(Conference Call with Bureau Chiefs. Also participating: Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs (Media) Bryan Whitman; Director, Public Affairs Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Andrew B. Davis; and Acting Director of Public Affairs, Secretary of the Air Force Office of Public Affairs Brig. Gen. Tim White.)
Clarke: Hi everybody. This is Torie Clarke over at the Pentagon. I've got a cast of at least a dozen or so here from the Services and the Joint Staff and OSD. Thanks very much for doing this on relatively short notice. We'll keep the call short. I just wanted to say a couple of things, underscore a point or two, and then Bryan Whitman has a couple of logistical items, and if anybody here in my office has anything they want to add on, please feel free to do so.
So first and foremost, thanks again to everyone. Lots of hard work has gone into where we've gotten to thus far and I think overall, specifically with regard to the embedding we've had really really good results. There have been a few small heart attack moments I've had over the last couple of days and sometimes it's been our fault and sometimes it's been the fault of somebody in the news media, but there have been some people who have either said and/or people who have reported a greater specificity of location and timing and things like that that get to the heart of our concerns with operational security.
I really appreciate, I've talked to several of you over the last couple of days and I really appreciate those who dug in and went back to their correspondents and said hey, be really careful. Some have gone so far as to put out a memo to their staff. I really appreciate those people who have made it clear, and those organizations who have made it clear, that they take these matters very seriously and made a special effort to emphasize it to their people.
Going forward in the next days, hours, days, whatever, clearly we're in a critical phase here, so I just want to emphasize again the importance of all of us being very, very careful with information that could affect operations, information that we all know could put lives at risk. So we have reissued our guidance; we've done conference calls with as many of our public affairs officers in the region as we could. I met with the service PAOs right before this call to emphasize it again. And I really hope and encourage all of you to do the same with your correspondents.
If things proceed as we all think they will, there will be a lot of parts and pieces moving. There will be a lot of activity, and even though people are giving it their best effort they can make mistakes. So I just encourage all of us to look out for one another. As I said, I think sometimes our people say more than they probably should and we're trying to tighten that up, but I encourage you at your end as well, if you see some of that coming through in your reporting at your end, at the editing end I guess you would call it, you take some extra caution as well.
With that, I will stop and ask Bryan to pick up. He has a few logistical items to cover.
Whitman: Thank you all. I would just like to echo what Ms. Clarke said there in terms of operational security. It's not just the reporters out there, but we also need the news managers who play a role in this to be very cognizant of this. I think that you all have our public affairs guidance and what we consider to be sensitive information and information that could aid the enemy, so I appreciate everything that you're doing as editors, as bureau chiefs out there, to question reports when they come in and make sure that we're not doing something that's going to even compromise your reporters that are out there with our units.
I guess as we go forward, I would remind everybody that the decisive point on the battlefield will change from time to time. You will have reporters that get somewhat anxious perhaps, because they aren't in the thick of a battle and yet they hear there is activity that's going on around them. I would just tell you that every unit out there has a very key role or it wouldn't be there, and at some point it will probably be pressed into service and your reporter will be at that center of gravity or that decisive point. So I encourage you to resist calls from the field saying I need to leave my unit, I need to disembed, or I'll use that term a number of ways in which I'm sure Safire can have some more fun with it, but to leave their unit. Because remember, if you do decide to pull your reporter or your reporter decides to leave on his own accord, there are no rights of return to your embed opportunity. To the greatest extent possible we will try to fill those vacancies as they come open. Some of you have asked for additional opportunities. So if that happens, I will be looking to try to make sure that we maximize all of our slots out there.
I need to mention something about resupply and logistics. I'm afraid that some of our reporters in the field have been lulled into a false sense of security over the last couple of weeks in that we've been able to make a lot of resupply runs for your news crews out there. I'm hoping that a lot of it was just shaking out the bugs of some equipment, some new equipment perhaps, and maybe some new reporters that aren't accustomed to working in those kind of austere environments. But the almost daily or every other day kind of convoys in which we've been able to assist people with broken equipment or replacement batteries and things like that, as we start into combat operations clearly that is not going to be something that we can do on a regular basis like we've been doing while you've been in tactical assembly areas.
I would like to also solicit your assistance once again on casualty reporting. I know a lot of news organizations have put out policies on this and we truly do appreciate it. This is to remind you once again the most sensitive aspect of embedded reporting with respect to our concerns, and that is our ability to use the next of kin notification process to ensure that when somebody is injured, or God forbid killed on the battlefield, that we have the opportunity to get to those loved ones before they have to learn about it through a news report or a television picture or a still photograph out there.
They also have a commitment to you that should your reporters become injured, or God forbid killed out there, that we have established the reporting chain to get that information back here to me and to Ms. Clarke as quick as possible, and we will be making contact with you, those of you that are the designated points of contact for your news organization, so you can make those next of kin notifications with respect to the desires of your organization and your family members out there.
Finally, as we go forward I just want to talk about resolving problems and issues. No one has hesitated, I don't believe, to bring something to my attention when they thought that perhaps it wasn't working the way it was intended to. I encourage you still to do that, but I would also tell you that as the pace of operations picks up that it's important that we all try to resolve these at the lowest level. If you feel there is something that needs to be brought to our attention here, certainly bring it to our attention. If you're talking to a reporter in the field who thinks there's an injustice that's been done or a procedure that's not being followed correctly, it would be helpful to know who they've tried to resolve it with because that will help us cut down on the time in getting to what ground truth might be and being able to assist you.
Clarke: And I'll pile on there. Work it through the food chain and work it through you. If they can't get it resolved at the lower levels, and we'll ask our people to do the same thing, let's not start unilateral pinging of different folks if you will. But if they can't work it out at lower levels, then it clearly is something that is deserving of your attention, so we'd appreciated it if they try to raise those unresolved issues through you.
Whitman: I guess finally I would just ask you since you are in contact with all of your reporters that as hostilities commence please tell them to exercise all caution. I'm reminded by my colleague here, General Davis, who I think got it from one of his commanders, that they can't write if they're dead. They can't file if they're dead and we want them to be safe out there and not to take unnecessary risks. I would hope that you would pass that along to them.
Clarke: Thanks, Bryan.
Anybody else here in the room? [No response]
All right, we will stop there and if anybody has questions or comments chime in. Please identify yourself and your organization because we are recording this and transcribing it.
Lewis: Torie, this is Chuck Lewis at Hearst.
I was wondering if you could drill just a little deeper on the problems you encountered with respect to what you referred to as too much specificity. Was it in terms of future plans or was it in terms of weapons capability? Or could you refer us to that section in the ground rules that we should brush up on?
Clarke: Actually it's a good direction; I'll come back to that.
In the last 48 hours I saw two print stories and one news story, one network story, and in the network story the correspondent was saying well, this is where we were. We can't tell you where we're going, but we're traveling at approximately this pace and we're going in this direction and we expect to get to this approximate part of the world. I'm not being coy here; I'm deliberately being vague. But he was being quite specific about where they were headed and approximately what time he thought they would get there.
The print stories, I saw two people in uniform who were talking with a fair amount of specificity about what kinds of things were going to happen and pinning hours to it.
I don't want to get more specific than that, but I saw things about future operations and it was with a great deal of specificity.
I know everyone is busy and I know everyone is swamped, but we've asked every one of our people to go back and read again the public affairs guidance and go through the ground rules and the criteria, and I encourage all of you to do it as well.
Hume: Torie, it's Kim Hume at Fox.
What is the basis of this call? Are we off the record?
Clarke: No, this is on the record and we're taping it and transcribing it. I'm sorry; I should have said that at the top.
Gertz: This is Bill Gertz at the Washington Times. We're having a problem with a reporter and photographer in Kuwait that have been invited to go with a unit and the unit agreed for them to go, and then they were told that Bryan had nixed the opportunity. I wondered if you could help us out on that. It had something to do with logistics and I was told that the logistics weren't a problem.
Whitman: I'd be happy to talk with you about this off-line, but as a general policy the embeds are all made centrally here. There is no deal cutting. For every embed opportunity out there we have to look across the depth and the breadth of all news organizations, both domestic and international and we believe that we're doing our best to make the right call to get the right people on the battlefield at the right place at the right time. I know there are news organizations that would like more, but we're trying to provide opportunities to as many news organizations as we can. I'd be happy to talk about your situation later today.
Gertz: All right, but as a policy issue, I raised this at the last meeting, that there was some flexibility built into the policy to the point where there would be opportunities for non-embed reporters on a case by case basis.
Clarke: You're both saying absolutely true statements. We've said all along we thought there would be rolling embedding opportunities and we would make the decisions here about which news organizations get which opportunities, and how we decide that is based on trying to make sure there is the broadest and the most comprehensive coverage from a variety of news organizations.
Copeland: Peter Copeland from Scripps Howard.
I'd like to ask everybody on the call if they're having any problems using people's names in stories. Most of our embedded people are able to file full names and hometowns of service personnel, but our person at Al Jaber Air Base in Kuwait is not allowed to use pilot names.
Davis: The Marine Corps is rank, name and hometown. If the service member is uncomfortable giving it, they're advised not to give the interview. That doesn't apply to commanders; however, they have to give their name.
Copeland: I'm sorry, who was the last official?
Davis: That was Brigadier General Drew Davis, Marines.
Copeland: Is anyone from the Air Force around that could address Al Jaber?
White: This is Brigadier General Tim White, SAF/PA. Al Jaber specifically we can deal with later if you'd like to call my office. We're not unlike the Marines in that we encourage individuals to use name and hometown. If they choose not to, we encourage the news media to interview someone else.
Copeland: Okay, that's how I thought it was too.
Hoyt: This is Clark Hoyt at Knight Ridder.
Could you give us an update on getting people into Prince Sultan in Saudi Arabia? We have someone who is supposed to be embedded there who is still not there.
Clarke: Here's what I'll do and it's a conversation I'd be happy to have with you off-line as well. As we've said all along, there are going to be certain places, I won't just pick one, but there will be certain places in which there are host nation sensitivities. You also should know it's something that several of us work constantly, constantly, constantly. We have people from different places from the Services, to us, to CENTCOM Forward, so we're working. Where there are those sensitivities we continue to work them hard and hope for some breakthroughs. That's the most I can tell you right now.
Seib: Gerry Seib at the Wall Street Journal.
Any advice on embedees with the 4th Infantry Division?
Whitman: I'm not sure that I have a crystal ball that I can look into. These are really business decisions that you have to make. You can watch the political situation develop just as we're watching it here in the Pentagon. I don't have additional embed opportunities to provide to you so if that's a factor in your decision making process, it's not as if you have something to pull them from and put them into. But I also understand that you may have other requirements and we understand that perfectly. But at the end of the day, this has to be a decision that's made by you. We are not, 4th ID still stands prepared and prepared to deploy, it just does not have orders to move out at this point.
Lavin: Torie, this is Carl Lavin at the New York Times.
You talked about the next of kin notification for service members and that you don't want, obviously, the press disclosures to be in advance of that, but how do we find out if you've completed the next of kin notifications?
Clarke: You can call OSD/PA at the press office and we can tell you.
We actually put out a release. We work pretty closely with the Services on this one. We work very closely with the Services on this one. And as soon as the next of kin notification is complete, we actually put out a release that states it.
I know this is very, very hard for people for the obvious reasons. Things move fast, things happen, live coverage, those sorts of things, but Bryan referenced it, and some of you may not have been there at the last bureau chiefs meeting when we talked about this. This is a very, very big issue for obvious reasons with the military and it's one of the few areas in which a lot of us had disagreements. So it's very sensitive on our part for obvious reasons. So we just, again, urge people to work with us as much as possible on this one.
Johnson: Torie, Sandy [Johnson] with Associated Press.
The casualty notices, will they go up on the DoD site as quickly as they're released on paper?
Clarke: Yes, ma'am.
Whitman: Sandy, actually one of the best ways is if you have somebody that has that responsibility in your news organization, you can sign up for our news releases, subscribe to them through the DefenseLink so they automatically get e-mailed to you. They would pop right into your e-mail account as soon as we posted them so you wouldn't have to constantly be checking.
Johnson: Do you have that at hand or would you e-mail that to me later?
Whitman: Certainly, and for everybody that's on here, if you go to DefenseLink.mil, there's a box on there that says subscribe to news. That's where it's.
Atlas: Torie, it's Terry [Atlas] at U.S. News.
What should we expect in terms of an organized blackout at the start of operations, in terms of not hearing from people or people not being allowed to contact us, and do you have any reason to expect that technology like the sat phones will be blocked electronically for some period of time?
Clarke: Individual situations will determine what can be transmitted and when. Again, if you go back and read the guidance and read the guidelines, it makes it pretty clear what the policy is.
Atlas: Do you expect any kind of electronic interference with satellite phone and other types of transmission equipment?
Clarke: As somebody who has never been able to figure out how radios work, I admit my complete ignorance of all things technical. But there are always technical difficulties.
Q: Let me follow up on that a little bit. I presume you would know if there were military capabilities to block sat phones. Are you saying that you do not know of any plans to interfere with those kinds of transmissions, civilian transmissions?
Clarke: Let me address it this way. Two things. One I'll just repeat. Individual situations and circumstances will determine when and how people can transmit their product. But that's well known. The people who are on the ground or on the ships with your people are making that very, very clear to the correspondents and the mission there is to let people know as much in advance what they can do and when they can do it.
The again -- mission and intent -- we've made very clear and we have this written down and we've had the direction from the highest levels, not just to get the media there, to be there when action starts, but also to enable them to get their product back in as timely a fashion as possible and as appropriate.
So we will do what we can to help people get their products back without doing anything that might put a mission at risk or put lives at risk.
Whitman: If I could just add a note on that, some of you are already experiencing some difficulties from the field. It's because of the limitations of satellite and the amount of bandwidth that's going up there and the amount of cell phone usage, so that region of the world is well saturated not only with military forces using the spectrum but also with news media using the spectrum, so some of you have already experienced some of those issues.
Pexton: This is Patrick Pexton with National Journal. I have a follow-up on the satellite phone question.
Our correspondent, George Wilson, who is embedded with the Marines, he has been, this is a two-day dispute that I think we've settled, but he was asked to give up his satellite phone number and he initially refused because he didn't want to give up something that he thought might be blocked when he wouldn't want it blocked. So initially he refused to give the Marines his satellite phone number and they went round and round on this for about two days. Eventually he did give it to them, and told me that along with that I should file a protest with both of you, Torie and Bryan, to tell you he was doing it under duress and didn't feel it was proper.
Our other correspondent with the Army has never been asked for his satellite phone number and I'm wondering if there's a policy on this. Is this just the Marines being anal? Or why do they have to give up their satellite phone numbers?
Clarke: General Davis is furiously writing notes. Go, General Davis.
Davis: What specific unit is he with?
Pexton: I think he's with the 311th or 321st Artillery Battalion.
Davis: No such thing in the Marine Corps.
Pexton: Well, okay. He's with an artillery battalion. I'll have to look it up. I don't have it with me.
Wilkinson: There was a general e-mail that went out to a number of organizations asking for all the satellite --
Clarke: I'm sorry, is that Wendy?
Wilkinson: Yeah, I'm sorry. It's me.
Pexton: But our Army correspondent was never asked for it. Only our Marine Corps respondent was.
Davis: And they wanted the cell phone number?
Davis: I'll find out for you. Give me your telephone number.
Pexton: Patrick Pexton at National Journal. My number is (202) 739-8433.
Whitman: Patrick raises a good point. We'd be more than happy to track some of these things. It sounds like you worked it at the local level pretty good, which is where we want you to try and do these things, and if you do feel you need to involve us, the more specific that you can get and people you have talked to on the ground, the easier it is for us and the faster it is for us to try to pinpoint the nature of the problem for you.
Leubsdorf: Carl Leubsdorf of the Dallas Morning News.
I recall a conversation about this requesting these numbers, and we were told the purpose was to prevent them from being knocked out when they were jamming numbers. So they'd know what numbers not to jam. I don't know if that's correct.
Wilkinson: Wendy Wilkinson again.
The e-mail came from a 1LT Albert G. Escales from 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, PA, public affairs.
Clarke: I think General Davis will be having a conversation soon.
Q: It went out to all the, I guess the embed contacts.
Davis: I'll get an answer for you.
Pexton: Actually, this is Patrick with National Journal. I have a little bit more information on the dispute that George had.
The person he was dealing with was a Captain Blankenship. He is the Regimental Adjutant with the 7th Marines. He was at Camp Ripper.
Davis: Got it.
Tobias: Ed Tobias from AP Radio.
Do you have a better feel than you had earlier in the week for a schedule of briefings, gaggles, both here and in Doha?
Clarke: It's still a work in progress, but suffice it to say that when military action ensues there will be a full and robust schedule of briefings from a variety of places and I'm very hopeful, my earlier derogatory comments about technology, technology will hold up enough that there may be instances in which there is a unit commander who can actually do a briefing of some sort. Not exactly beautiful and high tech, but do a briefing of some sort from where he is.
Foster-Simeon: This is Ed Foster-Simeon at USA Today.
A question on the briefings follow-up. If activity starts late in the night are you expecting a prompt briefing immediately after the President speaks?
Clarke: You can just expect a full and robust schedule of briefings.
Beck: Torie, this is Tobin Beck at UPI.
There are some reports out already, there's one on the DEPCA web site that the invasion has begun with the advance of Marines and British 1st Armored Division into Iraq, a second column crossing into DMZ on Iraqi border with Kuwait.
Has action started already? Or can you comment at all on that?
Clarke: I think we are in the thick and furious rumor and speculation phase. So I won't participate in the rumor and speculation phase.
Beck: Okay, but --
Clarke: Let me go back to what I said at the start of the call. Clearly we always care deeply about operational security and that's why, as I said, I had some small heart attack moments over the last few days when I saw people talking or being reported with some specificity about timing and locations and directions. And it's equally obvious that we wouldn't talk about any operational details at all.
Q: Clearly we want to avoid reporting rumors. We want to report only solid information --
Clarke: Well you don't want to be reporting solid information about operational details that could put missions at risk or put people's lives at risk.
Q: Okay. That gets back to the previous question about the --
Clarke: And I said everything -- Your people who cover this place 24/7 and the hundreds who are at CENTCOM Forward will know in a very timely fashion about briefings and things like that.
Clarke: Folks, I'm going to apologize because I have to run upstairs for a 1:00 o'clock meeting. We'll keep this line open. If there are any additional questions or comments, then you know where to find us. Thanks.