SitRep: Trump Looking to Rework CIA Structure; Intel Chiefs Testify On Russian Hacks
U.S. Troops Enter Mosul; Russia’s NATO Reset; Democrats Talking With Mattis; Syria Ceasefire Woes; And Lots More
CIA shakeup. The CIA might be in for a major overhaul if President-elect Donald Trump and his administration get their way. The Wall Street Journal has discovered that Team Trump is working on a plan “to restructure the Central Intelligence Agency, cutting back on staffing at its Virginia headquarters and pushing more people out into field posts around the world,” Damian Paletta and Julian Barnes report.
The proposal sounds quite a bit like what Michael Flynn — Trump’s national security advisor — wanted to do while director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Flynn and
Rep. Mike Pompeo (R., Kan.), whom Trump named as his nominee to be the next CIA director, are reportedly pushing the planning. Flynn and Pompeo, according to the WSJ “share Mr. Trump’s view that the intelligence community’s position—that Russia tried to help his campaign—is an attempt to undermine his victory or say he didn’t win, the official close to the transition said.”
Flynn’s blueprint. Take a look at this October 2013 interview Flynn did with James Kittfield for DefenseOne. Flynn talks about how intelligence agencies and U.S. Special Operations Forces have integrated operations in the field over the past 15 years, and given his SOF history, he says Washington bureaucracies need more of that.
“There’s this tendency to view Washington as at “the center” of things,” Flynn said, “with everything else happening out there on ‘the edge.’ But the edge is where really important things are happening, which means we need to change the mindset in Washington. Those people and organizations in the field should be seen as the center of gravity. We need to make them the centerpiece of everything we do.”
On the Hill. Speaking of Russian influence on the U.S. presidential election, senior U.S. intelligence officials are heading to Capitol Hill Thursday to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on that very subject. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Marcel Lettre are expected to appear before the panel at 9:30 a.m., which is chaired by Republican John McCain, a noted critic of Putin. Livestream here. FP will have full coverage of the hearings.
More hack fallout. In response to Trump’s tweet Wednesday backing up Wikileaks’ Julian Assange and his denials over receiving stolen DNC emails from Russian intelligence, Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway said her boss “should pay significant attention” to Assange. Not so much, countered Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said again that the hacking “was done by the Russians, and I hope by Friday, President-elect Trump will come to that realization and ignore Mr. Assange. Not only should he ignore Julian Assange, he should condemn him for what he’s done to our country, putting our soldiers at risk, putting our foreign policy at risk. Julian Assange is no friend of America and he’s no friend of Democracy.”
Russia wants a reset with NATO? Maybe. After several years of increasingly testy relations between Moscow and the Atlantic alliance, Andrei Kelin, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department of European Cooperation said this week, “we need to build normal relations with NATO and renew what we had before,” reports FP’s Robbie Gramer. But, he adds, Kelin’s comments may have more to do with being the “first litmus test for a NATO-Russia rapprochement when Trump steps into the Oval Office,” than an actual attempt to reset relations.
U.S. troops in Mosul. The number of US advisors embedded with Iraqi forces in and around Mosul has doubled in recent weeks, hitting a high of about 450 troops, a U.S. military spokesman told reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday. And for the first time, the military has acknowledged that U.S. troops have been inside the besieged city. “They have been in the city at different times,” U.S. Air Force Col. John Dorrian said. There are currently about 5,000 U.S. forces in Iraq helping to train local forces, with Special Operations Forces carrying out occasional raids.
Israel and the UN. Israel’s dream of a seat on the 15-nation U.N. Security Council is dimming as the government of Benjamin Netanyahu retaliates against countries that opposed settlement expansion, FP’s Colum Lynch and John Hudson write in a new piece.
The U.N. Security Council vote condemning Israeli settlements last month not only struck a significant blow to the Jewish state’s international credibility, “but the resolution also threatened something far more tangible: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s behind-the-scenes push to win Israel a seat on the 15-nation security body.” Netanyahu’s response, and the Republican-controlled Congress’ moves to prepare legislation to cut U.S. funding to the United Nations, have all but scuttled that dream, however.
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President-elect Donald Trump had a chat with the new U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Reuters reports, and, at least according to the readout from the U.N. side, things appear to have gone well. The talks come after Trump thundered at the U.N. via his Twitter account following the Security Council’s vote to pass a resolution condemning Israeli settlements. Guterres’s spokesman says he had a “very positive discussion” with Trump about the U.N.’s relationship with the United States. Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said his foreign policy team will work to “demand some reform and change” from the organization.
It’s official. Someone in South Korea has been given the job of keeping the country’s foreign affairs ministry up to date in real-time on President-elect Trump’s various Twitter rants. Joongang Daily reports that the ministry’s North American Affairs Bureau has hired someone to sit and watch Trump’s Twitter feed to keep officials apprised of his various policy declarations on social media. Trump’s penchant for talking international affairs on social media, apparently unfiltered by staff, has shaken up the region, including his tweets on the U.S. relationship with Taiwan.
Ret. Marine Gen. James Mattis is a hit with Republicans but Senate Democrats aren’t so sure whether they want to grant the former general a waiver to serve as secretary of defense. Military Times reports that at least two Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sens. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) and Tammy Duckworth (R-IL) have said they’re inclined to vote against giving Mattis a waiver from a law designed to ensure civilian control of the military. Gillibrand emphasized the increasing number of civilians in the Defense Department. She said found Mattis “thoughtful” on a number of important issues and respected his service but nonetheless believed civilian control of the military was “fundamental to the Constitution.”
Ceasefires in Syria’s civil war tend to be short-lived and hotly contested and the most recent truce negotiated by Turkey and Russia is proving no exception. Now, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is calling on Iran to reign pro-Assad regime forces, accusing them of carrying out a number of ceasefire violations, the AP reports. Fighting has ticked up in the Barada Valley outside the capital of Damascus and the source of much of the city’s water. Cavusoglu warned that the agreement would fall apart if violations continue.
The Australian and Indonesian militaries are making up after a brief incident at a training facility that prompted Indonesia to briefly suspend military relations with Canberra, according to the AP. Details of the price trigger for Indonesian officials’ offense are still hard to come by but it appears as though an Indonesian instructor at the training center took exception to printed materials which may have suggested support for independence for West Papua from Indonesian rule. Indonesia’s defense minister raised the issue with his Australian counterpart but relations between the two countries are back on track following an expression of “regret” by Australia.
Staff from the U.N. Mission in Colombia are in deep trouble with the U.N. mothership for getting caught dancing with FARC rebels on New Year’s Eve. Reuters reports that the mission staff are supposed to be monitoring the demobilization portion of a peace deal between the Marxists guerillas and the government but the video suddenly cast the impartiality of the staff into doubt. Colombia’s U.N. ambassador Maria Emma Mejia wrote in a letter to the U.N. the activity in the video “distorts the professionalism and neutrality that should characterize.”
Outgoing under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics Frank Kendall just green lit the Navy to move into the engineering and manufacturing development phase, known as Milestone B, for the Columbia-class nuclear missile submarine, according to Breaking Defense. The plan is to eventually build a dozen subs. The subs are expected to cost $96 billion along with the $29 billion for research and development, adding up to a projected $125 billion price tag overall. Congress has already shelled out $773 million for design work to begin on the Columbia subs, which are expected to replace the current Ohio-class submarines.
Photo Credit: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images
Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary