The Cable

Situation Report: Here comes a new cyber strategy; defense industry shakes cocktails on the Hill; Saudi not done just yet; and much more

By Paul McLeary and Ariel Robinson OK Computer. The Department of Defense is unleashing an aggressive new cyber and technology strategy Thursday in the heart of Silicon Valley during Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s two-day swing through the state, one that officials hope will get the Pentagon back in the game of developing cutting-edge technologies ...

By Paul McLeary and Ariel Robinson

OK Computer. The Department of Defense is unleashing an aggressive new cyber and technology strategy Thursday in the heart of Silicon Valley during Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s two-day swing through the state, one that officials hope will get the Pentagon back in the game of developing cutting-edge technologies — a capability it has long ceded to the private sector.

Some of the highlights – according to Defense officials who spoke with reporters on the condition of anonymity – include opening an office in the San Francisco Bay area staffed by a mix of civilian and military personnel who will work closely with tech startups, and defining exactly when the military will take action in response to hack attacks.

Defense officials are increasingly worried that the government’s struggles to keep pace with the commercial tech sector have become a national security risk. “More and more of these technologies are developed in start-ups, and DoD must be open” to taking some risk in reaching out to the commercial sector, one official said.

The plan also calls for a new pilot program with In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit technology company that has long worked with the U.S. intelligence community. The official said that through this new partnership, “we will make investments in early-stage technologies, such as nano-electronics, software and automation.”

While in California, Carter is also slated to sit down with Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg and participate in a private roundtable led by venture capital guru Ben Horowitz, founder of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz to hear from tech executives. “The thing we’re after here is to build contacts and relationships with business that wouldn’t normally think of doing business with the Defense Department,” the Defense official said.

Can you hear me now? Deep-pocketed defense industry trade group the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA) is setting up shop in the Rayburn House Office Building on April 23 for a day-long “2015 Missile Defense Day on the Hill” event. It’s a chance for the defense industry and elected officials get to meet, greet, and maybe have a few cocktails.

The group bills the event as “an opportunity for NDIA members, congressional staff, associations, and industry representatives to discuss and better understand the technology and industrial supply chain needed” for a robust national missile defense. And what an opportunity it is. U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Kenneth Todorov of the Missile Defense Agency, along with House Missile Defense Caucus co-chairs Reps. Trent Franks and Doug Lamborn, will serve as hosts of the day-long event which culminates in a cocktail hour. The event also — helpfully — takes place a week before the House marks up the fiscal year 2016 defense bill.

Wait, let’s try that again. While Saudi Arabia had boasted on April 21 that it was winding down its air campaign in Yemen because its forces had destroyed the most powerful weaponry of the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels controlling most of the country. Turns out that Riyadh may have gotten ahead of itself, reports FP’s Elias Groll. The Saudi ambassador to Washington said Wednesday that while the number of airstrikes might decrease, the bombardment of Houthi targets would continue until the rebel group halted its military offensive.

It’s not me, it’s you. Just two months after he was forced out of his job as the Defense Department’s top spokesperson, Rear Admiral John Kirby is heading across the river to the State Department to take over the podium there, FP’s Paul McLeary writes. Kirby – who is still in the Navy – won’t take the job until after he retires from the service some time in the near future. Kirby left his Defense Department job on March 6, just weeks after Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s confirmation on February 17. The abrupt departure — which was never officially announced by Carter’s team — raised eyebrows since there was no replacement waiting in the wings. And while the Pentagon still hasn’t managed to find a new spokesperson in those six weeks, State seems to have filled the void nicely since former spokesperson Jen Psaki left to go to the White House on March 31.

Hey there! The Situation Report is back to make its Thursday morning rounds, and we’re glad you’ve signed up. Anything happening? Or more importantly, anything about to happen? Let us know at paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter at @paulmcleary.

Congress

In a major victory for the White House, the Republican-controlled Congress will not advance a bill designed to block President Barack Obama’s executive action removing Cuba from the state sponsor of terrorism list, reports FP’s John Hudson in an exclusive bit.

Defense Acquisition

The U.S. Army is looking into buying an ultralight tactical vehicle at the request of the 82nd  Airborne division, Joe Gould for Defense News reports. While there’s no official program yet, the Army is investigating a number of commercial ”off the shelf” options.

Asia

The USS Blue Ridge visited China’s base in Zhanjiang for some fun and games. Agence France-Presse reports “on the Blue Ridge’s main deck, U.S. personnel patrolled with M-16 rifles a stones’ throw from the palm-fringed Chinese shore, while on land staff from both navies swapped jokes and rebounds.”

Seoul is not having as easy a time shrugging off tensions between Beijing and Washington, however. The Korea Herald reports that China “could increase its nuclear warheads if an advanced U.S. missile-defense system is deployed in South Korea. While North Korea has been the main threat South Korea hopes these systems will address, Beijing argues that the missiles could also be turned on China.

At the same time, even China is recognizing that the threat of nuclear North Korea is getting pretty serious. According to Jeremy Page and Jay Solomon in The Wall Street Journal, Chinese nuclear experts have warned Washington that Pyongyang  “may already have as many as 20 warheads and is capable of doubling its arsenal by next year.”

Middle East

Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Saad Hariri spoke with Secretary of State John Kerry on April 22, calling for a shift in the Saudi mission from Yemen to Syria. Hussein Dakroub, who covered the story for the Lebanon Daily Star, writes: “Hariri scoffed at the Assad regime’s claim of being part of the so-called “Resistance and Deterrence Axis,” an anti-Israel coalition that also includes Iran and Hezbollah.

But it’s not that simple. Eric Schmitt and Michael R. Gordon write for The New York Times that Saudi Arabia’s continued airstrikes in Yemen “reflected the difficulty of finding a political solution to the crisis.”

Is Jordan is about to launch a new security strategy, called “Defense in Depth,” that “will include cross-border operations on Syrian and Iraqi territory?” Carnegie Endowment’s Aron Lund takes a look.

Afghanistan

The only things that are certain in life are death, taxes, and the Taliban’s annual spring offensive. The Taliban announced Wednesday this year’s will commence this Friday, April 24. While limited numbers of NATO-led troops remain as part of Operation Resolute Support, The Free Press Journal notes that this will be the Afghan security forces’ first truly solo response to the Taliban’s springtime assault.

The Voice of America’s Pete Cobus delivers a scathing profile of what life is like after resettlement in America for some of the 15,000 Afghan interpreters who worked for U.S. forces. “I would rather die in Afghanistan with my pride intact than live here in poverty and shame,” a man named Aimal told him. “At least in Afghanistan, the grave is free. Here, they make you pay for it.”

Terrorism

It appears that just as the makeup and missions of the world’s terrorist groups are shifting, so too are its sources of funding. As was discussed at the first meeting of Congress’ Task Force to Investigate Terrorism Financing, networked organizations like al Qaeda continue to receive funding from donors, but regional groups like Boko Haram and the Islamic State are collecting taxes and exploiting natural resources, Tobias Burns reports for Military Times.

Space

The Department of Defense has moved around about $5 billion to invest in protecting and enhancing its space assets, breakingdefense.com’s Colin Clark reports. He attended an April 22 briefing with Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, military deputy for Air Force acquisition, where she said that while cash has been moved from other accounts, “most of that money I can’t talk about.”

Petraeus

Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, the former CIA Director and head of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will plead guilty to one count of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material on Thursday, April 23, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

….and finally….

Speaking of Petraeus, while walking through the Correspondent’s Corridor — the name given to the looooong, narrow hallway leading to the Pentagon’s press room — we noticed that some of the pictures of former defense secretaries lining the walls have recently changed to include Ash Carter happily dealing with the Fourth Estate. But in a corner, jammed between the wall and an old filing cabinet, sits a lonely picture of Gen. Petraeus in happier days, chatting with then-SecDef Bob Gates. Time to move on….

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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