National Security

The French say the Syrians have tons of chemical weapons; Hagel, Kerry, Dempsey pitch limited strikes today; Why haven’t arms reached Syrian rebels?; Why conventional prompt global strike weapons matter; Military suicides are up; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

The Assad regime has tons of chemical weapons -- literally. That's the words, at least, according to a newly released French intel report, which is way more detailed than the American and British versions. The new report provides a more comprehensive look at the Syrian chemical weapons program. And it also includes a breakdown of the toxic agents that the Assad regime is believed to have obtained: hundreds of tons of mustard gas, tens of tons of VX gas and several hundred tons of sarin gas. FP's David Kenner:  "Assad's sarin stockpiles, which the United States says were used in the Aug. 21 attack, reveal a ‘technological mastery' of chemical weapons, according to the French. The sarin is stored in binary form -- the two chemical precursors necessary to make the gas are kept separate, and only mixed immediately before use. This technological sophistication may be a key point when U.N. investigators release their report on the Damascus attack: If they find that the toxic agent used in the attack was an advanced form of sarin -- containing chemical stabilizers and dispersal agents -- the weapon will most likely have come from Syrian regime stockpiles." Read the rest of his bit, and link to the French intel report, here.

Hagel, Dempsey and Kerry make the pitch for limited strikes on Syria at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today at 2:30. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey appear before the SFRC today to make their pitch for limited strikes aimed to punish Assad for his using chemical weapons on his own people late last month. They'll get questions on what the administration's overall Syria strategy is, how the strikes will achieve it, and how the U.S. doesn't get dragged into the civil war there. After President Barack Obama expanded the responsibility for pursuing the strike option on Congress, saying he doesn't need its approval but asking for it anyway, he has placed one of the biggest foreign policy decisions Congress will face squarely at members' feet. Now Congress will need to determine if the limited strike option is too limited - or too open ended.

McCain is on board. It appears that the meeting yesterday at the White House with Sen. John McCain may have worked to persuade McCain to back the administration's plan to strike Syria - as long as the U.S. does more to arm the rebels. The NYT's Jackie Calmes, Michael Gordon and Eric Schmitt: "In an hourlong meeting at the White House, said Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, Mr. Obama gave general support to doing more for the Syrian rebels, although no specifics were agreed upon. Officials said that in the same conversation, which included Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, Mr. Obama indicated that a covert effort by the United States to arm and train Syrian rebels was beginning to yield results: the first 50-man cell of fighters, who have been trained by the C.I.A., was beginning to sneak into Syria."

Indeed, three months after the CIA was given authorization to arm Syrian rebels, the rebels are still waiting. The WSJ's Adam Entous and Nour Malas, this morning: "The delay, in part, reflects a broader U.S. approach rarely discussed publicly but that underpins its decision-making, according to former and current U.S. officials: The Obama administration doesn't want to tip the balance in favor of the opposition for fear the outcome may be even worse for U.S. interests than the current stalemate. U.S. officials attribute the delay in providing small arms and munitions from the CIA weapons program to the difficulty of establishing secure delivery ‘pipelines' to prevent weapons from falling into the wrong hands, in particular Jihadi militants also battling the Assad regime. Allied rebel commanders in Syria and congressional proponents of a more aggressive military response instead blame a White House that wants to be seen as responsive to allies' needs but fundamentally doesn't want to get pulled any deeper into the country's grinding conflict."

Would the Pentagon do a better job? The WSJ report touches on the calls to shift the job of arming rebels in Syria from the CIA to the Pentagon. People like Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who may raise the issue during testimony today. The WSJ: "Putting the Pentagon in charge would allow the U.S. to do ‘industrial strength' arming and training, [Corker]... said in an interview Monday. Some lawmakers accused the White House of failing to deliver on its promises because of concerns it would get blamed if the effort went wrong and for fear of getting trapped in a proxy fight that pits Mr. Assad and his backers-Iran, Russia and Hezbollah-against an array of opposition groups, some linked to al Qaeda and others supported by the U.S. and some Arab allies.

Corker, who recently visited Syrian rebel leaders in Turkey: "There's been a major disconnect between what the administration has said it's doing relative to the rebels and what is actually happening... The (CIA) pipeline has been incredibly slow. It's really hurt morale among the Syrian rebels."

Read our report, earlier this summer, that asks just who in the administration is in charge of Syria policy. The confusion is still relevant today as the U.S. thinks about ramping up its delivery of lethal and non-lethal aid. Read it here.

Bruce Riedel argues for why the U.S. should focus on al-Qaida in Syria. Writing on al-Monitor, Riedel says: "Any military intervention that attacks Assad forces and degrades their capabilities will inevitably influence the balance of power in the civil war. The more the regime is weakened, the more the opposition gains. Indeed, critics of President Obama who want greater involvement in the civil war argue for a large-scale attack precisely to assist the opposition. Since the opposition includes a strong and growing al-Qaeda component, such an approach could mean inadvertently helping that organization. A stronger al-Qaeda in Syria - especially one with the possibility of gaining control over some of that country's chemical arsenal should Assad be weakened - is clearly not an American interest. Whatever policy Congress endorses, it should include a robust effort to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda in Syria before it becomes an even greater threat to US interests." Read the rest of his piece here.

Welcome to Tuesday's Welcome-Back edition of Situation Report and apologies for the technical challenges that have dominated our morning - and delayed arrival 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.

When it comes to intelligence gaps and the U.S. "black budget," there is everybody else - and then there's Pakistan. The WaPo's Greg Miller, Craig Whitlock and Barton Gellman: "The $52.6 billion U.S. intelligence arsenal is aimed mainly at unambiguous adversaries, including al-Qaeda, North Korea and Iran. But top-secret budget documents reveal an equally intense focus on one purported ally: Pakistan. No other nation draws as much scrutiny across so many categories of national security concern. A 178-page summary of the U.S. intelligence community's ‘black budget' shows that the United States has ramped up its surveillance of Pakistan's nuclear arms, cites previously undisclosed concerns about biological and chemical sites there, and details efforts to assess the loyalties of counter­terrorism sources recruited by the CIA. Pakistan appears at the top of charts listing critical U.S. intelligence gaps. It is named as a target of newly formed analytic cells. And fears about the security of its nuclear program are so pervasive that a budget section on containing the spread of illicit weapons divides the world into two categories: Pakistan and everybody else."

And: "The disclosures - based on documents provided to The Washington Post by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden - expose broad new levels of U.S. distrust in an already unsteady security partnership with Pakistan, a politically unstable country that faces rising Islamist militancy. They also reveal a more expansive effort to gather intelligence on Pakistan than U.S. officials have disclosed." Husain Haqqani, who until 2011 served as Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S., to the WaPo: "If the Americans are expanding their surveillance capabilities, it can only mean one thing... The mistrust now exceeds the trust."

Today, Carnegie unveils a new report on a pesky issue to the Pentagon: how to get weapons on targets speedily without making the Russians and others fear the U.S. is using nukes. A new report by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's James Acton looks at Conventional Prompt Global Strike weapons and the "capability gap" the Defense Department confronts when it comes to places like Iran or North Korea, where the U.S. would likely want to put weapons on distant targets quickly. But in such scenarios, there are only two options, analysts argue: cruise missiles or bomb-laden jets that are slower to get on target, and ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads. But missiles with nuclear warheads can stir fears among other countries who might misidentify an incoming missile as nuclear-armed and launch a nuclear strike of their own. Otherwise known as "warhead ambiguity," the issue has long concerned Congress.  Enter Conventional Prompt Global Strike weapons, which DOD strategists believe could fill the capability gap by providing the U.S. arsenal with such weapons with conventional warheads. "I think the administration has been entirely focused on this warhead ambiguity problem, as has Congress to an extent, and hasn't been looking at all of the risks associated with these weapons," Acton told Situation Report this morning. Acton is out with what Carnegie says is one of the first detailed analyses of the issue, today.

Who will be reading the new report? Likely a bunch of people, but also staffers for Alabama Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby, who are both pushing on the issue because one of the CPGS systems would be built in Alabama.

Acton's recommendations: "A scenario-based approach to CPGS acquisition would maximize value for money. Before embarking on the acquisition process, the Department of Defense should decide upon the specific missions for which CPGS weapons might be acquired in order to identify clear military requirements. A comparison of the ability of CPGS weapons and non-prompt alternatives to meet mission requirements is needed to determine whether to procure CPGS weapons at all. This comparison has been absent from the debate. It should account for the relative costs and the implications of potential countermeasures. CPGS acquisition decisions should take into account the need for U.S. enabling capabilities. The continued failure to consider this issue could lead the United States to procure CPGS weapons incapable of fulfilling mission requirements. The debate about the strategic ramifications of CPGS should include the full range of risks and benefits. Warhead ambiguity does not pose the biggest escalation risk in a conflict with Russia or China. All risks should be weighed against the potential benefit of enhanced deterrence. The negative characteristics of boost-glide weapons for managing escalation in a conflict should be recognized. These risks are serious and have been overlooked. Whatever CPGS technology the United States chooses, it should pursue cooperative confidence-building measures with Russia and China. Cooperative measures, which could be treaty based or politically binding, would more effectively mitigate the strategic risks posed by all CPGS technologies than unilateral measures." Read the report here.

Military suicides are on the rise despite efforts, especially within the Army, to stop them. HuffPo's David Wood: "... the number of military and veteran suicides is rising, and experts fear it will continue to rise despite aggressive suicide prevention campaigns by the government and private organizations. The Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), already struggling to meet an increasing demand from troops and veterans for mental health services, are watching the suicide rates, and the growing number of those considered ‘at risk' of suicide, with apprehension."

The warning signs, according to Wood: "While the rate of suicides has traditionally been lower for the military ranks than for civilians, that trend has begun to reverse; The number of suicides among active-duty troops of all services remains relatively low, at 350 last year, Pentagon data show. But that number has more than doubled since 2001, while in the Army's active-duty ranks, suicides have tripled during the same period, from 52 soldiers in 2001 to 185 last year."

And: "Roughly half of active-duty troops who die by suicide never served in Iraq or Afghanistan. But there is growing evidence that war trauma weighs heavily on those who did. In one indication of deep emotional stress, the suicide rate among U.S. troops deployed to Iraq between 2004 and 2007, a period of intensified fighting, jumped from 13.5 to 24.8 per 100,000, according to a report issued in 2009 by the Army surgeon general."

And: "Some 8,000 veterans are thought to die by suicide each year, a toll of about 22 per day, according to a 2012 VA study. The VA acknowledged the numbers might be significantly underestimated because they're based on incomplete data from 21 states, not including Texas or California. Even so, the data documents an increase of nearly 11 percent between 2007 and 2010, the most recent year of data in the study.

And: "The population of veterans over 50 -- more than two-thirds of all veterans -- is swelling with aging baby boomers. Mostly men, they are considered more at-risk of suicide because they tend to be socially isolated, struggle with physical or mental deterioration, and possess easy familiarity with firearms." Read Wood's whole report here.

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.