Posted On 28 Jun 2020
WASHINGTON — The U.S. has gathered intelligence that Russian intelligence officers have offered to pay bounties to Taliban fighters who kill Americans, three people briefed on the matter told NBC News.
The intelligence has been shared with Congressional leaders and with the British government, the sources said. However, a senior defense official downplayed the intelligence reporting to NBC News, saying there was no evidence any bounty was actually paid.
The intelligence news was first reported by The New York Times, which said that “the intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump,” who on Sunday denied receiving the briefing. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe also denied the story late Saturday.
According to The Times, the reporting was described in the President’s Daily Brief, a written summary of high-level national security matters. NBC News has not confirmed whether Trump was given a briefing on the matter, but it would be unusual if top officials did not verbally brief the president on something this explosive.
Former national security adviser John Bolton told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that it would be “disturbing” if officials hadn’t briefed the president on the matter.
NBC News’ sources were not able to make clear how persuasive the intelligence is. One source told The Times that the assessment was based in part on interviews with Afghan detainees. That alone would not prove the case, but the U.S. would almost certainly have tried to get communications intercepts from the Russians that shed light. In the past, the National Security Agency has had success penetrating Russia’s military intelligence unit, the GRU.
One intelligence official told NBC News that the report isn’t particularly surprising given the fraught history between the U.S. and Russia. The U.S. armed Afghan fighters with missiles to shoot down Russian helicopters in the 1980s when Russia was fighting in Afghanistan, part of a CIA covert action that killed many Russians. In 2018, U.S. forces killed a number of Russian mercenaries who were operating with pro-regime forces in Syria.
But other experts have said that if true, this is a serious escalation in Russia’s post-Cold War actions against the U.S.