Friday, March 24, 2000 - 1:30 p.m. EST
(Also participating: Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Planning (Personnel & Readiness) Frank Rush)
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Thank you for coming. At the end of this briefing, we will release the IG's report on the military environment with respect to the homosexual conduct policy. This report is based on surveys that were completed by about 71,000 people in the military at 38 installations and on 11 ships and submarines.
The findings in the report are that we need to do more work on this policy. In short, that offensive comments about homosexuals were commonplace and the majority believed that they were, these offensive comments, were tolerated to some extent within the military. The report also found that a substantial number of people, close to 40 percent, felt that they had witnessed or been a target of harassment for perceived homosexuality. Overwhelmingly, the harassment was verbal or there was a disturbing amount of graffiti or gestures and in some cases even reported violence as part of the harassment.
This behavior is not acceptable and can't be tolerated in the military. Secretary Cohen has issued a letter to the service chiefs and service secretaries that makes it very clear that we have to do a better job. And he has set up a committee of senior leaders, both military and civilian, from each of the services, to review this report and to come up with an action plan for improving the climate within the military.
I'd like to put this into context. In 1997, shortly after Secretary Cohen took over, he asked for the first systemic review of the implementation of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, and that review was completed in 1998. It basically looked at how investigations of alleged or admitted homosexuals took place in the military and how discharge procedures were handled. That report concluded that, looking at investigations and discharges, that for the most part the policy was being evenly applied and enforced.
This latest DOD IG report looks more broadly at the climate in the military that applies to perceived homosexuals. So it's a broader study than the one that was done in 1997, although the 1997 study did note that there were instances of harassment and that this harassment was unacceptable and should not be tolerated.
Last year, all the services adopted new training programs to educate members from top to bottom in the military about the "don't ask, don't tell, don't harass" policy -- what it is, what it isn't, what people's rights are under the policy. In addition, the chief and service secretary of each service issued a directive making it very clear that harassment was unacceptable and won't be tolerated and asking all commanders to take whatever steps are necessary to do their best to clear up climates that might involve harassment.
These actions, of course, were taken in December. This report was already ongoing, so one of the jobs of the new committee that's being set up by Secretary Cohen will be to make sure that the new policies put out -- or the policies put out at the end of last year are fully implemented, fully understood, and then to recommend any other actions that are necessary to deal with this issue.
I'm going to ask Frank Rush, who is the deputy undersecretary of Defense for planning in the personnel and readiness area to walk you through this report and the secretary's directive. I might add that this is likely to be Frank Rush's last briefing because he is retiring and getting married next month, so we will wish him well in that. Frank also has somebody from the general counsel's office here and somebody from the inspector general's office who can go into more detail if you have particular questions.
Q: Ken, can I just ask an initial question? Is it possible for us to now have a copy of the report so we can ask Mr. Rush some intelligent questions when he briefs us?
Mr. Bacon: We were going to distribute the copies at the end. We think it's better that you pay attention to the briefing. We don't know how you can read the report and listen to the briefing at the same time, so after the briefing is over --
Q: How are we supposed to ask any questions if we haven't seen it?
Mr. Bacon: Well, the report's over there, but why don't I turn this over to Frank Rush and he will brief you and I'm sure will be able to answer your questions.
Q: Ken, just one quick question. The letter from the secretary, does it provide some specific directive for action, or is it just a blanket sort of admonition, or a suggestion that the services do better? I mean, is there some kind of performance that has to be achieved here, or is it --
Mr. Bacon: There are no statistical measures that have to be met. It instructs the new committee, which will be headed by the undersecretary of the Air Force, Carol DiBattiste, to come up with an action plan for addressing the problems that are highlighted in this report, and it asks them to do that quickly. But it doesn't tell them what the action plan should be. The point of having the committee is to figure out what action is necessary to solve the problems.
Q: I guess I'm confused, as it seems that it was just four or five months ago that the secretary asked the services to come up with an action plan and -- on this very subject. And it was subject to review, was passed on to Mr. de Leon's office and issued in mid-January. How is this action plan going to be different than the last action plan in terms of its objectives?
Mr. Bacon: Well, that remains to be seen.
But one -- I think you're missing the timing here, and it's important to get the timing very clear. Maybe I was too truncated in my explanation of what's happened over the last three years. But last year we issued -- every service issued new training guidance and new directives from its chiefs of dealing with the treatment of perceived homosexuals. Those came out late in the year. This study was under way at that time. This study was triggered, obviously, by the very unfortunate event at Fort Campbell. Now that the study is complete, and now that it gives us new information that we didn't have before, he has asked a new committee to go back and look again at the climate and to come up with another set of suggestions.
Now the committee first will look at the implementation of the new training programs. It will look at their adequacy, and it will decide whether or not they are being adequately enforced and whether they meet the job of adequate training. But it will look beyond that, and it will decide if there are other actions necessary. It could conclude that what we've done is enough. Without prejudicing their task, I doubt if it will conclude that. I suspect that they will find that other actions are necessary, and that's what they've been asked to do. The secretary hasn't told them what the conclusions of the study should be; he's just said, "Go out and give me an action plan quickly, so we can get going on trying to correct this problem."
Q: Is there a deadline to "quickly"?
Mr. Bacon: Well, I think you have a copy of this thing. (Cross talk.)
Q: I don't have a copy of anything.
Mr. Bacon: The -- you're supposed to have a copy of the secretary's letter. The group is supposed to report back on July 31st.
Q: Does the secretary still believe that "don't ask, don't tell" is working generally well, in light of this report?
Mr. Bacon: The secretary believes that this report highlights that we have to do a better job with the policy.
Mr. Rush: Let me say that the charge back in December to the Department of Defense Inspector General was to look specifically at the issue of the climate on installations and on ships with respect to the homosexual conduct policy, and in -- then specifically within that context, to look, one -- and to what extent was there offensive speech, jokes, and similar things that would be offensive, based upon sexual orientation; and secondly, to examine to what extent there was harassment of individual service members who were perceived or alleged to be gay by other service members.
That was the primary thrust of what the IG looked at.
And to do that, the IG went out and set out a method in which they could get honest, straightforward answers by service members to the questions that the IG staff developed. And they felt that the best way -- normally, in the Department of Defense, when we do surveys, we go out and survey individuals, and then you have some sense of, you know, where they are, what installation they were, what part of the world they were in, what their grade was, and all of that type of stuff.
In this case, in order to make sure that the survey was straightforward answers, the sample that was drawn was a simple of units. And wherever that unit was selected, every member of the unit was -- it was not a voluntary survey in which you get 56 -- or we're happy if we get 65 percent responding to the survey. This was a mandatory survey. If you were in the unit, you were surveyed.
For example, the department inspector general was present at some of the first surveys, and it happened to be at a major installation. The unit -- one of the units randomly selected was the headquarters element of that, and you had four-star generals coming in along with the other associated staff of the military to take that survey.
You caught a surgical unit, for example, that was training in a major metropolitan area to do gunshot wounds.
They did most of the gunshot response as part of their training. The only time that unit was available was at 4:00 in the morning. The IG went out there and interviewed all the members of that -- or gave the survey to all the members of that unit.
They went to extraordinary lengths to make sure that all unit members were included and responded to the survey. And if you had a large room where you could see when people were leaving, nobody could leave until the last person was finished with the survey, so everybody -- there wasn't -- you wouldn't focus on any one member of the unit. And you'll see a description of that in the IG's report.
They got tremendous report -- support from the services in doing their job. And the service members that replied, there were actually only a handful of survey instruments that weren't usably completed. So from that point of view, the IG did a good job and got strong support from each one of the military services.
In terms of the response to the survey with the offensive speech and with the harassment, I would highlight three numbers. First, 80 percent of the individuals surveyed said that they had heard, at least once during the preceding 12 months, offensive speech, derogatory names or jokes regarding homosexuals.
Now, on that point, I would say a couple of things. One, it's a little hard to evaluate what that 80 percent means, because if these -- we're bringing in 300,000 new service members every year.
They are coming out of the broader civilian culture. And we don't know -- there is nothing out there that we have seen -- that says how often would you hear such jokes or names, or other types of offensive speech, in the broader civilian society. Secondly, just over a third, 37 percent of the respondents, indicated that they had witnessed or experienced an "event" or a "behavior," which they considered to be harassment based on perceived homosexuality. Now, that -- as you look at the report, you can see that that number can be disaggregated into the types of harassment. And by far, the most common was "offensive speech," that it was considered to be harassment. In this case, about 37 percent said that they had -- at least once in the last 12 months, had heard offensive speech, which they thought to be harassing.
"Offensive or hostile gestures"; about 20 percent at least once, had seen gestures that they thought to be harassing.
Once you got past gestures and speech, the percent who had never heard that -- for example, "vandalism" or "physical assault" -- was about 95 percent had never experienced, and never seen, what they considered to be the more serious forms of harassment. But you can break that down, as you look at the report, and there are charts in there that will lay that out for you.
Q: So we're talking about 5 percent had witnessed vandalism or some kind of assault?
Mr. Rush: The number that had witnessed vandalism was less than 1 percent who had seen it "often" -- and was 4 percent who had seen it "once."
Q: In all of these numbers --
Mr. Rush: Tammy -- (inaudible) --
Q: -- may I just ask to understand something? In all of these numbers, are the questions limited to asking them what they have seen or witnessed in their military life or --
Mr. Rush: In their military life.
Q: So even for those new people entering the military, it does not reflect that, in the previous 12 months, they were in the private sector so to -- in civilian life; that would not be included?
Mr. Rush: That would not be included, if they were responding correctly to the questions that were in the survey.
Q: And were they asked to talk about things that they perceived as offensive or that they thought others might perceive as offensive?
Mr. Rush: The question was that things that they believed were offensive or they believed could be considered to be harassment.
Q: Is this broken down by service? Do you see one service worse than the other, or a component of a particular service where more harassment is being --
Mr. Rush: There is limited data in the report on the service. And one of the things that I would mention when you talk about how you compare the services, is, clearly, just as in the civilian community, age, education and gender are going to be related to offensive speech and harassing behavior. So younger folks, men -- may have -- may be much more likely to have offensive speech. Those who have had more education, and so on, would not. And the services are very differently structured in terms of how many young service members they have compared to the officer corps, and the average age of the force.
Q: What you're saying is you can't answer the question? That the stats don't say that?
Mr. Rush: On that one, there are some service differences. But what I would say is that the -- let me go on to the group that the -- the action group that the secretary has established.
Q: Well, since we haven't seen the report, can you elaborate on the services? Is one worse than the other? Can you say anything more?
Mr. Rush: Well, I will say that you will find more offensive speech in the Marine Corps than you do in the Air Force. And all you have to do is look at the composition of those forces in terms of education and average grade and age. And that's part of the work that the action committee is going to be using this survey, in part, to make sure that -- as the secretary said, the program needs more work. And that will be one of the things that the working group will look at.
Q: Well, has anybody talked to the commandant of the Marine Corps, General Jones, and said that you have a problem in your corps and you should deal with it?
Mr. Rush: Let me tell you what -- the report has just been issued. And the secretary has said -- he's established an action group of senior civilian and military leaders, and that group is to report back with recommendations for specific action by the 31st of July. That action group includes, as the chair, Carol DiBattiste, the undersecretary of the Air Force. It will include Mr. P.T. Henry, the assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs; and Steve Preston, the general counsel of the Navy.
And we'll have general and flag officers from each of the four military services on that action group.
Q: At the beginning of the briefing, Mr. Bacon said that there was -- I believe he called it a disturbing amount of graffiti, gestures, and violence that was recorded in this survey as actions that people had seen or witnessed. Can you articulate more about the level of concern that you have about these kinds of activities? Did you find them at all to be significant or a matter of concern?
Mr. Rush: Well, I think that the -- any time you have violence or any types of threats in the military service, you are going to be concerned. I think the secretary has made very clear -- and that's, again, why he's getting this interdepartmental and service -- interservice group to look at this -- to say -- to focus on the issue, because it's basically a matter of leadership, and it's a basically a matter of good order and discipline that has to be maintained in the military services.
So yes, any time you have any threats or harassment or intimidation of one service member to another, that's not supportive of good order and discipline, no matter whether it's related to perceived sexual orientation or anything else.
Q: Could you discuss a little bit about the perception, apparently, you found in the survey that these remarks are tolerated in some way? Perhaps they don't see it as something to be frowned upon.
Mr. Rush: There was some indication that the remarks were -- offensive speech was tolerated, and the percent of that -- I think 1.9 percent of the members who responded said that their unit commander, they believed, was -- would tolerate harassment based upon sexual orientation.
Q: Mr. Rush, you said at the beginning that there were three numbers you wanted to highlight. You said 80 percent, 37 percent, and then I -- I think I missed the --
Mr. Rush: It was 5 percent, and that was the number I was just talking about -- on the question that would -- did they believe that their supervisor or commander would tolerate harassment.
Q: And that --
Mr. Rush: And that number was 1.6 percent, as I recall, for installation commanders; 1.9 percent for unit commanders; and a higher figure for supervisors.
Q: And --
Mr. Rush: In aggregate -- because you could answer yes to all three, in aggregate about 5 percent thought that somewhere in the supervisory chain there would be tolerance of harassment based upon sexual orientation.
Q: Does harassment as you're using it there -- does that include offensive speech, or is that overt acts?
Mr. Rush: It does include offensive speech.
Q: Mr. Rush, looking beyond these findings and reflecting on your experience with this issue, which now goes back some years, what is your assessment of how the services are carrying out what is an old directive, about harassment, and these basic issues you raised about leadership and good order and discipline? I mean, what does this tell us about what the services have been doing, for the last several years on this policy, and particularly the way people guilty of harassment are treated within the ranks?
Mr. Rush: Well, I think that, on harassment, recall that in 1997, then-Undersecretary Dorn issued a memoranda to all of the military services, saying that in the case of individuals who were harassed, that they should feel free to report, they must be free to report; and if they come forward and say, "I am being harassed or bothered because people perceive me to be gay," then the commander's responsibility is to investigate the harassment, and not to investigate the sexual orientation of the individual. That memoranda was strengthened and reissued last August by Undersecretary de Leon.
The training plans that the services were asked to provide this December, and which Secretary Cohen approved on the 1st of February, all include specific reference to "threats" and "harassment" in the service training plans at all levels. But that extension and detail of the harassment and offensive-speech issue is just, literally, beyond issuing the memos and policy memos -- is really getting out there in the training programs right now.
Q: But, sir, if you go back to the Dorn memo, there were explicit instructions to the services that harassment is wrong, and there was instruction to carry this out through the chain of command. If you look at the letters that the service chiefs and the secretary sent out, they basically said that any kind of harassment, we have always known, is that. If you're getting reports of harassment this extensive, what's wrong with the leadership in the services?
Mr. Rush: Well, I am not sure that I would say that there is anything wrong with the "leadership in the services," and that's what the Action Group is out there and to look at how can you most effectively -- if you look at the IG report and if they look at -- recall also that, in August, direction went out to each of the services to make inspection of the training programs, and particularly the training programs for those that are responsible to make sure that the policy is fairly and effectively implemented -- commanders, judge advocates, investigators, and so on -- a special item for inspection.
So every time a service IG goes out to an installation, to a unit, that's one of the things that they look at.
And so the action group, the working group, will have those reports as well to look at, and information from other sources.
Q: Let me just try at this point one more time. I'm sorry. But I mean, this building has issued directives now every year for the last three years, now going into the fourth year, saying that a certain kind of behavior is intolerable. Why -- what assurances can you give service members, or anyone else, that this time is going to be different than any of the last three or four exercises?
Mr. Rush: I think that one, it's included in special subjects for inspection; two, that it's included explicitly in the training programs for service members at all levels, and for those who are responsible for administering the program; and three, that the senior working group has that as a specific charge. And by the way, they have the results of the IG's report as a base to which -- to look at.
Q: You said you don't see anything wrong with the leadership in the services. But in the secretary's release here, he says in most cases the harassment was not reported to the chain of command. How do you interpret that? Does that show that people are either afraid to come forward with their complaints, or they think that it's not of interest to their leaders? How do you interpret that?
Mr. Rush: I don't -- you know, I would -- I think that that's something that the working group will have to address and interpret.
Q: But how do you interpret that? Can you --
Mr. Rush: I don't know how to interpret that because you don't know the situational base that's confronted the individual who says -- about 80 percent said that they would feel free to report.
When asked if they had observed something and did they report it, there was a much lower percentage. And so the question is, what's the relationship between the two of them? The good news was that overwhelmingly, people thought that they would be free -- that they would feel free to report harassment. The fact that they saw something and didn't report it that they considered to be harassment reflects their judgments about the importance of that situation. I don't know how to compare the two.
Q: Were they asked why they didn't report it?
Mr. Rush: No, they were not asked why they didn't report it.
Q: Why not?
Mr. Rush: That wasn't part of the survey.
Q: Are service members expected to report harassment that they're not directly involved in, or are they just encouraged to report it if they are being harassed? So if I saw something going on, is that the policy, I'm supposed to report my fellow service member?
Mr. Rush: To my knowledge, there is no policy on what service members are expected to report. And that is, I think, always a judgment for the service member. But this may be something that needs to be addressed. And again, that's what the working group will be looking at.
Q: To follow Roberto's question for a minute, is there any other personnel policy that you could cite for us that the department has had this much difficulty getting people to adhere to? Any personnel policy about anything?
Mr. Rush: I think that I wouldn't agree with your assessment that the department has had a great deal of difficulty with this program. I think what we've been focusing today specifically, on the issue of offensive speech, which is always going to be a problem with junior members, and harassment. And there are a number of areas where we are always dealing with harassment of one type or another, whether it has to do with sexual orientation or whether it has to do with other matters. And that's a leadership issue, not a policy issue, in terms of the homosexual conduct policy.
Q: But, I mean, the fact that four out of 10 have either seen harassment or have been harassed does not indicate that we're having difficult with this policy?
Mr. Rush: I think it indicates that more work needs to be done in this area.
That's what the secretary believes, and that's what he's directed.
Q: Does the study break down between enlisted and officer ranks? I mean, you mentioned that there was a few -- I think you said 5 percent -- believed their commanders would tolerate offensive behavior. Do you have any sense --
Mr. Rush: Or supervisors.
Q: Do you have any sense that there is a command climate that does or does not accept this behavior?
Mr. Rush: I don't have that sense, and I think that that's one of the -- again, and I don't mean to just put it off on the working group, but I think that the secretary believes, and that this working group specifically addressing this issue of the climate, is very important.
Q: Did the IG's report find anything about the command climate itself to speak to this issue, whether or not they, in the survey or in the reviews that they did, that seemed to indicate that there was a tolerance beyond the 56 percent number that you mentioned?
Mr. Rush: The IG's work basically included the administration of the survey to a random sample of units. Those units included a large number of installations, on a large number of installations, large and small, ships and submarines, and the methodology was to give each member of that unit a questionnaire. And the questionnaire is in the report, and their assessment was based upon the answers that each service member provided on the questionnaire. They didn't make any assessment that went beyond that.
Q: If the service members, if the majority of service members felt free to report harassment but the majority of service members didn't when they actually encountered it, doesn't that suggest either that service members don't think this is a big deal or else they presume that their commanders aren't going to think it's a big deal and aren't going to do anything about it anyway? I mean, isn't there a presumption on one level or the other that people just don't care about this, just aren't focused on it?
Mr. Rush: I think one of the issues there is you can say, "Yeah, I though that was harassing, but it wasn't a big deal." It happened once, it wasn't -- it was simply a speech, you know? Who knows?
Because what you don't have in this case, and I think is -- that is, exactly the seriousness of the harassment that they saw. And I think the average service member, in order to report it, they would have to be considered something that they thought serious and between the 80 percent and those who actually reported, I don't have any, at this point, have any way to look at what -- the reason for that --
Q: You don't know because you didn't ask them, correct?
Mr. Rush: No, they were not asked that.
Q: Did you -- oh, go ahead.
Q: Does the department want to send a message to folks today that the department thinks that any speech is serious and that no matter whether you think it's serious or not, you ought to report it? Or is that something you want to leave to individuals' discretion?
Mr. Rush: I think that any speech or any harassment -- and I know that the secretary does -- that affects good order and discipline in the unit is serious.
Q: Well, does -- is there speech along these lines that wouldn't affect good order and discipline? Is it possible to say things that would be offensive that wouldn't affect good order and discipline? I mean, you said speech that affects good order and discipline is serious. Is it possible to say these things and not have it affect good order and discipline?
Mr. Rush: I think if there's harassment of another service member, versus speech, that that clearly is going to affect, at some level, good order and discipline, and that's clearly a leadership issue. And that's what the working group is to address.
Mr. Bacon: We're at a last question.
Q: Just a couple quick technical questions. Were the services given an opportunity to respond to the findings of the survey?
Mr. Rush: The services will respond to the findings of the survey and use the survey in the working group that the secretary has directed.
Q: And lastly, did the survey include any questions about the way leadership handled complaints over harassment or the disciplinary procedures, how service members felt about the extent to which leaders responded when they witnessed harassment?
Mr. Rush: I think you need to look at the various questions in there, but the biggest question had to do with the one that I mentioned. That was the extent to which service members felt that there was some toleration in the supervisory chain of harassment.
Q: Well, let me put it this way: Was one of the aims of the report to discover whether the chain of command is exercising adequate leadership on this issue?
Mr. Rush: I think one of the -- the aim of the report was to make an assessment of the climate at military installations and to look in particular at offensive speech and at harassment. And I think the -- as I read the report, I think that the Inspector General's folks did a really good job of laying out a variety of responses which are and can be subjected to further analysis than what the IG has done to date. And we -- and the secretary has established a group to oversee that analysis and recommend an action plan to deal with the issue.
Q: So does that mean that no conclusions or analyses have been drawn about the leadership function on this issue at this point?
Mr. Rush: I think that the secretary has drawn the conclusion that more work needs to be done on this particular issue.
Q: One quick question: Are you going to now start tracking this, annually, the number of incidents, and compare it year to year?
Mr. Rush: In terms of tracking the number of incidents --
Mr. Rush: -- that occur?
Mr. Rush: There is no mechanism at this point to track incidents, and that's an issue that's come up before. Once again, I think that the working group will address that issue.
Q: I had a question for you, Ken, actually.
Mr. Bacon: Sure.
Q: I believe Secretary Cohen is in town today, Dr. Hamre is in town today; I don't know about Mr. de Leon. If this issue is as serious and as important as it sounds like it is, why isn't one of them down here to look directly into the cameras and tell service members that, "We are not going to tolerate harassment"?
Mr. Bacon: Well, Secretary Cohen's letter, I think, is very clear. And I don't think that anybody will have any doubt that harassment won't be tolerated after reading that letter.
He spoke about it today at the Sperling breakfast, and is on the record there. And I think that his record going back to 1997, when he became secretary, on this issue, is extremely clear.
We are dealing here with a difficult social issue, one that all of society is struggling with. The military is also struggling with it. And I think the lesson of this report is that we have to do a better job than we have in the past. And the point of the secretary's directive is that he is determined that the military will do a better job than it has done in the past.
I think that, if you look at the directives that the service chiefs and secretaries put out late last year, they are fully behind eliminating discrimination, or harassment, against gays under the policy. We have a policy that was prescribed by Congress. We are doing our level best to carry that policy out.
Dealing with attitudes is always difficult. We have spent a lot of time in the military dealing with attitudes about race, about women. And we will spend a lot of time dealing with attitudes about homosexuality, within the bounds of the policy.
I think the lesson of the letter that the secretary put out today, is that he wants more high-level attention paid to this, both in the Office of the Secretary of Defense -- that is, in the civilian leadership of the department -- and in each one of the services.
That was clear last year when the service chiefs put out their directives, and it's more clear from the secretary's directive today.
Q: Do we have a copy of that letter in the IG report?
Mr. Bacon: Yes. Well, it's separate, but you have it, I think, in the blue top out there. So given your appetite to get to the report and the letter --
Q: Just so I understand, the secretary is only authorizing the working group to find a way to make "don't ask, don't tell" work better? They are not at liberty to recommend anything about that policy being changed?
Mr. Bacon: The policy is an act of Congress; the policy was passed by Congress. We are doing --
Q: But they can't come up with --
Mr. Bacon: We are doing -- well, they could -- he's not telling them what to recommend or what not to recommend. But my assumption is, without limiting their scope in any way, is that they will focus on making the policy handed to us by Congress work; that they are unlikely to recommend that Congress change the law. They may see that as their scope of action, but my guess is, from the way their charter is described in this letter, that they will focus on making the current policy work better, and in particular, they will focus on ways to get the message across from the top commanders down to the newest recruits, that harassment based on perceived sexual orientation is not appropriate and won't be tolerated in the military. And they'll be looking for new ways to drive that message home.
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