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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Posted: 3:36 am ET
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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.

 

#

Mark Toner’s Last Briefing Before Vacation: We Can’t Stop Watching!

Posted: 4:40 am ET
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We’re guessing the State Department’s deputy spox was already thinking of vacation when he did his briefing on Thursday.  Still he was not on the beach yet, but on the podium when this happened.

Transcript via DPB, August 4, 2016:

MR TONER: Hi guys. Happy Thursday.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR TONER: And what makes it even more special is it’s a Thursday in August, which means tomorrow – everybody want to join with me?
QUESTION: No briefing —
MR TONER: True to our tradition, there will be – thank you, Matt – no briefing.
QUESTION: There will be one.
MR TONER: What was that, Said?
QUESTION: There will be a briefing. An old one.
MR TONER: An old briefing. (Laughter.) Anyway, welcome to the State Department. I think we have some interns in the back. Welcome. Good to see you in this exercise in transparency in democracy. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Is that what it is? (Laughter.) I thought it was a —
MR TONER: Sorry, I didn’t mean to break out in laughter. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I thought it was an exercise in spin and obfuscation.
MR TONER: All right. Can you tell this is my last briefing before vacation?

Folks, he needs that vacation, so give him a break, hookay?

#

More Email Fallout and Security Clearance: @StateDept Says, “We’ll do it by the FAM.”

Posted: 4:22 am ET
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The State Department has reportedly resumed its internal review related to the Clinton emails.  The spox refused to confirm “what specific materials” the State Department will consider or “what individuals may or may not be evaluated for possible employment or security clearance-related actions.” Note that this internal review is conducted by Diplomatic Security; perhaps due to public interest the results of the review may be released to the public, but that is not a given.

Via DPB dated July 15, 2016

We have additional information to provide about our internal review process. I will not be speaking about any specific case, nor will I be engaging in hypotheticals. As is standard, to protect the integrity of our work we cannot discuss the details of an ongoing review. Just as the FBI did not comment on its investigation, while it is ongoing we will not comment on our review.

That means I cannot confirm for you what specific materials we will consider or what individuals may or may not be evaluated for possible employment or security clearance-related actions. Our policy – so yes, it is —

QUESTION: What can you tell us?

MS TRUDEAU: It is moving. Yes, well, let’s go and I’ll give you exactly what we can.

Our policy is to assess each case on its own merits while taking into account all relative – relevant facts and circumstances. Furthermore, the department cannot comment on the status of any particular individual’s security clearance. Our goal is to complete this process thoroughly and expeditiously, but we will not put arbitrary deadlines on our work.

There is a significant amount of information about our process available to the public online. You’ll like this: For instance, I would point you to our Foreign Affairs Manual, specifically 12 FAM 500 and 230 sections. I’ll do my best to outline this process from the podium, but I cannot speak to every provision in the FAM. I also cannot speak to how the process will be applied to account for any specific circumstances.

In summary – and I still have a lot more to go, so stay with me – Diplomatic Security is responsible for evaluating security incidents and then reviewing them as appropriate for potential security clearance-related actions. Diplomatic Security is also responsible for referring certain incidents to our Bureau of Human Resources for potential employment actions. No matter the individual or conduct involved, the department conducts the review process in a professional, impartial, and fair manner that takes into account all relevant circumstances.

Multiple components within Diplomatic Security are involved in the process, supervised and overseen by the assistant secretary for Diplomatic Security. One component of Diplomatic Security conducts an initial assessment of security incidents and, when appropriate, issues security infractions or security violations. Security clearance reviews are conducted by a different DS component. As with Director Comey at the FBI and Attorney General Lynch at DOJ, it’s standard for our chief law enforcement officer, the assistant secretary for Diplomatic Security, to be involved with high-profile or complex matters, which is certainly the case here.

Assistant Secretary Greg Starr is the person in Diplomatic Security who is ultimately responsible for affirming or rejecting recommendations to revoke an individual’s security clearance. A decision to revoke a security clearance may be appealed to the Security Appeals Panel. Similarly, our human resource process can include multiple components, but ultimately Director General Arnold Chacon is responsible for taking disciplinary actions on an employee. That’s our process.

I know there’s questions about potential outcomes of the process. The short answer is that outcomes for any individual depend on their specific circumstances taking into account all of the relevant facts. This is what our review will determine. Current employees can face a range of employment discipline including reprimand, suspension, and termination. People with security clearances, including former employees, could have those clearances suspended and/or revoked.

We also maintain a security file on all personnel involved in security incidents. For individuals who no longer have a security clearance, the incident information is kept in their security file so it can be considered if they apply for a security clearance in the future. When evaluating whether a person remains eligible for access to classified information, the department follows the whole person approach based on the government-wide adjudication guidelines. Our Foreign Affairs Manual states that, quote, “Each case will be judged on its own merits,” end quote, based on specific, quote, “facts and circumstances,” end quote. Under the guidelines we can look at the severity of an incident, whether the person is a repeat offender, whether the individual is amenable to training or reform, and whether the incident was a technical violation or resulted in actual harm to national security.

As we have said, now that the FBI and DOJ have concluded their investigation, the department intends to conduct a review of Secretary Clinton’s emails according to our well established Security Incident Program. We’re preparing to conduct our review.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS TRUDEAU: So there’s a lot. Thank you for your patience.

QUESTION: Well, I’ve got to digest quite a few.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: But be with me on this, because I’m trying to get my head around it.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah.

QUESTION: So the question here is: Has the FBI handed over – and how many emails has the FBI handed over to be reviewed?

MS TRUDEAU: At this stage, we have not received any from the FBI.

QUESTION: Have they indicated to you when that’s going to be?

MS TRUDEAU: I have no timeline on that, but we have not received them.

QUESTION: And then on DS, are they the – do they have the final word? Would – does Greg Starr have the – Assistant Secretary Greg Starr have the final word on this? Or can Secretary Kerry or even the President overturn those decisions or have the final say?

MS TRUDEAU: So I said there is – as I mentioned, there is a significant amount of information about our process online. So for this particularly, look at section 230 and 500 of 12-FAM. The 500 section outlines the Security Incident Program, which is handled by the Program Applications Division of Diplomatic Security. The 230 section outlines the security clearance, which is administered by the Office of Personnel Security and Suitability, also within DS. Both components operate under the oversight and supervision of the assistant secretary for Diplomatic Security.

QUESTION: So when it comes to Diplomatic Security, is that withdrawn – as you’re investigating it, is that withdrawn at the end or is it withdrawn at the beginning? Is it frozen? How does that work?

MS TRUDEAU: So the process you’re talking about – and forgive me for the FAM references, but it’s really detailed and really specific. So if people are looking for the details on this, refer to 12-FAM 233.4. I’m going to refer you there. As a general matter, the suspension of a security clearance is available if Diplomatic Security determines it’s appropriate while they carry out their review. However, if you read the FAM, you’ll see it’s not an automatic process; whether or not to suspend a person’s clearance depends on the circumstances. It’s a judgment of the trained professionals in DS.

QUESTION: And then how unusual is it that Diplomatic Security – or how unusual is it that this process – that you use this process?

MS TRUDEAU: So I’m not – it’s – I’m not going to talk sort of precedent, but I would say that there is offices within Diplomatic Security, and this is their mandate. All of us within the department – and we’ve spoken about this; Secretary Kerry has spoken about this – have the obligation to safeguard and correctly handle information.

QUESTION: So would this also include former employees? It includes former employees, right?

MS TRUDEAU: As I’ve said.

QUESTION: As you said. Does it include employees that are not part of the State Department but might also be involved in this – in the emails?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, I’m not going to speak, as I mentioned, to the specifics of any individual, any case. I just want to outline this broadly, bring you guys up to date on it, and give you the references, because it is such a technical and granular matter.

QUESTION: Yeah. But I mean, as you know, Secretary Kerry – Secretary Clinton has been involved in this, and a lot of people are wondering how this could affect her. So would you be able to make some kind of outcome whether it includes her or whether it includes somebody in a lower position? Is everybody going to be looked at equally?

MS TRUDEAU: Again, I just can’t speak to the specifics on who will be reviewed, what incidents will be reviewed. But I will say the review is taking place.

QUESTION: And you can’t tell us when this review is going to start?

MS TRUDEAU: No. No, they – the idea of projecting a timeline on this – we’ll say they’re committed to a fair, impartial, and absolutely rigorous process.

QUESTION: And when you say – just one more question.

MS TRUDEAU: Sure.

QUESTION: When the FBI says that it’s looking at thousands of withheld emails, that it’s going to give State thousands, you don’t know if it’s going to be thousands or if it’s going to be hundreds? You have no idea?

MS TRUDEAU: I couldn’t speak to the FBI documents.
[…]
QUESTION: Is Pat Kennedy going to be involved in any of this?

MS TRUDEAU: Okay, so thanks for the question.

QUESTION: I know there’s been some questions about that.

MS TRUDEAU: Yeah. So first, as we’ve said many times, Under Secretary Kennedy did not approve nor was he aware of the extent to which Secretary Clinton was using personal emails. No matter the individual or the conduct involved, the department will conduct and does conduct the security clearance process review in a professional, impartial, and fair manner that takes into account all relevant circumstances.

According to our Foreign Affairs Manual, the Under Secretary for Management Pat Kennedy becomes involved in a security clearance revocation in the event of an appeal. He is a member of a three-person panel that’s at the very end of our process. I’m not going to speculate that it’ll even get that far.

QUESTION: And you said Secretary Kerry is not going to be involved?

MS TRUDEAU: So Secretary Kerry will be informed of the details, the results of the review, after its completion. Again, I’m not going to speculate on outcomes or hypotheticals. As we’ve said many times from this podium, he wants this review done by the book, and the book requires Diplomatic Security lead and conduct this review.

QUESTION: And then just one more small one.

MS TRUDEAU: Sure.

QUESTION: Will the – so FAM is pretty clear that supervisors (inaudible) be held responsible for their subordinates’ actions. How are you going to deal with this? Is this —

MS TRUDEAU: That is – that’s something I think I’m not going to speculate on that. I’m not going – I can’t speak to the details of that. I can’t speak to the review. And honestly, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals on the review.

QUESTION: Yeah. And then are you going to deal it as one big infraction, or are you going to look at several —

MS TRUDEAU: Again —

QUESTION: You don’t know?

MS TRUDEAU: I can’t speak to how they’ll do it – specific incident, individuals. It’s just the review is happening.

QUESTION: Will they —

MS TRUDEAU: We’ll do it by the FAM.

#

@StateDept Spox: Lax security culture here? We don’t share that assessment

Posted: 2:47 am ET
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Via the Daily Press Briefing with John Kirby:

QUESTION: So one of the word I think that kind of stood out in this regarding the State Department’s equities was “careless.” I think he even said extremely careless at one point regarding the former secretary and how she handled her emails – top staff around her, including some still at the department, and the agency as a whole. Do you agree that this agency was extremely careless with how it dealt with classified and otherwise sensitive information?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to, again, comment on the specific findings and recommendations that the FBI director noted today.

QUESTION: Why not?

MR KIRBY: But the question about —

QUESTION: That was a public statement.

MR KIRBY: The claim about – I do want to address this – the claim about a lax environment or culture when it comes to handling classified information. And I would just say – and I’m comfortable commenting on that because, as the director himself said, that was not part of their investigation – his – their assessment of a lax environment or culture. We don’t share that assessment of our institution. That said – and I’ve said this many times before – we’re always looking for ways to improve. We’re going to continue to look for ways to improve. But we don’t share the broad assessment made of our institution that there’s a lax culture here when it comes to protecting classified information. We take it very, very seriously.

QUESTION: But I’m sorry, you don’t share the assessment that when the former head of the agency had thousands of emails that you had to upgrade, including hundreds that were – over a hundred that were classified at the time, that that doesn’t amount to a lax approach to classified information? I mean, how many hundreds would you need for it to be lax, in your opinion?

MR KIRBY: What I’m saying, Brad, is that as a cultural assessment of the State Department as an institution that we have a lax culture here, we don’t share that assessment. And as the director said himself, that’s not – wasn’t part of their investigation or the findings and recommendations that they made inside that investigation.

QUESTION: Well, but so it’s not – it’s true that it was not the scope of their investigation, but in looking at her emails and the number of officials that were emailing here about classified information, that’s where they came to the determination that there was a lax culture. So I mean, I guess you would have to look at every single employee and see what their treatment of email to determine that it’s a lax culture, but clearly, the FBI found enough – Secretary Clinton’s intent or whatever notwithstanding, that generally that there were a lot of officials and that they came across in the scope of this investigation which led them to believe that the culture is not taken as seriously as it could be.

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll let the FBI director speak to their findings and recommendations and his investigation, as he should. The question was do I share, do we share, the assessment of the culture at the – of the – at the institution of the State Department to be lax, and we do not share that assessment. We take it very seriously here.

 

let me stop you right there

 

QUESTION: So you think – well, clearly, he found it in the previous administration, in the previous term. So are you saying that maybe that there was a lax culture that doesn’t exist anymore?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not saying that. I’m not saying that at all, Elise. I’m not parsing words here. I’m saying that the State Department has in the past and does today take the treatment of classified information very seriously. And when we —

QUESTION: So it was just some bad apples?

MR KIRBY: And when we have – pardon?

QUESTION: So it was just a few people that did not take enough care?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to speak to any more specifically about the findings and recommendations that the FBI made and announced today. What I can tell is we don’t share the broad assessment that there is a lax culture here at the State Department when it comes to dealing with classified information. In fact, quite the contrary; we take it very seriously.

QUESTION: I have one more. I have one more. Can you – the FBI director said that had some of these people still been in office that they would have been subject or could have been subject to administrative penalties. Is anybody that’s currently employed by the State Department going to have any notes in their files as a result of anything that their emails uncovered in terms of their communications?

And then also, some of the previous employees that worked for Secretary Clinton that were found to have exchanged what is now believed to be classified information, are they going to have kind of posthumous notes put in their file should they ever seek to be employed by the U.S. Government again? And does the State Department do that or does the FBI do that, and is that through OPM? Like what’s the process there?

MR KIRBY: So let me answer it this way, and I think I alluded to this at the top. We’re going to determine the appropriate next steps following a decision by the Department of Justice, and that’s where this really lays right now. We have – as you know and I’ve said, we have an administrative process to evaluate cases where information may have been mishandled, and as I’ve said previously, at the request of the FBI, we didn’t move forward with that process so as not to interfere with their investigation. We also don’t believe that it’s appropriate at this time, given that there are – that the matter is now before the Department of Justice to determine their next step, to make decisions or not to make decisions – we don’t think it’s appropriate for us to move forward on that at this time. So I just don’t have an update for you on the – on any possible timing or scope of that review process.

QUESTION: So what would be the – so once the Department of Justice makes their recommendation, then you would determine what administrative processes you want to move forward with?

MR KIRBY: I think we need to wait to see what the Justice Department decides to do now in the wake of the FBI investigation before we move forward one way or the other, and we want to allow the proper time and space for that before we decide anything further with respect to those issues.

QUESTION: Kirby, a couple of detailed questions on this, and if you don’t have the answers, if you could undertake to take them. As has been explained to me, there are two separate processes that can be undertaken here. One of them is an administrative process and the other is a security clearance-related process.

As has been explained to me, but I’d like to confirm, the administrative process governs solely people who are currently employed by the Department of State. So can you confirm that that’s the case, that administrative processes or sanctions don’t apply to people who are no longer employed by State?

Second, as it’s been explained to me, it is possible for people who are no longer employed at State but who retain a security clearance to be subject to a security clearance process and perhaps sanction. Is that your understanding as well?

And then a couple of other specific things. Are any – is – does Secretary – former Secretary Clinton or any of her senior aides – specifically Cheryl Mills, Jake Sullivan, and Huma Abedin – continue to have security clearances provided by the State Department? And if so, is it theoretically possible that you would then review those security clearances in the light of whatever is ultimately the Justice Department prosecutorial decision and the FBI’s investigative material?

MR KIRBY: There’s an awful lot there. Let me see if I can dissect it. I’m certainly not going to get ahead of what is still an ongoing process now at the Justice Department, or speculate one way or the other about which way this will go. I don’t know – I’m happy to ask the question, your question about administrative processes. I don’t know if there is a technical definition for “administrative” and whether that applies in broad scope to only current employees or former employees. I’ll have to take that.

On the security clearance process or review, all I can tell you generally speaking is that – is that if there is a need – and I’m speaking broadly, not to this – that – the way it typically works, as I understand it, is that the department that issues a security clearance, if there is – if it’s determined that that clearance needs to be reviewed for whatever reason, it’s up to that – it’s up to the department that issued it to review it regardless of whether the employee is still at the – is still employed by the agency. The agency has that responsibility unless, of course, that employee went to a different federal agency and then got it renewed there. Does that make sense?

I’m not going to speculate one way or another about the degree to which this is – this is even a part of it. The FBI director was very careful; I’m going to be very careful. These are now decisions that have to be discussed. The findings and recommendations now have to be absorbed by the Department of Justice, and then they make – they’ll make decisions or not going forward.

And then on your last question, about the individuals, we do not discuss the security clearance of individuals as a matter of policy. We just don’t discuss it.

QUESTION: In – but these are former officials.

MR KIRBY: We don’t – we do not discuss.

QUESTION: And one of them, Jake Sullivan, in the transcript of his deposition in the civil lawsuit in which he was deposed as part of discovery, his lawyer said that his security clearance was restored so that he would have the ability to look at some of the material that was classified that they wanted to talk to him about. And so it’s at least in the public domain in that one instance, according to his lawyer, that he had, as of that date about a week ago, a security clearance.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Why can’t you talk about whether former officials have security clearances?

MR KIRBY: Because that’s our policy.

QUESTION: You don’t want —

MR KIRBY: And it’s been longstanding policy. We do not discuss the security clearance levels or access of individuals, current or former. We just don’t – that’s our policy and I’m not going to violate that.

QUESTION: It’s a State Department policy or a government-wide policy?

MR KIRBY: I know it’s at least a State Department policy, Elise. I’ll find out if it goes beyond that. I’m not going to —

QUESTION: Because certainly there have been instances, whether it’s General Petraeus or Sandy Berger or others, that when there was punitive action taken, they did discuss the security clearance.

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to discuss the individual security clearances from this podium – just not going to do it. And if there’s – I’d refer you to the individuals in question and if they’re represented by others to speak to that, but I won’t do that.

QUESTION: Just one more on the question of lax – laxity. You state that you disagree with the assessment that the State Department is lax, has a culture of being lax in the protection of classified information. Why is it that the highest State Department official was allowed to establish and use a private email server with, as I understand it, no government-provided security for emails that contain information that, as the FBI director said this morning, some of which was classified at the time it was sent and received? I mean, if it’s not lax, how can the top official of the department go off and set up their own system that isn’t subject to the normal procedures here?

MR KIRBY: Look, I’m not going to re-litigate the investigation. As I said, I’m not going to speak to the findings and recommendations – the FBI director spoke to that earlier today – and to what they found in terms of the practices back then and how those practices were followed. What I’ll just tell you – broadly speaking, we don’t share the assessment that as an institution – an entire institution – that the State Department has in the past or does today take lightly the issue of sensitive and classified information. We absolutely don’t.

QUESTION: What’s your basis for that?

QUESTION: The reason I asked it is that you look at, as I understand it, kind of every level of potential check or balance here, right? The assistant secretaries for DS, the under secretary for management – according to the inspector general’s report, these people were not asked and did not voice an opinion on the use of this system. The person on the seventh floor who was charged with these kinds of issues, at least according to the report, told people – told two people not to talk to anybody about it. So even if the quibble is with the world “laxity,” do you feel that your systems were sufficient to safeguard classified information sent by or to the secretary of state?

MR KIRBY: Again, I think the FBI director addressed that as well as part of their investigation. I am simply not going to discuss or comment on their findings and recommendations with respect to this case.

QUESTION: Well, I mean —

MR KIRBY: This issue – wait a second, Elise. Wait, wait – and to your question. And as he said himself, his assessment of the State Department’s culture was not part of this investigation, and that’s why I’m comfortable addressing that, that on – as a whole, in the main, we absolutely do not share the broad assessment that the entire culture here at the State Department is lax when it comes to protecting sensitive and classified information.

And what I’m basing that on, Brad, is the longstanding – and I don’t just mean recently – the longstanding training and indoctrination that one goes through before you get employed here and the periodic reviews of the training and sensitive information handling that you have to go through all the time. I’ve been here a little bit more than a year; I’ve already had to go through it several times myself. That you – we have two networks for email traffic that are deliberately set up to handle various degrees of sensitive information, and that the work of diplomats all around the world is by its very nature is sensitive, but it’s also outward-facing, and has to be. And there is a role here at the State Department to be communicative, to have dialogue, to foster communication. That’s a big part of who we are. And I can – and I can tell you that everybody involved in that understands the risks and the opportunities of it, and takes it very seriously.

QUESTION: Well —

MR KIRBY: So to say that the culture here —

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR KIRBY: — is lax, that’s a pretty broad brush, and again, we wouldn’t use it; we don’t believe it.

QUESTION: The problem is this indoctrination that you speak of obviously didn’t work when it came to the past secretary, or the hundred or so officials who all contacted her during the course of her tenure, or the dozens of officials who would have known that she wasn’t using a state.gov address or would have known that information that was at least on the borderline was going to a nongovernment account. So that failed across the board, right?

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to make a qualitative assessment.

QUESTION: The IG report said as much.

MR KIRBY: The IG spoke as well to this. I’m not going to talk about the findings and recommendations of this investigation.

QUESTION: Well —

QUESTION: And —

MR KIRBY: But this was – there is a difference, Brad, between an assessment of email practices under Secretary Clinton’s tenure and how they were implemented and saying that the culture here at the State Department is lax.

QUESTION: Okay, well, what —

QUESTION: Yeah, but – no, no, no, hold on. But – sorry, you can’t separate the head of the agency and everybody who worked around her at a senior level in this agency and say —

MR KIRBY: Right, and I’m not trying to.

QUESTION: Well, you —

QUESTION: — well, there were somebody out there who was following the rules, so the culture was okay.

MR KIRBY: It’s more than somebody, Brad.

QUESTION: Well —

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know. Show me an IG report that shows all the adherence.

QUESTION: Let me —

QUESTION: And secondly, you’re making this case about how the State Department was an – is an outward-looking agency.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: None of these emails from Secretary Clinton were outward-focused. They were all about internal messaging, they were all about her and her aides consulting on matters —

MR KIRBY: Sure.

QUESTION: — that weren’t meant for public consumption, and there’s even messages about not wanting things out for public consumption. So I fail to see how that’s an argument that shows why somehow this is distinct or excusable.

MR KIRBY: It’s a valid argument when you’re talking about the entire institution, Brad, and not an individual inside it, regardless of whatever level that individual serves, to make a broad assessment – and look, I don’t – I don’t – I’m not going to – I think I’ve said it plenty of times already – to make a broad assessment of the entire institution, that it was lax or that we don’t care or we don’t take it seriously. We don’t share it.

Now, look, as I also said, we’re always looking for ways to improve. And if there’s ways we can learn from this particular investigation to improve, then we’ll do that.

QUESTION: So, John – okay. So I think it’s pretty clear what you’re taking issue with is that you’re – you’re interpreting the FBI director’s comments to mean a culture throughout the whole State Department apparatus. And I think his – what he’s trying to say is based on – and they did not – the scope of their investigation was not the whole State Department; it was Secretary Clinton and the immediate staff and several other dozen officials that were emailing her – that there was a lax culture among a subset of State Department officials. That – I don’t think he’s making an indictment on the whole State Department, but he is saying that there was a culture inside the State Department where the security was lax. I mean, the fact that this took place kind of indicates that it was.

And he does also say that this use of a personal email domain was known by a large number of people and readily apparent. So there were numerous people inside the State Department that knew that she was using this type of system. So how can you not – if you don’t want to acknowledge that there was a lax culture in the whole kind of State Department bureaucracy, can you not acknowledge that among a subset of employees at the time that there was a lax – a culture of lax security among that subset?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll let the investigation speak for itself and the FBI director to speak for it.

QUESTION: But by you kind of parsing out and saying that this – let me finish – that by you parsing out and saying that the whole building doesn’t have a lax security problem suggests that you’re dismissing that a small portion did.

MR KIRBY: I was not suggesting any such thing, Elise. As I said, we cooperated with the FBI on its investigation. I can’t talk about the scope of that cooperation. I’m not going to, again, address the specific findings and recommendations that he made. And the director has spoken for their investigative work, and I would refer you to him and to his staff to speak to it going forward. And I don’t have his exact quote, so I can’t tell you if I’ve misinterpreted or not. I mean, he can speak for himself in terms of what he meant. The way we interpreted it was that it was a broad-brush assessment of the culture here at the State Department when it came to —

QUESTION: Do you not – do you not agree that a group of people, however large it was, that knew about this system and let it kind of – greenlighted it and let it go forward and didn’t ask questions about it suggests that security – and a culture of security was lax somewhere in the —

MR KIRBY: Look, our inspector general himself found that there were lapses and that not all appropriate practices were conducted. I mean, nobody’s taking issue with that. What I’m taking issue with – and the only thing I’m taking issue with today, because I’m not going to comment, as I said, on the specifics – the only thing I’m taking issue with is an assessment, a broad assessment, of the culture of the institution, which we do not share.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on this?

QUESTION: Something else from today: The director of the FBI said that the FBI had found over a hundred emails that contained classified information at the time that they were sent or received, and some were even actually marked classified. So that contradicts what the State Department has been saying throughout this investigation, so how do you square the two?

MR KIRBY: As I said, I’m not going to comment on the specific findings and recommendations of the investigation.

QUESTION: John —

QUESTION: One follow-up —

QUESTION: Would you, though, at least acknowledge that —

MR KIRBY: Hang on a second. Hang on.

QUESTION: Something else that he said in his comment – he said that the 110 emails had been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information. So do you now acknowledge that it is the owning agency’s responsibility, not the recipient’s or even necessarily the State Department, in determining what information is classified and what’s not?

MR KIRBY: Again, what I would tell you is we cooperated fully with the FBI on this and I’m not going to comment specifically on the findings of the investigation. As much as I know you’d like me to, I’m not going to do that. There is now – there is a process here in place where the Department of Justice is going to take a look at this. We’re going to let that process play out, as we should, and we’ll await any pending decisions by the Department of Justice before the State Department moves forward one way or another.

QUESTION: John, how do you stand up —

QUESTION: What about the possibility that people hostile to the U.S. had possibly gained access to —

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: What about the possibility that states or entities hostile to the U.S. had possibly gained access to some of the content of those emails? Do you share those concerns that the FBI director said today?

MR KIRBY: Well, again, we, of course, take the security of our systems very, very seriously, and we’re always concerned about intrusions into our system. I think the director also said that they didn’t find any direct evidence that the system was compromised, but I don’t have additional details to offer today.

QUESTION: But he also said that you couldn’t be sure and that – and it’s possible that they did so and you don’t even know about it.

MR KIRBY: Again, we’re always concerned about this. And look, federal government systems get attacked every day. I just don’t have any additional details on this.

QUESTION: Oh, you’re not – you’re not suggesting that because government systems are hacked that there was enough security in place that would replace —

MR KIRBY: I’m not —

QUESTION: — that would be equal to the government security? The FBI director specifically said that it was not as secure as a government system or even a Gmail account.

MR KIRBY: Again, I’m not going to discuss or debate the findings or the recommendations.

QUESTION: But you were the one that raised it. You said government computers get – or government systems get hacked all the time.

MR KIRBY: It doesn’t mean we don’t take it seriously, Elise.

QUESTION: Hey, John, just – can I —

MR KIRBY: Carol.

QUESTION: John, do you – I believe the FBI director made a point of saying that you were lax in comparison to elsewhere within government. Do you believe that you stand up equally to other agencies in the government, including national security agencies like the FBI and the CIA, the White House, and the Pentagon? Do you think you are equal to them?

MR KIRBY: I think – look, first of all, that everybody has a – everybody in the federal government has standard rules that crosscut agencies in terms of how sensitive and classified information is treated and dealt with. We all have the same basic rules. But each federal agency also has a fundamental different purpose and each of the major federal agencies has to, by dint of their purpose, look at the world in different ways.

As I said to Brad, we are required – not just that we like it – we’re required to be outward-facing, we’re required to communicate, we’re required to foster dialogue, we’re required to have conversations with foreign leaders and in foreign countries all around the world every single day. Now, that doesn’t obviate, doesn’t excuse, it doesn’t mean that we’re not also responsible in the conduct of that business to protect sensitive information. We have to. But the State Department, unique to many – unique, I think, among federal agencies, has an actual obligation to communicate.

So that’s why I’m confident in saying that – look, do we always get it right? No. Have we admitted that there were things we could have done better in the past? Absolutely. The IG found that. The Secretary himself has taken steps to try to improve records management here. But we have an obligation to communicate, and you have to find the right balance between the need to do that – to foster dialogue, to try to gain better understanding of what somebody else thinks and articulate your policy, at the same time protecting sensitive information. So we have a different role. I don’t think it’s useful to compare each and every federal agency with the way they do this because each of them have different responsibilities in terms of the information environment. But again, I’m not at all excusing anything in terms of our responsibilities – our baseline responsibilities, which every federal agency has – to protect classified and sensitive information.

QUESTION: Hey, Kirby.

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: According to a letter dated February 18th, 2016, from Julia Frifield, the assistant secretary for legislative affairs, to Chairman Grassley, the letter explicitly discloses that Cheryl Mills did maintain a top-secret – well, did maintain a security clearance because, pursuant to Section 4.4 of Executive Order 13526, she was designated by former Secretary Clinton to assist her in research consistent with that section of the executive order. So you do disclose – you do talk about security clearances, at least in this one instance, with regard to Ms. Mills.

MR KIRBY: That’s a – that – you’re talking about a piece of correspondence between the head of legislative affairs here and a senator. That’s different than public disclosure, certainly different than disclosure and talking about it here from the podium. As I said, our policy is not to discuss it, and I’m not going to change the policy here today.

QUESTION: Even though you’ve told lawmakers about it?

MR KIRBY: That is not the same as having a public discussion of security clearance. That’s a vastly different thing.

QUESTION: Is it – that wasn’t a classified letter.

MR KIRBY: Just because something’s not classified doesn’t mean that it’s —

QUESTION: Well, we know that.

MR KIRBY: — that it’s okay to discuss here at the podium, Brad.

QUESTION: I know.

MR KIRBY: I mean, look, the – I’m not going to violate —

QUESTION: We know that classified isn’t the marker for you to —

MR KIRBY: I’m not going to violate the policy today.

 

More on the Syria Dissent Channel Memo, and Chasing Down Concerning Rumors

Posted: 4:21 pm ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

According to Tuesday’s Daily Press Briefing, Secretary Kerry met yesterday with a small number, approximately 10 of the 51 signers of the Syria Dissent Channel memo for about a half an hour. The official spox said that “as you can imagine, the group is sizeable, so it wasn’t possible to meet with everybody. But he did have a collegial discussion with them this morning.” 

MR KIRBY: I’m – because the dissent channel memo and the contents of it are meant to be privately conveyed, so too I’m afraid are going to have to be the discussions around it. So I’m not going to be able to characterize the content of the Secretary’s conversation with them, because we want to respect the confidentiality of the process. It was, however – it was – I believe the Secretary came away feeling that it was a good discussion, it was worth having. He appreciated their views and just as critically their firm belief in their – in the opportunity that they have to express those views. And so they had a good 30-minute or more conversation.
[…]
MR KIRBY: Look, let me do this. So I can tell you a couple of things. He thanked them for expressing their views and for using the dissent channel. And he reaffirmed his strong belief in the value of the dissent channel, which we’ve talked about quite a bit here. So he thanked them for expressing their views, for using the dissent channel to do that. He made clear that he takes the dissent channel seriously and he took their views seriously, and also made clear that he read their message with sincerity. And, again, without talking about the specific detail of it, the Secretary also walked them through his own thought process with respect to this particular issue and the efforts that he’s been expending on this particular issue.
[…]
MR KIRBY:
 I didn’t say and I won’t speculate as to discussions going forward with respect to what we’re doing in Syria or decisions that may or may not get made, either as a result of this message or as a result of ongoing routine discussions that have been had and continue to be had on alternatives. So I’m not going to speculate about the role that this message might play one way or the other.

But if you’re asking me, was this just a show for the Secretary, the answer is absolutely not. I mean, it – certainly he wanted to thank them and pay respect to the process because this is an important issue. But he also didn’t waste time in terms of hearing them out and asking questions and listening to their views and asking them to expound on them further. I mean, that’s the way this Secretary likes to conduct meetings and discussions and to inform himself. And again, I think he found the meeting useful in that regard. But I wouldn’t begin to speculate one way or another what this conversation today or that message did last week in terms of altering, changing any of the thinking going forward.  As I said last week, nobody is content with the status quo on the ground and the Administration has been looking at other options with respect to Syria for quite some time. This is not new. And yes, some of those options have included the potential for military initiatives. Again, that’s nothing new. So all these things —

The full DPB transcript is here.

Meanwhile, we had to chase down a couple of concerning rumors related to the dissent memo. We heard an allegation about Congressional pressure for a) the memo and b) the names of the signers.  Apparently, “word on the street” is that the Front Office of a certain geographical bureau is “providing names to the Hill in exchange for unblocking some nominations.” We must note that this bureau’s two chief of mission nominees had their confirmation hearing on Tuesday, June 21. There were no indications previously or at this time that these two nominations are subject to a Senate hold.

A State Department spokesperson, on background responded to our inquiry with the following:

“The dissent channel message has been provided to the Hill, but we did not include — nor will we — the names of the authors.”

We do not even want to imagine what a Congressional committee can do with the names or hearings in a partisan fight, in an election year.  So that’s one rumor debunked.

We also heard that the subject of this uproar, which appears to have SBU marking (“sensitive but unclassified”) has now been “retroactively classified.”

A State Department spokesperson, on background also told us that the cable was transmitted on the highside, and was classified confidential by the authors.”

Thanks X for debunking this other rumor.

The draft version published by the New York Times contains the SBU marking. It appears that the final version went out as “confidential” and was transmitted via the classified system.  What we still don’t know and may never know is how wide was the distribution of this “Dissent Channel” message and who purposely let this piglet out of the pen. We are still at a loss as to the leaker or leakers’ motive/s and perplexed at the calculation of sending a public message to a President with less than six months left in office.

Here are more links to read:

Here’s an early summer bonus for the “security diplomats”!

 

#

 

When Policy Battles Break Out in Public — Holy Dissent, What a Mess!

Posted: 8:26 pm ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Also see “Dissent Channel” Message on Syria Policy Signed by 51 @StateDept Officers Leaks NYT Publishes Draft Version of @StateDept Dissent Memo on Syria Without the Names of Signers from 

 

Here is the DPB for today, June 20 with the State Department spox answering questions about the “it’s good” response from Secretary Kerry — apparently, he wasn’t referring to the punctuation:

QUESTION: All right, let’s start with Syria. Earlier today, in one of the events that you just mentioned, the Secretary told our colleague Abigail that he had read the dissent channel memo —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — and that he – that it looked good to him, or he said something like, “It’s good,” and that he would —

MR KIRBY: Yeah.

QUESTION: — he was going to meet them. Can you elaborate at all?

MR KIRBY: Well, I don’t know how much more I can —

QUESTION: Well, what does he mean when he said it’s good?

MR KIRBY: I think – I think —

QUESTION: I mean, does that mean he agrees?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m – again, I’m limited in what I can talk about in terms of the content of a dissent channel message. I think what the Secretary was referring to was the – that he did read it and that I – that he found it to be a well-written argument. But I’m not going to talk about the content. And as for meeting with the authors, he has expressed an interest in meeting with at least some of them. I mean, there’s a lot of them, so I don’t know that we’ll be able to pull off a single meeting with each and every one of them there, but he has expressed an interest in talking to them, and we’ll do that in due course.

QUESTION: So when you say it was a – what did you say, it was a well-presented argument?

MR KIRBY: What I – what I —

QUESTION: Well-written argument?

MR KIRBY: What I think the Secretary was referring to was that he read the paper and thought that it was – thought that it was well written, that it was good in that regard. I won’t talk to the content or his views of the content.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, without talking about what the actual content was, when you say it was well written or the argument is a good one, does that mean that he is prepared to – whatever it says, I’m not asking you about content – that he is prepared to make the case for those – for the positions that are articulated in this cable —

MR KIRBY: Well, two – two thoughts there. First —

QUESTION: — within the Administration?

MR KIRBY: Two thoughts there. First, as you know, the policy planning staff will be preparing a response, as is required. That response is not yet finished, and we don’t publicize – any more than we publicize the contents of dissent channel messages, we don’t publicize the response. But the response is being prepared. As for any espousal of the ideas before, during or after the fact of them being proffered in a dissent channel message, the Secretary very much keeps private his advice and counsel to the President on policy matters, and we’re going to – obviously, we’re going to respect that.

QUESTION: Well, since this became public last week, you will have noticed numerous articles, numerous – or numerous reports saying outright and suggesting strongly that, in fact, the Secretary agrees with many if not all of the points made in this cable. Are you not – are his comments today not indicative of that?

MR KIRBY: His comments today – I would not characterize his comments today as being indicative of a full-throated endorsement of the views in this particular dissent channel message. Again, I can’t speak to content. What I can tell you is a couple of things. One, obviously, whatever views, advice and counsel he presents to the President need to remain private, and they will. And so I won’t get into that. But then also, as I said Friday, he has made no bones about the fact that he is not content with the status quo in Syria. We are not content with the status quo in Syria. Too many people are dying, too many people are being denied basic life-sustaining material – food, water, medicine – and there’s been too little progress on the political track.

QUESTION: Yeah, but —

MR KIRBY: But if you also look – but if you also look at what else he said this morning – I mean, I know that Abigail shouted out a question, but if you look at the transcript of what else he had to say to those college students, he talked about how important it is that we continue to work through a transitional governing process in Syria, and that that is the best way forward – a political solution is still the preferred path forward.

QUESTION: Right, but when you talk about how no one – you’re not, he’s not, no one is satisfied with the status quo – this is a bit of what is actually going on on the ground in Syria – clearly, no one is. But this isn’t a question about the status quo on the situation in Syria. This is a question about the status quo of the policy. So are you not in a position to be able to say that the Secretary is not – that he doesn’t like the status quo, the policy status quo, the U.S. policy status quo?

MR KIRBY: Nobody’s happy with the status quo of events on the ground, and that is why —

QUESTION: Yeah, but what about the policy?

MR KIRBY: — but – I’m getting there.

QUESTION: All right.

MR KIRBY: That is why, as – and I mentioned this Friday – that is why we do consider – we are considering, we are discussing other alternatives, other options that may be applied, mindful that we are, that the current approach is, without question, struggling. But as the President said himself, none of those other options – be they military or not in nature – are better than – in terms of the long-term outcome, are going to be better than the political solution we’re trying to pursue.

QUESTION: Okay. This will be my last one. I – because I’m just a – the – so you – you’re – what you’re saying is that his comment, “It’s good,” refers —

QUESTION: Very good.

QUESTION: Sorry?

QUESTION: Very good.

QUESTION: It’s very good – sorry, it’s very good – that refers to how it was put together, like the grammar and the sentence structure, and not the actual content? Because that strikes me as being a bit —

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not saying he was talking about punctuation. I mean, I —

QUESTION: Oh, okay, so —

MR KIRBY: Obviously – obviously, he read the memo and found it to be a well-crafted argument, well enough that he feels it’s worth meeting with the authors. Now, what exactly did he find in Abigail’s shouted-out – quote, “Very good,” I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to him about every element of it. And again, I’m not going to talk about the content of it from here.

QUESTION: Well, so you can’t – you’re not in a position to say that the “It’s very good” means that he is prepared to make those same arguments within the – as the Administration deliberates?

MR KIRBY: No, I’m not prepared to – I’m not prepared to say that.

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@StateDept Spox John Kirby Pens a Message to Colleagues in the Bureau of Public Affairs

Posted: 1:49 am ET
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On June 2, State Department spokesperson, John Kirby sent a message to the staffers of the Bureau of Public Affairs concerning the deliberate tampering of a DPB video, an official State Department record. The message was sent on June 2 but is effective on June 1st upon its announcement at a morning meeting:

Colleagues,

As you know, we learned that on at least one occasion this bureau edited a portion of the video of a daily press briefing before posting it to our YouTube channel and the Department’s website.

Upon learning of 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.  I also verified that the full transcript of the briefing, which we also posted on the Department website, was intact and had been so since the date of the briefing.

To my surprise, PA did not have in place any rules governing this type of action. Now we do.

All video and transcripts from daily press briefings will be immediately and permanently uploaded in their entirety on publicly accessible platforms.  In the unlikely event that narrow, compelling circumstances require edits to be made, such as the inadvertent release of privacy-protected or classified national security 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.

This new policy took effect yesterday. And I have tasked Susan Stevenson to lead an effort to create new language for the Foreign Affairs Manual to institutionalize this approach.

I know you share my commitment to transparency, disclosure and accountability.  While the actions taken in relation to the editing of this video broke no protocol — since none existed — they clearly were not the appropriate steps to take.

I ask for your help going forward in ensuring that the content of any video or transcript from daily press briefings is not edited or altered in any way without my specific permission.

Thanks for all your hard work and dedication.  We’re a great team with a great mission.

There’s nothing in this message that has not been reported in the press earlier but it iss worth noting what he says in this message. “I know you share my commitment to transparency, disclosure and accountability.”

But how can he know that?

Pardon for raining on a perfectly good message but since Mr. Kirby’s internal investigation is at a “dead end” and had not been able to determine who was responsible for this deliberate act — how can he know that everyone he’s writing to shares his “commitment to transparency, disclosure and accountability?” An official at the PA bureau directed the tampering of the video, we don’t know who or why but that individual has not come forward and is obviously not big on accountability.  So, how can he says “I know ….?”

That’s quite a whodunit, hey?

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Vehicle in USUN Ambassador’s Convoy Hits, Kills 7-Year Old Boy in Cameroon

Posted: 3:15 am ET
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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (USUN) Samantha Power is on travel to Cameroon, Chad, and Nigeria from April 16-23 to highlight the growing threat Boko Haram poses to the Lake Chad Basin region.

On April 18, while on her way to talk to refugees forced from their homes by Boko Haram in Cameroon, a vehicle in her convoy struck and killed a 7-year old child. The AP reported that the motorcade was traveling at speeds of more than 60mph. The ABC news report says “the cars were traveling around 43 mph.” The NYT report said that the convoy had been driving at more than 40 miles per hour when the vehicle hit the boy. Also that one of the ambulances that was part of Ambassador Power’s motorcade was dispatched to transfer the boy to a nearby hospital.  She later returned to the village, according to NYT, to pay her respects to the boy’s parents:

This time when the convoy arrived in the village, there were no laughing and waving children running on the side of the road. Instead, hundreds of villagers, surrounded by dozens of black-clad Cameroonian soldiers, stood near the road, staring stone-faced at the motorcade.

The State Department spox was asked during the Daily Press Briefing if there is any discussion for the U.S. Government to provide compensation to the family. Below is Mr. Kirby’s response:

“I don’t know about any plans for compensation. I just don’t have an update for you on that. But obviously, we all here are grieving with the family of that young boy who was killed by the vehicle in the convoy. And as I think you saw reported, Ambassador Power, who certainly is feeling this very deeply, visited with the family today to express her deep regrets over what happened. I don’t have any update in terms of next steps here, but we all share in the grief and the sorrow that resulted from this tragic, just terrible, terrible accident.”

 

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@StateDept Seeks to Limit Discovery in Clinton Email FOIA Court Case, Spox Can’t Say Why

Posted: 2:15 am ET
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Below is the State Department’s court filing via Politico:

On April 6, this obviously made it to the Daily Press Briefing:

QUESTION: — knowing that you’ll probably refer me to the Department of Justice. But – so yesterday or late yesterday there was a filing in the FOIA – the email FOIA – one of them, on the discovery – the order to grant discovery.

MR TONER: Right.

QUESTION: And I’m just curious about this, because I haven’t actually seen the order, I’ve just read the stories about it. What does the department, through its lawyers, claim to be its standing for trying to limit the scope of questions asked of ex-employees?

MR TONER: So —

QUESTION: I mean, I can understand why you would be making a motion on behalf of current employees. And I could probably even understand why you say that this – they are being asked about their activities while they were in government. But this seems to be something – I mean, shouldn’t their own lawyers be making this kind of a motion? Why is the State Department making it?

MR TONER: So I appreciate the question and understand your interest in the story. You are correct insofar as – well, first of all, we did submit a filing with the court last night on this matter. But I cannot comment on the actual content of that court filing, because this is something that’s already – or that is a matter of ongoing litigation, so I can’t even comment on your question because it would speak to this matter that’s still in litigation.

QUESTION: Can you tell me if it says in there – I mean, maybe I’m just completely naive and ignorant —

MR TONER: I don’t have it in front —

QUESTION: — about this.

MR TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: But does it explain in this motion how it is that the department has standing to make such a request on behalf of a former employee?

MR TONER: Again, I can’t speak specifically to this matter, but I can say that the department’s engaged on any given year in litigation before federal courts, administrative and arbitral tribunals. And depending on the facts —

QUESTION: Right.

MR TONER: — applicable procedures, and nature of the claims, we do – there may be discovery, but it is case by case.

QUESTION: No, I understand that.

MR TONER: And so – yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, the answer to my question could be very, very simple, that it’s – that it – it could be that it’s completely normal —

MR TONER: You’re asking whether it applies to ex-employees?

QUESTION: Well – no, it does. I know that the motion does cover them. I’m just curious as to what the —

MR TONER: What the rationale is?

QUESTION: Right. I mean, it may be very straightforward, that because they’re being asked to talk about stuff they did while they were in government that you do have some kind of standing to speak on their behalf.

MR TONER: And I will see if I can get you any —

QUESTION: And I’m just wondering if —

MR TONER: — more clarity on that.

QUESTION: Right. Thanks.

MR TONER: But I have to just preface that by saying —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: — I am restricted in what I can say when something – it’s an ongoing litigation.

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