The New York Times correctly reported on Friday that U.S. intelligence officials believe Russia’s GRU intelligence service paid the Taliban to attack coalition forces in Afghanistan. But even as he hasn’t refuted the reporting, the director of national intelligence has confirmed the White House’s statement that President Trump did not receive intelligence briefings on the matter. . .
That said, the New York Times’s reporting is broadly accurate. I have moderate-high confidence that illuminating the GRU operation has been best enabled by very closely guarded CIA reporting. However, the other keystone Russia-collection agency, the NSA, appears to have been unable to corroborate the CIA’s reporting with their own signal collection efforts. This means that the United States currently lacks a direct operational link from the plot to the Kremlin (which would figure because communicating with Moscow would trigger attention from various U.S. intelligence capabilities) having been established. Whether the Taliban have actually carried out any attacks at the GRU’s specific behest is also unclear.
This context would explain why the Office of the Director of National Intelligence didn’t add the GRU cash-for-killing plot into its briefings for Trump. To make it into the presidential daily brief, the daily intelligence product produced by the DNI for the president and other top officials, intelligence reporting must address an imminent concern or be assessed as very reliable (“high confidence”). The DNI doesn’t want to report things to Trump that it’s not very confident about already.
Moreover, Trump’s presidential daily briefs will have previously included reporting on GRU operations targeting American interests in Afghanistan. This Russian effort, directed by Vladimir Putin, centers on GRU and the SVR efforts to see the Taliban and other groups escalate their hostile activities.
The Kremlin’s strategic objective is to bleed the U.S. of life, prestige, and treasure, and ultimately pressure us out of Afghanistan. Putin also wishes to detach the Afghan government from Western interests. In turn, it’s important to note that the GRU cash-for-killings concern is just one slice of a big Russian intelligence cake in Afghanistan. Alongside its apparent engaging of the Taliban to kill American and coalition soldiers, the GRU has supported the group with arms, money, and intelligence material to enable its attacks and improve its operational security. (Read more from “The Likely Reason Trump Wasn’t Briefed on Russia’s Taliban Plot” HERE)