National Security

Afghans take over, peace office opens: a ridiculous mouse? Syria aid M.I.A.; Iran's shady plans to go nuclear; Middies charged with rape; The services are “acting like children;” And a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Afghanistan is taking the lead across the country and a peace office is opening in Doha. In a ceremonial move in Kabul today, the government of Afghanistan is taking the lead in military operations across the entire country the next phase in security transition that culminates in December 2014. Administration officials briefing reporters this morning said it represented simply the next step with the ultimate goal of turning over not only lead operations but also full responsibility to the Afghans by next year.

But the bigger news is the opening of the office in Doha. Later today, the Taliban and the Qataris are expected to release statements on the opening of a new Taliban political office in Doha. And Afghan President Hamid Karzai earlier today said that Afghanistan would send a team to Qatar for peace talks with the Taliban. Karzai's High Peace Council will represent Afghanistan, and the U.S. and Pakistan will also play roles. Karzai also hinted that the talks would ultimately move to Afghanistan. It is seen as a step in the right direction in negotiating a settlement to the end of a long war, and Karzai's willingness to accept the plan amounted to a significant achievement. But administration officials were sober about the talks' initial prospects, given Afghan mistrust of such a process and other factors. "It's going to be a very long, hard process if indeed it advances significantly at all," said one administration official during a morning conference call with reporters. "So we're at the beginning of a difficult road... I wouldn't be looking for early results."

The news of the Doha office inspired a friend of Situation Report to quote the Roman poet Horace, in Latin: "Parturient montes, nascitur ridiculus mus," which means, roughly: "The mountains are in labor, they bring forth a ridiculous mouse."

JIEDDO reports that IED events in the last 90 days are down 13 percent from last year. In a new report provided to Situation Report, the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization says that there were 3,572 IED events within the last three months, but that the "found and cleared rates" - IEDs that are found or otherwise detonated without causing injury - is "consistently improving." In a dark sign that insurgents are attacking Afghan forces as they take more of the lead, JIEDDO reports that 62 percent of IED events target Afghan forces. IED attacks that cause casualties continue to decrease, JIEDDO says, but still account for 61 percent of all American casualties in Afghanistan. Of those, "severe casualties" have decreased 28 percent. See JIEDDO's PowerPoint, here.

How do you make a bomb that won't blow up? Read the WaPo's Greg Jaffe's front pager today, here.

Amid the transition, a large blast targeting a prominent lawmaker rocked Kabul AP reports, missing him, but killing three civilians.

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.

Fact check: Carter Ham will testify on Benghazi - again. A number of media reports this morning say that former AFRICOM Commander Gen. Carter Ham will testify "for the first time" on Benghazi controversy, in a closed hearing June 26 before the House Armed Services Committee. Breitbart's headline: "General Carter Ham to Finally Testify on Benghazi." But Ham, now retired, has answered questions on the matter publicly already, including at both the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, and in closed sessions March 15 for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and again privately before the Accountability Review Board, the body created Hillary Rodham Clinton and headed by Thomas Pickering and Mike Mullen. Just sayin: Ham testified on Benghazi at the SASC March 7 "posture hearing"; Transcript here.

Half of the non-lethal aid for Syria hasn't arrived yet. Lost in last week's news that the Obama administration would begin to provide direct military aid to the Syrian opposition was the fact that about half of the non-lethal aid promised months ago has still not arrived. Administration officials acknowledge that only some of the aid promised the Syrian opposition this spring has arrived in the country. They cite Congressional notifications, the need to vet recipients on the other end, and the more mundane necessity to obtain and then ship the supplies they plan to send as the hold up.

Gear like vehicles, medical supplies, communications equipment and night vision goggles - all key to helping to give the Syrian military opposition the upper hand once again - are all part of the assistance plan. The State Department is working with the Syrian Opposition Coalition and the Syrian Military Coalition on the aid but that there isn't any specific timeline, a spokesman for State told Situation Report. "The process can take from several weeks to several months," he told Situation Report. "We want to establish channels that any assistance we deploy is done so in a manner that reaches those in need and is done so in accordance with our assistance regulations." Approximately $127 million of aid is in the process of being delivered. Another $123 million, announced by Secretary of State John Kerry April 20 in Istanbul, is still undergoing Congressional notification processes, the spokesman said. CSIS's Tony Cordesman told Situation Report that he thinks the idea of "non-lethal aid," like night vision goggles, for example, give the military opposition a capability to kill that they don't otherwise possess - so the term "non-lethal aid" is, to him, an oxymoron.

CSIS's Tony Cordesman, to Situation Report: "If you're having problems with lethal non-lethal aid, just imagine the kinds of problems you're going to have with lethal-lethal aid."

Read our whole piece on non-lethal aid delivery, here.

Want to know how Iran dodges nuclear watchdogs? Read this hidden report unearthed by FP's Colum Lynch: Iran continues to evade U.N. sanctions on its nuclear program by changing its supply routes, erecting new front companies, and shopping the world for lower grade parts not explicitly prohibited by the U.N. Security Council, but still capable of contributing to the assembly of a nuclear power reactor. That's according to a "confidential" unpublished report by a U.N. Security Council panel monitoring sanctions on Iran, exclusively published by FP. The 45-page report - which summarizes the U.N. panel's work over the past year - documents several cases in Europe and the Middle East where Iranian agents have sought to procure a host of industrial products -- including valves, carbon fiber, and bellows -- that can be used in a nuclear facility. The equipment, however, is not explicitly prohibited from being sold to Tehran, making it easier to get similar items through customs. Read the confidential report, here. Read Lynch's bit, here.

Seven questions NSA Chief Keith Alexander should answer today. Killer Apps' John Reed has them, here.

The services are acting like children. Last month, the WaPo did a big piece on camouflage uniforms among the military and how the services' haute couture had gotten a little out of control (Thanks, Marine Corps!) with 10 different uniforms, at huge cost, and with sometimes little effect. With a budget crunch defining everything, there is now an effort underway to force the military to wear one camouflage uniform.  The WSJ: "When the Marine Corps marched its own way and redesigned the look of its camouflage gear in 2002, it kicked off something of a fashion arms race among the services, as each branch proceeded to devise its own colors and patterns, helped by swollen budgets during wartime."

And: "Both the House and Senate versions of next year's defense-spending bill have language mandating one camouflage uniform design for the military rather than the nearly dozen current iterations, some of which even top brass concede are useless in combat and put troops in danger."

Said one defense official, to the WSJ: "The services are acting like children... If you want to separate yourself, do it in your dress uniform. It doesn't do us any good to have a battlefield where you have three or four uniforms."

Several middies will be charged with rape. Naval Academy officials yesterday said that "several" Academy football players would be charged with rape after an incident last year in which another middie, now in her third year, charges that during an off-campus party at a "football house," she became intoxicated and then raped. According to her attorney, Susan Burke, she only learned of the rapes through friends and social media the next day. The WaPo reports: "The length of the NCIS's investigation - more than a year - drew criticism from Burke, the accuser's attorney, who had accused Miller of foot-dragging. But Monday, Burke said, ‘We are pleased at moving forward after this long delay.'"

State's whistleblower is being harassed, her attorney says. The Cable's John Hudson reports that Aurelia Fedenisn, the former State Department inspector general investigator who accused colleagues last week of using drugs, soliciting prostitutes and having sex with minors says Foggy Bottom is now engaged in an "intimidation" campaign to stop her. Her attorney, Cary Schulman, told Hudson that Fedenisn has paid a steep price: "They had law enforcement officers camp out in front of her house, harass her children and attempt to incriminate herself."

Noting


  • WSJ: General Helms and [McCaskill's] hold. Why?
  • Omaha World Herald:  Some vets oppose bill on saluting flag while they're out of uniform.
  • AP: Military has schedule for women to move into combat jobs, including SEALS, other commandos.
  • AP "Interactive:" The National Security Agency.
  • Foreign Affairs: Why drones fail (when tactics drive strategy). 

 

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."