Today's D Brief: Deadly drone confusion; China’s IOT hacks; Arms exports set record; Inside a UK tanker over Nevada; And a bit more.

Iran-backed militants timed their drone attack Sunday with the return of a U.S. surveillance drone to the base in Jordan, which is a tactic the militants have tried before elsewhere in the Middle East, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. For this reason, air defense systems were not activated during the attack, which killed three American soldiers and wounded nearly three dozen others. 

The Pentagon released the names of the three soldiers killed Sunday in Jordan: 

  • Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, 46, of Carrollton, Ga.; 
  • Spc. Kennedy Ladon Sanders, 24, of Waycross, Ga.; 
  • And Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, 23, of Savannah, Ga.

They were all Reserve soldiers serving with Georgia’s 926th Engineer Brigade, which is based at Fort Moore. They were inside their container housing units at the small base when the drone impacted. 

The U.S. forces at Tower 22 don’t have large air defense systems like you might expect to see in Ukraine today. But “the base does have counter-drone systems, such as [RTX’s] Coyote drone interceptors,” the Associated Press reported Monday. 

Pentagon: “We don't seek a war with Iran [and] we don't seek to widen this conflict,” Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh, said to reporters Monday. “We will continue to call out the fact that Iran does fund and equip these groups and provide them the capabilities that they use to attack our service members, whether it be Iraq, Syria, or Jordan,” she continued, “but we certainly don't seek a war, and frankly, we don't see Iran wanting to seek a war with the United States.”  

Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., briefly addressed the delicate line the White House has to walk when it comes to Iranian proxies in the Middle East. “We've got to be thoughtful about our approach in these areas, and we can't predict exactly how any one of these groups is going to respond,” he told Martha Raddatz of ABC News in a segment that aired Sunday, before news of the attacks spread. “I would also ask,” he continued, “what do they [critics of the current approach] want? A broader conflict? Do you want us in a full-scale war?”

For your ears only: Lawfare has questions about the legal justification for the strikes on Houthi targets, which they explored Monday in a podcast featuring Lawfare Senior Editor Scott R. Anderson sat down with Brian Finucane, Senior Adviser at the Crisis Group; Lawfare Co-founder and Harvard Law School Professor Jack Goldsmith; and Lawfare Research Fellow Matt Gluck. Listen, here.

Newly revealed: Iranian agents recruited Hells Angels members to assassinate Iranian refugees living inside the U.S., the Department of Treasury announced Monday as part of a new round of sanctions. That recruitment occurred three years ago and involved at least two members of the motorcycle gang, both of whom are Canadian citizens; their targets were based in the state of Maryland. Those gang members are already serving time in Canada for separate offenses. 

Notable: “For reasons that are unclear, the hits were never carried out,” the New York Times reported from the case Monday. 

The central planner is Iran-based narcotics trafficker Naji Ibrahim Sharifi-Zindashti, 49, who “operates at the behest of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security,” Treasury officials said. And that Hells Angels scheme was not an isolated incident. “Zindashti’s network has been linked to murders in several countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Canada, and Türkiye,” officials said Monday. Four others in Zindashti’s network were also sanctioned this week for their known work with Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security. 

By the way: “It is not the first time a member of the Hells Angels has been connected to Iran,” the Times notes. “In 2023, a court in Düsseldorf, Germany, convicted a man of trying to burn down a synagogue after a member of the gang who had been working with officials in Tehran asked him to do so, according to German prosecutors.” The Associated Press has more about that case from mid-December, here

Related reading: 

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1911, the Navy destroyer USS Terry completed the first known airplane rescue at sea, saving Douglas McCurdy about 10 miles off Cuba.

The U.S. is fighting a Chinese hacking network aimed at infrastructure, Reuters reports. The group, dubbed Volt Typhoon, has compromised thousands of internet-connected devices, many in close proximity to their actual targets.

How: “The Chinese are taking control of a camera or modem that is positioned geographically right next to a port or ISP (internet service provider) and then using that destination to route their intrusions into the real target," a former U.S. official familiar with the matter told Reuters. "To the IT team at the downstream target it just looks like a normal, native user that's sitting nearby."

Who: The Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation have approval to remotely disable aspects of the hackers’ campaign, the sources told Reuters.

Why: “The Biden administration has increasingly focused on hacking, not only for fear nation states may try to disrupt the U.S. election in November, but because ransomware wreaked havoc on Corporate America in 2023.” Read on, here.

New U.S. arms sales record. Sales of weapons and defense gear by the U.S. government to other governments reached $80.9 billion in fiscal 2023, jumping nearly 56% from the previous year to set a new record, the State Department said Monday. The three-year rolling average for Foreign Military Sales exports rose to $55.9 billion for fiscal years 2021 to 2023, up 21.9% from last year’s mark. 

Lessons from Ukraine. Mira Resnick, who oversees the State Department’s FMS office, told Defense One earlier this month the department has “been working on prioritizing FMS customers that mesh with the national defense strategy and the national security strategy,” and has been “taking lessons learned from Ukraine and applying [them] globally.” More at D1, here.

Aussie F-35s, UK tanker join massive wargame over western US. Climb aboard a Voyager tanker as it refuels Marine F-35B and RAF Typhoons during Red Flag 24-1, a two-week wargame that stretches over Nevada, Utah, and California. D1’s Audrey Decker reports from high above Nellis Air Force Base on what’s new at this year’s incarnation of the long-running exercise.

Lastly today: Nearly 30,000 firearms have been stolen from vehicles since the Tennessee GOP relaxed gun laws. One decade after the “guns-in-trucks” law removed the penalty for keeping an unlocked firearm in a vehicle, thefts of such weapons have risen from just 46 in 2013 to more than 5,000 last year, according to data from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, as reported by NewsChannel 5 in Nashville.

Gun crimes have more than doubled in the state. From 2013 to 2022, Tennessee saw crimes against persons involving guns rise from nearly 10,000 to nearly 22,000. That number includes:

  • Aggravated assaults with guns: 8,600 to more than 21,000.
  • Murders: 223 to 504.

Read more, including examples of high-profile murders and mass shootings that have ignited a conversation about the law, here.