National Security

Hagel talks North Korea to China’s Gen. Chang Wanquan, meets with Filipino foreign minister; Wheels up for Dempsey, but not for Hagel; IEDs kill thousands in Syria; Secure that smartphone, Army!; and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold

Hagel spoke with China's defense minister about North Korea. China is figuring prominently in the current situation on the Korean Peninsula as the ally that could talk North Korea off the ledge, and Secretary Hagel raised the issue yesterday when he called the new Chinese minister of national defense, Gen. Chang Wanquan, to congratulate him on his appointment. From Pentagon Press Secretary George Little's readout: "The secretary emphasized the growing threat to the U.S. and our allies posed by North Korea's aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs and expressed to General Chang the importance of sustained U.S.-China dialogue and cooperation on these issues."

Headed to China -- Gen. Marty Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later this month. Invited to the U.S. by Hagel -- Gen. Chang.

The Pentagon's response to North Korea now includes two destroyers as well as a sea-based X-band radar, or SBX, used to support ballistic missile defenses, and is now part of the mission. In addition to the USS John McCain, which the Pentagon announced earlier this week, Pentagon press secretary George Little yesterday said a second ship, the USS Decatur, was in the Pacific monitoring North Korea and "poised to respond to any missile threats to our allies or our territory." But when asked about the SBX that is also in the region, Little said it wasn't part of the response to North Korea and that decisions about any future deployments of the system have yet to be made. "I believe it's incorrect to tie the SBX at this point to what's happening on the Korean Peninsula right now," he said. But other U.S. officials tell Situation Report that the SBX -- what looks like a floating oil rig with a huge golf ball atop ­- is in the Pacific for good reason. While it was deployed under U.S. Northern Command March 24 as part of regularly scheduled testing, it has now been clearly plugged into the larger ballistic missile defense effort in response to trouble on the Korean Peninsula, Situation Report is told.

Hagel also stopped in on a meeting yesterday with Ash Carter and Filipino foreign minister. The E-Ring's Kevin Baron reported yesterday that Hagel stopped by a meeting between Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Filipino Foreign Minister Albert Del Rosario in one of the defense secretary's conference rooms. They talked about the damage left by the USS Guardian, an American countermine ship that ran aground on a reef in the Philippines, Baron reports. Baron: "The meeting comes as U.S. and Filipino relations have grown closer, U.S. officials feel, and as both nations eye threats coming out of North Korea. The Philippines agreed to host more U.S. troops, ships and aircraft on a rotational basis, during a visit by then-Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell."

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail me. And 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.

A Syrian jet flew 12 miles into Lebanon and fired a missile. Reuters reports this morning that the jet fired a missile into a field on the outskirts of border town of Arsal, but it caused no casualties. "It was not immediately clear what the Syrian jet on Wednesday was targeting. Local residents said a Syrian army helicopter was also hovering near Arsal, in Lebanese airspace, at the time," Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, the IED threat in Syria emanates from imported TTPs from other areas, including the Central Command AOR and Europe. According to the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, there were more than 400 IED incidents reported in Syria between the beginning of January and the end of December 2012, according to new data provided to Situation Report. Of those incidents, nearly 50 percent -- 197 -- caused casualties. In total, there were 970 people killed and more than 2,400 wounded. Overall, civilians were killed or wounded in about 47 percent of the incidents, police in 11 percent, and military in 10 percent.

Citing open source data the organization tracks, JIEDDO tells Situation Report that the IED threats come from a number of groups, including one, Al-Musrah Front for the People of the Levant, that is associated with al Qaeda. Another group, Ansar Mohammed Battalion, is associated with the Free Syrian Army Military Council, and some attacks are attributed to the Shams Falcon Brigade.

Zoiks! The Pentagon IG says the Army has thousands of unsecure smartphones. Called out by the Pentagon Inspector General: the U.S. Army for the fact that thousands of the smartphones troops buy off the shelves to use on the job aren't actually secure, Killer Apps' John Reed reports. "‘The Army Chief Information Officer (CIO) did not implement an effective cyber security program for ‘commercially purchased smartphones and tablets, reads a new announcement from the DOD IG. ‘Specifically, the Army CIO did not appropriately track [off-the-shelf devices] and was unaware of more than 14,000 [such devices] used throughout the Army,'" according to the IG report.

The IG investigated the Army's use of phones and tablets running Google's Android, Apple's iOS, and Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating systems in 2012. Don't feel bad for BlackBerrys -- do people still have them? -- because the IG had already done an investigation on their security in 2009.

What the Army's chief information officer, Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, told Reed in October about how the service will protect its information when troops are BYOD (bringing their own devices) to work: "At the end of the day, we're really are going to become hardware agnostic. Whatever device you feel most comfortable with to do command and control, to be mobile with, is the device that you'll have and that's the one that we'll work with. We're in the RIM [Blackberry] environment, we're in the Apple environment, and we're in the [Google Android] already as we go through this. What you will agree to do is, if that's the device you want to use, you're going to sign an agreement with me that I get to scan you before you log on. I get to scan your device and then, you're also going to let me monitor you so that I can look for an inside threat as well. So if you're on the government network, you're gonna let me scan you first and you're gonna let me monitor you second."

Dempsey is wheels up. Gen. Dempsey will greet the Brazilian Chief of Defense, Gen. Jose Carlos DeNardi, this morning at the Pentagon's River Entrance for what was described as an "enhanced cordon." Later today, he is leaving for Stuttgart, Germany for the change of command ceremony there Friday for U.S. Africa Command, when Gen. Carter Ham will be replaced by Gen. David "Rod" Rodriguez. He will also stop in Afghanistan as part of the same trip.

Staffers on a plane -- Senior staff include Lt. Gen. Terry Wolff, the director of Strategic Plans and Policy, and Joe Donovan, Dempsey's foreign policy adviser.

Reporters on a plane -- AP's Bob Burns, Alhurrah's Joe Tabet, and the Pentagon's American Forces Press Service' Claudette Roulo.

Who's not going to Stuttgart? Hagel. Who might not be the pomp-and-circumstance SecDef? Answer: Hagel again. Hagel is making a major policy speech today -- his first -- at National Defense University about the future of DOD, and how it will meet fiscal challenges and national security requirements at the same time. But that means he's not going to Stuttgart for the change of command. Although Hagel went to U.S. Central Command to bear witness to that commander change late last month, it's likely Hagel will not be a pomp-and-circumstance kinda SecDef. Typically, defense secretaries travel to these ceremonies marking the passing-of-the-baton for major combatant commands, from Pacific Command in Hawaii, to Central Command in Tampa, Fla., to European Command in Stuttgart -- or SACEUR in Belgium. But Hagel and his staff may be figuring his time is better spent back home, focused on the myriad challenges of running a Pentagon in transition -- and saving the money of getting him there and back, too. "Between sequestration, Hill testimony and the admission of the budget, North Korea and elsewhere, he wants to focus on the business of the Pentagon and not necessarily an hour-long event that takes two days to get to and back from," a defense official told Situation Report.

Today at CNP/Truman Project at 3pm - a discussion about DOD's tactical and operational energy operations with the Pentagon's Sharon Burke, assistant secretary of defense for operational energy plans and programs. Deets here.

From the Situation Report inbox. One reader of Situation Report took issue with the way we termed the impact that U.S. military hardware - B-2 and B-52 bombers, F-22 Raptors and now Navy destroyers with ballistic missile defense capabilities - was being used to "urge restraint" in the effort to calm things down on the peninsula. But the reader thinks deploying this stuff sends the wrong message. William T. Hunter Jr.: "Rather than urge restraint it appears to me it is in-your-face taunting of a bully. This has gone on for 60+ years and is currently reinforced by the ongoing warmongering in N. Africa with us ensconced in the ever colder ‘Arab Winter.' If the crazy people in N. Korea were to respond with anything nuclear of any size and anywhere our bellicose calming would be cited and the cause. Our expansion of war around the world will bring us down."

Nobody's home at State? There's a large number of senior State Department positions that remain vacant and, as the Cable's Josh Rogin reports, "the process to fill them seems indefinitely stalled," according to officials there. Rogin: "When Kerry's predecessor, Hillary Clinton, came into office, she negotiated for herself 100 percent control over State Department appointments and largely kept Obama campaign officials at arms' length. Kerry has no such deal with the White House, and his office is only one voice in a White House-managed appointment process that is moving as slowly as molasses, several State Department officials and insiders say." And: "As Kerry prepares to travel to East Asia next week, his third major overseas adventure in his short time in Foggy Bottom, the most glaring opening at State is the post of assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs (EAP), which was vacated by Kurt Campbell in February. NSS Senior Director for Asia Danny Russel has been long assumed the leading contender, but Kerry is said to prefer a non-White House staffer. Meanwhile, Deputy Assistant Secretary Joe Yun has been running the EAP shop."

Sgt. Hagel is going to be listening to enlisted types a lot more.  From yesterday's briefing with Little came a question about Hagel's meeting with junior enlisted - which may have begun a new tradition for the sergeant-turned-SecDef: Question, from U.S. News' Paul Shinkman: "What specific information is he getting from them that he's not getting from his senior enlisted advisers?  And what is he doing to sort of put that into context?" Answer, in part, from Little: "The secretary's lunch last Thursday was, I think, extremely informative for him.  He heard from junior enlisted troops from all services, and they shared their insights into why they got into the military and what the military has brought them, some of the challenges they have faced personally and professionally. He, I think, heard from some service members in the junior enlisted ranks who had some very compelling and quite difficult personal stories, who chose the military as a career because it helped them get out of some other deeply problematic personal situations.  Others chose the military because they thought it would be a good career. I think he values that insight.  And he took notes and pledged to get back to them.  And that's something that he looks forward to continuing to do, not just with junior enlisted members, but he's someone who listens carefully, takes everyone's opinion into account.  I've heard that personally.  He's not looking just for the advice of people like me who sit in the senior ranks of the Pentagon, but he's looking to hear from troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere."

What Sequester?

Noting

Hardware

  • Defense News: CBO gives Bradley fighting vehicle a black eye.
  • Nextgov: Serious paper shredding at F-35 program office.
  • Duffel Blog: F-35 scores first combat kill by shooting down F-35 program.
  • Fox: Giant robot jellyfish to patrol U.S. coasts.   

National Security

The Korean Peninsula, more rhetoric, not more dangerous; Explainer: the North’s air defenses; Karzai “not crazy”; Dunford doesn’t need a Plan B; Where did Petraeus’ picture go? And a little more.

By Gordon Lubold

The situation on the Korean peninsula is getting more serious, but there are still no signs the North is changing its "military posture." Amid all the scary-sounding rhetoric, there haven't been any detectable mobilizations of any scale within North Korea. But yesterday, news came that the Navy had sent the USS John McCain, a guided-missile destroyer based in Japan that is capable of shooting down ballistic missiles, closer to the Korean Peninsula. That came after the arrival Sunday of two F-22 stealth fighters as part of an exercise in South Korea. The jets will remain on static display for now. But the overall picture was one of using U.S. military hardware to urge restraint - and to take some of the pressure off South Korea, which is growing more and more edgy.

White House spokesman Jay Carney, yesterday: "Well, I would reiterate that we haven't seen action to back up the rhetoric in the sense that we haven't seen significant changes, as I said, in the North in terms of mobilizations or repositioning of forces, and that is important to note. And what that disconnect between the rhetoric and action means, I'll leave to the analysts to judge." WH briefing transcript here.

Pressure on North Korean ally China will grow. As the stakes get higher, the U.S. and allies will lean more heavily on China to see if its leaders can tamp down tensions on the Korean peninsula, experts say.

MIT's John Park tells Situation Report that it's likely we'll see that pressure increase. China will be told: "Either coddle your North Korean ally or reign it in," Park said. But while there is an "asymmetry of interests" between the U.S. and allies and China with regard to North Korea, that only lasts to a point. China signed on to U.N. sanctions against the North, with U.N. Resolution 2094, earlier this month. But Park warns of the three-month "honeymoon period," after which China typically loses interest and reverts to a status quo relationship with the North. "There are a number of things that China is alarmed about, but at the end of the day, there is no fundamental change in its approach to dealing with North Korea."

What do North Korea's air defenses look like anyway? Killer Apps' John Reed asked that very question. Reed: Sure, North Korea is said to have one of the densest air defense networks on Earth. But it's largely made up of 1950s-, ‘60s-, and ‘70s-vintage Soviet-designed missiles and radars -- the type of weapons that the U.S. military has been working on defeating for decades via a combination of radar jamming, anti-radar missiles and stealth technology. In fact, the B-2 and F-22 were designed in the 1980s and 1990s specifically to evade such defenses, and the ancient B-52s could simply fire AGM-86 cruise missiles at North Korea from well beyond the range of the country's air defenses." Reed looks at the SA-2 Guideline, the SA-6 Gainful, the SA-3 Goa, the SA-13 Gopher, the SA-16 Gimlets, and the SA-4 Ganef.

FP also looks at how the U.S. is running out of fancy planes to send to Korea. FP's John Hudson: "[W]ith Sunday's mobilization of F-22 stealth fighter jets, the U.S. military has quickly hit its ceiling of awe-inspiring next-generation aircraft." Hudson looks at B-52 bombers, B-2 bombers, and the F-22.  

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report, where testing is never required -- we still don't use horsemeat. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail me. And 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.

A picture of Petraeus seemed to come down in the D-Ring. Just a week after David Petraeus began to orchestrate his return to public life after falling, hard, from grace, the Pentagon removed a picture of him from the walls in the building's press area and replaced it with a new one of Chuck Hagel. The pictures, of various defense leaders in the last few years, had been placed on the walls within the last year as part of a refurbishing of the inner-corridors in the area. The roughly 1' x 2' poster boards included two of Petraeus. Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber writes: "The Petraeus picture and other photos depicting current or former senior Pentagon officials were taken down late last week or early this week. It appears the pictures were rotated out and replaced with newer photos of DoD officials, a practice that is typical throughout Pentagon hallways." We're told the picture of Petraeus wasn't taken down altogether, but just moved down the hall.

Hagel is headed to Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore next month, the E-Ring's Kevin Baron reports.

What's Ash Carter doing today? Glad you asked. At 10:30 this morning Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter will attend at ceremony at National Defense University to honor the 19th SecDef, Bill Perry. The Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies will be renamed in honor of Perry and Carter is giving the keynote.

Ron Neumann is optimistic about the possibilities for Afghanistan. Former Afghanistan Ambassador Ron Neumann was one of four analysts who returned from Afghanistan late last month, including Mike O'Hanlon from Brookings, Tony Cordesman from CSIS, and Michele Flournoy, free agent -- though she recently re-joined the CNAS board as a co-chairman. Each has published something on their trip in recent days that portrays a mix of hope and optimism tempered with challenges and the need for U.S. commitment. "I think Afghanistan has a chance to muddle through and not disintegrate," Neumann told Situation Report. With U.S. aid and support, the Afghans can work on professionalizing the army and work on governance, he said. But he fears, as many do, that Afghanistan will misinterpret signals from the U.S.  about its withdrawal and plans for a post-2014 presence and respond in the wrong way. "They will only work on those things if they think we're going to stay on it," he said. "If they think we're bailing out, they will go to hedging behavior and survival behavior." So much of Afghanistan's own decision-making is based on U.S. decisions -- they are inextricable. So as the White House seeks to "guard the president's freedom of decision" on Afghanistan policy, that can send signals to the Afghan government that undermine that very same policy, he says.

Emerging theme from the White House? Neumann says there is gradual recognition that November 2016 isn't far away and that the Obama White House doesn't want to be seen as having lost Afghanistan. Thusly, the next presidential election may be an increasingly large factor to what the White House does on Afghanistan over the coming year, he says, in terms of drawdown but also the post 2014 presence.

Neumann on President Hamid Karzai: "He's not crazy. He has reasons for everything he does. It's useful to remember that everything he has fits about are things that have been on his agenda for six or seven years. He has the feeling that we don't listen to him unless he screams. So now he screams first."

Almost the four amigos. The four analysts have traveled before to Afghanistan extensively in the past, though not always all together, Neumann said. But give or take some members, roughly the same contingent have visited together over the years. This 10-day trip included visits with Gen. Joe Dunford, political leader and former presidential contender Abdullah Abdullah, President Karzai, a number of other political leaders and others. ISAF supported but did not pay for their trip, he said. Neumann paid for his costs himself, he said.

Girls only! The actress Angelina Jolie opened a "girls only" school in Afghanistan, the Times of India reports. "Jolie plans to fund more schools by selling her own self-designed accessories collection, the Style of Jolie, to retail stores for the first time with 100 per cent of the profits going to her new foundation, The Education Partnership for Children of Conflict."

ICYMI: ABC's Martha Raddatz' interview yesterday morning with Gen. Joe Dunford on needing a plan B for Afghans to provide their own security. Raddatz: "When asked if there's a ‘Plan B' in case Afghanistan isn't capable of providing for its own security by 2014, Dunford replies without hesitation that ‘it's going to work.'"

Dunford: "I'm confident that we have a plan in place right now to grow the Afghan security forces to the level they need to be at in order to secure the country." And, on the need for sustainability: "The critical piece is to ensure that the Afghan security forces do have the sustainability in the future where they can continue to secure the people and allow the political transition to take place as well as development."  On the tough fight this season: "We've seen some indication that the Taliban would like to be successful this year, particularly conducting high profile attacks and assassinations of Afghan leaders to try to erode the will of the coalition... we'll be able to provide the Afghans the support they need to be successful this summer."

The U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation is getting in on the Africa action. USGIF is creating a new Africa working group, the E-Ring's Kevin Baron reports. They are looking to enhance the U.S. government's Africa expertise and steer AFRICOM's attention further south, beyond the conflicts in North Africa that are commanding headlines. Keith Masback, the nonprofit's CEO, on AFRICOM's focus on North Africa: "It's top heavy, in terms of diplomacy and engagement.... We gotta get smart about that continent if we're going to operate there." The working group will reach out to a variety of government agencies, including the Defense Department, State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as outside development groups, U.S. special operations forces, and AFRICOM.  

Why the focus? "You start peeling back the proverbial onion on Africa and it doesn't get simpler," Masback said.

Islamic militants messed with the wrong city this weekend, according to a dispatch from Timbuktu. In a bigger post on what we reported yesterday from Mali, FP contributors Matt Trevithick and Daniel Seckman write that the Malian Army and citizens inside Timbuktu were effective in ridding the city of Islamic militants who attempted to take it over. "Timbuktu citizens played an integral role in repelling the fighters, with men, women, and children forming mobs that chased the Islamists through the city. Armed with sticks and stones, approximately 75 civilian residents angrily denounced the attackers and provided critical information, including Islamist locations, to the Malian Army."

The Pivot

  • HuffPo: North Korean photographer offers glimpse inside country.
  • AP: North Korean nuclear threat not a game, UN chief says.
  • CNN: North Korea says it plans to re-start shuttered nuclear reactor.   
  • BBC: Why China's military has turned to gaming.

Noting

  • Buzzfeed: The sequester isn't a joke for Jeff Maryak.
  • Danger Room: Need ships? Try a 3-D Printed Navy.   
  • Duffel Blog: Petraeus apologizes for affair, asks auditorium of 600 if he can crash on anyone's couch tonight. 

Into Africa

  • Al-Jazeera: Mali's ethnic tuareg accuse army of abuse.
  • Time: Jihadi strike in Timbuktu reflects changed terrorism threat in Mali.
  • AP: Central Africa Republic: coup leader solidifies rebels' grip on government.