Today's D Brief: Haines, Austin confirmation hearings; Biden’s nuclear challenges; Inauguration security; More B-52 deterrence flights; And a bit more.
Austin’s day on the Hill. Retired U.S. Army Gen. Lloyd Austin is headed before the Senate Armed Services Committee this afternoon. His confirmation hearing to possibly become the next American defense secretary — and by extension, the country’s first ever Black defense secretary — is set for 3 p.m. ET.
The big question facing Austin: Will lawmakers grant the required waiver that would allow Austin to serve as Pentagon chief less than seven years since he last wore the uniform? House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., is working the Democratic side of the aisle, Defense News reports today.
Supporting Austin’s nom as SecDef: former Pentagon chiefs Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel and William Perry. Newsweek has more on their support, communicated to SASC leaders.
Already underway: Avril Haines’s confirmation hearing to become the country’s next Director of National Intelligence. That began before the Senate Intelligence Committee at 10 a.m. Haines was the CIA’s deputy director and deputy national security adviser under POTUS44. “If confirmed, Ms. Haines would be the first woman to oversee the country’s intelligence community,” the Wall Street Journal reports in a preview. CNN got a hold of excerpts from Haines’s opening statement, here. Here are a few of her recommendations from those excerpts:
- The “DNI should see to it that the Intelligence Community's unique capabilities are brought to bear on the global COVID-19 crisis around the world, while also addressing the long-term challenge of future biological crises”;
- "[W]e should provide the necessary intelligence to support long-term bipartisan efforts to out-compete China — gaining and sharing insight into China's intentions and capabilities, while also supporting more immediate efforts to counter Beijing's unfair, illegal, aggressive and coercive actions";
- “And here at home, we must strengthen our cybersecurity, safeguard our critical infrastructure, and turn the ongoing technological revolution from a threat to an advantage…” More to all that, here.
By the way: Former CIA Deputy Director David S. Cohen has been selected for that same posting in the Biden White House. There, he’ll help former career diplomat William J. Burns, who was tapped to lead the CIA early last week. President-elect Joe Biden made Cohen’s selection official on Friday.
What are Americans’ security priorities? “Containing the coronavirus outbreak and repairing the economic damage it has inflicted” top the list, according to a new poll (taken December 3 through 7) from the Associated Press. What’s more, “those priorities far outpace others, like foreign affairs, immigration, climate change or racial inequality. The findings suggest Biden’s political fate is riding on his administration’s response to the pandemic.”
Forecasting things that go boom. Several of the most complex security challenges facing the Biden administration include nuclear weapons (North Korea and Iran, e.g.), the folks at the Arms Control Association remind us in a new report. Their researchers just collected “the five most important sets of nuclear weapons policy challenges” that will confront President-elect Joe Biden, and they include:
- “Extending the only remaining nuclear arms control agreement and advancing the nuclear disarmament enterprise”;
- “Reducing the skyrocketing cost of the excessive U.S. nuclear modernization program”;
- “Stabilizing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and containing Iran’s nuclear capacity”;
- “Jump-starting moribund denuclearization and peace diplomacy with North Korea”;
- “Restoring effective U.S. leadership on key multilateral nonproliferation and disarmament agreements, including the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.”
Find the full report, here.
From Defense One
Troops at Inauguration Pre-Screened for Extremism, Says DC Guard Commander // Katie Bo Williams: “We will use the minimum force required to protect ourselves,” said Maj. Gen. William Walker, in an exclusive interview.
‘A Piece of...’ Outgoing SecDef Blasts Expensive Programs // Patrick Tucker, Government Executive: DOD’s biggest challenge is overcoming the “mindset of the Cold War”
Acting SecDef Defends Capitol Reaction, Says DoD Is Prepared for Next Week // Patrick Tucker: Defense Department “absolutely” concerned about domestic terrorism next week but feels bureaucratic issues that delayed national guard are resolved.
Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Industry giants, ranked; Donations, suspended; New contracts, and more...
Gaslighting Can’t Obscure Trump’s Iran Failures // Ryan Costello: The Biden administration must make a firm break from Trump’s approach and restore the status quo ante.
The Boogaloo Bois Prepare for Civil War // Michael Mooney, The Atlantic: As the FBI warns of violence, anti-government extremists are ready to get in on the chaos.
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 1839, the British East India Company dispatched warships and troops to take control over the Yemeni port city of Aden. Their goal: Stop pirate attacks on British ships traveling to and from India. This British colonial presence would remain in Aden until mid-December 1967.
Acting SecDef Miller ordered the NSA to install a GOP operative as general counsel. In a move viewed as an attempt to politicize a top position at the National Security Agency, acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller on Friday ordered Lt. Gen. Paul Nakasone to immediately seat Michael Ellis, a former White House official, as the NSA’s top lawyer, which is a career civilian post. Ellis was picked in November after a competitive civil service competition, but has not completed various administrative procedures, including taking a polygraph test.
The “N.S.A. is moving forward with his employment,” agency leaders said in a Sunday statement. More at the New York Times, here.
Democratic congressional leaders have registered their opposition to the move. There’s no apparent way to block Ellis’ seating, though the Biden administration could move him to another career slot. More at the Washington Post, here.
Guardsmen in D.C. have been given an extra background check. “The roughly 25,000 National Guardsmen deployed to the U.S. capital to ensure President-elect Joe Biden is able to be sworn in peacefully went through an additional background check to weed out any whiff of domestic extremism,” Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams reported Saturday off an exclusive interview with Maj. Gen. William Walker, who leads the D.C. Guard. Read that, here.
The U.S. military just sent B-52 bombers to the Middle East for the second time in less than two weeks. This latest flight happened on Sunday, and the round-trip mission from the U.S. was the fifth of its kind since November (Nov. 21; Dec. 10; Dec. 30; and Jan. 8).
Why? In short, Iran. But here’s U.S. Central Command’s Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie with a bit more diplomacy to his explanation: “Short-term deployments of strategic assets are an important part of our defensive posture in the region,” he said in a statement this weekend from CENTCOM. “The training opportunity and continued integration with regional partners improves readiness and delivers a clear and consistent message in the operational environment to both friends and potential adversaries, alike.”
Somalia status report: Just over a year after an American soldier and two U.S. contractors were killed when al-Shabaab fighters attacked an airfield complex at Kenya’s Manda Bay, U.S. Africa Command’s Army Gen. Stephen Townsend visited U.S. forces there on Saturday. The Kenya stop was part of a five-day swing through the horn of Africa while the U.S. military continues rotating its forces around to neighboring countries like Djibouti and Kenya.
In case you’re unclear about why the U.S. is in the region, AFRICOM said in its most recent statement, released Tuesday: “Africa faces threats from terrorist groups such as the Al-Qaeda affiliated al-Shabaab. It has also emerged as a front for global power competition where both China and Russia are using aggressive diplomatic, economic and military means to expand their access and influence.”
What’s new at Manda Bay: “Over the past year, substantial enhancements have been made to physical security and more stringent force protection procedures have been implemented, recognizing the enduring threat al- Shabaab and other violent extremist organizations present to the U.S. and African partner nations,” AFRICOM said in a weekend statement.
Townsend also dropped by Somalia this weekend, where U.S. forces have been “repositioning” to various nations in the region at outgoing POTUS45’s order. Folks in Somalia who met with Townsend include U.S. Ambassador to Somalia Don Yamamoto and Somali Defense Minister Hassan Hussein Haji, and Somali Chief of Defense Forces Brigadier Gen. Odawa Yusuf Raage. During the trip, Townsend also met with African Union Mission in Somalia Commander, Lt. Gen. Diomede Ndegeya of Burundi.
“We continually adjust and adapt our efforts to disrupt al-Shabaab and place pressure on its network,” Townsend said in a separate AFRICOM’s statement. “Our continued success is dependent on sustained engagement and international partnerships.”
Still in the region: The Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group and embarked 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit — both of which have been facilitating that “repositioning” of forces off of Somalia’s coast since Dec. 21 as part of Joint Task Force – Quartz. More from AFRICOM, here.
One more thing: The U.S. destroyed a Shabaab compound in an airstrike Sunday in southwestern Somalia. It’s unclear from AFRICOM’s alert if anyone was killed in the strike; and the command insists “no civilians were injured or killed.” Tiny bit more, here.
Capitol assault latest: Trump campaign officials helped organize the Jan. 6 rally that came just before the failed insurrection, according to the Associated Press: “Members of President Donald Trump’s failed presidential campaign played key roles in orchestrating the Washington rally that spawned a deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol, according to an Associated Press review of records, undercutting claims the event was the brainchild of the president’s grassroots supporters.”
At least 87 people have been charged in connection with the assault on the Capitol so far, according to a running list compiled by USA Today.
See this illustrated timeline of the assault, combining maps, photos, videos, and text to explain what happened when — via the New York Times.
Sift through videos shot during the riot using this tool from ProPublica, which has posted some 500 videos that participants posted to the now-defunct Parler social-media site. ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis wrote about what the videos reveal, closing with this: “There undoubtedly were some dangerous organized elements within the mob that attacked the Capitol. But what is scariest about these videos is that they show the damage that can be done by a crowd of unorganized Americans goaded and abetted by the leaders of an organized political party.”
Updating: some 750 active duty troops with relevant specialties are headed to D.C. for the inauguration, Politico reported Monday. They include service members “with expertise in handling chemical, biological, nuclear, radiological and explosive weapons, as well as explosive ordnance disposal and medical teams skilled in trauma response,” one defense official said. That’s in addition to the 20,000-plus National Guard troops tasked with helping law enforcement in the nation’s capital. More on that group from USA Today, here.
And lastly today: POTUS45 is reviewing nearly 100 pardons and commutations he might issue on his last day in office, the Wall Street Journal reports. Among the pardons considered “unlikely”? Former “strategist” Steve Bannon, “who was charged in August in connection with an alleged scheme to siphon hundreds of thousands of dollars from a crowdfunding campaign for a wall along the southern U.S. border.”
By the way: “Aides have planned a send-off ceremony at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland,” the Journal reports. And that’s notably different from tradition, as Defense One’s Kevin Baron wrote last week.