President Trump on Wednesday renewed his attacks on the intelligence community, calling the agencies “extremely passive and naive” after Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and other senior intelligence leaders contradicted the president’s assertions on Iran, North Korea, and ISIS, D1’s Katie Bo Williams reports. “They are wrong!” Trump wrote in early-morning tweets bashing “the intelligence people” for testifying on Tuesday that Iran is not currently taking the steps that intelligence officials believe would be necessary for them to produce a nuclear device — an assessment at odds with Trump’s assertion that the regime was cheating on the spirit of the 2015 deal curtailing its nuclear program.
The tweets were the latest in a series of Trump salvos at the intelligence community that have raised concerns of field professionals and scholars, Williams writes. Read on, here.
From Defense One
Trump Renews Attacks on US Intelligence Community for Contradicting Him // Katie Bo Williams: “They are wrong!” he wrote in early-morning tweets. “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”
A Strategic Disaster Looms at the 2nd Trump-Kim Summit // David Maxwell: The Trump administration has declined to rule out withdrawing its troops from South Korea.
Trump, Nukes, and No First Use // Tom Z. Collina: Two bills aim to enact a long-overdue policy that will make the world less dangerous.
In Coalition Ops, Civilian Protections Are Only as Strong as the Weakest Link // Daniel R. Mahanty and Annie Shiel: New research suggests ways to help multinational groups reduce risks to civilians.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Bradley Peniston, and Ben Watson. On this day in 2007, a bad joke crippled Boston and seized the country’s attention briefly when transit officials and the U.S. Coast Guard had to shut down parts of Interstate 93, two bridges, and a section of the Charles River after a few suspicious and possibly explosive devices were found around the city. The culprit: an ill-conceived marketing ploy for a satirical animation called “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters.”
The U.S. Department of Justice says Russian hackers tried to discredit Mueller probe by posting fake documents. The episode started last fall, Justice Department officials say, when @HackingRedstone, a pro-Russian Twitter account, posted “terabytes of data in the criminal case against Russian company Concord Management and Consulting, which is accused of funding a social media effort aimed at swaying American voters in 2016. The Justice Department has been turning over evidence to Concord's US-based legal team, who can review it with a limited number of people as they fight the case,” CNN reported.
Faked documents. @HackingRedstone created and released into the pile of legitimate documents a number of fake ones designed to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, DOJ officials said. The account then contacted various Western media outlets and tried to get them to publish stories based on the faked documents. Read on, here.
Meanwhile: GRU hackers target DC think tank. “Russia’s military intelligence directorate, the GRU, has been caught in a new round of computer intrusion attempts, this time aimed at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a prominent Washington, D.C. think tank heavy with ex-government officials,” the Daily Beast reports.
“CSIS is under consistent cyber-attack from a variety of state actors,” said spox Andrew Schwartz. “We spotted this incident immediately and were able to work with Microsoft to put a stop to it.”
But it’s worrying that the U.S. can’t deter Russia as the 2020 election approaches: “We’ve about exhausted our ability to achieve some kind of deterrent model that works,” said Robert Johnston, the security expert who investigated the 2016 DNC breach, and now heads the financial cybersecurity firm Adlumin. “You have indictments. You have Cyber Command releasing Russian malware. We ran psyops inside of Russia saying, ‘We know what you’re up to, stop it.’ Sanctions and diplomatic measures. The combination of all those isn’t enough to make it come to a complete halt.” Read on, here.
Speaking of the GRU: Ukrainian officials said Monday that a thousand mercenaries employed by Wagner, a Russian private security company, traveled to African countries last year on passports issued by a GRU-connected passport office. Bellingcat: “If proven true, [the allegations] would implicate the Russian government in not simply tolerating Wagner’s overseas military operations (which are actually illegal under Russian law), but in being actively involved in the facilitation of such black ops.”
The Pentagon’s Twitter feed was fact-checked by Bosphorus Naval News this morning, which usually keeps a sharp eye on shipping traffic through its namesake strait, the only entry point to the Black Sea.
The tweet: "Steady as she goes. The guided-missile destroyer #USSDonaldCook transits the Bosphorus Strait en route to the Black Sea to enhance security and maritime stability in Europe and Africa. #KnowYourMil" Granted, the tweet didn’t allege the ship was there today.
That’s where BNN jumped in to tell us, “She was deployed to the Black Sea between 19-28 January. She has departed from the Black Sea this Monday. She had long gone.” (BNN guessed that the tweet’s inaccuracy stemmed from the recent government shutdown. But of course, the Defense Department stayed open. But thanks for the USS Donald Cook update, guys.)
ICYMI: There’s been an uptick in Russian naval activity in the Black and Baltic Seas lately, Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reported one week ago. His forecast: More U.S. Navy freedom-of-navigation ops mean more tension in 2019.
BTW: video purporting to show a Russian Air Force Su-27 banking dangerously toward a U.S. F-15 was posted to Telegram channels this week, a sharp-eyed observer noticed this morning. If true, it appears to be a remarkably reckless act; if false and the video has been doctored, no one would be surprised.
Escapism? Reuters: “A state-funded Russian film that lionizes a Soviet World War Two tank and its crew has become the second highest grossing home-grown production since the collapse of the Soviet Union, part of a Kremlin-backed drive to instill patriotism in young people.”
Top Democrats introduce bills to prevent U.S. from striking first with nuclear weapons. Ploughshares’ Tom Collina rounds them up for Defense One:
Tuesday: Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., reintroduced a bill to prevent any president from launching a nuclear first strike without congressional approval.
Wednesday: Presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, dropped a separate bill that would establish in law that the United States would not use nuclear weapons first. Read on, here.
The U.S. will “stop complying” with the INF as soon as this weekend, Reuters reports from Beijing after U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Andrea Thompson wrapped “last ditch” talks with the Russians in China’s capital city Wednesday.
What next? “The formal withdrawal process, once announced, takes six months,” Reuters reminds us. After that, the U.S. would be "able to conduct the R&D and work on the systems we haven’t been able to use because we’ve been in compliance with the treaty,” said Thompson. “Come February 2, this weekend, if DoD (the U.S. Department of Defense) chooses to do that, they’ll be able to do that.” More here.
*Tell us what you think. Do you have questions about the INF? Or about what lies ahead for U.S.-Russian relations? Send us your questions or concerns as we speak to experts in February about those two topics and the future of Russia in an upcoming podcast episode. Email us your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The U.S. and Taliban seem to be making progress on peace talks, so now Russia seems to be trying to spoil things, Reuters reports today from Kabul. The lede: “Russia will host the Taliban and Afghan politicians opposed to President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday, Russian and Taliban sources said, promoting its role of power broker in what a U.S. official called an attempt to “muddle” the U.S.-backed peace process.” For a window into Moscow’s public intentions with this project, read on here.
Afghan security forces are dwindling in number, “gaps in security are growing, and the Taliban are largely holding their own despite a surge in American bombing,” AP writes off the to the latest quarterly report (PDF) from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction
By the numbers:
- “[T]he Afghan government controls or influences 54 percent of districts, down from 56 percent a year earlier, and the Taliban’s share slipped from 14 percent to 12 percent. Contested territory increased from 30 percent to 34 percent.”
- “[T]he army and police are at a combined total of just over 308,000, down from 312,000 a year earlier and nearly 316,000 in 2016.”
- The costs of "arming, training, paying and sustaining" the ANSF: "more than $4 billion a year," mostly paid by the U.S.
- And “U.S. aircraft dropped 6,823 bombs in the first 11 months of 2018. That compares with 4,361 bombs dropped in all of 2017.” Read on at AP, here.
And now for something completely different. Here’s what (some of) the French are asking today: “With the Trump administration, are we seeing the end of the influence of the Pentagon? Nowadays, with sanctions in Iran and Venezuela, are we seeing more power behind the dollar than the military?”
Finally today: China has a military-run space station in Argentina. It’s in the Patagonian region and includes a 16-story antenna that might possibly be able to eavesdrop on foreign satellites.
One growing problem: Outsiders are becoming increasingly suspicious of the place since “the remote 200-hectare compound operates with little oversight by the Argentine authorities, according to hundreds of pages of Argentine government documents obtained by Reuters and reviewed by international law experts.”
The White House’s POV on this: Highly suspicious. Garrett Marquis, spokesman for the White House National Security Council, told Reuters, “The Patagonia ground station, agreed to in secret by a corrupt and financially vulnerable government a decade ago, is another example of opaque and predatory Chinese dealings that undermine the sovereignty of host nations.” Others, like Tony Beasley of the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory, aren’t so suspicious. Read on, here.