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September 4 Defense Department Briefing

By The Pentagon, The Pentagon - September 4, 2012

            MR. GEORGE LITTLE:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Hope you had a good Labor Day weekend.  I'd like to take just a few moments to address a few headlines from over the weekend, and for the benefit of those who don't follow the Pentagon day-to-day to ensure that there is clarity on a few issues. 

            This morning, Secretary Panetta received his weekly update from Gen. Allen on the war in Afghanistan.  Gen. Allen briefed the secretary on the status of training of the Afghan national security forces.  NATO ISAF training of the Afghan army and Afghan national police forces continue unabated.  The goal remains to train and field 352,000 ANSF by October, and we remain on track to reach that milestone.  ISAF, working with the Afghan government, is exploring counterintelligence initiatives to thwart insider threats and is working to develop joint protection plans.  

            As some of you may have seen, over the weekend United States special operations forces determined to temporarily put on hold the training of 1,000 Afghan local police forces and until an intensive re-vetting process could take place for all 16,000 members of the ALP [Afghan Local Police].  During this process, ALP operations, partnered operations, continue. 

            While the ALP is not part of the ANSF, we believe they are critical to helping provide force security for the Afghan people.  What Gen. Allen has reported is that insurgents are alarmed by the ALP, whose legitimacy in local intelligence networks make it exceedingly difficult for the insurgency to maintain or establish a foothold in local communities.  This is one of the reasons that the Taliban would like to exploit the ALP, and it is why in part it is so important that the vetting process be sound for all members of the ALP. 

            Fundamentally, our partnership with the Afghan military remains very strong, and our service members continue to train and work alongside Afghan partners every single day.  Continuing to do so will strengthen the Afghans' ability to secure their country, their government, and ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for Al Qaida. 

            The second story involves the planning for Austere Challenge 12.  Austere Challenge 12 is a bilateral ballistic missile defense exercise between the United States and Israel that provides important training for the defense of both nations.  The exercise was originally scheduled for May.  However, at the request of the Israeli Ministry of Defense and Israeli Defense Forces, the exercise was moved -- was moved to late fall of this year.  That decision was addressed by Secretary Panetta from this podium in January, as well as others, including me, in subsequent media briefings. 

            When the exercise was moved, the United States notified Israel that, due to concurrent operations, the United States would provide a smaller number of personnel than originally planned, and Israel reiterated its request to postpone the exercise until late fall.  The fact of the matter is that this exercise remains the largest ever ballistic missile defense exercise between our nations and a significant increase from the previous exercise a few years ago.  The exercise has not changed in scope and will include the same types of systems as planned.  All deployed systems will be fully operational with their associated operators, including the missile interceptors. 

            As Minister of Defense Ehud Barak has repeatedly said, the U.S.-Israel defense relationship is stronger than it has ever been, and we couldn't agree more.  This exercise is a tangible sign of our mutual trust and our shared commitment to the defense of our two nations. 

            With that, I'll open it up to your questions.  Lita? 

            Q:  George, on the separate issue, on the SEAL book, has the department made a decision yet on whether to take any legal action regarding this and on whether or not there is classified material in the book, and if there -- if, indeed, you've determined there is, can you tell us what it is and what action may or may not be taken at this point? 

            MR. LITTLE:  Thank you very much, Lita, for that question.  We continue to review our options when it comes to legal accountability for what in our estimation is a material breach of nondisclosure agreements that were signed by the author of this book. 

            With respect to the information that's contained in the book, people inside the department have read it.  And we do have concerns about some of the sensitive information that we believe is contained in it.  I'm not going to get out ahead of what the process going forward might be and what options we might decide to pursue, but this is a very serious concern that we have. 

            When it comes to sensitive special operations missions, such as the operation that took down Osama bin Laden, it is important that those who are involved in such operations take care to protect sensitive and classified information.  And if I had been part of the raid team on the ground and I had decided to write a book about it, it wouldn't have been a tough decision for me to submit the book for pre-publication review.  That is common sense.  It's a no-brainer.  And it did not happen. 

            Q:  Will you -- just as a follow-up -- you made a distinction between sensitive and classified.  So is the determination that it is sensitive information there and not classified?  And also, is there any determination on whether the book will be sold on -- on bases (off mic) 

            MR. LITTLE:  There's been no directive from this department to withhold sale of the book from military exchanges.  This book is being made widely available in bookstores and online.  It is not our typical practice to get into the business of deciding what and what does not go on bookshelves in military exchanges.  But that doesn't mean in any way, shape or form that we don't have serious concerns about the fact that this process of pre-publication review was not followed. 

            This is a solemn obligation.  And the author in this case elected not to abide by his legal obligations.  And that's disheartening and, frankly, is something that we're taking a very close look at. 

            Dan? 

            Q:  So there is classified information in the book, the department believes? 

            MR. LITTLE:  We believe there's sensitive information that would have raised concerns had this book gone through pre-publication review.  There's no doubt about it. 

            Jim? 

            Q:  I have a follow-up.  If you don't -- 

            MR. LITTLE:  Go ahead, Dan. 

            Q:  You're indicating that you're not -- you're not going to prevent the book from being sold on military bases, but at -- it looks like no legal action will be taken at this point and -- and this person (off mic) 

            MR. LITTLE:  We are still looking at all options, Dan.  I'm not saying that legal avenues are not available.  Legal avenues are available to us.  I'm simply not going to get into what we may or may not decide. 

            Q:  George, not surprisingly, on Friday, the former SEAL's lawyer sent a letter back to the Pentagon saying that his client was not obligated or required to submit the material for pre-publication review, but is simply invited to do so.  And is it true that this nondisclosure agreement would require him to submit for pre-publication review if he, the author, thought there was classified material in it? 

            MR. LITTLE:  Our reading, as you might expect, is very different.  We strongly believe that there was a requirement for pre-publication review in this instance.  It wasn't followed.  And the author is in material breach of his secrecy agreements with the United States government. 

            Q:  Can you release a copy of that nondisclosure agreement and redact anything that would identify the former Navy SEAL? 

            MR. LITTLE:  We did not release the nondisclosure agreements due to privacy concerns.  And the fact that the name was on the NDAs, I'll see if there's a possibility for redaction, but we don't have any plans to release the NDAs at this time. 

            Q:  Well, it -- it might be helpful to back up the Pentagon's claim that he was required to do it. 

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