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U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Transcript

Presenter: Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell February 13, 2009

DoD News Briefing with Geoff Morrell from the Pentagon Briefing Room, Arlington, Va.

MR. MORRELL: Good afternoon. Pleasure to see all of you here today. I have a brief opening statement, and then I'll take your questions.

Today Secretary Gates is hosting the Defense Senior Leadership Conference. These gatherings take place a few times a year and serve as an opportunity for the secretary and his senior leadership here at the department to discuss significant issues confronting the Pentagon.

This session focuses on the department's fiscal year 2010 budget, the base budget in particular, which the secretary is reshaping to reflect the strategic balance he has been advocating. He wants to make sure the budget balances the demands of the wars we are currently fighting and the future threats we may face.

Of course, he is acutely aware that we are crafting this budget in the midst of a global financial crisis, so it must not only be militarily responsible, but also fiscally realistic. In light of that reality, the secretary is demanding the following of the department's leadership. First, we must make tough choices about programs suffering from serious execution problems. Second, we have to find new ways of doing business more efficiently and cost-effectively. And third, the services must strive to be as joint in their acquisitions as they are in their operations.

Ultimately, the budget that emerges from this process and is sent to the president for his consideration should be viewed as a whole, rather than the sum of its parts. And it must be judged by how well it enhances our nation's security, rather than how well it advances any one person's or organization's interests.

The secretary has brought the combatant commanders into town, so that they can weigh in early in this process. He wants to be as inclusive as possible, so that the COCOMs, military services and other key stakeholders all have a big say in the crafting of the FY '10 budget.

One final note. This is, as you know, a highly sensitive process. And as it plays out over the next month or so, neither I nor any of the participants will be able to speak to specifics of what is being discussed and debated.

And with that warning up front, I'll be happy to take your questions.


Q Can you talk a little bit about the apprehension of suspected pirates, over the last several days, what the procedure is first of all, for getting them from the Lewis and Clark to whatever adjudication may await them in Kenya, and what the concerns are about the group that was picked up yesterday, as to whether -- what the military's concerns are about whether they have sufficient evidence or probable cause to hold them?

MR. MORRELL: Let me start by suggesting that this, like a lot of these situations, is a fluid one. And probably the people that are closest to it are the ones who are best able to speak to it. So I would encourage all of you to reach out to NAVCENT, to the 5th Fleet, and get the most up-to-date information from them.

My understanding is that the status of these pirates that they picked up both on Monday or, sorry, on the 11th and 12th, I believe it was, are that they have been consolidated. Yeah, the 11th was the first group that was picked up, seven then, and then another nine picked up on the 12th; that they are being properly cared for, treated humanely.

They have been transferred to the USNS Lewis and Clark. They remain aboard that ship until information and evidence is assembled and evaluated and a decision is ultimately made, regarding their future transfer.

The task force will be compiling the evidence in each case and make a determination if there is ample evidence to recommend prosecution. If there isn't, we will likely repatriate these individuals, of course minus the weapons that they were apprehended with.

So I think this is an ongoing process. The commander of the task force is ultimately responsible for determining whether or not these individuals will be taken to Kenya, for adjudication, or whether they, some of them or all of them can be released. But I think we're in the midst of that. And I'm not prepared at this hour to tell you what the ultimate determination will be.

Q But I mean, it had been sounding like it was kind of -- like there was a done deal. They go to Kenya, and that's the military equivalent of a trial. What -- that's -- you're saying now that essentially the first --

MR. MORRELL: Well, I think -- Ann, I think in both cases my understanding is -- again, I'm very far removed from this process, but my understanding is, the task force responded to distress calls on both days and apprehended suspected pirates in the vicinity of the ship from which the distress call came. And I think they obviously have some strong suspicions about these individuals and are right now mulling through the evidence they have to determine whether or not they can be prosecuted. But if there is insufficient evidence to do so, they'll have to make another determination. And that could well be repatriating them with -- you know, without their weapons.

But I think we're in the midst of that. I don't want to prejudge it. I would say overall this speaks to the fact that the task force is aggressively patrolling this body of water, as, frankly, are many other nations that are not a part of this task force, all in response to an international cry to do more to protect cargo and other material and individuals being shipped through there.

And so I think this is a good thing. Let's let the process work itself out and determine ultimately if there are people that are -- that should be tried for what happened on the 11th and 12th.

Q But Geoff, as of last night, the nine in the second group were still on the Vella Gulf, and there was talk that was not enough evidence to hold them. Are you saying that today they have been moved to the Lewis and Clark?

MR. MORRELL: My understanding is that all of the pirates who were picked up on the 11th and 12th are now consolidated, are on the Lewis and Clark, and that's where they are being held while this process is under way to determine whether or not they can be prosecuted.

Q Is there -- it is also our understanding, from talking to the 5th Fleet, that there is not enough evidence for the second group, the nine. And if that determination has been made, is the reason they're still being held because the mechanism of getting them back to shore is problematic in terms of --

MR. MORRELL: Again, I think I prefaced what I said with the warning that I am very removed from the situation. So if there has been an updated determination made by the 5th Fleet or by NAVCENT, it's news to me.

They may ultimately come to that decision. I have not been told if that is -- that that's the judgment they've arrived at.

But I think right now, as I understand it, they're being held. They're working through the evidence and determining if there's enough to ultimately prosecute them. If they're -- if not, I don't think anybody will delay in repatriating these individuals.

Q And how would they be repatriated? By helicopter?

MR. MORRELL: I don't know the -- I don't know the mechanism. I mean, I'm sure we have thought through this -- somebody has -- and we'll figure out a way to get them back where they belong. But right now, though, this is being reviewed.

Jim, good to see you.

Q Good to see you.

MR. MORRELL: It's been a while.

Q Yeah. Geoff, what can you say about the DOD portion of the stimulus package?

MR. MORRELL: The DOD portion of the stimulus package, as I understand it, Jim, I think totals a little more than $7 billion dollars. At least that's what came out of conference and I think is due to be voted on. You know, we had asked for, I think, a figure of about $10 billion (dollars), but obviously we're pleased that the House and the Senate have agreed to put up for vote $7 billion (dollars) worth of stimulus, a little over $7 (billion dollars) -- almost $7-1/2 billion (dollars), it looks like, $7.4 billion (dollars) for Defense-related projects.

We had asked for and, I believe, if this is ultimately approved, are getting money to undertake a number of military construction projects, near-term things that could make a difference in the lives of our service members and their families. We're talking about barrack construction. We're talking about medical clinic construction, child care centers, things of that nature, predominantly.

Q Geoff, follow-up to that, in the 2010 budget discussions, does the need of economic stimulus play any factor in that? Are any weapons systems getting a boost because continuing them would preserve jobs, or starting them faster, would create jobs? Is that a part of the calculation on the 2010 budget discussion?

MR. MORRELL: I am -- I'm afraid I'm going to be disappointing on this discussion, as we get into it. I just think -- I don't want to jaundice any of the discussions that are taking place at all.

I mean, I would say they are not taking place, as I say, oftentimes, in a vacuum. This is -- they are not immune from the realities of the world, hence the fact that I spoke about in our opening statement and the secretary has talked about before: We are in the midst of a global economic crisis, for which hard choices are required.

But whether or not, you know -- whether or not tight budgets and the need for stimulus are being weighed in those discussions, I'm just not -- I don't feel comfortable speaking to it.

Q You just -- I mean, you ticked off three priorities of the secretary in viewing the 2010 budget.


Q It was tough choices about executing programs, efficiencies and -- it didn't sound like stimulus or --

MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean, I think the -- the stimulus is a separate discussion, ultimately. I mean, the stimulus is a separate bill. It's being voted on shortly. We made recommendations for defense-related issues for that, that are separate and aside from the '09 -- second tranche of the '09 supplemental or the FY '10 base budget. So I think we viewed the stimulus as a separate matter that has already been or is being dealt with. And whether or not additional stimulus or job creation or job sustainment is being discussed in relation to the FY '10 budget, I'm just not in a position to speak to at this point.

I mean, I think the -- the fundamental things are the ones I laid out for you, that hard choices are required, efficiencies are required, and more jointness in acquisitions is required. Beyond that, I'm not prepared to speak to the specifics of how they're making these decisions.

Yeah, Chris.

Q A follow-up on that. I mean, are you disappointed at all that what was originally allocated in the stimulus for DOD was cut?

MR. MORRELL: Well, you know, I think this is life in these matters. I think the Senate at one point had -- or the House at one point had the DOD stimulus portion at about $11 billion dollars. I think the Senate had it about $7 billion dollars. Our understanding was that there was going to be a splitting of the difference. I think there was some increase up from the House number, but it looks as though it's about $7.4 billion.

For us, anything helps. It does help us address the needs of our service members and their families, and for that we are thankful and we hope it passes. And we look forward to executing that money as soon as we get it, because we think it can make a difference not only in their lives but in the near-term economic state of the country, as well. We can put people to work and do these military construction projects in the next, you know, six to 18 months and hopefully have an impact.

Q I'd like to ask you about the timetable for the decision on the F-22, because in your opening statement, you referred to the FY '10 budget process that's playing out over the next month. But even before -- as early as March 1, there's an issue that arises that has to do with congressional funding that's designed to tide over the production line. In other words, in two weeks some new decision needs to be made by the Department of Defense about using some funds that Congress have provided to keep the production line open.

Can you bring us up to speed on whether you plan to make a decision on recommendation on the F-22?

MR. MORRELL: I'm aware of the March date. And I don't quite know, frankly, Jim, at this point where we stand in terms of whether we feel as though we have to make a decision as has been talked about by that date. I think maybe more has been made of it in terms of a hard deadline than it actually is. But let me check, and you and I -- we can have a discussion after this. I'll go back and we can double- check that. But I'm not so sure -- whatever -- I mean, I think the bottom line as an over-arching answer to this is, whether it be the F- 22 or any other program, their future is being discussed within the context of the criteria that I laid out and within these larger discussions.

So I don't think anything is made as an island unto itself. The context to this is the larger budget and how it impacts it and how -- both financially, and in terms of balancing capabilities and risk.


Q The secretary said on Tuesday the president would make a decision about troops to Afghanistan in the course of the next few days. Has there been any movement on that?

MR. MORRELL: I don't think that -- well, I can't tell you there's been movement. I can tell you there has been no decision yet on this matter, but I think the secretary's statement that he hoped to have a decision in the next -- in the coming days, in the next several days, still holds true.

I mean this -- you know, we have shared with the president and the National Security Council our recommendations, our advice. And I think they are in the midst of trying to make some determination on how to proceed in the near term with additional troops to Afghanistan.

But I think the secretary's statement still holds true, that this has been a careful, deliberate process, one that makes total sense to him. And it should to everyone, given the fact that this is this president's first opportunity to send men and women off to war. And we are respectful of the fact that this is being carefully deliberated, and yet we still anticipate a decision in the coming days.

Q So we should hear something next week, then, about it?

MR. MORRELL: You could hear something this week about it; could be next week. I think the notion is that "the coming days" still holds true, but I can't tell you whether it'll be this week or next week at this point. I mean, perhaps the White House could -- I mean, fundamentally, this decision is now -- you know, rests with the president, and that's what we are awaiting.


Q Geoff, do you have any comment on what Senator Feinstein said yesterday about the fact that the drones that were flowing over Pakistan were coming from a base in Pakistan?

MR. MORRELL: No, I have no comment on that.

Q Do you -- can you deny it?

MR. MORRELL: The first I have heard of it. I know nothing of it. I -- I'd, frankly, follow it up with her. I know nothing of it.


Q Geoff, on to the -- back to the F-22, the makers of the F- 22 have been putting out press releases saying that if the line closes that 100,000 U.S. jobs would be lost. Is that -- does that figure jibe with what the Pentagon knows?

MR. MORRELL: Jennifer, I frankly don't know if there's anybody here counting up jobs associated with the F-22. I mean, I think fundamentally we make decisions about weapons programs with regards to how they impact our national security and our ability to defend the American people and our interest abroad.

But -- so I couldn't tell you whether the numbers they speak of are accurate or not. You know, obviously there are a great many people employed by a multitude of Defense contractors, and so we are sensitive to that. They support our war effort. Without them, we could not do the things we do. So we are not insensitive to that.

But fundamentally, the secretary is looking at the things I laid out for you, I mean, the notion that we need to make hard choices in this economic climate, we need to -- particularly with regards to programs that are -- that are having trouble being executed, we need to look for cost efficiencies and we need to be more joint in how we acquire. I mean, he's talked about this before, about the notion that if one service has a -- is building a particular future capability, perhaps it need not be replicated by the other services, but that the other services could rely on that capability housed in another service and take on additional risk, knowing that it would be covered by another service.

So we're just -- I mean, the services clearly have been extraordinarily joint in their operations since Operation Enduring Freedom and -- commenced in late 2001. And we have been -- they have been increasingly joint in other aspects as well. But we -- he really does believe that we need to put service interests aside as much as we can when it comes to budgeting and acquisitions and so forth and work more jointly and not see ourselves as separate stovepipe budgets but one larger Defense budget that looks out for our collective capabilities and risks.


Q Can you give us some detail about the Dover -- what's going on with the review into allowing media to cover caskets returning? Who's conducting the review?

MR. MORRELL: The review --

Q Is there any timeline? Some specific details on that, please.

MR. MORRELL: The review was requested by the secretary. I think he spoke to this a little bit on Tuesday. He actually asked about this roughly a year ago and had been given an answer. And -- but after the president expressed his desire to hear some more about it, the secretary's asked for this review.

It's on a pretty tight time schedule. I don't know precisely the due date, but I think you'll see in a matter of days, rather than weeks, a response to him.

And as to those who are contributing to this effort, I think anybody who has a stake in this is being welcomed into the process. I mean, clearly Public Affairs will have a large stake in this. Personnel and Readiness, obviously, looking out of the interests of the families, will have a large stake in this. I think the services will all have an opportunity to express their views on this matter. And in the -- once that takes place, we'll pass something up to the secretary, and he, as he's expressed to you, is very open to the notion of adjusting the policy if we can, you know, balance appropriately the desire for the right to privacy by families while at the same time trying to bring this process more into the open, so that the American people can see what goes on and honor these heroes as well.

But -- so I would say days rather than weeks. Those are the people who are involved in it. And we're looking for the proper balance. I mean, we think we've achieved it at Arlington, you know, where the families have, you know, a great -- you know, have the -- have a great deal of discretion as to what -- how much media coverage they wish, how much media coverage they are comfortable with.

And I think the secretary is looking to determine whether or not we can devise a process at Dover that is also able to best balance the privacy desires or the desires of the family -- some families may not desire privacy -- the desires of the family as well as the American people.

Yeah, Ann?

Q Can you describe a little bit what the --

MR. MORRELL: And there are -- let me just add one thing to this. And he has recently heard of other -- in the -- since this has come up, anecdotally, he's been hearing of other examples of how other nations deal with their returning war dead and has been interested in learning their process -- the different processes that they have and to see if they could -- but -- we could learn something from them.

Q (Off mike) -- privacy -- (off mike) -- when the caskets aren't marked? I mean, it's a -- what --

MR. MORRELL: Well, for example, I mean -- thankfully, Courtney, we are in a situation now where far fewer war dead are returning from Iraq, in particular.

And -- for example, this week we had four soldiers killed up north in Mosul in an IED attack. So in all likelihood, four caskets are going to be coming home from Iraq into Dover in the near future. And so the four families involved in that tragedy are going to know well, because they're going to be notified, that those are their loved ones coming off that cargo plane. And so we need to -- we need to respect their wishes.

Thus far, the belief has been that exposing this -- opening this up to the media would compel families to be there themselves, that if the press is going to be there, well, by golly, I should be there to see my son or daughter, husband, wife, mother, father come home. And often that would require great personal expense to get there. It would tear them out of the only support network they have at the time. And the judgment has been that that is an undue burden to put on families. This has -- our policy has been adjudicated in the courts. It's been held up.

But the secretary is one who believes that perhaps we should be re-looking at this. Can we find a way to better balance an individual family's privacy concerns with the right of the American people to honor these fallen heroes as well? And so we're in the process of working that out.

But I think he's shown you a lot that he is disposed, leaning, tilting towards trying to do more, if possible. And we'll have to see if we can come to such an accommodation.

Yeah, Anne?

Q Can you describe the DOD role in this Afghan review announced this week to be led by Bruce Riedel? And what military information is that review going to consider or produce that the others finished and ongoing do not?

MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean, this is fundamentally -- this is the Obama administration's review. I mean, we talk about other reviews. I mean, other -- there have been other reviews which have preceded it, namely the Bush administration review at the end of its tenure, General Petraeus's review. The joint staff has had something they've been working on as well. But ultimately, the only review that counts is the one that's conducted at the behest of the president.

And so he has -- they -- earlier this week, I think on Tuesday, they named Bruce Riedel as the chairman of this administration review. I think it's co-chaired by our new undersecretary of Defense for policy, Michele Flournoy, as well as Ambassador Holbrooke. And so they are on a tight timeline. I think they were given 60 days to work this. And I can tell you, you know, Michele was approved, I think, a couple days ago and she is already hard at work on this and a number of other taskings that her office has. And that's where we stand at this point.

Was there a follow-up? No?

I mean, I think ultimately this is the one that counts. I think other reviews will inform this one, but this is the review that the Obama administration is conducting so as to determine their goals and objectives and policy going forward in Afghanistan.

Q So where does that leave General Petraeus's review, which isn’t in yet?

MR. MORRELL: General Petraeus's review, I think, is due this month, unless something has changed. I think General Petraeus's review, fundamentally, was to inform him as he took on this new command. And I don't believe it had a more ambitious agenda than to bring him up to speed on what is going on in that region and what should likely be going on in that region.

And I think, though, that he's got a lot of very smart people, as he always does, working for him on this and they are working in conjunction with the players in this review to inform it as well.

But I think that was originally driven as an exercise or as -- it was a product that was designed to make him smarter, it was not designed for -- you know, to drive the administration's policy.

Yeah. Mike.

Q Geoff, can you maybe talk to us a little bit about why it's so difficult to get answers from this building and from Congress in terms of tracking military aircraft being used by congressional members for CODEL trips?

MR. MORRELL: Why it's difficult -- to track the aircraft?

Q Yeah, what members of Congress are using military aircraft to go on CODEL trips.

MR. MORRELL: I think members of Congress tell you -- they lay out their -- I mean, they're the ones who are traveling, and they lay out their plans, I think publicly. I think they have to file documentation to support their travel and so forth. So I think it's a transparent process, but I think it's one that's driven by the Congress. I think all we do is provide the transportation. I mean, the trips are theirs. We have the aircraft and we arrange for them to use them as we can.

Q It's quite difficult to get answers out of them, you know, what aircraft they're going to be using. And if you go through the process here, even your own Public Affairs officers have trouble getting answers from within the building; you know, who's using what aircraft and when, and, you know, how much it is. I understand the how-much thing, you know, is broken down and can be difficult, but just to get simple answers on who's using military aircraft.

MR. MORRELL: Well, I mean I think it also depends on where the trip is. If the trip is to a dangerous spot, obviously there are security considerations. I am well aware there are many trips not to dangerous spots, so security may not play as big a role there. I think fundamentally, Mike, this is a process that's driven by the Congress, and we support them, but they are their trips and I think they're the ones who are responsible for disclosing information about them. But I'll double --

Q Would you mind just checking? Because some of us who have submitted FOIAs to Andrews and to the Air Force have been lost in a bureaucratic mess. And we've just simply asked for a list of what aircraft were used on what dates, redact any sensitive information, but just how many flights were there.

And this is clearly information that the Air Force and the military has. If you could just check in on that --

MR. MORRELL: Well, let -- why don't we -- I'll be happy, for those who are interested in this, we can huddle afterwards. I'm sure Bryan has some historical insight that he can offer to this, and we'll all get educated on this together.

It sounds like we're just about ready --

Q One more.

MR. MORRELL: One last one.

Q Yesterday General Cartwright said that countries with satellites in space are going to be playing dodge ball for decades. Do you have a readout on the extent of the debris field, now that it's begun to scatter and is perhaps more easily observed?

MR. MORRELL: Well, General Cartwright is a man who knows of what he speaks when it comes to this area. Obviously, as the former STRATCOM commander, he's well-versed in these issues. So I'm not going to take issue with anything he had to say on this matter.

I can tell you, as I think has been shared with a number of you, that we are in the process now of tracking more than 500 pieces of debris in space from this particular event or, as they like to call it, this conjunction -- I think that's a collision, for us lay people -- and we will develop element sets, essentially space coordinates, and we'll post this data for all those who are interested in such things, on Now this is a publicly available website, so all space faring nations and entities will have the data and be able to determine the risk to their space assets.

Let me just finish a couple last points, and then I'll be happy to take your question. But the Joint Space Operations Center, which is -- I think I fall under the purview of STRATCOM, routinely tracks more 18,000 man-made objects orbiting the Earth, using a worldwide space surveillance network of radar and optical sensors.

However, limits on the current space surveillance network and data processing capability prevent analysis of all potential satellite collisions. So we obviously have to prioritize, and we pay particular attention, of course, to manned spaceflight.

Q And are you familiar with any Defense Department position on whether Russia or any other country has an obligation to de-orbit a dead satellite -- before it dies, that is -- such as the one that was collided with, and whether there's any liability issue when the case arises?

MR. MORRELL: That has not -- that has not come before me. I honestly have no idea if we have a policy governing that. Obviously, we chose to deal with one of our dead satellites in a rather proactive manner. I don't know if we are encouraging others of doing the same. I mean, I don't --

Q That's what the question is, is whether -- (off mike).

MR. MORRELL: Yeah. I mean, the bottom line is -- let me get back to you on that. But I think in all dealings in space the notion is to be as proactive and as transparent and as clear to all of the other space faring nations what you are doing, so that everybody can make appropriate adjustments.

Okay. Thank you all.

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