Security Brief

Trump Weighs Military Options Against Iran

Officials are reportedly considering a proposal to send as many as 6,000 additional U.S. troops to the region.

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at an East Room event on “second chance hiring” June 13, 2019 at the White House in Washington, DC.
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at an East Room event on “second chance hiring” June 13, 2019 at the White House in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images

What’s on tap today: The United States weighs all options, including military force, after attacks on tankers near the Persian Gulf, the United States readies cyberattacks on the Russian grid, and Turkey displays a mock-up of its own fighter jet a week after the Pentagon announced new steps to cut Ankara out of the F-35 program.

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More U.S. Troops to Persian Gulf?

All options on the table. The United States is weighing its next steps in what appears to be turning into a shadow war with Iran. As part of an effort to rally foreign leaders, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday that the Trump administration is considering “a full range of options” after blaming Tehran for the latest attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week.

Hours later, Iran confirmed that it will abandon key parts of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, which the United States withdrew from last year, unless Europe helps it circumvent punishing U.S. sanctions. But European diplomats are finding it extremely difficult to find an alternative to U.S. financial dominance, Keith Johnson reports.

At the Pentagon, officials are reportedly weighing a proposal from U.S. Central Command to send as many as 6,000 additional forces to the region, including two fighter squadrons, U.S. Navy destroyers and submarines, as well as several Patriot missile defense batteries. New details about Thursday’s attacks emerged over the weekend, with media outlets reporting that Iranians fired on an American MQ-9 Reaper drone as the unmanned surveillance aircraft flew over the scene.

Republican lawmaker calls for action. Some U.S. lawmakers even went so far as to call for strikes against Iran in response to the tanker attacks. “I think it needs to be clear, and hopefully it is clear to Iran, that basically, this is it,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the Illinois Republican, told Fox News on Sunday. “This is about the extent of what we’ll accept.”

But Dems oppose war. But Democrats in Congress pushed back on the administration’s fiery response. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday that “we have absolutely no appetite for going to war with Iran,” and questioned the administration’s motivations in provoking the regime.

Allies balk. Some U.S. allies, too, are reluctant to join the administration in forthrightly blaming Iran for the Thursday attack, which targeted a Japanese-owned and Norwegian-owned vessel–including Japan and Norway, write Robbie Gramer and Lara Seligman. At least one ally, however, is fully on board with Washington’s blame game: Saudi Arabia.

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The Hacking Wars

Breaching the grid. The United States and Russia appear to be holding one another’s electrical grids hostage using offensive cyber tools. That’s the stark conclusion from the New York Times’s expose over the weekend that American forces are stepping up offensive operations against the Russian grid and have placed implants on the system, ready to be deployed.

The report comes after years of warnings that Russian-backed hackers are probing the American grid. Now, U.S. hackers appear to have matched the Russian capability.

A message to Moscow. The story is also a study in gamesmanship. Even though the article touches on some of the military’s most sensitive operations, the Trump administration didn’t object to the Times running the story. That’s likely because if the grid implants are going to work as an act of deterrence to prevent Russia from attacking the American grid, then the Kremlin needs to be aware of the possibility for blowback.

Trump out of the loop. The article also illustrates the degree to which civil-military relations have collapsed under the Trump administration. Operating under new, more expansive authorities, the military didn’t fully inform Trump about the operations, for fear that he would object to more attacks on Russia or blab about them.

So it was perhaps no surprise when Trump tweeted shortly after the story was published that it was not only flat out wrong but also “a virtual act of Treason.”


What We’re Watching

Shanahan’s offensive. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan is on a PR offensive trying to build support on Capitol Hill for his nomination to lead the Pentagon, which still hasn’t been formally delivered to the Senate. Shanahan tells Politico that he’s the right man to deal with an unpredictable White House, but former Pentagon officials argue he’s too easily manipulated by Trump and his lieutenants.

State visit. Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to visit Pyongyang from June 20 to 21, Chinese and North Korean state media report.

Drone attacks in Saudi. Saudi Arabia said it shot down several drones it said were launched by pro-Iran Houthi forces in Yemen. The drone attack on the Abha airport came a day after an alleged Houthi missile strike on the facility left 26 people injured.

Europe’s unwanted ISIS fighters. Europe does not want ISIS fighters to return home, but the Syrian Defense Forces who captured them do not have the sovereign power to sentence them, leaving their citizens in limbo, Pesha Magid writes for Foreign Policy.

Turkish fighter jet. A Turkish aerospace company said it would display a mock-up at this week’s International Paris Airshow of an indigenously made fighter jet that looks eerily familiar. The announcement comes just a week after Washington took steps to kick Turkey out of the F-35 program over its planned purchase of the Russian S-400 missile system.


Technology & Cyber

Feel the pain. Huawei CEO and founder Ren Zhengfei said he expects the Chinese telecom giant to lose about $30 billion in revenue in coming years thanks to U.S. restrictions on the company.

U.S. grid compromised? The American grid regulator and a prominent cybersecurity firm warn that one of the world’s most advanced hacking groups is probing the U.S. electric grid, E&E News reports.

2016 redux. Many 2020 presidential campaigns continue to fall short in their efforts to improve computer security, even as technology firms report they are seeing evidence of continued Russian hacking activity similar to that observed in 2016, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Silicon Valley politics. The prominent Black Hat security conference canceled a planned keynote by Rep. Will Hurd, a Texas Republican, after the conference came under fire for giving the speaking slot to a politician with a less than sterling voting record on women’s issues. Hurd is a highly respected voice on computer security and intelligence issues and is a former CIA officer. The fracas over his speaking slot is yet another indication of the difficulties Washington and Silicon Valley face in effectively dealing with one another.

Hong Kong. The encrypted messaging platform Telegram has emerged as a major flashpoint in ongoing protests in Hong Kong, with the founder of the service accusing China last week of attacking the platform with a distributed denial of service attack.

Bad vulnerability. Researchers discovered a security vulnerability in a computer-connected hospital pump that would allow an attacker to alter the drug dosages being delivered to a patient.


Recommendation

Red carpet welcome. Journalist Shane Bauer describes the moment he met a Kurdish border guard arriving in Syria as part of his reporting project for Mother Jones: ‘“Are you American?’ he asks. ‘You are holy to us!’”


Quote of the Week

“It’s like every war movie you’ve ever seen but it doesn’t end in 120 minutes … It’s on loop.”

–New York Times reporter and Marine Corps veteran Thomas Gibbons-Neff resurrects a passage from a journal chronicling his 2008 deployment to Afghanistan in reflecting on what it’s like to return to the country as a journalist.

That’s it for today. To get this newsletter in your inbox, subscribe here or sign-up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or typos to securitybrief@foreignpolicy.com.

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

Lara Seligman is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @laraseligman

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