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: A high-ranking military official on Wednesday said that a third of service members have declined to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
During a House hearing on the Armed Forces’ response to COVID-19, Rep. Mike RogersMichael (Mike) Dennis RogersBiden administration resists tougher Russia sanctions in Congress Senior-level engagement with Russia is good — if it's realistic It's time to overhaul the antiquated and unbalanced military justice system MORE (R-Ala.), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, asked Maj. Gen Jeff Taliaferro, the vice director for operations, what percentage of service members have declined to receive the vaccine.
“I think our initial look — and this is of course very early data — is acceptance rates are somewhere in the two-thirds territory, and of course it varies by different groups,” Taliaferro said.
No system in place: Pentagon officials had previously insisted that it did not know how many service members had refused to get the vaccine as it doesn't have a system in place to track that information because the program is voluntary.
“It’s not the kind of thing that we’re centrally tracking here, that [the office of the secretary of Defense] has a database that we can just go pull from. That’s not the case right now,” top Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters earlier this month.
DoD has also made it a policy to not report branch affiliations of those who have received the vaccine, Military Times reported in early February.
Pushing back: Kirby later on Wednesday pushed back on claims that officials are hiding information, saying again that the Defense Department doesn't have a centralized system in place to track how many service members have declined the vaccine.
He said officials at the House hearing were citing broad data on vaccine acceptance rates that “mirror” trends in American society, and that the officials went on to say that it is not data that they are specifically following.
Not hiding: He also insisted that the Pentagon is not making any attempt to hide information on the number of troops who are deciding not to get vaccinated.
“Nobody is hiding data,” Kirby said. “There’d be no reason for us to hide data when we can certainly tell you how exactly many people are getting the vaccines.”
Still deployable: Rogers also asked if the service members who were not vaccinated were deployable.
Taliaferro stated non-immunized service members were deployable, saying the “services and commands” that have been set up over the past year have allowed the Armed Forces to operate in a “COVID environment.”
BIDEN TO MOVE TO ADDRESS SOLAR WINDS HACK: President BidenJoe BidenCDC working to tighten testing requirement for international travelers On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by ExxonMobil — Manchin seeks 'adjustments' to spending plan MORE will soon take executive action in response to the alleged Russian hack of at least nine federal agencies, according to a White House official.
The official spearheading the intelligence community’s review of the SolarWinds breach said Wednesday that the executive action will address “gaps” in federal government cybersecurity identified in the review.
White House deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technology Anne Neuberger said in an appearance at a press briefing that hackers had breached nine federal agencies and that about 100 private sector companies were compromised in the hack discovered last year.
“We are working on close to about a dozen things, likely eight ... to be part of an upcoming executive action to address the gaps we’ve identified in our review of this incident,” Neuberger announced.
A ‘sophisticated actor’: Neuberger said the attack had been launched from “inside the United States,” and that officials are working to expel the adversaries, secure federal networks and evaluate response options. She emphasized that the full review would take "several months" to be completed.
“This is a sophisticated actor who did their best to hide their tracks,” Neuberger said. “We believe it took them months to plan and execute this compromise; it will take us some time to uncover this layer by layer.”
About the hack: The breach, first discovered in December but dating to 2019, involved Russian hackers gaining access to customers of SolarWinds and potentially several other companies.
Agencies confirmed to be impacted by the cyber espionage incident, viewed as the worst in U.S. history, include the Commerce, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, Justice, State and Treasury departments.
What Biden will do: Neuberger is the official leading the federal government's response to what has become known as the SolarWinds hack. She told reporters Wednesday that she had been on Capitol Hill last week and would continue to be in contact with lawmakers on how to respond to the SolarWinds incident, in addition to coordinating with the private sector.
She emphasized Wednesday that a range of options were on the table to respond to the breach.
“Discussions are underway ... this isn’t the only case of malicious cyber activity of likely Russian origin, either for us or for our allies and partners,” Neuberger said. “As we contemplate the future response options, we’re considering holistically what those activities were.”
COST SHARING EXTENDED: Japan and the United States have agreed to extend the arrangement on how much Tokyo pays to host U.S. troops on its soil for another year as the two countries continue to work out a new pact, the island nation announced Wednesday.
The current five-year arrangement, set to end after March, will now run until April 2022, Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Toshimitsu Motegi announced.
The plan: Japan will pay about $1.9 billion to support roughly 55,000 U.S. forces stationed there through the extra year, and both governments are expected to sign the agreement soon, the Kyodo news agency reported.
"This shows the two countries' strong commitment to the bond of the Japan-U.S. alliance and enhances the credibility of the alliance," Motegi told reporters.
Top Pentagon spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday referred questions on the details of the agreement to the State Department but said the United States is "very grateful for the support that we get from the Japanese government."
Earlier issues: The agreement follows efforts from former President TrumpDonald TrumpOmar, Muslim Democrats decry Islamophobia amid death threats On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Trump cheers CNN's Cuomo suspension MORE to pressure Japan to reportedly quadruple its payments for U.S. troops to $8 billion.
Countries that host permanent U.S. military installations traditionally pay a portion of the costs to house and equip the troops. The payment varies from country to country and in how it is given, with some allies — including Japan, which Washington uses as a base for operations in the larger Asia-Pacific region — making cash contributions.
But Trump repeatedly pressed for Tokyo and other allies to contribute more to global defense, as he continuously said their payments to the U.S. were one-sided and insufficient.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The Woodrow Wilson Center Middle East Program and Kennan Institute will hold a webinar on “Turkish-Russian Relations,” with former State Department Special Envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS James Jeffrey, at 10 a.m. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/global-perspectives-turkish-russian-relations?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20021721_02/17/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393
The Ronald Reagan Institute will hold a virtual event on “China, Targeted Decoupling, and the Economic Long War,” with Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonCotton swipes at Fauci: 'These bureaucrats think that they are the science' Graham emerges as go-to ally for Biden's judicial picks China draws scrutiny over case of tennis star Peng Shuai MORE (R-Ark.), at 11 a.m. https://www.reaganfoundation.org/reagan-institute/events/online-at-the-reagan-institute-with-senator-tom-cotton/?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20021721_02/17/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393
The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association will hold a virtual discussion with Air Force Brig. Gen. Chad Raduege, director of cyberspace and information dominance and CIO of the Air Combat Command, at 11:30 a.m. https://scott.afceachapters.org/?event=february-2021-virtual-luncheon&utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20021721_02/17/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393
The Government Executive Media Group will hold a webinar on “Cyber Defenders: Securing the Supply Chain,” with Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment Katherine Arrington; and Principal Deputy Assistant VA Secretary for Information Dominic Cussat, at 1 p.m. https://cyberdefenders.nextgov.com/register/?utm_source=Daily%20on%20Defense%20021721_02/17/2021&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WEX_Daily%20on%20Defense&rid=78393
-- The Hill: Female generals' promotions held back over fears of Trump's response: report
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-- The Hill: Opinion: Calling Moscow's bluff
-- The Washington Post: Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — Austin mandates vaccine for Guardsmen Austin orders all National Guard, Reserve troops to get COVID-19 vaccine or face loss of pay Gillibrand, bipartisan lawmakers push to keep military justice overhaul in NDAA MORE Opinion: The U.S. can’t meet its responsibilities alone. That’s why we believe in NATO
-- The New York Times: Stay or Go? Biden, Long a Critic of Afghan Deployments, Faces a Deadline
-- Military Times: More than 10,000 VA patients have died from coronavirus
-- Reuters: Afghanistan peace talks under threat as major Taliban spring offensive takes shape