The Pentagon shakes up its Silicon Valley outreach. Defense Secretary Ash Carter gave DIUx new leaders, a new office, and a promotion on Wednesday. Carter called the leadership swap and Boston expansion a “sign of confidence” in the endeavor, Defense One Tech Editor Patrick Tucker reports from California.
The new team at the helm includes fighter pilot-turned-entrepreneur Rajiv Shah, who will serve as managing partner. A senior director of strategy at Palo Alto Networks, Shah has also served as a special assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, a business consultant with McKinsey and Company, the founder of a cyber security technology company, and an Air Force F-16 pilot who served multiple tours.
Others include Vishaal Hariprasad, an Iraq vet, Bronze Star recipient and cofounder of the software engineering firm Morta Security; Christopher Kirchhoff, director of strategic planning at the National Security Council; and Isaac Taylor, who was the founding head of operations at the Google[X] lab, the experimental group behind the company’s self-driving car and Glass augmented reality headset.
So who’s out, and what does that say about the Pentagon’s much-vaunted Silicon Valley outreach? Read the rest here.
Baghdad hit by two more suicide bombs, this time at a police station, killing 5. The attacks occurred at dawn in the western suburb of Abu Ghraib, the Associated Press reports. The first bomber ended his life at the station’s gate, while the second managed to get inside the building before detonating. Reuters reports that a third attacker was killed upon approach to the station, apparently before he was able to further the violence. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks, but only claimed two of their fighters were involved, using explosive vests to end their lives and wound nearly a dozen others. Thursday’s attacks follow a string of bombings Wednesday that killed nearly 100 across the capital.
Al-Qaeda is advancing in Syria, along with “allied fighters from ultraconservative rebel factions,” seizing a predominantly Alawite village in the central city of Zaara, AP reports from Damascus.
And ISIS is on the march toward Palmyra once more, severing “a highway linking Palmyra to the government-controlled T-4 air base and the provincial capital Homs, [and] threatening government supply routes,” CBS News reported Wednesday. They also reportedly shot down a Syrian allied helicopter, whose pilots’ fate is unclear. More here.
All the UN statements and op-eds in the world can’t stop fighting in Aleppo from flaring up once more. “The fighting was focused around the rebel-held Handarat area which is important because it is near the last route into opposition-held areas of Aleppo.” More, though not a lot, here.
Turkey’s military is looking to move on ISIS in Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says. The location and justification: “Kilis, a town in southern Turkey across the border from IS-held territory in Syria, has witnessed multiple rocket attacks this year which authorities blame on IS,” AP writes, adding, “Erdogan said his country is prepared to act alone. He complained Turkey has not received the desired support from its allies.”
For the U.S. military, the ISIS detainee question has (still) not been answered, The New York Times reports now five months after Defense Secretary Ash Carter admitted there’s no plan in place for what to do with Islamic State fighters the U.S. sweeps off the Iraq-Syria battlefields.
The question is taking on greater significance as ISIS is knocked back from positions around Mosul, the Times writes, framing it thusly: “If the coalition is successful and thousands of ordinary members of a collapsing Islamic State have nowhere left to retreat, will they start to surrender in greater numbers? And if so, who will be responsible for imprisoning them?”
The crux of the matter: “William K. Lietzau, who oversaw detention policy at the Pentagon from 2010 until 2013, said there was ‘widespread’ opposition in the upper levels of the Obama administration to conducting wartime detention. But the alternative, he said, could lead to war crimes if American-backed local fighters encounter more potential prisoners than they can handle. ‘If the numbers start climbing, they’re going to shoot them and you’ll never hear about it,’” Lietzau told the Times.
Consider Ramadi, for example, Falih al-Essawi, the head of the security committee in Anbar explained: “[W]hen Iraqi security forces recently reclaimed Ramadi, they detained 1,870 people. Of those, he said, about 300 have confessed to being members of the Islamic State, while the rest maintained they were civilians. But so far, capturing an Islamic State fighter after a battle has been rare.”
But not without precedent, since “the Obama administration’s default policy is to take custody of the highest-value detainees for interrogation, something the United States has done only twice with Islamic State prisoners. Both were later moved to Kurdish prisons.”
And that’s not even beginning to get at the difficulties of what to do with fighters swept off Syria’s dusty plains—which is not something the U.S. appears to be interested in doing any time soon, as coalition spokesman Col. Steve Warren explained. More here.
For the definitive look at how we got to this thorny legal thicket, re-read Defense One’s “Beyond Guantanamo” from last summer.
And ICYMI from December: “Carter: US Military May Start Handing Captured ISIS Over to Law Enforcement,” here.
On the bright side of America’s ISIS fight: FBI Director Comey says the groups’ recruits from the U.S. are down significantly, he told reporters in a round table meeting at FBI headquarters. But the Bureau has still got its hand full with suspected radicalization cases, which Comey said number around 1,000—with 80 percent related to ISIS.
But that’s not all Comey had to say about ISIS as he continued to hit on his point that encrypted apps like WhatsApp that represent a “huge feature of terrorist tradecraft,” The Wall Street Journal reports. Read the rest, here.
From Defense One
LIVESTREAM the Sea-Air-Space Expo 2016 here—Join us May 16-18 as we livestream this year’s SAS conference, featuring Defense Secretary Ash Carter and more than 150 speakers from across the U.S. military and private sector — including Defense One Deputy Editor Bradley Peniston, who’ll be moderating the leadoff panel with CNO, CMC, USCG commandant, and head of the Maritime Administration. The event will be livestreamed exclusively on Defense One, in a new media partnership with the Navy League.
Transparency’s double-edged sword. Ubiquitous surveillance will help hold governments accountable, even as it makes tense situations less stable. Air Force Col. Sean P. Larkin, a military fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, explains, here.
NATO and the Pentagon want to get their hands on the technology behind Bitcoin. Blockchain technology promises secure, tamper-proof, and even faster communications and data transfer. Via Quartz, here.
Welcome to the Thursday edition of The D Brief, by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1926, the Italian airship Norge conducted the first flight over the North Pole. Send your friends this link: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. And let us know your news: email@example.com.
Those 28 pages on the Saudis and 9/11 are just the beginning, The Daily Beast’s Shane Harris reports. There’s another 79,972 or so pages the FBI is sitting on. Get up to speed on what’s in the 28 pages—and what the other nearly 80,000 or so could say about what happened at “a posh house in [the] gated community in Sarasota, Florida,” here.
The Saudis are threatening to send their ground troops into the Yemeni capital of Sana’a if peace talks (continue to) fail, the Washington Post reported Wednesday. However, the Post cautions, “Saudi Arabia would face a major challenge in trying to advance local troops or members of its mostly Arab military coalition into the Sanaa area, populated by supporters of the Houthi movement and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.”
“We cannot leave Yemen in a gray area without having a final result,” said Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri, a spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition. “Otherwise, we will see the Libyan model in Yemen.” More here.
Also in Yemen, ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing “that struck a navy base in the southern port city of Mukalla on Thursday morning, killing at least six troops in a rare IS attack in a city once occupied by its rival militant al-Qaida branch,” AP reports from Sana’a. “In Thursda’'s attack, the bomber rammed his car into a checkpoint manned by Yemeni troops outside the navy base, sending a plume of heavy black smoke into the sky...Almost at the same time, two other explosions hit the military headquarters in Mukalla, according to the officials, who said the blasts set off fierce clashes.”
Denmark takes step toward buying 27 F-35s. Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen and Defense Minister Peter Christensen made the announcement in Copenhagen and released a nine-page report with the recommendation to buy the Joint Strike Fighter over the F/A-18 Super Hornet and Eurofighter Typhoon. Parliament will now have an open debate for about a month before the deal is officially approved.
This hearing will come to order...on an aircraft carrier. “In what appears to be a first, committee lawmakers will trade in the Capitol’s wood paneling and marble for battleship gray when they hold a hearing this month aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. The location is meant to underscore members’ call for more Navy ships and spending.” Called by Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., and Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., the HASC subcommittee hearing will take place as the Ike is docked at Norfolk Naval Station, Va. From Stripes, here.
Green light for two — not three — Air Force Ones. “The Air Force on Tuesday gave Boeing the green light to start submitting design proposals for the new presidential aircraft that will likely shuttle either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton around the world,” reports Air Force Times. In January 2015, the service decided to buy “up to three” ultra-modified Boeing 747-8s; Tuesday’s order specifies that two will be purchased. Read on, here.
Background: why’s it so complicated to buy a new presidential plane? Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber explains, here.
ICYMI: Cheap oil is causing a rise in kidnappings by pirates in West Africa, WaPo reported Tuesday. After about four years of steady declines in pirate attacks, the “Gulf of Guinea, a body of water tucked into the curve where West Africa meets Central Africa, is now the most dangerous region in the world for seafarers, according to a new report by the nonprofit organization Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP)... The pirates in these waters are mostly from the Niger Delta, an oil-rich part of Nigeria that has seen two decades of violence as militias fight over control of land and resources. Before 2015, they mostly targeted oil tankers, siphoning the black gold by the metric ton and ferrying it back to the mainland, where they sold it on the black market. But the price of crude oil has fallen precipitously since mid-2014, which means that human hostages are now more valuable than their once-precious cargo.”
Lastly today: What’s wrong with this photo? Try not to read the comments before you figure it out. But what you discover is apt to bring at least a conflicted smile to your face, especially knowing no one (so far as we know) was harmed from the occasion.