National Security

Not convinced: WH, Pentagon respond to report of CW in Syria; Five House chairmen accuse HRC of lying; Hagel in Cairo, Dempsey in China; Cartwright on drones: “we might have ceded some of our moral high ground;” and a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

The administration confronts the news of what an Israeli official said about chemical weapons use in Syria. Just hours after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel left Israel yesterday came the report that a top Israeli official believed the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons, dampening, to some extent, the goodwill created by Hagel's goodwill stop there and clearly surprising Hagel and top staffers traveling with him. The White House and Pentagon responded, saying the comments made by an official with the IDF, Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, didn't change their own thinking about whether the Assad regime has used chemical weapons - to the U.S., there is still no conclusive evidence that it has, but that it was taking the claims seriously and was investigating. It's not uncommon for an Israeli official to use a high-profile visit, such as Hagel's this week, to make an attention-getting announcement. But this may be more a case of one Israeli agency leaning forward on intelligence and not necessarily a reflection of the broader view of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

Steven Simon, a former senior director of the National Security Council who specialized in Middle East and North African affairs, told Situation Report he thinks Brun¹s comments may not be as significant as they had been cast by yesterday's reports. The fact of the matter, he said, is that there is no incontrovertible evidence that the Syrians have used chemical weapons on any large scale.

"There isn't dispositive evidence of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime," said Simon, who left the White House at the end of last year. Simon said he knows Brun and views him as "smart and disciplined." But, he said, "my interpretation is that I don¹t think he quite understood the implications of his statement. I think he thought he was being asked for his opinion, I don't think he was envisaging headlines."

Brun didn¹t appear to have any new or definitive intelligence or other evidence to back up his claims, nor do his comments box the White House in in any way, Simon said. "Just because an Israeli creates some doubts about the administration's take on chemical weapons use wouldn't constitute any pressure on the White House to change the rules of the game," Simon said.

Pentagon pressec George Little, traveling with Hagel, on an evaluation into whether Syria has used CWs  - "We are concerned about reports of potential chemical weapons use, which is precisely why we've called for a thorough investigation... It's important that we do whatever we can to monitor, investigate and verify any credible allegations, given the enormous consequences for the Syrian people and given [President Barack Obama's] clear statement that chemical weapons use is unacceptable."

Welcome to Wednesday'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.

Want to know what Assad's WMD arsenal looks like? Read Killer Apps' John Reed's explainer: "The United States' Intelligence Community's 2013 Worldwide Threat Assessment released last month states that Syria has a ‘highly active chemical weapons program' maintaining a stockpile of sarin, VX, and the longtime staple of chemical warfare, mustard gas. These weapons can be delivered a number of ways, via cluster bombs dropped from jets and helicopters to chemical warheads placed atop Scud ballistic missiles. They can even be fired via shorter-range artillery guns or missiles systems, like the Soviet-made BM-27 Uragan," he writes. In addition, the intelligence community's report says that it's likely the Assad regime has biological weapons, just without dedicated delivery systems.

From the threat assessment: "Based on the duration of Syria's longstanding biological warfare (BW) program, we judge that some elements of the program may have advanced beyond the research and development stage and may be capable of limited agent production...Syria is not known to have successfully weaponized biological agents in an effective delivery system, but it possesses conventional and chemical weapon systems that could be modified for biological agent delivery."

Where in the world is Hagel? In Cairo. Hagel was received by the Egyptian Ministry of Defense with a review of the troops and the playing of national anthems. Earlier this morning, Hagel finished an hour-long meeting with Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and then was expected to have lunch with the minister before laying a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier and a memorial to former Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat. He will also meet with President Mohammed Morsi. Hagel had told staffers a visit to Egypt, seen as critical to regional stability, was high on his list soon after being confirmed as secretary.

So then where in the world is Dempsey? Still in China. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, on his third full day in China, visited the 4th Aviation Regiment, where he viewed static helicopter displays and spoke with crewmembers and leaders and saw a flight demonstration. Dempsey then visited the PLA Aviation Academy and spoke with cadets as part of an engagement with China's current and potential future leaders, Situation Report is told. "Gen. Dempsey discussed leadership attributes - lifelong learning, trust, courage and humility - and answered questions from the roughly 40 students in attendance," Col. Dave Lapan, Dempsey's spokesman, told us. Then Dempsey and staff ate lunch with hundreds of the academy's cadets and staff members before making remarks at the National Defense University, where he spoke of "leadership and the profession of arms," we're told.

Why isn't Dempsey's Facebook page getting daily updates from China? The E-Ring's Kevin Baron wanted to know. Baron: "Everyone knows that China blocks Internet access to Facebook, but even, it seems, for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey. Dempsey's Facebook status, which usually actively shares the chairman's daily public appearances, has not updated since Sunday, when he was still in Seoul, South Korea. Dempsey is in the middle of a rare visit to China, but judging from his Facebook page and most mainstream news outlets, you probably wouldn't know it.

Lapan e-mailed Baron from China to say the Chairman's office expects to update the page with the China visit all at once and that the lack of posts have nothing to do with any issue to do with cyber-security.

The GOP is laying the groundwork for HRC's potential presidential run: the chairmen of five House Committees accuse her of lying outright to Congress over Benghazi. The chairmen of Oversight, Foreign Affairs, Armed Services, Intelligence and Judiciary accused former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of lying to Congress about reducing security in Benghazi, Libya, before last September's attacks. The chairmen vowed to continue reviewing what the report described as a "cover up" over the nature of the attacks and hold administration officials accountable, the E-Ring's Baron reports. The report is a compilation of investigations by the Republican staff of each of the five committees, which have not yet officially adopted it. According to the report, the three main findings are that security reductions in Benghazi were "approved at the highest levels of the State Department, up to and including Secretary Clinton." The report also says that in the days following the attacks, White House and senior State Department officials altered accurate talking points drafted by the intelligence community to protect the State Department, and, finally: "Contrary to administration rhetoric, the talking points were not edited to protect classified information. Concern for classified information is never mentioned in email traffic among senior Administration officials."

ICYMI: FP's Rosa Brooks told the Senate what's wrong with drones, what's not wrong with them, and describes the costs associated with American policy on drones. Brooks testified yesterday before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee about drones. From her statement, in part: "Here is an additional reason to worry about the U.S. overreliance on drone strikes: Other states will follow America's example, and the results are not likely to be pretty. Consider once again the Letelier murder, which was an international scandal in 1976: If the Letelier assassination took place today, the Chilean authorities would presumably insist on their national right to engage in "targeted killings" of individuals deemed to pose imminent threats to Chilean national security -- and they would justify such killings using precisely the same legal theories the US currently uses to justify targeted killings in Yemen or Somalia. We should assume that governments around the world-including those with less than stellar human rights records, such as Russia and China-are taking notice." And: "Right now, the United States has a decided technological advantage when it comes to armed drones, but that will not last long. We should use this window to advance a robust legal and normative framework that will help protect against abuses by those states whose leaders can rarely be trusted. Unfortunately, we are doing the exact opposite: Instead of articulating norms about transparency and accountability, the United States is effectively handing China, Russia, and every other repressive state a playbook for how to foment instability and -literally -- get away with murder."

Defense News' take on the testimony by Brooks and former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Jim "Hoss" Cartwright, who said at one point during the proceedings: "I'm concerned we might have ceded some of our moral high ground." Read Defense News' story here. Transcript of Brooks' prepared remarks, here.

Today at USIP at 2 p.m., a discussion on civil-military relations in Afghanistan. Panelists include: John Agoglia, vice president for government services for IDS International; Ashley Jackson, research fellow for Humanitarian Policy Group; Lisa Schirch, director of 3P Human Security, research professor at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, and policy advisor for the Alliance for Peacebuilding; and Ann Vaughn, senior policy advisor at Mercy Corps. USIP's Bob Perito will moderate.  

Brett Lambert, the deputy assistant secretary for defense for manufacturing and industrial base policy, talks tomorrow at CSIS at 1pm. What will he talk about? Expect him to be peppered with these kinds of questions: "What is the right way to think about the ground force industrial base, and how is it best sustained overtime? What policies best support the continued viability of second- and third-tier suppliers as acquisitions become less frequent and smaller in scale? And finally, how can the relationship between DOD and the private sector be strengthened?" More deets, here.  

Newsbreakers and makers: network, drink and enjoy some rooftop fun. Tomorrow night the DC Hack & Flack gathering will be held atop the building at 600 Maryland Ave. SW, West Tower Penthouse. Usual group of reporters and public relations and public affairs officer-types from government and the private sector. To go send a note to RSVP@harris.com.

Noting


  • AP: Bomb suspect influenced by mysterious radical.
  • Al-Monitor: The unpredictable succession plan of Saudi Arabia.
  • Defense News: Navy seeks to decommission more ships.
  • Khaama Press (Afg.): Civilian casualties increased by 30 percent: U.N. 

Travels with Hagel and Dempsey

  • AP: Israeli focus on Syria gives Hagel respite on Iran.
  • CS Monitor: Hagel goes to Israel bearing gifts of Ospreys and radar. 
  • China Daily: (opinion) More military interaction.
  • Bloomberg: Chinese general with Dempsey compares cyber-attack to nuke. 
  • DOD: Dempsey engages senior leaders in China. 

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.