Russia-Taliban Intel included in PDB
The President should have known about the plot. There's a good chance he didn't.
Credible reporting indicates that President Trump should have known that Russia was paying bounties to kill American servicemen in Afghanistan. But it’s quite possible intelligence leaders failed to make sure he was aware of it.
AP‘s James LaPorta (“White House aware of Russian bounties in 2019“):
Top officials in the White House were aware in early 2019 of classified intelligence indicating Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban for the deaths of Americans, a full year earlier than has been previously reported, according to U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the intelligence.
The assessment was included in at least one of President Donald Trump’s written daily intelligence briefings at the time, according to the officials. Then-national security adviser John Bolton also told colleagues he briefed Trump on the intelligence assessment in March 2019.
The White House did not respond to questions about Trump or other officials’ awareness of Russia’s provocations in 2019. The White House has said Trump was not — and still has not been — briefed on the intelligence assessments because they have not been fully verified. However, it is rare for intelligence to be confirmed without a shadow of a doubt before it is presented to top officials.
Bolton declined to comment Monday when asked by the AP if he had briefed Trump about the matter in 2019. On Sunday, he suggested to NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Trump was claiming ignorance of Russia’s provocations to justify his administration’s lack of a response.
“He can disown everything if nobody ever told him about it,” Bolton said.
The revelations cast new doubt on the White House’s efforts to distance Trump from the Russian intelligence assessments. The AP reported Sunday that concerns about Russian bounties were also included in a second written presidential daily briefing earlier this year and that current national security adviser Robert O’Brien had discussed the matter with Trump. O’Brien denies he did so.
On Monday night, O’Brien said that while the intelligence assessments regarding Russian bounties “have not been verified,” the administration has “been preparing should the situation warrant action.”
Barbara Starr and Paul LeBlanc, reporting for CNN (“Intelligence on Russian bounty plot was included in the President’s Daily Brief earlier this year, source says“) add:
The intelligence that assessed there was an effort by a Russian military intelligence unit to pay the Taliban to kill US soldiers was included in one of President Donald Trump’s daily briefings on intelligence matters sometime in the spring, according to a US official with direct knowledge of the latest information.
That assessment, the source said, was backed up by “several pieces of information” that supported the view that there was an effort by the Russian intelligence unit — the GRU — to pay bounties to kill US soldiers, including interrogation of Taliban detainees and electronic eavesdropping. The source said there was some other information that did not corroborate this view but said, nonetheless, ‘”This was a big deal. When it’s about US troops you go after it 100%, with everything you got.”
The New York Times reported Monday night that the intelligence had been included in a written version of the President’s Daily Brief in late February.
Trump is not known to fully or regularly read the President’s Daily Brief, something that is well-known within the White House. He is instead orally briefed two or three times a week by his intelligence officials. The White House maintains he was not briefed about this in the oral session.
The information was serious enough the National Security Council staff held a meeting during the spring to discuss “possible response options,” including sanctions, if the intelligence developed to the point it was deemed ready to take to the President for any possible action, the official said.
NYT national security reporter David Sanger had this to say on Twitter:
He is, of course, right. It’s unconscionable that the President of the United States takes his job so unseriously as to not bother reading the goddamn Presidential Daily Brief. Hell, I’d read it just to be a better security studies professor.
Trump’s habits in this regard are well known. I’m an outsider and have known about it since 2016. That he was blowing off his intelligence briefings during the transition was widely reported, as was his continued practice while in office.
President Obama famously wanted his PDB delivered to him every morning on an iPad so that he could digest it early and then quiz his briefers when they came in later. That mode of presentation would suit me quite well, too.
But Trump doesn’t read. His people know he doesn’t read. So, they need to get him the information in the way that best suits his temperament.
If that means the PDB has to be made into a comic book, so be it.
Maybe they need to record a 30-minute “Fox and Friends” spoof with the intel he needs.
Maybe they need to make train noises.
I don’t care. Their job is to get him the information so that he can make a decision. That’s the job.
UPDATE: WaPo’s David Ignatius offers an interesting hypothesis (“Were Trump’s aides too afraid to tell him about the Russian bounties?“):
A basic truth about Russian President Vladimir Putin, which President Trump evidently doesn’t understand: Putin is in the payback business. He believes the United States destroyed his former country, the Soviet Union. He likes the United States to feel pain, in Afghanistan and everywhere else.
Trump has his own, much rosier take on Putin. And I can’t help wondering whether that explains why, assuming his account is true, the American president was never briefed about intelligence reports early this year that Russia was offering bounties to Taliban fighters to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan. Perhaps Trump’s national security aides were afraid to upset him.
Through this January and February, as the CIA and military surveillance gathered reports about a cash stockpile in northern Afghanistan and other indicators of a possible Russian operation, U.S. military and intelligence officials became increasingly concerned, several told me. By March, they were pressing for a top-level review by senior Trump administration officials of this still-unconfirmed threat to U.S. soldiers.
Through this agonizing period, Trump kept up a buzz of happy talk about improving relations with Putin, including the possibility of inviting him back into the Group of Seven. Were Trump’s commanders too afraid to warn him off this folly?
That’s purely speculative, of course. If so, it would be an act of extraordinary cowardice. Regardless, it would explain why the information on something this big was in the written PDB they knew Trump wouldn’t read but not in the oral briefings he got.
In sane, reasonable times, yes. But these are not sane, reasonable times. Also from CNN:
From pandering to Putin to abusing allies and ignoring his own advisers, Trump’s phone calls alarm US officials
ETA: I agree with Ignatius.
ETA2: Cowardice? Maybe, but when dealing with abusers, whether at work or at home, one gets tired of fighting the same old battles all the time, especially the one’s a person just can’t win. So instead they will pick and choose the battles. At least until they just can’t do it anymore and leave.
Not making excuses, just filling in the dynamics of these relationships.
I think Ignatius is correct as well. And it definitely does a broader pattern of behavior within the White House in dealing with the Toddler-In-Chief.
Doesn’t matter. If it’s in the PDB, he knew – that is, he “knew” in the only sense that matters here.
Either that or it’s 25th Amendment time. There is no middle way. It’s utterly besides the point to speculate whether he was too lazy to absorb the contents of the PDB.
He was briefed, so we must assume he knew. Otherwise, there might just as well be no executive at all.
In short, Trump knew.
Trump was briefed.
That he is too lazy or too entitled to read it is all on him.
This is crazytown stuff. Technically, was he briefed or not if he didn’t read it? Good god it’s his fucking job!
I just cannot process this utter foolishness and a President who can’t be fucking bothered to read the PDB.
So fucking illiterate they resort to putting it on video.
This should not happen here.
@de stijl: We’re in full agreement that he ought to read it. But different bosses absorb information in different ways. Most recent Presidents have been lawyers, so they’re naturally geared to parse the written word. I could imagine a competent, diligent President who preferred oral briefings.
The closest I’ve ever seen to the PDB; when I worked for the Cowboys the PR office published a compilation of every newspaper clip that mentioned the team, everyday.
It was read religiously by everyone that got it.
Best case scenario…he simply didn’t bother to read the PDB (odds are about 1:4 he was golfing that day). Even the best case scenario renders him unfit for the office.
51 Senators, from the Orange Party, left a man unfit for office in office.
They each bear responsibility for the soldiers who died because of this.
“But different bosses absorb information in different ways.”
I can’t imagine that you’re trying to excuse Trump from blame for this, but it’s hard to read your posts any other way.
It doesn’t matter how Trump prefers to “absorb information.” It is his job to accept this information and act on it. If he does not, either because he doesn’t want to hurt Putin’s feeling or because he’s to lazy to read a couple of pages, he has given his consent to have American soldiers murdered.
You want to blame his briefers for doing things the way he demands? That’s fine with me. Fire them all and ban them from intelligence work for life.
But don’t let Trump off the hook. He’s the one who set up a system so that he wouldn’t have to know things that the job demands that he know, and the responsibility for the consequences falls entirely on him.
The bottom line of this is that it is yet another example of why Trump should never have been president. He lacks the basic tools to do the job.
And, worse, he is utterly irresponsible in a job wherein responsibility is a must.
You are both absolutely correct.
There are 5 partners in my firm. They are individuals. And, as such, must be treated that way.
That in no way excuses not doing the absolute basics of the job.
Reading daily briefing papers is such a low bar.
Let’s not forget, in the face of this shiny object, that he missed COVID too.
What else is going over-looked that we don’t even know about, yet?
I think what James is trying to say that it is entirely possible Trump is being honest when he says he didn’t know about this issues because a) we know he doesn’t read the PDB, and b) his staff were too afraid, lazy, dumb, to tell him.
That does not, of course, let Trump off the hook (it will, however, allow supporters a way to rationalize away this very damning story).
I recognize that not everyone does well with the written word.
But he is the President. At least try to do the job. If it takes dumbed down short take videos, fine whatever, but do the fucking job.
I thought I was in acceptance, but I just flashed back to denial. Inconceivable that we chose to elect a person so demonstrably ill-equiped for the office and the burden.
Btw, the Kubler-Ross model of grief was specifically describing patients in hospice who knew they were going to die quite soon.
Using that model for family and friends dealing with the passing of a loved one got sort of tagged on. It was not intended and may not apply.
If I recall the term of service correctly, Bolton was the NS advisor at the time of the brief. Given Bolton’s animus toward Russia and Putin, it is hard to believe that he didn’t verbally tell Tiny.
But but but he has told us he isn’t responsible. It’s all the fault of those illegal immigrant lieberal fake news journalists.
Good article over at RawStory analysing what Trump was thinking on the day that the information about Russian bounties was presented to him.
Either he didn’t read it, or he was so obsessed with defending himself against accusations of COVID-19 incompetence that it just dropped out of his head.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the past three-and-a-half years, it’s that extraordinary cowardice is the single most significant feature of all those who have served this President and seen these things firsthand, but said nothing.
They could have spoken out. They could have acted in the national interest rather than whatever personal interests kept them silent. Imagine the impact, had Mattis spoken out soon after his appointment, rather than nearly a year after his departure. Imagine if the execrable Bolton had volunteered to testify to all he knew during Trump’s impeachment. Imagine the author “Anonymous” hadn’t been anonymous, but someone high in the administration who was willing to put their name to their claims. Imagine.
Imagine they hadn’t stayed silent, and Trump was gone, and there was a chance at actual leadership in late January. How many tens of thousands of Americans would not have died, would not still die?
It’s not just “an act” of extraordinary cowardice, it’s dozens–hundreds!–of such acts that have gotten us to where we are.
And the most cowardly of all, of course, is Trump himself. I do not believe he didn’t know about the Russian bounty scheme, but even if he did not know then, he certainly does now. And what has he said? Nothing. And what has he done? Played golf and whined endlessly over Twitter.
As with every disaster in this unmitigated shitshow of a failed Presidency, it did not have to be this way. But the extraordinary cowards who were in a position to do something did not. And so here we are.
I just responded to this on Twitter. I’m wondering if I should duplicate that comment here?
Whether or not he knew it in February or March, he knows about it now and doesn’t seem to give a shit.
I remember quite clearly that it was my responsibility to brief myself up on new tactics.
I remember encountering a star schema for the first time. It ran counter to what I had trained in. I could do you a third normal form db restructuring in my sleep.
When we got serious about storage and analysis, I needed to get educated and competent fast.
I was the SQL guy who made sure daily reports ran well and quickly. Manipulated structures to make queries run faster.
When I figured out what star schemas did well I was “whoah! That is so cool.”
It was my job to adapt. It was my job to absorb new information. Glad I did. Blossomed like a daisy in June. Made a lot of money off it.
My job required me to seek out and absorb new information. At that time I was really fucking junior.
Trump is the fucking President. He can by god spend an hour of his day at least trying to be at least vaguely competent.
For some reason 48% of our voters thought this was the person who should be President. And the EC made it so.
I am in the anger stage now.
There is no good–meaning favorable to Trump–explanation for this. Either he knew about the bounties, and refused to act on the knowledge for fear of offending/angering/annoying Putin, or his advisers didn’t trust him with the knowledge, again because they figured that, at best, he’d ignore it/suppress it because it put Putin in a bad light.
@de dtijl no. 46.09%
@Steven L. Taylor:
You need to hotkey “What I think James is trying to say is”
Save you time in the future.
Good effing golly.
46 and change and dude still wins via EC.
Thank you very much, Founding Fathers.
PS, you also fucked up the 2nd Amendment so badly.
@de stijl: in their defense, guns at the time took about a minute to fire, and did so inaccurately. Rifled barrels weren’t even common then. No way were they talking about AR 15’s with bump stocks.
Practically every presidential biography talks about how that person, realizing the gravity of the job, tried to rise from where they were, as an elected politician, to where they need to be, as the leader of the nation.
Reading seems like a very, very small step towards rising to the level that the job requires. So, too, does listening to information you don’t want to hear.
R voters were very clear.
They wanted dickishness.
Good at his job? Who cares!
If he tweaks libs via Twitter he is golden.
That is the bases’ motivation. Public humiliation.
It is a very sorry situation.
It may be that Trump isn’t just unwilling to read. It may be that he can’t absorb printed material. His brain can’t process words on a page.
@Kingdaddy: I remember the point in my graduate studies where I realised I had to detach myself from my theories. I couldn’t take criticism of my ideas as being attacks against myself. It took several months before I developed the necessary emotional detachment, but it is obviously absolutely needed if one wants to be a true researcher and come up with something that is, in fact, reality.
Intellectuals should be the harshest critics of their own ideas, simply for the sake of intellectual integrity.
Well, they’re getting that public humiliation good and hard now. It’s fascinating how many of them still don’t know it.
I hope very keenly that we withdraw from all that.
We have a choice in November. I hope we choose wisely.
It’s crucial in science to guard against believing what you want to.
Drip, drip, drip
@Sleeping Dog: Have you considered Hillary’s emails though?
Look at that “then quiz his briefers” and mourn for how far we’ve fallen. Obama didn’t just want to know what he needed to know for his job, he wanted to be sure he understood the information.
Today, Trump gets on the phone with other world leaders and calls his predecessors stupid. The magnitude of delusion on display should render space and time.
The extraordinary cowardice is surprising, but I have to say the microscopic self-respect is more shocking to me.
Mattis, Mueller, and whatever small number of Republican politicians who in their true hearts highly regard American’s standing in the world and the rule of law, they’ve all been left mumbling into their hands as their values have been pissed on by this narcissistic simpleton. I couldn’t bear such an affront and still sleep at night. How do they look at themselves in the mirror?
I think they probably tell themselves that things would have been so much worse if they hadn’t been there to act as some kind of restraint on Trump. There may even be some truth to that.
I confess that I am still trying to figure out why Russia would do this? Is this something they put out via credible channels so it would get back to folks like Bolton and in turn the President?
Are they trolling the U.S. Military/Trump by claiming they are happy to pay the Taliban if they bag a U.S. Soldier?
Even if we are being trolled by Putin it is a bit disconcerting that Trump does not care to at least have used back-channel methods to get to the bottom of things. Instead he chooses to declare this story fake news, when instead he could have gotten ahead of this and said to the American people that yes…I was aware of this news but I learned that ultimately we were being trolled and have folks who have already reached out to my counterpart in Russia to talk about how even as a “joke” it is unacceptable to put it out there that one will benefit financially if they kill a U.S soldier.
If anything, if there is a kernel of truth that yup Russia put this story out there trying to see what cages would be rattled then it shows how much contempt Putin has for Trump.
Who could have predicted that a fella like Trump would be really bad at this particular job?
I am so sick of being right.
What did you expect Trump to be?
Sensible and apt were not on the table.
I want a new thing or a new person to shock me senseless and mute.
I read somewhere this AM that Putin blames the US for the demise of the USSR and hates us for it and does whatever he can to make us pay for it. I look at it and think, “Why not?”
Rival nations engage in all kinds of skullduggery. What we did in Afghanistan during the 80s wasn’t all that different and what we did in Afghanistan with all that CIA money after 9/11 was exactly the same.
I read the same thing. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Putin must marvel at the incredible luck he had when Trump became president. He doesn’t have to work very hard to damage the U.S. Trump will do it for him.
Hillbilly beat me to it, but I’ll add that Putin is a child of the history of Russia and seeks to restore the Russo empire that collapsed with the fall of the Czar, was recreated by Stalin after WWII only to collapse once again.
He seeks to gain hegemony over what the Russians refer to the near-abroad, i.e. those countries that share borders with present day Russia and those nations that have significant Russian minorities (often the result of colonization efforts by Stalin). His barrier to do this is the EU and NATO and he believes that weakening both will allow him to reach his goals. Tiny is a useful idiot who he can influence. Tying the US down in places like Afghanistan weakens us in other parts of the world. Also, Afghanistan is an opportunity for payback for US support for the mujaheddin when Russia invaded Afghanistan.
The two prizes that Putin seeks is returning the Baltic states to Russian control and also Ukraine. Kiev, having once been the imperial capital of Russia.
1) Trump knew.
2) He did nothing.
3) Because he’s owned by Putin.
It has been clear from the very beginning that Trump was Putin’s bitch. I suspect the main reason is that Trump’s money is actually Deripaska’s money (or some other Putin cutout). It would kill Trump to be exposed as ‘not rich.’
But I also strongly suspect there’s something more personal. A guy like Trump spends time in Moscow, he’s being recorded, period. Did Trump sensibly act as though he was being recorded? Of course not, he’s a toddler.
But to everyone who has pooh-poohed me here over the last 4 years and insisted he just liked him some authoritarians, I will say again, no, that is not sufficient motive to explain Trump’s actions re: Putin. He is owned by Putin.
@CSK: There is likely some truth to “it could have been worse if not for me” that gives some small comfort, but seriously what good does that conclusion for any self-respecting person’s sense of integrity?
Take Mattis, for example. Here’s a man who has spent his life in service to a country he holds dear. Trump the Pretender jeopardizes that and Mattis is left to write a strongly worded letter after the fact. He is being broadly called out as a coward – Jim Mattis, Coward! – for seeing what he saw and not doing more and you’ve got to think he respects the opinion of at least a few of the people that have reached this broadly held conclusion about his courage in the face of Trump. I’d be apoplectic if I were him.
Of course I can’t say for sure, but maybe Mattis did, in fact, do everything he humanly could to rein in Trump, and so sleeps relatively easily. Reining in Trump was a full-time job for many more than one person. I don’t know if you read Fear, by Bob Woodward, but the prologue is absolutely chilling, a vivid description of all the terrifying things Trump could have done had someone not stopped him, sometimes by sneaking into the Oval Office and snatching papers off Trump’s desk, or distracting him the way you would a toddler with a shiny new toy.
It was “humanly” possible to call Trump to account as he resigned. It may not have been politically palatable, but it was something a human could do. It was also possible for him to publicly call for Trump’s impeachment conviction in the Senate or for him to publicly speak out against Trump prior to the last straw that was the Lafayette Square action. He didn’t and he knows he didn’t. I hope it gnaws at him.
I think it’s easier for some to believe that Trump did not know about bountygate than believe he did know and did nothing. But if presumably he had done nothing and got caught- what would he have said? The same he is saying now. In other words- he was informed.
As I said, I don’t know why Mattis stayed quiet. Didn’t he allude to some sort of code whereby he owed Trump a certain period of silence? Yes, it would have been very good if he’d spoken out during the impeachment, because he is–or was–the kind of person to whom people listen. But he didn’t, and I have no idea why. Surely he’s not afraid of Cult45.
There is no limit to Trump’s degeneracy.
” How do they look at themselves in the mirror?”
Easy, they say “at least he’s not Hillary.”
I have come to have some respect for the McMaster and Mattis and Kelly types.
They fought a rear guard action against Trump’s worst impulses.
Knew they would eventually get canned.
Working for the worst President in history is a very bad look.
Working from within and doing your best to contain our worst President from his impulses is honorable. Laudable. Knowing it will get you fired.
I judge them way less harshly now.
It appears the Russians gave money to the Taliban. The reports of records of wire transfers say so. It also appears some Talibs were offered rewards for attacking US/Coalition troops.
There is a plausible reason for the Russians wanting to ingratiate themselves with the Taliban. They would judge that organization the most likely to come out on top when all is said and done, and the Taliban was having problems with ISIL moving in. The Russians would view the Taliban as far superior to ISIL as neighbors, just like everyone else. The Talibs have been fighting ISIL too.
I believe it most likely the Russians gave the Talibs money and local Talibs, in at least a few cases, decided to use it in this way. Our guys leapt to a conclusion the Russians gave the money earmarked for US scalps. That process would not be in Russian interests and managing that earmarking would be highly problematic for them.