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U.S . Secretary of State Rex Tillerson | Alex Wong/Getty Images
US national security officials worked on the language in between meetings in a fast-moving effort to send Syria a message.
6/28/17, 5:03 AM CET
President Donald Trump s blunt, public warning to the Syrian regime late Monday night was cobbled together in a series of hurried discussions, squeezed in between meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and kept among a small, tight circle of top officials. Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson both arrived at the White House late Monday afternoon, ahead of the Rose Garden ceremony at which Trump and Modi each read a prepared statement . Upon the Cabinet members arrival, according to a senior defense official, they were informed of Trump s plan to issue a public warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad, based on new intelligence the Syrian regime3 was preparing another chemical weapons attack on its own people. National security adviser H.R .
McMaster, who also was at the White House for meetings, had already been briefed and had weighed in on the plan, administration sources said. But no stand-alone principals meeting followed to discuss the intelligence, which Trump received Monday morning, according to two senior administration officials. Rather, over the course of the day, officials said, McMaster, Mattis, Tillerson and a few other top officials had the opportunity to work the language of the statement, in between meetings with Modi . None of them expressed any hesitation or disagreement about the decision to issue a public warning, according to one of the senior administration officials.
But a Defense Department official acknowledged that the events were fast-moving and that there were minimal deliberations about the bold move and that only a limited number of top military officials were aware of the new intelligence and planned response. The episode marked another example of ongoing frustration between administration rank-and-file and leadership, which this time could carry serious consequences if the backbiting appears to weaken the U.S . government s resolve in turning up the pressure on Assad.
It hurts American credibility, said Ilan Goldenberg, a former State Department official who served under Secretary of State John Kerry . When the Syrian regime sees a report that government officials have no idea, the message to them is that these guys don t have their act together . And if nobody at State knows, it hurts your ability to follow up and have a diplomatic game plan.
But one former Obama administration official shrugged off the issues of communication between the White House and lower-level agency officials.
There s a broader issue here of effective coordination and communication sometimes the president contradicts his own people, Tom Donilon, President Barack Obama s former national security adviser, said in an interview . But I don t think that s the most important issue here . If, in fact, the United States has evidence that they re preparing a chemical attack, laying down a warning that you intend to follow through on is an appropriate thing to do. The careful language of the 87-word statement which was drafted by the afternoon but not released until close to 10 p.m . was cleared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department and the Defense Department before it was blasted out from the press secretary s office.
On Tuesday, the White House insisted that military and State Department officials were not blindsided by the statement, which warned Assad that if he launches another chemical weapons attack, he and his military will pay a heavy price.
In response to several inquiries regarding the Syria statement issued last night, we want to clarify that all relevant agencies including State, DoD, CIA and ODNI were involved in the process from the beginning, the White House said in a statement released Tuesday morning . Anonymous leaks to the contrary are false. Multiple administration officials said people surprised by the statement were simply not senior enough to be clued in and some said they were frustrated that a bold move by Trump, which they believed could save lives, was overshadowed by a side story about leaks and internal disagreements.
The story seems to be about whether or not a public affairs officer on a regional desk at the State Department was notified in what they would consider to be a timely manner, vented a third White House official . If Tillerson knew and some desk officer in the Middle East section didn t know, they need to take that up with Tillerson . It s not their right to know . It s his prerogative if he wants to share the information.
The move, and the frustration were reflective of the Trump administration s approach of making key decisions within a close, inner circle unlike the deliberative, and sometimes paralyzingly inclusive, decision making that defined Obama s process. Despite the confusion and complaints over who was looped in and when, foreign policy experts lauded Trump s choice to make a public statement rather than to try to pressure the Syrian regime through diplomatic back channels. The Trump administration realizes they re being dragged into a very dangerous situation, said Jim Jeffrey, a former U.S .
ambassador to Turkey and Iraq and deputy national security adviser for President George W . Bush . He said the U.S . approach to Assad so far had been a bunch of tit for tats that seemed to have no long-term impact.
The benefit of a public statement is they re now on record as saying, this shall not happen, Jeffrey added . There was a conscious decision made by the people who realize whatever we want to do in the Middle East, we re going to look like fools if they do this again, and we blow up a few more airplanes . We have to react very strongly to them. Trump s own seeming lack of interest in the issue, though, could also diminish the message s effect on Assad.
Instead of using the megaphone of his Twitter feed to amplify the White House statement, marked by his press office as urgent, Trump took to Twitter minutes after its release to harp on one of his personal obsessions . From @FoxNews Bombshell: In 2016, Obama dismissed idea that anyone could rig an American election . Check out his statement Witch Hunt ! the president tweeted.
He s very undisciplined, said Jeffrey . He does this all the time .
That s a separate problem .
But what s clear is that in the end, he goes along with what his top advisers tell him.
Bryan Bender contributed to this report.
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The UK s National Cyber Security Centre says it is aware of a cyber attack spreading around the world amid fears of disruption to infrastructure including banking and transport.
We re aware of the global ransomware incident and are monitoring the situation closely, a spokesperson told The Independent, advising members of the public and businesses to check its website for guidance on keeping their systems secure. British advertising firm WPP said IT systems in several of its companies were affected by the attack, as Maersk employees were sent home from its offices in Berkshire.
The first reports came from Ukraine1, where state infrastructure including government-owned banks, energy firms, transportation and ministers computers were hit by the ransomware. Russian oil giant Rosneft, the world s largest shipping company Maersk and firms in India and Norway were among those affected.
Infected computers display a message demanding a payment of $300 ( 235) in Bitcoin to re-gain access to encrypted files. The Swiss government s Reporting and Analysis Centre said the Petya virus 2was believed to be responsible and was spreading by exploiting the SMB (Server Message Block) vulnerability . A message demanding money is seen on a monitor of a payment terminal at a branch of Ukraine’s state-owned bank Oschadbank after a wave of cyber attacks, in Kiev, Ukraine, June 27, 2017. (Reuters)
Petya was previously blamed for disrupting systems in 2016 and works similarly to the WannaCry ransomware that infected more than 230,000 computers in 150 countries last month.
Maersk said its IT systems were down across multiple sites and businesses due to a cyber attack that could affect its global operations. Employees at Maersk s main UK office in Maidenhead said all staff had been locked out of their computers and sent home for the day. The Danish business congolmerate is the largest container shipping company in the world and also operates in the oil and gas sectors.
Seventeen shipping container terminals run by Maersk subsidiary APM Terminals have also been hacked, including two in Rotterdam and 15 in other parts of the world, according to Dutch television. Norway s national security agency said the ransomware was affecting an unnamed international company in the country. Rosneft, a Russian government-owned oil firm, said it was also targeted by a massive hacker attack on its servers, as was steel maker Evraz.
Ukraine s national bank, state power company and largest airport were among the targets first reported targets on Tuesday. The website of Boryspil International Airport during a cyber attack targeting Ukrainian infrastructure on 27 June 2017
Rozenko Pavlo, the deputy Prime Minister, said he and other members of the government were unable to access their computers. Ukrainian state-run aircraft manufacturer Antonov was among the companies hit, along with state power distributor Ukrenergo, which said the attack did not affect power supplies.
The National Bank of Ukraine said an unknown virus was to blame, saying several unnamed Ukrainian banks were affected along with financial firms.
As a result of cyber attacks, these banks have difficulties with customer service and banking operations, a statement said.
The National Bank bank is confident that the banking infrastructure’s defence against cyber fraud is properly set up and attempted cyber attacks on banks’ IT systems will be neutralised. Computers and departure boards for Boryspil International Airport in Kiev the largest in Ukraine were also down. The Ukrposhta state postal service, television stations and transport were affected by the attack, which left Kiev metro passengers unable to pay using bank cards.
Many ATMs were disabled, displaying the message left by hackers, as were tills in supermarkets. Emails hit as Parliament targeted by cyber security attack
Ukraine has blamed Russia for repeated cyber attacks targeting crucial infrastructure during the past three years, including one on its power grid that left part of western Ukraine temporarily without electricity in December 2015. Russia has denied involvement and the orchestrators of Tuesday s attack were not known, although onlookers estimated they could make billions of dollars from the hack.
The UK s Houses of Parliament were targeted in a separate attack 3on Friday that compromised up to 90 accounts as part of efforts to access the accounts of MPs, peers and their staff by searching for weak passwords.
Guillaume Poupard, director general of the National Cybersecurity Agency of France (ANSSI) said intensifying attacks were coming from unspecified states, as well as criminal and extremist groups.
We must work collectively, not just with two or three Western countries, but on a global scale, he added, saying attacks could aim at espionage, fraud, sabotage or destruction.
We are getting closer, clearly, to a state of war – a state of war that could be more complicated, probably, than those we’ve known until now.