WH: US troops will stay in Syria to defeat ISIS; McMaster’s parting words on Russia; Trump sending Guard troops to the border?; Houthi missile hits Saudi tanker; Dunford’s quiet meeting with Qatar; And a bit more.
President Trump now wants American troops to stay in Syria at least until ISIS is defeated, the White House announced this morning. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats teased a Syria-policy announcement at a breakfast roundtable in Washington, but couldn't elaborate at the time. More on this developing story from NBC News and the Washington Post.
CENTCOM’s Gen. Votel made his pitch for staying in Syria to help stabilize what can be stabilized now that ISIS has lost some 90 percent of the territory it once held across Iraq and Syria. That happened Tuesday at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Read more from Defense One’s Caroline Houck, here; or via Washington Post, here.
H.R. McMaster’s parting words: “We have failed to impose sufficient costs” on Russia, the now-fired national security adviser told a crowd Tuesday evening at the Atlantic Council think tank in the nation’s capital, the Washington Post reported.
McMaster dinged Russia for shady tactics “deliberately designed to achieve objectives while falling below the target state’s threshold for military response... some nations have looked the other way in the face of these threats. Russia brazenly, and implausibly denies its actions, and we have failed to impose sufficient costs.”
Worth noting: McMaster was seated not far from three distinguished visitors to the White House on Tuesday — the presidents of Estonia and Latvia and the foreign minister of Lithuania. “Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have all been targeted by Russia’s so-called hybrid warfare, a pernicious form of aggression that combines political, economic, informational and cyber-assaults against sovereign nations,” McMaster said, not missing the occasion. Read more for the general’s four-part prescription on how to respond to Russia now, here.
POTUS’s perspective: “Nobody has been tougher on Russia than I have,” President Trump told reporters Tuesday at a pool spray in the White House. “Getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Maybe we will, maybe we won’t.”
From Defense One
A Day of Whiplash in the US's Syria Policy // Caroline Houck: At simultaneous live events, the president and military leaders offered conflicting views about America's continuing involvement.
How to Deal With Russian Information Warfare? Ask Sweden's Subhunters // Atlantic Council’s Elisabeth Braw: Other nations can learn from the Swedes' long experience with mysterious incidents followed by disinformation campaigns.
Saudi Crown Prince: Iran's Supreme Leader 'Makes Hitler Look Good' // The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg: In a wide-ranging conversation, Prince Mohammed bin Salman also recognized the Jewish people's right to "their own land."
The Pentagon is Letting Hackers Loose on Its Travel Management System // Nextgov’s Jack Corrigan: Ethical hackers will scour the platform for security gaps in the department's fifth bug bounty program.
Welcome to this Wednesday 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. OTD1949: The United States and 11 other nations establish NATO.
POTUS almost tried to send active duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, and confusion resulted almost immediately. The occasion came out of remarks to the press Tuesday about where his head is at when it comes to border security.
Trump: "Until we can have a wall and proper security, we're going to be guarding our border with the military. That's a big step. We really haven't done that before."
That would indeed be a problem — both of Congressional authorization and funding appropriations, as The Atlantic’s Priscilla Alvarez reported on Monday. Today at its borders, the U.S. military can support "federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in counterdrug and counterterrorism efforts, and in certain border-related immigration and smuggling crimes.” Anything beyond that would require those two big changes mentioned above.
WH follow-up: Coming in a little past 8 p.m., “the White House provided a statement to the pool clarifying that Trump was, in fact, referring to the National Guard — a step taken by George W. Bush and Obama — when he talked about having the military secure the border,” reported Buzzfeed News’s Legal Editor Chris Geidner.
Whack-a-mole, Russian-trolls-on-Facebook edition. Facebook just found 138 more group pages, 70 additional personal accounts, and 65 more Instagram accounts run by the Russian trolls of the Internet Research Agency, Facebook announced quietly on Tuesday in a post they titled, “Authenticity Matters: The IRA Has No Place on Facebook.”
Cell-phone-tapping towers detected in DC. The Associated Press reported Tuesday on the implications of a March 26 letter to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, from the Department of Homeland Security. In the letter, DHS told Wyden it had “identified suspected unauthorized cell-site simulators in the nation’s capital. The agency said it had not determined the type of devices in use or who might have been operating them. Nor did it say how many it detected or where.”
Known popularly as "Stingrays," these have been covertly used by U.S. law enforcement for a number of years now. "The devices work by tricking mobile devices into locking onto them instead of legitimate cell towers, revealing the exact location of a particular cellphone."
The risks: "More sophisticated versions can eavesdrop on calls by forcing phones to step down to older, unencrypted 2G wireless technology. Some attempt to plant malware."
The more you know: Every embassy “worth their salt” has a cell tower simulator installed, one security rep told AP. “The Russians’ equipment is so powerful it can track targets a mile away, he said.” More here.
Trump’s new tariffs on China target $50 billion in Chinese electronics, aerospace and machinery goods, the Washington Post reports in the latest of what appears to be a growing “tit-for-tat trade conflict.”
The short read: “Trump’s latest protectionist move threatens to upend global supply chains for corporations such as Apple and Dell, raise prices for American consumers who have grown accustomed to inexpensive electronics and aggravate tensions between the world’s two largest economies.”
Interesting note: “U.S. officials used algorithms to identify products that benefited from China’s state-directed campaign of technology acquisition while eliminating those whose inclusion would disrupt the U.S. economy,” the Post writes.
For its part, Beijing's foreign ministry said it “strongly condemns and firmly opposes” the decision — and vows to strike back. “As the Chinese saying goes, it is only polite to reciprocate. The Chinese side will resort to the WTO dispute settlement mechanism and take corresponding measures of equal scale and strength against U.S. products in accordance with Chinese law.” More here.
Just off the western coast of Yemen, Houthi rebels fired a missile and struck a Saudi oil tanker Tuesday afternoon, the New York Times reported. "The tanker was in international waters west of Al Hudaydah, according to a statement by the Saudi coalition spokesman, Col. Turki al-Malki. He did not disclose the extent of the damage... but he hinted that the stricken vessel might be leaking fuel."
The Houthis say the attack was a response to an alleged Saudi airstrike in nearby Hodeidah on Monday. That strike killed "at least 14 people, including children... after they ventured outside their residential building to get some fresh air in the stifling midmorning heat," the Times reported separately Monday.
In neighboring Djibouti, a U.S. Marine Corps AV-8 Harrier jet crashed on Tuesday shortly after taking off from the runway at Camp Lemonnier, ABC News’ Luis Martinez reported. The jet was in the area for the Alligator Dagger drills — what the USMC calls “the largest regional amphibious combat rehearsal.” Read a bit more about that, here.
Yesterday, Joint Chiefs Chairman Dunford met with his Qatari counterpart at the Pentagon in a visit not listed on the Defense Department’s public schedule for Tuesday. Readout from that quiet event — with important implications for U.S.-Iran relations, the U.S.-Saudi relationship, and the ongoing war in Yemen (just to list a few) — here.
Total cost of buying the Pentagon’s major weapons jumps 10 percent — but that’s mostly because a helicopter purchase was added to the list, Defense News reports off the new Selected Acquisition Report. The total projected cost grew from $1.74 trillion to $1.92 trillion; the new program is CH-47F Modernized Cargo Helicopter (CH-47F Block II). Only two of the 83 programs were found to have substantially overrun their cost estimates — in wonktalk, to be in a Nunn-McCurdy breach. More, here.
Air Force, Marine chiefs meet for first time in seven years. To be precise, the recent confab between Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein was the first recent meeting between just the two chiefs (plus staff) of their respective services. “The Marine Corps and Air Force are facing a host of common challenges to include pricing and sustainability for the F-35 and rising threats from drone aircraft that has the Corps once again planning for ground based air defense, which prompted the high-level meeting,” reports Marine Corps Times, here.
DoD appointee resigns after his social-media posts about Obama-birther conspiracies surface. CNN: “Todd Johnson is a former Trump campaign state director in New Mexico who joined the Department of Defense in 2017 as an advance officer, a Pentagon employee with the sensitive task of providing logistical support related to the secretary's events and appearances domestically and abroad. A CNN KFile review of his social media found that Johnson posted birther conspiracies about then-President Barack Obama and shared a video that claimed Obama was the Antichrist.” More, here.
Also: USA Today’s Steve Reilly tweets: “Note that President Trump also made birther postings around the same time as this appointee, who is now resigning in the wake of their discovery.”
This week in transparency: A redacted transcript from a Guantanamo military commission hearing — specifically, the “9/11 case over whether defendants will be allowed to publicly identify the countries that hosted CIA black sites” — that transcript just publicly identified "at least one of those countries... Twice," Steve Vladeck, national security law professor, noticed Tuesday on Twitter.
NATO chief visits Lockheed’s F-35 plant in Texas on Thursday, the alliance announced Tuesday evening. While in Dallas, Secretary Jens Stoltenberg will also drop by a “Town Hall event” at Southern Methodist University.
On Friday, Stoltenberg hits up U.S. Strategic Command HQs at Nebraska's Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. Then it's off to Sheppard Air Force Base, near the Texas-Oklahoma border, to talk to troops in the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program.
And his last planned stop is Colorado Springs' Peterson Air Force Base, "where he will visit North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and US Northern Command (NORTHCOM), together with Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan."
And finally this morning: A great photo of “Air Force aircraft fly in formation near Los Angeles” to help mark the start of the LA Dodgers' 2018 baseball season.
Now watch a nice video edit of the flyover, combining shots from the ground and air, over at DVIDS, here.