National Security

Russia now open to U.N. inspectors; The Syrian doves on the Hill reconsider intervention as WH ponders options; DoD could be forced to fire more than 6k civilians; Are they real? a new kind of IED; Situation Report goes dark for a week; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Russia is now urging the Syrian government to cooperate with U.N. experts investigating the alleged gas attack on Syrian people. Reuters reports the story, citing the Russian Foreign Ministry: "The ministry also said in a statement that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had agreed that an objective investigation was needed into the allegations when they spoke by telephone on Thursday." More here.

Meanwhile, the White House contemplates its options. As the painful images of lifeless children and other Syrian civilians cross front pages and TV screens -- likely the result of a chemical weapons attack that may have killed as many as 1,300 people -- the Obama administration is forced to look at real military options in Syria. It's clear it's not anything the administration will enter into lightly, and the brass at the Pentagon is far from enthusiastic about owning a new conflict. But the apparent, large-scale gas attack and its implications for the controversial "red line" President Barack Obama drew, leaves the U.S. with few options but to pursue military options there. Yesterday, there was a meeting of top national security officials at the White House. It broke up without a decision. But the notion that the U.S. can choose to ignore the Syrian problem altogether was becoming increasingly hard for many across government to swallow.

NYT: "Similar debates played out across the Atlantic. France backed the use of force to counter such an attack, and Turkey and Israel expressed outrage. But diplomats in several countries conceded there was no stomach among the Western allies, including the United States, for long-term involvement in a messy, sectarian civil war. While the Obama administration said it would wait for the findings of a United Nations investigation of the attack, American officials spoke in strikingly tougher terms about what might happen if President Obama determined that chemical weapons were used." More here.

The WSJ: "U.S. officials who described the military options being revised at the Pentagon stressed that their purpose wouldn't be to topple the regime, but to punish Mr. Assad if there is conclusive evidence that the government was behind poison-gas attacks on Wednesday. Making its options known could constitute a U.S. warning to Mr. Assad and his backers. It was unclear if Mr. Obama would be prepared to use the options; he has resisted getting entangled militarily in the conflict since the start." More here.

Are the doves turning toward intervention? The group of dovish lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been fighting against intervention in Syria for months. But after this week's horrific attacks, even some members of that group are reconsidering. FP's John Hudson and Noah Shachtman: "In May, Sen. Chris Murphy was the only senator to join Kentucky libertarian Rand Paul in support of a defeated amendment to prohibit weapons shipments to the Syrian rebels. He urged caution and spoke about the risks of intervention at the time. Now, he conceded, he may have to reconsider. And he isn't the only skeptic of intervention who's now opening the door to greater U.S. involvement. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), to FP, yesterday:  "If it looks like this is the beginning of a long term chemical weapons campaign from Assad, even I would reevaluate whether the United States needs to step in...If the Assad regime has begun a campaign of systematic chemical weapons attacks, clearly that's going to alter even my analysis." Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), to FP: "I think we ought to look at ways of degrading Assad's chemical weapons use in the future... Some of the mechanisms Assad is using to deliver chemical weapons we could potentially take kinetic action against."

Razan Zaitouneh, an opposition activist in the Syrian town of Douma, to FP: "Usually, when attacks like this happen, we see it's injured people, but usually very few. So when we got the news yesterday -- two after midnight - we thought it was the same thing... Then we got terrible, terrible news -- hundreds of people at the medical points. First time we see this much injured people. "It was something different this time. They're not able to breathe. Eyes very red. Circles in the eyes very narrow. They cannot see very well." One girl was in such a state of shock, she couldn't recognize her own mother. More here.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report, where we're headed off the grid for a week and Situation Report is "going dark" until after Labor Day. See you Sept. 3! An eternity. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us and we'll stick you on. If you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease. And remember, if you see something, say something -- to Situation Report. Follow us @glubold.

Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio obtained a Pentagon planning document that says DOD might have to fire at least 6,272 civilians. If sequestration cuts $52 billion from the fiscal 2014 budget, the planning document Bloomberg snagged says that at least 6,272 DOD civilians would have to be laid off.  Capaccio: "Additional budget analysis is ‘likely to produce further reductions' as the services focus on shrinking their contract labor forces, according to a Pentagon ‘execution plan' obtained by Bloomberg News. The job cuts, although less than 1 percent of the non-uniformed workforce, would mark an escalation from the unpaid leave mandated under sequestration in the current fiscal year... Sequestration would result in 16 percent reductions in the Pentagon's procurement and research spending and 12 percent cuts in operations, maintenance and military construction. For the most part, major weapons programs aren't being targeted for extensive reductions, according to the plan, which was a presentation by Pentagon budget and cost-assessment officials for generals and admirals who oversee force structure and resources for their respective services. It offers more detail than previously disclosed about the potential impact of cuts on fiscal 2014 spending." More here.

The world in conflict: every protest in 1979 on a sparkly map. FP's Dana Stuster: This is what data from a world in turmoil looks like. The Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT) tracks news reports and codes them for 58 fields, from where an incident took place to what sort of event it was (these maps look at protests, violence, and changes in military and police posture) to ethnic and religious affiliations, among other categories. The dataset has recorded nearly 250 million events since 1979, according to its website, and is updated daily." Our boss, FP's Noah Shachtman, calls this "awesomesauce." Click bait, here.

NORAD and the Russian Federation Air Force announce a joint military exercise. The two will participate in Vigilant Eagle 13, their third "cooperative live-fly air defense exercise," from August 26-30, 2013 over the Bering Sea. From DOD: "The exercise, named VIGILANT EAGLE, began as a jointly pursued initiative between the United States and Russia to improve cooperation and response to a hijacking scenario involving commercial aircraft and involves Russian Federation Air Force, Royal Canadian Air Force and U.S. military personnel and aircraft operating in Russia and the United States. This year's exercise will consist of aircraft simulating two international flights: one originating in Alaska and traveling into Russian airspace, followed by one originating in Russia and traveling into U.S. airspace."

FYI: Secretary of the (U.S.) Air Force Nominee Debra Lee James goes before the Senate Armed Services Committee Sept. 19.

You heard about the Air Force's vision. Now, Mark Welsh wants you to know how airmen contribute to it.  Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh and the Air Force released a new document late yesterday that expands on the "vision" document released earlier this year that is an attempt to explain what "airpower" is to Americans and what airmen do to achieve it. Welsh, to airmen: "This document will remind you of what your fellow Airmen do across our Service and help you pinpoint how you do your part in contributing to Global Vigilance, Global Reach, and Global Power for America. I want you to find yourself in this document. Make no mistake-whether you're a pilot, maintainer, special operator, medical specialist, instructor, knowledge operator, or any other job in the Air Force, you're an absolutely critical member of our team. Thank you for being a part of the world's greatest Air Force!" Welsh, to "our airpower advocates:" "This document should help you understand how our fantastic Airmen contribute to the joint team and to our Nation. I encourage you to get to know these outstanding men and women personally and help us tell the Air Force story. Thank you for all that you do to support our Airmen and our Air Force." Welsh signs the message "Airpower! Mark A. Welsh III"

The Air Force's "Global Vigilance, Global Reach, Global Power for America," just out, here. Welsh, on why "every airman matters," here. 

Meet the Air Force colonel who voted with his feet on sexual assault. An Air Force colonel got up and left after a comedian performing on a base in the U.K. told what the colonel thought was raunchy jokes about sexual assault. Air Force Times' Jeff Schogol: "Jokes told in the Aug. 10 show at RAF Lakenheath, England, prompted the vice commander of the 48th Fighter Wing there to walk out on the performance and later write a blistering commentary accusing the comedian of making jokes about sexual assault. The jokes were ‘beyond the scope of what should have been discussed in a military place,' Col. Mark Ciero told Air Force Times. "This is not a discussion about free speech. It's a discussion about a location for talking about issues that are adverse to our culture, adverse to our sexual assault awareness.' Comedian Mitch Fatel, Ciero said, depicted sexual assault ‘in a positive light' by making jokes about spiking a woman's drink in order to have sex and removing a woman's undergarments while she was asleep." Read Col. Mark Ciero's commentary about the comedian's performance, "Call me Darius No More," here. Read Schogol's piece in AFT, here. 

There's a new kind of IED, apparently and unfortunately - those now hidden in breast implants. From the Hindustan Times: "The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) have been issued a directive to profile suspicious women flyers and subject them to remove their shirts for a pat-down check to see whether they are hiding explosives in their breast implants. The latest directive comes after London's Heathrow Airport was put on terror alert amid fears that women fidayeen may enter with explosives hidden in breast implants. Women guards in the frisking staff of the CISF will be carrying out these checks in an enclosure which the airport operator has been requested to provide. A senior CISF official: "We are aware of the serious threat and this is a precautionary measure. Whenever a new threat comes to light, we circulate the information among the staff, asking them to be extra cautious. There is a possibility that women fidayeen may enter the airport carrying explosives in breast implants. That's why we have asked women guards to check women passengers thoroughly, especially the upper part of their body." You've heard of VBIEDs (vehicle borne) DBEIDs (donkey) RCIEDs (remote-controlled) VOIEDs (victim operated) and others. What are these new ones called? We've received a few suggested submissions for a name for this new kind: Tactical Internal Threat IED (TITIED); IE-triple D (IEDDD) and Booby-Borne (BBIED); Any more?

One veterans group is calling for the resignation of the VA's Eric Shinseki. There's just one problem: the backlog of veterans' medical claims have been dropping. This week, the conservative Concerned Veterans of America dropped a petition off at the White House urging President Barack Obama to force VA Secretary Eric Shineski to resign. Since he was named, Shineski, whose personal story as an injured Vietnam war veteran who spoke his mind in the run-up to the war in Iraq, seemed like a perfect choice to turn around the VA. But under his leadership, the problems, including the backlog of claims, has only gotten worse. Yet now there is a new, positive trend that shows signs of being sustained. NPR's Quil Lawrence, this week, on the VA situation: "The VA defines backlog as any claim that takes more than four months to get processed. The number peaked in March at about 600,000 vets in the line. Veterans organizations have put the backlog front and center. One conservative group delivered a petition yesterday calling for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign. Pete Hegseth leads the million vet backlog campaign. He spoke outside the White House."

Concerned Veterans of America's Pete Hegseth: "Because ultimately these men and women and their families have put their lives, their time, their sacred honor on the line for this country, and what they should be greeted with here at home is a department ready to serve them, and instead they are greeted by a massive bureaucracy incapable of delivering services until they wait and wait and wait some more."

But listen to this: Combat vet and former VA employee Brandon Friedman: "The backlog has actually shrunk by over 21 percent since March. It's very clearly a downward trend."

NPR's Lawrence: "Friedman says some of the criticism is politically motivated. He points out the million vet backlog campaign name is out of step with the facts. The backlog is now less than half that size, and none of the largest veterans' service organizations have joined the campaign. They're teaming up with the VA to help veterans file claims." NPR's whole story on the VA here.

Yemen: give us drones. Reuters: "Yemen has asked the United States to supply it with drones, President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi said on Thursday, to help it fight an al Qaeda threat that recently forced Western countries to temporarily close diplomatic missions in Sanaa. State news agency Saba also quoted Hadi as telling police cadets that 40 suspected al Qaeda militants had been killed in recent counter-terrorism operations and vowed to keep fighting the Islamists until they laid down their weapons. Hadi, who came to power in 2011 after months of turmoil forced his predecessor to step down, irked Yemenis last year by giving unequivocal support for Washington's controversial drone strikes, which have increased under President Barack Obama. ‘The drones that are conducting operations are part of the cooperation between us and the United States,' Hadi told the cadets." More here.

On tap on Vago Muradian's This Week in Defense News, airing in DC Sunday morning. Defense News reporters Marcus Weisgerber and John Bennett talk about the Pentagon's plans to reorganize its combatant commands, the upcoming budget and "congressional defense priorities;" that's followed by Amb. Terry Miller, director of the Center for International Trade and Economics, and a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, who talks the 2013 Index of Economic Freedom. Bonus: Mike Cadenazzi, VisualDoD CEO and founder, on how his company is mining big data to track DOD spending trends. The show runs worldwide on Sundays and Mondays on American Forces Network and on PBS affiliates around the U.S. and online here.

 

 

 

National Security

France: use force; Spies, experts: it’s likely it was a gas attack; Dempsey on Syria: no one side with which to side; Wheels up for Hagel today; Bradley Manning to be known as “Chelsea;” and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

If chemical attacks in Syria prove true, France says: use force. Mounting bodies with no visible signs of how they died strongly suggests mounting evidence that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its people, killing as many as 1,300. That pushes the U.S. and western powers closer to the much-aligned "red line" that would force military intervention there. France this morning said that if it's true that the Syrians used chemical weapons, then force is a must. AFP this morning: "France is seeking a reaction with ‘force' if a massacre in Syria involving chemical weapons is confirmed, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Thursday, although he ruled out the use of ground troops. ‘If it is proven, France's position is that there must be a reaction, a reaction that could take the form of a reaction with force,' Fabius told BFM-TV. ‘There are possibilities for responding,' he said without elaborating." More here.

American spies and other experts say it's likely a chem attack strike did happen, in the East Ghouta region east of Damascus. FP's Noah Shachtman and John Hudson: "The early analysis is based on preliminary reports, photography and video evidence, and conclusions are prone to change if and when direct access to the victims is granted. Over the past nine months, the Syrian opposition has alleged dozens of times that the Assad regime has attacked them with nerve agents. Only a handful of those accusations have been confirmed; several have fallen away under close scrutiny. But Wednesday's strike, which local opposition groups say killed an estimated 1,300 people, may be different."

Gwyn Winfield, editor of CRBNe World, the trade journal of the unconventional weapons community, to FP: "No doubt it's a chemical release of some variety -- and a military release of some variety."

And, Shachtman and Hudson write: "While the Obama administration says it has conclusive proof that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons in the recent past, the White House has been reluctant to take major action in response to those relatively small-scale attacks. (‘As long as they keep the body count at a certain level, we won't do anything,' an American intelligence official told Foreign Policy earlier this week.) But this attack appears to be anything but small-scale. If allegations about this latest attack prove to be accurate, the strike could be the moment when the Assad regime finally crossed the international community's ‘red line,' and triggered outside invention in the civil war that has killed over a hundred thousand people."

The Russians and the Chinese are blunting American efforts to reinforce the powers of U.N. chemical weapons inspectors. FP's Colum Lynch, writing on The Cable: "Seizing on rebel claims that Syrian authorities massacred hundreds of civilians by firing chemically-laced rockets onto a Damascus suburb, the United States joined Britain and France in calling for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council to rally international support for an investigation into the incident. The three western powers also wrote a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon, signed by 32 other governments, calling for an urgent investigation. But the efforts failed to result in anything other than a tepid statement from the Security Council thanks to some final edits by the Russians and Chinese. The Obama administration's goal was to have a U.N. chemical weapons team, which was already in Syria to investigate other chemical weapons allegations, launch a probe into the new allegations. That team, headed by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, arrived in Damascus on Sunday. ‘The United States, which was represented by the second highest ranking American official at the United Nations, Ambassador Rosemary Di Carlo, circulated a draft resolution, which was obtained by Foreign Policy, that called on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon to ‘urgently take the steps necessary for today's attack to be investigated by the U.N. mission on the ground.' But it also would have applied pressure on Syrian President Bashar al Assad to grant the inspectors greater latitude." More here.

The NYT's lede on the images coming out of Syria: "... row after row of corpses without visible injury; hospitals flooded with victims, gasping for breath, trembling and staring ahead languidly; images of a gray cloud bursting over a neighborhood."

Alleged chemical weapons use aside, Dempsey explains the nuance of picking sides in a possible U.S. military intervention. Writing on Aug. 19, before the attack, Dempsey explained to Rep. Eliot Engel, the Democrat from New York who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, how much so as he lays out the ways in which the U.S. could "tip the conflict in favor of the opposition." Dempsey wrote: "Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides. It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today, they are not. The crisis in Syria is tragic and complex. It is a deeply rooted, long-term conflict among multiple factions, and violent struggles for power will continue after Assad's rule ends. We should evaluate the effectiveness of limited military options in this context."

And: "We can destroy the Syrian Air Force. The loss of Assad's Air Force would negate his ability to attack opposition forces from the air, but it would also escalate and potentially further commit the United States to the conflict. Stated another way, it would not be militarily decisive, but it would commit us decisively to the conflict. In a variety of ways, the use of U.S. military force can change the military balance, but it cannot resolve the underlying and historic ethnic, religious and tribal issues that are fueling this conflict." Dempsey's letter, here.

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us and we'll stick you on. If you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease. And remember, if you see something, say something -- to Situation Report. Follow us @glubold.

Hagel is wheels up on the Doomsday plane this morning for Honolulu, then Southeast Asia. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is headed out from Andrews Air Force Base on the E4-B Doomsday to Hawaii, where he'll meet with PACOM Commander Adm. Sam Locklear, then with Marines at Kaneohe Bay. He'll then head to Asia, where he'll attend the meeting of Asian defense ministers at the ASEAN summit in Brunei; he'll also visit Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Remarks today at 2:30 p.m. Hawaii time, on the Pentagon Channel, here.

Staffers on a plane: Chief of Staff Mark Lippert, Senior Military Assistant Lt. Gen. Tom Waldhauser, Incoming Senior Military Assistant Maj. Gen. Robert "Abe" Abrams, Trip Director JP Eby, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little, Assistant Press Secretary Carl Woog, Speechwriter Greg Grant, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia Pacific Policy Peter Lavoy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Southeast Asia Vikram Singh.

Right seat, left seat: This is the first trip for Abrams, who will succeed Waldhauser as the senior officer in Hagel's front office advising the Secretary, and presumably the last for Waldhauser.

Reporters on a plane: AP's Bob Burns, Reuters' Phil Stewart, AFP's Dan De Luce, WSJ's Julian Barnes, Bloomberg's Gopal Ratnam, Defense One's Kevin Baron, NPR's Larry Abramson, BBC's Joan Soley.

Did not see that coming: Bradley Manning gets 35 years. And wants to live as a woman - "Chelsea Manning." NBC, this morning: "Bradley Manning, the Army private sentenced to military prison for leaking classified documents, revealed he intends to live out the remainder of his life as a woman. ‘I am Chelsea Manning. I am female," the Army private wrote in a statement read on [NBC's Today show] Thursday. ‘Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition.' Manning, 25, was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Wednesday after having been found guilty of 20 charges ranging from espionage to theft for leaking more than 700,000 documents to the WikiLeaks website while working in Iraq in 2010." NBC here. Manning's statement here.

The NSA's massive surveillance network rapped by the spy court. WSJ's Siobhan Gorman, Devlin Barrett and Jennifer Valentino-Devries: "National Security Agency violated the Constitution for three years by collecting tens of thousands of purely domestic communications without sufficient privacy protection, according to a secret national-security court ruling. In the strongly worded 2011 ruling, released Wednesday by the Obama administration, the court criticized the NSA for misrepresenting its practices to the court. It noted that the illegal collection was the third instance in less than three years in which the government made a ‘substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program,' specifically how the NSA collected Internet communications and phone data." More here.

The dangers of relaxing export controls on arms: A new report from the Center for International Policy. The report, released yesterday, shows how the Obama administration's efforts to reduce controls on the export of thousands of weapons and weapons components - in the name of efficiency and increased trade - poses risks. CIP Project Director Bill Hartung: "Early in its first term, the Obama administration announced the outlines of a new approach to arms export controls designed to reform ‘what we control, how we control it, how we enforce those controls and how we manage our controls.'  The stated goal of the reform effort was to focus on ‘controlling the most critical products and technologies' while ‘enhancing the competitiveness of key United States manufacturing and technology sectors.' A central element of the administration's approach has been to move items from the United States Munitions List (USML) - a compendium of arms and arms-related technologies monitored by the State Department - to the Commerce Control List (CCL), which subjects equipment destined for export to less rigorous scrutiny.

But: "The Obama administration's loosening of controls goes far beyond anything contemplated by the Clinton or Bush administrations. The White House has asserted that, ‘At the end of this process, we anticipate that a significant percentage of the items that are transferred off of the USML would be permitted to be exported without a license.' This means that oversight would be lifted from these items." Link to intro, report here.