Intel Desk

Intel Desk

Ken Dilanian

Controversial Trump Adviser Crows Over "Radical Islamic Terrorism" Line in Speech

Sebastian Gorka, the White House foreign policy adviser who works for strategist Steve Bannon, has been crowing about three words Donald Trump uttered in his speech to Congress Tuesday: 

"Radical Islamic terrorism."

"After 8 years of obfuscation and disastrous Counterterrorism policies those 3 words are key to Victory against Global Jihadism," Gorka tweeted Tuesday.

Gorka has yet to address the fact that in his own PhD dissertation in 2007, he argued against putting a religious label on extremism. Doing so, he wrote, would do "a great disservice to law-abiding Muslims everywhere and also add an undeserved sense of quasi-religious legitimacy to murderous terrorists that have little in common with the teachings of the Koran or Mohammed."

Leaving that aside, it's clear Gorka and his allies won a policy victory over others, including national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who advised Trump that associating Islam with terrorism  plays into the hands of the enemy by risking alienating peaceful, law-abiding Muslims. Bannon and Gorka argue the opposite: That the U.S. must proclaim to the world that jihadi terrorism springs from a faction within the religion itself, thereby helping moderates win what they call the war within Islam.

Asked about McMaster's widely reported views on NPR Tuesday morning, Gorka responded that McMaster never said such things.

Image: Deputy assistant to President Trump Sebastian Gorka speaks at CPAC
Deputy assistant to President Trump Sebastian Gorka, center, and ACU Board Member Zuhdi Jasser, left, participate in a discussion during the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 24, 2017 in National Harbor, Maryland. Alex Wong / Getty Images

Intelligence Director Nominee Dan Coats Puts Cyber Threat at Top of List

President Trump's nominee to head up the intelligence community placed cyber threats at the top of his list of the most challenging issues facing the new administration.

Former Senator Dan Coats, the nominee for director of national intelligence, laid out the threats he sees, including: the rising cyber threat, the "threat of radical Islamic terrorism," China's "troubling regional activism," Russia's "assertiveness," and the threat from North Korea.

Speaking about Russia, Coats said that its "assertiveness in global affairs is something I look upon with great concern," adding that the U.S. needs to address it "with eyes wide open and a healthy degree of skepticism."  

Testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Coats also vowed to pursue an investigation into the possible Russian interference in the U.S. election, promising to hand over raw intelligence material that some lawmakers have requested.

Coats said that Russia tried to influence the election and seemed to "have stepped up their game" in the cyber world. He later acknowledged that he has not yet seen the classified assessment about any attempted hacking or Russian influence.

"This is something that needs to be investigated and addressed," he said.

Image: Trump to name Dan Coats as Director of national intelligence
Indiana Senator Dan Coats speaks briefly with the press following his meeting with US President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York, New York, USA, 30 November 2016 AALBIN LOHR-JONES / POOL / EPA

No 'Specific, Credible' Terror Threat Against Presidential Address

A threat assessment prepared by the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the Secret Service describes Tuesday night's presidential address to Congress as "an attractive target for violent extremists," but says that as of Feb. 10 there was "no information to indicate a specific, credible threat." 

Given the concentrated presence of government leaders and global media outlets, however, the Joint Threat Assessment says, "We remain concerned about unaffiliated lone offenders, homegrown violent extremists and domestic extremists … as well as the sustained interest of foreign terrorist organizations in attacking gatherings, landmarks and critical infrastructure."

The unclassified document, dated Feb. 23, was written by the FBI, DHS, Secret Service, the U.S. Capitol Police and the Washington Regional Threat Analysis Center.

Image: Presidential Address
A joint threat assessment by several federal agencies published Feb. 23.
Tracy Connor

Houston Businessman Gets 11 Years for Funneling Tech to Russian Military

A Houston businessman was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison for his role in a lucrative conspiracy to funnel cutting-edge U.S. microelectronics to the Russian military.

Alexander Posobilov, 62, one of 11 people charged in the scheme, was a director of ARC Electronics, which shipped $50 million of electronics to Russia over the course of a decade. Posobilov was accused of evading export controls and concealing from suppliers that the products, which are used in a wide range of military systems, would end up in the Russian military's hands.

A research unit of Russia's security service, an entity that builds air and missile defense systems for Russia and another that makes electronic warfare systems for the Ministry of Defense were among the recipients of the technology — which Russia was unable to manufacture at home, prosecutors said.

"Posobilov helped lead a criminal operation that through lies and subterfuge profited handsomely from the unlawful sale and export of sophisticated American microelectronics for use by the Russian military," U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said in a statement. 

Posobilov, who was convicted at trial with two others, has already appealed. The former owner of ARC, Alexander Fishenko, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years in July. Five other defendants pleaded guilty and three are at large.

Keeping Up With ISIS: GW Launches Terror Case Twitter Bot

The researchers at the George Washington University Program on Extremism are beta testing a Twitter bot that automatically sends out case information on terror-related court cases in the U.S. For now, the Twitter feed, @TerrorCases, is pulling federal Islamic terrorist cases. According to Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism, the bot may be tweaked in future to pull in white supremacist cases. "It's something we're exploring," tweeted Hughes. "Trying to find good data on it. Hard to come by."

U.S. Drone Strike Kills Regional Taliban Leader in Afghanistan

Senior members of the Afghan Taliban confirmed to NBC News that the senior Taliban commander for Kunduz province, Mullah Abdul Salam Akhund, was killed in a U.S. drone strike Sunday. A drone struck a house with two missiles and killed Akhund and eight other militants. According to the Taliban, Akhund, considered the shadow governor of Kunduz, had been responsible for planning major attacks and was about to meet regional commanders and plan more attacks for the Taliban’s annual spring offensive.

Houthi Rebels Plant New Radar On Red Sea Coast of Yemen

After Yemen’s Houthi rebels mounted repeated missile attacks on U.S. ships, the U.S. Navy destroyed the Iran-backed group’s coastal radar sites with Tomahawk missiles in October.

The United Arab Emirates then quietly took out some of the Houthis’ spotter boats, too, further suppressing the Shia rebel group’s ability to target ships in the Red Sea.

But now a senior U.S. defense official says the Houthis have deployed a new coastal surveillance radar on the country’s Red Sea coast.

The new radar poses a potential threat to allied ships currently in the area, including three U.S. vessels. One U.S. ship is providing escorts through the Bab-el-Mandeb, the strait that connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and passes between Djibouti and Houthi-controlled Western Yemen. The British amphibious assault ship HMS Ocean is also nearby.

When the Obama administration greenlit the October strikes, the Pentagon asserted its authority to hit future targets as needed.

"The United States will respond to any further threat to our ships and commercial traffic, as appropriate," said Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook at the time.

Image: USS Nitze launches strike against sites in Yemen
A photo released by U.S. Navy on Oct. 13, 2016 shows the guided missile destroyer USS Nitze launching a strike against coastal sites in Houthi-controlled territory on Yemen's Red Sea coast. U.S. Navy / via AP
Ken Dilanian

Trump Advisor Famous for Calling Out "Radical Islam" Once Argued Against Doing That

Presidential adviser Sebastian Gorka has long argued that a "martial" ideology embedded in Islam makes Muslims more predisposed to become terrorists — embracing terms such as "Islamic extremism" when labeling terrorist movements. But according to a recently surfaced footnote in Gorka's 2007 PhD dissertation, he seems to have had a change of heart.

A decade ago, Gorka argued that descriptions such as "Islamist terrorism" do "a great disservice to law-abiding Muslims everywhere and also add an undeserved sense of quasi-religious legitimacy to murderous terrorists that have little in common with the teachings of the Koran or Mohammed. As a result, I will shy away from using such popular yet inflammatory phrases and will employ what I believe to be more accurate labels, such as `transcendentally informed terrorists.'"

This was exactly the argument President Obama and his aides used to make for using the term "violent extremism," and avoiding "radical Islam." It was a view Donald Trump repudiated during his campaign, and in his inaugural address.

Gorka reports to Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, who has said he does not consider Islam a religion of peace.

Gorka didn't respond to a request for comment from NBC News.

Tom Winter

Report: Fewer Homegrown Terrorists, and Fewer Americans Heading Abroad to Fight for ISIS

A new report says that the number of homegrown Islamist terrorists hatching plots or mounting attacks inside the U.S. dropped last year, but that three-quarters of those who were killed or arrested in 2016 had some link to ISIS.

Homegrown terrorists, or homegrown violent extremists (HVEs), are defined as citizens or residents of the U.S. who plot or mount attacks within the national borders. Overall, the report from New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness indicates a steep decline in the HVEs arrested or killed year to year. The 2015 report from the same office listed 75, while the 2016 report tallies 38. The number of attacks was roughly steady, at six in 2015 and eight in 2016.

The document, available to the public via this link, also says that in 2016, 76 percent of all HVEs who launched attacks or were apprehended identified themselves as having allegiance to or affiliation with ISIS.

But those would-be ISIS fighters are now less likely to head to foreign battlefields. The data shows that the number of HVEs who attempted to go abroad and fight overseas declined by almost half since 2015.

It’s Dangerous To Be A Russian Official These Days

Seven Russian officials, most of them diplomats, have died since November. In chronological order:

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, Election Day in the U.S., Sergei Krivov died of a heart attack, or of a fall, inside the Russian consulate in New York.

Two diplomats were shot dead on December 19. Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, 62-year-old Andrei Karlov, was murdered by an off-duty police officer at a photo exhibit in Ankara. Petr Polshikov was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head in his Moscow apartment the same day. He was the chief advisor to the Foreign Ministry’s Latin American department.

A week later, former KGB General Oleg Erovinkin, 61, who may have been a source for ex-British spy Christopher Steele’s Trump dossier, was found dead in the back of his car in Moscow.

On Jan. 9, Russia’s consul in Athens, Andrei Malinin, was found dead in his apartment.

Three weeks later, on Jan. 26, Russia’s ambassador to India, 68-year-old Alexander Kadakin, died in New Delhi of heart failure.

On Feb. 20, Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the U.N., died of a suspected heart attack.

Image: Russia's Permanent Representative to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, speaks with the press following United Nations Security Council discussions at UN Headquarters in New York on Dec. 30, 2016.
Russia's Permanent Representative to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, speaks with the press following United Nations Security Council discussions at UN Headquarters in New York on Dec. 30, 2016. Albin Lohr-Jones / Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images