Associated Press reporter Matt Lee grilled State Department spokesman Ned Price on Thursday in a clip that quickly went viral online due to the ferocity of Lee’s demanding that Price provide evidence to back up claims that he made about Russia.
Price claimed that the Biden administration has information that “Russia is planning to stage fabricated attacks by Ukrainian military or intelligence forces as a pretext for a further invasion of Ukraine.”
“One possible option the Russians are considering, and which we made public today, involves the production of a propaganda video – a video with graphic scenes of false explosions – depicting corpses, crisis actors pretending to be mourners, and images of destroyed locations or military equipment – entirely fabricated by Russian intelligence,” Price claimed. “To be clear, the production of this propaganda video is one of a number of options that the Russian Government is developing as a fake pretext to initiate and potentially justify military aggression against Ukraine. We don’t know if Russia will necessarily use this or another option in the coming days.”
“Russia has signaled it’s willing to continue diplomatic talks as a means to de-escalate, but actions such as these suggest otherwise,” he added.
Lee was the first reporter called on at the press conference and he wasted no time going after the claims that Price made while demanding that he provide actual evidence to back up his claims.
“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?” Lee said after several moments of grilling Price. “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?”
Reporter: “It’s an action that you say they have taken, but you have shown no evidence to confirm that. […] This is like – crisis actors? Really? This is like Alex Jones territory you’re getting into now.”
— The Hill (@thehill) February 3, 2022
NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Good afternoon. We have previously noted our strong concerns regarding Russian disinformation and the likelihood that Moscow might create – seek to create a false flag operation to initiate military activity. Now, we can say that the United States has information that Russia is planning to stage fabricated attacks by Ukrainian military or intelligence forces as a pretext for a further invasion of Ukraine.
One possible option the Russians are considering, and which we made public today, involves the production of a propaganda video – a video with graphic scenes of false explosions – depicting corpses, crisis actors pretending to be mourners, and images of destroyed locations or military equipment – entirely fabricated by Russian intelligence.
To be clear, the production of this propaganda video is one of a number of options that the Russian Government is developing as a fake pretext to initiate and potentially justify military aggression against Ukraine. We don’t know if Russia will necessarily use this or another option in the coming days. We are publicizing it now, however, in order to lay bare the extent of Russia’s destabilizing actions towards Ukraine and to dissuade Russia from continuing this dangerous campaign and ultimately launching a military attack.
Russia has signaled it’s willing to continue diplomatic talks as a means to de-escalate, but actions such as these suggest otherwise. We will continue to diligently work together with our allies and partners to expose Russian disinformation and other hybrid tactics used against Ukraine. We continue to work to prevent any effort Moscow might make to justify further military action in Ukraine. We again urge Russia to stop its destructive and destabilizing disinformation campaign, to de-escalate tensions, and to engage in diplomacy and dialogue for a peaceful solution.
MATT LEE, AP REPORTER: 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?
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.
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 find solace in information that the Russians are putting out —
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?
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