NZ attack updates far-right terror playbook; Space-weapon test in ’23?; Senate negs Trump ‘emergency’; Acting SecDef denies ‘cost plus 50’; And a bit more.
Apparent white supremacist kills 49 in New Zealand. A gunman entered a mosque in the capital city of Christchurch on Friday, about 1:40 p.m. local time, sprayed bullets into the gathered worshipers, got another gun out of his truck, went back inside, resumed shooting, and left six minutes after the attack began. A similar scene played out at another nearby mosque. Police are holding an alleged shooter and three other people.
The gunman’s video of the shootings quickly spread around the globe. The killer apparently used a helmet-mounted camera to livestream his attack on Facebook, producing a 19-minute clip that was quickly mirrored to YouTube. As well, “The shooter appeared to advertise the attack in advance, warning of a shooting on the far-right-friendly forum 8chan, and linking to the Facebook account,” The Daily Beast reports. He also posted “a 73-page manifesto that was filled with anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim ideas and explanations for an attack,” as the Observer characterized it.
Why’s that a problem? “Terrorists have always sought attention, and the age of social media has enabled them to find it with unprecedented breadth,” Wired wrote in 2017. “They use social networks to recruit, to inspire, and to connect, but they also rely on social media bystanders—everyday, regular people—to spread the impacts of their terror further than they could themselves, and to confuse authorities with misinformation. That amplification encourages more terrorism, inspires copycats, and turns the perpetrators into martyrs. It also traumatizes...the public at large.”
What’s new in 2019? Both “the methodical nature in which the massacre was conducted and how it was apparently engineered for maximum virality,” writes Charlie Warzel in the New York Times. Bellingcat dissects one element: a manifesto whose combination of threats, jokes, sarcasm, and seriousness are at once calls to fellow right-wing extremists and clickbait to those who are not. (And Data & Society founder danah boyd explained last fall exactly how extremist talking points are magnified through social media — and the press.)
Could it happen here? Of course it already has — and such incidents are on the rise. “Over the past decade, attackers motivated by right-wing political ideologies have committed dozens of shootings, bombings and other acts of violence, far more than any other category of domestic extremist,” the Washington Post reported in December. (Check out the charts, if you just want the big picture.)
So what now? It’s long past time to talk about domestic right-wing terrorism, Peter Singer argued last year. The New York Times had a darker take in November: “U.S. Law Enforcement Failed to See the Threat of White Nationalism. Now They Don’t Know How to Stop It.”
From Defense One
Pentagon Wants to Test A Space-Based Weapon in 2023 // Patrick Tucker: Defense officials have asked for $304 million to fund research into space-based lasers and particle beams, and other new forms of missile defense next year.
Russia Racing to Complete National AI Strategy by June 15 // Samuel Bendett: That’s just one of several high-tech deadlines Putin set recently.
Acting SecDef: ‘We Won’t Do Cost-Plus-50’ // Katie Bo Williams: In his first testimony to Congress as acting Pentagon chief, Shanahan called “erroneous” the reports of the proposal to make allies pay more.
Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Acting' Pentagon leaders deliver a rocky budget rollout; DOD warns Europe about China 5G; and more…
CYBERCOM Seeks Troops Who Can Wield Artificial Intelligence // Aaron Boyd, Nextgov: AI won’t solve the military’s shortage of cyber professionals but can act as a force multiplier to ease the strain.
Boeing Has ‘Severe Situation’ After Parts Left in Tankers, Says Top USAF Buyer // Marcus Weisgerber: Will Roper’s harsh assessment comes amid the unrelated grounding of the company’s popular 737 Max jetliner.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief by Bradley Peniston and Ben Watson. Thanks for reading! And if you’re not subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1943, the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet was formed. Today it’s the largest forward-deployed U.S. fleet with operations spanning the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans.
In a new first, the U.S. Congress has rejected a president’s national security declaration on Thursday, 28 days after he announced the national security crisis at America’s southern border. The final tally in the Senate Thursday came in at 59 votes to 41 — so not exactly a veto-proof majority. Which means…
The move sets up President Trump’s first veto, the NYTs writes in preview of what’s likely ahead — which appears to be another House vote on March 26. And that’s not yet expected to pass the two-thirds vote threshold to override Trump’s anticipated veto. From there? “I believe the law allows us to bring it up every six months,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said, “and certainly we would intend to do that.”
Officials in Afghanistan are worried Trump’s envoy wants to become viceroy in Kabul, Hamdullah Mohib, Afghan national security adviser, said Thursday in Washington. His remarks came during a discussion about the progress of negotiations between the White House’s Afghan envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Taliban.
What’s going on here: For months, officials from Kabul have complained of being kept out of the loop in Khalilzad’s process; the Taliban, on the other hand, have steadfastly refused to recognize the legitimacy of Kabul government officials, from President Ghani down well past his NSA Mohib.
But Mobib’s particularly frustrated message Thursday is new and notable, as NBC’s Dan De Luce reported. About Khalilzad, Mohib said, "We think there may be personal ambitions, because there is a lack of information" about negotiations with the Taliban.
“The perception in Afghanistan, people in the government think that perhaps, perhaps all this talk is to create a caretaker government of which he will then become the viceroy,” he continued. “How am I supposed to convince [the Afghan military commanders] that they are not being sold out?"
The U.S. State Department was immediately unhappy with Mohib’s remarks, and issued a statement spelling out as much (h/t AP’s Matt Lee).
Bigger picture: “Debatable whether Mohib’s comments on Khalilzad was the best way to do it,” Reuters’ Idrees Ali tweeted, “but the Afghan governments anger over not being included in talks with the Taliban, about the future of their own country, has been bubbling and clear for some time.” Read more at RFE/RL, here. Or Reuters has more on how aid organizations are planning for multiple outcomes, here.
North Korea is considering exiting nuclear talks with the U.S., Reuters reports this morning as the rhetoric from Pyongyang escalates yet again.
“I want to make it clear that the gangster-like stand of the U.S. will eventually put the situation in danger,” North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said from the North Korean capital Thursday. However, “Personal relations between the two supreme leaders are still good and the chemistry is mysteriously wonderful.” More here.
Ever wonder why Pentagon officials don’t consider alternative force structures or question assumptions? The Government Accountability Office did, and now we have a report (PDF) on the matter. The report’s super-boring title: “Revised Analytic Approach Needed to Support Force Structure Decision-Making”
Why do this study? In case "challenges posed by major powers—China and Russia" rapidly escalate and the U.S. defense sector is too inflexible to adapt. Or, in the report’s own language: “DOD’s 2018 National Defense Strategy continues the department’s shift toward focusing on the challenges posed by major powers—China and Russia. The strategy concludes that DOD must pursue urgent change at a significant scale and starkly warns that failure to properly implement the strategy will rapidly result in a force that is irrelevant to the threats it will face. To implement the change DOD envisions, senior leaders must have quality information.”
One of the three recommended solutions sounds simple enough: “The Secretary of Defense should establish an approach for comparing competing analyses and conducting joint analyses for force structure to support senior leaders as they seek to implement the National Defense Strategy.” Find the other two, here. (h/t @MicahZenko)
"The work that Google is doing in China is indirectly benefiting the Chinese military," Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford told senators Thursday during his budget testimony on Capitol Hill. “It's maybe more of a direct benefit to the Chinese military,” he added.
“Chairman Dunford is right,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., on Twitter Thursday. “American tech companies cooperating with the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] on critical technologies like AI are supporting political oppression and enhancing future PLA capabilities that could be used against us or our allies in war.”
Want to learn more? There’s a podcast for that. Or follow CNAS’s Elsa Kania on Twitter for daily reax to China-related tech news.
For your eyes only: Two F-117 Nighthawks were spotted over the northern Mojave desert this week. Find two images of that alleged sighting via The Drive’s Tyler Rogoway, who gave it a boost on social media.
DARPA is working on “a secure voting system that it hopes will be impervious to hacking,” Vice Motherboard reported Thursday. "The first-of-its-kind system will be designed by an Oregon-based firm called Galois, a longtime government contractor with experience in designing secure and verifiable systems. The system will use fully open source voting software, instead of the closed, proprietary software currently used in the vast majority of voting machines, which no one outside of voting machine testing labs can examine."
What's more, "it will be built on secure open source hardware, made from special secure designs and techniques developed over the last year as part of a special program at DARPA," which, along with Galois, will "be publishing source code for the software online and bring prototypes of the systems to the Def Con Voting Village this summer and next, so that hackers and researchers will be able to freely examine the systems themselves and conduct penetration tests to gauge their security." Read on, here.
The U.S. Army Cyber Command is changing its name to “Information Warfare Operations Command.” Probably. That name could change still; but “cyber” is too vague to truly capture what’s going on with those guys, the commander said Wednesday during a speech in Virginia.
What else to expect: Moving "the Army’s information-related operations out of Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, to Ft. Gordon by May or June of 2020." More from the plan teased this week by Lt. Gen. Stephen Fogarty of Army Cyber Command, here.
And finally today: $700 million has vanished from Venezuela, Reuters reports in a #LongRead investigation into Russian financing across the troubled South American country.
Short read: "Rosneft has poured around $9 billion into Venezuelan projects since 2010 but has yet to break even, Reuters has calculated, based on Rosneft’s annual reports, its public disclosures and the internal documents." Worth the click this weekend, here.
Have a great weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!