WASHINGTON – The United States has gathered intelligence that Russian intelligence officials have offered to pay rewards to Taliban fighters who kill Americans, three people briefed on the matter told NBC News.
Intelligence has been shared with congressional leaders and the British government, the sources said. However, a senior defense official played down the intelligence reporting to NBC News, saying there was no evidence that any rewards were paid.
The intelligence news was first reported by The New York Times, which said that “the intelligence finding was reported to President Trump,” who on Sunday denied receiving the information. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe also denied the story on Saturday night.
According to The Times, the reports were outlined in the President’s Daily Brief, a written summary of high-level national security issues. NBC News has not confirmed whether Trump received any information on the matter, but it would be unusual for top officials not to verbally inform the president of something so explosive.
Former national security adviser John Bolton told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that it would be “disturbing” if officials had not briefed the president on the matter.
NBC News sources could not clarify how persuasive the intelligence is. A source told the Times that the evaluation was based in part on interviews with Afghan detainees. That alone would not prove the case, but the US almost certainly would have tried to receive communications interceptions from the Russians who shed light. In the past, the National Security Agency has been successful in penetrating Russia’s military intelligence unit, the GRU.
An intelligence official told NBC News that the report is not particularly surprising given the tense history between the United States and Russia. The Americans armed Afghan fighters with missiles to shoot down Russian helicopters in the 1980s when Russia was fighting in Afghanistan, part of a CIA covert action that killed many Russians. In 2018, US forces killed several Russian mercenaries operating with pro-regime forces in Syria.
But other experts have said that, if true, this is a serious escalation in Russia’s post-Cold War actions against the U.S.