Russian Bounty Suspicions Were Supported by Financial Data


michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is “The Daily.”

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Today: A Times investigation has revealed proof of a secret Russian operation to kill American troopers in Afghanistan — and the failure of the Trump administration to behave on that proof. I spoke with my colleague Eric Schmitt, one of many reporters who broke the unique story, about what we all know now.

It’s Wednesday, July 1.

Eric, how is it that the U.S. first discovered that Russia was as much as one thing in Afghanistan?

eric schmitt

So, Michael, about six months in the past or so, U.S. commandos, working with Afghan allies, perform a raid on a Taliban safehouse. And they made a exceptional discovery. They discovered some $500,000 in American cash inside this safehouse. Now, to make certain, occasionally after they do these form of raids, you discover weapons and you discover other forms of issues. Even some cash. But the navy sources that we’ve talked to stated they’d by no means seen such a big haul. I imply, what would these guys be doing with $500,000? How did they get it, and what was it going for use for? So this set off numerous questions.

And as they conduct different raids, the commandos, C.I.A., different authorities in Afghanistan, they seize the cell telephones of various fighters — Taliban fighters — and so they begin exploiting that to see if there’s any clues within the cell telephones which may lead them again to the supply of this cash. But maybe one among most essential issues that occurs is after they seize a few essential senior Taliban and Taliban-related figures. And after all, that’s one of many first issues they wish to ask these operatives is are you aware something about this cash?

michael barbaro

And what do the militants say?

eric schmitt

They had a exceptional story to inform. That this was cash that that they had been paid. That they’d been paid by a secretive Russian navy intelligence unit for the specific goal of killing American, British and different coalition forces in Afghanistan.

But these investigators, they had been looking round for different proof — learn how to hyperlink all this collectively as a result of, after all, how do you assess that these Taliban guys weren’t telling lies or some form of disinformation?

And then investigators discovered of one thing else that sealed the deal, that appeared to form of be the glue that pieced all these disparate elements collectively. And that was intercepts. Basically digital intercepts of the monetary transactions themselves from this Russian navy intelligence unit, all the way down to the Afghans on the bottom who’re the intermediaries, who’re mainly managing this program for them there. And then onto the killers themselves earlier than they had been dispatched to focus on the American forces there.

Essentially, it was an digital paper path, receipts if you’ll, for companies requested and companies rendered. This turned a really compelling argument that the navy C.I.A. and different authorities in Afghanistan began placing collectively.

michael barbaro

And a really severe conclusion, as a result of from what you’re describing, U.S. intelligence officers usually are not simply placing collectively a idea that this cash was provided to Taliban fighters to go after Americans — to mainly kill them for rent — however that cash had really been paid out to them, suggesting that such killings had occurred.

eric schmitt

That’s proper. This wasn’t simply in idea, however there was the concept that they’d really recovered among the proceeds that the Russians had paid the Afghans to hold out this mission. So clearly the following process was to determine what deaths might have been really the results of this marketing campaign.

michael barbaro

And do we’ve got a solution?

eric schmitt

So the navy and the intelligence officers working with Afghan officers began trying again over completely different assaults to see which seemed suspicious. And their attentions centered on one particularly: three Marines who had been killed on a patrol simply outdoors of Bagram Air Base. They had been patrolling on a standard day when a big automotive bomb mainly blew up. And that is one thing that the navy continues to be figuring out, simply what the hyperlinks had been, if any, to this program, this assault. But it was suspicious, and it could have had the hallmarks of this program and among the receipts tying again to it.

michael barbaro

And, Eric, within the minds of those intelligence officers who’re beginning to piece this Russian bounty system collectively, why would Russia do that? I imply, why would they pay the Taliban to kill U.S. troopers?

eric schmitt

Well, Michael, I feel you need to return within the historical past of the U.S. and Russia and Afghanistan, basically to the very finish of the Cold War, the place within the late 1980s, the C.I.A. secretly armed the Mujahideen resistance in opposition to the Soviet Union, which had invaded and occupied Afghanistan for practically a decade. And the United States helped speed up the departure of Soviet troopers from Afghanistan.

Fast ahead to after 9/11 when it’s the U.S. that invades Afghanistan. Russians desire a steady authorities there. They don’t like Al Qaeda any greater than the United States does. And so for some years, there’s really some cooperation between Moscow and Washington.

Until just a few years in the past, when President Putin of Russia begins to turn into disillusioned with the U.S. plan in Afghanistan, doesn’t consider it’s going to work, and begins — behind the backs of the U.S. — to assist the Taliban. To present weapons, arms the Taliban, who’re nonetheless preventing the United States. And so we begin to see this break the place Russia is mainly on the lookout for methods to inflict ache on the United States, and perhaps even speed up the U.S. departure from Afghanistan, simply as a long time earlier than the U.S. had achieved to the Soviet Union.

So if you happen to put that framework, the place Russia is now on the lookout for a approach to change the United States as the facility within Afghanistan, and humiliate the United States on the identical time, this bounty program begins to make just a little little bit of sense. If this secretive navy intelligence unit can put bounties on the heads of American troopers, enhance the variety of casualties, presumably that might additionally stir unrest again within the United States — already struggle weary after 20 years of battle in Afghanistan. So the Russian idea is, why not simply pace that departure alongside? We take the U.S.‘s place and we humiliate Washington and President Trump within the course of.

michael barbaro

And I assume the rationale why Russia would flip to a intermediary, the Taliban, on it’s because it might by no means wish to assault U.S. troopers by itself in Afghanistan, simply the best way the U.S. didn’t wish to ever assault Russian troopers instantly within the 1980s.

eric schmitt

That’s proper. You rent mainly cutouts to do your soiled work, and it’s very exhausting for the opposite aspect to show that you simply’re accountable. When it’s murky like this and you’ve got Afghan intermediaries, criminals on the bottom, and cash’s passing forwards and backwards, Russians would have believable deniability to say, oh, maybe we had been simply supporting them for different goals. There’s no proof that we had been behind this.

michael barbaro

But Eric, even so, even with a intermediary cutout, as you simply known as it, I’ve to think about that this sort of an operation by Russia may be very dangerous and represents a reasonably vital escalation by Russia.

eric schmitt

Absolutely, Michael. Any time you will have a international energy, a lot much less one like Russia, focusing on American service members — American troops on the bottom — that may be a very severe factor.

michael barbaro

Right as a result of that is, in its personal approach, virtually a form of act of struggle.

eric schmitt

Absolutely. That’s the best way many individuals would see it. Just as a result of Russia could be utilizing intermediaries or henchmen to do that, they’re those accountable. They’re those setting these killings in movement in the event that they’ve occurred. They’re those which can be basically bribing the killers to hold out the assaults, and that’s one thing that’s very, very severe. And the Pentagon and the White House must tackle it.

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michael barbaro

We’ll be proper again.

So Eric, in your reporting on this Russian bounty operation, what do you find out about how the White House, how the Pentagon decides to answer the conclusion of the intelligence businesses that this operation exists?

eric schmitt

So this evaluation that’s been put collectively by the C.I.A. and the navy special-operations forces in Afghanistan begins to make its approach up the chain of command into Washington, someday in late January, early February maybe. And it’s very carefully held. This is among the most delicate intelligence within the American authorities, each due to the ramifications if it’s true that Russia has put a bounty on American troopers heads, and the political sensitivity that something to do with Russia has with this administration and particularly this White House. And that evaluation is severe sufficient that it makes its approach into what’s known as the presidential day by day briefing. This is the compendium of prime intelligence and information gadgets. It’s put collectively day-after-day for the president to learn. President Trump shouldn’t be recognized to learn it fairly often, very a lot. He depends extra on verbal briefings, oral briefings.

But by February 27, our sources inform us, it was in that doc. About a month later, on the finish of March, the National Security Council, the nationwide safety arm of the White House, holds its first assembly to debate the intelligence evaluation. It’s representatives from the State Department, from the Pentagon, from the C.I.A., from across the authorities who can weigh in in regards to the influence this might need, and most essential, the choices. How ought to the United States authorities reply to this? And the choices which can be mentioned at this assembly in late March embrace all the pieces from sending Moscow a stern letter — mainly stop and desist or else — all the best way as much as sanctions, financial sanctions on prime of these already imposed on Moscow which have been confirmed efficient in damaging their financial system.

We don’t know if President Trump was briefed on any of those choices. But we do know that his administration didn’t authorize any form of motion in response. Nothing has occurred up to now because of this evaluation.

So that’s the best way issues stood for a lot of weeks, that this was very tightly held data on the most senior ranges of the federal government, till late final week —

archived recording

This is kind of beautiful. Here’s the lead.

eric schmitt

— when the Times revealed a serious investigation that mainly spelled out all the pieces we’ve simply been discussing.

archived recording

A New York Times report alleges Russia provided bounties to the Taliban in alternate for killing U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

michael barbaro

And what was the speedy response to all that data?

archived recording

Well, look, I’m sick to my abdomen over this.

eric schmitt

Well, the speedy response was one among surprised disbelief —

archived recording

Sick to my abdomen as a member of Congress, a patriot, but additionally somebody who served in Afghanistan —

archived recording (nancy pelosi)

This is as dangerous because it will get.

eric schmitt

— each by Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

archived recording (nancy pelosi)

And but the president is not going to confront the Russians on this rating.

archived recording

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, he stated, quote, “imperative Congress get to the bottom of recent media reports.”

archived recording (chuck schumer)

Where is President Trump? His number-one job is to guard American troopers.

eric schmitt

There was outrage that if certainly this bounty program had existed, what was the United States authorities doing about it? How had been they defending their troopers, to begin with, in Afghanistan? And what steps had been being taken to punish the Russians?

archived recording (chuck schumer)

He ought to have a plan. What are we doing? And above all, go after Putin.

eric schmitt

Because that is at a time when President Trump has continued to hold out conversations with President Putin. In truth, just some weeks in the past —

archived recording (donald trump)

The downside is lots of the issues that we discuss are about Putin.

eric schmitt

— he invited Russia to affix the G8 convention in Washington —

archived recording (donald trump)

Then I say have him within the room. Have him within the room.

eric schmitt

— a lot to the disbelief of European allies and even a few of his personal Republican supporters right here within the United States.

archived recording (donald trump)

So we’ve got a G7. He’s not there. Half of the assembly is dedicated to Russia. And if he was there, it might be a lot simpler to resolve.

eric schmitt

So as this data breaks, it breaks in opposition to a backdrop of the president persevering with to get pleasure from, in his view, very heat relations with Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

michael barbaro

And how does the White House clarify this? I imply not solely not responding to this Russian bounty program, however really rising nearer to Russia and to Vladimir Putin after our authorities had reached this conclusion.

archived recording (kayleigh mcenany)

Hello, everybody.

eric schmitt

The White House’s speedy response is —

archived recording (kayleigh mcenany)

— The C.I.A. director, N.S.A., National Security Adviser, and the chief of employees can all verify that neither the president nor the vp had been briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence.

eric schmitt

— that President Trump was by no means briefed on this. He by no means had a briefing from the C.I.A. director, from his nationwide safety adviser, from his director of nationwide intelligence, and thus how may he have made any determination on it?

archived recording (kayleigh mcenany)

There isn’t any consensus throughout the intelligence neighborhood on these allegations. And, in impact, there are dissenting opinions from some within the intelligence neighborhood almost about the veracity of what’s being reported.

eric schmitt

The White House press secretary is saying that the rationale he wasn’t briefed was as a result of there was no consensus among the many intelligence businesses on what to temporary him about.

archived recording (adam schiff)

We have to unravel these reviews. I’m going to be briefed on the White House tomorrow. I’m asking that my total committee be briefed by the intel businesses and —

eric schmitt

Democrats and Republicans each demand briefings from the president’s prime advisers on what the intelligence report says.

archived recording (adam schiff)

But is that this one other state of affairs the place the president both was informed and simply rejects it —

eric schmitt

And what the president knew and when he knew it.

archived recording (adam schiff)

— or his individuals are too scared to inform him as a result of it contradicts this narrative of Vladimir Putin being his buddy?

eric schmitt

What his aides knew and after they knew it. And if the president actually wasn’t briefed, why wasn’t he briefed?

michael barbaro

Right, as a result of the pondering is that the president realizing and never performing is extraordinarily problematic. But the president not realizing is problematic as nicely, as a result of what would it not say about an administration if the president was someway not informed this data or didn’t digest it?

eric schmitt

That’s proper. There’s no good reply for the White House on this. Either the president was informed and he doesn’t bear in mind, he wasn’t informed as a result of his aides feared what his response could be, or he was informed and simply dismissed it, as a result of he didn’t consider the intelligence as a result of it concerned adverse reporting on Russia. You have to recollect this has occurred earlier than. You assume again to the allegations that Russia meddled within the 2016 elections.

archived recording

Just now, President Putin denied having something to do with the election interference in 2016.

eric schmitt

And when requested about this at a information convention in Helsinki —

archived recording

Would you now, with the entire world watching, inform President Putin, would you denounce what occurred in 2016, and would you warn him to by no means do it once more?

eric schmitt

President Trump turned to President Putin.

archived recording (donald trump)

I’ve President Putin. He simply stated it’s not Russia. I’ll say this. I don’t see any purpose why it might be. But I actually —

eric schmitt

He stated, I consider him over my intelligence businesses. This has a special really feel to it although. So typically we’ve seen the previous about among the president’s utterances and judgments and tweets which have form of fallen into partisan camps, and folks can say what he actually meant or not. This is one thing completely different. This is about troopers’ lives in Afghanistan. This is about someone’s brother, someone’s husband, someone’s daughter who’re on the entrance traces in Afghanistan. And Trump, because the commander in chief, doesn’t care sufficient to take the temporary? Doesn’t care sufficient to learn the intelligence about this? Or his aides don’t assume he’ll? Something as sacrosanct because the American soldier in hurt’s approach within the battlefields of Afghanistan, the White House doesn’t have its again? The president doesn’t have their backs? That’s one thing very, very troubling certainly, if true.

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michael barbaro

Thank you, Eric.

eric schmitt

Thank you.

michael barbaro

We’ll be proper again.

Here’s what else you could know at present.

archived recording (elizabeth warren)

Dr. Fauci, primarily based on what you’re seeing now, what number of Covid-19 deaths and infections ought to America count on earlier than that is throughout?

archived recording (anthony fauci)

I can’t make an correct prediction, however it will be very disturbing. I’ll assure you that as a result of when you will have an outbreak —

michael barbaro

During his newest look earlier than Congress on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned lawmakers that the variety of new infections within the U.S. may greater than double if present circumstances persist.

archived recording (anthony fauci)

We can’t simply deal with these areas which can be having the surge. It places your complete nation in danger. We at the moment are having 40-plus thousand new instances a day. I’d not be stunned if we go as much as 100,000 a day if this doesn’t flip round, and so I’m very involved.

michael barbaro

His warning comes as a surge of infections within the South and West now lengthen to the Midwest, the place six states are recording greater an infection charges. Overall, U.S. infections have elevated 80 % over the previous two weeks.

And in a carefully watched Senate major in Kentucky, Amy McGrath, the average alternative of the Democratic Party institution, has narrowly defeated Charles Booker, a liberal challenger who harnessed rising public anger over police brutality. McGrath will now face Republican Senator Mitch McConnell within the fall. In its remaining weeks, the Kentucky major had turn into a referendum on the way forward for the Democratic Party, and whether or not the outcry over race and policing may affect the end result of an election. Despite dropping, Booker received practically 43 % of the vote.

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That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.



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