The Trump Administration’s Response to a Nuclear North Korea

Despite the implementation of various sanctions and several UN Security Council resolutions, North Korea under the leadership of Kim Jong-un has continued to develop nuclear weapons. In 2016 alone, it conducted two nuclear explosions and more than 20 missile tests. More recently, North Korea test-fired a volley of missiles off the coast of Japan. It also tested an intermediate-range missile that used solid fuel – a feat which disarmament experts have called a significant advance.

Even more startling, perhaps, are North Korea’s claims that the missiles are intended for the United States. In March of 2016, the state-controlled media released a propaganda video depicting a nuclear strike on Washington, along with a warning to “American imperialists” not to provoke the country. The four-minute video clip, titled “Last Chance,” uses computer animation to show an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) slamming into what appears to be the Lincoln Memorial.

“If the American imperialists provoke us a bit, we will not hesitate to slap them with a pre-emptive nuclear strike,” read the Korean subtitles in the video, adding: “the United States must choose! It’s up to you whether the nation called the United States exists on this planet or not.” Shortly after, Kim Jong-un announced that North Korea was in the “final stage” of preparation for the first launch of an ICBM that could reach the U.S.

North Korea released a similar propaganda film, coupled with a high-thrust rocket engine test, following Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s first official visit to South Korea. According to the New York Times, the video depicted an American aircraft carrier and a warplane being destroyed in computer-generated balls of fire. North Korea’s missiles will be “stabbed into the throat of the carrier” and the jet will “fall from the sky,” it warns.

A day later, North Korea issued a statement saying the country would not be deterred from developing nuclear weapons. “The nuclear force is the treasured sword of justice and the most reliable war deterrence to defend the socialist motherland and the life of its people,” said a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry. Classified assessments of the country conducted under the Obama administration indicate that Kim believes his nuclear weapons program is the only way to guarantee the survival of his regime and will never trade it away for economic or other benefits.

Unlike the Obama administration, however, President Trump and his top deputies are determined not to let such behavior continue without repercussions. “Let me be very clear: The policy of strategic patience has ended,” Secretary Tillerson said to the press while touring the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas. “We are exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures. All options are on the table.” Tillerson hinted that the options might include more vigorous enforcement of sanctions, ramping up anti-missile defenses, cutting off North Korea’s oil, and even taking pre-emptive military action if the North Koreans elevate “the threat of their weapons program” to a level deemed unacceptable.

Tillerson has also publicly ruled out any negotiation with North Korea to freeze its nuclear and missile programs, although this was a central component of past administrations’ policies. He argues that negotiations “can only be achieved by denuclearizing, giving up their weapons of mass destruction.” Even with a nuclear freeze, North Korea’s capabilities are advanced enough to threaten U.S. allies and military bases in Northeast Asia. The rejection of negotiations for a freeze is consistent with the approach taken by President Obama, who declined Chinese offers to restart the so-called six-party talks unless the North first agreed that the goal of the negotiations would be the “complete, verifiable, irreversible” dismantling of its program.

It also appears as though the Trump administration blames China, North Korea’s strongest ally, for the continued dalliance with nuclear weapons. “North Korea is behaving very badly,” Trump tweeted recently. “They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!” The Trump administration has raised the prospect of disciplinary measures against American companies in China, in response to growing evidence of their involvement in building components that are used in North Korea’s weapons programs.

Additionally, Trump administration officials have discussed putting pressure on Chinese banks through secondary sanctions– a technique that worked against Iran – which would make it hard for any bank that did business with North Korea to also deal in American dollars. Former defense secretary William Perry has said that he doubts their value. “We have sanctioned them a hundred times, and it didn’t stop developing nuclear weapons,” he noted. “They seem to be prepared to suffer economic deprivation for the people so they can achieve the preservation of the regime, which they think that nuclear weapons is going to do for them.”

With regard to sanctions, Tillerson says there is more that the international community could do to pressure North Korea: “I don’t believe we have ever fully achieved the maximum level of action that can be taken under the United Nations Security Council resolutions … we know other nations could take actions to alter their relationship with North Korea.”

With these discussions occurring fewer than 100 days into the new administration, it is clear that Trump and his advisors have no intention of placing North Korea on the back burner. Though previous administrations recognized the threat that the North’s nuclear weapons program poses to the United States, Trump seems to be the first president who is willing to tackle the problem head-on, even if it means working outside the realm of the UN. However, only time will tell if he can successfully facilitate the denuclearization of North Korea.  If he succeeds, he will have begun to fulfill his promise to “make America safe again.”

Treatment of Conservatives at Hamilton College

There seems to be a sentiment among left-leaning students and faculty on our campus that harassing conservative students is not only acceptable, but actually should be done. These same students and faculty, however, refuse to acknowledge that political harassment and discrimination are taking place at Hamilton. Many of my peers who attended Kim Strassel’s lecture on January 25 were made uncomfortable by my introduction, especially my – as one student put it – “baldface lie” that conservatives are harassed for their views at Hamilton.

I most certainly was not lying. I was referring to real people and real events that occurred on our campus. As a public face of conservatism at Hamilton, perhaps it’s time I share my own thoughts and experiences with the community.

At the beginning of the fall semester, the harassment went as far as trying to suppress my – and the other Enquiry writers’ – free speech by ripping up or stealing copies of our publication. It doesn’t bother me at all if people don’t agree with what we write , but destroying our work and property in an attempt to suppress our free speech is disgusting. Though we often don’t agree with the ideas and sentiments expressed in other campus publications, we would never stoop to vandalize them.

Shortly thereafter, I began receiving anonymous notes in my campus mailbox demanding that I stop publishing “offensive and inappropriate” pieces. Unfortunately, this is nothing new. Nearly all of our previous editors have received similar – and in some cases far more threatening – messages just because they are conservative or libertarian and have published various pieces reflecting such views. Enquiry accepts all article submissions as long as they are well written and well constructed. If you don’t like what we publish, send us something yourself.

I thought this was the worst my experiences were going to get. I was able to shake off the messages and our staff, though deeply bothered by such reprehensible behavior, continued to publish. But nothing could prepare us for what would occur leading up to, and following, Election Day.

In the days before November 8, my fellow Republicans and I were met with a barrage of animosity. Though many of us made it perfectly clear that Donald Trump was not our candidate of choice, professors, classmates, teammates, and even friends still singled us out for our continued support of the Republican Party.

In what world is it OK to harass someone for doing his or her civic duty? For voting for the candidate that we believed would best represent our views, our interests, and our country? Here’s a news flash for some of you: some of us even voted for Hillary Clinton. But you wouldn’t have a clue about that, because you just assumed we’re all racist, homophobic Trump supporters.

Even if you think that destroying a publication in the name of sensitivity, sending threatening messages, or putting people down on account of their political leanings doesn’t count as harassment, you cannot deny that the physical and verbal intimidation I experienced on Election Day does.

On November 8, a number of instances occurred in which I was called a racist, bigot, and homophobe (which, for the record, could not be further from the truth). Once on that day, a male Hamilton student followed me – shouting insults – all the way along Martin’s Way. Isn’t this exactly the same behavior that the left is trying to protect marginalized communities from? And by the way, conservatives are definitely a marginalized group on this campus.

Then, just when I thought things had finally calmed down, Inauguration Day rolled around and Republicans were once again the objects of torment by “liberals.” I even received a particularly unprofessional, if not malicious, email from one Professor Katharine Kuharic in the Art Department – whom I have never met– in response to a message I sent notifying the Hamilton community about a public invitation to watch the inauguration at the AHI. Though my message contained no political opinion or indication that the event was meant to celebrate Trump’s inauguration, Professor Kuharic deemed it appropriate to forward me an all-faculty email concerning the Women’s March, appending the message: “you may want to discuss as the US inaugurates an illegitimate Russian puppet intent on destroying the constitutional rights to free speech, press, religious practice and birthright citizenship.”

Worst of all, our college’s administration did next to nothing when asked to address the political harassment on campus. I did not hear a single word from anyone other than the campus investigator who took my deposition on Election Day, and though I spoke with President Wippman after the Inauguration Day incident, it’s clear to me that the administration would rather downplay any incidents than address them head-on. Imagine that, instead of me, all these things had happened to a student of color, or a student who identifies as being LGBTQ+. There would be a bias incident report and group counseling available to the entire student body.

I am certainly not the only conservative student who has experienced harassment on this campus. Others have been shamed out of classes, or ridiculed by professors and students alike. Some seem to have had their grades lowered because of their political leanings. How can the administration continue to deny that conservatives are made to feel ridiculed and excluded on campus? Or, at the very least, how can they deny that conservatives are treated worse than their peers?

Kim Strassel's Talk: A Step Toward Intellectual Diversity at Hamilton

Leading up to Kim Strassel’s January 25 lecture, rumors of a protest against the event circulated around campus.

            Many students that I spoke with, especially those on the political left, assumed Ms. Strassel’s talk would be offensive -- a direct attack on all liberals. After all, they argued, the title of her speech (also the title of her most recent, critically acclaimed book) was The Intimidation Game: How the Left Is Silencing Free Speech. As one student wrote in the Spectator, she attended the lecture with “a general idea of how this was going to go just from the title alone.”

            To borrow a popular proverb, many of these students were judging Strassel’s book by its cover. As one of Enquiry’s associate editors has noted, there was a definite “disparity between the title and the content of her work. The title might appear to identify the book (and lecture) as right-wing anti-liberal propaganda … [but] Strassel’s talk could not have been further from this.”            Instead of blindly attacking the entire political left, Strassel focused the content of her talk on specific efforts made by leftists to silence free speech. She noted that her original intent in writing the book was not to crucify the left, but rather to identify tactics that politicians and governmental organizations on both sides of the aisle use to silence free speech. It was only after conducting thorough research – and realizing that she had found far fewer examples of the right stifling free speech – that she decided to focus on the left.   

            Strassel began her talk by warning of a “you can say anything you want as long as I agree with it” attitude among those who seek to limit free speech. She argued that the left more frequently resorted to this kind of tactic in 2010, after the U.S. Supreme Court decided the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case in favor of removing federal restrictions on political expenditures by certain corporate entities. This part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law had restricted corporations from contributing to issue ads and other campaign activities.

            Strassel explained that excessive federal restrictions on campaign contributions infringed upon the First Amendment by eliminating avenues through which people and organizations could get out messages. In doing so, she called money a proxy for, an equivalent of, free speech. Though Strassel is correct in her assessment that some campaign finance laws have functioned, in part, as “speech laws” that encroached upon corporate entities’ First Amendment rights, she should have de-emphasized the importance of money in campaigns (money isn’t the issue here, free speech is) and included a few additional words on the right of corporations to defend their interests.

            As Strassel correctly said, when the Supreme Court decision was handed down in 2010, the left “freaked out” and increasingly resorted to a strategy of intimidation and harassment. For example, some Senate Democrats demanded that the IRS target certain groups – or, as President Obama called them, “shadowy organizations” and “outside influences” – that were opposed to Obama’s policies. As a result, the IRS put nearly 400 applications by political groups for non-profit status “on ice.” Strassel argued that this was part of a deliberate strategy intended to stifle the political speech of conservative groups leading up to the 2010 midterm election and 2012 presidential election. “The IRS knew what it was doing and knew it was wrong,” she said, pointing to a damning paper trail that indicates this.

            The “John Doe” case in Wisconsin, Strassel maintained, was another effort by the left to silence free speech. In response to Governor Scott Walker’s 2011 union reform legislation, Democratic prosecutors conducted a series of secret investigations into supporting groups, which resulted in pre-dawn raids. In one of the targeted homes, a teenage son was threatened by police officers to keep his mouth shut about what happened. The Wisconsin Supreme Court eventually ruled that the prosecutors involved had attempted to intimidate certain organizations into not giving further donations to Republicans.

            Similarly, members of the political left used intimidation – in this case disclosure laws – to target right-of-center citizens in California. Strassel explained that during the debate over Proposition 8 (a ballot measure to prohibit same-sex marriage) disclosure laws – which were originally intended to keep track of the activities of politicians – were used to identify supporters of the proposition. Supporters were not only identified but also targeted: opponents of Prop. 8 created a searchable map of their homes and addresses. Many found themselves subject to flash-mob protesters and had their property damaged. The CEO of Mozilla, who privately supported Prop. 8, even lost his job.

            Strassel argued that this intimidation tactic was also used against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a nonprofit group that writes model free-market legislation for consideration at the state level. After the Trayvon Martin shooting in 2012, activist groups began accusing the group of being “racist” for its previous help in drafting “stand your ground” laws. The activist groups found out who gave money to ALEC – which resulted in the attempted blackmail of board members of major companies – and the group lost half of its donors within two months.

            Finally, Strassel pointed to efforts by left-leaning people on college campuses to stifle free speech. She mentioned the increasing presence at colleges and universities of a well-funded organization called “UnKoch My Campus,” which aims to shut down one form of intellectual diversity – efforts and proposals receiving funding from the libertarian Koch Foundation. I do wish, especially given the nature of her audience, that Strassel had further explored the issue of free speech on college campuses.

            Overall, however, her talk was brilliant. She drove home a number of salient points and handled difficult questions from the audience with grace. It was also refreshing to hear someone who is right-of-center speak at Hamilton. I can only hope that – at least in the name of intellectual diversity – we can bring more conservative speakers to campus.

Trump's Reversal on Russia

After insisting for weeks that Russian intelligence operatives – under direct orders from President Vladimir Putin – were not responsible for the cyber attacks against the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other organizations for the purpose of influencing the election, President-elect Trump altered his message.

In his first post-election news conference, he stated “I think it was Russia” and that Putin “shouldn’t have done it” and “won’t be doing it” in the future.

Trump’s change of tune came on the heels of a security briefing in which top U.S. intelligence officials informed him of allegations that the Kremlin had indeed engaged in an extensive conspiracy with members of his team and employees of his company in order to help get him elected.

Though Mr. Trump animatedly denies any such connection with Russia, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other intelligence agencies have been trying for months to substantiate these incendiary claims.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, claims that Trump’s campaign coordinated with Russian intelligence emanated from a dossier that British intelligence agent Christopher Steele compiled for Mr. Trump’s political opponents – both Republican and Democratic – last year.

Senior intelligence officials deemed the allegations contained in Steele’s dossier significant enough to summarize in an addendum to the classified briefing that the president-elect received on January 6. Their decision to share this unverified information stemmed from an abundance of caution, by which the incoming president should be made aware of accusations against him that could become public.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated: “The IC [intelligence community] has not made any judgment that the information in the Steele document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions. However, part of our obligation is to ensure that policymakers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.” President Obama received the same information.

In addition to claiming that the Kremlin colluded with Trump’s presidential campaign, Steele’s dossier also alleges that Russian officials have evidence of Mr. Trump’s behavior that could be used to blackmail him, including sex tapes and bribes taken during business deals.

Since becoming president-elect, Trump appears to have skipped several intelligence briefings and national security meetings. Is it possible that he has only recently taken an interest in security briefings because his personal reputation is at risk? Could Trump’s reversal on Russia be an attempt to sweep evidence of his poor behavior and collusion under the Oval Office rug? What could the Russians possibly have on Trump that would make him change his tune and ultimately leave room for speculation that the Russians influenced the election – leading many Americans to question the legitimacy of his victory?

On the same day as his first post-election news conference, Russian officials denied that they had compromising material on Mr. Trump, calling the claim an “absolute fabrication” and an attempt to damage U.S.-Russian relations. Moscow also denied that it used cyber attacks to try to influence the election.

Recent intelligence reports suggest that Trump’s multiple GOP primary opponents, not the Russians, were the ones responsible for collecting dirt on him. But these rivals have denied they commissioned the Steele dossier. Tim Miller, a spokesman for Jeb Bush’s campaign who later worked for an anti-Trump group, is among those who denied any involvement. “It defies logic,” he said. “If we had it, why didn’t we use it?”

Though Trump switched his position on Russia’s involvement in the DNC leaks, he remains skeptical that Russia has been the only instigator of cyber attacks against the U.S. “I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people,” he noted. “And … everything else that was hacked recently… that was something that was extraordinary. That was probably China.”

Trump makes a good point here. The United States has many adversaries abroad who have both the motive and capability to initiate cyber attacks. I would certainly hope that the president-elect’s change of tune on Russia reflects his commitment to double-down on efforts to secure American documents from foreign threats.

Edward Snowden 2.0

Following the September release of Snowden, a biographical movie about the ex-Central Intelligence Agency employee turned traitor, information surfaced in the Wall Street Journal and other mainstream publications about yet another former government employee stealing classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA).

In early October, authorities released details to the public about a former NSA contractor who, according to the Justice Department (DOJ), amassed millions of pages of government records over the past two decades, including top-secret information about military operations.

Prosecutors arrested and charged Maryland resident Harold “Hal” Martin III with theft of government property and unauthorized removal or retention of classified documents. A new Department of Justice filing will also likely charge Mr. Martin with violating the Espionage Act, an offense that could result in the death penalty.  

Martin, a former naval officer, most recently worked as a contractor at Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp., a job that placed him inside some of the government’s most secret programs at the NSA and the Pentagon. According to the DOJ, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation searched Martin’s home and car back in August, they found “thousands of pages of documents and dozens of computers and other storage devices and media containing, conservatively, fifty terabytes of information.” Fifty terabytes is more than enough space to hold up to 500 million pages of stolen information. Additionally, the FBI found that much of the stolen information was stored in plain sight. For instance, documents, including an e-mail chain marked “top secret,” containing “highly sensitive information,” was found in Martin’s car parked outside his home.

Before a recent federal court hearing, the DOJ released a 12-page document detailing new allegations about the scope of Martin’s theft. The document also states that he had become heavily armed, accumulating ten weapons, and had taken sophisticated steps to cover his tracks.

Meanwhile, his attorney, Jim Wyda, maintains that Mr. Martin is a patriotic American who has served his country. Former associates describe Martin as a harmless hoarder who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

His actions, however, raise questions about his motives and suggest that he was capable of sharing U.S. secrets with the nation’s adversaries and may have put American lives at risk. It is not yet clear whether Martin stole the classified information with, or for, another person or country. Nor have authorities uncovered his plans for the stolen information.

In an effort to get Martin released from custody, his legal team has argued that he “is neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community, and to the extent either of these factors is a concern, they can be sufficiently addressed with specific release conditions.” However, the DOJ is worried that Martin “presents a high risk of flight, a risk to the nation, and to the physical safety of others.” He worked on highly sensitive programs, including those involving an arsenal of cyber tools the government has amassed to use against other countries as well as cyber weapons that were in development.

This case, like Edward Snowden’s which preceded it, brings much needed attention to the dilapidated state of informational security in our government agencies. If those agencies do not find a way to stop hacking and espionage attacks, our enemies will eventually get their hands on classified information that could threaten the very existence of our nation. 

Political Murder in Russia

“Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, has made no secret of his ambition to restore his country to what he sees as its rightful place among the world’s leading nations,” writes New York Times columnist Andrew Kramer. “Indeed, Putin has invested considerable money and energy into building an image of a strong and morally superior Russia.”

“Morally superior,” however, is far from the image many Western nations have of the former U.S.S.R. Under Putin, the Russian government has treated muckraking journalists, rights advocates, opposition politicians, and government whistle-blowers with disdain and worse, imprisoning them on trumped-up charges and smearing their names in the news media at every opportunity.

More alarming, Putin and his government have decided to re-implement the tactic of political murder, which played a distinct role in the Kremlin’s foreign policy during the Soviet era. Now, instead of simply imprisoning or chastising those who threaten Putin’s carefully crafted image of the Russian state, the Russian government is killing these individuals with increasing frequency.

Political murders, and particularly those accomplished with poisons, are nothing new in Russia: they have been a favorite tool of Russian intelligence for more than a century. Beginning in 1928, a biochemist named Grigory Mairanovski worked in secret for the K.G.B. to develop tasteless, colorless and odorless poisons. Since then, the K.G.B. and other government agencies have developed an arsenal of lethal, hard-to-trace poisons, which are still in use today.

In 1995, for instance, Russian banker Ivan K. Kivelidi died after coming into contact with cadmium. In 2008, Karinna Moskalenko, a Russian lawyer specializing in taking cases to the European Court of Human Rights, fell ill in Strasbourg, France, from mercury found in her car.

While typically not traceable to any individuals and denied by government officials, poisonings leave little doubt of the state’s involvement, according to experts. “Outside of popular culture, there are no highly skilled hit men for hire,” explains Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University and an authority on the Russian security services. “If it’s a skilled job, that means it’s [done by] a state asset.” Former member of parliament and onetime lieutenant colonel in the K.G.B. Gennadi V. Gudkov corroborated Galeotti’s claim when he admitted in an interview that “the government is using the special services to liquidate its enemies.”

This past summer, another whistle-blower, Yulia Stepanova, who’s hiding with her husband in the United States, was forced to move amid fears that hackers had found her location. “If something happens to us,” she said, “then you should know that it is not an accident.”

While other countries, notably Israel and the United States, pursue targeted killings, it is only in a strict counterterrorism context. No other major power employs murder systematically and ruthlessly, as Russia does against those seen as betraying its interests at home and abroad. Certainly, this tendency toward murder is no mark of moral superiority.