For Trump’s national security team, addressing the threats means ignoring the tweets

Sitting side by side at a long, black-draped table, six U.S. intelligence chiefs all sounded the same alarm — Russian meddling in U.S. politics didn’t stop after the 2016 presidential race and could get worse in this year’s midterm elections.It was a striking display of unanimity and one that left President Trump at odds — again — with his own hand-picked national security team.Trump has downplayed and even denied Russian meddling in the U.S. election, which he largely portrays as a Democratic hoax meant to delegitimize his victory, leaving the nation’s spy services straining to prevent a repeat performance in November."This is the largest gap I have ever seen between the urgency of the intelligence community and the response of the chief executive,” said Michael Hayden, who headed the CIA and the National Security Agency under President George W. Bush.Hayden said it will be hard to adequately address Russian political interference without presidential direction because the issue requires a coordinated response."You need emphasis, resources and restructuring — energized from the presidential level,” he said.Leon E. Panetta, who served as CIA director and secretary of Defense under President Obama, and as chief of staff to President Clinton, said U.S. intelligence officials seem determined to press forward despite disinterest from the White House.“The national security team is trying to keep the country focused on the key threats that are out there whether or not the president agrees or disagrees,” Panetta said. “I think their hope is that if they keep pressing on the importance of these threats from Russia that at some point the president will follow.”Panetta said that’s not how the process is supposed to work on sensitive national security issues. Pushback normally happens inside the National Security Council, not in public.“In any other administration that I’ve been a Continue Reading

Trump, national security team address a ‘wide range’ of national security threats

ANALYSIS/OPINION:A National Security Strategy is less a plan of action than an attempt to prioritize. Who, in the president’s judgment, most threatens America? What means do we have and what capabilities must we develop to defend the homeland and protect our freedoms?President Obama issued his last National Security Strategy (NSS) in 2015. It struck me then as an odd document and, in retrospect, it seems odder still. Regarding the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, it offered such boilerplate as: “Our commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is rooted in the profound risks posed by North Korean weapons development and proliferation.”In the end, of course, Mr. Obama did nothing as the threat metastasized. North Korea may now have as many as 60 nuclear weapons.The 2015 NSS also asserted: “We have made clear Iran must meet its international obligations and demonstrate its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.” Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei no doubt found that amusing.Though well into his second term, Mr. Obama couldn’t resist the temptation to criticize his predecessor: “We must always resist the overreach that comes when we make decisions based upon fear. Moreover, we must recognize that a smart national security strategy does not rely solely on military power.” There also were such platitudes as: “A strong consensus endures across our political spectrum that the question is not whether America will lead, but how we will lead into the future.”Last week, President Trump delivered his National Security Strategy, an attempt to “rethink the policies of the past two decades — policies based on the assumption that engagement with rivals and their inclusion in international institutions and global commerce would turn them into benign actors and trustworthy partners. For the most part, this premise turned out to be false.”It begins to address “an Continue Reading

Donald Trump appoints Fox News’ Monica Crowley to his national security team

President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Fox News analyst Monica Crowley to join his national security council — and the conservative news personality's Obama-bashing views are sure to fit right in. Crowley, who is also a bestselling author and a radio host, was confirmed for the senior director of strategic communications post Thursday afternoon, Trump's transition team announced in a statement. She will serve under retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — the incoming national security adviser who has peddled anti-Muslim rhetoric and fake news stories over social media. Crowley, 48, gained notoriety for feeding into Trump's debunked "birther" conspiracy, which falsely suggested that President Obama was not eligible to become President because he's supposedly a Kenyan immigrant with a fabricated U.S. birth certificate. She once claimed that concerns over Obama's birthplace are in nature "legitimate" because the President's "un-American" policies signal he is "not one of us." During Obama's first presidential campaign in 2008, Crowley even questioned the fact that he is African-American, purporting he's actually "Arab African." "And yet, this guy is campaigning as black and painting anybody who dares to criticize him as a racist," Crowley said at the time. "I mean that is — it is the biggest con I think I've ever seen." Trump, who propelled the birther conspiracy into mainstream news cycles in 2011, maintained for years — without proof — that Obama could very well not have been born on American soil. It took Trump until September of this year to finally admit that the first African-American President of the United States was born on American soil. Crowley has yet do so. Like many other people in Trump's surroundings, Crowley frequently uses her Twitter account to share stories from the "alt-right" Breitbart news site, which has been accused of propagating Continue Reading

White House Releases Photo of President Obama Meeting With National Security Team

The White House released this official photo of President Obama meeting with his national security team on Friday, including Attorney General Eric Holder, on the Boston investigation.  GOP lawmakers are pushing the administration to treat Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as an enemy combatant. Police have 48 hours to read the suspect his Miranda rights, under the public safety exception. That allows police to question the suspect about information, rather than giving him the right to remain silent.  Charges have yet to be filed against Tsarnaev, who is currently in serious but stable condition at a Massachusetts hospital. Continue Reading

President Obama’s national security team acknowledges for first time that it reads and stores phone records of millions of Americans

President Barack Obama’s national security team acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that, when investigating one suspected terrorist, it can read and store the phone records of millions of Americans. Since it was revealed recently that the National Security Agency puts the phone records of every American into a database, the Obama administration has assured the nation that such records are rarely searched and, when they are, officials target only suspected international terrorists. Meanwhile, at a hacker convention in Las Vegas on Wednesday, the head of the NSA said government methods used to collect telephone and email data helped foil 54 terror plots — a figure that drew open skepticism from lawmakers back in Washington. “Not by any stretch can you get 54 terrorist plots,” said the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. More than a decade after the terror attacks of 2001, the phone-record surveillance program has stirred deep privacy concerns on Capitol Hill, where Leahy said Wednesday during an oversight hearing: “If this program is not effective, it has to end,” adding that, “So far I’m not convinced by what I’ve seen.” In the House earlier this month, lawmakers said they never intended to allow the NSA to build a database of every phone call in America, and they threatened to curtail the government’s surveillance authority. “You’ve got a problem,” Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., told top intelligence officials weeks ago. Sensing a looming shift in the privacy-versus-security cultural calculus, the White House responded: It has ordered the director of national intelligence to recommend changes that could be made to the phone-surveillance program, and President Barack Obama invited a bipartisan group of lawmakers to the White House on Thursday to discuss their concerns about the National Security Agency’s surveillance Continue Reading

Axelrod takes aim at Dick Cheney for criticizing national security team

President Obama's political guru thinks it's just rich that Dick Cheney would criticize the administration's national security team as "second rate." David Axelrod took to Twitter late Monday night to scoff at the former vice president's recent critique of Obama's appointments to key national security posts. "Cheney calls POTUS Nat Sec team '2d rate.' Unlike, I guess, the '1st rate' team he led that attacked Iraq instead of focusing on bin Laden!" Axelrod wrote. During a speech in Wyoming on Saturday, Cheney, long a vociferous critic of Obama on foreign policy and national security, took aim at the president again. "The performance now of Barack Obama as he staffs up the national security team for the second term is dismal," Cheney said. "Frankly, what he has appointed are second-rate people." [email protected] Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Obama huddles with national security team on eighth anniversary of Afghanistan war to plot tactics

WASHINGTON - President Obama marked the eighth anniversary of the Afghan war Wednesday by plotting ways to continue fighting it. Obama convened the fourth of five White House meetings of his national security team - Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton, Pentagon brass and intelligence officials - to chart a way forward in Afghanistan. White House officials said the session was devoted to "goals and strategy." Off-limits was the urgent plea from the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to give him 40,000 more troops or risk losing the war. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama and his advisers were working on ways to get better cooperation from the Afghan and Pakistani governments. "At a point after that, we'll get to discussing resources," he said. With U.S. casualties mounting, a new Quinnipiac University survey found only 38% back sending more troops. Gibbs did not give a timetable for a decision on McChrystal's troop request, frustrating NATO allies and Obama supporters in Congress. In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged member states to send more money and troops to Afghanistan. "We need to do more now so we can do less later," he said. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, called on Obama to give McChrystal what he wants immediately. "I am urging that he make a decision to follow the recommendations of the commander who is on the ground," Skelton said. Former President George W. Bush announced on Oct. 7, 2001, that "the U.S. military has begun strikes against Al Qaeda terrorist training camps and military installations of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan." Secretary of State Clinton said the goals of eliminating terrorist sanctuaries were basically the same, but plans to transform Afghan society may have to be scaled back. "There is no discussion going on about leaving Afghanistan," or cutting U.S. troop levels below Continue Reading

President Obama, national security team powwow to decide on urge to surge in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON - President Obama rounded up his military and civilian national security team on Wednesday to start deciding whether to ramp up the war in Afghanistan.White House officials said Obama still believes Afghanistan is a "war of necessity," but he searched for a strategy as he convened the heads of the Pentagon, State Department, CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the supersecure Situation Room. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the meeting was the first of several, and a decision was weeks away. The goal, Gibbs added, is to "get a firm strategy" in the face of rising death tolls and fading public support for the eight-year war. "Let's poke and prod it and ensure that we've done it the right way, then implement tactics to achieve that strategy," Gibbs said. Obama and the assembled officials, including Secretary of State Clinton, Vice President Biden and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, received a chalk talk by satellite from Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan. McChrystal has warned of "likely failure" without a course correction aimed more at protecting civilians than rooting out the Taliban. His request for up to 40,000 more U.S. troops has split Obama's advisers. "I hate to get into characterizing that there's a line down the middle of the room," Gibbs said, but Clinton is believed to be backing McChrystal while Biden favors a scaled-back effort focused on aerial and commando strikes on Al Qaeda. The wild card in the mix is Gates in the debate over whether a counterinsurgency strategy with more ground troops is the best way forward compared with a counterterror plan favoring air strikes. Gates "has clearly been a strong proponent of counterinsurgency," a Pentagon spokesman said, "but he wants to have a thorough discussion with the President and the rest of the national security team." Republicans ripped Obama for dithering on the advice from a ground commander. Failure to add more troops would "put the United States Continue Reading

Barack Obama set to roll out national security team; Hillary could be first

WASHINGTON - President-elect Barack Obama plans to roll out his national security team next week and could officially name Hillary Clinton secretary of state as early as Monday, Democratic sources said. After a rigorous vetting process in which both the New York senator and her husband underwent comprehensive background checks, Clinton signed on to the plum assignment and awaits word when Obama wants her back in Chicago to formally name her to head the State Department, a Democratic source said. "She has been the lone candidate for weeks now," the source added. The Obama transition team and Clinton's staff both declined to comment on the specific timing of an announcement. The planned announcement comes amid the revelation that a former Obama campaign adviser who once called the former First Lady a "monster" is now working on the State Department transition team, The Associated Press reported. State Department officials said yesterday that Samantha Power is one of the foreign policy experts Obama has selected to help his administration prepare for Clinton's forthcoming nomination. The Obama transition team's Web site includes Power's name as one of 14 members of the Agency Review Team for the State Department. During the Democratic primary campaign, Power called Clinton "a monster" in an interview. She then resigned, calling her remarks inexcusable and contradictory to her admiration for Clinton. Obama, meanwhile, had a mostly quiet day Friday. He and his wife, Michelle, attended the funeral of a relative of a close friend and confidant, Eric Whitaker. The service was held at historic Missionary Baptist Church on Chicago's South Side. The church was a centerpiece of Chicago's civil rights movement. Whitaker is a member of Obama's tight Chicago inner circle, a friend since their days together at Harvard. He is seen as a candidate for a job in the new White House administration. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

High praise for Barack Obama’s national security team

President-elect Barack Obama is expected to announce his national security team Monday, and media reports reflect virtually unanimous praise for Obama's selections. Hillary Clinton's selection for State gets the most media attention, but ABC World News said that "Obama's national security team is a who's who of national figures," with "not a shrinking violet in the bunch." Robert Gates "will remain at the Pentagon for at least another year," former deputy Attorney General Eric Holder "will be asked to Attorney General," and former NATO Commander General Jim Jones, "a chiseled Marine straight out of central casting, will be Obama's choice for National Security Advisor." NBC Nightly News noted Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano is expected to be the choice "to head Homeland Security and former Assistant Secretary of State and campaign adviser Susan Rice as UN ambassador, once again a cabinet-ranked position." See US News & World Report to sign up to receive the daily Political Bulletin. The Politico reports Obama's expected picks were "widely praised on the Sunday talk shows," most notably by highly respected GOP Sen. Richard Lugar. GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, on Fox News Sunday, said, "Gates is a great choice" who "led us through difficult times." The Hill notes praise from Democratic Sen. Jack Reed.USA Today calls it "a foreign policy team with a moderate cast," while the Financial Times says that Obama "will be sending a clear signal that his cabinet will include strong, and bipartisan, voices on national security." The New York Times says Clinton "will anchor a national security team with more of a centrist character than some of Mr. Obama's liberal supporters once hoped to see." The New York Times, Washington Times, USA Today, the AP, and Bloomberg News also discuss Clinton's nomination, as well as the conditions placed upon her husband.USA Today says Obama's "decision to keep Robert Gates as Defense secretary reflects a pragmatic approach Continue Reading