National Security

A crash at Bagram; Bags of cash to Karzai; FP’s 500 most powerful people include Hagel, Dempsey; Tara Sonenshine to leave State; Petraeus’ comeback “like the invasion of Iraq”; Goodbye to Carter Ham, and a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

A civilian American cargo plane near Bagram air base in Afghanistan has crashed this morning. No word on casualties, and no definitive word on cause, but the AP reports that the aircraft crashed from a low-altitude soon after it took off, around 3 p.m. Afghanistan time. A Pentagon official told Situation Report that emergency responders are on the scene now assessing the situation and more information will be available soon.

The incident follows a plane crash in southern Afghanistan over the weekend that killed four Americans. That crash, of an MC-12 surveillance craft, did not appear to be the result of Taliban violence. It killed four airmen, the Pentagon announced: Captain Brandon Cyr of Woodbridge, Virginia; Captain Reid Nishizuka of Kailua, Hawaii; Staff Sergeant Daniel Fannin of Morehead, Kentucky; and Staff Sergeant Richard Dickson of Rancho Cordova, Calif. [the original post indicated the MC-12 aircraft was a helicopter].

NYT: "With bags of cash, the CIA Seeks Influence in Afghanistan." The NYT has a page-oner this morning about the money the CIA has given to Afghan President Hamid Karzai almost monthly over the last 10 years. The lede: "For more than a decade, wads of American dollars packed into suitcases, backpacks and, on occasion, plastic shopping bags have been dropped off every month or so at the offices of Afghanistan's president -- courtesy of the Central Intelligence Agency." One American official, to the NYT: "The biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan was the United States." Read the story here.

ISAF's operational update, out this morning, here. It includes

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 a 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.

Help Wanted at the Air Force. On Friday, the Air Force announced that Secretary Mike Donley was stepping down after serving five years -- the longest for any Air Force secretary. Donley replaced Mike Wynne after then Defense Secretary Robert Gates famously fired him and the Air Force Chief of Staff, Mike "Buzz" Moseley, over the Air Force's handling of nuclear weapons. Donley retires June 21. A number of names have been floated to replace him, but Carol DiBattiste, a lawyer working in the private sector who served as an Air Force under secretary more than a decade ago, seems to be on a very short list. No word on when the White House will make an announcement, but there is anxiety in some quarters about Air Force leadership, especially since a key job,  the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for acquisition,has yet to be filled. The service, like the others, is confronting major budget and platform issues this year.

Weird ­-- The Air Force announced Donley's retirement via an internal news story, which struck many in the Pentagon as a strange way to make a big announcement. At a breakfast earlier in the week, reporters had repeatedly pressed Donley about when he was retiring, but he would only say "soon."

Tara Sonenshine, leaving State. The Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs - a job that helps shape the voice for American diplomacy and security interests around the world, will leave State July 1 after about 14 months on the job, Situation Report has learned. Sonenshine, who on Friday left for Ethiopia, did not respond to queries, but we're told by multiple sources that she told her staff that it is her intention to leave this summer when most of her special assistants transition out to new posts. Nothing is yet finalized, but Sonenshine, an editorial producer for ABC's Nightline for many years before serving at the NSC in the Clinton White House, was the former executive vice-president of the U.S. Institute of Peace before moving to State. She is exploring options at universities or a return to media work.

FP's new issue, called "The Power Issue," is out today. Table of contents, here.

Writing on FP, "Eleven BuzzFeed lists that explain the world," here, by BuzzFeed editor in chief, Ben Smith.

BuzzFeed-inspired list by FP's John Reed, "One Pentagon Weapons System that was on Time and Under Budget," here.

The 500 Most Powerful People in the World, on FP, here. (Includes Marty Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; John Brennan, CIA director; Keith Alexander, director of the NSA; and Chuck Hagel, defense secretary.)

Petraeus' comeback is being orchestrated "like the invasion of Iraq." Petraeus' return to public life, first reported by Situation Report March 15,  is in full swing, as Buzzfeed reports yesterday, has mounted a "two-pronged" attack on Washington from the outside, pushing vetetrans issues and having specially-arrnaged dinners, like the one recently at the home of National Journal and Atlantic publisher David Bradley. 

Buzzfeed's Ben Smith and Emily Orley: "Meanwhile, on the inside, there are signs of just the right sort of Washington insurgency: Petraeus has not attempted the kind of brash, frontal, and unapologetic return former Rep. Anthony Weiner is trying in New York. Instead, he's barely visible, working with the ubiquitous Beltway fixer Bob Barnett, though he has no book project or paid speaking tour in the works. He has been quietly, formally welcomed back to the town's high society, arriving as the guest of honor one recent evening at the home of Atlantic publisher David Bradley with such eminences as Walter Isaacson, Andrea Mitchell, and Alan Greenspan; at the dinner, a person familiar with the conversation said, the sex scandal was mentioned only obliquely. Crucially, his wife Holly - who was present at the Bradley dinner - appears to be on board for his rehabilitation. ‘The rollout is devised like the invasion of Iraq,' said one person who spoke recently to Petraeus." Buzzfeed's full story, here.

No, we didn't. Yes, we did. Our bit Friday about Jonathan Lee leaving the Pentagon to go to the NSC suggested Samantha Power was still at the White House. Of course she left in February.

The Air Force Association supports a 1 percent military pay raise cap. Air Force Times reports that the AFA supports a smaller salary hike to pay for other programs. Doug Birkey, AFA's government relations director: "This all comes down to balance for a budget that addresses numerous issues, of which pay and operational accounts are a fractional element," Birkey said. "Whether providing base security, funding Air Force hospitals, daycare facilities, sustaining military construction projects, procuring new aircraft, et cetera, are numerous factors in play that must all be managed."

A send-off for Carter Ham. Gen. Carter Ham, who recently turned over U.S. Africom to Gen. David "Rod" Rodriguez, is retiring and said goodbye to close friends and colleagues at a Friday reception at Fort Myer's O-Club. Both he and his wife, Christi, spoke briefly and fondly of an Army life that spanned nearly 40 years, including stops for him in Europe, Iraq, and the Pentagon. Ham is credited with giving the newish combatant command more credibility across the continent. He was also the point man in studying the impact of ending the Pentagon's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, and he led the internal review of the shootings at Fort Hood.

DC SEEN at Ham's retirement reception: Jeh Johnson, Mike Mullen, John Campbell, Martha Raddatz, Skip Sharp, Jennifer Griffin, Rusty Blackman, Mike Nagata, Eric Schmitt, John Sattler, Sam Neill, Sarah Chayes, Sally Donnelly, and Heidi Grant, among many others.

Happy Belated to "Battleland." The military blog published by Time and produced lovingly by Mark Thompson recently turned two. The birthday was cause for a change to its slogan -- from the somewhat controversial "Where military intelligence isn't a contradiction in terms" to the new "Military intelligence for the rest of us." Thompson, writing April 16 on the original slogan: "We've heard from a number of readers that it initially turned them off. But we always explain that in a national-security world so full of hokum (meaning baloney, not the NATO nickname -- Hokum -- for the 1980s' Soviet KA-50 Black Shark attack chopper with its nifty coaxial rotors), there's a place for a common-sense approach to the real threats facing the nation." Top 10 Battleland posts over two years, here. Battleland today, here. 

At least a few mil types attended the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday night. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno saluted members of the Armed Forces and asked the audience with loved ones in the service to stand as the Armed Forces Medley was played. "We represent over 2 million men and women -- soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen -- who serve our country so that we can have nights like tonight," Odierno said, according to a White House pool report. "During the Marine Hymn, Gen. John Allen could be seen standing at his place close to the front of the room, happily singing along," the pool report said. ABC brought Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; CBS brought Allen, who officially retired this month; Fox's Ed Henry, who is the president of the WH Correspondents Association, brought Odierno. Odierno sat at the head table with POTUS, FLOTUS, and Conan O'Brien.

Not so fast: why America still needs aircraft carriers. Responding to a recent argument that the era of carriers is past, Vice Adm. David Buss and Rear Adms. William Moran and Thomas Moore argue on FP that, contrary to what critics say, flattops are the platform of the future. They write: "To sustain global leadership, we must have enough ships to maintain an enduring and capable naval presence in those areas of significant interest to the United States. To be effective, our capability must be credible -- and fully appreciated by any potential adversary. As we deal with declining budgets, there will be pressure to pursue a strategy suggested by some critics (who are mostly focused on near-term cost and perceived vulnerability) to eliminate some big-deck, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers (CVNs) and convert the "savings" into some quantity of smaller surface combatants and L-class amphibious ships. In theory, this strategy would increase the presence density of U.S. naval forces and meet the capacity demands outlined in current defense strategic guidance. But let's examine this emerging strategy a bit more closely."


  • NYT: Next steps on military sexual assaults (editorial).
  • CS Monitor (cover): Boston bombing reveals a new American maturity about insecurity.
  • FP: Assad's chemical romance: how the regime outfoxed Obama.
  • AP: Army says no to more tanks, but Congress insists.
  • Danger Room: Inside the CIA mission to haul plutonium up the Himalayas.
  • Al-Monitor: Why Russia does not believe Syria used chemical weapons.


National Security

For Pentagon brass, major shrinkage; What the CW decision on Syria says about Iran; Jonathan Lee heads to the NSC, Dempsey is here all week, folks; Geoff Morrell part of the buzz; and a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

The American decision on Syria's use of chemical weapons may say as much about Iran as it does about Syria. After weeks of questions, the U.S. came out and said it thought the Syrian regime probably had used chemical weapons on its people, at least on a small scale. The admission, made by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the UAE, seemed to be a tacit acknowledgement of what the French, British, Qataris and now the Israelis all believe, even if the administration doesn't seem completely convinced. Some experts believe the evidence is probably thin, but the White House decided it would be better to acknowledge the use of chemical weapons, even on a small scale, than endure the fallout from some members on Capitol Hill by not acknowledging CW use. The White House could also confront a perception internationally of "a significant erosion of American credibility," as one analyst put it, by ignoring the intel, even if it's still shaky.

Regardless, the administration needs to send a message to Iran as much as it does to Syria, said Steve Heydemann, a senior adviser for Middle East Initiatives at the U.S. Institute of Peace who has done extensive work on Syria.

"I think everyone understands that there is a pretty widespread sense that whether or not the administration responds to this new information about chemical weapons in a way that is consistent with redlines will have important implications for Iran and whether or not the Iranians take seriously the White House's comments that it isn't bluffing on Iran."

But the administration isn't completely boxed in. It can still respond to the use of CW in Syria in a commensurate way by keeping the response on a more "tit-for-tat" level, Heydemann told Situation Report. That will send the message that the U.S. will honor its commitments without responding, at this stage, anyway, in a way that could create far larger and more strategic consequences, he said.

Read on FP why Obama's "redline" is about as "clear as mud," here.

Strategic question: why would Assad even use sarin? Read here.

Where is Hagel? On the way home after a five country, six-day tour that started with a heralded visit to Israel and ended in the UAE with him announcing the administration's assessment on Syria. In between, he stopped in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Hagel finalized a major arms deal with three of those countries that includes the sale of V-22 Ospreys for Israel and "defensive standoff" weapons for Saudi Arabia and the UAE. He's back for a week of meetings next week.

Welcome to Friday'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 a 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.

When it comes to the Pentagon's brass, shrinkage is a reality. The era of unconstrained resources the Defense Department has enjoyed for more than the last decade meant some of the services became top heavy with general and flag officers, and now it's time to get smaller. The review of general and flag officers recently completed by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey likely means the ranks of general and flag officers will be trimmed as part of a broader effort to reduce the size of the military. It's one of the more conspicuous ways the building can show it's serious about changing the way it does business. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates had already called for the number of general and flag officers to decrease, but more cuts are on the way.

Dempsey, speaking to troops at Yokota Air Base during his Asian swing this week, said the corps of the military's top officers expanded to meet the mission requirements of the last 10 years. "We also grew the general officer and flag officer corps in order to meet the requirement, and we probably overgrew it, so we intend to contract it," he said. "We're already looking for 144 reductions, but I think this next review will cause us to shrink it a bit more."

According to data provided to Situation Report, as of Feb. 28, 2013, the Army has 314 general officers, the Navy has 227 admirals, the Air Force has 295 generals, and the Marine Corps has 88 generals. (For a breakdown of each GO/FO rank for each service, see below.)

The brass tacks: How top-heavy is each service? The Marine Corps has one general officer to roughly 2,200 Marines; the Army has one general officer to about 1,700 soldiers; the Navy has one flag officer for every 1,400 sailors; and the Air Force has the highest star-to-troop ratio: one general officer for every 1,100 airmen.

What General Odierno meant to say. During a "posture hearing" this week at the Senate Armed Services Committee, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno misspoke when he said: "We are in the process of downsizing. And I would just say, the Army has the lowest ratio of general officers to soldiers of any other service. I think we're one to 1,700 or 1,800. And so we have been very cognizant of doing this. And we have -- we are going -- we have met or are going to meet the initial reductions that we put in for ourselves by the end of next year. We'll continue to review this as we downsize the Army. Now, I will say that a lot of our general officers are now in the joint and combatant command world. And so we have to work with the joint and combatant commands to work some of these positions. But within the Army itself, we have downsized. We have reduced ranks. And we have, again, the lowest general-officer-to-soldier ratio of any service, to include the Marine Corps." A spokeswoman for Odierno said the general's numbers were correct, but that he had misspoken when he said the Army had the lowest ratio of general officers to soldiers. The record, she said, will be amended.

Say good-bye to Jonathan Lee. The Pentagon family says good-bye today to Jonathan Lee, special assistant to deputy secretary of defense Ash Carter, who is joining the National Security Staff in the White House to work in Samantha Power's office. Lee was named director in the Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights. In addition to Carter, Lee also served under DepSecDef Bill Lynn. He arrived in the Pentagon in 2009, where he worked for Jeh Johnson in the office of the general counsel. Under Carter, Lee was seen as a trusted policy adviser and played significant roles, we're told, on health of the force, governance of the military health care system as well as the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." There was a farewell ceremony yesterday with Carter and a number of other folks from both inside and outside the building.

Where in the world is Dempsey? Still in Japan, where he met today with Minister of Defense Gen. Iwasaki, the chiefs of the Japan Self Defense Forces, the minister of foreign affairs, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Dempsey also spoke about the U.S.-Japan Alliance at the NIDS -- Japan's equivalent of National Defense University. He'll return to Washington by Saturday.

Dempsey, he's here all week. Speaking at a town hall meeting with troops at Yokota Air Base, Dempsey tried to capture the budgetary challenge the Pentagon confronts with sequester and uncertainty: "It's a mess, it's just real mess. If you ran your house like this, you'd get an Article 15. Honestly, really. If you ran your budget like we're running ours, initially it would be nonjudicial punishment then we'd probably end up giving you a court martial. But we'll get through it."

Dempsey, on soliciting questions from troops: "If you have a particular concern, or a particular caution or you're also welcome to compliment me, that doesn't happen very often, but if you find yourself sitting there, saying, I'm going to stand up and tell the chairman that he's really got this right, good-looking guy, fit as a fiddle, beautiful wife, seven grandchildren, one on the way, you can do that if you like, but I'd also like to hear if we don't have it right."

To a question about whether he's received professional singing lessons: "Only if you consider Jack Daniels a singing instructor. I should have asked, is this being televised?"

On why the "singing general" likes to sing: "I can't tell you how good I feel about you and your service. Not that that causes me to burst into song, at least you hope not. But I like to make sure people know that you can still be yourself, even as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.... So you know you can be yourself, that's kind of why I do it."

Did Egypt's Morsi kill the Royal Turtle? A turtle thought to be 270 years old (and the second oldest animal/reptile alive in the world -- who knew?) died this week in Cairo and, as the Twitters noted, there was a political bent to the turtle's passing: "The turtle survived the eras of "Farouk, [Gamal Abdel] Nasser, [Anwar] Sadat and [Hosni] Mubarak, but couldn't stand [Mohamed] Morsi's reign," Tweeted one. Read the short story and see the sad pic that makes the turtle look like E.T. in his last days, here.

Situation Report corrects - Using information provided by the Pentagon, we reported yesterday that Jamie Morin was the acting under secretary of the Air Force, but Eric Fanning was confirmed for that spot on April 18 and swears in on Monday. Also, the acting DOD IG's name was missing a letter: it is Lynne Halbrooks.

Breakdown of general and flag officer ranks, by service, as of Feb. 28:

The Army: 10 generals, 51 lieutenant generals, 119 major generals, and 134 brigadier generals.

The Navy: 10 admirals, 38 vice admirals, 62 rear admirals (upper), and 117 rear admirals (lower).

The Air Force: 11 generals, 44 lieutenant generals, 96 major generals, and 144 brigadier generals.

The Marine Corps: 6 generals, 17 lieutenant generals, 31 major generals, and 34 brigadier generals.

Remember how to remember the general ranks: Be My Little General (Brigadier, Major, Lieutenant, General).

How do you "attempt adultery?" A female Marine got a reprimand and lost pay in an adultery case, the LAT reports here.

Former Pentagon pressec Geoff Morrell figures into the buzz about the upcoming release of "This Town," a "takedown" of Washington's schmooze-and-use culture, by NYT Magazine writer Mark Leibovich. Politico captures a scene that reflects the kind of culture Leibovich is writing about, using a scene at a party with Morrell as he prepared to leave the Pentagon job: Politico's lede: "A year after signing a book contract to chronicle the incestuous ecology of insider Washington, New York Times writer Mark Leibovich was schmoozing his way through a going-away party for Joe Lockhart atop the Glover Park Group headquarters. He stumbled upon an incredible gift. Outgoing Pentagon flack Geoff Morrell was musing about his future now that his boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, was retired. Just then, Robert Barnett - Washington's super-lawyer and a chief target of Leibovich's upcoming book - popped over to brag about Morrell, his client: ‘He's drowning in offers.' Two months later, Morrell, with Barnett's help, landed a very lucrative gig with BP America. This news was featured exclusively atop POLITICO'S ‘Playbook' - Mike Allen's morning newsletter. Talk about incestuous: A top Obama official cashes in with a top corporation with the help of a top Washington fixer and gets top-shelf treatment from one of Washington's top journalists (who also happens to be the co-byline on this piece.). And they're all personal friends, to boot." The book is out July 16.


  • Global Security Newswire: U.S. gets ‘B-minus for anti-nuclear efforts.
  • Brookings: Qatari PM on Syrian CW (video).
  • FP: Russian paper ties Tsarnaev to Georgia and Zbigniew Brzezinski.
  • E-Ring: Former White House WMD czar: no good options on Syria.
  • Killer Apps: Put your money on Congress passing a cyber bill in 2013.