Trying to Unravel the Tblisi Blast

Who's responsible for the U.S. embassy bombing?

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One administration official told The Washington Times there was "no consensus" on responsibility for the Tbilisi blast.

Really, that was the one line that leapt out at me in this piece. As Eli Lake reports, it is indeed significant that Secretary Clinton has raised the issue with her Russian counterparts two times since the September 22 bombing near the U.S. embassy in Tblisi.

But, despite the hemming and hawing from the officials who are leaking all this highly classified information to Eli (because "the U.S. reaction to the possible state-sponsored terrorism has been too weak," as one official told him), the lack of consensus on the responsibility for the blast is really the key thing to remember. As I mention routinely, intelligence analysis is actually really hard, and it is especially difficult to avoid introducing biases that might imply a conclusion the evidence might not support.

In Eli's report there is mention of a new report released to Congress today from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, but no sense of what is in that report--does it reach a different conclusion from the "highly classified" CIA report mentioned Wednesday? It is unclear from the reporting, but right now it appears to.

We don't really know yet what is going on, and I congratulate Eli for including that line about how difficult it is to assemble consensus in the intelligence community about this sort of thing. But reading other reports about the bombing incident which also reference these classified reports, the case seems less clear-cut:

American intelligence officials have concluded in a classified report that a Russian intelligence officer may have been behind a string of bombings in the nation of Georgia last year, including an explosion near the United States Embassy, but that there is no evidence of a plot to attack American installations, an American official said Thursday.

"The assessment seems to be that the bombings have more to do with Russia's relationship with Georgia than Russia's relationship with the United States," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the intelligence assessment on the bombings is classified.

The official said the assessment implicating the Russian officer draws upon information from several intelligence and law enforcement agencies, including Georgian ones. The official cautioned that it was "not a rock-solid assessment" and reached no definite conclusion about whether the bombings were ordered by officials in Moscow. Its thrust, the official said, was that the bombing near the American Embassy likely "was an attempt to poke the Georgians in the eye, not the U.S."

It is important to note that Yevgeny Borisov, the GRU agent in question, has been publicly identified by Georgia as a prime suspect since at least last December, and that there is an Interpol warrant out for his arrest. Borisov is probably at least involved in a string of bombings inside Georgia. What is still unclear is whether those bombings were ever targeted at the U.S. embassy.

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Joshua Foust is a fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from He is also a member of the Young Atlanticist Working Group. More

Joshua's research focuses on the role of market-oriented development strategies in post-conflict environments, and on the development of metrics in understanding national security policy. He has written on strategic design for humanitarian interventions, decision-making in counterinsurgency, and the intelligence community's place in the national security discussion. Previous to joining ASP, Joshua worked for the U.S. intelligence community, where he focused on studying the non-militant socio-cultural environment in Afghanistan at the U.S. Army Human Terrain System, then the socio-cultural dynamics of irregular warfare movements at the National Ground Intelligence Center, and later on political violence in Yemen for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Joshua is a columnist for PBS Need to Know, and blogs about Central and South Asia at the influential blog A frequent commentator for American and global media, Joshua appears regularly on BBC World, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua is also a regular contributor to Foreign Policy's AfPak Channel, and his writing has appeared in the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor.


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