February preview; Military losing its war on data leakage; 3 Russian spy chiefs visit DC; What US bases need help against climate change first? And just a bit more...
Did January seem long? Get ready for February. Coming very soon: the new Nuclear Posture Review, finally ready after nearly a year of work (and one leaked draft).
Coming soonish: the 2019 budget proposal.
Coming at all? A memo by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., purporting to show FBI “abuses of the FISA law connected with obtaining a surveillance warrant on a member of Trump's campaign team.” Its release has been teased for nearly a week. Now, the latest: Nunes’ Democratic counterpart on the House Intelligence Committee and fellow Californian Rep. Adam Schiff says Nunes altered the memo’s text after the committee voted (basically along party lines) to release it.
What’s in that memo? President Trump reportedly thinks it will show an FBI acting wrongly against him. Others, like Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez, say that’s unlikely, and yet it might not matter: “The more troubling possibility is that it would serve to provide political cover for Republican legislators to sit silent—or applaud—if Trump were to begin “cleaning house” at Justice or the FBI, or even target Mueller himself. To serve this purpose, the memo wouldn’t need to withstand sustained scrutiny; it would only need to create enough of a penumbra of doubt to justify congressional inaction for the duration of the purge.”
How will we be able to tell? Writing at Just Security, Former FBI agent Asha Rangappa lays out "five questions that the Nunes Memo must clearly address in order for its allegations of abuse to be substantiated and credible.” Read that, here.
Swirling over all of this is the continuing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and possibly related issues. The latest” Mueller’s team is reportedly asking about last summer’s White House “news release about a mysterious meeting at Trump Tower the previous summer between Russians and top Trump campaign officials. Rather than acknowledge the meeting’s intended purpose — to obtain political dirt about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government — the statement instead described the meeting as being about an obscure Russian adoption policy.” Read on, here.
From Defense One
Strava's Just the Start: The US Military's Losing War Against Data Leakage // Patrick Tucker: The Defense Department can't stop the rising river of of digital metadata — or prevent enemies from dipping into it.
Qatar Wants to Host US Ships, Expand Air Base For American Families // Marcus Weisgerber: Amid the Saudi-led blockade, the Qatari defense minister came to Washington seeking deeper ties with U.S.
Half of the US Military's Sites Are Vulnerable to Climate Change. Now What? // Caroline Houck: Next up: figuring out what bases, airfields, and naval stations need help first, says the former Pentagon appointee who started the survey.
Security at the Winter Olympics Includes Drones That Catch Drones // Quartz’s Steve Mollman: Even without the Olympics, South Korea has been beefing up its drone expertise.
Is Trump Preparing for War With North Korea? // The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart: The omissions in the State of the Union, and the fate of Victor Cha, all point in the same direction.
Welcome to this Thursday 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.
SecDef Mattis ponders Pentagon-wide cell phone ban. Potentially impacting all of the 22,000 troops and civilians at the building, “Cell phone use at the Pentagon will be part of the larger review to look at the vulnerabilities created by wearable technologies,” Defense News reported Wednesday — five days since news first broke that many civilians, but also troops appeared to have used wearable technology like FitBits for months without turning off key privacy settings.
The big risk, as many now know: “Even if [these devices] are not hacked, the devices can transmit location and other personal data if a user has not selected appropriate security settings.”
One hiccup: “Many of the personnel at the Pentagon use mass transit, such as the area’s subway system, to get to work and rely on the smart phones during their commutes. It was not immediately clear how DoD would be able to enforce a ban on the devices, including whether it would mean they would need to screen each employee on a daily basis.” A bit more, here.
The USAF just grounded all of its T-6 Texan II flights over another hypoxia warning, Air Force Times reports. "In a release Wednesday evening, Air Education and Training Command said the problems happened at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi, Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma, and Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas."
Complicating matters, “The release did not specify how many events have taken place, or what problems pilots experienced. But in addition to hypoxia, the Air Force has also used the term ‘unexplained physiological event,’ or UPE, to describe conditions such as hypocapnia, hypercapnia, or disorientation.”
For what it’s worth, “Vance temporarily suspended its T-6 flights last November after a series of hypoxia events, but was unable to find the cause of the problem and resumed flights in December.” More here.
Context: Over the past decade, mysterious hypoxia has afflicted pilots in several types of the Air Force’s smaller jets, including the F-22, F-35, and T-45. Wired had an overview last summer, here.
A key U.S. missile defense test just failed off the coast of Hawaii. CNN was first to make word of the Wednesday test results public, noting some reluctance on the part of U.S. military officials to talk about it due to the threat from North Korea.
Involved: A Raytheon SM-3 Block IIA missile interceptor fired at a dummy missile launched from an aircraft near the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii.
Reports CNN: “US Department of Defense officials are trying to determine what went wrong, but so far all the Pentagon will officially say is that a test took place.” The New York Times reports “two Defense Department officials, speaking on grounds of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the test’s failure, said that the missile missed hitting the incoming dummy missile.”
Update: The Missile Defense Agency confirms the test was a failure, CBS News reports this morning. “The primary objective of the test was to intercept an air-launched intermediate-range ballistic missile target,” a statement from the agency said. “However, this objective was not accomplished.”
What this means: North Korea’s Hwasong-12 intermediate range ballistic missile has a better test rate than the U.S. missile defense system aimed to stop it, The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda noted yesterday on Twitter after hearing the news.
To review the three tests of the SM-3 IIA, the first attempt (last February) intercepted a “simple, separating MRBM target,” Inside Defense’s Jason Sherman tweeted. The second attempted intercept happened in June — and failed — when “a sailor inadvertently pushed wrong button, directing [the] interceptor to self-destruct.” And that brings us to Wednesday’s failed test.
Why this matters, bigly: The “SM3-IIA [system is planned] to be [a] key linchpin of U.S. missile defense architecture in Europe, Asia, and possibly [the] U.S. homeland,” writes Kingston Reif of Arms Control Today.
Oh, hey, look: The Ukrainian military has a new cruise missile. Video, here. According to the Kiev Post, “the missile, a solely Ukrainian project designed by the Kyiv-based Luch defense development bureau, can deliver precise strikes on ground and seaborne targets.”
As far as what’s known about the new missile, Kiev Post cites two other sources to get at an answer: “According to the Defence Blog media outlet, the recently tested missile is identified as the Neptune, a Ukrainian advanced subsonic cruise missile based on the Kh-35, a Soviet-designed subsonic anti-ship missile put into service in Russia in 2003. According to the UkrOboronProm defense industry concern, the Neptunes are capable of sinking warships with displacements of up to 5,000 tons – which would include all of the Russian landing ships and frigates currently in service.” More here.
It wasn’t just the head of Russian foreign intelligence that dropped by Washington last week, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports. “[T]he presence of the two other chiefs — Aleksandr Bortnikov, director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), and Colonel General Igor Korobov, chief of Russian General Staff’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) — was not previously known.”
The stated purpose of their low-key visit: “to meet with U.S. officials about terrorism and other matters.” While Naryshkin and Bortnikov are known to have met CIA Director Mike Pompeo, the GRU boss is one who is not known to have met anyone, RFE/RL writes.
Background: “The visits came also just days before President Donald Trump's administration announced new actions against Russia, in compliance with a law passed overwhelmingly by Congress last summer. But the measures taken late on January 29 by the State and Treasury departments were met with disbelief by many observers, who expected asset freezes, travel bans, and other sanctions to be imposed, none of which happened.” Read on, here.
ICYMI: The Brits have set up a new “national security unit” to tackle fake news, The Guardian reported recently. Few details are worked out yet, beyond broad governmental awareness something must be done.
Said a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May: “We are living in an era of fake news and competing narratives. The government will respond with more and better use of national security communications to tackle these interconnected, complex challenges. To do this we will build on existing capabilities by creating a dedicated national security communications unit. This will be tasked with combating disinformation by state actors and others.” A bit more, here.
Foreign interference update. Facebook is notifying its users who liked Russian troll pages during the 2016 election — and some users are not taking the news kindly, Gizmodo reports.
And finally today: A Florida man (or woman, to be fair — it’s not known) left a loaded grenade launcher among various recent donations to the Goodwill, the Bradenton Herald reported Wednesday from Manatee, Fla., south of Tampa.
What happened: “On Sunday, deputies were called out to the Goodwill Manasota Bargain Barn, 7501 15th St. E., after employees discovered a grenade launcher with a grenade inside it, according to an incident report.”
Employees were reportedly confused by the item, and sent it to another store before the cops were called in. Law enforcement officials later “disposed of the active grenade by placing it in a Hazmat locker at the sheriff’s office District One office.” Police put the launcher in their property room. Story, here.