More trouble for the White House; CNO wants a bigger fleet, faster; Don’t blame NSA for WannaCry; On the scene with NATO military leaders; and just a bit more...
The headaches continue to pile up for the White House. James Comey’s notes from a meeting with Donald Trump say the president asked the FBI director to close the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the New York Times reported Tuesday. “The documentation of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia. Late Tuesday, Representative Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, demanded that the F.B.I. turn over all ‘memoranda, notes, summaries and recordings’ of discussions between Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey.”
Lawfare explains just what legal lines this may have crossed, here.
That came on a day when the national-security community was still digesting the implications of Trump’s admitted disclosure of sensitive information to senior Russian officials during an Oval Office visit last week.
Here’s one take, from Eliot Cohen, head of SAIS and former counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: “The consequences of the president’s reported divulgence of top-secret codeword information to the Russians are only beginning.”
The information reportedly came from Israel, the NYT is reporting.
Meanwhile, the helpful folks in the Kremlin are offering to provide their version of what was said in the meeting, to which Russian but not American press were invited. Washington Post, here.
From Defense One
CNO: We Need a Bigger, Better Fleet Far Sooner Than You Think // Bradley Peniston: In a new white paper, Adm. John Richardson lays out an urgent vision for meeting the 21st century’s sail-to-steam moment.
US Forces Aren't Working With Russians Against ISIS, SOCOM Chief Says // Patrick Tucker: But information-sharing with coalition partners has never been better, says the general in charge of special operations troops.
Stop Blaming the NSA for the Ransomware Attack // Patrick Tucker: An inside look at how the intelligence community deals with the exploitable software bugs it finds.
The Dangers of Presidential Indiscretions // Andrew Exum: President Trump had the legal right to declassify information—but by sharing sensitive intelligence with the Russians, he may have jeopardized national security.
Trump's Disclosures Are Another Win for Russia // Julia Ioffe: Putin has long used the pretext of counterterrorism cooperation to get what he wants from the West. It just paid off again.
Foreign Leaders Have Realized Trump Is a Pushover // David A. Graham: The president's reported disclosure of classified information to Russia is only the latest example of the self-proclaimed great negotiator conceding to officials from overseas everything they want.
China Is Creating a DNA Database Straight Out of Science Fiction // Echo Huang Yinyin: The Ministry of Public Security has collected the genetic information of more than 40 million people — and counting.
Mattis Fills Key Executive Positions at the Pentagon // Erich Wagner: Former official: Defense Secretary James Mattis' political SES appointments are mainstream choices.
Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1963: USAF Maj. Gordon Cooper’s splashdown ends Project Mercury. Got tips? Email us at email@example.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)
CNO: We need a bigger, better fleet — and much faster than planned. After several high-profile reports by think tanks and Navy research groups argued for larger fleets, the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations has weighed in with his own thoughts, in the form of a 9-page white paper released today. Bottom line, says Adm. John Richardson: competitors are advancing their navies faster than the United States, abetted by networking and IT-infused technologies that have naval warfare on the cusp of a “sail-to-steam” transformation. So, he says, we need a 355-ship fleet, and far sooner than the 2040s goal of a 308-ship version. Richardson declined to say how much this would cost, but said that “by challenging assumptions,” it could be produced for less than the extra-$5 billion-per-year estimate that the Congressional Budget Office offered for the 308-ship plan. Read on, here.
Iraq and Afghanistan top NATO military leaders’ second meeting of 2017. The alliance’s Military Committee is discussing what Czech Gen. Petr Pavel called the “next steps in NATO's training and capacity building in Iraq,” our own Marcus Weisgerber reports this morning from alliance HQs in Brussels, where reporters were allowed in the room only for Pavel’s opening statement.
On the ’stan, Pavel said, “Our aim today is to reaffirm our support in the ongoing development of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces, preferably aligned with their four-year development plan.”
In typical NATO fashion, the panel of generals and admirals is due to talk about “Russia and its influence abroad” today—as well as the evergreen subject of that two-percent GDP defense spending target.
The meetings themselves happen behind closed doors. But a briefing is scheduled this evening with Pavel and the alliance’s top military commander, U.S. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, alongside French Air Force Gen. Denis Mercier, supreme allied commander for transformation.
The committee is not expected to make any decisions, but to produce options for the alliance’s political leaders, Weisgerber reports.
NATO’s new digs! With a sparkling new $1.2 billion complex waiting across the street, NATO’s chiefs of defense met today — likely for the last time — in the current headquarters building, which was constructed in 1967. A stage was being set up in front of the new headquarters this morning, likely for next week’s big meeting between alliance heads of state. Construction began on the new headquarters in 2010. Here’s some more background on the new building.
One more thing: An extra flagpole. Now that Montenegro is all set to soon become a member of the alliance, each NATO building needs a 29th flagpole. Have no fear, they are already in place awaiting the Montenegro flag, one NATO official told Weisgerber. Also, Lt. Gen. Ljubisa Jokic, chief of general staff of the armed forces of Montenegro, was sitting alongside U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford at the alliance’s Military Committee meeting on Wednesday. Stay tuned to Defense One for more in the coming days leading up to NATO’s heads-of-state meeting next week, which President Trump is scheduled to attend.
Erdogan’s (would-be) big day in Washington. President Trump sought to find common ground against capital-T terrorists in his first face-to-face meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Tuesday at the White House—a meeting that very likely would have gotten more attention had not the Trump-Comey revelations dominated the news cycle.
As far as “deliverables” in the meeting between the two authoritarian leaders, the Atlantic Council’s Aaron Stein said it was “mission accomplished, if your expectations are that you want people who are smiling in the photographs.”
Beyond that, well, there wasn’t much new. Erdogan kept up his line that Ankara deeply dislikes the U.S. military’s alliance with Syrian Kurds of the YPG, the Washington Post reported.
Said Erdogan, according to a White House transcript: “There is no place for the terrorist organizations in the future of our region. Taking YPG and PYD in the region—taking them into consideration in the region, it will never be accepted, and it is going to be against a global agreement that we have reached. And we should never allow those groups to manipulate the religious structure and the ethnic structure of the region making terrorism as a pretext or an excuse.”
Erdogan’s goons’ big day in Washington. The Turkish president’s supporters—for the second time during a DC swing—roughed up a crew of apparent pro-Kurdish protesters outside of the Turkish ambassador’s residence on Embassy Row, the Washington Post reported after footage of the confrontation began making the rounds on social media Tuesday evening. Nine people were taken to hospitals and two were arrested.
Meanwhile in Syria, a new U.S. Marine Corps artillery unit has arrived ahead of the official start of the offensive on ISIS-held Raqqa, Marine Corps Times reported Tuesday. “The artillery unit recently replaced about 400 Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which provided artillery support to Kurdish and Syrian Arab forces expected to launch an offensive against Raqqa.” Other details about the new unit were closely held by U.S. defense officials. But you can read about the departed jar heads—“about 400 Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit”—here.
And back stateside: One day after telling the world the Assad regime appears to have built a crematorium to purportedly dispose of hundreds of bodies of tortured Syrians, the U.S. State Department’s Stuart Jones has retired, Reuters reported Tuesday. “Jones, 57, told colleagues the decision was his own and that he had not been pushed out or asked to leave the department...A State Department spokesman confirmed Jones' planned retirement, saying he was leaving for personal reasons to pursue a new career.”
Deep-dive: What exactly are “areas of active hostilities” to the Trump White House, which is using the legalese to expand military operations in places like Somalia and Yemen? U.S. News’s Paul Shinkman just cranked out a great investigation into the question—it’s a long one, but it concerns a quiet matter with enormous and lethal implications for America’s special operators—here.
Anatomy of a surprise North Korean attack: “If it were to launch such a strike first, the first wave of shells could land with essentially no warning. Estimates vary as to how much damage such an attack could actually wreak – Pyongyang can’t, as it has claimed, reduce Seoul to a sea of ashes before a pulverizing counterattack – but it would be considerable,” the Associated Press reported Tuesday in a wider look at Japan, South Korea and the United State’s defensive options.
Seoul has essentially as many as six minutes to respond—a window of time AP writes could get “very messy, very fast.”
Seoul’s not-so-great plate of options: “It has Patriot missile-defense batteries, but they are intended to protect against short-range Scud missiles. They would not help against an artillery attack. The much-talked-about, state-of-the-art THAAD missile defense system deployed in South Korea this month also cannot protect Seoul from either artillery or incoming missiles – it isn’t designed to do that from its current site.”
Then, if you consider the possibility of chemical or biological weapons from the North, the picture could be much worse. And that’s before taking into account a possible nuclear strike in a place like South Korea’s port city of Busan, which the U.S. Navy sometimes uses. “That’s an option Pyongyang might consider if it believed it was under immediate threat of attack and wanted to make a show of overwhelming force to keep Washington from committing further,” AP writes.
And Japan? It has 10 to 11 minutes to respond. San Francisco? Right around half an hour. Washington, D.C.? As many as 39 minutes. Read on for much more about counter measures at those last three sites, here.
Speaking of: Tokyo is looking into acquiring the Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense system, U.S. Naval Institute News’ Sam LaGrone reported Tuesday, citing reports from The Japan Times and Jane’s.
On the regional chess board, the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), based out of Japan, “departed its Yokosuka homeport Tuesday for a scheduled patrol of the Asia-Pacific region,” Stars and Stripes reported Tuesday.
Rollin’ deep: “If Reagan deploys toward the Korean peninsula at some point, it will bring with it a formidable ballistic-missile defense escort,” Stripes writes. “The carrier strike group includes the guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh; the guided-missile destroyers USS Barry, USS John S. McCain, USS McCampbell and USS Mustin from Destroyer Squadron 15; and aircraft from Carrier Air Wing 5.” Read the rest, here.
Finally today: Look out Vietnamese divers near Fiery Cross Reef. China has installed rocket launchers on the disputed South China Sea island, Reuters reports this morning. The justification, according to a state-run newspaper: to scare off Vietnamese military divers. “The state-run Defense Times newspaper, in a Tuesday report on its WeChat account, said Norinco CS/AR-1 55mm anti-frogman rocket launcher defense systems with the capability to discover, identify and attack enemy combat divers had been installed on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands. Fiery Cross Reef is administered by China but also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. The report did not say when the defense system was installed, but said it was part of a response that began in May 2014, when Vietnamese divers installed large numbers of fishing nets in the Paracel Islands.” More here.