Confusion after Saudi attacks; Dozens die in Taliban attacks; USAF seeks flying cars; War plan for space; And a bit more.

White House officials say Saturday’s refinery attacks on Saudi Arabia were launched from Iran, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and America’s French allies want to see more intelligence before arriving at a similar conclusion on this apparent “dangerous new pattern” of attacks in the Middle East. 

According to that U.S. assessment, “Iran launched more than 20 drones and at least a dozen missiles at the Saudi oil facilities on Saturday,” the Wall Street Journal reported Monday evening (but not, as we’d first written here, ”after White House officials briefed reporters.” WH officials did not, in fact, brief the media on these developments on Monday).

And a Saudi military spokesman sort of backed that up, telling reporters Monday that the attacks “were not launched from Yemen, despite claims from the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels” who claimed to have been responsible, NBC News reports

However, it doesn’t seem like U.S. and Saudi officials are on the same page here, because the Journal notes that “Saudi officials said [Monday] the U.S. didn’t provide enough proof to conclude that the attack was launched from Iran.”

Visualized: Reuters’ graphics team produced a useful account of the Saturday strikes, combining four post-attack images with maps and charts of global oil supply and output numbers. 

Also included: a list of the “Proxy influences suspected,” flagging groups across Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Qatar, Bahrain, as well as the Saudis and the Iranians. Find all that, here

De-escalating? The Saudi Foreign Ministry announced today the country is capable of responding to the attacks that disrupted half of the petro-state’s output at the Abqaiq processing plant. And that response would seem to sit well with U.S. President Donald Trump, who didn’t appear to be in much of a hurry to respond on Monday after meeting the Crown Prince of Bahrain. (h/t al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen

Said Trump on Monday in the White House: “That was an attack on Saudi Arabia, and that wasn’t an attack on us. But we would certainly help them… We have a lot of options but I’m not looking at options right now. We want to find definitively who did this,” he said*, adding, “Do I want war? I don’t want war with anybody.”

BTW: Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said today there will be no negotiations or talks with U.S. officials “at any level,” AP reports, despite President Trump’s quite public back and forth on the subject.

Trump chaired a meeting of his National Security Council on Monday, a meeting that also brought together new Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Charles Kupperman, the acting national security adviser, the Journal reports. There, they “discussed possible military action against Iran, but made no decisions.”

SecDef Esper’s message to the world, via Twitter: “The United States military, with our interagency team, is working with our partners to address this unprecedented attack and defend the international rules-based order that is being undermined by Iran.”

That means, according to Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron: “we don’t know what we’re gonna do about [the Saturday attacks] yet.”

Two more U.S. senators came out against U.S. military action as a response here: Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Tim Kaine, D-Va. Their tweets expressing as much can be found here and here, respectively. 

You might be wondering: “How could Saudi Arabia, a country with the world’s third-largest military budget, fail to defend the beating heart of the oil industry on which the kingdom depends?” Bloomberg’s Marc Champion attempted an answer on Monday. 

Channeling Capt. Obvious, Champion writes, “The effectiveness of the Saudi military machine has long been questioned, despite spending $83 billion on defense last year, compared to $45 billion for Russia and $20 billion for regional rival Iran. The kingdom’s formidably equipped air force has been bombing Iran-backed Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen since 2015, but has so far failed to tip the civil war in favor of Saudi allies.”

One topline takeaway: “Air defense against drones is a challenge for [even the] best militaries.” Read on, here.

Agence France-Presse has a list of “winners and losers” from the refinery attack, which is actually a pretty helpful explainer about the global impacts. 

And Russian President Vladimir Putin has jokes about how this is an opportunity for Riyadh to buy Russian air defense systems. 

By the way: Putin was in Turkey on Monday meeting with Iranian leader Rouhani and Turkish President Erdogan, AFP reported from the Turkish capital. This was the three leaders’ fifth summit to discuss the way ahead for Syria, which Erdogan would love to take back millions of its refugees now living in Turkey. 

According to Rouhani, “A large part of Syria’s problems have been solved and some still remain, the most important of which is the Idlib region and east of Euphrates, as well as the Zionist regime (Israel)’s aggressions and America’s interventionist presence.”

An unknown force carried out airstrikes in Syria today that killed 10 “pro-Iran” fighters, AFP reports in a developing story. 

Iranian officials just arrested three Australians on charges of spying. “Two of the Australians were alleged to have used a drone to take pictures of military sites, while a third was accused of spying for another country,” a judiciary spokesman told reporters this morning. “They identified them as a travel-blogging couple Jolie King and Mark Firkin and Melbourne University lecturer Kylie Moore-Gilbert…The travel-blogging couple had been documenting their journey on social media for the past two years but went silent about 10 weeks ago after posting updates from Kyrgyzstan and Pakistan.” A bit more, here.


From Defense One

Extra-Long Sustainment Contracts Are Lockheed’s Latest Bid to Cut F-35 Costs // Marcus Weisgerber: The company is pitching the Pentagon on a five-year deal — with promises to keep 80 percent of the fleet mission-ready.

The Air Force Will Start Work on Flying Cars This Fall // Patrick Tucker: It’s about replacing the V-22, eventually. But it’s also about finding new ways to harness commercial innovation.

The US Government Will Spend $1B on AI Next Year — Not Counting the Pentagon // Brandi Vincent, Nextgov: That’s the latest estimate from the White House. But industry experts say it might not be enough.

It’s Time for NATO to Engage in the Arctic // Anna Wieslander: If you thought the alliance was already involved in the High North, you’re not alone. But as great power presence turns hotter, it’s time to get in the game.

Northrop Announces Suppliers For New ICBM. Boeing is Not on the List // Marcus Weisgerber: Just days ago, Boeing said Northrop rejected its offer to jointly build the new nuclear weapons.

America Needs a Whole-of-Society Approach to Cybersecurity. ‘Grand Challenges’ Can Help. // Richard Spires: Such contests can bring needed focus to proposals for a “moonshot” effort to protect our networks.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day 232 years ago, the U.S. Constitution was signed by 38 of the 41 men present at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. It was officially adopted the following June when New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the historic piece of paper stored today in an argon-filled, aluminum-and-titanium climate-controlled case at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. 


RIP, U.S. Army Special Forces Sgt. First Class Jeremy W. Griffin, 40, of Greenbrier, Tennessee. Griffin was killed by small-arms fire in combat operations in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, Pentagon officials said in a Tuesday statement.
Griffin is the 17th American servicemember killed in Afghanistan this year, the highest annual total since most U.S. forces withdrew in 2014. He is also the first to die since Trump declared peace talks “dead” last week, Stripes notes.

Taliban kill 24 at Afghan president’s election rally. A suicide bomber on a motorcycle drove up to a northern Afghanistan checkpoint and detonated explosives not far from where people had gathered to hear President Ashraf Ghani on Tuesday. A Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the blast, which killed at least two dozen and wounded another 31. Ghani was not injured. AP has more, here.
Adds Reuters: “The attacks happened 11 days before Afghanistan’s presidential elections, which Taliban commanders have vowed to violently disrupt, and follow collapsed peace talks between the United States and the insurgent group.”
Taliban to Afghans: “Do not take part in the puppet administration’s election rallies, because all such gatherings are our military target,” group officials said in a statement. “If, despite the warning, someone gets hurt, they themselves are to blame.”
A second Tuesday blast in Kabul killed at least six and wounded 14 at a recruitment center for local security forces. The Taliban also claimed that one. Reuters, here.
The Taliban retain their links with al-Qaeda, the latter of which has been quietly regrowing its own strength, AP reports. Taliban officials had offered to cut ties with al-Qaeda under the proposed peace deal, for what that’s worth. Read, here.
And there’s a purported new audio message from ISIS’ leader-in-hiding. In the half-hour recording, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi praised his followers’ “daily operations” on “many fronts” and urged them to continue, the Washington Post reports.
Here’s a breakdown and translation by Rita Katz, who leads the SITE Intelligence Group.

Get to better know Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, who — as the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center  in August — chatted with Paul Cruickshank and Brian Dodwell of West Point’s CTC Sentinel. 
Discussed: jihadist threats today, ISIS, Iranian proxies, information-sharing, Sri Lanka, and a lot more. The #LongRead begins here.

Did you know: Prisoners held at the U.S. facilities in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, cost $13 million per year to take care of? That’s what the Times’’ legendary Gitmo reporter Carol Rosenberg wrote Monday of the 40 prisoners held there today. 

China leads the world in facial-recognition and other new surveillance technologies, according to a new report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,” the Wall Street Journal reports today.
And that’s probably not surprising. But this might be: “At least 75 countries around the world, from the U.S. to Brazil, Germany, India, and Singapore, host artificial intelligence to surveil citizens, the report said—a wider footprint than previously documented.”  

Today in our digital world, “Almost the entire population of Ecuador had their personal data leaked online” thanks to “an unsecured server run by an Ecuadorean marketing and analytics firm,” AFP reports from Quito. The breach appears to involve “An estimated 17 million people, including almost seven million minors and children.”
ZDNet had the story first on Monday. And you can find that report, here

An explosion occurred Monday at Russia’s Vector Institute in Novosibirsk. It’s a virology and biotechnology institute with samples of the world’s most dangerous organisms, Radio Liberty reports off a statement from Interfax state media. A “gas bottle” exploded during preparation for painting a room in a six-story laboratory building that, Interfax says, is not currently being used for biological research. The explosion caused a fire over 30 square meters and broke all the glass in the center.
But state-run Interfax says not to worry: “The department clarifies that in the room where the explosion occurred, there are no biohazardous substances.” (The “department” in this case is Rospotrebnadzor, whose expanded name may be translated as the “Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Well-Being.”) 

The new SPACECOM is writing a new ops plan for space, which is now defined as above 100 kilometers above sea level, Breaking Defense reports.

And finally today: After failing last year, the U.S. Army is about to hit its recruiting goal for the year — one that’s a bit lower (68,000) than 2018’s unreachable 76,500 target, AP reports. Last year, the service enlisted 70,000 new recruits; this year, officials expect to reach the 68,000 goal by Sept. 30. And “Already recruiters have an additional 13,000 recruits under contract to join the service in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, giving them a jump on next year’s totals.”
One way to look at it: “We’re smoothing out the Army’s growth,” Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army, said in an AP interview. “What we want to do is have modest growth over the next couple of years. And we’re trying to make sure that the end strength we have is high quality.”
The ultimate plan: “grow the Army from 476,000 members last year to about 490,000 by 2024.” More about the process and progress, here.

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