News & Politics

State Dept. Probe of Edited Iran Deception Video Inconclusive

After a two-month investigation, the State Department has failed to determine who was behind the deletion of an eight-minute segment video from a press briefing that was posted on the State Department website and YouTube channel.

The missing segment featured then State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki admitting in 2013 that the government had lied about when the Iran nuclear talks began, in answer to a question from Fox News’ James Rosen. The original unedited video reappeared on the State Department website after Rosen drew attention to its disappearance last May. State initially tried to blame the missing segment on a “glitch,” before finally admitting on June 1 that it was intentionally altered.

State Department spokesman John Kirby, however, said at the time that there would be no investigation because no laws were broken. A week later, on Secretary of State John Kerry’s orders, State Dept. spokesman Mark Toner told reporters they would investigate the edited Iran deception video after all.

They did their best, but whoever ordered the scrubbing of those eight minutes of rare State Department truth-telling covered his/her tracks well.

Current State Department spokesman John Kirby said State’s Office of Legal Adviser interviewed more than 30 current and former employees and reviewed a variety of records, but could not reach a firm conclusion about who, if anyone, ordered the deletion of the December 2013 exchange between then-spokeswoman Jen Psaki and Fox News reporter James Rosen.

“We are confident that the video of that briefing was deliberately edited … what we were not able to determine was why the edit was made in the first place,” Kirby said as he announced the results to a skeptical audience at the State Department’s daily press briefing. “It was inconclusive.”

State initially blamed the edit on a “glitch,” but in June withdrew that explanation and said a technician recalled being told by someone in State’s public affairs office to chop out a section of the video.
However, on Thursday, State again revived the possibility that the edit was done purely for technical reasons and not to minimize attention to that particular exchange about deception and diplomacy.

“A glitch is possible,” Kirby said. “It is possible the white flash was inserted because the video had lost footage due to technical or electrical problems that were affecting our control room servers around that time.”

Reporters were skeptical of the spokesman’s statement, especially his return to the “glitch” explanation after a technician recalled being told to edit the tape.

“If that were the case, don’t you think someone would come and admit that, rather than nobody of the 30 witnesses you interviewed could actually remember what happened?” a reporter asked. “It seems like such a ridiculous explanation — it shocks me that you’re actually providing it here.”

This raised Kirby’s hackles somewhat. “Is that a question — or do you just want to berate me?” the peeved spokesman replied.

Reporters continued in this vein for some 33 minutes with one reporter even asking Kirby whether State had considered lie detector tests for those being questioned. But no one grilled Kirby as hard as Fox News’ James Rosen:

“It seems that no one has taken into their assessment the actual content of the briefing that was actually erased — or wound up missing,” Rosen said. “Doesn’t the content of the missing eight minutes tell us something about the intent?”

While Kirby was mulling that over, Rosen added, “It just happens to be the one time in the history of this administration where a spokesperson stood at that podium and made statements that many, many people across the ideological spectrum have interpreted as a concession that the State Department will from time to time lie to protect the secrecy of secret negotiations. That coincidence doesn’t strike you as reflective of some intent here?”

Kirby repeated that State’s findings were inconclusive although he wished he could explain why the edit happened.

“I understand these results may not be completely satisfying to everyone,” he said at one point. “I think we would all prefer to arrive at clear and convincing answers, but that’s not where the evidence or the memories of so many employees about an event that happened more than 2½ years ago have taken us.”