National Security

Panetta reassures Israel; Karzai to the Pentagon this morning; Hagel talks talking points on Iran; What Obama should ask him tomorrow; Scowcroft is who he is; Is Brennan good for the anti-drone crowd? And more.

The Pentagon sees it as a good time to re-emphasize the commitment to Israel. Again. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak yesterday for the 11th time since he took office and "reiterated the strong U.S. commitment to Israel's security and the strong U.S.-Israel defense relationship," according to Pentagon press secretary George Little. The two discussed regional cooperation when it comes to Syria, Iran and Gaza. What Little did not say: whether they addressed the political firestorm that Chuck Hagel's nomination to Defense has created. (Safe money is on "yes.")

Hagel has been countering his critics, saying he strongly supports multilateral sanctions against Iran. Hagel's transition and prep has begun, and he is in the Pentagon preparing for his Senate testimony and for the strong pushback from some quarters. He has told defense officials that Tehran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons, according to the AP's Lita Baldor. Echoing the administration's long-standing talking point on Iran, Hagel told Pentagon folks this week that all options are on the table, including military action.

The U.S. Institute of Peace's Iran Primer project compiled a set of Hagel statements on Iran. They include an interview with al-Monitor on March 9, 2012: "You cannot push the Iranians into a corner where they can't get out.... You've got to find some quiet ways -- and you don't do this in the press or by giving speeches -- to give them a couple of face saving ways out of this thing so they get something out of this, too." Also: "I don't think that we are necessarily locked into one of two options. And that's the way it's presented. We are great in this country and in our politics of responding to false choices; we love false choices."

Chuck Hagel wasn't nom'ed to head Obama's policy on Israel, writes Gordon Adams on FP. The drawdown of the military budget and the contracting of the Defense Department is what Hagel will confront -- not major policy decisions on Israel or Iran. "For me, the questions for Hagel don't have to do with his policy views on Israel, Iran, or, for that matter, gays. They have to do with the things he would really be responsible for: the management of a defense drawdown in a way that keeps the U.S. military sharp, strengthens the point of the spear for what it should be doing, and constrains the overuse of the military for missions that are not their core competence." Hagel will not only have to oversee the shrinking of the military but will have the opportunity to reshape it, constrain the runaway "back office" at DOD, hold contractors to "realistic pricing" on hardware programs, and make "the tough decisions" about compensation and benefits that Adams says "need to happen."

Adams: "So it is time to cut the irrelevant chatter and ask the nominee the really tough questions. How will he manage the real challenges at DOD?"

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at And sign up for Situation Report here: or just send me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list. And if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease.

Eek: local news sites are a danger to your cyber health. So reports Killer Apps' John Reed, who tells us that thieves are "injecting" local news websites with malware that infects visitor's machines. "Once on the infected computer, the malware transmits the users' online banking information to a server owned by the criminals. You can guess what happens next." Why local news sites? "The attackers find which banks have weak online banking security by scanning a range of IP addresses to see which ones use a specific type of Website login that is known to be vulnerable," Reed hears from Jason Rebholz, a consultant working for cyber security firm Mandiant. "Then they target the local media in the area that the bank is in so they can collect information from its likely customers.

Brent Scowcroft on Hagel: I am who I am. The former national security adviser spoke with The Cable's Josh Rogin about the Hagel brouhaha: "We haven't moved; the Republican party has moved," he told Rogin. "I have been a lifelong Republican and I hold to what are my own beliefs, which happen to be core Republican beliefs, but many in the party have taken a different course." If the party wants to desert him, Scowcroft said, "that's their privilege."

Karzai and Panetta meet at the Pentagon this morning. They'll discuss a host of issues relating to the U.S.-Afghan security relationship before Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey meet reporters in the briefing room at 3 p.m.

An announcement on post-2014 troop levels -- and the "slope" of withdrawal -- is expected very soon. Some experts believe the White House will make the dual announcements in the coming days -- possibly during Karzai's visit, or maybe not until the State of the Union address. But soon. The two issues had been seen as separate, but now the White House has linked them and may make an announcement on both simultaneously. Most Afghanistan watchers believe that by the time Gen. Joe Dunford arrives in Kabul to assume command on Feb. 10, there will be much more clarity on the way ahead.

It's not all about the numbers: McChrystal reiterated the need for a "strategic partnership" between the U.S. and Afghanistan. Stan McChrystal told CNN's Anderson Cooper last night that it's not all about numbers when it comes to what the military force might look like after 2014, but the depth of the commitment from the U.S. "Instead of just troop numbers, I really think, what the Afghan people want from America and the West is a strategic partnership that isn't numbers of people but is a relationship that gives them the confidence that we are enough of a partner that if they need our help, not thousands of troops, maybe not even billions of dollars," he said, "but some sort of presence and some sort of a relationship."

Here are the five things Obama should grill Karzai on during their visit this week, according to Michael Kugelman: Why are green-on-blue attacks still happening? Are the ANSF's biggest needs being neglected? What can be done about conflicting Indian and Pakistani policies in Afghanistan? How can Afghanistan and the international community better harness the vast potential of the country's natural resources? And how can the international community ensure the longevity of development projects in Afghanistan?

Why Brennan might not be the worst thing for the anti-drone crowd. The popular thinking is that John Brennan, nominated this week to head the CIA, is too focused on killing and, as FP columnist Micah Zenko has pointed out, "No politically appointed official in U.S. history has played such a prominent role in killing so many people outside of a war zone as John Brennan." But Michael Cohen says on FP that Brennan is also one of the most prominent critics of the drone program. At CIA, Brennan may even argue to put the bulk of drone operations back within the military, where they would be subject to more outside oversight. Brennan said last fall: "I think the rule should be that if we're going to take actions overseas that result in the deaths of people, the United States should take responsibility for that." Cohen: "Putting the program in the military's hands would go a long way toward achieving that goal."

As a customer and a CIA careerist, Brennan could help the agency get back to basics. The call from both inside and outside CIA headquarters is for a move back to basics -- intelligence collection and analysis -- and away from the paramilitary operations the agency has become known for in recent years. Although Brennan is seen as a chief architect of those operations, he has also more quietly challenged the notion of what operations are appropriate and what ones aren't. "Brennan's an insider, he's going to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the building," Nada Bakos, a former CIA analyst told Situation Report. His background at CIA and as a "customer" at the White House gives him a well-rounded view of "both ends of the pointy end of the spear," Bakos said. "I think that will bode well for some in the building."

Zenko memo to Obama: reform the drone program. Micah Zenko spent the last six months researching a report on armed drones in non-battlefield settings for CFR based on more than five dozen interviews with current and former U.S. officials. Zenko: "The Obama administration should bring its drone strike practices in line with its stated policies by: exclusively limiting its targeted killings to the leadership of al Qaeda or those with a direct operational role in past or ongoing terrorist plots; immediately ending the practice of signature strikes, or publically explaining how they plausibly meet the principles of distinction and proportionality; and reviewing the current policy whereby the executive authority for drone strikes is split between the CIA and Joint Special Operations Command, which have different legal authorities, degrees of permissible transparency, and oversight."




National Security

The Pentagon point men on transition; Hagel and the nuclear option; Jim Cartwright honored for arms control; Is the Zero Option a bluff? Truman and CNP: a meeting of the minds; Why Retired Marine James Howcroft likes Hagel, and more.

Hagel has begun his transition prep in the Pentagon. Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama's choice for SecDef, was in the building yesterday and begins a series of briefings on transition this week, Situation Report was told. "The focus is now on getting Senator Hagel immersed in the issues of the Department and briefed up," a senior defense official told Situation Report. Transition really began Monday evening with a private dinner with Panetta and Hagel over corn chowder, filet mignon, and chocolate cake -- more Nebraska than California-Italian.

Panetta Chief of Staff Jeremy Bash is the head of transition. Situation Report is also told that Marcel Lettre is running the day-to-day issues around the transition effort, coordinating content and briefings, and Mike Rhodes, who had been tasked with building binders and binders for Mitt Romney had he won election, is in charge of the administrative issues surrounding transition -- starting with who parks where on the enormous Pentagon "reservation."

Meet the Hagelians. Situation Report and the E-Ring's Kevin Baron teamed up to look at the group of loyalists around Hagel who may return in one form or another in a Hagel Pentagon. They include Aaron Dowd, described to Situation Report as a quiet, self-deprecating Nebraskan who started out as an intern from Marquette University and is not only close to his boss but is thought to know him well. Hagel has stayed as loyal to Dowd as Dowd has to Hagel. Look for him not to disappear.

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report, where we eagerly await Lance Armstrong's "no holds barred" appearance on Oprah Jan. 17. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at And sign up for Situation Report here: or just send me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list. And if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease.

Meanwhile, another Republican senator said no. A fellow mid-westerner, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), said he would oppose Hagel's confirmation. And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he would delay confirmation of John Brennan for CIA until he is satisfied the administration has answered more questions on Benghazi, the WSJ and others report.

New blocking maneuver: nukes. It's the new thing when it comes to raising Cain on Hagel. New rumblings from congressional members opposed to his nomination say his positions on nuclear arms are a worry as is his membership in Global Zero, which is considered pretty mainstream and is evident by its list of supporters, including Hagel.

Rep. Mike Turner, chair of HASC's subcommittee on air and land forces, says in an emailed statement that Hagel's positions are "at odds with mainstream thinking and the President's stated choices." In red ink: "This includes drastic and possibly unilateral reductions in U.S. nuclear forces, eliminating the ICBM leg of our nuclear deterrent and cancelling our other nuclear modernization programs." Turner calls such proposals "a dangerous, ideological agenda."

The Arms Control Association's Daryl Kimball tells Situation Report, "Like President Obama, [Chuck Hagel] clearly supports a balanced and energetic U.S. leadership role in reducing the role, number and spread of nuclear weapons, and his record in the Senate shows that his views on the subject are quite mainstream."

In 2007, Hagel and Obama co-sponsored S. 1977, which Kimball characterized as a "blueprint" for Obama's speech in April 2009 in Prague that called for a "step-by-step process" toward a nuclear weapons free world consistent with what the likes of Kissinger, Nunn, Perry, and Shultz called for in a 2007 op-ed in the WSJ.

Obama, in March 2012: "My Administration's nuclear posture recognizes that the massive nuclear arsenal we inherited from the Cold War is poorly suited for today's threats, including nuclear terrorism," Obama said. "We have more nuclear weapons than we need. I firmly believe that we can ensure the security of the United States and our allies, maintain a strong deterrent against any threat, and still pursue further reductions in our nuclear arsenal."

The Arms Control Association gave the nod to "Arms Control Person of the Year" to Jim Cartwright, the retired vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for calling on the U.S. to reduce nuclear forces to 900 total warheads, scale back multi-billion dollar plans to modernize the nuclear triad and reduce the alert status of deployed nuclear weapons. Cartwright's May 2012 report says the U.S. and Russian arsenals "vastly exceed what is needed."

Cartwright's report for Global Zero:

Membership list of Global Zero:

Situation Report corrects. Bum scoop. It wasn't Thom Shanker who was a guest at Chuck Hagel's Georgetown class, as we were told, but another NYT journalist - Eric Schmitt. SitRep regrets the error.

Panetta is headed to Europe next week. It's his first trip to places like London, Lisbon, and Rome -- and definitely his last as defense secretary. Asked by Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio if it was basically a "farewell junket" for a retiring defense secretary at a time of budgetary woe, George Little defended the trip as an important ally-maintaining measure.

Little: "The secretary of defense wants to see very strong NATO allies who have fought and died in Afghanistan. He wants to see our foreign counterparts to reaffirm our very strong commitment to transatlantic defense alliances. This is a trip that is about trying to drive even deeper relationships with very close allies. There is a lot of work to be done with our European allies, and I would remind you, Tony, that this is his first major swing through these capitals," he said. "He has made several trips to Asia at this stage and to other parts of the world, but this is his first swing through Europe."

The "Zero Option": bluff or possible policy? Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai is in Washington this week for what may be a historic visit in which the two countries will hash out, in broad strokes, what their post-2014 partnership will look like. Key is the number of troops for the "enduring presence," an issue over which there is intense negotiation on either side. No one wants to blow it: Afghanistan needs U.S. assistance desperately, and the United States can't be seen as abandoning a country and region in which it has expended blood and resources for more than 10 years. Now comes the Zero Option -- that is, leaving no troops at all -- which the White House's Ben Rhodes said yesterday in a conference call with reporters was an option: "I'd just say a version of what I said before, which is that would be an option that we would consider, because the President does not view these negotiations as having a goal of keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He views these negotiations as in service of the two missions, security missions identified post-2014 -- again, counterterrorism particularly focused on al Qaeda and its affiliates, and training and equipping of ANSF."

U.S. to Karzai: Maybe it's no troops for you! Writing on FP this week, Dave Barno, argues why Karzai has to get past the notion that the U.S. won't seriously toy with the idea of leaving Afghanistan with nothing. Barno argues that the U.S. experience with Iraq, better intelligence networks, budgetary pressures, war weariness and the U.S. "stand off" abilities mean it doesn't have to cave to Karzai's pressures on immunity issues for American troops and what not.

The Kagans don't like the options on the table for Afghanistan. Writing in the WSJ today under the headline "How to Waste a Decade in Afghanistan," the analyst duo of Fred and Kim argue that Pakistan's inability to "govern, police or control" the border region is reason enough to keep enough forces in the area; and they say the creation of the ANSF was never predicated on having no outside assistance. Indeed, that would take decades, the pair argue: "If a much-reduced U.S. force level is announced, Afghans will say that the Americans have abandoned their country. They will be right. With a drastically reduced U.S. presence, the Afghan government and army will fracture, warlords will begin fighting each other and the insurgents and terrorists in ungoverned spaces. The conditions will be ideal for al Qaeda's return. That's failure. And it will matter."

Truman and CNP: a meeting of the minds. It is a big day for the Truman National Security Project and the Center for National Policy, which formally announce a new partnership today. The two organizations are joining forces, with a combined staff of about 30 people and a budget of about $5 million. No question that "synergies" can be created in these times of budgetary worry for non-profits. Folks there say that the new partnership joins the "political power, community building and leadership development strengths" of the Truman Project with the "policy heft and heritage" of the Center for National Policy.

Mike Breen is the executive director the Truman Project and CNP: "This is a natural integration of policy and political leadership that will craft, advocate for and implement policies that strengthen American security, our nation's economy, and human rights and democracy at home and around the world. This partnership unites generations of innovators in forging a stronger America."

Retired Marine Col. Jim Howcroft, a former defense attaché in Georgia between 1995 and 1998, e-mails directly from the Department of FWIW. "I met Senator Hagel when he came through the Republic of Georgia in the mid 1990s. He impressed me as a humble and focused guy who asked tough, but insightful questions who understood the significance of what I was telling him about the Caucasus. As a somewhat recently retired Marine, I think he is a great choice to be SECDEF." He adds: "During my years in Moscow and Tbilisi, we had many senior visitors that either left you shaking your head wondering  ‘how in the heck did that guy ever got to his position' or folks that when they left you thought, ‘boy am I glad we have people like that in charge and making decisions.' Hagel was in the second group."