National Security

Not so fast: House fails to rein in NSA; Abe Abrams to Hagel’s front office; Help still wanted in the Pentagon; Salmon alert: slow down on the F-35; Today: A Little guidance on DOD public affairs; Weiner to the AF? and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold 

The House approved a spending bill that would give the Pentagon about $600 billion next year, and it killed a measure aimed to rein in NSA surveillance programs. And, it prohibits funding for Egypt, Syria. Defense News' John Bennett: "The chamber's 2014 defense appropriations bill, approved on a 315-109 vote, includes about $512.5 billion for the Pentagon's base budget and around $82 billion for overseas operations. The base budget figure is about $3 billion less than the White House requested. Some of the most dramatic moments of the two days of floor debates came late Wednesday afternoon when the House addressed amendments to limit the National Security Agency's controversial spying program, place restrictions on US aid to Egypt, and put strings on dollars eligible for use to pay for a Syria military intervention. Members sparred for nearly a half-hour over the most-anticipated amendment of the process, offered by tea party GOP Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan and liberal Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, as well as other members. Republicans bashed Republicans, further exposing a divide that began in 2010 between the parties' tea party privacy hawks and the old-school national security hawks. But Democrats joined the privacy side arguing for the Amash amendment; and in a twist, conservative Rep. Michele Bachman, R-Minn., defended President Barack Obama's use of the NSA programs." Read the rest, here.

There was some other stuff in the bill, too. The House defense bill also stops the Pentagon from training Afghans to fly Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters, Inside Defense reported, and it prohibits more furloughs for civilian workers. The bill included an amendment that passed that was submitted by Reps. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, and Jim Moran, the Democrat from Virginia, that states that no funds "may be obligated or expended to train the Afghan National Security Forces Special Mission Wing to operate or maintain Mi-17 helicopters," Inside Defense reported. "The House ‘has again made clear its objection to continued Pentagon purchases of helicopters from the Russian arms dealer Rosoboronexport for the Afghan [SMW]," according to a statement from DeLauro's office. And, the bill bars furloughs for civilian workers in 2014, Army Times reported. Rick Maze: "Passed by voice vote as an amendment to the 2014 defense appropriations bill, the legislation sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., prohibits the Defense Department from spending any money to implement civilian furloughs beginning Oct. 1, 2013. Lamborn said the vote is ‘a first step toward restoring sanity to the defense budget and restoring pay to our nation's civilian defense workers.'"

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 right way versus the wrong way: Amid the Pentagon's budget crunch, there will be more talk of reforming the military's retirement system. The Strategic Studies Institute of the Army's War College is out with some ideas about how to make changes to the military retirement system - all of which seems inevitable, in some way - but doing so smartly.. A synopsis, here (thanks Doctrine Man, for the point-out on FB):  "The current military retirement system has been integral to sustaining the All Volunteer Force (AVF). Mounting federal budget challenges, however, have raised concern that the program may become fiscally unsustainable. While several restructuring proposals have emerged, none have considered the implications of these changes to the broader issue of manning an AVF. Changes to the existing system could create military personnel shortfalls, adversely affect service member and retiree well-being, and reduce public confidence in the Armed Forces. With the right analytical framework in place, however, a more holistic system restructuring is possible, one that avoids these negative effects while significantly reducing costs. A comprehensive framework is provided, as well as a proposal that stands to benefit both service members in terms of value and the military in terms of overall cost savings." Actually read the report, by Roy Wallace, Lt. Col. David Lyle and John Smith, here.

Thems are fightin' words:  thinking differently on the F-35. Third Way is out with a paper later today that argues for some common sense when it comes to an acquisition program that could top $1.5 trillion. Third Way's Ben Freeman and Mieke Eoyang argue for ending "concurrency in acquisition in testing" and for slowing down purchases of the F-35 until the plane can be fully tested. "There is no immediate threat to the U.S. that justifies buying more F-35s before testing is complete," the report says. "Our current fleet of fighters is superior to any force on the planet, both in numbers and capabilities. The Air Force has over 100 operational F-22s, the most-technologically superior aircraft currently operated by any nation, and hundreds of upgraded fourth-generation aircraft that rival any foreign aircraft fleet." Read the report here.

Abe Abrams, soon to be in as Hagel's top military assistant.  Maj. Gen. Robert "Abe" Abrams - that's right, the son of that Gen. Abrams - is moving on up, Situation Report has learned. Fresh from his tour in southern Afghanistan with 3rd Infantry Division, he is expected to be nominated to become Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's next senior military assistant. He'll be replacing Tom Waldhauser, a Marine three-star, who in turn is expected to be nominated to be the J-7 (the director of Joint Force Development). Waldhauser, thought to be steady and unflappable, is well regarded. But it wasn't a surprise that as Hagel got settled in, he would want to pick his own military assistant. Hagel does not have a longstanding relationship with Abrams, but he comes highly recommended by other senior officers, so Hagel gave him the nod. Waldhauser, who commanded the 15th MEU, one of the first Marine units in Afghanistan in 2001, served under then Sec-Def Leon Panetta and then oversaw the transition to Hagel. He's been in the job about a year. Interestingly, former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld had bristled at the idea of a three-star as a military assistant, installing a one-star admiral to the billet until it became clear that as close to the Defense Secretary as the officer was, he couldn't get his calls returned, so reported Bob Woodward, and the job was returned to three-star prominence. Marcel Lettre, headed to become PDUSD for Intelligence. Lettre, who was Hagel's acting chief of staff before Mark Lippert was named to the job permanently, had been expected to be nominated for a job inside the building. We now know what it is: he was nom'ed yesterday to become the Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. As the U.S. government - and the Pentagon in particular - wrestle with a range of intelligence matters, drone drone ops and surveillance techniques, and collecting more intelligence with fewer boots on the ground - the job for which Lettre has been nom'ed will be a big and increasingly important one.

Help wanted at the Pentagon. There are still a number of job openings at the Pentagon for political appointee types, and in fact there a few more than there were this spring, when Situation Report last looked at the issue. There are a total of 53 political appointee billets at the Assistant Secretary of Defense level and above. Of those, there are 15 vacant positions, 12 of which are staffed with acting personnel and three that are not staffed with any acting personnel. Some jobs have been filled with permanent personnel since we last looked. But that's slightly more than there were when we checked on this in April, when there were 13 vacant positions - 11 filled with acting personnel and two with no acting personnel. Currently, there are open positions on the Navy staff, including the Navy's No. 2 job after Bob Work left some time ago, as well as on the Air Force and Office of the Secretary of Defense staff.

So many actors: jobs for which there are only acting personnel include: Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright - Acting  (Pending confirmation); Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Alan Estevez - Acting (Pending confirmation); Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Higgins - Acting (Lettre has now been nominated for that job); Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and America's Security Affairs Todd Rosenblum - Acting; Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Alan Shaffer - Acting; DoD Inspector General - Lynne Halbrooks - Acting (Jon Rymer, nominated); DoD General Counsel - Robert Taylor - Acting Under Secretary of the Navy - Robert Martinage - Acting; Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment Roger Natsuhara - Acting; Secretary of the Air Force - Eric Fanning - Acting (Fanning is the permanent Undersecretary of the Air Force, but is also acting as the Secretary of the Air Force until the White House puts forward a nominee). Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Peter Lavoy - Acting; Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Alan Shaffer - Acting. Jobs with no acting personnel: Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition; Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness; and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs.

And on personnel in general, we also note: Check out the piece that The Cable's John Hudson did this week on Kerry's State Department filling more posts there, here. We're also noting that Al-Monitor's Laura Rozen (and Cable alum) reported yesterday that Puneet Talwar, the National Security Council's top adviser on Iran and the Persian Gulf, is expected to be nominated for Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs. Here story, here.

Get smart - on public affairs. Smart public affairs officers are the ones who stay as close to their principal or officer or commander as possible, tell them what they need to know - good, bad, ugly - and guide them accordingly. We love us some good PAOs - when they are close to their bosses and know the deal. Today, Pentagon pressec and Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs George Little speaks at Fort Meade, Md. to public affairs officers, both civilian and military. As the Pentagon's massive public affairs apparatus faces the same kinds of budget dilemmas as other departments, Little will talk about how important it is that public affairs personnel become close, senior advisers to their commanders and civilian leaders. Indeed, as sample of what he'll tell them today: "The Department of Defense is going through a once in a generation change, and the public affairs community must change with it.  Today, maybe more than ever, public affairs is an absolutely critical component of our military.  We operate in a world so tightly connected that every world event, big or small, can be felt in real time.  Thanks to the Internet and services such as Twitter and Facebook, the walls between citizens, journalists, and the military have never been thinner.  In many ways this is positive for our democracy.  As these lines continue to overlap and evolve, your relationship with your commanders and senior civilian leaders is crucial - you are not just typers of talking points, but strategic advisors, helping your leadership navigate a complex media landscape and equally complex issues of national security."

But Little won't let the services off the hook: "...For years now we have pushed the services to cultivate first rate PAOs.  While there has been progress to improve training of PAOs, the services must do more. In particular, they must see public affairs as a place for their best and brightest. They must provide the tools to turn young PAOs in to strategists who understand all facets of public affairs. There needs to be more opportunity for PAOs as they progress in their careers, upward mobility and incentives for talented officers.  We are losing too many talented O-5's because they see no path to long term senior advancement..."

Wanted: a new stealth plane. Killer Apps' John Reed: "The general responsible for preventing World War III wants a new strategic reconnaissance plane to help him do it. The Pentagon needs a new stealth plane capable of flying over the world's most heavily defended airspace and scooping up secrets, said U.S. Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, head of U.S. Strategic Command, [yesterday] to reporters."  Kehler, in charge of defending the U.S. from nuclear, cyber and space attack: "We know that there will have to be some kind of penetrating" spy plane in the coming years." Read Reed here.

Does America have another secret drone? Dave Axe takes a look on Medium: "Evidence points to a new, radar-evading robot warplane." Click here.
Jobs for vets. The 100,000 Jobs Mission, now comprised of 109 companies, announced that its members have collectively hired 77,612 veterans through the second quarter of 2013. The initiative, launched in 2011 by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and 10 other companies, had set out as their goal to hire 100,000 veterans by 2020, but have so far met more than three-quarters of its goal. The coalition of firms met in New York last week, with representatives from about 70 firms, and welcomed its newest member - BAE Systems. Member companies shared ideas for what works and what doesn't and talked about how to help transitioning service members. More on the 100,000 Jobs Mission, here.

Ash Carter is finishing up his trip. The Deputy Secretary of Defense last visited Ethiopia, where he met with senior gov and military officials to discuss U.S.-Ethiopia security partnerships; Carter also visited the African Union. George Little, in a statement: "While in Ethiopia, Deputy Secretary Carter met with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Chief of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces General Samora Yenus.  These meetings provided an opportunity to discuss the critical role that Ethiopia has played in stabilizing Somalia and providing peacekeepers along the border between Sudan and South Sudan.  Deputy Secretary Carter and Prime Minister Hailemariam also discussed next steps in response to recent events in South Sudan."

And: During the meeting at the African Union, Carter met with Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission Erastus Mwencha. Carter and Mwencha talked about the African Peace and Security Architecture, maritime security, and the conflicts in Somalia, Mali and the Central African Republic and the Great Lakes region. Carter also met with folks from the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. Fun Fact! Carter is the highest-ranking Pentagon official to visit Ethiopia in more than a decade, and he is the most senior DoD leader ever to visit the African Union.

This just in: Anthony Weiner selected as Air Force sexual assault chief. JK! The Duffel Blog strikes again. Read all about it here.

Speaking of the NSA, Forbes is out with an interesting bit about an NSA facility in Utah, where there might be a little less than meets the eye.  Forbes' Kashmir Hill: "The NSA will soon cut the ribbon on a facility in Utah built to help house and process data collected from telephone and Internet companies, satellites, fiber-optic cables and anywhere else it can plant listening devices. An NSA spokesperson says the center will be up and running by the ‘end of the fiscal year,' i.e., the end of September. Much has been written about just how much data that facility might hold, with estimates ranging from ‘yottabytes' (in Wired)to ‘5 zettabytes' (on NPR), a.k.a. words that you probably can't pronounce that translate to ‘a lot.' A guide from Cisco explains that a yottabyte = 1,000 zettabytes = 1,000,000 exabytes = 1 billion pettabytes = 1 trillion terabytes. For some sense of scale, you would need just 400 terabytes to hold all of the books ever written in any language... However, based on blueprints of the facility obtained by FORBES - and published here for the first time - experts estimate that the storage capacity of the data center is lower than has previously been reported given the technology currently available and the square footage that the center has allocated for its servers." Read the rest here.

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.