North Korea cancels anti-US rally; Taliban rejects ceasefire; Houthis hit Saudi with rockets; Bob Work slams Google; and just a bit more…

Welcome news for the Korean peninsula: North Korea “has decided to skip one of the most symbolic and politically charged events of its calendar: the annual ‘anti-U.S. imperialism’ rally marking the start of the Korean War,” the Associated Press reported Monday from Pyongyang.

Adds AP, “Considering how its relations with Washington could quickly slip back into acrimony if the difficult process of negotiating denuclearization and the lifting of trade sanctions breaks down, it remains unclear how much, or if at all, North Korea intends to recalibrate its other propaganda and indoctrination efforts. Getting rid of all the anti-American propaganda would be a Herculean task.”

Related/unrelated? The U.S. Army’s “mole force” (our characterization) for subterranean warfare is burning through half a billion dollars to train soldiers to fight underground, Military.com reports.

The gist: “Late last year, the Army launched an accelerated effort that funnels some $572 million into training and equipping 26 of its 31 active combat brigades to fight in large-scale subterranean facilities that exist beneath dense urban areas around the world.”  

New training tasks include “how to effectively navigate, communicate, breach heavy obstacles and attack enemy forces in underground mazes ranging from confined corridors to tunnels as wide as residential streets.”

And that will require “new equipment and training to operate in conditions such as complete darkness, bad air and lack of cover from enemy fire in areas that challenge standard Army communications equipment.” Read the rest, here.

Also new to the U.S. Army: expanding infantry training from 14 to 22 weeks, Army Secretary Mark Esper tweeted Monday with an accompanying 66-second video.

Says Esper: “This marks the first major change to Infantry training in 40 years and recognizes the increased complexity of the modern battlefield.” Catch that unnarrated video here.

Happening now: The Defense One Tech Summit at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Learn where tech is taking the Pentagon from Defense Digital Service director Chris Lynch, Air Force Chief Scientist Richard Joseph; Navy acquisition chief James “Hondo” Geurts, former DepSecDef Bob Work, and more. Watch the livestream here.


From Defense One

Google’s Withdrawal from Pentagon AI Project Risks US Lives, Says Work // Bradley Peniston: Former deputy defense secretary says the tech giant should consider how its work might help save US troops — and how it is currently helping China.

In Afghanistan, Ceasefires Could Pave a Path to Peace // Courtney Cooper, Council on Foreign Relations: The overlapping, temporary ceasefires announced by the Afghan government, U.S.-led NATO forces, and the Taliban show there is still hope for a political end to the conflict.

Homeland Security Warns Its Employees of Increased Threats to Them // Erich Wagner, Government Executive: Acting DHS DepSec says recent days have seen an uptick in response to U.S. government actions surrounding immigration.

Can Global Agreements Survive Without the US? Climate Change Offers A Test Case // David A. Graham, The Atlantic: American withdrawal from the Paris agreement is a test for the future of the globe, but also for the international order.

US Retakes Supercomputing Crown, But China Has Far More of Them  // Echo Huang, Quartz: Since 2002, China has gone from having none of the world’s fastest supercomputers to having more than anyone else.

Welcome to this Tech Summit 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. #OTD 101 years ago, the first 14,000 U.S. infantry troops landed in France at the port of Saint Nazaire.


SecDef Mattis is in China today, and Reuters has some scene-setting — but not a lot of substance yet — from that visit, here.
Backdrop: “a formation of Chinese warships has been holding daily combat drills for more than a week in waters near Taiwan, and there have been frequent Chinese air force exercises near the island,” Reuters writes.
Said Mattis of his trip: “I want to go in, right now, without basically poisoning the well [of U.S.-China relations] at this point, as if my mind’s already made up.” A bit more, here.

It’s back to war in Afghanistan now that the Taliban has rejected a ceasefire extension, Reuters reported Monday from Kabul.
And on Sunday we learned the Taliban had captured 70 — yes 70 — Afghan police after a shootout in Wardak province’s Jalrez district, just south of Kabul, The Long War Journal reported.
Writes LWJ’s Bill Roggio: “The Afghan Ministry of Defense claimed that the Taliban has launched attacks in 10 provinces over the past four days as the Afghan military honors the government’s unilateral ceasefire and the military remains on the defensive. However, the Afghan military is clearly understating the extent of the Taliban’s offensive.” Read on, here.

From Yemen on Sunday, the Houthi rebels’ “Missile Force” launched rockets into Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which they claim targeted the Saudi Ministry of Defense, the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Adam Baron noted on Twitter Monday.  
From Yemen’s northern Amran province, the Saudi-led coalition appears to have killed at least eight civilians in an airstrike on Monday, the Associated Press reported from nearby Sana’a.
Watch this space: The Saudi coalition now says it has killed eight Hezbollah fighters fighting alongside the Houthis in Yemen’s northern Saada province — the area of the country from which many of the Houthis ballistic missiles have been launched since 2015.
Meantime, the battle for the western port city of Hodeida grinds on without a clear victor. More from AP, here. Or read the latest UN report on the humanitarian situation in and around Hodeida, here.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross:

  • More than 80 percent of Yemen’s population need humanitarian aid to survive;
  • Only 45 percent of the country’s health facilities are functioning;
  • And 2.9 million people are internally displaced inside Yemen.

Apropos of nothing: Saudi Arabia is turning Qatar into an island carving out the dirt between the two countries to turn it into a “massive canal,” Bloomberg reported last week.
Dimensions and applications: “60 kilometers (37.5 miles) long and 200 meters (219 yards) wide, running the entire length of the strip of Saudi territory that borders Qatar. Part of the canal zone would be set aside for a planned nuclear waste facility” and running a tab of $750 million. More from Bloomberg, here.

Russia broke “a cease-fire pact with the U.S. and Jordan” when new airstrikes in southwest Syria on Sunday, The Wall Street Journal reported.
What you need to know: “[T]he U.S. appears intent on not getting dragged into a confrontation between the rebels and Mr. Assad’s Russian and Iranian-backed forces. On Saturday night, as Russian airstrikes were beginning, U.S.-allied rebels were told by the Americans not to expect a military intervention on their behalf.”
What to do from here? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ “U.S. officials say that it remains unclear whether the airstrikes are a prelude for a major offensive to capture the area,” the Journal writes, “and instead could be an attempt by President Assad to pressure the U.S. and Jordan to agree to a new diplomatic arrangement, one that would allow the Syrian regime to re-exert its control over the area without a battle.” Continue reading, here.
FWIW: 45,000 Syrians have been newly displaced in the Assad regime’s southern offensive, the UN says this morning.
More IAF strike missions inside Syria? Reuters adds to that UN report above that the Assad regime believes Israeli jets carried out another round of airstrikes in Damascus overnight.
About that Russian air campaign in Syria: “The operation [has] allowed the Russian military to test new equipment and to rotate personnel through the theater of operations in order to gain battle experience… for the first time in almost 30 years,” according to a new 26-page report from CNA Corporation’s Russian expert Anton Lavrov.
The skinny read: “A prolonged conflict, the end of which is still not visible, has become the most enlightening lesson for them since the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979-1989)… During the conflict, Russian troops demonstrated their ability to adapt and learn from their experience. Thanks to this, the combat effectiveness of a small Russian contingent is growing and has allowed government forces to attain success on the ground.” Read Lavrov’s report in full, here.

For your eyes, ears and augmented reality devices: A “masterclass in accountability journalism.” That’s how the New York Times’ Dick Stevenson described this hefty multimedia report reconstructing how the Syrian Assad regime gassed its own people with chlorine outside of Damascus this past April, killing nearly three dozen.
What you’ll find: a visual reconstruction of the alleged crime scene, detailed diagrams assembled using data from the open source investigators at Bellingcat, and even an augmented reality link should you have the gear on hand for that. Or you can catch the video review of the Times story, here.

Meanwhile in Europe, “France launched a military force with other countries including Britain outside the framework of the European Union on Monday,” Reuters reported from Luxembourg where “Germany, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Estonia, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal signed a letter of intent” for the new force.
The formal name for the group: Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO).
Not involved: Italy.
And for what it’s worth, “Despite concerns about potentially overlapping European defense initiatives, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the decision, saying it would help modernize European militaries and make them quicker to mobilize.” Read on, here.

Australia will announce today that it’s buying $7 billion in U.S.-made drones, the Sydney Morning Herald reported Monday.
Included: A fleet of six MQ-4C Triton long-range surveillance drones, and 12 new P-8 Poseidon surveillance planes.
However, Australia’s first MQ-4C won’t become available until 2023. “The other five will follow quickly, with the full fleet set to be operational by late 2025.” Read on, here.

ICYMI: The Philippines will bump military by 44 percent over five years, Aviation Week reported — though the link is dead this morning. So we’ll turn to this take from the Philippine Star.
Expected: More submarines, “multi-role fighter aircraft, long-range patrol aircraft, helicopters, more frigates, combat engineering equipment” and possible new helicopters and light tanks.
About that 44 percent bump: “The previous administration of Benigno Aquino III spent about $1.7 billion on the military during its 2010-2016 term in office, including 12 fighter jets. Duterte has approved the $5.6-billion modernization plan following a meeting with top defense and military officials last month.” Continue reading, here.

Be warned. The CEO of facial recognition company Kairos argued in a new Tech Crunch op-ed that the technology’s skin-color bias and capacity for abuse make it too dangerous for government use, ACLU lawyer Matt Cagle noted on Twitter after reading CEO Brian Brackeen’s warning that current facial recognition tech “opens the door for gross misconduct by the morally corrupt.”
Writes Brackeen, “The problem is, existing software has not been exposed to enough images of people of color to be confidently relied upon to identify them. And misidentification could lead to wrongful conviction, or far worse.” Read him making his case in full, here.

Meet “The $5 Million Surveillance Car That Hacks iPhones From 500 Meters. It comes from Cyprus, but the story comes to us from Forbes.
Its name: the SpearHead 360, and it comes from “one of Israel’s longtime surveillance market players Tal Dilian.” The truck sports “24 antennas to reach out to target devices,” and features “four different ways to force a phone to connect to its Wi-Fi-based interceptors from where it can start snooping on devices.”
It also reportedly uses “four different kinds of malware for various operating systems.” And all that is just in the first two paragraphs of Forbes’ report.
Not mentioned: How completely not-stealthy this van is (look at the photos, e.g.). Read on, here.

And finally today: The NSA has “hidden spy hubs” in eight American cities, The Intercept reported Monday.
The quick read: “The Intercept has identified an AT&T facility containing networking equipment that transports large quantities of internet traffic across the United States and the world. A body of evidence – including classified NSA documents, public records, and interviews with several former AT&T employees – indicates that the buildings are central to an NSA spying initiative that has for years monitored billions of emails, phone calls, and online chats passing across U.S. territory.”
The cities believed to be involved include “Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.”
The NSA’s reax: The agency would “neither confirm nor deny its role in alleged classified intelligence activities.” Read on, here.

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