Russia points to bomb on Egypt flight; USAF racing to replenish Gulf munitions; It’s NDAA day (again); What to expect from tonight’s GOP debate; And a bit more.
For the first time, Russian officials acknowledged that a bomb may have brought down the Metrojet 9268 plane that crashed in the Sinai on Oct. 31. The announcement from Moscow marks Russia’s “strongest acknowledgement yet that it may have been a terrorist attack,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
“The probability of a terrorist act, of course, is held as a cause of what happened,” Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said via state news agency TASS.
British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond also said Monday it was "more likely than not" that an "explosive device placed on board" downed the plane. And Israei Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, too, said Monday, “There is a strong probability that this is an attack."
The chief hold-out: Egypt, which “has pushed back against mounting international concerns that a bomb brought down the plane, with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry saying it was too early to form a ‘hypothesis,’” AFP reports.
While news broke of Moscow’s shift in tone, “U.S. sources” told Reuters American intelligence agencies intercepted Russian communications that showed Moscow believed the plane was downed by a bomb. And in a bit of clarity from previous Reuters reports, an FBI spokesman said it offered “‘forensic assistance’ and other unspecified services to both Russia and Egypt” but neither has accepted the offer yet.
Looking for a little more background and history on the “little-known group calling itself Ansar Beit al-Maqdis” that claims to have brought down Metrojet 9268? The New York Times David Kirkpatrick files this report on how the bombing could backfire for the broader Islamic State cause. “With the bombing of the Russian charter jet, the Sinai Province stands to vault ahead in jihadi prestige and recruitment. But some analysts now wonder if the Egyptian offshoot has taken the Islamic State’s ideology of violence against its enemies even further than its leaders envisioned, multiplying its powerful enemies.”
Are U.S. spies rooting for an ISIS-Russia war? The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef cite six U.S. intelligence and military officials largely on the same page here. Said one: “I suppose now [Russian President Vladimir Putin will] really let ISIS have it. This should be fun.” Said another: “Now maybe they will start attacking [ISIS]. And stop helping them.” That take, here.
Who’s the latest advocate of more “boots on the ground” against ISIS? U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, speaking at the Dubai Airshow. “Air power is extremely important. It can do a lot but it can't do everything,” James said. “Ultimately it cannot occupy territory and very importantly it cannot govern territory...This is where we need to have boots on the ground. We do need to have ground forces in this campaign.” Whose boots? James cited the “‘Iraqi army, the Free Syrians and the Kurds’ as forces to support in the fight,” AFP reports this morning.
And many of Washington’s Middle Eastern allies in the ISIS fight are burning through their precision weapons as they pound rebel positions across Yemen. And who better to re-arm them than the U.S. “That’s one we’re working pretty hard on,” Secretary James said.
On the heels of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the White House, a visit for which both worked to “strengthen ties” and “move past the rift over the Iran deal,” the two countries are reportedly working on a deal to boost U.S. military aid “from just over $3 billion a year to possibly $5 billion”—and could include more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and V-22 Ospreys beyond what Israel already has on order.
“I want to make clear we have not given up our hope for peace,” Netanyahu said from the Oval Office. Most of the leaders’ nearly three-hour meeting focused on security aid to Israel, White House Spokesman Joshua Earnest said.
Obama called the current $3 billion aid package “not only an important part of our obligation to the security of the state of Israel, but also an important part of U.S. security infrastructure in the region, as we make sure that one of our closest allies cannot only protect itself but can also work with us in deterring terrorism and other security threats.”
About that Iran deal: “Obama glossed over the deep disagreement between the two leaders over the Iran nuclear deal reached in July, making only a brief reference to the very public spat,” the WSJ notes. More here.
From Defense One
Cell phone spying, from the NSA to the IRS. While a federal judge on Monday “partly blocked the National Security Agency’s program that systematically collects Americans’ domestic phone records in bulk just weeks before the agency was scheduled to shut it down and replace it,” a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers asked 24 agencies if and how they use a secretive cell-phone tracking technology called “Stingrays.” Representatives grew increasingly alarmed over the Stingray program as more revelations poured in in recent weeks, including the October news from the American Civil Liberties Union that even the Internal Revenue Service was in on the Stingray game. That story from National Journal’s Kaveh Waddell.
Your next Fitbit should detect nuclear bombs. At least that’s what the Department of Homeland Security is banking on with its “Human Portable Tripwire” program, which intends to outfit Customs and Border Protection, Coast Guard and Transportation Security Administration officers with devices that “passively monitor the environment” and can alert wearers when they detect nuclear or radioactive material. More from NextGov’s Mohana Ravindranath.
A breakaway Taliban faction is in the midst of a re-branding, claiming on Sunday it would permit women to work and get an education, signaling a potential rift within the larger group. More from Quartz’s Hanna Kozlowska, here.
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NDAA latest: The Senate will take up a motion to concur with the House-passed defense authorization bill this morning—and is expected to handily speed it along to the White House. This time around, President Obama is set to sign the massive $607 billion bill into law, which makes for a nice moment around Veterans Day, but a bittersweet one for the president who vowed to shutter Guantanamo (the bill locks in restrictions that seek to block his efforts for the rest of his administration). More on this later from Defense One.
GOP Debate 4: Debate Harder. Tonight’s Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee is intended to be two hours of economics-focused discourse—also “international issues”—at 9 p.m. EDT via Fox Business Network. Expect tangents on how the mainstream media is getting the election all wrong and whether or not Ben Carson (and others) fluffed up the personal narrative, this time with West Point. A day ahead of Veterans Day, the only veteran, Graham, has been booted from any stage. How does that change the national security debate amid probing into the authenticity of candidates' patriotism? Notable main-stage absences include governors Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee, as well as George Pataki and of course, Graham.
AP has a “quick sketch” of each of the candidates, here. Or you can drop in Politico’s “everything you need to know” take, here. Notable changes to this debate: “Candidates will not make opening statements, but they will have more time to make arguments. For an initial answer to a question, they get 90 seconds, in addition to 60 seconds for rebuttals. There will be short closing statements at the end of the debate.”
The century’s newest form of warfare—cyber—has one front that's hotter than any other right now, and it’s in Ukraine, WSJ reports. “In the last two years, cyberattacks have hit Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense and the presidential administration. Military communications lines and secure databases at times were compromised, according to Ukrainian presidential and security officials.”
From Kiev’s perspective, the culprit is clear: Moscow—not that it’s easy to move beyond mere finger pointing. Ukraine officials backup their claim citing “Russia’s military doctrine that describes cyberweaponry as a key pillar of the country’s armed forces and the adoption of ‘enhanced and nonmilitary measures’ to achieve military goals. The officials, however, didn’t offer any smoking gun linking the attacks to Moscow’s security services.”
But “a shadowy pro-Moscow hacking collective called CyberBerkut” is drawing the eye of numerous intelligence officials with an eye on Russia’s actions on the world stage. More here.
Lastly today: a Veteran’s Day reminder that many key battles in U.S. military history are commemorated in national parks across the country—from Pennsylvania’s Fort Necessity National Battlefield where the opening salvos in the Seven Years War fell; to Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site in Colorado, which heralded the opening of a new frontier in 1833, but was later abandoned because of “disaster and disease” 16 years later; and for those more local to the Capitol Region, there’s Maryland’s Fort McHenry, “the only national park in the system that holds both the designation of a national monument and a historic shrine.” A lot more from the National Park Foundation, right here.