SecNav fired; Alleged Chinese spy defects; Pro-democracy candidates win in Hong Kong; Russia’s state-led AI quest; And a bit more.

SecNav fired. “I no longer share the same understanding with the commander in chief who appointed me, in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline,” U.S. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer wrote in a Sunday letter acknowledging his termination by Defense Secretary Mark Esper at President Trump’s behest. The firing is the latest fallout from Trump’s interventions in the case of Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL convicted in July of posing with an enemy corpse and sentenced to four months in jail and reduction in rank to E-6.

Timeline, in short:

  • Nov. 4: Trump orders the Navy to restore Gallagher’s pay grade, overriding a decision by CNO Adm. Mike Gilday. Navy obeys but begins probe to see whether Gallagher should be ejected from the SEALs.
  • Nov. 21: Trump tweets that he will again intervene in the military chain of command to ensure that Gallagher stays a SEAL. Navy announces intention to press on with Dec. 2 hearing to determine this.
  • Nov. 23: Spencer reportedly says he’ll resign if Trump continues to interfere.
  • Nov. 24: Esper asks for Spencer’s resignation, claiming that the latter went behind his back to persuade the White House to avoid direct interference. Spencer delivers a letter acknowledging his termination. Trump tweets that Spencer was terminated for his handling of the SEAL case and also “large cost overruns from past administration’s contracting procedures.”

One take, from David Ignatius: “Spencer was sacked for his efforts to protect his service.”

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley declines to get involved. It’s “case closed” as far as he was concerned, the Washington Post reported traveling with Milley in Bahrain. 

Next up to replace Spencer: U.S. Ambassador to Norway Kenneth Braithwaite, Trump tweeted Sunday afternoon.

From Defense One

Russia’s AI Quest is State-Driven — Even More than China’s. Can It Work? // Samuel Bendett: Handicaps: weak private sector, Soviet-style bureaucracy. Helps: Great STEM education — and history.

Amazon’s JEDI Protest Centers on Trump // Frank Konkel: President Trump’s public remarks are part of Amazon’s legal protest of the Pentagon’s JEDI decision.

Don’t Demand Protection Money from Japan. Do Ask Tokyo to Rethink Its Defenses // Enea Gjoza: A well-fortified Japan could take the lead in its own security, with U.S. forces acting as a backstop rather than the primary combatants.

Foreign Policy Isn’t Just Up To Trump // Deborah Pearlstein, The Atlantic: The president’s defenders argue that U.S. foreign policy is whatever he says it is. Trouble is, that’s not what the Constitution says.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1963, President John F. Kennedy was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.

An alleged Chinese spy just defected to Australia. His name is Wang Liqiang, and he took his story to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age as well as Australia’s “60 Minutes” this weekend. According to Australia’s local news network Nine, “His testimony includes exposing how Beijing’s spies are infiltrating Hong Kong’s democracy movement, manipulating Taiwan’s political system and operating with impunity in Australia.” His account, which the New York Times writes includes “a 17-page plea for political asylum in Australia, reads in parts like an espionage thriller. He detailed code names of covert operations, shadowy business ventures and ultimately his dawning disenchantment with what he described as China’s efforts to stifle democracy and human rights around the world.”
Wang claims to have been “part of a Hong Kong-based investment firm that was a front for the Chinese government to conduct political and economic espionage in Hong Kong, including infiltrating universities and directing harassment and cyberattacks against dissidents,” AP reports. He also says he “helped funnel around 20 million yuan ($2.8 million) of campaign donations to Han Kuo-yu, mayor of the Taiwanese port city of Kaohsiung and a presidential candidate who has vowed to make peace with China.” According to the Times, “some of his details appeared speculative and impossible to verify,” but Australian and western intelligence “officials were taking his claims seriously.”
Indeed, Australia’s spies are taking one claim of his in particular quite seriously. It concerns a claim Chinese intelligence offered a Chinese-Australian man $1 million to run for parliament in Melbourne; that man is now alleged to have told Australian intelligence about the offer, and he was later found dead in a hotel this past March. “Police have not been able to establish how or why he died,” the BBC reports, “and his death has prompted a coroner’s inquiry.”
So, why leave that life as a spy? He alleges “his loyalty to Beijing faltered in May when he received a fake South Korean passport and was ordered to travel to Taiwan to meddle in the upcoming presidential election. He revealed it was the moment of truth that made him realise he was at risk of losing his true identity forever.” 
BTW: Chinese authorities are calling him a “fugitive” and a “convicted fraudster,” FT reports.
You may be thinking: “It was almost too good to be true. How could a 26 year old with no military or government background find himself close to the centre of the People’s Liberation Army’s intelligence network in Hong Kong?” Alex Joske of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute wondered that, too. He goes on to explain some of the lesser-known aspects of defections, and why this story may have lasting consequences, here.

Meanwhile in Hong Kong, pro-democracy candidates just won elections in a landslide, securing “almost 90% of 452 district council seats in Sunday’s poll,” which “saw record turnout after six months of protests and brought upset wins for democrats against heavyweight pro-Beijing opponents,” Reuters reports.
Bigger picture: “The district councils have little power, but the vote became a referendum on public support for the protests,” AP writes. And that suggests “Sunday’s elections could force the central government in Beijing to rethink how to handle the unrest, which is now in its sixth month.” But really all of that is still very much unclear. 
Said China’s foreign minister today: “Any attempts to destroy Hong Kong or harm Hong Kong’s stability and development cannot possibly succeed.” More here.

Still more alleged shady Chinese government activity, detailed. An international group of journalists got their hands on purportedly classified Chinese government documents that appear to detail how Communist Party officials operated detention camps for Muslims and others in China’s far western Xinjiang province. 
Reuters calls it the “second rare leak in days of secret files concerning the troubled western region.” AP writes that “The classified documents lay out the Chinese government’s deliberate strategy to lock up ethnic minorities even before they commit a crime, to rewire their thoughts and the language they speak.”
“Beijing is pioneering a new form of social control using data and artificial intelligence,” AP reports off the documents. “Drawing on data collected by mass surveillance technology, computers issued the names of tens of thousands of people for interrogation or detention in just one week.”
If that sounds familiar, it’s what Samantha Hoffman of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute described for us in our podcast from February on the CCP vision and the future of Chinese history. 
Bigger picture on this story: “The documents confirm from the government itself what is known about the camps from the testimony of dozens of Uighurs and Kazakhs, satellite imagery and tightly monitored visits by journalists to the region,” AP reports. 
Asked about the documents today, China’s foreign ministry said matters in Xinjiang are “purely China’s internal affairs.” More from AP, here. Or read through the documents for yourself, here.

Reuters alleges Iran was planning an attack on Saudi oil facilities as far back as May, according to “three officials familiar with the meetings and a fourth close to Iran’s decision making… These people said Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei approved the operation, but with strict conditions: Iranian forces must avoid hitting any civilians or Americans.” 
For the record, “Reuters was unable to confirm their version of events with Iran’s leadership. A Revolutionary Guards spokesman declined to comment. Tehran has steadfastly denied involvement.”
Worth noting: “Among the possible targets initially discussed were a seaport in Saudi Arabia, an airport and U.S. military bases… Those ideas were ultimately dismissed over concerns about mass casualties that could provoke fierce retaliation by the United States and embolden Israel, potentially pushing the region into war,” Reuters writes. 
So why go with a refinery attack? “[B]ecause it could grab big headlines, inflict economic pain on an adversary and still deliver a strong message to Washington.” Read on, here.
Speaking of: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards chief, Gen. Hossein Salami, is talking tough today, claiming to “have shown patience towards the hostile moves of America, the Zionist regime (Israel) and Saudi Arabia against the Islamic Republic of Iran…but we will destroy them if they cross our red lines.” More from AP, here.

And finally: Smash-and-grab in eastern Germany as thieves loot priceless jewels. Museum staff at Dresden’s Gruenes Gewoelbe, or Green Vault Museum, said the early-Monday heist hit one of Europe’s greatest collections of treasures. 
Gone: at least three sets of early-18th-century jewellery, including diamonds and rubies, worth up to 1 billion euros. Read on, here.

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne