Today’s D Brief: Afghan hearing turns political; Taliban kill civilians; Post-9/11 war authorizations; Nat’l Guard school bus drivers; And a bit more.
Afghanistan on the Hill, Day Two. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is testifying about the Afghanistan withdrawal this morning in the Senate, one day after a combative oversight hearing in the House. Defense One’s Jacqueline Feldscher reports that during Monday’s hearing, “lawmakers focused on political mudslinging and blaming the other party instead of asking legitimate questions.”
To wit: Rep. Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican, “grilled Blinken on whether Afghan translators who move to the United States are being properly vetted and vaccinated against COVID-19 before being resettled in America, as well as whether any humanitarian aid is sent to the Taliban,” Feldscher writes. But Perry then “asked Blinken if he was interviewed by the FBI and whether the State Department gave the FBI documents on Hunter Biden’s ties to Ukrainian gas company Burisma.”
Rep. Joe Wilson, the South Carolina Republican known for yelling “you lie” at President Barack Obama during his 2009 State of the Union, used most of his allotted time to read aloud a New York Post opinion piece listing President Joe Biden’s alleged lies. He then told Blinken to resign.
Democrats, for their part, defended Biden, blaming President Donald Trump for boxing Biden into a corner with the deal he made with the Taliban.Today’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing began at 10 a.m.; watch it here.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan: The Taliban have killed at least 20 civilians in the Panjshir valley, the BBC reported Monday. “Communications have been cut in the valley, making reporting difficult, but the BBC has evidence of Taliban killings despite promises of restraint.”
For the record: “The Taliban has denied targeting civilians,” the BBC notes. “But coming after reports of a massacre of members of the Hazara minority and the killing of a policewoman, [these new allegations are] a further sign that the reality on the ground differs from the Taliban's promises of no revenge attacks.” More here.
To the east in Ghazni, former Afghan police and soldiers don’t trust the Taliban’s alleged amnesty, the Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov reports. “We can see the enemy, but we won’t do anything with them,” one Taliban commander told Trofimov. “Observing the rules of the Islamic Emirate is the most important thing. Otherwise, the entire system will be destroyed.”
In at least one police department of the Ghazni police, 70% of the force has not yet returned to their job (14 out of 20) since the Taliban took over. Said one former Afghan policeman, “The Taliban announced an amnesty, but many police and others are being killed by unknown people.” Continue reading, here.
An AP reporter visited the newly empty Pul-e-Charkhi prison north of Kabul, where Taliban fighters showed Felipe Dana around on Monday. “One fighter exchanged his sandals for a better pair he found in a cell. Then he found yet a better pair and exchanged again. Others played with the former prisoners’ makeshift weight bars.” Read on, here.
Congress’ Afghanistan Oversight Marred By Politics // Jacqueline Feldscher: Lawmakers overwhelmingly postured instead of asking America’s top diplomat real questions.
Will Congress Ever Repeal Its Post-9/11 War Authorizations? // Jacqueline Feldscher: The passage of two decades since the Sept. 11 terror attacks might be a “wake-up call” for lawmakers.
The Third Revolution in Warfare // Kai-Fu Lee, The Atlantic: First there was gunpowder. Then nuclear weapons. Next: artificially intelligent weapons.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Jen Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1901, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was out hiking with family in the Adirondacks and had just come down from New York’s highest point, Mount Marcy, when a runner let him know that his boss, President William McKinley, was truly near death. It had been eight days since an anarchist shot McKinley twice in the stomach at close range in Buffalo, where POTUS25 rested in a hospital. And so Roosevelt rushed by stage coach to the nearest train station, North Creek. And it’s there that he learned in a brief, cryptic telegram that McKinley had indeed passed away at 2:30 a.m. Several hours later in Buffalo, surrounded by books in a private library at the home of his friend Ansley Wilcox, Theodore Roosevelt Jr. took the oath of office and became America’s 26th president.
The National Guard is helping bus students to school in Massachusetts “as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers,” the Associated Press reports from Boston. Training begins today for 90 of the estimated 250 troops called up to help in at least four cities north of Boston.
“The Guard has a proven track record of success supporting civilian authorities,” Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said in a statement. “Their frequent side-by-side training with state and local first responders makes them well-suited for a variety of missions.” Read on at AP, here.
This echoes a point Defense One’s Patrick Tucker made in our recent podcast about growing National Guard support for crises across the country, like COVID and climate change.
Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Hyten sees an opportunity for a smaller defense budget. But for that to happen, “old or new weapons that do not address current and emerging threats must be set aside,” and lawmakers must “enact budgets on time each fiscal year, rather than passing continuing resolutions,” Roll Call’s John Donnelly reported Monday following Air Force Gen. John Hyten’s appearance at the Brookings Institution.
Where some of this seems to be coming from: “Hyten suggested that the inefficiencies created by continuing resolutions waste at least 5 percent of the budget,” Donnelly writes, noting that 5 percent is “the defense hawks’ preferred amount of annual spending increase.” Read on at Roll Call, here.
Critical cyber update for Apple users. If you use an iPhone or an iPad—any Apple devices, really—and you haven’t already updated them in the past 24 hours, you should do that now.
According to researchers at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, there’s a new vulnerability in these devices that you don’t even have to click or engage with before it exploits your device. And just like with previous similar iterations of this “zero click remote exploit,” it comes from what Citizen Lab refers to as the “mercenary spyware company” NSO Group, based in Israel.
Big picture: “The discovery means that more than 1.65 billion Apple products in use worldwide have been vulnerable to NSO’s spyware since at least March,” the New York Times reports. It also “signals a serious escalation in the cybersecurity arms race, with governments willing to pay whatever it takes to spy on digital communications en masse.”
How bad is it? The exploit “can turn on a user’s camera and microphone, record messages, texts, emails, calls—even those sent via encrypted messaging and phone apps like Signal—and send them back to NSO’s clients at governments around the world,” the Times’ Nicole Perlroth writes, calling it “the Holy Grail of surveillance because it allows governments, mercenaries, and criminals to secretly break into someone’s device without tipping the victim off.”
Background: “NSO Group creates surveillance and hacking software that it leases to governments to spy on individuals’ computers and smartphones,” NBC News reminds us. “But Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity research center at the University of Toronto, has repeatedly found instances of Pegasus software used against journalists in Mexico who investigated cartels and Saudi Arabian dissidents, including associates of the slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.”
Caveat: “As is often the case with NSO Group hacking, the newly discovered exploit is both technologically remarkable but likely only used on people specifically targeted by governments who use the company’s software,” NBC writes. Read on, here—or at Citizen Lab, here.
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