Trump sets drawdown deadline; Allies ignore US calls; Spy chief pick draws fire; 50 key events in cyber history; And a bit more.
President Trump wants fewer troops in Afghanistan in time for U.S. elections in 2020, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday. Pompeo told a D.C. audience that shrinking the U.S. presence is “not only my expectation, it would be job-enhancing,” the Washington Post’s John Hudson reported Monday.
“That’s my directive from the president of the United States,” Pompeo told a crowd at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., on Monday. “He’s been unambiguous: End the endless wars. Draw down. Reduce. It won’t just be us…We want [the Afghan security forces] to take their country back, and we want to reduce what is, for us, tens of billions of dollars a year in expenditures.”
What’s going on: “Trump has empowered his special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, to reach a deal that allows for a reduction of forces in the country and the ability to continue counterterrorism operations,” nameless U.S. officials told Hudson. And that means, despite concerns a quick withdrawal would be a bad idea, “Military officials have now accepted that Trump, who ran on ending America’s ‘endless wars,’ will demand at least a partial drawdown of troops.”
How will Trump’s new plan be greeted by GOP lawmakers who earlier criticized withdrawing from Afghanistan on an “arbitrary deadline” without regard for “conditions on the ground?” Defense One’s Kevin Baron wondered on Twitter upon hearing Pompeo’s remarks.
By the way: “Afghan security forces cannot survive without external donor support, both financial and technical,” said John Sopko, the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, on Monday. "Problems don't miraculously disappear. We, and other oversight bodies, have identified problems that affected reconstruction. And some of these problems could affect lasting peace." Voice of America has more from Sopko’s remarks in Washington Monday, here.
Another data point from Sopko: There are only 38 armored ambulances available for the entire Afghan security forces.
Noted FDD’s Bill Roggio: “Again, what incentive does the Taliban have [to] make concessions when it knows the US is leaving?”
And indeed, that’s the point raised by Reuters after Pompeo’s remarks Monday: “The disclosure of a timeline will add to speculation that Trump is prepared to strike any deal with the Taliban insurgency that will allow for at least partial U.S. withdrawal before American voters go to the polls, irrespective of concerns by the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.”
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, an apparent insider attack killed two U.S. soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, deployed to southern Afghanistan’s Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar province, Stars and Stripes reported Monday.
“The incident is the first known insider attack in Afghanistan since November when Maj. Brent Taylor of the Utah National Guard was killed by an Afghan soldier at a military training center in Kabul," Stripes' Kabul correspondent Philip Walter Wellman writes. "Monday’s deaths bring to 14 the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan this year. All but two were combat-related."
Reporting from the Afghanistan campaign trail, the New York Times’ Mujib Mashal filed the following dispatch Monday after the deadly attack in Kabul Sunday evening that killed 20 people and wounded 50 others: “An Afghan Candidate Wrote His Will, Then Survived a Suicide Squad.”
About America’s overall investment in Afghanistan to date, Just Security’s Kate Brannen tweeted Monday that “The US taxpayer has expended more than $18 billion to equip the Afghan security forces, providing over 600,000 weapons; 70,000 vehicles; and more than 200 aircraft,” citing Sopko’s latest SIGAR report (PDF).
Speaking of transparency, the Pentagon on Saturday announced new Defense Secretary Mark Esper has ordered “senior military and civilians” at the Defense Department to interact with the public much more than they have in recent months. Or, as the memo describes it: “to seek out engagement on policies and operations in your domains through formal and informal channels.”
Three guidelines for this deliberate change in approach:
- “First, always seek the appropriate balance between transparency and operational security.”
- “Second, focus on discussing your roles and responsibilities within the department — the areas where you are the Department's subject matter expert or operational leader.”
- And “finally, ensure that your message is well coordinated within the Department so that we can present a clear voice.”
But just two days later (that is, yesterday): Esper refused to take questions at a Pentagon meeting with the Egyptian defense minister, CNN’s Ryan Brown noted. Such meetings have been among the few times recent defense secretaries and their acting replacements have engaged with the press, under a precedent set by SecDef Mattis.
From Defense One
No One Wants to Join Trump’s Anti-Iran Coalition // Jon B. Alterman: The Trump administration called for help, but Washington's friends have shrugged and calculated it is safer to stay away from maximum pressure. There is a better way.
The Bill for ‘America First’ Is Coming Due // Kori Schake, The Atlantic: Two of America’s closest treaty allies have announced military efforts explicitly designed to exclude the United States.
Defense One Radio, Ep. 50: Cyberwarfare Yesterday // Defense One Staff: In this final episode in our three-part series, we survey the history of cyberwarfare — from the arrest of a Soviet-linked hacker 30 years ago to the ascent of Chinese hackers this century, and a lot in between.
Dan Coats Spoke Truth to Trump. Now He’s Out. // Kathy Gilsinan, The Atlantic: The director of national intelligence won plaudits for laying out the intelligence community’s assessments on issues ranging from Iran to Russia.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day in 1610, Galileo Galilei became the first person to observe Saturn's rings. Eight years later, the Thirty Years’ War would begin devastating battlefields across Central Europe. The conflict, along with the work of intellectuals like Galileo, Isaac Newton, and John Locke, helped give rise to the Enlightenment, “chang[ing] the geopolitical face of Europe and the role of religion and nation-states in society,” as History.com writes.
When “America First” actually means “Emiratis and Saudis first.” Multiple news outlets flooded the space Monday evening with a remarkable story of California investment tycoon, Thomas Barrack Jr., "and a group of former top military officers [who] used extensive contacts within Mr. Trump’s inner circle to advance an initiative potentially worth tens of billions of dollars" in a plan the Wall Street Journal writes "commingled private business interests and U.S. national security policy." The story first surfaced Sunday evening via the New York Times.
The short story, from the Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhouse: “Tom Barrack sought Saudi government funding in a bid to buy ailing U.S. nuclear reactor builder Westinghouse, while lobbying the Trump administration for support on the strategy and while he was seeking a White House job dealing with Mideast policy.”
About that UAE/Saudi angle, ABC News reports “When candidate Donald Trump prepared to give a major energy speech during the 2016 campaign, one of his closest advisers provided a pre-speech review to senior United Arab Emirates officials,” who then passed it along to Saudi officials for editing and approval. Bloomberg emphasizes that Barrack’s plan to sell Saudi Arabia nuclear technology did not involve the typical “restrictions designed to prevent the kingdom from developing nuclear weapons.”
Big picture, according to ABC: the revelations illustrate “the intermingling of private interests and public policy decision by Trump aides both before and after he took office. The resulting investigative report, made public Monday, presents events surrounding the 2016 energy speech as a prime example of how Trump’s close aides were granting their foreign business contacts access to campaign policy decisions.”
These developments could help explain why President Trump has been using Twitter to dump on Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland. Cummings chairs the group that uncovered these developments over at the House Oversight Committee.
Surprise, surprise: Intel professionals and Democratic senators lampoon Trump’s DNI pick. “President Trump’s plan to nominate a political ally as director of national intelligence was seen by current and former officials as a move to subdue spy agencies that he has long regarded as disloyal, and silence one of the few pockets of occasional dissent in his administration,” the Washington Post writes.
Trump has bashed the intelligence community ever since it concluded in January 2017 that Russia had worked to help elect him. “Since then, Trump has remained determined to discredit the Russia assessment, frequently accusing the CIA and FBI of taking part in an anti-Trump conspiracy. In [Rep. John] Ratcliffe and [William Barr], Trump would have staunch allies overseeing both those agencies — and who have backed his dark but unsubstantiated suspicions.” Read, here.
Democratic senators signaled their immediate disapproval. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., suggested that the second-term Congressman, heretofore known mostly for attacking Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the FBI, would bow to Trump’s aversion to hearing things he doesn’t want to hear: “You want to have the best available intelligence to make decisions that are based on facts and reality. That is not something our current president wants.” Politico has more reaction, here.
How Ratcliffe stacks up to his five DNI predecessors: Lawfare’s David Priess lays it out, starting with DNI No. 1, John Negroponte: “one of his generation’s most storied diplomats, having 40+ years in the Foreign Service,” including several ambassadorships and service as Reagan’s deputy national security advisor. Thread here, but — spoiler — the comparisons don’t get any better for Ratcliffe, who has managed nothing larger than the U.S. attorney’s office in Texas’ Eastern District.
In fact, Ratcliffe may be legally ineligible for the job. Here’s 50 U.S. Code §: “Any individual nominated for appointment as Director of National Intelligence shall have extensive national security expertise.” (h/t Ned Price.)
The latest twist: The president’s aides are trying to see if Trump can “legally choose an acting director outside the line of succession,” CNN reported Monday evening.
Tweeted former CIA-er, Patrick Skinner: “In our time of hyperbole & normalized incompetence & dumb, it still is hard to overstate how dangerous this is; the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) will be a hyper-partisan peddler of insane conspiracy theories. And I mean insane. I worry for my friends working in the IC.”
Remember that mysterious radioactive cloud that hung over Europe in 2017? Researchers now believe it originated in Russia, the Washington Post reported Monday.
White supremacy and mass violence in northern California. The Gilroy Garlic Festival gunman on Sunday “was an angry 19-year-old who had recently waded into the world of white supremacy,” NBC News reported Monday.
Has Facebook tried to connect you with U.S. soldiers deployed abroad? Careful, especially if you’re sending money to these folks, since in at least a couple of cases, it’s actually part of a global fraud that neither Facebook nor the Pentagon can stop, according to this disturbing report Monday from the New York Times.
Protesting on the margins of 21st-century China involves all sorts of craftiness, like teams of tear-gas mitigators and lasers to thwart facial recognition of the Communist government in Beijing and its extended network of obedient officials.
What’s really going on: “Hong Kong’s protesters and their sympathizers abroad see a battle over universal rights and political values,” the Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor reported Monday.
Former DoD-er Joe Bosco’s op-ed advice, writing in The Hill on Monday: “Hong Kong protesters show wit and courage; US should, too”
And read a bit more about how “faces have become weapons” in Hong Kong via this recent feature from the New York Times.
The more you know (about disputed news): New research shows that labeling false news stories as “disputed” greatly cuts down on folks sharing these misleading stories on social media, Defense One’s Patrick Tucker wrote on Twitter after reading this report published Sunday in the Policy & Internet journal.
Among the findings is what’s called the “third-person effect,” which in this case means users thinking that they would never share false news stories, and that it's only other people who share them and are duped.
Bigger picture: “This study shows that flagging of false news on social media platforms like Facebook may indeed help the current efforts to combat sharing of deceiving information on social media,” the study’s authors write. More behind the academic paywall, here.
This week in digital shenanigans, it appears as though disgraced Puerto Rico governor used a Twitter botnet to steer public opinion. The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Lab assesses more than 50 different apparently fake accounts and a dozen different cases involved in this still-developing story, here.
This week in your data, the fifth-largest U.S. credit-card issuer, Capital One, announced Monday that a “just-arrested hacker accessed the personal information of 106 million card customers and applicants” by hacking into its Amazon-based cloud service, the Wall Street Journal’s Dustin Volz reported.
Involved: “approximately 140,000 Social Security numbers and 80,000 bank account numbers, as well as some customers’ credit scores, payment histories and credit limits.”
About that arrested hacker: Her name is Paige Thompson; she’s 33 and she was arrested Monday in Seattle. Thompson also happens to have been “a former employee of Amazon Web Services Inc.,” Volz writes. The breach appears to have occurred in late March, and it was Thompson’s own bragging out “her alleged theft of the data, which allowed law enforcement to quickly identify her.”
It was an “ethical hacker” who pointed out the breach, too, Volz writes — and that hacker alerted Capital One, which alerted law enforcement on July 19. Ten days later Thompson was in custody. A bit more behind the paywall, here.
And finally today: Find a chart containing roughly 50 key events in the history of cyberwarfare on our site here at Defense One. The chart is part of our final report in a three-episode podcast series on the past, present, and future of cybersecurity. The final episode, “Cyberwarfare yesterday,” just posted on Monday. Listen on Apple Podcasts here, or find a transcript on our site — along with that chart — here.