Obama: US will respond to Russia’s hacking; Aleppo evacuation suspended; A new era of espionage?; Army wraps base renovations in Estonia; and just a bit more…

Obama says U.S. will respond to Russian hacking, eventually. “We need to take action,” he told NPR in an interview aired this morning. “And we will — at a time and place of our own choosing. Some of it may be explicit and publicized; some of it may not be.”

Though U.S. intelligence agencies have unanimously concluded that Russian-backed hackers worked to influence the recent election, the president did not endorse the CIA’s conclusion that the effort was meant to elect Donald Trump.

“‘There are still a whole range of assessments taking place among the agencies,’ Obama told NPR, referring to an order he has given the U.S. intelligence community to conduct a full review of the cyberattacks before Inauguration Day. ‘And so when I receive a final report, you know, we’ll be able to, I think, give us a comprehensive and best guess as to those motivations. But that does not in any way, I think, detract from the basic point that everyone during the election perceived accurately — that in fact what the Russian hack had done was create more problems for the Clinton campaign than it had for the Trump campaign.’” Read, watch, and listen, here.

So why didn’t Obama act more forcefully before the election? Because “they didn’t want to appear to be interfering in the election and they thought that Hillary Clinton was going to win and a potential cyber war with Russia wasn’t worth it,” reports NBC News, citing anonymous “multiple high-level government officials.”

Trump’s response? This tweet: “If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?”

That’s deceptive, writes New York magazine: “In fact, it did say something before the election. Here is the first sentence of Ellen Nakashima’s October 7 Washington Post report: ‘The Obama administration on Friday officially accused Russia of attempting to interfere in the 2016 elections, including by hacking the computers of the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations.’ Trump was even presented with this information onstage at a presidential debate, where he dismissed it. What’s astonishing is that Trump is not only denying the substance of the accusation, he’s denying that the accusation was even made. Let this sink in: The president-elect of the United States is insisting that something that was witnessed on national television by more than 66 million people never happened.”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman makes a list of the mounting connections between Trump, his prospective administration, and Moscow. His conclusion: “We need an independent, public investigation of the Trump-Russia scandal. Now. The scandal is widening, and it could be one of the most serious in American history.”

Trump to name retired Lt. Gen. Kellogg and Monica Crowley to national security posts. Via the Washington Examiner, here.

They will join a “team of rivals riven by distrust,” argues Foreign Policy’s Thomas Wright. The tagline: “Mike Flynn, Jim Mattis, and Rex Tillerson don’t have much in common with each other — or Donald Trump. But together they might revolutionize American foreign policy.” Read on, here.

The evacuation of civilians from rebel-held east Aleppo has been suspended yet again, Reuters reports this morning from the chaotic war zone in northern Syria where regime troops are regime troops are reportedly clearing the “last pockets of resistance” in the city, according to the Russian defense ministry.

The reason for the most recent evac suspension: “pro-government militias demanded that wounded people should also be brought out of two Shi’ite villages [in Idlib governorate] being besieged by rebel fighters,” the same two cities that held up Wednesday’s cease-fire-and-evac efforts. “Iran, one of Syria’s main allies, had demanded that the villages be included in a ceasefire deal under which people are leaving Aleppo, rebel and United Nations officials have said. A Syrian rebel source said all the groups besieging the villages except for Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as Nusra Front, had agreed to let out injured people.”

Some evacuations proceeded Thursday when some 8,000 people, “including some 3,000 fighters and more than 300 wounded, had left the city in convoys of buses and ambulances since the evacuation began on Thursday morning,” Reuters writes. “By early Friday morning, nearly 200 evacuated patients had arrived in eight ‘overwhelmed’ hospitals in government-held western Aleppo, Idlib and Turkey, according to the WHO.”

But there’s still a long way to go. “The United Nations says 50,000 people remain in rebel-held Aleppo, of whom about 10,000 would be taken to Idlib province and the rest would go to government-held city districts.”

Turkey has also volunteered to take on some of the Aleppo refugees, planning to set up two camps just a few miles inside Syria to hold up to 80,000 people. But, Reuters writes this morning, Turkish officials want folks to know those two sites cannot possibly hold all of Aleppo’s refugees.

30,000 U.S. troops, get ready to go to Syria? Trump reiterated a campaign promise Thursday night in Hershey, Penn., vowing to “build safe zones… so people can have a chance.”

Hard to know whether to take him more seriously than literally since that would entail between 20-30k US troops, by his own admission, and a big burden of logistics across the current ISIS battlefield, presently consumed with assaults on Mosul and Raqqa.

On the other hand, Trump could be seconding the Russian-Turkish proposal to ship rebels to Idlib—the closest thing to a safe zone the Assad regime has permitted, even though it’s one of the known resting places for al-Qaeda in Syria. Hard to truly know with Trump; and as he’d like to say, his plan should be a secret anyway.

Take a closer look at one of the most important phones in the world right now. “Three times a week, an American Air Force colonel makes a phone call to his Russian counterpart, making sure that Russian and American planes don’t end up fighting each other over the Syrian battlespace,” The New York Times reported Thursday.

Meet the U.S. Air Force weapon to built to cause ISIS “massive confusion and friction.” IHS Jane’s reported this week on the Lockheed Martin-BAE Systems EC-130H Compass Call special mission aircraft.

IHS: “Configured to perform tactical command, control, and communications, and countermeasures missions, the EC-130H uses noise jamming to prevent enemy communication or degrade the transfer of information essential to command-and-control. The platform has a crew of 13, with four flight crew and nine system operators…With only 14 EC-130H aircraft in the USAF’s inventory, the Compass Call is described by the service as a ‘low density, high demand asset,’ and being more than 50 years old they require intense maintenance and support to maintain availability levels.” More here and here.

In Iraq, Federal Police and troops with Baghdad’s 9th Armored Division have reportedly stormed into the Wahda and Muzaria neighborhoods of southeast Mosul this morning, facing only “light resistance.”

For the first time, Iran and Iraq conducted a joint counter-piracy naval exercise “in the waters of the Persian Gulf and the La Ronde River” on Thursday, Iraqi news reports this morning.

From Defense One

Are We In a New Era of Espionage? // The Atlantic’s Kaveh Waddell: One scholar compares it to the early Atomic Age, when members of Congress struggled to understand how nuclear weapons were changing diplomacy and war.

Trump, Putin, and the Art of Appeasement // The Atlantic’s Dominic Tierney: The famed deal maker seems intent on giving away American leverage for nothing.

Trump’s Bid to Remove NATO Official Could Easily Backfire on the U.S. // Brookings’ Steven Pifer and Center for American Progress’ Adam Mount: A strong alliance needs strong staff. Keep Rose Gottemoeller in her job.

Global Business Brief: December 15 // Marcus Weisgerber: How robots help build weapons; A talk with Boeing’s defense CEO; Obama’s arms-export tally grows.

The CIA’s Classified Cloud Is Reducing Tasks from Months to Minutes // Nextgov’s Frank Konkel: Launched in April, the intelligence community’s 10-year, $600 million Amazon-built infrastructure project is already producing results.

Welcome to the Dec. 16 edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1773, American colonists protested imperial subjugation by dumping tea in Boston Harbor. (Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.)

The THAAD anti-ballistic missile system could wait even longer before being set up in South Korea, Reuters reported Thursday from Seoul, where hardliner President Park Geun-hye could face an impeachment vote and be removed from office. That presents an opening for Moon Jae-in, “the former leader of South Korea’s main opposition party, who is leading polls of candidates to be the next president, [and who] said on Thursday deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system that has antagonized China should be decided by the next administration…The missile system has also raised opposition in South Korea, particularly in the area where it is due to be based.”

Last month, the commander of U.S. Forces-Korea, Gen. Vincent Brooks, said THAAD would be deployed in the next eight to ten months.

Adds Reuters, “Moon held out the possibility of renegotiating the agreement to deploy the system, saying doing so would not damage relations with the United States. He said if elected, he would work to maintain strong ties with the United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea.” More here.

PACOM may be getting ship-killing missiles a lot sooner than originally planned, National Defense Magazine reported Thursday. “The devastating anti-ship cruise missiles that PACOM wants — with semi-autonomous navigation and artificial intelligence features to distinguish hostile from friendly targets and penetrate enemy antiaircraft batteries — typically would require 10 to 15 years to develop and produce in the Pentagon’s traditional procurement system. So it is now widely viewed as a success that the Navy is poised to test-launch a new 2,200-pound long-range anti-ship missile, known as LRASM, from an Air Force B-1B bomber some time in 2017.”

The original request was placed in 2009; then that “timeline was shortened by 50 percent,” said Navy Capt. Jaime Engdahl, program manager for precision strike weapons at Naval Air Systems Command.

Where things stand now: “The current plan is to have LRASM ready to be launched from a B-1B bomber by 2018 and from a Navy F/A-18 E/F fighter by 2019… [Lockheed] expects the Navy to order 124 LRASM missiles — 110 will be production missiles, and 14 will be used for tests. These weapons can cost anywhere from $700,000 to $1 million each.” Read the rest, here.

The U.S. military just completed an $11 million renovation of an Estonian army base, adding “new sniper and machine gun ranges, maintenance facilities and a train loading area.” AP has more here.

The U.S. Navy just tested a couple SM-6s from the Pearl Harbor destroyer USS John Paul Jones’s Aegis sea-based missile defense system, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Thursday. “The SM-6 Dual 1 missiles fired by the John Paul Jones can be used for either increasingly sophisticated and lethal cruise missiles that come in low and ballistic missiles in the terminal phase of their arc.” More here.

We close out the week with something a little warmer: It’s the closing chapter of the story of Col. George Morris, who spent three decades flying for the Army in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

George is currently receiving end of life care at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. And he’s doing it with a special waiver from the staff that allows his wife, Eloise, to share the room with her husband of 73 years. The story comes to us from the hospital’s own Facebook page, where the staff writes, “Getting to hear Ms. Eloise speak about their life together and bearing witness to their love is a privilege that we never take for granted.” Read the rest, here. And we’ll see everyone again on Monday!

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