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10 April 2002

Rumsfeld Interviewed on Government-Press Relations in Wartime

(Secretary says he sees no need to lie to the press) (9760)
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the American Society of
Newspaper Editors (ASNE) April 10 that he sees no point in lying to
the press.
Interviewed during an ASNE meeting by veteran television reporter
Marvin Kalb, Rumsfeld said, "I've never felt the need to lie to the
press or felt any desire to. What you have is your credibility, and
that is the only thing that gives people and governments traction."
During the interview Rumsfeld discussed the Defense Department's
short-lived "Office of Strategic Influence," which February reports in
the New York Times said was being set up to disseminate misleading
information as part of the fight against terrorism. Rumsfeld moved
quickly to disband the operation.
Following is a transcript of the interview:
(begin transcript)
United States Department of Defense News Transcript
Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
April 10, 2002
(Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld conversation with Marvin Kalb, The Kalb
Report: Journalism at the Crossroads)
KALB: Thank you very much. Hello, and welcome to another edition of
the Kalb Report. It's a monthly public policy forum that is
cosponsored by the George Washington University, the National Press
Club, and the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public
Policy at Harvard. It is generously funded by the Knight Foundation.
Hodding Carter is here someplace. And thank you, Mr. Carter.
I'm Marvin Kalb, executive director of the Washington office of the
Shorenstein Center. This is a very special edition of the Kalb Report
for two reasons. First, we're part of an annual convention of the
American Society of Newspaper Editors, and in that capacity we are
both proud and honored to be here. And second, because our guest is
one of the busiest people in this very busy capital, a Cabinet officer
who meets regularly with the press, so regularly, in fact, he's become
an instantly recognizable celebrity on C-SPAN, and it's none other
than the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
The secretary, as we all know, is no newcomer to Washington. He was
first elected to Congress in 1962. He joined the Nixon administration
in 1969, serving as director of the Office of Economic Opportunity. In
1973 he entered the world of diplomacy, becoming the U.S. ambassador
to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In 1974, returning to
Washington, he joined the Ford Administration, acting first as chief
of staff, then as secretary of Defense from 1975 to 1977. From then
until now, Secretary Rumsfeld has worked as a senior executive in the
business world, but also as a special envoy, an ambassador, and a
member of many presidential commissions.
Okay, Mr. Secretary, let me start with a story from Ron Nessen's book,
it's called "It Sure Looks Different From the Inside."
RUMSFELD: Be careful. I still think of you as "Private Kalb."
KALB: I know! (Laughter.) And I'm ready, sir -- (laughing) -- at any
RUMSFELD: (Laughs.)
KALB: I had one stripe, and very proud of it!
But let's put our minds back, and in this audience I'm sure there are
those old enough to put their minds back, to April 30, 1975. It was
the last day of the U.S. military engagement in Vietnam. And Nessen
read a presidential statement to the White House press corps saying
that the U.S. evacuation from Saigon had then been completed. Only
then did everyone learn that that's not quite true, there were still
129 U.S. Marines still at the embassy, still waiting to be evacuated.
So the question came up as to what are we now going to say to the
public. And Secretary Kissinger, perhaps humorously, said, "Why don't
we blame it on the Pentagon?" And then one presidential adviser
suggested that we "say nothing." But you, Secretary Rumsfeld, were
quoted as saying; "This war has been marked by so many lies and
evasions that it's not right to have the war end with one last lie. We
ought to be perfectly honest." Quote, unquote.
I think that's a remarkable statement, and it ought to be in not one
book, but many.
And I'd like to start with that concept of how a major government
official deals with the public through the press in the midst of a
During the Vietnam War, for example, when you made a comment like
that, looking back, did you, yourself, ever feel the need, for
whatever reason which you would explain, to engage in evasions, lying,
if necessary?
RUMSFELD: No. I have -- I've never had any need to lie to the press or
felt any desire to. What you have is your credibility, and that is the
only thing that gives people and governments traction.
I'll never forget coming back as ambassador to NATO and serving as
President Ford's -- chairman of his transition, and chief of staff of
the White House thereafter, and there was such a feeling of distrust
in this country and in the press corps that you could say, "That's the
ceiling," and the reaction would be, "Why is he saying that? What does
he really mean?"
And there's no question but that I don't answer things I don't want to
answer. I don't discuss future operations. I don't discuss
intelligence matters. I don't reveal classified information. But the
idea that government needs, for whatever reason, to actually actively
tell something that's not true to the American people or the press, I
just haven't in -- gosh -- you actually started me here a little later
than I actually came. I came in 1957 to work on Capital Hill, right
out of the Navy, when Eisenhower was president. And in that time, I've
just not ever known a situation where it was necessary to do anything
other than what I do.
KALB: But there were -- you wouldn't have made the comment if there
were not, in fact, many lies that were uttered by government officials
and a great deal of evasion during the Vietnam War. Why do you think
that government felt it necessary to do that?
RUMSFELD: Well, I'll give you an example. When I was a congressman,
just before the -- I came into the executive branch -- I was in Laos,
as I recall, and meeting there with people. And it became clear that
the United States was conducting bombing out of there in targets that
were in Cambodia, as I recall.
KALB: Right.
RUMSFELD: And the United States government made a conscious decision
to, in effect, deny that we were doing that because it was the view of
the governments of those two countries that they -- it would be
awkward for them if, in fact, it became known that they were allowing
the United States government to drop bombs on the territory of their
country. Fair enough.
Now in the current war we're in, there are plenty of countries that
don't want their people or the world to know how they're helping us.
They're helping us with intelligence. There may be even some cases
where we have people on their bases, and they don't want it known in
their country that American aircraft or American pilots or people are
physically in their country. All we do is, we just don't discuss it.
We don't go out and say they're not there. We just simply go about our
business and ask the press if they come in to not mention that --
what's going on in that country. And that's part of the understanding.
Seems to me a perfectly acceptable way to do it. The reality is,
however, that countries that do that may have very good reason. But it
-- over time, the truth comes out. (Chuckles.) So it's kind of a
short-term policy, I think.
Q: And during the Vietnam War again -- I keep going back there because
so many of the roots of the disputes and disagreements between the
press and the government go back to Vietnam -- did you feel, and you
were a congressman in a lot of that war and then after within the
government -- that lying or evading the truth paid off? Did it help --
you were saying it's a short-term benefit, perhaps -- did it actually
help win the war? Is there a single illustration where lying in
pursuit of a certain objective in the war actually helped us win the
RUMSFELD: It seems to me that if you take that instance, the answer is
no, it probably didn't help. And there probably would've been a way to
do it short of lying when you're talking about the Vietnam conflict --
KALB: Yes.
RUMSFELD: And just by not discussing something. And on the other hand,
if you take the war on terrorism but that if a country comes to us and
we say to them, "We'd like to share intelligence with you. We'd like
to have base over-flight rights. We'd like to be able to do X, Y and
Z," and they say, "Look, we'll do all of those things, but we don't
want you to discuss it publicly," and we've got a choice of either
accepting that arrangement and gaining the information we might need
to catch terrorists, to stop them from killing thousands more
Americans, you bet your life. We take it on that basis. But we don't
go out and say something that's inaccurate about it. The reason you
don't do that, it seems to me is pretty simple. You lose so much more
if in fact people cannot believe what you're saying. And you --
KALB: The people of the U.S. cannot believe what you're saying, or the
RUMSFELD: People in the U.S. or people around the world -- allies too.
You simply must be believable if you're going to get any kind of
traction in what it is you're trying to accomplish.
Take the classic example with General Eisenhower's invasion of
Normandy. He did not -- to my recollection, anyway -- go out and
actively lie, but he engaged in a lot of disinformation. He had
General Patton training people over in England. He had everyone doing
a lot of things that made it look like they were going to go into
another target area -- Calais, as I recall -- and trying to create the
impression and confusion in the minds of the Germans, to save American
Now was that appropriate? You bet.
KALB: But he could do that and deal with the press at that time on a
pretty firm assumption that the press corps was not going to run that
kind of a story. They would hold back even if they were brought into
the loop. Can you do that today?
RUMSFELD: Oh, sure.
KALB: You've got  -- 
RUMSFELD: Oh, sure. We do it. I mean, we have people who have been
embedded in Special Forces units that have agreed not to use the names
of those people, not to use their faces, and to not discuss a specific
direct action, and yet they come away, having been positioned with
these folks, so that they have a very clear understanding of what a
wonderful job they're doing and what a difficult job they do, and then
come back and report on it within the constraints, which is roughly
what happened during World War II. There were constraints, although it
was much more severe in those days. There was actually censorship.
KALB: I read from many of the reports -- I mean, I've been reading and
preparing for this interview -- any number of reporters, for major
newspapers and less-than-major newspapers, a deep irritation with the
constraints that were imposed by the Pentagon upon their ability to
function in Afghanistan, for example. And they don't feel that they
were treated -- many of them don't feel that they were treated right
at all and that you guys were leaning all over them, and excessively.
I don't have the impression that Eisenhower had that kind of rebellion
under way among the press corps, because the press corps at that time
was sort of on board. Do you -- again, it's the same question. Do you
have the feeling that they are at this point, or should they be?
RUMSFELD: Oh, goodness, now you're asking me Harvard-type questions.
(Laughter.) I -- (chuckles) -- I don't know if I want to leap into
those -- "or should they be?" The fact of the matter is that this is a
different period. It's the age of television, and the press corps is a
very different press corps than it was when I came here in the '50s
and the '60s and worked here in the '70s.
KALB: In what way?
RUMSFELD: Well, it's larger. It -- the appetite is just enormous for
information -- 24 hours, seven days a week news. The numbers of people
involved are -- is much larger. So coping with that appetite is not an
easy thing to do for government. The
I guess the thing that I think about with the press is that they've
got their job, and we've got ours. Anything we can do to communicate
with the people in the Defense establishment, millions of people, the
people in the United States of America, the allies and coalition
partners we're dealing with, where we can communicate with them
through the press, is probably useful to help them understand what it
is we're doing, why we're doing it, and what we hope to accomplish.
That means that you can deal with people --
People are uneven, just like people in government or business, and the
press are uneven. Some are very experienced and have a great body of
knowledge; some are quite new at it, as everyone has to be at some
point. And therefore it is not a bloc that you're dealing with, you're
dealing with individuals, it seems to me, who happen to be together.
And one can deal with some on a total background basis and have high
confidence. You can deal with others where you might not want to do
KALB: You've been disappointed yourself in the course of this war with
press performance?
RUMSFELD: No, I haven't, particularly. I guess it's because I really
didn't have any expectation level to be -- (laughter).
KALB: You mean you had very low expectation? (Laughter.)
RUMSFELD: No. No, I was without an expectation as to what I expected.
(Laughs.) But therefore I haven't been disappointed. I think you take
the world like you find it. You get up in the morning, and you deal
with what you have to deal with.
I would correct something. Maybe I'm wrong, and the people in this
room certainly know more about it than I do, but I think the idea of
characterizing what's going on in the press with respect to the
Pentagon as a rebellion is just a misuse of the word.
KALB: Okay. Good.
RUMSFELD: Yeah, I -- we ought to get you a dictionary.
KALB: What would -- (laughter).
RUMSFELD: I mean, I've seen rebellions, and this isn't one.
KALB: The idea of using the dictionary -- (laughs) -- that's the
important --
RUMSFELD: Yeah. But, I mean, there's no question that there have been
some people who have criticized the Pentagon. Sometimes there are
people who didn't really know what was going on. And their criticism
was misdirected. Other cases, it was a difference of opinion.
My impression is from the press that there's almost no level to which
you can feed them that they will not want more. (Laughter.) And
therefore I expect a certain amount of unhappiness and unease,
because, I mean, what's their goal? Their goal is to get into the
paper and to get on the television and to see that that information
out of the institution they happen to be covering gets out there. And
some days it's a dry well, and some days I just smile and say, I don't
know the answers, or, We don't -- We're not going to talk about that.
And that's not a happy day for the press.
KALB: But would you acknowledge that there's a difference between the
quantity of information provided and the quality of the information?
RUMSFELD: Of course there's a difference. I understand the meaning of
those two words.
KALB: Right. (Laughter.) And because you do, there would be -- there
would be an effort made, perhaps, to limit the quality of the
information that is provided. In other words --
RUMSFELD: Why would one want to do that?
KALB: I don't know. That is a good question -- (laughter) -- that
would be asked of the Pentagon.
RUMSFELD: I mean, I wouldn't want to limit the quality or the
KALB: I mean, I have sat  -- 
RUMSFELD: Unless there's a very good reason to  -- 
KALB: I've sat in on a couple of sessions that your Assistant
Secretary of Defense Torie Clarke has had with scholars and
journalists, and she meets very regularly with bureau chiefs. There
are quite a few contentious sessions.
RUMSFELD: I've been in a couple.
KALB: There are serious questions. You've been at some of them
KALB: So maybe the word "rebellion" is wrong, but there is
dissatisfaction. And I'm wondering --
RUMSFELD: Has there ever not been dissatisfaction on the part of the
press --
KALB: You're anticipating my question. (Light laughter.) Is there,
then, in your mind, as you see it, a general expectation that the
relationship is never going to be a cozy one, there's always going to
be many rough edges, and you guys do the best you can and reporters
will try to push the limits of what it is that they can get, and you
are prepared to live with that as a common arrangement?
RUMSFELD: Absolutely.
KALB: Okay.
RUMSFELD: And we do live with it. But if you think about it, we have
put press people on ships, we've put press people in Special Forces
units, where I don't believe they've been before during the kinds of
activities that these people have been in.
There was an expectation on the part of some folks that this was going
to be like Desert Storm 10 years ago, that there was going to be a
long period of getting ready, we'd have the press there reporting
getting ready, then they'd go in and there'd be a line, and they could
work like Ernie Pyle and Bill Malden did behind the lines and be
there. This war's different. It's a totally different situation. And
so people were wishing, my goodness, why can't we get more
information? The fact of the matter is, we didn't have people on the
ground for a while. When we did, they were in very dangerous
circumstances. As they got a little better adjusted and in closer
cooperation with Afghan units we began putting press people in.
So the fact that they wished for more does not make them bad people,
it just was an unrealistic expectation.
KALB: I don't think they're bad people at all, I think they're doing
their job. And there are quite a few reporters who believe that -- go
back to the Vietnam War again -- that after the Vietnam War the
Pentagon made up its mind to limit press access to the battlefield as
much as it possibly could. And if you go through the record of --
RUMSFELD: All the people who were in the Pentagon back then have long
since retired.
KALB: Well, they seem to have left some children behind, because
you've got -- (laughter) --
RUMSFELD: (Laughs.)
KALB: -- you've got Panama, Grenada, the Gulf War, the beginning of
this war, even aspects of the continuation of this war where free
press access to the battlefield is denied.
RUMSFELD: Oh, no. No. Any press person can go in any part of
Afghanistan any day of the week. They could before. All they had to do
was go.
KALB: But they couldn't go with American troops.
RUMSFELD: They did. The minute we could put -- the minute we put
American troops in, within a very short period of time press people
were connected to them.
Now, the press people did not -- a lot of -- some of them who went in
got killed, going into Afghanistan.
KALB: Yes. Yes.
RUMSFELD: It's not a very tidy place, even today. But no one was
denied ability to go in and be in any part of that country or any part
of the battlefield.
KALB: Mr. Secretary, how  -- 
RUMSFELD: And then saying that we denied them that it seems to me is
KALB: No, but how -- no, but how do you -- how do you account for the
fact that an American officer would use his weapon in a threatening
way against an American -- a reporter simply trying to cover a story?
And this did happen to a Washington Post reporter. I am astounded by
that. And I don't understand it, and I'm sure you've been asked this
question before, but maybe you could help us all understand it. How do
you do that? You know that it's an American reporter, he's doing his
job, and it's the Washington Post. How do you turn a gun on a guy like
RUMSFELD: First of all, I've not been asked that question before that
I recall. And I wish I had. (light laughter.) I'd have a better
answer. (laughter) I have not had a chance to talk to the reporter.
And if the reporter's here, I'd like to see him afterwards and hear
about it, because --
KALB: Okay.
RUMSFELD: -- I don't know that it happened quite that way myself.
KALB: Okay.
RUMSFELD: I find that if three people observe an event -- a car
accident -- and you take him away and ask him what happened, you get
three different impressions of it. And that's why we have more than
one newspaper in America, because we get --
KALB: (Laughs.)
RUMSFELD: -- it's a useful thing.
Is it possible that one person in the United States armed forces who
had never been in that circumstance before and was faced with a
decision and was holding a weapon and was asked a question, or was
challenged by a person, and he turned around, and the weapon happened
to be coming around with him, and that the person legitimately felt
threatened, and that the person with the weapon legitimately did not
feel that he was threatening that person, or that that person
conceivably could be threatening the reporter because he had
concluded, for whatever reason, that if that reporter did what the
reporter had said he intended to do, that it could put some of his
people at risk or inhibit his ability to carry out his mission? There
are a lot of ways that that circumstance could have happened in a way
that is less black and white than you're characterizing it.
KALB: I'm sure that's true. I'm sure that's true. I'm only going with
what it is that the reporter said happened to him, and he's a good,
experienced reporter.
RUMSFELD: And he was there and I wasn't. And I'm going with putting my
KALB: And he's got pretty good contacts with these people.
RUMSFELD: Yeah. I'm trying to put myself in the shoes of the person
with the weapon and ask, what might have happened that would have led
that reporter to legitimately feel threatened. And --
KALB: Did you have -- did you feel the need to check that out?
RUMSFELD: Apparently not sufficiently. (Laughter.)
KALB: Mr. Secretary, let's talk about leaks for a minute. On September
12 --
RUMSFELD: I'm not -- I'm against leaks.
KALB: I know that. (Light laughter.) Shortly after the 9/11 attacks
you said on September 12 -- in fact, you were furious --
RUMSFELD: No, I wasn't. I don't get  -- 
KALB: You -- you seemed furious.
RUMSFELD: I don't get furious. No. I get cool.
KALB: You get cool.
RUMSFELD: I get angry, but not furious, yeah.
KALB: You were coolly angry -- (light laughter) -- at Pentagon
officials who you said had leaked classified information to reporters.
And you were --
RUMSFELD: True. No, to anybody.
KALB: To anyone.
RUMSFELD: Doesn't matter about reporters. I'm  -- 
KALB: You said, They have violated the law, they frustrate our efforts
to track down and deal with terrorists. My question is
RUMSFELD: And it can cost people's lives.
KALB: Absolutely. Six months later now, have you ever taken action
against a Pentagon-leaker of information?
RUMSFELD: Not that I can think of.
KALB: Does that mean that there have been no leaks?
RUMSFELD: Oh! (Laughs.) Goodness, no. (Laughter.) Goodness, no. This
place would be out of business. (Laughter.)
No, I'll tell you about leaks. When a person takes classified
information and gives it to someone who is not cleared for classified
information, whether the person's from the Pentagon or any department
of government, they're violating federal criminal law. And they ought
to go to jail. That's not complicated.
KALB: What are the laws they are violating? Just  -- 
RUMSFELD: The laws relating to classified information are quite strict
as to who may be given access to that information. And so to the
extent that people violate the rules with respect to classified
information, they are breaking federal criminal law.
Now, they are also potentially putting people's lives at risk, and
that's a very -- it's a terrible thing to do. So, then that's one
The other problem is what do you do about it. Now, I get up early, and
I stay there late at night, and I work when I get home, and I like
working, so I don't feel like a martyr, so don't get me wrong. But I
do not have time -- nor does anyone I know have time to spend -- to
engage in witch hunts inside the department, trying to find people who
have tried to make themselves look important and butter up to some
newspaper reporter or some other person in government, or some person
in the neighborhood -- to make themselves look big.
I have seen instances in government where these kinds of hunts have
gone on, and people are brought in for polygraphs, and everyone is --
KALB: You have not done that?
RUMSFELD: I've never done it. I know people who have. And I have seen
it happening.
KALB: But on this stint as secretary of Defense, that has not
RUMSFELD: I have not. I have not.
KALB: You shifted from you have not done that to it has not happened.
"I have not done it."
RUMSFELD: It has not happened to my knowledge in the Department of
KALB: I mean, because you're the boss at the Pentagon, and if there
was a witch-hunt or people were being called in and polygraphed, you
would know it?
RUMSFELD: I would think I would know about a polygraph. I might not
know if people had been called in a department well below me -- there
are dozens and dozens of departments. It's entirely possible that some
middle-level person could know of a leak in the office and call people
in and discuss it with them. I haven't.
KALB: And you're not aware of it?
RUMSFELD: And I'm not aware of it. But  -- 
KALB: What about  -- 
RUMSFELD: Well, what happens is it chills an institution.
KALB: Yes, it does.
RUMSFELD: If you start taking people who get up, work hard, care about
the country, dedicated, and you don't know who leaked, and then you
start calling in all these innocent people, and pretty soon you are
slapping a heavy case on them that -- "You were only one of five
people who knew this -- we don't know whether to believe you or not."
And you think of the loss of productivity and the loss of morale, and
the difficulty in an organization. My impression is we will find
enough people who do it by accident, without going around chilling
your own organization and distracting them from their very important
work. So I just don't do it.
KALB: Mr. Secretary, you were on this September 12 occasion, and again
on October 22nd you returned to the subject of leaks. You spoke about
the violation of federal criminal law. On both of those occasions you
spoke very vigorously and forcefully on this issue. And a number of
the reporters who cover the Pentagon have told me in preparation for
this that there was in fact a chilling impact that your comments had
on the building, and only now in the recent month or so have people in
the building who normally would talk to a reporter begun again to talk
to reporters.
RUMSFELD: I better go back down there. (Laughter.)
KALB: You mean and frighten them again?
RUMSFELD: Look, when I used the word "chilling," I was talking about
chilling meaning that people who are honest and not leaking being
called into an office and slapped with a polygraph, or if not accused
at least a question raised about their integrity. That is what I meant
by "chilling."
If what you meant by "chilling" is that the people who used to leak
are afraid to now, then God bless chilling. (Laughter.)
KALB: Then we get to a definition -- we get then to a definition of
what is a leak, because --
RUMSFELD: Well, I'm talking about the taking classified information
from a person who is cleared for it and giving it to someone who is
not, regardless of who that person is.
KALB: Supposing a reporter comes to an office of an assistant
secretary, and says, talk to me about Iraq. I mean, what are we going
to do? How does it work out? And the reporter, as you said yourself at
the beginning -- there are serious reporters who are trying to do
serious work. And what they are trying to do is figure out what is
really going on -- what is the U.S. going to do here? That to me is
not a leak. That to me is sort of a background session, right?
RUMSFELD: Sure, yeah.
KALB: Okay. But you are dealing with classified information.
RUMSFELD: No, you're not. You shouldn't be -- or you should be in the
KALB: But everything is classified, isn't it?
RUMSFELD: Everything is not classified.
RUMSFELD: No, indeed. No indeed.
KALB: What about the conversations that  -- 
RUMSFELD: Let's take Iraq. Let's pretend that the president was
thinking about doing something about Iraq.
KALB: Okay.
RUMSFELD: Let's not use Iraq, it will end up in the newspaper.
(Laughter.) Let use Iraq -- take Country X. Let's say that the
president was thinking about doing something in Country X, and he went
to your assistant secretary, and he said, Develop me some plans as to
what we might do about Country X. And in comes his favorite reporter,
and says, Gee, what are you thinking about in Country X? And the
fellow feels the compulsion to say, Gee, we are thinking of doing this
to Country X, and the fellow goes off and writes it in the newspaper.
Now, is that good for the United States? Is that helpful to people's
lives who might be involved in doing something to country X? I think
KALB: What about stories that -- you just cited one that I think we
could both agree on very easily, because if it's going to hurt the
troops or --
RUMSFELD: You bet.
KALB: -- whatever, nobody is going to do that. What I am talking about
are stories, which end up being not really military operations and
secrets of that sort but embarrassments, political embarrassments --
RUMSFELD: Get them out.
KALB: -- saying the wrong thing that sort of stuff.
RUMSFELD: Yeah, get them out. Embarrassments happen every day.
Everyone makes mistakes. They all get out eventually. My rule is --
KALB: That's not  -- 
RUMSFELD: Shove it out.
KALB: That's not what bothers you then?
RUMSFELD: No, of course not.
KALB: That sort of thing?
RUMSFELD: Of course not.
KALB: Okay.
RUMSFELD: Absolutely not.
KALB: Okay. There was an odd sequence a month or so ago about the
Office of Strategic Influence.
RUMSFELD: There was an odd what?
KALB: Sequence of events. You know, it erupted one day in the New York
Times on the front page, and then suddenly within a week the office
was disbanded, and it seemed to some of us it was almost like a
calculated Pentagon leak designed somehow to undercut the viability of
an operation of this sort. You are the boss -- how did that happen?
RUMSFELD: I don't know. I did not spend a lot of time going back and
trying to figure it out. You are right; it did smell a little like
somebody might have done it. But I -- as I say, I didn't devote any
time to doing it, trying to track down who did what to whom.
When something is as soiled as that office became in a relatively
short period of time, it struck me that you'd be swimming against the
current so hard trying to leave it that the attitude was cashier it
and start fresh. We still have to do what we have to do, as I said in
the press briefing today, we indicated that the office had been
decided that it would be disbanded by the director of policy, Doug
Feith, who was in charge of that. That was a minor piece of all of his
responsibilities. And he made a conscious judgment to do that, and I
told the press that that's the case. And -- but I have not gone back
and tried to track it down.
What we do have to do is to see that we as an institution do an awful
lot better job of dealing with the important kinds of information that
are important to our success. And I mean the terrorist training
manuals taught people to lie about who was hurt in a battle, and to go
out and tell people that they were innocent civilians, and to say that
they were hospitals, and to take people from hospitals and move them
over into buildings that had been bombed, and pretend they were
hospitals -- and then call the press in and have them get pictures of
these quote/unquote "hospitals" that weren't hospitals, and make the
United States look bad. There were efforts to make it look like it was
against their religion, the Moslem religion. There were efforts to
make it look like it was against Arabs or against the Afghan people.
We can't just sit there and allow the press to report everything that
Osama bin Laden is saying and everything the Taliban are saying and
everything the terrorists are saying, and have it repeated and
repeated and repeated, and not find a way to rebut it when it is not
true. I mean, the fact that the United States had been giving $137
million a year to that year prior to September 11th in Afghanistan
because of the drought and because of the starvation, says something,
it seems to me.
KALB: You want to get that message out above and beyond the fact that
it has been reported in the press and by the press, picked up by
foreign news agencies all around the world. I mean, it wasn't a secret
that we were giving that kind of money. You were dissatisfied that it
didn't have a sufficient oomph, enough of a bounce? And you --
RUMSFELD: Well, let me put it this way: I have not had time to go back
and count column inches or minutes on television. But if you think --
if you think that the stories about what we were doing from a
humanitarian standpoint, the positive stories, received one- twentieth
of the coverage -- that false stories about civilian casualties -- I
mean, it isn't even a close comparison. And if we just said, okay,
fine, that's how the press does it -- anything that is against the
United States or against civilians or is bad is a lot more newsworthy,
and you know that, and everyone in this room knows that. And as a
result it gets on the front page of the paper. Anything that is
humanitarian or is constructive is not going to sell newspapers. It is
not going to grab attention on evening news, and as a result it's not
going to get the attention. Now, you know that.
KALB: I know that. And what I am trying to get at from you is to
understand what it is that you feel you can do -- I mean, you made
this effort with the Strategic Influence Office -- clearly it didn't
work. But the problem remains.
RUMSFELD: It does.
KALB: And so, as you said your self -- and I can read you the quote,
but it's too long -- that you are going to find other ways of doing
the same thing. And the question then becomes: What is it that you
would actually do to get your message out? Would it in any way involve
-- let me be direct -- the hiring of a subsidiary organization to give
inaccurate information or misleading information to a foreign news
RUMSFELD: No that's not the business the Pentagon is in.
KALB: You're not going to do that? Okay. And you will not engage, as
you said before, in dissembling or lying, but telling the truth to the
American people? That's a fact? Right?
RUMSFELD: That's right.
KALB: Okay. So do you have a way of handling this problem now, or is
it still something that you are working on?
RUMSFELD: We don't do it very well. I mean, let's face it. For one
thing, you have got to know what's being said. And it's hard to know
what's being said. It's a big world. And someone has to look at what's
going on al Jazeera. What are they saying on the --
KALB: So it's a lot of research that has to be done  -- 
RUMSFELD: It takes a good deal of understanding of who is saying what,
and why are they saying it? And what needs to be done by whom to get
the counter to it, the truth out, and see that it is rebutted in some
reasonably timely fashion?
Now, when you are in the middle of a war, and you have got a whole
pile of people out spreading information that is not correct, you have
to -- you can't just hope that it's all going to work out well.
KALB: I got you. Okay. Mr. Secretary, in the time that I have left, I
have two questions. One, I find it fascinating that a Secretary of
Defense -- you -- spend so much time with the press. You must consider
it very important. It's a big piece of your day.
RUMSFELD: Well, first of all, let's get the facts right. It is  -- 
KALB: Okay, you spend no time with the press. (Laughter.)
RUMSFELD: I mean, it is not a big piece of my day.
KALB: It is not?
RUMSFELD: No. I get up at five o'clock, come into the office about
6:30. I leave about 7:00, 7:30 at night, work an hour and a half at
home. And I'll bet you I spend preparing for a press briefing -- well,
today is a good example --
KALB: You didn't prepare at all? (Laughter.)
RUMSFELD: I didn't prepare. (Laughter.) My -- I mean, when I prepare
for a press briefing it's somewhere between three and five minutes.
Why? Because I tend to talk about things I know something about, and I
tend to say "I don't know" if I don't know about them. Therefore I
don't have to do a lot of stuff. I --
KALB: So why do you appear before the press? You could still spend
that hour doing something else.
RUMSFELD: I could. It's actually a half hour. You've  -- 
KALB: Or a half-hour -- well, you are spending an hour here.
RUMSFELD: You're wrong by 50 percent. But it is literally the press
briefings are somewhere between 30 are 40 minutes, generally, and I
may do -- I suppose I've done in the time I've been secretary of
Defense an average of one to two a week. I occasionally come over to
the old Shoreham and see you -- like now.
KALB: Right. We are very grateful to you.
RUMSFELD: I have some meetings on background with press people,
because I think giving them a chance -- and me a chance to talk to
them without being quoted is a useful thing from time to time.
KALB: Why do you spend the time with the press? What's in your mind?
What is the value?
RUMSFELD: I get asked to do it by people in government and by people
in other countries.
KALB: In other countries?
RUMSFELD: Mmm-hmm. (Affirming.) Who feel that the person who is
intimately involved in the global war on terrorism can be helpful to
them by seeing that the subject matter has some structure on a fairly
regular basis, because it tends to get tugged away by a lot of
multiple voices talking about it, different press perceptions of
what's going on in the global war on terrorism, different views by
people who are against it. So you get all of these different views.
And to the extent a person who has a relatively central role in it can
once a week or twice a week -- or three times a week, whatever it may
be in a given week -- take the subject, readdress it, develop a
construct for the phase we are in, and enable people in the
department, in the government and elsewhere, to test that as a way of
approaching it that it's helpful.
Now, I don't know if it's helpful or not, but I keep getting asked to
do it, so I tend to do it.
KALB: Well, I have a feeling -- let me just -- my vote is keep doing
it. I think it's quite remarkable for a government official to provide
that kind of access to the press on a regular basis, and journalists
pressure access. And let me just tell you that there was an article in
the Wall Street Journal on December 31st of that year, of last year,
and I have it right here, and it says: "The best new show on
television? Rumsfeld press briefings -- Americans relax and swoon."
CNN described you as a rock star. (Laughter.) Fox described you as a
babe --
RUMSFELD: What you see is what you get. (Laughter.) No rock star.
KALB: "A babe magnet" for the -- (laughs) -- 70-year-old set.
RUMSFELD: Listen, with your gray hair, I wouldn't knock the
70-year-old set. (Laughter.)
KALB: I'm talking about the 80-year -- (laughs)  -- 
RUMSFELD: I'm 70 in a month or two.
KALB: And you're also famous for talking straight. And one
illustration of that, you were asked a month or two ago about where is
Osama bin Laden. And you answered, "We do hear six, seven, eight, 10,
12 conflicting reports every day. I've stopped chasing them. We do
know of certain knowledge that he is" -- (laughs) -- "that he is
either in Afghanistan, or in some other country, or dead." (Laughter.)
So in straight talk -- that kind of straight talk -- (laughter)  -- 
RUMSFELD: (Laughs.)
KALB: -- give us -- by the way, we're going to the audience now, and
there are microphones around, and stands for mikes. So if you want to
ask a question, please go to the microphones, stand up, and we'll get
the secretary's last answer and then we'll turn directly to you.
RUMSFELD: Let's have some questions from the Pentagon press corps who
felt chilled. (Laughs.)
KALB: Ah -- oh, that's good. That's good. That's good. Maybe tomorrow
you can get them.
But anyway, in straight talk, how are we doing overall in this war
against terrorism? We've had it six, seven months now. The remaining
superpower in the world. How are we doing?
RUMSFELD: Well, we're doing pretty well. It's a whole new experience
for this country to be dealing with not against -- going against
armies, navies or air forces, but going against terrorist
organizations that are very difficult to confront. But if our first
goal was to stop the Taliban from governing Afghanistan, that's been
achieved. If a goal was to put so much pressure on the global
terrorist networks that it makes it difficult for them to conduct
terrorist activities, to recruit people, to raise money, to easily
move from country to country, we're doing that. Does that mean there
won't be any more terrorists attacks? No. There are plenty of cells
and people out there who have been trained and who know what they're
doing and probably will be able to get enough money and fake passports
to do what they want to do. But it is -- the pressure is working, and
we've gotten wonderful cooperation from countries. NATO has got AWACS
planes flying over our country as we talk today. And so many other
countries -- dozens and dozens -- have been cooperating.
So I feel quite good about the first phase. We're trying to train some
folks in Yemen and the Philippines and in Georgia -- local people --
to do a better job at their special forces direct action against
terrorists. And we are doing maritime interdiction in -- and a lot of
things that aren't seen that are out there happening. People are being
arrested, people are being interrogated, and bank accounts are being
frozen. And so I feel that this first phase has worked pretty well.
KALB: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Start. Give us a name and a question.
Q: Thank you. Sir, I'm Judy Christie. I'm the editor of The Times in
Shreveport, Louisiana, the home of Barksdale Air Force Base. And I'm
very interested in what you're saying about the need to limit
classified information. I appreciate that.
However, as the editor of a community newspaper in a military
community, I do feel like there is non-classified information that we
have difficulty getting from the Department of Defense. We've sought
access to Diego Garcia and been denied. We had great luck, and we
appreciate your help with going to Guantanamo Bay. We've been told by
the Air Force, for example, that we're not to use the last names of
people we interview by telephone who are on the mission in
Afghanistan. Some of those restrictions, to be quite honest, don't
seem to be fair to the people in our community who want to follow
these military people who are over there fighting for our country. And
we really appreciate those people.
Could you just comment on ways we might deal better with the non-
classified aspects of this war and the people affected?
RUMSFELD: Goodness. I'll try.
If you think of an enormously -- an enormous institution, the
Department of Defense, and the fact that there are multiple leadership
centers throughout it, and they go down through hundreds of thousands
of people, and no one is going to write instructions at the top that
are sufficiently micro that they could be executed by some public
affairs officer way down at the bottom and, therefore, they have to
make decisions, and they undoubtedly make some right and some wrong.
And I -- all of us have trouble getting information out of the
Department of Defense -- (laughter) -- not just the press. (Chuckles.)
It is a difficult thing because it is such a big institution.
We're trying to create a culture, a feeling in the department that the
press has a perfectly legitimate role, we respect it, and we want the
department to deal with them as straightforwardly as is humanly
possible, and just draw the line on classified information. There is
no question but that there are a number of people in the defense
establishment who do jobs where their lives would be more at risk if
their names were known. And to the extent they're doing various types
of antiterrorist activity, their families conceivably could be at risk
if their names were known. And therefore, there is a policy that
certain categories of people's names are not permitted to be used.
KALB: Thank you very much.
Right here.
Q: Yes, Mr. Secretary. I'm Kay Reed, editor of the Albany Herald in
Albany, Georgia. I'm not asking for classified information, but if you
were to lay out for us as to how far out the Department of Defense has
its strategy in the war on terror, how far out does that go, and in
what detail, acknowledging the fact that at any given time you have to
shift your plan?
RUMSFELD: There was no road map available to the president or to me on
September 11th. What we have said is that it is policy to go after
terrorists where they are and to go after countries that harbor
terrorists and provide sanctuary and haven for terrorists.
The problem with terrorism is there isn't any way to defend against
it, because they can go at you at any place, at any time, using any
technique, and it's physically impossible to defend everywhere at
every time, against every technique. Therefore, you must go after them
so that the plan is that. And the president has listed a series of
terrorist organizations that exist. He has listed a series of
countries that have been harboring or financing or providing sanctuary
to terrorists, and he has suggested to people that if you're on their
side, you're on the wrong side. And the coalition partners that have
been developed around the world are systematically looking and going
after those folks wherever they are. And that, essentially, is the
KALB: Thank you.
Yes, please.
Q: Deborah Howell, Newhouse News Service.
We recently had a reporter in with the 10th Mountain Division in
Afghanistan. And it was generally a very good experience. And we had
lots of access and got lots of great stories. And so what you're --
RUMSFELD: Are you listening, Marvin?
KALB: I am -- with both ears. (Laughter.)
Q: So what you were saying about that is true. On the other hand,
Rumsfeld: Uh-oh. (Laughter.)
KALB: I hope you're listening to this. (Laughter.)
Q: -- we had to agree and did to military censorship of our stories.
And --
RUMSFELD: You didn't have to.
Q: Well, no, but then we didn't get any  -- 
RUMSFELD: You voluntarily did to go in there.
Q: Right, right, right. And that we made that trade-off  -- 
RUMSFELD: No -- slight distinction.
Q: We agreed to that.
Q: For the access. But the reporters' stories were censored of
information that he -- he couldn't tell us the information that was
censored from his stories. Okay. But then he finds out the next day
that the information censored from his stories was in the Pentagon
briefing the day before, and leaving us in a very strange position of
not being able to put into his story information that was already
public, because he had made an agreement. And so I wonder if you could
make some refinements on that.
RUMSFELD: Well, we ought to try.
Q: It happened not once but several times.
RUMSFELD: Yeah. First of all, you have to appreciate who's doing the
censoring. These are people that are asked to come in and serve in the
military. They're young people. They're trained to shoot a rifle and
fly an airplane and drive a ship. And at some moment they're asked to
censor press people's writing. Are they experts at it? No. Are they
likely to make mistakes? You bet. So can we ever expect anything
approximating near perfection with respect to people who censor? I
doubt it. We
-- it can get better if the war's long and if the people stay in the
jobs long enough -- the individuals do -- to get better at doing it.
The second answer I would make is this:
There is a country that invited us in, and we accepted, on the basis
that we would not let the world know that we were there and that we
would not bring press people in unless they had agreed to that. And at
a certain moment in recent weeks, I was meeting with the head of that
country again, and I said to that individual, "Say, we're still not
telling people we're there, but it's getting to be a pretty well-known
secret, and don't you think it's about time that you allowed us to do
that? And don't you think your people are now sufficiently acclimated
to the idea that we've been there and Afghanistan's been dealt with?
And I would think that you would feel less at risk than you would
have, and did, when we first asked to come in."
He said, "You're right. Go ahead and say it." And I did.
So it may have happened that the person censoring did exactly the
right thing and that -- just didn't know that I had talked to the head
of that country, and the head of that country had at that moment --
the day before allowed us to use the name of the country and the name
of the base.
That's an example. That's illustrative. It may not fit your facts, but
Q: I would just suggest that an appeal process to the military
censorship that goes up the line might be very valuable.
RUMSFELD: I think it would be. And if I had been Torie Clarke, I would
have had one by now. Where's Torie? (Laughs.) (Laughter.) I think
that's a good idea, because what it does, it's like lessons learned.
And we do that all the time with military activities, and you need to
keep improving the process.
Q: And Torie does know about this.
KALB: Thank you.
We're running out of time, so if these two gentlemen would just ask
their questions one behind the other, and then the secretary could
answer them. Go ahead.
Q: Jay Shelledy, the Salt Lake Tribune. Mr. Secretary, you believe
that members of your staff who leak classified information should be
punished. Would that belief also extend to members of Congress? And as
you'll recall, that within 48 hours of September 11th, one good
senator from the state of Utah was telling the world that we have the
capability of monitoring cell-phone calls of terrorists, to a national
television audience.
KALB: Thank you very much.
The next question, please?
Q: Mr. Secretary, if you look at the wrinkles on my face, you'll know
I've been listening to you for a long time. And I've especially been
listening to your press conferences. And I wish -- I know it's not in
your job description, but if you were an editor, you would get high
marks from me. My question is, these questions that you get, some of
them are inane, some of them show that we are not researching our
subject. If you had -- this is not in your job description either, but
if you could just
-- you've got a nice audience here. If there are two or three things
you'd like for reporters to prepare for before they come to one of
your press conferences, if you'd share that with us, we'd appreciate
KALB: An interesting question. Go ahead, Mr. Secretary.
RUMSFELD: Well, with respect to the first question, the problem of
classified material is not a problem for my staff uniquely, it's for
anybody who has access to classified information to be more careful
with it. On the other hand, people can make mistakes. I mean, I
understand that. People can not know something is classified or they
can not have been reminded that something was classified, and make an
honest mistake. And we live with that as a society.
What advice would I give to people? Golly. I really don't think about
it that way. I do not get up and say to myself, "How can they do their
job differently than they're doing it?" I keep worrying about how I
can do my job better than I'm doing it. I think that I -- I happen to
like people in the press. I just I know it's a strange, idiosyncratic
-- (laughter) aspect, but I do. And I've enjoyed them, and they for
the most part are knowledgeable and interested in things that I'm
interested in. So I don't feel it's a burden to deal with people at
all. And I know we all have areas of ignorance. Goodness knows I do. I
demonstrate it every day, that there are things that I just don't know
about. And the fact that someone from the press may not know something
when they ask a question I think is not something that should be
surprising. We're all human beings, and we all get up and stick our
legs in our britches one at a time.
KALB: Thank you, sir.
Our time is up.
I want to thank ASNE for having us. We'd like to come back. I want to
thank C-SPAN for being here. I want to thank the Knight Foundation for
making this possible. I want to thank our cosponsors, the George
Washington University, the National Press Club, the Shorenstein Center
on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard.
But most important, I want to thank the Secretary of Defense for being
so generous with his time and so thoughtful and needling at the same
time in some of his answers.
You've been very generous indeed, and I think you, sir.
RUMSFELD: Thank you, sir. Appreciate it. (Applause.)
(end transcript)
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site:

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