Today's D Brief: US moves troops in Niger; N. Korea’s new sub; Biden extends ‘national emergency’; Crazy-high U-2 photos; And a bit more.
A month and a half after the military coup in Niger, the Pentagon says it’s “repositioning some of our personnel and some of our assets from Air Base 101 in Niamey to Air Base 201 in Agadez,” Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters Thursday.
“It's simply precautionary,” Singh said. “Our force posture hasn't changed in Niger. Our position remains the same, that we hope that the situation on the ground gets resolved diplomatically, but would just reemphasize that there's no immediate threat to U.S. personnel or violence on the ground.”
And in case you were curious, “[W]e're not conducting joint operations or training with the Nigerien military at this time,” she added.
ICYMI: The French military is planning to reduce its nearly 1,500 troops in Niger, a source told France24 on Wednesday. For the Pentagon, however, the U.S. military’s “repositioning” in Niger is being undertaken “out of a complete abundance of caution,” and “There is no tie to what the French military is doing right now,” Singh said Thursday.
Speaking of African coups, Russian military actors went to Niger and Mali right around the time those coups occurred, Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reported this week, citing metadata analysis from the Florida-based behavior analytics company Torchlight AI. “The analysis, shared exclusively with Defense One, raises questions about Russian agents’ movements in unstable African countries. But it also shows the promise of using AI to glean patterns from commercial data sets,” Tucker writes. Read on, here.
Elsewhere in Africa, the U.S. military in Somalia helped evacuate wounded civilians after a firefight erupted Wednesday between Somali troops and al-Shabaab fighters in the centrally located Galmudug region. “U.S. forces were not onsite for the operation and did not conduct air strikes during or in support of the operation,” U.S. Africa Command said in a statement Friday.
After the battle, “three al Shabaab leaders were killed as a result of the operation and, unfortunately, [an unspecified number of] civilians were injured and killed in the vicinity of the operation,” AFRICOM said. Local reporting noted the civilians were hurt in a nearby but unrelated incident when “an explosive device concealed by terrorists detonated in a house, resulting in the unfortunate deaths of a mother and her two children, with two others injured.”
New: Somalia’s military says it’s now leaning on “local community fighters” in a “lead role in the fight against al-Shabab with federal government forces playing a supportive role,” Voice of America reported Thursday. The locals will get monthly stipends, and a chance to officially join the military after a period of service.
“This is a return to the strategy that helped the government and local fighters seize vast areas from al-Shabab between August 2022 and January 2023,” VOA’s Falastine Iman and Harun Maruf write. “The plan is to remobilize the armed forces, rest some of those soldiers who have been in the front line for a year and a half, replace them with the newly trained forces, and remobilize the Ma’awisley [local militias] and to let the local community lead the fight,” a one-star general told VOA.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you haven’t subscribed to this newsletter yet, you can do that here. On this day in 1944, the city of London was hit with a Nazi V-2 rocket for the first time during World War II. V-2 attacks are believed to have killed at least 9,000 people, and not just in the UK, but also in the Belgian cities of Antwerp and Liège. Another 12,000 forced laborers reportedly perished while producing the rockets, which were as tall as a four-story building. After the war, the U.S. and the Soviets fought over the scraps of what remained of the German V-2 program, with many of the researchers going to the U.S. (Wernher von Braun, in particular) while many of the manufacturing facilities were adopted by the Soviets.
Update: The U.S. is still officially under the same “national emergency” declared three days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. President Joe Biden extended the declaration again this week, which means “the powers and authorities adopted to deal with that emergency must continue in effect beyond September 14, 2023,” the White House said Thursday.
One of those powers includes the ability to monitor, without a warrant, the emails and phone calls of non-U.S. citizens residing outside the U.S. under a controversial program known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s Section 702. FISA first came into force in 1978, long before the internet was created. Section 702, which lawmakers authorized in 2008, was intended to address and incorporate the newer forms of communication like email and mobile phones.
The monitoring program grew out of the paranoid post-9/11 world when U.S. intelligence agencies sought all the powers possible to prevent a future attack, even if that meant sweeping up the private communications of Americans, innocent or not, who happened to have been in touch with foreigners under surveillance. That byproduct is referred to as “incidental collection”; and while White House officials say they want to minimize it (PDF), they admit that such incidental collection cannot be eliminated entirely.
Why bring this up? Section 702 was last renewed by congress in 2018, but it’s set to expire at the end of this year. To get a sense of the scale of its use more recently, consider that just two years ago, “the most recent year for which data is available, there were more than 230,000 foreign targets of Section 702 warrantless surveillance,” according to the New York Times, reporting in late February.
U.S. officials say (PDF) the authority has helped them uncover ransomware plots like the Colonial Pipeline hack in May 2021 and disrupt fentanyl manufacturing originating in China. It’s also credited with helping locate al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri before he was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Kabul just over a year ago.
Some critics of the program say several reforms should be implemented, particularly within the FBI, if the authorizations are to be extended beyond 2023. Those critics include the Electronic Freedom Foundation, which argues Section 702 violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unreasonable searches and seizure. “Our privacy should not depend on the FBI’s self-policing and the secret court’s contorted interpretation of the Constitution,” the EFF’s Andrew Crocker wrote in June.
According to the White House, writing in late July, failure to reauthorize Section 702 could be “one of the worst intelligence failures of our time.” Indeed, outgoing NSA Director Army Gen. Paul Nakasone said on Tuesday that “100 percent of the intelligence requirements the president requires are wrapped up in some type of 702 collect[ion].”
What are your questions or concerns about Section 702? We’ll be looking into the matter in a future podcast episode, and would like to know what you think, so feel free to send us an email and let us know.
North Korea says it just launched its first “tactical nuclear attack submarine” ahead of the country’s 75th founding anniversary on Saturday. It’s expected to serve in Pyongyang’s East Sea Fleet and it’s called “Hero Kim Kun Ok,” after a North Korean naval officer, state-run KCNA announced Friday.
“[T]he vessel appears to be a modified Soviet-era Romeo-class submarine, which North Korea acquired from China in the 1970s and began producing domestically,” according to Reuters. “Its design, with 10 launch tube hatches, showed it was most likely armed with ballistic missiles and cruise missiles,” analysts told the wire service. The Drive has more on the new vessel, which it calls “Frankensub,” here.
The U.S. test-fired an ICBM from the California coast on Wednesday, the Space Force announced afterward. The unarmed Minuteman III launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base at about 1:30 a.m. PST. Watch video of the launch, here.
On the same day, the U.S. Army canceled a flight test of its first hypersonic missile from the Florida coast, Bloomberg reported this week. Officials did not elaborate on why the cancellation occurred, saying only that the decision was made after a “preflight check.”
Lastly this week: An unprecedented photoshoot shows the U-2 spyplane at 70,000 feet. Veteran aviation photographer Blair Bunting wangled a ride in a two-seat Dragon Lady—so he could photograph a second U-2 at altitude. Don’t miss these photos. And have a safe weekend!