The two tanker vessels attacked Thursday are adrift in the Gulf of Oman today as the U.S. military is directing everyone’s attention to a newly released, low-resolution video that allegedly shows a group of people in a watercraft removing an unexploded mine from the damaged hull of the M/T Kokuka Courageous in broad daylight and in clear view of the U.S. Navy’s guided-missile destroyer, USS Bainbridge.
U.S. Central Command claims the small watercraft in the video belongs to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps: “an IRGC Gashti Class patrol boat,” according to one of two evening statements by CENTCOM officials.
Worth noting: The boat’s clear and distinct connection to Iran or the IRGC, however, is not evident in the video itself. Nor is it clear from the video (1) where the boat came from, (2) who the occupants were, (3) whether what was allegedly removed was in fact a limpet mine (as the OSINT folks at Bellingcat pointed out this morning), or (4) where the boat went to after its occupants concluded their activity from the side of the Courageous.
The offer of purported video evidence came just a few short hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a statement in Washington blaming the Thursday attacks on Iran and presented no evidence to support his claims.
In his five-minute remarks at the State Department, Pompeo said the U.S. believes those were IRGC personnel on that boat due to “intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.”
From Pompeo’s perspective, Iran is “lashing out, because the regime wants our successful maximum pressure campaign lifted.” This POV was met with deep skepticism among some Iran-watchers on social media — e.g., David Rothkopf — who wondered how an attack of this sort would be in Iran’s interest.
Said Behnam Ben Taleblu of the hawkish Foundation for the Defense of Democracies: “There’s a political strategy underlying this for Iran,” he told Defense One's Katie Bo Williams. The goal is to get the U.S. to “swerve,” he said, and slow its sanctions designations and enforcement, or, potentially “get the administration interested in premature diplomacy and have the administration try to reward Iran for coming to the table.”
Another perspective: “There is always the possibility that somebody is trying to blame the Iranians,” Jon Alterman of Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies told Reuters. “But there is the greater likelihood that this represents an effort to bolster Iranian diplomacy by creating a perceived international urgency to have the United States and Iran talk.”
For its part, the U.S. military said it is not interested in a conflict with Iran but “will take all necessary measures to defend ourselves and our interests”on at least three separate occasions on Thursday:
- CENTCOM statement number one (from CENTCOM spox Air Force Lt. Col. Earl Brown)
- Tweets from Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan
- And CENTCOM statement number two, with the video (from CENTCOM spox Navy Capt. Bill Urban)
Wrote Acting SecDef Shanahan in a four-tweet thread, “Iran’s continued unprovoked attacks in the region are a threat to international security and peace and an assault against freedom of navigation on the open seas. While we do not seek conflict, the @DeptOfDefense will defend our forces and our interests around the world. We will safeguard global commerce and defend freedom of navigation.”
Iran’s reax today: “These accusations are alarming,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said, according to Reuters this morning. Mousavi also said — from his POV — blaming Iran for Thursday’s attacks was “the simplest and the most convenient way for Pompeo and other U.S. officials.”
What’s President Trump thinking? It’s “too soon to even think about making a deal” with Iran, he tweeted. “They are not ready, and neither are we.”
U.S. Congressional reax Thursday included this “bipartisan amendment to the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act” designed “to prohibit funds from being used for military operations against Iran without explicit authorization from Congress,” according to the communications team of Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.
On board with Udall for that amendment: Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va.; Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Jeff Merkley., D-Ore.; Chris Murphy, D-Conn.; and Rand Paul, R-Ky.
Also from the region: “Saudi Arabia said early Friday its military intercepted five drones launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels targeting the kingdom, including the Abha regional airport,” the Associated Press reports this morning as all eyes are on the Middle East. “The kingdom said a similar attack Wednesday on the Abha airport wounded 26 people.” More here.
From Defense One
US Blames Tanker Attacks On Iran; CENTCOM Releases Surveillance Video // Katie Bo Williams and Kevin Baron: Military officials say imagery shows Iranians in boats at the tankers, handling a mine and trying to capture crew members.
Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Paris Air Show preview; A startling 'top threat'; UTC-Raytheon merger reax; and more.
Trump’s Efforts at Election Tampering Are Growing Bolder // David A. Graham, The Atlantic: Having exploited foreign assistance in 2016 and gotten away with it, the president is already trying it again in the 2020 race.
Telegram: Hackers in China Disrupted Service During Hong Kong Protests // Patrick Tucker: Bogus signals inundated an encrypted-messaging service that helped demonstrators coordinate, the company says.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Thanks for reading! Subscribe here. On this day in 1775, the U.S. Army was born when the Continental Congress authorized ten companies of expert riflemen.
The U.S. just tested a hypersonic missile Wednesday in California, Defense News reported off an Air Force press release Thursday.
Involved: the missile — aka, AGM-183A Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon — and a B-52 Stratofortress.
The missile never actually launched, since the test was designed to track stability, drag and vibration impacts during transport. Tiny bit more, here.
Newsflash (before the big flash?): “Russia has conducted nuclear weapons tests that have created nuclear yield,” the Defense Intelligence Agency reported late Thursday evening in a statement from Director Lt. Gen. Robert P. Ashley, Jr. in late May at the Hudson Institute.
Worth noting: A lack of proof supporting this explosive claim.
Add’s MIT’s Vipin Narang: “It’s still very vague where this assessment is coming from, by who, whether it’s a consensus view etc.”
Added Ankit Panda: “It's a very strangely phrased presentation of a controversial assessment.”
Keep an ear out soon because Jeffrey Lewis is about to post a new episode of his Arms Control Wonk podcast on this very subject, he tweeted upon noticing the DIA release Thursday evening. Find his podcast home page, here.
While you were sleeping, America’s top WMD official quietly quit (two months ago). “Guy Roberts, the U.S. Defense Department’s top civilian in charge of nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, quietly stepped down [from his Pentagon post] in April for reasons that remain murky,” Foreign Policy’s Lara Seligman reported Thursday.
Why this matters: “Roberts led the enterprise responsible for ensuring the U.S. nuclear deterrent—missiles, submarines, and bombers—is safe, secure, and effective, as well as developing capabilities to counter weapons of mass destruction. He also was responsible for ensuring the Defense Department complies with nuclear, chemical, and biological treaties and agreements.” Read on, here.
Two days after Trump endorsed foreign interference in American elections, a GOP senator blocked a bill that would require campaigns to report any offers of foreign assistance to the FBI.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said she believed the bill would place undue burdens on campaign staffs; Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., retorted that it would only require disclosure of things that are already illegal. Axios, here.
The FEC chief is on alert: “I would not have thought that I needed to say this,” tweeted Ellen Weintraub, chair of the Federal Election Commission, atop a statement: “Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: it is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with the U.S. election. This is not a novel concept…” Read on, here.
Did you know: There is a little-known U.S. Navy program that commissions officers with just two weeks of training? Some of the folks in this program include Pete Buttigieg, Sean Spicer and now 47-year-old Reince Priebus. Yahoo News’s Sean Naylor has details, here.
Someone in your LinkedIn friend list may not be who they say they are, AP reported Thursday in a dystopian story from tomorrow that’s already here today.
What you need to know: Katie Jones claims to be a "30-something redhead" with "a job at a top think tank and a who’s-who network of pundits and experts, from the centrist Brookings Institution to the right-wing Heritage Foundation." She has connections with "a deputy assistant secretary of state, a senior aide to a senator and the economist Paul Winfree, who is being considered for a seat on the Federal Reserve."
The problem: "Katie Jones doesn’t exist, The Associated Press has determined. Instead, the persona was part of a vast army of phantom profiles lurking on the professional networking site LinkedIn. And several experts contacted by the AP said Jones’ profile picture appeared to have been created by a computer program." The intrigue continues, here.
And finally this week: Traveling to the Asia-Pacific region soon? Here’s some advice: Don’t get drunk and fly a drone in Japan. It was always very unsafe, but now it’s very illegal. BBC has the story, here.
Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!