SitRep: Trump Vs. The Pentagon; Carriers Near Korea; Tillerson Snubs EU Boss
China’s New Warship; Russian Spies All Over The Map
With Adam Rawnsley, Elias Groll and Colum Lynch
Climate Pact. President Donald Trump announced Thursday that the United States was withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, putting him at odds not only with the leadership of the rest of the world, public opinion in the United States, a good portion of his staff, and much of corporate America, but also his own Pentagon.
The Defense Department has for years openly flagged climate change as a national security threat. And Trump’s own Defense Secretary, Jim Mattis, wrote in a written response to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee during the confirmation process in January that “climate change can be a driver of instability,” and “climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today.”
In a July 2015 report to Congress, Pentagon planners wrote,“The Department of Defense sees climate change as a present security threat, not strictly a long-term risk.” Similarly, a September 2016 report from the Director of National Intelligence reported that “many countries will encounter climate-induced disruptions…that stress their capacity to respond, cope with, or adapt. Climate-related impacts will also contribute to increased migration, which can be particularly disruptive if, for example, demand for food and shelter outstrips the resources available to assist those in need.”
Weeks before Trump made the announcement on the Paris accord, it was clear the debate inside the White House on the issue was “content free” and purely political, FP’s Robbie Gramer and Dan De Luce reported. And the views of Mattis and others in the national security establishment were not solicited.
Wheels down in Singapore. Mattis landed in Singapore on Friday for meetings with regional leaders. North Korea remains at the top of his agenda, but the secretary told reporters he is otherwise seeking continuity with traditional American policies of “strengthening alliances, empowering countries to be able to sustain their own security, and strengthening U.S. military capabilities to deter war.”
Carriers aweigh! As we reported in SitRep Thursday, the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz has left its homeport in Washington State en route to the Western Pacific, but is first making a pit stop in San Diego to link up with the rest of the ships in its strike group. Navy and Defense officials tell us they expect the Nimitz Strike Group to leave San Diego early next week. The long-planned deployment of the Nimitz spurred talk of of three U.S. carriers operating near the Korean coast, as the USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan are currently there conducting exercises with the Japanese navy.
But officials tell SitRep they expect the Vinson to be on its way home by time the Nimitz arrives. “As we see it right now, schedules may change, but I don’t see the two overlapping,” one Defense official said.
Lt. Cmdr. Matt Knight, spokesman for U.S. Pacific Fleet added that despite the headlines about the Vinson and Reagan working together, dual carrier operations in the Western Pacific also occurred in 2016, 2014, 2012, 2009 and 2001. While the Vinson’s deployment was extended by several weeks by president Trump in response to North Korean missile tests, the other deployments “are all part of a previously planned aircraft carrier deployment cycle,” and “it is not uncommon for incoming and outgoing carrier strike group’s transit timing to overlap as one begins a deployment and the other concludes theirs,” Knight said.
Tillerson, China, and North Korea. Just over a month ago, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson came before the U.N. Security Council to urge China and the rest of the world to tighten the economic vice on North Korea. On Thursday, the U.S. and China took a step in that direction, striking an agreement to impose an asset freeze and travel ban on 14 high-ranking North Korean officials and businessmen linked to Pyongyang’s ballistic missile program.
The measures would target the head of Pyongang’s foreign espionage bureau, Cho Il U, and Pak Han Se, the vice chairmen of a committee that oversees the country’s ballistic missile program. The North Korean Army’s Strategic Rocket Force, Koryo Bank, and two trading companies tied to Pyongyang nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program were hit with an asset freeze. The U.S. is hoping to put the resolution – which “condemns” North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile activities “in the strongest terms” – to a vote Friday.
Tillerson snub. Trump didn’t make any new friends during his messy visit to Europe last week, but it looks like Tillerson isn’t doing much better with the Europeans. FP’s Robbie Gramer reports that after his his visit to Russia in April, Tillerson declined a call with the EU’s foreign-policy chief, Federica Mogherini, “and instead kicked it down to a lower-level State Department official. That move infuriated her and came against the backdrop of an already strained U.S.-EU relationship under Trump.” Mogherini’s staff made the request after her own meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on April 24, and her staff was “eager for a brief out” on Tillerson’s meetings with Lavrov and Vladimir Putin, multiple sources told FP’s Gramer.
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Get your popcorn ready. Fired FBI Director Jim Comey will testify in public before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, June 8. Comey will reportedly address his conversations with President Trump and claims that the commander in chief pressured the FBI chief to drop his investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Trump on the stump. President Trump declared an apparent robbery at a Philippine casino to be a “terrorist attack” during his climate change announcement, despite no evidence supporting the claim. Philippine police say a gun-toting man who entered the Resorts World Manila casino and fired shots while grabbing handfuls of casino chips was not involved in terrorism. An intelligence official tells NBC Nightly News that Trump “was freelancing” with his declaration that the incident was an act of terrorism and that officials in the White House situation room laughed upon seeing Trump make the statement. The Philippines has been on edge recently following an outbreak of violence from an Islamic State-affiliated militant group in the country’s south.
Beijing’s new ship. China’s latest ambitious sci-fi weapons project is a giant submersible arsenal ship. PopSci reports that Chinese officials are studying two designs for a 20,000 ton displacement ship. One version is capable of partial submersion and would surface higher above the water to move at high speeds then sink back into the water to reduce is radar cross section for stealth operations. Another design would be capable of complete submersion, acting like a submarine to surface and dive, spending most of its time above water and submerging during combat.
Get your story straight. Did White House aide and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner meet with a Russian banker to talk shop on the real estate business or broker a back-channel to Moscow? The U.S.-sanctioned Vnesheconombank and the White House can’t seem to agree on what Kushner talked about with former Federal Security Service spy and Vnesheconombank CEO Sergey Gorkov. The bank says the meeting was pure business and the White House claims it was about affairs of state. Enter the Washington Post, which pulled flight data for the bank’s private jet. After stopping off in Newark in mid-December, the Vnesheconombank jet left the U.S. and flew immediately to Japan, where president Vladimir Putin was visiting at the time.
Russian spy games. In the summer of 2016, just as Russian cyber spies were hacking into Democratic party networks and laundering their contents through online outlets, Russian spies under diplomatic cover inside the U.S. were traveling all around the country in an effort to map U.S. telecommunications infrastructure. Intelligence officials tell Politico that the effort is part of a more aggressive Russian espionage presence inside the United States. Lawmakers urged the Obama administration to subject Russian diplomats and spies to tighter travel restrictions, but faced intense pushback on the effort from the White House.
If I did it. Russian President Vladimir Putin opened the door ever so slightly to an admission of Russian involvement in the cyber breaches at the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign — just not Russian government involvement. Putin said that it’s possible that Russian hackers could have freelanced the break-ins outside of Russian government knowledge or direction, saying “If they are patriotically minded, they start making their contributions — which are right, from their point of view.” Intelligence officials and cybersecurity experts have long said that Russia draws on its thriving cybercrime ecosystem to recruit talent for plausibly deniable hacks abroad.
Cyber. France’s top cybersecurity official warned that countries and criminal and extremist groups are approaching a state of “permanent war” in cyberspace. Guillaume Poupard’s comments come after hackers broke into the campaign infrastructure of Emmanuel Macron, the winning presidential candidate, and leaked stolen files online. While many analysts argue Russia may have been responsible for the attack, Poupard, head of ANSSI, has so far uncovered no evidence to support that argument. “The attack was so generic and simple that it could have been practically anyone,” he told the AP.
Campaign finance. When the Russians broke into Democratic party networks and dumped the emails they found at WikiLeaks, they broke a few federal laws concerning computer fraud and abuse. But over at Just Security, President Obama’s former White House counsel Bob Bauer argues that Trump and his campaign may have also violated campaign finance law by receiving a “thing of value” from a foreign power in the form of hacked emails from Russia and providing “substantial assistance” to their benefactor by publicly egging on the hackers and praising middlemen like WikiLeaks.
Revolving door. Former Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James has landed in the private sector after leaving the Pentagon, taking on a new job at Textron. The Wichita Eagle reports that James will join defense contractor Textron’s board.
Photo Credit: ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images