Monday, June 29, 2020

Ukraine Was Small Potatoes

Via the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — United States intelligence officers and Special Operations forces in Afghanistan alerted their superiors as early as January to a suspected Russian plot to pay bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan, according to officials briefed on the matter. They believed at least one U.S. troop death was the result of the bounties, two of the officials said.

The crucial information that led the spies and commandos to focus on the bounties included the recovery of a large amount of American cash from a raid on a Taliban outpost that prompted suspicions. Interrogations of captured militants and criminals played a central role in making the intelligence community confident in its assessment that the Russians had offered and paid bounties in 2019, another official has said.

Armed with this information, military and intelligence officials have been reviewing American and other coalition combat casualties over the past 18 months to determine whether any were victims of the plot. Four Americans were killed in combat in early 2020, but the Taliban have not attacked American positions since a February agreement to end the long-running war in Afghanistan.

The details added to the picture of the classified intelligence assessment, which The New York Times reported Friday has been under discussion inside the Trump administration since at least March, and emerged as the White House confronted a growing chorus of criticism on Sunday over its apparent failure to authorize a response to Russia.

Mr. Trump defended himself by denying the Times report that he had been briefed on the intelligence, expanding on a similar White House rebuttal a day earlier. But leading congressional Democrats and some Republicans demanded a response to Russia that, according to officials, the administration has yet to authorize.

The president “needs to immediately expose and handle this, and stop Russia’s shadow war,” Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois and a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote on Twitter.

Appearing on the ABC program “This Week,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she had not been briefed on the intelligence assessment and had asked for an immediate report to Congress. She accused Mr. Trump of wanting “to ignore” any charges against Russia.

“Russia has never gotten over the humiliation they suffered in Afghanistan, and now they are taking it out on us, our troops,” she said of the Soviet Union’s bloody war there in the 1980s. “This is totally outrageous. You would think that the minute the president heard of it, he would want to know more instead of denying that he knew anything.”

Spokespeople for the C.I.A., the director of national intelligence and the Pentagon declined to comment on the new findings. A National Security Council spokesman, John L. Ullyot, said in a statement on Sunday night, “The veracity of the underlying allegations continues to be evaluated.”

Mr. Trump said Sunday night on Twitter that “Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP.” One senior administration official offered a similar explanation, saying that Mr. Trump was not briefed because the intelligence agencies had come to no consensus on the findings.

But another official said there was broad agreement that the intelligence assessment was accurate, with some complexities because different aspects of the intelligence — including interrogations and surveillance data — resulted in some differences among agencies in how much confidence to put in each type.

Several geological ages ago — last December — Congress impeached Trump over his coercion of Ukraine in order to get dirt on Joe Biden. In the aftermath of the pandemic, the economic collapse, and the racial unrest brought about by criminal activities in several police departments, we should be so lucky as to have the problem of quid pro quo between Ukraine and the United States. But this is the real deal.

Adam L. Silverman in Balloon Juice:

If it was in the Presidential Daily Brief and neither the President, nor the Vice President read it because they can’t be bothered to read them, then they are derelict in their duties and need to be removed from their positions. What we know now is not the end of this story. I expect more information will come out, it will continue to be damning, and the President and his surrogates will try to ignore the underlying reality while lashing out at those who are reporting it. All while we have US and allied coalition forces in contact with the enemy in Afghanistan. An enemy that is being monetarily incentivized to kill them by the GRU/Russian military intelligence. If this failure to do anything to make Russia stop what they’re doing, from the most basic issuance of a démarche telling Putin to stop, let alone anything resembling real pushback, is not a clear example of a high crime and misdemeanor, then nothing is.