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What Trump can’t afford to get wrong on Tuesday

What Trump can’t afford to get wrong on Tuesday

Samantha Vinograd is a CNN national security analyst. She served on President Obama’s National Security Council from 2009-2013 and at the Treasury Department under President George W. Bush. Follow her @sam_vinograd. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion articles on CNN. (CNN)Every week, I offer a glimpse of the kind…


Samantha Vinograd is a CNN national security analyst. She served on President Obama’s National Security Council from 2009-2013 and at the Treasury Department under President George W. Bush. Follow her@sam_vinograd. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View moreopinion articleson CNN.

(CNN)Every week, I offer a glimpse of the kind of intelligence assessments that are likely to come across the desk of the president of the United States, modeled on the President’s Daily Briefing, or PDB, which the director of national intelligence prepares for the president almost daily.

Here’s this week’s briefing:
The State of the Union could be an opportunity to begin to reset US national security intentions for the coming year. On the heels of the intelligence community’s briefing to Congress on worldwide threats — and President Donald Trump’s undercutting of their assessments — incorporating some of their analysis into a prioritized set of real threats would help signal to our enemies that the President and his team are actually working together.

Refuse Russian rabbit holes

Trump, in coordination with our allies,responsibly confrontedthe Russians for developing banned missiles and violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. But the Russians don’t need nuclear weapons in order to attack us. In fact, they already have — through cyberwarfare and disinformation campaigns. Yet Trump hasbeen unwillingto personally confront President Vladimir Putin about these ongoing attacks, and his silence on the matter is deafening.
It appears that the President is not willing to call out illegal Russian activity when it comes to anything that involves him — and our elections — directly. If the President wanted to signal to Russia that he is changing his tune and actively concerning himself with defending the state of our union, Trump should outline and condemn the assets currently being deployed against us by Putin, including bots, trolls and cyber attackers focused on our election infrastructure.
Putin would like nothing more than to see the President myopically focused on nuclear proliferation while ignoring live attacks in cyberspace. We can and should decisively confront Russia on both fronts.

Respond to the Chinese threat

From weapons of mass destruction to “space-based reconnaissance,” China poses numerous threats to our national security, according to the Director of National Intelligence’s annualWorldwide Threat Assessment.The report, which was released this week, found that China, in trying to degrade US influence around the world, poses a threat to the international support for democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
China has several ways of accomplishing this. The DNI specifically noted that China, along with Russia, poses the most significant threat to our country when it comes to espionage and cyberattacks. China aims to “exploit the openness of American society, especially academia” as part of their ongoing counterintelligence mission against us, according to the DNI.
And nothing is off limits, including our students and universities. China ismaking useof its students enrolled in American universities to engage in influence campaigns and more traditional spy work — like information gathering. A September Department of Justice indictmentchargesthat a Chinese national was sent to the US as a student and was tasked with providing a Chinese intelligence officer with biographical information on eight Chinese nationals working in the US for possible recruitment.
In the past, the administration has reportedly weighed options for counteringChinese counterintelligence threatsat our universities, but the President has been focused on resolving trade disputes with China — and has refused to more recently call out his“friend”Xi Jinping. Until Trump is personally willing to acknowledge the threats that China poses to our security, it’s less likely that Xi and the Chinese Communist Party will feel any real need to change their behavior, including their using our universities as talent pools for their espionage efforts

It’s not too close to home

Global terrorist networks remain a very real threat, and as 9/11 unfortunately taught us, terrorists can strategically attack our union. Terrorism is a topic that is often addressed at the State of the Union. Last year, the Presidentfocused onterrorist attacks he attributed to loopholes in our immigration system, along with ISIS, al Qaeda and military detention protocols. This year, many will be listening for his comments on ISIS, given his evolving narrative on whether we have defeated the terrorist group. After referencing lone wolf attacks andthe possibilityhe’d have to send troops back to Syria if ISIS regains territory in hisCBS interview, a key focus of any counterterrorism efforts mentioned in the SOTU should be a threat close to home — homegrown violent extremists (HVE).
As experts pointed out after the President’s“we won” momenton ISIS, which he used to validate his decision to withdraw from Syria, ISIS can attack us, even if it loses important footholds in the region. The information age means that they can virtually recruit, command and inspire attacks. Meanwhile, HVEs are,according to the intelligence community, “likely to represent the most acute Sunni terrorist threat” to the US, despite ISIS’s territorial losses.
Articulating the threat that HVEs pose to our national security — and focusing on the resources to address them — would be an important signal that the President understands the complexity of counterterrorism campaigns, even when it means bringing them home.

The real national emergency

The President has threatened to declare a national emergency at our southern border if negotiations with Democrats don’t result in funding for his wall. But the real national emergency presents itself every time the President chooses to inaccurately portray the threat landscape by focusing on politically motivated and self-described emergencies — like the situation at our border — rather than the serious national security threats facing our country. His continued insistence on doing so, whether to gain political points or to scratch a personal itch, means that US resources are disproportionately directed at the wrong battles.
While the President has proven himself to be a creature of habit, the State of the Union could be an opportunity to identify some real threats that are currently endangering Americans.

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