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Pentagon Press Secretary Conducts Off-Camera Briefing

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN KIRBY: Let me start in all seriousness with expressing our deepest condolences to the friends and the families, the loved ones of those three Idaho National Guard personnel killed yesterday in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash near Boise. I think you're all aware of that. Our thoughts and prayers are, of course, with those who are mourning their loss, and we thank them for their service to the nation. We standby to support the families in in whatever way we can.

Another mission that I'd like to highlight is the littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords, LCS-10, which recently completed a very successful deployment supporting the counter-narcotics mission in the Southern Command area of operation yesterday. The ship operated approximately 11,400 pounds of cocaine and 9,000 pounds of marijuana worth an estimated $211 million, all seized in international waters in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The offload was a result of eight separate suspected drug smuggling vessel interdictions or events off the coast of Mexico, Central and South America by three Coast Guard cutters and, of course, the USS Gabrielle Giffords between October and December of last year.

Now today, as you may know, the United States and the Russian Federation agreed to extend the New START Treaty for five years. This extension is in the national interest of the United States and supports the President's priority to protect the American people and our allies and partners from an otherwise, unconstrained and dangerous nuclear arms race. For the Department of Defense, there are no required force structure changes to implement the extension since we are already in compliance.

Now, the President has made clear that the New START extension continuation is the beginning, not the end of our efforts to engage the Russian Federation and other countries to reduce nuclear threats and address strategic stability concerns. I think you also saw when the intention to extend was made early on in the administration as the Secretary came out in full support of that as well, just to -- just to level-set and remind you that.

Okay. And I have another meeting that I'd like to read out to you. I don't have something to read, so I'm just going to do it.

The Secretary today earlier this morning, right before noon, met -- hosted a meeting with all of the service secretaries and the service chiefs to talk about extremism in the military. And he made a couple of points that I want to stress. One is he, right off the bat, reasserted his belief, and the belief of all of the chiefs and service secretaries, that the vast, vast majority of men and women who serve in uniform in the military are doing so with honor, and integrity, and character, and do not espouse the sorts of beliefs that lead to the kind of conduct that could be so detrimental to good order and discipline, and in fact criminal.

That said, he also made that even though that numbers may be small, they may not be small as we would like them to be or that we believe them to be. And that, no matter what it is, it is -- it is not an insignificant problem that has to be addressed.

So, he did two things in this meeting. One, he wanted to talk to -- and the Chairman Milley and the Vice Chairman, he wanted to talk to the senior civilian and military leaders about how they saw the issue of extremism in the military and offer -- and solicit from them any thoughts they might have about things we can do to get better knowledge and awareness, and maybe even some potential solutions.

But the second thing he did is he ordered a stand-down of the entire force to occur over the next 60 days so that each service, each command, each unit can take the time out to have these needed discussions with the men and women of the force. I am sure that you'll want a lot more granular detail on this. I promise you that's forthcoming.

We owe the force. We owe these leaders some -- some training materials, some deeper, more-specific guidance about how to conduct, or what the expectations are about, not how to conduct but what the expectations are for the stand-down, and -- and some thoughts about how feedback can be provided.

So as soon as I have more detail about this, I will absolutely provide it to you that this was something that the Secretary felt strongly about this that he thought we needed to take the necessary time out. And, of course, that will be dependent among unit commanders when they do this, but he wanted it done over the course of the next 60 days. And thought it was important to take that time out to focus on this specific issue.

And with that, we take questions. Meghann?

Q: So I have a question into Dave about this as well, but was there any discussion there about what that looks like with that sort of getting an idea of how much extremism is going on in the ranks because we ask and we can't get numbers really from the services about --

MR. KIRBY: Right.

Q: -- open investigations. And it's weird because, you know, the services essentially tracks sexual assaults. They track suicides because Congress said so. But also in the Navy you can call them up and ask for a spreadsheet of all their hazing investigations, you know, from the past year that have blurbs about who this was between and what was said and what was done.

And I'm wondering why something like that doesn't exist for, you know, improper language in a unit or an FBI investigation or a CID investigation so that you guys can really see…

MR. KIRBY: It’s important to remember that, what – under current policy, because I don’t want to get predictive about what might and might not change as a result of this work. But under current policy it's really tied to activity and conduct.

Q: Right.

MR. KIRBY: And there is already the Uniform Code of Military Justice that helps us (inaudible) and adjudicate and hold people accountable for conduct. So under current policy, it's not against the rules for you to have a certain belief.

Q: Sure.

MR. KIRBY: But if you act on that belief in a way that violates the UCMJ, then the system can make you accountable.

So to your question, Meghann, I wouldn't be surprised that the services cannot provide you a number of people who think a certain way or espouse a certain way or even…

Q: I’m asking for open investigations, non-judicial punishments, stuff like that. What people say on the internet is not really the problem, it's that this stuff goes on but it's not centrally tracked in a way that a service chief could be like, ‘okay, so what do we do at the end with here?’ It's just kind of like a whack-a-mole sort of unit level in-the-shadows thing that's going on.

Chairman Milley can’t go like ‘alright, how many FBI investigations to we have open, how many CID or OSI investigations? And how many non-judicial punishments have we handed out for people using white supremacist language with their peers in their unit, for instance?

MR. KIRBY: As far as I know, there's no central tracking procedure for any routine UCMJ violation. I mean, so, you know, it's driven by the services, in many cases -- in some cases, delegated down to a regional command that would keep track of that stuff. So I can't really answer your question.

Q: Yes.

MR. KIRBY: So I know I'm being not helpful here.

Q: But my point is that the Navy decided hazing is something we want to get our -- our minds around.

MR. KIRBY: Right.

Q: So they put a spreadsheet together, everybody reports up their hazing incidents --

MR. KIRBY: Right. I'm not saying --

Q: We ask them for that. But it seems like something that could also be done by the services for us…

MR. KIRBY: I’m not saying it can’t be done, I’m just saying we don't have a process in place. And look, I think there's a lot we don't know about this. And I don't want to get into the decision space for the Secretary, but certainly raising awareness…

One of the things the Secretary said today was that this is, in his view, very much a leadership issue, and it's got to be a leadership issue down to the lowest levels, small unit leadership all the way up to him, in fact he said it in almost exactly those words.

So if you consider the leadership issue then -- then maybe there'll be some potential solutions there to allow us greater visibility but, you know, and I can’t speak for the services right now. 

Lita, I'm sorry, I'm still not used to this format, so I apologize for not hitting you first.

Q: No, no, that's fine because I just wanted to make a note. For all of us on the phone, it's very, very difficult to understand you. It sounds really really muffled. I don't know if you're speaking through a mask or whatever, but just FYI, a lot of people who are on the phone are having a really hard time understanding you so I don’t know if it’s the microphone or what, but just FYI.

So, just to follow-up on that, would this be like a regular stand-down? Do you think that, I know you don’t have a lot of details, kind of the one-day stand-down sort of thing that has often been for other issues?

And then a -- a second question, do you have any reaction or does the Secretary have any reaction to the Afghanistan report that came out today, essentially saying there should perhaps be a delay in the drawdown and in the peace process to get everything going. Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: I took my mask off. I'm sure that was the problem. I apologize for that. Good flag.

On the first question, I don't know but I owe you all an answer on that. You know, what -- what is this stand-down going to look like. So I do owe that to you and we'll get that to you. This was a -- this was a decision the Secretary made today and made that clear to the chiefs, and in the meeting he made that clear to them, that he knows he owes them some implementing guidelines. Obviously, while we’ll want to be sensitive to their own unique operational demands, their own operating environments, you know, and their -- their own unique way of managing and organizing themselves. So I wouldn't expect it to be overly prescriptive, but we certainly owe some implementing guidelines. And as soon as we get that, we'll give it to you.

On the Afghan report, I'm sorry, Lita, I'm not tracking an Afghanistan report. Do you have -- I mean, do you know more about what that is?

Q: Yeah. It was the report that was released by USIP today. General Dunford was one of the panelists who was on the committee that did the report. And they are sort of recommending that the U.S. reopen talks with the Taliban to delay a full withdrawal because of what you've mentioned in the past, the Taliban's refusal or inability at this point to reduce violence.

MR. KIRBY: I've not seen that report, Lita. You say USIP? U.S. Institute of Peace?

Q: Yep.

MR. KIRBY: So I'm not going to be able to comment to it. I will just -- the only thing I would say is what we've been saying that, you know, the Secretary, the incoming administration wants to better understand the agreement as it stands now, better understand compliance in that agreement, and they are conducting their review now of that. We are conducting the review of that. The Secretary is part of that process.

And there are no decisions right now to read out with respect to future force posture or, you know, other strategic decisions. So I can't be too helpful on that.


Q: You know, quickly on Afghanistan, the NATO Ministerial is in a couple of weeks. Can we expect any sense of the way ahead in Afghanistan at that time?

MR. KIRBY: – I would really be loathe Tom to put a timeframe on this review process. I guess the way I would couch it is when -- you know, when we’ve had a chance to adequately go through that. You know, if there are decisions to -- to be made and to be -- and policies to be adopted, we'll do that in -- in good order, but I can't put a timeframe on it.

Q: You know, extremism, I think we're all frustrated. We're all trying to get numbers on the scope of the problem. Right now, the only thing we've seem to have is the FBI's 2020 statistic of the investigations, I think 138 or so. Half of them has to do with domestic extremism.

You know, when you ask ‘what about the previous years?’ They’re like ‘well, that's all we have,’ which I find stunning, that we can’t just get 2020, and I can't imagine that you guys would -- or the -- or the Secretary would accept that either. It's like what are the numbers?

And everybody keeps referring to the military time survey, you know, about people who have overheard extremist remarks and so forth and so on, so it's -- it's stunning that we have to keep referring to the military time survey. And as I, now we’re saying, ‘well, let's have a stand-down to talk about this,’ you know, are we going to get anymore numbers? Do you think anything is out there that would give us a sense of how bad this thing is?

MR. KIRBY: One of the reasons the Secretary wants to do this stand-down, one of the reasons he wanted to have this meeting, and I know stand-down is sort of, you know, a tangible outcome of this, but it was not the bulk of the discussion that he had. It was really trying to get a sense from the chiefs about what the scope of the problem is. But one of the -- one of the challenges here and one of the reasons why he wants to do this is we don't know the full breadth and depth of it.

You know, we -- we don't want to overestimate or underestimate the number. And as I said at the beginning in terms of the number of people that we think this might affect, I mean, it may be more than -- more comfortable feeling and admitting and probably a lot less than the media attention surrounding it seems to suggest it could be. But where is it? It's just not clear. And so I register and I respect the frustration.

I think, not with respect to statistics, but I think I can certainly speak comfortably for the Secretary when I tell you that he too was frustrated that this is an issue, and that we don't have better visibility, better understanding of it. And that's one of the reasons why we held this meeting. It's one of the reasons why he wants to do the stand-down. And I -- I assure you that it's not going to be the last you've heard from him on this.

Q: But do we expect numbers beyond that one 2020 FBI statistics?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have anything beyond that number. I'm happy to 

Q: Sure.

MR. KIRBY:  go back and see what else there is. But they’re not our numbers either, you rightly said --

Q: Right.

MR. KIRBY: -- I mean, these are FBI numbers, so they're not numbers we own. But I'm happy to take that and --

Q: Sure, okay.

MR. KIRBY: -- and see if we can get more, more, more clarity.

Q: Can I just go back to how do they, how is the Secretary defining extremism? Are we talking white nationalism? Are we talking -- I mean, there are a whole bunch of political viewpoints. How was he even defining the problem?

MR. KIRBY: (Inaudible).

Q: And --

MR. KIRBY: That is a great question.

Q: And, are they allowed, at this moment in time, to scan, are units allowed to scan the social media posts, the private postings of unit members? What are the rules about social media use? And if you're espousing political views like pro "Stop the Steal" rallies, is that considered extremist or is that considered political? And is it protected?

I'd like to understand a little more about how they're defining this. 

MR. KIRBY: (Inaudible).

Q: And there is one other thing that you do own in terms of numbers that we have been asking about. And that is there were 12 National Guard, two of whom were sent home, 10 who were not allowed to come to the inauguration because of something that was flagged by either the FBI or their unit commanders. Where do those cases stand? Were they punished? Was there anything to those? Were those social media posts? Did their commanders have to punish them? Did it go to legal action? What's going on with that?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have updates on that, Jen. As I understand it, and if I'm wrong about this, we'll get it to you, but as I understand it those are still being investigated. You know we're not going to talk about ongoing investigations.

Q: But by Army, by state governors, by FBI?

MR. KIRBY: I think it's National Guard Bureau.

Q: That's not what they’re telling us.

MR. KIRBY: I'm not seeing heads up and down, so let me get a better answer for you.

As I understand it, they're still being investigated, so I'm not able to answer that question. On your other one, it's interesting that you should ask it that way because that was actually a topic of discussion that there aren't necessarily uniform understandings across the services about how to look at social media, whether and to what degree. And there's first amendment issues here that we have to be sensitive to.

Certainly, when you're talking about in the recruiting realm before somebody raises their right hand and signs that dotted line, I mean, there's certain -- there's real first amendment concerns we have to have. Obviously, we respect First Amendment rights even when you're in, but when you're in the military you are subject to a completely different code of military justice than a civilian would be. You do surrender certain rights as a member of the military.

Right now, just to level-set, right now, the DOD policy expressly prohibits military personnel from actively advocating for and participating in supremacist, extremist or criminal gang doctrine, ideology or causes. Those are the words.

Just to level-set again, active participation would include things like fund-raising, demonstrating a rally on behalf of these organizations, recruiting, training, organizing or leading members, distributing material. We can get you this, by the way.

Q: What is that date from?

MR. KIRBY: That policy?

Q: Yeah.

STAFF: So that's DOD Instruction 1325.06, and the date on it is 2012.

MR. KIRBY: Okay, there you go. Thank you.

Wearing gang colors of clothing, having tattoos or body markings associated with such gangs or organizations, and otherwise engaging in activities in furtherance of the objective of such gangs or organizations that are detrimental to good order, discipline or mission accomplishment, or incompatible with military service. We'll get you this language.

Q: But would you (inaudible) --

MR. KIRBY: But wait, on the 12, just because I know this is on the record, I owe a better answer to you guys on that. So I will have my staff go look at that. I don't know when it's going to be, but I owe you better answer on that.

Q: And the gangs, do you define Proud Boys as a gang? What is defined as a gang right now? Is it only -- I mean, it's -- this is just such -- we're in such a continuum.

MR. KIRBY: No, I -- I get that. I can't answer that question. I just can't. Sitting here right now I can't answer that question. This is a relatively new organization, so I can't run down the list for you.

But again, you know, your question and Tom's, gets at the essential frustration of this issue and why the Secretary wants to lead on this, and why he wants to push this issue forward with the services. Let me get on the phone here.

Hope Seck?

Q: Oh, hi. Thanks for taking my question. I was curious whether the Secretary was interested in directing the services to organize a kind of task force that the Navy just completed where they reviewed equality standards and developed recommendations to remove barriers, is that something that's being looked into at all?

MR. KIRBY: The Secretary is open to a number of ideas about how to get his arms around this issue. And I don't think at this point he's ruling anything out in terms of ideas, but I don't want to get ahead of his decision-making process.

So as of today, what he did decide and what he did direct was this stand-down, and again as -- as this moves forward, as he makes more decisions, as he takes these actions, we'll keep you completely up to speed on that.

Q: So you’re not ruling that out John, but you're saying it's going to take some time to develop these recommendations or recommendations by the services, right?

MR. KIRBY: So today was the stand-down, he wants that done over the next 60 days. He made it clear to the leadership that -- that he is still mulling how he wants to organize to this and how he wants to attack it from an institutional perspective. So I am not prepared at this time to rule out the establishment of a task force or some other organization that -- that might -- I -- I don't -- he hasn’t made any decisions about that.

So I'm not going to be ruling anything in or out on his behalf. He has some decisions to make about how he wants to go forward and I think the meeting today with the chiefs of the service secretaries helped inform what will be his decision-making process on this.

Okay. One more on the phone and we'll go back to… Barbara?

Q: Hi, I don't really understand this. In the last year, you've now had three major issues -- the U.S. military, the Pentagon, the chiefs, the secretaries wherever they've been, feel they have to review sexual assault, racism and now extremism. All of these are hard to regulate behavior. All of these -- sexual assault, racism, extremism are long-standing issues that have plagued the military for years that are not a secret to anybody.

I mean, the chiefs can't be surprised in the least by this or the service secretaries. Why is it suddenly once again something that seems to be a big surprise to everybody and need a big study? Why has this Department, like all three issues, been unable to cope with this? How is it that you don't know and check the full breadth of the problem because as reporters have asked over recent years, as far as I know, have always been told is, ‘well, there are cases of extremists and when we find them, we boot them out, we don't think we have a big problem.’

I don't understand how you get to this point where suddenly, once again, you have to study the whole thing. How is it that nobody seemed to be concerned enough before this got to be a crisis?

MR. KIRBY: If we understood it all perfectly, there'll be no need to try to tackle it. I mean, I can't -- I wish we -- I wish we could tell you, Barb, that, you know, we did have perfect visibility and understanding of the scope and breadth of this problem, and, and we don't.

And so there's really only two courses of action. You either bury your head in the sand and pretend it doesn't exist, and tell yourself, ‘well, the numbers are so small that we can just drive by it’ or you can own up to the fact that it's something you don't understand, it is detrimental to good order and discipline and be willing to confess to the American people that you don't have all the answers, but that you want to go find them out. And I think that's where we are right now.

I can't speak -- I don't think anybody can, today, for how we got here. Clearly, you have all seen and you've all covered and your outlets have all covered over the course of just the last year alone the increasing polarization in this country. And you all witnessed for yourself the events on January 6th, which were extreme in and of themselves in which there were members, sadly, of the active-duty force -- the active-duty force participating and espousing these radical beliefs.

And I think that, I know that, the events of January 6th served as a wake-up call for this Department. It certainly served as such for the Secretary.

And again, Barb, I wish we had the answers. I think we all wish we didn't have to go look at this and try to understand it, but we are where we are. And again, there's really only two choices -- you ignore it or you try to lead your way out of it and through it. And that's what the focus is right now.

Yes, Sir?

Q: Just three quick points, has the Secretary been vaccinated yet?

MR. KIRBY: He has.

Q: Okay. You said that there's a daily review on National Guard force posture in the capital. Is there anything new to report there?


Q: No. And then finally, General Walters spoke this morning about force posture in Europe. It seems the Secretary likes to put deadlines on things. Is there a deadline for when force posture in Europe, the -- the decision to drawdown 12,000 from Germany is going to have an answer?

MR. KIRBY: I would point you back to what we talked about last week after he spoke to the German Minister of Defense. He made it clear that our footprint in Europe will be part of this global posture review that he wants to conduct to get a better sense of where we have people, where we have facilities, what missions are they conducting and how tied is it to our strategy, and how is that strategy supporting national security policy.

He committed to no time line. He committed to no decision on this except that he committed to keep the German government, through the Ministry of Defense, fully informed as we work through this, that they will be consulted. There will be no surprises.

Q: So can we assume then that European Command is still making plans to exit or do they no longer make plans to draw-down?

MR. KIRBY: I'll let European Command speak to their planning efforts.  I think I made it clear where the Secretary is, which is no decisions have been made. He wants to get to a global posture review, and he wants to be able to do that in an honest forthright way to look at the data, to look at the mission sets subjectively.

Yeah, Joe?

Q: As you may know, earlier this year the United States has warned of potential effects from Iranian proxies inside Iraq. I was wondering if you could tell us what's the status of those threats and if you have seen any changes coming from Iranian relations.

MR. KIRBY: I mean, I'm reticent to talk about intelligence assessments here in this forum. I would say that two things, Joe, it’s important to remind that our purpose in Iraq, at the invitation of the Iraqi government, is to assist their efforts at continuing the fight against ISIS.

ISIS is nowhere near at the level they were before in terms of their power and capability. We don't believe they're a resurgent threat, but they are still a threat. And that is what our 2,500 troops in Iraq are focused on doing.

It is clear, and you guys have all reported on it, that they do and have come under attack from Shia-backed militias in the country. And the only thing I would say to that is that, as elsewhere in the world, our commanders and our troops have the right to self-defense.

Q: Okay. Another follow-up on Yemen. As you may know also the -- the decision -- there is a decision to review the listing of the Houthis as a terrorist group. Is the Pentagon has -- does the Pentagon have any role in reviewing this decision?

MR. KIRBY: I would expect that the Secretary will lend his advice to that process.

Q: Do you know which was -- which direction?

MR. KIRBY: I do not.

Q: Okay.

MR. KIRBY: I do not.

Yes, Sir? I'll come to you.

Q: Thank you. Nakamura from Japanese Newspaper. Thank you for taking my question.

MR. KIRBY: You're welcome.

Q: As you mentioned at the beginning, the U.S. and Russia agreed to extend the New START Treaty today, but China have not abided by that treaty for another five years. Pentagon have expressed the concern about the rapid pace of China's nuclear development, and Pentagon said that China should enhance the transparency of their nuclear arsenal.

So my question is how will Pentagon and the new administration respond to the growing threat of China's nuclear weapons? And how or what do you do to make China more transparent for nuclear program and stockpiles?

MR. KIRBY: I think just broadly, and you've heard the Secretary talk about this, China as the main pacing challenge for the Department. And I think the administration is focusing a lot on what the bilateral relationship with China needs to look like going forward. I'm not going to get ahead of those discussions.

You've also heard the Secretary talk about nuclear modernization and his belief that we do have to modernize our nuclear capabilities that -- that they form an essential element of our strategic defense. And -- and I think you'll see him put more and more attention on that as time goes forward. But I'm not able to say with specificity right now exactly how that concern will fold into the future of the bilateral relationship with -- with China.

Lara, and then I'll go to the phone.

Q: Okay, thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Sorry.

Q: So just one quick follow-up and then a -- a separate question. Does Secretary Austin have a point person yet on the extremism issue and who is that person? 

MR. KIRBY: Again, that's about -- that's an organizational question. I don't think he has come to any decisions about how he wants to organize the Department to go after this. So today was really just the initial discussion with the chiefs and the service secretaries to get their sense of the scope of the problem, to get what they think things ought to -- what things they think should be considered going forward. All of that discussion today, and I think the stand-down itself will help fashion his thinking in terms of how to organize it. So I don't have a structured meeting now or a specific point person. Okay, no.

Q: And then my -- my second question is just on the threats to the capital that are keeping the National Guard there for several more weeks --

MR. KIRBY: Yeah.

Q: -- does the Pentagon feel like you have a good understanding of what this threat is from the FBI and from DHS because my understanding is there has been no specific threat that has been identified? So do you -- do you feel like you have a good understanding and can tell lawmakers this is why we're here, this is what we're fighting against specifically?

MR. KIRBY: Well, you know, we don't specifically talk about intelligence, but I -- I will just remind that the National Guard is in the capital region in support of federal authorities, the FBI, the Capitol Police, Secret Service, the Park Police and the City of Washington itself. That -- that is still true.

And the -- the Department of Homeland Security, which I'm happy to refer you to, but -- but they still have determined that there's a currently heightened threat -- threat environment across the United States. And that's likely to persist over coming weeks. That certainly applies to the capital region.

And as I said yesterday, I'm not -- I'm not -- not going to get into specific threat assessments in a -- in a public forum. But the secretary wouldn't -- you know, certainly wouldn't be in favor of keeping the troops at their missions if he didn't believe that there was a valid requirement for them to be there.

And again, I point you back to what he said to them last Friday that, you know, he doesn't -- he knows they're sacrificing their civilian jobs, their -- their family -- their family time, their home life to be here in the cold. And that -- and what he told them was he -- he doesn't want to keep them here one day longer than is necessary, that they are still here and that he is that committed to tell you that -- that he believes -- the Department believes it's still necessary. Okay?

All right. I've got to get more used to doing the phone thing, that is, that is just…

Idrees from Reuters?

Q: Hey, John, Idrees here. Just quickly -- very quickly, can you just sort of again explain the intent of the stand-down? Is it to have a moment of silence or is it to spend a day rooting out all extremism? I know you have (inaudible). What's the broader intent? And then I have -- have another unrelated question.

MR. KIRBY: The intent is as -- as is often the case with -- with -- with safety stand-downs that we do. It's to reinforce the institutions' policies and values with respect to this sort of behavior and conduct, and to have a dialogue with the men and women of the force, and to -- to get their views on -- on what they're seeing at -- at their level.

Q: And the second question I had is I believe the FEMA request has not been approved yet that was sent to DOD. It's been almost a week since it was sent over and, obviously, you know, the Secretary has said COVID is a priority for him. Why is it taking so long to approve a request? Is there some concern that DOD and its assets might be stretched too thin because it does seem like it's been a while.

MR. KIRBY: I think he's -- I -- I -- I definitely -- I mean, I understand that the -- we all understand that the urgency of the request and -- and the need, I can tell you having been in the building a long time, these -- these requests are being processed and analyzed with a sense of urgency, but they're also being processed and analyzed carefully because we also have -- I mean, there's -- they're -- what we -- the Secretary has made it clear we want to lean in as aggressively as we can to support FEMA and his request and to contribute to the national effort to get -- to get vaccines administered.

She also has a responsibility to the help of the force. And to the degree that Department assets are going to be contributing to the federal effort, we -- we have to make sure that -- that we properly balance the risk to the health of our own force. And so I think you have -- what you're seeing is a normal natural process of -- of requirement versus risk that -- that's been ongoing in -- in the Pentagon.

And I do expect that that process is coming to a close relatively soon or -- or you'll start to see it come to a close relatively soon. And -- and we expect that we'll have some -- some sourcing solutions, perhaps not all but we think we'll have some of them to -- to talk about in the very near future. One more from the phone.

Missy Ryan?

Q: Hi, thank you. I just wanted to ask on a different topic. One of our DOD Press Corps colleagues alerted the group to an event tomorrow that General Milley is speaking at, and that the DHA Director is at and regarding COVID. And I'm just wondering, I know Dr. Friedrichs said last week that it's difficult to get numbers on people who are declining vaccines as it's been rolled out across the military.

But it seems like there -- there may be a high incidence according to what we're hearing from Blue Star Families about military families saying they're going to decline the vaccines. And I'm just wondering, are you guys -- is there any attempt to poll internally at the military? I know you guys are doing messaging campaigns to support vaccination. But is there any attempt to get an idea of how many people have or will or intend to decline vaccination? It seems like such a big question in terms of readiness, you know, for troops and -- and -- and their families as well. Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: Let me take that question, Missy. I don't know the answer to that. I'm not even going to hazard a guess on that. Whether we have that number and whether we could provide that number.

Just to remind it is -- it's a voluntary vaccination process because it's still an experimental vaccine. Both -- all of them are still experimental, so I know those of you who have served in the military know me, you know, you get -- you get shots when you're told to get shots and when you're told to get shots, but this isn't -- this isn't the case. So I don't know the degree to which we're actually keeping track of the -- the numbers of those who -- who decline. But it's a fair question, and I'll take that. We'll get back to before the end of the day.

Okay. Any more?

Q: One more stand-down question. So, Secretary Austin asked everybody to kind of go out to their force, take the temperature, talk to your leadership. Is -- is he looking for data from these things? Is he asking them to go and have sit-downs with not just with the chain of command, for instance, Secretary Esper really liked on his travels to get a bunch of junior enlisted people or junior officers together and talk about their experiences with diversity and inclusion, so he could try to get it from the source as much as possible.

Because the concern is if you send McConville, and Berger, and everybody out to talk to the chain of command, everyone is going to say, "Well, everything's fine in my unit. Nothing to see here," because that's how we got to this places is everybody saying like, when we find it, we root it out, but otherwise everybody kind of protects their own and maybe doesn't really know what's going on, you know, between E-4s. So, is this -- is there anything more concrete than like go talk to your people in whatever way you want to talk to them and tell me what you find out?

MR. KIRBY: I think that's a -- and I'm not picking on you, but I think that would be an unfair description of what the Secretary wants done. I don't -- as I said, we'll get you more specifics on -- on what the stand-out -- stand-down, what the Secretary -- the specific expectations of what he wants to see. I don't have that right now, so I'm not going to speculate.

But it wasn't a blithe, hey, just go talk to your people. He was very clear that he wants commands to take the necessary time. And I didn't hear him be overly proscriptive about that --

Q: Right.

MR. KIRBY: -- at least not today to -- to speak with troops about the scope of this problem. And certainly, to -- to -- to get a sense from them about what they're seeing at their level, but also to provide -- and we know we owe this to the services -- to provide some training materials of our own. So it's a -- so it's true -- yeah, a two-way conversation. Exactly how it's going to look? I don't know. We'll -- we'll provide that to you.

But the other thing I -- I want to respectfully just add there, Meghann, is that -- sense that -- the sense that the Secretary got from the chiefs today was sincere. Each and every one of them and the service secretaries, the acting secretaries, all of them had an opportunity to speak directly with the secretary in this -- it was a video teleconference, obviously.

They all -- they all nominally took that opportunity, but they did it in a very sincere meaningful way. And all of them had interesting perspectives to add different ideas and recommendations.

And I can tell you, having been in the room, there wasn't one of them that didn't believe with the Secretary, didn't agree with him that this is a problem, and we’ve got to drive to solutions -- every single one of them. And so I -- I can't speak for each service chief and agree which they will personally participate in this. I mean, we're all being mindful of, just like today, COVID and -- and travel which --

Q: Right.

MR. KIRBY: -- is certainly impacted by that. I'll let the chiefs talk to what they're going to do.

But the notion that -- that they would just fly in somewhere and say a few platitudes and -- and walk away, not really care about it, and not really engage with the troops, I -- I can't imagine that's what's happening being the case.

Q: I don't think that's what's happening. I believe, of course, they're all sincere about it. I'm talking about like if someone plucks down and says like I'm going to talk to a wing commander or battalion commander, what's that person going to say? Does that person even know the situation in their own command? And if they did, are they going to then report to their service chiefs that I have a problem with white supremacy, I have a problem with domestic extremism in my command because then that’s on them, and that's usually why these things don't end up getting reported so high?

MR. KIRBY: There may be cultural issues we have to deal with you. And -- and as the Secretary said at the outset of the meeting, one of the first things he said in his opening statements, this is a leadership issue and it's a leadership issue that goes all the way down to, as we would say in the Navy the deck plate level. He said, small unit leadership level.

And -- and I think he really believes that. And he referenced again today his experiences at Fort Bragg in commanding the 82nd Airborne when they discovered that they had skinheads in the -- in their midst who actually committed murders out in town. And -- and he talked about how this was, obviously, back in '95, I think, and how they all missed the mark. They all -- they all didn’t see that. At leadership, they didn't see that, but that he -- his belief was that somebody at the lower levels had to have known this and seen this.

And so how do you get -- to your question, how do you get that visibility up the chain? And I think that's something that we're going to have to work on.

Q: So, I mean, one of the -- one of the problems here that I don't think anybody is talking about is this is so much a political issue, too. And clearly, what we've seen over the past four years, the -- the rise of these militia groups, the Proud Boys and some of these others, it's -- it's a direct result of the divisions in this country -- the political divisions in this country. I mean, there's no question about it.

So one would think there has been an increase in domestic extremism in the military just based upon what's going on outside the wire or outside the bases in this country, number one. And you still -- I was up -- I covered the rally and I went all the way up to the Capitol and watched that whole thing happening. We talked to a lot of military people.

One guy is with the XVIII Airborne, another guy is with the 82nd, one of the Proud Boys -- two tours of the 82nd, a fairly young guy. They thought the election was stolen, right? It was rigged. They're listening to their commander-in-chief. And you still have members of Congress saying, "I think the election was stolen." So how do you guys deal with that?

If you go to the Hill and deal with some of these members of Congress that say, "Yeah, it was a stolen election," or I'm giving -- you know, they're good people on both sides. Like in Charlottesville. How do you -- how does -- how does Secretary Austin deal with them when he goes to the Hill and he's talking to some people that actually support these folks, these extremists?

MR. KIRBY: Well, as I said, I mean, I'm -- I'm not -- I'm not a sociologist and I had not trained to speak to what causes somebody to espouse radical beliefs. I think the events of January 6th certainly speak to your -- an argument that there is a blending of extremist national -- the -- you know, the violent nationalist views and white supremacy views that has blended into the political environment. I -- I think anybody who watched the events that day, that's a fairly obvious thing.

And to Barb's question, it -- it was a wake-up call. January 6th really, I think, not to shock the nation, but it certainly had an electric effect here at the Department of Defense in terms of the -- the notion that anybody active-duty, let alone in the veteran community, but in active-duty could be involved in this.

But to your -- to your question, and I know -- I -- I know it's not a satisfying answer, but it's an honest answer. We don't know. We don't know how we're going to be able to get after this in a meaningful productive tangible way. And that's why he had this meeting today. That's why I think your -- I mean, certainly why he ordered stand-down and why I expect that you're going to see him continue to focus on this in -- in coming months.

But I -- Tom, I –- the same thing I told Barb -- I wish I knew. I wish we all knew the answer to your question, but we don't.

Q: And presumably all these chiefs who agreed it's a problem clearly couldn't have said anything over the past four years because their commander-in-chief was giving aid and sustenance --

MR. KIRBY: Oh, oh, Tom, I -- I beg to differ. I mean, I think you -- you saw the chiefs --

Q: Well, we never heard anybody --

MR. KIRBY: -- you saw --

Q: -- we never heard anybody -- you know, the chiefs talked about a serious problem with domestic terrorism in the past, right? Did anybody ever hear that?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I think they all issued statements after Charlottesville, and I believe they issued something after January 6th. They talked about the -- the conduct not being in keeping with -- I mean, I -- I -- I'm sorry, but I have to differ with you on that.

Q: Yeah, right.

MR. KIRBY: They -- they have been -- they have been vocal. They obviously -- obviously, I have to be mindful that they are not political appointees.

Q: Right, right.

MR. KIRBY: But to the degree that those leaders in uniform could speak out, they did.


Q: Because the sound was bad at the beginning, let me just ask you to reconstruct one part of this. But --


Q: Thank you, Sir.

Can you concisely say what the stand-down -- what the Secretary is asking for in this stand-down, what is it that he wants this stand-down to do? And then my follow-up question is, in fact, following Tom's question. If this is a wake-up call to -- to the U.S. military, to the Department of Defense, then by definition, you didn't understand that all this was going on over the last four years. But could you first please sort of encapsulate what the stand-down is supposed to do?

MR. KIRBY: My wife assures me that I'm incapable of being concise about anything. But I think the way I -- I would put this is, and there's a lot of detail we still don’t -- implementing the detail that we -- that we don't have, but he wants to stand down to accomplish two things. He wants to -- he wants commands to be able to communicate directly with their men and women, what the Department's expectations are with respect to behavior that derives itself from extremist -- extremists and white supremacy beliefs.

Number two, he wants them to also listen and to try to gain insight from our men and women as well about the scope of the problem from their view, what they're seeing, what they're feeling, how it's affecting them. So it's -- it's really what we wants is a two-way conversation about this issue.

Q: And then what happens after that? What is he take, do with the information he gets?

MR. KIRBY: I think that will help inform his decision-making going forward. I don't think though that you'll see him wait 60 days before taking additional action, but I think the process -- one of the things that I -- I think he wants to bake into this is a -- is a feedback mechanism so that he can -- he can glean knowledge from what we learn from this. And I suspect that that would certainly inform his, you know -- you know, future decision-making and the policies that he might want the services to start to implement and to enact.

Q: So if it was a wakeup call, if January 6th was a wakeup call and you've referenced the political -- yourself the political environment, if all of this was in your words a wakeup call, then by definition this nation's top military leaders did not fully understand the scope of domestic extremism in the ranks. And I don't really quite get how that can be.

MR. KIRBY: A couple of thoughts, Barb. One, as I said, we -- I -- I -- I think, and all the chiefs agreed, we don't have a perfect understanding. So I'm not going to -- I'm not disputing the notion that we don't have perfect understanding of the scope of the problem. If we did, then we wouldn’t need to do this stand-down. If we did, he wouldn’t have needed to call the service secretaries and the chiefs together to have this initial conversation. If we did, I wouldn't be expecting to see him take additional policy actions going forward, which I suspect he will.

But I also don't think -- well, while the -- while the 6th of January certainly was a -- a wakeup call for this specific problem, it's not as if it hasn't been looked at and studied and reviewed in the past by the previous administration and I suspect, you know, before that. I mean, who I -- you said this instruction was from 2012.

STAFF: Yes, Sir.

MR. KIRBY: So we have an instruction dated 2012. That's nine years ago. So it's not -- it's not as if this isn't something that the Department has never focused on before or never tried to address before. The problem is that it's a -- that it's still a problem.

And for all the focus that has gone on in the past, the regulations, the study of Secretary Esper tasked the -- the Personnel and Readiness Director here to -- to study. In fact, they have an ongoing review right now as I understand it. It's not like it wasn't something we weren't thinking about. It's just January 6th, I think, brought it into stark relief. And it's very clear that it is something we haven't solved.

And like a lot of problems that are -- that -- that the devil of the institution in this way, when you still are dealing with it over a period of time, no matter how statistically small it might be, it -- it tells you you got -- you got some kind of a problem or many, many problems that you have to solve. And you've -- you know, nothing -- nothing we've done so far has eliminated this.

Q: So is the Secretary looking at what the issues are in senior leadership -- I'll come back to it then I'll let it go. In very senior leadership, why the Department continues to have these issues that nobody seems to address fully, you know, on the January 5ths of the world -- extremism, sexual assault, racism. It's always the case that the Department -- as you've said, you say something after Charlottesville. You say something after George Floyd. You say something after January 6th. Do you think it might be time to address why senior civilian and military leadership isn't recognizing these issues as fully as it might until there's a crisis, until there's a January 6th?

Is that -- is that part of what maybe somebody might be thinking about looking at or maybe not? Maybe just -- just not an issue.

MR. KIRBY: It's, of course, an issue. The problem -- I mean, on January 5th, there were still extremists in the ranks of the military. We saw some of them, a small number on display and -- and openly on January 6th, but it's not like -- it's not like they woke up on January 6th and decided to become extremism. So they were all extremists, they were already there. And that's deeply concerning.

It's also not like -- just like we -- they'd wake up on January 6th and decide to become extremism. It's not like anybody in the military woke up on January 6th and -- and all of a sudden say, "Oh, we have a problem."

And by wakeup call, I mean, I don't think -- I -- I think it's certainly served as a very stark graphic example of the issue. But clearly, it's something that we have been mindful of for a long time. And -- and now it's just a matter of, you know, how -- we -- I don't think -- I think everybody in the country -- nobody wants another January 6th or nobody should want another January 6th.

And I would count the United States Department of Defense in that -- in that -- in that -- in that crowd. That's how I think I would characterize that.

Q: (Inaudible) --

MR. KIRBY: Yeah.

Q: -- to go back to my original question, which is defining extremism, a lot of what you're talking about is talking about white nationalists and racism, but that's not really what most of that crowd was up there on January 6th. They were there for political reasons. They believed in their minds that there had been election fraud, and then many of them, if you ask them, thought that they were defending the Constitution. What are you going to do about the disinformation that has filtered into the ranks and when it is then housed within politics and political groupings that are not technically gangs or white nationalists?

MR. KIRBY: I would only differ with your characterization in one way, though while you -- your assertion is they were up there for political views. I would argue --

Q: And they were not?

MR. KIRBY: -- that -- I would argue that it's a -- it's -- it's -- it's a form of extremism if your -- if your viewpoints caused you to storm the capital of the United States in a way that kills a capital police officer and destroying property in that manner, to me and I think to everybody else, that's extremist regardless of the basis for it.

To your larger question about definitions, that came up in the discussion today by more than one senior leader -- civilian and military -- that there isn't necessarily a common definition of what some of these things are and what -- and what constitutes extremists' belief and/or extremist behavior. And I would remind you that having the belief is not the -- is not -- that's not where the adjudication comes in play, it's the -- it's the acting on that belief right now.

And I think there's an honest discussion today about not just getting after the behavior and the conduct, but how do we -- how do we get to the -- whatever it is that radicalizes somebody enough to espouse these beliefs. And -- and that's -- that's a much tougher -- that's a much tougher nut to crack. And -- and I think the sense I got from the meeting today is they're all -- they're all dedicated to this, they're all energized by it. They -- they -- none of them minimized this at all. And I think many of them had very sincere and also some interesting ideas about what -- what they would -- what they would like to see the Department do or at least what they think we -- they could contribute to the Department's efforts.


Q: You know, these discussion sessions that you're talking about having about this issue, I -- I would assume the mechanics of it are still being sort of worked on. Are you going to leave it up to, you know, the individual units to --

MR. KIRBY: Yeah.

Q: -- decide how -- frankly, if you have, you know, your regimental commander, your brigade commander, is he going to have a rap session, you know, with these troops and -- they're -- because they're going to…

MR. KIRBY: So we owe -- as I said, Mike, we owe -- we owe the force and certainly we'll keep you informed about what the implementation expectations are. I can't -- I don't have that for you today. But as is the case in all stand-downs that are ordered at the headquarters level, I mean, the reason you bound it in -- in a long period of time, in this case, 60 days is because you have to recognize that different commands have different operational tempos, different mission sets, different calendars. We're doing in a time of -- of a pandemic. So many commands, you know, people are working from home. I mean, there's a lot to consider here.

And the short answer is that I can't answer all your questions --

Q: We'll still be (inaudible).

MR. KIRBY: -- but -- but we're still working out how is this going to be -- how is this going to be implemented. And we will certainly be sensitive to an individual commander's op-tempo ongoing missions and, of course, workforce availability because of the pandemic.

Okay. I'll take one more from the phone and then I think that would be okay. I'm seeing heads going up and down, that’s good.

Let's see. Tara, Tara Copp?

Q: A follow-on, thanks. A follow-up on extremism. In the discussions today that the service chiefs had and often had, was there a sense that people are coming into the military already radicalized and just aren't being caught by the recruiting process or are they being radicalized during their time of service in the military?

MR. KIRBY: Good question, it's difficult to know exactly the degree to which it's -- they're coming in this way or they're becoming radicalized when -- when they're in. The services have their own individual screening processes for recruits. Not all of them are the same.

But I think, Tara, and the sense I got from the leadership today is that -- that they have to assume -- at least for prudence sake, they have to assume that some members are coming in espousing these beliefs. Now whether they acted on them in a way that we would have known about, that's difficult to say. That's very individual. But we have to assume, we -- we would be irresponsible for us not to assume that some are coming in with these radical beliefs. And then, therefore, you have to assume that some are becoming radicalized once they're in.

And so -- I mean, it is a -- to use the military phrase, I mean, it's a soup to nuts kind of a -- an issue that -- that we -- we're -- that we think we're facing. Let's put the exact scope of it with each service is, it's difficult to get your arms around.

Okay. Thanks everybody. I hope this worked okay.

Q: Yeah, it's great.

MR. KIRBY: And we'll -- if this works, we'll continue to do this format. I think it's comfortable, it's safe.

Q: Yeah, it's good.

MR. KIRBY: And it's just easy to do it in here.

Q: Yeah.

Q: (Inaudible) --

MR. KIRBY: So my goal is to try to do this a couple of times a week.

Q: Is Secretary Austin going to brief us anytime soon?

MR. KIRBY: He will be briefing you.

Q: In the next, like, week?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have -- I do not have a specific schedule.

Q: Okay.

MR. KIRBY: You will be briefed.