SitRep: BREAKING: Trump Says He Believes Assange; Rips U.S. Intel Community; Mattis to Capitol Hill, Voices Support for F-35
Carrier Heading to Pacific; Water Wars; Turkey and Russia in Syria; And Lots More
Here we go. President-elect Donald Trump apparently tuned in to FOX News Tuesday night for Sean Hannity’s sit down with Wikileaks chief Julian Assange, who appears to be emerging as a surprising ally of some conservatives in Washington.
Trump tweeted Wednesday morning that Assange backs up his own suspicions over the U.S. government and a variety of independent cybersecurity firms’ assessment that Russia was behind the hacks on the Democratic National Congress, writing, “Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’ – why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!”
More tweets, more doubts. The tweet comes after Trump’s missive late Tuesday that the intel briefing he was scheduled to receive on the hacks had been moved to later this week: “The “Intelligence” briefing on so-called “Russian hacking” was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”
But senior administration officials tell the New York Times that no meeting had been scheduled for Tuesday. Trump had previously said he might reveal “things that other people don’t know” about the hacking, but has provided no evidence to back up his doubts about the intel community’s conclusions.
His latest 140-character assaults on U.S. government agencies comes as F.B.I. director, James Comey, and director of national intelligence, James Clapper were preparing to travel to New York on Friday to brief him about their findings. “The decision by Mr. Comey and Mr. Clapper to brief Mr. Trump in person appears to be an effort to show him how seriously they take their conclusions that the Russian government was behind the hacking of Democratic officials before the election,” the Times notes.
Not helping. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) fanned the flames of the budding war between the President-elect and the intelligence community, telling MSNBC Tuesday night that Trump is being “really dumb” for picking a fight with the intel pros, warning they “have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”
To the Hill. Trump’s pick to become the next defense secretary, retired Marine General James Mattis, is making the rounds on Capitol Hill this week, and had some interesting things to say to Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the Democrat from Connecticut on Tuesday.
Blumenthal hinted that Mattis might not share the same views as Trump when it comes to the F-35 program, and the lawmaker said he was “encouraged by his clear commitment” to the “important role of the F-35 program in sustaining and enhancing it.” Trump has tweeted about the program, demanding that Lockheed Martin bring the costs down while asking Boeing “to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet,” an older jet that would be hugely expensive to bring up to speed with the F-35.
The two also talked about cyber attacks, “particularly by the Russians,” Blumenthal said, but wouldn’t provide any details. The senator did say that he believes Mattis “could provide a sense of balance and stability” in the Trump administration.
More meets. Mattis also sat down with Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, and has planned visits with two other panel members Wednesday and Thursday: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). The New York senator is the only Democrat who has come out against Mattis, saying in a statement that she will not vote for an exception to the rule of civilian control of the military, as it is “a fundamental principle of American democracy.” The Senate would have to change existing law to allow Mattis to serve, since he has not been out of the military for the required seven years.
So long. On Wednesday morning, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will sit down with the Pentagon’s global Combatant Commanders and Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Cabinet Room for the final time of their administration, followed by a trip out to Joint Base Myers-Henderson Hall, where they’ll to participate in the Armed Forces Full Honor Review Farewell Ceremony.
Good morning and as always, if you have any thoughts, announcements, tips, or national security-related events to share, please pass them along to SitRep HQ. Best way is to send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley
POTUS and PEOTUS
Is President Barack Obama more comfortable with the idea of President-elect Donald Trump getting the nuclear codes? Not so much. Both Obama and Hillary Clinton made Trump’s erratic temperament an issue during the presidential campaign, declaring him unfit to bear the responsibility inherent in receiving launch codes for U.S. nuclear weapons. But Politico notes that when asked if his opinion on a nuclear-capable Trump has changed, White House spokesman Josh Earnest punted before admitting that his “assessment would be that his opinions have not changed.”
The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier is headed to the western Pacific, Navy Times reports. 3rd Fleet’s Vice Adm. Nora Tyson will command the carrier strike group accompanying the Vinson, but the group plans to stray past the international dateline that has marked the fleet’s traditional area of responsibility and venture into 7th Fleet’s territory. The Obama administration has received some criticism for leaving the Persian Gulf without a carrier group at the moment but the Vinson has no plans to sail that far to fill the gap.
The Assad regime and rebels are fighting for control of a vital spring used to supply the capital with most of its water, according to the AP. Until recently, the two sides had agreed to leave the Ain al-Fijeh spring out of the conflict and let its water flow to the capital. But all that changed recently and both sides accuse each other of sabotaging the deal. Rebels say Russian warplanes bombed the water processing plant that supplies the capital, offering imagery of its collapsed roof as proof. The Assad regime, however, denies any strikes on the facility and accuses rebels of dumping gasoline into the water supply.
American warplanes are providing air support to Turkish forces ranged off against the Islamic State near the Syrian town of al-Bab, Reuters reports. American officials have been leery of providing air support for Turkey’s operation near al-Bab, seeing it as an attempt to blunt the advance of Kurdish YPG forces who are also fighting the jihadist group. After the Turks requested U.S. air support in late December, Russian warplanes carried out airstrikes in support of Turkish forces near the town. Defense Department spokesman Peter Cook called the U.S. airstrikes a “visible show of force,” but said no bombs were dropped.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got an unwelcome visit from police this week investigating allegations that he illegally received gifts from wealthy businessmen. The New York Times notes that some Israeli political observers see a chance that Israel’s attorney general could issue an indictment, which would force the second longest serving Israeli leader to resign. Other recent Israeli prime ministers have faced ethics investigations, however, and come away unscathed, including Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak.
The Islamic State’s explosive-laden drones have captured the attention of the media but that’s not the only thing for which the group is using homebrew unmanned aircraft. Iraqi officials tell Al Jazeera reports that the Islamic State has also been using small drones to help guide their car bombs towards Iraqi military targets and locate the positions of enemy troops closing in on them in Mosul. The group has been using hobby drones equipped with small explosives to target enemy troops and two Peshmerga fighters died last year disassembling a downed Islamic State drone equipped with an explosive device.
The Atlantic Council has published a new report on using cyber capabilities in deterrence. In “Cyber and Deterrence: The Military-Civil Nexus in High-End Conflict,” authors Franklin Kramer, Robert Butlet, and Catherine Lotrionte spell out what the various components of the U.S. government with responsibility for cybersecurity should do in the event of a major conflict with a highly capable adversary.
BattleMechs, getting closer every day.
Photo Credit: Carl Court/Getty Images
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