US out of Iran deal; What the Pentagon’s worried about next; Senators worry about China’s Djibouti playbook; Coast Guard launches Arctic cubesats; and just a bit more…

By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston

May 9, 2018

U.S. exits Iran deal. President Trump on Tuesday announced his intention to pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear agreement, promising to reimpose various sanctions. Here’s the full transcript of Trump’s speech, including this exchange as the president made his way to the exit:
Reporter: “Mr. President, how does this make America safer?”
Trump: “Thank you very much. This will make America much safer.”
Things weren’t much clearer when State Department officials met with press later on Tuesday.
Reporter: “So the United States has basically no economic relationships right now with the Iranians, right? So there is no power of U.S. sanctions to prevent – in preventing U.S. economic activity. The only power that U.S. sanctions have is in preventing European and other economic activity, right?”
Senior State Dept. Official No. 2: “The secondary sanctions, correct.”
Reporter: “Why get out of the deal until you know for sure that Europe is going to go along with that secondary sanction activity or whether you’re – they’ll fight you? Because if they fight you, you’re going to be in a worse situation vis-a-vis Iran than you are now and than you are previously, right? So you don’t actually know – you’re saying that the President’s going to start this global coalition, but you don’t actually know whether even your closest allies are going to be part of that coalition, right?” Here’s the full transcript.
European diplos weren’t having any more luck: CNN’s Michelle Kosinski tweets: “Sr. European diplomat, on dealing with State Dept today re Iran:  ‘All is a shambles there.  Total incoherence between State and NSC.  Plus, no one has any clue on the day after.  There is no strategy.’”
Where to go from here? As this Washington Post fact check notes, it’s unclear how withdrawal from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action will lead to a better security situation. “The president argues that easing these restrictions over time would open the door to Iran’s attaining nuclear weapons capability, rendering the JCPOA ultimately ineffective. But supporters of the Iran deal dispute that and say the JCPOA at least buys time, subjecting Iran to strong constraints on its nuclear activities for 10 to 25 years. Without the JCPOA, Iran could hasten its development of nuclear weapons on an even shorter timeline than the one Trump found unsatisfactory, they say.”
Five ways the “decision to tear up the Iran deal just made us less safe” according to Jon B. Wolfsthal, a former senior director for arms control and non-proliferation at the National Security Council, now director of the Nuclear Crisis Group (and occasional Defense One contributor). Read that, here.
Meanwhile, in Tehran: via The New York Times: “Iran’s Supreme Leader Hints at Resuming Nuclear Program.” Read, here.
One last note, this one from MIT’s Vipin Narang: “Those who believe the worst-case about Iran just gave it an incentive to again pursue nuclear weapons, and blew open the pathway for them to do so. With no alternative strategy to stop it…except a war to stop it by force.”

From Defense One

After the Iran Deal, Here's What the US Military Is Worried About Next // Kevin Baron: Keep your eyes on Iranian ballistic missiles showing up in Yemen.

US Air Force: Recent String of Crashes Isn't a Crisis // Marcus Weisgerber: But it will stand down every flying wing for one day to look for trends in the mishaps that claimed the lives of 18 airmen.

US Coast Guard Is Putting Cubesats Over the Arctic // Caroline Houck: As the icecap melts and activity rises in the high latitudes, the commandant says his force needs better situational awareness.

Iran Hawks Are the New Iraq Hawks // The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart: Many of the assumptions that guided America's march to conflict in 2003 still dominate American foreign policy today.

The CIA Needs an Independent Thinker—Not Gina Haspel // Third Way’s Mieke Eoyang: Haspel’s torture-ridden track record suggests a history of poor judgment.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free. On this day in 1968, the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division was converted into an airmobile division — so less of this and more of this.
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Happening now: SecDef Mattis and CJCS Dunford are testifying on the FY19 military budget request before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense in Washington.
Gen. Dunford arrived 30 minutes early, Defense One’s Caroline Houck reports on location. Said Dunford to Houck: “You just never know how long it takes to get across town. This isn't a day you want to be late." Catch the livestream, here.

Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is in Moscow today to talk about “military coordination amid new strikes in Syria blamed on Israel,” the Associated Press reports.
Background there: “Iran has vowed to retaliate to recent Israeli strikes in Syria targeting Iranian outposts, including an attack last month on Syria’s T4 air base in Homs province that killed seven Iranian military personnel. On April 30, Israel was said to have struck government outposts in northern Syria, killing more than a dozen pro-government fighters, many of them Iranians.” A bit more, here.

Time for the U.S. to create a national strategy for AI? Sens. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nevada) are set to introduce a bill today aimed at creating a new "National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence."
The gist: “[T]he Commission will be tasked with completing a yearly report that will consider competitiveness of the U.S. in AI in the realms of national security, economic security, public-private partnerships, and investment. Additionally, the report will explore the means for maintaining a technological advantage, developments in foreign investments in AI, how to recruit leading talent in AI and STEM fields, and the risks associated with U.S., foreign countries, and non-state actors’ advances in the military employment of AI.”
Composition: “15 members appointed by Congress and executive branch leaders from the fields of defense, commerce, science, and intelligence.” Text of the bill, here.

Reminder from Paul Scharre — who just wrote a book about autonomous weapons and AI — speaking to us in last week’s Defense One Radio podcast: "I think it’s a big shortcoming that the United States does not have a national strategy for artificial intelligence" when China clearly does. Hear that entire discussion, here.

A spy story you may have missed. Amid a flurry of news yesterday, one story that sort of flew under the radar played out inside a courtroom in the Eastern District of Virginia.
The short read on this case, via the Carnegie Council’s Zach Dorman: “A former CIA officer, who likely helped destroy the CIA's entire asset network in China, was just indicted for espionage and it's like the third biggest story today.”
The charges: Former CIA case worker "Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, of Hong Kong, was indicted by a federal grand jury sitting in the Eastern District of Virginia with one count of conspiracy to gather or deliver national defense information to aid a foreign government, and two counts of unlawfully retaining documents related to the national defense," the Department of Justice announced Tuesday.
How his operation worked: “After leaving the CIA [in 2007], Lee resided in Hong Kong. The indictment alleges that in April 2010, two Chinese intelligence officers (IOs) approached Lee and offered to pay him for information. The indictment alleges that Lee received taskings from the IOs until at least 2011… According to the indictment, the IOs provided Lee with a series of email addresses so that he could communicate covertly with them.  The indictment further alleges that Lee prepared documents responsive to the taskings, made numerous unexplained cash deposits, and repeatedly lied to the U.S. government during voluntary interviews when asked about travel to China and his actions overseas.”
NPR reports Lee now “faces a maximum of life in prison.” More from NPR, here.

Senators worry about China’s sway over Djibouti — and how Beijing might replicate it elsewhere. In a May 2 letter, the acting chair and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee describe how Beijing called in a debt owed by Djibouti’s indebted president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, who responded by expropriating a major port and preparing to hand it over to China. This suggests that Gulleh might do the same to Camp Lemmonier, the U.S. military’s only permanent base on the African continent and a key to preventing Chinese control of the strait where the Red Sea meets the Indian Ocean. In their letter, Sens. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M, ask national security adviser John Bolton (cc’d to SecDef Mattis and SecState Mike Pompeo) to bring the matter up at the next U.S.-Djibouti bilateral summit this spring.
Replicating the Djibouti model? But they also express concern that China might run this play elsewhere, citing an Asia Times analysis that promotes the idea that tinpot dictators like Guelleh are free to pursue their unsustainable dreams in exchange for pledging allegiance to Beijing.” Read, here.

Vietnam has now asked Beijing to remove its military equipment from the South China Sea, Reuters reported Tuesday.
Background: Vietnam is reacting to CNBC’s news last week that China added “anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three of its fortified outposts in the South China Sea.”
The word from Hanoi: “Vietnam is extremely concerned about the information (as reported) and reaffirms that all militarization activities, including the installation of missiles on the Spratly islands, is a serious violation of Vietnam’s sovereignty,” the foreign ministry said in its Tuesday statement. No word yet on China’s reax.
Some Philippine lawmakers are a bit anxious about China’s reported military moves, too, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. But there is one big problem standing in the way of action from Manila: President Rody Duterte, who has repeatedly shown little interest in confronting China over its moves in the contested waters of the SCS. More from AP, here.

Related #LongRead: “Rapid technological progress in China’s aerospace industry, particularly air-to-air missile systems fired from an aircraft, is changing the game for Western air forces and the global arms trade,” Bloomberg reported Tuesday in an analysis that also looks at how these changes are “altering the picture for China’s neighbors such as India.”

Lawmakers exited a classified briefing Tuesday on the deadly October attack in Niger, Military Times reported. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., called it "very explosive" and “raises questions about why people are hiding from us what they’re doing.”
What he’s referring to: The Pentagon’s initial story on what happened in Niger, alleging it was merely “a training activity with local forces” rather than the “capture-kill” mission we have since learned it was part of. More to this story, here.

Should Twitter crack down on the Taliban’s social media output? Task & Purpose’s Jeff Schogol considers the question in light of Twitter’s own policies, here.

Finally today: A good news story… that begins with a heart attack 13 years ago in the Pentagon parking lot. The Washington Post’s Kathryn Tolbert tells the story of Air Force Col. Bruce Hollywood, who “was adopted by an American couple who were stationed in Japan with the U.S. military and who could offer him a good life in America.”
The heart attack sent him searching for his mother, Tolbert writes, and he would eventually locate Nobue Ouchi after working through embassies in Japan — but very possibly not without a chance encounter with the current chief of PACOM, Adm. Harry Harris. Worth the click, here.

By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston // Ben Watson is news editor for Defense One. He previously worked for NPR's “All Things Considered” and “Here and Now” in Washington, D.C. Watson served for five years in the U.S. Army, where he was an award-winning combat cameraman and media advisor for southern Afghanistan's special operations command during the 2010-11 surge. // Bradley Peniston is deputy editor of Defense One. A national security journalist for two decades, he helped launch, served as managing editor of Defense News, and was editor of Armed Forces Journal. His books include No Higher Honor: Saving the USS Samuel B. Roberts in the Persian Gulf, now part of the Chief of Naval Operations' Professional Reading Program.

May 9, 2018