States sue Trump over ‘crisis’; The world’s fastest hackers; Russian missile hoax?; Cyber attacks on Australia’s elections; And a bit more.

16 states sue Trump over emergency, border funds. “Contrary to the will of Congress, the president has used the pretext of a manufactured ‘crisis’ of unlawful immigration to declare a national emergency and redirect federal dollars appropriated for drug interdiction, military construction and law enforcement initiatives toward building a wall on the United States-Mexico border,” says the suit, California et al. v. Trump et al, filed in the wake of President Trump’s Friday declaration that his inability to persuade Congress to give him money to begin extending barriers along the nation’s southern borders constitutes a national-security emergency.

Context, via New York Times: “Presidents have invoked emergency-powers statutes nearly five dozen times since Congress enacted the National Emergencies Act of 1976, but never before has one been used to make an end-run around Congress after it rejected funding for a particular policy.”

More context: NYTs has a helpful chart of all the presidentially declared emergencies since 1976.

Are foreign cars the next emergency? CNBC: “A confidential U.S. Commerce Department report sent to Trump over the weekend is widely expected to clear the way for him to threaten tariffs of up to 25 percent on imported autos and auto parts by designating the imports a national security threat.”

Merkel: You realize that German automakers make cars in the United States, right? In her speech at the Munich Security Conference over the weekend, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, reports the Guardian,“She revealed that Germany is shocked when it hears the US administration describe German BMWs as a threat to US national security, pointing out the largest BMW car plant was not in Bavaria, but South Carolina, supplying cars to China.”

Paul Krugman: These new tariffs “would be a disaster on multiple levels,” the Nobel Prize-winning economist wrote. “It would be really disruptive, so much so that the US auto industry is opposed — it would mess up their supply chains, while providing little in additional sales…And, of course, these are our most important democratic allies – or possibly, in a few months’s time, former allies.”


From Defense One

Russian Hackers Work Several Times Faster than Chinese Counterparts, New Data Shows // Patrick Tucker: Their victims have less than a half-hour before an initial breach becomes wider data theft or destruction.

Defense One Radio, Ep. 38 // Ben Watson: Beyond South China Sea tensions, part two: The CCP vision and the future of Chinese history.

Trump’s Emergency Declaration is Going to Run into Four Hurdles // David Frum, The Atlantic: They fall into the broad buckets of legal, legislative, political, and constitutional issues.

Trump Declares National Emergency, Calling Gov’t Border Drug Stats ‘Lies’ // Marcus Weisgerber and Katie Bo Williams: In a dark, rambling speech, the president repeated long-debunked arguments — and provided ammunition for likely court challenges.

DARPA Thinks AI Could Help Troops Telepathically Control Machines // Jack Corrigan, Nextgov: The Pentagon is looking to build artificial intelligence into neural interfaces to let humans control machines with their thoughts.

Sunni Jihad Is Going Local // Hassan Hassan, The Atlantic: Future extremists will focus not on exporting violence to the West, but on building influence in their own communities.

The Senate’s Russia Probe Is Facing a Reckoning // Natasha Bertrand, The Atlantic: Meanwhile, the Democratic-led House committee is gearing up for a reinvigorated inquiry.

The Trump Administration Can’t Get a United Front Against Iran // Kathy Gilsinan, The Atlantic: But the Warsaw conference did bring together Gulf Arabs and Israel against their common enemy.

DHS ‘Doubling Down’ on Election Security Heading Into 2020 // Frank Konkel, Nextgov: Under Congress’ budget deal, the Homeland Security Department will receive $33 million to combat foreign influence campaigns and defend election security in fiscal 2019.

Welcome to this Monday 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 1473, Renaissance-era mathematician and astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus was born in Toruń, Poland. Nic C, the Adler Planetarium reminds us, “revolutionized our understanding of space, discovering that Earth revolves around the Sun.”


The human tragedies are piling up as the war against ISIS comes to an ugly end in Syria. First up are the tales coming out of the Al Hawl refugee camp in eastern Syria —  “where families from the dregs of the caliphate end up,” The Guardian’s Bethan McKernan reported Monday. “IRC said today 62 people have died here in recent weeks, two thirds of them under the age of 1.” The Washington Post’s Louisa Loveluck is also at Al Hawl, where “chaos and desperation rule” amid “food shortages, airstrikes, [and] fratricide.”
It’s like an unspeakably terrible Western film: “Gunshots cracked dawn to dusk, residents said. People became too scared to collect the wounded, and so many died out in the open. Their bodies lay there for days.”
Still out there somewhere: ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He hasn’t been captured yet as coalition troops close in on — and demand militants surrender from — the final blocks of ISIS-held Baghouz.
Request for forces: Could “about 1,000 to 1,500 international forces” remain in Syria to ensure ISIS stays defeated, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces asked Reuters and U.S. reporters who visited on Monday, tagging behind CENTCOM’s Gen. Joseph Votel to an undisclosed airbase in NE Syria.
“American forces must remain beside us,” said Mazloum Kobani, the commander-in-chief of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. What this means, Reuters writes is, “that Kobani is still holding out hope that U.S. President Donald Trump may soften his withdrawal order, which has been criticized by allies at home and abroad and which triggered the resignation of Trump’s defense secretary.
Votel’s reax to that: “We certainly understand what they would like us to do, but of course that’s not the path we’re on at this particular point… So the discussion really isn’t about U.S. forces staying here. We’ve looked at potentially what coalition (forces) might be able to do here.”
Open question, courtesy of the White House: If you must insist on a U.S. withdrawal from Syria, how soon will lose U.S. airpower after these last few blocks of Baghouz are cleared? Read on, here.
Also from this conflict: something that sounds like the plot a movie, and one with a very bad ending. Here’s CNN’s Barbara Starr reporting on Sunday: “More than 1,000 ISIS fighters have likely fled into the remote mountains & deserts of western Iraq from Syria in the last 6 months & may have up to $200 million in cash with them.”
Also from this conflict: Many, many now-remorseful widows of ISIS fighters — including Hoda Muthana, aged 24, from Alabama, and now with a child born under ISIS rule in Syria. Muthana spoke to The Guardian’s Martin Chulov and Bethan McKernan in al-Hawl, Syria. Her lawyer says she now wants to help the U.S. de-radicalize others like her. Terrorism analysts like Seamus Hughes advise a healthy dose of skepticism as we read Muthana’s words and learn the stories and fates of many others like her.
Hughes reminds us, courtesy of stats via the Program on Extremism at George Washington University:

  • There are “73 [Americans] known to have successfully traveled to Syria/Iraq. 16 returned. 13 prosecuted. 4 brought back last year. 9 minors (in addition to 73). Avg sentence is 10 years, four years less than failed attempt to travel”

One last thing from Baghouz, Syria: On Monday there was “literal radio silence as surrounded IS fighters’ walkie-talkies [all went] silent,” AFP’s Maya Gebeily reported on location. Find that, here.

From Russia with duplicity: INF edition. U.S. intelligence analysts think the Russian Ministry of Defense conducted a hoax presentation to the world on January 23 when it claimed to reveal its secretive new “cruise missile at the center of a years-long arms control controversy between Washington and Moscow,” Ankit Panda reported this weekend for The Daily Beast.
About that duplicity: “Neither the missile, nor its launch vehicle, nor the accompanying schematics were what Russia claimed them to be,” Panda reported citing, citing “a classified briefing prepared by U.S. intelligence.” Among the differences, “the treaty-violating missile is larger than the canister shown publicly by the Russian Ministry of Defense and uses a separate launch vehicle.”
Perhaps most notably, Panda writes “The United States assesses the [actual INF-violating missile known as] SSC-8 to be a road-mobile variant of the Kalibr sea-launched cruise missile, with a range capability of 2,000 km when armed with a conventional payload and a 2,350-km range capability in its nuclear variant.” (And BTW: This may have been known for quite some time, as Hans Kristensen noted here.)
So now what? Nothing appears to have changed save these footnotes in the public record, especially since “On Feb. 5, Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu confirmed that Moscow would begin development work on a land-based Kalibr missile—the very missile that the U.S. side argues already exists and violated the treaty in the first place.” Read the full report at The Daily Beast, here.

Australian lawmakers have been under cyber attack by what’s believed to be a “sophisticated state actor,” Reuters reported Monday. Ars Technica has its own report on the matter, reminding us that Australia’s elections are just weeks away. That here.

And finally today, watch Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber explain the strange history of the jets that will become the next Air Force Ones. (Recap: Boeing built them for a Russian airline that went bust.) Watch here, on The History Channel (cable subscription required).

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