National Security

Obama to outline big nuke cuts today; DOD civilian owes $500k – to DOD; Petraeus to Team Rubicon; Hastings, dead; Say goodbye, Rambo; Tara Sonenshine on “bottom line diplomacy;” and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

In Berlin today, Barack Obama will outline plans for further cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. But, counter the expectations of some wonks who suggested he might make the reductions unilaterally, the president wants Russia to respond in kind. Obama will propose a one-third reduction in strategic nuclear warheads - on top of the cuts already required by the New START treaty - bringing the number of deployed warheads to about 1,000. (At its peak, the U.S. arsenal was a total of 32,000 warheads, in 1966.) It sounds like a big cut, but last year the AP reported that the White House was considering a reduction to as low as 300 warheads, which would have necessitated a major shift in the military's nuke doctrine. One question now is how much effect the president's proposed reduction -- and the nuclear weapons employment guidance he has issued with it -- will have on who, what, and how the Pentagon targets with U.S. nukes.

Obama, in 2009, spoke of trying to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Those who want him to pursue greater reductions may see hope in his dusting off those first-term ambitions. But his speech today will reflect a more pragmatic view of the global and domestic politics of nuclear reduction. "This speech offers another reminder that the President views his ‘Prague Agenda' as a key element of his historical legacy. Everyone understands, however, the formidable challenges that lie ahead in converting his words into concrete achievements," an administration official told FP this morning.

In the broad policy speech, Obama will also say that the U.S. must continue to work to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, including efforts to isolate both Iran and North Korea. He will also push for a bipartisan effort to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and call once again for all countries to begin negotiations on a new treaty to end the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. "The President has determined that we can ensure our security and that of our allies and maintain a strong, credible strategic deterrent while safely pursuing up to a one-third reduction in deployed strategic nuclear warheads below the New START Treaty level," according to briefing documents provided to FP on the speech. "We will seek to negotiate these reductions with Russia to continue to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures." Obama will also announce also say that he will participate in the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in the Hague, as well as host a Nuclear Security Summit in his last year in office, in 2016, "to continue progress with our international partners in securing nuclear materials and preventing nuclear terrorism," according to the briefing documents.

Welcome to Wednesday'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 defended the NSA's surveillance programs in Berlin today. Obama said that "lives have been saved" due to the surveillance programs. "We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted," he said, including those targeting the U.S. and in other countries, like Germany, where he made the remarks during a joint appearance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Many in Europe and especially Germany have reacted harshly to the disclosure of the Obama administration's surveillance programs. Obama and Merkel discussed the programs privately in their bi-lat. Merkel said she told Obama that Internet monitoring must have proper limits. "I made clear that although we do see the need for gathering information, the topic of proportionality is always an important one and the free democratic order is based on people feeling safe," Merkel said at the news conference, as quoted by Reuters. "That's why the question of balance and proportionality is something we will continue to discuss and where we have agreed further exchange of information between the German Interior Ministry and the authorities concerned in the United States."

For his part, Obama said both surveillance programs, the monitoring of phone records and Internet activity, are subject to strict legal oversight and are limited in their scope. And Obama reiterated what the administration has said on the issue thus far, that it is striking the proper balance between national security and privacy.

From the Department of David Petraeus' Resurrection comes this news: he has just joined Team Rubicon, a disaster response organization that matches veterans and rapidly deploys them to disaster areas, like in Moore, Okla. Rubicon was co-founded by William McNulty and Jake Wood, and Wood is its president. Both men were non-comms who served under Petraeus in Iraq "as part of his bold surge strategy," Wood said in a press release. "We're honored to have General Petraeus join the team... we look forward to him bringing the same creativity to help us solve our major strategic questions going forward, Wood said. Petraeus: "'TR' is an extraordinary organization, one that both serves our nation when its communities are most in need and serves our veterans be reuniting them to once again perform missions that are larger than self." The press release, here.

Mike Hastings is dead. The Rolling Stone contributor whose article, "The Runaway General" led to the end of Stan McChrystal's military career, died in a fiery, single-car car accident in the early morning hours of Los Angeles' Hancock Park area. Hastings catapulted to prominence after his story in the magazine portrayed McChrystal and his aides as cavalier toward civilian authority, including off-hand remarks about Vice President Joe Biden and Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Dick Holbrooke. Hastings was either seen as a journalistic saint for courageously reporting the truth of what went on inside McChrystal's command of the war in Afghanistan, or as an unscrupulous hack with no "skin in the game" who unfairly quoted comments the speakers didn't think would make it to print. Either way, he made history. Hastings, 33, was a writer at BuzzFeed. His top 10 tips for aspiring journalists, here.

Rambo is over. Next up: female SEALs? Representatives from each of the services, Special Operations Command and the Office of the Secretary of Defense gathered in the Pentagon briefing room to talk about their implementation plans for removing the exclusion of women in combat. Maj. Gen. Bennet Sacolick, the director of force management for SOCOM, indicated that while the command "applauds" DOD's decision to allow women in combat, it also has some "genuine concerns" that must be addressed before SOCOM can make an informed recommendation on implementation in the name of preserving unit readiness, cohesion and morale.

Sacolick: "Of particular concern is our mission set, which predominantly requires our forces to operate in small, self-contained teams, many of which are in austere, geographically isolated, politically sensitive environments for extended periods of time.  This complexity requires a unique assessment predicated upon detailed analysis, ultimately providing a single, clear, consistent procedure for execution throughout the SOCOM enterprise. Because our forces are inherently joint, a decision made by a single service can have rippled effects across the SOCOM enterprise.  Therefore, we have and will continue to work closely with the services as we move forward."

Sacolick said "the days of Rambo are over," meaning effective SOCOM operators are ones who can learn a foreign language, understand culture and work with indigenous populations, and "culturally attune manners."

Sacolick, on women's performance: "...But women quite a bit -- quite frankly, I was encouraged by just the physical performance of some of the young girls that aspire to go into the cultural support teams.  They very well may provide a foundation for ultimate integration.  And in the second part of your question truly is -- I just want this process to work.  I don't know where it's going to be."

Hack and Flack - tomorrow night. The "periodic gathering for Hacks (news media), Flacks (public affairs types) and other invited guests mostly from the national security and public safety communities, is on Thursday night at the usual place, 600 Maryland Ave. SW Tower Penthouse (at the L'Enfant Metro) from 6-9 pm. Off the record. Refreshments of all kinds provided, a $10 "contribution" is a good idea. @washingtonflack.

Does one military civilian in Europe really owe DOD $500,000? In a word, yes. A DOD audit in January showed that 659 DOD civilians who had been paid a housing allowance to which the audit found they are not entitled. Technically, DOD wants the money back, but is urging the civilians to file for a waiver. If they don't, they could risk having to pay the money back to DOD. Situation Report is told that one civilian worker owes more than a half-million dollars over several years. A Pentagon official tells Situation Report that "The Department encourages impacted employees to submit their requests for waivers of indebtedness."

Typically, if the Department pays an employee erroneously, that employee is liable for the overpayments. The particular circumstances to this case, however, have dictated that DOD will allow the civilians to apply for a waiver for the payment. But they have to apply. "Although a blanket waiver cannot be provided, the Department supports forgiveness of indebtedness in these unique circumstances," the official said. "If employees have further concerns they should address those concerns to their chains of command."

In the words of Gen. Phillip Breedlove, commander of U.S. European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, the civilians received the extra housing allowance "through no fault of their own." Breedlove has appealed to the Pentagon leadership to let the civilians off the hook. In a June 5 memo obtained by Stripes newspaper, Breedlove wrote to Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter: "The upcoming loss of many of these people within the next year has a readiness impact on EUCOM Headquarters and Service Component Staffs - an impact that translates to increased cost to the Government to move and train replacement personnel at a time of significantly stressed fiscal account."

Tara Sonenshine made one of her last big speeches before departing State. The Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs spoke at CSIS yesterday to explain what "public diplomacy" really is. Sonenshine: "I have come to think of the work I do as 'bottom line diplomacy' because the allocation of resources is an important part of any equation - not only because of our continuing economic recovery but because we need to justify public expenditure to our only governing board - the American people. And we have clear results that demonstrate value.

"Standing up for workers' rights and high labor standards, more broadly shared economic opportunity, and human rights is both right and moral, but it is also smart and strategic. Studies show that when we build inclusive economies, safeguard freedoms, invest in education, and encourage opportunity, people become more healthy, productive, democratic, empowered, and prosperous. They are more likely to become viable economic, trade, social, political and strategic partners, enhancing security and prosperity for all." Transcript of her full remarks, here.


  • Bloomberg: Pentagon shoots down Kerry's Syrian airstrike plan.
  • The New Republic: Boondoggle goes boom: A demented tale of how the Army actually does business (D-SIGS).
  • Breaking Defense: Marines launch drive to shove down F-35 costs. 
  • Battleland: How the Iraq war got off on the wrong foot.
  • The New Yorker: Axis of Intervention: why we shouldn't join the war in Syria.
  • Defense News: USAF may use V-22s for combat rescue mission.  
  • Duffel Blog: Staff officer excited to pull shift in guard tower. 

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."


  • 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).