Turkey threatens wider Syrian invasion; How Russian drones got so good so fast; Fascinating detail about Dutch hack of Cozy Bear; US Navy targets 10 nations for FONOPS; and just a bit more...

Turkey’s Erdogan says his new Syrian invasion just might sweep all the way across northern Syria — potentially threatening U.S. troops and their Kurdish partners who helped retake Raqqa from ISIS, Reuters reports.

In some ways this is hardly surprising since, from the start, “Erdogan has said Turkish forces would push east towards the town of Manbij, potentially putting them in confrontation with U.S. troops deployed there.”

As far as what Turkey has accomplished so far: that’s hard to say. “Although the campaign is now in its seventh day, Turkish soldiers and their Free Syrian Army rebel allies appear to have made limited gains, held back by poor weather that has limited air support,” Reuters reports. “Three Turkish soldiers and 11 of their Syrian rebel allies have been killed in clashes so far, Turkey’s health minister said on Friday. A further 130 people were wounded, he said, without saying if they were civilians or combatants.”

And on the other side of the battle: “The SDF said the first week of Turkey’s incursion had left more than a 100 civilians and fighters dead,” the Associated Press adds. “The group said in a statement Friday that among the dead are 59 civilians and 43 fighters, including eight women fighters. At least 134 civilians were wounded in the weeklong clashes.”

For those caught in the middle: “The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, said at least 38 civilians have been killed since the start of the operation, two of them by SDF shelling,” Reuters writes. Read on, here.

From Defense One

The Marines Have ‘Too Many Hornets’ // Caroline Houck: The commandant wants to retire beaten-up F/A-18s more quickly as F-35s join the Corps.

Russia Is Poised to Surprise the US in Battlefield Robotics // CNA’s Samuel Bendett: How? It's a story of leaders' unusual agreement, a focus on fast-and-cheap production, and a decision to field lethal robots for combat.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Sequestration didn't unduly affect small biz: report; Hunkering down for another CR; Where to invest, per the National Defense Strategy; and more.

How Turkey Twisted Three Words Into a Pretext for Invasion // Patrick Tucker: Ankara said a U.S. plan to train some Syrian Kurds was a threat. So it sent tanks and artillery to kill some others.

Welcome to this Friday 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.

After five months of no encounters with the Iranian navy, the U.S military quietly wonders why, The Wall Street Journal reports traveling with CENTCOM’s Gen. Joseph Votel.
What used to happen: "The fast boats are typically armed with .50 caliber machine guns and rocket launchers and have come within shooting distance of American naval vessels, encounters that grew routine even though each one presents potential dangers to American vessels transiting through international waters... Since January 2016, there has been an average of more than two “unsafe or unprofessional” incidents each month, according to the U.S. military. There have been 50 such incidents in the past two years, officials said."
But now, U.S. military officials told the Journal, "there have been no such incidents since August 2017."
Said U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet spox, Cmdr. Bill Urban: “We are not going to speculate on the reason for this recent positive trend in interactions, though we hope it will continue in the future.”

SecDef Mattis on readiness to go to war with North Korea: "We could fight tonight, shoulder to shoulder with the Koreans — or South Koreans, if they're attacked," he told reporters while traveling to Hawaii from Vietnam, South Korea’s Yonhap News agency reports.
Mattis also said he’s “finalizing plans to dock an aircraft carrier in the south of Vietnam this March,” the Washington Post reported from Vietnam. “The USS Carl Vinson will make a port call in Danang, according to the proposal, the first-ever carrier port call after smaller U.S.-flagged ships have moored” in Hanoi, the Post writes.
China’s reax: "As long as this kind of military exchange between Vietnam and the United States is beneficial to regional peace and stability, then, of course, we have no objection," said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
Background: “The United States believes it may have found a key ally in Vietnam. The nation is increasingly emboldened to challenge Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea, a strategic region flush with resources. China has mostly claimed the sea as its own and has studded artificial islands with radar arrays and military outpost, edging out Vietnam and other nations dependent on waters for fishing and commerce.” A bit more, here.

One more thing: China says it will participate in this year’s RIMPAC exercises off Hawaii in June, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Thursday. Exactly what China will bring to the drills — as well as all the other participants and their equipment — won’t be known until “after April.” More here.

Report: 10 nations targeted in U.S. Navy FONOPs. The Navy’s freedom of navigation patrols in the Asia-Pacific “challenged excessive maritime claims... by Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Vietnam,” The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda reported Thursday after glimpsing the Pentagon’s latest annual FONOP report.
Locations spanned “the Spratly and Paracel groups in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Sulu Sea, the Java Sea, and the Strait of Malacca.”
The point of the report, Panda writes, is to help “dispel the idea that U.S. FONOPs in Asia are targeted against Chinese claims specifically.” Read on, here.

Russia appears to have illegally routed coal from North Korea to Japan and South Korea, Reuters reported Thursday in an update of how difficult it is to clamp down on the Kim Jong-Un regime — as well as Russia’s illicit maritime actions in the face of international law.
What allegedly happened: “The U.N. Security Council banned North Korean exports of coal last Aug. 5 under sanctions intended to cut off an important source of the foreign currency Pyongyang needs to fund its nuclear weapon and long-range missile programs. But the secretive Communist state has at least three times since then shipped coal to the Russian ports of Nakhodka and Kholmsk, where it was unloaded at docks and reloaded onto ships that took it to South Korea or Japan,” according to three Western European intelligence sources.
For the record, “Reuters could not independently verify whether the coal unloaded at the Russian docks was the same coal that was then shipped to South Korea and Japan. Reuters also was unable to ascertain whether the owners of the vessels that sailed from Russia to South Korea and Japan knew the origin of the coal.”
However, “The U.S. Treasury on Wednesday put the owner of one of the ships, the UAL Ji Bong 6, under sanctions for delivering North Korean coal to Kholmsk on Sept. 5. It was unclear which companies profited from the coal shipments.” Much more to the story, here.

A document leaked to Politico suggests President Trump will keep Gitmo open once he signs an executive order sometime around his Tuesday State of the Union address in Washington. “The executive order, according to a draft State Department cable that officials are planning to soon send to U.S. embassies around the world, would rescind part of a separate 2009 order signed by then-President Barack Obama mandating that the facility be ‘closed as soon as practicable.’”
FWIW, Politico writes, “Trump has yet to send any captured terrorist to the controversial detention camp, and the cable suggests that is not about to change.” Read on, here.

That alleged U.S. drone strike in Pakistan on Wednesday — the Pentagon says it was not behind it, Voice of America reported Thursday. "In response to Pakistan government claims that the U.S. military conducted airstrikes in Pakistan this week, I can confirm that there were not any Department of Defense airstrikes outside of Afghanistan," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Michael Andrews told VOA's Carla Babb.
So the strike — which alleged “killed a commander of the Haqqani militant network and his two aides” in a refugee camp for Afghans in Pakistan — either never happened, or perhaps some other governmental agency was involved. More here.
The U.S. Treasury just designated “six individuals accused of supporting the Taliban and Haqqani network in Afghanistan” as global terrorists, AP reported Thursday. “They include senior members of the former Taliban government in Afghanistan, including former central bank governor Abdul Samad Sani, and others said to have been part of Taliban leadership councils in Pakistan who provided financing and weapons for militants involved in attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces.” Read more about each one, here.

In 2014, a Dutch intelligence agency monitored Russian hackers stealing emails and other documents from the Democratic Party. The spies told their American counterparts, and that’s how the U.S. intelligence community began to learn just how comprehensive was the Russian cyber assault on the United States — and its 2016 election. That’s the bombshell story Thursday from the Netherlands’ third-biggest newspaper, De Volkskrant, which cites “six American and Dutch sources who are familiar with the material, but wish to remain anonymous.”
Fascinating detail about state-level hacking. The story recounts how the Dutch managed to penetrate the internal computer network of Cozy Bear, one of Russia’s most effective hacker groups. (“The AIVD can now trace the Russian hackers' every step. But that's not all...A security camera records who enters and who exits the room. The AIVD hackers manage to gain access to that camera. Not only can the intelligence service now see what the Russians are doing, they can also see who's doing it.”) Read on, here.   

Western firms let Russia scrutinize the source code of software used widely in the U.S. government. Why? Because Russian customers for the software insist on looking for backdoors that U.S. spies might use. Why is this dangerous? Because even though the Russians have no way to change the source code, they can search for vulnerabilities that they themselves can use. Reuters: “The practice potentially jeopardizes the security of computer networks in at least a dozen federal agencies, U.S. lawmakers and security experts said.” The companies include McAfee, SAP, and Symantec. More, here.

And finally this week: NSA deletes “honesty” and “openness” from its core principles. On Jan. 12, The Intercept reports, the signals-intelligence agency replaced a mission statement that dated at least to 2016 with a new one.
Out: the words “honesty,” “trust,” “honor,” and “openness.”
In: “respect for people” and “accountability.”
Asked about the changes, Thomas Groves, a spokesperson for the agency, said: “It’s nothing more than a website update, that’s all it is.” So relax, guys.

And have a great weekend. We’ll catch you again on Monday.