Today's D Brief: DC Guard called up for protests; ‘Anti-disinformation Monday’; Iran boards S. Korean tanker; Mozambican insurgency grows; And a bit more.
D.C.’s mayor has called up the National Guard to help police manage pro-Trump protestors today and tomorrow in the nation’s capital, Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams reported Monday. On Wednesday, Congress meets to formally certify Joe Biden’s electoral victory over President Donald Trump.
Out of 340 troops that have been activated, about 100 unarmed National Guard members will help close off select streets, freeing up D.C. police for arrests and public safety. (See an image of some of the troops, via photos this morning by Idrees Ali of Reuters, on Twitter.)
And for added safety, lawmakers have been advised to use D.C.’s “underground tunnels while traveling between chambers in the Capitol and to nearby office buildings during the day,” Bloomberg reported Monday.
Down south, it’s voting day in Georgia where two runoff elections are being held that could determine control of the U.S. Senate.
Yesterday was “anti-disinformation Monday” in the great state of Georgia. That was how Gabriel Sterling, a Republican and top Georgia election official, began a particularly unusual press conference Monday — a press conference seemingly designed, at least in part, to directly rebut all of the president’s false claims from his problematic Saturday phone call with Georgia election officials.
Here’s Sterling: The “reason I’m having to stand here today is because there are people in positions of authority and respect who have said their votes didn’t count, and it’s not true. And I’m going to do it again and I’m going to go through all this anti-disinformation Monday, it’s whack-a-mole again, it is Groundhog Day again, I’m going to get to talk about things that I’ve talked about repeatedly for two months, but I’m going to do it again one last time I’m hoping. Because at the end of the day, we want to make sure people understand their votes count…So let’s start again. And yes, some of this is going to come out of the continuing statements from the president. And some of his supporters.”
Sterling dismissed a raft of voting fraud allegations, including the claim that more than 66,000 voters under 18 voted illegally. Trump is among those spreading this claim, said Sterling. The New York Times reviewed Sterling’s rebuttal to 10 false claims of voting fraud and unfounded conspiracies from POTUS, here.
Among the outgoing president’s false claims:
- Thousands of people voted without registering to vote, which Sterling said is impossible.
- That state election officials shredded ballots. “That’s not real. It’s not happening,” Sterling said.
- That Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger “is compromised because he has a brother who works for a Chinese technology company.”
“This is all easily, provably false. Yet the president persists and, by doing so, undermines Georgians’ faith in the election system,” Sterling said. Read over the other false claims Sterling shot down Monday here.
Reminder: Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to preside over a joint session of Congress as it tabulates Electoral College votes on Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET. Will Pence, like Trump, buck tradition and make a scene of the occasion? The Associated Press calls Pence “Donald Trump’s most loyal soldier” in its preview of the ordinarily boring formalities of transitioning from one president to another, here.
One more thing, and it's from the satirical writers at The Onion: “American People Guess They’ll Let Trump Stay President After Seeing How Badly He Wants It."
From Defense One
DC Guard To Deploy for Pro-Trump Demonstrations In Washington // Katie Bo Williams: About 350 troops will help with crowd control — seven months after a fraught deployment in June.
After COVID, What Should American Foreign Policy Do? / William Inboden: The pandemic reminds us that American leadership can determine whether the arc of history bends toward something better or something worse.
Everybody Spies in Cyberspace. The U.S. Must Plan Accordingly. // Amy Zegart, The Atlantic: Because all countries engage in espionage, intrusions like Russia’s latest data hack are devilishly hard to deter.
The Mutated Virus Is a Ticking Time Bomb // Zeynep Tufekci, The Atlantic: There is much we don’t know about the new COVID-19 variant—but everything we know so far suggests a huge danger.
Welcome to this Tuesday 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 1957, and in the wake of the Suez Crisis three months prior, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced that Middle Eastern countries could ask for U.S. economic or military help if they felt threatened by the Soviet Union. This decidedly overt approach to the geopolitics of containment would later be known as the Eisenhower Doctrine.
Afghan peace talks latest: U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is back in Doha this week, he tweeted Monday. This latest round of talks is expected to focus on a possible ceasefire for the country.
Kabul officials are growing increasingly alarmed that the Taliban will insist on an interim government that at least one key government official says could “cause the collapse of the political system of Afghanistan.” That official is Afghanistan’s Second Vice President Mohammad Sarwar Danish, and Tolo News has more here.
The U.S. military says the Taliban has to stop killing “government officials, civil society leaders and journalists” if the group truly wants “peace to succeed.”
Khalilzad did not point his finger at the Taliban in his tweets Monday. Instead, he called Afghanistan’s “current levels of violence, including targeted killings... unacceptable. Those perpetuating the violence seek to undermine the peace process and the country's future.”
By the way: The U.S. just withdrew from another Afghan base, this time at FOB Shank, which once hosted as many as 18,000 troops, Tolo reported Monday.
A new strike team of Afghan troops was just fielded in Farah province, and could expand to other parts of the country by the summer. The unit reportedly involves police, soldiers and personnel from Kabul’s National Directorate of Security. Little else is known about the unit, which Interior Affairs Minister Gen. Massoud Andarabi mentioned in recent remarks to Afghan lawmakers.
Iranian troops have boarded a South Korean tanker seized in the Persian Gulf, its owner, DM Shipping Co Ltd., told CNN in a statement Tuesday.
South Korea has responded by deploying the Cheonghae Unit, a military anti-piracy force that includes special forces troops, to the Gulf aboard the 5,000-ton destroyer Choi Yong, CNN reports.
Background: Iranian state media said on Monday that the vessel was seized for "creating environmental and chemical pollution in the Persian Gulf." But an Iranian government spokesman later linked the seizure to $7 billion of Iranian funds frozen by Seoul two years ago in a South Korean bank. Read on, here.
ICYMI: President Trump ordered the Nimitz back to the Gulf. Turns out it wasn’t SecDef Chris Miller’s idea to reverse his order to send the aircraft carrier home from the region. (Miller had intended “in part, to send a de-escalation signal to Iran amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran,” CNN reported Monday.) But at a Sunday meeting at the White House, Trump scotched that idea.
Says CNN: “One defense official says Miller's idea of de-escalation had not been adopted as a formal, approved policy. It took top commanders by surprise, several defense sources said. US Central Command wanted the carrier to stay in the region to deter Iran at a time of rising tension and less than three weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.” Read on, here.
Navy SEAL Tony DeDolph will plead guilty to killing Green Beret Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar, SOCOM-watcher Kevin Maurer reported Monday for The Daily Beast. You may recall Melgar died in June 2017 while deployed on an intelligence assignment in Mali. “Melgar’s superiors in Stuttgart, Germany, almost immediately suspected foul play, and dispatched an investigating officer to the scene within 24 hours,” the New York Times first reported four months after his death — with a crucial detail that two Navy SEALs “were flown out of Mali shortly after the episode and were placed on administrative leave.”
Now SEAL DeDolph has reportedly agreed to plead "guilty on January 14 to involuntary manslaughter, obstruction of justice, and hazing," Maurer reports. In exchange, DeDolph will see felony murder and burglary charges dropped. According to his attorney, “DeDolph never intended to injure Logan Melgar, but also recognizes the fact that Melgar died as a result of actions that went tragically wrong on June 4, 2017.”
He’ll also have to agree not to profit “from the case in any way, including writing books or earning a living based on his experience at SEAL Team 6.”
One more thing: “DeDolph is the third of four defendants to plead guilty in the case,” Maurer reports. “Only Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez, a Marine Raider, is still awaiting trial.” More here.
Mozambique’s jihidist insurgency has grown so deadly that French energy firm Total is suspending work at a natural gas project in northern Cabo Delgado province, the Associated Press reported Monday. The project wasn’t scheduled to officially begin gas production until 2024; but now that target is up in the air.
Behind the headline: “Mozambique’s rebels...have held the Indian Ocean port of Mocimboa da Praia since August and the Mozambican army has not been able to regain control of the strategic town,” AP reports. Then “Late last year, the jihadists took over some nearby towns and beheaded about 50 people.” More here.
Read Defense One’s forecast for Mozambique from Patrick Tucker’s reporting back in June, here.
Update: The SolarWinds hack may have been enabled by aggressive cost-cutting measures, the New York Times reported Saturday. Such measures include the company “mov[ing] much of its engineering to satellite offices in the Czech Republic, Poland and Belarus, where engineers had broad access to the Orion network management software that Russia’s agents compromised.”
What’s more, “None of the SolarWinds customers contacted by The New York Times in recent weeks were aware they were reliant on software that was maintained in Eastern Europe. Many said they did not even know they were using SolarWinds software until recently.”
Reminder: Before the hack became public in mid-December, SolarWinds said on its website that its customer list included all five branches of the U.S. military, the Pentagon, State Department, NASA, NSA, the Postal Service, NOAA, the Department of Justice, and the Office of the President of the United States. They also serve more than 400 of Fortune’s top 500 companies, including Lockheed Martin, as well as “All five of the top five US accounting firms,” “All ten of the top ten US telecommunications companies,” and “Hundreds of universities and colleges worldwide.” More from the Times, here.
And finally today: Meet the “Smellicopter.” Researchers at the University of Washington have placed “a living moth antenna on a drone to give it a sense of smell,” WIRED reported Monday. And yes, it’s actually called the Smellicopter.
Here’s how it works: “The system monitors the electrical signals sent from the antenna, allowing the drone to lock onto the source of a scent and navigate toward it.”
One catch: That moth antenna dies after four hours, which WIRED writes still gives “the drone plenty of time to sniff out odors.” So now you can really find out who farted in the office. Read the rest at WIRED, here.