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Office of Legal Adviser’s Doctored Video Report Nets an “E” For Empty (Updated With OIG Comment)

Posted: 3:17 am ET
Updated: 2:06 PT — Comments from State/OIG

 

UpdateOIG conducted an independent preliminary assessment of issues surrounding missing footage from the Department’s December 2, 2013, daily press briefing (DPB). Specifically, OIG examined whether sufficient evidence is available for review and whether the issues in question are suitable for any further work. As part of this effort, OIG interviewed relevant staff; reviewed relevant emails, documents, and Department policies; and consulted with the Office of the Legal Adviser and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The results of our preliminary assessment show that limited evidence exists surrounding the December 2 DPB and that the available facts are inconclusive. However, the identification of the missing footage prompted the Department to improve its video policies. Specifically, the Department explicitly prohibited DPB content edits and is currently working with NARA to schedule the DPBs for disposition as federal records.

No further work by OIG would add clarity to the events surrounding the missing footage or effect any additional change at the Department. End Update

***

So, we got a copy of the Office of Legal Adviser’s (OLA) report on that video editing controversy. Lots more words, but the result mirrors the preliminary report announced back in June  — we don’t know who was responsible for it and we still don’t know why the video was purposely edited. To recap:

  • On May 9,2016, Fox News reporter James Rosen informed the Department that footage was missing from the Department’s daily press briefing video from December 2, 2013. The footage concerned Iran.
  • The Bureau of Public Affairs (PA) looked into the matter and confirmed that approximately nine minutes of footage were missing from the versions of the briefing video posted on YouTube and on state.gov.
  • On May 11, a technician in PA’s Office of Digital Engagement reported a recollection of making an edit to a video of that daily press briefing in response to a request over the phone from elsewhere in Public Affairs. The technician could not, however, remember who made the request.
  • The preliminary inquiry concluded that no rules had been broken in posting the edited video. Moreover, the DVIDS video and the full written transcript was always publicly available.
  • At the request of Secretary Kerry, the Department subsequently conducted “a broader review of the matter.”

According to OLA’s report, the Department interviewed 34 individuals and conducted email searches in this “broader review” as follows:

  • Nine of these individuals were senior officials in relevant positions from the relevant time period, including the then Department Spokesperson and Deputy Spokesperson, and numerous others within the Public Affairs bureau (no names are included in the report)
  • Fifteen of the interviewees were in positions in which they might have known who requested an edit or might have been in a position to relay a request for an edit from someone with the perceived authority  (names are not included in the report)
  • The final 10 individuals (including the technician who recalled making the edit) were involved in or familiar with the video production and editing processes in the Department as of December 2013, and might have been involved with the particular video in question or could explain those processes in greater detail. Individuals in this category also provided available records from programs and tools involved in the video production process. (names are not included in the report)

The report also says that the Department does not have records of phone calls made to the video technician that day. It looks like the  Department did meet with the staff from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) twice “during the course of the factfinding to brief them on process and findings.”

The report emphasized that the full record transcript and full video (via DOD’s DVIDS) were always available.  It concludes that there was evidence of purposeful editing and that there was evidence that the video was missing the footage in question soon after the briefing (we already know this from the briefings in June). So the details are as follows:

  • A PA technician recalled having received a request to edit the video over the phone
  • A female caller from elsewhere in Public Affairs “who could credibly assert that an edit should be made” made the request
  • The PA technician did not recall the identity of the caller (and the Department has been unable to ascertain it independently through interviews or document review).
  • The PA technician did not believe the call had come from the Spokesperson
  • The PA technician did not recall a reason being given for the edit request, but did believe that the requester had mentioned in the course of the call a Fox network reporter and Iran
  • The PA technician indicated that the requester may also have provided the start and end times for an edit, though the technician also recalls consulting the written transcript to locate the exchange
  • The PA technician recalled seeking approval from a supervisor, when interviewed the supervisor did not recall that exchange or anything else about the video.
  • The PA technician also recalled adding a white flash in order to make clear that footage had been removed
  • The PA technician does not usually engage in any editing, and is usually not involved in the daily press briefing video processing until several steps into the process of preparing the video for web distribution.

OLA’s report concludes that “Despite 34 interviews and follow-ups, email reviews, and cross-checks of those records still available from the editing and processing of the press briefmg video in question, the Department’s factfinding has not revealed who may have requested an edit or why the request may have been made.”

So maybe what — 45 days from that preliminary report, and we’re back to the same conclusion.

No one knows who was responsible for it. No one knows why.

The report states that “If an effort was made-however clumsy and ineffective-to scrub the public record of an already-public exchange with the press, no documentary evidence or memory of such an effort remains. If such an effort was undertaken, it was not comprehensive (in light of the unedited transcript and DVIDS video) and it was undertaken through a technician who would not normally be involved in the video editing process.”

At the same time, the report refused to let go of its alternative culprit —  “a glitch in the December 2,2013, briefing video may have resulted in the corruption of nine minutes from the YouTube and state.gov versions of the press briefing videos. The glitch was identified late in the day and the video technician was asked to address it since the normal editing team was gone for the day. Because the technician was not a normal editor, and in an effort to be transparent about the missing footage, the technician added a white flash to the video.”

In a message to colleagues, official spokesperson John Kirby — who was not working at State when this video was purposely doctored but now had to clean up the mess — writes that the report “presents the facts as we have been able to determine them, and we are committed to learn from them.”

OK. But that alternative culprit in the report is laughable, folks. A specific phone call was made, and it looks like a specific timeframe in the video was targeted for editing. The technician was not asked to “address” the glitch, she was asked to perform a snip!

This all started because Fox’s James Rosen asked then spox, Toria Nuland on Feb. 6, 2013 if the Obama administration was in direct nuclear talks with Iran.

QUESTION: One final question on this subject: There have been reports that intermittently, and outside of the formal P-5+1 mechanisms the Obama Administration, or members of it, have conducted direct, secret, bilateral talks with Iran. Is that true or false?

MS. NULAND: We have made clear, as the Vice President did at Munich, that in the context of the larger P-5+1 framework, we would be prepared to talk to Iran bilaterally. But with regard to the kind of thing that you’re talking about on a government-to-government level, no.

On December 2, 2013, Rosen asked then new official spox, Jen Psaki about that prior exchange with Toria Nuland:

QUESTION: Do you stand by the accuracy of what Ms. Nuland told me, that there had been no government-to-government contacts, no secret direct bilateral talks with Iran as of the date of that briefing, February 6th? Do you stand by the accuracy of that?

MS. PSAKI: James, I have no new information for you today on the timing of when there were any discussions with any Iranian officials.
[…]
QUESTION:
 Is it the policy of the State Department, where the preservation or the secrecy of secret negotiations is concerned, to lie in order to achieve that goal?

MS. PSAKI: James, I think there are times where diplomacy needs privacy in order to progress. This is a good example of that. Obviously, we have made clear and laid out a number of details in recent weeks about discussions and about a bilateral channel that fed into the P5+1 negotiations, and we’ve answered questions on it, we’ve confirmed details. We’re happy to continue to do that, but clearly, this was an important component leading up to the agreement that was reached a week ago.

QUESTION: Since you, standing at that podium last week, did confirm that there were such talks, at least as far back as March of this year, I don’t see what would prohibit you from addressing directly this question: Were there secret direct bilateral talks between the United States and Iranian officials in 2011?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more for you today. We’ve long had ways to speak with the Iranians through a range of channels, some of which you talked – you mentioned, but I don’t have any other specifics for you today.

In July 2012, Jake Sullivan, a close aide to Secretary Clinton, traveled to Muscat, Oman, for the first meeting with the Iranians, taking a message from the White House. […] In March 2013, a full three months before the elections that elevated Hassan Rouhani to the office of president, Sullivan and Burns finalized their proposal for an interim agreement, which became the basis for the J.C.P.O.A. (see The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama’s Foreign-Policy Guru, May 5, 2016).

Would a “no comment” response really be so terrible instead of Ms. Psaki’s word cloud there?

 

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