Pompeo: China, not Russia, poses greatest long-term threat
Bill Gertz reports: The Central Intelligence Agency under President Trump is giving more authority to field operatives and cutting excessive bureaucracy in a bid to boost intelligence operations, CIA Director Mike Pompeo says.
In his first news interview since taking charge of the agency in January, Pompeo also said he believes America’s greatest long-term security challenge is the threat posed by China, not Russia. Excerpts of the interview can be found here.
During the wide-ranging interview on the sidelines of a security conference in Aspen, Colo., Pompeo revealed the CIA is preparing intelligence options for the president, including covert action, for use against North Korea in efforts to counter the threat of a future nuclear missile attack.
He also outlined how the CIA is stepping up counterintelligence programs against foreign spies and leaks of intelligence.
Other disclosures by the CIA chief included new details of North Korea’s drive to develop reliable strategic nuclear missiles and a renewed CIA focus on stealing foreign secrets.
“Look, our primary mission is foreign intelligence,” Pompeo told the Washington Free Beacon.
“That is at the core of what we do, and so the ability to go collect against the most difficult places, the most difficult targets in a way that is not one off, that is deep and robust and redundant, is something this agency is really good at when they are allowed to do it. And the president is going to go let us do it.”
Similar to the Pentagon shift in giving military commanders greater authority to act in the field, the CIA is unleashing its spying power—clandestine operations, intelligence analysis, and technical prowess.
The CIA chief said decentralizing spying authority presents both risks and promise.
“In nearly every one of those cases it increases the risk level,” he said. “It also greatly enhances the likelihood you’ll achieve the outcome you’re looking for.”
The shift followed an internal agency review earlier this year that identified several areas where the CIA needed new guidance, or CIA activities that are allowed under law but had been restricted under President Barack Obama’s administration, Pompeo said.
The CIA director said he meets regularly with Trump during intelligence briefings and noted that the president has been very supportive of agency reforms aimed at improving CIA operations.
A former Army officer who until January was a Republican member of the House, Pompeo said the two most immediate security threats are Islamic State terrorists fleeing the Middle East and North Korea’s aggressive effort to field long-range missiles with nuclear warheads that can strike the United States.
U.S. Faces Growing Threats From China, North Korea
Over the longer term, however, Pompeo singled out China as the most serious security challenge.
While China, Russia, and Iran all are expected to pose significant problems in the future, China is a greater threat because of its robust economy and growing military power—both aimed against the United States.
“I think China has the capacity to present the greatest rivalry to America of any of those over the medium and long term,” he said.
China’s military is building up forces that are aimed at countering U.S. power projection around the world, he said.
“So you see that, whether it’s going on in the South China or East China Sea, or the work they’re doing in other parts of the world,” Pompeo said. Read the rest of this entry »
Mediha Medy Salkicevic has claimed that her support of ISIS constituted “legitimate warfare” and that she was waging war against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, just as the U.S. government is doing by supporting Syrian rebels.
Salkicevic was working for a cargo company at Chicago’s International O’Hare Airport when she was arrested in 2015. Investigators allege she said she wanted to “bury unbelievers alive” and kill infidels.
“Under United States law, acts of legitimate warfare during a civil war are not murder and are entitled to combatant immunity,” her attorneys said. They argue that Americans are “protected from prosecution as acts of legitimate warfare under the doctrine of combatant immunity.”
On Friday, her attorneys filed a motion to dismiss two charges: conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists.
Salkicevic and her alleged co-conspirators stand accused of sending money and military equipment to Bosnian national Abdullah Ramo Pazara, an ISIS leader in Syria. Read the rest of this entry »
Sam Webb reports: An astonishing video showing a Kurdish sniper laughing after a bullet fired by an ISIS terrorist narrowly misses her head has emerged online.
After she takes her own shot, a chunk of the wall just behind her head explodes, showering the room with dust and plaster.
She immediately ducks down and laughs at her close brush with death — and is even seen sticking her tongue out sheepishly.
The footage, which has not been verified, was posted online by a Kurdish journalist embedded with the YPJ fighters.
Despite Nuclear Accord, U.S.-Iran Tensions Are on the Rise.
Conviction of U.S. journalist, testing of ballistic missiles heighten concerns among deal’s U.S. critics.
WASHINGTON— Jay Solomon reports: Tensions between the U.S. and Iran, rather than easing as a result of July’s nuclear accord, are increasing over a wide spectrum of issues tied to the broader Middle East security landscape and to domestic Iranian politics, current and former U.S. officials say.
“Fears are mounting in Washington and Europe that these two conflicts could fuel a much broader regional war, in which Iran and Saudi Arabia are the chief protagonists.”
Just in the past two days, Iran has test-fired a ballistic missile and announced the conviction of American journalist Jason Rezaian, fueling suspicions the historic nuclear agreement has allowed Tehran’s Islamist clerics to step up their long-held anti-U.S. agenda.
Washington’s closest Mideast allies, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia, are more broadly concerned about Iran’s ability to use the diplomatic cover provided by the nuclear accord—and the promised release of tens of billions of dollars of frozen oil revenues—to strengthen its regional position and that of its allies.
“There’s a risk that nonnuclear issues could sink the overall deal. The optics are terrible.”
—Richard Nephew, a former top negotiator with Iran
Iran last month launched a joint military operation with Russia in Syria aimed at stabilizing the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, Tehran’s closest regional ally, according to Iranian and Russian officials.
Iran has also continued to ship arms and money to Houthi rebels in Yemen, who seized the country’s capital this year but are now facing an expansive counteroffensive led by Saudi Arabia, according to Arab officials.
Fears are mounting in Washington and Europe that these two conflicts could fuel a much broader regional war, in which Iran and Saudi Arabia are the chief protagonists.
The Obama administration’s ability to implement the nuclear accord amid such tumult could be compromised, said former U.S. officials involved in the Iran diplomacy.
“There’s a risk that nonnuclear issues could sink the overall deal,” said Richard Nephew, who was a top negotiator with Iran up until late 2014. “The optics are terrible.”
“Both in its nuclear negotiations and its consideration of Americans detained in Iran, the administration has shown a dangerous naiveté regarding who it is dealing with.”
—Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Obama administration officials on Monday stressed that the July 14 agreement is solely focused on denying Iran the capability to develop an atomic weapon, and not solving these regional problems.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. was closely monitoring both Iran’s missile test on Sunday and Mr. Rezaian’s legal case to decide if and how to respond. Read the rest of this entry »
Russian President Vladimir Putin defends decision to send warplanes as aimed at political solution.
MOSCOW— Thomas Grove reports: Russia stepped up its bombing campaign in Syria over the weekend, more than doubling the rate of strikes seen at the beginning of the operation.
“The Kremlin’s air campaign in Syria has exacerbated tensions between Moscow and Washington, which has led a separate campaign of strikes against Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq.”
The Russian Ministry of Defense said Monday its jet fighters had carried out 55 sorties over the past 24 hours, hitting targets in the provinces of Homs, Hama, Latakia, Idlib and Raqqa. The daily number had been around two dozen last week.
“U.S. and Western officials say Russia’s airstrikes have largely targeted Syrian opposition groups other than Islamic State in a bid to shore up Mr. Assad’s government.”
Russian warplanes are backing an offensive launched last week by troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Russian military said Su-34, Su-24 and Su-25 fighters hit Islamic State field headquarters, training camps and weapons arsenals in the latest bombing runs.
“Our task is to stabilize the legal government and create the right conditions for reaching a political compromise. We have no desire to recreate an empire and resurrect the Soviet Union.”
— Vladimir Putin
The Kremlin’s air campaign in Syria has exacerbated tensions between Moscow and Washington, which has led a separate campaign of strikes against Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq. U.S. and Western officials say Russia’s airstrikes have largely targeted Syrian opposition groups other than Islamic State in a bid to shore up Mr. Assad’s government.
The Russian government depicts Islamic State as a direct threat to its citizens. On Monday, Russia’s Federal Security Service told the state news agency Interfax that law-enforcement officials had foiled a plot to carry out an attack on public transportation in Moscow—and that some of the individuals arrested in the case had trained at Islamic State camps in Syria.
In an interview aired Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin defended his decision to send warplanes to Syria, saying the air war was aimed at spurring a political solution to the conflict in Syria. Read the rest of this entry »
Obama may end up being the only person in the world to sign his much-wanted deal, in effect making a treaty with himself.
Amir Taheri writes: Sometime this week, President Obama is scheduled to sign an executive order to meet the Oct. 15 “adoption day” he has set for the nuclear deal he says he has made with Iran. According to the president’s timetable the next step would be “the start day of implementation,” fixed for Dec. 15.
“The Iranians have signed nothing and have no plans for doing so. The so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has not even been discussed at the Islamic Republic’s Council of Ministers.”
But as things now stand, Obama may end up being the only person in the world to sign his much-wanted deal, in effect making a treaty with himself.
“Nor has the Tehran government bothered to even provide an official Persian translation of the 159-page text.”
The Iranians have signed nothing and have no plans for doing so. The so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has not even been discussed at the Islamic Republic’s Council of Ministers. Nor has the Tehran government bothered to even provide an official Persian translation of the 159-page text.
The Islamic Majlis, the ersatz parliament, is examining an unofficial text and is due to express its views at an unspecified date in a document “running into more than 1,000 pages,” according to Mohsen Zakani, who heads the “examining committee.”
“The changes we seek would require substantial rewriting of the text,” he adds enigmatically.
Nor have Britain, China, Germany, France and Russia, who were involved in the so-called P5+1 talks that produced the JCPOA, deemed it necessary to provide the Obama “deal” with any legal basis of their own. Obama’s partners have simply decided that the deal he is promoting is really about lifting sanctions against Iran and nothing else.
So they have started doing just that without bothering about JCPOA’s other provisions. Britain has lifted the ban on 22 Iranian banks and companies blacklisted because of alleged involvement in deals linked to the nuclear issue.
“Nor have Britain, China, Germany, France and Russia, who were involved in the so-called P5+1 talks that produced the JCPOA, deemed it necessary to provide the Obama ‘deal’ with any legal basis of their own.”
German trade with Iran has risen by 33 percent, making it the Islamic Republic’s third-largest partner after China.
China has signed preliminary accords to help Iran build five more nuclear reactors. Russia has started delivering S300 anti-aircraft missile systems and is engaged in talks to sell Sukhoi planes to the Islamic Republic.
“Obama’s partners have simply decided that the deal he is promoting is really about lifting sanctions against Iran and nothing else.”
France has sent its foreign minister and a 100-man delegation to negotiate big business deals, including projects to double Iran’s crude oil exports.
Other nations have also interpreted JCPOA as a green light for dropping sanctions. Indian trade with Iran has risen by 17 percent, and New Delhi is negotiating massive investment in a rail-and-sea hub in the Iranian port of Chah-Bahar on the Gulf of Oman. With help from Austrian, Turkish and United Arab Emirates banks, the many b Read the rest of this entry »
What did he know and when did he know it? The immortal question about Richard Nixon and Watergate should be posed to Barack Obama about Syria. What and when did he know about Vladimir Putin’s axis-of-evil coalition?
Michael Goodwin writes: The significance is not limited to Syria. The question goes to the heart of the Iran nuclear deal, especially the timing of the congressional votes.
Imagine Obama trying to sell the Iran deal now. With Russia, Iran and Iraq working together to muscle the United States aside and defend Bashar al-Assad, the president couldn’t possibly argue that the nuke deal would help stabilize the Middle East. Nor could he argue that Russia could be trusted to help enforce restrictions on Iran.
The strong likelihood that Obama would have lost the Iran vote if Congress knew then what the world knows now suggests the possibility the president concealed the Russian plan until the Iran deal was done. That view fits with his single-minded determination to get a deal at any price, including making key concessions and downplaying Iranian threats to Israel and the United States.
After all that, what’s another lie?
That view is also supported by the chronology, which reveals strong evidence the president hid the truth.
For much of September, reports of Russia moving soldiers and military equipment into Syria invariably said the Pentagon was “puzzled” or the White House was “unclear” about Putin’s intent. Obama declared on Sept. 11 that whatever the dictator’s plan, it was “doomed to fail.”
The claims of fuzziness about Syria allowed Obama to keep the focus on his push to sell the Iran pact to Congress. He touted Russia’s support, vowed to impose “snapback” sanctions if Iran cheated and said he would work to stop the mullahs’ regional aggressions.
His arguments and arm-twisting kept 42 Senate Democrats in line, enough to save the deal. Yet soon after opponents lost their final vote, on Sept. 17, Russia revealed that it would lead a coalition of Iran and Iraq to intervene militarily to save the Assad regime. Read the rest of this entry »
Only one in 20 Russian air strikes in Syria have targeted ISIS fighters, Britain’s Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said Saturday. British intelligence services observed that five percent of the strikes had attacked the militant jihadist group, with most “killing civilians” and Free Syrian forces fighting against the regime of president Bashar al-Assad, Fallon told the Sun newspaper….(read more)
Source: AFP/Yahoo News
Syria Reveals the Chaos of a World Without American Leadership.
A friend of ours quipped amid the Iraq debate of 2003 that the only thing Europeans dislike more than U.S. leadership is a world without it. Well, we are now living in such a world, and the result is the disorder and rising tide of war in the Middle East that even the Obama Administration can no longer dismiss. How do you like it?
“The world is watching, aghast, yet we are now told by the same people who told us to stay out of Syria that Mr. Putin has fallen into his own quagmire. We doubt that’s how they see it in Moscow, Tehran or Damascus.”
The epicenter of the chaos is the Syrian civil war now into its fifth year. President Obama justified his decision to steer clear of the conflict by pointing to a parade of horribles if the U.S. assisted the opposition to Bashar Assad. Every one of those horribles—and more—has come to pass in the wake of his retreat.
Syria has become a “geopolitical Chernobyl,” as former General David Petraeus recently put it. It was the breeding ground for Islamic State and is a new sanctuary for terrorism. It has nurtured a growing regional conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, while unleashing the worst refugee crisis on Europe since World War II. And now it has become an arena for potential major power conflict as Vladimir Putin forms an alliance with Iran to make Russia the new Middle East power broker.
“The U.S. has been caught unaware and nonplussed. The White House has been left to stammer in protest and send Secretary of State John Kerry to negotiate the terms of U.S. irrelevance.”
Mr. Putin unveiled his strategy this week with a disdain for a U.S. President unseen in a Russian leader since Nikita Khrushchev “beat the hell out of” John Kennedy, as JFK put it, at the Vienna summit in 1961. Mr. Putin coaxed Mr. Obama to grant him a private meeting, then told the world to rally behind his alternative coalition to fight Islamic State and prop up the Assad regime. It’s as if he set up Mr. Obama for humiliation.
Now Russian planes are bombing in Syria—but not Islamic State targets. They are bombing the anti-Assad forces that the U.S. has haltingly supported. The U.S. has been caught unaware and nonplussed. The White House has been left to stammer in protest and send Secretary of State John Kerry to negotiate the terms of U.S. irrelevance.
The world is watching, aghast, yet we are now told by the same people who told us to stay out of Syria that Mr. Putin has fallen into his own quagmire. We doubt that’s how they see it in Moscow, Tehran or Damascus. Read the rest of this entry »
New York (AFP) – Russia’s dramatic entry Wednesday into the Syrian war put the United States on the back foot once again and left Washington struggling to regain the military and diplomatic initiative.
His message was simple: Russian jets are about to launch air strikes in Syria, please stay out of their way.
Kerry quickly protested to Lavrov that this was not in the spirit of Moscow’s promise to agree a “de-confliction” mechanism to ensure Russian flights do not interfere with US-led operations.
But the strikes were already underway, potentially altering the balance of power in Syria back in favor of Bashar al-Assad‘s regime, and Washington was looking at a fait accompli.
Lavrov’s next move was to promise to bring a motion before the UN Security Council to coordinate “all forces standing up against Islamic State and other terrorist structures.”
This would be a plain victory for Assad, who invited the Russians to join his battle to cling on to power, and a defeat for the United States, which has demanded he step down. Read the rest of this entry »
WASHINGTON — Russia is using an air corridor over Iraq and Iran to fly military equipment and personnel to a new air hub in Syria, openly defying American efforts to block the shipments and significantly increasing tensions with Washington.
“Since Maliki relinquished the premiership, power and authority in Iraq have become increasingly diffused with various players now exercising unilateral power over the use of force.”
American officials disclosed Sunday that at least seven giant Russian Condor transport planes had taken off from a base in southern Russia during the past week to ferry equipment to Syria, all passing through Iranian and Iraqi airspace.
“Neutrality is the best Washington can hope for in Baghdad. Iraq is not a dictatorial state like many of the U.S. allies in the Middle East. Iraq is still a fragile state whose leaders are exposed to politics.”
Their destination was an airfield south of Latakia, Syria, which could become the most significant new Russian military foothold in the Middle East in decades, American officials said.
“In the discourse of Iraqi politics, forcing Abadi to side with the U.S. against Assad is like realigning him with the Sunni axis against the Shia one.”
— Ramzy Mardini, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council, a research group in Washington
The Obama administration initially hoped it had hampered the Russian effort to move military equipment and personnel into Syria when Bulgaria, a NATO member, announced it would close its airspace to the flights. But Russia quickly began channeling its flights over Iraq and Iran, which Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said on Sunday would continue despite American objections.
“There were military supplies, they are ongoing, and they will continue,” Mr. Lavrov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies. “They are inevitably accompanied by Russian specialists, who help to adjust the equipment, to train Syrian personnel how to use this weaponry.”
“There were military supplies, they are ongoing, and they will continue. They are inevitably accompanied by Russian specialists, who help to adjust the equipment, to train Syrian personnel how to use this weaponry.”
— Sergey V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister
Moscow’s military buildup in Syria, where the Kremlin has been supporting President Bashar al-Assad in a four-and-a-half-year civil war, adds a new friction point in its relations with the United States. The actions also lay bare another major policy challenge for the United States: how to encourage Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq, who came to power with the blessing of the United States but is still trying to establish his authority, to block the Russian flights. Read the rest of this entry »
In the administration’s attempt to secure support from a third of the Congress, the truth is likely to get its hair mussed. But it is rare for an argument to be this comprehensively wrong.
Michael Gerson writes: The realist’s argument for the Iran nuclear agreement is that it is the least bad deal that a conflict-weary United States could secure. Now, with the nuclear issue parked (at least for a decade), we can get down to the business of strengthening friends in the Middle East and pushing back against Iran’s regional ambitions.
“Over the past few decades — without a nuclear umbrella and without a world-class military — Iran has pursued a highly effective, asymmetrical campaign to spread its influence and destabilize its enemies. Early on, the Iranians noted that many Middle Eastern militaries are relatively weak.”
A variant of this position claims that the nuclear deal would actually weaken Iran’s strategic position. In this view, the regime, faced with sanction-caused economic ruin, was forced to give up the nuclear umbrella that would have acted as cover for its export of subversion. An Iran thus defanged is a fundamentally weak country, with little conventional military capacity. The $60 billion windfall Iran would net from the lifting of sanctions is paltry (the argument goes) compared with the strategic blow of giving up its nuclear ambitions. A “yes” vote on the agreement is therefore a contribution to containment.
“Iranian operatives — often through the Quds Force, created for this purpose — have set out to exploit local grievances, encourage sectarian solidarity and export their version of anti-American, anti-Semitic, revolutionary Islamism.”
In the administration’s attempt to secure support from a third of the Congress, the truth is likely to get its hair mussed. But it is rare for an argument to be this comprehensively wrong.
Over the past few decades — without a nuclear umbrella and without a world-class military — Iran has pursued a highly effective, asymmetrical campaign to spread its influence and destabilize its enemies. Early on, the Iranians noted that many Middle Eastern militaries are relatively weak. In some conflicts, the addition of several thousand well-trained, well-led militia members could have a disproportionate, even decisive, influence. So Iranian operatives — often through the Quds Force, created for this purpose — have set out to exploit local grievances, encourage sectarian solidarity and export their version of anti-American, anti-Semitic, revolutionary Islamism. Read the rest of this entry »
After training, moderate rebels to get pickups with gear to call for American B-1B bombers
Military officials point to U.S. airstrikes, called in by Kurdish fighters, that helped drive Islamic State fighters from the city of Kobani as the model for the new campaign.
“We were getting information from the Kurds from our command and control element. We were getting information quickly enough for the purposes of what we were trying to achieve: target ISIL fighters and their positions.”
— Lt. Col. Sumangil
Still, there are significant differences with what the U.S.-trained rebels will face. In Kobani, a larger and more-cohesive Kurdish force was fighting from a fixed position against a single enemy—Islamic State—without having to worry about the Syrian regime or other rebel groups.
U.S. officials also are confronted with the fragile nature of the international coalition assembled to fight Islamic State, the uneasy peace with Iran inside of Iraq, and questions about whether U.S. warplanes can or should target the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The plan comes as the U.S. prepares to start training moderate rebels, who are waging a two-front fight against the extremists and the Syrian regime. Defense officials said the training will begin in mid-to-late March in Jordan, with a second site due to open soon after in Turkey.
At the same time, the threat is spreading. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi called on Tuesday for the United Nations to endorse an international military campaign against Islamic State in Libya, a day after he ordered cross-border airstrikes in retaliation for the execution of 21 Egyptian Christians by the extremist group. The U.N. Security Council was to meet in emergency session on Wednesday, but the U.S. and several other council members called in advance for a political solution.
The Obama administration has been facing growing pressure to step up support for the moderate Syrian rebels from Republican hawks in Congress and from some allies, as well as conservative critics.
The first training sessions are to last between six and eight weeks. The training will focus on helping the rebel forces hold territory and counter Islamic State fighters—not to take on the Syrian army.
After that the U.S. will consider introducing what it is calling “the new Syrian force” onto the battlefield, officials said.
A team of four to six rebels will each be given a Toyota Hi-Lux pickup, outfitted with a machine gun, communications gear and Global Positioning System trackers enabling them to call in airstrikes. Read the rest of this entry »
Russia Says Mohammed Cartoon Publication Illegal: ‘One Cannot Laugh at the Feelings of the Faithful’Posted: January 16, 2015
Russia is an overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian country, but is also home to a sizeable Muslim minority
Russia’s media watchdog on Friday warned publications that printing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed was against the country’s law and ethical norms following the Charlie Hebdo attack in France.
“The publication in Russian media of such caricatures go against ethical and moral norms worked out over centuries.”
“The publication in Russian media of such caricatures go against ethical and moral norms worked out over centuries,” said the media and communications watchdog Roskomnadzor.
“Disseminating caricatures on religious themes in the media can be considered insulting or humiliating to the representatives of religious confessions and groups, and qualified as inciting ethnic and religious hatred.”
— Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media and communications watchdog
The publication would also violate the Russian media and anti-extremism laws, the watchdog said, adding that it was asking Russian media to “refrain from publishing caricatures that can be seen as a violation”.
The watchdog published the statement as a response to the ongoing debate on the “legality of publishing caricatures depicting religious objects of worship which affect feelings of religious people.”
“It further said Charlie Hebdo’s post-attack issue featuring a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed on the front page was an ‘unacceptable response’ to the shooting, because one ‘cannot laugh at the feelings of the faithful’.”
Many newspapers and magazines around the world reprinted cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed by Charlie Hebdo, whose Paris office was attacked by Islamist gunmen on January 7, leading to the deaths of 12 people.
Although Russia’s leadership extended its condolences to France, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov participated in the unity march staged at the weekend, pro-Kremlin commentators and Muslims accused the cartoonists of provoking the attack. Read the rest of this entry »
A statement issued by the group Wednesday said Hussein al-Laqis was killed as he returned home from work around midnight. It did not say how he died.
The statement accused Israel of being responsible for the killing. It said Israel had tried to kill him several times, but had failed.
Hizballah also has been fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in that country’s civil war. That’s sparked attacks across neighboring Lebanon.