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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@StateDept: Attack Not Specific Targeting of Americans Diplomats, #SouthSudan Guards “A Little Trigger-Happy”

Posted: 12:03 am ET

 

We blogged about FP’s piece on the targeting last July of American diplomats in Juba, South Sudan (see #SouthSudan Presidential Guards Target American Diplomats in Juba). On September 7, the State Department was asked about this incident during the Daily Press Briefing.  The Department’s assessment, according to the deputy spox is that “the attack was connected to the breakdown of command and control among South Sudanese Government forces” and did not specifically target American diplomats. The presidential guards who opened fire at the embassy convoy,  those soldiers were just “a little trigger-happy.”

The State Department says that its “concern” about the FP article was that “it made the assumption or allegation that there was a specific targeting of our diplomatic vehicles.” In the spox words, “And again  — it doesn’t in any way, either if it was or wasn’t, it doesn’t in any way excuse the behavior or the incident. But that’s just our assessment that we don’t believe it was.”

The spox also indicated in the DPB that there is reportedly an ongoing South Sudan investigation, and that Diplomatic Security is also conducting its after-action review of the incident but that ” they’re still looking at other details.” The spox says that in light of this incident, the State Department has made modifications to its security posture such as adjusting its curfew and the rules for the movement of embassy vehicles in Juba. The South Sudan Travel Warning dated July 10, three days after this security incident does not include any detail about curfews.

Below is the DPB segment on South Sudan, September 7:

QUESTION: Do you have a response to reports that seven American diplomats traveling in a convoy in Juba, South Sudan, were fired on by government troops? This was – apparently happened on July 7th —

MR TONER: That’s right.

QUESTION: — just days before that brutal attack on the hotel, the westerners at the hotel there.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And that in this shooting on the convoy, one of the cars was disabled and had to be essentially rescued by a Marine reaction force. What happened there?

MR TONER: Sure. So – and John Kirby spoke to this in the immediate days after the – this incident, and I would just reiterate from the top our condemnation of this attack on what was a U.S. embassy convoy by South Sudanese Government troops. I can walk you through the events as we understand them to have happened, but I can say that we do not believe our vehicles and personnel were specifically targeted in the attack. It’s our assessment that the attack was connected to the breakdown of command and control among South Sudanese Government forces, and we have demanded that the Government of South Sudan investigate this incident and punish and hold accountable those responsible for it.

But just to walk you through the events, again, as we understand them: So on the evening of July 7th, I think at around 2100 local time, two embassy vehicles were returning to the residential compound and passed, as part of their route, the presidential palace. About an hour earlier, forces that were loyal to the government – or rather, to Machar, rather – had clashed with forces loyal to President Kiir. And government troops stationed near the presidential compound, to put it mildly, were very tense. So the two embassy vehicles approached the soldiers on the road outside the presidential palace. When they moved toward the vehicle – they, the troops, moved toward the vehicles and tried to open their doors – the vehicles, the embassy vehicles appropriately, we believe, began to speed away from the scene. And at that time, the soldiers opened fire. Fortunately, the vehicles were armored and no one was injured. And the next day, July 8th, Ambassador Phee met with President Kiir and demanded that the government carry out a full investigation of the incident and hold those responsible for the incident accountable for their actions. President Kiir, it’s worth noting, did make clear that U.S. embassies were – embassy vehicles were not specifically targeted, and he vowed at that point in time to stand up a committee to investigate the incident.

Now, I don’t have anything to read out to you in terms of what that committee may have found or may be investigating or what the deadline is for them to reach an end to the investigation.

QUESTION: And you’re not saying that the – that the troops didn’t know who they were firing on. It was clear they knew they were firing on Americans. You’re just saying you don’t believe it was ordered by —

MR TONER: No, no, what I would say is just —

QUESTION: — Kiir to shoot American —

MR TONER: No, no, what I would say is we don’t believe that they necessarily knew. I mean, there were some – and I – we know —

QUESTION: Why do you not – why do you think that? I mean, it —

MR TONER: It’s just in our assessment. I mean, this is not something that we —

QUESTION: Yeah, but what is that based on? Because it would seem if they got close enough to try to open the doors that they would probably know who they were dealing with at that point.

MR TONER: Well, first of all, the windows were tinted as they often are in these kind of – in these vehicles.

QUESTION: And marked with American flags likely as well?

MR TONER: A very small laminated flag, and it’s not clear whether they would have even recognized the plates. I know that’s another thing that the story states.

Look, all I can do is offer our assessment of the situation. We’re not forgiving it and we’re certainly not overlooking it or saying, “Hey, not your bad. It was your” – look, we’re talking about here is the fact that they opened fire on an embassy convoy, and that is inexcusable. But what we believe were the factors of the environment around that was that they – there had been an altercation, fighting in the run-up to this convoy passing, and that they were very tense, and if I could say it, a little trigger-happy.

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: So your investigation concluded that these soldiers made a mistake. Did the investigation conclude anything about the advisability of driving through a republican — presidential palace checkpoint?

MR TONER: So we did – we did and conducted, as you note, an internal investigation, and that – an after-action review is in progress, but we have modified our procedures around the travel of convoys of our personnel.

QUESTION: Because it was a mistake to drive in between two opposing forces within an hour of a clash.

MR TONER: That’s – clearly, that’s – we have made modifications to our security posture.

QUESTION: What – what have you changed?

MR TONER: Well, we, for one thing, adjusted our curfew and we also adjusted the rules for the movement of embassy vehicles in light of the event, and obviously, in light of subsequent violence in Juba.

QUESTION: So it’s an earlier curfew now?

MR TONER: That’s my understanding, yeah.

QUESTION: And how are the rules for the movement of embassy been changed?

MR TONER: I can’t speak to that. I just can’t. I mean, that’s talking about our security posture, which we don’t do.

QUESTION: Why was it appropriate for them – this was a checkpoint, correct?

MR TONER: Not 100 percent sure. I – my understanding is that they passed in front of the presidential palace. Obviously, there were forces out there. I don’t know that it was a formal checkpoint.

QUESTION: Okay. And why was it appropriate for them not to open the doors?

MR TONER: Because they believed that – their assessment was that these forces were, again, trigger-happy, or shall we say – I’ll put it more diplomatically and say tense, and they felt threatened, clearly. And one of the standard procedures is if you feel threatened is to get the heck out of dodge.

QUESTION: So you stated that an after-action review is still in progress?

MR TONER: This is within – yeah, this is – so we’ve – so two points here. One, we’ve asked the government, obviously, to carry out a full and complete investigation. That, I believe, is still ongoing. I may be wrong there, but I don’t have anything here in front of me that says that it’s been concluded. But we also, as we would in any case like this, conducted our internal review.

QUESTION: And is that still in progress?

MR TONER: That’s in progress, but I was able to say out of that review we have obviously, and frankly immediately, adjusted curfew times and other —

QUESTION: And no other people in the convoy were physically hurt, but obviously it’s a very stressful —

MR TONER: Indeed.

QUESTION: — night for them.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Has anyone been evacuated from station? Has anyone received counseling?

MR TONER: We did – and we’ve talked about this before. I believe we’re on authorized departure from Juba. I believe that’s correct.

QUESTION: But do you know if any of the seven people involved in this have left?

MR TONER: I can’t speak to whether they’ve left or not.

QUESTION: Who or what entity is conducting the State Department’s after-action review?

MR TONER: That would be Diplomatic Security.

QUESTION: Okay. And from your account provided here at this briefing today, if I understand it correctly, you really cannot determine how much knowledge the presidential guard members had of who exactly was in this car. You really can’t make a determination whether they knew that there were Americans in this car or not, correct?

MR TONER: Again, I think I said we do not believe that, and I said we assess that the attack was connected more to a breakdown in command and control and not to a specific targeting. But I can’t categorically say one or – that it wasn’t.

QUESTION: Do you —

QUESTION: But you – so you can’t rule it out?

MR TONER: I can’t – yeah, as I was saying, as I – I qualified it. I said it is our assessment that —

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have – is in there about roughly how long this incident – the duration of this incident? How long did it last?

MR TONER: I don’t. Sorry, Matt.

QUESTION: But it does —

QUESTION: Can you confirm that three separate presidential guard units opened fire on the two cars?

MR TONER: I cannot. I’ll try to get – see if I can get more details about the duration and the number of —

QUESTION: It didn’t – this was quite quick. It didn’t happen over a course of hours.

MR TONER: Exactly. No, no, that I can —

QUESTION: This was something that – like, less than —

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: — less than several minutes? I mean —

MR TONER: I’d say, yes, within the realm of several minutes to 10 minutes. I have no idea. I can’t put a specific time to it, duration.

QUESTION: So this happened almost exactly two months ago. How long does it take to investigate or to look into a 10-minute – let’s just assume it’s 10 minutes – incident?

MR TONER: Are you talking the —

QUESTION: Both.

MR TONER: — government’s or the – look, I mean, I —

QUESTION: And are you pushing the South Sudanese Government to —

MR TONER: Yes, we are. Yes, we are. I mean, as I said, Ambassador Phee immediately the next day went to the president and demanded an investigation and we’ve been following up on that.

QUESTION: But that was July 8th.

MR TONER: I understand.

QUESTION: It is now September 7th.

MR TONER: I understand. And with regard to —

QUESTION: What’s the temperature, Matt.

MR TONER: With regard to – (laughter) —

QUESTION: In South Sudan? Hot.

MR TONER: With regard to our own internal investigation, clearly we made adjustments, immediate adjustments, to our security posture in light of that attack. But I think they’re still looking at other details.

QUESTION: You stated —

QUESTION: Any personnel involved being disciplined – U.S. personnel?

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no.

QUESTION: And —

QUESTION: You stated that at least one of these cars was struck by fire but fortunately was —

MR TONER: Armored.

QUESTION: — armor-protected. To your knowledge, has Diplomatic Security, as part of its after-action review, or any other U.S. personnel, made a physical inspection of these vehicles?

MR TONER: I would imagine, but I don’t – I can’t confirm that. I just don’t have that level of detail.

QUESTION: And the personnel – the U.S. personnel, presumably they have been interviewed as part of this after-action review, correct?

MR TONER: That would be – that would be expected, yes.

QUESTION: And that interview process took place overseas or here in Washington?

MR TONER: I don’t know. It could be either. It could be both. I just don’t have that level of detail.

QUESTION: And did anyone decline to cooperate with the after-action review?

MR TONER: Again, I can’t speak to that either.

QUESTION: It was James Donegan in the car, correct? And the car was disabled and had to be rescued by a Marine force. Is that all correct?

MR TONER: So there is – yes, so that’s an important – and I apologize I didn’t – so there was a small embassy security team basically that traveled to the vehicle and was able to recover our personnel. This happened when the vehicle was no longer under fire and there were no longer hostile forces present, when the team arrived.

QUESTION: Did any U.S. personnel discharge their firearms?

MR TONER: Not that I’m aware of, no.

QUESTION: And you don’t really have any problems with how the – Foreign Policy wrote this timeline of events, right?

MR TONER: I think our concern was that it made the assumption or allegation that there was a specific targeting of our diplomatic vehicles. And again —

QUESTION: Right, which – yeah.

MR TONER: — it doesn’t in any way, either if it was or wasn’t, it doesn’t in any way excuse the behavior or the incident. But that’s just our assessment that we don’t believe it was.

QUESTION: So you’re making excuses, but it doesn’t excuse —

MR TONER: We good? Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have some preferred outcome for the South Sudanese investigation? Do you want to see people disciplined? Is that the —

MR TONER: Yes, unequivocally.

QUESTION: What would you think would be an appropriate discipline?

MR TONER: Well, I mean, look, that’s something for the South Sudanese Government to speak about, but this was clearly a serious incident that, to put it mildly, put at risk the lives of American diplomats and American citizens. So we take it very seriously and we want to see the appropriate people held accountable.

 

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#SouthSudan Presidential Guards Target American Diplomats in Juba

Posted: 3:22 am ET

 

On August 17, we blogged about South Sudan troops targeting Americans in the country. (see Americans Targeted in South Sudan, a Country That Gets $1.5B in American Humanitarian Aid). On July 8,2016, CNN citing State Department officials reported that shots were fired at U.S. embassy vehicles on July 7 and personnel at the embassy were briefly ordered to shelter in place after gunfire and explosions rocked the capital of Juba, including near the Presidential Palace. At that time, the official spox told CNN, “We do not believe our vehicles and personnel were specifically targeted and have no indication that the security forces were instructed to fire on our vehicles. However, we condemn this attack on U.S. embassy personnel.” 

The July 7 attack described in detail below preceded the assaults and rapes that occurred in the Terrain compound on July 11 but did not become front page news until mid-August. A State Department official told FP that “We do not believe our vehicles and personnel were specifically targeted.”  The report, however, notes that “the front windshields of the two armored SUVs held laminated cards emblazoned with the American flag. In plain sight were diplomatic license plates with the number 11, a well-known calling card in Juba that proclaims the world’s reigning superpower is passing through town.”

Via FP’s Colum Lynch:

State Department officials provided Foreign Policy with conflicting accounts of whether the department had conducted a formal investigation into the incident, with one official saying it hadn’t, and another saying it had carried out some form of investigation. But both officials said they have demanded South Sudan carry out an investigation and hold those responsible to account. The State Department has also downplayed the role of the South Sudanese in targeting U.S. diplomats, saying there was no way to know whether Kiir’s presidential guard knew who they were shooting at.

“We do not believe our vehicles and personnel were specifically targeted,” a State Department official told FP. “I think we can speak with certainty the people in the convoy did not identify themselves necessarily to the soldiers or say that it was an American convoy.”
[…]
Anxious that Juba was set to explode, Molly Phee, the U.S. ambassador to South Sudan, phoned Donegan [note: Jim Donegan, post’s DCM] and six other American diplomats at the restaurant and ordered them to cut short a farewell dinner for a colleague over beer and Indian food. The Americans’ two armored SUVs were passing by the palace when more than half a dozen presidential guards stationed at a checkpoint pulled them to the side of the road. Brandishing AK-47 assault rifles, they yelled at the Americans in a mix of Arabic and Dinka, South Sudan’s main indigenous language. At one point, the soldiers tried to force one of the car doors open, prompting the South Sudanese driver in the lead vehicle to floor it.

The second car followed as the guards opened fire from behind at both vehicles, forcing Donegan’s car to swerve into a parked car, which happened to be owned by a senior South Sudanese national security official. The trail car whizzed past, sideswiping Donegan’s vehicle as it barreled down the main thoroughfare before turning onto CPA Road — named after the U.S.-brokered Comprehensive Peace Agreement — and racing back to the U.S. Embassy. A second group of more than half a dozen South Sudanese troops, dressed in government military uniforms, unleashed a barrage of fire at the Americans. A third cluster of armed soldiers farther along the escape route sprayed the speeding American vehicles.

But Donegan’s vehicle had been badly crippled, temporarily stalling as South Sudanese soldiers fired into its tinted windows. The driver got the car restarted but could only hobble down the road, since two tires had blown out. They made the turn at CPA Road before coming to a second and final stop, fortunately out of sight of their would-be assailants. Donegan and his colleagues waited on the suddenly quiet road for 10 to 15 minutes, before the Marines arrived and brought them back to the embassy.

Read more below:

12 FAM 030 says that the Accountability Review Board process is “a mechanism to foster more effective security of U.S. missions and personnel abroad by ensuring a thorough and independent review of security-related incidents.”  This is a security-related incident but as far as we are aware, no ARB has been convened.  The FAM also says that “a Board will be convened for the express purpose of investigating only that incident or those incidents specified by the Secretary.”  No announcement has been made that indicates Secretary Kerry has asked for an investigation of this incident.

An OIG review from 2013 warned that the current facility in Juba puts embassy employees at risk.  Correct us if we’re wrong on this, but we think this is the same facility occupied by the embassy to-date.  Couple a deficient facility with a host country unable to control its troops and where presidential guards have now opened fire at embassy vehicles, and you’ve got a security nightmare in the making. If that’s not enough to give you pause, scroll through the comments on Embassy Juba’s Facebook page; you might learn something about how the United States is perceived in a country that it helped gain independence in 2011.

 

Related posts:

 

 

 

 

Three American Contractors Kidnapped in Iraq Tell Their Story

Posted: 1:54 am ET
he men were released to Iraqi middlemen who took them to the Green Zone, the government complex where the U.S. Embassy is housed. That day, Feb. 16, was the last the Americans saw of Abu Marina, the Iraqi held captive with them. Attempts to reach him via his Facebook account failed; his whereabouts are unknown.

Coverage of the kidnapping is a case study in the unreliability of newsgathering in Baghdad, where fear and sectarian agendas shape how incidents are reported, especially given the difficulties of Western journalists to move freely around the city.

Every news organization that covered the case reported inaccurate information, typically focusing on the brothel angle based on the accounts of unnamed “Iraqi security officials.” Virtually everything else in the reports was wrong, too: the men’s names, nationalities, genders, employer and time of capture.

Read more below:

 

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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

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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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Americans Targeted in South Sudan, a Country That Gets $1.5B in American Humanitarian Aid

Posted: 3:36 am ET

 

The AP report says that “the attack on the Terrain hotel compound in Juba last month shows the hostility toward foreigners and aid workers by troops under the command of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, who has been fighting supporters of rebel leader Riek Machar since civil war erupted in December 2013.”  (See How the World’s Youngest Nation Descended Into Bloody Civil War).  The State Department’s official spox declined to say whether Americans were targeted but the Daily Beast piece includes the beating of an American “with belts and rifle butts for about an hour, accusing him of hiding rebels. “You tell your embassy how we treated you,” one soldier told him as he fled to a nearby UN compound.”  During the attack on the Terrain, several survivors also told the AP that soldiers specifically asked if they were Americans.

The attack on the Terrain compound occurred on July 11.  On July 17, the Special Envoy to South Sudan tweeted that the U.S. is not going to take “offensive action” against South Sudan.

On August 15, over a month after this horrific incident, USUN Ambassador Samantha Power released a statement that the United States is “outraged of the assaults and rapes of civilians … last month.” The US Embassy in Juba received distressed calls, so officials knew this happened before it became  front page news. Still, it took the US over a month to publicly acknowledge this outrage.

A brief backgrounder here — South Sudan gained independence on July 9, 2011, after being at war with Sudan for nearly 40 of the past 57 years. USCG Juba became the US Embassy at the same time.  In early 2013, State/OIG conducted an inspection of the USG’s newest embassy in the world.  One of the OIG’s key findings at that time is the Department inability to staff Embassy Juba adequately, “preventing the embassy from functioning as effectively as it should.”  The embassy operates out of a small chancery deemed too small to accommodate additional staff and the new embassy is not scheduled for construction until 2018. The report warns that the current facility puts embassy employees at risk. The inability to add more staff also leaves assistance programs vulnerable to failure or misuse of funds. The report indicates that the Department has decided to keep the mission with its current footprint until construction of a new embassy, which won’t happen until 2018. It will be a number of years, however, until the new embassy is ready. The OIG concludes that personnel and the integrity of our programs will remain at risk.  (see US Embassy Juba: Dear Congress, This Facility Puts Employees “At Risk” But Hey, Waivers) and US Embassy Juba: An All-in-One Consular Officer on First Rodeo Works Out of a Storage Closet.

The US Embassy in Juba has a small U.S. force guarding it but its ability to function as an embassy is only possible with the protection of the host country.  With South Sudan government troops targeting Americans, how is it that the US Embassy in Juba is still open?

Below is an excerpt from the Daily Press Briefing with the spox addressing what Embassy Juba did during and following the attack. It also show the limits of what the US Government can do despite being the largest donor in South Sudan.

Via DPB on August 15, 2016:

MS TRUDEAU: Yes. And I’m glad for this. Please.

QUESTION: There was a fairly disturbing account put out today of the July 11th attack on the Terrain hotel compound. And as part of it, survivors are saying that they waited for hours after calling for help from the U.S. embassy as well as other embassies in the area, with no one responding. Do you dispute that, and do you have any timeline that you can share with us about what occurred during the time of the assault?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay. So I think we’ve all seen those horrific reports. I want to say at the top that privacy considerations will prevent me from talking about any specific part of this in detail. But as I go through this, I do not in any way want to minimize in any way, shape, or form what people might have gone through during that crisis in South Sudan.

So in terms of the timeline: In the midst of the ongoing fighting throughout the city between government and opposition forces, Embassy Juba actively responded to the July 11 assault on a private compound hosting U.S. citizens, among others. Upon learning about the attacks at Terrain camp, Ambassador Phee immediately – herself – immediately contacted South Sudanese government officials, including officials in the presidential guard and National Security Service. National Security Service sent a response force to the site and put a stop to the attack. Presidential guard forces also went to the scene, but they arrived after the National Security Service.

Following the attack and in the midst of ongoing fighting and violence throughout Juba, including in the immediate vicinity of the embassy, the U.S. embassy ensured that U.S. citizens and foreign nationals affected by the attack were moved to safety and provided emergency medical assistance. The U.S. embassy also facilitated the rapid departure of those involved from South Sudan by air ambulance.

As part of its response to the crisis in South Sudan, the U.S. embassy provided emergency services for those in need and assisted in the departure of more than 80 U.S. citizens during last month’s crisis.

We’ve stated we condemn these attacks. We have called for accountability for those who are involved in the violence.

Anything more on South Sudan?

QUESTION: So you can’t confirm that Americans were singled out and were specifically assaulted due to the fact that they were American in the course of the assault?

MS TRUDEAU: I’m not in a position to say that any particular nationality was singled out.

QUESTION: And as part of the report, it suggests that it was South Sudanese soldiers who were in fact committing this assault. So how was the U.S. embassy – how could they be assured that the people that they were calling were the ones who were actually going to help rather than contributing to the ongoing —

MS TRUDEAU: So what I can say is that the attackers in this incident wore uniforms and they were armed. There were both opposition and government troops in Juba at that time. Armed clashes were occurring throughout the city. The area where Terrain is located was controlled by the SPLA on July 10th and 11th.

Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, I just wanted – you said that the – in the midst of the ongoing attack at Terrain, you said Embassy Juba actively responded.

MS TRUDEAU: We did.

QUESTION: So the active response, though, as far as I can tell from what you said, was that the ambassador made a phone call. Is that —

MS TRUDEAU: The ambassador made several phone calls.

QUESTION: Several phone calls?

MS TRUDEAU: When we were assured that people would go out and bring people in, then we actively ensured that those people were safe. So yeah.

QUESTION: But in the midst of – while it was going – I understand what —

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: — you’re saying after it was over what you did, but during it, was there —

MS TRUDEAU: When we received reports, we called the people who are best poised to go out and make it stop, which was the National Security Services as well as the presidential guard.

QUESTION: But – yeah, I understand that, but I mean – but was it just the ambassador or did other people – did other staffers do anything? I mean, I’m just trying to get an idea of what the active response was.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah, in terms of sequence, it was – it was reaching out to the government officials who were in a position at that place to intervene.

QUESTION: So I think that the point that at least the survivors of this or some of the survivors of the attack is, is there wasn’t any kind – any attempt to intervene. Is that not appropriate or —

MS TRUDEAU: I – it’s – again, there was an immediate response from the U.S. embassy to identify and dispatch the people who could intervene immediately in the attack.

QUESTION: Right. But the embassy itself was not in a position to do anything?

MS TRUDEAU: Was not in a position to do that.

 

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@ClintonFdn, @StateDept, @HillaryClinton Get on Twitter Moments

Posted: 3:50 am ET

 

 

The State Department’s Mr. Fix-It of Last Resort Gets the Spotlight

Posted: 5:04 am ET

 

FP’s John Hudson recently wrote a profile of the the State Department’s powerful Under Secretary for Management (M). The official spox, John Kirby is quoted in the article, as well as former acting assistant secretary for NEA Beth Jones, and former assistant secretary for CA Janice Jacobs. Just about everyone quoted in the profile, even those with complimentary quips, spoke anonymously to avoid getting into hot water

John Hudson’s profile starts with the line — “In a town infamous for throwing bureaucrats under the bus, Patrick Kennedy’s survival is the stuff of legend.”

Here are some of the quotes extracted from the profile:

“Pat Kennedy is the most powerful guy you’ve never heard of,” said a former diplomat, who like many others spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering the influential government boss.

“The guy has nine lives” a former diplomat said of Kennedy, who has spent more than 40 years at the State Department.

“No one works harder and cares more about the day-to-day management of diplomacy,” said a foreign service officer.

“Pat Kennedy is one of the main gateways to getting an ambassadorship,” said a career foreign service officer. “He comes to people’s aid or demise depending on what they’ve done for him.”

“Like Stalin, his power comes from his understanding and control over the bureaucracy,” said a former State Department official.

“He needs to groom a successor, but he hasn’t done that,” said one foreign service officer.

“He’s an extraordinary public servant and a pillar of this Department,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby.

“Kennedy is the quintessential bureaucrat,” said Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.).

“When anything happens in the world, someone at the White House is going to call Pat first,” said Beth Jones, the former acting assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs.

Jones, a longtime Kennedy ally, volunteered during an interview: He knows “where all the bodies are buried.”

“If the next secretary of state asks him to stay on, I bet anything he’ll say yes,” said Jones, a longtime acquaintance of Kennedy and his wife.

“Quite frankly, I’m not sure what Pat would do in retirement. He gives a new definition to the word workaholic,” said Janice Jacobs, a former assistant secretary of state for Consular Affairs and the Department’s current Transparency Coordinator.

Read the entire piece below:

We should add that as of November last year,  U/S Kennedy became the longest serving Under Secretary of State for Management in the history of the State Department. He is apparently 67 years old. That’s two years past the mandatory retirement age for ordinary FSOs.  Sec. 812 of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 does says that “Any participant who is otherwise required to retire under subsection (a) while occupying a position to which he or she was appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, may continue to serve until that appointment is terminated.” So there’s that, save by section (a).

He certainly has admirers and critics, even from readers of this blog. When the Hudson profile  came out, half a dozen folks sent us the link to the FP article.

One complaint we’ve heard is that rather than ask, “what’s good for the mission?”management type folks allegedly say things like “Pat would like that” or “Pat wouldn’t like that!”   A State Department staffer who would only speak on background said that “It’s not healthy for an organization when people associate one man with the organization itself.”

The Under Secretary of State for Management serves as principal adviser to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary on matters relating to the allocation and use of Department of State resources (budget, physical property, and personnel), including planning, the day-to-day administration of the Department, and proposals for institutional reform and modernization. Specific duties, supervisory responsibilities, and assignments have varied over the years according to history.state.gov.  There is no/no other position in Foggy Bottom that has a more significant impact on the day to day lives of employees and family members than the Under Secretary of State for Management.

Since 2009, the State Department was authorized a Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources (D/MR), the third highest ranking position at the agency.   Jack L. Lew stayed from January 28, 2009 – November 18, 2010, before moving on to better jobs. Thomas R. Nides was in from January 3, 2011 – February, 2013, then rejoined Morgan Stanley as vice chairman.  Heather Anne Higginbottom joined the State Department in 2013 after a stint at OMB. One or two or all of them may show up again if there is a Clinton White House. Or an entirely new crew will show up if there is a Trump White House. Forgive us for imagining that nightmare (by the way, 121 GOP National Security leaders wrote an open letter in opposition to a Donald Trump presidency).

Michael Singh writing about The Dysfunction Exposed by the Clinton Investigation in the State Department and Beyond notes that “the State Department now has two deputy secretaries instead of one, meaning that resolving the tension between resource constraints and policy priorities is now organizationally the responsibility of the secretary rather than a deputy.” Heh!  The thing is, Secretary Kerry is almost never home and his deputy is also often on the road. You’d think that D/MR would be running the agency, that is, if she, too, is not traveling.  But, you can probably guess who actually runs the building.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry poses for photo at the groundbreaking ceremony for the U.S. Diplomacy Center with former Secretaries of State Henry A. Kissinger, James A. Baker, III, Under Secretary for Management Patrick F. Kennedy, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Madeleine K. Albright, and Colin L. Powell at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC on September 3, 2014. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Here is a quick timeline of U/S Kennedy’s career with some of the more significant events the State Department confronted through the years:

1973 | Kennedy joined the Foreign Service

1973 – 1993 | he served in a number of positions in Washington and overseas, including as Management Counselor at the Embassy in Cairo and Executive Director and Deputy Executive Secretary of the Executive Secretariat.

1993 – 2001 | he became Assistant Secretary of State for Administration (State/M/A) during President Clinton’s two terms in the White House from 1993-2001.

— concurrently from August 1996 to August 1997 he served as the Acting Under Secretary for Management

— in 1998 he served as Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security

— from 1997 to 2001, he served as the coordinator for the reorganization of the foreign affairs agencies.

February 2000 | he was nominated as Representative of the U.S.A. to the European Office of the United Nations (Geneva); nomination was not acted upon by the Senate (see)

September 2001 – May 2005 |  he was U.S. Representative to the United Nations for Management and Reform with the Rank of Ambassador.

— During this period he also served from May 2003 to the end of November 2003 as Chief of Staff of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq

— From May 2004 to late August 2004 as the Chief of Staff of the Transition Unit in Iraq

February 2005 to April 2005, | he headed the Transition Team that set up the newly created Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI)

April 2005 to May 2007 | he was Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Management (ODNI/M)

May 2007 – November 2007 | he was Director of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation (State/M/PRI)

November 2007 | he was appointed Under Secretary of State for Management (M). He was one of the three appointees as “M” in the GWBush tenure, and the first career diplomat. He followed Grant S. Green, Jr. who served in the Bush’s first term under Secretary Powell, and  Henrietta H. Fore, who served from 2005-2007 in the Bush’s second term under Secretary Rice. U/S Kennedy was kept on as “M” during the first Obama term under Secretary Clinton, and continued in the same position under Secretary Kerry.

In November last year, U/S Kennedy became the longest serving Under Secretary of State for Management in the history of the State Department.  Besides Ronald Ian Spiers who served as “M” from 1983–1989, Kennedy would be the only other  Foreign Service Officer appointed to this position.

One of the first incidents that publicly featured U/S Kennedy occurred in November 1993.  Then Secretary of State Warren Christopher dismissed two mid-ranking State Department employees, apparently for their role in searching the personnel files of 160 former Bush Administration officials. The NYTimes named two officials who were political appointees rewarded with State Department jobs for their work in Bill Clinton’s Presidential campaign and the transition to the White House. According to the DPB at that time, the Assistant Secretary for Administration Patrick Kennedy “had immediately taken custody of the cartons of files in  question and had put them in a place where they could be reviewed by the  Inspector General;” within 24 hours reportedly of the initial account appearing in the news.

It’s no wonder that we’ve heard Mr. Kennedy dubbed as the State Department’s Mr. Fix-It.  In October 2007, Mr. Kennedy was also involved in the investigation into the behavior of Blackwater Worldwide following the Nisour Square shooting during Secretary Rice’s tenure (see Ambassador Patrick F. Kennedy on the Report of the Secretary of State’s Panel on Personal Protective Services in Iraq). Diplomatic Security’s Richard Griffin resigned in the wake of that deadly shooting and amidst growing questions about the State Department’s use of private contractors to protect diplomats in Iraq.

In March 2008, the State Department fired two employees and reprimanded a third for improperly opening electronic information from the passport file of then Senator Barack Obama. Mr. Kennedy talked about the unauthorized accessed of Obama passport records of yet another on-the-record briefing.

In September 2009, allegations surfaced via POGO on the shortcomings in Kabul embassy security and in State Department oversight of a guard force supplied by ArmorGroup, North America (AGNA), owned by Wackenhut Services, Inc. U/S Kennedy was once again in Congress on behalf of the State Department.

In October 2012, U/S Kennedy made one of his appearances in Congress concerning the Benghazi attack. See Benghazi Hearing: Looking for Truth Amidst a Partisan Divide, Outing OGA, Zingers.

In August 2013, U/S Kennedy testified in the Bradley Manning case on the release of classified diplomatic cables to the WikiLeaks website.

In June2016, he was deposed in connection with an FOIA litigation related to the Clinton email server. See JW v. @StateDept: Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy’s Testimony (Transcript)

Perhaps, one of the most notable case, in the history of the State Department came in 1998. In 1998, the twin embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam occured; the ARB Report dated January 1999 is online here. Mr. Kennedy who was then the Assistant Secretary for Administration (A) — having relinquished his acting capacity in Diplomatic Security, but nevertheless an authoritative spokesman on issues related to security and the recent bombings in Africa” according to the State Department spokesman — was the point man.

Prior to the attack, in December 1997, the then U.S. ambassador to Nairobi, Prudence Bushnell expressed her concerns over the vulnerability of the embassy. She apparently requested a security assessment team and stated her desire to have a new building. In the DPB of August 14, 1998, the press wanted to know who did Ambassador Bushnell write to express her concerns. Mr. Kennedy’s response at that time is worth noting:

“Bonnie Cohen, the Under Secretary for Management, who would be the Under Secretary that an ambassador would communicate with on something that involved security, logistics, construction, management.”

Bonnie Cohen was a non-career appointee who served as “M” from August 1997 to January 2001 under Madeleine Albright.

In the July 9, 2012 cable (12 TRIPOLI 590), Ambassador Stevens reported that, “Overall security conditions continue to be unpredictable, with large numbers of armed groups and individuals not under control of the central government, and frequent clashes in Tripoli and other major population centers.” The cable requested continued TDY security support for an additional 60 days, through mid-September 2012. The request also said that 13 security personnel would be the “minimum” needed for “transportation security and incident response capability.”

In his on-the-record briefing following the Benghazi attack, U/S Kennedy said:

I’ve been confirmed, I think, three or four times. Every time you’re confirmed, you tell the Congress that you will appear before the Congress for hearings. I regard it as both an honor and a privilege to be called. The Legislative Branch of the U.S. Government is incredibly important, and it is my job as a confirmed official to appear before them. They had a lot of questions. We answered lots of their questions. I regard that as my job.

That’s after a long grilling in Congress.

We came up with a bureaucrat’s motto — always willing and ready, and never, ever show an angry face.

What remains striking to us is that one assistant secretary, and three DASes, including one from the NEA bureau with no direct security responsibility for Benghazi was where “the rubber hits the road.”  

Inside Harry S. Truman’s building, named after the president noted for his motto, the buck stops here, it seems that the buck stopped everywhere and nowhere.

Ah — bonus email from Senator BAM of Maryland, the longest-serving woman in the history of the United States Congress via the email dump at foia.state.gov:

Screen Shot

 

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US Embassy Burma: “Routine Security Drill” Triggers Bomb Scare in Yangon

Posted: 2:36 am ET

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