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Smoke doesn't always mean fire Part I

An opaque response to a request for transparency

 

This article will be published at the same time as a podcast addressing the exchange on the CMSAF's Facebook page. For a complete analysis I encourage you to continue reading then listen to Episode 17 of the 20 Years Done Podcast. The podcast can be found on typical podcast mediums as well as the RSS feed in the top right of this website.





On October 17th at 6:32 PM the Facebook page for the CMSAF posted a photo of a few deployed Airmen that she had a video conference with. Then one person made a comment. This blog isn't going to analyze that exchange, that's what the podcast episode is for.

However, in the course of preparing and recording the podcast I heard rumors that the CMSAF herself didn't actually make that post.

So, I did what anyone would do. I tracked down contact information for her Public Affairs team and asked them some questions. But before we get to those questions, I think it's important to first provide some context.

First, the CMSAF's Facebook page states that "Managing the page is a team effort but the words posted here are 100% hers."

So the first question here, is what exactly does "the words posted here are 100% hers" mean?

Does that mean just posts, or does it also mean comments and replies? 

Also "100% hers" doesn't necessarily mean she personally types them, but does that mean she reviews and approves any comments or replies before they are posted?

Or does she just blanket accept full responsibility for the posts, pictures, comments, and replies her page managing team makes?

Second, prior to this incident I had commented on the CMSAF Facebook page seeking another avenue of getting the suicide data that had been stonewalled through my FOIA requests. The CMSAF responded inviting me to email her. A week later after not hearing a response I sent her page a message asking for an update. I was initially greeted with an automatic response, however minutes later I received an actual answer that her team was working on it. The message was signed "JO" at the bottom.

The fact it's signed "JO" at the bottom leads me to believe that this was actually the CMSAF typing this response. It's also important to note this was at 10:15PM EDT. Which to me, is pretty impressive that the CMSAF was willing to read and respond to a private message so late at night.

So this begs the question, are other Facebook messages signed similarly?

This brings me to the third piece of evidence.

In the hours after the social media incident, an image was posted to reddit purporting to be a message exchange between someone and the CMSAF Facebook page.

However, this message exchange didn't include a "Best - JO" signature. Which implies there are times that her PA team responds to messages without her input. Likely just following a sort of predetermined script or general mandate from the CMSAF and adhering to Public Affairs regulations.

Before I get too far in, I want you to hold a few things in your mind as you continue reading. First, I want you to remember that the original commentator was accused of not behaving appropriately over social media. Second, the major complaint of most Anti-CMSAF responses was that such comments on social media shouldn't cause adverse career impacts. Third, the offending commentator was publicly dragged in front of essentially the entire Air Force. Finally, beyond the fact that the CMSAF is responsible for the behavior of her team generally, this article is focused on the role of her Public Affairs team.

So this leads me to the point of this article:

Who wrote the initial comments that caused a strong backlash on social media splitting the enlisted force into Pro or Anti CMSAF camps?

So I got the CMSAF PA contact info and sent the following email requesting clarification on the events leading up to, and following the encounter on the CMSAF Facebook page:

Good morning MSgt XXXX, MSgt XXXX, and Ms. XXXX,

I am reaching out to get some information about the CMSAF’s official Facebook page in light of the recent turmoil around internet harassment and trolling.

All of these questions and their responses are considered on the record.

On October 17th at 6:13PM EDT the CMSAF’s official facebook page posted an image of deployed servicemembers after completing a video conference with the Chief.

Did Chief Bass write that post, or did someone else write that post on her behalf?

If it was someone else, did the Chief review and approve the verbiage in the post?

In the comments someone by the name of Jacob Banks asked the question “Is it bass or bass”

Within an hour the CMSAF Bass facebook page responded “Jacob Banks SSgt Banks – hmm, seems like you and a few of your friends enjoy trolling our Air Force site. Give me a call Monday… I’d like to chat about it. Maybe I’m missing something <shrugging woman emoji>.

First, were these words typed into Facebook personally by Chief Bass?

If they were not, who wrote this message?

If someone else wrote the message, did they inform the Chief of the original comment by Jacob Banks and ask for her input?

If she gave input, what was that input?

Did she tell the person verbatim what to respond or was it a general impression, explicit instruction or a broad mandate?

Was that mandate established in response to Jacob Banks’s comment, or did the CMSAF establish that mandate prior?

How was it determined what Jacob Banks’s service status and rank was?

Did the CMSAF personally search for Jacob Banks in a government system or database?

If not, did she direct someone to do so?

If she did not direct someone to do so, who decided to search for Jacob Banks?

The Chief eluded to Jacob Banks trolling “Air Force sites” which sites is she referring to?

What was the nature of the trolling?

Does the CMSAF or her office have evidence of this trolling?

Is this the first time CMSAF Bass has been made aware of any trolling on her page?

If it is not, was she aware prior to this exchange of trolling by Jacob Banks in particular?

After other people replied to CMSAF’s reply to Jacob Banks, 12 hours later the CMSAF Facebook page responded “Juan Dela Cruz oh I absolutely have a sense of humor…love to have fun and laugh. But disrespect, trolling doesn’t go over well with me. My team has SSgt Bank’s info…as well his crew. I’m sure there’s a solid explanation. Right?!?”

Were these words typed into Facebook personally by Chief Bass?

If they were not, who wrote this message?

If someone else wrote the message, did they inform the Chief of the replies to Jacob Banks and ask for the Chief’s input?

If she gave input, what was the input?

Did she tell the person verbatim what to respond or was it a general impression of what to write?

The Chief’s reply mentioned Jacob Banks had a crew. Do you have evidence of who is on this crew?

Is it formal or social or loose?

How did the Chief determine who was on this crew?

Were members of the crew contacted by the CMSAF or her team?

How many people comprised the crew?

On October 19, 2020 at 10:23 AM EDT the CMSAF facebook page posted an update from the exchange with Jacob Banks.

The post stated “I just had a good conversation with SSgt Banks”

How long was the conversation with SSgt Banks?

Was it over the phone or video?

 Did the CMSAF during the conversation or afterwards either request Jacob Banks’s chain of command exert some sort of punishment or discipline for Jacob Banks due to the exchange on October 17, 2020, or request his chain of command to refrain from doing so?

One hour later Jacob Banks posted a comment on the CMSAF Facebook page post dated October 19, 2020 supporting the Chief’s post.

Did the CMSAF or her PA team write the verbiage of that comment and provide it to Jacob Banks to post?

If not directly, did the CMSAF ask Jacob Banks casually in her conversation for Jacob Banks to make a comment?

If not CMSAF, did her PA team or another PA team encourage Jacob Banks to write a comment on the post?

That’s all I have pending any follow up questions from your reply. I hope to publish the podcast by next Monday evening (COB 10/26/2020) so if you could provide comments before then I would appreciate it.

If you have any questions for me I would be happy to answer any. Also, if any of my facts are incorrect I certainly would appreciate a correction.

I received the following response:


I responded:

Good afternoon Master Sergeant XXXX,

Am I to assume that this is the entire response to the questions I have presented? Or will you be seeking approval for release of information for the questions?

Also, does the response thus far conform to AFI 35-104, paragraph 1.3.1.1, 1.3.1.2, and more broadly the mandate by the Secretary of Defense to facilitate “maximum disclosure, minimum delay” assuring the “rapid, accurate, and continuous flow of information to the public.” See DODD 5122.05. And [if] the provided response does not conform to the cited regulations, can you provide a justification for withholding the information?

Now in fairness, I have a bit of a rinky-dink operation here at 20YearsDone.com. So it could very well be I lack the influence or weight to solicit a response. I can accept that. 

But, I'm bothered by a few things.

First, from what I have heard, the person that actually wrote on the CMSAF Facebook page was a Master Sergeant on the CMSAF's PA team. So the questions I've asked, could very well have been going to the person that wrote the Facebook comments/replies.

Second, this entire incident began when an Air Force member said the wrong thing on Facebook, and as it went viral, it surely impacted his mental health and will likely incur some pretty serious professional ramifications. In a follow up comment on the CMSAF Facebook page I asked if the CMSAF had requested or been assured by SSgt Banks's chain that career altering administrative actions wouldn't be taken; however there was not a response from the CMSAF. And yet here, if sources are accurate, it seems a Master Sergeant on the CMSAF's PA team also said the wrong thing on Facebook. What happened to them?

So while the CMSAF has defended her decision when she directed public scrutiny to SSgt Banks, seemingly her PA team is shielded from the same scrutiny. 

What better way to alienate the entire enlisted force than to give your favored personnel different treatment than everyone else.

The office of the CMSAF relies heavily on the trust of the enlisted force. But here, from the evidence available, I think that trust has been broken. Both in the team's complete lack of transparency, the conflicts as to who is writing on her behalf when the words are touted as "100% hers" and how there is seemingly disparate treatment of her team compared to junior enlisted personnel.

The remedy here seems clear: Transparency.

Trust will not be built by avoiding accountability and obscuring from view transgressions made under the CMSAF banner. 

More importantly, what is there to lose here? If what I've been told is true, which without an inkling of a response from Public Affairs addressing the question creates an information vacuum, then what harm could possibly come from "Someone on my team was a bit over zealous, I've corrected the issue. I will make sure we consider our social media responses more carefully." Isn't that the same standard her team was enforcing initially -- behavior on social media?

I would hate for the CMSAF to burn massive amounts of credibility over something so trivial, and the effects of that broken trust would very likely work against her goals for the next two years. 

But I guess my question to you is, do you care? If my questions were answered satisfactorily would that serve to mend a broken trust, or further exacerbate the issue? Maybe I'm biased, but I think owning mistakes is how we move forward and grow. I'm sure that same message was conveyed to SSgt Banks during that Monday phone call.

Or maybe there wasn't a mistake here? Perhaps the rumors I've received are wrong and the circumstantial evidence I've presented doesn't reflect what actually happened. Without an adequate response from the CMSAF herself or Public Affairs I guess we won't know.

If you have insights or thoughts on how the CMSAF PA team responded to these questions, or to how the CMSAF team handled the initial comment, follow 20 Years Done on Facebook.



 









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