Security Brief

Tea Party Stalwart to Replace Dan Coats as Intelligence Chief

Rep. John Ratcliffe has distinguished himself as a loyal Trump defender.

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) questions former Special Counsel Robert Mueller as he testifies before the House Judiciary Committee about his report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election in the Rayburn House Office Building July 24, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) questions former Special Counsel Robert Mueller as he testifies before the House Judiciary Committee about his report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election in the Rayburn House Office Building July 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

What’s on tap today: A Trump ally will replace U.S. intelligence chief Dan Coats, a second British warship arrives in the Gulf to protect vessels transiting the Strait of Hormuz, and the face behind the viral photo filtering app FaceApp.


Intel Chief to Step Down

Trump loyalist for DNI. President Donald Trump announced that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats will step down and be replaced by Rep. John Ratcliffe, a move that places a Tea Party stalwart and close Trump ally at the top of an intelligence bureaucracy with which Trump has repeatedly clashed.

Coats, a mainstay of the Republican establishment, repeatedly clashed with the president on key policy issues on which Trump has sought to massage the facts in his favor. Coats has questioned North Korea’s willingness to give up its nuclear weapons, whether Iran is about to pursue nuclear weapons, and the threat posed by Russia to the United States–all issues on which Trump and Coats have publicly disagreed.

The new guy. If Coats, who serves as Trump’s primary intelligence adviser and briefer, attempted to at least nominally keep the president wedded to the facts, there is little indication his replacement will do so. Ratcliffe has distinguished himself during his time on the House Judiciary Committee as a stalwart defender of Trump and used his time during questioning of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller to baselessly assert that his report had no legal support.

A former U.S. attorney, Ratcliffe’s most significant prior political experience prior to his election to the House in 2014 was serving as the mayor of Heath, Texas, with a population less than 10,000. He is considered one of the most conservative legislators on Capitol Hill.

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HMS Duncan Arrives in Persian Gulf

Royal Navy escort. A second Royal Navy warship, the HMS Duncan, arrived in the Persian Gulf over the weekend, joining the frigate HMS Montrose in a mission to protect Brittish ships transiting the Strait of Hormuz, amid escalating tensions between Britain and Iran.

European coalition. The news suggests Britain is charging ahead with a plan to protect its own vessels after Iran seized the British-flagged Stena Impero last week, as the West struggles to hash out how to better secure the Strait. The U.K. last week announced a proposal for a European-led maritime coalition, a move that was seen as a direct rebuke to the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign. But it’s not clear Europe has the will–or the ships–to do the job, write Lara Seligman and Keith Johnson.

Trump’s test. Meanwhile, the White House faces a Thursday deadline to decide whether to end one of the last remaining components of the 2015 nuclear deal–waivers to foreign companies working on Iran’s civilian nuclear program. The move would be the next logical step of the maximum pressure campaign, but will escalate tensions with Iran and some European allies.


What We’re Watching 

Taliban-Afghan talks? The U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan raised hopes for a peace deal to end the nearly 18-year war on Sunday, saying that direct talks between the Taliban and an Afghan negotiating team will take place after the United States conclues its own “agreements” with the group.

But critics are not holding their breath. Any peace deal requires the Taliban talk to the Afghans–and the group has refused to participate in any such negotiations before reaching an agreement with the Americans for a full troop withdrawal.

Hong Kong. Protesters in Hong Kong clashed for two consecutive days with police in intense confrontations that mark an escalation in violence, the Wall Street Journal reports. The clashes come on the heels of a warning from authorities in Beijing that they are prepared to use the Chinese military to restore control over the island.

Mental acuity. Some congressional officials are questioning whether it was wise to force former Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify before Congress after his appearance left some questioning the 74-year-old’s mental acuity, the Washington Post reports.

Foreign influence. Federal prosecutors are examining whether the financier Thomas Barrack used his influence with the Trump administration to shape American policy to benefit Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with whom he has long-standing business relations, the New York Times reports.

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Technology & Cyber

Disinfo. A remarkable Washington Post investigation finds that the Philippines has become a testing ground for trolling operations for hire, with political candidates paying companies to carry out smear campaigns and boost their online profile.

ProtonMail. The secure email provider ProtonMail uncovered a targeted, highly sophisticated operation aimed at breaking into the accounts of journalists and experts investigating Russian intelligence activities, the Financial Times reports.  

Chip independence. Smartphone giant Apple paid $1 billion to acquire Intel’s modem chip business in a bid to supply its own modems for iPhones and similar technology. The move will improve the company’s access to chips as it jockeys with rivals Huawei and Samsung to become the dominant supplier of next-generation 5G phones.

The face behind FaceApp. Forbes profiles the Russian entrepreneur behind the viral photo filtering app FaceApp, which has been at the center of an intense backlash over its expansive (though pretty standard) privacy agreement and its Russian origin. Entrepreneur Yaroslav Goncharov says he plans to improve transparency and scale back his company’s rights over images.  

WannaCry. Marcus Hutchins, the British hacker who helped stop the spread of the WannaCry ransomware, was spared additional prison time after he pleaded guilty for his earlier role in authoring malware.


Movers & Shakers

The accuser. Air Force Gen. John Hyten, Trump’s nominee for vice chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, will go before the Senate on Tuesday for his confirmation hearing to become the second-highest ranking military officer in the U.S. armed forces. Previously considered a shoe-in, Hyten’s nomination could be derailed by allegations of sexual misconduct against an officer under his command.

Hyten will face questions from lawmakers about the allegations, which were again thrust into the public sphere on Friday when his accuser identified herself to the New York Times’ Helene Cooper as Army Col. Kathryn A. Spletstoser. An Air Force investigation cleared Hyten of any wrongdoing, but there has been a public outcry as grisly details about the allegations emerged.


Quote of the Week 

Islamic State. “Her eyes were full of fear.” –The grandmother of nine-year-old Nisa describes her grandchild upon arriving from Iraq. Nisa is the child of Islamic State fighters and one of 200 children repatriated from Iraq to Turkey. 


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.

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

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

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