1.5M troops at risk in ‘historic’ hack; Obama’s Gitmo closure plan; New aircraft carrier, F-35 approvals; US missiles targeting Russia?; And a bit more.
Historic data breach of US government employee records has investigators pointing to hackers in China. The April hack of the Interior Department and the Office and Personnel Management could put some 4 million current and former federal workers at risk of identity theft or fraud—including 1.5 million uniformed service members, many undoubtedly spanning the security clearance spectrum.
What was stolen? “Social Security numbers, job assignments, performance ratings and training information,” The Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima reports.
Though not as large as the recent Anthem or Home Depot hacks of the private sector, it nevertheless raises serious cybersecurity questions about the government’s ability to safeguard its own employees—and secret information—even as legislation to safeguard public and private sector data creeps through Capitol Hill, as The Wall Street Journal’s Damien Paletta explains.
News of the breach “came on the same day The New York Times reported that the National Security Agency had expanded warrantless surveillance of foreign hackers” in two secret memos penned about three years ago in the Justice Department, NYT’s David Sanger and Julie Herschfeld Davis write. That quiet decision is apt to look a lot less controversial in light of yesterday’s bigger news.
The Chinese response? “It's irresponsible and unscientific to make conjectural, trumped-up allegations without deep investigation,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing, AP reports this morning.
How do you solve a problem like attribution? It’s a tough nut to crack, but this piece from the Council on Foreign Relations’ Adam Segal on Wednesday gets at the difficulties of tracing attacks like this with confidence and precision; and the story—a Chinese cybersecurity firm suggesting, obliquely, that the U.S. hacked Beijing systems over a recent three-year period—takes on curious timing today.
White House mulls missiles in Europe in light of Russian aggression inside Ukraine. The rocky U.S.-Russia relationship is now taking on terms like “counterforce” and “countervailing strike capabilities,” AP’s Bob Burns reported yesterday. The Obama administration is “review[ing] its entire policy toward Russia” and as one of its options could deploy “land-based missiles in Europe that could pre-emptively destroy” Russian weapons that allegedly continue to violate the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in Germany today, was rounding up U.S. diplomats and defense officials to assess the impact of sanctions on Moscow and “map out a counterstrategy to Russia's military operations in Ukraine and reassure allies,” AP’s Lita Baldor writes from Stuttgart.
“Everything that we tried to build with Russia in the last 25 years is slipping away, and is in danger,” said Gernot Erler, Berlin’s envoy for Russia, as the NYT’s Alison Smale reports on the mood in Germany ahead of G7 talks on Sunday.
And about that ill-fated ceasefire in east Ukraine—“Ukrainian leaders say they have no intention of honoring the agreement as long as Russia is violating it by keeping troops and equipment in Ukraine, and President Petro O. Poroshenko on Thursday accused Russia of stationing more than 9,000 troops in Ukraine.” More on that front from NYT’s Andrew Kramer near Mariupol.
Exclusive: Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo is on the way. So says Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who told Defense One Thursday that he spoke with the president three weeks ago about closing the military prison, who then sent Defense Secretary Ash Carter and White House counterterrorism official Lisa Monaco to talk in McCain’s office. They told the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman they're drafting a plan for closing the facility to be submitted to lawmakers, which McCain has wanted for years.
Selling the plan is one thing. The bill it has to ride on, is another. To close GTMO, McCain wants a) a plan from Obama, b) a DoD-run site in the U.S. to house detainees, and 3) waivers built into the bill. The National Security Council says, hey, we’ve asked Congress to work with us for years but the bill has too many restrictions—threatening the entire bill with veto.
From Defense One
That dreaded, bloated Pentagon “slush fund”—aka, the Overseas Contingency Operations account—the Democrats hate as a sequester workaround is looking a lot less like an obstacle to passing the Senate’s Defense authorization bill. National Journal’s Fawn Johnson has more on the how the minority party’s united opposition front is slowly crumbling.
Beyond the military option in the South China Sea. Is anyone you know just fuming that the U.S. is allowing China to literally walk on water atop its new islands in the South China Sea? How could they let this happen, you might have been asked. Because there are many more elements and levers of diplomacy in these competing sovereignty claims, as SEAL Capt. Robert Newson and the Council on Foreign Relations’ Lauren Dickey explain.
Not that long ago, Washington and New Delhi were deeply suspicious of one another. Now, they're talking about collaborating on an aircraft carrier and weapons production. Quartz’ Seema Sirohi reports on the takeaways and “deliverables” from Ash Carter’s recent trip to India.
Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Defense One. Why not pass this puppy on to a friend? You’ll find our subscribe link here. (Want to read it in your browser? Click here.) And feel free to send us what you like, don’t like, or want to drop on our radar right here at email@example.com.
One step forward, and one possible step backward for the U.S.-led air campaign against the Islamic State. First: “Air Force Gen. Hawk Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command, described Monday how airmen at Hurlburt Field, Florida, with the 361st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group, recognized a comment on social media and turned that into an airstrike that resulted in three Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) missiles destroying an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) headquarters building,” DefenseTech’s Mike Hoffman first reported Wednesday.
But the coalition is now facing a new allegation of civilian casualties after reportedly striking a bomb-making factory in northern Iraq’s town of Hawija overnight Tuesday—killing close to 70, some of which (precise number unknown) were civilians. “A resident of the area in which the explosion took place said Islamic State had a strong presence there and was stockpiling ammunition as well as manufacturing bombs. The militants had two explosives-rigged tankers ready, he said, putting the number of people killed at 70, including both militants and civilians,” Reuters reports from Baghdad.
For what appears to have been the first time, U.S. troops directly handed new weapons to Iraqi soldiers. The cache: 1,000 M-16 rifles, several hundred 60 mm-120 mm mortar sets, MK19 automatic grenade launchers, M240B machine guns, M2 .50-caliber machine guns, M249 light machine guns, M14 sniper rifles and M500 12-gauge shotguns, the Washington Examiner’s Tara Copp reported.
To which, the (fake news site) Duffel Blog gives us this gem: “Pentagon To Bypass Iraqi Army And Supply ISIS Directly.”
Candidate #10 in GOP 2016 race is former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who used his time in the spotlight to take jabs at Obama’s lack of leadership on the world stage. Perry launched his campaign flanked by veterans and in front of a rented C-130 transport plane, playing up his five years in the Air Force from 1972 to 1977, as National Journal’s Adam Wollner couldn’t help but note. (Check out his requisite badass flight suit portrait, posted by MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt.)
Despite the new pomp, Perry is running “against the image of his last candidacy as much or more than against any of the others in the field.”as WaPo’s Dan Balz writes.
Take a few minutes to dive into this great read by WaPo’s Greg Jaffe digging into the evolution of Obama’s pragmatic (some would say withdrawn) view of U.S. military intervention and “American exceptionalism” today. Jaffe went from covering Iraq to the Pentagon to now the White House—appreciate that perspective for a minute, folks—where he sees in Obama a common thread from his use of American power to his historic Selma speech, where the president said he refused to wait to take action against atrocities—actions his critics argue are never enough.
What does Vietnam not want to protect itself against China? The Asia-Pacific nation wants fighter jets, surveillance aircraft, drones and subs, Reuters’ Siva Govindasamy reports this morning. “The previously unreported aircraft discussions have involved Swedish defense contractor Saab (SAABb.ST), European consortium Eurofighter, the defense wing of Airbus Group (AIR.PA) and U.S. firms Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) and Boeing (BA.N), said industry sources with direct knowledge of the talks.” More here.
Meantime, Vietnam is offering an irresistible tourism deal that lets its citizens visit the most hotly contested islands in the South China Sea. “In a special $800 promotion offer, 180 Vietnamese will get to see parts of the disputed Spratly archipelago later this month and take part in night fishing, visit a lighthouse and enjoy local seafood…
“‘Traveling to Truong Sa ... means the big trip of your life, reviving national pride and citizens' awareness of the sacred maritime sovereignty of the country,’ the promotion said.”
There’s a new top defense lobbyist in town. The Aerospace Industries Association, or AIA, one of the chief lobbying arms for defense firms, has named David Melcher its president and CEO. Melcher is a retired Army three-star who was CEO and president of Exelis, which recently merged with Harris. When he takes the helm at AIA on Monday, Melcher will become one of the loudest voices opposing sequestration budget caps, which are set to return in October.
Lockheed gets $920M for new F-35 parts, Defense One’s Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber says. The Pentagon placed the initial order for 94 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters late Thursday afternoon. The money is for aircraft parts that take a while to make, not the full jets. The Pentagon says the parts are for U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy jets, as well as Italian, Turkish, Australian, Norwegian, British and other foreign-owned copies.
The Pentagon just cleared the Navy to start building its second Ford class aircraft carrier, the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79), and make a down payment on the third carrier in the nearly $43 billion program. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio has that one, including a recent history of the cost changes and the ensuing struggles with Congress, right here.
Check those prices. An $8.5 million overcharge for aircraft spare parts could swell to more than $100 million over the next five years—if the contracting agent does not correct his “overinflated prices from previous years,” an IG report revealed. Air Force Times’ Phillip Swarts has the story.
“Keep calm and scribble on.” You have about a week to submit “your vision of 21st-century war propaganda” to the Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfare folks. This promises to be a good one, and the entry deadline is June 17. Get the full deets here.
As the U.S. works through the OPM cyber espionage case, here are “11 American spies who did the most damage to America’s military,” from David Nye over at the military entertainment site We Are the Mighty. Those are all (well, most of them) safely in the past, so at least those breaches won’t keep you up this weekend.