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SitRep: Trump Demands Thousands of New Nukes

  By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley How Trump sees national security. After being shown a chart showing the gradual reduction in American nuclear weapons stockpiles during a meeting this summer, President Trump demanded “what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal,” several national security officials tell NBC News. “According to ...

President Donald Trump attends a briefing with senior military leaders in the Cabinet Room.  Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images
President Donald Trump attends a briefing with senior military leaders in the Cabinet Room. Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images

 

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

How Trump sees national security. After being shown a chart showing the gradual reduction in American nuclear weapons stockpiles during a meeting this summer, President Trump demanded “what amounted to a nearly tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal,” several national security officials tell NBC News.

“According to the officials present, Trump’s advisers, among them the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were surprised. Officials briefly explained the legal and practical impediments to a nuclear buildup and how the current military posture is stronger than it was at the height of the build-up. In interviews, they told NBC News that no such expansion is planned.”

There is also the matter of several international treaties that limits the size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. After the meeting, according to this account, Tillerson made his infamous quip that Trump was a “moron.”

Nuclear deal. Obama administration veterans are pulling out the stops to make the case against letting the Iran nuclear deal fall apart. Over at Just Security, former Obama administration National Security Council legal adviser Tess Bridgeman games out how a decertification may not necessarily spell the end of the deal — assuming Congress doesn’t use the occasion to reimpose sanctions in an attempt to renegotiate the deal.

Meanwhile, the U.S. flew two B-1 bombers over South Korea on Tuesday in a new show of force.

May day. U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May spoke with President Trump by phone on Tuesday, telling him that her government maintains its “strong commitment to the deal alongside our European partners,” according to a release from 10 Downing Street. “The PM stressed that it was important that the deal was carefully monitored and properly enforced.”

More on deadly Niger ambush. The team of U.S. Army Green Berets ambushed in Niger last week were outmanned, outgunned, and help was hours away, the NYT reports. The operation, which left four American soldiers dead and two wounded, is now under investigation.

“That inquiry, senior military officials said, will likely reveal that the American troops had deployed to a hostile area without adequately assessing the risk, and lacked ready access to medical support.”

Israeli spies find Russian spies. In a previously undisclosed operation last year, Israeli intelligence officers “looked on in real time as Russian government hackers searched computers around the world for the code names of American intelligence programs,” the NYT reports. The Russian op is known to have “stolen classified documents from a National Security Agency employee who had improperly stored them on his home computer, on which Kaspersky’s antivirus software was installed. What additional American secrets the Russian hackers may have gleaned from multiple agencies, by turning the Kaspersky software into a sort of Google search for sensitive information, is not yet publicly known.”

FONOPs. The guided-missile destroyer USS Chafee has carried out a freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea, sailing within 12 nautical miles of islands in the Paracel archipelago claimed by China.

Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Six Flags over Wonsan. Kim Jong-un is turning the seaside city of Wonsan into a joint tourist mecca and Kim family getaway, complete with golf courses, shopping centers, an aquarium and a brewery — and oh yes, ballistic missiles. Reuters takes a deep dive into Kim’s development of Wonsan as both a tourism hub (which he hopes will bring in a million tourists a year) and the scene of ballistic missile tests.

Hacked. A member of South Korea’s parliament says the South Korean Defense Ministry has evidence that North Korea hackers broke into classified networks and stole joint U.S.-South Korean war plans for dealing with the North. The stolen data reportedly includes plans to assassinate Kim Jong-un and his senior lieutenants during the early stage of a conflict.

Power move. In a new report, cybersecurity company FireEye reveals that North Korean hackers also tried — and failed — to breach American electric power companies. NBC News reports that the North sent spear phishing emails with malware hidden inside fake fundraiser invitations to power company employees, with no evidence that the hackers ultimately gained access to targeted machines, much less to systems controlling electrical systems.

Take the Fifth. Former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page says he’ll refuse to testify before the Senate’s inquiry into Russian election meddling, telling Politico that he plans to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against self incrimination when called upon. News accounts earlier this year reveal that Page had previously been the subject of an FBI inquiry into Russian espionage in the United States long before the 2016 election.   

Junket circuit. The CIA has spent millions of dollars staging fake scientific conferences around the world in order to create a safer setting in neutral countries to pitch scientists working in the nuclear programs of places like Iran and North Korea, according to The Guardian. In one instance, the Agency put on a conference to lure and pitch an Iranian nuclear scientist, wiring up his hotel room and seeding the kitchen staff with CIA employees to catch the academic away from his minders in an unguarded moment.

Lebanon. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman says the “Lebanese army has lost its independence and has become an integral part of Hezbollah’s network.” While Western countries have tried to bolster Lebanon’s official military with arms exports as a bulwark against the influence of groups like Hezbollah, Lieberman’s comments reflect an apparent divergence of opinion on whether the Lebanese Armed Forces contain or facilitate the Iranian-backed terrorist group.

Hezbollah. National Counterterrorism Center chief Nicholas Rasmussen put two Hezbollah members on blast for carrying out what he says are preparations “to give itself a potential [U.S.] homeland option as a critical component of its terrorism playbook.” Rasmussen offered rewards of $7 million for Talal Hamiyah, the head of Hezbollah’s external security organization, and $5 million for Fu’ad Shukr, a Hezbollah member accused of participating in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut.

Turkey. The Turkish government sentenced a Wall Street Journal reporter in absentia to a 25 month prison sentence for doing her job and reporting on battles between Turkish forces and members of the banned PKK separatist group, designated as a terrorist organization by both the U.S. and Turkey. The reporter, Ayla Albayrak, is living in New York at the moment and is thus unlikely to serve out the sentence for allegedly distributing terrorist propaganda.

Pep talk. Taliban leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada made a clandestine visit to Helmand Province last week with advisors from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence in tow, according to Kandahar police chief General Abdul Raziq. Akhundzada reportedly made the visit to offer guidance on how to deal with the uptick in American airstrikes and tell commanders to make peace with the Islamic State’s Afghan affiliate.

Cybersecurity. Symantec CEO Greg Clark says his cybersecurity company won’t allow foreign countries to review the source code in its products as a condition of market access, saying that “These are secrets, or things necessary to defend (software).” Russia has been asking to review the source code of foreign software companies, but Clark says Symantec’s small customer base in Russia gives it the ability to walk away from such demands.

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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