Guest Column: The excuses don’t add up on bounties

It has been reported that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban for the killing of American and coalition servicemen and women. Some have argued that the intelligence is not “credible” or has not been “corroborated” or is not “actionable.” Let’s evaluate those statements. First, if the intelligence was included in the President’s Daily Brief, as has been reported, then it is most certainly credible. To be included in the PDB, the intelligence would require not just “corroboration” by multiple sources but also tangible evidence. It’s absurd to think that “hunches” would make it past the several layers of analysis by intelligence experts before being included in the PDB. Anything that reaches the level of the PDB is not just “credible,” it’s highly credible. But there’s more. The intelligence was deemed credible enough for field commanders to authorize Navy SEAL Team 6 to raid a Taliban outpost that recovered $500,000 in cash. Additional corroboration for the bounties!

Then there is the question of whether President Trump knew of the intelligence. If Trump knew and did nothing, that amounts to dereliction of duty in its most egregious form. If the president did not know of the intelligence accumulated by his own intelligence agencies, that’s complete incompetence that also amounts to dereliction of duty. Was the intelligence “actionable”? That’s obviously true since the field commanders authorized the SEAL Team 6 strike.

Finally, there is President Trump’s latest argument that the intelligence is just a “hoax.” Where is the president’s evidence? He never says. And how could a “fake news hoax” influence field commanders to authorize a SEAL Team raid that resulted in hard evidence?

As a former Navy executive officer of a forward base of operations in Vietnam, I can assure you that field commanders always view raw intelligence as “credible” and they act on that intelligence to keep personnel safe and ensure mission capability. When intelligence reports are received that indicate a potential threat, security must be enhanced and possible avenues of attack evaluated. The assumption must always be that these reports are accurate. What’s the alternative? Wait for the attack to be certain it’s credible? Stated this way, the absurdity is evident. U.S. intelligence assets “in the field” risk their lives daily to acquire this intelligence and their efforts should not be marginalized because it is politically inconvenient or embarrassing to the president. 

Finally, it is completely reasonable to assume that Russia actually did institute a “bounty” for U.S. and coalition lives. We know they are a hostile power that has armed our enemies, hacked our elections, encouraged divisiveness via social media, cyber-attacked our infrastructure, and provoked incidents with U.S. warships and aircraft, all with the same intention — to weaken the United States. 

Failure to act on this intelligence is just the latest in a long line of capitulations by President Trump to Vladimir Putin, a sociopathic dictator anxious to undermine the United States. To quote retired four-star Army General Barry McCaffrey, “Reluctantly I have concluded that President Trump is a serious threat to U.S. national security. He is refusing to protect vital U.S. interests from active Russian attacks. It is apparent that he is for some unknown reason under the sway of Mr. Putin.” 

Mr. Gibbons is a former U.S. Navy officer and Vietnam veteran. He taught social studies at Mattituck High School for 35 years.