President Trump was briefed this month on intelligence reports China offered to pay bounties to fighters in Afghanistan who attacked American soldiers there, but the information has not been confirmed and comes months after Mr. Trump “joked” a C.I.A. Assessment that Russia paid for such attacks.
It is unclear whether China’s intelligence shows that bounties were paid or whether attacks on American personnel were attempted at all. United States intelligence agencies collect enormous amounts of information, much of which turns out to be false or misleading.
The information contained in the President’s written briefing on December 17, orally given by National Security Advisor Robert C. O’Brien, was reported from Axios earlier on Wednesday evening and confirmed by US officials.
It comes at a time when Trump administration officials, including National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe, have tried to put more pressure on China, in part in hopes of using the new Biden administration’s plans to ease tension Restrict Beijing.
Mr Trump, Mr Ratcliffe, and other officials have also tried to draw attention to Chinese wrongdoing in areas where other American officials see Russia as a major threat, including computer hacking and the use of disinformation to disrupt American politics.
After it became known earlier this month that the United States government had faced a massive cyberbreach that American officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, confidently attributed to Russia, Trump angrily doubted the idea and tried to embroil Beijing. “Russia, Russia, Russia is the first song when something happens,” said Trump wrote on TwitterThe news media avoid “discussing the possibility that it could (it can be!) Be China”.
The Axios report said Wednesday that the underlying information on the bounties, of which no further details were revealed, would be released although it was unclear why or for whom. White House officials would not elaborate on it, but did not deny that the intelligence service has not been confirmed.
Although tensions between the United States and China increased significantly during the Trump era, Beijing is not known to provide any substantial support for anti-American proxies in combat areas like Afghanistan, and some national security experts were initially skeptical that Beijing would support attacks on Americans. In contrast, many found similar reports of Russian bounties credible.
If this were confirmed, and especially attributed to the political leaders in Beijing, such an action by China would be a serious provocation that could require a response from President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. upon taking office in January.
A Biden interim official would not say on Wednesday night whether Mr Biden, who is now receiving official daily intelligence information, was given the same information as the president.
However, the official said the Biden team would try to learn more about it from the Trump administration and that it underscored the importance of a fully cooperative transition process, including with the Department of Defense, which Mr Biden was accused of “obstruction” on Monday .
“Right now,” said Biden in Wilmington, Delaware, “we are not getting all of the information we need from the outgoing administration on key national security areas.”
Months before the report on China, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence investigated reports, collected earlier this year and first reported by the New York Times, that Russian military intelligence agents offered to pay Taliban-affiliated fighters in Afghanistan to kill American soldiers there.
The C.I.A. judged with medium confidence that Russia had offered the bounty undercover and paid it to a network of Afghan militants and criminals. The National Security Agency trusted the secret services less. But Mr Pompeo took the reports seriously enough to issue a stern personal warning to his Russian counterpart this summer.
Similarly, Mr Trump received a written briefing of this information but publicly dismissed it as “false news” and an extension of what he called the “Russia hoax”, including an investigation into his 2016 campaign’s relations with the Kremlin. At the same time, the president suggested that the subordinates had not done enough to draw his attention to the report on Russia.
“If it had reached my desk, I would have done something about it,” Trump said in July. US officials have said the assessment regarding Russia was included in his written intelligence report in February, but he rarely reads that document.
In several subsequent discussions with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, Mr. Trump did not raise the matter.
There are still many unanswered questions about the unverified information about China, including when to offer such rewards, by whom, and by whom. The United States and its coalition partners in Afghanistan are fighting not only against the Taliban, but also against al-Qaida, the Islamic State and various other militant and criminal groups.
The allegedly planned release of further information comes at a time when Democrats and many career intelligence officials are concerned that Trump officials like Mr Ratcliffe have been trying to selectively outclass intelligence agencies for political purposes like the Russia investigation and election nuisance.