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DEFENSE DEPARTMENT REGULAR NEWS BRIEFING
APRIL 10, 2001
SPEAKER: REAR ADMIRAL CRAIG QUIGLEY, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE, PUBLIC AFFAIRS
QUESTION: Why was the EP-3 on autopilot before the crash happened with the Chinese fighter jet? And how close did the jet, on the first two passes, actually come to the EP-3, and did it, in fact, hit the propeller?
QUIGLEY: Let me answer your question quite broadly. I will not get into the details of the specific conditions on the airplane, any sort of geometry involving the two aircraft, in any sort of a haphazard, piecemeal way. That is not the way to do this.
When we get our aircrew out and have an opportunity to discuss, in great technical detail with them, their observations and judgment of the conditions surrounding the collision, only then will we be able to come to a comprehensive answer to your question, which is really: How did this collision occur?
And today, we cannot say with any degree of confidence -- as you hear little pieces of this and that starting to come out on an hourly basis, it seems, from somewhere in the building -- I have no confidence that that presents a comprehensive picture of any sort of meaningful detail of the circumstances that surrounded the collision.
We will do this the right way, and the right way is to have a very methodical talk with the aircrew, those in the best position to understand and observe firsthand, of course, what happened, after they are released.
QUESTION: Craig, General Sealock and others have had an opportunity to meet with the crew members five times now, and most of those, now, apparently without the Chinese. By your statement, are you indicating that the room is bugged, that we haven't had forthright discussions in these meetings? We haven't been able to learn anything from them?
QUIGLEY: No, I think the discussions we have had between General Sealock and the crew members over the past several days have been very welcome and very honest. What they aren't is a comprehensive, systematic way to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the collision. And whatever small details may be discussed there, for starters, this is not the way to release that, in a piecemeal way.
His discussions are sometimes involving sensitive personal information amongst the crew members that they wish to convey to their families and loved ones back home. And sometimes it's technical information. But what it isn't is comprehensive and systematic.
And I don't think it's helpful to release or discuss any small pieces of that in isolation. What you need to do is a much more holistic approach to understanding the circumstances surrounding the collision.
QUESTION: Can we go back again to exactly what it is? You said some of it's sensitive information. Can you sort of give us a range of the subjects they've been discussing?
QUIGLEY: I think General Sealock and his discussions at his press conferences have covered that quite thoroughly. And I can go back and recap, but I would refer you to his own words. Those are the details that he feel comfortable in releasing. And I will stick with those.
QUESTION: Admiral, do you have anything on China's apparent plans to conduct a nuclear weapons test in Xinjiang?
QUIGLEY: No, I'm sorry, I don't have anything for you on that. Whatever information we would have on that would be in the intelligence channels, and I cannot discuss that.
QUESTION: Craig, what's the Pentagon's classification of these 24 Americans now?
QUESTION: And it's not approaching hostages. Ten days now into this, detainees is the official...
QUIGLEY: No, I don't think so. I think that's the correct term. Hostages, to me, says a couple of things that we don't see.
You don't have access to hostages. They are kept from you. And in the case of our aircrew, we have had several -- five, now -- meetings with the aircrew over a period of days. We think that's great. We hope that that will continue and even be more often. But it's not a situation you would see with a hostage situation.
You also don't see hostages generally being treated very well. And our 24 aircrew are being treated very well by the Chinese.
So the term that we think is appropriate is detainees.
QUESTION: And how would you respond to members of Congress who are using the word "hostage" right now?
QUIGLEY: Well, I guess I would try to convince them that the word "detainee" is more appropriate. Let me throw one other thing in. If a military person is detained, that allows us, the Department of Defense and their parent service, to carry out some financial and personal items of business that they may wish to want accomplished on their behalf.
And again, they can relay this through General Sealock, things like financial details, powers of attorney, military allotments, things of that sort, that have a direct impact on the individuals. Everybody's circumstance is different.
But an individual may have a real need to convey a change in some sort of a financial arrangement, given their desire to do so. By declaring them as detainees, that puts them in a particular legal category, and that would empower the parent service then to take those actions on their behalf.
QUESTION: Would you dispute the term "prisoner" and do the financial transactions include an extension of tax filing?
QUIGLEY: Say that again, I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Prisoner, do you have the same problems with using the word "prisoner," that you do with hostage?
QUESTION: For what reason?
QUIGLEY: Again, I don't think the terms apply. I think of a prisoner, I think of somebody behind bars. I think of someone charged with a crime. Those circumstances are not present.
QUESTION: And are they going to be given an extension to file their taxes?
QUIGLEY: One of the benefits of being declared a detainee is an automatic extension of your income tax filing date, should that occur. We are hopeful that they would be released before that's an issue.
QUESTION: Is the United States aware of any evidence that the Chinese are dismantling anything from the exterior of the plane?
QUIGLEY: No. I'm sure you're referring to space imaging, I believe. There was a commercial, an imaging firm with a photographic satellite in orbit yesterday.
QUIGLEY: I've seen the image that you're referring to, and there's an apparent shading or something on the starboard side of the aircraft. I can't explain the shading. But from a variety of sources, we have no such indication that there's some sort of disassembly of the airplane taking place at that part of the plane.
QUESTION: An EP-3 has sort of a hood on top of it, or some people described it as sort of a canoe, in which houses some equipment. The comparison of the pictures that were from commercially available satellite imagery raised speculation that it look like, perhaps, that hood wasn't on the second picture. Do you have reason to believe that the plane is still intact?
QUIGLEY: The only thing I can go into, Jamie, is that from the sources that we have, a variety of sources, that shading which kind of looked like you were disassembling the aircraft from the side, we have no such evidence that that's occurring.
QUESTION: Have you ruled out another EP-3 flight while the crew is being held on Hainan?
QUIGLEY: No, we have not.
QUESTION: Will there be another EP-3 flight?
QUIGLEY: That I cannot acknowledge. We do not discuss the scheduling of reconnaissance and surveillance flights around the world.
QUESTION: Given the aggressiveness of the Chinese in intercepting these flights in the last few months and the expectation that that is likely to continue, barring some kind of understanding, what thought has been given to, perhaps, improving the security for those pilots, maybe providing fighter escorts? Or is there anything that could be done to make those flights more secure?
QUIGLEY: I have not heard that discussed yet. I don't know that it will be, when the time comes. But the types of planes that are involved here have very, very long legs. They stay scrupulously in international airspace, by design. And we have not found it appropriate to provide some sort of armed escort -- I think is probably what you're actually asking -- to these reconnaissance and surveillance flights over time.
I know of no pending change to that. We'll just have to look at it on a case basis over time, but I have not heard that discussed yet.
QUESTION: The plane obviously did not ditch into water. But can you confirm that it is normally the standard procedure, that in case of an emergency, the plane would normally ditch, as it is a standard procedure rule apparently also in Europe and Israel?
QUIGLEY: The pilots of all types of planes are trained to bring their aircraft down in cases of emergency in the safest way that they can. It is their judgment and their judgment alone that determines which method that might be.
If you are physically incapable of landing your plane on land, at some runway or airfield facility, and you are literally in the middle of the ocean and water on hundreds of miles or something on either side, you have no choice. You must bring it down by ditching at that point or parachuting from the aircraft.
QUIGLEY: But if you have a choice, then you rely on the judgment of the pilot, the person that is best situated to make that quick decision to safely bring the plane down and provide the highest chance of safe landing for the people under his or her responsibility.
QUESTION: After talking to the pilot, were you able to assess he chose Hainan instead of, let's say, Vietnam? Is that because he was forced by the other plane?
QUIGLEY: No. I don't know that that's been discussed yet. Just in general, it's a quick decision that any aircraft commander or any pilot has to make. And you assess as best you can, and you make a quick judgment, and you hope that you made the right decision.
In this case, since he safely landed the plane, the damage there was, with no injury to any of the 24 persons on board, I'd be hard pressed to criticize that decision.
QUESTION: Can you characterize in any way the kind of questioning that the crew has been subjected to by the Chinese? Have they been asked about the accident itself, the mishap itself? Have they been questioned about the technical operations of the aircraft? Can you talk about that?
QUIGLEY: No, I can't. I know that they have been questioned, but I can't characterize the types of questions.
QUESTION: Can you get into the frequency? Is it every day? How long is it every day, that the Chinese are questioning them?
QUIGLEY: No, I've not seen that discussed either. It has been several times, but I don't know how many times or duration or things of that sort.
QUESTION: Individuals or in groups?
QUIGLEY: I don't know that either.
QUESTION: Do you know, does it continue? Has it stopped?
QUIGLEY: I don't believe it has stopped, no.
QUESTION: Is there a difference between interviewing and interrogating?
QUIGLEY: Oh, very much so. Interviewing -- questioning is the term that I would use. The crew members have been questioned by the Chinese authorities. To me, that is a much less threatening term than "interrogation."
And again, given the circumstances as we understand them, I think "questioning" is the more appropriate term.
QUESTION: Is the Kitty Hawk still in the South China Sea, or has it passed out to the east?
QUIGLEY: I don't know where she is at this point.
QUESTION: When are the weapons to Taiwan decisions going to be announced, and are they in any way influenced by this ongoing conflict?
QUIGLEY: Two different issues.
The answer is, the month of April, but I don't have a date within this month.
QUESTION: Getting back to the issue of questioning, can you talk about what the crew's reactions has been? And what is standard procedure in these kinds of cases? Is it just name, rank and serial number? What kind of limitations do the crew have operationally, in terms of answering questions
The name, rank and serial number or strictures that you discuss are those that are in place for a prisoner of war. Again, an inappropriate description, I believe, to describe what we have here.
They're precluded, as any of us are, from discussing classified information, the details of the capabilities or limitations of their equipment, any sorts of classified information on the equipment or the aircraft itself. But beyond that, I can't characterize what sorts of questions they are being asked or how they are answering the questions.
QUESTION: You talked about and you stressed over and over the need for a comprehensive investigation and that the United States policy is that you not comment on what it believes happened until there's been this rigorous and systematic debriefing.
Do those rules apply also to the Chinese? Are the crew under instructions similarly not to answer questions from the Chinese about what took place in the air until there has been a debriefing by their American commanders?
QUIGLEY: I know of no such instructions that been given to the aircrew. We're relying on their good common sense, training and judgment to know what they are comfortable in answering and which questions they should decline to answer.
QUESTION: So in other words, there is no prohibition on them answering questions about what took place in the air?
QUIGLEY: Not that I'm aware of, no. Now, the Chinese have said that they intend to investigate this accident. How they go about doing that beyond questioning the American aircrew, I do not know. But you can expect that some of their questions to the aircrew would be about the details involving the accident. I don't know that for sure, but to me that would seem likely.
QUESTION: Was there any intelligence lost, going through the hand of the Chinese, that would be detrimental to NATO allies also, as the Jane's magazine assumes?
QUIGLEY: We share a lot of intelligence information with our NATO allies, and they with us, by design. If the abilities of this surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft were to somehow be marginalized by the compromise of its capabilities, that would probably be felt by our friends and allies around the world, many of whom we would share some of the information that we would gain through these means. It's hard to quantify, but I would think that there would be an impact, yes.
QUESTION: Can you go back to the notion of detainees and place that into a little military perspective for us?
QUESTION: Since the Cold War, essentially, how unusual or unique is it for military personnel to be classified by the Pentagon as detainees? Has this happened in the past? Can you point to any examples?
QUIGLEY: No, I'd have to do a comprehensive search over decades to give you a good answer to your question.
QUESTION: Well, let me try it this way: Do you feel that this is an extraordinary circumstance?
QUIGLEY: I don't know of any other circumstance where a Navy EP- 3 has landed on Hainan Island and 24 aircrew have been detained by the Chinese.