National Security

Filibuster ends, Brennan’s CIA confirmation closer; How Assad lost the COIN; A “disservice” to combat vets: the push to demote the DWM; What Congress is doing for the Pentagon; Arming cyber warriors, and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold 

Rand Paul ends his "old school" filibuster. The senator from Kentucky and other Republicans ended their filibuster against John Brennan's nomination to become CIA director early this morning after 12 hours and 52 minutes. Paul and others, concerned over the administration's use of lethal drone strikes, kept the Senate from voting on the otherwise imminent confirmation. From a 1:27 a.m. post on the NYT: "Mr. Paul finally wound down shortly before 1 a.m. on Thursday, surrounded by a group of Republican senators and House members who had joined him on the Senate floor in a show of solidarity. ‘I would go for another 12 hours to try to break Strom Thurmond's record, but I've discovered that there are some limits to filibustering and I'm going to have to go take care of one of those in a few minutes here,' Mr. Paul said to knowing laughter as he referred to the legendary South Carolina senator known for his 28-hour filibuster. (Mr. Paul could not leave the floor to use the bathroom, making his filibuster at a certain point seem less a standoff between the senator from Kentucky and the administration than a battle between Mr. Paul and his own bladder.)"

Talking Points Memo: The Wall Street Journal slams Paul's filibuster. The Atlantic put together a condensed version of what he said, here.

Rand Paul isn't the problem. Micah Zenko writes on FP that while the drone program has a lot of issues, Senate Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky isn't one of them. Zenko, who calls for an independent commission on lethal drone force: "Over the past few months, many stakeholders in and out of government have offered recommendations about how the Obama administration should change, limit, end, or enhance its targeted killing policies. However, there have been no calls for an official government study into the history and evolution of non-battlefield targeted killings. This is essential..."

The House is helping to avoid the Pentagon's "Sequestria" and extend its survival. Writing on FP, Gordon Adams says that a bill the House passed yesterday doesn't fix sequester, but does make it easier "for the Pentagon to survive." Adams: "In writing a full appropriations bill, [House Approps Committee Chairman Harold Rogers] gave the Obama administration pretty much all the money it asked for in its request for crucial operational accounts. The bill increases the funds for operations and maintenance by more than $10 billion above the FY 2012 (and, thus, the continuing resolution) level. That doesn't eliminate the sequester, but it raises the baseline from which sequester is measured for the accounts most directly affected. That gives some relief to the services, easing about 25 percent of the pain they see coming. And, who knows, if there is actually progress on the broader budget negotiations the president is lobbying for, the whole sequester thing itself might become meaningless."

North Korea ramped up its rhetoric ahead of a U.N. vote. The North vowed to exercise its right to launch a pre-emptive nuclear attack against its aggressors, saying in a video posted this morning by the BBC (which includes theatrical Superman music) that "since the United States is about to ignite a nuclear war, we will be exercising our rights...in order to protect our supreme interests."

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report, where "My Jihad" is to bring you the best each day. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com. Sign up for Situation Report by sending me an e-mail. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, tidbit or something you want us to flag, send it to us early for maximum tease. And help us fill our candy dish: news of the military weird, excessive spending, strange trends, personnel comings-and-goings and whatnot. 

Chuck's day. Today, after routine morning meetings and briefings, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will be briefed up on sexual assault issues at the Pentagon.

How did Assad lose the COIN? The Assad regime in Syria failed to quell the opposition when it started to rise up against it but is well-suited to conduct a protracted civil war against rebels, writes the ISW's Joseph Holliday in a piece the Institute just published yesterday. Holliday: "Bashar al-Assad's reliance on a small core of trusted military units limited his ability to control all of Syria. He hedged against defections by deploying only the most loyal one-third of the Syrian Army, but in so doing he undercut his ability to prosecute a troop-intensive counterinsurgency campaign because he could not use all of his forces. Defections and attrition have exacerbated the regime's central challenge of generating combat power. These dynamics have weakened the Syrian Army in some ways but also honed it, such that what remains of these armed forces is comprised entirely of committed regime supporters."

Instant street-cred for Hagel with the uniforms: demote the DWM. Former defense secretary Leon Panetta did a solid for the Air Force and other drone pilots by creating the new Distinguished Warfare medal that honors their work and, most agree, rightly so. But here's the problem: in the hierarchical world of military awards, the Distinguished Warfare Medal sits atop the Bronze Star (and just below the Distinguished Flying Cross) and that has plenty of folk up in arms. As the E-Ring's Kevin Baron writes, its precedence is "far higher than the lowest-ranking combat medals awarded to troops who actually put their lives on the line, including the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, for those wounded in action." They'd like to see Hagel put on his sergeant hat and reduce the precedence of the award. Doing that, some will tell you privately, would earn him all kinds of stripes with the uniforms. Nearly 50 members of the House also see it that way. They signed a letter that urges Hagel to take action. "We are supportive of recognizing and rewarding such extraordinary service but in the absence of the service member exposing him or herself to imminent mortal danger, we cannot support the DWM taking precedence above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart," the note, signed by both Republicans and Democrats, reads. "The current order of precedence for the DWM is a disservice to Purple Heart recipients who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country or were wounded while serving in combat."

The letter's last line: "We thank you for your consideration on this matter and look forward to an open and positive relationship moving forward."

A counter cyber-force armed with bombers and stuff? Yeah, maybe: "The Defense Science Board's new report on protecting the Pentagon's computer networks calls for the development of a special force armed with its own bombers, cruise missiles, and cyber weapons to respond to a devastating cyber attack," Killer Apps' John Reed reports. "Kind of like a mini, conventionally-armed Strategic Command for cyber deterrence." From the new document: "Cyber offense may provide the means to respond in-kind. The protected conventional capability should provide credible and observable kinetic effects globally. Forces supporting this capability are isolated and segmented from general-purpose forces to maintain the highest level of cyber resiliency at an affordable cost. Nuclear weapons would remain the ultimate response and anchor the deterrence ladder."

BTW: Our own John Reed appears on a cyber panel today. Rescheduled because of yesterday's massive storm -- we're still digging out -- the Truman Project/CNP will hold a panel discussion on cyber, "The Spy who Hacked Me," today at their offices at noon. CNP President Scott Bates hosts a panel to discuss cyber espionage with CNP cyber-security expert Jessica Herrera-Flanigan and FP's Reed.

Speaking of which: The NSA's work helping ward off Chinese hackers is about to get slightly more transparent. The National Security Agency, which works with American companies to assess Chinese cyber techniques, is about to launch a new initiative. Writing on FP, Marc Ambinder: "In the coming weeks, the NSA, working with a Department of Homeland Security joint task force and the FBI, will release to select American telecommunication companies a wealth of information about China's cyber-espionage program, according to a U.S. intelligence official and two government consultants who work on cyber projects. Included: sophisticated tools that China uses, countermeasures developed by the NSA, and unique signature-detection software that previously had been used only to protect government networks." Ambinder writes that very little that China does "escapes the notice" of the NSA, and "virtually every technique it uses has been tracked and reverse-engineered."

Interesting: For years, Ambinder writes, and in secret, the NSA has used the cover of American companies (and with their permission) to determine more about Chinese hackers to assess their patterns and better figure out how to attribute the origin of attacks.

"Now, though, the cumulative effect of Chinese economic warfare -- American companies' proprietary secrets are essentially an open book to them -- has changed the secrecy calculus. An American official who has been read into the classified program -- conducted by cyber-warfare technicians from the Air Force's 315th Network Warfare Squadron and the CIA's secret Technology Management Office -- said that China has become the ‘Curtis LeMay' of the post-Cold War era: ‘It is not abiding by the rules of statecraft anymore, and that must change.'"

 

Noting

  • Haaretz: The End of the Chavez-Ahmadinejad love affair.
  • Press TV: U.S. starts Afghan pullout through Pakistan.
  • The Guardian: Talks underway to free 21 U.N. peacekeepers in Syria.
  • Reuters: French defense minister, in Mali, says mission is not over.
  • Jerusalem Post: Hagel to Barak: I hope to visit Israel soon.
  • Weekly Standard: Obama's damaging indifference to Asia.
  • Brisbane Times: No embassy for North Korea in Australia.
  • Small Wars: Why UAV strikes should belong to the military.      

 

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