Aloha, false alarm; Syria showing US troops the door; Russia links Iran deal to N. Korea; Army axes made-in-China cameras; and just a bit more...
False alert in Hawaii. In a truly epic failure of interface design, an employee at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency picked the wrong item from a drop-down menu on Saturday morning. That sent a message (“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”) to tens of thousands of cellphones across the state, terrifying residents and tourists alike. It took 38 minutes for state officials to issue a corrective message. Washington Post has more.
So now what? For starters, citizens of Hawaii now know that they don’t know what to do if a real missile is inbound. Stripes, here.
Caught flat-footed: It wasn’t just Hawaiians: Politico reports that the alert “sent White House aides scrambling Saturday, frantically phoning agencies to determine a response and triggering worries about their preparedness almost a year into the Trump administration.” Seems that John Kelly had planned to run an inbound-missile exercise for the federal government’s top officials last July when he was at DHS, but the exercise was shelved when he left to become President Trump’s chief of staff.
Flubbed first response. The White House even flubbed its first communication about the false alarm: “Even though Hawaii’s governor called it a human error during a shift change,” a White House spokeswoman said the message was sent as part of an emergency management drill. “This was purely a state exercise,” she said in a statement. More from Politico, here.
U.S., allies to talk about North Korea. “Senior officials from 20 nations will gather in Vancouver on Tuesday for [a] full-day meeting, which is designed to increase diplomatic and financial pressure on Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear programs,” Reuters reports. One possibility is the establishment of an allied naval blockade, Quartz reports. But while proposals may be proffered and plans laid, the absence of China and Russia probably means little concrete will emerge, analysts tell CNN, here. Meanwhile, “tensions on the Korean Peninsula settle into a steady simmer while direct talks between the north and the south continue.”
U.S. military moves. “The U.S. is beefing up its presence around the Korean Peninsula ahead of next month's Winter Olympics by deploying stealth bombers, at least one extra aircraft carrier and a new amphibious assault ship to the region,” the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. And New York Times reporters connect training various dots and report that “the scope and timing of the exercises suggest a renewed focus on getting the country’s military prepared for what could be on the horizon with North Korea.” Read about those, here.
From Defense One
Nuclear Command Network Would See Comprehensive Upgrade Under Trump Plan // Marcus Weisgerber: While the ICBMs, bombers, submarines and cruise missiles get lots of attention, the network connecting them also needs updating.
Why the President's FISA Fix Is Bad News For Privacy, Good News for Russian Agents // Patrick Tucker: Early-morning tweets revealed Trump's complicated relationship with various spying rules.
Hawaii's Nuclear Wakeup Call (and Why We Should Take MLK's Advice) // Joe Cirincione: The Cold War brought plenty of false alarms — but nothing like the situation we face today.
What the Hell Happened in Hawaii? // Ankit Panda: False alarms aren't just terrifying—they're dangerous.
North Korea-Bound Ships Could Soon Be Routinely Intercepted by the US and Allies // Steve Mollman: Foreign ministers from the U.S. and about 20 other countries will weigh the measures as part of new pressure on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile weapons programs.
How the Tet Offensive Undermined American Faith in Government // Julian E. Zelizer: Fifty years ago, the January 1968 battle laid bare the way U.S. leaders had misled the public about the war in Vietnam.
A New American Leader Rises in ISIS // Seamus Hughes, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens and Bennett Clifford: A two-year investigation identifies one of the very few Americans in the Islamic State's upper ranks—and sheds light on the dynamics of radicalization.
Russian DNC Hackers Are Targeting the US Senate, Cyber Firm Says // Joseph Marks: Sen. Ben Sasse wants Attorney General Jeff Sessions to testify on the issue.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Email us. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free.
The U.S. military is being shown the door in Syria after announcing a new border security force with its Syrian partners, according to state-run news outlets from both Syria and Turkey.
First, this story from CNN, relaying an initial report out of Syria, alleging a foreign ministry official said the Syrian army will stop the "conspiracy, end the presence of the US, its agents and tools in Syria, establish full control over the entire Syrian territory and preserve the country's sovereignty."
The unnamed official called the new force “a blatant breach of Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and a flagrant violation of the International law.”
About the unit: It’s called the Syrian Border Security Force, and so far it has 230 members. The goal is 30,000, according to coalition spokesman U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon, but by when?.
The coalition plans "to train these defense forces in areas close to their homes," CNN reports. Said Dillon: "More Kurds will serve in the areas in northern Syria. More Arabs will serve in areas along the Euphrates River Valley and along the border with Iraq to the south... To fill the other 15,000 positions, recruiting and training is underway. As previously mentioned, recruiting is being done in such a manner as to build a force reflecting the populations they serve."
Says Syria, per SANA: “any Syrian citizen who takes part in the US-backed militia as a traitor to the Syrian state and people and will be treated as one.”
According to Turkey, the coalition’s new border force is an “army of terror,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday while speaking at the opening of a new soda factory.
Erdogan: “A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our borders. What can that terror army target but Turkey? Our mission is to strangle it before it’s even born.” More fightin’ words from Erdogan, here.
From the region: Russia says U.S. plans to change the Iran nuclear deal will set a precedent North Korea could exploit, Reuters reported Monday. According to Moscow’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: “If the deal is put aside and Iran is told, ‘you keep up with your obligations or we will impose sanctions again’, then you have to see it from North Korea’s point of view...They are being promised that sanctions will be lifted if they give up their nuclear programme. They will give it up, but no one will lift the sanctions against Pyongyang.” That, here.
BTW: Russians are exercising with their ICBMs. “The Russian military is conducting massive drills involving truck-mounted intercontinental ballistic missile launchers,” the Associated Press reported Monday from Moscow. “The [defense] ministry said the drills are being conducted across a vast area from the Ivanovo region just northeast of Moscow to the Irkutsk region in eastern Siberia. It said the exercise will focus on the deployment of missiles and fending off possible attacks by enemy scouts, but will not involve practice launches.”
Eyes on Russia, Euro edition. “Russian-trained mercenaries” are in Bosnia supporting Serbian separatists, The Guardian reported last week.
And in the UK, British fighter jets intercepted a few Russian long-range bombers near British airspace on Monday over the North Sea, AP reported.
Also from the Brits: Humour in the form of a movie trailer for a fake sequel to Top Gun titled, “Drone School.” It comes from the BBC 2’s comedy series, “Revolting.” And it’s at least as worthwhile as a similar American take (sans movie trailer) via Comedy Central almost five years ago.
ICYMI: Afghanistan’s Prez told 60 Minutes his military wouldn’t last six months without American troops. Why? "Because we don't have the money," said President Ashraf Ghani. "American taxpayers bankroll 90 percent of Afghanistan's defense budget. That's more than $4 billion a year. Another $30 billion has been spent rebuilding this country. A bustling city has risen from the ruins. But in all the years we have been coming here, it's never been this dangerous. Checkpoints choke the traffic all over Kabul. It was as difficult to film as it was to move. Terrorists can strike at any time." Catch that interview in full, here.
Related: Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Dunford says “I’m not giving up” on the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, Defense News reports en route to Dunford’s trip to NATO HQs in Belgium. “Do we agree on everything right now? No, we don’t. But are we committed to more effective relationship with Pakistan? We are, and I’m not giving up on that.”
Eyes on the Afghanistan: Meet U.S. Navy Lt. William Conway, a former accountant who is "piecing together clues about a new Taliban or Islamic State terrorist cell in Afghanistan... [and] often falls back on skills he learned hauling crooks, swindlers and embezzlers into court in Chicago," The New York Times’ Eric Schmidtt reported this weekend from a recent trip to the U.S. military’s Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
Back stateside, the U.S. Army is yanking out Chinese-made surveillance cameras watching over Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood base, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. The company: Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co.
What’s going on? Unclear exactly. But there is wide concern with Chinese-made products on U.S. Army bases going back to at least August when the service banned Chinese-made DJI drones. The Journal reports “a congressional committee plans to hold a hearing this month into whether small businesses face cybersecurity risks” from the system in Missouri. Story (paywall alert), here.
One more from the Journal: its editorial board chimes in on the Pentagon’s “Fading Readiness.” The gist: “U.S. military dominance isn’t inevitable, and there are ample signs it is eroding. A spending deal won’t correct every Pentagon dysfunction, but the services need more political and financial support. The result without it will be more risk for the men and women of the military and less security for the other 99% of Americans.” That, here.
The U.S. Army’s Rangers and Green Berets found a place they haven’t put sensors yet: K9s, Army Times reported late last week.
For your eyes only: A fun clip of “Bruce Lee fighting with lightsabers, as god intended.” Description and video, by way of The AV Club, here.
Finally today: Some friendly travel tips from our spy friends in Canada, should you decide to travel to China anytime soon. The title: “Clutch your laptop, wipe your data and other tips for travellers, courtesy of Canada’s spy agency.”
An excerpt: “[Former Canadian ambassador] Saint-Jacques recalls his then-teenage daughter telling him about a chat with a schoolmate on an unsecured telephone line...[where they] were suddenly interrupted. ‘Switch back to French or the line will be cut,’ an unfamiliar voice said.” Read on, (for a price, of course — cheeky spies) here.