Overnight Defense: Top admiral shoots back at criticism of ‘woke’ military | Military guns go missing | New White House strategy to battle domestic extremism
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: The Navy’s top admiral on Tuesday vociferously defended efforts to root out racism and to promote diversity in the service against GOP criticism of his decision to recommend sailors read a book derided by conservatives as anti-American.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday has been taking heat from conservatives over his inclusion on a list of books he recommends of Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to Be an Antiracist.”
The exchange: At a House Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, GOP Reps. Doug Lamborn (Colo.) and Jim Banks (Ind.) asked Gilday to respond to specific Kendi quotes.
“I’m not going to sit here and defend cherry picked quotes from someone’s book,” Gilday fired back during Banks’s questioning. “I’m not going to do that.”
“This is a bigger issue than Kendi’s book,” Gilday continued. “What this is really about is trying to paint the United States military, in this case the United States Navy, as weak, as woke. And we’ve had sailors spend 341 days at sea last year with minimal port visits, the longest deployments we’ve ever had before. We are not weak. We are strong.”
Earlier: Tuesday’s exchange marks the latest example of conservatives increasingly pulling the armed forces into culture wars as the military seeks to recruit and retain more women and people of color, in addition to addressing issues with extremism and white supremacy.
Last week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) similarly tangled over Pentagon efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, including Cotton also asking Austin about Kendi’s book.
Austin had also previously shot back at criticism that the military is becoming “too soft.”
Pentagon efforts: Austin has made tackling extremism and promoting diversity a priority after a number of individuals arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol attack were found to have military backgrounds.
But diversity and inclusion efforts in the military are not new or unique to the Biden administration, as the military struggles to recruit from a shrinking pool of eligible young people. Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who served during the Trump administration, launched diversity and inclusion initiatives last year after nationwide protests against racial injustice following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
GOP pushback: Still, conservatives have increasingly been blasting those efforts since President Biden took office. Fox News host Tucker Carlson earlier this year derided maternity flight suits. Last month, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) compared an ad featuring a soldier who talked about her childhood marching for LGBT rights with Russian propaganda showing its military’s machismo, complaining the U.S. ad showed a “woke, emasculated military.”
Meanwhile, in an Army hearing: Asked about that Army ad by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) at a separate Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said “we are in a war for talent.”
“We are trying to reach young people around America, all across the country from all sorts of different backgrounds. We’re trying to recruit Generation Z and those younger than them,” Wormuth said. “So part of what we’re doing is trying to also figure out which innovative recruiting technique is most successful and resonates with all sorts of folks around the country.”
MILITARY GUNS GO MISSING
At least 1,900 U.S. military firearms were lost or stolen during the 2010s, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.
In a more than 10-year investigation, the AP found that some of the missing firearms – which included rifles, handguns, machine guns, grenade launchers, rocket launchers, mortars and shotguns lost or stolen across the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force – were recovered after they were used in violent crimes.
Some of the armed services did not release basic information on the lost or stolen guns, making it extremely likely the numbers the outlet obtained were an undercount, the AP concluded.
The Army’s response: Asked about the AP report later on Tuesday, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said she had seen it and “certainly we take this situation very, very seriously,” but downplayed the number of cases of missing firearms.
“My understanding is that the cases of weapons from any branch of the services being unaccounted for and getting into the hands of civilians is likely to be a small number, but particularly given these reports I commit to you that this is something that we will look into and certainly . . . make sure we have situational awareness of that situation in the Army,” Wormuth said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
Lawmaker response: But Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who asked Wormuth about the report, pressed that 1,900 lost or stolen weapons “is not exactly a small number.”
“This report is absolutely blood curdling, the idea that pistols, assault weapons, grenade launchers are missing from armories of the United States military because they have been lost or stolen without any apparent accounting, without any reporting to Congress or to the FBI or to the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] . . . is just incredibly alarming and astonishing,” Blumenthal said.
He also pressed the Army’s top civilian on whether her service would commit to Congress on sharing annual updates about lost or stolen firearms. The Pentagon had previously shared such updates with lawmakers but hasn’t since at least 2017 as the requirement to do so ended.
Wormuth would only commit to look into the matter and “share what we know,” adding that the Army “would be open to a reporting requirement.”
What went missing and why: Using government records, the AP found that the military firearms disappeared from places where they were used, stored or moved, including armories, supply warehouses, Navy ships, and firing ranges.
The weapons vanished due to a variety of reasons, such as break-ins, sleeping troops, a flawed surveillance system, and other security issues that have not been previously reported.
The weapons then entered the public primarily through direct sales from thieves to buyers, pawn shops and surplus stores and online sales.
Rifles were the most-often lost or stolen weapons, making up 1,179 of the cases, followed by handguns, 694 of which went missing.
Later crimes: And once they went missing, several military firearms ended up in the hands of criminals.
The AP found eight instances in which five different types of military firearms that were stolen were used in a civilian shooting or other violent crime. Other such weapons were found on felons that were caught.
NEW WHITE HOUSE STRATEGY TO BATTLE DOMESTIC EXTREMISM
The White House unveiled its plan for addressing domestic terrorism on Tuesday, rolling out a strategy that set goals and acknowledged challenges as much as it outlined specific steps for combating a growing threat.
The strategy includes a call to bolster law enforcement partnerships and stem extremist recruitment paired with elements deemed more essential after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, including better analysis of social media and programs to boost civics education and battle disinformation.
It also touches on other priorities from President Biden, echoing previous calls for gun control in order to address mass shootings.
“We cannot ignore this threat or wish it away. Preventing domestic terrorism and reducing the factors that fuel it demand a multifaceted response across the federal government and beyond,” Biden wrote in the strategy’s opening.
Context: The plan follows a March report from the intelligence community ordered on Biden’s first day in office that determined white supremacists and militia groups are the greatest domestic terror threat.
It also builds on a budget that set aside considerable money to boost homeland security funding and grants to law enforcement.
The Pentagon’s response: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement later on Tuesday that the strategy was “a milestone in our country’s efforts to address a serious and growing security threat.”
“While domestic law enforcement agencies take the lead, the Department of Defense will do our part to support this important strategy. That includes maintaining the Department’s robust relationship with federal law enforcement as well as refining our policies to better address this issue within the Department,” Austin said.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
President Joe Biden will meet face to face with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time since assuming office at a still to be determined time in Geneva, Switzerland.
Former Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work will speak at the International Institute for Strategic Studies on “The United States – Keeping the Defense Innovation Edge?” at 9 a.m.
The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on the nominations of Gina Ortiz Jones to be undersecretary of the Air Force; Meredith Berger to be assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment; Shawn Skelly to be assistant secretary of defense for readiness; Ely Ratner to be assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs; and Caroline Krass to be Pentagon general counsel at 10 a.m. in Hart Senate office Building, room 216.
A Senate Appropriations subcommittee will hear from Pentagon officials on “Review of the FY 2022 Budget Request for Military Construction and Family Housing,” at 10 a.m. in Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 192.
The Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and George Mason University will hold a virtual 2021 Critical Issues in C4I Symposium beginning at 10 a.m.
Acting Air Force Secretary John Roth and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown will speak at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on “Department of the Air Force Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request,” at 11 a.m. in Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118.
The Washington, D.C. Chapter of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association will hold a virtual discussion on “Space Force: Information Technology Orchestration in a Multi-Domain Environment,” at 11:30 a.m.
The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments will hold a virtual discussion on “The Fiscal Year 2020 Defense Budget,” at 1 p.m.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies will hold a virtual discussion on “Preventing Catastrophe in Afghanistan,” at 3 p.m.
The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on “United States nuclear deterrence policy and strategy,” at 4:30 p.m. in Russell Senate Office Building, room 222.
— The Hill: Taiwan reports incursion by dozens of Chinese warplanes
— The Hill: Senate Armed Services member: Administration should have ‘hair on fire’ over Afghan interpreters
— The Hill: FBI Agents Association calls for new domestic terror statute
— The Hill: Biden, Putin summit could last five hours, official says
— The Hill: China warns NATO to stop ‘hyping up’ threat posed by Beijing
— The Hill: Opinion: America’s flawed war strategies
— The Hill: Opinion: ‘Havana Syndrome’ and other escalations mark a sinister turn in the spy game
— The Hill: Opinion: Biden loses to Putin at Geneva summit just by showing up
— Military Times: Senator vows to hold up VA leadership nominees until department provides info on toxic exposures bill
— Stars and Stripes: Lawmakers urge Pentagon to expedite name-change requests from transgender veterans as delays persist