“It doesn’t have to be solid intelligence,” one U.S. official said. “It’s more important to get out ahead of them [the Russians], Putin specifically, before they do something.”
Apr 6, 2022
President Joe Biden later said it publicly. But three U.S. officials told NBC News this week there is no evidence Russia has brought any chemical weapons near Ukraine. They said the U.S. released the information to deter Russia from using the banned munitions.
It’s one of a string of examples of the Biden administration’s breaking with recent precedent by deploying declassified intelligence as part of an information war against Russia. The administration has done so even when the intelligence wasn’t rock solid, officials said, to keep Russian President Vladimir Putin off balance. Coordinated by the White House National Security Council, the unprecedented intelligence releases have been so frequent and voluminous, officials said, that intelligence agencies had to devote more staff members to work on the declassification process, scrubbing the information so it wouldn’t betray sources and methods.
Observers of all stripes have called it a bold and so far successful strategy — although not one without risks.
“It’s the most amazing display of intelligence as an instrument of state power that I have seen or that I’ve heard of since the Cuban Missile Crisis,” said Tim Weiner, the author of a 2006 history of the CIA and 2020’s “The Folly and the Glory,” a look at the U.S.-Russia rivalry over decades. “It has certainly blunted and defused the disinformation weaponry of the Kremlin.”
Four days before the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the U.S. publicized spy plane photos to show the Soviet Union had deployed nuclear missiles not far from Florida’s coast. The Biden administration began releasing reams of intelligence about what it said were Putin’s plans and intentions even before the invasion of Ukraine began.
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