No troop reduction for South Korea just yet. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has given no orders to reduce the number of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, he said this morning — one week after the Wall Street Journal reported the Pentagon presented the president with options to reduce the force there as part of a worldwide review of U.S. military deployments. Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams has the story, here.
“We will continue to look at adjustments at every command we have, at every theater, to make sure we are optimizing our forces,” Esper said this morning in a live stream from the Pentagon. “I continue to want to pursue more rotational force deployments into theaters, because it gives us greater strategic flexibility in terms of responding to challenges around the globe.”
Esper also accused China of “regularly disrespecting the rights of other nations.” And those remarks make him one of this summer’s last key White House officials to speak out against China since National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien previewed the rhetorical attacks during remarks in Arizona in late June (though to be fair, he did not promise Esper would say anything). FBI Director Chris Wray has since delivered a speech on China, as has Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr. Read more about Esper's comments today at Defense One, here.
The unmarked federal officers arresting people on Portland streets could hurt federal agencies’ ability to coordinate with local police forces for years to come, two former senior DHS officials tell Defense One’s Patrick Tucker. And that could undermine America’s ability to respond to natural disasters, prevent terrorist attacks, and continue post-9/11 efforts to get everyone on the same page. Read on, here.
President Trump is vowing to send similar forces to other “Democrat” cities. In a Monday video, the president suggested that New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland, California, might be next. (Reuters)
Steve Vladeck and Benjamin Wittes: “The premise is alarming because it uses the cover of minor property damage, whether to federal property or otherwise, to justify intelligence gathering against ordinary Americans—most of whom have nothing to do with the underlying property damage, and many of whom are engaged in the most American of activities: peacefully protesting their government,” they write at Lawfare.
Paul Rosenzweig, a senior policy official at the department during the George W. Bush administration: “The new guidance is ‘a complete misapplication of existing authorities to benefit the president,’ Rosenzweig, now a senior fellow at the R Street think tank, told the Post. “Trump is morphing DHS into his private little rogue, secret army.”
Unmarked officers beat Navy veteran who asked them a question. Gone viral is a video of Christopher David, 53, a former Navy civil engineering corps officer and a 1988 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. The video shows David standing with his arms at his sides as a black-clad officer hits him three times with a nightstick and another blasts pepper spray in his face. David told the New York Times that he had approached the officers to ask whether they remembered their oath to the Constitution. The officer broke two bones in his hand, which will require reconstructive surgery with pins and plates, the Washington Post reported.
From Defense One
DHS’s Portland Stunt Could Undermine the Agency For Years, Former Officials Warn // Patrick Tucker: "This is well outside the bounds of what the intent is of the federal protective services mission."
Foreign Disinformation Campaign Is Targeting Congress, Top Dems Say // Katie Bo Williams: Four House lawmakers are demanding an all-member briefing from the FBI.
Force Won’t Much Slow Iranian Nuclear Progress, But Something Else Can // Jon Wolfsthal and Ariane Tabatabai: The historical record shows that diplomacy can do what force alone has not.
Welcome to this Tuesday 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 1977, Libya and Egypt went to war for four days.
New: SecDef Esper wants all media requests to run through his public affairs office, according to two memos CNN’s Barbara Starr has seen today — memos she reports are “aimed at restricting leaks and unauthorized disclosure of information,” and that includes unclassified information.
“The two memos [are] addressed to all personnel,” Starr writes on Twitter, “including Joint Chiefs and worldwide war fighting commanders obtained from multiple officials.”
The Wall Street Journal's Nancy Youssef writes: "For starters...If it's off the record, there is no record it happened. Also, what criteria will OSD/PA use to authorize engagement? And, if DoD wants to own its messaging perhaps its top generals in Afghanistan/Iraq, combatant commanders should conduct a Pentagon press briefing?"
The Washington Post's Greg Jaffe: "This looks like an effort to control leaks. But it won’t stop leaks. It’ll lead to more of them. And it’ll make it impossible for the US military to get out information that the American people should know."
Said Brent Colburn, former Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs: "Not only is this a bad idea and not how DOD should engage with the media, the logistics of this alone are hard to grasp—unless they’ve drastically increased the size of DOD-PA since I was there they are going to get swamped by this assignment. Heart goes out to the PAOs."
Says Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron: “It’s an absurd attempt to stop the media from doing its job, and stop Pentagon employees from doing theirs. If it’s all paper bullshit, then Esper knows it and once again he’s trying to please Trump and please reality at the same time, which never works.”
House lawmakers just voted to ban federal employees from downloading TikTok onto government-issued devices, Politico reported in a shorty Monday evening. The measure passed the House in a 336-71 vote "as part of a package of bipartisan amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act."
Later today: The full House is expected to pass that NDAA, with the Senate currently poised to pass their version “later this week,” according to Politico. “The two chambers will then hammer out their differences in a joint conference committee.”
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein has a busy afternoon today. He kicks it off with a digital Atlantic Council event to explain the service’s new — and first-ever — arctic strategy. He’ll be joined by Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett and Chief of Space Operations General John Raymond. That gets started at 1:30 p.m. ET. Details and registration, here.
Then Goldfein goes live again at 3:30 p.m. for a one-on-one conversation with the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies’ Professor Mara Karlin. Register for that one, here.
Everyone’s talking about Libya. And by “everyone,” we mean the leaders of the U.S., France, and Egypt. President Trump spoke by phone with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi on Monday — which is the same day Egypt’s parliament authorized military action into neighboring Libya. French President Emmanuel Macron called up Trump on Monday, too, Macron tweeted, calling it a “great discussion.”
Bigger picture: The decision from Egypt’s parliament “could bring Egypt and Turkey, who support opposite sides in the Libya's chaotic proxy war, into direct confrontation,” Germany’s DW reported Monday.
Reminder: Egypt, Russia, and the UAE all support rogue Libyan general Khalifa Haftar and his “Libyan National Army,” based in Libya’s east, near Sirte. The LNA had been trying to take Tripoli from the UN-backed Government of National Accord since April 2019, but was forced to stop in early June after Turkish support — with rebels (many from near Syria) and equipment, including drones — pushed the LNA out of Tripoli’s outskirts.
Also supporting the GNA in Tripoli: Italy and Qatar, in addition to Turkey. It’s worth noting, as DW does here, that “The US, which is close allies with both Egypt and Turkey, has sent mixed signals to the rival sides over the course of the war. However, Washington has grown concerned with Russia's presence in Libya after hundreds of Russian mercenaries backed Haftar's failed attempt to capture Tripoli.” (Learn more about those mercs in our podcast on Wagner, here.)
Where to go from here: Not to Sirte, if you’re the UN-backed Libyan government. That’s the latest warning from Egypt’s Sissi, who last week called any operation into Sirte a “red line.”
By the way, Sirte is nearly 600 miles by road from Egypt, The Telegraph reminds us this morning. And Egypt hasn’t actually deployed troops abroad since 1991, “when it dispatched two armoured divisions and troops to Saudi Arabia.” However, “The Egyptian forces struggled to advance into Kuwait during the four-day ground offensive against Iraqi troops but later returned home to a hero’s welcome.” Read more about Libya from the Washington Post’s Ishaan Tharoor, here.
Turkey: We’re going to build an aircraft carrier soon, President Recep Erdogan said today. Ragıp Soylu of the Middle East Eye tweeted that announcement this morning, and reminded his Twitter followers, "Turkey is already building light aircraft carrier TCG Anadolu which would host attack choppers and drones."
Related reading: “Blue Homeland: The Heated Politics Behind Turkey’s New Maritime Strategy,” from Ryan Gingeras, professor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, writing in War on the Rocks in early June.
“The economy of Lebanon has collapsed,” Liz Sly of the Washington Post reports from what used to be called the “Paris of the Middle East.” Now it’s a place where electricity is so infrequent that at least one inbound plane had to abort landing because the runway lights went out.
What’s going on: “The collapse is the result of decades of economic mismanagement, corruption and overspending,” Sly reports. “The Lebanese pound has lost over 60 percent of its value in just the past month, and 80 percent of its value since October.”
What now? It’s not looking good. “Economists are now predicting a Venezuela-style collapse, with acute shortages of essential products and services, runaway inflation and rising lawlessness — in a country at the heart of an already unstable region.” Read on, here.
Daily COVID deaths are rising in 25 states as the American death toll nears 150,000, per the New York Times’ tracker.
How we got here: As the coronavirus took hold in April, White House officials reportedly met daily to shift responsibility for pandemic response from the federal government to the states, according to a New York Times report updated Tuesday morning.
“They referred to this as ‘state authority handoff,’ and it was at the heart of what would become at once a catastrophic policy blunder and an attempt to escape blame for a crisis that had engulfed the country — perhaps one of the greatest failures of presidential leadership in generations.” Read on, here.
And if you’re not already, we recommend subscribing to New America’s Coronavirus Daily Brief. You can read over today’s edition here, and sign up for it over here.
Did you know: There are more than 48,000 pilots now serving in the U.S. military? But only 72 of them identify as African American or Black. McClatchy’s Tara Copp reported Monday — less than a week after SecDef Esper ordered “a Pentagon-wide review of racial disparities in the military and whether Defense Department policies have created barriers to equal opportunity.” Story, here.
On Monday we learned: “The British Army's Watchkeeper drones are so bad that NASA uses them as a case study into whole-system failure!” That’s according to Gareth Corfield, who unearthed it in a NASA “System Failure Case Study” (PDF) from April 2019.
And finally today: Russian influence in UK elections is "the new normal," according to a new report (PDF) from British MP’s Intelligence and Security Committee. What’s more, the BBC reports this morning, “ISC committee member Stewart Hosie also said no-one in Government wanted to touch the issue of Russian interference with a ‘10-foot pole’ and no-one knew if Russia had tried to interfere with the 2016 EU referendum ‘because they did not want to know.’”
Background: "Many expected the committee to have answered the question of whether there was interference in political events like Brexit," writes the BBC's Gordon Corera. "Instead, it says the problem was the government and the spy agencies failed to even look at this question." More from the BBC, here.