Suspicions of Russian rewards were reinforced by data on financial transfers


US officials intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to an account linked to the Taliban, which was one of the pieces of evidence supporting their conclusion that Russia offered covert rewards for killing US and coalition troops in Afghanistan, according to three officials familiar with intelligence.

Although the United States has accused Russia of providing general support to the Taliban in the past, analysts concluded from other intelligence that the transfers were likely part of a rewards program that detainees described during interrogations. Investigators also identified numerous Afghans by name in a network linked to the alleged Russian operation, officials said, including two of them, a man believed to have served as an intermediary to distribute some of the funds and who is now believed to have It is in Russia.

The interceptions reinforce the findings from the interrogations, helping to reduce a previous disagreement between intelligence analysts and agencies about the reliability of detainees. The revelations further weaken White House officials’ claim that intelligence was too uncertain to report to President Trump. In fact, the information was provided to him in his daily brief in late February, two officials said.

Afghan officials this week described a sequence of events that fit the intelligence account. They said that several businessmen who transfer money through the informal “hawala” system have been arrested in Afghanistan over the past six months and are suspected of being part of a circle of intermediaries who operated between the Russian intelligence agency, known as GRU, and the taliban. linked activists. The businessmen were arrested in what officials described as radical raids in northern Afghanistan, as well as in Kabul.

Half a million dollars was seized from the house of one of the men, added a provincial official. The New York Times had previously reported that recovering an unusually large amount of cash in a raid was one of the first pieces of the puzzle that investigators put together.

The three US officials who described and confirmed details based on the intelligence assessment spoke on condition of anonymity amid mounting turmoil that the Trump administration did not authorize any response to the suspected attack by the troops’ power attack. Americans by Russia and downplayed the problem after it emerged Four days ago.

Officials from the White House and the National Security Council declined to comment, as did the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe. They noted Mr. Ratcliffe’s statements on Monday night; National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien; and Pentagon chief spokesman Jonathan Hoffman. They all said that recent news about Afghanistan remained unsubstantiated.

On Monday, the administration invited several House Republicans to the White House to discuss the intelligence. The briefing was conducted primarily by three Trump administration officials: Mr. Ratcliffe, Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, and Mr. O’Brien. Until recently, both Meadows and Ratcliffe were Republican congressmen known to be outspoken supporters of Trump.

That briefing focused on intelligence information supporting the conclusion that Russia was conducting a sting reward operation and other information not supporting it, according to two people familiar with the meeting. For example, the briefing focused in part on the accounts of detainees questioned and the disagreement of previous analysts in this regard.

Both people said the intention of the briefing seemed to be to make clear that intelligence about Russia’s alleged rewards plan was unclear. For example, one of the people said, the White House also cited some interrogations by Afghan intelligence officials of other detainees, downplaying their credibility by describing them as low-level.

Administration officials did not mention anything at the Republican House briefing on intercepted financial data transfers, both people familiar with him said.

Democrats and Senate Republicans were also briefed separately at the White House on Tuesday morning. Democrats came up saying the problem was clearly not, as Trump has suggested, a “hoax.” They demanded to listen directly to intelligence officials, rather than Trump’s political appointments, but admitted that they had not secured a commitment to such information.

Based on the intelligence they saw, lawmakers said they were deeply concerned about Trump’s insistence that he did not know about the plot and its subsequent obfuscation when it was made public.

“It seems inexplicable to me in light of these very public allegations that the President has not come before the country and assured the American people that he will get to the bottom of whether Russia is giving rewards to American troops and that it will do its utmost power to ensure that we protect US troops, “said Representative Adam B. Schiff, a California Democrat and chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

He added: “I don’t understand for a moment why the president is not saying this to the American people right now and it’s based on ‘I don’t know,’ ‘I haven’t listened,’ ‘I haven’t been informed. That’s not excusable.”

Ratcliffe was scheduled to go to the Capitol on Wednesday to meet privately with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, an official familiar with the planning said.

The Times reported last week that intelligence officials believed that a GRU unit had offered and paid rewards for killing US troops and other coalition forces and that the White House had not authorized a response after the Council of Homeland Security will convene an inter-agency meeting on the problem in late March.

Investigators are said to be focusing on at least two deadly attacks on US soldiers in Afghanistan. One is an April 2019 bombardment outside of Bagram Air Base that killed three Marines: Sgt. Christopher Slutman, 43, of Newark, Del.; Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, NY; and the sergeant. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pa.

On Monday, Felicia Arculeo, the mother of Corporal Hendriks, told CNBC that she was upset to learn of news reports of suspicions that her son’s death stemmed from a Russian reward operation. She said she wanted an investigation, adding that “responsible parties must be held accountable, if that is possible.”

Authorities did not say what other attack is under scrutiny.

Claiming that the information was not provided to him, Mr. Trump also rejected the intelligence assessment as “alleged” and stated that he was told that “it was not credible.” Subsequently, the White House issued statements on behalf of several subordinates denying that he had been informed.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany reiterated that claim on Monday, saying the information had not been relayed to Trump because there was a dissenting opinion on it within the intelligence community.

But she and other administration officials objected when pressed to say whether their denials encompassed the president’s daily briefing, a compendium of the most important intelligence and analysis the intelligence community writes for presidents to read. Trump is known to often neglect reading her written reports.

Intelligence about the alleged Russian plot was included in Trump’s daily brief in late February, according to two officials, in contrast to Trump’s claim on Sunday that he was never “informed or informed” about the matter.

The information was also deemed robust enough to be distributed to the broader intelligence community in a May 4 article in the CIA’s World Intelligence Review, commonly called The Wire, according to various officials.

A Taliban spokesman has also denied accepting rewards paid by Russia for carrying out attacks against Americans and other coalition soldiers, saying the group did not need such a stimulus for its operations. But a US official said attention has focused on criminals closely associated with the Taliban.

In a raid in the northern city of Kunduz about six months ago, 13 people were arrested in a joint operation by US forces and the Afghan intelligence agency, the National Security Directorate, according to Safiullah Amiry, the deputy director of the provincial council there. Two of the main targets of the raid had already fled, one to Tajikistan and the other to Russia, Amiry said, but it was at one of their homes in Kabul that security forces found half a million dollars. He said the Afghan intelligence agency had told him that the raids were related to the distribution of Russian money to militants.

Two former Afghan officials said Monday that members of local criminal networks have carried out attacks against the Taliban in the past, not because they share the Taliban’s ideology or goals, but in exchange for money.

In the Parwan province, where the Bagram airfield is located, the Taliban are known to have hired local criminals as independent workers, said General Zaman Mamozai, the province’s former police chief. He said the Taliban commanders are located in two districts of the province, Seyagird and Shinwari, and that from there they coordinate a network that charges criminals to carry out attacks.

And Haseeba Efat, a former member of the Parwan provincial council, also said that the Taliban have hired freelancers in the Bagram district, including one of their own distant relatives in one case.

“They agree with these criminals that they will not have a monthly salary, but they will be paid for the work they do when the Taliban need them,” said Efat.

Twenty U.S. service members were killed in combat-related operations in Afghanistan last year, the most since 2014.

Fahim Abed, Najim Rahim, Helene Cooper and Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.

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