President Trump declared America’s 33rd concurrent national emergency on Wednesday, signing a new executive order intended to keep adversaries from owning sensitive American technology. The EO was the fifth national emergency declared by Trump since taking office, according to USA Today’s Gregory Korte. (By comparison, Obama had signed three by this time, day 846 of his first term; W had five by this time; and Clinton had signed nine.)
The formal title of Wednesday’s EO: “Executive Order on Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain”
The gist, according to the document’s text: “[F]oreign adversaries are increasingly creating and exploiting vulnerabilities in information and communications technology and services, which store and communicate vast amounts of sensitive information, facilitate the digital economy, and support critical infrastructure and vital emergency services, in order to commit malicious cyber-enabled actions, including economic and industrial espionage against the United States and its people… and thereby constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”
Nowhere in the text: “China,” “Huawei,” or “ZTE.” In a background call with reporters, White House officials referred to the order as “company- and country-agnostic,” and “forward-looking for an industry that is transformative — telecommunications.”
What’s next? “The Department of Commerce is going to take 150 days to write the rules pursuant to this executive order,” WH officials said. “And it applies to any transaction initiated, pending or completed, after the date of the executive order.” Meantime, Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are slated to see each other at a G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, next month.
Just a few hours after the EO announcement, the Commerce Department added Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. to its “Entity List,” saying Huawei “is engaged in activities that are contrary to U.S. national security or foreign policy interest,” the Washington Post reported. “This listing makes it virtually impossible for companies to survive once U.S. firms are discouraged from doing business with them.”
Bigger picture: The EO was teased by WH officials more than a year ago. Since that time, a U.S.-China trade war has been escalating steadily, and “increased markedly in the past week,” the Post writes. Indeed, “Trump on Friday began imposing 25 percent tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports, and China announced it was countering with large import penalties on $60 billion in U.S. goods.”
Huawei’s reax to the EO news: “Restricting Huawei from doing business in the U.S. will not make the U.S. more secure or stronger...Instead, this will only serve to limit the U.S. to inferior yet more expensive alternatives.”
Said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., of the EO: “Let’s cut to the chase: China’s main export is espionage, and the distinction between the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese ‘private-sector’ businesses like Huawei is imaginary. The Trump Administration is right to recognize this reality and issue this order. Huawei’s supply chain depends on contracts with American companies and the Commerce Department ought to take a careful look at how we can effectively disrupt our adversary.”
Said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.: “For months we have raised the alarm on the clear and present danger that companies like Huawei and ZTE pose to American national security. But this Administration’s loss of credibility with our European allies and others around the world has significantly hindered our efforts to present a united force against these companies. In Congress, I will continue working on a bipartisan basis to protect our national security interests from the threats posed by Huawei and ZTE.”
From Defense One
Who Wins When U.S.-Iran Tensions Rise? China // Jon B. Alterman: The Sino-Iranian relationship advances Chinese interests — and particularly when Washington tries to turn the screws on Tehran.
Trump’s Counter-Iran Moves Are Provocative, But They’re Not War // Kevin Baron: Truly bad messaging is undermining trust among allies and the American public — and increasing the chance of accidental escalation.
The Bay Area’s Spy Camera Ban Is Only the Beginning // Tanvi Misra and Sarah Holder, CityLab: San Francisco just became the first city to ban use of facial recognition technology by government entities. Oakland may be next.
The Next ‘South China Sea’ Is Covered in Ice // Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic: The State Department will soon have a permanent presence in Greenland for the first time since the 1950s.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson. Thanks for reading! Subscribe here. On this day in 1820, the USS Congress (Frigate) became the first U.S. ship to visit China, docking at Guanhzhou canton in southern China, about 75 miles from Hong Kong.
The latest in White House-Iran tensions: (1) U.S. spies talk about satellite imagery as (2) Trump leaves the door open for talks. On the first point, no fewer than 12 New York Times reporters united Wednesday to describe U.S. intelligence photographs reportedly showing “missiles on small boats in the Persian Gulf that were put on board by Iranian paramilitary forces.”
The quick read: “Overhead imagery showed fully assembled missiles, stoking fears that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps would fire them at United States naval ships. Additional pieces of intelligence picked up threats against commercial shipping and potential attacks by Arab militias with Iran ties on American troops in Iraq.”
About the imagery: “The Pentagon has not released the [lone] photograph” that has been declassified so far. And that image by itself, two American officials told the Times, “was not compelling enough to convince the American public and lawmakers, or foreign allies, of the new Iranian threat. But releasing other supporting images could compromise secret sources and methods of collecting intelligence,” those two officials said. “The other photographs, which remain classified, show the Revolutionary Guards loading missiles onto the boats at several Iranian ports,” said the chatty, nameless U.S. officials.
Choose your own adventure? “Taken with the other intelligence, the photographs could indicate that Iran is preparing to attack United States forces,” the Times writes. Or, if you prefer to believe “other officials — including Europeans, Iraqis, members of both parties in Congress and some senior officials within the Trump administration,” then “Iran’s moves might mostly be defensive against what Tehran believes are provocative acts by Washington.”
The BLUF, according to the Times’ dozen reporters: “Either way, the questions about the underlying intelligence, and complaints by lawmakers that they had not been briefed on it, reflect a deep mistrust of Mr. Trump’s national security team.”
The next step? U.S. “Intelligence officials are set to meet on Thursday with senior congressional leaders for a briefing on the new intelligence about Iran.” Read on, here.
And on the second point, compared to his secretary of state and national security advisor, President Trump took a far less confrontational stance toward Tehran in a series of tweets Wednesday.
"There is no infighting whatsoever" among officials in his administration "with respect to my strong policy in the Middle East," he wrote on Twitter after using his favorite descriptor (“fake news”) for the Washington Post and the New York Times. “Different opinions are expressed and I make a decisive and final decision — it is a very simple process,” he continued. “All sides, views, and policies are covered. I’m sure that Iran will want to talk soon.”
If what Israeli journalist Amichai Stein reported on Twitter Wednesday is correct, Iran’s military had a very different view of de-escalation and/or talks with the U.S. presently. That quote, attributed to a nameless Iranian commander, rather sensationally reads, “we are on the verge of a full-scale confrontation with the enemy.”
New this morning: The Brits just raised the threat level for their soldiers and troops abroad, Sky News’ Deborah Haynes reports, citing “what sources say is a heightened security risk from Iran.” Further, “Britain has also put its personnel + families in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait & Qatar on an increased state of alert,” Haynes tweeted.
What you need to know, per the Brits: “A source said UK believes there is an increased likelihood of Iran or its proxies taking action against UK, US or other allied interests in [the] region in a way that can be plausibly denied so as to avoid triggering an all-out war… The targets would most likely be soft such as oil infrastructure or other civilian targets.”
But what about that British officer who, earlier this week, seemed to indicate there was daylight between the U.S. and UK assessment of the regional Mideast threat from Iran? U.K. Maj. Gen. Chris “Ghika had been aware of the increased security risk as he had seen a number of intelligence reports. When asked to comment at briefing, he had not known whether he was authorised to disclose this info, which is why he struck a more cautious tone.” Read the rest at Sky News, here.
Alternate take: “How to Stop the March to War With Iran,” a New York Times commentary from Wendy Sherman, former under secretary of state for political affairs for POTUS44, and one of the architects of the so-called Iran nuclear deal.
Another skeptical former official: Brett McGurk, who ran the ISIS war as a civilian for both POTUS44 and 45. He took to Twitter Wednesday evening to express his doubts and concern for Americans in Iraq and the Middle East.
His parting thought: “[T]his is the first ordered departure for Baghdad/Erbil and that alone is significant with likely second and third order effects in Iraq and the region. The big question now is where this leads. Trump again said he expects Iran to call him. They won't. So then what?”
And from Defense One’s Kevin Baron: In a piece entitled, “Trump’s Counter-Iran Moves Are Provocative, But They’re Not War,” Baron writes: “Truly bad messaging is undermining trust among allies and the American public — and increasing the chance of accidental escalation.”
AFSec Wilson’s exit was a bit easier thanks to former SecDef Mattis’s resignation in December, she told Oriana Pawlyk of Military.com on Wednesday.
Wilson’s replacement: Under Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan. He’ll take over for Wilson in an acting role on June 1. Wilson, remember, is headed west to take over as president of the University of Texas at El Paso.
Acting SecDef Shanahan on Wilson: "In her two years as secretary, Heather defined the Air Force the nation needs and made incredible progress in implementing the strategy to get us there. It is fitting that a key member of her leadership team will assume her role to keep the momentum going. Matt will do a fantastic job."
Sen. Warren vs. climate change (in the name of the military). Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said she’ll be introducing a bill (PDF) soon to protect the military from climate change “by cutting greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide 100% or by offsetting them with investments in projects such as clean energy” by 2030 for all bases not in a combat zone, Reuters reported Wednesday.
Also in that bill: A requirement for "the Pentagon to produce an annual report evaluating the climate vulnerability of U.S. military bases at home and abroad," Reuters writes. It would also “funnel billions of dollars into a Defense Department 10-year research and development program on microgrids and advanced energy storage.”
Defense contractors would also face requirements if they “have not achieved net zero carbon emissions.” They would then have to “pay 1% of the value of contracts to fund investments in military infrastructure to make it more resilient against climate change.” There’s no indication yet of the bill’s chances for success, but you can read the draft text in PDF form, here.
Another Warren-related headline this morning: “Elizabeth Warren’s new plan targets the military-industrial complex,” from Defense News.
The idea here: “Under her proposed legislation, ‘giant defense contractors,’ would be banned from hiring senior Pentagon officials and officers for four years after they leave office,” Defense News’ Joe Gould writes. “Those contractors would also be subject to federal open records law and have to report who they’re lobbying at the Pentagon and why.”
Related headlines for this bill, whose text has not yet been released online:
- “Elizabeth Warren’s new policy rollout targets Pentagon corruption” (Vox)
- “Elizabeth Warren Proposes Anti-Corruption Policy for Pentagon” (HuffPost)
- Or read Warren’s take herself on Medium, here.
This week in fairly unsurprising tech news, “Firms That Promised High-Tech Ransomware Solutions Almost Always Just Pay the Hackers,” ProPublica reported Wednesday.
And finally today: One satirical news site has found some humor in all the counter-Iran rhetoric from the White House. The Onion’s headline for how the administration’s march to war is proceeding: John Bolton: ‘An Attack On Two Saudi Oil Tankers Is An Attack On All Americans’
Saved you a click: There’s really not much need clicking through to that link, as apparently The Onion’s editors decided to take George Costanza’s advice and go out on a high note. (Which is to say, that story is simply a headline with no additional text.)