The United States’ national security adviser said a CIA official charged with reporting to the president decided not to tell him about reports that Russia paid rewards to the Taliban for killing US soldiers because it was “unverified intelligence.”
Robert O’Brien’s claim came when top administration members gave different accounts of the state of intelligence reports on Russian reward payments, and why Trump had not taken action in response, but had repeatedly lobbied to readmit Russia to the G7 club of nations.
Trump himself went on to suggest that the accusations that Russia was paying Taliban fighters to kill Americans was a “hoax”.
Intelligence is reported to have been included in the CIA’s written Presidential Daily Report (PDB). O’Brien seemed to suggest that it had not been included in the verbal reports given to Trump.
“The president’s brief CIA career decided not to inform him because it was unverified intelligence,” O’Brien told Fox News, adding: “She made that call and, you know, I think she made the correct call, so I’m not. I’m going to criticize her. And knowing the facts that I know now, I support that call. “
O’Brien was heavily criticized for blaming a relatively minor CIA official for a major political problem.
“This is the same scapegoat move that the White House ran in the context of the coronavirus, blaming Trump’s intelligence for something that is primarily and fundamentally a failure of White House staff,” said Ned Price, a former analyst at CIA and national security spokesman.
He added: “We now know that the information was included in Trump’s written PDB, which is how the intelligence community regularly marks the elements that the President needs to know. Nothing in the PDB is discretionary; everything in that brief document is there because, in the estimation of the intelligence community, the president needs to know it to fulfill his office. “
Intelligence experts have also noted that intelligence routinely reported to the president is rarely “verified”, but presented with varying degrees of confidence.
Trump continued to insist that he had not been told, and questioned the veracity of the reports.
“From what I heard, and I heard quite well, the intelligence people, many of them, did not believe it would happen at all,” the president told Fox News. “I think it is a hoax. I think it’s a hoax from the newspapers and the Democrats. “
Meanwhile, Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, insisted that the Russian threat in Afghanistan was real and had been adequately addressed, implying that the president had been informed.
“We take this seriously; We handle it properly, “Pompeo, a former CIA director, told reporters.” The president has been constantly aware of the challenges Russia presents to us and is aware of the risk in Afghanistan.
“That is why we have spent so much time over the past year under the president’s direction to reduce the risk to our forces in Afghanistan in a way that no previous administration has done.”
Pompeo said it was the president’s decision to invite Russia to the G7 group meetings of the major industrialized democracies, but added: “I think it is completely important and appropriate that the United States continue to dialogue with the Russians to convince them.” change some of the activities that are inconsistent with what the United States must do to preserve the security and freedom of its own people. “
A former senior US official confirmed to the Guardian that reports of Russian rewards were circulating inside the White House before the summer of 2019, and expressed concern, but that had not been fully substantiated at the time.
The official said that more detailed information had emerged since then, but added that the president was likely to have ignored the news as it was in conflict with his desire to cultivate good relations with Vladimir Putin.
“He does not like to hear bad news about all kinds of things, unless he is forced to,” said the former senior official.
CNN quoted former officials Wednesday as saying that Trump’s resistance to intelligence warnings about Russia prompted his national security team, including those who turned in the PDB to report less frequently on Russia-related threats to the U.S.
A former Taliban spokesman, Mullah Manan Niazi, told the Daily Beast: “Russian intelligence has paid the Taliban for attacks against US forces, and against Isis forces, in Afghanistan from 2014 to the present.”