|ASSESSING THE DAMAGE|
October 13, 2000
Secretary of Defense Richard Cohen and Adm. Vern Clark, naval chief of operations, discuss the apparent terrorist attack on the U.S.S. Cole.
JIM LEHRER: We go first tonight to the explosion aboard the U.S. destroyer in Yemen and to Secretary of Defense William Cohen and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Vern Clark. I spoke with him from the Pentagon a short time ago.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, Admiral Clark, welcome.
SEC. WILLIAM COHEN: Good evening.
ADM. VERN CLARK: Good evening.
|17 dead in a probable terrorist attack|
JIM LEHRER: First, Mr. Secretary, the 10 missing sailors, are they now presumed to be dead?
SEC. WILLIAM COHEN: Yes, for our purposes that is our assumption because of the nature of the blast and the severity of the damage that was done, that is the assumption that we're operating under. We hope circumstances will prove otherwise, but that's our assumption.
JIM LEHRER: So the final casualty count is 17 dead. How many injured?
SEC. WILLIAM COHEN: We have a total, I believe, of 38 who would fall into that category - the seven who have been identified as dead, 10 missing, and a total of, I believe, 38 who have been wounded.
JIM LEHRER: And, Admiral Clark, what's the nature of their wounds, the surviving injured?
ADM. VERN CLARK: They run the gamut; they go from scratches to sprained ankles to serious injuries. Early in the evolution we moved several of our sailors over to Djibouti.
JIM LEHRER: How far away is that, sir?
ADM. VERN CLARK: I can't give you an exact distance, but it's a close board to the scene of action - just around the horn there, and they were supported by the French, who came into Aden late yesterday afternoon, and they were the more serious injuries. I would tell you at this time, as we speak, all of our injured personnel have either returned to the ship for duty or they are en route or already have arrived in Germany at one of our hospitals.
JIM LEHRER: You used the word "serious." Are any of them in critical condition?
ADM. VERN CLARK: The latest word I had is that one individual was in critical condition, but I am - I want to be real straight with you. I'm not exactly sure of the status of three or four of them. My information is several hours old.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, do you now believe for sure this was a terrorist act?
SEC. WILLIAM COHEN: Well, we haven't reached a conclusive judgment on this, Jim, but it seems to me improbable that there could be any other explanation of what has taken place, given the nature of the damage, the assessment of the - the impact upon the ship, itself, and the level of destruction that was carried out. So, while we haven't reached that judgment with any finality, that appears to be the case.
JIM LEHRER: No question that the explosion came from the outside, not from the inside of the ship?
SEC. WILLIAM COHEN: Based on the evidence we've seen to date, again, we have FBI and other personnel in the region right now trying to make an assessment of exactly what has happened, but it would appear in the nature of the damage done to the ship that came from without and not from within.
ADM. VERN CLARK: May I -
JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir.
ADM. VERN CLARK: Part of the team that arrived on station in support was what we call explosive ordinance disposal teams; these are explosive experts. They specialize in handling munitions and so forth, and they have conducted dives on the vessel and their assessment is that it clearly was an explosion that occurred from the outside of the ship.
JIM LEHRER: I see. Any word on what kind of explosive was used?
ADM. VERN CLARK: I don't have any information on that, and, frankly, I think that's the kind of information -
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
ADM. VERN CLARK: -- that scientists will have to study this and come to a conclusion.
JIM LEHRER: But, Admiral, you've seen obviously the photographs and I assume you've talked to the people who have -- at least who have talked to the captain and others on the ship, am I right about that?
ADM. VERN CLARK: That's absolutely correct. I spoke this afternoon for some period of time with Vice Admiral Moore, who is our Navy component commander in the theater. He was on the ship this afternoon, and we spoke at length about the conditions and what's going on on the ship.
JIM LEHRER: But based on what they've told you and based on the photographs you've seen, what do you speculate is - how big an explosion - how big of an explosive was it?
ADM. VERN CLARK: I can't - I will not give you an exact size, because I'm not qualified to do that, Jim, but it's very clear that we are talking about a significant explosion, and Admiral Moore indicated to me that - and reinforced things that I had heard earlier, but now with an on scene - you know - putting his eyes on the damage, that circumstances inside the hull - in the nature - in the vicinity of the hole that we see in pictures that are available to us - there is significant damage in there.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, a Yemen-based guerrilla group has publicly claimed responsibility for this. Should we believe that?
SEC. WILLIAM COHEN: Well, we have to analyze it and take it into account. We're trying to run all of these issues through our intelligence community right now. I think we have to at least accept that a statement has been made. We haven't been able to assign any credibility to the statement at this point; there are a number of those terrorist operatives throughout the Middle East and different groups, and some will claim credit for things that they have not done, and so we have to put this very carefully through our intelligence community.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of the intelligence committee and the investigation, Mr. Secretary, I know it's early - but based - you've talked to some folks involved in this, I'm sure - do you have any feel for how difficult an investigation this is going to be, how long it might take to find out who was really behind this?
SEC. WILLIAM COHEN: Well, there is really no way at this point that we can come to a judgment on how long it's going to take. This is going to be a fairly intensive investigation - the nature of the damage that was done - how to gather all the materials to analyze and to try to make an assessment of what groups might have access to different types of explosives and, then, to coordinate that again with other types of intelligence information, and it's going to be very complex, and we can't put a time frame on it.
All I can do is tell you and the American people and certainly to the families of those who have lost their loved ones that we are passionately committed to identifying those responsible for this heinous act, cowardly act, and we're going to hold them accountable. That means that the long arm of justice is going to be unrelenting in this. We will take as much time as necessary. We understand that there needs to be as much speed as possible, but we want to do a thorough job and make no mistakes, but we are going to pursue those responsible to whatever extent is required.
JIM LEHRER: Would it be fair and correct to say, Mr. Secretary, that there have been no major breakthroughs in the investigation up till now?
SEC. WILLIAM COHEN: Not at this point.
|Could the attack have been prevented?|
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Now, Admiral, what about the - the initial word was that this was a suicide mission, that this small boat came aside and then there was the explosion. Do you now believe that - is the evidence pointing in that direction?
ADM. VERN CLARK: Well, when -- I talked to that at some length yesterday, and I want to explain that the input that I have on that is based on information that I have received through the chain of command. That means from the captain of the ship and through Admiral Moore, and nothing that I have heard, nothing that has occurred or that I have heard since yesterday morning has changed any of my conclusions on that.
JIM LEHRER: So, did personnel aboard the U.S.S Cole see people on that small boat shortly before it exploded?
ADM. VERN CLARK: That's what I'm told.
JIM LEHRER: And did - explain again -- I know you've done this before, but just to make sure we understand -- this boat is about what size - the one that blew up?
ADM. VERN CLARK: The way it is described to me is that you have a number of boats that are involved in assisting in helping the ship moor - that the -
JIM LEHRER: Excuse me. The ship was coming in for refueling. It's going to be there about four hours, right?
ADM. VERN CLARK: That's a good thing to point out. We're talking about the ship coming from home port It has come through the Mediterranean, down through the Red Sea, and it is a point in its journey that it needs to refuel, and so it is coming in for what we call a brief fuel stop, or a "gas and go" would be a good way to describe it.
The particular facility in the Port of Aden, the fueling facility, is located literally in the middle of the harbor - not alongside the beach, if you will, or the land mass. And so as the ship comes in, it passes lines to either moor to a pier, or in this case tie off a couple of positions on this shorter facility - they call it a dolphin. But it's not a long pier; it is a shorter length, and then there are mooring buoys out in the water that lines are passed to the buoys so that the ship can fix its position and be secure while it's conducting the evolution.
All over the world this kind of activity takes place; boats come out and help you; they're part of the thing that supports the harbor there, and when we come to the port, the captain calls in and gets permission to clear the harbor and that's the way that occurs. This boat was part of that evolution. They had no reason to suspect, as it has been passed to me, that there was anything to be suspicious about, and then they pulled alongside, and the explosion occurred.
JIM LEHRER: But it was a privately-owned boat or -
ADM. VERN CLARK: Jim, I can't tell you. I don't have any information about that.
JIM LEHRER: But was the standard procedure, did the U.S.S Cole follow standard security procedures?
ADM. VERN CLARK: Absolutely, and this is an important point. Force protection is a top priority for us in the military. The reason for that is straightforward. We are around the world. I've made the point - 101 ships in our Navy are forward deployed today. One of them is the U.S.S Cole; that's 32 percent of our Navy. When we go, we are forward deployed. Force protection is always an issue. We have many friends around the world. We also have a few people who don't like us. The secretary has pointed out that force protection is a top priority. The directives are clear for us on this. And so when a ship like the Cole gets ready to deploy, we train them extensively in force protection procedures.
And I would point out that a few months back, when I was the commander of the Atlantic fleet, I observed the progress of the George Washington battle group and this particular ship and this ship - the U.S.S Cole - her performance during work ups and in preparation for deployment, they were magnificent. This is a great ship. So she had done the things that were required of her and had - had done the planning and submitted the force protection plan to higher authority and they had all been approved and she was executing them.
JIM LEHRER: But, Mr. Secretary, would this not reveal that there is something wrong with the process if a ship - if a little boat could come alongside with a big explosion and blow up the U.S.S Cole?
SEC. WILLIAM COHEN: Well, that's something that we're going to await the examination review and -- indicates or reports exactly what has occurred. As Admiral Clark has pointed out our ships travel the world and there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of small boats that they may encounter during the course of carrying out their duties.
But this is also clear that when we talk about the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform, this is precisely the point we tried to make, that they are out there in very dangerous waters every day that they are deployed. So we will review exactly what took place as to whether or not all of the procedures were followed. We have put at the very highest priority force protection. The fact that this one got through, we've got to find out exactly how that was able to occur. But these are dangerous times.
We've tried to indicate that there is no risk-free environment as some had suggested, that the Pentagon somehow is trying to create a risk-free mentality. Our people understand there is no day that is risk-free. And, unfortunately, this is one of those days, and it's a very sad day for all of us. And that hole in that ship is a hole in America. And every family in the military, certainly, but every American should feel that, and we are saddened. But we are also determined that we are going to find those responsible and pursue them.
|The Aden refueling stops|
JIM LEHRER: Yemen was added, or the Aden refueling stop was added to the list of possible refueling stops for U.S. ships only 15 months ago. Am I right about that?
SEC. WILLIAM COHEN: That's correct. In the past year and a half, there have been about a half dozen or more fuel stops in Aden. They have been uneventful, and that was expected to be the case in this situation, otherwise I'm sure the captain of the ship would not have gone to Aden.
JIM LEHRER: Are you satisfied, Mr. Secretary, that no mistake was... No security mistake was made in even allowing U.S. ships to refuel in Yemen?
SEC. WILLIAM COHEN: Well, we don't know the answer to these questions at this point. A judgment was made that it was appropriate to go to Aden for refueling. We will have to assess all the facts once they are in and make a determination, but I think it is premature at this point to say whether mistakes were made or procedures not followed. We assume that appropriate security measures were taken. It's obvious that there is an ability of a boat loaded with some kind of a high explosive to cause this kind of damage got through. And we will have to weight the facts before we can make a judgment on it.
JIM LEHRER: Anything you want to add to that, admiral, just in terms of how Yemen got added to the list?
ADM. VERN CLARK: I can't add anything significantly to that. I do know that we have in the last six months, and specifically, we have had four other ship visits in there. And I believe the secretary has described this perfectly, that this was expected to go as those have gone, in an uneventful way.
JIM LEHRER: But what about the story today that there was much advanced, even public notice that this ship was going to come in there and be refueled in a few days -- I think it was 14-day notice. Is that unusual, or is that part of the process?
ADM. VERN CLARK: That is not unusual. It is routine for us as we are visiting ports of call, be they for short visits or for longer visits, that at a certain point in the process, in advance of the visit, we have to notify local officials of our, first of all, of our request to come, and then any support that we might need.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Finally, Mr. Secretary, I know as you say the investigation is still under way, but is there any question in your mind at this point that there's a connection between this explosion, this terrorist attack, if that is what it appears to be, and the outbreak of violence in the Middle East between... elsewhere in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians?
SEC. WILLIAM COHEN: Well, I think there is some question in terms of the timing of this. If you look back two weeks ago or ten days ago, the peace process was going along in a fashion where most expected that an agreement could be reached. And suddenly only in the last day or two was there the violence that flared up.
This particular planned attack, I think, took much more in the way of detailed planning and operations, gathering of information. And my own judgment is that they were looking for an opportunity. This has been some time in the making, and whether it was timed, exactly, because of the violent flare-up in the Middle East, I think, is questionable.
There is no doubt that the conflict in the Middle East in terms of tension between Israel and the Palestinians generally does lead groups to try to engage in terrorist activities. We understand that the entire region is dangerous. We take appropriate measures throughout, because we see it as being in our vital national security interest to keep that gulf open so that we can continue to enjoy the resources that it produces. But there has always been tension in the region, and it certainly is attributable to the negotiations and difficulties between the Israelis and others. But I don't think that you can come to a conclusion that this specifically was timed to coincide with the violence that erupted in the last couple of days.
JIM LEHRER: Well, Mr. Secretary, Admiral Clark, thank you both very much.