Situation Report

Hagel proposes 20 percent cut to headquarters; SecDef, grounded: Navy Won, Air Force, Zero; Mundy to 1st MEB; North Koreans try to sugarcoat it; For the CIA, digital is the new black; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

The Pentagon is starting to touch the third rail of budgetary spending: military compensation, retirement and benefits spending. As Chuck Hagel completes his "listening tour" of troops and their families, a quiet effort has begun to review military retirement and compensation that will grow louder as its work begins to surface. Hagel is finishing up his domestic road trip today, visiting airmen at Charleston Air Force Base, S.C., and then Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Hagel, we're told, wants to hear from troops and families about the challenges they face during a period of shrinking budgets. He's listening but he's also starting slowly to float the idea that compensation benefits and even retirement plans may have to be pared back in order to make the Pentagon's ledgers add up. Personnel costs alone cost the services between 55 and 65 percent of their budgets and rising - a fact the Pentagon brass say they've been saddled with for years. But now as budgets tighten, it's a fact that can't be ignored.  

A group takes form. Earlier this month, a group called the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, created under the fiscal 2013 defense bill, held an organizational meeting. It's a little-known group that has been given a tremendous task: to review the existing benefits package for service members and recommend changes. The group will be seen as a failure if it doesn't suggest serious ways to reign in benefits spending. And even as budget cuts look at trimming the number of personnel within at least some of the services, the Pentagon leadership is looking for other ways to create a more financially sustainable Defense Department. "I think this could be an extremely important mission, assuming Congress listens to it," said one official familiar with the group. Read more about this including who's on the new group, below.

Hagel yesterday ordered a big cut to brass and senior civilians. The Pentagon chief announced yesterday that he would make a 20 percent cut in the number of top brass and senior civilians at the Pentagon's Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff and service headquarters over the next six years. This could mean dropping as many as 5,000 jobs in a Pentagon that was considered increasingly top heavy - a vestige of a dozen years of war - and the spending that went with it. Initial estimates of the kinds of savings it would produce run as high as $2 billion. Pentagon Press Secretary George Little, in a statement: "Personnel reductions associated with these savings will be determined during the development of detailed execution plans. Secretary Hagel's announcement is based on the work of the Strategic Choices and Management Review, which scrutinized the Department's spending priorities and determined that these headquarters reductions should be pursued now, regardless of future fiscal circumstances. These cuts will be implemented even if Congress lifts sequester-level budget caps."

Retired Marine Gen. Arnie Punaro, to the WaPo's Craig Whitlock: "It's all relative for a bureaucracy that has hardly been touched by a human hand over the past decade... but a 20 percent cut is pretty dramatic."

First in a series? This is one of the first big announcements by Hagel drawn from the work of the strategic review, or SMCR, and may be a sign that Hagel will begin to roll out more results of the review process, which is perceived to be less than transparent both in and outside of the Pentagon.

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.

For the CIA, digital is the new black (bag). Writing on FP, Matthew Aid has a great tale about when computer hacking just won't do, there are teams of CIA operatives who, when necessary, break into the computer of those it needs to watch. "During a coffee break at an intelligence conference held in The Netherlands a few years back, a senior Scandinavian counterterrorism official regaled me with a story. One of his service's surveillance teams was conducting routine monitoring of a senior militant leader when they suddenly noticed through their high-powered surveillance cameras two men breaking into the militant's apartment. The target was at Friday evening prayers at the local mosque. But rather than ransack the apartment and steal the computer equipment and other valuables while he was away -- as any right-minded burglar would normally have done -- one of the men pulled out a disk and loaded some programs onto the resident's laptop computer while the other man kept watch at the window. The whole operation took less than two minutes, then the two trespassers fled the way they came, leaving no trace that they had ever been there. It did not take long for the official to determine that the two men were, in fact, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operatives conducting what is known in the U.S. intelligence community as either a "black bag job" or a "surreptitious entry" operation."

Aid writes more: "The CIA's clandestine service is now conducting these sorts of black bag operations on behalf of the NSA, but at a tempo not seen since the height of the Cold War. Moreover, these missions, as well as a series of parallel signals intelligence (SIGINT) collection operations conducted by the CIA's Office of Technical Collection, have proven to be instrumental in facilitating and improving the NSA's SIGINT collection efforts in the years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks." Read the rest, here.

A Corps up-and-comer? Brig. Gen. Carl Mundy is on his way. The Marine one-star will become commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade today, the Corps announced. Mundy, well regarded by many in and outside of the Corps, has been walking a chosen path. Mundy, the son of the Corps' 30th Commandant, Gen. Carl Mundy, Jr. was most recently the X-O to Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command; before that, he served Gen. Jim Mattis at CENTCOM.

The Cubans seem to sugarcoat an arms shipment to North Korea. The NYT's Rick Gladstone and David Sanger: It started with a tip: that a rusty North Korean freighter, which had not plied the Caribbean in years, was carrying drugs or arms amid more than 200,000 sacks of Cuban brown sugar. It ended with a five-day, eventually violent standoff between Panamanian marines and 35 North Korean crew members, armed largely with sticks, who were subdued and arrested while their captain, claiming he was having a heart attack, tried to commit suicide. Underneath all that sugar, it turned out, were parts for what appeared to be elements of an antiquated Soviet-era missile radar system that was headed, evidently, to North Korea - a country that usually exports missile technology around the world, rather than bringing it in." Read the rest, here.

SIGAR: A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released contractors who built a flimsy project. Again. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction released a report this morning that says that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to hold contractors accountable after building the Sheberghan Teacher Training Facility in Jawzjan province. An Iraqi firm, Mercury Development, was awarded $2.9 million in 2009 to build three teacher training facilities - one of which was to be located in Sheberghan in Jawzjan and remains, four years after it was begun, incomplete. In an e-mailed statement from the SIGAR office, on the project: "Its history is one of broken promises and undelivered results.  Additionally, the report identifies a disturbing trend in which the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) fails to hold contractors accountable for completing the work they were paid to perform. "Read the rest of the SIGAR report, here.

Democrat Adam Smith talks foreign assistance and national security, Friday. Smith, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, talks about how foreign assistance preserves and promotes American national security, at USIP Friday morning. Deets here.

The Pentagon's fancy footwork on sexual assault? Politico's Darren Samuelsohn and Anna Palmer: The country's most senior military commanders filed into a Capitol Hill hearing room in June, sat in front of TV cameras and promised to stamp out military sexual assault - a problem Army chief of staff Gen. Ray Odierno called "a cancer." "We can and will do better," Odierno told the senators. But privately, Pentagon lawyers and advisers were trying to limit just how much they'd have to do. Over the past three months, Pentagon lawyers and legislative officials met with senior lawmakers and aides, including the Senate Armed Services Committee staff director and its top lawyer, to persuade them to shut down a movement led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to take the chain of command out of sexual assault cases." More here.

Hagel ran into Jesse Jackson. Hagel was in Jacksonville, Fla., having coffee at a hotel with city officials when he saw Jackson, in town for a conference. Then Hagel, increasingly comfortable in the job and often speaks off the cuff, ran upstairs and jumped onstage to say hello to the crowd assembled for the conference, the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials. Hagel said, in part: "I want to thank all of you for what you do for our country.  We are one country.  We're trying to make it work.  We have responsibilities to all of our people, and our biggest responsibility, as you all know so well because your lives have been focused on this and about this, is preparing our next generation in every way we can, whether it's transportation, national security, education.  But we nourish our young people, and hopefully there is one principal objective that we all have, and that's to make a better world for all people."

SecDef, grounded: Navy won, Air Force zero. It's always at least minor news when the plane on which the Defense Secretary is traveling has mechanical issues. A new plane is brought, the other one is dragged shamefully away to the repair hangar, its nosecone in its proverbial hands. But yesterday's news of plane troubles for Chuck Hagel, visiting troops at Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Fla., brought a little service rivalry flavor. The C-40 Hagel and his entourage were riding in experienced a problem when the plane, an Air Force jet, broke down and was replaced with one of the Navy's six new P-8s. A senior defense official put it in sports terms, saying the Air Force was playing "an away game" at Naval Air Station Jacksonville. "You've gotta be on your toes when you're on the other team's home turf," the official told Situation Report via e-mail. "Of course, at a major Navy installation, there a lots of planes to choose from."

Inshallah: The Air Force will have its chance to shine once again today with a repaired C-40 - or another Air Force aircraft to ferry Hagel and his gang safely back to Andrews. "Charleston is home field advantage for the Air Force, so permission to land shouldn't be a problem," the defense official said.

Military compensation review group begins its work, con't. The challenge, of course, is to make intelligent trims of the Pentagon's compensation package without breaking faith with service members who entered the military based on a certain set of promises of what those benefits would be. "The issue is how do you ensure that people are being treated properly and that the commitments are kept - and at the same time we don't eat into the other accounts to where we have a seriously weak [military] capability?"

The group is short on public details about just what specifically is on its agenda, but its work will become central to Pentagon thinking in the months ahead. It's likely that the group will provide some input to the White House and to Congress later this year; officially, its deadline is May 1, 2014.

The success or failure of this group may hinge on whether the huge number of powerful veteran advocacy groups dig their heels in to stop any reform of personnel spending - or get on board to have a hand in that reform. But both Congress and the White House - neither branch eager to be seen as cutting military personnel programs - will have to find a politically palatable way to change the military compensation system or, experts say, any attempt to change it will surely fail. For now, though, the commission's job will be to do its homework and ensure that it can justify what programs it will look at tweaking. "There are a lot of programs," said the individual familiar with the group, "so the question is which do you touch and what do you leave alone and why did you leave that alone and why did you decide to touch the ones you touch?"

Commission Chairman: Alphonso Maldon, Jr. Other members: Former Sens. Larry Pressler and Bob Kerrey; Former Reps. Chris Carney and Stephen Buyer; Dov Zakheim, Mike Higgins, Pete Chiarelli and Ed Giambastiani, Jr. MOAA's quick bio of each, here.

Syria, Year Three

  • Al-Monitor: Aleppo starves under siege. 
  • U.S. News: Syrian refugee crisis destabilizes Jordan.
  • NYT: Ruins in a center of Syria's uprising. 

Afghanistan, Year 12

  • RT: UK police implicated in U.S. Senate's "kill list."
  • AP: At least 2,112 military deaths in Afghanistan since 2001.
  • Forbes: The gendered impact of Afghanistan's drug crisis.

The Pivot

Defense News: U.S. Pacific shift has heavy logistics price tag.
WSJ: Japanese minister says country to bolster its defenses.
USA Today: Seized missile radars on North Korean ship a threat to aircraft.   


National Security

Petraeus gets a salary cut; Is the Pentagon staging a contest for chemical weapons in Syria?; The AF: Like a Phoenix; Soccer balls for Syrian refugees; Command authority and sexual assault cases gets a boost; China, Russia militaries busy; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

From the Department of Petraeus' Resurrection comes this this morning: The City University of New York, which had jumped at the chance to hire former CIA director David Petraeus, just dropped his salary to just $1 after faculty and politicians criticized the salary as exceeding others. After a possible cover up by the school about the issue, it was revealed by a FOIA requested by Gawker that his original salary was to be about $200,000 for three hours of work per week - and about eight times that of any other adjunct professor. Today, the NYT reports that CUNY has dropped his salary to $1. Robert Barnett, to the Times: "The general never was taking on this teaching assignment for the money." Read the rest, here.

Speaking of Gawker, they have this, too: A 61-year-old Navy from Florida vet woke up earlier this year in a California hospital saying his name is Johan and speaking only Swedish. Read it, here.

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.

Is the Pentagon holding a contest to make Syria's chem weapons disappear? Unclear. But according to John Ismay, writing on FP, on May 24, an anonymous party posted an odd challenge online in which $50,000 was offered to anyone who can destroy or neutralize large amounts of chemical munitions. Ismay: "The proposal, made on the crowdsourcing website InnoCentive, was odd in a number of ways. First, Innocentive usually asks for ideas on how to solve technical problems, not military ones. Second, the wording of the offer strongly suggests that it was made by someone in the U.S. government who is looking for ways to deal with the Syrian chemical weapons program."

And: "In the InnoCentive challenge, an unnamed ‘Seeker' asks for ideas on novel approaches to tackling the ‘demilitarization, destruction, or neutralization of a hypothetical stockpile of chemical warfare agents.' The approximate size of this stockpile: 1,500 tons, which roughly correlates to the U.S. government's estimates of the Bashar al-Assad regime's chemical arsenal. According to the proposal: "This size and mobility issues makes it exceedingly difficult to rapidly treat ... without either having to build a dedicated facility at the location of the agents (a slow, difficult, and very costly option using current designs) or having to transport the agents to an existing remediation facility (creating the possibility for release of the agents in transport)." Read it all here.

Like a Phoenix: Air Force fighter jet squadrons, and the Thunderbirds, are flying once again. The Washington Times' Kristina Wong and others reported yesterday that the Air Force's Thunderbirds, grounded by budget cuts, are flying once again, along with a number of other grounded fighter and bomber squadrons. Wong: "The decision comes after Congress approved a Pentagon request to reprogram about $7.5 billion from lower priority programs to more urgent ones. As a result, the Air Force has $208 million to restart about 16 combat units that had been grounded, such as the 1st Fighter Wing based at the Langley Air Force Base in Virginia." We wrote about the grounded planes in Europe, here. We wrote about the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds, here.

Here's a question: did military investigators investigate sexual assaults across the military the right way? Here's an answer from the DOD Inspector General: sometimes but not always. The DOD IG's reported yesterday that showed that 89 percent of "military criminal investigative organizations," like NCIS or others, "met or exceeded" the investigative standards. On the other hand, 11 percent of cases were returned to those "MCIOs" for corrective action.

The DOD IG recommends that investigative unit leaders improve crime scene processing, evidence collection, supervision and documentation to reduce deficiencies; it also recommends evaluating policy on collecting clothes after a sexual assault, better and more timely notification of judge advocates at the start of sexual assault cases, and evaluate existing policy regarding the timely completion of record checks, according to a summary. "Overall, the Commander, CID, agreed with our recommendations. The Director, NCIS, and the Commander, AFOSI, agreed in part with our recommendations, but objected to our assessment in a number of areas in the report." The full report, here.

Strange bedfellows: Politico reported at 12:01 a.m. this morning that conservative Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are backing a measure sponsored by Democrat Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to remove the chain of command from military sexual assault cases. That gives Gillibrand and others who support the measure conservative cover on the move that the uniformed military is fighting hard to prevent. Presser today on the Hill. More here.

He's no longer a "five-star." Late last week, Marine Lt. Gen. Robert "Boomer" Milstead, Jr., relinquished two of his stars. Now he's just a three-star. It's kind of a joke: Milstead, the Corps' deputy commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs has also been covering as the head of Marine Corps Recruiting Command, a two-star billet. We're told he had joked about being a "five star" (three stars plus two stars = five, get it?). But on Friday, a new MCRC commander was sworn in and Milstead returned to his three-star job at Manpower.

But he's the new three-star - at JIEDDO. Lt. Gen. John Johnson was just sworn in Monday as the new director for the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, the Pentagon organization charged with ridding the battlefield of IEDs - or at least mitigating their impact. Johnson replaces Lt. Gen. Mike Barbero, who retired. Johnson heads JIEDDO at a critical time - as the war winds down and budgets constrain even the most critical missions - its future is uncertain. Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber reported earlier this month that the Pentagon is considering three scenarios for JIEDDO: break it up into smaller pieces, restructure it into a smaller office - or eliminate it altogether.

The Chinese have infantry guys on the ground in Africa. Again. FP's John Reed: "395 peacekeepers from the People's Liberation Army just arrived in the Saharan nation of Mali as part of the U.N. mission to help restore order there. Specifically, Beijing has sent engineering, medical and "guard" teams to the Malian capital of Bamako, according to the Chinese defense ministry. These troops are reportedly part of the PLA's 16th Army, a formation comprised of infantry, armor and artillery divisions. China traditionally sends thousands of engineering, medical and other support troops on U.N. missions each year. Of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, China is the largest manpower contributor to U.N. peacekeeping missions." Read the rest, here.

Meanwhile, Russia's military is busy, too. FP's Elias Groll: "No one seems to be paying much attention, but in the seas off the coast of Japan, the wilderness of Siberia, and little towns north of Moscow, the Russian military is currently engaged in a massive training blitz. On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a snap military exercise in the country's Far East, deploying 160,000 troops, 1,000 tanks, 130 aircraft, and 70 ships. If those sound like big numbers, that's because they are -- the exercise has been described as Russia's largest since the fall of the Soviet Union. But that's not the whole story. Last week, Russia engaged in an unprecedented naval exercise with China that included live-fire drills and the crown jewel of the Russian Navy's Pacific fleet -- the guided-missile cruiser Varyag. Read the rest, here.

ICYMI: Incredible war photography at the Corcoran in Washington. NPR's story, here. Deets about the exhibition, here.

Defense One, Atlantic Media's foray into covering national security issues in a bigger way, is live today. Atlantic Media is trying to elbow its way into a crowded field of well-established niche pubs covering defense and national security issues with a  "disruptive" approach to the beat. Atlantic today is launching "Defense One" in what our former colleague Kevin Baron, now executive editor there, described as being "reporting, analysis, bold ideas" in a Tweet this morning. Of course we wish Kevin and his team -including Stephanie Gaskell (a.k.a. "Defense Two") well, of course. But also: see you in the  funny papers! We kid. Kevin's piece on Egypt, here and Stephanie's piece on Afghanistan, here.

It's soccer balls for Syria. As criticism grows increasingly pointed at U.S. policy in Syria, there's a small State Department program that's hard to impugn. State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, part of the Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, has provided a $50,000 grant to send coaches and trainers to the Za'atri refugee camp in Jordan to teach Syrian kids soccer and citizenship - and how to look for unexploded munitions. A humanitarian group, Spirit of Soccer, and the Arab Mine Action Consultancy Company, or AMACC, is working inside Za'atri - which has swelled to about 120,000 refugees, half of whom are children under the age of 17- to teach munition awareness through soccer. So far, more than 8,000 "at-risk boys and girls" have participated in the program, we're told. Assistant Secretary of State (Acting) Tom Kelly to Situation Report: "Clearly, there's a huge need for this in Syria right now. Both in the border areas, but eventually, these kids are going to go back with their families into Syria. Potentially, there is going to be a lot of this nasty stuff lying around."

Scotty Lee, who founded Spirit of Soccer after being inspired by his time in the Balkans in the 1990s, says his program in Jordan is run by coaches who know the region, the complexities of local tribes and families - and who definitely know soccer. They in turn instill in the children a sense of what an athlete is and the kind of "sports heroes" those communities need to nurture in order to persevere.

"By creating those strong role models within the community, you create organized soccer, but create an environment for health and safety," he said, "but also messages of tolerance and fair play. And these are the basic foundations you need in society in which to operate."

He added that his coaches are religiously diverse, he said, including Shiites, Christians, Sunnis and Kurds. "Politically, they couldn't get together to make a cup of coffee," Lee said. "Yet when they get around a soccer ball, everything's forgotten."

And if you wonder what it's like in the refugee camps, Lee will tell you: it's desperate. Lee, who travels the world for his passion, talks about the refugee camps in Jordan in which "400 people are sharing one toilet," and each and every person there "has seen horrific things." Imagine, he said, living in your house when you hear a knock at the door and someone's standing outside to tell you you've got five minutes to get out - maybe for good. "Now you're 500 kilometers away in the desert in a country that doesn't really want you and you're in a tent and there are like 15 of you sharing that tent that is the size of your shed." Prince Ali's Spirit of Soccer speech, here.

Food for thought on veterans organizations. Our item yesterday about former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen's remarks about there being too many vets organizations - undermining their effectiveness - prompted one reader of a veteran organization to say, in effect, "huzzah." They like it when someone like Mullen brings up what they termed "an uncomfortable truth." They also noted that there are fewer veterans organizations than what we reported yesterday (59,000, according to a book about charities) and actually only about 41,340. Here's a report from May from the Center for New American Security on the issue: Click here. And if you're really interested, here's Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families' proposal to consolidate and streamline efforts on behalf of veterans. Click here for that.