Esper, Milley to testify on crackdown; Trump pushed CIA to give info to Moscow; Army’s Confederate review covered more than base names; And a bit more.

What happened with protesters and the U.S. military on the evening of June 1? That’s one of the bigger questions House lawmakers will consider just after lunch today as they hear testimony from Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley. The military leaders have been called before the House Armed Services Committee to talk about what happened that fateful evening in Washington, D.C., one week after George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25.

See the crackdown again: The Washington Post published a thorough reconstruction (here) and timeline of events (here) based on camera footage of law enforcement confronting protesters around the White House earlier on the evening of June 1. 

Recall that around 7 p.m. ET that night, Esper and Milley "accompanied the president when he walked from the White House to St. John’s Church on Lafayette Square, where he held up a Bible for photographers," the Associated Press reports today in a preview. In addition, later that evening, “a National Guard helicopter was flown at extremely low altitude to help disperse protesters from the capital’s streets, prompting a Pentagon investigation into whether that was a proper use of military resources.”

Worth noting: Milley admitted later “I should not have been there,” according to a prerecorded commencement address to graduates of the National Defense University on June 11. “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics,” Milley said after 10 days of criticism from civil-military experts and others.

Esper never quite apologized like Milley. Esper did, however, order a review of “diversity and inclusiveness” for service members of color more than two weeks after the June 1 photo op. And ironically enough, the first change to follow that announcement has been to remove photos from the Army officer promotion process, as the Wall Street Journal first reported on June 25.

BTW: This will be Milley and Esper’s first congressional testimony since March 4, which was shortly before the coronavirus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. So in many ways, it’s a very different world than the one they testified about four months ago. 

Other issues lawmakers could address today: 

  • Removing Confederate Army officer names from Army bases. “The House and Senate versions of the 2021 defense policy bill require name changes at those 10 Army bases,” AP writes, noting, “Trump has said he will veto the bill if it reaches his desk with that provision intact.”
  • The Russian bounty on U.S. troops in Afghanistan;
  • And allegedly politicizing the Army’s promotion process in the case of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who retired Wednesday, citing a “campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation” from the White House. More from CNN, here

From Defense One

Army Was Reviewing More Than Confederate Base Names, Officials Reveal // Katie Bo Williams: Among the potential friction points eyed were Army National Guard units with nicknames honoring Confederate leaders.

Biden Pledged to ‘Prohibit’ US Tech Companies From Helping China. It Won’t Be Easy // Patrick Tucker: There’s a growing bipartisan appetite to block and ban China from buying U.S. tech. But actually enforcing blockades requires work.

FBI Opens a China-Related Counterintelligence Investigation Every 10 Hours // Frank R. Konkel, Nextgov: FBI Director Chris Wray says China is increasing its illegal activity to subvert the U.S. during the pandemic.

Election Experts Warn of November Disaster // Matt Vasilogambros, Stateline: The primary season underlined some new problems and others that have been apparent for years.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1955, Lindsey Olin Graham was born in the town of Central, S.C.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban say elected leaders are “hostile” to peace, which is a “Very ironic accusation considering [the] Taliban has been in violation of multiple ceasefires w/ increased attacks in [the] past months,” writes Rita Katz of SITE Intelligence Group, which has been monitoring terrorist activity since at least the rise of ISIS six years ago.
Today, Kabul officials say they’ll release more Taliban prisoners in an effort to get negotiations with the Taliban back on track, Reuters reports from the capital. Apparently Kabul officials we uninterested in releasing a tranche of some 600 Taliban fighters currently in custody; so the Taliban gave Kabul a different list of 600 names. Tiny bit more from Reuters, here.
The Afghan Air Force lost an A-19 Super Tucano aircraft today over Baghlan province, just north of Kabul. "The valley is controlled by Taliban,” Afghan journalist Bilal Sarwary tweeted this morning.
An American was allegedly on that A-29, and he or she is reportedly injured but has since been picked up by unspecified security forces, the New York Times’ Najim Rahim reports today. 

By the way: “A majority of Americans [60%] believe that Russia paid the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan last year amid negotiations to end the war, and more than half [54%] want to respond with new economic sanctions against Moscow,” Reuters reported Wednesday.
What’s more, “the American public remains deeply suspicious of Russia four years after it tried to tip the U.S. presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor, and most Americans are unhappy with how the president has handled relations with the country.”

Why did Russia feel free to offer those bounties? Three reasons, former Trump administration officials tell Just Security’s Ryan Goodman. “First, President Trump decided not to confront Putin about supplying arms to the terrorist group. Second, during the very times in which U.S. military officials publicly raised concerns about the program’s threat to U.S. forces, Trump undercut them. He embraced Putin, overtly and repeatedly, including at the historic summit in Helsinki. Third, behind the scenes, Trump directed the CIA to share intelligence information on counterterrorism with the Kremlin despite no discernible reward,” Goodman wrote on Wednesday.
In the months after Trump took office, a parade of generals publicly warned that Moscow was arming the Taliban. (They included CENTCOM’s Gen. Joseph L. Votel, Afghanistan commander Gen. John Nicholson, EUCOM’s Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti — plus SecDef James Mattis.) The president, meanwhile, was touting his attempts to warm relations with Vladimir Putin, and passing classified information to senior Russian officials in the Oval Office.
Trump was also pushing the CIA to share information with Russia. “There was a consistent push for CT cooperation with Moscow, coming from the White House, despite near universal belief within the IC that this effort would be one sided and end up being a waste of time and energy,” said Marc Polymeropoulos, who retired in mid-2019 from the Senior Intelligence Service at the CIA. Read Goodman’s whole piece, including a timeline, here.

Iran says it will bolster Syria's air defences as part of a bilateral military deal to “fight terrorism” and counter American pressure, Agence France-Presse reported Wednesday. The joint statement from that meeting also demanded "the withdrawal of all foreign armed forces having entered Syria illegally,” which would seem to be a reference to both the U.S. and Turkish militaries. More from AFP, here

Lastly today: Is North Korea building nuclear warheads at a previously undisclosed facility? New satellite images seem to suggest as much, CNN reported Wednesday. But the facility may instead be a place to train military officers, according to Daily NK