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New York Times: New US memo highlights gaps in intelligence reports on Russian bounties

Posted July 3, 2020 9:30 p.m. EDT

— A recent memo from the council helmed by the nation's intelligence chief confirmed accounts that Russia offered bounties to Taliban fighters to kill US troops in Afghanistan -- but cast the reports as incomplete and potentially dubious, The New York Times reported Friday.

Citing three officials, the paper reported that the National Intelligence Council, led by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, wrote the two-and-a-half page memo, which was dated on Wednesday -- just days after the Times first reported last week on intelligence officials' knowledge of the bounties and the White House's subsequent inaction.

The officials told the Times that the timing and highlights of the memo, which is said to contain no new details, imply that it aimed to fortify the administration's efforts to defend staying silent to the news. Multiple former national security officials told the paper that the memo's depiction suggested that it may have been swayed by political intentions.

The memo states that the CIA and the National Counterterrorism Center had evaluated with "medium confidence" that a unit of the Russian military intelligence agency GRU offered the bounties, two of the officials briefed on the memo's contents told the paper.

But the National Security Agency and other members of the intelligence community determined that they did not have adequate evidence to reach that level of certainty and thus held less confidence in the determination, the two officials told the paper. A third official familiar with the memo told the Times that the CIA's level of confidence in the conclusion was higher than that of other agencies.

A spokeswoman for the DNI's office declined to comment. CNN has also reached out to the CIA.

News of the memo follows denials from the White House that President Donald Trump was "personally briefed" on reports that Russia offered bounties to Taliban fighters to kill US troops in Afghanistan.

But the intelligence was included in one of Trump's daily briefings on intelligence matters sometime in the spring, according to a US official with direct knowledge of the latest information. And a source familiar with the situation told CNN the White House was provided with such intelligence in early 2019.

CNN also reported Wednesday that Trump's resistance to intelligence warnings about Russia led his national security team, including those who delivered the President's Daily Brief, to brief him orally less often on Russia-related threats to the US, according to multiple former administration officials who briefed Trump, were present for briefings and who prepared documents for his intelligence briefings.

The Times reported Friday that the memo purportedly walks through the intelligence behind the agencies' conclusions. This included reports of meetings between Russian military intelligence officers and leaders of criminal networks with ties to the Taliban, of a GRU account transferring money to the network and of captured lower-level network members confirming Russia's use of bounties to spur such killings.

The two officials who elaborated on the memo in greater detail, however, told the Times that the memo emphasized the lack of proof as to what the GRU officials and network leaders said exactly during the meetings -- and thus could not be certain that Russia explicitly extended bounties for American soldiers' deaths.

It also stressed that the NSA lacked surveillance footage of the captured members' purported accounts of bounties or clear proof that the transferred money was to pay for bounties, the officials told the Times.

The memo also states that the Defense Intelligence Agency lacked evidence directly linking the alleged bounty offers to the Kremlin, the officials told the paper.

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