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If President Donald Trump wanted a competent director of national intelligence to bat away allegations that he ignored a Russian bounty scheme to kill American troops, he shouldn't have forced the Senate to confirm preening buffoon John Ratcliffe for the job. But he wanted a loyalist toady, and that's what he got. So now, facing cratering popularity and Democrats ready to pounce on the scandal of the president's failure to read his own briefing books, he's trying to cover his ass with the tiny figleaf of Ratcliffe's credibility. Spoiler Alert: That leaves a lot of sweaty, orange Trump flesh on display.

This weekend the New York Times reported that Ratcliffe ordered up a three-page Sense of the Community Memorandum (SOCM) to cast doubt on the reliability of the intelligence to justify Trump's apparent disregard of his pal Vladimir Putin putting a price on the heads of American soldiers in Afghanistan. While the National Counterterrorism Center and CIA found the intel "credibly sourced and plausible," the National Security Agency was less confident. The White House is preparing to lean hard on this mild disagreement to excuse Trump's failure to do anything at all to combat Russian aggression and instead attempt to shoehorn Russia back into the G7, from which it got booted in 2014 for invading and stealing Crimea.


This requires ignoring the fact that multiple news outlets — which, unlike the NSA, don't have the ability to tap phone lines anywhere in the world and trace global money transfers — already confirmed the story on the ground. Also, we should forget that the NSA traced money wires from the GRU to Afghan smugglers Rahmatullah Azizi and Habib Muradi, and that the intel was credible enough to justify a raid on his network. That raid kicked up half a million dollars in cash, and Azizi and Muradi fled to Russia, which certainly suggests that the intel was credible and worth acting on.

Our government has now briefed our coalition partners in the UK on it and finally, reluctantly, congress's Gang of Eight. But how dare you suggest our honorable DNI would politicize the intelligence agencies by casting doubt on their intel to save Trump's rancid bacon!

Sources told the Times that the memo relies on the absence of "direct evidence of what the criminal network leaders and G.R.U. officials said at face-to-face meetings," to suggest Russian culpability is in doubt. In other words, they can trace the cash, and they have the admission of detained Talibanis, but they don't have a verbatim transcript of the deal with the Russians, so WHO CAN EVEN SAY?

"The agency did intercept data of financial transfers that provide circumstantial support for the detainees' account," the Times notes, "but the agency does not have explicit evidence that the money was bounty payments."

The memo is at pains to note that the NSA can't verify that the Kremlin itself is behind the bounty scheme. Maybe it's just, uhhh, rogue GRU agents?

The memo also said that the Defense Intelligence Agency did not have information directly connecting the suspected operation to the Kremlin, officials said. But earlier assessments had also said that it was not clear how far up in the Russian government the bounties were approved. Intelligence officials suspect that a G.R.U. section known as Unit 29155, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or exact revenge on turncoats, is behind the suspected plot.

If only the Tsar knew about his faraway henchmen plotting to kill western troops, he'd be so mad about it! Too bad our president is too much of an ignorant despot-worshipper to mention it to him.

The NSA, which relies on intercepted communications (SIGINT), and the CIA, which relies on human sources (HUMINT), often disagree as to the reliability of a particular piece of intel. Matthew G. Olsen, a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center who held national security posts under George W. Bush and Obama administrations, points out that Ratcliffe's memo plays up this routine disagreement to suggest the data is somehow unreliable.

"These products are never definitive, ever — there's always caveats and holes and judgments and qualifications," Olsen told the Times. "The White House has portrayed it as not verified, but it's never verified, so that struck me as misrepresentation. It would be very easy, if you want to take a different spin, to draw those out and amplify the ways it's inconclusive."

Or as Ryan Goodman put it at Just Security:

[I]t's important to understand how the analysis probably emerged, with nuanced and caveated conclusions and a lack of complete consensus among the expert analysts. That in fact is the norm in intelligence work. It is rarely if ever the case that the United States or any other country's agencies would have a singular gold nugget of incontrovertible intelligence that would "prove" the case on something like this. For example, it's the stuff of fiction, not real intelligence work, to expect the United States to intercept Putin's personal aide saying to the GRU chief: "The Boss has green lighted the bounty program in Afghanistan. Go for it starting on Tuesday."

But DNI Ratcliffe isn't really a nuance kind of guy. He endeared himself to Trump with his howling defense during the Russia investigation, earning his first nomination for the top intel job. After his fellow Republicans discovered one or twelve little exaggerations in his resume, the nomination was withdrawn. But then Trump engineered a Hobson's choice for his pals on the Senate Intelligence Committee: let that viper Ric Grenell stay on the job indefinitely, or confirm Ratcliffe. And so here we are, with the DNI cooking up a blatantly politicized memo to support Commander Lazyass's refusal to read his briefings or confront his buddy Vlad.

Good luck trying to flog that bullshit during an election year, fellas!

[NYT / Just Security]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.

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