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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Pentagon Briefing

Aired May 20, 2003 - 14:46   ET

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

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We are on heightened alert here in the United States. Within the half hour, we told you that just recently we have moved from elevated condition, that's yellow, to high condition, that's the color orange.
Our John King live from the White House with more on why this decision was made, and when exactly it will take place -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, CNN is told the official announcement will come within the next hour. This extraordinary decision made at a special meeting of the president's Homeland Security Council here at the White House. This was not a scheduled meeting. It was added to the agenda. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and others on the president's domestic terrorism team asking for a meeting here at the White House and then some time with the president to go over, review, and assess the latest intelligence on the possibility of new terrorist attacks here in the United States.

It was after that meeting and the discussion of that intelligence that the Homeland Security Council recommended to the president that for the fourth time since this color-coded system was adopted that the United States go to orange, high risk of terrorist attack, level here in the United States.

The president, we are told, quickly approved that decision and what is now happening is the notification process across the country. Members of Congress are being told, federal law enforcement agencies are given notice.

It is then passed on to state police, local police and sheriffs, mayors and governors, anyone across the country who has a role in Homeland Security is being told to increase security, especially, we are told, at what the government considers to be soft targets.

All this emphasis in the early days of Homeland Security was on protecting installations like the White House, like the Capitol building. Increasingly, the government fears that the terrorists will target civilians in so-called "soft" locations like convention centers, like hotels, like, perhaps, major sports stadiums. That is the urgent focus we are told, and Kyra, we must stress we are not trying to alarm our viewers. We are reporting a development from the government, and it is a development made, we are told, on intelligence that while it is quite a bit of intelligence coming to the attention of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. They say they have no specific information, no credible information about a specific target, a timing of any attack or even how such an attack would take place, but they do say there has been a significant increase in chatter about the possibility that the terrorists who have struck overseas in recent days, and we have seen that in Saudi Arabia, might well be planning a fresh wave of attacks here in the United States as well.

PHILLIPS: Well, you bring up a valid point there, John. Last time this was elevated from yellow to orange, we didn't see any type of major attacks. Now, in light of what happened in Saudi Arabia, there were some warnings that came out in that area. As we know, we saw the lack of security, we saw what happened, we saw the death that came out of that. So this puts more pressure, I guess maybe you could say, on the United States, possibly, government officials to raise the level and take this, maybe, in a much more serious manner?

KING: President Bush has said from day one since the September 11, 2001 attacks that he would better be safe than sorry, that he will always err on the side of caution when it comes to putting out such notices to the American people. Going from yellow to orange mostly affects state and local officials. They will ask for more police overtime, more patrols in the harbors by the Coast Guard, but also state police and local harbor patrols as well.

More security at key sports installations, whether it be an NBA playoff game coming up tonight or tomorrow or a baseball game in this country. The front line, if you will, are the local police, and the administration says, in many ways, it is sorry to put the extra financial and psychological burden on those front line people in the war on terrorism, but again, when they get enough intelligence, when it crosses a certain threshold, they believe, even if it is not site specific, timing specific, location specific, that they just have to err on the side of caution and raise the level.

PHILLIPS: John, when this has happened before, I've had to do the debates, and I've talked with local leaders, state leaders, law enforcement leaders, and they talk about the strain that this puts on them from personnel, financial situations. You've got to have more cops on the streets, you've got to be guarding certain areas of interest.

Let's talk about just the pressure, the budget pressure that's put on every city when this happens in the United States.

KING: Well, again, Kyra, this is the fourth time we've gone all the way up to orange. Red is the top level, and that means the government has information that an attack is imminent. Orange is the second highest level. The last time was right before, on March 17, St. Patrick's Day 2003, right before the Iraq war. The administration decided there was a sufficient threat that there would be retaliatory attacks that they went up to orange.

What we heard from mayors and governors is that they would comply -- quickly, of course, with the request from the federal government, but that they simply needed more money in the defense authorization to pay for the Iraq war.

There was money to go out to Homeland Security, additional tens of millions of dollars to go out to the states to pay for Homeland Security. Even as the president's tax cut plan is debated in Congress now, many are saying that there needs to be more aid to the states. Now, some of that is general aid, because state budgets are strapped in a struggling economy, but there are many in Congress who say the states and the cities need more for homeland security as well. This decision today, to go back up to orange, this extraordinary decision, will only add volume to that debate that the states and the local governments need more help from Washington to pay for all this.

PHILLIPS: All right. Our John King, we'll continue to follow the breaking news.

Of course, we're expecting possibly to hear more about this at the Pentagon briefing. We are going to take you live as Donald Rumsfeld takes to the podium with Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers. Let's listen in and see if they will comment about this.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: ... return to what one might call the normal pre-war standard. There are difficulties to be sure, but that difficulties exist should not come as a surprise to anyone.

No nation has made the transition from tyranny to a civil society has been immune to the difficulties and challenges of taking that path. As Thomas Jefferson said after our revolution, "We are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a feather bed."

But the fact is, there is some good news coming out of Iraq today. Consider a few examples.

Each day we get reports of problems and also of things that are working. Here are a few of the things that are working.

Education. We're told that in Baghdad an estimated 65 percent of the city's 5.5 million students are back in school.

That number's wrong. It's 65 percent of the students in a city of 5.5 million are back in school. That's the city's population.

UNICEF is distributing school-in-a-box kits to Basra, Umm Qasr, Safwan and Nasiriyah. Each kit contains enough supplies for one school per student per year.

An Iraqi committee of Shiites, Sunnis and other interested groups is being put together to revise the curriculum so schools that once taught really basically obedience to the regime can begin preparing students to live as productive citizens in the society.

Passenger rail services between Baghdad and Basra has resumed. And regular service between Baghdad and Mosul, and Baghdad and Umm Qasr have been restored.

Governance, a new mayor of Kirkuk will be sworn in May 27, and the coalition has helped organize a new town council.

Mosul held its first municipal elections with residents selecting a mayor and 23 delegates to the town council out of more than 200 candidates.

In Baghdad, local courts have been successfully reopened and U.S. soldiers have been asked to testify in some criminal cases involving looting.

The coalition helped organize the first weekly Baghdad city management meeting, involving the various Iraqi ministry representatives and the Baghdad city council.

Throughout the country, civil servants are returning to work, and some 900,000 Iraqi civil servants have been provided emergency payments.

The coalition has begun holding meetings with a group of Iraqi military officers, which provided a list of some 27,000 officers, non- coms, defense ministry civilians and others who may be ready to assist in security activities of various types in the future.

Basic services, USAID's reconstruction team reports that residential electric customers in the north and the south of Iraq have more electric service today than at any time in the past 12 years.

In Basra, Operation Leak Stop began on May 14 with a team of Iraqi plumbers moving through the city and repairing leaks in water pipes, which has been a fairly continuous problem because of the degradation of the infrastructure.

In Kirkuk, 13 of 16 primary health care centers and 46 of 56 health care facilities are now operational.

In Baghdad, the coalition is employing some 1,500 Iraqis to remove trash and clean overflowing sewage in the neighborhood of Throra (ph), formerly known as Saddam City, and clean up and refurbish the ministry of justice.

The Oil-for-Food distribution system has been reactivated in Umm Qasr, and the coalition is working to restart it through other portions of the country.

On communications. The coalition has established the Iraqi media network, which last week began broadcasting four hours of programming each night.

Among the first broadcasts was a report on municipal elections in Mosul, including interviews with the candidates, coverage of the resumption of train services to Baghdad.

In Najaf, a local paper has begin publication with the help of the coalition civil affairs teams. Also, a selection of Arab and foreign newspapers and magazines are on newsstands for the first time in 20 years.

Security. In Baghdad, some 4,500 Iraqi police are now on duty, and reports of looting, curfew violations and gunfire are decreasing.

In Nasiriyah, local police are now armed and the force has grown from 350 to over 600.

On Daiwaniyah (ph), 277 Iraqi police officers have been hired, and the coalition is installing 911 emergency phone lines.

Antiquities. There now appears to be growing evidence that the theft at the museum was most likely an inside job, and only an estimated 38 items seem to be currently confirmed as still missing.

The point is this: There are problems, there are challenges in Iraq, let there be no doubt about that, but notwithstanding the challenges to be faced, conditions in Iraq are improving and as more countries join the coalition the situation should continue to improve in the days and weeks ahead.

General Myers?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I'd like to begin by extending our sincere condolences to the families of the Marines who were killed in the helicopter accident, and the soldier that was killed in a vehicle accident yesterday in Iraq.

We continue to conduct broad-ranging security and stability operations and to support the increasingly effective humanitarian operations in Iraq, as the secretary said.

We currently have some 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Approximately one-third of those forces are in and around the greater Baghdad area.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: We're reacting to the slide.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

RUMSFELD: There you are. Best cartoon of the year. Excuse me.

MYERS: That's good and unexpected. Boy, that was asymmetric warfare. I guess I didn't have a need to know.

Approximately one-third of those forces are in and around the greater Baghdad area. And we continue to root out residual pockets of resistance from paramilitary forces and Baath Party personnel.

Additionally, our forces conduct as many as 1,000 separate patrols daily, as well as provide protection to several hundred fixed sites that include internal power, water, fuel, hospitals and food sites.

We also guard some prisons, evaluate potential WMD sites and protect cultural sites from looting.

Yesterday, number 50 on the black list, the two of clubs in the deck of cards, turned himself over to U.S. forces. That brings to 24 the number of most wanted members of Saddam regime's that we now have in custody.

So while a situation Iraq is becoming more stables, as the secretary said, and that is happening by the day, it is still a dangerous place where there is much work to be done and many challenges ahead.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

RUMSFELD: Before we do, I'd like to say that the famous Robert Duvall is sitting the back row here. He's helped out with USOs. And he's visited hospitals to visit the troops.

And we appreciate your help and thank you for what you do. We appreciate that.

(APPLAUSE)

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, the United States has apparently raised its anti-terror threat level to threat level orange now because of...

RUMSFELD: It has or is going to or what did you say?

QUESTION: Is going to, is in the process of doing it, sir. Was wondering if the military will also at the same time raise your own threat level, perhaps to DEFCON Delta? And will you distribute anti- aircraft missiles around Washington as you have in recent times when you've raised the level to orange?

RUMSFELD: You know as well as I do...

(CROSSTALK)

RUMSFELD: You know as well as I do that the combatant commanders around the world have the responsibility for managing threat conditions in their areas and force protection conditions, and we do in the Capital region, and we don't announce that. We do things on not a random basis, remember, but a regular basis, and from time to time we change force protection levels and threat levels, depending on intelligence or depending on other things, and we don't announce it.

QUESTION: Without getting into details, could you at least tell us whether or not you plan on increasing the level of...

RUMSFELD: I could, but I shan't.

QUESTION: Follow up please? Are you considering increasing or restoring the combat air patrols over selected U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C. and New York, during this...

RUMSFELD: That's the same question. Same answer.

QUESTION: General Myers, this week, sir, the Senate and the House are voting on the next Defense spending bill. Among the provisions are three things requested by the Bush administration. One would remove the ban on the development of so-called battlefield nuclear weapons, five kilotons or less. Secretary Rumsfeld and others have made clear the need for different bunker-busting bombs, but this would be more of a battlefield weapon. And I have a two-part question on that.

One, could you be a little bit more specific in the possible need for such a weapon?

And two, as a man in uniform yourself, the thoughts that go through your commander's mind of using such a weapon when there are troops so nearby.

MYERS: Sure. Be happy to do that.

First, I think the characterization is very, very important. There has been law that prohibits even the study of weapons, nuclear weapons that could penetrate deep and buried targets.

QUESTION: I'm not talking about the bunker buster, sir, I'm talking about the -- that's the earth penetrator...

MYERS: Right.

QUESTION: ... the robust earth penetrator. I'm referring to removing the Spratt ban on development of five kiloton or less nuclear weapons for us on the battlefield. In other words, the Fulda Gap scenario where thousands of people come through. Those are two separate issues...

MYERS: OK.

QUESTION: ... and I'm sorry if I was confused in my question.

MYERS: No, I was confused. And I can address the former; I can't address the latter.

QUESTION: The Spratt. You can't address...

MYERS: Right. No.

QUESTION: OK, well perhaps, Secretary Rumsfeld, you could address that one then. And what need would you envision?

RUMSFELD: The only thing we've done, that I know of, is that we have proposed that the absolute ban on the study of a deep earth penetrator has been removed from the bill at our instance because we do intend to study a variety of types of deeper penetrators for a very good reason.

QUESTION: Sir, I'm sorry to interrupt, but again, I'm very positive because I have only covered the Pentagon a few months and I know you are a detail man, sir, and the fact is that the seminar service committee and the House, there are two separate provisions. One is for the continued spending of $15.5 million a year to pursue the robots penetrator, you know, with a costly nuclear payload. The second is through...

RUMSFELD: To pursue -- I think it's to study. It's not to develop, it's not to deploy, its not to use, it's to study.

QUESTION: To study the penetrator, but what I'm referring to, sir, is the vote in the Senate committee and the legislation that would remove the current ban -- so called the Spratt ban after Congressman Spratt -- that would restrict the testing and development of study of weapons, nuclear weapons...

RUMSFELD: And development of study, what does that mean?

QUESTION: Sir, the study and possible development of weapons of five kiloton or less for use on the battlefield, not a Bunker Buster, sir, but a tactical battlefield weapon. That's what...

RUMSFELD: I think you're leaping to a conclusion as to what a study would produce. I am aware of that, and the proposal that we've made is precisely what I said, it is to permit the study of less than five kiloton weapons. That is a fact.

QUESTION: OK, what would that kind of weapon possible in the arsenal be used for?

RUMSFELD: We don't know, that's why we want to study it. And we are kind of inclined to think that the idea that we should not be allowed to study such a weapon is not a good idea. We think it -- for one thing, and then I'll ask Dick to comment on the possible use against, for example, chemical or biological storage areas where a conventional weapon could have a disastrous affect and a low-yield nuclear weapon conceivably could have an affect that would mitigate some of the problems with a conventional weapon.

It's important to appreciate that to the extent the United States is prohibited from studying the use of such weapons, for example, for a deep earth penetrator, the effect in the world is that it tells the world that they're wise to invest in going underground. And that's not a good thing from our standpoint.

You want to comment on that?

(CROSSTALK)

MYERS: Let me just add to that. That, as the secretary said, study is needed here because for a couple of things. The threat in many cases is going deep underground. I'm not going to just focus on the penetrator, but that's where the threat's going.

The threat is also going to chemical, biological and weapons. And we know that, there's a greater and greater proliferation.

And so, we've got to study the effects of how you might deal with these weapons; conventional weapons, as the secretary said. If you had chemical munitions or biological munitions and you wanted to destroy them, in some cases, do nothing more than just spread the biological or the chemical weapons creating a larger than you had when it would be contained.

Nuclear weapons can have some effect on those. In terms of anthrax, it's said that gamma rays can, you know, destroy the anthrax spores, which is something we need to look at. And in chemical weapons, of course, the heat can destroy the chemical compounds and not develop that plume that conventional weapons might do that would then drift and perhaps bring others in harm's way.

So this is exactly what the secretary said. It's a study. It seems like a very prudent thing to do. It has nothing to do with the development or the fielding or even the employment of these types of weapons. But the study seems like a prudent thing to do.

RUMSFELD: I don't want to dwell on this, but that it is terribly important that people not hype this and create misimpressions in the public about it by misusing words or being imprecisive in the use of words and saying things like pursue, which you did. We should be very precise as what it is.

It is a study. It is nothing more and nothing less. And it is not pursuing. And it is not developing. It is not building. It is not manufacturing. And it's not deploying. And it is not using.

QUESTION: Well, why study something if you're not at least considering...

RUMSFELD: I can't believe you would say that. You study things to learn.

QUESTION: If I can finish, though.

RUMSFELD: You study to learn.

QUESTION: But it seems a bit disingenuous to say this is only a study.

RUMSFELD: That's exactly what it is.

QUESTION: And it's not leading to anything else.

RUMSFELD: It may or may not. People study things all the time that don't lead to things.

QUESTION: But when you study something the implication is that you're interested in it and you'd like to see what the potential is.

RUMSFELD: That's true, and we're doing that for a variety of things for deep earth penetrators.

QUESTION: That lead to some of these other steps that you're urging us not to, now, and why else would you have a study except to possibly give you information that would lead you to make decisions that possibly might, and you just outlined some reasons why nuclear weapons may have a place.

RUMSFELD: I'll answer your question. You make a study for a very simple reason: to learn whether you do believe that that is something that's needed, something that would be useful. And we're going to look at a variety of different ways, conceivably, to develop the ability to reach a deeply buried target. That's what you do things, you study things, that's what you do in the pharmaceutical business, that's what you do in the defense business, that's what you do in all, and many of the things you study you never pursue.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, may I turn to the Philippines for a moment? Yesterday, as you know, the president announced...

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