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Overnight Defense: Biden nominating first female Army secretary | Israel gets tough on Iran amid nuclear talks | Army's top enlisted soldier 'very proud' of officer pepper sprayed by police

Overnight Defense: Biden nominating first female Army secretary | Israel gets tough on Iran amid nuclear talks | Army's top enlisted soldier 'very proud' of officer pepper sprayed by police
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Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Rebecca Kheel, 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 BidenJoe BidenWarren calls for US to support ceasefire between Israel and Hamas UN secretary general 'deeply disturbed' by Israeli strike on high rise that housed media outlets Nation's largest nurses union condemns new CDC guidance on masks MORE has chosen an Army secretary nominee -- and she would be the first woman in the job.

Biden will nominate Christine Wormuth, a former top Pentagon official, the White House announced Monday.

"Christine is a true patriot with a dedicated career in service to America and our nation’s security," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement. "I have no doubt that, if confirmed, she will lead our soldiers and represent their families with honor and integrity as the secretary of the Army.” 

About her: Wormuth most recently served as the head of Biden’s Pentagon transition team, a role she took over after Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks stepped aside to focus on her own confirmation process.

Wormuth is also currently the director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corp.

She last worked at the Pentagon during the Obama administration. From 2014 to 2016, she served as under secretary of Defense for policy, considered to be the department’s third most-powerful civilian job.

Before that, she was deputy under secretary of Defense for strategy, plans and force development from 2012 to 2014, a job that saw her lead the department’s 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review. And from 2010 to 2012, she served on the National Security Council directing defense policy and strategy.

Other nominees: In addition to Wormuth, the White House announced Biden will nominate former Rep. Gil CisnerosGilbert (Gil) Ray CisnerosMORE (D-Calif.) to be under secretary of Defense for personnel and readiness and Susanna Blume to be director of the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office.

Cisneros, a Navy veteran, served in the House for one term before losing reelection last year to Rep. Young Kim (R-Calif.).

The White House statement on his nomination highlights his work on the House Armed Services and Veterans Affairs committees, including participating in discussions on the status of Latinos in the Army after the death of Vanessa Guillen.

Blume currently serves as the acting director of CAPE. Before that, she was a senior fellow and director of the defense program at the Center for a New American Security.

Congressional support: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack ReedJack ReedBiden officials testify that white supremacists are greatest domestic security threat Overnight Defense: US fires 30 warning shots at Iranian boats | Kabul attack heightens fears of Afghan women's fates | Democratic Party leaders push Biden on rejoining Iran deal Overnight Defense: Former Navy secretary reportedly spent .4M on travel | Ex-Pentagon chief Miller to testify on Jan. 6 Capitol attack | Austin to deliver West Point commencement speech MORE (D-R.I.) hailed Wormuth’s ”historic nomination.”

“Christine Wormuth has dedicated her distinguished career to public service and safeguarding the nation,” Reed said in a statement. “She brings experience, expertise, and strategic vision to this new role, having served in senior level positions throughout the Department of Defense and the NSC.”

In a separate statement, Reed also congratulated Cisneros, Blume and three other nominees the White House announced earlier this month and said the committee would hold confirmation hearings “once we get their official paperwork.”

THE MYSTERIOUS CASE OF THE NATANZ NUCLEAR FACILITY

Back-to-back mysterious attacks on an Iranian nuclear facility and a critical military ship in the Red Sea are raising concern that Israel is undertaking a kinetic campaign of sabotage against Tehran as the Biden administration works to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

Jerusalem has neither confirmed nor denied its role in any attack, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE has reiterated stark warnings that his country would not hesitate to eliminate Iranian threats.

“I will never allow Iran to obtain the nuclear capability to carry out its genocidal goal of eliminating Israel,” Netanyahu said Monday, ahead of a meeting with Austin in Jerusalem. “And Israel will continue to defend itself against Iran’s aggression and terrorism."

What happened: Iran is blaming Israel for an attack at its Natanz nuclear facility that damaged centrifuges.

Israeli media is also widely reporting that Israel’s Mossad spy agency targeted the facility with a cyberattack, citing unnamed sources. Israel is one of the most advanced nations in the world in terms of cybersecurity capabilities.

The incident came a day after Iran unveiled new, advanced centrifuges installed after a similarly mysterious fire at the facility last year that was also suspected to have been caused by Israel.

Timing: U.S. and Iranian officials are holding indirect talks for the second week in Vienna to establish a roadmap of “mutual compliance” for both parties to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name for the nuclear agreement negotiated under former President Obama.

The attack came one week after an Iranian ship stationed in the Red Sea suffered damage from a mine placed on its hull. The New York Times reported that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps assigned blame to Israel for the attack, and an American official told the paper that Israel had warned the U.S. it carried out the operation.

US distances itself: The incident at Natanz also came as Austin was arriving in Israel for his first visit since becoming Defense secretary, raising questions about what, if anything, the United States knew about the plan ahead of time. Austin told reporters Monday he was aware of reports but had nothing to add.

“In terms of our efforts to engage Iran in diplomacy on the JCPOA, those efforts will continue, and I'm very obviously supportive of the president's efforts to negotiate a way ahead there,” Austin said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki insisted Monday the United States was “was not involved in any manner” in the attack, saying she had “nothing to add on speculation about the causes or the impacts.”

ARMY’S TOP SOLDIER PRAISES OFFICER PEPPER SPRAYED BY POLICE

The Army’s senior enlisted soldier spoke out Monday in support of Caron Nazario, the Black and Latino Army second lieutenant who was pepper sprayed during a traffic stop in Virginia last year.

“Like many of you, I was concerned by the video of LT Nazario’s traffic stop in December,” Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston tweeted Monday. “He represented himself and our Army well through his calm, professional response to the situation – I’m very proud of him.”

Grinston added that while he can’t comment on ongoing litigation, he has “been assured” Nazario “is receiving the support from his leadership he needs during this time.”

“Situations like this are what I want Soldiers to discuss,” Grinston continued. “This is the reality that some of our Soldiers still face. As a Leader, you should know that and be willing to have conversations about how events like this impact your teams.”

Earlier: Nazario’s story rose to national prominence over the weekend after news outlets reported on a lawsuit he recently filed against two officers from the Windsor, Va., Police Department and published body camera footage of the December traffic stop.

The footage shows the officers drawing their guns on Nazario, who was wearing a camouflage Army uniform, while shouting at him to get out of the car after he pulled over in a gas station.

Nazario repeatedly asked “what's going on?” One of the officers, Joe Gutierrez, responded, "what's going on is you're fixing to ride the lightning, son,” an apparent reference to execution by electric chair.

When Nazario told the officers that he’s “honestly afraid to get out,” Gutierrez replied, “yeah, you should be!”

The footage also shows Gutierrez repeatedly pepper spraying Nazario.

Gutierrez fired: After the story broke and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) directed state police to conduct an independent investigation into the incident, the Windsor Police Department announced it fired Gutierrez.

In a statement Sunday night, the Windsor Police Department said it conducted an investigation into Gutierrez’s use of force and determined that department policy “was not followed.”

“At the conclusion of this investigation, it was determined that Windsor Police Department policy was not followed,” the department wrote in a statement.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithGOP Rep. Turner to lead House push to address military sexual assault US is leaving, but Afghan women to fight on for freedoms Overnight Defense: Ex-Pentagon chief defends Capitol attack response as GOP downplays violence | Austin, Biden confer with Israeli counterparts amid conflict with Hamas | Lawmakers press Pentagon officials on visas for Afghan partners MORE (D-Wash.) will speak about “The Future of Defense Spending: Strategic Choices and Hard Tradeoffs” at 9 a.m. at a virtual event hosted by the Reagan Foundation. https://bit.ly/3dVFXi9

Gen. Stephen Lyons, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, and Gen. Tod Wolters, commander U.S. European Command, will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 9:30 a.m. https://bit.ly/3t92ApM

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee will hold a hearing on Defense Department innovation and research at 10 a.m. https://bit.ly/3g4Uj2t

ICYMI

-- The Hill: Pentagon insists vaccine rollout a success despite spotty data

-- The Hill: Biden to nominate former NSA deputy director to serve as cyber czar

-- The Hill: G-7 urges Russia to stop 'provocations' on Ukraine

-- The Hill: Blinken, NATO chief discuss 'immediate need' for Russia to cease 'aggressive' military buildup

-- The Hill: Opinion: White House budget plan is bad news for national defense goals

-- The Hill: Opinion: Biden's pragmatic play on North Korea

-- Army Times: Army didn’t prosecute NCO accused of rape. So he did it again. And again

-- Washington Post: Pentagon leaders have opposed plans overhauling the military system for trying sexual assault for years. Has the time come for change?

-- Huffington Post: The military says it’s confronting extremism. A prominent white nationalist just finished boot camp.

-- Task and Purpose: Hey, UFOs that keep buzzing Navy ships: Are you from China?