National Security

Congress to investigate SEAL crash; Crocker on the Zero option as a strategy: “it is criminal;” Cliff notes for national security; a plan for MILSATCOM; Syria, in pics; Power, on (to the U.N.); and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold 

Congress is looking for answers in the crash that killed 30 Americans, including members of the elite SEAL Team 6. The Hill newspaper reports early this morning that Congress isn't happy with the answers the Pentagon has provided thus far on the deadly incident. "The victims' families say the Pentagon hasn't provided answers to their many questions about the deadly attack, which took place on Aug. 6, 2011, three months after Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by Team 6 forces.

Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on National Security, to The Hill: "We're going to dive into this."

"Chaffetz said he met with the victims' families about a month ago in what he described as an "emotional" gathering. He is poised to send questions to the Pentagon and may hold hearings on the matter. Charlie Strange, whose son Michael was among those killed, said he asked President Obama two years ago at Dover Air Force Base to fully investigate. The death toll in the crash was the largest of any single incident for the U.S. military during the Afghanistan war." Read the rest, here.

Three American soldiers dead in Afghanistan after a bombing that killed eight, in Wardak. "Although casualties among members of the international military coalition have decreased this year as the Afghans have taken the lead in fighting across the country, commanders have remained concerned about troop vulnerability as the fighting season and withdrawal operations have coincided. Wardak in particular has been troubled this year, as insurgents focus their energy on planning and executing attacks in neighboring Kabul. The province is a crucial channel to the capital for weapons and explosives smuggled by the Taliban." More here.

For the CIA, the drawdown in Afghanistan begins. The CIA has begun closing down clandestine bases across Afghanistan in a start of a drawdown from a region that the WaPo's Greg Miller terms "transformed the agency from an intelligence service struggling to emerge from the Cold War to a counter-terrorism force with its own prisons, paramilitary teams and armed Predator drones. Miller: "The pullback represents a turning point for the CIA as it shifts resources to other trouble spots. The closures were described by U.S officials as preliminary steps in a plan to reduce the number of CIA installations in Afghanistan from a dozen to as few as six over the next two years - a consolidation to coincide with the withdrawal of most U.S. military forces from the country by the end of 2014."

We know the "zero option" for Afghanistan, post-2014 is probably not on the table, as we reported here. But after a recent NYT story detailing the option, it remains a question. the WaPo published an editorial today, "Zero option: Zero sense," in which its kicker uses a quote from Ryan Crocker, as quoted by columnist Trudy Rubin. Crocker, on the zero option: "If it's a tactic, it is mindless; if it is a strategy, it is criminal."

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.

A different kind of shooter: amazing photography from Syria's front lines on FP. Click bait, here.

So she wasn't so controversial after all. Samantha Power's nomination to the U.N. passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday by a vote of 16-2. The Cable's John Hudson: "The vote clears the way for a final vote in the Senate, and signals a much easier confirmation process than many predicted, given Power's lengthy paper trail as a journalist and human rights advocate. After winning the president's nomination in June, critics dredged up a range of comments from Power's career, including her criticisms of U.S. assistance to Saddam Hussein when he gassed the Kurds; CIA-backed coups in Guatemala, Chile and Congo; and U.S. policy toward Palestine. But few of those hot-button comments inflicted damage on Power during confirmation hearings on the panel." More here.

Want Cliff Notes for the range of American security challenges? The Truman National Security Project thought so. Truman is out with its new "briefing book" today a book that Truman says, "provides a strong, smart, and principled way of considering the challenges and opportunities before us as well as a guide for future action." There's thoughtful chapters on the budget, energy and climate security, cybersecurity, "Al Qaeda in 2013," and one on the U.S. military. It also features chapters on Afghanistan, China, Iran, Pakistan and "Arab Countries in Transition." The Afghanistan chapter, for example, examines briefly the key issues facing the country: things like the election next year, the departure of coalition forces, the development of the Afghan security forces, etc., then provides a number of "policy landscape and recommendations," including how an immediate withdrawal from the country would risk returning Afghanistan to "chaos and lead to the death of those who stood with us," it says. "It would re-open Afghanistan to violent groups with transnational aims and abandon the Afghans who stood with us to help their country," the briefing book says. "Such abandonment would repeat the mistakes of the past." Click here to read the whole briefing book. 

Tonight at Truman, a launch party for the briefing book and a welcome to Doug Wilson, Truman's new (and only!) Senior Fellow in Residence.

If cyber-sabotage is so easy, why hasn't anyone crashed the grid? Writing on FP, Thomas Rid asks the question. Rid: "Hacking power plants and chemical factories is easy. I learned just how easy during a 5-day workshop at Idaho National Labs last month. Every month the Department of Homeland Security is training the nation's asset owners -- the people who run so-called Industrial Control Systems at your local wastewater plant, at the electrical power station down the road, or at the refinery in the state next door -- to hack and attack their own systems. The systems, called ICS in the trade, control stuff that moves around, from sewage to trains to oil. They're also alarmingly simply to break into. Now the Department of Homeland Security reportedly wants to cut funding for ICS-CERT, the Cyber Emergency Response Team for the nation's most critical systems."

The Pentagon needs a new satellite strategy.  The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment's Todd Harrison is out with a new report this morning offering six new recommendations for how to maintain "assured access" to satellite communications and protect troops in the face of the growing threats to those comms by players like China. But how to do it in a "resource-constrained" environment? Harrison asks. This gets wonky real fast, but he offers six ideas nonetheless: one, transition from today's two-tier MILSATCOM architecture to a three-tier architecture with a middle tier for tactical users; two, pivot to the Pacific in space by inviting regional allies like Japan, Australia and South Korea to be part of that middle tier to improve their capabilities and interoperability; three, avoid falling for an adversary's cost-imposing strategy by steering the competition in a more favorable direction; four, avoid new program starts by leveraging current programs like AEHF; five, do not force competition where it doesn't exist; and finally, consolidate military satellite communications programs, budgets and operations under one service "to create better alignment of authorities and budgets for MILSATCOM, reduce redundancy and overhead costs across the Services, and enable better control of MILSATCOM system synchronization."  The report is here.

Ash Carter winds up his trip overseas, today in Ethiopia. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who visited Israel, then Uganda, is now in Ethiopia. He will begin his day today in a meeting at the U.S. embassy with U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Donald Booth and key staff before then meeting with Gen. Yunus Samora, Ethiopia's Chief of Defense, at the Ethiopian National Defense headquarters. Later, Carter will sit down with Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Erastus Mwencha before winding things up with a visit with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.

Salmon alert: John Arquilla swims upstream with a piece on FP, "Why Iraq was America's Best-Run War." Arquilla: "It is an axiom that generals tend to fight the last war, but the truth is that, as often as not, they would like to forget the last war. Witness Vietnam, in the wake of which it took more than three decades for a new counterinsurgency manual to be written by General David Petraeus and others. Happily, the military waited only five years to commence work on an update of the Petraeus version. As this new effort unfolds, based on the latest experience in Afghanistan, it might prove useful to incorporate the kind of analysis that the late Harry Summers, a soldier and strategist par excellence, employed in his study of the debacle in Vietnam, published a scant seven years after the fall of Saigon. Given the fresh attention being focused on military options in Syria, as outlined in General Martin Dempsey's letter to the Senate on Monday, there is even more reason to remember Harry Summers."


  • Al-Monitor: (Rozen/The Back Channel): Puneet Talwar to become Assistant Sec-State of Political-Military Affairs.
  • Pro Publica: Army admits thousands of war records are missing.  
  • Defense News: Interview with Lockheed's Marillyn Hewson.
  • Small Wars: A return to core competencies: an argument for a balanced approach.
  • LA Times: Unemployment among vets drops sharply.




National Security

Mattis to Dartmouth, Stanford; Syria could cost a billion a month; What Dempsey could have said at the hearing; Navy launches transparency offensive; Is the U.S. fighting a secret war in Somalia?; Stabbing her way out of a PT test; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Dempsey says that military options for Syria could cost as much as a billion dollars per month. Using lethal force to strike high-value targets inside Syria would require hundreds of U.S. aircraft, ships and submarines, while establishing a no-fly zone would cost as much as a billion dollars per month over the course of a year, according to a new analysis of military options there by the nation's top military officer. Another option, in which the U.S. attempts to control Syria's chemical weapons stock, would first require thousands of special operations forces and other ground forces, wrote Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey.

Under pressure to publicly provide his views on military intervention in Syria, Dempsey told Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin in a memo released yesterday what most people already knew: there are few good options. But for the first time, Dempsey provided an analysis of each option and its cost, providing new fodder for thinking about a conflict that has waged for more than two years, killed nearly 100,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.

Dempsey outlined five options, including training, advising and assisting the opposition; conducting limited stand-off strikes; establishing a no-fly zone; creating a buffer zone to protect certain areas inside Syria; and finally, how to control Syria's chemical weapons. Any of those options would likely "further the narrow military objective of helping the opposition and placing more pressure on the regime," Dempsey wrote. But any or all of them could slip the U.S. into another new war. "We have learned from the past 10 years, however, that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state," Dempsey wrote Levin in the memo, a copy of which was released publicly. "We must anticipate and be prepared for the unintended consequences of our action." Read Dempsey's analysis of the Syrian problem, in his letter to Levin, here.

A classified briefing the Pentagon provided to senior Senate staffers told them what one said many on the Hill already suspected: the White House doesn't have a plan. The Pentagon held a briefing for senior Senate staffers early last week in which it became clear, according to one who attended the meeting, that the guidance the Pentagon is receiving from the White House on Syria is simply unclear. As the Pentagon, and Dempsey in particular, remain on the hot seat on Syria, some on the Hill believe the White House has left them twisting in the wind. "There's no clear solution because there is no policy" from the White House, the staffer told Situation Report.

What should Dempsey have done at the hearing last week? Thursday's hearing in which Dempsey got into a heated exchange with Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, prompting, in part, the memo on Syria, probably could have been avoided, senior officers, officials and others say. Some believed Dempsey did the right thing by taking a stand, refusing to be bullied into providing a public answer on a sensitive topic. Others think he came off as arrogant, even cocky, at one point firing a question back at McCain  - something that is rarely done. Senior officers, experts and other observers all believe that Dempsey's number one job was to obey what anyone will tell you is the Golden Rule of confirmations: don't filibuster, don't grandstand and get confirmed. If Dempsey was being asked an uncomfortable question he couldn't avoid, he should have politely asked to answer it in private session, they say. Said one, to Situation Report, regarding the standard question all officers are asked about providing their personal opinions: "Military leaders, when they answer that question ... in the affirmative, they are absolutely committing themselves to providing their personal views to members of Congress." But those personal views aren't always appropriate for a public setting such as a confirmation hearing, the officer said, and Dempsey did the right thing - even if he didn't do it in the right way. "In my view, it was not inappropriate for Dempsey to withhold his views in that particular setting." Others agree, too. Some officials who are familiar with the process of preparing for testimony say commanders should be able to retain their best military advice for their commander-in-chief - not the public or members of Congress. Dempsey wasn't "appointed to give advice to Congress, nor does he feel compelled to tell, in advance, what his advice and views are to anyone besides the president," said another official to Situation Report. Read the rest of our piece, 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.

Jim Mattis has signed on with Dartmouth and Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Former Central Command commander Jim "Chaos" Mattis will not, so far as we can see, be cashing in right away. Instead, we can report this morning, he is headed to Dartmouth, where he will be a Distinguished Visitor at the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding, starting in late September or early October. Dan Benjamin, the former counterterrorism official, got to know Mattis while he was at Central Command and then asked him to Dartmouth. The program will add a bit of practical thinking to global challenges, bringing internationally known practitioners and scholars to Dartmouth for two weeks at a time this fall to interact with students and faculty. Mattis has also just signed on as a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, Situation Report is also told.

Engage! Speaking of Mattis, he told CNN from the Aspen Security Forum that it was time to engage Iran's new leadership in under-reported remarks there. Mattis, thought to have been hawkish on Iran - and perhaps one of the reasons why he seemed to leave Central Command some months early - spoke on CNN from the Aspen Security Forum last week. Mattis, on whether newly elected President Hassan Rowhani is a moderate: "I don't believe he is a moderate but that would not moderate my support for engaging with him and exhausting all alternatives at this point... Check and see if he can find some maneuver space ...I don't think he will get much... where he might be able to walk the nuclear weapons program back...Try it, talk with him, have very modest expectations... but at least try."

Is the U.S. engaging a secret war in Somalia? FP's Colum Lynch: "The Obama administration earlier this year expanded its secret war in Somalia, stepping up assistance for federal and regional Somali intelligence agencies that are allied against the country's Islamist insurgency. It's a move that's not only violating the terms of an international arms embargo, according to U.N. investigators. The escalation also could be a signal that Washington's signature victory against al-Qaeda's most powerful African ally may be in danger of unraveling. Just last year, Obama's team was touting Somalia as unqualified success. Now, according to a report by the U.N. Monitoring Group for Somalia and Eritrea, "the military strength of al-Shabaab, with an approximately 5,000-strong force, remains arguably intact in terms of operational readiness, chain of command, discipline and communications ability... By avoiding direct military confrontation, it has preserved the core of its fighting force and resources." Read the rest here.

Wait, wuh? Air Force Times headline: "Former Staff Sergeant Stabbed to Avoid PT Test," by Oriana Pawlyk. Her lede: A former staff sergeant at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., tried to get out of her physical training test by recruiting someone to stab her in the stomach." Read the rest, here.

Hagel to VFW: Four principles: Prioritize DOD's mission, maximize military combat power, preserve and strengthen military readiness and honor the service and sacrifice of "our people." Hagel, to the VFW, yesterday in Louisville, Ky.: "America must always have a strong, capable, and ready military, a military that is always prepared to defend our national interests.  But fulfilling that obligation now and in the future will require us to fundamentally reshape defense institutions that were designed for different strategic and budgetary realities and times..."

Hagel, on sequestration: "Sequestration is an irresponsible process, and it is terribly damaging. I hope that our leaders in Washington will eventually come to policy resolution, a resolution that stops sequestration.  But all of us who have the responsibility of leading our Defense Department cannot lead the Department of Defense based on hope, based on ‘we think,' based on ‘maybe.' We have to prepare our institution for whatever comes.  To that end, these cuts are forcing us to make tough but necessary decisions to prioritize missions and capabilities around our core responsibility, which is the security of our country."

On readiness: "Readiness cuts aren't always visible, but these cuts are having and will continue to have very damaging effects.  During a visit to Fort Bragg last week, I heard from infantrymen whose units were short on training rounds for their weapons.  Each of the services has curtailed activities - flying hours have been reduced, ships are not sailing, and Army training has been halted.  These kinds of gaps and shortages could lead to a force that is inadequately trained, ill-equipped, and unable to fulfill required missions."

On tooth-to-tail: "An organization of the Department's size and complexity will always require a back-office.  But every dollar we spend on large staffs, large headquarters, and overhead, or facilities that we don't need, is a dollar that we don't have available to spend on readiness, training, and equipment for our troops - or on sustaining other vital programs that help to support our people and their families."

On those who have made sacrifices: "Chairman Dempsey has correctly observed that the country is now at a defining time in our relationship with our newest generation of veterans.  He's correct.  Despite the many challenges facing our defense enterprise, we will get through this together and be stronger in the end - but only if we are prepared and willing to make wise and difficult decisions and be much more disciplined about setting our priorities." Read the whole speech, here.

Hagel is on leave this week, a vacation with his family.

Dempsey is winding up a trip overseas. Today he is in Warsaw, where he was met by the CHOD and an honor guard at the airport after stops in Afghanistan earlier this week. Later today, Dempsey will meet with the DCM and Polish officials.

Ash Carter met with Israeli senior security officials yesterday. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter was there to "reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the unprecedented security cooperation between the United States and Israel," and to discuss Syria and Iran, according to a readout from Pentagon pressec George Little yesterday. Carter met with Defense Minister Moshe "Boogie" Ya'alon, National Security Adviser Maj. Gen. Yaakov Amidror (retired) and other senior officials; Carter was hosted by the Director General of the Ministry of Defense, Maj. Gen. Udi Shani, also retired.

We demoted Ash Carter. In yesterday's edition, we inadvertently called him a "deputy assistant secretary of Defense," when of course he's not. Carter is the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the Pentagon's No. 2. Apologies. Hashtag weknowbetter.

The Ten Percenters: the Navy has begun publishing the results of special and general courts-martial, to include sexual assault cases. It's an effort to increase transparency. Rear Adm. John Kirby, U.S. Navy Chief of Information, on an online video - "The idea here is to show the judicial system is working, we are prosecuting these crimes, and that we're able and willing to be transparent about what the results are... It's really about being accountable and transparent about a very serious problem and a very diligent judicial process in the Navy." First batch, January-June 2013, here. Navy story, here.

Is the U.S. buying weapons with "enemy access" built right in? Maybe. FP's John Reed, just back from the Aspen Security Forum, reports on U.S. weapons buying and the "back doors" they contain: Reed: "It's bad enough that U.S. intelligence officials are constantly discovering new plans to insert spyware and back doors into the Defense Department's supply chain. But what may be worse is that American analysts are only discovering indirect evidence of this infiltration, according to a senior DOD intelligence official. The back doors themselves remain maddeningly hard to find. ‘Our adversaries are very active in trying to introduce material into the supply chain in ways that threaten our security from the standpoint of their abilities to collect [intelligence] and disrupt' U.S. military operations, said David Shedd, deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency during a speech at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado on July 19. DIA is finding more and more plots to deliver these parts through front companies that are "the instrument of the hostile service that's guiding and directing them," Shedd told Killer Apps during the forum. ‘My concern is that our adversaries -- and they're multiple in the supply chain context -- have been very active for a very long time...We're finding things, not in the supply chain itself but plans and intentions through' front companies posing as legitimate DOD parts suppliers." Read the rest here.

What are the next steps for missile defense? Glad you asked. Today the Foreign Policy Initiative hosts Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the Republican from New Hampshire, and Trey Obering, the retired Air Force three-star, for a talk about missile defense with FPI's Chris Griffin, at 2:30  in the Senate's Dirksen building. Deets here.

SIGAR suspects the U.S. spent $1 million on Afghan contractors to install IED-busting systems in culverts in Afghanistan - but they are either not functioning or may never have been installed. SIGAR issued a report this morning raising the concern. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko: "In October 2012, SIGAR issued a safety alert letter informing DOD of the results of our preliminary investigation, which found that Afghan contractors either had failed to properly install culvert denial systems, rendering those systems ineffective and susceptible to compromise by insurgents, or did not install them at all. Our preliminary investigation found that at least two Afghan contractors-with a total contract amount of nearly $1 million-in one Afghanistan province have committed fraud by billing the U.S. government for the installation of 250 culvert denial systems that were either never installed or incorrectly installed. The ongoing investigation is looking into whether this apparent failure to perform may have been a factor in the death or injury of several U.S. soldiers. To date, an Afghan contractor and his sub-contractor have both been arrested and charged with fraud and negligent homicide. Our investigators are working with the Afghan Attorney General's Office to arrest the second contractor." Read the rest here.