Pompeo confirms Russian bounty warning; Harris’ foreign policy; Israel, UAE make up; US mail sorters are disappearing; and a bit more...

“Hoax” no more? Pompeo confirms he warned Lavrov against Russia bounties. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “publicly says that he warned Sergey V. Lavro[v], Russia's foreign minister, against paying bounties to kill US/coalition troops. Says there has been senior military-to-military warning too,” tweeted the New York Times Charlie Savage, on Thursday. Pompeo’s warning was first reported last week by the Times’ Ed Wong and Eric Schmitt. The warning happened on July 13, just weeks after the Times broke the story and amid President Donald Trump’s repeated denials of its premise as another liberal-Democratic-media “hoax” against him. 

Trump says one thing, but the U.S. government says another. It’s “the latest example of a common occurrence in the administration: American officials quietly carrying out actions that are at odds with Mr. Trump’s statements and his stance on important issues,” they wrote.

Pompeo’s confirmation came in a Wednesday interview with Ray Furlong of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, in Prague. 

Of note: RFE/RL is among the U.S. government’s foreign media outlets under attack this year by Michael Pack, Trump’s recent pick to run new CEO of U.S. Global Media Agency (formerly the Broadcasting Board of Governors). Pack has fired and replaced longtime leaders with Trump loyalists, among other moves that many believe are meant to spread pro-Trump propaganda. In July, Park fired RFE/RL’s chief, Jamie Fly, after just one year. Fly was Sen. Marco Rubio’s foreign policy advisor for four years, including the 2016 campaign, and a harsh critic of Trump.

More firings. On the day of Pompeo’s interview, Park also fired two more top officials: his predecessor, the agency’s CFO who was serving as interim chief, and its top lawyer, reports Politico’s Daniel Lippman. “There is no other conclusion to draw, except that it is in retaliation for attempting to do my job in an apolitical manner and to speak truth to power,” said the former general counsel David Kligerman. 

How Pompeo said it: Furlong asked mid-interview, “You are reported to have discussed this with your Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. I wonder, do you believe those reports, first of all?” Pompeo responded with an insult — “I never comment on U.S. intelligence matters, even if some reporter has decided that they think they know what’s really going on” — and then admitted it anyway: “What we’ve said is this: If the Russians are offering money to kill Americans or, for that matter, other Westerners as well, there will be an enormous price to pay. That’s what I shared with Foreign Minister Lavrov. I know our military has talked to their senior leaders as well. We won’t brook that; we won’t tolerate that.” Read the rest of their exchange in State’s transcript, here

“Thank you. That’s time. Thank you,” is how spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus attempted to save Pompeo as the surprised Furlong tried to ask follow-ups about what Trump knew about the bounties. But Pompeo let him try one more question, so... 

Furlong pressed Pompeo on global criticism of the Trump administration’s handling of protests across America, asking if — “when they see, for example, unmarked vehicles picking people up off the streets of Portland” — “takes away from America’s moral authority to tell authoritarian regimes they’re behaving badly.” 

Pompeo’s final word: “Even your question is insulting. The difference between the United States and these authoritarian regimes couldn’t be more clear. We have the rule of law, we have the freedom of press. Every one of those people gets due process. When we have peaceful protesters, we create the space for them to say their mind, to speak their piece. Contrast that with what happens in an authoritarian regime. To even begin to compare them, to somehow suggest that America’s moral authority is challenged by the amazing work that our police forces, our law enforcement people do all across America – I frankly just find the question itself incomprehensible and insulting.”

From Defense One

Harris’ Foreign Policy Looks Mainstream, But Remains a Bit of a Mystery // Katie Bo Williams: But will it matter in an election that is likely to turn on domestic issues?

Here’s the Theme Driving the US Army’s New Communications Tech // Patrick Tucker: Pilot programs are seeking ways to keep battlefield data flowing despite the enemy’s best efforts.

Adding Sensors Saves Ammo, Army Network Testers Find // Patrick Tucker: In a Thursday test, Sentinel radars helped air-warfare operators down simulated missiles with fewer interceptors.

Who Decides Who Is a ‘Domestic Enemy’? / James Joyner: The short answer: not the Joint Chiefs chairman. The longer answer is more interesting.

Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: China’s growing stake in DoD supply chains; Program office of the future; Shipyard workers end strike, and more.

NATO Must Move Out Smartly on 5G // Ian Brzezinski, James Jones, Douglas Lute, and Robert Wheeler: Beyond the security concerns, next-gen wireless technology promises a battlefield revolution.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Bradley Peniston and Kevin Baron. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here.

Surprise: Israel, UAE agree to normalize relations. In a stunning announcement, Trump on Thursday said the United Arab Emirates had agreed to recognize Israel, which in turn agreed to postpone making permanent its settlements in the West Bank, claiming a major diplomatic victory for his administration. “If fulfilled, the pact would make the Emirates only the third Arab country to have normal diplomatic relations with Israel along with Egypt, which signed a peace agreement in 1979, and Jordan, which signed a treaty in 1994,” notes the NYT.  

But...“If that was presented as some kind of a balm for the Palestinians, many of them considered it, instead, a stab in the back or a dagger to the heart,” write the Times’ Isabel Kershner and Adam Rasgon, who said it “ruptured decades of professed Arab unity” and “a greater humiliation” to ones already being felt. “It swapped one Palestinian nightmare — annexation, which many world leaders had warned would be an illegal land grab — for another, perhaps even bleaker prospect of not being counted at all.”

First Arabs and Jews get along, now the Trump campaign and MSNBC. To promote the success, @TrumpWarRoom tweeted a clip of the Washington Post’s David Ignatius (a former Jerusalem correspondent) calling the deal “a significant achievement” and a “dream”...“millions of people around the world have shared.”

Lots of reactions, sincere and cynical. Check out former envoy Martin Indyk’s feed, where he cheers the Emiratis for a clever move he says is really a blow to Israel’s far right and is going into some detail about the history leading to it. Aaron David Miller called it a “welcome development” and points to this analysis by Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz that says Benjamin Netanyahu’s threat of annexation ultimately pulled UAE in, and gave a gift to his liberal predecessors. “This remains the most visible and concrete recognition by an Arab Gulf region state of the hitherto secret alliance with Israel.”

Will Trump free the remaining Gitmo prisoners? Well, the administration is considering it, according to sources in this deep dive in Time by veteran counterterrorism reporter Kim Dozier. The story mainly is about how the Taliban — and Trump’s top Afgahn peace negotiator, Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad — want the U.S. to free the world’s one-time largest heroin trafficker. The entire peace deal appears hung up on Taliban demands for prisoner releases, and the tale of Haji Bashir Noorzai is a good read. But the nugget that caught our eye: “Trying to make good on its Feb. 29 peace deal with the Taliban, the Administration is entertaining the militant group’s request to release Noorzai — and every last Taliban detainee in Guantanamo Bay — in order to get the former rulers of Afghanistan to sit down with the country’s current ruling elite for talks.” It’s a fascinating #longread.

ICYMI: Why Gitmo has been such an intractable problem

NSA, FBI warn of stealthy new Russian hacking tool.Drovorub,” which attacks Linux systems and has innovative code to cover its tracks, was developed and deployed by “Fancy Bear,” the Kremlin-linked group best known for its interference with America’s 2016 elections. The NSA and FBI released a 40-page technical report about the malware. Bloomberg has a bit more, here.

U.S. Postal Service leaders are deliberating hobbling mail sorting, according to an internal document obtained by Vice. The news arrives one day after as Trump confirmed that he is deliberating degrading mail-in voting — except in Florida, where he and his wife have registered to vote by mail.

Sorting machines are disappearing from facilities around the country without any official explanation or reason given, Vice reported Thursday. “In many cases, these are the same machines that would be tasked with sorting ballots, calling into question promises made by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy that the USPS has ‘ample capacity’ to handle the predicted surge in mail-in ballots.” They initially identified just 19 machines from five different facilities, saying there are hundreds of processing facilities and it could be more. But then.... 

On Friday, it reported that the USPS “proposed removing 20 percent of letter sorting machines it uses around the country before revising the plan weeks later to closer to 15 percent of all machines, meaning 502 will be taken out of service, according to documents obtained by Motherboard outlining the agency’s plans. USPS workers told Motherboard this will slow their ability to sort mail.” 

Thrown away. “Multiple sources within the postal service told Motherboard they have personally witnessed the machines, which cost millions of dollars, being destroyed or thrown in the dumpster. USPS did not respond to a request for comment.” Read on, here.

Blue USPS mailboxes are disappearing from city streets in Portland and Eugene, Oregon. Officials told the Willamette Week that they are only removing ones from places where more than one stand, and doing so because of declining mail volume during the pandemic. A spokesman said the directive came from USPS headquarters about a week ago and that boxes are probably being removed nationwide. 

It’s not just the election: Vets who get their prescriptions by mail are seeing weeks-long delays, Connecting Vets wrote on Aug. 5.

Trump to Barr: you’d better discredit Mueller’s report. The president told Fox yesterday that “Bill Barr can go down as the greatest attorney general in the history of our country, or he can go down as an average guy. We’ll see what happens.” 

He was referring to a probe led by U.S. Attorney John Durham into the origins of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Mueller found that Russia attacked the election with information-warfare techniques in a bid to help Trump get elected. The investigation led to the imprisonment of seven Trump associates and Mueller’s declaration that he could not clear the president himself of crimes.

In May, Barr directed Durham to investigate whether the Mueller investigation was launched improperly. Trump and Senate GOP allies have urged DoJ to release at least some findings that would help the president win reelection.

ICYMI: The U.S. intelligence community, which declared in January 2017 that Moscow had sought to help Trump, said last week that the same thing is happening again.

Speaking of infowar, China choked off an important news source in Indonesia from 2018 until a few months ago. Reuters’ reports offers an important look at how Beijing is extending the reach of its autocratic censorship abroad.

That QAnon candidate is also a 9/11 conspiracy theorist, turns out. Just days after winning the Republican primary, liberal watchdog group Media Matters has surfaced video of controversial House candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene, of Georgia, spewing the conspiracy theory that the Pentagon may not have been hit by an airplane on Sept. 11, 2001. “The so-called plane that crashed into the Pentagon. It's odd there's never any evidence shown for a plane in the Pentagon,” she casually opines during a rant about President Barack Obama. 

Then she reversed her conspiracy theory by citing two more conspiracy theories. “I'm being attacked for my opposition to open borders and globalist neocon nation building wars,” Greene said in a series of tweets Thursday, using the anti-Semitic ‘globalist’ scareword about Jewish control of the world. She ended with, “Some people claimed a missile hit the Pentagon.  I now know that is not correct. The problem is our government lies to us so much to protect the Deep State, it's hard sometimes to know what is real and what is not.” (There is no “deep state.”)

Trump backed her, the day before the 9/11 truther news came out, calling her a “a real WINNER.” Trump supporter in the House, Matt Gaetz, R.-Fla., backed her even after the 9/11 news and her delusional rebuttal. “Music to my ears. Proud to be in your corner, Marjorie!”

“No place in Congress for these conspiracies,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., tweeting on Tuesday after her win: “Qanon is a fabrication. This ‘insider’ has predicted so much incorrectly (but people don’t remember PAST predictions) so now has switched to vague generalities. Could be Russian propaganda or a basement dweller.  Regardless, no place in Congress for these conspiracies.”

Bald eagle downs drone. Score one for America? Dateline: Escanaba — “An Upper Peninsula bald eagle launched an airborne attack on a drone operated by a Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) pilot last month, tearing off a propeller and sending the aircraft to the bottom of Lake Michigan.” The drone actually was mapping shoreline erosion during record high water levels that are destroying homes and property. Amusing telling by WLUC’s TV 6 news team, here.

Gates bids farewell to Brent Scowcroft. In an eloquent remembrance, Robert Gates recounts some glory days with his friend and mentor, the three-time former national security advisor to President’s Nixon and Ford, later for George Bush (the elder.) While younger folks may remember Scowcroft’s influence during the Gulf War and end of Cold War years, Gates says to appreciate his lasting impact you have to look at how he “managed a series of crises and disasters” in the 1970s. “That test both shaped his view of the national security adviser’s proper role and laid the foundation for his unmatched success in it—success that has made Scowcroft the aspirational model for every national security adviser since.” Take a walk down 20th century’s memory lane with some interesting tales about a remarkably tense and complicated time in global security. 

And lastly today: New photos of the ekranoplan. “A Russian photographer snuck into the world’s only nuclear-capable, ground-effect vehicle and captured rare images of its interior,” writes Radio Free Europe. That would be the “Lun-class ekranoplan, a formerly top-secret Soviet naval vessel that could skim just above the waves at jet-plane speeds, evading radar and anti-ship mines.” You are going to want to see the pics of this crazy beast. And have a good weekend.

CORRECTION: The original headline to this newsletter has been changed to more accurately summarize Pompeo's remarks. The previous version incorrectly stated: “Russian bounties are real, Pompeo says.”  He did not confirm the prior existence of Russian bounties; rather, Pompeo confirmed that warned his Russian counterpart about bounties in a mid-July phone call, after their existence was reported.