Rex Tillerson threatens a U.S. military response if North Korea refuses negotiations, Reuters reports from Vancouver where reps from more than 20 nations “agreed on Tuesday to consider tougher sanctions to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.”
About that military response, Reuters writes “Tillerson brushed off a question about such a ‘bloody nose’ strike, telling a closing news conference: ‘I’m a not going to comment on issues that have yet to be decided among the National Security Council or the president… We have to recognize that the threat is growing and if North Korea does not chose the pathway of engagement, discussion, negotiation, then they themselves will trigger an option.’”
Tillerson, continued “Talks are the best option; that when they look at the military situation, that’s not a good outcome for them. It is time to talk, but they have to take the step to say they want to talk.”
China’s reax: The U.S. and Canada are demonstrating a divisive “Cold War mentality.”
Japan’s reax: “The fact that North Korea is engaging in dialogue could be interpreted as proof that the sanctions are working,” said Foreign Minister Taro Kono.
BTW: The two Koreas will march under one “unification flag” at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, CNN reports this morning. And Pyongyang “plans to send a 230-member cheering squad as part of its [Olympic] delegation,” the Associated Press reports.
Back stateside: Keep calm and carry on. How should Americans process news that their military is exercising in ways that seem to mimic war with North Korea? Without alarm, Defense One’s Caroline Houck reports after spending Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
The administration is taking the North Korean threat seriously, House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, told reporters in Washington. And for a serious planning organization like the Defense Department, that means seriously preparing for it. “You can’t just make a token effort,” Thornberry said. “And being serious about it means working through logistics and ammunition and which forces would be required for which missions and when they needed to be there. It’s lots of detail.”
Something the U.S. is not as prepared for? The rise of Pyongyang’s neighbor to the north, China. “I think in many ways we are not prepared for what China is doing,” he said. “I don’t think we’re prepared adequately for the full range of tools, from cyber to targeted military modernization in ways that particularly concern us, to this broader national influence operations that they are pursuing.”
Question: Should the U.S. nukes to respond to crippling cyber attacks? That’s reportedly under discussion in the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, The New York Times’ David Sanger and William Broad reported Tuesday.
How they arrived at that conclusion: “In the Trump administration’s draft, those ‘circumstances could include significant non-nuclear strategic attacks.’ It said that could include ‘attacks on the U.S., allied, or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.’ The draft does not explicitly say that a crippling cyberattack against the United States would be among the extreme circumstances. But experts called a cyberattack one of the most efficient ways to paralyze systems like the power grid, cellphone networks and the backbone of the internet without using nuclear weapons.” Read on, here.
One more thing: The Hawaii emergency agency behind the false alarm on Saturday is facing new scrutiny after a July photo from their office was spotted revealing a password for an “internal application” within the agency. Business Insider has more, here.
From Defense One
As America’s Nukes and Sensors Get More Connected, the Risk of Cyber Attack Is Growing // Patrick Tucker: Future nuclear weapons will be more sophisticated and better integrated with other pieces of equipment. That has benefits and drawbacks in terms of assuring security, according to experts.
Look to Norway? Yes. // Charles Pinck: Norwegian resistance once held off the Nazis. Today, Norway is resisting Russia’s meddling better than Trump, say some senators. Here’s how.
Shutdown, Surveillance Deadlines Loom Over Congress // Joseph Marks and Heather Kuldell: A pair of lawmakers also proposed a pay raise for federal employees.
Time to Get Serious about Hardware Cybersecurity // Michael Fritze and Kathryn Schiller-Wurster: The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities should be the kick in the pants that moves the US government past wishful thinking.
Just One in Six Feds Say They’re Excited to Implement Trump’s Agenda // Eric Katz: Most federal employees report feeling disrespected by the president; many say they are leaving federal service soon.
Welcome to this Wednesday 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.
Criminal charges for former captains. The former skippers of two U.S. guided missile destroyers involved in separate deadly collisions at sea last year — USS Fitzgerald and John S. McCain — will face military criminal charges that include dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel and negligent homicide, USNI News reports, here.
Surface Navy boss to resign early. Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, who heads up the Navy’s manning and equipping of cruisers, destroyers, and othe surface ships, is expected to send a letter resigning next week — just before the admiral in charge of disciplinary action for the collisions recommends Rowden’s dismissal. Rowden had already said last week that he would step down; this accelerates that by a week or so. Defense News reports, here.
Former CIA officer arrested with notebook jammed with info about agents in China. The Justice Department said on Tuesday that Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, is “suspected by investigators of helping China dismantle United States spying operations and identify informants,” the New York Times reported, continuing: “The collapse of the spy network was one of the American government’s worst intelligence failures in recent years.” Much more, here. And you can read the DoJ press release here.
Meanwhile: U.S. lawmakers are urging AT&T to axe plans to release cellphones made by Chinese electronics giant Huawei. Reuters reports, citing two anonymous Congressional aides. “National security experts fear that any data from a Huawei device, for example about the location of the phone’s user, would be available to Chinese government intelligence services.”
U.S. Army chief of staff shares Iraq sitrep. The situation is “a lot different than it was three or four years ago,” says Gen. Mark Milley, who met with soldiers and military leaders there last month. “The caliphate — such as it was in terms of owning land, etc. — that has been destroyed,” Milley told reporters this morning after speaking at an Association of the U.S. Army breakfast in Arlington, Va. “The land that ISIS or Daesh controlled has been liberated. It’s back in Iraqi hands. Daesh has reverted to be called sort of small-scale terrorism. We saw an attack in Baghdad the other day, an example of that small-scale terrorism, but they no longer replicatice or have a proto-state sort of [thing]. So that’s a big step forward. It is not the end of the war, but it’s a big step forward. It points in a good direction for the Iraqi people and the Iraqi state. It’s going very well, but there’s a lot of work left to be done though.”
After ISIS, what’s next for the Army? Milley deferred to Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command. “We’ll see what the combatant commander, how he wants to shift gears, but the Iraqi security forces are in a consolidation phase where they have to continue to eliminate those small pockets of terrorists and insurgents that are, the ISIS terrorists that are out there. And we’ll help them do that.”
Here’s some late messaging on that U.S.-backed border force in Syria that “could cement a Kurdish enclave,” according to The New York Times. The group has 230 trained members so far.
“The [eventual] 30,000-strong force, vehemently opposed by Russia, Turkey, Iran and the Syrian government… will help defend and preserve the section of northeastern Syria controlled by the Kurdish-led, United States-backed militia known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, an area that has become a de facto semiautonomous zone.”
The soldiers are intended to be “professionally well trained as border guards” and have been tasked with preventing an ISIS return along Syria’s Turkish and Iraqi border.
What’s more: U.S. and Kurdish officials told the Times the U.S. was “committed to backing the force for at least two years.”
Turkey even said it would invade Syria’s Kurdish Afrin region in the northwest as a response to this new U.S.-backed force, Reuters reported Tuesday.
What next? “Preparations are underway for a new United Nations-led round of talks next week and a Russian-hosted Syrian dialogue conference in February in Sochi,” the Times writes. “But there is no agreement in any of the ongoing talks about the future of the Kurdish areas.”
VP Pence tries to de-escalate a power struggle in Afghanistan’s north. Involved: “Atta Muhammad Noor, a strongman who has ruled a prosperous northern Afghan province more like a king than a governor for 13 years,” the NYTs reports. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fired Noor last month, a culmination of some three years of acrimony toward Noor, who is alleged to have men who shakedown logistics convoys.
Further, Reuters reports, “Noor is a leader of Jamiat-i Islami, a party mainly supported by Persian-speaking ethnic Tajiks in the north who have become increasingly resentful of Ghani, a Pashtun, whom they accuse of favoring his own ethnic group, which is mainly based in the south and east.”
What did Pence do? About as much as he could as this point, from Washington, anyway: call Ghani and convey his hopes for a peaceful transition in Balkh, Reuters writes.
Said Afghan War Commander, Gen. John Nicholson: “We respect and support all Afghans and we hope, of course, internal political resolutions will occur so that we can move forward… If this is sorted out, this is a big win because it demonstrates to all Afghans that differences can be resolved non-violently through a political process.” More from the Washington Post, here.
Sen. McCain asks President Trump to stop attacking the press. “While administration officials often condemn violence against reporters abroad, Trump continues his unrelenting attacks on the integrity of American journalists and news outlets. This has provided cover for repressive regimes to follow suit,” the Arizona Republican wrote Tuesday in a Washington Post oped. “We cannot afford to abdicate America’s long-standing role as the defender of human rights and democratic principles throughout the world.”
ICYMI: Within weeks of Trump’s inauguration, Defense One’s exec editor Kevin Baron similarly suggested that the new president more carefully measure his words. “It’s politics when a candidate disparages ‘the media.’ But it’s potentially dangerous when the commander in chief tells U.S. troops not to trust the reporters who cover them.” Read that, here.
For something completely different: Here’s a new report on “the components of the Libyan jihad, including country-by-country statistics on fighters,” via jihadi scholar Aaron Zelin of the Washington Institute.
And speaking of foreign terrorists: DHS and DOJ put out select bits of data from a report on immigration and terrorism. “The 11-page report, parts of which were confusing and in some respects misleading, highlighted cases in which immigrants were linked to terrorism plots after being admitted to the country as part of the diversity visa lottery, or because they were related to American citizens or legal residents,” The New York Times reported.
Worth noting, part 1: “President Trump added to the confusion by writing on Twitter that the report ‘shows that nearly 3 in 4 individuals convicted of terrorism-related charges are foreign-born.’”
However, the Times writes, “The report actually concluded that three out of four individuals convicted of ‘international’ terrorism or terrorism-related charges were foreign-born.”
Worth noting, part 2: Statistics provided by admin officials “included cases — a senior administration official who insisted on anonymity to detail the report could not say how many — in which foreigners were extradited to the United States to face trial. That means they did not, in fact, enter the country ‘through our immigration system,’ as the White House fact sheet asserted.” More to that story, here.
The totals also exclude domestic terrorists such as Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who opened fire in a black church in 2015. “I think they are doing everything they can to justify the Muslim ban, and the unfortunate part of this is the backing away from the homegrown terrorist suspect … and how to prevent it,” Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at the Fordham University School of Law, told NBC News.
NBC adds: “In Congressional testimony in July, Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at The George Washington University, said ‘the vast majority’ of so-called homegrown extremists who have been radicalized on U.S. soil are U.S. citizens or permanent residents.” Read on, here.
And finally today: Take a ride on the world’s longest and fastest urban zip line, skimming above a marina in Dubai.
Then pivot over to this story about how the U.S. Army has a bobsled team. On Sunday, 10th Special Forces Group Sgt. First Class Nathan Weber was named “as one of 12 athletes who will comprise the men’s bobsled teams at PyeongChang, South Korea, in the Olympic Games next month,” Military Times reports.
For the record, “Four total Army or Army National Guard service members were named to the 2018 bobsled team.” And you can read more about them right here.