White House Denies Russian Bounty Story, But *Turns Out* The NYT Knows A Guy In Afghanistan
Did these geniuses think they could shit all over the intelligence community for four straight years without it coming back to bite them in the ass? Did they really believe they could consistently side with Putin over career civil servants, AKA the Deep State, with no pushback? Did they expect to get away with dispatching Mark Meadows and that hack John Ratcliffe to lie about national security without someone calling them out on their bullshit?
HAHA, of course they did. Donald Trump spent an entire year ignoring reports that Russia was paying the Taliban to murder US and coalition troops in Afghanistan, and the White House's plan to deal with the exploding scandal is to pretend that those nervous nellies at the NSA couldn't be sure about the intel, so the White House had no choice but to wait indefinitely for verification before taking any action that might upset Trump's pal Putin.
It's a really dumb plan.
FFS, the New York Times's Rukmini Callimachi has half of ISIS on speed dial. Did the White House think she wouldn't know a guy in the Taliban?
Take it away, Times:
American officials intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia's military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account, which was among the evidence that supported their conclusion that Russia covertly offered bounties for killing U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, according to three officials familiar with the intelligence.
Though the United States has accused Russia of providing general support to the Taliban before, analysts concluded from other intelligence that the transfers were most likely part of a bounty program that detainees described during interrogations. Investigators also identified by name numerous Afghans in a network linked to the suspected Russian operation, the officials said — including, two of them added, a man believed to have served as an intermediary for distributing some of the funds and who is now thought to be in Russia.
So, they had SIGINT and HUMINT to back up the allegations that Russia put out a hit on American troops? Cool, cool. As the paper drily notes, this helped to "reduce an earlier disagreement among intelligence analysts and agencies" over the reliability of the intel.
Does the Times have contacts on the ground in Afghanistan? You bet your ass they do!
Afghan officials this week described a sequence of events that dovetails with the account of the intelligence. They said that several businessmen who transfer money through the informal "hawala" system were arrested in Afghanistan over the past six months and are suspected of being part of a ring of middlemen who operated between the Russian intelligence agency, known as the G.R.U., and Taliban-linked militants. The businessmen were arrested in what the officials described as sweeping raids in the north of Afghanistan, as well as in Kabul.
Safiullah Amiry, the deputy provincial council chief in Kunduz City, told the Times that 13 people were arrested in the joint US-Afghan raids of suspected Taliban militants, but "[t]wo of the main targets of the raid had already fled — one to Tajikistan and one to Russia." What a coincidence! Amiry said he was told that "the raids were related to Russian money being dispersed to militants," and indeed it was at the home of one of these men where Navy SEALs discovered half a million dollars in greenbacks.
The US government suspects that the Russians may have paid a bounty for the murders of three Marines in a roadside attack in April 2019 outside Bagram Air Base. And here again, the Times has on-the-ground sources.
In Parwan Province, where Bagram Airfield is, the Taliban are known to have hired local criminals as freelancers, said Gen. Zaman Mamozai, the former police chief of the province. He said the Taliban's commanders are based in two districts of the province, Seyagird and Shinwari, and that from there they coordinate a network that commissions criminals to carry out attacks.
And Haseeba Efat, a former member of Parwan's provincial council, also said the Taliban have hired freelancers in Bagram district — including one of his own distant relatives in one case.
"They agree with these criminals that they won't have monthly salary, but they will get paid for the work they do when the Taliban need them," Mr. Efat said.
So, kinda looks like there was a quite a bit of intelligence evidence supporting this bounty scheme. And while the White House is at pains to emphasize that it wasn't "verified," the Times notes that it was sufficiently credible to be included in the May 4 edition of the CIA's in-house daily World Intelligence Review, AKA "The Wire."
Meanwhile the the White House keeps repeating that there wasn't perfect agreement between the intelligence agencies about the Russian plot, while simultaneously denying reports that it appeared in the Presidential Daily Briefing at least twice, once last year and once this past February.
Yesterday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe huddled up with congressional Republicans to get their story straight. And OH LOOK guess where else the New York Times has good sources.
That briefing focused on intelligence information that supported the conclusion that Russia was running a covert bounty operation and other information that did not support it, according to two people familiar with the meeting. For example, the briefing focused in part on the interrogated detainees' accounts and the earlier analysts' disagreement over it.
Both people said the intent of the briefing seemed to be to make the point that the intelligence on the suspected Russian bounty plot was not clear cut. For example, one of the people said, the White House also cited some interrogations by Afghan intelligence officials of other detainees, downplaying their credibility by describing them as low-level.
The administration officials did not mention anything in the House Republican briefing about intercepted data tracking financial transfers, both of the people familiar with it said.
Just to disambiguate that one and make the subtext into text, the White House is trying to point to the disagreement last year, when the only intel they had on the Russian plot came from detainee interrogations, to make the case there was too much confusion for the president to act to protect American troops. They are deliberately not talking about the Russian wires of cash, or the money seized during the raid. Which seems ever so slightly disingenuous, no?
And, by the by, we are four days into this metastasizing scandal and Donald Trump has STILL not said a damn word condemning Russia for targeting American troops.
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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.