US Embassy Bangkok Issues Security Message After Multiple Explosions in Thailand

Posted:3:31 am ET

 

The US Embassy in Bangkok issued a security message to U.S. citizens in Thailand following several reported explosions in the country:

In the evening of August 11, two bombs exploded in a Hua Hin market area; a third bomb exploded near the Hua Hin clock tower in the morning of August 12.  Thai local law enforcement and media are reporting at least one death of a Thai woman and approximately 20 injured, including foreign nationals.  Other, smaller explosions also have been reported in Phuket, Trang, and Surat Thani, and the situation is developing with reports of additional possible explosions and suspicious fires elsewhere in southern Thailand.  Thai officials have identified no U.S. citizens among the injured victims.  The U.S. embassy is in regular contact with local authorities to determine if any U.S. citizens have been affected.

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Turkish Military Announces Take Over, Declares Martial Law, @StateDept Advises Amcits to Shelter in Place

Posted: 2:39 pm PT

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SFRC Hearings: Yovanovitch, Pyatt, Hall, Silliman, McKinley, Silverman, Perez

Posted: 2:54 pm ET

 

Date: Tuesday, June 21, 2016
Time: 02:30 PM Location:
Senate Dirksen 419
Presiding: Senator Corker

Watch here

 

Panel One

The Honorable Marie L. Yovanovitch
Of Connecticut, A Career Member Of The Senior Foreign Service, Class Of Minister-Counselor, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To Ukraine
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The Honorable Geoffrey R. Pyatt
Of California, A Career Member Of The Senior Foreign Service, Class Of Minister-Counselor, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To Greece
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Ms.
 
Anne Hall
Of Maine, A Career Member Of The Senior Foreign Service, Class Of Minister-Counselor, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Republic Of Lithuania
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Panel Two

The Honorable Douglas Alan Silliman
Of Texas, A Career Member Of The Senior Foreign Service, Class Of Minister-Counselor, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Republic Of Iraq
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The Honorable Peter Michael McKinley
Of Virginia, A Career Member Of The Senior Foreign Service, Class Of Minister-Counselor, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Federative Republic Of Brazil
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Mr. Lawrence Robert Silverman
Of Massachusetts, A Career Member Of The Senior Foreign Service, Class Of Minister-Counselor, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The State Of Kuwait
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Ms. Carol Z. Perez
Of Virginia, A Career Member Of The Senior Foreign Service, Class Of Minister-Counselor, To Be Ambassador Extraordinary And Plenipotentiary Of The United States Of America To The Republic Of Chile
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Dissent Channel Leak: Who Gains the Most From Flogging the Laundry Like This?

Posted: 3:46 am ET

 

The most spectacular policy dissent within the Foreign Service happened  before the creation of the “dissent channel” and outside the then Secretary of State Dean Rusk’s “Open Forum Panel” (which was created in 1967).

According to retired FSO David Jones who wrote Advice and Dissent in the April 2000 issue of the Foreign Service Journal (PDF),  50 Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) sent a letter to then Secretary of State William Rogers in April 1970 protesting an anticipated invasion of Cambodia.

Mr. Jones cited Under Secretary for Political Affairs U. Alexis Johnson’s 1984 memoir, The Right Hand of Power:

In his book, Johnson acknowledges the legitimacy of the officers’ substantive complaint, but he faults their tactics in circulating multiple copies of the letter to secure additional signatures, which led to its leak to the media. Making matters worse, the letter hit the news just as the U.S. military assault was taking place in Cambodia.

Retired FSO Ted Eliot, Jr. who was then the Executive Secretary of the State Department wrote to the FSJ that the FSOs’ letter gave rise to “what was probably the greatest crisis of confidence ever between a President and the Foreign Service.” Nixon apparently instructed Secretary Rogers to fire all the signers. Secretary Rogers did not do that and instead had two of his most senior officers (U. Alexis Johnson and William Macomber, Jr.) meet with the signers. According to Mr. Eliot, during the meeting Mr. Johnson was told that the signers had not intended that their letter be made public. He told them, nonetheless, that it showed a lack of judgment on their part.

In February 1971, the State Department revised the Foreign Affairs Manual to give FSOs the freedom to dissent.

On April 6, 1971, the dissent cable that came to be known as the Blood Telegram was sent by U.S. Consulate General Dacca to the State Department.  In a transcript of conversation between Secretary Rogers and Henry Kissinger, then President Nixon’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, Secretary Rogers referred to “that goddam message from our people in Dacca.” To Kissinger, he complained, “It’s miserable. They bitched about our policy and have given it lots of distribution so it will probably leak. It’s inexcusable.” Whatever was the public embrace or pronouncement of support, it was never the same in private when it came to dissent.

(NOTE: Read Dissent From U.S. Policy Toward East Pakistan Cable (April 6, 1971); click here for the April 10, 1971 follow-up cable; click here for the State Department’s response drafted by Assistant Secretary of State Sisco and cleared by the senior leadership of the Department of State, USIA, and AID, to the charge made by the staff of the Consulate General that the U.S. had failed to condemn what it viewed as atrocities in East Pakistan).

No doubt Kissinger remembered this when he came to the State Department in September 1973.  A month after assuming charge of the Department, he issued his own guidance on the dissent policy. According to David Jones:

In October 1973, however, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (HAK) issued his own guidance about dissent. He said the dissent should be heard, but also expected “that all officers  will keep dissenting views in the channels provided for,” and observed that “expression of differing views will of course be subject to the ambassador’s control.” Kissinger’s less than wholehearted welcome of contrarian views may help account for the fact that the dissent channel, once it was established, did not stimulate an immediate burst of cable traffic protesting the war.

The Jones article was published in April 2000:

In the almost 30 years of its existence, the Dissent Channel has received over 250 messages, ranging from a high of 30 in 1977 to a low of 3 in 1997. Of the first 200 messages from 1971 to 1991, about 50 addressed “general,” non-foreign—policy topics such as housing allowance policy. None of the other 150 or so messages can be credited with reversing existing policy; instead, at best, the dissenting viewpoint may have received some senior level consideration. During the past decade, annual totals of contributions have averaged in the single digits.

Most of these dissent messages did not make the news or change official policy.  Ambassador Tom Boyatt who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Burkina Faso (1978) and Colombia (1980) and used the Dissent Channel to protest Kissinger’s interventionist policy in Cyrpus in 1974, however, cites the Yugoslavia dissent (Serbian ethnic cleansing) as may have been “the largest factor in changing our policy from dithering to intervening bringing about the Dayton Accords.”

Army colonel and later Deputy Chief of Mission in Sierra Leone and Mongolia Ann Wright, one of the three career diplomats who quit over Iraq, writes that she sent a dissent cable to Secretary of State Colin Powell expressing her “strong concerns about the Bush administration’s hot rhetoric about the need for regime change in Iraq and predicted the chaos that a U.S. invasion and occupation would have” in February 2003. Her dissent had “no effect on the Bush administration” and three weeks later on the eve of the beginning of the war on Iraq, she sent Colin Powell another cable –her resignation.

Former FSO Ron Capps says that he used the Dissent Channel to register his opposition to USG policy in Darfur, and like this newest message, his dissent was also leaked to the New York Times.

In September 2011, 2 FAM 070 was completely revised and includes this: “Freedom from reprisal for Dissent Channel users is strictly enforced.”  In the past, Dissent Channel cables were also marked “confidentialand “LIMDIS” for limited distribution. The FAM update in September 2011 notes that “Dissent Channel telegrams must not be labeled or identified by any other distribution caption (e.g., No Distribution (NODIS)Exclusive Distribution (EXDIS)State Distribution Only (STADIS), or Limited Distribution (LIMDIS).”  The draft version published by NYT is marked “SBU” for Sensitive But Unclassified. 

Leak Reactions

Ambassador Bill Harrop who previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Guinea (1975), concurrently to Kenya and Seychelles (1980), Congo (1987), Israel (1991) and as Inspector General of the State Department (1983) told us that the Dissent Channel is a major asset of the State Department, and the articulation of strong, emotional disagreement with U.S. policy toward Syria is a perfect example of how it was designed to be used. He cited several purposes of the Dissent Channel:

  • a pressure escape valve for officers in disagreement with policy
  • a channel to inform the Secretary of what his staff truly believes
  • a step short of resignation for those in deep opposition to policy
  • a vehicle for keeping staff dissent within the Department, not publicly expressed

Ambassador Harrop also has some strong words concerning the leak:

They jeopardized an important institution, the Dissent Channel. Assuming most were FSOs, they were commissioned by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Their oath of office is to protect and defend the Constitution, but they are not free to debate publicly with their president. If they wanted to go public they should have resigned.

Ambassador Chas Freeman who previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia  (1989) told us he used the channel in 1978:

— to make a contrarian case in “Open Forum Magazine” — a classified journal not circulated outside the Department of State — for sticking with Taipei and forgetting normalization with Beijing, when it appeared that the concept of strategic rapprochement with China had bogged down. As I hoped would be the case, this elicited vigorous rebuttals from more senior officers who would otherwise have been silent. There was no leak.

Ambassador Freeman also said that “the channel can only work if it is “internal use only,”  i.e., it does not become part of the political diatribe or embarrass the administration.”

Of course, we’d like to hear the battles that are fought inside the bureaucracy. But we also recognize that the intent of the dissent channel is to inform the administration of the day and that these policy disagreements are not for public consumption.

Ambassador Freeman  told Alternet: “Someone decided to leak it … for whatever irrational reason, an action as blatantly incorrect as it is most certainly politically and diplomatically counterproductive.” The Alternet author concludes that “the cable will not produce the outcome desired by the diplomats. But even so, it serves to bring U.S. politics into the domain of diplomatic procedures.”

Not/not good particularly given the perception of the politicization of the State Department and the Foreign Service in recent years. This NYT piece suggests that “the disclosure of the memo could roil the waters in an election year.”  Questions have already been asked if this leak is intended “to boost Clinton’s narrative that she wanted a more robust attack on Damascus as early as 2012?” And if this is “a campaign advertisement for Clinton, and a preparation for her likely Middle East policy when she takes power in 2017?”

In the Alternet article, Ambassador Freeman also cites what’s probably most notable about this case —  that the signatories are arguing for rather than against the use of force. Over the past 40 years, diplomats have used the “dissent channel” to caution against a rush to war. Now these diplomats are asking for an intensification of war.

Ambassador Dennis Jett who previously served as U.S. Ambassador to Mozambique (1993) and Peru (1996) told us “That there is distress over Syria is not surprising. It has become Obama’s Rwanda.” He further adds:

The dissent channel was set up to give people an opportunity to propose alternatives to existing policy without committing career suicide. I don’t know that anyone ever really thought that there was much of a chance over the years for policies to really be changed but it gave people a chance to blow off steam.  I think the dissidents had no illusions that their memo would move the president to act.  So they leaked it immediately with the hope that the publicity would. Or at least one of them did since the NY Times printed what they called a draft of the message.  It would have been preferable to give the system time to act, but I am sure the dissenters felt as much of a sense of urgency as of frustration

A trusted Foggy Bottom nightingale told us that he/she saw the earliest drafts of this memo but did not sign it because he/she “was convinced it was a waste of time.”

The nightingale also told us that he/she know most of the signers, “respect every one of them” and “hate” it that “they’ve been undermined by this having been released to the press.”

When asked about the leak, the nightingale says that  “at least among the signers they’re all saying none of them leaked it.”

We can’t say what happened individually, of course. But. Say, this is true — that none of the signers leaked the dissent message to NYT and the WSJ — who gains the most from flogging the laundry like this?

The NYT article went online after 6 pm EST on June 16.  The State Department spokesman acknowledged on June 17 that the agency received it the day before.  According to the FAM, the Director of Policy Planning (S/P), that is, Jon Finer who is serving concurrently as Secretary Kerry’s chief of staff is responsible for acknowledging receipt of a Dissent message within 2 working days and for providing a substantive reply, normally within 30-60 working days.

In this case, S/P was not even afforded 48 hours.  Did one of the 51 authors of the dissent memo leak it to NYT and WSJ at the same time it went to S/P?

And if the signers did not leak it, then who did?

Why?

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Related items:

 

Related posts:

 

 

NYT Publishes Draft Version of @StateDept Dissent Memo on Syria Without the Names of Signers

Posted: 7:49 pm ET

On June 17, the NYT published the draft version of a dissent memo filed with the State Department’s senior leadership.  The NYT cites “dozens of diplomats and other mid-level officials”  calling for military strikes against President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. The document was provided to The Times by a State Department official on condition that the names of the signers not be published. Also see “Dissent Channel” Message on Syria Policy Signed by 51 @StateDept Officers Leaks.

See NYT’s original post here or read below:

 

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Below via the DPB:

Confidence on the Dissent Channel

QUESTION: John, you make a good case for the respect you have for this as an alternative source of opinions. If the authors of the dissent, though, were confident that the dissent channel was the right place to put this, why did they also leak it to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times?

MR KIRBY: I have no idea how this message made a way – made its way into the public domain. I have no idea how that happened.

Said.

QUESTION: Could I just ask you on the diplomatic part of it – I mean, they say 50 diplomats. Are they diplomats the way we would understand diplomats to be, or are they just mid-level employees? I mean, what is the difference here in your definition? I want to understand.

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going to speak to the identities, obviously, of the authors or describe or characterize their employment here at the State Department. I think if you were to ask Secretary Kerry, he would tell you that all of us here at the State Department are diplomats in our own right, but I’m not going to get into characterizing each individual, what their job is, and characterizing that in terms of diplomacy.

QUESTION: And they are all sort of responsible for the Syria desk, or do they —

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk —

QUESTION: — do they cover —

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to provide any additional information about the authors of this message.

QUESTION: And let me just ask you to pontificate, if you would, I mean, on the issue of striking Syria or striking Assad. To what end, in your view? I mean, what would be – what is the desired outcome for such a —

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk to the content of the message that was sent forward. And as I said, separate and distinct from that, we continue to be focused on the core elements of our policy in Syria, which is to try to get the political discussions back on track, try to get a cessation of hostilities nationwide enforced, and get humanitarian assistance to so many desperate people in need. We continue to believe that a political solution is the best solution for the people of Syria.

Spox not speaking to the content

QUESTION: How is the State Department viewing the fact that this document was leaked to the press? Is it – are you guys okay with that or is there some kind of investigation pending into that?

MR KIRBY: I know of no investigation as to how it ended up in the public domain, and we don’t know how it ended up in the public domain. What I can tell you is the authors of this particular dissent channel message sent it forward through the dissent channel, and so we’re treating it accordingly, as we would any other dissent channel message.

Pam.

QUESTION: John, how does the State Department deal with the ramifications of this memo being in the public arena from a foreign policy standpoint, especially in terms of relations with allies that are also engaged in Syria? There’s some initial reaction from the Russian foreign ministry, the deputy foreign minister reacting to the portion that showed support for strikes against the Assad regime, saying in his view this would be absolute madness. Considering these are rank-and-file people who work day to day on implementing the U.S. policy, and this shows some dissatisfaction at that level, how do you go forward and deal with allies with this out there?

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not speaking to the content. I’m certainly not going to speak to the authors and how many —

QUESTION: Right (inaudible) speak —

MR KIRBY: — there are or who they are – I know where you – I know, just give me a second. That it’s in the public domain is beyond dispute now and people can react to it as they wish. What I can tell you is the Secretary continues to be focused on making sure that we get food, water, and medicine to the people that need it, get a cessation of hostilities that can be enforced nationwide, and that we get the political process back on track. That’s where his head is. That’s where his focus is. That’s where it’s going to remain.

Now, as I said I don’t know how many times earlier this week, we continue to explore other options. It would be irresponsible for us not to. But I’m not going to get ahead of that discussion in any way whatsoever.

No plans to make document public

QUESTION: When will you make this document public?

MR KIRBY: There’s no plans to make it public.

QUESTION: Will there be an official State Department response to the dissenters?

MR KIRBY: There typically is. According to the Foreign Affairs Manual, there is a process by which dissent messages are replied to, and we will be preparing the appropriate reply.

QUESTION: Will that be made public?

MR KIRBY: There’s no intent to make that public.

QUESTION: And —

QUESTION: John, could I —

MR KIRBY: Said?

QUESTION: — follow up very quickly? I mean, you said since 1971 – that was the Vietnam War, a big catalyst for dissent. There are many issues that happened in between. The mechanism to do this, what are – somebody draft a petition, and they go around collecting signatures, is that what happens?

MR KIRBY: I have – I do not know the specific process by which this message was prepared. As I said, typically, in general they’re drafted by a single individual or sometimes small groups, but there’s no rule that says that there has to be a limit on the number of authors. And how the author or authors of a dissent message go about crafting and then delivering their views is up to them. I have – I wouldn’t have – I would have no idea how – what the physical process of preparing something like that would be.

Dissent Channel and Promotion

QUESTION: As you know, the Foreign Affairs Manual says that there shall not be retaliation or reprisal against people who avail themselves of the dissent channel to register their disagreement with policy. It’s one thing to sort of act against someone soon after this has happened. It’s another thing if use of the dissent channel is used in subsequent administrations or years or decades to prevent people, for example, from rising.

And I want to know what the Secretary thinks about whether the mere use of the dissent channel should ever be used to prevent someone from getting a promotion or getting another sensitive job or moving up in the hierarchy or becoming an ambassador.

MR KIRBY: I think it’s safe to say that Secretary Kerry would absolutely find abhorrent any intent or desire by anyone in this Department from holding against someone, for purposes of promotion or advancement, their right to use the dissent channel. I mean, that’s absolutely abhorrent. It’s not only against the Foreign Affairs Manual, it’s against all standards of ethics, conduct, and integrity, and he would never abide by something like that.

QUESTION: Thank you for that answer. I asked the question because I’ve talked to two people in the building today already who talked about the fear that this could happen because Archer Blood never made ambassador and was, in fact, systematically prevented from moving up, as I understand it, and because Fred Hof, who is well known in this building and well known in the Syria – in the U.S.-Syria policy community, also talks about – in a public statement about how these people have risked their careers by doing this. So to the extent that there are anxieties out there that this is going to hurt these people and their careers, your view is the Secretary would not tolerate that?

MR KIRBY: Not one bit.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: I can assure you that no one has risked anything by submitting a dissent message with respect to Syria or any other policy that the State Department pursues. That is the purpose for the dissent channel.

Leaking draft memo a violation of State Department rules?

QUESTION: Okay, a couple of other very quick ones. Is it your understanding – it’s my understanding that what was leaked was a draft, not the actual memo, and that it was leaked before it had gone through the classification process. Is it your view that leaking something while it’s a draft and before it’s been classified is a violation of the letter of State Department rules even if it isn’t a violation of the – even if it is of the spirit?

MR KIRBY: I couldn’t possibly speak to, again, the process by which this got into the public domain. We keep talking about leaks here. I don’t know that that’s what happened. We do not know and nor are we particularly interested in how the contents of this dissent channel message made its way into the public domain. What we are interested in doing is preserving the sanctity, the integrity of the dissent channel process through which this was submitted. And it was classified by the authors, I might add, and so we’re going to respect that, too. And just as critically – back to Brad’s question – we’re going to respect the process by preparing the appropriate response as we should.

Dissent Memo went to S/P the same time it went to NYT and WSJ?

QUESTION: And then just two quick ones. When did you – when did the Department receive the dissent channel? Was it yesterday as some of the published reports —

MR KIRBY: To the best of my knowledge, we received it yesterday.

 

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

Posted: 2:33 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 now continuing to look into the matter. Also see Congress Wants to Know More About @StateDept’s “Casserole”, Then the DPB Goes Down the Rabbit HoleThat @StateDept Video “Glitch”? Not a Technical Glitch But “Deliberate Request to Excise Video”@StateDept Spox John Kirby Pens a Message to Colleagues in the Bureau of Public Affairs.

Here is Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Via the Daily Press Briefing, June 8, 2016:

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

MR TONER: So a couple of —

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

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

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

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

MR TONER: Why them and why not us?

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

MR TONER: Right.

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

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

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

MR TONER: And they’re —

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

[…]

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

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

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

MR TONER: No.

QUESTION: — or any evidence of tampering so far?

MR TONER: No, no.

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

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

[…]

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

MR TONER: Yes.

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

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

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

MR TONER: But we’re doing that now.

QUESTION: They talked to one person.

MR TONER: Who came forward. Yes.

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

 

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Congress Wants to Know More About @StateDept’s “Casserole”, Then the DPB Goes Down the Wabbit Hole

Posted: 3:10 am ET
Updated: June 7, 2016 11:33 pm ET

 

Oh, dear!  CNN’s Jake Tapper is now using the word “casserole” in reference to the State Department’s video tampering.

If you’re late on this, see the Washington Examiner’s timeline below:

The former spokesperson of the Department, Jen Psaki, who is now the White House Communications Director denied any knowledge of the deliberate snips:

Ms. Psaki’s deputy at that time, Marie Harf, who is now Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications to Secretary Kerry has also issued a denial.

Ms. Psaki and Ms. Harf’s then boss, Doug Frantz who was the Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs and now Deputy Secretary-General of the OECD in Paris, also knew nothing of the episode.

WaPo’s Erik Wemple asks, “Does there even need to be a rule when it comes to messing with the public record?” He did not minced words when he did his best scolding to-date: “Top government officials publishing their own professions of innocence: That’s just one of the upshots of a shoddy, good-for-nothing, incomplete, unworthy probe.” Ouch! What he said!

So apparently, this has not escaped the attention of the folks in Congress. House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) sent a letter to the State Department’s Inspector General (IG), Steve Linick, to request an investigation into the deliberate omission of portions of a State Department press briefing video. We’ve asked State/OIG about a potential investigation. The office declined to comment on this specific issue but did say “We take seriously all congressional requests.”

House Oversight and Government Reform (HOGR) Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) also sent a letter to Secretary Kerry requesting documents from the State Department that are 1) sufficient to identify, by name and job title, the individual or individuals who made and received the request to deliberately delete the video footage; 2) All documents and communications referring or relating to the deletion of video footage; 3) All documents and communications referring or relating  to other requests to delete portions of daily press briefings from publicly-accessible portals since January 1, 2012.

This is going to be a long summer, folks.

By June 3rd, our traveling Secretary of State while  in Paris, finally waded on the issue afflicting his agency for the first time:

“Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that whoever doctored several minutes of videotape from a State Department news briefing about the Iran nuclear negotiations was “stupid and clumsy and inappropriate.”

So Secretary Kerry seems to think that eight minutes of snipped footage is “stupid and clumsy.” Rather an inconvenient minor controversy, but not really a big deal, is it?

Asked in the AP article if he would fire the person responsible, Secretary Kerry reportedly said, “I would like to find out exactly what happened and why.” He said he didn’t want someone like that working for him.

Wait — but no one knows who did it, so how is he going to “find out exactly what happened and why” when the internal “investigation” is already over?

This brings us to the DPB on Friday, June 3 which is really hard to watch:

Public Trust Issue

QUESTION: It’s not a – I don’t think – the point is not that the – whether a specific rule or regulation was broken, but it’s kind of a – it’s a public trust issue that was broken, credibility that was broken issue here. It didn’t have to be about this. It could have been about anything. It could have been about aid to Borneo. It’s not the – I know that a lot of people are saying that it’s more important, perhaps, because it was about the Iran negotiations, but in fact any deletion or editing of any part of a briefing on any subject should be wrong and not acceptable. Isn’t that correct?

MR TONER: So a couple of points on that – a couple of points on that. First of all – and we’ve said this from day one, when this allegations or this incident first came to light – one product, a video, was edited. We have acknowledged that and we have made steps to correct the policy going forward so that that never happens again. But there was always a transcript available of that briefing and there was always a video available of the full briefing on DVIDS. So I understand – and I understand and I appreciate the tough questions that you all are asking us in this room, and we are doing our best to answer, but there’s a lot of overblown rhetoric beyond this room about what happened and what transpired. We believe we have conducted an inquiry into what happened. We don’t have the answers, ultimately, why this was done or why this was requested. And so like many of you, we’re asking ourselves the same questions, but we don’t have any further leads to investigate. So we’re at a – as I said yesterday – a bit of a dead end. But we’re going to continue to, as we get information, more information, we’ll pursue that. But what’s important here is that we take steps so it doesn’t happen in the future.

Mindful of the Privacy of Individuals Involved: WTH?

QUESTION: Yeah. Did the Office of the Legal Adviser seek to find out if there were telephone records?

MR TONER: They did not.

QUESTION: Okay. Why not?

MR TONER: Well, again, because, Arshad, it returns to the point I was trying to make with Matt, which is, as regrettable as this incident was – and we’ve acknowledged that – they – there wasn’t a legal premise on which to base a further investigation into the incident. We did interview the person, who, by the way, came forward and offered their recollection of what happened. But beyond that we didn’t feel like we – or they – the legal office didn’t feel like they needed to pursue this further – did not have the grounds to pursue this further.

QUESTION: So – well, but either you want to find out or you don’t. And if you want to find out, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t ask a question that even somebody like me, who’s not a lawyer and doesn’t – would think of, which is, gee, maybe there’s a record here since this involves a phone call. And I don’t understand why they wouldn’t – I understand that you don’t have a broken rule or a broken law. What I don’t understand – I mean, this all goes to credibility, and if the idea is to do a credible review, even if it’s not an investigation, why wouldn’t you turn over every stone?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think we also have to be mindful of the privacy of individuals involved and we also have to be mindful of the authority by which we can carry out any kind of, again, examination of what happened. And there was no legal basis on which to continue to look into this incident.

Now, like I said, if we get more information, new information, and we would certainly pursue that.

Wabbit Hole: How many other people have been ruled out?

QUESTION: But basically, all the person could remember was that they were called and asked to do this, and that they believed it came from elsewhere in PA. I’m told that the person also, however, said that they had no – that they didn’t think it was former spokesperson Jen Psaki. Is that correct?

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Why weren’t we told that on Wednesday? I mean, you said all they can remember is X, but now it turns out it – they remembered more than just X. And I don’t understand why you would say they only remember X and then it turns out they remember more than that, and then we – we learn about it later.

MR TONER: It’s a legitimate point, Arshad, and one we have now obviously corrected by putting that out there. Look, I think we were concerned by some of the coverage that Jen Psaki was being sullied by allegations that she somehow – this came from her. And so we recognized that we needed to very clearly refute that point, and so we did.

QUESTION: Did the person recollect anything else about the communication that they received that we have not been told? Did they say, for example – and I – that they recollected that anybody else – that it wasn’t anybody else specifically? Did they remember that it wasn’t the deputy spokesperson at the time or that it wasn’t the assistant secretary at the time?

MR TONER: To my knowledge, no, that there was no other – that —

QUESTION: Pertinent information?

MR TONER: — pertinent information conveyed, but we have since seen that – and you have also seen this – that the deputy spokesperson at the time, Marie Harf, and others – the assistant secretary at the time – have all come out and said that they had no parts in this.

QUESTION: Yeah. No, I’m asking because I want to know if there was anything —

MR TONER: Yeah, I understand —

QUESTION: — as they remember it.

MR TONER: I understand why you’re asking.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: I will triple-check that, but that is my understanding, is that – that’s —

QUESTION: Well, is there anyone else you can rule out?

MR TONER: You mean – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, the only person that you guys feel comfortable – seem to be comfortable ruling out as the source of this is Jen. Is that correct, or are you able to extend that to other people? And if so, how many other people have been ruled out?

MR TONER: Well, again, part of – this is the reason why we don’t want to go down this rabbit hole.

QUESTION: Well, but you went down this slippery slope —

MR TONER: I understand that. I understand that.

QUESTION: — by saying this is who didn’t do it.

MR TONER: I understand that, but that was part of the reason why we didn’t get into this information in the first place. I mean, to the extent that what this individual shared in terms of who she spoke with and who she was able to rule out or to confirm that was not on the other end of the line or was not part of this, it’s only been Jen. But other people have, as you know, stepped forward and said —

As a general matter, there is any State Department rule against lying to someone conducting an internal review. Is there?

MR TONER: Lying against anyone conducting an internal review?

QUESTION: Lying to anyone – if somebody is conducting an internal review, is there a rule against lying to them?

MR TONER: I would presume so, yes. I don’t have – I apologize.

QUESTION: Can – no, it’s okay.

MR TONER: I will check on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. I mean, it’s in the same category of if you don’t have a rule —

MR TONER: No, I understood.

QUESTION: — then – yeah, okay. So I would like to know if there is. If there isn’t, maybe you would want to institute such a rule, but – yeah.

MR TONER: No, I – and just to take that one step further, I mean, this is an organization in which the majority of people have security clearances, and all of those require significant background checks, but also require people to be interviewed on occasional basises and tell – be truthful about – in those interviews, so I would presume it to be the case.

 

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That @StateDept Video “Glitch”? Not a Technical Glitch But “Deliberate Request to Excise Video”

Posted: 12:47 am ET

So you’ve heard about that purported “glitch” from a Jen Psaki daily press briefing episode where some eight minutes of happy went missing? On June 1, John Kirby, Ms. Psaki’s successor as official spox at the State Department, had the embarrassing chore of having to admit publicly that “there was a deliberate request – that this wasn’t a technical glitch; this was a deliberate request to excise video.”   Apparently, one of the editors at the Bureau of Public Affairs “does not remember anything other than that the caller was passing on a request from somewhere else in the bureau.” Mr. Kirby also says that “there were no rules governing this sort of action in the past. So again, I find no reason to press forward with a more formal or deeper investigation.”

We disagree. This is a big deal. People will remember that the State Department did snip/doctor/whatchamacallit it’s own video. It’s like remembering one of Ms. Psaki’s old hits It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s Not Superman On a Nantucket Boat Or How to Make a Non-News Into Big News. After that boat incident, it was a hard slog listening to her briefings.

So we think it’s important for Mr. Kirby to find out exactly what happened here– who did what when — because it goes to the credibility of his shop and the records of the State Department. Was this request made just this one time? Or how often has this request to tinker with public records been made in the past?  And who in the Public Affairs bureau can make such requests? A clerk? A secretary? A senior advisor? A personal assistant to somebody? Excuse me, the mailman?

Look — the only reason no one would remember who made this request is if this were a common practice; if there were so many requests that the video editor or editors have difficulty sorting out where the requests came from.  But if this case is an isolated one, if this has never been done before, and was never done again since then — well, whoever made thee snip would have a certain recollection of who made the request and why. You remember what’s out of the ordinary.

And by the way, even if there are “no rules governing this type of action,” there is a certain expectation that public records –including public briefings which routinely include policy pronouncements — are faithful records/transcriptions of events.  Unless the State Department can fully account for what happened, the next time there really is a “glitch”, no one will be buying it. More than anything else, that’s the reason why it needs to find out the real cause of the “glitch” here.

Via state.gov/DPB:

QUESTION: There were a couple questions yesterday that I wanted to close off. First, has there been any conclusion on missing tape from – I think it was a December 2013 briefing. When it was posted online, it had a few minutes that were cut out of it. Has there been any resolution on how that happened?

MR KIRBY: Yes, and thank you for that question, Brad. As many of you know – and I want to be specific on this, so I’m going to refer to my notes a little bit – as many of you know, and as some of you have brought to our attention, a portion of the State Department’s December 2nd, 2013 press briefing was missing from the video that we posted on our YouTube account and on our website. That missing portion covered a series of questions about U.S. negotiations with Iran. When alerted to this, I immediately directed the video to be restored in its entirety with the full and complete copy that exists and had existed since the day of the briefing on the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System website, otherwise known as DVIDS.

I also verified that the full transcript of the briefing, which we also post on our website, was intact and had been so since the date of the briefing. I asked the Office of the Legal Adviser to look at this, including a look at any rules that we had in place. In so doing, they learned that a specific request was made to excise that portion of the briefing. We do not know who made the request to edit the video or why it was made.

To my surprise, the Bureau of Public Affairs did not have in place any rules governing this type of action. Therefore, we are taking immediate steps to craft appropriate protocols on this issue as we believe that deliberately removing a portion of the video was not and is not in keeping with the State Department’s commitment to transparency and public accountability.

QUESTION: Do you —

MR KIRBY: I’m not – let me just finish.

QUESTION: Sorry, I didn’t know.

MR KIRBY: I got a little bit more. No, sorry.

QUESTION: It was a dramatic pause. Excuse me.

MR KIRBY: No, I was just turning the page. (Laughter.) Specifically, we are going to make clear that all video and transcripts from daily press briefings will be immediately and permanently archived in their entirety, and that in the unlikely event that narrow, compelling circumstances require edits to be made, such as the inadvertent release of privacy-protected information, they will only be made with the express permission of the assistant secretary of state for public affairs and with an appropriate level of annotation and disclosure. I have communicated this new policy to my staff and it takes effect immediately.

QUESTION: Do you know when the edit – or the cut, I should say – occurred? Was it some point afterwards? Was it the same day?

MR KIRBY: To the best of our knowledge the edit was done the same day.

QUESTION: And how do you know that it was deliberately removed, as you said?

MR KIRBY: As I understand it, the request was made – again, back in 2013 – over the phone.

QUESTION: Ah.

MR KIRBY: The recipient of the call, who is one of the editors, does not remember anything other than that the caller was passing on a request from somewhere else in the bureau.

QUESTION: And are you doing any – I mean, there would – as you said, there was no rules about this, but are you nevertheless investigating further to figure out who did this and why?

MR KIRBY: The short answer, Brad, is no. As I said, there were no rules in place at the time to govern this sort of action. So while I believe it was an inappropriate step to take, I see little foundation for pressing forward with a formal investigation. My focus as the assistant secretary going forward is going to be making sure that we have in place clear policies and procedures that prevent this sort of thing from happening again.

QUESTION: Is there any way – can I follow up on this? Is there any way for you to track all the phone calls that were made to the individual who received that request on that date? And if so, did you try to – did the Office of the Legal Adviser try to do that so as to establish who may have made the request?

MR KIRBY: I know of no such technology here that exists that would allow you to do that. And no, that effort was not pursued. Again, it’s important to remember there were no rules governing this sort of action in the past. So again, I find no reason to press forward with a more formal or deeper investigation. What matters to me – and I take it seriously – is our commitment to transparency and disclosure, and so we’re going to make sure – again, I communicated this this morning to the staff – we’re going to make sure that this kind of thing can’t happen again.

QUESTION: No, I get that. I guess clearly somebody, however, is not as committed to transparency and disclosure as you are, and because it affected a very sensitive matter – not merely the Iran nuclear negotiations but, more importantly, whether a previous person at that podium spoke truthfully – I wonder why you are not making a greater effort to find out who sought to bowdlerize the record.

MR KIRBY: Well —

QUESTION: Even if there weren’t rules, it’s – it stands to common sense and your own inclinations that you be transparent. So I don’t understand why you wouldn’t try to find out who tried to subvert what has historically been the transparency of the department in these matters.

MR KIRBY: But we did. We tried. And, I mean, that’s why I asked the Office of the Legal Adviser to look at this. I wanted somebody outside the bureau to take an independent look at it, and they did, and they – they tried to pursue it. But, I mean, it was three years ago, and the individual who took the call just simply doesn’t have a better memory of it. And there were no rules, no regulations in place that prohibited this. So I feel like we did due diligence, we did take a look at this, we did try to find out what happened.

And, frankly, we did learn quite a bit, right? We learned that there was a deliberate request – that this wasn’t a technical glitch; this was a deliberate request to excise video. And as I said, I – and I said it this morning to the staff: I don’t find that to be an appropriate step to take. So again, my focus is going to be on the future and making sure that we have the right rules in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

QUESTION: John —

QUESTION: One other one from me to just —

QUESTION: — has there been any conclusion with regard to —

QUESTION: One other one from me, please. Do you believe, going back to the issue of transparency and your commitment to it – as you’re aware, the excised portion was with regard to a previous State Department briefing in which the spokesperson was asked whether there were secret negotiations underway between the United States and Iran, and replied no. Were they telling the truth? Were they being transparent and accurate when they made that statement?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to re-litigate past briefings. The excised portion, though, was not – you’re talking about the – you’re talking about an exchange with who was then the spokesman at the time, Ms. Nuland, who was asked that specific question —

QUESTION: Correct.

MR KIRBY: — and whose answer was no.

QUESTION: And the excised portion —

MR KIRBY: The excised portion was —

QUESTION: — dealt with —

MR KIRBY: — was a year or so – almost a year later.

QUESTION: Right, but it was about the previous – it was about the prior briefing.

MR KIRBY: It was about that previous exchange.

QUESTION: Correct.

MR KIRBY: Yeah. I’m sorry, I lost the question again.

QUESTION: Well, the question is: Was the prior spokesperson – not the one whose —

MR KIRBY: Portion was excised.

QUESTION: — words were excised, but the other one – telling the truth about when they said no, there were no – I think the exact quote was, “No.” They were asked are there secret negotiations between the United States and Iran on the nuclear issue and the answer was no.

MR KIRBY: I have – again – I’ve only been at the State Department a year, so I can’t speak to events as they developed well before I got here. But I have been preceded in this job by two extraordinary spokespeople who are people of character and integrity and extremely professional in the conduct of their duties, and I have no doubt that on both of the previous occasions that we’re talking about that they were doing their jobs credibly, honestly, and with integrity.

QUESTION: Can I just ask if there were any other – this example was only discovered by, I think, the reporter who asked the question —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — back in 2013. So have you asked and found out if there were other examples? Was this a regular thing, going back and changing videos?

MR KIRBY: We – I’m not aware of any other instance where this happened before.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: But I can’t tell you with great certainty, Brad, that it never happened before. I’m not aware of any.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR KIRBY: And I don’t have – we don’t have the time or the resources to go back and look at every single briefing from the past. But I’m not aware of any.

QUESTION: Can we just – last thing on this – clarify with regard to – has there been any conclusion with regard to what the motivation was for excising?

MR KIRBY: No. As I said at the top, we don’t know who made the request and we don’t know why.

QUESTION: But I know we don’t know who, but I mean, we know what was taken out.

MR KIRBY: I don’t know.

QUESTION: Do we know why it would’ve been taken out?

MR KIRBY: I do not know.

QUESTION: And do you —

QUESTION: And just to clarify, it’s back? It’s back?

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Just to clarify, the video is back on the website?

MR KIRBY: It is. It is.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject.

MR KIRBY: I think Arshad had one more.

QUESTION: Do you know why the request was exceeded – was acceded to? I mean, why wasn’t there pushback like, “No, the State Department has for many, many years now put out honest, faithful transcriptions and video of what transpires in the briefing.” Do you – did you ask the person who took the call, “Hey, why didn’t say, ‘No, we don’t do that?’”

MR KIRBY: I – because there were no rules in place, I’m going to – I’m – there were no rules in place prohibiting it, so I’m really not able to get into any more detail in terms of the decision process that went on when the request was made. All I can go back and tell you is that looking at it from my vantage point, this was not an appropriate step to take and we’re going to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

QUESTION: But John, how can you know about the decision – I mean, I understand that you don’t want to talk about it, but how can you know about the decision-making process on how it was decided and not know who asked for the request to be made?

MR KIRBY: Because the individual who was in receipt of the request does not remember. I mean, it was three years ago. Does not remember —

QUESTION: There’s no record of an email exchange?

MR KIRBY: As far as I know and as far as I understand it, after talking to the Office of the Legal Advisor who looked into this for me, this was – this request was made over the phone.

QUESTION: But this – there’s no proof? I mean, it’s a little strange. Somebody – so the person you spoke to admitted cutting it from the tape and said somebody they can’t remember told them to do that. They didn’t know their position, how senior they were, have any indication of their authority to ask them that —

MR KIRBY: Well, as I said —

QUESTION: — and then they just said, “Well, I did it, but somebody I can’t remember told me to do it.”

MR KIRBY: As I said —

QUESTION: That seems a little fishy, right?

MR KIRBY: The recipient doesn’t remember anything other than that the caller was passing on a request from somewhere else in the bureau. And that’s – that’s —

QUESTION: In what bureau?

MR KIRBY: That is the most information that we were able to glean.

QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait. You said – I’m sorry, I don’t remember if you said this before, but you said a request was made from someone in the bureau. So it was made from someone in PA?

MR KIRBY: Was as – the recipient of the call doesn’t remember anything other than that the caller – the individual who called this technician – was passing on a request from someone else in the Public Affairs Bureau.

QUESTION: From what you’re aware of it was a one-of-a-kind request, and would the editor forget a one-of-a-kind request? I mean, as I understand, you’re saying you’re not aware of any other occasions —

MR KIRBY: Look, all I can do is tell you what the individual, when asked, could remember. I mean, I can’t do more than that. And again, this happened three years ago.

QUESTION: Well, did the legal – did the legal advisor ask other then-top officials in PA whether they made that request?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the specific details about —

QUESTION: Well, but it does go to what’s– how – how thorough the investigation on this was.

MR KIRBY: This wasn’t an investigation. Remember, Elise, there were no rules governing this.

QUESTION: Just – c’mon, John. Just because there were no rules governing taking out a public briefing and editing it doesn’t mean that it was the right thing to do.

MR KIRBY: There were no rules —

QUESTION: So I’m sorry that there were no rules, but I don’t really think that just because there’s no rule on certain things doesn’t – and you’ve said from this podium there was no rule on Secretary Clinton not using emails, but it was the wrong thing to do. So I don’t think that —

MR KIRBY: And as I’ve said, I don’t find this to be the appropriate step to have taken either. But I asked the Office of the Legal Advisor to look into this; they did. They pursued it for me, and we got about as far as we can go. The individual who took the call doesn’t remember anything more than that it was being passed on from somebody else in the Public Affairs Bureau. I don’t – I cannot be any more specific than that right now.

And what my focus is – as I said, I acknowledge that that step – and I don’t know what the motivation was, but it wasn’t an appropriate step to take. It’s not, as I said, in keeping with our obligations to be transparent and to be publicly accountable for the information that comes from this podium as well as all the other means of information that we distribute here at the State Department.

So what I’m going to do is put in place – I mean, I already have starting this morning, but I’m going to further look at the potential for crafting specific language that we can put in the Foreign Affairs Manual so that we can institutionalize an approach to this that prevents it from happening again. My focus has got to be on making sure that going forward we can prevent this from happening again.

 

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State/OIG Officially Releases Report aka @StateDept Email Crap When FAM is Optional

Posted: 12:58 pm ET

State/OIG’s report on the Evaluation of Email Records Management and Cybersecurity Requirements (ESP-16-03) leaked yesterday has now been officially released and posted at the oig.state.gov website (PDF).  The OIG makes eight recommendations and the State Department concurred with all of them. The report also makes clear that the State Department rules books were decorative only for some folks.

Upfront, the report makes clear where the requests for this evaluation came from, and that it covers the tenures of five secretaries of state – from Albright to Kerry:

As part of ongoing efforts to respond to requests from the current Secretary of State and several Members of Congress, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) reviewed records management requirements and policies regarding the use of non-Departmental communications systems. The scope of this evaluation covers the Office of the Secretary, specifically the tenures of Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry.

State/OIG released its report to lawmakers on Wednesday.  The leaked copy of the report still includes the following notation, which, of course, did not dissuade lawmaker/s from leaking it to various media outlets:

This report is intended solely for the official use of the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors, or any agency or organization receiving a copy directly from the Office of Inspector General. No secondary distribution may be made, in whole or in part, outside the Department of State or the Broadcasting Board of Governors, by them or by other agencies or organizations, without prior authorization by the Inspector General. Public availability of the document will be determined by the Inspector General under the U.S. Code, 5 U.S.C. 552. Improper disclosure of this report may result in criminal, civil, or administrative penalties.

Here are a few interesting details:

HRC declined OIG’s request for an interview

OIG also interviewed dozens of former and current Department employees, including the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources (D-MR); the Under Secretary for Management (M); the Assistant Secretary and other staff in the Bureau of Administration (A); and various staff in the Office of the Secretary and its Executive Secretariat (S/ES), the Office of the Legal Adviser (L), the Bureau of Information Resource Management (IRM), and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS). In conjunction with the interviews, OIG reviewed paper and electronic records and documents associated with these offices. OIG also consulted with NARA officials. Finally, OIG interviewed Secretary Kerry and former Secretaries Albright, Powell, and Rice. Through her counsel, Secretary Clinton declined OIG’s request for an interview.

HRC’s top staffers declined OIG requests for interviews

In addition to Secretary Clinton, eight former Department employees declined OIG requests for interviews: (1) the Chief of Staff to Secretary Powell (2002-05); (2) the Counselor and Chief of Staff to Secretary Clinton (2009-13); (3) the Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy to Secretary Clinton (2009-11) and the Director of Policy Planning (2011-13); (4) the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations to Secretary Clinton (2009-13); (5) the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Strategic Communication (2009-13); (6) the Director of the S/ES Office of Information Resources Management (2008-13); (7) a Special Advisor to the Deputy Chief Information Officer (2009-13) who provided technical support for Secretary Clinton’s personal email system; and (8) a Senior Advisor to the Department, who supervised responses to Congressional inquiries (2014-15). Two additional individuals did not respond to OIG interview requests: the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources (2011-13) and an individual based in New York who provided technical support for Secretary Clinton’s personal email system but who was never employed by the Department.

State/IPS gets an “F” for records retention reviews during FIVE Secretaries’ terms.

The Office of Information Programs and Services (IPS) is the component of the Bureau specifically tasked with issuing records guidance and overseeing records management efforts of the Department. Upon request, IPS reviews the records management practices of Department offices. The Acting Co-Director of IPS currently serves as the Agency Records Officer with program management responsibility for all records Department-wide throughout their life cycle (creation, acquisition, maintenance, use, and disposition). IPS has provided briefings, in conjunction with S/ES, to Office of the Secretary staff and has issued Department-wide notices and cables about records retention requirements, some of which included requirements to save email records, including records contained in personal emails. According to the FAM, the Agency Records Officer is “responsible for seeing that the Department and all of its component elements in the United States and abroad are in compliance with Federal records statutes and  regulations,” yet IPS has not reviewed Office of the Secretary records retention practices during the current or past four Secretaries’ terms.

NARA gets an “F” for failing to do records retention reviews for 25 years!

Although NARA is responsible for conducting inspections or surveys of agencies’ records and records management programs and practices, it last reviewed the Office of the Secretary’s records retention practices in 1991–a quarter century ago. Beginning in 2009, NARA has relied on annual records management self-assessments and periodic reports from the Department to gauge the need to conduct formal inspections. The Department’s last two self-assessments did not highlight any deficiencies.

FOIA Fun! No email accounts from Secretary Clinton’s staff were in retired material.

In April 2015, S/ES retired nine lots of electronic records containing approximately 16 gigabytes of data, consisting of emails, memoranda, travel records, and administrative documents from the tenures of former Secretaries Powell, Rice, and Clinton. However, the only email accounts included in this material were those of six of former Secretary Powell’s staff and two of former Secretary Rice’s staff. No email accounts from Secretary Clinton’s staff were in the retired material.

The audacity of rank: different rules books for different people

OIG identified many examples of staff using personal email accounts to conduct official business; however, OIG could only identify three cases where officials used non-Departmental systems on an exclusive basis for day-to-day operations. These include former Secretaries Powell and Clinton, as well as Jonathan Scott Gration, a former Ambassador to Kenya. Although the former Ambassador was not a member of the Office of the Secretary, the Department’s response to his actions demonstrates how such usage is normally handled when Department cybersecurity officials become aware of it.
[…]
[T]he Ambassador continued to use unauthorized systems to conduct official business. The Department subsequently initiated disciplinary proceedings against him for his failure to follow these directions and for several other infractions, but he resigned before any disciplinary measures were imposed.  OIG could find no other instances where the Department initiated disciplinary procedures against a senior official for using non-Departmental systems for day-to-day operations.

Dammit! No guidance or approval obtained

Throughout Secretary Clinton’s tenure, the FAM stated that normal day-to-day operations should be conducted on an authorized AIS, yet OIG found no evidence that the Secretary requested or obtained guidance or approval to conduct official business via a personal email account on her private server. According to the current CIO and Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security, Secretary Clinton had an obligation to discuss using her personal email account to conduct official business with their offices, who in turn would have attempted to provide her with approved and secured means that met her business needs. However, according to these officials, DS and IRM did not—and would not—approve her exclusive reliance on a personal email account to conduct Department business, because of the restrictions in the FAM and the security risks in doing so. […] OIG found no evidence that Secretary Clinton ever contacted IRM to request such a solution, despite the fact that emails exchanged on her personal account regularly contained information marked as SBU.

Top State Department officials “unaware” of scope of HRC’s email use

In addition to interviewing current and former officials in DS and IRM, OIG interviewed other senior Department officials with relevant knowledge who served under Secretary Clinton, including the Under Secretary for Management, who supervises both DS and IRM; current and former Executive Secretaries; and attorneys within the Office of the Legal Adviser. These officials all stated that they were not asked to approve or otherwise review the use of Secretary Clinton’s server and that they had no knowledge of approval or review by other Department staff. These officials also stated that they were unaware of the scope or extent of Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal email account, though many of them sent emails to the Secretary on this account.

Dammit! No reporting compliance for cybersecurity incidents

In another incident occurring on May 13, 2011, two of Secretary Clinton’s immediate staff discussed via email the Secretary’s concern that someone was “hacking into her email” after she received an email with a suspicious link. Several hours later, Secretary Clinton received an email from the personal account of then-Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs that also had a link to a suspect website. The next morning, Secretary Clinton replied to the email with the following message to the Under Secretary: “Is this really from you? I was worried about opening it!” Department policy requires employees to report cybersecurity incidents to IRM security officials when any improper cyber-security practice comes to their attention. 12 FAM 592.4 (January 10, 2007). Notification is required when a user suspects compromise of, among other things, a personally owned device containing personally identifiable information. 12 FAM 682.2-6 (August 4, 2008). However, OIG found no evidence that the Secretary or her staff reported these incidents to computer security personnel or anyone else within the Department.

Two staffers who got it right were told to just pretty please shut up

Two staff in S/ES-IRM reported to OIG that, in late 2010, they each discussed their concerns about Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal email account in separate meetings with the then-Director of S/ES-IRM. In one meeting, one staff member raised concerns that information sent and received on Secretary Clinton’s account could contain Federal records that needed to be preserved in order to satisfy Federal recordkeeping requirements. According to the staff member, the Director stated that the Secretary’s personal system had been reviewed and approved by Department legal staff and that the matter was not to be discussed any further. As previously noted, OIG found no evidence that staff in the Office of the Legal Adviser reviewed or approved Secretary Clinton’s personal system. According to the other S/ES-IRM staff member who raised concerns about the server, the Director stated that the mission of S/ES-IRM is to support the Secretary and instructed the staff never to speak of the Secretary’s personal email system again.

Note that Politico is reporting that “a 2012 directory lists John Bentel as the director of the office that handles information technology for the Office of the Secretary. Bentel no longer works for State and has refused to answer Congressional investigators’ questions on this matter.

GOP reps are falling over each other, trying to release their own statements.  And a democratic congressional rep has already released a statement accusing the IG of  a “hit job.” Man, this is the only “hit job” with extensive footnotes and appendices.

Proper respect goes to OIG Steve Linick and his team who did good work under challenging circumstances.

  • Jennifer L. Costello, Team Leader, Office of Evaluations and Special Projects
  • David Z. Seide, Team Leader, Office of Evaluations and Special Projects
  • Jeffrey McDermott, Office of Evaluations and Special Projects
  • Robert Lovely, Office of Evaluations and Special Projects
  • Michael Bosserdet, Office of Inspections
  • Brett Fegley, Office of Inspections
  • Kristene McMinn, Office of Inspections
  • Timothy Williams, Office of Inspections
  • Aaron Leonard, Office of Audits
  • Phillip Ropella, Office of Audits
  • Kelly Minghella, Office of Investigations
  • Eric Myers, Office of Investigations

Read the OIG report below:

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State/OIG’s Audit of Secretary of State’s “Damn Emails” Leaks Out — Spin Docs, Come Out Now!

Posted: 12:54 am ET

 

State/OIG’s report on the  Office of the Secretary: Evaluation of Email Records Management and Cybersecurity Requirements is scheduled to be officially released on May 26, but some folks got hold of it a day earlier. On May 25, the State Department provided a background briefing (embargoed until the end of the telconf call) with two senior State Department officials “to walk through some of the report’s findings as well as recommendations.” See Briefing on the State Department Inspector General’s Report, Office of the Secretary: Evaluation of Email Records Management and Cybersecurity Requirements. Below are some of the coverage and reactions to the IG report:

Meanwhile, below are some reactions, expected or otherwise:

Also on teevee with Wolf; this guy’s earning his pay:

Oh, and this.

OMG! Representative Engel forgot the CAPS LOCK when he tweeted thisAlso since he’s accusing the Obama-appointed IG of a “hit job” he ought to be using not only ALL CAPS but also red font! But give him a D for effort, please.

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