WASHINGTON — When President Biden’s administration was asked to provide evidence to back up dramatic claims about national security developments last week, it balked with a simple retort: You’ll have to trust us on this.
No, they did not reveal what led them to say they knew Russia was plotting a false flag operation as a pretext to invade Ukraine. No, they would not explain their confidence that the civilian casualties were caused by a suicide bomber rather than by US special forces in a raid in Syria.
The administration’s response took a particularly caustic turn as spokespersons suggested that reporters were buying foreign propaganda by even asking such questions.
The lack of transparency has strained Washington’s already depleted stores of credibility, a vital resource diminished over the decades by instances of lies, falsehoods and errors on everything from extramarital affairs to lack of weapons of massive destruction in Iraq.
The exchanges also signaled the Biden administration’s heightened skepticism about intelligence and military matters, particularly after officials failed to anticipate how quickly the Afghan government would fall into the hands of the Israelis. Taliban last year and initially defended a US missile attack in Kabul as a “righteous strike” before the Pentagon confirmed the action killed several civilians but no terrorists.
“This administration has made statements in the past that have not proven to be accurate,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. “Kabul was not sure. The drone attack killed civilians. The press is doing its job when it asks, “How do you know that?” ”
The latest scrutiny appears to have touched a nerve, resulting in barbed interactions with White House press secretary Jen Psaki and State Department spokesperson Ned Price that stood out even amid the generally contentious relationship. between the government and the press.
Jamieson described the responses, which included insinuations that the reporters were disloyal, as “completely inappropriate”.
“These are cases in which the role of journalists is even more important because the issues” – the use of lethal force by the US military and a potential war in Europe – “are so important”, he said. she declared.
The first exchange took place on Thursday aboard Air Force One en route to New York as Psaki answered questions about the raid by US special forces in Syria that resulted in the death of Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al -Hashimi al-Qurayshi.
US officials said al-Qurayshi killed himself and his family with a suicide bomb, but NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe said there “may be people who are skeptical about the events that took place. place and what happened to the civilians”.
PSAKI asked if the reporter was suggesting that “ISIS is providing accurate information” as opposed to the US military.
“I mean, the US hasn’t always been clear about what’s going on with civilians,” Rascoe replied.
Asked about her comments, PSAki said on Friday that “we welcome tough questions and good faith review.”
She said officials were committed to providing as many details as possible about the raid in Syria and that she was relying on “first-hand reports from our elite military” to describe the incident.
Price also argued with a reporter at a State Department briefing on Thursday after US officials said Russia was planning a “false flag” operation as the opening act for an invasion of Israel. Ukraine. The alleged scheme included a staged explosion and the enlistment of actors to portray people mourning the dead.
“Where is the declassified information? asked Matthew Lee of The Associated Press.
“I just delivered it,” Price said.
“No, you made a series of allegations,” Lee replied.
Price said U.S. officials must protect “sources and methods.” After a controversial back-and-forth, Price said if reporters want to “find comfort in the information that Russians publish, it’s up to you.”
Later, he backtracked on his comments.
Representative Jim Himes, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said the administration hoped to prevent Russia from following through on a false flag plot by publicly airing the allegations.
“It’s really not about winning over the audience,” said Himes, D-Conn. “It’s about changing Vladimir Putin’s behavior.”
Richard Stengel, former editor of Time magazine and former top State Department official, said the government often has to make tough decisions to balance sensitive information and the need to be transparent.
“There is a cost-benefit analysis,” he said. “That’s the judgment they make every day.”
But there are long-standing concerns that the scales have tipped too far towards secrecy.
Even Biden’s director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, said the government is classifying too much information.
In a letter of January 5 addressed to the senses. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Haines said that “deficiencies in the current classification system compromise our national security, as well as critical Democratic goals, by hindering our ability to share information in timely.
She added that it “erodes the fundamental trust that our citizens have in their government”, especially as “the volume of classified documents produced continues to grow exponentially”.
Politicians have regularly promised to restore trust in Washington, but this has remained a rare commodity since the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. Soon after, President Jimmy Carter was elected telling voters, “I will never lie. He was elected after one term.
Scandals have tarnished subsequent administrations, from secretly funding the Contras in Nicaragua selling arms to Iran under President Ronald Reagan to President Bill Clinton covering up a deal with a White House intern.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush claimed that the United States had to invade Iraq to eliminate Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, but none of these weapons were found and the American troops have spent years fighting a bloody insurgency.
President Donald Trump has consistently twisted basic facts about his administration throughout his tenure and continues to spread lies about the last election.
Biden promised to bring the truth to Washington after defeating Trump, but trust appears to be lacking a year after taking office. Not only has the chaotic pullout from Afghanistan undermined his administration’s credibility, but Americans have become enraged by changing public health guidelines during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
According to a CNN/SSRS poll in December, only 34% of Americans said Biden “is a leader you can trust.” Another 66% said they “had doubts and reservations.