WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden has called Russia’s war in Ukraine a genocide and accused Vladimir Putin of committing war crimes. But his administration has struggled with how much intelligence it is willing to give the Ukrainian forces trying to stop the Russian leader.
Since the war began in late February, the Biden administration has made several changes to a classified directive governing what U.S. agencies are supposed to share with Ukraine. Much of what the United States collects is shared; some are not. Where the border is drawn depends on protecting the sources and methods of the intelligence, but also trying to limit the risk of escalation with a nuclear-armed Russia.
The latest changes took place last week when U.S. intelligence officers lifted some geographic boundaries for the transfer of useful information – the kind of information used in minute-by-minute decisions on the battlefield. According to several people with knowledge of the problem, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters, officials removed languages that had limited the specific locations of potential targets in parts of eastern Ukraine.
The changes in intelligence rules reflect the administration’s shifting calculations of what Putin may consider escalating. The United States is also trying to increase support for Ukrainian forces that have surprised large parts of the world in how they have held Russia back but remains understaffed and outgunned. The Pentagon also announced $ 800 million in new military aid this week which could include more powerful weapons and defensive equipment.
Some people familiar with the directive say there is uncertainty about the new boundaries. One question is whether the United States will delay or restrict information about a possible Russian target in areas that are internationally recognized as Ukrainian territory, but which Moscow or its agents controlled before the war, including the Crimean peninsula and parts of the Donbas. U.S. personnel have at times limited intelligence that they believed Ukrainian forces could use to recapture previously lost territory.
The directive still restricts information given to Ukrainians about forces in Russia or neighboring Belarus, where Russian forces have staged and previously attacked from northern Ukraine.
“We are intensely sharing timely intelligence with the Ukrainians to help them defend themselves throughout their country, including in areas held by Russia before the 2022 invasion,” said a U.S. intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the classified directive. The Wall Street Journal first reported that the directive had been amended.
Another U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence issues, said the administration “provides detailed, timely intelligence to Ukrainians on a number of fronts.”
A letter sent Monday by Republicans in the Senate Intelligence Committee – following the new guidance – calls on Avril Haines, the director of the National Intelligence Service, to “proactively share intelligence with the Ukrainians to help them protect, defend and recapture every inch of Ukraine’s sovereign territory, includes Crimea and the Donbas. ”
The senators said they “remain deeply concerned that not enough is being done to share critical intelligence that will help the Ukrainians, while Russian forces are moving to secure territory in the southern and eastern parts of the country.”
Unlike a letter of February 9th to Biden and called for intelligence sharing “as far as possible,” Democrats on the committee did not agree with this week’s letter, reflecting apparent divisions in how members view the administration’s current guidance.
The White House insists that it provides information in line with Ukraine’s current goals. Analysts say the war is changing from a conflict fought across the country to a stronger focus on the southern and eastern parts of Ukraine, which Russia has recently conquered or attacked. An expected focal point is the strategic port city of Mariupol, whose mayor says more than 10,000 civilians have been killed in the Russian siege.
In addition to its own intelligence capabilities, Ukraine relies on US and Western support to help the country plan and repel attacks. Before and during the war, the United States shared intelligence publicly and privately about what it believes are Putin’s battle plans in the hope of undercutting Russia and building support for a powerful Western response.
Lawmakers from both sides have spoken broadly about the borders since the Russian invasion.
Representative Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a television interview in March that the White House withheld some real-time intelligence, “because it crosses the line to get us involved in the war.” A spokesman for Smith, D-Wash., On Wednesday denied a request for an interview.
Late. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., On March 1 accused the White House of delaying intelligence services due to “overly statutory processes”, adding that “information about where an invading Russian tank was 12 hours ago puts squatting to prevent civilian bloodshed. ”
The directive has been amended to limit delays, officials said. The latest update, according to an intelligence official, is intended to give US officers “added clarity”, enabling faster and more complete cooperation with Ukraine.
Late. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Asked Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last week whether the United States provided intelligence to Ukraine to carry out operations in Crimea or parts of the Donbas that were previously controlled by Russian agents.
“We want to make sure it’s clear for our strength, and therefore updated guidance issued today will ensure that it’s clear,” Austin said, adding: “The current guidance was certainly not clear in that regard, so we want to make it clear. “
Ohio Rep. Mike Turner, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, asked at the end of last month General Tod Wolters, the top NATO commander for Europe, if he was happy with the speed of information to Ukraine.
“Congressman, I’m fine, but I want it to speed up,” Wolters said. “And I will always say that even if it happens in a second, I want it to be tomorrow in half a second.”
LaPorta reported from Wilmington, North Carolina.