National Security

Keith Alexander as “cowboy”; Obama’s big week, his “shrinking presidency?” and the current House, Senate counts; Assad: “expect everything;” McDonough: “We want to get off this permanent war footing;” An Army commander, relieved; and a bit more.


By Gordon Lubold

Obama begins his assault on American opinion over Syria as Congress returns and is poised to make key votes in a week that the WSJ suggests will "define Obama's second term." Congress is back and Obama will begin/continue an aggressive lobbying campaign on striking Syria with a speech tomorrow night and a number of television appearances today. That all comes as Syrian President Bashar Assad talked retaliation and the lack of evidence of the alleged gas attack with Charlie Rose yesterday. No doubt, it has become a tough sell for the administration to convince anyone that it can conduct limited strikes against the Syrian regime while not getting mired into a full-fledged war. After days of missteps, delays and fuzzy messaging, the administration today is scrambling to persuade a wary Congress and a war-weary American public that this is the best and perhaps only option it has.

Denis McDonough on NBC's MTP yesterday on "what this is not" : "no boots on the ground, not an extended air campaign, not a situation like Iraq and Afghanistan, not a situation even like Libya. This is a targeted, limited consequential action to reinforce this prohibition against these weapons that unless we reinforce this prohibition, will proliferate and threaten our friends and our allies."

McDonough on "what it does": "It degrades his capacity to use them again, it also makes him think twice before he goes to these dastardly weapons again. And why does that matter? If he's going to use these things more aggressively, David, he's going to take them out of secure storage, push them in to the frontlines. When they're on the frontlines, you know what that means? They're a greater risk of them being proliferated."

On why the WH is including Congress in this, and Congress as the Mission Creep Police: "... that's why it's so important, and that's why the president went to Congress and said, ‘You know what? We want to get off this permanent war footing.' That's what the president has been doing. He ended the war in Iraq. And he said to Congress, ‘I want you to be my full partner in the prosecution of this effort. You, Congress, as full partners, will ensure greater discipline in how we carry this out. You, Congress, will ensure that when we say it's a targeted mission, it does not creep.' And that's exactly why we want Congress involved." MTP transcript here.

Assad draws his own line. On CBS with Charlie Rose, Syrian President Bashar Assad warned that if President Barack Obama goes ahead with military strikes against Syria, the U.S. and its allies "should expect everything," and not necessarily all from the Syrian government. His regime, he indicated is "not the only player in this region," making a thinly veiled reference to Hezbollah and allies in Iran. "You have different parties, you have different factions, you have different ideology. You have everything in this region now," Assad told Rose. (The rest of the interview tonight on the Charlie Rose show.)

Whipping (thanks to ABC News). Where the House stands: 78 oppose military action in Syria, with another 153 "likely to oppose;" 19 support military action, with another 25 likely to support. Undecided: 145. Where the Senate stands: 18"oppose action in Syria," five "likely oppose it;" 20 support action, two likely to support and 55 are undecided. The counts for the Senate, here. The counts for the House, here.

On Drudge this morning: "SHRINKAGE." Bloomberg's piece on Obama finding the "footprint for his historic presidency shrinking" over Syria, here.

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us and we'll stick you on. And 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. That and please follow us @glubold.

Meet the "cowboy" who's running the NSA. Despite all the ink devoted in recent months to the National Security Agency and its vast spying powers, there's been comparatively little attention paid to the four-star at the top of that organization: Gen. Keith Alexander. FP's Shane Harris fixes that, in a nearly 6,000-word profile that the NSA Director is not going to like. Bottom line, according to the general's fellow spooks: "Alexander tended to be a bit of a cowboy: 'Let's not worry about the law. Let's just figure out how to get the job done.'" Even Alexander's predecessor -- Mike Hayden, who famously oversaw programs that other senior officials in government thought violated the Constitution - considered Alexander to be to reckless for the NSA job. "Hayden's attitude was 'Yes, we have the technological capability, but should we use it?' Keith's was 'We have the capability, so let's use it,'" a former intelligence official who worked with both men tells Harris.

And why the Defense Industrial Base initiative that Alexander sought to expand is a reflection of who he is. Harris, con't: "Under the Defense Industrial Base initiative, also known as the DIB, the NSA provides the companies with intelligence about the cyberthreats it's tracking. In return, the companies report back about what they see on their networks and share intelligence with each other. Pentagon officials say the program has helped stop some cyber-espionage. But many corporate participants say Alexander's primary motive has not been to share what the NSA knows about hackers. It's to get intelligence from the companies -- to make them the NSA's digital scouts. What is billed as an information-sharing arrangement has sometimes seemed more like a one-way street, leading straight to the NSA's headquarters at Fort Meade. ‘We wanted companies to be able to share information with each other,' says the former administration official, ‘to create a picture about the threats against them. The NSA wanted the picture.' After the DIB was up and running, Alexander proposed going further. ‘He wanted to create a wall around other sensitive institutions in America, to include financial institutions, and to install equipment to monitor their networks,' says the former administration official. ‘He wanted this to be running in every Wall Street bank.' Read the whole piece here.

Stick a fork in him? An Army commander is relieved for misconduct. Stripes reports that the commander of U.S. Army Europe has relieved the garrison commander in Vicenza, Italy after an investigation into his conduct at a July 4th celebration. Stripes: "Col. David Buckingham, who was suspended from command in July after what Italian media reported as a drunken altercation with military police, will not face criminal charges, said Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, chief of public affairs for USAREUR. Buckingham was officially relieved of command Friday. Nielson-Green said by phone Sunday that USAREUR Commander Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell Jr. had ‘lost confidence' in Buckingham's ability to command and described the sacking as simply administrative.' There were no allegations of criminal acts, she said. But his conduct on the evening of July 3, when the Vicenza garrison held its Independence Day celebrations at Caserma Ederle, was a factor in Campbell's decision to relieve him, Nielson-Green said. There were also concerns about the command climate under Buckingham, she said." Read the rest here.

Speaking of the Army, it's set to release the results of a study about the ground vehicle industrial base in December. Defense News' Paul McLeary: "The Army contracted with consulting firm AT Kearney to do the study early last year, and service leaders hope it will shed more light on which defense companies are most at risk and, more importantly, which key second- and third-tier suppliers must be supported in order to keep their lines running during the coming vehicle-procurement lull. The 18-page July document, titled ‘M1 Abrams Tank Upgrade and Bradley Fighting Vehicle Industrial Base Study Preliminary Findings,' says that when it comes to heavy manufacturing capacity the US defense sector actually "exceeds known demand for current programs and for planned future programs." More here.



National Security

Diplomats leaving Lebanon; The impact of pondering strikes; Did Hagel “low-ball" Syria?; USAID confronts its first known suicide; The Art of (Defining) War; Should Congress go to Syria? and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold 

State orders diplomats and others out of Lebanon. The U.S. is withdrawing all non-emergency embassy workers and their families from Beirut and told Americans not to travel there as the potential of strikes looms larger. State issued travel warnings for Lebanon and also Turkey this morning. State's Marie Harf, in a statement: "The Department of State has ordered a drawdown of non-emergency U.S. Government personnel and family members in Beirut, Lebanon and approved the drawdown of non-emergency personnel and family members who wish to leave Adana, Turkey. Given the current tensions the region, as well as potential threats to U.S. Government facilities and personnel, we are taking these steps out of an abundance of caution to protect our employees and their families, and local employees and visitors to our facilities. We will continue to assess the situation and to adjust our security posture accordingly."

The delay is allowing movement of pieces on the chessboard: Iran is plotting a revenge if the U.S. strikes Syria. The WSJ's Julian Barnes and Adam Entous, this morning: "The U.S. has intercepted an order from Iran to militants in Iraq to attack the U.S. Embassy and other American interests in Baghdad in the event of a strike on Syria, officials said, amid an expanding array of reprisal threats across the region. Military officials have been trying to predict the range of possible responses from Syria, Iran and their allies. U.S. officials said they are on alert for Iran's fleet of small, fast boats in the Persian Gulf, where American warships are positioned. U.S. officials also fear Hezbollah could attack the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and on Friday the State Department ordered nonessential U.S. diplomats to leave Lebanon because of security concerns." Read the rest here.

Upgrading the mission? The debate over Syria is not giving the Syrian regime any tactical advantage, the Pentagon says, even as the White House orders an "expanded list of potential targets." The NYT's David Sanger and Eric Schmitt report, following nuggets in a WSJ report Thursday, that Obama has directed the Pentagon to expand its list of targets after intelligence suggests that the Assad regime is moving troops and equipment. The Times' story: "Mr. Obama, officials said, is now determined to put more emphasis on the ‘degrade' part of what the administration has said is the goal of a military strike against Syria - to ‘deter and degrade' Mr. Assad's ability to use chemical weapons. That means expanding beyond the 50 or so major sites that were part of the original target list developed with French forces before Mr. Obama delayed action on Saturday to seek Congressional approval of his plan. For the first time, the administration is talking about using American and French aircraft to conduct strikes on specific targets, in addition to ship-launched Tomahawk cruise missiles. There is a renewed push to get other NATO forces involved."

But the Pentagon is adamant: the U.S. military's capabilities can more than address whatever tactical advantage the Syrian regime can achieve during the time it's taking to debate Syria. The Pentagon's George Little, yesterday, to reporters: "We are the strongest military power in the world. We are also one of the most flexibility and adaptable. And we have access to information that will enable us to take effective action at the appropriate time, if called upon. No one in the Syrian regime should take solace from the deliberative process that we're undertaking right now with the United States Congress." Full transcript of briefing, here.

Yet the delay is causing at least one Republican Congressman to change his vote, from strike to don't-strike: "Now that the [President Bashar] Assad regime has seen our playbook and has been given enough time to prepare and safeguard potential targets, I do not feel that we have enough to gain as a nation by moving forward with this attack on our own...Thus, after much thought, deliberation and prayer, I am no longer convinced that a U.S. strike on Syria will yield a benefit to the United States that will not be greatly outweighed by the extreme cost of war." - Rep. Michael Grimm of New York, a former Marine.

Meanwhile, a majority of Americans approve of sending Congress to Syria. The Onion, here.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us and we'll stick you on. And 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. That and please follow us @glubold.

At USAID, the first suicide since the agency has been deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq. On Aug. 15, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced that one of its employees had died suddenly. The agency didn't mention that Michael C. Dempsey, a senior field program officer assigned as the leader of a civilian assistance team in eastern Afghanistan, killed himself four days earlier while home on extended medical leave. However, the medical examiner in Kent County, Michigan, confirmed to Foreign Policy that Dempsey had committed suicide by hanging himself in a hotel-room shower. His death is USAID's first known suicide in a decade of work in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq.

After a decade of development and reconstruction work in two of the world's hottest war zones, USAID now has hundreds of Foreign Service officers who are potentially at risk for post-traumatic mental-health issues. While an enormous amount of resources and attention has been paid to military suicides, comparatively little focus has been given to civilians' struggles. And it's a sign that it's not only members of the armed services who shoulder the emotional burdens of war.

Why it's more troubling: And what makes the suicide particularly striking is that it came a year and three days after Dempsey's close friend and colleague was killed in an improvised-explosive-device attack in Afghanistan. Dempsey's friend and USAID colleague, Ragaei Abdelfattah, an American of Egyptian descent, was killed along with three military escorts and an Afghan civilian in the attack in eastern Kunar province. The death of his friend, who left behind a wife and children, may have contributed to Dempsey suffering from "survivor's remorse," say individuals outside the agency who were close to the matter. Dempsey had been receiving counseling up until the time he died.

The issue AID now confronts: With Dempsey's death as the first known suicide from either of USAID's Afghanistan or Iraq programs, the suicide forces the agency to deal with an inescapable problem: how to help its employees who deploy to the same war zones as the military but who don't always have access to the same kind of assistance. Larry Sampler, who heads USAID's programs in Afghanistan and Pakistan, traveled to Michigan in August to attend the memorial for Dempsey. Sampler said Dempsey's suicide means USAID must now look at how best to help those who have deployed to war zones for the agency. "The physical and emotional resilience of our staff is of paramount importance to us: To me personally as the leader of the Afghanistan and Pakistan effort," he said in a statement to FP. "In our experience, returning staff often may not even know they're having difficulty adjusting until they've been out of Afghanistan for awhile -- and we want them to have and to know about the extended and enduring support network we offer." Read the rest of our story here.

The NYT reports on new documents that show the National Security Agency is "winning its long-running secret war on encryption, using supercomputers, technical trickery, court orders and behind-the-scenes persuasion to undermine the major tools protecting the privacy of everyday communications in the Internet age." The Times' Nicole Perlroth, Jeff Larson and Scott Shane: "The agency has circumvented or cracked much of the encryption, or digital scrambling, that guards global commerce and banking systems, protects sensitive data like trade secrets and medical records, and automatically secures the e-mails, Web searches, Internet chats and phone calls of Americans and others around the world, the documents show. Many users assume - or have been assured by Internet companies - that their data is safe from prying eyes, including those of the government, and the N.S.A. wants to keep it that way. The agency treats its recent successes in deciphering protected information as among its most closely guarded secrets, restricted to those cleared for a highly classified program code-named Bullrun, according to the documents, provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor."

A 2010 memo describing a briefing about NSA accomplishments for employees of its British counterpart, GCHQ: "For the past decade, N.S.A. has led an aggressive, multipronged effort to break widely used Internet encryption technologies...Cryptanalytic capabilities are now coming online. Vast amounts of encrypted Internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable."

Gobsmacked?!!? The Times story continues: "When the British analysts, who often work side by side with N.S.A. officers, were first told about the program, another memo said, ‘those not already briefed were gobsmacked!'"

Back on Syria. "Tens of millions of dollars" was probably an understatement. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said this week that a potential operation using strikes in Syria would cost "tens of millions of dollars," but that elicited some surprise in some quarters. The actual cost of deploying cruise missiles and keeping ships on station in the Med and other related costs, may be far more. Reuters' David Alexander: "...if past experience is a guide, the number could be substantially higher than that. It is not uncommon for U.S. forces to open an assault by launching scores of Tomahawk missiles costing over $1 million apiece and dropping bombs from radar-evading B-2 planes that fly 18 hours each way from their base at a cost of $60,000 an hour... Most of the cost of an action against Syria would be for replacing munitions that were used, funds that would not be required until after the 2014 fiscal year begins on October 1. The Pentagon probably would pay for the munitions with a supplemental war-funding request to Congress, which would not be subject to current budget spending caps, Harrison said. ‘If you include the replacement costs of munitions, it (an operation against Syria) could cost half a billion, up to a billion dollars depending on the number of targets they go after," said Harrison. CSBA's Todd Harrison, to Alexander: "I was surprised when I heard him (Hagel) say tens of millions of dollars. That's low-balling it." More here.

Why budgetary concerns and sequester are irrelevant to the issue at hand. Writing on FP earlier this week, Gordon Adams: "No sooner had President Obama announced that he would seek congressional approval for launching missiles on Damascus, than the defenders of defense stepped out to say: The Pentagon can't do this; it has no money; do something about the sequester. This is Washington; nobody misses an opportunity to hang their pet rock on a passing vote. But the thing is, budgetary sequestration is irrelevant to what the president says he intends to do. We already bought the five destroyers now off the Syrian coast. We bought the Tomahawks the president plans to fire off, if he gets the vote he wants, years ago. There are several dozen on each of those ships. And we are paying the sailors who will fire them off. In fact, the president has now twice exempted military pay from the sequester (smart political move)."

It depends on what the meaning of the words ‘is' is: The Art of Defining War in the Syrian crisis. We invoke Bill Clinton's famous word dodge as everyone tries to figure out what the administration will call whatever it is it might do in Syria. So far, the White House is loath to call it "war." But it's not easy calling it something else. Secretary of State John Kerry said this week "we're not asking America to go to war," saying he doesn't believe that's what this is. "That's not what we're doing here. The president is asking for permission to take a limited military action, yes, but one that does not put Americans in the middle of the battle." And Pentagon press secretary George Little, yesterday, deflected the moniker: "I'm not going to get into those kinds of labels here today. This would be an action that would be consistent with American law and would absolutely comport with the legitimacy of international norm against the use of chemical weapons," he told reporters in a briefing. Defense One's Stephanie Gaskell, a.k.a. "Defense Two," writes: "Welcome to a new era of warfare, one borne out of two protracted and deadly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a shrinking budget and a very war-weary American public. To planners at the Pentagon, the mission to ‘deter and degrade' the use and proliferation of chemical weapons and send a message to Syrian President Bashar al Assad is not war. It's a ‘limited mission'... The preferred standard operating procedure now is to keep world order through limited engagements, using naval and air assets, cyber and drone technology, small, elite counterterror units -- anything but U.S. boots on the ground -- to maintain U.S. national security interests across the globe. Syria, with its potential to drag the U.S. into another protracted war, will be this new strategy's first test." More here.

And also on Syria, limiting public comment for the Congressional Black Caucus. The Cable's own John Hudson: "As an increasing number of African-American lawmakers voice dissent over the Obama administration's war plans in Syria, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has asked members to ‘limit public comment' on the issue until they are briefed by senior administration officials. A congressional aide to a CBC member called the request ‘eyebrow-raising,' in an interview with The Cable, and said the request was designed to quiet dissent while shoring up support for President Obama's Syria strategy. The CBC, a crucial bloc of more than 40 votes the White House likely needs to authorize a military strike in Syria, is scheduled to be briefed by White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice on Monday. Until then, CBC chairwoman Marcia Fudge has asked colleagues to ‘limit public comment until [they] receive additional details,' Fudge spokeswoman Ayofemi Kirby told The Cable. When asked if the White House requested the partial gag order, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said ‘the Administration is reaching out to all Members to ensure they have the information they need to make an informed judgment on this issue.' Kirby said it was her boss's request and was aimed at keeping members informed rather than silencing anti-war members." Read the rest here.