Looser limits on cyber attacks; Trump retaliates against critic; Marines in North African gunfight; War and peace is not fake news; and just a bit more...

Trump loosens restrictions on cyber-attacking, The Wall Street Journal reports. One WH official called it an “offensive step forward” that’s reportedly “intended to help support military operations, deter foreign election influence and thwart intellectual property theft by meeting such threats with more forceful responses.”

Key point: It’s a reversal of an Obama-era policy called “Presidential Policy Directive 20, that had mapped out an elaborate interagency process that must be followed before U.S. use of cyberattacks, particularly those geared at foreign adversaries.”

Affected by the change: “the Defense Department as well as other federal agencies,” said an administration official, without going into further detail. Read on (paywall alert), here.

Speaking of cyber: There’s still some work to be done ahead of the midterms. A three-day election hacking “wargame” exercise with state, local, federal and industry participants this week "identified areas we need to collectively focus on ahead of the midterm elections," Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced Wednesday in a statement.

Writes NextGov’s Joseph Marks: “The war game included malware infecting voting machines, voter database hacking, spear phishing targeting election officials, social media manipulation and DDOS attacks on election websites.”

From Defense One

Talking to the Taliban While Still Fighting the Taliban // Krishnadev Calamur, The Atlantic: Nearly a year since the Trump administration rolled out its South Asia strategy, carnage in Afghanistan continues even as negotiations for peace inch ahead.

How US and European Aims Overlap in the Middle East // Mona Yacoubian, Council on Foreign Relations: Although deep disconnects plague transatlantic cooperation, the two sides still share a common interest in stabilizing this volatile region.

DARPA Wants to Make Underground Maps on the Fly // Jack Corrigan: The agency is challenging teams to build systems that chart caves, tunnels and underground urban infrastructure.

War & Peace (Is Not Fake News) // Executive Editor Kevin Baron: Today, we join in the Boston Globe's day of unity with editorial boards and publishers in support of the free press.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief  by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. On this day in 1914, Austrian-born Adolf Hitler volunteered to fight with the Bavarian army.

In case you didn’t have cable news on at all Wednesday, President Trump pulled former CIA Director John Brennan’s clearance. Here’s The New York Times with the topline read: “President Trump revoked the security clearance of John O. Brennan, the former C.I.A. director under President Barack Obama, on Wednesday in a striking act of retaliation against an outspoken critic.”
Common thread: “Step by step, from the moment 10 days into his administration that he fired the acting attorney general, Sally Q. Yates, Mr. Trump has overseen the removal of top national security officials who have defied him or worked at senior levels of the Russia investigation. They include James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director; Andrew G. McCabe, the former F.B.I. deputy director; and Peter Strzok, the former F.B.I. counterintelligence agent who helped oversee the Hillary Clinton email inquiry and the Russia investigation and disparaged Mr. Trump in a series of inflammatory texts.” Continue reading, here.
POTUS45 confirmed it’s retaliation, according to NBC’s Dafna Linzer: “I call it the rigged witch hunt, [it] is a sham,” Mr. Trump said in an in­ter­view. “And these peo­ple led it! So I think it’s some­thing that had to be done.”
Brennan fired back: “Mr. Trump’s claims of no collusion are, in a word, hogwash,” he writes in a Times oped. “Now more than ever, it is critically important that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his team of investigators be allowed to complete their work without interference — from Mr. Trump or anyone else — so that all Americans can get the answers they so rightly deserve.”
Noticed CNN’s Kaitlan Collins: “The date on President Trump's statement about revoking John Brennan's security clearance? July 26. Three weeks ago.” So why now? NBC’s Katy Tur: “Certainly will move the Omarosa news down the rundown.”
What it means: “Another norm falls victim to Trump as he turns the power of government against his critics,” SAIS’ Eliot Cohen wrote two weeks ago in his prescient “Pulling Security Clearances Is Just the Start.”

Build the American military you want — and can afford with a new online “Interactive Force Structure Tool” from the Congressional Budget Office.
The quick pitch: By moving a variety of sliders back and forth, you can “see the effects on the Department of Defense’s total operation and support costs and on the size of the military of adding or subtracting tanks, ships, aircraft, and other units.”
Where the CBOs gets its numbers: From the Pentagon’s “fiscal year 2019 budget submission.” Now dive in, here.

ICYMI (because we all did): “2 Marines Received Valor Awards For Secret Gunfight Against Al Qaeda In North Africa,” Task & Purpose’s Marine-heavy crew reported Wednesday.
The antagonists: al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Location: Classified. But the list of likely candidates includes Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara.
And note the date of the attack, which we’re just learning about now: February 28, 2017. Read on, here.

How is “denuclearizing” North Korea going, you ask? Not terribly well still. But we’ll let MIT’s Vipin Narang fill you in: “North Korea wants a declaration of peace before working toward denuclearization. They said it explicitly yesterday,” Narang tweeted Wednesday — the same day “the [White House] announced new sanctions against entities doing business with North Korea. So… that's not a declaration of peace.”
Which means there has been no real progress toward denuclearization. The report he referenced: This from The New York Times on those new sanctions against Pyongyang.
BTW: If you’re catching up on U.S.-North Korean diplomacy, former Pentagon official Van Jackson summarized State Secretary Mike Pompeo’s progress since the famous Trump-Kim summit as such:

  • June: NK will denuclearize quickly.
  • July: NK will denuclearize, no timeline.
  • Early August: NK is absolutely making progress toward denuclearization (Pompeo to Congress quote).
  • Late August: NK could possibly make progress toward denuclearization.

BTW, pt. 2: Jeffrey Lewis’s fictionalization of a future war with North Korea is getting very interesting. Listen to Lewis explain a lot of the work that went into his novel, including tracking South Korea’s various missiles, at Lewis’s “Arms Control Wonk” podcast, here.

And finally today: Bomb-sniffing tech expands in California. The 93-station rail system in Los Angeles will be America’s first to use explosive-detecting scanners, the L.A. Times reported Wednesday.
The new machines “cost about $100,000 each and can process more than 2,000 people an hour.” They also “resemble a small trunk on wheels. They can be pointed toward an escalator or a station entrance, and can scan people from 30 feet away without requiring people to line up or slow down.”
See what the machines’ split-screen display looks like, and how they work, in the rest of the story, here.