More military funds may go to Wall; Soleimani justifications shift again; Moscow’s influence ops; Stopping drone friendly fire; And a bit more.
The White House wants to divert more DoD funds for the Wall. The Trump administration is planning to divert an additional $7.2 billion in Pentagon funds for the border wall with Mexico — or enough to complete 880 miles of new barriers by 2022, the Washington Post reported Monday.
That’s enough money to buy three Navy destroyers, or seven of the Navy’s next frigates, or two Virginia-class submarines, or nearly three squadrons of F-35s, as calculated by Defense News’ David Larter, a former cruiser sailor who has this week’s Surface Navy Association conference on his mind.
Injunction lifted: The move came after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that work funded by an earlier diversion of $3.6 billion in military funding could proceed despite legal challenges that are underway. Read on, here.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to shift its professed justifications for killing Gen. Qassem Soleimani. After repeatedly saying that the Iranian commander posed “an imminent threat,” administration officials on Monday said:
- President Trump: it “doesn’t really matter” whether Soleimani posed an imminent threat because of his past deeds.
- Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: killing Soleimani was part of an effort to reestablish deterrence.
- Attorney General Robert Barr: Soleimani was a “legitimate military target” whose killing was a “legitimate act of self-defense.”
From Defense One
When Both Sides Have Drones, How Do You Know Which Ones to Kill? // Patrick Tucker: The U.S. Army recently tested a system that helps defenders wipe the skies of just the unfriendly aerial robots.
The US Wants to Intimidate China with Hypersonics, Once It Solves the Physics // Patrick Tucker: The U.S. is pressing ahead with new missiles, but questions remain about engineering, tactics, and even geopolitics.
The Global Race for Big National-Security Ideas Is On // Amy Zegart, The Atlantic: The United States faces genuinely new challenges—but tries to understand them using outmoded theories from a bygone era.
On Iran, It's Time to Return to Containment // Mario Loyola, The Atlantic: Trump has traded Obama-era appeasement for inconsistent confrontation. What's needed is a strategy of containment, backed by clear and credible deterrence.
Russia’s ‘Data Localization’ Efforts May Guide Other Governments // Samuel Bendett and Justin Sherman: Moscow’s efforts to keep data on home soil interest other authoritarian states — and even some liberal democracies.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1969, 28 American sailors died in a fire aboard USS Enterprise, the third and last of the U.S. Navy’s major carrier fires of the 1960s.
Russian hackers have been attacking Burisma, "the Ukrainian gas company on whose board Hunter Biden served," the New York Times' Nicole Perlroth and Matthew Rosenberg reported Monday evening. And the hacking operation appears to have begun "in early November, as talk of the Bidens, Ukraine and impeachment was dominating the news in the United States."
A security firm called Area 1 uncovered the hacking efforts on New Year’s Eve, which they detailed in a report (PDF) published Monday. Area 1’s investigators uncovered a "phishing campaign targeting the email credentials of employees at Burisma Holdings, its subsidiaries and partners.” The attacks sent email recipients to fake login pages, which isn’t a terribly new or sophisticated attack vector — but is nonetheless a method that snags three out of ten internet users.
Lest there be any ambiguity, the report’s authors write, “The campaign against the Ukranian oil & gas company was launched by the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Army or GRU."
“You can see this attack really is starting to parallel with what we saw in 2016,” Oren Falkowitz, Area 1’s chief executive, told Reuters. “Our report doesn’t make any claims as to what the intent of the hackers were, what they might have been looking for, what they are going to do with their success. We just point out that this is a campaign that’s going on,” he told AP.
Influence ops watch: Where Beijing and Moscow align. “Russian state-controlled broadcaster RT aired a contentious documentary in English last month that accused the U.S. of directing and funding Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests,” the Wall Street Journal reports today.
Why this matters: “Beijing-friendly content on RT and other Russian foreign-language news outlets underscores efforts by the governments and state media of China and Russia to foster cooperation in what Moscow sees as an information war against the U.S. Relations between Moscow and Beijing have blossomed as both countries’ ties with Washington have wilted.” Read on behind the paywall, here.
Negotiators for Libya’s two warring sides failed to reach a ceasefire on Monday during a seven-hour round of talks brokered by Turkey and Russia. “Fayez Sarraj, the head of Libya’s U.N.-recognized government in Tripoli… signed the draft before departing," AP reports from Moscow. But Sarraj’s rival, Gen. Khalifa Hifter/Haftar "requested more time to consider it and then left Moscow without signing the document."
Said Turkey’s President Erdogan: “The coup-plotting Hifter first said ‘yes’ but then fled Moscow. We have completed our duty, the rest is the duty of Mr. Putin and his team.” Erdogan later promised a military response if Haftar doesn’t agree to a ceasefire soon, Reuters reports today from Ankara. “It is our duty to protect our kin in Libya,” Erdogan said.
Reminder of the sides in this conflict:
- Sarraj has the support of the U.S. (h/t Ragip Soylu), the UN and — more militarily lately — Turkey;
- Haftar has the backing of the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and Russian mercenaries.
Replied Russia’s defense ministry in a statement on Monday: “Marshal Hifter had a positive view of the final statement, but requested two days to discuss the document with the tribal leaders before signing it.”
Next up: Germany will host negotiations in Berlin on Sunday, AP reports separately today. “Officials from the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, United Arab Emirates, Turkey as well as several African and Arab countries are also invited.” Tiny bit more, here.
France hosted the leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania for a summit to bolster counterterrorism operations in West Africa, AP reported Monday from the southwestern French commune of Pau.
What to know out of this: “African leaders said they want France’s military presence on their ground and called for more international support,” AP writes. “They also expressed their gratitude toward the ‘crucial help’ of the United States amid fears [New York Times] it may reduce its troops across the African continent.”
Related: “Niger said the death toll from an attack by Islamic extremists last week on its military rose to at least 89,” AP writes, “making it the most deadly attack of its kind in years in the country.”
Next: “A similar summit will be held in June in Mauritania to asses the results.” Read on, here.
Britain, Germany, and France have formally triggered a dispute mechanism over the nuclear deal with Iran “after [Tehran] took a further step back from its commitments,” Reuters, AP and the BBC report today.
Triggering the mechanism is a “risky gambit,” says Ali Vaez of the Iran-watching International Crisis Group. Read his thread, but here’s the bottom line: The three countries’ move “might provoke a crisis that they claim they are trying to prevent unless the time and space created by intense diplomatic engagement is used to provide Iran with some economic reprieve as means of returning it into JCPOA compliance.”
And finally today: Japan sent two surveillance planes to the Middle East on an intelligence-gathering mission, IHS Janes reported Monday.
Involved: “two P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft… to carry out intelligence-gathering operations in the region aimed at helping ensure the safety of vessels conducting commercial operations with Japan.”
The aircraft will stage out of Japan’s base in Djibouti and “are expected to begin their 11-month-long mission on 20 January while the warship will begin operations in the region in mid-February.” A bit more, here.