Transcript

Media Background Briefing on the Air Force Inspector General's Investigation of RC-26B Operations, 1-4 June 2020

Aug. 21, 2020
Senior Defense Official

**complete transcript of the Air Force Inspector General’s report mentioned below is available here.

**the RC-26B video mentioned below is available here

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay, look, I appreciate everybody coming around. I don't know if you can hear me. I'm keeping my mask up. So if you can't hear me speak up and maybe I'll take the mask down, although some folks will have to push back a little bit and get farther away. 

The idea -- the report speaks for itself. And as we said, when this is -- when we're done chatting here, we've got a redacted copy that only redacts names but no substance really. That will give you all of the context that you need. It's pretty thorough, it's over 70 pages and I think you'll get what you need out of it. 

But this is to set the context for you and maybe allow a few questions. I don't want to get too tactical because the detail is in the report. 

But let's rewind the movie: why we did this in first place. This came from a Sec. Def. tasking. So the Secretary of Defense through the Secretary of the Air Force tasked the Department of the Air Force Inspector General to go investigate the use of RC-26 recently in the support of civil unrest events across the country. So we did.

And there were a total of seven flights in four cities and we looked at every single one of them. And we -- there were two big buckets that we looked at. The first bucket is the use of the RC-26 inappropriately collect on U.S. persons at all. Did we violate the Intel Oversight rules, given the capabilities of the airplane? And then the second question is: was -- were the appropriate authorities used and exercised in the use of such assets, specifically the RC-26?

And it took us a little longer than I wanted to to get this done, but we couldn't afford to get it wrong. So we left no stone unturned. And we went back to the airplanes that flew the mission. And luckily data is normally is preserved from the missions, so we collected the data to see it for our own -- with our own eyes. We didn't just ask people "what do you think you did?" or -- we have to see it as I.G. investigators. 

We interviewed the crews. So we interviewed a total of 31 people and looked at: what were you tasked to do in the first place, and was that appropriate? And then what did you actually do, and was that appropriate?

And the takeaway, the headline -- and you'll see why in detail in the report -- is on none of the flights, that's seven flights, four cities, did any of the crews violate the rules of intel collection on U.S. persons. So -- and they weren't anywhere close to the left and right limits.

And I'll be a little bit -- you know, I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about. What we found: the pods were consistently used. 

And the pods are electro-optical and I.R., E.O. during the day and I.R. during the night. The pods don't have good resolution and I'll be glad to share a video with you all at some point and you can see what I'm talking about. You can't tell who you're looking at. You can't tell it's [me]. You can't tell gender. You can't tell -- you can tell it's a person versus a car versus a structure.

And what the pods were consistently used for was -- it's a geographic tracking. So you're looking at an intersection, as one example. And you're trying to see the crowd flow, the size of the crowd through that intersection. 

They were looking at fires that were burning outside of structures to determine safety response -- fire department, and how the crowd's -- you know, interacting with the fire and how law enforcement is supposed to react to all of that. So it was geographic monitoring.

And what we didn't see is monitoring or tracking of an individual, right, at all. We didn't see they were tracking any person -- why are you interested in this person. 

To give you an extreme example, which obviously would be clearly inappropriate, if you're -- somebody exits a building and you get a handoff -- this is just an example to give you. So what's the other extreme? Somebody gives a look at that lat-lon exiting the building is . And now, you're tracking [him] as an individual. 

[He] is moving around. You see [him] doing something illegal, you hand it off to law enforcement. [He] gets arrested. That video is used as evidence. That is an example of clearly, totally 100 percent inappropriate, right.

So again, what we saw was geographic monitoring and not individual tracking. And the monitoring was for crowd size; crowd flow; a lot of fires, how large they were, what the impact -- safety impact of them were. And I can prove that, right? We interviewed the crew, we have the data. And so that one I'm not even closely waffling on. And we -- it took us time to get there because we have to see it with our own eyes. So that's the glass -- you know, that's the good news.

We did find, however, that the governing policies at the DOD level for the use of such equipment in such circumstances -- and they're dated. The policies are not new. They've existed for many, many years. I think all the way back to 10 years, don't quote me -- but it's quite a while.

When you look at them -- and we have a battalion of attorneys sitting around on my I.G. team looking at this. And they're loose, they're open for interpretation. So one of the recommendations, and we have several in the report, is to tighten down on these governing policies so that there is no room for inaccurate interpretation. 

And the reason that's important, when we looked at the authorities that were used to use this platform we found some disconnects, right. And the first one is the interpretation that this platform is not considered an intel platform. That is an important thing. Because when you see -- designate a platform an intel platform, it is -- has governance all the way up to the Sec. Def. of when it can be used in such circumstances. 

So the Guard Bureau's interpretation -- and by the way, historically, always been the case ever since this platform has existed -- that this is not an intel platform, we disagreed with in the report. And by the way, this report was legally reviewed all the way up at the OSDGC level for a purpose because this is DOD level guidance that we're talking about. So we -- we totally disagreed with that.

Obviously, it starts with an R. It's an RC-26. That's a reconnaissance. And the reasons that were given why it was not viewed an intel platform, we were not convinced. And we said, no, that should be an intel platform.

Well, once you reach that threshold, you have to -- the requirements, the authorities of who can authorize the use go all the way -- you have to ask the Secretary of Defense to use such a platform. And then there are carve-outs to use it with appropriate measures and make sure intel oversight's not violated, so on and so forth.

So they didn't ask the Sec. Def. to use the platform in the way they did because they didn't view it as an intel platform -- which, by the way, wasn't a one-off. They've never viewed it that way in the entire existence of this platform.

The second thing is this was the first time we could find that the RC-26 was used for -- in support of civil disturbance. So they -- doctrinally, they didn't have anything to support such use.

It's historically been used for counter-drug missions, which is its primary intended purpose, but also for disaster relief. Like you have people - you know, you have floods and people are stuck on roofs and they're trying to figure out where they are. They can use the RC-26 to find those folks so they could be rescued.

We didn't find any instance in the past where they've used it for such things so it was a - kind of a new thing and there was not a sufficient doctrine behind it to support the use. So again, we called out the policies as being too loose, open for interpretation and we believe the way the Guard Bureau interpreted the policies and - and not asking the appropriate questions was not appropriate. 

So the go-dos are to fix the policies and there are stakeholders that - that they're directed to in the report. You'll see the recommendations at the end to tighten down the policies. The only thing else I'd like to flag is we also called out the - the use of specific funds for the execution of this mission - and I know that's a - kind of a contentious discussion at times - but we took the position it's - it's legally supportable that the use of 32 U.S.C. 502(f) funding, just training for the execution of - of such missions is not appropriate and needs to be looked at.

So there - I don't - can't remember how many recommendations - several recommendations on the back, let me see here - five, six - they go towards the - the National Guard Bureau, towards policy and INS to primarily fix - the - "fix" is the wrong word - provide clarity and conciseness in the policies that govern the use of such assets.

The - the principals got the report, they're fixated on it. I mean, this was SecDef-directed so people are taking it seriously, as you can imagine, and I am confident folks will, you know, cover down on the - on the recommendations as appropriate to - to correct any disconnects.

So that's the - the big picture I'd like to provide. I wanted to give you all room or time to read because there's more specific detail in there. We're going to give you the report as soon as I hang up - they get the redacted report.

And by the way, don't think there's no substance redacted at all. It's purely names. It's not some - we're not investigating an individual so the fact that [this person] is the pilot or a co-pilot on a certain flight, that's not material so we redacted but we left all the substance for you all to see.

It tells you who talked to whom when, who asked for what, what legal reviews were conducted, so there's a lot of meat there. It's like 70-some pages long. But I wanted to kind of set the stage for you a little bit and I don't want to get too tactical in the weeds and answer too many specific questions because it's in the report. I'll let it speak for itself.

But big picture context - any big picture contest questions that you all would like to bring up?

Q: Can I ask just a couple of quick things? When you say it's not a reconnaissance asset - or they say it's not a reconnaissance asset ... 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Intel platform, yeah.

Q: I'm sorry, intel platform. Is the line that crosses it into being an - I mean, it certainly is - it collected - just my question - it collected information, it collected intelligence, “small I.” So is the line that takes it into being inappropriate use of an intelligence platform if they were tracking a certain person? Is the - it's OK if you're tracking groups of people, fires, law enforcement, this and that. What takes it over the line? Is it a - it's a specific identifiable ... 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, so it's - it's not a - a total black and white line that's an on/off switch, it will require some pretty heavy, high level legal interpretation, which we exercise very carefully all the way up to OSDGC but let me give you some brackets to - to give you a sense of what I'm talking about.

When - again, I'm not picking on a particular entity - when we asked "why you viewed this - why you didn't view it as an intel platform" and the primary reason, which we put in there, is this was not acquired with NIC or MIC funding - so national intelligence or military intelligence funding - and therefore it's not ... 

Q: You mean the actual asset was not ... 

(CROSS-TALK)

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: The actual asset was not acquired with these resources and that's the foundational reason that makes no sense. The color of money doesn't dictate if something is an intel platform or not.

So let me make it - on the other extreme, what makes it obviously an intel platform in our view, which we took pretty strongly in the report. The - the pod on the airplane actually is capable, if - if exercised in a certain manner, it can violate the intel oversight rules and violate the left and right limits on collecting on U.S. persons cause I gave you an example - an extreme example of the - how that equipment could've been used and crossed the wire, right?

So in our strong opinion, again, all the way up to the GC, that this - it starts with the reconnaissance in the title, it has equipment on it that can collect, it can't discern individuals, I've got it, but pattern of movement, if you have coordination from the ground, you could trip the wire and make it no, that is intel collecting on a U.S. person because the - the - the identifications coming from the ground are movement and what they're doing ... 

Q: So was it a violation? Why was it not a violation?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So he - here's - that's an interesting question, Barbara, I'm glad you asked it cause one of the - the Hill committees asked me the question had I found that there was clear DOD policy that said this is an intel platform, one, and two, because it's an intel platform, you shall do X, Y and Z before using it.

And then I look at it and go "hey Guard, there's a policy that says this is an intel platform and the policies for empty use of intel platforms are clear and you violated them," I would've substantiated a finding of violation of an existing DOD policy by the Guard Bureau.

What we found is, just to be fair in a - in a logical setting, not in an academic setting, of when the battalion of folks sat down and read the governing guidance, we found nothing that says "tell the Guard Bureau" ... 

Q: So you do think it's an intel platform?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, I - it's in the report. We say 100 percent that is an intel platform.

Q: Did anybody - my last question - did anybody at OSD, DOD, other than who authorized it to be used in these settings and did anybody at DOD know it was being used?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I - well, there was a clear awareness at all levels that the RC-26 was used but again, the assumption - the - and it's been used this way since its existence. Nobody thought twice to go OK, is this really an intel platform? Now, we've never regarded it as an intel platform so therefore, to be frank, everybody was very comfortable - I'm speaking at at least the local level because it was a state - it was used by the states, between states. By the way, some planes and crews have went across states to support other states.

So from the state level - and there were legal reviews done - they felt very comfortable. They're like "you know what? We've used this asset all the time this way" so it was not abnormal to them, right? But when the SecDef asked for this review and we're like - we dug into it to go wait a minute, that asset and its capability, it's never been regarded appropriately as an intel platform and it needs to be, which brings all of the requirements on top of it.

STAFF: And just - Barbara, this is Jonathan, I just want to step in here because the - the comment there - the - that it was known at all levels, I think that, as clarified there, that was, you know, at the local levels. It - when the Secretary became aware of the use of this platform, he - he directed the investigation into it. That is the point at which he became aware of it.

Q: To the best of anybody's knowledge, did anyone at the Defense Department outside of the National Guard know it was being used or going to be used in this manner?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well see, here's what I can validate - nobody ever asked the Secretary of the - of Defense for permission to use this asset, which is what we're looking for. He should've been asked, nobody ever asked him.

Q: Got it.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So, you know I…. 

Q: OK. 

STAFF: Let's -- let's go to the phone for a question or two. 

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Jonathan, can I ask a question? 

STAFF: Yeah. 

Q: It's (inaudible). So I just want to understand, you only looked at the intel for the segment of this, did you look at all at the safety of whether it was actually operated safely, the -- the height at which it was flown and -- and whether it was operated in a safe manner at all? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, absolutely. The profile that the aircraft flew looked very normal to typical missions of disaster relief, counter-drug operations. It has to be at a certain altitude and certain angle for the pods to work optimally. We didn't find -- we didn't go too deep, but nothing jumped out at us as -- as abnormal, and we certainly had not complaints from anybody of C-26s buzzing anybody or anything like that. So we have no concerns on the safety front. 

STAFF: Yeah, just to be clear, yeah, we're talking about the fixed-wing, this did not involve the -- the helicopter issue that I think may be what you're referring to. 

Q: Oh, I see, OK, you're right, OK. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah. Yeah, this is an airplane. 

Q: Right, right. 

STAFF: Mary, do you have anything for us? 

Q: No, I'm good, thank you. 

STAFF: David? 

Q: So this -- this is Dave Martin with CBS. You said you would be able to show us samples of -- of what the -- the sensors were able to see. Are these samples taken from one of those seven flights? And if so, are you able -- are you going to release them as part of the report? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. So all the samples that we have are taken from the actual flights themselves. In the report itself, intentionally, we put multiple samples so you can see what the pods are looking at and you can see the resolution. So when we give you the report, take a look at the pictures and you could see exactly what they show. But if you want to see a running picture versus a snapshot picture, it's not classified, I'll be glad to sit down with you all and...

Q: I think -- I'll speak on behalf of everybody, could we get high resolution today if at all possible? High-resolution video that we would be allowed to broadcast? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I see no reason why we couldn't give you a -- a snapshot. I'll clear it through the appropriate levels, it's not classified to give you a -- you know, a snippet of video. It -- by definition, it's not high resolution because I've said the pod's not high resolution but...

Q: Right, of course. I'm sorry. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: ... the appropriate resolution, give you a snippet so you can...

Q: Right, and you would be able to tell what city, et cetera? That that's from? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't see why not, but let me make sure that we're on solid ground to do that. So I feel -- my gut tells me yeah, that's fine. It actually tells the story I've just told, you'll see there's nothing... 

Q: All right, we look forward to that. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Anybody else? 

STAFF: Hey, guys, this -- this is Jonathan. I just wanted to say, just to offer up, do you guys want us to embargo this for a little bit to give you some time to read it, and then you guys can all go out at the same time? Or are you OK with just you can post right now with what you've been briefed on verbally? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Let me -- let me offer some insight. So the -- the folks we briefed on the Hill are the committees, so it's not going anywhere, there's nobody that's going to get ahead of you and publish anything. You're it, right? So that's why this -- this comment is worthwhile. If you wanted to sit on it and write it, it's not going out anywhere. 

Q: Yeah. 

Q: All right. 

STAFF: It's up to you guys, we can give you a couple of hours...

(CROSSTALK)

Q: ... (inaudible) out or whatever ,that would be fine, Jonathan, if you wanted to give us some time, that would be -- that would be fine. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: OK. 

Q: Yeah, I'm fine with that. 

STAFF: OK, let's say 14:00, the embargo lifts at 14:00. That gives you guys two hours to read the -- the -- it's a lengthy report to write. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Hey, Barbara's going, "What the heck's 14:00?"

(LAUGHTER)

Is that 2 o'clock? Oh. 

Q: And then can I ask half an -- half another question? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah. 

Q: So these aircraft were bought with -- did I understand you, they were bought with training funds or? I'm sorry, they operated with training funds? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It's so the crew -- the crew on -- some of the crew, not only on the aircraft but on the ground supporting the aircraft...

Q: Right. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: ... used 32(f) category..

Q: Like Title 32? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, yeah, Title 32, but the F category, which makes it the state active or the 502(f) authorization, which is intended for training. And we flagged that as, "Hey, look, I don't think that's right and it needs to be carefully considered."

Q: Right. Are they ever used in warzones? 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. I'm glad you asked that. So every now and then -- not recently, but if you rewind the movie five -- you know, five years or two or three years, I don't know when we stopped. But some of the RC-26s -- by the way, they only exist in the Guard, there are no active duty RC-26s. 

Some of the platforms have been used overseas in support of Special Ops missions. And when they did go overseas, they were rewired and equipped with additional equipment when they were overseas because of the type of mission. But we validated every single piece of equipment that was installed while they were deployed overseas, was uninstalled and the wiring for that equipment was removed, right. So they don't have the capability to do that. 

Hey, there's one other point. I'm glad you guys -- Barbara, I'm glad you asked that question, this is important. Because somebody on the Hill asked a specific question, expressed a concern which we asked -- addressed specifically in the report. 

A couple members said, "We know law enforcement has in the past used what's called cell replicator equipment." And what cell replicator equipment do when they're used is essentially track cell phones. That is a law enforcement tool that's at times used.

But the concern that was expressed to us is, did -- was that equipment used on the C-26? And hundred percent, unequivocally, that did not happen. The airplane could not have used such a thing because it wasn't wired for such a thing. But I'm flagging it because it was a point of interest to Congress. 

Q: Were any of the missions over D.C.?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes. D.C., Minnesota, Arizona and California. 

Q: OK. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So four cities, seven flights, every single one addressed in detail in the report. 

OK, thank you all for your time. I appreciate it and we'll release the redacted report through OSDPA as soon as we're done. 

STAFF: Yeah. 

(CROSSTALK)

Q: ... if you can. 

Q: Hey, Brooke? 

Q: Sir. 

Q: Brooke, it's Dave Martin. Just as a process thing, if you -- you are going to release the high-resolution video, will you send out a link to that? 

STAFF: Copy all. Again just to verify, it will not be high resolution, it will be the resolution of the product. 

Q: Well...

STAFF: But whatever it is...

(CROSSTALK)

STAFF: ... yes. 

Q: It'll be a link, OK. Thank you. 

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We -- we have one ready in anticipation of this request, I just have to clear it through the appropriate process and we'll get it to you, if we can -- which my gut tells me yes -- pretty quick. 

STAFF: Excellent. 

Q: Thank you. 

STAFF: Hey, thanks, everybody, for taking the time. Really appreciate it.