ESPER GETS HIS DAY: At 9:30 a.m., the Senate Armed Services Committee and its chairman Sen. John McCain will question President Trump’s Army secretary nominee Mark Esper, a top Raytheon lobbyist, and three more of the president’s Pentagon picks. They are Robert Wilkie, the nominee for undersecretary for personnel and readiness; Joseph Kernan, the nominee for undersecretary for intelligence; and Guy Roberts, the nominee for assistant secretary for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs.
The nominations hearing, which is a crucial step toward a final Senate confirmation vote, has been a long time coming. All four nominees were referred to the Senate in July, but McCain put a hold on them while wrestling with the Pentagon over its sharing of information on military operations, from the new strategy in Afghanistan to the deadly ambush in Niger. With hearings restarting, Trump also sent two more nominees to the Senate Wednesday: Michael Griffin, to be principal deputy undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, and Randall Schriver, to be the assistant secretary for Asian and Pacific security affairs.
The Esper hearing is particularly key for Pentagon leadership. If and when Esper is confirmed, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will finally have a complete set of service secretaries nine months into the new administration.
RIGHTING THE SHIP: Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson will take questions from reporters this afternoon at 1 on the devastating Navy investigations into the deadly collisions involving USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain, as well as the findings of the Fleet Comprehensive Review.
The Navy’s report on the two collisions, released yesterday, was a shocking litany of malfeasance, detailing substandard performance by both the crews and commanders in the accidents this summer. The circumstances of the collisions were different, but the common theme was a lack of training for the crews and poor judgment and decision-making by the ships’ leadership, all of whom have been relieved of duty. In both accidents, investigators concluded no single factor or person was to blame, but in identical language found the shiphandling by the crews to be poor. “The crew was unprepared for the situation in which they found themselves through a lack of preparation, ineffective command and control, and deficiencies in training and preparations for navigation.” You can read the full collision report here.
FLEET FIXES: The Fleet Comprehensive Review, which was launched to find systemic problems after the two collisions, along with a smaller collision involving the cruiser USS Lake Champlain and the grounding of the cruiser USS Antietam, calls for about 60 improvements to the way the fleet trains sailors to drive their ships. That report is not out yet, but the Associated Press got an early copy.
“Proposed changes focused on five main areas: fundamental skills, teamwork, operational safety, assessment procedures and culture. Specifically, the recommendations include beefing up qualification standards for sailors who stand watch — a key point of failure in the two deadly collisions. Others call for improved navigational skills and certifications for sailors, including better, more sophisticated training on radar, piloting, communications and other high-tech equipment.”
The review found that many of the lessons they learned along the way could help the fleet as a whole. A senior Navy officer will be appointed to carry out the changes.
Good Thursday 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.
TERROR CHARGES: Terrorism charges have been filed against suspect Sayfullo Saipov in connection to the New York City attack Tuesday that left eight people dead. Federal prosecutors charged Saipov with providing material support to the Islamic State and for violence and destruction of motor vehicles, according to a charging document from the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
TRUMP’S JUSTICE: "NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!," Trump tweeted just before midnight. That immediately elicited complaints from legal experts who were concerned Trump's say in the matter could hurt the legal system's ability to make the death penalty happen.
“Mr. President, we all know he should get the death penalty. But when *you* say it, it makes it harder for DOJ to make that happen,” tweeted Andrew McCarthy, former assistant U.S. attorney for New York’s Southern District. Renaldo Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, added: “Trump helped the terrorist with this tweet. Now prosecutors will have to spend time dealing with motions that the jury pool is tainted.”
A JOKE AND A LAUGHINGSTOCK: Trump’s declaration capped a day of from-the-hip pronouncements over what to do about Saipov. Fielding a question on the fly during a photo op with his Cabinet, Trump said he was open to sending the suspect to the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. “I would certainly consider that. Send him to Gitmo. I would certainly consider that, yes,” Trump said.
Earlier in the media availability, the president complained that the U.S. courts are a “joke” and a “laughingstock,” unable to mete out swift and sure justice to terrorists. “We also have to come up with punishment that's far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now. They'll go through court for years. At the end, they'll be — who knows what happens,” Trump said. “We need quick justice, and we need strong justice, much quicker and much stronger than we have right now. Because what we have right now is a joke and it's a laughingstock. And no wonder so much of this stuff takes place. And I think I can speak for plenty of other countries, too, that are in the same situation.”
GRAHAM FIRES AWAY: Both McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham backed sending Saipov to Gitmo, and Graham made the case for classifying Saipov as an enemy combatant. Last night, Graham, who had been getting along better with Trump in recent weeks, raged when he learned that the White House was backing off classifying Saipov as a combatant.
“It appears the Trump Administration is continuing the Obama policy of criminalizing the War on Terror by not declaring Sayfullo Saipov an enemy combatant. It’s ridiculous to believe that one day of interviews in a hospital tells us all we need to know about Saipov’s terrorist ties. Now that he’s lawyered up, that will likely be the end of intelligence gathering except through plea bargaining.
“Plea bargaining is a bad way to gather intelligence – not required under the law of war. Given the facts, any first-year law school student could obtain a conviction in court. I am more concerned about intelligence gathering to help win a war. That is a process which takes time — time which is now lost. The Trump Administration missed an important opportunity to send a strong message to terrorists and make America safer. This is a huge mistake. Very sad.”
NORTH KOREAN ICBM: CNN reports this morning that North Korea is working on beefing up its intercontinental ballistic missile program’s fuel, launching, guidance and targeting systems.
“This newly assessed ICBM is just one part of an accelerated effort by Kim Jong Un's regime to improve every part of its missile and nuclear weapons attack capability as quickly as possible, according to several US officials familiar with the North Korean program. All of these improvements are forcing the US to recalculate the timing of the threat that a North Korean missile could pose to the US, and the need to continuously update US military response options.”
DEFECTOR SPEAKS: Kim wants to develop nuclear weapons capable of striking the United States in order to clear the path for an invasion of South Korea, a defector diplomat told House lawmakers Wednesday. “While Kim Jong Un has already long had the tools to destroy South Korea effectively, he also believes it is necessary to drive American forces out of the peninsula,” Thae Yong Ho told the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “And this can be done, he believes, by being able to credibly threaten the continental United States with nuclear weapons.”
Thae is a former senior diplomat who defected from North Korea in 2016 after a stint as the deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom.
‘STUPID’ SYSTEM: Thae also said Kim’s regime could collapse if people living under his rule knew “how stupid" that country's political system is, and if they had a means of escape. “The population of North Korea are divided into different classes, and [we] have to tell the North Korean population how stupid [a] system it is. We have many things to tell to the North Korean people, that it is not a paradise, it is not a socialist welfare system, it is [the] worst, inhuman system in human history.”
Some of that information has reached North Korea through illicit broadcasts of South Korea media, but Thae argued that such a means is insufficient because it’s not designed to undermine the northern dictatorship. A series of diplomatic efforts and “targeted sanctions” could lead to a regime change analogous to the collapse of the Soviet Empire, he said. That starts with contradicting Kim’s use of “brainwashing” to maintain the allegiance of the North Korean people. “The North Korean system can only be in place by making its leader as a god.”
QATAR F-15 SUPPORT SALE: The State Department has approved a potential $1.1 billion sale to Qatar for equipment to support its F-15QA Eagle fighter jets, which are made by Boeing. In November, the Persian Gulf ally was cleared to buy 72 of the aircraft for $21 billion and the new sale would include ramps, taxiways, hangars, weapons storage areas and other facilities for the fleet.
MISSILE SALE, TOO: Canada has been cleared to buy $140 million worth of Raytheon AIM-120D Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles for its fighter jets, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency has announced. The potential sale includes 32 of the missiles as well as 18 training missiles and associated equipment and is seen as a way to boost Canada’s fighter abilities as a NATO member and North American Aerospace Defense partner.
NIELSEN GETS A HEARING: The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee announced Wednesday it will hold a confirmation hearing for Department of Homeland Security secretary nominee, Kirstjen Nielsen, on Nov. 8. Trump nominated Nielsen three weeks ago to replace White House chief of staff John Kelly, who he had pulled from DHS to oversee the executive office.
KEEP THE JIM: The White House issued a sharp rebuke directed at Russia for vetoing a U.S.-led effort to extend the life of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, which investigates incidents such as the use of chemical weapons. The JIM panel released a report last week that concluded Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime was behind the sarin gas attack in April that killed more than 100 citizens.
“Russia’s attempts to undermine and eliminate the JIM show a callous disregard for the suffering and loss of life caused by the use of chemical weapons and an utter lack of respect for international norms,” a late-Wednesday statement from White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said. Russia, who is a principal supporter of the Assad regime, had been arguing for months that the April chemical weapon attack was staged by terrorists and, ultimately, vetoed the effort to renew the panel.
NEW TIME: The Pentagon is trying to formalize a semi-regular briefing schedule for chief spokesperson Dana White and Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie that doesn’t conflict with White House or State Department briefings. Beginning next week, the pair plans to try to do their regular once-a-week Thursday briefing in the 12 noon hour to better accommodate the deadlines of reporters and the cable networks. The briefing is always subject to last-minute change depending of real-world events.
Miami Herald: Gitmo judge sends Marine general lawyer to 21 days confinement for disobeying orders
Daily Beast: Here’s how ISIS won over the villagers where the Green Berets were ambushed
New York Times: New York attack turns focus to central Asian militancy
Defense News: Minor quality control issue creates new problem for F-35 enterprise
Reuters: U.S. lawmakers reach agreement on new North Korea sanctions
Wall Street Journal: South Korean leader warns against attack on North, ahead of Trump's Asia trip
USA Today: Terror groups ramp up online marketing to find recruits
Stars and Stripes: Psychiatrist: Bergdahl likely suffered from PTSD and other disorders before his capture
Foreign Policy: The Islamic State’s foreign fighters are coming home
Defense One: Four new questions for Trump on Syria
USNI News: Navy stands up naval surface group WESTPAC to train, certify forward-deployed ships
Miami Herald: Gitmo judge sends Marine general lawyer to 21 days confinement for disobeying orders
Washington Post: Osama bin Laden’s video collection included ‘Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?’
THURSDAY | NOV. 2
9 a.m. House Visitor Center 304. Testimony of Carter Page. intelligence.house.gov
9:30 a.m. Dirksen G-50. Hearing on nominations for Mark Esper, to be Army secretary; Robert Wilkie, to be undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness; Joseph Kernan, to be under secretary of defense for intelligence; and Guy Roberts, to be assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs. armed-services.senate.gov
10 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Trump’s vision for Asia: What to expect from the U.S. presidential visit to the Asia-Pacific region with Kurt Campbell, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. wilsoncenter.org
10:30 a.m. 1740 Massachusetts Ave. NW. The new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia: Opportunities and implications. Sais-jhu.edu
1 p.m. Pentagon Briefing Room. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson briefs reporters on the results of the Fleet Comprehensive Review. Live-streamed here.
1 p.m. 1135 16th St. NW. Beyond BRAC: Defining the path forward for our defense infrastructure with Lucian Niemeyer, assistant secretary of defense for installations, environment and energy. defensecommunities.org
FRIDAY | NOV. 3
2:30 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. China's 19th party congress and its implications for China and the United States. wilsoncenter.org
MONDAY | NOV. 6
9 a.m. 1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW. How do you solve a problem like North Korea? cato.org
11 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Allies under the shadow: Thailand, the Philippines, and the state of U.S. alliances in Southeast Asia. csis.org
TUESDAY | NOV. 7
8 a.m. 11790 Sunrise Valley Dr. How Washington Works - Navigating the DOD course. ndia.org
8 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Global Security Forum 2017 with Sen. John McCain; James Clapper, former director of national intelligence; and William Lynn, CEO of Leonardo North America and DRS Technologies. csis.org
10 a.m. Rayburn 2172. Democracy and governance in the Middle East and North Africa. foreignaffairs.house.gov
2 p.m. Rayburn 2172. Joint subcommittee hearing on whether Russia is a counterterrorism partner or is fanning the flames. foreignaffairs.house.gov
WEDNESDAY | NOV. 8
9:30 a.m.214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. The Trump administration and the future of the ROK-U.S. alliance with Sen. Cory Gardner. heritage.org
10 a.m. Dirksen 342. Nomination of Kirstjen M. Nielsen to be secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. hsgac.senate.gov
2:30 p.m. 1789 Massachusetts Ave. NW. A strategy for a brighter future in Libya: Redefining America’s role. aei.org
3 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. The civilian elements of the new U.S. strategy in Afghanistan with Ahmad Nader Nadery, chairman of Afghanistan’s civil service commission. atlanticcouncil.org
4 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. A book talk with Nathalie Nguyen about America's forgotten allies, the soldiers of the Republic of Vietnam. csis.org
THURSDAY | NOV. 9
7 a.m. 901 Massachusetts Ave. NW. The 5th Annual Defense One Summit with Gen. Stephen Wilson, Air Force vice chief of staff; Rep. Elise Stefanik; and former Ambassador Wendy Sherman. defenseone.com
8 a.m. 2401 M St. N.W. Defense Writers Group breakfast with Sen. James Inhofe. centermediasecurity.org
10 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. N.W. Turkey, Europe and the U.S.: New challenges and changing dynamics. brookings.edu
12 p.m. 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. Mounting challenges to U.S. naval power: A book discussion with “Seablindness” author Seth Cropsey and Rep. Mike Gallagher. hudson.org
2 p.m. 1789 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Japanese internationalism in an era of upheaval. aei.org