Out like Flynn; Russia is helping the Taliban, US general says; Spotlight on White House OPSEC; Ex-Blackwater firm gets $204m contract; and just a bit more...
Who will follow Flynn? That’s the question hanging in the balance after National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned from his post Monday evening. Flynn resigned just hours after reports emerged that he apologized to Vice President Mike Pence for—as Flynn put it in his letter—“inadvertently brief[ing] the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador” in late December. Flynn’s resignation also came shortly after the Washington Post published a story Monday alleging he may be vulnerable to Russian blackmail, according to a message to the White House Counsel from the acting attorney general at the time, Sally Q. Yates. There’s plenty of high drama to that story, including an urgent meeting of U.S. intelligence leaders during the final day of the Obama administration, here.
Meantime, “Keith Kellogg, the National Security Council chief of staff, will step in as the acting national security adviser and head of the National Security Council,” Politico reports. “The former general, a combat veteran of Vietnam and later a leading figure in the transition government of Iraq after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, had been appointed in December to his NSC position.”
Possible replacements for Flynn are said to include Kellogg, David Petraeus, “Stephen Hadley, who served as national security adviser under President George W. Bush; Tom Bossert, who also served as a national security aide under Bush and now oversees cybersecurity under Trump; Adm. James Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts; and Department of Homeland Security head John Kelly,” according to Politico.
View from Moscow: “Russian lawmakers mount fierce defense of Flynn,” reads an Associated Press dispatch, which quotes a key parliamentarian, among others, alleging that “Russophobia has permeated the new administration from top to bottom.” More here.
President Trump vows to “deal with...the big, big problem” of North Korea, he said Monday. But he gave no more details on the topic than that during his joint press conference Monday with the Canadian prime minister, AP has more—including a brief summary of the Pentagon’s concerns about the launch Sunday (North Korea’s mobile launchers pose a “clear, grave threat” to U.S. security)—here.
Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s half-brother was reportedly killed Monday at an airport in Malaysia, South Korean Yonhap News reports. But the intrigue doesn’t end there: He was allegedly “attacked by two unidentified female agents with ‘poisoned needles.’” That, here. A little bit more from al-Jazeera, here.
From Defense One
President Trump, Viewed through NATO's Guide to Russian Information Warfare // The Council on Foreign Relations’s David Fidler: Russia uses theft, narratives, lies, trolls, and bots to weaken Western governments. The U.S. president is playing into its hands.
Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1945, Franklin D. Roosevelt hosted King Abdul Aziz aboard the USS Quincy, formally opening U.S.-Saudi relations. (Got a tip? Let us know by clicking this link to email us: email@example.com.)
The online spectacle of an open-air situation room at Mar-a-lago put a spotlight on the Trump administration’s security practices. After photos of Sunday’s post-NorK-missile-test huddle with aides and Japan’s head of state on the dining terrace appeared on Facebook, White House spokesman Sean Spicer called the meeting an unclassified confab about press logistics and said that the president had received a classified briefing in a nearby SCIF.
Lawmakers are also becoming increasingly concerned about the President’s phone, specifically whether he continues to use his unsecured Android phone for tweeting, as has been reported by The New York Times.
On Monday, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo, and Sen. Tom Carper, D-De, sent a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis looking for answers on what sort of phone the President is using.
Defense One has previously reported that the Defense Information Systems Agency has created a secure encrypted phone capable of handling secure communications that “goes with the office” of the President—but the White House has not confirmed that Trump is actually using it.
The broader take from the Washington Post: “Trump ran a campaign based on intelligence security. That’s not how he’s governing.” The piece draws together various threads, here.
The Post also fact-checked White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller’s statements on Sunday’s talk shows, and found that (apart from repeating false voter-fraud claims) he overstated the connection between terrorism and visitors from the seven countries on Trump’s erstwhile travel ban. Read, here.
Meanwhile, the new Veterans Administration secretary just sailed through Senate confirmation. Winning a 100-0 vote was David Shulkin, a physician who “worked as VA undersecretary for health in 2015 and oversaw the country’s largest health care system, which comprising 1,700 facilities.” Stripes, here.
PACOM’s Adm. Harris welcomes “Thailand's re-emergence as a flourishing democracy” as the annual exercise Cobra Gold kicks off today. “Harris is the highest-ranking American military official to visit Thailand since a 2014 coup put the country under military rule,” Stars and Stripes reports. Harris will later meet junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha in Bangkok, Reuters reports from Thailand, adding, “This year's event will be attended by more than 8,300 personnel from 29 countries. Among them will be about 3,600 from the United States.” More here.
ICYMI: The U.S. military says Russia is helping the Taliban in Afghanistan, and NPR’s Phil Ewing looks into some of the ideas why. "Russian President Vladimir Putin could be serious about expanding Russian influence in Asia Minor. He could be hedging against the potential wavering of current international support for Afghanistan. Or he could be making mischief simply to win concessions elsewhere by Europe or the United States."
The “upshot,” he writes, “is that Russia and the United States have effectively switched roles in Afghanistan: In the 1980s, American CIA officers supplied weapons to anti-government rebels who were fighting the then-Soviet backed government and the Soviet troops supporting it. Today, 15 years after the American invasion, Russia has begun helping the Taliban against a weak American-backed government still supported by NATO troops and airpower.” More here.
NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg asks members to raise their defense spending “a day ahead of the first meeting between new U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and his 27 NATO counterparts in Brussels,” AP reports.
For the record: “apart from the United States, only four other NATO member countries do so — Britain, Estonia, Poland and debt-ridden Greece, according to NATO figures.” (Find charts of those figures, via Defense One’s Caroline Houck, here.)
Ukraine is looking the other way when “rogue militias” fire on pro-Russian separatists, the Washington Post reports. “Despite Kiev’s pledge to rein them in, rogue militias continue to fight against Moscow-backed separatists,” writes Jack Losh from Marinka, Ukraine. “But these informal groups proved difficult to control, with some committing heinous abuses. Almost all have been incorporated into Ukrainian state forces.”
The reasons and the risk: “For now, Kiev benefits from these guerrilla units; they’re highly motivated and don’t qualify for state pensions. Longer term, the government is playing with fire.” Much more to the story, here.
Lastly today: A corporate descendant of Blackwater just got a $204 million contract to support U.S. special forces in the fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa, The Daily Beast reported Monday.
How they arrived at that conclusion: “In late January, a source on the ground in Central African Republic spotted a Sikorsky S-61 helicopter with the registry number N408RC carrying American Special Forces troops...According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the Sikorsky helicopter that The Daily Beast’s source observed in Central African Republic belongs to Illinois-based EP Aviation, LLC. EP Aviation was once a subsidiary of Academi, the Virginia-based company that was formerly known as Blackwater. The ‘EP’ stands for ‘Erik Prince,’ Blackwater’s founder.”
In case you’re catching up: “Following Prince’s departure, Blackwater changed its name several times and came under new ownership. In 2010 it sold EP Aviation and other aviation assets to Illinois-based AAR, also known as Airlift Group, a self-described provider of ‘world-class expeditionary and conventional aviation solutions.’ Around 60 ex-Blackwater aircraft continue to be registered in EP Aviation’s name. AAR did not respond to The Daily Beast's request for comment.” Read the rest, here.