Editor’s note: Today, we remember. To all of our readers in the national security profession, we remember where we were on September 11, 2001, and what led us to our callings. Whether at the Pentagon or around the world, we join in recalling those who perished on that day and hope our journalism continues to inform those dedicated to protecting that which we deem worth fighting for with necessary and just discourse. We remember.
An intel problem is brewing in Brussels. NATO was blindsided by Russia’s military deployment into Syria this past weekend, the alliance’s top intelligence official said Thursday. What’s more, Moscow’s abrupt troop movement is the latest example “ that [NATO] members can neither stay ahead of threats nor even decide which ones are the most pressing,” Defense One’s Kevin Baron writes.
“We were able to get some warning, but did not see from a strategic perspective that one, necessarily, coming until just a couple days ago,” said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Brett Heimbigner, speaking to intelligence professionals at the Intelligence and National Security Summit in Washington, D.C. “From an alliance perspective, what Russia is doing and the ability of Russia to surprise[s] us on a very consistent basis.”
The biggest bad guy in the room: Russia or the Islamic State? NATO’s Baltic and eastern members worry more about Russia, while southern members are more concerned about ISIS, whose “growth is exponentially higher than what they anticipated,” Heimbigner explained. “We have a woeful shortage of ISR,” as well, he said of the high demand for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets. “When we go to ask the nations to contribute, it’s all committed and just not available.”
But it may just turn out that two conflicts become one, Baron writes, with Russia’s move into Syria and the flow of refugees from the Middle East.
On that note—the Kremlin wants to coordinate with the Pentagon to avoid “unintended incidents” in Syria, Moscow’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday morning. Reuters: “[Lavrov] said the Pentagon had suspended operational cooperation with the Russian military, but that this should be resumed since both the U.S. military and Russia's armed forces were operating in and around Syria...Lavrov said Russia would continue to supply weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to help the Syrian armed forces fight against Islamic State militants.”
Check out the naval infantry units Russia sent to Syria. They reportedly come from the 810th Marine Brigade, “which is based in Sevastopol, Crimea,” The Daily Beast reports. “The 810th is one of the few units of the Black Sea Fleet known to have played an active role in Russia’s military takeover of the Ukrainian peninsula 18 months ago.”
“The deployment of an elite unit from Crimea, which inaugurated Russia’s standoff with the West, is an intriguing choice,” TDB writes. “Moscow has spent enormous resources moving troops into Crimea and eastern Ukraine over the past year. Moving even some of them out of the area to a different conflict zone, particularly one outside of Europe, gives the lie that sanctions and diplomatic isolation have forced the Kremlin into compromise; rather, Russia appears ready and willing to take on multiple wars at once.”
Putin’s tall order at this increasingly epic stage: “All he need do now is position himself as the one man who can stem the flow of refugees onto continental shores, beat back ISIS, and end a conflict of his own making in eastern Ukraine.”
Back in Washington, Iran deal obituary writers are running out of material. Democrats sealed victory “in a procedural vote, as the Senate voted 58-42, short of the 60 votes needed, on a measure aimed at derailing the international agreement. The vote effectively ends a bitter, partisan fight in Congress over the accord, and spares Mr. Obama from the need for a veto to safeguard the deal,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
But the House isn’t done yet; indeed, they want to send the matter to the courts, House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Thursday. Boehner is pushing attack ads like this alleging Obama is somehow violating the law. A Friday vote is planned on the measure to get lawmakers on the record, Boehner said. “House Republicans passed, 245 to 186, a resolution stating that Obama didn’t fulfill his obligations under the law to provide Congress with the text of [so-called] side agreements” between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency that lawmakers have never seen, The Washington Post writes.
What next, then? “Without those documents, [House Republicans] argue, Congress’s 60-day review clock under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act never started. There’s just one problem: In the eyes of the administration, the play clock runs out on Sept. 17. If Congress hasn’t rejected the deal via a disapproval resolution by then, the pact will take effect.”
In an all-star op-ed yesterday, UK’s David Cameron, France’s François Hollande and Germany’s Angela Merkel support the Iran deal with a condemnation “in no uncertain terms” of Iran’s recent inflammatory talk of not recognizing “the state of Israel and the unacceptable language that Iran’s leaders use about Israel,” they write, in the Washington Post. “Israel’s security matters are, and will remain, our key interests, too. We would not have reached the nuclear deal with Iran if we did not think that it removed a threat to the region and the non-proliferation regime as a whole.”
Announcing the Defense One Summit 2015: The Age of Everything. On Monday, Nov. 2, top national security leaders from military, government, and politics will gather this year to discuss how they are managing to confront the rapid pace of today’s threats, from terrorism to cyberattacks, Russia, Iran, in space, at sea, even in Chattanooga. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper will appear in a live keynote interview. Incoming Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson will also join the third annual Summit to discuss his priorities and vision for the naval force of the future. Register here.
From Defense One
As the search for ‘Gitmo North’ heats up, U.S. lawmakers go full NIMBY. Even members of Congress who support Obama’s drive to close the prison don’t want the detainees coming to their districts — no huge surprise, and one more roadblock to Obama’s last, best effort. Read just how lawmakers are demurring — or flat-out declining to comment — from Defense One’s Politics Reporter Molly O’Toole, here.
America’s intelligence chiefs say the next wave of cyber attacks won’t steal data, they will directly manipulate it—challenging U.S. officials’ perceptions of what is real and what is not, Tech Editor Patrick Tucker writes from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s Thursday testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Reza Aslan says to defeat ISIS, the U.S. must acknowledge a certain “war of the imagination” that elevates the groups’ true theater of war from earth to the heavens. And that’s just the starting point for recalibrating the West’s struggle against the group that refuses to un-brand itself from Islam, argues the popular and controversial religion scholar.
While the Islamic State’s recruiting carves out decent chunks of the the U.K.’s Islamic community, British adherents to the faith are increasingly caught between public and government suspicion on one side, and a seductive and supposedly empowering ideology on the other. Sunny Hundal, journalist and lecturer on digital journalism in London, digs into “why British Muslims are losing the war against ISIS,” here.
Welcome to Friday’s edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Kevin Baron. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
So is it 500 or not? U.S. officials revealed Tuesday 196 American troops were killed during the Iraq War by Iranian explosively formed penetrators—a particularly deadly form of roadside bomb. That figure is lower than the 500 deaths that Republican lawmakers have said were casualties of the powerful weapon, in their talking points to oppose the Iran deal.
U.S. Central Command officials offered a new conclusion on Thursday, saying actually they have linked 500 troop deaths to “Iranian activities,” Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reports. Many of those additional deaths likely were caused by improvised rocket assisted munitions, “essentially an airborne version of a roadside bomb—a flying IED,” as one Joint IED Defeat Organization document describes the weapons. More here.
Marine study on women in combat raises eyebrows, and dander. The Corps on Thursday shared the results of an internal study on the performance of co-ed units versus all-male ones when working under simulated combat conditions for nine months at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Twentynine Palms, Calif.
The skinny: Female Marines “were injured twice as often as men, less accurate with infantry weapons and not as good at removing wounded troops from the battlefield,” WaPo’s Dan Lamothe writes. Each of the services have until the end of September to request an exception to a new order that all jobs be opened to women beginning in 2016. The Marines have not yet said where they will fall on the issue, but Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told NPR this morning he’s pleased that overall prejudices against women in combat are evolving and across-the-board standards for all troops are becoming much clearer; but he’s not completely convinced of the empirical findings of the study—particularly the point that co-ed units’ combat effectiveness is degraded over time, a bit he said was an “extrapolation based on injury rates.” Listen to his take here.
Nice try, guys. “This is the Marine Corps living in the past,” a Pentagon official tells Defense One’s Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. “The test tells us a lot of things about what might be needed, the test was never designed to tell anyone how women might perform in combat.” That amphibious ship has said, the official said. “They know what the decision is going to be. The only way they can fight this is by going after the court of public opinion.”
The Pentagon is adding an additional 75 troops in Egypt’s Sinai region—for now—“along with maneuver and medical assets to include a light infantry platoon, forward surgical teams,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said Thursday. That on top of last week’s authorization of “additional high-caliber weapons, surveillance towers, Bradley fighting vehicles, and medical equipment” for the “1,600 U.S. and UN troops tasked with ensuring Egypt and Israel abide by the 1979 peace treaty,” TDB’s Nancy Youssef reports.
Did the CIA’s drone operators miss a chance to keep tabs on al-Qaeda militants holding U.S. hostage Warren Weinstein before he was accidentally killed along with Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto in an agency strike in January? WaPo’s Greg Jaffe, Adam Goldman and Greg Miller suggest the answer is yes. And their position is informed by U.S. officials’ scrutiny stemming from an internal CIA investigation into Weinstein’s death.
What this new scrutiny hinges on: Drone “imagery showing an apparent hostage was collected as long as a year before Weinstein was killed, according to officials who said that agency analysts initially assessed that it was unlikely that the captive was the American.”
Why the absence of certainty? The footage “was so inconclusive that even after a long and detailed examination it remains unclear whether the heavily guarded figure was Weinstein.”
But that’s not the only loose thread in the broader Weinstein case. “Five months after Obama’s apology, the family still has not received payment,” WaPo notes. “A U.S. official said that payment was held up by ongoing negotiations between the family and the CIA.” Read their report in full, here.
Lastly today, we’re in the midst of Gulf War’s 25th anniversary—an event the Council on Foreign Relations marked Thursday with a panel discussion featuring Richard Haass; Richard Kerr, Paul Wolfowitz and former Ambassador Thomas Pickering. For a little less heady take on the conflict, here are “21 Facts about the First Gulf War.”
A sampling: Saddam thought the United States gave him the okay to invade Kuwait; Iraq rolled over Kuwait in two days; the Coalition built fake bases and units to dupe Iraqis into defending the wrong area; One American pilot was believed missing in action for 18 years after the war, and 17 others.