US-made weapons on the loose in Yemen; State, CENTCOM’s Syria warning; US cyber testers aren’t tough enough; Navy’s ‘ghost ship’ returns from first uncrewed voyage; And a bit more.

By Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston

February 5, 2019

U.S.-made weapons appear to be falling into the wrong hands in Yemen, possibly violating U.S. export laws, according to CNN. The Saudis and the Emiratis have transferred U.S.-made MRAPs and M-ATVs, as well as anti-tank missiles and rifles to a variety of factions in the Yemen war (a sprawling conflict with many actors). But the list of groups that have acquired the American-made gear in that conflict now includes al-Qaeda-linked fighters and Iran-backed rebels — and it’s even prompted an investigation by the Defense Department.

Pentagon reax this morning, according to CNN’s Ryan Browne: "The United States has not authorized the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates to re-transfer any equipment to parties inside Yemen…The US government cannot comment on any pending investigations of claims of end-use violations of defense article."

A big so-what: “Because a majority of American troop deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are caused by IEDs, it is critical that knowledge of MRAP vulnerabilities does not fall into enemy hands. But it's already too late.” Read CNN’s full report, here.

BTW: “IEDs are now mass-produced in Yemen by Houthi forces on a scale only previously achieved by ISIS,” according to this September 2018 report from Conflict Armament Research.

CENTCOM warns ISIS could resurge in six months if U.S. troops leave Syria. That’s what command leaders said on Jan. 19, as quoted by the Pentagon’s inspector general in its most recent quarterly report to Congress on Operation Inherent Resolve.

The gist: ISIS may conduct opportunistic attacks on U.S. personnel as they withdraw but will leverage the event as a ‘victory’ in its media. ISIS remains an active insurgent group in both Iraq and Syria. If Sunni socio-economic, political, and sectarian grievances are not adequately addressed by the national and local governments of Iraq and Syria it is very likely that ISIS will have the opportunity to set conditions for future resurgence and territorial control. Currently, ISIS is regenerating key functions and capabilities more quickly in Iraq than in Syria, but absent sustained [counterterrorism] pressure, ISIS could likely resurge in Syria within six to twelve months and regain limited territory in the [Middle Euphrates River Valley].” Read the whole report, here.

State Department officials say much the same. “Despite the liberation of ISIS-held territory in Iraq and Syria, ISIS remains a significant terrorist threat and collective action is imperative to address this shared international security challenge,” those officials said Monday. That warning came with a request:

The U.S. is asking coalition partners to take back their foreign fighters: “The United States calls upon other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens detained by the SDF and commends the continued efforts of the SDF to return these foreign terrorist fighters to their countries of origin.” Read that, here.

And in case you’d thought ISIS is defeated, there’s this reminder at the end:

Says Syrian-born Middle East scholar, Hassan Hassan: “Syria has the world’s worst immigration crisis. The US asks countries to pick up their citizens (ISIS fighters currently jailed by the SDF.) These foreign fighters with their organization came to Syria, ruined its uprising against Assad & maimed its people. They need to go!”

Related: ISIS wants to shift its operations from the Syria-Iraq region to West Africa, the Wall Street Journal reported this weekend. More behind the paywall, here.


From Defense One

The Teams Who Test US Cyber Defenses Aren’t Being Tough Enough: Pentagon Report // Patrick Tucker: Overworked trainers and penetration testers can’t properly simulate the worst real-world threats, leaving operators “overconfident.”

New DNA Database Allows Far Faster Searches for Pathogen Genomes // Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic: For the first time, it’s possible to easily answer a question as simple as: “Have we seen this thing before?”

Trump’s Cyber Strategy Is Far Too Optimistic // Amy Zegart, The Atlantic: The director of national intelligence’s threat assessment exposes two of its pillars as convenient fictions.

The US Needs a Real Plan to Counter China in Africa // Adam Ereli: The current toothless strategy won’t prevent Beijing from, say, squeezing supply lines to America's biggest African base.

The Unpredictable Rise of China // Daniel Blumenthal, The Atlantic: Xi Jinping seeks national rejuvenation, but his nation’s mounting power masks increased instability.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Thanks for reading! And if you’re not subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1962, John Glenn met with President Kennedy in the Oval Office for a chat and a few photos. Fifteen days later, Glenn would be the first American to orbit the earth.


The U.S. Navy’s “ghost ship” just crossed the ocean on its own with no human crew members — except for “very short duration boardings by personnel from an escort vessel to check electrical and propulsion systems,” Naval News reported Monday.
The ship: Sea Hunter, a 132-foot-long Trimaran from the Office of Naval Research, a ship that could dramatically cut the cost of naval operations in the future. One additional perk, according to its manufacturer, Leidos: it “can shadow diesel-electric submarines for months, without human contact, across thousands of miles of ocean and chase them out of strategic waters.”
The route: San Diego to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Read a bit more about the latest trip over at Maritime Executive, here.

Trump administration: We may not be able to find the other migrant kids we separated from their parents. NBC News: “The Trump administration said in a court filing that reuniting thousands of migrant children separated from their parents or guardians at the U.S.-Mexico border may not be “within the realm of the possible.” The filing late Friday from Jallyn Sualog, deputy director of the department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement, was an ordered response in an ACLU lawsuit challenging the government's separation of thousands of children at the border since the summer of 2017.” Read on, here.
Read the conclusion of that HHS filing (via MSNBC’s Jacob Soboroff).

Judge to Pentagon: stop putting naturalized soldiers under extra scrutiny. In 2009, a U.S. Army desperate to recruit people who could speak certain languages and had certain medical skills, launched the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, which promised a fast track to citizenship. The Army ultimately brought in more than 10,000 immigrants, most of whom were naturalized after a period of service. But in 2016, the Obama administration suspended the program and decided to subject still-serving MAVNI soldiers to continuous security screenings.
Last year, 17 of these soldiers “sued the Pentagon, arguing that the requirements for continuous security checks, even after discharge if they worked as civilians for the government or government contractors, represented unconstitutional discrimination based on national origin,” NPR reports.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly ruled in their favor Thursday, noting that “no MAVNI soldier who has become a naturalized citizen has ever been charged or convicted of espionage or any other criminal offense or been denaturalized.”
Reminder: “In July 2018, the Pentagon began discharging immigrants recruited under the MAVNI program, only to reverse that policy a month later.” Read on, here.

Industry cuts in the news business could mean much less info about and from Guantanamo Bay, the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple wrote Monday after hearing about McClatchy cuts across its brand, including the Miami Herald and its legendary Gitmo reporter, Carol Rosenberg.

Finally today: Travel around Kabul with the war’s commander, Gen. Scott Miller. ABC News’ David Muir visited the Afghan capital “to see what the military deems could be a crucial part of any possible endgame in the war in Afghanistan” in a report that aired Monday evening. Asked if Miller thought “political talks with the Taliban are key part of any endgame," Miller replied, "Absolutely.”
BTW: Women should be part of those negotiations with the Taliban, according to a letter from Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Find their letter addressed to SecState Mike Pompeo (PDF), here.
One other line from Miller: "In 2001, it was very clear to the world what we were doing in Afghanistan. In 2019, there still are national interests that need to be safeguarded." Watch the full segment, 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 Military.com, 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.

February 5, 2019

https://www.defenseone.com/news/2019/02/the-d-brief-february-05-2019/154645/