National Security

Help wanted at the Pentagon; Wilkerson being investigated for an extramarital affair; Mikulski wants some R-E-S-P-E-C-T; Hagel pressed on Syrian CW; Hand sanitizer as sexual assault prevention tool; and a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

New: Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos relieved OCS commander Col. Kris Stillings, after the shootings at Quantico. Marine Corps Times has the story, in which Stillings, a former military assistant to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, was relieved of command of the Officer Candidates School at Quantico on Monday by Amos.

Amos, to MCT, saying his decision to relieve Stillings was "painful": "I just lost confidence in Colonel Stillings' ability to handle all the many, many requirements of Officer Candidates School, being commanding officer," he said. "... With the death of three Marines, goodness, a month ago and a half ago now, that was a cold shot to the heart. ... I worked my way through that, and I came to a persistent theme that I've been talking about for some time, and that's the issue about accountability."

Stillings, to MCT: "My command and the Marines of OCS mean the world to me," he said. "My wife and I are greatly saddened and upset by my relief, but we wish only the best for the Marines and sailors that work so hard at OCS. My relief is internal Marine Corps business, and I will address my concerns through the appropriate military process."

Help wanted at the Pentagon. More than 20 percent of the 53 senior political appointee positions across the building are either vacant or staffed with acting personnel, according to data provided to Situation Report. Among the jobs that require Senate confirmation, there are currently 11 filled by acting personnel, some for more than a year or longer. And with Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Mark Lippert fleeting up to become the special assistant, or TSA, to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, as we were reported last week, the number of positions staffed by acting personnel will soon climb to 12.

And, another two positions -- the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, and the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness -- are simply vacant.

It's not unlike the State Department, where The Cable's Josh Rogin reported recently that a number of key jobs are vacant -- or, for that matter, a number of other agencies across government, from Commerce to NOAA. "It's a problem that ebbs and flows," CSIS's David Berteau told Situation Report, noting that the number of Senate-confirmed positions in the Pentagon was 46 under Bush 41 -- now it's 53, a 15 percent increase. "That's not enormous, but it's a pretty big number," he said.

With each job, it's a question of getting the White House to put a name forward, then getting through the hearing process, and then getting full Senate confirmation. Currently, Senate staffers tell us there is only one nominee awaiting confirmation by the Senate: Alan Estevez, to be principal deputy under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. No one has been yet nominated by the White House for any jobs since Hagel arrived at the Pentagon. But Berteau notes that when there is new leadership, the already-slow process slows even more. "You do have the dynamic when a John Kerry or a Chuck Hagel come in, you'll slow up the nominating process," he said. They ask themselves, "Who do need, who do I got, where do I get to pick from?"

For now, the number of vacancies poses a governance challenge for Hagel, Berteau said.

"There is little doubt that acting officials do not pursue the policy objectives of the administration with the same vigor, and commitment that a confirmed official does, in general."

A senior defense official told Situation Report that Hagel is working to ensure that as many positions are filled as soon as possible with Senate-confirmed appointees but that he is confident their missions are being carried out "responsibly and effectively" in the meantime. "Some of those in acting roles might eventually hold those positions permanently," the official said. "All of this requires, of course, the partnership of Congress."

Is the pivot really real?  As an aside, Lippert's move to become Hagel's TSA leaves the ASD for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs job open once again -- during the much-hyped Asian pivot. After Chip Gregson left the job in April 2011, Peter Lavoy slipped in in an acting role until April 2012, when Lippert was confirmed. Now one year later, Lippert will leave the job and Lavoy will once again move into the job in an acting role. At the same time, the position of assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, vacated by Kurt Campbell in February, remains open across the river at State. That means the two principal, Senate-confirmed Asia jobs are vacant with no sense they will be filled anytime soon.

The growth of the undersecretary at the Pentagon. The first undersecretary position was created at the Pentagon under Harold Brown in the late 1970s -- for policy. Brown went on to create another, for research and engineering (now acquisition); the third and fourth undersecretary positions (comptroller, and personnel and readiness) were not added until Bill Clinton was president. And it was under Donald Rumsfeld that the undersecretary for intelligence was created, in 2003; Stephen Cambone was the first in that spot.

Vacant positions with acting personnel: Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness): Jessica Wright, Acting; Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology and Logistics): Alan Estevez, acting; PDUSD (Intelligence): Kevin Meiners, acting; Assistant Secretary of Defense (Homeland Defense and Americas' Security Affairs): Todd Rosenblum, acting; ASD (Research & Engineering): Alan Shaffer, acting; DOD Inspector General: Lynne Halbrook, acting; DOD General Counsel: Robert Taylor, acting; Under Secretary of the Navy: Robert Martinage, acting; Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Energy, Installations & Environment): Roger Natsuhara, acting; Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Finanical Management and Comptroller): Charles Cook, acting; Under Secretary of the Air Force: Jamie Morin, acting.

Vacant with no acting personnel - Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition); Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness).

Welcome to Thursday's long 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.

This morning, as officials from 190 Nonproliferation Treaty states meet in Geneva, a new report card from the Arms Control Association says more needs to be done. This morning at 10 a.m., ACA is releasing a paper assessing how well 11 key states have met 10 major nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament commitments over the last two years. The report says that the pace of change is "not equal to today's urgent nuclear threats" and that the Obama administration's progress -- notable in its first two years in office -- has "lost energy and focus," according to Daryl Kimball, executive director of ACA, in an e-mail to Situation Report. Read the full report, here.

Reporters traveling with Hagel pressed him on what he and the Israeli defense minister talked about regarding chemical weapons and Syria. Hagel had had a good stop in Israel earlier this week, reinforcing the U.S. commitment to Israeli security and re-establishing his own bona fides as a friend to that country after his bruising confirmation fight. But hours after he left, an Israeli official said that he believes the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons, seemingly catching Hagel flat-footed and, potentially, making it harder for the White House to ignore intelligence from its allies: both France and Great Britain believe President Bashar al-Assad has used CW on his people. The WaPo reported that Hagel was kept in the dark by Israeli officials as to their assessment of Syria's use of CW.

The WaPo's Craig Whitlock: "Mr. Secretary, you said that they did not give you that assessment, but you spent a lot of time with [Israeli] Defense Minister Ya'alon. Did -- what did he discuss with you about Syrian chemical weapons? I mean, did he give you other assessments? Did he say they were still pending? Did he give you a different story? Or did he not talk to you about it?"

Hagel: "Well, you know I don't discuss my conversations with any senior officials, nor -- nor do I get into any specifics -- any of our allies' specific conversations I had. We talked about everything. We talked about Syria. We talked about chemical weapons. We talked about the region. We talked about many issues. And we did talk about this issue."

Whitlock: "Well, with all due respect, you do talk about what you discuss with senior officials all the time. I mean, did -- it's an important question."

Hagel: "I don't discuss with you what I discuss with senior officials."

Whitlock: "Well, I understand, but I still think it's a fair question.  Did the minister bring this up with you or not?"

Hagel: "I said he did. We talked about it.  I said we talked about it."

Whitlock: "But not that assessment particularly..."

Hagel: "Well..."

Whitlock: "...that the IDF came out with..."

Hagel: "No, because I -- I think, as I just said earlier, I don't know if that assessment had been completed when I was there

The full transcript, here.

Whitlock's story of how Hagel was kept in the dark by the Israelis on their intel, here.

The NYT reports that the U.S. still sees no conclusive evidence of CW use in Syria. Mark Landler: "The Obama administration shares the suspicions of several of its allies that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons, a senior official said Wednesday, but it lacks the conclusive evidence that President Obama has said would lead to American intervention." Read that report, here.

Don't rub it in! Hagel, at the top of a presser yesterday during the visit to Egypt: "Okay, good, good. Good afternoon. How were the pyramids?" Reporters: "We wouldn't know." Hagel: "You worked, that's right."

Where in the world is Hagel? Now he's in the UAE. Tonight, Hagel will have dinner with Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE's Crown Prince, and discuss the UAE's purchase of F-16s in a deal that is valued up to $5 billion. The deal is meant to provide additional assets in the region to coordinate defense and a potential response to the "growing Iranian threat," we're told.

Hagel gives a shout out to a shooter. During his swing through the Middle East, Hagel gave props to Erin Kirk-Cuomo, his photographer and a former Marine, saying she's one of the best in the biz. Kirk-Cuomo takes thousands of images and snaps one each time the defense secretary poses with the troops. Hagel, a former sergeant, spoke to about 200 troops, mostly Air Force and Navy, including SEALs, at an undisclosed base in southwest Asia about the security challenges in the region -- especially Iran.

Find out what it means to me: Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat, admonished Pentagon leaders yesterday for not treating members of defense oversight committees seriously or respectfully, the E-Ring's Kevin Baron reports. Mikulski said Pentagon leaders generally seem to make national security decisions without adequate congressional notification, and she demanded a change in tone. Defense committee chairmen seem to get plenty of attention, Baron writes, but the backbenchers are shut out. Mikulski, perhaps rightly, believes that the Pentagon generally caters more to the Hill's authorizers and not the check-writing appropriators. "We have been deeply troubled from time to time that we have been treated in a dismissive way," Mikulski said during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, as Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert, and Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos sat in the hot seats. "We want meetings, and we want meetings that count," she said. Read Baron's full report, here.

Where in the world is Dempsey? Not in China anymore. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey left Beijing this morning and is now headed to Japan. Dempsey will do a town hall meeting in Yokota with service members and families and then meet an official with the Japan Self Defense Forces, before having dinner with his counterpart, Gen. Iwasaki. He'll be back in Washington in a couple days.

A picture of Dempsey, from Chinese media, here.

Joint Staff photostream of the visit, here.  

BTW: Replacing Col. Dave Lapan as Dempsey's spokesman: Air Force Col. Ed Thomas, in May.

The Air Force is probing new allegations against the Air Force officer whose overturned sexual assault case created a furor. Stripes is reporting that the Air Force has begun an investigation into allegations that Lt. Col. James Wilkerson had an extramarital affair in 2004 with a woman who says she subsequently gave birth to his baby, according to e-mails obtained by the newspaper. Wilkerson's sexual assault conviction was overturned in a controversial move that resulted in a DOD-wide review of the military justice system. Stripes' Nancy Montgomery: "The planned Air Force investigation follows an allegation made by the woman, who says she and Wilkerson had a brief affair in Utah and that he fathered her child. She told Stars and Stripes in a phone interview that she and Wilkerson were intimate only once, after being introduced by mutual friends. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley wrote in an email to an official in the Office of the Secretary of Defense that the Wilkerson case "is taking a new turn with allegations [that Wilkerson] may have fathered a child with a woman not his wife, some 7 years ago while he was stationed at Luke AFB."

Sexual Assault Awareness Month means...wash your hands! The Air Force is passing out tchotchkes -- from hand sanitizer to stress balls, from sewing kits (?) to lip balm -- to raise awareness and prevent sexual assault. The giveaways include boxes of breath mints with a sticker on the top that says "No means no!" because, as Baron points out in the E-Ring, "nothing says leave me alone like fresh breath, apparently." The box of mints comes with a tri-fold card with information on sexual assault that includes this: "Match your body language to your words -- don't laugh and smile while saying, ‘No.'" Alternatively, service members or DOD civilians could try reducing stress with a mini-football that says: "don't fumble...get consent," with the sexual assault hotline number printed below it. Read about DOD's sexual assault prevention initiatives, here.

Noting


  • Marine Corps Times: Corps' new crisis response force deploys to Spain for Africa.
  • Fox News: Army orders removal of Biblical references from riflescopes.
  • Defense News: DARPA pleads agency's case in lean times.
  • Danger Room: Your chance to win a celeb workout with Petraeus, or play Battleship with Mullen. 
  • US News: Iranian-sponsored narco-terrorism in Venezuela.
  • USAT: Allen says fewer troops could do the job in Afghanistan.
  • PT 365 blog: Marine Lt. Col. Bill Conner nearing $100k raised for Semper Fi fund.

 

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.