Trump takes Kim’s side; NSA malware plagues US cities; Wall funds blocked; Steam, redux; And a bit more.
Shanahan’s Pacific swing. Beginning today, Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan flies to Hawaii, Indonesia, Singapore, South Korea and Japan.
The trip’s centerpiece will be the Shangri-La defense dialogue — the largest annual gathering of Asia-Pacific defense ministers — running Friday to Sunday in Singapore. Catch a preview from The Diplomat, here, and look for special coverage right here at Defense One.
One big thing to expect out of Singapore: A new U.S. military strategy for the Indo-Pacific, as USNI News reported in late April.
Tagging along with Shanahan: Reuters; the Associated Press; Agence France-Presse; New York Times; Wall Street Journal; CNBC, and Defense One — with Fox on TV pool duty and Voice of America covering the radio side. (H/t Reuters’ Idrees Ali, who shared a dawn shot of the tarmac this morning.)
President Trump just ended his own Pacific swing, and he began the day on Air Force One bound for Alaska via Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. Trump dropped by Japan for a four-day state visit to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, the first such call with a foreign dignitary since Emperor Naruhito “ascended the Chrysanthemum Throne at the beginning of May,” as the Washington Post reported Monday evening from Tokyo.
During those four days, which ended Monday, Trump was on the golf course, on Twitter, and in headlines tweeting solidarity with North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un and taking Trumpian rhetorical shots at Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden — calling the latter “swampman” with a “low I.Q.”
On North Korea, Trump tweeted Saturday that Kim’s military merely “fired off some small weapons.” That’s not true, international observers say: at least three short-range ballistic missiles were launched in “direct contravention of U.N. Security Council resolutions” (WaPo).
Trump’s own National Security Advisor contradicted him on Saturday. John Bolton told reporters that “The UN Security Council resolution prohibits the launch of any ballistic missiles and there is no doubt that North Korea has violated the resolution.”
So did Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “On May 9th, North Korea launched short-range ballistic missiles, and that’s a violation of the U.N. Security Council’s resolution, so, as I have been saying, this is quite a regrettable act,” Abe told reporters.
But to Trump, it literally “doesn’t matter.” Speaking to reporters Monday, he said, “My people think it could have been a violation, as you know. I view it differently. I view it as a man — perhaps he wants to get attention, and perhaps not. Who knows? It doesn’t matter.”
That’s in part because Trump was fixated on something else entirely with regard to North Korea this weekend: economic gains from potential real estate deals. “Kim Jong Un understands the unbelievable economic potential that country has. It’s located between Russia and China, on one side, and South Korea on the other. And it’s all waterfront property. It’s a great location, as we used to say in the real estate business. And I think he sees that.”So what’s next for Trump-Kim talks and reducing North Korea’s nuclear threat? “I’m in no rush at all,” Trump said. “The sanctions remain. We have our hostages back. We, as you know, are getting the remains — continuing to get the remains. [This is not true; the program was suspended by the Pentagon on May 8.] A lot of good things are happening.”
What might actually be around the bend: “Trump may not be in a rush, but North Korea has set a clear deadline for the US to moderate its negotiating position: the end of this year,” MIT’s Vipin Narang tweeted in reax to Trump’s comments. “Or Kim might ring in the New Year with a bang” by launching a satellite or ICBM.
One more thing from Trump’s overnight travels: Your D Brief-ers have observed lots of custom-made patches around the fleet and throughout America’s long and ongoing war in Afghanistan, from POTUS42 through 44. So the gung-ho patches on U.S. aircrew aboard the USS Wasp were not, generally speaking, terribly unusual. But your D Brief-ers don’t recall any patch worn by service members abroad that featured the sitting president’s likeness, like the ones spotted overnight by the Wall Street Journal’s Vivian Salama. (The ones usually seen in the ’Stan featured Punisher or comic book logos, or some attempt at being clever.)
The text on the USS Wasp personnel patches reads simply, “Make Aircrew Great Again” above and beneath what would appear to be POTUS45’s likeness. Find more imagery from President Trump’s weekend trip to Japan in Salama’s Twitter feed, here. And feel free to let us know if you observed similar patch-centric POTUS admiration under Presidents Clinton, Bush, Reagan or prior.
From Defense One
The Pentagon is Trying to Secure Its Networks Against Quantum Codebreakers // Jack Corrigan, Nextgov: The Defense Information Systems Agency is exploring new encryption strategies that could withstand an attack from quantum computers.
The US Navy Didn’t Take My Reporting Seriously // Zachary Stauffer, The Atlantic: Emails obtained using a FOIA request reveal how naval officers really feel about critical reporting.
Trump Bypasses Congress to Sell Arms to Saudis, UAE // Marcus Weisgerber: The rare decision, a fallout of last year’s Khashoggi killing, comes as tensions rise with Iran.
NATO Getting More Aggressive on Offensive Cyber // Patrick Tucker: Secretary General Stoltenberg says NATO pushes limits of what the alliance can do in cyberspace.
US To Send 900 Troops To Middle East To Counter Iran // Katie Bo Williams: The Trump administration insists that the deployment is purely defensive.
Global Business Briefing: Tony Moraco // Marcus Weisgerber interviews the SAIC CEO.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Thanks for reading! Subscribe here. On this day in 1754, a 22-year-old lieutenant colonel in the British Army named George Washington led his unit in a raid on 29 French scouts in present-day western Pennsylvania. Memorialized today as the Jumonville Glen Skirmish and the opening battle of the French and Indian war, the attack would ultimately cost Washington his British military commission after he surrendered to a different, larger French force just a few weeks later, on July 4. Read more about how this episode was "a clash of British, French and American Indian cultures” that "ended with the removal of French power from North America" and set the stage for the American Revolution, via the National Park Service, here.
The NSA’s cyber weapons are being used against U.S. cities, the New York Times reported Saturday. The tool is referred to as “EternalBlue,” and it appears to have “frozen thousands of computers, shut down email and disrupted real estate sales, water bills, health alerts and many other services” in the Baltimore area.
“Since 2017, when the N.S.A. lost control of the tool, EternalBlue, it has been picked up by state hackers in North Korea, Russia and, more recently, China, to cut a path of destruction around the world, leaving billions of dollars in damage,” the Times writes. “The tool exploits a vulnerability in unpatched software that allows hackers to spread their malware faster and farther than they otherwise could.” But it’s now moving to “American towns and cities, from Pennsylvania to Texas, paralyzing local governments and driving up costs.”
What’s the solution? Unclear, the Times writes, especially since “A former F.B.I. official likened the situation to a government failing to lock up a warehouse of automatic weapons.” And that warehouse still seems to be open. Read on, here.
A federal judge on Friday blocked President Trump’s desire to build a border wall with Pentagon money. “U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr.'s order, issued Friday, prevents work from beginning on two of the highest-priority, Pentagon-funded wall projects — one spanning 46 miles (74 kilometers) in New Mexico and another covering 5 miles (8 kilometers) in Yuma, Arizona,” the Associated Press reported Friday.
What the judge wrote: "The position that when Congress declines the Executive's request to appropriate funds, the Executive nonetheless may simply find a way to spend those funds 'without Congress' does not square with fundamental separation of powers principles dating back to the earliest days of our Republic.”
Trump noticed the next day and took to Twitter to call it “a ruling against Border Security and in favor of crime, drugs and human trafficking.” He also said the White House would pursue an “expedited appeal.”
Next up is a “a case management conference [set] for June 5,” NBC reported. More here.
White House intensifies attack on climate science. The NYT rolls up the various public ways the Trump administration is undermining the U.S. public’s ability to understand and react to our heating world. Some of the changes include changing the methodology of the National Climate Assessment, "an interagency task force [which has produced a climate report] roughly every four years since 2000."
What’s out: “worst-case scenario projections” from the NCA and any other federal assessments.
What’s in: “A new climate review panel…led by a 79-year-old physicist who had a respected career at Princeton but has become better known in recent years for attacking the science of man-made climate change and for defending the virtues of carbon dioxide — sometimes to an awkward degree.”
Said that physicist, William Happer, five years ago: “The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.”
Where all this comes from: “The push to alter the results of at least some climate science reports, several officials said, came after November’s release of the second volume of the National Climate Assessment.” Find that assessment, here. Read the rest at the Times, here.
Or review our look into how climate change will affect the U.S. military in the months and years ahead, here.
FWIW: the UN will convene a climate-crisis summit in September. Not that anyone expects this to change the Trump administration’s position on the matter.
And lastly today: Goddamn steam, redux. Bloomberg’s Jennifer Epstein, reporting from USS Wasp: “President Trump says that with the next aircraft carrier order, he's going to require steam catapults not electric, which have had cost and time overruns. He also surveyed sailors on whether they prefer steam or electric...By surveyed, I mean he had them yell for which one they prefer.”
Background: This 2017 Time interview, in which Trump recounts a conversation with Navy officers: “I said what system are you going to be–‘Sir, we’re staying with digital.’ I said, ‘No, you’re not. You going to goddamned steam, the digital costs hundreds of millions of dollars more money and it’s no good.’”