17 Americans die in mass shooting; Russia confirms mercs attacked US forces in Syria; USAF’s new twist on anti-drone tech; WWII bomb closes London airport; and just a bit more…

Mass shooting in Florida high school. On Wednesday afternoon, at least 17 people died after a 19-year-old former student opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle at his old high school in Parkland, Fla., officials said.

It was the 30th mass shooting in the U.S. in the past six weeks, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which defines the term as an incident in which four or more people are shot or killed by guns, not including the shooter.

So far this year, 58 people have died and 124 have been injured in mass shootings. And that’s just a small fraction of the 1,827 killed and 3,142 injured by guns in 2018, by GVA’s count.

Where to go from here? Last October, the New York Times surveyed experts and polled the public to find out whether there are potential laws that a) are likely to reduce mass shootings and b) are supported by more than half of Americans. Turns out there are quite a few of them. Read, here.

POTUS tweeted about the incident this morning, pointing to concerns connected with mental health and gun ownership. His reax and advice to the country: “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”


From Defense One

The US Air Force Is Giving Its Anti-Drone Efforts a Silicon Valley Twist // Patrick Tucker: A new kind of investor-innovation partnership may help speed emerging technology to the front lines.

Chinese Telecoms Could Join Kaspersky On Governmentwide Banned List // Joseph Marks: The Homeland Security Department banned the Russian antivirus company Kaspersky from government networks last year. Huawei and ZTE may be next.

Syria’s War Is Fueling Three More Conflicts // Krishnadev Calamur: As ISIS evaporates, the buffer zones between armed combatants of several opposing groups and nations have disappeared.

The US Is Drifting Toward War With a NATO Ally // Claire Finkelstein and Nicholas Saidel: It’s not too late to stem Turkey’s turn toward Russia — and defuse a World War I-style conflict.

Welcome to this Thursday 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.


American commandos are searching Syria for executed hostages’ remains, ABC News reported Wednesday. “Three officials briefed on the ground searches by U.S. commandos — the first real effort to recover the remains of two American journalists and two American humanitarian aid workers killed from 2014 to 2015 — said they were undertaken on the basis of new intelligence from two ISIS members from London captured last month by Syrian Kurds.” Read on, here.
Related: Iran says the U.S. military is in Syria uninvited. That via Reuters, here.

There’s been a quest for oil and energy going on in Syria, and Financial Times has a report on how Iran expects to benefit.
The short read: “On paper, the Iranian government and entities linked to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps have been granted big economic prizes in Syria. They include a memorandum of understanding to run a mobile phone operator and a role in one of its most lucrative phosphate mines. It has been given agricultural land and plans to develop university branches.”
The catch: “[I]mplementing those agreements has been stalled by regime officials more eager to attract Russian and Chinese business — and wary of Tehran’s ambitions to increase its influence,” FT writes, citing “businessmen and diplomats in Syria.” Read on, here.

As for Russia, that assault last week on a base held by the U.S. military and its Syrian partnered forces may have in fact been an attempt by “local big businessmen supporting Bashar Assad” to retake oil and gas fields currently held by the U.S.-partnered Kurdish YPG and Syrian Democratic Forces, the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant reported Wednesday.
This morning Russia’s foreign ministry confirmed the involvement of its mercs in that Feb. 7 attempted attack, saying “five Russians may have been killed,” but definitely “not 400, not 200, not 1,000, and not 10.” The men in that assault reportedly hailed from the Wagner group, controlled by a man named Evgeny Prigozhin. Prigozhin also owns the Russian energy firm, EvroPolis, which holds rights to 25 percent of all Syria’s oil and gas production, according to findings by the Associated Press in December.  
What this all adds up to is “unprecedented and deeply disturbing,” says Russian analyst Neil Hauer. His takeaways from that very deadly battle, which the U.S. military says killed as many as 100 fighters of unknown affiliation: “Incredible implications here,” he wrote on Twitter. “Russia’s own mercenaries are acting independently of Russian armed forces command. Not only can Russia not control regime/Iranian-led forces, it can’t control its own contractors.”
By the way: If you’re hoping to keep up with what’s been reported about the Feb. 7 incident, open source intel-gatherer Eliot Higgins this morning shared “a handy table detailing different sources’ accounts of force composition, armor and artillery support, and, last but not least, number of those killed.” (The Google spreadsheet was compiled by the folks at Conflict Intelligence Team.)  
How one Russian paper is framing the incident, via the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg this morning: “For the first time since the Vietnam war, there has been a direct confrontation between Russians & Americans.” Read a bit more about the confrontation and its regional (as well as a few geopolitical) implications, via the Associated Press, here.

After an eight-month hold, the U.S. is now cleared to sell arms to the Middle Eastern states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Defense News reported Wednesday. The decision to suspend sales was intended to accelerate the search for a resolution to the regional row over Qatar and its relationship with Iran — a situation that led the Saudis to implement a blockade of Qatar, which was gradually eased but never fully resolved.
The man behind the decision: Sen. Bob Corker, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman. He made the call to lift the hold back on Feb. 8. Read his reasons why in the second paragraph of his letter to SecState Tillerson, here.
One takeaway: “The release sets the precedent that there will be no lasting repercussions for any actions they (or other Gulf partners, for that matter) take that work against U.S. interests,” RAND analyst Becca Wasser told Defense News. Read on, here.
For what it’s worth: Corker’s suspension never really happened, Al-Monitor’s Jack Detsch noted on Twitter. During that time, the State Department “approved nearly $21 billion in US arms sales to the Gulf under Corker’s hold. Most of that money was for missile defense: Saudi Arabia spent $15 [billion] for THAAD system and another $500 million on Patriot missiles.”

New report on Yemen confirms the state is anything but. The authors: the United Nations’ Panel of Experts on Yemen.
The short read: “After nearly three years of conflict, Yemen, as a State, has all but ceased to exist.” And that’s the report’s very first sentence. Even more concerning: “The rule of law is deteriorating rapidly across Yemen, regardless of who controls a particular territory.” Catch the full report, here.
In case you were curious: “Reported fatalities in January fell in Yemen from an annual high in December 2017 of over 2,400 to just over 1,800 in January 2018,” the Yemen Data Project reported Tuesday. Dig into their latest numbers, here.
And in case you’re playing catch-up, here’s our 36-minute podcast on how Yemen became the “chaos state” it is today. Or dive into a written analysis over here.

The State Department released its report on injuries to U.S. diplomatic staff in Cuba on Wednesday. There are quite a few important pieces missing, not least of which is “a clear diagnosis of just what happened to trigger their mysterious health problems,” AP reported from Washington.
What is known: “the symptoms are similar to the brain dysfunction seen with concussions, concluded a team of specialists from the University of Pennsylvania who tested 21 of the 24 embassy personnel thought to be affected.”
Cautions AP, “the findings are preliminary, essentially a listing of symptoms and tests. And important complications remain, including that there’s no information to compare the patients’ brain or hearing health before they went to Cuba.” Read on, here.

U.S. vice-president lies about intel community’s conclusions on Russian meddling. “Irrespective of efforts that were made in 2016 by foreign powers, it is the universal conclusion of our intelligence communities that none of those efforts had any impact on the outcome of the 2016 election,” Vice President Mike Pence said at an event in downtown Washington on Wednesday, according to the Washington Examiner.
But that’s not true. The unclassified summary of the IC’s report, released on Jan. 6, 2017, says, “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion.”
And a year later, here’s what the IC thinks. “There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian midterm operations,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday. In their testimony, Coats and his fellow spy chiefs hewed to the line about not analyzing U.S. political positions. But the IC’s Feb. 13 “Worldwide Threat Assessment” left no doubt about their concern; as CIA Director Mike Pompeo told lawmakers, “We have seen Russian activity and intentions to impact the 2018 election cycle.”

More on the White House’s interim clearance mafia: “At the National Security Council, 10 of 24 officials listed in the documents had only interim security clearances as of November,” NBC News’s Dafna Linzer reported Wednesday evening, citing “internal White House documents.”
But it doesn’t end there. “More than 130 political appointees working in white house didn’t have permanent [sic] security clearances as of November 2017, including Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and Don McGahn.” The list goes on, here.

Rick Perry’s Energy Department is forming a cyber protection unit for the country’s power grids, Reuters reported Wednesday. Not too much more to that story, but you can read the rest, here.
Related reading: What happens if someone hacks the power grid in the U.S.? Our own Caroline Houck investigated; read, here.

This is not the headline you want: U.S. Navy officials fired after leader found naked and drunk in the woods.” (Source: Newsweek. Original source: Navy Times, here.)
Involved: “The entire command triad of Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 4, currently deployed to Okinawa, Japan.” Cringe as you read the rest, here.

This week in WH officials behaving badly: Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin’s chief of staff (Vivieca Wright Simpson) “doctored an email and made false statements to create a pretext for taxpayers to cover expenses for Shulkin’s wife on a 10-day trip to Europe,” the Washington Post reported Wednesday. Details, here.

WH Budget Director Mulvaney says Trump’s desired military parade would likely cost between $10 and $30 million. CNN has more from Mulvaney’s testimony before Congress, here.

And finally today: Some explosive ordnance disposal tips from our British pals at the BBC. The occasion: “London City Airport has reopened after an unexploded World War Two bomb was safely moved from the area.” Watch the almost two-minute video, entitled “How to handle an unexploded 75-year-old bomb,” over here.

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