National Security

AF officer seemed like a good choice at the time; the problem with Hicks; On uniforms, a pattern of duplication; Spencer for hire; what is a “SCAMMER?” Kath Hicks, out, and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Head-scratcher: The Air Force officer at the center of the sexual assault storm seemed like the right man for the job. As odd as it seems, the Air Force found no red flags that would indicate that Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski would be the wrong man to head the Air Force's sexual assault office. Yet the sexual battery charges against him -- and the now ubiquitous image of a downcast Krusinski, his face cut from the alleged attack -- have turned him into a poster boy for what the Pentagon is doing wrong on sexual assault. An Air Force official told Situation Report that Krusinski was selected as the chief of the service's sexual assault prevention and response branch based on a solid record of performance and command experience. "There's nothing in Lt. Col. Krusinski's record that would have foretold his recent alleged behavior," an Air Force spokesman told Situation Report. "Before being selected, he had other assignments within AF/A1 where he excelled. Records of several eligible officers were reviewed and leadership felt Lt Col Krusinski's credentials made him a good choice for the branch chief job."

Krusinski was a regular at the Tortoise & Hare. The NYT did some phone sleuthing and found that Krusinki was a regular at a Crystal City bar not far from the Pentagon where the alleged attack occurred. He stopped by about once a week. But a co-owner of the bar, Brian Montgomery, said there was "nothing that we could point a finger at" that would suggest Krusinski would do such a thing.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, at yesterday's hearing: "His record is very good...there is no indication in his professional record of performance or in his current workplace that there is any type of a problem like this."

Welsh did not handpick Krusinski, Situation Report is told; the officer was chosen "within the leadership" of the Air Force personnel office, which has been led by Air Force Lt. Gen. Darrell Jones since December 2010.

This story will have the uniforms buzzing today: A WaPo bit about a pattern of redundancy. The most interesting story today is a piece by David Fahrenthold on how the military's digital camouflage uniforms, or cammies, became a symbol of military redundancy and excess, and how two sets of cammies turned into 10 separate uniforms. Service rivalry drove the train on this one, and the DOD has spent billions. The lede: "In 2002, the U.S. military had just two kinds of camouflage uniforms. One was green, for the woods. The other was brown, for the desert. Then things got strange." And: "In just 11 years, two kinds of camouflage have turned into 10. And a simple aspect of the U.S. government has emerged as a complicated and expensive case study in federal duplication."

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report, where we try never to repeat ourselves, digitally or otherwise. 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. And please follow us @glubold -- it would make our day.

Kath Hicks will leave on or about July 1. In a move that most Pentagon insiders have known for some time, the Pentagon's number two policy person, Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Kathleen Hicks, is moving on. Hicks has been working policy issues in and outside of the building for 17 years, and this job for one, and has decided to begin a new chapter - as yet undisclosed.  We now know that she will head out by July 1. Her bio, here.

The U.S. wants nine bases in Afghanistan post 2014, Karzai says. An AFP report says that Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the U.S. have begun serious talks and that the U.S. wants to see nine bases across Afghanistan after the security transition at the end of next year. A senior defense official tells Situation Report this morning, simply: "No decisions have been made." Read that piece here.

Gregory Hicks says his questions on Benghazi led to a demotion. During an engrossing hearing yesterday in the House, Gregory Hicks, who had served as a deputy chief of mission in Tripoli, Libya during the attack on Benghazi in September, said he challenged his superiors about the way the events unfolded that night and was later relegated to a desk job. "The sense I got was that I needed to stop the line of questioning," Hicks told members of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform yesterday as part of a hearing that was at least effective in raising some new questions on an old issue with strong political overtones. The NYT: "If the testimony did not fundamentally challenge the facts and timeline of the Benghazi attack and the administration's response to it, it vividly illustrated the anxiety of top State Department officials about how the events would be publicly portrayed."

From an American diplomat, e-mailing Situation Report this morning: "Hicks is classic case of underachiever who whines when big breaks don't come his way. 22 years as an FSO and he is still an FS-1 (COL equivalent). His uninformed comments about F-16s validates why he is still a mid-ranked officer. Where was his testimony on his role in trying to talk his ambassador out of making an overnight visit to a place he knew was dangerous?  Very few DCMs who lose an ambassador can expect greater responsibilities...and there are dozens of talented FS-1 ranked ‘desk officers' working honorably at the State Department.  Also of interest is that he is running for a senior leadership position in the State Dept. union/professional association, [American Foreign Service Association]. He didn't get my vote."

Read The Cable's John Hudson's piece on "Six New Things We Learned Today about Benghazi," here. (and welcome to John, who joined The Cable just this week after Josh Rogin left us for The Daily Beast.)

Hagel used the Pentagon's bat phone to China. The E-Ring's Kevin Baron sat down with David Helvey, the DOD's top China official, yesterday for a far-ranging exchange on the U.S., China, the mil-to-mil relationship and the inevitability of friction. But he learned this about Hagel's use of the special direct dial line to China's PLA. "In March, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel used a "hotline" phone to call China's new minister of national defense, Gen. Chang Wanquan, for a 45-minute introductory conversation in which they discussed a range of issues. Hagel, according to Pentagon press secretary George Little, encouraged they keep an open dialogue about North Korea's nuclear ambitions. Helvey said they also discussed other issues. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey also used the hotline to call China's chief of the General Staff, Gen. Fang Fenghui, prior to his own visit. ‘We're really looking to expand the use of this hotline just as a mechanism for direct communication between our senior leaders,' Helvey said."

Heard in the P-way: The shorthand for Hagel's Strategic Choices and Management Review, the big look at the U.S. military, around the Pentagon's corridors is SCMR -- pronounced "SKIMMER." But the word we've heard the services use repeatedly because they know it can't be good: "SCAMMER." Unclear if this was coined by the press and picked up by Pentagon operators - or the other way around. But either way.

Despite Kerry's talks with Putin, Russia might sell Syria new air defenses. Israel warned the U.S. that Russia is poised to sell an advanced ground-to-air missile system that could be a boon to the Syria regime's ability to cling to power, according to a WSJ report. The WSJ: "U.S. officials said on Wednesday that they are analyzing the information Israel provided about the suspected sale of S-300 missile batteries to Syria, but wouldn't comment on whether they believed such a transfer was near. Russian officials didn't immediately return requests to comment. The Russian Embassy in Washington has said its policy is not to comment on arms sales or transfers between Russia and other countries. The government of President Bashar al-Assad has been seeking to purchase S-300 missile batteries -- which can intercept both manned aircraft and guided missiles -- from Moscow going back to the George W. Bush administration, U.S. officials said. Western nations have lobbied President Vladimir Putin's government not to go ahead with the sale. If Syria were to acquire and deploy the systems, it would make any international intervention in Syria far more complicated, according to U.S. and Middle East-based officials."

Read ISW's "Syrian Air Force and Air Defense Capabilities," just updated, here.

Five myths you have about the military (thanks, Hollywood). From Cracked.com: 5. Boot camp is like Full Metal Jacket. 4. War = combat. 3. War vets are burned-out ticking time bombs. 2. Everyone in the military is proud and has unshakeable camaraderie. And number one? You go to war, then you come home. Read that good bit, here.

From the "You Know it's Government with a Name Like This" Department: The Pentagon named a new sexual assault advisory committee the "Response Systems to Adult Sexual Assault Crimes Panel," but we'll just call it the RSASACP. The RSASACP is an advisory committee that will conduct an independent review and assessment of the systems used to "investigate, prosecute and adjudicate sexual assault crimes and related offenses." The committee will develop recommendations on how to improve the effectiveness of those systems, we're told. (The name comes directly from the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, by the way.) Hagel appointed five members to serve on the panel, who will join four members appointed by the chairmen and ranking members of both the Senate and House Armed Services Committees. The panel will convene for the first time by July 1. Hagel appointed: Elizabeth Holtzman, James Houck, Barbara Jones, David Lisak and Colleen McGuire. Congress appointed: Melinda Dunn (Sen. Carl Levin); Harvey Bryant (Sen. James Inhofe); Holly O'Grady Cook, (Rep. Buck McKeon); Elizabeth Hillman (Rep. Adam Smith).

Spencer for hire: "Attackerman" goes to the Guardian. Danger Room's own Spencer Ackerman is moving to the Guardian newspaper as a national security editor starting June 2 after more than two years at DR. We'll quote from the press release mostly because we like the word "patch:" "Spencer is a must-read reporter with extraordinary knowledge of his patch. His passion and determination to break stories chimes perfectly with the Guardian's long-held commitment to accountability and transparency." And Ackerman, to Situation Report: "Super-psyched to join an amazing team at the Guardian that's committed to hardcore reporting, presented in innovative, web- and social-native ways. Also, relieved for my good friend Noah Shachtman's blood pressure now that he no longer has to put up with my shenanigans."

SIGAR John Sopko on the future of Afghanistan. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, John Sopko, told a depressing story during a speech Wednesday: He said $50 million in stolen American funds investigators had found in an Afghan bank account last year has gone missing -- on the Afghan government's watch. Sopko said the case was one of many examples of why it was time for the U.S. to consider withholding vital aid to pressure Kabul into adopting stronger financial protections. Sopko, whose unvarnished pronouncements have angered some in government as they attempt to coax the Afghans into economic stability, also called the Afghan government a "criminal patronage network." The E-Ring's Baron writes: "Sopko, warning of an inept oversight of American taxpayer funds, claimed on Wednesday that the millions went missing after his office served the Afghan government an order to freeze the account. Sopko, in prepared remarks at the New America Foundation: "Briefly put, we identified roughly $50 million stolen from the U.S. government which was sitting in an Afghan bank account." And: "We obtained a court order here in the United States and served it on the Afghan government to get them to seize the money. For months we pressed the Afghan attorney general's office to freeze the account and begin the legal process to allow us to seize the cash. At first, we were told the bank account was frozen and the money protected. Unfortunately, as is too many times the case, a few weeks ago we learned that the money was mysteriously unfrozen by some powerful bureaucrat in Kabul. Now, most of it is gone." Sopko had first revealed the missing funds April 10, but the case wasn't reported on by the national news media, a spokesman for SIGAR told Baron. Sopko summed up the case: "This, I fear, is the future in Afghanistan."

National Security

ISAF launches investigation; Sexual assaults skyrocket across the military; Hagel may not be a change of command kind of guy; The cost of a no-fly zone; Will budget cuts cut the Pentagon library?; a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Benghazi resurfaces on the Hill today. House Republicans are resuscitating the eight-month old Benghazi controversy, bringing three officials to testify to better assess if more could have been done to prevent or respond to the attack in Benghazi, Libya, on the night of Sept. 11, 2012. Republicans believe the U.S. military could have done more. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will listen to the testimony of three men, including Gregory Hicks, a former deputy chief of mission, who will say the military could have done more. Hicks has said that special forces personnel were ready to board a Libyan government plane on the night of the attack, "but were told to stand down by regional military commanders because they lacked the authority. The plane wouldn't have gotten to Benghazi before the attack was over, Republicans concede," writes the WSJ.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT): "There's still a lot more we need to learn about what happened, why it happened, how it happened, because the administration has stonewalled this at every step."

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA): "We had a very thorough review of what happened in Libya: they looked at the military aspects as well as the security and diplomatic aspects and they found nothing."

Testifying: Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism,?U.S. Department of State; Gregory Hicks, a foreign service officer and former deputy chief of mission/chargé d'affairs in Libya; Eric Nordstrom,?diplomatic security officer and former regional security officer in Libya.

ISAF launches an investigation into alleged misconduct. The International Security Assistance Force announced early this morning that it had begun an investigation in connection to the killing of four insurgents on April 28 in Afghanistan's Zabul province. The investigation follows "an internal report of alleged misconduct by ISAF personnel," according to a statement from the command. "I have informed the Afghan Government of the situation. ISAF will do a very thorough investigation, and if appropriate, we will take action against the personnel involved," said Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, the ISAF commander. "We take all allegations of misconduct by our personnel very seriously. ISAF will fully investigate this incident and keep the Afghan Government informed."

Sticks and stones: An American soldier throws a rock at a portrait of Karzai. ISAF has pulled a soldier from Kunar province after receiving repeated complaints that the soldier had been throwing rocks at a 9' x 15' portrait of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the NYT reports.

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 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.

The Pentagon is planning for the worst in Syria. Per the WSJ's Adam Entous and Julian Barnes: "The Pentagon is stepping up plans to deal with a dangerous regional spillover from Syria's possible collapse-a scenario it had recently seen as remote-drawing up proposals including a Jordanian buffer zone for refugees secured by Arab troops, said U.S. officials familiar with the discussion. The plans seek to minimize direct U.S. involvement, but they reflect a reassessment of the Pentagon's hands-off approach. The shift comes after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's trip last month to the Middle East, during which Arab leaders appealed for the U.S. to focus on the danger of Syria's disintegration into warring sectarian fiefdoms."

How much would a no-fly zone cost for Syria? The E-Ring's Kevin Baron asked that very question. "Tomahawk cruise missiles, fighter jets, aerial refueling tankers, flying hours -- the taxpayer cost for creating and holding a no-fly zone over Syria seems like an expensive operation, right? Not so fast. According to defense budget analysts, creating a no-fly zone over Syria may be far easier -- and cheaper, as military operations go -- than top brass are letting on. There are several factors that contribute to the cost of a no-fly zone, but in short it all depends on just how far the United States and its allies are willing to take it. The size and duration of the operation are top factors. But there's more than one way to keep Syria's Air Force out of the skies. ‘I get why people get so amped up about no-fly zones" said Christopher Harmer, senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. People often tend to think of Iraq, he told the E-Ring, and the 12 year-long complex, high-demand Operation Southern Watch and Operation Northern Watch. Those missions cost an estimated $1 billion per year, combined."

The Pentagon has a cultural problem when it comes to sexual assault. A new Pentagon report shows that the rate of sexual assault has surged by an amazing 35 percent -- news that comes as defense officials are grappling with the report that Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, assigned to lead that service's sexual assault prevention office, had himself been charged with sexual assault. The mammoth study, released yesterday, estimates that 26,000 individuals in the military were sexually assaulted in fiscal 2012, up from 19,000 for the same period the year before. But the number of reported cases was far fewer: There were 3,192 cases in 2011 and 3,374 in 2012 -- suggesting that victims suffer from fears of retaliation. The report finds that fewer than one in 10 cases result in a conviction. The Pentagon rolled out in broad brushstrokes a plan for addressing the issue, from fixing the command climate that can contribute to the problem and unifying the services and various commands to be consistent about how to combat sexual assault. Some members of Congress are pushing for a change the Pentagon doesn't yet accept - that commanders shouldn't have authority over these kinds of cases. Hagel, angry over the arrest of the Air Force officer, decided at the last minute to speak in the Pentagon's briefing room to convey his own disgust at the problem and speak to how he would lead the change across the department.

Hagel: "We're going to stay focused on every aspect of this problem. And ultimately eliminating sexual harassment, sexual assault should be our goal. Of course it's our goal. Is it going to be difficult to attain that? Of course it is. But if we don't have that as the goal setting out, or if we have halfway measures or we'll -- we'll accept 80 percent, that's not good enough. We recognize what's ahead. And as I've already explained -- and I think pretty honestly and pretty clearly and pretty directly -- this is a cultural issue. It is a leadership issue. It is a command issue."

Obama, not having it on sexual assault. Minutes before the Pentagon was to release a new plan to combat sexual assault, President Barack Obama was asked at a White House event with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye what he thought about the sexual assault issue at the Pentagon following Krusinski's arrest for sexual assault.

Obama: "I expect consequences. So -- so I don't want just more speeches or, you know, awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way. If we find out somebody's engaging in this stuff, they got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged -- period." And: "And for those who are in uniform who have experienced sexual assault, I want them to hear directly from their Commander-In-Chief that I've got their backs. I will support them. And we're not going to tolerate this stuff and there will be accountability. If people have engaged in this behavior, they should be prosecuted."

USA Today thinks Saturday Night Live couldn't satirize the Pentagon on sexual assault any better than the Pentagon itself after the arrest Sunday of Krusinski. Read that editorial, here. And the must-read Duffel Blog's headline sums up a growing perception of the Air Force: "Report finds Vast Air Force Conspiracy to Recruit Hot Chicks."

Hagel is meeting with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee today in the Pentagon, and talking to them by phone. Sexual assault issues top the agenda, along with a number of other ones, we're told.

Michael Lumpkin started yesterday in Hagel's front office. Lumpkin joined Hagel's "front office squad" yesterday, according to a senior defense official. For the time being, we're told, Lumpkin will focus squarely on health-of-the-force issues, including sexual assault and veterans transition issues. Hagel had arrived in the building in February planning to focus on the latter, but events over the last many weeks has forced him to pay extra attention to the former as well. Lumpkin will be the laser for the secretary on both issues. As we first reported April 19, when Hagel announced Lumpkin's hire along with his special assistant Mark Lippert, Lumpkin had served as the acting assistant secretary of defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict and also as deputy chief of staff for operations at the Department of Veterans Affairs and served on active duty with the Navy for 21 years. 

Maybe Hagel isn't a change of command kind of guy. In the ceremonial-hyped military, change of command ceremonies are a big deal. The passing of the flag, the tributes, the stories, the VIPs in the front row. But for the bigger ones for combatant commanders, in places as far away as Hawaii and Stuttgart, Germany, they can get costly and pose logistical and scheduling challenges. As a result, Hagel probably won't show at every change of command. Although Hagel attended the ceremony for Army Gen. Lloyd Austin at U.S. Central Command on March 22, he skipped the one for Army Gen. David Rodriguez at U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany on April 5. He'll also skip the one for Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, taking over for Adm. Jim Stavridis, on May 10; Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter will go in his place, likely in a smaller - and cheaper - plane. Hagel believes changes of command are important, and expects to be able to attend these kinds of events in the future, a senior defense official told Situation Report. But they take too much time when the secretary is confronting so many issues in the building, from the budget, to sexual assault, to Syria, Afghanistan, and North Korea. "...sometimes a day or two travel for an hour or two of ceremony isn't justified for a secretary of defense at the moment with the major demands associated with key defense priorities right now," the official said in an e-mail.

Reading the tea leaves: The future of the Pentagon library, under review. The Pentagon is conducting an analysis to determine "a way ahead" for the Pentagon library, or PNL, potentially reducing or closing it altogether, depending on the kind of feedback Pentagon officials receive. "Given fiscal realities, we need to look for ways to either reduce or even eliminate the PNL and the services it provides," states an internal memo seeking feedback for potential "courses of action" on the library that was provided to Situation Report. The library is adjacent to the Pentagon conference center, located just outside the actual building, and was part of the Pentagon renovation of that area completed some years ago.

Navy CNO Greenert: Sequester won't kill the pivot. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert leaves today for a nine-day trip to Japan, Singapore, and South Korea, where he will meet with allies and make sure they know that, despite budget challenges at home, the Navy's pivot plans to Asia remain intact. Greenert told AFP in an interview that he will seek to "reassure" partners that the Navy's plans to expand American naval presence in the Pacific region will go forward with "new ships and high-tech weaponry." Of the Navy's current fleet of 283 ships, 101 are deployed and 52 of them are somewhere in the Pacific. By 2020, the Navy plans to have 62 ships in the Pacific region. Greenert to AFP: "We're going to grow. There's no question about the next seven to eight years."

Noting

  • Roll Call: More base closures on the way?
  • Danger Room: Pentagon wants human surrogate for Ray Gun tests.
  • BBC: Syria conflict: Envoy Brahami hails U.S.-Russia accord.
  • DOD Buzz: Navy, Marines, offer options for Syria, North Korea.
  • The Atlantic: America's best options in Syria.
  •