The U.S. military is indeed considering adding more forces to the Middle East, despite a confusing string of denials on Twitter and on Capitol Hill Thursday following a recent Wall Street Journal report.
“Erroneous” is what John Rood, defense undersecretary for policy, first called the report in his Thursday testimony to the Armed Services Committee.
But “yes” is what Rood said when Tenn. Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn asked whether the Pentagon might add fewer than 14,000 troops. (The WSJ had reported that planners were mulling “as many as” 14K.) “We haven’t made a decision yet. Based on what we are seeing… it is possible we would need to adjust our force posture. I think that would be a prudent step, depending on what we observe, because our objective is to deter Iranian aggression.” Read on at the Journal for how Thursday’s messaging unfolded after their initial report, here.
Task & Purpose’s headline from Thursday: “Pentagon fumbles non-denial that it’s considering deploying 14,000 troops to the Middle East”
New this morning: SecDef Esper says 14,000 is not on the cards: “As the Department has stated repeatedly, we were never discussing or considering sending 14,000 additional troops to the Middle East. Reports of this are flat out wrong. DOD will always stand ready to respond to future actions by our adversaries if and when they arise, but the Pentagon is not considering sending 14,000 troops to CENTCOM. This report is false.” That, of course, does not address the possibility of sending up to that amount, as the WSJ reported and Blackburn asked about.
Developing: Someone opened fire at Pensacola’s Naval Air Station this morning in an attack that’s so far left four people dead, including the shooter, local police officials said in a morning press conference. At least 7 other people were also wounded in the shooting.
Says the U.S. Navy in a morning statement: “There was an active shooter incident at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Pensacola, Florida this morning. The base remains on lockdown. The shooter is confirmed deceased, and two additional fatalities are confirmed. Multiple injured personnel have been transported to local hospitals. We will continue to work closely with law enforcement agencies.”
About the site: “NAS Pensacola employs more than 16,000 military and 7,400 civilian personnel,” AP writes. “One of the Navy’s most historic and storied bases, it sprawls along the waterfront southwest of downtown Pensacola and dominates the economy of the surrounding area.”
Worth noting: “The shooting is the second at a U.S. naval base this week. A sailor whose submarine was docked at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, opened fire on three civilian employees Wednesday, killing two before taking his own life.” More here.
And on Thursday, three Minnesota National Guardsmen died when their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed shortly after takeoff during a “maintenance test flight” out of Army Aviation Facility in St. Cloud. The crew sent out a “Mayday” alert, the Washington Post reports, then their signal was lost. It happened around 2 p.m., and the “wreckage was found in a field some two hours later” about 16 miles south of the base. “The crash killed all three soldiers on board.” Read more at Minnesota’s StarTribune, here.
From Defense One
A New Nuclear Deal? Start with New START // Daryl G. Kimball and Shannon Bugos: Russia is ready to extend this critical treaty, but Trump isn’t taking “yes” for an answer.
GOP Lawmakers Used to Oppose Trump’s Embrace of Russia. No More. // Ronald Brownstein, The Atlantic: High-ranking Republicans are now defending the president with debunked claims that national security experts say play right into Putin’s hands.
Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: 1 in 4 Americans think Russia’s an ally; Sobering shipyard news; Reagan Forum preview, and more…
DARPA Wants Smart Suits to Protect Against Biological Attacks / Brandi Vincent: A new program seeks gear that can guarantee troops’ survival amid multiple chemical and biological agents.
CBP Aims to Sweep US Citizens into Facial-Recognition Database / Aaron Boyd: A proposed rule change would no longer allow citizens and green card holders to opt out of Customs and Border Protection’s biometrics program.
Welcome to this Friday 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 1941, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt is convinced the transiting Japanese naval fleet is headed for Thailand, and not for an attack on the U.S.
President Trump is routinely talking to top officials on “cellphones vulnerable to monitoring by Russian and other foreign intelligence services,” the Washington Post reported off phone-call records disclosed in the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment inquiry report, released Tuesday.
The calls involved Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani and “unidentified people at the White House and others involved in the campaign to pressure Ukraine, with no indication that those calls were encrypted or otherwise shielded from foreign surveillance.”
What’s more, “Former White House chief of staff John F. Kelly and intelligence officials made a concerted attempt in 2017 to get Trump to use secure White House lines, even after the president had retreated to the residence in the evenings,” the Post reports. “But when Trump realized that this enabled Kelly to compile daily logs of his calls, and the identities of those he was speaking to, Trump became annoyed and reverted to using his cellphone.” Read on, here.
BTW: U.S. Treasury just charged two Russian hackers with “one of the largest cybercrime sprees in history,” NBC News reported Thursday. The two men “are accused of planting malware on computers, attacking several institutions in Pennsylvania — a bank, companies, a school district — in addition to targets in other states, including a lumber company, a natural gas company, and a small organization of nuns in Chicago.” And one of the hackers is linked to Russia’s Federal Security Service, better known as the FSB. Story, here. Or review the charges at Treasury, here.
The U.S. State Department rejected a pitch by DynCorp to train the Saudi intelligence service, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius reported Thursday. One reason why: “Saud al-Qahtani, a close adviser to the crown prince named by the Treasury Department as an organizer of the operation that killed [journalist Jamal Khashoggi], still hasn’t been charged — and continues to operate behind the scenes.”
But it’s not over yet for DynCorp, or its involved subsidiary called Culpeper National Security Solutions. “If workable safeguards could be formulated, State might solicit a new training proposal from DynCorp or another U.S. contractor,” officials told Ignatius. Read on, here.
“Fresh hand made Baklva on the way…” That’s how George Nader, “a trusted emissary” for the UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed addressed funds used during a string of illegal U.S. campaign contributions in a 53-count indictment unsealed by the Justice Department on Tuesday. In it, Nader is accused of “funneling more than $3.5 million in illicit campaign donations through [Ahmad Khawaja, a California businessman who was charged with acting as a conduit] to buy access and influence in Washington — initially with Mrs. Clinton and her Democratic allies during the 2016 campaign, and then with Donald J. Trump after he won the election,” the New York Times reports.
Bigger picture: “The indictment is one of the most brazen attempts in memory by a foreign power to buy influence during an election,” the Times writes.
For the record: “Currently, Nader is in federal custody on other charges,” which include possession of child pornography, DOJ writes in the indictment.
Reminder: The Times writes that the UAE is “one of the Pentagon’s closest partners in the Middle East,” and now it’s even more well-known for being “one of the biggest foreign spenders on influence in Washington.” Read on at the Times, here. Or review the indictment, here.
The climate crisis is the focus in Spain as thousands of delegates meet in Madrid through Dec. 13 to try to set rules for implementing the 2015 Paris climate accord, an all-but-doomed effort to hold global man-made temperature rise to 2.7 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, Defense One‘s Bradley Peniston flags for readers. Meanwhile, carbon emissions hit an all-time high in 2019, he writes.
“Utterly inadequate” is how UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the world’s efforts to date. “The point of no return is no longer over the horizon,” Guterres said on the eve of the Madrid meeting. “It is in sight and hurtling toward us.”
Hottest decade in history: No surprise, but the 2010s are the hottest ever recorded, according to a new report from the UN’s World Meteorological Organization. Last month was the hottest November ever recorded. And so far this year, the global average temperature has been about 1.96 degrees Fahrenheit above the preindustrial period.
Numerous places already exist where temperature rise has passed the 3.6-degree threshold sought in Paris. Among them: the Caribbean, where 3.4 million people were driven from their homes by extreme weather from 2014 to 2018, six times as many as in the previous five-year span.
Hitting home: Even the United States has places that are already 2 degrees warmer.
Looking for leadership: The United States is currently the second-largest generator of greenhouse gases, after China; it is far and away the largest cumulative generator. Great animated visualization, here.
Paltry U.S. delegation: The Trump administration, which last month announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris agreement, has sent no senior officials to the Madrid meeting.
Democrats attend instead: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is leading a group of her party’s lawmakers to Madrid, but they have no formal role in the proceedings. Instead, she is signaling that the United States will re-engage on climate change if a Democrat wins the presidency next year.
By the way: we’ve seen this coming. Zeke Hausfather, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, looked back at various models used since the 1970s to estimate climate change, and found that most of them — developed well before ubiquitous supercomputing and the like — have proven uncannily accurate. Read, here.
So what? Shana Udvardy of the Union of Concerned Scientists reminds us of just a few of the reasons this matters to the U.S. military, here.
As well: “According to a new U.S. Army report, Americans could face a horrifically grim future from climate change involving blackouts, disease, thirst, starvation and war,” Vice reported about a month ago.
Sign of hope: the UK transformed its energy sector in a decade, closing hundreds of coal-fired plants and putting it on track to go carbon-neutral ahead of its 2030 plan.
Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!