- The Washington Times - Friday, February 16, 2001

President Bush yesterday ordered the Pentagon to review its practice of inviting civilians on military exercises after disclosure that VIPs sat at control stations when the submarine USS Greeneville smashed into a Japanese training vessel.

"I think what's going to be necessary is for [Defense] Secretary [Donald H.] Rumsfeld and the Defense Department to review all policy regarding civilian activity during military exercises," Mr. Bush told reporters at the White House. "I look forward to the Defense Department review of the policies, their current policies, and particularly in light of the recent tragedy that took place in Hawaii."

A defense source said a preliminary investigative report on the week-old accident was submitted yesterday to Rear Adm. Albert Konetzni, the top Pacific submarine commander. He will forward the document to Adm. Thomas Fargo, Pacific Fleet commander, whose options include ordering the investigator to compile more information or shifting to a criminal probe.

The Greeneville skipper, Cmdr. Scott Waddle, was relieved of his command. Former submariners predict that his career is finished.

The Navy yesterday again declined media requests to release the names of the 16 business leaders and spouses who were aboard the Greeneville. But two came forward in television interviews and denied doing anything that could have caused the collision at sea.

Adm. Fargo was in Washington this week and briefed selected senators behind closed doors. He told them two civilians were at control stations during the attack submarine's "emergency blow" a training exercise in which the Greeneville rushed from a 400foot depth to the surface, nine miles off the Hawaiian coast. The submarine rammed and split open the ship Ehime Maru. Nine crew members and passengers are missing and presumed dead.

Adm. Fargo said one civilian manned the helmsman's station, which controls the directional rudder. The other guest was positioned at the main ballast switch, which triggers the expulsion of water and intake of pressured air to send the submarine upward. He told the senators both civilians were closely supervised by control room crew members.

Former submarine commanders say that civilian visits have been common practice for decades. They say the real question in the accident is not the submarine's course as it rose to the surface, but why the crew failed to detect the approaching 174-foot Japanese fishing training vessel.

Several current and former naval officers said in interviews they believe the Navy should end the practice of letting civilians sit at control stations during "dynamic" exercises such as a 400-foot blow.

The Pentagon said both the Pacific and Atlantic fleets will conduct reviews.

"It's incumbent upon us to take a round turn," said Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman. "So yes, both the submarine force in the Pacific and the Atlantic are looking at the procedures and ensuring that on the side of prudence, that … in the conduct of those embarks, they're going to take extra care to ensure that they're done completely safely."

Adm. Quigley added, however, that the VIP day trips will continue as a useful public relations tool in teaching the public about Navy operations.

Pentagon officials, including Mr. Rumsfeld, said this week there was no evidence the Greeneville's 16 guests were a distraction to the control room crew.

"There is no indication at this point in the investigation that the civilians had any impact on the outcome," said Rear Adm. Stephen Pietropaoli, the Navy's chief spokesman.

Adm. Pietropaoli acknowledged, however, that he should have informed the public at an earlier stage that civilians sat at some control stations at the moment of impact.

"We didn't do a good job of getting that out sooner," he said.

Two of the guests on the Greeneville did talk yesterday on NBC's "Today" show.

Both denied they presented any distractions to the crew. "I adamantly deny this is the case," said Todd Thoman. "It was nothing but professional and not one thing got done on that submarine that the commanding officer was not made aware of and in total control of."

John Hall said he was the one who turned the ballast switch. He said a crew member watched his every move.

Mr. Thoman said a seaman made two complete turns with the periscope before the submarine submerged to 400 feet to prepare for the blow.

"You don't do anything on this vessel without someone either showing you how to do it, telling you how to do it or escorting you around," he said.

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