The Cable

SitRep: Intel Agencies Point to Moscow on DNC Hack; U.S., China, Turn Down Heat

Dem Veep Wants to Curtail War Powers; Drone Gun in Iraq; And Lots More

WASHINGTON D.C., July 14, 2016-- U.S. FBI Director James Comey, right, and U.S. Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson testify before the House Homeland Security Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., capital of the United States, July 14, 2016. U.S. Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson warned on Thursday of possible violence during the upcoming Republican National Convention. (Xinhua/Bao Dandan via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON D.C., July 14, 2016-- U.S. FBI Director James Comey, right, and U.S. Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson testify before the House Homeland Security Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., capital of the United States, July 14, 2016. U.S. Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson warned on Thursday of possible violence during the upcoming Republican National Convention. (Xinhua/Bao Dandan via Getty Images)

 

Add ‘em up. Include President Barack Obama on the list of people who think the Kremlin was likely behind the hack of the DNC servers and subsequent leak of 20,000 documents to Wikileaks. In an interview with NBC News on Tuesday, Obama said “anything’s possible,” when it comes to who hacked into the servers. “What the motives were in terms of the leaks, all that — I can’t say directly,” he added. “What I do know is that Donald Trump has repeatedly expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin.”

FP’s Elias Groll writes that cybersecurity researchers at ThreatConnect, an intelligence firm, also revealed additional evidence Tuesday connecting the hacker identifying himself as Guccifer with Russian intelligence services.

Hours after that new assessment, the New York Times reported that U.S. intelligence agencies have told the White House that they had “high confidence” that Russian government hackers were responsible for the hack. That story cited “federal officials who have been briefed on the evidence” but cautioned that the Russian hackers’ motive remains unclear — whether the infiltration was a typical act of espionage or an attempt to swing the outcome of the November’s presidential election.

Steady as she goes. The U.S. Navy’s top sailor told reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday that he and his Chinese counterpart are trying to slow the roll of increasing tensions in the South China Sea. But neither side appears willing to change course, reports FP’s Paul McLeary. Adm. John Richardson, fresh off a five-day trip to China said that talks were productive, but he told his Chinese counterpart, Adm. Wu Shengli, that American ships will continue to sail in the critical waterway, and Washington will look after its “interests in the area and commitments to allies.” Wu, for his part, said recently that China would continue its construction efforts in the critical waterway, and China will “never stop” work on its man-made islands.

Veep nominee wants war bill. Democratic Senator from Virginia and newly-minted nominee for vice president, Tim Kaine, has for months “waged a quixotic campaign to restrict President Barack Obama’s power to wage war against the Islamic State,” report FP’s David Francis, John Hudson and Molly O’Toole. But will that leave him at odds with a Commander in Chief Clinton?

“If past positions hold, it would,” the FP team writes. “Kaine has long argued that Congress needs to pass a new authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF, giving the White House permission to continue battling the Islamic State. In 2014, he drafted a war authorization bill outlining what the United States could and couldn’t do to fight the group — a measure designed to prevent the military campaign from escalating out of control.” So far, he’s been unsuccessful.

But Hillary Clinton sees things differently. Like Obama, she believes she could fight the Islamic State without explicit congressional approval, “while at the same time has said she’s open to a new AUMF about the Islamic State, in part as a public relations gesture to show congressional support for the fight.”

Obama’s war. In a related piece, two law professors — Jack Goldsmith and Matthew Waxman — are out with a new legal analysis of president Obama’s “light footprint” way of waging war that relies primarily on drones and special operations forces. “Obama’s innovations pose a distinctive challenge to U.S. democracy and military strategy because light-footprint warfare does not attract nearly the same level of congressional and especially public scrutiny as do more conventional military means,” the two write in the Washington Quarterly.

Will Dems ignore ISIS? If you’ve been watching the Democratic National Convention, you might have noticed the lack of emphasis on national security. Others have noticed, too. But the Washington Post’s Anne Gearan writes that the omission is a planned one, and “Clinton’s attempt to offer a sunnier vision of American leadership comes along with a concerted strategy to make the case that she is more knowledgeable and experienced on national security issues. It will be a major theme of her address in accepting the nomination Thursday.”

Good morning and as always, if you have any thoughts, announcements, tips, or national  security-related events to share, please pass them along to SitRep HQ. Best way is to send them to: paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley

North Korea

North Korea’s weapon development programs are continuing at a brisk pace as satellite imagery shows Pyongyang is expanding a submarine base off its east coast. IHS Jane’s took a look at imagery of the Mayang-do Naval Base at Sinpo and found that North Korea is building two pens capable of sheltering ballistic missile submarines. The revelations are a sign that the regime may be planning on building more subs. The North has been hard at work on developing a submarine-launched ballistic missile lately, testing the KN-11 missile off the coast of Sinpo that could give its nuclear weapons a second strike capability.

Iraq

The fight against the Islamic State has turned around the reputation of Iraq’s elite special operations forces, but now they’re starting to show the strain of being one of the country’s most reliable military units. The Washington Post takes a look at the Iraqi military’s Golden Division, the 10,000-strong commando unit trained intensively by U.S. forces during the occupation of Iraq. Iraqis initially greeted the Golden Division with suspicion, considering them a Shiite-led political hit squad for then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. After the fall of Mosul to the Islamic State and the ouster of Maliki, though, the Golden Division has emerged as  a much-used bright spot in Iraq’s armed forces, which mostly melted away as the jihadist group advanced.

Afghanistan

The Islamic State threat in Afghanistan might not be as big as it seems, Afghanistan’s Tolo News reports. Experts say that the group likely numbers between 1,000 – 1,500 troops concentrated in just three districts in the country’s east — a far cry from the nationwide threat posed by the Taliban. The Afghan government says it has killed at least 230 Islamic State members in airstrikes over the past couple months, a little under a third of which are believed to be foreigners from Pakistan and Central Asia. U.S. estimates have put the strength of the Islamic State in Afghanistan at somewhere between 1,000 to 3,000 fighters.

Libya

Libya’s U.N.-backed government summoned the French ambassador on Tuesday to protest the presence of French special forces operating in eastern Libya. The meeting came after Paris confirmed in recent days that three of its commandos died in a helicopter crash near Benghazi.

It’s hardly been a secret that special operators from France, Britain and the U.S. have been on the ground in Libya to fight Islamist militants, and Reuters reports the French have been working alongside forces loyal to eastern commander Khalifa Haftar. “The GNA considered the French presence in Libya’s eastern region as a breach of international norms and sovereignty which it rejects,” a statement from the Government of National Accord (GNA) said.

Turkey

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appear to be putting some of the late unpleasantness of Turkey shooting down a Russian plane last year behind them. Reuters reports that the two leaders will meet face-to-face in St. Petersburg in early August. Putin’s spokesman says the meeting has no agenda so far but Turkish deputy prime minister Mehmet Simsek, who’s been laying the groundwork for the meeting with Russian counterparts, says he’s hoping to turn the Russo-Turkish relationship around after it soured following Turkey’s downing of a Russian Su-24 which it claimed violated Turkish airspace.

Turkish special operations forces are on a manhunt for a group of 11 rogue commandos accused of participating in the failed coup against the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The Turkish military is flooding the town of Marmaris with 1,000 troops and drones in search of remaining plotters, who are believed to have carried out an attack where Erdoğan was staying. Outside the military, the government continues to widen its purge of political opponents of Erdoğan from Turkish institutions and society, firing 620 people from the religious affairs directorate, and over 60,000 people across the military, government, and academia.

Drone killer

The U.S. military’s drone-killing rifle has already been deployed to Iraq, according to a picture tweeted out by New America military tech guru Peter W. Singer. Singer sent troops at Fire Base Bell in Iraq copies of of his sci-fi military thriller Ghost Fleet. As thanks, they sent him a snap of the Battelle Memorial Institute’s DroneDefender rifle, which jams the communications links of small unmanned aerial vehicles, next to a copy of his book. The Islamic State has been using small drones continually since the fall of Mosul, with a particular fondness for hobbyist models like the Skywalker X7 flying wing.

More money, more planes

The civilian head of the U.S. Air Force has peeked over the fence, and wants what her neighbor has. Deborah Lee James said Tuesday that the Air Force should have a special fund — just like the Navy does — to build its nuclear-capable assets. The Navy takes advantage of an extra-budgetary pot of money appropriated by Congress to build its nuclear-capable subs, and James wants to same to build her service’s coming B-21 bomber. “Certainly, I’m in favor if it’s done for one leg of [the nuclear] triad, the submarine force, it ought to be done for the two other legs,” James said.

Photo Credit: Xinhua/Bao Dandan via Getty Images

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