The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that the National Security Agency “strongly dissented from other intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia paid bounties for the killing of US soldiers in Afghanistan.”
The Journal cites “people familiar with the matter” and does not give much detail, but the story is noteworthy, as the NSA has dissented from other agencies in the past over allegations against Russia. A January 2017 intelligence assessment that concluded Russia interfered in the 2016 election on President Trump’s behalf was given “high confidence” by the CIA and FBI while the NSA gave “moderate confidence.”
Another account of the NSA not giving much weight to this intelligence was given to CBS News reporter Catherine Herridge on Monday. An unnamed intelligence official told Herridge that the NSA deemed a report on the Russian bounties “uncorroborated.” The official said the report “does not match well-established and verifiable Taliban and Haqqani practices” and lacks “sufficient reporting to corroborate any links.”
The CIA is used as an example in the Journal’s report of an agency the NSA allegedly disagreed with over the intelligence. So far, the CIA has declined to comment on the issue besides a vague statement from CIA Director Gina Haspel. “When developing intelligence assessments, initial tactical reports often require additional collection and validation … Leaks compromise and disrupt the critical interagency work to collect, assess, and ascribe culpability,” Haspel said.
The Journal’s disclosure reinforces the Trump administration’s claim that the intelligence was not strong enough, and there was no consensus among intelligence officials on the information. The Pentagon said on Monday it has not seen “corroborating evidence” to support The New York Times report that alleged Russian GRU agents offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill US troops.
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper reiterated the Pentagon’s claims in a statement on Tuesday. “Although the Department of Defense has no corroborating evidence at this time to validate recent allegations regarding malign activity by Russian personnel against US forces in Afghanistan, I want to assure all of our service members that the Department takes very seriously any and all potential threats against US military personnel,” Esper said.
Even though the intelligence remains unconfirmed, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are brainstorming ways to punish Moscow over the allegations. Suggestions include imposing new sanctions on Russia and even designating Moscow as a state sponsor of terrorism. Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) said he wants to see a plan that will put “Taliban and GRU agents in body bags.”