Intelligence was broadcast by U.S. special operations forces based in Afghanistan and led to a high-level restricted meeting in the White House in late March, according to the people.
The meeting led to broader discussions on possible responses to Russian action, ranging from diplomatic expressions of disapproval and warnings, to sanctions, according to two people. These people and other people who discussed the matter spoke about the condition of anonymity because of its sensitivity.
Disturbing intelligence ̵
It is not clear where these discussions were conducted. Verification of this intelligence is a process that can take weeks, typically involving the CIA and the National Security Agency, which acquires communications via foreign mobile and radio. The final drafting of any policy options in response would be the responsibility of national security adviser Robert C. O ‘Brrien.
The CIA assessment took time and coincided with the downsizing and slowing down of a number of governmental functions when the coronavirus pandemic started to take hold, two people said.
Asked to comment, John Ullyot, an NSC spokesman, said that “the veracity of the underlying allegations continues to be assessed.” The CIA and the Defense and State departments declined to comment.
Russia and the Taliban have denied the existence of the program.
Among the coalition of NATO forces in Afghanistan, the British were informed at the end of last week about the intelligence assessment, although other alliance governments have not been formally informed. The New York Times first reported on the existence of the reward program on Friday evening.
But as more details turned out, the main controversy in Washington over the weekend revolved around denials by President Trump and his helpers that the president had never been informed about intelligence.
Trump on Sunday confirmed statements by director of national intelligence John Ratcliffe and the press secretary of the White House that he had received no information on the matter, and tweeted the so-called “Fake News” reports.
“Nobody informed or told me, [Vice President] Pence or chief of staff [Mark Meadows] on the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by the Russians, as reported by an “anonymous source” from false news. . . Everyone denies it and there have not been many attacks on us, “Trump said on Twitter, insisting that” nobody has been harder on Russia than the Trump administration. “
But his comments on Twitter did little to clarify whether the administration was denying the existence of the assessment or simply denying that Trump knew about it. Richard Grenell, who served as acting director of national intelligence until last month, tweeted that “I never heard of it. And the way you continue to politicize intelligence is disgusting. “
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Joined other lawmakers – including leading Republicans – on Sunday expressing concern and asking the administration to provide Congress with an explanation.
“This is so bad, yet the president will not face the Russians on this point, he denies being informed,” Pelosi said on ABC News’s “This Week”.
“But he wants to ignore,” he said, “he wants to bring them back to the G-8 despite the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Ukraine, despite what they succumbed to [Putin] in Syria, nevertheless [Russian President Vladimir Putin’s] the intervention in our elections, which is well documented by our intelligence community, and despite now possibly this charge, on which we should have been informed “.
Senate Judicial Commission Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (RS.C.), a Trump ally who played golf with the President on Sunday, previously tweeted that “I expect the Trump administration to take those allegations seriously. and immediately inform Congress about the reliability of this news. reports. “
In a second tweet, Graham said it was “imperative Congress to get to the bottom” of the Russian offer “to pay the Taliban to kill American soldiers with the aim of pushing America out of the region.”
Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), The third highest member of the House’s GOP leadership, also posted on Twitter on Sunday to say that if the report on Russian gifts “is true, the White House must explain” why the President was not informed, who knew and when, and “what was done in response to the protection of our forces and Putin’s responsibility”.
A third person familiar with the problem said that “I don’t think anyone has held back and ruined everything without getting to the president in time.” Until “you were absolutely unsure of intelligence and the NSC had developed policy options, you would not have walked into the Oval Office,” said the person.
So the problem isn’t when the president was informed, the person said, but rather, “now that you’re aware of it, what are you going to do about it? That’s where the focus should be.”
In past years, there have been persistent reports that Russia was supplying small arms to the Taliban. Carter Malkasian, who had been senior adviser to the previous joint chief of staff, General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., said that Russia had cultivated a relationship with some Taliban elements, largely in northern Afghanistan, starting from about 2015. the disclosure was in part a response to Moscow’s concerns about the threat posed by Islamic State militants in the region, as well as a desire to see U.S. troops leave the region.
But more recently, U.S. officials have said that Russia – which has attempted and failed to initiate its peace process in Afghanistan – has been cooperative and useful since the Taliban signed a peace agreement, including a plan to the withdrawal of the United States, with the administration earlier this year.
Malkasian, now a CNA scholar, said that the reward operation, if true, could be a “random” initiative, rather than one that reflects a well-coordinated program ordered by the highest levels of government.
He said that a primary Russian target in Afghanistan continues to be the exit of American forces, but not at all costs.
“They may want to get out and they might be happy to see some Americans die,” he said, “but I don’t think they want to see the Taliban take control.”