The intelligence community is backing off reports that Russia placed bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan, in contradiction to mainstream media reports from 2020.
A senior Biden administration official said intelligence agencies had “low to moderate” confidence in the claim, which allowed news agencies to hammer former President Donald Trump for not taking the matter seriously when it was brought to his attention last year. In other words, the story is unproven and quite possibly untrue.
Details of the intel backpedaling comes in the wake of President Joe Biden’s declaration that the unproven threat was a “national emergency” to the United States, and followed it up with sanctions on Russian officials. In addition, sanctions were brought over claims that Russia meddled in the 2020 presidential election against Biden, and that Russia had played a role in the SolarWinds hack, as well as the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
"The United States intelligence community assesses with low to moderate confidence that Russian intelligence officers sought to encourage Taliban attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Afghanistan in 2019, and perhaps earlier, including through financial incentives and compensation," the official said, Fox News reports.
"U.S. intelligence community agencies have low to moderate confidence in this judgment in part because it relies on detainee reporting, and due to the challenging operating environment in Afghanistan, our conclusion is based on information and evidence of connections between criminal agents in Afghanistan and elements of the Russian government," the official added.
The story first surfaced in the New York Times and was a thorn in former President Trump’s side in the midst of the 2020 election. Trump repeatedly doubted the validity of the story, which had no substantive evidence to back the claim that the Kremlin offered to pay Taliban fighters a bounty to kill American soldiers. Trump described the claim as a “hoax,” and said he was not briefed on the matter before it was publicized by the New York Times. He stated that intelligence had found “no consensus” to the merits of the claim.
"The Russia Bounty story is just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party," Trump tweeted in July. "The secret source probably does not even exist, just like the story itself."
He said: "Just another HOAX!"
Both Republicans and Democrats called upon the Trump administration to explain what it knew following the report. Trump was accused of a “dereliction of duty” by Biden for refusing to take the report seriously.
Fox News reports that White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki says that she was "not going to speak to the previous administration” but said there was “enough concern” to look into it.
Details of the intelligence communities’ backpedaling on the report prompted criticism from conservatives on social media toward the Biden administration. Former White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany lambasted the New York Times and the Democrats for running with the apparent lie.
“From the White House podium, I said this intelligence was ‘not verified,’ ‘no consensus’ [and] that the [New York Times] and [Democrats] were ‘irresponsibly politicizing,’” she said. “NOW WE LEARN: ‘US Intel Walks Back Claim Russians Put Bounties on American Troops’”
“Wonder what other stories were FALSE,” she exclaimed.
Her remarks were echoed by conservative writer Drew Holden, who documented the extent of the coverage of the apparent falsehood, showing that MSNBC, CNN, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, ABC News, NBC News, Reuters, NPR and others had given serious airtime to the story.