North Korea suspends talks with the South, which had been scheduled for today, telling the world Tuesday evening it will not “unilaterally give up its nuclear weapons,” Reuters reports from Seoul.
Pyongyang’s beef: the “Max Thunder” exercise, a two-week drill involving some 1,500 U.S. and South Korean troops, NBC News reported in a one-minute preview video back in mid-April.
Said Pentagon spox Col. Rob Manning, after DPRK’s statement: “Republic of Korea (ROK) and U.S. military forces are currently engaged in the recurring, annual ROK-U.S. spring exercises, to include exercises Foal Eagle 2018 and Max Thunder 2018. These defensive exercises are part of the ROK-U.S. Alliance’s routine, annual training program to maintain a foundation of military readiness. The purpose of the training is to enhance the ROK-U.S. Alliance’s ability to defend the ROK and enhance interoperability and readiness. While we will not discuss specifics, the defensive nature of these combined exercises has been clear for many decades and has not changed.”
One more thing: The U.S. military may pull its B-52s from upcoming exercises in South Korea, Seoul’s Yonhap News agency reported late last night.
Says the Pentagon: Bullsh*t. “The scope of Max Thunder has not changed,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Logan said Wednesday, according to the Washington Examiner.
From Defense One
The US Air Force Is Adding Algorithms to Predict When Planes Will Break // Marcus Weisgerber: The airlines already use predictive maintenance technology. Now the service’s materiel chief says it’s a “must-do for us.”
Congress Wrestles with Foreign Infiltration of US Universities // Caroline Houck: The latest NDAA tries to stop potential adversaries from recruiting talent and stealing innovative technology on campus.
How Much Has the US Spent to Fight Terror? Here’s a Guess // Simson Center’s Laicie Heeley: Are we spending too much? Too little? The picture is only growing cloudier.
Pentagon Wants Cloud Secure Enough to Hold Nuke Secrets // Nextgov’s Frank Konkel: The Pentagon’s JEDI cloud will be designed to store the military’s most sensitive classified information.
A Reckoning for Obama’s Foreign-Policy Legacy // Eliot A. Cohen, via The Atlantic: Veterans of the last administration are learning a hard lesson: Policies constructed by executive order and executive agreement are just as easily blown up by them.
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. OTD1943: RAF launches the Dambusters raid.
SecDef Mattis congratulates Iraq on its election, the one that apparently empowered Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Mattis declined to address that last possibility (more on that from the Washington Post, here). But here’s what Mattis had to say: “The Iraqi people had an election. It’s a democratic process at a time when people, many people doubted that Iraq could take charge of themselves. So we will wait and see the results – the final results of the election. And we stand with the Iraqi people’s decisions.”
After exiting the Iran nuclear deal last week, the U.S. Treasury added new sanctions on Tehran’s central bank governor in the hopes of reducing the flow of money to Hezbollah, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
At the heart of the allegations: “Valiollah Seif, the governor of the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran, sent the funds to Hezbollah through an Iraqi bank, the al-Bilad Islamic Bank. The funds were sent on behalf of Iran’s Quds Force, an Iranian paramilitary organization fighting in Syria along with Hezbollah to support President Bashar al-Assad.” A bit more, (paywall alert) here. Or you can read over Treasury’s announcement, here.
Afghan forces have retaken control of the western city of Farah from the Taliban, Reuters reports from Kabul.
Quick read: “Fighters overran a number of areas in Tuesday’s early morning assault on Farah, raising fears of a repeat of their capture of the northern city of Kunduz in 2015,” Reuters reports.
Reax: “Afghan forces were backed by U.S. air power and several drone strikes were conducted overnight but the Taliban denied having been pushed back, saying fighters pulled out after achieving their objectives of creating shock and capturing weapons and equipment.”
Panning out over the rest of the country: “Since the Taliban announced the start of their annual spring offensive last month, they have seized or threatened district centers in Baghlan and Badakhshan provinces in the northeast, Faryab in the northwest and Ghazni and Zabul south of Kabul.” More here.
Gen. Neller’s legacy? “Changes will be felt at almost every level of Marine Corps life,” Stars and Stripes reported Tuesday after the U.S. Marines completed “nearly two years of study and experimentation known as Marine Corps Force 2025 and Sea Dragon 2025.”
What’s new? “The number of Marines in a rifle squad will be decreased from 13 to 12. The service will also add more automatic weapons, drones and all-terrain vehicles, while improving night optics, grenade launchers and shoulder-fired rockets.”
Other added systems include Polaris MRZRs, “four additional extended-range Javelin anti-armor missile systems,” the Mk13 Mod 7 Long Range Sniper Rifle, and the Carl Gustav recoilless rifle to replace the Mk-153 Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon.
Anticipated timeline: “The Marines are fast-tracking some of the changes, but others will be phased in over the next three to five years.” Lots more to dig into in that plan, here.
Happening today: SecArmy Mark Esper will talk about how his service is modernizing when he takes the stage at the Center for a New American Security in Washington at 2:30 p.m. ET. RSVP, here.
Bye-bye, America’s “cyber czar.” The White House has axed its top cyber policy job, created under Obama “to harmonize the government’s overall approach to cybersecurity policy and digital warfare,” Politico reports. In a memo to staff, an aide to national security advisor John Bolton wrote that the move will “streamline authority” and that for the NSC’s cyber team’s two senior directors, “cyber coordination is already a core capability.”
Peter “Ghost Fleet” Singer’s take: “This is national security malpractice,” he tweeted. “Just today there will be roughly 432 cybersecurity incidents that harm business and security (based on yearly OTA data).”
But Congress says “not so fast”: Within hours, Reps. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., and Ted Lieu, D-Calif., introduced legislation to reinstate the job, Nextgov reports.
NSC delays public cyber-strategy summary. Citing “two current U.S. officials familiar with the matter,” CyberScoop reports that “several National Security Council staffers are seeking edits that emphasize repercussions if an adversary attacks either the U.S. government or a U.S.-based company in cyberspace.” The summary was to be released last Friday.
Ally watch: This just in from the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland: “Looking at latest decisions of @realDonaldTrump someone could even think: with friends like that who needs enemies. But frankly, EU should be grateful. Thanks to him we got rid of all illusions. We realise that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm.”
London School of Economics fellow Brian Klaas’s take: “This is the type of tweet from the President of the European Council that Vladimir Putin has long dreamed of seeing: the transatlantic alliance splintering and Europe and America turning on each other. Putin only dreamed of it—until Donald Trump made his dreams come true.”
Released: transcript from 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians. CNN: “The release of the Trump Tower transcripts and hundreds of pages of related materials provides the most comprehensive view yet into the circumstances surrounding the controversial meeting and the details of the roughly 20-minute encounter, in which Trump Jr., Trump son-in-law Jared Kusher and then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort were expecting dirt on Hillary Clinton from Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.”
The U.S. government says it has a suspect in the leaks of CIA hacking tools to Wikileaks back in March 2017, the Washington Post’s Shane Harris reported Tuesday. There’s just one big problem: “It doesn’t have enough evidence to bring charges.”
The suspect: “Joshua Adam Schulte, who worked for a CIA group that designs computer code to spy on foreign adversaries,” Harris reports. “Schulte is in a Manhattan jail on charges of possessing, receiving and transporting child pornography, according to an indictment filed in September. He has pleaded not guilty.”
In other things-that-are-missing news: The U.S. Air Force is offering $5,000 to anyone who may know about “the whereabouts of a box of explosive grenade rounds that its personnel accidentally dropped on a road in North Dakota while traveling between two intercontinental ballistic missile sites,” the Washington Post reported Tuesday in a kind of quietly terrifying story.
The gist: “Airmen from the 91st Missile Wing Security Forces team were traveling on gravel roads May 1 in North Dakota when the back hatch of their vehicle opened and a container filled with the explosive ammunition fell out, according to a statement from Minot Air Force Base. On May 11, the Air Force sent more than 100 airmen to walk the entire six-mile route where the grenades were probably lost… But two weeks after it was lost, the box of explosives still hasn’t been found.”
Heads up to those looking: “[A]ny damage to the container, however, could result in an explosion. If anyone locates the box and finds the ammunition in a damaged state, the area should be evacuated immediately,” Minot Air Force Base officials said. More here.
Spotted in Gaza: Tear gas-dropping drones from the Israeli Defence Forces.
The view from drones in Yemen: A devastated city in the south called Taiz. Worth the click, from CNN, here.
Watch Bell Helicopter’s V-280 tiltrotor aircraft take the skies in “cruise mode” in a short video the company released this week over on YouTube.
Who is trying to buy napalm now — and why? Buzzfeed News reports it’s “A troubled Arkansas arms company that sells specialty guns to the Central Intelligence Agency,” but won’t say a peep about the napalm acquisition effort.
The company: Thor Global Defense, “a supplier of high-end firearms to the CIA’s paramilitary unit — the rapidly expanding Ground Branch of the Special Activities Center — and to other special operations forces of the US military,” Buzzfeed’s Aram Roston reports.
Why the concern? Napalm’s “use is restricted by international treaty,” Roston reminds us.
Worth noting: “There is no evidence that the attempt to purchase napalm was illegal. Still, the fact that an American defense contractor, with government customers in the US and overseas, has been trying to buy one of the world’s most reviled and restricted weapons of war on behalf of a customer it won’t disclose shows how secretive and opaque the American arms business can be.” Read on, here.
China appears to have just threatened Taiwan and its “independence separatist forces,” the Associated Press reports from Beijing.
Context: “China last month held drills on its side of the Taiwan Strait and has repeatedly sailed its sole operating aircraft carrier through the 160-kilometer (100-mile) -wide waterway.”
The exercises’ message to Taiwan, according to China’s An Fengshan, is “very clear,” he said Tuesday. “It is a strong warning to Taiwan independence separatist forces and their activities. It demonstrates our determination and capabilities to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity… [with] firm will, full confidence and sufficient capabilities.” Tiny bit more, here.
China, Russia “and other authoritarian countries” appear to be inflating their GDP reports, the Washington Post reported Tuesday after a new and apparently quite novel analysis by a researcher at the University of Chicago.
The lead indicator: “satellite imagery that tracks changes in the level of nighttime lighting within and between countries over time.”
By the numbers: “[A] 10 percent increase in nighttime lights is associated with a 2.4 percent increase in GDP in the most democratic countries and with a 2.9 percent to 3.4 percent increase in GDP in the most authoritarian ones,” the researcher, Luiz Martinez told WaPo. “The most obvious explanation is that those countries are the most likely to fudge their GDP figures to make their political leaders look good.” A bit more to his analysis, here.
Make room, troops — the White House wants to hold immigrant children at military bases, “according to an email notification sent to Pentagon staffers,” the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
The idea, presently: Department of Health and Human Services employees are slated to “make site visits at four military installations in Texas and Arkansas during the next two weeks to evaluate their suitability to shelter children. The bases would be used for minors under 18 who arrive at the border without an adult relative or after the government has separated them from their parents.”
In case you were wondering, “The use of military bases to hold immigrant children is not without precedent. At the peak of the 2014 child-immigration crisis, the Obama administration used bases in Oklahoma, Texas and California to house more than 7,000 children over a period of several months.”
Bases under consideration include “the Army’s Fort Bliss, Goodfellow Air Force Base and Dyess Air Force Base,” all in Texas. And the Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas. Read on, here.
And finally today: New warship movies! The Hollywood Reporter says Mel Gibson is set to direct a picture about the USS Laffey, aka The Ship That Refused to Die. The Bath-built destroyer helped land troops at D-Day, then steamed around the world, only to fend off multiple kamikaze attacks off Okinawa in 1945.
Also coming soonish: “Greyhound,” starring Tom Hanks as the CO of a WWII destroyer in the North Atlantic; and “Midway,” reportedly starring Woody Harrelson and Mandy Moore. All that via USNI News, here.