Welcome to this week’s edition of The Intelligence Brief… as the Senate passes its version of a defense bill that has stalled now for several weeks, we’ll be analyzing 1) how the bill was finally passed, and what some in Washington are saying about it, 2) key provisions in the bill that address issues the Pentagon faces with China and other national security concerns, and 3) what the bill seeks to do about topics that include Havana Syndrome, unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP), and much more.
And with that, it’s time that we turn our attention in the direction of Washington, where the Senate has finally passed a piece of legislation that will outline the priorities for the Department of Defense in the year ahead… and also stuff its holiday stockings with a significant budget increase.
Senate Passes Its Version of the National Defense Authorization Act
After several weeks of stalled action, the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) finally passed the Senate on Wednesday in a bipartisan vote.
The bill, which has passed every year for more than six decades, authorizes $770 billion for the Pentagon for its operations, in addition to setting its policy for the year ahead. Following the passage of the Senate’s version of the bill, the legislation will now be sent to President Biden, who is expected to sign it into law.
The bill’s passage has seen praise in Washington, with the White House already commending its “meaningful reform of the military justice system,” and for its “handling of sexual assault cases,” a key portion of the FY 2022 NDAA.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said last week that the Biden Administration believes the bill “takes groundbreaking steps” to address and prevent sex assaults within the U.S. military, an issue that has faced now for decades.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby also praised the bill, calling it an “historic initiative,” along with speaking to the significance of its military justice reform provisions.
THe Final Countdown: What’s In the NDAA?
Initially, Senators had agreed on a package of around 25 amendments for the bill, although just prior to a potential vote, the bill was stalled after Florida Senator Marco Rubio refused to proceed without the inclusion of an additional amendment that placed import restrictions on goods from China’s Xinjiang province, where the country has been accused of human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims in the region.
The bill, after failing to move forward in the Senate, followed a “Plan B” approach that saw it being renegotiated and passed in the House, and thereafter being passed in the Senate.
Along with the bill’s provisions to combat sex assault and remove extremists from military operations, among the other notable provisions included in the FY 2022 NDAA is a pay increase for military service members and DoD civilian employees. The bill also outlines the operations for an Afghanistan War Commission, which will assess the chaotic U.S. withdrawal of its military forces from the long-embattled country earlier this year.
A main focus of the bill has to do with preparing the Department of Defense for potential issues it faces from one of its primary rival nations, calling for what it terms a “Grand Strategy with Respect to China.” The DoD will be directed to issue a number of reports detailing what current intelligence on China’s activities indicates, and how issues related to everything from technology and security to U.S. strategy in the East and other regions of the world can best be enacted.
Regarding the bill’s inclusions aimed addressing sexual misconduct in the military, the newly passed bill will direct military commanders to send complaints involving such misconduct to independent investigative bodies, rather than being able to conduct such investigations internally. Commanders will also no longer have the ability to engage in decision-making with regard to prosecution in instances which involve sexual assaults and a range of other crimes that include murder. An Office of the Special Trial Counsel will now oversee such decisions, based on the bill’s wording.
Havana Syndrome and Unidentified Aerial Phenomena
Perhaps among the most interesting provisions that the NDAA includes is the authorization for the President to appoint a senior official to oversee investigations into Havana Syndrome, which describes a range of unexplained health issues many U.S. personnel have experienced in recent years. First reported at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, similar incidents involving Americans who were afflicted with a variety of neurological symptoms have occurred in countries around the world.
Part of what the NDAA calls for is the establishment of a “cross functional team” within the DoD, which will provide coordination for its management and responses to such incidents.
Another interesting development pertaining to the Senate’s passage of the NDAA has to do with the inclusion of a version of an amendment, initially filed by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, which sought to establish an office for the investigation of unidentified aerial phenomena (UAP). However, prior to the Senate having time to pass the bill, the DoD announced just before Thanksgiving its establishment of its own UAP investigative entity, the memorably titled Airborne Object Identification Management and Synchronization Group, or AOIMSG.
Many saw the DoD’s sudden establishment of a UAP investigative group as having represented a message—perhaps even a challenge—to Senators pushing for the passage of legislation that would direct the establishment of a similar office. Notably, the provisions outlined in the Senate’s proposed UAP investigations arm, which it calls the Anomaly Surveillance and Resolution Office, described a far more comprehensive program that would not be limited to Special Use Airspace (as the current AOIMSG is), and which would also focus on UAP incidents around nuclear bases, as well as the health effects of UAP on some of those who observe it.
With the DoD already having established its AOIMSG, and now the FY 2022 NDAA passing with its inclusion of the Gillibrand amendment, it remains unclear where things may proceed from here. However, one likely outcome appears to be that the Department of Defense may end up having more than one UAP investigative entity as we head into 2022… which, along with the many other significant provisions included in the bill, truly does make it an “historic” piece of legislation.
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