National Security

Eric Fanning takes over at the Air Force; Big changes at the Pentagon's policy shop; America's Syria strategy, MIA?; Brass ones: Attorney seeks testimony from Amos; Stavridis on creating a cyber force; Panetta on Gandolfini, and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Eric Fanning takes over at the Air Force. At least temporarily. Air Force Chief of Staff Mike Donley, the longest serving Air Force secretary, steps down today in a departure announced April 26. And Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter will preside over a farewell ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base later today. Although one or two candidates have been rumored to replace him, no one expects a new secretary to be in place until fall, Situation Report is told. For now, Air Force Undersecretary Eric Fanning, sworn in April 29, will serve in an acting capacity until a successor to Donley is named.

Fanning will be the highest-ranking openly gay defense official. Air Force Association's Dick Newton, to Situation Report, this morning: "Acting Secretary Eric Fanning is a solid choice as Undersecretary and I expect he will serve well in the meantime as acting secretary." Read The Advocate's piece on the highest ranking gay officer, an AF two-star.  

Donley's last day in the building was yesterday. He was given a Panetta-style walk-out, as Air Force staff and others applauded him as he left the building around noon Thursday.

Kath Hicks is leaving soon. The No. 2 policy chief at the Pentagon is headed out July 2, Situation Report is told, in a departure that was long expected to occur at some point this year.  What's interesting is how she'll be replaced in the interim while her permanent replacement is identified and confirmed. Situation Report is told this morning that Elissa Slotkin, now the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs, will move into the Policy office in the suite across from Policy Chief Jim Miller, to be Miller's acting No. 2. But when Miller is on vacation or otherwise out of town, it will be assistant secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet who will fill in, Situation Report is told. "During this time of transition, Syria, the continued rebalance to Asia, [the policy shop] will have a tight team together that has worked well together and is respected in the building," a defense official tells Situation Report.

Welcome to Friday'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.

There is frustration across the agencies and in Congress over Syria. Last week's announcement that the Obama administration would begin direct military aid to the Syrian opposition did little to help combat the impression among critics that the administration lacked a coherent strategy for Syria. As a result, the administration's policy on Syria seems to be very much a work in progress, with State reportedly pushing for airstrikes, the Pentagon less than enthusiastic, and other agencies frustrated that there is no clear vision for the way ahead. Thoughtful people agree there are few good options when it comes to White House policy on Syria. But what has made the problem worse, individuals on all sides say, is that the Syrian conflict has been unfolding for more than two years as the administration seemed to dither, hoping against hope that the rebels could overthrow the Assad regime all by themselves. That's allowed differences in opinion to spill into public view, and created an impression that the Obama administration lacks any coherent plan. "If you're going to be on the pointy end of the spear, regardless of where that is... knowing you're going in with the full political support of the national leadership is critical," one Congressional staffer told Situation Report. "Who can argue that that exists right now?"

And an administration official tells Situation Report there is frustration that there is no organization, no structure, to deal with the problem: "I really am saddened by the fact that 2 ½ years into this, we don't have an interagency task force that is effective, efficient and organized," said one administration official. Read the rest, here.

Meet Shelly O'Neill Stoneman, B.J. Garrison and Valerie Miller. The three serve in the Defense Department's White House Liaison Office (known as WHLO or "way-Lo" in Pentagon vernacular) and help to place some 280 political appointees in the department, from Senate-confirmed senior officials to SES appointees, action officers and special assistants appointed by the White House. In the normal "on-ramping, off-ramping" of appointees during transitions, like the one now still underway as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hits his stride, the office is expected to play a large role as it helps to identify candidates to fill in those slots. The WHLO is poised for power: its offices are on the third deck of the E-Ring, near the office suites of Hagel and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. "Both Secretary Panetta and now Secretary Hagel have increasingly relied on the WHLO to maintain continued, strong connectivity to the White House, particularly White House Cabinet Affairs, and to run innovative programs such as the Defense Fellows Program," we're told by a defense official. Shelly Stoneman, an SES appointee and special assistant to the Defense Secretary, has led the WHLO for the last two years. Stoneman came to the Pentagon in May 2011 after a stint at the White House's legislative affairs office, where she was responsible for defense and national security legislative matters, from the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, to detention policy reform, counterterrorism operations and cyber security. Bishop "B.J." Garrison, a former Army officer who served two one-year terms in Iraq, is WHLO's deputy, and Valerie Miller, a former Defense Fellow who worked on former secretary Bob Gates' advance team, is a special assistant in the office.

July 1 will be Susan Rice's first day as National Security Adviser. The Cable's John Hudson reports that Susan Rice will clean out her U.N. office in New York and head to D.C. to begin as NSA July 1. Hudson: "Meanwhile, the goodbye to staff for outgoing National Security Advisor Tom Donilon is a week from Friday. Technically, his last day is on Saturday, June 29. The national security advisor position doesn't necessarily bring with it a fiefdom of underlings: Rice will presumably hire an assistant and an executive assistant -- and there's no sign yet that current National Security Council deputies, Tony Blinken and Ben Rhodes, are going anywhere. ‘Ben and Tony are very close with Susan,' Tommy Vietor, former NSC spokesman, told The Cable recently."

Panetta expresses his condolences for the death of the man who played him on the big screen. Former SecDef Leon Panetta issued a statement to reporters through his former right-hand-man, Jeremy Bash, on the news that the actor James Gandolfini had died, of an apparent heart attack, in Italy, this week. Panetta: "James Gandolfini was a friend and a great actor. He wrote me after portraying me last year, which was a great thrill and honor. I told him I was glad an Italian played me - swear words and all.  We laughed together at the fact that tough guys can have a heart of gold.  He did, and we will miss him." Gandolfini, clearly most famous for his portrayal of troubled mob boss Tony Soprano, also played a subdued version of the gregarious Panetta in Zero Dark Thirty.

The defense attorney in the Taliban urination case wants Amos and other top brass to testify. The Marine Corps Times reports that a military judge will hear arguments today on a motion to have Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, Lt. Gen. Tom Waldhauser, now Hagel's senior military assistant, and Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, who heads the Corps' Combat Development Command, testify in the case in which Marines are charged with urinating on the bodies of insurgents killed in Afghanistan. Reporter Hope Hodge: "The motion was filed by attorney Guy Womack, who represents Sgt. Robert Richards, one of four Marine scout snipers filmed two years ago urinating on dead Taliban fighters. Womack said he believes [Amos] exerted unlawful command influence to prejudice Marines against his client even before formal charges were brought."

Out of uniform: Jim Stavridis, writing on FP, argues for why DOD needs a "cyber force." Recently retired former Supreme Allied Commander and European Command chief Jim Stavridis argues on FP for the creation of a new cyber force. Stavridis, who starts at Tufts' Fletcher School next month: Throughout the long decades of my military career, the backbone of U.S. national security was the "strategic triad" of delivery systems for nuclear weapons: ballistic-missile submarines and their associated nuclear-tipped missiles, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles operated from silos deep in the earth, and long-range manned bombers, which could deliver nuclear bombs and eventually nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

America's reliance on this Cold War triad continues through the present day, though the systems have changed somewhat as a result of both advances in technology and changes in treaty limits, most recently reflected in the New START treaty. As we sail more deeply into the turbulent 21st century, however, there is another triad that bears considering that will be a critical part of U.S. security in the decades to come. This new triad will be far less abstract and hidden-away than the Cold War strategic triad and much more frequently employed -- often in kinetic ways." And: "Finally, and potentially most powerfully, there is the world of offensive cyber capability that is just beginning to emerge. This part of the New Triad has the potential to operate with devastating effect, possibly able to paralyze an opponent's electric grid, transportation network, financial centers, energy supplies, and the like." Read the rest, here.

The NSA keeps your secrets. Killer Apps' Shane Harris and John Reed, on what the latest documents leaked show: "The National Security Agency has promised over and over again that it only spies on foreigners, and throws out ordinary communications if they're caught in the surveillance driftnet. But a pair of newly-leaked documents appear to undermine that claim. They include provisions that let the electronic spy agency hang onto some communications of Americans for several years - and in the meantime, allow the NSA to share information about U.S. citizens and legal residents to the CIA and the FBI. And if the government suspects that an American might commit a crime or spy for a foreign power some day, those records can be kept, too." Read the rest, here.

The skinny on China's interest in peace talks with the Taliban. The brouhaha this week over peace talks and Afghan President Hamid Karzai's suspending of them was a blow, albeit temporarily, to Washington. But it also represented a setback for Beijing. As Andrew Small writes on FP, China had welcomed the breakthrough in the Qatar process and sees political settlement in Afghanistan as critically important to its own economic and security interests in the region. Small: "As a result, China's support for reconciliation between Kabul and the Taliban has become a fixture of its burgeoning diplomatic activity on Afghanistan's post-2014 future. Over the last year, China has been expanding its direct contacts with the Taliban and sounding them out on security issues that range from separatist groups in the Chinese region of Xinjiang to the protection of Chinese resource investments, according to interviews with officials and experts in Beijing, Washington, Kabul, Islamabad, and Peshawar. While Beijing would like to see the reconciliation talks succeed in preventing Afghanistan from falling back into civil war, it is not counting on their success, and thus is preparing to deal with whatever constellation of political forces emerges in Afghanistan after the United States withdraws. "Read the rest, here.


  • NYT: Taliban talks could depend on detainees.
  • U.S. News: Protests could come from Army's search for new rifle.
  • Charles Clymer: Presidential appointee blasts West Point over sexual harassment.
  • The Atlantic: Snowden and Booz: how privatizing leads to crony corruption.



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." (

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.