Today's D Brief: Terror plot thwarted in Michigan; Afghanistan-pullout confusion; Shipyard problems; Immigration & national security; And a bit more.
Thirteen men plotted to attack the state capitol and kidnap Michigan’s governor ahead of next month’s election, the FBI and state authorities announced Thursday.
Seven of the 13 were with an anti-government militia group called the Wolverine Watchmen, and some of them were arrested as they were pooling together money to buy more explosives — some to be used as a distraction, and another possibly to blow up a bridge on the M-31 highway.
The militia practiced weapons and tactics training “to prepare for the ‘boogaloo,’ a term referencing a violent uprising against the government or impending politically motivated civil war,” Michigan State Police Det. Sgt. Michael Fink wrote in an affidavit. And “At least three of the 13 defendants were among some armed demonstrators who entered the [Michigan] Senate gallery on April 30 following a larger protest outside the Capitol” against Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order at the time, the Associated Press reported Thursday.
Also involved: "encrypted messaging platforms," "code words and phrases," black powder and BBs (for an IED), silencers, and even an "IT guy," according to the federal charges.
The plotters also surveilled Whitmer’s summer home and thought they could muster some 200 men to assault the Capitol building, at which point they planned to take the governor hostage — possibly with the help of a taser — and try her for “treason.”
According to the FBI, “The group talked about creating a society that followed the U.S. Bill of Rights and where they could be self-sufficient.” They also “discussed different ways of achieving this goal from peaceful endeavors to violent actions,” and “Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor,” the FBI’s affidavit reads.
By the way: Facebook spotted questionable “content” from the Wolverine militia and flagged it for law enforcement more than six months ago, Reuters reports.
One more thing: The president of the U.S. again called for the arrest of his political opponent on Wednesday. The New York Times’ Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman unpack the unprecedented words from a sitting POTUS, here.
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Welcome to this Friday 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 2006, North Korea conducted its first nuclear test.
Remember the Afghan pullout that Trump announced in a tweet on Wednesday evening? It doesn’t look like any key U.S. official, department or agency was truly ready for it, according to reporting Thursday from AP, the Washington Post, and Reuters.
New South China Sea FONOP. The U.S. Navy's USS John S. McCain “asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands" on Friday according to the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet which said that the operation “demonstrated that these waters are beyond what China can lawfully claim as its territorial sea,” Reuters reports.
Meanwhile: Navy inspectors found big problems with three classes of ships built at Ingalls Shipbuilding, according to an unclassified report sent from the service to Congress. “The issues in 2018 and 2019 raise concerns about a shipyard the Navy depends heavily on as it tries to expand its fleet,” Defense News reports.
Also: Navy announces new name for new frigate class. The first of the FFG(X)s will be named Constellation, Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite announced Wednesday. The ship will be the fourth U.S. warship of its name (1, 2, 3) — the fifth if you count a battle cruiser laid down and then cancelled in 1923. The new Constellation is to be built by Fincantieri for delivery in 2026. (USNI News)
Flashback: Last April, then-acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly floated the name “Agility” for the class.
Four hostages have been released in a prisoner exchange with Islamic extremists in Mali. The released hostages include a former opposition leader from Mali, “two Italians and French aid worker Sophie Petronin,” Reuters reports. Petronin was detained almost four years ago, and is now “the last French citizen to be held hostage anywhere in the world,” the BBC reports.
“The release was part of a prisoner swap for more than 100 jihadists, believed to be affiliated to al-Qaeda,” the BBC writes. And in case you’re curious, “The Malian presidency has not revealed how it was able to free the hostages.”
At least six other foreign hostages remain in extremist captivity across Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. And Reuters has a bit more on each, several of whom were captured by fighters from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, here.
Drones from one drone to another. The U.S. Army has figured out how to launch a drone from a larger drone and then send that launched drone into a third drone that essentially catches it — and it all happens in the air, according to Flight Global reporting this week. (h/t Arthur Holland Michel)
New first at Georgia’s Fort Stewart: A French Army general is now the deputy commanding officer at the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, the Army announced this week.
His name is Brig. Gen. Hubert Cottereau, and his focus is on “long-range planning,” the Army says. His rotation at Stewart is part of the service’s Military Personnel Exchange Program, which also finds U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Todd Wasmund currently serving as the deputy commander for the French Army’s 3rd Armored Division in Marseilles. Read on, here. (h/t CNN’s Ryan Browne)
Anti-immigrant rules will hurt the U.S. economy and national security well into the future, economists, business leaders, and immigration analysts tell the Los Angeles Times. “President Trump’s four-year crusade against immigration has pushed the number of foreign workers and other immigrants arriving on American shores down to the lowest level in decades. That’s pleased Trump’s supporters, but it will almost certainly cost the nation dearly in the future, with slower job growth, fewer start-ups and a weaker overall economy,” the Times reports.
“Based on the data, the U.S. may never again be the No. 1, no-brainer destination for global talent,” said Doug Rand, a former assistant director for entrepreneurship under the Obama administration and tech-company founder. That will allegedly hurt U.S. national security, various experts have argued at Defense One, e.g.:
- Misguided Immigration Policies Are Endangering America's AI Edge (11/18/2019)
- America’s Innovation Engine Is Slowing (7/25/2020)
- Trump's Ban on Nigerian Immigrants Will Hurt His Defense Strategy (2/4/2020)
Twitter says it blocked almost a thousand accounts the Thai army used to target political opposition figures. According to the social media company’s blog this morning, “Our investigation uncovered a network of accounts partaking in information operations that we can reliably link to the Royal Thai Army (RTA). These accounts were engaging in amplifying pro-RTA and pro-government content, as well as engaging in behavior targeting prominent political opposition figures.”
FWIW: The army denies the claims, Reuters reports, adding, “The blocked accounts appeared to have had limited influence.”
BTW: Today’s Twitter purge also included accounts from:
- Iran, and those “artificially amplified conversations on politically sensitive topics, including Black Lives Matter, the murder of George Floyd, and other issues of racial and social justice” in the U.S.;
- Saudi Arabia, where 33 accounts “with ties to the Saudi government… impersonate[d] key Qatari political figures and to advance narratives about Qatari politics which are geostrategically favorable to the Saudi authorities”;
- Cuba, which just lost “526 fake accounts run by youth organizations with ties to the Cuban government”;
- And Russia, where accounts “had potential links to a fake news agency called PeaceData.” Read more, here.
Two years in jail for a former Gitmo commander. A federal judge in Jacksonville, Florida, on Thursday sentenced Capt. John R. Nettleton, once the commander of Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, to two years in prison for obstruction of justice and other federal charges stemming from “the search for a worker who drowned at the base following a drunken fight over an adulterous affair.” (New York Times)
COVID be damned, North Korea says it’s going to hold its annual military parade, which is scheduled for Saturday, Reuters reports.
Thinking about making a cyber ransom payment? You’re going to want to think again, says the U.S. Treasury Department. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that “Victims of ransomware schemes and financial institutions could violate sanctions or anti-money-laundering rules—and face stiff penalties—if they facilitate or make payments to attackers,” according to two new advisories from the Treasury Department.
What this means: “Paying [cyber ransoms] would be a violation of U.S. law, presenting the possibility of steep penalties,” and this is especially the case if those hackers are from Iran, North Korea or Russia. More here.
Lastly this week: The UN’s World Food Programme has been awarded this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. The organization “provided assistance to almost 100 million people in 88 countries last year,” AP reports.
“In 2019, 135 million people suffered from acute hunger, the highest number in many years,” the Nobel committee said Thursday. “Most of the increase was caused by war and armed conflict. The coronavirus pandemic has contributed to a strong upsurge in the number of victims of hunger in the world.” More here.