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Text: Pentagon Briefing on Military Response to Terrorist Attacks

Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2001

Following is the transcript of a Pentagon briefing given by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

RUMSFELD: Good afternoon.

I just have a short couple of things I wanted to say, and then I'd be happy to respond to questions.

As we have said, and I don't think it can be repeated enough, this is a very new type of conflict, or battle or campaign or war or effort, for the United States. As a result, we are moving in a measured manner as we gather information. We're preparing appropriate courses of action. And as I've suggested, they run across the political and economic and financial, military, intelligence spectrum.

It's not a matter of a single event. We're talking about a very broadly based campaign to go after the terrorist problem where it exists, and it exists in countries across the globe. As I've indicated, this one network, Al Qaeda, that's receiving so much discussion and publicity may have activities in 50 to 60 countries, including the United States.

Therefore, it will not be quick and it will not be easy. Our adversaries are not one or two terrorist leaders, even a single terrorist organization or network. It's a broad network of individuals and organizations that are determined to terrorize, and in so doing to deny us the very essence of what we are--free people.

The people who committed these acts are clearly determined to try to force the United States of America and our values to withdraw from the world, or to respond by curtailing our freedoms. If we do that, the terrorists will have won, and we have no intention of doing so.

We have a choice--either to change the way we live, which is unacceptable; or to change the way that they live, and we chose the latter. We intend to put them on the defensive, to disrupt terrorist networks and remove their sanctuaries and their support systems. This requires a distinctly different approach from any war that we have fought before.

In the past, we were used to dealing with armies and navies and air forces and ships and guns and tanks and planes. This adversary is different. It does not have any of those things. It does not have high-value targets that we can go after.

But those countries that support them and give sanctuary do have such targets. The terrorists do not function in a vacuum. They don't live in Antarctica. They work, they train and they plan in countries. They're benefiting from the support of governments. They're benefiting from the support of nongovernmental organizations that are either actively supporting them with money, intelligence and weapons, or allowing them to function on their territory and tolerating, if not encouraging, their activities. In either case, it has to stop.

We'll have to deal with the networks. One of the ways to do that is to drain the swamp they live in, and that means dealing not only with the terrorists, but those who harbor terrorists.

This will take a long, sustained effort. It will require the support of the American people as well as our friends and allies around the world. And I must say that the support of the American people has been overwhelming. Indeed, the support across the globe has been overwhelming.

It's notable that hundreds and hundreds of citizens from more than 30 or 40 or 50 countries died in those attacks, so the world has a stake in this as well, and the world grieves.

I know that all Americans and certainly the men and women in uniform are up to this challenge. The terrorists who did this, in my view, will be seen to have made a mistake. They thought they could frighten Americans into retreat and inaction, and they will find that Americans have no intention of withdrawing from the world in fear.

I'll be happy to respond to questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, due probably in no small part to your admonition about releasing classified information, nobody in this building is saying anything about movements of troops or planes or anything.

RUMSFELD: Good. God bless them.


QUESTION: Do you plan beyond the 35,500 that you've identified for call-up, mostly for homeland defense, do you plan for or think there will be a need to call up forces for offensive operations in this war, as you say, on terror?

RUMSFELD: The best defense against terrorists is an offense. You simply cannot batten down the hatches and try to cope with every conceivable thing any terrorist could imagine to do. I mean, they've already done some unimaginable things.

The only answer is to take the effort to them, where they are.

With respect to reservists, the president's authorization that I recommended is one as I recall that is up to 50,000, Reserve, Guard combined, and we have at the moment no plans beyond the 35,000. And it is purely going to be a decision as to how long we have to do various things and what specialties seem to be the most in short supply. And that task is going forward.

Dr. David Chu is working with the services, and they are proceeding to analyze that.

QUESTION: Just one brief question--I realize you won't discuss operations at all--but there's been much talk about Afghanistan and, at the same time, just how extremely difficult it would be to do anything that would work in Afghanistan.

RUMSFELD: That's true.

QUESTION: How do you--I mean, how do you route them on a back scanner stand? How do you find them? How do you strike them?

RUMSFELD: Well, I think that one has to find ways to alter behavior and, as I have indicated, that runs across the spectrum.

You're quite right, Afghanistan is a very poor country. It is a country that has had--several countries have exhausted themselves pounding that country and fighting, and, as I think I've mentioned, it has a gross domestic product per capita of something like $700, $800, $900 per person a year. So there are not great things of value that are easy to deal with. And what we'll have to do is exactly what I said: Use the full spectrum of our capabilities.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you said that the United States would not be intimidated, would not be frightened by what has happened. Yet, the building in which you work has become an armed camp; your own top generals were unable to get here for hours this morning; there were traffic jams created that would be potential targets for terrorists well outside of the Pentagon. It looks like they have succeeded, that they're winning.

RUMSFELD: Well, in a sense you're right. In any time Americans alter their behavior because of a clear and visible threat to their lives, those that did the threatening have achieved some portion of their goal.

What we've got to do is to find ways to see that those traffic jams are eliminated--and I'm sure we will in a day or two--and to attempt to get back to as normal a situation, but as the president indicated, with a heightened awareness and vigilance, because it would be naive to think that there are no potential threats. There are.


QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, this morning...

RUMSFELD: And the inconvenience is something that I think, for the most part, people are willing to undergo given the fact that it has required a significant change.

If you look at the number of firefighters and the Red Cross and the Salvation Army and every conceivable organization out there, police, trying to get the bodies out of this building, it's not a surprise that some of the roadways are blocked and that they're using the parking lot there for taking the materials from the building and sifting through them and trying to find bodies and trying to find classified material and it is a very difficult whole set of problems that the people are trying to manage here in a way that inconveniences people to the least possible way.

QUESTION: But your own generals are not trusted to park their cars near the building because they supposedly fear that your generals' cars would have bombs in them?

RUMSFELD: To the extent that there is a heightened alert, it tends to be because there is intelligence that suggests that a prudent thing to do. It takes a lot of dogs to check under cars and, even though a car may belong to a perfectly responsible individual, it is not necessarily physically in their custody 24 hours a day. And they may not be aware of something that could have been done to the vehicle.

Now, if that's the case, and the dogs are busy doing other things, which they are, it seems to me not unreasonable and I would cast it slightly differently. I would say that what we've got here is a distinctly different circumstance in the Pentagon and the people are dealing with it, in my view, in a very professional way and I think that, for the most part, the people inconvenienced are, as well.

QUESTION: Before I ask my question, I want to follow up on Jacks'. Are you saying that there's credible intelligence that the Pentagon is still a target of terrorist attack?

RUMSFELD: No. What I'm saying is that, as the president indicated, it's important to get back to work and it's important to get about your business. But as we know, Washington National is not open. Why? Well, because it is so close to so many very high-value targets that it would not be a wise thing to do until we manage that. People are being inconvenienced at airports with their baggage. The baggage checks are considerably more careful--much more careful than in the past. It's all of those things that are quite understandable, it seems to me.

QUESTION: Then to follow-up on something you said earlier. You said that the terrorist states that support these terrorists do have armies, do have navies...


QUESTION: Right, some do. The State Department has--I forget what the list is, six or seven identified terrorist states--are you, this morning, declaring war on these nations that harbor terrorists?

RUMSFELD: No. What I'm saying is that, the United States of America has been savagely attacked by terrorists. Those terrorists live and work and function and are fostered and financed and encouraged, if not just tolerated, by a series of countries on this globe. And we are saying that we think that is striking directly at the way of life of the American people, and that we intend to find ways to alter that behavior.

QUESTION: And you said this morning also, ``That we have to drain the swamp to do that. You sometimes have to get muddy.'' Is the United States prepared to suspend or ignore some legal requirements, burden of proof, to go after people who have long been identified as suspect terrorists, but the U.S. hasn't been able to get at because they just don't have the kind of conclusive evidence to take to court?

RUMSFELD: The president has indicated that he intends to take this attack to the terrorists. And he intends to find ways to persuade the countries that are harboring terrorists to stop doing that.

I think of it in the sense of self-defense. And there is nothing that inhibits the United States of America from defending itself, and that is what we intend to do.

QUESTION: Can I follow that up?


QUESTION: Do you mind, sir, if I defer and let him follow it up?


QUESTION: I just wondered is, do you think that in the cases where those regimes that are supporting terrorism ignore your entreaties to stop, is it going to be U.S. policy to try to change those regimes?

RUMSFELD: Each would be an individual case, one would think.

QUESTION: Do you have evidence of state support for this attack?

RUMSFELD: I think I'll leave that to the Department of Justice, they and the FBI and the intelligence gathering agencies. I mean, I know a lot, and what I have said as clearly as I know how is that states are supporting these people. And what constitutes evidence and who wants to present it at what time, I'll leave to the people in that business.

RUMSFELD: I'm in a different business.

QUESTION: If I could have a preliminary question, that was the longest pregnant pause I think I've ever witnessed.

RUMSFELD: Sometimes I go longer.


I'm old fashioned. I like to engage my brain before my mouth.

QUESTION: Quite frankly, can you elaborate on the pregnant pause?


RUMSFELD: Sure. It's a sensitive matter. And the United States is careful about what it does. We are a democracy, and we do have a free press, and we do have a Congress, and we do have rules and we do consider ourself a nation of laws. And that's a good thing.

We're also not stupid, and we're not going to simply allow things to happen to us that strike at all of those things that I just described. The proper way to think of it is that a country has every right in the world to defend itself, and that is what we intend to do.

QUESTION: I wonder if I could ask the question that I wanted to ask, which was about your comment about curtailing freedoms. Already, you know, there are some people who are wondering whether the more severe restrictions you're putting on access to the press, both here, but more importantly...

RUMSFELD: I have not put any restrictions on access to the press. All I've suggested is that the people who handle government classified information not violate federal criminal law and put American lives at risk by doing it.

QUESTION: But there's talk about withdrawing access, for instance, to combat operations--that type of thing--direct coverage.

RUMSFELD: There's talk about everything in the world in this town. I have not even addressed that subject.

QUESTION: So this is not a matter that has been decided?

RUMSFELD: It has clearly not been decided. I have made no decisions with respect to the press. All I have done is to suggest to the honorable Torie Clarke, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, that she wrap her head around that subject. And unless there are emanations from that head, which I doubt...


QUESTION: Sir, in terms of self-defense measures, can you talk to us conclusively about whether the 1976 ban on assassinations in any way inhibits the Department of Defense from targeting individual terrorist leaders?

RUMSFELD: There is no question but that ban does have effects. It restricts certain things that government can and cannot do.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, American planes struck two targets in southern Iraq today, and I was wondering if you could elaborate if you've seen any change in the behavior of Iraqi forces since the attacks last week?

RUMSFELD: The action by coalition forces in Iraq were part of a very normal pattern that has been underway throughout the time I've been in the department and before.

To the extent that the Iraqi government continues to fire at coalition aircraft and to move air defense capabilities in those areas where we operate in the no-fly zones, we intend to keep taking action against those capabilities--radars, communication systems, sand sites, AAA and the like and that's what took place.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, could you explain your comment this morning on CBS when you said you didn't want to provide evidence to the Taliban of Osama bin Laden's involvement in this if there is any? General Zini in October told the Senate Arms Services Committee that's exactly the route he would recommend that people go and present this evidence so that the world can see their guilt. Could you explain what your concern would be in providing--is that they alert individuals?

RUMSFELD: It is a dilemma. What happens is, the United States of America and our friends around the world gather information to provide for their national security. There are pieces of intelligence information that come in that we do in fact expose to foreign countries from time to time. We do it to make a persuasive case, sometimes we have to do it in a court of law. We do it, for example, also with respect to counter proliferation efforts where we're trying to get countries to stop their people from spreading weapons of mass destruction across the globe.

You have to be very careful in doing it because if you do it, you are running the risk that you will compromise a source of information or a method of gathering information, and to the extent you compromise a source or a method of gathering information, you have damaged yourself.

because we have found that when we do that--frequently when we do that not always when we do that, but frequently when we do it--within a relatively short period of time that source of information dries up and they find other methods of communicating and other methods of providing information or dealing with each other or that method becomes less useful over a period of time.

Now, you have to balance your national security interests in getting someone to stop a specific act against your national security interests in being able to continue to gather information and know what's taking place. So it is not a simple matter, and those are calculations that ultimately get made. And it's a balance, what are you giving for what you're giving up and how satisfied are you?

It's not dissimilar from the problem when a U.S. spy is captured, and people, instead of prosecuting them vigorously, end up making an arrangement with them to try to find out what they compromised so that you can save peoples' lives. And yet you, on the other hand, don't punish the individual to the extent that they merited.


QUESTION: Given your very strong statements here about self-defense for America, do you agree with what the president yesterday, ``bin Laden should be brought to justice, dead or alive''? Do you much care either way?

RUMSFELD: Of course I agree with what the president said.


RUMSFELD: That question guaranteed the answer.

No. He's right. I mean, the people need--the people and organizations and countries that do things that are this damaging, not just to our country, but to the world, do need to be held accountable, and there are a variety of ways of holding people accountable.

Thank you very much, folks.

© 2001 The Washington Post Company