The Cable

SitRep: Kremlin Blasts Trump Strategy, Saudi Intercepts Another Houthi Missile

McMaster has tough words for North Korea, which Washington accuses of cyber attack

A U.S. Army Patriot Missile launcher sits near the Saudi Arabia border in Kuwait in January 2003. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
A U.S. Army Patriot Missile launcher sits near the Saudi Arabia border in Kuwait in January 2003. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

 

By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

Everyone’s a critic. A Kremlin spokesman blasted the Trump administration’s new National Security Strategy as “imperialist” on Tuesday, adding that it shows “an unwillingness to give up the idea of a unipolar world, moreover, an insistent unwillingness, disregard for a multipolar world.”

President Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin have shared a series of friendly phone calls in recent days, in which Trump shared U.S. intelligence to help thwart a terrorist attack in Russia, and Putin praised him for the stock market’s performance. Adding to the back and forth, the tough words the strategy paper had for Russia were not matched by Trump’s speech on Monday rolling out the plan.

McMaster warns North Korea again. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster told CBS News on Tuesday that Trump asked Putin to do more to decrease trade with North Korea during those calls. On Monday, McMaster affirmed that “the president asked us to continue to refine a military option, should we have to use it,” in North Korea.

The Norks did it. American officials announced Monday that North Korea was responsible for the WannaCry computer virus that struck hundreds of thousands of computers around the globe, demanding ransom in return for the encrypted contents of the machines.

Tom Bossert, the top White House aide for homeland security and counterterrorism, made the announcement in a Wall Street Journal op ed. News of North Korea’s likely role in the outbreak first emerged in March, when security firms spotted similarities in the WannaCry and earlier North Korean cyberweapons. But key questions remain unanswered. Chief among them is the relationship between the hackers and Pyongyang.

Another Houthi missile over Saudi. Saudi Arabian officials claim they knocked down another ballistic missile heading for its capital of Riyadh on Tuesday, accusing the Houthi movement in neighbouring Yemen of firing the missile. Several witnesses in the Saudi capital posted videos on social media showing a cloud of smoke in the air. The Houthis earlier said they had fired a Burkan-2 missile at the Yamama Palace.

The Saudis and the United States have long accused Iran of supplying the Houthis, and United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley recently delivered a dramatic speech showing off what the U.S. government claims was a missile that contained Iranian parts.

Meanwhile…Air strikes by the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen have killed at least 136 civilians since December 6, U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said on Tuesday.

U.S. pushes for aid delivery to Yemen. Saudi Arabia has blocked the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen, worsening the humanitarian disaster that has unfolded in the war-torn country. State Department officials on Monday again pressed for the delivery of World Food Program shipments to Yemen and the installation of new cranes at a key port amid a conflict in the nation that has killed or wounded more than 60,000 people.

Japan goes big. Japanese officials announced Tuesday they would vastly expand the country’s ballistic missile defense system, licking off the process of buying and installing two U.S.-made ground-based Aegis radar stations and missile interceptors. The sites will likely cost at least $2 billion, and should be ready by around 2023.

“North Korea’s nuclear missile development poses a new level of threat to Japan and as we have done in the past we will ensure that we are able to defend ourselves with a drastic improvement in ballistic missile defense,” Japanese Minister of Defence Itsunori Onodera told reporters after the Cabinet meeting.

U.S. negotiating to stay in Iraq. American officials in Baghdad are working with their Iraqi counterparts to figure out how many U.S. troops will remain behind once the fighting stops in the battle against the Islamic State. The Pentagon has about 5,200 troops on the ground now training and advising Iraqi forces, but the final number is expected to be less than that. American military officials have said they want to play a role in helping to train Baghdad’s troops for years to come.

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

Our way or the highway. Officials from China’s Cyberspace Administration of China have told the big tech companies that they better get comfortable with Chinese surveillance and censorship if they want to have access to Chinese customers. Qi Xiaoxia, director of the agency’s Bureau of International Cooperation said companies like Google, which left China in 2010 over censorship concerns, and Facebook, which hasn’t yet made a jump into the Chinese market, are “welcome” but “The condition is that they have to abide by Chinese law and regulations. That is the bottom line.”

Kaspersky fights back. Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Labs is suing the Trump administration after it banned the federal government from purchasing Kaspersky security products based on security fears. Kaspersky lawyers say the government did not provide sufficient evidence for their decision and denied the company due process.

Told you so. The FBI warned the Trump campaign that it would be a target for foreign and specifically Russian espionage shortly after Trump became the Republican nominee, sources tell NBC News. Counterintelligence officials from the bureau offered a similar briefing to the Clinton campaign and began sharing the warnings shortly before the candidates began to receive customary intelligence briefings.

Security jitters at U.S. air base. U.S. military personnel fired shots at a man who drove through a security checkpoint at the American air base at RAF Mildenhall, in Suffolk, England. Authorities now say the incident wasn’t related to terrorism but they’re still trying to figure out how and why the man, who was slightly wounded in the incident, drove through security and ended a chase by a V-22 Osprey parked at the base.

Murder of a British diplomat. Police in Lebanon have arrested a suspect in the murder of a British diplomat found strangled in Beirut, obtaining a confession from an Uber driver after the woman, Rebecca Dykes, apparently used the ride hailing service.

Foreign fighters. Defense officials tell CNN that the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition has captured around 50 foreign fighters from the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia in both Syria and Iraq since the beginning of November.

Grounded. If you get a hobby drone for the holidays this year, you’ll have to skip the over-the-cooling-tower fly-by shot because the Federal Aviation Administration is banning drone flights over nuclear facilities.

Protip. Don’t hack the CIA’s vending machines. You’ll get caught and fired.

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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