Situation Report: Carter hits Europe, and Putin; more OPM hack revelations; hoverbikes for U.S. military; drones over Lebanon; and lots more
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley Sabre, rattled. Defense Secretary Ash Carter kicked off his swing through Europe this week by calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a “malign influence” in Eastern Europe. He told reporters on his Sunday flight from Washington to Berlin that the NATO alliance must start thinking about how to act, based ...
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley
Sabre, rattled. Defense Secretary Ash Carter kicked off his swing through Europe this week by calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a “malign influence” in Eastern Europe. He told reporters on his Sunday flight from Washington to Berlin that the NATO alliance must start thinking about how to act, based on the assumption that “Russia might not change under Vladimir Putin or even thereafter.”
Carter arrives in Europe just as Moscow is pledging to add 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles to its nuclear stockpile this year in response to an American decision to station more heavy armor in Eastern Europe, and possibly base several thousand troops in Poland. Tensions have also cranked up a notch by the constant stream of U.S. and NATO war games and training exercises taking place in former Soviet satellite states, to which the Russians have responded by having their fighter planes buzz American naval vessels and push the limits of NATO airspace.
Cold war kids. This is the world that Carter confronted when he stepped off his plane Sunday in Berlin, the first leg of a trip that will take him from Germany to Estonia, Belgium, and back to Germany, where he’s expected to push European allies hard to drop what he has called “Cold War thinking” when dealing with Russia.
To drive that point home, Carter’s trip to NATO member Estonia on June 23 will include meetings with defense ministers from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. He’ll also visit U.S. sailors and Marines aboard the USS San Antonio, which participated in a recent naval exercise with a variety of Baltic states.
Deep bench. Travelling with Carter are Elissa Slotkin, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs; Christine Abizaid, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia; and Evelyn Farkas, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia.
In the bullpen. While Carter hasn’t quite gotten comfortable in the Pentagon briefing room since taking over in February, he has finally named a spokesman who will have to. As SitRep first reported on Friday, Bloomberg Television’s Peter Cook is coming aboard in July to replace John Kirby, who was asked to leave back in February. In a stinging twist of fate, it happens we weren’t in the Pentagon press room on Friday afternoon when Carter made a surprise appearance to confirm the hire, but we hear he admitted announcing it earlier than planned as a result of Cook’s name leaking out. Still, in keeping with his previous brief appearances before the press, the SecDef left without taking any questions.
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Over the weekend, the New York Times scooped the story of American cyberspies who followed the trail of several Chinese hacking groups trolling around the networks of U.S. defense, energy, and electronics companies.
Federal investigators lost the scent, only to pick it up again when it was discovered that those same groups had also hacked into the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and accessed the personal information of millions of current and former U.S. government employees, including members of the U.S. military. The fact those hackers would end up enjoying apparent free rein within OPM for a year isn’t so surprising, compared to the private sector’s experience with cyber threats. Mandiant’s 2015 annual trends report found that in 2014, it took companies on average 205 days to discover they had been breached. Most companies, though, don’t have the might of America’s intelligence community aimed at tracking down their pursuers. And that lost year on the trail of the OPM hackers seems sure to fuel more questions about the balance of offensive and defensive capabilities needed to protect the federal government’s sensitive data.
You’d do well to click through on the profile that FP’s Sean Naylor has put together on the very public post-military life of retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, the Obama administration’s former chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Now that he’s taken the stars off his shoulders, Flynn has emerged as one of the harshest — and most high-profile — critics of the White House’s foreign policy.
There’s a new name at the top of the Defense Department’s weapons buying hierarchy. Claire M. Grady has been named the military’s director for defense procurement and acquisition policy, making her a heavyweight when it comes to how, when, and how much hardware the services buy. Grady is now the principal advisor to Frank Kendall, the department’s chief weapons buyer, replacing the recently retired Richard Ginman, who had held the job since 2011.
In a less happy move, the now-former deputy commander for U.S. Army operations in the Middle East, Maj. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard, is on his way to retirement after being reprimanded for helping to steer a contract to a firm run by two of his former classmates at West Point. Pittard, who played a key role in the effort to train and advise the Iraqi Army, came home from Kuwait in April, the Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock reports. A three-year internal investigation found that Pittard, while serving earlier as commander of Fort Bliss in Texas, used his influence to help his buddies obtain lucrative energy contracts. The story never names the company or its leadership team, and we don’t yet know if the firm still has the contract. Stay tuned for more on this. Pittard is currently serving as the special assistant to the commanding general at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. He’ll stay there until leadership decides what rank at which he should be allowed to retire.
The Long War Journal says it has identified a total of 117 Islamic State and jihadist training camps that have been active in Iraq and Syria since 2012. Of those, 85 have been found in Syria, and 32 in Iraq; 11 are used to indoctrinate and train children.
The Taliban launched a brazen attack on the Afghan parliament building in Kabul on Monday morning. An initial blast shook the walls of the building, and the attackers took over a nearby building to fight it out with Afghan police. Seven of the attackers were killed and 31 civilians were wounded.
Tactical nuclear renaissance?
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) teases a report coming out Monday in which senior advisor Clark Murdock argues the U.S. should reboot its tactical arsenal with a new, low-yield nuclear weapon to provide proportional deterrence options against rogue states. Murdock’s argument is just one included in the forthcoming Project Atom report, billed as a “competitive strategies approach,” and which features different analyses of U.S. nuclear policy options with contributions from authors at CSIS, the Center for New American Security, the Stimson Center and the National Institute for Public Policy. CSIS is hosting a discussion and livestream of the report release starting at 9 a.m.
Europol, the law enforcement arm of the EU, is threatening to wield the mighty banhammer against the Islamic State social media machine, with its director telling The Guardian that the agency will identify and shut down the most active and influential accounts. It’s unclear what buy-in Europol has with social media companies to make its goal of closing accounts within two hours of a referral from the agency a reality, but even reluctant companies like Twitter have come around to the idea of flushing jihadist content since the group’s gruesome media has proliferated.
Over the weekend, Lebanese security sources claimed that Israel may have lost a drone over Lebanon and later destroyed the wreckage in a followup airstrike. Roundups of the incident are quick to point out that suspected Israeli spy gear found in Lebanon has been known to self-destruct in the past upon capture. But the Israelis are characteristically mum about their operations, and the crash is still murky and unconfirmed.
The wreckage, whoever owns it, shows that the skies over the Levant are increasingly crowded as countries try to keep an eye on the unfolding chaos from Syria’s civil war. In addition to Israel’s alleged drone ops, the U.S. regularly flies UAVs over Syria, and U.S. special operators are helping Lebanon’s armed forces stand up their own drone operations to monitor the Syrian border. And that’s to say nothing of Iran drones operating in the region, and Syria and Hezbollah’s use of drones to support the Assad regime and preserve Hezbollah’s lines of communication. With no end to the conflict in sight, we should expect the region to continue to be a premiere destination for unmanned systems from around the world.
Don’t expect a papal appearance at AUSA 2015 defense industry trade show in Washington this fall, or at the next Paris Air Show. Pope Francis came out swinging against the defense industry in a speech Sunday at a rally in Turin, Italy, criticizing investors in defense companies. “It makes me think of…people, managers, businessmen who call themselves Christian and they manufacture weapons. That leads to a bit a distrust, doesn’t it?” Reuters quoted him as saying.
Remember the speeder bikes that the Empire used to zip around Endor in Return of the Jedi? Well, the U.S. military wants in on that. The Defense Department is asking Survice Engineering and Malloy Aeronautics to produce a version of Malloy’s “Tactical Reconnaissance Vehicle” flying hoverbike. Early versions of the hoverbike teased by Malloy show a rider suspended by two vertical rotors. It’s not quite as sleek the Empire’s 74-Z repulsorlift speeder bike, but a step in the same direction nonetheless.
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