National Security

Steve Hadley at FP: “I should have asked that question”; John Allen: No boots on the ground for 20 years; “Who is Alex Trebek?” The QDR is not a “new start.”; Mike Mount, out; and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold

Dunford issues an unusual security advisory. President Hamid Karzai's recent statements about the U.S. and the Taliban collaborating against Afghanistan, comments he doubled down on again earlier this week, triggered a rare security advisory from ISAF commander Gen. Joe Dunford in Kabul, according to the NYT. The comments from Karzai could put Americans at risk by "rogue security forces and from militants," the paper said. "Frustration with Mr. Karzai was clear in the alert, known as a command threat advisory, sent on Wednesday." The message to troops indicated that the U.S. and Afghanistan are at a rough point in their relationship and that militants could exploit the situation.  Dunford: "His remarks could be a catalyst for some to lash out against our forces -- he may also issue orders that put our forces at risk."

An American official e-mails Situation Report:  "It is no small thing that we're reading this morning about leaders from around Afghanistan push back on President Karzai's inflammatory statements. While the path may be clouded in fog for now, it's plain to see that Afghans want to have a relationship with the United States and the International Community going forward because it is in their own security interest."

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at Sign up for Situation Report here or just shoot me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. If we can get it in, we will. And help us fill our candy dish: news of the military weird, strange trends, personnel comings-and-goings and whatnot.

FP and RAND teamed up for a group talk on the war in Iraq, which began 10 years ago this month. Over four hours yesterday morning, some of the biggest names associated with the war -- from Gen. John Allen, who was instrumental in the Anbar Awakening, to Steve Hadley, national security adviser under Bush 43 -- sparred over questions that, a decade later, clearly still touch a lot of nerves. There were sharp exchanges over everything from failed reconstruction efforts, to whether al Qaeda really was in Iraq, to whether bad intelligence caused the war. Some quotables:

Hadley, on al Qaeda in Iraq and the justification for war: "You know, Stan McChrystal's book is very interesting because it makes crystal clear that what Iraq became was a struggle against al Qaeda in Iraq. And I remember in the summer -- and I'm not getting partisan here -- I remember in the summer of 2008 when President Obama, then candidate Obama, said al Qaeda was the ball, the Bush administration took their eye off the ball, and they went into Iraq, but al Qaeda isn't in Iraq, al Qaeda is in Afghanistan. And I asked Mike McConnell at the time -- the DC at the time -- ‘How many al Qaeda fighters are in Afghanistan today and how many are in Iraq?' And he said, ‘In Iraq, there's about 15,000, down from about 20 [thousand], and in Afghanistan there's 200.' So you can say we failed to foresee that Iraq would become the frontline of al Qaeda's struggle against the United States, and I think we did not have the right strategy or the right resourcing in the end of the day to deal with that problem.."

Hadley also said: "No one from the intelligence community, anyplace else ever came in and said, ‘What if Saddam is doing all this deception because he actually got rid of the WMD and he doesn't want the Iranians to know?' Now somebody should have asked that question. I should have asked that question. Nobody did. Turns out that was the most important question in terms of the intelligence failure that never got asked."

John Allen, observing that the U.S. will not put boots-on-the-ground in another theater for 20 years: "Clearly a 50-nation coalition right now in Afghanistan has been important to us, but my guess is... that it will be 20 years before we undertake something like this again. It's going to be a long time before NATO is going to be interested probably in undertaking something that could look like this again."

And Allen on development: "Something I worry about increasingly as time goes on is the sense that the development strategies in Iraq and now Afghanistan have failed. And that the development dimension of what we have attempted to undertake was either the wrong approach or just flawed from the beginning."* 

Doug Feith, on pre-war intelligence: "I think that one of the lessons is that we should just be, in general, more skeptical about intelligence and make sure that - you have to rely on intelligence, its as good as it can get, and you try to improve it, but whenever you read it, it should be read very skeptically."

And Feith said on civilian reconstruction efforts, historically: "The basic way it happens is you start with the Keystone Cops, always. After a while we get smart, and you get some systems in place, you get some experience, you start to learn what the picture is on the ground.... [S]ometimes a lot of what you know in advance is not only inadequate, it's exactly wrong, as was the case in Iraq over and over again. I mean, a lot of the intelligence about Iraq was precisely wrong; it wasn't simply less than you wanted. And so you start with the KC, you get smarter, you get better, you get skilled, you get teamwork established, and then you disband everybody. And you go to the next event and you start with the Keystone Cops again. That doesn't quite happen with the military."

Who was there -- The group included Gen. John Allen, Ambs. Jim Dobbins and Charlie Ries, Chris Chivvis, Doug Feith, Peter Feaver, Steve Hadley, Pete Mansoor, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Kalev Sepp, Paul Pillar, Ken Pollack, Walt Slocombe, David Sanger, Michael Gordon, Eliot Cohen, Greg Jaffe, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Michael Gordon, David Rothkopf, and Susan Glasser.

CNP and the Truman Project hold an event today on Iraq. Deets here.

The Answer: An old friend of Chuck Hagel's who will be at the Pentagon today. The Question: "Who is Alex Trebek?" Here's another question: who knew? Trebek, who's known Hagel for years -- "an old, old friend," we're told -- will be on hand along with several other old friends for Hagel's formal swearing in as the 24th SecDef with pal Vice President Joe Biden.

Others who will be there - Secretary of State John Kerry, Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and new CIA Director John Brennan. Former staffers, colleagues, nat-sec types and right-hand men include: Aaron Dowd, Eric Rosenbach, John Lettieri, Rexon Ryu, Evan Bayh, Max Cleland, Steve Clemons, John Warner, Ike Skelton, Dick Lugar, Brent Scowcroft (see more below on him), Ryan Crocker, and Jim Jones.

Hagel also meets with his combatant commanders today to talk "budget uncertainty in Washington and threats to their AORs," we're told by a senior defense official.

Wouldn't the QDR be considered a "new start" and therefore not possible under the continuing resolution? The Pentagon doesn't have a budget and is operating under what's called a continuing resolution that, among other things, prevents new programs or spending initiatives -- what in Pentagon parlance is called a "new start." But is the Quadrennial Defense Review going to be considered a new spending initiative? Producing the QDR can take hundreds if not thousands of people working feverishly on an effort that has been derided by some as just another bureaucratic exercise. A defense official e-mailed a response to our question: "The QDR is basically conducted using staff already in the Pentagon who are already paid for, and there isn't a separate budget. To the extent there will be civilians working on the QDR, those who will be furloughed will be affected and that will be an impact of sequestration."

Chinese Hackers, Chinese Schmackers. The Pentagon is razzmatazzing folks about the actual threat of Chinese hackers, argues Thomas Rid, author of the forthcoming book Cyber War Will Not Take Place. From the article, referencing a recent Defense Science Board report: "A reminder is in order: The world has yet to witness a single casualty, let alone fatality, as a result of a computer attack. Such statements are a plain insult to survivors of Hiroshima. Some sections of the Pentagon document offer such eye-wateringly shoddy analysis that they would not have passed as an MA dissertation in a self-respecting political science department. But in the current debate it seemed to make sense. After all a bit of fear helps to claim -- or keep -- scarce resources when austerity and cutting seems out-of-control. The report recommended allocating the stout sum of $2.5 billion for its top two priorities alone, protecting nuclear weapons against cyber attacks and determining the mix of weapons necessary to punish all-out cyber-aggressors."

Mike Mount, Out! Longtime CNN Pentagon producer and Seinfeld trivia lover Mike Mount is leaving CNN and journalism (again!) to work as director of public affairs for defense contractor DRS/Finmeccanica, an Italian/U.S. joint venture across the street in Crystal City. The building is losing one of the good ones. What he's thinking about buying: A Vespa.

Paging Don Rumsfeld. The former SecDef liked to hold up a satellite image of the Korean Peninsula at night and point to all the lights in South Korea and all the darkness in North Korea. Well, now there is one light in the north -- it's that of a North Korean with an iPhone with the new Stars and Stripes app on it. Turns out Stripes newspaper's new app, sold on iTunes, has been downloaded by people all around the world. Including just one in North Korea.

Edelman, Kagan, Kristol and Senor: Nice try, Ryan. The Foreign Policy Initiative released a statement yesterday about Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal for 2014 and the House bill that would give the Pentagon "modest flexibility" to absorb sequestration cuts this fiscal year. FPI's Directors Eric Edelman, Robert Kagan, Bill Kristol and Dan Senor: "We're pleased that Congressman Paul Ryan's proposed budget for FY 2014 represents a step in the right direction. The Ryan Budget would cancel defense sequestration beginning in FY 2014. We would point out, though, that its funding level is still below that which both parties and the Obama Administration thought acceptable just two years ago. We urge the Senate and the President to restore defense spending at least to the Ryan budget level. And we urge all parties to stop slashing defense for the sake of seeming to do something about the budget deficit, and get serious about adequate funding for national defense, not only next year but also in the long term."



  • Time: (Klein): Shinseki should step down.
  • Roll Call: Assault verdict reversal splits Pentagon brass and civilians.
  • E-Ring: Military justice's dirty little secret: the convening authority.
  • The Spectator: Retreating from Afghanistan is never easy. 
  • The New Republic: Two former U.S. officials make the case for accommodation in Iran. 
  • Killer Apps: Readout of Obama's cyber-summit with CEOs.   

*Editor's note: The lead-ins to Gen. Allen's quotes have been changed to more precisely reflect what he said.


National Security

Cyber worries bubbling to the top; Hagel has a second thought on DWM; Karzai turns up the heat, again; Sarah Chayes: Vali Nasr was wrong, and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold

Dunford and Karzai just met to talk detention issues. After last week's abrupt delay of transferring the detention facility in Afghanistan to the Afghan government, ISAF commander Gen. Joe Dunford and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met today to talk about what needs to be done to make it happen. A Pentagon official said yesterday it was still expected to happen soon. Dunford, in a statement issued this hour: "The United States is committed to transferring the detention facility in Parwan to Afghan control.  It must be done in a way that meets the needs of Afghan sovereignty while mitigating the real threats that some of these detainees pose to Afghan and Coalition forces.  We will complete the transfer when the remaining issues have been resolved."

Cyber -- it's getting real. Cyber and intelligence officials sounded alarm bells yesterday on Capitol Hill, saying the U.S. was vulnerable to cyber attack if not outright electronic destruction, with the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper saying, "It's hard to over-emphasize its significance." For years, cyber has been on the periphery of the American national security consciousness, a decidedly unsexy story with real but vague-sounding impacts. But since former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta started talking about "cyber Pearl Harbors," the issue has been elevated. While nothing too devastating is likely in the next two years, Clapper told senators, it's a major strategic concern, with China and Iran and some non-state actors all posing major risks to the U.S. government and private sector. Gen. Keith Alexander, the Army officer who heads U.S. Cyber Command, also testified yesterday. As Killer Apps' John Reed reports, the command is fielding 13 "offensive cyber teams" tasked with deterring destructive cyber attacks against the U.S. "Let me be clear, this defend-the-nation team is not a defensive team, this is an offensive team that the Department of Defense would use to defend the nation if it were attacked in cyberspace," he said. Alexander's command is also developing 27 teams to provide assistance in planning offensive cyber operations to the regional combatant commands. He's also organizing an undisclosed number of teams aimed at defending the military's networks against cyber attacks.

Clapper's "Worldwide Threat Assessment" puts cyber at the top of its threat list -- above terrorism. From the report: "We judge that there is a remote chance of a major cyber attack against US critical infrastructure systems during the next two years that would result in long-term, wide-scale disruption of services, such as a regional power outage. The level of technical expertise and operational sophistication required for such an attack -- including the ability to create physical damage or overcome mitigation factors like manual overrides -- will be out of reach for most actors during this time frame. Advanced cyber actors -- such as Russia and China -- are unlikely to launch such a devastating attack against the United States outside of a military conflict or crisis that they believe threatens their vital interests."

But... "However, isolated state or non-state actors might deploy less sophisticated cyber attacks as a form of retaliation or provocation. These less advanced but highly motivated actors could access some poorly protected US networks that control core functions, such as power generation, during the next two years, although their ability to leverage that access to cause high-impact, systemic disruptions will probably be limited."

The E-Ring's Kevin Baron's take on the threat assessment: "[C]ybersecurity is apparently the leading threat confronting the United States, warranting 18 paragraphs of concerns. Afghanistan? Four. Pakistan? Three. The times, they are a changing, according to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who declared that global threats are ‘quickly and radically' changing and that terrorism is in a period of ‘transition.'" Read the whole report here.

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report, where we never blow smoke. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at Sign up for Situation Report here or just shoot me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us at least a day early for maximum tease. If we can get it in, we will. And help us fill our candy dish: news of the military weird, strange trends, personnel comings-and-goings and whatnot.

Africom change of command -- April 5, an official tells us.

Hagel may be parting company with Panetta. After a week or so of pressure to re-think the Distinguished Warfare Medal for drone pilots, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is doing just that. Pentagon press secretary George Little announced yesterday that the Pentagon had begun a 30-day review of the medal former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced on his way out the door, setting up the distinct possibility that there would be a change to the "precedence" of the medal -- that is, where it resides in the hierarchy of medals. Concern has been mounting ever since Panetta announced it that its place above a Bronze Star, which recognizes military members for acts of heroism or merit in combat, was a bridge too far in deference to drone pilots, the unsung heroes of modern warfare. Indeed, the medal is long overdue for the pilots of all the services who fly drones as a way to recognize their service and the impact of the important work they do. But the precedence of the award in the hierarchy-hyper military is what has so many people concerned, from the uniforms in the building, more privately, to senators and congressmen, far more publicly, on the Hill. Just last week, Hagel had defended or at least explained the rationale behind Panetta's decision, which apparently came after consensus among the service chiefs, to members of Congress. But in a move that may buy him instant credibility with the Army and Marines, in particular, the former Army sergeant said he would take a look at the issue. Little, yesterday, to reporters: "Secretary Hagel consulted with the chairman, the Joint Chiefs, and the service secretaries, and those with the decision to establish the medal was carefully and thoroughly analyzed within the Department of Defense. That being said, in light of concerns about the medal's place in the order of precedence, Secretary Hagel will work with the senior leadership to review the order of precedence and associated matters, and the secretary has asked that Chairman Dempsey lead this review and report back in 30 days." By the way, production of the medal itself has been halted during the review. Full briefing transcript, here.

Vali Nasr's "gloves off denunciation" of Obama's foreign policy got it wrong. So says Sarah Chayes, the former civilian adviser to the stars who is now a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. FP published Nasr's piece last week, an excerpt of his new book, that argued that President Barack Obama let diplomacy fail in Afghanistan by letting it fall victim to bureaucratic turf battles and lack of focus. Not so much, Chayes, an expert on Afghanistan, says on FP: "What this account is missing -- what so many such accounts are missing -- is the humility and intellectual honesty to take a candid look inward, to strive for a nuanced assessment of our shared missteps, in what I, like Nasr, believe will be a grim outcome for Afghanistan, and ultimately for international security." And to the charge that the military sought control of the Afghan campaign, she writes: "Far from railroading the bureaucracy to gain unfettered control of the Afghanistan campaign, military officers I encountered, to a one, called for more civilian input, not less. At every echelon -- from battalion commanders who begged the State Department officials sharing their bases for a better picture of local political dynamics, to senior officers and Defense Department officials who pushed for (and offered to help fund) a civilian surge, to the top brass in Kabul and Washington waiting in vain for a coherent strategic policy to emerge from U.S. civilian leadership -- I saw military officers dismayed, not delighted, at being the lead, and sometimes the only, actors."

Karzai reiterated his argument that the U.S. was in collaboration with the Taliban. Afghan President Hamid Karzai deepened the difficulties affecting the U.S.-Afghan relationship by saying again that he thought the U.S. and the Taliban were working together against his country. In a speech in Helmand province yesterday, he blasted the Taliban: "You eat chocolates in Paris, but in Kabul you kill a widow.... [I]t is very clear that you serve strangers and want to show that Afghanistan is a dangerous place." But he also said the U.S. was working to undermine Afghanistan to justify a long-term presence. "Mr. Karzai's outbursts may be caused by the fact that he fears being left out amid the recent flurry of international and Afghan contacts with the Taliban, a political commentator and former Afghan lawmaker told the WSJ.

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Jim Cunningham, quoted in the WSJ, echoing sentiments made recently by ISAF Commander Gen. Joe Dunford: "The thought that we would collude with the Taliban flies in the face of everything we have done here."



The Stan

  • AP: No answers after deadliest day of year in Afghanistan.
  • Daily Beast: My dog Solha: From Afghanistan, with PTSD.
  • NYT: Karzai bets on vilifying U.S. to shed image as a lackey.