U.S. Department of Defense

01/17/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 01/17/2020 20:28

DOD Background Briefing on International Military Student Review

STAFF: OK, ladies and gentlemen, first, we've got a hot mike, so unless you're asking a question, please make sure that you're muted. Please identify yourselves, and then those who came in a little late, this is all embargoed until 3 o'clock today. So with -- and this is on background, so everything from here out is on background, senior defense officials.

With that, Bob Burns, are you on?

Q: Yes, I -- yes, can you hear me?

STAFF: I can hear you, Bob. Go for it.

Q: Oh, OK. So I guess my first question would be whether you can be more specific about the restrictions that have to be agreed to by the students, and -- and also, the timing of resuming the training for these foreign nationals.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Sure. With regards to the restrictions, in terms of their access, we will be fully implementing a system referred to as DBIDS -- the Defense Biometric Identification System, or DBIDS, D-B-I-D-S. DBIDS is a software application which maintains security measures to prevent unauthorized physical access to facilities and installations. DBIDS tracks proper verification of identity, validation of affiliation, status, eligibility and fitness for access to secure areas. This gives our installation commanders a secure solution to register, manager -- manage and control personnel at the right levels of access.

In short, using DBIDS, the access credentials issued to the students can be coded to limit their access only to those installations where they have a purpose, chiefly, of course, being the training that they're here to attend.

The other control procedures are local procedures implemented by our installations, including placing limitations on off-duty travel, acknowledgment of the monitoring protocols we're putting in place, training and awareness by the students of our insider threat program, reporting requirements that they have and to monitoring and -- and looking for threats on a day-to-day basis.

As far as the timelines, the military departments, upon meeting the conditions specified by the secretary and the deputy, will be empowered to resume the training subject to them implementing these new policies. There is not one single, specific timeline. It will vary by the services, and in some cases, by the actual installation based on the factors extent in each location.

Q: Can I ask you one quick follow-up regarding the limitations on, I think you said, off-duty travel, if I heard correctly. Is that a uniform policy, or does it depend on the -- on the individual or the individual country?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: No, the services will be directed to impose parameters for off-duty travel similar to -- I was in the military, and there was a -- certain times when you would be, if you were in a training program, if you went a certain distance away from your post, that you had report that and get approval in advance. Again, these will be -- the guidance will be given to the depart -- military departments, and they will set those reporting and restricting requirements, based on their populations in the -- in their particular areas.

Q: Thank you.

STAFF: Reuters, anyone from Reuters? OK, without knowing who's on the line, just -- next question.

(UNKNOWN): … this is (inaudible) with McClatchy.

STAFF: Hey, can somebody please hit your mute button? We're getting a lot of feedback.

Q: Sounds like it's in (inaudible) too, not direct amount or anything like that.

STAFF: Go for it.

Q: So, you know, kind of looking at this as a whole, how did these pilots get through our original vetting process, and through immigration? Because for some of the things that they have been now expelled for -- the child pornography, the -- the jihadi commentary -- it seems like that would have prevented a normal citizen trying to get into the U.S. (inaudible). You know, how did they get into the system in the first place, I guess is my question.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: So all of the international military students that are here now were granted a travel visa by the Department of State under -- as a representative of a foreign government. There is an information process, the form 160, it's the A-2 Visa form that collects their biographic information.

They're vetted by their host nation, their sending nation, as to what their level of access is within their own system. They're further reviewed and vetted by our embassy, senior defense officials in the sending countries -- in this cause, the Saudis, obviously, our senior defense official in Riyadh. That is the vetting process we have used historically.

The additional vetting we're doing now, overlaid on top of that, is a condition the Secretary of Defense is putting forward from this point on, and that is to gain and sustain and maintain access to DOD installations and DOD training sites. So it's an overlay on top of the visa process that did not exist in the past, and that's what's different.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: I would just add, one item that he mentioned is, some of the items that could be discovered in a -- kind of a retrospective look at trainees such as took place, could be things that took place after they had entered the program.

And so one of the things that is being additionally implemented is a continuous vetting and screening process, where we will -- we will persistently look at data we have, and indicators we have even after they're in the country and in the program. So that will be a change that will hopefully add an additional layer of security.

Q: OK. And just one quick follow-up, given that this was just one country's students, Saudi nationals, are -- is the department now retroactively looking at all of its international students to see if there are similar pockets of anti-U.S. (inaudible) or (inaudible), et cetera, in any of the other participants we have in this program?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Yes. We are currently cycling through the entire current population of international military students, and we have already begun with the additional screening for any -- as new international military students are identified to come into the program. So this applies across the board, all of the screening and all of the procedures.

STAFF: OK, next?

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Hey, this is Ryan Browne from CNN. In your opening, I think you mentioned something about restriction on firearm purchase. Can you elaborate on -- on how that -- what that actually will mean?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: The restriction imposed?

STAFF: Hey, guys, I'm sorry. If you -- actually, everybody should just mute. Please just mute. We're having a hard time hearing the questions, so even if you've asked a question, hit mute.

So, Ryan, can you say that again?

Q: Yes, I thought I heard in the opening statement, a mention about restrictions on firearm purchases or -- or having firearms. Could you elaborate on what the new policy is and how it's different from the old policy?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Sure. There -- there is not a current policy specific to the international military students. There are federal statutes in place. The restriction imposed by the Secretary of Defense on top of anything that currently exists, is that, as a condition of participation in the program, the international military students will not be allowed to purchase or possess firearms while they're in the United States for training.

Q: Thank you.

STAFF: Look, we're going to hang up the phone and stop the call if people can't be responsible and put their phone on mute so we can have a productive conversation here. So whoever is in a large room with other reporters having conversations, please put it on mute so we can continue.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: Eric Schmitt from ''The New York Times.'' The restrictions on off-duty travel, does that apply to all students from all countries? Or will it be a country-by-country restriction?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: The policy will be applied at the local installation level based on their populations and their training parameters. So they -- the commanders have been -- the military departments have been given the requirement from the secretary to establish these parameters, and they will very likely vary within population and within locations.

Q: So -- so country A, students from country A at base -- you know, base -- one base could be under certain restrictions that (inaudible) students from the same country would be under different -- different rules at a different base?

There's no consistency from -- you know, if you have (inaudible) whatever country, Saudi Arabia or any other country, from base to base, just up to the base commander to decide?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Well, it's up to the training program to establish. And to the greatest degree possible, these would be uniformly applied. We just acknowledge at the Pentagon that the best determination is made locally because you have multiple countries and multiple training sites and multiple types of training.

STAFF: All right, next question.

Q: Hi, this is Meghann Myers at Military Times. I am wondering if all of these new restrictions are just based on the Pensacola shooter and what was going on in that situation, or if the larger review brought up some more holes that you guys felt like you could plug?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: We looked at the procedures that -- that are used for all international military students, and we developed the recommendations accordingly, as I briefed you, on a range of enhancements, including the assimilation of additional data points on the front end, overlaid on top of the visa application, which is only the current -- the only current formal submission from their host nation come -- or from the sending nation, comes through the visa. So we are adding an additional layer of information requirements up-front to expand on that, and that's for all.

So this was a review of all of the international military student application processes. We used the embassy -- our embassy in Saudi Arabia as a pivot point for this, obviously because of the connection to the shooting, but also because it is one of our more robust locations for the generation of international military students; they comprise a large segment of the population, and we determined that what -- what would work there would work elsewhere, and that's the basis for the recommendations.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: I'll just add as an example of something that may -- may not have been specifically tied to the shooting in Pensacola that we considered, but with regard to the credentialing policy, to restrict access to only facilities and installations required by an individual student.

In the Pensacola shooting, that individual was at a base he was authorized to be at, would be authorized to be at, in a facility he would be authorized to be at. So we're looking at other examples where we believe that this type of restriction could be helpful, that may not have applied directly in the Pensacola shooting.

Q: (inaudible) quick question on (inaudible) how things would be locally, instead of (inaudible)?

STAFF: Carla, we can't hear -- you're breaking up.

Q: Oh, hey. Can you hear me better now?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes.

Q: OK. So when you were talking about how things would not be formally applied, they'd be based on (inaudible) students were going to explain that a little more? Because I do understand that, yeah, training is different and so people are going to be going into these bases for different training.

But the threat -- the potential threats would be the same...so help me understand why there's not more uniformity there.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Right. So, yeah, I'm mainly referring to some of the physical features. For example, now if you're in a training base that's 25, 30 miles from the nearest, you know, metropolitan area, you know, if I had a travel perimeter restriction based on mileage, that would be different than if you were adjacent to a large city, right?

So when I referred to the variations, that's -- that's an example that I'm -- I'm calling on. It's also, when you look at the different training programs, what the cadence and rhythm is, if they have day training, night training, weekend training, all of those are variables that will be in place when the local installations establish these policies.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: And, (inaudible), I'll give you an example from -- any military member knows that you may be at one base and the restriction on weekend travel without taking leave is 300 miles.

But if there's a major city that people go to on a regular basis that's 310 miles, that local commander has the -- has the ability to expand that a little bit to give his people additional mobility without really getting away from the intent of the guidance to have people available for recall if necessary.

So that's the type of things he's talking about, is pushing that down to the commander, who knows what his mission is and he knows who his people are and can make that best determination.

Q: OK, thank you.

STAFF: Next question.

Q: Hello, Dan LaMothe here. Wanted to ask a question that didn't come up in the Saudi case, but has been cited as a security concern elsewhere. How did you look at (inaudible) foreign students when they go AWOL, in terms of how these new security features factor in and might address that issue? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you for the question. The additional information that we are adding on top of the visa requirement will become very useful, should we have the unfortunate incidence of an individual leaving a training location without authority, the AWOL condition. So this would give our authorities additional information on file that we could use to help mitigate those circumstances.

STAFF: You good, Dan, or do you have a follow-up?

All right, next question.

Q: Hello, this is Ali Rogin with the PBS NewsHour. Can you hear me?

Q: Hi, this is Tom Vanden Brook with USA Today.

STAFF: Whoa.

Q: Hey, guys. This is Ali Rogin with the PBS NewsHour. Can you expand on what the continuous vetting process looks like? And do you anticipate any concerns from the countries that may be sending students here, that their students might be under a heightened level of surveillance? And if so, how do you plan to address those concerns?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: The first thing I would submit is, everything we're putting in place has been, is currently in different circumstances applied to our own workforce, our own service members.

As I mentioned in our previous discussions and statements, the secretary's guidance in this review was to look for variations from how IMS [International Military Student] are handled, as opposed to how a U.S. military student in a training course would be handled, and we are closing those gaps with this new guidance. So our first reaction to our partners -- and we expect strong support from the partners, and we have received strong support, especially and including from the government of Saudi Arabia -- that they understand that this is a necessary condition of this training programs, and we're not asking anything we wouldn't ask of ourselves.

To your question of what constitutes that process, we will be, just as we are for our own workforce, looking at a compilation of available data on a real-time -- near-real-time basis that is derived from government data sources, from commercial data sources and from publicly-available information sources, and using that to detect and monitor any indications or behaviors of concern that would require an intervention with the student or -- from just simple questioning, to what may come from that. That's the process, as you may know, that we're -- we are currently putting in place for our own system, and we're -- now we're extending that to these folks. It does have to be tailored a bit based on the uniqueness of the population. You know, they are all foreign citizens, and they have different connections than a U.S. citizen would have, so all the data sources are not identical. The methodologies are various analogous and similar, and -- and those are the -- those are the procedures we're putting in place.

STAFF: Tom, we're going to close out with you. Go ahead, last question.

Q: Thank you. I'm wondering if the review has disqualified any other foreign students, and if so, how many and from what countries, please.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Well, as mentioned in the combination of the Defense review and the federal investigation, and combining our -- and working closely with the FBI and DOJ, we determined it was appropriate to remove 21 students. No other students have been directly implicated or removed by any of our additional reviews or any of the monitoring, but as those situations emerge, should they emerge, they would immediately be acted upon and -- and reconciled through this new policy -- set of policy protocols.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: I just want to wrap up. As you guys are -- are writing about this today, we just appreciate comments we've kind of given you in the past on the topic of keeping a good frame of reference for the -- the scale of this program. So over the last 20 years, we've had more than a million trainees go through our -- our IMS program in the United States and abroad. We've had -- until the Pensacola shooting, there had -- had not been any serious security incidents, and clearly, nothing that had resulted in -- in the death of an American.

We consider these training programs incredibly valuable for a number of reasons. One, they allow our partners and allies to improve their military capacity, and so they are better able to defend themselves or to fight alongside us, if called to in the future; two, it allows them to grow their cultural understanding and English language skills of the United States so they can better understand our position and our policies and our interests; and three, it's just the relationship building, so that we are able to get to know -- get to know these individuals so that they -- as they continue to rise through the ranks of their own military, and they continue to work with us down the road, that those relationships exist.

In many cases in many countries, the mil-to-mil relationship between the United States and the host country military is one of the strongest, if not the strongest relationships that we have with those countries, and that is in large part due to the IMS program that we've been running, and has -- have run so well over the last 20 years.

So with that, I'll conclude. Thank you guys. Embargo is until 1500. Let us know if you have any follow-up questions.