Rachel Marsden, VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Anonymous U.S. intelligence officials say that Russia offered money to Taliban-linked fighters in Afghanistan to attack American and Allied troops, according to the New York Times. The leak of presumably classified and unvetted raw intelligence from inside the U.S. intelligence community follows a well-worn pattern that’s typically seen with America’s regime-change targets. Now, the same modus operandi appears to be aimed squarely at the president of the United States.
The beating of war drums based on strategically leaked or planted intelligence is a tradition in certain corners of the intelligence community — except that it’s usually aimed at foreign leaders. Many Americans have caught on and no longer take these stories at face value. But there are still more than enough people willing to believe anything that fits their worldview, so intelligence officials can still get some mileage out of the strategy.
In September 2002, the New York Times reported that “Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb,” citing comments from officials in the George W. Bush administration.
By March 2003, America was at war in Iraq. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was overthrown, and U.S. troops are still dying in Iraq for reasons that seem to change with the season.
In February 2011, the Times ran an opinion piece headlined “Stopping Qaddafi,” which warned that, “Unless some way is found to stop him, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya will slaughter hundreds or even thousands of his own people in his desperation to hang on to power.”
It’s a convenient narrative if you’re a member of the U.S. intelligence community trying to plant a few seeds of propaganda for a foreign leader’s ouster. The following month, a NATO coalition invaded Libya, leading to Qaddafi’s ouster and death. A bloody civil war has raged in that country ever since. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted years later that the objective was to take out Gaddafi, but the “fiction was maintained” that the aim was merely to disable his command and control.
It’s an observable pattern: U.S. intelligence leaks a carefully crafted narrative that elicits fear and an intense emotional response. Particularly now, in the age of 24/7 media and social networks, the narrative rapidly propagates worldwide. Any nuance or dissent included in the initial reporting is either lost or ignored due to the sensationalistic nature of the narrative, and the narrative is repeated often enough (on a mass scale, in digestible soundbites) that it’s adopted as irrefutable truth. Public opinion is successfully shifted against the intended target.
In this case, the target appears to be President Donald Trump.
Officials cited in the Times’ Russian bounty story say some of the intelligence comes from “interrogations of captured Afghan militants and criminals,” which should obviously cast some doubt on the veracity of the information. And with lying and deceit an inherent part of intelligence official’s job description, taking them at their word requires a leap of faith.
The inability to verify the Times story’s credibility hasn’t stopped reactionary Trump haters from enthusiastically incorporating it into their rhetorical arsenal and spewing it all over the public domain with none of the caution or moderation that the obvious blind spots should dictate.
The Trump administration and the Kremlin have dismissed the report, and no one seems more offended than the Taliban. (A Taliban spokesman told the Times that they were self-funded in their killing of U.S. troops, thank you very much.) It’s not as if the Taliban needed money as an incentive to drive out foreign occupiers. And let’s not forget that the Taliban was an American-made production that sprung forth from the mujahideen, which, ironically, the CIA equipped and funded covertly to kill Soviet forces in Afghanistan during the Cold War.
There’s currently a fledgling peace deal between the U.S. and the Taliban, with no attacks on U.S. troops since February, as the Times points out. The next step is an agreement between the Afghan government and the Taliban to end the war and get all foreign troops to leave the country. Russia and the Trump administration seem to be on the same page on this, and Trump’s pledge to withdraw troops from perennial foreign wars seemed to resonate with voters in 2016. Potential U.S.-Russia cooperation for lasting peace would require the U.S. intelligence community to get behind a stated Trump policy objective — many of which the intelligence community has resisted from day one.
Factions within the intelligence community have been at odds with Trump since before he was elected. In the absence of hard, credible evidence for their latest sensational claims, it’s difficult to see their efforts as anything more than attempted domestic regime change.
Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and host of an independently produced French-language program that airs on Sputnik France. Her website can be found at http://www.rachelmarsden.com.