Drone giant already spying for Pentagon; Smoking gun on the Iran deal?; About that Stephen Hawking letter; Koreas trade fire; And a bit more.

Drone maker turns battlezone operator. To meet its insatiable demand for aerial ISR, the Pentagon is handing the controls of some of its larger and most significant drones to its industry friends. Employees from defense manufacturer General Atomics have been flying Predator and Reaper drone surveillance missions for the Pentagon since April, Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reports, in this scoop. That follows Monday’s news that the military wants to increase its drone presence by up to 50 percent in the next four years.
Can the maker of the Predator handle actual military spy missions? “We’re not going to rest on our laurels. This is something that we’ve developed as an opportunity. We have to still actively pursue it to maintain that marketspace,” said Pehrson.
“Some see this as a first step toward allowing civilian contractors firing weapons on behalf of the military, although the Pentagon is not there yet and neither is General Atomics,” Tucker writes. “‘Policy-wise, I don’t see that happening. There’s always a government authority in a targeting chain like that. Contractors just don’t do that,’” said Chris Pehrson, director of strategic development for General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. Read the rest, here.

Drones are one thing. Artificial intelligence is something else. New America fellow Heather Roff  co-wrote the anti-artificial intelligence letter by Hawking, Steve Wozniak, Elon Musk and others. Exclusively in Defense One, she explains why AI-assisted weapons increase the probability of wars, and reduce the time it takes to escalate a conflict.

In Iraq, U.S. Marine AV-8B Harrier jets this week began striking Islamic State, or ISIS, positions in Anbar, Marine officials said yesterday.
Australian security forces claim to have killed a senior ISIS figure—“roughly equivalent to a battalion commander”—and more than a dozen of his men in Anbar province, The Australian reported Wednesday.
In Cairo, ISIS claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s car bombing that targeted Egyptian security forces, injuring six police, The Washington Post reports.
In Yemen, Saudis are attacking Houthi rebels with cluster bombs,“some of which were reportedly supplied by the U.S.,” U.S. News reports. And the Defense Department knows it, an anonymous Pentagon official told the publication. “However, since the U.S. is not leading the current war in Yemen – and since it hasn’t sworn off such weapons itself – it is no position morally or militarily to dictate the actions of a partner like Saudi Arabia.”

The smoking gun for Iran Deal opponents? Iran will use its own nuclear inspectors to investigate the Parchin nuclear site that some suspect has been used for weapons experiments, AP reported Wednesday.
The previously “hush-hush” side agreement “was worked out between the IAEA and Iran. The United States and the five other world powers were not party to it but were briefed by the IAEA and endorsed it as part of the larger package,” AP adds.
But wait, there’s more. “The document is labeled ’separate arrangement II,’ indicating there is another confidential agreement between Iran and the IAEA governing the agency’s probe of the nuclear weapons allegations.”
“The Obama administration has a lot of explaining to do,” an indignant House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement.
Not that it matters. House Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced Wednesday the president has enough support to sustain a veto.
Still, Democrats aren’t totally on board with the Iran deal, and National Journal breaks down where the chief tensions remain—New York and Florida.
For what it’s worth, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey joined his colleague from Indiana, Joe Donnelly, in support of the deal yesterday. That leaves only two Democrats left on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who haven’t announced their vote: Sens. Chris Coons, of Delaware, and Ben Cardin, of Maryland, The Hill reported.

Koreas trade rocket, artillery fire. North Korea launched a rocket at a loudspeaker near the South Korean border town of Yeoncheon this morning, prompting some 80 residents to flee to underground facilities while Seoul’s military lobbed dozens of 155mm shells back, AP and AFP reports. The exchange of fire punctuated an 11-year lull in loudspeaker broadcasts, which Seoul began anew after landmines on the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone injured two of its soldiers earlier this month.
“North Korea didn’t respond militarily to South Korea’s artillery barrage Thursday, but its army later warned in a message that it will take further military action within 48 hours if South Korea doesn’t pull down the loudspeakers,” AP writes, adding: “The artillery exchange also comes during another point of tensions between the Koreas: annual U.S.-South Korean military drills that North Korea calls an invasion rehearsal.”
Last time an exchange of artillery occurred: Last October. “North Korean soldiers approached the military border and did not retreat after the South fired warning shots,” Reuters reports. “The North’s soldiers fired back in an exchange of gunfire that lasted about 10 minutes, with no casualties.”

From Defense One

What’s the blackmail potential for U.S. officials sweating the AshleyMadison.com leak? “It depends on how deeply they were getting into the sites from work,” one Defense official told Patrick Tucker, who lays out the known-knowns—and what, in the light of the OPM hack, puts folks at risk for blackmail—right here.

The new Army chief sets the tone. Gen. Mark Milley recently laid out five areas he’ll be focusing the force’s efforts. The Council on Foreign Relations’ Janine Davidson puts them in context right here.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Kevin Baron. Want to share The D Brief with a friend? Here’s our subscribe link. And please tell us what you like, don’t like, or want to drop on our radar right here at the-d-brief@defenseone.com.

More woes for Boeing tanker. The airplane maker has already eaten $1.26 billion because of problems building the Air Force’s new KC-46 aerial tanker. Now the company says it is delaying a major test flight by one month because the aircraft’s fuel system was damaged in testing “when an incorrect substitute for jet fuel was used to test its plumbing,” according to the Wall Street Journal. More  here and from Defense News’ Lara Seligman here.

The Green Fleet goes ashore. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is in San Diego to close a deal to acquire solar power for more than a dozen Navy and Marine Corps installations in California. The D Brief is told that the agreement—with Western Area Power Administration (Western), and Sempra U.S. Gas & Power—will be the largest purchase of renewable energy ever by the U.S. government. More here.
Ever seen the USS Missouri? How about in Lego form? Here you go. After all, Christmas isn’t that far away…

The Taliban’s leadership crisis goes on as hundreds of religious scholars with ties to the group meet in Quetta, Pakistan, to decide who should lead it, Stars and Stripes reports. “There has been controversy over whether Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, a member of the Omar’s inner circle, was legitimately named as the new supreme commander. A significant faction within the Taliban are reported to favor Omar’s eldest son, 26-year-old Mullah Mohammad Yaqoub.”
“The tensions within the Taliban have implications for the insurgency against the Afghan government and its international backers, as well as for peace talks, which had just begun before the announcement of Omar’s death. Mansoor disavowed the talks after the announcement of Omar’s death and his taking the reins, throwing the fragile process into doubt.” Read the rest here.
Want a quick backgrounder on what’s going on here—okay, it’s not exactly quick—clocks in at about 7 pages of analysis—but the folks at Kim Kagan’s Institute for the Study of War worked up this explainer on the consequences of a fragmenting Taliban in Afghanistan.

The biggest airborne exercise since the Cold War kicked off in Europe on Tuesday. “More than 4,800 soldiers from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Britain and the United States,” AFP reports. The NATO exercise’s big day will come on Aug. 26, “when allied warplanes will drop more than 1,000 paratroopers and equipment the to Hohenfels training area in Germany. A similar drill will also take place the same day at the Novo Selo training area in Bulgaria, a former Soviet ally.”

Is the U.S. government failing to prep troops for the real world? A new study from advocacy firm ScoutComms finds that nearly half of the U.S. public polled “believe troops are not prepared to succeed in the civilian workforce when they leave the military, and only 13 percent said they think corporations are doing enough to support veterans.” That from Military Times, here.

And now for something completely different: the fake-news clowns at Funnyordie.com claim to have surfaced the AshleyMadison.com profile of retired Gen. David Petraeus. Read it for yourself.
For your ears only. Speaking of keeping a secret, cyberlaw scholar Peter Swire sat down with New America’s Peter Singer and Christian Science Monitor’s Passcode blog’s Sara Sorcher to talk “differences between the East and West Coast’s views on the Edward Snowden leaks, and what’s still needed to reform U.S. surveillance practices.” That podcast can be found over on SoundCloud, here.

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