Victoria Clarke, Asst. Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs
Interview with Cheryl Reliant, KYW Radio
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
September 15, 2001

RELIANT: Good afternoon, I'm Cheryl Reliant. Bill Roswell at the editor's desk, and our engineer, Greg Glenn.

We have two major cleanup efforts, two major recovery efforts taking place -- one in New York and one in Washington, D.C. at the Pentagon. Joining us live from the Pentagon is Assistant Secretary of Defense Victoria Clarke. She is the chief spokesperson for the Pentagon.

Torie, how is the recovery work proceeding there?

CLARKE: Well, it's proceeding faster than I think people would expect, thanks to the incredible hard work of literally thousands of people. We just finished a couple of hours ago announcing that we've already awarded the contract to the company that's going to start the repair and the rebuilding of the Pentagon. [ News release ] So that's a very good sign that just in a few short days we're up, we're operating, and we're moving ahead.

RELIANT: How long do you anticipate the work of recovering bodies to continue?

CLARKE: We have not put a date certain on it. It's very difficult, obviously, because of the amount of damage done to that section of the building where the plane went in. We are hopeful that it will be a matter of days, but it could be weeks. We just don't have a date certain yet because they're continuing to do the assessment of that area and they're continuing to very carefully go in, stabilize the area, begin to remove that debris so they can finish the process of taking out the bodies.

RELIANT: Is their official toll still 186?

CLARKE: Actually, that's not the official toll. We're still at about 190 right, which includes the 64 people who were on the airplane itself. [Note: as of Sept. 15, there are 188 unaccounted people, including 124 in the Pentagon and 64 on the airplane.]

RELIANT: Are you going to have to resort to DNA evaluation as they are in New York to identify victims?

CLARKE: Well, all of that will be handled by the people at Dover. What happens with the bodies, with the remains, is they get sent down to Dover which has one of the best forensics labs in the world, obviously, and that has been one of the things they've said they may have to do.

RELIANT: We were going to ask you when work would begin on rebuilding the damaged section. You've already told us that you have found a contractor.

CLARKE: Right.

RELIANT: So you don't really have a timeframe, I guess, to give us.

CLARKE: No, I don't really have a timeframe. As I said, the complete assessment isn't done yet, but they have already estimated they will need to remove about 350 million pounds of debris, take down some of those sections to the concrete columns and the floor slabs, and then begin to rebuild the space. They have compared it to more than two Empire State Buildings as part of the renovation activities.

RELIANT: We realize that there are many things that you're not able to tell us, but President Bush is saying today that Americans must get prepared. What are we preparing for?

CLARKE: Well, you're right. There's not much we can provide in the way of details on that, for obvious reasons. We don't want to provide much by way of operational detail. I think it was the Deputy Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, the other day who said I think the American people can understand we don't want to provide a road map for the terrorists, for those who mean us harm. [ Transcript ] But we do want to make clear that it will be a broad and comprehensive and sustained effort to win the war on terrorism, and it won't just be military, it will be economic, it will be diplomatic, it will be a very comprehensive and very broad-based effort, and that will take time.

RELIANT: We know there's a lot of solidarity just by its very nature at the Pentagon. What's the mood like there?

CLARKE: The mood is incredible. Since it first happened, and so many people including Secretary Rumsfeld himself, his first instinct we to go out through the building to the crash site and help. I don't know if you had heard about that there, but Secretary Rumsfeld was one of the first people out there after it happened. There's example after example of heroism, of people who helped at the crash site, trying to help victims and get people to ambulances, get them to the hospitals, to the people who immediately got back to work, got back into the building and started doing what they're supposed to be doing at the Department of Defense. That's been an incredible thing to see. Then the outpouring of support in the communities -- the firefighters, the volunteers, the Red Cross. I have lost track of the number of offers of help -- donations, food, clothing, any kind of assistance you can think of that has come flooding in for the families of the victims and for Pentagon employees in general. It's been truly remarkable.

The last couple of days you get asked about this a lot, if you were in the building when it happened. People say what's it like? How's everybody doing? And all of us find ourselves saying in the face of such an incredible tragedy you're just so inspired by the examples of heroism and the incredible spirit of these people, the American people, to pitch in and do what's right.

RELIANT: Is there any talk of a special memorial that may be planned?

CLARKE: There are lots of things under discussion. At the appropriate time, the right kind of memorial services. There's a family assistance center set up at a hotel right up the road here, for instance, which is planning some services tomorrow.

RELIANT: We have also heard that because of the way the Pentagon is constructed, that many people were able to flee, even after the hit.

CLARKE: I'm sorry. I missed the second half of your question.

RELIANT: We understand that many people were able to get out of that building after the hit by the hijacked airplane.

CLARKE: Yes, that's true.

RELIANT: Because of the construction of the building.

CLARKE: Because of the construction of the building and because that area had recently undergone some renovations. The Pentagon, which was built between '41 and '43 has been undergoing renovations for the last nine, ten years. That section was undergoing renovation. A lot of it had been completed. Because of that, because of reinforcements that were put in, the damage was less extensive than it might have been otherwise. And the majority of people were back and working the next day.

RELIANT: One final question. We understand there was just so much fuel on board that flight. How long did the fire burn?

CLARKE: The fire continued throughout a good part of Wednesday. I don't remember exactly when they thought they got it under control, but I think it was late Wednesday night when they finally felt as though they had the fire under control. Thursday night we had a brief flare-up again. There are still some pockets of fuel and gas in there. As they had opened up a section and some air got in there it started up a brief fire, I think it was only half an hour, maybe an hour long, and they got that under control as well. But it was two days before it was fully under control.

RELIANT: Thank you very much for joining us today. We appreciate your time.

CLARKE: Oh, thank you very much.