Situation Report: Washington hacked; IED factories bombed; new defense lobbyists named; Ash Carter calling all-hands meeting on Russia; and lots more
By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson Game on. A group of Chinese hackers — possibly sponsored by Beijing — has allegedly breached U.S. government computer systems and gained access to the personal information of at least four million current and former government workers. The massive data breach, which looks to be the biggest cyber intrusion ...
By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson
By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson
Game on. A group of Chinese hackers — possibly sponsored by Beijing — has allegedly breached U.S. government computer systems and gained access to the personal information of at least four million current and former government workers.
The massive data breach, which looks to be the biggest cyber intrusion on federal networks to date, hit the Office of Personnel Management, which stores information on government security clearances as well as federal employee records. The U.S. government acknowledged the breach this week, although it was discovered in April, and the break-ins started late last year. The story is just kicking off, and should set off a whole new round of debate over the security of Washington’s systems, and what kinds of responses are appropriate for state-sponsored cyber attacks even if they don’t breach classified information.
Facetime. It looks like Defense Secretary Ash Carter has settled on a management style. While in Germany on his way home from a week-long Asia swing, Carter was set to hold an all-hands meeting Friday morning with two dozen Europe-based U.S. military leaders and ambassadors to discuss NATO’s response to the crisis in Ukraine. He’ll also receive a face-to-face briefing on how best to deal with the growing Russian threat on NATO’s eastern border.
Defense officials say the session will be modeled on the meeting that Carter held in Kuwait in February, where he pressed his Middle East commanders on the fight against the Islamic State. It will also serve as a prep session for the big NATO ministerial meetings in Brussels later this month.
Goes boom. There’s rising chatter over a U.S. airstrike this week on an Islamic State IED factory in Iraq, where reports of dozens of civilian casualties may prove messy for the U.S.-led coalition. The massive facility was home base for the jihadist group’s effort to convert American-made armored vehicles abandoned by the Iraqi Army into the kind of car bombs that recently tore through Iraqi forces in Ramadi. (On that effort, don’t miss FP’s Sean Naylor‘s smart, brand-new piece on this growing trend of the Islamic State turning Humvees into flaming wagons of hell.)
The strike on the IED factory set off a cataclysmic chain of secondary explosions that allegedly could be heard in Kirkuk, 34 miles away. A U.S. Central Command spokesperson told FP they’re “aware of allegations that this airstrike may have resulted in civilian casualties,” and they are looking into the issue.
This could be a tough one for the U.S. military since it has only confirmed two accidental civilian deaths in the 10-month bombing effort in Iraq and Syria, which some American officials claim has put warheads on the foreheads of as many as 10,000 Islamic State fighters.
The strike will likely be front and center at a Friday morning briefing at the Pentagon by U.S. Air Force Middle East chief Lt. Gen. John Hesterman. While Hesterman will be speaking to the press by phone from “Southwest Asia,” he’s actually heading our way pretty soon. On Wednesday he was nominated to be the Air Force’s assistant vice chief of staff, the service’s No. 3 uniformed official.
The Situation Report is about to go silent for the weekend, but we’ve had some fun this week, right? What’s not to like about a week where we have a significant anthrax scare, but no one actually gets hurt? Send thoughts, news items, events and the like on over to firstname.lastname@example.org, or check us on Twitter: @paulmcleary.
Anthrax update. It feels like the calm before the storm. After a few days of running hard with updates and word of new positive tests, things were pretty quiet on the anthrax front Thursday. We don’t expect that to last too much longer, however, as dozens of samples start to work their way through the testing process and we discover the real nature of the screwup that sent live batches of anthrax to a still unknown number of labs around the country.
FP front and center
FP’s John Hudson reports that at the top of President Barack Obama’s agenda this weekend at the Group of 7 meeting in Germany is to urge European allies “to extend sanctions against Moscow as continued punishment for fueling pro-Russian separatists in their year-long battle against Kiev’s forces.”
And FP’s David Francis on the flap over bringing war dogs, and other military working dogs, back home.
Business of Defense
There’s a new evangelist for the defense industry in town, and he’s coming from a defense contractor that had just been swallowed up by another, bigger fish in the national security pond.
On Thursday, defense and aerospace industry advocacy group the Aerospace Industries Association named David Melcher as its new CEO. Melcher comes from Exelis, which was bought by its competitor in the military radio and communication world, Harris Corp. in May. The new company — valued in the $8 billion range – didn’t need two CEOs, so Melcher, a retired U.S. Army three-star general, has now become the industry’s point man in pushing its agenda to Congress and other Beltway machers.
Just weeks after French defense company Dassault hit a hot streak in selling over 80 of its Rafale fighter jets to India, Egypt, and Qatar, the Kuwaiti government has announced it is considering buying as many as 28 Eurofighters from the Italian firm Alenia Aermacchi. The small desert country has been flying Boeing’s F/A-18 fighter jets for years, but wants an upgrade to keep up with its neighbors.
Not to be outdone, of course, the U.S. Navy on Thursday night dropped word that it was inking an American-sized $920 million deal with Lockheed Martin to start the process of buying materials to build 94 F-35 fighter planes, eight of which would go to Australia, four to Italy, three to the U.K., two to Turkey, and 16 to “various foreign military sales customers.” The remaining planes will go to the U.S. Air Force and Marines.
France has started the process of cutting in half the number of troops it has deployed to the Central African Republic as it hands over the peacekeeping mission to the U.N. The number of troops will drop from 1,700 to 900 over the next several weeks as the U.N.’s 10,000 peacekeepers take over security.
How big of a threat is China? In part one of a two-piece installment for Bloomberg, Thomas Christensen writes that while the U.S. military is better trained, better equipped, and more prepared to get into a scrap, China is doing pretty well at thinking through the thorny issues of how to deny freedom of movement to American aircraft and ships in the Pacific, and that’s a problem.
A top U.S. Air Force official has gone and made public some operational details on how military analysts snoop on the social media accounts of jihadists, and then use those cyber footprints to drop ordnance on the hapless, wireless-loving extremists.
On a related note, FP’s Justine Drennan has a timely piece on a cool State Department program that has students at 23 universities around the world take part in a “peer-to-peer” competition “to research, design, and launch U.S. State Department-backed social media campaigns aimed at countering the influence of the Islamic State and other terrorist groups in their communities.”
On the Move
Evan Medeiros, President Barack Obama’s top advisor on Asia policy at the National Security Council, stepped down on Thursday. He will be replaced by Daniel Kritenbrink, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Given the new flap over the alleged Chinese hacking of U.S. government records, looks like Kritenbrink will need to hit the ground running.
The International Crisis Group has come out with a new report on the Afghan Local Police, a controversial, nominally pro-government militia program started by U.S. forces looking to thicken security in places where the Afghan Army and police would not — or could not — reach. The small units have long been accused of a string of abuses, from intimidation and theft to murder, and the report concludes that they’re “cheap but dangerous, and Kabul should resist calls for their expansion.” Reforms are needed throughout the program, and some units should be disbanded, the report recommends.
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