13 September 2001
Transcript: Rumsfeld Says Terrorist Attacks Show "a New Battlefield"
(Secretary briefs reporters at Pentagon September 12) (1740)
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says that with the September 11
terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, "we are seeing the
definition of a new battlefield ... a different kind of conflict."
Speaking with reporters at the Pentagon September 12, Rumsfeld said
that a decision on responding to the attacks "will require a sustained
and broadly based effort. And I don't think that people ought to judge
outcomes until a sufficient time is passed to address what is clearly
a very serious problem for the world."
The secretary urged U.S. government employees to exercise extreme
caution in the handling of all classified information. "When people
deal with intelligence information and make it available to people who
are not cleared for that classified information, the effect is to
reduce the chances that the United States government has to track down
and deal with the people who have perpetrated the attacks on the
United States and killed so many Americans," he said.
Rumsfeld said that "from everything we know," the estimate on the
number of casualties from the attack on the Pentagon that's being
reported in the press "is considerably [too] high, and we certainly
pray that that's the case."
Following is the transcript of Rumsfeld's news briefing:
NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense
DoD News Briefing
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
Wednesday, September 12, 2001 - 3:25 p.m. EDT
Rumsfeld: Good afternoon.
I have taped a message to the people in the defense establishment
across the world, which I understand is going to be available shortly.
I'm en route over to another meeting in the White House in the next
few minutes, so I thought I'd just stop down and make two or three
First, we currently believe and are certainly hopeful that the number
of casualties being reported in the press is high. As you know from
your own observation out there, the work is still going forward, and
we won't know for some time precise numbers. But from everything that
we currently know, the estimate that's been widely reported is
considerably high, and we certainly pray that that's the case.
Second, I do want to again express our sympathy to the families and
friends and colleagues of all those who have been harmed by this
attack on our country.
Also, we are, needless to say, deeply grateful to the many units from
all over this area that are out there and have been out there for more
that 24 hours -- firemen and ambulances and different teams and squads
of individuals who are doing a very professional job for our country.
We are, in a sense, seeing the definition of a new battlefield in the
world, a 20th -- 21st century battlefield, and it is a different kind
of conflict. It is something that is not unique to this century, to be
sure, but it is -- given our geography and given our circumstance, it
is, in a major sense, new for this country.
Finally, I'd like to say a word or two to the men and women in the
defense establishment, most of whom deal with classified information.
Since the end of the Cold War, there's been a relaxation of tension,
and the -- it's had a lot of effects. It's led to proliferation. It's
led to the movement towards asymmetrical threats, as opposed to more
One of the other effects has been it has had an effect on how people
handle classified information. And it seems to me that it's important
to underline that when people deal with intelligence information and
make it available to people who are not cleared for that classified
information, the effect is to reduce the chances that the United
States government has to track down and deal with the people who have
perpetrated the attacks on the United States and killed so many
Second, when classified information dealing with operations is
provided to people who are not cleared for that classified
information, the inevitable effect is that the lives of men and women
in uniform are put at risk because they are the ones who will be
carrying out those prospective operations.
And I -- this is a message really for all the men and women in the
United States government who have access to classified information. It
seems to me that when they see or learn of someone who is handling
classified information in a way that is going to put the lives of the
men and women in uniform at risk, they ought to register exactly what
kind of a person that is; it's a person who's willing to violate
federal criminal statutes, and willing to frustrate our efforts to
track down and deal with terrorists, and willing to reveal information
that could cause the lives of men and women in uniform.
I think it's time for all who deal with that information to treat it
with the care and respect that it merits.
I'd be happy to respond to a few questions.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary?
Rumsfeld: Yes, Bob?
Q: The causality figure you referred to I assume is the 800 number
that was provided by the Arlington County Fire Department.
A: It is.
Q: And you say it's considerably high. We've heard from the military
A: I said I hope and pray that it is.
Q: The military services -- information from the military services
indicates that it may be more in the neighborhood of 100 to 150. Is
that closer to reality? Or can you give some sort of guidance?
A: We just won't know until we finish the work. The problem with
trying to do roster checks with units, it may not include people that
were connected with the heliport, it may not include people --
contractor people, it may not include watchmen, it may not include
work people who were working in the area. So it is folly to try to
pretend that there's a number before there's a number. There is not a
number. Nor have we pinned down precisely how many people were in the
aircraft who would also be in that general area.
Q: Mr. Secretary, there are some in the Middle East who are saying
that the United States does not have the belly to do the kind of
response to this attack on the United States, that this
administration, the previous administration don't have it to go after
them in the kind of way that they have to be gone after. Without any
specifics whatsoever, help us with the attitude that should go into
A: Well, I guess time will tell. My -- I guess I'm kind of
old-fashioned. I'm inclined to think that if you're going to cock it,
you throw it, and you don't talk about it a lot. So my instinct is
that what you do, you should go about your business and do what you
think you have to do. I think anyone who thinks it's easy is wrong. I
think that it will require a sustained and broadly based effort. And I
don't think that people ought to judge outcomes until a sufficient
time is passed to address what is clearly a very serious problem for
the world. And it's not restricted to a single entity, state or
non-state entity. It is an attack on a way of life.
The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize. It is to alter behavior. It
is to force people who believe in freedom to be less free by altering
their behavior and redressing a balance between freedom and security.
Anyone who's ever been in a war zone, as I know most of you have, you
know that when you walk out of a building you don't walk out with your
head high whistling, you look around the corner and see what's out
there. And that's not the way Americans live, and it's not the way we
want to live.
Q: Mr. Secretary, we're getting word from reporters at the White House
quoting Ari Fleischer about the target of the 757 was actually the
White House, and also Air Force One was targeted. Can you shed any -
A: I'll leave that to the White House. I'll leave that to the White
Q: Mr. Secretary, your comments on the handling of classified
information, does that -- are you suggesting that it's time to move to
a more secretive government in which there's less transparency about
what it is you're doing? And how does that square with the goal of
openness that reassures both our friends and foes around the world
that the United States' intentions are good? We all know that there's
a wealth of material that's classified unnecessarily and doesn't
necessarily need to be.
A: Well. I -- as I'm sure you've discovered, I do believe in openness,
and I think it's enormously important in a free system with a free
press and a democratic underpinning to our wonderful success as a
country that we recognize that and respect it. I also know that you're
quite right, there are things that get classified that ought not to be
But what I said is enormously important, and that is that when
classified information is compromised by people who ought to know
better because they're unprofessional or uncaring, and perfectly
willing to violate federal criminal law, and seemingly willing to put
people's lives at risk -- their colleagues and their neighbors and
their friends -- I think it's something that should stop.
Victoria Clarke: Jim's question, folks -- he needs to leave. We need
to get you across the river. So last question.
Q: Was sloppy handling of classified information -- did that play some
role in the attack?
A: Not to my knowledge.
Clarke: Okay, sir.
A: It is an issue that I think, however, needs to be elevated and
looked at and that people in all aspects of government --
Q: What's the catalyst, why are you raising that today?
Q: Yeah, has it happened in the aftermath?
A: It has been happening daily.
Q: Thank you, sir.
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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