U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
|Presenter: Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs George Little||September 04, 2012|
MR. GEORGE LITTLE: Good afternoon, everyone. Hope you had a good Labor Day weekend. I'd like to take just a few moments to address a few headlines from over the weekend, and for the benefit of those who don't follow the Pentagon day-to-day to ensure that there is clarity on a few issues.
This morning, Secretary Panetta received his weekly update from Gen. Allen on the war in Afghanistan. Gen. Allen briefed the secretary on the status of training of the Afghan national security forces. NATO ISAF training of the Afghan army and Afghan national police forces continue unabated. The goal remains to train and field 352,000 ANSF by October, and we remain on track to reach that milestone. ISAF, working with the Afghan government, is exploring counterintelligence initiatives to thwart insider threats and is working to develop joint protection plans.
As some of you may have seen, over the weekend United States special operations forces determined to temporarily put on hold the training of 1,000 Afghan local police forces and until an intensive re-vetting process could take place for all 16,000 members of the ALP [Afghan Local Police]. During this process, ALP operations, partnered operations, continue.
While the ALP is not part of the ANSF, we believe they are critical to helping provide force security for the Afghan people. What Gen. Allen has reported is that insurgents are alarmed by the ALP, whose legitimacy in local intelligence networks make it exceedingly difficult for the insurgency to maintain or establish a foothold in local communities. This is one of the reasons that the Taliban would like to exploit the ALP, and it is why in part it is so important that the vetting process be sound for all members of the ALP.
Fundamentally, our partnership with the Afghan military remains very strong, and our service members continue to train and work alongside Afghan partners every single day. Continuing to do so will strengthen the Afghans' ability to secure their country, their government, and ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for Al Qaida.
The second story involves the planning for Austere Challenge 12. Austere Challenge 12 is a bilateral ballistic missile defense exercise between the United States and Israel that provides important training for the defense of both nations. The exercise was originally scheduled for May. However, at the request of the Israeli Ministry of Defense and Israeli Defense Forces, the exercise was moved -- was moved to late fall of this year. That decision was addressed by Secretary Panetta from this podium in January, as well as others, including me, in subsequent media briefings.
When the exercise was moved, the United States notified Israel that, due to concurrent operations, the United States would provide a smaller number of personnel than originally planned, and Israel reiterated its request to postpone the exercise until late fall. The fact of the matter is that this exercise remains the largest ever ballistic missile defense exercise between our nations and a significant increase from the previous exercise a few years ago. The exercise has not changed in scope and will include the same types of systems as planned. All deployed systems will be fully operational with their associated operators, including the missile interceptors.
As Minister of Defense Ehud Barak has repeatedly said, the U.S.-Israel defense relationship is stronger than it has ever been, and we couldn't agree more. This exercise is a tangible sign of our mutual trust and our shared commitment to the defense of our two nations.
With that, I'll open it up to your questions. Lita?
Q: George, on the separate issue, on the SEAL book, has the department made a decision yet on whether to take any legal action regarding this and on whether or not there is classified material in the book, and if there -- if, indeed, you've determined there is, can you tell us what it is and what action may or may not be taken at this point?
MR. LITTLE: Thank you very much, Lita, for that question. We continue to review our options when it comes to legal accountability for what in our estimation is a material breach of nondisclosure agreements that were signed by the author of this book.
With respect to the information that's contained in the book, people inside the department have read it. And we do have concerns about some of the sensitive information that we believe is contained in it. I'm not going to get out ahead of what the process going forward might be and what options we might decide to pursue, but this is a very serious concern that we have.
When it comes to sensitive special operations missions, such as the operation that took down Osama bin Laden, it is important that those who are involved in such operations take care to protect sensitive and classified information. And if I had been part of the raid team on the ground and I had decided to write a book about it, it wouldn't have been a tough decision for me to submit the book for pre-publication review. That is common sense. It's a no-brainer. And it did not happen.
Q: Will you -- just as a follow-up -- you made a distinction between sensitive and classified. So is the determination that it is sensitive information there and not classified? And also, is there any determination on whether the book will be sold on -- on bases (off mic)
MR. LITTLE: There's been no directive from this department to withhold sale of the book from military exchanges. This book is being made widely available in bookstores and online. It is not our typical practice to get into the business of deciding what and what does not go on bookshelves in military exchanges. But that doesn't mean in any way, shape or form that we don't have serious concerns about the fact that this process of pre-publication review was not followed.
This is a solemn obligation. And the author in this case elected not to abide by his legal obligations. And that's disheartening and, frankly, is something that we're taking a very close look at.
Q: So there is classified information in the book, the department believes?
MR. LITTLE: We believe there's sensitive information that would have raised concerns had this book gone through pre-publication review. There's no doubt about it.
Q: I have a follow-up. If you don't --
MR. LITTLE: Go ahead, Dan.
Q: You're indicating that you're not -- you're not going to prevent the book from being sold on military bases, but at -- it looks like no legal action will be taken at this point and -- and this person (off mic)
MR. LITTLE: We are still looking at all options, Dan. I'm not saying that legal avenues are not available. Legal avenues are available to us. I'm simply not going to get into what we may or may not decide.
Q: George, not surprisingly, on Friday, the former SEAL's lawyer sent a letter back to the Pentagon saying that his client was not obligated or required to submit the material for pre-publication review, but is simply invited to do so. And is it true that this nondisclosure agreement would require him to submit for pre-publication review if he, the author, thought there was classified material in it?
MR. LITTLE: Our reading, as you might expect, is very different. We strongly believe that there was a requirement for pre-publication review in this instance. It wasn't followed. And the author is in material breach of his secrecy agreements with the United States government.
Q: Can you release a copy of that nondisclosure agreement and redact anything that would identify the former Navy SEAL?
MR. LITTLE: We did not release the nondisclosure agreements due to privacy concerns. And the fact that the name was on the NDAs, I'll see if there's a possibility for redaction, but we don't have any plans to release the NDAs at this time.
Q: Well, it -- it might be helpful to back up the Pentagon's claim that he was required to do it.
MR. LITTLE: Well, this is for us pretty open and shut. This is a solemn obligation -- I've signed many secrecy agreements over the course of my career, working inside the intelligence community and in the Department of Defense, and it to me is quite incredible that someone invested with preserving our nation's secrets, particularly in very sensitive missions, didn't think to have this reviewed.
Q: George, can you tell me the difference between sensitive information and classified information?
MR. LITTLE: Yeah, I mean, we can dance around definitions all we want, Elisabeth, but --
Q: (off mic)
MR. LITTLE: I agree. We are -- we are very concerned that -- that classified information may be contained in this book.
Q: Wait a minute. So wait a minute. You haven't found any yet? You're saying you found sensitive information, but not classified.
MR. LITTLE: We have -- we have -- we have very serious concerns that classified information is likely contained in this book.
Q: Have you made a determination yet, though, about whether -- has anyone determined that there is, in fact, classified information in there?
MR. LITTLE: We are, of course, continuing to review the book, but at this stage, let me put it this way. We do think that -- that sensitive and classified information is probably contained in the book.
Q: As far as this book is concerned, George, two questions, one on Haqqani, one on this book. Is this going to damage more than -- at that time, when Osama bin Laden was killed and information was around the globe, including in Pakistan, is this going to be damaged inside Pakistan, something with the U.S.-Pakistan relations, or --
MR. LITTLE: I think that we're in a new place with U.S.-Pakistani relations. We are on better footing these days, so I don't see any effect this one book has on U.S.-Pakistani relations. We certainly hope it doesn't have that effect.
Q: And if I may, as far as Haqqani network is concerned in Pakistan, leader was killed, and now more attacks are there inside Pakistan, including on the U.S. consulate and their workers inside Pakistan, because of U.S. drone attacks. And they're asking that drone attacks must be stopped and also it will damage as far as future relations. I mean, where do we stand as far as Pakistan's help or support for the U.S. to eliminate the Al Qaida inside Pakistan?
MR. LITTLE: We believe that the Pakistani government shares our view that terrorists threaten both countries, both Pakistan and the United States. Scores of Pakistanis have regrettably been killed by terrorists inside Pakistan. And we, of course, have suffered losses, as well, inside Pakistan and elsewhere, from Al Qaida and from other terrorist groups operating along the Afghan-Pakistan border. So we have common cause with the Pakistanis. We're working closely with the Pakistanis on the counterterrorism issue, and we will continue to do so.
Q: And just a quick one.
MR. LITTLE: Okay.
Q: Can you share a little bit about the recent attacks inside Afghanistan, please?
MR. LITTLE: Which?
Q: Those from -- across the board from Pakistan into Afghanistan on U.S --.
MR. LITTLE: This is -- cross-border -- cross-border operations or attacks? We think this is really an issue for the government of Afghanistan and Pakistan to work out.
Barbara, do you have a question?
Q: Thanks, two questions. On green-on-blue or insider attacks, what I didn't hear you mention was that -- what ISAF tells us is essentially all 350,000 Afghan security forces either have gone or are going through the process of being re-screened. And that comes from ISAF. So what would you -- what does -- what do you say to the families who have lost loved ones or their colleagues in the military after so many incidents this year alone? Who's accountable for it taking so long for the U.S. military, for the coalition to realize they had to re-screen? Because for months, we were told isolated incidents, and apparently not.
MR. LITTLE: Well, let me put this in some perspective here, Barbara. It's not that we have come only recently to this issue. We've taken it seriously for some time. In March of this year, six months ago, the -- ISAF issued a tactical directive -- and let me just list all that that tactical directive contained. It made it the adoption of specific and tailored force protection measures. Personnel and increased risks from insider attack were required to undertake specific close quarter combat and active shooter training. All commands are required to conduct refresher training, particularly for mentors and others who routinely work side-by-side with Afghans.
The directive required additional in-theater cultural awareness training. The directive also asked that coalition force units create safe zones inside ANSF compounds where they can defend themselves if necessary. And more recently, there's been a great deal of focus by General Allen and his team on the importance of Guardian Angels, small unit leadership, and counterintelligence matters that will help identify potential attackers early on.
Q: But why did it take -- and I have a follow-up to this, please -- why did it take so long for the military in the department to come to the conclusion that 350,000 troops had to be re-screened? Why did (off mic)
MR. LITTLE: Three hundred and fifty thousand troops?
Q: Well, ISAF tells us that essentially it's much more than the ALP, that -- and it's much more than what special ops had ruled, that it's essentially everybody is being re-screened.
MR. LITTLE: I haven't spoken with my colleagues in Kabul today, but, you know, this is something that we have to, you know, constantly be on the lookout for. This is a war zone. I can never take the risk of insider attacks down to zero. I wish I could. But I can't. But what we can try to do is put as much effort into identifying potential attackers as early on as possible to try to stop insider attacks.
Q: Very briefly, can I go back on sensitive versus classified, because I still don't understand your answer?
MR. LITTLE: (off mic)
Q: So sensitive -- you are definite that you found sensitive information and your "probably" phrase applies to classified? Or are you definite or probable on both? Which is it?
MR. LITTLE: I think that there is a very strong sense that -- that this book contains sensitive and classified information.
Q: But that is not a legal determination yet by the department. That's just your sense of it?
MR. LITTLE: I'm not going to get into the legal issues at play here. I'm not an attorney, and as I think I said on Friday, it's probably a tribute to the legal profession that I'm not a lawyer. But I do think that --
Q: (off mic) by saying that there was sensitive information in the book.
MR. LITTLE: Yes, absolutely. And there -- there --
Q: (off mic)
MR. LITTLE: We believe that -- that sensitive and classified information is contained in the book. I don't think I could be any clearer than that.
Q: (off mic)
Q: (off mic)
MR. LITTLE: Okay, all right. Well, let's -- let's cut through it.
Q: (off mic)
MR. LITTLE: All right. Let's cut through it.
Q: Say again?
MR. LITTLE: Let's -- let's cut through it. Sensitive and classified information is contained in the book. Now, look.
Q: It is?
MR. LITTLE: Is. Is. Is contained.
Q: (off mic)
Q: (off mic)
MR. LITTLE: I'll -- let me put a definitive mark on it, okay, so that I can be as clear as possible. And this is -- when you have special operations units that perform these missions, there are tactics, techniques, and procedures, not to mention human life, that are in play. And it is the height of irresponsibility not to have this kind of material checked for the possible disclosure of classified information. And we have very serious concerns after having reviewed the book.
Q: George, to that point, do you feel, as many have said -- and you're sort of suggesting here -- that the code of silence among special operators is slowly eroding. We've got this e-book coming out just after this. Is there more that needs to be done, rather than having people sign an NDA? Is there more that needs to be done to assure that they won't be going out and selling their stories after -- after all is said and done?
MR. LITTLE: Well, this doesn't happen all that often, for starters. Admiral McRaven, the commander of SOCOM, issued a message to his workforce recently. It was eloquent and to the point and addressed the importance of protecting our special operations culture.
We're prepared to look at ways of shoring up our belief that these kinds of books should receive pre-publication review. There's no doubt about it. And remember here, the sole yardstick is classification. This is a former service member who wrote a book. This is about merely trying to protect classified information. It's not about trying to prevent the telling of a story. That's the sole yardstick, is classification.
Q: But, George, you just said that you're ready to enter -- you're ready to look at the possibility you have to shore up your belief that classified -- that books need review. So you're now opening the door to the fact it's not so crystal-clear.
MR. LITTLE: It is -- it is -- it is crystal-clear. But if we need to, you know, re-emphasize this, we might. But in this case, as I said, it's a no-brainer. This is common sense. If you are a special operator, if you're an intelligence officer inside the Department of Defense or inside the intelligence community, you decide to write a book involving intelligence equities or special operations equities, you know you're involved in a classified mission, it is -- it is plain, it is simple. And -- and pre-publication review of this kind of book is not -- it's -- it's -- as I said before, the -- the height of irresponsibility not to go through the process, which is not that onerous.
Q: Does the disclosure of sensitive information require pre-publication review or just classified?
MR. LITTLE: I'm not going to get into the semantics here. The sole -- the sole yardstick is classified information. And that's -- sensitive information, you know, we can go into definitional disputes here, but, you know, the --
Q: But classified -- so you're -- I just want to make sure I hear this right. You're now saying there is classified information in the book?
MR. LITTLE: I think I've said at least three times now that we believe --
Q: (off mic) now you're saying is.
MR. LITTLE: Okay, all right.
Q: (off mic) difference.
MR. LITTLE: Okay. All right. Let me -- let me be clear. I'm -- I'm -- not to get into the semantics of the word "is," that's --
Q: (off mic)
MR. LITTLE: The -- the -- the answer is that we believe that there is classified information in this book.
Q: If the department believes there was classified information in the book, why did they not stop the publication of it as they have with other books, like Tony Shaffer's book?
MR. LITTLE: There are tendencies I think sometimes to think that there's a cookie-cutter approach to these matters. Each case has to be viewed on its own and on its own merits. And, oh, by the way, we didn't have much time in this case.
And, you know, pre-release copies of the book were already being circulated around. It's my assumption -- I guess I can't say for sure, but it's my assumption that some of the books were shipped a while back. So the practical effect of requesting that the publisher withhold release of the book just wasn't an available option.
Q: And do you have any information about why he left the service in April of this year? Were there any -- were there -- are there any indications that he may have been forced out for some reason, some breach that had occurred prior to this?
MR. LITTLE: I wouldn't get into it, and I don't know, to be honest.
Q: Has Panetta read the book?
MR. LITTLE: He's certainly been briefed on its contents, yeah.
Q: His reaction?
MR. LITTLE: The secretary is very concerned that the process wasn't followed here. The people who conducted this raid -- and, of course, he was at the heart of the -- of the mission, at least in guiding it, they performed heroic acts. They did this country and others a great service by taking Osama bin Laden off the streets.
The secretary is also of the belief that those who are entrusted with national security secrets need to live up to their obligations. It's not a high bar to cross, quite frankly. And unfortunately, that didn't happen in this case, and he's deeply disappointed that it didn't happen in this matter.
Q: George, just to follow up on that, Pentagon and White House officials had already talked so extensively about the details of this mission, how the SEALs flew into Pakistan, what their original plan was to drop each team, how the plane crashed, and then the backup plan, where the SEALs were dropped, how they deployed into the building and where they shot their different targets, I mean, it got to the point where Secretary Gates basically told everyone to shut up and stop talking about the mission. Have you compromised any sort of legal standing you have to bring against this author by how much the U.S. government has already talked about this mission?
MR. LITTLE: There are senior U.S. officials who are authorized to speak on these matters. And there are those who are not necessarily authorized to speak on these matters, but have other obligations, such as when they write a book to go through pre-publication review. And sometimes even those officials who are authorized at the time to speak on a particular subject, such as the bin Laden operation, if they were to write a book later on, would have to go through pre-publication review. I, for one, fall into that category. So let's not -- let's not conflate the issue here, Chris.
Q: (off mic) publicly saying something and writing it in a book. I mean, when Secretary Gates voiced his concerns, he wasn't talking about a book. He was talking about people describing very specific details of this operation.
MR. LITTLE: Well, this administration provided information -- unclassified information on the bin Laden operation in the days after the raid. There's no doubt about that. There was -- as I think you all will recall -- an insatiable appetite for information on the bin Laden operation. After all, this is one of the most profound military and intelligence successes in our history.
We were all deeply concerned, not just in this building, but elsewhere in the administration, about the disclosure of highly classified information that made its way out the door. I don't know precisely who did it, but it shouldn't have happened. And many of us tried to keep some of those sensitive details, particularly those involving sources and methods, from making their way to press reports.
So there was a concerted effort inside this -- inside this administration to protect classified information surrounding the bin Laden raid, while at the same time trying to address the understandable appetite on the part of the press corps and the American people for information on the demise of the world's number-one terrorist.
Q: George, your problem -- your objection to this so far seems to be that he didn't follow the rules. Is there anything you can say about actual damage that has occurred from this breach? Or is it just that he didn't follow the rules?
MR. LITTLE: I'm not going to get into what the damage assessments are. It may, frankly, be too early to tell. The book hasn't been widely distributed yet, but we'll see. I don't know.
Q: I'm still unclear -- back to Mick's question -- about whether the obligation that anyone is under here who writes a book and had access to classified information is under. Is -- is the -- is it sort of a self-identification that, gee, this book strays into classified information, so therefore I have to submit it under the terms of my nondisclosure agreement? Or is it -- does the agreement specify that any time you are writing about operations that you were formerly involved in that were classified, you have to submit it for pre-publication review?
MR. LITTLE: I don't have the precise or specific language of the NDA in front of me, David. That being said, anything that falls into the category of classified information that you may have been privy to, anything -- in my case, related to intelligence or the military, if I were to go out and write a book -- I don't have any plans to right now -- I would have to get it screened for pre-publication review.
Q: So even if you felt yourself --
MR. LITTLE: Anything that --
Q: Even if you felt yourself, having -- hypothetically -- that you didn't stray into classified information, you would still legally have to submit it?
MR. LITTLE: Under the terms of secrecy agreements that we sign with the U.S. government, this is a determination that doesn't fall on the individual. The individual simply has to say, a-ha, this may be sensitive, there may be classified information in play here, it relates to the military or may have intelligence equities, I need to submit this for pre-publication review. This happens on a regular basis by U.S. officials across the military and intelligence communities, and as I said, this is -- this is a no-brainer.
Q: And just one more quickly. You just said that there were senior officials after the bin Laden raid who did speak about -- about the raid and disclosed some information. You described -- you said that there was unclassified information released.
MR. LITTLE: Yeah.
Q: Was there a declassification process about details of the raid in the days after it so that senior officials could -- could speak about it?
MR. LITTLE: For press briefings that were conducted on the night of and -- and in the days following the raid, there were careful scrubs of the information. And when the information needed to be updated, we were clear about that. So --
Q: But I'm talking about whether -- I mean, there -- senior officials are allowed and authorized to declassify information for public disclosure. Did that happen after the -- in the days after -- or in hours after the bin Laden raid, do you know?
MR. LITTLE: Well, I can't speak for every part of our government. I wasn't part of every conversation. But I can tell -- I can give you my impression, having known about the raid in advance, having been present during the raid, and having participated in some of the press engagements following the raid, that there was a very strong effort made on the part of administration officials to protect classified information surrounding the raid.
And regrettably -- I don't where it came from -- but there were disclosures that we believe were very problematic in the days and weeks following the raid. And there were attempts to prevent the release of that information. In some cases, we were successful. In some cases, we weren't.
Q: George, you may have addressed this at the beginning, can I just double-check? The author of this book clearly is in breach -- if you say so -- is in breach of a process because he didn't actually hand over the book pre-publication. Is he definitely -- in the view of the Pentagon lawyers -- is he definitely in breach, at least potentially, of revealing official secrets? Does that automatically put him up to some other category of criminal prosecution?
MR. LITTLE: I'm not going to comment on the legal aspects of this matter that may or may not be in play. What we can say very definitively is that he was in material breach of his NDAs.
Q: Can I change the topic?
MR. LITTLE: Please.
Q: Go back to the ALP? You're welcome.
MR. LITTLE: Okay. All right.
Q: Back to the ALP re-screening, at the beginning of this, the screening process was one of the biggest questions everyone had, and I believe we were told there were something like seven different levels from village elder to local police, the regionals, some national system that would check on these guys. So what's -- what's going to happen different that -- to add to that now? Has that been decided? Or are you saying that is what is being decided and there's something new to come?
MR. LITTLE: No, I think we're taking additional steps right away. I think I listed two or three of those earlier in my response to Barbara's question. We're shoring up our counterintelligence measures inside coalition forces. We're ensuring that, at the small unit level, that leaders are made aware of this issue and are trained effectively. And that training has been ongoing for some time, but we're putting special focus on small unit leadership, because that's, frankly, where a lot of the business is getting done these days, partnered operations with Afghan security forces.
Q: What does that mean, though, other than -- you know, the special forces group that's -- or special ops group that's in charge of that particular village is -- now needs to just double-check? I mean, what -- what's the next step? Or how do you root out these guys?
MR. LITTLE: Well, I wouldn't want to get into the details of the vetting process. For obvious reasons, I wouldn't want to tip our hand to those who might want to take advantage of the process. But there are a number of ways to vet someone. Yes, communities, village elders inside Afghanistan are part of that process, but they're not the only part. There are other ways to try to get at the backgrounds of individuals inside the ANSF.
And let me -- let me say that this is not just a U.S. effort. The Afghans themselves are putting a lot of muscle behind the counterintelligence effort. They understand that this is an issue. And they're working very hard to try to address it.
(Inaudible), did you have a question?
Q: (off mic)
MR. LITTLE: Okay. All right.
Q: George, on the same issue, the message from this building, from ISAF has been that steady progress is being made in Afghanistan, despite insider attacks, other incidents. Yet you have a statement today from the New Zealand prime minister, why they're pulling out five months early, they're coming out in April rather than September, and he says it's because there's going to be an upgrade to the airport in Bamiyan in April, and by that happening -- this is what he said -- it's too dangerous to take our people on the road down to Kabul.
You have statements like that from an ally, 70-, 80-mile drive to Kabul, and he can't take his own army down that road. What does that say to the overall message of steady progress?
MR. LITTLE: Individual ISAF partners are going to make their own decisions from time-to-time. We do believe that overall there's unity of effort and that we are making very steady progress.
It is tempting, I think, to look at the Afghan war through the prism of one metric such as insider attacks, but insider attacks are not the whole story in Afghanistan. They just aren't. They're a problem. We're taking it seriously. And we understand that when these incidents occur, that it results in injury and loss of life and that people have -- pay the ultimate sacrifice for these green-on-blue incidents.
But if you look overall at what's happening in Afghanistan, you step back, and Afghan security forces are stepping up to the plate. The Taliban hasn't seized territory. There has been intense pressure brought to bear on our enemies inside Afghanistan. They are feeling the heat. So are they going to lash out from time-to-time? Yes. We are fighting a determined enemy. But I think that some of the narratives out there are, regrettably, micro-focused on particular issues, albeit serious ones. I'm not minimizing any particular issue. There are challenges in front of us.
But let me be clear. We are making progress. And that progress is steady, and we are making that progress together with our ISAF partners and with the Afghans.
Q: Who's the final decider, if you will, about whether or not to pursue legal action against the Navy SEAL?
MR. LITTLE: Ultimately, legal matters such as these -- not speaking to this particular case, because I don't want to preordain what the legal outcome might be, but ultimately it will be handled by the Department of Justice.
Q: So we should really be directing our questions over there at this point?
MR. LITTLE: Usually, these matters involve consultations, but ultimately the legal tip of the spear is the Department of Justice.
Q: (off mic) Department of Justice?
MR. LITTLE: I'm -- the Department of Justice is aware of our very serious concerns about the book, but I'm not going to get into the specifics of referrals.
Q: You know, the department's come under a lot of public scrutiny not just in this case, but in the past for helping Hollywood, helping the entertainment industry make movies about SEALs, make movies about special operations, you know, all kinds of thriller movie -- movies out there, and there's a number of them very well known to be in the works. Do you have any sense that Secretary Panetta wants to put the brakes or have a second look at this department or the government's level of cooperation with Hollywood because of these kinds of issues? Or do you see that continuing unabated at the moment? What's your sense of it?
MR. LITTLE: The secretary wants our engagements with the Hollywood industry to be -- follow appropriate policies and procedures. But as I understand it, he hasn't expressed -- well, he hasn't expressed any concerns to me about our engagement with -- with the entertainment industry and Hollywood and elsewhere, authors, and so forth.
We believe that it's a very important mission of ours to engage those who are putting together projects, whether they're in Hollywood or elsewhere. That's been part of our mission set for a very long time. Our goal is, of course, to help shape public understanding about our mission inside DOD and about the men and women who perform that mission and to provide facts so that these projects can be as realistic as possible.
Now, asterisk, do we understand that there's some artistic license taken sometimes in Hollywood? Yes. But we will continue to engage the entertainment industry. We will do it following our department's procedures and policies. And -- because it is the right thing to do.
Q: Do you have concerns about this book being made into a movie?
MR. LITTLE: I think that's probably the epitome of the hypothetical question.
Q: I want to know what the secretary's reaction was to Mitt Romney's speech last week and the lack of the word Afghanistan or just in general the Republican convention -- (inaudible) -- I was wondering -- (inaudible) -- going to show up in Charlotte to defend anything.
MR. LITTLE: I'm not going to get into politics from this podium. The secretary has avoided politics in election season, and I'll follow his lead.
Q: So then a more newsy question, then. What is his current thinking on the awareness of the -- of the war, of Afghanistan, in the American public? I mean, it ranks so low as a voter issue this time around. Is that concern of his?
MR. LITTLE: I think he addressed this issue at a recent press conference. I would refer you to what he said at that point. I don't think his views have changed.
Q: Follow-up on that?
MR. LITTLE: Sure.
Q: With the September 11th --
MR. LITTLE: I need to get going here soon -- (inaudible) -- last one.
Q: The September 11th anniversary coming up --
MR. LITTLE: Yes, ma'am.
Q: Is he concerned that Americans don't seem to be paying much attention to this war?
MR. LITTLE: The secretary, I believe, you know, feels very strongly that American service members who are serving in Afghanistan and who have served there over the past 10-plus years deserve the gratitude of the American people. They have performed a very important mission and have helped keep America safe.
I haven't asked him recently whether or not he think there's enough attention being paid to Afghanistan, but he does believe that -- overall that this issue obviously remains of important -- should be an important focus for the American people.
We have spilled a great deal of our blood and have invested a great deal of our treasure in ensuring that Al Qaida never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists. And as I said before, he thinks that we're making progress, and I think that he wants to see that continue, and he wants to see our troops rightly honored for their service.
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