House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks to reporters next to U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) as House Democrats respond to a White House briefing on reports Russia paid the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. troops during a news conference following the briefing at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., June 30, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

An investigative report from the New York Times has offered credence to U.S. and Afghan security officlals’ assertions that Russia is seeking to undermine American troops and support the Taliban in Afghanistan by means of covert operations.

The report, published on Friday, details the actions of Afghan resident Rahmatullah Azizi, who was named in U.S. intelligence reports as a “key middleman” who distributed Russian bounties to kill U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Azizi is believed to have collected money from the GRU, a Russian military intelligence agency, and paid bounties worth upwards of $100,000 to Taliban-linked militants. Intelligence analysts told the Washington Post that they suspect three Marines who died in Afghanistan last year may have been targets of the Russian operation. 

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, told NBC News that claims of the bounties were “100 percent bulls—,” while U.S. President Donald Trump called reports of the Russian bounties a hoax. Responding to the New York Times in a tweet, Trump said that the Russian bounty report “is just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party. The secret source probably does not even exist, just like the story itself.” Trump added that he was not briefed on the report because security officials did not have any information that would “rise to that level” to necessitate his notification.

National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien later told reporters that the president was not briefed on the Russian bounties report because the information was “uncorroborated.” Fox News similarly reported that while the National Security Council did meet to determine how to respond to the report, Trump was not briefed on the matter.

However, the Associated Press counters that top officials in the Trump administration were aware of the Russian bounties as early as last year and that an intelligence assessment was provided in at least one of the president’s daily written intelligence briefings. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., commented that White House intelligence agencies and aides may have failed at effectively informing the president about the bounties. “If a president doesn’t read briefs, it doesn’t work to give him the product and not tell him what’s in it,” Schiff told NPR.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers are calling on the White House to seek more information about the Russian bounties and potential plans of action.

MEDIA PERSPECTIVE

Russian bounty intel opens new rifts on Capitol Hill – Politico – 6/30/2020
Senior House Democrats left a White House briefing Tuesday morning saying they were given no “substantive information” about intelligence that the Kremlin paid Taliban militants to kill American troops overseas and allegations that President Donald Trump sat on the information for months.But Senate Republicans took a much different tack — emphasizing that intelligence agencies had not come to a consensus on the matter, and blasting “illegal leaks” to The New York Times and other publications that first reported on the disturbing intelligence assessments.They also defendedTrump over his claims that he was unaware of the matter before it was reported publicly last week.

Pelosi denies prior knowledge of Russia bounty reports: ‘Intelligence community should have brought it to us’ – Fox News – 7/2/2020
The intelligence assessment reached the White House, the president’s written daily brief and the National Security Council and was even shared with the British government since its troops were also targeted, the newspaper reported. When asked Thursday if the Gang of Eight had also been briefed, Pelosi said they should have been.

Lindsey Graham Uses Benghazi to Defend Trump on Russian Bounties – The Daily Beast – 7/2/2020
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was among the loudest Republican voices in Congress screaming about the attack on U.S. diplomats in Benghazi, Libya back in 2012. But he apparently has no problem with President Donald Trump’s decision to ignore intelligence about Russian bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan. 

John Bolton says he would have briefed Trump on alleged Russian bounty intelligence – Axios – 7/1/2020
“The purpose of the briefing process is to meet the particular needs of the president and present it to him in the way that best suits his desires,” Bolton said. “The problem with Donald Trump is not that he is not receptive to one means or another. He’s just not receptive to new facts.”

Russian Bounties on U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan Fit Right Into Putin’s Playbook – World Politics Review – 7/2/2020
Observers have paid much less attention to whether this is the kind of operation Russia would run—and why Moscow might undertake activities so brazen that if discovered, they might qualify as a casus belli, risking armed confrontation or at least a sharp deterioration in already frayed ties with the United States and the West.

INFLUENCER PERSPECTIVE

S. Picard, Proud Deplorable on Twitter, 7/2/2020: @RepAdamSchiff knew about the Russian bounties, but, didn’t tell anyone? Really @HouseDemocrats @SpeakerPelosi is this because you were more concerned with impeaching @POTUS than protecting our military?

Covie on Twitter, 7/2/2020:  Whatever Vladimir Putin has on Donald Trump must be pretty devastating. I mean how can the US President know that Russia is paying bounties to kill US troops and his response is to do nothing at all.

Donald J. Trump on Twitter, 7/1/2020:  “No corroborating evidence to back reports.” Department of Defense. Do people still not understand that this is all a made up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican Party. I was never briefed because any info that they may have had did not rise to that level

American Bridge on Twitter, 7/2/2020:  One of these is true: Donald Trump ignored the intelligence on Russian bounties to give Putin a pass OR he ignored it out of sheer incompetence. Both scenarios are an indictment of a dangerous administration that tragically failed to keep our troops safe.

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