American spies have learned President Trump’s iPhone is tapped by China and Russia, The New York Times reported Wednesday. Beijing is reportedly using the info intercepted to influence U.S. trade policy. And the president, who has been told he's being monitored, has apparently refused to stick to a secure line.
How’d the Times come across this information? “Mr. Trump’s use of his iPhones was detailed by several current and former officials” who referenced U.S. intelligence reports citing “human sources inside foreign governments and intercept[ed] communications between foreign officials.”
Said former U.S. Army Gen. Mark Hertling: “Ask any senior military leader how valuable readouts from an enemy commander’s informal conversations would be and they would say: ‘Like gold.’”
Why tell the world, you anonymous officials? “not to undermine Mr. Trump,” the Times writes, “but out of frustration with what they considered the president’s casual approach to electronic security.”
But wait, this is all okay because Trump doesn’t know that much, White House officials said. That’s “because he rarely digs into the details of the intelligence he is shown and is not well versed in the operational specifics of military or covert activities."
BTW: POTUS45 weighed in on Twitter this morning. His reax: “The so-called experts on Trump over at the New York Times wrote a long and boring article on my cellphone usage that is so incorrect I do not have time here to correct it. I only use Government Phones, and have only one seldom used government cell phone. Story is soooo wrong!”
China apparently thinks this is all fairly hilarious. And in response, they recommend Trump switch to a Chinese cell phone from maker Huawei, AP reports from Beijing.
From Defense One
It’s Unnecessary to Pick Sides in the Gulf. America Should Stop. // John Gay: Iran and Saudi Arabia are each capable of keeping the other from establishing regional control.
Saudi Arabia is Hurting American Interests // Richard Fontaine, The Atlantic: After Yemen, Qatar, kidnappings and Khashoggi, it's time to reset the U.S. relationship with the kingdom.
Time to Rethink the Price of Partnering With Dictators // Danielle Pletka, The Atlantic: Dissidents need to know the U.S. stands with them, also.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson, Bradley Peniston, and Katie Bo Williams. If you find this useful, please consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. On this day in 1983, Operation Urgent Fury — that is, the U.S. military’s invasion of Grenada — began.
Mailbombs. Pipe bombs mailed to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and actor Robert De Niro bring the number found since Monday to nine. Found in Washington, D.C., New York, Florida, and Los Angeles, the others were addressed to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, financier George Soros, former CIA director John Brennan, former President Barack Obama, former Attorney General Eric Holder, and Rep. Maxine Waters.
None of the devices exploded, though officials said they were built to do so. Each package consisted of a crudely built bomb in a manila mailing envelope.
The targets include “several prominent Democrats, including former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, setting off an intense investigation on Wednesday into whether figures vilified by the right were being targeted,” the New York Times wrote.
That remains to be seen. But right-wing terror is on the rise. It “is fueling a surge in terrorism in the U.S,” according to an analysis by Quartz of the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database. “Overall, the U.S. had only six attacks a decade ago, but 65 in 2017. The number of fatalities is also increasing, in contrast to a global decrease in terror attacks. Terror attacks around the world fell from about 17,000 in 2014 to about 11,000 in 2017. They dropped almost 40% in the Middle East.
The trend “persisted in 2017, when most attacks in the US were committed by right-wing extremists,” Quartz continues. “Out of 65 incidents last year, 37 were tied to racist, anti-Muslim, homophobic, anti-Semitic, fascist, anti-government, or xenophobic motivations...In the same period, seven attacks were linked to Islamic extremists, and 11 attacks were inspired by left-leaning ideologies.” Read on, here.
ICYMI: After February’s Stoneman school massacre, futurist Peter Singer urged fellow national-security professionals to take heed of the trend.
Another deadly airstrike in Yemen has left 19 civilians (including children) dead, the Associated Press reports from the capital of Sanaa.
Location: a market in Bayt el-Faqih, just south of the western port of Hodeida. Writes AP, “Video footage obtained by The Associated Press showed the aftermath of the strike, with body parts lying scattered across the market and coffins lined up in the hospital. The video could not be independently confirmed but it corresponded to events reported by the AP. A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition did not respond to multiple phone calls and messages seeking comment.”
Reminder: The assault on Houthi-held Hodeida began in June, paused somewhat over the summer for negotiations, then resumed again in mid-September. And just as in May, the war in Yemen seems just as stale-mated as it's ever been.
Meanwhile in Washington, 21 lawmakers submitted a bill before the House that would “immediately stop all military sales and aid to Saudi Arabia’s government,” the Associated Press and Defense News reported Wednesday.
According to the fine print, "President Donald Trump could request exceptions to the arms sale ban if he also submitted a report on a U.S. investigation into anyone involved in 'the murder of journalist and United States permanent resident Jamal Khashoggi,'" Reuters adds.
Currently on hold: Sale of the U.S.-made THAAD anti-missile system to Riyadh. More from Reuters, here.
Also interested in — but not committing yet to — an arms embargo on the Saudis: The EU, in a non-binding resolution that calls for halting exports “of surveillance systems and other dual-use items that may be used in Saudi Arabia for the purposes of repression.”
The Saudis’ story on what happened to Khashoggi is changing yet again. AP: “Saudi Attorney General Saud al-Mojeb said investigators concluded that Khashoggi’s killing was a premeditated crime after reviewing evidence presented by Turkish officials as part of a joint investigation, according to a statement on the state-run Saudi Press Agency.” That, here.
And CIA Director Gina Haspel has reportedly heard what the Turks allege was audio of Khashoggi’s interrogation and killing, the Washington Post reported Wednesday evening.
ICYMI: “The Trump administration took its first concrete steps to penalize Saudi Arabia on Tuesday by revoking visas for agents implicated in the killing, a modest move considering 18 of the 21 Saudi suspects were already under arrest,” the Post adds.
Said Trump on Tuesday: The Saudis “had a very bad original concept, it was carried out poorly, and the coverup was the worst in the history of coverups… In terms of what we ultimately do, I’m going to leave it very much — in conjunction with me — I’m going to leave it up to Congress.”
Eyes on Mattis: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will give the keynote speech at the annual Manama Dialogue in Bahrain on Saturday at a pivotal moment for U.S. relations in the Gulf. The furor and uncertainty following the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Embassy in Turkey has turned the typically wonkish security community conference into an unusually high-profile moment in international relations.
The Pentagon has been notably quiet on the killing, which threatens to fracture the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia and potentially imperil U.S. strategy in the region.
Extra reading: Here’s “one of the most important NGO statements of the past four years” on the war in Yemen, via Just Security.
BTW: Russian and Iranian diplomats have been busy these last few days in and around Yemen, American Enterprise Institute’s Maher Farrukh noted Wednesday on Twitter.
North Korea is dragging its feet on the next high-level talks with the U.S., Korea JoongAng Daily reported Wednesday. Evidently the U.S. is totally on board and ready to go; North Korean officials, however, are “not giving a definite date and location” for when/where the next talks might happen.
FWIW: The two men charged with moving this ball forward are Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, and North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui. Read on for some possibilities about what the hold-up might be, here.
Talkin’ about peace. A North Korean general told a crowd in China today that Pyongyang wants to “turn the Korean Peninsula that was once the hottest spot in the globe into the cradle of peace and prosperity,” AP reports from Beijing.
A new study analyzes five emerging technologies with the potential to transform the future of the U.S. military. Those include exoskeletons, robotics, hybrid-electric power, new batteries and more. Read the full series from the folks at the Center for a New American Security, here.
Finally today: China wants to build that shape-shifting robot from Terminator 2. It’s not there just yet, but it’s getting close, the South China Morning Post reports.
T-1000 this is not. Perhaps more than anything that’s because so far the contraption fits in the palm of your hand, “comprises a plastic wheel, a small lithium battery and drops of liquid metal.”
The point is to prototype future “soft robots incorporating liquid metal that could be used in special missions such as searching for and rescuing earthquake victims, since they can change shape to slide under doors or make it through spaces humans can’t get into,” one researcher told SCMP. Read on, here.