Security Brief

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer. Delivered Thursday. Available only to FP subscribers.

Huawei Faces Global Fallout From Trump Ban

The Chinese telecom giant is getting increasingly squeezed by American trade restrictions.

People browse for items in a Huawei store in a shopping mall in Shanghai on May 22, 2019.
People browse for items in a Huawei store in a shopping mall in Shanghai on May 22, 2019. HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images

What’s on tap today: Huawei feels the pain from Trump’s trade restrictions, the Pentagon briefs the White House on possible military deployments to the Middle East, and Tillerson says Putin schooled Trump.

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Tech Wars

Huawei squeezed. British technology company ARM said it could no longer do business with Huawei following U.S. trade restrictions on the company, raising major questions about whether the Chinese giant’s future, BBC reports.

ARM provides the only major alternative to Intel’s widely used x86 semiconductor architecture. ARM’s technology is ubiquitous in cellphones, and is present in more or less every smartphone on the planet. ARM currently licenses its technology to Huawei, and while the company is based in Britain and owned by Japan’s Softbank, it has a major presence in the United States and relies on what the company describes as “U.S.-origin technology.”

Blocked from the American market, Huawei has said it plans to expand its own chipmaking capabilities, but that may be impossible without access to an ARM license.

Temporary reprieve. The Commerce Department issued a 90-day license for American companies doing business with Huawei to wind down their operations and find alternatives.

The big picture. China is signaling that it may retaliate against the United States by banning the export of rare earth minerals, a move that would strike against the American technology industry and illustrates the way Washington and Beijing are looking for weak points in the globalized economy with which to hurt one another, Keith Johnson and Elias Groll write.

Escalation. The Trump administration is also considering banning Hikvision, a Chinese manufacturer of video surveillance technology, from doing business with American firms, the Washington Post reports.

Counterpunch. American companies in China report facing creative acts of retaliation as part of the U.S.-China trade war. According to a survey from the American Chamber of Commerce in China, 47 percent of its members report facing “slower customs clearance, more inspections and delayed approvals for licences,” the Financial Times reports.

Iran Latest

Military Briefing. Pentagon officials will brief the White House, perhaps as soon as Thursday, on options for additional troop deployments to the Middle East to counter what Trump administration officials describe as threats from Iran, CNN reports.

The plans being briefed Thursday include options to deploy as many as 10,000 American troops, according to the AP. The briefing comes on the heels of a comments Tuesday by acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan that American deployments to the region had “deterred attacks against American forces.”

“The president vacillates between saying that he cares only about the nuclear file and increasingly threatening on Twitter to essentially wipe Iran off the map,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Michigan Democrat who studied Iran as a CIA analyst, told USA Today. “If I and you cannot understand U.S. strategy, then you can bet the Iranians don’t understand it. And if neither side can determine what actions are offensive versus defensive, it sets us on a course to misunderstanding each other and a slide towards war.”

Gray zone. Iran is abandoning its year-long policy of restraint following the American withdrawal from the nuclear deal and is putting pressure on the United States through provocations designed to fall short of outright military conflict, the Washington Post reports.

Cooking the intel? Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has in recent weeks emphasized that Iran and al Qaeda are collaborating, but officials in the U.S. government tell Time that the Pompeo is vastly overstating his case.

What We’re Watching

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Palace intrigue. Pompeo is growing increasingly frustrated that National Security Advisor John Bolton is infringing on his turf, CNN reports.

Do your homework. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told lawmakers that Russian President Vladimir Putin out-prepared President Donald Trump ahead of a 2017 meeting, and that the American leader’s impromptu approach “created an unequal footing,” the Washington Post reports.

Washington war. Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan is restricting the kinds of information the Pentagon shares with Capitol Hill, prompting complaints from lawmakers that he is undermining their ability to conduct constitutionally mandated oversight, the Washington Post reports.

Flashpoint. Two American naval vessels sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday, the latest in a string of so-called “freedom of navigation operations” in waterways claimed by China, Reuters reports.

Guest of honor. Edwards Air Force Base in California has constructed new hangar facilities to prepare testing for the new B-21 stealth bomber, the Drive reports.

Movers and Shakers

The new boss. President Donald Trump tapped Barbara Barrett, the former chairwoman of the nonprofit Aerospace Corporation, as the next Air Force secretary following the resignation of Heather Wilson, with whom Trump clashed over his initiative to create a Space Force.

Detainee #001

Out on parole. The American John Walker Lindh was the first detainee in the global war on terrorism following the attacks of September 11, 2001, and on Thursday he is set to be released from prison, after serving 17 years of a 20-year sentence, a decision Pompeo called “unexplainable and unconscionable.”

But there is no evidence that Lindh has repudiated his commitment. In a 2017 investigation, Foreign Policy revealed that American intelligence officials found that the California man “continued to advocate for global jihad and to write and translate violent extremist texts” in correspondence with an unidentified media outlet.

Now, that correspondence has been made public. In letters to a Los Angeles-based NBC producer, Lindh praised and described the group as “very sincere and serious about fulfilling the long-neglected religious obligation of establishing a caliphate through armed struggle, which is the only correct method.”

Quote of the Week

Hurt feelings. “What he uttered is just sophism of an imbecile bereft of elementary quality as a human being, let alone a politician.” –Korean Central News Agency responds to a speech by former Vice President Joe Biden in which he accused President Donald Trump of cozying up to “dictators and tyrants.”

Technology & Cybersecurity

Antitrust. The American chip giant Qualcomm suffered a serious setback in federal court, losing an antitrust case alleging it used its squeezed out its rivals. The ruling is a major blow as the company is positioning itself as a major player in the United States’s ambitions to dominate 5G technology.

Big brother. Chinese authorities have applied military intelligence tools to domestic surveillance, setting up a high-tech system in Kashgar, in the Xinjiang region, that illustrates how Beijing is putting cutting-edge technology toward monitoring its minorities, the New York Times reports.

It’s OK to freak out. Computer security researchers are warning that a vulnerability patched by Microsoft last week represents a major threat to computer security and could be easily exploited by malicious hackers, Ars Technica reports.

Information operations. Networks of fake Facebook pages, accounts, and groups are spreading right-wing propaganda and disinformation ahead of crucial European Union parliamentary elections, Wired reports.

Burned. Somebody is apparently still using the malware that U.S. Cyber Command recently uploaded to the VirusTotal information-sharing database: The Russian hacking group that was behind the 2016 breach on the Democratic National Committee, CyberScoop reports.

The new normal. The government in Indonesia clamped down on Instagram and Facebook access following riots linked to disputed election results, TechCrunch reports.

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 Twitter: @EliasGroll