SPONSORED:

Overnight Defense: Dems want hearing on DOD role on coronavirus vaccine | US and India sign data-sharing pact | American citizen kidnapped in Niger

Overnight Defense: Dems want hearing on DOD role on coronavirus vaccine | US and India sign data-sharing pact | American citizen kidnapped in Niger
© Getty Images

Happy Tuesday 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: Two Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Democrats want panel leaders to hold a hearing on the Department of Defense's (DOD) efforts to help develop a coronavirus vaccine, citing concerns the Trump administration is skirting public disclosure rules.

The committee “has yet to hold a public hearing dedicated exclusively to [Defense Department] efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCan Biden find a third way between Trumpism and Obama-era globalism? Left seeks to influence Biden picks while signaling unity Schwarzenegger says he would 'absolutely' help Biden administration MORE (Mass.), and Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoHillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff YouTube temporarily suspends OANN account after spreading coronavirus misinformation MORE (Hawaii), wrote in letter to Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeHillicon Valley: Government used Patriot Act to gather website visitor logs in 2019 | Defense bill leaves out Section 230 repeal, includes White House cyber czar position | Officials warn hackers are targeting vaccine supply chain Lawmakers release compromise defense bill without Section 230 repeal Compromise defense bill offers rebuke of Trump's Germany drawdown MORE (R-Okla.), and ranking member Jack ReedJack ReedLawmakers release compromise defense bill without Section 230 repeal Top Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper | Worries grow about rudderless post-election Pentagon | Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up | Pelosi says Esper firing shows Trump intent on sowing 'chaos' MORE (D-R.I.). “Given the outsized role DOD appears to be playing in vaccine development and distribution, we request the SASC immediately hold a hearing on this matter.” 

The letter was sent Friday and released on Tuesday.

The Pentagon’s role: DOD has a significant role in Operation Warp Speed (OWS), the White House’s far-reaching goal to create and distribute 300 million safe and effective doses of the vaccine — one for roughly every American — with a goal of the first doses coming by late December or January.

Congress has so far authorized $10 billion to the public-private effort, which also includes the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institutes of Health as well as private health and drug companies.

DOD is involved in creating and testing the vaccine, and President TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE has repeatedly indicated that the military would distribute doses across the country.

At the presidential debate last Thursday, Trump said generals are “lined up” and “ready to go as soon as we have the vaccine, and we expect to have 100 million vials.”

The concerns: But Warren and Hirono are concerned that OWS’s distribution of $6 billion in awards “bypasses regulatory requirements and limits transparency, raising numerous questions and ethical concerns,” the two wrote.

The Pentagon awards OWS-related contracts through a defense contract management firm, Advanced Technologies International Inc., which allows the department to bypass public-disclosure rules, NPR reported.

The two Senators write that it’s important that lawmakers hear testimony from DOD officials to gain more transparency into how the Pentagon is using congressionally appropriated funds for OWS, particularly its processes for how it distributes those funds through contracts.

What’s more, recent reports have revealed that 60 of the 90 leaders of the operation are with the military, a possible “overrepresentation” of the Pentagon that “may come at the expense of public health officials,” according to the letter.

“Public health agencies such as FDA and CDC are surprisingly underrepresented with just a few members of each organization present in OWS’s reported organizational structure,” they write. 

 

US, INDIA SIGN DATA-SHARING PACT TO COUNTER CHINESE THREATS: The United States and India signed an agreement on Tuesday to share sensitive satellite and map data, bolstering ties between the two countries amid rising tensions with China.

“I’m glad to say that the United States and India are taking steps to strengthen our cooperation against all manner of threats,” said Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPompeo imposes visa restrictions on Chinese officials over 'intimidation' tactics Israel's new Gulf relations give Biden's team a new Middle East hub Pompeo knocks Turkey in NATO speech: report MORE, who is in India with Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Overnight Defense: Trump orders troop withdrawal from Somalia | 13th US service member dies from COVID-19 | Trump loyalists added to DOD advisory board MORE for talks with their Indian counterparts.

“Our leaders, and our citizens, see with increasing clarity that the [Chinese Communist Party] is no friend to democracy, the rule of law, transparency, nor to freedom of navigation, the foundation of a free and open and prosperous Indo-Pacific,” he added.

Why US officials are there: Pompeo and Esper are in New Delhi for annual security talks meant to counter Chinese influence in the region and to sign the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement.

The agreement will give India access to a range of topographical, nautical and aeronautical intelligence that is necessary for targeting missiles and armed drones.

It will also allow for the sharing of sensitive information and communications, a move that proponents argue will lead to better use of billions of dollars in weapons that U.S. companies have sold to India in the past decade.

Esper added that Washington plans to sell more fighter aircraft and drones to India.

Issues with China: Beijing criticized the move, with Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin saying on Tuesday that Pompeo should “abandon his Cold War mentality, zero-sum mindset, and stop harping on the ‘China threat.’”

The meeting in New Delhi comes as India and China are engaged in a military standoff over the disputed Himalayan border. A clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers in June led to at least 20 casualties in the contested region, the first deadly incident between New Delhi and Beijing at the border in decades.

U.S.-China relations have also deteriorated in recent months, due in large part to the coronavirus pandemic and Beijing's aggression in the South China Sea.

 

US CITIZEN KIDNAPPED IN NIGER: A U.S. citizen was kidnapped in Niger early Tuesday, and American officials are working with local authorities on the search, a State Department spokesperson confirmed with The Hill. 

The spokesperson said the State Department is aware that an American citizen had been kidnapped and the agency is providing the unnamed individual's family “all possible consular assistance.” 

The spokesperson declined to provide additional information on the incident due to privacy reasons. 

What we know so far: A senior Niger government official not authorized to speak publicly told The Washington Post Tuesday that the kidnapping, which was first reported by Reuters, occurred in Birnin Konni, a remote town close to the West African country’s border with Nigeria.

Al Qaeda-linked militants and the Islamic State's Boko Haram are known to operate and attack in the area. 

Niger and other countries in the Sahel, a region of arid land south of the Sahara Desert, have experienced a surge in violence in recent years, which has escalated considerably since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Africa Center for Strategic Studies reported in July that the Sahel region has seen a nearly sevenfold increase in terrorist attacks in the past three years. 

US military activity in the region: U.S. forces are in West Africa to train and assist security forces in an effort to quell extremist Islamic groups and those who pledge loyalty to the Islamic State and al Qaeda.

In February, the Pentagon announced it would be reducing the troop force it sends of the Army's 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade to Africa, “reducing the demand for brigade combat teams to conduct security force assistance operations there,” Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said at the time. 

But lawmakers have pushed back on the idea of a U.S. presence reduction in Africa over concerns that terrorist and extremist groups would grow in the region.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Middle East Institute will host a webinar on U.S.-Mideast issues, with former Assistant Defense Secretary for International Security Derek Chollet, at 10 a.m.

National security adviser Robert O'BrienRobert O'BrienO'Brien announces delivery of missiles, bombs to Philippines Huawei threat 'No. 1 concern' moving forward, Trump national security adviser says China, 14 other Asian nations sign regional trade deal MORE will speak at a Hudson Institute webinar on “America's National Security Challenges, Today and Tomorrow,” at 10:30 a.m.

The Association of the U.S. Army will hold a webinar featuring Maj. Gen. Kevin Vereen, commanding general of U.S. Army Recruiting Command, at 12 p.m.

Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett and Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond will speak at the Space Foundation's Space Symposium at 1 p.m.

The Atlantic Council will hold a webinar on “Transatlantic Cooperation in the Era of Artificial Intelligence,” featuring Deputy NATO Secretary General Mircea Geoana and former Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work; vice chair of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, at 1 p.m.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a webcast on ”Air Force Pilot Retention: New Recommendations for an Enduring Crisis,” with Lt. Col. Jeffrey Schneider, program manager of the Defense Innovation Unit, at 3 p.m.

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Trump administration approves $2.37B arms sale to Taiwan
 
-- The Hill: Pompeo calls on Armenia, Azerbaijan to respect cease-fire
 
-- The Hill: Chechen leader: Macron's stance on Muhammad cartoons 'forcing people into terrorism'
 
-- The Hill: Election officials say they're getting suspicious emails that may be part of malicious attack on voting: report
 
-- The Hill: Opinion: Pittsburgh synagogue shooting was one of many warnings — but are we listening now?
 
-- The Hill: Opinion: The public won't put up with Democrats' foreign policy interventionism
 
-- Military Times: Medal of Honor for Iraq War hero Cashe delayed again
 
-- The Washington Post: VMI cadets attack Black students, women on anonymous chat app as furor over racism grows
 
-- The Associated Press: Paris train attack hero makes bid for Congress from Oregon