1:21 p.m. EDT
MR MILLER: Good afternoon, everyone. We have a very special guest here today, familiar to some people in this room. The Special Envoy and Coordinator of the Global Engagement Center Jamie Rubin is going to give some remarks about a report that they released today. He is also, of course, an alumni of this briefing room – not exactly this room, I think a different room that preceded it, but this podium, so —
QUESTION: Yeah, but he was the one who set this up.
MR MILLER: He has made me aware of that. (Laughter.) My – and I have – and I have expressed my thanks not only on my behalf but on your behalf. So, Jamie.
MR RUBIN: Thanks very much, Matt. Thank you all.
MR RUBIN: All right, Matt. (Laughter.) Don’t start already. So thank you all for giving me this opportunity to talk about a new report that we’ve just put out. Every day the People’s Republic of China, Russia, other state actors distort the international information environment to their advantage. I believe there’s nothing less than the future integrity of the global information space at risk.
We’re pleased to release this first-of-its-kind report on PRC information manipulation. It’s a comprehensive look at how the PRC and Communist Party of China attempt to distort the global information space to advance its geopolitical objectives. When you look at the pieces of the puzzle and you put it together, you see a breathtaking ambition on the part of the PRC to seek information dominance in key regions of the world.
This report draws on publicly available sources as well as new information to expose the PRC’s tactics, techniques, and processes to pursue that objective. It describes how China – the People’s Republic of China has invested billions of dollars to construct a global information ecosystem to promote propaganda, censorship, and disinformation. It explains the five key elements of that strategy: leveraging propaganda and censorship, promoting digital authoritarianism, exploiting international organizations and bilateral partnerships, and pairing cooptation and pressure, as well as exercising control of Chinese language media.
On issues the Chinese Government deems sensitive, the PRC has employed online and offline intimidation to silence dissent and encourage self-censorship. It’s also taken measures against corporations that challenge its desired narratives on subjects like Xinjiang and Taiwan. On WeChat, the – an application used by so many Chinese-speaking communities outside the PRC – Beijing has censored and harassed individual content producers. As well Chinese corporations have harvested data that has enabled Beijing to target specific individuals and organizations. They’re seeking to create an emerging community of digital authoritarians. It’s exported aspects of its digital surveillance state to the rest of the world and propagated information control tactics with a particular focus on developing countries.
As other countries emulate these tactics, it’s – they are increasingly receptive to Beijing’s propaganda, disinformation, and censorship. Let me be clear: Every country has the right and the – every right to tell its story to the world, but a nation’s narrative should be based on facts and they should rise or fall on its own merits. By contrast, the PRC advances through coercive techniques and increasingly outright lies.
This is not simply a matter of public narrative but a national security subject. Our values and our interests are in jeopardy. Unchecked, the PRC’s information manipulation could in many parts of the world diminish freedom to express views critical of Beijing. These activities could undermine confidence in the objectivity of information, and the PRC could develop a surgical capability to shape the information particular groups and individuals consume. The net result is – of these PRC efforts is to transform the global information landscape and damage the security and stability of the United States, its friends, and partners. International understanding of the PRC information manipulation is the starting point for a future in which the PRC’s ideas, values, and stories must compete on an even playing field.
Just a couple of points as well. I stood here 20-plus years ago, and it was a time when we thought the information age was a benefit to the rise of democracy and freedom of expression. We thought that social media, 24-hour news, the information age was going to spread through globalization a better future. What we’ve learned is that there is a dark side to globalization, and if we don’t allow this information manipulation to be stopped, there’s going to be a slow, steady destruction of democratic values and the secure world of rules and rights we believe of. This is the dark side of globalization. If we don’t change course, steady, often imperceptible changes will occur that poison the information space that is crucial for our societies to function. We don’t want to see an Orwellian mix of fact and fiction in our world and to – that will destroy the secure world of rules and rights that the United States and much of the world relies upon.
With those remarks, I’d be happy to take a few questions before you get to the main event.
MR MILLER: Let’s start in the back.
QUESTION: The main event. Oh, I thought you were the main event.
MR RUBIN: All right, Matt.
QUESTION: Okay. So, listen, recognizing that the Chinese do this, and also the Russians, and also other countries – all countries do it, in fact – I’m wondering how you – and granted, the information space has changed remarkably since 20 years ago. But how do you distinguish between what China is doing, as you mention in this report, and what the United States does and has done in the past? And specifically, if you’re going to say that the Chinese are lying and – how do you compare that with the run-up to the Iraq War and what happened here? Obviously, there was no social – the social media landscape was different.
MR RUBIN: I understand the point of the question, Matt, and it’s a legitimate question. Let me repeat: Every country should be able to tell its version of its policies, should be able to promote its policies. We believe the more that countries around the world have an opportunity to share their different views, that’s fine. The difference is when it’s a fact-based narrative versus deceptive practices.
Let me be specific about that. The United States spends most of its foreign assistance money in this area on training journalists, on building a fact-based world, on trying to ensure that freedom of expression is spread around the world so those journalists can hold their governments to account and our government to account. Just the way you’re able to ask that question in the United States distinguishes between the way things work in the rest of the world.
Let me also add that there is a fundamental asymmetry here. There is something called the Chinese wall that prevents people inside of China from getting fact-based narratives from the rest of the world, while in the United States they are free to present their points of view.
Finally, on the Iraq War, we admit it when we make mistakes. That was obviously a terrible mistake. I’ve sat up here as a spokesman – hopefully Matt will never have to do this – and admit when mistakes are made. That’s what you do when you want a fact-based narrative. The difference in this report shows is to create control and domination of the information space —
QUESTION: But —
MR RUBIN: — deceptively. There’s a difference between saying the Chinese Government believes X is true, and having a non-Chinese Government persona in the information space pretending to be someone else saying something is true.
And finally on the Ukraine war, I think it’s demonstrably true that China and Russia have a joint approach to the information about this war. China has repeated in the information space Russian lies about this war: that the United States is the cause of this war, that the United States has biological weapons. Other false narratives are repeated by the Chinese foreign ministry, and then repeated back by the Russians as saying the Chinese have shown that it’s true. So there’s an echo chamber of things that are demonstrably untrue. When you say something that you know to be untrue, or is obviously untrue, to confuse, to manipulate, that’s different than making a mistake. In the United States, I like to think when we make a mistake, and it’s demonstrable, we admit it.
QUESTION: Well, it took several years for you guys to admit that you made a mistake on – not you personally, obviously, but when you talk about fact-based narratives, are you saying that the Bush – the George W. Bush administration was not presenting WMDs in Iraq as a fact, as a – that that was not a fact-based narrative? Or you were trying to present it as something other than that?
MR RUBIN: I know the last thing we all want is to relive the WMD fiasco. But let me just say that at that time – and I’ll be very candid about this – I thought they had WMDs. I read all those intelligence reports. I was wrong. Everyone was wrong.
MR RUBIN: That’s different —
QUESTION: Your belief is that they intentionally —
MR RUBIN: — than consciously knowing that you don’t have —
QUESTION: Wait, so you don’t think that that administration back then knew that it was —
MR RUBIN: I’ll leave it to them to – I’ll leave it to them to make their case.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
MR RUBIN: I’m just giving you an example.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks.
MR MILLER: Humeyra.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Thanks for doing this. I’m wondering if you are sharing the findings of this report with the Chinese Government, with your Chinese counterpart. If you are, what kind of feedback you’re getting from them. I’m also wondering, given the relationship between these two countries are pretty fraught, is this at a level where the Secretary would raise this with his counterpart when he meets with him? Is this likely to be added to the list of irritants in the relationship?
MR RUBIN: Thank you for that question. I’m not – I don’t expect us to share this particular report, but it’s online publicly right now. So the Chinese Government will see it. As far as the question of whether this will become part of the topics of conversation between the United States and China, we’ll just have to see. The important thing here: The Chinese know what they’re doing. They don’t need us to tell them what our assessment of what they’re doing. What – the point of this report is to ensure that the rest of the world, the people that are the subjects and objects of their information manipulation, have the best chance possible to know when deceptive techniques are being used.
Let me give you an example. A couple of years ago, the GEC put out a report on Russian pillars – pillars of Russian disinformation. As a result of that report, journalistic organizations around the world went to those websites, those portals, and realized that they were getting repeated Russian misrepresentations, and those portals collapsed. So what we were hoping is that with additional – by bringing these tactics and techniques to light – look, you’re journalists. I – journalism is something very important to me. I think all of us believe in a fact-based narrative.
This problem is obviously – in this report about China, we’ve talked about it in Russia. The world that we’re facing, where people will not be able to distinguish between fact and fiction, is something that all of us, I would think – I hesitate to say it because I know there’s a divide between government and journalism, but on this subject, the freedom of expression and living in a fact-based world, the whole of society is at risk. And so we need journalism; we need civic society; we need education systems. We have to build an ecosystem where these deceptive techniques do not take hold.
MR MILLER: Leon.
QUESTION: Yeah, thanks for having me. Thanks for doing this. I was wondering – I apologize, I haven’t read the whole report and —
MR RUBIN: That’s okay. It’s long, and it’s understandable.
QUESTION: But from what I did see, there is a lot of secondhand sources and a lot of things that we know about that’s been reported, done, what-have-you. So I wanted to know to what extent you, as the U.S. Government, has uncovered activities, new activities, that you could pinpoint to or highlight.
MR RUBIN: Yes. By the way, for all of you, obviously, so you can get to the main event, we’re happy during the course of the day to take your questions at the GEC about the report if you have any specific questions. But directly right now, there’s an example of a manufactured persona named Yi Fan who pretends to be an international affairs commentator that’s clearly, in our view, the U.S. Government’s view, operating on behalf of the foreign ministry. That’s an example.
There’s an example in there where they tried to take over the entire Pakistani information space by building a censorship operation in which they could monitor the whole information space so that they could make adjustments and changes.
There are examples where – and this is perhaps the most pernicious that you all would appreciate – look, by and large, the Chinese do not follow the Russians’ example of outright lies. On the occasion of Ukraine, they have. But by and large, Xinhua, their wire service, is largely accurate. But it reports a large number of things that happen badly in the United States – every problem, every hurricane, every crime, every problem – and only wonderful things that happen in China. They take that wire service and provide it to third parties, newspapers in Africa or Asia, but insist that no other wire service gets used.
And think of how pernicious that is as journalists. That means the journalists writing up the news are using a Chinese view of the world but putting it in their own words and their own names. So a Fiji editor is writing for a Fiji audience in a Fiji newspaper with a Chinese view of the world.
So those are examples. There are – when you get to the back section, you’ll see some other examples.
MR MILLER: Olivia.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. The report makes only a few mentions of elections in particular and of the PRC’s intention to target elections. We’ve seen assessments from the likes of Microsoft now saying that the PRC is looking to enhance its ability to do that using things like artificial intelligence. So I’m wondering if GEC has insights into those intentions specifically, whether it’s in the U.S. or abroad. Are you seeing more of an inclination on the part of Beijing to target elections specifically with disinformation?
MR RUBIN: As there still is – are a large number of countries in the world, particularly countries of importance to the Chinese, that are democracies, that have elections, yes, we have seen efforts to provide false narratives in elections. There are some famous cases that have been written about, and we mentioned some of those in this report. As I think you implied, the GEC is extremely careful that we do not operate in the United States; we don’t look at the U.S. information space. That’s something for other agencies to do. It’s become quite controversial. I need to reiterate we only look at international situations.
So with regard to the – any U.S. election, you’d have to go elsewhere. But yes, the more significant the competition arises with the United States, the Chinese Government has sought to provide these narratives. And remember, it’s not so much providing their own narratives that’s the problem. It’s suppressing truths about Xinjiang, about Taiwan, about the South China Sea, and the Philippines and places like that, where they are operating outside the normal bounds of sovereignty and trying to suppress information about it because they know that people in those countries would get quite upset, as they did in the Philippines when news came out about operating inside their territorial waters. So yes, we’ve seen that. That isn’t the focus of this report, per se.
I want to emphasize again this is the first of its kind. We’re looking at the techniques and the tactics, less at the specific narratives. We want people to understand what’s going on around the world so that journalists, media organizations, universities, think tanks, all the people that look at this, that care about this, that know that this is the lifeblood of our democracy, if it’s not working properly, none of us are going to like the world we’re living in. They have to take these techniques and practices, look at it, see whether it’s applying in their area, see if they can identify inauthentic coordinated activity.
Obviously, that’s something for social media companies to act on, but we’re looking to provide them the maximum new look at these deceptive practices, and perhaps most important, to put it all together. We’ve seen these individual stories, but when you look at the content issue, the digital authoritarian issue, the suppression issue, the Chinese language media issue, you can see a breathtaking ambition to have information dominance in certain parts of the world, crucial parts of the world. That’s the threat that affects our national security, that affects the national security of other parties.
MR MILLER: Will.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks so much for doing this. I just wanted to ask – I also haven’t had a chance to read the report yet, but was looking for – given all the interest in Washington and concern about TikTok and ByteDance, I was expecting a big section on that, and maybe just saw a box and a footnote. So was wondering if that TikTok concern is overstated or if there are challenges and problems associated with that (inaudible).
MR RUBIN: There is a section in there. You’ve correctly identified it. It – look, when – this report has been prepared over many, many months. We’ve collected as much information as possible. We’ve had to make judgments of what to include and what not to include. Believe me, in the old days, it was much easier to get things like this cleared in the system, and I’ve been stunned after 20 years to watch how hard it is. So we had to make choices.
We tried to provide sections where we thought we were adding to the knowledge of the world and not – TikTok has been a subject of mega discussion, but we do identify specific efforts by – through TikTok to pick and choose who gets to speak, how they get to speak, and to be able to identify both for purposes of suppression and for purposes of developing tailored narratives individuals through that portal.
MR MILLER: All right. We have time for a few more. Alex.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on Olivia’s question? Thank you for doing this. Will recognize that you don’t work inside the United States, but China largely stayed on the sidelines in the 2016 and 2020 elections. Looking at this vast array of different channels and techniques and tactics that you’ve highlighted, have you been able to glean anything about what they might do in 2024, as we go into this presidential election cycle at a time when tensions are so fraught? And can you just speak to this moment, why you’re putting this out now? Is this a particular moment, do you believe?
MR RUBIN: Let me take the second one first. I know there’s always a question of timing and why one does this, one doesn’t do this. I think this was more a case of not not doing it with the government shutting down than it was a question of picking this timing. We have been working on this report for a long time. When I got here nine months ago, it was just starting. Again, as you’ll see from the government information in there, some of this takes a while to work through the interagency process. There is no reason for today as opposed to yesterday or tomorrow, other than we didn’t want to change our schedule because of the prospective government shutdown, because national security doesn’t stop because of government shutdowns, and we wanted to make that absolutely clear. It will, obviously, affect a little bit of posts’ ability to work with it overseas.
On the first one, it’s much easier. I need to reiterate the GEC does not look at the information space in the United States, and that is something I’ve imposed. Even though it was done before, I’ve said it over and over again to our staff it’s been a controversy that’s misunderstood what we do. We do not look at the U.S. information space. We look at what China and Russia and Iran and terrorist groups do in the rest of the world.
I’m less worried about what will happen here, where we have an – elaborate protections for the freedom of the press and abilities in a country where freedom of the press is such an important aspect of our society than I am in – worried about younger, emerging democracies, places where there are fewer outlets, places where – take Honduras, for example. Suddenly they took the entire Honduran press corps and flew them to China to get an indoctrination. That’s where the Chinese tactics and techniques I think will have the greatest impact, so that’s what we focused on. And again, we just don’t look at the U.S. information space, but I appreciate the point.
MR MILLER: All right. Let’s do Abbie and Michel, and then we’ll let you go.
MR RUBIN: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thanks again for doing this. So you just laid out a pretty stark picture of the dangers of information dominance, a really complicated system. Your reports cites examples of China being the leading provider of digital television services in all of Africa. Has the U.S. invested enough human resources money in trying to counter China in this vast campaign?
MR RUBIN: Boy, that’s a good question. Let’s see how I can dance my way out of that. (Laughter.)
Let me just say that I’ve given some briefings around here in the State Department, and for those of you who have been around a long time you may remember they used to talk about Richard Clarke and George Tenet running around with their hair on fire before 9/11. Some days I feel like my hair is really hot and that people are too often regarding this as a communications problem, as a PR issue, as a public diplomacy issue, when to me – and I think for the reasons I suggested – this is a national security threat.
There are domains in the world. The information space in our modern world is a domain of – we are in an undeclared information war for a long time now, and it’s taken a while for us to appreciate it. I think in the early years, the years when USIA was taken down and money wasn’t spent on public diplomacy, people thought the internet and social media was going to be a solution to this problem. I’ve talked to people who worked here during the 2000s. They thought by spreading Twitter and Facebook and all of these social media that this was a way to spread democracy, and they didn’t think through the dark side of globalization, the dark side of these tools. I think it’s becoming increasingly clear.
Let me just say as – one, the short answer to your question is no. We’re not spending enough money. I think we should spend a lot more. That’s my personal opinion. Two, Secretary Blinken brought me to this job, brought me back to government service after 20 years, because he thinks it’s important. And I’ve seen him seek assistance from the Intelligence Community to begin to treat this issue with the seriousness it deserves. Whether that gets translated in funding and us doing a better job, I can’t say.
But I can also tell you that it’s not so much a matter of the U.S. Government spending money promulgating its point of view as it is an understanding in all of society – civil society, businessmen, culture, arts, education. We all have to – who live and thrive in this information environment – have to see how easy it is for foreign actors to destroy and create an Orwellian mix of fact and fiction for us. And we all have to do something about it.
And we can only do so much here in the government. Look, I know. Every day I’m facing this balance between freedom of the press and censorship issues on one hand and trying to deal with the weaponization of information at the other. And that’s – causes us to be careful in what we say and what we do because we don’t want to cross the line into censorship or trying to decide what’s true or not true.
That’s why this report focuses on techniques and tactics rather than trying to pick up every sentence or every statement and say, is this true or is this not true? People can decide that for themselves so long as they know where it comes from. The worst differences between a – in Slovakia or where I’ve been traveling or (inaudible) – sorry to go on so long – Bulgaria, where they’re seeing a report that says the United States has biological weapons in Ukraine, instead of seeing Russia says the United States has biological weapons in Ukraine. Those are two very different statements, and too often they’re seeing the first. That’s what we need to fix. That’s what I’m focused on.
MR MILLER: Last one. Michel.
QUESTION: Other than publishing this report, what is the U.S., and your center specifically, doing to counter the (inaudible)?
MR RUBIN: Thank you for that, and that’s a good place to land. When I got here, I began to study this problem and look at it. And it’s really complicated. It affects every aspect of our society. It affects every agency of our government. And I’ve looked at the different responses that are possible. There’s offensive responsive messaging, what Matt does every day so well and Secretary Blinken does so effectively. And then there’s a question of defense and how do we defend ourselves?
And I’ve chosen – because I think it’s where I can make the biggest impact – to focus on the defense, how to harden our societies to develop interoperability between other countries. So I’ve been traveling to Europe, working on methods and means to have us all have a common operational picture so that we can all understand the problem together and then minimize the danger.
There’s obviously two parts to this: telling the truths, rebutting the lies, and the other part is making – is hardening ourselves against it. I’ve chosen to focus on the latter. I’ve worked very closely with the Intelligence Community on this. There are things that we work on sometimes we can’t talk about, sometimes I maybe will be able to talk about. But I think the most important thing the GEC can do as a small little entity – remember, we’re a couple hundred folks sitting here looking at this horror of the information war, feeling like – I wake up every morning like, what are we going to do about this? But we think it’s better to focus for the moment on the defense and leave the messaging to Matt and Secretary Blinken and all the other ambassadors around the world, who are our best messengers.
MR MILLER: Great. Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you one late – USIA. You mentioned USIA, right?
MR RUBIN: Yeah, I did open myself up there, yeah. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, you did. Because under whose administration was USIA abandoned? Or are you saying that was also a mistake?
MR RUBIN: Well, that’s a policy judgment, and I’ll answer that, Matt, and thank you for bringing that up. (Laughter.) It was one of —
QUESTION: You’re trying to get away with —
MR RUBIN: It was the first policy issue I worked on with Secretary Albright, and there was this – the situation that’s worth remembering. Senator Helms, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, was holding up the Chemical Weapons Convention, and it was a high priority for President Clinton. He also believed there were too many foreign affairs agencies – the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, the USIA, and the Agency for International Development. He wanted all three abolished, and Secretary Albright asked me to work on that.
Now, it’s easy now to go back and say we should have had a USIA and kept a USIA, but the issue then was there was no funding for the programs. At the end —
MR RUBIN: Let me finish, Matt. Let me finish.
QUESTION: Any program that’s (inaudible).
MR RUBIN: Matt, Matt, let me finish. The —
MR MILLER: You still remember how to do that.
MR RUBIN: Yes. (Laughter.) The funding for the programs had dropped dramatically, just the way the defense budgets had dropped. We were no longer funding these programs, and USIA’s shell, its bureaucratic mechanisms, its having its own legislative affairs office, admin, exec, buildings, coterie – that was costing too much of the money. And the USIA director at the time, Joe Duffey, agreed. And that’s why it was done. In the absence of the Chemical Weapons Convention, would it have happened? Probably not then. But I think the issue was, as I mentioned, we didn’t believe that we had a problem then. We thought at the end of the Cold War – many people – the conventional wisdom was that the spread of information was going to be a net plus, and increasingly we’re finding that, particularly through social media, it’s increasingly a net minus and it’s the dark side that we need to face.
QUESTION: But you think it was – now you think that it might have been a mistake? Or just —
MR RUBIN: Well, as I said, there were good reasons to do it, and you can’t change history. And the Chemical Weapons Treaty was being held up, and I said if it wasn’t – weren’t held up, it might have been a different calculation. But it was.
MR MILLER: All right. Thank you, everyone. Thank you, James. Yeah, thanks for doing that. I enjoyed that. It’s nice to see someone else get up here and dance for a change, and do it so gracefully. Mayble I’ll get Ned in here on Monday, Tuesday.
Time for two more, three more? Just kidding. Go ahead, Matt.
MR MILLER: I don’t have anything to say. He obviously arrived back in the United States on a Department of Defense plane. It’s now a Department of Defense matter. I don’t – nothing – no further involvement from the State Department, so I’d refer anything to them.
QUESTION: My main (inaudible) ask about Karabakh. Before that, a very quick question. Just speaking on Russian disinformation, Putin today praised sham elections in Ukraine as, quote/unquote, “open, fair, and competitive,” which reminds me that you guys were supposed to come up with sanctions. Are we not too late? Are we chasing the ambulance here?
MR MILLER: Are we – what was the last part of it? What was —
QUESTION: Are you going to chase the ambulance? I mean, it’s —
MR MILLER: Chase – chasing the ambulance? That was – so if the question is, are we going to impose sanctions, I think you know the answer: that we do not impose – or we do not preview our sanction decisions from the podium. But we have been quite clear about our opinions on the so-called elections, the sham elections, the fake elections that President Putin has staged in Ukraine; and we have been quite clear that no one in the world respects those or believes that they are real elections. And I think our record of imposing sanctions on Russia and other measures to hold them accountable for their actions with respect to Ukraine has also been quite clear.
QUESTION: Thank you. Moving to Karabakh, do you have any comment on Karabakh Armenians’ statement today that they will cease to exist next year? They reported the U.S. is trying to announce their own – its own Disaster Assistance Response Team in the region. Do you have anything on that?
MR MILLER: So with respect to a Disaster Assistance Response Team, Ambassador Power announced yesterday that USAID had deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team to coordinate the U.S. humanitarian response. That team will assess the situation and identify priority needs to scale up assistance and work with partners to provide urgently needed aid. And if you talk to USAID, they can provide you more details about that.
QUESTION: And on Karabakh Armenians’ statement that they will – it will cease to exist as an entity as of next year, what is the U.S. response to that?
MR MILLER: I don’t have any specific comment on that. I think what I would reiterate with respect to Nagorno-Karabakh is that overall, we think it’s important that the ceasefire be maintained, that the humanitarian needs be addressed, and that an independent international mission to provide transparency, reassurance, and confidence to the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh be established as soon as possible. That is our priority for dealing with the immediate situation and one that we are working to get off the ground.
QUESTION: Can I have a follow-up on the Armenia —
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, how serious, really, are you on this international mission? I mean, you’ve mentioned it but, I mean, one doesn’t get the sense that it’s going to go anywhere. And would Azerbaijan accept that in any way, shape, or form?
And then second, related to that, the separatists have announced officially they’re disbanding. They will cease to exist. You have tens of thousands of Armenians who fled.
MR MILLER: So we —
MR MILLER: So we are quite serious about the international mission. We think the international mission is important because it relates to all of the other questions about humanitarian assistance, about humanitarian needs in the region. We are so serious about the international mission that the Secretary raised it in his call with President Aliyev, pressed him to support an international mission. You may have seen that the Azerbaijani Government came out yesterday and said that they do support an international mission, and in fact in their statement said one of the reasons they are supporting it is because they have been pushed to support it by the United States.
So we are quite clear on it. We’re working with our allies and partners on what the best mechanism to effectuate that is. But we think it’s important to provide transparency and to assure that humanitarian needs are being addressed on the ground.
QUESTION: And the special advisor —
MR MILLER: Let me – let me go – I’m going to go to someone else since you – go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. A follow-up on the international observation mission. Can you specify what countries you’re going to work with and also what their – what role is this mission going to play on the ground?
MR MILLER: Yeah. I can’t preview specifics right now because it is a matter that is ongoing with a number of allies and partners in the region. Both under what auspices that mission would be launched, who would participate, what its scope would be, what it would look like – all those things are under discussion. So I don’t want to make any kind of a – I don’t want to make any kind of announcement before we’ve nailed down the details. But it is a matter we are working on.
QUESTION: In a statement today, Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry urged Armenians of Karabakh to become part of the multiethnic Azerbaijani society. This is according to their statement. And Azerbaijani authorities also announced an online portal to register Armenian residents in Karabakh to provide them services. What is your read or assessment on this? Is that a step that is welcomed by the U.S.?
MR MILLER: So I will say that we continue to be greatly concerned about the humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. We think it’s important that residents of Nagorno-Karabakh be able to make the decision to leave if they want to leave and to be able to return if they want to return. It’s a decision that they all have to make as individuals, but we think it’s important that they be able to make that decision for themselves. And we think there ought to be unhindered humanitarian access to the region to make sure that populations in need can get the support that they require.
Again, I’ll go back to the international mission. We think to best effectuate that it is important that an international mission be established to ensure that those humanitarian needs are addressed.
QUESTION: How soon is the U.S. willing to help Lebanon to do the border line with Israel after demarcation of the sea?
MR MILLER: Let me take that one back.
QUESTION: Thank you. I wanted to switch topics to the visa waiver, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the previous speaker – I mean, talking about intentional disinformation campaigns by the United States Government causing, in the ’80s and during the Reagan administration, one of your predecessors to actually resign his post, because they said they do that intentionally. But I want to move on.
MR MILLER: I am glad because I am —
QUESTION: Because there’s a lot of things, I mean, I could point out.
MR MILLER: I am not going to speak to things that predecessors of mine in the ’80s may have done. So —
QUESTION: It’s okay. But it – with regards to the visa waiver issue, in the last couple years, few years, the U.S. denied visas at – I guess at Israel’s behest denied visas to Omar Barghouti, the founder of the BDS movement; Bassem Tamimi, a nonviolent activist Palestinian, and so on; and Hanan Ashrawi, who was a frequent visitor to Washington and so on, participated in all the talks and Camp David and all these things. And I wonder now, will they be given visas? Will they be allowed to come to the United States?
MR MILLER: So I think you’re aware that visa records by law are confidential, and because of that we can’t discuss the details of individual visa cases and that also means that I can’t speculate on whether someone may or may not be eligible for a visa now or in the future.
QUESTION: At least in one case, there is a person with – an Israeli citizen. Will they be allowed to come to the United States?
MR MILLER: Again, I’m not – I cannot speak to any one individual case. Those are determinations that a consular officer makes on a case-by-case basis when they review the facts and determine whether an applicant is eligible for a visa based on U.S. law.
QUESTION: And another question.
MR MILLER: And if there —
QUESTION: Can you speak to the case of a U.S. citizen who is being prevented from leaving the West Bank by Israel to get back to the United States, which is where he is a citizen of?
MR MILLER: I – so, again – so that is obviously a different matter. It’s not a (inaudible) – that’s a different matter.
QUESTION: I – it’s – no, it has nothing to do with visas.
MR MILLER: But – right. So I would be happy to discuss – I’d want to look at the facts of that specific case before I commented on it, but —
QUESTION: The guy’s name is Ubai Aboudi. He lives in Ramallah, and he’s the executive director of a group called the Bisan Center for Research and Development. And the Israelis are not letting him leave.
MR MILLER: Yeah, and I’d be happy to —
MR MILLER: I’m not familiar with the facts.
QUESTION: So how many Israelis are you preventing from leaving the United States right now or will you under this – the VWP program when it goes into effect?
MR MILLER: So we do not prevent people from leaving the United States.
QUESTION: Aha. Okay. Right.
MR MILLER: I have —
QUESTION: So —
MR MILLER: But I cannot – to the details of that specific case, I obviously am not aware of this individual case and can’t speak to the reasons why.
QUESTION: All right. Let me just ask one more question. I mean, this is at least interpreted by the Israelis, by the Americans, by Mr. Netanyahu himself to be really a great victory for Mr. Netanyahu at a time when you have a great deal of differences, especially over the judicial reforms and so on. Do you feel that now he’s far more emboldened to continue despite probably the sentiment of hundreds of thousands of Israelis if not millions of Israelis by really giving them this kind of gift at this particular time, at a time when his government does all kinds of abuses?
MR MILLER: I would say the decisions that we make with respect to Israel are decisions we make about the – in the best interests of United States national security and in the best interests of the security of the region. They are not decisions that we make with respect to any one government. They are decisions we make with respect to the relationships between the United States and Israel. And I should reiterate that President Biden has been a friend of Israel for decades. He has been outspoken about how this relationship transcends U.S. and Israeli administrations because of our shared long-time commitment to democratic interests and values. That does mean there are times when we disagree with things that this – disagree, that things that this Israeli Government does, as we have disagreed with positions that previous Israeli Governments have taken. And when that happens, we express our disagreements openly, we express them privately with them, we at times press them to take different actions; but it doesn’t mean that we don’t take – we don’t take decisions that we believe are in the best interests of the United States and in the best interest of the Israeli people.
QUESTION: So you don’t think that this kind of thing under this kind of prime minister will in any way impact his resolve to continue pushing forward for the judicial reforms? You don’t think that that is totally independent of that?
MR MILLER: I think that it is totally independent, especially when you consider the fact that we have been quite clear about the fact that we think such changes as judicial reform need to be taken with the widest consensus possible. We’ve been quite clear, including in conversations directly between the President and the prime minister.
MR MILLER: Let me – I’m going to – you don’t have to shout out questions. I’ve got time. I’m going to come around the room. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. The Iranian IRGC yesterday put the third version of their imaging satellite to the low orbit, and they may use this technology to facilitate their nuclear programs and ballistic missiles. Do you have any reaction and comments on that?
MR MILLER: Yeah, we have seen the reports that Iran launched a satellite. We have long made clear our concerns about Iran’s space launch vehicle programs, that they provide a pathway to expand its longer-range missile systems. Space launch vehicles incorporate technologies virtually identical and interchangeable to – with those used in ballistic missiles.
Iran’s continued advancement of its ballistic missile capabilities poses a serious threat to regional and international security and remains a significant nonproliferation concern. And I will just reiterate, as I’ve said before about a number of activities in this regard, that we continue to use a variety of nonproliferation tools, including sanctions, to counter the further advancement of Iran’s ballistic missile program and its ability to proliferate missiles and related technology to others.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt.
MR MILLER: Oh, sorry.
QUESTION: I have one question for Mr. Jamie. Should I ask you that question or no? Should I —
MR MILLER: Why don’t you follow up with the Global Engagement Center after this.
QUESTION: Okay. Great. Thank you.
MR MILLER: As he said, they’ll be happy to discuss further.
QUESTION: Thank you. So I have two questions for you, sir. One of them is that a week or 10 days ago there was a big rally outside the White House by Pakistani Americans. It was probably one of the biggest ones since President Biden has taken his office. Is the State Department aware about the Pakistani American feelings, at least what President Biden has chosen to do in Pakistan by supporting this whole regime change?
MR MILLER: So we do not support regime change, for the hundredth thousandth time – I don’t know how many times we’ve had this exchange – in Pakistan.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) in America, Pakistani Americans.
MR MILLER: Let me make clear that – what our policy is and that we do not take a position in – with – as it stands, to elections in Pakistan. We support free and fair elections and do not take a position one way or another. And of course we’re aware that in the United States – and it’s one of the things that makes the United States great – is that people can come and express their First Amendment rights.
QUESTION: Exactly. So that’s what I – that’s exactly what I’m trying to come to. Like, so, a lot of the Pakistani Americans are now seriously starting to feel that – how is President Biden making his judgment when on one side you have an ally country who is providing weapons in war against Ukraine – you stand here and you talk about Germany, Belgium, other countries being ally of the U.S. with the war in Ukraine. With Pakistan you don’t talk about it. With Pakistan the biggest rally happens here; you don’t talk about Pakistan. So there needs to be a little clarity with regard to foreign policy at least with regard Pakistan. Otherwise people – like, Pakistani Americans and Pakistani diaspora really feel that it is either something to do with President Biden’s personal – some grudge against Imran Khan or something like that is happening there.
MR MILLER: No. So I would say that you are here almost every day and I take questions and speak about Pakistan almost every day, and I make clear whenever talk about this that we see Pakistan as a valued partner of the United States with whom we work on a number of issues. That hasn’t changed and it will not change.
QUESTION: Okay. Two —
MR MILLER: Humeyra – no, let me – I’m going to give some other people a chance to ask a question. Humeyra, go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m wondering about Secretary’s upcoming meeting with his Indian counterpart, Jaishankar, because Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just said he was sure that Blinken would raise the murder of Sikh separatist leader with his Indian counterpart. So will he?
MR MILLER: So one of the practices I’m going to continue to try to adhere to, which is to not speak publicly about what Secretary Blinken or other representatives of this department will say in their meetings before —
QUESTION: Well, it sounds like Mr. Trudeau did not get that —
MR MILLER: Hold on, hold on. Let me – hold on. I will speak for myself – before the Secretary has a chance to say it directly to those counterparts. So what I will say, however, is that we have consistently engaged with the Indian Government on this question and have urged them to cooperate, and that engagement and the urge for them to cooperate will continue.
QUESTION: Right. And in your continuous engagement when you’re urging the Indian Government to cooperate, what kind of feedback are you getting?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to – they can speak for themselves. I’m not going to speak to what they say in private diplomatic conversations. I will speak to what I say or what we say, and that is we urge them to cooperate with the Canadian investigation.
QUESTION: And there was the comments of the U.S. ambassador to Canada I think maybe a week ago. I’m not entirely sure if you were asked about this publicly, but he basically said the intelligence that was provided by Five Eyes led to Justin Trudeau’s – Canadian prime minister’s – assessment. Are you able to confirm that in any way?
MR MILLER: I am not going to speak to intelligence matters from the podium.
QUESTION: General Hiftar apparently met with President Putin and with a top military official while in Moscow today. What is the U.S.’s assessment of Moscow’s welcoming of General Hiftar? And is there a concern that this might be a potential destabilizing moment for Libya’s future?
MR MILLER: So I would say we have urged every country in the world when they engage with Moscow to look at the destabilizing effect that Russia has had not just in Ukraine but in Africa and all throughout the world, anywhere that they operate. And so we would take – we would urge any country that’s considering engagement with Moscow or that is entering into agreements with Moscow to go into that with very clear eyes about the destabilizing effect of Russia’s activities.
Shannon, go ahead.
QUESTION: We’ve seen some reports from Department of Homeland Security and other agencies that employees are being notified a shutdown might be imminent. Has the State Department sent any kind of communication like that?
MR MILLER: I am not aware of us sending a communication out to employees of that nature. We have had planning going on for a number of days, contingency planning in the case – in case there is a shutdown. We continue to work through that planning in the coming days to make decisions about what functions are essential, what functions are essential to national security that cannot be suspended even in the case of a shutdown, and what functions unfortunately do have to be suspended while a shutdown continues.
That said, we remain hopeful that Congress will do its job and fund the government. But we are making contingency planning in case they don’t.
QUESTION: And can I also briefly ask about the email hack earlier this year that impacted the State Department? Sources from over on Capitol Hill say that some 60,000 emails from the State Department alone were gathered in that hack. Is it still the case that the State Department feels that there were no classified emails that were obtained in the hack? And has the State Department determined through its own investigation who was behind it?
MR MILLER: So a few things. Number one, I will confirm that yes, it was approximately 60,000 unclassified emails that were exfiltrated as a part of that breach. Number two, no, classified systems were not hacked. This only related to the unclassified system. Number three, we have not made an attribution at this point. But as I’ve said before, we have no reason to doubt the attribution that Microsoft has made publicly.
Again, this was a hack of Microsoft systems that the State Department uncovered and notified Microsoft about. We have no reason to doubt their attribution in the case.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Yesterday, you mentioned that there were some additional meetings between U.S. and PRC officials, and I’m wondering if those have taken place, are scheduled to take place, whether they’re in Beijing or the United States.
MR MILLER: There was a meeting here yesterday that Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Dan Kritenbrink held with the PRC Vice Foreign Minister for Asia Sun Weidong here at the State Department. The two sides held a candid, in-depth, and constructive consultation on regional issues as part of ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication. This is one of the now many follow-up meetings we have had since the Secretary’s trip to Beijing in June, and I expect that we’ll have a readout later today that will provide further details on the meeting.
QUESTION: And since we’re on the topic today, I’m wondering whether in any of these meetings U.S. officials have taken the time to warn Beijing against interfering in elections in 2024. Has that – especially as these reports have come out saying that there’s more of an inclination potentially on the part of the PRC to leverage technologies to intervene in elections around the world, but especially in the United States, has that specific issue been raised?
MR MILLER: So I am not going to speak to whether we have raised that specifically in any one of these meetings. But I will say we have made clear a number of times to a number of actors around the world that we would take interference in United States elections very seriously.
QUESTION: North Korea has adopted a constitutional amendment to enshrine its policy on nuclear force. I’m just wondering from that, the United States try to take additional action because of the recent change of DPRK?
MR MILLER: So the DPRK’s unlawful WMD and ballistic missile programs constitute a threat to international peace and security and the global nonproliferation regime. We reiterate that the DPRK should understand that the only viable path forward is through diplomacy. We have made that point clear a number of times; they have continued to reject it. We will do what we have been doing, which is to consult closely with the Republic of Korea, Japan, and other allies and partners about how to best engage the DPRK, deter aggression, and coordinate international responses to their multiple violations of UN Security Council resolutions.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Matt. In a TV interview with a local Bangladeshi TV channel, Channel 24, U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas expressed his security concern – not only his security concern, even the embassy personnel – in Bangladesh. So his concern is legit, quite legit, because we have seen couple of attacks the U.S. ambassador in Bangladesh recent years under the current regime. Is the Secretary taking these concerns seriously?
MR MILLER: So I’m not going to discuss specific details around security at the U.S. embassy or the personnel that work there. I will say that of course the safety and security of our diplomatic personnel is of the utmost importance to us. And per the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, every host country must uphold its obligations to ensure the protection of all diplomatic mission premises and take all diplomatic steps to prevent any attack on personnel. The United States values its relationship with Bangladesh, and we expect that the government will take all necessary actions to maintain the safety and security of all foreign missions and personnel in the country, including ours.
QUESTION: One more one. Is U.S. considering to more rounds visa restrictions in Bangladesh, including the pro-government media who helped the regime to be a monster?
MR MILLER: Was the question are we going to impose?
QUESTION: Yeah, does the – we have seen from Dhaka embassy that you are thinking about more rounds of visa restrictions on the media personnel – basically the propaganda machine of —
MR MILLER: So I’m not going to announce specific steps, preview steps that we might take from the podium. We have taken steps to impose restrictions under the Secretary’s authority against members of law enforcement, the ruling party, and the political opposition who we believe to be responsible for or complicit in undermining free and fair elections in Bangladesh. And as we made clear when we announced this policy on May 24th – that’s when we announced the policy, not the imposition of sanctions on specific individuals – but when we announced that policy, that it could be applied to any Bangladeshi individual who we believe was responsible for or complicit in undermining the democratic process. So we retain the option to impose sanctions on other individuals if and when we believe it’s appropriate.
QUESTION: Follow-up question —
MR MILLER: Go – let me just – I – again, I – we’ve had – I know, but I’m trying to get to as many people as possible. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. So a former Ukrainian armed services spokesperson was recorded in a private conversation, and she had this to say about the Ukrainian military. She said: “I know many of them have very far-right leanings. There are some Nazi groups.” So I – of course, it’s not the entire military, but you do have an official spokesperson raising a concern in a private conversation that they do exist there. And even Time Magazine and Associated Press —
MR MILLER: Where was this? Where was the private conversation reported, just so I know what I’m responding to?
QUESTION: It was reported on a call. There were actually some pranksters who, like, didn’t know – they kind of faked – they actually – it’s kind of unbelievable. They faked being Poroshenko and she somehow believed it and she had a conversation with them. It’s online. And – but regardless of this, Time Magazine, Associated Press, Washington Post, and others before the war did raise this concern about these radical groups in Ukraine. So my question to you is: Are we concerned that, through arming them, the arms are potentially landing in the hands of these radical groups?
MR MILLER: So I’m not going to respond specifically to prank calls. That seems like a new one. I haven’t gotten that, first, but seems like probably something I should try to avoid doing, especially when I haven’t seen the full context. But I will say that we have important accountability mechanisms in place for U.S. arms and U.S. military assistance that we supply to Ukraine. We have strict oversight mechanisms that we’ve put in place. That also applies to humanitarian and economic aid that we’ve provided. And we’ve seen no diversion of those arms at this point.
All right. Go —
QUESTION: So you do tell them, like, the Azov Battalion – but we say do not give it to them, yes?
MR MILLER: We have strict oversight mechanisms in place.
MR MILLER: If what? If —
QUESTION: If the shutdown happens.
MR MILLER: If the shutdown occurs, there are specific functions that we are able to keep in place and others that we have to suspend in the event of the shutdown. I’m not able to preview all those now. We continue to work through it. If there is a shutdown, I’ll be able to provide more detail.
QUESTION: Last one. I’m sorry.
MR MILLER: Let me do one more and then – go ahead.
QUESTION: So Barbara Leaf, assistant secretary, sat with four representatives last week during the UN meeting – with the Qatari, the Egyptians, French, and Saudi – regarding the French initiative to resolve the conflict in Lebanon regarding the election. Do we have the right impression that the U.S. are not happy with the French initiative that has not achieved anything, and now the Qataris are stepping in to continue their own initiative?
MR MILLER: So I’m not going to speak to the French initiative. I will say that we continue to support free and fair elections, and leave it at that.
Abbie. You’ll finish, and then we’ll wrap up.
QUESTION: One for me?
QUESTION: The deadline for the next five-year authorization of PEPFAR funding is this Saturday. I wondered if you had any concerns about some of the threats to PEPFAR funding, moving it to a one-year authorization versus five. What impact do you see that having on State Department programs?
MR MILLER: So we have had great concerns that the funding of PEPFAR has even become controversial. It is one of the greatest humanitarian successes that the United States has ever seen. The work it has done has saved millions and millions of lives in Africa, and when you look at the cost that the United States has spent on this program with – compared to the reward in terms of the number of lives saved, it’s really hard to find anything else that we have done as a country that has delivered such benefit. So I will say we, of course, would be concerned with any lapse in funding for the program and would urge Congress to fully fund it, as the administration has requested.
QUESTION: One follow-up to that.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The State Department recently added new languages calling – language calling for PEPFAR to partner with organizations that advocate for institutional reforms in law and policy regarding sexual, reproductive, and economic rights of women. What is your response to conservatives who argue that this is a way to integrate abortion into HIV/AIDS prevention?
MR MILLER: That it – that that is absolutely not the goal of our policy. Thank you very much.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:19 p.m.)
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