UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


DoD News Briefing

Thursday, June 18, 1998 - 2:30 p.m. (EDT)
Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)


Q: Is the Pentagon raising questions about satellite deals with the Chinese, as (inaudible) in the New York Times reported today?

A: Well, I can't talk -- although a lot of information about various license applications seems to make its way quickly into the press. There are rules and regulations that bar me from talking about specific license applications. But based on that story, I understand the facts to be that a company -- Hughes -- applied for a license several years ago and was granted a license.

Then, according to the story, the company decided to change the technical parameters of the satellite that it planned to launch. And therefore has come in, according to the story, and asked for a new license. And that license is under review now by the entire government. We have, as everybody should know by now, a very rigorous review process that requires the State Department, the Defense Department, and the Commerce Department, all to review applications for this type of technology.

And even though the license is ultimately granted or denied by the Commerce Department, these decisions are made on the basis of a vote by a group of agencies. And there are direct appeals if members of the group don't like the way the decision comes out. So there's adequate opportunity for people to be heard and that, as I understand it, is what's going on with this new license application.

Q: Would you characterize the Pentagon's position as one of an overreaction?

A: I would not characterize it. I believe that the story suggested that this is in the early stages of review and I suspect this will take some time.

Q: Is this a "which came first, chicken or egg?" I mean, did the concerns expressed by --

A: Which did come first? I don't know. I've always tried to figure that out.

Q: Did the decision to apply for a new license application come as a result of concerns expressed by people either in the military or DOD?

A: I can't get into the details of this, but based on what the story said, the company came forward with a new application after it had decided to make some changes in the design of the satellite. And those design changes triggered a need for another licensing review. That's what's going on now. And that has not been completed.

Q: And the company made this decision to apply for a new license all on its own? I mean, it wasn't encouraged to do so by anybody within either the administration or in DOD or in --

A: Jim, I'm in a tough position because I can't comment on any specifics. But you can go back and review the article. I think you'll find that the article came forward -- that the article says that the company came forward on its own and I believe a company official is quoted to that effect in the article. Yes?

Q: I have a question. What is the policy on sales of U.S. satellites to the Chinese military as opposed to other parts of the Chinese government?

A: Well, the issue is -- the issue primarily is what sort of technology is allowed to be transferred and what isn't. And the satellites that have been licensed have been commercial satellites that have been used for commercial purposes. Many militaries, including ours, the Russian military and the Chinese military, transmit communications over commercial phone lines and commercial satellite channels. That's fairly standard in the world today. So our policy has been to limit the type of technology that can be transferred as part of these commercial satellite packages, and to make sure that nothing we transfer can improve the military capability of the Chinese.

Q: And how would a communications satellite handling telephone calls potentially do that? By allowing them to basically monitor all calls that were going through that system, or --

A: The criticism that has been raised about this is that the transfer of the satellites has increased the ability of the Chinese military to communicate with itself. It has produced more communications channels for them.

If that is the case, it has happened because commercial satellites in general have increased the communications capacity, the number of channels available for handling calls. Yes?

Q: Can I just ask one more question? Has anybody in the DoD or the military expressed concern about high ranking Chinese military officials having almost direct contacts or involvement in the satellite program, itself?

A: This entire issue now is under investigation by the Justice Department, as you know. And the amount I can say about it is very limited. Also, today -- maybe still -- members of the administration, including some DoD officials are testifying on the Hill about this. It's probably -- you will probably have a better chance of getting questions answered by monitoring that testimony.

I'm not going to get into details right now of who is concerned about what because this is all in the middle of an investigation. Yes?


Press: Thank you.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list