SitRep: Trump Lands in Israel; Saudi Arms Deal Inked; Huge Week Ahead for POTUS; North Korean Hackers; Pyongyang Tests Another Missile; And Lots More
- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London.
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Here we go. Welcome to what promises to be a dizzying week for the Trump administration. President Donald Trump is currently in Israel for a series of talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials, followed by the release of the fiscal year 2018 budget back in D.C. on Tuesday. On Thursday, Trump lands in Brussels to huddle with wary NATO allies, followed by two stops in Italy: one in Rome to meet with Pope Francis, and another in Sicily for a meeting of the G7 nations.
Just before dawn on the East Coast, Trump touched down in Jerusalem where he was met by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin. The stop comes after two packed days in Saudi Arabia. The Trump administration has raised expectations for rekindling peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leadership, promising the president’s full attention to solving an issue that American presidents have chased for decades.
“We have before us a rare opportunity to bring security and stability and peace to this region and to its people, defeating terrorism and creating a future of harmony, prosperity and peace,” Trump said. “But we can only get there working together.”
Netanyahu said Trump’s visit could become an “historic milestone on the path toward reconciliation and peace,” and “the peace we seek is a genuine and durable one in which the Jewish state is recognized, security remains in Israel’s hands and the conflict ends once and for all.”
Issues. FP’s Kavitha Surana, Dan De Luce, and Robbie Gramer dropped a big scoop on how angry Israeli intel officials are over Trump’s leaking of sensitive Israeli intel on the Islamic State to the Russians last week:
“Just days before President Donald Trump’s arrival in Tel Aviv, Israeli intelligence officials were shouting at their American counterparts in meetings, furious over news that the U.S. commander in chief may have compromised a vital source of information on the Islamic State and possibly Iran, according to a U.S. defense official in military planning.
“To them, it’s horrifying,” the official, who attended the meetings, told Foreign Policy. “Their first question was: ‘What is going on? What is this?’”
Big love. The big takeaway from the trip so far is the $110 billion arms deal the Americans and Saudis announced that will send ships, helicopters, airplanes, and missile defense systems to the Kingdom. Most of the deals announced had originally been approved by the Obama administration but were still awaiting final approval, and have not been shipped — or finalized — yet. In other words, lots of work still needs to be done to push the tens of billions worth of contracts through the normal bureaucratic machinery.
And Congress gets a say. “When some of these packages begin arriving on Capitol Hill for final approval, they will likely face a fight,” writes FP’s Paul McLeary. “A bipartisan group of senators already fought to block a tank sale last year, and has expressed deep reservations” over another sale of precision guided munitions kits.
Leading the fight is Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who on Saturday called the deal “a terrible idea,” adding, “it appears the Trump administration is counting on the country with the worst human rights record in the region to enforce peace and security in the Middle East.”
One thing we know so far: the Israelis aren’t so sure about the Saudi arms deal, and will need some diplomatic coaxing to get on board.
The day after. Some experts worry that any diplomatic efforts undertaken during the trip could be hampered by the lack of staffing back in D.C., where hundreds of desks at the Pentagon and State Department sit empty.
John Hannah, former national security advisor to Dick Cheney told FP’s Robbie Gramer and Dan De Luce that the lack of staff is “unquestionably a problem,” as these are the very people who do the day-to-day work of carrying out the business of government. “Who’s going to get up every morning to ensure that those leadership commitments get implemented effectively,” he said, adding, “who will ride herd to make sure the President’s vision gets turned into reality?”
Onward. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will meet Trump in Brussels, where details over potential U.S. and NATO troop increases in Afghanistan will need to get ironed out. “That recommendation is being put together by the chairman and myself, and I expect it’ll go to decision very, very soon,” Mattis told reporters Friday.
During his address to dozens of Sunni Arab leaders on Sunday, Trump said the fight against terrorism isn’t a struggle between different religions, and challenged Muslim leaders to redouble their efforts to counter a “wicked ideology” and purge the “foot soldiers of evil” from their societies. Trump’s language was miles away from the fiery rhetoric he used during last year’s presidential campaign, where he claimed “Islam hates us.”
Slip up. One bit of the trip that will likely raise concerns about the 70 year-old president are comments one of this aides made to the press that Trump was “just an exhausted guy” after his big speech. The president departed from his prepared remarks and failed to use the phrase “Islamic extremism.” Instead, he said “Islamist,” and didn’t use the word “radical.” On the campaign trail last year, Trump threw out the term, “radical Islamic terrorism” at every opportunity, slamming president Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for not doing the same, suggesting it indicated some squishiness in their ability to fight terrorism.
Welcome to SitRep. Send any tips, thoughts or national security events to email@example.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.
Hackers. Unit 180 is North Korean government’s secret organization for carrying out sensitive, important hacks abroad, according to a scoop from Reuters. The unit, part of North Korea’s Reconnaissance General Bureau intelligence agency, allegedly carried out high-profile break-ins at Sony and a Bangladeshi bank. Hackers employed in the unit travel overseas to carry out because the Internet access is better, faster, and more plausibly deniable. Some believe that the recent outbreak of WannaCry ransomware may be attributable to North Korea or even Unit 180 but the fragmentary links between code used in WannaCry and suspected North Korean hacking software are so far fragmentary and inconclusive.
Regularly scheduled programming. Another day, another North Korea missile test. The latest launch, according to Reuters, took place on Sunday and marked the second North Korean missile test in just a week. The missile in question is the Pukkuksong-2, a solid-fueled, land-based variant of North Korea’s submarine-launched Pukkuksong-1 missile. It follows the test of the liquid-fueled Hwasong 12, an intermediate-range ballistic missile which the North hopes will one day sport a nuclear warhead.
Espionage. From 2010 to 2012, China’s intelligence services rounded up a dozen of the CIA’s sources in China, killing or imprisoning them, and to this day Langley still doesn’t know how they were caught. The New York Times released the bombshell story over the weekend, revealing that CIA and FBI investigations into the losses have focused on two theories: that Chinese intelligence hacked the Agency’s communications channel to its recruits in the country or that Beijing had recruited a CIA officer. Some in the intelligence community suspect that a Chinese-American CIA employee who left the Agency to set up a business and continue living in Asia may have sold out the CIA’s sources to Chinese intelligence.
Shakedown. The Pentagon has been using some questionable business practices in order to gin up revenue for programs it considers underfunded. The Washington Post reports that the scheme involved overcharging the services for fuel to the tune of a dollar per gallon above market rates and then taking the excess proceeds to top up everything from accounts for funding Syrian rebels to prescription drug programs. Pentagon officials defend the practice, which has garnered up to $5.6 billion, saying that they can’t be held responsible if the price of fuel drops after the Defense Department has already negotiated a contract with suppliers.
Slide into DMs like. Russian hackers have been direct messaging malware-laden messages to up to 10,000 Defense Department Twitter users in a bid to get access to their accounts. Time reports that counterintelligence officials were worried that Moscow could use its access to the accounts of Pentagon employees to blast out disinformation or sow chaos in the middle of a crisis. The magazine also reports that American spies learned as early as May 2016 that a Russian military intelligence officer was bragging that Russian President Vladimir Putin was about to take his revenge on Hillary Clinton for her antagonism while Secretary of State.
Cybersecurity in the Defense Department. Peiter Zatko, a network security expert and former Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency program manager, offers an amusing story about what it was like to try and protect Defense Department networks back in the day. As the kids say, thread.