State Dept.: 'No Evidence' That 'Deliberately Edited' Videotape Was Meant to Conceal Information

By Susan Jones | August 19, 2016 | 7:00am EDT
State Department spokesman John Kirby explains the inexplicable editing of a December 2013 State Department briefing to incredulous reporters on Thursday, Aug. 19, 2016. (Screen grab from CSPAN)

( - The U.S. State Department on Thursday said there is "no evidence" that a "deliberately edited" videotape of its Dec. 2, 2013 State Department briefing was intended to "conceal information from the public," even though someone requested the edit.

Spokesman John Kirby said a months-long internal investigation was unable to identify the person who asked for the edit: "And while the technician recalls receiving a phone call requesting the edit, there is no evidence to indicate who might've placed that call or why."

Kirby also said even if the video was edited with the intent to conceal, "There was no policy in place at the time prohibiting such an act."

The videotape of that 2013 news briefing -- posted on the State Department's website and YouTube channel -- omitted part of an exchange between spokesman Jen Psaki and Fox News reporter James Rosen, who asked Psaki if the State Department lied to protect the secrecy of nuclear negotiations with Iran.

“James, there are times when diplomacy needs privacy in order to progress. This is a good example of that,” Psaki replied at the time.

That exchange was included in the eight minutes deleted from the video and replaced with a white flash.

Thursday's State Department briefing began with an update on the case from spokesman John Kirby, and we post it here almost in its entirety:

"As you know, when this matter came to light, many of us, including Secretary Kerry, had concerns and questions as to how and why this had happened. And so at the secretary's request, the Office of the Legal Advisers spent the last several months looking deeper into the issue," he said.

"All told, they have spoken with more than 30 current and former employees at all levels of seniority, and they've gone through e-mails and other documents to see what information might be available. They've now compiled their findings and a description of their process into a fact-finding review, which has been provided to the secretary. We're also sharing it today with Congress and the inspector general.

"Here's the bottom line: We are confident the video of that press briefing was deliberately edited. The white flash that many of you have noticed yourselves in that portion of the video is evidence enough of human involvement. Indeed, a technician came forward, recalled making the edit, and inserting that flash.

"What we were not able to determine was why the edit was made in the first place. There's no evidence to suggest it was made with the intent to conceal information from the public. And while the technician recalls receiving a phone call requesting the edit, there is no evidence to indicate who might've placed that call or why. In fact, throughout this process we learned additional information that could call into question any suggestion of nefarious activity.

"In addition to the fact that the full video was always available on DVIDS and that the full transcript was always on our website, the video was edited in a choppy manner which made it obvious that footage was missing. We also found that the video likely was shortened very early in the process, only minutes after the briefing concluded, and well before the technician who recalled making the edit believes the request was made to make the edit.

Kirby also raised the possibility that the flash of light was inserted because of "technical or electrical problems that were affecting our control room servers around that time."

He said even if the video was edited with intent to conceal, "there was no policy in place at the time prohibiting such an edit." Kirby said he's now instituted a policy to prevent deliberate editing to mislead.

"We have to accept the facts as we have found them, learn from them and move on," Kirby told reporters. "The secretary is confident that the Office of the Legal Adviser took this task seriously, that they examined it thoroughly, and that we have indeed learned valuable lessons as a result."

Kirby's statement sparked many questions from incredulous reporters.

"You think it (the edit) was not nefarious because it was done badly and because it was done quickly? Is that the essential argument?" a reporter asked Kirby.

"I said that we aren't sure whether it was done with intent to conceal or whether it was done as a result of a technical problem. The bottom line is, Brad, it was inconclusive.

"Some of the additional information that does lead us to think that a glitch is possible here, is because of the choppy nature of the cut, which is when -- look, when we do daily briefings, we always cut the top and the bottom, right? So we have an ability to do editing on the beginning and the end of the briefing.

"Obviously we have to do that. And we have procedures in place to do that in a nice smooth, clear, very deliberate way so that when we post the video of today's briefing, it looks like a totally encompassed, very professional product. So we have the ability to do this in a very professional way. This cut was not done that way. It was done in a choppy fashion that's not consistent with the way we typically do that."

The amazed reporter told Kirby, "It seems like such a ridiculous explanation, it shocks me that you're actually providing in here." Wouldn't someone remember if it were a technical glitch, he wondered.

"I understand that the -- that the inconclusive nature of the findings is not going to be all that satisfying to you," Kirby responded. "It wasn't all that satisfying to the rest of us. You don't think that we would like to know exactly what happened? But we -- we just don't. They interviewed more than 30 current and former employees. They looked at -- at e-mails and records. And there simply wasn't anything to make a specific conclusion here."

Kirby said he doesn't know if the State Department inspector-general will launch its own investigation.

Kirby also said no one, including the technician, will be punished for the edit. "As I said at the outset, there was no policy prohibiting this kind of an edit. There is now. There wasn't at the time. So, there's no wrongdoing here that can be punished."

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