Trump has plans to shrink CIA, and the top U.S. intelligence office. Unnamed PEOTUS reps tell The Wall Street Journal that the president-elect believes the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has grown “bloated and politicized.” But some lawmakers have their backs up. Read on, here.
Meanwhile, Congress will hold its first public hearing into Russian meddling in the November election today. Top U.S. intelligence officials will appear before a Senate committee. WSJ, here.
Also this morning: U.S. officials say they have “conclusive” evidence Russian intelligence gave Wikileaks hacked emails via a third party, Reuters reports.
And calls for a bipartisan investigation into alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election are growing, now joined by former officials like Leon Panetta and Madeleine Albright, Buzzfeed News reported Wednesday.
As well: Trump’s pick for DNI could be Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, NBC News’ Hallie Jackson reported on Twitter Wednesday.
Obama’s parting words, from his last meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and combatant commanders Tuesday morning: “My optimism about America going forward is in part because we have such an amazing military—not only one that knows how to fight, but also knows how to uphold the values of rule of law and professionalism and integrity, and recognizes our constitutional structure and maintains strict adherence and respect for civilian authority and democratic practices in determining how we use the awesome force of the American military.”
One member of the U.S. Army Honor Guard didn’t make it through the president’s remarks without passing out, as AFP captured in this photo.
Before we leave transition matters, we have a few more essays from scholars at the Center for Strategic and International Studies: (1) Americans and the world need straight talk when it comes to nuclear weapons; (2) how Trump can strengthen the fight against ISIS; (3) how to win with a wider counterterrorism strategy; and (4) what a Trump White House needs to know about the long war in Afghanistan.
American escalation in Mosul. The U.S. military has doubled the number of troops it’s embedding with Iraqi forces inside Mosul, bringing the number to roughly 450, U.S. Air Force Col. John Dorrian said Wednesday. Writes the Associated Press: “The advisers aren’t involved in direct combat, but are meant to provide specialized support, such as analysis of intelligence.”
In case you were curious, “The Pentagon says there are 4,935 U.S. troops in Iraq, including trainers and other support forces.” More here.
War crimes by Iraqi militias? “The predominantly Shi’ite Muslim militias, known collective as the Hashid Shaabi… [are] using weapons provided to the Iraqi military by the United States, Europe, Russia and Iran… to commit war crimes including enforced disappearances, torture and summary killings,” Reuters writes off a new report from Amnesty International.
About their findings: “Amnesty cited nearly 2-1/2 years of its own field research, including interviews with dozens of former detainees, witnesses, survivors, and relatives of those killed, detained or missing… Its report focused on four powerful militia groups, most of which receive backing from Iran: the Badr Organisation, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataib Hezbollah and Saraya al-Salam.”
Hashid Shaabi reax: “These lies falsify truths and contribute directly or indirectly to the continuation of struggles that the Iraqi people and the people of neighbouring countries suffer from,” spokesman Ahmed al-Assadi said on Iraqi state TV.
Worth noting: “There have been few accusations of serious abuses by the Hashid since the start of a major offensive on Oct. 17 to retake the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State. Various Hashid groups have joined in that battle, and a top U.S. general told The Daily Beast last week they had been ‘remarkably disciplined.’” More here.
ICYMI: Syria has been a proving ground for new Russian weapons, War Is Boring reported Wednesday, rolling up some weapon systems already familiar to Syria-watchers for months now. Not a lot that’s new here, but it does serve as a decent review. Story, here.
On Tuesday, a Russian-government ship transited the Bosphorus loaded down with military transport trucks. Catch a couple images of the movement, here.
What are America’s options for dealing with Russian naval activity in the eastern Mediterranean? Retired U.S. Navy Captain Robert N. Hein, who previously commanded the USS Gettysburg (CG-64) and the USS Nitze (DDG-94), has two ideas—deter by sheer numbers, or ignore the Russians. Hein lays both ideas out, along with the risks and gains, here.
In other Syria news, Turkish officials are in conversation with the Trump transition team, and Ankara has reportedly told them America’s Syria policy is far too weighted on the side of the Kurds, saying it’s “not the correct strategy and needs to change,” a presidential spokesman told Turkish TV this morning. AP has the short story, here.
EUCOM is also in conversation with Turkish officials, hoping to assuage their concerns over the future of the war in Syria, Stars and Stripes reports.
From Defense One
The Technology Race to Build — or Stop — North Korea’s Nuclear Missiles // Patrick Tucker: As Pyongyang warns of an upcoming ICBM test, and Trump threatens to stop it, the Pentagon has few good options.
As Trump’s Foreign Policy Emerges, Watch His Temperament in Washington // Derek Chollet: By what Trump has shown, even where there’s policy continuity the world will see Washington as more erratic and less reliable.
Welcome to the Jan. 5 edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson, Bradley Peniston and Marcus Weisgerber. On this day in 1781, forces commanded by American traitor Benedict Arnold burned Richmond, Va. (Enjoy the D Brief? Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: email@example.com.)
Decapitation strike team, Korean edition. South Korea’s defense ministry says it will form a brigade specifically to take out North Korea’s leadership in the event of war, AP reports this morning. “The brigade was originally planned to be ready by 2019.”
For what it’s worth, in September, “South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff announced plans to strengthen its ability to conduct pre-emptive strikes. It also said a ‘Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation’ system would use special forces and cruise missiles now under development to destroy areas where North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the rest of the country’s decision-makers are located.” More here.
The Philippine leader of suspected ISIS sympathizers was killed in a shootout with police at a beach resort in the south, AP reports. “An official said Jaafar Maguid, leader of a small armed group called Ansar al-Khilafa, died in a shootout in Kiamba, in the southern province of Sarangani. Three of Mr. Maguid’s alleged followers were arrested after the clash, which occurred when police went to check reports from civilians about the presence of armed men… Officials said Mr. Maguid’s group is believed to be behind a string of attacks including a grenade blast that killed a police officer and wounded dozens of people. He is also suspected of recruiting minors in the region. In August, government troops clashed with Mr. Maguid’s group in Sarangani’s Maasim town, killing three of his followers and seizing two rifles and an Islamic State-style black flag.” More here.
Prison break update: 110 inmates are reportedly still on the loose after that prison break in the Philippines’ North Cotabato District Jail in Kidapawan City, AFP reports. Twenty-one have been caught so far, CNN reported early this morning.
Your scary cyber #LongRead: A private Italian firm called Hacking Team is licensing an espionage tool “for as little as $200,000 a year — well within the budget of a provincial strongman,” The New York Times’ Mattatias Schwartz reported Wednesday.
About its capabilities: “After it has been surreptitiously installed on a target’s computer or phone, the Remote Control System can invisibly eavesdrop on everything: text messages, emails, phone and Skype calls, location data and so on. Whereas the N.S.A.’s best-known programs grab data in transit from switching rooms and undersea cables, the R.C.S. acquires it at the source, right off a target’s device, before it can be encrypted. It carries out an invisible, digitized equivalent of a Watergate-style break-in.”
The customers include “Honduras, Ethiopia, Bahrain, Morocco, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are Western allies. Other countries, like Uzbekistan and Turkey, have a more troubled relationship” with the U.S.. As well, an F.B.I. contract in 2011 “paid Hacking Team more than $700,000” while the D.E.A.“appears to have used the software to go after targets in Colombia” back in 2012.
What’s more concerning presently, Schwartz writes, “is the three-year relationship that Hacking Team carried on with the F.S.B., one of Russia’s main intelligence agencies…. Hacking Team used a middleman, a research agency called Kvant, to handle its sales to Russia. Between 2012 and 2014, the agency paid Hacking Team 451,000 euros to license the Remote Control System…” Much more to the story, here.
U.S. Navy gets a nuclear boost: “The Pentagon’s top weapons buyer has approved advanced development for a fleet of 12 new nuclear-armed submarines, a potential $126 billion project that the Navy calls its top priority,” Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio reported Wednesday. “The new Columbia-class submarine is part of a trillion-dollar program to modernize the U.S.’s sea-air-land nuclear triad over the next 30 years, including maintenance and support. Obama has backed the effort, to the chagrin of some arms control advocates, and President-elect Donald Trump has seemed to signal his support… The projected $126 billion acquisition cost, an estimate that factors in expected inflation, puts the new submarines behind only the $379 billion F-35 aircraft and the $153 billion multiservice ballistic-missile defense network among the costliest U.S. defense programs.” More here.
Lastly today: An engine fell off the wing of a B-52 bomber from North Dakota’s Minot Air Force Base while in flight on Wednesday during a training flight. The plane, which has a total of eight Pratt and Whitney-made engines—four on each wing—safely landed and no one was injured, an Air Force official told Defense One Wednesday evening.
An Air Force spokeswoman confirmed that the engine fell off the bomber in flight, but additional details were not immediately available. The Air Force typically convenes a board to investigate such serious mishaps.
The service has flown B-52s since the 1950s when they were a centerpiece of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal. The planes still active in the Air Force inventory — some of which are being used to bomb Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria — were built in the early 1960s and have been upgraded over the decades. The bombers have routinely deployed to Guam in an attempt to deter North Korea from pursuing a nuclear weapons program. In May, a B-52s crashed in Guam.
The mishap underscores the risks that comes with flying half-century-old planes at a high tempo. The Air Force plans to replace the B-52 and B-1 bombers with the B-21, a plane being built in secret by Northrop Grumman. More from Aviation Week and Defense News, here and here.