National Security

The Navy, Marines don’t have to furlough civilians; Monica Medina leaves the front office; McCaskill isn’t buying what Franklin’s selling on sexual assault case; A Harrier pilot’s best man speech; And at Andrews, the cookie program crumbles; plus a little

By Gordon Lubold

The Navy and Marine Corps don't have to furlough civilians to balance their budgets, potentially putting the services at odds with the rest of the Pentagon. For months, the Defense Department and the services have been in lockstep on how they each must use furloughs to help balance their shrinking budgets. Under the proposal first floated by then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, as many as 800,000 DOD civilians would be forced on unpaid leave between now and October, saving hundreds of millions of dollars. But now, the Navy is trying to find a solution to get to zero furlough days, Situation Report has learned. Unlike the Army and the Air Force, the Navy says it has other ways to cut the roughly $300 million in expenditures it would save by furloughing its 201,000 civilian workers. But this isn't all budgetary altruism on the Navy's part: officials believe the cost of forcing unpaid leave on civilian workers, many of whom perform shipyard maintenance and other critical jobs, would be far greater over the long term than the savings they'd realize by sending them home. The Navy, an official said, has a math problem it can't ignore.

"The Navy is prepared to follow OSD policy, which currently calls for 14 days of furlough beginning [in June], however, the Navy is pursuing an option to realize the $300 million in savings in other areas because the long-term costs of furlough is far more than the savings they'd realize in the short-term."

The Navy official said the "dialogue" between the services and OSD continues. "All involved are working toward a solution that makes the most sense both in terms of fiscal realities and the toll this takes on personnel."

Still, the revelation puts the Navy at odds with the Pentagon's head shed, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, which believes all the services, regardless of the budgetary circumstances in which they find themselves, must all pull together. Even if the Navy and Marine Corps could absorb budget cuts without furloughing their civilians, the Pentagon wants to spread the pain equally.

"There remains a desire for consistency across the department," a defense official told Situation Report. "One department, one DOD family... There has to be fairness on this and on other categories of the budget," the official said.

The Pentagon's original plan was to furlough as many as 800,000 employees for as many as 22 days. It announced recently that it could cut that down to 14 days. But the defense official said the whole furlough initiative is being examined, and those 14 days could be reduced. Time is running out, however, since furloughs would begin in June and those affected must be notified weeks in advance. "The furlough policy remains very much under review," the official told Situation Report.

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. 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 military stories of success or excess.

Monica Medina, who worked in Panetta's front office, has left the building. Medina, a special assistant and one of a small handful of close advisers to Panetta and then, briefly, to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left Friday to be executive director of  Penn's Wharton Public Policy Initiative, in Washington, a move that had been announced in mid-March. She starts tomorrow. Medina was in charge of the health of the force as well as operational energy issues for Panetta. Her departure leaves Bailey Hand and Marcel Lettre, acting chief of staff, in Hagel's front office.

Sniffle, sniffle: Marine pilot does best man speech using flash cards from the cockpit of his plane. Watch the video of a Marine Harrier pilot who is deployed to Afghanistan giving the best man speech of the year for his brother from inside the cockpit of his Harrier jet. Who is he? He's Marine Capt. Matthew Krivohlavy, with Marine Attack Squadron 231. Krivohlavy was unable to attend the wedding of his brother Brandon, and bride, Mandy, in Austin, Texas. ‘Everyone in the room was either crying or completely speechless. It was a very moving moment for everyone there,' Brandon Krivohlavy commented on Reddit, and quoted on the UK's Daily Mail, here. Watch the vid here.

At Andrews, that's the way the cookie crumbles. It was a story that was too good to check, but we did anyway. A friend of Situation Report told us that the Otis Spunkmeyer cookies that have awaited the weary traveler in the "Distinguished Visitor Lounge" at Andrews Air Force Base -- the special waiting area for the defense secretary, top brass, members of Congress, and other top officials and their entourages -- was gone for good. The reaction was quick: sequester had killed the cookie program, which offered warmed chocolate chip, white chocolate chip, and if you were lucky, oatmeal raisin cookies on a faux silver platter as visitors waited to board their jet. But a call yesterday to the 89th Airlift Wing, responsible for the facility at Andrews, proved the too-good-to-be-true story wrong. Without naming Otis Spunkeyer as the company, a spokesman told us that the cookies have all along been donated but that the firm had closed a local distribution plant and thusly could no longer offer the cookies for free. The wing opted not to pay the charge -- times is tough -- and hence, the warmed cookie program at the Andrews DV Lounge has come to a close.

Claire McCaskill isn't buying it. Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, the Air Force commander who overturned the sexual-assault conviction of a star officer, explained his reasoning in a six-page letter to the service's top civilian Mike Donley. In the March 12 letter, obtained yesterday by Situation Report and other news organizations, Franklin said that upholding the finding would have been cowardly given the evidence he reviewed. "Accusations by some that my decision was the result of either an apparent lack of understanding of sexual assault on my part, or that because I do not take the crime of sexual assault seriously are complete and utter nonsense," Franklin wrote. He cited a variety of factors which led him to conclude that Lt. Col. James Wilkerson did not assault a woman in his home, as the woman alleged.

But Franklin also said that witness testimony about the Wilkerson marriage "showed no perceptible tension or change in their relationship" after the night in question in what most legal experts would say was a subjective observation. "Had the alleged sexual assault taken place as the alleged victim claimed, it would be reasonable to believe that their relationship would change and that close friends would perceive this change." Franklin also considered the view of a witness who was not allowed to testify in court but who raised questions about the character and truthfulness of the alleged victim" -- based on experiences from 10 years earlier. All of this led Sen. Claire McCaskill, the Democrat from Missouri, to question Franklin's analysis. McCaskill: "This explanation crystalizes exactly why the convening authority should not have the unilateral ability to overturn a jury verdict -- and why we need legislation that restricts their ability to do so. This letter is filled with selective reasoning and assumptions from someone with no legal training, and it's appalling that the reasoning spelled out in the letter served as the basis to overturn a jury verdict in this case."   

Franklin did not sit in on the Article 32 hearing that found Wilkerson guilty, but under current regulations he has the ability to overturn such a sentence -- a power that is now being reviewed under Hagel. Read Franklin's letter here.

Want to navigate the intelligence community? Read the intelligence community's new overview. The "IC" is actually composed of 16 intelligence community components, from the CIA to the Defense Intelligence Community to State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research to the Office of National Security Intelligence. This overview, released as part of the budget roll-out yesterday, explains what types of collection there are from HUMINT and SIGINT and MASINT, for the uninitiated, as well as requirements, planning and direction - and what intel can - and cannot - do.

Pivoting

  • CNN: North Korea missile in upright firing position.
  • ABC: South Korea bracing for missile test anytime soon.
  • BBC: China media: debates North Korea.

Budgeting

  • Danger Room: Six weapons that love the new Pentagon budget.
  • Battleland: Pentagon budget day: a procurement petri dish.

Noting

  • WaPo (op-ed): Time to shake up the dysfunctional VA.
  • Small Wars: Of ground hogs and ground combat. 
  • Duffel Blog: Defense Secretary put on restriction for taking duty van on late night beer run.

 

 

 

 

National Security

Budget day; Odierno: no more free coins; Locklear encouraged to talk to the Chinese; Amos issues a challenge; How to crowd source national security; Did Hagel just lose “latte money?”; and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold

It's budget day. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey will unveil a $526.6 billion defense budget for fiscal 2014 at 1 p.m. today that appears to be dead on arrival, as it does not reflect the spending caps imposed by sequestration. The budget release begins a contentious process that will keep uniforms and civilians as uncertain about the future as at any time in recent years. Some say the White House and the Pentagon are in denial about spending caps; others say the failure to recognize the likelihood of sequester left no time to trim and will instead force an overhaul of the massive defense budget.

From Reuters: "The White House budget plan proposes spending reductions and revenue increases that officials say would make defense cuts under a process known as sequestration unnecessary. But a deal on taxes and spending with the Congress seems unlikely, given that President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives have been trying for two years to achieve one. As a result, the Pentagon appears to be headed toward another round of forced budget cuts in October with no plan in place for absorbing the reductions, even as it struggles to implement a $41 billion budget cut for which it was ill-prepared."

AEI's Mackenzie Eaglen to Reuters: "By ignoring sequester and hoping for a grand bargain that has remained elusive...Pentagon leaders are in for another year that looks like the one before it and the one before that, with no clarity in the short- or the long-term on budget or strategic matters."

Hagel and Dempsey will speak to reporters at 1:00. Then, Pentagon comptroller Bob Hale and Lt. Gen. Mark Ramsay, director of force structure, resources and assessment for the Joint Staff, will provide a more detailed briefing. Following that, individual services will brief reporters on the particulars of their budget proposals: Army at 3:15, Navy at 4:00; Air Force at 4:45.

Odierno, McHugh: the Army isn't paying for any more challenge coins. It's a sign of the budgetary times. At least for now, the Army will no longer pay for so-called challenge coins. In an April 1 memo obtained by Situation Report, Army Secretary John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno informed the service the Army would no longer pay for the ubiquitous challenge coins. "The uncertain fiscal year 2013 funding caused by the combined effects of a possible year-long Continuing Resolution (CR) and sequestration, along with the need to protect funding for wartime operations, requires the Department to take all necessary measures to reduce spending of appropriate funds," the memo states. "Accordingly, the authority to purchase coins with operation and maintenance, Army (OMA) funds for presentation as awards/recognition devices...is temporarily suspended. Likewise, the authority to purchase coins with official representation funds for presentation as gifts to authorized guests...is temporarily suspended." But, the memo also says: "This temporary suspension does not prohibit the use of remaining stocks of coins for authorized purposes, nor does it prohibit the purchase of coins for presentation with personal funds."

Typically, senior officers give the coins to service members when visiting a base or to VIPs or others with whom they visit, and thousands of the coins are given away each year. They are a symbol of goodwill, and there is a long history of them being used as morale-building tools -- but they can also cost as much as $10 apiece.

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report, where our challenge to you is to send us your best challenge coin stories. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. 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 military stories of success or excess.

Chuck Hagel is worth as much as $6 million. The defense secretary did well in the private sector and is worth as much as $6 million, the WaPo's Al Kamen reports. Many Cabinet secretaries -- and the service secretaries and others inside the Pentagon -- are relinquishing part of their salaries in solidarity with civilian workers who are expected to be furloughed for as many as 14 days. Kamen: "It's worth noting, however, that some of President Obama's Cabinet secretaries can more easily afford to participate in the phenomenon we've dubbed 'sacrifice solidarity' than others. For most, giving up a chunk of their nearly $200,000 annual pay amounts to little more than lost latte money. For a few, though, it's a serious bit of cash relative to their bank-account balances."

"In the Loop" estimates the Cabinet's net worth: Secretary of State Kerry: $184.2 million to $287.7 million; Attorney General Holder: $3.8 million to $8.4 million; Hagel: $2.8 million to $6 million; Shinseki: $2.2 million to $5.9 million; HUD Secretary Donovan: $1.5 million to $6.1 million; Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, $1.2 million to $5.6 million; HHS Secretary Sebelius: $502,000 to $4.9 million.

Is it time for PACOM commander to reach out to China? Some senators think so. The crisis on the Korean Peninsula was front and center during yesterday's hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee, where senators like Republican Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire suggested to Adm. Sam Locklear, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, that reaching out to North Korea's ally, China, would be a good idea. "I think that is particularly important, given that North Korea relies on China essentially for its economic existence," the E-Ring's Kevin Baron quoted her as saying. For his part, Locklear said he has not talked to his Chinese military counterparts during the ongoing standoff. Sen. Carl Levin, Democratic chairman of the SASC, was also curious about PACOM engagement with China as a way to reduce tensions with North Korea. Baron: "Locklear, who does not have a direct counterpart in the PLA chain-of-command, noted that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was having conversations with China on behalf of the Pentagon. Hagel discussed North Korea with Chinese Minister of National Defense General Chang Wanquan on April 2. Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey spoke in early March with Gen. Fang Fenghui, chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army." Locklear:  "I believe that, over time, we'll progress to a state where the PACOM commander can talk to the chief of defense or the chairman can talk there in a real time. We're not there yet."

In the past, PACOM commanders have actively engaged the Chinese. Adm. Bill "Fox" Fallon was even accused of getting too close to the mysterious PLA in his attempt to put the military-to-military relationship on more solid ground.

State: No need to leave the ROK. The State Department told Americans living in South Korea -- and there are as many as 200,000 -- not to leave, the Cable's Josh Rogin reports. At Tuesday's State Department press briefing, reporters asked Spokesman Patrick Ventrell whether Pyongyang's latest threat to Americans in South Korea would lead to a change in the State Department's advice to American citizens there, but Ventrell said it would not. Ventrell: "Our analysis remains the same as it was last week: that we're not discouraging U.S. citizens from traveling to South Korea or encouraging them to take any special travel precautions," he said.

The Chinese love them some Jon Stewart -- at least when he's making fun of Kim Jong Un. Chinese viewers have clicked on Stewart's riff on the North Korean leader 2.9 million times, making it show's best-watched bit ever. Stewart goofs on "Little Miss Unshine," the Photoshopped pic distributed by the North Koreans of six landing craft arriving on a beach, and the leader sitting at an antiquated computer that Stewart said looks like a harpsichord with a panic button.  Writing on FP, Helen Gao says that "Despite some unfamiliarity with the cultural and political references in the segment, Stewart's video was a hit. (People appear to especially like the Photoshopped picture of a statue of Kim Jong Un having sex with the Statue of Liberty.) Americans have long thought of the dictators in Pyongyang as bizarre and reckless demagogues, as crazy as they are dangerous. But now, it seems that the Chinese are coming around to a similar view -- or at least one of annoyance with a former friend. One viewer commenting on the The Daily Show video nicely encapsulated the changing attitude toward North Korea: ‘Why is it inviting humiliation like this?'" Watch the Chinese version of Stewart's bit, here.

Revealed! Exclusive photo of the North Korean air force. Making the rounds between State and DOD and agencies in between. But does Kim Jong Un have a fast pass? Check it out, here.

Oh, it's awwwn now. Commandant Gen. Jim Amos is angry at the way the Gannett-owned Marine Corps Times recently characterized two female officers' failure to complete the Infantry Officer's Course, stating in an April 2 headline that they "flunked" the course. The general wrote a letter to the editor and challenged the paper's reporter, Dan Lamothe, to complete the course himself, and Lamothe, a civilian who has covered the Marines for five years, has accepted. He is expected to begin the 13-week course later this year.

Amos, in his letter to MC Times: "That description is callous and irresponsible, and doesn't do justice to these two fine officers. Of necessity, the IOC curriculum is extremely arduous and challenging. I have no plan of changing it. More than 30 percent of the lieutenants who attempt the IOC curriculum don't complete it. Lieutenants who don't pass IOC go on to serve our Corps honorably in other meaningful and rewarding ways." Then Amos handed Lamothe a military reporter's dream: a chance to complete the course himself. Think daily blog posts, national media coverage, and the possibility that Lamothe, 31, could pass and maybe even excel.

So upset was Amos, that he also disinvited Lamothe and his managing editor, Andy deGrandpre, from an informal gathering at the Commandant's home last night. Amos and his wife, top general officers, and a couple dozen military reporters, including Situation Report, were there. The MC Times story that caused all the problems, here.  The follow-up story about the challenge, here.

How you crowd-source national security. Who knew it but smartphones may be able to help track security agreements between nations in the not-so-distant future. Writing on FP, Christopher Stubbs and Sidney Drell suggest that the responsibility for verification - the process of ensuring that countries comply with treaties - could fall not only on nation's spy satellites and other intel tools, but on smartphones. They write: "The increase in data volume, ever-improving connectivity, and the relentless evolution towards ubiquitous sensors in cell phones and other devices affords new opportunities for concerned citizens to participate in solving some of the thorniest health and security issues of our time. In the very near future, anyone with a cell phone will be able to serve as a weapons inspector.

Budgeting

  • Dod Buzz: Obama seeks smaller defense cuts, budget likely DOA.
  • USAT: No change seen in Army, Marine troop levels in budget.
  • Truthout: Cut Social Security and veterans' benefits? Cut the Pentagon instead.

Pivoting

  • CNN: Northeast Asia on edge ahead of possible North Korean missile test.
  • CS Monitor: To break cycle of threats, U.S. must put Kim on his heels.
  • NPR (blog): "Very high" chance North will test fire missile.     

Noting

  • BBC: Syria crisis: al-Nusra pledges allegiance to al-Qaida.
  • Al Jazeera: France begins withdrawing troops from Mali.
  • BBC: Mali to replace camel given to Hollande that was eaten by family.
  • The Iran Primer: Where does nuclear diplomacy stand now?