29 July 2020   Leave a comment

Johnathan Swan of Axios held an interview with US President Trump and, in it, he asked Mr. Trump if he had discussed the New York Times report on 26 June that Russia was paying bounties to the Taliban for killing US soldiers in Afghanistan. Mr. Trump has had eight telephone conversations with Russian President Putin since the Times report was published but in the interview Mr. Trump confessed: “I have never discussed it with him.” Mr. Trump has defended his unwillingness to confront Mr. Putin by asserting that the intelligence report was not “definitive”.

The inability to be “definitive” is often the case with intelligence, particularly intelligence about the relationship between Russia and the Taliban. But Zach Dorfman makes these points about such intelligence:

“While there were indeed ‘rumblings’ of GRU (the Russian counterpart to the CIA) support for the Taliban toward the end of the Obama years, says a third former official, it was very different than ‘specific threat information.’

“Threat information, such as bounties, is considered so important that it is shared more widely even when not fully verified due to the potential harm to human life, say former officials.

“During the last few years of the Obama administration, no reporting on potential GRU bounties in Afghanistan appeared in the President’s Daily Brief, a written document provided every day to the president and select senior U.S. officials that summarizes key intelligence and analysis from U.S. spy agencies, recalls a former U.S. national security official. This points to a lack of such knowledge within the U.S. intelligence community at the time, says this person — especially because of the lowered bar for disseminating threat data.

“According to the Associated Press, by 2019, however, some U.S. intelligence officials had concluded that Russia had transitioned from merely providing support to the Taliban to actually paying them to kill U.S. soldiers.”

There was disagreement among the US intelligence agencies about how solid the evidence actually is. According to another story in the New York Times:

“Based on intelligence that included accounts from interrogated detainees and electronic intercepts of data showing payments from a bank account linked to Russia’s military intelligence agency, the G.R.U., to the Taliban, the C.I.A. concluded that Russia had escalated its support to the Taliban to include financial incentives for killing Americans and other coalition troops.

“The C.I.A. — as well as analysts at the National Counterterrorism Center — expressed medium or moderate confidence in that conclusion. The National Security Agency, which puts greater stock in surveillance intercepts, was more skeptical, officials have said.

“The White House initially denied that Mr. Trump had been briefed, but did not deny a subsequent Times report that the intelligence was included in his written daily briefing in late February. But Mr. Trump often chooses not to read his written briefing, and White House aides later stressed to lawmakers that a C.I.A. official who delivers his oral briefings did not bring it up.”

The episode is just another episode of Mr. Trump’s unwillingness to confront Mr. Putin. The most infamous example was when, in Helsinki, Mr. Trump said that he believed Mr. Putin’s denial of interference in the 2016 national election over the unanimous agreement of US intelligence agencies that Russia had in fact interfered: “My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others and said they think it’s Russia…I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be…” The fact that Mr. Trump has not even questioned Mr. Putin about the bounties is extraordinary and is a clear dereliction of duty by the ostensible Commander in Chief.

Posted July 29, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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