The Cable

SitRep: Europe, Congress Scrambling Ahead of Trump Iran Decision

  By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Politics of the Iran deal. National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster delivered a classified briefing to Republican lawmakers — and Republicans only — on the administration’s plan for the 2015 agreement to halt Iran’s nuclear program Wednesday night. Democrats also huddled with former Secretary of State John ...

President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn before boarding Marine One October 11, 2017 (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn before boarding Marine One October 11, 2017 (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)


By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Politics of the Iran deal. National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster delivered a classified briefing to Republican lawmakers — and Republicans only — on the administration’s plan for the 2015 agreement to halt Iran’s nuclear program Wednesday night. Democrats also huddled with former Secretary of State John Kerry to talk through their response if president Trump claims Iran is not in compliance with the agreement this week, as he is expected to.

The meeting with Republicans only is notable not only for its partisanship, but also because McMaster remains an active duty 3-star general, who isn’t supposed to play politics.

More on maneuvering around the deal. From Reuters: “White House officials said Trump is expected to announce a broad, more confrontational policy toward Iran directed at curbing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and financial and military support for Hezbollah and other extremist groups.”

And the Wall Street Journal: “European officials are working on a unified response to President Donald Trump’s expected decision to pull U.S. backing from the 2015 Iranian nuclear accord, but strains have emerged that threaten to weaken Europe’s common stance.

More nukes or no nukes. Both Trump and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis denied the veracity of an NBC report on Wednesday which said the president suggested he wanted a “tenfold increase” in the number of U.S. nuclear warheads.

Mattis statement: “Recent reports that the President called for an increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal are absolutely false. This kind of erroneous reporting is irresponsible.” Trump, unsurprisingly, went much further, attacking the press as “fake.”

But the NBC story wasn’t so black and white. Remember this line from the story: “Some officials present said they did not take Trump’s desire for more nuclear weapons to be literally instructing the military to increase the actual numbers. But his comments raised questions about his familiarity with the nuclear posture and other issues, officials said.”

Saudi’s new choppers. After dropping $25 billion on American-made attack helicopters in recent years, the Saudi National Guard is for the first time sending its new helicopters to the Yemen border to hunt Houthi rebels, FP’s Paul McLeary reports.

Riyadh is also spending $1.8 billion to build several new airfields, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Frank Muth said during a U.S. Army conference in Washington this week, adding that in addition to the helos and bases, he’s spearheading the construction and staffing of an aviation center in Saudi Arabia, which can train pilots from all friendly Gulf countries, which fly mostly American-made aircraft and helicopters.

More Yemen. Meanwhile, bipartisan legislation in the House demanding an end to any U.S. role in the Saudi-led coalition war in Yemen has attracted 30 cosponsors. It’s not expected to pass but the bill is yet another signal that lawmakers are getting fed up with Riyadh’s air war in Yemen, which has helped trigger a humanitarian crisis with no clear end in sight. FP’s Dan De Luce has more on that here.

Pentagon policy chief nominated. President Donald Trump will name John Rood, a senior executive at defense contractor Lockheed Martin as undersecretary of defense for policy, the Pentagon’s No. 3 job. Rood is a veteran of work with Raytheon, and previously spent two decades shuttling between jobs at the State Department, Pentagon, and National Security Council. His appointment requires Senate approval.

Trump wants to sell more drones. The Trump administration is working to relax export rules on sensitive U.S. drone technology to challenge rivals China and Israel, who own a large chunk of the global military drone market.

Your new Army, and the wars it will fight. The the first time in six years, the U.S. Army has rewritten its plan for how it would fight advanced enemies like Russia and China. The new document represents a major overhaul for the service after 16 years of battling relatively unsophisticated insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gen. Mark Milley, the Army’s chief of staff, said that while U.S. forces spent the last two decades hunting insurgents, adversaries including Russia, China, Iran and North Korea have gone to school on American capabilities, and finding novel ways to get around them.

“Our advantage has steadily eroded,” he said.

As a result, “there are no boundaries where they can’t reach,” U.S. Air Force Gen. Mike Holmes, commander, Air Combat Command told an annual Army conference in Washington on Wednesday. “There are no hiding places for us on the battlefield…and there is no place where we can say we’re out of the battle.”

The new plan places far more emphasis on cyber operations, long-range artillery, missile defense, and on working with allies, than the previous version.

One recent lesson from watching Russian electronic warfare in Ukraine? “In Ukraine if you turn all your radios on….you’re gonna get attacked and you’re gonna die,” U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Robert  Walsh, commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command told the Army conference.

Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.

Spy games. Chinese officials kidnapped a CIA officer working at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu off the street back in January 2016 and interrogated him for hours, Politico reports. U.S. officials finally managed to spring the officer and kept the incident under wraps, but the intelligence community interpreted the seizure as an example of Beijing’s increasingly aggressive counterintelligence practices.

Foreign aid. How much money does China spend on foreign aid? The answer is surprisingly hard to find because China’s government is (surprise!) less than transparent about its aid budget. But a new study by researchers at the College of William and Mary estimates that Beijing spent $354.4 billion on aid in the 14 year period between 2000 and 2014 — about the same as the United States.

Hacked. Someone hacked a small Australian defense contractor and made off with gigabytes of unclassified data on the F-35, C130 and the P8 surveillance plane. It’s unclear yet who was behind the breach but investigators from the Australian Signals Directorate said the contractor’s use of a default username and password on an internet-facing portal could’ve allowed nearly anyone to access the sensitive information.

Kaspersky. The Wall Street Journal reports that Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Labs was complicit in Russian intelligence’s use of its product to spy on users’ computers for classified information. All antivirus software scans users’ files in search of malicious programs, but the paper reports that Kaspersky tweaked its product to look for documents with markings like “top secret” and specific code names of classified programs and operations.

Hints. U.S. officials may have received an early hint that something was not quite right with Kaspersky’s products in 2015. Cyberscoop reports that the company pitched its software then to American intelligence agencies, shocking members of the FBI’s counterterrorism division when company officials hinted the Bureau could use Kaspersky’s software to find terrorists in the Middle East.

They’re good dogs, Vlod. Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a puppy for his birthday.  

Robot war. Ukraine is gearing up to send its first ground combat robot into battle next year. Ukrainian officials say the Phantom unmanned ground vehicle, which sports anti-tank weapons and machine guns, is designed to withstand Russian jamming efforts, integrating Ukraine’s lessons learned from dealing with Russian electronic warfare on the battlefield.  

Shopping spree. Iran is still illicitly shopping for missile technology on the global market, according to documents from Germany’s domestic intelligence agency seen by Reuters. The documents from the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution says that Iran “continues to pursue an ambitious rocket and missile technology program,” trying to illicitly acquire dual use German technology for use in its ballistic missile programs.

USS McCain fallout. The Navy has relieved the captain and executive officer of the USS John S. McCain in the wake of the deadly collision which killed 10 sailors in August. According to a statement, McCain chief Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez and his executive officer Cmdr. Jessie L. Sanchez have been reassigned to Naval Forces Japan and U.S. Naval Ship Repair Facility at Yokosuka, respectively.

Army recruitment woes. The Army wants to recruit 80,000 new soldiers, but it’s having a hard time filling those spots so it’s issuing more waivers for candidates who would normally be passed over. Marijuana use is among the areas where the Army is showing greater flexibility, allowing lieutenant colonels to issue waivers to accept recruits admitting to marijuana use instead of two star generals.

Myanmar. The New York Times conducts a harrowing interview with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh about the events that led them to flee Myanmar. One woman describes Burmese troops prying her infant son from her arms, throwing him into a fire, and gang-raping the woman.

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