Stuff is a technical term…
Earlier today, commenter Wyatt Salamanca, asked my take on the news that the US Intelligence community has determined that the Russians may not have put bounties on the heads of US service members deployed in Afghanistan. I’ve now had a chance to read the reporting and I have the same basic reaction as Marc Polymeropoulos. Polymeropolous is a retired Senior Intelligence Service officer who served 26 years in the CIA.
This headline appears to be incorrect. How is US intel walking anything back? The low to medium confidence level is exactly what was previously reported, that’s my recollection from press accounts. Seems like nothing changed. https://t.co/2xSJmWUw3T
— Marc Polymeropoulos (@Mpolymer) April 15, 2021
From The Daily Beast:
“The United States intelligence community assesses with low to moderate confidence that Russian intelligence officers sought to encourage Taliban attacks on U.S. and coalition personnel in Afghanistan in 2019 and perhaps earlier,” a senior administration official said.
According to the officials on Thursday’s call, the reporting about the alleged “bounties” came from “detainee reporting”–raising the specter that someone told their U.S.-aligned Afghan jailers what they thought was necessary to get out of a cage. Specifically, the official cited “information and evidence of connections to criminal agents in Afghanistan and elements of the Russian government” as sources for the intelligence community’s assessment.
Without additional corroboration, such reporting is notoriously unreliable.
The senior Biden official added on Thursday that the “difficult operating environment in Afghanistan” complicated U.S. efforts to confirm what amounts to a rumor.
I remember the reporting last year the same way that Polymeropoulos does. Specifically that we had intelligence, but that there was a significant debate within different parts of the Intelligence Community about how valid it was. What today’s statement tells us is that we have a single source – the detainee – and that the Intelligence Community has been unable to further validate his information. And, of course, because detainees will try to use anything and everything to get out of detention, this could be solid intelligence or it could be useless information. So without further corroboration from other sources, the analysts deemed it to be of low to moderate confidence.
What does low to moderate confidence mean in reality? It means it is actionable – as in we will do something as a result of the information – in regard to force protection/keeping US and coalition personnel safe in Afghanistan. But it is not actionable – as we will not do something as a result of this information – in regard to escalating a response in regard to our relations with Russia. That said, the administration did tell Russia that they are taking this seriously, even if it cannot be validated by other sources and methods, and therefore Russia should take note and act accordingly.
“We have noted our conclusion of the review that we conducted on the bounties issue and we have conveyed through diplomatic, intelligence, and military channels strong, direct messages on this issue, but we are not specifically tying the actions we are taking today to that matter,” a senior administration official told reporters in reference to the bounty claims.
This happens. Despite what people both inside and outside the Intelligence Community would like to believe, while a lot of it is rooted in social and behavioral science and methods, it is as much artisanry as it is science. And sometimes even a solid lead, which this may or may not be, cannot be validated by further investigation.
Cool, I’ll read it pre-dawn!
Adam L Silverman
@raven: Sleep well!
Concur, Adam. I never paid much attention to this, and everything I’ve read today seems to me like the same thing that induced me not to pay much attention.
Thanks for putting in the effort. It’s been a busy day.
“Low confidence” is the most misunderstood term in the intelligence world. Not shocked that it would get further mangled by those looking for an excuse to do so.
Gin & Tonic
I was too young to know it, but the idea of that movie being released barely a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis is, in retrospect, astonishing.
Is there a technical or normative description of “low” vs. “moderate” vs. “high” confidence somewhere on the open web?
Enhanced Voting Techniques
So the short of it is, typical of the chaos around the Trump admin that something that was being investigated was treated as fact.
Adam L Silverman
Adam L Silverman
@Enhanced Voting Techniques: I think, in this case, the information leaked out and the news media ran with it and then Democrats picked it up and ran with it. And then the Trump people tried to do damage control that they were once again being accused of being soft on Russia and Putin and it was putting US military personnel at risk.
Sister Golden Bear
Republicans: We must protect our girls from those perverted trans people.
Also Republicans: We’ll inspect the genitals of any student athlete we suspect is trans.
Republicans: Cancel culture is out of control.
Also Republicans: We need to prevent students from learning about LGBTQ people, as well as any historical events involving them, such as Stonewall.
Artisanal intelligence is the best kind!
It did sound kind of funky to me at the time. Why on earth would the Russians (under whatever guise) pay bounties on ordinary American service people when there are so many (unfortunately) ready willing able and eager to do it for free?
@Adam – Thanks for the pointer.
@Sister Golden Bear: Saw these earlier. It seems as though the GQP is ramping up its demonization as though they’re trying to distract from the police killings or the popularity of Biden’s programs.
When you’ve got the Law… When you don’t have a table to pound you throw garbage.
Adam L Silverman
@Sister Golden Bear: Consistency, hobgoblins, little minds.
Adam L Silverman
@grumbles: You’re welcome.
Adam, thanks for this. Your posts are always so enlightening — you really explain the complexities behind the headlines.
Adam L Silverman
@Tehanu: You are quite welcome and thanks for the kind words.
Of course it does lead one to ask: why are the headlines being written in a way that is misleadingly complex?
Sister Golden Bear
@Dan B: The latest GQP war on trans people began months ago. I think it’s more a combination of 1) Republicans need someone to hate; and 2) we’re this year’s “wedge issue” for them; and 3) they’re pissed at losing and need someone take their anger out on.
The volume of bills has ramped up, but it’s been going on for years, and getting more and more extreme each year.
@Sister Golden Bear: their hypocrisy is so awful, especially the colossal bad faith where they switched from gay fear mongering to trans fear mongering without having to explain why their dire gay fear mongering never actually happened
Adam L Silverman
@Sister Golden Bear: I think your analysis is 100% accurate. They do this every few years once whomever they’ve been targeting as the designated outside and other to victimize has been largely accepted by the majority of Americans as just other Americans. They’ve worked themselves through a variety of ethnic Americans – both Catholic and Jewish – then turned on Blacks despite being the party of Lincoln, then went after anyone they thought they could claim was a communist and make that stick, which was shot through with anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia, then switched it up to LGBTQ then Muslims then Muslims and LGBTQ at the same time and now Trans people. Once we work through this they’ll be on to another group to target. Either recycling an earlier target or designating a new one.
@Sister Golden Bear: Back in the 50’s and 60’s it was gay commie pedophiles. Then the 80’s rolled around with disease spreading gays. It seems like marriage equality took the air out of the predator and disease narratives. It’s awful to watch the attacks on trans people, especially trans women.
@Enhanced Voting Techniques: To be fair, a lot of the yelling was Democrats complaining Trump wasn’t taking action. Given the general incompetence of Trump and his band of fools, and their lack of attention to important issues, I cannot fault those who were yelling for apparently overreacting.
@Adam L Silverman: I liked a comment that these homophobes and transphobes should turn off their computers because they were invented by Alan Turing.
Adam L Silverman
@Dan B: Don’t even get me started.
Daughter called to make an appt this morning – first day in CA for 16+.
May 28, 3 cities away was the first available. I know a lot of people are reporting that they have plenty of appts in their area, but CA will be at 24M doses tomorrow, so we’re not exactly slacking at nearly half a million a day. Given the timing of the appt, we’ll be around 45M by the time she gets her first shot. That’s assuming we don’t continue to expand appts as vaccine supply increases.
@Adam L Silverman: There will always be poor people.
@Gin & Tonic
With the (IMHO superior) Fail-Safe following not long after in the same year. Also too, Seven Days in May.
Good look (albeit skims the surface), in retrospect, at the beast lurking behind the curtain of Dr. Strangelove.
Mike in NC
Read a biography of Peter Sellers that basically said he was an extremely eccentric doofus who claimed to have no actual personality outside of the roles he played.
@Martin: Your daughter should keep trying. I was able to get my wife and appointment for tomorrow, so clearly there are spots available, if you know where to look. (we’re in the north bay)
1964 was a year audiences were ripe for and receptive to tales spun of political paranoia.
@Martin: A lot of places update their available appointments either daily or weekly as the allocations change, so I wouldn’t take “6 weeks from now” too seriously.
@MisterForkbeard: Yeah, its with our HMO, and they’ll call if there’s an opening. But I think it’s still telling that it’s a 6 week wait for appts when I keep hearing from others ‘oh, you can walk in anywhere’. No, not here.
Sorry, Adam looks like there may have been another one:
Ronald Reagan Pwy., ptui I hope they’re taking that name off monuments in less than 150 years.
OC Dept. of health tonight:
NUMBER OF PERSONS FULLY VACCINATED ALL PLATFORMS: 753,163
Number of Persons who’ve had their first shot of two: 595,450
Total 1,348,613 of 3.3 million, so we’re getting there!
@karen marie: That’s my recollection as well. Nobody wanted to even bring it up with TFG — who wouldn’t know moderate vs. low “confidence” if it bit him in the ass and didn’t read intel briefings anyway — because he’d just get mad about receiving potentially uncomfortable news about the Russians. So it got leaked instead because someone somewhere wanted it to get the attention it wasn’t getting in the WH, and here we are. But yeah, the admin’s reaction at the time ranged from “this is a nothingburger” to “ix-nay on the Ussian-Ray bounty-ays because it will make you-know–who upset!”
Either way, not inspiring confidence that anyone knew how to actually handle the situation or the information.
@Mary G: Sounds bad. Why could everyone stop shooting places up for the pandemic, and when they think it’s over, it’s back to business as usual?
Bold mine. Two shifts in a row, and seem young, because one of their moms told them to hide in the cars? Maybe hire more people and pay them better, Fedex?
@Mary G: They’re calling this a Level 1 incident, so I looked around for what that means: (This is a PDF from the PA DOH, Bureau of EMS.)
@Benw: and then they switched from bathroom panic, to every girl who wants to play sports has to pull down her pants and let somebody take a good look. They went from worrying about pedophiles to wanting to hire somebody to take a good look at the genitals of every girl who wants to play sports, because that job description won’t attract pedophiles. And anyone who’s met or been a preteen or teen girl knows that most would die before they let that happen, which means they can just eliminate girl’s sports.
@JWR: So on the plus side, I’m glad I was wrong in thinking that “Level 1” indicated the worst possible outcome, not the least bad.
Adam, thank you for all you contribute to this near-top-10K blog. Even though it’s receding in time, I would eagerly like to read your take on recent events in Jordan if that’s still on your radar.
@Joey Maloney: That’s what I thought, too.
J R in WV
@Sister Golden Bear:
Good job showing the utter hypocrisy of the fundagelicals and Republicans… but for me, the one word “Republicans” would be enough.
Though, I understand your reasoning in showing this specific set of issues around which the Rs are so totally off base. Fortunately for most of us, I think the Republikkkans misjudge the mood of the general public on freedom to be free in America.
Best of luck on your work to find a paying job — and thanks for sharing so much with us. I hope we help you on those dark nights.