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Overnight Defense: Trump campaign's use of military helicopter raises ethics concerns | Air Force jets intercept aircraft over Trump rally | Senators introduce bill to expand visa screenings

Overnight Defense: Trump campaign's use of military helicopter raises ethics concerns | Air Force jets intercept aircraft over Trump rally | Senators introduce bill to expand visa screenings
© Greg Nash

Happy Wednesday 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: 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’s reelection campaign used a Marine Corps helicopter to hover over a large crowd of cheering supporters, raising questions about the ethics of using the military aircraft for such purposes. 

Trump early on Wednesday tweeted a video of the helicopter, which was emblazoned with the Marine Corps’ Helicopter Squadron One green and white paint design.

The unit, based out of Quantico, Va., transports the president and various other senior officials regularly. 

What the video shows: The video showed the helicopter hovering low over the campaign event attendees, who stood closely together and cheered and waved as the Creedence Clearwater Revival song “Fortunate Son” played. It was not clear from the video if the helicopter was landing or hovered for a period of time before moving on. 

A separate split screen playing below that video showed Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Federal student loan payment suspension extended another month Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week MORE at a smaller campaign event where attendees stood alone in separate, marked circles on the ground to enable social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Why it’s an issue: The video raises questions about the ethics of the Pentagon’s role in the event.

Department of Defense (DOD) policy prohibits military members from participating in campaign activities such as volunteering for a candidate, attending a rally or appearing in materials while in uniform, though they are allowed to do so off duty.

The Marine Corps did not immediately return a request for comment, nor did the Trump campaign. 

An earlier controversy: The Trump campaign earlier this month drew similar scrutiny when it used the Pentagon’s senior civilian and uniformed officials in a new online advertisement, in violation of the standing Pentagon policy.

The controversial ad — which used a photo from the situation room during the killing of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last year — showed Trump 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 and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyOvernight Defense: Defense bill moving forward despite Trump veto threat over tech fight | Government funding bill hits snag | Top general talks Afghanistan, Pentagon budget Top US general: Pentagon needs 'reality check' for 2021 military spending Joint Chiefs chair: US has 'achieved a modicum of success' in Afghanistan MORE at his side as well as Vice President Pence. 

Pentagon tries to stay out of it: Esper, Milley and other senior military leaders numerous times this year have sought to keep the Pentagon out of the Nov. 3 election, though they have not frequently been successful.

Esper at the start of the year reiterated that service members must “uphold DoD's longstanding tradition of remaining apolitical as we carry out our official responsibilities,” according to a February memo.

AIR FORCE JETS INTERCEPT UNRESPONSIVE AIRCRAFT OVER ARIZONA TRUMP RALLY: Air Force F-16 fighter jets had to intercept an unresponsive aircraft flying over a Trump campaign rally in Bullhead City, Ariz., on Wednesday afternoon, the Pentagon confirmed.

The incident, which was caught on video as President Trump spoke to supporters, at first appeared to be a military flyover as an F-16 fired flares to ward off the other aircraft.

“Oh, look at that. Look, look, look,” Trump said, pointing at the white stream left by the flares. “Look at that. They gave the president a little display.”

What really was happening: But the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) later said in a statement that it directed the F-16 fighters to intercept the unidentified plane after it entered restricted airspace surrounding the rally and could not be contacted.

“The violating aircraft was non-responsive to initial intercept procedures, but established radio communications after NORAD aircraft deployed signal flares,” it said.

The violating aircraft was then “escorted out of the restricted area by the NORAD aircraft without further incident.”

More details, or lack thereof: No other details were given as to what type of aircraft violated the airspace or why they were flying in the area.

At the time of the incident, which took place approximately 25 minutes into the rally, Trump mistakenly told the crowd the aircraft were “four days old” F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters.

SENATORS INTRODUCE BIPARTISAN BILL TO EXPAND SCREENING OF FOREIGN VISITORS: Two senators introduced bipartisan legislation this week that would expand the Department of Homeland Security’s visa screening process, with the goal of rooting out potential terrorists among foreign visitors.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonWatch live: Senate panel holds Russia investigation hearing Republican frustration builds over Cabinet picks Grassley returns to Capitol after having coronavirus MORE (R-Wis.) and panel member Sen. Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanCut tariffs and open US economy to fight COVID-19 pandemic Senate passes bill to secure internet-connected devices against cyber vulnerabilities Overnight Defense: Trump campaign's use of military helicopter raises ethics concerns | Air Force jets intercept aircraft over Trump rally | Senators introduce bill to expand visa screenings MORE (D-N.H.) proposed the Visa Security Expansion Act, which would direct the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to expand its reach at U.S. embassies and consulates for a minimum of 10 years.

“With the fall of ISIS’s caliphate, I am deeply concerned about the threat that ISIS foreign fighters, armed with western passports, could pose to our homeland and our allies,” Hassan said in a statement accompanying the bill's introduction.

How it would work: The measure would seek to counter such a threat by increasing the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations agents, personnel “who aid the State Department in making decisions about whether to grant U.S. visas to foreign nationals,” Hassan added.

The agents, who are trained in counterterrorism, help the State Department conduct interviews for nonimmigrant visa applicants. 

Johnson, who is also a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the legislation would heighten national security “by placing agents with subject matter expertise and specialized training at posts deemed to be the highest risk.”

The bill, during a 10- to 25-year period beginning on the date of its enactment, would direct DHS and the State Department to add visa security units in at least two U.S. embassies or consulates each year.

It would pay for the staffing increases by tacking on a so-called security fee on nonimmigrant visas applications.

Context: The legislation comes as violence has broken out in Afghanistan, including an ISIS bombing of an education center close to Kabul that killed 24 people on Saturday and clashes between Taliban militants and the government in the midst of peace talks. 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

The Government Executive Media Group will hold a webinar on “Warfighter and Intelligence Mission Success," as part of the National Security series at 9 a.m. https://awsnatsecseries.com/register/?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20102820_10/28/2020&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

The Center for Strategic and International Studies and U.S. Naval Institute Maritime Security Dialogue will air a pre-recorded webcast on “The Movement Toward Greater Integration in Naval Warfare,” with Vice Adm. James Kilby, deputy chief of naval operations for warfighting requirements and capabilities; Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, commander of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command; and retired Vice Adm. Peter Daly, publisher and CEO of the U.S. Naval Institute, at 10 a.m. https://www.csis.org/events/online-event-update-maritime-security-dialogue-movement-toward-greater-integration-naval?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20102820_10/28/2020&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

Heidi Shyu, former assistant Army secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology, will speak at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce virtual discussion at 10 a.m. https://www.uschamber.com/event/virtual-roundtable-the-hon-heidi-shyu-0?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20102820_10/28/2020&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

The National Defense Industrial Association and the Aerospace Industries Association will hold a webinar on “2020 Joint NDIA/AIA Industrial Security,” with William Lietzau, director of the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency; Lisa Loss, suitability executive agent programs director at the Office of Personnel Management; and Brian Dunbar, assistant director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center's Special Security Directorate, at 11 a.m. https://www.ndia.org/events/2020/10/29/1isf-2020-joint-ndia-aia-industrial-security-webinar?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20102820_10/28/2020&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393

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