U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA TALKS TO CO-HOST NORAH O’DONNELL ABOUT THE NEW NAVY SEAL BOOK, DEFENSE BUDGET CUTS AND THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN IN AN INTERVIEW WHICH WAS BROADCAST TODAY ON “CBS THIS MORNING”
PANETTA ON FORMER NAVY SEAL BOOK: “I THINK WE HAVE TO TAKE STEPS TO MAKE CLEAR TO HIM AND TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE THAT WE'RE NOT GOING TO ACCEPT THIS KIND OF BEHAVIOR”
PANETTA ON DEFENSE CUTS: “I'M VERY CONCERNED ABOUT THEM. IT'S GOING TO HOLLOW OUT OUR FORCE, AND IT'S GOING TO WEAKEN OUR DEFENSE SYSTEM”
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta discussed the recently released book by former Navy SEAL “Mark Owen,” where the country stands on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the war in Afghanistan and the latest on Iran and Syria with co-host Norah O’Donnell in an interview which aired today, Sept. 11, 2012, on CBS THIS MORNING on the CBS Television Network (7:00 AM – 9:00 AM).
Below are excerpts from the interview:
PANETTA: There's no question that the American people have a right to know about this operation. That's why the President spoke to the American people when that operation happened. But people who are part of that operation, who commit themselves to the promise that they will not reveal the sensitive operations and not publish anything without bringing it through the Pentagon, so that we can ensure that it doesn't reveal sensitive information, when they fail to do that, we have got to make sure that they stand by the promise they made to this country.
O'DONNELL: I noticed you say "sensitive" and not "classified" information.
PANETTA: There's always fine lines here. But, you know, we are currently reviewing that book to determine exactly, you know, what is classified, and what isn't, and where those lines are. But even beyond that, the fact that he did it without running it by the Pentagon so that we could take a look at it. I mean, deliberately, just basically said, "We're not, you know, we're not going to do this.” That's a concern. I cannot, as Secretary, send a signal to SEALs who conduct those operations, “Oh, you can conduct these operations and then go out and write a book about it, and/or sell your story to the New York Times.” How the hell can we run sensitive operations here that go after enemies if people are allowed to do that?
O'DONNELL: Has this Navy SEAL, do you believe, put other Navy SEALs and other members of the military in danger?
PANETTA: I think when someone who signs an obligation that he will not reveal the secrets of this kind of operation, and then does that and doesn't abide by the rules, that when he reveals that kind of information, it does indeed jeopardize other operations and the lives of others that are involved in those operations.
O'DONNELL: How does it jeopardize future operations?
PANETTA: I think when somebody talks about the particulars of how those operations are conducted what that does is it tells our enemies, essentially, how we operate and what we do to go after them. And when you do that, you tip them off.
O'DONNELL: Do you think his life is in danger now?
PANETTA: He was very much a part of the operation that got bin Laden. You know, there's no question that that should make him concerned. It makes us concerned about his safety.
O'DONNELL: Let's talk about defense spending. You recommended about $500 billion in defense cuts. Congress passed those defense cuts. But now, you're facing across-the-board defense cuts in addition to that as part of this defense sequestration. How concerned are you about those additional cuts?
PANETTA: Well, I'm very concerned about them. It's going to hollow out our force, and it's going to weaken our defense system.
O'DONNELL: Have you, at the Pentagon, begun preparing for these cuts that may go into effect?
PANETTA: We have not. Because—
O'DONNELL: Isn't that irresponsible?
PANETTA: What's irresponsible is the fact that they put these cuts into place and that they are failing to come up with the answer as to how to prevent this from happening. They put a gun to their head. That's what a sequester was all about. They said, "Let's put a gun to our head and if we don't do the right thing, we'll blow our heads off." Well, now they've cocked the gun. This thing's supposed to take effect in January. But the whole purpose of it was for both Republicans and Democrats to do the right thing and to prevent this from happening. That's what’s irresponsible.
# # #
O'DONNELL: I spoke with this Navy SEAL's attorney who said the White House, the CIA, the Pentagon all gave detailed accounts of the bin Laden raid to the New York Times, to the New Yorker, even to people who are making a Hollywood film, and that there's nothing that's in this book that's any different than what other publications and people who are making movies know about.
PANETTA: There's a fundamental difference. The people that presented some of the details of the operations were authorized to do that by the president of the United States, who has that authority to do that, and inform the American people as to what happened. In this case, that was not the case. And that's the difference.
O'DONNELL: You want this Navy SEAL prosecuted?
PANETTA: I think we have to take steps to make clear to him and to the American people that we're not going to accept this kind of behavior. Because if we don't, then everybody else who pledges to ensure that that doesn't happen is going to get the wrong signal, that somehow they can do it without any penalty to be played.
# # #
O'DONNELL: Afghanistan is now America's longest war. And I've heard you say you believe that it's a forgotten war. Do you think enough people know what's going on in Afghanistan?
PANETTA: I'm concerned that, you know, in the middle of the presidential campaign, that not enough attention is being paid to the sacrifices that are being made. We have men and women that are fighting and dying every day in Afghanistan. And they're making tremendous sacrifices in order to protect this country. There's a war going on.
O'DONNELL: Is the United States safer since President Obama has been in office?
PANETTA: I know there's a political debate going on about that issue. But whether you're Republican or Democrat, I think if you look at the facts, you know, the fact that we were able to bring bin Laden to justice, the fact that we have decimated al-Qaeda's leadership, the fact that we've ended the war in Iraq. The fact that we're drawing down in the war in Afghanistan. The fact that we got rid of Kaddafi in Libya. When you put all of that together, I think the bottom-line conclusion is that America is safer as a result of those actions.
# # #
O'DONNELL: And how will we know when they [Iran] make that decision to build the nuclear weapon?
PANETTA: We have pretty good intelligence on them. We know generally what they're up to. And so we keep a close track on them.
O'DONNELL: Do we believe that this mega-bomb we have, this Massive Ordnance Penetrator, could reach through that facility at Qom where they're developing some of these centrifuges and this uranium enrichment that's going on?
PANETTA: Without going into what particular capabilities we have, we think we've got the ability to be able to strike at them effectively, if we have to.
O'DONNELL: Today? Tomorrow?
PANETTA: Whenever we have to. We have the forces in place to be able to not only defend ourselves, but to do what we have to do to try to stop them from developing nuclear weapons.
O'DONNELL: You’ve said you believe that there's still a window of opportunity where it would take about a year for them to reach the capability, and then another year or two years to weaponize? Is that right?
PANETTA: It's going to take them a while once they make the decision to do it.
O'DONNELL: How big is the window?
PANETTA: It's roughly about a year right now. A little more than a year. And so, we think we will have the opportunity once we know that they've made that decision, take the action necessary to stop.
Click here to watch the video.
<embedsrc="http://cnettv.cnet.com/av/video/cbsnews/atlantis2/cbsnews_player_embed.swf" scale="noscale" salign="lt" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" background="#333333" width="425" height="279" allowFullScreen="true" allowScriptAccess="always"FlashVars="si=254&&contentValue=50131052&shareUrl=http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7421306n" />
Chris Licht is Vice President of Programming, CBS News, and Executive Producer of CBS THIS MORNING.
* * *
Press Contact: Whitney Kuhn 212-975-2856 KuhnW@cbsnews.com