Today's D Brief: Russians rammed US vehicle, injuring troops; Teenager charged with killing protestors; Arson suspected in warship fire; ‘Heat ray’ used at border; And a bit more.

“Russian military vehicle sideswipes Americans in Syria, causing injuries” is probably not a headline the Pentagon or the White House wanted during Republican National Convention week, especially for a president who says he’s tougher on Russia than any predecessor, despite public evidence to the contrary.

But at least four American troops were indeed injured when their two patrol vehicles were harassed by multiple Russian military vehicles — as well as at least one Russian military helicopter applying pressure from just above the ground — in northeastern Syria on Tuesday, according to ABC News.

About the injuries: They’re “mild concussion-like symptoms,” according to the New York Times, and the troops since “receiv[ed] medical attention at their base in Syria.”

Politico first reported the events early Wednesday; and by that time, neither the Pentagon nor the White House had anything public to say about the episode. But that changed shortly after purported video of the incident (apparently recorded by the Russian military) began circulating widely on social media platforms like Twitter. 

Here’s the White House National Security Council’s statement, released Wednesday afternoon: 

  • "At approximately 10 a.m. (Syria Time), Aug. 25, a routine Defeat-ISIS Coalition security patrol encountered a Russian military patrol near Dayrick, in northeast Syria.  During this interaction, a Russian vehicle struck a Coalition Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV) causing injuries to the vehicle’s crew. To de-escalate the situation, the Coalition patrol departed the area. Unsafe and unprofessional actions like this represent a breach of de-confliction protocols, committed to by the United States and Russia in December 2019. The Coalition and the United States do not seek escalation with any national military forces, but U.S. forces always retain the inherent right and obligation to defend themselves from hostile acts. The international Coalition’s mission in northeast Syria is to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS."

FWIW: Russia claims the U.S. patrol was blocking their path, which could be true since taking ordinary roads in Syria is much more dangerous than simply driving through the fields alongside the highways, such as they are. “In response to that [blocking the path], the Russian military police took the necessary measures to prevent an incident and to continue the fulfillment of their task,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement today. Tiny bit more on that via AP, here.

However, one U.S. official said that characterization was incomplete, telling CNN that the area was a well-known U.S.-patrolled region, and “that the Russians are aware they are under obligation to deconflict their operations with the US in that area.”

Big picture: “US and Russian forces are engaged in a competition for influence and control of the major roads in northeast Syria, threatening the safety of US personnel,” analysts at the Institute for the Study of War wrote Tuesday evening. “Russia seeks to expand its presence toward the Syria-Iraq border in the far northeast corner of Hasakah Province to cut off key US ground supply lines between Iraq and Syria.” Read on, here.

Worth noting: These events happened “just a week after a U.S.-led convoy returned fire after it came under attack near a checkpoint manned by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who are backed by Russia,” the Times reminds us. “A day later, on Aug. 18, three small Katyusha rockets landed near the American military’s Conoco base in northeastern Syria. The rockets, which American officials said were fired from areas controlled by the Syrian government, did not cause any casualties or damage.”

By the way: The UN says more than 10,000 ISIS fighters “remain active in Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic,” according to a report (PDF) published in early August. “These fighters, organized in small cells, are freely moving across the border between the two countries.”

From Defense One

Vindman Twin Alleges Retaliation To DOD IG // Katie Bo Williams: Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman says he reported “legal compliance and ethics violations” by NSA Robert O’Brien.

Some Federal Agencies Worry About Proposal to Welcome White-Hat Hacking // Mariam Baksh, Nextgov: A draft CISA directive asks civilian agencies not to punish outsiders who probe their systems.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with 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. Happy 121st birthday to C.S. Forester, whose novels include The Good Shepherd, which was recently turned into the film "Greyhound" starring Tom Hanks.

A teenager was arrested on suspected homicide charges Wednesday in Illinois after allegedly killing two people, wounding one other, then fleeing across state lines with a firearm. The Associated Press describes the arrested teen as “A white, 17-year-old police admirer.” His generous trail of social media activity informs that description. “Facebook later said it removed the suspected shooter’s accounts from Facebook and Instagram,” AP reports today.
“I just killed somebody,” the gunman said Tuesday evening in a video captured on cell phones. AP reports “The dead were identified only as a 26-year-old Silver Lake, Wisconsin, resident and a 36-year-old from Kenosha.” A 36-year-old from West Allis, Wisc., is expected to survive, according to police.
How it came to this: Before the two protesters were killed, “multiple threads on Facebook and reddit encouraged militiamen and other armed individuals to head to Kenosha, ostensibly to protect local businesses from protesters,” researchers at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Research Lab reported Wednesday. 
“In some cases, these discussions encouraged acts of violence,” with encouragement for armed individuals to “give them hell” and “shoot to kill.” Most of the related Facebook posts have since been either deleted or taken down by site administrators. More to all that, here.
Fortunately, protests across Kenosha, Wisc., were largely peaceful overnight, the Wall Street Journal reports. “Law enforcement kept a low profile during the demonstration, and notably absent were any counterdemonstrators or armed militia figures,” Reuters adds.
Unrest over police brutality is still brewing elsewhere across the country.  That includes Oakland, Calif., where police “said hundreds of people took part in demonstrations that included fires, broken windows and vandalized businesses,” Reuters reports. “And police and protesters continued to clash in Portland, Oregon, where demonstrations have gone on for nearly three months straight.
The sports world erupted in protest Wednesday evening as well, with teams from the NBA, WNBA, and MLB going on strike to bring attention to racial injustice across the U.S.
As for what’s next with the alleged Kenosha shooter, he’s been “assigned a public defender in Illinois for a hearing Friday on his transfer to Wisconsin,” AP reports. “Under Wisconsin law, anyone 17 or older is treated as an adult in the criminal justice system.” More here.

A U.S. sailor may have set the blaze that knocked a 40,000-ton warship out of service. Navy investigators are questioning the sailor as a possible arsonist in the July fire aboard the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, ABC 10 News in San Diego reported Wednesday. The four-day fire has left the ship’s fate in doubt. The New York Times has a bit more, here.
Flashback: In 2013, a shipyard worker eager to get home set a fire aboard the fast attack submarine Miami in Portsmouth Naval Yard. Casey Fury was sentenced to 17 years in jail; the sub was retired, unrepaired, at least a decade ahead of schedule.

The U.S. military has a "heat ray" weapon that was offered to repel migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border. It uses microwaves to make skin feel like it's burning. The New York Times has more on how this weapon was pitched for use ahead of the 2018 midterms, when “caravans of migrants” were all the right-wing rage in America, here.

Lastly today: A senior U.S. intelligence official killed himself mere weeks away from retirement back in June, The Intercept reports. The now-deceased official reportedly killed himself in the front yard of his Arlington, Va., home in view of his new wife, who was “trying to get away from [her husband] when she witnessed his suicide.”
His name: Anthony Schinella, age 52. He was officially the National Intelligence Officer for Military Issues. He killed himself on June 14.
About his job: “As NIO for Military Issues, Schinella was the highest-ranking military affairs analyst in the U.S. intelligence community, and was also a member of the powerful National Intelligence Council,” according to The Intercept, “which is responsible for producing the intelligence community’s most important analytical reports that go to the president and other top policymakers.” Read on, here.