With help from Daniel Lippman and Paul McLeary.
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FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY: If you read the Pentagon’s new report on China’s military, you may have noticed something interesting on page 59: the existence of a new People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) bomber brigade stationed near the city of Xiangyang.
Last year’s version of the annual report didn’t highlight this brigade on its map of major aviation units (check page 54). But new commercial imagery and a report from a defense intelligence firm, both seen by NatSec Daily, show that this newly identified Chinese installation is very real.
A Janes analysis of commercially available satellite imagery taken on Oct. 25, which we were told we couldn’t publish to protect sources and methods, shows a new missile garrison built between 2019 and 2021 about four miles south of Xiangyang. Janes’ “event analysis” of the finding notes the “garrison possesses numerous features representative of PLARF missile garrisons, including a secure perimeter, various equipment garages, and drive-through high-bay garages for storing and servicing transporter-erector-launchers (TELs). Various barracks and support facilities are also present.”
SEAN O’CONNOR, author of the Janes report, writes that the “unit assigned to the Xiangyang garrison is unknown, but the garrison may be intended to house 664 Brigade. 664 Brigade is a mobile intercontinental ballistic missile unit equipped with the DF-31AG and previously thought to be garrisoned at Yiyang.”
A 2020 report by the Federation of American Scientists’ HANS KRISTENSEN and MATT KORDA said 664 Brigade was stationed in Yiyang and associated with the 66th Base in Henan province. Xiangyang, after all, is the closest to that base, even if the city is in Hubei province.
We reached out to Kristensen, who later found the garrison on Google Earth — he sent us the screenshot we’ve placed above — and he also agreed that the installation is for ICBMs and that 664 Brigade is likely housed there. He also said that the garrison didn’t show up on Google Earth in 2019 but now does, which matches Janes’ analysis.
The Pentagon didn’t respond to our request to confirm its awareness of the spotted garrison.
This revelation adds to the spate of commercial imagery exposing China’s most recent military moves. Maxar Technologies recently captured pictures of a fake U.S. aircraft carrier in the northwestern desert of China, which might be used by Beijing’s forces to practice battling the United States.
“The full-scale outline of a U.S. carrier and at least two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are part of the target range that has been built in the Ruoqiang region. … The site is near a former target range China used to test early versions of its so-called carrier killer DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles,” USNI News’ H I SUTTON and SAM LAGRONE reported Sunday. “This new range shows that China continues to focus on anti-carrier capabilities, with an emphasis on U.S. Navy warships.”
“The carrier target itself appears to be a flat surface without the carrier’s island, aircraft lifts, weapons sponsons or other details, the imagery from Maxar shows. On radar, the outline of the carrier stands out from the surrounding desert — not unlike a target picture,” they also noted.
Politico’s China Watcher PHELIM KINE brought to our attention that China has a habit of building scale replicas of prospective military targets — including targets in Taiwan.
TOP LATVIAN DIPLOMAT: BELARUS FORCING THOUSANDS OF MIGRANTS INTO POLAND: For months, the government of Belarus has been pushing thousands of migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia toward its borders with Latvia and Lithuania, straining local forces and resources as the Baltic countries struggle with the influx.
Now it’s Poland’s turn, as thousands of Polish soldiers brace for the arrival of at least 3,000 migrants massing at its own border, openly helped along by Belarusian security forces.
“It is state sponsored human trafficking,” Latvian foreign affairs secretary, ANDRIS PELŠS, told our own PAUL MCLEARY. Latvia has been dealing with hundreds of migrants trying to cross its own border with Belarus. “It’s not a genuine refugee crisis as we would normally see. … It’s very clear that it’s a concerted effort by the Belarusian government [aimed at] destabilizing the asylum seeking systems in the neighboring countries,” Pelšs continued.
The push is being sponsored by the government of Belarusian President ALEXANDER LUKASHENKO, officials from across Europe and the U.S. have charged, though his government denies their participation and has received support from Moscow. Videos emerged over the weekend of clashes between the migrants and Polish soldiers as people try to breach border fences.
“We expect that in the coming hours attacks on our border will be renewed by groups of several hundred people,” head of Poland’s National Security Bureau, PAWEL SOLOCH, told reporters in Warsaw on Monday.
“What we have now is the regime in Belarus is actively marketing opportunities for tourism from the Middle East to Belarus, which is fine in itself. But then what happens to the tourists is they are, with full knowledge of the Belarusian authorities, transferred to the borders of the EU, then they try to cross,” Pelšs said.
CIA DIRECTOR BURNS CHATTED WITH PUTIN: CIA Director WILLIAM BURNS held a rare conversation with Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN last week, mainly to discuss how “serious” the U.S. considers Moscow’s military buildup along the Ukrainian border.
“It would be foolish for us not to be considering the possibility of an invasion or incursion,” a person familiar with the conversation told CNN’s JIM SCIUTTO and NATASHA BERTRAND. DMITRY PESKOV, Putin’s spokesperson, confirmed the conversation and said other bilateral issues came up, including cybersecurity matters.
President JOE BIDEN sent Burns to Russia last week amid downward spiraling relations and the troop buildup. Burns and Putin go way back, as the CIA chief previously served as America’s ambassador to Russia from 2005 to 2008.
ISRAEL REJECTS PALESTINIAN CONSULATE IN JERUSALEM: The Biden administration has vowed to reopen a U.S. consulate for Palestinian in Jerusalem. But the Israeli government, which formally needs to approve such a mission, continues to reject the idea.
On Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister NAFTALI BENNETT said there was no room in the capital city for such a consulate. “My position, and it was presented to the Americans … is that there is no place for a U.S. consulate which serves the Palestinians in Jerusalem. We are voicing our opinion consistently, quietly, without drama,” he told reporters.
YAIR LAPID, the nation’s foreign minister, proposed America open a consulate in the occupied West Bank. “If they want to open a consulate in Ramallah, we have no problem with that,” he said.
Palestinian President MAHMOUD ABBAS rejected that idea, per his spokesperson NABIL ABU RUDEINEH. “We will only accept a U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, the capital of the Palestinian state. That was what the U.S. administration had announced and had committed itself to doing,” he told Reuters.
We asked the White House and State Department about what the administration’s next moves are, but we didn’t hear back.
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ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT ON IRAQI PM: Someone tried and failed to kill Iraqi Prime Minister MUSTAFA AL-KADHIMI with armed drones over the weekend, dramatically ramping up tensions between the government and Iran-backed militias suspected of orchestrating the hit.
Al-Kadhimi survived and spoke to his nation in a televised address, though his left hand was wrapped in a bandage due a small cut. “Cowardly rocket and drone attacks don’t build homelands and don’t build a future,” he said before leading a security meeting.
Iraqi troops have fanned out across Baghdad to secure the capital city, and the worry is that violence may escalate between the government and militia supporters. There was already a skirmish last week.
“Protests turned deadly Friday when the demonstrators tried to enter the Green Zone. Security forces used tear gas and live ammunition. There was an exchange of fire in which one protester affiliated with the militias was killed. Dozens of security forces were injured. Al-Khadimi ordered an investigation to determine what sparked the clashes and who violated orders not to open fire,” the Associated Press reported. Some of the leaders of the most powerful militia factions loyal to Iran openly blamed al-Kadhimi for Friday’s clashes and the protester’s death.”
CHINA DENIES U.S. SPYING CHARGES AGAINST CHINESE CITIZEN: The first Chinese intelligence officer ever extradited to the U.S. to stand trial was convicted Friday “of conspiring to and attempting to commit economic espionage and theft of trade secrets,” per the Justice Department. On Monday, Beijing furiously denied the charges.
“The allegation is pure fabrication,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson WANG WENBIN told reporters. “We demand that the U.S. handle the case according to the law and in a just manner to ensure the rights and interests of the Chinese citizen.”
YANJUN XU was the deputy division director of the Sixth Bureau of the Jiangsu Province Ministry of State Security in China. Since December 2013, he recruited employees of major U.S. aviation companies to travel to China and give presentations on their work. In one instance, “Xu attempted to steal technology related to GE Aviation’s exclusive composite aircraft engine fan — which no other company in the world has been able to duplicate — to benefit the Chinese state,” the Justice Department revealed in a news release.
The Biden administration is taking Chinese economic espionage seriously. “[T]he United States will not sit by as China, or any other nation-state, attempts to steal instead of researching and developing key technology. Instead, and with the support of our allies, we will continue to investigate, prosecute, and hold accountable those who try to take the fruits of American ingenuity illegally,” Assistant Attorney General MATTHEW OLSEN said Friday.
PEGASUS SPYWARE FOUND ON PALESTINIAN ACTIVISTS’ PHONES: The Ireland-based human rights nonprofit Front Line Defenders has detected the Israeli NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware on cell phones belonging to six Palestinian activists, per The Associated Press’ FRANK BAJAK and JOSEPH KRAUSS.
Days after Front Line Defenders identified the first two cyber intrusions in mid-October, Israeli Defense Minister BENNY GANTZ controversially designated six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorist organizations. Of the six Palestinian activists who were hacked, three of them work for those newly blacklisted civil society groups.
Front Line Defenders’ forensic findings have been corroborated by Amnesty International and the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab in a joint technical report. An international consortium of journalists previously reported in July that NSO Group created and leased the military-grade Pegasus spyware that has been used to hack the smartphones of dozens of journalists and activists.
Last week, NSO Group was one of four foreign companies that the Commerce Department added to its “entity list” for “engaging in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.”
Today, the 9th Circuit rejected NSO’s claim of derivative sovereign immunity to block a WhatsApp and Facebook suit over Pegasus. Our own JOSH GERSTEIN wrote on this earlier this year.
HICKS ROAD SHOW: Our friends at Morning Defense (for Pros!) note that Deputy Defense Secretary KATHLEEN HICKS is taking her talents to New England and Michigan to discuss the problems facing the defense industry.
Each stop on the three-day trip will hit on themes in the Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan, including DoD’s efforts to invest in electric vehicles, partner with tech firms and academia on green projects, and modernize military technologies to stay ahead of China’s breakneck military advancements.
Pentagon spokesperson ERIC PAHON told McLeary that Hicks will also highlight “how the department is committed to strengthening the domestic supply chain with new technologies, and focus on domestic manufacturing” for critical items such as lithium batteries and microelectronics.
The itinerary: The trip kicks off in Detroit, where Hicks will tour a GM Defense facility that makes electric vehicles. DoD wants to make its 170,000 noncombat vehicles a zero-emission fleet by 2050. Tonight she’ll deliver a speech at Wayne State University on how combating climate change is a national security imperative and on the automotive industry’s role in helping the federal government in the fight.
Next up: In Quonset, R.I., Hicks will tour a facility owned by Electric Boat, the division of General Dynamics that builds submarines. The company announced in February that it was adding 1,300 jobs to the site.
Subs and floods: Then it’s on to Groton, Conn., and Electric Boat’s main facility, where the Navy has its Undersea Warfighting Development Center, which refines concepts for subs and unmanned undersea vessels. The climate crisis will also be front and center as Hicks tours new piers being built that will sit above the 100-year floodplain — where flooding is expected to reach in the coming years as sea levels rise — as well as new buildings designed to better withstand rising seas.
FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY — J STREET-ORGANIZED CODEL TO ISRAEL AND PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: The J Street Education Fund has sponsored a five-day trip for members of Congress to Israel and the Palestinian Territories that began on Sunday, NatSec Daily has learned.
While we couldn’t confirm the exact number of lawmakers on the trip, we did find out that the delegation includes Reps. ROSA DELAURO (D-Conn.), chair of the House Appropriations Committee; BARBARA LEE (D-Calif.), who heads the State and Foreign Operations subcommittee; MARK POCAN (D-Wisc.), emeritus chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; and multiple first-term members like JAMAAL BOWMAN (D-N.Y.). There are no Republicans in the group.
LOGAN BAYROFF, J Street’s vice president of communications, told us the lawmakers will spend equal time listening to Israeli and Palestinian voices. On the Israeli side, they’ll hear from Foreign Minister Lapid and Transport Minister MERAV MICHAELI, along with Knesset members and representatives of the Israeli Defense Forces. On the Palestinian side, they’ll chat with Prime Minister MOHAMMAD SHTAYYEH. The lawmakers will also chat with civil society leaders and issues experts and activists from both sides.
Among the stops will be a visit “to Israel’s southern border to learn more about the recurring rounds of conflict between Israel and Hamas, the effects of rocket fire on Israeli border communities and the impact of Iron Dome, and the ongoing humanitarian crisis faced by the people of Gaza,” Bayroff said.
“Nearly six months after the most recent escalation in violence, this trip will provide an important opportunity to speak with those on the front lines in civil society and government,” DeLauro told NatSec Daily. “I look forward to returning home with a better understanding of the impact that American policy is having in the region and of the steps that the Congress can and should be taking to better promote peace, justice and equality.”
Lapid tweeted about meeting the delegation this afternoon.
BIPARTISAN GROUP SENDS ADMIN WARNING ON EGYPT TALKS: The Working Group on Egypt, a bipartisan collection of experts formed in 2010, sent a letter yesterday to Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN urging the administration to prioritize human rights during today and tomorrow’s U.S.-Egypt Strategic Dialogue.
“[W]e respectfully request that you and your team speak forthrightly about Egypt’s appalling human rights record and press the Egyptian delegation on the urgent need for meaningful improvements,” they wrote in the letter, citing President ABDEL FATTAH AL-SISI’s tens of thousands of political prisoners and bloody crackdown on dissent.
Specifically, the group wants Blinken to reaffirm that Egypt must meet human rights conditions before receiving $130 million in military aid. The problem, the Working Group argues, is that “[b]ased on regrettable past U.S. actions, al-Sisi likely expects the United States to eventually drop its conditions and provide the assistance. The administration should make plain that it has no intention of reversing its decision and that it expects Egypt to meet these benchmarks — and that failure to do so will result in the forfeiture of the suspended assistance.”
“If the Biden-Harris administration fails to send a strong message on human rights at the Strategic Dialogue, its commitment to ‘center’ human rights in U.S. foreign policy will, unfortunately, ring hollow when it comes to Egypt — and give al-Sisi cover to continue his brutal crackdown,” they concluded.
We asked AMY HAWTHORNE, the working group chair who is also at the Project on Middle East Democracy, why she and her colleagues chose to write and send the letter. They are “really concerned by the Biden administration’s reluctance, so far, to adequately press the Sisi regime on human rights,” she told NatSec Daily. Holding the dialogue and public remarks alongside his counterparts shows Blinken and his team are offering a “warm handshake with a regime with so much blood on its hands.”
— FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY: TODD BREASSEALE is now the deputy assistant to the secretary of Defense for public affairs for media. He most recently was director of public affairs communications at Microsoft. He also worked as a political appointee at the Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration and as an Army officer at the Defense Department.
— MICHAEL TUBMAN will join Lucid Motors as director of federal affairs at the end of the month. He most recently was a foreign service officer at the State Department, stationed in Shanghai.
— YAFFA FREDRICK, CNN: “Opinion: The fiercest fight of the 21st century”
— HELENE COOPER and ERIC SCHMITT, The New York Times: “Witnesses to the End”
— MICHAEL KREPON, War on the Rocks: “How to Avoid Nuclear War”
— Vice President KAMALA HARRIS arrives in Paris: It will be her third overseas trip since assuming office.
— The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 5 a.m.: “41st IISS Fullerton Lecture: Singapore Amid Great Power Rivalry — with JAMES CRABTREE and CHAN CHUN SING”
— The Overseas Development Institute, 5 a.m.: “The Launch of Adaptation Without Borders: A New Era in International Cooperation on Climate Change — with AYMAN CHERKAOUI, ABDOULAYE DIA, JOHN HALEY, TERESA RIBERA, JOSEFA LEONEL CORREIA SACKO and FRANS TIMMERMANS”
— Chatham House, 8 a.m.: “How Do Eurasian Kleptocracies Earn and Use Their Money? — with OLIVER BULLOUGH, BEN KEITH, ISOBEL KOSHIW and THOMAS MAYNE”
— The Wilson Center, 8:30 a.m.: “Assessing Regional Dynamics: The View from Egypt — A Conversation with Foreign Minister SAMEH SHOUKRY — with JAMES F. JEFFREY and DAVID PETRAEUS”
— The Atlantic Council, 9:15 a.m.: “Security and Cooperation in the Black Sea: A Conversation With Romanian Foreign Minister BOGDAN AURESCU — with PAULA J. DOBRIANSKY and FREDERICK KEMPE”
— The Brookings Institution, 10 a.m.: “Mozambique’s Al-Shabab Insurgency, and Local and International Responses — with VANDA FELBAB-BROWN, ZENAIDA MACHADO, DINO MAHTANI and ADRIANO NUVUNGA”
— The Middle East Institute, 10 a.m.: “Book Talk — Defending Iran: From Revolutionary Guards to Ballistic Missiles — with GAWDAT BAHGAT, SARA BAZOOBANDI, ANOUSHIRAVAN EHTESHAMI and ALEX VATANKA”
— The Wilson Center, 11 a.m.: “Democratization in Venezuela: Thoughts on a New Path — with CYNTHIA J. ARNSON, FRANCIS FUKUYAMA, MARÍA ÁNGELA HOLGUÍN, RICARDO LAGOS and MICHAEL A. PENFOLD”
— The Wilson Center, 11 a.m.: “Hindsight up Front: Afghan Voices on Afghanistan’s Future — with OBAIDULLAH BAHEER, QADIR HABIB, MASUDA SULTAN and ZALA ZAZAI”
— The Hudson Institute, 12 p.m.: “What’s Next for AUKUS? A Discussion with Amb. ARTHUR SINODINOS — with JOHN P. WALTERS”
— The American Enterprise Institute, 12:30 p.m.: “The U.S. International Emergency Food Aid Program: Time for Change? — with CHRISTOPHER B. BARRETT, DAVID BECKMANN, DINA ESPOSITO, JOSEPH W. GLAUBER, STEPHANIE MERCIER and VINCENT H. SMITH”
— The National Press Club, 12:30 p.m.: “Headliners Luncheon: Secretary of Veterans Affairs DENIS MCDONOUGH”
— The Israel Policy Forum, 2 p.m.: “Israel’s Coalition Got a Budget Passed. Now What? — with AMIR TIBON”
— The Wilson Center, 2 p.m.: “Central Asia at 30 Years of Independence — with GEORGE KROL, DIANA KUDAIBERGENOVA, EDWARD LEMON and MATTHEW ROJANSKY”
— The Bipartisan Policy Center, 3:30 p.m.: “America’s Call to Duty: Ending Veterans’ Homelessness — with ROSANNE HAGGERTY, JOHN KUHN, R. HUNTER KURTZ, MIKE LEVIN, PHILIP MANGANO and KATHRYN MONET”
— The National Press Club, 5:30 p.m.: “International Correspondents Committee Meeting”
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 we sometimes have to find with satellites.