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US intelligence backtracks on Russian bounty claims, here is how media ran unfounded stories to damage Trump’s re-election bid

The story was published just 2 months ahead of the crucial 2020 US Presidential elections. The mainstream media and the Democratic party were quick to pounce on it and alleged that Trump had been incompetent in taking action and thereby risked the lives of US soldiers.

On Thursday (April 15), the US intelligence community finally backtracked on its 2020 report about Russia allegedly offering money to Taliban jihadists to kill American soldiers.

The controversy came to light after the New York Times (NYT) published an article titled, ‘Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says’ on June 26, 2020. “American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter,” the report said.

Throughout the article, NYT insinuated that the Donald Trump administration was privy to the Intelligence report and did not respond to the issue of Russian bounty on American soldiers’ heads. “The officials familiar with the intelligence did not explain the White House delay in deciding how to respond to the intelligence about Russia,” the report added. Furthermore, it alleged, “The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the delicate intelligence and internal deliberations. They said the intelligence had been treated as a closely held secret,” it read.

Screengrab of the New York Times report

The article went on to quote Intelligence officials to allege that the report was shared with the British government, whose forces were among those targetted by the Taliban. It reiterated, “While officials were said to be confident about the intelligence that Russian operatives offered and paid bounties to Afghan militants for killing Americans, they have greater uncertainty about how high in the Russian government the covert operation was authorized and what its aim may be.”

The politics behind the Russian bounty story

The story was published just 2 months ahead of the crucial 2020 US Presidential elections. And it caused a huge dent in the former President Donald Trump’s re-election bid. The mainstream media and the Democratic party was quick to pounce on it and alleged that Trump had been incompetent in taking action and thereby risked the lives of US soldiers.

The Russian bounty story, which was not based on conclusive evidence, became the talking point of the media. Despite Donald Trump calling it a hoax, the propaganda machinery dismissed his remarks as a ‘lie’ and continued to tarnish the Trump administration. It must be mentioned that Trump had clarified that he was not briefed about the story as there was ‘no consensus’ about the credibility of the Intelligence report.

Daily caller made a compilation of several such media networks including ABC News, CNN, and MSNBC. This was the talking point and the idea of Trump’s alleged incompetency was reinforced in the minds of the viewers/voters. Trump, who had come to power with the hope of ‘Making America Great Again’, failed to counter the vicious narrative that he was being targetted to by the Left lobby in the US.

Donald Trump, whose account has now been suspended, had tweeted, “The Russia Bounty story is just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party. The secret source probably does not even exist, just like the story itself. If the discredited @nytimes has a source, reveal it. Just another HOAX! “

Screengrab of the tweet

The incumbent US President Joe Biden had claimed it to be a ‘dereliction of duty’ on Trump’s part. Both Republican and Democrat lawmakers asked the then government to respond about the course of action taken in the aftermath of the report.

US Intelligence agencies backtracks on its ‘Russian bounty story’

However, on Thursday, a senior official of the Biden administration hinted that the ‘Russian bounty story’ might as well have been untrue and unproven. The development comes 3 months after Joe Biden assumed the charge at the White House. The official claimed, “The United States intelligence community assesses with low to moderate confidence that Russian intelligence officers sought to encourage Taliban attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Afghanistan in 2019, and perhaps earlier, including through financial incentives and compensation.”

He further added, “U.S. intelligence community agencies have low to moderate confidence in this judgment in part because it relies on detainee reporting, and due to the challenging operating environment in Afghanistan, our conclusion is based on information and evidence of connections between criminal agents in Afghanistan and elements of the Russian government.”

The revelation has now become a source of embarrassment for the Biden administration, as it proclaimed Russia’s threat as a grave threat and initiated sanctions against its officials. The sanctions have been imposed in the aftermath of the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, the alleged role of Russia in 2020 elections, and the SolarWinds hack. When asked whether Joe Biden regretted attacking Trump over it, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that she would not comment on the previous administration but added that there was enough concern for the Intel to look into the matter.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Dibakar Dutta
Dibakar Dutta
Centre-Right. Political analyst. Assistant Editor @Opindia. Reach me at [email protected]

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