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5 NatSec Things - 12 Apr 2018

Today's things: AMA on transgender troops; Mattis to DoD: "Shhh."; 9/11 families still after KSA; Goo
April 12 · Issue #48 · View online
5 NatSec Things
Today’s things: AMA on transgender troops; Mattis to DoD: “Shhh.”; 9/11 families still after KSA; Googlers hate Maven; Qatar an island?

Quote of the Day
“This plan will irreparably damage Google’s brand and its ability to compete for talent. Amid growing fears of biased and weaponized AI, Google is already struggling to keep the public’s trust.” – Google employees, non-ironically, on working with the DoD
AMA to Mattis: Walk us through that transgender thing again?
Right, but can “they” use “our” bathrooms?
“There is no medically valid reason — including a diagnosis of gender dysphoria — to exclude transgender individuals from military service.“  – American Medical Association CEO Dr. James Madara 
But they needs the medications
Opening with this because it looks like from a quick glance at the news that we’re not at war with anyone new this morning, so let’s all take a second and worry about the other problem the Tweeter-in-Chief has besides impulse control and that’s an alarming tendency to play to the bigots in the gallery.
This time it’s the Mattisized version of Trump’s all-out ban on transgender persons serving in the US military. Which is a thing that the vice president would love to see happen and somehow Mike "I Don’t Hate The Gays, God Does” Pence and his particularly vile version of Jesusness have convinced the president that this is an issue.
The American Medical Assocation (AMA) disagrees, and believes there is no medically valid reason to not allow anyone and everyone who’s at any stage of transitioning from serving in the military.
But they’re just doctors, and I’s a soldier, so that makes me smrter
Let’s be clear on something: I’m a cis gender heterosexual white male in his forties who served under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. I grew up surrounded by all the diversity of a paper plate. 
Not the fancy kind with the designs and all. No. The straight up white AF cheap kind you needed to have about five of unless you wanted to be wearing mom’s ribs. 
So it’s not like I’m some woke millenial clutching my participation trophy in one hand and my avocado toast in the other. I say that to establish some bona fides in terms of being from a background that means I, too, could be an ignorant asshole about this. 
But I’m not, and it’s time we all get our beady little brains around the fact that transgender persons deserve the same rights as everyone else. So let’s stop hiding behind psych evals of gender dsyphoria for a damn minute and own the fact that this ban is an attempt by evangelicals and other ‘murcan subspecies to preserve the gender status quo.
They’re here, they’re transgender, and they want to serve
That is a terrible heading because it doesn’t rhyme. 
We can tell ourselves that this is different from discriminating against African Americans because if you’re African American you’re not born with a choice. Raise your hand if, like me, you’ve used that argument in the past for issues like this.
Raise your hand if, like me, you’ve tried to get smarter about this and learned that, no, gender dysphoria and being transgender isn’t a choice. We can argue about why someone’s transgender all we want to, but that shouldn’t be a factor in deciding whether they want to serve.
Staff Sgt. Logan Ireland and his wife, Laila, speak to an audience in Polaris Hall about transgender issues during the National Character and Leadership Symposium hosted by the U.S. Air Force Academy, Feb. 22-23, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes)
Staff Sgt. Logan Ireland and his wife, Laila, speak to an audience in Polaris Hall about transgender issues during the National Character and Leadership Symposium hosted by the U.S. Air Force Academy, Feb. 22-23, 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Julius Delos Reyes)
Mattis ready for DoD to talk about itself less
Loose lips sink ships but so do accidents
“While it can be tempting during budget season to publicly highlight readiness problems, we have to remember that our adversaries watch the news too. Communicating that we are broken or not ready to fight invites miscalculation.” – Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, former Pentagon public affairs director
It’s almost like he’s on Trump’s page
In March of 2017, Defense Secretary James Mattis realized that there was a readiness problem across US forces. Planes were falling out of the sky thanks to maintenance budgets and operational tempo, and there was a general sense from those that like fat checks at the Pentagon that this was a problem.
Mattis had an email sent out that basically said that people needed to shut the hell up about readiness, because telling the world that the US wasn’t quite as ready to fight a war as it would like to be could cause America’s adversaries to take advantage and start a war.
Nothing to see here except the casualties
If you’re going to spin a gag order the right way, this is it: make it about national security. No one’s saying we shouldn’t talk about airplane accidents, we’re just saying we shouldn’t talk so much about airplane accidents. Because accountability just isn’t all that American.
Not sure there is an adult in that room
It’s true that foreign read US news, but it’s also true that the public has the right to know why its sons and daughters are getting injured and killed in avoidable accidents at an alarming rate. 
No matter the reasoning behind SecDef’s instructions to DoD comms staff, it comes across as a move toward less transparency by an administration and a military that continues to provide less information about what it’s up to on a regular basis.
9/11 families OK to continue trying to sue Saudi Arabia
Still won’t stop him from selling helicopters
“This fight for justice is about more than just these families. It is to deter also state sponsors of terrorism.” – Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-CT
I’m on your side unless there’s money involved
While Trump’s busy signing deals with the Saudis, some families of the 9/11 victims are still trying to get some sense of justice through the courts, by suing the government of the KSA for its alleged involvement in the 2001 hijacking and murder of a few thousand US citizens.
Last month a federal judge said the suit could go forward despite a Saudi motion to have it dismissed, citing the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which was passed over President Obama’s veto in 2016.
See? Obama likes terrorists, because he’s Kenyan
Obama’s concern was that the law, which narrows the limits of foreign sovereignty, could inspire similar legislation and reciprocating lawsuits by other countries. Because to some people who aren’t American, the US seems to export a lot of violence into other places.
Since JASTA’s passed, however, what essentially is a class action lawsuit against a country that probably was at least complicit in a massive terror attack against its notional ally can continue to go forward. 
What’s hilarious is Sen. Blumenthal’s fanboy slavering over this thing.
All about those Sikorsky helos
I’ve been a fan of Sen. Blumenthal’s for a while, because Dick likes to support causes, causes like his re-election. His comments about fighting for justice with the Saudi government ring a little hollow considering that last year the US government inked a deal worth $6 billion with the Saudi government to assemble Blackhawk helicopters in the KSA.
Then this year the Saudis signed another deal to get 17 Blackhawk helicopters from Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company.
While it has operations in other states, Sikorsky’s main plant?
So we’re cool with soundbites supporting a lawsuit that will probably never get settled, and we’re also cool with selling weapons to the country that’s been targeted by said lawsuit.
Almost feels like politics isn’t all that honest an endeavor.
Google employees forego naps long enough to send letter
But we do want our avocado lattes
“We believe that Google should not be in the business of war.“ – Google employees, from their nap pods, presumably
If we build it, you will kill it
Google employees have decided that they’re not in touch with their inner humanitarian enough to make drone strikes safer for civilians, and so they’re objected to doing Artificial Intelligence (AI) work in coordination with the Pentagon on something called Project Maven.
AKA "Skynet”
Project Maven is designed to make autonomy a going thing for the US military, particularly for drones, and part of Google’s role would be to help make the targeting software more effective.
But because your average Google engineer has seen the Terminator movies too many times while fondling that flamethrower they got from Elon Musk, they think their tech could be used to develop an autonomous killing machine. 
Not so(ish), says Google’s leadership and you can’t even see the Pentagon’s lips move when they do.
Safer drones for everyone
Part of Maven’s goal is to make targeting more effective, i.e. “kill fewer kids.” But it’s also designed to reduce the number of humans in the targeting loops, i.e. “machines kill more people”.
The Googler’s objections are another sign that, to paraphrase a saying I heard once, “Google is not at war, the military is at war. Google is at the mall.”
Probably not the mall but an app that looks like a mall because who has time to go to a mall anymore when you’re a busy super smart engineer driving up the cost of living to unsustainable levels?
There’s a growing cognitive dissonance between those who make the tech and those who use the tech to ostensibly maintain our freedoms. And that will continue until our robot overlords make it stop.
Saudi Arabia thinking about turning Qatar into an island
This doesn’t sound promising
Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, became the first high-ranking official to comment on the proposal. In a string of tweets, he said the project is “proof of Qatar’s failure to manage and solve its crisis” and that Doha’s silence on the canal project “is proof of their fear and confusion.”
Congrats, you’re now adrift
Gulf coast nations have been getting along about as well as the cast of the Jersey Shore at a wedding in the Hamptons, and it’s escalated to the point that Saudi Arabia is talking about turning its border with Qatar into a giant moat. The planned waterway would be about 200m wide, 66 feet deep, and would be the site of future nuclear waste from a planned Saudi nuclear reactor.
So they build a ditch
It’s a ditch that would allow ships to bypass Qatar completely, as in enabling them to go completely around the nation. Because in their claims that the country is a state sponsor of terror, Saudi Arabia is doing its level best to punish Qatar for being a regional upstart and generally pissing the Saudis off, thanks to Qatar’s relationship with Iran.
Not sure why we care
What the Middle East doesn’t need is conflict among currently stable nations at a time when ISIS is on its back foot.
And Qatar has been a reliable US partner in the region, which could change thanks to Trump’s bromance with current Saudi leadership. 
With a decreased focus on Syria, though, the airbase at Al Udeid that’s been used by the coalition to hit ISIS might be getting quieter. And Qatar might have to just figure out how to enjoy its new island nation status.
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