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The Russian bounties and the danger of politicizing intelligence

by 14Charlie Jun 29, 2020
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The Russian bounties and the danger of politicizing intelligence

SOFREP recently identified the problems surrounding the bombshell New York Times piece claiming a secret Russian military intelligence unit was offering Afghan militants bounties to kill US troops. Namely, if the intelligence is true and accurate, why was no action taken to hold Russia accountable?

This damning intelligence report was allegedly briefed to President Trump in March, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem and created a menu of response options around that time. Similar reporting from the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post corroborate the New York Times’ claims.

As the veracity of the intelligence cited by the New York Times and other outlets is determined, there are several critical questions that must be asked regarding the President and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe’s claims that the administration was not briefed on these critical proceedings.

When the New York Times story broke, Trump administration critics were quick to (appropriately) question the article’s claims that the administration was briefed on Russian activities in March and had not yet taken any action. Such inaction in the face of blatantly malicious Russian activity is inexcusable for the nation’s Commander in Chief, and further emboldens an already aggressive Russian influence campaign against the West.

Indeed, any Russian efforts to incentivize the killing of American and coalition forces (in Afghanistan) would be a “significant and provocative escalation of what American and Afghan officials have said is Russian support for the Taliban.” Most critically, this would be the first confirmed time the Russian unit was known to have so blatantly worked to target American forces.

The unit, assessed to be an elite arm of the Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU, is known as Unit 29155, and is tied to several aggressive Russian destabilization campaigns targeting the West. Known and attributed operations conducted by Unit 29155 include the March 2018 nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury, England, of former GRU defector Sergei Skripal; a 2016 coup attempt in Montenegro; and a 2015 poisoning of a Bulgarian arms manufacturer.

Unit 29155, which has been operational for over a decade, executes a Kremlin-directed charter to destabilize the West “through subversion, sabotage, and assassination.” Online investigations firm Bellingcat has conducted extensive research revealing the tactics, tradecraft, and activities of its operatives, which the author highly recommends for detailed open-source intelligence-derived background on the subject.

The GRU is an adept — if at times, blunt — force with which to reckon. Indeed, American intelligence officials attribute the GRU as the central actor in Moscow’s covert efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, when two GRU cyber units “hacked into the Democratic Party servers and then used WikiLeaks to publish embarrassing internal communications.”

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