Today's D Brief: Austin’s first calls; New focus on domestic extremism; View from CENTCOM; B-52 missions; And a bit more.
SecDef Austin phoned several key U.S. allies this weekend, including his British counterpart, UK Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace. Discussion topics ranged from “the special relationship between our two countries,” to “the COVID-19 response, concerns from a rising China, threats from Russia, and ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan,” according to the Defense Department’s readout.
Worth noting: The UK just boosted its defense spending more than any point in the past 30 years, the Pentagon says. Austin thanked Wallace for that and for “the collective security of the NATO Alliance.”
- In case you’re curious, NATO was Austin’s first official phone call as SecDef. That was on Friday, and you can see photos of his conversation with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, here and here.
SecDef Austin called his Japanese counterpart this weekend, too. The men discussed COVID-19, UN Security Council resolutions aimed at curbing North Korea’s ability to make nuclear weapons, and “continued efforts regarding the construction of the Futenma Replacement Facility in Henoko,” which Japanese officials view as vital to potential defense of the contested Senkaku islands that are also claimed by Russia.
BTW: The U.S. has Japan’s back when it comes to the Senkakus. The Pentagon said Saturday that SecDef “Austin further affirmed that the Senkaku islands are covered by Article V of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty, and that the United States remains opposed to any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea.”
SecDef Austin called his South Korean counterpart on Saturday, too. The two discussed “the ironclad U.S.-ROK Alliance and emphasize the importance of close cooperation between the two countries,” according to the Pentagon readout.
Also: Don’t expect a Korean drawdown, because both Austin and RoK Defense Minister Suh Wook “noted the need to maintain the readiness of Alliance combined forces, affirmed the importance of maintaining the rules-based international order, and agreed to enhance cooperation on shared threats.”
Today: Pow-wow in the Oval. Just before noon, President Joe Biden is scheduled to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris, SecDef Austin, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark Milley, in the Oval Office. It will be the group’s first appearance altogether, and press are scheduled to pop in to see what’s happening after POTUS46 has about 30 minutes with them together in private.
From Defense One
War Avoided, Biden Transition Brings ‘Opportunity’ for New Iran Relations, Top General Says // Katie Bo Williams: ‘Our goal was to deter a war,’ said CENTCOM’s Gen. McKenzie of the past few months, en route to the region for his first visit under the new administration.
Purity Tested, Senators Confirm General Austin for SecDef / Kevin Baron: With little actual opposition in the end, members voted for the waiver and the man.
Three Steps to Fight Online Disinformation and Extremism // Peter W. Singer: The long-term solution recommended by experts is rarely discussed by pundits and politicians.
Iran Will Still be a Slog // Jon B. Alterman: We can expect Tehran to use three tactics to seek advantage in negotiations.
Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: New SecDef; F-35 deals; More Pegasus orders; and more...
Pandemic Numbers Are (Finally) Tiptoeing in the Right Direction // The COVID Tracking Project, The Atlantic: The United States remains in a very alarming place, but COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths all fell in the past seven days.
The U.S. sent an aircraft carrier to the South China Sea on Saturday, the same day that China sent eight bombers and four fighter jets into Taiwan’s airspace, Reuters reported on Sunday. Those jets and bombers returned again over Taiwan on Sunday, too.
Obligatory reax from new State Department spokesman Ned Price: “The U.S. urges Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected representatives. We support a peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues.”
The Pentagon is still leaning heavily on early Cold War-era aircraft like the B-52, in particular, “to prepare for the wars of the future,” the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. “A strategy shift focused on China and Russia—and stumbles in developing newer bombers—persuade[s the] Air Force to put new electronics in an old plane and make it last until 2050.”
America’s chief negotiator with the Taliban, Zalmay Khalilzad, will stay on in the job at least for a short while, CNN reported Friday, calling the decision “not typical.” As things currently stand, the Feb. 2020 agreement Zalmay helped forge between the U.S. and the Taliban “commits all US and NATO forces to leave the country by May,” CNN’s Kylie Atwood reports, “and that is at odds with a desire by Biden and his foreign policy team to keep residual force in Afghanistan.”
POTUS46’s team is reviewing that POTUS45 agreement with the Taliban signed 11 months ago in Qatar. President Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with his Afghan counterpart Hamdullah Mohib on Friday. According to the White House, Sullivan “made clear the United States’ intention to review the February 2020 U.S.-Taliban agreement, including to assess whether the Taliban was living up to its commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence in Afghanistan, and to engage in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government and other stakeholders.”
FWIW: Sullivan also rang his Israeli and South Korean counterparts over the weekend, too.
Biden’s new domestic extremism focus. The White House announced Friday that President Biden’s National Security Council is assembling a team of officials whose job will be countering domestic violent extremism. Josh Geltzer, a former NSC counterterrorism aide, will help direct the effort to “scope” the best government responses to domestic terrorism and that effort will span the administration’s first 100 days, White House Communications Director Jen Psaki told reporters Friday. Geltzer will be joined in that team by Liz Sherwood Randall and Russ Travers.
Some of the group’s focus will include “how the government can share information better about this threat, support efforts to prevent radicalization, disrupt violent extremist networks,” according to Psaki.
Biden has also requested a “comprehensive threat assessment” from Biden’s Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, and the FBI as well as the Department of Homeland Security. “This assessment will draw on analysis from across the government,” Psaki said, calling it the first step in a process. “The key point here is that we want fact-based analysis upon which we can shape policy. So this is really the first step in the process, and we’ll rely on our appropriate law enforcement and intelligence officials to provide that analysis.”
Early feedback from an expert: “This is a good move that takes heed of expert analysis, and uses tools already in place instead of expanding new categories of criminality,” said extremism researcher Kathleen Belew.
By the way: The Trump campaign paid the Jan. 6 rally organizers “more than $2.7 million over two years,” Bloomberg reported Friday, carrying forward an Associated Press report from Jan. 17, along with data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Payments were “made through Nov. 23, the most recent date covered by Federal Election Commission filings, which is before the rally was publicly announced.”
Some of the officials involved include Maggie Mulvaney, Mick Mulvaney’s niece; Megan Powers; Caroline Wren; and Ronald Holden. A bit more here.
41 years old. That’s the average age of rioters in that Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, according to the resulting federal cases reviewed by Seamus Hughes of the George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.
124 men and 19 women have been charged so far, and they came from 37 different states, as well as the District of Columbia. More analysis here.
When it comes to radicalization, Democrats have YouTube’s search algorithm in their crosshairs, according to The Hill.
What’s going on: “Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) led dozens of their colleagues in letters addressed to the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, Google and YouTube urging various changes across the platforms to mitigate the spread of extremist and conspiratorial content.”
“Social media platforms’ algorithms are designed to feed each of us increasingly hateful versions of what we already hate, and fearful versions of what we already fear, so that we stay glued to our screens for as long as possible,” Malinowski said in a statement on Thursday. “In this way, they regularly promote and recommend white supremacist, anti-Semitic, anti-government, and other conspiracy-oriented material to the very people who are most susceptible to it — some of whom just attacked our Capitol.”
A second opinion: We should be looking beyond just YouTube’s algorithm, says far-right researcher Becca Lewis of Stanford University. “To really understand extremism on YouTube, it's crucial to understand its celebrity culture, social networking capabilities, and content moderation decisions,” she tweeted. “Treating this as a problem of one technological feature is to trivialize a much broader culture supported by YouTube.” Read more of her analysis of this problem, here.
DIA’s extraordinary searches. Did you know (1) that there is “a commercially available database of smartphone app locational data,” and the New York Times reported Friday, and (2) that the U.S. military’s Defense Intelligence Agency has searched the movement of Americans from that database at least five times without a warrant in less than three years?
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., learned about the DIA searching in a memo from the agency back in early December. Now Wyden wants new legislation that will protect Americans’ privacy from these warrantless searches of commercially available location data.
What’s going on: “Many smartphone apps log their users’ locations, and the app makers can aggregate the data and sell it to brokers, who can then resell it — including to the government,” the Times’s Charlie Savage reported Friday. And that’s what DIA has done. The problem is reportedly that for one of the databases DIA accessed, the data broker did not separate out foreigners from Americans; so DIA had to do it upon receipt. Continue reading, here.
Navy SEAL gets 10 years for choking Green Beret to death. Chief Petty Officer Tony DeDolph, who pleaded guilty earlier this month to a hazing gone fatally wrong, has been sentenced to 10 years of confinement and a dishonorable discharge, his lawyer told Military.com on Sunday.
And lastly today: Army Futures Command’s Gen. John Murray speaks in an online event with the Center for Strategic and International Studies all about linking everything on the battlefield — aka "Project Convergence.” That starts at 11 a.m. ET. More from CSIS here.