SitRep: As U.S. Looks to Share Syria Intel with Russia, Assad Shrugs
New British PM a Seasoned Snooper; Chinese Spy Jailed; And Lots More
Here we are. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Moscow to deliver a bold new proposal to President Vladimir Putin that calls for the two countries to begin coordinating military activities in Syria, including sharing daily intelligence on Islamic State and Nusra Front targets.
The plan, which was leaked to the Washington Post, (document here) includes establishing a Joint Implementation Group near the Jordanian capital Amman, staffed by military and intelligence officials from both countries. They would share intel that identifies leadership targets, training camps, and supply lines for the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise. Either Russian or American planes would then hit those targets. The coordination would come in exchange for Russian pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
The plan comes after months of harsh U.S. criticism of Russian actions in Syria, and claims that Russian planes are directly supporting the Assad regime by bombing a variety of anti-Assad rebel groups, including U.S.-backed fighters, as opposed to targeting ISIS. Just last month, Russian bombers dropped cluster munitions on U.S.-backed Syrian rebels at their camp in southern Syria. And Defense Secretary Ash Carter has said that Russian support for Assad is “leading to the prolongation of the civil war in Syria,” and “the Russians have been way off track since the very beginning…They have not done what they said they were going to do and they’re not doing what is in their interest to do in terms of fighting ISIL.”
Me, worry? Assad, for his part, isn’t worried. He told NBC News Thursday that neither Putin nor Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has never talked to him about leaving power. “They never said a single word regarding this,” he said. He also claimed to be unconcerned about the potential for greater coordination between Russian and the U.S., “because their politics, I mean, the Russian politics, is not based on making deals. It’s based on values,” Assad said.
Scooping up the data. Speaking of intelligence, new British Prime Minister Theresa May entered No. 10 Downing St. on Wednesday after six years ensconced in the British national security apparatus, FP’s Elias Groll writes, and that’s something that gives many privacy groups some pause. May has championed intelligence legislation — the Investigatory Powers Bill — that Privacy International, an advocacy group, calls the “most draconian surveillance law in the democratic world.” And when she opens the door to No. 10, she’ll bring it with her.
Groll writes that the U.K. government, under the provisions of the bill, will be able to set up a search engine to query that huge pile of metadata to pull up location data, call records, and internet browsing data. And that will give police on-demand access to an Orwellian array of personal data.
Dead again, for the first time. Abu Omar al-Shishani, widely described as Islamic State’s “minister of war,” was killed in battle with Iraqi troops near Mosul, an ISIS affiliated news agency says. The Pentagon claimed back in March it was confident it had killed Shishani in an airstrike, but apparently he made it out alive. The Pentagon also said Wednesday that it had killed killed Umar Khalifa, a terrorist linked to the Pakistani Taliban who was reportedly responsible for a 2014 attack on a Pakistani school. The attack killed 150 people, primarily children. The strike which killed Khalifa took place in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan.
Strategery. At a think tank event Wednesday, CIA Director John Brennan said that the world is an unstable place and risks becoming more so, thanks to urbanization, sluggish economic growth, climate change, and rapid technological advances, FP’s Elias Groll passes along to SitRep. And the CIA must become a become a more expeditionary agency, “in both spirit and practice,” he argued.
And in this silly season, Brennan recited what is becoming a standard line for him after Donald Trump called for the CIA to bring back waterboarding and other forms of torture. The CIA interrogation and detention program set up after 9/11 yielded important insights, Brennan argued, but if ordered to bring them back, “I’m not going to be the director of CIA that gives that order.”
Policy and money. President Barack Obama has been given all the authorization he needs to fight the Islamic State because Congress has always fulfilled his funding requests for the war. At least that’s what two administration lawyers argued this week. “The president has determined that he has the authority to take military action against ISIL, and Congress has ratified that determination by appropriating billions of dollars in support of the military operation,” the lawyers write in a new brief. “Congress has made these funds available over the course of two budget cycles, in connection with close oversight of the operation’s progress, and with knowledge of the authority under which the operation is being conducted,” the brief states.
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A Chinese national has been sentenced to nearly four years in prison for his role in an espionage campaign aimed at stealing U.S. military secrets, the Washington Post reports. Su Bin pled guilty to working with Chinese military officers to steal export-restricted technical secrets about the C-17 military transport plane and American fighter jets. Su, through his company Lode Technology, acted as an inside man, directing Chinese hackers towards sensitive technologies.
France’s aircraft carrier, the Charles De Gaulle, is headed back into the fight against the Islamic State, says French President Francois Hollande. Hollande told reporters that the De Gaulle and its battle group will head out in the fall as part of France’s Operation Chammal. The De Gaulle sailed into the Mediterranean shortly after the November 2015 terrorist attacks carried out by the Islamic State in Paris to carry out airstrikes in Syria. Hollande also added that France will “Intensify [its] ground forces to support the Iraqis, within the perspective of retaking Mosul.”
Moscow is making some bold claims about its next generation of fighter jets. Defense Tech reports that Russian defense officials are claiming that their sixth generation fighter jet, still very much on the drawing board, will be able to command swarms of five to ten drones which can fire electromagnetic cannons. Vladimir Mikheev, an official with Russia’s state-run defense corporation, said the as-yet unnamed jet will make an appearance as early as 2025. Russia’s fifth generation fighter jet, the Sukhoi PAK FA, is scheduled to enter service sometime around 2018.
Belarus is signaling that, despite a close relationship with Moscow, it’s not exactly sweating NATO’s eastward expansion. Newsweek reports that Deputy Foreign Minister Elena Kupchina said NATO’s recent announcement that it will rotate 4,000 troops through Poland and the Baltics isn’t a “direct threat to the security of Belarus.” Russia is a close military ally of Belarus, with whom it shares an air defense network, and has recently transferred S-300 air defense missiles to Minsk and is working on a deal to host a Russian air base. Experts say Belarus is looking to hedge against its reliance on Moscow by opening up warmer relations with the west.
Russian officials say they’ll fly over the Baltics with their transponders on. Sometimes. Russia’s ambassador to NATO Alexander Grushko made the offer at a meeting of the NATO-Russia council this week. The move is part of an apparent attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin to turn down the volume on NATO-Russia conflict after the recent NATO summit in Warsaw. NATO countries have been concerned about the potential for escalation in the face of a series of provocative incidents in the Baltics involving Russian jets buzzing American spy planes and ships.
The contract that led to the CIA’s torture program used deceptively anodyne language asking for “applied research in high-risk operational settings.” The Washington Post got its hands on the document, which began with a thousand dollar a day rate for the torture program’s architect, James E. Mitchell, and later ballooned into an $81 million payday for the CIA psychologist. Mitchell and his partner Bruce Jessen were initially hired by the Agency to develop psychological profiles of al-Qaeda terrorists after 9/11 but quickly evolved into a role in assisting with interrogations despite a lack of experience in the field from Mitchell and Jessen.
Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists flags some open source imagery showing how the headquarters complex of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service has expanded pretty dramatically over the past decade. A collection of the photos can be found here. The new buildings look to roughly double the size of the complex. The expansion began the same year Mikhail Fradkov was named director of the agency in 2007. Fradkov was given a mandate by President Vladimir Putin “to help Russian corporations abroad, perhaps indicating a new mission emphasis,” Aftergood writes.
The Pentagon is wary that counterfeit computer chips could, either through poor quality or malicious design, compromise the performance of weapons systems and military equipment. And despite new regulations designed to curb the use of counterfeit chips in sensitive equipment, National Defense magazine reports that the Pentagon is still worried about the threat of hacked or defective chips winding their way into the defense supply chain. In order to cope with the threat, the Department’s Office of Manufacturing and Industrial Base Policy is working on a study of how to gain access to a reliable supply of authenticated chips.
Photo credit SERGEI KARPUKHIN/AFP/Getty Images
Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary