National Security

Does Israel have chemical weapons, too? McCain, Graham: not trusting; Is Idris being shunned from DC?; POGO: security shortfalls at Kabul embassy; and a bit more [presented today by Lockheed Martin]

By Gordon Lubold

Did Kerry just stumble into averting a war? In an answer to a question at a London press conference, Secretary of State John Kerry said that Syria could avoid strikes if it allowed its chemical weapons stockpile to be placed under control of the international community. That gave immediate traction to the proposal, with Syria quickly embracing a plan first touted by the Russians. Now France, which has been pushing strikes in Syria after its alleged chemical weapons attack outside Damascus last month, seems to agree as well. France said it would draft a U.N. Security Council resolution to put the plan into effect - and China and Iran voiced support, as well. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki tried to walk back Kerry's comments almost immediately after he uttered them, describing the remarks as a "rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used."

FP's Yochi Dreazen writes: "By then, though, Kerry's ad lib had taken on a life of its own. A few hours after Kerry spoke, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow that Russia would support putting Syria's chemical weapon storage sites under international control before ‘their subsequent destruction... We don't know whether Syria will agree with this, but if the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in the country will prevent attacks, then we will immediately begin work with Damascus,' Lavrov said."

Even Obama seems to like it. President Barack Obama said yesterday that he would "run to ground" the Russian proposal and that it would, potentially, head off a U.S. military strike against the Assad regime. If Assad agreed to put his chemical weapons stockpile under international control it would "absolutely" stave off strikes. Obama, on CNN: "It's possible if it's real... And, you know, I think it's certainly a positive development when, the Russians and the Syrians both make gestures toward dealing with these chemical weapons. This is what we've been asking for not just over the last week or the last month, but for the last couple of years." That USAT story here.

McCain, Graham: don't trust but do verify. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two of the most vocal members on Syria, indicated some vindication. The threat of military action, they said, is what could "create the possibility" for Assad to give up control of his weapons. But Congress should keep up the pressure, they said, and continue to vote for an authorization for the use of force. "This will give the President additional leverage to press Russia and Syria to make good on their proposal to take the weapons of mass destruction out of Assad's hands," they said in a joint statement. "At the same time, all of us need to be realistic about this situation. We should not trust, and we must verify."

Kerry, Hagel and Dempsey meet a House divided.  The trio head to the House Armed Services Committee today to talk Syria but the dynamic on the public relations battlefield has changed some. The administration's line has changed. Now the question is, will the administration push through with the authorization or not. An American defense official tells Situation Report tweaks to the statements are possible in light of the developments yesterday. That may or may not help to calm a restive House, which had been struggling with strikes to say the least. And Republicans and some Democrats have marveled at how botched the administration's approach over the last couple weeks has been. At the hearing today, Kerry, Hagel and Dempsey will have to be clear about the way ahead in light of yesterday's developments. "I think the administration needs to clarify if they want to put this thing on pause," a senior Hill staffer told Situation Report this morning. "I don't expect them to... people still want to vote on this thing, even if they're opposed to it. If the administration still wants it, bring it on."

Is the White House keeping Syria's rebel commander out of Washington?  The Cable's John Hudson: "...hawks on Capitol Hill are questioning why the Obama administration isn't using one of its most powerful advocates for intervention: General Salim Idriss, commander of the rebels' Supreme Military Council. Long heralded as the poster child for Syria's moderate rebels, Idriss has yet to travel to Washington to make his case for U.S. intervention -- and it's not for lack of trying. Congressional sources and members of the Syrian opposition tell The Cable that the Obama administration has delayed or cancelled at least three scheduled trips for Idriss to come to Washington since March."

A frustrated Congressional aide to Hudson: "The White House has stepped in at the eleventh hour to cancel planned trips in which tickets were bought and hotels were booked for Gen. Idriss to come to Washington... It's beyond me why the administration is trying to prevent a very articulate person from answering the fundamental question that almost every lawmaker wants to know: Who the Hell is the opposition?'" Read the rest here.

Welcome to Tuesday'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.

Pot, this is Kettle: Does Israel have chemical weapons, too? Writing on FP, Matthew Aid: "Syria's reported use of chemical weapons is threatening to turn the civil war there into a wider conflict. But the Bashar al-Assad government may not be the only one in the region with a nerve gas stockpile. A newly discovered CIA document indicates that Israel likely built up a chemical arsenal of its own. According to the report, American spy satellites uncovered in 1982 'a probable CW [chemical weapon] nerve agent production facility and a storage facility... at the Dimona Sensitive Storage Area in the Negev Desert.'

'While we cannot confirm whether the Israelis possess lethal chemical agents,' the document adds, 'several indicators lead us to believe that they have available to them at least persistent and nonpersistent nerve agents, a mustard agent, and several riot-control agents, marched with suitable delivery systems.'"

Why this is so explosive, Aid writes: "the 'non-persistent nerve agent' in question was almost certainly sarin. That is believed to be the Assad regime's chemical weapon of choice -- and the agent used on the morning of August 21, 2013 to strike rebel-controlled or contested neighborhoods in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. The Obama administration says that attack killed over 1,400 innocent civilians, mostly women and children. On Sunday, the Israeli defense minister, Moshe Ya'alon, blasted Assad for "crudely us[ing] chemical weapons against its own citizens."  Read the rest here.

POGO releases a report on embassy security in Kabul today. The new report shows how a top State Department official delivered "inaccurate and misleading testimony to Congress in July," according to POGO, and spotlights gaps in Kabul embassy security based on rosters POGO obtained. The report also presents observations, on the record, no less, from former embassy guards who, according to POGO "fear that, long after the killings in Benghazi, persistent security shortcomings could lead to tragedy.??Read it here. POGO's charts that show staffing gaps here. And FP's big piece on embassy security problems in Kabul here.

Meanwhile... Alison Spann, daughter of the first American killed in Afghanistan, living a life worth living. CNN's Wayne Drash: "Alison Spann walks purposefully behind the marble headstones, just as her father taught her. He brought her here, to Arlington National Cemetery, as a girl. He pointed out the names of the dead and the wars that took their lives. He told her to look around and appreciate the sacrifice of the fallen. The two walked together along the rows of headstones and turned when they got to a grave they were visiting. It was the proper way to walk in a cemetery, he told her, by not stepping where people are buried, a way of respecting them long after death. Her father taught her many things. To be headstrong. To strive for a stellar education. To remember that a girl can conquer anything. Today, Alison is the epitome of grace, her wavy brunette hair pulled back as she glides through section 34 of the cemetery. The whir of the nation's capital is drowned out here. Crickets chirp, cicadas buzz. A robin perches on a gravestone, almost as if watching. As she reaches the fifth grave from the large oak, Alison turns and faces the headstone. It is her father's: Johnny Micheal Spann. Known as Mike, he died on November 25, 2001 -- the first American killed in the war in Afghanistan. Read the rest, and video, here.

The Pentagon puts military compensation in the crosshairs. Military Times' Andrew Tilghman: "Hale said annual military pay raises likely will fall below the rise in inflation next year, and that may be the first of many similar reductions. "Congress is battling over whether to give troops a raise to match the official Employment Cost Index - a measure of private-sector wage growth - of 1.8 percent, or to limit the pay bump to 1 percent. Hale and other top Pentagon officials are advocating for the lower pay raise as a way to slow the long-term growth of personnel costs. ‘I think we will prevail in that,' Hale said. That would be the first time military pay would fall below the ECI since 1998. For much of the 2000s, Congress approved hefty raises well above the ECI in an effort to close a purported ‘gap' between military and private-sector pay that peaked at about 13.5 percent in the 1990s."

The Big Takeaway: Bob Hale, speaking recently: "I think we will go after military compensation aggressively." Read the rest here.

Read Situation Report from July 17 about the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission has taken form under Hagel. Read that here.


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.