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AP Reporter Grills State Dept. Spokeswoman On Civilian Casualties Of Drone Strikes

MARIE HARF, STATE DEPT. DEPUTY SPOKESWOMAN: Can I finish my sentence before you ask a follow-up?


MS. HARF: Thank you. What I am saying is that we have a variety of sources. Obviously, the intelligence community has all source analysts. They look at a variety of different sources when they make assessments. That all goes into assessments of civilian casualties, which is much more than just one piece of that, right? That’s much more than just talking to folks on the ground who may not have been there at the time of a certain operation, who may not have full information into it. We take a full, holistic picture of what happened before and after such operations to make determinations about these things. So it’s a much more complete picture than any one nongovernmental organization would likely have on the ground.

QUESTION: Okay. This is two nongovernmental organizations.

MS. HARF: Or two.

QUESTION: Two organizations which you have held up in the past as conducting accurate and credible reports on things like in Syria.

MS. HARF: Every situation is different.

QUESTION: Oh, so they just don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to drones in Pakistan?

MS. HARF: We evaluate every report separately. We don’t make blanket statements about organizations reports before seeing them. That would seem to be a little unreasonable.

QUESTION: No, well here, what’s unreasonable, I think, is you refusing to say what your – if you have an argument with a number of casualties, refusing to say what it is, what the discrepancy is and why your information is somehow better than these two --

MS. HARF: Well, I think I just made a case for why it’s better, that it’s more complete, it’s more comprehensive. It takes --

QUESTION: Yeah, and you think the U.S. Government track record on things like this is laudable? Is that your position?

MS. HARF: What I’m saying, Matt, is that – I don’t know what you’re referring to specifically, but what I’m saying is --

QUESTION: I can think of any number of times when the U.S. Government reports of after-action military operations have been, if not wrong, if not absolutely wrong, that they – that there have been major problems with them in terms of their accuracy.

MS. HARF: Well, all I can speak to --

QUESTION: And I’m just wondering if you can say – if you’re saying, which I think you are, that these reports from Amnesty and Human Rights Watch are inaccurate when it comes to the number of civilian casualties, why it is they are inaccurate and what the accurate --

MS. HARF: Because they don’t have a complete picture.

QUESTION: And what – you have a monopoly on the accurate picture?

MS. HARF: I think I just made a very clear argument. The fact that the intelligence community has a lot of streams of information it gets – some classified, some from very sensitive platforms, and ways of getting information across the board. We all know the different sources of intelligence that our analysts look at every day. That’s a much more complete picture than any one or two groups would have just from talking to folks on the ground.

We take a complete look at all of the different sources of information we get in the intelligence community, evaluate it, and make a judgment about civilian casualties. That’s definitely, just from a standpoint of getting more information, a variety of sources just like you all do in your reporting, not relying on any one source for anything. It’s exactly the same.

QUESTION: Well, do you think that these human rights groups relied on one source?

MS. HARF: They don’t have, of course, access to all of the information from classified sources and methods that the intelligence community would that we use in terms of evaluating the number of civilian casualties. Absolutely. I think that’s just a fact.

QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t think that eyewitnesses that they speak to are reliable, that you think that your own --

MS. HARF: I think – I don’t want to make a blanket statement. I’m sure some are, but it’s not a complete picture is what I’m saying.

QUESTION: The other thing is that it --

QUESTION: But to follow your logic to its extreme, no nongovernmental organization could ever then arrive at an accurate picture of civilian casualties because no nongovernmental organization would ever be in possession of the kind of classified sources and methods that you’re alluding to.

MS. HARF: I don’t want to make a blanket statement, James, but obviously, I would argue that we have a more complete picture, of course, than other folks do. For reasons I think I’ve laid out, some of that has to remain classified.

QUESTION: You think that you have a more complete picture about what has happened in a remote part of Pakistan where you’re using drones precisely because you can’t get people in there than human rights groups that talk to witnesses on the ground, villagers, et cetera? You think that your information is more accurate than theirs?

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Even though you have no access to these areas?

MS. HARF: I’m not going to comment on any specific areas or operations --

QUESTION: All right. The --

MS. HARF: -- but yes, we do believe our numbers are more accurate. (via National Review)

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