Venezuela tries to break off US relations; Shutdown, Day 34; Saudi missile factory?; And a bit more.

Venezuela breaks off relations after U.S. recognizes opposition leader as rightful president. On Wednesday, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets to protest President Nicolás Maduro, twice re-elected in elections of dubious legitimacy. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself the “interim president,” and the Trump administration quickly issued a statement supporting Guaido’s claim.

Breaking off. Maduro responded by declaring a break in “diplomatic and political relations” and ordering all U.S. government officials to leave the country in 72 hours. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined to heed the order, and in a late-Wednesday statement, called on the Venezuelan armed forces to refrain from endangering American personnel or face “appropriate actions.” Washington Post, here.

So what now? Though a senior administration official on Wednesday emphasized economic and diplomatic responses if President Nicolas Maduro “chooses the route of violence,” President Trump has long mulled military action against Maduro, D1’s Katie Bo Williams reports.

“All options.” When the official was asked whether the United States might impose a naval blockade or take some other military action, the response was: “Everything is on the table, all options. The official added that the Maduro regime has “no immediate future. They will have no immediate livelihood, and they will have their days counted.” Read on, here.

From Defense One

Is Trump Setting the Stage for a Military Intervention in Venezuela? // Katie Bo Williams: “Everything is on the table, all options,” an administration official said.

The Wheels of Justice Are Grinding to a Halt // Natasha Bertrand: FBI agents say the government shutdown is costing them confidential sources, postponing indictments, and shutting down investigations.

1 in 6 ALS Patients Served in the Military. We Need a Cure. // Brent Colburn: A new organization aims to fight a neurodegenerative disease that appears to target former servicemembers.

America Still Doesn’t Know What to Do With Terrorism Suspects // Kathy Gilsinan, The Atlantic: Some pre-9/11 plotters have not yet been brought to justice, even as a new generation of suspects is taking their place.

Don’t Play Mob Ball: What Acquisition Pros Can Learn from Kids Soccer // Roger Thrasher: PEOs tend to grab onto a hot new contract approach like elementary schoolers chasing a ball

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. On this day in 1978, a nuclear-powered, ship-hunting Soviet satellite (Cosmos 954) plunged through Earth’s atmosphere and disintegrated, scattering radioactive debris over parts of northern Canada. Recall the day in this archival footage from the Associated Press. Read about the CIA’s efforts to mitigate the damages posed by this “live nuclear reactor re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere,” here.

Shutdown, Day 34: Coast Guard commandant goes viral. On Wednesday, Adm. Karl Schultz posted a video that was part buck-up-the-troops and part venting his fury at U.S. government leaders who are forcing them to work without pay, leading many to resort to food banks and other extraordinary measures.
Commerce secretary: What, they can’t just take out a loan? Roll Call: “I know they are, and I don’t really quite understand why,” Ross said when asked on CNBC about workers getting food from places like shelters.

The Saudis appear to have made their own ballistic missile factory, the Washington Post reported Wednesday after a close examination of PlanetLabs satellite imagery.
Location: al-Watah, southwest of Riyadh. It’s there that researchers in California found what appears to be “a ­rocket-engine production and test facility, probably using solid fuel.” The building did not exist before 2013, according to PlanetLabs archives. It was suspected then that the facility would concern missile production. But the news here is that the scope has transcended what experts suspected at the time.
Said the lead researcher: “The possibility that Saudi Arabia is going to build longer-range missiles and seek nuclear weapons — we imagine that they can’t. But we are maybe underestimating their desire and their capabilities.” That was Jeffrey Lewis, aka “arms control wonk.”
One open question: Who provided the Saudis the technological expertise necessary to build the facility? Lewis thinks the facility shares a lot in common with Chinese-made ones. Read on for how and why, here.

Congrats to CENTCOM’s outgoing Gen. Joseph Votel, who was awarded the a Medal of Appreciation in Israel on Wednesday — a first in the history of U.S.-Israel relations, said the chief spox for the Israeli Defense Forces.

U.S. and Taliban reps have entered their fourth straight day of talks, Reuters reports. The two parties originally planned to talk for just two days in Doha. During those two days, “the talks focused on a roadmap for the withdrawal of the foreign forces and a guarantee that Afghanistan would not be used for hostile acts against the United States and its allies,” a Taliban rep told Reuters.
Today the agenda is supposed to include a “mechanism for a ceasefire and ways to enter into an intra-Afghan dialogue,” that same Taliban source added.  
For the record, Reuters notes, White House Afghan special envoy Zalmay “Khalilzad has held at least four meetings with the Taliban representatives. But there has been no let up in the violence, even as the two sides hold talks over meals in a hotel suite in Doha.” A bit more, here.

The U.S. and Russia are 10 days away from exiting the INF treaty. And perhaps in a “Hail Mary” play, U.S. Under Secretary of State Andrea Thompson told reporters this morning the U.S. wants to talk to Russia about all this on the sides of a UN meeting next week in Beijing.
At issue: Russia’s Novator 9M729 missile, "a new cruise missile that the U.S. says violates the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty... which bars either side from stationing short- and intermediate-range, land-based missiles in Europe."
The INF’s minimum range for ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles: 500 kms.
Max. range of Russia’s new cruise missile, according to Russia: 480 kms. Russia’s numbers, as you may imagine, has its skeptics.

The war in Afghanistan claimed another American life — this time Staff Sgt. Joshua Beale, 32, of Carrollton, Virginia. He died Tuesday "as a result of injuries sustained from enemy small arms fire during combat operations in Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan Province," the Pentagon announced Wednesday.
Beale was a Green Beret who leaves behind a wife and two children, Stars and Stripes reports. He was on his third trip to Afghanistan, and was a graduate of Ranger school, too.
Not to be forgotten: “Last week, 26-year-old Army Ranger Cameron Meddock of Spearman, Texas, became the first U.S. casualty this year in Afghanistan,” USA Today reminds us.

In Afghanistan today: An airstrike in Helmand killed 16 civilians, “mostly women and children,” AP reports from Kabul. It’s unclear just yet if the aircraft dropping the bomb was from Afghanistan, the U.S. or another NATO nation. But it happened “during heavy fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban” in Sangin district.

China just detained an Australian on “national security” grounds, this time a writer and novelist, AP reports.
Detained: Yang Hengjun, who "had been living in New York as a visiting scholar at Columbia University with his wife and her child and had returned to China last week."
Recall that China likewise detained two Canadians last month — “entrepreneur Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig, on national security charges in what was widely seen as retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States.”
Said Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne: “At this stage there is no evidence of such a connection. I’d be concerned if there was an indication of that. So we are calling on the Chinese authorities to ensure this matter is dealt with transparently and fairly.” More here.

Like Wikileaks, but with Russian documents. That, at least, is how the Daily Beast is describing the new Distributed Denial of Secrecy website. “Co-founder Emma Best said the Russian leaks, slated for release Friday, will bring into one place dozens of different archives of hacked material that, at best, have been difficult to locate, and in some cases appear to have disappeared entirely from the web. ‘Stuff from politicians, journalists, bankers, folks in oligarch and religious circles, nationalists, separatists, terrorists operating in Ukraine,” said Best, a national-security journalist and transparency activist. “Hundreds of thousands of emails, Skype and Facebook messages, along with lots of docs.’” Read more, here.

And finally today, because of course: Blackwater founder Erik Prince is getting a biopic, The Hollywood Reporter, er, reported Wednesday.
Source material: Prince's autobiography, "Civilian Warriors" and a 2009 Vanity Fair article by Adam Ciralsky titled "Tycoon, Contractor, Soldier, Spy."
Working title: “Prince of War.”
Director: Michaël R. Roskam, who has done some things you may have seen, though none are ringing any bells for us.
More to come? Since Prince is still out there pitching his business to conflicts as disparate as Africa and China, we sort of assume this one could have a sequel.