The New York Times published a story on Friday that said the National Intelligence Council recently produced a memo regarding allegations of Russian GRU agents paying bounties to the Taliban to kill US troops in Afghanistan. The memo was produced on July 1st and went over the confidence levels different intelligence agencies gave to the allegations against Russia.
According to two unnamed officials speaking to the Times, the memo says the CIA and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCC) “assessed with medium confidence” that the GRU offered bounties to the Taliban. The memo also says, “other parts of the intelligence community,” the National Security Agency (NSA) being the only agency named, assessed the intelligence with lower confidence. Another anonymous official told the Times that the CIA’s confidence level was higher than the other agencies, but did not describe the precise confidence levels.
Intelligence agencies use confidence levels to reflect the scope and quality of the intelligence they are assessing. There are three levels of confidence, “high,” “moderate,” and “low.” According to a document from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), a “moderate” confidence level — which is what the CIA and NCC gave to the bounty intel according to the Times — means “that the information is credibly sourced and plausible but not of sufficient quality or corroborated sufficiently to warrant a higher level of confidence.”
A “low” level of confidence — which the NSA and possibly other intelligence agencies gave to the bounty intel — means “that the information’s credibility and/or plausibility is questionable, or that the information is too fragmented or poorly corroborated to make solid analytic inferences, or that we have significant concerns or problems with the sources.” Even “high” confidence is not a “fact or a certainty” and still carries “a risk of being wrong,” according to the DNI.
The Times story corroborates a report from The Wall Street Journal that said the NSA “strongly dissented from other intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia paid bounties for the killing of US soldiers in Afghanistan.” An unnamed intelligence official said something similar in comments to CBS News reporter Catherine Herridge last week. The official said the NSA assessed that the intelligence report on the bounty intelligence “does not match well-established and verifiable Taliban and Haqqani practices” and lacks “sufficient reporting to corroborate any links.”
The NSA has dissented from other agencies in the past over allegations against Moscow. A January 2017 intelligence assessment that concluded Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of President Trump was given a “high” level of confidence by the CIA and the FBI, while the NSA gave it a “moderate” level of confidence.