Today's D Brief: The quest to arm Taiwan is heating up; Pentagon leaks case isn't over yet; New US polling on China; And a bit more.
The Pentagon’s document leaks case is not yet behind us. Now that the alleged leaker of classified documents has been arrested in Massachusetts, some in Washington began the weekend with a temporary sense of relief similar to when the Chinese surveillance balloon was finally shot down off the South Carolina coast in early February. The original author of The D Brief, Gordon Lubold of the Wall Street Journal, tweeted the sentiment Thursday afternoon when the accused 21-year-old Air Force E-3 was first named publicly by the New York Times.
But another person who recently served in the U.S. military has drawn the attention of another reporter from the Journal. Lubold colleagues Yaroslav Trofimov and Bob Mackin reported Sunday on the strange case of U.S. Navy E-5 Sarah Bils, who is the administrator for a social media account called “Donbass Devushka,” which helped spread those leaked classified documents via a network of accounts that have “glorified the Russian military and the paramilitary Wagner Group” and “are among the most widely followed English-language social-media outlets promoting Russia’s views,” according to Trofimov and Mackin.
Why it matters: “It was only after the posting of some of the files on Donbass Devushka’s account that they turned into fodder for military enthusiasts and Russia supporters across the internet,” the Journal reports.
Bils was an aviation electronics technician who was reportedly promoted to E-7 in late 2020. However, “Bils left the military in November last year with an honorable discharge and with the lower rank of E-5,” Trofimov and Mackin write, and note, “The reason for that significant demotion couldn’t be immediately determined.” Bils herself said she left service for medical reasons and suffers from PTSD. She also told the Journal “she doesn’t hate Ukraine or Ukrainians,” but “added that it was ‘hypocritical’ for the International Criminal Court to charge Mr. Putin with war crimes” for many alleged atrocities carried out by Russian forces since invading Ukraine.
But Bils network of sites sells pro-Russia merchandise while stating the proceeds will go “to help our men on the front.” The Journal pointed out in its reporting that “Donating to the Russian military, a sanctioned entity in the U.S., is illegal.” Read on, here.
Meanwhile in Ukraine, Russia continues to use S-300 air defense missiles to attack targets across the cities of Zaporizhzhia and Komyshuvakha (in Zaporizhzhia oblast, to the south); and in Snihurivka (Mykolayiv oblast, also in the south). Russian forces continue using their own drones for recon and occasional attacks (using Orlan-10s, Elerons, and Lancet kamikaze drones); and Ukraine claims to have shot down four of those drones combined since Sunday. But Moscow’s use of Iranian-made lethal drones have dropped off in recent weeks, and that trend continues, according to Kyiv’s military.
The last time Russia used Iranian-made drones appears to have been about two weeks ago, on April 4, when Ukraine claimed to have shot down 14 of 17 Shahed-136 exploding “kamikaze” drones.
China’s military chief met Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Sunday. Putin brought his defense chief along for the meeting with Gen. Li Shangfu, who traveled to Russia almost exactly a month after China’s own autocratic leader, Xi Jinping, visited Putin in Moscow. The Associated Press relays a bit more of the bland, official pageantry and messaging from Moscow on Sunday, here.
And British military chief Ben Wallace is visiting his U.S. counterpart at the Pentagon this afternoon, beginning around 4:30 p.m. ET.
- “Russians boasted that just 1% of fake social profiles are caught, leak shows,” the Washington Post reported Sunday.
- “Saudi Arabia, U.A.E. Scoop Up Russian Oil Products at Steep Discounts,” the Wall Street Journal reported Monday;
- “G-7 diplomats reject Chinese, N. Korean, Russian aggression,” the Associated Press reported Monday from Japan;
- “U.S., Allies Weigh How to Reduce Economic Ties With China,” the Journal reported separately on Monday from that G7 meeting;
- And “Putin critic jailed in treason case for 25 years,” Reuters reported Monday from Moscow.
From Defense One
Air Force IT Specialist Charged with Leaking Classified Documents // Alexandra Kelley: A team of Justice and FBI agents arrested 21-year-old Jack Teixeira in Massachusetts in connection with the widespread intel leak.
Pentagon Gives Aerojet Rocketdyne $216M to Boost Production of Weapons Used in Ukraine // Marcus Weisgerber: The deal will help speed up manufacturing of Javelin, Stinger, and GMLRS rockets.
Pentagon Lags on Software-Buying Reforms, GAO says // Carten Cordell: DOD has yet to implement any of the 2018-19 recommendations of the Defense Science Board, and more besides.
Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. On this day in 1961, the ill-fated four day “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Cuba began.
Eyes on Taiwan: The newly formed House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party will focus much of their attention this spring on the defense of Taiwan, and making sure “the measures necessary to deter war are included” in the National Defense Authorization Act, a source close to the committee tells the D Brief.
Those measures include arming Taiwan “to the teeth”—e.g. providing the $19 billion in defense equipment it has requested but not yet received, as the Wall Street Journal reported in November—to make China realize that attacking it is a very bad idea, the source said, as well as expanding training and security assistance, and significantly ramping up defense industrial base production. A State Department official in February said U.S. production problems were to blame for the delayed delivery of nearly $19 billion in arms to Taiwan, according to Defense News. At that time, Rep. Mike Gallagher, chairman of the House Select Committee on China, said the U.S. “should move heaven and earth” to get those arms to Taiwan.
For the record, $19 billion is also how much Taipei’s leaders planned to spend on national defense this fiscal year, which was both a record high and an almost 14% increase from the year prior, according to Reuters reporting last August.
Developing: If China does attack Taiwan by air, the island is unlikely to be able to detect or stop that attack, according to the recently leaked Pentagon documents. The Washington Post detailed those assessments Saturday, noting that Taiwanese officials don’t think their equipment can “accurately detect missile launches,” and that only about half of their aircraft are “fully mission capable.” Read on, here.
BTW: The U.S. Navy’s USS Milius sailed through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday, “through a corridor in the Strait that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal State,” according to a Navy release. That “routine” transit comes on the heels of large-scale Chinese military drills in the area, which in turn were a response to a meeting between Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California.
New U.S. opinion polling on China shows a strong majority of Americans have negative views of China (that is, 83% say they feel this way). And “Around four-in-ten Americans also now describe China as an enemy of the United States, rather than as a competitor or a partner,” which is a 13-point rise from the year prior, according to a survey of U.S. voters conducted in late March by the Pew Research Center.
Also notable: “[Y]ounger adults have turned slightly more negative [toward China] over the past two years, increasing from 68% to 75% unfavorable,” Pew reports. Half of those polled said they support a government-wide ban on TikTok, the hugely popular Chinese-owned social media app; just 22% of respondents opposed such a ban.
And when it comes to Taiwan, “a record high share of Americans saying cross-strait tensions are a very serious problem (47%),” according to Pew. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 62% of Americans also view the China-Russia relationship as a “very serious” problem for the U.S., which is up five percentage points since October. Lots more to dig into from those results, which were published late last week, here.
- “A weapons stockpile and asymmetric warfare: how Taiwan could thwart an invasion by China – with America’s help,” CNN reported Sunday;
- “Determined to Flee China, Thousands Take a Long, Dangerous Route to the Southern U.S. Border,” the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday;
- “China’s Xi Jinping Seeks to Shake Trans-Atlantic Solidarity With Flurry of Diplomacy,” the Journal reported separately on Monday from Hong Kong;
- See also “Why China Could Dominate the Next Big Advance in Batteries,” as reported by the New York Times last week.