A Washington storm is turning around stunning reports that Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency put a bounty on the heads of US and UK troops in Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, citing unnamed officials, President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were briefed about the affair, but did nothing about it.
Trump denied that he was briefed about the bounty scheme, but given past behavior, it’s hard to take this White House’s word on anything. Could warnings about the Russian-Taliban tie-up have been included in the presidential daily brief, which contains the US government’s mostly highly classified secrets, and simply been missed or ignored?
Trump spurns written briefings, according to multiple reports, now corroborated by former national security adviser John Bolton. He also has previously refused to take stands that embarrass Russian President Vladimir Putin, even appearing to advance Russia’s interests, as in the US exit from Syria, feuds with NATO members, dismissal of Moscow’s election meddling and push to get Russia back in the G7.
All intelligence intrigues should be treated with circumspection. The motives of those in and around the intelligence services — people who make a living from deception — are even more impenetrable than the usual Washington operatives. But the revelation raises questions about what exactly is going on in Russia: Was this signed off by Putin? After the US armed Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s, it’s not inconceivable that then-young Soviet military intelligence officers humiliated by their exit from the country now have influence at the top of the GRU. And revenge is a dish best served cold.