The State Dept’s Sexual Assault Reporting Procedure Appears to Be a Black Hole of Grief

Posted: 2:02 am ET
Updated: Sept 24, 4:08 pm PST | This piece was edited to use the more neutral word “report” instead of “allegation.” The guide on reporting sexual violence is teaching us that the use of the word “allegation” reinforces the disbelief that a crime actually occurred.

 

Last month, we received an anonymous allegation report of sexual assaults in the Foreign Service. It is alleged We were told that DS and MED “hide” the assaults “under pretense” that it is “the victim’s wish to keep it a secret.”

No specific case was cited only that there were incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We were also asked if we know what is the reporting process for sexual assault in the Foreign Service.

We told our correspondent that we will look into the reporting process because we actually had no idea. We were then warned: “On the off chance you get a response, it will probably be something along the lines of, “any victim of crime under chief of mission authority should report to their RSO; the Department takes such allegations extremely seriously.” 

 

Looking at public records

We started looking at publicly available records. We found one assault in 2009 which is only publicly available becase the case became an EEOC case (see Sexual Assault at a State Dept-Leased Apartment: If This Isn’t Abysmal Failure, What Is It?). In 2011, there was the case of a former CIA station chief to Algeria who received 65 months in jail for sexual assault on embassy property. In 2012, there was a case of an FS couple accused of slavery and rape of a housekeeper, In 2013, there was an FS specialist who was sentenced to 5 years in prison; the case was about the sex abuse of an adopted child. Also in 2013, CBS News reported on  several allegations including one about a regional security officer (RSO) in Lebanon who “engaged in sexual assaults” of the local guards.  A subsequent OIG investigation indicates that the alleged sexual misconduct of this security official spanned 10 years and 7 posts.

These are cases that we’ve written in this blog after they’ve become public.

We’ve poured over the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) and Foreign Affairs Handbook (FAH) and have reached out to the State Department and other contacts within its orbit to help us find the specific guidance for the reporting process on sexual assault. We have not been successful. For the record, it is not/not 3 FAM 1525, not 3 FAM 4428, not 3 FAM 1800 and not 7 FAM 1940.

 

Questions for the State Department

We sent some questions to the State Department, the blue italics below is the response from an agency’s spokesperson.

We asked: How does the State Department/Diplomatic Security handle sexual assault among members of the Foreign Service community overseas? The only thing I can find in the FAM is sexual assault relating to private American citizens, and services via the Consular Section.  

–What is the reporting process if the victim/perpetrator is under chief of mission authority?

–What is the reporting process if the alleged perpetrator is from the Regional Security Office or a senior Foreign Service official who oversees the RSO?

–Where is the FAM/FAH guidance for sexual assault?

The State Department response: “The State Department/Diplomatic Security handles sexual assault among members of the foreign service community overseas by adhering to Department guidelines. These guidelines are made available to all members of the foreign service community in Department cables and in the FAM. The Department guidelines outlined in these documents address the contingencies included in your questions.”

No specific cables were cited.  However, the FAM cited by the State Department in its response above is 1 FAM 260, specifically, 1 FAM 262.4-5 which only notes that the Office of Special Investigation (DS/DO/OSI) within Diplomatic Security is tasked with investigating extraterritorial criminal investigations including assault, sexual assault, domestic violence, etc. Go ahead and read it.  It does not/does not include nor describe the reporting process.

We asked: If a sexual assault occurs overseas to an employee/family member of USG employees, who are the officials informed about the incident?

–How is the information transmitted? Telegram, telephone, email?

–Is the communication done via secure or encrypted channels?

In response to the above question, a State Department’s spokesman said: “The reporting process calls for the regional security officer to contact the State Department’s Office of Special Investigations. This office is outside the regional security officer’s chain of command.”

The response is only partly responsive and only names the RSO and DS/OSI.  Even if DS/OSI is outside the RSO’s chain of command, this tells us that an alleged victim overseas has to go through post’s Regional Security Office; the RSO in that office must then contact DS/OSI located in Washington, D.C. for an investigation to be initiated.

You probably can already guess our next question.

What if the perpetrator is from the security office or the Front Office who oversees the RSO? How would that work? Also both the RSO overseas and DS/OSI back in DC are part of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. When we made these follow-up questions, the State Department simply repeated its original response:  “The reporting process calls for the regional security officer to contact the State Department’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI). This office is outside the regional security officer’s chain of command.  On your question on the Fam (sic): Sexual assault is a crime investigated by the Office of Special Investigations as outlined in 1 FAM 262.4-5.”

This is a disturbing response particularly in light of a previous CBS News report alleging that a regional security officer sexually assaulted local guards under his supervision and was accused of similar assaults in Baghdad, Khartoum and Monrovia. Okay, never mind CBS News, but the OIG investigation indicates that the same security officer’s alleged sexual misconduct spanned 10 years and 7 posts.  How many local guards were assaulted within those 10 years and in those 7 posts?  Perhaps it doesn’t or didn’t matter because it happened so long ago. Or it is because the alleged victims were non-U.S. citizens?

The other part of the question on how reports are transmitted is equally important. Are they sent via unclassified email? The perpetrator could be easily tipped off, and that potentially places the safety of the victim in jeopardy.

The third question we asked is a twofer. We wanted to know the statistics on sexual assault in the Foreign Service, specifically in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2003. The second part of our question is overall statistics on sexual assault in the Foreign Service worldwide, during the last 10 years. Note that we are not asking for names. We’re asking for numbers. We’re only asking for an accounting of sexual assault reports reported allegations since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to the present, and the worldwide number of allegations reports spanning over 280 overseas posts in the last 10 years. Surely those are available?

This is the State Department’s official response:

“The Office of Special Investigations receives and catalogues allegations and complaints. Allegations are neither categorized by location nor by alleged offense.”

Wh–aat? We actually fell off the darn chair when we read the above response.  If the allegations and complaints are not catalogued by location or alleged offense, how would the State Department  know if there is a trend, or a red flag they should be aware of?

Wouldn’t this constitute willful ignorance?

In our follow-up question, we asked who is responsible for the care and support of a Foreign Service victim? This is the response from a State Department spokesperson:

“The Department takes seriously the safety and well-being of its employees and their family members. The post health unit, Employee Consultation Services and the Regional psychiatrist are all available to assist a victim of sexual assault. MED would also assist if, for example, a medical evacuation to a third country or the United States is required. 

Generally MED does not provide direct clinical services in the States but has extensive resources to provide referrals for ongoing treatment.

Additionally, the Victim’s Resource Advocacy Program (VRAP) is available to provide advocacy services so the individual understands the judicial process and has support lines, plus resources applicable to the person’s goals to rebuild and heal.”

 

In a follow-on response, the State Department cites the Victim’s Resource Advocacy Program (VRAP). We had to dig around the net to see what is VRAP.  According to the State Department’s outline on divorce:

VRAP was created in November 2010 by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) “to empower those who have been victimized by crimes that are under DS investigation. A representative of this office also sits on the Department’s Family Advocacy Committee (chaired by the Director of MED/MHS), based in Washington DC. The VRAP is committed to assisting aggrieved individuals in overcoming difficulties that result from victimization by providing resources to deal with the realities that follow traumatic experiences and an understanding of the judicial processes surrounding criminal offenses. Contact VRAP at vrap@state.gov.”

Okay, but.  All that still does not give us a clear idea on the procedure for reporting sexual assault in the Foreign Service, does it? And most of the info is not even codified in the FAM or the FAH.

What happens in the space between “calling the RSO” and VRAP “empowering” those victimized by crimes — remains a black hole. It is not clear what kind of support or advocacy services and resources are provided to victims of sexual assault. We’ve asked; we haven’t heard anything back.

Since we could not find any guidance from the State Department, we went and look at what the reporting procedure is like at USAID, the Department of Defense, and Peace Corps.  As of this writing, we’ve received an acknowledgment from USAID but have not received an answer to our inquiry. Below is a quick summary for DOD and the Peace Corps:

 

DOD Sexual Assault Reporting Guidance

You may or may not know this but the Department of Defense actually has a separate website for sexual assault which makes it clear that sexual assault is a crime. Defined “as intentional sexual contact,” sexual assault is characterized by “use of force, threats, intimidation or abuse of authority, or when the victim does not or cannot consent.” It explains that sexual assault includes rape, forcible sodomy (oral or anal sex), and other unwanted sexual contact that is aggravated, abusive, or wrongful (including unwanted and inappropriate sexual contact) or attempts to commits these acts. It also notes the difference between sexual assault and sexual harassment. Its website is not just an explainer, it also provides information for assault victims:

If I am sexually assaulted, what should I do?
First, get to a safe place. If you are in need of urgent medical attention, call 911. If you are not injured, you still need medical assistance to protect your health. The medical treatment facility (MTF) offers you a safe and caring environment. To protect evidence, it is important that you do not shower, brush your teeth, put on make-up, eat, drink, or change your clothes until advised to do so. You or the MTF may report the crime to law enforcement, criminal investigation agencies, or to your chain of command. If you feel uncomfortable reporting the crime, consider calling a confidential counseling resource available to you.

Reporting Options: 
Restricted | Sexual assault victims who want to confidentially disclose a sexual assault without triggering an official investigation can contact a SARC/SHARP Specialist, VA/SHARP Specialist, or a healthcare provider. By filing a restricted report with a SARC/SHARP Specialist, VA/SHARP Specialist, or a healthcare provider, a victim can disclose the sexual assault without triggering an official investigation AND receive medical treatment, advocacy services, legal assistance, and counseling.

Unrestricted | This option is for victims of sexual assault who desire medical treatment, counseling, legal assistance, SARC/SHARP Specialist and VA/SHARP Specialist assistance, and an official investigation of the crime. When selecting unrestricted reporting, you may report the incident to the SARC/SHARP Specialist or VA/SHARP Specialist, request healthcare providers to notify law enforcement, contact law enforcement yourself, or use current reporting channels, e.g., chain of command. Upon notification of a reported sexual assault, the SARC/SHARP Specialist will immediately assign a VA/SHARP Specialist. You will also be advised of your right to access to legal assistance that is separate from prosecution resources. At the victim’s discretion/request, the healthcare provider shall conduct a sexual assault forensic examination (SAFE), which may include the collection of evidence. Details regarding the incident will be limited to only those personnel who have a legitimate need to know.


Peace Corps Sexual Assault Reporting Guidance

The Peace Corps says it provides “sexual assault risk-reduction and response training to both Volunteers and staff. Volunteers worldwide learn risk-reduction strategies such as bystander intervention training, and each post has two sexual assault response liaisons trained to directly assist Volunteers who are victims of sexual assault throughout the in-country response process.” It also provides around the clock, anonymous sexual assault hotline accessible to Volunteers by phone, text, or online chat that is staffed by external crisis counselors at pcsaveshelpline.org.

In addition, it provides volunteers who experience sexual assault the option to report the incident as restricted or as standard reporting. This is similar to DOD’s:

Restricted reporting limits the number of staff members with access to information about an assault to only those involved in providing support services requested by the Volunteer. This gives Volunteers access to critical support services while protecting their privacy and confidentiality, and allows the Peace Corps to provide support services to Volunteers who otherwise may not seek support.

Standard reporting provides Volunteers with the same support services along with the opportunity to initiate an official investigation, while maintaining confidentiality.

There’s no 911 in the Foreign Service

For Foreign Service employees and family members assigned overseas, there is no 911 to call. You get in trouble overseas, you call the security office of the embassy. If you are in a small post, you may have to deal with another officer who is assigned collateral duty as post security officer.  Post may or may not have a health unit or a regional medical officer. If there is a health unit, it may or may not be equipped or trained with gathering forensic evidence.  Above all, if you’re overseas as part of the Foreign Service, you are under chief of mission authority. What you do, what you say, where you live — basically, your life 24/7 is governed by federal regulations and the decision of the Front Office.

 

So to the question — if I am sexually assaulted, what should I do?

The State Department says that the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) and associated Foreign Affairs Handbooks (FAHs) are a single, comprehensive, and authoritative source for the Department’s organization structures, policies, and procedures that govern the operations of the State Department, the Foreign Service and, when applicable, other federal agencies. The FAM (generally policy) and the FAHs (generally procedures) together convey codified information to Department staff and contractors so they can carry out their responsibilities in accordance with statutory, executive and Department mandates.

Every time the FAM is updated, a Change Transmittal documents it.  All transmittals includes the following reminder: Officers are reminded that Department-issued materials not codified in the Foreign Affairs Manual or its supplemental Foreign Affairs Handbook series generally have no regulatory validity (see 2 FAM 1115.2).

Since there is no FAM or FAH specifically addressing sexual assault, we end up with a pretty uncomfortable question: Is the State Department saying that sexual assault does not happen in the Foreign Service — that’s why there’s no regs covering it?

If it’s not that, then — what is the reason sexual assault procedure is absent from its single, comprehensive, and authoritative source of policies, and procedures?

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Sexual Assault Related posts:

Sexual Harassment related posts:

 

 

Aparecium! Why do plum jobs suddenly appear just days before bids are due?

Posted: 12:57 am ET

 

So hey, we’re hearing that three posts “snuck” onto the 2017 Details/ Training list last week – London, Wellington, and Rome. These are all MFA exchanges where you spend a year in that country’s MFA followed by a three year posting at the Embassy, so essentially a four year posting to a nice place.  Bids on these plum jobs are due on September 28 and involve getting reference letters, statements of interest, resumes — all uploaded online.

What we understand is unusual about this is that all the other training opportunities have been on the list since May. (Another source told us that Brussels, Berlin, and Ankara were the only ones on the regular bid cycle for details in June).  Which gives bidders without fore knowledge about these new opportunities approximately two weeks to get their act together if they want to make the 9/28 cut.

The other interesting aspect here is that early “handshakes” to people going to priority staffing posts (PSP) were apparently already offered a couple of weeks ago or so.  “All the people who would have had priority and would have surely loved to have bid on one of these posts simply could not” because these were not posted until a few days ago.

Via reactiongifs.com

Via reactiongifs.com

A Foggy Bottom nightingale believed that a lot more people would bid on these jobs if they knew they’re on the list. But the 2017 Details/ Training list has been out since late spring. So who’s paying attention?  Particularly at this time — just days before bids are due — when most people’s attention is on the big list. That is, the summer 2017 bid list that’s going to drop this week.

“Maybe if these plum jobs were publicized, more qualified bidders would act on them,” said by nobody at all.

So the clock’s ticking, there’s still 10 days to make the case for a post in London, Wellington, or Rome. Good luck, y’all!

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Related posts:

 

 

 

 

Decision Window For Federal Long Term Care Insurance With Shocking Premium Hike Closes 9/30/16

Posted: 3:01 am ET

 

Excerpted from CRS Insight (PDF), September 2016 via Secrecy News:

On July 16, 2016, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) announced a premium rate increase for long-term care insurance policies purchased through the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP). The new rates were established following an open competitive bidding process. That process awarded a new seven-year contract to the prior insurer and sole bidder, John Hancock Life & Health Insurance Company, to continue providing coverage. According to OPM, the higher premiums are based on an analysis that used updated assumptions of industry trends and claims experience. The analysis determined that current FLTCIP premiums were not sufficient to meet projected costs and benefits. Most federal workers enrolled in FLTCIP are affected by the premium increase (an estimated 264,000 of the 274,000 enrollees).

During OPM’s 2016 Enrollee Decision Period, enrollees affected by the rate increase have until September 30, 2016, to decide whether to:

(1) keep their current coverage and pay the increase;
(2) reduce coverage in order to maintain their current premium; or
(3) allow their policies to lapse (i.e., drop coverage in the program).

Rate increases are scheduled to take effect November 1, 2016.
[…]
According to news sources, premiums are expected to increase by 83%, on average. Some Members of Congress have expressed their concerns to OPM leadership and John Hancock about such dramatic increases, calling for more time for enrollees to assess options as well as for congressional hearings on the issue.

Rate Stability and Long-Term Care Insurance

Federal workers are not the only policyholders to face LTCI premium increases. Over the past two decades, annual LTCI premiums have increased significantly overall for both current and new policyholders. Higher average premiums reflect increased demand for more comprehensive benefit packages (including inflation protection) and higher daily benefit amounts. Premium increases have also been driven by inadequate medical underwriting, premiums that were initially set too low, and insufficient growth in reserves to cover future claims. Thus, premium or rate stability depends largely on the ability of insurers to adequately predict future claims. Most policies issued before the mid-2000s have incorrectly predicted claims, necessitating changes to key pricing assumptions. For example, rising claims, lower mortality rates, lower-than-predicted voluntary termination (lapse) rates, and lower-than-predicted rates of return on investments have been cited as key reasons for LTCI premium increases. Nevertheless, large rate increases, such as those proposed by the FLTCIP, are likely to have a continued effect on consumer confidence in these products, possibly leading to further reductions in consumer demand.

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Ambassador Klemm Holds Banned #Szekler Flag in Romania, Reportedly Just Want to Be Polite

Posted: 3:35 pm ET

 

A couple of years ago, the Hungarian Spectrum posted about The War of the Flags: Diplomatic Spat Over Szekler Territorial Autonomy. A diplomatic spat over a flag. Today, the AP reports on the controversy involving the U.S. Ambassador to Romania Hans Klemm and the same flag, the Szekler flag.

On September 14, the US Embassy in Bucharest (@AmbasadaSUA) tweeted a photo of the visit to Sfântu Gheorghe by the U.S. Ambassador to Romania Hans Klemm and his wife.  They did not post the controversial photo of the ambassador with the flag but it was posted on Facebook by the mayor of Sfântu Gheorghe, Antal Arpad according to social media coverage. The media has not been friendly. This one says that “It is time to get over an alleged ignorance of the American ambassador vis-a-vis historical realities in Transylvania. The gesture should be seen rather as a premeditated one.” Read more about the Székely land  here.

The Romani Journal citing realitatea.net says that US Ambassador Hans Klemm said that the only flags that matter to him are the US’s and Romania’s.  He reportedly added that the photo was taken within a context when he only wanted to be polite.

Well, now… imagine if we have the Russian, Chinese, German or Indian Ambassador in Washington show up in Texas holding the flag of Texit or Texas Secede! advocates then telling the press he/she was just being polite.

We’ll have back to back hearings in Congress, our elected folks would refused to go home to campaign during the election season. Right.

The Romania Journal also notes the FB post: Antal Arpad wrote on Facebook: “I offered the US Ambassador as gift the flag of the Szekler community, which has become the symbol of authorities’ disrespect towards the Szekler community. I mention that this flag was first used in 1599, when the Szeklers fought alongside Mihai Viteazul (Michael the Brave – ruler of Wallachia 1593-1601, the first ruler to unite the three historical provinces of Romania – our note).”

Below is the embassy’s response to Romanian media roiled by the photograph.  Via The Romania Journal as it is not available on the embassy page:

In a release as reply to the information in the media, the US Embassy says that Ambassador Hans Klemm is the US Ambassador for entire Romania. He is periodically travelling through the country, he meets various groups from all the areas of Romanian society. As ally and strategic partner of Romania, the United States support and greet the democracy in Romania and Romania’s efforts to consolidate the democratic institutions with the full and balanced participation of all segments of society, the embassy said.

The 2015 Human Right Report says that the ethnic Hungarian population is approximately 1.2 million.  Also the following:

Ethnic Hungarians also complained of obstructions and bans against the use of the regional Szekler flag and symbols. In March local authorities in Targu Mures rejected the National Szekler Council’s request to hold a march to celebrate the Szeklers’ Freedom Day on March 10 and commemorate five Szekler martyrs.

Ethnic Hungarians continued to report discrimination related to their ability to use the Hungarian language. In August the political umbrella group Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania released a report on the government’s implementation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The report asserted that ethnic Hungarians were not permitted to use Hungarian in courts or administrative matters and that many municipalities did not use bilingual signs. The report claimed that courts obstructed the financing of Hungarian-language newspapers by local authorities and that the government continued to refuse to establish a public Hungarian-language university. The report also noted there were insufficient Hungarian-language cultural institutions and translations of Hungarian-language literature in the country.

In the region of Moldavia, the Roman Catholic, Hungarian-speaking Csango minority continued to operate government-funded Hungarian language classes. In some other localities, authorities denied requests for Hungarian language classes.

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OPM’s Security Clearance Backlog Now At 500,000+ Govt-Wide

Posted: 4:14 am ET

 

The State Department recently sent an agency-wide message from the Under Secretary for Management which provide timelines for job applicants and employees who are in the process of applying or renewing their security clearances. The Bureau of Diplomatic Security adjudicates security clearances and renewals for all State Department employees but we understand that contractors are mostly processed by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).  The message notes that OPM currently has a backlog of more than 500,000 clearances government-wide.

In terms of length of adjudication, apparently 60% of the Department’s initial Top Secret investigations are completed within six months while 66% of its initial Secret investigations are completed in four months. When compared government-wide, the Department adjudicates security clearances much faster than the government-wide average. So that’s good, except, of course, if you’re the one waiting for it, six months is a loooong time. We don’t know what is the average wait time for the remaining 40% awaiting their TS clearance or the 34% awaiting for their Secret clearance?

But the OPM backlog of more than 500,000 clearances government-wide? Not so good.  With a new administration transitioning in next year, waiting for a security clearance may just be like Beetlejuice waiting at the DMV without an appointment.

Via reactiongifs.com

Via reactiongifs.com

In related news, OPM is also in the news because the House Oversight and Reform Committee released its report yesterday on The OPM Data Breach: How the Government Jeopardized Our National Security for More than a Generation (read PDF or read below).  The report details the  exfiltration by two hacking teams of the security background data on 21.56 million individuals, the personnel files of 4.2 million former and current US government employees and the fingerprints for 5.6 million of them.

You will not be surprised to hear that OPM/OIG has warned since at least 2005 that the information maintained by OPM was vulnerable to hackers. US-CERT had also warned the department of a malware  operating on its servers in 2012, and again in 2014, CERT warned that a hacker had managed to get information out of the OPM servers. The report notes that the damage could have been mitigated if the security of the sensitive data in OPM’s critical IT systems had been prioritized and secured.

Read the report here:

 

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No Drama Obama Gets Lots of Drama in Asia, Plus Special G20 Surprise in South China Sea

Posted: 3:24 am ET

 

President Obama’s trip to Asia this week got off on a wrong foot. See POTUS in China: A ‘Staircase Snub’, Shouting Matches, and an Apology For a ‘Mistaken’ Tweet. Then on Monday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte got foul-mouthy with his early warning threat to President Obama potentially discussing the drug killings in the Philippines (also see Philippine President Calls the US Ambassador to Manila WHAT?). According to the CRS,  the Philippines has been one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign assistance in Southeast Asia in the past decade, including both military and development aid. It also relies heavily upon the United States for its external security.  According to this 2015 piece, “the archipelago’s sailing force is made up of half-century-old antiques—and is falling apart.” And yet, here is President Duterte with his lovely manners.

 

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Photo of the Day: Staffers Smile and Carry Signs Bearing Secretary Kerry’s Face

Posted: 12:21 am ET

 

Staffers from U.S. Embassy Abuja Carry Signs Bearing the Face of Secretary Kerry Staffers from U.S. Embassy Abuja carry signs bearing the face of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry before he addresses them and their family members on August 24, 2016, at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]


Staffers from U.S. Embassy Abuja carry signs bearing the face of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry before he addresses them and their family members on August 24, 2016, at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria. [State Department Photo/ Public Domain]

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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?

 

Related posts:

 

 

 

@StateDept Finally Solves Mystery of the Doctored Daily Press Briefing Video — Elvis Did It!

Posted: 3:19 am ET

 

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 continuing to look into the matter.

Also see:

 

On August 18, the State Department’s spox updated members of the press of the internal review.  The Legal Adviser’s office apparently did talk to 30 current and former employees. The office has now come up with “a fact-finding review” that was submitted to Secretary Kerry, the Congress and the Inspector General. The review is inconclusive — spox says it was a deliberate act, they don’t know why or who was responsible for asking the “edits” but it can’t be nefarious or anything like that.

Note that HFAC Chairman Royce has previously requested an investigation by the Inspector General. If there is an OIG investigation in addition to the Legal Adviser’s review, we could be looking at dueling reports.  It looks like the Legal Adviser’s review might be released publicly at some later date but the spox did not indicate when.  Meanwhile, there is one lawsuit already.

Via the Daily Press Briefing with official spox John Kirby:

Finally, I want to update you on the issue of the portions of video missing from a press briefing here on the 2nd of December 2013. Now, as you know, this is something we’ve talked about before. I promised you that I would update you when we had completed our review. We’ve done that, so if you’ll bear with me, I’ll give you what I have.

As you know, when this matter came to light, many of us, including Secretary Kerry, had concerns and questions as to how and why this had happened. And so, at the Secretary’s request, the Office of the Legal Adviser spent the last several months looking deeper into the issue. All told, they have spoken with more than 30 current and former employees at all levels of seniority and they’ve gone through emails and other documents to see what information might be available. They have now compiled their findings and a description of their process into a fact-finding review, which has been provided to the Secretary. We’re also sharing it today with Congress and the inspector general.

Here’s the bottom line: We are confident the video of that press briefing was deliberately edited. The white flash that many of you have noticed yourselves in that portion of the video is evidence enough of human involvement. Indeed, a technician came forward, recalled making the edit and inserting that flash. What we were not able to determine was why the edit was made in the first place. There’s no evidence to suggest it was made with the intent to conceal information from the public, and while the technician recalls receiving a phone call requesting the edit, there is no evidence to indicate who might have placed that call or why.

In fact, throughout this process we learned additional information that could call into question any suggestion of nefarious activity. In addition to the fact that the full video was always available on DVIDS and that the full transcript was always on our website, the video was edited in a choppy manner, which made it obvious that footage was missing. We also found that the video likely was shortened very early in the process, only minutes after the briefing concluded and well before the technician who recalled making the edit believes the request was made to make the edit, and in any event before the technician would have been involved in the video production process. It is possible the white flash was inserted because the video had lost footage due to technical or electrical problems that were affecting our control room servers around that time.

Finally, we have confirmed that even if the video was edited with intent to conceal, there was no policy in place at the time prohibiting such an edit. So upon learning that, I think you know, I immediately put a policy in place to preclude that from ever happening. We will also be consulting now with the National Archives and Record Administration about whether any changes to our disposition schedule should be made to address the press briefing videos. Disposition schedules are rules governing the record – official record keeping. The current disposition schedule notes that the written transcript is a permanent record.

Now, I understand that these results may not be completely satisfying to everyone. I think we will all – we would all have preferred to arrive at clear and convincing answers. But that’s not where the evidence or the memories of so many employees about an event, which happened more than two and a half years ago, have taken us. We have to accept the facts as we have found them, learn from them, and move on.

The Secretary is confident that the Office of the Legal Adviser took this task seriously, that they examined it thoroughly, and that we have, indeed, learned valuable lessons as a result. For my part, I want to thank them as well for their diligence and professionalism. We are and I think we will be going forward a better public affairs organization for having worked our way through this.

With that, I’ll take questions.

Via US Embassy London/FB

You did it?

 

QUESTION: All right. Well, before we move on to Syria, let’s finish up this videotape episode, or at least dig into it a little bit more. Can you remind me just from that lengthy statement – you think it was not nefarious because it was done badly and because it was done quickly? Is that the essential argument?

MR KIRBY: I said that we weren’t – we aren’t sure whether it was done with intent to conceal or whether it was done as a result of a technical problem. The bottom line is, Brad, it was inconclusive. Some of the additional information that does lead us to think that a glitch is possible here is because of the choppy nature of the cut, which is when – look, when we do the daily briefings, we always cut the top and the bottom, right? So we have an ability to do editing on the – at the beginning and the end of a briefing. Obviously, we have to do that. And we have procedures in place to do that in a nice smooth, clear, very deliberate way, so that when we post the video of today’s briefing, it looks like a totally encompassed, very professional product. So we have the ability to do this in a very professional way.

This cut was not done that way. It was done in a choppy fashion that’s not consistent with the way we typically do that. I’m not saying that that means for sure it was the result of an electrical problem. I’m just saying that it certainly gives us pause, and we have to think about that.

The other aspect of this is the timing. So roughly 18 minutes after the briefing was concluded, the video that was uploaded was shortened – shorter than the actual briefing itself – which would convey that a cut of some kind was made very, very quickly after the briefing, sooner than when the technician remembers – much sooner, actually, than when the technician remembers getting a phone call asking for the cut to be made. So again, we may be dealing with a memory issue. Maybe that’s inconsistent. Or maybe there was – there could have been a technical problem that caused the video to automatically be shortened when it was first uploaded so quickly – 18 minutes after the briefing, which is pretty fast.

So it’s not impossible or inconceivable that there was an intent to conceal information – in other words, nefarious intent here. We’re not ruling that out. But we also cannot, based on the evidence that we have gained, rule out the possibility that there was some technical problem and then to make it known that a cut had been made, a white flash was inserted.

QUESTION: But there were no technical problems on the other videos that still exist.

MR KIRBY: Right, but they don’t —

QUESTION: If that were the case, don’t you think someone would come and admit that rather than nobody of the 30 witnesses you interview can actually remember what happened? It seems like such a ridiculous explanation it shocks me that you’re actually providing it here. But okay.

MR KIRBY: Okay, is that a question or you just want to berate me?

QUESTION: Well, no, I – John, I just think it’s – I think it’s really strange that you’re saying that. I think someone would remember if it were a technical glitch. And how could you say there was a technical glitch, there was a possibility of that, when there’s no other evidence of those glitches on the other videos that exist?

MR KIRBY: I’m saying I can’t rule it out, Justin. There’s also no evidence that anybody did this with a deliberate intent to conceal. We just don’t know. And you might —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: And I understand – look, as I said at the – as I said at the end of my lengthy statement, that I understand that the inconclusive nature of the findings is not going to be all that satisfying to you. It wasn’t all that satisfying to the rest of us. You don’t think that we would like to know exactly what happened? We just don’t. They interviewed more than 30 current and former employees. They looked at emails and records, and there simply wasn’t anything to make a specific conclusion here.

QUESTION: Let’s put our satisfaction aside for a second. Is this conclusion that you’ve reached, whatever it concludes or not – is that satisfying to the IG? Is the IG now done with his investigation?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll let the IG speak for themselves. I’m not aware that the IG has taken this up as – to investigate.

QUESTION: Well, the review, sorry, that you’ve called it.

MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is – again, I cannot speak for the IG. As you know, they’re an independent entity. What I can tell you is that the Office of the Legal Adviser kept the IG informed as they were working through the process. And it’s our understanding that they’re comfortable with the work that was done.

QUESTION: And then lastly, the technician – is there any punishment to him – or I think it’s – she’s been referred to as “her” in the past – to her as a result of cutting the tape, not remembering who told her, not remembering any of the details regarding this?

MR KIRBY: No. There’s nothing to punish anyone for.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: As I said at the outset, there was no policy prohibiting this kind of an edit. There is now, but there wasn’t at the time. So there’s no wrongdoing here that can be punished.

James.

QUESTION: Can we stipulate in advance of my questions that in pursuing them, I can be absolved of any charges of solipsism or self-centeredness?

MR KIRBY: You’ll have to define solipsism for me. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Believing that one’s self is the center of the universe. I just happen to be —

MR KIRBY: I would never think that of you.

QUESTION: Thank you. (Laughter.) I’m glad to have that on the record. First of all, so that we are clear, what you are telling us is that some unknown person called this technician to request that an edit that had in fact already been made by some unknown force be made again?

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is, James, we do not know. We have the technician who has recalled getting a phone call to make an edit to the video. And the technician stands by the recollections of that day.

QUESTION: But the edit had already been made.

MR KIRBY: But it’s unclear – well, it’s unclear. Again, 18 minutes after the briefing, we know that the video uploaded – the version that was uploaded to be used on YouTube and our website was shortened by the same amount of the cut. Now, it’s unclear how it got shortened. It’s unclear whether that was the result of an electrical malfunction or it was the result of a deliberate, physical, intentional edit.

QUESTION: But it is the edit we’ve all seen?

MR KIRBY: It is.

QUESTION: Okay. And so –

MR KIRBY: And what was inserted – that the technician did remember getting a phone call, did remember inserting a white flash to indicate that video footage had been missing. So we know – and the white flash is very clear evidence, as I said, of human involvement in the process. But we’re dealing with recollections and memories that are two and a half years ago. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday. So I mean, there is – you have to allow for some of that here, and that’s why it’s inconclusive. I’m not at all standing up here telling you that I’m confident that the – to phrase it your way, that there was a – that a call was made to make an edit that had already been done. I just don’t know that that’s what happened.

QUESTION: What is the time gap between the uploading in the video and the time when this technician recalls that call having come in?

MR KIRBY: Let me see if I can find that for you.

QUESTION: And does the video automatically upload to the website?

MR KIRBY: No, it doesn’t.

QUESTION: So it’s possible that someone could have done the edit before it was uploaded.

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second, Ros. I’m trying to answer one question at a time here.

Look, I – James, I just don’t have that level of detail. I think we had —

QUESTION: But you said it’s quite some time – weeks, months, a year. What do we think it was?

MR KIRBY: No, it’s usually – it can take up to a day to get the press briefings uploaded online. It just depends. And so I just don’t have that level of detail here.

QUESTION: In arriving at the conclusion that you’re unable to make a conclusion as to whether a nefarious intent was involved here, it seems that nobody has taken into that assessment the actual content of the briefing that was actually erased or wound up missing. And so I want to ask you point blank: Doesn’t the content of the missing eight minutes tell us something about the intent? It just happens to be, in fact, the one time in the history of this Administration where a spokesperson stood at that podium and made statements that many, many people across the ideological spectrum have interpreted as a concession that the State Department will from time to time lie to preserve the secrecy of secret negotiations. That coincidence doesn’t strike you as reflective of some intent here?

MR KIRBY: Again, James, two points. First of all, the results of the work that we did are inconclusive as to why there was an edit to that day’s press briefing. I wish I could tell you exactly why and what happened.

QUESTION: Did the content factor in?

MR KIRBY: But – hang on, please. But I don’t know. Certainly, there was, as we work through this – I mean, everybody’s mindful of the content of the Q&A that was missing from the video. I think we’re all cognizant of that Q&A. I can go back, certainly, and look, but it’s my understanding that the content, the issue about the content, had been discussed in previous briefings. It wasn’t the first time that that particular content had been discussed.

Number two, as I said, it was always available in its entirety on DVIDS and it was always available in the transcript, so if – again, if somebody was deliberately trying to excise out the Q&A regarding that content, it would have – it would be a pretty ham-fisted and sloppy approach to do it, because the transcript was never not complete and the DVIDS video was always complete, and there were – hang on a second – and there was media coverage that day regarding that exchange, right? And so —

QUESTION: I remember it well.

MR KIRBY: I’m sure you do. So it wasn’t as if the content inside that eight minutes or so was not available to the public immediately that afternoon.

QUESTION: Two final areas here, and I will yield. I appreciate your patience. Nothing in what you’ve said so far today suggests that the contents of this investigation or its conclusions would be classified. And so when you tell us that the report done by the Office of the Legal Adviser is going to be shared not only with the Secretary but with members of Congress, what is it that prevents you from sharing that full report with the public?

MR KIRBY: Nothing. And we have – we intend to make sure that you get access to it. We’re still working through logistics with that, but nothing precludes that.

QUESTION: We look forward to a timetable when you can make it public.

Lastly, did the Office of the Legal Adviser arrive in the course of this review at any conclusion as to whether this video itself constitutes a federal record?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, as I said at my opening statement, we’re working now with the National Archives and Records Administration to take a look at what I’ve called disposition schedules, the rules governing what is and what is not considered a public record. But at the time and as of today, the transcript is considered a permanent record, official record, of these daily briefings.

QUESTION: So the answer to my question is the Office of the Legal Adviser did not make any determination as to whether this video constitutes a federal record, yes or no?

MR KIRBY: No, and that wasn’t their —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: First of all, James, that wasn’t their task. Their task was to try to find out what happened. And (b) it’s not up to the Office of the Legal Adviser to determine what is or what isn’t a permanent, official record. That’s determined by NARA, and that’s why we’re consulting with them right now.

QUESTION: The videotape in question was shot with a State Department camera, correct?

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: It was uploaded to the State Department website by a State Department technician, correct?

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: The State Department website is maintained by State Department employees, correct?

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: This video on the State Department website is in a separate place on the website from the transcript, correct?

MR KIRBY: Yes.

QUESTION: One has to push a different button to access the video from the button that one pushes to access the transcript, correct?

MR KIRBY: That’s my understanding.

QUESTION: I have no further questions.

QUESTION: Okay, I have one question just to make sure.

QUESTION: It’s like a court of law. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: It sounds like a federal record to me, John. It would be very counter-intuitive – it would be very counter-intuitive to —

MR KIRBY: Let James – let James talk.

QUESTION: It seems very counter-intuitive to imagine that a videotape of a State Department briefing that is shot, uploaded, maintained by federal employees would not itself be a federal record —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — considered distinct and separate from the federal record that is the transcript, which is typed by separate employees and maintained on a separate place on the website.

MR KIRBY: So look, let me address that because it’s a fair point. A couple of things. There’s no requirement for us, no requirement, even today, to upload videos of this daily press briefing on my website, our website, or on YouTube, on our YouTube channel. We do that as a courtesy, but there’s no requirement to do that. And that’s one.

Number two, the entire video was also streamed into the DVIDS program, which is a different channel. I’m not a technician, but it’s different, a completely different channel, which is why DVIDS had it complete without any problems. And of course, the transcript is and we have considered the transcript as the official record of these daily briefings. And we consulted NARA at the outset of this process, and they concurred that in their view the transcript is an official record of these daily briefings. But they’re also willing to talk with us about going forward whether or not we need to take a look at those disposition schedules to see if that definition needs to be expanded to include video.

So, James, we actually asked ourselves the very same questions you’ve just interrogated me on, and we’re working – and I mean that in a —

QUESTION: But not with the same panache. (Laughter.)

MR KIRBY: No, not with the same self-centeredness. (Laughter.) But honestly, we asked ourselves the same questions. In fact, we still are, James. And so we’re working with the National Archives on this and we’ll see where that goes.

QUESTION: So let me get this straight. If the DVIDS video was the same – shot by the same camera, it’s the same thing, and it had no problems, I’m having trouble understanding why you would assume and conclude that it’s so possible that your version would have some technical glitch that needed to be edited. I thought we got past the “it was a technical glitch” line. I’m really surprised to see that back in the narrative, because if their version is clean, why —

MR KIRBY: It’s a different – first of all, it’s a different system.

QUESTION: It would be highly unlikely, John, that there would just be some minor problem on your end. It seems implausible and not worth mentioning as a defense.

MR KIRBY: Justin, look, I’m not going to dispute the confusion that you’re having over this. I can tell you, as I said, we would have all preferred that there was some clear, convincing evidence of exactly what happened. But there isn’t. I can’t make it up. I can’t – I can’t just pull out of thin air an exact reason for what happened.

QUESTION: Well —

MR KIRBY: So because I can’t – but because I can’t and because the Office of the Legal Adviser couldn’t, based on interviews, based on looking at documentary evidence, we can’t rule out the fact that there were – and there were some server problems that we were having around that time. I can’t tell you with specificity that it was on that day and at that hour, but we were having some problems. And it’s not out of the realm of the possible that the white flash was inserted rather – for nefarious purposes, but more to indicate that there was some missing footage and we wanted to make that obvious.

QUESTION: All the – I mean, all the evidence – who would come to the technician 18 minutes after the briefing and say, “I noticed that there was a technical” – telling the technician there was a technical problem. It just doesn’t seem —

MR KIRBY: This technician is not – this technician does not work in the office that typically edits the daily briefings.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR KIRBY: Look, Justin, I can’t possibly —

QUESTION: But it was someone within Public Affairs, not in the technician’s office, who instructed —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — the change be made. That’s what you guys have said. And the idea that that person would have noticed some —

MR KIRBY: We’ve said that that is what this individual recalled.

QUESTION: — would have some knowledge of a technical glitch that the technician needed to be instructed on, all of it seems totally implausible. That’s not a question.

MR KIRBY: Okay.

QUESTION: I have —

MR KIRBY: But all I can say to you is I can’t answer the question you’re asking. We have tried to answer the question you’re asking, and we have spent many months now working on it. And it’s – the results are inconclusive in that regard. I can’t change that fact, and that is a fact.

QUESTION: I just have a clarification point, just real quick, real quick.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR KIRBY: Hang on just a second. Hang on, just —

QUESTION: Very small one.

QUESTION: One quick – yeah, mine’s a minor point too.

QUESTION: Just one – one thing just from another person other than the immediate group there. We’ve jumped around this issue and around it —

MR KIRBY: Are you separate from the media group here?

QUESTION: I’m different from the immediate group up there.

QUESTION: He said “immediate.”

MR KIRBY: Oh, the immediate group.

QUESTION: So this sounds like a very thorough internal probe, more than two dozen people interviewed. Did the probe identify who from Public Affairs made the call requesting the change? Yes or no.

MR KIRBY: No.

QUESTION: Unable to do it?

MR KIRBY: Unable to do that.

QUESTION: Sorry, can you just remind me? I just need to clarify these things. The request to the technician was to do what? I recalled it was to cut the tape.

MR KIRBY: The technician recalls getting a phone call —

QUESTION: Yes.

MR KIRBY: — from somebody in Public Affairs to edit the video. That is still the memory of the technician and that’s reflected in the review.

QUESTION: So why did the – so what did they edit if it was already – if this section of the tape was already missing, what did that technician actually do?

MR KIRBY: The technician remembers getting the phone call and inserting a white flash to mark the fact that the video had been shortened.

QUESTION: So it’s – so the request was to edit the video, and then the technician decided upon herself to insert a white flash as a transparency flasher or something?

MR KIRBY: The technician recalled inserting the white flash so that it was obvious that a cut had been made.

QUESTION: But the request wasn’t to insert a white flash. The request was to cut the video, wasn’t it?

MR KIRBY: Again – again – I’m not disputing that. That is what – that is what the technician remembers – getting a call —

QUESTION: So why did this very obedient and forgetful technician —

MR KIRBY: Hang on, hang on, hang on.

QUESTION: — suddenly decide they were going to insert white flashes?

MR KIRBY: The technician remembers getting a call to edit the video, has recalled and come forward and said that that edit was made and that a white flash was inserted. I can’t – I’m not – I’m not at all, and we’re not disputing, the recollections. As I said at the outset, in working through this, additional information came to light which also forces us to consider the possibility that there might have been a technical problem here that truncated, shortened some of that video since so shortly after the briefing – 18 minutes, which is much faster than we typically get to compiling this and posting it in an – on a normal day – happened. So nobody’s challenging the account —

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: — but it’s because we have additional information that we’ve now uncovered that makes it inconclusive on our part.

QUESTION: I just have two more questions. One, did the technician indicate where she came up with the white flash idea? Was that just being really enterprising?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I’m not an expert on this. As I understand it —

QUESTION: Or was that the —

MR KIRBY: — or I’ve been told that that is not an unusual —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: — procedure for making a deliberate cut and to make it obvious.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: But I don’t – I’m not an expert.

QUESTION: Why didn’t – why did nobody in your entire apparatus think of using the good tape that was sent to the DVIDS and just using that?

MR KIRBY: I don’t have an answer for you on that. Again, it was always available on DVIDS. And I’m not – I wasn’t here at the time, so I don’t know how much visibility there was above the technician level on this and that technician’s supervisor. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: But if the white light was meant as some sort of effort at transparency, one, you would have said something, probably indicated somewhere when you posted it, “missing tape,” no? Not let people hopefully see a white light and divine what that means.

MR KIRBY: I can’t go back —

QUESTION: Secondly, wouldn’t you just use the good tape and just put it in?

MR KIRBY: Brad, I can’t go back two and a half years here and —

QUESTION: Well —

MR KIRBY: — and try to get in the heads of people that —

QUESTION: — you’ve raised this like spectral theory that maybe everybody did everything perfectly and we just misinterpreted it.

MR KIRBY: No I did not. And I never called it a spectral theory, okay?

QUESTION: I did.

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is I can’t go back two and a half years and try to re-litigate the decision making. The technician remembers getting a call, making a cut, inserting a white flash, talking to the supervisor about it. Conversations that happened above that level I simply can’t speak to because I don’t know. And it would be great if we could go back and rewrite the whole history on this, but we can’t do that. All I can do is learn from this and move on. And now we have a policy in place that no such edits can happen without my express permission and approval before it happens. And as I said, there was no policy at the time against this kind of thing, so there’s no wrongdoing.

QUESTION: John —

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

QUESTION: No, I just have —

QUESTION: No.

QUESTION: Can we move to Syria?

QUESTION: I have one more. I have one more.

MR KIRBY: Are we all – are we done on the video?

QUESTION: No, I have one more just to wrap this up, because you just said that edits cannot be made without your express knowledge and consent. What is the workflow now for recording these videos of these briefings and other events, and uploading them to the website? What is the basic workflow?

MR KIRBY: The workflow hasn’t changed. The workflow – it’s the same procedure that’s been used in the past. And again, I’m not an expert on the way our technicians – who are very professional, very competent – do their jobs. I didn’t change anything about that process except to insert a rule that there will be no editing of briefing, press briefing videos, without my express consent and approval beforehand. But I did not change the process.

QUESTION: That’s understood. But I will say as someone with 24 years in news, television news, there’s always another pair of eyes looking at what someone does in terms of work. And so I’m asking, one, once you record a video, now that everything is digital, it’s pretty easy to upload things pretty quickly. You don’t need 24 hours. Number two, if you are uploading something, there’s going to be someone in the process – a media manager, a producer, an editor – who’s going to verify that the work was done and that the work didn’t have any technical glitches. Who is checking up on the work of the technician, or is the technician simply working and ticks off a box, I’ve done this task, and moves on?

MR KIRBY: There is a process that supervisory personnel are involved in. I don’t have the exact flowchart for you here today. But I’m comfortable that the process works, and it works every day. It’s going to work today. It worked yesterday, and it worked the days before that. I’m not worried about that. I think everybody understands our obligations and our responsibilities.

I can’t speak for the specifics in this digital environment. Again, I’m not a technician; I’m not an expert at this. But I’m comfortable that our staff is competent and trained, have the resources available to do this in a professional way, and that they’ll continue to do that.

QUESTION: Just a few last ones. Thank you very much, John. Do you stand by the statements you made when you first started briefing on this particular subject that this entire episode reflects a failing to meet your usual standards for transparency?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I do. I mean, again, we don’t know exactly what happened here, but obviously, we would never condone an intent to conceal, if that’s, in fact, what happened. Now again, I can’t say that that happened. But if it did, then yes, obviously, that would not meet our standards. And frankly, and if I might add, it didn’t meet the standards of my predecessors either. Jen Psaki, Marie Harf, Victoria Nuland – none of them would ever abide by any kind of intent to conceal information from a daily briefing.

QUESTION: The reason I ask is because when you started briefing on this subject in May, you told us that this wasn’t a glitch, that it was an intentional and deliberate erasure. Now, following the investigation by the Office of Legal Adviser, you seem to be retracting that and saying we honestly can’t say one way or the other. And so if your previous comments were to the effect that this represented a failing of transparency, I wonder if you would like an opportunity to retract those as well.

MR KIRBY: I said at the time that it was a deliberate intent to edit and I said it again today. I mean, obviously there’s human involvement here.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: So we know that there was a deliberate edit to the video. What I can’t say, based on the work now that they’ve done, is why that occurred.

QUESTION: Well —

MR KIRBY: But James, if it was – and we may never know, right? – but if it was an intent to conceal information from the public, that’s clearly inappropriate.

QUESTION: You mentioned that more than 30 employees were interviewed as part of this process. Were those interviews recorded or transcribed?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: You stated that those 30 employees ranged the gamut of seniority. Does that – are we to interpret that remark as an indication that the Secretary himself was interviewed?

MR KIRBY: The Secretary was not interviewed for this.

QUESTION: To your knowledge, did any of the people who were interviewed have counsel with them while they were interviewed?

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I’d have to consult the Office of Legal Adviser for that. I don’t know.

QUESTION: To your knowledge, did anyone refuse to take part in the investigation or be —

MR KIRBY: I know of no refusals.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR KIRBY: In fact, the Office of the Legal Adviser made very clear that they were very grateful and appreciative of the support that they got from people that work in Public Affairs today and people that have worked in Public Affairs in the past.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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A Joke That Wasn’t, and a State Department Dialogue That Is Long Overdue

Posted: 2:41 am ET

Apparently, there was a recent Sounding Board (SB) post about how “a DS agent made a rape joke in front of a whole class (60+) without thinking anything of the joke.”

It took us a while but we finally got the SB post dug up what was said during the Security Overseas Seminar (SOS), which is designed to meet the security awareness needs of U.S. Government personnel and their families going overseas.

An employee posted on the Secretary’s Sounding Board that she first attended the SOS seminar five years ago and felt that the “Sexual Assault  & Rape” session was “both incomplete and demeaning to sexual assault victims (who the instructor largely assumed were always female).” During her most recent attendance, she writes that she was “disappointed by the same message: there are ways to prevent sexual assault/rape, no mention of what the Regional Security Officer can/will do,” and “no mention of the Health Unit’s, etc. involvement.”

The majority of the course is said to be focused on what employees and family members can do to prevent sexual assault: institute the “buddy system,” avoid isolated areas, dress like a local, etc.  The employee asks what about the 84% of all reported sexual assault/rapes being committed by someone that the victim trusted, or women who were raped in an open and crowded area in Germany or “are we saying that women from cultures where they are required to cover from head to toe never get raped because they are entirely hidden?” The SB post says that the employee asked the instructor “why were we not discussing the main cause of sexual assault/rape: gender socialization, particularly focusing on male privilege and entitlement to women’s bodies?”   The instructor reportedly responded that “we cannot change an entire culture in an hour” to which the employee agreed but urge that “we nevertheless begin a dialogue on this topic.”

That’s not, of course, the end of this story.  The following is from the same SB writer sent to us by a Foggy Bottom nightingale:

“The next day, I overheard four people (3 men and 1 woman) exchanging pejorative comments about what I had said. One of the men (a DS [Diplomatic Security] agent who as RSO [regional security officer] will be a victim’s first recourse in the event of a crisis) exclaimed that he would like to “see how I do in Port Moresby.” Allow me to break down this hurtful comment: he wants to see how I do in a country where women can still be tortured to death on charges of witchcraft when a natural death occurs in the family; a country where the Australian health attach showed up at a diplomatic reception after abandoning her car when she was randomly targeted in a mob rush while driving. Because I wanted to begin a dialogue on male privilege, its effects on rape culture, and how I found “tips” on “sexual assault/rape prevention” to be a covert form of victim-shaming, this man, this Diplomatic Security agent, commented on how he wanted to see me, a woman, fare in a country that is known for its hight incidents of rape against ex-pat women. And this gentleman is my colleague, not an obnoxious drunk man at a local dive bar. When I turned around and asked if they wanted to discuss what I had said, one said he didn’t see the point, the other told me how my comment was inappropriate in an one-hour session. No further comments made. How is this dialogue not overdue? (Note: I am not seeking to shame or put-down my colleagues for saying what they assumed was far and away from my hearing range. This is more to highlight the amount of tension surrounding this topic.”

Hey — if one cannot talk about this topic in an SOS session, where are you supposed to discuss this?

We wrote to the Office of Civil Rights under Secretary Kerry’s office (S/OCR) asking what response it made (if any) to the Sounding Board post. That was, oh, weeks ago so we figure we’re not going to hear from S/OCR.

The nightingale also said that “any time a female coworker brings up EEO, rape culture, or feminism in general,” DS agents the employee worked with allegedly make comments like “Ugh, don’t work with her, she’ll EEO you.” or “She probably has a ton of files on men”.   Our correspondent told us that she could think of a number of situations “with bullying, harrasment, and such” that were all documented by supervisors but nothing was done about them.  Our writer also alleged that “a good portion joke about rape or sexual assault on a daily basis.”

Which is why we wanted to hear from the State Department office tasked as the main contact point for questions or concerns about sexual harassment and EEO matters.

But hey, nada. Yok.

What’s even more troubling is when we see these reviews for the State Department over at InHerSight.com:

“I, and a lot of other females, are considering leaving, or have left, because of the misogyny. Diplomatic Security is the absolute worst.” – See more at: https://www.inhersight.com/company/us-department-of-state#sthash.5rVrFJHX.dpuf

“Working in a predominately male field means tacky and disrespectful jokes regardless if the two females (who are of equal or higher grade) are in earshot or not. 50% of the men who work in this office are prior military folks who have a disrespectful attitude towards females and men without military experience. Despite being the “State Department” which is usually more liberal and tolerant, the Bureau that I work in is the exact opposite. It shows through upper management all the way down to the bullpen workers.” – See more at: https://www.inhersight.com/company/us-department-of-state#sthash.5rVrFJHX.dpuf

We asked the State Department about the gender composition of DSS agents in Diplomatic Security: 90.18% male and 9.82% female.  We also asked about the attrition rate by gender at the bureau. Below is what we’re officially told:

DS reports that they do not have information related to special agent attrition rate by gender. They do not keep those statistics, but note that the overall Special Agent attrition rate for 2015 was 3.66%.

The State Department’s DGHR should be able to run these numbers. That’s a very low attrition rate but — don’t you want to know who and why these employees are leaving?  If a bureau is overwhelmingly male, and if the entire attrition rate is, for instance, composed of all female employees, aren’t you going to wonder why?

But how would you know if you’re not even looking?

The InHerSight reviews are pretty broad but are troubling nonetheless. The first step in fixing a problem is recognizing that there is a problem.  Is there?

Who’s going to volunteer to look into this if we can’t even get S/OCR to respond to a public inquiry?

 

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