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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Pentagon Briefing

Aired October 2, 2003 - 13:31   ET

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

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Live to the Pentagon now. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stepping up to the mic, about to give the briefing for the day. Let's listen in.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECY. OF STATE: One after another they spoke enthusiastically about the progress that they had witnessed with their own eyes, progress which several of them emphasized was a surprise to them and was notably different from their assessment of the reports that they received in the media.

I should add that the next day we were all struck by the total absence of coverage of that hearing and the favorable reports that these six or seven members brought back and articulated in the hearing.

I saw nothing in any of the four or five papers that I read or on any of the television shows which I occasionally have on. So I guess good news is not news.

The message we delivered to the Congress is that the funds the president requested are vital to our success in the global war on terror and to our ability to finish the job in Iraq and Afghanistan so that we're able to bring the U.S. forces back.

Of the $87 billion he requested, almost $66 billion, or 75 percent, is for the troops. The remaining $21 billion is to help Afghanistan and Iraq secure their nations' freedom.

In Iraq, the president has requested $15 billion to speed repairs on Iraq's starved infrastructure and $5 billion to help the Iraqis assume responsibility for the security of their country.

RUMSFELD: Some have properly asked why the American taxpayers should pay $20 billion to train Iraqis to provide for their own security in that country and to repair Iraqi infrastructure. It's a fair question.

The answer is, so that Iraqis can take responsibility for their own security, and for the reconstruction of their own country as quickly as possible, and U.S. forces and coalition forces can turn that responsibility over to the Iraqis.

The $20 billion the president requested is not intended to cover all of Iraq's needs. The bulk of the funds for Iraq's reconstruction will come from Iraqis -- from oil revenues, recovered assets, international trade, direct foreign investment -- as well as some contributions we've already received and hope to receive from the international community.

But today Iraq is not generating anywhere near enough income to provide for its own security or to get on a path of self-reliance without some help.

The funds the president has requested are intended to help Iraq begin generating income, attract foreign investment and provide the security in that country, so that they can rebuild their own country.

The investments the president is requesting are a critical element in the coalition strategy. The sooner the Iraqis can defend their own people and generate revenue, the sooner they will be self- reliant and not dependent on either foreign troops or international assistance.

The Marshall Plan after World War II cost roughly $90 billion in today's dollars. It helped transform a region that has been a source of war and instability for decades, and turn it into a place of peace, prosperity and a source of mutually beneficial trade for the American people.

If we succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is conceivable they can also become places of peace and prosperity and friends and allies in the battle for freedom and moderation in that part of the world.

That's the goal. That's why the funds for DOD and the funds for the Coalition Provisional Authority are inextricably linked.

General Myers?

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHRM., JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

And good afternoon, everybody.

Like the secretary mentioned, the supplemental is a vital part of our future success in Iraq. And every piece of this supplemental is important to the security of Iraq. Every piece adds to the security of Iraq.

Today is D-plus 198 in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

MYERS: And while there is no question we have faced some challenges, and we've got some ahead of us, we have really achieved numerous successes, and expect the situation to continue to improve.

I've spoken to many different forums over the last six or seven months, explaining that we're in this for the long haul, and that we have dedicated young men and women doing an enormous job over there, and that we'll get the job done.

It's been a while since I've been out here, so I thought what I'd do is step through a few of the successes just to say where we've been. In terms of electricity, the task force Restore Iraq Electricity has recently been established. It's a group of military engineers deployed with the sole purpose of helping the Iraq people get their lives back to normal. On September 30th, power output in Iraq increased to 3,900 megawatts, compared to 3,300 megawatts at the end of August.

In the information front, the Iraqi people now have a choice of news programs. Our presence in Iraq has fostered an environment with over 160 newspapers now available. Some of the folks that have just visited from Congress showed us some of those newspapers the other day. Radio and TV stations are continuing to increase, and a number of trained professionals are arriving in Iraq to help assist in that particular project.

In terms of intelligence or valuable tips, Iraqi citizens are turning in former regime loyalists who are working against the future of Iraq. And there is a definite rise in those willing to come forward with information on subversive activities.

Universities, schools are opening all across Iraq, and Iraqi women now have free access to all university courses for the first time.

Hospitals, medical care is improving. Coalition forces have helped distribute medical supplies throughout the country, and now every hospital in Baghdad is open.

In terms of patrols, just yesterday, two anti-coalition individuals were caught in the Baghdad area planning to fire a mortar. Our snipers wounded these individuals, and then followed them to their compound.

A search of that compound and the neighborhood resulted in finding those individuals, along with 12 other Iraqis. And while patrolling these side streets, they found two trucks. One truck was filled with 800 57-millimeter rockets, and the other truck with 750 rockets.

And as they began to search further, an apparent detonating device was found as well. The explosive ordnance teams that were there diagnosed these trucks, of course, as potential bombs that were in a pre-assembly state. And another two individuals nearby were apprehended for interrogation as well.

Telephones: The first call from Mosul to Baghdad was made yesterday using the restored fiber-optic phone line network.

MYERS: In terms of protecting Iraqi borders, operations to protect the borders have been ongoing for some time in order to prevent foreign fighters from coming into Iraq from the neighboring countries. And recently, in just the last several weeks, we've made big strides, particularly on the western border.

In terms of energy and looting and sabotage, in conjunction with coalition forces, Iraqis are protecting the Iraqi oil infrastructure. The coalition's operation called Power Crude has arrested smugglers and confiscated contraband and detained ships with illegal cargo.

Attacks on the infrastructure do continue and our efforts will continue as well to stop them.

In terms of political recognition, the governing council is now recognized with seats in the Arab League and in OPEC.

On the religious freedom front, everyone in Iraq is free to openly practice their own religious beliefs regardless of their faith or their sect.

And in terms of security, as the secretary said, there are over 49,000 Iraqi police on duty throughout Iraq. There are over 12,000 in the facility protection service and the civil defense corps and new Iraqi army and the border guards. All are training to prepare themselves for service and there's more in the pipeline. Iraq is now the second-largest member of the coalition.

All of this, to me, is real progress. However, we're still a nation at war. Our soldiers continue to make the ultimate sacrifice, as well as those who are wounded in action, and our thoughts always go out with them and with their families.

And we do have hard challenges ahead of us. This is not to say that there are not going to be many more hard and tough times. But we do have fantastic men and women, both civilians and in uniform, over there, doing truly heroic and herculean work.

And with that, we'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, without going into details of the investigations into the three Gitmo workers who have been arrested, are you concerned that there's a broad and concerted effort by other countries and perhaps Muslim or terrorist groups to break security at Gitmo? And are any new efforts being made to recruit Arabic translators in the military as a result of this?

RUMSFELD: As you suggested in your question, investigations are under way and it's not appropriate for me to discuss them.

Historically, we know that when you are in a war and you have enemies, that they are going to seek to find ways to advantage themselves and disadvantage you. It's been so throughout history. So it ought not to be any great surprise that from time to time there will be instances where this occurs.

Dick, you may want to comment on that.

MYERS: And, obviously, we had, I'll just say, things in place -- counterintelligence capabilities in place to try to prevent this.

MYERS: We have vetting processes and so forth. And I think the fact that some people have been apprehended and alleged with these very serious crimes is an indication of some of the good news.

We also, clearly, will look at all our procedures for vetting. SOUTHCOM has a team down there now because of this to look at the various aspects of that.

But it should not be a surprise and in a time of war, that we've -- that people try to infiltrate this way and it wasn't.

QUESTION: Apparently, there is an extreme shortage of Arabic speakers in the U.S. military. Are you moving to address that even more rapidly now?

MYERS: We were well before this happened. There is a -- it's a language skill that has been in short supply, certainly -- probably not just the military, but throughout a lot of government agencies. And we've got to do everything we can do to find people to help.

And I -- you know, as I've mentioned before, in my last trip to Iraq, there were those two Iraqi-American women from Michigan who were over there to help fulfill that function, as -- essentially, as volunteers who left their families, left their jobs, and went to be with one of our battalions. So we're looking for all sorts of ways to fill that gap.

QUESTION: Can both of you absolutely assure Arab and Muslim members of the U.S. military that they are now not being profiled in any way?

And given the fact that you both say this is not a surprise, nonetheless the first arrest occurred many months ago in July. The most recent arrest this month. So clearly, the situation has been going on for some time. I'm wondering how it is then that you still have confidence in the task force commander down there and why you haven't relieved him or others of duty.

RUMSFELD: When something like this occurs, two things happen. General Myers has mentioned both.

One is that there are investigations taking place of individuals who are alleged to have been engaged in activities that are other than are proper.

And the second is that one reviews their procedures to determine how things are being done, and is it possible to do them in ways that you can totally prevent any type of an individual achieving advantages that we don't want them to have, which is very difficult to do historically.

RUMSFELD: There always seems to be something that happens.

But it is something that concerns us, it's something that is being reviewed, the procedures, and that's the proper way to do it.

I think raising the question you did about profiling is not a useful thing to do. I mean, the fact of the matter is that there are a variety of vetting procedures, and people who happen to be of one religion -- I don't think one has to assume that they have a monopoly on this type of activity. Plenty of people have done things that are from every conceivable religion in this country, and so too people in and out of the service. So I think that that would not be a useful way to approach it.

QUESTION: Why is it that you still have confidence in the commander there? Why have you not relieved him of duty?

RUMSFELD: I don't know how else I could -- how I could be clearer. What they are doing is reviewing the procedures to determine are there ways that we can do this in a better way. That's what we always do. We learn from experience and you have lessons learned.

The implication that every time something happens in the world you should fire somebody is, kind of, a mindless approach, it seems to me, the implication of it.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, David Kay reportedly is telling closed- door sessions of the Congress today that it's possible that Saddam Hussein did not have chemical nor bacteriological weapons when U.S. forces invaded; that he may have tried to pull a huge bluff to try and stall our forces. Is that true? And do you feel the same way?

RUMSFELD: I don't know that David Kay is saying that.

Next question?

QUESTION: How do you feel about it? Is it a bluff?

RUMSFELD: Oh, I've answered that question 15 times. You know what the answer is.

David Kay is proceeding in an orderly way. I'll take it from the top, if you want. He has a large -- hundreds of people working on this activity. He is reporting through the Central Intelligence Agency. He is, for the first time, back for an interim discussion with the members of the Intelligence Committee.

He's presented a report that I've got up there, but have not had a chance to read, nor have I talked to anybody who's had a chance to read it. And he undoubtedly is answering questions to the best of his ability to the appropriate committees of the Congress. And we'll see what happens.

QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on one of the good news stories out of Iraq that I've seen in several newspapers. I'll refresh your memory. It was in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Reuters new service and USA Today, among others.

It's the story that General Pace and others have talked about how well the training is going to go for the new Iraqi army. In fact, it's on track to accelerate the training of its troops well ahead of time. The number, I think, is reportedly 40,000, but you all could correct me on that.

What I'm interested in knowing, sir, is that I know the training -- the type of soldier the Iraqi will be is going to be different than the American soldier...

RUMSFELD: And different than the last Iraqi soldier. QUESTION: One would hope.

But the 40,000 figure in a year or so, training, is far greater than, say, the amount of soldiers that the U.S. military trains every year for army combat-type of operations. So could you explain to me a little bit how you train 20,000 here -- again, I know, highly trained soldiers here -- compared to 40,000 in a year and what challenges or what opportunities that may present?

RUMSFELD: There are a lot of challenges. And I think that one ought not to paint a picture that is all a shiny brick road, or yellow brick road, into a wonderful future.

It's hard. First of all, the vetting problem is a difficult one. One has to go through an intake process, where you gather these people. Then you have to vet them and determine how do you feel about them. Then you have to assess them as to their capabilities, current capabilities, prior to any training.

And a lot of them have served in the military. Most of them were draftees.

We're doing that not just for the army, we're doing it for the police, we're doing it for the civil defense, we're doing it for site protection and we're doing it for the border patrol.

The progress -- and in each case we're going to end up with people, some people that shouldn't be there. And what you're going to have to do at that stage is clear them out.

And you're going to end up with a whole range of people who have different levels of skills. And the people who are doing the training are going to have to figure out a way to get some of them into more advanced capability, and some of them into less advanced capability, in which case, that's fine; they end up doing things that are appropriate to each level of skill. And I think that one size is not going to fit all here.

QUESTION: Is that the training, sir?

RUMSFELD: That's, yes, indeed. Yes.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary?

RUMSFELD: Go ahead.

MYERS: Emphasize ...

QUESTION: The figure is 40,000?

MYERS: It is 40,000 by next summer.

RUMSFELD: That's a target goal.

MYERS: That's our target goal.

RUMSFELD: It's not accomplished.

MYERS: And it's not accomplished yet.

And what the secretary said, the point that I would like to emphasize is that for the most part these are people that have had some military training. So we're not starting at a zero baseline. And that's why we can bring so many on-line so quickly.

QUESTION: But they won't be the type of training that, say, our U.S. Army soldier will be receiving?

MYERS: Well, in many case, it's going to be like that. They'll -- we think -- we'll have to ask General Abizaid, but I think next summer, when these folks come online, they'll be like the Afghan national army.

Now, there we started with a much different baseline, and those people are already -- over 5,000, are already in combat with our forces. And they have -- if you ask our forces, how do they do, they don't just say, "They're doing well," they say, "They're doing very, very well." And they're respected by their Afghan people.

So it's going to be -- you know, these people start -- the Iraqis start with this basic military training. They know how to handle rifles, they know the basic things. And we can take them the rest of the way.

They're going to be pretty -- you know, they're going to be reasonably effective right out of the chute, will be my guess.

RUMSFELD: There's no shortage of ammunition.

MYERS: Or rifles.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, I wonder, the European Union has announced that its members combined would be prepared to contribute about $234 million to Iraqi reconstruction. That's peanuts compared to what the United States is contributing and to the need, as assessed by the World Bank. And I just wondered, are you disappointed in that, surprised by it, and what does it say about the possibilities at the donors' conference?

RUMSFELD: I'm not disappointed and I'm not surprised, and I think it says very little about the future.

I'm not involved in the fund-raising particularly. Dr. Zakheim does a good deal of assisting Treasury and State, which are the lead agencies in this.

I've heard people characterize that as a EU willingness to step up to the plate, and I don't call $200-plus million chicken feed, as you do, but maybe you come from somewhere other than Chicago.

Second, the EU countries will individually contribute. And I suppose one could then see if EU as an entity decides to give more, and then someday you'll be able to add it all up and see what did the EU countries give, what did EU give at the outset, what did EU give later, and then we'll have some way to judge it. And then you can decide whether or not it's chicken feed.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, George Will today in his column argues that, "Mature Americans," he says, "understand that to govern is to choose always on imperfect information." And he says that, "Americans expect trustworthiness from their leaders, but not necessarily infallibility."

And he poses a question, which I'd like to pose to you, to wit, "Why is it so difficult," he writes, "for the Bush administration to candidly acknowledge that much pre-war intelligence about weapons of mass destruction is wrong?"

RUMSFELD: Well, I didn't see the article. But I don't know that it is hard. I would think it might be premature.

And I think, furthermore, that assessing intelligence with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight is, kind of, a parlor game around this town. And my impression is we don't have 20/20 hindsight at the present time.

And I suppose how you would assess the intelligence community's product would depend on what your expectation level was. And for those who have been around intelligence for a good long period of time and looked at the products, and critiqued them and evaluated them, and then gone back and looked to see after the fact how did they do -- I've never seen anything that was perfect. It just doesn't happen that way.

It is a community-wide assessment that is done. People have a chance in that assessment, openly, to critique it and comment on it and take a footnote and say, "I don't agree with that." And we've seen many of those publicized as these things have become public.

And then the collective judgment with the footnote, saying, "I don't agree with that," end up getting circulated. And it is off of that that policymakers use their judgment as you suggest, the article suggests.

Now, David Kay tells us he has not completed his work. So with respect to the WMD portion of the intel, which I don't know that's what the column referred to -- did it?

MYERS: Talking about the weapons of mass destruction.

RUMSFELD: Weapons of mass destruction, OK.

It seems to me that until we get -- I don't know what it is, 1,200 people out there in the ISG?

MYERS: Roughly...

RUMSFELD: Twelve hundred people, at considerable expense, out there doing their job, and they've come back to us with some sort of interim report, which as I say, I have not yet read -- but they have a lot of work left to do, they have a lot of people left to interrogate, they have a lot of leads still to worry through, they have a number of suspect sites that they have not yet visited -- it's quite low at this stage, but there are still a few.

And I don't think the administration is having trouble coming to conclusions. I think that -- what I've said I believe.

We'll all know -- we'll all know exactly what that group finds. The best information available will be made available to the president, to the administration, to the Congress and to the country. And trying to, you know, make an early decision on it, it seems to me would be not something that I'd have the confidence in doing.

And I also am slow to judge on something like that. There's an awful lot of wonderful people in the intelligence community who do a darn good job. There have been a number of attacks on this country and neighboring countries and friendly countries that have been stopped.

RUMSFELD: There have been a lot of good things that have come out of intelligence gathering. You ask anybody who deals with intelligence how do you feel about it and they're going to wring their hands and say, "Well, it's not as much as I wish." And you go to talk to a commander on the ground and he says, "Oh, I need more actionable intelligence." I've felt that way. Dick's felt that way.

But for someone to, you know, leap to a conclusion, that it's time to critique the intelligence community on that subject I think is premature.

QUESTION: Well, accepting your -- you know, that perfection is the enemy of the good, isn't the administration's credibility suffering, though, because it doesn't appear at this point that the intelligence was off the mark by a little bit but more likely that it's off by a mile?

RUMSFELD: Well, how can one answer that, other than to say it's not clear that it was off by a little bit or a mile at this stage? That's yet to be seen.

If it is, off by a lot, that will be unfortunate, and then we'll know that. But why should someone think that it's -- suddenly today, October 2nd, is the time we should bring down final judgment on this, when we know for a fact we've got 1,200 people out there working in the heat, in very difficult conditions, interviewing and interrogating a pile of people, chasing down leads and suspect sites? It seems to me it wouldn't be a responsible position.

Someone outside of government can opine that way. But someone inside of government has a responsibility, I think, to the people to try to do it in an orderly way.

Dick, do you want to... MYERS: Exactly right. And David Kay and his group have been working, I think, three months. Saddam Hussein has worked over a decade to deny and deceive the U.N. And, again, this is one of those things I think we ought to make sure what we're saying. And it's going to take time.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you, based on what you know today, still believe that Iraq possessed chemical or biological weapons at the start of the war?

RUMSFELD: Let me put it this way. I read the intelligence. The prior administration read the intelligence. Secretary Powell read the intelligence. The president read the intelligence. So you have two successive administrations.

The people at the U.N. read a great deal of the intelligence. There was no debate as to whether or not Saddam Hussein had these programs under way in the U.N. The only debate in the U.N. was whether or not you should wait longer and allow another resolution before deciding that the inspectors weren't finding it.

Now, is it possible that all of those people are wrong? The implication of your questions are that that's possible.

Will we know more soon? Yes, we'll know more soon.

I have not seen anything that leads me to believe that the intelligence that I relied on is necessarily, in the aggregate, inaccurate.

I expect there to be considerable variations between what the intel suggested and what is eventually found on the ground. That's been true with intelligence since man began trying to gather intelligence.

But I am -- I believed it then. I believe it now. We'll all know in good time. And it seems to me that that's the way we should walk at this thing.

QUESTION: General, you said in your opening remarks that progress was being made in stemming the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, especially from the West.

Earlier this week Deputy Secretary of State Armitage talked about foreign fighters coming into Iraq through Syria. To what extent are these foreign fighters coming into Iraq through Syria? Is there any evidence that the Syrian government is in any way supporting them? And is there evidence of terrorist training camps inside Syria whether supported by that government or not?

MYERS: Some of that gets into sensitive intelligence that I can't go into. But I think -- and I didn't hear Secretary Armitage's remarks. So let me start from there.

But I think we have said before that we know that foreign fighters come in through Syria. MYERS: How much the Syrian government's involved in that is less known, and we see in some cases some steps taken by Syria to stop this at the border and other cases we don't. So it's an uneven picture.

But there's been a lot of attention paid to the border recently from the Iraqi side by coalition forces and by Iraqis. And that's what I was referring to. We think we're in a much better position today than we were just two or three weeks ago.

PHILLIPS: Joint chiefs of staff Richard Meyers, side by side with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, talking post-war Iraq.

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