Obama: ‘certainly possible’ a bomb; Putin halts flights; Bomber contract protest is in; Egypt crash hates your secure texts; Pentagon wants lethal cyber weaps; Nuclear fender-bender!?; And bit more...

Obama “certainly possible” bomb took down Russian airliner crash. President Barack Obama is the latest to get in line behind what appears, likely, maybe, possibly, seems that a bomb downed a Russian airliner Saturday killing all on board as it crashed in the Sinai desert.

“We are going to spend a lot of time making sure our own investigators and our own intelligence community figures out exactly what’s going on before we make any definitive pronouncements,” Obama said in a radio interview Thursday. “But it is certainly possible that there was a bomb on board…And we are taking that very seriously.”

BREAKING: Russian President Vladimir Putin has cancelled all Russian flights to Egypt after his intelligence chief called such a move “reasonable.” Details via the NYTs.

Security officials don’t speak these words lightly, knowing the fear they can cause among the public (not to mention the media frenzy to hunt down details). When the president and commander in chief says it—pay attention.

Obama’s remark came Thursday after British Prime Minister David Cameron said it was “more likely than not a terrorist bomb” downed Russian flight with 224 passengers on board. “In recent days, administration officials have noted the differences between the crash of the Russian plane and other airline disasters," the New York Times reports.

Why does it seem the US is behind the Brits with every statement? “In this case, unlike the case last year of the missing Malaysian jetliner, the United States does not have F.B.I. agents working directly on the crash.” And there’s a much more direct historic and tourist connection from Europe to Sharm el-Sheikh (think Cancun for Americans.)

“Without an American known to be on the flight — a presence that often gives officials a reason to participate in the investigation of a crash — there has been no reason for direct United States involvement.” And so far, Egyptian and Russian crash investigators have not requested U.S. assistance as they comb the wreckage and piece together what narrative they can from the plane’s cockpit voice recorder and black box.

A senior US security official told Defense One Thursday there was no significant change of security status in the US in part because the US is relying on foreign investigators.  

But the possibility of mechanical failure still looms large for investigators and intelligence officials, California’s Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC on Thursday: “The intelligence community is not really at a point where it can confirm either hypothesis.”

Russian officials on Thursday maintained their insistence that it could take “at least several months” before an official determination is made, and Egyptian and Russian officials remain unhinged that British officials and U.S. intelligence—citing intercepted communications between Sinai-based insurgents—appears to be getting ahead of their investigations, the Washington Post adds.

BREAKING (as expected): Bomber contract protested. Boeing and Lockheed Martin are contesting the U.S. Air Force's selection of Northrop Grumman to build a new stealth bomber. The Government Accountability Office now has 100 days to conduct a review. That means whatever work Northrop is doing will likely be halted.

From Boeing: "Boeing and Lockheed Martin concluded the selection process for the Long Range Strike Bomber was fundamentally flawed,” if they do say so themselves. In short, they complain the Pentagon did not “properly evaluate” their efforts to save the US money.

If intercepted communications prove an ISIS bomb caused crash in Egypt, then advocates of government surveillance just scored big—and activists and journalists fond of encryption on the web may have lost, writes Defense One Tech Editor Patrick Tucker.

It’s about end-to-end user encryption—“encryption without secret defects that allow someone to intercept those supposedly secure message,” Tucker writes.

The problem: security officials want a way in. “The FBI and British Prime Minister David Cameron have accused the Islamic State of using popular encrypted-based apps to hide secret messages…Cameron himself has been engaged in an almost year-long crusade to strengthen the U.K. government’s surveillance capabilities and effectively shut down secure end-to-end user encryption both in the United Kingdom and beyond.” Read Tucker’s report in full, here.

In the South China Sea on Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter boarded the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt to say the U.S. wants “China to be part of the security system in Asia and not to stand apart from it,” the Wall Street Journal reports from the ship.

The USS Lassen—the guided missile destroyer that slow-walked past China’s artificial islands last week—“has had roughly 50 interactions with different Chinese vessels or aircraft,” Cmdr. Robert Francis Jr., the captain of the USS Lassen, told WSJ. As well, “a Chinese destroyer had ‘shadowed’ his ship for almost two weeks, including during the five hours or so during the patrol the Lassen conducted around five islands among the Spratlys, including Subi Reef.”

But no biggie, he said: “They have South China Sea patrollers, we have South China Sea patrollers.” Adds the WSJ: “His ship is not the only U.S. vessel to draw Chinese attention. A Chinese submarine followed another American carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, near Japan for a time this week, U.S. officials confirmed, but the episode appeared to be uneventful.” That bit of delicate diplomacy, here and via Reuters on board the Roosevelt, here.

One day after China refused to sign on to a method to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea, a top official from China “praised the U.N. International Court of Justice on Thursday and called the Chinese government ‘an active advocator for peaceful settlement of disputes’—but he stressed that all parties must agree on the means to settle differences,” AP reports.

Xu Hong, director general of the Foreign Ministry's Department of Treaty and Law, said “‘China stands for proper settlement through negotiations, dialogue and consultations.’”

From Defense One

The Pentagon’s secret push for lethal cyber weapons. Stemming from a nearly half-billion-dollar military contract, computer code capable of killing adversaries is expected to be developed and deployed if necessary, according to contractors vying for the work and former Pentagon officials. NextGov’s Aliya Sternstein has the story.

Perhaps now more than ever, the prospects for peace in Syria run through long-time foes Iran and Saudi Arabia. Wikistrat’s Daniel DePetris, Middle East analyst, explains the good, the bad and the ugly in the Riyadh-Tehran dynamic, here.

President George H.W. Bush isn’t done with Cheney and Rumsfeld yet. The 41st president is 91 years old, which means it’s high time folks heard what he thinks about how “arrogant” and “iron-assed” Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were—and not only during 43’s time in the White House. For “41,” this feud goes all the way back to the Ford administration. The Atlantic’s David Graham has more, here.

Your Friday #LongRead—Can the U.S. military stop hemorrhaging talented officers and finally win its wars? Retired Lt. Gen. Dave Barno and Nora Bensahel of the Center for a New American Security dig into the issue that’s haunted the military well before the end of the Iraq and Afghan surges, making a few stop-offs to profile key players like Brad Carson, the military’s acting personnel chief with a new “Force of the Future” mission, and telling outliers like Army officer Tyler Jost and Marine Corps aviator Katie Van Dam, both of whom faced stark choices in the quest for promotion. Worth the click, here.

Welcome to the Friday edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Kevin Baron. Tell your friends to subscribe here: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Want to see something different? Got news? Let us know: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.

It was an uncharacteristically busy day on the Hill yesterday. The House overwhelmingly passed the reintroduced defense authorization bill 370-58 after the budget deal cleared the way; the Senate will vote Tuesday. But the $607 billion bill contains the same restrictions on Guantanamo as the bill Obama vetoed a few weeks ago. The White House notably hasn't explicitly repeated its veto threat, but refused to rule it out this week. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., took to the NYTs op-ed pages urging lawmakers "Let's Finally Close Guantanamo." She said Congress should use Obama's first veto as an opportunity to amend the Gitmo restrictions in the NDAA.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Defense One's Molly O'Toole on Tuesday: “If they were to send a plan now, it’s too late — our defense bill is already done.”

Lawmakers in Colorado, Kansas and South Carolina are up in arms over recommend options for a "Guantanamo North." Republican Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts pledged yesterday to hold up "as many nominations as necessary" to thwart any Obama attempt to use executive action to circumvent Congress, including Obama’s nominee for secretary of the Army, Eric Fanning.

Are we in questionable legal territory here? Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., is pushing the administration on how the site surveys could have even been conducted without violating law that stipulates no money can be spent on existing or new facilities in the U.S. for the purpose of preparing them for Gitmo detainees.

The White House has told Defense One its lawyers have determined the visits are within bounds — and pointed out the contradiction of Congress calling for a plan with that level of specificity while simultaneously preventing them from generating the information from site visits.

And on the Hill Thursday, Senate Democrats blocked another move to pass the defense appropriations bill, claiming that if it went ahead of the other spending bills, there was nothing to hold the Republican majority to the budget deal.

Meanwhile, Marco Rubio, in Manchester, N.H., railed against the "outdated political establishment" in Washington that he claimed threatens national security. The Florida Republican contrasted it with his own vision on foreign policy, and nimbleness for the commander in chief job — while, as WaPo's Philip Rucker pointed out, missing his own vote on the defense appropriations bill.

And speaking of Israel, “President Obama has concluded that a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians is beyond reach during his presidency and will press Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take steps to preserve the mere possibility of a two-state solution,” WaPo reports. “Rob Malley, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East, said that for the first time in two decades an American administration “faces the reality” that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ‘is not in the cards for the remainder’ of a presidency. More, here.

In Syria, ISIS stands accused of using chemical weapons on the battlefield once more, during an August attack in northern Syria, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Thursday. BBC has more here.

And to the west around Damascus, Hezbollah fighters are redeploying from other fronts west to protect the capital as U.S.-made anti-tank missiles aided rebels recapturing a village from Syrian forces in the province of Hama, AP reports.

In Iraq, “there’s actually more units wanting to come to the training than there is time on the calendar,” said Army Col. Curtis Buzzard, who just returned from a nine-month tour in Iraq as commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division.

“It’s very intellectually challenging to try to influence their operations while not ourselves participating, and they have more of a responsibility for leading those operations than in previous deployments in the past,” Army Maj. Mike Hamilton, an operations officer for one of the division’s battalions, who has deployed twice to Iraq. But, said Hamilton, “it’s ultimately their fight to win or lose, and we offer the best advice and assistance we can in the manner that we do.” More via The Hill, here.

This weekend in California, the Reagan National Defense Forum hosts SecDef Ash Carter, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, and others. Defense One’s Global Business Reporter Marcus Weisgerber is flying out with Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, so look for his dispatches. Livestream all the action, here.

Lastly today— Did a nuclear missile get rear-ended in Montana on Monday? Air Force Times on “possibly the most heart-stopping fender bender ever posted to YouTube: An Air Force tractor trailer that may or may not be carrying a nuclear weapon rear-ended by a security vehicle.”

What happened: “The BearCat following closely behind hit its brakes too late and bumped into the tractor trailer.”

And here’s what tipped off Great Falls, Montana, resident Aaron Tedford, who filmed the encounter on his phone while “several helicopters” hovered overhead: “In the video, one of the police vehicles sounded his siren and pulled over near Tedford, who later wrote online that the officer ‘was yelling and waving his hands that I can't record the video.’”

The Air Force confirmed the encounter in a statement, but said security precautions keep them from elaborating about the contents of their convoys. In other words, “nothing to see here, folks. Move along.” Have a great weekend and drive safely, everyone.