National Security

Ash Carter, departing; Who’s arriving, Flournoy? What about Bob Hale or Christine “Top Gun” Fox?; NSA: WH leaving us out to dry; Kerry in Afg; Is the Warthog the best plane ever?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Ash Carter to Hagel: "time for me to go." Ash Carter, the Pentagon's Number Two who longed to be tapped to be defense secretary, is stepping down as his boss, Chuck Hagel, looks to bring on more of his own team. The departure of Carter, considered to be one of the most powerful and effective deputy secretaries of defense in recent history, was expected even if the timing of his resignation today caught even some Pentagon insiders by surprise. In the letter he submitted to his boss Thursday, Carter said he has "loved every minute" working for the Defense Department, "now as in previous times in my career." But Carter -- who had long coveted the top job, and whose camp had occasionally clashed with Hagel's -- had signaled that he would leave sometime after Hagel found his bearings.

Carter had planned to announce his resignation weeks ago, but the budget and the government shutdown prevented it. As neither crisis showed signs of abating, he decided now was the right time to say good-bye after more than two years on the job. "I have decided that this situation might well continue and I don't want any more time to pass before giving you the opportunity to begin a smooth transition within the office of the Deputy Secretary," Carter wrote in the resignation letter he gave to Hagel today. "It is time for me to go." Carter will step down Dec. 4.

The divorce between Hagel and Carter seemed inevitable. As much as Hagel relied on Carter's undisputed expertise navigating the massive defense bureaucracy, Hagel has wanted to make his own mark on the department -- and with his own people. It was in fact Carter's deep institutional knowledge -- and the fact that Carter was passed over for the top job -- that contributed to the sense that there was little room for both men on the Pentagon's E-Ring. Although the two worked effectively together on a number of pressing issues, the awkward dynamic was a poorly-kept secret in and outside of the building, as Foreign Policy reported in August. Carter left on his own, however, and got a standing ovation yesterday after it was announced at a staff meeting yesterday mid-afternoon in the Pentagon's E-Ring.

...Carter agreed to stay on to help Hagel, telling friends that he'd been asked personally by Obama to stay, as the novice Hagel attempted to get his hands around the Defense Department bureaucracy. And after a bruising confirmation battle, most observers thought Hagel needed all the help he could get.

Carter quickly became Hagel's right-hand-man, leading a top-to-bottom review of Pentagon resources as budget cuts neared. Carter also managed a big portfolio -- larger than the one given to his predecessors -- conducting high-level policy discussions with world leaders and routine interaction at the White House as he remained in control of major budget and weapons issues. One former senior staffer likened his role to that of Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy under Donald Rumsfeld, who was a forceful personality in the days after 9/11 and the run-up to the war in Iraq.

Who's on the step to replace him? The first name that comes to mind is Michele Flournoy, the policy guru who resigned from the Pentagon's top policy job in February 2012 and was also on the short list to replace Panetta. She is again high on the list... She might wait out Obama's second term, passing on the Number Two job. Or, some believe, Flournoy, who has not had vast management experience on the Defense Department's scale, would be wise to jump at the chance to serve as Deputy Secretary. That would put her in line to succeed Hagel when the time comes.

Said one former senior defense official to Situation Report re: Flournoy: "She's dialed in at the White House, she's respected on the Hill, had a good run as Under Secretary for Policy. The DepSecDef job is the final, developmental job to become SecDef, and she's young enough that she can hang around."

But also under consideration: BAE's Linda Hudson, the Pentagon's Frank Kendall, CIA's General Counsel Stephen Preston. Surprise names: Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale, CAPE's Christine "Top Gun" Fox.

Float your ideas for DepSecDef to us here or @glubold.

Also expected to announce departure at some point: Jim Miller, head of the Pentagon's policy shop.

Our story, here.

Our original story about Chuck Hagel and Ash Carter - "Two's a Crowd at the Pentagon," here.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report - we'll see you again Tuesday morning. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us at 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, because if you see something, say something -- to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold on the Tweeter machine.

Keith Alexander and his senior leadership team at the NSA are angry and dispirited. FP's Shane Harris reports that the National Security Agency feels as if it's been left out on its own, having to defend itself against criticism of its surveillance programs without backup from the White House. Harris: "The top brass of the country's biggest spy agency feels they've been left twisting in the wind, abandoned by the White House and left largely to defend themselves in public and in Congress against allegations of unconstitutional spying on Americans. Former intelligence officials closely aligned with the NSA criticized President Obama for saying little publicly to defend the agency, and for not emphasizing that some leaked or officially disclosed documents arguably show the NSA operating within its legal authorities."

Here's the key line: "There has been no support for the agency from the President or his staff or senior administration officials, and this has not gone unnoticed by both senior officials and the rank and file at the Fort," Joel Brenner, the NSA's one-time inspector general, told Harris, referring to the agency's headquarters at Ft. Meade, Maryland.

Why this is could be important - Harris: "The Obama administration has long relied on America's intelligence agencies to carry out its most important foreign policy objectives, from killing Osama bin Laden to undermining Bashar al-Assad. The White House's embrace of the dark world of spycraft has been near-absolute. A rift between America's intelligence and political leaders could be more than fodder for Beltway cocktail parties. If left unchecked, it could start to erode the trusted relationships that have been at the heart of how the U.S. government handles global threats since 9/11." Read the rest of Harris' piece here.

Remember Afghanistan? It's a critical month, with a deadline looming for resolving negotiations on the security agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan after Obama gave President Hamid Karzai a warning that it had to be done by the end of this month or else (or else = the possibility that no troops will stay after 2014). But there is no good news from Kabul. WaPo's Karen DeYoung and Ernesto Londono: "...With that deadline less than three weeks away and deep rifts persisting, the White House appears increasingly willing to abandon plans for a long-term, costly partnership with Afghanistan. Despite the Pentagon's pleas for patience, much of the rest of the administration is fed up with Karzai and sees Afghanistan as a fading priority amid far more ominous threats elsewhere in the world...

"Meanwhile, serious new irritants in the relationship have convinced Karzai that he was right to question American good faith in year-old negotiations on a deal. The accord is considered critical for the international community to continue funding the Afghan government and shoring up its nascent security forces." Their bit here.

Kerry is in Afghanistan. AP: "U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Afghanistan Friday for urgent talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai as an end of October deadline looms for completing a security deal that would allow American troops to remain in Afghanistan after the end of the NATO-led military mission next year. Kerry's unannounced visit to Kabul comes as talks on the Bilateral Security Agreement have foundered over issues of Afghan sovereignty despite a year of negotiations." More on that from AP's Matthew Lee, in Kabul with Kerry, here.

Speaking of which: The movie "Lone Survivor," about SEALS in Afghanistan, screened last night as the culmination of yesterday's "Hero Summit." It was dramatic, graphic and ultimately moving. It's the story of the four Navy SEALs from SEAL Team 10 in Afghanistan in 2005. The team went on a reconnaissance mission in July of that year in the mountains of Afghanistan near the Pakistan border to monitor al-Qaeda leader. Only one, Marcus Luttrell, returned alive after a brutal ordeal that is hard to comprehend but whose live was ultimately saved by an Afghan man with whom he remains in close touch. Luttrell wrote "Lone Survivor" with ghostwriter Patrick Robinson. Now it's a big movie, starring Mark Wahlberg. Last night at Tina Brown's Hero Summit at the Newseum in Washington last night, it was screened. Afterward, Luttrell, with his guide dog, appeared for a panel discussion with Brown, actor Taylor Kitsch and writer/director/producer Peter Berg. Luttrell, at one point, on serving and the American public: "We don't want a thank you, a pat on the back or anything like that, we just want you to enjoy your life. Everybody's made different. You've got guys who are ... accountants, and you got warfighters, the guys who know how to fight and are good at it... we know how to make those decisions. So, stay out of our way, we'll stay out of yours." [Laughter, applause].

Hero Summit's agenda from yesterday, here.

Link to Luttrell's book on Amazon, here.

Arnold Fisher blasted Congress yesterday at Brown's summit. Arnold Fisher, the former top officer at Fisher House - in the news this week after the Fisher House Foundation agreed to front the Pentagon the money to pay death gratuities for fallen service members - also attended the "Hero Summit" yesterday. He made a point of venting about the absurdity of Congress and the government shutdown. Fisher, at yesterday's Hero Summit: "It's the worst thing this country has ever done: Allowing these families to come to Dover Air Force Base on their own money...Stop the nonsense," he said of the president and members of Congress. "And never -- it doesn't matter what the excuse is -- take it out on the military." Read the rest from U.S. News' Paul Shinkman, here.

Prescription rates for vets have shot up. Also from U.S. News, this one from Elizabeth Flock: "In the months before Joseph Petit, a trained Army airborne ranger, died in a bathroom at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center, his sister Brandie watched her brother age far beyond his 42 years. ‘He would twitch and run his fingers through his hair in the manner of an old person when their motor skills are slowing. It took him physically longer to think. Because of the medication, he wasn't there,' she says. The medical examiner's report on Petit's death, which was obtained by U.S. News, ruled the death a suicide, by plastic bag asphyxiation. But the report also listed six anti-psychotic, antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs in Petit's system, including the drug duloxetine, which has failed at least one use-approval in the U.S. because of incidents of suicide among its users. Petit suffered from knee pain as a result of an injury during parachute training, as well as mental health issues, according to his sister.

"For years, veterans groups and advocates have warned that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was dangerously medicating returning soldiers, while the VA has said it wasn't... A CBS records request of VA data in mid-September revealed that while the number of patients at the VA had risen by just 29 percent in the last 11 years, narcotics prescriptions written by VA doctors and nurse practitioners have risen 259 percent. Days later, the Center for Investigative Reporting found that the number of VA prescriptions for four major opiates - hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine and methadone - had spiked by 270 percent in the past 12 years. On Thursday, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs sought to move on the new data, hosting a combative hearing to investigate the VA's ‘skyrocketing prescription painkiller rate.'" That piece here.

Fahreal? There's a new Syrian weapons plan: send them to Scandinavia.  The scramble to find a place to dispose of Syria's more than 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, nerve agents and precursors has begun. FP's Colum Lynch: "Much of the legwork is being carried out by the United States, which has been sounding out governments from Europe, the Middle East, and Russia about the prospects of taking on the task. So far, there are no apparent takers. U.S. officials have even approached Norway about disposing of the agents -- even though the country has neither the technology nor the expertise to do so." More here.

Doctrine Man Weighs In: The Five Stages of a Pentagon Assignment. Click here.

Some would argue the A-10 is the Air Force's "most awesome warplane" - of course that's why the brass want to get rid of it. Robert Beckhusen, from War is Boring on Medium: "Starved of funding and saddled with a bunch of redundant Cold War-era airbases by an incompetent Congress, the U.S. Air Force is fast running out of money and needs to cut back.

But instead of eliminating expensive new technologies that demonstrably don't work, the flying branch is proposing to permanently ground arguably its most useful warplane-one that's been heavily upgraded and could fly cheaply for at least another 25 years. I'm talking about the A-10 Warthog, of course, that iconic 1970s-vintage tank-killer with the Mickey Mouse engine layout and a powerful nose-mounted 30-millimeter cannon the size of a Volkswagen Bug. The low- and slow-flying Warthog, heavily loaded with missiles and bombs, has flown top cover for American ground troops in three wars.

"In July, two A-10s  zoomed to the rescue of 60 American soldiers pinned down by a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan. Protected by their jets' titanium armor, the Warthog pilots flew low, spotted Taliban attackers by eye, fired thousand of 30-millimeter rounds and dropped three bombs. Three U.S. troops were injured; the Taliban left 18 dead on the battlefield. ‘I think that day the enemy knew they were going to die,' one of the fliers mused. Despite the A-10's impressive combat record, simplicity and low cost-just $17,000 per flight hour, the lowest of any Air Force jet fighter-the flying branch's generals want to eliminate all 326 Warthogs by 2015 in order to protect three complex, pricey new planes still in development: the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the secretive Long-Range Strike Bomber and the KC-46 aerial tanker." More of his bit here.

National Security

U.S. to Egypt: We heart you but we’re keeping our $560m; Fisher House to the rescue; What the duck-rabbit says about snatch-and-grab; Missing October 7; Marines: “the failure of the few” and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

The U.S. ends most of its aid to Egypt. FP's Yochi Dreazen: "The Obama administration is trying to send a message to Egypt's generals by cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S aid. The only problem is that it isn't entirely clear what the message actually is. U.S. officials said Wednesday that the administration would delay planned deliveries of F-16 fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and M1A1 tanks. The officials said they would also suspend a planned $260 million cash transfer to the Egyptians; Congressional aides briefed on the matter said that a $300 million loan guarantee would also be held back. (The U.S. gives Egypt roughly $1.5 billion per year in total aid.) The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. was ‘recalibrating' its aid to Egypt in response to the military's continued killing of unarmed protesters demanding the reinstatement of ousted President Mohamed Morsy as well as the arrests and detentions of key opposition leaders. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the Army chief who has ruled the country since removing Morsy from power, has promised to hold new elections and take other steps to restore Egypt's nascent democratic system, but the officials said the military was taking too long to follow through on its assurances." Read the rest here.

Hagel delivered the news to al-Sisi. CNN first reported Tuesday evening that the U.S. was considering ending most of its massive assistance package to Egypt. After the White House tried to delay the new storyline, mostly unsuccessfully, by yesterday it was clear the formal decision was imminent. Mid-afternoon here in Washington, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who has built a relationship with al-Sisi in more than two dozen conversations, jumped on the phone again. This time it was to deliver the news to al-Sisi that the aid package was ending, Situation Report is told. The two had a 40-minute conversation that was described as "professional and courteous" and it was all about informing al-Sisi about the assistance but also how to move the U.S.-Egyptian relationship forward. "The U.S. wants to maintain close ties with the U.S. military," a senior military official said.

The campaign for Islam in Egypt, by the WaPo's Stephanie McCrummen, who quotes Emad Shahin, a professor of public policy at the American University in Cairo as saying: "This is the new regime trying to create an official Islam, a state Islam, which doesn't exist within the Islamic tradition...It's providing a religious justification to tolerate the killing of possibly thousands of people, and it is sending alarming signals into many segments of society. This is exactly what you call fascism." Read her piece here.

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us at 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, because if you see something, say something -- to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold on the Tweeter machine.

A guy who never served in the military directed his foundation to step in and front the Pentagon the money to pay death benefits for those who gave it all. The government shutdown meant the Pentagon could not pay out the $100,000 death gratuity payment to the families of fallen service members, typically within three days of the death. Pentagon officials pointed this out Sept. 27, when DOD Comptroller Bob Hale explained the possible impacts of a government shutdown three days before it came to pass, said: "We would also be required to do some other bad things to our people. Just some examples, we couldn't immediately pay death gratuities to those who die on active duty during the lapse..." Fast forward to a few days ago, when Hagel met with service chiefs days after he directed most defense civilians to return to work. The Secretary and the chiefs discussed that despite the return of civilians there were still spending issues that remained unresolved - namely the lack of authority to pay the death benefits. That's when Sen. Joe Manchin, the Democrat from West Virginia, helped bring Fisher House Foundation to pay the death benefit on behalf of the Pentagon.  Fisher House builds houses for the families of service members to stay in as their loved ones recuperate from combat injuries in VA and other medical centers. Its founder, Zachary Fisher, never served in the military. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the Pentagon would reimburse Fisher House Foundation after the government reopens. A piece on Fisher, here.

Hagel in a statement: "I am offended, outraged, and embarrassed that the government shutdown had prevented the Department of Defense from fulfilling this most sacred responsibility in a timely manner."

Five service members have been killed in Afghanistan since Oct. 1. And 19 more have died elsewhere since that time - their families are all eligible for the gratuity.

Fisher House's Montel Williams (a former Marine, sailor and Naval Academy grad) goes off on critics of Hagel. Williams, on CNN's Piers Morgan:  "I don't know where to begin. When I came out you were interviewing and talking to two congressmen. One of them had the audacity to take a shot at the secretary of Defense Hagel and say he did this for a political reason or he had the authority to do so. If he had the authority to do so, he would have done so without passing a bill today." Rough transcript, here.

The House GOP ponders ending the impasse. The NYT's Jonathan Weisman: "House Republicans, increasingly isolated from even some of their strongest supporters more than a week into a government shutdown, began on Wednesday to consider a path out of the fiscal impasse that would raise the debt ceiling for a few weeks as they press for a broader deficit reduction deal. That approach could possibly set aside the fight over the new health care law, which prompted the shutdown and which some Republicans will be reluctant to abandon. In a meeting with the most ardent House conservatives, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, laid out a package focused on an overhaul of Medicare and a path toward a comprehensive simplification of the tax code." More here.

Situation Report corrects - Yesterday we referred to Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon as prime minister. Hashtag ofcourseweknowbetter.

We missed this altogether. This week marked the 12th anniversary of the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, which began Oct. 7 when the U.S. began a bombing campaign in Kabul and the CIA and the military launched ground operations. It's significant that in anniversary-hyper American culture the day marking the beginning of the Afghanistan war, in which more than 50,000 American troops still fight, was itself overlooked. Elbowed out by military operations in other countries, an enduring war inside Syria, a government shutdown at home and the now clichéd idea of a war-weary nation, many in the national security community know the war is all but forgotten to many Americans. This month marks an important one, however, as the U.S. and Afghanistan negotiate an important security agreement that will define the relationship and perhaps the region far into the future. This brief but vivid (and graphic) photographic retrospective in Time offers a reminder of whence the U.S. came. Worth the click, here.

How Wittgenstein's duck-rabbit explains/doesn't explain the snatch-and-grab missions in Somalia and Libya. FP's Rosa Brooks: Consider the duck-rabbit. As art, it ain't much. But as a metaphor for the legal conundrums created by the war on terror, it's pretty good. The humble duck-rabbit has an impressive pedigree: In the 1930s, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein sketched it for his Cambridge University students to illustrate his theory of language games. "I shall call the following figure ... the duck-rabbit," he declared. "It can be seen as a rabbit's head, or as a duck's." So -- naturally -- when I read reports on the recent U.S. "snatch and grab" operations in Libya and Somalia, I immediately thought of the duck-rabbit... Were these law enforcement operations, military operations, or something else? Were the targets (Abu Anas al-Libi and Abdikadir Mohamed Abdikadir, alias Ikrima) wanted criminals or enemy combatants?"

And: "Legal experts have debated the very same questions for well over a decade now, starting way back when the Bush administration first began to send detainees to Guantanamo and then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales quaintly pronounced the Geneva Conventions " quaint." Were the 9/11 attacks crime, or war? Is the legal framework applicable to combating terrorism a matter of international criminal law and human rights law, or the law of armed conflict?

"I think it's time to face up to an uncomfortable truth: These questions have no answers. They sound like they should have answers, but they don't, they won't, and they can't. In fact, they're the functional equivalent of arguing about whether the duck-rabbit is a rabbit or a duck." Read the rest of her bit and, of course, see a picture of the duck-rabbit, here.

Libyan prime minister kidnapped, then released. Read that here.

Shabab is gaining a foothold in Kenya.  The NYT's Nicholas Kulish and Josh Kron, from Nairobi: "When the United States tried to capture a powerful militant in Somalia last weekend, it did not go after the leader of the Shabab extremist group, but a Kenyan national whose ties were as much in his native country as in the Horn of Africa. Outside of Somalia itself, Kenya sends more fighters to the Shabab than does any other country, analysts say. Young Kenyan men have ridden buses to the border in large numbers for years, local Muslim leaders say, drawn by payments of up to $1,000 to cross into Somalia and fight for the group. But ever since the Kenyan military stormed into southern Somalia two years ago, many Kenyan fighters have been coming back home, local leaders and experts say, creating a larger, increasingly sophisticated network of trained jihadists in a country where people from around the globe gather in crowded, lightly protected public places."

The Atlantic Council's J. Peter Pham to the NYT: "The growing number of militants in Kenya is a serious concern - or ought to be - for both U.S. policy makers and their Kenyan counterparts." Read that whole piece here.

It's time to geek out with FP's John Reed.  He writes: "Imagine a day in the not too distant future when American commandos won't have to pull back in the face of enemy fire as they did in Somalia this weekend. Instead, they'll wear armor that allows them to literally walk through a hail of AK-47 fire and snatch their target away. Who will need drones when you can snatch a guy off the street with minimal risk of U.S. casualties? This scene, straight out of a sci-fi movie, might be real someday soon -- if U.S. Special Operations Command chief Adm. William McRaven has his way. The nation's top SEAL last month asked defense for technology to build a suit of armor, called the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS), that does everything from provide the wearer with night vision and superhuman strength to protecting them from gunfire. Click for the rest and for the cool video, here.

Jim Amos wants to "reawaken" his Corps. Marine Corps Times' Dan Lamothe: "Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos wants to ‘reawaken' the service after a dozen years of combat, calling for a period of transition in which standards are reinvigorated and Marines see a variety of long-dormant standards brought back. The commandant delivered his plan to senior officers at the General Officer Symposium, held here Sept. 23-27. It calls for a variety of initiatives, including the installation of security cameras in every barracks, the incorporation of more staff noncommissioned officers and officers on duty, and the arming of staff NCOs and officers on duty, according to briefing slides from the commandant's address.

"Amos' briefing slides say that while the Corps has been successful fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, "we are now seeing signs that are our institutional fabric is fraying." He cited sexual assault, hazing, drunken driving, fraternization and failure to maintain personal appearance standards among his concerns. In a statement provided to Marine Corps Times late Sept. 25, the commandant, who was not available for comment, expanded on his concerns. ‘It is impossible to overstate my pride in the brilliant performance of our Marines through 12 years of sustained combat,' Amos said. ‘As the Corps resets itself for the conflicts and crises to come, the magnificence of the many has thrown into sharp relief the failure of the few to live up to our high standards. Rather than wait for a creeping complacency to set in, I'm turning to my leaders at all levels to refocus Marines on what we do and who we are.' The commandant's briefing slides were more blunt. ‘We have a behavioral problem within the Corps - a small, but not insignificant, number of our Marines are not living up to our ethos and core values,' one of Amos' slides says. ‘They are hurting themselves, their fellow Marines, civilians and damaging our reputation.' Read the rest and see the picture of Amos' grimace, here.