Please Quit Dancing Around the Video Probe — You Need State/OIG On “Glitch-Gate” 216 Hours Ago

Posted: 2:33 am ET
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After calling the editing mystery of the video tape “a bit of a dead end,” and after Secretary Kerry called the doctoring of the Daily Press Briefing tape “stupid and clumsy and inappropriate,” the State Department informed the press on June 8 that the agency’s Office of the Legal Adviser (L) is now continuing to look into the matter. Also see Congress Wants to Know More About @StateDept’s “Casserole”, Then the DPB Goes Down the Rabbit HoleThat @StateDept Video “Glitch”? Not a Technical Glitch But “Deliberate Request to Excise Video”@StateDept Spox John Kirby Pens a Message to Colleagues in the Bureau of Public Affairs.

Here is Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner:

 I wanted to give you an update on the issue many of you have been seized with, which is the edited State Department video of December 2nd, 2013 daily press briefing. As you know, Secretary Kerry spoke out about this incident last week and highlighted his strong interest in determining what exactly happened, which is why the Office of the Legal Adviser here at the State Department is continuing to look into this matter.

The Office of Legal Adviser’s recently concluded review has been called a shoddy, good-for-nothing, incomplete, unworthy probe” and for good reasons. And now, the State Department has announced that the  same office will continue the probe.

The State Department should quit dancing around this issue and have the Office of the Inspector General look into this matter.

When this issue broke last month, and especially after Mr. Kirby officially announced that this was a deliberate act, this ought to have been quickly handed over to the OIG. Even as the PA bureau insists that no rules were broken. Because, well, what they say about perception. The “L” probe came across not only as a half hearted effort but almost as if folks did not really want to find out the who, and why.  But somebody decided that it was a “good enough” investigation, and also a “dead end” until Secretary Kerry  decided last week that he wanted “to find out exactly what happened and why.”

Secretary Kerry or his Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R) Richard Stengel who oversees the Bureau of Public Affairs ought to have been first on the phone requesting an official review by the Inspector General. This is more than eight minutes of missing footage.  Neither have done that, but given the intense media scrutiny, and considering that HFAC Chairman Royce has already requested an investigation by the Inspector General, insisting that the in-house probe by the Office of the Legal Adviser continue is darn illogical. C’mon folks, think about it.

While State/OIG would not comment on whether or not there will be an investigation, we suspect that a request from the House Foreign Relations Committee chair could not be easily ignored and it is almost certain that there will be an OIG probe. And if the State Department insists on the continuing “L” bureau probe, we could be looking at dueling reports on this incident. There will potentially be an opportunity to compare and contrast.  Double the effort, double the pain.

Via the Daily Press Briefing, June 8, 2016:

QUESTION: I mean, you said that the Office of the Legal Adviser was continuing to investigate. But I thought that last week you had said that you had run into a dead end, and that if somebody else brought you information, you would look at it. So the investigation continues?

MR TONER: So you’re absolutely right; I did say that last week and – which is why I came out and offered this change, if you will, in our assessment. And that is basically because the Secretary said he wants to dive deeper into this, look more into what happened, and try to get to the bottom of what happened.

And so what our Office of Legal Adviser did was go back and look at what are other areas where there could be information. And again, some of that is emails, and we talked about that last week. So we’ve – again, we’ve – we’re trying to collect emails of – that are pertinent or relevant to the issue at hand and go through those systematically.

[…]

QUESTION: Why – look, the people in the Legal Adviser’s Office are very smart and highly qualified people, and they choose to work in government rather than making many, many, many multiples of their salaries in the private sector. But in at least two signal respects, it seems that they failed to do things that you would assume anybody seriously interested in looking into this would have done.

One, they didn’t, until the question got raised in public, look at phone records, right? You guys didn’t even look into that until we asked you about it. And it turns out you don’t have phone records from three years ago. Fine, but they didn’t even, apparently, ask that question.

Secondly, they didn’t, in the course of their review, didn’t even look at emails. So why is it that theirs is the office that where this review or investigation should now be – they missed two obvious things right off the bat, so why should they carry out the —

MR TONER: So a couple of —

MR TONER: Right. Well, I think – so a couple of responses. First of all – and we talked about this last week – is that in spite of the fact that this was an ill-advised action that was taken, there were no rules broken. This was – and we talked about this – the fact that there was nothing governing the editing of State Department video at the time. We have remedied that going forward so that it will never happen again. But the fact was that, as unfortunate as this incident was, it didn’t break any known regulations or policies.

That said, based on an individual coming forward to say I was the person who was contacted about this, they did interview that person. There are always other leads you can follow, and you raised many of them last week when you were asking questions about this. And so given the Secretary’s strong interest, given Congress’s strong interest, and given the media’s strong interest, we’ve decided to continue to look at that.

And we also said last week that as new information does become available, if it does become available, we would certainly pursue that as well.

QUESTION: But why – I still don’t understand why – why you do not —

MR TONER: Why them and why not us?

QUESTION: — why wasn’t – well, two things. One, why wasn’t a more rigorous review conducted in the first place, right?

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And then second, given that the original review carried out by the Legal Adviser’s Office does not appear to have been as rigorous – well, manifestly was not as rigorous as it might have been – why have them do it? Why not find somebody —

MR TONER: Well, they are – they are an outside entity not within the Bureau of Public Affairs.

QUESTION: Well, yeah. But the Bureau of Public Affairs —

MR TONER: And they’re —

QUESTION: — is not the whole world. They’re part of the State Department.

[…]

QUESTION: Mark, can you tell us – you said looking at email records from people in the Public Affairs Office. That includes the spokesperson, the deputy spokesperson, or is this just staff? I mean, how are you defining the parameters?

MR TONER: Sure. We’re looking at leadership at the time, so people who were in leadership positions. I’ll put it that way.

QUESTION: And have you – and in the search so far, you’ve found no record of any request for this or interest in this —

MR TONER: No.

QUESTION: — or any evidence of tampering so far?

MR TONER: No, no.

QUESTION: Then can you be more explicit about who leadership is? Does that mean the assistant secretary? Does that mean the DASs in the bureau? Does that mean the spokesperson? Does that mean the deputy —

MR TONER: We’re looking at all – all the relative people who were occupying leadership positions. So spokesperson, deputy spokesperson, assistant secretaries, deputy assistant secretaries at the time who would have had purview over the video. So – and again, while we’re looking at all of this, let me again be very clear that both the spokesperson at the time and the deputy spokesperson at the time both came out strongly with statements publicly that they had nothing to do with it, no knowledge of it, and we’ve found nothing thus far to – that in any way indicates otherwise.

[…]

QUESTION: And who – was only one person interviewed? You said “the person who was interviewed.” Was only one person interviewed as part of their review?

MR TONER: Yes.

QUESTION: So again, and I don’t meant to belabor this, but I don’t understand why you feel that a sufficiently rigorous review is going to be carried out by the office – estimable though many of its lawyers are – is going to be carried out – they interviewed one person. They didn’t look for phone records. They didn’t look at emails. Why on Earth don’t you get somebody who will go at this with greater rigor and independence rather than give it to the office that didn’t do three pretty obvious things?

MR TONER: Well, look, Arshad, again, they’re the ones who have carried out the initial examination of this incident. They’re able to take this as far as we’re able to take it. But we can only follow the leads that are viable and we can only look at the records that are available.

QUESTION: But they didn’t follow the leads or look at the records that were available when they initially looked at this.

MR TONER: But we’re doing that now.

QUESTION: They talked to one person.

MR TONER: Who came forward. Yes.

QUESTION: Who came forward. This is not looking high and low.

 

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US Embassy Banjul: Host Govt Unexpectedly Removes Police Protection in The Gambia

Posted: 12:43 am ET
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The US Embassy in Banjul issued a security message informing U.S. citizens in the Gambia that post will be closed on June 9 for non-essential services due to the removal of police protection by the host government.  The short message does not include the reason for the removal of police protection.  The U.S. recently granted asylum to a Gambian student previously funded by the Gambian government who publicly supports LGBT rights.

The Freedom Newspaper notes that this is not the first time that Yahya Jammeh, an army officer, who took power in a 1994 military coup has ordered the withdrawal of Gambia’s Police Intervention Unit (PIU) personnel from the US Embassy premises. He apparently issued a similar directive sometime last year. We have asked but have not received a response if/when post will suspend operation.

Here is an excerpt of the Embassy’s 2016 Crime and Safety report:

The Gambia’s President Yaya Jammeh came to power by a non-violent coup in July 1994. He was first elected president in an internationally-challenged election in 1996 and re-elected in 2001, 2006, and November 2011 to five-year terms. The next scheduled presidential election is December 1, 2016. Previous elections were considered credible despite numerous shortcomings.

In March 2006, the government thwarted a reported military-led coup attempt. The alleged coup attempt was put down without violence. Around 50 people were detained for their alleged roles in the coup plot; many detainees were released, with the remainder convicted and sentenced to life terms. The President continues to shuffle government leaders capriciously, reducing the likelihood of any single actor gaining too much political power.

In December 2014, there was an unsuccessful coup perpetrated by Gambian dissidents at the State House. As a result, The Gambian government arrested/detained/questioned countless individuals in an effort to locate conspirators and identify those perceived to be in opposition to the government. The resulting crackdown inspired fear in many Gambians. The government seized the opportunity to arrest those that have taken opposing views. It has even arrested family members (including young children) of coup plotters and is known to torture those in custody during interrogation.

Over the past several years, politically-motivated arrests have become more frequent and arbitrary, and the government has cracked down on the independent press and others who are seen as opposing the government.

It is illegal to speak out against President Jammeh. Apparently, it is even illegal to speak negatively to his photo.  Homosexuality is also illegal in The Gambia. “Consensual same-sex sexual relations are illegal in The Gambia. Prison terms can range from five years to life imprisonment, and there is strong societal discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) individuals. The Criminal Code was amended in October 2014 to include Section (144A) entitled Aggravated Homosexuality, which sets out seven specific categories, including being “a serial offender,” for which a person is “liable on conviction to imprisonment for life.”

A couple of weeks ago, the State Department officially condemned the Gambian Government’s response to peaceful protests in the country.

 

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