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Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder Holds a Press Briefing

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER:  All right.  Good afternoon, everyone.  Before — before we begin, I would like to recognize our— recognize our distinguished guests in the Pentagon today, the children of many of our employees who are here for Take Your Child To Work Day.  It has been great to see so many smiling faces in the halls of the Pentagon and to realize that light-up tennis shoes really do make you go faster.


So, kudos to all of those who played a role in hosting today's event and for helping our families better understand the important work that's done here in the Pentagon every day in service to our nation.

So now to business, I do have several items to pass along at the top and then I'll get right to your questions.

First, the Department continues to stay actively engaged with State Department and our allies and partners regarding the security situation in Sudan, to include planning and preparation to assist with evacuating U.S. citizens who decide they want to depart the country.

As previously mentioned, U.S. Africa Command has established a deconfliction cell to flatten communications and ensure that DOD is prepared to support State Department requests.  They're also continuing to fly unmanned ISR 24/7 and position U.S. naval assets off the coast of Sudan to be available if needed.  We'll be sure to keep you updated regarding any significant developments.

Second, Secretary Austin will welcome Republic of Korea President Yoon to the Pentagon this afternoon, and as the United States and the ROK mark the 70th anniversary of our alliance, the Secretary and President will reaffirm our ironclad commitment to that alliance.

Secretary Austin will also provide President Yoon a tour of the National Military Command Center to showcase the alliance's high degree of interoperability and responsiveness.  We'll, of course, have more to share after this afternoon's meeting.

Separately, DOD released today the Fiscal Year 2022 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military.  Our National Military Strategy depends upon a lethal, resilient and agile Joint Force, so taking care of our people is central to fielding combat-credible capabilities that are respected worldwide.  The Department's initiatives this year empowered leaders to identify threats to readiness and restore the health of both their units and service members impacted by sexual assault and other misconduct. 

To be crystal clear, the Department's most senior leaders remain sharply focused on solving the scourge of sexual assault and sexual harassment.  We'll continue to work very hard to make sustained progress to bolster warfighter confidence and leadership, assist sexual assault survivors with recovery, and hold offenders accountable.  Sexual violence will not be tolerated, condoned or ignored within our ranks.

Shifting gears, Dr. William LaPlante, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, is in Brussels this week, where, among several engagements with our Allies and partners in theater, he has signed a new administrative arrangement between the Department of Defense and the European Defense Agency.

This arrangement confirms the importance of continued transatlantic cooperation and a strong and more capable European defense that's complimentary to, and interoperable with, NATO.  A press release highlighting this new arrangement with EDA is currently available on the DOD website.

In addition, Dr. LaPlante is also chairing a session of the National Armament Directors Group in Brussels this week.  The meeting includes armament directors and representatives from more than 40 nations, the European Union, and NATO focused on the global effort to accelerate the sourcing, production and sustainment of capabilities that are vital to Ukraine's defense against Russia's unprovoked and illegal invasion.  A readout of Dr. LaPlante's engagements will be available on our website at the conclusion of his visit.

And finally, this week, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced that Army Corporal Luther H. Story, killed during the Korean War and posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, was accounted for April 6th, 2023.

Corporal Story's name is recorded on the American Battle Monuments Commission's Court of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, along with the others who are still missing from the Korean War.  A rosette will be placed next to his name to indicate he's been accounted for.

The United States and the Republic of Korea will continue making every effort to identify service members missing in action, like Army Corporal Story, and on this 70th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice and the U.S.-ROK alliance, our two countries take this opportunity to reaffirm our respect and gratitude for the courageous acts of service our members have performed in defense of freedom, values and democracy.

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.  We'll go to Tara Copp, AP.

Q:  Thank you, General Ryder.  A lot going on today but I wanted to ask about the document leaks investigation.  In the hearing today for Airman Teixeira, the military prosecutor said that they'd— or the prosecutor said that he'd spoken to the military prosecutor who had let them know that DOD is monitoring the case and may possibly pursue separation.  Is this the next step for Airman Teixeira on the DOD side of things?

GEN. RYDER:  Thanks, Tara.  As it relates to the Airman and the ongoing investigation, I'm really limited in what I can say at this point, given the fact that there continues to be an ongoing investigation.  As you highlight, our Office of General Counsel stays in close contact with the Department of Justice; but beyond that, I'm not going to have more to provide.

Q:  OK.  A couple more on it.  In the affidavit that was released last night, there were a couple of red flags that popped out— the Airman on a government computer looking at mass shootings, his suspension during high school for possible threats.  Why weren't these things caught by the security vetting process?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, this is something that the investigation will tell us, so I— I'm just not able to comment on his particular case.

Q:  If not on his particular case, in general, on a government computer, if you input things like "mass shootings" or other trigger words, wouldn't that trigger a security review?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, again, without getting into specific hypotheticals and without knowing the context, as— as you highlight, we do have a continuous vetting process, when it relates to holding a security clearance, that would look at a variety of things, to include public records, financial records.

But in terms of individual searches and what those are and the context of what those searches may be and why, it's important to obviously look at each of those cases individually, and as it relates to this Airman, that's something that the investigation will have to tell us.

Q:  And just one quick last one— can you give us an update on the status of continuous vetting?

GEN. RYDER:  As of right now, the process within the Department continues to be continuous vetting— and as I mentioned, this is the near real-time monitoring of cleared individuals supported by automatic— automated record checks that pull data from several different data sources, including criminal, financial, and public records, throughout an individual's period of eligibility.

As you've heard us say, the Department is looking not only at our intelligence processes and procedures as it relates to security or sensitive information and who has that information, but also looking at the process by which we clear and vet individuals for security clearances, and that work is ongoing.

Let me go ahead and go to Idrees and then we'll come back over here to Natasha.

Q:  One of the things the court filings talks about is how he was suspended from school, he was denied licenses for guns.  Knowing what you know, was it a failure— does the Secretary believe that it was a failure that he was allowed in the military?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, Idrees, I think it's important to allow this investigation to look at the totality of this case, and before then, it would be premature to comment.

Q:  And then two leaders from the 102nd Intel Wing were also suspended.  Again, given what you know right now, do you believe that there are systemic issues within the 102nd that require more action?

GEN. RYDER:  So the Air Force has initiated an investigation.  As you know, the Air Force Inspector General is investigating the wing.  As you highlight, my understanding is they have suspended— temporarily suspended two leaders within that unit, but as— whereas— in terms of what happens next, that's really for the Air Force to comment at the conclusion of their investigation.  Thank you.


Q:  So, one on the leak and one on Sudan.

So the first is that there have been a number of public reports, including in The New York Times, that he— that Jack Teixeira posted classified documents not only in a small private chatroom but also on a much larger public chatroom on Discord that was apparently accessible via public link that was easily accessed in seconds.

So why wasn't the Department able to kind of scrub the Internet for these kinds of classified documents that were apparently publicly available?  And is that a failure?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Natasha.  Again, we need to allow this investigation to run its course.  Certainly aware of those press reports, but in terms of the actions of this individual and the scope of those leaks, that, again, is something that continues to be assessed and continues to be investigated.

Q:  Is that something in the abstract that the Defense Department, that they can do as part of this continuous vetting, that they can look online and see if there have been classified documents posted in these public forums?

GEN. RYDER:  Well, again, I think it's important to differentiate between the Department of Defense monitoring private commercial websites, unless there is a reason to do that in accordance with current law as it pertains to civil— civil liberties and privacy, but again, what you're talking about here is this particular individual and his alleged actions, and that's what the Department of Justice is investigating as part of this criminal investigation and we'll certainly know more once that investigation's completed.

Q:  And then one on Sudan— are there any ...

GEN. RYDER:  ... last question and then I need to move on to your colleagues.

Q:  ... are there any plans to deploy U.S. vessels to get Americans from Port Sudan to Jeddah?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so first, let me just say right up front that we are committed to assisting State Department with the evacuation of U.S. citizens that are seeking to depart the country, and we're looking to help do that in the most safe and secure way possible.

And to put this into context, we're working very closely with the State Department to identify the number of Americans who want to leave Sudan.  As of right now, the indications that we have is that those numbers are relatively small.  However, we do recognize that that could change quickly. 

So as previously stated, we have focused our efforts on support to overland routes.  We are obviously a planning organization.  We're not ruling out any options, but right now, we remain primarily focused on an overland route, as it allows a few things, include— including establishing a repeatable, sustainable method to get large numbers of American citizens out of the country, regardless of the security situation at the airport in the near or long term.

And so, also given the fact that there are international flights currently going in and out of Wadi Seidna, the small number of Americans who have made their way to the airport have been offered flight outs— flights out.  So that's also part of what our deconfliction cell at AFRICOM is doing, is working with State Department, working with our allies and partners to identify available seats.  And the Americans who have arrived at that airport have been able to fly out.

Again, this is something that we'll continue to work very closely, to ensure that we're able to support whatever requirements State Department provides.  Thanks.

Lara?  And then we'll go to Travis.

Q:  Thank you.  So just back on the leaks, a couple of questions.  First of all, does— does— federal prosecutors say that Airman Teixeira may still have classified information that he hasn't yet released.  Does DOD know the extent of the material that he actually still has?  And then I have another question.

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, again, as it relates to him, there is a ongoing criminal investigation being led by the Department of Justice, so anything related to that case, I would need to refer you to them.

Q:  All right.  And then just— just one more on this— you know, he had an arsenal of guns, he was suspended from high school for making violent and racist threats, and yet he was able to join the National Guard.  So what message does it send that potential recruits can't join the military for marijuana use or maybe being overweight if someone like this get— this person gets in?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so again, to belabor the point, there's an ongoing investigation which will tell us a lot more about this particular individual.  I would highlight, though, that the vast, vast, vast majority of people who serve within the Department of Defense and all of the military branches and all of the components do so honorably.  They come to work every day and can be trusted to do their jobs and adhere by the oath that they took.

So again, I think it's important not necessarily to take the actions of one individual and somehow paint a picture that that indicates a systemic breakdown.  Again, this is under investigation and the investigation will tell us a lot more about this particular individual and what he did and did not do.

Let me go over here to Travis.

Q:  Thank you.  Thanks, Pat.  Today, President Biden notified Congress that he's asked Secretary Austin to call up reserve forces to the active duty to go down to the southwest border and police drug trafficking.  Can you tell us how many troops may be sent down there, what units they may come from, and what the timeline for that might be?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, Travis.  So I don't have anything to provide from the podium today on that.  Certainly, going forward, if and when we do, we'll— we'll be sure to pass that along.

Q:  And so just as a refresher, could you tell us how many troops on federal orders are down there today?  What type of a force do we have ...

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, let me— let me take that question for you.  I don't have those numbers in front of me but I'll— I'll take that and get it for you.

Tony?  And then we'll go to Tom.

Q:  One more try on the leak investigation.  The— the court papers released today indicate he was— he received a Sensitive Compartmented Information clearance in July of 2021.  That's, like, the highest— one of the highest classifications. 

Would it be accurate to say that your investigation is reviewing whether the SCI process, as it now stands, is adequate and should have caught some of these signals?  You know, five months later, he was accessing documents he should not have.

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so— so broadly speaking, the Department is looking at our security process, as I mentioned, right, to include the— the process by which we vet and provide security clearances.  So that— that is part of the ongoing review.

Again, as it relates to this particular individual, I'm not going to comment on him, other than to say you have a— essentially a— a network administrator working in an intelligence wing, which is, by default, working with a lot of TS/SCI type of information.  So that, in and of itself, is not unusual, but again, as it relates to the Airman, we will— you know, DOJ is investigating.  In the meantime, we're looking at our processes and procedures across our Intelligence Community and also in terms of the DOD's security process.

Q:  Do you feel some pressure here, though, at DOD to reassure the public that somebody with the highest of classifications under a special access program at— I guess that's even higher— somebody with that SCI clearance cavalierly, allegedly violated that act— that pledge?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so a couple of things.  So first of all, as I— as I've mentioned before, if we're going to award you a security clearance, it's going to be pretty stringent requirements to get that security clearance.  First of all, there is going to be a background check, you're going to take training, and you're going to sign a non-disclosure agreement. 

So, you know, at the end of the day, it— it is not something that you just get, it's something that you have to essentially earn and then maintain that.  However, if an individual decides to break the law will— willfully, that's a different story.

So again, the vast, vast majority of people who are awarded security clearances come to work every day and do the right thing, and this investigation will tell us what happened and where this individual did the wrong thing.

Q:  Can I ask you a quick sub-question from yesterday, the ROK sub— the— the announcement— what class of submarine will end up in— in Korea?  Was it a Ohio-class, Virginia ...

GEN. RYDER:  It— it will be a— an Ohio-class SSBN.

Q:  And how soon may it show up in— in— within weeks or months?

GEN. RYDER:  I'm not going to get into forecasting or talking about future movements of our naval vessels.

Q:  Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  Thanks very much.  All right, let's go to Tom and then we'll go here to Brandi.

Q:  Yeah, Pat, getting back to Sudan, what are the numbers of Americans who have left so far?  And are you getting any sense from the State Department— I'm told that number's ramping up.  Do you have any sense of how many would like to get out?

GEN. RYDER:  Thanks, Tom.  So that— that's really a question for the State Department to answer, since they are the ones that are communicating with U.S. citizens in-country to first of all, make contact, and then number two, determine what their desire to either seek any type of assistance or depart the country.  So that— that's really...

Q:  Wouldn't they share that number with you guys?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I'm not going to speak for the State Department.  They're the ones that keep the— the tally, and so I don't want to— I don't want to get ahead of...

Q:  One last thing on the leak.  I understand that when someone is downloading information they're not supposed to there's supposed to be some alert from the security office that goes to that person's supervisor.  Is that the way it works, from your...

GEN. RYDER:  So you know, I think what we have to be careful of is allowing our imaginations to fill in gaps in terms of what happened in this particular case, and so this is why there's a thorough ongoing investigation that will look at all aspects of this.  So again, I don't— I don't want to speculate or— or do a hypothetical situation when we don't have the facts.

Q:  In general, is that how things are supposed to happen?

GEN. RYDER:  There— there could be a variety of means— a variety of ways.  So for example...

Q:  But is— is there an alert if I'm downloading something I shouldn't?

GEN. RYDER:  Typically, there will be some type of indication that you are not on sites or more— more regularly, you won't be to axe those— access those sites.

Q:  And that alert would go to my supervisor, correct?

GEN. RYDER:  It could go to your supervisor.  It could go to the— the communication security folks that are monitoring networks.  Yeah.

Q:  So the bottom line— that's how it's supposed to work.

GEN. RYDER:  If— if— when you look at a phone in the Department of Defense, or a computer, there is a banner that comes up that tells you exactly the— you know, you are subject to monitoring, and so it's a fair assumption that you're being monitored, and if you're doing inappropriate activity, that there will be some type of alert.  But again, as it pertains to this particular case, we need to allow the investigation to run its course to get the facts, so thank you.


Q:  Thank you so much, General.  First, I have a follow-up on some news you mentioned at the top.  The new arrangement signed by Mr. LaPlante in Brussels?  Can you talk about the significance?  Why was that signed now?  What are its roots?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure.  I'll tell you what, Brandy.  If— if you don't mind, let me get you the— the press release on that.  We can go into much more detail.  Part of this was the time— timing with the National Armaments Director meeting that Dr. LaPlante was already going to be in— in Europe for.  And so we'll— we'll get you that press release, which will have a lot more detail in it.

Q:  And then in another direction, Twitter recently changed its blue check verification policy that validates real accounts, and then after a bunch of issues with impersonation, it reinstituted a gray check for official government accounts.  Right now, it seems really random.  For example, today you have a gray check.  Secretary Austin has a gray check, but people, including Deputy Secretary Hicks, General Nakasone, General Van Ovost do not have grey checks. 

At this point, is DOD concerned about the spread of disinformation or account spooking— account spoofing on Twitter as an intensifying emerging threat?  And have you guys reached out and talked to them about their new badge policy at this point?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, so in terms of Twitter's policy, clearly, it's an independent company that's able to make its own policies, so I'd refer you to them in terms of their policies and procedures as it relates to check marks.  Certainly, within the Department of Defense, we have multiple ways to communicate, of which Twitter is one.  So I'll just leave it at that.

Q:  Is there a concern from OSD about this sort of threat of account spoofing?

GEN. RYDER:  Again, you know, as it— in regards to disinformation writ large, the way that we address that is through, again, multiple forums, to include this.  So when it comes to disinformation, it's something we'll take seriously, but as it relates to Twitter, that's really something for Twitter to talk about.

Let me go back here, to the colleague behind you, then to David.

Q:  President Biden and South Korea President Yoon are now— set up the Nuclear Consultative Group yesterday.  Can you tell me the significance of this group?  And then, when do you have the first meeting of this Nuclear Consultative Group?

GEN. RYDER:  Sure.  So as you heard from the White House, the United States and the Republic of Korea launched a Nuclear Consultative Group to discuss how to plan for nuclear contingencies and cooperate on the alliance's approach to nuclear deterrence, which will address the threat that's posed by the DPRK.  What we know right now is that that group will convene at the assistant secretary level; but in terms of when the first meeting of the— of the group will be held, I don't have any announcements today in regards to timing.

Q:  And also, does the U.S. plan to send more SSV into Korean Peninsula to reinforce (inaudible) deterrence?

GEN. RYDER:  I don't have anything specific to announce today.  Again, you heard President Yoon and President Biden talk about the submarine that I mentioned earlier.  You've also heard us talk about deploying strategic assets to the region.  And so again, we'll continue to work very closely with the Republic of Korea when it comes to extended deterrence and fulfilling our— our obligations to provide security to South Korea, as well as our allies and partners in the region.  Thank you.

Q:  OK, thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  All right, let me go back here.  Fadi?  I'm sorry, David and then Fadi.

Q:  How does someone who's been suspended from high school earn a Top Secret clearance?  Is there a— a procedure for getting something like that expunged from your record, or a procedure for somehow demonstrating that that was long ago in the past?

GEN. RYDER:  Yeah, thanks, David.  So, let me kind of answer that in two different parts.  So, as it relates to this individual and his experiences and what he did or did not do in high school, again, I'm— I'm not going to get into his situation.  We're going to allow the investigation to run its course.

As it relates to a security clearance in general, so first of all, there— I think as I mentioned, there is no difference between applying for a security clearance in the Air National Guard versus the active duty, and the organization that manages this process is the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency which conducts the investigation and adjudication process for security clearances for DOD. 

Happy to get you a much higher level of detail, but the bottom line is through this process, an adjudicator follows a— a very prescribed process that examines a sufficient period in a person's life to make an affirmative determination that that person is eligible first for a security clearance, and then eligibility for access to classified information is predicated upon the individual meeting personnel security guidelines, to include a number of variables that we look at in terms of, for example, the nature and extent and the seriousness of the conduct, the circumstances surrounding the contact— conduct, to include knowledgeable participation, the frequency and recency of the conduct, the individual's age and maturity at the time of the conduct, the voluntariness of participation, the presence or absence of rehabilitation or other pertinent behavioral changes, the motivation for the conduct, the potential for pressure, coercion, exploitation or duress, and then the likelihood of continuation of recurrence. 

So those are prescribed adjudication procedures that go into every single security-clearance investigation.  Also part of that is a careful weighing of a number of variables known as the whole-person- concept.  So that is part of that whole background investigation process where you are interviewed, friends, family, acquaintances are interviewed.  A lot of that goes into the awarding of a security clearance. 

Q:  And what is the sufficient period? 

GEN. RYDER:  Sufficient period for?

Q:  You said that they examine a sufficient period of the person's life.  What is— what is a sufficient period for a 21-year-old? 

GEN. RYDER:  Again, I'm not going to get into his individual case.  We can get back to you on— on that question.  Thank you. 

We'll go over to Chris.  And— I'm sorry.  Let's go to Fadi first and then Chris. 

Q:  Thank you, general.  Back to Sudan, you mentioned the land routes as probably the best option for U.S. citizens who want to leave Sudan.  The U.N. is still describing the situation on the ground as very dangerous.  They're even calling for a humanitarian corridor to facilitate the evacuation.  So I'm interested in— in knowing your assessment of the security situation and the risks associated with maybe U.S. citizens leaving Sudan, a city like Khartoum.  And is the Department open to the idea of having maybe troops on the ground to facilitate the evacuation?  Thank you.

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, thanks.  So— so to answer your second question first.  Right now we do not have any U.S. military forces on the ground in Sudan.  And in looking to facilitate that land route, we would be working with the State Department to employ local nationals that are associated with the State Department to assist in that— in that process as well as contracted capability.  I won't get into the specifics of security, but clearly that is a factor that we're looking at, in addition to the ISR capability that— that we provide overhead. 

In terms of the security situation, again, right now, you have heard State Department talk about the cease-fire.  Things have been a little bit calmer in Khartoum as I understand it, but clearly still a deteriorating security situation with the prospect that things, of course, will get worse. 

So, again, as I highlighted, the viability of a land route does a couple of things.  One, because we're in a situation where people are departing the city, not necessarily having to make their way through checkpoints to get to an airport— which, you know, could over time, the security situation can deteriorate— it allows us to establish a sustainable, repeatable process by which to get people out over ground in larger numbers to Port Sudan, for example, where they could be received and then moved onward via sea. 

So that's something that we'll continue to work.  The bottom line is we're ready to support now and will continue to work very closely with State Department.  We'll continue to stay in close contact with our allies and partners to ensure that if an American citizen is looking to get out, we will work with State to ensure and enable that.  Thank you. 


Q:  Thanks, Pat.  If I may ask a question about Russia's actions toward U.S. forces.  Last week, U.S. Central Command and the Air Force said Russian planes had violated the deconfliction protocols over 60 times since March 1st, and during that time period, overflown U.S. troops armed— with armed planes more than two dozen times.  Additionally, CENTCOM said back in November, a Russian surface-to-air missile fired at a U.S. MQ-9.  We had the incident over the Black Sea in which Russian planes harassed a U.S. MQ-9.  The Pentagon said that was part of a broader pattern by Russian pilots. 

So does the Pentagon believe these actions have been ordered by Moscow, that Russian pilots should be more aggressive towards U.S. forces? 

GEN. RYDER:  Yes, so I— I won't speak to what we think Moscow may or may not be ordering.  I would say that when it comes to Syria, our focus remains singular in terms of why we're there and what it is we're trying to do, which is, again, support the enduring defeat of ISIS.  We recognize that this type of activity by Russia is very inappropriate.  It also is very dangerous.  But we're not seeking to get into a conflict with Russia, nor are we looking to divert attention from why it is that we're there. 

So we'll continue to use of the deconfliction line.  We'll continue to use both public and private means to communicate with the Russians on what is and is not appropriate. 

Q:  And you have had this conversation with the deconfliction line?  They've picked up the phone, answered, you've addressed this with them? 

GEN. RYDER:  I would refer you to CENTCOM, but my understanding is that that deconfliction line remains open and something that they continue to use.  All right, thank you. 

All right.  Thanks very much, everybody, appreciate it.