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By LARA SELIGMAN, ALEXANDER WARD and QUINT FORGEY
Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, talks to journalists. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
With help from Oriana Pawlyk and Daniel Lippman
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After POLITICO’s LARA SELIGMAN broke the news that the Pentagon seized a foreign reporter’s phone during official travel last week, we all smelled a backstory — so we dug deeper.
Turns out, it was in part the security breach at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland last year — in which an unarmed intruder made his way aboard an aircraft reserved for top government officials — that prompted the service to place new limits on the use of personal electronic devices near classified information, Air Force officials told NatSec Daily.
Implementation of the new policy led the aircrew of a C-40 carrying the Pentagon’s No. 2 official to seize the journalist’s phone last week during an official trip to Europe, the officials said. After POLITICO reported the incident, the Air Force rescinded the policy and apologized to the reporter, IDREES ALI from Reuters.
The Andrews incident happened in February 2021 when an unauthorized civilian gained access to the flight line and boarded a C-40 assigned to the 89th Airlift Wing, which transports top U.S. officials and foreign dignitaries. The aircraft are designed to be an “office in the sky” for senior leaders, and carry an array of sensitive communications technology.
The breach did not compromise sensitive information but did prompt “a broader review of existing physical and information security procedures and led to ongoing efforts to better safeguard classified information,” said Brig. Gen. PATRICK RYDER, the Air Force’s director of public affairs.
The now-rescinded flight crew information file (FCIF) was put in place earlier this year, per the officials. It reflected an attempt to “standardize pre-mission guidance” to confirm that the many different passengers that fly with the 89th Air Wing adhere to DoD policy, Ryder said.
The revision to security procedures was being implemented “in an incremental manner, focusing first on non-U.S. travelers,” Ryder said.
The document, which was essentially a checklist to guide the aircraft commanders when they are carrying non-U.S. citizens, stipulated that “all foreign nationals’ electronic devices must be placed in Faraday bags while aboard the aircraft.” It specified that the individuals be allowed to keep the bags in their possession but cannot open them while inside the aircraft.
Of course, this explanation leaves several questions unanswered. For example, the intruder at Andrews was not a foreign national, so why was the new policy aimed at non-U.S. citizens? Another inconsistency is that Ali’s cell phone was placed in a Faraday bag and taken away, rather than left in his possession as outlined by the policy. He was allowed to keep his other electronics (his Airpods and laptop) but could not use them.
The Air Force could not immediately explain these discrepancies.
In the future, any policy revisions will be “thoroughly coordinated with affected organizations, and communicated extensively with all travelers prior to missions,” Ryder said.
“Regrettably, implementation of these security requirements was done recently in a manner that unintentionally singled out a respected, long-standing member of the Pentagon Press Corps who is a non-U.S. citizen,” Ryder said. “We apologized to this journalist, respect the role of a free press, and will continue to welcome media aboard our flights.”
FIRST IN POLITICO –– U.K. TO SEND MLRS TO UKRAINE: The United Kingdom is asking the U.S. to sign off on a plan to send advanced, medium-range rocket systems to Ukraine within a few weeks, Alex, Lara and PAUL McLEARY reported, a move that follows President JOE BIDEN’s announcement that he’s sending similar weapons.
British Prime Minister BORIS JOHNSON chatted with Biden about the transfer of the U.S.-made M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, to be followed by a discussion between U.K. Foreign Secretary LIZ TRUSS and Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN on Thursday morning. The U.S. must officially approve the move due to export regulations, though the Biden administration is near certain to give the green light.
The M270 can strike targets roughly 50 miles away. The range of the rockets has been a sticking point in discussions over the past few weeks, as Ukrainian officials have clamored for the weapons as their troops in the East have endured heavy Russian artillery barrages.
ARTILLERY DEFINING UKRAINE WAR: Our own CHRISTOPHER MILLER has a deep, inside look into how heavy weapons are defining the eastern phase of the Ukraine war.
“The conflict has ground into a long-range shooting war across the vast gullies and rolling hills, snaking rivers and slag heaps that protrude like miniature mountains in this heavily industrialized area. It’s tricky to advance quickly here and soldiers on both sides rarely — if ever — see each other up close. And so whoever plays the cat-and-mouse artillery game best — and has the biggest guns and most shells to do so — is likely to come out the victor,” he wrote, concluding: “Right now, Russia appears to have the upper hand.”
“With artillery superiority, Russian forces are pounding Ukrainian troops and pulverizing everything else in their way with massive barrages around the clock in an effort to surround and capture strategic cities in the East of Ukraine, colloquially known as the Donbas,” Miller continued.
“They are carpet-bombing us. The cities they attack are simply being erased from the face of the earth,” said SERHIY HAIDAI, the head of the Luhansk regional military government. “They are destroying everything and then moving through the ruins.”
UKRAINE’S MISMANAGEMENT: The West has willingly handed over thousands of military weapons to Ukraine since the onset of Russia’s invasion Feb. 24, but getting the right weapons to troops on the frontlines in recent weeks has proven to be fraught and uncoordinated at times, according to JONAS OHMAN, who runs Blue/Yellow for Ukraine, told POLITICO’s ORIANA PAWLYK.
Ohman, who’s been supplying Ukraine with protective gear since Russia’s 2014 incursion, said there’s a distinct role the U.S. can play as a coordinator to determine, for example, which brigades in specific territories need tailored equipment, aid or training, to achieve results.
“Much of the support coming in from the West is kind of slow, it's heavy-handed and not necessarily ending up in the places where it should be,” Ohman said, showing pictures from his iPhone of the hundreds of supplies his NGO has carried directly to the frontlines — including thermal imaging and detection drones, medical supplies and body armor (roughly $25 million in equipment).
Ohman said Ukraine’s logistics system has so far been “very linear” because it’s not operating as a network, and gaps in communication (even regional or military agency rivalries) are often causing some of the most sought-after, heavy-artillery weapons, ammo and gear to “get lost or stuck” or come in insufficient quantities as bloody battles in and around Donbas cities rage on.
“I have been traveling the Donbas area and I always ask them, ‘Where's your Western weapons, where are they?... Not everything is bad, [but] no one is willing to look into this. The U.S. is basically handing it over and saying, ‘good luck,’” he said. Ohman backfills orders for Ukraine’s military when the right supplies don’t come in. For example, soldiers recently received helmets in the wrong shine finish, making them easily visible on night vision goggles.
“We want Ukrainians to own the night; and we want to give them the advantage.”
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NATO-RUSSIA FOUNDING ACT BASICALLY DEAD: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine means that NATO members don’t have to abide by the NATO-Russia Founding Act, U.S. Ambassador to NATO JULIANNE SMITH told reporters in Washington, D.C. today.
During a breakfast organized by George Washington University, Smith said that the current situation means the 1997 agreement no longer “constrains decisions that we're taking as it relates to force posture and Central and Eastern Europe.”
That doesn’t mean the U.S. or its allies will immediately place tons of troops near Russia’s border or build up military installations. But it does mean that the consultations and considerations for how Russia would take certain moves are a thing of the past.
BIDEN TO VISIT MBS: Biden plans to visit the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh this month, The Washington Post’s DAVID IGNATIUS reported, noting the president may end up seeing –– and shaking the hand of –– Crown Prince MOHAMMED BIN SALMAN.
“Critics of the kingdom have been dreading that moment,” he wrote, noting that MBS, as the royal is known, “has blood on his hands, because of what the CIA described as his authorization of the Saudi operation that murdered Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October 2018.”
In February 2021, Biden said the U.S. downgraded its relationship with Saudi Arabia, relegating MBS to the minor leagues of American diplomatic counterparts. But his long-term staying power, thawing relations with Israel, an aggressive Iran and the need for oil following the Ukraine war seemingly pushed the crown prince –– Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler –– back into the White House’s good graces.
Ignatius sums it all up: “Realpolitik has its place in foreign policy, but this lack of accountability is a lasting tragedy. In simple terms, MBS got away with it.”
U.S. LAUNCHED OFFENSIVE CYBER OPS TO HELP UKRAINE: The U.S. has conducted offensive cyber operations in support of Ukraine, Gen. PAUL NAKASONE, chief of U.S. Cyber Command, told Sky News –– a remarkable admission that finally confirms what many watching the war long suspected.
"We've conducted a series of operations across the full spectrum; offensive, defensive, [and] information operations," he said in the exclusive interview, though he declined to offer specific details. Speaking of the Russians in cyberspace, Nakasone added: “It isn't like they haven't been very busy, they have been incredibly busy. And I think, you know, their resilience is perhaps the story that is most intriguing to all of us."
Analysts have assumed that the U.S., along with its allies, have been helping Ukraine defend itself against Russia cyberattacks, perhaps explaining why Moscow hasn’t dealt a decisive blow to Ukrainian infrastructure. It's unclear, though, if Nakasone means the U.S. is actively striking Russian hackers in cyberspace or, perhaps, if he goofed by making it seem his "hunt forward" strategy was more aggressive for Ukraine than he meant to reveal. We suspect a clarification in the hours ahead.
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EUROS GIVE WEAPONS: Our friends at Morning Defense (for Pros!) report on how Slovakia and Germany are contributing more to Ukraine to fend off Russia.
Slovak officials said Tuesday they will send 155mm Zuzana 2 self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine and troops are already being trained to use them. Slovakia supplied S-300 air defense systems to Ukraine this spring.
Germany, which has come under criticism for its slow pace of support, will facilitate the transfer of Soviet-era tanks from Greece to Ukraine, and backfill Athens with German vehicles for free, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Tuesday. Germany conducted a similar swap in April with the Czech Republic.
SWITZERLAND BLOCKS ARMORED VEHICLES TO UKRAINE: Switzerland, however, isn’t feeling so generous. Officials there have blocked Demark’s request to transfer Swiss-made armored fighting vehicles to Ukraine, our own CAMILLE GIJS reported.
“The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), a Swiss government body in charge of arms exports, rejected the request on the grounds of the country’s neutrality, which prohibits it from supplying arms to conflict zones. Denmark wanted to send 20 Swiss-made Piranha tanks to Ukraine, but Switzerland’s neutrality policy requires foreign countries that buy Swiss arms to have permission to export them,” Gijs wrote. “In April, SECO had refused Germany’s request to re-export Swiss-made ammunition used in Gepard anti-aircraft tanks.”
It’s a return to form for Switzerland, which earlier in the conflict imposed sanctions on Russia for the invasion of Ukraine. A debate inside the country roils over how to interpret neutrality as a major land war in Europe rages.
GALLEGO: U.S. BETTER OFF WITH FINLAND IN NATO: Rep. RUBÉN GALLEGO (D-Ariz.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told NatSec Daily that America and NATO would be better off with Finland in the alliance.
“We're going to end up being in a better position with them being there than with them not being there,” he told us.
Gallego recently returned from a CODEL to the Baltics and Finland in which the country’s accession was widely discussed. It’s Gallego’s fifth visit to Finland, and he came back confident that its military will add to NATO’s strength: “their capabilities are quite exquisite in terms of intel, artillery, anti-submarine warfare.”
In the last few weeks, Gallego also spoke to Turkey’s ambassador to the U.S., during which the lawmaker made clear there’s American support for Finland’s accession. Finland hopes current allies can continue to make Helsinki’s case and push through the Turkish blockade.
“They do believe it’s going to happen, but they want to make it happen as fast as possible,” Gallego said.
YEMEN WAR POWERS RESOLUTION: A bipartisan Yemen War Powers resolution was introduced in the House today by Reps. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-Wash.) and PETER DeFAZIO (D-Ore.), calling for an end to unauthorized U.S. involvement in the war.
“Congress has not declared war with respect to, or provided a specific statutory authorization for, the conflict between military forces led by Saudi Arabia, including forces from the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Senegal, and Sudan (in this section referred to as the ‘’Saudi-led coalition’’), against the Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, in the Republic of Yemen,” the resolution reads.
Thus begins another congressional attempt to compel the president to end any American participation in the war that has raged since 2015, killing nearly 400,000 people, displacing 4 million and pushing 5 million to the brink of famine. A previous effort by lawmakers made its way to former President DONALD TRUMP’s desk in 2019, only to see him veto the bipartisan measure because he claimed it trampled on his constitutional authority to direct the U.S. military.
Two Congressional aides said the lawmakers have been in touch with the White House about the resolution, but haven’t received any commitments “one way or the other” regarding whether Biden would veto the measure if it reached his desk.
The U.S. only provides the Saudi-led coalition defensive support, and the U.S. still authorizes a maintenance contract to keep the Saudi Royal Air Force in the skies.
VISA PROBLEMS: Yesterday, NatSec Daily reported that two lawmakers, Reps. MICHAEL McCAUL (R-Texas) and ANDY BARR (R-Ky.), were concerned about the speed of visa processing. Their main issue is that many State employees still work from home and facilities remain closed, thus compounding the problem.
We learned of their concerns shortly before we published yesterday’s newsletter, and have since followed up with State. We got a response this afternoon.
The Covid-19 pandemic “resulted in profound reductions in the Department’s visa processing capacity, and many of our Embassies and Consulates were only able to offer emergency services,” a State Department spokesperson told us. “Today, our consular sections are open and conducting immigrant and nonimmigrant visa operations around the world, prioritizing urgent and emergency travel and travel that is in the national interest. As global travel rebounds, Consular Affairs is safely and efficiently re-introducing appointments for the full range of visas.”
“Some of our embassies and consulates are still facing COVID-19-related restrictions, and many continue to face staffing challenges that began during the pandemic,” the spokesperson continued. “Despite these challenges, one-third of our overseas posts are already at wait times of less than 90 days for routine non-immigrant visas.”
‘LOSTPOLITIK’: Germany is losing its traditional influence over Central and Eastern Europe as Berlin acts cautiously toward the war in Ukraine and struggles with a complex leadership arrangement, weakening Chancellor OLAF SCHOLZ.
“The result has been a marked weakening of Berlin’s influence and a greater willingness by other countries to go their own way and, in some cases, openly challenge the Franco-German alliance that has long been at the center of EU power and decision-making, according to numerous EU officials and diplomats,” our own DAVID HERSZENHORN, JACOPO BARIGAZZI, BARBARA MOENS and HANS VON DER BURCHARD wrote.
“We don’t need German protection; history proved it to be on the wrong side of history,” declared a diplomat from Eastern Europe, referring to Berlin's longtime policy of treading softly with Moscow. “Poland has shown good leadership, on Russia, on welcoming [Ukrainian] refugees, on phasing out gas. The Baltics have a smart leadership. Bulgaria has a new more credible government. Romania is stable,” the diplomat said.
“Scholz is a real problem,” an EU diplomat said. “He’s just being the mercantile German instead of the compromise-maker that [former Chancellor ANGELA] MERKEL was. There is no one stepping in for Merkel."
There have long been frustrations toward Germany, especially during the euro crisis and the refugee crisis. But few would ever dare suggest that Berlin wasn’t the leader of the Central and Eastern European bloc within the EU bloc. Now, what was once known as Germany’s “ostpolitik” is quickly becoming “lostpolitik,” per the four reporters.
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— FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY: MAUREEN BARTEE has left the National Security Council, where she served as senior adviser and director for emerging biological threats in the global health security and biodefense directorate. Bartee, an epidemiologist, is returning to the CDC to work on global health.
— MARCIA S. BERNICAT has been sworn in as director general of the Foreign Service and director of global talent at the State Department. She previously served as acting assistant secretary in the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.
— MIKE HAMMER will succeed DAVID SATTERFIELD as U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa. Hammer currently serves as U.S. ambassador to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
— FRANCISCO PALMIERI will serve as chargé d’affaires, ad interim, at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, upon the departure of Ambassador PHILIP GOLDBERG. Palmieri previously served as acting assistant secretary of State for western hemisphere affairs. Goldberg will become U.S. ambassador to South Korea later this summer.
— VEDANT PATEL is joining the State Department as principal deputy spokesperson. He currently serves as an assistant White House press secretary. In addition, principal deputy State Department spokesperson JALINA PORTER and deputy State Department spokesperson J.T. ICE are transitioning out of their roles.
— CHAD TANNER has joined Monument Advocacy’s cybersecurity and technology policy practice teams. He has served as a Senate Intelligence Committee staffer since 2009.
— PHILLIP THOMPSON will be chief of staff at A—B, a creative agency. He previously served as White House liaison at the Department of Homeland Security and is a NASA and Biden campaign alum.
— JASON BEAUBIEN, NPR: “A Look Inside the Ukrainian ‘Billionaire’s Battalion’ Fighting Russian Forces”
— MATTHEW DUSS, The New Republic: “Why Ukraine Matters for the Left”
— MORGAN MEAKER, Wired: “How the Kremlin Infiltrated Russia’s Facebook”
— The Potomac Officers Club, 7 a.m.: “2022 Annual Navy Summit — with NEVIN CARR, CHRISTOPHER CLEARY, ARIELLE MILLER, LORIN SELBY, PAUL SIEGRIST and CARLOS DEL TORO”
— The Association of the U.S. Army, 7:15 a.m.: “AUSA Coffee Series Featuring Gen. PAUL E. FUNK II”
— The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, TeleStrategies and Suss Consulting Inc., 8:15 a.m.: “Federal Networks Conference — with BRUCE BEGNELL, BYRON DOYLE, BRIAN HURLEY, ANDREW ‘DREW’ MALLOY, JASON MARTIN and more”
— The Center for a New American Security, 9 a.m.: “Virtual Report Launch: Revitalizing the U.S.-Philippines Alliance — with PATRICK M. CRONIN, LISA CURTIS, BRIAN HARDING, HARRY B. HARRIS JR., HENRY B. HOWARD and SATU LIMAYE”
— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 9 a.m.: “Unpacking the IPEF — with SARAH BIANCHI, MATTHEW P. GOODMAN and WILLIAM ALAN REINSCH”
— The Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, 9 a.m.: “Schriever Spacepower Forum: Lt. Gen. WILLIAM J. LIQUORI JR.”
— The Arms Control Association, 9:15 a.m.: “2022 Annual Meeting: Marking 50 Years of Accomplishments and Charting the Course for Challenges Ahead — with ERIC BREWER, SHANNON BUGOS, THOMAS COUNTRYMAN, KELSEY DAVENPORT, DENISE DUFFIELD and more”
— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 9:30 a.m.: “The Capital Cable: U.S.- Korea Technological Cooperation — with VICTOR CHA, ANDREW GROTTO, MARK LIPPERT and SUE MI TERRY”
— Freedom House, 10 a.m.: “Report Launch — Defending Democracy in Exile: Policy Responses to Transnational Repression — with MAX FISHER, ROYA HAKAKIAN and BRADLEY JARDINE”
— Homeland Security Today, 11 a.m.: “State of Cyber and IT: One-on-One Interview with DHS CIO ERIC HYSEN — with LUKE MCCORMACK”
— The Johns Hopkins University, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, 11 a.m.: “A Conversation with JENS STOLTENBERG, NATO Secretary-General — with CHRISTOPHER S. CHIVVIS, MUNIR JABER and KATHLEEN MCINNIS”
— The United States Institute of Peace, 11 a.m.: “Why We Fight: A Conversation with CHRISTOPHER BLATTMAN — with JOSEPH HEWITT and RAJ KUMAR”
— The Atlantic Council, 12 p.m.: “The Future of the ITU: How Will Russia-Ukraine Affect Technology Standards? — with CHRIS P. CARNEY, GIULIA NEAHER, MERCEDES PAGE and JUSTIN SHERMAN”
— The Hudson Institute, 12 p.m.: “Framing Next Generation Air Dominance Around Software for Operational Advantage — with BRYAN CLARK, TIM GRAYSON, MIKE HOLMES and DAN PATT”
— Federal Computer Week, 1 p.m.: “Reconnected Operations: Modernizing the Military's ERP Systems with Cloud-Enabled Computing — with ANNE ARMSTRONG, MATTHIAS LEDWON and DAVID LINCOURT”
— The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, 2 p.m.: “Strengthening America’s Cyber Resiliency: A Conversation with National Cyber Director CHRIS INGLIS — with MARK MONTGOMERY and SAMANTHA RAVICH”
— The Atlantic Council, 3:30 p.m.: “Fireside Chat with MARGARITIS SCHINAS, European Commission Vice-President — with FRANCES BURWELL”
Have a natsec-centric event coming up? Transitioning to a new defense-adjacent or foreign policy-focused gig? Shoot us an email at [email protected] or [email protected] to be featured in the next edition of the newsletter.
And thanks to our editor, Ben Pauker, who constantly brags that he “owns the night.”
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