The Cable

SitRep: Trump Issues New North Korea Threat

Trump leaves for Asia trip, bombers over South Korea, U.S. Navy says its Pacific fleet has problems

A U.S. Air Force B-1B bomber flies with South Korean jets over the Korean Peninsula on July 8. (South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images)
A U.S. Air Force B-1B bomber flies with South Korean jets over the Korean Peninsula on July 8. (South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images)


By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Trump makes new threat against North Korea. “We have one problem. That’s called North Korea,” Trump told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham in an interview that aired Thursday evening, a day before he leaves on an 11-day swing through the Pacific region. “If we don’t solve it, it’s not going to be very pleasant for them. It’s not going to be very pleasant for anybody.”

Trump to Asia. The NYT’s Mark Landler writes that the president boards Air Force One Friday “weakened and scandal-scarred, ready to face off against newly empowered Chinese and Japanese leaders in a region increasingly determined to set its course without American direction.”

“But Mr. Trump’s erratic statecraft, compounded by the shadow of the Russia investigation, leaves him in a questionable position to extract concessions from Mr. Xi or even allies like Japan and South Korea. The South Koreans may actually draw closer to the Chinese after settling a dispute this week over the rollout of an American antimissile system.”

Bombers over South Korea. Two U.S. B-1B bombers flew over South Korea on Thursday, joining Japanese and South Korean jet fighters in what the the U.S. Pacific Command said was a planned maneuver and not in response to any current event. North Korea state media said the flyover is “aggravating the situation of the Korean Peninsula and seeking to ignite a nuclear war.”

Trump says running out of time on North Korea. “The president recognizes that we’re running out of time [to deal with North Korea] and will ask all nations to do more,” White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters at a briefing on Thursday.

McCain says enough, but does he mean it? During a hearing Thursday to vet several Trump administration nominees for top Pentagon jobs, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he was tired of seeing defense industry executives go to work in the Pentagon.

But he indicated he’ll support the Mark Esper, chief lobbyist for for Raytheon — the fourth largest defense contractor in the United States — for secretary of the Army, telling Esper his concerns “grew out of early consultations I had with the administration about potential nominations, including yours.” McCain added that “it was then that I decided I couldn’t support further nominees with that background, beyond those we had already discussed.”

Lots of defense industry execs already at work. But at least one more will soon pass through McCain’s Senate Armed Services Committee, however. At some point in the coming weeks, John C. Rood, senior vice president for Lockheed Martin International will testify for the under secretary of defense for policy job, the third highest position in the Defense Department.

The Senate has already approved former Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan to be deputy defense secretary — the second highest position in the Pentagon — and Ellen Lord, the former chief executive officer of Textron Systems, to be undersecretary of defense for acquisition.

Navy might file charges. In the wake of two deadly accidents earlier this year that took the lives of 17 U.S. Navy sailors aboard the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain, the service is considering filing charges against some of those involved. Speaking with reporters at the Pentagon Thursday, Adm. John M. Richardson, chief of naval operations, said “we found that the commanding officers were at fault, the executive officers were at fault. There were watch-standers on the ships. And we’ve been pretty clear about identifying where there was fault and taking appropriate accountability actions.”

Navy personnel don’t know how to drive ships? Navy Times notes that there’s “a common thread between both the destroyer Fitzgerald’s collision in June and the McCain collision: A lack of training on key equipment and a weak understanding of ship operating fundamentals, which ultimately led to failures that killed, in total, 17 sailors.”

Pacific fleet a mess. Both accidents occurred in the Pacific fleet, which a Navy report detailing the mishaps describes as deeply flawed, with crews lacking basic seamanship skills, and unable to respond to crisis situations.

U.S. general confined at Gitmo. You read that right. A U.S. military judge ordered Marine Corps Brig. Gen. John G. Baker confined to his quarters for 21 days at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, over a legal dispute in which the general refused to comply with the judge’s orders.

The judge held Baker in contempt of court after he allowed the three attorneys representing Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi citizen accused of leading the deadly USS Cole bombing in October 2000, to quit the case after they said the U.S. government spied on them while discussing legal strategy. And the lawyers told the Miami Herald Thursday they’re prepared to refuse the judge’s order a second time.

Russia and biowar. Here’s a strange story dug up by Defense News, detailing how a small story on RT about an obscure U.S. Air Force contract solicitation, and how it led to Russian President Vladimir Putin to tell an audience that the U.S. government is building bioweapons to use against the Russian people.

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

Round two. President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin may get a second meeting on the margins of the APEC summit in Asia next week. Kremlin officials say they’re currently in talks with the White House about setting up a second meeting between the two following their first encounter at the G20 meeting in July.

Chemical weapons. The U.S. and Russia are sparring over the future of the U.N.’s chemical weapons investigation in Syria following a report by investigators concluding that the Assad regime was responsible for using nerve agent against the village of Khan Sheikhoun. An American draft to extend the mandate of the chemical weapons investigative body, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), would extend the organization’s mandate for another year, but a Russian draft cuts that period to six months and severely criticizes the JIM for its conclusions about the Assad regime’s culpability and urges it “to reevaluate its earlier assessments and conclusions.”

War crimes. A new U.N. report on war crimes in Mosul finds that the Islamic State murdered 741 men, women, and children for trying to flee the city during the U.S.-led coalition’s attempt to recapture it from the terrorist group.

Goodbye, Gitmo. President Trump appears to have soured on the idea of sending domestic terrorists to the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in the wake of the terrorist attack that killed eight people in New York this week. In a series of tweets, Trump expressed a preference for the civilian criminal court system, saying that trying suspects at Guantanamo “takes much longer” and that “There is also something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed.”

Russian hacking targets revealed. Hackers working for Russian intelligence have tried to break into at least 4,700 Gmail accounts from users around the world, according to a database of targeted email addresses which cybersecurity firm SecureWorks shared with the AP. Among Moscow’s 573 American targets were defense and intelligence contractors, Russia experts, and around 130 Democratic party officials.

The day the music died. A Twitter employee shut down President Donald Trump’s Twitter account for around 11 minutes on the employee’s last day of work. The company quickly brought Trump’s account back up but the incident raises questions and a series of uncomfortable what-ifs about what kind of international incidents or crises a rogue employee or hacker could provoke with access to the presidential Twitter feed.

Former Trump bodyguard to testify. Keith Schiller, a close confidante of the president who worked until September as director of Oval Office operations, will appear next week before the House intelligence committee as part of the ongoing Russia probe. Democrats view Schiller as an important witness due to his proximity to Trump.

Drone appetit! Residents of the Japanese city of Minamisoma now have improved access to food and supplies, thanks to drones operated by e-commerce company Rakuten and Lawson. The city experienced a nuclear disaster in 2011 after a tsunami destabilized the nearby Fukushima nuclear reactor. Residents were finally allowed to return to the city last year, but supplies are scarce. Now, drones are bringing groceries and even fried chicken to hungry city dwellers.

We’re number one! We’re number one! “America is the number one enemy of our nation” — Ayatollah Ali Khamenei certifying America’s role as the undisputed heavyweight champion of Iran’s enemies list. Khamenei made the comments during a televised speech in which he said Iran will “never accept [U.S.] bullying over the nuclear deal.”

Google wants Iranian Intelligence. Eric Schmidt, chief executive officer of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, took a broad swipe at President Donald Trump’s immigration policies this week, arguing that restrictions may set the United States behind in the race for artificial intelligence. Schmidt, who also serves as chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Board, told an audience in Washington, D.C. Tuesday that some of the very best artificial intelligence experts in the world are from countries that are currently affected by immigration restrictions. “Would you rather have them building AI somewhere else, or here?” he asked during a discussion at the Center for a New American Security. “Iran produces some of the smartest and top computer scientists in the world,” he said. “I want them here; to be clear: I want them working at Alphabet.” Schmidt, who has previously criticized H-1B caps, has been a vocal opponent of the administration’s proposed restrictions. “It’s crazy not to let these people in,” he said.

Cuba changes its tone. The Cuban government is changing its response to American claims of “sonic attacks” which injured U.S. diplomatic personnel in Havana, shifting from its previous expressions of concern to angry denunciations and accusations. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez called reports of injuries due to sonic attacks “deliberate lies” concocted by the Trump administration, denying any responsibility by the Cuban government and demanding that the U.S. “tell the truth or otherwise present evidence.”

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