Today's D Brief: Pessimism in Vienna; Moscow's Cold War flex; $50K to new Army recruits; Cyber tips; And a bit more.
Third time’s a charm; but probably not today in Vienna, where Russian and European officials are meeting today for the last of three major meetings as the threat of invasion from more than 100,000 Russian troops looms over Ukraine.
The latest: Russia’s Deputy foreign minister said Monday’s talks with U.S. officials and Wednesday’s talks with NATO officials revealed a “dead end or difference of approaches” toward a de-escalation of tensions. Meanwhile, other Russian diplomats are signaling their impatience with negotiations.
“If we don't hear a constructive response to our proposals within a reasonable timeframe and an aggressive line of behaviour towards Russia continues, we will be forced to draw appropriate conclusions and take all necessary measures to ensure strategic balance and eliminate unacceptable threats to our national security,” Moscow's ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Alexander Lukashevich, said. More on that from Reuters.
According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, “We will wait” for a promised written response to Moscow’s demands, which include refusing Ukraine membership into NATO. “And then we will determine our next steps,” Lavrov said Thursday. The New York Times has more from this week’s diplomatic tick-tock, here.
Don’t look now, but Russia says it might have to send troops to Cuba or Venezuela if it doesn’t get what it wants in this week’s talks in Europe. The Associated Press has more, here.
Apropos of nothing, America’s top federal cybersecurity monitors warned this week that Russia could always try to cyberattack U.S. infrastructure; but there are several common measures organizations can take to better protect against such possibilities.
Six recommendations include:
- “Require multi-factor authentication for all users, without exception.”
- “Require accounts to have strong passwords and do not allow passwords to be used across multiple accounts or stored on a system to which an adversary may have access.”
- “Enable strong spam filters.”
- “Update software, including operating systems, applications, and firmware on IT network assets, in a timely manner.”
- “Disable all unnecessary ports and protocols.”
- “Use industry recommended antivirus programs.”
The idea behind the warning: To distribute and make easily accessible “an overview of Russian state-sponsored cyber operations; commonly observed tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs); detection actions; incident response guidance; and mitigations,” according to the advisory published Tuesday in a joint notice from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and National Security Agency. Read on, here.
From Defense One
Military Chiefs Sound Alarm at Proposal to Hold 2022 Spending to Last Year’s Level // Marcus Weisgerber and Tara Copp: In Wednesday testimony to lawmakers, service leaders decry what would be a record-breaking continuing resolution.
Russia Neither Accepts Nor Rejects NATO’s Offer To Restart Talks // Jacqueline Feldscher: Representatives from Moscow and NATO members will talk with their respective governments about whether to continue discussions, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said.
Project Maven Shows Need for Better Acquisition Policies, DOD Watchdog Finds // Lauren C. Williams: The Air Force's AI project moved fast. One of its lessons is the need for better acquisition policies and documentation.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson, with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 2018, amid heightened tensions with a nuclear-armed North Korea, civil authorities in Hawaii accidentally issued an emergency alert to television, radio, and cellphones across the archipelago state. The warning, sent at 8:07 a.m. on an otherwise calm Saturday morning, read starkly, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Thirty-eight terrifying minutes would pass before Hawaiians learned the alert was in fact an accident.
In a new first, the U.S. Army is offering up to $50,000 to new recruits to help meet personnel goals after two years of recruiting during a pandemic, via AP’s Lita Baldor. The bonus only applies to “high demand” jobs, which AP doesn’t specify in this case; but previous in-demand specializations have included “missile defense crew, special forces, signals intelligence, and fire control specialists.”
Note of caution: “Given the high standards, it will be difficult for many to qualify for the top bonus,” Baldor writes. Read on, here.
FWIW: Your D-Brief-er remembers way back in the day (OK, it wasn’t that long ago) when the Army offered $20,000 cash bonuses to recruits. The reason: The White House finally admitted its Iraq invasion had turned into a deadly and durable insurgency.
The White House has ordered 1,000 military health workers to deploy to overworked hospitals across the country, Reuters reports as the U.S. sets new records for coronavirus infections—though hospitalizations have not risen as sharply as infections during the ongoing Omicron wave sweeping the globe.
What to expect: “Teams of between seven and 25 military doctors, nurses, and other personnel will begin arriving in Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island next week to support emergency rooms and allow hospital staff to continue with other care,” according to a White House official.
Big picture (for the U.S.): “847,664 people have died from COVID in the United States amid 63,268,225 reported total cases as the outbreak enters its third year,” Reuters reports. More than 5.5 million people around the world have died from the virus so far, though that is widely believed to be an undercount. More from Reuters, here.
U.S. Army vaccination update: “Army commanders have relieved a total of six active-duty leaders, including two battalion commanders, and issued 2,994 general officer written reprimands to soldiers for refusing the vaccination order,” Army officials announced Wednesday. That last number (refusals) is up by more than 220 over the past roughly 30 days; the leader and battalion commander numbers remained the same during the same period.
And 96% of the active-duty force is fully vaccinated, which is the same percentage the service reached in mid-December.
Related reading: “Polish scientists find gene that doubles risk of serious COVID,” via Reuters reporting from Warsaw on Thursday.
Chinese authorities are “stockpiling essentials” and bracing for “a prolonged period of tension with the U.S.,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “In particular, authorities are pledging to secure the supplies of everything from grains to energy and raw materials, as well as the processes involved in production and distribution of industrial parts and commodities.”
An “inward pivot” is how the Journal describes Beijing’s national guidance. If it sounds familiar, it’s because “It isn’t the first time China’s leaders have called for food and overall economic security,” WSJ’s Lingling Wei writes. “But this time the message comes with strong political overtones, highlighting Mr. Xi’s desire to project an image of strength as he prepares to break the established system of succession.” More here.
Related reading: “House lawmaker calls for legislation to allow a faster US military response should China invade Taiwan,” via Stars and Stripes, reporting Wednesday.
Migrants are rushing to Europe once again as coronavirus measures are gradually lifted, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
The key indicator: “Illegal border crossings” rose nearly 60% last year to their highest levels since 2017. And “Arrivals at the Polish border rose to almost 8,000 in 2021, from less than 1,000 in each of the previous two years.”
For the record, “Syrians made up the largest group last year, followed by Tunisians, Moroccans, Algerians, and Afghans,” the Journal reports, citing data from Frontex, the European Union’s border-control agency.
Four key U.S. lawmakers want Biden to do more to save Syria from its “crisis,” and they want the White House to increasingly push regional allies to marginalize Syria’s President Bashir al-Assad, where possible.
Involved: Senate Foreign Relations Chairman and ranking member Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Jim Risch, R-Idaho; House Foreign Affairs Chairman and ranking member Reps. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, also signed on. The four delivered their message to POTUS46 in a letter on Tuesday, paying particular attention to unnamed members of the Arab League that have grown closer to the Assad regime over the past few months.
Examples include the UAE’s growing ties with Damascus, as well as Jordan, which re-opened a border crossing with Syria in the fall; Egypt and Syria’s top diplomats also met publicly on the sidelines of a major United Nations meeting in the autumn. More on all that via al-Jazeera, reporting in mid-October.
What the U.S. lawmakers want: They want President Biden to “consider consequences for any nation that seeks to rehabilitate the Assad regime and to ensure all countries understand that normalization or Assad’s return to the Arab League are unacceptable.” Doing so, they argue, “sets a dangerous precedent for authoritarians who seek to commit similar crimes against humanity.”
On the bright side, the men credit the White House with helping renew humanitarian aid delivery to territory formerly held by ISIS militants; however, they write, “these efforts merely address symptoms of the underlying conflict and will ultimately fall flat in the absence of a broader diplomatic strategy to resolve the decade-long civil war.” Read more, here.
A German court just sentenced a former Syrian intelligence officer to life in prison for torturing more than 4,000 Syrians for two years, ending in 2012. Al-Jazeera calls it “the world’s first criminal case brought over state-led torture in Syria,” and the defendant, 57-year-old Col. Anwar Raslan, is now “the highest-ranking former government official to be tried for atrocities committed” inside Syria.
At least 58 people are believed to have been killed when Raslan worked at the Damascus-based Al-Khatib prison between April 2011 and September 2012. Raslan is alleged to have supervised the torture of more than 4,000 people during his time there. He deserted from the military the following year, and fled to Germany in 2014, where he was arrested five years later. Reuters has more here.
Related reading: “Alabama woman who joined Islamic State stuck in refugee camp,” AP reports from Birmingham.
Remember Gitmo? It’s 20 years old now, and five detainees there were just cleared for release, CNN reported Tuesday. The cleared include three men from Yemen, one from Kenya, and another from Somalia.
For the record, “The three Yemenis and the Kenyan all were never charged with crimes but were held as ‘law of war’ detainees,” CNN notes. Read more, here.
Finally today: PCS-ing anytime soon? If so, and you’ve had problems in the past with your household items being delivered on time (a.k.a. you’re associated with the military), consider this unconventional option a military spouse used to keep tabs on their stuff during its transit from Colorado to just south of New York City.
“Buy an Apple AirTag, pair it with your iPhone, then place it somewhere in your [household goods],” Valerie McNulty said, before describing her family’s ongoing PCS as an “absolute trainwreck” in a Jan. 7 Facebook post that later went viral.
Update: As of Wednesday, McNulty said her family has received most of their things, but are still waiting on “one page of inventory.”
The bad news: The same technology that helps people find their stuff can also be used for stalking purposes and stealing cars, the New York Times reported in late December.