AP Reporter Battles State Department Spox on Russia ‘False Flag’ Claims

Sparks flew during a Thursday press briefing at the State Department where Associated Press diplomatic writer Matt Lee verbally duked it out with spokesperson Ned Price over accusation the U.S. was making suggesting Russia was planning “false flag” operations in Ukraine; complete with propaganda videos and detailing specific scenes.

But as the confrontation progressed, Price accused Lee of seeking “solace” in Russian propaganda and chastised him for not trusting the U.S. government. Lee shot back by recalling “WMDs in Iraq” and the promise “Kabul was not going to fall” to the Taliban and saying Price sounded like conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

So you said ‘actions such as these suggest otherwise’ – suggest meaning that they suggest they’re not interested in talks and they’re going to go ahead with some kind of a – what action are you talking about,” Lee asked once Price opened the floor to questions.

Price proceeded to make his protracted circular argument that Russia allegedly had already taken “actions” but wouldn’t say exactly what those actions were except to say that they were in a “report” released by the State Department (click “expand”):

PRICE: One, the actions I have just pointed to, the fact –

LEE: What action? What —

PRICE: The fact that Russia continues to engage in disinformation campaigns.

LEE: Well no, you’ve made an allegation that they might do that. Have they actually done it?

PRICE: What we know, Matt, is what we – what I have just said, that they have engaged in this activity, in this planning activity —

LEE: Well, engage in what – hold on a second. What activity?!

PRICE: But let me – let me – because obviously this is not – this is not the first time we’ve made these reports public. You’ll remember that just a few weeks ago –

LEE: I’m sorry, made what report public?

PRICE: If you let me finish, I will tell you what report we made public.

LEE: Okay.

PRICE: We told you a few weeks ago that we have information indicating Russia also has already pre-positioned a group of operatives to conduct a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine. So that, Matt, to your question, is an action that Russia has already taken.

Lee immediately pointed out the fact that the alleged “action” was something “you say that they have taken, but you have shown no evidence to confirm that.” And as he grew increasingly frustrated, Lee pointed out how there was no presentation or laying out of the evidence to justify the claims as we face the possibility of WWIII.

I mean, this is – like, crisis actors? Really? This is like Alex Jones territory you’re getting into now,” Lee huffed, demanding hard proof. “What evidence do you have to support the idea that there is some propaganda film in the making?

Price then made the ludicrous argument that his briefing constituted the release of the declassified “report” he was prefacing above (Click “expand”):

LEE: Okay, well, where is it? Where is this information?

PRICE: It is intelligence information that we have declassified.

LEE: Well, where is it? Where is the declassified information?

PRICE: I just delivered it.

LEE: No, you made a series of allegations and statements —

PRICE: Would you like us to print out the topper? Because you will see a transcript of this briefing that you can print out for yourself.

LEE: But that’s not evidence, Ned. That’s you saying it. That’s not evidence. I’m sorry.

As Price tried to use Lee’s decades of experience to suggest he should know better than to pose questions like these or behave this way, Lee shot back with previous lies the U.S. government fed its citizens. “That’s right. And I remember WMDs in Iraq, and I remember that Kabul was not going to fall. I remember a lot of things,” he said.

As the argument continued, Price took to mocking Lee for not believing in the almighty power of the U.S. government and not understanding how the art of military “deterrence” worked (Click “expand”):

PRICE: I’m sorry you are doubting the information that is in the possession of the U.S. government.

LEE: No, I —

PRICE: What I’m telling you is that this is information that’s available to us. We are making it available to you in order – for a couple reasons.

One is to attempt to deter the Russians from going ahead with this activity. Two, in the event we’re not able to do that, in the event the Russians do go ahead with this, to make it clear as day, to lay bare the fact that this has always been an attempt on the part of the Russian Federation to fabricate a pretext.

Yes, but you don’t have any evidence to back it up other than what you’re saying,” Lee shot back. “It’s like you’re saying, ‘We think – we have information the Russians may do this,’ but you won’t tell us what the information is.”

The next flimsy argument Price proposed was to say that his briefing was designed to stymie those unspecified actions by Russia, but “If the Russians don’t go forward with this, that is not ipso facto an indication that they never had plans to do so.”

But then it’s unprovable,” Lee expertly deduced. “I mean, my God, what is the evidence that you have that suggests that the Russians are even planning this?

Obviously fed up with Lee’s tough questions, Price accused Lee of essentially siding with the Russians:

PRICE: If you doubt – 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 —

LEE: Solace?

PRICE: — that is for you to do.

“I’m not asking what the Russian Government is putting out. And … what is that supposed to mean,” Lee asked as Price moved on to another reporter.

Later in the day, Price out a tweet commending their “sparring sessions” and Lee’s intelligence. “Clearly, he’s no one’s dupe, and I’d never want to suggest otherwise,” he wrote. “Nothing but respect for him, which I underscored in a call to him after the briefing.”

The transcript is below, click “expand” to read:

C-SPAN State Department Press Briefing
February 3, 2022

(…)

MATT LEE: Thanks. Okay, well, that’s quite a mouthful there. So you said “actions such as these suggest otherwise” – suggest meaning that they suggest they’re not interested in talks and they’re going to go ahead with some kind of a – what action are you talking about?

NED PRICE: One, the actions I have just pointed to, the fact –

LEE: What action? What —

PRICE: The fact that Russia continues to engage in disinformation campaigns.

LEE: Well no, you’ve made an allegation that they might do that. Have they actually done it?

PRICE: What we know, Matt, is what we – what I have just said, that they have engaged in this activity, in this planning activity —

LEE: Well, engage in what – hold on a second. What activity?!

PRICE: But let me – let me – because obviously this is not – this is not the first time we’ve made these reports public. You’ll remember that just a few weeks ago –

LEE: I’m sorry, made what report public?

PRICE: If you let me finish, I will tell you what report we made public.

LEE: Okay.

PRICE: We told you a few weeks ago that we have information indicating Russia also has already pre-positioned a group of operatives to conduct a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine. So that, Matt, to your question, is an action that Russia has already taken.

LEE: No, it’s an action that you say that they have taken, but you have shown no evidence to confirm that. And I’m going to get to the next question here, which is: What is the evidence that they – I mean, this is – like, crisis actors? Really? This is like Alex Jones territory you’re getting into now. What evidence do you have to support the idea that there is some propaganda film in the making?

PRICE: Matt, this is derived from information known to the U.S. government, intelligence information that we have declassified. I think you know —

LEE: Okay, well, where is it? Where is this information?

PRICE: It is intelligence information that we have declassified.

LEE: Well, where is it? Where is the declassified information?

PRICE: I just delivered it.

LEE: No, you made a series of allegations and statements —

PRICE: Would you like us to print out the topper? Because you will see a transcript of this briefing that you can print out for yourself.

LEE: But that’s not evidence, Ned. That’s you saying it. That’s not evidence. I’m sorry.

PRICE: What would you like, Matt?

LEE: I would like to see some proof that you – that you can show that —

PRICE: Matt, you have been —

LEE: — that shows that the Russians are doing this.

PRICE: You —

LEE: Ned, I’ve been doing this for a long time, as you know.

PRICE: I know. That was my point. You have been doing this for quite a while.

LEE: I have.

PRICE: You know that when we declassify intelligence, we do so in a means

LEE: That’s right. And I remember WMDs in Iraq, and I —

PRICE: — we do so with an eye to protecting sources and methods.

LEE: And I remember that Kabul was not going to fall. I remember a lot of things. So where is the declassified information other than you coming out here and saying it?

PRICE: Matt, I’m sorry you don’t like the format, but we have —

LEE: It’s not the format. It’s the content.

PRICE: I’m sorry you don’t like the content. I’m sorry you —

LEE: It’s not that I don’t like it or —

PRICE: I’m sorry you are doubting the information that is in the possession of the U.S. government.

LEE: No, I —

PRICE: What I’m telling you is that this is information that’s available to us. We are making it available to you in order – for a couple reasons.

One is to attempt to deter the Russians from going ahead with this activity. Two, in the event we’re not able to do that, in the event the Russians do go ahead with this, to make it clear as day, to lay bare the fact that this has always been an attempt on the part of the Russian Federation to fabricate a pretext.

LEE: Yes, but you don’t have any evidence to back it up other than what you’re saying. It’s like you’re saying, “We think – we have information the Russians may do this,” but you won’t tell us what the information is. And then when you’re asked —

PRICE: Well, that is the idea behind deterrence, Matt. That is the idea behind deterrence.

LEE: When you’re asked – and when you’re asked —

PRICE: It is our hope that the Russians don’t go forward with this.

LEE: And when you’re asked what the information is, you say, “I just gave it to you.” But that’s not what —

PRICE: You seem not to understand —

LEE: That’s not the way it works.

PRICE: You seem not to understand the idea of deterrence.

LEE: No, no, no, Ned. You don’t – you seem not to understand the idea of —

PRICE: We are trying to deter the Russians from moving forward with this type of activity. That is why we are making it public today. If the Russians don’t go forward with this, that is not ipso facto an indication that they never had plans to do so.

LEE: But then it’s unprovable. I mean, my God, what is the evidence that you have that suggests that the Russians are even planning this?

PRICE: Matt, you —

LEE: I mean, I’m not saying that they’re not. But you just come out and say this and expect us just to believe it without you showing a shred of evidence that it’s actually true – other than when I ask, or when anyone else asks, what’s the information, you said, “well, I just gave it to you,” which was just you making a statement.

PRICE: Matt, you said yourself you’ve been in this business for quite a long time. You know that when we make information – intelligence information public we do so in a way that protects sensitive sources and methods. You also know that we do so – we declassify information – only when we’re confident in that information.

LEE: But Ned, you haven’t given any information.

PRICE: If you doubt – 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 —

LEE: Solace?

PRICE: — that is for you to do.

LEE: I don’t want – I’m not asking what the Russian Government is putting out. And what do you – what is that supposed to mean?

PRICE: Shaun.

(…)

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