In a pair of remarkable exchanges, reporters pressed prominent Biden administration officials for proof of intelligence being touted by the White House and were immediately accused of believing ISIS or the Kremlin over the United States.
The administration on Thursday faced surprisingly tough questioning by reporters over intel claims made regarding the death of an ISIS leader, as well as claims Russia is developing a “false flag attack” as a catalyst for an invasion of Ukraine.
The Biden administration is alleging Russia has been preparing to “fabricate a pretext for an invasion” of Ukraine by creating “a very graphic propaganda video” using crisis actors that could then be used to support a ‘false flag’ operation.
Also Thursday, President Biden touted a Special Forces operation that killed the leader of the Islamic State terrorist group, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi.
An operation that included civilian casualties – including six children and four women – that the White House has blamed on al-Qurayshi for blowing himself up.
Reporters were skeptical of the administration’s claims – and the response from administration spokesmen to reporters asking for evidence of the claims have been incredible.
NPR White House Correspondent Ayesha Rascoe questioned White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki about the government account that the ISIS leader actually blew himself up.
“Jen, will there be any, like, evidence or, like, release to support the idea ― I mean, I know the U.S. has put out its statement that, you know, [ISIS] detonated the bomb themselves,” Rascoe asked Psaki aboard Air Force One. “But will the U.S. provide any evidence?”
The reporter noted that there may be some skeptics of the official administration line on the events that led to civilian casualties, given recent events.
Psaki was taken aback by the question, contesting that anybody could be “skeptical of the U.S. military’s assessment when they went and took out … the leader of ISIS.”
Rascoe pressed by saying yes, some people might not buy the story.
“That they are not providing accurate information,” continued Psaki, “and ISIS is providing accurate information?”
Rascoe indicated limiting the skepticism to an either/or situation – believing the United States or believing ISIS – isn’t necessarily accurate and it is more about the precision of past official reports.
“Well, not ISIS, but, I mean, the U.S. has not always been straightforward about what happens with civilians,” she told Psaki. “And, I mean, that is a fact.”
That fact can be demonstrated in fairly recent history.
Following a suicide bombing during the botched Afghanistan withdrawal in August, the United States conducted a retaliatory drone strike that killed 10 civilians – including an aid worker and 7 children.
The Pentagon initially stated that the drone strike killed an ‘ISIS-K’ facilitator. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley called a “righteous strike.”
Weeks later, the United States military admitted that the strike killed the 10 civilians, not any alleged ISIS operatives.
So forgive us, Ms. Psaki, if reporters and the general public don’t readily accept the ‘military intelligence’ the administration is feeding the American people.
The same day, Associated Press reporter Matt Lee engaged in a tense exchange with State Department spokesperson Ned Price over the Russian false flag claim, even accusing officials of wading into “Alex Jones territory.”
Price claimed that Russia was planning to “stage a fake attack” and Lee wanted evidence. Price responded repeatedly by suggesting the proof was the fact that he just told the reporters about the plan.
“You have shown no evidence to confirm that … What is the evidence? I mean, this is like ‘crisis actors,’ really?” an exasperated Lee said.
“This is like Alex Jones territory you’re getting into,” he continued. “What evidence do you have to support the idea that there is some propaganda film in the making?”
Price insisted the information had been declassified, but the AP reporter asked: “Okay, well, … where is it? Where is this information?”
The State Department spokesman suggested that a transcript of what he just said should suffice as the evidence.
“That’s not evidence, that’s you saying it,” Lee responded.”I would like to see some proof that … shows that the Russians are doing that.”
Price then criticized Lee for not simply swallowing the government account.
“I’m sorry, you don’t like the content,” Price replied. “I’m sorry you are doubting the information that is in the possession of the U.S. government.”
He then leveled Lee with an accusation that the reporter was siding with Russia with his line of questioning.
“If you doubt the credibility of the U.S. government, of the British government, of other governments and want to, you know, find solace in information that the Russians are putting out, that is for you to do,” he said.
Even the Washington Post found the day’s events hard to swallow. National political reporter Felicia Sonmez tweeted about both exchanges questioning the intelligence reports being put out by the White House.
“It’s the job of reporters to ask for proof to back up government statements. Doing so does not mean one believes propaganda put out by U.S. adversaries,” she laments.
“I imagine these officials know that,” Sonmez added. “Are they simply throwing out these accusations in an effort to deter further (questions)?”
Perhaps. And it may have worked. At the time of publishing, the administration has yet to provide tangible evidence that the ISIS leader detonated a suicide bomb or that Russia is preparing a false flag as a means to invade Ukraine.
That’s not to say they aren’t true and accurate accounts. But these reporters are right in revealing there has been no documentation to back up the intelligence released to the public.
If these intelligence reports turn out to be false, it will be interesting to see reporters continue to grill the administration. Especially in regards to the ISIS leader killing.
The White House should be deluged with questions and criticism from the media if the story about al-Qurayshi ends up being false in a similar fashion to the August drone strike in Afghanistan.
There is a history here that makes people skeptical. It’s a history that spans well beyond the Biden administration. ‘Weapons of mass destruction’ comes to mind.
To quote Dave Mustaine of Megadeth: “The military intelligence – Two words combined that can’t make sense.”
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