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ASD PA Clarke Meeting with Bureau Chiefs

Presenters: Victoria Clarke, ASD PA
November 11, 2001

Wednesday, November 7, 2001

(Meeting with DoD National Media Pool bureau chiefs. Also participating: Rear Adm. Craig R. Quigley, DASD PA.)

Clarke: I just have a few things to tick through here and then I'll open it up. And I apologize. I have to leave at 11:30 to go see General Pace about his briefing today. [ transcript ]

Just to update on where we were last time we talked or met. We have been doing the briefing daily, five days a week. Please let us know if at any point this becomes more or less than you want. We've had a pretty healthy schedule of backgrounders. We'll continue to do those, and if there are specific topics you're interested in let us know.

We started doing this 9 a.m. ten-minute morning line, as we're calling it, and it is just to give people the very bare sketch of here's what we know from overnight. We can just give you sort of a CNN headlines version of here's what happened overnight. It is never more than ten minutes. It is devoid of most details because we just don't have them at that time but I think it's useful for the wires in particular.

General Franks will be briefing tomorrow. We're a little loose on the time right now, somewhere between 12 noon and 2 p.m. probably. [ transcript ]

Q: Is he coming over to Brookings?

Clarke: He's coming over to Brookings but he's also coming over here and will be in the briefing room with the secretary tomorrow, the exact time to be determined.

Brookings tomorrow. I encourage all of you or your representative to attend. And let me stop for a second and talk about why we wanted to do that. I've mentioned this to some of you. But as I was trying to get ready for this job and looking at these sorts of things, these sorts of issues, and when we looked at the DoD national media pool actually months ago, one of the things we realized is that very often after conflicts there was a commission, there was a seminar, there were all sorts of analyses and usually they were titled "what went wrong, the media and the military in", fill in the name of the conflict.

So we thought why don't we try to preempt some of that and raise some of these things up to the surface. That was the original intent of doing this with a third party like Brookings. I think these meetings, to a large extent, have filled that void, but I really encourage your participation tomorrow from 9 until noon? Sorry, 9:30 to noon tomorrow.

The other thing I wanted to mention is we did just come back from five countries in three days. Talking about a lot of things, primarily the war on terrorism, and I just want to underscore something we heard in a lot of these places which is going to make our lives challenging is sensitivities on the part of the host nations in terms of visibility for what is going on on their turf. I don't want to go in too much more detail than that, but it is a concern specifically raised in several places.

With that I'll stop and take any questions or comments you have.

Sandy Johnson, Associated Press: Torie, if we can talk about access for a few minutes.

Clarke: Sure.

Johnson: I think the first meeting that you had with this group was in late September. The war is now a month old, and if you could indulge me for a minute I want to read you some of the stuff from my folks overseas, and I'm certain that nobody else here has had any other experience.

In Uzbekistan the only available person is the PIO at the embassy who will not address press queries and refers all questions to the Pentagon.

In Tajikistan, reporters can speak only with the Tajik employees of the U.S. embassy who are not helpful and refuse to take queries to the Americans.

In Germany, absolutely no embedding requests are being taken outside of the humanitarian airdrop a couple of weeks ago. On board the ships, the pilots are not talking about where they've been, where they're going, what they have done.

All media have been taken off the Peleliu as of Monday.

The center that's supposed to be set up in Pakistan, we're being told by the White House that it is not intended to be a place where reporters can go for breaking news developments. The Pentagon is still meant to be the first point of confirmation for that material.

So where is the progress?

Clarke: On a couple of these -- well, progress is the last couple of times we've met you asked for several things including briefings five days a week, which you're getting; including backgrounders which you're getting a healthy schedule; General Franks which we're giving you; a couple of other things.

In the theater, again I'll just repeat the point about host nation sensitivities. We are asking a lot of countries. They are providing a lot and we're very appreciative of their support and we are very sensitive to their concerns about visibility.

I thought the access in Germany at Ramstein was pretty good. If it's not, we will address that.

Johnson: There is no embedding.

Van De Steeg: Who do you want to embed with?

Johnson: I want to embed with anybody.

Clarke: The C-17s or the humanitarian drops are what's coming out of Ramstein. What else are you thinking of?

Johnson: We were told earlier that there would be the ability to embed with some military units.

Quigley: I don't know what that means.

Clarke: I want to finish up on this. Somebody correct me if I'm wrong, I think the only thing going on out of Germany is --

Johnson: Right now.

Clarke: -- the humanitarian drops. So what are they not getting?

Johnson: We were told there would be the ability to embed with groups that would be going into the theater. Now maybe they're not going into the theater now.

Clarke: The only groups going into the theater from Germany are the humanitarian drops.

Johnson: All right.

And Colonel [sic] Quigley, we were told at the last meeting here that part of your mission over there would be to talk to the host countries about access.

Quigley: And the result of nearly every conversation was exactly what Torie said. They are extremely sensitive on that. The assistance that they provide us is invaluable, and if the price of poker is us being reticent about details of what U.S. forces might be on the ground there, we'll pay that price.

Clarke: And the update to Admiral Quigley's conversations was our trip over there with the secretary in which in several places it was raised by them as an issue and as a concern.

Tom Bowman, Baltimore Sun: How about a piece of territory the U.S. owns? The Kitty Hawk. We asked the secretary about that, I think it's been three weeks now. He said we're looking into it.

Clarke: It's not going to happen.

Bowman: Why is that?

Clarke: The nature of the activity. And I --

Bowman: We know Special Forces are operating, you've already told us that. The worst kept secret in the world is that they're aboard the Kitty Hawk. I'm guessing there are particular units of Special Forces you don't want us to talk with on the Kitty Hawk?

Clarke: It's the nature of the activity. The secretary, General Franks --

Bowman: We've been told about the activity they've been doing.

Clarke: I hear you, but they looked at it very, very hard and had the conversations at the highest level including the Secretary and made a decision not to do it.

Bowman: But again, what activity would they be doing on the Kitty Hawk that would prohibit us from talking with them? Even if it's just like what was it like parachuting into Afghanistan in the middle of the night? You control the access to these people, and you control us filing the story. Why not at least set us down and say there are the ground rules?

Clarke: I hear you, but looked at it very, very hard; looked at who was on there, the nature of what it is they're doing, and made a decision not to go with the Kitty Hawk.

Bowman: Again, what would they be doing on the Kitty Hawk that would be something we couldn't see or write about? They're sitting there --

Clarke: I would be telling you about the kinds of things they're doing, which I don't want to do.

Bill Gertz, Washington Times: Torie, the issue -- you mentioned host nation sensitivity. I'm assuming that's diplomatese for no, under no circumstances can U.S. reporters be in those countries. What about some of the work-arounds that have been suggested? Restrictive security clearance, and filing out of country.

Clarke: We're looking at a lot of different options. I haven't given up. I just want to be really honest with you all about what we heard just as recently as 72 hours ago. So we're looking at a lot of different options. We did a couple of calls last week with folks from the 10th Mountain, which again was a request from this group which may be a small check in your box, Sandy, but it is a box checked that you guys asked for and we facilitated. So we'll continue pushing hard from lots of different angles to try to make those sorts of things happen, but I just want to give you a heavy dose of what we heard on this trip.

Gertz: What were the reasons for that?

Clarke: What I said. This is very difficult for some of these countries. They have different concerns, different domestic considerations than we do.

Johnson: They don't have a problem with American reporters running around their country.

Clarke: Some do.

Johnson: Has anybody here had a reporter thrown out of any --

Clarke: There's a difference between running around the country and doing whatever and bringing a lot of visibility to the fact that U.S. forces may or may not be doing there, may or may not be operating there. That's the difference.

Johnson: Can you address what your understanding of the Islamabad information center or whatever they're going to call it will be able to provide? The center in Pakistan, similar to the one in London and Washington.

Clarke: That's trying to coordinate the communications people. Just as we're doing here, we try to make sure that we're sync'd up frequently, regularly, with the White House, with State, with NSC, etc., trying to do the same sort of coordination there. With the Brits as well.

Johnson: Will there be military people there?

Clarke: I don't think they plan to. There are military people at the embassy there, yes, but not as part of this function. But it's still being worked out. We don't have a lot of details about how it's going to be structured, who's going to be there.

Doherty: When will it open?

Clarke: Don't know.

Doherty: Like next month?

Clarke: No, I think a matter of probably weeks.

Doherty: Later this month.

Clarke: Yeah, but we can let you know.

Johnson: Before the war is over?

Clarke: As we said, it's going to be a long war.

Owen Ullmann, USA Today: Torie, back to the 10th Mountain. Am I to understand what you're saying is that if it were completely up to the Pentagon you would provide us access to the 10th Mountain, but it's really the Uzbek authorities that are blocking it?

Clarke: I'd say we have provided you access to the 10th Mountain. It may not be everything you want, but let the record show we have provided access to 10th Mountain. This group very specifically said, if nothing else, can we do calls with people from the 10th Mountain, which we facilitated.

If it were up to us would there be more access to lots of forces in different places? Sure.

Johnson: So you're saying it's not your doing, it's really the Uzbek authorities that do not want American reporters embedded with --

Clarke: I'd say there are different countries that have real sensitivities and concerns.

Ullmann: I'd also like to just make an observation that the president has talked about losing the war for public opinion; the secretary has talked about it; I know the secretary's even consulted a lot of PR people in town to find out how to improve kind of the image.

I would suggest to you that there is a linkage between perhaps losing the PR war and not allowing American news media to have greater access to cover the war and perhaps provide the fair balanced picture that you want. So I would suggest if you do care about how the war is being portrayed in this country and overseas, perhaps the problem is bottling up the news media.

Clarke: Portraying the war is your business. Executing the war is our business. Providing as much news and information and access to that war is our business and we're trying very, very hard to make that happen.

But I'll tell you, one of the things I did on the many legs of this trip was a lot of reading. I had people pull for me as many articles as possible that have been written over the last three or four weeks, as many transcripts as possible from every bit of television and radio coverage, and there's a heck of a lot there. You can't open the Washington Post and not see another piece by Steve Vogel who is on the Enterprise or was on the Peleliu or whatever. You can't turn on a television or a radio and not see or hear something that is resulting from activity in this war. I know there is a piece of it, a very important piece of it that you're keenly interested in and we are trying to make that happen on the special ops side. But there's been an awful lot that has been out there.

So I actually would push back on the premise of your question and say I think there's been an awful lot of coverage of this war. It's never going to be as much as you all want, I understand that, but I think there actually has been an awful lot.

Johnson: The secretary was derisive yesterday of the Taliban claims, but we have access to the Taliban and the Northern Alliance in the theater that we do not have the American forces. How is that helpful to your cause?

Clarke: I think it's ludicrous to in any way compare anything you get from the Taliban to anything you get from us.

Johnson: Access in the theater --

Clarke: I think it's ludicrous.

Abramson: We could balance what they're saying.

Clarke: There is access to the theater. I'll repeat myself. I had about six inches, stacks of articles that are resulted from newspapers. I had stacks of transcripts from TV networks and radio of coverage of this. So I actually say there has been a large amount of coverage of this war. Thus far that is only four weeks old. You make it sound like a month is a lifetime. As we've said repeatedly, the war on terrorism is a global war, it will go on for years, not month or weeks. So I think there has been an awful lot of access given. I'll fully grant you it's not everything you want, it may not be the exact pieces that you want, but I think there's been an awful lot. And on those pieces that you want we continue to look at different opportunities and what might be possible.

Johnson: Do you have any interest in applying pressure to Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan to allow American media access?

Clarke: I don't know if I like the choice of your word pressure. We are extremely appreciative of the support and the participation we're getting by many, many countries on the war and we are going to be very sensitive to their concerns on all issues including these. We raised the issues with them. We will continue to raise the issues with them, we'll try to make things happen.

So it is absolutely in our interest and your interest to make that happen, but it certainly is not our place to force anything on them in this regard.

Bowman: In saying that the access to the Kitty Hawk now at this point is dead, but then saying that you're still looking at options for access to special ops. Can you talk about what else is out there in the realm of the possible? What other types of access we're to be looking at?

Clarke: Not with any great detail, but some, and people in this room are far more familiar with it than I am, but some special ops activity is more conducive to access than others. You've got very small numbers. If you've got something that's of a highly dangerous nature, if you've got something in which secrecy is of paramount importance, that is not likely.

But we were having a meeting before we came down here with the service PAOs and with Bill Darley from special ops. So we just continue to push and look at every opportunity and see what we can make happen.

Q: Torie -- Carl Leubsdorf from the Dallas Morning News. I'm asking this on behalf of George Condon who couldn't be here today.

He raised the question with me, and I don't know how to put it, that on casualties and injuries there was this whole to do when Sy Hersh wrote the article and said that people were, really there were a lot more casualties than everyone has admitted. And then I think you all said well there were a bunch of people who had things, but they sprained their ankles or various things.

Are you convinced that you are being as forthcoming as you can be on that issue? Or is there an effort -- is there a concern that you're trying to, an effort to make this look better than some people think it's going, and I wouldn't judge that one way or the other, that there was really, not as much was put out here as might have been put out?

Clarke: In general I think we do pretty well. If you go back to Myers' briefing the Saturday after the first round of special ops activity [ transcript ], he went out of his way to say we had two guys that got hurt jumping in. Those were the most serious injuries. One was a broken leg. I don't know what the other one was. But those were the most serious injuries. He went out of his way not under questioning, but went out of his way to say this happened, these were injuries that were sustained.

When the Sy Hersh article we first heard about or asked about it, we checked it with several different sources and they said injuries, no. Nothing of any significance other than the two guys we told you about which were the two folks who got hurt when they jumped in.

After five or six days of this, and we pushed again, we asked some of the folks who were involved and they said well yes, somebody busted a finger, and somebody else got some flashback from some things they were doing. But it was of so little consequence, they don't consider it injuries. Injuries to these guys, you know better than I do, is when you can't work for several days. Scratching your arm busting into a building is not something they consider of any importance whatsoever. What was dramatically wrong with Sy Hersh's article is he indicated that it was as a result of being fired upon, which was completely untrue.

So I actually think we went out of our way to tell you what happened, what went wrong, injuries, as soon as we could, which was the very first briefing.

Leubsdorf: Perhaps some little details on minor things -- because they didn't think it amounted to anything?

Clarke: If I had to do it all over again would I go back and say did anybody bend a finger? Did anybody get a scratch? But I've got to tell you, they were of so little consequence it never occurred to anybody to even mention them.

Clark Hoyt, Knight Ridder: Torie, isn't this sort of an object lesson in a way? And by the way, I apologize. Some of us, this is (inaudible) here.

Isn't this kind of an object lesson? You're going back to get information. We had asked at the very beginning that on special operations when we knew we couldn't realistically accompany (inaudible) involved, directly involved, be made available for questioning. And had that happened, there would not have been this middle layer between them and independent reporting that could ask questions about this.

Have you thought more about that? Could you even now make some of these people available? And in the future of these operations would you make them available?

Clarke: I wouldn't make a blanket decision about going forward, but making people available after the fact, yes -- something we've considered. Something, yes, the secretary and General Franks have said we could do. So we're looking at some of the people who were involved in the last one, if it's of any interest to anybody, and see if they could be interviewed -- to the extent they can share the information about what happened. So yes. Eliminate us from the picture and let you all talk to them directly. In general, yes. Specifics, we're trying to figure out who from this last round we could do. As I said, if it's of interest any interest to you all. Then going forward. Absolutely. I just wouldn't make a blanket decision saying every time there is special ops activity we put forward somebody to talk about it because we may not, depending on the nature of the activity.

Q: I can assure you (inaudible).

Clarke: Okay.

Francis Kohn, AFP: I'm Francis Kohn from AFP. For the last trip made by Rumsfeld a lot of news organization, including all the wires, including AFP, were not included.

What do you intend to do to give more access to the news organizations? And now I'm pleading for the wires, (inaudible) doing, those trips. And for us it's extremely damaging not to be (inaudible).

Clarke: Where is Owen (inaudible)? How did you feel about being on the trip, Owen?

Ullmann: I wasn't on it --

Clarke: USA Today.

Ullmann: Well since we've had a long conversation about this I think that we need to have a system, just like we have the national press pool, that satisfies everyone's concerns so that you do not arbitrarily choose who goes and who doesn't go. And I think we should take it on ourselves to organize perhaps, choose a committee, someone representing each news medium and propose a system.

Certainly the White House has worked something out a long time ago with the White House Correspondents Association. If you have talked to Richard Boucher, who has also had his head chewed on by the organizations that weren't on the last trip he will tell you that he is now trying to come up with a similar system through -- there's already a Diplomatic Correspondents Association. I think it's incumbent upon us to do the same thing.

Not everyone will be probably happy on every trip, but if there are clear rules, criteria, and a fair rotation, I think like other institutions we cover, we can come to some accommodation. I think it's high time that we do that.

Clarke: I agree completely. And Admiral Quigley on Friday, what time?

Quigley: Morning. I don't remember what time.

Clarke: Friday morning is having a conference call. Any interested --

Ullmann: -- by the way. I just think that I'd ask my colleagues here, I think these conference calls are not good for a dialogue. They're pretty contentious issues.

Clarke: Okay.

Marlowe: I suggest a meeting, face-to-face meeting.

Clarke: Can you make that happen?

Quigley: Sure.

Clarke: But organizing a gathering, which I'm sure will be the first of several of all interested parties to figure out a system. Because I agree. We try to be fair and equitable. It makes nobody happy. Owen and his gang --

Ullmann: This is not a --

Clarke: Owen and his --

Marlowe: -- We shouldn't be so --

Clarke: That's not true at all.

Leubsdorf: There are issues involving different (inaudible). I've been involved in these discussions with the correspondents for many years. I've been involved here. But there are different groups of journalists, whether they be networks, whether they be big papers that are here with five people covering the Pentagon or smaller papers that cover less and would want to go less. The appalling thing to me, frankly, about this was that the AP wasn't taken along. I have never heard of a trip where the AP was denied being taken on a trip.

Clarke: All I would tell you is there are organizations in this room who beat the crap out of us, to put it bluntly, that said very, very strongly and very convincingly that taking the exact same outlets again and again and again and again was arbitrary and unfair.

So I'll tell you the intent is to be as fair and equitable as possible. I fully acknowledge it's not working, so we are going to create a system. And I think Owen's right. Not everybody is going to be happy, not everybody is going to like it every time. The extraordinary thing is, with one exception, one person, every one who calls and complains about not being included in any particular trip only cares about that particular outlet. That's all they care about, so that's very difficult when you've got umpteen different outlets.

Q: But I think --

Clarke: The reason I say that, to your point, it is about your agreements/disagreements with one another, but we're going to create a system. It may be more like what the White House does, I don't know. I don't want to prejudge it but I've asked Admiral Quigley to take charge of it, to meet with all of you, to work it through, and let's come up with it sooner rather than later. And my intent is to be as fair and equitable as possible. I recognize the fact that you have different constituencies, you have different needs, different objectives, and we want to try to accommodate them to the extent possible. But we are going to come up with a system so if nothing else there's predictability. There's not going to be universal happiness, there's not going to be universal satisfaction, but at least there will be predictability.

Wilkinson: I think another issue, Torie, is not just the complement of who goes on it's the number of seats that are made available to the entire press group on these trips. I mean 12 or 10 seats is really, it seems to me, not realistic on this kind of, in these times and what's going on here.

Clarke: We're pushing hard for more seats, but I don't see a day in which, for instance, we take another plane.

Wilkinson: The same issue has been put before the State Department. It's ludicrous to look at 12 seats to cover all of the different press entities.

Clarke: Yeah.

I really apologize, I promised General Pace I'd see him at 11:30.

Ullmann: If I can just make one last observation?

Clarke: Sure.

Ullmann: This has been going on for like 10, 20 years. This is not a new phenomenon. Of course when there's no news no one wants to travel and when there's news everyone does.

Clarke: Right. Prior to September 11th, 12 was twice as many as we needed.

Ullmann: The math is inescapable. You've got 12 seats and probably 30 organizations that want to go. So either we decide among ourselves how best to come up with a system or we let the Pentagon and the State Department do it, and I say I'd rather have us do it than have you --

Clarke: So would I. I endorse that thoroughly.

Q: -- because it's always been that way for 12 seats that it should stay that way. I mean --

Q: -- pay for a charter, that would be great, but I don't know how the organizations are going to come up with it.

Q: One last quick one on a different subject.

Clarke: Let me ask one question. Admiral Quigley raises a good point. Do you want to have a meeting with us facilitating or do you want to do it among yourselves? It's your call.

Gertz: You decide who goes ultimately.

Clarke: But the system's got to be something that you're willing to --

Leubsdorf: -- the White House over the years (inaudible). The Correspondents Association has a board where each group has a seat on it so that's one of the things -- but the White House has accepted in most cases, not all cases, recommendations from the association on how seating on Air Force One and other such issues are done.

Clarke: I think we should have at least the first one on Friday to get this going, and to air all these issues, and put the different possibilities on the table.

Marlowe: Any change of thinking on the national pool which remains on the shelf?

Clarke: I don't know if I'd agree with your characterization on the shelf. It remains primed and ready to do what it is it does.

Marlowe: That's --

Marlowe: Is there any chance they might do what they're supposed to do.

Clarke: Sure.

Bowman: Torie, one last point, the background briefing we had, particularly on Afghanistan, was quite helpful by a certain Pentagon agency. They just gave us a lot of good detail about al Qaeda's 55th Brigade and weapons, WMD capabilities which were helpful and what the President said yesterday, trying to acquire nuclear weapons.

Is there any way we can do that particular briefing from that particular agency maybe once a week or once every two weeks? As things move on the ground --

Clarke: Sure, it changes.

Bowman: It would be very helpful to have that voice.

Capt. Tim Taylor, DoD Press Office: We had that scheduled and we had to postpone it. We're working to reschedule it. And we've told them we'd like to do it on a continuing basis.

Bowman: That would be real helpful.

Clarke: Okay. I don't know if it will be weekly, but no a continuing basis.

Clarke: Thank you guys very much. Thanks for coming in.

Gertz: On Friday, is that going to be --

Quigley: That's the admin note. The e-mail that you all received yesterday to set up the conference call, I will try to keep the same time and get this room, but in any case you'll get a follow-on e-mail to confirm.

Gertz: -- today?

Quigley: Have you got the time? I asked for input and I don't have as many as I'm probably going to bet by Friday, but the goal is to come up with a fair and equitable and predictable system so that it isn't a contentious issue each and every trip. If you're prepared to discuss that right now and you have the time, them let's do it. If not --

Gertz: Some of us need to have conversations before then and we haven't all given you input yet. Let's do it on Friday.

Quigley: Friday. And in any case, I will send an e-mail to all of you just to confirm. But my goal will be to try to keep the same time and get this room so that you've already got that blocked out in your calendars and we can do it. If that absolutely doesn't work, then we'll get another room.

Q: Was that 10:30?

Quigley: I believe it was 10:30 Friday. I know it was morning. I don't remember -- Okay.

One of the constructs that has to be a part of this also is it has to be scalable, because your comment about seats, it will change. Sometimes it's going to be nine, and then it might be 13 the next trip. So who are you going to take if it's nine? Who are you going to take if it's 10? Etc. So it has to be scalable up and down. So that each and every time when we have X number of seats then you all understand the process that will kick in if the number is 11 or whatever the case may be.

Q: Thank you.

Quigley: See you all Friday morning and we will be in touch on e-mail to let you know where and when.

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