Trump falls for a deep fake; Shanahan and a straw man; Space Force clears Senate committee; WH’s ‘end run’ around Congress to arm the Saudis; And a bit more.
“Our president is falling for deepfakes. Or knows it's fake and doesn't care,” Politico’s cybersecurity reporter Tim Starks wrote on Twitter Thursday evening after Trump tweeted a doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to his 60.5 million followers, and added in all caps, “PELOSI STAMMERS THROUGH NEWS CONFERENCE.”
“The origin of the altered video remains unclear,” the Washington Post reported quickly afterward, “but its spread across social media comes amid a growing feud between congressional Democrats and Trump.”
The origin of the undoctored video is from “Pelosi’s onstage speech Wednesday at a Center for American Progress event, in which she said President Trump’s refusal to cooperate with congressional investigations was tantamount to a ‘coverup.’” That footage “was subtly edited to make her voice sound garbled and warped. It was then circulated widely across Twitter, YouTube and Facebook,” the Post writes.
Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, then fanned the flames of misinformation when, six minutes after Trump’s Pelosi tweet, he tweeted a link to a similar video of Pelosi from Facebook. Giuliani’s message to his 317,000 followers: “What is wrong with Nancy Pelosi? Her speech pattern is bizarre.”
Ratcheting the conspiracy theorizing up another notch, eight minutes later Giuliani tweeted White House messaging about a Thursday declassification order from Trump to Attorney General Bill Barr — story from Real Clear Politics here — with Rudy writing to his followers, “Get ready for the declassified documents. It may require the media to cover #SPYGATE. Was it a frame-up? Comey seems to have perjured himself by signing an affidavit described as verified. Did Brennan and Clapper know it was a false charge? Did the Obama WH and DOJ know?”
About five minutes after that, Giuliani deleted the Pelosi tweet. Then he tweeted more conspiracy talk, writing, “As the full scope of this conspiracy emerges it will challenge the very core of the mainstream media. Will their concern about the integrity of their government overcome their pathological hatred of @realDonaldTrump? I hope it will.”
Trump, however, kept his doctored video tweet up, where you can see the misinformation for yourself still this morning.
Why this matters: “The altered video’s dissemination highlights the subtle way that viral misinformation could shape public perceptions in the run-up to the 2020 election,” WaPo writes. “Spreaders of misinformation don’t need sophisticated technology to go viral: Even simple, crude manipulations can be used to undermine an opponent or score political points.” Read on, here.
Why deep fakes matter for national security: Defense One has several articles and commentaries about the new disinformation weapon in the information wars being waged by partisans and foreign adversaires, like “How Realistic Fake Video Threatens Democracies,” here, “The Newest AI-Enabled Weapon: ‘Deep-Faking’ Photos of the Earth,” here, and “AI Will Make Fake News Video — and Fight It As Well,” here.
Did the White House see this other video this week? Samsung has an artificial intelligence lab in Moscow (Wait, what?), and this week it’s publicizing (in CNET and TechCrunch) a fairly impressive breakthrough: The folks there enabled a machine to create TV talking heads from a single photo, like Mona Lisa, for example. Short clip, here. Understand more about what’s at play in this video from one of the researchers, on YouTube, here.
This week in 2020 campaign headlines: “Buttigieg accuses Trump of faking disability to avoid Vietnam draft,” The Guardian reported Thursday from the mayor’s live interview with Robert Costa at Washington Post in D.C. (Which came one day after this good interview with the Post’s Jonathan Capehart, at 92Y in New York City.)
Said retired Navy Lt. Buttigieg, whom Guardian notes took a seven-month leave of absence from his job as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, to deploy in the Afghanistan Threat Finance Cell in the Navy Reserve: “I mean, if he were a conscientious objector, I’d admire that, but this is somebody who, I think it is fairly obvious to most of us, took advantage of the fact that he was a child of a multimillionaire in order to pretend to be disabled so that somebody could go to war in his place. I know that dredges up old wounds from a complicated time during a complicated war, but I am also old enough to remember when conservatives talked about character as something that mattered in the presidency, and so I think it deserves to be talked about.” Find video of the full WaPo event over on YouTube, here.
But do we care about Vietnam draft dodging anymore? Jake Tapper put it to a panel and Executive Editor Kevin Baron and some others had thoughts.
From Defense One
Space Force Clears Senate Committee After House Attempt to Stall // Marcus Weisgerber: The Senate Armed Services Committee’s legislation “greatly increases the odds that we end up with some sort of a Space Force,” one expert says.
I Wrote to John Walker Lindh. He Wrote Back. // Graeme Wood: The American jihadist thanked me for my interest in the Islamic State.
Senate Panel Votes to Let Gitmo Prisoners Into US for Medical Treatment // Katie Bo Williams, Defense One: With an aging population, Democrats in the House, and Navy officers asking for guidance, there’s a chance it finally passes.
Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Revolving-door limits; Not-so-imminent budget deal; Sikorsky interview; and more…
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson with Kevin Baron. Thanks for reading! Subscribe here. On this day in 1964, Arizona Republican Senator and presidential contender Barry Goldwater pitched using low-yield nuclear bombs to defoliate forests, destroy bridges, roads, and railroad lines in North Vietnam. Yikes.
Announcement: Defense One and London-based think tank IISS are partnering up to launch a new collaborative editorial series based off the group’s legendary Military Balance+ database, starting with next week’s Shangri-La Dialogue, the largest annual gathering of Asia-Pacific defense ministers, in Singapore. Defense One will feature regular articles and commentaries from a range of authors pulling from the newly digitized resource, which since 1959 has tallied the military capabilities of every country, and related D1-IISS events to come. Next week watch this space for SLD preview articles, including special edition D Briefs from Singapore, by Defense One’s Kevin Baron on the ground and Katie Bo Williams, scheduled to arrive with Acting SecDef Patrick Shanahan.
Says Kori Schake, deputy director-general: “Defense One is a go-to destination for understanding the news, technologies, and ideas defining the future of US defense and security. The IISS Military Balance + contributes robust, reliable data and analysis to inform and shape that conversation. We’re excited about the partnership being beneficial not just for the IISS and Defense One, but also for policymakers.”
Trump’s “end run” around Congress to send arms to the Saudis. As previewed Wednesday by a concerned Democratic senator, President Trump is reportedly “preparing to circumvent Congress to allow the export to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of billions of dollars of munitions that are now on hold,” the New York Times reported Thursday.
The quick read: “Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and some political appointees in the State Department are pushing for the administration to invoke an emergency provision that would allow President Trump to prevent Congress from halting the sales, worth about $7 billion. The transactions, which include precision-guided munitions and combat aircraft, would infuriate lawmakers in both parties.”
Reaction from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-NY: “The Administration’s reported decision to force through weapons sales is yet another slap in Congress’s face. Congress wrote the law so that weapon sales would reflect broad consensus on foreign policy, consistent with our values, and the notion that there’s an emergency that justifies upending our checks and balances is false, plain and simple.”
Said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.: It’s “a big mistake… We have a gold standard for that sort of arrangement, and to violate it for Saudi Arabia is going to open the door for it to happen in multiple other places.”
This is not normal, the Times notes. “Members of Congress ordinarily are given a review period during which they can pass legislation modifying or prohibiting a prospective arms sale. But a provision in the Arms Export Control Act allows the president to bypass congressional review if he deems ‘an emergency exists which requires the proposed sale in the national security interest of the United States.’”
The emergency cited here? Tensions with Iran.
Congress’s actual concern? When you read this, remember Gulf partners are the Saudis and UAE: “We have deep concern about how our Gulf partners have conducted the war in Yemen, including with U.S. weapons, some of which have reportedly ended up in the wrong hands in Yemen. The conflict has created the one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.”
Worth noting: “The end run around Congress would come just weeks before the White House is expected to unveil a plan to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Read on, here.
Acting SecDef Pat Shanahan on-the-record about Iran war plans: “I haven't said that we're going to add additional resources” to the Middle East, he told reporters at an impromptu press gaggle at the Pentagon during a visit by Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh.
Twisting words? Shanahan first tried conflating, saying “I got up this morning and read that we were sending 10,000 troops to the Middle East,” which he said was not accurate. But that’s not at all what was reported, which was that DOD was preparing a plan for 10,000 troops to present to the White House, per usual options.
“So, we're very protective of our men and women,” he continued. “We're very protective of our interests in the region. So, first and foremost — just like you would when your teammates are men and women under your responsibility — you make sure that you're at the right levels… If things change, then my plan will be to update Congress because they've certainly been very clear to keep us current... We're at a high elevated level given all of the dynamics that are in the Middle East.” You can parse his words yourself with the full transcript, here.
Where’s Shanahan this morning? Speaking at the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 2019 graduation ceremony in Annapolis. Livestream here.
Iran’s message to the U.S. on Thursday: "Our hands are on the trigger and we are firmly prepared to annihilate any aggressor and greedy eyes against the Islamic Iran," Chief of Staff to the Iranian Armed Forces Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri said, according to U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman’s summary of where U.S.-Iran tensions are presently.
Related reading: “This is how easily the U.S. and Iran could blunder into war,” from Colin Kahl, President Obama’s deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, who has been pounding the table over Iran lately, writing in WaPo’s op-ed pages Thursday morning.
The latest Yemen frame? “Saudi Warplanes, Most Made in America, Still Bomb Civilians in Yemen,” the NYTs reported Thursday from Cairo. “The civilian toll has fallen considerably this year as a truce brokered by the United Nations in the key Red Sea port of Hudaydah, previously a major focus of the conflict, has held steady. But indiscriminate attacks, like last week’s strike in Sana [that killed five civilians and wounded 31 others, including more than 20 children], continue.”
Why include “made in America” in that headline? Kevin Baron writes: “U.S. allies and partners use American-made weapons all over the world, in not the most clean of ways. But the Saudis are tied to the Trumps and that’s tied to the Khashoggi killing, so while senior U.S. military commanders see the Yemen frame as a proxy battlefield to keep Iran from spreading ballistic missiles and suicide drone boats and planes that threaten U.S. troops and interests, they are not convincing the public or a sizable portion of Congress. Instead, Yemen is a referendum on American foreign military sales to less-than-democratic allies, like the Saudi regime. Politics always trumps security, and there’s arguments the Yemen war is now plenty of both.”
Another U.S. airstrike is believed to have killed two suspected terrorists in Somalia Thursday, U.S. Africa Command announced Friday.
Location: near Baled Amin, in the Lower Shabelle region. “Al-Shabaab has previously used the rural areas surrounding Baled Amin as a staging area for attacks against Somali security forces and innocent Somali civilians,” the command’s statement reads.
And if you’re wondering:“Currently, we assess no civilians were injured or killed as a result of this airstrike,” and added, since the following option has been used in recent months by organizations like Amnesty International, “Our process and procedures allow for additional information to inform post-strike analysis.” You can read on, here.
U.S. Afghan peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, gave lawmakers a classified briefing on Afghanistan Wednesday. Senators who attended the closed-door briefing were stingy with their reactions to AP, but you can read through a few of those largely lukewarm responses, here.
Happening today: Acting SecDef Shanahan talks with Afghan war commander, Gen. Scott Miller — Shanahan told reporters during that Pentagon gaggle Thursday.
From the region: Pakistan just tested a guided medium-range ballistic missile on Thursday. Find video of the test, shared on Twitter by Pakistan’s military, here.
Trump leans on Army Corps of Engineers for contracts: “President Trump has personally and repeatedly urged the head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to award a border wall contract to a North Dakota construction firm whose top executive is a GOP donor and frequent guest on Fox News, according to four administration officials,” the Washington Post reported Thursday.
The company: Fisher Industries, from Dickinson, N.D., “sued the U.S. government last month after the Army Corps did not accept its bid to install barriers along the southern border, a contract potentially worth billions of dollars.”
“During the past several months, Trump has aggressively pushed” to send work to Fisher Industries while speaking “to Department of Homeland Security leaders and Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the commanding general of the Army Corps,” the Post writes. “The push for a specific company has alarmed military commanders and DHS officials.”
If you’re an aficionado of conservative television and radio, you’ve probably heard of Fisher Industries already, or at least its chief executive, Tommy Fisher. What’s more, Fisher’s people have already begun work on one small section of a border wall on private property outside of El Paso, Texas.
This also is not normal, the Post writes. “Trump’s repeated attempts to influence the Army Corps’ contracting decisions show the degree to which the president is willing to insert himself into what is normally a staid legal and regulatory process designed to protect the U.S. government from accusations of favoritism.” But that’s not all. “They also show how a private company can appeal to the president using well-placed publicity and personal connections to his allies — and the president’s willingness to dive into the minutiae of specific projects.” Much more to the story — including a cast of familiar boosters and allies for Fisher, like Steve Bannon and Erik Prince — here.
Former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is returning to the Navy — just not as a Navy SEAL, the Kansas City Star reported Thursday evening. “Rather than a SEAL, he is returning as an officer assigned to the Navy Operational Support Center in St. Louis.”
Despite sexual assault allegations: “Among the scandals that eventually led to Greitens’ resignation were accusations by a woman with whom Greitens had an affair in 2015... Greitens admitted he had an extramarital affair for several months in 2015 but vehemently denied the woman’s allegations of a sexual assault. He was charged with felony invasion of privacy in St. Louis, but the charges were eventually dropped.”
Oddly enough, according to the Navy, “The decision means Greitens is no longer a SEAL, although he is still authorized to wear the highly recognizable Navy SEAL Trident.” Read on, here.
Public service announcement: U.S. troops do not have to pay to submit their taxes, despite the crooked scheme TurboTax pulled via a “military discount” unveiled by ProPublica this week. Details here.
And finally this week: The U.S. Air Force now has more F-35s in its inventory than F-22s, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber noted on Twitter Thursday after getting a look at the latest Joint Strike Fighter — America’s 196th — delivered by Lockheed Martin just this week. See it for yourself, here.
Have a safe Memorial Day weekend, everyone. And we’ll catch you again on Tuesday!