US scales back South Korea wargames; Army’s robot PR woes; Security clearance overhaul; ‘Hybrid war’ really isn’t; And a bit more.

The U.S. military is replacing large-scale joint exercises with South Korea with smaller drills, NBC News reported Friday — extending the news partly broken first late on Thursday by Stars and Stripes — in a move seen “as part of the Trump administration’s effort to ease tensions with North Korea.”

The exercises being downgraded include Key Resolve and Foal Eagle. Those two, “along with their autumn counterpart Ulchi Freedom Guardian, have long been the lynchpin of the alliance between Seoul and Washington,” Stripes reported in a follow-up on Sunday.

In place of Foal Eagle, which has typically begun by now, a different “combined command post exercise” starts today and extends for a little more than a week. Recall that last year Foal Eagle was delayed amid similar negotiations with North Korea. That recollection via BBC, here.

About North Korea… Here’s one major takeaway from Hanoi via The New York Times this weekend, and paraphrased by MIT’s Vipin Narang: “Trump went for the whole enchilada: unilateral disarmament in one swing. Not just a freeze. Everything.”

Another thing during Hanoi: Pyongyang’s hackers were active and busy. “North Korean hackers who have targeted American and European businesses for 18 months kept up their attacks last week even as President Trump was meeting with North Korea’s leader in Hanoi,” The New York Times reports. Officials with cybersecurity company McAfee told the Times that they “watched, in real time, as the North Koreans attacked the computer networks of more than a hundred companies in the United States and around the globe.”

Doing what? McAfee says they “gained access to one of the main computer servers used by the North Korean hackers” with “the help of an unnamed foreign law enforcement agency.” Read, here.


From Defense One

Is Trump Giving Up on a Nuclear-Free North Korea? // The Atlantic’s Uri Friedman: The Vietnam summit showed just how high the price of denuclearization will be.

US Military Changing ‘Killing Machine’ Robo-tank Program After Controversy // Patrick Tucker: The Army is moving quickly to adopt new technologies. That comes with public relations pitfalls.

What Comes After Putin? Defense One Radio, Ep. 39 // Defense One Staff: This week we take a look at Russia and the future of the U.S.-Russian relationship.

The Security Clearance Process Is About to Get Its Biggest Overhaul in 50 Years // Aaron Boyd, Nextgov: Intelligence and human capital officials are about to make the rounds to show off Trusted Workforce 2.0, a framework to completely change how the government makes security clearance determinations.

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 1747, American Revolutionary War Brig. Gen. Casimir Pulaski was born in Warka, Poland.


We’ll just leave this headline right here: “Russian General Pitches ‘Information’ Operations as a Form of War.” “At a conference on the future of Russian military strategy, Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov, the chief of the general staff, said countries bring a blend of political, economic and military power to bear against adversaries,” writes The New York Times’ Andrew Kramer, reporting from Moscow this weekend.
Of course this “philosophy of so-called hybrid war” is familiar to the national security community, which is partly why the hot takes were easy to spot on Twitter this weekend. Here are two:

  • BREAKING: Russian general repeating himself and echoing what has been government policy for no less than a decade is news, apparently.” (via Nina Jankowicz of the Wilson Center)
  • “Gerasimov suggests a nation should leverage all aspects of its power, including diplomatic, information, military, and economic strength. My goodness, why has no one ever thought of this before?” (via Crispin Burke)

We talked with the man who inadvertently helped popularize the expression “hybrid war” — RUSI’s Mark Galeotti — for our Defense One Radio podcast. Here’s a bit that didn’t make this week’s episode (“What Comes After Putin?”):
“Let’s be honest, no war in history has ever not been hybrid, has not had psychological operations and so forth baked into the whole way of prosecuting it,” Galeotti said. “The Russians, like the rest of us, are just thinking simply now in a modern age where everyone is reliant on interlinked computer systems and so forth and also one in which actually political operations can be that much more effective, how can you use these to try and ensure that by the time you do start deploying your gunmen, you have if not already won the war, but certainly positioned yourself as well as possible.”
Galeotti said Russia has adopted political-war concepts from Cold Warrior George Kennan: “Which is basically that you can actually get what you want, have the political effect, without any shooting at all. And from Russia’s point of view, they’re aware of just how much weaker they are than the West in pretty much every index. And therefore rather than challenging the West directly in areas where we’re strongest, they’re looking for ways of getting what they want, which is basically to neutralize us in areas where we’re weakest. And as far as they’re concerned, politics and governance have become the battlefield in which they can challenge us.”
Enter the goodfellas: “They’re increasingly turning to organized crime. There are these networks of Russian criminal gangs that are operating on a sort of strategic level in Europe and beyond. Although most of the time they’re just gangsters being gangsters. What is clear is that from time to time, particularly those gangsters who still have their bases back in Russia, who still have families back in Russia — in others words are still vulnerable to the Russian state, from time to time the security agencies will contact them and say, ‘We would like you to do us a favor.’ And clearly this the the type of invitation you don’t get to turn down safely.”
You can listen to more from Galeotti and Tom Karako of CSIS later this week on our next episode of Defense One Radio. Find us on Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Subscribe if you’re not already.

Turkey declined buying the U.S.-made Patriot missile defense system since it would then have to cancel its order of Russian-made S-400 air defense systems, Bloomberg reported Friday.
Now what? A rocky road ahead for U.S.-Turkey relations. That’s because “Turkey’s determination to buy Russian missiles has fueled demands in the U.S. that planned supplies of F-35 jets be put on hold even though portions of the Lockheed Martin Co. fighter are being built in Turkey. The U.S. has threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey if it receives missiles from Russia.” Meantime, “Turkey expects the first S-400 delivery in July.” Read on, here.

Temporarily operational in Israel: The U.S.-made THAAD missile defense system deployed for joint exercises this week with troops from U.S. European Command, The Jerusalem Post reported this morning.
Exercise name: Juniper Falcon 2019, a “multi-theater” set of war games. Find the latest imagery and messaging on that via DVIDS, here.
For what it’s worth: Major air defense systems currently active in the Middle East include Israel’s Iron Dome; its Arrow system; its David’s Sling system; the U.S.-made THAAD in Israel; Russian-made S-300s in Syria; Russian-made S-400s at its airbase in Latakia; U.S.-made Patriots in Saudi Arabia, and it feels like we’re leaving something out… What say you, dear readers?

Security-clearance process heads for overhaul. The backlog of security-clearance applications has risen and fallen since 9/11, but last year’s record 725,000 open investigations finally spurred what officials are calling the biggest overhaul in 50 years. Members of the intelligence community, Defense Department, Office of Personnel Management, and Office of Management and Budget gave a preview of the changes to reporters last week ahead of a planned public rollout this month. The changes aim to remove “friction” from the process, one official said, “whether by removing the need to vet minor things or allowing investigators to use digital methods.”
The goal: reduce the time from application to conclusion to 80 days, and get the number of outstanding investigations down to “what security professionals consider to be the baseline ‘steady state’ of 220,000 to 250,000 investigations in process at any given time.” Read on, here.
ICYMI: Trump ordered the line cut for his son-in-law, ordering his staff to grant Jared Kushner a top-secret security clearance last year over the objections of intelligence officials and the White House’s top lawyer, the New York Times reported, citing four people briefed on the matter. “The decision last year to grant Mr. Kushner a top-secret clearance upgraded him from earlier temporary and interim status. He never received a higher-level designation that would have given him access to need-to-know intelligence known as sensitive compartmented information.”
The reporting indicates that POTUS lied about his role in Kushner’s clearance when he told the Times in January that he had no hand in it. Here’s why the IC and Trump’s lawyer objected to the clearance: “Officials in at least four countries privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner…using his financial difficulties and lack of experience.” That’s from February 2018, via the Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig.

Finally today: Is your ship safe? Fresh off a deep, deep dive into the deadly 2017 collisions of U.S. Navy destroyers and the conditions that helped cause them, ProPublica wants to know whether promised reforms are making a difference. “We’re trying to find out how it’s doing — and we need to hear from sailors in all six of the numbered fleets that patrol the world’s oceans.” Read — and if you like, respond — here.

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