National Security

Trump’s Secret Plan to Defeat ISIS Looks Like Obama’s

“Donald Trump promised during the campaign to implement a ‘secret plan’ to defeat ISIS, including a pledge to ‘bomb the hell out of’ the terror group in Iraq and Syria.”

“Now, the Pentagon has given him a secret plan, but it turns out to be a little more than an ‘intensification’ of the same slow and steady approach that Trump derided under the Obama administration,” two senior officials who have reviewed the document told NBC News.

No, Microwave Ovens Can’t Spy on You

Wired: “It’s true that lots of things can be turned into listening devices. It’s also true that attackers can compromise internet-connected gadgets. And yes, the WikiLeaks data outlines various (alleged) CIA methods of compromising cellphones and Samsung TVs to surveil targets.”

“Kellyanne Conway isn’t even the only one who associates microwave ovens with government spying. ‘Is the CIA listening to me through my microwave oven, and through my TV, and through my cell phone,’ asked late-night host Stephen Colbert of former CIA and NSA head Michael Hayden last week. (The answer was ‘no,’ at least if you’re an American citizen.)”

“Still, it must be said: Microwave ovens are not an effective spy tool.”

Trump Gave CIA Power to Launch Drone Strikes

President Trump “has given the Central Intelligence Agency secret new authority to conduct drone strikes against suspected terrorists, changing the Obama administration’s policy of limiting the spy agency’s paramilitary role and reopening a turf war between the agency and the Pentagon,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The new authority, which hadn’t been previously disclosed, represents a significant departure from a cooperative approach that had become standard practice by the end of former President Obama’s tenure: The CIA used drones and other intelligence resources to locate suspected terrorists and then the military conducted the actual strike.”

Mar-a-Lago Is an Espionage Risk

Politico: “While Trump’s private club in South Florida has been transformed into a fortress of armed guards, military-grade radar, bomb sniffing dogs and metal-detection checkpoints, there are still notable vulnerabilities, namely the stream of guests who can enter the property without a background check.”

“And security experts warn that the commander in chief’s frequent visits — four since he took office in January — afford an unprecedented opportunity for eavesdropping and building dossiers on the president’s routines and habits, as well as those of the inner circle around him. They add that with each repeat visit, the security risk escalates.”

CIA Scrambles to Contain Damage from Leak

“The C.I.A. scrambled on Wednesday to assess and contain the damage from the release by WikiLeaks of thousands of documents that cataloged the agency’s cyberspying capabilities, temporarily halting work on some projects while the F.B.I. turned to finding who was responsible for the leak,” the New York Times reports.

“Investigators say that the leak was the work not of a hostile foreign power like Russia but of a disaffected insider… The F.B.I. was preparing to interview anyone who had access to the information, a group likely to include at least a few hundred people, and possibly more than a thousand.”

WikiLeaks Now Targets the CIA

WikiLeaks has releaseded a new series of leaks from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency code-named “Vault 7.”

New York Times: “If the documents are authentic, as appeared likely at first review, the release would be the latest coup for the anti-secrecy organization and a serious blow to the C.I.A., which maintains its own hacking capabilities to be used for espionage.”

“Among other disclosures that, if confirmed, will rock the tech world, the WikiLeaks release said that the C.I.A. and allied intelligence services had managed to bypass encryption on popular phone and messaging services such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram. According to the statement from WikiLeaks, government hackers can penetrate Android phones and collect “audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.'”

The Travel Ban Will Look Very Different

Rick Klein and Shushannah Walshe: “Another week is slipping by without a revised travel ban – the same travel ban that, when delayed, the president claimed was critical for immediate national security. If and when that new order comes, it’s already looking significantly different – although the Trump White House is not and will not be admitting that.”

“For starters, one of the seven countries – Iraq – is coming off the list entirely, according to U.S. officials, apparently at the behest of several Cabinet secretaries who identified how problematic that stance is for relations with a close ally where there are military urgencies. And the idea that it may exempt all current visas holders from all of the countries listed is a major reversal. What started as a Muslim ban could end up being tighter restrictions on those coming from six predominantly Muslim countries, with current visa holders unaffected. Will the White House acknowledge initial errors in policy, or in judgment?”

White House Pushes Back on Mattis Appointment

“Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis wants to tap the former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, as his undersecretary of defense for policy, but the Pentagon chief is running into resistance from White House officials,” Politico reports.

“The skirmish surrounding Patterson’s nomination is the latest in a series of personnel battles that have played out between Mattis and the White House, with each side rejecting the names offered up by the other while the Pentagon remains empty.”

10 Officials Confirm No Intelligence from Yemen Raid

“The Pentagon says Navy SEALs scooped up laptops, hard drives and cell phones in last month’s Yemen raid, but multiple U.S. officials told NBC News that none of the intelligence gleaned from the operation so far has proven actionable or vital — contrary to what President Trump said in his speech to Congress Tuesday.”

“Ten current U.S. officials across the government who have been briefed on the details of the raid told NBC News that so far, no truly significant intelligence has emerged from the haul. The Associated Press quoted a senior U.S. official as describing a three-page list of information gathered from the compound, including information on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s training techniques and targeting priorities. Pentagon officials confirmed that to NBC News, but other U.S. officials said the information on that list was neither actionable nor vital. One senior Pentagon official described the information gathered as ‘de minimis,’ and as material the U.S. already knew about.”

For members: An Amazing Moment of Political Theater

White House Explores Options on North Korea Threat

“An internal White House review of strategy on North Korea includes the possibility of military force or regime change to blunt the country’s nuclear-weapons threat, people familiar with the process said, a prospect that has some U.S. allies in the region on edge,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“While President Donald Trump has taken steps to reassure allies that he won’t abandon agreements that have underpinned decades of U.S. policy on Asia, his pledge that Pyongyang would be stopped from ever testing an intercontinental ballistic missile—coupled with the two-week-old strategy review—has some leaders bracing for a shift in American policy.”

FBI Planned to Pay Spy Who Wrote Trump Dossier

“The former British spy who authored a controversial dossier on behalf of Donald Trump’s political opponents alleging ties between Trump and Russia reached an agreement with the FBI a few weeks before the election for the bureau to pay him to continue his work,” the Washington Post reports.

“While Trump has derided the dossier as ‘fake news’ compiled by his political opponents, the FBI’s arrangement with Steele shows that bureau investigators considered him credible and found his line of inquiry to be worthy of pursuit.”

Yemen Raid Provided No Intelligence

“Last month’s deadly commando raid in Yemen, which cost the lives of a U.S. Navy SEAL and a number of children, has so far yielded no significant intelligence,” U.S. officials told NBC News.

“A senior Congressional official briefed on the matter said the Trump administration has yet to explain what prompted the rare use of American ground troops in Yemen, but he said he was not aware of any new threat from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the al Qaeda affiliate that was targeted.”