Today's D Brief: Austin set for approval; Guard snafu; Nuke treaty, extended; New powers for China’s coast guard; And just a bit more.
Austin is on the verge of making history. The Senate is expected to confirm retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin as America’s first-ever Black defense secretary. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is speaking presently ahead of a full vote in the Senate a little bit later. One important line from McConnell’s mouth today: "I will vote to confirm" Austin.
Both the House and Senate on Thursday approved the waiver Austin needed to hold the SecDef job since it’s been less than seven years since Austin last wore his Army uniform. “Both votes were overwhelming and bipartisan,” NPR reported shortly afterward.
Said incoming Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, speaking today on the Senate floor: “Lloyd Austin is the right person for the job. He has the experience, the vision, and the competence to run the largest agency in our government. I look forward to confirming his nomination shortly.”
Next step: The full Senate is expected to vote on Austin’s nomination sometime later today, possibly before noon.
More than half of the 26,000 National Guard troops in D.C. will head home in the next five to 10 days, the National Guard told reporters Thursday. That leaves about 10,600 remaining on duty in the nation’s capital, with about 7,000 of those expected to stay in town “through the end of the month,” Guard officials said.
There was an embarrassing communications breakdown with some Guard troops in D.C. on Thursday, Politico and Task & Purpose reported in the early evening.
Long story short: “Thousands of National Guardsmen were allowed back into the Capitol Thursday night, hours after U.S. Capitol Police officials ordered them to vacate the facilities, sending them outdoors or to nearby parking garages after two weeks pulling security duty,” Politico reports, after updating the story overnight.
Said a Guard spox to Politico: “As Congress is in session and increased foot traffic and business is being conducted, Capitol Police asked the troops to move their rest area. They were temporarily relocated to the Thurgood Marshall Judicial Center garage with heat and restroom facilities. We remain an agile and flexible force to provide for the safety and security of the Capitol and its surrounding areas.”
The episode gave politicians from both parties an opportunity to show how they care for the troops. Read on at Politico for how that played out, here.
ICYMI: A retired three-star Army general — Russel Honoré — is leading the House’s investigation into security procedures at the Capitol ahead of and during the failed insurrection, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced last week.
A bit more on the Capitol attack below the fold…
From Defense One
Nuclear Modernization Questions Loom After New START Extension // Patrick Tucker: The treaty’s extension highlights its limits as well as its strengths.
How to Fight Domestic Extremism and Win Public Trust // Adam Maruyama: After years of partisan politicization, national security leaders and workers need to be clear about how they'll keep us safe from each other.
Joe Biden Has a Europe Problem // Tom McTague, The Atlantic: The new president has a daunting list of foreign-policy challenges. Among the biggest will be managing a longtime ally.
Trump Restricted Drone Imports In Final White House Days // Mila Jasper, Nextgov: The executive order encourages federal agencies to divest from unmanned aerial systems manufactured by China, Russia and Iran.
Welcome to this Friday 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 1970, the Boeing 747 “jumbo jet” first entered service.
A disproportionately large percentage of veterans were involved in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, according to an NPR analysis of those charged so far.
“Nearly 1 in 5 defendants charged in relation to the attack on the U.S. Capitol have served in the military,” NPR reported Thursday. “To put that number in perspective, only about 7% of all American adults are military veterans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.”
“It’s not like the military is just tolerating white supremacists,” Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism told NPR. “But there also need to be clear expectations coming down from on high about what you should do when you encounter an extremist in your unit, at your base or whatever the circumstances are, and that here are the procedures that need to be followed,” he said. So far, those do not seem to have made their way around the U.S. military. That could change after the numerous investigations that have been launched into the Jan. 6 attack. Read more at NPR, or listen to the audio story, which is just over three minutes, here.
ICYMI: Even before the Capitol assault, then-acting SecDef Chris Miller quietly ordered a look into DOD’s policies on extremism, due in February. And DOD’s inspector general has announced its own look into recruiting and screening efforts.
Those numbers make it hard to ignore warnings about veterans who have “brought the war home” via paramilitary activity, as Kathleen Belew has researched and written for the last couple of years — and carried forward most recently in a 12-page report (PDF) on Jan. 6’s rightwing activism, here.
By the way: Insurrection arrests now include an ex-cop from Houston who told the FBI he only breached the Capitol during riots to see “historical art.” The Washington Post has the story, here.
They also include a Michigan man who attacked police with a hockey stick, NBC News reported Thursday.
START nuclear arms control treaty latest: Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomes U.S. President Biden’s proposed five-year extension of the nuclear weapons-capping treaty, which expires in less than two weeks if not renewed, the Associated Press reports today from Moscow.
What this means: The U.S. and Russia can’t build new strategic nuclear weapons for another half-decade. The Trump administration thought it could wring new concessions from Moscow by delaying an extension; the Biden team thinks it’s better to save the only bilateral arms-control pact that Trump didn’t scuttle, then move ahead on talks about other weapons. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker has more, here.
SolarWinds breach update: U.S. “intelligence officials have quietly concluded that more than a thousand Russian software engineers were most likely involved,” the New York Times reported Thursday. “A key question” for newly seated DNI Avril Haines “is whether the operation was limited to espionage, or whether ‘back doors’ placed in government and corporate systems give Russia new abilities to alter data or shut down computer networks entirely.” Read on, here.
China just authorized its Coast Guard to shoot at “foreign vessels” if they feel the need to protect themselves, Reuters reports from Beijing.
But that’s not all. “The bill allows coast guard personnel to demolish other countries’ structures built on Chinese-claimed reefs and to board and inspect foreign vessels in waters claimed by China,” and it “empowers the coastguard to create temporary exclusion zones 'as needed' to stop other vessels and personnel from entering.”
Why this matters: “China has maritime sovereignty disputes with Japan in the East China Sea and with several Southeast Asian countries in the South China Sea,” Reuters writes. “It has sent its coast guard to chase away fishing vessels from other countries, sometimes resulting in the sinking of these vessels.” More here.
China’s coast guard, the world’s largest, is also bigger than almost every navy in the world. CSIS has a quick rundown on its 2020 activities in the South China Sea, here.
Israel says it shot down a drone that crossed into its territory from Lebanon, which is something often done against Hezbollah UAVs. Tiny bit more from Reuters, here.
Israel also seems to have just carried out its first airstrike in Syria since Biden took office. Reuters gathers what we know so far of the apparent strike, which reportedly killed four people in Hama, here.
ISIS claimed the deadly twin bombings in Baghdad on Thursday that killed nearly three dozen people. “The attack was the first in nearly three years to hit the capital,” AP reports. And in case you’re curious, “Elsewhere, in northern Iraq and the western desert, [ISIS] attacks continue and almost exclusively target Iraqi security forces.” A bit more, here.
And finally this week: The U.S. is about to resume visa processing for Afghans who helped the American military. It’s known as the Special Immigrant Visa, and the Trump administration paused related work last March due to the pandemic, the Washington Post reported Thursday.
Background: “More than 7,000 special visas allocated to Afghans by Congress in 2020 went unissued, compared with about 5,000 the year before,” the Post reports off data from the State Department. “Nearly 19,000 visa applications were stuck in processing as of September 2019, according to a State Department audit last year, a number that was all but guaranteed to grow with the coronavirus disruptions.” More here.
Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we'll see you again on Monday!