Washington bureau chiefs, reporters who cover the Pentagon and who have covered previous wars, and Department of Defense officials took part in this timely discussion. Participants attempted to reach conclusions about how their sometimes-conflicting needs can be met without unduly compromising either America’s traditions of a free press or the government’s ability to pursue a unique war on terrorism. The seminar was moderated by James B. Steinberg, vice president and director of the Foreign Policy Studies Program at Brookings and former Deputy National Security Adviser to President Clinton.
The Brookings Institution and the Department of Defense jointly hosted this seminar.
N.B.: [Joined in progress due to an unexpected technical problem.]
TORIE CLARKE: —confirmation hearings, which was pretty interesting. I just read reams and reams and reams. Lots of people, some of you in this room, sent me books, all of which was very useful—how the military covers the media, how the military works with—I’m sorry, how the media covers the military, how the military works with the media—and throughout all of this you would see, after a lot of major conflicts, there was a commission, there was a seminar, there were a series of investigations, and usually they all started out with a title, “What Went Wrong.” And in fact, instead of months, years from now, whenever it is, we’re doing the “what went wrong,” why don’t we try to get all of the relevant people together on a regular basis and surface up some of the ideas, some of the suggestions, some of the innovative thinking to have a very good working relationship. So that is why we thought this was a good idea.
Brookings, obviously, is a wonderful partner in this, and we really do appreciate your putting the time and energy into this. So I’m not here for any great presentation; I’m here as much to listen. I think the regular meetings we’ve been having with the bureau chiefs have been very, very useful and helpful. I know they to us. Some of you have indicated it has been helpful to you, as well, and I’d just like to say we are committed to making this work. We are never, ever, ever going to make people 100 percent happy. I’m absolutely guaranteed of that, but we are absolutely committed to working at it 100 percent of the time.
So with that, I will turn it back to Jim.
JAMES STEINBERG: think there are a couple of ways that we could begin here, but it might be—and I’d like to maybe put Torie just a little bit further on the spot and ask you talk a little bit about what you see are the particular challenges of this conflict. There has been a lot of discussion about the fact that, arguably, this is different than wars that we’ve fought before, that there are different kinds of challenges, given the nature of our objectives and the kind of conflict that we are engaged in, and just to begin the discussion a little bit on that level, and then we can—and sort of how much are the experiences from the past relevant to this, how much do we think we need to adapt to the changing nature of this kind of warfare.
Why don’t you just—if people can hear, what I’d like to do is just have us all sit, and then—otherwise we’ll—the taping is—
MS. CLARKE: —Sure And I have to say we all—we all say it is an unconventional war and we’re going to have to have an unconventional approach, all of which I firmly believe, but also nobody is reinventing the wheel here, and when you went back and looked at previous conflicts and these commissions and everything else—or I went back and looked at Pete Williams’ first major meeting with the bureau chiefs, in ’91, I think it was—the start of the Persian Gulf War—and he spent the first five, ten minutes opening up the meeting saying, “The first thing I want to do is talk about how different this war is, and it’s unlike anything we’ve all ever been through before,” so I guess we all say it and we believe it.
It’s not particular challenges, and I actually would push back a little bit and say I don’t foresee any big problems. I know some of you probably violently disagree, but as I was saying to the bureau chiefs yesterday when we went on our six-countries-in-three-days tour over the weekend, I took a ton of reading with me, and I pulled up as many articles as I could from newspapers, magazines over the last four or five weeks, I pulled up as many transcripts as I could from the television and radio coverage, and I read them all, and the content was amazing. More amazing was, to me, the amount of it, and I don’t know if there is a scientific way to quantify the coverage thus far to the coverage of previous conflicts, but I was struck by—since the very beginning, you continue to see coverage from media who are on the carriers, you continue to see coverage from people who have been up in the AWACS or with the CAPs, you continue to see coverage from interviews with pilots, those sorts of things. Steve Pietropaoli is here, and has been enormously helpful in making a lot of those things happen.
So I was struck by—despite the fact we all say how hard this is, how unconventional it is, there is a lot happening. I know there is one important piece that everybody cares deeply about, which is the special operations activity, which will be a challenge for quite some time. Most of the people in this room understand it better than I do, but there are different kinds of special operations activity: some highly secret—we don’t even acknowledge the people or the resources exist; some that is much more open. And what we’re looking hard at is how can we provide access to some of that activity, how can we provide access to some of those people. The secretary and General Franks have signed off on us granting interviews with at least one or two people who were involved in the last round of special ops activity, so we’re going to try to facilitate that in the near future here, and what we’re looking at now is as additional special ops activity unfolds, will we be able to preposition some media somewhere so they could interview them after the fact. And we don’t even know what the next round of special ops activity will be or when it will be, so we’re working somewhat here in the theoretical. But I think that’s the greatest challenge.
I think the more traditional aspects of this war—and there are some—we’ve done a pretty good job, and your people have done a really good job of covering it. I don’t—I haven’t looked at the Washington Post today, but I think day after day after day, Steve Vogel of the Washington Post was cranking out amazing stuff from the carriers and elsewhere—really, really amazing stuff, and that is a very, very important part of this war.
So in general, I actually think things have been going well. I know some people in this room violently disagree with me, but I think most of it is going pretty well. I think the particular challenges center mostly around the special ops activity.
MR. STEINBERG: Let me invite those who perhaps could avoid the violent, but the potential disagreement to get some comment from some of the people in the press about your general experience with this.
In the back?
CHUCK LEWIS, BUREAU CHIEF, HEARST NEWS: Hi, my name is Chuck Lewis, and I represent the Hearst Organization. I’ve been involved in this dialog for almost 20 years, and I want to start out by emphasizing some of the positive parts of the dialog that we’ve been having. And Secretary Clarke has certainly been an open, available spokesman for the department, and we appreciate her accessibility and the fact that we do have these ongoing meetings with her and her colleagues at the Pentagon. It means that small problems don’t become big problems, hopefully, and if there are big problems, we get to talk about them.
There are some downsides, though, and I guess the fire department is following us around (laughter)?. Anyway, this is the speech in the dark. (Laughter.) This is without video.
Let me just point out that we have a big problem other than special ops, and that is access to American ground units in Central Asia. And in my mind, that is more of a problem than the special ops issue is for the simple reason that I don’t know that anybody is stopping us from going into Afghanistan and trying to cover a special—
MS. CLARKE: There are a lot of people there.
MR. LEWIS: There you go right there. And the question is whether we would be able to transport with and bivouac with a special operations operation is a whole different question, but nobody is stopping us from going in and trying to cover a special operations operation when it is underway.
The question of ground troops—and for example, in Uzbekistan, reluctantly confirmed by the Pentagon and now that it is out there in the open, we are not allowed to have access to the 10th Mountain units in Uzbekistan, and the old story of host-country sensitivities is paraded, and that is an old story for those of us who went through Desert Storm, of course, because Desert Storm—the host—that is to say the royal family was so touchy, allegedly, about our presence that at one point American press in Saudi Arabia were urged not to cover Christian religious services underway for American GIs in Saudi Arabia. And I think we eventually got around that ban, but that kind of represents the high point of host-country sensitivities in my experience.
We’re seeing that same rationale used to keep us from American units in Uzbekistan, and I would put that at the top of the list of unsolved issues, ahead of the special operations issue, because when we walked down here from Brookings, we passed the Uzbek embassy, and I—(laughter)—and we should have invited them to join us here and asked them, you know, is it a secret that American troops are in Uzbekistan? Of course it’s not. Why can’t we go ahead and gain access to these units? And of course we run the risk here of the American handlers saying, well, we would like you to be able to cover them, but the Uzbeks don’t want you, and the Uzbeks telling us that, well, as far as we’re concerned, we’d love to have you have access, but it’s the American forces that enforce the perimeter here that keep you from covering them.
MS. CLARKE: Are they saying that to you?
MR. LEWIS: No, but I’m just saying that this is a theoretic, circular argument that may be just around the corner.
Now I’d like to just point out one other problem, and then I’m going to sit down—the problem of the relationship between what we decide with Secretary Clarke and her colleagues, on the one hand, and how it is translated into the field. This is a serious problem from Desert Storm where the assistant secretary for Public Affairs invariably would help give a friendly hearing to our problems, would promise that steps would be taken to rectify whatever was going on in Desert Storm, and invariably nothing ever got done because Central Command ran the show.
Now we find that indeed that is official policy; that Torie Clarke and her colleagues have confirmed to us that whatever we decide in this room or in any meeting that we have at the Pentagon, that that is kind of a theoretic underpinning that can be completely disregarded by Central Command, and I think that that difference needs to bridged, and it needs to be bridged officially, in paper, with General Franks. I’m sorry that he’s not here today.
MS. CLARKE: I’m going to ask Admiral Quigley if he wants to jump in on this, but let me just say a couple of things: one, thanks for your comments about our working hard on this. I don’t mind not succeeding as much as I mind people not knowing we’re trying hard. Two, at a recent bureau chiefs meeting, when we were talking about the 10th Mountain and bureau chiefs said, well, if you can’t get us physically to them, could we at least do interviews with some of them over the phone, and we did that. And I don’t know how many people who showed up in the briefing who covered that, but—small things, but let’s keep track of the progress that we are making.
You talked about—that they’re parading out the old story again, the old saw about host-nation sensitivities. Maybe it is old, but it’s new to me, and I just got back from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, India, Pakistan and Russia, and Italy, and it is a sensitivity. I’m not going to name particular countries or particular people, but on their own, unilaterally, it was raised to us again and again—we want to do whatever we can, as much as we can in the war on terrorism, we’ll do this, we’ll do that. You just need to understand how sensitive this is for us. We’re trying to work through it, we’re continuing to push on different people in different countries, but it’s there, it’s real, and as you all have heard the secretary say many times, he understands how difficult participation can be for countries. We are very welcome and appreciative of the support we can get. We want to leave it up to them to characterize what they’re doing. There is not an inclination to cram too much else down their throats, to be perfectly honest. We continue to ask, we continue to seek ways
Some people—I don’t think—I haven’t seen Bill Gertz here, but Bill Gertz has been giving us some ideas to think about working around the issue of where people might file, for instance. So we’re continuing to look at creative ways.
But Admiral Quigley, you were just with General Franks, and you might want to talk a little bit about what you heard from—on the host-nation sensitivity front, and also this idea—which I don’t completely disagree with you—that decisions are made at the highest levels, and it’s not just me, it’s the secretary, and it doesn’t always get translated as well as it should all the way down the line.
I think we’ve had a fair amount of success with a lot of the guidance; for instance, as soon as we would get approval for somebody to be on an AWAC, that was happening. As soon as we got approval for people to begin to embed on the carriers, that began to happen. So some things translate faster than others, but I agree with you. It is a challenge.
ADM. CRAIG R. QUIGLEY: I think of it as a math equation analogy, and you have both operational—you have two variables. You have a variable of operational security, and you have a variable of host-nation sensitivity. And to solve your equation, you must have both variables solved for, and if you don’t, you haven’t solved your equation. So if we do not have an operational security issue, but the host nation has its own—for its own internal political reasons does not feel that it can support access, you have not solved your equation; or if the opposite is true—if a host nation says, sure, no problem, but we feel that the operational security cannot be—that obstacle cannot be overcome, you still haven’t solved the equation.
We did—I traveled with General Franks. We were gone ten days, hit nine countries, and we heard it again and again—that’s right, lightweight, not even nearly as many per day—but we heard it again and again. And on the one hand, you have the example of the British or the Australians who, in the form of their prime ministers, have been very open and overt in a public way saying this is what we’re going to contribute in the form of political support, in the form of military forces, what have you; and on the other hand, you have a lot of nations who, for their own reasons, just do not feel they can do that but want to help. And that—if that’s the price of poker, then that’s what we’ll pay in order to get their cooperation and continue the war on terrorism in their part of the world.
Who knows where this is going to go in the years ahead—other nations, other parts of the world, other sensitivities? I doubt it will ever be replicated exactly, and every circumstance is unique, and I really mean it in that term of that word.
The second issue is the operational security part. I’ve just been to a lot of the places that have been discussed here this morning so far, and I went with an eye toward saying how can we do this. That was my motivation when I was accompanying General Franks. And on a couple of occasions, for the life of me, I can’t figure out a way to get there from here. There is nothing you could shoot, there is no question you could ask, there’s no description you could provide in your text that does not run smack-dab into operational security considerations from the first paragraph or the first image, and I don’t know how to do it.
You can put ground rules in place that cover a lot of things, and you see that today, but I don’t know how to do it. I haven’t figured it out in our travels in the last couple of weeks.
MARVIN KALB: Did you ever bring a journalist with you who might be able to help?
ADM. QUIGLEY: No. No, we did not. We did not have any journalists traveling with us, Marvin.
MR. KALB: Would that—would that possibly be a helpful suggestion? In other words, you may not be able to see it, but perhaps a journalist –
ADM. QUIGLEY: I have discussed—I have discussed it with a couple of journalists that cover the Pentagon since we got back earlier this week. They don’t have any ideas, either. We have—we collectively haven’t been able to figure that one out.
MR. STEINBERG: Admiral, I wonder if you could unpack that last bit a little bit and talk to us—because there are lots of different aspects of operational security. There’s the aspects of surprise, there’s the aspects of technique. Maybe it would be useful just to try to explore what the dimensions are as we try to think about, you know, how you deal with this dilemma that you –
ADM. QUIGLEY: Sure. Let me give you the easy example, I guess, to start with, Jim, and that’s if I have—if I have a large number of news organizations on board an aircraft carrier like we do today and have had for weeks, I don’t have very many ground rules that I need to put in place there. It’s very overt, the world knows we have aircraft carriers, and if it’s Enterprise or Carl Vinson or something else, the only thing I’m really looking for in the sensitivity area and ground rules there is the exact reporting—or the exact timing of the reporting from the carrier itself. While I have launched strikes, I don’t want to have a radio beeper coming back that says, well, the strike has just been launched. Pretty obvious—that’s a pretty simplistic—that’s never a problem, it’s just never an issue. I’ve never run into the news organization yet who is looking to put American forces at risk, so that’s easy.
But if you go to some of the—particularly the special ops thing, like Secretary Clarke was saying, you just—I can’t get to first base mentally with how you cover some of these forces, either visually or descriptively in words.
OTTO KREISHER, COPLEY NEWS: Otto KreIsher with Copley News Service. One question, or observation on what we’ve just discussed: Torie mentions the Australians and the Brits being very cooperative. Well, we’re staging aircraft out of Diego Garcia, which the Brits run, and no reporters have been allowed there. Why can’t we do the same thing we’ve done with the carriers, talking to the carriers when they come back?
The other thing I’d like to raise is a particularly sensitive issue of casualties. You know, there’s been this evolving story on the casualties on the Kandahar Ranger and Special Ops mission. It went from nobody got hurt, to bumps and bruises on the parachute drop, to the secretary seeming to say that we had at least five frag wounds, which they now are attributing to guys hurting themselves trying to pop a door. And I find it hard to believe that special ops guys, who practice it on a regular basis, hurt themselves with their own door charges.
I think the one thing that we can—will get in trouble the fastest is if there is any suspicion that we are hiding casualties counts, and whether it is—I mean, I don’t think that anybody is going to try to hide somebody who is killed, but if we’ve got people who are being injured in combat, you know, and it is not being told, that’s going to raise sensitivity very quickly.
MS. CLARKE: I agree completely. I was just talking to a group of—some members of Congress this morning, and I said, “I feel very good about the support of the American people. I think they understand this is long, it will be hard, it is going to be very unusual in many ways. I think the only way we lose them if we’re not completely straight with them.” And I can tell you, Otto, we’ve tried to be very, very straight about everything. We have stood up at the podium and acknowledged errant bombs when nobody asked. When General Myers briefed Saturday morning after the first round of special ops activity, he said, “Two people were hurt. One was a broken leg. The other, I think, was a leg injury, I’m not sure, that resulted from jumping out of the plane and a hard landing. Those were the most serious injuries.” So, we were very forthcoming with exactly what happened to a pretty extraordinary level of detail.
Now clearly, not enough level of detail. And I’m the one—I’ll take the rap on this one. We started hearing about this Sy Hersh article. And I honestly—somebody—a couple of people walked in the office and said, “Sy Hersh says there were 12 casualties in the special ops activity.” I said, “Crazy, but I’ll ask.” I went and asked a few people, and I said, “Other than the two guys we talked about who got hurt jumping out of the plane, was anybody injured?” “No.” “Okay.” And I asked a few more people. And after five or six days of people continuing to pop their heads in—I was actually on the trip over the weekend, and I was with a couple of people on the plane from Central Command, and I said, “Help me out, why is this persisting?” And they said, “Oh.” And they make a couple of calls and they said, “Some of the guys got some scratches and they got some bumps in the course of it.” I don’t understand what happens when you blow out a door, but I wouldn’t be surprised that you would get some splinters and something else that might flash back at you in some fashion. In their mind, those injuries—they didn’t even think of them as injuries—were so inconsequential. Injuries to these guys, from what I know, is it keeps you from working. They were not kept from working—completely inconsequential. So, I think we were pretty forthcoming.
The other point I’d make is where the Sy Hersh article was completely, flatly wrong is he was trying to lead people to believe that they were injured as a result of Taliban fire. Nothing could be further from the truth. So there were a lot of things wrong with that story—separate issue.
But to your point, Otto, we will be as forthcoming as possible. As I said, we stand up there and talk about errant bombs, even when we haven’t been asked; we stand up there and talk about casualties, even when we haven’t been asked. And I agree with you completely, the American people will stick with us as long as we’re straight with them, and if we’re not, they won’t, and shame on us.
MR. LEWIS: What about Diego Garcia?
MS. CLARKE: I’m sorry, Diego Garcia. Alistair Campbell, who is Tony Blair’s communications person, was in our office yesterday, and we’ve had a few days of conversations. He is actively working it with their policy people. I think we’re making some progress there.
MR. STEINBERG: Go as far as you want, but what kinds of considerations there would be at issue (inaudible).
MS. CLARKE: What are the U.K.’s considerations? I honestly don’t know. There’s some history to what they have been doing on that island. I honestly don’t know, but they have been very forthcoming. And Alistair, I know, is—he’s spending a lot of time over here. He’s eager to make sure we are all working well. So, we’re pushing hard. He was in my office yesterday talking about it.
MR. RICHARD McGRAW: They had, in fact, agreed on one pool camera and that’s all, and we’re trying to push for a little more. And we’ll have it in a couple of days, I believe. It is moving in the right direction.
MR. STEINBERG: Maybe you could also say a little bit more, generally, about how you try to coordinate—and whether you try to develop common practices as you’re beginning to have more different countries participate in these operations and what –
MS. CLARKE: I’m sorry, what kind of practices?
MR. STEINBERG: Common practices; what are your—what kinds of efforts are you trying—in terms of ground rules and coverage, is each country doing their own or are you trying to develop a common standard? Are there different approaches for the national press corps as with the national contingents, and those kinds of things?
MS. CLARKE: In terms of characterizing what individual countries are doing, we really do leave it up to them. Those of you who cover us have heard the secretary say it repeatedly. We will let other countries define what it is they’re doing and when they’re doing it. In terms of working with the media, we are just having many, many conversations with our counterparts, with the policy people in these countries, trying to facilitate access. And I’ll be very honest with you; we are primarily interested in providing access for the people who work for those of you in this room, and some of you who cover the Defense Department on a regular basis. To the extent that will benefit others from other countries, that’s great.
I don’t think there is a standard practice. I think some of us are committed to the same fundamental principles—some are more committed than others—but I don’t think there are standard practices, so you just deal with that reality, that it will be different from case to case and, I’m sure, from time to time. I am absolutely confident—if you’ve heard the secretary talk about the coalitions of this war—and he always makes a point. It’s not a coalition, it is evolving and changing coalitions. Different countries will do different things at different times. I’m sure that is going to be true about the ability for you all to have as much access as you want about this war.
ADM. QUIGLEY: Different people in different countries are in different positions to make—I mean, just a —
MS. CLARKE: Right. Admiral Quigley is just piling on. Different people make the decisions at different times. So we just remain committed to the fundamental principle, which is we’re trying to facilitate access, and we make it happen however we can.
MARIA MANN: Maria Mann from Agence France Presse in Washington.
Regarding the embedded pools, I understand—it’s been our experience and the experience of other wire services, that unfortunately the rotations are not really equal and that—I understand, because of the chaos and everybody wanting to jump on, especially on the carriers, that sometimes the person that screams the loudest is the one that gets on. There’s also, I think, a problem in, if one wire service gets on that they are not accepting their responsibility to be a pool. Your thoughts on that?
MS. CLARKE: Actually, I was going to ask—Steve Pietroaopli—Admiral Pietroapli with the Navy might address that. I’m sure he can address it better that I can. He’s very familiar with how they’re doing the arrangements on the carriers.
ADM. STEPHEN PIETROAPLI: I wish that were true. It’s 10,000 miles from here. But here’s what happened, actually. When we initially put nearly 40 journalists on two carriers before the start of the strikes, we originally intended—Craig Quigley and I originally intended for that to be a pool because we weren’t sure how many people we could round up in Bahrain on short notice and get them out to the carriers. So we wanted to make sure that this was widely shared, so we originally intended a pool.
It turned out that there was such broad representation already in Bahrain that we had virtually—certainly every U.S. network and international networks’ wires. And they allowed them to go unilateral because of coverage, and then they did pools of opportunity—or pools of convenience, really—with the electronic product, TV and still photography, just so that if one was on a Tomahawk shooter, not all cameras had to go there, and they shared that material. Since then it’s been unilateral; it has not been pool.
What happened is, predictably, after about a week, you had six TV cameras aimed at the same person loading a bomb, and 12 still shooters, and six pencils. And they all decided that, frankly, they didn’t need to all be there and there were other stories out there to cover, and allowed the wires, Reuters and AP—not AFP; I don’t know whether AFP volunteered or not. I know Reuters and AP stepped up and said, we’ll be happy to stay out here 24/7 and provide product. We’re happy to have AP and Reuters out there. Frankly, I think we’d be happy to have AFP out there 24/7 too. We do not have—until we get up in to the dozens of reporters, we’re not going to get limited on space. We’ll let people sleep on drop tanks, if that’s what it comes to, on the hangar deck. So, if AFP wants to be out there 24/7, I think you can get them out. I’ll check with Commander Alderson out there to make sure that there’s not a problem with that, but there should not be.
MS. MANN: We’ve already expressed that.
ADM. PIETROPAOLI: Okay. And since then, we’ve gotten everybody through from hometown TV stations in Norfolk, Virginia, through magazine writers through freelance photographers. I mean, basically, it’s not logistically easy, but it is certainly possible. So if there’s a problem with AFP, I’ll unblock that as soon as I get back.
MR. STEINBERG: Maybe I can come back a little on one of the first questions that got raised, which was how you interact with other countries. And obviously this is a delicate situation. I have a lot of familiarity with it myself. And my question, in your own discussions, is how do you think about this in terms of the public diplomacy as well as the military dimension of this? There’s been a lot of discussion about the importance of being seen as having allies, particularly from the very countries who do have these sensitivities, and how do you balance that, both in terms of your advocacy with these countries, to try to have a more public profile, and in terms of your overall strategy, to combine that public diplomacy with the military?
MS. CLARKE: The short answer is we deal with it recently. I’m the first one to admit, we’ve been at the war for five weeks, a month, and the public diplomacy issue really has just surfaced in the last couple of weeks. It should have surfaced a long time ago. It should have surfaced well before September 11th, but it has really surfaced in a big way since October 7th. And we’ve realized we all—and I’m speaking for the entire administration here—need to do a much better job of communicating around the world, particularly in Arab countries, what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, why we’re doing it, what this is not. We find ourselves constantly saying and repeating, “This is not about a country or a people or a religion.” We need to do a better job of that. And we need to do a better job of getting more Muslims out there—you know, more of an indigenous movement, if you will, talking about exactly those sorts of things.
So, I think we’re doing better. We are trying to coordinate a better inter-agency administration-wide effort. We have a long way to go. But I, for one, thought it was very interesting—this has less to do with how we do our jobs—but I thought it was very interesting, the reaction to the Osama bin Laden videotape over the weekend. We just saw bits and pieces of it as we were flying from one place to another. But I think there were a lot of people who thought that videotape and the visibility it got was going to be a huge incentive, and it would provoke a big round of anti-American protest, and I think just the opposite had happened.
As the secretary said in the briefing room the other day, “I think the net assessment is Osama bin Laden did not help himself with that.” And we started to hear and see a lot of what we heard on the trip through the Middle East the last time, a few weeks ago, in which Muslims were saying to us, we need to save this and ourselves from the extremists like Osama bin Laden. So that’s less about how we do our jobs. So to try to get back to answering your question, we’re trying to do a better job of it, we’re trying to do it on a more proactive fashion than we have.
MR. STEINBERG: What about the foreign press as part of that, I mean, in terms of trying to get as engaged in covering this, both with our troops and out in the field? Is there an effort to try to get some of these voices as well so that the coverage is not just all coming from American press, but particularly from reporters from the region in countries that have tended to have press that’s been critical of our operations?
MS. CLARKE: I’d actually add on to that, I was struck by—we see a lot of reporting, obviously, out of Afghanistan, but when we were traveling, you really become aware of it. And I don’t know how many U.S. or other reporters were in Afghanistan, but there are a lot. Just in the last couple of weeks alone, we’ve gotten several phone calls from bureau chiefs and others who said, hey; we’ve got some people that are in a tight spot; can you help us out? So I know U.S. press is there and we see the reporting, and I’d just be curious as to what your reaction, your response to that is. I mean, what is it like to get into Afghanistan? We’ve actually started some conversations about, as the weather gets worse, from what positions are people going to be getting into the country? So what do people think about the level of coverage that has actually come from Afghanistan?
And then, another point, which maybe you want to address separately, is really looking forward—I could not tell you with any certainty what this war is going to be like a month from now or six months from now. But looking forward, are there things we ought to be doing now to do a better job? I sit here and I think, “We’re doing okay, but we can always do better.” So, looking forward, what are the things we, at the Pentagon, ought to be planning on right now?
KIRK SPITZER: In Tajikistan—do you know what the situation is in Tajikistan—I’m sorry, I’m Kirk Spitzer with USA Today. Do you know what the situation is with host country sensitivities in Tajikistan? We’ve got three bases that we’re looking at right now. I would imagine at least one of them will be used for a fairly significant U.S. air presence, if not ground forces as well. Obviously that’s going to be a very, very big deal for us to cover that buildup, assuming it happens. Are we going to be in the same position where we’re going to be in Dushanbe and they’re going to tell us, well, no, there’s no Americans here, and you get stopped 25 miles outside the base and they tell you, sorry, you can’t come in?
MS. CLARKE: The short answer is, we don’t know. The long answer is we’ve started some conversations with them. The first and most important piece of this is to get the assessment teams reports back, to decide what, if anything, we do in Tajikistan, and then we move on to the second and third pieces of it, if you will. But again, hopefully this is not months away, but days, weeks away, that we get some sort of solid answers.
MR. SPITZER: But right now, nobody in Tajikistan is sure, you know, American press can come in here and cover American troops?
MS. CLARKE: No, nor did we ask.
MR. SPITZER: All right. If I may, the Rangers. I know the Rangers are part of the special operations forces, but they’re a little bit different; they’re a little bit more conventional. Any reason that we could not, in some fashion, cover the Rangers a little more closely than we have been? Obviously we’d have to set up special ground rules. I hate to invite censorship, but maybe there’d be some sort of security review, something to give the American people a little bit more idea of what’s going on with at least that component of the SOP forces.
MS. CLARKE: Well, let me make one point, and then, Bill, I don’t know if you mind being put on the spot; maybe you can address it. But to follow up on something Admiral Quigley was saying, and to your question, Kirk, I have very few to no concerns about how the media would handle very sensitive situations. I have complete and total confidence that the correspondents who are covering this war care as much as we do about the men and women in uniform and their safety. Many of you all know them far better than I do. I know for a fact that people do not want to go out of their way and risk operational security of any kind. So I have complete and total confidence that that would be fine. When you can get over some of these issues that we’ve been talking about, once they’re hooked up I have complete and total confidence the situation will be fine.
Bill Darley, do you want—
COL. BILL DARLEY: If I understand the question, Kirk, the question is, can you embed with the Rangers?
MR. SPITZER: To some degree.
COL. DARLEY: The short answer, under current circumstances, no.
MR. SPITZER: Is that a host nation sensitivity or is it an OP SEC issue?
COL. DARLEY: It’s an OP SEC issue. Let me just bluntly say this: There are two types, really, of Ranger operations. One is what you would call conventional white operation, then there’s black. It has to do with the particular tactics, techniques and procedures you’re using to employ them. At the present time, embedding is out of the question. That’s the bottom line.
STEPHEN HESS: Torie, one of the things that interests me has been the use, if you will, of the secretary of Defense. It strikes me from past wars the secretary of Defense has an interview with Jim Lehrer and that sort of thing, but the idea of using him as consistently as the briefer strikes me as interesting if not novel. I don’t know very much about the military but I know things about politicians. There are certain risks in that sort of thing. Could you talk a little about the thinking that went behind that and what can be expected? And is this a continuing policy?
MS. CLARKE: I think the secretary would object to being used. (Laughter.) And speaking of Jim Lehrer, I don’t know if anybody happened to see the Jim Lehrer News Hour last night—we went over there, Allison (sp), George Rhynedance—we went over there last night for what was to be about a 15-20 minute interview. And you have two very intelligent, very experienced people, and you’ve got a cast of thousands back in the control room, and the interview goes to about 15. And it was really interesting, and it was very thoughtful, and the two of them were just having a great time impressing one another. And it goes to about 20 minutes and then it goes to about 25 minutes, and we’re looking—and I think it went on for about 40 minutes. So we like Jim Lehrer.
We like to play to our strengths. Secretary Rumsfeld—and I’m totally in the tank for him—is an amazing person who is very, very smart. He also has this incredible inner gyroscope, as I call it. He knows what is the best use of his time at any given time. And he is a man—there are people in this room who have been around him longer than I have—who knows how much he understands and appreciates the value of words. Words can have real meaning; words can have real impact. He is very, very sensitive to that. He cares deeply about what we’re talking about here in this room. This is a guy who was one of the original sponsors of the Freedom of Information Act, so he understands how important this is. He understands how important it is, he understands his role in it, so he commits the time to it. He commits a lot of time to it.
Admiral Quigley and Dick McGraw and I, just when we think we’ve caught up to him and we’ve got our lives in order and we’re actually thinking a day ahead, he’s the one who comes to us and says, hey, why aren’t we doing X, Y, and Z? It’s a humbling experience to be around Don Rumsfeld, because no matter how good you are at your job—and the policy people will tell you the same thing—he improves your work product. So he knows it’s important; he wants to devote a lot of time to it.
The briefings, virtue of 24-hour news cycles now and the incredible number of outlets that are covering this war, it is a relatively easy way to get at what you want to say in pretty quick order. It’s actually a remarkably efficient use of his time. So, he understands it’s important, he wants to do it. In terms of going forward, I don’t know. We’ll use him as much as we think is appropriate and as much as he thinks he’s adding value to the equation.
MR. STEINBERG: I’d be interested, for the journalists here, about your own sense of how your experience here compares to previous war coverage—Kosovo, the Gulf War—whether you think—first, do you think this is a different kind of challenge, and how that –
MS. CLARKE: And I would actually add on to that. What is interesting—Chuck, as you were saying, oh, they’re trotting out that old excuse again, or, here we go again. I’m convinced people are being honest and legitimate in their concerns and their complaints, and I very often hear, oh, this is what happened in the Persian Gulf War, or, this is what happened in Vietnam, or, this is what happened—so why haven’t we learned? What should we be doing to do things differently? If we keep finding ourselves bumping up against the same problems, why don’t we fix them? Or, do we accept the fact that maybe some of these things you don’t fix—you can’t fix?
But it is remarkable, I fully admit. I have been on the job for five months, this is my first war, but I hear those things again and again. As much as we all like to say, this one is different from the previous conflict and that one was different than the conflict before that. I do hear reporters say those things again. So, if that’s true, let’s quit banging our heads against the wall and figure out a way to do it differently.
CARL LEUBSDORF: Carl Leubsdorf of the Dallas Morning News. And let me second what Chuck said, that having these meetings while this is all going on is immensely helpful. And I think we all understand that Torie has, you know, made this considerable effort on a number of points. You’ve heard today some of the areas where we haven’t reached an agreement, some of which is predictable.
One issue that’s arisen a couple of times—and one of the complications—is that in the Gulf War, of course, with that large U.S. presence in Saudi Arabia, there was a JIB, a Joint Information Bureau there, which sort of became the center for getting information in the region. Because things are scattered here, there has not been one here. And so I raise the question again, is there consideration being given to something like that there? And specifically, there’s been discussion of setting something up in Pakistan, although I understand that’s more for sending information out to the region as a, for lack of a better word, propaganda in behalf of the U.S., or the allied case —
MS. CLARKE: You could come up with a better word.
MR. LEUBSDORF: —rather than an information center for the journalists who are covering—it’s more aimed at the citizens of the region –
MS. CLARKE: Right.
MR. LEUBSDORF: —rather than to assist the journalists, but is there likely to be any kind of a component, or is that just not feasible?
MS. CLARKE: No, I think it is feasible. And we continue to look—I had people in my office yesterday giving me some ideas on a JIB, and it might be a floating, fluid JIB; maybe it moves to different places; maybe it has multiple pieces to it, based on different countries that are participating. So we’re looking at it; we’re trying to find the place or places that it might actually work. I think it would be extremely useful. We do all have to keep connected here. We’d still be connected with CENT COM, with us, et cetera, but I think it would be extraordinarily useful. And I think more and more correspondents are going to be in the region in one place or another, so we’d like to be able to service their needs closer to home.
COL. BRIAN HOEY: I’m Brian Hoey. I’m from Central Command. Just to make a point about that. A lot of what we do is operationally driven. And when it comes to a point where it makes sense to put a joint information bureau in the AOR at a particular place, we’ll do that. But until we have something we can say at that joint information bureau—it hasn’t made sense so far to do it, but we are looking at that and we continue to look at it.
Second point that was an issue raised earlier about theory in Washington versus reality at CENT COM, we appreciate every good idea that we get, both from the media and from higher headquarters. The translation of those ideas into reality on the ground is sometimes a prolonged process. And we deal face-to-face with the operators who need to take into consideration the OP SEC issues and the host nation sensitivities that we have discussed before, and that is exactly what Admiral Quigley brought up earlier.
MR. LEUBSDORF: Let me respond to your first point, that you said that when there are operations, and there of course have been operations, and they’re ongoing operations. So, in a sense—I don’t know if you were referring to when there are bigger operations and more inclusive; some of these have been, in fact, small operations, and I understand that it’s easier to provide a briefing when a division sweeps across a line and 20,000 troops are there than when 50 people are involved in something. But I am correct, am I not, that there are in fact operations?
MS. CLARKE: And just to underscore what I said earlier, I think we have to be open-minded about our definition of a JIB. Just because a JIB ran a certain way before and it did certain things, it might be different this time, given the fact that—
MR. LEUBSDORF: Sure, I just—
MS. CLARKE: —to your point, Carl, the kinds of operations could be very different. We don’t predict future military operations but, just to repeat myself, it’s not like the Persian Gulf War.
MR. LEWIS: Yeah, Chuck Lewis again. Torie, you just got back from that trip to Central Asia, and would you please explain to us what you found out about the concept of host nation sensitivities? I’m not asking you to name a particular -stan, and don’t mention the embassy that’s just three doors down from us; don’t mention any geographic entity. Just pretend that we’re talking—that you’re the amir’s representative or whatever, the sultan’s representative, and explain to us why you don’t want American reporters with an American ground unit that is just over that hill over there. Now, just play that role for us and maybe we will all come back with a better understanding of what you started out the meeting yesterday at the Pentagon with, “I’ve just come back from Central Asia with a whole new appreciation of host nation sensitivities.” Could you slow that down and parse it out for us, please?
MS. CLARKE: Probably poorly, but I’ll try. And I wouldn’t name a country because it isn’t a country that has concerns; it’s several. And I cannot speak to this anywhere near as articulately as Secretary Rumsfeld does, but every one of these countries is unique, and every one of these leaders is in a different position. And they have real domestic concerns, considerations. Trying to manage what is going on domestically is a huge challenge for several of them.
And I’ll tell you very honestly, we heard two things consistently throughout this trip, even more so than the earlier trip to the Middle East and Central Asia. Repeatedly, the people with whom we met saying, “It is more important than ever that we are united in this war on terrorism; that we do everything possible.” We heard leaders say, “I know this is going to make it even more difficult for me in my country, but it’s that important; we have to do it,” and then fairly quickly afterwards say, “We have to be very careful. We have to try to keep the visibility and the publicity of what we are doing with the United States as low-key as possible. We want to help you to the greatest extent possible; we have to keep the public exposure of that as quiet as possible.” And if that helps us achieve our aims in this war, that’s a good compromise, in my opinion.
MR. LEWIS: Okay, now—
MS. CLARKE: That’s a good compromise. I know it’s a balance, Chuck, and this is not a black or white issue, but if by us saying, “Yes, we understand; we understand this is a very, very difficult thing for you to do, but we need your help, we need your support, and so we are going to try to work with you on this, we are going to try to keep things as quiet as possible,” that’s a pretty good compromise.
MR. LEWIS: Okay, now let me take it one step further. Assume that the leader of a host nation has an insurgency within his own country that is anti-American, and that seems to be just below the surface of what you are saying. Now, explain to us how American news presence—transmitting news and photos to American audiences—how does that undermine his domestic political situation?
MS. CLARKE: Because it doesn’t just go to American audiences.
MR. LEWIS: But it goes predominantly to—
MS. CLARKE: It doesn’t go to American audiences. We go around the world—
MR. LEWIS: Are you suggesting—
MS. CLARKE: —and we see New York Times, Washington Post, AP, CNN, MSNBC—it doesn’t just come to the United States; furthest thing from the truth. I mean, big credit to your news organizations.
MR. LEWIS: Okay, but let me ask you this: On a scale of one to 10, what would you estimate the amount—the degree of press freedom to be in a typical host nation?
MS. CLARKE: I couldn’t even begin to do that.
MR. LEWIS: Well, it’s probably not what we’re used to—
MS. CLARKE: Oh, I’m sure that’s true.
MR. LEWIS: —and I doubt that they—they probably do not have free access to American news media. You cannot buy USA Today in Tashkent. Oh, I didn’t mean to name a city, but you can’t buy—you can’t—you don’t have access to American media in the region. So explain why this undermines their political situation.
MS. CLARKE: There is access to American media in lots of different ways. It might be radio, it might be television, and actually—I will try to pull up for you—we did have somebody—I’ve got a two— or three-page memo somewhere that was talking about what kinds of media and how free or not free, and how many newspaper versus TV versus radio. I will try to pull that up and send it to you because, in a lot of these places in which we are operating, there is a fair amount of media. I could not begin to sit here and characterize for you how free or not free—I’m just not qualified to do it. But it’s—the concern is real, the sensitivity is real, and as I said, credit to your news organizations about the power and influence of what you do. It is everywhere.
MR. LEWIS: Torie, one final question. Did I understand that you said, when you were in the region recently, that you did not raise the issue of American press access? Did you say you did not raise that issue?
MS. CLARKE: With Tajikistan we did not.
MR. LEWIS: Could you explain that?
MS. CLARKE: Because that wasn’t on the agenda for the conversations with the secretary.
MR. LEWIS: Okay. Well, do you think it should have been?
MS. CLARKE: I think the primary purpose of the trip was to talk about the war on terrorism, to talk about the kinds of things we might do together in terms of executing the war, and to begin that process. And it was a very good process and it was a very good meeting. That’s the top priority. And as I said earlier, the top priority is to hear back from the assessment teams as to what we might do in the area, and then we’ll take it from there.
MR. LEWIS: Will you commit in future trips to raise this issue in an aggressive way with any of the -stans that are hosting American ground units?
MS. CLARKE: No.
MR. LEWIS: Well, I—explain that. Why not, though?
MS. CLARKE: I will commit to working as aggressively as possible to get access everywhere we can. I will also commit to you that Secretary Rumsfeld is the one who calls the shots. Secretary Rumsfeld is the one who sets up the agenda in these meetings, and they tend to be very broad based, they tend to be very thematic, if you will, at a very, very high level. We have things we want to get accomplished in those meetings, and that’s what we’re going to do.
And the primary agenda—let me be brutally honest so you know where I stand—the primary agenda, in terms of working with these countries, is gaining and maintaining their support and participation at different times and at different levels in the war itself. That’s the primary agenda.
MR. KREISHER: Torie, just a—maybe a helpful suggestion, you know, the discussion of a JIB—given the electronic era we’re in, a physically located JIB may not be necessary. We could—you could probably do the same purpose, you know, stream-in video or teleconferencing, and given the fact that we are almost on exact opposite sides of the world—half a world away, you know, the time-zone difference, it might be helpful to do the things they did during Desert Storm, which was have a briefing in theater one part of the day, then the briefing at the Pentagon at—you know, maybe 12 hours later so that—since you’ve got a 24-hours news cycle even worse than we did in ’90, ’91, that it might help to keep the—to feed the savage beast by having a double briefing, one on the daytime time zone in the theater, and the other in—back here.
MS. CLARKE: One, in terms of using technology to overcome geographical problems: absolutely, we’re looking at it. We’re trying to improve things already with the 10th Mountain. All we could do last week, I guess it was, was phone calls because the basic communications infrastructure they have there is so limited right now. But we are looking at technology as a way to overcome some of these things.
In terms of twice-a-day briefings, I think it really depends on the level of—the kinds and level of activity. If it works and it makes sense, we’ll do it. We have definitely talked about doing briefings on some basis—whether Tommy Franks is in the region or somebody on an aircraft carrier—having them do some of the briefings because I do think it’s important that all this does not come from the Pentagon—have people who are closer to the action give some of the descriptions. I think it’s always better to remove the middle man, and to a certain extent, that’s what we are.
So we’re definitely looking at those sorts of things on an ad hoc basis, which I think will be very useful.
JOHN OMICINSKI, GANNETT NEWS SERVICE: Torie, John Omicinski with Gannett News Service.
Why isn’t the—(inaudible)—pool being used, which is an instrument you have, and wouldn’t it be a way to settle some of these problems like Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and maybe even Kirk’s question about special forces or Rangers?
MS. CLARKE: It may very well, and the DOD National Pool—Media Pool is doing exactly what it is structured to do. We exercised it five, six weeks ago? About five or six weeks ago to make sure everybody knew how it worked, make sure everybody knew how to get hold of everybody, where to go, so it’s primed, it’s ready to do what the DOD National Media Pool does.
Meeting after meeting after meeting with the bureau chiefs, I’ve been told again and again, our strong preference is to embed, our strong preference is to have free and open access. So that’s where we put the primary bulk of our energy. Grant you, we’re not getting as much of it as people would like, but that’s where we put our real energy. We continue to maintain the structure of the pool, if you will, and we continue to look at ways it might be—might be used.
Right now, given the nature of the activity, you have things flying off aircraft carriers so you have scores and scores and scores of reporters and photographers—thanks to Steve and his gang—covering that. You have AWACS in the sky so you have people in AWACS. You have CAPs up so you have people in the CAPs. You are interviewing guys who are with 10th Mountain. That’s the activity. You’ve had one round of special ops activity which did not lend itself at all to access by media of any kind, including the pool.
So going forward, are there possibilities? Sure. But I really take my guidance here from the bureau chiefs, who have expressed very strong opinions that say strong emphasis, strong desire, unilateral, free and open, embed all over the place. So that’s where we’re trying to make the most progress. But the pool is ready. We look at it all the time.
MR. OMICINSKI: But to some extent, the folks who are on the national pool—and we’re not, I’m not complaining about that—aren’t able to go to the region because they’re kind of stuck waiting to go.
MS. CLARKE: According to the rules and regulations and guidelines of the DOD National Media Pool, it’s not intended to be used absolutely. It is intended to be used under certain circumstances. The circumstances haven’t arisen for the National Media Pool to be used—just haven’t. But I’ll tell you, we’ve got a waiting list a hundred names long. If anybody doesn’t like the DOD National Media Pool and they would like to get out, let me know because we’ve got 30 who are willing to fill your place because it’s a commitment.
MR. OMICINSKI: Right. But—the initial question, though, was couldn’t they be hopscotching the region and maybe filling us in on things that we’re just not hearing about?
MS. CLARKE: Well, where they can go right now is an aircraft carrier where you have scores of reporters running around, or some version of them could go up in an AWAC, or could be with a CAP, or could interview people via phone by the 10th Mountain because of the physical location of the 10th Mountain folks right now. Where else could they go?
MR. OMICINSKI: How about with the advisors, in and out?
MS. CLARKE: The advisors? The special ops, on the ground?
MR. OMICINSKI: Yeah.
MS. CLARKE: You’re talking onesies and twosies—
MR. OMICINSKI: Right.
MS. CLARKE: —who are not really looking to have a lot of visibility for what they are doing.
MR. OMICINSKI: I understand.
MS. CLARKE: Now, I—when you are talking about guys going around on their own, literally—one, two at a time max, and trying to keep a very low profile, with all due respect—and though I know there are some very fit, talented correspondents, dragging along some reporters is not going to help what it is they are trying to do.
MR. OMICINSKI: Okay.
MS. CLARKE: But, as Bill was saying, there are different—we really want to be open-minded about this, and we’re going to continue to push the edge of the envelope, but there are different kinds of special ops activities. Depending on how this war goes, depending on the activity, there may very well be—and I’m very hopeful there will be ways—and in previous conflicts it was true—there will be ways to have media go along with some special ops activity.
MS. CLARKE: Let’s do Tom first and then—
TOM DEFRANK, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: I’m Tom DeFrank with the New York Daily News.
Torie, I’ve got to say to you, with the utmost affection, I think we’re all talking past the core issue here. I think there is a crazy uncle in the basement, and neither side here is willing to deal with that, so let me deal with it.
I’ve been going to these meeting since I was a second lieutenant in your office thirty-three years ago, and—
MS. CLARKE: You are a glutton for punishment.
MR. DEFRANK: Well, I am. I am, and I don’t think the situation has gotten much better. I don’t think it’s going to get any better.
I think the core issue here is insoluble, and it’s insoluble, really, from an institutional standpoint, the obvious one. There are two great institutions of our society and government that are—have totally contradictory objectives and purposes here. They say they are—some say that is not the case, but I don’t believe that.
Basically, it’s what I call the genetic wiring of the military, and I say that as somebody who wore a green suit for 22 years, and I say that as somebody who, 30 years after he got his military ID, still carries it in his pocket. The military basically doesn’t want us around, when you get right down to it. There are days that I say to myself, “I don’t blame them one bit.”
But I’ve got a four-star general who is a—I’ve got a very close friend who is a four-star general. He says it’s as simple as this: You get in the way, you get in the way of operational security. And God knows there are valid operational security factors here, and there are lots of reporters in this room who have not printed stuff. I didn’t—I didn’t—I let my paper write something last Friday that was wrong because to correct it would have put an American soldier in harm’s way, so we ate that. And I’m glad I did, I’m glad we did. So reporters understand that, and you’ve recognized that. But basically, I think the military sees the media as a pitfall to be avoided rather than an opportunity to be exploited.
And the other factor is, as my four-star general friend says—and as you alluded to it earlier—if my job is to do my mission and I get somewhat conflicting advice—one from an assistant secretary of events or public affairs saying let’s have as much access as we can, and a three-star general saying, I don’t want those people around here—who do you think I’m going to listen to? The ASDPA or somebody who writes my next efficiency report? I don’t think—I mean, I don’t ascribe ill motives to this. I think there’s a lot of good faith and a lot of goodwill on both sides here, but I do think there is this fundamental issue, and I don’t think it is going to get fixed.
And I would just predict—and I hope I’m wrong—but I would predict that however long this war lasts, there will be no access to special forces, special operations or Rangers, and if so—if I’m wrong about that, I think it will be extremely sanitized. And maybe that’s the way it ought to be. But I do think there’s—the core issue here is essentially insoluble, and I hope we all keep working on it, and I hope I get proved wrong.
MS. CLARKE: I hope you do, too, and I have enormous respect for your career and your experiences, but I disagree—I strongly disagree, and I think it is wrong to say the military just doesn’t want to have us around. I think it’s a gross generalization which is wrong.
It’s also wrong to say “the military” because that implies that us civilians running around are the only ones with their heads screwed on straight. That is not true. I’ve got civilians that are a bigger pain in the neck to deal with on these issues.
MR. DEFRANK: I—no, I agree with the whole business of generalizations because I don’t like it when people talk about “the press,” and so I take that point. But I do think there are lots of folks in the military at senior levels of command who are—hostile is not the right word, but I think they are not overly sympathetic, and I think that’s really the case.
MS. CLARKE: Well, let me just—
MR. DEFRANK: And I certainly exempt public affairs officers because I think—I think they are—most of them are fighting the good fight.
MS. CLARKE: Steve, let me say one thing. I—again, nowhere near your kind of experience, but let me tell you about the very senior leaders with whom I deal on this issue, and one is Secretary Rumsfeld, and one is General Myers, and before that, it was General Shelton. And I have been blown away about the amount of time they spend on this—on these very issues. I have conversations with the secretary four, five times a week on the plane flight. We sit there and sketch things out, and say, well, what about this and what about that. He makes phone calls. He picks up the phone and calls Tommy Franks and calls Charlie Holland (sp) and says, let’s work through these things. In my opinion, he—I’ve never worked for anybody—private sector, public sector—who has spent as much time on these things.
I am constantly stunned at the willingness of General Myers and General Pace to sit down with me and work on these sorts of things with us, so my experience is short, but it has been a really, really good one, and I think they are very committed to it.
MS. CLARKE: Let Steve talk for a second, and then—
ADM. PIETROPAOLI: —And I think his insights about military officers, on one level, is exactly right. Most military officers, individually, if you asked them if they thought that an interaction with the press was going to be, in their wildest dreams, good for their career, they’d say, “Not a chance. If I screw up, it’s deadly.” And that is true, and that is at the back of their mind all the time—that performing perfectly in front of a press conference will get them no great acclaim in their military career, and making a faux pas will be potentially damaging to them. That’s just the way it is for regular Americans, too, not just military folks.
So that’s there, Tom. You’re exactly right. And I think on—at the core—and you said this was a core issue—at the core, if it comes down to operational security or press access, you’re exactly right: military officers will always choose operational security.
That said, I think there has been a significant change in the mindset of most senior officers—most senior officer, and those vary some depending upon their experience. But the Navy’s experience, from a decade ago when we were very resistant to press on board our carriers in order to retain tactical surprise, the ability to move—all those operational security issues—the Navy came out of Desert Storm with not many people in America actually understanding how much the six carriers contributed to the fight. That produced a sea change in the thinking of the mid-grade officers at the time, who are now the senior officers running the Navy. So it has not been difficult for us to convince commanders; indeed, they are anxious and thinking of new—this week, if you’ve been watching—and I won’t name the network—but there’s a morning network television show that is broadcasting live pictures from the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise and the flight deck of the U.S.S. Enterprise as she returns to her home port—live from the middle of the Atlantic. You know, a few years ago this couldn’t be done. Now—we didn’t have to set that up, the commanding officer of that ship is extremely pleased to have this kind of coverage for his sailors and their families waiting for them to come home.
So while you are right, if it comes downs to absolutely an operational security versus press access issue, military people will put the mission first, but they very much think that maintaining public support through the intercession and reporting of the media is essential to the long-term success.
MS. CLARKE: And it just doesn’t that often come down to either/or—it just doesn’t.
MR. JARREAU: I’m Patrice Jarreau, correspondent of Le Monde. As a foreign correspondent here just for three months, and it’s also my first war, I have the feeling—you are saying and President Bush is saying, and Secretary Rumsfeld is saying that this is a very unusual war, an unconventional war against an unconventional enemy.
But I have the feeling that you are—that the official information you are giving about this war is a very conventional one and that your briefing are very conventional briefings about conventional war—or the conventional part of the war. I mean, what you claim to be unusual and new about this war is not in your briefings.
MS. CLARKE: It always comes down to content. I would say—people in this room can tell me if I’m wrong, but I think yesterday was probably the first time ever in the Pentagon Briefing Room that you were talking about cavalry charges across the plains of Afghanistan. So I think we have our unusual moments there. There will be some aspects of the military operations you can see and we can talk about. There’ll be some, obviously from the conversations today, that you can’t. Secretary Rumsfeld has said all along when you talk about going after these terrorists and those who harbor and foster and sponsor them, they don’t have armies and navies and air forces. We are using our so-called conventional capabilities in somewhat unusual ways and partnered with, if you will, and connected with some very unusual activity.
We are very careful in what we talk about publicly. We do not want to paint a picture for the bad guys. So we don’t talk very much at all about what we’re going to do going forward. And we are also very careful about the kinds of information about what we did, because, again, sometimes giving a lot of information about what you’ve done can help them connect the dots and make it more difficult for your next operation.
So I’ll fully grant you, we are very careful about what we talk about in that briefing room. It’s always a balance. Now, look, my job is to get out as much news and information as possible because my job is to keep the American people and the public at large and the world engaged and supportive of this effort. The more information I can give them the better. But the balance is doing it without putting peoples’ lives at risk, without threatening future operational security.
So it’s a balance. And, you know, to be perfectly honest, its people in this room who said give us five briefings a week. Give us five briefings a week, and now I’m hearing somebody who would like to have two a day. At any point when you don’t like it and you don’t think it’s useful, let us know. But we’re giving you as much information as we can.
MR. STEINBERG: Let me take one more here, and then I’ll go for a last comment to Marvin, and then we’ll wrap up.
MR. TOBIN BECK: I’m Tobin Beck from UPI. And in listening to the different comments that were made, particularly about operational security, I think all of us on the reporting side would agree that, you know, we don’t want to put peoples’ lives at risk. But getting back for a second to the Delta raid on Mullah Omar’s compound and the New Yorker article, and so on, I’m wondering if there can be some sort of better briefing process that could be worked out maybe with some of the participants when they get back or that type of thing, because the process that you described for how you got the information sounded sort of second-, third- or even fourth-hand some days removed from the event. And I’m wondering just for the sakes of providing a more complete picture, faster if there could be a better process that could be worked out?
MS. CLARKE: I’m sure there is. We can always do things better the second and third and fourth time. For starters, prior to that particular activity, nobody had a lot of warning, not a whole lot of time to plan. Again, going back to what Stephen said, just stunned by how much time the secretary and the chairman spent with me and Steve and Admiral Quigley and others figuring out what are we going to do, what kind of information can we provide after the fact. And the result of that particular case, among other things, was the video footage that was shown Saturday morning, which the most grizzled veterans in the building said to me that was extraordinary. We have never seen that before.
Now, I fully grant you, not to name any particular network, but ABC, CBS and CNN would have far rather been there themselves, but people who have covered that building for 10, 15, 20 years said to me that was extraordinary, and General Myers gave a fairly detailed briefing as much as he knew, It was probably, what, Steve?, 12, 18 hours after the activity was finished, and he had a fair amount of information and he shared a fair amount of that information. The pieces that I wish we could have done sooner, but we do have underway are, for instance, interviewing at least one of the folks who was on that activity.
But again, Bill Darley knows so much more about this than I do, but you know, you think about the extraordinary training and preparation, what these guys do, these men and women do. Think about what they were doing that night, and then they’re training and preparing for whatever the next round might be.
I’ve got—as eager as I am, you know, I’d love to have a cast of them in the Pentagon briefing room when we disguise their identity and they talk for six hours, but they’ve got jobs to do. They’ve got other jobs to do as well. So it’s a balance and we try to give you some access to that. I agree with you. We could probably have gotten that done sooner. And I’ll tell you perfectly honestly, it was 70 to 100 hours almost non-stop leading up to that Friday night, staying up all night Friday night to make sure that the video got through, to make sure it was cleaned up so we could show it. It was this incredible hand-holding exercise, an incredible commitment by a lot of people. And once we got it done, I just sort of mentally collapsed and said, wow, we got that done, and we all just sort of wanted to take a breather for a few days.
Next time, we could probably pursue it harder and get some of those other things like interviewing some of the people who were involved after the fact sooner.
MR. STEINBERG: Marvin, any last question or comment.
MR. KALB: I’ve been set up, I think. (Laughter.) Excuse me. Two points. One is that in my own experience, I think that what I have been listening to in the last couple of hours is extraordinary. Clearly, an effort on the part of the government, the Pentagon, part of the government to provide a common basis of understanding of the difficulty of trying to cover an unconventional war, and I am absolutely positive that the press fully absorbs and understands that and appreciates it, and that has been stated a couple of times now.
My second point is that you have made, Torie, the point that the secretary devotes a great deal of his time to try and to understand press relations, and anyone who’s been in this city for a while understands or thinks he may understand the reasons why that is the case. But I would benefit, and perhaps others would as well, if you could explain why the Secretary feels it is so important at this point to level with the American people, to get as much information out as possible, in full recognition that the press may not be satisfied with the degree of information that is provided. What’s going on in the political mind that’s running the government today that brings the Secretary to that conclusion?
MS. CLARKE: I can’t sit here and tell you what’s going on the minds of everybody in the government, in this administration, but I think I’ve got a pretty good sense of where he is coming from because we have talked about this so much. And he truly believes the support of the American people for any military activity, particularly one that will be long and sustained and difficult, is absolutely critical. You have to have it. You have to have their support, so you have to communicate with them.
The news media is the primary means of communicating with people. So, as I said, he’s got this incredible inner gyroscope that tells him this is the most valuable use of my energies at this time, so that’s where he’ll devote it. It’s just a fundamental belief of his. And, you know, I didn’t know him when he was a member of Congress, obviously, but he has talked about at great length about the Freedom of Information Act and how important it was and how important it is. So he understands the incredible value and role of the media in that, and these are not his words, these are mine. You know, you look at the preamble of the Constitution, and it calls for a common defense, and you look at the first amendment and it calls for a free press.
I for one, don’t think where they’re positioned is an accident. You know, it’s one of the reasons I was attracted to this job as sort of keeping a foot in both camps, if you will. In the foot of the media and the foot of the government, in terms of the relationship between the two, I would dare say, with due respect to my colleagues in other parts of the administration, this is the one place where it’s most important. This is the one place where it is so critical that we do everything possible to help you do your jobs. And I think he shares that belief.
MR. KALB: Do you?
MS. CLARKE: I really do. And I don’t share too much about my conversations with him. I would never share my conversations with the President. But I’ve been around the President when we’ve talked about these issues, and he, too, devotes a significant amount of time to it. I don’t have a sense, you know, to his schedule as much I do about the Secretary’s, obviously. But he pays a lot of attention to it. He knows it’s important
If I could just say before you wrap up. One, thank you again to Brookings for doing this. We do think it’s important. I hope it is helpful. I’d like to impose upon Brookings and say if people are interested and we could do this in another two or three months, sooner or later, whatever you think, it is, you know, extraordinarily useful. Chuck, I think you’re the one who says let’s get the problems when they’re small before they get too big. And, two, I appreciate your flexibility in running over here and thank NCTA, my old home, for doing this, which was wonderful of them. And I know it’s hard. I know it is very, very hard. I know people get frustrated. So do we. But the door is always open. The phones always get answered; so let’s just keep working at it.
MR. STEINBERG: Thank you. First, let me thank you for suggesting this and coming over, not only you, but your extraordinary team. I had the pleasure with working with several of them, and it really is a great group of people, and particularly I have great respect for the people in the uniformed services who’ve really committed themselves to this.
It strikes me on the basis of this conversation that one of the things that makes this so important right now is that the American people want to know how we’re doing, and they want to know how we’re doing more than typically because their security is at stake. This is not like Kosovo, or even the Gulf War where they were worried about their sons and their daughters and the general success of America. But how we do in this is going to have an impact on whether we’re going to be safe in our homes. And so while I have tremendous sympathy for the issues that the Special Forces and others face, you can feel this kind of palpable sense of “Are getting on with this? Are we getting it done?” And a lot of what this, I think, eagerness to know is about is precisely because of that, and I think that kind of contradictions that Tom talked about seem especially acute here because of the nature of that particular challenge.
But I think this dialogue is enormously important. It is a difficult challenge for both, and nobody expects to see these issues fully resolved. But conversation is useful, and I know that Ron and I would be happy to continue to be part of this. I appreciate all of you coming. I hope the next time we won’t have quite so much inconvenience if we do it again, but it just shows that we’re all operating in wartime and we all have to be flexible. So thank you all.
[END OF EVENT.]