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Jan. 25, 2018
Notes from the Pentagon

White House eyes new intel board
The Trump administration is moving ahead with setting up the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, and a chairman and vice chairman have been selected and are being vetted for security clearances.

A White House official said the chairman will be Stephen Feinberg, a New York financier and Trump supporter, he is the CEO of Cerberus Capital Management, whose holdings have included the defense contractor DynCorp.

The vice chairman of the intelligence board is said to be Samantha Ravich, former deputy national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Several names of national security experts are being floated as board members, but the official said so far none are solid and several of those floated are liberals and unlikely to be picked.

The board, known as PFIAB, provides the president with advice on the quality and adequacy of intelligence collection and analysis of intelligence estimates, counterintelligence and other intelligence-related functions. The board has been inactive since the Mr. Trump was inaugurated in January 2017.

Others mentioned as possible board members include former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

What is raising eyebrows among national security experts are two names being floated for the PFIAB board members: former CIA analyst Michael Morell, a former acting agency director, and Michele Flournoy, former Obama administration undersecretary of defense for policy.

Mr. Morell was a career analyst who last August wrote a New York Times Op-Ed headlined “I ran the CIA. Now I’m endorsing Hillary Clinton.”

In the article he stated he planned to do everything possible to elect Mrs. Clinton because “Donald J. Trump is not only unqualified for the job, but he may well pose a threat to our national security.”

Ms. Flournoy, currently managing director of WestExec Advisors, was said to be Defense Secretary James Mattis’ first choice to be deputy secretary of defense but turned the position down. She was a defense adviser to Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 election campaign and was talked about as the candidate’s choice for defense secretary.

A White House source said of Mr. Morell’s prospects for being picked: “That’s not going to happen.”

The president’s first choice for PFIAB chairman was billionaire Silicon Valley technologist Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and Palantir Technologies.

It could not be learned why Mr. Thiel did not get the position, although speculation has focused on differences with White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

Another possible board member is said to be Safra A. Catz, the Israeli-born CEO of the tech company Oracle. Both Mr. Thiel and Ms. Catz have been outspoken supporters of reforming the U.S. intelligence system with an eye to improving human, military and electronic intelligence.

The PFIAB has toiled in secrecy for decades. Its only public activity was disclosed in a 1990 report that criticized U.S. intelligence reporting on the Soviet Union’s 1980s “war scare” that some say brought the two powers close to a nuclear war.

The war scare was a years-long Soviet military program from the late 1970s to mid-1980s built on Moscow’s mistaken belief that the United States was preparing a sudden nuclear strike.

A declassified report by PFIAB — the only document from the board ever made public — concluded that “the U.S. intelligence community did not at the time, and for several years afterwards, attach sufficient weight to the possibility that the war scare was real.”

“As a result, the president was given assessments of Soviet attitudes and actions that understated the risks to the United States,” the report said.

“Moreover, these assessments did not lead us to reevaluate our own military and intelligence actions that might be perceived by the Soviets as signaling war preparations.”

Missile Defense Review shortfalls
A major Pentagon review of U.S. missile defenses is nearing completion, and defense sources say a draft of the forthcoming review did not satisfy senior Pentagon officials.

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan, in particular, was underwhelmed by the draft, according to a defense source.

The main elements of the review called for buying more current systems, including the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, more SM-6 interceptor missiles, and more long-range Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) interceptor missiles.

The review was said to be short on details on how the Pentagon plans to deal with emerging long-term threats posed by maneuvering hypersonic missiles and the threat of space missiles targeting satellites.

The THAAD system is one of the most advanced ground-based anti-missile systems, and the Navy’s Aegis missile defense ships that fire SM-6s also are highly effective against short- and medium-range missiles.

The 44 GMD missiles deployed in California and Alaska are the main defense against any North Korean long-range missile attacks. The long-range missile defense system, however, currently is not designed to counter missile strikes from Russia or China, and can deal with only a limited North Korean long-range strike.

The Missile Defense Review is expected to be made public next month, along with another major study on nuclear forces called the Nuclear Posture Review. A Pentagon spokeswoman had no immediate comment.

Mr. Shanahan, the deputy defense secretary, told reporters last month, “I think what you’ll see in the [review] is emphasis on the capabilities that we have and how we’re making that robust, and then, where you’ll see investments.”

The study will focus on what Mr. Shanahan said were the “traditional domains” of homeland missile defense, regional and theater missile defense and strategic defenses.

“So it will be, you know, more depth around those categories and what we’re doing to expand our capability,” he said.

Congress has been pressing the Pentagon to focus more resources on missile defenses against maneuvering high-speed targets such as hypersonic gliders, and on space-based missile defenses. The most recent defense authorization act directs the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency to build systems that can track and counter missile attacks originating from space.

Most current missile defenses are designed to stop missiles with predictable flight paths fired from ground launchers.

DAVOS Security threat
President Trump left for a visit to Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday to take part in the tony gathering of world leaders known as the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The State Department this week sent out an internal newsletter to American corporations stating there is a low threat of terrorist attack during the meeting.

The annual Davos meeting has been underway since Tuesday with some 2,500 government, business and academic leaders taking part, including Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin and more than a dozen top administration officials.

In a threat assessment, the State Department-sponsored Overseas Security Advisory Council, stated in a Jan. 19 report that threat level for the meeting is low.

“While the risk of violent crime and violent protests is generally low in Switzerland, the activities of certain extremist anti-establishment groups may occasionally manifest in violent incidents,” the report said. “Actions of such groups have included graffiti/building defacement, arson, bomb threats and attacks with rudimentary explosives.”

The report said a number of leftist groups called for holding protests during the forum after it was announced Mr. Trump would participate.

Islamic terror groups also do not appear to be targeting Davos.

“The current Islamist extremist terrorist risk for the U.S. private sector and VIPs during the 2018 WEF in Davos is considered to be low,” the report said.

“The WEF does not appear to be a priority target for Islamist extremist actors currently targeting Europe. Recent indiscriminate Islamist extremist attacks in the region have focused on maximizing civilian casualties in soft-target locations; discriminate attacks have been directed against police and military personnel, religious interests and public personalities critical of Islam.”

Security at the conference will be tight and Davos is considered a “hardened” target. “Any Islamist extremist incident that could occur in Switzerland during the WEF would be more likely outside of Davos, probably in one of the larger Swiss cities.”

Switzerland’s Federal Intelligence Service assesses that the country is not a priority target for Islamic terrorists, although around 1,000 extremists are said to be present in the cities of Winterthur, Arbon, Lausanne, Biel and Geneva.

Thousands of police officers will be on duty during the conference and up to 5,000 Swiss troops will be deployed for security.

“Due to its location as a small mountain village surrounded by miles of wilderness and deep snow, law enforcement and military personnel are able to control all access points to Davos,” the report said.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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