Today's D Brief: CIA pivots to China; USSOF, Marines in Taiwan; Record-high suicides for DoD; Russian cyberattacks are escalating; And a bit more.
The CIA just launched a new office expressly designed to counter “an increasingly adversarial Chinese government,” Director William Burns said in an announcement Thursday morning, two days after the New York Times revealed the CIA’s recent internal effort to better keep its informants alive across the globe, especially in China.
Langley calls this its “China Mission Center,” and its stated purpose is “to address the global challenge posed by the People’s Republic of China that cuts across all of the Agency’s mission areas,” according to the statement Thursday, which as you might imagine, isn’t terribly forthcoming.
The center will involve more Mandarin speakers, as well as “technicians and specialists in countries around the world to gather intelligence and counter China’s interests,” a nameless senior official told the Washington Post, which noted a similar CIA effort was launched with the Soviets in mind during the Cold War. The Associated Press reports Langley has “fewer than a dozen” of these centers. Two focusing on Iran and North Korea were reportedly stood up under former Director Mike Pompeo. “Those groups will now be folded back into regional centers focused on the Middle East and East Asia” because, as a senior official told the New York Times, Iran and North Korea are now believed to be “best analyzed inside the context of their wider regions.”
The CIA is also adding a chief technology officer, and a new fellowship program for one or two years of service with the agency. There will also be a new “Transnational and Technology Mission Center,” the agency said in its Thursday announcement. That center will focus on “global issues critical to U.S. competitiveness—including new and emerging technologies, economic security, climate change, and global health.”
Newly revealed: American special operators and Marines have been rotating in and out of Taiwan for at least a year, U.S. officials told the Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold, who put the number of American troops in Taipei at about two dozen. Perhaps unsurprisingly, no one wanted to comment on the deployment itself—including White House, Pentagon, or Taiwan officials—though one Defense Department official said the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act permits just these kinds of “assessments of Taiwan’s defense needs,” as Lubold put it. Read on, here.
- Related reading: “Navy secretary’s new strategic guidance focuses on deterring China from invading Taiwan,” via Defense News, reporting Tuesday.
In possibly encouraging U.S.-China news, President Joe Biden’s national security advisor met with a senior Chinese official for six hours behind closed doors in Zurich on Wednesday. The event was notably “not accompanied by the public acrimony on display at earlier meetings,” AP reports today from Beijing.
One main takeaway from that Zurich meeting: The presidents of U.S. and China agreed in principle to hold a virtual meeting sometime before the end of the year.
Don't miss: Defense One’s Global Business Briefing returns today at 2 p.m. Marcus Weisgerber will talk to Mitch Snyder, president and CEO of Bell, and Tom Bell, chairman and CEO of Rolls Royce North America in an exclusive virtual interview. Register here.
From Defense One
How Well Can AI Pick Targets From Satellite Photos? Army Test Aims to Find Out // Patrick Tucker: The Scarlet Dragon exercise is evaluating ways the service might put new tools to use in the very near term.
How to Keep The US Retreat from Afghanistan From Emboldening China // C. Anthony Pfaff: Start by recalling precisely how deterrence works.
Active-Duty Suicide Rate Hit Record High in 2020 // Caitlin M. Kenney: The rate among soldiers was nearly double that of sailors, DOD’s annual suicide report found.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1996, Fox News channel began broadcasting for the first time.
The U.S. military’s suicide rate just hit a record high. Despite ongoing efforts to prevent military suicides, the suicide rate among active-duty troops in 2020 was the highest since 2008, when the Pentagon started keeping detailed records, Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney reports.
While the 2020 rate is “statistically comparable” to the rate in 2019, according to one expert, the upward trend over time is still “cause for concern,” another expert told Kenney.
The Pentagon has invested significant resources in prevention programs in recent years, as well as increasing mental health support and working to destigmatize seeking help. But, said Julie Cerel, who leads the Suicide Prevention and Exposure Lab at the University of Kentucky: “What they have been doing hasn’t been working and they need to do something different and more sustained.” More details, here.
The Marine Corps says COVID-19 and deployments to the Mexico border contributed to the fatal sinking of an Assault Amphibious Vehicle near San Diego last year. Eight Marines and a sailor were killed in the accident, which the Corps investigated previously. However, “Whereas the first looked at the accident itself, the second examined everything that led up to that AAV and those Marines being in the water that day,” the San Diego Tribune reported Wednesday. “Specifically, the service investigated the formation of the 15th [Marine Expeditionary Unit].”
As a result of officers gone for a “major Middle East exercise,” personnel gaps were compounded due to a mission “augmenting Customs and Border Protection at the U.S.-Mexico border” and another “providing a platoon to the Navy hospital ship Mercy” in Los Angeles. Under those conditions, “The commanding officer of the battalion failed to conduct a combat readiness evaluation of the amphibious assault platoon, and the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division should have made sure he did so,” SDT reports. “But neither happened, the investigation found.” Read on, here. Or read more at Marine Corps Times, here.
Russia is responsible for almost 60% of all state-backed hacks around the world, according to a new report from Microsoft. North Korea ranked “second as country of origin at 23%, up from less than 11% previously [and] China dipped to 8% from 12%,” AP writes off the new data, which covered a 12-month period ending in June.
What’s more, “Russian hack attempts were up from 52%” over the past year. And while the North Koreans are increasingly active, they’re believed to be pretty bad at spear phishing—notching a 94% failure rate, according to Microsoft.
Related reading: “Hackers of SolarWinds stole data on U.S. sanctions policy, intelligence probes,” Reuters reports this morning.
And lastly today, the story of former NSA contractor Reality Winner has become a Broadway play, and The Daily Beast spoke to her mom and members of the cast of “Is This a Room,” by Tina Satter, for a mini-feature on the new 70-minute production.
Winner, a former Air Force linguist, was sentenced to more than five years in prison for leaking “evidence of Russian interference in U.S elections to The Intercept,” which failed to remove a critical barcode that traced the leak back to its source. “This June, Winner was released from jail and is now in home confinement, living with her mother, Billie Winner-Davis, in Kingsville, Texas,” TDB’s Tim Teeman reports. Dive in, here.