The CIA disclosed some state secrets to use them as a decoy
The New York Times (NYT), an influential American newspaper, published an article entitled “Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill US Troops, Intelligence Says”. Referring to their own sources in the US Intelligence, the authors of this article (Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt, Michael Schwirtz) argue that Russian military intelligence (the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, the former GRU) was implicated in the deaths of US troops on a military mission in Afghanistan. It is also reported that to this end, representatives of Russian military intelligence established operational contacts with one of the groups loyal to the Taliban, whose militants used to kill American soldiers “for bounties offered by Russian operatives”. According to the NYT columnists, this information was obtained by US intelligence (CIA) “a few months ago”; however, it remained “motionless” as US President Donald Trump “did not know what to do with it.”
While the whole of Russia was deeply immersed in the war of words around amendments to the Constitution, on June 26 the CIA and the NSA launched one of the most accurately designed and impactful special operations, the consequences of which may be huge for Russia.
- How it all started
- Trump, Russia and the Taliban responding to the first media reports
- Denial stage
- Next stage of the CIA’s special information operation: second media attack – the first “evidence”
- Psaki’s successors
- Stab in the back
- Tears of mothers
- The third information attack: Specific people who can be detained and interrogated come into play
- CIA operation design
- Andrey Manoylo, R-Techno partner
How it all started
The NYT columnists argue that, according to US intelligence, Unit 29155 (the same “top-secret” GRU unit that is linked to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter) was involved in the attacks on American soldiers. According to the NYT, the unit specializes in extrajudicial liquidations (political assassinations), subversion and sabotage operations, the organization of coups and operations aimed to destabilize Europe. Bingo: American intelligence allegedly managed to prove that the GRU Unit 29155 is responsible not only for attempted assassinations of various sorts of aborigines (semi-Russian-semi-British, Bulgarian and Montenegrin citizens, as well as one naturalized Chechen separatist), but also for the systematic extermination (i.e., terrorist killings) of US troops. And this is serious. According to the authors of the article, the Russian intelligence work scheme was very simple: supposedly, GRU operatives transferred money to the accounts of Afghan businessmen affiliated with the Taliban through shell companies. Those, in turn, notified Afghan militants close to the Taliban of the payments. Having received this information, Islamist militants shot off a certain number of American soldiers (strictly at the rate paid for each GI’s life), produced evidence of their deaths to “GRU agents” and received the rest of the funds through the same channels. Traces of these transactions were discovered by US intelligence a few months ago (presumably in February 2020, shortly after the United States inked a peace agreement with the Taliban).
According to US intelligence, about 20 US military servicemen became victims of the killings organized by GRU agents in 2019 (although the authors of the article note that not all such killings can be unambiguously attributed to the GRU handiwork).
It is reported that the investigation is specifically focused on at least two attacks on American soldiers in Afghanistan, during which American soldiers were killed. One of them was an explosion in April 2019 near the Bagram air base, which killed three marines: Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, N.Y.; Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pa., and Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, of Newark, Del.
It is also very likely that American intelligence had no direct relation to obtaining this information: possibly, the Taliban proactively shared the data with the CIA under the "partnership" agreements concluded with the United States. This, in turn, also possibly explains the fact that that an intelligence report on this topic was delivered to Congress and the National Security Council (NSC) in late March 2020: the TaliIt is reported ban agreed with the United States on cooperation in February, and a report on the GRU operational contacts in the Afghan Islamist community was on the desk of the president and Congress in March. It also possible that along with information on bank accounts and transfers, the Taliban handed over the contract killers (who received money, supposedly, from the hands of Unit 29155 officers) to the US intelligence. The Taliban “washed their hands” by delivering the information and people to the CIA.
Trump, Russia and the Taliban responding to the first media reports
The Taliban officially denied any involvement in the activities of Russian military intelligence: Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban official spokesman, said that the Taliban had no relations with the GRU, and “the lives of American troops have been safe and secure,” since the US-Taliban deal, as the Taliban militants were forbidden to attack them. “Earlier, some Western media published allegations that the Islamic Emirate militants received payments from Russia for the killing of US troops and other rumors of this kind. We strongly reject these allegations. The jihad lasting 19 years… does not owe anything to any intelligence agencies or foreign countries; the Emirate does not need anyone to set goals,” he said.
Russian officials also deny any involvement in the above. “The Kremlin had not been made aware of the accusations. If someone makes them, we’ll respond,” said Dmitry Peskov. This, in general, is consistent with the statements of American officials, who note that “there is greater uncertainty about how high in the Russian government the covert operation was authorized and what its aim may be” although, according to the NYT, none of them doubts that GRU operatives paid the Islamists for the killed American soldiers. In turn, the Russian Foreign Ministry officials have dismissed such claims that Russian military intelligence could be involved in contract killings of the US military in Afghanistan as “idle gossip”. “This unpretentious media provocation clearly illustrates the low intellectual abilities of propagandists working for US intelligence, who have to come up with such nonsense instead of producing something more trustworthy… However, we could hardly expect anything else from the intelligence, which failed miserably in the twenty-year war in Afghanistan”.
It is known that media provocations are a key component of an information operation (or an information warfare operation); thus, the Foreign Ministry indirectly acknowledged that this is only the beginning, and other provocations may follow the first information attack.
On June 28, 2020, Donald Trump stated that the NYT article on the “Russia-Taliban conspiracy” is just a deliberate attempt to recall Trump’s “collusion” with Moscow on the eve of the 2020 presidential campaign. Obviously, the NYT info attack did affect Trump. It is no accident that Trump also hastened to declare that “no one reported… to me, to Vice President Mike Pence or to [White House Chief of Staff] Mark Meadows about the so-called Russian attacks on our troops in Afghanistan, as an “anonymous source” put it in the fake news media of The New York Times; they all deny it; also, there were just a few attacks on our troops”. This way, the bait prepared by the organizers of this information operation worked: if Trump had seen see the document the NYT wrote about, then he could be caught lying.
In addition, Trump emphasized that US intelligence also considered this article fake news: “intelligence only informed me that they did not find this information credible and therefore did not inform me and Mike Pence about it”. “Perhaps this is another swindle connected with Russia. Maybe the New York Times wants to demonize the Republicans with the help of fake news”. In turns out Trump did not see the information, since intelligence did not report it doubting its credibility.
Next stage of the CIA’s special information operation: second media attack – the first “evidence”
Four days after the start of the scandal, on June 30, 2020, the NYT made the second move: in the “Suspicions of Russian Bounties Were Bolstered by Data on Financial Transfers” article, columnists (citing three anonymous sources in US intelligence) reported that the United States managed to intercept the data on the GRU money transfer to the Taliban, allegedly made for the killings of the US troops in Afghanistan.
The NYT reports that, according to three anonymous sources in the CIA and NSA, “US intelligence intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account”, which was taken as evidence supporting the CIA’s conclusion that “Russia covertly offered bounties for killing US and coalition troops in Afghanistan”. US intelligence analysts concluded that the transfers were most likely part of a bounty program: remuneration paid by the Russian military intelligence to the Taliban for the American soldiers they were killing (which was also evidenced by the detained Taliban militants who were directly involved in the attacks on the US military and then “accidentally” came into the hands of the CIA).
The NYT columnists also say that the CIA already has information about a covert intelligence network created with the participation of “GRU agents”, consisting of Afghans who have served as intermediaries for distributing some of the funds among individual Taliban warlords. Investigators also identified these Afghans by name. According to intelligence sources the relationship of two of them with GRU agents has been documented; it was also established that at the moment these people are in the territory of the Russian Federation.
There is no doubt that this is just a special intelligence operation of “controlled leak” orchestrated by the CIA: secret information about the activities of Russian intelligence (operational information received by the CIA from their agents) “leaks” into the media, the NYT in this particular case. In this regard, the information leaked by the CIA could be true. Special services often disclose certain information constituting state secrets in order to use it as bait in the hunt for "big game" such as intelligence or even the leadership of another country. The disclosure of such information would inflict certain (and quite serious) damage to US national security, but if such a decoy allows trapping the enemy, success from this will exceed any expectations and can compensate for any losses. That’s the plot of the current story.
The CIA’s disclosure of operational information through draining it to the NYT reporters (an old ploy often used by American intelligence) aims at two major targets at once: Donald Trump, who hastened to say that he did not know anything about intelligence reports on the GRU cooperation with the Taliban (“I haven’t been briefed”), and Russian officials such as Russian president’s spokesman Peskov, the Russian Foreign Ministry and other officials who categorically state that the NYT accusations are misinformation (“blatant lies”), insane insinuations and fake news. Now Peskov and the Foreign Ministry will have to comment on it all while looking at the data on transfers of funds from Russia to Afghanistan (directly to the Taliban) intercepted by the NSA and financial intelligence and confirmed by detained (or voluntarily delivered by the Taliban) Afghan militants. Trump will have to explain why he publicly lied, saying that “no one showed him anything,” while Trump was provided with detailed information about the GRU’s contacts with the Taliban to eliminate American soldiers in the form of a “daily CIA intelligence report” at the end of February 2020 and Trump could not help but read it. He won’t be happy to do so.
The NYT reporters say the allegations made against the GRU are also bolstered by interrogations of Afghan businessmen detained by the Afghan police. The police suspect them of mediating money transfers from the GRU to the Taliban through the informal “hawala” system of Islamic settlements between financial agents. Afghan businessmen suspected of having links with the GRU and the Taliban were arrested in June 2020 in Kabul and northern Afghanistan. During the search, USD 500,000 were found in the house of one of them; the money was prepared for transfer to the Taliban. According to sources from the CIA, it turned out that the money was of Russian origin.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, the national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, and the Pentagon’s top spokesperson, Jonathan Hoffman declined to comment, however, saying that all recent statements (of anonymous intelligence sources) regarding Afghanistan remained unsubstantiated. This only added fuel to the fire and added credibility to the statements of anonymous NYT sources from US intelligence creating a “swing” situation: when rank-and-file but very knowledgeable people confirm everything, while high-ranking officials, on the contrary, vehemently deny everything. At the same time, the words of the rank-and-file employees are being perceived as the pure and ultimate truth, whereas the actions of their leaders are being perceived as a natural reaction of people frantically trying to hide the "leak" of secret information, for which they may suffer.
Representatives of the “targets”, on whom the second media provocation hit the most, have also intensified. On June 30, 2020, the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, sharply criticized the NYT posts (including an article published on the same day), saying that resonant statements based on “selective leaking” affect normal workflows (“disrupt intelligence gathering”). While berating the NYT reporters, McEnany did not address or deny the information stated in these articles, saying she would not disclose classified information. This accidental or deliberate reservation of Trump’s spokesperson makes it clear that the NYT reporters managed to unveil some secret data. Quite likely, the story about GRU’s connections with the Taliban is true, and repots about Russian intelligence paying for scalps of American soldiers are true, too.
McEnany also reiterated Trump’s claim and said that the information had not been elevated to the US president because “there was a dissenting view about it within the intelligence community”. At the same time, she could not say whether Trump had read the president’s daily written briefing, in which the American intelligence had collected all the information on this case at the end of February 2020. Trump is known to often neglect reading such documents (due to snobbery or ordinary sloppiness).
On July 1, 2020 US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said the Pentagon had no information about the collusion of Russia with the Taliban in order to kill the military but, "although the Pentagon does not currently have data that would confirm allegations against Russia of malicious actions against American troops in Afghanistan, I want to assure all our officers that the Department is seriously considering any and all potential threats against American military personnel".
Stab in the back
Expectedly, Trump’s “little lies” excited and energized his ideological opponents in Congress (many of whom zoologically hate Trump). Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said that he found the US president’s position on this issue “inexplicable”: while enemies are killing American soldiers, the president pretends that he knowns nothing about this — perhaps because these same killers forgot to duly inform him. Schiff noted that he was “deeply concerned” that Trump obviously “knew about the conspiracy (of the GRU and the Taliban against the United States),” but he insisted that he did not know and when he was “caught in a lie,” he began to rush about and “obfuscate everything”. According to the congressman, this is “not excusable” for the President of the United States.
On July 2, 2020, Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi urged to impose sanctions on Russia “right now” because of suspicions of collusion of the country with the Taliban (banned in Russia): “We must impose sanctions on Russia, and we must do it right now.” In her opinion, “US President Donald Trump did not take measures to protect the US troops, although he was briefed on the activities of Russia.” And this is a serious accusation that could cost Trump his career.
Tears of mothers
On June 30, 2020, Felicia Arculeo, the mother of Corporal R. Hendriks who died in the Bagram bombing, told CNBC that she “was upset to learn from news reports of the suspicions that her son’s death arose from a Russian bounty operation”. She also said she wanted an investigation, adding that “the parties who are responsible should be held accountable, if that’s even possible.” Well, who would refuse to investigate and punish the perpetrators? Especially when the perpetrators have already been selected (naturally, these are the GRU agents).
The third information attack: Specific people who can be detained and interrogated come into play
Just as in the story with the Skripals, at a certain stage of the operation, “living people” must be introduced into its script — some animators who can animate the “picture” (as is done in feature films and TV shows); otherwise, public interest in what is happening may quickly disappear. On July 1, 2020, the NYT made the third media attack with the “Afghan Contractor Handed Out Russian Cash to Kill Americans, Officials Say” article. Referring to all the same anonymous sources from American intelligence, columnists disclosed the identity of one of intermediaries transferring money from alleged GRU agents to the Taliban. A certain Rahmatullah Azizi – a smuggler and drug dealer – was presented as a person who contacted Russian military intelligence.
In the US intelligence reports, Mr. Azizi was named a key middleman who handed out money from a Russian military intelligence unit to reward Taliban-linked fighters for targeting American troops. It was he who transferred the money from the GRU to the Afghan militants: the CIA report (submitted to the US Congress on June 27, 2020) mentions amounts of “hundreds of thousands of dollars”. It also mentions a “reward” paid for one scalp of an American soldier: about $ 100,000.
The secret services spotted him after learning that Mr. Azizi, being officially unemployed, unexpectedly bought a four-story villa, drove the latest model cars with an escort of bodyguards, and made it clear that he had all this thanks to connections in Russia. The CIA officials claim that his connections with Russian military intelligence are confirmed by both intelligence information and data from Afghan special agencies. Commissioned by the GRU agents, Mr. Azizi for years handed out large sums of money to the Taliban as a reward for the “orders” they execute. He also spare some cash for himself. The Afghan secret services found a large batch of cash in the amount of $ 500,000 in his house. According to relatives, shortly before the raid, Mr. Azizi had sneaked out of Afghanistan and was likely back in Russia, presumably, for another batch of cash or new instructions.
So, just as in the Skripal case, US intelligence made it clear that they knew about the existence of a specific person who could be detained and interrogated. At the same time, the CIA reasonably fears that Mr. Azizi may never come back from Russia: if he is a valuable witness in the case and not a fictive narrative, then his fate is unenviable.
CIA operation design
What is unfolding before us is a real operation of the US information war. Its active phase began on June 26, 2020 — on the very day when the CIA made the first information attack through the NYT operational positions about the GRU and the Taliban. So far, three such moves have been done (the last was made on July 1). Each media attack is followed by a pause, a “period of silence” (exposition), which once again proves this is not a journalistic investigation or a media campaign, but a real operation of American intelligence. And this is serious.
What is the idea behind this American intelligence operation? The fact that the leak occurred recently does not mean that the CIA only now found a connection between the GRU mythical Unit 29155 and the Taliban, and rushed to inform the whole world about it: obviously, the operation was prepared in advance, very carefully, and was launched just now because the US presidential election is approaching (the vote is scheduled for November 3, 2020). The goal of this operation is to accuse Trump of — at least — criminal negligence (they reported to him, but he ignored this information), and also accuse Russia of direct support of terrorism. Such a smart idea. Surely, the operation has been designed by pros.
The next moves and actions of the American special services in this regard are extremely clear and predictable:
In the very near future, the United States will demand to recognize the “GRU” (the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the RF Armed Forces) as a terrorist organization on a par with the IS (banned in Russia). This is understandable: who else can kill American soldiers? Only terrorists. Then they will say that it is time to name the leaders of these terrorists. This way, Sergei Shoigu will come under attack as the immediate head of the “GRU terrorist organization”
Then they will say: who gave him (Shoigu) the order to kill American soldiers? There can only be one such person, the Russian president.
Finally, Russia can be recognized as a sponsoring state of international terrorism. With all the ensuing consequences.
They will recall that all the “threads” lead to Unit 29155: the very unit where Petrov and Boshirov (the alleged failed killers of Skripal) serve. This way, they will link up the GRU’s “crime” chain to the “crimes” already known to the Western audience related to the attempted assassinations of Skripal, Gebev, the assassination of Khangoshvili, etc. In the minds of European and American citizens, the GRU’s participation in these “crimes” has already been proven; the Afghan case is just one more link in this chain of “crimes” committed by order of the same center. However, in this case the lives of American soldiers (and not second-rate natives such as British, Russian, Bulgarian citizens) are at stake. The killing of American soldiers cannot be left unpunished: the US government is obliged to revenge terribly and bloodily for the lives of its citizens. Otherwise, it will simply be swept away, and it will not survive the election.