The Cable

SitRep: Wikileaks Says CIA Is In Your iPhone; U.S., Russian, Turkish Generals Meet; New Russian Sub Missiles

China Reacts to U.S.; North Korean Tensions; Iranian Losses in Syria; EUCOM Fights off Drones; And Lots More

PYEONGTAEK, SOUTH KOREA - MARCH 06:  In this handout photo provided by U.S. Forces Korea, trucks are seen carrying parts required to set up the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system that had arrived at the Osan Air Base on March 6, 2017 in Pyeongtaek, South Korea.  (Photo by United States Forces Korea via Getty Images)
PYEONGTAEK, SOUTH KOREA - MARCH 06: In this handout photo provided by U.S. Forces Korea, trucks are seen carrying parts required to set up the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system that had arrived at the Osan Air Base on March 6, 2017 in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. (Photo by United States Forces Korea via Getty Images)

 

Leaked. Wikileaks is back, and has dumped thousands of pages of what it claims are CIA documents showing how the agency can bypass encryption tools, and spy on the phones and personal computers of private citizens. The leak, FP’s Elias Groll writes, can in effect “turn computers and phones into remote microphones” for government snoops. The CIA is refusing comment, but most experts in the field have said the documents appear legitimate.  

The classified programs — which could be part of “the largest leak of C.I.A documents in history” according to the New York Times — were slapped with code names like Wrecking Crew, CrunchyLimeSkies, ElderPiggy, AngerQuake and McNugget.

Bad paper. The leaks, however, have likely further eroded trust between Silicon Valley tech firms and the government. No one has claimed credit for passing the documents on the Wikileaks, but experts say that it’s likely that only a foreign power could have had the tools to break into government servers and swipe the material. The leak comes just days after President Donald Trump charged, without evidence, that the U.S. government had “tapped” his communications at Trump Tower during the presidential election.

China pushes for peace, threatens Washington. Beijing is pleading for calm in the wake of the latest North Korean missile and nuclear tests, asking Pyongyang to halt the tests, and Washington and Seoul to put the brakes on a major military exercise. But that doesn’t mean the Chinese are happy about the U.S. deployment this week of the THAAD missile defense system to South Korea.

Beijing is “firmly opposed” to the deployment, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters at a press briefing in Beijing. “China will resolutely take necessary measures to defend our own security interests. All consequences entailed from this will be borne by the US and the ROK.”

Test for Trump. The White House has tried to reassure allies in the region, with president Trump having called Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson preparing to visit the region next week. Tillerson will make stops in Tokyo, Seoul, South Korea, and China, but he has never dealt with a proliferation problem like this one in his career as an oil executive.

The New York Times notes that “Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has already been to Seoul on one visit, but was there mostly to reassure the country that, despite Mr. Trump’s statements last year, the United States remains committed to its defense,” and “new national security adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, has focused more on counterinsurgency than dealing with the peculiar problem of a nuclear-armed failing state.”

Sit down. The top U.S. military officer met with his counterparts from Russia and Turkey on Tuesday, in a significant pow-wow that brought together Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian general staff; and their Turkish counterpart, Gen. Hulusi Akar. The point of the meeting was to discuss “the fight against all terrorist organizations in Syria” and “the importance of additional measures for de-conflicting operations,” a spokesman for Dunford said in a statement.

Serious tensions remain, however. Turkey is alarmed that the United States continues to back Kurdish militias in Syria, a group Ankara says are terrorists. A Turkish official told Reuters that the meeting, however, “could change the whole picture.”

But — and this is a big one — the official said Ankara is not happy that the U.S. might push the Kurds and Arabs into Raqqa, without Turkey. “It appears that the U.S. may carry out this operation with the [Kurdish] YPG, not with Turkey. And at the same time the U.S. is giving weapons to the YPG.” American military officials insist they only supply arms to Syrian Arabs, who are allied with the YPG. “If this operation is carried out in this manner there will be a cost for Turkey-U.S. relations, because the YPG is a terrorist organization,” the official added.

Elsewhere in the fight. Iranian officials have that around 2,100 Iranian troops have been killed fighting in Iraq and Syria. “Some 2,100 martyrs have been martyred so far in Iraq or other places defending the holy mausoleums,” Mohammad Ali Shahidi told the state-run IRNA news agency. The figure was more than double the number he gave in November, which referred only to Syria.

Messaging. President Trump’s National Security Advisor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, spoke at a naturalization ceremony in Alexandria, Virginia, earlier this month as an Iraqi family he sponsored became U.S. citizens. The speech comes as the Trump administration works to temporarily ban immigration from six Muslim-majority countries, citing terrorism fears. The Iraqi whom McMaster sponsored worked as a translator for him in Tal Afar in northern Iraq in 2005. In the White House’s second attempt at instituting the ban, Iraq was taken off the list after lobbying by the government in Baghdad and senior U.S. defense officials.

The Washington Post notes that “the revised ban keeps out people from six countries that the Trump administration says pose certain ‘national security risks.’ There have been 10 fatal attacks tied to Islamist extremist ideology or otherwise deemed international terrorism since 2001 and the people behind those attacks are from none of the banned countries.”

Welcome to SitRep. Send any tips, thoughts or national security events to paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.

Breaking. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for an attack underway at a military hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. The New York Times reports that gunmen launched a complex attack on the Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan Hospital early Wednesday, breaching the entrance with a suicide bomber after which gunmen stormed the facility. As is often the case, early casualty figures are vague and contradictory with estimates of the dead ranging from three to 20. An Islamic State affiliate has taken hold in Afghanistan over the past two years, with U.S. and Afghan forces targeting its strongholds in Nangarhar province.

Assassination mystery. The strange saga behind the assassination of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s brother in just got stranger. Channel News Asia reports that after what is believed to have been North Korean agents assassinated Kim Jong Nam with nerve agent in a Malaysian airport, a group calling itself “Cheollima Civil Defense” has posted a video to YouTube featuring Kim Jong Nam’s son, Kim Han Sol. In the video, he shows off his passport and says “I’m currently with my mother and my sister,” mentions the death of his father, and concludes that “we hope this gets better soon.” No one seems to know who or what the Cheollima Civil Defense group is but South Korean intelligence did confirm that the man in the video is Kim Jong Nam’s son.

Drone killers. Counter drone systems — they’re not just for the U.S. Central Command anymore. Defense Update reports that the European Command is about to get a new counter UAS system called CMIC (counter UAS mobile integrated capabilities) based on a rapid prototype that’s been under development since 2014. The CMIC system is mounted to Stryker armored vehicles and can detect small drones and jam them, as well as identify their ground control stations so that other weapon systems can fire on enemy drone pilots. The Army deployed two CMIC vehicles to Europe in February where Stryker units will train and evaluate the system to provide feedback to the Army.

Epidemic. The Marine Corps is scrambling to respond after an investigation by The War Horse uncovered a 30,000-member Facebook page for current and active duty Marines sharing a vast trove of revenge porn featuring female Marines. But as the Washington Post reports, the problem is hardly a new one in the Marine Corps, or limited to just one Facebook page. “It’s Marine Corps wide,” one female Marine whose sex tape was posted to Marine social media platforms tells the paper. Investigations by various publications in 2013 reported similar incidents in which Marines shared revenge porn of their female fellow service members and sexuall harassed them.   

Missiles. One of Russia’s older submarines is getting a life extension and a new cruise missile. The Diplomat reports that Russia is equipping its Project 949A Oscar II class submarines with anti-ship 3M-54 Kalibr cruise missiles. The submarines were built to take on American carrier strike groups and will be receiving anti-ship versions of the the Kalibr. Russian Kilo-class submarines have fired a land attack variant of the Kalibr at targets in Syria from the Caspian and Mediterranean.

Recidivism. There’s new data from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) on released Guantanamo detainees returning to the fight. The Hill reports that ODNI has slightly modified its figures, downgrading the official tally from 122 to 121 former prisoners who have re-engaged in combat against the United States. The release of the figures come amid controversy over President Trump’s false claim that President Obama released 122 Guantanamo detainees who returned to the fight. Eight detainees released under the Obama administration have thus far returned to terrorism with the remaining majority of recidivists released by the Bush administration.

Photo Credit: United States Forces Korea via Getty Images

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