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CNN successfully raised NatSec Daily’s collective eyebrow with this tidbit buried deep in a Monday evening story: The United States secretly greenlit weapons transfers to Ukraine in the middle of a tense standoff with Russia.
“In late December, the Biden administration quietly authorized an additional $200 million in security assistance to Ukraine,” the story’s five reporters wrote. “The security package authorized the shipment of much of the same defensive equipment the US has provided in the past, including small arms and ammunition, secure radios, medical equipment, spare parts and other equipment.”
Your friendly neighborhood newsletter team and our POLITICO colleagues worked over the last 24 hours to track down more information on this transfer, and here’s what we now know.
The $200 million was approved as part of President JOE BIDEN’s drawdown authority, which empowers him to have the secretary of State ask the secretary of Defense to deliver items from existing Pentagon stock to a country in peril. The president’s team is then required to tell Congress “that an unforeseen emergency required immediate military assistance,” per the Defense Security Cooperation Agency’s website.
Multiple congressional staffers said they first heard of this drawdown authorization during a recent classified briefing. Furthermore, they said, none of the $200 million in weaponry has gone to Ukraine yet, as the drawdown process was just completed.
An adviser to Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, who talked to NatSec Daily, and a person familiar with the package who spoke with our own PAUL MCLEARY, said the United States will send radar systems and some maritime equipment, though it’s unclear when the first deliveries will be made.
The Zelensky adviser added that the Ukrainians were informed of the forthcoming aid last month “at the senior level.”
“Given that U.S. intelligence consistently suggests that Russia may launch a full-blown invasion using all its military might, this aid would allow Ukraine to inflict additional damage on Russia but would not significantly alter the outcome,” the adviser said.
This isn’t the first time Biden has used his drawdown authority: In August, he committed the United States to send $60 million in military aid to Kyiv shortly ahead of a meeting with Zelensky. Part of that tranche, including small arms and ammo, were delivered to Ukraine last month.
“We have been providing defensive assistance to Ukraine, including through deliveries that have taken place in just the last few weeks. We will continue to do so in the weeks and months ahead through a range of mechanisms, including the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative,” a State Department spokesperson told us.
Our own LEE HUDSON, speaking to someone familiar with the plan, said U.S. military services are wary of seeing their equipment shipped off to Eastern Europe. After all, replacing transferred materials takes time, thus leaving them with a temporary weapons gap.
Other countries may also send some of their equipment to help Ukraine. In December, news broke that Estonia was weighing transferring Javelin anti-tank missiles and 122mm howitzers to Kyiv, but was waiting on approval from the U.S. to send the Javelins, as well as Germany and Finland, from which Estonia originally sourced the howitzers.
During a Sunday appearance on ABC News, Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN said: “We have been providing significant defensive assistance to Ukraine, including as recently as the last couple of weeks. Almost half a billion dollars this year alone. That’s continued, that will continue, and if there is further aggression by Russia against Ukraine, we’ll see even more of that. We are making sure, to the best of our ability — and other allies and partners are doing the same — that Ukraine has the means to defend itself.”
WH PROVIDING $300M IN AID TO AFGHANISTAN: National Security Council spokesperson EMILY HORNE announced today that the U.S. would provide an additional $308 million in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, whose people face a brutal winter with few provisions.
“This brings total U.S. humanitarian aid in Afghanistan and for Afghan refugees in the region to nearly $782 million since October 2021, and we remain the single largest donor of humanitarian aid in Afghanistan. In addition, the United States is providing the people of Afghanistan one million additional COVID-19 vaccine doses through COVAX, bringing our total to 4.3 million doses,” Horne said in a White House-released statement. The money from the U.S. Agency for International Development “will directly flow through independent humanitarian organizations and help provide lifesaving protection and shelter, essential health care, winterization assistance, emergency food aid, water, sanitation, and hygiene services.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the United Nations said Afghanistan needed $5 billion in support — the organization’s largest-ever appeal for a single country — to stave off a major humanitarian crisis. The Taliban’s rule, mixed with a severe drought and economic woes, has pushed nearly 75 percent of Afghans into poverty.
Sen. CHRIS MURPHY (D-Conn.) applauded the announcement. “I’m glad the administration is providing additional aid to help alleviate the dire humanitarian situation affecting the Afghan people, and I look forward to continuing to work with President Biden and our allies to ensure U.S. national security interests are protected in the region,” he said in a statement.
RUSSIAN TROOPS TO LEAVE KAZAKHSTAN: President KASSYM-JOMART TOKAYEV announced that forces from the Collective Security Treaty Organization — a Russian-dominated military alliance of six former Soviet countries — will leave Kazakhstan within 10 days, per The Washington Post’s ROBYN DIXON. Tokayev had requested security assistance from the organization last week to quash violent anti-government protests.
“The main mission of the CSTO peacekeeping forces has been successfully completed,” Tokayev told a meeting of Kazakhstan’s lower house of parliament. “In two days, a phased withdrawal of the CSTO united peacekeeping contingent will begin. The process of withdrawing the contingent will take no more than 10 days.”
Tokayev’s remarks come after the United Nations on Monday rebuked Kazakh troops for wearing the blue helmets reserved for U.N. peacekeepers amid the unrest, per the Post’s AMY CHENG. At least 164 people died as a result of the protests, including three children, and authorities detained almost 10,000 people.
A “SURPRISE” IN THE PACIFIC: U.S. Indo-Pacific coordinator KURT CAMPBELL says the region could be in store for a “strategic surprise” — comments that Reuters’ DAVID BRUNNSTROM and KIRSTY NEEDHAM describe as “apparently referring to possible Chinese ambitions to establish Pacific-island bases.”
“If you look and if you ask me, where are the places where we are most likely to see certain
kinds of strategic surprise — basing or certain kinds of agreements or arrangements — it may well be in the Pacific,” Campbell said Monday at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event.
“We have a very short amount of time, working with partners like Australia, like New Zealand, like Japan, like France, who have an interest in the Pacific, to step up our game across the board,” Campbell added, revealing it was the issue he is “most concerned about” for the next couple years.
As Brunnstrom and Needham note, “lawmakers from the Pacific island republic of Kiribati told Reuters last year China has drawn up plans to upgrade an airstrip and bridge” on the small island of Kanton, southwest of Hawaii. The construction “would offer China a foothold deep in territory that had been firmly aligned to the United States and its allies since World War Two.”
NEW DOJ DOMESTIC TERRORISM UNIT: The Department of Justice is standing up a new domestic terrorism unit to thwart the growing threat in the U.S., MATTHEW OLSEN, head of the DOJ’s national security division, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
“This group of dedicated attorneys will focus on the domestic terrorism threat, helping to ensure that these cases are handled properly and effectively coordinated across the Department of Justice and across the country,” Olsen said in an opening statement, as reported by The Washingon Post’s MATT ZAPOTOSKY and DEVLIN BARRETT.
“From 2016 to 2019, the annual number of domestic terrorist suspects arrested fell from 229 to 107, before jumping up to 180 in 2020. In testimony last year to Congress, FBI Director CHRISTOPHER A. WRAY said that he has more than tripled the number of agents and analysts working on domestic terrorism cases, in order to handle the rapidly growing caseload,” the reporters added.
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NORTH KOREA LAUNCHES ANOTHER MISSILE: South Korea’s military reports that North Korea appears to have launched its second ballistic missile in less than a week, after Pyongyang claimed to have test-fired a hypersonic weapon on Wednesday, per Reuters’ JOSH SMITH and HYONHEE SHIN.
Furthermore, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that military officials assess the latest North Korean missile to be “more advanced” than the one fired last week, “though South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities are conducting detailed analysis.”
Both missiles were fired at the same location, from Jagang Province toward the ocean off North Korea’s east coast. According to South Korea’s initial estimates, the more recent missile traveled more than 435 miles to a maximum altitude of about 37 miles — at up to 10 times the speed of sound.
A State Department spokesperson said Tuesday that the United States “condemns the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s] ballistic missile launch.” The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command added that the launch didn’t pose an immediate threat to the United States or its allies, but that it “highlights the destabilising impact of North Korea’s illicit weapons program.”
Our own ORIANA PAWLYK reports that the Federal Aviation Administration briefly halted West Coast flights over the missile scare.
“A U.S. official with knowledge of the situation … told POLITICO Tuesday that government officials from multiple agencies and commands participate in the threat assessment process, including the FAA. The official suggested that the FAA may have acted out of precaution prior to NORAD’s final determination being issued. Ultimately NORAD found that the missile launch was of no threat to the continental U.S,” Pawlyk wrote.
TALIBAN MEET MILITIAS: The Taliban and a group of resistance militias that launched an ill-fated attempt to overthrow Afghanistan’s new rulers held their first-ever meeting hosted in Iran, The Washington Post’s PAMELA CONSTABLE reported.
The Taliban reportedly allowed the groups to return home safely, but a spokesperson for the militias criticized the meeting, saying they had “achieved nothing.”
“We tried to leave a door open,” SIBGATULLAH AHMADI told the BBC Persian service, per Constable. “The Taliban were thinking we would stop our resistance if they offer us ministries, provinces, embassies. Our resistance is not for participation in a tyrannical government. Our resistance is for the people of Afghanistan.”
Still, Constable noted that the Taliban’s willingness to travel abroad to meet with armed opponents a “groundbreaking” move — though to what end remains unclear.
CISA, FBI AND NSA DETAIL RUSSIA HACKING HABITS: A joint bulletin by three U.S. agencies outlines some of the hallmarks of Russia’s state-sponsored cyber operations, which they made public in hopes that organizations can protect themselves against future hacking attempts.
“Historically, Russian state-sponsored advanced persistent threat (APT) actors have used common but effective tactics — including spearphishing, brute force, and exploiting known vulnerabilities against accounts and networks with weak security — to gain initial access to target networks,” wrote the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency, citing some of the main vulnerabilities the Russian-backed hackers target.
“Russian state-sponsored APT actors have also demonstrated sophisticated tradecraft and cyber capabilities by compromising third-party infrastructure, compromising third-party software, or developing and deploying custom malware. The actors have also demonstrated the ability to maintain persistent, undetected, long-term access in compromised environments—including cloud environments—by using legitimate credentials,” they continued.
How to fight them off? The agencies recommend implementing robust log collection and retention, confirming reporting processes and having a cyber incident response plan, among myriad other suggestions.
NAVY FIXING DRINKING WATER AT PEARL HARBOR: Jet fuel contaminated drinking water at Pearl Harbor, has led the Navy to comply with a Hawaii emergency order to make repairs at a damaged storage facility, The Washington Post’s ALEX HORTON reported.
“A November leak of 14,000 gallons of jet fuel at the long-troubled Red Hill underground fuel-storage facility at Pearl Harbor flowed into a Navy-operated well, sickening scores of people and driving 3,500 military families from their homes between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he wrote. “The Hawaii Department of Health issued an emergency order on Dec. 6 after tests showed fuel had contaminated a well at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The order required the Navy to develop a plan that would empty the tanks, identify needed repairs and address deficiencies within the operation, along with the installation of water filtration at the contaminated well.”
“The Red Hill water shaft, the site of the November contamination, is near the huge facility of 20 underground steel fuel tanks encased in concrete, each about 20 stories tall. The tanks were carved into the basalt rock after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, following concerns that aboveground fuel depots would be targets for subsequent strikes,” Horton added.
SPY-6 FOR DESTROYERS: Raytheon and the Navy will start placing SPY-6 V(4) radars on Flight IIA Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, Breaking Defense’s JUSTIN KATZ reported.
“All the capabilities that are going to be on [the newer] Flight III ships — the ability to do integrated air and missile defense, the ability to track multiple incoming targets both ballistic missile as well as air-breathing targets, many more than the current generation radars can handle — all that capability will be in that Flight IIA,” Raytheon’s naval directorate chief SCOTT SPENCE told Katz.
The Navy’s nearly four dozen Flight IIAs currently use the Lockheed Martin-made AN/SPY-1 radar, Katz noted.
ADMIN LOBBYING AGAINST CRUZ NS2 BILL: The Biden administration dispatched two top officials to rally lawmakers in opposition to Sen. TED CRUZ’s Nord Stream 2 bill that would reimpose waived sanctions on the Russia-to-Germany pipeline, our own ANDREW DESIDERIO reported.
VICTORIA NULAND, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, and AMOS HOCHSTEIN, a top energy envoy at the State Department, traveled to Capitol Hill to keep moderate Democrats from joining Republicans in support for the Cruz-led measure.
After the briefing, some Democratic senators were noncommittal about how they’d vote but some echoed the administration’s line that it’s better now to side with allies.
“We’ve got to make sure, if we do sanctions, that the sanctions are focused on the problem and not on collateral folks,” Sen. JON TESTER (D-Mont.) told Desiderio, adding that the Biden administration “has to do a better job of messaging what the flaws are” in Cruz’s proposal.
NEW HASC GOP LEADERS: Our friends at Morning Defense (for Pros!) noted that the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. MIKE ROGERS (R-Ala.) named new ranking members for two of the panel’s subcommittees.
Rep. DOUG LAMBORN (R-Colo.) will be the No. 2 on Strategic Forces and Rep. MIKE WALTZ (R-Fla.) will co-lead Readiness. Should Republicans regain control of the House after the midterms, both of these lawmakers would be in prime position to helm their respective panels.
FORMER TRUMP OFFICIALS BLAST BIDEN’S RUSSIA POLICY: RIC GRENELL and ANDREW PEEK, formerly two top officials in the Trump administration, laid out five reasons why they think Biden’s Russia policy will fail in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
First, “the administration has treated diplomacy with Western Europe as an end in itself,” meaning they care more about consensus-building with the Germanys and Frances of the world instead of action. Second, “American deterrence has collapsed in the wake of the Afghanistan fiasco.” Third, working with Russia in some areas, like arms control, gives the U.S. “less leverage on the issues in which Russia has a comparative advantage and wants to use force, such as Ukraine.”
Fourth, Biden’s team has picked fights with countries like Poland over laws detrimental to democracy instead of shoring up support against Russia. Finally, “America has failed to show strategic patience with Turkey,” a “historic balancer of Russia.”
They conclude: “Mr. Biden’s idealization of EU-style consensus, his administration’s inability to prioritize, and America’s discredited threat of deterrence ensure that Mr. Biden will be making concessions until he leaves office—especially if disaster strikes.”
— GRANT SCHNEIDER is now the director for AUKUS implementation at the National Security Council. He previously was a professional staff member on the House Armed Services Committee.
— SAM BRINTON will be the deputy assistant secretary of Spent Fuel and Waste Disposition in the Energy Department’s Office of Nuclear Energy.
— ZURI LINETSKY has joined the Eurasia Group Foundation as a research fellow. He was most recently the director of monitoring, evaluation, research and learning at DevTech Systems.
— LAUREL MILLER, The New York Times: “Opinion: Afghanistan Is in Meltdown, and the U.S. Is Helping to Speed It Up”
— LEE WOLOSKY, POLITICO Magazine: “Opinion: What I Learned When I Tried to Close Guantanamo”
— CAROLINE SIMON, Roll Call: “Uyghurs Who Fled China Face Lengthy Asylum Backlogs”
— The Business Council for International Understanding, 9 a.m.: “Virtual Roundtable with The Honorable PETER D. HAAS, U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh”
— Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 9:30 a.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Nominations — with SARAH H. CLEVELAND, JAMES C. O’BRIEN, BETH VAN SCHAACK and GEORGE J. TSUNIS”
— House Appropriations Committee, 10 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Impact of Continuing Resolutions on the Department of Defense and Services — with DAVID H. BERGER, CHARLES Q. BROWN, MICHAEL GILDAY, JOSEPH M. MARTIN, MIKE MCCORD and JOHN W. RAYMOND”
— The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, 10:30 a.m.: “How to Fight Antisemitism in the Arab World — with BARI WEISS”
— The Hudson Institute, 12 p.m.: “China’s Coercive Missile Strategy and the U.S. Response — with REBECCAH HEINRICHS, MARK LEWIS, TIMOTHY WALTON and CHRISTOPHER YEAW”
— The Government Executive Media Group, 2 p.m.: “How CISA Can Help Defend Your Data — with TROY SCHNEIDER”
— Senate Intelligence Committee, 2 p.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Nominations — with KENNETH WAINSTEIN”
— The Business Council for International Understanding, 2:30 p.m.: “Virtual Roundtable with Hon. ERIK RAMANATHAN, Ambassador of the United States to Sweden”
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 we wish would use his editorial drawdown authority to ship us snacks.