Today's D Brief: US Navy escalating China pressure; Rockets threaten Kabul embassies; Close call near Air Force One; Trump’s Postmaster to testify; Mutiny in Mali; And a bit more.
As part of its pressure campaign against China, the Trump administration is increasing “freedom of navigation” patrols in the South China Sea, the Wall Street Journal reported over the weekend. “The Trump administration’s escalating pressure campaign against China calls for a beefed up military presence to challenge Beijing’s claims in Asia, signaling a widening role for the U.S. Navy.”
Join the Navy; see the world. And across that world, “the Navy has tried to keep about 100 ships deployed at any given time, even as the number of ships in the fleet decreased,” the Journal’s Nancy Youssef and Gordon Lubold write. “At its peak of 600 ships four decades ago, it had 125 ships deployed at any time. Today’s Navy has roughly 300 ships and keeps 100 ships deployed, adhering to a policy of doing more with less.”
“You’re never perfect. But the Navy is far from broken. And I would say at this point, the future looks very bright,” Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite told Youssef and Lubold. More from their exclusive behind the paywall, here.
Maybe why now? It’s RIMPAC time. The coronavirus pandemic has forced the Navy to hold a scaled-back version of the biennial Rim of the Pacific exercises near Hawaii, with 10 countries, 22 ships, one submarine and about 5,300 personnel, USNI News reported Monday. “[M]ore than 50 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft, and 25,000 personnel – 4,000 of those ashore for operations and support functions” were originally supposed to participate.
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Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, by Kevin Baron, Marcus Weisgerber and Ben Watson. 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 1965, the first major ground operation of the Vietnam war, Operation Starlite, began.
Join Us: Defense One is hosting a virtual event today on the future of unmanned vehicles. Experts from the U.S. Air Force and DARPA will join us for our digital panel discussion, which begins at 2 p.m ET. Details and registration are over here.
Developing: Foreign embassies in Kabul have ordered a lockdown after a rocket attack wounded 10 people on Tuesday, including children, Reuters reports from the Afghan capital. “The identity of the attackers was unknown, though an interior ministry spokesman said two suspects had been arrested.”
Four rockets landed near Kabul’s Green Zone, which is home to several embassies as well as NATO’s Aghan HQs.
Why today? “The security scare in the capital came as Afghanistan celebrated its national independence day, marking the end of British suzerainty over the country in 1919.” A bit more, here.
The U.S. Postmaster General has agreed to testify before House and Senate lawmakers over nationwide concerns Trump is openly committing election fraud.
Democrats first booked Louis DeJoy to appear next Monday — after they wrap up their 2020 national convention and on the first day of the Republican’s own convention — before the House Oversight Committee with USPS Board of Governors Chairman Robert Duncan. Speaker Nancy Pelosi set a House vote for Saturday on the “Delivering for America Act,” which would give lawmakers a chance to shout at Trump from the floor. The bill would halt any Postal Service changes that have been implemented since the start of the year, the Associated Press reports.
Not so fast, say Republicans. Early Tuesday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee announced they would host DeJoy first, this Friday. That move gives Senate Republicans the first spotlight moment to frame the issue, best they can. Conservatives have called the left’s cries overblown and unfounded. More from the Washington Post’s breaking story here, which says, “Democrats have alleged that DeJoy, a former Republican National Convention finance chairman, is taking steps that are causing dysfunction in the mail system and could wreak havoc in the presidential election.”
Some of the activities attracting lawmakers' attention: "The Postal Service is in the process of removing 671 high-speed mail-sorting machines nationwide this month, a process that will eliminate 21.4 million items per hour’s worth of processing capability from the agency’s inventory," the Washington Post reports. "On Thursday and Friday, it began removing public collection boxes in parts of California, New York, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Montana. The agency said Friday that it would stop mailbox removals, which it said were routine, until after the election." More here.
For a whole lot of USPS news, check out Government Executive, which has extensive coverage of the changes at the struggling American postal service over the past several years, pre-dating the Trump administration. (Defense One is a sister brand within the Government Executive Media Group.)
The latest: The mail that used to go to some smaller local routing stations in Washington state is now being sent across the state to larger facilities, which critics say is a deliberate time wasting move. It’s actually part of a plan dating to 2011 but the timing of this change doesn't sit well for some. “One employee in Washington affected by the rerouting questioned the timing of the decision, reports GovExec’s Eric Katz. “Doing this before election and pre-peak [holiday season] is suicide,” the employee said. He cast doubt the changes would lead to savings, saying a majority of the mail is local and will therefore be sent across the state just to be returned back to where it started. That process, he said, would cause unnecessary delays.
Retired Adm. Bill McRaven, former SOCOM commander, publicly slammed Trump again, this time over undermining American institutions like the Postal Service, and he thinks you should, too. “Today, as we struggle with social upheaval, soaring debt, record unemployment, a runaway pandemic, and rising threats from China and Russia, President Trump is actively working to undermine every major institution in this country,” McRaven warns in an op-ed published Monday in the WaPo. “And if Americans stop believing in the system of institutions, then what is left but chaos and who can bring order out of chaos: only Trump. It is the theme of every autocrat who ever seized power or tried to hold onto it.”
Now what, sir? Support the USPS as much as possible, he writes. “It is not hyperbole to say that the future of the country could depend on those remarkable men and women who brave the elements to bring us our mail and deliver our vote. Let us ensure they have every resource possible to provide the citizens of this country the information they need, the ballots that they request and the Postal Service they deserve.”
In other words... “Well, maybe it’s time we all got a little self-serious, before Trump’s actions are fatal to our institutions and our democracy.” Read the rest, along with McRaven’s review of a fairly forgotten 1997 film, here.
Big picture read: Need a reminder about Russia’s intentions this U.S. election season? Alina Polyakova of the Center for European Policy Analysis just published an essay in Foreign Affairs all about how the Kremlin's influence-operations playbook has evolved since the last U.S. election. “Spoiler: it's not just the Russian playbook anymore,” Polyakova tweeted Monday. “Our tepid response has left an open door for others like China.”
A 67-year-old former CIA officer was arrested and charged with passing secrets to China, the Department of Justice announced Monday. The man, Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, is alleged to have worked with another former CIA-er (who is also a relative in his family) to scan and pass secret U.S. documents to Chinese authorities as early as March 2001, 12 years after Ma left his job with the Agency.
The documents involved “the CIA’s personnel, operations, and methods of concealing communications,” according to the Department of Justice. In 2004, he began work as a linguist with the FBI, presumably to gain access to TS-SCI info once more. Six years of document copying and transmission to Chinese officials followed. Ma frequently “returned from China with thousands of dollars in cash and expensive gifts, such as a new set of golf clubs,” the Justice Department said.
How he was caught: An undercover FBI employee began sniffing out Ma’s work in the spring of 2019. And as recently as six days ago, he “again accepted money for his past espionage activities, expressed his willingness to continue to help the Chinese government, and stated that he wanted ‘the motherland’ to succeed.” Read on, here.
BTW: The staff of the Chinese consulate in Houston has now returned to China. AP has more, here.
There’s apparently a mutiny of some kind happening today in Mali’s army. It’s believed to be playing out in what AP calls “the garrison town of Kati.” Gunshots were heard coming from a Kati army base, where Reuters reports “A European diplomat said a relatively small number of members of the National Guard, apparently angered by a pay dispute, had seized a munitions depot but were reported to have since been surrounded by other government troops.”
Worth noting: “The mutiny comes amid Mali’s worst political crisis since the 2012 coup that toppled then-President Amadou Toumani Toure and contributed to the fall of northern Mali to jihadist militants.” More from Reuters, here.
And in Burkina Faso, to the south, one million people are now displaced amid a wave of “murders, kidnappings and bombings perpetrated against civilians,” AP reports off new analysis from the humanitarians of the Norwegian Refugee Council. (Find that report, here.)
For a sense of scale, AP writes, “The number of internally displaced people soared from 87,000 in January 2019 to over one million in August 2020.”
- Review the threat from African militant Islamic groups via this map and analysis from the DOD-backed Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
- And don’t miss another recent ACSS feature from the continent entitled, “Lessons from the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu Pandemic in Africa.”
Lastly today: A small drone may have flown a bit too close to Air Force One on Sunday. Now the Air Force is investigating, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. The object — it’s unclear exactly what it was — was noticed by reporters traveling aboard the plane; Agence France-Presse’s Sebastian Smith and Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs tweeted word of the incident shortly after landing around 6 p.m. local.