‘Rogue killers’; US mercs hired to kill in Yemen; 20% of F-35s still down; Army wants a bigger gun; and just a bit more...

Khashoggi update: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has flown to Riyadh to talk to Saudi leaders about just what happened to U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who has not been seen since entering a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

Maybe it was “rogue killers”? That’s what President Trump said yesterday, engaging in a bit of public speculation of a sort rarely heard from U.S. presidents but which recalled his statement that a “400-pound hacker” might have committed a data theft that 12 Russian operatives were later indicted for.

An end to American lip service to human rights. That’s the take from The Atlantic’s David Graham, who writes: “Past U.S. administrations were willing to overlook abuses by allies—including, notably, Saudi Arabia—but continued to rhetorically support human rights and frown at abuses. The Trump administration is either unwilling or uninterested in going even that far.”

Will U.S. lawmakers step in? “The president has said he doesn't want the Khashoggi matter to scuttle an arms deal with the Saudis,” as NPR wrote. But “when it comes to blocking U.S. arms sales to foreign countries, Congress has a mixed track record,” Marcus Weisgerber and Katie Bo Williams write in Defense One. Read up on the history, here.

From Defense One

Khashoggi Situation Won’t Stop Saudi Arms Sales, But Could Slow Them // Marcus Weisgerber and Katie Bo Williams: When it comes to blocking U.S. arms sales to foreign countries, Congress has a mixed track record.

DHS Downplays Report That Data Thieves Are Selling Millions of Voters’ Data // Patrick Tucker: But your personal data from voting rolls is more public than you likely realize.

Trump Asks, 'I Mean, What's an Ally?' // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: In the president's world, there is no higher question than “who’s getting paid?”

Microsoft, Amazon CEOs Vow to Continue Defense Work After Google Bails on JEDI // Frank Konkel: The leaders of two contenders for the Pentagon’s massive cloud contract sounded off on Google’s decision not to bid.

Human Rights Have Evaporated from America’s Saudi Policy // David A. Graham, The Atlantic: The administration’s reticence about the disappearance of a Saudi journalist is offensive, but it’s also clarifying.

Here’s a 6-Country Defense-Development Effort That Just Might Work // Elisabeth Braw: Among its lessons: sometimes, small is better.

What Happens to the World When America Stops Standing for What’s Right? // Ben Rhodes, The Atlantic: The disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi drives home the consequences of the Trump administration’s refusal to champion democratic values around the globe.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Bradley Peniston. If you find this useful, please consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague.

U.S. mercenaries were hired to kill Yemeni politicians. Buzzfeed’s Aram Rostom reports: “For months in war-torn Yemen, some of America’s most highly trained soldiers worked on a mercenary mission of murky legality to kill prominent clerics and Islamist political figures.” They worked for Spear Operations Group, “incorporated in Delaware and founded by Abraham Golan, a charismatic Hungarian Israeli security contractor who lives outside of Pittsburgh.”

“There was a targeted assassination program in Yemen,” Golan told BuzzFeed News. “I was running it. We did it. It was sanctioned by the UAE within the coalition.” UAE officials did not return Rostom’s calls about it.

In 2015, Golan led an attempt to kill Anssaf Ali Mayo, a leader of Al-Islah, an Islamist political party in Yemen. That attack was reported in the media at the time, but not that it was carried out by a U.S. mercenary company. The Buzzfeed article has black-and-white drone footage purportedly of the attack.

About 20% of F-35s still down. Last week, the Pentagon’s joint progam office ordered all Joint Strike Fighters to stay on the ground until fuel tubes could be inspected. Many were found in need of replacement. “The F-35 Joint Program Office continues to work closely with the military services to prioritize fuel tube replacements using the current spares inventory,” the JPO said in a statement. “Pratt & Whitney is rapidly procuring more parts to minimize the overall repair timeline for the remaining jets. Current inventory will restore about half of the impacted jets to flight operations, and the remaining aircraft are expected to be cleared for flight over the coming weeks.” Defense News has a bit more, here.

Speculation about Mattis’ departure. Foreign Policy’s Lara Seligman has a quick rundown on why people are speculating that the SecDef might be the next cabinet member to leave the Trump administration (hints from POTUS, being shut out of decisions) and who might next run the Pentagon.

Is Mattis “kind of a Democrat,” as Trump said Sunday? No: “I’ve never registered for any political party,” SecDef told AP on Monday.

The U.S. Army wants a bigger gun on its next fighting vehicle. The Bradley’s 25mm cannon stacked up poorly to the 100mm gun on Russia’s BMP3 or even the 30mm guns on the vehicles operated by scores of other countries. “If we want next-generation, I personally do not want to modernize to parity; it makes no sense,” Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team, told an AUSA audience last week, Military.com reports.

Microsoft, Amazon CEOs: we’ll keep doing Pentagon work. The heads of two of the remaining contenders for the Defense Department’s multibillion-dollar JEDI cloud contract criticized Google for its stance. Nextgov’s Frank Konkel reports, here.

And finally today: Which Hollywood actor has given more press conferences at the Pentagon in the past five months than the Pentagon’s spokeswoman? That would be Gerard Butler, who played King “This Is Sparta” Leonidas in “300,” and who plays the captain of a U.S. Navy attack sub in the new “Hunter Killer.” On Monday, he visited the Pentagon as part of the movie’s publicity tour and took questions from press.

DoD spox Dana White last gave a press conference in the briefing room in May, noted Task & Purpose’s Jeff Schogol.

The U.S. Navy helped with the movie’s production, hoping for a “Top Gun”-style recruiting boost. Among its contributions: a few days at sea aboard USS Houston. “I slept in the same room as the XO,” Butler said, as quoted by Military Times. “So when he was working, I was sleeping and vice-versa. There was two bunks in the room. Director Donovan Marsh got to sleep in the crew’s quarters.”

The Hollywood sub? Fans of submarine movies will recall that Houston body-doubled for the exterior shots of USS Dallas in “The Hunt for Red October” — notably its emergency blow.

That’s it for Tuesday; see you tomorrow.