National Security Adviser: 'The Real Story Is That We Did Everything Right' on Russia-Bounty Intel

By Susan Jones | July 2, 2020 | 5:12am EDT
President Donald Trump with National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien on September 18, 2019. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
President Donald Trump with National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien on September 18, 2019. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - "This should be a story about how things work right in the government," National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien said on Wednesday, when he was asked about allegations that Russia paid the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan.

This week's tempest in Washington centered on the intelligence leak, and whether President Trump knew, or should have known, about the raw intelligence regarding Russian bounties on our troops, intelligence that remains unverified.

Trump said no one briefed him on the information, a point on which his briefers agree, although the information apparently appeared in writing in the daily brief given to the president and senior officials, including a few in Congress.

"We did everything right in this case," O'Brien said:

The real story here, and that--that's what's so sad, we're in such a polarized time now, the real story is that we did everything right.

When this raw intelligence came in, Gina Haspel put out a statement that I haven't seen reported. No one has reported it. I don't see the New York Times with the headline on it. She said we distributed this raw intelligence, even though it wasn't verified because we were concerned about it. We gave it to U.S. forces and we gave it to coalition forces to make sure they could have force protection.

The DOD came out and said as soon as we had this information, we made sure that we had tactics in place, that we took protective measures to look after our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in Afghanistan. That hasn't been reported. That was done right.

Here at the White House, when we had this raw intelligence, we started an interagency process to look at options so that if the--if the intelligence turned out to be verified, if it could be corroborated, then we'd have options to go to the president with to address the Russian situation. None of that is being reported. This should be a story about how things work and how things work right in the government.

The reason it's not...is because some leaker, whoever it is, and I and I understand that there's been a crimes report filed by the CIA with the Department of Justice -- some leaker took it upon themselves in a in an effort to attack the president or to maybe promote some policy agenda to leak allegations that now make it almost impossible for us to find out what happened, and that's really a shame.

O'Brien said President Trump "is up to speed on everything he needs to know to keep this country safe."

He noted that Trump has sanctioned Iran, which received pallets of cash from the Obama administration at the same time Iran was killing American citizens. And Trump allowed U.S. troops to defend themselves in Syria against Russian mercenaries.

And as for Russia, O'Brien said, "There's been no administration since the end of the Cold War that has done more to push back on the Soviet--on--on Russia, as our Cold War presidents did against the Soviet Union, than this president, including sending Javelin antitank missiles to the Ukraine, which the previous Obama-Biden administration refused to do.

Moreover, in the past couple of months, while all of this was pending, we took--we issued sanctions on Rosneft [Russian energy company] for Russian activity in Venezuela with Maduro.

We withdrew from the Open Skies Treaty, which the Russians were violating and which we were adhering to. And by the way, that was roundly criticized by many of the Democrats in Congress, the same Democrats that are calling for action against Russia Today. They didn't care that Russia was violating the Open Skies Treaty.

And number three, specifically with respect to Afghanistan, there's a so-called court in the Hague called the International Criminal Court. That court is investigating American servicemen and women who are serving in Afghanistan today, our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and intelligence officers under bogus theories that they somehow committed war crimes defending the people of Afghanistan and defending us in Afghanistan.

As Secretary Pompeo said, we believe the Russians were behind this investigation. We called the Russians out and we've sanctioned--the president signed an executive order several weeks ago sanctioning the ICC. Again, there were many in Congress on the other side of the aisle that criticized that action.

So there's no one tougher on the Russians.

O'Brien said President Trump now has been fully briefed on the unverified Russian-bounty intelligence that someone leaked to the New York Times last week:

"And here's one of the things that's a shame about the leak. These--these are important allegations. And if they are--they're verified, I can guarantee you that the president would take strong action.

"We've been working for several months on options for the president of the United States in the event that this uncorroborated, as the Department of Defense calls it, uncorroborated evidence turned out to be true.

"It may now be impossible to get to the bottom of this because some government officials somewhere decided to leak allegations before we had a chance to get the bottom of it. And we may never get to the truth of the matter now, and that's really a shame."

O'Brien said a "senior career civil servant, a CIA officer" decided not to brief the president on the Russia bounty intelligence, because "she didn't have confidence" in the information.

"We get raw intelligence and tactical intelligence every day. Hundreds of pieces of intelligence come in every day. Thousands of pieces of intelligence come in a week. She made that call.

"And you know what? I think she made the right call. And so I'm not going to criticize her and knowing the facts that I know now, I stand behind that call. Now, unfortunately, as I mentioned before because someone decided to leak this intelligence while we were trying to get to the bottom of it, that may never be possible now and that's a shame. And whoever the leaker is should be--should be really ashamed of themselves."

CIA Director Gina Haspel issued a statement on the evening of June 29, reading as follows:

“When developing intelligence assessments, initial tactical reports often require additional collection and validation.  In general, preliminary Force Protection information is shared throughout the national security community -- and with U.S. allies -- as part of our ongoing efforts to ensure the safety of coalition forces overseas.  Leaks compromise and disrupt the critical interagency work to collect, assess, and ascribe culpability.

"Hostile states’ use of proxies in war zones to inflict damage on U.S. interests and troops is a constant, longstanding concern. CIA will continue to pursue every lead; analyze the information we collect with critical, objective eyes; and brief reliable intelligence to protect U.S. forces deployed around the world.”

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