National Security

The Army’s $900 toilet seat?; Where's the love for Dempsey and Winnefeld?; A really awkward NSA leak; A behind-the-scenes look at Ya’alon’s Osprey ride; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

The Pentagon's "new $900 toilet seat?" TNR is all over the Army's DCGS-A intel system. Investigative reporter Robert Draper is out with a piece in The New Republic today about the controversial Army intel system that has been mired in cost overruns, delays and dramatic differences of opinion in an ongoing controversy for years. But a heated exchange between Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter of California during a public hearing this spring put the Distributed Common Ground System's problems back on the political map. Draper's piece, published on TNR's iPad app today, exposes the Army's inconsistencies about the multi-billion dollar program and lays out a chronology about how the service has been rolling out the system. The story includes lots of criticism of the system among Army types and others, as well as the perspective from a number of defenders, including Lt. Gen. Mary Legere, deputy chief of staff, G-2, pictured in the story with the caption: "The Lead Blocker."

Draper's piece also goes into the technology available by Palantir, the Palo-Alto-based company that has provided that technology to the CIA, Special Ops and others that other top intelligence officials. The Palantir system is thought to be effective by many, even if it couldn't in its current form replace DCGS-A. But the Army seems wedded to it's own system, one that could cost upwards of $28 billion over its lifespan, Draper says.

There have been many ups and downs. The Army, one Democratic staffer told Draper, has often said that it is close to rolling the system out, only to say six months later that the system is delayed once again. "They get into super acronym mode and it becomes kind of a confusing game," the staffer told Draper, according to the iPad version of the story. Draper spoke with one House staffer who refers to the DCGS-A system as the "new nine-hundred dollar toilet seat."

Draper, appearing on Fox News this weekend, said DCGS-A, in the works since the 1990s, was supposed to be a "remedy" to give soldiers in the field access to the intelligence that always existed - but wasn't always accessible - from where insurgents and roadside bombs are to the history of an area of responsibility. Draper: "Well the sources in the Army say that DCGS, as it's known, doesn't work, or doesn't work well, and that the whole point of it is for this information to be accessible, so that you can pull it up right away and use it.  And that doesn't happen with DCGS for a variety of reasons.  It's been developed by, for lack of a better way of putting it, the military-industrial complex...by a series of big military contractors working in conjunction with engineers in the Army intelligence office.   And the problem is iteration after iteration has come in late and has come in by the time it's out basically it's already obsolete."

Click bait: Heated exchange vid between Odierno and Hunter, here.

Welcome to Monday'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.

Obama meets with G-8 leaders starting today in Europe, where for many there, the bloom is off the rose over Syria and other issues.  The WaPo's Scott Wilson: "As he arrives Monday in Northern Ireland for his first trip to Europe in two years, Obama will be confronting the diplomatic fallout from his actions and in­action on some of the most urgent concerns of his European counterparts. His long delay in more aggressively supporting Syria's beleaguered opposition forces - a move that his administration announced in the form of expanded military aid on the eve of his visit here - has frustrated the leaders of France and Germany. The recent disclosure of the National Security Agency's telephone and Internet surveillance has angered many European politicians, particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom he will see on both stops of his three-day visit." Full story, here.

McDonough defended the NSA surveillance program. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said the administration's surveillance programs do not violate privacy laws on CBS' Face the Nation and that there would be more on this in the days to come from President Barack Obama, who has said he welcomes a public debate on the issue.

Schieffer:  "Are you saying to me this morning that the government's done nothing wrong here?"

McDonough: "You know what? I'm not saying that. I'm saying that if there are problems, we're going to get to the bottom of them, as we on any number of these other issues. But we're also recognize that -- the president recognizes more than anybody -- that he has a fundamental obligation to the American people, and that's to keep them safe, but he also swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. He believes that we can do both. He believes that we are doing both. And he's proud of the work that we've been able to undertake to do that." Full transcript, here.

Awkward! A new trove of secret documents from Edward Snowden include one that shows that American and British intelligence agencies eavesdropped on world leaders at conferences in London in 2009... some of the very ones at the big G-8 meeting in Northern Ireland today.  The NYT writes this morning: "The latest disclosures, appearing again in The Guardian, came the night before a meeting of the Group of 8 industrialized nations was to open in Northern Ireland, where some of the leaders who were intelligence targets four years ago will be in attendance."

Why haven't Dempsey and Winnefeld been re-upped? Gen. Marty Dempsey and Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, chairman and vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are near the end of their first, two-year terms but have yet to be re-nominated. Typically, the White House would have re-nominated each position by about this time in the chairman's and vice's term. Adm. Mike Mullen, for example, was re-nominated in March of 2009 for his second term, and the Senate acted on the nomination by September. Dempsey was sworn in in October 2011, which means his two-year term expires this fall. But not to worry, a senior defense official tells Situation Report. The noms are coming "very soon," we're told by e-mail this morning. "Both are well respected at the White House."

The Behind-the-Music on Israeli MOD's Osprey ride. Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Ya'alon visited the Pentagon Friday and got his first ride in the Marines' MV-22 Osprey. The Israelis are in the process of buying Ospreys from the U.S. and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's office made a little video of the demonstration with a cameo from Derek Chollet, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, still shots of the ride and a little audio for color.

With a cameo from Osprey pilot Maj. Justin Marvel (we wish he was still a captain) "...If it was told to go back into combat again, I'd take a V-22 every day of the week and twice on Sunday."

A Marine running the demo, to Ya'alon and the rest of the delegation: "...if anyone feels like they're getting sick, stick your hand out and I'll bring you a bag." Watch the video here.

Lockheed Martin: Never hurts to remind folks about the F-35C: "Fifth generation matters." A full page ad by Lockheed Martin on page A20 of the WaPo today.

Is this change Obama can believe in? Writing on FP, Vali Nasr, on the election in Iran, which gave a surprise victory to a reformist, Hasan Rowhani. This could open up the possibility of a nuclear deal, but the U.S. has to step up. Nasr: "This is all good news for Iranian politics, but what matters most to the West these days is the fate of the country's nuclear program. There is cautious optimism that popular support for moderation at the polls will translate into concessions at the negotiating table. Rowhani sent clear signals during the presidential campaign that if elected he would seek to end Iran's international isolation. Favoring engagement over resistance, he said, "We have no other option than moderation." That may well be the case, but a nuclear deal is still far from certain, and in fact this June surprise could confound U.S. strategy in dealing with Iran."

Emmett Beliveau takes over for George Mulligan as director of the White House's Military Office. Borrowing from Politico's Mike Allen's exclusive yesterday in Playbook: George Mulligan ended 20 years at the WH Military Office last week, the last few years as its director, and is now succeeded by Emmett Beliveau. The WHMO provides military support to the WH in the form of Air Force One, Marine One, Camp David and others. According to Allen, Beliveau "has been at the White House since the first day of the Obama Administration, serving as Director of Advance and Operations, and then as Director of the Chief of Staff's Office for both Bill Daley and Jack Lew.  Beliveau is respected across the Administration and has worked closely with WHMO on initiatives ranging from planning international summits to Obama's secret trips to Afghanistan and Iraq." Mulligan will come to the Pentagon after a break, but Situation Report is told just where is still "TBD."

Chuck Hagel, on Mulligan, Beliveau: "For nearly twenty years, George Mulligan has provided outstanding support to three Commanders-in-Chief serving in the White House Military Office. As Director of that office, George has provided an essential link between the White House and the Department of Defense. He is a terrific leader. I look forward to welcoming him back to the Department of Defense and his continued service to the nation. I am also looking forward to working with Emmett Beliveau as the new Director of the White House Military Office. Emmett has already done outstanding work in a number of complex roles at the White House and has deep experience working with the U.S. military. I am confident he will help ensure that the men and women of the Department of Defense meet the highest standards in the many roles in which they support the Commander in Chief."

Noting

  • BBC: Iran vote: Rowhani vows transparency on nuclear issue.
  • AP: New Iranian president urges "path to moderation" but won't stop uranium enrichment. 
  • Talking Points Memo: Top West Point official "misused position to obtain cat care."
  • AP: British PM: Russia must push for talks with Syria. 
  • Defense News: Italian DM: Will Syria conflict create regional conflict?

ICYMI


  • USIP's Olive Branch: Afghan peace process: Did something happen in Doha?
  • The Atlantic: What's the difference between Snowden and Ellsberg?
  • Stripes: Obama's sexual assault comments amount to "unlawful command influence."

National Security

Syria's red line, crossed; Top brass still skeptical of arming the rebels; Don’t get this Aussie angry; Why Obama will get an earful in Germany over the NSA; The Marines are pumped about the Israeli MOD’s arrival today; and just a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Red line, crossed: The U.S. moves to arm Syrian rebels. The Obama administration said yesterday it would at last arm Syrian rebels in their bid to topple the Assad regime. Administration officials yesterday afternoon cited clear evidence that the Syrian government had at different times used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, killing as many as 150 people, and thus had crossed the "red line" President Barack Obama had said would trigger a more focused U.S. response. American officials confirmed the CIA would coordinate all direct military assistance to the Syrian rebels. Meanwhile, brass in the U.S. military continue to harbor deep reservations about the project. See below.

Is a no-fly zone far behind? While the administration has been wary about creating a no-fly zone for Syria, the WSJ reports that plans for a "limited no-fly zone" appear to be underway. Officials told the Journal that the no-fly zone would stretch as far as 25 miles inside Syria, with planes flown from inside airbases in Jordan. Such a no-fly zone would help to keep Syrian aircraft away from training areas in Jordan, where both Syrians have taken refuge from the war and where Syrian rebels train.  U.S. officials told the Journal the limited no-fly zone would not require the destruction of Syrian antiaircraft batteries, as some believed have argued for in creating such a zone. "Officials said the White House could decide to authorize the U.S. to arm and train rebels in Jordan without authorizing the no-fly zone recommended by military planners. A White House announcement could come soon, officials said."

The Pentagon has been resistant to support a no-fly zone. The fear is that it would amount to a salvo that would quickly deepen the U.S. military's role. The zone itself could be seen as an act of war, or at least a provocative move: shooting down a Syrian aircraft that ran afoul of the no-fly zone would put the U.S. squarely at war with Syria. Early on, the Pentagon had weighed proposals from outside analysts, who'd argued that the U.S. or allies should target Syria's early warning radars and SA-5 sites to establish air superiority, creating a "space" for Syrian rebels. But this kind of course of action would put the U.S. military on a slippery slope and could soon confront decisions about targeting Syrian ground forces. Still, after months of teeth gnashing, creating a no-fly zone of some sort seemed to be within the realm of possibility, even if White House officials wouldn't speak directly to it.

The White House's Ben Rhodes:  "I'd also note that both the United States and the international community have other legal, financial, diplomatic and military responses available to us.  We've prepared for many contingencies within Syria.  We are going to make decisions about further action on our own timeline."

Much of the U.S. military's brass remain wary about arming rebels, too. "The concern with arming the opposition is that there is no way to ensure their safeguarding and recovery procedures in the event the weapons are stolen or lost and end up in the wrong hands," one senior officer told Situation Report. "For both proposed courses of action, they will only achieve tactical effects and not change the strategic picture."

And is it all too little, too late? The NYT: "But even with the decision to supply lethal aid, the Obama administration remains deeply divided about whether to take more forceful action to try to quell the fighting, which has killed more than 90,000 people over more than two years. Many in the American government believe that the military balance has tilted so far against the rebels in recent months that American shipments of arms to select groups may be too little, too late."

Welcome to the "Happy 238th Birthday, Army" 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 will meet Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Ya'alon at the Pentagon today... after Ya'alon hops off an MV-22 Osprey at the Pentagon heli-pad. Naturally, the Marines are pumped up to be showing the Israeli MOD their Osprey. He'll get a whole demonstration today around 3pm, when he lands. Hagel, meanwhile, will be meeting with all his combatant commanders today at the Pentagon.

It's no wonder why he's so interested in MV-22s. Ya'alon wants the U.S. government to guarantee billions of dollars in low-interest "bridge loans" for a package of V-22 Ospreys, F-15 radars and precision-strike weaponry, all proposed by the Pentagon, that Israel ultimately intends to fund with future military aid from the U.S., Defense News reports today. 

Listen up! Don't make this man angry. As the U.S. military grapples with the problem of sexual assault, Australian Army is having its own issues. A number of soldiers have allegedly sent e-mails with "highly inappropriate material" that degrade female soldiers. A number of soldiers face suspension of discipline or suspension. But make no mistake: Lt. Gen. David Morrison, the head of the Australian Army, is genuinely fuming. He released a stern message to his charges in a video this week that, as a one friend to Situation Report noted yesterday, makes some American military brass' outrage on the issue seem a bit, well, weak. Morrison: "...if this is true, then the actions of these men are in direct contradiction to every value that the Australian army stands for. By now, I am sure you know my attitude towards this type of conduct. I have stated categorically many times that the army has to be an inclusive organization in which every soldier, man and woman, is able to reach their full potential and is encouraged to do so. Those who think that it is OK to behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues, have no place in this army... if that does not suit you, then get out. You may find another employer where your attitude and behavior is acceptable, but I doubt it."

And: "I will be ruthless in ridding the army of people who cannot live up to its values, and I want every one of you to support me in achieving this... If you're not up to it, find something else to do with your life. There is no place for you amongst this band of brothers and sisters." Worth the watch, here.

Today, a current CIA officer will bring a lawsuit that "hints at the existence of a secret overseas paramilitary operation that triggered war crimes allegations." The Cable's John Hudson writes today in an exclusive tease that a CIA officer by the name of "John Doe," an undercover paramilitary officer, will file suit against the CIA for "unreasonable delay" of an Inspector General investigation into "alleged war crimes committed in an overseas location." Hudson: "According to his lawyer Mark Zaid, Doe was engaged in ‘offensive operations against individuals designated or viewed as enemies of the United States.' His client believes he did nothing wrong, according to Zaid, but witnessed events that ‘concerned him.' Zaid declined to outline what those concerning events might be." Read the rest here.

Big Brother doesn't scare Rosa Brooks half as much as Amazon does. As outraged as some Americans are about disclosures that the NSA is trawling for information on their phone records or Internet activity, the fact is that the private sector already knows tons of stuff about Americans' activities. Today, FP's Brooks looks at the 12 ways Americans have already given up their privacy. Her lede: Here's the headline of the week: A lot of people know a lot about me. By that, I do not mean that I am famous, though I have my fans. (Hi, Mom!) I'm referring to the latest round of Big Brother revelations. The government knows whom I call. It knows whom I email. It knows all kinds of stuff about me. NSA, join the club. As I said, a lot of people know a lot about me. Let's list and categorize some of those people and some of the things they know: One: My friends know a lot about me. Some of them have known me since elementary school. Collectively, they know about my bad 1980s hairstyle, my ill-advised romances, and a handful of youthful experiments with illegal substances. Anyone one of them could spread the word about any of this at any time. I live in fear. Read the rest, here.

Is Snowden an agent of the Chinese? House Intelligence Committee members want to know if NSA leaker Edward Snowden is working for a foreign intelligence service. They're guessing China, maybe. FP's John Reed reports.

Rep. Mike Rogers, chair of the House intelligence committee after a closed-door briefing with NSA chief, Gen. Keith Alexander. "He's already done serious harm and he's stating things that are, candidly, not correct. Clearly, we're going to make sure that there's a thorough scrub of what his China connections are, and there's a lot of questions there that seem unusual."

But Sen. Saxby Chambliss isn't so sure: "...we have no indication that [Snowden] is connected with the Chinese." 

Snowden Fallout Department: Dianne Feinstein might want to bar contractors from highly sensitive information. Senate Intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein told reporters yesterday that she is considering drafting legislation that would limit the intelligence community's band of private contractors from having access to "highly classified technical data." Senate intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein today told reporters she is considering drafting legislation that would limit the Intelligence Community's virtual army of private contractors access to "highly classified technical data." Reed: "The California Democrat's comments were made to reporters following a closed-door briefing on the leak of top secret documents revealing the NSA's collection of telephone and Internet traffic metadata on U.S. soil. The leaker, as the world now knows, was Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee turned IT contractor to the NSA." His story, here.

Obama will get an earful about NSA spying in Germany. As Obama heads to Germany next week, he's expected to hear a whole bunch about what the Germans think about the NSA surveillance programs disclosed by Edward Snowden over the last week. FP's Christian Caryl writes: "A leading German data protection official is telling German Internet users to avoid American companies like Facebook and Google, since, he says, all of the data in their networks is likely to be scooped up for use by U.S. intelligence. A German parliamentarian says that the revelations about the extent of National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance remind him of the Stasi, the old East German secret police. (Let's leave aside, for the moment, the point that European governments still do plenty of spying of their own, and intrude in the lives of their citizens in ways that many Americans would find repugnant.)

Why are the Germans so touchy about spying? It's got to do with something called history. Caryl: "There was that singular unpleasantness with the Gestapo a few years back, of course -- but for all its crimes the Nazi secret police was actually a fairly small organization that depended heavily on a wide net of enthusiastic informers within a broadly regime-loyal population. And then there's the horrifying tale of East Germany's Ministerium fuer Staatssicherheit, the Ministry for State Security, known more widely by the abbreviated version of its name -- the Stasi. It was this agency that was responsible for building up what was probably the most expansive surveillance state in history."

Noting


  • The New Yorker: Is Obama too late on Syria? 
  • National Journal: Major battles in the House Armed Services Committee. 
  • Time: Weighing the wisdom of women in combat.
  • The Atlantic: What about the fact that terrorists want to murder us all?
  • Breaking Defense: Will Europe ever build its own fifth generation fighter?
  • Military Times: Unmanned Marine helo crashes in Afghanistan.
  • Stripes: Wilkerson had an affair that produced a child, Air Force confirms.