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ASD PA Clarke Meeting with DoD National Media Pool Bureau Chiefs

Presenters: Victoria Clarke, ASD PA
February 07, 2002 10:00 AM EDT

(Meeting with DoD National Media Pool bureau chiefs)

Clarke: Thank you all for being here today. A few things more in the housekeeping category, and one, I'm going to seek your advice.

A couple of people correctly pointed out that, I believe it was Jack Cushman's idea originally, and then Tom Glad over at the Press Club has really helped in terms of the posting of materials from various pools. We've heard at least anecdotally that that seems to be working very well. So I just want to thank them for doing that, and I just wanted to check with you all and make sure that was working well the last time we needed it, if that was a system that we should keep in mind as we go forward.

It seemed to work pretty well for folks?

Sandy Johnson [Associated Press]: If those folks are willing to do that.

Clarke: They were willing to do it, they were happy to do it, they seemed to be on top of things I just wanted to give everybody a heads up and say if there are any problems, let us know. We didn't get any complaints and people seemed pretty happy, so I just wanted to thank them for that.

Owen Ullmann [USA Today]: Although I think probably we should say that in the past, Torie, the Pentagon has provided the distribution and there's an Internet site available to do it. So that to me would be the ideal situation, rather than having us run our stuff from the Press Club.

Clarke: Even those things that are not DoD National Media Pool?

Q: Yes. The web site's there.

Q: How are TV and photos distributing pool material?

Q: Completely.

Q: Pictures and --

Q: Send them on the network.

Q: We've got it hooked up between the three wires.

Q: The thing that worked particularly well with the system we had with the Press Club was the e-mailing out when material came in. That was a substantial step up. Rather than needing to go --

Clarke: Right. Got it. Okay, we'll keep talking to them and we'll keep kicking it around here.

Q: I was going to say there's to me a couple of spectacular differences. The DoD media pool site that we run is only accessible to the members of the DoD national media pool. So everybody in this room it's okay. But the Press Club, I believe, made it more widely available.

The second thing is, it's (inaudible). We're not in the loop. To some people that's an advantage --

Clarke: And some people it's not.

Q: During the Gulf War wasn't everything available on the Pentagon site?

Q: Yeah. I think so.

Q: It's my recollection.

Q: Just the national media pool. Not everybody, no.

Q: So the Peoria Journal couldn't access it.

Q: -- during the Gulf War.

Q: Well how did the post it? Stuff was posted through the Pentagon, though.

Q: Right.

Q: And then handed out here

Clarke: Physically handed out? How quaint.

Q: If I remember Gulf War, it was the DoD national media pool stuff was available on the web site, and then some stuff was sent back on, I don't know, teletype or fax or --

Q: Was it handed out here?

Q: -- the key and --

Q: Each organization had their own password.

Q: It was transmitted electronically by the military to the Pentagon and it was printed out here and made available in the press room.

Clarke: Got it. How quaint. All right. We'll keep looking at it.

The second thing I wanted to talk about is briefings. More rather than less we've been doing the five day a week briefings, and lately there have been other topics such as the budget and things like that. But as we've said all along, there are going to be periods in the war on terrorism where there's lot of military activity you see. There will be periods where there are things you don't see. There will be periods where there aren't things going on.

So we're not, we don't have a whole lot to talk about in the war per se from the military perspective. We've got lots of other things going on. We've got the Secretary coming out twice a week, those sorts of things.

But I just wanted to offer up that we are not getting the driving sense from your correspondents of the need to necessarily brief five days a week, and we certainly don't feel as though we've got the news, the content to put out there necessarily five days a week.

We're keeping people pretty busy and there are a fair number of things going on, but I just wanted to throw out on the table the issue of the five days a week. I know that was very important a couple of months ago. I don't get the sense it's as important now.

Johnson: We certainly prefer it. We have an insatiable need, 24/7.

Clarke: We are 24/7. We are available, we answer questions, we provide information 24/7. That is different than briefings five days a week.

Robin Sproul [ABC News]: I guess part of the reason always has been, the same with the White House, and they don't do it every day in fact in fact either. It's just to have someone available if things have happened. You can't always tell the afternoon before that something will or will not be available.

Clarke: Right. And that is always the case.

Q: Are you going to keep doing the informal mornings, nine o'clock or so, things that you do with the regulars?

Clarke: We haven't done them the last few days because almost everything was budget so we just sort of, everybody was focused on that. But we do kind of a temperature check first thing in the morning when we come in. A, is there anything to talk about; B, is there any interest. So that's an easy thing we can do.

Jerry Seib [The Wall Street Journal]: Two issues. One is making information available. And we certainly don't need briefings for that. The advantage of briefings, and I'm not saying they have to be five days a week, is they are an opportunity for very senior people, whether it's the Secretary of someone from the Joint Chiefs, to talk about these issues. It gives more credibility to have access to them sometimes.

So I would come down where so long as whether the Secretary or someone at a senior level is briefing at least several times a week, and it could be driven by news or announcements. And the other times there are people available to answer. Because every day, as Sandy was saying, there's always going to be a lot of news to check out. Why are you here, this person's been shot, whatever.

Clarke: And there are other things. As we turn into this year and the budget there are other things that we want to be talking about with senior people. Whether it's the budget or as we start to get to some decisions on the detainees, the designation of detainees in the Geneva Convention, we'd like to have our general counsel up there. So I think there will always be things to fill the vacuum. I just wanted to give you a sense of where we are in terms of absolutely five days a week. Sometimes there's just no air there.

Bryan Whitman?

Bryan Whitman [deputy director, DoD Press Office]: We're all getting to know each other pretty well, but when we do the transcript it's hard to identify who's made what comments, so if we could just identify yourself to the microphone. I know we all know you, but --

Clarke: Thank you.

Chuck Lewis [Hearst Newspapers]: Torie, Chuck Lewis.

Did you come to a decision here on your briefing schedule?

Clarke: Well, any more inputs?

Sproul: I sort of agree with Owen, and I think it's something that needs to be revisited from time to time.

Clarke: Constantly.

Sproul: More is usually better for us but I don't see a huge need to have a mandated five day a week at this point. As long as there's high level access on an ongoing basis and the 24/7 availability.

Clarke: Okay. Then with the commitment that we will always revisit this, and really, we do gut checks on this sort of thing daily. Commitment to constantly revisit it, then we will stand down slightly from five days a week. Can and will change as the circumstances demand.

Q: Can you clarify that? Are you talking about four days a week?

Clarke: Several days a week.

Q: Two to three seems reasonable, depending on --

Clarke: And the Secretary himself, he and I have talked about this, on war issues on other issues related to the Department of Defense, we want him out there. Which I know is different than what the historical precedent is, but we want him out there.

Carl Leubsdorf [The Dallas Morning News]: Dallas Morning News.

I assume that if we end up with a major military operation in a --

Clarke: Oh, absolutely.

Leubsdorf: -- Middle Eastern country that begins with the letter I -- (laughter)

Clarke: Now Carl, certain military operations depending on the country we won't do it. But other major military operations we will.

Leubsdorf: -- something major happens --

Clarke: Absolutely.

Leubsdorf: -- large scale commitment -- (laughter)

Clarke: Indiana? What are we doing in Indiana? Absolutely.

Johnson: I point out that in non-war time you brief on Tuesdays and Thursdays so I would like to keep it above that level as long as we're at war. I think it's a way for us to get on-the-record material. I haven't noticed any dearth of questions at the briefings.

Clarke: Right. Absolutely.

Rob Doherty [Reuters]: I would agree with Sandy. And also for us the nine o'clock is very important. It gets us going early in the day, so I'd ask that you keep those going as much as you can.

Clarke: Although we're going to start turning the TVs off in my office, because did you hear what happens? It's hilarious. Because often, sometimes it's a quiet day and we do a little housekeeping and we talk. Then people sitting around the table where they're facing the TVs will see the kyrons [ph] running. Wait a minute, can you tell me what -- (Laughter) MSNBC is reporting, and it's hilarious. So no TVs on.

Q: They have some function. You answer, then they run out, and then they go on the air and report -- (laughter)

Clarke: No, we find that pretty useful too. It's just some mornings that it's just absolutely nothing really going on. So we're constantly in the hallway and these guys are constantly working with everybody.

Jeff Goldman [CBS News]: So Torie, Are you thinking of designating days or just sort of playing it by ear the night before or that morning? How are you --

Clarke: Really playing it by ear makes more sense. Rather than putting yourself into artificial boxes. But yeah, there's no lack of things we'd like to be talking about as well.

Q: You mean above the Tuesday and Thursday. Or not even Tuesday and Thursday?

Clarke: Probably, yeah.

Q: So we can count on those two days? I'm just --

Clarke: I don't think we want to say it's these exact days. Because for instance if we get some answers from some decisions on detainee designation and Geneva Convention issues today then of course we want to be out there tomorrow talking about it. So I'd rather just say we're going to be out there several times a week in lots of different ways. Rather than saying stick to a particular routine just because that's what the particular routine used to be.

Q: In most cases we put it out on DefenseLink or whatever --

Clarke: Oh, yeah. We try to. As soon as we get a hard decision we try to give you as much of a heads up as possible.

Q: For pool cameras and so forth to be in place --

Clarke: Right.

Q: -- the morning you change your mind as to who's going to brief or when, so --

Clarke: We never change our mind. It's people above us.

Okay.

Ullmann: Is the nine o'clock in person? Is that how you do it? Can people phone into that?

Clarke: Can people phone into that? I hadn't thought about that. You're going to start making it very cumbersome.

Ullmann: Well, I ask. It's good -- We see the wires obviously so that we kind of know what's going on. On the other hand sometimes we may want to ask something. If we don't have people who are here 24/7 --

Johnson: Get your butt over there --

Clarke: Thank you Sandy Johnson of AP who just said get your butt over there. Let's make sure we got that recorded. (laughter) I have to say the informal nature of it, and we all sort of agreed together, those who regularly attend. It's ten minutes. We try very hard to stick to that. It's not intended to be --

Remember, that was Sandy Johnson of the AP who said -- (laughter)

Q: I'll be here tomorrow, Sandy. (laughter)

Clarke: The last thing I want to raise, and I want you all to think about this and give us your advice. The continuing saga of images out of Guantanamo. I know everybody who's down there trying to cover this feels enormously burdened by the restrictions on images and being X-hundred yards away and no images by which a detainee could be identified or that sort of thing.

The other side of it is we have gotten and continue to receive an enormous amount of heat for those images. And we are getting a lot of pressure, I am getting a lot of pressure from different people to say there should be no images coming out of Guantanamo.

Q: Meaning what?

Clarke: Meaning no images coming out of Guantanamo.

Maria Mann [Agence France-Presse]: The heat is because of what?

Clarke: Because people, some people would say that the detainees are being held up for public ridicule. Some people would say the detainees can be identified. We've got an issue going with the AP photographer right now down there. It's a variety of things. But there is a whole lot of pressure saying look, we're trying. We're trying to accommodate people, we're trying to facilitate coverage of this situation, but for instance, and I don't think anybody meant anything about it, but last week at some point there was, it was on CNN and the camera was where it was supposed to be and it had a variety of footage of things going on, and the voice-over was here's what's going on with detainees and it said they're getting medical treatment, it said they're getting good food, it said they're getting exercise, it also said they're being subjected to questioning, which they are.

And the point at which the voice-over said something about subjected to questioning, it showed one of the detainees being moved on a stretcher, which prompted in some places of the world rabid headlines. What's next? Electrodes?

So those who wish to do us harm, those who want to find ways to criticize us, it gives them the opportunity to do so and it is creating an enormous, enormous amount of heat.

And we have an issue right now with some AP photos that ran in which the detainee is clearly identifiable, which is clearly against the ground rules, clearly against everything we agreed upon, and clearly against what people who are down there working, signed pieces of paper said they would abide by.

I am really getting a lot of pressure here, so I'm seeking advice, counsel, talking points, etc.

Tim Aubry [Reuters]: The ground rules have been spelled out all the times we've gone on. I think in at least the first two occasions that there was any kind of identifiable stuff, they were things done that were released from the Pentagon. I mean that were released, either be it here or be it the military services. The specific instance you're mentioning now I'm not involved with, but I think for the most part the ground rules have been adhered to and I don't think a void of images is going to help. I mean I think sometimes a void is going to create more of a problem than that. Then they're saying now they don't let us see them at all, or who knows what they're doing? It's obviously getting worse. They must be killing them or something down there.

I think the idea that you, if we can abide by the ground rules, and I think those who don't abide should be held accountable and don't -- It's very easy to see who it is. The images are out there. Don't use them at that point.

But in that same regard I wanted to push it a little farther. I'm having a harder time finding the decision between letting us see them being moved on stretchers and things like that with not letting us see an airplane and people deplaning the plane. That's continually been a bone of contention for us. We talked with the general actually on Tuesday night, had a long discussion with him.

Clarke: Right.

Aubry: He told me he had no problem with it. He said the decision comes from Washington.

The other side of the stretcher thing is, one of the things that was explained to our people down there is that they were being moved on stretchers because even if they weren't necessarily injured, they were going to move some people on stretchers because it was easier to move them than to try and have them walk in the chains and stuff that they're in.

I don't think anyone is saying let these guys roam free. And they understand that. So the stretchers give the ability to move the guys quicker and it's not nearly as hard on the people that try and walk in chains.

Clarke: I agree completely with everything you're saying. But there are many out there, not your organizations necessarily, who don't provide that kind of context.

Aubry: I will come back a little bit on that. Just because we were there when the stretchers were moved the first time, we specifically worked backwards on that twice and asked them why they were being moved on stretchers. The people that were with our photographer said we don't know. We can't give you any more information than that. They're being moved on stretchers, they're going from where they are now to where they're going to go and be questioned. That's all we can tell you.

Well, as the stuff got out obviously there was, the disinformation is harder, which I think if we're given the basic reason why, and especially the idea that we're moving them for ease, if you are indeed moving people on stretchers because it's easier for them to move being rolled than it is walking with chains on, as long as that's made available to us we have no problem. We put a clarification out adding that information to our captions which you're right. I think some of the heat was done because there wasn't enough information to start. Our people can push so far and when they're told we don't have that information or we can't give it to you, they're somewhat constrained as to what they can do.

Clarke: No criticism of people who work for you all. They're all I think trying to be very, very responsible. In most cases they are. But even when the context is provided there are those who still use it to --

Mann: We can put mandatory caption information or put a slug in the caption saying that the picture must be used on context with the information that's given. That's mandatory information that goes out.

Q: Unfortunately, that works for the media, but if it gets distributed on the internet, and probably what's where the problems come in. If there's no cut line information --

Q: -- people like Amnesty International and places who are going to take the stuff and push it to the other extreme. I don't think a void is the right answer for that either. I don't think saying okay, now they're just absolutely not visible any more. We're just going to ignore the idea that they're there, that they're not visible. I think --

Clarke: I'll tell you what the push back to that argument is. Again, I agree with you. But the push back on that argument is this. The ICRC is there, they are doing everything the ICRC does, they are observing things. There have been people from other countries down there observing. The Brits were down there, came back and said detainees are being treated fine. So what some people are saying is continue to allow people there to observe, continue to allow people there to see these people are being treated very humanely, to understand why they're being moved, ways they're being moved, etc. Don't provide the visual images that can then be used against us. So don't stop the flow of information, don't stop the observations, but stop the visual images that are being used against us, are being used in a way --

Q: (inaudible) can be construed differently just as pictures can.

Q: So Torie, you don't have a problem with the ground rules, do you?

Clarke: No, I don't have a problem with the ground rules at all, and most people are abiding by them. We had a little flare-up in one situation here. I'm sharing with you that I am getting enormous pressure saying even with the ground rules, even though people are abiding by them, no harm, no foul on most of the media. This is still a problem and it is creating bigger problems for us.

Q: Do the sources of pressure understand that our adversaries will put a spin on whatever visuals they have or whatever words they have to fit their own purposes? That's their right.

Clarke: Yes.

Q: It's very easy to do that. I'll give you a perfect example of what could be used against you, just as what we use against them can be misconstrued.

Take for example, and it just struck me, during the beginning of the airstrikes a pilot coming back found himself really grinning, really happy that he had a successful airstrike can be used against you just as easily.

Clarke: Uh huh.

Q: So I still think that we have the responsibility to report visually and textually out of there and I think that the ground rules just need to be abided by and the information needs to be very specific in those captions. And if we have that information we'll put it in there and make sure it goes out that way.

Clarke: Uh huh.

Ullmann: Torie, I would just add that if you have nothing to hide and truth is on your side, I would argue you should have even more images because ultimately it will vindicate you. And of course as everyone has been saying people who want to propagandize against the military will find ways to do it with pictures, words --

Clarke: I agree.

Ullmann: And of course on the internet you can manipulate images anyhow. So it doesn't matter --

Clarke: -- blaming a particular outlet or a particular medium.

Ullmann: The answer to, when you feel right in truth and the facts are on your side, full disclosure is usually the best policy period. And that's been borne out in history. And that would be the argument I would make to those who are saying we've got to shut down because when you shut off information everyone's going to assume you're hiding something. Period.

Clarke: I agree.

Q: Because we're suspicious, sneaky people.

Q: We are. We're suspicious of motivations.

Q: It's not just us.

Q: Everyone is.

Clarke: Robin?

Sproul: Speaking for TV, when we're doing those stories there are going to be some images up there, no matter what we do from here on out. And we're shut out of there, what we're doing then is probably re-racking and running all the old pictures. Or making every effort to shoot telephone and on the hillside or whatever, which I think in the end is more ominous and tells people that we've been excluded in a way that I don't see works to your advantage. But I don't think that you're going to now see stories with no pictures. There will be pictures. Going to Owen's point, if it's the truth and the facts are on you side I think it works to your advantage to enforce that we abide by the ground rules and get pictures.

Q: And taking the hillside argument one step farther. We will indeed continue to do that from the other side, which we have done quite successfully so far. But it does make -- Back to the original question I had for you on the actual airplane. Is there a decision, has there been a decision made here? We always kind of get into the circle of the decision was made some place else, but I'm told that it stopped here.

Is there a decision not to let the guys on the, the press on that thing? Still not do the planes? I know on the very first one we did --

Clarke: When you say do the planes, what do you mean?

Q: Make pictures of the plane or the prisoners -- either the plane itself or the prisoners being deplaned from those --

Clarke: No images of them coming off the plane, being moved to the buses, being moved on and off the buses, in the processing phase, if you will. None.

Q: How about the plane itself? And is there a Geneva Convention -- I don't see what's driving that if you're letting us see them move on the stretchers. Again, we're trying to carry it one step farther, you're trying to move one step back. But I'm kind of confused as to why we can't show them -- especially if we're not showing their faces coming down the steps, going out to the bus or anything. We're doing it, like I say, we're doing it with a long glass from far away, and it does look ominous. It looks, man look at those -- It's harder to tell from there. But --

Clarke: Reference back to the previous experiences. And the security, the greatest concerns about security are when they are moving them. When they are taking them off the plane, when they're putting them on and off the buses, when they're going through the processing, when they first arrive there. That is the greatest concern about security and the local commander and I don't disagree with them all. I support them on this. Says we need to be focused on the job at hand and that is all we should be focused on. So that's partially the concern there. And it is also the great concern we have to be very, very sensitive to those aspects of the Geneva Convention that says these people shall not be held up for any kind of public curiosity, ridicule, choose your words. We are going overboard not to let that happen. So that's why.

Q: I agree with that. But when, especially on the very first one when we brought them in, they took the press up to a vantage point up above. They obviously had already committed some personnel to be with this media group. They took them in but made us leave the cameras in the van. We're far enough away -- I don't want to go shoot them as they walk down the step, I'm not asking to be wide angle. But we're far enough away where we could do something of the plane itself, which I don't think is going to change the security aspects of -- I mean it's just a plane landing or a plane on the tarmac. If you don't want us to do the actual deplaning and stuff for security reasons I can go with that, but --

Clarke: So it would just be the plane flying and landing?

Q: Right. That would make it a lot more --

Clarke: I'll raise it. No promises, but I will commit to raising it and asking them. I think I know what their concerns will be, but I won't say that until I know for certain. But I will raise that.

Q: -- putting us up in an observer status for that. You let observers in to the very first plane, and they let us report about it, talk about it, they just wouldn't let us make the images. If it's not an identifiable image I'm all right with that.

And then the big picture, when you go back to the faces and identifiable images, from our perspective, the faces, they're all nameless, faceless people. We don't have any interest in having faces. I have stressed that to every person that's gone in for me. We have no need, no use for --

Clarke: You don't, but many people do.

Q: I understand that.

Clarke: And there are huge issues there, and there have been some instances in the last day or so in which images have run in which they are clearly identifiable.

Q: I understand your concern with that. That's not a push for the most part on our behalf.

Clarke: I apologize. I do have to go. Only these guys are here, if you have some more questions. But thank you. I will raise that issue on the plane. We'll get an answer today.

Q: There's one coming today.

Q: Torie, I think that the travel arrangements with the Secretary as far as we're concerned have worked out fine. We got on one trip, didn't get on another, but I think it is such an improvement over the previous system that I just applaud having a system.

Clarke: Having a system is a huge improvement.

Q: -- is this a new --

Q: -- roster right now. I mean your reporters can come in about any time. But one of them is the Secretary's, one of them is the Deputy Secretary's, where you stand in the rotation right now --

Clarke: Thank you everybody.

Q: Did you give any guidance today on the convoy? I don't know if you did at 9:00 o'clock. The convoy hit by the Predator.

Clarke: Convoy hit by the Predator. You mean the incident yesterday?

Q: al Qaeda --

Clarke: Not a convoy. Yesterday's incident?

Q: Yeah. I'm asking if you gave any more guidance this morning on --

Clarke: No. Thank you.

Q: Unless you have something --

Q: I actually have a couple of questions.

Q: Is there any consideration being given to use of the pool as operations start taking place in very remote parts of the world?

A: I think the use of the pool has always been on the table and I think it will always be considered when operations are being planned.

Q: I think you're getting into places which are even harder to get to than Afghanistan, and I can understand why the desire not to have any of us around, and there are legitimate considerations there. Not to be flip about it. But it also strikes me that you're going into places where it's even harder for -- One reason for using the pool is to use it in places where it's hard or for some reason you don't want a lot of coverage. It seems to me if you go into more remote places there might be a reason to have it.

Clarke: That's exactly right.

Johnson: For historical purposes, I'd point out that, I've been doing some reading, that on the day after the air war started against Iraq Pete Williams arranged for a charter to leave Andrews that took 125 journalist over to Saudi Arabia. So pool or not, if you guys, and of course nobody has anybody in Saudi Arabia right now. If you can keep that in mind, that there have been arrangements like that in the past that have been helpful.

I have a question about Guantanamo. Do you anticipate a larger media presence there that will not involve moving people in and out once a week? Either more people there or longer duration?

A: Not at the moment. They have been rotating groups of about 20 and they've been -- There was a period of time when we didn't have people arriving, as you know. For some of that period of time there were several off-days, if you like. But there have been media there most days. Most often the group coming out is followed like on the next day by the next group coming in. I think that will be more likely the pattern.

Johnson: Similar pattern.

A: I think the pattern will be similar. There will be groups of 20. We haven't heard any indication of changing that number and that they will go for an overnight or a couple of overnights. That will vary slightly according to the transportation availabilities. And there will be sort of an open day in between now and them, or a couple of open days. Again, that will depend to some extent on the transportation availabilities.

Johnson: Obviously the detainees are going to be there for quite a long time.

A: It may end up, we went through this with the aircraft carriers in the Arabian Gulf, remember, where they eventually ran out of people in Bahrain waiting in line to go. And that may eventually happen in Guantanamo. But at the moment they're planning to continue what they've been doing.

Q: And this is being done on the basis of people applying here to go?

A: No, sir. Through SouthCom, Southern Command Headquarters in Miami.

Doherty: Previously there has been a discussion about flights that would leave Bahrain and stop at various towns in Afghanistan. The last week we were asked to express interest or lack thereof. I was wondering where that stood.

A: I haven't heard. I know Admiral Quigley --

A: -- solicit your thoughts on that and ask you to get in touch with us. And to be honest with you the response was pretty mild as it was the first time that we kind of had asked people.

So it's something that's still being looked at in terms of getting out to some of those areas and particularly seeing some of the humanitarian efforts that are going on out in various parts of Afghanistan. But we don't really have anything to announce.

A: Admiral Quigley's in town, some of you may have seen him. He was over on the Hill this morning with General Franks. He's going to be back I think, and I'll ask him this afternoon.

I know there was a solicitation for the idea, but I haven't heard back from him where those plans stand.

Anything else?

Q: Torie didn't answer whether we would have any access to being on the plane that's transporting the prisoners.

A: At the moment anything that has to do with transportation is, we're not having any coverage, no media on board, no photography.

Q: Thanks.