Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: Military justice overhaul included in defense bill | Pentagon watchdog to review security of ‘nuclear football’ | Pentagon carries out first air strike in Somalia under Biden

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY.)
Greg Nash

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: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has successfully included her proposal to overhaul the military justice system in this year’s annual defense policy bill.

In a 5-1 vote Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s personnel subcommittee, which Gillibrand chairs, voted to add her proposal as an amendment to its portion of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), the ranking member of the subcommittee, voted against the amendment.

The next step: The amendment must still survive the full committee’s consideration of the NDAA, which is scheduled to start Wednesday, as well as Senate floor votes and negotiations with the House, before becoming law.

A win: But Tuesday’s move marks a win for Gillibrand after months of unsuccessfully trying to get a vote on her proposal, as well as nearly a decade of her pushing for the reforms.

Gillibrand’s bill, an effort to tackle the pervasive issue of sexual assault in the military, would remove the decision to prosecute most major crimes from the chain of command and give it to independent prosecutors. That includes sexual assault, but also other serious crimes such as murder.

Earlier roadblocks: Earlier this year, Gillibrand for the first time secured enough support for her bill to overcome a Senate filibuster. But as she pushed for a Senate floor vote, she continued to clash with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) over the proposal.

Reed supports a narrower recommendation from the Independent Review Commission empaneled by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to propose new ways to stamp out sexual assault in the military.

The commission recommended taking just sex crimes out of the chain of command. Reed has previously said he’d include the commission’s recommendation in his draft of the NDAA.

Gillibrand’s response: On Tuesday, Gillibrand acknowledged Reed is the “first chairman of this committee to support at least moving sexual assault and related crimes from the chain of command.”

“That is an important piece of the puzzle, but we must resist the urge to isolate sex crimes and create a separate but unequal system of justice within the military for survivors,” she continued.

“The current system, which asks commanders who are not trained lawyers to make prosecutorial decisions in complex cases in which they often know both the accused and the victim, can see them unfairly place their thumbs on the scale of justice when it carries serious life altering consequences for the accused,” Gillibrand added.

More work ahead: Tillis said he opposed the amendment because he believes the issue should be handled by the full committee, not the subcommittee, but still held that “we have to make progress on military sexual assault.”

The full committee is still likely to debate changes to Gillibrand’s amendment when it meets Wednesday. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who supports Gillibrand’s proposal, suggested the implementation period will be a point of contention, saying there is talk of having it take four years.



The Pentagon’s inspector general will review whether the department has plans to respond in the event the so-called “nuclear football,” the briefcase that holds nuclear launch codes and other sensitive equipment, is compromised.

The review of Department of Defense (DOD) safeguards for what’s officially known as the Presidential Emergency Satchel was announced in a memo released Tuesday by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG).

What they’ll look at: “The objective of this evaluation is to determine the extent that DoD processes and procedures are in place and adequate to alert DoD officials in the event that the Presidential Emergency Satchel is lost, stolen or compromised,” the inspector general’s office wrote in the memo.

“This evaluation will also determine the adequacy of the procedures the DoD has developed to respond to such an event,” the memo added.

Why this is happening now: The review comes after Reps. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee’s national security subcommittee, and  Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee in March asked the inspector general to look into the issue following several incidents with either the football, which is always kept near the president, or the backup football, which follows the vice president.

During the Senate’s February impeachment trial of former President Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, House impeachment managers showed footage of rioters coming within 100 feet of then-Vice President Pence while he, his family, Secret Service agents and the military aide carrying the backup football ran to safety.

Rioters would not have been able to use the information even if they had gotten ahold of the football because of security controls in the system and because the backup only functions when the president is incapacitated. But they would have had sensitive technology in their hands.

The security of the football was also called into question during an incident during Trump’s 2017 trip to Beijing.



The U.S. military on Tuesday conducted an air strike against an al-Qaeda-affiliated group in Somalia, the first such strike in the country since President Biden took office, multiple outlets have reported.

The strike on the al-Shabaab militant group, first reported by Agence France-Presse, took place “in the vicinity of Galkayo, Somalia,” about 430 miles northeast of Mogadishu, Pentagon spokeswoman Cindi King said in a statement to the outlet.

U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) carried out the single air strike in coordination with the Somali government.

Other confirmation: The Somali government also confirmed the strike in a statement, noting that it occurred at 11:05 a.m. local time in the Galmudug State of the country “to protect the brave commandos of the Somali National Army.”

The government did not say who carried out the action.

The current strike policy: The last U.S. air strike in Somalia took place on Jan. 19, one day before President Biden entered the White House. 

Following Biden’s inauguration, he initiated a review of the policy on drone strikes and commando raids outside of conventional war zones and imposed temporary limits on such strikes.

The move came after former President Trump had loosened the rules for drone strikes when he was in office.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby then told reporters in March that any planned strikes outside Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq had to be submitted to the White House “to ensure that the president has full visibility on proposed significant actions.” 



The American Institute for Contemporary German Studies will hold a virtual discussion on “Communiques and Capabilities: Making the Aspirations of NATO and U.S.-Europe Summits a Reality,” with current and former defense officials at 9 a.m. 

The Hudson Institute will hold a virtual discussion on “The Future of Industrial Cybersecurity,” with Joshua Steinman, former deputy assistant to the president for national security affairs and senior director for cyber security; and Ezra Cohen, former acting Defense undersecretary for intelligence and security, at 12 p.m. 

A House Armed Services subcommittee will hold a hearing on “Review of the Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request for U.S. Special Operations Forces and Command,” at 3 p.m. in Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. 

The Atlantic Council will hold a virtual discussion on “Modern Mobilization: Defense-Industrial Preparedness for Great-Power Conflict,” at 3:30 p.m. 



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Tags Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Jack Reed Jim Cooper Joe Biden Kirsten Gillibrand Lloyd Austin Stephen Lynch Thom Tillis

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