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June 18 2016

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18 June 2016


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Air Force chief of staff: 40,000 to 60,000 more airmen needed

Oriana Pawlyk,

Air Force Times

May 28, 2016


Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh, who will retire in July, said the service needs tens of thousands more airmen to become fully manned in today’s fast-paced environment.(Photo: SSgt. Nathan Lipscomb/Air Force)

As his tenure as Air Force chief of staff winds down, Gen. Mark Welsh is becoming increasingly blunt about where he thinks manpower levels should be — and that’s at full manning, 40,000 to 60,000 more airmen.

Air Force leaders have been advocating for more airmen to sustain the overworked and undermanned force. It’s where all the “bigger problems” stem from, Welsh said during a speech at an Air Force Association breakfast in the Washington, D.C.-area, Thursday.

“Every problem we have in growing, in modernizing, increasing mission capability, is manpower related,” he said.

The service expects to grow from its current level of about 311,000 active duty airmen to 317,000 by the end of fiscal 2016, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said in February. But she plans to push past the end strength and request an additional 4,000 airmen.

But Welsh, who will retire in July, said that number is far short of what’s really needed to get manning levels to 100 percent.

The service is working harder to build up its cyber and intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance units, and is training more airmen in newer aircraft systems like the F-35, which is supposed to reach initial operational capability between August and December.

Welsh pointed to the example of ISR, which is steadily increasing from 60 daily remotely piloted aircraft combat air patrols (or caps) a day, to 70 flights. And amid that increase, somewhere else in the world, an entirely new requirement for Air Force ISR assets is popping up.

“The pace of this support is wearing people out,” Welsh said, and “to get to 100 percent manning, or close to … my guess is 40,000 to 60,000 more people.

“People are a limiting factor right now,” Welsh said, “and adding more burden to them in any way, shape or form is a bad idea.”

Without additional manpower, the service — and the nation — risk losing a capable and fast-responding Air Force.

“The nation that’s going to win [the next war] is not the one with the biggest army,” Welsh said. “It’s not necessarily the one that has the most tanks, or longest range artillery systems. The one that’s going to win is the one with the best Air Force.

“It doesn’t mean that air power is pre-eminent,” he added, “but it does mean it is equally as critical as land and maritime power, and if you don’t have it, you will lose.”



China lashes out at US defense secretary criticisms


May. 30, 2016


BEIJING (AP) — China on Monday lashed out at criticism from U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, accusing him of harboring a Cold War mentality and saying Beijing has no interest in “playing a role in a Hollywood movie” of Washington’s design.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters Carter’s comment last week that China was creating a “Great Wall of self-isolation” was merely an attempt to provide cover for U.S. plans to deploy additional military forces to the Asia-Pacific region.

Carter’s remarks “laid bare the stereotypical U.S. thinking and U.S. hegemony,” Hua said at a daily news briefing.

“Indeed, there are some in the U.S. who live physically in the 21st century, but whose minds are stuck in the in the Cold War era,” she said.

“China has no interest in any form of Cold War, nor are we interested in playing a role in a Hollywood movie written and directed by certain U.S. military officials. However, China has no fear of and will counter any actions that threaten and undermine China’s sovereignty and security,” Hua said.

In a commencement speech Friday at the U.S. Naval Academy, Carter said China wants and enjoys the benefits of free trade and a free internet, but sometimes chooses to restrict both. He said the U.S. also continues to be concerned about Beijing’s actions in the disputed South China Sea, where Beijing has sought to strengthen its claim to almost the entire region by building new islands atop coral outcroppings and adding airstrips, harbors and military infrastructure.

The United States is committed to upholding the freedom of navigation and commerce, and peaceful resolution of disputes, Carter said.

“China’s actions (in the South China Sea) challenge fundamental principles, and we can’t look the other way,” Carter said.


National Security in a Data Age


By Chris Meserole

Sunday, June 5, 2016, 10:18 AM 

Editor’s Note: Data should drive decision-making – the real question is how much should it do so? As big data and data analytics expand, it is tempting to assume they can solve many of the problems foreign policy decision-making has long faced. Chris Meserole, a pre-doctoral fellow here at Brookings unpacks some of the issues involved with big data when it comes to foreign policy and argues that it can inform our strategic reasoning but can’t supplant it.


We live in the era of big data and data analytics – and, increasingly, “data-driven decision-making.”

Yet, when it comes to national security, what would it mean for policy decisions to be data-driven? For the national security policy-maker, what can data and data analytics actually offer?

I’m not referring here to the use of data in implementing policy. When the Pentagon uses data analytics to cut procurement costs or when intelligence agencies use predictive analytics to identify potential targets, each is relying on data analytics to better execute policy.

By contrast, my concern is with using data to make policy. What does data-driven policy-making look like when it comes to national security?

To answer that, we need to walk through how we decide between competing policies in the first place. Very often, we reduce policy choice to a kind of shorthand. For example, we’ll often say something like, “We should intervene in Syria” or “I’m against the Iran deal.” Yet such catchphrases obscure a more complex thought process. Any time we advocate for one policy over another, what we’re really saying is, “a world in which we do X is more likely to be a better world than one in which we do Y.”

Every policy choice thus involves two sets of intuitions. The first set concerns how likely a given policy is to lead to a range of possible outcomes. The second concerns the value we assign each of those outcomes. Imagine if we were contemplating regime change. One set of intuitions would concern how likely we thought regime change would be to lead to a power vacuum, or to a dictator, or to a stable democracy. The other set would comprise value judgments about how much better or worse each of those outcomes would be compared to the status quo.

What does data-driven policy-making look like when it comes to national security?

Ideally, policy-making should involve careful deliberation about both sets of intuitions. Yet, in reality, we tend to focus much more on the value side. Sometimes that focus is deliberate: it’s easier to win a policy argument by assuming away any uncertainty about whether our policy will work and shifting the debate instead to a purely strategic or moral domain. But often it’s not deliberate at all. In fact, the strength of our convictions can bias our sense of how likely a policy is to work. When we believe deeply that a specific policy is the right policy, we can all too easily trick ourselves into thinking that it will inevitably work as intended.

Yet no matter how much we may try to frame policy debates in terms of values alone, probabilities are always at play. And that is where data can play a role: data analysis can remove many of the biases we may hold, consciously or not, about what the effect of a policy is likely to be.

Consider the debate over drone strikes. For the sake of simplicity, let’s focus on just two aspects of that debate: the potential gain of reducing terrorist operations and the potential cost of civilian casualties. If we limit the debate to those factors, then whether we are for or against drone strikes will depend largely on how likely we think they are to disrupt terrorist groups and how likely to produce civilian deaths.

At issue is how to estimate each of those likelihoods. One option is to rely on gut instinct — which is to say, to rely on the patterns we subconsciously pick up on as we read about the effect of drone strikes in the news, discuss them with colleagues, etc. Another option is to rely on careful counterfactual reasoning, such as rigorously selecting cases and analyzing them in-depth.

However, if we want to estimate the likely effect of drone strikes with any precision, then data analysis offers a better approach. For instance, in a paper published earlier this year, Patrick Johnston and Anoop Sarbahi looked at data on drone strikes and insurgent activity in Pakistan and showed that drone strikes may reduce terrorist violence by nearly 25% in the week following an attack. If we couple that estimate with corresponding data on civilian casualty rates, we can begin to make an informed judgment about whether the strategic value of drone strikes outweighs the moral cost of potential civilian casualties.

If we want to understand how likely a range of policy outcomes may be, we will almost always be on surer ground when we incorporate empirical evidence and analysis.

Of course, even rigorous data analysis is far from foolproof. The process of building datasets often contains its own biases and underlying ethical implications, and analyzing data typically demands a host of strong assumptions. Further, when researchers disagree about which data and assumptions to use, they can arrive at contradictory conclusions.

Yet the question isn’t whether data analysis is perfect, but whether it’s better at constructing likelihoods than the alternatives. Are we better off estimating the likely effect of a policy based solely on our subconscious perceptions and the unknown biases that inform them? Or are we better off estimating those likelihoods empirically, after taking known biases into account? Data analysis will often be the better option. If we want to understand how likely a range of policy outcomes may be, we will almost always be on surer ground when we incorporate empirical evidence and analysis.

Again though, data analysis can only inform our intuitions about likely outcomes. It cannot inform the value we attach to those outcomes. Even if we had a model that validated perfectly, what would we do if it said there was an 80% chance of regime-led mass atrocity in a country, but only a 20% chance of a stable democracy taking root if we intervened? Or what would we do if the numbers were reversed? Such questions afford no easy answers, much less objectively right ones. Instead, they demand subjective decisions, however fraught, about which strategic or moral interests we ought to value most.

The great promise of the data revolution is that it will enable us to estimate potential policy outcomes much more accurately. Yet that is only one dimension of policy-making. Even in the age of big data, age-old questions about strategic and moral value will remain as pressing as ever.



Senate Approves Defense Policy Bill, Baiting Veto

Joe Gould, Defense News 1:12 p.m. EDT June 14, 2016


WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday easily approved an annual defense policy bill that authorizes roughly $602 billion in base defense and war spending — baiting a presidential veto.


The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act’s passage came as the nation grapples with the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, in which a Florida man killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Reports the killer may have been inspired by jihadist ideas fueled debate of the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., acknowledged the killer’s motives were under investigation, but rapped the Obama administration’s counter-Islamic State efforts as “insufficient,” and lauded the bill as a means to “fight back.”

“We’re a nation at war, but we’re a nation under attack,” McConnell said in a floor speech ahead of the vote Tuesday. “We need to continue taking action to protect our country.”

The measure, which passed unanimously by the Senate Armed Services Committee, sailed through a Senate vote 85-13. Procedural squabbles effectively limited debate on nearly all amendments, which prevented debate on an amendment stripping language that would compel women to register for a potential military draft — a historic first for the US.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and the committee’s Ranking Member Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., both lauded the passage of the bill, stressing the aggressive acquisition reform measures it contained. That includes closure of the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer’s office and shifting its duties to two new defense undersecretaries for innovation and acquisitions management. It also contains far-reaching language that would curb cost-plus contracts and be more inclusive of contractors from outside the Beltway.

“The acquisition system is broken and needs to be fixed,” McCain said after the vote.

President Obama has threatened to veto the House and Senate versions of the bills — the House bill over its unorthodox treatment of overseas contingency operations (OCO) funds, and the Senate bill over its acquisition reform provisions and limits it would place on the closure of the Guantanamo military detainment facility in Cuba.

The House last month passed a version of the policy bill that shifts $18 billion in OCO toward base budget requirements, and adds more troops, jet aircraft, shipbuilding and rotorcraft than the president’s budget. The House bill also cuts off OCO after April 30, 2017, a gambit to force the next president to ask Congress for supplemental defense spending next year.

The Senate last week voted down an amendment from McCain to raise the defense authorization by $18 billion, after Republicans voted down a measure to raise non-defense authorization by $18 billion.

Hawkish Republicans, led by McCain, pressed for added troops, ships, jets and tanks left out of the administration ‘s budget request, arguing a fiscally stretched military needs the increase as it struggles to absorb readiness and maintenance shortfalls and juggle threats the world over. McCain lost here and was frustrated in efforts to clear a logjam on amendments.

The procedural problems began after Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, insisted on a vote on his measure to prevent the government from indefinitely detaining US citizens for links to terrorism. Because senators would not allow the vote, the stalemate effectively blocked debate on all other amendments — including one to allow US visas to Afghans who served as interpreters to the US-led coalition.

The Senate was able to take action on Russian rocket engines as it took a voice vote to pass an NDAA amendment to allow the military to continue to use Russian RD-180 rocket engines to launch national-security satellites until the end of 2022, though — in a compromise with McCain — caps the number at 18. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who offered the amendment sought flexibility for the Pentagon while officials develop and test an American-made replacement, while McCain pressed for a quicker end to US reliance on the engines.


“This agreement is a win for America’s national security and taxpayers,” said Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Vice-Chair Sen. Dick Durbin. D-Ill., who jousted with McCain on the issue. “It will provide for a responsible transition to American-made engines and guarantee America’s access to space.”

The bill’s passage does not necessarily end the fight for more defense funding. SASC member Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has said he plans to press for more when the Senate takes up the defense appropriations bill.

“To those who have voted against expanding funding to defense, you have made a mistake,” Graham said. “Destroy radical Islam over there before it comes here. To do that you need a stronger military.”

The House and Senate bills face significant differences for lawmakers to debate in conference, chiefly their approaches to defense acquisitions reform, where the Senate takes a more aggressive tack, and defense funding.

With few days on Congress’ election-year calendar, lawmakers will have to act quickly to send the final version of the bill to Obama’s desk before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Obama has threatened to veto seven annual authorization bills, and did so last year over the blurring of wartime funding for base-budget needs, forcing a budget deal which netted parity for defense and non-defense spending.




DOD IT is killing CACs

By Zach Noble

Jun 14, 2016


The military is ditching the computer Common Access Card reader.

“We are embarking on a two-year plan to eliminate CAC cards from our information systems,” Defense Department CIO Terry Halvorsen said at a June 14 event sponsored by FedScoop and Brocade.

“Frankly, CAC cards are not agile enough,” Halvorsen said, noting, “It is really hard to get you a CAC card when people are dropping mortar shells on you and you need to get into your system. That doesn’t work.”

Halvorsen said the Pentagon will be looking to move to a new hybrid user authentication model, “true multi-factor,” that will combine biometric, behavioral analytics and passwords.

He said Pentagon officials will be working with NATO allies to develop a standard authentication process, so that NATO forces can better share IT functions.

CACs may still have a role for things like building access, Halvorsen added. The CAC announcement was one of several bits of news the DOD CIO dropped in his appearance.

Halvorsen also promised a new data center closure panel, made up of government and industry members, which will choose one of the Pentagon’s top 50 data centers to close and determine where to route the homeless data. He also teased a DOD move to an “on-prem cloud-based system that will include hybrid cloud and public cloud.” That formal announcement will come this summer, he said.

For contractors in the audience, Halvorsen sought to recast the traditional Pentagon-vendor relationship. Given constrained defense budgets, Halvorsen said, industry can’t pitch projects that cost the Pentagon $100 million up front and will pay off only after several years

“You’re going to have to share in that investment, and [then] share in the return,” he told vendors, indicating a desire for creative arrangements.

Another ask: completely autonomous cybersecurity tools. With the lightning speed of digital attacks, Halvorsen said, “I can’t have people in that loop” of breach response.

The DOD process of certifying commercial technology is “completely broken,” Halvorsen also noted, echoing earlier comments. He expects to be able to offer larger, trusted firms some level of self-certification.

“All of the upcoming changes will require close partnerships between the military and industry,” Halvorsen added, and it will all need to happen as systems stay up and running.

“Unfortunately my business is growing: we’re deployed everywhere,” he said.



What the Joint Chiefs’ Email Hack Tells Us About the DNC Breach

Tuesday, June 14, 2016.

By Patrick Tucker


The two attacks share a perpetrator and even some techniques. Here’s how to stop them.

The Russian hacking groups that stole the Democratic National Committee’s secret files on Donald Trump have plenty of experience in filching sensitive data from U.S. officials. Last year, one of the two groups, known as APT29 or COZYBEAR, broke into the Joint Chief’s non-classified email system. Here’s what last summer’s hack can teach you about what happened to the DNC, and how to keep it from happening again.

On Tuesday, officials with the information security company Crowdstrike disclosed that APT29 had injected malware onto the DNC network about a year ago, enabling the hackers to pick up opposition research on Donald Trump, among other information. The group is known for its spearphishing campaigns, which sends emails that appear to be from a trusted source. But when a recipient clicks on a link, her machine will download malicious code, in the case of the DNC hack, containing a Remote Access Tool (RAT). This code lets a hacker into the system — and takes pains to keep itself hidden. The malware can check “for the various security software that is installed on the system and their specific configurations. When specific versions are discovered that may cause issues for the RAT, it promptly exits,” Crowdstrike’s Dmitri Alperovitch wrote in a blog post.

The malware Crowdstrike discovered on the DNC network “allowed the adversary to launch malicious code automatically after a specified period of system uptime or on a specific schedule.” Basically, this means the malware can sit in the background of the network, possibly on a single machine, not drawing attention to itself, until it’s scheduled to spring into action. You might remove it from that machine, but by then it could have moved to somewhere else on the network.

Aside from the perpetrator, the DNC hack bares a number of things in common with the 2015 phishing attack on the Joint Chief’s non-classified email system.

In 2014, APT29 began using a backdoor malware dubbed HAMMERTOSS. Once an unsuspecting target opened an email from the group and downloaded the virus via a link, the malware installed itself and began using Microsoft Active Directory to move laterally among computers in the (Windows server) network. At specific times, the malware checked in with a web page (algorithmically generated Twitter pages have been used for this purpose) to receive instructions on uploading data. That allows it to remain difficult to detect and the upload harder to trace.

“While each technique in HAMMERTOSS is not new, APT29 has combined them into a single piece of malware. Individually, each technique offers some degree of obfuscation for the threat group’s activity. In combination, these techniques make it particularly hard to identify HAMMERTOSS or spot malicious network traffic,” wrote the computer security firm FireEye.

Here’s the thing, while it took the DNC almost a year to realized it had been hacked, the Pentagon detected the breach of its non-classified network within days. Last August, Defense One interviewed the head of the company that the Pentagon trusted to detect and remedy the breach. He asked that his name and the name of the company not be disclosed as they have not received clearance to discuss their role in mitigating the hack.

“We’ve been deeply involved in the remediation of the breach and so we obviously can’t talk about the scope and scale of cause of the breach because it’s classified,” the head of an information security company told Defense One last year.

The incident was a key example of a new trend, he said.

“When you typically see these large-scale attacks where you see these large amounts of lateral movement [jumping from one computer to another within the network] and especially when you have relatively tightly wound network controls, a lot of the time you don’t have the command-and-control architecture to be able to go in and see the attack,” he said. “So the advance threat characteristics change to be more automated, a kind of pervasive deployment using common vulnerabilities and exploiting them widely.”

That bears resemblance to what Crowdstrike just discovered APT29 doing to the DNC.

So how do you prevent that sort of thing? First, you need good situational awareness. No more letting scheduled-attack malware hide in the shadows until the lights go out.

“Typically, the biggest issue for our customers is assessing the state of the environment, vis-à-vis what’s running in the environment at that time and what’s accessing data. So being able to look at things like the running processes in the environment, being able to look at all of the users that are touching certain types of data and whether they’ve touched it in the past before, being able to see if there are interconnections from a network standpoint between different assets is one of the basic capabilities of the platform, just being able to see the state of every endpoint,” said the company head.

The way that you get that situational awareness is by designating a single central node to view what’s happening on every machine, sort of like peer-to-peer networking but with special safety features, and then send updates and patches to all of them at once, each one signed, allowing endpoint management from one place. If all the computers can only run updates that are signed by the central node, then the malware can’t hope from one to another, assuming that central node is not sending out signed, infected updates.

“You need to have one trust point. In our case, it’s our server,” the company head said. That trusted system generates a unique cryptographic signature for each “message,” which can be an action, a sensor recording data, a change to a setting, a command to a device, etc.”What ends up happening is that every node that receives the message, whether it receives it from its peer or it receives it from the server, or it receives it from an intermediary node like a relay, it checks that signature before it processes that message,” he said. “The protection that you have against a rogue node being taken over and then feeding its peers bad data is that you don’t have a private key to sign the message on the rogue node. Even if you could inject traffic into the stream, it would be immediately rejected because that traffic isn’t signed correctly. As a result of that, the public keys that reside on the clients would essentially alert the clients that the signature was invalid and to reject the message.”

FireEye discovered APT29 in 2014.

“We suspect the Russian government sponsors the group because of the organizations it targets and the data it steals. Additionally, APT29 appeared to cease operations on Russian holidays, and their work hours seem to align with the UTC +3 time zone, which contains cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg,” they write.

Not surprisingly, Russia has denied any role in both hacks.



US Air Force Gen. Mark Welsh Pessimistic About Defense Budget Outlook

Valerie Insinna, Defense News 7:20 p.m. EDT June 14, 2016


WASHINGTON — The outgoing Air Force chief of staff is bracing for a continuing resolution this year, and is generally pessimistic that the Pentagon will be able to keep its modernization programs going forward without budget stability.

In an exclusive interview with Defense News on June 13, Gen. Mark Welsh said he was “not confident” about the current budget environment, citing potential complications that include the upcoming election, a new presidential administration and a return to mandatory spending caps in fiscal year 2018.

If spending returns to Budget Control Act levels, the Air Force is unlikely to be able to keep its modernization programs on track, with Welsh highlighting the T-X trainer and Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System recapitalization efforts as two programs that are particularly vulnerable.

“We go back to a sequester budget, everything is going to be affected,” he said. “Assuming we stay on the trend we have now with budgets, assuming we continue to get something at the current projected levels of funding [or] the vicinity of that between now and 2024, the T-X will stay on time.”

The same is true of the JSTARS recapitalization program, he added.

“If the funding stays where it is right now, we have it funded in the budget,” he said.

The service plans to release a request for proposals for the JSTARS recap by the end of the year. The legacy JSTARS, built by Northrop Grumman around a militarized variant of Boeing’s 700-300 aircraft, has provided ground surveillance since 1991 and is nearing the end of its service life. However, a contract for the engineering, manufacturing and development of its replacement has been delayed to the first quarter of fiscal year 2018. Initial operational capability has slipped by two years, from fiscal 2022 to 2024.


Welsh ‘Confident’ in F-35, ‘Disappointed’ in KC-46 Delay


The Air Force also expects to issue an RFP for the T-X this year. Although initial operational capability stands at 2024, the service has delayed full operational capability from 2032 to 2034.

“I hate to tell you nothing could happen,” Welsh said. “But it’s funded in our budget, we’re on track, we’re comfortable with where the program stands right now.”

Should difficulties arise, it will be up to Welsh’s likely successor, Gen. David Goldfein, to keep programs moving forward. Welsh is slated to retire on July 1. Goldfein, who currently serves as the Air Force’s vice chief of staff, will testify in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee in a Thursday confirmation hearing.

Despite last year’s agreement between Congress and the White House on spending levels for fiscal 2016 and 2017, Welsh acknowledged there is a “pretty good possibility” that a continuing resolution will be needed to sustain funding levels when the new fiscal year starts on Oct. 1. That’s bad news for the Air Force, which would lose the ability to start new programs and change production quantities.

The instability could extend even further, into the next presidential administration, he said.


“I assume there’s going to be some turmoil here as the administration changes,” he said. “Over the next fiscal year I think there will be a little bit more turmoil. There will probably be a little bit of instability. I hope that’s not the case.”

Todd Harrison, a budget expert for Center for Strategic and International Studies, agreed that Congress will need to pass a CR that extends at least until December to allow for the election season to wind down. Because both Democrats and Republicans have mostly agreed on the need to raise defense spending, the debate will hinge on whether to increase nondefense accounts.

Another potential barrier is that the House and Senate have taken a different approach to funding defense. While the Senate’s version of the defense authorization act stuck to last year’s budget agreement, the House designated $18 billion in the overseas contingency operations account as base expenses in order to boost procurement, readiness, and operations and maintenance funding.

Despite the difference in strategy, both the House and Senate defense committees have pushed for increases to the military’s defense budget, something Welsh commended. However, he declined to comment directly on the House language that would end the use of OCO come April, something Defense Secretary Ash Carter opposes.

“I think they’ve come up with every option they could think of to try to do this because I think they see the same problems that we do,” Welsh said. “How you get it done is going to be the trick, and whatever option you pick seems to be offensive to somebody. But clearly the best case would be a base budget that meets your needs for the future no matter what your job is as opposed to supplementing it with one year money that can’t be used to buy something that you need funds for over time.”

Although a short-term CR is undesirable, it is unlikely to have a “substantial impact” on Air Force programs, Harrison said.

“There aren’t a lot of new program starts or increases in production planned for FY17,” he said. “And a relatively short CR like this has become standard operating procedure.

Welsh, however, noted that OCO funds cannot be counted on for longterm budget planning, making it suboptimal for funding long term expenses.

“Because OCO can’t be used to invest in things over time [and] it can be just used for spending that year, it’s not the ideal way to fund anything except ongoing current activity in terms of things like flying or spare parts, weapons that are expended, those kind of things,” he said. “If we’re using it to do other things–while its money, which is helpful to us–we can’t use it for the things we need to do to keep the force viable over time.”


House Passes Defense Appropriations

Joe Gould, Defense News 1:54 p.m. EDT June 16, 2016

WASHINGTON — The House easily passed its $576 billion defense appropriations bill on Thursday, 282-138—a bill which shorts wartime funding to pay for more troops and military hardware, a gambit to get a supplemental spending request from the next presidential administration.

The bill, which is $587 million below President Barack Obama’s request, shifts $16 billion from the overseas contingency operations (OCO) account toward base-budget needs—on par with the annual defense policy bill, which only authorizes the war budget through April 30, 2017. The policy bill passed the House last month, 277-147.

The funding scheme has been opposed by the White House, which has threatened to veto the bill because of it, as well as Defense Secretary Ash Carter and House Armed Services Ranking Member Adam Smith, D-Wash. The Senate version of the bill uses a different means of funding defense, posing a significant discrepancy for lawmakers to resolve when the two bills go to conference.

“This bill fulfills the Congress’s most important responsibility – providing for the common defense. And it does so responsibly – funding those military needs that must be addressed now, planning and preparing for the future, and respecting the taxpayer by making common-sense budgeting decisions,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky.

The House considered 108 amendments, among them a rare vote on the politically unpopular Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke offered an amendment to remove the bill’s ban on funding a BRAC round, but it went down 263-157.

The House also shot down bipartisan amendments aimed at blocking funds unless Congress enacts a new Authorization on the Use of Military Force to replace the one in use since 2001. Democratic Reps. Jim McGovern, of Massachusetts, and Barbara Lee, of California, said Congress is shirking its responsibility to enact an AUMF to avoid debating the current war against the Islamic State.

“The authority being used today was written in 2001, and the world has changed,” Lee said. “I do think it is our responsibility to balance the powers of the executive and have that fulsome debate.”

Several other amendments aimed at restricting prisoner transfers from the US military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, passed the House. Republicans in both chambers have consistently inserted provisions in defense policy and spending bills to thwart the president’s goal of shuttering Guantanamo.

Here are a handful of other amendments and whether they made it onto the bill:

YES. Montana Republican Ryan Zinke’s amendment to add $80 million toward a competition to replace the venerable UH-1N Huey helicopters, which guard nuclear missile fields.

YES. Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin’s amendment to add roughly $29.8 million for the Navy to develop laser weapons and an electromagnetic rail gun.

YES. Michigan Republican Tim Walberg’s amendment to cut off funding for the Pentagon to spend on Afghanistan infrastructure projects.

NO. Alabama Republican Mike Rogers amendment to add funding for directed energy and other research and development at the Missile Defense Agency.

NO. Illinois Democrat Mike Quigley’s amendment to cut $75.8 million from the Long Range Standoff Weapon program, a next-generation nuclear cruise missile capability. The weapon is being discussed to arm the Long Range Strike Bomber, the planned replacement for the B-2.

NO. Texas Republican Ted Poe’s amendment to cut aid to Pakistan from $900 million to $700 million. Proponents decried links between Pakistan’s intelligence community and the Taliban.

NO. Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie’s amendment to bar warrantless searches of government databases for the communications of U.S. persons and bar government agencies from mandating data security vulnerabilities in products or services for surveillance purposes.

NO. South Carolina Republican Mick Mulvaney’s amendment to block wartime overseas contingency operations funds from being used for anything other than a contingency operation as defined by law. In the vote, 98 Democrats voted with the majority, while 30 Republicans switched sides to vote in favor of it.

NO. Michigan Democrat John Conyers’ amendment to bar the US from sending Saudi Arabia cluster munitions.


The ‘cyber jihad’ is coming, says this security firm


Harriet Taylor    | @Harri8t

Wednesday, 15 Jun 2016 | 10:33 AM ET


Islamic terrorists are arming themselves with the technical tools and expertise to attack the online systems underpinning Western companies and critical infrastructure, according to a new study from the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology.

The goal of the report was to bring awareness to “a hyper-evolving threat” said James Scott, ICIT co-founder and senior fellow.

Dark web marketplaces and forums make malware and tech expertise widely available and — with plenty of hackers for hire and malware for sale — technical skills are no longer required. A large-scale attack could be just around the corner, said Scott.

“These guys have the money to go on hacker-for-hire forums and just start hiring hackers,” he said.

U.S. authorities are well-aware of the rising threat posed by Islamic terrorists armed with advanced cybertools. In April, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter declared a cyberwar against the Islamic State group, or ISIS.

Ransomware chatter rose to prominence on dark web jihadi forums around the fall of 2015 and continues to be a topic of debate, particularly among members of ISIS and Boko Haram.

“I had the same position that I have right now with this in December of last year with regards to ransomware hitting the health-care sector,” said Scott. “We were seeing the same exact thing.”

Much of the chatter on jihadi chat boards comes from Europeans and Americans, often social outcasts living vicariously through the online reputation of their handle — including disenfranchised teens or jailhouse Muslim converts turned radicals, Scott said. They may not have strong coding skills, but they have access to Western institutions and businesses and are looking to leverage that access to serve ISIS.

An example of the sort of conversation that takes place on Islamic dark web forums involved a cleaner in Berlin who worked the overnight shift and wanted to know how they could help, said Scott. Others chimed in, explaining how the janitor could load malware onto a USB device and plug it into a computer to allow them to remotely hack into the network.

“That is the kind of insider threat that we are going to be facing,” said Scott. “That is what they are seeing as the next step — an army of insider threats in the West.”

“These guys have the money to go on hacker-for-hire forums and just start hiring hackers”

Though not known for being particularly sophisticated in their use of technology — beyond the use of encrypted messaging services and creating malicious apps — Islamic terrorists are now aggressively seeking ways to bridge gaps in their knowledge, said Scott. This may come in the form of hiring hackers, recruiting tech-savvy teens and educating new recruits.

“They are rapidly compensating for that slower part of their evolution,” said Scott.

For example, ISIS operates what can best be described as a 24-hour cyber help desk, staffed by tech-savvy recruits around the globe. There are always about six operatives available to address questions, for example, about how to send encrypted messages, and strategize about how to leverage local access into cyberattacks. They also share tutorials, cybersecurity manuals and YouTube links, and try to recruit other techies, said Scott.

“It is obvious that cyber jihadists use dark web forums for everything — from discussing useful exploits and attack vectors, to gaining anonymity tips and learning the basics of hacking from the ISIS cyber help desk,” he said. “Setting up properly layered attacks is incredibly easy even if one has a modest budget. All one needs is a target and a reason.”

ICIT will present its findings and identify possible solutions for protecting critical infrastructure — along with a panel of industry experts and government officials — on June 29 in Washington.


Orlando shows how terror is evolving. Can FBI keep up?

Search for solutions The Orlando shooting did not fit into a single category of hate crime, mass shooting, or jihadist act of terror, the FBI says. This makes its job harder.

By Laurent Belsie, Staff writer June 16, 2016    


In a single moment, the Orlando shooting brought together three of the most contentious issues in the United States.

Within 12 hours of the attack, President Obama disparaged lax gun laws, Donald Trump tweeted about radical Islamic terrorism, and gay and lesbian celebrities decried a hate crime that took the lives of 49 people at a popular gay nightclub.

In the days since the attack, it has become increasingly clear that the actions of Omar Mateen did not fit into a single category of hate crime, mass shooting, or jihadist terror.

“I would call it a hate crime. I would call it terrorism. It’s both,” said Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Ronald Hopper on Wednesday.

The question for federal officials now is: How should they respond?

Orlando is further evidence that the nature of terrorism in the US is changing, making the job of federal investigators harder.

The Islamic State, in particular, is less concerned with strategic goals than simply spreading fear as widely as possible. It preys on any disgruntled Muslim angry enough to pick up a gun.

It doesn’t require them to go to Syria for training. It doesn’t require them to talk to jihadists online for instructions. It doesn’t require them even to know how to build bombs; guns will suffice.

Federal agencies are coping with this evolving threat. But the fact that Mateen was investigated twice by the FBI but not stopped speaks to vulnerabilities. Without more resources to cope with an exploding caseload, federal agencies will be hard-pressed to do more.

For this reason, the ultimate solution lies in fixing the issues in American society that are giving rise to lone wolf terrorists, some say.

There have been signs this was coming. “The threat has changed from simply worrying about foreigners coming here, to worrying about people in the United States,” said then-Attorney General Eric Holder to ABC News in 2010. “You didn’t worry about this even two years ago – about individuals, about Americans, to the extent that we now do.”


The mutations of terror

What’s made the issue much more urgent is the rise of Islamic State and its approach to terrorism. While Al Qaeda aimed at winning the hearts and minds of Muslims, the Islamic State is determined to scare them – and everyone else – into submission.

“Most people, al-Qaeda’s leaders among them, can’t imagine that political success could come from enraging the masses rather than charming them,” wrote William McCants, a terrorism expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, in a Politico article last year.

Since the goal is pure terror, there’s no need for spectacular, highly planned attacks like 9/11. Any act of mass violence will do. Proper training is no longer a must, only the will to commit violence.

“The biggest change in terrorism since 9/11 is the jihadists’ embrace of mass shootings,” Mr. McCants writes in an e-mail. “They, like many other terrorists, used to be fixated on building bombs. But they’ve learned that mass shootings are easier to organize without detection and generate just as much media attention. ISIS has been exceptionally good at inspiring young men to carry out these attacks in its name.”


Portrait of a lone wolf

Mateen, an American citizen born to Afghan parents in New York, offers a picture of the difficulties in sniffing out such terrorists.

The FBI put him on a watch list in May 2013 after he made comments to coworkers claiming he had family and friends affiliated with Hezbollah and Al Qaeda. (That seemed unlikely since the two groups are enemies.)

Agents interviewed him twice before closing the investigation in March 2014 with too little evidence, according to FBI Director James Comey.

Mateen again came to their attention shortly afterward when the agency found he attended the same mosque as a Syrian suicide bomber. Again, the investigation was closed when the agency found “no ties of consequence,” according to Director Comey.

So, two years later, when Mateen walked into the St. Lucie (Fla.) Shooting Center to purchase a semiautomatic rifle and pistol, it raised no flags. He had the valid licenses. He passed the background check.

The owner of a different local gun store, however, says that his employees refused to sell Mateen body armor and bulk ammunition after he began asking “suspicious” questions, according to ABC News. Robert Abell of Lotus Gunworks in Jensen Beach, Fla., says he contacted authorities about Mateen before the massacre; the FBI did not respond to ABC News’s request for comment.


How the FBI is responding

In its defense, the FBI notes that it is already stepping up antiterror efforts. As of last fall, there were some 900 active investigations of ISIS sympathizers who live in the United States, according to the report from George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. Last year, officials arrested 56 of them, the highest number of terror-related arrests in any year since the 9/11 terror attacks.

Yet the FBI has to walk a fine line, says Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the program and coauthor of the report. The FBI investigates thousands of potential domestic terrorists at any given time, the vast majority of whom never plan a terrorist act.

Deciding where to draw those lines is difficult.

Frances Townsend, who served as Homeland Security adviser to President George W. Bush, worries that the current guidelines for domestic counterterror investigations may constrain investigators. Specifically, she says they harm agents’ ability to include social media activity and postings in their investigations.


“We have to make sure we don’t let the attorney general’s guidelines become what ‘the wall’ was to 9/11,” said Ms. Townsend, referring to the firewall preventing the sharing of information among intelligence agencies that existed before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

But even if everything works, there’s an element of guesswork in figuring out who will move from being a mere sympathizer to taking up arms. “In most cases the motivations are complicated,” says Mr. Hughes at George Washington University. “People are complex and they do things for a variety of reasons.”

That’s certainly true for Mateen, who proclaimed allegiance to ISIS in a 911 call during the shooting and often angrily denounced gays to friends and family, but also frequently attended the gay nightclub he attacked, according to reports.

Addressing the rising lone wolf threat isn’t just a matter of what can and can’t be done in an investigation but will almost certainly entail additional resources, said Ms. Townsend.

“The question is, if we want the FBI to cover more threats, do we give the FBI more resources, more agents?” she asked in a conference call with reporters Monday.


Looking beyond law enforcement

Others suggest that the answers could lie beyond law enforcement alone.

Many lone wolf terrorists are driven to suicide for the same reasons that ordinary people are, as they try to cope with depression and marital strife, argues Adam Lankford, a University of Alabama criminology professor and author of a 2013 book, “The Myth of Martyrdom.”

“The Orlando shooter and many mass shooters fall within this demographic and seek to die, even when they claim to be ‘martyrs’ or attempt to hide their psychological pain,” says Mr. Lankford, via e-mail. “If we can make major progress on reducing suicides and helping people with suicidal thoughts, that would be an incredibly important step for America, and I believe a side effect would be a reduction in mass shootings.”

Another option is a comprehensive preventative approach to radicalization, argues Hughes of George Washington University. “You have a number of cases where there’s not enough evidence to prosecute, but the FBI is still concerned about the individual.”

That would mean targeted intervention from other groups than law enforcement. For example, the World Organization for Resource Development and Education has developed an innovative program in Maryland’s Montgomery County that aims to empower community members to intervene with vulnerable youth before they choose a path of violence.

The model could spread to other jurisdictions. It’s better that it’s a local rather than federal government solution, Hughes says, reducing the footprint of government intervention. At the federal level, too, he is confident Congress can push beyond partisan divisions to come up with ways to reduce lone-wolf terrorism.

“You tend to see a coalescing of congressional and other leaders to search for solutions” after events such as the Orlando shooting, Hughes says. “I am ever the optimist…. I think there’s always going to be a reevaluation.”



The Danger of Killing Islamic State’s Caliph

June 16, 2016 10:58 AM EDT

By Tobin Harshaw


We’ve seen this movie before, but still don’t know how it ends: According to unconfirmed reports, the so-called caliph of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was killed by a U.S. airstrike in Raqqa, Syria. Similar rumors cropped up at least twice before, in January and October of last year, and both times the news of his death was greatly exaggerated. As for the latest report, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL Brett McGurk said, “We have no reason to believe that Baghdadi’s not still alive, but we have not heard from him since the end of last year.”

Baghdadi’s silence or even death might seem like excellent news for the fight against the jihadists. An accomplished scholar of the Koran, he was named the “commander of believers” globally by Islamic State in 2014, a title not held since the fall of the Ottoman sultan.

But some military strategists and scholars of Islam make a strong argument that the U.S.-led coalition would be better off if Baghdadi remains alive and in charge.

Consider a 2014 study by Jenna Jordan of the Georgia Institute of Technology on so-called decapitation strikes against major terrorist groups. On the death of al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, she writes, “decapitation is unlikely to diminish the ability” of al-Qaeda, “rather, it may have counterproductive consequences, emboldening or strengthening the organization.”

She bases her claim on the theory of “organizational resilience,” which may be more familiar to business school graduates than to counterterrorism operatives. Jordan doesn’t buy the argument that a cohesive group sharing an intense belief in a goal depends on the “charismatic leadership” (to use Max Weber’s phrase) of a single person like bin Laden or Baghdadi. Instead, she sees many clandestine groups as being bureaucracies often impervious to changes at the top. Such organizations “are diversified, have a clear division of administrative responsibilities and functions, follow rules and procedures, and are thus more likely to withstand the sudden removal of a leader or leaders.” All of those characteristics apply far more accurately to Islamic State than to the relatively decentralized al-Qaeda.

So if eliminating Baghdadi wouldn’t be a death blow to Islamic State, at least it would count as a victory in the ongoing war, right? Again, there is debate here. At the website War on the Rocks, Haroro Ingram of Australian National University and Craig Whiteside, a combat veteran teaching at the U.S. Naval War College Monterey, argue that “charismatic leadership is an inherently volatile and ephemeral form of leadership.” The caliph, they worry, could be replaced by a figure with far stronger military and organizational skills.

The authors highlight the history of Islamic State’s dark days after the 2006 death of its ruthless founder, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the prototypical charismatic leader. While Zarqawi’s guerilla war on U.S. troops made what was then called al-Qaeda in Iraq the most feared faction in the Iraqi insurgency, his eagerness to kill fellow Muslims raised the ire of not just the nation’s Shiite majority but also fellow Sunni radicals, including the al-Qaeda leadership. He was succeeded by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi (no relation to the current caliph) who lacked Zarqawi’s battlefield bravado but was a skilled manager who took the long view. He mended fences with other jihadist groups and re-tooled the group to take advantage of the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Thus not only is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi replaceable, his successor could pose an even bigger threat, especially if he chose not to declare himself caliph of the Muslim world. That would open the possibility of Islamic State mending fences with other Sunni terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and its Syrian affiliate the Al Nusra Front, which is emerging as the most potent military force in that nation’s civil war.

So what’s the alternative to decapitation? The best way to cripple a terrorist group may be to take out its “middle managers.” In an article for the journal Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Peter Neumann, Ryan Evans (who founded War on the Rocks) and Raffaello Pantucci argue that the figures found on the org chart between the leadership elites and the field troops are the “connective tissue” that holds the organization together. Indeed, the French scholar Mathieu Guidere says that the U.S.-led coalition has made a priority of killing “technical cadres and the mid-level commanders who, though they don’t take the decisions, execute them … Without them, nothing could be done on the ground.”

With Islamic State forces on the rocks in both Fallujah, Iraq, and their capital of Raqqa, Baghdadi’s grand strategy appears increasingly flawed. Instead of targeting him and rolling the dice on his replacement, the U.S. should perhaps allow him to become, as Ingram and Whiteside put it, a “caliph without a caliphate.”


Cybersecurity not just the domain of cyber pros, DISA officials say

Carten Cordell, C4ISR & Networks 2:50 p.m. EDT June 15, 2016


While the spotlight on cybersecurity has been magnified and the Internet of Things has made almost any item connectable to a network, ownership of protecting the network can no longer be limited to just cybersecurity professionals.

That was the message of a panel cyber experts from the Department of Defense, Defense Information Systems Agency and the U.S. Navy; gathered at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association’s DC chapter meeting on June 15.

“Cybersecurity people can’t really do cybersecurity,” said Richard Hale, DoD deputy chief information officer for cybersecurity.

“Given that computers are in everything now, and given that everything is cyber-attackable, it has to be everybody that has anything to do with designing, building, owning and operating — all these folks have to help do this stuff.”

The panel discussed the future of cybersecurity and efforts by the federal government to adapt its rapidly changing environment.

As the pace of connectivity spurs forward, the job of protecting the networks has also expanded, often beyond the resources of the people meant to protect them. DISA Chief Technology Officer David Mihelcic said that because of the speed and adaptability of bad actors, cybersecurity has now moved to a kind of horizontal altruism that affects multiple elements of the information technology industry.

“Security cannot be the sole domain of cybersecurity specialists,” he said. “It has to be owned by everyone, to include the program managers and engineers who are developing and acquiring the system, the system administrators charged with operating the systems.

“We are going to have specialists. We’re going to have the CPTs — the cyber protection teams. We’re going to have offensive information and our cybersecurity forces as well, but cybersecurity cannot be the sole domain. We, the developers, the technologists and you, our mission partners, need to ensure that the [whole thing] is secure.”

To that effect, the panel identified a number of challenges and ongoing initiatives that affect the government’s cybersecurity strategy, including:



One of the top hindrances to cybersecurity leading edge development appears to be the time it takes to navigate the acquisition process.

“We have built a system that tries to ensure that everything is fair,” Mihelcic said. “We’ve also put in place a system that requires us to plan five years in advance for what we want to spend money on, that requires us to upfront our requirements for what we want to buy and requires lots of independent testing and validation. The bottom line is that it could be years.”

Mihelcic estimated that from establishing a requirement for new cyber tools to contracting and testing, that it could take six years to approve, by which time, the cyber tool has become outdated.

The solution, he said, is to shift acquisition from a requirement-driven process to a needs-driven one. To achieve that would require an abbreviated IT acquisitions process that identifies agency needs.

“I still do want competition,” he added. “I don’t want to just say, ‘I see one spoon, therefore, I’m going to buy this spoon.’ Now I know that the spoon exists, so I want to say, ‘Anybody that’s got a thing that’s like the spoon, please send me a copy, and I will see which helps me eat cereal the best.'”

Mihelcic said that a rapid acquisition process, coupled with risk management and iterative testing could achieve these goals, some of which is currently happening at Defense Innovation Unit Experimental.



Vice Adm. Ted Branch, the Director of Naval Intelligence and Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Warfare, said one way the Navy was steering through its acquisition challenges was its CYBERSAFE program.

Inspired by the SUBSAFE — a 1963 quality control program started after the loss of the U.S.S. Thresher — CYBERSAFE debuted in 2015 and applies a set of standards through the entire lifespan of an IT procurement, from acquisition through deployment.

“That was the model that we used for CYBERSAFE,” he said, “to come up with a subset of critical components. The most critical components in certain systems that you can think of where there is a single point of failure, it might be a CYBERSAFE article.”

Branch said CYBERSAFE not only incorporates specific standards but secure supply chains and quality control.

“By using all of that, we establish that secure set of components and the cultural change that goes along with it,” he said.

It’s the defined standards that help streamline the process, and Branch said that the Navy has finished 18 standards with 29 still in progress.




Another tool in the cybersecurity arsenal is the use of analytics. By using new ways to crunch large amounts of data, DISA deputy chief technology officer for enterprise services Jack Wilmer said that the agency has been able to increase threat detection.

“There are certain use-cases that we’ve done, one of them is called Fight by Indicator, which is where we receive reports of malicious activity,” he said. “What happened prior to our analytics is we’d receive these reports and then by hand, we would have to go and translate these reports to figure out the various countermeasures.

“We were able to automate a lot of that, and I think there was a 500 percent increase in the amount of countermeasures that each analyst could implement basically per day.”

Wilmer added that DISA is investing a lot in analytics with the hope of eventually developing real-time defenses.

Mihelcic added that some “quantum leaps” in deploying new analytics would soon be on the horizon, including an August update to DISA’s big data platform.

“That’s the technology that underlies [Cyber Situational Awareness Analytic Cloud],” he said. “What’s going to come out in August is the ability to essentially fork a copy of some or all the data that’s in the data cloud and be able to run custom analytics on top of it that can be mission-focused and not necessarily interact with the rest of the cloud platform.”



Rasmussen Reports

What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls

Bottom of Form

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The politicking barely slowed as America absorbed the biggest terrorist attack since 9/11.

Americans have increasingly worried that the government isn’t focused enough on domestic Islamic terrorism, and most Americans saw the horror in Orlando coming nearly three months ago.

The majority of voters question whether the government will be able to stop future terrorist attacks on the homeland and say the country’s Islamic community should be doing more to condemn such violence.

Forty-nine percent (49%) think Islam as practiced today encourages violence more than most other religions, and 71% say Islamic religious leaders need to do more to emphasize the peaceful beliefs of their faith.

The man who killed 49 and wounded dozens of others in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida this past weekend was born in the United States to Afghan refugee parents. While details of the attacker’s life are still emerging, he pledged allegiance to the radical Islamic State group (ISIS) in a 911 call to police during the shooting, and ISIS has taken credit for the massacre.

Donald Trump blames radical Islamic terrorism for the Orlando massacre; President Obama believes instead that it shows a need for more gun control. Most voters say the Orlando incident is more about terrorism than gun control, but most also agree that someone on a terrorist watch list should not be able to purchase a gun.

Hillary Clinton has finally broken with the president and for the first time this week identified “radical Islamic terrorism” as the enemy. She has long been criticized by Trump and other Republicans for her unwillingness to do so. Long before the horrific killings in Orlando and San Bernardino, California, 60%  of voters said the United States is at war with radical Islamic terrorism.

Secretary of State John Kerry now concedes that terrorism is a bigger threat to the United States than global warming. Fifty-nine percent (59%) of voters consider terrorism a greater long-term threat to this country. Just 23% consider global warming the bigger threat.

Trump has come under criticism from some leaders in his own party for his tough talk after the Orlando killings, reiterating his call for a temporary ban on Muslims coming into this country until the federal government improves its vetting process. In late March, 45% of voters favored such a ban; 42% were opposed.

But the Obama administration is speeding the vetting process for Syrian refugees so 10,000 can come to the United States this year. Most voters still don’t welcome those newcomers from Syria and fear they are a threat to the country.

The president, however, continues to enjoy better-than-usual daily job approval ratings.

Hillary Clinton has moved to a five-point lead over Trump in Rasmussen Reports’ latest weekly White House Watch survey. It’s lucky for them that this year’s presidential election isn’t a popularity contest or both major party candidates might lose. Clinton and Trump are battling very high unfavorables.

On a less serious note, voters, especially men, would rather have a beer with Trump than with Clinton.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has endorsed Trump but is increasingly one of his most outspoken Republican critics. What is Ryan’s game?

Clinton and Bernie Sanders met privately on Tuesday, a meeting that could be critical to the future of the country but went largely unnoticed in the wake of the horrific weekend events in Orlando. Could this signal the party unity many Democrats are hoping for?

Democrats are much more enthusiastic than other voters about giving felons back their right to vote after they’ve served their time.

The trial of a Stanford University freshman charged with sexually assaulting an unconscious woman has drawn widespread criticism for the perceived leniency of the judge’s sentencing. An overwhelming number of Americans agree that the six-month jail sentence is too easy, and most say cases like Stanford are fair game for politicians to discuss publicly.

Still, while just 37% of voters believe most judges are impartial and guided by the law, only 31% feel it is appropriate for elected officials and political candidates to criticize specific judges.

In other surveys last week:

— Two-out-of-three voters (67%) believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction.

Is America still a religious nation?

— Last year produced the lowest U.S. fertility and birth rate on record, but Americans still are far more concerned about the population growing too fast.

— Seventy-two percent (72%) think it’s important for someone to be married before they have children, including 41% who think it’s Very Important.

More voters support same-sex marriage, but most still don’t believe it’s an area that should be governed by the feds.

— With the summer driving season at hand, Americans are much more pessimistic about gas prices than they were last summer.

— Great Britain may vote to exit the European Union in a referendum next week, but Americans aren’t overly concerned about a possible “Brexit.”

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