Today's D Brief: Biden pushes Israel-Gaza ceasefire; More border time for Guardsmen?; Afghanistan pullout, 20% complete; CIA to stop faxing; And just a bit more.
Israel/Gaza latest: U.S. President Joe Biden expects “a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire,” he told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a phone call this morning, according to the White House. The Wall Street Journal reports this morning Israeli officials are indeed looking into “the conditions” for a possible ceasefire with Hamas.
ICYMI: Biden also called Netanyahu on Monday and — according to the New York Times — explained “that he could fend off criticism of [Israel’s] Gaza strikes for only so long, according to two people familiar with the call.” Similarly, according to the Associated Press, Biden and his team of advisors have “made the calculation that Israelis will not respond to international resolutions or public demands by the U.S. and that its greatest leverage is behind-the-scenes pressure.”
For his part, Netanyahu doesn’t seem keen on easing Israel’s airstrikes against alleged Hamas locations, and Israeli strikes have now extended to southern Gaza, AP reports from Gaza City.
“You can either conquer [Hamas and its fighters], and that’s always an open possibility, or you can deter them,” Netanyahu reportedly told a group of ambassadors on Tuesday. “We are engaged right now in forceful deterrence, but I have to say, we don’t rule out anything.” More here. Or Reuters has much the same message today from Tel Aviv, here.
From Defense One
CIA’s Last Classified Fax Machines Are About to Retire // Marcus Weisgerber: A secure email system dubbed Gray Magic will replace the legendary analog technology.
Is DarkSide Really Sorry? Is It Even DarkSide? // Jonathan Welburn and Anu Narayanan: Deciphering the mysterious apology of the mysterious group that shut down a major U.S. pipeline.
Blinken’s Arctic Opportunities // Abbie Tingstad and Stephanie Pezard: The secretary of state can make real diplomatic progress on several key areas.
Détente with Iran Could Unlock a Foreign Policy Gold Mine // Shahed Ghoreishi: Bringing Tehran back into the diplomatic fold would foster other progress.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here.
The Department of Homeland Security would like U.S. troops to remain along the U.S.-Mexico border past the fiscal year, which would extend them beyond their current authorization, National Guard Chief Gen. Daniel Hokanson told lawmakers before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. That request was submitted one week ago, according to Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell.
For the record: About 4,000 troops are currently tasked with supporting operations with DHS and Customs and Border Protection. “These personnel provide infrastructure support; operational support; detection and monitoring support; and air support,” Mitchell said.
In addition, “About 180 Guard troops in Arizona and 600 Guard troops in Texas are also performing state missions along the border,” Stars and Stripes reported off Hokanson’s testimony Tuesday.
Worth noting: DHS officials said back in October that they’d like for that military assistance to remain “for the next three to five years, possibly more,” according to a Government Accountability Office report released in February.
Afghanistan exit/retrograde latest: As of Monday, the U.S. transferred “five facilities to the Afghan Ministry of Defense” and “turned over more than 5,000 pieces of equipment to the Defense Logistics Agency for destruction,” the Defense Department announced Tuesday.
The “retrograde” process is nearly 20% complete, according to a Monday estimate from U.S. Central Command officials. That includes “the equivalent of approximately 115 C-17 loads of material” that’s been moved out of the country. And, of course, there will be more to follow in the coming weeks.
America’s top diplomat is meeting with his Russian counterpart today in Iceland. It’s part of a five-day swing through Danish and Icelandic territory that began on Sunday for U.S. State Secretary Antony Blinken.
Bringing the two men together: A meeting of the Arctic Council that’s happening today in Reykjavik.
What Blinken’s swing could bring: Progress on the climate emergency, U.S.-Russia relations, and issues surrounding the Pentagon’s Greenland base, write RAND’s Abbie Tingstad and Stephanie Pezard at Defense One.
Worth noting: “Lavrov, 71, has been the dour face of Kremlin foreign policy since 2004 as Moscow has asserted what it says is its rightful standing as a great world power,” Reuters and France24 report, adding in the context of today’s meeting that “Russia has beefed up its military presence in the Arctic and invested in northern infrastructure.”
ICYMI: “Russia's northernmost base projects its power across Arctic,” AP reported from a very cold place on Tuesday.
Meanwhile in Manila: “Stop talking about the South China Sea,” Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told his cabinet Monday after several weeks of public frustration over China's conduct around contested waters near the Philippine archipelago. Reuters has more here.
This week in big ideas: The future of AI-driven warfare will be more dangerous than it needs to be until developers better understand how “the susceptibility of autonomous weapon systems to real-world data issues (incomplete data, low-quality data, false data, e.g.) will give rise to accidents that are both inevitable and impossible to anticipate,” United Nations researcher Arthur Holland Michel tells The D Brief about a new report published by the UN’s Institute for Disarmament Research.
The Justice Department could soon get a new top national security lawyer: “Matt Olsen, Uber Technologies Inc.’s chief trust and security officer...is expected to be nominated to serve as head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
Olsen worked in the DOJ under both POTUS43 and POTUS44. He also directed the National Counterterrorism Center and was a top lawyer for the National Security Agency under President Barack Obama.
If confirmed, “He would lead the division as it confronts extremist violence, foreign interference in U.S. elections and ransomware cyberattacks, which the DOJ sees as rising threats.” That office “will also be involved in a new task force aimed to curtail the proliferation of ransomware cyberattacks.” More here.
How should the U.S. military best screen servicemembers for extremism? That’s one of several big questions being debated by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s Countering Extremism Working Group, which is led by a veteran and lawyer named Bishop Garrison. And while there’s no public answer to the thorny question just yet, that didn’t stop The Intercept from injecting some controversy into the public debate on Monday with a story that Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby described the following afternoon as “misreporting.”
According to The Intercept, “the Pentagon plans to launch a pilot program for screening social media content for extremist material...the current front runner is Babel Street, a company that sells powerful surveillance tools including social media monitoring software.”
But according to Kirby, “There's no pilot program ring run by Mr. Garrison or the extremist working group to — to examine social media,” he told reporters Tuesday, before having to repeat himself several times in response to questions.
“There's no effort run by the extremist working group to set some sort of new social media monitoring policy,” Kirby said. “We already look at the social media footprint of potential recruits and we already have...an insider threat program which does include the monitoring of social media activity, as we should, as we must.”
Kirby continued, “I'm not aware of any efforts to expand what we're doing right now, but — but as I said at the outset, the extremist working group is certainly going to look at the degree to which the information environment impacts or is impacted by extremist activity. That would include the social media landscape. But it's...it's putting the cart well — well before the horse to say that we've — that we've got some, you know, policy we're getting ready to roll out that would — that would dramatically increase or expand social media monitoring.”
Read over The Intercept’s reax to Kirby via Ken Klippenstein’s Twitter feed, here.
ICYMI: The U.S. Postal Service has a law enforcement agency “that tracks and collects Americans’ social media posts, including those about planned protests,” Yahoo News contributor Jana Winter reported about a month ago. The agency is called the Internet Covert Operations Program.
On Tuesday, Winter reported “the program is much broader in scope than previously known and includes analysts who assume fake identities online, use sophisticated intelligence tools and employ facial recognition software.”
The program’s analysts also use Clearview AI, which maintains “facial recognition database of over 3 billion images from arrest photos collected from across social media,” Winter writes.
Bigger picture considerations include “how different federal agencies, which all operate under specific narrow authorities and jurisdictions, share intelligence collected on social media and how much of that intelligence gets filtered down to state and local partners” as the White House “works to shape new domestic counterterrorism strategy and policy across government.” Continue reading here.
Get to better know Foxglove, a “four-woman technology-advocacy group that forced the British government to scrap a controversial algorithm for processing visas,” according to the Wall Street Journal’s Parmy Olson, reporting from London.
Why they matter: “Similar groups have sprung up in Europe and the U.S. to challenge what they view as the rising power of Silicon Valley, with the advocacy largely centered on privacy issues,” Olson writes. But “Foxglove has cut a different path, taking aim at government-created algorithms that increasingly make decisions in civic areas like education and immigration.” Story here.
And lastly today: President Biden is scheduled to speak this afternoon at the Coast Guard Academy’s 140th Commencement in New London, Conn., according to the president’s public schedule. The ceremonies begin at 11 a.m. ET, about 45 minutes before the president is expected to deliver his keynote address.
“240 cadets will walk across the stage to become the Coast Guard’s newest ensigns,” Connecticut’s local WTNH reports. “One-third of them are women, and 22 are African-American, the most ever in a graduating class at the academy.” A bit more here.