Subway blast in NYC; North Korea’s emerging biothreat; China ups its spy game; US seeks loitering kamizake drones; and just a bit more…
Bomb explodes near New York bus terminal: The explosion happened around 7:45 a.m. in a New York Subway pedestrian tunnel below 8th Avenue, near the Port Authority bus terminal. The suspect was found with wires attached to his body, according to multiple reports. Surveillance video shows white smoke filling the passageway with commuters using clothing to cover their mouths to breathe.
What we know: “The suspect is a Bangladeshi man who was wearing an explosive device,” the Wall Street Journal reports. He “was taken to Bellevue Hospital and is expected to survive,” sources told the New York Post. As of 9:30 a.m., four people had been reported injured, according to the New York Times.
The device: Multiple news agencies are calling the explosive device a pipe bomb that the suspected bomber might have prematurely detonated. The New York Post described the device as a “5-inch metal pipe bomb and battery pack strapped to his midsection.”
Was it terrorism? Former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton told MSNBC’s Morning Joe that suspect was inspired by ISIS. If so, it would mark the second ISIS-inspired attack on New York City in less than two months. On Oct. 31, a man intentionally drove a truck over cyclists on a bike path in lower Manhattan.
The biothreat from Pyongyang is growing. “North Korea is moving steadily to acquire the essential machinery that could potentially be used for an advanced bioweapons program, from factories that can produce microbes by the ton, to laboratories specializing in genetic modification,” the Washington Post reports this morning, citing “U.S. and Asian intelligence officials and weapons experts.”
The experts say North Korean scientists are being sent abroad to obtain microbiology degrees, and that Pyongyang is offering to sell what it learns to other countries. Read on, here.
In the meantime, the U.S., Japanese and South Korean militaries are spending the next two days practicing tracking North Korean missiles, Reuters reports.
“This is how nuclear war with North Korea would unfold.” Jeffrey Lewis, aka Arms Control Wonk, has a piece of speculative fiction up at the Washington Post about a nuclear war that starts pretty much accidentally in 2019. Read, here. (The view from nuclear Twitter: sure, and could be sooner and worse.)
Also in the possibly-sooner camp: Bush-era defense planner Kori Schake, who offers her own dire warning and war scenario, here.
Planning for war with North Korea — before the nukes: In 1994, Pentagon planners calculated that war with North Korea would end in a U.S./South Korean victory, at the cost of 52,000 American and 490,000 South Korean military casualties. That’s military only, and that was long before Pyongyang had nukes. Via AP, here.
From Defense One
Kamikaze UAVs, Drones on Leashes, Information Bombs Top Pentagon's Counterterror Wishlist // Patrick Tucker: Expect to see these technologies in a grey-zone battlefield in the not-too-distant future.
The North Korea Debate Sounds Eerily Familiar // Kori Schake: Trump's national-security officials are making many of the same arguments Bush's did in 2003.
China Is On a Whole-of-Nation Push for AI. The US Must Match It // Elsa B. Kania: Beijing is harnessing government and commercial entities in pursuit of a once-in-a-generation technological kingmaker.
Trump's National Security Strategy is Decidedly Non-Trumpian // Kate Brannen: An exclusive preview of the White House's plan highlights the wide gulf between what the president says and what he does.
LA Cyber Center Hopes to Be a Model for Cities Nationwide // Joseph Marks: During the past four years, Los Angeles has centralized its cyber operations using models developed by the federal government and industry sectors.
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson, Marcus Weisgerber and Bradley Peniston. Email us. And if you don’t subscribe already, consider subscribing. It’s free. OTD1941: Germany and Italy declare war on the United States.
New this weekend: Iraq’s war against ISIS is officially finished, the prime minister announced on Saturday. Catch images of the military parade that followed here, and celebrations in Baghdad, here.
How Trump’s ISIS war envoy, Brett McGurk, framed it: “[F]or the first time in four long years, ISIS controls no significant territory in Iraq. We congratulate the Prime Minister and all the Iraqi people on this significant achievement, which many thought impossible.” More here and here.
Next: According to the Associated Press, “Iraq now faces the daunting challenge of reconstruction. The fighting caused massive devastation in many areas, and some 3 million Iraqis are still displaced.” That, here.
The U.S. military’s forecast in Somalia: Expect American special operators (and their support crews) to be there at least two more years fighting al-Shabaab and ISIS, according to a new “operational plan” the Pentagon has reportedly pitched to the White House, The New York Times.
Known-knowns: “the proposed plan is said to include an exemption to a rule in Mr. Trump’s guidelines requiring annual vetting by staff from other agencies — including diplomats and intelligence officials — of operational plans for certain countries,” the Times writes. “Instead, the Pentagon wants to wait 24 months before reviewing how the Somalia plan is working.”
Said one former Obama CT official: Two years is "an eternity... particularly in the world of counterterrorism and when we’re talking about a volatile situation on the ground, like we have in Somalia with government formation issues and famine issues.” (The official: Luke Hartig, the National Security Council's senior director for counterterrorism.)
The Pentagon is also requesting a lower standard for airstrikes — "reasonable certainty that no bystanders will die" versus "near certainty that no civilians will be killed." Read on, here.
Was the U.S. special forces raid in Niger “botched?” Buzzfeed News spoke with a“Nigerien general, two senior military officials, and an official from the Nigerien government’s anti-terrorist unit” to suggest that the Americans may have been in a dangerous hurry.
According to Buzzfeed, “The incident highlights the consequences of the US prizing firepower over intelligence-gathering, even in militant-controlled terrain where local military partners are on the backfoot. And it comes as Special Force troops are being drawn deeper into shadow wars against militant Islamists on the continent — wars that have no military solution, according to those mired within them.” Story here.
OPSEC fail, AFRICOM edition. The Intercept was just one of many outlets trying to get early details after the raid in Niger occurred. However, one official at the AFRICOM PAO shop evidently thought they’d hung up on The Intercept — but instead had put the phone in “speaker” mode.
Or, as The Intercept tells it, “AFRICOM personnel did not properly disconnect the call, apparently placing it on speakerphone. As a result, for roughly one hour, conversations inside the press office – from mundane exchanges to screaming outbursts — were broadcast over the open phone line.” The results of that call suggest that U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson may have survived the initial ambush on Oct. 4. That, here.
UN soldiers suffered their worst attack in nearly 25 years last Thursday in the DRC. What happened, according to NBC News: “Rebels in eastern Congo killed 15 peacekeepers and wounded over 50 others in an assault on their base that was launched at nightfall and went on for hours.”
The rebels appear to have been from the Allied Democratic Forces group, an insurgency with roots in Uganda, and a recent bloody history of attacking UN soldiers in the DRC.
Notes NBC, “The U.N. mission in Congo is the largest and most expensive in the world. It has also been a high-profile target of the Trump administration's cost-cutting efforts. The mission has a budget of $1.14 billion and over 16,500 soldiers. Nearly 300 peacekeepers have been killed since the mission arrived in 1999, according to U.N. data.” More here.
China threatens to invade Taiwan if a U.S. Navy ship visits. Reuters reports that diplomats from both are sparring in the wake of diplomat Li Kexin’s words at a Chinese embassy event in Washington on Friday. “The day that a U.S. Navy vessel arrives in Kaohsiung is the day that our People’s Liberation Army unifies Taiwan with military force,” Chinese media at the weekend quoted Li as saying, referring to Taiwan’s main port….In September, the U.S. Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2018 fiscal year, which authorises mutual visits by navy vessels between Taiwan and the United States.” Story, here.
Spy games: German spies say their Chinese counterparts are getting more aggressive in cyberspace. ABC News: The head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency warned Sunday that China allegedly is using social networks to try to cultivate lawmakers and other officials as sources.
Also: Australia. After reports of Chinese spies and influence ops in a lot of places, China is pushing back on “racist” allegations. Reuters, here.
U.S. microchip engineers “Liang Chen, Donald Olgado, Wei-Yung Hsu and Robert Ewald are accused of downloading data from [their employer, Applied Materials, Inc.’s] internal engineering database, including more than 16,000 drawings.” Their goal: “lure investors to fund a U.S. and China-based startup that would compete with their former employer,” Bloomberg reports. “If convicted, the four face as long as 10 years in federal prison for each of 11 counts of possessing stolen trade secrets. They’re scheduled to be arraigned on Dec. 15 in San Jose, California.” More, here.
Arms sales rise. Global weapons sales are on the rise for the first time in five years, CNN reported Sunday off new data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
How much? "Sales by the world's 100 biggest arms producers increased 1.9% from the previous year to reach $374.8 billion."
Bigger picture: "Arms producers in South Korea, which increasingly supply the country's military, saw the largest percentage increase among developed countries... Sales by South Korean firms increased by over 20% in 2016, to $8.4 billion."
On the U.S. side, "American firms remained at the top of the industry in 2016, with sales increasing by 4% to more than $217 billion. That was 58% of the global total. American defense firm Lockheed Martin -- the world's largest producer — saw sales surge 11% in 2016, thanks to increased deliveries of its F-35 fighter and its acquisition of helicopter producer Sikorsky."
And the view from Moscow: "Sales by Russian firms increased 3.8% to $26.6 billion, a slower expansion than in recent years." Read the full report, here.
ICYMI: President Trump has approved new sanctions against Russia over the alleged INF Treaty violation, Politico reported late last week. “The Commerce Department will punish Russian companies that have provided technology to help develop the new weapon, which was outlawed by the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty signed by the United States and then-Soviet Union in 1987…The administration’s decision, outlined to reporters on Friday, was made after a lengthy review undertaken by the National Security Council, the administration official said.”
What’s more, “In addition to the new sanctions, the official said the Defense Department will begin research and development on a new nuclear cruise missile — as is also called for in the recently approved defense policy bill.” Read on, here.
Lastly today, and speaking of Trump’s National Security Council, “Deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, a driving force behind the Trump administration’s Middle East policy, plans to leave the White House as part of an anticipated wave of departures following President Trump’s first year in office,” the Washington Post reported this weekend.
SecDef Mattis issued a special statement on Friday calling attention to Powell’s contributions: “With the pending departure of Dina Powell, we are losing an invaluable member of the President’s national security team. I personally appreciate Dina’s partnership and contributions to the mission of the Department of Defense.” Read over lots more top officials saying lots of nice things about Powell’s work and tenure, here.