The year’s 250th and 251st mass shootings; Turkey threatens to invade Syria; Would-be DNI, dropped; DOD’s megacloud, on hold; And a bit more.
At least 29 people were killed more than 50 were injured from two mass shootings in Texas and Ohio this weekend — attacks the Associated Press reports “may have been [more shocking because] the death toll wasn’t worse.” They were the 250th and 251st mass shootings of the year, by USA Today’s accounting.
The Texas attack happened at a Wal-Mart in the border city of El Paso when "a gunman opened fire Saturday morning in a shopping area packed with thousands of people during the busy back-to-school season. The attack killed 20 and wounded more than two dozen, many of them critically."
The El Paso shooting is being investigated “as a possible case of domestic terrorism and a hate crime because officials believe the suspect, a white man, was targeting Hispanics,” the Wall Street Journal reports. That Texas shooter is “a 21-year-old white man who was believed to have posted a manifesto of sorts that espoused anti-immigrant and white-nationalist ideology on a popular far-right website not long before the shooting.”
The forum where he posted that manifesto — 8chan — is under intense scrutiny today, and seems to be suffering “sporadic outages” (AP) especially since its founder recommended the thing be shut down because “It’s not doing the world any good. It’s a complete negative to everybody except the users that are there. And you know what? It’s a negative to them, too. They just don’t realize it.” The New York Times has that angle, here.
Bigger picture re: white nationalism, “domestic-terrorism-related arrests and killings have surpassed those involving Islamic extremism in recent years,” the Journal reported separately this weekend. “Of about 850 current domestic terrorism cases, 40% involve racially motivated violent extremism and a majority of those cases involve white supremacists.”
What’s more, the El Paso shooter “described a potential mass shooting as a response to an ‘invasion of Texas’ by Hispanic immigrants,” the Journal reports.
About the shooting in Dayton, it involved “a gunman wearing body armor and carrying extra magazines [who] opened fire in a popular nightlife area, killing nine and injuring at least 26 people,” AP writes. Police “Officers patrolling the area took just 30 seconds to stop the shooting, which unfolded around 1 a.m.” The shooter there was 24-year-old Connor Betts, whose motive remains murky, and whose string of violence included the death of his 22-year-old sister, Megan.
In response, AP writes President “Trump suggested Monday [via Twitter] that a background check bill could be paired with his long-sought effort to toughen the nation’s immigration system. He didn’t say how.”
Trump also took aim at one of his favorite targets in the wake of the two shootings this weekend. Said the president on Twitter today: “Fake News has contributed greatly to the anger and rage that has built up over many years. News coverage has got to start being fair, balanced and unbiased, or these terrible problems will only get worse!”
Otherwise for El Paso and the rest of the southern border frontier, the Trump administration wants to keep troops at U.S.-Mexico border through Sept. 2020, NBC News reported Friday before the two shootings dominated weekend headlines.
By the way: The Pentagon is reportedly testing mass surveillance balloons across the U.S., The Guardian reported Friday off of recently-revealed FCC documents. “Up to 25 unmanned solar-powered balloons are being launched from rural South Dakota and drifting 250 miles through an area spanning portions of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri, before concluding in central Illinois… The balloons are carrying hi-tech radars designed to simultaneously track many individual vehicles day or night, through any kind of weather. The tests, which have not previously been reported, received an FCC license to operate from mid-July until September, following similar flights licensed last year.” More here.
Update: Ratcliffe’s big fib preceded his quiet departure on Friday. Trump has abruptly dropped his plan to tap Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, lead the nation’s intelligence community despite a thin and yet exaggerated natsec resume. More from the NYTs, here.
Ratcliffe joins a long list of Trump would-be appointees, including former DepSecDef Patrick Shanahan, who were rejected by the Senate or withdrew from consideration.
From Defense One
How Many Attacks Will It Take Until the White-Supremacist Threat Is Taken Seriously? // Uri Friedman: FBI Director Christopher Wray said recently that the bureau doesn’t “investigate the ideology, no matter how repugnant. We investigate violence.”
Why Trump Cares About the Pentagon’s Mega-Cloud — and Why That Terrifies Those Who Want It // Patrick Tucker and Frank R. Konkel: Breaking up the $10 billion JEDI network project will hurt the U.S. military’s effort to speed data to troops, its fans argue.
Military-Style Surveillance Technology Is Being Tested in American Cities // Arthur Holland Michel , The Atlantic: In the eyes of the law, there’s no difference between a smartphone photo taken through an airplane window and one taken by an ultra-powerful camera in a helicopter hovering over your backyard.
Defense One Radio, Ep. 51: “The New Battle for the Atlantic” // Defense One Staff: Magnus Nordenman explains how America's strategic and operational environment in the North Atlantic has changed since the Cold War.
Don’t Peg Troop Withdrawals to the Political Calendar // Richard Fontaine, The Atlantic: Reductions in the U.S. presence should be tied to conditions on the ground in Afghanistan.
Welcome to this Monday 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 1930, Neil Armstrong was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio.
U.S. officials are scrambling today to keep Turkey from invading northeastern Syria, where the U.S. has no authorization to defend its Kurdish allies. And those Kurds are warning all who will listen that some of the 10,000 or so ISIS prisoners may escape should the Turks actually invade, the Washington Post reported this weekend.
“With tens of thousands of Turkish troops massed near the border,” the Post writes, “a high-level Defense Department delegation plans to present what U.S. officials describe as a final offer to address Turkey’s concerns at a meeting Monday in Ankara.”
The U.S. military’s plan "proposal includes a joint U.S.-Turkish military operation to secure a strip south of the Syria-Turkey border that would be about nine miles deep and 87 miles long and from which the Kurdish fighters would be withdrawn. The U.S. and Turkish militaries would destroy Kurdish fortifications and then jointly patrol the area, located in the middle third of the northeastern border… The other two-thirds would be cleared later."
Turkey, however, wants a safe zone “at least 20 miles deep,” the Post writes, and Ankara wants its troops to patrol it alone, without U.S. participation.
The catch: “If Turkey refuses the U.S. entreaty, the [Trump] administration has made clear that it cannot, under existing congressional authorities, intervene to protect the Kurdish fighters,” which dominate the roughly 60,000-strong, U.S.-partnered Syrian Democratic Forces. Read on, here.
Does our new, post-INF world mean the U.S. will put ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Asia? It would certainly like to, and within months, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters (AP) en route to a conference of ASEAN defense ministers in Sydney, Australia, on Friday: “It’s fair to say, though, that we would like to deploy a capability sooner rather than later. I would prefer months. I just don’t have the latest state of play on timelines.”
Reminder of what’s on the drawing board for U.S. planners: “a low-flying cruise missile with a potential range of about 1,000 kilometers [that] could be flight-tested this month and be ready for deployment in 18 months,” AP writes. As well, there’s “A ballistic missile with a range of roughly 3,000 to 4,000 kilometers [that also] could take five years or more to deploy. Neither would be nuclear armed.”
Australia’s foreign minister says: We’re not hosting INF-range missiles. Reuters has that one, here.
For what it’s worth, the U.S. couldn’t target anything meaningful with Australia-based INF-range missiles, anyhow, Jeffrey Lewis noted this weekend on Twitter.
Russia says it expects Japan to be the first stop for new U.S. missiles, Reuters reports. “The universal MK-41 launch system that will appear, it seems, in Japan can also be adapted to be used to launch medium-range cruise missiles," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters today in Moscow. "So these new systems when they appear in Japan will without doubt also be taken into account during our corresponding planning.”
Next for Esper’s Asia swing: visits to New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and Mongolia.
The U.S. and South Korea are getting ready for joint exercises today, exercises that North Korea wanted dropped, AP reports. One big question about today’s drills: will they involve actual troops and equipment, or will they merely be computer simulations? A South Korean defense ministry spokeswoman would not say.
Background: “The North insists even the downsized drills violate agreements between Kim and Trump, who in Singapore vowed to improve bilateral ties and issued a vague statement on a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula without describing when and how it would occur… The leaders agreed to resume working-level nuclear talks that stalled since February, but there have been no known meetings between the two sides since then.”
BTW: The North is still messaging off that last launch on Friday, AP reports separately today, relaying state-run media reporting dictator Kim Jong Un personally supervised the system’s “altitude control level flight performance, track changing capability, accuracy of hitting a target and warhead explosion power of the guided ordnance rocket.”
ICYMI: Britain, France and Germany (and notably, not the U.S.) condemned Friday’s tests as violations of U.N. sanctions, and “said international sanctions should remain in place until North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs are dismantled,” AP writes.
North Korea responded on Saturday, saying (1) U.N. resolutions are a “grave provocation” against its government, and (2) last week’s tests involved a “projectile… [with] a straight line owing to earth gravity” rather than a missile with a “ballistic curve.”
Reminder: Like SecDef Esper, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dropped by Sydney for those ASEAN talks this weekend. His visit “Down Under” came after a three-day stop late last week in Thailand. There, Pompeo and the White House’s North Korean envoy Stephen Biegun had hoped to meet North Korean officials; but those hopes remained just that, AP reported.
Otherwise, Pompeo used the Sydney stop to ding China for its cyber theft of U.S. corporate data and Beijing’s so-called debt diplomacy, with Pompeo publicly “drawing a direct link between what he called one-sided trade deals and China’s ability to strengthen its military,” the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.
Said Pompeo: “Let’s make no mistake about it: China’s capacity, the People’s Liberation Army’s capacity to do exactly what they’re doing is a direct result of the trade relationships that they’ve developed. They grew their country on the backs of a set of unfair trade rules. So they were able to grow their economy at a high rate of speed and – and to steal technology and to force technology transfers. Those very same economic tools that President Trump is so focused on fixing are what also have enabled China to do all the things they’re doing with their military all around the world. It underwrites their capacity to build their military.” Read his full remarks over at the State Department’s site, here.
FWIW: Esper also took rhetorical swipes at China this weekend, accusing Beijing of a “disturbing pattern of aggressive behavior” and “destabilizing behavior” in the region, the Washington Post reported. China, Esper said, is “weaponizing the global commons using predatory economics and debt-for-sovereignty deals, and promoting state-sponsored theft of other nations’ intellectual property.” More on that front from Bloomberg, here.
Pompeo is also trying to renew security agreements with the Marshall Islands, Palau, and the Federated States of Micronesia as a curb against China’s rising influence and power, Reuters reports this morning from Sydney. “The agreement is due to expire in 2024, and any lapse could have created a potential opening for China.” Story here.
U.S. officials with INDOPACOM have some new activity to monitor in Kashmir now that “India’s government revoked disputed Kashmir’s special status with a presidential order Monday,” AP reports. And that order came “as thousands of newly deployed troops arrived and internet and phone services were cut in the restive Himalayan region where most people oppose Indian rule.”
Context: “Changing Kashmir’s legal status within India has long has been an aim of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party,” the Wall Street Journal writes. “Officials from Mr. Modi’s government said bringing more central-government control to Kashmir and opening the state to investment and migration from other parts of India will end what they view as discriminatory treatment for residents and improve the economy.”
From Modi’s perspective, “autonomy has simply encouraged militant separatist groups that look to like-minded extremists operating with little interference inside Pakistan for support… But the move risks exacerbating an already tense situation that has long festered in the state, which could have regional and global repercussions.” More from Reuters, here.
Air attack kills at least 40 at wedding in Libya. The Sunday strike was carried out, apparently by drone, by forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar, Al Jazeera reports, citing local media. “Nearly 1,100 people have been reported killed since Haftar, based in eastern Libya, launched an offensive against the capital Tripoli on April 4.” Just a bit more, here.
Iran: We’ve seized another tanker. State news agencies reported on Sunday that Revolutionary Guard forces have seized their third vessel in two weeks. The ship was smuggling 185,000 gallons of diesel fuel taken on from other ships and bound for “Persian Gulf Arab states,” Guard commander Gen. Ramazan Zirahi told Fars.
AP: “It was not immediately clear why a ship carrying Iranian fuel would transfer its cargo to energy exporting Gulf states, but smuggling has been a source of concern in Iran. Iranian media reported last month that some 8 million liters of government-subsidized Iranian fuel are smuggled daily to other countries where prices are much higher.”
U.S. Fifth Fleet officials couldn’t immediately confirm the seizure. A bit more, here.
Houthis send drones into Saudi Arabia again. Both the Yemeni Houthis and Saudi officials seem to agree that the Monday attacks targeted the King Khalid airbase and Abha and Najran airports in southwest Saudi Arabia, Reuters reports. But while Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saria said a drone “hit its targets” at Abha and another disrupted air traffic at Najran, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition said the drones had been intercepted and downed while heading toward the airports.
That follows Thursday’s Houthi missile and drone attacks on Aden. The attacks killed dozens at a military parade in Yemen’s capital city and “threatens a U.N.-sponsored deal for a ceasefire and troop withdrawal from the flashpoint coastal city of Hodeidah, which became the focus of the war last year when the coalition tried to seize its port, the Houthis’ main supply line and a lifeline for millions of Yemenis.” Read, here.
We have a new first at for the pursuit of justice in the U.S. Navy, unless you can tell us when a new CNO has ever taken over an alleged war crimes case before. Navy Times: “In a stunning move Saturday, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson removed all court-martial authority from Navy Region Southwest, the command that had been weighing a sentence for Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher.”
That’s just the latest unusual twist in the case of the sailor charged with war crimes, found innocent by a military jury, and whose prosecutors received medals that were soon revoked after a tweet by the commander-in-chief. Read on, here.
And finally today: A jailed gang leader in Brazil is back in jail after trying to escape dressed as his daughter, AP reports from Rio de Janeiro.
What gave him away? His nervous gestures while donning a rubber mask and wearing tight denim jeans with a pink shirt featuring donuts on the front. It’s a noticeably ugly sight you can check out for yourself, here.