The US has multiple channels open and is sharing intelligence with Ukraine at a “frenetic” pace, US officials said Thursday, disputing criticism that the Biden administration is not sharing battlefield intelligence fast enough.
Still, the US’ secure communications with Ukrainian officials are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain as the war rages on, the sources told CNN. Officials also acknowledged that the US is now more limited in its ability to collect real-time intelligence with no one on the ground, and the apparent lack of military drones flying overhead. The CIA has not acknowledged whether it is flying its own drones to surveil the conflict.
Republican Sens. Ben Sasse and Marco Rubio, the top GOP member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have both said publicly in recent days that they are concerned intelligence isn’t getting to the Ukrainian military quickly enough. House Republicans began amplifying those concerns this week, ramping up criticism of the Biden administration for allegedly “withholding” intelligence from the Ukrainians. The Ukrainians, though, have not complained publicly about any lack of intelligence-sharing by the US.
One Senate source familiar with GOP concerns said that lawmakers were concerned both that the intelligence was being downgraded, or made less specific, and that it wasn’t being conveyed to the Ukrainians fast enough.
Sources familiar with the intelligence said it is indeed being downgraded, but primarily to scrub sensitive sources and methods – a particular concern given the logistical challenges with establishing fully secure lines with Ukrainian officials amid the Russian onslaught.
In most cases, two sources familiar with the sharing system said, the intelligence being shared involves information about Russian force movements and locations, as well as intercepted communications about their military plans. And it is typically being provided to Ukrainian officials as quickly as within 30 minutes to an hour of the US receiving it, one of the sources said.
The sharing has been facilitated via secure communications equipment, although all communication with forces on the ground in Kyiv is becoming increasingly difficult given ongoing power and communications disruptions in the besieged capital, another source said.
A key workaround has been a portal that was set up in recent weeks where US officials can upload intelligence that the Ukrainians can then access in near real time, the first source said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that the US has shared “a significant amount of detailed timely intelligence on Russia’s plans and activities with the Ukrainian government to help Ukrainians defend themselves.”
“We’ve been doing that for months,” Psaki said. “This includes information that should help them inform and develop their military response to Russia’s invasion, that’s what’s happening – or has been happening.”
Another source of concern among critics of the US’ system appears to be that the administration is not providing the kind of detailed “targeting intelligence” that has long been used in lethal “find, fix and finish” operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
There may be practical reasons why the US can’t provide some of the more granular “targeting intelligence” that some lawmakers are demanding. Much of the intelligence community’s “imint” – an intelligence community term that means “imagery intelligence” – comes from satellites. Two sources familiar with the intelligence said some of the “game-changing” intelligence on Russian military positions is coming from commercial imagery. But those satellites are often limited by weather in what they can see, and in any event, can’t provide the kind of live-time video that lower-flying drones are capable of.