In about two weeks, Dan Coats will be leaving his job as America’s director of national intelligence. News of his resignation comes a week after the former Indiana senator installed America’s first elections security official, Shelby Pierson, at his offices (she’d already overseen security for the 2018 midterms). But perhaps most importantly, it comes “after a two-year tenure in which he was often out of step with President Trump,” according to the Associated Press.
Trump’s pick to replace Coats: Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas. “Ratcliffe was deeply involved in the House GOP investigation into the FBI/DOJ last year, and joined [House Intelligence Committee] this year, effectively replacing Trey Gowdy’s role on both as chief prosecutor,” CNN’s Jeremy Herb tweeted upon reading the news via a tweet from the president on Sunday.
A lawyer by training, Ratcliffe’s credentials to lead the U.S. intelligence community — 16 agencies, hundreds of thousands of employees and contractors, budget that tops $53 billion — include his service for three years as the Justice Department’s chief of anti-terrorism and national security in eastern Texas. He also served as U.S. Attorney for the district, during which he “managed a combined staff of more than 100 federal prosecutors and support personnel with financial oversight and responsibility for a $12 million annual budget,” according to his law firm bio.
Said Trump in his tweet announcing his plan: “A former U.S. Attorney, John will lead and inspire greatness for the Country he loves. Dan Coats, the current Director, will be leaving office on August 15th. I would like to thank Dan for his great service to our Country. The Acting Director will be named shortly.”
One problem with Trump’s plan: Installing an acting DNI is not something Trump can do, tweeted Bobby Chesney, the associate dean at the University of Texas’s School of Law. Federal law — specifically, 50 USC 3026(a)(6) — says that when the DNI job is vacant, it gets temporarily filled by the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, currently Susan M. Gordon.
Tweeted former Pentagon spox, George Little, this morning: “I’m deeply concerned that a Trump poodle like Ratliffe as DNI will mean politicized and mean-spirited investigations of the very intelligence community he’s supposed to lead. The women and men of the IC deserve better.”
Happening today in Britain: “a meeting of senior security ministers from the U.S.-led ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence alliance,” consisting of Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Reuters reports. The focus of those talks: “cyber threats ranging from political hacking to child pornography.”
Also to be involved sometime this week: reps from Facebook, Google and Microsoft. A bit more, here.
From Defense One
If New START Dies, These Questions Will Need Answers // Vincent Manzo and Madison Estes: There’s little public indication that the Trump administration is thinking about several things that will happen if the last strategic arms agreement is allowed to expire.
Facial Recognition is Changing CBP Operations // Brandi Vincent, Nextgov: The tech is freeing up Customs and Border Protection employees—once they learned to trust it.
South Korea’s Tough Choice: The US or China? // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: Caught between its security ally and its top trading partner, Seoul is trying to have it all.
No, Lyme Disease Is Not an Escaped Military Bioweapon // Sam Telford, The Conversation: The Lyme bacterium was living in the wild decades before the disease was even identified. And there’s plenty more to disprove the conspiracy theories.
When Trump Threatens Google, Here’s What He Doesn’t Get // Patrick Tucker: Days after the Treasury Secretary cleared the U.S. tech giant of national security concerns, the president was rage-tweeting again.
US Air Force Wants Wargames that Simulate Lasers, Electromagnetic Weapons // Aaron Boyd, Nextgov: The sims are meant to teach airmen about these new weapons and help the Air Force develop new tactics and procedures.
Let the US Air Force Move Ahead with Its Heavy-Lift Rocket Program // Shak Hill: Lawmakers’ attempt to force the service to allow more companies to bid on satellite launches would do more harm than good.
Don’t Trust the Taliban With Afghanistan’s Cultural Preservation // Adam Tiffen: The group continues to attack sites and antiquities. Here are five ways peace negotiators can ensure that Afghanistan’s past will contribute to its future.
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day in 1958, U.S. lawmakers formally established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, aka NASA, almost four months after President Dwight Eisenhower pitched the idea, and nine months after the Soviets launched Sputnik 1.
The office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s running mate was hit in a complex attack Saturday, the president announced on Twitter as news was rippling across the wires. Fortunately, that running mate, Amrullah Saleh, was only slightly wounded, along with some 50 others. But at least 20 died in the attacks, Reuters reports today as cleanup operations are still ongoing.
A bit more about Saleh, from AP: He “founded [Afghanistan’s] Green Trend [political party] after he was sacked as intelligence chief in 2010 by former President Hamid Karzai. Though a relative newcomer on the Afghan political scene, its focus has been democracy and reform while fiercely opposing the Taliban and their extremist ideology.” And that could help account for why his offices appear to have been targeted.
What happened: “A suicide bomber in a car packed with explosives blew himself up at a security checkpoint near Saleh’s headquarters late on Sunday, opening the way for three gunmen to force their way into a four-storey office building,” Reuters writes. So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Security forces spent almost six hours responding to the scene, evacuating some 150 people in the process.
Bigger picture, via Reuters: “The attack in central Kabul — a virtual fortress of concrete blast walls, razor wire and police checkpoints — underlined how difficult it will be to maintain security during the election campaign, with government control slipping across the country.”
Regarding the upcoming elections (they’ve been postponed twice already, April and July), AP reminds us that President “Ghani is seeking a second term in the Sept. 28 vote on promises of ending the war but has been largely sidelined over the past year amid U.S.-Taliban talks.”
And about the ongoing peace negotiations with the Taliban: New Jersey Rep. Tom Malinoski, a Democrat, does not approve of the work by U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad — who is amid something like his eighth round of talks with the Taliban.
Tweeted Malinowski Sunday morning: “You talk to the Taliban but refuse to talk to the US Congress, despite multiple requests for briefings over months. Since you won’t explain this process, which looks like a sellout of Afghans & our troops’ hard-won gains, I have zero confidence in it.”
What Malinowski was responding to: Two tweets from Khalilzad on Saturday, which read: “Lot of chatter in Kabul about intra-Afghan negotiations. To clarify, those negotiations will occur after we conclude our own agreements and they will take place between the Taliban and an inclusive and effective national negotiating team consisting of senior government officials, key political party representatives, civil society and women.”
BTW, the Duffel Blog has jokes about Afghanistan. The latest headline: “Taliban confirms they won’t visit the White House if they win the War on Terror”
Boko Haram is believed to have killed 65 people at “a funeral in Nigeria’s north-eastern state of Borno” on Saturday, the BBC reported this weekend. That’s the same Boko Haram that the Nigerian government claimed was defeated in December 2017, FDD’s Bill Roggio tweeted Sunday upon reading the news.
For the record, “There has been an increase in Islamist attacks across the region,” the BBC writes. “Local government official Muhammed Bulama said he thought the latest attack was in revenge for the killing of 11 Boko Haram fighters by the villagers two weeks ago.” More here.
Dive deeper: View a time-lapse map of militant Islamist activity in Africa spanning the past decade from analysts at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, published 9 July. From that map, Boko Haram appears to have significant room to maneuver throughout the country’s northeastern region bordering Niger, Chad and Cameroon — while al-Shabaab is running roughshod throughout Somalia’s south and its border with Kenya.
ACSS’s big picture take: “Overall, militant Islamist group activity in Africa has doubled since 2012, with al Shabaab representing roughly 50% of all activity.” More here.
The children and wives of ISIS fighters are stabbing guards and stoning aid workers at the refugee camp they’re held at in the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria, AFP reports. “They also praise the elusive IS supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, saying they are waiting for orders from their leader.”
What’s going on: “Tens of thousands of people, mostly women and children, were trucked to Kurdish-run camps in northeast Syria during the weeks-long campaign. In total, some 12,000 foreigners — 4,000 women and 8,000 children — are now living in such camps, according to Kurdish authorities.”
Said one woman to AFP: “For us, death is more valuable than this humiliating life.” Read on, here.
Elsewhere in Syria, more than 100 civilians have been killed in regime airstrikes on “schools, hospitals, markets and bakeries” in the northwestern part of the country, Reuters reported Friday.
Context: “The [Syrian] government began its offensive against the rebel enclave in northwest Syria, the last area of active insurgent opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, at the end of April, saying it was responding to violations of a truce… Over the past three months, the offensive has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes or temporary shelters to seek refuge near the border with Turkey and has killed hundreds of civilians, according to war monitoring groups.” Continue reading, here, or here from AP.
A British warship — the destroyer HMS Duncan — arrived in the Arabian Gulf on Sunday, ready to escort British-flagged ships through the troubled waters near the Hormuz Strait, the UK Defence Ministry announced on Twitter. Already the HMS Montrose had escorted nearly three dozen ships, the MoD said. Details here.
Britain’s message to Iran today: “You cannot go about detaining unlawfully foreign vessels,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told Sky News (via Reuters). “If the Iranians want to come of the dark and be accepted as a responsible member of the intentional community,” he continued, “they need to adhere to rules-based system of the international community.”
“There is no quid pro quo,” Raad said of the possibility of returning Iran’s Grace 1 tanker, which was seized “on July 4 on suspicion of it carrying oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions,” AFP reports. Sixteen days later, Iran seized “the UK-flagged Stena Impero and its 23 crew as they sailed through the Strait of Hormuz.”
“This is not about some kind of barter,” Raab continued today. “This is about international law and the rules of the international legal system being upheld.”
Tehran’s reax: Double down on the propaganda by releasing additional video footage today “purportedly showing the Guards warning off a British warship during the seizure of the Stena Impero,” Reuters writes, “showing [Iran’s Revolutionary] Guards abseiling onto the deck from a helicopter” with audio of the Guards warning off a British warship superimposed into the video. More from AP on that video and its message, here.
Lest there be any ambiguity, Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said today his country’s approach toward other nations around the world is quite simple: “The foreign policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran is to protect multilateralism and confront American hegemony,” he told state-run IRIB news agency.
Coming later today: A new report on the sale of U.S. weapons to Saudi Arabia, via the Center for International Policy. In particular, the report “documents the central role of four major U.S. arms contractors in arming the Saudi regime.”
Those four firms: Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, or General Dynamics. All four together have accounted for “90% of U.S. offers to Saudi Arabia – measured by the value of the deals,” CIP writes. “The four companies analyzed in the report were involved in 27 arms offers to Saudi Arabia notified to Congress between 2009 and May 2019, worth a total of over $125 billion. This compares to 51 total U.S. arms offers to that nation since 2009, worth a total of $138 billion.”
Weapons involved include Raytheon Paveway bombs, Boeing F-15 aircraft, Boeing Apache helicopters, Lockheed Martin THAAD missile defense system, Lockheed Martin Multi-Mission Surface Combatant ships, and a Raytheon PAC-3 missile defense system, among others.
Look out for CIP’s full report set for release sometime later today at their website, here.
North Korea may be building six or seven nuclear bombs a year, the Wall Street Journal writes off a new report by independent researchers. Read (paywall), here.
Back stateside, the readiness of U.S. Air Force planes dropped for the sixth year in a row, “Of the 5,413 or so aircraft in the fleet, the percentage that are able to fly at any given time has decreased steadily each year since at least fiscal 2012, when 77.9 percent of aircraft were deemed flyable. By fiscal 2017, that metric had plunged to 71.3 percent, and it dipped further to 69.97 percent in 2018,” Military Times reports off data pried loose via the Freedom of Information Act. “Moreover, the decline has continued despite the Air Force’s growing concerns about readiness and its best efforts to reverse the trend.” Read on, here.
But special operations forces readiness is at an all-time high. That’s because their operating tempo has been slowed way down, Command Chief Master Sgt. Gregory A. Smith, SOCOM’s senior enlisted leader, said at the Pentagon. “I will tell you that the readiness of the force is at an all-time high right now,” Smith added. “We’re actually at a 25 percent reduction on global SOF taskings.”
Reports Military Times: “Over the last two to three years, SOCOM has taken a look at operational tempo and specific missions to ensure its operators are tasked to do only what special operators are capable of, leaving other missions to conventional forces.” read, here.
On Friday, the Supreme Court decided the White House can use $2.5 billion in Pentagon money to build a border wall while litigation proceeds, the New York Times reported.
Also on Friday, Guatemala agreed to new migration measures to avoid sanctions threatened by President Trump, Reuters reported.
What kind of new measures? “The Guatemalan government said in a statement that Friday’s deal… would allow its citizens to apply for temporary visas to work in the U.S. agricultural sector, and in the medium- to long-term, would allow for work visas for the construction and service sectors.” More here.
Sexual assault and rising seas. That’s part of what concerns the new Naval Academy superintendent, Vice Adm. Sean Buck, who took command of the school on Friday. Reports the Annapolis Capital: “In the 2017-2018 school year, there were 32 reports of sexual assault, the highest number in more than a decade. And last year, the Navy said it would raise a sea wall by 2.62 feet to prevent damage to the academy’s grounds from sea level rise.” Read on, here.
Are U.S. fighter pilots at increased risk for prostate cancer? McClatchy’s Tara Copp and Shirsho Dasgupta looked into it (now that Air Force is, too) and filed this report.
And finally today: Some food for your ears all about those times in life when “Facts Aren’t Enough.” The folks at NPR’s podcast, Hidden Brain, unpacked “The Psychology Of False Beliefs” in last week’s episode. Get to better know “how we rely on the people we trust to shape our beliefs, and why facts aren’t always enough to change our minds,” in the almost hourlong episode, here.