Secret service reports of Russian bounty payments to US soldiers spark outrage in Washington. Donald Trump does not want to have known anything about all of this. How can that be?
The American President is usually informed of new intelligence information every morning. The so-called “President’s Daily Brief” is a top secret, concise document on national security issues.
It is mandatory reading – or at least it was until three and a half years ago.
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Donald Trump has limited interest in the written presentations. According to numerous media reports, the president does not like to read, he would rather be informed orally. But recently, the appointments for the secret service briefing in its publicly accessible diaries became rarer. They therefore fail on many days.
Whether the president really perceives what his secret services are presenting is a hot topic in Washington these days. Because Trump is under severe criticism. Reports of alleged bounty payments in Afghanistan are causing outrage. The Russian military secret service GRU is said to have offered premiums for attacks on NATO soldiers, particularly British and Americans, to fighters close to the Taliban.
“The President reads very well”
According to media reports, the intelligence of this agency was already in the “President’s Daily Brief” at the end of February – but the White House claims that the information did not reach Trump. On Tuesday, his spokeswoman said: “The president is reading very well.” This also applies to intelligence reports. (You can see your statement in the video above or here.)
The extraordinary statement was obviously necessary, because in Washington the debate focuses on these questions: What did Trump really know about the allegations against Russia, which would mean an escalation in the American-Russian confrontation, far beyond Afghanistan? If he really didn’t know about it, how can that be? And if he did know: Why did he apparently let the Russians allow?
Interrogation, cash, traces of transfers
The affair was triggered by a report in the “New York Times” on Friday evening. Several US media followed suit and it is now clear that there have been intelligence reports on such bounty payments since the beginning of the year. According to reports, the information comes from interrogations in Afghanistan, from a large cash find in a Taliban hideaway and also from traces of large money transfers from an account that is said to belong to the GRU. In this context, a car bomb attack is being investigated, in which three US marine soldiers were killed in April 2019.
In March, the White House National Security Council discussed possible countermeasures against Russia. Even the British were informed about it last week. All without the President’s knowledge?
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The White House argues that there have been differing views on the quality of intelligence information, so the president was not informed directly. Trump himself now publicly questioned the value of the information.
NSA vs. CIA
In fact, the NSA, which is responsible for electronic surveillance, is more skeptical of the facts than the CIA, which relies more on human informants in its work. This reports the “Wall Street Journal”. There are more than a dozen US intelligence agencies and they often judge information differently – but that’s usually not a sufficient reason for the intelligence coordinator to withhold such information from the President in the Daily Brief.
The revelations cause incomprehension and anger in Washington. Challenger Joe Biden accused Commander-in-Chief Trump of violating his official duties on Tuesday for failing to protect his soldiers. The surprise among Trump’s party friends is also great. Senior Republican Liz Cheney from the House of Representatives asked the White House for explanations as to who knew when and “what was done in response to protect our troops and hold Putin accountable.”
On Monday, the White House began to teach MPs about the allegations behind closed doors. The fact that the Kremlin and the Taliban denied the reports makes no impression in Washington.
Here Trump lies cross-wise with his government
The case highlights two policy areas in which Trump and his government apparatus always cross over: the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the dealings with Russia.
Trump wants to pull the US soldiers out of Afghanistan, better yesterday than today. A large proportion of the troops are expected to come home before the presidential election in November – it was one of his campaign promises. Following the signing of a basic peace agreement in February, talks with the Taliban and intra-Afghan negotiations have stalled.
Trump even wanted to invite a Taliban delegation to the Camp David Presidency last year, just in early September, three days before the anniversary of September 11, which had originally led to the war in Afghanistan. After an outcry within his apparatus, Trump put the idea aside.
A sensitive topic just kept silent?
Trump’s lenient handling of Russian President Vladimir Putin is well known. For example, the US President repeatedly publicly doubts his intelligence agencies’ insights into Russian election interference. Trump often sees reports of Russia’s activities as a flaw in his 2016 election victory.
According to a report from the Washington Post in 2017, this dynamic has gone so far that the Secret Service officials are inclined to omit the topic of Russia entirely in their briefing – because the president is so sensitive to it.
There is no official confirmation of this and may never be. But at the current guesswork, the report could provide at least a reasonably plausible indication of why Trump might not have known about the explosive reports of Russian bounty payments.