Yemeni American groups scorch Senate’s War Powers gang | #cybersecurity | #cyberattack


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FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY –– A bipartisan trio of senators who introduced legislation to enhance Congress’ role in war authorizations has some unlikely new opponents: Yemeni American groups and antiwar activists.

In a letter to Sens. BERNIE SANDERS (I-Vt.), CHRIS MURPHY (D-Conn.) and MIKE LEE (R-Utah) obtained exclusively by NatSec Daily, the 12 organizations — including the Yemeni Alliance Committee, Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation, Yemeni Liberation Movement, CODEPINK and Just Foreign Policy — say they have four main objections to the “National Security Powers Act.”

First, they write that Yemeni Americans and other marginalized groups “were excluded from the overwhelmingly white American group that advised in the drafting process.” On Murphy’s website, the majority of the experts expressing support for the NSPA aren’t people of color, the activists note.

Second, the new bill states the president must seek congressional authorization to enter a war zone if the United States plans to be “party” to a conflict. The activists argue that’s a “deeply troubling loophole,” since any administration can say they’re not a party in hostilities, as America is claiming now — even though U.S.-authorized contractors help keep the Saudi air force in the skies.

Third, the activists say the NSPA has “no provision for a concurrent war powers resolution to end an unauthorized war. … This implicitly concedes the contested claim that a resolution of disapproval against an unconstitutional war must be joint, and therefore either it must be signed by the President or else a presidential veto must be overridden. This amounts to conceding to the contested claim that against a President insistent on defying Congressional will[,] Congress would need a two-thirds supermajority of both houses to override a Presidential veto.”

Finally, the organizations assert that all the energy being put into passing this bill is taking away from the effort to end the war in Yemen right now. They note that an amendment spearheaded by Rep. RO KHANNA (D-Calif.) to prohibit any U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war passed the House and could make it in the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act. However, multiple congressional and activist sources say the odds of its inclusion are slim.

NatSec Daily got in touch with JEHAN HAKIM, chair of the Yemeni Alliance Committee, to discuss the rationale behind sending the letter. She said that “now is not the time to be focusing our energy on ambitious reform projects that have little to no chance of overcoming a Senate filibuster,” adding, “This legislation might have looked very different if Yemeni Americans were not excluded from consultations. Congress already has the tools it needs to force an end to this war now.” Of course, one of those tools is the Khanna bill that’s working it’s way through Congress, which the trio’s effort doesn’t seem to have distracted from.

Still, the backlash from groups that in the past supported bills to end America’s involvement in the Yemen war (and other conflicts) could hurt the prospects of success for the three senators’ ambitious play.

None of the lawmakers’ offices responded to multiple requests for comment.

FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY –– LAWMAKERS WANT VISAS PROCESSED FOR PRIVATE PLANE EVACUEES: A bipartisan group of seven House members sent a letter to Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN yesterday pushing the State Department to process visas for people evacuated from Afghanistan on private planes.

“Unfortunately, from the accounts we have heard, it appears that individuals who were transported to third countries on private planes are not being processed. We are aware of thousands of Afghans in Albania and the UAE in this situation,” the lawmakers — Reps. TOM MALINOWSKI (D-N.J.), ABIGAIL SPANBERGER (D-Va.), ADAM SCHIFF (D-Calif.), STEPHANIE MURPHY (D-Fla.), JASON CROW (D-Colo.), PETER MEIJER (R-Mich.) and RUBÉN GALLEGO (D-Ariz.) — wrote.

“They were evacuated via private charters and remain in limbo, unable to access U.S. officials to make their case or proceed with processing. We ask that the Department of State surge the necessary capacity to these countries for processing to ensure that the U.S. government does not discriminate against those who escaped the Taliban through other means,” they continued.

Speaking to NatSec Daily about the letter, Malinowski said “at-risk Afghans had no choice in how they were evacuated. The State Department shouldn’t be putting an undue burden on those who happened to get out via private charters as opposed to U.S. military flights. It should dedicate equal resources to all the Afghans it rightly takes pride in having helped evacuate.”

A State Department spokesperson didn’t deny that evacuees in third countries who left on private planes weren’t getting visas, but did say Covid-19 precautions “have temporarily reduced the visa processing capacity at many of our posts, requiring them to prioritize the most urgent and mission-critical cases.”

“We are developing processing alternatives so that we can continue to deliver these important consular services for the people of Afghanistan. This effort is of utmost importance to the U.S. government. We’re looking into ways to expedite the SIV process, including some measures that would require new legislation, while keeping security foremost in our minds,” the spokesperson continued, adding some measures “would require new legislation.”

SULLIVAN-YANG HANG: National security adviser JAKE SULLIVAN and China’s top diplomat YANG JIECHI had a six-hour meeting in Zurich, a senior administration official told reporters, in which the American said the U.S. won’t trade progress on climate change for other priorities, including improving human rights in Xinjing or Hong Kong. But both sides did walk away with an agreement in principle to have both nation’s leaders meet in a virtual bilateral by the end of the year. Chinese President XI JINPING won’t travel to the G-20 or the U.N. Climate Change Conference later this year, so he and President JOE BIDEN couldn’t chat in person.

But overall, the senior official effectively conceded not much progress was made in this session, even if it was a more constructive conversation in tone. “This was really intended as a high-level conversation that would frame out the priorities,” the official said.

NatSec Daily asked our “China Watcher” PHELIM KINE to weigh in on the key takeaway of the briefing: “The senior administration official said that the tone of the meeting was considerably better than Sullivan and Yang’s acrimonious encounter in Anchorage in March, but stressed that the meeting’s results didn’t constitute a ‘thaw’ in the bilateral relationship. That messaging emphasizes the importance of a potential Xi-Biden summit later this year to potentially break the effective free in substantive U.S.-China engagement.”

SECDEF TELLS CONGRESS NOT TO DEFAULT: Secretary of Defense LLOYD AUSTIN warned lawmakers today to raise the debt ceiling so the United States doesn’t default on its debts — and hurt America’s armed forces in the process.

Defaulting would “seriously harm our service members and their families because, as Secretary, I would have no authority or ability to ensure that our service members, civilians, or contractors would be paid in full or on time,” Austin said in a statement. “Our service members and Department of Defense civilians live up to their commitments. My hope is that, as a nation, we will come together to ensure we meet our obligations to them, without delay or disruption.”

This is the administration’s way of pushing congressional Republicans to raise the debt ceiling or risk being pegged as “anti-military.” So far, though, the pressure campaign doesn’t seem to have had much effect. Read more from our own CONNOR O’BRIEN.

STOLTENBERG SOUNDS OFF ON CHINA: In a new episode of POLITICO’s “Global Insider” podcast (listen here!), NATO Secretary-General JENS STOLTENBERG told our own RYAN HEATH that the intergovernmental military alliance does not “regard China as an adversary or an enemy” — emphasizing engagement with Beijing on climate change and other issues.

But “[a]t the same time,” Stoltenberg said, “we see the rise of China. … And we see a much more assertive China, for instance, in the South China Sea. All of this matters for our security and therefore NATO has to respond to that.” (NatSec Daily covered the Pentagon’s new motto of “strategic competition” toward Beijing in yesterday’s edition.)

Stoltenberg also said NATO officials “are working to find ways to include China” in future arms control agreements, and he weighed in on the AUKUS fracas between France and Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“I understand that France is disappointed. At the same time, NATO allies agreed as late as June this year at the NATO summit in Brussels with President Biden and all the other leaders that we need to work more closely with what we call the Asia-Pacific partners,” Stoltenberg said. Ultimately, “it is a good thing that NATO allies work with Australia,” he added.

IT’S WEDNESDAY: 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.

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TAIWAN CONFIRMS SECRET MISSILE: For the first time, Taiwan has acknowledged the existence of its Yun Feng medium-range surface-to-air missile — an admission that will only escalate the island nation’s tensions with China.

Defense Minister CHIU KUO-CHENG discussed the Yun Feng during a legislative hearing to increase funding for Taiwan’s missile arsenal. While Chiu wouldn’t go into specifics, he confirmed the military is “working on” the weapon, which is believed to have a range of around 930 miles. (It’s roughly 110 miles or so from the Chinese mainland to Taiwan.)

While the Yun Feng — which translates to “Cloud Peak” — has been an open secret since its development in the 1990s, expect Beijing to react negatively to the now-confirmed missile. During a war, it has the ability to destroy bases crucial to China’s air force, as well as Chinese harbors and airports.

The weapon’s public reveal comes days after China sent a record-breaking number of warplanes into Taiwan’s airspace, increasing concerns about a potential conflict that could suck in the United States.

IRAN’S CYBERSPYING OP: Iran has launched a massive cyberespionage campaign against telecommunications and aerospace companies around the world, including in the United States, Russia and Israel.

In a blog post today, the Israeli cybersecurity company Cybereason identified a previously unknown cyber actor named MalKamak which has been running its operation since 2018 and may have ties to other Iranian state-sponsored threat actors.

What was MalKamak doing? They were using a remote access trojan, or RAT, dubbed “ShellClient” to gain access to some cloud-based storage services — like DropBox — “in order to remain undetected by blending in with legitimate network traffic,” per Cybereason. “The authors of ShellClient invested a lot of effort into making it stealthy to evade detection by antivirus and other security tools by leveraging multiple obfuscation techniques and recently implementing a Dropbox client for command and control (C2), making it very hard to detect.”

“Using this RAT, the threat actors were first observed conducting reconnaissance and the exfiltration of sensitive data from leading Aerospace and Telecommunications companies in the Middle East region, and was later observed targeting the same industries in other regions including the U.S., Russia and Europe,” Cybereason reported.

ASSAF DAHAN, head of the cyber threat research group at Cybereason, fears the worst.

“This was a very sophisticated operation that has all the hallmarks of a state-sponsored attack,” Dahan told The Jerusalem Post’s ZEV STUB. “While other Iranian groups are involved with more destructive acts, this one is focused on gathering information. The fact that they were able to stay under the radar for three years shows their level of sophistication. We assess that they have been able to exfiltrate large amounts of data over the years — gigabytes, or even terabytes. We don’t know how many victims there were before 2018.”

VCJCS-WEEPSTAKES: Our colleagues at Morning Defense (for Pros!) report that official Washington is getting antsy without an announced successor to Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs Gen. JOHN HYTEN. Hyten will retire on Nov. 20, meaning the odds for a vacancy in the military’s No. 2 spot are increasing with each passing day.

A defense official told Morning Defense that Adm. CHRISTOPHER GRADY, chief of Fleet Forces Command and the Navy’s official “Old Salt,” has already interviewed with the White House twice since March; others said U.S. Strategic Command’s Adm. CHARLES RICHARD is in the running.

Senate Armed Services Chair JACK REED (D-R.I.) told Morning Defense he believes his panel will receive the White House’s nomination by early November. “We’d need, one would hope, three to four weeks,” he said. “That would be so the individual could talk to all of my colleagues, so that all of the due diligence and all the other analysis could be completed and then go from there.”

“I know they’re working on it,” Reed added. “I’d like to see that nominee as soon as possible because that would give us an opportunity not only to do our interviews, but also to sort of give Hyten the chance to socialize and talk to the nominee about the specific issues he’s facing.”

NAVY SEC TO RELEASE CHINA STRATEGY: Navy Secretary CARLOS DEL TORO will release a strategy this week detailing what the two services under his charge must do to compete with China, Defense News’ MEGAN ECKSTEIN reports. The secretary previewed the coming document during a dinner last night at the U.S. Naval Academy.

“The desired goal, quite frankly, is not to fight China. No one wants to enter into a conflict. … It’s our ultimate responsibility to deter them from what they’re trying to accomplish, including taking over Taiwan,” Del Toro said. “So it’s incredibly important … that we make the investments now, this year, as necessary to actually be able to focus more so on China and many of the other threats that we sometimes face around the world.”

He added: “We’re making tough decisions today, to make sure future officers like you in this room have the right combination and the number of platforms and weapons for the full spectrum of threats tomorrow.”

ANTI-CORRUPTION BILL COMING POST-PANDORA PAPERS: A forthcoming bill called the ENABLERS Act — led by Rep. Malinowski and expected to be co-led by Rep. MARIA SALAZAR (R-Fla.) — aims to tackle the type of global corruption detailed in the “Pandora Papers” exposé, per our own NAHAL TOOSI.

Under the measure “[l]awyers, investment advisers, art dealers, realtors, accountants, public relations firms and others would be required to engage in some form of ‘due diligence’ to ensure their clients aren’t paying with or trying to move around money of suspicious origin,” Toosi writes.

The ENABLERS Act, likely to be introduced Friday, has bipartisan support on Capitol Hill among lawmakers eager to counter corruption around the world, which the administration has described as a national security threat. There’s even a new congressional caucus against kleptocracy, co-chaired by Malinowski and Rep. JOHN CURTIS (R-Utah).

CRUZ CRAZES EUROPE: The White House’s anger at Sen. TED CRUZ (R-Texas) has spread across the Atlantic, report our own DAVID M. HERSZENHORN and ANDREW DESIDERIO, as numerous EU officials are raging over the lawmaker’s vow to hold up key State Department nominees. (Read more about Cruz’s effort and his call for Nord Stream 2-related sanctions in this previous edition of NatSec Daily.)

Although the nominees for ambassadorships to the EU, France and NATO haven’t yet cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Cruz has shown no sign of backing down from his pledged blockages, and EU officials are arguing the absence of those U.S. envoys contributed to the AUKUS diplomatic dust-up.

For his part, Cruz says he’s just defending the interests of Eastern European countries threatened by the Nord Stream 2 pipeline connecting Russia and Germany. “If you want to talk to some Europeans about this, give the Ukrainians a call. Give the Poles a call. Give our friends in Eastern Europe a call,” he told Herszenhorn and Desiderio.

Senator, let’s just say we have made those calls.

KERRY SHAMES BIDEN ON AUKUS: The criticism is coming from inside the house.

JOHN KERRY, the special envoy for climate change and former secretary of State, told French broadcaster BFMTV yesterday that Biden was unaware of the effects the nuclear-submarine deal between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States would have on Paris.

“President Biden asked me about it and I told him. … He asked me. He said, ‘What’s the situation?’ And I explained exactly. He had not been aware of that. He literally had not been aware of what had transpired,” Kerry said. But, the special envoy added, “my president is very committed to strengthening the relationship.”

That’s a bad look, especially if Biden signed off on AUKUS without knowing the ramifications the agreement would have for America’s oldest ally. Outside critics, especially in Europe, have heaped much criticism on the deal, but Kerry’s comments mark the first time something embarrassing about Biden’s handling of the situation has emerged from within the administration.

Axios’ ZACHARY BASU and JONATHAN SWAN reported yesterday that Biden “strongly believed from what was told to him that the French were aware that the contract with Australia would be scrapped.”

— MARK LEWIS, former undersecretary of Defense for research and engineering, has joined Stratolaunch’s technical advisory group. (h/t Morning Defense)

— OREN LIEBERMANN and NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN: “ISIS-K suicide bomber who carried out deadly Kabul airport attack had been released from prison days earlier”

— RUHULLAH KAPALWAK and DAVID ZUCCHINO, The New York Times: “For Sale Now: U.S.-Supplied Weapons in Afghan Gun Shops”

— ROBYN DIXON, The Washington Post: “Russia’s rising young Communists pose an unexpected new threat to Putin’s grip”

— The Finnish Institute of International Affairs, 7:30 a.m.: “Economy and Security: Bringing Europeans Together? — with MIKA AALTOLA, JEAN-DOMINIQUE GIULIANI, NIKLAS HELWIG, PASCALE JOANNIN, PÄIVI PUONTI and more”

— Senate Armed Services Committee, 9:30 a.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Nominations — with BRENDA FULTON, COREY HINDERSTEIN and DAVID HONEY

— House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, 10 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: The VA Electronic Health Record Transparency Act Of 2021 and IT Reform and Data Collection Bills”

— The Middle East Institute, 10 a.m.: “Iran’s Economy Under Sanctions and the Outlook for 2022 — with BJIAN KHAJEHPOUR, MOHAMMAD ALI SHABANI, KAREN YOUNG and RACHEL ZIEMBA

— POLITICO Live, 11 a.m.: “Defense Forum: Redefining American Power in a New World — with MICHAEL CHASE, DEB FISCHER, ELISSA SLOTKIN, THOM TILLIS, DEREK TOURNEAR and more”

— The Atlantic Council, 11:15 a.m.: “The U.S.-Italian Defense Relationship: A Strategic and Industrial Partnership — with JAMES HASIK, WILLIAM J. LYNN III, ALESSANDRO PROFUMO, CURTIS SCAPARROTTI, MARIANGELA ZAPPIA and more”

— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 11:30 a.m.: “Report Launch: Chinese State Capitalism: Diagnosis and Prognosis — with JUDE BLANCHETTE, DANIEL CROSBY, SCOTT KENNEDY, CLAIRE READE and LINGLING WEI

— House Homeland Security Committee, 12 p.m.: “20 Years After 9/11: Examining Emergency Communications — with H.D. DELOACH, CHRIS LOMBARD, MEL MAIER and CHRIS RODRIGUEZ

— The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2 p.m.: “A Conversation With the Honorable MADELEINE K. ALBRIGHT — with AARON DAVID MILLER

— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 3 p.m.: “Book Event: Lawrence O. Gostin’s ‘Global Health Security: A Blueprint for the Future’ — with LAWRENCE O. GOSTIN, J. STEPHEN MORRISON and H. ANDREW SCHWARTZ

— The Miller Center, 8:30 p.m.: “China and the Re-Centering of East Asia: A Special Lecture Series — with BRANTLY WOMACK

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, whose wartime authorities we never question.





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