With help from Nahal Toosi.
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PROGRAMMING NOTE: NatSec Daily will be off for Thanksgiving this Thursday and Friday but back in your inboxes — many pounds heavier — on Monday, Nov. 29.
Also, Quint decided to get a head start on his Thanksgiving festivities, so it’s just me — Alex — today leading the pre-meal charge.
The U.S. Agency for International Development is now blocking contractors from using existing funds to financially support Afghan staff who have toiled to escape Taliban rule, some of them tell NatSec Daily.
On Nov. 18, NADEEM HUSSAIN SHAH, director of the agency’s Afghanistan office of acquisition and assistance, sent a letter to its implementing partners stating the funds previously authorized as of Aug. 25 to support the safety and security of locally employed staff could no longer be used to secure visas, tickets for just-resumed commercial flights, or government-capped living assistance in a third country.
“Due to the continued fluidity of the current situation in Afghanistan, USAID/Afghanistan staff will work with each partner on the status of their award. The need to end the authorizations and focus our attention at the award level is due to the range of situations we encounter,” Shah wrote, clearly alluding to the shift in U.S. government operations in Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover. “USAID does not intend to extend these authorizations beyond the November 22, 2021 date, and these authorizations will end on this date.”
Humanitarian programs in Afghanistan continue. But contractors who reached out to NatSec Daily fear that this may lead women and children who’ve temporarily found refuge in another country to return to Afghanistan since they won’t have the U.S.-provided funds to sustain themselves. While those Afghans could claim asylum elsewhere, there’s no guarantee they will be granted that status.
“Cutting off assistance at this time makes no sense when it’s only been three months since Kabul fell, commercial flights to Pakistan just resumed, and people are finally getting their visas,” one contractor wrote in an email. “The decision is perverse.”
A USAID spokesperson pushed back on these comments when reached by NatSec Daily, stating that the temporary cash freeze for non-humanitarian programs doesn’t detract from America’s humanitarian commitment to Afghanistan.
“The United States is monitoring the situation closely and USAID is in the process of reviewing all non-humanitarian assistance programs in Afghanistan to ensure the safety and security of our partners and that all programming is aligned with the United States strategic interests,” the spokesperson said, noting the administration’s $474 million in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan in 2021. “Safety and security of our partners, ensuring aid is delivered in accordance with internationally recognized humanitarian principles, and responsibly scaling up assistance are our immediate priorities.”
This back and forth highlights opens another front in the background struggle between U.S. agencies and people who work tirelessly to help their Afghan colleagues flee the country. “Everyone knows about the special immigrant visa applicants or U.S. Embassy staff, but no one really knows about the Afghans working in development on U.S. government projects,” the contractor told NatSecDaily. “There needs to be more transparency and accountability when making a decision of this magnitude that puts the very people we said we’d protect in the most dire of circumstances.”
WELCOME TO THE SCHOLZ ERA: For the first time in 16 years, Germany will have a chancellor not named ANGELA MERKEL.
Three political parties finally reached a deal to form a new government, and OLAF SCHOLZ — a center-left politician from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) — will lead it starting in December. The other two parties in the coalition are the left-leaning Greens and pro-business, right-leaning Free Democrats.
Scholz, a finance minister and vice chancellor under Merkel, has a tough road ahead. “There is clearly tension built into the new government, with important yet opposing ministries expected to be given to coalition partners who sit on opposite ends of the political spectrum. That tension is likely to remain a theme of the government and to test Mr. Scholz’s ability to balance competing agendas,” the New York Times’ KATRIN BENNHOLD reported. For example, the Greens want strong climate change policies while the Free Democrats don’t want to raise taxes to pay for such plans.
Add to that another surge of Covid cases in Germany and Russian troops on Ukraine’s doorstep, and it becomes clear that Scholz is taking the reins from Merkel at a turbulent time.
He’ll have to embody her sense of calm and stability — which he essentially mirrored during the September election— if he’s to be successful.
“Terse, well-briefed and abstaining from any gesture of triumph, Mr. Scholz not only sounded like the outgoing chancellor, he perfected the art of embodying her aura of stability and calm to the point of holding his hands together in her signature diamond shape,” Bennhold wrote in a separate story. “But he has also been something of a political chameleon, a pragmatic politician who straddles left and right so easily it is sometimes hard to know where he stands.”
U.N. WATCHDOG DOESN’T GET IRAN ACCESS: The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, failed to gain access to an Iranian facility producing parts for Tehran’s nuclear program, the Wall Street Journal’s LAURENCE NORMAN reports.
“We could not agree yesterday in spite of my best efforts,” IAEA Director-General RAFAEL GROSSI told reporters, also noting his agency must “restore the monitoring and verification capacities” at the factory in Karaj. And per Norman, Grossi also “warned that without IAEA access to the site, he would soon be unable to give future assurances about material produced at Karaj.”
This is, of course, a dilemma. “In September, Iran agreed to provide access to IAEA inspectors to all nuclear-related sites where cameras and other recording devices needed to be reset or restored. However, it then denied agency inspectors access to Karaj. Iran says the site wasn’t part of the access agreement, a claim denied by Mr. Grossi,” Norman wrote.
This development will only add an extra layer of tension heading into Iran deal talks on Monday in Vienna — the first negotiations in months about the sputtering 2015 accord.
STATE RELEASES SUMMIT FOR DEMOCRACY ATTENDEES: The “who’s in and who’s out” debate is over now that the State Department has released its list of Summit for Democracy participants.
The notable “outs” for the virtual summit on Dec. 9 and 10 are Turkey, a NATO ally, and Hungary, a European Union member. Their exclusions make sense as both nations are led by autocratic leaders despite their memberships in democratic clubs. Also, please contain your surprise that Russia and China didn’t make the cut. (That said, your host thinks Andorra was robbed of an invite!)
The most notable “in” is Taiwan, the democratic island that almost certainly is the reason why the announcement features a “participant list” and not “list of countries.”
Earlier this month, our own NAHAL TOOSI scooped who would attend the gathering.
DOD’S NEW UF-OFFICE: The Pentagon is opening a new office to identify mysterious objects flying in the sky, some of them over military bases. So, yeah, DoD basically has a new UFO office now.
“Today, Deputy Secretary of Defense KATHLEEN HICKS, in close collaboration with the Director of National Intelligence, directed the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence & Security to establish within the Office of the USD(I&S) the Airborne Object Identification and Management Synchronization Group (AOIMSG) as the successor to the U.S. Navy’s Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force,” the Pentagon said in a news release. “The AOIMSG will synchronize efforts across the Department and the broader U.S. government to detect, identify and attribute objects of interests in Special Use Airspace (SUA), and to assess and mitigate any associated threats to safety of flight and national security.”
This move comes after a June intelligence report that couldn’t explain 143 of 144 incidents of unidentified aerial phenomena. The report didn’t say it was aliens, to be clear, but it didn’t not say it was aliens, either. Hence the new office with the horrific acronym.
CANNED CRANBERRY SAUCE FIGHT: On Tuesday, yours truly started a small Twitter war with NatSec Daily’s producer, KAITLYN LOCKE, after revealing our internal fight over the wisdom of canned cranberry sauce.
Katie is on the wrong side of history, claiming that it is “delicious and the only acceptable cranberry sauce.” Meanwhile, I am undoubtedly correct when I say that canned cranberry sauce is just a red blobfish with unappealing aluminum-can-made ridges carved into the alleged “food.”
Despite our disagreement — in which one person is mistaken and the other person is me — we both certainly agree that you should have a great Thanksgiving eating and imbibing whatever makes you most happy. And the break will do Katie and me some good as we cool down from this heated, and likely never-ending, food feud.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING: Thanks for tuning in to NatSec Daily. This space is reserved for the top U.S. and foreign officials, the lawmakers, the lobbyists, the experts and the people like you who care about how the natsec sausage gets made. Aim your tips and comments at [email protected] and [email protected]com, and follow us on Twitter at @alexbward and @QuintForgey.
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MOST CHILD SOLDIERS IN WEST AND CENTRAL AFRICA: According to the United Nations, the epicenter of the child-soldier problem is in West and Central Africa.
“Since 2016, West and Central Africa has recorded more than 21,000 children verified by the United Nations (UN) as recruited and used by armed forces and non-state armed groups, and more than 2,200 children victims of sexual violence. More than 3,500 children were abducted and more than 1,500 incidents of attacks on schools and hospitals were recorded,” reads a news release from UNICEF. “Since 2005, 1 out of 4 United Nations verified grave violations in the world was committed in West and Central Africa. Last year alone, over 6,400 children (32 per cent of whom were girls) were victims of one or more grave violations in the region.”
“With a surge in armed conflicts and the COVID-19 pandemic, 57.5 million children in West and Central Africa are in need of humanitarian assistance, a figure that has almost doubled since 2020,” it continued.
“Whether children in West and Central Africa are the direct targets or collateral victims, they are caught up in conflict and face violence and insecurity. The grave violations of their rights perpetrated by parties to the conflicts are unacceptable. They have an adverse impact on their capacity to learn, work, build meaningful relationships and contribute to the development of their communities and countries,” MARIE-PIERRE POIRIER, UNICEF’s regional director for West and Central Africa, said in a statement.
CHINA ALLOWS ‘PERMISSIVE’ HACKING ENVIRONMENT: The first-ever national cyber director, CHRIS INGLIS, told CBS News’ MICHAEL MORELL that Beijing fosters a “permissive” environment for hackers to, well, hack away.
China “is another place where we see a certain permissiveness in terms of the state — not so much looking the other way, but being tolerant of the criminals who are given harbor there. And so long as they don’t annoy or impose some friction or harm on the local economy or the local government, the government tolerates them,” he said on Morell’s “Intelligence Matters” podcast today.
DAKOTA CARY, writing earlier this month in TechCrunch, discussed why there’s such an environment in China — and why it might soon change.
“Given its reliance on illicit hackers to hide its criminal and espionage activities, the Ministry of Public Security has tolerated some cyber criminals’ Chinese operations, despite the problems they cause. Once criminal activity is no longer the norm, China’s security services will find that they can move these operations in-house, since government spying is an accepted behavior in international relations,” Cary wrote. “As a result, China’s Ministry of Public Security may conduct more operations against cyber criminals. Analysts should be on the lookout for a rise in these internally focused, anti-crime operations, which would be a good indicator of a change in operational tactics.”
REVIEW-PALOOZA: Our friends at Morning Defense (for Pros!) want to prepare you for the onslaught of defense reviews — the National Defense Strategy, the Nuclear Posture Review and the Missile Defense Review — coming your way in early 2022.
The rollout: Plans are still being made for the release of all three studies early in 2022, but inside the Pentagon, there’s talk they could be released together under the umbrella of the defense strategy, according to two people familiar with the process who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss future plans.
Budget impact: The reviews are expected to drop around the same time as the Biden administration’s fiscal 2023 budget request in early February, and are expected to shape the five-year investment projections that will go along with it.
It’s the nuke review that’s gotten the most attention of the three. Nothing is written yet. But the interagency review led by the Pentagon is entering a new phase. The first phase, which began in July, assessed the security environment and the actions of adversaries. That was followed by an evaluation of nuclear policy and strategy and how to maintain deterrence. The latest phase, project leader RICHARD JOHNSON told experts this week, is focused on arms control and nuclear disarmament, according to an attendee.
The person also described in their own words, based on notes taken from the meeting, what Johnson’s main message was: “I can’t tell you what the classified guidance from the president was, but we are looking at a full range of options. We are evaluating the pros and cons and you can bet that at various points in this process Cabinet officials will weigh in with their recommendations about what they think is the right or the wrong thing to do on this, that or the other thing.”
China may be the biggest factor in all of this, as Beijing’s surprising nuclear buildup and advances in hypersonic weapons will be hard to ignore when crafting the policy documents.
MANCHIN WANTS KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE RESTORED: Sen. JOE MANCHIN (D-W.Va.), the nation’s other most important Joe, urges President JOE BIDEN to get the Keystone XL pipeline back online.
“I continue to call on President Biden to responsibly increase energy production here at home and to reverse course to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to be built which would have provided our country with up to 900,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada, one of our closest allies,” he said in a Tuesday statement. “To be clear, this is about American energy independence and the fact that hard working Americans should not depend on foreign actors, like OPEC+, for our energy security and instead focus on the real challenges facing our country’s future.”
Set aside for a moment that Manchin comes from a fossil fuel-centric state and also needs to curry favor with Republicans to remain in the Senate. The statement comes after Biden chose to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to lower gas prices, as the pain at the pump is tanking the president’s polling numbers.
But Manchin’s statement also centers on something real: The tension in America’s energy debate between the transition to green technologies, promoting American jobs, ending dependence on foreign energy sources and fighting climate change. It’s a difficult balancing act for any president and, clearly, some lawmakers.
DRAIN THE THINK TANK SWAMP: The Washington Post’s JOSH ROGIN is upset that think tanks and other groups take foreign money and occasionally do that non-U.S. government’s bidding — without ever disclosing the conflict of interest.
“It’s a win-win for the think tanks, which collect millions, and for the foreign actors, who can successfully spread their influence in D.C. without scrutiny. But our democracy loses, because this system of soft corruption undermines the integrity of our policymaking process,” he wrote in an op-ed Tuesday. “There’s no good reason to continue letting foreign governments, much less foreign adversaries, covertly influence our legislative process and our public discourse by channeling their money through American think tanks and consulting shops.”
Rogin throws his support behind a House Republican-led effort to force those testifying in Congress to disclose if they receive foreign funds of over $5,000.
Here’s NatSec Daily’s question: Will D.C.’s think tanks support or lobby against this legislation?
— ROGER HARRABIN is leaving the BBC after 35 years as an analyst and journalist on environment and energy issues.
— ROSE GOTTEMOELLER, Politico Magazine: “Opinion: Lessons from the Cold War on Preventing a U.S.-China Arms Race”
— HUIZHONG WU, Associated Press: “It’s not just Peng. China is cracking down on MeToo movement.”
— JOEL GEHRKE, Washington Examiner: “‘Deadly Serious’: Biden team sees China exploiting American exit from trade pact US orchestrated”
— It’s Thanksgiving. Enjoy time with family, good food and — if you’re like me — football on the TV.
— Observer Research Foundation, 12:30 a.m.: “India’s Pakistan Policy: How Think Tanks are Shaping Foreign Relations — with STUTI BHATNAGAR, PALLAVI RAGHAVAN, SUSHANT SAREEN, ADITYA GOWDARA SHIVAMURTHY and PRIYANKA SINGH”
— The Istituto Affari Internazionali, 10 a.m.: “The Challenges of Extraterritorial Sanctions in a Turbulent World”
— The Royal United Services Institute, 1 p.m.: “Ports, Crime & Security: Book Launch with MAX DALY — with MARLEEN EASTON, ALEXANDRIA REID, ANNA SERGI and LUCA STORTI”
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, John Yearwood, for whom we’re always grateful.