National Security

Hagel embraces Israel, literally; Forklifts for nukes?; Dempsey reiterates growing relationship with PLA, talks friction points, too; Boston and Chechens have a history; Ash to Harvard tonight; and a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

New: An explosion outside the French embassy in Libya appears to be the first terrorist attack in Tripoli since the removal of Muammar Qaddafi. Read about it here. 

The Israelis just said today that the Syrians have used chemical weapons, joining Britain and France and adding more pressure to the Obama administration to act, according to a new report in the NYT. Israeli Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, research commander in the intelligence directorate of the IDF: "The regime has increasingly used chemical weapons... The very fact that they have used chemical weapons without any appropriate reaction...is a very worrying development, because it might signal that this is legitimate."

Meanwhile, on the way to Saudi today, Hagel made a brief stop in Jordan. The Jordanians have become Washington's new best friend, or perhaps it is the other way around. But as they endure sustained instability from next-door neighbor Syria, the Jordanians have been holding the U.S. close. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with the chief of defense, Gen. Mashal al-Zaben, and Prince Faisal bin al-Hussein during a brief stopover there today. While King Hussein of Jordan will soon visit Washington soon, today's visit was an opportunity for the Jordanians to meet Hagel and the U.S. defense team and discuss "ongoing military cooperation to prepare for contingencies as a result of instability in Syria," a defense official told Situation Report this morning.

Earlier today, in Israel, Hagel observed an IDF unit at Camp Adam that trains bomb-sniffing dogs. It was the same unit that has trained with the U.S. Marine dog teams, some of which are deployed to Afghanistan.

Hagel also met with Prime Minister Netanyahu. At a joint event, Hagel reiterated his support for Israel -- a point he has been trying to stress since his bruising confirmation fight earlier this year: "This is a time when friends and allies must remain close, closer than ever. I'm committed to continue to strengthen this relationship, secure this relationship, and as you know, one of the main reasons I'm here is to do that. I've had very good conversations the last two days with your Defense Minister. I had a good conversation with President Peres yesterday. I was able to take a long tour up in the north and the eastern borders here, and once again it reminds me of the dangers and difficulties and challenges."

...and of the importance of opera. The WSJ's Adam Entous, who is on the trip, along with Josh Mitnick, report on a very surprise moment in an otherwise very scripted visit, where Hagel kissed and hugged an opera singer at an event at a Jerusalem hotel. The WSJ: "The Americans were taken aback when an opera singer suddenly started to perform between courses. One of the songs was ‘Jerusalem of Gold,' which has become an anthem associated with the Israeli victory in the city during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. For some Palestinians, the song has come to symbolize the Israeli occupation. Top Israeli officials joined in to sing the lyrics in Hebrew, and afterward Mr. Hagel got up from his chair and approached the performer, Sivan Goldman, a soprano who has appeared with the Israeli Opera and Philharmonic." Then, Hagel told the singer: "Congratulations, you moved me so much. Please let me give you a kiss and a hug," according to Goldman, who added: "everybody was so shocked." Then, when the opera singer was brought out for an encore, Defense Minister Ya'alon matched Hagel's gesture, hugging and singing the soprano himself, according to the WSJ.

Tonight, Hagel will sit for a "working dinner" with Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, Saudi Arabia's deputy premier and minister of defense, and he will stay overnight in the kingdom. No word on the entertainment.

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report where we just don't buy it: a new report says that reporters have the worst job in America. We'll quote Gob: "C'mon!"  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.

Later this week, Hagel will visit Egypt, where Pentagon underlings have been quietly building the mil-to-mil relationship under President Mohammed Morsi. The meeting will be the first since Leon Panetta visited as defense secretary in August and declared Morsi "his own man," as the E-Ring's Kevin Baron reminds us. Baron: "In the months since Panetta's 45-minute meeting with Morsi, U.S. military officials largely have stayed quiet, as Egypt's transition endured additional violent protests in December and ongoing constitutional challenges to Morsi's authority. This week, senior defense officials revealed the Pentagon has just been quiet, not idle." In November, Derek Chollet, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, and Lt. Gen. Terry Wolff, director of strategic plans and policy, attended the Military Coordinating Committee meeting in Cairo.  Read the full post, here.

Wait, what? Silly rules are causing airmen to handle nuclear bombs...with forklifts? Killer Apps' John Reed reports that a Defense Science Board report says that arcane safety procedures are actually making some aspects of the way the Air Force handles its nuclear weapons more dangerous. Reed: "Perhaps the best example is that nuclear weapons maintainers aren't allowed to use the hoists designed to lift B-61 nuclear bombs onto Weapons Maintenance Trucks because ‘the end of the bolt [securing the hoist to the truck] is flush with the outer surface of the nut while technical data require that two threads show beyond the surface of the nut,'" according to the report. Reed writes that while this condition has existed since the trucks were introduced 22 years ago and has resulted in no problems, the Air Force recently barred units from using the hoists due to their failure to meet technical safety specifications. The alternative? "An awkward process entailing the use of a forklift to move the weapon into the truck and the manhandling of the 200-pound tail section." Reed's full story, here.

Dempsey visits China, day two. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey spent his second full day in China, meeting with President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People, as well as Gen. Chang Wanguan, the minister of national defense and Gen. Fan Changlong, vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission at what's known as the Bayi Building at the Ministry of National Defense, Situation Report is told. At each of his visits, Dempsey has noted the "extraordinary reception and hospitality" that he has received as the PLA and the Chinese people mourn the lives lost by the earthquake in Sichuan. Dempsey has reiterated the importance of alliances as the U.S. and China take steps to "accelerate cooperation," we're told. Dempsey toured Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City and earlier today met with State Councilor Yang Jiechi.

Col. Dave Lapan: "In each of the meetings, Gen Dempsey discussed strengthening US - China military-to-military relationships, improving cooperation in areas such as anti-piracy, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and medical support. He and the senior Chinese leaders also discussed improving senior military-level communication channels between the U.S. and China, developing ‘rules of behavior' to prevent or minimize misunderstandings or accidents when US and Chinese military forces operate in proximity to one another, and improving strategic understanding of one another's goals and future roles." And: "General Dempsey and the Chinese leaders also had candid discussions on points of friction between the two countries and militaries, in order to better understand one another's perspectives."

Situation Report corrects - We demoted Col. Dave Lapan, Dempsey's spokesman in yesterday's edition by inadvertently referring to him as a "lieutenant colonel." Egad! We know better. Apologies for the oversight.

Last week was not Boston's first brush with the Chechen war. The bombings in Boston may or may not lead to a substantive link to the war in Chechnya, but apparently Islamists in Massachusetts have been helping militants in Chechnya for some time. Writing on FP, J.M. Berger writes this morning: "During the 1980s and into the 1990s, Islamist foreign fighters operated robust recruiting and financing networks that supported Chechen jihadists from the United States, and Boston was home to one of the most significant centers: a branch of the Al Kifah Center based in Brooklyn, which would later be rechristened CARE International." [Berger notes that CARE International is not the same as the legitimate charity by the same name.]

"Al Kifah sprang from the military jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Through the end of the occupation, a network of centers in the United States helped support the efforts of Afghan and Arab mujahedeen, soliciting donations and recruiting fighters, including at least four from Boston who died in action (one of them a former Dunkin Donuts employee). When the war ended, those networks did not disappear; they refocused on other activities. In Brooklyn, that network turned against the United States. The center's leaders and many of its members helped facilitate the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and they actively planned and attempted to execute a subsequent plot that summer to blow up the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels in New York, which would have killed thousands."

And this: How do IEDs amount to WMDs? Tim Noah says that the Justice Department's claim that the IEDs used in Boston amount to a weapon of mass destruction is just kind of ridiculous. Writing on FP: "Give me a break. Even granting that the language of the law is not the same as the language of everyday speech, it's ridiculous to call the bombs that went off in Boston "weapons of mass destruction." If any old bomb can be called a WMD, then Saddam most definitely had WMDs before the United States invaded Iraq 10 years ago. And if an IED is a WMD, then Iraq actually ended up with more WMDs after the U.S. invasion than before (and isn't entirely rid of them yet)." Justice's criminal complaint against the bombing suspects, here. Speaking of Boston: Ash returns to his Harvard roots tonight. Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the Kennedy School of Government tonight on -- what else? -- the budget and strategic choices tonight at 6 p.m. in an event moderated by Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and a professor in the school of government. We're told that Carter will outline and focus on what issues the Pentagon will be facing after the Iraq and Afghanistan era - both in terms of strategy and budget." Deets here.

Hageling

Haaretz: Pro-Israeli patriots won't be fooled by Hagel's fiendish psychological warfare.
LAT: In Israel, Chuck Hagel has a one-word refrain: "friend." 

Pivoting


  • BBC: North Korea: defectors adjust to life abroad.
  • WaPo (blog): North Korea official response to Boston bombing cites conspiracy site World Net Daily.
  • CS Monitor: Nuclear North Korea entreats Mongolia to help it feeds its people. 
  • NYT: U.S. and China put focus on cybersecurity.  

Noting

  • US News: Special Forces, Army, to get new XM25 Punisher rifle.
  • The Nation: Military presence in East Asia "stabilizing:" Dempsey.

 

National Security

Air Force general dies in crash; Hagel gets to within 5 kms. of Syrian border; Dempsey in Beijing; Was Boston an intelligence failure?; And a little bit more.

 

By Gordon Lubold

Air Force Maj. Gen. Joe Brown and his wife were killed. Brown, a bomber pilot with more than 4,300 flight hours under his belt and a recipient of a Distinguished Flying Cross, was killed along with his wife, Sue, as he attempted to land a single-engine Cessna 210 near Williamsburg, Va. on Friday. Brown, who was apparently visiting his father in the area, was the commandant of the Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy at National Defense University in Washington - the former Industrial College of the Armed Forces, renamed last year. Brown was said to be well regarded on the NDU campus. NDU employees received an e-mail from Maj. Gen. Gregg Martin, president of the school, on Saturday, but the cause of the crash is as yet unclear. From Martin's e-mail, obtained by Situation Report, in which Martin said the NDU family had lost "two of the brightest lights in the constellation that is the National Defense University:" "I have no words to capture my emotions right now.  General Joe Brown was simply the epitome of Air Force style, professionalism and grace.  There was no better leader here at NDU, and no better friend on our team.  I can't get his ready smile and easy laugh out of my mind just now. Joe and Sue were deeply loved, admired and respected by all."

Brown's career was marked by a historical flight over Iraq in March 2003 for which he received the Flying Cross. The WaPo: "On March 22, 2003, Brown, then a colonel, was tasked with flying his B-1 over classified locations in Iraq to destroy six Global Positioning System jamming towers, according to the citation. Coursing through ‘lethal airspace,' Brown's ‘extraordinary airmanship and bravery,' allowed him to outmaneuver three surface-to-air missiles and dense antiaircraft fire to successfully bomb enemy towers. The strikes were crucial to the early stages of the war because they allowed other bombers to find their targets with greater accuracy. During the mission, Brown became the first B-1 pilot to penetrate Baghdad's airspace."

Also killed in the crash: The Browns' dog, Jackson.

The IDF is giving Hagel a tour of Tel Aviv and Golan. Chuck Hagel is on his first trip to Israel as defense secretary, where he is finalizing aspects of a $10 billion arms deal and reinforcing America's commitment to Israel -- and his own. The Israel Defense Forces just gave Hagel and his entourage a helicopter tour that included Tel Aviv and Golan, and they will return him to Jerusalem tonight. The tour, on Israeli Blackhawks, took the group to within five kilometers of the Syrian border to highlight the security challenges Israel confronts from the Syrian conflict. Earlier today, Hagel met with his counterpart, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon in Tel Aviv, and later today, he'll meet with President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem. Tomorrow, he'll meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. On the trip --- Ziller Hagel, the secretary's college-age son. Hagel, to reporters: "I particularly wanted him to accompany me here for this experience."

Hagel said he doesn't think "there's any daylight" between Israel and the U.S. over Iran. On the Doomsday plane ride overseas for his five-country tour, starting in Israel, Hagel was asked by a reporter if there were any differences between the way the U.S. and Israel sees the threat. "I think it's clear in what I've seen in this job the last two months, that Israel and the United States see the threat of Iran exactly the same as do many other countries, not just in the Middle East.  So I don't think there's any daylight there," he said. "When you break down into the specifics of -- of the timing of when and if Iran decides to pursue a nuclear weapon, there may well be some differences, but our -- generally -- ...intelligence is -- is generally pretty close to each other, as well as other intelligence agencies. But the bottom line is that Iran is a threat.  It's a real threat.  And the United States' policy has been very clear on this.  And I think everyone knows it.  As other nations, the -- the Iranians must be prevented from developing that capacity to build a nuclear weapon and deliver it.  And you work it out from there."

Welcome to Monday'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.

Dempsey is in China. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey arrived in Beijing, where he was expected to be welcomed by a "full honors arrival" at the Defense Ministry and then immediately meet with his counterpart, Gen. Fang Fenghui, hold a joint presser, and attend a dinner.

Dempsey: a "prolonged period of provocations" and a need for "sustained readiness" with North Korea. Yesterday, the chairman met with Gen. James Thurman, the commander of U.S. Forces, Korea, and the two met with Gen. Jung Seung-jo, Dempsey's counterpart in South Korea. Dempsey received an update on the situation on the Korean Peninsula, and was briefed on the Foal Eagle exercises, under which the U.S. has deployed ships and planes, countering the saber rattling from the North. Situation Report is also told that Dempsey wanted to "calibrate" the intel picture he gets regularly in Washington with Jung's and Thurman's on-the-ground perspectives. The meeting lasted about two hours.

From Col. Dave Lapan, Dempsey's spokesman: "General Dempsey noted that Seoul was rather normal, with life at normal patterns. However, he was told the ROK military remains at a heightened state of readiness.  The ‘newest insight,' as he described it, was that the situation with NK seems to have moved from cyclical provocations to a ‘prolonged period of provocations,' and with that comes the requirement for US and ROK to maintain and sustain heightened readiness." [The original post misidentified Col. Dave Lapan as a lieutenant colonel.]

Lapan also told us that interoperability between the U.S. and Republic of Korean forces and exercises are "two important elements" as the two countries look to create "sustained readiness" due to the tensions. 

Slipping in and out of consciousness: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Investigators are still waiting on the 19-year-old suspected bomber, who remains in a Boston hospital in critical condition, to get to the point where they can begin questioning him. Meanwhile, the WSJ reports this morning that "growing interest in religion" had begun to split the Tsarnaev family, with the division between Tamerlan and his mother, Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, and the rest of the family.

The WSJ: "A close examination of the Tsarnaev family shows that, over the past five years or so, the personal lives of the family members slipped into turmoil, according to interviews with the parents, relatives and friends. The upheaval in the household was driven, at least in part, by a growing interest in religion by both Tamerlan and his mother."

Do the Boston bombings represent an intelligence failure? As investigators continue to sift through clues and await Tsarnaev's recovery to the point where he can be interviewed, the issue of what was missed or not missed has become central to the discussion in the wake of last week's bombings. Rep. Peter King, the Republican from New York who sits on the Homeland Security Committee, has called the FBI's handling of the case an "intelligence failure." Russian officials tipped off the FBI's legal attaché in the American Embassy in Moscow in 2011 to concerns about the older Tsarnaev, and investigators spoke with the older Tsarnaev and looked for other evidence of terrorist activity, but couldn't find any, according to reports. That has prompted criticism like King's. But Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican from Michigan who heads the House Intelligence Committee and is a former FBI agent, defended the agency on NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday. Rogers: "...the FBI did their due diligence, and did a very thorough job about trying to run that to ground and then asks some more help from that intelligence service to try to get further clarification and, unfortunately, that intelligence service stopped cooperating. So what happens is that case gets closed down. He, we believe, may have actually traveled on an alias to get back to his home country and that seven months-- six and a half months or so becomes extremely important. So you know he had some radicalization before he left. You know that he didn't probably travel on his own name or some variation of his own name. And when he comes back, he has a renewed interest in that radicalization belief process, so he's very devout. We know he was very religious, devout, and very active in the Boston Islamic society and a devout attender of-- of prayers and mosque on Fridays. So you see something happening, and you can see it happening after that travel. And so that six and a half months becomes incredibly important. And it would lead one to believe that that's probably where he got that final radicalization to push him to commit acts of violence and where he may have received training on what we ultimately saw last Monday." Full transcript of the show, here.

Pivoting

  • CS Monitor: North Korea: U.S. military braces for heightened readiness.
  • Reuters: Frustration mounts after Chinese earthquake.
  • FT: Resentment at North Korea turns to alarm.

The Stan

  • CNN: Taliban capture 10 after helicopter makes emergency landing.
  • National Review: (Bing West) Afghanistan the unknown.
  • Daily Mail: Dozens of Afghan schoolgirls taken to hospital after poison attack by Taliban.

Noting

  • WSJ: Prank and file: these military reports are out of line (Duffel blog).
  • Defense News: DOD request would redirect $7.5 billion. 
  • Battleland: The VA's disability distress. 

Bombing

  • WaPo (blog): How the bombing will affect Washington.
  • 60 Minutes: The inside story of the Boston bombing investigation.
  • NBC:  Seven unanswered questions from bombing.
  • Reuters: Bombing suspect awaits charges.