Latest in National Security NewsGet up-to-date national security news from our reporters
Democrats peppered Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with barbed questions about the assassination of Soleimani and the coronavirus.read more
Experts say that Trump should be tougher on Kim Jong Un to reduce his nuclear program and stop his human rights abuses.read more
The Trump administration should act to help at least four Americans detained in Egyptian prisons under dire conditions.read more
President Donald Trump said he will start withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan if the Taliban upholds their promise to reduce violence over a seven-day test period.read more
WASHINGTON — National security will likely be an important issue for Democrats during the 2020 presidential election cycle, Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Wednesday at a panel discussion on foreign policy.
“We just went through an impeachment crisis that was all about foreign policy,” Murphy said. “This is not a domestic policy impeachment trial. This was about a president trying to use the foreign policy of the nation to gain political personal benefit.”
The senator, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, gave a keynote address before The Century Foundation’s panel discussion on progressive U.S. policies in the Middle East during the post-Trump era. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., — who has partnered with Murphy on legislation that seeks to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen — also addressed the audience.
It seems, Murphy added, that President Donald Trump stumbles into a near disaster “somewhere around the world” almost every month. Because of this incoherent approach, Murphy said the country could foreseeably be in the middle of another crisis when fall comes.
Because of that possibility, Murphy said the Democratic Party should be ready to campaign “in whole or in part” on national security matters.
Murphy said while pundits suggest an election cycle focused on national security will benefit Republican candidates, that doesn’t have to be the case. The senator argued that a progressive foreign policy is an “internationalist-looking” foreign policy.
Some progressives, Murphy said, argue that U.S. involvement in foreign entanglements distracts from economic priorities at home. Others, he said, suggest it is “old-fashioned, imperialistic American hubris” to believe the U.S. can solve any global conflicts.
But Murphy argued there is no domestic priority that does not involve foreign policy. The failure to contest foreign nations attacking American democracy leaves the nation vulnerable to more attacks, Murphy added. Combating climate change and protecting American’s wages require a global presence, he said.
In June 2017, Trump announced the U.S. would stop participating in the Paris climate agreement. Nearly 200 countries — including the U.S. — signed the agreement in 2015, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Murphy said re-entering the agreement would be the easy part.
“The hard part is then building an international consensus to actually get countries to meet those goals,” Murphy said. “That involves an America that is everywhere, in order to protect our environmental interests.”
Dina Esfandiary, a fellow at The Century Foundation, echoed concerns about the Trump administration’s broken agreements with foreign countries. In May 2018 Trump broke from the Iran nuclear deal. Under the Obama-era agreement, reached by seven countries, Iran agreed to limit sensitive nuclear activities and permit inspections in return for lifted economic sanctions.
Esfandiary, an international security program research fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, said Iranian leadership might be less willing to engage diplomatically with a Democratic administration because they know a Republican administration might undo any progress made.
Khanna — who represents California’s 17th District, the heart of Silicon Valley — also criticized the U.S. relationship with Iran. He said the U.S. has been “bogged down” in over 40 conflicts since 1979, the last year China went to war. During that period, he said China invested in infrastructure, higher education, high-speed internet and clean energy. Meanwhile, Khanna said the U.S. has been obsessed with the threat posed by Iran, a country that only makes up .44% of the gross domestic product.
“Future historians, I guess the first question they’ll ask is, ‘What were we thinking?’” Khanna said. “‘What were we thinking, the world’s greatest superpower, in a 21st century that’s going to be defined by the rise of China and the rise of India and possibly the European Union, worrying about a country that was .44 percent of GDP?’”
WASHINGTON — The USS Fitzgerald returns to sea this week after its 2017 collision with a tanker off the coast of Japan in which seven service members were killed.
On Wednesday, Navy Vice Admiral Richard A. Brown and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Steven R. Rudder told a joint hearing by two House Armed Services subcommittees that the Navy is making progress in preventing future mishaps.
Rep. Joe Courtney, chairman of the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, emphasized the need for “systemic” changes in order to avoid future mishaps.
Courtney’s subcommittee and the Subcommittee on Readiness were reviewing three incidents involving U.S. forces in the Pacific: the Fitzgerald incident; a collision between the USS John McCain and a merchant ship that killed seven; and a collision of a fighter plane and a tanker plane that killed six Marines.
Reports commissioned after the accidents demonstrated flaws throughout the military units involved in the accidents.
The incidents were particularly troubling because they happened “in one of the most active spheres of the world,” Courtney said.
Many of the subcommittee members, including Reps. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., and Austin Scott, R-Ga., pressed Rudder on the December 2018 fighter jet collision. A Marine F/A 18D Hornet collided with a tanker when the two were attempting a midair refueling at night. Rudder said that the pilot of the jet was “qualified” to attempt the maneuver but not necessarily “proficient.”
There was a glitch in the computer system that said the pilot had completed the necessary trainings to attempt a nighttime refueling: that glitch proved to be fatal.
Regarding the Fitzgerald and McCain accidents, committee members were concerned that shortcomings in navigational training and a lack of oversight from senior officers created the underlying conditions for tragedies.
Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, asked Brown what the Navy had changed since the accidents.
“We put risk management at the right level now,” Brown said.
Brown and Rudder reported that their forces were making progress under the oversight of the House subcommittees. They said they were placing renewed emphasis on training and preparation for service members to ensure that U.S. forces are ready for action. The Marines and the Navy are standardizing benchmarks for readiness within their branches and changing procedures for amending training when necessary, the officers said.
“We’re not there yet,” Lt. Gen. Rudder said. “We’re not satisfied by any means.”
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump emphasized U.S. foreign relations in Latin America and the Middle East on Tuesday in his State of the Union speech, but failed to mention any concerns about Russia and North Korea.
“In general, it’s been a pretty light speech on foreign policy, which I mean, is to be expected of the State of the Union,” said Eric Gomez, a policy analyst for defense and foreign policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. “But still, compared to previous years’ speeches, what he chose to focus on was surprising.”
Trump devoted considerable time to Venezuela. The president said he “is leading a 59-nation diplomatic coalition against the socialist dictator of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro.” Trump called Maduro an “illegitimate ruler, a tyrant who brutalizes people.”
Maduro’s main political rival, Juan Guaidó, was a surprise guest in first lady Melania Trump’s box during Trump’s address. The Venezuelan National Assembly declared Guaido the acting president last year. Trump also supported Guaidó during last year’s State of the Union address when he officially recognized him as Venezuela’s interim president.
For the past two weeks, Guaidó has been on an international tour rallying support of world leaders in his fight against Maduro’s regime, and his presence at the State of the Union marked one of his last engagements before returning to Venezuela.While the president’s speech focused on Latin America’s undemocratic regimes in Venezuela and Cuba, there were no remarks about U.S. tensions with North Korea and Russia, perhaps because there was no progress in negotiations with the two countries, said Gomez.
“I do wonder if Latin America is going to become a bigger focus [of U.S. foreign policy] now,”said Gomez.
Trump also addressed tensions with Iran and Afghanistan and said he is “working to end America’s wars in the Middle East.” The president criticized the war in Afghanistan, saying that he does not want more innocent Afghans to die and that the U.S. should not “serve other nations as a law enforcement agency.”
“These are warfighters, the best in the world, and they either want to fight to win or not fight at all,” said Trump. “We are working to finally end America’s longest war and bring our troops back home!”
To critics, Trump’s policies in the Middle East have been inconsistent. While the president says he wants to end wars in the region, some of his actions, such as ordering the killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani, have escalated tensions with Iran and increased the likelihood of war.
“Iran’s going to continue with its own pressure campaign to force the U.S. to lift the new sanctions that Trump has put on,” said Gomez. “I think they’re going to further inch towards a nuclear weapons capability.”
Trump defended his actions against Iran during his State of the Union address, calling Soleimani “a monster who murdered or wounded thousands of American service members in Iraq.”Trump has mentioned Iran in all of his State of the Union addresses, calling the foreign entity the “leading state sponsor of terror” during last year’s speech.
The president also had as a guest Kelli Hake and her son ,Gage. Hake’s husband, Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Hake, was killed during an Iranian airstrike in Iraq ordered by Soleimani.
The House Subcommittee on National Security Tuesday probed the Trump Administration’s actions in Afghanistan, where the United States is currently engaged in its longest-ever conflict.
“Obviously we have not succeeded in keeping the bad guys out,” said John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
A plane crashed in Afghanistan earlier this week, serving as a reminder that the country remains an active military zone after 18 years.
“Unfortunately… the situation in Afghanistan has continued to deteriorate and today is at best a stalemate,” said Chairman Stephen Lynch, R-Mass.
The Department of State and Department of Defense declined invitations to testify before the committee today, according to Lynch.
WASHINGTON— The Doomsday Clock was reset to 100 seconds before midnight, the closest the clock has inched to midnight and a signal of “a very dangerous world,” officials of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said on Thursday.
The world’s proximity to Doomsday moved 20 seconds closer because of the persistence of “abnormal” actions and issues, such as the inability of the public to discern true and false information, Robert Rosner, a member of the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board, said after unveiling the new clock’s new setting.
In 2002, the clock was set at seven minutes to midnight.
“What we have called the ‘new abnormal’ this last year, a dismal state of affairs in the realms of nuclear security and climate change, now has become an apparently enduring, disturbing reality, which things are not getting better,” he said. “We have indeed normalized a very dangerous world.”
With midnight on the clock representing the end of human civilization, members of the Bulletin have monitored threats across the globe since 1947 — with an initial focus on nuclear proliferation after World War II.
But since the clock was created, other issues have gained the attention of the Bulletin, including increasingly rapid climate change and disinformation campaigns around the world.
Political figures from across the world also attended the unveiling to urge the public, governments and news media to take action to combat the numerous threats that led to the clocks move forward. Brown cautioned that the world is “not there yet,” but it will take serious efforts to move the clock backward.
“The world is not over,” Brown said. “We have an incredible opportunity to reverse the nuclear arms race, the carbon emissions and the headlong run to ever more dangerous technology.”
Former Irish President Mary Robinson said people should to think of future generations.
Robinson, in a light-hearted moment at the more somber event, said she felt a “strong personal reaction, the reaction of an angry granny,” after she heard the news of the clock’s move forward. She said the factors that led to that decision were “unacceptable.”
With the 75th anniversary of the United Nations this year, Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on themes of multilateralism and diplomacy to help solve issues regarding climate change and nuclear threats, urging the United States to take a leadership role in the effort.
“I am deeply concerned by the fact that multilateralism is now on the serious attack,” Ki-moon said. “This is an opportunity for world leaders and citizens to renew this commitment to multilateralism.”
Brown urged people to understand the weight of the problems that moved the Doomsday Clock forward and speak out about the major issues facing the planet.
“Talking about what we are talking about today is profoundly deviant to our contemporary culture,” Brown said. “We are not supposed to be here. We are not supposed to utter the truth about the power of mankind to destroy itself, so this is a very important moment.”
WASHINGTON — Military suicide rates have reached record highs in recent years, a problem that President Donald Trump’s nominee for under secretary of the Army said Thursday reducing the number of suicides would be one of his top priorities.
At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, James E. McPherson, general counsel of the Army, said the military has created many programs to reduce suicides, but more must be done.
“As the general counsel, I see every report of a soldier who takes his or her own life,” McPherson said. “Although we have numerous programs to address this problem, we must do more.”
McPherson, who has been the acting under secretary of the Army since July, was nominated for the permanent position in December.
Department of Defense officials said in September that 2018 was the year with the most suicides among active-duty U.S. military members since the statistic started being tracked in 2001, with 325 active military personnel taking their lives.
Sen. Angus King, an Independent from Maine, said the programs currently in place to prevent suicide “do not appear to be working,” noting the irony of people putting their lives on the line for their country and then taking their own lives.
“I would hope that you look at all the programs, all the facts, all the data,” King said. “This is a scourge on our military and it’s a tragedy for these individuals and their families.”
WASHINGTON – The United States has spent $900 billion on the war in Afghanistan, $132 billion for reconstruction of the Afghan government, but much of the reconstruction money was wasted, stolen or failed to address the problems it was meant to fix, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction told a House committee Wednesday.
“The problem is there is a disincentive to tell the truth” by the military leaders, civilian leaders and Afghans, said SIGAR John F. Sopko.
Sopko outlined for the House Foreign Affairs Committee his report making recommendations to Congress and agencies on ways to improve efforts in current and future reconstruction operations.
“We need a better understanding of historical, social and legal conditions of the host nation,” Sopko said.
The inspector general also said an actionable plan for what happens directly after a declaration of peace is crucial.
U.S. troops have been stationed in Afghanistan for 19 years, the longest war in the history of the United States.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said that although U.S. troops have supported democracy and human rights in Afghanistan, countered the drug trade, promoted economic growth, and fought corruption, they have yet to successfully stabilize the Afghan government so that it could resist being overthrown or further influenced by Taliban forces.
McCaul argued the “lack of coordination, the misuse of funds and insufficient training for Afghans” are the reasons for failure.
President George W. Bush sent troops to Afghanistan, where the Taliban allowed al-Qaida to operate, in response to the 9/11 attacks.
According to top military officials, the U.S. currently has about 13,000 troops in Afghanistan.
Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., attributed the long war to the “lack of honest conversation.”
Last month The Washington Post published “The Afghanistan Papers,” consisting of previously unpublished notes of interviews with those who had direct involvement in the war, such as war generals, diplomats and aid workers to Afghan officials.
“The Post article laid out the facts that we [Congressmen] don’t even know,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa.
Special Inspector General Sopko said one reason for Congress’ lack of information is overclassification of documents.
“A lot of the facts you need you’re not being given,” said Sopko. “Anything that has been bad news has been classified over the past few years.”
WASHINGTON – In the aftermath of last year’s increase in domestic extremist violence, government officials said Wednesday they need to work more closely with banks to find new ways to root out domestic terrorism.
A study conducted by the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism found that in 2018, “domestic extremists killed at least 50 people in the U.S., a sharp increase from the 37 extremist-related murders documented in 2017.”
Speaking before the House Committee on Financial Services, Rena Miller, a specialist in financial economics at the Congressional Research Service, said greater transparency between banks and governmental agencies can make it easier to track the finances of suspicious groups and individuals.
Banks are required to report suspicious activities and cash transactions. But Jared Maples, director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, said they often only report physical threats that directly involve hard drives and technology, ignoring less tangible financial threats that appear on wire transfers and on paper.
Maples said tighter guidelines on what banks must report would help. He also said that getting more information from local banks, complete with “clearer articulations” about the nature and effects of suspicious activities, could enhance the training and trust of financial safety teams across the nation.
Many acts of domestic terrorism are committed by what Maples characterized as “lone wolves,” individuals not associated with groups or networks who are usually self-funded, making purchases difficult to track. The cryptocurrencies they sometimes use complicate matters further.
Mary B. McCord, director at the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law, said Congress can better combat lone wolf attacks by reclassifying domestic terrorism as legally equivalent to foreign terrorism. This would provide more flexibility for law enforcement to surveil suspicious groups and allow for the use of specialized investigators.
“The investigators who have specialized in terrorism, particularly post-9/11, but throughout our history, are those that study terrorist groups, terrorist motivations, terrorist tactics and techniques,” McCord said.
Due to the lack of a law defining domestic terrorism, officers usually prosecute such incidents as hate crimes and illegal weapons charges. McCord said this results in “inaccurate and inadequate data about instances which could be used to develop measures to counter the threat.”
But several House committee members expressed concern about protecting the First Amendment rights of extremist groups. By classifying some extremists as domestic terrorists, law enforcement agencies could surveil them without cause.
George Selim, senior vice president of programs at the Anti-Defamation League, said that Congress should exercise oversight to make sure law enforcement agencies do not misuse any new authorities the bill would provide to go after extremist groups unjustly.
“The ADL believes very firmly in protecting the right of free speech of any person or any group in the U.S, irrespective of how abhorrent those beliefs can be,” Selim said. “But there is indeed a line which we have seen crossed in recent years where hate speech leads to hate violence and violent extremism.”
WASHINGTON — An Iranian cyberattack against the United States is a certainty and could possibly impact water supply systems or businesses, counterterrorism experts told the House Committee on Homeland Security Wednesday.
Iranian adversaries will likely attack through the weakest U.S. targets — American civilians who forget to practice basic security measures online like two-factor authentication, Atlantic Council senior fellow Tom Warrick said.
“Every American needs to realize they are a source of cyber vulnerability or a source of cyber strength,” said Warrick.
Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said the committee has $350 million dollars to allocate and is considering the most effective use of the funds.
Rep. John Katko, D-N.Y., highlighted the need for cybersecurity proficiency across the country and the vulnerability of smaller businesses, which likely cannot afford sophisticated cybersecurity.
He compared the hearing to discussions Congress had about terrorism before 9/11.
“We didn’t do enough before 9/11 to stop it from happening,” said Katko. “We now have this metastasizing problem of cybersecurity…it’s the greatest threat to our country right now.”
Vincent R. Stewart, special adviser to the Middle Eastern Media Research Institute, said the Iranian government has about 2,000 people organized from a strategic and tactical point. For Iran, the cost to enter cyberspace was surprisingly low, according to Stewart.
Stewart also said social media makes it easier for Iranians to play on the political divisions in America.
“I’m not afraid of Russians, Chinese, Iranians or anyone else in the world,” Stewart said. “I am afraid of the divide in our country.”
Warrick noted that Iran has historically followed “a peculiar sense of symmetry.” After the U.S. killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani earlier this month, for example, Iran launched missiles at two U.S. bases in retaliation. If U.S.-Iran tensions continue to escalate, the Iranian government could retaliate through a cyberattack.
Warrick said the American public needs to take cybersafety more seriously and suggested schools teach cybersafety.
Members of Congress call on the Trump administration to impose sanctions on Egyptian officials responsible for American’s death
WASHINGTON— Several Democratic and Republican members of Congress on Wednesday called on President Donald Trump to impose sanctions on those responsible for the death of Mustafa Kassem, an American citizen who died Monday in an Egyptian prison after being detained in 2013.
Rep. Jim Mc Govern, D-Mass., said that the current administration did not do enough to save Kassem’s life. Several members of Congress had called on Egypt directly to release Kassem.
“It is time for a debate on our foreign policy with Egypt,” said McGovern. “We cannot continue to provide massive military support to an authoritarian leader that imprisons American citizens and tens of thousands of its own citizens in trumped up charges.”
Egypt is the world’s second largest recipient of American military aid. In 2019, the U.S. provided Egypt with $1.4 billion in bilateral assistance, according to the Congressional Research Service.
An Egyptian-American, Kassem was on a home visit to Egypt when he was arrested during a military crackdown and faced more than five years in pretrial detention. The Egyptian government believed Kassem was linked to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s political opposition. After a mass trial, Kassem was eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison, but died earlier this week after going on hunger strike.
While in prison, Kassem sent letters to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence urging the administration to secure his release. It is unclear whether the president and vice president read his letters.
“These guards keep insulin from me and do not treat my basic medical needs. My body now shakes and has become frail and weak. I no longer recognize myself,” Kassem wrote in a letter to the president. “I don’t want my children to remember me this way, but I am going on a hunger strike because I am losing my will and don’t know how else to get your attention. President Trump, from one American to another, I need your help.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who organized Wednesday’s event and the other members of Congress criticized Trump for calling el-Sisi his “favorite dictator.”
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., acknowledged that the Trump administration rightfully sanctioned Iranian officials responsible for committing similar acts against American citizens in Iran, and urged Trump to act as forcefully toward Egyptian officials who are infringing on human rights.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., urged the administration to use laws that permit sanctions against foreign officials who infringe on human rights and that allow a president to cut aid to countries that don’t honor human rights to limit Egyptian aid.
“We need to take a harder line with the Egyptian government and Congress has given the president the tools to do that,” said Murphy.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who represented Kassem in Congress, said he sent letters to the Trump administration about Kassem’s imprisonment. Although he acknowledged the importance of maintaining a good relationship with Egypt to fight al-Qaida and ISIS, the New York representative also called on Trump to impose sanctions on individuals responsible for Kassem’s death.
“I don’t see this as being a partisan issue. To me, all Americans should be united behind this issue,” said King. “We cannot have American citizens, let alone innocent American citizens, being arrested overseas, held under the most inhumane conditions.”
Diane Foley, whose son James, a journalist, was abducted and killed in Syria by ISIS in 2014, said that the Obama and Trump administrations had leverage to release Kassem.
“This administration and the previous knew who Mustafa was,” said Foley. “They knew he was innocent and so this makes this an incredible tragedy because we could’ve done better and we must do better. So I call on the Trump administration to save the Americans that are still being held.”
On Tuesday, the Egyptian foreign minister was at the White House for a meeting.
WASHINGTON — At a hearing Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee probed the recent tensions in Iran.
Witnesses questioned whether the targeted strike was in response to an “imminent” threat, as President Trump has asserted.
Notably absent was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whom Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) said the Committee will further press for information regarding Maj. Gen. Soleimani’s death.
WASHINGTON—The House of Representatives passed legislation to limit President Donald Trump’s ability to go to war against Iran without congressional approval Thursday, but it still needs approval by the Republican-controlled Senate.
The measure, approved 224-194 on a largely party line vote, would prohibit using the military to engage in hostile actions in or against Iran, except with congressional approval or in case of an imminent attack against the US.It is a reaction to Trump’s decision to use a drone strike last Friday to kill Iranian Gen. Quasem Soleimani.
During a three-hour debate in the House chamber, Republicans and Democrats sparred over the killing of the Iranian general, with the GOP congressmen emphasizing his involvement in terrorist activities.
“General Soleimani was the head of one of the most advanced terrorist communities in the world,” said Rep. Den Crenshaw, R-Texas.
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., argued that the bill was “appeasing Iran.”
However, the resolution acknowledges the Iranian government as a “leading state sponsor of terrorism” and also calls Soleimani “the lead architect of much of Iran’s destabilizing activities throughout the world.”
The Trump administration argued that Congress was not warned about the attack on Soleimani due to its confidential nature. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi responded by saying Congress can be told confidential information without exposing it.
“We deserve respect from the administration,” said Pelosi.
Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz was one of three Republicans to vote in favor of the document. He emphasized Congress’ role in declaring war and urged his colleagues to be at the forefront of decisions on war and peace.
“I think it’s ludicrous to suggest that we are impairing the troops from doing their job by not doing our job articulated in the Constitution to speak to these matters of war and peace,” said Gaetz. “I support the president. Killing Soleimani was the right decision and engaging in another forever war in the Middle East would be the wrong decision and that is why I’m voting for this resolution.”