Taiwan Strait passage; China targets US spies; Gitmo, nursing home; Russia’s military whales?; And a bit more.

The U.S. Navy sailed two warships through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday, three weeks after the French navy completed a similar sail-through, Reuters reported Sunday evening.

Involved: the USN’s William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) and Stethem (DDG 63) destroyers.

Why it matters: “Taiwan is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship, which also include a trade war, U.S. sanctions and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the United States also conducts freedom-of-navigation patrols,” Reuters' Idrees Ali writes. “China has repeatedly sent military aircraft and ships to circle Taiwan on exercises in the past few years and worked to isolate it internationally, whittling down its few remaining diplomatic allies.” Read on, here.

The U.S. says Chinese spies “are increasingly recruiting U.S. intelligence officers as part of a widening, sustained campaign to shake loose government secrets,” the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday evening.

What’s new here? “China now appears to be aiming to recruit people whom it previously might not have viewed as susceptible to its overtures. It is deploying familiar strategies of dangling cash and gifts, establishing covert communication methods and tasking recruits with increasingly detailed requests for secrets,” the Journal writes.

For example, “a 63-year-old former State Department employee, admitted in court that she accepted about $20,000 in cash, plane tickets and rent and living expenses for a relative from two Chinese men” in a case from just last week. “One [of the men] was a Ministry of State Security officer and that the other was an intermediary for Chinese intelligence, she acknowledged in her plea.”

Said FBI Director Chris Wray on Friday: “No country poses a broader, more severe intelligence-collection threat than China. They’re doing it through Chinese intelligence services, through state-owned enterprises, through ostensibly private companies, through graduate students and researchers, through a variety of actors all working on behalf of China.”

If that sounds familiar, it’s because Wray said something very similar last July at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado: “Well, I think China, from a counterintelligence perspective, in many ways represents the broadest, most challenging, most significant threat we face as a country. I say that because, for them, it is a whole of state effort. It is economic espionage as well as traditional espionage, it is non-traditional collectors as well as traditional intelligence operatives. It's human sources as well as cyber means. We have economic espionage investigations in every state, all 50 states, that trace back to China. It covers everything from corn seeds in Iowa to wind turbines in Massachusetts and everything in between. The volume of it, the pervasiveness of it, the significance of it is something that I think this country cannot underestimate.”

Here’s a heckuva quote for you about the whole situation: “Russia is the hurricane: It comes in fast and hard. China is climate change: long, slow, pervasive,” said Rob Joyce, senior cybersecurity adviser at the NSA. Read on, here.

Happening today: The fifth annual Future Security Forum (formerly the Future of War Conference) at the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center in Washington, D.C.


  • Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. John Richardson;
  • U.S. Marine Corps Commandant, Gen. Robert B. Neller;
  • Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson; and others.

Find the full agenda for today’s speaking events — which really begin at about 8:55 a.m. EDT — here.

Can’t make it? Not a problem. You can catch the livestream at Defense One, here.

Here’s a tease: Read Peter “Ghost Fleet” Singer’s take on insurgency in 2030, here. And check back with Defense One throughout the day for more related pieces.

From Defense One

Watch: Future Security Forum // Defense One Staff: Defense One partners with New America to bring you the Future Security Forum (formerly the Future of War Conference) in Washington, D.C.

What Insurgency Will Look Like in 2030 // Peter W. Singer: The author of “Ghost Fleet” has some guesses — and some questions that U.S. defenders will have to answer.

Guantanamo Is Becoming a Nursing Home for Its Aging Terror Suspects // Katie Bo Williams: The Pentagon is required to give Gitmo detainees the same medical care as U.S. troops. How's that going to work?

Was That a Small Nuclear Test…or Just a Football Game? // Dale Anderson: A Los Alamos mathematician explains why we need to keep improving our seismic detectors.

One Defense Agency is Building a Bot Army // Aaron Boyd, Nextgov: And it's saving the department hundreds of thousands of work hours a year, a defense official said.

Trump's Approach to National Security: Whatever Benefits Me // David A. Graham, The Atlantic: This president stands apart from his government, but from Russia to DHS, his selective silence on security matters has policy effects.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson. Thanks for reading! And if you’re not subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1945 and 12 years after it opened, U.S. forces liberated Dachau, Nazi Germany’s first concentration camp.

Gitmo commander let go seven weeks early. “Rear Adm. John C. Ring, the commander of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, has been fired following an investigation,” the New York Times’ Carol Rosenberg reported Sunday after an investigation by U.S. Southern Command that began in March.
Why? Due to an apparent “loss of confidence in his ability to command,” SOUTHCOM said in its statement — also reported by AP. He was due to step down in early to mid-June, Rosenberg writes. Brig. Gen. John F. Hussey, Ring’s deputy, now takes over as acting commander.
The firing came a week after Ring went public with concerns about Gitmo’s aging detainees. The Gitmo commander told Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams (and other reporters) that the Geneva Conventions say Gitmo detainees — the oldest is 71 — must be treated, medically, as U.S. troops — but his Pentagon higher-ups haven’t explained how that’s going to happen. Read Williams’ report on Nursing Home Guantanamo Bay, here.
FWIW: The Onion got there first. From 2015: “Guantanamo Bay Begins Construction On Senior Care Wing.”

Happening this week: the Senate will hear from three Joint Staff nominees, Politico’s Connor O’Brien noticed Friday looking over the Senate Armed Services Committee’s plans.
Up first: Adm. William Moran to lead the Navy, and Lt. Gen. David Berger to lead the Marine Corps. That’s scheduled to happen Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. EDT.
Up for Army Chief: Gen. James McConville. That nomination hearing gets under way Thursday at 9 a.m. EDT.
And in between those two hearings on Wednesday, SASC talks nuclear weapons policy, programs and strategy with Under Secretary Of Defense For Acquisition And Sustainment, Ellen Lord, and three others. Details here.

The Pentagon wants nearly $100 million to develop three new INF Treaty-prohibited missiles, Kingston Reif of Arms Control Today reported this weekend.
The new missiles are:

  • a 1,000-km land-based Tomahawk cruise missile;
  • a 3,000- to 4,000-km intermediate range missile;
  • and a 1,000- to 3,000-km medium-range missile.  

What next? The U.S. will formally “withdraw from the INF Treaty on Aug. 2 unless Russia corrects alleged compliance violations with the agreement. The officials said the Pentagon would cancel the [new missile] tests if Russia returns to compliance with the treaty, but the likelihood of that happening is low.” Read on, here.

Quiet contractor surge in Afghanistan. There are more U.S. contractors in Afghanistan today than there were when President Barack Obama declared an end to combat operations in the country in 2014, U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman reported late last week.
The quick read: “More than 5,800 privately employed security personnel are currently operating in Afghanistan under Pentagon contracts,” Shinkman writes. “The last time the number of private security contractors exceeded 5,000 was in April 2014 during the height of the Obama administration’s effort to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan.”
For reference, “When Trump entered the White House in January 2017, the number stood at just over 3,400.” Read on, here.

Thousands of Afghans have gathered in Kabul for a four-day meeting “to agree on a common approach to peace talks with the Taliban,” the Associated Press reports today from the capital.
One big problem: “the gathering may further aggravate divisions within the U.S.-backed government.” Those divisions aren’t anything particularly new, and they revolve chiefly around, well, the country’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who has decided not to attend this week’s talks in Kabul.
Meantime, the Taliban still hold enormous leverage, AP reminds us. “The Taliban effectively control nearly half of Afghanistan and have continued to carry out daily attacks despite their talks with Khalilzad. They have also refused to agree to any cease-fire before international troops withdraw.”
As for peace, the Taliban insist on a withdrawal of U.S. forces — “with the Taliban demanding six months and the U.S. seeking 18 months,” AP writes. And neither party wants to budge from those numbers so far. Read on, here.

And now for something completely different. Norwegians think they may have found a whale of Russian military make. We’ll let Elisabeth Braw of the Royal United Services Institute describe it, since she flagged it on Twitter Sunday: “Fishermen have found a whale wearing a harness. The harness says ‘equipment of St Petersburg’ and has a camera attachment. Russian marine biologists say they don't put harnesses on whales. The Norwegians think it may be a ‘military whale.’” Read the story (in Norwegian, of course), here. Or the AP has its own English-language rendition of what we know so far, here.

And lastly today: We say goodbye to former Indiana Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, who passed away Sunday at the age of 87 in a Virginia hospital, AP reports. “Lugar’s long popularity in Indiana gave him the freedom to concentrate largely on foreign policy and national security matters — a focus highlighted by his collaboration with Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn on a program under which the United States paid to dismantle and secure thousands of nuclear warheads and missiles in the former Soviet states after the Cold War ended.”
About that nuclear effort, AP writes “The Nunn-Lugar program led to about 7,600 Soviet nuclear warheads being deactivated and the destruction of more than 900 intercontinental ballistic missiles by the time Lugar left office... The program is credited with removing all nuclear weapons from the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Belarus."
Lugar is survived by his wife, Charlene, whom he married in 1956, sons Mark, Bob, John and David, and their families, according to the Wall Street Journal.