Tensions rise with Riyadh; Cyber holes in US weapons; Progress in Syrian buffer zone; When Trump invokes national security; And a bit more.
America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia is getting a bit dicey after Turkish media alleged Riyadh sent an assassination squad to Istanbul and the Washington Post reported “U.S. intelligence intercepted communications of Saudi officials discussing a plan to capture” the prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi before his disappearance eight days ago after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Vice President Mike Pence went on Hugh Hewitt’s radio program this morning to say America is ready to help find Khashoggi.
“[T]he free world deserves answers,” Pence said. “And the reports that a Saudi Arabian journalist may have been tragically murdered in Turkey should be deeply concerning to everyone who cherishes a freedom of the press and human rights across the globe.” Listen to that Pence-Hewitt chat in full, here.
About those intercepted comms: the info came to the Post via “a person familiar with the information.” The source also alleged "The Saudis wanted to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia and lay hands on him there.”
Adding to the intrigue, this video allegedly from Turkish authorities shared with the Post and also published by Turkish media on Tuesday. The Associated Press breaks down what can be learned from that video over here.
Making things extra suspicious: That alleged squad of Saudis arrived in Istanbul the day Khashoggi disappeared — and that team of 15 dudes departed for Cairo and Dubai by the end of the day.
Peruse some open-source info that appears to corroborate the Saudi flight plan here, thanks to Bellingcat’s award-winning investigator Christiaan Triebert.
Turkish media released quite a bit more info on alleged members of the 15-man squad; Triebert has done a superb job of curating what’s out there in that thread linked to above (and here).
Said U.S. President Donald Trump of the situation on Monday: "I don't like hearing about it and hopefully that will sort itself out."
From Defense One
Many of the US Military’s Newest Weapons Have Major Cyber Vulnerabilities: GAO // Patrick Tucker: Testers achieved access with simple tools, default passwords, and long lists of known-yet-unfixed vulnerabilities.
All the Times Trump Has Invoked ‘National Security’ // Nate Christiansen: The president does so a lot — mostly in regard to immigration and trade.
Who Will Replace Nikki Haley? // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: Trump has increasingly sought advisers who are less apt to push back on his disruptive agenda.
The White House National Cyber Strategy: Continuity with a Hint of Hyperbole // Alex Grigsby, Council on Foreign Relations: There seems to be a general consensus that the new cyber strategy is a continuation of existing policy. However, the us-versus-them approach the strategy takes could pose a problem.
The Navy’s Terrible Accident Record Is Now Hidden From Public View // Jason Paladino, The Atlantic: The latest incidence of a government agency quietly removing data from its website demonstrates the dangers of an ever-changing internet.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson, Katie Bo Williams, and Bradley Peniston. If you find this useful, please consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. On this day in 1845, the U.S. Naval School opened in Annapolis, Md. We know it today as the U.S. Naval Academy.
The “worst storm to hit the Florida panhandle in a century” is about to make landfall. That anyway is how AP describes what’s coming after Florida Gov. Rick Scott predicted Category 4 Hurricane Michael will have “horrible” impacts on the region.
Some 3,500 Florida National Guardsmen are on standby to assist, and FEMA has another 3,000 ready to go as well.
Georgia has 1,500 Guardsmen on standby, and equipment staging areas have been established in Atlanta and at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. Keep up with the latest over at AP, here or the Weather Channel, here.
Jargon watch: Global dynamic overmatch. As in, "The Army must undergo a fundamental mindset shift in the effort to achieve Global Dynamic Overmatch." That’s according to U.S. Army Futures Command Deputy Chief, Lt. Gen Richardson, speaking this week at the Associated of the United States Army conference in Washington.
Context: An official with the Pentagon's Close Combat Lethality Task Force said the unit needs more money. “DoD authorized $815 million to improve the lethality of 4,005 Army small units and $485 million for 685 Marine small units for fiscal 2019...Much of the money will be spent on new equipment, such as the next-generation rifle and new machine guns, but funding for 2020 and beyond is questionable." More from Military.com, here. (h/t WaPo’s @GregJaffe)
This week: U.S. airstrike #26 (as far as we know) against al-Shabab in Somalia. U.S. Africa Command announced the strike about this time on Tuesday.
Stay tuned: We’ll be speaking with the authors of a new book on al-Shabab for this week’s Defense One Radio podcast. Subscribe here.
A new buffer zone in northern Syria is coming right along now that it’s been “cleared of heavy armaments ahead of time but a new deadline loomed Wednesday for the tougher task of Turkey convincing jihadists to pull out their fighters,” Agence France-Presse reports.
This zone is the plan Turkey and Russia agreed to in order to delay the Syrian regime’s offensive on rebel-held Idlib province. “The accord called for a complete withdrawal of all heavy weapons from the planned buffer by Wednesday, and rebels and jihadists met that deadline a day early,” AFP writes.
Next up: “the zone must be free by next Monday of all jihadists, including those of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the region's dominant force led by former Al-Qaeda fighters.” And that’s not expected to go nearly as smoothly.
Meanwhile in southern Syria, another humanitarian crisis appears to be building “As towns switched from opposition to government control, [and] international aid groups were forced to halt their crucial health, food and protection services as they had no government authorisation to work,” AFP’s Maya Gebeily reported Monday on the city of Deraa — the so-called birthplace of the Syrian uprisings in 2011.
Staged propaganda photos in Iraq and Syria? Various regional actors involved in the complex fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria are staging military maneuvers in order to obtain propaganda images, according to UK Army Maj. Gen. Felix Gedney, who just finished a year as deputy commander of that mission. Gedney warned this week that Russian and Syrian forces were using the information domain far more effectively than the Operation Inherent Resolve coalition has been able to counter them.
One example of the tactic, he told Defense One: After Kurdistan’s independence referendum failed last year, tensions across the Kurdish defense line often descended into violence—particularly after the lines shifted back to their 2014 positions. “There were instances of violence crossing the line that at times stopped pretty much as soon as they got pictures they needed and didn't escalate,” Gedney said. “None of them wanted to go to war. They wanted a picture. They wanted those pictures to get them back out for their information campaign.”
But those flashpoints were no less real for being staged, Gedney said. Lethal force was used. “They’re real incidents, but they're being staged for information effect rather than actually achieving any tactical operational gain on the ground in terms of that maneuver.”
IO no-show. One regional actor in Iraq and Syria that Gedney hasn’t seen staging information operations that have affected the OIR mission? Iran. “The Russian activity targeted against the West for Iraq and Syria was the real bit that we saw,” he said, suggesting that the mission’s physical proximity to Russian and Syrian regime forces operating in Syria was part of the reason for that.
Mattis: improve combat-jet readiness — on the double. The SecDef has ordered the Air Force and Navy to boost F-35, F-22, F-16, and F-18 readiness rates to 80 percent in just one year's time. His order came in a Sept. 17 memo to the secretaries of the Army, Air Force and Navy, along with acquisition head Ellen Lord and acting Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness Stephanie Barna, Defense News reports, here.
Kim-Trump Summit 2.0 won’t happen before the U.S. midterm elections on November 6, Trump said Tuesday. (Reuters)
What did SecState Pompeo take away from his weekend trip to North Korea? "We can now see a path where we can achieve the ultimate goal, which is the full and final, verified denuclearization of North Korea." More at ABC News, here.
A massive weapons cache is on fire in northern Ukraine and the military has now sent aircraft to help put out the flames, AFP reports this morning from Kiev. “More than 12,000 people were evacuated after ammunition stored at the depot near the village of Druzhba began exploding early on Tuesday, sparking a huge blaze.”
Stored in that location: “about 70,000 tonnes of ammunition.” Ukrainian authorities are treating the case as a possible instance of sabotage — with thinly-veiled references to Russian-backed separatists, AFP reports. A bit more here.
This morning in Russia: A priest blessed the “Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft at the launch pad of the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome,” and AFP’s Kirill Kudryavtev has a photo of the scene here.
For your ears only: How biology may be helping determine your feelings about national security, immigration and politics at large in this week’s episode of the Hidden Brain podcast over at NPR. Set aside 26 minutes this week and listen to that one, here.
And finally today: See World War I in color — and in 3D? Lord of the Rings Director Peter Jackson has finished restoring old footage of the Great War and will be screening it at the London Film Festival next week. The film, “They Shall Not Grow Old,” also features audio interviews with veterans of the war conducted by the BBC in 1964. Read a bit more about the project over at AFP, here. Or watch the trailer for yourself, here.