Readout to the Press by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest
6:44 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: As you know, following the inadvertent release of sensitive information during the President's most recent trip to Afghanistan, the White House Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, asked White House Counsel Neil Eggleston to look into what happened and report back to him with recommendations on how the administration can improve processes and make sure something like this does not happen again.
The White House Counsel briefed the Chief of Staff last night on the information he collected, and provided recommendations to prevent the release of such information in the future. The Chief of Staff has accepted those recommendations and has asked the White House staff, including the White House Office of Communications, the Office of Scheduling and Advance, and the National Security Council, to begin implementing them immediately.
So let me walk you through with these three recommended process improvements are.
On international trips with the President -- when there are meetings that are open to press coverage, a member of the White House Scheduling and Advance staff will conduct a briefing prior to the President's arrival to notify meeting participants that their names and titles will be released to the press in a pool report, and give participants an opportunity to raise concerns. This recommendation will also apply to any event where a list of participants will be made publicly available to the press -- for instance, in a public event where there are people on stage with the President.
The second recommended process improvement: Again, on international trips with the President -- the White House press lead will clear the names and titles of meeting participants with National Security Council staff prior to the distribution of those names and titles to the press.
Q: With White House Counsel staff you said?
MR. EARNEST: With national security staff, prior to the distribution of those names and titles to the press.
And then third and finally, the White House Scheduling and Advance staff and the White House Communications staff will receive additional training to enhance awareness and improve handling of sensitive information.
Q: In going back over this, what did you determine went wrong?
MR. EARNEST: Well, what they determined is that the release of information was inadvertent. And what the Counsel had been tasked with was devising some recommended process improvements to safeguard against this kind of inadvertent disclosure from happening again. So that's why these were the recommendations that were offered by the White House Counsel, and the Chief of Staff accepted them and directed that they be implemented.
Q: And are you able to say whether -- who was at fault? I mean, was it the base personnel who just sort of inadvertently didn't know who was going to be getting this information and so they included the CIA station chief, or White House staff who didn't give them a warning, or what exactly?
MR. EARNEST: They were not focused on trying to isolate any specific wrongdoing because this disclosure was inadvertent. But given the seriousness of this circumstance, the White House Counsel was tasked with coming up with some process improvements that would prevent a disclosure like this from happening again.
Q: Josh, which of these things were not already being done? Was the White House press lead not already clearing with the national security staff who was on the list going out, for instance?
MR. EARNEST: I think as a matter of -- to my understanding, as a matter of course, these things were not being done. They were occasionally being done, but not rigorously as a matter of course being done.
Based on my own experience, I can tell you that these things often occur, but they don't occur every time. And that's what will change.
Q: And were there any punishments meted out, or any firings or anything? I'm not aware of any, I haven't heard of any.
MR. EARNEST: Not that I have to report in this context. Again, what this review was focused on was determining the nature of the release -- in this case, they determined that it was inadvertent -- and putting in place some process improvements that would make sure that this didn't happen again.
Q: Josh, how will you determine whether a name is actually removed from a list? Is it just because an individual doesn't want their name disclosed to the press, or would there have to be some underlying reason? Because otherwise, just because somebody doesn't want their name out to us, we wouldn't have access to it, there would be no reason.
MR. EARNEST: Sure. In all of these circumstances we're balancing our commitment to transparency with the need to protect some information for national security reasons. So as we implement these recommendations, that will be a built-in tension that we'll have to manage. But, frankly, that's a tension that we manage every time we do public events like this.
Ostensibly, Jim, particularly with your photographers taking pictures of people who are appearing with the President, it's going to be difficult to be in a situation where people are taking pictures of somebody with the President in a public place where there's ready press access. Without a good reason, it's hard to not provide that person's name.
Q: Right now.
MR. EARNEST: I mean, the exception to that is when it's a large group of people -- that you go to these rallies where there are hundreds of people behind the President. In this very specific circumstance, particularly on international trips, this is something that we'll manage. But I think it will be -- the end result I think will be consistent with what has been, as Jon sort of alluded to, our standard practice.
Q: So just on recommendation one -- if someone did object to their name being included, would the White House then provide a list with that name omitted, as if the person were never there?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think we would have to work through this. Even when the President was in Afghanistan, for example, the President participated in private meetings that the press didn't have access to and so didn't necessarily have a manifest for each of those meetings. So it's possible that if there were an individual that did have a concern about being publicly disclosed, that their participation in a public meeting is probably not a very good idea, right?
So we would probably find a more appropriate venue for them to either meet with the President or not.
Q: Did the Counsel brief the CIA on this? Have they responded? Did they need to respond?
MR. EARNEST: I can't speak to what specific communication the Counsel had with the CIA in this matter.
Q: Were all the people involved in this -- advance staff, et cetera -- interviewed? Was that the way this procedure worked?
MR. EARNEST: I won't get into the specifics of who actually the Counsel spoke to in the context of this review. But getting some clarity about what actually happened and what steps could be implemented to prevent it from happening again required a substantial number of conversations.
Q: With who?
MR. EARNEST: Well, with people who have knowledge of what occurred and how it occurred and what the regular process is. Those are the people who would be in the best position to help the Counsel identify some proposed improvements that would prevent this from happening again.
Q: But were these adopted today? Or when were these adopted?
MR. EARNEST: I just asked this question. Let me see if I've got a clear answer here.
Q: They were recommended last night?
MR. EARNEST: Stand by for one second.
Q: And we don't know if the CIA station chief was pulled out of Afghanistan, do we?
MR. EARNEST: All we know is the CIA has, when asked about this a week or two ago, said that his situation had been addressed. But I think that's as specific as they got.
Q: Does that mean he's not there anymore? When you said -- earlier, you said there had been no firings, punishments in this context. There's got to be a plain English version of what --
MR. EARNEST: Well, I didn't say -- I actually added -- I don't think there hadn't been any. I think I just said I didn't have any to talk about in the context of this report, in this review.
Q: So is there any -- some linked to this that are not linked to the review?
MR. EARNEST: Not that I know of. I'm not trying to be cagey here, guys. (Laughter.) Does it seem like I am?
Q: The President is aware of all this, right?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, he is. The President was briefed on this last night. So at this point, in terms of the timing, what I would say to you is that this review was complete last night and the President was briefed on it.
Q: So it was White House Communications Agency, the NSC, and then there was a third one?
MR. EARNEST: The White House communication office. So, I mean, essentially the press office.
Q: Okay. And then there was a third one.
MR. EARNEST: The National Security Council and the White House Office of Scheduling and Advance. So these are essentially the personnel -- it's personnel from these three offices that are responsible for both planning and executing these events and then communicating the details of these events to the media when the events have press access.
All right, if there are additional questions, just email me.
END 6:56 P.M. EDT
Barack Obama, Readout to the Press by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/306210