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July 23, 2020
Notes from the Pentagon

Pompeo: U.S. to counter election disinformation
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he is confident the upcoming presidential election will be free of any foreign intervention from states like China, Russia or Iran.

The entire U.S. government is on alert for attempts to influence voting, disrupt voting machines through cyberattacks or use disinformation against presidential candidates.

“There is one threat from cyber, switching votes, trying to interfere with the actual voting process,” Mr. Pompeo told The Washington Times. “I think we’ve also done a lot of good work, too, to make sure that we’re ready in the case of disinformation campaigns that may appear, to make sure American people can see through them and see what’s going on.”

He did not elaborate on the preparations to counter disinformation.

U.S. intelligence agencies have centers that monitor foreign influence operations and are ready to expose foreign intelligence activities that involve political disinformation.

The government has a responsibility to “get that right,” said Mr. Pompeo, faulting the Obama administration for its lack of counterintelligence against Russian election interference in 2016.

Investigations after the election revealed that Obama administration officials knew of Russian election interference in early 2016 but took no action against Moscow’s spy services — other than a phone call from then-CIA Director John O. Brennan asking the Russian FSB intelligence and security agency to halt its activities.

“I am reminded of what happens when it goes wrong,” Mr. Pompeo said. “In 2016, the previous administration simply refused to take the actions necessary to prevent what it was that Russia sought to engage in. We will not permit that to happen. We’ll continue to deliver safe, free and fair elections.”

Asked whether the U.S. government is better positioned now than in 2016, Mr. Pompeo said he is convinced that many improvements in security efforts were put into place. He noted that during the 2018 election cycle, foreign actors again tried to influence outcomes.

“I believe we were very effective in responding to that in a way that was intelligent and led to the high confidence that the 2018 election was not impacted by those efforts,” Mr. Pompeo said.

“There will all but certainly be those that will try to do that again,” he said. “We’re in the middle of this election. We’ve got primaries going on all across the country. We’re now 100 days and change away from the November election. Bad actors from Iran, bad actors from China, non-state hostile actors [are] likely to try to engage in [interference] activity.”

The Trump administration has its entire stable of agencies focused on possible foreign election intervention. The efforts are being led by the Department of Homeland Security and FBI, along with other agencies that “have cybercapabilities and counter-cybercapabilities,” the secretary of state said.

The Air Force is poised to maintain a free and open Arctic region and — if necessary — battle foreign adversaries there, amid growing encroachment by Russia and China.

“The Arctic region is critical to U.S. national security and homeland defense,” Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff; Gen. John Raymond, Space Force chief of operations; and Air Force Secretary Barbara M. Barrett said in a preface to the strategy report.

“With more invested in the Arctic than any other department in the U.S. military, U.S. air and space forces are prepared to deter adversarial behavior and defend the homeland,” they stated.

The strategy report warns that activities by Russia and China in the Arctic have eroded the ability of the vast, mostly frozen north to act as a security buffer. As a result, the Arctic is becoming “an avenue of threat to the homeland due to advancements by great-power competitors,” the report said.

The military is bolstering radars for missile defense and early warning along with military bases in the Northern Hemisphere — mainly in Alaska, Canada and Greenland — in preparation for any future conflict.

Military lines of effort identified in the strategy were described as “Vigilance, Power Projection, Cooperation, and Preparation.”

New investments in missile warning and defense, as well as “command, control, communications, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance” (C3ISR), will provide greater awareness of threats in the Arctic. The network of bases in the Arctic will give the military forces “to project combat-credible, all-domain air and space power,” the report said.

Closer alliances and greater training and readiness also are planned.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced during a visit to Denmark on Wednesday that the United States will open a new consulate in Greenland as part of efforts to better secure the Arctic.

The Arctic is expected to be a future zone of international competition for natural resources.

The Air Force estimates that the Arctic has over 90 billion barrels of oil reserves, 30% of global natural gas reserves and around $1 trillion in “rare earth minerals” — vital for high-technology manufacturing and resources and a market currently dominated globally by China.

The report said China, while not having any territory in the Arctic, views the region as significant for its economic and security interests. “China’s Arctic narrative attempts to normalize Chinese presence in the region, enhance polar operating capabilities, and gain a regional governance role,” the report said. “In 2018, China linked its Arctic activities to its ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative, underscoring its strategic ambition toward the region’s vast quantities of rare earth minerals, hydrocarbons, and fisheries.”

By contrast, Russia has taken more concrete military steps in the Arctic, including the deployment of new missiles.

“No other country has as much permanent military presence above the 66th Parallel,” the report said.

“Russia’s recent Arctic initiatives include refurbishing airfields and infrastructure, creating new bases, and developing an integrated network of air defense, coastal missile systems and early-warning radars to secure its northern approaches.”

Moscow is attempting to control maritime traffic along a northern sea route “in ways that may exceed its authority permitted under international law,” the report said.

“The Russian military plays a significant role in securing these interests and may leverage ostensibly defensive capabilities for other purposes,” the report said, adding that Moscow “tightly manages its Arctic messaging to highlight its capabilities and control.”

The Trump administration this month announced the sale of 105 F-35A and F-35B strike fighters to Japan, in a move to bolster America’s key defense ally in Asia. The deal for the jets, made by Lockheed Martin, is worth a whopping $23.11 billion, one of the largest foreign military sales ever.

The F-35A variant takes off from a normal runway while the F-35B is a jump jet capable of vertical takeoff and landing on both land and on ships.

The State Department, in announcing the deal July 9, stated that the jet sale will not alter the military balance in the region. However, the new stealth jets are expected to greatly enhance Japan’s aerial strike capabilities and send a strategic message to China.

Beijing has raised tensions with Tokyo by claiming sovereignty over Japan’s Senkaku Islands, a group of small uninhabited islands near Okinawa that are believed to have large nearby energy reserves.

Rick Fisher, a China affairs analyst, said the F-35 sale to Japan “rates as a major contribution to deterring Chinese aggression.”

“Washington should revive the idea of selling a small number of F-35B fighters to Taiwan to leverage the advantage of Japanese and U.S. F-35s,” said Mr. Fisher, who is with the International Assessment and Strategy Center. “For Taiwan, the F-35 can make a major contribution as a far more survivable airborne radar, electronic intelligence node and datalink-communications node to supplant what China attacks.”

The State Department said in a statement that for over 60 years the U.S.-Japanese alliance has been the cornerstone of peace, stability and freedom in the Indo-Pacific region.

“The U.S. commitment to Japan’s defense under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty of 1960 is unwavering,” said the statement, noting that there are still some 55,000 U.S. troops in Japan.

Japan also is home to the forward-deployed aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS Ronald Reagan, which is equipped with carrier-capable F-35s.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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