Escalation in Syria; US offers Turkey new terms; Texan indicted for supporting ISIS; Fort Shafter’s evac plans for Korea; And just a bit more…

Indictment: Russia stole Americans’ identities. Among the fresh details that emerged from Friday’s indictment of more than a dozen Russians and three companies for efforts to meddle in the 2016 elections: Moscow’s agents “not only created Paypal accounts, bank accounts, and false identity documents with stolen American identities, but also created social media accounts, using victims’ names to more authentically fabricate political sock puppets and avoid detection,” Wired noted, adding: “like the parallel hacking operations that Russia used to embarrass the Clinton campaign during the same election, it suggests that the disinformation operation didn’t hesitate to resort to outright fraud and theft when it served the Kremlin’s goals.”

White House reaction: Perhaps unsurprisingly after a week in which the vice-president falsely claimed that the U.S. intelligence community believes Russia didn’t sway the election (the IC has never offered an opinion on that particular question), “President Trump’s first reaction was to claim personal vindication: ‘The Trump campaign did nothing wrong — no collusion!’ he wrote on Twitter. He voiced no concern that a foreign power had been trying for nearly four years to upend American democracy, much less resolve to stop it from continuing to do so this year,” the New York Times reported.

Next steps? Daniel Fried, former coordinator for sanctions policy at the State Department, writes that Obama didn’t move quickly enough, but Trump doesn’t have to make the same mistake. “The United States has many tools at its disposal to protect the nation, including law enforcement, sanctions, and regulatory actions to block flows of dirty money. It also possesses an entire menu of digital options to target Russian disinformation campaigns—tools like requiring the labeling of bots and foreign political or issue ads on social media, and supporting private groups working to expose Russian disinformation. It’s just a matter of using them. What’s missing is sustained and consistent top-level leadership.”

Don’t hold your breath for that one, writes Andrew Exum, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy: “The president must lead in order for our country to take the necessary steps to counter Russian interference in our electoral process, but for the president to do that would be for the president to implicitly admit that his own election was affected to some degree by Russian meddling.”

Inoculation against fake news: How to keep Americans from falling for Tweets and Facebook posts that lie? New research shows that if you show people the tools of deception, and let them try them out as part of a game, they learn to be more discriminating media consumers. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker has more from the Cambridge paper, here.

Foreign disinformation hurts military readiness. Matthew Krull, a Navy O-4 who’s an Atlantic Council fellow this year, writes that troops — and their families — need training to spot and discard false narratives and information. Read, here.

From Defense One

How to Inoculate the Public Against Fake News // Patrick Tucker: When people were given a toolbox of deceptive techniques and told to “play Russian troll,” they learned to reject disinformation.

Foreign Disinformation is a Threat to Military Readiness, Too // Matthew Krull: Troops — and their families — need training to spot and discard false narratives and information.

After ISIS, the US Faces Its Next Battle: Syria’s Erupting Fault Lines // Mona Yacoubian: Without leadership, Washington’s options are limited in the chaos of the civil war’s end game.

Putting the Pentagon’s Pennies in Perspective // Ben Freeman and William D. Hartung: $80 billion is a lot of money. And that’s just the “modest” increase on this year’s defense budget.

Don’t Waste the New US Water-Security Strategy // David Reed: President Trump should order the inclusion of water issues — a major driver of security problems — in the national defense and security strategies.

International Hackers Find 106 Bugs in US Air Force Websites // Jack Corrigan: One bug discovered during Hack the Air Force 2.0 earned $12,500—the largest federal bounty paid out so far.

Mueller’s Indictment Reveals Details of Russian Election Interference // Natasha Bertrand: Thirteen Russian nationals connected to the shadowy Internet Research Agency were indicted by the special counsel on Friday.

What Is the Internet Research Agency? // Krishnadev Calamur: The origin of the Russian “troll farm” that allegedly targeted America’s 2016 presidential election.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Email us. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free. On this day in 2002, the Pentagon’s Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Douglas Feith, assured reporters the new “Office of Strategic Influence” wouldn’t spread falsehoods as it helped the U.S. fight its Global War on Terrorism. The office would be formally shut down just six days later.

Syrian-aligned warplanes carried out their deadliest airstrikes in three years on a rebel enclave near Damascus this weekend, Reuters reports from Beirut.
The latest death toll figures stand at 190 killed and another 850 wounded in eastern Ghouta just since Sunday. Rebel return fire, using mortars, is believed to have killed three people Monday and Tuesday.
The UN called it  an “extreme escalation in hostilities” that is “spiraling out of control.”
The underlying situation: “Assad’s most powerful supporter, Russia, has been following a diplomatic track at the same time as the increase in fighting, resulting in the establishment of several ‘de-escalation zones.’ Eastern Ghouta is in one of these areas, where violence is meant to be contained, but the de-escalation agreement does not include a former al Qaeda affiliate which has a small presence there.”
What’s more, the Washington Post reports, “The international powers involved in other parts of Syria have little strategic interest in a suburb with fewer than 350,000 people and no international borders. As a result, there is no power broker such as Turkey, Russia or the United States to deploy ground troops or strike a backroom deal, moves that helped lessen violence elsewhere in the country.”
FWIW, “Other insurgent groups in eastern Ghouta, including Islamist factions, say the Syrian government and Russia are using the jihadist presence as a pretext to continue their bombardment,” Reuters adds.
From The Guardian’s Kareem Shaheen, writing this morning on Twitter: “Unbelievable levels of killing and destruction in East Ghouta in Syria. 100+ people killed by regime bombardment, return of barrel bombs on top of the siege, and four hospitals bombed in a day. One doctor described it as “hysterical violence.’”
What could come next: A Russia-backed, Aleppo-like assault on Ghouta, Moscow’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday — citing the alleged presence of al-Qaeda-linked Nusra fighters in Ghouta. That, also via Reuters, here.  

America’s new terms for Turkey. When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke with Turkey’s leader last week without an interpreter (not for the first time either, according to Daily Sabah’s Ragip Soylu), he laid out “a tentative package meant to appease the Turks,” WaPo’s Ignatius reported Friday.
On offer:

  • A buffer zone in Afrin;
  • Joint Turkish, U.S. patrols in Manbij, Syria;
  • And a “gradual dilution” of U.S. ties with the Kurdish YPG fighters who have played a major role in defeating ISIS in Syria.

New this morning: Turkey’s President Erdogan says a siege of Afrin will happen very soon, France24 reports. “In the coming days, swiftly, we will lay siege to the centre of the town of Afrin… “We did not go there to burn it down,” Erdogan said. But rather to “create a safe and livable area” for the Syrian refugees inside Turkey — which France24 writes “now number more than three million.” More here.

While we weren’t looking: “A Texas guy got indicted on material support to ISIS last week and no one noticed,” wrote Seamus Hughes, Deputy Director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, on Twitter Monday. Find out who got caught and for what, here.  

That so few knew the U.S. military is in Niger illustrates “how the war on terror has morphed and expanded since 9/11,” The New York Times reported this weekend in their exhaustive deep-dive into the attack in early October that led to the deaths of four American servicemembers.
Among the findings: The U.S. troops’ “SUV ha[d] no crew-served weapons. All they have are their personal weapons. It appears they were left behind and ended up in the hands of the enemy, contrary to official statements. In their final moments they tried to protect each other and were instead cut down.”
As well, “One of the killed soldiers was wearing a body camera, which was stolen from his body by the jihadists. Months later, the footage was sent to a Mauritanian news agency. It allows us to see the last minutes in the lives of 3 of the 4 soldiers. They are outgunned and overrun.”
There’s really a heckuva lot to digest in this report, but you can visit some of the high points, via the Times’ Rukmini Callimachi, summarizing on Twitter, here.
You can also hear more from a few of the reports’ authors, Callimachi and Alan Blinder, on the NYT’s morning podcast, “The Daily,” here.

ICYMI: The world may have had a preview of “Russia’s radical new strategy for information warfare” against the U.S., the Washington Post‘s David Ignatius reported in his column back in January 2017. This possible preview was delivered by Andrey Krutskikh, a senior-level advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin. His official title is “special representative of the president for international cooperation in the field of information security.”
Krutskikh’s words: “I’m warning you: We are at the verge of having ‘something’ in the information arena, which will allow us to talk to the Americans as equals.”
Date and venue: early February 2016 at the Russian national information security forum, or “Infoforum 2016.”
A bit more from Krutsikikh’s speech: “You think we are living in 2016. No, we are living in 1948. And do you know why? Because in 1949, the Soviet Union had its first atomic bomb test. And if until that moment, the Soviet Union was trying to reach agreement with [President Harry] Truman to ban nuclear weapons, and the Americans were not taking us seriously, in 1949 everything changed and they started talking to us on an equal footing.” Read the rest, here.

This week in Korean war watch: Hawaii’s Fort Shafter is developing plans to evacuate Americans in South Korea, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Saturday. The new plan is referred to as the “noncombatant evacuation operation,” or “NEO” plan, and it’s being drawn up by U.S. Army Pacific commander Gen. Robert Brown and PACOM’s Adm. Harry Harris. Not a whole lot of known knowns yet, but you can read on, here.

SecDef Mattis is down an adviser. Sally Donnelly, whose formal job title was “Senior Advisor to Secretary of Defense,” stepped down this week after about a year and a month on the job, Mattis said this morning in a statement to the media.
Said Mattis of the occasion: “She has played a critical role for the Department of Defense throughout this important first year. She was particularly effective in shaping two of the department’s major lines of effort: building international partnerships and bringing essential business reform to the Pentagon. I always knew she would return to the private sector and I am grateful for her service. I have no doubt that she will stay engaged on the key national security issues the country faces.”
Read a bit more about Donnelly’s past with a group she founded called SBD Advisors — whose clients included Palantir, Bloomberg, General Motors and the World Wildlife Fund — via a Politico report from June, here.

Today in visualizations: “The world’s largest arms sellers by company and country,” via this chart from Agence France-Presse.

And finally this morning: “Diplomacy is out; airstrikes are in,” said an aerospace consultant to the Washington Post for this story on how Lockheed Martin netted more than $35 billion from U.S. taxpayers in 2017 — a figure that is “more than most federal agencies.”
Put a different way, “Lockheed’s government sales are nearly what the Trump administration proposed for the State Department next year in its recently released spending plan,” WaPo writes. “Or $15 billion more than all of NASA. Or about the gross domestic product of Bolivia.”
Put differently still, America’s five biggest defense contractors — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman — “took in more money from the U.S. government than the next 30 companies combined.”
The forecast for next year looks even more generous, considering President Trump’s latest budget, announced last week. Read on at the Post, here.

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