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Cunningham, Murphy Want Congress Informed When Foreign Entities Target US Troops

July 10, 2020 by Dan McCue
1st Armored Division Headquarters redeploys from Afghanistan (Photo by Pfc. Matthew Marcellus)

WASHINGTON – Reps. Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., and Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., want intelligence officials to immediately notify key members of Congress when they determine — with moderate to high confidence — that a foreign government is deliberately seeking to kill or severely injure U.S. service members.

The representatives’ bill, the Deadly Escalation by Foreign Entities Notification and Disclosure (DEFEND) Act, is the first legislation introduced in Congress as response to credible U.S. intelligence reporting Russian military intelligence paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants to encourage them to kill American and coalition troops in Afghanistan.

The Democrats say the legislation will enable Congress, on a bipartisan basis, to make more informed decisions relating to authorizing legislation, appropriations legislation, and oversight of the executive branch.

“When our brave service members are targeted or threatened, it is our duty to protect them and hold the perpetrators accountable,” said Murphy, a former national security specialist at the Department of Defense under President George W. Bush.

“If the U.S. intelligence community has credible reasons to believe a foreign government is conducting or sponsoring lethal attacks against our service members, Congress should immediately be notified so we can take all appropriate steps — on a bipartisan basis — to protect our troops,” she said.

Both lawmakers expressed concern that when this intelligence reporting was made public, the Trump administration briefed Republicans and Democrats separately on the matter, giving a partisan sheen to a national security issue of critical importance to all Americans.

“The safety and security of American service members is my top priority in Congress and should never be politicized,” Cunningham said. “If American soldiers are being targeted abroad, we must work together in a nonpartisan manner to hold those responsible to account. This legislation will give Congress the information necessary to protect American lives.”

Under the DEFEND Act, the director of national intelligence would be required to provide a classified briefing to top congressional leaders in the House and Senate, the intelligence committees, and the armed services committees within 14 days of determining, with moderate or high confidence, that officials or agents of a foreign government — with which the United States is not at war — are deliberately seeking to kill or cause serious bodily injury to U.S. service members.

The act makes no distinction between “direct or indirect means” employed to injure or kill the service members, and includes payments to terrorist or criminal organizations in the list of acts they want to be informed about.

They also request the director of national intelligence make his determination in consultation with other elements of the intelligence community, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Under the Murphy-Cunningham bill, the classified briefings to Congress would include:

  • A description of the nature and extent of the foreign government’s effort to target U.S. service members.
  • An assessment of the specific officials, entities, and agencies within the foreign government that ordered, authorized, or had knowledge of the effort.
  • An assessment of the foreign government’s motivations for undertaking the effort.
  • An assessment of whether the foreign government’s effort was a substantial factor in the death or serious bodily injury of any United States service member. 

Once this initial briefing is provided, the director of national intelligence would be required to provide updated congressional briefings on a quarterly basis until the director determines that the foreign government is no longer targeting U.S. service members. 

The bill requires all congressional briefings to be provided in a manner that is consistent with the protection of intelligence sources and methods.

The text of the DEFEND Act can be read here.

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