized a nation and who sought to terrorize the world was found cowering in a hole in the ground. Instead of a palace, he now spends his time in a prison cell waiting for justice for his crimes, and the Iraqi people face a future not of fear, but of freedom.

RUMSFELD: And that is what the armed forces have accomplished in the last 12 months alone.

Since September 11th of 2001, they've accomplished even more. They've rescued two nations, liberated some 50 million people, helped to capture or kill nearly two-thirds of the known senior al Qaeda operatives, broken up terrorist cells and prevented terrorist attacks on several continents.

These are important achievements. Yet it is also important to remember that terrorists still threaten our country, and that we remain engaged in a dangerous and, to be sure, difficult war, and that it will not be over soon. We also recognize the lesson of September 11th, that the only way to deal with terrorists is to take the battle to them, to hunt them down and to capture or kill them before they can kill more innocent Americans.

That is what the men and women of the armed forces are doing this day and every day. We are grateful for their courage, proud of their service, and appreciate the time they sacrifice away from their loved ones so that all Americans can live in freedom. Those who wear the country's uniform are indeed the person of the year every year, and God bless them all.

Dick Myers?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, and good afternoon.

As you all know, I just returned from a trip to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Bahrain and Djibouti, where I had a great visit with our servicemen and women. At every stop I was able to thank them and express America's appreciation for putting their lives on the line for their country.

MYERS: I was able to talk to hundreds of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, coastguardsmen, DOD civilians, individually and to see how they're really doing.

I do talk to General Abizaid every day and see numerous reports from the field, but it takes on a whole different perspective when you get a chance to see these individuals face to face.

The troops and the families that I met in some of those countries are doing just great. They look sharp. Many inspection-ready, just as sharp as the day they left the United States for their mission overseas. They're confident and they fully understand the mission and how important it is to our defense.

Now, just as important to our national security are the servicemen and women who are stationed throughout the United States supporting what we call Operation Noble Eagle. Many of those are away from home as well.

Operation Noble Eagle, as you may recall, is the official name that was given to the mission of homeland defense in September of 2001. We don't talk about it as often, but Operation Noble Eagle continues and takes on an added sense of urgency this week with the increase in the terror alert.

As you know, Northern Command was stood up just over one year ago for this very purpose of homeland security. We're taking this threat very seriously and have put in place several added security measures.

Since 9/11, the U.S. military has scrambled fighters and vectored air patrols more than 1,600 times to respond to potential air threats, and have combined with AWACs and their refueling tankers to fly more than 32,000 sorties in this Operation Noble Eagle mission. Americans may see similar security precautions over the holidays. And without talking specifically, they may see additional air patrols over select cities and facilities, an increase in the air defense posture here in Washington, D.C., and combat aircraft could be put on a higher alert at different air bases throughout the country.

MYERS: We have dedicated people and resources available to protect our citizens and we are taking some of those precautions today.

Let me also say, along with the secretary, something about the Time magazine cover honoring the American soldier. I'm delighted that Time chose to recognize these men and women. The three soldiers on the cover represent every soldier, sailor, airmen, Marine and coastguardsman serving in our armed forces.

Whether they are active duty, whether they're reserve, whether the part of the National Guard, today servicemembers are indeed America's best.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, General Myers, will the Department of Defense discontinue the policy of mandatory anthrax vaccines for servicemembers and allow those who have been disciplined for refusing to take them to have their cases reconsidered?

And also, what's your response to the judge's suggestion that the Pentagon has used troops as guinea pigs for an experimental drug?

RUMSFELD: The decision is recent. The lawyers are examining it. And at the appropriate time, they will be making a recommendation as to the way forward.

I don't want to comment on any of the specifics in your question or seem to agree with them because I think that we just leave it that the lawyers are going to look at it, they're going to recommend a way forward and then the department will proceed on the basis of their recommendations very likely.

The only, kind of, thing I would say in addition is, obviously the comment that you quoted, if in fact the judge said it, is inaccurate. I have not read the decision so I'm not going to...

QUESTION: It's written in the decision.

MYERS: Could I pile on this here a second?

This drug that we're using -- the vaccine -- has been around for 40 years. It is not experimental. It's approved by the FDA.

And from a military standpoint, I think it's extremely important. As you know, when we went into Iraq, we had all the troops in their chemical protective gear because we thought there was a very real threat of either chemical or biological weapons, and in particular anthrax was a big worry. MYERS: It's still a worry in many parts of the world, and the one thing you can do to protect people is this vaccine.

As the secretary said, the courts are going to have to figure this out. It will become probably a legal matter to some degree. But from a military standpoint, I think it's very important we have this capability to protect our troops and enable them to do their job.

RUMSFELD: And I've had the shots, so it's not as though anyone's (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

MYERS: And I've had the shots, until they (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Time magazine also said that perhaps you may have changed your mind about increasing troop strength, particularly in the Army, perhaps adding two more divisions or 20,000 soldiers. Up until this article, you and General Myers and others have been almost adamantly opposed to increasing the end-strength, saying that, "We don't need any more U.S. troops in Iraq or Afghanistan." Have you really changed your mind or are you just bowing to the Congress?

RUMSFELD: You know, you could take that question and parse it and point out how imperfect it was, but I would not want to do that right before the holidays. I think that would be wrong.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

RUMSFELD: And I want to be gracious to you, even though it's obviously a question that can't be answered quite the way you put it.

I always listen to the Congress, so nothing's changed there. I've not read the magazine, so if, in fact, it says what you said it said, namely that I changed my mind, that would be inaccurate also.

Where I am is exactly where I have been, and that is that we, that is to say the department, will continue to study the question of stress on the force and end-strength. We do it systematically. We do it seriously. And we do it because we recognize how critically important it is to be able to attract and retain the men and women we need to see that this country is safe and secure.

We have no analytical work or studies that suggest that end- strength should be either increased or decreased.

RUMSFELD: It is perfectly proper for individuals to opine on that absent any analytical work or any justification because people can say what they wish to say. It is not responsible for us to opine on that absent analytical work or justification.

So instead of opining, what we have been doing is analyzing the situation and looking for a variety of ways -- we now have our services and others working on some 35, 40 different ways that stress can be reduced on the force. We've managed to get the Congress to cooperate and pass legislation, a new personnel system that should enable us to reduce some stress on the force. I met today with one of our senior officials in the department who has just this month returned some 300 people to the uniformed service who had been performing functions that were not needed to be performed by military people, and he estimates that he'll have another 300 in very short order ready to be returned to the services.

So what we're doing is finding ways to increase end-strength; that is to say, increase the total number of men and women in uniform available for activities that require men and women in uniform, without, in fact, increasing overall end-strength.

And where we will be in the future is, we will be wherever we have to be. If facts determine that we need to increase end-strength, we will, needless to say, make a recommendation to the president and the Congress and do it. If that is not the case, we will not do it.

And in the meantime, we'll do a lot of things to systematically reduce the stress on the force, because we have to worry not just about today, where our recruiting and retention goals are for the most part being met, we have to worry about six months, eight months, 12 months, 18 months out, because it takes that kind of time to arrange yourself so that you have the appropriate number of folks ready to do the military assignments for our country.

QUESTION: In your Christmas magnanimity, may I just then, kind of, recapitulate?

QUESTION: So if I understand you...

RUMSFELD: You're wanting to start with an apology for the question?

QUESTION: In my Christmas spirit, I always want to apologize to the secretary of defense and to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

As I understand you then, at the moment, no clear change from your current policy. You say you have always had the same and you are studying. But the bottom line is, when will these studies be codified to the point where you will know definitively whether you need to bring in more troops or not, not just from other avenues...

RUMSFELD: When we get there, we'll announce it.

And what's happening is, every day things are being done to better manage the force. And the better you manage the force, the less stress on the force. And the less stress on the force the more likelihood that you're going to have the kind of recruiting and retention targets met that you need.

It will be -- the outcome of all of that -- some of these will be false starts. They won't achieve what we thought could be achieved. So we know that.

Others are achieving things like the one I just mentioned today. I had no knowledge of that, and suddenly I find that 300 have just been returned. And that's just in one very, very small element of this department.

So good things are happening, consistently, because people are focusing on it and people are elevating that issue in a way that we all recognize what needs to be done.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, to follow on that, dozens of members of Congress, the House in particular, have let it be known that they intend to include in the '05 budget submission, if it's not there, the addition of perhaps up to two more Army divisions. Would it be irresponsible of them to do so in the absence of the...

RUMSFELD: You didn't listen to my first answer. I just said anyone can say or recommend anything they want.

QUESTION: You also said it would be irresponsible...

RUMSFELD: For us; you could listen more carefully, really. I'm terribly worried you're going to go off to vacation with a misunderstanding here.

QUESTION: I don't get any vacation. Sorry, sir.

RUMSFELD: Well, I did not say what you said I said. I said that we are the ones that have the obligation of making recommendations and justifying them, and demonstrating why the taxpayers' dollars ought to or ought not to be used in a certain way.

RUMSFELD: That's our job.

Others ought to be probing and pushing and challenging and testing and opining, and that's fine. I was very clear on that, I thought. I'm just terribly disappointed that you asked that.


QUESTION: For both of you gentlemen, if we could go back to Code Orange for a minute...

RUMSFELD: That's Homeland Security Department; you're in the wrong pew.

QUESTION: Well, General Myers certainly discussed it.

QUESTION: You're a member of the Homeland Security Council, sir.

RUMSFELD: True. I apologize.


QUESTION: Thank you. So do I.

QUESTION: Is that a tit for a tat, Mr. Secretary?


QUESTION: Presuming that neither of you can discuss specific intelligence, nonetheless, can you offer -- in the holiday season here -- the American people and American troops your perspectives so people can better understand, is this Code Orange that you've discussed from the podium today truly serious? Is there something that you can say to put into perspective how serious you view this?

And, General Myers, if I was understanding you particularly, you spoke only of air defense being increased over Washington. Literally, is that accurate, sir? Is it only over Washington or should we assume other places as well? Can you explain why only over Washington? It raises an interesting question, of course.

MYERS: I'll take the last part first, I think, and leave the intel to the secretary.

No, what I said was that we -- I gave you some examples of steps that we could take. I mentioned the national capital region, where we could increase the air defense here. I also talked about air defense -- there were other cities and critical infrastructure sites throughout the country. And so if people looked up and saw more combat air patrols, then that would be.

So no, it's more broad.

RUMSFELD: I'm just make a quick comment. An elevated alert level or a force-protection level costs money. It costs money for the federal government. It costs money for the state and local government.

Second, it imposes a stress on people involved: that is to say the United States military, other federal agencies, state governments, local governments. Any time you are asked to do things that you do not normally do in a lower threat level or a lower force protection level, it costs money and it causes stress on military and civilian at all levels of government.

RUMSFELD: Therefore you do not do it lightly.

You ask, "Is it serious?" Yes, you bet your life. People don't do that unless it's a serious situation.

QUESTION: But perhaps people are confused because then you have, you know, high-level government officials from the president on down saying that Americans, of course, should go about their business over the holiday season. What's your perspective on all of this?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think the president said it exactly correctly. And I don't know that it needs a lot of amplification from me.

Reasonable people, in various departments and agencies, look at the intelligence information and make recommendations in the Homeland Security Council and then to the president as to what kinds of homeland security announcements ought to be made.

And they do it recognizing the cost. They would do it recognizing the stress. And they do it recognizing that the American people hear it and then have to know how to behave off of it. And if there were a perfect way to say to the American people, "Do this, A, B, C, and don't do that, A, B, and C," they would do so.

Obviously when you have these kinds of pieces of information, you look at them. They're imprecise. They're imperfect. But at some point, when you're trying to connect the dots before the fact, you come to a conclusion -- the appropriate people do; not this department in this case -- they come to a conclusion that it's important to send information to state and local governments and other federal agencies of a specific nature, to behave in a specific way, and to raise these force protection levels and threat levels.

And they say simultaneously, the American people -- another audience who hears that, they hear these threat levels being changed -- that, "We're doing it because we believe we have good reason to do it. And to the extent that people can be protected from terrorist threats, your federal government, your state government, your local government are doing the things that we believe are appropriate given the threat level."

RUMSFELD: So that's what it is.

By the same token, we're free people. We shouldn't sit around, you know, hiding under chairs and hoping it will go away. We have to live our lives and that's what we'll all do, and that's precisely what the president suggested.

QUESTION: Acknowledging that prosecuting the war on terror doesn't lend itself to the, sort of, year-end analysis the media likes to go through, I'd like to have you recall where you were a year ago and what you were talking about a year ago: fewer than half the al Qaeda operatives, according to the statistics released here, were captured, Saddam was still a threat, there was a building military posture from the U.S. and coalition partners to confront Saddam.

Now the briefing today, two-thirds of the al Qaeda operatives captured, Saddam out of power, yet the United States is at a higher threat level.

Can you explain to the American people how the war on terror is different now than it was a year ago, the key milestones of success and what may be facing the American people in the future?

RUMSFELD: Well, I touched on that in my opening remarks.

The global war on terror is not something that is going to end precipitously and it's not going to end with a surrender on the USS Missouri. It is a war that is -- where we have no choice but to go after the terrorists where they are.

Terrorism is not something that you can defend against in your homeland and think that they're not going to bother you. They did bother us. They killed 3,000 people. They are bothering us now with threats that suggest that we needed to elevate the threat levels.

Our choice is the only choice, and that is, if we want to live as free people, we simply have to find the terrorists where they are and capture or kill them, and break up the terrorist networks and dry up their funding.

And we have moved through the past 12 months and made notable, specific progress in a variety of ways.

And not to suggest that it's over; it isn't. It will continue for some period into the future.

But the cooperation between some 90 nations, the cooperation between all elements of national power, the public and private, across the span of the federal government to address the threat in each of its manifestations, whether it's financing or whether it's law enforcement cooperation or whether it's a specific attack against an individual or a group of individuals.between some 90 nations, the cooperation between all elements of national power, public and private, across the span of the federal government, to address the threat in each of its manifestations, whether it's financing or whether it's law enforcement cooperation or whether it's a specific attack against an individual or a group of individuals, all of those things need to be done.

RUMSFELD: And the reality is that there are still terrorists out there and they are still issuing threats in ways that cause us to make the kinds of announcements that were made this past weekend.

QUESTION: You would clearly assert that the Iraqi people are safer that Saddam is gone. How, specifically, are the American people safer?

RUMSFELD: The American people are safer because of the coalition that's been put together, the cooperation in sharing law enforcement information, the cooperation in squeezing off finances. There's no question but that there are any number of terrorist acts that were stopped prior to their actually occurring; we know that.

And the pressure that is being put on today on terrorists in a variety of locations is something that makes it that much harder for people to do what they do. It's harder for them to raise money, it's harder for them to move across a border, it's harder for them to communicate with each other, it is harder for them to assemble. And all of that advantages those of us who do not believe that killing innocent men, women and children is a good thing.

QUESTION: I'd like to indulge your holiday spirit on a question that I'm not sure you'll like this one. There is a recently...

RUMSFELD: This is for Dick.

QUESTION: This is for you.

A recently declassified memo. Twenty years ago the use of chemical weapons...

PHILLIPS: Donald Rumsfeld side by side with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Richard Myers, briefing reporters on a number of things. Mainly just the state of security right now as the holiday approaches.

Both of them making remarking as the holidays are here. As Rumsfeld said no greater blessing than what our American and women are doing for the United States overseas right now.

From a palace to prison, Saddam Hussein still remains in interrogation status. The world awaiting justice for his crimes, of course.

And then Myers talking about his trip overseas, meeting with troops over there, and that military still on high alert. Operation Noble Eagle, in addition to a number of other extra classified precautions as the holidays are here.


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