(Interview with Fred Dicker for WROW Radio, Albany, New York.)
Dicker: A few days ago I was talking to Congressman John Sweeney and some people close to John Sweeney about who might be a good person to speak to about the extraordinary events that are going on now at the Pentagon, that are going on with the United States military, that are happening overseas mainly focused on Afghanistan, and they mentioned to me rear admiral of the U.S. Navy, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Craig Quigley as being an extraordinarily informed guy, someone we've been seeing on TV with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and I said boy, would I love to be able to get Admiral Quigley on my radio show. It's only Albany, I know, and I'm only a guy from the New York Post, but they said let's see what we can do, and thanks to Congressman John Sweeney, live from the United States Pentagon, Admiral Craig Quigley.
Good morning, Admiral. Thanks for being with us.
Quigley: Good morning, Fred. My pleasure.
Dicker: It's an honor to have you with us. Admiral, let me ask you first if I could to recall a little bit of those sad moments back on September 11th. As I understand it, you were in the Pentagon when it was attacked by an aircraft.
Quigley: Yes. Fortunately, our office is very nearly on the opposite side of the building but despite the size and strength of the Pentagon building itself, it could still be felt as far away as the opposite side of the building. It was a vibration, a trembling, and very quickly some of the passageways started filling with smoke, and we started an orderly evacuation of the building right away.
Dicker: I think a lot of Americans, and I'm including myself in this, have had until now the sense that something like this really couldn't happen at a place as presumably well protected as the Pentagon and that you guys, top officials of our military establishment, would have had some advance warning. Did you have get an alert minutes before this hit, or were you as surprised as anybody else?
Quigley: I think that before Tuesday, the 11th of September, none of us thought of an airliner as a weapon, and as of that date our thinking changed and it will have to continue to change in the months and years ahead as the terrorist organizations continue to try to think of ever more innovative ways to attack our way of life. But I think that we had a warning that an aircraft was headed for Washington, D.C., but no specific tip-off that it was headed for the Pentagon.
Dicker: I see. What would you say to those, Admiral, who say there have been writings for years now, and I guess documents that have shown up from captured would-be terrorists, that indicated airliners were being considered as bombs, flying bombs to be used against American targets?
Quigley: I think you've seen the actions which always speak louder than words, of terrorists over the years have been to hijack a plane and either demand money or safe passage to another country, but never the airliner itself. Never the aircraft itself before this point had been used as a weapon, so it was a completely different way of looking at things and a heck of a way to go about it when you had such tragic loss of life in such a short time span.
Dicker: Admiral, excuse me for not being 100 percent up to speed on your role in all of this, but are you the chief spokesman for the Navy or for the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Could you tell us what your role is?
Quigley: Sure. I am a naval officer, I'm a Navy rear admiral, but I am stationed at the Department of Defense public affairs office, so as such we speak broadly for the entire Department of Defense.
Dicker: Do you speak for the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld himself?
Quigley: Yes, I do.
Dicker: With that in mind, now that I've gotten that straightened out, let me ask you about a report that's in USA Today, and it may be in a few other places. The headline in the local paper here is that "Special Forces Already on Hunt. Elite troops from U.S. Special Operations Forces have been inside Afghanistan for the past two weeks looking for Osama bin Laden." Is that true?
Quigley: Well, Fred, that's something I just simply can't confirm. I am in that piece, as a matter of fact, but simply saying that it's not something that we can provide any insight on.
It is very clear that we have indeed deployed some of America's military forces overseas to provide the president options should he choose to take military action. But I can't provide you any of the details as to what units and to what locations and doing what.
I will say this, though, as the president and Secretary Rumsfeld have said, this is going to be a very, very different kind of war. Very broad-based. There will be financial elements to this, diplomatic, legal, and yes, there will be military pieces of this over time. But unless you have all of those pieces in place in a very comprehensive and broad approach to go after terrorism, the organizations that support them and the monies that support them, you're just not going to have the success. This is not just about bombs on target, if you will.
Dicker: Oh, I'm sure. I assume you're saying that you can't be helpful on this because you, as a matter of strategy, choose not to be -- not because you don't know what's going on. I assume you know what's going on.
Admiral, let me ask you this, and this has a lot of historical references to it, because we've been through a lot in this country in terms of our attitudes as Americans towards the military ever since the Vietnam War, and arguably we've been carrying a tremendous antimilitary attitude in large parts of academic society, in American intellectual society, ever since the Vietnam War.
But I as a journalist, and I've been a journalist for some 30 years, have always felt that I was an American first and a journalist second. I get the sense that that kind of attitude, which I think is healthy for the country, really is now pretty pervasive in the press corps and that you have pretty good relations with the press down in Washington.
Can you comment on what the relations are right now? And you have to tell some journalists as you just told me, for instance, that you can't answer certain questions?
Quigley: Yeah, I find a very broad understanding, Fred, as to the reasons why you can't do that. You're not fighting a typical foe here. You're not fighting traditional armies and navies and air forces. You're fighting an enemy that lives and works in the shadows. And one of the key elements of so many facets of the effort against terrorism is going to be not to advertise your capabilities, not advertise your future actions, and we find a very broad and deep understanding of that amongst particularly the Pentagon press corps that focus on covering the Defense Department on a daily basis.
Dicker: About how many journalists are -- do you accredit them to cover the Pentagon? I believe you do.
Quigley: Well we don't offer credentials in the traditional sense. We offer to news organizations who choose to have a full time correspondent or a videographer or photographer cover the Pentagon, we offer a building pass, and that will allow them access to the Pentagon. But we have something in the neighborhood of 1700 of those that have been issued to accredited correspondents from a variety of news organizations. That's a very big number, but on your average day I would think it would be in the neighborhood of 100 to 125 that you might find physically in the Pentagon on any given day.
Dicker: What if somebody shows up and says I'm from BNS, Bin Laden News Service, or the equivalent, and I assume there probably are some BNS equivalents around. In the past I think you probably would have been inclined to issue building permits or passes, but are you reviewing some of the foreign journalists, for instance, to see if in fact they are legitimate the way they claim to be?
Quigley: Fred, for every person that applies for a building pass to work here in the Pentagon we do a system of background checks on that person. For starters, we want to contact their parent news organization to make sure they are who they say they are, and they are truthfully representing the news organization that they claim to represent. Then we ask for a variety of information on them, home addresses and things of that sort, and do a background check on their information, make sure it checks out, so we have at least some confidence that they are who they say they are and they're here for the right purpose.
Dicker: I remember, it must have been in the mid 1980s one of the leaders of the Contra guerrillas, Commandante Serro, he was known as, was almost killed when some journalists were alleged to have smuggled a bomb into his camp; and of course just a couple of weeks ago the leader of the Northern Alliance, who could have been of great assistance to the United States, was killed by suicide people posing as journalists who blew him up. So I would think you have every reason -- and we all do -- to be concerned at the Pentagon with journalists who are really unknown to a lot of people.
Quigley: Right now understandably there is an increased interest in the military's aspects of the war on terrorism, so we get a lot of phone calls just about every day from a new person, from a different news organization who wants to gain credentials to the Pentagon. We are not taking any shortcuts. We are letting that system work at its normal, thorough pace, and in the mean time a person is allowed access to the Pentagon but only under the custody, if you will, under escort from one of our folks here in our office.
Dicker: About how many public information offices are there that you have working for the Department of Defense who handles inquiries generally dealing with this issue?
Quigley: We are the central clearinghouse here in DoD Public Affairs, but each of the services has their own individual public affairs offices focusing on particular issues of interest to the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, and their offices are here in the building as well. Our office at the DoD level kind of acts as an omnibus and we're the one that issues, or that coordinates the applications from news organizations to have their representatives with building passes here in the building.
Dicker: I see. I was put in touch with you, and I'm very grateful for it, by Congressman John Sweeney, and I understand that Congressman John Sweeney's Chief of Staff, Marty Torry, served in the Navy at one time. Is he somebody you know?
Quigley: Only through e-mails. That is indeed how this started. He asked if this is something that we could do, and we said certainly. And here we are today.
Dicker: He's a very impressive guy, Marty Torry. I know at some point you'll meet him in person and see that he's something beyond his e-mails.
Admiral, in terms of what we can expect now, I know everybody's been making an effort to say don't expect anything rapidly, but probably you're getting calls every day saying when is something going to happen? What are you telling them when they call and ask that today?
Quigley: I think the answer, I think I've been so incredibly heartened by the understanding and the patience of the American people, as they fully understand that this is not easy, it's not something that can be done quickly, it deserves some thought and some very careful planning in a very comprehensive way. Again, this is not just about military action. We have a piece of it. I would assume that you're going to see military action on several occasions in the months and years to come. But the need, the absolute need to do this in the right way cannot be over-emphasized.
Dicker: I'm sure. Admiral, are you going to be able to stick with us for a little while longer? We're coming up on a news break that we have to take in just a few seconds, and we'd love to have you stay another 15 minutes or so if you're going to be able to do that.
Quigley: I can probably do about ten more if that's enough.
Dicker: That's going to be fine. Can you stick with us through the newsbreak?
Quigley: You bet.
Dicker: We really value your time. We know how valuable it is as you serve the nation in this extraordinary time. We're talking to Rear Admiral of the U.S. Navy Craig Quigley who is Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Information and is in the middle of one of the most extraordinary stories in human history, and certainly in American history. I think we are ready for the newsbreak and will be right back with Admiral Craig Quigley, if we can.
Dicker: Welcome back to the state capital, and we're talking to Rear Admiral Craig Quigley of the U.S. Navy and the Assistant Secretary of Defense who joins us live from the Pentagon.
Admiral, can you give us a sense of what it's like for the president in terms of learning about the day-to-day, minute-to-minute events of activities involving our military? Is it your office or is it the Defense Secretary himself, Donald Rumsfeld, who keeps the president informed?
Quigley: There are two principal people that the president gets his advice from over here in the Pentagon, Fred, and it is the Secretary, Secretary Rumsfeld, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Hugh Shelton. Both of them have been in contact either at meetings or secure video-teleconferences or secure telephone calls with the President on any number of occasions every day since the 11th.
Dicker: Is this something that you're occasionally able to witness? Have you see it first hand?
Quigley: No. I have not been in any of the meetings personally, but I see them on his calendar. The president has been over here a couple of times during that time period. It's just a continuous flow of information.
Dicker: I think it would be fair to say that military leaders must feel quite comfortable with this president because they must feel they know him, he served in the military, and they certainly remember his father and his father's very strong support for the United States military.
Quigley: The president has made it very clear since he was Candidate Bush that the military was going to be a priority of his during his administration and if anything, that bond has been even strengthened further since the attacks on the 11th.
Dicker: Admiral, is there a feeling amongst professional military people that they let the country down? Is there a sense of guilt that in fact they should have been on top of this type of extraordinary terrorist attack, and that when it hit home not only in New York, which is really a disaster, as you know, but at the nation's military headquarters, the Pentagon, that it was sort of a statement of failure of military preparedness?
Quigley: I think hindsight is a wonderful thing, Fred. And again, before the 11th, I don't think anybody in this country was looking for there to be the use of an airliner as a weapon.
We have had a very, very active posture over the years, over the decades, with responding to threats to America's security external to our shores. You're talking about in the days of the North American Aerospace Defense Command when it was first formed and there was a Soviet Union, very much attuned to the possibility of attack of this country from abroad.
We have now absolutely got to change our thinking and give much more credibility and focus to the internal security threats to our country.
Dicker: Wasn't the World Trade Center attacked in 1993?
Quigley: Yes, it was. It was a truck bomb or some sort of a bomb placed in the basement, I believe. It's not the first time, certainly, that there have been terrorist actions on American soil, but certainly nothing of this scale before.
Dicker: It seems to me the American people rightfully, though, have a sense, at least a lot of them do, that there was a failure certainly of intelligence here, and I agree with you, 20/20 is easy, a 20/20 review of a tragedy like this, but on the other hand -- you have 20/20 vision when you make a review of it -- but on the other hand, if you don't learn from past mistakes, if you don't try to see if in fact there were failures, then you might be opening yourself to committing them again. Certainly the military investigated the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, as I'm sure you're well aware, in fact there were court martials. Do you think there might be a congressional investigation here that might be appropriate or a military investigation itself?
Quigley: I think you have a variety of organizations that all have a role to play here, that all have a particular focus on the internal security of the United States. The military certainly has one. I suspect that if Governor Ridge gets his homeland security organization up to speed we're going to have a lot more discussions in the weeks and months ahead on that. But there are some very real legal restrictions, and I think some very clear expectations on the part of the American people as to what role their military should play in the form of law enforcement and a visible presence to provide security internally.
Certainly the National Guard under governor control has law enforcement authority. People have come to expect that and have seen that on any number of occasions over the years, natural disasters and the like, but you're looking at now is the expansion that the President announced yesterday to use a lot of guardsmen in a security role at airports, again, under the control of a state governor which would also allot them that law enforcement authority. So yeah, lots of things are changing right before our eyes, and we're very much a part of that.
Dicker: You've been in the United States Navy since 1975, I guess. You graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, commissioned as an ensign. Have you ever seen an atmosphere like we're seeing today?
Quigley: During the Gulf War I was stationed overseas, we were in Italy. So I know what it was like there, but I was not familiar with the mood in the country, in the United States, because I wasn't here. So in my time in uniform, in my 26 years of uniform, never have I seen such an incredible spirit of support and unity amongst the American people.
Dicker: I think we'd have to go back to Pearl Harbor, wouldn't you, to find anything that's comparable to that feeling amongst the American people that their nation has been attacked this way.
Quigley: I think that's a darn good analogy. There's an incredible sense of outrage, I think, amongst the American people, and a sense that it attacked all of us. It attacked our way of life. It wasn't just three buildings that were attacked. It was a way of life that Americans have come to treasure and they're going to fight for it.
Dicker: Quickly, Admiral, have people been pleased at the Defense Department at the support we've been getting from our old NATO allies and other nations around the world that, some of which haven't always been friendly towards us?
Quigley: Oh, very much so. I mean the principal among them would have to be within the NATO context at least, the very quick understanding to treat this as an Article V incident, which means an attack on one is considered an attack on all. So by the terrorists attacking the United States they've in a sense, a very clear sense, have attacked all 19 nations of NATO, and how quickly the NATO leadership came to that consensus was very heartening.
Just here in the Pentagon, Fred, we have received just thousands of letters and e-mails and phone calls of support from not only American citizens, but citizens of other countries as well. It's just very heartening.
Dicker: I'm sure. Can you, just as a final question, I've been curious about this, give us a sense, because I assume these are public numbers that have been out there for some time, of the size of the Special Forces units that the United States military have available right now. Whether it's Green Berets, if we still have them, or Navy SEALs or other special units? Are there tens of thousands of these, or hundreds of thousands of these?
Quigley: We have, I would say tens of thousands is the total force that's available on the active side. There are more on the reserve side. Again, I can't be helpful, I'm sorry, in being specific as to the numbers that have been ordered to be ready to be used in this particular instance. But they are among our most highly trained and most disciplined military units used in select circumstances and I do feel that they will play a role.
Dicker: And that's not counting regular Marines or regular infantry soldiers, is that right?
Quigley: No. No, there's 1.2 million men and women in uniform in the active side, and a slightly higher number than that on the reserve side representing a variety of skills -- young, old, senior, junior. It's quite an incredible mosaic.
Dicker: And what have you been hearing from the recruiting stations around the country? Are they in fact receiving a tremendous number of requests?
Quigley: We have received a much higher number of phone calls and visits and e-mails requesting information. The numbers of actual young men and women that have signed up and enlisted has not gone up since the 11th, but I would expect that as this goes on and there's more definition, I would expect those numbers to grow.
Dicker: Admiral Craig Quigley, thank you for taking valuable time out from your very busy schedule for joining us this morning.
Quigley: Fred, my pleasure.
Dicker: Thanks again. Rear Admiral Craig --