National Security

Does the Air Force have a solution to the sexual assault crisis?; Karzai’s anger over Taliban talks; The Arms Control Association hates Obama nuke-cutting plan; Is State slow-rolling aid to Syria?; Cereal Killer: the Captain is a poser; and a bit more.


By Gordon Lubold

Peace talks with the Taliban are off to a bumpy start. The Taliban's news conference yesterday, in which it raised a Taliban flag and stood under a banner reading the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" angered Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who yesterday suspended separate talks with the U.S. over its security pact. Secretary of State John Kerry spent yesterday trying to defuse the situation, saying publicly that Karzai was justified in his anger over the Taliban's provocative move. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is the moniker the Taliban used when it ruled the country prior to American invasion in 2001. The WaPo: "The Qataris met Karzai's demands to remove an ‘Islamic Emirate' plaque that the Taliban had affixed to the wall of the group's new office and issued a statement saying that the venue was to be known officially as the ‘political bureau of the Taliban Afghan' in the Persian Gulf state. By the end of the day, although Karzai remained publicly defiant, the administration appeared confident that the crisis had cooled sufficiently to reschedule the opening session of the U.S.-Taliban talks, which initially had been set for Thursday. The meeting could take place as early as Friday but was likely to be held off until after a Kerry visit to Qatar on Saturday for talks on Syria."

Meanwhile, AP is reporting that the Taliban has offered a prisoner swap - five detainees from Gitmo for the safe return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held in Taliban captivity since 2009 and believed to be in Pakistan. Such an exchange will play a key role in the talks in Qatar.

Welcome to Thursday'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.

The Naval Academy has charged three middies in the alleged "football house" rape of another middy last year. The Academy announced that it had preferred charges against the three Academy football players, one of whom was held from graduating this year, for violating two articles of the UCMJ - 107 (making false official statements) and 120 (rape, sexual assault or other sexual misconduct), according to a statement provided to Situation Report and other media.

An Air Force pilot program may be the key to helping the U.S. military find and prosecute more sexual assaulters. There remain deep divisions over the right policy approach to curbing sexual assaults in the military. But hidden behind the brouhaha about command authority is a small Air Force pilot program that provides victims with legal assistance and helps turn anonymous reports into ones used to prosecute sexual predators, according to officials who briefed Situation Report. The Air Force program, called the Special Victims Counsel program, was started five months ago as a pilot under Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh. But as the Pentagon grapples with sexual assault and unwanted scrutiny from Capitol Hill, the program could soon go DOD-wide.

The SVC program provides sexual assault victims with a legal assistance counselor who can walk a victim of sexual assault through the process. Unlike other legal assistance available to military assault victims, this counselor represents the victim, not, ultimately, the chain of command. But the program's real value is in the number of victims who are willing to change their anonymous reports, or "restricted" reports - to "unrestricted" reports that the military can then use to prosecute sexual predators. As of last week, the Air Force reports that the SVC program had 327 clients, or victims of sexual assault, who had filed both restricted and unrestricted reports. Of those, 35 were restricted reports, meaning the victim and alleged perpetrator were both anonymous and thus the service is unable to pursue action against the alleged perpetrator. Of those 35 restricted reports, 15 converted from restricted to unrestricted, Air Force officials said. That means because of the legal and victims rights assistance victims received through the program, 43 percent opted to make their claim public and potentially pursue action against the alleged perpetrator.

"I think the Air Force clearly wants more  victims to convert to unrestricted because if it's an unrestricted report, then the command has all the tools available to them to try to hold the alleged perpetrator accountable," Hankins told Situation Report. "And you really can't do that if you don't know who it is." More on the AF program, below.

Is State slow-walking the non-lethal aid for Syria? Situation Report wrote earlier this week that about half of the non-lethal aid promised for the Syrian opposition had yet to arrive, months after it was first pledged. Congressional notifications, logistics, vetting and red tape were all to blame. Then The Cable's John Hudson yesterday reported that some close to the process believe State is the cause for the delay and officials on Capitol Hill haven't even received some of the congressional notifications.

A source told Hudson: "It's just shocking that we are so slow on even non-lethal support to people who have now been well vetted... We can't even take the most basic of bureaucratic steps forward with non-lethal aid. How on earth can we even manage lethal aid?"

A State spokesman said the criticisms are misplaced: "We work closely with Congress to notify them, that is happening right now and have made every effort to expedite move aid to the ground." Read the rest, here.

Click bait: IAVA launches a new "data visualization" online tool for veterans this morning that highlights the wait for veterans. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, with a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, created a site that is "designed to improve benefits" for veterans by collecting and publicizing data on the VA's disability claims. The site allows vets to submit data on backlogged claims to create a new level of transparency about the backlog. Users of the site can look at individual claims by branch of service, wait times and other information. The Web site is called: "The Wait We Carry." (thewaitwecarry.org)

Tomorrow morning, IAVA, members of Congress and other veterans service organizations will appear at the kickoff to a breakfast series on Capitol Hill, where Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, will deliver a speech on the backlog.

It's a full-blown Washington scandal: We are crestfallen at what we are reading today after the Navy responded to the Cap‘n Crunch scandal, saying, yeah, that's right, the Captain is a total poser. FP's Michael Peck: "After 50 years of purporting to be a naval captain, the imposter was finally unmasked yesterday by an alert fan on culinary site Foodbeast, who pointed out that Crunch is wearing the wrist stripes of a U.S. Navy commander rather than a captain. The scandal quickly blossomed, even garnering Gawker coverage. ‘You are correct that Cap'n Crunch appears to be wearing the rank of a U.S. Navy commander,' Lt. Cmdr. Sarah Flaherty, a U.S. Navy spokeswoman, tells Foreign Policy. ‘Oddly, our personnel records do not show a 'Cap'n Crunch' who currently serves or has served in the Navy.'" Read all about it, here.

SIGAR: problems with payments of subcontractors in Afghanistan. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction is telling top officials today that the SIGAR has concerns about subcontractors not getting paid. If true, that's a problem because SIGAR reports evidence "from credible sources" alleging death threats, work stoppages and strikes in connection with nonpayments of subcontractors, which doesn't bode well for the coalition's departure over the next 18 months. "Nearly a quarter of SIGAR's hotline complaints from 2009 through October 2012 have been related to Afghan prime contractor and subcontractor nonpayment issues," according to a letter to top U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and others, from SIGAR John Sopko, released at midnight. "SIGAR opened 52 investigations based on these complaints, reflecting $69 million in claimed monies owed. In addition, as of February 2013, the Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and Inspector General for the Department of Defense (DOD) reported receiving 44 nonpayment related complaints during the past six years. The information that SIGAR has received suggests that there is a serious problem in Afghanistan related to disputes regarding the payment of Afghan subcontractors by prime contractors."

The Arms Control Association isn't big on Obama's nukes plan. Writing on FP, the association's Daryl Kimball argues that the plan unveiled by President Barack Obama yesterday doesn't do enough and it takes too long to do it. Kimball: "...since early 2011, the administration's nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation effort has lost energy and focus. Talks with Russia on deeper nuclear cuts have not begun and the implementation of the 2010 U.S. nuclear posture review was delayed. The president's pledge to "immediately and aggressively" pursue Senate approval of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was not met, off-and-on talks with Iran on its nuclear program did not produce tangible results, and North Korea has accelerated its nuclear weapons pursuits." Read the rest, here.

But Bobby Zarate of the Foreign Policy Institute begs to differ. In his piece, he asks, why the rush? Zarate: "The President sees his plan as the next step in someday achieving his dream of a ‘world without nuclear weapons.' But the world has a vote, too, and even if Russia is open to further nuclear cuts - something which remains unclear at this point - other nations do not appear to share Obama's aspiration."

Palantir: fighting human traffickers, not just the Army. Killer Apps' John Reed reports that "the sharp-elbowed, ultra-connected data mining firm Palantir may be best known around Washington these days for its war with the Army over its intelligence software. But the company is also making inroads in Foggy Bottom, where it's using its terror-hunting tech to help State Department fight human traffickers. And it's getting assists from unlikely allies like Google and LexisNexis." State's National Human Trafficking Resource Training Center and the Polaris Project, an NGO that fights human trafficking, has been using Palantir's software to analyze data they collect from victims and tipsters, Reed writes.

"They use Palantir's software to identify patterns in information about traffickers and victims that are gathered by anti-trafficking hotlines around the globe. Basically, Palantir lets Polaris take information other anti-trafficking groups receive and put it into one large database -- making it easier to connect cases of trafficking, map trends, and create plans to combat trafficking operations in a specific area." Read the rest, here.

It's hard to imagine world peace at the hands of killer robots, but John Arquilla does. Arquilla: A few weeks ago, the United Nations affirmed Isaac Asimov's First Law of Robotics: "A robot may not injure a human being." Christof Heyns, the U.N. special rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, said as much in a May 29 speech to the Human Rights Council in Geneva calling for a moratorium on the development of lethal robots. His argument followed two thoughtful paths, expressing concern that they cannot be as discriminating in their judgments as humans and that their very existence might make war too easy to contemplate. As he summed up the grim prospect of robot soldiers, "War without reflection is mechanical slaughter." Read the rest, here.

When it comes to spying, Obama's NSA program = Bush. FP's newest addition, Shane Harris, has this bit about how much the NSA surveillance programs resemble those that caused so much stir 10 years ago, with a Pentagon project called "Total Information Awareness," for its Orwellian creepiness. Harris: "The story of that convergence starts on the morning of Feb. 2, 2002, when retired Admiral John Poindexter drove to the headquarters of the National Security Agency at Ft. Meade, Maryland, and sat down with the agency's deputy director, an NSA veteran named Bill Black. Poindexter, a former White House national security adviser, was now running the TIA program at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the organization that tackles some of the hardest engineering and technology challenges in the Pentagon. Poindexter thought TIA was an innovative new way to stop terrorist attacks, and he wanted the NSA to help him test it. The idea, he explained to Black, was to give U.S. intelligence analysts access to the vast universe of electronic information stored in private databases that might be useful for detecting the next plot. Data such as phone call records, emails, and Internet searches. Poindexter wanted to build what he called a "system of systems" that would access all this raw information, sort and analyze it, and hopefully find indications of terrorist plotting." More, here.

AF sexual assault assistance program, con't. The program seems to have taken off. In January when the program began, the Air Force had 60 part time attorneys working in the SVC program. But each worked for the wing or another unit within the chain of command. As of late last month, there were 24 full time attorneys working in 22 locations -- all of whom work for Hankins, the head of the effort,  and whose sole responsibility is to "zealously represent the interests of their client," Hankins said.

Some in the legal world believe that by giving sexual assault victims an attorney it tips the scales of justice in favor of victim, and to the detriment of the accused. But for a Defense Department whose aim is to eliminate sexual assault altogether, as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said, a program such as this one will resonate. Indeed, it has its supporters on Capitol Hill. Leading voices on sexual assault reform in the DOD, like Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, both Democrats, support legislation to mandate that all services create an SVC program and such a provision remains in the current defense bill.

Noting



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. RSVP@harris.com.

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.

Noting


  • 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.