Target: US elections; N.Korea’s scary new missile; Trump vetoes Saudi arms-export ban; US warship in Taiwan strait; And a bit more.

Russia is still “involved in [America’s] election” process, Robert Mueller says. “They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign,” the former special council responded to Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, at Wednesday’s hearing of the House Intelligence Committee. And “many more countries” are developing the capability to interfere in the elections as well. 

Asked whether future candidates for public office might welcome such foreign assistance as Donald Trump and his campaign staff did instead of reporting it to U.S. law enforcement, Mueller responded, “I hope this is not the new normal, but I fear it is.” The hearing (transcript), along with an earlier one of the House Judiciary Committee (transcript), were called by Democrats to bring attention to Mueller’s 448-page report on Russia interference in the 2016 election, and the Trump campaign’s connections to it. 

Mueller confirmed, again, many facts Trump has repeatedly denied, the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker notes:

A key exchange between Mueller and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, who chairs the Intelligence committee: 

Schiff: “During the course of this Russian interference in the election, the Russians made outreach to the Trump campaign, did they not?”

Mueller: “Yes, that occurred.”

Schiff: “The campaign welcomed the Russian help, did they not?”

Mueller: “I think we have — we report in our — in the report indications that that occurred, yes.”

...Schiff: “The Trump campaign officials built their strategy, their messaging strategy, around [Russia’s] stolen documents?

Mueller: “Generally that’s true.”

Schiff: “And then they lied to cover it up.”

Mueller: “Generally, that’s true.”

Roundup: law and intelligence experts’ views on Mueller hearings, from Just Security. Perhaps note in particular one from Georgetown University’s Jonathan Geltzer: “Thwarting such a threat to American democracy and ensuring that future campaigns are protected from it should have been a unifying mission for Congress and the American people, as well as a priority for any president who took office in its wake. Yet President Trump denied and ignored the threat...and, today, we saw a deeply partisan set of congressional hearings more focused on attacking or bolstering Mueller than on assessing how the United States is doing in addressing a major threat to our national security and, ultimately, the sanctity of our democracy.” 

Ultimately, the hearings revealed little that was new, even as they spotlit various of the special counsel’s findings and conclusions. 

Joked Matt Oswalt: “The Mueller Hearings feels like watching Wheel of Fortune where the puzzle is completely solved but contestants keep guessing letters.”

From Defense One

US Air Force Has Withheld $360M — and Counting — For Boeing’s Tanker Woes // Marcus Weisgerber: That’s about one-fifth of the total bill for the 13 aircraft delivered so far.

New Defense Secretary Immediately Faced With Challenges In Iran, UK // Katie Bo Williams, Defense One: Esper takes the reins at the Pentagon just days after Iran seized a British-flagged tanker—and amid an ongoing rift with the U.S.’s closest ally.

NSA Launches Cybersecurity Directorate // Jack Corrigan, Nextgov: The group is charged with defending the country’s national security infrastructure and defense contractors against digital threats.

Should Cyber Arms Be Treated Like Bioweapons? // David Fidler, Council on Foreign Relations: A recent paper suggests that the two are more closely related under international law than previously thought. But the analogy, while useful, is not exact.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Bradley Peniston (above) and Ben Watson (below). If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day in 1925, the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union was established with the “exclusive right to gather and distribute information” in and outside of the country’s borders. We know it today by the name, TASS —  an agency with “a long history of giving cover to Russian spies.”

Happening today: President Trump heads to the Pentagon to welcome Defense Secretary Mike Esper at his new job, ending the longest period in U.S. history that the Pentagon did not have a confirmed leader.
Esper already has a lot on his plate, including a rift with America’s closest ally (more on that below), as Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams reported this week.  

North Korea launched two short-range missiles this morning off its east coast and into the East Sea/Sea of Japan. “The first flew approximately 430 kilometers (265 miles), while the second flew 690 kilometers (428 miles),” CNN reported from South Korean officials. 
In case you missed it, “On Tuesday, state news agency KCNA reported [North Korean dictator] Kim [Jong-un] inspected a large, newly built submarine, accompanied by missile program leaders,” NBC News reports in its coverage of today’s launches. 
Jeffrey “Arms Control Wonk” Lewis watched closely as various metrics trickled out this morning (which was evening on America’s West Coast), including these telling figures: “Flying to 430 km with a 50 km apogee is definitely a KN-23.”
So, what’s a KN-23? “A new short-range ballistic missile...similar in capability to Russia’s Iskander-M,” Lewis wrote in June after a May flight test. But it’s no ordinary ballistic missile, Lewis writes: “it is designed to fly a depressed trajectory (sometimes described as quasi-ballistic or aero-ballistic) that shortens its flight time, allows it to fly under the view of some radars, and enhances its ability to maneuver.”
One key detail: “It can deliver a nuclear-weapon-sized payload to about 450 km — far enough to target most US forces in South Korea,” Lewis tweeted overnight. 
For what it’s worth, Reuters reports “Firing a ballistic missile would be a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban the North from the use of such technology. North Korea has rejected the restriction as an infringement of its sovereign right to self-defense.”
Bigger picture: “The launch casts new doubt on efforts to restart stalled denuclearisation talks after Trump and Kim met at the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas at the end of June,” Reuters writes. 
By the way, “North Korea’s scientists have ramped up production of long-range missiles and the fissile material used in nuclear weapons,” the Wall Street Journal reports this morning, citing the recent work of “analysts Jenny Town, a fellow at the Stimson Center” and Jeffrey Lewis. That story, here
And in a further indication that U.S.-North Korean relations are headed south, “U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho had been expected to meet on the sidelines of a Southeast Asian security forum in Bangkok next week. But a diplomatic source told Reuters on Thursday that Ri had canceled his trip to the conference.” Read on, here

President Trump vetoed three bills blocking arms sales to the Saudis. For just the third time in his tenure as POTUS, Donald Trump exercised his veto powers again Wednesday. The items vetoed: “three congressional resolutions barring billions of dollars in weapons sales to countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” Agence France-Presse reported
The war in Yemen will continue to stagnate without U.S. weapons, Trump argued Wednesday when defending his vetoes. Or, as he put it, halting the sale of U.S. arms to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi "would likely prolong the conflict in Yemen and deepen the suffering it causes" because "without precision-guided munitions, more — not fewer — civilians are likely to become casualties.” 
Worth noting: The Saudis have had precision-guided weapons from the U.S. since day one of the Yemen war, going back to March 2015. Four years on, the country is even more of a wreck than it was before the intervention began. Review the history of that conflict, and the country itself, in our lengthy feature, here

In information operations news this week, the White House has begun “an information campaign” at Iran “to erode public support for the leadership in Tehran with hashtags, YouTube videos and traditional pro-U. S. media outlets broadcasting in the Middle East,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
Involved: anti-Iranian government hashtags on Twitter, “including #40YearsofFailure that coincided with the 40th anniversary of the country’s revolution. It has [also] used Persian-language social media to blame deadly floods this year on government mismanagement, tapping into a complaint many Iranians have made.” So far, there’s no significant indication the effort is working — especially when Trump’s own Twitter feed is widely seen by administration officials as the leading effort in this sort of messaging. More behind the paywall, here

After just 85 days on the job, Penny Mordaunt has been sacked as the UK’s defence secretary. The move comes as new Prime Minister Boris Johnson takes over, a man who The Times writes “is understood to have sacked Ms Morduant during a brief conversation.”
The new guy is named Ben Wallace. (No, not that Ben Wallace.) He's a "former British Army officer" who "moves over from his post as security and economic crime minister at the Home Office," Defense News writes. “He formerly served as the overseas director at British defense technology company Qinetiq before being elected to Parliament.”
Two posts still to be filled: procurement minister and armed forces minister. Read on, here

A Navy SEAL platoon was kicked out of Iraq and ordered back to San Diego after reports of too much alcohol drinking while on deployment in the ongoing war against ISIS, U.S. Special Operations Command announced on its Twitter feed Wednesday evening. 
Reason given: “a perceived deterioration of good order and discipline within the team during non-operational periods,” according to USSOCOM. As a result, “The Commander lost confidence in the team’s ability to accomplish the mission.” 
About the booze: The Washington Post’s Dan Lamothe picked up on the alcohol detail in his report on the announcement, citing “two defense officials with knowledge of the issue.” He also writes that it was SEAL Team 7 that got in trouble. 
And ICYMI, “several SEAL Team 10 special warfare operators snorted cocaine or spiked their booze with the banned substance, often defeating military drug tests they termed ‘a joke,’ according to an internal investigation obtained by Navy Times.” That story here

The U.S. Navy chose an interesting time to sail through the Taiwan Strait. Mere hours after China warned it was ready for war if Taiwan started angling for independence, the U.S. Navy’s guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54) transited through the Taiwan Strait to “demonstrate the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to a statement from the U.S. Navy’s Japan-based Seventh Fleet, and reported first Wednesday evening by Reuters.
Reminder of China’s warning: “If there are people who dare to try to split Taiwan from the country, China’s military will be ready to go to war to firmly safeguard national sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity,” Chinese Defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian told reporters in Beijing Wednesday morning.  
Said Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen to reporters after CG-54’s transit: “Taiwan makes no compromise on its freedom, democracy and sovereignty. The responsibility for cross-strait and regional stability lies with every party. China has the responsibility, and we will undertake ours, too.”
Added a 7th Fleet spox: “The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.” A tiny bit more, here

New gear watch: The U.S. Air Force’s first B-21 bomber will take flight 862 days from now, Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen Wilson said Wednesday. He even has a countdown feature on his phone, AF Magazine tweeted off his public remarks. 
The big day for the B-21: May 13, 2021. Fingers crossed that that date holds…

BTW: Boeing won’t be bidding for America’s new nuclear ICBM that would replace the current Minuteman III, Inside Defense first reported on Wednesday. According to Boeing, the Air Force bidding parameters favor Northrop Grumman for what could be an $85 billion contract. Tiny bit more off that statement from our own Marcus Weisgerber, here

France announced today it will develop anti-satellite laser weapons “to blind those of our adversaries” if its own satellites come under threat, Defense Minister Florence Parly said. "We reserve the right and the means to be able to respond: that could imply the use of powerful lasers deployed from our satellites or from patrolling nano-satellites,” he added. A bit more via AFP, here

And finally today: Some satirical humor from the folks at Duffel Blog, who write about a new (fake) app that lets civilians see “what they would look like if they had actually joined the military like they totally planned to do years ago.” 
The app “graphically alters a user’s photographs to remove up to thirty percent of baby fat, replicate military-style haircuts, and add a layer of cynicism and discontent to the eyes. Multiple optional filters are available, such as Chainsmoker, an inexpensive add-on that replicates the signs of early-onset aging that result from abusing multiple forms of tobacco and energy drinks.” More jokes where that came from, here.