Pentagon chief Esper concerned about Chinese hacking, espionage

Warns Beijing ‘trying to use emerging technologies to alter the landscape of power’

The U.S. needs to do more to account for Chinese students studying at the nation’s top universities and research institutions to make sure American technology remains within the nation’s borders, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told an audience Friday morning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“We need to be more conscious of who is in our schools and universities and what they’re doing – what they’re doing and what their purpose is,” Mr. Esper said. “For defense programs, we need to know who is working on our initiatives — whether it’s basic or advanced research.”

Mr. Esper cited the Defense Department’s national defense strategy that identifies both China and Russia as America’s leading adversaries in an era of great power competitions, but noted China’s technological threats bear greater scrutiny.

China is “trying to use emerging technologies to alter the landscape of power and reshape the world in their favor — and often at the expense of others,” Mr. Esper said. “The Chinese government is using its diplomatic, military and economic power to advance its aims in ways that are heavy handed, often threatening and usually contrary to international rules and norms.”


VA IG Warns Long Wait Times Could Continue with Mission Act Reforms

Department of Veterans Affairs patients seeking private sector health care saw a nearly two-month delay for medical appointments in 2018 and the problem could worsen under the new Mission Act, the VA Office of Inspector General reported Thursday.

The inspector general’s report based its conclusions on the region of VA hospitals that includes 1.6 million veterans across Florida, south Georgia, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. VA officials in that region referred more than 206,500 requests in 2018 for community care at clinics outside the VA network, with veterans facing a 56-day wait on average before receiving care, according to the report.

The findings highlight the wait times problem could balloon under the VA reforms of the Mission Act, which was approved into law in 2018. The Mission Act, one of the most consequential veteran care efforts in years, aims to expand the scope of private sector care that veterans can receive outside the VA network. The measure was a response to the VA wait-time scandal in 2014, hoping to expedite veteran’s access to treatment. An investigation by the VA inspector general into the scandal found 35 veterans died while waiting for care from VA facilities in Phoenix and found a pattern of officials in the department falsifying records.


US Officials: ‘Highly Likely’ Iran Downed Ukrainian Jetliner

Two U.S. officials said Thursday it was “highly likely” that an Iranian anti-aircraft missile downed a Ukrainian jetliner late Tuesday, killing all 176 people on board.

The crash came just a few hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack against Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops amid a confrontation with Washington over the U.S. drone strike that killed an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general last week. The officials, citing U.S. intelligence, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information. They had no immediate information on intent.

President Donald Trump suggested that he believes Iran was responsible and wouldn’t directly lay the blame on Iran, but dismissed their claims that it was a mechanical issue — and denied any U.S. responsibility.’

“Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side.,” Trump said, noting the plane was flying in a “pretty rough neighborhood.”

“Some people say it was mechanical,” Trump added. “I personally don’t think that’s even a question.”‘


Iran Fully Planned to Kill US Troops In Missile Attacks, Top General Says

The Iranian missile attacks on two bases in Iraq were meant to kill U.S. troops and inflict major damage although they caused no casualties, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said Wednesday.

The ballistic missile launches “were intended to cause structural damage, destroy vehicles and equipment, and to kill personnel. That’s my own personnel assessment,” Milley said of the Tuesday night attacks which hit Al Asad airbase in Anbar province and Erbil in the Kurdish autonomous region.

At an off-camera Pentagon briefing, both Milley and Defense Secretary Mark Esper gave a description of the attacks, appearing to rebut speculation that the Iranians may have intentionally missed targets to avoid an overwhelming retaliatory strike.

“My assessment is that they were intentional, given what was hit, the aim points,” Esper said. The avoidance of casualties was “more due to the defensive techniques our forces used” than the intent of the Iranians, Milley said.


Army warns of fake military draft texts circulating this week

The United States Army is warning the public of fake texts alerting individuals that they were selected for a military draft.

The U.S. Army Recruiting Command said these texts have been circulating throughout the week amid fears of war with Iran after a U.S. airstrike killed the country’s top general Qasem Soleimani.

“You’ll be fined and sent to jail for minimum of 6 years if no reply,” a screenshot of a fraudulent text message reads.

The Army also said if the United States were to authorize a draft, administration would be handled by the Selective Service System, not the Army’s recruiting branch.


Statement by the Department of Defense


At the direction of the President, the U.S. military has taken decisive defensive action to protect U.S. personnel abroad by killing Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a U.S.-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization.

General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region. General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more. He had orchestrated attacks on coalition bases in Iraq over the last several months – including the attack on December 27th – culminating in the death and wounding of additional American and Iraqi personnel. General Soleimani also approved the attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that took place this week.

This strike was aimed at deterring future Iranian attack plans. The United States will continue to take all necessary action to protect our people and our interests wherever they are around the world.

Iran-Backed Iraqi Militia, Mob Breach US Embassy Compound

31 Dec 2019The Associated Press | By Qassim Abdul-zahra

BAGHDAD — Dozens of Iraqi Shiite militiamen and their supporters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday, smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area, prompting tear gas and sounds of gunfire, angered over deadly U.S. airstrikes targeting the Iran-backed militia.

An Associated Press reporter at the scene saw flames rising from inside the compound and at least three U.S. soldiers on the roof of the main embassy building. There was a fire at the reception area near the parking lot of the compound but it was unclear what had caused it. A man on a loudspeaker urged the mob not to enter the compound, saying: “The message was delivered.”


Wartime Suicide Rates Rise Among US Army Soldiers

United States army suicide rates have historically decreased during wartime. But a new study of U.S. records suggests that trend appears to have changed direction, with rates rising in recent years.

Researchers examined nearly 200 years of U.S. army records and other information. They found that, in earlier times, there was a decrease in suicide rates among army soldiers during and just after wars. However, the researchers report that the rate has risen considerably since 2004.

Their report appeared in JAMA Network Open, a publication of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers cannot explain the change – or the decrease in earlier periods during wartime. But they believe documenting the trends might lead to a better understanding of the underlying causes of military suicides.


Hand Gestures at Army-Navy Game Not Racist, Academy Investigations Find

20 Dec 2019 | By Hope Hodge Seck
Rapidly completed investigations by the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point have concluded that controversial on-camera gestures made by several cadets and midshipmen were not “white power” symbols.

In a Friday statement, the Naval Academy said it had completed its probe into hand gestures by two midshipmen during the Dec. 14 Army-Navy game.

“The investigation — which included review of video footage, more than two dozen interviews, and background checks by Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation — determined that two Fourth Class Midshipmen (freshmen) were participating in a sophomoric game, commonly known as ‘the circle game,’ with West Point Cadets during the live broadcast,” the academy said in a statement. “The investigation found no evidence of racist intent.”

Academy officials added that, while not racist in intent, the on-camera gestures demonstrated “immature behavior” that would be “appropriately addressed.”


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6 Saudi nationals detained for questioning after NAS Pensacola shooting: official

Six Saudi nationals were detained for questioning Friday near a naval air station in Pensacola, Fla., after a Saudi gunman opened fire there, killing three people before being shot dead by officers, a senior U.S. official told Fox News.

The FBI, which is leading the investigation into the shooting — which took place Friday morning at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola in Florida — declined to reveal the identity of the shooter in the early stages of the investigation, but a U.S. official told Fox News the gunman was an aviation student from Saudi Arabia named Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani.

Alshamrani was said to be a student in a U.S. Navy training program for foreign military personnel.

That program is aimed at “immersing international students in our U.S. Navy training and culture” to help “build partnership capacity for both the present and for the years ahead,” Cmdr. Bill Gibson, the center’s officer in charge, said in 2017. “These relationships are truly a win-win for everyone involved.”


Gunman In Naval Air Station Pensacola Attack Was A Saudi Aviation Student

The gunman who killed three people at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Friday morning was a Saudi aviation student, officials say. The gunman was killed by a sheriff’s deputy after the shooting, which left eight people injured.

“There’s obviously going to be a lot of questions about this individual being a foreign national, being a part of the Saudi air force, and then to be here training on our soil – to do this,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a news conference Friday afternoon. He added that the FBI is working with a number of other agencies to investigate.

In a news briefing late Friday evening, federal investigators declined to confirm the shooter’s name, saying they have not completed necessary notifications. Nor would they say what may have motivated the shooter. U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida Larry Keefe said more information would be shared on Saturday.

The Pensacola air station is a training ground for students from various branches of the U.S. military, along with personnel from U.S. allies abroad.