From the unlikely duo of Antiwar.com and the Wall Street Journal comes a dissent from the leaked intelligence reports that Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU, offered bounty payments to Taliban commanders who killed U.S. servicemen in Afghanistan.
The National Security Agency and the CIA differed on the intelligence, with NSA analysts concluding the evidence wasn’t there. CIA director Gina Haspel has made an opaque statement confirming that the agency has collected and disseminated reports on the subject.
The Journal cites “people familiar with the matter” and does not give much detail, but the story is noteworthy, as the NSA has dissented from other agencies in the past over allegations against Russia. A January 2017 intelligence assessment that concluded Russia interfered in the 2016 election on President Trump’s behalf was given “high confidence” by the CIA and FBI while the NSA gave “moderate confidence.”
Dave Decamp of Antiwar.com notes other news organizations have reported the same thing.
Another account of the NSA not giving much weight to this intelligence was given to CBS News reporter Catherine Herridge on Monday. An unnamed intelligence official told Herridge that the NSA deemed a report on the Russian bounties “uncorroborated.” The official said the report “does not match well-established and verifiable Taliban and Haqqani practices” and lacks “sufficient reporting to corroborate any links.”
On Monday, Gina Haspel made a rare public statement. It contained both a small favor and a veiled rebuke to President Trump. It was an intelligence agency kind of statement: opaque in verbiage but clear in meaning if you know the coded language of White House-Langley relations.
The CIA director didn’t comment on the multiplying reports that the Trump White House has known for months, if not a year, about CIA reports that a Russian military intelligence unit offered bounties to Afghan rebels who killed American soldiers.
But in two paragraphs of bureaucratic boilerplate, Haspel all but confirmed that the CIA delivered timely, sensitive information about the bounty offer to the White House. That was the rebuke. The veiled message was gift-wrapped with language criticizing leaks that might appeal to the president and his loyalists. That was the small favor.
Here’s how Haspel put it:
“When developing intelligence assessments, initial tactical reports often require additional collection and validation.
In other words, the CIA needs time to corroborate real threats to U.S. forces. But, she added, CIA distributes preliminary intelligence findings widely to increase readiness.
In general, preliminary Force Protection information is shared throughout the national security community—and with U.S. allies—as part of our ongoing efforts to ensure the safety of coalition forces overseas.
The clear implication is that recent news reports on the Russian bounty have described this internal CIA process. Haspel does not say those reports were inaccurate. She said:
Leaks compromise and disrupt the critical interagency work to collect, assess, and ascribe culpability.
This is pretty standard fare for a CIA director, and Haspel sound any alarms, so the embattled president may not be appeased. Haspel went on to underscore the agency’s position that the Russian threat in Afghanistan was real.
Hostile states’ use of proxies in war zones to inflict damage on U.S. interests and troops is a constant, longstanding concern.
Haspel stressed the CIA only brief “reliable intelligence,” and she said the CIA was determined to protect American forces.
CIA will continue to pursue every lead; analyze the information we collect with critical, objective eyes; and brief reliable intelligence to protect U.S. forces deployed around the world.”
Which begs the questions everybody is asking: Was President Trump determined to protect American troops? Or his friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin?
In her twenty five months as director, Haspel has zig-zagged between staking out independent positions from Trump and currying favor with him.
Much to the annoyance of the White House, Haspel backed the CIA’s finding that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, friend and business partner of Jared Kushner, ordered the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. When Haspel testified accurately in January 2019, that Iran remained in compliance with the international nuclear pact, Trump threw a hissy fit.
Other times, Haspel curries favor with Trump. Once, in an unbidden public statement, she described him as an “engaged and knowledgable” consumer of intelligence, a claim no fact checker can verify. Haspel stood and cheered during Trump’s State of the Union address, something that, by tradition, generals and Supreme Court justices and CIA directors never do. Her “hero worship” betrayed the agency’s mission, said one ex-officer.
Now she seems to be tacking away from Trump as he struggles to explain his response to the CIA’s reports.
The 21st century has been very good to the world’s spies. Since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, secret intelligence agencies have increased their power and influence in countries as diverse as the United States, Russia,Turkey,Saudi Arabia, and Israel.
What these spy services have in common is secrecy, techniques, and elaborate emblems to signal their mission. They are a physical reality. They are clandestine bureaucracies, housed in office building and military compounds in all of the major capitals of the world. Their personnel are engaged in
not to mention, assassination, and drone wars.
In short, intelligence services inform and protect. They also subvert and destroy.
After the Israeli government’s decision to bar Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from visiting Israel and Palestine, the 2020 Democratic presidential contenders rallied around the two congresswomen, and the Israeli government did not favor to its supporters in the party.
With a blatant show of support for President Trump’s strategy of racial polarization, Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahu not only signaled his government’s support for Trump in the 2020 election. He also served to unify an often-fractious Democratic party around a more anti-Israel message that resonates across the party’s left-center spectrum.
Israel’s early intervention in the 2020 campaign is not like the more subtle underhanded approaches that President Putin and his Russian agents used to help the Trump campaign in 2016. Netanyahu’s gambit isn’t the IRA troll factory exposed by Robert Mueller. In Israel’s case, the prime minister is troll factory.
The social media binary tends to divide Democrats into two hostile camps on the question of foreign interference in the 2020 election. Centrists and their cable TV spokesmen, see Russia state interference as the primary threat, while leftists deprecate Russia’s secret and extensive efforts to help Trump and complain that Saudi and Israeli interference is actually much greater.
The partisans of this war do their best to convince each other and the public that the differences in the party are apocalyptic: Rachel Maddow is “Russia conspiracy theorist.” No, Tulsi Gabbard is “a Russian agent.” In reality, there’s less of a contradiction than the rhetoric suggests.
It should now be clear that the Russian, Israeli and Saudi governments are all authoritarian regimes that are seeking to keep authoritarian Trump in power. All of these governments–and their intelligence services–intend to “interfere” in the United States 2020 presidential election, that is to say, they will take secret action in order to secure a second term for Trump.
The Pro-Trump Axis
It is not “anti-semitic” to say that Netanyahu is scheming against American democracy. It is not a “hoax” to say Putin (and operatives like Yevgeny Prigozhin) want to hobble Democrats and help Trump. It is not a “conspiracy theory” to say the Saudis run influence operations in Washington. Rather, there is abundant evidence that the three pro-Trump powers will likely extend covert assistance to the man in the White House.
To be sure, Israeli, Russian, and Saudi interests diverge in some areas. Russia has no interest in the U.S-Saudi-Israeli campaign against Iran. When Trump claimed Iran shot down a U.S. drone in international air space, Russia sided with Tehran. Russia state media promotes Tulsi Gabbard. Israeli and Saudi media demonize her.
But the pro-Trump axis has enough commonalities that Democrat need not bicker about the details. Putin and Steve Bannon, apostle of Trumpism, are making common cause with the populist right in Europe. So is Netanyahu.
Their methods can be lethal. Two GRU officers were dispatched to assassinate turncoat agent Sergey Skripal; Saudi intelligence officers were involved in the liquidation of regime critic Jamal Khashoggi. The Israelis assassinated five Iranian nuclear scientists.
And they have infrastructure. Just as Israel has a burgeoning spy ware industry fostered by the Israeli intelligence services, so Russia’s GRU has created at least two hacking units to wage cyber war. Both act in their own national interests, against Trump’s opponents in the United States.
Thanks to Netanyahu, it has never been more respectable for Democrats to criticize Israel. From the corporate Obama-Clinton center to the progressive and bleeding-edge socialist left, Israel is now under fire. The disgrace of a president and a prime minister who prevented an American representative from visiting her 90 year old grandmother for the sake of racist political advantage is something that Democrats can agree on.
To be sure, the Israel lobby remains powerful in the party. Many Democrats in Congress are on record with doubts about the legitimacy and the viability of the BDS (Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment) movement. But after Omar and Tlaib’s exclusion, the critical tone about Israel grew notably harsher this week.
The travel ban undermines Democrats who say the Israeli government policy isn’t racist. The only two U.S. representatives forbidden from visiting Israel/Palestine are women of color. How do the 41 Democratic representatives who have travelled to Israel explain that? They suddenly face the question: will they stand up to Israel racism?
Maybe. Maybe not. Nonetheless, the party’s rhetoric is gravitating, once again, toward the formulation of a certain plainspoken Jewish guy from Vermont “Opposing Netanyahu’s policies is not ‘hating the Jewish people,” Bernie Sanders tweeted Thursday.
The Israel-friendly Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand denounced the Israel’s action as “dangerous.” Booker emphasized the danger of Trump’s racist rhetoric. Gillibrand called it “un-American.”
Pete Buttigieg used the p-word–Palestine–rarely heard in the party’s pro-Israel discourse in 2016. When Buttigieg went to Gaza in 2018, he repeated the talking points of the Israel lobby and the Israeli security forces. Now he speaks, like Sanders, of reconciling the interests of America, Israel, and Palestine..
The banning of Omar and Tlaib was “appalling,” said Julian Castro. “An affront to American values,” said Kamala Harris. Jay Inslee called it “state-sanctioned Islamophobia.” No one among the Democrats uttered the a-word-=-“apartheid.” But they’re saying American and Israeli values are distinct, which is new.
Two of the weakest tweets came from Amy Klobuchar and Beto O’Rourke. They responded to Trump’s claim that Israel would be showing “weakness” by admitting the two congresswomen. The Minnesota Senator and former El Paso congressman countered that Trump is showing “weakness” by (in Gillibrand’s words) “exporting intolerance.” It’s more convoluted than convincing.
Joe Biden, who has a been getting a lot of grief for his gaffes, didn’t distinguish himself with the claim that Israel “shares our democratic values.” The banning of Omar and Tlaib was a very clear statement that the current Israeli government does not share the democratic values of the Democratic party in 2020.
That’s the issue, whether Biden likes it or not, and it’s not cutting Israel’s way. To the contrary, the Democratic party is more anti-Israel than it was a week ago, and the triple threat of Israeli-Russia-Saudi interference in 2020 is clearer than ever.
Unlike Russia’s other intelligence services, FSB and SVR, the GRU is not a ministerial organization. The GRU reports to the chief of the general staff and the defense minister.
GRU has allegedly orchestrated the assassination of enemies of the Russian state abroad. British officials says two GRU officers attempted to murder GRU defector Sergei Skripal in the March 2018 with a chemical agent. Russia denies any involvement
The GRU is also known for its cyber operations. U.S. intelligence sources say the GRU sponsors, or otherwise controls, a hacking collective known as Fancy Bear. According to U.S. intelligence community, Fancy Bear hacked the Democratic National Committee email system during the 2016 presidential election in order to help Donald Trump’s candidacy. “Only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities,” the U.S. intelligence community concluded. Russia rejects the charge.