DoD News Briefing

Tuesday, September 8, 1998 - 2:10 p.m.
Presenter: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)

Q: Can you give us a little later post-strike assessment in Afghanistan? The effectiveness of the Tomahawk strikes. Were they actually duds? And is Bin Laden on the move, has he left Afghanistan?

A: I'm not prepared to answer any of those questions.


Q: On the terrorist strikes, do you anticipate ever being prepared to discuss more detail about BDA and so on, or not? If not, why?

A: I think ever is a long time. There may be an appropriate time for us to discuss them, but it's not today.

Q: What will trigger being able to talk about that in more detail?

A: Well, I think that everybody can appreciate that one aspect of this operation was to retain a fairly tight clamp on information -- both before the operation began and also after the operation took place. I think there's a strong feeling within this building and within the Administration generally that in this grave new world of terrorism, where we can expect greater challenges from terrorist organizations around the world, that we need to probably say less when we do more. And we want to preserve as many options as possible. One of the ways we want to preserve those options is to, when we think it's appropriate, say as little as possible to give as little information away to those who may be on the receiving end of future operations.

Q: Why is that different now... What's different about terrorism now? If it's not state sponsored, what's specific about non-state sponsored that requires this level of...

A: I'm not sure that it's just a question of whether it's state sponsored or not. I think it's a question of trying to retain maximum flexibility, maximum surprise, and to do both of those things in order to achieve maximum effectiveness.

One of the things that we have seen time and time again is that the more we have talked about our capabilities, the more we have given specific examples of what our capabilities are and pointed to specific incidents where our capabilities are worked or not worked, we have seen the enemy taking responsive action, and the responsive action could range from moving its operations to going underground with the operation so they're harder to spot and harder to attack, to changing the way it communicates which makes them harder to track, to taking a variety of other steps.

There was a lot of thought given to this operation, a lot of thought given to the mechanics of carrying it out and also what we would say before and what we would say after. The decision has been made to say very little about this. I think this is a decision from the President on down. This was something that was discussed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Advisor, all who were involved in making the decision.

Q: In the briefing by the Secretary and the Chairman a couple of assertions were made about the plant in Sudan that was attacked. One, that Bin Laden had an ownership stake in it; and two, that it didn't make medicine. These both seem to be not true. I wonder, was the intelligence just bad or did the officials briefing just make a mistake? Why did they say that?

A: I think that I should let the intelligence community talk about the intelligence, so I invite you to direct those questions to the appropriate people. But we believe now, as we did at the beginning, that this plant does make Empta [corrected to say: this plant had evidence of Empta present], a precursor for VX. We went to considerable efforts to get soil samples from around the plant. We do believe there is some financial arrangement between Usama Bin Laden and elements in the Sudan, possibly those related to this plant. I think we've been very clear from the beginning that the main reason that we launched this attack was we believed they were trying to develop a capability to produce VX which is a weapon of mass destruction.

Q: So you would say, for example, that legitimate medicine was just another activity which would not change your view of...

A: The fact of the matter is we've learned in Iraq where we've had considerable experience trying to sort out exactly what their weapons of mass destruction programs are, we've learned there that almost all facilities that produce chemical or biological weapons appear to be, are said to be, or are disguised to be dual use facilities. Frequently the same type of equipment that you need to produce a fertilizer or feeds could be used to produce biological weapons, for instance, or some of the equipment you could use to produce pesticides could be used to produce chemical weapons. So we assume that many of these facilities either are or appear to be dual use facilities.

Q: A senior intelligence official told us after that attack, right from that podium there, that the United States had no evidence that commercial products were being produced and sold by that plant. How could we be so far off base? It's obvious...

A: As I said, I think those are questions that are best directed to the intelligence community.

Q: Was Secretary Cohen quoted accurately in the New York Times several days ago when I believe basically he said that the United States did not know until three days after the attack that the plant made medicines? Was he quoted accurately on that point?

A: My understanding is he was, yes. I wasn't there when he said that, but my understanding is that was an accurate quote.

Q: So when you attacked it then, you did not believe it was a dual use facility, you believed it was solely a chemical weapons plant?

A: Well, we believed it was a plant producing, that was using a precursor that we believe is only used to produce VX. Whether it was producing it there or whether it was combining it with other substances I think is still open to question, but we believe that Empta was in use there.

Q: Let me try it this way then, in retrospect, not knowing until three days afterwards, what is Secretary Cohen's opinion now of the intelligence that his Department was given and that military targeters were given about this facility? How satisfied is he with the intelligence that he didn't know about?

A: Secretary Cohen is, I think, very confident that the intelligence that the government developed on Empta at that facility is correct intelligence.

Q: Right. But what I'm asking is, how happy is he about the fact that the United States didn't know until three days afterwards that that plant made pharmaceuticals?

A: The main point here is that we launched an attack for a reason which was to disrupt a program that we think could lead, was going to lead to the development of VX. I don't think there's any doubt within the government that we succeeded in doing that and that we were right, that our intelligence was correct about the Empta.

Q: You said in a bit of digression there that it might have been combined with other products in the plant. What specifically are you referring to?

A: I don't want to get into details.

Q: But your understanding was it could have been used in other products in the plant? It was used in other products in the plant?

A: No. The question is... Empta is a precursor. It's not VX itself. So the question is, was it being produced there or combined with other elements there to produce VX.

Q: Other elements to produce VX.

A: Yes.

Q: So you're saying that plant might even have been capable of making VX itself? I think that's a new...

A: I'm not saying the plant was capable of making VX. I'm saying we thought this was a plant that was a part of a program or part of a scheme to manufacture VX. Where it fit in, I'm not going to comment at this stage.

Q: The Western engineers who consulted on the building of that plant basically say that it did not have the necessary equipment to do... It could produce something on the level of Empta but it could not make VX.

A: There have been a series of reports on this, and I understand that studies and investigations will continue on this.

Q: In the same vein, the Pakistani government as late as the end of last week has been saying to its official press that five U.S. cruise missiles landed in Pakistan and killed 11 Pakistanis. Are you saying that right now you can't even refute that?

A: I'm saying I'm not going to comment on bomb damage assessment at this stage.


Press: Thank you.