Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Officials rush to deny writing anonymous op-ed | Lawmakers offer measure on naming NATO headquarters after McCain | US, India sign deal on sharing intel

Happy Thursday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

 

THE TOPLINE: Washington is on the hunt to pin down the author of the anonymous op-ed released Wednesday by The New York Times, but a number of top national security cabinet members have already denied it's them.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Thursday categorically denied that he was the source of the piece that sharply criticized President Trump.

"Speculation that The New York Times op-ed was written by me or my Principal Deputy is patently false. We did not," Coats said in a statement. "From the beginning of our tenure, we have insisted that the entire [intelligence community] remain focused on our mission to provide the President and policymakers with the best intelligence possible."

Nielsen also denies: Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielsen denied Thursday that she was behind the op-ed.

"Secretary Nielsen is focused on leading the men & women of DHS and protecting the homeland -- not writing anonymous & false opinion pieces for the New York Times," Tyler Houlton, press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said in a statement.

"These types of political attacks are beneath the Secretary & the Department's mission," he added.

Also offering denials: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and even Vice President Mike Pence. We've got a list here. What about Defense Secretary Jim Mattis? He was one of the first to deny any connection with the op-ed on Wednesday.

 

The furor over the op-ed is unlikely to ease quickly. As The Hill's Scott Wong and Juliegrace Brufke report, key congressional allies of President Trump are floating the idea that Congress could take steps to try and find out who wrote the anonymous op-ed in The New York Times disparaging the president.

 

LAWMAKERS MOVE TO NAME NATO HEADQUARTERS AFTER MCCAIN: Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress introduced a resolution Thursday to support the effort to name NATO's new headquarters after Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who died late last month after a yearlong battle with brain cancer.

The resolution was led in the Senate by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and in the House by Reps. Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) and Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.).

"John McCain dedicated his life to the defense of freedom," Gallagher said in a statement. "I can think of no more appropriate tribute than naming the headquarters of the free world's foundational alliance in his memory."

The resolution says that each chamber "strongly supports" naming NATO's headquarters after McCain.

The momentum so far: NATO confirmed to news outlets last week that it received a proposal to name its new headquarters after McCain, saying the idea would be "considered carefully."

"He will be remembered both in Europe and North America for his courage and character and as a strong supporter of NATO," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said of McCain after his death.

NATO officially moved into the $1.45 billion building in Brussels in April. Naming the new building requires approval from all 29 member countries.

Three former secretary-generals backed the proposal to name it after McCain in a letter to Britain's Times newspaper last week.

Who has signed on: Senate co-sponsors of the resolution include Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), John Kennedy (R-La.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Christopher Coons (D-Del.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

The House co-sponsors are Reps. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), Austin Scott (R-Ga.), Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

 

DEMS PLAN RESOLUTION TO WITHDRAW US FORCES FROM YEMEN: A group of House Democrats wants to force a vote to withdraw U.S. forces from the civil war in Yemen, the lawmakers announced on Thursday.

They said that they will introduce a so-called privileged resolution this month if the situation in the war-battered country does not improve that would withdraw the U.S. military from helping the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting Yemeni rebels.

 "There has been no specific authorization for the U.S. Armed Forces to engage in hostilities with respect to the conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis in Yemen," the lawmakers said in a joint statement.

"We must take action to end U.S. participation in this catastrophic war in Yemen and work to bring about a peaceful conclusion to this conflict."

Who is behind the resolution: The effort is being led by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who previously led the charge for a House-passed nonbinding resolution that called U.S. military involvement in the war unauthorized.

The statement was co-signed by Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee; Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus; and Democratic Reps. Jim McGovern (Mass.), Jan Schakowsky (Ill.), Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), Michael Capuano (Mass.), Yvette Clarke (N.Y.), Ted Lieu (Calif.), Barbara Lee (Calif.) and Adriano Espaillat (N.Y.).

Background on the war: Yemen's civil war has raged since 2015, when Iran-backed Houthi rebels took over the capital of Sanaa. Saudi Arabia, concerned about Iran's link to rebels near its border, intervened on behalf of the internationally recognized Yemeni government.

The United States does not actively fight in the war, but it supports the coalition with aerial refueling, intelligence sharing and billions of dollars in weapons sales.

U.S. lawmakers' patience with the Saudi coalition has been wearing increasingly thin as the civilian death toll mounts. The United Nations pegs the civilian death toll at 6,660 as of Aug. 23, a number that is largely blamed on coalition air strikes.

 

US, INDIA SIGN DEAL ON INTEL SHARING: The United States and India on Thursday signed an agreement for closer intelligence sharing and military collaboration.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis, who were in New Delhi to meet with their Indian counterparts, signed the "Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement" to allow the sharing of sensitive military intelligence.

Mattis said the agreement will deepen "military-to-military cooperation and our ability to share the most advanced defense technology, making us both stronger," according to a Pentagon readout of the press conference following the meeting.

The United States required India to sign the agreement in order to be allowed to buy advanced U.S. military equipment. 

Mattis said the two sides also agreed to "increase and expand our engagement in the maritime domain" with a new joint exercise on India's coast in 2019, and a hotline between the two countries.

Why the deal was signed: The Obama administration designated India as a major defense partner for the United States, and the Trump administration hopes to build upon that with the new agreement as China looms in the region.

Beijing is in the midst of a massive militarization effort that includes island building in the South China Sea, a more powerful navy, military exercises and establishing outposts across the region.

"We know the threats to stability that exist in the region, and the United States seeks to ensure that both of our peoples can live in peace and in freedom," Pompeo said.

Possible complications: India, one of the biggest U.S. arms buyers, has been at odds with Washington recently over new U.S. sanctions against Iran and Russia, two of its economic and regional partners.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the two sides discussed the U.S. sanctions against Iran, a nation India relies on as an energy supplier.

"They will certainly come up, but I don't think they'll be the primary focus of what it is we're trying to accomplish here," Pompeo said about the sanctions earlier this week.

India also plans to buy the Russian-made S-400 air defense missile system, putting it at odds with U.S. systems. The country plans to buy five S-400s for nearly $6 billion.

  

ICYMI

-- The Hill: US envoy: There's evidence Syrian government preparing chemical weapons in Idlib

-- The Hill: Russia warns US of possible Syria attack in area with US troops: report

-- The Hill: US fighter jets intercept Russian nuclear bombers near Alaska: report

-- The Hill: Dems urge Mattis to reject using $450M for border wall

-- The Hill: US sanctions allies of Syria's Assad amid fears over Idlib attack

-- The Hill: US, allies back British charges of Russian intel officers in nerve agent attack

-- The Hill: South Korea: North wants to denuclearize before end of Trump's first term

-- The Hill: North Korea to cooperate with US in nuclear talks: report

-- Defense News: Pentagon's acquisition and sustainment reorganization should be completed a year ahead of time

-- The Wall Street Journal: Mattis plans to remove Pentagon's chief management officer

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