Today's date is August 8, 2020

Murphy and Cunningham Introduce Legislation to Require Congressional Notification if Foreign Government Targets U.S. Servicemembers

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WASHINGTON—U.S. Representatives Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., and Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., today introduced legislation to require the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to swiftly brief key Members of Congress if the DNI determines, with moderate or high confidence, that a foreign government is deliberately seeking to kill or severely injure U.S. servicemembers. This will enable Congress to take appropriate action to deter and respond to such conduct.

The Murphy-Cunningham legislation, called the Deadly Escalation by Foreign Entities Notification and Disclosure (DEFEND) Act, is the first bill introduced in Congress in response to credible U.S. intelligence reporting that a Russian military intelligence unit paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants to encourage those militants to kill American and coalition troops operating in Afghanistan. When this intelligence reporting was made public, the Trump administration invited some congressional Republicans and congressional Democrats to the White House to be informally briefed on the matter. Republicans and Democrats were briefed separately, giving a partisan sheen to a national security issue of critical importance to all Americans.

“When our brave servicemembers 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 servicemembers, Congress should immediately be notified so we can take all appropriate steps—on a bipartisan basis—to protect our troops.”

“The safety and security of American servicemembers is my top priority in Congress and should never be politicized,” said Cunningham. “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 DNI 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 the DNI 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. servicemembers though direct or indirect means, including through payments to terrorist or criminal organizations. In making this determination, the DNI would consult with other elements of the intelligence community, such as 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. servicemembers.
  • 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 servicemember.

Once this initial briefing is provided, the DNI would be required to provide updated congressional briefings on a quarterly basis until such time as the DNI determines that the foreign government is no longer targeting U.S. servicemembers. The bill requires all congressional briefings to be provided in a manner that is consistent with the protection of intelligence sources and methods.

The information provided to Congress would enable congressional leaders, on a bipartisan basis, to make better informed decisions relating to authorizing legislation, appropriations legislation, and oversight of the executive branch.

The DEFEND Act is modeled on a bipartisan provision, strongly supported by Murphy and Cunningham, that was enacted as part of the most recent Intelligence Authorization Act. It requires the DNI to brief certain Members and committees of Congress if the DNI determines, with moderate or high confidence, that a foreign government is seeking to influence a federal election by means of a significant cyber intrusion or active measures campaign. See 50 U.S.C. 3371a.

To read the DEFEND Act, click here.

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