Russian hackers breach US power plants; US military preps for Irma; What CIA wants from AI; Navy cut training corners; and just a bit more...
Warships, troops readied for Irma rescue ops. Four U.S. Navy amphibious warfare ships, hundreds of Marines, and the entire Florida National Guard are standing by to help, the Washington Post reports. “Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Houk, a National Guard spokesman, said that the bureau has flown teams to Puerto Rico and Florida that will act as liaisons with local governments in coordinating outside help.” Read on, here.
From Defense One
What the CIA's Tech Director Wants from AI // Patrick Tucker: Dawn Meyerriecks says staying ahead of Russia and China isn't as hard as getting U.S. leaders to listen to their own artificial intelligence analysis.
Get Ready for a Short-Term CR, Congressional Leaders Tell Pentagon // Caroline Houck: Top House Republicans on defense say it's not ideal — underfunding has contributed to a rash of recent accidents — but don't expect a full-year appropriation until December.
Chasing the Elusive BRAC, Pentagon Says Readiness Is at Stake // Caroline Houck: Defense officials are changing their pitch for base closures. Will Congress listen this time?
Former State Dept. Cyber Coordinator Says It Was a Mistake to Close His Office // Joseph Marks: The department's former cyber coordinator Chris Painter worries the country is stepping back from its role as a global cyber leader.
Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. OTD1776: A Continental soldier launches the world’s first submarine attack. Have something you want to share? Email us at email@example.com. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)
President Trump’s next move regarding North Korea: Circulate a draft resolution at the UN which would “empower the United States Navy and Air Force to interdict North Korean ships at sea, inspect them to determine whether they are carrying weapons material or fuel into the country, and use ‘all necessary measures’ to enforce compliance,” The New York Times reports.
The decision, if approved as drafted, “would ban the shipment of all crude oil, refined petroleum and natural gas to North Korea, essentially seeking to plunge a country of 25 million people into a deep freeze this winter if its leaders fail to begin giving up their nuclear weapon and missile programs.”
It would also “would also seek to block all the assets of Kim Jong-un, the country’s leader, and virtually all the assets of the country’s military and its sole political party.”
One big concern: It “could set up the conditions for a conflict at sea,” the Times writes. “If the crew of a North Korean ship failed to stop or resisted a boarding party, one senior military official acknowledged in recent days, the result could be an exchange of fire at a time when Pyongyang is threatening to use its nascent nuclear arsenal, and the United States is warning of a ‘devastating response.’”
The U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said she wants to bring the resolution to a vote as early as Monday. More here.
Top U.S. officials headed to the Hill re: DPRK. On Wednesday in Washington, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats briefed House and Senate lawmakers on the threat from North Korea, The Hill reported.
Said Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy from Connecticut: “There is an unbelievable disconnect between the people in that room and their boss, and that freaks the hell out of me.”
Said Republican Sen. Bob Corker from Tennessee: “There was nothing over-the-top, no over-the-top rhetoric.”
Added Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee: “I’m concerned that Kim Jong Un wants to finish what his grandfather started… And if he’s determined to do that, it is going to be dangerous.” More here.
The US Navy cut corners in training and maintenance to keep its ships at sea, officials from the General Accounting Office will tell lawmakers today on Capitol Hill. CNN reports that GAO’s written testimony includes this: “Navy officials told us that US-based crews are completely qualified and certified prior to deploying from their US homeports, with few exceptions...In contrast, the high operational tempo of ships homeported overseas had resulted in what Navy personnel called a ‘train on the margins’ approach, a shorthand way to say there was no dedicated training time set aside for the ships so crews trained while underway or in the limited time between underway periods.”
The Navy attempted to manage this lack of training time using a “risk assessment management plan,” Defense News reports. RAMPs “allowed the local destroyer squadron, fleet trainers and stateside commanders to keep their ships on patrol even if their qualifications in critical areas such as damage control, navigation and flight deck operations had lapsed. [GAO] is set to testify Thursday that nearly 40 percent of the Japan-based cruisers and destroyers were operating without valid warfare certifications.” Read on, here.
What does this all mean? Former destroyer skipper Bryan McGrath has thoughts, including “I believe that there are too few ships to do what is asked”; “I believe that the ‘middle of the pack’ Japan FDNF ship with a third of its 22 certifications lapsed is likely a better fighting machine than a middle of the pack Norfolk ship w/ all 22 certifications”; and “I believe that we may have reached the point where we assume TOO MUCH risk in those forces.” Read them all, via Storify, here.
In South Korea, it’s official: Four more THAAD anti-missile launchers have been installed in Seongju, some 300 kilometers south of Seoul, Yonhap News agency reported this morning off a statement from the South Korean Ministry of National Defense.
The net effect: The “U.S. military will now have 6 THAAD launchers with 8 missiles each in South Korea,” Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson tweeted Wednesday. And those six launchers bring with them “48 missiles to defend against [North Korea’s] ballistic missiles.”
China’s air force practiced defense against a “surprise attack” from North Korea, Reuters reported Wednesday — a day after the events “near the Bohai Sea, the innermost gulf of the Yellow Sea that separates China from the Korean peninsula.” More here.
Also from Beijing: Chinese President Xi Jinping told President Trump to seek a resolution to the North Korean crisis “through dialogue and consultation,” Xi said in a phone call to Trump Wednesday. Adds Reuters: “China and Russia have advocated a plan in which the United States and Seoul stop major military drills in exchange for North Korea halting its weapons programs, but neither side is willing to budge.” That, here.
Cyber threat watch: 2017 is hardly over, but already Russia-linked hackers have “breached 100 nuclear and power plants just this year,” The Daily Beast reported Wednesday, citing a new report from the computer-security company Symantec.
How did they do it: Two ways, TDB writes. “In some hacks, they send fake résumés or party invitations to engineers and their managers as Microsoft Word files, specially crafted to leak the victim’s Windows credentials to the attacker’s machine. The second, more insidious approach, involves hacking third-party websites frequented by control-system engineers, such as industry journals and magazines. By planting a single line on the website’s code, the attackers can target any of the site’s visitors with malware. Called a ‘watering hole’ attack, one security expert says at least 60 engineering-related sites have been used in the energy attacks so far.”
The take? “So far, though, the U.S. intrusions have been about gathering intelligence— technical diagrams, reports, passwords, crypto keys—mostly from administrative networks that don’t control equipment. In only a handful of the breaches did the intruders make their way to the plant control network.” Read more from Wired, here.
On Wednesday, we learned one Russian company knows Facebook's sweet spots — and used them to place divisive ads on the social network: "Most of the ads focused on pumping politically divisive issues such as gun rights and immigration fears, as well as gay rights and racial discrimination," the Washington Post reported after the social media giant spoke with Congressional investigators on Wednesday.
For what it’s worth, “Facebook reported in its blog post Wednesday that about one-quarter of the ads in question were ‘geographically targeted,’ although company officials declined to provide specifics about what areas or demographic groups were the recipients. Of those targeted ads, the company said, more ran in 2015 than 2016.” More from WaPo here, and NYTs here.
In Europe, a new U.S. Marine rotation has arrived to Norway — the second Marine rotation through that country this year, Marine Corps Times reported Wednesday. The new group of roughly 300 Marines hail from the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Fun fact: The Marines are storing their “military equipment in caves near Trondheim, Norway, to make sure that a Marine Air-Ground Task Force has what it needs for cold weather training, crisis response or a humanitarian assistance mission,” officials told MCTs. Read on, here.
In Afghanistan’s information operations domain, U.S. special operators apologized Wednesday for an unforced error the day prior, The Wall Street Journal reported.
The unforced error: Special Operations Joint Task Force in Afghanistan dropped leaflets over the northern Parwan province showing “a lion, symbolizing the U.S.-led international military coalition in Afghanistan, chasing a dog whose flank is emblazoned with the Taliban flag. The standard features the Islamic religious text known as the Shahada, a declaration of the oneness of God and the acceptance of Muhammad as his prophet. The portrayal of Islamic religious scripture on a dog, an animal many Muslims consider haram, or unclean, is likely to be seen as highly offensive.”
SOJTF-A’s reax: “I sincerely apologize,” said Maj. Gen. James Linder on Wednesday. “We have the deepest respect for Islam and our Muslim partners world-wide... I will make appropriate changes so this never happens again.”
The Taliban’s reax: The group carried out “a suicide attack outside of Bagram Air Base,” The Long War Journal reports. “The Taliban claimed the attack and said it was executed to avenge the perceived insult on Islam. The Taliban claimed more than 20 people, including US personnel, were killed at the gate outside of Bagram. US Forces -Afghanistan confirmed the attack and said ‘the explosion resulted in a small number of casualties.’” More here.
Over the course of Syria’s war, pro-Assad forces have used chemical weapons more than two dozen times, the UN said in a report Wednesday. Read more from Reuters here, or The Wall Street Journal, here.
For your ears only: NPR’s Greg Myre brings us “A Hero's Story From The Scramble To Survive On The USS,” which aired Wednesday on “All Things Considered.” Six minutes that are worth your time, here.
Former SOCOM commander, retired Adm. William McRaven on DACA: Students who have been brought to the U.S. illegally as children include some who “have served our nation with distinction in their academic pursuits, in our nation’s military, and as productive members of society,” McRaven — now University of Texas System Chancellor — said in a statement this week. He continued, “while I understand the concern of the president and others about how DACA was implemented, the critical fact is that I and the UT System believe in our DACA students and that their opportunities to contribute to Texas and our nation should be upheld and continued by our leaders in Washington… Congress must now act quickly to provide a bridge for these students to remain in the U.S. and become citizens.” More here.
From the region: How an app is helping disaster response efforts post-Hurricane Harvey — and tying folks together to broaden the reach of the “Cajun navy.” That, via the Houston Chronicle, here.
And lastly today: A pretty phenomenal video overview of security at the U.S.-Mexico border, via Vox’s Johnny Harris and his ongoing series “Borders Dispatch.” Another five minutes of meaningful coverage you can squeeze into your lunch break today, starts here.