The Battle over Bounties and the Bottom Line

OPINION — On 27 June, The New York Times reported Russia was offering bounties to the Taliban to kill American soldiers. The paper cited anonymous sources placing blame on Russia’s GRU, which has a long history of subversion, sabotage and assassination.  As expected, there was significant outcry in Washington.  House leader Nancy Pelosi called for an investigation as Vice President Biden called the Trump administration “a gift to Putin” and claimed the President “had known about this for months”. The swift response came from both sides of the aisle, with Rep. Michael McCaul, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, demanding action to “take swift and severe actions against Putin and his mercenaries and Rep. Elizabeth Cheney (R, Wyoming),  demanding answers from the President.

Beyond politics, there are significant questions related to The New York Times article. The first is the use of the evocative term “bounties”, conjuring up an impression from the American wild west, with bounty hunters riding into town dropping a dead body in front of the sheriff’s office. A more thoughtful description would be to report that intelligence information suggesting Russian assistance to the Taliban, something that has been reported for years by the US interagency, Congress and the US-led Coalition in Afghanistan. One is reminded of Casablanca and the hapless Captain Louis Renault- “I am shocked- shocked- to find that gambling is going on in here.

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