Secretary Rumsfeld Media Availability
(Media availability with leaders of military and veterans service organizations)
Rumsfeld: Good afternoon.
With Memorial Day coming up, it has been a special pleasure to welcome these folks that we've just seen photographed here. Over three quarters of a century, veterans' organizations have been synonymous with veterans, to be sure, but also with patriotism, with service to community and with duty and country. They are small-town and big-city hometown posts and they're a nationwide network. They speak up for American men and women in uniform, and they remind us that America is special and that American principles are to be cherished and defended if America is to remain free. Their collective experience, from the trenches of World War I to the deserts of Persian Gulf, covers much of the turmoil and the change of the 20th century. Their stories are the stories of our history, and we thank them for their service and the members of their organizations. They are here today to be briefed on the global war on terrorism and to talk about a range of issues of mutual interest. We welcome them, and we say thanks to each of them for their service to the country.
Also, we honor and thank an organization even older than the rest: The National Guard and the Reserves -- men and women who've dedicated themselves to the strength and the survival of our nation. By voluntarily putting their lives in danger to preserve peace and defend freedom, they assume the highest responsibility of citizenship. This past Sunday, one of their own, Special Forces Sergeant Gene Vance Junior, a member of the 19th Special Forces Group of West Virginia National Guard, was killed when his unit was attacked by hostile forces in Afghanistan. His loss is sorely felt and mourned. We extend our profound sympathies to his wife Lisa, his daughter Amber, and their entire family. And we will keep them and the families of every member of the armed forces who has fallen in the defense of freedom in our prayers this Memorial Day.
And I would be happy to respond to questions. I will field the ones I can handle, and I'll refer the rest up to the experts here. (Laughter.) Yes, Charlie.
Q: Mr. Secretary, Charlie Aldinger with Reuters. India and Pakistan again appear to be possibly on the brink of war, and one supposes that you and the administration are deeply concerned. Could you comment on it, and have you spoken to your counterparts in the area in recent days about this?
Rumsfeld: The situation is a tense one. There's no question but that the entire administration has been in touch with associates in Pakistan and associates in India. Matter of fact, I have a call in right now to the minister of defense of India. He has been returning it on his cell phone, and for a variety of reasons the connection has not worked. But I suspect that it'll -- he'll land someplace very shortly where we'll be able to talk in the next hour or two. The message clearly to everyone is that it is a dangerous situation and that our hope and all of our efforts are aimed at encouraging them to lessen the tension along the border, both in Kashmir and elsewhere.
Q: Is there anything the United States can do directly besides simply talk?
Rumsfeld: The -- I'm trying to think how to answer that. The implication "besides talk" suggests that the -- those things are not important. They are, terribly important. And what the president and Secretary Powell are doing, it seems to me, as well as senior officials of friendly, other friendly governments is -- taken together, does have an effect, and I'm hopeful it will in this case.
Q: I mean mediate, things like that.
Rumsfeld: I'll leave that to others.
Q: Mr. Secretary, have the tensions in India and Pakistan, have they had any impact on U.S. forces in Pakistan or on U.S. operations in Afghanistan?
Rumsfeld: They have not as yet had any effect on our forces in Pakistan. They obviously are unhelpful; the tension is unhelpful with respect to our efforts in Afghanistan for the simple reason that President Musharraf has indicated that there would be substantially more of his forces in the Afghanistan border area if the tension were not so high with respect to his eastern border.
Q: Mr. Secretary, we've had a couple of days now of these almost hourly pronouncements of terrorist threats, warnings and doom from senior administration officials. What is your bottom line now? Do you see something new out there that is of specific concern to you? And also, how concerned are you that a lot of this is simply turning into Washington politics and it may -- the seriousness of it may get lost in the political fray?
Rumsfeld: Well, with respect to the latter question, not in the slightest am I worried about that. It is -- it is serious business. I was asked in a Senate hearing by Senator Inouye what my view was. I responded in exactly the same way I have to you on repeated occasions. The words were the same, the language was the same, and the import was the same as I have been saying for months.
So it seems to me that our country is in a circumstance where we are recognizing that things are different than they were pre-9/11; they're different in a variety of ways. And it calls on all of us, those in government, those in the press, those citizens who have to, as the president said, live in a state of somewhat heightened awareness, at least, but we still go about our business, we do what we do, and do everything humanly possible to deal with the problem.
Q: Have you seen anything either credible or specific in recent days or weeks?
Rumsfeld: I see things that are specific every day. And as I've indicated, if one looks at them over a span of time, a major fraction of them turn out to not have been accurate. Some small fraction may have been accurate but for whatever reason never happened. Some smaller fraction end ups possibly to have been close to accurate and is dealt with in a way that they never happen. And still others, on the rarest of occasions, turn out to be accurate and may, in fact, happen.
So there's no way to know, when you look at the totality of it every given day, of 10, 15, 20, 25 different specific things. And the people who are assigned the task of dealing with them simply go about their business and deal with them. As you know, each of our combatant commanders has responsibility for force protection. The embassies are under the State Department. And as these things come up, people make judgments. They change threat levels. They alter their behavior from time to time. And in other instances, law enforcement people become activated and arrest people, interrogate them, learn more things that lead to more threats.
It is not something that's going to end. It's something we're going to have to learn to live with, and we're going to have to learn to get better at it. And it seems to me that the president has said it exactly right: The only way to deal with terrorism is to go after it, to deal with the global terrorist network and to deal with the countries that are providing sanctuary and safe haven.
Q: Mr. Secretary, though, is there a, one-second. (Sound of engine.)
Rumsfeld: Sounds terrific.
Q: Is there a conscious effort on the part of yourself or other administration officials to be a little more forthcoming now with warnings, even if they're not specific or necessarily credible, because of criticism that the administration wasn't forthcoming enough with some of the information they had about September 11th?
Rumsfeld: I can't speak for other government officials. I've been saying exactly what I've been saying, as you know, for months and months and months and months. I haven't changed what I've said one bit.
Q: In your opinion --
Rumsfeld: And I tend to say it in response to questions like Barbara's.
Q: In your opinion, is there an element of alert hysteria that's gripping the press corps in terms of how each of these alerts is being reported?
Rumsfeld: I am the last one in the world that would ever criticize the press corps. (Extended laughter.)
Q: But seriously, Mr. Secretary, are you confident that all the intelligence gathered has been adequately shared, all the intelligence that Defense and the military has gathered has been adequately shared with other security agencies in the government?
Rumsfeld: Well, of course you don't know what you don't know. All I know is that we get a great deal of intelligence. We see that the individuals responsible for force protection in the United States and elsewhere around the world have it as rapidly as is possible. They then make their judgments as to how they're going to behave with respect to it. They have to make a judgment with respect to its seriousness; they have to make a judgment with respect to the cost and effect of what they might do with respect to it, other than law- enforcement-type things. You can't stop living, and yet they have to make those calibrations and calculations, and they do it every day and they do it darn well.
So I feel -- I feel that we know what we know and we don't know what we don't know, and therefore, when you say is it being shared properly, there's obviously been -- think of it this way. The United States of America is one of the few countries on the face of the Earth that does not have a domestic intelligence-gathering agency. We may very well be the only English-speaking democracy in the world that doesn't have one. We were not -- we're not organized, if you will, to do what a lot of countries are organized to do, and that is, monitor things taking place inside this country at a federal level. For the most part, it's done at the state and local level. And the CIA gathers intelligence outside the borders, and the FBI has a law- enforcement-type responsibility as opposed to a domestic intelligence gathering responsibility. So it is a -- we are -- we have to deal with the world the way we're organized at the present time or else make changes in those organization structures.
Q: Sir, is there a movement inside the administration or are you thinking about calling for a change in the way the federal government is organized to establish such an organization?
Rumsfeld: I don't know of any such consideration. And certainly it wouldn't have anything to do with the Department of Defense.
Q: Can we ask you a little bit to clarify what you meant yesterday about "terrorists are jerking the United States around", when you said that? Can you expand a little bit about how you think that's happening?
Rumsfeld: Did I use inelegant language like that?
Q: "Jerking around", sir.
Rumsfeld: Goodness gracious. (Laughter.) Well, let me give you an example.
If you were -- I'm going to think how much I want to talk about this. If you get a terrorist threat for something specific, and you decide to give it credence, and therefore you don't do something you were intending to do, or you do something you were not intending to do that costs you time or money, that is the reference I had. It was that type of thing, that you end up -- if you behave off of inaccurate information, it costs you time and it costs you money, no matter who you are, around the world.
Second, if you receive false information and behave off of it, and it was provided not to be mischievous but it was provided to see how you would behave, then knowledge is gained on the part of the person who provided the inaccurate information. I don't want to be too elliptical, but I'm trying to make this generic rather than specific.
Q: (Off mike) -- happened?
Rumsfeld: Oh, there's no question but that it happens. I mean, these people are well trained. My goodness. You've seen their training manuals. They know precisely what they're doing, and they're taught all kinds of techniques in a whole host of different areas. We're certainly finding that in the interrogations in Guantanamo, that they were very well trained in interrogation techniques.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
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