SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: Good afternoon.
This is General
Dempsey's first press briefing with the secretary, serving now as Chairman of
the Joint Chiefs. And so I welcome him to this press briefing and just would
inform him that there's a tradition that he gets all the tough questions.
(Laughter.) So get him used to this job.
Let me begin also
by wishing a very happy birthday to the United States Marine Corps. I'll be
attending their ball this Saturday and look forward to that event.
As you know, General Dempsey and I have been working with
the entire senior leadership of the department, including the service chiefs,
the service secretaries, the combatant commanders and the undersecretaries of
defense, to implement the more than 450 billion (dollars) in savings that we've
been required to do over 10 years. That translates into around 260 billion
(dollars) over five years as part of the budget that will be submitted in
This process -- and I've required this from the
beginning -- has to be driven by strategy. It has to be strategy-driven. And
it also has to be a team effort. My hope is that, you know, as we work through
this, that we will put the entire leadership of the department, both military
and civilian, in the same place so that we can finalize this effort within the
So as we move ahead with this process within
the department, all of us are obviously watching closely what happens on Capitol
Hill and with the congressional supercommittee. And we watch it, obviously,
with great concern. As you know, if the supercommittee fails to reach an
agreement with regards to additional budget savings, the penalty for that is
sequester. And this sequester approach would virtually double the size of the
cuts that we face here at the Defense Department. And it would also force us to
cut across the board. All of these cuts would occur -- I think this takes
effect in January of 2013 so that, obviously, we would have a year where
sequester would hang as a shadow over this department.
learned that by cutting in excess of 20 percent in every area, sequester will
lead to a hollow force. And let me explain just exactly what we're talking
about when we talk about a hollow force. Obviously, that which is hollow
retains a shell but lacks a core. A hollow military has the organizational
structure but lacks the people, the training and the equipment it needs to
actually get the job done.
It's a ship without sailors.
It's a brigade without bullets. It's an air wing without enough trained
pilots. It's a paper tiger, an Army of barracks, buildings and bombs without
enough trained soldiers able to accomplish the mission. It's a force that
suffers low morale, poor readiness and is unable to keep up with potential
adversaries. In effect, it invites aggression.
military doesn't happen by accident. It comes from poor stewardship and poor
leadership. I guess my message to the Congress is that it must show the
necessary leadership by doing the job that they've been asked to do. That means
identifying savings in the two-thirds of the federal budget that still has yet
to be considered for deficit reduction, along, in my view, with additional
In my conversations with the members of Congress
and with members of the committee, I have told them that if this -- if this
nation has brave young men and women who are willing to die and put their lives
on the line in order to sacrifice for this country, it really shouldn't be too
much to ask our leaders to sacrifice just a little, to provide the leadership
essential to solving the problems facing this country.
is a fundamental responsibility we have. It's also an obligation that we owe to
our service members and their families and one that the entire country should
reflect on tomorrow as we observe Veterans Day.
On Monday I
travel [SIC – traveled] to New York to meet with leaders in the business arena,
to meet with those in government and nonprofit sector, and talk about how
important it is to try to help our returning veterans find jobs in these very
difficult economic times. I should also mention, as we move into these next few
years, as we begin a drawdown process, we are going to be adding to that burden.
These are men and women with extraordinary skill, proven
leadership. And yet the unemployment rate for veterans who have served since
9/11 now stands at 12.1 percent. That's unacceptable. We can do better as a
country, and we are making it a priority here at the department to ensure that
our departing service members are given the support they need to pursue higher
education, to find a job and to start a business.
profound obligations to service members continue at every stage, to include
ensuring the recovery and dignified return of our fallen heroes. This is one of
the department's most sacred responsibilities. And that's why all Americans,
including myself, are justifiably disturbed by the reports of mismanagement at
Dover Port Mortuary that came to light this week.
came into this office in July, in one of the first meetings I had as secretary
of defense, I was briefed by Secretary Donley and General Schwartz on their
investigation into Dover. They were forthcoming with me. It was clear that
they took these allegations seriously and that they were committed to
strengthening the department's handling of this most sacred and solemn task.
Still, none of us will be satisfied until we have proven to
the families of our fallen heroes that we have taken every step possible to
protect the honor and dignity that their loved ones richly deserve. That's why
I've directed, at the request of the Air Force, an independent review of overall
current operations at Dover to evaluate the changes and the procedures that must
be implemented. Vice Admiral Dr. Richard Carmona, who's the former surgeon
general, 17th surgeon general of the United States, along with a distinguished
panel, will conduct that review.
As you know, the United
States Office of Special Counsel produced its own report on this matter, which I
received and reviewed in just the last 48 hours. In light of the concerns that
were raised in that report, I've asked the Secretary of the Air Force, Mike
Donley, to ensure that the disciplinary action taken was appropriate and to
provide me with the results of that review.
addition, as the OSC confirmed in its report, it is conducting an additional
investigation to determine whether there are management reprisals that have been
taken at Dover against the whistleblowers. This is a serious issue. And as
someone who voted for the whistleblower legislation, I directed Secretary Donley
to report back to me once the OSC investigation is complete to ensure that all
appropriate action has been taken in light of that report.
This department has to be fully accountable in what we intend to deliver on this
matter. We have to be fully accountable on how we treat its service members.
Full accountability is what we intend to deliver.
been to Dover, I consider this a sacred place with a sacred responsibility. And
it is a place that must meet the highest standards for caring for the remains of
our fallen heroes. We can do no less.
GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: Thanks, Mr. Secretary.
I'd like to also begin by wishing the Marine Corps a happy
236th birthday, and also all veterans around the world. I've been to several
very moving Veterans Day events over the last 48 hours -- a few more to go --
but couldn't be prouder of their service.
Just to highlight
a couple of things the secretary mentioned, as some of you know, we are involved
in a -- in a -- in a strategy review. We're looking out to 2020 to determine
what does our joint force, what do the armed forces of the United States need to
be to ensure we provide the nation with the capabilities it needs, provide our
leaders -- our senior leaders options in the environment we anticipate. And
part of the environment we anticipate, of course, is some resource constraints
that we haven't had to deal with here before. So that's all working, and as the
secretary said, he's got us -- he's led us through a process, continues to lead
us through a process that ensures we have a collaborative effort. This isn't
two or three folks in a room trying to dream this thing up by themselves. So
we're well on our way to answering some of those questions.
And I'll just end by echoing what the secretary said about the events at Dover.
They're just very distressing to us. And we intend, as the Air Force intends,
to get to the bottom of it and to ensure that we continue to improve processes
that may not have been executed properly and to hold folks accountable where
appropriate to hold them accountable.
And with that, I'll
turn it back to you, sir.
Q: Mr. Secretary, the other day
you issued a statement saying that you thought the Air Force investigation was
thorough and that you supported their disciplinary actions, and today you're
asking for them to take another look at that. What changed?
And do you think -- was the Air Force not as up-front with you about some of the
general counsel criticisms that may have been made that you're now aware of?
And General Dempsey, there's been a lot of discussion about
possibly increasing troop strength in Kuwait. Can you talk a little bit about
how important you think that may be for security in the region and what possibly
would be the missions and the capabilities that you think would be necessary
SEC. PANETTA: On the first part of the question, no,
I think they -- I think they did do a thorough report. It was a -- it's about
215 pages, along with some additional supplements that were added by the
secretary of the Air Force. And all of that was forwarded to the Office of the
Special Counsel. And as a result of that report, they've taken a number of
significant steps to try to correct the procedures there at Dover to ensure that
what happened never happens again.
But at the same time,
obviously the Office of Special Counsel then issued its report. And I've
reviewed that, and they've raised additional questions which I think ought to be
looked at. And for that reason, I want to make sure that we have taken every
step possible to bring peace of mind to the family members of our fallen
heroes. And for that reason, this review commission will look at the processes
and procedures there, and make sure that we are implementing the highest
standards in dealing with the remains of our -- of our fallen heroes. And in
addition to that, I want to make certain that we have taken all appropriate
disciplinary action here. And for that reason, that's why I've asked the
secretary to review that.
Q: Mr. Secretary --
GEN. DEMPSEY: And I'll just briefly say on Kuwait, you
know, we have cooperative defense agreements with most all of the nations in the
Gulf Cooperative Council and in that -- and in other parts of that region, and
we routinely review them. And so we've been going through a process to review
our posture. We're reviewing it both in terms of emerging and -- emerging
threats, opportunities, resources. And what we'll end up with in Kuwait will be
something that helps us meet our interests and theirs.
Mr. Secretary, given the situation at Dover, the Office of Special Counsel and
veterans organizations are wondering aloud why nobody has been fired,
essentially. And up on the Hill today, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force,
General Schwartz, in a congressional hearing said, while there were some
inappropriate actions, whether it constitutes wrongdoing is another matter. Is
there some legal impediment to firing anybody over this? And shouldn't there be
a higher standard of conduct and accountability in dealing with America's war
dead and wounded?
SEC. PANETTA: Well, that's exactly why
I've asked for the review here, to make sure that the appropriate actions were
Now, the disciplinary action was taken with
regards to the commander there and two of the civilians that were involved. And
you know, it obviously -- for them and their careers, it has a serious impact.
But nevertheless, based on the seriousness of what took place here, it's my view
that we ought to look at not only that, but we ought to look at the reprisal
issue to determine whether or not all appropriate and tough steps were taken
with regards to disciplinary action. We have to send a clear signal to the
American people that this kind -- these kinds of actions that took place there
cannot happen again.
Q: Yes, but in terms of -- in terms of
discipline, is this just a clear black-and-white legal issue, or is there a
higher moral standard that should be applied here?
PANETTA: I -- you know, I think it's a -- it's a command decision. When they
review these facts, obviously, it involves what is the nature of the violation,
is there a violation, how serious is it. And in addition, when it comes to
Dover, in my mind, there were involved some moral standard that means we have to
-- we have to pay the greatest respect and reverence to the remains of our
fallen heroes. That's what I think ought to be considered in this situation.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
SEC. PANETTA: Yes.
Q: I want to follow up on this because what I still don't
understand is why is it credible to you to have the Air Force investigate itself
on this matter given -- a couple -- that -- given how critical the special
counsel report was of the Air Force, why have them investigate themselves? And
with respect, why should the American people -- after this, after Walter Reed,
after Arlington, why should they believe that the military is handling the
wounded and the war dead remains with the appropriate respect?
SEC. PANETTA: Well, first of all, the -- I mean, the
independent review is an independent review that I'm requesting take place here.
The independent review is going to be done by Richard
Carmona. It's going to include General Fred Franks, who is a former member of
the board here, the health board; Ruth Stonecifer, who's a representative of the
families that are involved in the mission there; Congressman Vic Snyder, who is
a former Democratic U.S. representative who was --led a committee that reviewed
this; Garold Huey, who's a licensed funeral director and embalmer, who served in
the U.S. Navy; Jacquelyn Taylor, who's executive director of the New England
Institute, an internationally recognized leader in funeral service education;
and Dr. Bruce Parks, a forensic pathologist. All of them will be involved in
the independent review.
With regards to the secretary
reviewing it, he -- you know, the secretary is at the top of the chain of
command when it comes to the Air Force, and I want him to review it because he
has that responsibility. And I -- look, I trust Mike Donley. I think he tried
to deal with this matter, to go after the issues involved here, to correct them
and to do whatever was necessary to deal with it, and I trust that he'll try to
do the same. And when I tell him to take a look and make sure that appropriate
disciplinary action was taken here, I trust that he'll do that.
Q: (Were either of you ?) told that remains were being put
SEC. PANETTA: I did not know that, frankly,
and I hope that the independent review will also look into that situation.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
SEC. PANETTA: I
think that it happened back in the past. I know they've changed that procedure
now, but nevertheless, it's something we should look at.
Mr. Secretary, you said you read the special counsel report. I've talked to the
special counsel, Carolyn Lerner. She said her office informed -- asked the Air
Force back in March whether they informed the families or not. She pressed for
that back in March. The Air Force informed the families of those whose remains
were mishandled just this past weekend. Was that a wise course of action?
Should they have told the families earlier?
My impression was that the families were alerted to that earlier, but I -- you
Q: No, just this past weekend.
SEC. PANETTA: Well, let me check that out, because they --
Q: The OSC --
SEC. PANETTA: -- the families should have
been alerted earlier.
Q: The report, as you know, has said
that the Air Force has not acknowledged culpability for this. Do you think
SEC. PANETTA: I think, if I'm not mistaken,
General Schwartz in testimony today said he accepts full culpability for what
Q: Mr. Panetta, I wonder if you or General
Dempsey think that an apology is in order, either to the families whose -- the
remains were misplaced or lost accountability in the report, or the ones who,
prior to 2008, had remains end up in a landfill? Is this the sort of thing the
department should apologize to the families for?
PANETTA: Listen, absolutely we should apologize. If we haven't handled those
remains properly, then it is our responsibility, and we do owe those families an
GEN. DEMPSEY: Do you -- I don't -- do you have an
indicator that they have not been apologized to? I mean, back to the
notification process -- I'm telling you for a fact that there were -- there were
apologies rendered with that notification, and deep expressions of regret, as
there should be. And so -- but back to the landfill issue, Barbara, the -- as
you know, that -- the secretary said it does go back pre-2008. That procedure
By the way, though, that procedure is not
uncommon elsewhere in the medical community outside the military. I mean, the
disposition of human remains that are separated from the principal portion --
look into -- if you look into how it's handled routinely in civilian life, there
are procedures exactly that way. We just took a decision in 2008 to do it at
Q: But sir, in hindsight, do you think that was -- do
you believe that was wrong, to put military remains in a landfill prior to
2008? Was that -- can you say unequivocally that was wrong to do so?
GEN. DEMPSEY: I'm -- I don't know what right looks like in
that regard now that this has manifested itself. And I think the review that
the secretary has requested is going to help us learn a lot more that we didn't
Q: Another hot-button issue: Iran. There's
been a lot of chatter about bombing Iranian nuclear facilities. Can you walk us
through or comment at least on the complexities and the effectiveness issue of
this kind of a campaign?
Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen
both said over the last couple of years that bombing, at best, would set back
their program by three years at most. Do you still agree with that assessment?
Just walk us through the complexities and the blowback, the unanticipated
effects of something like that.
SEC. PANETTA: Well, I
certainly share the views of Secretary Gates and General (sic; Admiral) Mullen
that they've expressed with regards to this in terms of the impact that it would
have. I think you've got to -- you've got to be careful of unintended
consequences here. And those consequences could involve not only not really
deterring Iran from what they want to do, but more importantly, it could have a
serious impact in the region and it could have a serious impact on U.S. forces
in the region. And I think all of those things, you know, need to be carefully
Having said that, look, Israel and the United
States share a very common concern with regards to Iran, and that concern was
reflected in the IAEA report that was issued this week. And for that reason it
is important for us to make sure we apply the toughest sanctions, economic,
diplomatic pressures on Iran to change their behavior. And we are in
discussions with our allies with regards to additional sanctions that ought to
be placed on Iran.
And when it comes to action against Iran,
I think it was the prime minister, Netanyahu himself, today who said that ought
to be a last resort, and we would agree with that.
two to three years, though -- I want to make sure -- they've said bombing would
at most delay that program or derail it up to two or three years at most. Is
that still the current assessment?
SEC. PANETTA: I see no
change in the assessments.
Q: Mr. Secretary?
Q: Can I follow up on this, please? If the sanctions don't
reach a -- positive results, do you think the United States or Israel can live
with a nuclear Iran?
SEC. PANETTA: We've made very clear
that it's unacceptable for Iran to develop a nuclear capability. We've made
that point time and time again, and we've taken steps and implemented sanctions
to make that clear to Iran. Iran is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation
Treaty. They've got to abide by that. They've got to abide by international
standards. They've got to abide by international rules.
obviously, the report from the IAEA just indicates that that is not the case.
And for that reason, it is important that the world come together to apply
sanctions against Iran and make very clear to them that they are going to pay a
heavy price if they continue along this track. As to what happens down the
road, you know, I think our hope is that we don't reach that point and that Iran
decides that it should join the international family.
Mr. Secretary and General Dempsey?
Q: Mr. Secretary, if I
could just ask one other thing on Iran, obviously, the National Intelligence
Estimates from the U.S. side had said that the weapons program had halted, at
least in 2003. The IAEA now says that it's proceeding apace and that Iran is
closer than ever. Do you share that assessment that they are now closer than
ever to a nuclear weapon? And since sanctions have not yet worked -- economic
sanctions, diplomatic sanctions have not yet worked -- is it not time to say
this strategy -- that strategy has failed and a new strategy needs to be put in
SEC. PANETTA: Now, you know, look, first of all,
with regards to the IAEA report, that was perfectly in line with the
intelligence assessments, certainly that I've seen, with regards to Iran. We've
always made the point that they continue to try to develop a threshold
capability with regards to their nuclear capacity. But at the same time, there
continue to be divisions within Iran as to whether or not to actually build a
bomb itself. So in many ways, the IAEA report pretty much indicates that they
continue work on that capability, and that's pretty much reflected in our
But nevertheless, the fact that a
respected international organization like IAEA has come to this determination I
think raises serious concerns that Iran continues to flaunt international rules
and standards. And as a result of that, it's very clear that additional
sanctions have to be applied.
Q: Just a -- on the National
Guard becoming a full member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that idea is out
there. There was a hearing just today. General Dempsey expressed his
opposition. President Obama during his campaign expressed his support. Now,
where do you stand, and where does the administration stand?
SEC. PANETTA: I stand with this guy. (Laughs.)
Q: Are you in line with the president
SEC. PANETTA: You know, I mean, I -- look, on this
one, you know, I think the chairman and the Joint Chiefs have indicated that --
you know, that -- look, that individual is at the table, but at the same time,
that person really doesn't have a budget, doesn't really have, you know, the
kind of authorities that the service chiefs have.
know, look, nevertheless, National Guard is important; our reserves are
important. It's important to hear their views. But in terms of being a member
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that's something that I think ought to be reserved
for those that have, you know, direct command and direct budgets that deal with
GEN. DEMPSEY: I don't know. I was asked, as I
always will be, to give my own personal best military advice. And in fact, when
I swear my oath, that's exactly what I -- what I promised to do. And I gave my
advice today in a rather lengthy hearing. You're welcome to go and look at the
Q: Has the president changed his mind, that you
know of, or is he -- or is he still opposed to it?
PANETTA: I think --
Q: Does he support -- does he still
SEC. PANETTA: I haven't really talked to the
president about this particular issue. But I think if I know this president, I
think he would seriously take into consideration the recommendations of the
chairman and the Joint Chiefs.
Q: Mr. Secretary, on the
budget cuts, refer to a different but a related issue on the budget cuts --you
may now refer to an October report in Congress by DOD on contracting fraud. The
report's own conclusions are that the penalties for contractors repeatedly
involved in fraud -- and some of these are big; we're talking about some of the
big guys as well -- that it's not clear the remedies are sufficient, that more
work needs to be done, and that they need to increase the size and capability --
again, reading from the report -- of the acquisition workforce to ensure that
the interests of the taxpayers and our war fighters are protected.
Do you believe that the remedies currently in place are
sufficient to ensure those interests? And do you believe that, particularly at
this time, when you're making the cuts you've described, 20 percent across the
board, that particularly now more needs to be done to make sure that taxpayers
and soldiers and sailors are getting, in effect, what they pay for?
SEC. PANETTA: Look, one thing I've made clear as we've gone
through this budget process is, everything has to be on the table and we've got
to look at everything. And this is an area that we have to look at, when it
comes to procurement reforms, when it comes to the kind of contracting problems
that you've reflected in your reporting.
This is an area
we've got to look at very closely, to make sure that doesn't happen. Not only
-- not only does it impact on the taxpayers' funds that are provided for the
purpose, but more importantly, it impacts on the very weapons and technology
that these contractors are involved in. And that -- all of that concerns me.
And so for that reason, that is part and parcel of the areas that we're looking
at as we make the budget decisions for the future.
Secretary, there is a great deal of concern that maybe the budget cuts are going
to impact the military assistance programs to Mexico. Do you think that will --
that that will happen?
And also, do you have any interview
-- have you scheduled any encounter with your counterpart from Mexico?
SEC. PANETTA: I would -- I'm looking forward to doing
that. I actually -- I'm going to go up to Canada, I think, next week, but my
hope is to be able to do the same with Mexico in the near future as
And you know, with regards to the kinds of assistance
that we provide Mexico at the present time in order to deal with the drug
cartels and try to assist them in the serious problems that Mexico's
confronting, we certainly aren't contemplating any cutbacks in that area,
because, I mean, that does involve the kind of assistance that we think is
extremely important not only to protecting the security of Mexico but protecting
our security as well.
Q: Mr. Secretary --
STAFF: Thanks, everybody.