Tillerson talks to Turkey sans translator; White House threatens Moscow over cyber attack; Russian bots push pro-gun messages after Parkland shooting; Anti-brain weapons in Cuba; and just a bit more...
Rex Tillerson doesn’t need a translator. “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met for more than three and a half hours of tough discussions with Turkish leaders in an attempt to ease increasing tensions with a key NATO ally,” CNN reported Thursday evening. The catch: “Tillerson reportedly wasn't accompanied by an American translator, any aides or a note-taker.”
The meeting happened last night in Ankara, The Wall Street Journal reports, noting Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu served as the lone translator during the high-level exchange.
And it comes at a particularly delicate time in U.S.-Turkey relations, with the Syrian war morphing into wider conflicts with last week’s attacks involving Russia and the U.S., Turkey and Syrian Kurds, Israel and Hezbollah and Syria and Israel.
So, what did they decide? To meet again today. “We’re still working,” said RexT to reporters after last night’s meeting.
FWIW, before his stop in Ankara, Tillerson painted this picture of the challenges ahead between the two NATO pals: “We have some differences about tactically how to achieve the objectives. But our objectives are to defeat ISIS, to defeat terrorism, to reduce violence and protect people and support a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Syria that would bring great benefits not only for Syria, but also for Lebanon and other neighboring countries,”
SecDef Mattis, meanwhile, is in Brussels where he met with Turkish officials on Wednesday, the Journal writes. Accompanying Mattis: Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of NATO military forces.
Said Mattis after that meeting: “[Syria] is probably the most complex security situation, fighting situation I have seen in over four decades of dealing with fights... We are finding common ground. And there are areas of uncommon ground, where sometimes war just gives you bad alternatives to choose from.”
From Defense One
White House Threatens 'Consequences' for 2017 Russian Cyber Attack // Patrick Tucker: In an unusual public statement, the White House fingered Russia and said it would respond with unspecified "international consequences" to NotPetya.
Here's What Invisible Brain Weapons Did to U.S. Diplomatic Workers in Cuba // Patrick Tucker: The long-awaited report names no culprits and fails even to determine how the damage was done. But it documents real, lasting damage.
Beijing Has Started Giving Latin American Generals 'Lavish,' All-Expenses-Paid Trips to China // Caroline Houck: Inspired by the U.S.'s own programs to train and befriend foreign officers at American military institutions, Beijing is wooing the militaries of the U.S.'s neighbors.
Will the Israeli-Iranian Showdown Be in Syria — or New York? // Trita Parsi: Iran's various rivals and opponents are seeking a UN resolution that would return Tehran to pariah status and undermine its regional gains.
DHS to Scrutinize Government Supply Chain for Cyber Risks //Nextgov’s Joseph Marks: The department wants to integrate cyber vetting into existing supply chain checks.
Putin Is Playing a Dangerous Game in Syria // New York University’s Mark Galeotti: Is he in control in Syria, or stuck in the sand? The honest answer: a bit of both.
The Global Business Brief, February 15 // Marcus Weisgerber: Inside the Pentagon's 2019 budget request; GD to buy CSRA; Lockheed challenges Air Force data request and a lot more.
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.
Pro-gun Russian bots flood Twitter after school shooting. “Each new breaking-news situation is an opportunity for trolls to grab attention, provoke emotions, and spread propaganda,” writes Wired, noting that the U.S.’s 30th mass shooting in six weeks was no different. “On RoBhat Labs’ Botcheck.me, a website created by two Berkeley students to track 1500 political propaganda bots, all of the top two-word phrases used in the last 24 hours—excluding President Trump’s name—are related to the tragedy.”
How do we know about the Russian involvement? The Hamilton 58 dashboard at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, among other tools. Invaluable for understanding the current online influence environment, the site tracks and charts “hashtags, topics and URLs promoted by Russia-linked influence networks on Twitter. Content is not necessarily produced or created by Russian government operatives, although that is sometimes the case. Instead, the network often opportunistically amplifies content created by third parties not directly linked to Russia. Common themes for amplification include content attacking the U.S. and Europe, conspiracy theories and disinformation. Russian influence operations also frequently promote extremism and divisive politics in Western countries.”
Reminder, from Twitter’s own report into 2016 election meddling: Russia-controlled bot networks achieve outside influence by gaming social-media platforms’ “trending” and newsfeed algorithms. By acting in concert, they can propel fake, misleading, and divisive posts onto more and more screens, wrote New America’s Peter W. Singer.
What to do? Two ICYMIs: “To address continued Russian disinformation campaigns, we need to develop a national counter-disinformation strategy,” wrote CIA agent-turned-Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas. Oh, and it would be helpful if the president and his followers would stop spreading Moscow’s messages, wrote David P. Fidler of the Council on Foreign Relations, who is also a professor of law and cybersecurity at Indiana University.
The Olympics aren’t over yet, but that’s not keeping the U.S. military from wargaming with regional partners near the Korean peninsula.
Two examples: Exercise Cope North "kicked off Wednesday at Andersen Air Force Base, [and] involves 2,850 troops and planes from the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Japan Air Self-Defense Force and Royal Australian Air Force," Stars and Stripes reported Thursday. Involved: "More than 100 warplanes will fly over Guam... [to test] the airpower of the United States and its allies in the Western Pacific." The drills run through March 2.
The second: “Japan and the United States will hold a tabletop exercise for ballistic missile defense on a larger scale than before,” Japan Times reports of an exercise beginning today and running through Feb. 23. The goal, according to Japan’s Self-Defense Forces: To “connect their networks and confirm the process of jointly detecting, tracking and intercepting hypothetical missiles,” as well as “conduct a simulated exercise for other air defense operations involving their fighter jets.” Tiny bit more, here.
Who said a “bloody nose” strike on North Korea was a good idea? Whoever it was, it’s not happening, according to “senators of both parties and a Trump administration official,” the Associated Press reported Thursday. “A senior White House official, at a briefing Wednesday, told lawmakers no such approach has been adopted, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and James Risch, R-Idaho, said at a Senate hearing Thursday.”
Said Risch: "We were told clearly by administration people about as high up as it gets that there is no such thing as a 'bloody nose' strategy, that they've never talked about, they've never considered it, they've never used that term, and it's not something that that people ought to be talking about."
Wanna know a little more about this bloody nose option? Former U.S. Army fires officer, Luke O’Brien has this take at Foreign Policy from about three weeks ago, likening it to punching a man who happens to be holding a live hand grenade.
A U.S. carrier just transited the South China Sea, U.S. Pacific Command announced Thursday evening. The flattop in question: USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) and the more than 5,500 sailors on board. It’s not entirely clear when the passage occurred, but you can see images of the “regularly-scheduled” deployment here.
Where are they now? The carrier and guided-missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) arrived to Manila, Philippines, this morning, CVN-70’s PAOs report this morning.
Fleet tracker: CVN-70 is currently “the Navy’s only permanently forward-deployed aircraft carrier,” U.S. Naval Institute News reported on Monday. And for the record, there are presently 280 U.S. Navy ships “underway” around the globe. Find out which ones are where over here.
NATO will create an official training mission in Iraq, and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is already a fan, Defense News reported Thursday.
A big part of the plan: “ alliance trainers [who] will likely focus in areas such as counter-IED, military medicine and logistics.”
Not a part of the plan: Anything that would put these alliance trainers in combat. Lots more details still to be worked out, but you can read on, here.
And finally this week: The U.S. Army isn’t the only service who wants its non-deployable troops to exit the military’s ranks. The Washington Post reports this is a whole-of-military approach.
By the Pentagon’s estimates, “13 to 14 percent of the military — an estimated 286,000 service members — are considered unable to deploy,” Robert L. Wilkie, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on personnel and readiness on Wednesday.
Said Wilkie: "The situation we face today is really unlike anything we have faced, certainly in the post-World War II era." There are a few exceptions to this new rule, and you can find out what those are here.
Have a safe weekend, gang. And we’ll catch you again on Tuesday!