The Cable

Security Brief: Trump Set to Meet Kim; What to Expect in Singapore

Trump administration officials are downplaying the possibility of a breakthrough agreement.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at a press briefing June 11, 2018 in Singapore. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives at a press briefing June 11, 2018 in Singapore. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

It’s really happening. With about 12 hours to go before President Donald Trump sits down with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is downplaying the prospect of a transformational deal — the kind Trump and his aides have been advocating.

Briefing reporters in Singapore, Pompeo said he was “very optimistic” that Trump and Kim could agree on a “framework” for ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons. “There’s gonna be a lot of work left to do,” Pompeo said.

Trump indicated last week that he doubts he will deliver a blockbuster deal in Singapore, “I think it’s a process. I’ve told you that many times before,” he told reporters last week before a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. “I think it’s not a one meeting deal.”

On Monday, the veteran U.S. diplomat Sung Kim led working level talks with Choe Son Hui, the North Korean vice foreign minister, but those discussions appear to be stalled. A U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity told Reuters the Monday meetings represented an attempt to make 11th-hour progress between the two sides, which have not agreed on a shared definition of denuclearization.

But the pomp and historic imagery of Tuesday’s meeting — set to take place at 9 p.m. EST Monday — may well overshadow the lack of a substantive agreement. “When Trump meets Kim on Tuesday, the two leaders plan to shake hands and take a ceremonial walk before cameras at the Capella Hotel on the tropical resort island here of Sentosa, according to a senior U.S. official,” the Washington Post reports. “After they hold an hour or two of private discussions accompanied only by their interpreters, Trump and Kim will be joined by their top advisers for a more traditional bilateral meeting.”

Trump won’t be in town long. In a statement early Monday, the White House announced Trump will depart Singapore at 8 p.m. local time on Tuesday for the United States.

Welcome to this Monday morning edition of Security Brief, in which we eagerly await the outcome of some meeting about to happen in Singapore. As always, send your questions, comments, and tips to elias.groll@foreignpolicy.com.

Here is what North Korea sanctions should look like. If Trump decides to offer sanctions relief to North Korea, they should be quickly reversible and tightly limited, writes Peter Harrell for Foreign Policy. But if Kim Jong Un actually dismantles his country’s nuclear capabilities, then sanctions relief should be sweeping and permanent.

Timeline for denuclearization. Going into the summit, Trump will ask Kim for a specific timetable for his plans to denuclearize, not a vague commitment, Bloomberg reports. Trump has been advised to offer no concessions. He is also reportedly considering inviting Kim to Mar-A-Lago for a follow-on summit, if the Singapore meeting goes well.  

The moustache is in the building. Though National Security Advisor Bolton sat out the White House meeting between Trump and North Korean envoy Kim Yong Chol last week, he is in Singapore for Tuesday’s summit, Yonhap reports. Bolton has been on the receiving end of North Korean wrath when he referenced the so-called “Libya model” — a process that ended with the death of the Libyan dictator, Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi — as a template for denuclearizing North Korea.

Who needs planning? The latest example of Trump’s departure from the White House’s traditional decision-making process: an ad hoc approach to preparing for the Singapore summit. Trump and Bolton have neither called a Cabinet-level meeting nor consulted with their national security team to discuss details about the upcoming summit, a move that was “troubling” to senior official from both the Obama and the Bush administrations, Politico reports.  

The mystery CIA officer. Andrew Kim has played a leading role in choreographing the Trump-Kim summit, Bloomberg reports. Raised in South Korea, Kim served as the CIA station chief in Seoul. Now, bucking decades of precedent, he has been elevated above diplomats and statesmen as a key strategist for the summit.  A former Pentagon chief of staff referred to him as “perhaps the most influential player right now.”

Verifying the deal. Whether North Korea would agree to and abide by a denuclearization deal lies at the heart of Tuesday’s Trump–Kim summit. But can on-site nuclear inspectors guarantee that a country has completely given up its nuclear arsenal? Foreign Policy’s Sharon Weinberger reports that Cloud Gap, a secret Cold War game ran by the Defense Department and the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in the 1960s, faced difficulties comparable to those that Trump may face with North Korea.

Goat rodeo. Summits are mere pageantry, but if Trump caves and accepts North Korea as basically a normal country, maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, writes Jeffrey Lewis for Foreign Policy.

The hackers are at it. According to a U.S. cybersecurity firm, FireEye, South Korea has faced a deluge of cyberattacks from Chinese and Russian hacking groups as recent as last month, the Wall Street Journal reports. North Korea has also joined in the hacking campaign after North and South Korean leaders agreed to cease all hostiles act on April 27. South Korean government entities and financial institutions are often the targets of these cyberattacks.

The speculators are here. The stakes of the Trump–Kim summit became higher when real estate investors from across China rushed to Dandong, a port city linked to North Korea via the China-Korea Friendship Bridge. Speculators in Dandong are betting that the city could be in for a major boost in trade if North Korea opens up ever so slightly as part of a rapprochement with the United States.

AI for missile defense. The American military is developing a system for using artificial intelligence to spot nuclear missile launches.

“If the research is successful, such computer systems would be able to think for themselves, scouring huge amounts of data, including satellite imagery, with a speed and accuracy beyond the capability of humans, to look for signs of preparations for a missile launch,” Reuters reports. “One person familiar with the programs said it includes a pilot project focused on North Korea. Washington is increasingly concerned about Pyongyang’s development of mobile missiles that can be hidden in tunnels, forests and caves.”

The AI era will be fine! As if science fiction hasn’t supplied an adequate answer for how robots become evil, a group of scientists set out to do just that with an AI named Norman. ”Scientists exclusively fed Norman violent and gruesome content from an unnamed Reddit page before showing it a series of Rorschach inkblot tests. While a ‘standard’ AI would interpret the images as, for example, ‘a black and white photo of a baseball glove,’ Norman sees ‘man is murdered by machine gun in broad daylight,’” AV Club reports.

Sea Dragon. Chinese hackers broke into a Navy contractor’s computer systems and made off with a huge trove of sensitive information, including “secret plans to develop a supersonic anti-ship missile for use on U.S. submarines by 2020,” according to the Washington Post.

The breach represents the latest major coup for Chinese intelligence services targeting American military systems. “Taken were 614 gigabytes of material relating to a closely held project known as Sea Dragon, as well as signals and sensor data, submarine radio room information relating to cryptographic systems, and the Navy submarine development unit’s electronic warfare library,” the Post reports.  

Another spy trial. A federal jury in Alexandria returned a guilty verdict in the closely watched espionage trial of former CIA officer Kevin Mallory, who claimed to be acting as a triple agent selling secrets to China while outing Beijing’s agents to his former bosses.  

Dark sword. Photos have emerged of a stealthy Chinese combat drone that indicates China continues to make progress on advanced aircraft projects. “Dark Sword, which originates from Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, has a low observable (stealthy) configuration that differs drastically from more common flying-wing advanced unmanned aircraft designs. Whereas those are optimized for endurance, altitude performance, broadband low observability, and payload, Dark Sword is designed for sustained speed and agility,” according to the Drive.

Enrichment. Not pleased with President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, Tehran announced it will step up uranium enrichment activities but will still remain within the limits established by the agreement, Haaretz reports.  

Snowden fallout continues. Last week marked the five-year anniversary of the revelations about American surveillance capabilities supplied by Edward Snowden, and American officials used the occasion to warn that the documents he supplied continue to reveal U.S. intelligence activities, the Associated Press reports.

Snowden responds. Five years after he fled Hawaii for a meeting with journalists in Hong Kong before seeking refuge in Russia, Edward Snowden says he has no regrets about going to the media. “The government and corporate sector preyed on our ignorance,” he told the Guardian. “But now we know. People are aware now. People are still powerless to stop it but we are trying. The revelations made the fight more even.”

The talk of the town. Prosecutors charged the Senate Intelligence Committee’s director of security with lying to the FBI and alleged that he had carried on a years-long relationship with a young Washington reporter and supplied her with material for stories, the New York Times reports.  

Guess who wrote a memoir. Ben Rhodes spent eight years as a speechwriter and advisor to Barack Obama. His new memoir chronicles an administration that struggled to tell its own story. “More than any modern President, Obama had a keen sense of the limits of American power—and of his own,” as the New Yorker writes. “But it’s hard to build a narrative around actions not taken, disasters possibly averted, hard realities accommodated. The story of what didn’t happen isn’t an easy one to tell.”

Get caught up. Before he left for his summit meeting in Singapore, President Donald Trump roiled American allies with a remarkable performance at the G7 summit in Canada, which featured angry exchanges over trade policy. While the issue has been covered to death, the Toronto Star has a fascinating behind the scenes look at how the summit went up in flames.

Ceasefire. The Afghan Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire to coincide with the end of Ramadan, the BBC reports. The ceasefire order comes on the heels of a unilateral move by the Afghan government to temporarily halt fighting against the Taliban.

Just some warehouse. An Iraqi warehouse storing ballots from its recent national election went up in flames Sunday, a disaster that may undermine the election’s legitimacy and set back a recount, the Washington Post reports.  

Yemen strikes. U.S. Central Command released fresh statistics about the last five months of airstrikes in Yemen, where American forces are assisting a Saudi Arabian-led air war against Houthi rebels. According to figures supplied to the Long War Journal, American forces have carried out 28 strikes between January and June. While the Trump administration stepped up strikes in Yemen last year, bombing the country 131 times, it would fall short of that number at the current pace.

Disinfo. Syrian rebel groups claim that Iranian militias allied with the Syrian government are dressing up in Syrian army uniforms in an apparent bid to avoid Israeli air strikes, the Wall Street Journal reports. Syrian forces and their proxies are readying an assault on rebels in southwestern Syria, and Israel has cautioned the Bashar al Assad regime that it will not tolerate the participation of Iranian militias in the operation. Israel has repeatedly carried out in recent months airstrikes in Syria against what it claims are Iranian government forces.  

Beijing scrutinizes DRAM. Chinese regulators launched an investigation of foreign chip-makers in what may be an attempt to drive down prices. “I wouldn’t be surprised if China is trying to negotiate some tech transfer and trying to put pressure on the incumbent memory makers to share some technology with the domestic Chinese memory makers,” the analyst Mark Newman told the Wall Street Journal.

S-400s to Qatar. Qatari officials said they will go ahead with plans to buy the Russian S-400 missile defense system, despite threats of military action from Saudi Arabia, Al Jazeera reports.  

….and to India. American officials are pressuring India to abandon its purchase of the S-400, threatening that the United States may level sanctions if the purchase goes ahead, the Hindu reports.  

Sofacy is back. The Russian hacking group Sofacy — also known as APT 28 or Fancy Bear and best known for its role in the Russian hacking campaign targeting the 2016 election — is taking on more aggressive tactics, according to new research from Palo Alto Networks. In the past the hacking group has used fairly targeted measures, but in the opening months of 2018 the group’s attempts penetrate computer systems have grown more indiscriminate.  

Hacking defense. The Defense Department is trying to step up its cybersecurity with a new tool for separating itself from the open internet, CNN reports.

This seems like a problem. On the heels of John Bolton’s purge of National Security Council officials, Joshua Steinman, a little-known 30-year-old former Navy lieutenant has taken on a central role in the Trump administration’s cybersecurity policy. “Amid the recent upheaval, NSC officials responsible for coordinating cybersecurity strategy are engaging in what one U.S. official with direct knowledge of the matter described as a near-legendary level of ego-fueled sniping,” the Daily Beast reports. “Current and former officials say [Steinman] has depleted his supply of good will from the agencies that execute the cybersecurity strategy the White House is supposed to set.”

Release the 0-days! Amid an ongoing regional stand-off that has featured regular accusations of malicious hacking, a zero-day vulnerability in Flash, the widely used software, turned up in Qatar, where it was used to infect a diplomatic target, CyberScoop reports.  

Here come the low-yield nukes. The Pentagon has finished “initial draft plans” for low-yield nuclear weapons to be deployed on American naval assets, Fox News reports.  

Dems still fighting. Even as the Pentagon appears to be moving forward with the development of low-yield nuclear weapons, Senate Democrats say they will push to include congressional oversight measures in the chamber’s defense spending bill, Defense News reports. Efforts to kill the low-yield weapons in the House spending bill failed, and Democrats are now moving their effort to oppose the weapons to the Senate.  

The Senate moves. The Senate opened debate on its version of the 2019 defense spending bill, which includes measures to counter Russia and China and back up the Trump administration’s focus on a renewed era of great power competition, Defense News reports. After passage, the sprawling bill that runs to more than 1,000 pages must still be reconciled with its House counterpart.  

Getting the basics right. A new report poses hard questions about the basic seamanship of junior officers in the Navy. The report “found some or significant concerns with the ship-handling skills of nearly 85 percent of its junior officers, and that many struggled to react decisively to extricate their ship from danger when there was an immediate risk of collision,” Defense News reports.  

No new fridges for Trump. President Donald Trump’s Air Force One had been set to get a set of new refrigerators — a contract won by Boeing for a modest $24 million — but the Air Force has scotched the deal, the Washington Post reports.  

F-35s to UK. The first four of the United Kingdom’s F-35 fighter jets arrived in the United Kingdom last week in a major milestone for the plane, Defense News reports. The UK has said it could buy as many as 138 of the planes.   

Prepping for invasion. Taiwan’s military practiced repulsing a Chinese invasion on Thursday as part of five days of war games, Defense News reports. “Thursday’s exercise featured soldiers in red helmets playing the role of Chinese troops landing by helicopter while special forces troops were deployed against them and tanks launched smokescreens,” according to the outlet.

Cyber Phalanx. European military officers are drilling their ability to respond to a crisis in cyberspace and gathered in Austria last week for an exercise billed as Cyber Phalanx, which focused on ““cyber defense decision-making and planning processes,” Fifth Domain reports.  

Bone grounded. The U.S. Air Force grounded its supersonic B1-B bomber fleet last week over a safety concern regarding the plane’s emergency ejection system. The Aviationist has the details.  

Big business. Northrop Grumman’s $9.2 billion acquisition of Orbital ATK, an aerospace firm that produces rockets and rocket engines, as well as satellites and other spacecraft, has officially been approved by the Federal Trade Commission last Wednesday.

Old ships. An internal U.S. Navy document reveals plans to extend the service life of all Navy ships by at least seven years so that the fleet would include 355 ships, Defense News reports. Experts have called this a “band-aid” solution to a highly demanding task because aging platforms require more money for maintenance as well as for major combat-system upgrades.

Turning around Los Alamos. Triad National Security LLC, comprised of Battelle Memorial Institute, Texas A&M University, and the University of California, will take over management operation at Los Alamos National Laboratory, winning a $2.5-billion contract. The lab has struggled with safety and security issues in recent years but is looking to step up production amid a massive nuclear weapons modernization program.

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian and Amy Cheng contributed to this report. 

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace, its conflicts, and controversies. @eliasgroll

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