Hashtag regime change? New sanctions on Cuba? The White House is all over Twitter and somewhat all over the map responding to the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. Meanwhile, the country’s opposition leader, Juan Guaido, is today calling for the largest march in history (Reuters) as his supporters’ optimism sinks, global attention mounts and tensions in Caracas grow around the fate of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Guaido called for a military uprising on Tuesday. But by nightfall, “army soldiers and, most importantly, the key units that deploy tanks and armored vehicles had not risen up,” the Wall Street Journal reports today. For its part, “The Maduro administration said it was moving to put down what it called a coup attempt and said it maintained control of the country.”
Tweeted Maduro himself just before midnight: “I thank all the Venezuelan people, their bravery, courage and conscience in the face of this attempted coup d’etat. They have shown that a mobilized people is a guarantee of tranquility for the fatherland. Venezuela is a territory of peace and independence!”
President Trump pinned a tweet to his profile on Tuesday afternoon warning Cuba to “immediately CEASE military and other operations for the purpose of causing death and destruction to the Constitution of Venezuela.”
Where the Cuba stuff comes from: U.S. State Secretary Mike Pompeo told CNN that Maduro was about to leave the country on Tuesday, but was talked out of it by the Russians. “He had an airplane on the tarmac, he was ready to leave this morning as we understand it and the Russians indicated he should stay,” Pompeo told Wolf Blitzer. For what it’s worth, the secretary’s remarks drew a swift rebuke from former Pentagon spokesman George Little.
If Cuba disobeys POTUS45, Trump tweet-promised “a full and complete embargo, together with highest-level sanctions, will be placed on the island of Cuba. Hopefully, all Cuban soldiers will promptly and peacefully return to their island!”
Trump’s National Security Adviser, John Bolton, joined the tough Twitter talk against Cuba as well on Tuesday, writing, “The United States condemns Cuba’s direct role in propping up the failed Maduro regime in Venezuela. We will continue to take actions to cut the Cuban regime’s lifelines in Venezuela and hold it accountable for the destabilizing role it plays in this man-made crisis.”
Earlier in the day, Bolton tweeted the U.S.“will consider sanctions off ramps for Venezuelan officials & military members who take concrete, measurable steps to support democracy & freedom,” and that “Maduro’s cronies should accept Interim President Guaido’s offers of amnesty & work with us to secure their future.”
Bolton even tweeted a video “to all the patriotic citizens of Venezuela” via the White House’s Twitter feed, here.
Acting SecDef Shanahan joined the White House’s Twitter messaging, too, tweeting, “The U.S. Government stands in support of interim Venezuelan President Juan Guaido and the people of Venezuela in their quest for freedom and democracy as they take back their country with #OperacionLibertad.”
“Trump Heightens a Gamble on Venezuela” is how the Wall Street Journal framed Tuesday’s developments. Their tease: “If efforts to oust Maduro fall short, the U.S. will have offered its full-throated backing to a failed uprising with potentially deadly consequences.”
Companion #LongRead: “John Bolton on the Warpath,” from Dexter Filkins in the latest issue of The New Yorker.
From Defense One
Lawmakers Probe Navy, Marine Corps Plans on Climate Change // Katie Bo Williams: Trump’s picks for Chief of Naval Operations and Marine Corps Commandant sailed through their confirmation hearing on Tuesday.
House Lawmakers To Ask Justice Department to Investigate Erik Prince // Patrick Tucker: ‘Very strong evidence’ that Blackwater founder committed perjury, says Intel chairman Schiff.
Five Things I Learned From the Mueller Report // Benjamin Wittes, The Atlantic: A careful reading of the dense document delivers some urgent insights — including a surprising revelation on the counterintelligence front.
China’s Risky Middle East Bet // Brett McGurk, The Atlantic: Beijing believes it can focus on economic development and avoid any role in political affairs—but that assumption will likely prove naive.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson. Thanks for reading! And if you’re not subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1898, the first battle of the Spanish-American war played out at Manila Bay in the Philippines.
America’s F-35A has now been to war; and like many in the U.S. military, it was in Iraq first. U.S. Air Forces Central Command announced Tuesday that two U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II aircraft had just conducted an air strike at Wadi Ashai, Iraq, in support of what remains of the war on ISIS, Military.com reported shortly afterward.
Untested still: The F-35C, since the B variant was used in an airstrike on suspected Taliban positions inside Afghanistan on September 27, 2018.
Heartbreaking read: “He Lost a Daughter to Islamic State. Can He Save His Grandchildren?” from the Wall Street Journal‘s Isabel Coles and Ali Nabhan. The story revolves around the efforts of Patricio Galvez, a Chile-born Swedish citizen who is now trying to save his deceased daughter’s seven children — between the ages of 1 and 8 — who (unlike their parents) survived the fall of ISIS “and are now trapped in a squalid camp in northeast Syria.”
America’s new Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, John Abizaid, formally began work on Tuesday. Here are a series of photos of his swearing-in ceremony Tuesday with SecState Pompeo.
From the region: Iran just formally designated all U.S. troops in Middle East “terrorists,” a tit-for-tat move responding to the Trump administration’s similar treatment of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. More from Reuters, which writes so far “It was not clear what the impact of the new Iranian law might have on U.S. forces or their Middle East operations,” here.
Back stateside, Mueller-Barr tensions surfaced last night ahead of AG Barr’s Senate Judiciary hearing today. Special counsel Robert Mueller wrote a letter to Attorney General Bill Barr that Barr’s four-page memo “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the Mueller report, the Washington Post reported Tuesday evening — just hours before Barr is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Why this concerns Mueller: “There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation,” he wrote in his letter. “This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”
Reminder: “The report outlined 10 episodes of possible obstruction of justice,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “But Mr. Barr subsequently determined that the evidence Mr. Mueller’s investigation developed was insufficient to establish a crime.”
What to expect today: “Mr. Barr will defend his treatment of Mr. Mueller’s findings and his determination that Mr. Trump didn’t obstruct justice,” WSJ writes off prepared remarks.
Find a livestream of today’s developments before the Senate Judiciary Committee, here.
The NSA unmasked 75% more Americans’ data last year than the year prior under a foreign surveillance law, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday off annual NSA reporting requirements.
The law: “Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows U.S. intelligence agencies to collect certain categories of foreign intelligence information from international phone calls and emails of terrorism suspects and other perceived security threats.” The number of Americans whose IDs were revealed by this process in 2018 was exactly 16,721.
Where that data comes from: An “annual [Office of the Director of National Intelligence] surveillance statistics report on things like the use of the FISA Amendments Act warrantless surveillance program, the Freedom Act call and text metadata system,” and a few other entities the New York Times’ Charlie Savage writes in his summary, which you can find in full, here.
What’s going on here: “Normally, when N.S.A. analysts distribute a report to other government agencies containing information gleaned from surveillance, they black out, or mask, the identities of American citizens, permanent residents and organizations like corporations,” Savage reports. “But officials who receive those reports may ask the N.S.A. to reveal those identities if they are necessary to understand intelligence.”
Compared to prior years, the NSA “unmasked 9,529 in 2017 and 9,217 in a 12-month period across 2015 and 2016,” the Journal writes.
Why the big leap? In part because of “an effort to determine the identities of victims of cyberattacks from foreign intelligence agencies,” according to ODNI’s Alex Joel.
Where to go from here? “The law that governs that phone metadata program is due to expire in December,” WSJ writes. And just last week, the NSA “recommended to the White House that it let the program lapse due to logistical and legal burdens.” Read on, here.
Some sort of “cyber event” disrupted parts of America’s power grid on the west coast in early March, according to an “electric disturbance report” from the Department of Energy and summarized Tuesday by E&E News’s Blake Sobczak.
Until this week, “A cyberattack is not known to have ever disrupted the flow of electricity anywhere in the United States,” Sobczak writes. “If remote hackers interfered with grid networks in California, Utah and Wyoming, as the DOE filing suggests, the event would be unprecedented.”
For what it’s worth, “Relatively few organizations would have an electricity service footprint that spans Salt Lake County, Utah; Converse County, Wyo.; and both Los Angeles and Kern counties in California. Peak Reliability, a Western transmission operator, spans 14 states including Utah, Colorado and California. A spokesperson for that nonprofit reliability coordinator did not immediately respond to a request for comment.” Western Area Power Administration, another possible candidate, said it wasn’t them. Read on, here.
The Air Force will stop rebuilding hurricane-ravaged Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida because Congress hasn’t approved money for the project, Oriana Pawlyk reported at Military.com Tuesday.
The rebuilding effort involves “121 new projects at Tyndall — including cleanup, mold remediation, roof repairs, and demolition of old or damaged buildings — that the Air Force will be forced to defer into fiscal 2020,” according to John Henderson, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and energy.
“Similar repair projects will stop in June at Offutt” Air Force Base in Nebraska, Pawlyk writes, “where dozens of buildings sustained water damage from the extensive flooding. Water levels rose to roughly 10 feet in some buildings.”
Dive deeper: “If Congress fails to approve emergency funds – and fast – the service will have to start shutting down or cancelling programs and training to make up the shortfall,” Bruce Wright, president of the Air Force Association, wrote in this Defense One op-ed on April 11.
Wanna review how climate change is poised to screw with the U.S. military’s future plans? We’ve got you covered in this 45-minute podcast from March.
Speaking of podcasts, this week’s rebroadcast of a 2015 Radiolab episode is genuinely worth your time if you can carve out 35 free minutes this week.
What you’ll learn: “the story of a seemingly ridiculous, almost whimsical series of attacks on the US between November of 1944 and May of 1945.”
North Korea appears to have maintained a front company for its nuclear program based on Hong Kong. And now a “U.S. federal judge ordered three Chinese banks to provide documents sought by a grand jury and federal prosecutors” investigating the company, WSJ reports. “The ruling is the second known instance of prosecutors relying on a rarely used tool in the Patriot Act, marking a major escalation in the U.S. government’s efforts to block North Korea’s ability to circumvent sanctions and access the international financial system.”
And finally today: Get ready for a five-part miniseries about one of the worst man-made catastrophes in history, Chernobyl. What happened that April 25 in 1986 in northern Soviet Ukraine is now an HBO movie that airs for the first time this Monday. Catch a trailer, here.
In the five days until Chernobyl airs, review the many different ways the U.S. and the Soviets prepared to respond to a nuclear attack in our latest episode of Defense One Radio. Find us on Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.