Tensions remain high in Northeast Asia following the dispatch of a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group to waters near the Korean Peninsula and signs that Pyongyang is preparing for another underground nuclear test.
The deployment of the carrier USS Carl Vinson followed the summit last week in Florida between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping where North Korea was the major topic of discussion.
Both leaders exchanged views on their assessment of the problem, but “there was mutual agreement the problem has become more urgent,” a senior administration tells Inside the Ring.
Highlighting the growing dangers, Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, canceled a scheduled appearance before Congress this week because of the heightened tensions.
According to the official, Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi renewed a commitment to fully implement U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Mr. Trump also emphasized that the United States will not accept a de facto nuclear state in North Korea.
The president also pointedly told Mr. Xi that he is prepared to resolve the North Korean threat — unilaterally if need be.
“We did talk about the fact the U.S. will be increasing pressure on North Korea — with or without help from other countries,” the official said.
The prospect of U.S. military action against North Korea is something Mr. Xi and the Chinese government fear most. The threat of U.S. action was driven home to all the Chinese present at the Mar-a-Lago resort when Mr. Trump ordered a salvo of 59 cruise missiles on a Syrian airfield linked to a chemical weapons attack.
The timing of the Syria bombing was a clear signal to China that Mr. Trump, unlike his predecessor, is prepared to use American military power despite campaigning on “America First” policies.
Analysts say averting U.S. military action in Asia is among the highest priorities of China’s leadership. Beijing’s main strategic objective toward the United States is constraining what it regards as the declining U.S. superpower that it believes poses a danger to China.
RUSSIAN DISINFORMATION ON SYRIAN CHEMICAL ATTACK
The White House this week disclosed new details from U.S. electronic and imagery intelligence on the chemical weapons attack that triggered last week’s cruise missile strike against Syria.
According to senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the chemical attack that killed scores of civilians, Russian government disinformation operations were carried out in a bid to deflect criticism of the Syrian government of its ally, President Bashar Assad.
The information warfare operations sought to blame the attacks on actors other than the Syrian military. The disinformation also falsely asserted that chemical agents other than sarin nerve gas were used. Syria was supposed to have given up all its chemical weapons as part of a Russian-brokered disarmament deal.
Russian President Vladimir Putin chimed in on the information operation on Wednesday, asserting U.S. intelligence had fabricated evidence on the Syrian chemical attack.
President Trump said in a Fox Business Network interview the same day that Russia was supporting “an evil person” in Syria’s Mr. Assad and called Moscow’s backing “very bad for Russia.”
“I think it’s clear that the Russians are trying to cover up what happened there,” one official said.
“The cover-up is the disinformation that has happened from the day of the attack to today,” the official added.
The declassified intelligence report concluded: “The Syrian regime and its primary backer, Russia, have sought to confuse the world community about who is responsible for using chemical weapons against the Syrian people in this and earlier attacks.”
Moscow initially dismissed reports of the chemical weapons at Khan Shaykhun as a “prank of a provocative nature” and asserted evidence, including videos, had been fabricated. However, the intelligence evidence showed Syrian rebels could not have fabricated the amount and quantity of videos and other reporting of the grisly deaths from the attack site.
Moscow then shifted its disinformation theme to a claim that the chemical attack was caused by a Syrian bomb hit on a terrorist ammunition depot containing chemical weapons on the outskirts of the town.
However, while the Islamic State has used chemical weapons in the past, the group does not possess sarin — the nerve agent used in the Khan Shaykhun attack.
Also, a video obtained by U.S. intelligence shows the chemical strike involved at least one chemical weapons bomb that hit in the middle of a street in the northern section of Khan Shaykhun. The bomb crater caused by the chemical blast was not the same as a crater that would have been caused by a conventional high-explosive payload.
Syria had been linked to three chemical weapons attacks in 2016 that were launched from a different airfield from the one bombed by Navy Tomahawk missiles.
“Russia’s allegations fit with a pattern of deflecting blame from the regime and attempting to undermine the credibility of its opponents,” the report said.
LASER INCIDENT 20 YEARS LATER
A major theme of Democratic talking points in Congress and on liberal media outlets in recent weeks has been the notion that Russia stole the presidential election from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton through cyberattacks and influence ploys.
The anti-Russia political narrative that has ensued is in stark contrast to past efforts by Democrats to support Moscow under successive leaders, including current President Vladimir Putin, since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
A case in point is the cover-up by the Clinton administration of a laser attack against a Navy intelligence officer in the Pacific Northwest 20 years ago.
The April 4, 1997, incident took place in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, north of Puget Sound, when someone aboard a Russian merchant ship that was engaged in intelligence-gathering fired a laser at a Canadian helicopter surveilling the ship.
At the time, the ship was sailing inbound through waters used by Navy ballistic missile submarines. In fact, a Navy sub was outbound on the surface in the strait as the Russian ship was transiting inbound.
As the Canadian helicopter made a pass over the Russian ship, someone fired a laser that injured the eyes of Navy Lt. Jack Daly, an intelligence officer who was photographing the ship, and his Canadian Sea King helicopter pilot Capt. Pat Barnes.
The incident was kept secret by the Clinton administration Pentagon and State Department in a bid to protect its conciliatory policies toward Moscow.
The attack would be disclosed in a top-secret Joint Staff report and published in The Washington Times by this columnist weeks later. After a decision was made to search the ship for a laser, the State Department notified the Russian Embassy that the search would take place. The tipoff allowed the Russians to hide or ditch the laser weapon used in the attack.
A Pentagon spokesman at the time also provided false information to reporters by stating that there was no evidence the Russian vessel had been engaged in intelligence-gathering.
Lt. Daly, who has since retired, told Inside the Ring that the federal government and Navy have never acknowledged the laser attack.
“All I have to show for my efforts 20 years later are two eyeballs with 24/7/365 pain and a denial of any VA compensation,” Lt. Daly said.
“It’s painfully clear that both Bill and Hillary Clinton have had no problem throwing a military member under the bus without blinking an eye. Their disdain for anyone in uniform is well known,” he added.
Lt. Daly said the attack was “just one of many national security cover-ups by the Clintons.”
“Thank God our military men and women this day have a commander in chief named Donald J. Trump,” he said. “The alternative was unthinkable.”
• Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.
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