Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — Feds warn Iran after alleged plot to kill John Bolton

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The White House warned Iran on Wednesday after the Justice Department charged a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in connection with a plot to kill former national security adviser John Bolton.   

We’ll look about the plot. Plus, we’ll talk about President Biden signing into law comprehensive legislation expanding benefits for veterans who were exposed to toxins during war.  

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Jordan Williams. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

White House warns Iran for plotting to kill Americans

The White House on Wednesday warned that Iran will face severe consequences for an attack on any U.S. citizen following charges that a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) planned to hire someone to kill former national security adviser John Bolton. 

The arrest: The DOJ said in a release that Shahram Poursafi started planning to kill Bolton in October, likely in retaliation for the United States’ January 2020 drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, the leader of the IRGC’s elite Quds Force. 

The release says that Poursafi attempted to pay people $300,000 to kill Bolton in Washington, D.C., or Maryland. 

‘Not the first time’: “The Justice Department has the solemn duty to defend our citizens from hostile governments who seek to hurt or kill them,” said Matthew Olsen, the assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s national security division. “This is not the first time we have uncovered Iranian plots to exact revenge against individuals on U.S. soil and we will work tirelessly to expose and disrupt every one of these efforts.” 

Sullivan’s warning: “We have said this before and we will say it again: The Biden Administration will not waiver in protecting and defending all Americans against threats of violence and terrorism,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement

  • “Should Iran attack any of our citizens, to include those who continue to serve the United States or those who formerly served, Iran will face severe consequences,” he added. 

Potential jail time: Poursafi could face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 if convicted of using interstate commerce facilities to commission a murder-for-hire scheme. He also faces up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 if convicted of attempting to provide material support for a transnational murder plot.

Read more here.

Biden signs veterans’ toxic exposure bill into law

President Biden on Wednesday signed into law a bill to expand benefits for millions of veterans who were exposed to toxins during war and are suffering illnesses as a result.  

The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act also aims to expand presumptions of service connections for a variety of conditions related to toxic exposure — meaning veterans don’t have to prove their illness was service-connected. 

A journey through Congress: Biden’s signature comes after a monthslong legislative journey that culminated in the bill earning bipartisan support.  

  • The upper chamber initially passed the bill in June by a vote of 84-14, and the House later passed the bill by a vote of 342-88 in July, sending it back to the Senate due to technical changes.
  • But late last month, the upper chamber voted 55-42 to advance the bill, with
    25 Republicans who voted to pass the bill earlier changing their vote. The Senate later passed the measure 86-11 on Aug. 2, with all no votes coming from Republicans who cited concerns about the cost of the bill. 

Most ‘significant law:’ “This is the most significant law our nation has ever passed to help millions of veterans who are exposed to toxic substances during the military services,” Biden said in remarks from the East Room.  

“You know, [VA] Secretary [Denis] McDonough can tell you I was going to get this done come hell or high water,” the president continued. 

About the ceremony: Biden was joined in a ceremony in the East Room by members of Congress, toxic exposed veterans and their families, key advocates, representatives of Veterans Service Organizations and staff from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.  

The president was introduced by Danielle Robinson and Brielle Robinson, the surviving wife and daughter of Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson for whom the PACT Act is named. 

Heath Robinson died of a rare form of lung cancer that was developed as a result of exposure to toxins during his deployment in Iraq and Kosovo. 

The PACT Act: The PACT Act expands Department of Veterans’ Affairs healthcare eligibility to those who served in the post/9-11 era and creates a framework for establishing presumptions of service connections related to toxic exposures.  

  • The bill also expands presumptions for 23 burn pit-related illnesses, and the illnesses would be phased in overtime. But Biden said that he directed the VA to make those conditions applicable upon his signature.  
  • It also expands presumptions related to exposures to Vietnam War-era Agent Orange to veterans who those who served in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Guam. 

Read the full story here.

US downplays China tensions

Following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) high-profile trip showing solidarity with Taiwan, Washington and Taipei are taking drastically different tracks toward China’s retaliatory military drills encircling the island. 

In an unprecedented show of force, China has sent warships and aircraft through the Taiwan Strait and fired missiles into waters surrounding the island it views as its own territory under its One China policy.  

Taiwan has since accused Beijing of not only rehearsing for an invasion of the self-governing island, but of signaling its ambitions to control large swaths of the western Pacific. 

The Biden administration, meanwhile, has largely played it cool when addressing the war games. 

Concerned ‘as much’ as they are: “I’m concerned they are moving as much as they are,” President Biden told reporters on Monday. “But I don’t think they’re going to do anything more than they are.”  

  • The Pentagon’s top policy official Colin Kahl also offered a measured response to reporters on Monday when asked if China was gearing up to militarily seize Taiwan in the next few years.  
  • “Clearly the [People’s Republic of China] is trying to coerce Taiwan, clearly they’re trying to coerce the international community, and all I’ll say is we’re not going to take the bait and it’s not going to work,” Kahl said.  

Unprecedented drills: The Chinese drills, which began Thursday in retaliation for Pelosi’s trip and were extended on Sunday, are Beijing’s largest-ever wargames in the Taiwan Strait and have included a dozen missile exercises that bracketed Taiwan. Beijing also upped the pace of naval and air activities in the waterway, including those that crossed over the median line between mainland China and Taiwan.  

Though crossing the center line was a rare move for Beijing before 2019 – when it sent aircraft over the divider for the first time in 20 years – the country has done so several times since. 

Taiwan’s response: Taiwan has sounded the alarm over the exercises, with its Foreign Minister Joseph Wu warning that China looks to control more of the western Pacific. That dominance would include the East and South China Seas and the Taiwan Strait, as well as a blockade to keep the U.S. and its allies from helping Taipei should Beijing attack, according to The Associated Press.  

Wu also said China’s claim that its wargames were prompted by Pelosi’s trip is simply cover for undertaking long planned military posturing.    

Averting misunderstandings: The Biden administration has remained outwardly cool, with the Pentagon in the past several weeks looking to quell any perceived aggression that may arise from U.S. military movement. 

  • On Thursday the Defense Department for a second time held off on a planned intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test launch to reduce “the risks of miscalculation and misperception,” amid China’s posturing, according to John Kirby, the National Security Council’s strategic communications coordinator.  
  • Defense officials have also stayed silent on if they’ll move any U.S. aircraft or Navy vessels closer to Taiwan should the situation grow more tense for Taipei. 

Read the full story here.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

  • The 25th Annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium will continue at 7:30 a.m. 
  • The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs will host a conference on “Atomic Backfires: How Great Power Nuclear Policies Fail” at 10 a.m. 
  • Politics and Prose Bookstore will host a discussion on “The Fifth Act – with Kori Schake” at 7 p.m.

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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