On Monday, CNN’s crack foreign policy team of Natasha “Fusion” Bertrand, Jim Sciutto, and Katie Bo Lillis broke an exclusive on Ukraine US intel indicates Russian officers have had doubts about full scale Ukraine invasion. What the story purports to show are senior Russian officers dishing over how messed up an invasion of Ukraine would be, how badly they might get their asses kicked, and how twisty-panties they feel about their carefully plotted “false flag” attack being publicly revealed (more on the “false flag” story can be found at Sparks Fly in Must-See Exchange After Reporter Presses White House on ‘False Flag’ Claims and State Department Spox Accusing AP Reporter of Using Russian Talking Points Showcases the Biden White House Answer for All Bad Press Coverage).
Intercepted communications obtained by the US have revealed that some Russian officials have worried that a large-scale invasion of Ukraine would be costlier and more difficult than Russian President Vladimir Putin and other Kremlin leaders realize, according to four people familiar with the intelligence.
Three of the sources said those officials include intelligence and military operatives.
The officials have also grumbled about their plans being discovered and exposed publicly by western nations, two of the sources said, citing the intercepted communications.
There is no evidence that these officials are opposed to the overall plan, or would revolt against Putin’s orders, two of the sources said. Another source familiar with the US intelligence noted that Russia has a professional military that would be expected to effectively carry out Putin’s orders.
Still, Russian defense personnel believe it will be difficult, a senior European official said. “In the assessments we see it is clear some people on the [Russian] defense side are not really understanding what the game plan is,” the official said. The official added that the assessments suggest the defense personnel think “it’s a very difficult game plan to stand up.”
Let’s review the bidding in this story. The sourcing is “four people familiar with the intelligence.” While that is better than anything John Kirby or Ned Price have offered in support of their “false flag” claims, that is not very substantial.
If true, the story could be significant. It shows some reluctance by Russian officers to take part in a “minor incursion” into Ukraine and would indicate that the whole plan to do so, to the extent that one exists, has raised doubts and concerns. Did I already say “if true?”
There are a lot of reasons to doubt this story. First and foremost, the sourcing is so skeevy as to scream, “don’t believe this crap.” Second, two of the biggest tools at the Home Depot that is CNN, contributed to this report. Third, the information in the story would be highly compartmentalized, and leaking it would set off a major counterintelligence review by the FSB. The people caught talking were using non-secure communications or classified systems penetrated. None of that is what a responsible intelligence agency would want. It would also set off a high-level counterintelligence review in our Intelligence Community, which is something no responsible leaker would want. Lastly, no other news outlet has done its own reporting on the story. The only instances where this story appears on Google are in outlets that credit the story to CNN.
How often does that happen? How often does any outlet get a major scoop that absolutely no one of significance comments on or can move the story forward with its own reporting?
The fact that the same leak did not hit the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post indicates that only CNN got the story. I don’t think anyone believes CNN has sources who talk to it exclusively about a story of this magnitude. So the most logical explanation is that the story is false.
Interestingly, the Washington Post ran a story today that mentioned the CNN “scoop” in passing. The headline is Why is the U.S. intelligence community so chatty about Russia?
And this is what it has to say.
There are two possible explanations. The first is that by shining a light on Russian activity surrounding Ukraine, the United States is raising the costs of Putin taking aggressive military action. Every time the United States announces intelligence indicating that Russia is preparing for war, that is one more instance of Putin being deprived of the element of surprise (something he used to good effect back in 2014). Russian officials then have to deny any hostile intent toward Ukraine despite the massing of troops. Perhaps the public glare is designed to deter Putin just a wee bit.
While possible, ratcheting up tensions also increases the costs to Putin for backing down. Another possibility is simpler: The United States wants to signal to Russia that it is fully aware of its plans and can engage in some information operations of its own. The CNN report about reluctance within the Russian military about a full-scale invasion is a classic example of this.
That first point might be true. But, if it is, it strikes me as somewhat reckless. By increasing the cost to Putin of backing down, we also increase the chances of armed conflict. The one thing Putin knows that we do not is the point at which the financial penalties the West might impose upon Russia after an invasion of Ukraine are less of a concern than his own political survival if he has to back down. But recklessness in dealing with this situation seems to be viewed by the Biden foreign policy goon squad as a feature, not a bug (see Why Today’s Austin-Milley Press Conference Convinces Me That Joe Biden Wants Conflict With Russia in Ukraine).
The second thesis sounds more reasonable. We don’t have any real intelligence such as described by CNN. Instead, we have someone in the Intelligence Community pushing the story as
a head-f*** oops, my bad–an information operation. The Russians will chase their tail for a while, trying to run the story to ground. Other people in Russia will have the story pointed out to them and cause a bit of confusion.
Then we are left with the final question. Did CNN get played by the Intelligence Community because everyone knows how desperate they are for relevance and how crappy their internal editorial controls are? Or did CNN willingly go along with lying to its audience in return for future favors? Unfortunately, none of the possible answers is a great look for what bills itself as a journalistic enterprise.