Trying to Unravel the Tblisi Blast

by Joshua Foust on 7/29/2011 · 6 comments

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.

However, in the midst of potentially explosive charges against Russia right at a crucial time in its bilateral relationship with the United States, it is interesting to read some pretty ridiculous pronouncements about Russian perfidy. One former H.W. Bush official, who now runs a think tank in Tblisi whose clients include the Georgian government, is quoted as saying, “Part of the reason they do these things is precisely because it is not clear to Westerners why they would do them.” Right.

Dmitry Rogozin recently described U.S. Senators John Kyl and Mark Kirk (both Republicans) of being “monsters of the Cold War.” He said that to a Russian TV station in relation to a meeting he had with them, which he seemed to feel was hostile and worrisome.

Of course, Russian diplomats are as good as American diplomats in using outrage and wounded pride to gain a rhetorical edge over their counterparts. Rogozin isn’t necessarily describing what happened accurately. But there sure seems to be a growing sense in the U.S. that Russia is no longer a state to be worked with but an enemy to be countered, and a confusing set of leaks of classified and apparently uncertain reporting is a part of that. It might be true. It might not. What is missing is evidence that Moscow is issuing orders to attack American target (a crucial component to pinning this on Russia). All we have evidence for right now is that a Russian might be responsible—not who gave him orders or what his intended target was.

Given the proliferation of rogue intelligence agents and spies in American pop culture, it’s hard to see why the prospect of a Russian agent run amok is so difficult to come by. But apart from a frankly paranoid assertion that Russia does things just to confuse us, and a contradictory set of stories about what apparently still-classified intelligence actually says about the Tblisi embassy blast, it still seems way too early to leap to any conclusions about what is going on here.

Secretary Clinton is sticking with this issue by not forgetting to mention it when she meets with her Russian counterparts. Because the intelligence on the nature of the blast seems to be uncertain, this is appropriate of her—a rogue agent is still a huge deal, and in either case the Russians need to be made aware of how the U.S.’s understanding of their involvement (or lack of it) is evolving. Secretary Clinton’s calm, and at least some officials’ discipline in urging caution of analysis because they just don’t know for certain yet, is commendable.

Hopefully we’ll get more documentary evidence of what really happened soon. Until then, we should keep in mind that not even the U.S. government is uncertain of what happened, so it’s premature to jump to too many conclusions.

Subscribe to receive updates from Registan

This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

For information on reproducing this article, see our Terms of Use


dc July 29, 2011 at 11:19 am

First of all, you place too much weight on what one administration official says – undoubtedly based on your personal political predisposition – when it appears that there are many more that say the contrary. The CIA report, it seems, has reached a specific conclusion, unless you are saying the other couple of anonymous officials are flat out LYING. If this is the case, then please let me know what makes you think that, including specific “documentary evidence” which you are fond of demanding from others.

Also, are you not tired of these “rogue agent” theories? There have been countless terrorist attacks or attempts of an attack in Georgia following the Embassy blast and every time this “rogue agent” is going back to the separatist province of Abkhazia, according to the very same WT report that you cite. Russians control every border in Abkhazia and if they cared enough to catch this “rogue” agent, they would. This seems more like a work of local generals who are not used to accountability of any kind and who treat weapon depots as their personal storage facilities; no wonder the “rogue agent” has no problem getting explosives all “on his own”. Even if Moscow was not directly involved, they are still responsible for their subordinates and turning a blind eye to their actions, for years now, means they are just as guilty.

Julien July 29, 2011 at 5:00 pm

– Just a correction; its “Tbilisi” (თბილისი)

Karen Millen Sale July 29, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Karen Millen Sale
Chinese star of this year’s Cannes the stars not shining, the only just stepped on the red carpet actress Fan Bingbing line karen millen sales although at the opening day “sunshine Chongqing” has been finished out the premiere. However, as the karen millen sale actress Fan Bingbing since its opening a few days in a row on the Cannes red carpet, Cannes red carpet will be great to go into the backyard trend.
High-profile endorsement, “wear karen millen sale” out of topic, others grab the premiere of Star, etc., only one purpose: to take advantage of this rare Cannes line instant “international norm.”
Zhang Ziyi endorsement karen millen sales brand name skin care science
With the “sunshine Chongqing” was invited to Cannes, Fan Bingbing few scenes can be said to shine, but then stunning seductive dress, had to have the opportunity to wear karen millen sales Caixing.
Yesterday, Wallace appeared in the Hollywood film director Alejandro Gonzalez directed the film “United States was wrong,” the premiere, not the “a flash in the pan”, but in Asia, a karen millen sale international cosmetics brand identity spokesperson present. This product before spokesperson, Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi, Michelle Reis, Zhou Xun Xiao Nizi than … … every big name, international brand endorsement contract now, Wallace is regarded as the image recognition.

Louboutin Shoes Sale July 29, 2011 at 11:08 pm

New Mexico to bring elements of light colors and new textures louboutin shoes sale footwear Ms. Winter 2011
Christian louboutin Australia footwear for the 2011 winter classic knit adds a new section of the woven texture, the Bailey family elevated to coin a new level, and a strong return to the Mongolian sheepskin. By the New Mexico style louboutin shoes sale and rich local culture inspired the original, the new season of women’s shoes showcase a rich color, luxurious interpretation of the low-key style.
Boots Series (Equestrian Collection) use bright side suede, leather and waterproof suede leather as the base material. Leather lace, Navajo patterns, metal stirrups and other elements have highlighted the most popular boots added a rich decorative details and the exotic. Cailyn this boots as one of the main series of products, made of light skinned, and the boots in the upper part of the Navajo to weave patterns as a decoration, autumn and winter 2011 louboutin shoes sale boots are the most representative of a series.

Christian louboutin Winter 2011 grand launch of the thick bottom wedge series, this is a clear fashion trend of the new series is also excellent material, exquisite details non-negligent exploration. The entire series both fashionable and comfortable advantage, using the upper range of classic Italian leather and soft louboutin shoes sale suede full grain leather manufacturing, highlights the unparalleled comfort feel. Shaping wedge series (Sculpted Wedge Collection) fully embodies the characteristics of minimalist fashion. As the series highlights the Aprelle this women’s boots, the 12-inch boots with a system designed according to different needs and completely pull or turn next.

With the retro series of successful launch of the wood at the end of this season, added a new work: high-heeled clogs retro series (High Clog Collection) with high 4-inch, dark wood base, more elegance, exaggerated the details of the accessories, fashion design and full of glossy leather to give a single product brand new style.

Desert boots series louboutin shoes sale (Desert Boot Collection) will be low-key and fashion to the extreme interpretation. UGG will not reduce the trace from the pursuit of comfort, even in high-heeled fashion models. Desert Series end with a soft and comfortable oxford perfect fashion show UGG comfort of perfect unity. Jose is a dual-boots, decorated in the clinch on the upper side around, boots the system to be turned freely testimony boots with a full desert of the modern family footwear and handsome.

Alex July 30, 2011 at 6:07 am

“Part of the reason they do these things is precisely because it is not clear to Westerners why they would do them” – that’s brilliant.

I’d be more prepared believe that Russians were somehow involved in 9/11 attacks (as they benefited from those events in an indirect way).

Grant July 31, 2011 at 5:29 pm

The rogue agent theory sounds rather weak (and doesn’t have any basis in history as far as I know*). Whether or not he (and/or Russia) had any involvement in this specific bombing is harder to say. We can’t deny the possibility that Russia had a hand in it, but that’s also not the only possibility.

*Indeed I’m fairly sure it only got created so American fiction could have Soviet villains without accusing the Soviet Union of being behind these actions.

Previous post:

Next post: