WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 30, 2020)–today, President Donald J. Trump’s administration reportedly declassified intelligence that accuses China of offering to pay actors in Afghanistan to attack American soldiers.
Two senior Trump administration officials told Axios that the intelligence was included in the president’s briefing on December 17.
Trump was also briefed on the information by National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien.
It’s unclear if any other members of Congress have been briefed on the matter, and if so they have not released any statements.
According to Axios, Trump is not believed to have discussed the matter with China President Xi Jinping.
If the claims are confirmed to be true, it would escalate tensions between the US and China; however, if they are confirmed untrue, questions will be raised about the motivations of the sources who reported it.
Last month it was reported that Trump had plans for a last-minute crackdown on China during the final weeks of his presidency.
Some of those restrictions included plans to sanction or restrict trade with more Chinese companies, government entities and officials for alleged complicity in human rights violations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, or threatening US national security, Axios reported.
The new accusations against China also come just months after the New York Times reported that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly paid bounties to Taliban-linked fighters to kill US and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
The report represents a deadly escalation in Moscow’s repeated efforts to undermine US policy, and came as the administration was seeking to find ways to extract itself from the decades-long war by making peace with the Taliban.
Trump was reportedly briefed on the activity months before it was the report was published in June, but the US took no evident action.
US Intel believed the operation to have been initiated by the notoriously violent Unit 29155 of the GRU, an arm of Russia’s military intelligence agency.
Russian Unit 29155 is thought to have operated for at least a decade, but it wasn’t until its agents attempted to assassinate former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in 2018 that intelligence agencies and investigative reporters were able to gradually map out the group’s membership and their involvement in other Russian operations in Europe.
In 2018, two Russian men operating under the aliases Alexander Petrov (later revealed to be Alexander Mishkin) and Ruslan Boshirov (whose real name is Anatoliy Chepiga) sprayed the deadly nerve agent Novichok on the door handle of Skripal’s home in Salisbury, England. Six months later, British prosecutors had enough evidence to identify the men as agents of the GRU and to charge them with attempted murder. The pair’s movements had been picked up by the U.K.’s plentiful closed-circuit TV cameras from the moment they stepped off an Aeroflot flight from Moscow.
In 2018, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) took action in response to Russia’s continued disregard for international norms. Specifically, OFAC designated a former officer of Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) for having acted on behalf of sanctioned oligarch Oleg Deripaska (Deripaska). OFAC also issued new designations related to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), an entity previously sanctioned for its efforts to interfere in U.S. elections.
Today’s action also includes the designation of 15 members of the GRU, a previously designated Russian military intelligence organization, for their involvement in a wide range of malign activity, including attempting to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election, efforts to undermine international organizations through cyber-enabled means, and an assassination attempt in the United Kingdom. These 15 operatives are being sanctioned pursuant to the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). To date, this Administration has sanctioned 272 Russia-related individuals and entities for a broad range of malign activities.
“Treasury is sanctioning Russian intelligence operatives involved in cyber operations to interfere with the 2016 election and a wide range of other malign activities. We are taking action against operatives working on behalf of a sanctioned oligarch, hacking the World Anti-Doping Agency and other international organizations, and engaging in other subversive actions,” said Steven T. Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury. “The United States will continue to work with international allies and partners to take collective action to deter and defend against sustained malign activity by Russia, its proxies, and intelligence agencies.”
In recent years, the unit has been linked to assassination attempts or revenge plots aimed at destabilizing the West.
Yet it would be the first time that it was known to have initiated attacks on Western troops, a major escalation of force against the US.
There were times when the bounties were in fact paid, according to the Times, although it did not specify if US troops stationed in Afghanistan were killed as a result of the Russian bounty payments. The money went to Islamist militants, the newspaper reported.
Source: US Department of State Axios contributed
Photo:President Trump’s Trip to Germany and the G20 Summit
President Donald J. Trump and President Xi Jinping | July 8, 2017 (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)