Good morning, D Briefers, from 8,000 feet elevation and the annual Aspen Security Forum, which could not have been better timed. A list of Trump administration officials and national security leaders from military, intelligence, homeland and foreign policy circles have gathered to give a collective, “What the…?” and make sense of the whirlwind of fallout continuing from the NATO Summit and Helsinki meeting.
No really, what agreements? “In a speech to Russian diplomats in Moscow, Putin says summit with Trump was ‘successful overall and led to useful agreements,”’ reports NPR’s Lucian Kim, from Moscow, early Thursday. (“Better than super” is how Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov put it a few days ago.)
Implementation will take a second meeting. Trump then tweeted: “The Summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media. I look forward to our second meeting so that we can start implementing some of the many things discussed, including stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear........” (deep breath, second tweet) “...proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace, North Korea and more. There are many answers, some easy and some hard, to these problems...but they can ALL be solved!” (If you’re tracking, we believe that’s also Trump’s first use of his “enemy of the people” line since five journalists were murdered in Annapolis three weeks ago.)
Did Trump agree to start normalizing military relations with Russians? Maybe. That’s one of the statements to come out of Moscow Tuesday, so we asked around. The Pentagon doesn’t seem to know. Neither does Congress. More telling, neither does Trump’s own National Security Council, which said, uh, we’re looking into it.
NSC spox: “The Helsinki summit was the beginning of a process between the United States and Russia to reduce tensions and advance areas of cooperation in our mutual interest,” a National Security Council spokesperson told Defense One on Tuesday. “We are reviewing the discussion between President Trump and President Putin, considering possible next steps, and have nothing further to announce at this time.”
Trump can’t just start cooperating with the Russian military, but: there is a way to thaw things out. Here’s the gist: After Putin took Crimea and marched into Ukraine, so in 2014 Congress wrote a provision into the authorization bill banning U.S. from coordinating with Russia. Basically, it halted a very active period of mutual exercises and operations that was growing until around 2012.
Can we talk? Yes. The ban is on coordination, not communication, a House Armed Serviced Committee aide explained. And in June, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford met with his Russian counterpart, in Helsinki, and then had a follow up call a week later.
Votel: “No new guidance for me as as result of the Helsinki conference as yet,” said the CENTCOM commander, in a Thursday morning Pentagon briefing (via satellite from his Tampa office.) The general said the law “does guide our activities” and stressed any Russian interaction remains limited to deconfliction and communication to keep troops safe. “That is the extent” of it — in Syria, at least. More here.
From Defense One
After Secret Trump Meeting, Russia Offers to Resume Military Relations // Kevin Baron and Patrick Tucker: Did Trump offer to normalize relations? It would be complicated — and Congress gets a vote.
Trump Says Russia Isn’t Still Targeting the U.S.—But He’s Wrong // Amy Zegart: Putin’s government is waging information warfare against America, but the president is ignoring his intelligence advisers as they sound the alarm.
Boeing Is Pitching the US a New F-15, Using Its Super Hornet Game Plan // Marcus Weisgerber: The company convinced the Trump administration to buy advanced F/A-18 jets. Can it do the same with the the F-15?
DARPA Plans Bugbot ‘Olympics’ to Foster Breakthrough in Tiny Machines // Patrick Tucker: Redesigning tiny motors and limbs could make microbots a reality.
Defense One Radio, Ep. 12 // Defense One Staff: Charles Lister on the future of Syria and ISIS; Mara Karlin on the US and fragile states; Lockheed's Greg Ulmer on the F-35.
Pentagon Plans to Publish AI Strategy ‘Within Weeks’ // Jack Corrigan: The report will focus on long-term plans and how it will funnel resources to developing the technology, a Defense official said.
There’s No Defending Trump Anymore // Kori Schake: The spectacle in Helsinki is over. Now it’s time for Congress—and the American people—to act.
Anti-Trump Hysteria Isn’t Helping // Danielle Pletka, The Atlantic: The president’s performance in Helsinki wasn’t defensible—but neither was it treasonous.
Pentagon Wants to Move Some Cyber Defense Operations to the Cloud // Joseph Marks: The Defense Department’s considering a cloud extension of its Acropolis system, which it describes as “where we fight” in cyberspace.
The Pentagon Wants to Bring Mind-Controlled Tech To Troops // Jack Corrigan: The Defense Department’s research arm is working on a project that connects human operators’ brains to the systems they’re controlling—and vice versa.
FBI Director: "I don't think it's a witch hunt." If it wasn’t perfectly clear, Christopher Wray directly countered the president and defended the law enforcement and intelligence communities in a straight-shooting interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, here at #AspenSecurity, on Wednesday. Full video here.
Wray: "The IC community’s assessment has not changed - my view has not changed - which is Russia attempted to interfere in the last election and it continues to engage in malign influence... to this day."
The battle of Trump vs the IC just keeps getting twistier. Late on Wednesday, the NYT reported that Trump had received a classified briefing two weeks before his inauguration that detailed exactly why the IC concluded that Russia had attacked the American election. “Mr. Trump sounded grudgingly convinced, according to several people who attended the intelligence briefing. But ever since, Mr. Trump has tried to cloud the very clear findings that he received on Jan. 6, 2017, which his own intelligence leaders have unanimously endorsed,” reports David Sanger and Matt Rosenberg.
White House spin control is in full effect, with various statements by Trump and others stressing he has acknowledged Russian election attacks. More from NYT here.
Morale remains high at the FBI, Wray said, and foreign and partner agencies have their backs: “The engagement we have, the feedback ..from foreign partners, other agencies is ‘We love you guys, it's great, what can we do to help, we need even more of you.’"
People on the street are coming up to him saying, "We support you. We're praying for you. What can we do to help."
China wants to steal our corn seeds: Amid the Trump talk, Wray made a remarkable statement: “China from a counterintelligence perspective represents the broadest, most pervasive, most threatening challenge we face as a country.” Not militarily — he meant economic espionage. Wray said the FBI has active cases in all 50 states of China trying to steal everything from corn seeds in Iowa to windmill turbines in New England. Noted.
Allies: who needs ’em? On the heels of last week’s maybe-threats to leave NATO and his performance in Helsinki, Trump further cast doubt on America’s reliability as an ally in a Tuesday interview with Fox’s Tucker Carlson. Carlson asked: if NATO’s newest member were attacked, why “should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?” Trump responded: “I understand what you’re saying. I’ve asked the same question.” The Atlantic’s Krishnadev Calamur explains why, here.
Former Polish defense minister Radosław Sikorski: “And now, as a U.S. ally, we are supposed to believe that if President Putin launches a hybrid war, or even a nuclear strike against Poland, President @realDonaldTrump will threaten to nuke him back.”
Voting-machine manufacturer confesses remote-access to its products. When the New York Times asked Election Systems and Software whether they had shipped electronic ballot boxes that can be accessed over the internet, America’s largest supplier of the machines said no. But they fessed up to the subpoena-empowered Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, Motherboard reports.
What’s wrong with that? Wyden: “installing remote-access software and modems on election equipment ‘is the worst decision for security short of leaving ballot boxes on a Moscow street corner.’”
Deny, deny, deny: ES&S’s lie is just the latest by the voting-machine industry. “In the 15 years since electronic voting machines were first adopted by many states, numerous reports by computer scientists have shown nearly every make and model to be vulnerable to hacking,” the NYT goes on. “But for as long as experts have warned about security problems, voting machine makers and election officials have denied that the machines can be remotely hacked.” Read on, here.
What now? In March, Congress made $380 million available for states to use to protect voting systems. Many are using the funds to move back to paper ballots, but it’s not yet clear how many Americans will still be voting on hackable machines this November.
Trump’s pricy parade: The Nov. 10 military parade ordered up by the commander-in-chief will cost around $12 million, three US defense officials tell CNN, which notes that the amount is not much less than the “very expensive” $14 million joint wargames that Trump decried, then unilaterally cancelled after meeting with North Korea’s Kim.