USAF, a bit rusty in defended airspace; Russia shipping gear to Syria via Iran; NSA adds tools to monitor Tehran; And a bit more.
If they had trouble with Syria’s air defenses…All that time spent on counterterrorism has left the U.S. Air Force somewhat rusty at operating in a defended battle space. That was the buried news from an otherwise unremarkable Wednesday panel of the military services’ intelligence chiefs, including Air Force Maj. Gen. Linda “UV” Urrutia-Varhall, assistant deputy chief of staff, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Headquarters. You see, 80 percent of Air Force personnel came in after 9/11, she said, and so they know one thing. “They know counterterrorism like the back of their hand. They do that well. A2/AD? Not so much. We found that out when we went up against the competition in Syria.”
For those of you new to this, A2/AD stands for anti-access/area denial, which means defeating enemy defenses that are trying to keep you out. That requires a whole different kind of skill set for “targeting and analysis,” she said. “We need to re-teach some of this stuff on target…it’s not as easy.” Good to know. Urrutia-Varhall spoke at the second Intelligence & National Security Summit, put on by AFCEA International and the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, or INSA, at the Washington Convention Center.
Speaking of Syria: Russia is ferrying troops and gear through Iran to its longtime pals in the Assad regime, the Los Angeles Times reports. Moscow would love to send its resupply planes through NATO airspace, but Washington has pressured some nations (including Bulgaria and Greece) to refuse the air transit on the grounds that it risks escalating an already fraught and complicated conflict in Syria. So with Bulgaria insisting on inspections of Russian supply flights, Moscow is working with its trusty comrades in Tehran.
Initially, the Russian aircraft were said to be bringing humanitarian cargo to Syria. But Russia’s Foreign Minister confirmed this morning those humanitarian flights include military equipment as well. Not that this comes as a huge surprise. Reports emerged last week that Russia had sent prefabricated housing to Syria, along with a portable air traffic control station and a contingent of naval infantry.
Meanwhile, a group of Russian-speaking hackers are siphoning “sensitive data from diplomatic and military agencies in the United States and in Europe,” then going to great lengths to hide their tracks, a security researcher at Kaspersky Lab tells the Washington Post. National security reporter Ellen Nakashima explains how it works, here.
Before we leave Russia, Reuters flags this rapidly built base some 20 miles from the Ukraine border, suggesting the “Kremlin is digging in for a prolonged stand-off with Kiev.”
From Defense One
The international rules of cyberspace just got a bit clearer. The UN’s new recommendations guiding states’ online activities break new ground in three important areas, writes Alex Grigsby at the Council on Foreign Relations. Read about them here.
Pentagon orders even more HQ cuts. Defense Department personnel officials are moving ahead with a more-severe version of an existing plan for cuts to headquarters staff—angering a major union in the process. GovExec’s Charlie Clark has the story.
How bad is it in Yemen? People are fleeing to Somalia. There are now nearly 1.5 million displaced people in Yemen, though their plight is no less dire than those pouring out of the battlefields of Iraq and Syria. “In fact, these people are so desperate to escape they are fleeing for one of the least politically stable regions on Earth,” writes Jake Flanagin at Quartz. Read about this less-publicized migration crisis, here.
Do Qatar, UAE airlines threaten U.S. national security? The biggest U.S. airlines say Gulf states’ subsidies could force them to abandon the large planes needed to move troops overseas. At least one veteran analyst calls this hogwash. Defense One Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber has the story.
What Dick Cheney has learned from history. The former vice president is making the rounds of think tanks and talk shows, bashing President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal, and promoting his new book. A lot of what he's saying just isn’t true, writes The Atlantic’s Peter Beinert: “Only Dick Cheney could interpret the last decade or two of U.S. foreign policy as a testament to the efficacy and morality of war.” Read it, here.
Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Defense One. Want to share The D Brief with a friend? Here’s our subscribe link. And please tell us what you like, don’t like, or want to drop on our radar right here at email@example.com.
Back stateside, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the U.S. intelligence community has created tools especially to keep tabs on Tehran that make him “pretty confident” the U.S. will be able tell whether Iran is cheating on the proposed nuclear deal.
“In what could be a preview of his testimony on Capitol Hill today, Clapper said that he’s already told lawmakers about the intelligence community’s ability to supervise Iran’s adherence to the deal,” Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reports.
Clapper’s assurances apparently convinced some lawmakers, Tucker writes. “On Aug. 13, ten former and current Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee published a letter urging their skeptical colleagues to check out the IC’s findings. But some lawmakers either did not avail themselves of the opportunity or didn’t like what they read. On Monday, Republican presidential contender Ted Cruz, speaking in Houston, likened the deal to trusting a drug kingpin.
And Donald Trump went further during the Iran deal protest in Washington: “We are led by very, very stupid people. Very, very stupid people. We cannot let it continue,” he said. And Sarah Palin launched this roller-coaster of a line: “Only in an Orwellian Obama world full of sprinkly fairy dust blown from atop a unicorn as he’s peeking through a really pretty pink kaleidoscope would he ever see victory or safety for America or Israel in this treaty…You don’t reward terrorism. You kill it.”
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton took her military-centric Iran deal critique to a think tank crowd at Brookings, Defense One’s Molly O’Toole reports.
“Among the elements of her whole-of-region approach, she said, would be increased efforts to counter Iranian (or Russian) aggression ‘even if that takes the form of cyberattacks or other non-traditional threats.’” Clinton also vowed to reassure Gulf allies — and discourage them from seeking their own nuclear weapons — by increasing their military support, selling them more missile defenses, and sharing more intelligence. She said she’d “sustain a robust military presence in the region,” particularly Air Force and Navy assets, and “keep the strait of Hormuz open.”
On the Iran deal in particular: “Is it perfect? Well, of course not; no agreement like this ever is. But is it a strong agreement? Yes, it is, and we absolutely should not turn it down,” she said. “It accomplished the major goals we set out to achieve: it blocks every pathway for Iran to get a bomb, and it gives us better tools.” Read the rest, here.
Elsewhere in Washington, House Republicans are trying a different tack to sink the Iran deal, promising no vote on the measure “until the president coughs up copies of side deals Tehran negotiated with atomic inspectors,” AP reports. Congress has a week to approve or disapprove the measure—unless Republicans can successfully make their case that the 60-day clock (which expires Sept. 17) never actually started because of those alleged side deals.
Though that will be a tough sell, according to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who told lawmakers Wednesday since “he believes that the president and the United Nations will conclude that the 60-day clock ends Sept. 17 and sanctions will start being eased,” AP writes.
Now some 50 U.S. intelligence analysts say their intel reports were altered by senior officials to understate the threat posed by the Islamic State, The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef report.
How it began: “Two senior analysts at CENTCOM signed a written complaint sent to the Defense Department inspector general in July alleging that the reports, some of which were briefed to President Obama, portrayed the terror groups as weaker than the analysts believe they are. The reports were changed by CENTCOM higher-ups to adhere to the administration’s public line that the U.S. is winning the battle against ISIS and al Nusra, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria,” Harris and Youssef write.
“That complaint was supported by 50 other analysts, some of whom have complained about politicizing of intelligence reports for months. That’s according to 11 individuals who are knowledgeable about the details of the report.”
“The cancer was within the senior level of the intelligence command,” one defense official said. Read the rest, here.
Afghans reportedly adore the top U.S. commander in their country—which is made much easier by the fact that Kabul has no defense minister right now, NYT reports on the rising influence of U.S. Army Gen. John Campbell. And few observers see this as a particularly good thing for the ongoing fight with the Taliban.
“Casualties among Afghan troops have increased by 50 percent in the first six months of this year, compared with the same period in 2014 — and 2014 was already a huge increase over 2013. Taliban insurgents have opened new fronts in northern Afghanistan, and at times have been on the verge of overrunning the northern city of Kunduz. And the Afghan military has struggled to meet its recruitment goals, facing the prospect that its security forces may actually shrink in size this year.”
The Kabul perspective: “It is not about Campbell’s personality, it is about the ground we have given him,” a senior Afghan official said. “President Ghani sees this war as a joint effort with the Americans. To keep them interested in Afghanistan, despite the other priorities, he thinks he needs to make Campbell feel welcomed.” The full report, which you’ll find here, is worth your time.
The “Big Six” to speak today. FBI Director James Comey is a late addition to an INSA panel that also includes the five other agency directors of the Intelligence Community’s “Big Six”: the CIA’s John Brennan, NGA’s Robert Cardillo, NSA/CYBERCOM’s Adm. Michael Rogers, NRO’s Betty Sapp and DIA’s Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart. That panel, to be moderated by Fox News Channel chief intelligence correspondent Catherine Herridge, will be Thursday’s final of the conference. Brennan, Clapper, Comey, Rogers and Stewart will be coming straight from scheduled testimony on global cyber threats at 10 a.m. before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
ICYMI: In the wake of the July military recruiting center shootings in Tennessee, Marines are balking at arming their recruiters. Instead, they’ll pursue other safety measures, Lt. Gen. Mark Brilakis, the top general at the Marine Corps Recruiting Command, told Marine Corps Times on Tuesday.
“The arming piece is one of those things on the recruiting side that myself and [Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford] still have great concerns over,” he said. “All the services … said they don’t want to arm their folks.”
Lastly, this odd one from the Pacific Northwest: A U.S. Air Force “survival student” in Washington “is suspected of breaking into a downtown Spokane building, terrifying a partially clothed woman who awoke to find an intruder staring at her, and then eluding residents until police arrived,” Spokane’s The Spokesman-Review reported.
“Residents say [Airman Jason R. Turkovich, 22] yelled ‘Article 31’ repeatedly as Spokane officers took him into custody, an apparent reference to a section of the U.S. military code requiring crime suspects be advised of their rights under military law… Turkovich was cited by Spokane police for misdemeanor criminal trespass and released to the Air Force. He was not booked into jail.”
“The incident was not related to any actual military training," said Capt. David Liapis, chief of Fairchild’s public affairs office. He also said he didn’t know what unit Turkovich is attached to. “They come from all over the Air Force,” he added.
The airman’s excuse: “He told the supervisor on scene that he was cold and was looking for a blanket and a place to get out of the weather,” said Spokane Police Department spokesman Cpl. Jordan Ferguson.