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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
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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 WarrenBecerra says he wants to 'build on' ObamaCare when pressed on Medicare for All Yellen deputy Adeyemo on track for quick confirmation Menendez reintroduces corporate diversity bill MORE (Mass.), and Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Trump lawyers center defense around attacks on Democrats Hillicon Valley: Democratic senators unveil bill to reform Section 230 | Labor board denies Amazon request to delay local union vote | Robinhood lifts restrictions on GameStop, other stocks MORE (Hawaii), wrote in letter to Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Overnight Defense: New Senate Armed Services chairman talks Pentagon policy nominee, Afghanistan, more | Biden reads report on Khashoggi killing | Austin stresses vaccine safety in new video Passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy MORE (R-Okla.), and ranking member Jack ReedJack ReedOvernight Defense: New Senate Armed Services chairman talks Pentagon policy nominee, Afghanistan, more | Biden reads report on Khashoggi killing | Austin stresses vaccine safety in new video Senate Armed Services chair expects 'some extension' of troops in Afghanistan Top Democrat optimistic Pentagon policy nominee will get 'fair shot' amid GOP opposition 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 TrumpSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Georgia secretary of state withholds support for 'reactionary' GOP voting bills 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 PompeoMike PompeoChina labels human rights criticism 'groundless' Trump to attend private RNC donor retreat On China, is Biden channeling Trump or Trump's administration? They're not the same MORE, who is in India with Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperFemale generals' promotions held back over fears of Trump's response: report Overnight Defense: Army details new hair and grooming standards | DC National Guard chief says Pentagon restricted his authority before riot | Colorado calls on Biden not to move Space Command New Army hair and grooming standards allow for ponytails, buzz cuts and earrings 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'BrienWhite House aides head for exits after chaos at Capitol Top Melania Trump aide Stephanie Grisham resigns Trump national security adviser defends Pence 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

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-- 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