The D Brief: Who broke the Internet in North Korea? What the intel community thought would happen in 2015 – in 2000; Bob Brewin has died; Trench warfare and a holiday moment; And a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson
Someone seemed to turn the Internet off in North Korea, right after President Barack Obama pledged some kind of retaliation for the “cyber-vandalism” that took place against Sony. But was it really the U.S.? Hard to say. Even after it came back on after nine hours, it’s still a little spotty now, CNN reports this morning: “Internet service in North Korea is still intermittent, Dyn Research, a company that monitors Internet performance, announced on Twitter Tuesday morning. Service went down completely for about nine hours earlier, Dyn Research said.
North Korea's Internet was back up Tuesday after a more than nine-hour outage, according to Dyn Research, a company that monitors Internet performance. The disruption came amid an escalating war of words between the United States and North Korea over a massive cyberattack on Sony Pictures.” More here.
The story on the full black out by National Journal’s Dustin Volz, here.
Meantime, a South Korean nuclear plant was hacked. The WSJ’s Jeyup Kwaak: “Computers at South Korea’s nuclear-plant operator were hacked, the company said on Monday, leading to leaks of internal data that include blueprints of reactors and radiation-exposure estimates. The state-owned operator Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. Ltd. said a probe into the breach was under way but declined to detail its progress. The company denied that its plants were in danger from a cyberattack, saying the controllers for the reactors are protected from a breach because they aren’t linked to external networks.” Read more here.
Btw, even though Sony blames theater owners, some of those owners pleaded with Sony for a limited release. The WaPo’s Cecilia Kang, here.
Wanna know what the intel community thought 2015 would look like – when they predicted it in 2000? On everything from China to Russia to terrorism and Iraq, Iran and North Korea, Defense One’s own Kedar Pavgi took a look with this bit here: “After a year filled with non-stop national security crises, the question is: Can anyone predict chaos in the future? The answer is, sort of…In 2000, the NIC released the Global Trends 2015 report to figure out how major technological, geopolitical and demographic trends at the turn of the millennium would shape the years to come. The next one is expected to come out in 2016 and will predict the world of 2035.
“David Gordon, former policy planning director for the State Department and one of the main authors of the Global Trends 2015 report, emphasized that it wasn’t meant to be a set of predictions, or even a model, but rather ‘explorations, likely and potential changes’ in the world of the future.”
Here’s what the NIC said about North Korea in 2000 in the Global Trends report: “A unified Korea with a significant US military presence may become a regional military power. For the next 10 to 15 years, however, knowledgeable observers suggest that the process of unification will consume South Korea’s energies and resources. Absent unification, North Korea’s WMD capabilities will continue to cloud regional stability. P’yongyang probably has one, possibly two, nuclear weapons. It has developed medium range missiles for years and has tested a three stage space launch vehicle. P’yonyang may improve the accuracy, range, and payload capabilities of its Taepo Dong-2 ICBM, deploy variants, or develop more capable systems. North Korea could have a few to several Taepo Dong-2 type missiles deployed by 2005.”
Read the rest here.
Welcome to Tuesday’s Christmas Eve-eve edition of The D Brief, Defense One's new, first-read national security newsletter. If you’d like to subscribe to The D Brief, reply to this email and let us know, subscribe here or send us a holler at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send us your tips, your tidbits, your scoops and stories, your think tank reports and best of all your candy, but send it to us early for maximum tease. And whatever you do, we hope you'll follow us @glubold and @natsecwatson.
Bob Brewin, a character, a former Marine, a lovable misspeller and a “towering figure” in reporting on government technology and management, has died. Atlantic Media’s Government Executive Media Group is saddened to report that NextGov Editor-at-Large Bob Brewin has died of cancer. GEMG Editor-in-Chief Tom Shoop, to the news room yesterday: “Bob was a towering figure in the world of reporting on government technology and management, having worked in the field for more than 20 years… Bob specialized in Defense Department IT acquisition and implementation, building on his experience as a radioman in Vietnam. Along the way, he won the respect and admiration not only of his colleagues and editors, but the people he covered as well. We'll miss Bob's doggedness, reporting skill and creativeness in misspelling. He was a friend and mentor to many on our staff over the years.
Shoop closed: “For those who had the pleasure of working with Bob, it will no doubt come as a shock that any force in the universe could take his presence from us. I am quite convinced, however, that nothing could take his spirit.”
GEMG’s Katherine Peters: “Bob was a character like none other. He once talked his way into a job at Reuters despite not having a college degree. My guess is they decided it would be easier to hire him than to endure his efforts to wear them down. Bob was by no means perfect. His spellcheck-evading misspellings were legendary in the newsroom, and if a story involved numbers you could count on him to mangle the math. But he always got the story straight. Bob had grit.”
Defense One’s Kevin Baron on Bob: "Bob's reporting at NextGov was a wonderfully eclectic and interesting addition to Defense One's earliest days, from the cloud to VA hospitals to even the JFK assassination. We never knew what to expect he would turn in, other than that it would give us all a nervous chuckle. We were already missing his work, lately. Now we'll miss his spirit." Read more about Bob from Peters, here.
With Christmas, come drone “toys” and the FAA is starting to get a little bit of air sickness. The WaPo’s Craig Whitlock: “Santa Claus may travel on a reindeer-powered sleigh, but he’s expected to deliver a ton of high-flying drones this week to teenagers and other amateur aviators, which is making for an anxious yuletide season at the Federal Aviation Administration. On Monday, the FAA and the drone industry kicked off a public awareness campaign to urge novice drone operators to pay attention to safety and not do dumb things such as flying too close to passenger planes, buzzing crowds of bystanders on the ground or flying that new remote-control helicopter while drunk.
Michael Huerta, the FAA administrator, told reporters: “This is an issue of growing concern… This newer and more powerful technology is affordable to more people, yet many are not familiar with the rules of flying.” More here.
Wanna get choked up? OK, maybe you won’t. But this ad for a British supermarket, evoking the trench warfare of WWI, is kinda touching and someone somewhere said it’s breaking the Internet. Not sure if we see the U.S. and the Islamic State starring in same, but still. Watch the five minute vid here.
Bowe Bergdahl’s fate now lies in Mark Milley’s hands. For months, it’s been unclear just what would become of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier released by the Taliban this summer in exchange for five detainees from Gitmo. The Army has now finished its investigation of why he wandered off the remote U.S. base in Afghanistan in 2009. After Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other top Pentagon leaders were briefed on the matter, the case has been transferred to Army Gen. Mark Milley, the commander of Army Forces Command, who will review the case and make a final determination on Bergdahl. That could mean nothing could happen to Bergdahl – or a court-martial could be convened. And Army officials told The D Brief yesterday that there is no deadline for Milley to make his determination one way or another.
Did the Pentagon make Gitmo transfers so slow that State’s top guy, Cliff Sloan, abruptly resigned? U.S. government officials seemed to cite the Pentagon’s slow-rolling of the transfer of militants out of Gitmo as a reason for why Sloan resigned abruptly in the middle of a number of these transfers. Though it stands to reason that the Pentagon will see things far differently from State. Reuters: “The State Department envoy responsible for negotiating prisoner transfers from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is resigning, officials said on Monday, even as President Barack Obama is promising a stepped-up push to close the facility.
“The surprise announcement of Clifford Sloan's departure followed a flurry of detainee repatriations and resettlements, though officials at the State Department and White House had made clear their frustration with the slow handling of such moves by outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Sloan assumed the post in July 2013 and the State Department said he was stepping down and returning to his Washington law practice after finishing an 18-month commitment.
“A senior U.S. official said another factor in Sloan's decision was that the Pentagon ‘certainly hasn't been as helpful as they could have been’ in speeding up the process of sending prisoners home or resettling them in other countries.” More here.
A Pakistani court has halted the executions of several militants on Monday that poses a problem as the government seeks to execute dozens of convicted terrorists after the massacre in Peshawar. The WSJ’s Saheed Shah and Qasim Nauman, here.
But generally, executions there have been put on a fast track. The NYT’s Salman Masood and Saba Imtiazdec: “Prime Minister Nawas Sharif directed his top legal officer on Monday to fast-track the execution of militants on Pakistan’s death row, amid a continuing public clamor for a tough response to last week’s Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar. Mr. Sharif issued the order after local courts in several Pakistani cities halted the planned execution of at least seven convicted militants, officials said….Since then six people have been executed by hanging, most of whom were convicted in connection with an assassination attempt against the former military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf in 2003.
“An additional 63 prisoners are on death row for terrorism charges, according to the Interior Ministry. “Their executions will take place in phases,” said a government official who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to comment publicly… human rights groups and the United Nations have come out against [the executions], warning that innocent people could be put to death as a result of Pakistan’s notoriously weak judicial system.” More here.
The NYT’s Editorial Board on Pakistan’s “baffling response” to extremism, here.
What does security in Afghanistan post 2014 really mean? CFR’s Catherine Powell writes on that very issue and picked up by Defense One here.
Bombings in Kabul threaten its nascent cultural and civic life. The WaPo’s Pamela Constable, here.
The Taliban are pushing into areas that were once secure. The NYT’s Rod Nordland, here.
Meantime in Iraq, the real fight is for unity. The NYT’s Tim Arango on Page One this morning: “…even as the new government is scrambling to defeat the militants of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, it faces an underlying challenge that may be tougher: promoting a new sense of national identity that, even if it cannot transcend the differences between Sunni and Shiite, Arab and Kurd, at least basically holds them together as countrymen.
“Some officials have called for reinstating mandatory military service, in the belief it would bring communities together. Others have suggested promoting mixed marriages between Sunnis and Shiites by offering cash incentives. Still others say that promoting Iraq’s pre-Islamic past, as the cradle of civilization, could offer something from which Iraqis could build a degree of national unity.
“State television is in propaganda overdrive, with dramas portraying battlefield victories punctuated by the raising of the Iraqi flag — a celluloid counterpoint to the true story on the ground, where the flags of various militias indicate the erosion of the state’s reach.
Historian Phebe Marr: “The identity issue — getting an identity that all Iraqis can agree on so the state stays together — is serious…This is a struggle for a new vision of Iraq.”
Read the rest of this here.
The Islamic State fights for a refinery and the battle for Iraq swings back and forth. McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero: “Islamic State forces began a powerful counterattack Monday to retake the Iraqi town of Bayji, site of the nation’s largest oil refinery. The militants’ assault came as Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish fighters along with heavy U.S. airstrikes continued to pound the jihadist army in northern Iraq.” Read the rest here.
Pat Roberts just returned from a trip to Iraq newly confident in the U.S. mission. Again from McClatchy, this time, Lindsay Wise: “…American troops and their allies in Iraq are making “real and tangible progress” against Islamic State militants who seized much of Iraq and Syria over the summer, the Kansas senator said in a press call with reporters after his plane landed in Washington.
Republican Sen. Pat Roberts: “I am guardedly optimistic that Iraqis can take the necessary steps to take back their country.” More here.
The cost of airstrikes against the Islamic State just topped $1 billion-with-a-B. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio, here.
As the price of oil falls and the Iran nuke deal stalls, Iran’s economy struggles. The WSJ’s Benoit Faucon and Bill Spindle on Page One from Tehran, here.
A veteran Tunisian politician wins the country’s first free presidential election. Reuters: “[Beji Caid Essebsi] a former Ben Ali official, beat rival Moncef Marzouki with 55.68 percent of the vote against 44.32 percent in Sunday's run-off ballot between the two men, according to results released on Monday by electoral authorities. Both candidates called for calm after rioting briefly broke out in several southern towns in protest over the return of an old guard figure, and witnesses said an office of Essebsi's Nidaa Tounes party was set alight in one town.” Read that here.
But, BBC reports: Moncef Marzouki has refused to admit defeat in Tunisia, here.