Security Brief: Fight Brewing Over Turkish F-35; Trump Backs Space Force
Trump is headed for a collision with Congress and military leaders after backing space force.
By Elias Groll and Amy Cheng
Good Monday morning and welcome to this week’s edition of Security Brief. As always, please send your tips, comments, and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Turkey gets its F-35, mostly. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won another five-year term over the weekend, cementing his dominant position in Turkish politics and accelerating Turkey’s slide toward one-man rule.
His election comes against the backdrop of an intensifying defense dispute with the United States, Turkey’s NATO ally. On Thursday, Lockheed Martin presented the first of 100 F-35 fighter jets that it had been commissioned to produce for Turkey.
But as FP reports, U.S. lawmakers are threatening to block the deal because of Turkey’s human rights violations as well as its potential purchase of a Russian air defense system. This is the latest development in the increasingly tense relationship between the United States and Turkey.
It begins. Preparations are underway for a mid-July summit meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russian news agency TASS picked up an Austrian newspaper report that authorities in Vienna are preparing for a July 15 summit between the two men.
About that space force. President Donald Trump revealed last week that he would like to create a space force as a separate branch of the armed services, but that plan is likely to run head first into opposition from Congress and senior military leaders, FP reports.
Moscow isn’t amused. Russian officials reacted harshly to President Trump’s proposal to create an independent space force, Air Force Times reports. “Let’s hope the American political elite still have the remnants of reason and common sense,” said Victor Bondarev, head of the Russian Parliament’s Upper House Committee on Defense and Security. “But if the United States withdraws from the 1967 treaty banning nuclear weapons in outer space, then, of course, not only ours, but also other states, will follow with a tough response aimed at ensuring world security.”
Russian space force. While the United States appears to be moving toward separating military operations in space from its traditional air force, Russia is moving in the opposite direction and integrating the two functions, Defense News reports.
Out of the loop. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has repeatedly been caught off guard by President Donald Trump’s policy announcements, and officials close to the Pentagon chief fear that the president is relying less on his advice, NBC reports. The shift has left Mattis relying increasingly on National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. According to NBC, “the president has cooled on Mattis in part because he’s come to believe his defense secretary looks down on him and slow-walks his policy directives.”
The North Korea ‘asks.’ American officials will soon present North Korea with a timetable of specific demands to follow up on the recent Singapore summit. “There will be specific asks and there will be a specific timeline when we present the North Koreans with our concept of what implementation of the summit agreement looks like,” an American official traveling with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Reuters.
The mystery missile testing site. A U.S. official identified the missile test site that President Donald Trump claimed his North Korean counterpart pledged to destroy following their summit meeting in Singapore. Reuters reports that a “U.S. official identified it on Wednesday as the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, saying North Korea ‘has used this site to test liquid-propellant engines for its long-range ballistic missiles.’”
Mattis weighs in. President Donald Trump may have claimed that North Korea was going to go to work immediately on “denuclearization,” but Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says he’s seen no evidence so far that North Korea is giving up its nuclear weapons.
Sean Hannity, you’re in over your head. News that President Donald Trump has late-night phone calls with Sean Hannity placed a giant target on the the Fox News host’s communications. According to BuzzFeed, executives at Fox have now realized that Hannity is a prime target for hackers and foreign spies and are taking steps to improve Hannity’s security. During his recent trip to Singapore to cover the Trump-Kim summit, Hannity reportedly used a burner phone for fear of being surveilled by Chinese agents snooping on his calls with the president.
The troll wars continue. Russian troll farms now operate more than 3,800 user profiles on Twitter, a group that has generated more than eight million tweets and retweets in total, the Wall Street Journal reports. These newly identified trolling accounts have taken on hot-button political and social issues such as NFL players kneeling during the national anthem and Roseanne Barr’s racist post.
Olympic destroyer is back. According to Wired, researchers at Kaspersky Lab found evidence that the Olympic Destroyer group, which wreaked havoc on the Pyeongchang Olympics computer systems ahead of the opening ceremony, has resurfaced. So far, the group has sent out spearphishing emails to those affiliated with a biochemical conference, Spiez Convergence, in attempt to gain background access to the target computer system.
An interesting target. A sophisticated hacking group that appears to be operating out of China is going after targets in the satellite and defense industry, according to a new report from security firm Symantec. The company warns that the hacker group is interested in programs used to control satellites and may be a precursor to attacks in which a hacker hijacks command and control systems for satellites.
Huawei on the defensive. Chinese telecom giant Huawei is fighting back against reports in Australia that it is too close to the Chinese government to be allowed to participate in an Australian 5G project. Australian officials are reportedly considering banning the company from 5G projects on national security grounds.
Defensive briefings. The U.S. government is privately briefing companies on the dangers of doing businesses with Huawei and ZTE, two Chinese telecommunications firms, CyberScoop reports. Both firms have faced scrutiny from the Trump administration over their ties to the Chinese government, and government briefings to U.S. companies reportedly include information about the national security risks posed by the two companies.
Trump punches… The Trump administration is considering broad measures to curb Chinese investment in critical industries and to limit export to China of sensitive technologies. According to the Wall Street Journal, “the Treasury Department is crafting rules that would block firms with at least 25 percent Chinese ownership from buying companies involved in what the White House calls ‘industrially significant technology.’” Additionally, the White House is considering “plans for ‘enhanced’ export controls, designed to keep such technologies from being shipped to China.”
…and China weaves. Chinese financial authorities freed up $100 billion for commercial bank lending and debt restructuring to cushion against fears of a slowing economy and trade tensions with the United States.
The big picture. The intense focus on the threat posed by Chinese technology and industrial policy may have obscured Beijing’s broader goals for the internet, analyst Samm Sacks writes for the Atlantic. Since proclaiming his vision to turn China into a “cyber superpower,” Xi Jinping has laid out an ambition “not just for independence from foreign technology” but ”to write the rules for global cyber governance—rules that look very different from those of market economies of the West,” Sacks writes. “This alternative would include technical standards requiring foreign companies to build versions of their products compliant with Chinese standards, and pressure to comply with government surveillance policies.”
Hope they get this right. The Interior Department signed two companies onto a five-year $45-million contract to secure the country’s more than 600 dams from cyberattacks, Defense One reports. The threat that Booz Allen Hamilton and Spry Methods are hired to neutralize is palpable — alleged Iranian hackers were able to access the gate of an Oregon dam two years ago.
Quantum radar. Chinese engineers are making bold claims about quantum radar technology: China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, the country’s biggest defense electronics company, announced that it has concluded theoretical work on its latest quantum radar system that could detect stealth bombers and ballistic missiles, South China Morning Post writes.
206-124. The United States may once more be home to the world’s fastest supercomputer, but of the 500 fastest computers in the world, 206 were made by Chinese companies or the country’s government. By comparison, U.S. firms and the American government were behind 124 computers on the list, according to fresh figures.
‘Communism will win.’ Spencer Rapone, a 2016 West Point graduate, resigned from the Army’s 10th Mountain Division last Monday, the Washington Post reports. Rapone found himself in the middle of an unusual controversy when he posted photos of himself at graduation wearing a Che Guevara shirt under his uniform and saluting to a handwritten message, “Communism will win,” in his cap.
Migrants to military bases. As many as 20,000 migrants may be heading to American military bases, the New York Times reports, but the exact plan remains unclear as the Trump administration struggles to backtrack from its controversial decision to separate children from their families.
Setback for the Super Tucano. Lt. Christopher Carey Short of the U.S. Navy died when his A-29 Super Tucano crashed Friday in New Mexico, Navy Times reports. The second pilot sustained minor injuries after being ejected from the light attack aircraft. The fatal incident comes amidst the Air Force’s second round of its light attack experiment.
Bone back up. After being grounded for two weeks, the U.S. Air Force’s B-1B bomber fleet has resumed flying activities following an incident in May when an in-flight emergency revealed faulty ejection seats in the aircraft, the Drive writes. 2018 is on track to be unusually lethal for aviators after more than two dozens deaths halfway through the year.
What happened on the B-1. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson released details of an B-1B supersonic bomber that encountered both a fire in the engine and faulty ejection seats during the returning leg of a mission, the Aviationist writes. As the four-person crew followed protocol to eject following an engine fire, the first ejection seat did not fire, though the hatch above the crew member was blasted away. The crew instead quickly chose to land the bomber — with one of its crew sitting on a live, unfired ejection seat.
DNA testing at the border. Per a request from U.S. Representative Jackie Speier of California, DNA-testing company 23andMe has agreed to provide testing kits to help reunite families that have been separated at the border under Trump’s zero tolerance policy, Mercury News writes.
A bit of inside baseball. The right-wing media is hitting back against Foreign Policy’s reporting that a Trump appointee at the State Department is compiling loyalty lists and wreaking havoc on the bureau she runs. On Friday, Breitbart published a lengthy rebuttal — “Deep State Weaponizing Leaks Against Trump Appointee Mari Stull” — calling FP’s reporting a “hit piece” and claiming that Stull was being targeted because “she is effective” and battling career officials who are “resisting Trump’s agenda.”
That’s a far different story than what nearly a dozen current and former State Department officials told FP. “I have in my entire federal career never experienced anything at this level of chaos and dysfunction,” said one official familiar with Stull’s role in the bureau.
A strange twist in the OPM saga. A 39-year-old woman in Maryland has pleaded guilty to using data stolen from the Office of Personnel Management as part of a 2015 breach to commit bank fraud. “How exactly she obtained the data is not entirely clear,” the Register reports.
Ricin plot. Police in Germany say a tip from the public was key in stopping an alleged plot by an Islamist extremist to carry out a terrorist attack using ricin, the AP reports.
Iraqi political maneuvering. After campaigning on a technocratic, nationalist platform, the Iraqi cleric Muqtada al Sadr appears to be moving closer to Tehran, forging a post-election coalition with a rival Shiite bloc that includes Iranian-backed militias, the AP reports.
Flare up. The Israeli Air Force fired a Patriot missile at an unmanned aerial vehicle that approached Israel from Syria on Sunday, the Aviationist writes. The drone, unharmed by the missile, retreated into Syria without entering Israeli aerial space.
Lasers for kites. The Israeli military is pulling out an unusual weapon to deal with incendiary kites at the Israel-Gaza border. According to Israel Hayom, the IDF plans to deploy lasers on the border, in an effort to shoot down the kites.
The future, today. Deepfake, an AI technique that can digitally substitute faces of celebrities onto those of porn actors, was pioneered last December by an internet user called “DeepFakes.” And now researchers are taking bets on whether the same technology would used to on a political candidate during the 2018 midterm elections.
Assassination attempt. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed narrowly escaped a grenade assassination attempt on Saturday when he attended a huge rally in support of his political and economic reforms, which include implementing a peace deal with the country’s hostile neighbor, Eritrea, Reuters reports. The attack led to one fatality and more than 100 injuries. Police detained six suspects.
The princeling diplomat. Jared Kushner, Trump’s advisor to the Middle East, recently sat down with the editor of the Palestinian newspaper Al Quds and answered questions about his plan for peace in the region, solution for Gaza, and diplomatic outreaches with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. Light on details, Kushner’s policies on the Middle East include infrastructure investments and a ceasefire in Gaza. A translated version of the interview was distributed by the White House in what appears to be the Trump administration’s most direct attempt yet to speak directly to the Palestinian people.
Budget fights. In the annual defense authorization bill that the U.S. Senate passed last Monday, programs like a missile defense system and a low Earth orbit satellite constellation received more funding than anticipated, while budget for unmanned underwater vehicles was cut by around $20 million, C4ISRNET reports.
The EW fight. Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, warned that the United States’ electromagnetic warfare capabilities are falling behind those of China and Russia. “I think we assumed wrongly that encryption and our domination over the precision timing signals would allow us to evade the enemy in the electromagnetic spectrum. I think that was a bad assumption,” Selva said Thursday. “It’s not that we disarmed, it’s that we took a path that they have now figured out,”
Win for Elon. The United States Air Force Space Command signed a $130-million contract with SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk, to launch a new military satellite in 2020, Defense News reports. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket emerged as the winner among competitors like Boeing and Lockheed Martin due to its relative low cost.
Drama in Elon world. Tesla alleged that Martin Tripp, a former technical at the Nevada Gigafactory plant, is responsible for hacking the electric car company and leaking gigabytes of confidential information to an undisclosed third party.
Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering cyberspace. @EliasGroll