“Irresponsible” and “erroneous” media leaks not only undermine the position of the duly-elected US president but also damage the ability of the nation to collect intelligence, the White House has said, refuting reports of Russia allegedly giving bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing American troops in Afghanistan.
The intelligence assessment on the Russian bounties was first reported by The New York Times. Subsequently, other media outlets also published the report, triggering a controversy.
“Which allies will want to share information with us if they know that some rogue intelligence officer can go splash that information on the front page of a major US newspaper?” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in her opening statement at a press briefing on Tuesday.
McEnany also refuted reports that President Donald Trump was briefed on the issue.
“Since before President Trump assumed office, damaging and oftentimes erroneous leaks seeking to undermine or delegitimise the duly elected president have been published,” she said.
According to the Department of Justice, classified leaks surged in the Trump administration. There were just 39, on average, criminal leak referrals in the Barack Obama regime.
“In this administration, we”ve seen 100 criminal leak referrals to the DOJ in 2017, 88 in 2018, and 104 on average per year,” McEnany said.
“Because of an irresponsible, anonymous leak to the New York Times, who’s going to want to cooperate with the US intelligence community, who’s going to want to be a source or an asset, if they know that their identity could be disclosed?” the press secretary asked.
She said two bad scenarios have emerged from the report.
“Number one, this report makes it more difficult to come to a consensus on this matter, to verify intelligence. And number two, this level of controversy and discord plays directly into the hands of Russia and unfortunately serves their interests,” McEnany said.
The press secretary said there have been targeted leaks of classified information against Trump.
“And it is irresponsible: phone calls with foreign leaders, meetings with government officials, and now reports of alleged intelligence. Make no mistake: This damages our ability, as a nation, to collect intelligence,” she said.
“To the anonymous sources who leak classified information, you should know this: You may seek to undermine our President, but in fact, you undermine our country’s safety and our country”s security,” McEnany said.
The NYT reported last week that intelligence officials believed that a unit of the Russian intelligence agency GRU offered and paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing American troops and other coalition forces and that the White House had not authorised a response after the National Security Council convened an interagency meeting about the problem in late March.
Investigators are said to be focused on at least two deadly attacks on American soldiers in Afghanistan, including the April 2019 bombing outside Bagram Air Base that killed three US marines, the report said.
Responding to a question, McEnany said Trump has always taken a tough and unadulterated action against Russia.
“We saw that there’s no diplomatic presence on the West Coast of our country, of Russia, because the President closed the consulates. We saw he expelled 60 Russian intelligence officers; sanctioned hundreds of targets; withdrew from the INF Treaty, the Open Skies Treaty; tried to halt Nord Stream — still trying to do that; impose visa sanctions, and many other actions,” she said.
McEnany asserted that Trump will always protect American troops.
“We saw in Syria, in the strikes in 2018, that dozens of Russian mercenaries were killed. He will always act, to protect American troops. That is indeed his track record,” she said.
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