National Security

At the Pentagon, it’s all about brain injuries today; One veteran has waited 462 days for VA help; Levin strips anti-sexual assault measure from bill; NSA chief testifies today on the Hill; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Daddy's "Army sickness:" The story of a veteran who has waited 462 days for a VA claim to be processed. USA Today: "Michael ‘Mickey' Flynn D'heron waits for the VA on his backyard patio. Between his small brick home and the sound wall that barely cuts traffic noise on busy Memorial Parkway, he bides his time, drinking Miller Light and smoking Pall Malls. He's waiting for the Department of Veterans Affairs to compensate him for the demons he brought home from Iraq. ‘I'll tell you the truth. I never believed in mental illness,' says D'heron, a city firefighter and former Army reservist. ‘Never. I always thought that you suck it up; deal with it. And then this.' D'heron, 32, served from 2008 to 2009 as a military police officer in two of Iraq's most violent cities during heavy combat after a surge of 20,000 American troops into the country in 2007. Now he spends nights outside on his patio, wrapped in a heavy blanket, hunkered down in an office swivel chair, isolated from his wife, Jennifer, his newborn son, Liam, and a stepdaughter, Kayla, 7, who puzzles over dad's ‘Army sickness.' ‘It's like he's not even part of the family most of the time,' Jennifer says. Full story, here.

The numbers: There are 851,229 vets waiting on claims, and nearly 65 percent of them, or 565,327, are considered backlogged because they have been awaiting a decision for more than 125 days. The average wait time for veterans for a processed claim is now about 330 days, according to the VA, which has pledged more transparency in its bid to reduce the backlog by 2015. "The encouraging news is that since March, when the issue rose to national prominence, the backlog has decreased by 64,258 claims (a 10.2% decrease in total backlogged claims), and the percentage of backlogged claims has decreased by 3.3%," Situation Report is told by Zach Goldberg of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "However, in order to eliminate the backlog by 2015, the VA must reduce the backlog by 4,672 claims per week, a reduction the VA has met 10 times since June of 2012." The IAVA's Paul Rieckhoff continues to push for President Barack Obama, who pledged to fix the VA system when he first ran for office, to speak directly to the current issue of the backlog and then take more steps toward action. VA data here.

The Pentagon takes up TBI today. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's office is hosting a high-level meeting today to talk about how to make faster progress on diagnosing and treating traumatic brain injury. The "Secretary of Defense Symposium on Traumatic Brain Injury" will be led by senior leaders from DOD and other "supporting organizations" will also participate, Situation Report is told. Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey will kick off the event; Army Secretary John McHugh, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright and White House Director for Veterans, Wounded Warriors and Military Families Rosye Cloud are all expected to attend.

Anand Veeravagu, a neurosurgeon and White House fellow who is a special assistant to the defense secretary will chair the meeting. "Besides senior defense officials and experts on TBI inside and outside of government, a strong contingent of Secretary Hagel's core staff are expected to attend, including Marcel Lettre, Michael Lumpkin, and Shelly Stoneman," a defense official tells Situation Report. "The goal of the symposium is to raise awareness, facilitate military and civilian cooperation, and foster innovative approaches to brain injury prevention, research, and treatment - all issues extremely important to Secretary Hagel."

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report, where we note the number 292. That's the percentage increase of sales on Amazon of Orwell's 1984, driven by disclosures of the NSA surveillance programs. Orwell's book is now among the "Movers and Shakers" list of pubs on the site. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or a tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. Please follow us @glubold. And remember, if you see something, say something -- to Situation Report.

In the hotseat: the NSA's Keith Alexander. The head of the super-secret National Security Agency that is smack-dab in the middle of the political storm over the NSA's surveillance programs will appear today at 2pm before the Senate Appropriations Committee in a previously scheduled hearing. But it will be the first time the Air Force four-star will appear in public to speak to the revelations about the NSA program since the news first broke last week. Deets on Alexander's testimony today, here.

Check out this pic from China - could it be the country's new stealth fighter? FP's John Reed reports: Another close-up picture (above) has emerged via the Alert5 Internet forum showing what might be China's second stealth fighter. Pictures of the mystery plane first appeared about a month ago, depicting a tarpaulin-covered jet sitting on the back of a flatbed truck, rumored to be en-route to Shenyang, home of the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. While nothing official has been said about the plane, some are guessing that it may be a full-scale mock up or prototype of the F-60 -- Shenyang's rival to Chengdu Aircraft Corporation's famous J-20 stealth fighter. And: "The mystery jet appears to be smaller than the J-20, perhaps better suited for dog-fighting or as a multirole air-to-air and air-to-ground jet akin to the U.S.-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. At first glance, it was thought to simply be a Hongdu L-15 trainer. However, the new image and last month's photos show a silhouette that, on close inspection, looks like a real-life version of this model, dubbed the F-60, which Shenyang has displayed at trade events... Aircraft companies routinely show off models of concept designs that never make it off the design table, so the emergence of a full-size version of the F-60 (if that's what the jet under the tarp is) would be a fairly big deal."

Carl Levin is stripping the anti-sexual assault measure sought by other Dems from the defense bill. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, will remove a provision in the defense bill that was to give outside prosecutors authority in sexual assault and other cases, a controversial move over a controversial proposal. The change, pushed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a fellow Democrat, and others, would have fundamentally altered the military justice system in that it would remove from the chain of command the power to prosecute - or not prosecute - such cases. The Pentagon has argued forcefully but not always convincingly that removing that authority from the chain of command could undermine good order and discipline. The NYT's Jennifer Steinhauer: "Mr. Levin, Democrat of Michigan, said he would replace Ms. Gillibrand's measure - which has 27 co-sponsors, including four Republicans - with one that would require a senior military officer to review decisions by commanders who decline to prosecute sexual assault cases. Although Mr. Levin's measure would change the current system, it would keep prosecution of sexual assault cases within the chain of command, as the military wants. Mr. Levin's decision to support military brass in their resistance to Ms. Gillibrand's proposal sets up a confrontation between a long-serving chairman of the committee with strong ties to the armed forces and a relatively new female member - one of a record seven women serving on the committee - who has made sexual assault in the military a signature issue."

The Pentagon IG looks again at the Medal of Honor case of Will Swenson. The IG is examining a controversial Medal of Honor case, in limbo for almost four years, of Army Capt. Will Swenson. Marine Corps Times' Dan Lamothe: "Swenson has received nothing despite widespread acknowledgment that he coordinated U.S. forces in the battle and saved numerous lives in the process. Army officials said last year that the captain was initially put up for the Medal of Honor in late 2009, only for his nomination to be lost. It was subsequently resubmitted and approved by the Pentagon, but is now said to be stalled at the White House. It wasn't clear what aspect of Swenson's case the IG is reviewing. A so-called "15-6" investigation into the handling of Swenson's initial package was carried out, but the Army has not released it, despite numerous requests from members of the media and Congress. In his letter to Hagel on Tuesday, Hunter reiterated a previous request for a copy of the investigation report." Full story, here.

CNAS, all day. The Center for a New American Security has its big annual conference at its satellite offices - in the Willard Hotel in DC. CNAS' Bob Work kicked it off this morning, followed by Sen. Bob Corker of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who will be interviewed by Bloomberg's Al Hunt; then there's a "Defense Strategy Beyond Sequestration" with CNAS' Shawn Brimley and Wes Bush of Northrop-Grumman, Eric Edelman of CSBA and Michele Flournoy of CNAS.

That's followed by remarks on constrained budgets by DepSecDef Ash Carter; then Dave Barno speaks about "Silicon, Iron and Shadow: Three Wars That will Define America's Future." Then FP's own Noah Shachtman moderates a discussion on "Bugs, Bytes and Bots," with FP's Rosa Brooks and Noetic Corp.'s Ben Fitzgerald and CNAS' Irving Lachow. Full conference agenda here.

Noting


  • Small Wars: Sequestration as a Godsend. Run DOD like a modern business. 
  • USA Today: Alexander is key administration voice on cyber.  
  • The Iran Primer: Old war haunts new election.
  • Defense News: Lawmakers give defense contractors reason to sweat after PRISM leak.
  • The Atlantic: Choose one: secrecy and democracy are incompatible.
  • Fountain Ink: How the largest Syrian refugee camp became a mini-Syria.
  • U.S. News: New military UAV may lead to commercial drone flights.
  • Al-Monitor: Turkey-Kurdish peace could be victim of showdown in Turkey.
  • The Onion: Area man outraged his private information being collected by someone other than advertisers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Security

A new Sedney for the Pentagon; Hagel to talk war costs, the need to cut troop bennies; 5,000 U.S. forces in Syria's backyard; Boozers like to dress nice; NSA leaker's Rubik's Cube; The Tom Tom bags Hagel; FP gets Dangerous; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

The Pentagon has a new David Sedney. Situation Report is told that Mike Dumont is joining the building's policy shop as the new Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia. Dumont replaces Sedney, the longtime DASD, and announced he was leaving recently. Dumont is a "career policy SES-er" who had been principal director in a number of policy offices and recently deployed to Kabul through the Pakistan-Afghanistan rotation program, or PARC, where he was the deputy chief of staff for stability operations for ISAF. Dumont is a rear admiral (lower) in the Naval Reserve and as such served as the chief of staff in the office of the U.S. Defense Representative to Pakistan. He is completing an assignment as chief of staff to the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and U.S. Naval Forces Africa. From an internal e-mail provided to Situation Report from Policy Chief Jim Miller:  "We are very pleased to welcome Mike back to the Pentagon, and to his leadership of APC.  And we thank APC Principal Director Jennifer Walsh and the entire APC team for continuing their great work and for ensuring a smooth transition."

Is Assad winning the war? The WSJ reports this morning that Syria's Assad regime may be gaining the upper hand with the help of Hezbollah and is "unlikely to fall in the foreseeable future," according to the paper, citing U.S. intelligence and defense officials. Adam Entous and Julian Barnes: "The shifting views have fueled a behind-the-scenes debate within intelligence agencies as President Barack Obama and his top advisers this week renew consideration of whether to provide moderate fighters with American arms. Some intelligence analysts now think Mr. Assad could hold onto power or even prevail in the conflict. That view is at odds with those of others within the intelligence community who think recent military gains by Syrian government forces and Hezbollah fighters aren't likely to alter the overall trajectory of a conflict that they still think will end with Mr. Assad's removal, the officials said."

5,000. That's the number of American troops in Jordan for "Eager Lion." Killer Apps' John Reed reports that the Pentagon "pinky-swears" that the big exercise in Jordan, dubbed Eager Lion, has nothing to do with Syria. Still, there are 5,000 troops in neighboring Jordan to participate in the nine-day exercise on air defense, disaster relief and humanitarian assistance. Reed: "Earlier this spring, the Pentagon sent several hundred ‘headquarters' troops from the 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss, Texas, to Jordan to assist U.S. and other NATO troops there in trying to figure out how to secure the Assad regime's stockpile of chemical and biological weapons should they fall out of the Syrian government's hands. These headquarters troops are now joined in the desert by members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, a host of U.S. Navy amphibious warfare ships, Patriot air defense missile batteries -- also from Fort Bliss - and F-16 fighter jets from the Colorado Air National Guard."

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or a tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. Please follow us @glubold. And remember, if you see something, say something -- to Situation Report.

Hagel is $30 billion short. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey appear before the Senate Approps Committee this morning at 10 a.m. in Dirksen 192 to talk fiscal 2014 budget request of $526.6 billion (and another $79.4 billion in wartime costs). It will differ only a little from previous testimony on the budget. Hagel will say, in part: "With our internal decision to shift the impact of sequestration away from those serving in harm's way and force readiness, the cuts fall heavily on DOD's accounts that train and equip those who will deploy in the future.  The Department is also experiencing higher wartime costs than expected.  As a result of these factors, the Department is facing a shortfall of more than $30 billion in our operation and maintenance (O&M) budget for FY 2013. To deal with this shortfall, the Department has cut back sharply on facilities maintenance, instituted hiring freezes, cut overhead spending, reduced important but lower-priority programs, directed furloughs of nearly 700,000 civilian employees and submitted a $9.6 billion reprogramming request to Congress.  We ask this subcommittee's assistance in providing rapid review and approval of this critical reprogramming request."

And Hagel will remind senators on the Approps Committee how important it is that the Pentagon cut the military compensation package and conduct another round of base closures. Since 2003, the Pentagon has divested itself of more than 100 foreign bases and operations and is on track to consolidate about 20 more overseas "operations."

Hagel: "Although there are clearly opportunities to achieve significant savings by improving efficiency, consolidations and reducing overhead, the scale of the current spending reductions will also require cuts and changes to military operations."

But there are "investments" in: the Asia pivot, the nuclear stockpile, cyber security and Special Operations Forces.

Hagel's not kidding this time: Hagel will tell Congress that it's different than other attempts at change: "In the past, many modest reforms to personnel and benefits, along with efforts to reduce infrastructure and restructure acquisition programs, were met with fierce political resistance and not implemented." 

Hagel gave two high school student reporters in Nebraska an interview. Bellevue High School's Tom Tom newspaper got a big interview from Hagel. The school is about a mile from Offut Air Force Base, home to STRATCOM. Hagel will be travelling to Omaha next week to deliver a speech at the University of Nebraska at Omaha - his alma mater - and visit STRATCOM. It will be his first visit home for the Nebraskan since he became secretary. Reporters Cameron Sada and Dustin Fitzpatrick, to Hagel, by e-mail: "Do you want to go any higher in government?" Hagel: "When the President's Cabinet gets together to discuss all the important issues our country faces, I get to sit right next to President Obama. That's pretty high for right now!" Cover shot of the Tom Tom, here. Hagel interview (page 2) here.

"Boozers" like to dress well. Contractors working on sensitive government data are everywhere. As Killer Apps' John Reed reports, quoting a former Booz Allen Hamilton employee who worked at NSA: "They're in almost every office, they're all over the place...In my office, there were probably three Booz Allen [employees] to every one civil servant...They can get clearances for everything," he added. And they like their threads, too, writes Reed, who was told you can spot a "Boozer" almost anywhere. Reed: "However, the presence of a nice suit at a place full of nerds like the NSA can sometimes be a giveaway that someone is a contract spy, according to the former spy who also served several tours in Iraq and the Pentagon as a U.S. military intelligence officer. ‘The Boozers tended to dress nicer' than civil servants, he said. Reed's piece, here.

Edward Snowden orchestrated his NSA blockbuster with a Rubik's Cube. NYT's Charlie Savage and Mark Mazzetti: "The source had instructed his media contacts to come to Hong Kong, visit a particular out-of-the-way corner of a certain hotel, and ask - loudly - for directions to another part of the hotel. If all seemed well, the source would walk past holding a Rubik's Cube. So three people - Glenn Greenwald, a civil-liberties writer who recently moved his blog to The Guardian; Laura Poitras, a documentary filmmaker who specializes in surveillance; and Ewen MacAskill, a Guardian reporter - flew from New York to Hong Kong about 12 days ago. They followed the directions. A man with a Rubik's Cube appeared. It was Edward J. Snowden, who looked even younger than his 29 years - an appearance, Mr. Greenwald recalled in an interview from Hong Kong on Monday, that shocked him because he had been expecting, given the classified surveillance programs the man had access to, someone far more senior. Mr. Snowden has now turned over archives of "thousands" of documents, according to Mr. Greenwald, and "dozens" are newsworthy." Full story, here.

Job insecurity: intel analysts who are contractors. There are thousands of people who make tens of thousands of dollars doing the government's work. Clearly the disclosures about the NSA over the last week - and then the reveal that they came at the hands of a private contractor making as much as $200,000 a year - will bring new scrutiny to the number of people working on sensitive government contracts in the private sector. The Atlantic posted a story last night looking at the cost of privatizing government.

Love your show! The story reads in part: "No matter how you feel about Edward Snowden's decision to dish on the government's spying habits, there's at least one issue all of us can agree to be outraged over: his salary. Before hightailing it Hong Kong, the 29-year-old had a plum $200,000-a-year job as a Honolulu-based government-contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton, helping the National Security Agency run its surveillance operation. This for a fairly low-level professional with a GED. Here, meanwhile, is how Snowden described his pre-leak lifestyle to The Guardian: ‘[Y]ou can get up everyday, go to work, you can collect your large paycheck for relatively little work against the public interest, and go to sleep at night after watching your shows.' Low stress. High pay. As long as your conscience doesn't get in the way, it's apparently good to be a cog in our national-security apparatus."

And: "Nobody knows for sure how many contractors the government pays because, well, the government doesn't keep track. But New York University Professor Paul Light has estimated that in 2005, they made up more than half the federal workforce, totaling some 7.6 million employees. Since then, the tally has no doubt grown. And whatever their precise numbers may be, the bottom line is that contractors are now enmeshed in virtually every federal function, from catering to research to spying. In fact, especially spying. Of the more than 4 million Americans with top-secret security clearance, at least 34 percent work for contractors today." Read the whole piece, here.

No big thing: This is why the U.N. Security Council should be worried, but probably won't be. FP's Colum Lynch: "The disclosure of the NSA's efforts to gather information from companies like Google, Yahoo, and Verizon came as little shock to foreign diplomats here at U.N. headquarters -- even though many members of the Security Council are uniquely vulnerable to American surveillance sweeps, because they rely on commercial email systems. Secretary General Ban Ki moon, a former South Korean foreign minister who likely relied on spies during his years in government, has shown little interest in weighing in on the controversy, according to U.N.-based diplomats. For years, those diplomats say, they have taken it for granted that their phone calls, emails, and social media interactions are being monitored by spy agencies from the United States, China, Russia, and many other countries."

Atoki Ileka, the Democratic Republic of the Congo's former U.N. envoy, to Lynch: "In our view it's normal... It's not just a U.S. thing, or Russian, or French. It's common in all countries; spies going through our web sites, emails. It's something we are used to and living through." Lynch's piece, here.

Did every member of Congress get briefed on the NSA's programs? Um... Obama said that "every member of Congress has been briefed on this program," but the WaPo's Fact Checker-in-Residence Glenn Kessler points out that some members have rushed forward to say they didn't know much about the program or only did because they sought information out. Kessler gave Obama one Pinocchio for the statement. FYI: Rep. Charlie Rangel said on MSNBC over the weekend that he purposely doesn't attend intelligence briefings...so he's not tempted to leak. Kessler: "President Obama may have leaned a bit forward when he asserted that "every member" of Congress was briefed on the program. We will note he was speaking extemporaneously, not from notes, but for some strange reason White House staff never like to admit the president misspoke."

Lotsa busts. The DOD IG semiannual report to Congress for the period ending March 31, 2013 included 64 reports, identified $1.3 billion in potential monetary benefits, the DOD IG reported this morning. Defense Criminal Investigative Service investigations resulted in 56 arrests, 102 criminal charges, 98 criminal convictions, 98 suspensions and 95 debarments. The DOD Hotline received 16,615 contacts from the public and "members of the DOD community," the DOD IG reports. Plus, $1.6 billion was returned to the government, the office reported. The report, here.

Yesterday, Obama nom'ed Stephen Preston to be the Pentagon's new top attorney. Preston would replace DOD General Counsel Jeh Johnson, who left the position in December. We got a statement from former SecDef Leon Panetta on the Preston nom: "Stephen Preston is a talented attorney and counselor who will scrupulously apply the Constitution and the law to our military operations.  He served by my side when I was CIA Director and was highly influential in the behind-the-scenes efforts to stay on the offense against Al Qa'ida.  He values, above all, the rule of law.  He is non-partisan and effective - and is exactly the kind of person we want as General Counsel at the Department of Defense."

Five officials from Afghanistan talk counter-narcotics at USIP on Wednesday. The U.S. Institute of Peace is hosing an event Wednesday in which five officials from Afghanistan will talk counter-narcotics and law enforcement. The Minister of Counter-Narcotics will give a presentation, then a panel discussion with the governors of Kandahar, Helmand and Farah and the Minister of Interior. Organized by USIP's Bill Byrd. Deets here.

ICYMI: FP is turning it up. FP made its own news yesterday with the hiring of Danger Room's Noah Shachtman to be executive editor for news and Shane Harris as senior writer. Wired Magazine's Danger Room is fresh off a 2012 National Magazine Award for reporting in digital media - thanks in no small part to Shachtman's role there. And Harris literally wrote the book on government surveillance with "The Watchers."  Peter Scoblic, Situation Report's patient editor since its inception in September, is now executive editor for analysis and commentary and responsible for Foreign Policy magazine and ForeignPolicy.com's roster of columnists and essayists. Our own Ben Pauker has been promoted to managing editor for the website and magazine.

We caught up with Foreign Policy's CEO and Editor-at-Large David Rothkopf, on the changes at Foreign Policy and the exciting future he envisions to continue unfolding for the organization: "We have a great team in place, an ambitious plan and a deep commitment from everyone here to find new ways to better serve our worldwide audience.  That will mean among other things a redesign of the site, better mobile access to our content, more resources devoted to unique reported content and analysis, more live events and a broadening of our coverage to more of the issues that matter to the military, government and business leaders who depend on us."  

And Situation Report got an exclusive quote from Noah, too: "I've been a fan of FP for years. The writing has consistently been some of the smartest -- and some of the most fun -- material you can find online. I'm thrilled FP has decided to hire me. Hopefully, I won't stink up the joint too badly."

And earlier, Scoblic e-mailed from his kitchen, where he is perfectly happy not to be editing SitRep at the early morning hour: "I look forward to spending my mornings with my two year-old son, Theo. Ten minutes ago, I asked him what the most important part of the defense budget was. He said, ‘Trucks!' and then ran head-first into the garbage can. This is just the sort of mission-critical analysis I have come to expect from Situation Report and can now get in my own kitchen."

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