Senior officials in the Trump administration expressed concern and surprise this week over phone calls to a Chinese military leader by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley before and after the 2020 presidential election.
The Washington Post reported this week that a new book by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa reveals that General Milley called the People’s Liberation Army twice General Li Zuocheng to inform him, the United States had no intention of attacking China during the tense days surrounding the disputed US election. Another conversation reportedly included a promise from General Milley to the Chinese general that the president would inform them of any attack, a highly unlikely statement given the secrecy and operational security of military operations.
The talks took place on October 30 and January 8, 2020, and were apparently postponed because senior military officials were concerned about President Trump’s mental state in the fierce controversy over his election defeat.
General Milley, through a spokesman, confirmed the talks and defended them.
“His talks with the Chinese and others in October and January were consistent with these tasks and responsibilities that provide reassurance for maintaining strategic stability,” said Colonel Dave Butler, the spokesman. “All conversations from the President to his counterparts, including those reported, are staffed, coordinated and communicated with the Department of Defense and interagency.”
Controversy over the talks prompted accusations of insubordination and even betrayal by critics in Congress and elsewhere. Some have called on General Milley to resign.
The chairman has already been under the protection of conservatives for having defended part of the Biden administration’s military policy on inclusivity and diversity, such as making the dubious claim that the armed forces are infiltrated by white supremacists.
A senior White House official told the Inside the Ring phone calls from the general, who was being held as chairman of President Biden, is worrying because they were unknown to President Trump, then the White House National security Advisor Robert O’Brien, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other senior officials who were closely involved in China’s policy and strategy at the time.
The senior official also said that reports that the general called in response to US intelligence reports that the Chinese were incorrectly fearing a US nuclear attack were also unknown to the president and his senior advisers.
“No one was aware of any such intelligence, including from FB,” said the senior official, using the acronym for the president’s daily card – the high-quality report that has limited distribution to the president and his top aides.
“We were engaged in a holistic approach to China that included putting pressure on Beijing on many fronts,” the senior official said. “These phone calls had completely undermined it.”
Other senior officials involved in the most sensitive details of China’s policy also indicated that they were not aware of the talks until the news reports were published. Matt Pottinger, Deputy National Security Adviser at the time, and Deputy Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs David Stilwell were also out of the conversation.
The former senior official said that all such contacts with the Chinese military must normally be “coordinated” in the White House and include intelligence from senior government officials in both politics and intelligence. A transcript of the phone calls, which was probably also recorded by the Chinese military, should be made public, the former official added.
The newsletter Axios reported on Wednesday thatDefense Secretary Mark Esper – fired by Trump shortly after the November election – was behind the effort to send a reassuring message to the Chinese.
According to Axios, Esper urged the Pentagon police to send a back-channel message to the Chinese based on Pentation notices that China expected a US attack. The Pentagon tried to disperse the PLA about all the performances that the United States planned an attack.
The first message was sent by politicians and was later repeated by General Milley in his conversation. The former senior official said there was no intelligence indicating that China was preparing for a US attack, such as moving or preparing forces.
“The only thing we were worried about was a Chinese attack on Taiwan,” the former official said.
The official silence of General Milley gives credibility to the book’s accusations. However, Woodward has a record for reporting dubious information in his previous books.
For example, in the early 1980s, he claimed to have had a deathbed conversation withCIA Director William Casey about the Reagan administration’s fatal Iran counter-deal involving selling weapons to Tehran to raise cash for US-backed counter-rebels in Nicaragua.
White House officials then told The Washington Times that the call could never have happened. Mr. Casey at the hospital was unable and unable to speak at the time of the alleged hospital exchange with Mr Woodward.
Mr Trump weighed in on the latest Woodward book in a statement calling reports of the talks “fake news”.
“If the story of ‘Dumbass’ General Mark Milley … is true, I guess he would be tried for TREASON by handling his Chinese counterpart behind the president’s back and telling China he would give them a message. ‘of an attack.’ Can’t do it! ”Trump said.
“For the record, I never even intended to attack China – and China knows it.”
Justice decides UAE cases
The Department of Justice announced this week that it has decided criminal charges against three former U.S. intelligence and military officials for providing embargo hacking services to a company linked to a United Arab Emirates hacking system.
Marc Baier, 49 and Ryan Adams, 34, and former U.S. citizen, Daniel Gericke, 40, reached a deferred prosecution agreement demanding payment of $ 1.68 million and restrictions on future operations and employment.
Court documents in the case revealed that the three men worked for a United Arab Emirates company that conducted hacking for the United Arab Emirates from 2016 to 2019. The employment violated the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) as a defense service that required an export license from the State Department of Defense Trade. did not manage to get.
The three created what prosecutors described as a sophisticated system for “zero-click hacking” and data collection. The system could compromise with a device without action from the target victim.
The system was used to hack US companies and gain unauthorized access to computers and mobile phones around the world, including the United States.
A document in the case stated that Baier, Adams and Gericke bought the sophisticated hacking equipment and then changed it for their operations for the Emirate government. The New York Times has identified the United Arab Emirates as DarkMatter.
“This agreement is the first of its kind to investigate two different types of criminal activity: the provision of unlicensed export-controlled defense services to support the use of computer networks and a commercial company that creates, supports and operates systems specifically designed to allow others to: access unauthorized data from computers worldwide, including in the United States, ”says Action Deputy Attorney General Mark J. Lesko with the Ministry of Justice’s national security department.
“Hackers-for-hire and those who otherwise support such activities in violation of U.S. law should fully expect to be prosecuted for their criminal conduct.”
That said Steven M. D’Antuono, Deputy Director General of the FBI Washington Field Office: “These individuals chose to ignore warnings and use their many years of experience to support and improve a foreign government’s offensive cyber operations.”
Reuters reported in 2019 that a team of former US intelligence officials working for the United Arab Emirates hacked iPhones for activists, diplomats and rival foreign leaders with a spy tool called Karma.
The business highlighted the proliferation of sophisticated hacking equipment and is one of the first known cases where hackers break into Apple’s iPhones, which have greater security than their Android counterparts. The hack meant a shortcoming in the messaging system used in iPhones. Apple issued a security update this week to fix the bug.
According to Reuters, Karma allowed the state of the Persian Gulf to monitor calls from hundreds of targets beginning in 2016, including the Emir of Qatar.
The three Americans worked with Emirati’s security officials as part of a hacking unit codenamed Project Raven. The project was used to collect photos, emails, text messages and location data from targeted iPhones. The hackers also received saved passwords that are used for later intrusions.
One of the operatives was identified by Reuters as Lori Stroud, a former National Security Agency official.
“It was like, ‘We have this amazing new development that we just bought. Get us a huge list of targets that have iPhones now, she says new agency. “It was like Christmas.”
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.