Russia buzzes US carrier; China steamed over Lassen passage; How to improve Pacific intelligence; Blimp goes rogue!; and a bit more...

Antagonism at sea, U.S.-Russia edition. Earlier this week, Russian aircraft ignored repeated U.S. warnings and flew within one nautical mile of the USS Ronald Reagan just east of the Korean peninsula, Stars and Stripes reports this morning.  

“In the latest in a series of incidents involving Russian aircraft, two Tupolev Tu-142 Bear aircraft flew as low as 500 feet Tuesday morning near the Reagan, which has been conducting scheduled maneuvers with South Korean navy ships. Four F/A-18 Super Hornets took off from the Reagan’s flight deck in response to the Russian advance, 7th Fleet spokeswoman Lt. Lauren Cole said Thursday.” That story, here.

In Europe, NATO wants to add troops to its eastern flanks—and might sooner than later if Germany weren’t opposed, WSJ’s Julian Barnes reports from Brussels. “Under one plan, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would have a battalion in Poland and each of the three Baltic states—roughly 800 to 1,000 soldiers in each unit. A more modest version would have a single NATO battalion in the area… NATO officials say Berlin is unlikely to back the biggest deployment, but could support the more modest increase…telling the allies in private discussions that they don’t want to treat Moscow as a permanent enemy or lock it out of Europe, despite the frictions over Ukraine and other provocations.” More here.

Beijing is officially steamed that the U.S. Navy sailed so close to two artificial islands in the South China Sea earlier this week. And China’s military this morning vowed to use “all necessary measures according to the need” to deter a future passage like the one the destroyer Lassen made on Tuesday past the Subi and Mischief reefs. So far, AP reports, the response fits a “pattern in similar such incidents in recent years,” noting the defense ministry “offered no details on how Beijing might respond differently in the future.”

But “there is little doubt that China is thinking big about how these islands could limit America’s military options, about how control over these waters could give it leverage over key trade routes and about how making the United States look hapless could strengthen its diplomatic clout in the region,” the New York Times writes.

The two nations’ naval chiefs hurriedly set up a chat by video teleconference schedule for today, Defense News reports.

The Pentagon wanted to send a ship past the fake islands roughly five months ago, but were delayed by “repeated stalling” from the White House and State Department, an anonymous U.S. defense official told Reuters. The official said the administration wanted to a) to ensure the move wasn’t seen as a direct response to high-profile hacks like the OPM breach in the spring and b) to ensure “every possible measure was being taken to minimize the risk of a U.S.-China military confrontation at sea.”

The consequence: “The months leading up to the patrol allowed Beijing to harden its stance and, according to some U.S. officials and security experts, blew the operation out of proportion,” Reuters reports. “Washington’s caution also caused disquiet among some military officials in Japan and the Philippines, both U.S. security allies, feeding concerns that China's ambitions in the South China Sea would go unchecked.”

But there is a right way to enforce freedom of navigation in the South China Sea: “Send U.S. naval vessels through traditional sea lanes, but [without] bragging, taunting, or making a big rhetorical deal of it,” The Atlantic’s James Fallows writes, with input from Judah Grunstein of World Politics Review. “The patrols must be clearly seen as reinforcing the maritime norm involved, without bias or prejudice to who is claiming the features. Otherwise they can be portrayed as the U.S. provoking China, which is in neither side’s interest. This is not as easy as it sounds.” More here.

And there are a few key lessons from Washington’s global counterterrorism fight that inform best tactics for confronting China, says Rear Adm. Paul Becker, former intelligence director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in this conversation with Defense One’s Deputy Editor Bradley Peniston.

Becker: “One, in order to achieve success, we need to understand and fight an adversary’s strategy, not just their forces. Two, we need to provide a detailed context to a complex battlespace. And three, we need to build an intelligence-sharing network that’s fully integrated — within our U.S. intel community, but also incorporating our allies and partners.” The one-star elaborates at length, here.

And before we leave China, Beijing shares one thing with its southern neighbors in Pyongyang: “China and North Korea are ill equipped to defend themselves against cyberthreats despite what the Pentagon deems their strong offensive capabilities in cybercrime,” according to a report released Monday night from the Australian Security Policy Institute, which provides independent security advice to Australia’s government and military. More from the Wall Street Journal, here.

From Defense One

Blimp goes rogue! The military’s runaway surveillance blimp was everyone’s favorite story yesterday, with even Edward Snowden weighing in from exile on the Raytheon JLENS that snapped its tether at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, and drifted for hours and more than 100 miles. The military scrambled two F-16 fighter jets to keep an eye on the 3.5-ton aerostat (not technically a blimp), but could not prevent it from dragging its cables on the ground for 20 miles, damaging ground wires and cutting power along the way. The helium-buoyed craft, which cost more than $100 million to build and was developed as part of a multibillion-dollar program, eventually came to rest in Moreland Township, Pennsylvania. Technology Editor Patrick Tucker followed the story of the blimp (as did the Washington Post, AP, and lots of others).

The student has become the master.​  At the third presidential face-off Wednesday night, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush tried to take out Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, his former protégé, and backfired. In Boulder, Colo., Bush hit Rubio for being an absentee senator: “I mean, literally, the Senate—what is it, like a French work week? You get, like, three days where you have to show up?” Bush said. “You can campaign, or just resign and let someone else take the job.” But the Bush campaign has been hitting this same note for a week, and Rubio was ready: “Someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help,” he responded. “I’m not running against anyone on this stage. I’m running for president because there is no way we can elect Hillary Clinton to continue the policies of Barack Obama.” Read more debate coverage from Politics Reporter Molly O’Toole, here.

ICYMI: the Senate passed the Cy­ber­se­cur­ity In­form­a­tion Shar­ing Act, or CISA, 74-21. Senators will now meet with House colleagues to craft a common version of the cy­ber-in­form­a­tion-shar­ing legislation. “Op­pos­i­tion to the bill, which would provide in­cent­ives to private busi­nesses to share in­form­a­tion about on­line threats with each oth­er and with the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, was led by the Sen­ate’s pri­vacy hawks...and backed by civil liber­ties groups and tech com­pan­ies who were un­happy with the bill’s pri­vacy pro­tec­tions.” That from National Journal, here.

Made your reservation yet? The Defense One Summit 2015: The Age of Everything is next Monday, Nov. 2. Top national security leaders from military, government, and politics will gather to discuss how they are confronting today’s threats: from terrorism to cyberattacks, Russia, Iran, and in space, at sea, even in Chattanooga. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper will appear in a live keynote interview. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley will talk about setting his service’s priorities to face ground threats. Join us! Register here.

Welcome to the Thursday edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Tell your friends to subscribe here: Want to see something different? Got news? Let us know:

Kerry frames Vienna talks on Syria’s future as a moment of truth for Russia. “Is Russia there just to shore up Assad or is Russia there to actually help bring about a solution? We’ll know. We’ll put that to the test,” Kerry said Wednesday in remarks at the Carnegie International Endowment for Peace. He offered this tough talk for Moscow’s strategy, which he said could “perhaps even strengthen the illusion on Assad’s part that he can just indefinitely maintain his hold on power...And if that’s what he thinks, I got news: there’s no way that a number of the other countries involved in this coalition are going to let up or stop. It won’t happen.”

Still, he outlined shared areas of interest with the Russians and called the talks, which will now feature Iran, the most promising opportunity. “While finding a way forward on Syria will not be easy—it’s not going to be automatic—it is the most promising opportunity for a political opening ... the best opportunity we have is to try to come to the table and recognize there has to be the political solution that everybody has talked about."

But earlier in the day, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker had found some daylight between Kerry’s closed-door testimony this week and that of retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, outgoing Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, on Russia’s intentions and kinetic options.

“I expect that as time goes on, as we continue to build our military options on the ground in Syria, we may well find that we'll have other European partners join us in that process,” Allen said, hinting that allies are considering expanded action along with the U.S. “There may be opportunities in the south as well as in the north where our coalition partners—our European coalition partners could, in fact, play an important role and—and I’m thinking special operations, but I won’t become more specific than that.”

But Allen was decidedly more pessimistic on Russia’s role as mediator: “Russia is going to suffer from this incursion in ways they can’t even begin to imagine," he said. “We’re going to have to deal with Daesh, but when the Russians stop killing the moderate Syrian opposition, which is both their hope for the future as well as our hope for the future, then perhaps we can get to where we need to be. But they’re going to have to feel some pain on this and I think they’re going to relatively soon.”

Emptying Gitmo continues. Early this morning, the Pentagon transferred Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz from Guantanamo to be repatriated by Mauritania. The move follows a few recent transfers, whittling away at the population amid Obama's first veto of the annual defense authorization bill, in part due to restrictions intended to freeze out such transfers. The House has set an override vote on Nov. 5 but doesn’t have the votes. Today, 113 remain at Guantanamo. Read the latest on the Pentagon’s effort to find a home for detainees stateside, or take a deep dive into the long-delayed effort to close the prison from our Molly O’Toole, here.

U.S.-Israel defense relationship picks back up. What is the U.S. prepared to offer Israel to shore up its long-time ally whose support has been wavering since the forging of the Iran nuclear deal? “The ‘entire spectrum’ of strategic cooperation…from cyber defense and high-end attack capabilities down to a joint program aimed at combating terror tunnels,” Defense News reports from Defense Secretary Ash Carter meeting yesterday with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.

“This is one of the most trusted relationships we have in the world,” said Carter, “and so when we discover something that is critical to both of us, we share it, and we do that from electronic warfare to cyber to all kinds of … tremendous intelligence sharing.” Carter also pledged more U.S. funding for Israel’s anti-missile systems Iron Dome, David's Sling and Arrow. More here.

Lastly today: Our Thursday #LongRead comes from NYT’s Charlie Savage, who reports on four U.S. attorneys who helped set the legal stage for the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden, making it “all but inevitable that Navy SEALs would kill the fugitive Qaeda leader, not capture him.”

The legal parties involved: Stephen W. Preston, the C.I.A.’s general counsel; Mary B. DeRosa, the National Security Council’s legal adviser; Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon general counsel; and then-Rear Adm. James W. Crawford III, the Joint Chiefs of Staff legal adviser.

“Just days before the raid, the lawyers drafted five secret memos so that if pressed later, they could prove they were not inventing after-the-fact reasons for having blessed it,” Savage writes. “The lawyers decided that a unilateral military incursion would be lawful because of a disputed exception to sovereignty for situations in which a government is “unwilling or unable” to suppress a threat to others emanating from its soil...There was also a trump card. While the lawyers believed that Mr. Obama was bound to obey domestic law, they also believed he could decide to violate international law when authorizing a ‘covert’ action.” Read the report in full, here.