The unverified intelligence echoes a similar report, deemed credible by the C.I.A. but dismissed by the president, that Russian military agents had offered payments for attacks on Americans in Afghanistan.
President Trump was briefed this month about intelligence reports that China had offered to pay bounties to fighters in Afghanistan who attacked American soldiers there, but the information was uncorroborated and comes months after Mr. Trump dismissed as a “hoax” a C.I.A. assessment that Russia had paid for such attacks.
It is unclear whether the intelligence on China shows that any bounties were paid, or whether any attacks on American personnel were even attempted. United States intelligence agencies collect enormous amounts of information, much of which turns out to be false or misleading.
The information, included in the president’s written briefing on Dec. 17 and relayed verbally by the national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien — was earlier reported on Wednesday night by Axios and confirmed by U.S. officials.
It comes at a time when Trump administration officials, including the director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, have sought to put more pressure on China, partly in the hope of limiting any plans by the incoming Biden administration to ease tensions with Beijing.
Mr. Trump, Mr. Ratcliffe and other officials have also sought to direct attention toward Chinese misbehavior in areas where other American officials consider Russia to be a greater threat, including computer hacking and the use of disinformation to disrupt American politics.
After the disclosure this month that the United States government had been subjected to a huge cyberbreach that American officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, confidently attributed to Russia, Mr. Trump angrily cast doubt on that notion and sought to implicate Beijing. “Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter, charging that the news media avoids “discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!).”
The Axios report said on Wednesday that the underlying intelligence on the bounties, about which it obtained no further details, would be declassified, although it was unclear why or for whom. White House officials would not elaborate but did not dispute that the intelligence was uncorroborated.
Although tensions between the United States and China have escalated significantly during the Trump era, Beijing is not known to provide substantial support to anti-American proxies in combat zones like Afghanistan, and some national security experts were initially skeptical that Beijing would support attacks on Americans. By contrast, many considered similar reports about Russian bounties to be credible.
If confirmed, and particularly if traced to political leaders in Beijing, such an action by China would constitute a grave provocation that might demand a response by President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. after he takes office in January.
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