Roll Call: The News Source of Capitol Hill Since 1955
August 4, 2015

Obama Resolves to Strike Back Against Chinese Hackers

The New York Times reports that the Obama administration “has determined that it must retaliate against China for the theft of the personal information of more than 20 million Americans from the databases of the Office of Personnel Management.”

“But in a series of classified meetings, officials have struggled to choose among options that range from largely symbolic responses — for example, diplomatic protests or the ouster of known Chinese agents in the United States — to more significant actions that some officials fear could lead to an escalation of the hacking conflict between the two countries.”

“That does not mean a response will happen anytime soon — or be obvious when it does. The White House could determine that the downsides of any meaningful, yet proportionate, retaliation outweigh the benefits, or will lead to retaliation on American firms or individuals doing work in China. President Obama, clearly seeking leverage, has asked his staff to come up with a more creative set of responses.”

“One of the most innovative actions discussed inside the intelligence agencies…involves finding a way to breach the so­called great firewall, the complex network of censorship and control that the Chinese government keeps in place to suppress dissent inside the country. The idea would be to demonstrate to the Chinese leadership that the one thing they value most — keeping absolute control over the country’s political dialogue — could be at risk if they do not moderate attacks on the United States.”

U.S.-Trained Syrian Rebels Will Receive American Air Support

“President Barack Obama has authorized the use of air power to defend U.S.-trained Syrian rebels if they come under attack from terrorist groups or the Assad regime,” writes Bloomberg, “deepening the U.S. role against Islamic State forces in Syria.”

“While airstrikes remain limited to Islamic State targets for offensive operations, they can now be used to defend U.S. allies on the ground in Syria… The official discounted the risk of a U.S. confrontation with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, should he choose to attack any American-trained forces on the ground. The U.S.-trained rebels, who number about 60, have pledged to fight only Islamic State, not the Assad government, and Assad must focus on other threats to his regime.”

“Obama, who has ruled out sending U.S. ground troops into combat in Syria or Iraq, is counting on defeating Islamic State fighters through local forces on the ground, bolstered by U.S. and allied airstrikes. The U.S. and allies have conducted more than 5,000 airstrikes over the past year in Iraq and Syria against Islamic State.”

Pentagon Prepares for Regional Effects of Climate Change

The Washington Post looks at a new Department of Defense report showing that “the locations in the world most prone to instability and bloodshed also are the ones where climate change has the greatest impact.”

“In one specific example, U.S. European Command is preparing for more tourism and commerce in the Northern Sea Route, which runs through the Arctic along Russia’s northern coast, the report said. The document specifically mentions a planned trip next year by the cruise ship Crystal Serenity through the notorious Northwest Passage, which runs from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans and has previously trapped ships in ice. Northern Command, which includes Canada and the United States, has similar concerns about increased traffic in the area, and the risks that will ensue.”

“In the Middle East, U.S. Central Command has factored water scarcity into its campaign plans for the future. It also considers climate change when planning for humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and training alongside local militaries based in the region… In Africa, standing plans for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief will be expanded to encourage countries on the continent to prepare better for climate change.”

“In the Pacific, the U.S. military is developing a visual display tool that will overlay historical data on disasters with information on climates, populations, geography and resource scarcity to help with planning. It also is concerned about the resilience of Hawaii and its installations there, and is looking for ways to improve it.”

The Australian Growler: Ready to Fly, Ready to Jam


Royal Australian Air Force gaining airborne electronic attack capability with first EA-18G Growler (Boeing photo)

Boeing and the U.S. Navy extended advanced airborne electronic attack (AEA) capability to a key U.S. ally, presenting the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) with its first EA-18G Growler.

Australia joins the U.S.  as the only two nations to have airborne electronic attack capability. The Growler’s radar-jamming devices deceive and frustrate enemy forces and allow strike jets to carry out their missions undetected.

“The Growlers really complement our combat capability, our legacy fighters, our Super Hornets and the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF); they’ll be a lot more  lethal when you have a Growler up there to support,” said Wing Cmdr. Cameron Cornell, deputy project manager, Australian Growler program. Members of the Royal Australian Air Force will train with the U.S. Navy to learn the intricacies of controlling the electromagnetic spectrum.

The Royal Australian Growler recently demonstrated its agile flight capabilities during its first flight in St. Louis, Mo., where the Growler and Super Hornet assembly lines are located. Check out the video below to see the Australian Growler’s air prowess in action and learn more about Australia’s desire to master the art of electronic deception.

When Has the War in Afghanistan “Ended”?

“A federal judge on Thursday rejected a legal challenge from a Guantanamo Bay detainee who said his imprisonment was unlawful now that President Barack Obama has declared an end to hostilities in Afghanistan,” ABC News reports.

“Muktar Yahya Najee al-Warafi, a Yemeni who was captured in Afghanistan, has been held since 2002 at the detention facility in Cuba for terror detainees. Judges have upheld his detention on grounds that he likely aided Taliban forces, though his lawyers have contended that he was simply a medic. His latest challenge centered on Obama administration statements made in the last year indicating that the war in Afghanistan had come to an end, including a January 2015 declaration that ‘our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.”

“His lawyers said that those assertions made al-Warafi’s detention unlawful under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force of 2001, which provided the legal justification for the imprisonment of foreign fighters captured on overseas battlefields.”

Jennifer Daskal takes issue with the ruling: ” Judge Lamberth says that detention is authorized under the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force so long as ‘fighting continue[s].’ And there is clearly at least some ongoing fighting between the U.S. and Taliban. But armed conflict requires a lot more than just mere fighting; the fighting need be of sufficient intensity and intensity to qualify.   Presumably Judge Lamberth believes that detention under the AUMF is authorized under something less? But based on what, and why? The opinion does not explain.”

Dunford Confirmed As Next Joint Chiefs Chair

Army Times reports that “The Senate confirmed Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Wednesday, after a brief dispute between Pentagon leaders and the chamber’s leading critic of military sexual assault policy.”

“The spat between Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and military officials had nothing to do with Dunford’s credentials but rather centered on data of sexual assaults at large military bases, information Gillibrand has been seeking for years. She stalled the confirmation process for about two days until Defense Secretary Ash Carter offered her assurances Wednesday morning that the information would be made available soon.”

“Dunford, who has served as commandant of the Marine Corps for the past year, was confirmed for his new post without opposition just a few hours later.”

Why Iraq Won’t Accept Thousands of MRAPs

“The Iraqi government has accepted only a fraction of fighting vehicles the U.S. has offered to provide it, indicating leaders in Baghdad desperately holding their country together amid the Islamic State group onslaught may be trying to appease multiple masters,” writes Paul Shinkman.

“Amid the rise of the Islamic State group late last year, U.S. News reported the U.S. military was hoarding more than 3,000 fighting vehicles in nearby Kuwait, mostly the mine-resistant, ambush-protected combat trucks known as MRAPs that played a key role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan… More than six months later, only 300 MRAPs have actually gone to the Iraqi government, U.S. News has subsequently learned, defying logic among observers who question why the besieged nation would not accept a deal that bolsters its defenses and improves greatly on its outdated fleet of vehicles.”

“Yet adding a new kind of vehicle to military inventories requires familiarizing soldiers with the equipment itself, training mechanics or hiring contractors to maintain them, and paying for spare parts to keep the vehicles operational. This reality means a government may be better off focusing on the equipment it already has and knows how to use instead of embracing newer – and in this case, better – technology.”

Echo Seeker Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Explores Deeper, Stays Longer

Unmanned underwater vehicles are exploring deeper below the ocean surface than ever before. The unmanned underwater vehicle Echo Ranger began operations in 2001 and continues today as an operational test bed and contracted work system for ocean surveys. Following three years of designing, building and testing the vehicle, Boeing’s Advanced Technology Program team in Huntington Beach, Calif., just unveiled Echo Ranger’s bigger brother – the Echo Seeker.

Echo Seeker enables ocean access capabilities beyond those of Echo Rangeroffering potential customers a larger UUV with increased depth, endurance and payload capabilities. Echo Seeker’s ability to dive to depths deeper than other submersibles makes it unique, but one of the most significant team accomplishments is the systems’ autonomy.

Operating at 20,000 feet, the vehicle must be able to determine how and when to quit – either when energy is nearly depleted or if a problem occurs – and return safely to the surface; that is an approximately four-mile journey with no human interaction.

Having completed initial testing and verified full vehicle functionality, the next steps for Echo Seeker include payload evaluation and other potential survey studies/projects similar to the one Echo Ranger completed earlier this year with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. Echo Ranger was used to survey the former USS Independence, a World War II aircraft carrier that was scuttled 30 miles off the coast of Half Moon Bay, Calif.

Learn more about Boeing’s Echo Seeker here.

New Legal, Strategic Questions As US-Trained Syrians Enter Combat

Defense One: “In early July, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he didn’t know whether the U.S. military could defend the Syrian opposition fighters it is training and equipping as its proxy ground force. Now, as the month draws to a close, the White House is preparing to fly strike missions from Turkish air bases against ISIS, and is backing a ‘safe zone’ to clear ISIS away from Turkey’s border with Syria. All of this raises the distinct possibility of clashes with Syrian government forces — yet Pentagon leaders don’t yet know whether they have the legal authority to order U.S. troops to fight.”

“The senators who questioned Carter in early July on potential U.S. military engagement with Assad in defense of these fighters said they haven’t yet received a response… Kaine and others such as Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, argue that the U.S. shouldn’t be sending forces they have trained into war without a guarantee they’ll be protected. Critics also say that the authorizations for the use of military force that the Obama administration has said provide legal authority for the nearly-year-old ISIS fight without additional approval from Congress, originally intended to go after al Qaeda and invade Iraq, clearly do not apply to the Syrian government.”

Marine F-35’s Reliability Problems Persist

“The Marine Corps’ version of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 fighter demonstrated poor reliability in a 12-day exercise at sea, according to the U.S. military’s top testing officer,” writes Bloomberg Business.

“Six F-35Bs, the most complex version of the Pentagon’s costliest weapons system, were available for flights only half of the time needed, Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of operational testing, said in a memo obtained by Bloomberg News. A Marine Corps spokesman said the readiness rate was more than 65 percent.”

“That assessment raises new concerns as General Joseph Dunford, the Marine Corps commandant, is poised to decide as soon as this week whether to declare the plane ready for limited combat operations. The Marine version must make short takeoffs from ships and vertical landings like a helicopter… The declaration of ‘initial operational capability’ is five years behind the original projected date of April 2010 that was set in 2001, when the F-35 program began. Earlier delays resulted from difficulties in reducing the plane’s weight, with its propulsion system and with reliability.”

White House Outlines Plan to Close Guantanamo

The Hill reports that the “White House’s chief counterterrorism official outlined the administration’s plan for closing the Guantánamo Bay detention facility and said the president hopes to do so before leaving office in 2017.”

Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, “said the plan was to transport the 52 detainees deemed eligible for transfer to countries with appropriate security arrangements.  According to Monaco, those who are deemed ‘too dangerous to release’ would be subject to periodic review boards for transfer eligibility. In 10 instances, 13 review boards have already resulted in individuals being moved to the so-called ‘transfer bucket.'”

“Under the law of war, Monaco said, those remaining after review would be transferred to U.S. military prisons or supermax security prisons, and be subjected either to prosecution in military commissions or Article III courts. Monaco did not specifically discuss plans for the 10 detainees who are being tried by military commissions at Guantánamo.”

GPS Leaps Forward with Latest Satellite Launch

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V blasts off from Cape Canaveral with the GPS IIF-10 mission for the U.S. Air Force. (United Launch Alliance photo)

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V blasts off from Cape Canaveral with the GPS IIF-10 mission for the U.S. Air Force. (United Launch Alliance photo)

When the 10th GPS IIF satellite, which was launched on July 15, completes on-orbit checkout tests, the U.S. Air Force will further advance a modernization program for the Global Positioning System. This will improve accuracy and enhance security for the navigation system used daily by millions of people around the world. The 10th GPS IIF satellite joins a constellation of satellites that circle the earth to provide the position, navigation and timing information that is the heart of GPS.

The Boeing-built GPS IIFs are the newest generation of GPS satellites, delivering a longer design life, greater accuracy, increased signal power for civil applications, a more robust military M-code signal and variable power for better jamming resistance. The IIFs also are outfitted with the new civilian L-5 signal which, when fully operational, will be used for emergency applications.

The GPS IIF-10 satellite is loaded on a C-17 Globemaster III for transport to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The GPS IIF-10 satellite is loaded on a C-17 Globemaster III for transport to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

GPS IIF-10 lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V expendable launch vehicle at 11:36 a.m. EDT. About three hours and 23 minutes later, the spacecraft was released into its medium-Earth orbit of about 12,000 miles.

Boeing will support the Air Force in performing on-orbit checkout of GPS IIF-10 before it is formally declared operational in about a month. The next GPS satellite, GPS IIF-11, was shipped to Cape Canaveral on June 8 in preparation for the third and final IIF launch of 2015 later this fall.


NSA To Halt Searches of Domestic Calls Database, Purge Records

“Analysts at the National Security Agency will no longer be permitted to search a database holding five years of Americans’ domestic calling records after Nov. 29,” The New York Times reports.

“Legislation enacted in June barred the N.S.A. from collecting Americans’ calling records after 180 days, but did not say what would happen to the data already gathered. Under a new system laid out by the USA Freedom Act, the government will not hold the bulk data, which is used to analyze links between callers in search of terrorism suspects.”

“On Monday, the intelligence office said in a statement that N.S.A. analysts would lose access to the old database after Nov. 29, but that N.S.A. technicians would still be able to view the historical records for an additional three months. That will allow them to compare the data to the calling records produced under the new system.”

“The N.S.A. said that it planned to then purge the records, but that it must wait for a resolution to lawsuits challenging the program. A court has ordered the N.S.A. to preserve records relevant to the litigation.”

Sanctions Are No Silver Bullet

Peter Feaver and Eric Lorber: “Since 2005, U.S. policymakers have increasingly turned to sophisticated types of economic sanctions as a foreign policy tool of first resort. From the development of banking sanctions limiting Iran’s ability to secure financing from Western capital markets to new sanctions targeting Russia’s financial system and the development of its oil resources, U.S. policymakers have touted these innovative tools as extremely powerful while also being tailored and precise.”

“But while these sophisticated sanctions have imposed substantial economic costs on Iran and Russia and do collectively constitute a more capable tool for coercive diplomacy, the developing narrative—likely to be bolstered by what the Obama administration sees as successful coercive diplomacy against Iran—that increasingly sophisticated sanctions provide policymakers with a no-cost silver bullet for addressing intractable national security issues is wrong.”

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