A bombshell report in the New York Times over the weekend says the United States intelligence community has evidence that Russian officers offered to pay Taliban-linked militants in Afghanistan bounties to kill coalition forces, including Americans, according to officials briefed on the matter.
The intelligence was also reportedly shared with congressional leaders as well as the British government, NBC News reports. The intelligence was reportedly collected in part through interviews with Afghan detainees, and was available as early as January from military and intelligence sources in Afghanistan, however, NBC says they were unable to verify how convincing the data was for officials. The report did not describe how the operation worked, or how targets were chosen and money exchanged.
News of the bounties was reportedly included in the President's Daily Brief, which is a written summary of the latest information on sensitive national security matters. The findings were briefed to President Donald Trump and the White House's National Security Council during a meeting in late March, according to the New York Times report. Officials offered a variety of potential responses, including sanctions or a diplomatic complaint to Moscow, however, the White House has not yet authorized any steps.
However, President Trump denied receiving any such report in a tweet on Sunday, which was confirmed by National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe.
"Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP. Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News @nytimesbooks, wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!" Trump wrote on Twitter Sunday.
Democrats, including the presumptive Democratic nominee for President, former Vice President Joe Biden, sharply criticized Trump over the weekend for the lack of response to the New York Times report.
“Not only has he failed to sanction or impose any kind of consequences on Russia for this egregious violation of international law, Donald Trump has continued his embarrassing campaign of deference and debasing himself before Vladimir Putin,” Biden told an audience during a virtual town hall event held by the group Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote.On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi requested an all-House briefing from the Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe and Central Intelligence Agency on the New York Times report.
“Congress and the country need answers now. I therefore request an interagency brief for all House Members immediately. Congress needs to know what the intelligence community knows about this significant threat to American troops and our allies and what options are available to hold Russia accountable.”
Experts say should the information about Russia paying bounties to kill coalition forces turn out to be true, it would be biggest escalation in U.S.-Russia tensions since the Cold War ended.
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