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.
Related stories on these topics:
Police Forces stand guard outside ‘Rote Flora’ after clashing with left wing protesters after a march on May Day in Hamburg, Germany | Joern Pollex/Getty Images
Authorities expect as many as 10,000 far-left activists from across Europe and warn of clashes between Kurdish groups and nationalist Turks.
6/25/17, 12:23 PM CET
PARIS Police in the German city of Hamburg fear violence from far-left and Turkish groups during an upcoming G20 summit and will deploy thousands of additional officers to fend off rioting, local media reported Sunday. World leaders converge on the southern German city on July 7-8 for a summit whose agenda includes the global economy, U.S . trade protectionism and climate change. As many as 10,000 far-left activists from Italy, France, Greece, Scandinavia and Spain will be there to greet them, according to police officials cited by Welt Am Sonntag2 . Turkish and Kurdish activists are also expected, raising the potential for chaos.
To deal with the threat of rioting and brawls, Hamburg will deploy some 15,000 police officers for the summit with reinforcements due to arrive from other German regions . An additional 5,000 federal officers will also be on site to protect heads of state and government, the paper wrote. Security forces have trained for many scenarios including terrorist attacks.
They also expect clashes between Kurdish groups and nationalist Turks who will be there to support President Recep Tayyip Erdo an.
Kurds could attack nationalist Turks and vice versa, a source told the paper. After a brawl outside of Turkey s embassy3 in Washington, D.C . that involved pro-Erdogan security forces, Germany is taking precautions to avoid similar incidents .
The federal police has informed its Turkish counterpart that security forces from Turkey would not be allowed to operate during the summit, sources told Welt Am Sonntag.
Related stories on these topics:
British police ran a security check on Youssef Zaghba the third London attacker in January when he passed through London s Stansted Airport, according to two Italian security officials, raising questions about the assertion made by British authorities that he was not a subject of interest to U.K . security services. The check a query of the European Schengen Information System1 (SIS II) database would have revealed that Zaghba had been stopped by Italian police a year earlier at Bologna Airport and investigated for terrorism related charges . In Bologna he told Italian authorities: I m going to be a terrorist2. The SIS II database is a key tool for combating cross-border crime and contains more than 65 million entries on individuals, weapons and vehicles .
Last year it received 3 billion queries from police and border officials across Europe . The system records details about specific queries by security agencies. When Zaghba s name was released by the Metropolitan Police on Tuesday morning, they stated that3 he was not a police or MI5 subject of interest. When asked by POLITICO about the SIS database query in January, a spokesperson for the U.K . Home Office declined to comment.
Zaghba, 22, was one of the three perpetrators shot dead by police during Saturday s terrorist attack in central London . The attackers killed seven people and injured 484 on London Bridge and in Borough Market on the south of the River Thames opposite London s financial distract. It was the third terrorist attack in the U.K . in three months, leading to serious questions for the government and the security services.
Any successful attack is a failure of intelligence services, said Raffaello Pantucci, counter-terrorism expert at the Royal United Services Institute in London . One attack can be excusable, a second one maybe, but a third one, no especially in the run-up to a general election .
Questions will be asked and will need a firm response from the intelligence community and the government.
Youssef Zaghba, the third attacker shot dead by police following the terrorist attacks in London | U.K . Police
Prime Minister Theresa May said Tuesday5 that the country s domestic intelligence agency, MI5, will have to review the way it handled information about the London Bridge attack. Zaghba had been notified to British and Moroccan authorities by Italian intelligence when Italian police intercepted him on 15 March 2016 at Bologna Airport with a one-way ticket to Istanbul, the two Italian officials told POLITICO on condition of anonymity. He was carrying no luggage and was stopped because he looked agitated, one official said.
After questioning him, police phoned his mother who, according to the source, said she had been worried about her son because he had been talking about jihad . She told the Italian authorities that Zaghba was working in a Pakistani restaurant in London . The Italian authorities seized his phone and several SIM cards but did not arrest him because there was not evidence he had committed a crime . They reported him to the authorities in Bologna which began investigating him over potential terrorism links. But in April 2016, the Bologna court stopped the investigation, cancelling the order under which Zaghba s phone had been seized and denying permission for police to retain a copy of his contacts .
The investigation found no evidence he had travelled to Syria. Bologna s prosecutor Giuseppe Amato told Italian media that his office closed the case since there was no evidence that he was a terrorist, and that Zaghba had only exhibited suspicious behaviors. 6
After the airport stop, Italy s Internal Intelligence Service passed on details to the liaison officer for the U.K . s foreign security agency MI6 in Italy, who also relayed the information to MI5, two Italian security sources said. The alert to the British authorities was a routine communication about a potential suspect, rather than an emergency red flag, according to the Italian security sources . At that point, his name was also added to the SIS database .
The U.K . Home Office declined to comment when asked if this was the case. Italy s National Anti-mafia and Counterterrorism Prosecutor Franco Roberti confirmed that information about the Bologna Airport stop had been relayed to the British . Our intelligence has notified to British intelligence the circumstances of this Italian-Moroccan who has been suspected of terrorist activities in Italy, Roberti was quoted as saying7 during a conference at the interior ministry by Italian wire service La Presse.
Zaghba was born on 26 January 1995 in Fez, Morocco, where he held legal residency, although intelligence sources said he had lived with his mother Valeria Collina on the outskirts of Bologna . His father, Mohammed, lives in Fez and was born in 1962.
The family lived together in Morocco until 2015 when the parents got divorced . The son stayed with his father until January 2016 . After an argument, he left to live with his mother in Italy . At that point he began flying regularly between London and Bologna.
Police said Monday8 that one other attacker, Khuram Shazad Butt, 27, a British citizen born in Pakistan, was already known to police and MI5 . The other attacker was named Monday as Rachid Radouane, 30. In its statement Tuesday, the Met Police said: Detectives would like to hear from anyone who has any information about these men that may assist them with the investigation . They are particularly keen to hear about places they may have frequented and their movements in the days and hours before the attacks.
Arthur Snell, former assistant director of counter-terrorism at the U.K . Foreign Office, said the sequence of attacks puts the spotlight on May s record9 in charge of the Home Office and cuts to police numbers of 20,000 nationally.
When May was Home Secretary a lot of time and energy was put into immigration including raising the number of countries which required a visa, she was less focused on counter-terrorism, he said . She developed a poor relationship with the police, she had an aggressive way of justifying and explaining those cuts and this is unfortunate.
Related stories on these topics:
- ^ Schengen Information System (ec.europa.eu)
- ^ I m going to be a terrorist (www.politico.eu)
- ^ they stated that (news.met.police.uk)
- ^ killed seven people and injured 48 (www.politico.eu)
- ^ Theresa May said Tuesday (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ told Italian media (bologna.repubblica.it)
- ^ quoted as saying (www.lapresse.it)
- ^ Police said Monday (www.politico.eu)
- ^ spotlight on May s record (www.politico.eu)