The Soufan Group Morning Brief


President Donald Trump's warning Tuesday that North Korea "will be met with fire and fury" if it continues its saber rattling sparked new fears that the standoff over the regime's advancing nuclear and missile programs could devolve into a shooting war.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Mr. Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., where he is spending much of the month on a working vacation. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

Undaunted, North Korea warned several hours later that it was considering a strike that would create “an enveloping fire” around Guam, the western Pacific island where the United States operates a critical Air Force base. In recent months, American strategic bombers from Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base have flown over the Korean Peninsula in a show of force.

Trump’s statement also followed a report in The Washington Post that North Korea has successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead that can fit inside its ballistic missiles, crossing a key threshold on the path to becoming a full-fledged nuclear power. The report quoted a confidential assessment by U.S. intelligence officials.

Trump’s comments drew criticism from senior lawmakers. “The great leaders I’ve seen don’t threaten unless they’re ready to act, and I’m not sure President Trump is ready to act,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told a Phoenix radio station. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) said the remarks were “not helpful and once again show that he lacks the temperament and judgment” to deal with a serious crisis. Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Politico
Washington Post: This Is the Moment of Truth on North Korea
NY Daily News: Trump Retweets Anonymously Sourced Fox News Story About North Korea Right Before UN Ambassador Nikki Haley Complains About It
Slate: Today in Conservative Media: Should We Go Nuclear on North Korea?
The White House will not officially comment on the bombing of a Minnesota mosque over the weekend because it may be a hate crime faked by a liberal, Trump national security adviser Sebastian Gorka said on MSNBC this week.

Gorka said that the White House will “absolutely” comment on the attack at the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in the Twin Cities suburb of Bloomington once there is a finalized investigation into the incident. “There’s a great rule: All initial reports are false,” Gorka said. “You have to check them and find out who the perpetrators are. We’ve had a series of crimes committed, alleged hate crimes by right wing individuals in the last six months that turned out to actually have been propagated by the left. Let’s allow the local authorities to provide their assessment and then the White House will make its comments.”

Gorka went on to say that “there’s no such thing as a lone wolf” terrorist. “That was a phrase invented by the last administration to make Americans stupid ... There has never been a serious attack or a serious plot that was unconnected from ISIS or al Qaeda,” he continued. The Hill, Washington Post, ThinkProgress, Politico
Minnesota Public Radio: Muslims Concerned as FBI Avoids ‘Terrorism’ Label for Mosque Bombing

Mueller’s finances go public: Special counsel Robert Mueller’s public financial disclosure documents, along with those of seven members of his team, were released Tuesday after a request from The Washington Post. The documents suggest that the team members left behind substantial salaries to work on the Russia investigation. Their investments are likely to be closely scrutinized by allies of President Trump. Washington Post, Politico

Jewish center threats were part of dark web threat-for-hire business: A string of bomb threats that targeted more than 100 Jewish centers earlier this year may have been part of a larger bomb-threat-for-hire business operating on the dark web, reports The Verge. The spree came to an end when police arrested 19-year-old Israeli citizen Michael Kadar in connection with the threats, overcoming various anonymity measures to trace the calls. But new evidence suggests Kadar may have been making the calls on behalf of a third party. In recently unsealed search warrants, police sought access to Kadar’s Alpha Bay accounts and reportedly found detailed pricing info for threats, an option to include a false name as part of the email, and even a refund offer if classes are not canceled as a result of the threat. The Verge

NSC cyber team: Grant Schneider, currently the acting federal chief information security officer (CISO), will become senior director for cybersecurity policy at the National Security Council. The Hill

An unarmed Iranian drone buzzed an American Super Hornet fighter jet as it circled an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, Defense Department officials said on Tuesday.

A statement released by the military’s Central Command said that despite repeated radio calls demanding that Iran keep the drone clear of American flight operations in the vicinity of the aircraft carrier Nimitz, the Iranian vehicle came within 100 feet of the fighter jet, which had to swerve to avoid a collision. This was the 13th “unsafe and unprofessional” interaction between the United States and Iranian maritime forces in 2017, according to a U.S. official. Reuters, New York Times

Taliban sowing terror in new areas of Afghanistan: Taliban militants, stymied in their efforts to take major Afghan cities, are now refocusing their strategy to showcase their wide geographical reach. In the past month alone, there has been a surge of scattered attacks in remote regions, especially the northwestern provinces of Ghowr, Faryab and now Sar-e Pol, as well as in the south and east. The insurgents are also using crueler tactics to intimidate the populace and local security forces, including brutal slayings of civilians. Washington Post  

Six French soldiers were injured Wednesday when a car smashed into them close to the headquarters of France’s anti-terrorist police unit in a Parisian suburb. Two of the infantrymen were seriously injured when the car headed into the group at high speed; the four others were said to be lightly hurt. The police were on the hunt for the driver of the dark BMW and have opened a terrorism investigation. Evening Standard, New York Times

United Kingdom: A British man has been found guilty of trying to smuggle a pipe bomb onto a plane at Manchester Airport earlier this year. He was attempting to board a RyanAir flight from Manchester to Bergamo, Italy, when the item was discovered. BBC News
Why is Trump still so witless about the world? “Six months into the Trump era, foreign-policy officials from eight past Administrations told me they are aghast that the President is still so witless about the world,” writes Robin Wright in the New Yorker. “Trump’s painful public gaffes, they warn, indicate that he’s not reading, retaining, or listening to his Presidential briefings. And the newbie excuse no longer flies.”

How protecting Mueller could harm him: “There is a real danger that passage of either Senate bill [designed to protect Mueller from firing], presumably over a presidential veto, would provoke a collateral legal dispute over its constitutionality that could undermine the important work that Mueller’s team is doing,” writes Michel Paradis in Lawfare. “If the president fires Mueller in violation of either Senate bill, the firing becomes a matter for litigation rather than a red line for impeachment—and it is litigation that the president could very well win.”

The Trump administration leakers deserve to be investigated: “The Justice Department should be taking a hard look at leaks right now; that is a proper role and aim for the department, at least with respect to those leaks that are illegal and damaging to important government interests,” write Benjamin Wittes and Susan Hennessey in Foreign Policy. “Yet the press conference was disturbing nonetheless — less for the reasons so many media figures reached for the smelling salts than because of the not-so-subtle sheen of politics coloring the entire episode.”
For cutting-edge analysis of the geopolitical events shaping global affairs, read today’s TSC IntelBrief.

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