DoD News Briefing
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2002 - 11:31 a.m. EST
Q: Mr. Secretary, several people now from this podium have said that this target at Zhawar Kili is believed to have been legitimate and appropriate, yet stories persist out of the region that the missile may have killed three innocent civilians who were out collecting scrap metal. Can you provide for us today any additional information besides what this Predator may have seen that led U.S. forces to attack that site? And second of all, what is --
Rumsfeld: You mean the three individuals?
Q: The three. At Zhawar Kili.
Rumsfeld: Okay. Let's do that one.
Rumsfeld: I don't know that I can add anything to it. It's my understanding that the people who operate the Predator were watching a large number of people -- 15 or -- 10, 15, 20 people -- over a period of time. And out of this group came three people. And they moved in and among various outcroppings of rocks and trees. And the people who have the responsibility for making those judgments made the judgments that, in fact, they were al Qaeda and that they were a proper target. And they make those judgments based on behavior, based on various types of equipment in information that they have developed over a sustained period now of weeks and weeks and weeks.
A decision was made to fire the Hellfire missile. It was fired. It apparently hit three people -- one or more people. There is an investigation underway. Special Forces could not get up there because of the weather. They went up there. They cleared away a large diameter area of snow, anywhere from a foot to two feet of snow, and picked up a great deal of material from the site, and they are in the process of checking into that, and they're also interviewing people in the region.
Now, someone has said that these people were not what the people managing the Predator believed them to be. We'll just have to find out. There's not much more anyone could add, except there's that one version and there's the other version.
Q: Was there any additional intelligence that led to this site to begin with that may have contributed to the perception that these were al Qaeda?
Rumsfeld: These are people who have been doing this now for a good many weeks. And they monitor sites, and they go back to sites where they know al Qaeda have been. And they check things out. And they are honorable, fine people doing the best that's possible to be done. I was not in the control booth. I have not reviewed the -- I have not compared the elements that went into their decisions. I am sure people will do that.
Q: What is your personal confidence that this, in fact, was an appropriate, legitimate target?
Rumsfeld: It's not for me to say. I have great confidence in the people doing it. They're honorable people. They're talented people. They're skillful. They've been doing it for weeks and weeks and weeks now, and they've got a darned good record and I've got a lot of respect for them.
Q: General Myers, I have a quick one on the Predator. There's been a lot of attention on this one strike. Roughly how many of these Predator Hellfires have been fired in the campaign by the CIA? Are we talking in the 40 or 50 range, and one or two have been controversial?
Myers: I don't have -- I don't have that at my fingertips. And probably if I did, we wouldn't talk about how many.
But let me just add a little comment to the earlier question on success here. You know, we said early on that one of the ideas -- and the president has said this, and others, that we wanted to disrupt these operations, and part of disruption is getting them to move. And, you know, I think, at least I have said, if they leave Afghanistan, that's not all bad because they're going to be in their second-favorite place, and they're going to be in a place where they're less comfortable, where they have to spend more resources to buy their security, and so forth.
It has turned out that that is -- that's been true. Some of the folks we've gotten our hands on have been actually through other countries, and we've been fairly successful there. And when the time comes, that will all be released. So it's having the kind of effect, I think, that we want to have.
Q: Two questions about the Predator attack. First of all, yesterday it was described as an appropriate target. Is it still the feeling in this building that it was an appropriate target?
Rumsfeld: As I said, it is from the people I've talked to. The building? I can't speak for the building. But there is no change in opinion on the part of the people who were involved in the process, except for the fact that because people have raised a question about it, that there is an investigation going on, and people, as I say, have gone up there to take a look at it.
Q: Second question. There was a little confusion yesterday. Admiral Stufflebeem said that there was no real-time interaction between the CIA and CENTCOM when this attack was going down, when the CIA was pulling the trigger. And then we saw comments that seemed to contradict that on the wires a little later. Can you bring some clarification to that? How much interaction was there between the DOD and the CIA about this target at the time it was going down?
Rumsfeld: I can't speak to that, except to say that there tends to be a high degree of interaction between CENTCOM and CIA on a whole host of things, and certainly on these matters.
Q: Okay, explain the contradictions we got yesterday --
Myers: I don't know why you got the contradictions because there was close coordination, like there always is. And I don't know why you got the contradiction. I can't explain that.
Q: So General Stufflebeem was incorrect when he said there was no real-time coordination?
Myers: I didn't hear what he said, so I don't know -- I can't say that. And I don't know what he was thinking or the context he said it in. I would just reiterate --
Rumsfeld: He's getting careful too. I like that! (laughter) Way to go, General!
Myers: (laughs) Thank you, sir!
Q: Well, explain what were the facts, if you could.
Myers: Well, again, without divulging too much of how this all works, there is close coordination between what the CIA is doing and what Central Command is doing.
And it just -- it's virtually continuous. And so I don't know what Admiral Stufflebeem said or told you, but -- and that was the case here. I don't know what else there is to say.
Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, on the Predator strike question again, in late November, when people were asking you about the relationship between CIA operations and CENTCOM -- and then it was more about ground operations -- but you said very specifically that General Franks was the man at the steering wheel coordinating or in control of all military operations. Now, with the Predator strikes, you're talking more about an exchange of information, coordination.
So I was wondering if you could clarify the situation of how CIA-military operations are coordinated or in control by CENTCOM.
Rumsfeld: Yeah. That's a good question, and it's hard to answer.
The overwhelming bulk of all activity in Afghanistan since the first U.S. forces went in have been basically under the control of the Central Command. And that's particularly true after the first month. The one exception has been the armed Predators -- I shouldn't say "the one exception." An exception has been the armed Predators, which are CIA-operated.
Q: Why is that -- why is that an exception?
Rumsfeld: It is just a fact. They were operating them before the United States military was involved, and -- the armed Predators -- and doing a good job. And so rather than changing that, we just left it.
Q: Why not plug them into the command and control at CENTCOM? You have three operators at a Predator.
Rumsfeld: It's just a historical fact that they were operating these things over recent years, and they were in Afghanistan prior to the involvement of CENTCOM. And they continued during this period. That's just the way it is.
Q: Could I just get the two of you maybe to free associate a little bit more on that subject? We're seeing a --
Rumsfeld: To do what? (laughter)
Q: Free associate. (laughs) It's a sort of touchy-feely '70s term. (laughter)
Myers: I don't believe I can --
Rumsfeld: You got the -- you got the wrong guys! (laughter)
Myers: I don't think I can do that with you. It's illegal. I -- (laughter)
Q: The general subject matter is there is this growing sort of military role for the CIA, and we have you guys up here every day and can ask questions. But the CIA is obviously -- operates in a lot more shadowy way. People are thinking back and remembering some of the excesses of that agency in Latin America 20, 30 years ago, and I think there's -- there tends to be a growing sense of, hmm, what are getting into here? Could you all talk more philosophically about the dealings between the Pentagon and the CIA, and what the parameters are that you're developing or thinking about for how to manage this new world where the CIA now has its own real military capabilities that are not necessarily under the control of the U.S. military, which has transparency with the American public?
Rumsfeld: I can give you a couple of paragraphs on the subject.
Q: All right. That would be the free association.
Rumsfeld: Is that right?
The relationship between the Defense Department and the CIA today is as good as I've ever seen it: that is to say, in the relationships and the interaction and the connectivity.
We have people involved with things they're doing, and in -- for example, in counterterrorism or in intelligence cells, where we're trying to bring all kinds of intelligence information into one place. They have people involved in things that we're doing in a sense of connecting their capabilities and their assets to what we do.
The concern you're expressing, from a decade or two or three ago, I think is not apt simply because people are sensitive to those things and there's all kinds of congressional consultation, there's all kinds of procedures within the executive branch so that things that the agency is planning to do are well vetted in the appropriate ways before they do them.
I think the general relationship on the ground tends to be that if we're not there, the CIA, obviously, has the reporting relationship straight up through the CIA and we're not involved. To the extent they are there, and we then get involved, there's an early period where they're both there and they're doing somewhat different things, needless to say. And then, at a certain point, the defense element is large enough that it becomes -- things tend to chop over to it and the chain of command goes up through the combatant commander, except for, obviously, things that don't fit within our statutory responsibilities.
Q: I just wanted to ask a real bottom line question. And many apologies for taking you back to Zhawar Kili one last time.
But you mentioned here a couple of times that that incident is now under investigation and cited that the team went up there for that reason.
Rumsfeld: This is to the three individuals. Correct.
Q: That's right. But, of course, the team went up there when people from this podium were saying it was definitely what you believed to be senior al Qaeda and you were simply going there to find out which al Qaeda you killed. Not that there -- at that time there were, of course, no at least public allegations that perhaps these people were innocent. So this investigation clearly that you were referring to perhaps has emerged since the team went up there. So what is -- are you --
Rumsfeld: I don't know that.
Q: Are you investigating it? Is the CIA investigating it? Or -- you mentioned --
Rumsfeld: No, I'm not. This -- no. This is something that CENTCOM has decided and done, and properly so.
Q: So what is it that CENTCOM is now investigating in regard to the Zhawar Kili attack?
Rumsfeld: I don't know what the right word is. I know that when a -- I know -- you're correct. There was an interest in getting some positive identification, if that were possible. And second, every time an allegation comes up that seems to have some -- that raises questions that ought to be addressed, then CENTCOM on its own decides that they're going to have people go look at that. And whatever that word is -- some call it, an investigation, others call it something else. But that's what's taking place, is they are going up there doing that.
Q: But that's -- they're -- so CENTCOM -- just to make sure I really understand. CENTCOM is investigating these potential allegations that perhaps these were innocent people. Is that what -- and why is CENTCOM investigating that and not the CIA, since it was their missile and their targeting?
Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know that I said that CIA wasn't.
Q: Could you explain that a little more, and --
Rumsfeld: No. I just don't know what they're doing.
Q: But you do know that CENTCOM's looking into it.
Rumsfeld: I do.
Q: And could you just one more time explain something to me? Does the CIA have the ability, the approval to pull the trigger without coming to the military? Does the CIA have that bottom line authority to pull the trigger without coming to the military?
Rumsfeld: I don't know that I am going to start responding to questions for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Q: Well, have you given -- let me try it the reverse way, then. Has the U.S. military -- I don't know what the right verb is -- given the CIA the approval, the authority, the whatever to pull the trigger without coming to Central Command first?
Rumsfeld: I don't know that it's for us to give that authority. If they have capabilities, they do them, what they wish to do.
Q: So they have the legal -- the legal authority to do things without coming to you?
Rumsfeld: I'm not going to answer what the CIA does. But it's not -- it is not the Pentagon that gives other agencies of government authority.