US levels more accusations at Iran; CYBERCOM’s malware in Russia’s grid; Proposed stealth jets unveiled in Paris; Why is deterrence failing? And a bit more.

CENTCOM says Iranian-backed forces and Iranian weapons are trying to shoot down U.S. drones, and sometimes they are successful. Take, for example, the MQ-9 Reaper drone Houthi rebels shot out of the Yemeni sky on June 6. The U.S. military saw no reason to publicize this until CENTCOM released video Thursday purporting to show Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps forces removing a limpet mine from the M/T Kokuka Courageous on June 13 in the Gulf of Oman. As we pointed out Friday, that video raised a host of questions central to matters of attribution and escalation amid wider U.S.-Iran tensions.

Instead of answering those questions, CENTCOM released a statement Sunday drawing attention to the weapons of the Houthis, a group even the UN views as an Iranian proxy, and a separate attempted shootdown during the June 13 episode in the Oman Gulf.

About the Houthis’ shootdown: According to CENTCOM, the June 6 episode over Yemen is believed to have been accomplished “by what we assess to be a Houthi SA-6 surface to air missile,” which Politico’s Wesley Morgan translates perhaps more usefully as a “vehicle-mounted missile.”

The Houthis released purported imagery of that incident the day after it happened, and video the day after that.

The second incident flagged by CENTCOM happened as the sun rose on June 13 and as a separate Reaper drone hovered over “the motor tanker (M/T) Altair and had observed the ship on fire.” That one is believed to have occurred thanks to “a modified Iranian SA-7 surface-to-air missile,” which Morgan paraphrases as “a shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missile.”

Recall that none of these shootdown narratives were mentioned until CENTCOM’s Thursday video raised those additional questions, which include concerns over who was in the alleged “IRGC Gashti Class patrol boat” and whether what was removed from the side of the Courageous was in fact a limpet mine. Sunday’s statement (unsupported by photo or video evidence) didn’t touch those questions, and seems to have raised a few more concerning what transpired on June 13.

Some of the new questions:

  • What happened to the personnel after they fired the SA-7? Presumably if the missile missed the Reaper, there is a feed available showing where the shooters traveled next, possibly offering clues as to who they are/were.
  • How do we know it was “a modified Iranian SA-7 surface-to-air missile” and not any number of other kinds of modified SA-7s, since the Soviet-era weapons can be found in countless places across Yemen and Syria?
  • And, of course: Why not explain more about the video released Thursday — where that boat came from, where it went to, and why the U.S. believes it was an IRGC boat with IRGC personnel who removed the alleged limpet mine?  

For the record: What does an Iranian limpet mine look like? The answer is this (h/t @Arkenstoneblog).

And if you wanna know how limpet mines work, the New York Times’ John Ismay (former U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal technician) filed this useful explainer on Friday.

You may wonder: How does the IRGC get its funding, if U.S. sanctions are hitting Iran so hard? The Wall Street Journal tackled that question Saturday, suggesting “recently-signed infrastructure contracts in Syria and Iraq as well as expanded smuggling networks” have provided the bulk of the cash. Story,  here.

One key consideration (actually three) as all this drags on: Multiple things can be happening at the same time. Which is to say, “It is simultaneously possible for Iranian elements to be behind these attacks,” cautioned Luke O’Brien, one of your D-Brief-er’s former artillery officers, “that there are hawkish elements that are willing to use that to push for provocative military action, AND that overly aggressive military responses are a bad idea.”

Meantime, as we weigh the merits of escalation versus Iran, the Houthis are not letting up against the Saudis — allegedly launching new drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s southern Jizan and Abha airports, al-Jazeera and Reuters reported Sunday evening.

McGurk offers a warning: U.S.-Iran tensions will probably only get worse, but it doesn’t have to be this way, writes Trump’s former ISIS war czar Brett McGurk. Or, as he put it, “The risks of military confrontation — intended or unintended — will continue to rise” provided no White House officials critically review the current assumptions in Washington and adjusts the WH’s Iran policy. That’s the message from McGurk in an essay a little more than a week ago for Foreign Affairs.

A few key excerpts from McGurk’s own tweet-thread summary:

  • “The US seems to have embarked on its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign with few allies and little forethought as to unintended consequences or how to respond if key assumptions… prove false.”
  • “Iran appears to have made the strategic decision (not surprising) to resist economic pressure and respond asymmetrically, not directly against us. I suspect Iran’s aim is to draw the US in deeper to the Middle East and heighten US rifts with allies or force removal of new sanctions as a pre-condition to talks. Those are likely goals behind reckless acts.”
  • “Thus, any US military response would need to be decisive and sustained over a period of months. That is not where a maximum pressure policy was supposed to lead.”

So what is his prescription? Calling together America’s allies for a unified, coherent reaction, with teeth. “In my view, targeting tankers in int’l waterways warrants a rallied international response with military measures to deter future incidents. If Washington had developed a policy with allies, it could rally the world to isolate Iran and reinforce economic with diplomatic pressure. Unfortunately, our great comparative advantage as a nation — building and working with alliances — has eroded, particularly with respect to Iran.”

Don’t get it twisted, McGurk continues. “Iran is a 5th-rate power. Its economy is smaller than our poorest state. Its defense budget a fraction of our regional allies. China & Russia are our near-peer rivals — and now sense advantage.”

His BLUF: “Iran is a real problem. But this policy is piling on strategic risk with little reward. It’s driving allies away & peer-competitors together. It’s not leading to talks but increasing risk of conflict. It’s ramifications go beyond the Middle East. Worth reassessing.” Read his full cautionary essay, here.

How Iran is ratcheting up the tensions today: By announcing “it would breach internationally agreed curbs on its stock of low-enriched uranium in 10 days,” Reuters reports, “but [Iranian officials] added European nations still ha[ve] time to save a landmark nuclear deal.”


From Defense One

Deterrence Is Failing — Partly Because Iran Has No Idea What the US Really Wants // Christopher J. Bolan: Successful deterrence requires clear delineation of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. That needs to start, pronto.

How L3 Technologies Is Culture-Shifting Its Way into the Industry’s Top Tier // Marcus Weisgerber: Over the past 18 months, the company has overhauled its structure and various modus operandi.

Europe's Elections Suggest US Shouldn’t Be Complacent in 2020 // Liisa Past , The Conversation: The lesson is not that elections are secure, but that Russian and other subversives are choosy about when and how they engage.

Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter Talks Iran, China, and Trump’s Late-Night Tweets // Olivia Paschal, The Atlantic: “I don’t want to have a war with Iran, but I know who would win.”

How the Climate Crisis Threatens the US Energy System // Amy Myers Jaffe, Council on Foreign Relations: The U.S. military is the largest customer of the U.S. electricity grid, and other insights from a two-day workshop convened by the Council on Foreign Relations

Vetting Foreigners’ Facebook Feeds Won’t Make Americans Safer // Faiza Patel and Harsha Panduranga, The Atlantic: The federal government wants visa applicants to cough up their social-media handles.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Marcus Weisgerber with Bradley Peniston. Thanks for reading! Subscribe here. On this day in 1885, the 450,000-pound Statue of Liberty arrived in New York City Harbor in 350 pieces packed in more than 200 cases.


We turn to France now for a dispatch from the annual Paris Air Show, which kicked off today before the sun rose on America’s east coast. Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber is in Le Bourget and filed this report:
This is the most-watched air show in at least a decade, with so much activity in the defense and aerospace sector, between the grounding of the 737 Max, the proposed Raytheon-United Technologies merger, and the U.S. threatening to ban Turkey from the F-35 program.
Boeing executives were front and center this morning talking about the company’s work to fix 737 Max flight control problems that are suspected of having caused two crashes that killed nearly 400 people. The execs said a software fix seemed promising, but offered few more details. They did not say when they expect regulators to clear the plane for flight.
Unveiled: Airbus and Dassault took the sheet off a full-sized model of a new stealth fighter on which France and Germany are collaborating. Turkey also unveiled a full-scale model of a new stealth fighter it’s developing. Both proposed planes are much larger than the F-35, the latest American-made stealth fighter. They also both have two engines to the F-35’s one.
Add them to Britain’s Tempest jet, unveiled at the UK’s Farnborough Air Show last year, and Europe has three stealth fighters.
U.S. officials don’t seem concerned that their allies are going to outpace them technologically or take sales from the American-made F-35. “When they’re developing new technologies, which we, of course, encourage and want to collaborate with them on, but you have to take a look at how long is that going to take when we have fifth-generation airplanes like the F-35 that are operational and are flying right now,” Acting Air Force Secretary Matt Donovan said, noting that Air Force F-35s are now deployed in Europe and the Middle East.
Stay tuned here for more from Weisgerber in Paris as the air show continues. And if you’re not subscribed to his Global Business Brief newsletter — you can do that here — what are you waiting for? His Paris Air Show 2019 preview can be found here.

U.S. hackers planted malware in Russia’s electrical grid in retaliation for Russian intrusion into U.S. infrastructure and to deter interference in America’s 2020 elections, the New York Times reported Saturday, citing “current and former government officials” interviewed over the past three months.
Implanting code in Russian infrastructure is a new development, although the sides have been probing each others’ grids since 2012, the Times says. U.S. Cyber Command is proceeding — “defending forward,” as commanding Gen. Paul Nakasone puts it — under new authorities issued by President Trump last summer in a still-classified document known as National Security Presidential Memoranda 13.
But no one reportedly told Trump about the new moves, fearing that he might tip off Russia. One reason given for why not: Trump’s 2017 disclosure of highly classified material in the Oval Office. And when Trump apparently found out about the Saturday Times report, he tweeted that the story was “NOT TRUE” and called the reporting “a virtual act of Treason.”
FWIW, Moscow says its grid is perfectly safe. “There are no serious concerns,” Yevgeny Lifshitz, a member of the State Duma Committee on Information Policy, told the state-run RIA Novosti news agency. (Translation by the Moscow Times.)
And ICYMI: Russian hackers penetrated election systems in 39 U.S. states in 2016 — more than has been previously disclosed, Bloomberg reported Thursday.

Too much science for the Trump administration? On Friday night, the White House ordered cuts to federal science advisory boards, The Hill reports. “For the past two years they have been shrinking and restricting the role of federal science advisory committees,” Gretchen Goldman, the research director with the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union for Concerned Scientists, said in a statement. “Now they’re removing the possibility of even making decisions based on robust science advice. It's no longer death by a thousand cuts. It’s taking a knife to the jugular.”
By the numbers: Some 1,000 advisory committees with more than 60,000 members advise federal policymakers on “a range of topics including disposal of high-level nuclear waste, the depletion of atmospheric ozone, addressing AIDS and improving schools,” The Hill writes, citing data from the U.S. General Services Administration. “They are often filled by people considered to be at the top of their fields who can provide important technical advice.” Read on, here.

For your eyes only:four tractor-trailers packed with nearly 800 migrants.” The trucks were intercepted by Mexican authorities on Saturday in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, AP reported on Sunday.

And finally today: An experimental PTSD treatment (a shot in the neck) could be a “breakthrough,” CBS News reported Sunday evening on “60 Minutes.”
Quick summary: “The new procedure called stellate ganglion block, or SGB, is so fast-acting that many believe it could be a game changer. Used for decades to treat chronic pain, it's only recently been tried for PTSD. Now the U.S. Army is spending $2 million to find out more.”
How it works: “a local anesthetic is injected deep into the neck to bathe a cluster of nerves called the stellate ganglion. These nerves help control the brain's fight or flight reactions, signals that go haywire with PTSD… When the anesthetic is injected it seems to numb, or turn off, the PTSD symptoms. It clears the body in a day, but the effects last up to 6 months, for some even longer. There are no known side effects.” Watch or read the rest, here.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.