OPINION – President Trump’s nominee for the top legal job in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Patrick Hovakimian, gave limited answers to questions from Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee at his confirmation hearing last Wednesday. His performance all but guarantees a partisan line when his ...

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is focusing on reported intelligence that Russia placed bounties on the lives of US troops in Afghanistan. The committee is expected to hold a hearing on Thursday titled, “Russian Bounties on U.S. Troops: Why Hasn’t the Administration Responded?”  On Friday, the committee will address the ...

OPINION -- US Government officials, civilian and military, alike may be facing unusual tests in the next four months: Does their loyalty rest with the oath they took to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, or to President Trump? Maybe those ...

Cipher Brief Expert John McLaughlin is a distinguished practitioner in residence at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.  He served as the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 2000-2004 and Acting Director of the CIA in 2004. OPINION -- I recently returned from the annual Munich ...

The United States signed a peace agreement with Taliban leaders on Saturday that is intended to end the US’ 18-year involvement in Afghanistan. The deal agreed to in Doha, included the involvement of U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban Co-Founder and leader of the Taliban Political ...

Several Cipher Brief experts attended this year’s Munich Security Conference, which concluded last weekend. The annual event is an opportunity for Atlantic allies to share their views on national security related issues. We wanted a sense of the conversations happening off the stage this year, in the hallways and beer ...

Emile Nakhleh is a retired CIA Senior Intelligence Service Officer and founding director of the CIA’s Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program Office. Nakhleh is currently a Research Professor and Director of the Global and National Security Policy Institute at the University of New Mexico. Since retiring from the government in ...

OPINION -- Ten minutes into President Trump’s speech at his first 2020 presidential re-election campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio, last Friday, he drew great cheers when he said, “If you dare to threaten our citizens, you do so at your own grave peril.” Moments later, Trump brought up the U.S. ...

The U.S. targeting and killing of Iranian Quds Force General Qassem Soleimani by a drone strike in Baghdad on Friday has prompted a series of swift statements and actions throughout the Middle East as experts work to anticipate what will follow. The Cipher Brief has spoken with a number of ...

Cipher Brief expert Robert Dannenberg is a 24-year veteran of the CIA, where he served in several senior leadership positions, including chief of operations for the Counterterrorism Center, chief of the Central Eurasia Division and chief of the CIA’s Information Operations Center.  Post CIA, he worked as Chief of Global ...

OPINION -- Donald Trump as president displays weakness toward those he envies as strong foreign leaders, while he acts like a bully toward leaders he considers less powerful than himself.  Those contrasting natures were on full display last Wednesday. At the same time Trump was offering unwarranted concessions to Turkish ...

OPINION -- Traveling in Greece on personal business during late October, it was remarkable to hear from a variety of Greeks, their unvarnished views of the Trump administration as well as their overall opinion of where America sits in the current world order. It was a unique experience for me, ...

OPINION -- More than 231 years ago, Alexander Hamilton foresaw the controversy around today’s impeachment inquiry into President Trump when he published Federalist Paper 65 on March 7, 1788.  In it, Hamilton wrote that the Constitutionally established, House of Representatives investigative role in the impeachment process “will seldom fail to agitate ...

OPINION -- President Trump’s sending U.S. military troops to control the oil fields in northern Syria can only be interpreted as introducing financial deal-making into his running of U.S. foreign and national security policies. Trump made clear in his Sunday press conference that he sees control of the Syrian oil ...

President Trump announced this week that the U.S. had brokered a permanent ceasefire in northeast Syria as he also announced that he would be lifting sanctions that were imposed after Turkey launched a military offensive into Syria in early October. A day earlier, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia ...

Marc Polymeropoulos retired in June 2019 from the Senior Intelligence Service ranks at the CIA after a 26 year career in operational headquarters and field assignments covering the Middle East, Europe, Russia and counter terrorism.  OPINION -- Several friends have recently asked me how the myriad of international scandals that ...

Gary Grappo is a former U.S. ambassador who served as Minister Counselor for Political Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad; U.S. Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman; and Charge d’Affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. As a career member ...

OPINION – Why is there no Whistleblower in the case of President Trump’s October 6, phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan?  Who was on the line with Trump? Anonymous Pentagon sources last Tuesday said Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Milley were on the line, ...

OPINION -- President Donald Trump’s decision to remove the small contingent of United States troops remaining in Syria is a disaster on multiple levels. It illustrates not only his reckless instincts on foreign policy but also the near-total absence of a process for making momentous decisions in his administration. For process, Trump’s style ...

The Cipher Brief is bringing you a range of expert perspectives on Syria this week.  General Jack Keane (Ret.), the chairman of the Institute for the Study of War, spelled out The Limits of U.S. Influence in Syria on Monday with a solid assessment of U.S., Iranian and Russian influence in ...

OPINION -- White House officials initially learned of the first Whistleblower’s complaint about President Trump’s July 25, telephone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky weeks before it became public.  What did those officials do about it and was President Trump involved? Answering that question should be part of the impeachment investigation ...

OPINION -- As we digest the Trump administration’s unorthodox style of governing in the foreign affairs arena, it is worth focusing on a key aspect of our bilateral relationships that does not get much press, the effect of President Trump on our foreign intelligence service liaison partners.  How they approach ...

OPINION -- Could there be a Hugh Scott in 2019? I refer to Sen. Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, in office from 1958 to 1976, who came to mind because as a young Pennsylvanian during the Watergate crisis, he left an impression on me. An old-fashioned centrist Republican, Scott was one ...

OPINION -- Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson deserves praise along with the Whistleblower for pushing within the law to get President Trump’s highly protected phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky before the Congress and the public. Atkinson’s two week “preliminary review” helped build credibility for the Whistleblower’s August ...

During 2018 and part of 2019, the DPRK’s Chairman Kim Jong-un, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in, and U.S. President Donald Trump collectively made diplomatic history in a series of summits, which gave profound hope to the notion that the Korean Peninsula might finally – after 70 years of war – ...

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford retires later this month, but in his own quiet way he is leaving behind his recommendation for the current problem of when to reduce U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan. It’s clear that President Trump still wants to cut American forces as contemplated in the ...

OPINION -- The Trump administration’s year-old plan to vastly increase future production of plutonium pits, the triggers of thermonuclear weapons, caught my attention just days ago when its high cost was mentioned in a section of the August 23, Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the Senate-passed version of the ...

When the latest India-Pakistan flare-up arose over disputed Kashmir, my mind went back to Christmas Eve, 2001. My family was urging me to get to the dinner table, but I was in the secure home office I had as CIA’s then-deputy director. I was on an encrypted phone giving a ...

OPINION -- President Trump’s scheduled trip to Poland this coming weekend to participate in that country’s Sept. 1, 80th anniversary of the start of World War II will showcase his administration’s growing diplomatic and military relationship with Warsaw’s increasingly rightist regime. On the political side, it also fits in with Trump’s ...

The resignation of both Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and his deputy Susan Gordon, both taking effect on August 15th, mean big changes are underway at the top of the U.S. Intelligence Community. Sources tell us that Gordon increasingly found herself between a rock and a hard place since ...

One of the country’s leading Intelligence professionals made her way quietly to the White House late Thursday afternoon to deliver her letter of resignation to the Oval office. The message, on a simple, hand-written note, ended weeks of speculation about the fate of Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, Susan ...

  Bottom Line Up Front The Persian Gulf remains a potential flashpoint as the United States and its allies increase their deployments and Iran strengthens its defense posture. Iran's seizure of another Gulf oil tanker in early August demonstrates Tehran's confidence in its strategic position throughout the region. The muted ...

  Bottom Line Up Front:  The success of Russia’s meddling in 2016 U.S. election ensures that Moscow will employ similar disinformation efforts as 2020 approaches. Indicating the severity of the threat, DNI Dan Coats recently announced the creation of the federal government's first 'election threats executive.' Both governments and private ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran have now returned to the core issue of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s recent actions, including violating terms of the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement, are intended to make the Trump administration pay a price for its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign. ...

The significant weekend visit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un started with a Tweet last Thursday as President Trump was getting ready to depart the G20 conference in Osaka, Japan. “After some very important meetings, including my meeting with President Xi of China, I ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Under the leadership of Jared Kushner, the administration is attempting to cobble together a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. The proposal has been harshly criticized by analysts and politicians alike, who note that Washington lacks credibility in the region and can hardly be viewed ...

  Bottom Line Up Front As it becomes more evident that Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro will remain in power, the Trump administration seems to have cooled on the idea of regime change in Venezuela. Given Russia’s intervention to bolster Maduro, and increasing tensions with Iran in the Persian Gulf occupying ...

OPINION -- President Trump plans to wait until next year to decide what he will do about the 2010 new START strategic nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, which runs out in February 2021, senior administration officials told a Hudson Institute meeting last Wednesday. The session drew headlines last week ...

OPINION -- There was a flurry of arms control talk after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the Trump administration is “at the very beginning of conversations about renewing” the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).  He made the comments during testimony April 10, before the Senate ...

  Bottom Line Up Front Recent unrest in Venezuela and the continuing uncertainty over whether embattled President Maduro will step down continues to drag on. Following a recent coup attempt, some have speculated that Russia involved itself to save the Maduro regime. The deteriorating situation has caused more than 3 ...

The U.S. moved this week to apply even more pressure on Iran to end its involvement in illicit activities around the world by announcing that the U.S. State Department will no longer grant sanctions waivers to countries that import Iranian oil.    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the announcement ...

  Bottom Line Up Front The Trump Administration ended a key waiver on Iran oil sanctions as part of an effort to apply maximum pressure on Iran’s economy and its regime. The end of the waiver program will reduce Iran’s oil exports further but is unlikely to bring them to ...

OPINION -- At almost every crucial moment in the Mueller report, President Donald J. Trump is recorded having expressed concerns to advisors that reports of Russia’s election interference might lead the public to question the legitimacy of his election. The legitimacy of Trump’s election should be questioned and investigated. “The ...

  Bottom Line Up Front The 8 April Trump administration announcement designating Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization will have little practical effect on IRGC operations. There are few benefits to the designation because the IRGC is already widely sanctioned; few foreign companies transact any ...

OPINION -- One result from the Hanoi Summit: North Korea continues to be a member of the elite nuclear weapons club, and probably will remain so for years to come. National Security Advisor John Bolton, on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday, acknowledged that North Korea kept producing weapons grade ...

OPINION -- What are the “corresponding measures” President Trump is prepared to take in return for a promise from Chairman Kim Jong-un to dismantle his Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, which has been producing both plutonium and highly-enriched uranium for North Korea’s nuclear weapons? Kim and his representatives have been ...

The Cipher Brief asked expert and retired four-star General David Petraeus for his big takeaways after attending last weekend's Munich Security Conference. First, the wedge between the U.S. Administration and Europe is a good bit bigger than last year, and Russia, Iran, and China are working to highlight and exploit the ...

Steven Hall spent more than 30 years in the CIA, the bulk of them running and managing intelligence operations in Eurasia and Latin America.  He has experience both in counterintelligence and counterterrorism and has overseen intelligence operations in the countries of the former Soviet Union.  When he retired from the ...

  Bottom Line Up Front At the end of February, U.S. President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un will meet in Vietnam following up last June’s Singapore summit. The second meeting occurs amidst both positive and negative developments between the countries. Tensions between North Korea and the U.S. ...

A senior Kurdish official has dismissed the idea of creating a 20-mile wide safe zone in Syria presented by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, something that Erdogan says would require both logistical and financial support from the U.S. and other allies.    The idea of creating the zone comes as ...