National Security

Carter in Asia; The Navy fights alcohol abuse; Jeh Johnson: “we must be realistic” on a drone court; MC Times’ cover boy: Jim Mattis; and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold

Ash Carter is headed to Manila after meetings in South Korea. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said budget cuts won't affect the Pentagon's ability to help defend South Korea. "The commitment to the [South Korea-U.S.] alliance is part of the Asia-Pacific rebalance, and we will ensure all the pieces of our defense relationship will continue to move forward, and this will occur despite the budgetary pressures in the U.S." Carter's trip to Asia, which includes other stops, should help to reassure allies that the American budget woes - as North Korea stiffens its posture against its southern neighbor and the U.S. - won't affect its resolve in helping to defend the region. On Friday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the U.S. would add 14 new ground-based missile interceptors in the area by 2017 in response to the saber-rattling from the North in what is bound to be a controversial move because of President Barack Obama's rhetoric on missile defense. Hagel is in the Pentagon today.

Jeh Johnson is skeptical of the need for a so-called drone court. The Pentagon's former top lawyer, Jeh Johnson, the former chief Pentagon lawyer who approved personally the legal authority behind every major military strike under President Obama, is speaking this morning at Fordham University about drone warfare and the legal issues confronting it, reports the E-Ring's Kevin Baron, who obtained an early copy of the speech. "Johnson directly challenges advocates of the idea, including many senators calling for more oversight and transparency over the war on terrorism such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), intelligence committee chairwoman, and his old boss former Defense Secretary Robert Gates," Kevin writes.

Johnson, this morning: "Our government finds itself in a lose-lose proposition: it fails to officially confirm many of its counterterrorism successes, and fails to officially confirm, deny or clarify unsubstantiated reports of civilian casualties. Our government's good efforts for the safety of the people risks an erosion of support by the people. It is in this atmosphere that the idea of a national security court as a solution to the problem -- an idea that for a long time existed only on the margins of the debate about U.S. counterterrorism policy but is now entertained by more mainstream thinkers such as Senator Diane Feinstein and a man I respect greatly, my former client Robert Gates - has gained momentum... But, we must be realistic about the degree of added credibility such a court can provide."

Today's WaPo's "Faces of the Fallen," the gallery of those killed, in Afghanistan, between July and August, here. As of yesterday, there are 2,173 dead under Operation Enduring Freedom.

Memory champion and former sailor Ron White's "biggest memory project" of his career -- remembering the rank, first and last name of 2,200 people who were killed in Afghanistan -- more than 7,000 words total, for America's Memory, which includes a video of him talking about the project. "The purpose of this project is to say: ‘you're not forgotten,'" White says. Ron White once memorized a deck of cards in 87 seconds, according to a story in Navy Times.

Welcome to Monday'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.

Does the U.S. Army train foreign militaries well? The answer is no if your name is Kalev Sepp of the Naval Postgraduate School, who participated in the event last week put on by FP and RAND on the Iraq war. The four-hour discussion, with Gen. John Allen, Doug Feith, Steve Hadley, John Nagl, Paul Pillar and several others who launched, fought, executed and analyzed the war, focused on a number of still hotly-contedted issues. FP is putting up excerpts of the conversation. Sepp and others talked about the Army and COIN. Sepp: "I would suggest that the American Army, in particular, is not good at training foreign armies. My feeling is that the Marines have done this much better. When I was with Third Marines just a couple of years ago, I was in the middle of a discussion among their battalion commanders where they were able to discuss the difference in burial rites between the different valleys in their sector of operations. I mean, you know, that knowledge of the culture that they were going to operate in. But I would say that the American Army does this badly, has a history of doing it badly."

Participant John Nagl: If there's one thing that we failed to do in Iraq and in Afghanistan as effectively as we should have, it's security forces assistance - a long?standing principle required for success and counterinsurgency. We continued to not resource that properly. That is the raison d'être for the American Army in this century. It is refusing to accept that. We are continuing to mess that up, and will continue to mess it up until somebody grabs the Army by the shoulders and shakes it and says, security force assistance is your job. Do it."

Other excerpts from the FP-RAND event on Iraq, 10 years later. FP and RAND's event, excerpted here.

Read BBC Magazine's piece by Tara McKelvey on how the complicated legacy of the Iraq war is making it hard for Hollywood to tell the story.

Sole-source contracts: Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon top the list. Federal agencies, including the Pentagon, awarded $115.2 billion in no-bid contracts in fiscal 2012 -- a nearly 9 percent increase from three years ago -- and defense contractors Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon all had a large share of those contracts. Bloomberg's Danielle Ivory reports (posted on website of Rep. Sam Graves, R-MO, who was quoted in story). "President Barack Obama in 2009 told federal agencies that no-bid contracts were ‘wasteful' and ‘inefficient.' Four years later, his administration spent more money on non-competitive contracts than ever before....Those top Pentagon vendors and other large contractors can draw on established relationships with procurement officers to claim a greater share of non-competitive work, said Robert Burton, former acting administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy under George W. Bush.

‘It highlights a growing problem in the procurement system,' said Burton, who represents contractors as a partner at Venable LLP in Washington. ‘The pie is shrinking, but, at the same time, the number of non-competitive awards has increased. That's a bad combination.'"

The Navy and Marine Corps are getting breathalyzers across the fleet. The services are launching a fleet-wide program to begin breath-testing sailors and Marines to ensure that troops don't report for duty while under the influence  -- and to help stem suicide, sexual assault, and other problems that are linked to alcohol. It's one of the ways Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who has been active on these issues, is leaving his mark on the services.

"Despite anything you may have heard, no one in your chain of command is interested in stopping, ending, prohibiting, limiting, barring or banning the safe, legal, responsible use of alcohol," Juan Garcia, assistant secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, told Situation Report recently. "If that is your way to blow off steam...and you're ready to go on Monday, you don't have a problem. At the same time, what we couldn't do is ignore the op-reps that come across our desk every single morning" that suggest a direct link between some of the services' biggest problems and alcohol. In an interview in his E-Ring office, Garcia said about 40 percent of suicides involve alcohol and that there is "almost a direct correlation" between sexual assault and alcohol. "So as we fight the suicide war, the sexual assault war, we're in the early steps of this, but we think this is a big, big tool," he said.

This month, the Navy is fielding "alcohol detection devices" to Naval Air Forces Atlantic and Naval Air Forces Pacific, and by the end of this week, units at Surface Forces Atlantic, Surface Forces Pacific, and Cyber Forces should all begin receiving the devices.

The program is not designed to be punitive, but to prevent sailors and Marines from reporting for duty with alcohol in their system. For the Navy, the breathalyzers will only be used for "duty section personnel" and for Marines who report to work. Unlike the legal definition of intoxication for most states, of .08 percent, the threshold the Navy has set for flagging personnel is .04 percent. Garcia and others have stressed that the program is not a way to get rid of sailors -- "this is not a liberty device, it's not an end-strength reduction device," he said -- but a way to determine if personnel are unfit for duty. A by-product of the program will help leaders within both services to identify potential problems before they become big ones, Garcia said.

Alcohol abuse was rampant in the 1980s, when a DOD-wide survey showed that 27 percent of the force had an illicit drug in their system within the past 30 days. After a big crackdown, that number dropped to less than 3 percent. Today's "pop positive" number today is about .01 percent, Garcia said.

A Navy "NavAdmin" announced the program in January.

Who is Juan Garcia? He is a second-generation naval aviator, a soft-spoken former Democratic state representative from Texas who represented suburban Dallas area but who lost his re-elect in 2008 and is now a top Navy official. He and his wife Denise met at Harvard Law School. 

[An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Garcia as a former congressman. He served in the Texas state legislature.]

Why the "other Navy" needs to cowboy up. Three words as to why the "unsexy" Coast Guard is about to see the frontlines of action: "The Arctic Ocean." So says James Holmes on FP: "If and when that icy expanse opens regularly to shipping, the Arctic will need policing, just like any other marine thoroughfare. It might even become a theater for geopolitical competition, although the short time it will be ice-free each year, the uneven advance and retreat of the icecap, and the unpredictable location of the sea lanes will limit its potential for conflict relative to, say, the Western Pacific or the Persian Gulf. But the potential is there, and up north, the Coast Guard's aging fleet of cutters and small craft will be critical to upholding maritime security and hedging against maritime conflict."

Jim Mattis, cover boy. The Marine Corps Times today profiles Gen. Jim Mattis, warrior-monk, mentor, historian, colorful curser, and outgoing Central Command commander in "Chaos, Out" by Dan Lamothe, behind the MCT's paywall, at least for now. Mattis is leaving command to Gen. Lloyd Austin, who takes over this week. Mattis, whom we first met in Kandahar in November 2002, has been quiet in his Central Command role. That he is leaving now, some five months before the end of a typical three-year tour for a combatant commander, has raised questions if the White House pushed him out over his views on Iran.

An excerpt from the story: "Since 2010, the general known by the call sign ‘Chaos' has run U.S. Central Command, overseeing the war in Afghanistan and other military activity throughout the Middle East. On March 22, nearly 10 years to the day that he led 1st Marine Division during the ground invasion of Iraq, Mattis will be replaced by Army Gen. Lloyd Austin and retire. Thus ends one of the most dynamic careers for a general officer since the late Lt. Gen. Lewis ‘Chesty' Puller hung up his uniform in 1955."

And: "Mattis doesn't like the attention. He has been cryptic about his future ever since word surfaced late last year that Austin had been selected to replace him. During testimony March 5 before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he offered a typical response to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., who inquired about the general's retirement plans. ‘I have no idea right now, senator,' he said. ‘But it's going to be a lot of fun.'"

Back to Walla Walla? In a March 14 email to Marine Corps Times: "I've had some ‘riotous excursions of the human spirit' alongside the young Sailors and Marines and it's time to leave the stage to the young leaders who got their rank the old-fashioned way -- they earned their stripes in combat. The Corps is in good hands, and it's been a privilege to serve with the Leathernecks. Now it's time to go."

Atlantic Wire's 16 most "hair-raising" Gen. Mattis quotes, which include: "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet," and, when he was succeeded as Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation: "When Gen. Abrial arrived to relieve me as the supreme commander, only don't ask, don't tell kept me from hugging and kissing him."




National Security

Petraeus’ Act II; A Marine lieutenant remembers Iraq; Does Hagel need a Robert Rangel?; Cyber chief: civil agencies should lead after a cyber attack; and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold
Petraeus' Act II starts this month. David Petraeus, the military rock star and former CIA director who fell from grace after his affair with Paula Broadwell, is coming back. Petraeus is expected to appear later this month at the University of Southern California at an event to honor veterans and may schedule subsequent engagements around the country on behalf of former service members, Situation Report is told.
One source described the event in California as Petraeus' "coming out party," in which the disgraced retired four-star would re-emerge and begin to assemble his new, post-government image. It's unclear just how public that persona will be, but the event would be the first significant one in which Petraeus has appeared since he was forced to resign as CIA director. It's also likely he will sign with a speaker's bureau and may join a school like Harvard University as a non-resident instructor or lecturer. He is also said to be considering some kind of position in the private sector as well. But an individual close to Petraeus said that little was locked in except for at least one or two speaking engagements later this month. "Anything more at this point is speculation and is probably even out in front of what he might be thinking, considering or planning."

The War Diaries: a vivid account of Iraq ten years later, as told by a Marine who had a front seat for the front line. The memories of the invasion of Iraq and the heady days that followed seem distant to most, but a remarkable new project published on FP shows readers the invasion through the eyes of a Marine platoon commander. Lt. Tim McLaughlin remembers leading the charge across the border from Kuwait, thundering across the desert and then, days later, reaching the Iraqi capital and the famously cheering Iraqis in Firdos Square. In fact, it was McLaughlin's battalion that toppled Saddam Hussein's statue -- and McLaughlin's own American flag that was draped over it before it made that drop to the ground watched by millions around the world.

From the intro to a new project that includes his diaries, an exhibit, and more on FP: "Throughout his deployment, McLaughlin kept a personal diary of his experiences, sometimes recounting battles blow-by-blow and, in quieter moments, composing poetry or songs. There's a kill list of enemies felled; a catalog of the "people I saw," like the "white haired gentleman at the Palestine Hotel who said ‘thank you for all of Iraq'"; a letter to a Victoria's Secret model written in Kuwait as he awaited the start of the war; and a minute-by-minute account of his experience at the Pentagon on the morning of 9/11, as he raced toward the burning building."

Read The War Diaries here.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report, where technical difficulties have made us very tardy this morning. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at Sign up for Situation 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.
Does Hagel need a Robert Rangel? Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, sworn in formally yesterday but in his third week as Pentagon chief, has a full plate, from cyber security to the budget to North Korea, Afghanistan, Syria and North Africa, to sexual assault issues and things that may seem more prosaic but no less politically potent - the future of the Distinguished Warfare Medal. But he is also focused on building a team of staffers who can help him prioritize, focus, and be effective as he confronts the unrelenting number of decisions he'll have to make as Pentagon chief. Despite the many former staffers who supported him during the contentious confirmation process, both publicly and from the shadows, Hagel is not thought to want to bring a large entourage into the Pentagon -- former secretary Robert Gates famously walked into the building alone. Hagel has so far only brought in one senior aide, Aaron Dowd, a young Nebraskan who has been at his side for the last several years. Dowd is expected to play a significant role, and Hagel will also pull close a former aide from his Senate days, Eric Rosenbach, who is already in the building as a deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy. But one of the most important team players will be what is known as the special assistant, or TSA -- also known as his chief of staff. Hagel appears to be leaning toward Marcel Lettre, now in an "acting" role as special assistant. Read more below.

Kissinger: "You can never have enough Scowcroft." In a tribute at National Defense University this week to former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, the E-Ring's Kevin Baron writes that Washington's national security luminaries came out spoke with one voice on the need for centrism. Kevin, on the red carpet of national security journalism this week, wrote: "As much as the evening was a celebration of Scowcroft's place in Washington's national security hall of fame, though, it was a reminder of how far from the political center current partisan politics have taken national security. Kissinger told the E-Ring he was proud of Scowcroft, his dear friend of 44 years who had weathered so many crises for the country. Does the country today need more Brent Scowcrofts, we asked? ‘You can never have enough Scowcroft,' Kissinger replied. ‘But you're lucky if you get one.'"

Have you ever heard of a "relinquishment ceremony?" Gen. David Rodriguez, confirmed and headed for U.S. Africa Command, based in Stuttgart, Germany, today relinquishes command of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C. Usually when one commander leaves, another comes in, and such events are called a "change of command."  But in this case, since no one has been put forward to replace the general known affectionately as "Rod," the ceremony today at Bragg is called a "relinquishment ceremony" and a subordinate will take over until such time as a new commander is named. Just FYI. 

Keith Alexander: when it comes to a cyber attack, it's the civs who should be in charge. Killer Apps' John Reed writes that Cyber Chief Gen. Keith Alexander sees the FBI as the point-agency on cyber. Speaking yesterday at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee. Alexander: "From my perspective the domestic actor would be the FBI," said Alexander, responding to a question from Rep. Joe Heck about the command's role in responding to cyber attacks that originate in the United States. "We share our tools with the FBI. They work through the courts to have the authority to do what they need to do in domestic space to withstand an attack."

Our quotes from the FP-RAND event this week on the Iraq war prompted a lot of reader response. A transcript of the event will be posted soon on our site. In the meantime, here are a few more tidbits from the discussion:
CIA veteran Paul Pillar, now at Georgetown University: "The textbook scenario, for whenever a nation like ours undertakes something really major, and certainly, a, you know, a big offensive war choice is major, is that we have a policy process in which all of the relevant parts of the bureaucracy, as well as external sources of expertise, are engaged that examines in detail, what are the objectives that we would be trying to achieve if we undertake this? What would be the cost? What are the other side effects? And you weigh the pros and cons, and that's the way a policy process works. And as Rich Armitage once observed, we didn't have that with going to war in Iraq. And there was no process to decide, you know, whether it was something this country ought to do in the first place, as opposed to discussions about getting public support for the decision, or for implementing the decision.... But I would estimate that not just 10 years from now but 50 years from now, when historians look back at this, the absence of that kind of process is going to be one of the most extraordinary things that historians will comment on."
Peter Feaver on the success of the war: "I think it's possible that five years from now the conventional wisdom will have evolved to the point where we decide we did the Iraq war better than we did the Afghanistan war -- that we achieved a higher level of success however it's defined as success. Not that we were right to go in. I don't think there will be a change in the judgment on the front-end decision. But on the what did we accomplish it may be that Iraq will end up scoring a little higher than Afghanistan, which is not what any of us would have predicted, say, four years ago. But I suspect that could be what happens five years from now."

A clarification: Yesterday, we noted that, at the end of the four-hour discussion, Gen. John Allen was "making the case" that the U.S. and NATO wouldn't put boots on the ground for 20 years. To clarify, Allen was not advocating that the U.S. and NATO refrain from such missions. Here's the full quote, in which he echoes comments made by retired Lt. Col. John Nagl. "I think, again, in the context of things that we should take forward: Coalition development and coalition management is going to be extraordinarily important in the future. I'm not sure that we've put enough emphasis on that either in our schools or in our whole of government approach. Clearly a 50-nation coalition right now in Afghanistan has been important to us, but my guess is, just as I think John said a moment ago, 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."

Hagel's special assistant, con't. Lettre, a former national security adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, has been in the building for about four years, managing the transition of Gates to Leon Panetta, and serving as the assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs. He then played a big role in the current transition. He's well-regarded in and outside of the building, considered a nice guy who knows the Hill but also, increasingly, the building, and sees the big picture. "Secretary Hagel appears to be gelling well with Lettre," a senior defense official tells Situation Report. "The final decisions haven't been made on front office personnel, but Marcel is a quiet doer, well-liked, well-respected, and the secretary appears to have recognized that."

If Lettre gets the nod, he'll have big shoes to fill, following Panetta's former chief of staff Jeremy Bash and, before that, Gates' special assistant Robert Rangel. Both those men were also well-thought of and brought distinct qualities to the front office, say former officials familiar with the dynamic in the defense secretary's front office.  Bash played the more conventional role of chief of staff, typically traveling with Panetta and staying close to him, effectively managing the front office and day-to-day operations of the Pentagon. Affable and accessible, Bash followed Panetta from the CIA but like others, cut his teeth on the Hill, where he had served as the chief counsel of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. That put the Pentagon's number two -- Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, seen as competent and capable -- in what another former official described in a "chief operating officer" role, managing the building.
That was perhaps in contrast to the dynamic under Gates. Rangel, Gates' right-hand-man, was a quiet enforcer who operated behind the scenes and rarely traveled with the secretary. Gates, who had a tight coterie of advisers, gave Rangel a larger portfolio that diminished the role of Bill Lynn, then the deputy secretary of defense. For example, Rangel had a major advisory role on budgets and policy -- all on top of his role managing Gates' front office at the Pentagon. As a gatekeeper, Rangel was also obsessive about making sure that whatever was put in front of Gates was staged and ready for a decisive action or some kind of outcome. "[Rangel] never traveled because his focus was on making sure the secretary's priorities and guidance were being carried out in the Pentagon," a former official said.

Rangel was considered fair-minded and knowledgeable and lacked a personal agenda. And perhaps most critically, he was not a screamer. "I don't think there are many people who have done [the job] better than Robert," said former Pentagon policy chief Eric Edelman. "Basically there was no issue that came up that Robert didn't know like the back of his hand."

If Hagel gives Lettre the job permanently, he will likely define Lettre's role much in the same way as Panetta defined Bash's - someone with whom he will work closely and attend meetings - leaving management of the building to Carter. Regardless, the most important thing for the special assistant is to cue up decisions for the boss, make sure he makes them, and then ensure the building follows the secretary's will, said former officials familiar with the dynamics of the front office. He'll have to help Hagel navigate the seemingly endless corridors of the Pentagon -- from the E-Ring into the A-Ring, and the rings in between, former staffers said. And he'll have to act as the Great Integrator, coordinating between the services, the Joint Staff and the secretary's office, as well as the White House, other agencies, and the Hill.

The special assistant must chart the course, digest a ton of information, filter it, prioritize it and then assess whether that information -- and the people attached to it -- need the secretary's attention. "That's where you succeed or fail, because that's what it all comes down to," said one of the former officials. But if Lettre says in the job, he won't be able to do it alone. "The key for Marcel is, he's gotta put a team up there, he can't do it all by himself... the place is too big, the job is too hard."

Expected to stay on ­­-Tom Waldhauser, the humble Marine three-star who served as Panetta's most recent senior military adviser and will likely stay on in that role under Hagel.


  • RT: Damascus warns of strike on Syrian rebels hiding in Lebanon.
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  • CTV: Canada may contribute to Mali peacekeeping mission.
  • Duffel Blog: Army implements mandatory divorce policy to improve readiness, lower costs.
  • Defense News: Reid: Bickering over amendments pushes CR vote to next week.