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Former Secretary of State Colin Powell called out the media for its “almost hysterical” coverage on reports of alleged Russian bounties on American troops.
Powell accused the media of overreacting to the reports as he discussed with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell how even military commanders were not as worried about the intelligence claiming Russians had placed bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
“What I know is that our military commanders on the ground did not think that it was as serious a problem as the newspapers were reporting and television was reporting,” Powell said Thursday.
Various media and news outlets covered the explosive report from The New York Times last month which cited U.S. intelligence officials, alleging that Taliban fighters in Afghanistan received bounty payments from Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, in order to target and kill American soldiers.
Citing unnamed officials, the report stated that intelligence officials investigated Russia’s actions and had briefed President Trump back in March, a claim the president refuted.
Trump: Intel reported to me Russian bounties claim by NY Times ‘not credible’ https://t.co/Ncqcrv0mkP
— Conservative News (@BIZPACReview) June 29, 2020
The Defense Department backed the president’s assertion, saying there was “no corroborating evidence” backing the report and, according to national security adviser Robert O’Brien, the president was not briefed on the matter since the intelligence community had not verified the allegations.
The Washington Post soon followed up the story in The Times as did other media outlets. Powell indicated Thursday that coverage got “out of control” following the initial report.
“It got kind of out of control before we really had an understanding of what had happened. I’m not sure we fully understand now,” he told Mitchell.
The commander of U.S. Central Command, Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, “did not think this was of that level of importance to us,” Powell added.
“Remember, it’s not the intelligence community that’s going to go fight these guys, it’s the guys on the ground. It’s our troops. It’s our commanders who are going to go deal with this kind of a threat, using intelligence that was given to them by the intelligence community,” he said.
“But that has to be analyzed,” Powell continued. “It has to be attested. And then you have to go find out who the enemy is. And I think we were on top of that one, but it just got — it got almost hysterical in the first few days.”
U.S. Marine Corps. General David Berger also dismissed the idea of Russian bounties in an ABC News interview.
If the top U.S. general in the Middle East was never briefed about Russian “bounties” in Afghanistan, it wasn’t happening
Gen. Berger says he never even saw any Russian influence
— Elizabeth Harrington (@LizRNC) July 8, 2020
As Mitchell interjected to defend her network’s coverage in light of Powell’s remarks, the former U.S. national security adviser looked at Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and the current U.S.-Russia relationship.
“I don’t think we’re in a position to go to war with the Russians,” he told Mitchell. “I know Mr. Putin rather well. He’s just figuring out a way to stay in power until 2036. The last thing he’s looking for is a war, and the last thing he’s looking for is a war with the United States of America.”
Trump had fired back at The Times report, calling it out as “another made up by Fake News tale” and a “hoax” last week on Twitter.
The Russia Bounty story is just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party. The secret source probably does not even exist, just like the story itself. If the discredited @nytimes has a source, reveal it. Just another HOAX!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2020
McKenzie also emphasized this week how the intelligence wasn’t strong enough to warrant briefing the president.
“The intel case wasn’t proved to me — it wasn’t proved enough that I’d take it to a court of law — and you know that’s often true in battlefield intelligence,” the general told reporters earlier this week.
“You see a lot of indicators,” McKenzie explained. “Many of them are troubling, many of them you act on. But, in this case there just wasn’t enough there. I sent the intelligence guys back to continue to dig on it, and I believe they’re continuing to dig right now, but I just didn’t see enough there to tell me that the circuit was closed in that regard.”
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany slammed The New York Times over the report and suggested the newspaper, as well as the liberal Washington Post, should return their Pulitzer Prizes. During a White House press briefing last week, McEnany called out the “absolutely irresponsible decision” by The Times.
“The president is briefed on verified intelligence, and again, I would just point you back to the absolutely irresponsible decision of the New York Times to falsely report that he was briefed on something that he, in fact, was not briefed on,” she told reporters. “I really think that it’s time for The New York Times to step back and ask themselves why they’ve been wrong, so wrong, so often.”
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