Today's D Brief: Biden on US leadership; China’s space station; Air Force One, delayed; Cost estimate jumps on interceptor; And a bit more.
“American leadership means ending the forever war in Afghanistan,” President Joe Biden said in his first State of the Union address Wednesday evening, noting, “I’m the first President in 40 years who knows what it means to have a son serving in a warzone.”
“We went to Afghanistan to get terrorists,” the president said, “the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 — and we said we would follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell to do it… And we delivered justice to bin Laden. We degraded the terrorist threat of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. And after 20 years of value — valor and sacrifice, it’s time to bring those troops home.”
America will now lean on its “over-the-horizon capacity to suppress future threats to the homeland,” Biden said, referring to counterterrorism forces carrying out operations without a significant troop presence in countries like, e.g., Afghanistan and Somalia.
“And make no mistake: In 20 years, terrorism has metastasized. The threat has evolved way beyond Afghanistan,” Biden said. “Al Qaeda and ISIS are in Yemen, Syria, Somalia, other places in Africa, the Middle East, and beyond.”
It’s metastasized at home, too, he said. “We won’t ignore what our intelligence agencies have determined to be the most lethal terrorist threat to the homeland today: White supremacy is terrorism,” the president said. “We’re not going to ignore that either.” Read more about the foreign policy themes in Biden’s Wednesday address via Defense One’s Jacqueline Feldscher, here.
Back to Afghanistan: Investigative journalists seem to have uncovered an “illegal mining corruption ring” that appears to involve the president of Afghanistan and his brother, an American military contractor, and even an allegedly supporting role by U.S. Special Forces, according to Margaux Benn and Zack Kopplin of the Government Accountability Project.
At the heart of the story: Chromite mining in Kunar province, which yields “a valuable anti-corrosion additive used in stainless steel and aircraft paint.”
This one’s a long and winding tale, and Kopplin goes a great distance explaining what he can of it all — as well as curious sidebar discoveries — in a lengthy Twitter thread from Wednesday, here. (Or read the full report here.)
ICYMI: “I don't think [Afghanistan's government] is gonna last that long. It's just too rotten,” a member of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces told us on our most recent Defense One Radio podcast.
BTW: A 35-year-old U.S. military contractor from Georgia was just sentenced to more than four years in prison “for her role in a theft ring on a military installation in Kandahar, Afghanistan,” the Department of Justice announced Wednesday. The newly-sentenced “used her position as a security supervisor at Kandahar Airfield to make fake badges that allowed unvetted Afghans to enter the base between April and July 2015 and remove military property,” including “a truck, a van, at least three generators and a refrigerator,” Stars and Stripes reports. Read more about her and her co-conspirator, here.
From Defense One
US ‘Won’t Ignore’ Terrorism at Home or Abroad, Biden Tells Congress // Jacqueline Feldscher: The change in the threat environment is part of why American troops should withdraw from Afghanistan, the president said.
New Air Force One Delayed by COVID, Boeing Subcontractor // Marcus Weisgerber: Boeing has fired GDC Technics, which is suing its erstwhile employer.
Pelosi: Milley ‘Doesn’t Know the Full Picture’ of Jan. 6 Capitol Attack // Jacqueline Feldscher: House speaker says Trump administration delayed military assistance to lawmakers.
Biden Nominee for Pentagon Weapons Buyer Under Investigation // Tara Copp: Inspector General complaint alleges DIU Director Michael Brown’s agency used federal hiring tools to hire friends, but office says it’s competing for talent.
Defense One Radio, Ep. 90: The future of Afghanistan // Ben Watson talks with Greg, a Green Beret medic who served in Afghanistan, and with Long War Journal's Bill Roggio.
Court to Explore Whether Trump Officials Interfered in JEDI Contract // Frank R. Konkel, Nextgov: The Defense Department previously said lengthy litigation could threaten the contract’s future.
Artificial Intelligence Is Misreading Human Emotion // Kate Crawford, The Atlantic: There is no good evidence that facial expressions reveal a person’s feelings. But big tech companies want you to believe otherwise.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1975, the U.S. military began Operation Frequent Wind, the evacuation of U.S. personnel and South Vietnamese citizens by helicopter from Saigon.
China just launched the main portion of its upcoming space station. “The launch begins the first of 11 missions necessary to complete, supply and crew the station by the end of next year,” the Associated Press reports from Beijing.
Construction will take place in low-earth orbit, CNet reports along with an illustration of what China’s space station will look like. “When complete, the CSS will be a quarter of the size of the International Space Station and contain three modules, with the ability to support three taikonauts — Chinese astronauts — for stays lasting up to six months,” CNet writes. “The station is expected to orbit at around 230 miles above the Earth, about 20 miles lower than the ISS, with the ability to move up and down in orbit as necessary.”
Next up: “A Chinese cargo spacecraft is expected to visit the module next month, and three astronauts will come aboard in June, if all goes according to plan,” Space.com reports.
Why all this is happening in the first place: Since 2011, “U.S. law prohibits NASA and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy from cooperating with their Chinese counterparts on space-related activities, unless Congress has granted approval of such cooperation in advance,” Space.com reminds us.
FWIW: Russia says it wants its own space station, eventually, too, CNN reports. But that’s not expected to begin happening any sooner than 2030. A bit more here.
Alleged Russian spies seem to be linked to suspicious explosions at arms depots across eastern Europe from 2011 to 2020, the Washington Post reported Wednesday, citing public statements from Bulgarian and Czech investigators.
Bellingcat elaborates on the arms depot allegations in a robust explainer you can find here.
If the Pentagon wants a new ICBM interceptor, it’ll cost about $18 billion for the system, and about half a billion dollars for each interceptor, according to an independent analysis from the military’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office. Bloomberg first reported the CAPE results on Wednesday.
Background: “Teams led by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. will receive between them as much as $13.1 billion in the development phase of the Next Generation Interceptor,” Bloomberg writes. After a planned seven-year testing and selection process, “as many as 31 new interceptors, including 10 for testing” are expected to begin being fielded in about seven years.
“This is a staggering expenditure for such a modest capability,” said Joshua Pollack.
“This is serious $,” tweeted Steven Pifer of the Brookings Institution. By comparison, he notes, the money to buy one of these new interceptors could instead be used to acquire a B-21 bomber aircraft. Four could instead buy you an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. Or the cost of six interceptors could be used to acquire a Virginia-class submarine. Read more at Defense News, here.
USAID has a new director. Former Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, got the nod from the U.S. Senate in a 68-26 vote on Wednesday. She’s expected to be sworn into the job on Monday. CNN has more on Power’s priorities for the agency, here.
Today on the Hill, Defense Intelligence Agency’s Army Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier is testifying on “worldwide threats” before the Senate Armed Services Committee. That started at 9:30 a.m. ET. Catch the livestream here.
The Navy and Marine Corps’ 2022 budget is the focus of another hearing this morning. Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday are testifying before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, along with Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger. That begins at 11 a.m. ET. Livestream it here.
Two top national security lawyers are talking about domestic terrorism in America this morning. That began at 10 a.m. ET before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies. Details and livestream, here.
Across the pond, France is looking into “algorithms and other technology to monitor the web-browsing of terror suspects,” the Wall Street Journal reports amid a warning from retired military officers (and at least 18 active duty troops) who allege the country is sliding toward a civil war. More here.
Back stateside, the FBI is still looking for multiple suspects from the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Review the bureau’s collection of suspect photos and videos here.
“The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.” That’s how President Biden described the Jan. 6 insurrection in his State of the Union address Wednesday evening. “The images of a violent mob assaulting this Capitol, desecrating our democracy, remain vivid in all our minds. Lives were put at risk — many of your lives. Lives were lost. Extraordinary courage was summoned. The insurrection was an existential crisis –- a test of whether our democracy could survive. And it did.”
Lastly today: A Trump supporter who threatened lawmakers online now faces up to 10 years in prison. Two days after the riot, a 37-year-old Trump supporter from Queens, N.Y., uploaded a provocative video to BitChute, which the Washington Post describes as “a hosting site popular with far-right conservatives.”
In his video, which he titled “Kill Your Senators,” he called on his followers to return to D.C. on Inauguration Day to “put some bullets” in the heads of lawmakers who certified the 2020 election results in Congress on Jan. 6. “We have to kill them first,” he said, and added, “We have to take out these senators and then replace them with actual patriots.” On Wednesday, a jury in New York found him guilty of one count of threatening to assault or murder U.S. officials, CNN reports. His sentencing is set for some time in late June.
In his defense, he cited intoxication, depression, “rhetoric going on at the time” online, and said he wanted to get a rise out of his father, whom the Post reports is “a former family court judge.” A bit more from WaPo, here. Or read more about the recent history of this “free speech warrior” via the New York Times, here.