Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

Trump’s Joint Chiefs Nominee Accused of Sexual Misconduct

News of the allegations surfaces at a time of unusual turmoil in the Pentagon’s top ranks.

Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten listens during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on April 11, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten listens during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on April 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

What’s on tap today: The general tapped to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff faces sexual misconduct chargesIran's latest provocation, Biden lays out foreign-policy vision.

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Hyten’s Nomination in Jeopardy

What’s on tap today: The general tapped to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff faces sexual misconduct chargesIran’s latest provocation, Biden lays out foreign-policy vision.

For more security news and behind-the-scenes analysis, subscribe to Security Brief Plus, delivered on Thursdays. Let us know what you think at

Hyten’s Nomination in Jeopardy

Pentagon in turmoil. The Pentagon has not had a permanent secretary of defense in more than six months. One of President Donald Trump’s nominees for that job withdrew from consideration after reports emerged of disturbing family disputes. Twenty of the top jobs are unfilled, or held by temporary or acting officials. The admiral set to take over as the U.S. Navy’s top officer instead resigned this week over a probe into his email correspondence with a former officer accused of sexual assault.

But if you thought things couldn’t get worse at the U.S. Defense Department, you’d be wrong.

Bombshell allegations. A senior military officer has accused the U.S. Air Force general tapped to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of sexual misconduct, shocking the department and potentially jeopardizing his nomination. Defense One first reported the bombshell news.

Though the accused, Gen. John Hyten, was cleared by an Air Force investigation overseen by another four-star Air Force officer, the alleged victim doubled down on Thursday, telling The AP that Hyten “subjected her to a series of unwanted sexual advances by kissing, hugging and rubbing up against her in 2017 while she was one of his aides.” After she rebuffed him, he tried to derail her military career, she alleged.

No evidence of wrongdoing. A senior military official familiar with the investigation told several news outlets that the Air Force found no evidence of improper behavior, adding that the accuser has made similar allegations against other individuals.

It’s not yet clear whether the allegations will derail Hyten’s nomination. The Senate, which has been briefed on the claims, has not yet scheduled a confirmation hearing.

Iran’s Latest Provocation

Attempted blockade. Three Iranian boats attempted to block a British tanker from passing through the Strait of Hormuz, the British government said Thursday, as tensions soar between Tehran and the West over Iran’s violation of the 2015 nuclear deal, harsh U.S. sanctions, and Tehran’s provocative activity in the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Iran denied any attempt to stop the tanker.

A British frigate, the HMS Montrose, was escorting the tanker, the British Heritage, and aimed its deck guns at the Iranian vessels and delivered a verbal warning for them to back off, according to CNN.

The news comes just a week after British forces seized an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar that was bound for Syria. Britain said the tanker was violating European Union sanctions; Iran called the seizure an act of piracy.

More sanctions? President Donald Trump appears unlikely to de-escalate tensions with Iran any time soon, threatening on Wednesday to “substantially” ratchet up sanctions on Tehran.

Military coalition. The latest escalation could boost the latest U.S. effort to enlist allies in a military coalition to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen. Under the plan, the United States would provide command ships and lead surveillance efforts, while allies would patrol the waters and escort commercial vessels.

What We’re Watching

Biden’s foreign policy plan. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will lay out his foreign policy vision in a Thursday speech in which he is expected to harshly criticize Trump’s policies and pledge to hold a summit of the world’s leading democracies during his first year in office. Notably, Biden did not wholeheartedly endorse the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, saying that if Iran comes back into compliance, the United States should work to “strengthen and lengthen” President Obama’s landmark agreement.

Afghanistan. Afghan government and Taliban negotiators emerged from two days of talks in Doha this week with a roadmap for moving forward with peace talks. The roadmap represents the most concrete accomplishment of the current round of talks, and American officials continue to be surprisingly optimistic about the pace of progress. U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said this week he hopes to have a final peace deal in place by Sept. 1.

Cloud wars. Amazon had been the hands down favorite to win a lucrative contract to build the U.S. military massive new cloud computing system. But with Amazon’s rivals challenging the company in court and catching up technologically, Microsoft appears to be presenting a credible, increasingly competitive proposal for the $10 billion contract, according to the Associated Press.

Secrecy. Press freedom advocates are concerned that a CIA proposal to further restrict the ability to disclose the identities of American intelligence operative could have a chilling effect on journalists and whistleblowers.

Russian cash. BuzzFeed obtained an audio recording in which a group of Russian and Italian men discuss plans to deliver millions of dollars in Russian oil money to the political party of Matteo Salvini, the right-wing Italian politician serving as his country’s deputy prime minister.

Japan-South Korea spat. Tokyo is accusing Seoul of shipping chemicals and equipment from Japanese companies to North Korea to help the hermit kingdom build weapons of mass destruction, widening an ongoing diplomatic rift between the two U.S. allies, the Journal reports. The allegations come as South Korea’s military is already under fire for prosecuting gay soldiers.

Tech & Cyber

In the dark. The Trump administration has ripped up Obama-era rules for conducting offensive operations in cyberspace and made it easier for American hackers to go after targets online, but lawmakers on Capitol Hill still haven’t seen the revised, classified rules nearly a year after they were issued, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Huawei. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has been urging American companies to apply for licenses to supply technology to Chinese technology giant Huawei despite a Trump administration ban on doing business with the company, according to the Wall Street Journal. The move may be aimed at getting trade talks started again, as Chinese officials have said removing Huawei from the blacklist is necessary for an agreement.

Trade spat. Japan appears to be easing its threat to throttle critical supplies to South Korea’s semiconductor industry, with Japanese officials saying they will grant licenses to exports to “bona fide” Korean semiconductor projects, the Financial Times reports.

Gatekeepers. Browser maker Mozilla rejected a bid by the United Arab Emirates to become an online certificate authority, a kind of security gatekeeper following reports regarding aggressive UAE cyber espionage operations, Reuters reports.

Movers & Shakers

‘Central casting’ general. Army Gen. Mark Milley, Trump’s nominee to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is headed to the Hill today for his confirmation hearing, where he will likely face questions about his record on the transgender ban, the Niger investigation, and possibly the sexual misconduct allegations levied at his presumptive deputy, Hyten. Read Politico’s comprehensive profile of Milley for some scoopy nuggets about how the “loud, bombastic” Princeton grad got the job.

The Navy’s new chief. Trump is expected to nominate Vice Adm. Mike Gilday to be the next chief of naval operations, the service’s top military officer, after the confirmed nominee, Adm. Bill Moran, resigned earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reports. In reaching down the ranks to recommend a three-star admiral for the job, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer is picking an unusually junior officer to lead the service, the Journal writes.

Don’t forget the Marines! The Marine Corps is also getting a new leader on Thursday, when Lt. Gen. David H. Berger is set to become the service’s 38th commandant.

FP Recommends 

The Mueller report. The 448-page Mueller report documenting Russian interference in American politics and President Donald Trump’s efforts to obstruct an investigation of that effort is an essential document of contemporary American history. And yet not many Americans have read it, so Business Insider commissioned the author Mark Bowden and the illustrator Chad Hurd, who has worked on the comic “Archer,” to bring the report to life.

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Lara Seligman is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @laraseligman

 Twitter: @EliasGroll
Tag: Iran

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