Today's D Brief: SOLIC, elevated; CISA chief, fired; 1,560 more die of COVID; DoD’s rare-earths move; And a bit more.

In yet another surprise move from outgoing President Trump’s military leaders, his Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller just raised America’s top special operations civilian to the level of a service secretary. It’s another big shakeup for key leaders of the Pentagon and with just 63 days remaining before Trump officials must turn things over to the incoming Biden administration. 

What this change means: Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who is Trump’s 34-year-old Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict, will “report directly to me,” Miller said today during a trip to Fort Bragg, N.C., which is home to the Army’s Special Operations Command. And that reporting change now puts Cohen-Watnick’s position “on par with the military services for the first time,” Miller said. (Previously, the ASD SO/LIC reported to the Defense Undersecretary for Policy.) 

Worth noting: Miller is a former Green Beret, and today’s USASOC visit was one in a series of stops Miller’s staff planned for him today along the East Coast. 

Why this matters: The ASD SO/LIC position, said Miller, was meant to be “commensurate” to a service secretary. And Defense One’s Executive Editor Kevin Baron tweeted that that very point by Miller was “as Congress intended” when it created the position thanks to the 1987 Nunn-Cohen Act and updated in the 2017 NDAA. (h/t Luis Martinez of ABC News)  

Big picture take: “Trump cancelled the counterterrorism wars” with Miller’s Afghanistan and Iraq drawdown announcement Tuesday (more on that below), “yet he elevated the counterterrorism civilian boss all in the same week,” Baron writes. 

Recall that Cohen-Watnick is a former aide to felon Michael Flynn, who was Trump’s first national security adviser. Cohen-Watnick led intelligence projects at the National Security Council, where he was such a Trump loyalist that incoming National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster couldn’t fire him. Cohen-Watnick was appointed to that ASD SO/LIC post three months ago, after Chris Miller shifted from it and to the National Counterintelligence Center. 

Reax: “This worries me,” tweeted veteran military writer and reporter Tom Ricks. “They've been acting like a separate service for years. Now they get to do that even more, but without a structure for civilian oversight.”

It’s official: A/SecDef Miller said the U.S. will draw down its forces in Afghanistan and Iraq to 2,500 troops in each country by Jan. 15, just days before President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. The announcement ended several days of speculation and reporting that Trump would seek to accelerate drawdowns from the “endless wars” that he vowed to end as a presidential candidate in 2016, Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams reports

Critical caveat: “Defense officials declined to say whether the situation met any of the conditions that administration officials had previously said would allow a safe withdrawal,” Williams writes. As Dan Lamothe of the Washington Post pointed out on Twitter, a defense official told reporters Tuesday Miller’s “decision was reached after ‘consultation’ with generals. That's different than [at] the recommendation of generals.” 

The Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee praised the drawdown in a statement Tuesday. “After speaking with the Acting Secretary this morning,” said Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, “I believe reducing our forward deployed footprint in Afghanistan down to 2,500 troops is the right policy decision,” said Smith. (McClatchy has a bit more on the combat deaths America has incurred and the dollars spent on these two conflicts since 9/11, here.)

Smith’s Republican counterpart called the drawdowns a “mistake.” Outgoing HASC ranking member, Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, said in a statement Tuesday, “The Taliban has done nothing – met no condition – that would justify this cut. As long as there are threats to Americans and American national security in the world, the U.S. must be vigilant, strong, and engaged in order to safeguard our people and fulfill our duty under the Constitution.”

FWIW: A/SecDef Miller spoke with Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani in a phone call Tuesday evening, Ghani’s office said in a tweet. “Both sides talked about the peace process, strengthening mutual relations, and continued meaningful U.S. military support to the Afghan Security and Defense Forces,” said Ghani’s spokesman, Sediq Sedqqi. 

Take cover in Iraq: Shortly after Miller’s announcement at the Pentagon, someone fired rockets at the U.S embassy in Baghdad. Four landed “in the Green Zone, a sprawl of embassy buildings located in the center of the Iraqi capital,” the Washington Post’s Louisa Loveluck reported from the Iraqi capital. “Three more landed outside the area, killing a young child and wounding five Iraqi civilians.” Iran-backed militia Ashab al-Kahaf is believed to have been responsible for at least six of the rockets that were fired. More from Baghdad, here.


From Defense One

Trump Orders Hasty Afghanistan, Iraq Drawdowns to Beat Biden Inauguration // Katie Bo Williams: Majority Leader McConnell leads chorus of bipartisan, shocked opposition to the 11th hour order read by Acting Defense Secretary Miller.

The Firing of Chris Krebs Is What an Attack On Democracy Looks Like // Patrick Tucker: After helping to keep the election secure from hackers, the CISA director turned to refuting the baseless claims of the president.

In First, Navy Ships Shoots Down ICBM with SM-3 Interceptor // Marcus Weisgerber: The test could set the stage for a new framework of missile interceptors in the Pacific.

Joe Biden Has a Barack Obama Problem // Tom McTague, The Atlantic: Many leaders in Asia, in particular, remain unhappy with the former president’s foreign policy.

US Army-Funded Algorithm Decodes Brain Signals // Mila Jasper, Nextgov: The algorithm is part of an effort to eventually establish a machine-brain interface.

Welcome to this Wednesday 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. On this day in 1872, Susan B. Anthony and 14 other women were arrested in New York for voting illegally in the presidential election two weeks prior. At the end of her trial, a judge ordered her to pay a fine of $100, but she never did. Anthony’s wit, public relations instincts, and sheer determination energized supporters and eventually helped pave the way for passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote on August 18, 1920.


Christopher Krebs was fired Tuesday as director of the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA. President Trump fired Krebs on Twitter nearly two years after Trump signed the legislation that created CISA under the Homeland Security Department.
Why this matters: Krebs had run afoul of Trump by refusing to let the president’s lies and baseless assertions about the election go unchallenged, Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reports.
Not alone: Krebs’s deputy, Matt Travis, also resigned, reportedly upon learning that he would not take Krebs’s place at the agency’s helm. The acting director will likely be Brandon Wales, CISA's senior career executive and executive director.
In one of his final tweets as CISA director, Krebs wrote, “ICYMI: On allegations that election systems were manipulated, 59 election security experts all agree, ‘in every case of which we are aware, these claims either have been unsubstantiated or are technically incoherent.’”
Trump’s new guy at Fort Meade is already under the microscope. Two Senate Democrats want the Pentagon’s IG to investigate Trump’s decision to install loyalist Michael Ellis as the NSA’s new senior attorney, The Daily Beast’s Spencer Ackerman reported Tuesday. The Democrats essentially fear Trump is attempting to create his own “deep state” with officials “burrowed in” the U.S. security bureaucracy. More behind the paywall, here.

ICYMI: Nearly 160 world leaders have congratulated President-elect Joe Biden on his November election victory. Axios has a five-day-old map to review who’s who here.
Still not on the list: North Korea, Russia, Brazil and Mexico.

On Tuesday, the U.S. reported the most single-day coronavirus deaths since May 14: 1,560 Americans died from COVID-19 complications yesterday, the Washington Post reports.
More than 248,000 Americans have died from the pandemic so far, according to Johns Hopkins University. And deaths per capita continue to rise across 29 states and territories, led by Montana, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Illinois.

Trump’s Justice Department wants to drop charges against Mexico’s former defense secretary, who is accused of helping a major drug cartel during his time in office, which spanned 2012 to 2018.
In short, “Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, New York, had charged [Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda], 72, with accepting bribes from the H-2 cartel, based in Nayarit and Sinaloa, Mexico, in exchange for his services while he was defense secretary,” NBC News reported. “He faced life in prison if convicted on all counts.”
But U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr stepped in Tuesday and released a joint statement with his Mexican counterpart, saying the U.S. will drop its charges so that the former general “may be investigated and, if appropriate, charged, under Mexican law.”
To be continued: NBC News reports “The judge overseeing the case has yet to rule on the motion to dismiss.” A bit more, here.

Not just America: Right-wing extremism is now the UK's fastest growing threat, the country’s top counterterrorism official said today. Additionally concerning, “We are seeing more young people being drawn towards terrorist activity," said Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu. And that’s in part why “Authorities launched a new website on Tuesday aimed at encouraging family and friends to report loved ones if they suspect they are being radicalised,” Sky News reports.

Lastly today: The U.S. military is hoping to boost domestic rare earth production with about $12 million in recent contracts for companies operating in California, Texas and Nebraska.
The companies include MP Materials, which "owns the largest rare earth element mining operation outside of China," the Pentagon said in a statement Tuesday; it also includes TDA Magnetics of Rancho Dominguez, Calif.; Urban Mining Company from San Marcos, Texas; and Rare Earth Salts out of Beatrice, Neb. More here.
Wanna review the importance of rare earths to the U.S. defense industry? Revisit our podcast with rare earths researchers at the University of Kentucky from 2018, here.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.