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Officials say White House was aware of Russian bounties on U.S. troops back in 2019

Russian bounties

WASHINGTON, DC — Top officials in the White House were aware in early 2019 of classified intelligence indicating Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban for the deaths of Americans, a full year earlier than has been previously reported.

That’s according to U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the intelligence who spoke with The Associated Press. The assessment was included in at least one of President Donald Trump’s written daily intelligence briefings at the time, according to the officials.

Then-National Security Adviser John Bolton also told colleagues he briefed Trump on the intelligence assessment in March 2019.

The White House did not respond to questions about Trump or other officials’ awareness of Russia’s provocations in 2019. The White House has said Trump was not — and still has not been — briefed on the intelligence assessments because they have not been fully verified. However, it is rare for intelligence to be confirmed without a shadow of a doubt before it is presented to top officials.

Bolton declined to comment Monday when asked by the AP if he had briefed Trump about the matter in 2019. On Sunday, he suggested to NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Trump was claiming ignorance of Russia’s provocations to justify his administration’s lack of a response.

“He can disown everything if nobody ever told him about it,” Bolton said.

The revelations cast new doubt on the White House’s efforts to distance Trump from the Russian intelligence assessments. The AP reported Sunday that concerns about Russian bounties were also included in a second written presidential daily briefing earlier this year and that current national security adviser Robert O’Brien had discussed the matter with Trump. O’Brien denies he did so.

The administration’s earlier awareness of the Russian efforts raises additional questions about why Trump did not take any punitive action against Moscow for efforts that put the lives of Americans servicemembers at risk. Trump has sought throughout his time in office to improve relations with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, moving earlier this year to try to reinstate Russia as part of a group of world leaders it had been kicked out of.

Officials said they did not consider the intelligence assessments in 2019 to be particularly urgent, given that Russian meddling in Afghanistan is not a new occurrence. The officials with knowledge of Bolton’s apparent briefing for Trump said it contained no “actionable intelligence,” meaning the intelligence community did not have enough information to form a strategic plan or response. However, the classified assessment of Russian bounties was the sole purpose of the meeting.

The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose the highly sensitive information.

The intelligence that surfaced in early 2019 indicated Russian operatives had become more aggressive in their desire to contract with the Taliban and members of the Haqqani Network, a militant group aligned with the Taliban in Afghanistan and designated a foreign terrorist organization in 2012 during the Obama administration.

The National Security Council and the undersecretary of defense for intelligence did hold meetings regarding the intelligence. The Pentagon declined to comment and the NSC did not respond to questions about the meetings.

Concerns about Russian bounties flared anew this year after members of the elite Naval Special Warfare Development Group, known to the public as SEAL Team Six, raided a Taliban outpost and recovered roughly $500 thousand in U.S. dollars. The funds bolstered the suspicions of the American intelligence community that the Russians had offered money to Taliban militants and other linked associations.

The White House contends the president was unaware of this development as well. However, the information was also included in the presidential daily briefing. And officials told the AP that O’Brien did brief Trump on the matter. O’Brien has denied such a briefing occurred.

The officials told the AP that career government officials developed potential options for the White House to respond to the Russian aggression in Afghanistan, which was first reported by The New York Times. However, the Trump administration has yet to authorize any action.

The intelligence in 2019 and 2020 surrounding Russian bounties was derived in part from debriefings of captured Talbian militants. Officials with knowledge of the matter told the AP that Taliban operatives from opposite ends of the country and from separate tribes offered similar accounts.

The officials would not name the specific groups or give specific locations in Afghanistan or time frames for when they were detained.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, denied that Russian intelligence officers had offered payments to the Taliban in exchange for targeting U.S. and coalition forces.

The U.S. is investigating whether any Americans died as a result of the Russian bounties. Officials are focused in particular on an April 2019 attack on an American convoy. Three U.S. Marines were killed after a car rigged with explosives detonated near their armored vehicles as they returned to Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan.

The Marines exchanged gunfire with the vehicle at some point; however, it’s not known if the gunfire occurred before or after the car exploded.

Abdul Raqib Kohistani, the Bagram district police chief, said at the time that at least five Afghan civilians were wounded after the attack on the convoy, according to previous reporting by the AP. It is not known if the civilians were injured by the car bomb or the gunfire from U.S. Marines.

The Defense Department identified Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman, 43, from Newark, Delaware; Sgt. Benjamin Hines, 31, from York, Pennsylvania; and Cpl. Robert Hendriks, 25, from Locust Valley, New York, as the Marines killed in April 2019. The three Marines were all infantrymen assigned to 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, a reserve infantry unit headquartered out of Garden City, New York.

Hendriks’ father told the AP that even a rumor of Russian bounties should have been immediately addressed.

“If this was kind of swept under the carpet as to not make it a bigger issue with Russia, and one ounce of blood was spilled when they knew this, I lost all respect for this administration and everything,” Erik Hendriks said.

Marine Major Roger Hollenbeck said at the time that the reserve unit was a part of the Georgia Deployment Program-Resolute Support Mission, a reoccurring, six-month rotation between U.S. Marines and Georgian Armed Forces. The unit first deployed to Afghanistan in October 2018.

Three other service members and an Afghan contractor were also wounded in the attack. As of April 2019, the attack was under a separate investigation, unrelated to the Russian bounties, to determine how it unfolded.

The officials who spoke to the AP also said they were looking closely at insider attacks — sometimes called “green-on-blue” incidents — from 2019 to determine if they are also linked to Russian bounties.

Military / News / Top Stories / US & World

Associated Press



  1. According to Trump a few American soldiers lives are worth the price of keeping Putin as his best bud. Security briefings? What briefings? He gets his briefings every morning on Fox News.

    1. That information would be TOP SECRET/SCI and Trump wound have been briefed but the public wasn’t authorized to know it. The leaker should be arrested.

  2. It is getting to the point where if you are a Trump enabler you are against what is best for America. Total fool in charge of America’s Security. That’s like leaving the Fox in charge of the Chicken coop.

    1. Blame the NY Slimes. If they hadn’t leaked inaccurate, unverified information we would have been able to find out exactly what happened. Now that the NY SLimes once again jumped the gun in order to try to make the President look bad, any chance for an accurate report is gone. The NY Slimes is democrat propaganda machine and has NOT been correct on ANYTHING in over a decade. They are the real treat to US security.

  3. If this is true, its the height of malfeasance in office and rises to treason. There is no end to the danger to the country that the orange buffoon presents. He may have to be removed from office prior to November 3

    1. NO there is no end to the level of fake news, hoax, lies, propaganda, flat out made up nonsense that the left will resort to win. If Biden has this election wrapped up, why are the democrats still so afraid? They just keep making stuff up because they know Biden has lost his mind.

  4. Rebubbacans don’t know fake if it bit them in their butts. Sasha Baron Cohen just catfished a bunch of hillbillies having a Right Wing Hootennany in Olympia Washington. Watch it on YouTube. Hilarious!!

    1. Trump was accused of colluding with Russian. It was actually the Democrats. Democrats blames Trump of quid pro quo. It was actually the democrats. The Democrats own the Bengazi scandal so now they made up another Bengazi to blame Trump on. So Predictable. How many more Hoaxes till November? Any wagers? 3? 4?

        1. Oh I’m just fine. I love my country. I love my President. I’ve made a commitment to stay off of this site for a week at a time and then come on only once a week to give myself a good laugh at the complete stupidity of you liberals. Instead I spend my time doing research and debunking 95% of what you liberal sheep say and it is sooooo entertaining. You are all so misinformed it’s almost impossible to believe. You are such suckers. The leftist propaganda that you follow is so easily obvious. It does my heart good to know that our President is so strong that the left are willing to destroy their own party and their own country to beat him. Pure comedy. Have a good week. Don’t forget to watch the Morning Shmoe.

          1. The orange buffoon is a danger to the security of the nation. Its time you dealt with that. All your raving and ranting while wearing a tin foil hat will not do a thing to clean up the damage left by this unfit for office individual. If you love your country as you claim, you sure would not keep supporting a President who is destroying it.

          2. MAGA, the irony of all the vile vomit these demoKKKrats spew really belongs to obumer. It was obumer that made secret negotiations with russian and it was caught on tape. It was obumer that paid iran 4 billion dollars cash to help iran build their nuclear and military capabilities. It was obumer that started the hoax along with feeble biden to keep President Trump from doing his job. Regardless of their efforts Mr Trump has beaten them all. He is still there and biden is hiding in his bunker.

    2. nano coco nut

      No one cares about you. You are just a sidekick to the hatefulness of your cohorts. You are irrelevant. You never have one single thought of your own, always parroting the idiots.

  5. Your dumbass president doesn’t need help to look bad! He does it all by himself everyday. Yeah, I know, the whole world is spreading lies and fake news to make Trump a one termer. Poor Trump. Such an innocent lamb being portrayed as a mean old Wolf. For Shame!

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