Politico reports: President Donald Trump relishes the comforts of his Mar-a-Lago estate for repeated weekends away from Washington, but former Secret Service and intelligence officials say the resort is a security nightmare vulnerable to both casual and professional spies.
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.
“The president is the biggest, richest intelligence target in the world, and there is almost no limit to the energy and money an adversary will spend to get at him,” said David Kris, a former Obama-era assistant attorney general for national security.
Former Secret Service agents said the setup at Mar-a-Lago and the president’s other regular clubs presents challenges that their agency wasn’t built to deal with. The Service’s main job is to protect the president from physical threats and monitoring for wiretaps and other listening devices — but not from the kinds of counterespionage challenges presented by the president’s choice to eat, sleep and work at a club accessible to anyone who can get a member to invite them in. [Continue reading…]
Politico reports: Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the president’s new national security adviser, knows a thing or two about standing up to the commander in chief and his political confidantes — and the potentially disastrous consequences when you don’t.
He literally wrote the book on it.
The military’s leading warrior-intellectual drew key lessons about the workings of the National Security Council from his exhaustive history of White House deliberations during the Vietnam War.
They could come in handy as he takes the reins following the ignominious departure of President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, and joins a White House similarly grappling with deep divisions in the country, public protests and open partisan warfare over Trump’s most controversial policies, from immigration to Russia.
The debacle that was Vietnam inflicted “one of the greatest political traumas” on the United States since the American Civil War, McMaster wrote in “Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam,” which was published in 1997 after he earned his doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“It led Americans to question the integrity of their government.”
Even a quarter century after it ended, in his view, the shadow of the war — the 58,000 American lives lost , the billions of dollars spent, the social upheaval it caused — hung over American foreign and military policy and the nation itself. [Continue reading…]
— Enrique Acevedo (@Enrique_Acevedo) February 13, 2017
CNN reports: The iceberg wedge salads, dripping with blue cheese dressing, had just been served on the terrace of Mar-a-Lago Saturday when the call to President Donald Trump came in: North Korea had launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile, its first challenge to international rules since Trump was sworn in three weeks ago.
The launch, which wasn’t expected, presented Trump with one of the first breaking national security incidents of his presidency. It also noisily disrupted what was meant to be an easygoing weekend of high-level male bonding with the more sobering aspects of global diplomacy.
Sitting alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with whom he’d spent most of the day golfing, Trump took the call on a mobile phone at his table, which was set squarely in the middle of the private club’s dining area.
As Mar-a-Lago’s wealthy members looked on from their tables, and with a keyboard player crooning in the background, Trump and Abe’s evening meal quickly morphed into a strategy session, the decision-making on full view to fellow diners, who described it in detail to CNN.
Swanning through the club’s living room and main dining area alongside Abe, Trump was — as is now typical — swarmed with paying members, who now view dinner at the club as an opportunity for a few seconds of face time with the new President.
But as he sat down for the planned working dinner with Abe, whose country is well within range of North Korea’s missiles, it was clear his counterpart felt it necessary to respond to the test. The launch occurred just before 8 a.m. on Sunday morning in Japan.
Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and chief strategist Steve Bannon left their seats to huddle closer to Trump as documents were produced and phone calls were placed to officials in Washington and Tokyo.
The patio was lit only with candles and moonlight, so aides used the camera lights on their phones to help the stone-faced Trump and Abe read through the documents. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: The whirlwind first week of Donald J. Trump’s presidency had all the bravura hallmarks of a Stephen K. Bannon production.
It started with the doom-hued inauguration homily to “American carnage” in United States cities co-written by Mr. Bannon, followed a few days later by his “shut up” message to the news media. The week culminated with a blizzard of executive orders, mostly hatched by Mr. Bannon’s team and the White House policy adviser, Stephen Miller, aimed at disorienting the “enemy,” fulfilling campaign promises and distracting attention from Mr. Trump’s less than flawless debut.
But the defining moment for Mr. Bannon came Saturday night in the form of an executive order giving the rumpled right-wing agitator a full seat on the “principals committee” of the National Security Council — while downgrading the roles of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence, who will now attend only when the council is considering issues in their direct areas of responsibilities. It is a startling elevation of a political adviser, to a status alongside the secretaries of state and defense, and over the president’s top military and intelligence advisers.
In theory, the move put Mr. Bannon, a former Navy surface warfare officer, admiral’s aide, investment banker, Hollywood producer and Breitbart News firebrand, on the same level as his friend, Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser, a former Pentagon intelligence chief who was Mr. Trump’s top adviser on national security issues before a series of missteps reduced his influence.
But in terms of real influence, Mr. Bannon looms above almost everyone except the president’s son-in-law, Jared D. Kushner, in the Trumpian pecking order, according to interviews with two dozen Trump insiders and current and former national security officials. The move involving Mr. Bannon, as well as the boost in status to the White House homeland security adviser, Thomas P. Bossert, and Mr. Trump’s relationships with cabinet appointees like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have essentially layered over Mr. Flynn.
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said Mr. Bannon — whose Breitbart website was a magnet for white nationalists, antiglobalists and conspiracy theorists — always planned to participate in national security. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: President Donald Trump granted controversial adviser Steve Bannon a regular seat at meetings of the National Security Council on Saturday, in a presidential memorandum that brought the former Breitbart publisher into some of the most sensitive meetings at the highest levels of government.
The president named Bannon to the council in a reorganization of the NSC. He also said his chief-of-staff Reince Priebus would have a seat in the meetings.
Trump also said the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and the director of national intelligence, two of the most senior defense chiefs, will attend meetings only when discussions are related to their “responsibilities and expertise”. Barack Obama and George W Bush both gave the men in those roles regular seats on the council.
In an interview with the New York Times this week, Bannon called the press “the opposition party” and said it should “keep its mouth shut”. He has previously described himself as “a Leninist” and an “economic nationalist”.
Before he caught the ear of Trump while the businessman was a candidate, Bannon oversaw Breitbart news, a website that has featured racist and sexist articles. Like Trump, he entered government with no experience in public service. [Continue reading…]
50 GOP national security officials warn Trump ‘would be the most reckless president in American history’
The New York Times reports: Fifty of the nation’s most senior Republican national security officials, many of them former top aides or cabinet members for President George W. Bush, have signed a letter declaring that Donald J. Trump “lacks the character, values and experience” to be president and “would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.”
Mr. Trump, the officials warn, “would be the most reckless president in American history.”
The letter says Mr. Trump would weaken the United States’ moral authority and questions his knowledge of and belief in the Constitution. It says he has “demonstrated repeatedly that he has little understanding” of the nation’s “vital national interests, its complex diplomatic challenges, its indispensable alliances and the democratic values” on which American policy should be based. And it laments that “Mr. Trump has shown no interest in educating himself.”
“None of us will vote for Donald Trump,” the letter states, though it notes later that many Americans “have doubts about Hillary Clinton, as do many of us.”
Among the most prominent signatories are Michael V. Hayden, a former director of both the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency; John D. Negroponte, who served as the first director of national intelligence and then deputy secretary of state; and Robert B. Zoellick, another former deputy secretary of state, United States trade representive and, until 2012, president of the World Bank. Two former secretaries of homeland security, Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, also signed, as did Eric S. Edelman, who served as Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security adviser and as a top aide to Robert M. Gates when he was secretary of defense. [Continue reading…]
Michael Morell writes: During a 33-year career at the Central Intelligence Agency, I served presidents of both parties — three Republicans and three Democrats. I was at President George W. Bush’s side when we were attacked on Sept. 11; as deputy director of the agency, I was with President Obama when we killed Osama bin Laden in 2011.
I am neither a registered Democrat nor a registered Republican. In my 40 years of voting, I have pulled the lever for candidates of both parties. As a government official, I have always been silent about my preference for president.
No longer. On Nov. 8, I will vote for Hillary Clinton. Between now and then, I will do everything I can to ensure that she is elected as our 45th president.
Two strongly held beliefs have brought me to this decision. First, Mrs. Clinton is highly qualified to be commander in chief. I trust she will deliver on the most important duty of a president — keeping our nation safe. Second, Donald J. Trump is not only unqualified for the job, but he may well pose a threat to our national security.
I spent four years working with Mrs. Clinton when she was secretary of state, most often in the White House Situation Room. In these critically important meetings, I found her to be prepared, detail-oriented, thoughtful, inquisitive and willing to change her mind if presented with a compelling argument. [Continue reading…]
David Cole writes: So it has come to this. In yesterday’s New York Times, David Rieff, a human rights skeptic, argued that in light of continuing terrorism across the world, Western democracies have only two choices: “either the wall Mr. Trump wants to build and the mass deportations that many right-wing European politicians have begun calling for, or a vast expansion of the national security apparatus.” The latter, he continued, “would require serious increases both in budgets and personnel and in the methods at their disposal.” It would also require sacrificing “a certain amount of our humanity,” although he did not specify which aspects of “our humanity” he would sacrifice. Absent such a “vast expansion,” Rieff maintains, the people will opt for the draconian approaches pressed by Trump and other right-wing demagogues. We must give the security forces more power if we are to deny Donald Trump power. There are no other options.
This is a remarkably dangerous argument. It comes on the heels of the Republican convention, in which Trump did all he could to fan the flames of fear, and immediately before the Democratic convention, in which Hillary Clinton will set forth her national security vision. Rieff is right that Trump’s fear-mongering cannot simply be ignored or dismissed. It demands a response. But Rieff’s solution – an unspecified but “vast” expansion of the national security state – is no different from Donald Trump’s wall. It is, on the one hand, a dramatic piece of theater, designed to make the masses think that the government is doing something. And at the same time, it is patently ill-conceived, and fails for the same reasons the wall would fail – it favors simple dramatic “solutions” over measures that address the full complexity of the issue. And most disturbingly, it concedes rather than challenges the fear-mongering, thus playing on Trump’s turf. [Continue reading…]
Juliette Kayyem writes: Admit it. After the terrorist attacks in Brussels this past week, after the brief reflection for those lost or wounded and the sense of “oh, no, not again” passed, other thoughts quickly followed. My own selfish but natural worry, as a mother of three: Should we cancel that trip to Europe this summer?
In the nearly 15 years since 9/11, the questions I’ve fielded from family and friends have varied but never ceased: Should I buy a gun? (Only with training and safety measures at home, and certainly not to combat Islamic terrorists.) Is Times Square safe on New Year’s Eve? (Like every crowd scene, you have to stay alert, but security is high at events like that.) Or my personal favorite, because it combines parental insecurities with disaster management: Is Tulane a good school so many years after Hurricane Katrina? (Yes; it had a few rough months, but your kid should still apply.)
All these queries about a world in mayhem boil down to: Is my family safe? The answer is both simple and liberating: No, not entirely. America was built vulnerable, and thank goodness for that. [Continue reading…]
Think of it as the true end of the beginning. Last week, Theodore “Dutch” Van Kirk, the final member of the 12-man crew of the Enola Gay, the plane (named after its pilot’s supportive mother) that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, died at age 93. When that first A-bomb left its bomb bay at 8:15 on the morning of August 6, 1945, and began its descent toward its target, the Aioli (“Live Together”) Bridge, it was inscribed with a series of American messages, some obscene, including “Greetings to the Emperor from the men of the Indianapolis.” (That ship had delivered to the Pacific island of Tinian parts of the very bomb that would turn Hiroshima into an inferno of smoke and fire — “that awful cloud,” Paul Tibbetts, Jr., the Enola Gay’s pilot, would call it — and afterward was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine with the loss of hundreds of sailors.)
The bomb, dubbed Little Boy, that had gestated in the belly of the Enola Gay represented not only the near endpoint of a bitter global war of almost unimaginable destruction, but the birthing of something new. The way for its use had been paved by an evolution in warfare: the increasing targeting of civilian populations from the air (something that can be seen again today in the carnage of Gaza). The history of that grim development extends from German airship bombings of London (1915) by way of Guernica (1937), Shanghai (1937), and Coventry (1940), to the fire bombings of Dresden (1945) and Tokyo (1945) in the last year of World War II. It even had an evolutionary history in the human imagination, where for decades writers (among others) had dreamed of the unparalleled release of previously unknown forms of energy for military purposes.
On August 7, 1945, a previous age was ending and a new one was dawning. In the nuclear era, city-busting weapons would be a dime a dozen and would spread from the superpowers to many other countries, including Great Britain, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel. Targeted by the planet’s major nuclear arsenals would be the civilian inhabitants not just of single cities but of scores and scores of cities, even of the planet itself. On August 6th, 70 years ago, the possibility of the apocalypse passed out of the hands of God or the gods and into human hands, which meant a new kind of history had begun whose endpoint is unknowable, though we do know that even a “modest” exchange of nuclear weapons between India and Pakistan would not only devastate South Asia, but thanks to the phenomenon of nuclear winter also cause widespread famine on a planetary scale.
In other words, 70 years later, the apocalypse is us. Yet in the United States, the only nuclear bomb you’re likely to read about is Iran’s (even though that country possesses no such weapon). For a serious discussion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, those more than 4,800 increasingly ill-kept weapons that could incinerate several Earth-sized planets, you need to look not to the country’s major newspapers or news programs but to comic John Oliver — or TomDispatch regular Noam Chomsky. Tom Engelhardt
How many minutes to midnight?
Hiroshima Day 2014
By Noam Chomsky
If some extraterrestrial species were compiling a history of Homo sapiens, they might well break their calendar into two eras: BNW (before nuclear weapons) and NWE (the nuclear weapons era). The latter era, of course, opened on August 6, 1945, the first day of the countdown to what may be the inglorious end of this strange species, which attained the intelligence to discover the effective means to destroy itself, but — so the evidence suggests — not the moral and intellectual capacity to control its worst instincts.
Day one of the NWE was marked by the “success” of Little Boy, a simple atomic bomb. On day four, Nagasaki experienced the technological triumph of Fat Man, a more sophisticated design. Five days later came what the official Air Force history calls the “grand finale,” a 1,000-plane raid — no mean logistical achievement — attacking Japan’s cities and killing many thousands of people, with leaflets falling among the bombs reading “Japan has surrendered.” Truman announced that surrender before the last B-29 returned to its base.
Those were the auspicious opening days of the NWE. As we now enter its 70th year, we should be contemplating with wonder that we have survived. We can only guess how many years remain.
The Washington Post reports: Americans increasingly believe that former federal contractor Edward Snowden’s exposure of U.S. surveillance programs damaged national security, even as the programs have sparked widespread privacy concerns, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll has found.
Six in 10 Americans — 60 percent — say Snowden’s actions harmed U.S. security, increasing 11 percentage points from July after a cascade of news reports based on his disclosures detailed the National Security Agency’s expansive web of telephone and Internet surveillance efforts. Clear majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents believe disclosures have harmed national security.
The New York Times reports: Last week, a Bangladeshi student was charged in an F.B.I. sting operation with plotting to blow up the Federal Reserve Bank in New York. A Somali-American man was convicted of sending young recruits from Minneapolis to a terrorist group in Somalia. In Libya, extremists responsible for the killing of four Americans last month in Benghazi remained at large.
The drumbeat of terrorism news never quite stops. And as a result, for 11 years since the Sept. 11 attacks, the security colossus constructed to protect the nation from Al Qaeda and its ilk has continued to grow, propelled by public anxiety, stunning advances in surveillance technology and lavish spending — about $690 billion over a decade, by one estimate, not including the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now that may be changing. The looming federal budget crunch, a sense that major attacks on the United States are unlikely and new bipartisan criticism of the sprawling counterterrorism bureaucracy may mean that the open checkbook era is nearing an end.
While the presidential candidates have clashed over security for American diplomats in Libya, their campaigns have barely mentioned domestic security. That is for a reason: fewer than one-half of 1 percent of Americans, in a Gallup poll in September, said that terrorism was the country’s most important problem.
But the next administration may face a decision: Has the time come to scale back security spending, eliminating the least productive programs? Or, with tumult in the Arab world and America still a prime target, would that be dangerous?
Many security experts believe that a retrenchment is inevitable and justified. [Continue reading…]
Reading Anders Behring Breivik’s account of his preparations for his July 22 attacks in Oslo and Utøya evokes a certain dread at the sight of such a deliberate effort to cause carnage. Breivik expresses no doubt about what he is doing other than the fear that he might run out of funds and be unable to rent the car in which he intends to load explosives.
Mass murder, committed with such cold calculation surely merits the harshest punishment. Many Americans are thus now perplexed to learn about the apparent leniency of Norway’s penal system. Eli Lake’s views, as expressed in conversation with Hans-Inge Lango, will be shared by many.
But if Norway’s approach to crime is really sending the wrong message, just look at the numbers: an incarceration rate of 71 per 100,000 Norwegians versus 743 per 100,000 Americans; and while in Norway 80% of prisoners once released never return to jail, in the US almost 70% end up back behind bars.
Americans should not be asking whether Norway is capable of being tough enough with terrorists, but instead why a country that spends more on its security than any other also imprisons more of its own citizens than any other. (And for any of the xenophobes out there who might want to attribute America’s high incarceration rate to the high number of immigrants in this country, Germany has a similar proportion of immigrants and an incarceration rate of 85 per 100,000.)