Israel’s “war between the wars.” The Wall Street Journal’s Felicia Schwartz traveled to Avivim in northern Israel to report that Tel Aviv is using “high-tech surveillance” and outright deception — like faking casualty evacuations and staging uniformed mannequins in Jeeps — to escalate its conflict with Iran-backed Hezbollah in the Middle East. And that’s all in addition to the flurry of alleged airstrikes on suspected Iran-backed forces across Lebanon, Syria and Iraq in recent weeks.
What this all comes down to, according to Schwartz: “Current and former Israeli officials acknowledge that Israel’s campaign is adding to tensions. But they say the alternative scenario is unacceptable: allowing a foe to obtain missile technology that could overwhelm Israel’s defenses and enable sneak attacks.” More behind the paywall, here.
ICE’s contract with an Israeli data-extraction company will grow from $2.2 million to more than $30 million, The Daily Beast reported Wednesday.
The company in question: Cellebrite, perhaps “best known for offering to crack the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone at the behest of the FBI in 2016.”
For what it’s worth, “CBP officers searched the devices of more than 30,000 international travelers in 2017—10,000 more than the year prior, according to the most recently available data (ICE does not make such data available).” Read on, here.
And we’re not done with Israeli high-tech surveillance just yet. Because the country now stands “accused of planting mysterious spy devices near the White House,” Politico reports this morning.
About these devices: You’ve heard of them before (e.g., here). They’re called “Stingrays.” They cost about $150,000 each, and they “mimic regular cell towers to fool cell phones into giving them their locations and identity information. Formally called international mobile subscriber identity-catchers or IMSI-catchers, they also can capture the contents of calls and data use.”
“It was pretty clear that the Israelis were responsible,” a former senior intelligence official told Politico, which writes the FBI and other agencies “felt confident” in this conclusion “[b]ased on a detailed forensic analysis.” Read on here.
From Defense One
US Lawmaker Threatens to Give the Next Attack Plane to the Army // Marcus Weisgerber: Tired of USAF slow-rolling, Rep. Michael Waltz has already spearheaded legislation allowing SOCOM to seek light attack aircraft.
A Terrific Deal—For the Taliban // Kori Schake, The Atlantic: The president should have to answer for the Afghanistan mess in the 2020 election.
We Can’t Secure 5G Networks by Banning Huawei Gear // Tom Wheeler and David Simpson: The next-generation network simply doesn’t work like the current one. Staying safe will require a new relationship between business and government.
After 9/11, U.S. Intelligence Reinvented Itself. It’s Time to Do It Again // Amy Zegart, The Atlantic: After missing the Sept. 11 plot, spy agencies reoriented toward terrorism. Now technological threats require a new round of reforms.
Welcome to this Thursday 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 29 years ago, the “Two-plus-four-treaty” was signed in Moscow, giving unified Germany total sovereignty. (h/t Ulrike Franke of the European Council on Foreign Relations)
Here’s one more story with alleged links to snooping: 33-year-old Chinese businesswoman Yujing Zhang “was convicted [on Wednesday] of trespassing at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and lying to Secret Service agents,” the Associated Press reported from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Her story has lots of twists and turns — including acting as her own attorney after firing her public defenders in June — and you catch up here.
Next for Zhang: a sentencing hearing is scheduled for November 22, where she could face up to six years in prison.
We turn to Europe now where U.S. Army long-range rocket launchers just arrived to Grafenwoehr, Germany. Stars and Stripes reports on location about what these things bring and why.
Equipment in question: M270-A1 multiple launch rocket systems, or MLRS. Sixteen of them arrived to Germany on Wednesday “after the U.S. European Command last year told Congress they needed a long-range fires brigade added to the permanent force structure in Europe.” This is all “a result of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, which directed the Army to increase its numbers in Europe in order to defend NATO allies and deter aggression.” Deter aggression from who with these MLRSs? Consider our next link below for that answer.
Ukrainian officials, U.S. lawmakers: why is Trump blocking U.S. aid? The president is holding up $250 million in military aid to Ukraine, partially occupied by Russian forces.
Congress concerned: Trump’s unilateral move “prompted leaders in three House committees to announce Monday evening they plan to investigate whether it is at all designed to coerce Kyiv into cooperating with a politically motivated investigation orchestrated by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani,” writes US News.
Senate proposal: “Multiple sources tell U.S. News the pair reportedly told Zelensky and other senior Ukrainian officials that if Trump does not release this year’s funds, the Senate will appropriate two years worth of money in the next budget year and include a stipulation in the legislation that the president cannot unilaterally withhold it again.”
U.S. officials say “Nothing’s changed.” But, US News writes, “many in Washington and Kyiv express concerns that Trump’s abrupt move, which under current law the president can make alone, indicates an apparent willingness to abandon key allies and emboldens Russia.” Read on, here.
In the past month, Trump has a) canceled and not rescheduled a meeting with the Ukrainian president and b) suggested that Russia rejoin the G7 group that ejected it for annexing Crimea.
This just in: Clark Cooper, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, says the Trump administration has approved $140M in security assistance funding for Ukraine, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reports from a Defense Writers Group breakfast. Note: this package is separate from the $250 million package, which is still on hold.
Floods, landslides, cyclones and more extreme weather events temporarily displaced more people from January to June this year than the same six months in any other year, the New York Times reports this morning, citing data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, which has been releasing annual reports tracking this data going back to 2003.
There is good news in there, too. And that includes the fact that, in recent years, “many government authorities have become better at preparing for extreme weather, with early warning systems and evacuation shelters in place that prevent mass casualties.” Which means “the numbers of displaced this year include many who might otherwise have been killed.” More here.
And the Washington Post warned Wednesday in a lengthy, illustrated and data-packed report “Dangerous new hot zones are spreading around the world.” One of those spots is in Uruguay, where the Post’s Chris Mooney traveled to file this report.
Other relevant data points include:
- Uruguay’s “waters have warmed by 1 degree Celsius in just 20 years in the estuary of the Rio de la Plata, where the vast river spills into the ocean, and in the common offshore fishing area shared by Uruguay and Argentina. That is a very fast change in a very short time.”
- “The [entire] planet is now more than 1 degree Celsius warmer than it was in the mid- to late 1800s, before industrialization spread across the world.”
- “About 20 percent of the planet has warmed by 1.5 degrees Celsius, a point at which scientists say the impacts of climate change grow significantly more intense.”
- And “Roughly one-tenth of the globe has already warmed by more than 2 degrees Celsius, when the last five years are compared with the mid- to late 1800s.”
But will showing readers scary data points alter the course of anything amid our era’s climate crisis? Or put another way: “Humans Are Impetuous and Shortsighted. Can We Change?” as the NYT titled its recent review of “The Optimist’s Telescope,” by Bina Venkataraman, a former climate adviser to POTUS44.
One curious takeaway from Bina’s book: Visualizing the future can vastly improve our ability to reshape that future. For example, people are more likely to save money for retirement if they “imagine the future more vividly, a hypothesis supported by the work of the UCLA economist Hal Hershfield,” the Times’ Robert H. Frank writes in his review. “As Venkataraman describes his experiments, he showed subjects in one group of volunteers photographs of themselves that had been digitally altered to simulate their appearance in old age, but no such photographs to a second group. When he then gave all his subjects some money they could either spend or save, members of the first group saved significantly more.” Read on, here.
One more thing: “Investing $1.8 trillion over the next decade — in measures to adapt to climate change — could produce net benefits worth more than $7 trillion,” the BBC reported Tuesday off a recent global cost-benefit analysis from an organization called the Global Commission on Adaptation.
The five recommended areas to invest over the next 10 years:
- “Warning systems: For the vulnerable island and coastal communities in particular, early warnings about storms, very high tides and other extreme weather can save lives;”
- “Infrastructure: Building better roads, buildings and bridges to suit the changing climate;”
- “Improving dry-land agriculture: Something as simple as helping farmers to switch to more drought-resistant varieties of coffee crop could protect livelihoods and prevent hunger;”
- “Restoring and protecting mangroves: Restoration projects could protect vulnerable communities from storms and boost fisheries’ productivity;”
- And water, as in “Protecting water supplies — and making sure that water’s not being wasted.”
Any one of these investments “would contribute to what [GCA calls] a ‘triple dividend’ — avoiding future losses, generating positive economic gains through innovation, and delivering social and environmental benefits.” Read on at the BBC here. (h/t Kelsey Atherton, who has some thoughts of his own here.)
And finally today: That “top Russian spy” who was reportedly working for the U.S. and had to be extracted from his gig after Trump was elected? Russia now says it wants the U.S. to confirm where the guy is living, Reuters reports off remarks from Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. “Russian daily newspaper Kommersant has said that the official may have been a man called Oleg Smolenkov. He was reported to have disappeared with his wife, Antonina, and three children while on holiday in Montenegro in June 2017.” He’s now believed to be living in Virginia, at a home he bought with his wife under his own name.
More on Smolenkov: Mark Galeotti, scholar of all things Russia at the Royal United Services Institute, has some skeptical thoughts about this Oleg character. Find those here.