After examining his record, New York Times readers should be skeptical of anything David Sanger writes, including his latest artful works of deception.
By Ray McGovern
Special to Consortium News
The New York Times is pulling out all the stops in promoting its dubious story on Russia offering bounty for dead U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
Wednesday’s installment, a “news analysis” by Times veteran writers David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt, treats the allegations that Russia paid Taliban or Taliban-related terrorists to kill U.S. troops as flat fact:
“Russia’s complicity in the bounty plot came into sharper focus on Tuesday as the The New York Times reported that American officials intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account.”
This is presented as “bolstering other evidence of the plot, including detainee interrogations.” The take from the Afghan-run interrogations is, ipso facto, highly dubious; and we need to know a lot more about the alleged new “electronic data.”
Sanger and Schmitt put the “bounty” story atop a “list of Russian aggressions in recent weeks rival[ing] some of the worst days of the Cold War.” They hold up to ridicule White House statements that the president wants to have only “verified” intelligence, claiming that this prompts “derision from officials who have spent years working on the daily brief and say it is most valuable when filled with dissenting interpretations and alternative explanations.”
The President’s Daily Brief (PDB)
Granted, such dissent might have been helpful to President George W. Bush, rather than having PDB briefers like Michael Morell (later to become deputy CIA director) parroting the line of then-Director George Tenet and Vice President Dick Cheney that there were tons of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But what is wrong with preferring “verified” intelligence rather than a menu of options attempting to explain unverified reporting reeking of political agendas? (Morell later went on TV to call for the covert murder of Russians and Iranians in Syria.)
I helped prepare The President’s Daily Brief for Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan, and personally conducted the one-on-one morning briefings in the Oval Office from 1981 to 1985. In those days we did our best to corroborate reporting — especially on highly sensitive issues — and did not try to cover our derrieres by alerting the president and his top aides to highly dubious reporting, however sexy.
Later, Cheney’s fascination/fixation with the yarn about “yellowcake uranium” going to Iraq from Niger did not pass the smell test, for example, something that it took the International Atomic Energy Agency only a day or two of investigation to demolish.
Seymour Hersh wrote in the March 24, 2003 New Yorker, just days after the attack on Iraq:
“On March 7th, Mohamed ElBaradei, the Director-General of the IAEA in Vienna, told the UN Security Council that the documents involving the Niger-Iraq uranium sale were fakes. ‘The I.A.E.A. has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that these documents . . . are in fact not authentic,’ ElBaradei said.
One senior I.A.E.A. official went further. He told [Hersh], ‘These documents are so bad that I cannot imagine that they came from a serious intelligence agency. It depresses me, given the low quality of the documents, that it was not stopped. At the level it reached, I would have expected more checking.'”
Intelligence analysts must pay close attention, of course, to provenance. What is this or that source’s record for accuracy, for reliability. What kind of trough might this or that source be feeding from; and what agenda might she or he have? Discriminating readers of the corporate media — and especially the Times — should do the same with respect to journalists. When they see the byline of David Sanger they need to examine his record.
Those who look back to before the U.S./UK attack on Iraq will discover that Sanger was heavily promoting the existence of WMD in Iraq as a certainty. In a July 29, 2002 article co-written with Thom Shanker, for example, Iraq’s (non-existent) “weapons of mass destruction” appear no fewer than seven times as flat fact.
This Sanger/Shanker article, apparently fed by intelligence sources, came just nine days after the head of British intelligence, Sir Richard Dearlove, was briefed by CIA chief Tenet at CIA headquarters in Langley, VA. Three days later, on July 23, Dearlove told then Prime Minister Tony Blair that the coming attack on Iraq was a done deal.
We did not know this until May 2005 when The Times of London was given the text of what became known as the Downing Street Memo — the minutes of the briefing that Dearlove gave Blair on July 23, 2002. No one has disputed its authenticity. Here’s an excerpt:
“C [[Sir Richard Dearlove, head of MI6]] reported on his recent talks in Washington [[with George Tenet, CIA director at CIA headquarters on July 20, three days earlier]].
… Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.
But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”
More instructive still, in May 2005, when first-hand documentary evidence from the now-famous “Downing Street Memorandum” showed that President George W. Bush had decided by early summer 2002 to attack Iraq, The New York Times ignored it for six weeks until David Sanger rose to the occasion with a tortured report claiming just the opposite.
The title given his article of June 13 2005 was “Prewar British Memo Says War Decision Wasn’t Made.”
Against this peculiar reporting record, I was not inclined to take at face value Sanger’s Jan. 6, 2017 report “Putin Ordered ‘Influence Campaign’ Aimed at U.S. Election, Report Says.” Or the report he authored, with Michael Shear the following day, “Putin Led a Complex Cyberattack Scheme to Aid Trump, Report Finds.”
And Therein Lies the Rub
… or the rubbish, as the British might say. The fable of the Russian hack has now gone the way of Russia-Trump collusion. (See, for example: “Mueller’s Forensic-free Findings.”
When will New York Times readers catch on to David Sanger’s story telling? Sadly, there are plenty of Pulitzer presstitutes — particularly on Russiagate, but Sanger is the archdeacon of them all — by far the most accomplished at the art.
Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. During his 27-year CIA career, he worked on The President’s Daily Brief under Nixon, Ford, and Reagan, briefing it in person from 1981 to 1985. In retirement, he co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
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There are many connections here.
A big one is the NYT’s devotion to Israel.
Some journalistic principles?
Even though Putin works hard to maintain good relations with Israel, Israel deep down does not like Russia because Russia is a stumbling block for a number of its favored activities, such hurting or overthrowing Syria.
Russia is also a stumbling block to the American “full-spectrum dominance everywhere” effort.
Israel likes an aggressive United States because it views that as vital support for its own aggressive behavior and effort to effectively be the regional hegemon.
It was the Neocons who pushed for the American Wars in the Middle East, starting with Iraq. The Neocon Wars have always been about flattening much of the real estate around Israel and paving it over. A kind of monstrous urban renewal project.
The US has avoided doing all the wars the way it did the illegal invasion of Iraq by using various subterfuges and disguises, such as employing phony jihadi mercenaries, like the ones plaguing Syria.
The efforts have enjoyed help and support from Britain and France and Saudi Arabia and Turkey plus one or two other Gulf States. Someone has to pay all the bills and supply all the weapons for the likes of al Nusra.
What bothers me most about the phony Sanger Russian bounty stories is the continued damage to American relations with Russia. It just never stops. We also had Carl Bernstein ginning things up at CNN with a long story about Trump’s phone calls to leaders, making a big distinction in the way Trump is portrayed talking to Putin compared to other leaders.
I’ve long regarded Bernstein as a security service asset, Watergate having been almost certainly a CIA set-up to dump Nixon.
There seems to be a multi-front attack on Trump now. We also have had several former and current generals challenging Trump and a former National Security advisor. Joe Biden too has jumped in the phony bounties claim, and he just has to know better.
Washington is the sickest I can ever remember it being right now, and I think it has less to do with Trump than it has the establishment’s awareness and resentment of its relative decline in the world.
I couldn’t care less about Trump’s fate, but dragging in the “hate Russia” stuff concerns me greatly.
Thanks, Ray, always good to read your informed and thoughtful articles.
Everyone here should also read:
“How the Media Used the Bounty Scandal to Stop the ‘Threat’ of Peace in Afghanistan” on MintPress today. Lee shows how every time peace might break out, a distraction arises. It’s an excellent read.
The article you refer to by Lee Camp was published here first on Consortium News and is still on the front page.
It’s worth noting that many media outlets are saying “about twenty” soldiers killed in 2020, and the implication being that all of those were killings were somehow related to Russian payments.
ICasualties is a very good and accurate source for this kind of information. The actual number is eight. Four were killed in non-hostile accidents, including two in a plane crash. Two were killed in Green on Blue attacks by Afghan forces. Two were killed by an IED.
Of those eight, two could have been killed by the Taliban (or ISIS, which puts it in an entirely different ballpark). Had the Taliban infiltrated the Afghan army, maybe–maybe–two more.
As importantly, the last death from hostile fire occurred the 8th of February in one of those abovementioned Green on Blue attacks. That’s almost five months ago. Attacks on American soldiers have been scarce to non-existent since the peace talks started in earnest.
Well, then, who’s telling the truth?
And, if we’re going get all accusatory about this, who was it who trained, equipped and paid the mujahideen (which became the Taliban) to kill Russians for ten years (and in those ten years, 14,000 were killed and tens of thousands more injured and disabled)? And who was it that mousetrapped the Russians into invading Afghanistan in the first place? (Both rhetorical questions, I fear.)
Apart from the assorted grandstanding, there were two pieces of news that added to the original story:
1. Data on a “large” transfer from a “GRU controlled bank” to “Taliban-linked account” was intercepted.
2. WASHINGTON—The National Security Agency strongly dissented from other intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia paid bounties for the killing of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, according to people familiar with the matter.
The disclosure of the dissent by the NSA, which specializes in electronic eavesdropping, comes as the White House has played down the revelations, saying that the information wasn’t verified and that intelligence officials didn’t agree on it.
I think (no certainty) that getting data on money transfer is something that NSA can do, and interpreting such data is within their expertise. Thus it seems that NSA dissented with full knowledge and expertise. They could even use statistic to evaluate how “unusual” the transfer was. For example, even assuming that the putative links of the bank and account where this transfer was deposited were as described, GRU and Taliban share problems with Al-Qaeda and ISIS, especially the latter is incredibly sectarian and declared Taliban to be heretics and try to create some fiefs in Afghanistan by killing Taliban people, while also continuing terrorist conspiracies in Russian Federation, and perhaps also in Tajikistan where Russia is helping the government. A payment for intelligence would not be surprising. There is also plenty of possibilities the purpose of the transfer was not related to any terrorism or geo-politics. NSA would be able to make a judgement.
Moreover, NSA has long experience with their partners at other agencies who at occasion produce bogus stories for purpose. And those purposes are not universally shared within “intelligence community”.
Some commenters were wondering how Sanger keeps his job. I think it should be obvious that he is outstanding at his job, if you conceive of it as writing what the publisher wants to hear. I’m sure that both he and the rest of the news staff know that he is lying. Maybe he has an inferiority complex and is trying to compensate for his self-perceived inadequacy by being utterly shameless.
Thanks, paul easton, it’s discouraging to watch reporters “go to h–l.” I’ve held out hope for the New Yorker which I’ve taken for years, but see it has to go by the way, as well. Since Trump took office, it’s spouted Russiagate, hired Masha Gesson, accepted Assad as guilty for using chemical weapons (proven each time he didn’t) and uses all the propaganda I never thought I’d see there and seems to actually (?) believe. We’ll see if they continue their downfall with this “bounty” lie. The best of the best reporters can’t get printed there anymore. It used to print Sy Hersh, for example, but no longer.
Shall we call this “Bountygate”? Or hasn’t it got that far yet? I have been at the Foreign Policy site trying to make sense of it through two pieces:
2020-06-29 GRAMERETAL-FP Republicans Demand Trump Answer on Alleged Russian Bounties
2020-07-01 MACKINNON-FP What’s This Unit of Russian Spies That Keeps Getting Outed?
The latter is an attempt to set the story in context, going right back to the Skripal poisonings and the two Russian guys who allegedly perpetrated them on behalf of the GRU. MacKinnon notes: “… Trump insists that the story is basically a fabrication…” and I couldn’t resist a marginal rant:
“It’s easy to dismiss this as just another lie from Trump’s huge repertoire of lies—the guy is, in fact, a pathological liar, egged on by a gullible base which allegedly hangs on every word he speaks. But in this case, Trump may well be right. This story—right back to the poisoning of the Skripals—has a very fishy smell to it, an Anglo-American ring familiar to anyone who closely followed the run-up to the Iraq invasion. And BTW, Bellingcat is now being cited as a reliable source which lends credibility to the story? Gimme a break!”
I quote myself only to let anyone reading it know that, unless you’re interested in how the Department of Propaganda spins a useful narrative out of whole cloth, don’t waste your time at the Foreign Policy site.
And thank you, again, Ray. Keep on keeping us honest.
This story sounds like a Hoax to me—-Nancy Pelosi said “Trump himself is a hoax .——
I suspect this has to do with diverting attention from the treasure trove of “rare earth metals” being lusted for by American and Chinese businessmen. Hail to the Deep State!
Money is at the bottom of this thing , obviously, nothing but money means anything to these people, follow the money.
I wonder what a list of American contractors who have worked and are working in Afghanistan would look like? Prolly classified though!
prolly – slang for probably
Thanks Ray & CN
To add to a reason for this “preposterous story” I quote Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who while speaking in Chicago in 1967 stated:
“Arnold Toynbee has said that some twenty-six civilizations have risen upon the face of the earth…The decline and fall of these civilizations, according to Toynbee, was not caused by external invasions but by internal decay. They failed to respond creatively to the challenges impinging upon them.”
The more internal decay we see here, the more effort there will be to pin our failures on Russia, Russia, Russia, for instance.
Quite right. America suffers from pathological projection, projecting everything it doesn’t like about itself on to some “enemy” or other. It’s the way America keeps itself clean and innocent in its own eyes.
Thanks for the Toynbee quotation.
Just a thought: does someone offer bounties for stories about bounties? That would explain why there are more such stories than the number of American casualties in Afghanistan last year.
U.S. fatalities by year in Afghanistan
“These kinds of deals with the Russian intelligence agency are baseless — our target killings and assassinations were ongoing in years before, and we did it on our own resources. That changed after our deal with the Americans, and their lives are secure and we don’t attack them.”
— Zabihullah Mujahid, Taliban spokesman
Incompetent liars write unconvincing propaganda.
Except you don’t have to be a competent liar to be an American journalist writing for the NYT or WaPo anymore since the Democrats (both publication’s consumer base) will swallow anything that agrees with their world-view (regardless of any lack of objective credibility).
Why would GRU electronically transfer US dollars money to the Taliban bank to bank?
1. Amazon delivers to Afghanistan and the Taliban wanted to use their paypal accounts, the Taliban was going to buy stuff from Iron which has been kicked out of SWIFT for years now.
2. GRU wanted this transaction to be traced rather than carry it in suitcases, couldn’t get physical cash into Afghanistan?
The only countries separating Russia from Afghanistan are Iran and Uzbekistan, a former Soviet Republic. I’d be surprised that GRU wouldn’t be able to do one of these countries. I bet the Taliban would take gold which would require a lot less volume.
To be pedantic, Uzbekistan shares no border with Russia. For that matter, why not just fly to Tajikistan. Russia has troops there, stabilizing the government. Tajikistan has long border with Afghanistan, and some regions south of that border are mapped as having Taliban presence.
Thinking about it, some citizens of Tajikistan are Muslim Fundamentalists (one reason for the government asking for Russian troops), and they can be perceived as “Russians” by their ethnic cousins across the border — Tajik language is identical to Dari in Afghanistan except for absorbing many Russian words. Tajiks in Tajikistan are often bilingual, hundreds of thousands of them work in Russia. Since there were no descriptions of “Russians offering bounties”, they could be Russian speaking Islamists from anywhere in Central Asia and Caucasus region. That assuming that there is any kernel of validity to the story.
Let us remember Charlie Wilson’s war, and how it turned out. As with The Philippines and Cuba, where we freed the natives from the tyranny of Spain, then stuck around to: “civilize ’em with a Krag”. Referring to the Krag-Jorgensen service rifle of the US military at the time. Yeah, we stayed in the Philippines until a bogus independence in 1935, maybe effective finally in 1946. Cuba is still under our heel. Afghanistan, same deal.
Let’s say that Vladimir Putin is perhaps entitled to a free penalty kick. But of course the ruckus is about the United States Empire.
NYT, WAPO, CNN, BBC do their utter best to discredit themselves as journalists on a daily basis. Their political agenda is to defeat Trump in November and they will ultimately achieve the total demise of the old DNC. That will be a good thing for the new DNC and for American democracy in general but don’t tell them now, they wouldn’t understand yet…..
Not only Sanger, but there’s no ne left to believe on anything at the NYT. It has become a machine for propaganda for everything from Hillary and LGBT to Kardashians and other garbage.
Problem is that when Biden wins Hillary’s DNC, and all of the raucous extremes of Victim Groups will be made to feel that the NYT did it! It’s all a front for the CIA and the MIC whose voice the Times has become. We’ll soon be at war again and whichever compliant VP Biden picks, eventually the President, will keep her nose to fulfilling the wishes of the CIA/MIC.
Acknowledge it the Taliban are supersmart. While the Iranians cannot buy urgently needed medicine on the worldmarket, because they cannot transfer money via the swift system, the Taliban have cash money accounts and can receive large sums of money. This is another proof of the conservative theorie that intelligance is derived through riding on a horeseback and not through attanding university. So why wonder that the Masters of Sheepherding can do what the gouvernment of the highliest educated country in the region cannot?
I’m shocked (though I shouldn’t be) that such drivel is published in the NYT, Post, and anyone else with funds in the MIC to support themselves.
It has come out today, 7/1/02, that the Pentagon disputes the story, the intelligence community’ disputes the story, along with any report to the Oval Office (not sure he reads them anyway of course) but really…
Are these Dems so desperate to recreate another Russiagate that they will print any lie crossing their table?
The Russians said this is beyond school ground news as the Taliban is considered a terrorist organization in Russia. It is considered lower than any standard in international affairs.
The leader of the Taliban said this is mediocre news since they don’t need funds to kill Americans as they have been doing it for years without economic encouragement. These two statements make a fool of whoever leaked this claptrap (for their own gain I’m sure) and much more a fool of the “newspaper of record” to its shame.
Both the Taliban and the Russians have attempted peace since the Feb agreement and they have not attacked Americans since then. So why this news now? And why does Pelosi go full guns on more sanctions? Does she show a record of violations of the agreement and hundreds of Americans killed? No.
This seems a Dem hoax since they lost the Russiagate fiasco and now need another reason for Russia to be the enemy and surround Russia with NATO. This is beyond stupid and it needs to stop. If they think it traps Trump in another Russiagate scenario before the elections Pelosi has lost her brain functions along with the Dems, sadly.
When they try to prove what some leaker said and activate that with a crises when the Pentagon, the intel community, says it’s bogus is the height of ignorant aggressive politics that do no one a favor.
It is so unbelievably false and contrived I can’t believe they would even be that desperate. But apparently they are.
It’s important to understand why the entire Western mass media are running with this preposterous story now. Why now? A few reasons:
1.) It’s clearly another effort to tie Trump to Moscow. The 2020 campaign will again brand Trump as a pro-Russian stooge candidate.
2.) It’s a tool to help derail the New Start negotiations with the ultimate intent to squash the treaty.
3.) It’s a strategy to forestall the Trump admin’s proposal to reduce the amount of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
4.) It’s a big diversion from the eventual Barr Durham revelations that will demonstrate how corrupt, self-serving and downright criminal Brennan, Clapper and other intel flunkies are along with their corporate media lackeys.
5.) It’s obviously just another general effort to vilify an independent and sovereign Russia — a Russia that refuses to genuflect to Wall St and Washington and a Russia that insists on a multi-polar world.
Good summary, and clearly the motive behind this latest propaganda narrative. What also amazes me is that Sanger still has any credibility. There seems to be no accounting for past sins. In fact, whenever these types of stories are later proven false they just get flushed down the “memory hole”, and these shills keep their jobs and get ready for the next propaganda campaign. I can’t help but wonder how they sleep at night.
As for the Barr/Durham revelations, I am wondering if they will ever come to pass, and if they do, what kind of coverage they will get in the MSM. I have little faith in Barr, and don’t know much about Durham’s integrity.
The story is sloppy, just good enough to maintain the perception that Russia is no good etc. It is like in an Ukrainian joke I heard 17 years ago (I write the relevant fragment). A session of free legislative proposals in Verkhovna Rada (occasionally a boxing arena, but usually the Parliament of Ukraine).
Esteemed Speaker, I have a proposal: a Moskal should be hanged on Khmelnitsky’s bulava (a very important monument in the capital).
Amendment, I a have an amendment: every day the Moskal should be fresh!
So we got a fresh Moskal (there is one every week?).
Amendment to my post: hXXps://www.123rf.com/photo_14639049_the-monument-to-bogdan-khmelnitsky-kiev-.html
Bulava is something that a hetman carries in his hand as the main symbol of his function.
Excellent points, all.
Everything and the above, DH.
Many many thanks to Ray for his clear sighted, honest, truthful assessments over these past few years.
Hearing (trying desperately not to listen, cos it’s all so s***ing infuriating, enraging and I can’t expatiate to/with my late husband…..all of this utter, utter propagandist drivel, this never-ending propaganda (Orwell would be shocked), this anti Russia garbage (didn’t the USSR disappear for these liars, these corporate-capitalist-imperialist featherbedders?) then knowing that the very comfortably off thank you, FB whatsits of my late husband, couldn’t give a big damn. Too busy virtue-signalling….But then they never seemed to have given a single fiber of care, of interest at what we are doing to peoples (usually of darker skin tones than most of them and us) who have never, ever hurt us. Nope. Not on their horizons.
The fundamental question is: Why are USA military personnel and their mercenary minions still in Afghanistan after nearly nineteen years? This question needs answering now in the U.S. Congress…forget David Sanger and the NYT. Speaking of Sanger, I believe it is time the NYT’s “brain trust”—I use the term advisedly—might consider reassigning David to the bar mitzvah beat in Tel Aviv. I think he would be much happier utilizing his journalistic skills in that position.
How is ‘discretionary spending’ often used by the CIA and State Department of the United States again, especially in contested foreign territories (some of which are physical locations for black op sites, and ‘other than legal’ operations?
Letter submitted to the Boston Globe:
To the Editor:
The story about the Russian military intelligence paying “bounties” for Taliban fighters killing US soldiers in Afghanistan [“Russian bounties on US soldiers cry out for action”, editorial, July 1, 2020] just doesn’t add up. Sourced by unidentified officials from the US intelligence community, the story reports “large financial transfers from a bank controlled by Russian’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account” as support for reports extracted from detainees during “interrogations” about the bounty program. The total number of US soldiers killed in Afghanistan in 2019 was 26. What kind of “bounties” are we talking about — in a country where $1000 is a fortune — that would show up as “large financial transfers”? It is unfortunate if the Russian military intelligence is supporting the Taliban, but I suspect any support is tiny compared to the over $20 billion that the US gave the Taliban to fight the Russians in the 1980’s. And I doubt that the Taliban, which has been fighting first Russian and now US occupying forces for over 40 years, needs bounties for motivation. The only purpose the alleged “bounties” accomplish is to enrage the US citizens and legislators against the Russians, which could be of benefit to the unidentified US intelligence agencies.
Great work Stephen McKnight!
Very well stated, Stephen.
Word perfect. Much more diplomatic than I would have been composing such a letter.
Thank you, Mr McKnight. Thank you.
” And I doubt that the Taliban, which has been fighting first Russian and now US occupying forces for over 40 years, needs bounties for motivation.”
My thought also when I first heard about this propagandist NYT.