What do you do now, U.S. national security leaders? When a U.S. president stands next to a Russian strongman, takes his word about an attack on America over that of the U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement communities — all on the heels of a two-hour meeting in which no one but the presidents’ interpreters were allowed to be present?
“In a Helsinki press conference for the ages, Trump sided with the former KGB colonel against the United States of America over and over. On spying. On Syria. On military relations. On camera. On the record,” writes Defense One’s Kevin Baron. (Here’s a transcript.)
The key exchange: Asked by a reporter who he believes about the 2016 attack on the U.S. election, Trump first tried to avoid the question, then said, “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
DNI fires back. “About two hours after the press conference, Trump’s own Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a defensive statement against his boss….‘We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.’” (Of Coats, former NATO commander James Stavridis tweeted: “I am not sure how he goes to work tomorrow — knowing that his boss values his assurances no more highly than those of Vladimir Putin.”)
Even Fox News and the GOP complained: “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in a statement. Others followed suit. Even some Fox News personalities were appalled.
Yet: “Almost every outrageous comment Trump made at the Helsinki press conference was a variation on something he’d said before,” wrote Lawfare’s Quinta Jurecic. “The question now is whether, having voiced their outrage over the president’s behavior, Trump’s aides and supporters, along with congressional Republicans, will finally do anything about it.”
Did anything substantive emerge from the Helsinki summit? We don’t know what Trump and Putin discussed during their two-hour meeting, for which the Russian arrived an hour late, because no one but the principals and their interpreters were in the room. At the press conference, Trump declared his support for Putin’s proposal “to have the U.S. hand over the intelligence community’s evidence against 12 indicted Russian spies and let Russia the suspects.” Read Kevin Baron’s story, here.
Meanwhile from Connecticut, a C-SPAN caller on Monday thanked Russia for "interfering in our elections."
From Defense One
What Do You Do Now, US National Security Leaders? // Kevin Baron: A key senator says Trump violated his oath of office. An ex-CIA boss says his defense of Putin was “nothing short of treasonous.”
If Your Weapons Aren’t Cyber-Hardened, Expect to Lose Pentagon Contracts // Marcus Weisgerber: The Pentagon intends to start assessing its weapons’ resistance to hacks, instead of leaving that to manufacturers.
The End of All Illusions // Lawfare’s Quinta Jurecic: Trump said nothing new in Helsinki—but his remarks clarified and distilled into a single frame his appalling disregard for an assault on America.
The Trump-Putin Summit Made a Mockery of Public Diplomacy // Tara Sonenshine, former Secretary of State for public diplomacy: The Russian may at least have projected strength, but the American delivered a dangerous muddle.
The Crisis Facing America // The Atlantic’s David Frum: The country can no longer afford to wait to ascertain why President Trump has subordinated himself to Putin—it must deal with the fact that he has.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free. Four years ago today, while Russia was annexing Crimea, its military’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade shot down civilian passenger flight MH17 over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.
While it may be open to the idea, the U.S. isn’t “ready” for direct talks with the Taliban, the NATO-led mission announced Monday in a qualified rebuttal of reporting Sunday from The New York Times that the White House has ordered its diplomats to pursue direct talks with the Taliban.
The official line from NATO’s Resolute Support office: "The U.S. is exploring all avenues to advance a peace process in close consultation with the Afghan government,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Martin L. O’Donnell, Resolute Support spox. "But this remains an Afghan-led process.”
And according to the State Department on Monday, the United States “is exploring all avenues to advance a peace process in close consultation with the Afghan government.” So the U.S. may not be “ready” yet, but it’s certainly working — at least publicly now — toward that goal. More on where things stand from the Associated Press, here.
ICYMI: Deadliest attack in Pakistan since 2004. The death toll in a ISIS-claimed suicide bombing in NW Pakistan has risen to 128, Agence France-Presse reported Monday. The attack took place Friday in the Balochistan's Mastung district and wounded more than 200. Among the dead was a prominent politician, Nawabzada Siraj Raisani.
In perspective: “The attack is the deadliest since the 2014 carnage at Peshawar's Army Public School,” AFP writes.
And more recently: “The Mastung bombing was the latest — and deadliest — of a string of attacks targeting politically active persons ahead of the July 25 election.” More on the deceased, and the method of attack, here.
DOJ nabs a gun-loving Russian spy in the nation’s capital. The alleged spook: Maria Butina. And if you haven’t heard about her, begin with this February 2017 report from The Daily Beast.
The set-up, via Tim Mak (then of TDB, now an Army reservist who reports for NPR): “Just a few years ago, Maria Butina owned a furniture store in Siberia. Now she’s wheeling and dealing with D.C. think-tankers, Republican strategists, and a Russian bank chief with alleged mob connections."
Jump ahead to February 2017, and "Depending on the audience, Butina has presented herself as a Russian central bank staffer, a leading gun rights advocate, a ‘representative of the Russian Federation,’ a Washington, D.C., graduate student, a journalist, and a connection between Team Trump and Russia. She used each role to help her gain more high-level contacts in the nation’s capital.”
The update on Monday: "Maria Butina, 29, a Russian citizen residing in Washington D.C., was arrested on July 15, 2018, in Washington, D.C.," and charged with "conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States without prior notification to the Attorney General," according to the Department of Justice.
See also the FBI counterintelligence agent's affidavit in connection with Butina's work to influence U.S. politics at the direction of the Russian government. Inside, the author explains what Russian influence operations are, the strategic intent behind them, and why Russian penetrations of American political institutions and policymaking circles are dangerous.
Adds Carnegie Endowment’s Andrew Weiss, flagging pages from the affidavit: “Their goal was nothing less than to engineer an overhaul in US policy toward Russia via the GOP and NRA.”
Notable: There are a lot more “facts” the FBI agent has for this case. He’s only submitted a laptop and an iPhone so far for the “limited purpose of establishing probable cause,” which was established. Butina is now being held until her hearing set for Wednesday.
Progress-ish on the North Korean repatriation mission. The transfer of U.S. service members’ remains from North Korea to America is now set to begin “in the coming weeks,” a U.S. military official told NK News on Monday.
Never forget: at a rally in Duluth back in June, POTUS told his fellow Americans 200 soldiers’ remains were already sent back to the states on that very day, June 21. “We got back our great fallen heroes, the remains. In fact, today already 200 have been sent back.” That appears — then and still today — to be completely untrue.
And finally this morning: 3 national security data visuals.
- Watch the flow of U.S. arms to countries around the world from 1950 to 2017 — the brainchild of data scientist Will Geary, who used SIPRI data to give us 2 minutes and 16 seconds of America arming the world.
- The Office of Naval Intelligence’s “2018 China Recognition & Identification Guide,” shared by Naval War College Prof. Andrew Erickson, featuring, as he writes it, “3 different types of Sansha City #MaritimeMilitia vessels!”
- And all the submarines of the Americas — North and South — on one poster in this infographic from NavalAnalyses.com.