The D Brief: Airstrikes in Syria aren’t working; Why to fear ‘Butt Bombs;’ A rise in suicides; The Air Force’s state today; Anne Gearan’s 1,916-day wait for a FOIA; And a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson

Take one guess where al-Qaeda suggests hiding their newest bomb… Defense One’s tech editor Patrick Tucker has this on a new kitchen-made bomb also called triacetone triperoxide, or TATP explosive, that one Israeli expert calls “more myth then operational tool,” adding, “we should encourage them to use it.” It’s called a “Butt Bomb.”

Meantime, it’s possible al-Qaeda, which just claimed responsibility for the Paris attack, didn’t do it. The WaPo’s Karen DeYoung: U.S. intelligence has concluded that a video by al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen asserting responsibility for last week’s massacre at a Paris newspaper is genuine, but it has found no evidence so far to support the group’s declaration that it directly planned, ordered and funded the attack, Obama administration officials said.

“Some officials and experts suggested that the video, released Wednesday by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was an attempt by the group to enhance its militant profile and steal the spotlight from the Islamic State as the two compete for attention, recruits and financing.” More here.

The NYT’s Eric Schmitt, Mark Mazzetti and Rikmini Callimachi: “…The fuller portrait of the brothers [suspected in the attack] has emerged as an international effort is focused on determining who may have been behind the attack on the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and what direct role, if any, Al Qaeda, its affiliates or their bitter rival, the Islamic State, had in planning and ordering the assault. In a video and written statement, the Qaeda branch in Yemen on Wednesday formally claimed responsibility for the deadly assault. It said the target had been chosen by the Qaeda leadership but did not specify which leaders.” More here.

Meantime, 5 Yemeni detainees were just transferred from Gitmo to Oman and Estonia. Reuters’ David Alexander with more details, here.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief, Defense One’s new, first-read national security newsletter. If you’d like to subscribe to The D Brief, reply to this email and let us know, subscribe here or send us a holler at glubold@defenseone.com. Please send us your tips, your tidbits, your scoops and stories, your think tank reports and best of all your candy, but send it to us early for maximum tease. And whatever you do, we hope you’ll follow us @glubold and @natsecwatson.

While Mitt Romney mulls a third go at the White House, Republicans say his national security comments on Russia and terrorism during his last run have been vindicated by developments in 2014. Defense One politics editor Molly O’Toole rolls up the responses to another Romney run from Sens. McCain, Ayotte and Portman—none of whom are eager just yet to publicly endorse the former governor from Massachusetts.

Outgoing SecDef Chuck Hagel made a stop aboard the Navy’s newest warship, the USS America, yesterday. Our own Marcus Weisgerber traveled with the secretary and sends this: “The ship, which is undergoing test trails about 10 miles off the California coast, is…about half the size of an aircraft carrier, [and] is optimized for the Marine Corps newest aircraft, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and MV-22 Osprey…America is not likely to make a Western Pacific deployment until at least late 2016.”

Free speech and the Magna Carta, Robin Wright’s new piece in The New Yorker, here.

“As a Muslim, I’m fed up with the hypocrisy of ‘Free Speech Fundamentalists,” by Mehdi Hasan for the HuffPo, here.

Airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria aren’t making a huge difference. Administration officials have said that the airstrike campaign in Iraq has generally blunted the impact the Islamic State is having even if they acknowledge there has been no turning point. It’s a hedge of sorts. But in Syria, there is new evidence the campaign hasn’t done much. The WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum: “…While U.S. bombing runs and missile strikes have put Islamic State forces on the defensive in Iraq, they haven’t had the same kind of impact in Syria. Instead, jihadist fighters have enlarged their hold in Syria since the U.S. started hitting the group’s strongholds there in September, according to the new estimates.

“Islamic State’s progress in Syria is partly the result of the U.S. decision to focus its military efforts on Iraq, where the militant group has seized major parts of the country and declared them part of a new Islamic caliphate. The U.S.-led military effort has pushed the forces out of some key battlegrounds in Iraq.

A senior defense official: “Certainly ISIS has been able to expand in Syria, but that’s not our main objective… I wouldn’t call Syria a safe haven for ISIL, but it is a place where it’s easier for them to organize, plan and seek shelter than it is in Iraq.” Read the rest here.

More from The Daily Beast: Nearly 800 U.S. airstrikes in Syria hasn’t kept ISIS from gaining more of Assad’s turf. Tim Mak and Nancy Youssef for The Daily Beast: “At least one-third of the country’s territory is now under ISIS influence, [including]… large segments of the Homs Desert, which begins far south of the contested northern city of Aleppo. It stretches below the presumed capital of ISIS in Syria, Raqqa, and all the way to the Iraqi border…

“The U.S. military stressed it is waging an ‘Iraq first’ war, that is focused on eliminating ISIS from that country first. There, the U.S. can turn to Iraqi troops on the ground to assess its efforts. But there is no equivalent resource on the ground in Syria.” Read the rest, here.

Meantime, Iraqis are expressing frustration with the U.S. over the approach in Iraq as being too small, too slow. The WSJ’s Nour Malas Ghassan Adnan, here.

In a broad interview, former House intelligence chair Mike Rogers says Turkey’s refusal to allow the Incirlik air base be used for airstrikes against ISIS shows Ankara wants “all the benefits of NATO but they want none of the responsibility.” Read more from RAND Corporation’s Andrew Parasiliti, writing in Al-Monitor, here.

Secretary of State John Kerry threw his support behind Russia’s pitch for peace talks in Moscow between the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition. NYTs from Geneva, here.

Five CIA officers in hot water over hacking Senate computers were just cleared on the grounds they “acted in good faith during an episode marked by confusion and poor communication,” according to the findings of an accountability board. NYTs Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo, here.

The security company Triple Canopy is back in hot water again for its work in Iraq. The WaPo’s Amrita Jayakumar on how a Virginia court reintstated a lawsuit against the firm, claiming guards in Iraq weren’t qualified to operate firearms, here.

The parents of American freelance journalist Austin Tice, who disappeared from Syria more than two years ago, talk about efforts to get him back. On DemocracyNow!, here.

An Ohio man has been charged in connection with an Islamic State-inspired plot to attack the U.S. Capitol. Christopher Lee Cornell, 20, didn’t’ seem to have any formal connection to the group though. ABC, here.

New satellite images show entire towns razed in Nigeria by Boko Haram. CBS, here.

Fat Leonard will likely plead guilty in the massive Navy bribery scandal, handing the feds a major victory. The WaPo’s Craig Whitlock:  “…Leonard Glenn Francis, a charismatic businessman who made a fortune servicing Navy vessels in the Pacific, has been in federal custody since he was arrested in San Diego in a sting operation in September 2013. He is accused of bribing Navy officers with prostitutes, cash, luxury travel and other favors in exchange for a stream of classified and inside information that he allegedly used to bilk the Navy out of tens of millions of dollars.” More here.

Who’s up to what today – Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is in Texas today where the former Army sergeant will return to where he received basic training way back when and deliver a major speech about the Army…  Adm. Cecil Haney of U.S. Strategic Command talks contemporary deterrence at the Atlantic Council at 9:30 a.m. (live stream that here) … Navy Secretary Ray Mabus keynotes the Surface Navy Association’s Annual Symposium at 9:45 a.m. in Crystal City… Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work will speak at a Martin Luther King Jr. observance in the Pentagon auditorium at 10:30 a.m. EST… and Air Force Sec Debbie James and Air Force chief Gen. Mark Welsh are holding a 2 p.m. presser on the state of the Air Force from the Pentagon.

Also, more on Defense One’s trip with Chuck Hagel, Hagel’s last, below.

The Sony hack punctuated a long period of Congressional deadlock on the cyber security front that now appears to have abated. CSM’s Sara Sorcher, here.

Also today, a discussion about the implications of the Sony attack at the Bipartisan Policy Center on cyber-security with Rep. Mike Rogers, Mike Hayden, former director of the CIA and the NSA, and Paul Stockton at 3:30. Deets here.

With China looking like a more reliable partner with the U.S. in managing North Korea, “the world cannot acquiesce as Pyongyang builds an increasingly capable [nuclear] arsenal,” writes the NYTs Editorial Board, over here.

Popular refrains: CFR’s Leslie Gelb says Obama should fire all his national security team. Obama’s no-show in Paris reflects a deeper truth confronting the country: POTUS’ team can’t be trusted to carry out natsec policy, and they all need to be canned. That’s according to a fevered op-ed from the Council on Foreign Relations’ Leslie Gelb, writing in The Daily Beast: “First, Mr. Obama will have to thank his senior National Security Council team and replace them. The must-gos include National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, chief speech writer/adviser Ben Rhodes, and foreign policy guru without portfolio Valerie Jarrett. They can all be replaced right away, and their successors won’t require senatorial confirmation…

“Ashton Carter, the defense secretary to be, will be very strong and very good, but he too could use some senior national security/foreign policy advisers to help him through the long list of problems. Particularly good in this role would be Dov Zakheim, a Pentagon undersecretary in a Republican administration. He knows budgets and policy. Carter could also take aboard first rate retired military minds such as Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Jack Keane, the former vice chief of staff of the Army.” Read the rest here.

With FOIA requests, if Justice is delayed, how can justice be served? The WaPo’s Al Kamen on the Justice Department’s claim of transparency but also how long it can take to get a response to FOIA requests. His bit in today’s In the Loop about former Pentagon AP reporter Anne Gearan’s 1,916-day wait for a response on her request for information about former Defense Secretary Bob Gates, here.

New Orleans just became the first of more than 300 cities to follow through on its promise to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. Noelle Swan for The Christian Science Monitor: “New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu took that pledge one step further, promising to meet the goal by the end of 2014… In total, the city has placed 227 veterans in housing since the start of 2014. Other cities have made huge strides in this area as well. Both Phoenix and Salt Lake City have managed to house all chronically homeless veterans, who have experienced long-term homelessness. The city of Binghamton, N.Y., successfully housed its 21 homeless veterans in November 2014.” More here.

The U.S. spent almost half a million dollars on a special police training center SE of Kabul that began seriously falling apart a mere four months after it opened. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction just posted the report this morning, and you can find it, here.

In talking with the Taliban, should the Constitution be a point of negotiation? Sean Kane, who returned from more than two years in Afghanistan working for the U.N., just wrote a piece published by the U.S. Institute of Peace that looks at political strategies for negotiations with the Taliban with an emphasis on how to address the organization’s likely demand to see the Afghan Constitution completely overhauled. Read that here.

John McCain – his new name, “the Chairman” – just named the subcommittee leadership for the Senate Armed Services Committee he now leads. Here’s the list, subcomm Republican chairman first, then Democratic ranking member:

Subcommittee on AirLand: Tom Cotton, Ark., Joe Manchin, W. Va.

Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities: Deb Fischer, Neb., Bill Nelson, Fla.

Subcommittee on Personnel: Lindsey Graham, S.C., Kirsten Gillibrand, N.Y.

Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support: Kelly Ayotte, N.H., Tim Kaine, Va.

Subcommittee on Seapower: Roger Wicker, Miss., Mazie Hirono, Hawaii.

Subcommittee on Strategic Forces: Jeff Sessions, Ala., Joe Donnelly, Ind. Full list, with links to full subcomm membership, here.

A rise in sailors and airmen who took their own lives last year tells part of the story why the Pentagon suffered slightly more suicides in 2014 than in 2013. AP’s Lolita Baldor: “According to preliminary Pentagon data, there were 288 confirmed and suspected suicides by active-duty personnel in 2014, compared with 286 in 2013. Both totals, however, represent a sharp drop from the 2012 number of 352… According to the data, the number of Navy suicides increased from 43 in 2013 to 58 in 2014; Air Force suicides increased from 52 to 60. Marine suicides declined from 45 in 2013 to 35 in 2014, and Army suicides decreased from 146 in 1013 to 135 in 2014… Analysis by Pentagon officials has shown that more often suicides involve young, white men, usually married, using a non-military-issued gun. Many times the victims had reported family or relationship stress.” More here.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spent three hours on the USS America Wednesday, an amphibious assault ship underway 10 miles off the California coast. Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys flew the SecDef and his staff out to America, the newest warship in the Navy fleet. The ship is conducting testing in advance of its first deployment, which is expected in 2016.

America will carry about 30 marine aircraft and was designed specifically with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and MV-22 in mind. More on what makes the amphibious ship unique, here.

On the ship, Hagel spoke to 300 sailors and had lunch with junior enlisted crew.

Random fact of the visit: The Navy is considering putting a 3D printer on America, allowing the crew to make spare parts at sea. 3D printing has the potential to bring the ship an enormous capability, from a logistics standpoint, said Capt. Michael Wayne Baze, the ship’s executive officer.

Hagel flew in Osprey tail No. 007 from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar to America. The aircraft even featured the James Bond logo on its side: https://twitter.com/MarcusReports/status/555555127856099328

Hagel flew to Fort Bliss, where he will give his last major speech to troops this morning. Hagel returns to the sprawling Army post in El Paso where he attended basic training in 1967. He is also expected to meet with first responders who were on the scene at a shooting at Veterans Affairs facility here.

After a brief tour of the base, Hagel will then fly north to White Sands Missile Range in nearby New Mexico. When he was in the Army, Hagel was part of a top secret, shoulder-fired, heat-seeking missile project called Redeye. More on Redeye, here.

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