The Trump administration has collected information on foreign powers for years, including both Russia and Iran, using financial means to support and encourage armed militants in Afghanistan, according to six current and previous intelligence and national security officers. And, those officials said, the president was informed of those far-reaching efforts.
A current senior national security official and two other former officials familiar with gathering information in Afghanistan have said that the Trump administration has closely followed the ways in which Iran uses money to support Haqqani militants who they killed US soldiers.
But when intelligence emerged earlier this year that Russia had come up with a specific plan to pay rewards to mercenaries to kill American soldiers, intelligence and national security leaders did not inform the president of person. A person familiar with the situation says that although they are aware that intelligence has circulated in the White House and within Trump̵
The argument of what the President knew when, or if he knew anything, about Russian gifts has become a major problem in Washington. “We need to understand why the President was not informed, who was aware of it and when, and what our response to Russia will be if these reports are credible,” said Republican representative Bob Wittman on the House Armed Services Committee in a “If this intelligence is determined to be true, this is another one on a long list of aggression escalations from Russia.”
Multiple and sometimes contradictory reports have appeared on the scope and timing of the information available to the president.
Monday evening, the Associated Press wrote that senior White House officials were aware of “confidential information indicating that Russia was secretly offering bounty to the Taliban for the death of the Americans” in early 2019 “, a year earlier than expected. previously reported. It is unclear how detailed and specific that intelligence is.
“Officials said there is trepidation in informing the president about Russia in particular.“
According to the AP, the then national security adviser John Bolton “told colleagues” that he personally informed President Donald Trump of the bounty issue in March 2019. But Bolton, who is now promoting a book after a long silence on his time in the White House, he “did not respond” to AP’s questions regarding the alleged briefing and the third-person account remains unconfirmed.
CNN reported Monday evening that information on Russian reward offers was contained in at least one edition of the President’s Daily Brief. According to New York Times the written briefing was delivered in February, and information on Russian sizes spread widely in the intelligence community in May. The AP report says that intelligence first entered a PDB, as these documents are called, over a year ago.
The AP noted that when Bolton appeared on NBC on Sunday Meet the press suggested that Trump claim ignorance to justify inaction. “He can deny everything if no one ever told him,” said Bolton.
But the problem is not just a matter of concealment, according to several sources, it is a matter of Trump who does not want to know intelligence outside his comfort zone, and the reluctance of officers to push information about him who know that it will resist, especially if their conclusions are far from clear. Those can go to a PDB, but not be mentioned in a face-to-face briefing.
Intelligence from Afghanistan, with its many contending factions and changing alliances, can be particularly problematic. In 2015 The Daily Beast reported that the Taliban were developing their ties to Russia, apparently to fight the Afghan branch of the so-called Islamic state. Over the past five years, according to Afghan sources, this cooperation has extended to include Russian-Taliban cooperation with Iran, with its well-known record paying premiums for attacks. But the situation has become even more complicated by recent Taliban allegations that ISIS recruits may have worked with former Afghan government senior intelligence officials to plan the assassination of Trump’s peace negotiator, Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad. They are said to believe that Khalilzad is selling to the Taliban.
The person mentioned above with intelligence knowledge circulating in the White House on the Russian offering of gifts to kill Americans told The Daily Beast not to contest the accounts suggesting that the information had appeared in at least one PDB. But the source noted that the odds that Trump would read that alone are “substantially zero”.
A former Trump administration official with knowledge of the president’s intelligence briefings said that the assessment of Russian gifts should have been brought directly to the president. But that doesn’t mean it happened.
Within intelligence and the national security community, some officials raised doubts about the methods used to process the assessment and whether the information had been confirmed through other sources. Others believed that intelligence revealed a significant change in Russia’s behavior in Afghanistan and posed an immediate risk to U.S. troops on the ground, according to two individuals read in conversations about intelligence assessment.
Reluctance to inform President Trump face-to-face followed an old and familiar pattern, officials say. Although intelligence officials regularly inform presidents of sensitive issues of which they are not always 100% sure, the top officials in that space and in the national security community have repeatedly chosen to avoid President Trump’s briefing, two current and two former senior officials involved in the briefing process told The Daily Beast.
“If there is evidence … even if of little provenance, there is an option to bring it to the attention of the president, but let him know that it is of little provenance,” said a former senior intelligence official. “If it is less important information, the intelligence community usually wants to have more trust. But the intelligence community always makes their level of trust clear.”
Officials said there is trepidation in informing the president about Russia, in particular, given his past sensitivity on the subject and that there is concern that he may publish on social media about intelligence.
“Trump has little patience for intelligence briefings, especially when the news is not good for him. These briefings take place irregularly and are often free of charge,” said a former official. “It also shows little respect for classified information and could tweet about it, which would run counter to efforts to manage the problem out of the public.”
According to a source with direct knowledge, shortly after Trump became aware of the New York Times story this weekend, had two immediate reactions behind closed doors: it questioned the veracity of the information reported simply because it was printed in the Times, who often denounces as an opponent. And the prospect of more Americans dying from these gifts once again led him to emphasize his desire – and the explicit goal of the campaign – to bring American military personnel out of the country between today and November.
“Why are we still there?” Trump retired privately this weekend as he reacted to the Times reporting, according to this source.
It is unclear how far the President will go in the remaining months of his first term to effectively reduce the already reduced number of troops in Afghanistan, given the savage way in which his impulses and orders in foreign conflicts have oscillated between accelerated violence and requests to end this expensive war forever.
“If President Trump wants to win, he will have to excite his base,” said a source near the White House who informed the administration about foreign policy. “One way to do this is to start bringing troops home from Afghanistan and start delivering on its promises to end these terrible endless wars. I know it’s something he wants to do before election day, even if he just wants to run. “
This individual added that, “The survey on this is overwhelming: it is constantly 70-30 in favor of going out and cutting the party lines. But the main MAGA base in places like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania would be particularly excited about it.”