More troops to border, Saudi Arabia; Turkey loses F-35; Ebola declared ‘global emergency’; FaceApp, a natsec threat?; And a bit more.
The U.S. is sending thousands more troops to the U.S.-Mexico border as well as to…Saudi Arabia? Some 500 troops are slated to deploy to Prince Sultan Air Base, two U.S. two defense officials tell CNN. The troops appear to be part of the 1,000-person deployment to then-unspecified locations in the Middle East announced one month ago as U.S.-Iran tensions rose. “A small number of troops and support personnel are already on site with initial preparations being made for a Patriot missile defense battery as well as runway and airfield improvements, the officials said.”
Not yet formally notified: Congress, a bipartisan subset of which believes that the Trump administration has responded far too weakly to the murder and dismemberment of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, allegedly at the order of the Saudi crown prince. Read on, here.
And about the border deployment, the Pentagon announced Wednesday that Acting Defense Secretary Richard Spencer approved a July 3 request from the Department of Homeland Security “for assistance to approve Title 32 duty status and funding for up to 1,000 Texas National Guard (TX NG) personnel… through September 30, 2019.”
The job: 750 NG troops will “provide supplemental holding support to CBP at CBP's temporary adult migrant holding facilities in Donna, Texas and Tornillo, Texas.” They’ll also “assist DHS law enforcement personnel with operational, logistical, and administrative support.” Another 250 NG soldiers will “provide port of entry (POE) enforcement support at CBP-designated POEs and airports in Texas to enhance border security and improve the flow of commercial traffic.”
And there would have been more NG soldiers for this tasking, but “due to a shortfall in volunteer National Guard personnel,” active duty troops were called up, too. That includes 1,100 or so of them “in support of CBP's Operation Guardian Support mission with aerial surveillance, operational, logistical, and administrative support.”
The official line on that volunteer shortfall: “The Active Duty force will be providing backfill to OGS due to a shortfall in volunteer National Guard personnel as discussed in the briefing to Professional Staff Members on April 30, 2019.”
From Defense One
Why the S-400 and the F-35 Can’t Get Along // Patrick Tucker: Today's radar systems and aircraft need to share a lot of information. That's a problem when the countries that produce them aren't on the side same.
Ejecting Turkey from the F-35 Effort Will Cost At Least Half a Billion Dollars // Marcus Weisgerber: That’s the Pentagon’s low estimate for replacing Turkish suppliers of more than 900 parts.
House to 2020 Candidates: Trump and Nukes Don’t Mix // Tom Z. Collina: Those who would win the Democratic nod should heed the vote to kill the new low-yield nuke.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day in 64 AD, the “Great Fire” in Rome began — the one that gave us the expression “Nero fiddling while Rome burns,” despite a lack of evidence supporting that “fiddling” allegation, as History.com reminds us.
Happening today: The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to approve Dr. Mark Esper’s nomination for defense secretary and also discuss the nomination of Air Force Gen. John Hyten for vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
By the way, a Deputy SecDef could be coming soon, too. SASC announced today that it “will expedite the process to hold a nomination hearing for David Norquist, whom President Trump intends to nominate as Deputy Secretary of Defense.” That hearing is scheduled for next Wednesday, July 24, at 10 a.m.
The U.S. officially ejected Turkey from its F-35 program on Wednesday in a decision that will cost about a half billion dollars, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reported after the White House released a statement and the Pentagon finally held a press conference on the matter in the afternoon.
The full statement from the White House (emphasis added): “Unfortunately, Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian S-400 air defense systems renders its continued involvement with the F-35 impossible. The F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities. The United States has been actively working with Turkey to provide air defense solutions to meet its legitimate air defense needs, and this Administration has made multiple offers to move Turkey to the front of the line to receive the U.S. PATRIOT air defense system. Turkey has been a longstanding and trusted partner and NATO Ally for over 65 years, but accepting the S-400 undermines the commitments all NATO Allies made to each other to move away from Russian systems. This will have detrimental impacts on Turkish interoperability with the Alliance. The United States still greatly values our strategic relationship with Turkey. As NATO Allies, our relationship is multi-layered, and not solely focused on the F-35. Our military-to-military relationship is strong, and we will continue to cooperate with Turkey extensively, mindful of constraints due to the presence of the S-400 system in Turkey.”
About that half-billion, Weisgerber writes it covers “the cost of finding and setting up U.S. suppliers to make the 900-plus components currently made by ten Turkish manufacturers,” according to Ellen Lord, defense undersecretary of acquisition and sustainment, who spoke to reporters at the Pentagon to elaborate. “We are proceeding with a very orderly wind down through March 2020,” she said, “so we expect minimal impact to the program.”
For what it’s worth, “Turkey has ordered 30 F-35s, four of which are at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where they are being used for pilot training,” Weisgerber writes. And those Turkish personnel here stateside, that includes military pilots and maintenance workers, there were told Wednesday they must leave the United States by July 31. More on all that, here.
The Pentagon warned Wednesday that Turkey appears to be massing troops and equipment near the northeastern Syrian cities of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn “for a possible incursion against American-allied Kurdish forces there,” U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman reported. "Unilateral action into northeastern Syria by any party, particularly as U.S. personnel may be present or in the vicinity, is of grave concern. We would find any such actions unacceptable," Pentagon spokesman Navy Cmdr. Sean Robertson said.
What seems to be going on: “Analysts fear that Turkey considers the credible threat of a military strike as its only deterrent against U.S. retaliation and that roiling tensions may overwhelm both sides' ability to prevent conflict,” Shinkman writes.
“We believe this dialogue is the only way to secure the border area in a sustainable manner, and believe that uncoordinated military operations will undermine that shared interest," Robertson continued. Read on, here.
More than two dozen Afghan commandos were killed fighting the Taliban three days ago in the northern province of Badghis, Radio Free Liberty / Radio Liberty reported Wednesday in a shorty.
What does a Kentucky senator ask the president during a round of golf? To become America’s new emissary to Iran “to reduce tensions between the two countries.” That’s what Politico reports Rand Paul asked of Donald Trump at the latter’s course in Sterling, Va., this past Saturday — and the president “signed off on the idea.”
Also attending that round of golf: Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and David Perdue, R-Ga.
Not a fan of the idea: “Mark Dubowitz, head of the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies,” Politico writes. "It’s a fine idea to make it clear you’re interested in negotiating and a diplomatic path, but you have to be selective and circumspect," he said. "Right now, Trump has tapped everybody and their mother to be an emissary." Story here.
Scam alert: Last year, the Department of Veterans Affairs paid more than $25 million to various companies that were providing services to veterans’ children suffering from spina bifida.
The catch: “$18.9 million of that went to wife, family, and friends of a single VA employee” named Joseph Prince, GWU’s Seamus Hughes wrote on Twitter after co-reporting that story with Lachlan Markay for The Daily Beast. For the record, “The previously unreported criminal case appears set to go to trial in Colorado in November. Prince has pleaded not guilty.”
With a death toll of more than 1,660, a new Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo has just been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization, the New York Times reported Wednesday.
Despite “a concerning geographic expansion,” NPR reports Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday "recommended that no borders be closed because of the declaration and that trade and travel to Congo not be restricted." To restrict that kind of movement, NPR writes, "would cause a terrible economic impact on the region and hamper the fight to stop the outbreak," according to Ghebrevesus.
Known-knowns: "The first case of Ebola was confirmed in Goma, a Congolese city on the border with Rwanda. Goma is home to about a million people and is a transit hub, raising concerns about the potential to promote the spread of the virus." As well, "WHO workers and their partners are also conducting health screenings on roadways, particularly on the DRC's borders, to try to prevent the spread of the virus. Its border with Uganda is more than 540 miles long." Read on, here.
The Trump 2020 campaign is about to unveil a new app “aimed at engaging its most loyal supporters,” the Washington Post reported Wednesday. “Known internally as the ‘Trump app’ and set to be released as soon as within the next month, the feature is part of an effort by campaign manager Brad Parscale to increase enthusiasm among supporters and capitalize on the energy at rallies.”
Increase enthusiasm, how? “Trump loyalists who download the app will be able to use it to register to vote, recruit additional supporters and stay up to date on what Trump is doing,” according to the Post. Also included: “incentives for those who volunteer, facilitate neighborhood watch parties and help in other ways, the official said. For instance, supporters waiting in line to attend a rally who get a dozen friends to download the app might earn VIP seats once inside.”
Bigger picture: Trump campaign officials are hoping "to improve Trump’s losing margins among suburban women, Hispanics and black voters” by “harness[ing] the power of the president’s base ahead of what campaign officials and outside observers predict will be a high-turnout election.” Read on, here.
The Russia-based company, FaceApp, could soon be the target of a federal national security and privacy investigation by the FBI and the FTC, according to a request submitted Wednesday by Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, NBC News’ Frank Thorp reported after CNN broke the story.
Where you may have seen FaceApp: It’s the thing responsible for “producing all of those aged photos of your friends you’re seeing on social media,” Thorp tweeted. It’s also been all over celebrities’ social media feeds lately, as the Washington Post reports.
“The benefits of avoiding the app outweigh the risks,” wrote Democratic National Committee security chief Bob Lord this week in an alert to the almost two-dozen 2020 campaigns still angling for the party’s nomination. “If you or any of your staff have already used the app, we recommend that they delete the app immediately.”
So what’s the big deal? A couple of things, according to WaPo. For example, “The app’s terms of service say users grant the company a ‘perpetual, irrevocable ... (and) worldwide’ license to use a user’s photos, name or likeness in practically any way they see fit. If a user deletes content from the app, FaceApp can still store and use it, the terms say. FaceApp also says it can’t guarantee your data or information is secure and that the company can share user information with other companies and third-party advertisers, which aren’t disclosed in the privacy terms.” Read on, here.
Speaking of Facepage, the U.S. Air Force doesn’t want your crazy uncle and his friends storming Area 51 now that that very Facebook event has eclipsed 1.5 million attendees. ABC News has the story, which gives Jade Helm a run for its money, here.
Duncan Hunter is in the news again, and NBC’s lede gets right to the heart of the matter, so we’ll just leave you with that: “The Marine Corps has issued a cease-and-desist letter to Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., for using the official Corps emblem and phrase on campaign mailers that link his likely 2020 opponent and two Democratic congresswomen to terror.” Story, here.
Now for something completely different: A new Dartmouth-led study in the journal International Security finds that “countries with more young people (ages 15 to 24) are more prone to international conflict than countries where populations are proportionally older.”
What’s more, the study also found that the U.S. “has several demographic advantages” in this regard over its so-called “great power” competitors China and Russia. But the U.S. could easily lose those advantages if it abandons what the study’s authors call America’s “deep engagement” strategy.
Another way America could lose those advantages over China and Russia: “If the U.S. restricts immigration.”
The title of the report: “Why Young Societies Are Conflict Prone and Old Societies Are the Most Peaceful.” Read more here.
Kaspersky (of suspect Russian antivirus fame) would like you to know that “By the year 2050, humans will no longer use smartphones,” the company tweeted this morning. “Instead, their brains will be directly connected to the internet.” That sounds terrible to us; but if that’s your thing, read on, here.
And finally today: Here’s a dude who wants the internet connected to his brain. It’s the story of a chess phenom who appears to have been caught cheating with his cell phone during a bathroom break at a tournament last week in Strasbourg, France. The Times reported Sunday that Latvian-Czech grandmaster Igors Rausis, 58, "was caught in a lavatory cubicle on Thursday during a chess tournament consulting his mobile phone." He then "admitted to The Times that he had been using chess software to cheat."
“Phones have been banned at chess tournaments for several years now,” ABC News adds, “with some high-profile events requiring players to pass through metal detectors before a game begins. However, this doesn’t prevent a phone from being hidden in a bathroom before a game begins.”
And by the way, “This isn’t the first case of a top chess player facing accusations of using a smartphone to cheat during a tournament,” according to ABC. “In 2015, Georgian grandmaster Gaioz Nigalidze was stripped of his title and given a three-year ban after he was found to have used a chess app during a game at an international tournament in Dubai.”
What gave him away? Another phone left in the bathroom stall, and Nigalidze’s mobile was left “logged into his Facebook account,” making the detective work on that case a breeze. Read on, here.