THE ARMY’S TURN: Service chief testimony week continues today when Acting Army Secretary Robert Speer and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley weigh in on the president's fiscal 2018 budget request before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, 10:30 a.m. The testimony comes one day after Air Force leaders headed to the Hill, and faced uncomfortable questions about funding and transparency. More on that below.
But the headliner of today’s congressional hearings is the Senate Intelligence Committee, which will hear testimony from some of the key players in the investigation of Russian meddling in U.S. elections, and possible links to the Trump campaign. Witnesses include: Dan Coats, director of national intelligence; Andrew McCabe, acting FBI Director; Adm. Mike Rogers, NSA director; and Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general. That starts at 10 a.m.
As Todd Shepherd writes, those witnesses will almost certainly face tough questions on illegal leaks of information gathered through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The most concrete evidence of that is the leaked transcript of a call between former national security adviser Mike Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. That leak ultimately led to Flynn's firing by the White House.
Despite asking numerous times, the FBI still hasn't told members of Congress definitively whether it is actively investigating the source of that leak and others. If the intelligence community can't provide reassurance that leakers can be caught, that raises political problems for the FISA legislation that allows the surveillance to happen in the first place.
At the end of this year, Section 702 of the FISA laws, which allows for foreign surveillance, will expire. If Republicans aren't convinced that leaks from that surveillance can't be contained, it could make it hard for GOP lawmakers to agree to an extension.
BREAKING THIS MORNING: In what is believed to be its first major attack in Iran, ISIS is claiming it is behind two attacks in Tehran today. Four attackers, including a suicide bomber, hit Iran’s parliament building while a legislative session was underway. A separate assault at the shrine of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini killed two security guards and wounded more than 30 people.
Good Wednesday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre), National Security Writer Travis J. Tritten (@travis_tritten) and Senior Editor David Brown (@dave_brown24). Email us here for tips, suggestions, calendar items and anything else. If a friend sent this to you and you’d like to sign up, click here. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our list. And be sure to follow us on Twitter @dailyondefense.
THE QATAR QUANDARY: On most days at the Pentagon, the biggest point of debate about Qatar is how to correctly pronounce the name of the oil-rich Gulf state, which hosts the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command in the Middle East. But these days, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis must choose his words carefully, so as not to place himself and the Defense Department at odds with the commander in chief. Asked by a reporter yesterday if he considered Qatar a supporter of terrorism, Davis avoided the policy question, saying "I'm not the right person to ask that." The reporter tried again, "Do you consider them a reliable ally?" Davis didn’t take the bait. "I consider them a host to our very important base at Al Udeid, which continues its operations without interruption." These are awkward times for the Pentagon, which is grateful for Qatar’s support and wants to avoid taking sides in the current dispute with its Arab neighbors.
TRUMP JUMPS IN: President Trump showed no such hesitancy yesterday, essentially taking credit for the decision of five Arab nations to suspend diplomatic and economic ties to Qatar, which its neighbors accuse of supporting Islamist terrorism and Iran. In a series of early morning tweets, Trump claimed his recent trip to Saudi Arabia, where he addressed dozens of leaders from Arab and Muslim-majority countries about combating extremism, had inspired the moves to isolate Qatar. Trump suggested the decision by five countries — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Yemen — could portend "the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!"
GRAHAM’S ADVICE: South Carolina Republican, and erstwhile presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham told Fox news that isolating Qatar is a mistake. “It's best for us if we can get Qatar back in the fold and bring everybody back together because we have 10,000 troops there, and Qatar has been helpful, they are getting better in terms of funding terrorism,” Graham told Fox’s Bret Baier. But he agreed Trump has a point about the Qatari support for terrorism. “Qatar has helped Hamas. They have funded the Muslim Brotherhood. They allegedly said something positive about Iran and now they're claiming that it was a Russian hack into the Qatari news agency,” Graham said, but added “I just don't want to see Qatar isolated.”
AMBASSADORS REACT: Former U.S. ambassadors to Middle East countries worry Trump is fanning the flames of a regional crisis by siding with Saudi Arabia, Josh Siegel writes. James Jeffrey, a former ambassador to Iraq and Turkey, told the Washington Examiner Trump's vocal favoritism toward Saudi Arabia could upset a Sunni coalition the Trump administration had been trying to fashion to combat Iran and Russia. "The president is empowering the Saudis, and they will simply take this and blow up what could have been a strong regional coalition against Iran and Russia," said Jeffrey, who served in the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.
PUTIN THE PEACEMAKER: Russian President Vladimir Putin reached out to the leader of Qatar after the accusation of support for terrorism, Joel Gehrke writes. "Vladimir Putin reaffirmed Russia's principled position in favor of settling crises by political and diplomatic means, through dialogue," the Kremlin said in a summary of Putin's conversation with Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Count on Putin to cozy up to a critical U.S. partner in the Middle East at a time of tension between traditional allies. Meanwhile CNN reports the U.S. suspects Russian hackers planted fake news that sparked the Qatar crisis.
WILSON FACES MCCAIN: In her second appearance on Capitol Hill as the newly-minted Air Force secretary, Heather Wilson faced down an exasperated Sen. John McCain as he held the Armed Services Committee gavel. McCain pounced on Wilson for the service’s long-questioned secrecy surrounding costs of its planned B-21 long-range stealth bomber, a $80 billion program. The Air Force has requested $2 billion in the upcoming budget for research and development of the bomber. "Don't the American people deserve to understand more about what their dollars are being spent [on]?” McCain asked.
Wilson, who served for nearly a decade as a congresswoman, defended keeping some details of the spending secret, telling McCain the Air Force must be careful to keep sensitive information from enemies. She insisted the service is being open with Congress. "That is not true, Madame Secretary, that is simply not true," McCain fired back. The Defense Department inspector general is reviewing the secrecy, according to Bloomberg.
WILSON NEEDS A HAND: Meanwhile, Wilson admitted to Graham that her job as secretary is becoming difficult due to delays in placing other Trump administration appointees at the Air Force. Of six positions that must be confirmed by the Senate, the Air Force has four preferred candidates and is still interviewing for two of the jobs, Wilson said. So far, none has been officially nominated and sent to the Senate by the White House. "It is becoming difficult, yes," Wilson said when asked by Graham whether the delays were impeding her ability to do her job.
ARMY NO. 2: Trump announced his intent to nominate Ryan McCarthy, a former Army Ranger, to be undersecretary of the Army, the second-highest civilian position in the service. The announcement came in the form of a White House statement last night, which said McCarthy has recently served as vice president of the Sustainment Program for the F-35 program at Lockheed Martin. McCarthy was a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment during the invasion of Afghanistan.
Trump has yet to float a name for Army secretary after two previous nominees dropped out. If McCarthy is confirmed, it opens the possibility that he’ll become the acting Army secretary before the new one is installed.
SHOW ME THE MONEY: Questions swirled around Washington yesterday about whether Trump’s much ballyhooed $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia is a real deal, or just a paper wish list, after a scathing blog post labeled the deal “fake news,” which was penned by Bruce Riedel, a Brookings think-tanker. "There is no $110 billion deal,” he wrote, “Instead, there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts. Many are offers that the defense industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday."
Reporters asked both the White House and the State Department briefers for confirmation the Saudis signed actual contracts, and got fuzzy answers. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said, "I believe so," but then quickly added, "That's something that you should follow up with the Department of Defense." Late in the day, the Pentagon issued a statement calling the arms sales “a broad agreement in principle.” “It comprises multiple individual sales over several years, each of which must go through a separate procurement process,” said Lt. Col. Roger Cabiness, a Pentagon spokesman.
The bottom line: Of the $110 billion that was touted in the deal, $24 billion was already worked out during the Obama administration. The remaining $86 billion falls under “intended sales,” which haven’t been specified and would need to be approved by Congress, one at a time.
LAST NIGHT’S LEAK-A-THON: There were a lot:
-- Jeff Sessions suggested he could resign amid rising tension with President Trump (ABC News)
-- Comey Told Sessions: Don’t Leave Me Alone With Trump (New York Times)
-- Top intelligence official told associates Trump asked him if he could intervene with Comey on FBI Russia probe (Washington Post)
-- Comey will stop short of saying Trump obstructed justice in Flynn probe, source says (ABC News)
IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING: Spicer argued yesterday that all the questioning over Trump's commitment to Article 5 of the NATO treaty is "a bit of a silly discussion." Hours later, Politico reported the exact language Trump removed from his speech at NATO headquarters. In a meandering answer to a question about the circumstances surrounding the content of Trump's speech, Spicer told reporters the president's fidelity to Article 5 "speaks for itself." Article 5 of the NATO treaty states that an attack on one member of the alliance is an attack on all members. "The idea we would recommit ourselves to something we were clearly there to celebrate seems a bit silly," Spicer said.
HUNDREDS OF US TROOPS IN SYRIA: This is Day 2 of the offensive by U.S.-backed Syrian Arab and Kurdish fighters to liberate Raqqa from the grip of ISIS. The Pentagon won’t say how many U.S. troops are involved in the operation in their “advise and assist” role, but spokesman Davis said “hundreds” is a fair estimate. "We are continuing to position ourselves where best to assist and advise partner forces," Davis said. "We have there assisting in this battle Marine M777 howitzers, which are providing a significant enabling capability for our special operations forces and partners on the ground, and we are also employing AH-64 Apache [helicopter gunships].”
ALSO IN SYRIA: U.S. warplanes bombed pro-regime Syrian forces backed by Iran in southern Syria on Tuesday, after those forces ignored repeated warnings to leave 35-mile safe zone the U.S. set up to train anti-Islamic State fighters. A statement from U.S. Central Command said coalition planes destroyed two artillery pieces, an anti-aircraft weapon, and damaged a tank after issuing several warnings through the so-called de-confliction line with Russia.
The U.S. had also dropped leaflets in recent days, warning the forces they were inside a well-established de-confliction zone, and needed to retreat. This comes after the U.S. bombed a convoy last month that had intruded on the zone.
CHINA REPORT: The Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on the status of China’s military power is out, and it looks a lot like last year’s report. From the executive summary: “China’s officially-disclosed military budget grew at an average of 8.5 percent per year in inflation adjusted terms from 2007 through 2016, and Chinese leaders seem committed to increases in defense spending for the foreseeable future, even as China’s economic growth slows.”
And this: “China has leveraged its growing power to assert its sovereignty claims over features in the East and South China Seas. China has used coercive tactics, such as the use of law enforcement vessels and its maritime militia, to enforce maritime claims and advance its interests in ways that are calculated to fall below the threshold of provoking conflict.”
MOSCOW SAYS HI: The Russian Defense Ministry was quick to announce that one of its fighter jets, an Su-27 Flanker, intercepted and escorted a U.S. B-52 bomber over the Baltic Sea yesterday. The ministry issued a statement, even before the B-52 had completed its routine flight over international waters near Russia's border. "A Sukhoi-27 fighter jet of the Baltic Sea Fleet's air defense force was dispatched to intercept the target," according to a statement provided to TASS news agency. "The crew of Russia's Sukhoi-27 jet approached the aircraft staying at a safe distance, identified it as a US strategic bomber B-52 and escorted it for some time." At the Pentagon, Davis confirmed the intercept took place, and explained the American B-52 was taking part in a previously announced U.S.-European exercise called BALTOPS that runs through June 16.
RUMBLINGS UP NORTH: Canada's top diplomat called for a "substantial investment" in military funding in response to Trump's victory in the 2016 elections, Joel Gehrke writes. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland concluded from the fall elections that American voters want to "shrug off the burden of world leadership." And as Trump's foreign policy diverges from that of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on issues ranging from trade to climate change, she argued that Canada needs a stronger military in order avoid becoming "a client state" of the United States.
"To put it plainly: Canadian diplomacy and development sometimes require the backing of hard power," Freeland told the House of Commons on Tuesday, per CBC News. "Force is, of course, always a last resort. But the principled use of force, together with our allies and governed by international law, is part of our history and must be part of our future. To have that capacity requires a substantial investment, which this government is committed to making."
AP: Woman accused of leak made pro-environment, anti-Trump posts
Deutsche Welle: German cabinet recommends moving Bundeswehr from Incirlik base
AFP: South Korea To Freeze New THAAD Deployment Pending Probe
Defense News: U.S.-Qatar fighter jet sale worth $21B in middle of diplomatic crisis
Reuters: U.S. says China likely to build more overseas bases, maybe in Pakistan
Daily Beast: Nuclear Pakistan sees the Saudi game against Qatar and Iran and says, 'No thanks'
AP: Flynn turns over documents to panel probing Russia, Trump
New York Times: Aid coordinator in Yemen had secret job overseeing U.S. commando shipments
Stars and Stripes: Not enough Marines for permanent South Korean presence, commander says
USA Today: The U.S. is pushing for big changes in the U.N.'s human rights council
Defense One: European battle groups may finally get the funding to fight
USNI News: Pentagon: Oil tanker hit by 3 RPGs near Yemen in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait
Washington Post: How D-Day code words ended up in British crossword puzzles
WEDNESDAY | JUNE 7
8 a.m. 300 1st St. SE. Nuclear deterrence series event on U.S. and allied nuclear and BMD initiatives. mitchellaerospacepower.org
8:30 a.m. 901 17 St. NW. The future of defense and deterrence in Europe with retired Gen. Philip Breedlove, former supreme allied commander of NATO, and the defense ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. atlanticcouncil.org
8:45 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Energy security in central and eastern Europe. atlanticcouncil.org
9 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Meeting security challenges in a disordered world. csis.org
10 a.m. House Visitor Center 210. Secretary John Kelly testifies on the Trump administration’s priorities for the Department of Homeland Security. homeland.house.gov
10:30 a.m. Dirksen 192. Hearing to review the budget request for the Army with Gen. Mark Milley, chief of staff, and Robert Speer, acting Army secretary. appropriations.senate.gov
10:30 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Regional perspectives on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. atlanticcouncil.org
2 p.m. Rayburn 2212. Priorities and posture of missile defeat programs and activities for 2018 with Vice Adm. James Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency. armedservices.house.gov
2:30 p.m. Russell 222. Defense Department nuclear acquisition programs and the nuclear doctrine with Gen. Robin Rand, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, and Vice Adm. Terry Benedict, director of Strategic Systems Programs. armed-services.senate.gov
3:30 p.m. Rayburn 2118. Combat aviation modernization programs and the fiscal 2018 budget request with Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps leaders. armedservices.house.gov
6 p.m. 1301 S. Joyce St. Networking Series event with Dana W. White, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs. militaryreporters.org
THURSDAY | JUNE 8
9:30 a.m. Dirksen G-50. Posture of the Navy with acting Secretary Sean Stackley, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller. armed-services.senate.gov
10 a.m. Hart 216. Former FBI Director James Comey testifies about his recent firing. intelligence.senate.gov
10:15 a.m. Dirksen 419. ISIS' global reach beyond Iraq and Syria. foreign.senate.gov
12 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. A lecture by author Roger Kimball on populism and the future of democracy. heritage.org
12:30 p.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. Nuclear weapons and coercive diplomacy. stimson.org
1 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Development as a U.S. national security imperative with retired Adm. Mike Mullen, Gen. James Jones and Gen. Carter Ham. atlanticcouncil.org
2 p.m. House Visitor Center 210. Secret Service Director Randy Alles testifies on how he will reform and improve the agency. homeland.house.gov
FRIDAY | JUNE 9
10 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Book talk on Russia: Three Years After Crimea. wilsoncenter.org
MONDAY | JUNE 12
10:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. A daylong forum on religion and violence in Russia. csis.org
7 p.m. Rayburn 2118. Defense Department budget request hearing with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. armedservices.house.gov
TUESDAY | JUNE 13
9 a.m. 1789 Massachusetts Ave. NW. A conversation about countering Putin’s Russia with Rep. Adam Smith. aei.org
10 a.m. Dirksen 419. Review of the FY 2018 State Department budget request with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. foreign.senate.gov
10 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Preserving and building on the Iran nuclear deal. atlanticcouncil.org
1 p.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. Climate, conflict and refugees: Examining the impact of environmental change on human security. stimson.org
WEDNESDAY | JUNE 14
8 a.m. 2101 Wilson Blvd. Mastering business development workshop. ndia.org
9 a.m. 800 17th St. NW. Manufacturing division meeting. ndia.org
9 a.m. 600 New Hampshire Ave. NW. Boeing Defense Space and Security CEO Leanne Caret talks about shaping the division for strategic growth. defenseone.com
9 a.m. 529 14th St. NW. Documentary filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick preview "The Vietnam War." press.org
11:30 a.m. 1 Memorial Avenue, Arlington National Cemetery. 2017 Service to the Flag award ceremony. ndia.org
12 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Retired Army officer Conrad C. Crane discusses the creation of the counterinsurgency field manual. heritage.org