State Dept's Harf: "Evidence" Blaming Pro-Russian Separatists For MH17 Based on "Social Media"

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MATT LEE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Okay. And then you are perhaps familiar with the briefing that the Russian defense ministry gave this morning in which they laid out satellite images or radar tracking images talking about a Ukrainian fighter plane that was apparently near this – the Malaysian airlines plane. They also asked questions, a series of questions to you – meaning the U.S. Government – to produce the documentation, the evidence that Secretary Kerry, Ambassador Power talked about but didn’t offer any forensic evidence, or at least intel evidence. How do you respond to that?

MARIE HARF, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: Well, a couple points. You saw the Secretary yesterday speak very clearly about our assessment that this was an SA-11 fired from Russian-backed, separatist-controlled territory; that we know – we saw in social media afterwards, we saw videos, we saw photos of the pro-Russian separatists bragging about shooting down an aircraft that then they then – they then – they then – excuse me – took down once it became clear that it may have been a passenger airline.

There is a preponderance of evidence at this point both sort of out there in the public domain and also from our information that points to the fact that there was a SA-11 launched from separatist-controlled territory. We assess, of course, that the Russian-backed separatists have this system, and one of the main reasons we have called for a full investigation is so we can get all the facts out there.

So what I encourage the Russians to do at this point is to push the separatists that are backed by their government to allow access, to allow investigators who are in Ukraine waiting to go into that area right now, and that’s what I would call on Russia to do at this point.

QUESTION: Right. But what they’re saying is that you should – they’ve put their – what they have out on the table, or at least they say they have done that.

MS. HARF: Well, I haven’t seen any of that. Again, we’ve made an assessment based on a broad range of information. We know this was fired from Russian-controlled territory. It is our assessment, very strong assessment this was an SA-11 that we know the Russian-backed separatists have. We, again, continue to gather more information and call --

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: -- on Russia to push the separatists to allow for a full investigation.

QUESTION: How is it exactly that you know that it was fired from Russian – I mean, from separatist-held territory?

MS. HARF: Well, we have a great deal of information that the Secretary laid out yesterday, and I can go back through some of it today. But we do know first that Russian-backed separatists were in possession of an SA-11 system as early as Monday, July 14th. This is from intercepts of separatist communications posted on YouTube by the Ukrainian Government.

QUESTION: Well, is there anything – okay, is there anything other – because there’s other --

MS. HARF: I can keep going if – or you want to jump in.

QUESTION: Well, is there stuff that’s other than social media that you’re talking --

MS. HARF: Yes, absolutely. There is.

QUESTION: Okay. So what is it that’s other than social media?

MS. HARF: At this point, Matt, we’ve said what our assessment is, very strong assessment publicly. If there’s more information that that’s based on that we can share, we’re happy to do so. We’ll continue looking at that. But look, this is what we know as of right now. Based on open information which is basically common sense, right – we know where it was fired from, we know who has this weapon – backed up --

QUESTION: Well, I don’t --

MS. HARF: -- backed up --

QUESTION: -- I mean, it’s disputed, though.

MS. HARF: -- backed up by a host of information that we have gathered about who did this, where it came from, and what the weapon system was. So one of – we’re just telling you what we know now.

QUESTION: Right, right. But --

MS. HARF: One of the reasons we’ve called on Russia to push the separatists it backs into an investigation is so we can get all the facts. Instead of holding press briefings and making statements, maybe the Russian Government should call on the separatists they support to allow an actual investigation.

QUESTION: Right. But that’s what you’ve done. You’ve held press – well, Security Council meetings and going --

MS. HARF: Well, we don’t have leverage with the separatists. I would say the Russians do and they’re not using it. So let’s have them use it.

QUESTION: Well, okay. But I mean, I think we’re talking at cross-purposes here. I’m asking you --

MS. HARF: It wouldn’t be the first time.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) No, that’s true. What I’m asking – I mean, there are social – all you’re willing to present publicly that backs up your version of the story, which may well be the correct version of the story, but all you have --

MS. HARF: β€œMay well be.”

QUESTION: Well, it may well be. But I don’t know because I haven’t seen your evidence that shows that the missile was launched from rebel-held territory. But you’re saying – so the only thing you’re willing to put out publicly is the social media accounts, I mean the social media stuff.

MS. HARF: That’s part of it.

QUESTION: Right. But there are social media accounts that says – that disputes that or that claims to present a different version. So are you saying --

MS. HARF: What would that version be, Matt?

QUESTION: Well, I don’t – there are many, many theories.

MS. HARF: Any --

QUESTION: But you’re saying that all of those accounts --

MS. HARF: Most of which are completely illogical, I would point out.

QUESTION: Well, but all of the accounts that do not support your version of events are wrong --

MS. HARF: No.

QUESTION: -- and all of the ones that do support it are right? Is that what you’re saying?

MS. HARF: Look, we make assessments based on a variety of intelligence and a variety of information, some of which we can talk about publicly and some of which we can’t.

QUESTION: Well, is the – are you --

MS. HARF: And we also – and look, if you just take a step back, right, we need there to be an investigation so we can get all the facts, period. But on top of that, we have public information, which is, of course, the easiest for us to talk about --

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: -- of the separatists bragging about having the system, bragging about the attack that took place, and then walking back from it when it became known that it was a passenger jet. I would ask people who don’t believe our assessment to say, β€œOkay, what other possible explanation could be – could there be for that?” They defy logic, right?

QUESTION: Well, I don’t know if it defies logic or not, but --

MS. HARF: So when you start from a place of you have separatists out on – again, this is the easiest piece of information for us to talk about – online bragging about it, start there and then work from there and work from all of the evidence we have that we are confident we know where it was fired from, we’re confident we know what it was, and it points in a certain direction. Again, we would encourage Russia to support an investigation if they don’t believe the facts.

QUESTION: Right. It points in a certain direction, but I’m not sure it would stand up to an international --

MS. HARF: I strongly disagree. I absolutely believe that it would.

QUESTION: -- investigation. Well, are you willing, if not at this moment in time now but soon, to put forward the intel that you say backs the claims that were made on social media? And in particular, it seems to me that the Secretary was very definitive, as you were just now, at saying that you know for sure 100 percent --

MS. HARF: I didn’t say 100 percent. Nothing is 100 percent in any world, Matt. But go ahead. It is our assessment, very strong assessment.

QUESTION: Okay, very strong assessment that the rocket – that the missile was fired from the rebel-held territory.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And I mean, you can’t – there is no social media that I’m aware of that would lead to --

MS. HARF: Well, at the time that MH17 flight dropped out of contact, we detected a surface-to-air --

QUESTION: Yes.

MS. HARF: -- missile launch from a separatist-controlled area in southeastern Ukraine.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: Which we believe was an SA-11. What you want is the intelligence that underlies that?

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, I mean, they – the Russians have challenged – I’m not – I’m just saying the Russians have said --

MS. HARF: I’m just trying to clarify the question.

QUESTION: -- have said we’ve shown – we’ve put out our radar images which show this Ukrainian plane near at least – well, they have. I mean --

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: Why don’t you put out your --

MS. HARF: Well, unfortunately, I don’t have original declassification authority, Matt. But --

QUESTION: Okay. Is --

MS. HARF: Wait, let me finish. But look, we have endeavored to make public as much information as possible. Obviously, if you’re dealing with an intelligence assessment in part, we are sometimes limited in what information we can share. That’s why I think you saw the Secretary speak much more forward-leaning about why we believe this and how we believe it.

QUESTION: Right.

MS. HARF: Sometimes you can’t get into all the specifics. We endeavor to put as many out as possible. We’re continuing to see if we can do more.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I will say that.

QUESTION: So okay --

MS. HARF: Yes, we are --

QUESTION: So there is a possibility --

MS. HARF: I can’t promise you anything, but we’re continuing to see.

QUESTION: There is --

MS. HARF: And I would also say that the Russian Government has a long history during this conflict of misinformation and propaganda that they’ve put out, so I would take anything they say about this with a very large grain of salt.

QUESTION: Well, okay. But I mean, the problem – are you committing now to at least doing – that the intel community is doing its best to declassify stuff that they can put out and at least end the conflicting claims put forward by both the U.S. --

MS. HARF: Well, I would say that the Administration in general is attempting to put out as much information as we can about what underlies our assessment. I would also say that these aren’t competing narratives from two equally credible sources here. The Russian Government has repeatedly put out misinformation and propaganda throughout this conflict in Ukraine, so I would caution you from saying that this is just two equally credible sources.

QUESTION: Well, all right.

MS. HARF: Although you’re happy to report it that way.

QUESTION: No, I just --

MS. HARF: But I would take issue with it.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, again, you might be right, but I don’t see how you can say that everything we say is right and everything the Russians say is a lie.

MS. HARF: That’s not what I said.

QUESTION: That’s exactly what you just said right now.

MS. HARF: That’s not what I said. I said I would say that we are not two credible – equally credible parties when it comes to what we say publicly about the conflict in Ukraine.

QUESTION: And your argument would be that the U.S. is more credible than the Russians are, right? Is that what you’re --

MS. HARF: I’m not even dignifying that question with a response.

QUESTION: Well, I mean --

QUESTION: Marie, did you see the --

QUESTION: But you’re leaving that impression, Marie.

MS. HARF: That we’re more credible? Yes. We don’t put out mass amounts of propaganda. We don’t put out misinformation about what’s happening there repeatedly over the course of this conflict, which I’ve spoken about from this podium day after day. Absolutely.

QUESTION: But can you tell us --

QUESTION: The problem with that is is that all of 2002 and the beginning of 2003 was propaganda and misleading information that was put out by the United States.

MS. HARF: Okay, Matt. I’m sure that’s a tempting historical analogy to make, but it in no way impacts at all how we are doing this assessment or what we’re doing.

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