Senate bill urges 3 new embassies in Pacific island nations- POLITICO | #emailsecurity | #phishing | #ransomware


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FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY –– A bipartisan group of senators will introduce legislation to establish three new embassies in the Pacific Islands region to strengthen America’s relationships there and counter China’s growing influence.

The “Pacific Islands Embassy Act,” co-led by Sens. JON OSSOFF (D-Ga.) and TODD YOUNG (R-Ind.), would establish new U.S. missions in Vanuatu, Kiribati and Tonga. As of today, America has a Fiji-based ambassador who concurrently serves as the representative to Kiribati, Tonga, Tuvalu and Nauru, while the ambassador to Papua New Guinea is also accredited to Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

The goal of the bill is to have more U.S. diplomats directly engage more Pacific Islands’ governments — closing the gap between Beijing’s presence and America’s.

“Strong U.S. diplomacy in the Pacific is essential. We must immediately establish a robust physical diplomatic presence in these strategic island nations,” Ossoff said in a statement. “Frankly, it is malpractice that the United States didn’t take this step a decade and a half ago. Time is of the essence.”

The measure, co-sponsored by Sens. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-Tenn.), BRIAN SCHATZ (D-Hawai’i) and MAZIE HIRONO (D-Hawai’i), requires the secretary of State to inaugurate the missions no later than two years after the bill is signed into law. The top diplomat must also by that time recommend to the president who should serve as ambassadors in those embassies.

However, the bill allows for a one-year delay of the requirements “if the President determines and reports to Congress in advance that such waiver is necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States.”

The act authorizes $40.2 million in FY 2023 to construct the embassies — the same amount Ossoff asked appropriators to green light back in May — as well as $3 million in FY 2024 to maintain the buildings.

The future of the bill is unclear, but it underscores the growing concern in Congress about America’s faltering presence in the Pacific islands.

The U.S. has yet to extend its agreement with the Freely Associated States of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau, leading the State Department to appoint Special Presidential Envoy JOSEPH YUN to get it done. And KURT CAMPBELL, the NSC’s top Asia staffer, hurried to the Solomon Islands in April following its signature of a national security deal with China. Luckily for the U.S., that agreement is backfiring on Beijing because of the secretive negotiations process.

Language floating around the Senate Appropriations Committee suggests there’s more the U.S. could do to bolster its presence in the Pacific islands region, namely sending Peace Corps volunteers there, boosting funds for existing embassies, and having the Development Finance Corporation invest more in the islands.

EXPLOSION KILLS UKRAINIAN POWS: Multiple Ukrainian prisoners of war died following an explosion Thursday night at a detention camp in Russian-held eastern Ukraine — and both sides are blaming each other for the apparent attack, The Wall Street Journal’s BRETT FORREST and EVAN GERSHKOVICH reported.

“Ukraine’s General Staff accused Russia of striking the facility in Olenivka, a town in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine in territory controlled by Russian forces, and killing Ukrainian prisoners it had taken, ‘to hide the torture of prisoners and executions committed there,’” per the WSJ. “Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. IGOR KONASHENKOV said the explosion at the detention facility was caused by Ukraine using U.S.-provided Himars rocket launchers. … He accused Ukraine of deliberately targeting its own captured soldiers to deter others from surrendering.”

Russian-friendly authorities in Ukraine’s east said about 50 out of 193 POWs died, but no guards. “I guess every single guard takes their smoke break at the same time and far from the high-value prisoners they’re meant to keep tabs on,” our own CHRISTOPHER MILLER tweeted with clear irony.

GRAIN SHIP READY TO GO: A Ukrainian grain ship is ready to leave port, per Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, but continues to await approval from the United Nations to set sail, the BBC’s PAUL KIRBY reported.

The U.N. aid chief, MARTIN GRIFFITHS, said “crucial details” still needed ironing out, including the exact route the ship will take once it leaves Chornomorsk. “Under the agreement signed by Russia and Ukraine, the sea corridor, convoy and inspection of the cargo are all being organised by a joint co-ordination centre (JCC) in Turkey and final preparations were reportedly still not in place,” Kirby wrote.

SERHIY BRATCHUK, the regional chief in Odesa, posted a map on Telegram of how the U.N.-led inspection regime could work.

Should the Turkish-registered Polarnet leave, it would be the first grain ship to operate freely since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24.

NEWFOUND FRIENDS IN ARMED SERVICES: Members from Blue/Yellow for Ukraine spent a few days this week with House Armed Services Committee lawmakers who’ve been most receptive to Ukraine’s ongoing plight as attention to the war effort dims, according to the organization’s director JONAS OHMAN.

“We found an ally,” Ohman told our own ORIANA PAWLYK this week. Ohman described that the NGO offers a unique perspective and the ability to talk about logistics from the team’s first-hand experiences in Ukraine over the last several months. Oftentimes, Blue/Yellow suppliers are the only “non-Ukrainians on the ground doing this,” detached from Ukrainian civilians in the country that are doing the same thing (Ohman and his team continue to request a meeting with the State Department, but keep getting the cold shoulder).

Five months into the war effort, Ohman — who’s been supplying Ukraine with gear and other supplies since Russia’s incursion in 2014 — strongly reiterated that the U.S. or NATO can better coordinate how weapons flow into the country, with Western militaries overseeing transfer to their final destination point.

“I’m just being louder about this,” Ohman said, because “it makes all the sense in the world, militarily speaking, to actually be there, see how [weapons are] being used, what the problems are, the drawbacks there, and what could be done better.” Some lawmakers and Pentagon officials back sending inspection and security cooperation teams to ensure U.S.-taxpayer funds are properly spent, and weapons appropriately used and stored, but sending troops to the frontlines has simply been a no go. (Ukraine also has a temporary special commission to monitor weapons and cash flow from Western countries, NatSec Daily has previously reported).

Ohman’s role has shifted a bit in recent weeks to include providing resources to finance training for newcomers to the war effort, including foreign fighters, he said. “Speaking of casualties and Ukrainian Armed Forces, one of the biggest problems is friendly fire. The stress, they’re untrained, they are not taught [when] to shoot back…And we are working with people trying to establish protocols for how to avoid that friendly fire.” Blue/Yellow is in the process of reaching out to the California National Guard, the military sister unit of Ukraine’s state partnership program, to see if they can work together on donating surplus gear (if allowed) and strengthening that bond.

IT’S FRIDAY. WELCOME TO THE WEEKEND AND THE LAST DAY WITH QUINT: 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], and follow us on Twitter at @alexbward and @QuintForgey.

While you’re at it, follow the rest of POLITICO’s national security team: @nahaltoosi, @woodruffbets, @politicoryan, @PhelimKine, @ChristopherJM, @BryanDBender, @laraseligman, @connorobrienNH, @paulmcleary, @leehudson, @AndrewDesiderio and @JGedeon1 — plus our summer interns, @Lawrence_Ukenye and @nicolle_liu.

IRAN EXPORTS MORE DRONES: An increase in drone sales has helped Iran spread influence throughout the Middle East and grown its coffers while under sanctions from the U.S., the New York Times’ EUAN WARD and FARNAZ FASSIHI reported.

“Last week, the commander of Iran’s army, Brig. Gen. KIOUMARS HEYDARI, said in a speech that the country was ‘ready to export weapons and military equipment to friendly countries,’ adding that Iranian drones were already ‘being operated far away and beyond our borders,’ according to Iranian news media,” they reported.

“The fact that newer drones, such as the Mohajer-6, are now being seen in places like the Horn of Africa shows that countries see them as a potential game-changer,” Israel-based drone expert SETH FRANTZMAN told the Times.

Part of Iran’s recent sales success comes after a United Nations embargo expired in 2020, removing a legal impediment for Tehran. Now, the drones are showing up in Ethiopia and Venezuela, underscoring Iran’s growing reach in the drone market.

U.S.-UKRAINE CYBER PARTNERSHIP DEEPENS: Ukraine’s cyber agency announced a closer partnership with the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency on Friday, two days after CISA made a similar announcement.

Per the SSSCIP’s news release, the enhanced collaboration will include:

  • Studying methodology and practices of the U.S. critical infrastructure security,
  • Cooperation in cyber threat indicators, protective actions and information regarding cybersecurity risks and incidents,
  • Information exchanges and sharing of best practices on cyber incidents to enhance relevant incident management systems, response systems and post-incident recovery systems by establishing bilateral information exchange channels between the parties to identify and respond to threats in cyberspace,
  • Understanding how both parties cooperate with the private sector in the cybersecurity area,
  • Sharing of best practices and participation in cybersecurity through studies, training and joint exercises,
  • Implementation of joint cybersecurity projects.

“Cyber threats cross borders and oceans, and so we look forward to building on our existing relationship with SSSCIP to share information and collectively build global resilience against cyber threats,” CISA Director JEN EASTERLY said in her Wednesday statement.

LABOR SHORTAGE: Our friends at Morning Defense (for Pros!) report that leaders from three of the largest defense companies have outlined how the U.S. labor shortage is harming their businesses’ bottom line. But Northrop Grumman CEO KATHY WARDEN said on Thursday she thinks the company will hire up in the second half of the year.

She said she feels “more confident that the second half [of 2022] will look more like our pre-pandemic experience than what we’ve experienced in the last six to 12 months.”

Meanwhile, Raytheon Technologies CEO GREG HAYES said Tuesday the company is also struggling to hire engineers and other skilled workers with security clearances. And General Dynamics is facing schedule delays for the Virginia-class attack submarine due to a shortage of skilled labor, CFO JASON AIKEN said Wednesday.

AIR FORCE GROUNDS F-35: The Air Force grounded its F-35 fleet over issues with the ejection seat, Breaking Defense’s VALERIE INSINNA and JUSTIN KATZ reported.

Air Combat Command “F-35s do have Martin-Baker ejection seats, and on July 19, began a Time Compliance Technical Directive to inspect all of the cartridges on the ejection seat within 90 days,” ACC spokesperson ALEXI WORLEY told them. “Out of an abundance of caution, ACC units will execute a stand-down on July 29 to expedite the inspection process. Based on data gathered from those inspections, ACC will make a determination to resume operations.”

“At issue are cartridge actuated devices — explosive cartridges used inside ejection seats to help propel the seat out of an aircraft during an emergency. According to the Air Force, certain production lots of CADs used in Martin Baker ejection seats have been identified by the company as being defective and needing replacement,” Insinna and Katz wrote.

Defense One’s MARCUS WEISGERBER tweeted a noteworthy point about this story: “The vast majority of the most advanced combat fighter jets in the US military are grounded right now. The timing could not be worse as the US is trying to project military power against Russia and China.”

SULLIVAN STALLS PENTAGON PICKS: Sen. DAN SULLIVAN (R-Alaska) vowed Thursday to delay two of Biden’s nominees for Defense Department posts over frustrations regarding the administration’s decision to cancel an Alaskan mineral mining project, reports our own LAWRENCE UKENYE (for Pros!).

The construction of Ambler Road in Alaska would provide access to rare earth minerals in the state. Sullivan claims administration officials have not been forthcoming about the reasons for their move to scrap the project; he attacked the Department of Interior’s decision to use a court filing to block Ambler Road on the same day that Biden met with industry leaders about how to boost investment in domestic mineral production.

RADHA PLUMB and LAURA TAYLOR-KALE are the pair of Pentagon nominees being targeted by Sullivan. Plumb was tapped to serve as deputy undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment, and Taylor-Kale would be DoD’s assistant secretary for industrial base policy.

PELOSI TO TAIWAN ‘EXPECTED’: House Speaker NANCY PELOSI (D-Calif.) is “expected” to land in Taiwan during her Asia swing that began today, The Washington Post’s JOSH ROGIN tweeted, citing unnamed diplomatic sources. The visit will happen “in the early part of her Asia tour,” he added.

A prominent commentator for the Chinese state mouthpiece Global Times openly threatened Pelosi should she try to land in Taiwan. “If US fighter jets escort Pelosi’s plane into Taiwan, it is invasion. The PLA has the right to forcibly dispel Pelosi’s plane and the US fighter jets, including firing warning shots and making tactical movement of obstruction. If ineffective, then shoot them down,” HU XIJIN tweeted Friday.

STEWART BLASTS GOP OVER PACT ACT: Comedian and activist JON STEWART continues his assault on Republicans for failing to pass legislation they once supported to expand VA benefits for 3.5 million veterans exposed to toxic burn pits while serving in uniform.

“The government has not fulfilled their promise to them and it has to get done,” he told Fox News’ BILL HEMMER today. “This delay has to stop.”

The Honoring Our PACT Act passed both the House and Senate in June, but a language snafu led it to come up for a vote again. During a procedural vote Wednesday, 41 Republicans blocked its passage, including 25 Republicans who previously supported the measure. The motivation for the flip remains unclear — reporter JAIME DUPREE said the June and current bills “look almost identical” — but Stewart and others who support the bill say it happened because of political reasons.

“It is despicable to continue to use America’s men and women who are fighting for this country as political pawns for anger you have about separate issues. There is no pork in it,” he continued.

— QUINT FORGEY is leaving his perfect job as “National Security Daily” co-author in order to attend the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Children Who Can’t Read Good and Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good, Too. Safe to say, he’ll be Alex’s boss some day (okay, he basically already was). He’ll be missed, but we look forward to covering the Forgey 2040 presidential campaign.

ABRAHAM DENMARK is joining the Pentagon as senior adviser on AUKUS. He was previously the senior vice president of programs at the Wilson Center, and served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia.

— ELLIOTT PHAUP is now special adviser for legislative affairs in the Office of the National Cyber Director. He previously served as senior adviser to Rep. C.A. DUTCH RUPPERSBERGER (D-Md).

— HALEY RING is now special assistant to the principal deputy national cyber director. She previously served as special assistant to the Office of the White House Liaison at the Defense Department.

— DMYTRO KULEBA, The New York Times: “I’m Ukraine’s Foreign Minister. Putin Must Be Stopped.”

— UMAR FAROOQ, ProPublica: “U.S. Lawmakers Demand Federal Scrutiny of Turkey’s Drones”

— MARIA TSVETKOVA, Reuters: “Some Wounded Russian Soldiers Find Compensation Elusive, Despite Putin’s Pledge”

— The National Defense Industrial Association, 10 a.m.: “Brief on Section 224 Efforts — with CHRISTINE RINK 

— Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, 10 a.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Improving Interagency and Intergovernmental Coordination on PFAS for Michigan Communities”

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, who wishes Quint wasn’t leaving but since it wasn’t his call, he wishes him farewell and nothing but the best.





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