National Security

FP’s Situation Report: Soldier charged with killings in Iraq following investigation; Hagel hires Wendy Anderson; The sad story of an American rotting in a Cuban jail; Dan rather knocks CBS on Benghazi gaffe; and a bit more.

By Dan Lamothe

  1. A U.S. soldier has been charged with the killing of unarmed youths in Iraq in 2007. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Carl Prine and Jim Wilhelm: "An Army small-kill team leader is charged by military investigators with two counts of murder in the fatal shootings of two deaf, unarmed Iraqi youths in March 2007, an incident first made public in a Tribune-Review investigative report last year. Then-Staff Sgt. Michael Barbera is accused of killing Ahmad Khalid al-Timmimi, 15, and his brother Abbas, 14, as they tended to cattle in a palm grove near As Sadah, an Iraqi village about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad."

  2. Barbera will be arraigned soon. More from the Tribune-Review: "Barbera, 31, who was later promoted to sergeant first class, also is charged with lying to his commanders, directing fellow soldiers to lie to military investigators and making a threatening phone call to a civilian in an effort to keep what happened from becoming public. He was charged on Wednesday at Alaska's Fort Richardson and is in the process of being flown to Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, where he will undergo a formal arraignment - called an Article 32 hearing in the military. Defense attorneys at Lewis-McChord could not comment on the charges, which were confirmed by military officials and Maj. Barbara Junius, an Army spokeswoman. No date has been scheduled for Barbera's hearing, but it likely will convene early next year." More here.

    Hagel makes a hire for his front office. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has hired Wendy Anderson, currently serving as Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter's right hand, to be his deputy chief of staff, Situation Report has learned. Anderson will join Hagel's front office Dec. 4, immediately after Carter departs the building. "Wendy is well known in the Pentagon as a driving force in solving some of the most complicated management challenges facing the Department and has earned the trust and respect of the Pentagon's civilian and military leadership alike," outgoing Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said in a statement to Situation Report. "She brings to the office deep experience in defense policy, intelligence oversight and management." Anderson will serve with Hagel's current chief of staff, Mark Lippert. Anderson has apparently known and worked with Hagel for almost a decade. She has served Sen. Barbara Mikulski's intelligence liaison to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, where Hagel was a member. Hagel and Anderson also were on the Council on Foreign Relations' Afghanistan and Pakistan task force in 2009.

    Little, con't: "Wendy has strong working relationships with senior White House officials, members of Congress, and defense industry leaders, and will play a critical role in helping Secretary Hagel manage many of the fundamental strategic and budgetary challenges the Pentagon is presently facing."

    Today is George Little's last day as Pentagon press secretary. No replacement for him has been announced. Wishing him good Lego days with his kids. 

    Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. I'm Dan Lamothe, and I'm again filling in for Gordon Lubold, your usual Situation Report ninja. If you'd like to sign up for Situation Report, send Gordon a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll add you. And if you like what you see, tell a friend. Register free for Situation Report and other FP products here. As always, 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, you gotta say something -- to Situation Report. One more thing: please follow me at @DanLamothe, and Gordon at @glubold. Attention readers with yahoo addresses: we're working on the issue that delays the arrival of Situation Report each day.

    Why is Washington letting an America rot in a prison in Cuba? FP's Yochi Dreazen: "Four years ago, Cuban security agents arrested an American subcontractor named Alan Gross, accused him of spying for the U.S., and sentenced him to 15 years in a Havana prison. Gross has been languishing there ever since, a victim of Obama administration inaction, Congressional meddling, and the difficulties of negotiating with a regime as mercurial and opaque as the government of Cuban strongman Raúl Castro. The story of Gross's continuing imprisonment -- his sentence is set to run for 11 more years -- offers a case study of Cuba's potency as a political issue on Capitol Hill, where powerful lawmakers have helped block at least one deal that could have brought the contractor home. The White House, for its part, has shown little interest in substantive negotiations with the Cubans, in part because Havana's demands have shifted considerably over the years." More here.

    What's up with Congress and James Comey? The new FBI director's first time testifying on Capitol Hill was surprisingly easy. Foreign Policy's Shane Harris: "James Comey's first appearance before a congressional committee as the new director of the FBI was a walk in the park. The hearing Thursday, on threats to the U.S. homeland, was notable not for what Comey said, so much as what he didn't say, and what he wasn't asked. After telling members of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that he thinks cyber attacks and homegrown extremists are the biggest threats to U.S. national security, Comey, who was sworn in on September 4, was asked only a few questions about the role of government surveillance in monitoring those threats. And the questions were not about the FBI's activities, but the National Security Agency's. Which is a shame. While the leaks of the last five months have mostly been about the NSA's snooping, it's the bureau that actually serves surveillance orders on telephone companies, e-mail and Internet service providers, and other corporations in the United States whose data the government wants to analyze." More here.

    Dan Rather blames CBS's corporate culture for their Benghazi gaffe. The former news anchor for the network was asked about CBS News' recent "60 Minutes" report, which gave security contractor Dylan Davies a pass on his account of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, even though it conflicted with what he had previously told the FBI. From Politico's Hadas Gold: "Veteran newsman Dan Rather has finally weighed in on the "60 Minutes" Benghazi report, one week after vowing not to comment on the controversy. Speaking to Joe Madison's radio show ‘The Black Eagle,' Rather said that the corporate hierarchy at CBS News - which he described as ‘not so much our friends' - share at least as much as the blame as any correspondent for the flawed report. ‘There is a tendency when these kind of things happen to blame the correspondent whose voice and face was on the story, but whatever happened and however it happened, people in the corporate hierarchy of CBS News and leaders of the news division share at least as much of whatever blame there is to be as the correspondent, but they try to make it appear their fingerprints aren't on it,' Rather said."

    Watch video of the interview here.

    More Marines to the Philippines. The service announced late last night in a news release that about 1,000 more Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit based in Okinawa, Japan, will deploy to help with typhoon relief. That comes one week after the killer storm Haiyan roared over the island nation, killing thousands and leveling much of the country. About 900 Marines will board the amphibious ships Germantown and Ashland and deploy, Marine official said. Another 100 personnel will travel to the region by aircraft. They'll join thousands of other service members in the effort, now that the aircraft carrier George Washington and other Navy ships are in the region.

    The Philippine people, meanwhile, are dealing with tetanus and a variety of other diseases. From the New York Times' Rick Gladstone: "Medical aid groups on the ground in Tacloban, the city of 220,000 that was flattened when the storm made landfall a week ago and that only began to bury its dead on Thursday, have already expressed alarm over the risk of widespread tetanus infections among survivors wounded by shards of corrugated metal and splintered wood. Some aid groups have already reported exhausting their initial supplies of vaccine to thwart tetanus, a potentially fatal bacterial infection that can cause painful muscle contractions, the inability to swallow and the locking of the jaw." More here .

    The Army may be dumping its effort to develop new camouflage. The Washington Post reports today that one reason is that Congress appears to be ready to address the military's expensive penchant of letting each service develop its own pattern. The Post's David A. Fahrenthold: "In 2002, the military had just two camouflage patterns. By this year, after a series of duplicative efforts documented by the Government Accountability Office, there were 10. And many of them have problems: the Air Force issued an "Airman Battle Uniform" - and then decreed that airmen in Afghanistan should not use it in battle. The Navy puzzled sailors by issuing them blue camouflage uniforms, which would camouflage them best if they fell overboard." More here.

    The issue has been controversial in the services. Army Times' take last week put it bluntly. The newspaper's Lance M. Bacon: "To identify a new camouflage pattern the Army has invested three years, an estimated $10 million and a detailed evaluation by nearly a thousand soldiers rating camo performance in dozens of terrains. The result as of now, months after the originally anticipated production date? Nothing. Getting the new camo approved and into the field simply is ‘not a priority at this time,' Army officials said." More here.

    The Marines, meanwhile, want to keep their distinctive pattern, known as MARPAT. The service once was vocal about its opposition to letting other services wearing it, but its leaders have eased their rhetoric this year. Nevertheless, they don't want to give it up, either. Commandant Gen. James Amos addressed the issue in June. From Marine Corps Times' Battle Rattle blog: "Amos has so far been quiet regarding the proposed changes, even as Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has come out in support of a common camouflage - or at least a reduction from the ten-plus patterns now being utilized across the services. But on July 15 he had some folksy fighting words regarding a change for troops aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii. ‘We are on it like a hobo on a ham sandwich,' Amos said, according to a Marine Corps news release. ‘I love the hell out of this uniform and I don't have any intention of changing it.'" More here.

    The brass will be in California this weekend. Hagel, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and others will participate in the Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in Simi Valley, Calif. The event also will include remarks by Army Secretary John McHugh; Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; and Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. And tickets are steep: $499 per person, according to the Reagan foundation's website.

    Plenty of other movers and shakers will be there, too. Other active-duty officers expected to attend include Gen. Michael Hostage, commander of Air Combat Command, and Adm. William McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. They'll be joined by a slew of current and former civilian leaders in the Defense Department - including former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, former Navy Secretary John Lehman - and about a dozen officials holding office on Capitol Hill. More details here.

    Speaking of Hagel, he'll attend a change-of-command ceremony today that won't be typical. The defense secretary will head to his home state of Nebraska, where he'll preside over the change of commanders at U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees nuclear war fighting, in Omaha. But it might not be pretty. In the wake of lapses this fall, Hagel is expected to make a point about moral and ethical challenges facing the senior officer corps. The former deputy commander of STRATCOM, Vice Adm. Tim Giardina, was relieved in October and knocked down to the two-star rank. An investigation continues into alleged wrongdoing focused on gambling. At about the same time, an Air Force Gen. Michael Carey was relieved of command at 20th Air Force, responsible for the stock of about 450 Minuteman 3 nuclear missiles, in connection to alleged alcohol abuse. "While it's customary for change of commands to praise outgoing leaders, expect the Secretary to take the opportunity to address the recent lapses within STRATCOM head on and make clear his expectations for the future," officials said.

    Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force Chief of Staff, addressed the changes this week. AP's Bob Burns: "The Air Force has decided it must "add more vigor" to its screening of candidates for senior nuclear command, adding closer looks at health records and Internet searches for potentially damaging personal information about candidates who also have long military careers, the Air Force's top general said Wednesday. Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, told reporters that the change was initiated as the Air Force searched for a successor to Maj. Gen. Michael Carey, who was fired in October as commander of 20th Air Force, which is responsible for all 450 of the Air Force's Minuteman 3 nuclear missiles. Carey was fired for behavior that officials have said is linked to alcohol abuse. Until now the selection process had focused on a candidate's professional background, including job skills and prior assignments. Using that approach ‘someone would quickly (emerge as) the obvious choice,' Welsh said.

    ‘Just assuming an obvious choice in this business is probably dangerous,' he added. ‘So let's take a little bit deeper look.' More here.

National Security

FP’s Situation Report: A new task force for the Philippines; More misconduct alleged in the Secret Service; Gen. James Amos’ Heritage Brief used to acquit a Marine?; Mark Wahlberg loses his ‘sh-t’ while discussing Navy SEALs; and a bit more.

By Dan Lamothe

It's getting uglier in parts of the Philippines, even as relief workers arrive in the typhoon-ravaged nation. Reports from the ground suggest that while U.S. forces and humanitarian organizations move in earnest to help the Philippine people, desperation has set in nearly a week after Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated entire cities and towns. Keith Bradsher and Rick Gladstone, writing for the New York Times: "The paralysis was epitomized by the first attempt in Tacloban to conduct a mass burial of typhoon victims, whose corpses had been putrefying for days on the streets and under piles of debris. The attempt ended in failure as trucks carrying more than 200 corpses were forced to turn back when they faced gunfire at the city limits. The identities of the gunmen were not clear. Covered with black plastic tarpaulin, the bodies were returned to a makeshift outdoor morgue at the foot of the hill topped by City Hall, where they emitted a powerful odor in the tropical heat." More here.

The official death toll, as of daybreak in the Philippines on Thursday: 2,357, according to multiple published reports. That's well below the 10,000 initially feared dead, but it's expected that number will rise as rubble is searched for bodies.

U.S. forces will create a new task force to handle the relief effort. U.S. Pacific Command just announced that Adm. Samuel Locklear has designated Marine Lt. Gen. John Wissler to lead Joint Task Force 505 as it performs Operation Damayan, the relief effort. The word roughly means "help in time of need" in Tagalog. Wissler is the commanding general of III Marine Expeditionary Force, with headquarters in Okinawa, Japan. The majority of the U.S. forces on the ground in the Philippines initially came from III MEF.

Beefed-up command and control: "Lt. Gen. Wissler and his staff will depart Okinawa in the coming days as the command and control element for U.S. military support to disaster relief efforts in the Philippines," Marine officials said in the news release. The move signals that additional U.S. troops will deploy to the Philippines in coming days, as humanitarian assistance continues. The relief effort has been led by Marine Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, who arrived in the Philippines on Sunday.

The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, meanwhile, has assembled a 15-person team that is using high-tech mapping to help in the Philippines. Breaking Defense's Colin Clark: "Formed right after the storm made landfall, the team is ‘providing damage assessments of key infrastructure, roads and communication networks destroyed in the storm,' Don Kerr, NGA spokesman said [Wednesday] evening in an email. A senior Marine Corps official described NGA's efforts yesterday as "key" to the military's planning for and subsequent response to the disaster. More here.

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. I'm Dan Lamothe, and I'll be filling in for Gordon Lubold, your Situation Report Jedi, for the rest of the week. If you'd like to sign up for Situation Report, send Gordon a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll add you. And if you like what you see, tell a friend. Register free for Situation Report and other FP products here. As always, 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, you gotta say something -- to Situation Report. One more thing: please follow me at @DanLamothe, and Gordon at @glubold. Attention readers with yahoo addresses: we're working on the issue that delays the arrival of Situation Report each day.

Two agents have been cut from the Secret Service. The Washington Post reports this morning that they were dumped following an investigation into an incident last spring in Washington's landmark Hay-Adams hotel. From the Post's Carol D. Leonnig and David Nakamura: "The disruption at the Hay-Adams in May involved Ignacio Zamora Jr., a senior supervisor who oversaw about two dozen agents in the Secret Service's most elite assignment - the president's security detail. Zamora was allegedly discovered attempting to reenter a woman's room after accidentally leaving behind a bullet from his service weapon. The incident has not been previously reported. In a follow-up investigation, agency officials also found that Zamora and another supervisor, Timothy Barraclough, had sent sexually suggestive e-mails to a female subordinate, according to those with knowledge of the case. Officials have removed Zamora from his position and moved Barraclough off the detail to a separate part of the division, people familiar with the case said."

It's not the first time the Secret Service is in the spotlight for misbehavior. Remember Cartagena? More from the Post: "The incident came a year after the agency was roiled by a prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia, prompting vows from senior officials to curb a male-dominated culture of hard partying and other excesses. The service named its first female director, Julia Pierson, seven months ago, and an extensive inspector general report on the agency's culture launched in the wake of the Cartagena scandal is expected to be released in coming weeks." More here.

What's next with Iran? Almost a week after discussions between Iranian officials and Western powers to reduce the country's nuclear program broke down, finger-pointing is still en vogue. A new New York Times story examines the situation from Tehran, where Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has laid the majority of the blame on the French. From the Times' Thomas Erdbrink: "Following Mr. Zarif's lead, Iranian politicians, clerics, commanders and state news media outlets have been criticizing France. Students are threatening to occupy the French Embassy in Tehran and politicians are calling for a boycott of French products - not that there are very many because of the sanctions imposed over Iran's nuclear program. ‘France is playing a silly role, pushing the world away from peace, in order to represent some timid and cunning Arab and regional countries who are afraid to face Iran themselves,' said Amir Mohebbian, an adviser close to the Iranian leadership." More here.

FP's The Cable examined France's role in the breakdown last weekend. In case you missed it, it's here.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry took a beating on Iran from Republicans on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. The Cable's John Hudson: "Although the purpose of the briefing was to convey how new sanctions could derail the delicate negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, Republicans stormed out of the closed-door session in opposition to the Obama administration's message. At the same time, top Democrats remained silent or refused to comment as they exited the Capitol. ‘It was solely an emotional appeal,' Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) told reporters after the briefing. ‘I am stunned that in a classified setting, when you're trying to talk with the very folks that would be originating legislation relative to sanctions, there would be such a lack of specificity.'" More here.

The Pentagon and a shady Russian arms dealer are breaking up. The Pentagon acknowledged Wednesday it will no longer buy Mi-17 helicopters used to outfit the Afghan air force from Rosoboronexport. The corporation has come under a firestorm of criticism this year for selling weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime, which is accused of using them to commit atrocities. My story for FP: "For years, it has been one of the world's stranger -- and uglier -- arms deals, blasted by good governance advocates and human rights activists on three continents. Now, the Pentagon and Russia's premier weapons dealer are finally breaking up, amid pressure from Capitol Hill and a possible criminal probe into the Army's controversial program to buy Russian helicopters for the Afghan air force." More here.

Four Marines were killed in an explosion at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and it appears it occurred while they were sweeping a range for ordnance. From U-T San Diego's Gretel C. Kovach: "They were explosive ordnance disposal technicians who died in an explosion during a range sweep for unexploded munitions, a Marine official told U-T San Diego. The cause of the accident about 11 a.m. in the Zulu impact area in the center of the Marine base adjoining Oceanside is under investigation." More here.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos' tough talk on misbehavior may have just helped a Marine beat criminal charges. His "Heritage Brief," a series of speeches he gave last year blasting sexual assault and other misbehavior, was cited by a lawyer who helped his client, a staff sergeant, beat criminal charges. He had been accused of embezzlement, domestic abuse and other misdeeds. From Marine Corps Times' Hope Hodge Seck: "The criminal case against Staff Sgt. Anthony Rios Jr., 38, is significant because his legal team tied the aggressive effort to prosecute him to a presentation delivered last year to thousands of Marines around the world from the service's commandant, Gen. Jim Amos. Amos' so-called Heritage Brief took aim at what he saw as a rash of misbehavior in the ranks - everything from sex assault and hazing to monkey business in the war zone - and called for Marines to hold one another accountable when they screw up."

But the command for Rios, a wounded warrior, took it pretty far, cracking down on the Marine after the commandant began delivering the Heritage Brief. From the story: "Documents obtained by Marine Corps Times indicate Lt. Gen. Steven Hummer, then the head of Marine Forces Reserve, along with Lt. Col. Eric Kleis, the staff judge advocate in the case, signed off on prosecuting the domestic-violence charges despite the investigating officer's recommendation otherwise. The IO said the charges were baseless. Rios said the jury asked to see him after the Nov. 1 acquittal and offered him a formal apology for what he had been through." More here.

More to come? The commandant's spokesman, Lt. Col. Dave Nevers, told Situation Report that it's his understanding the Heritage Brief wasn't the reason Rios was acquitted, however. He was seeking additional information about the case this morning.

Remember the Air Force officer accused of sexual assault? You know, the one who led the service's sexual assault prevention branch at the time he was charged? He was acquitted on lesser assault charges on Wednesday in court in Arlington, Va. From Kristin Davis and Brian Everstine of Air Force Times: "A jury of five men and two women found the former chief of the Air Force's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office not guilty of assault and battery related to allegations he groped a woman's buttocks in Arlington, Va., in May. Jurors deliberated for about one hour and 15 minutes Wednesday before clearing Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, 42, of the misdemeanor charge. Krusinski was at first expressionless when the verdict was read, but within seconds he was smiling and talking with his attorney. He exited the Arlington County courthouse without commenting on the two-day trial's verdict. ‘I just want to say I love my children,' he said.

Nevertheless, another form of punishment Krusinski received came up in court Wednesday. Krusinski's alleged victim hit him multiple times in the face outside Freddie's Beach Bar in Crystal City, Va., witnesses said. More from Air Force Times: "The defense focused on discrepancies over the number of times the woman hit Krusinski in the face and whether she hit him with the hand that held her cell phone or her other hand. The woman said she hit him three times. Multiple witnesses who said they saw the altercation testified it was far more than that. Vaughn Coleman, an employee at Freddies, said she witnessed Krusinski being hit repeatedly for about 15 seconds. Coleman, who is transsexual, also said Krusinski grabbed her earlier that night with both hands and said, ‘I have a penis, you have a penis. It's OK. You can come home with me.'" More here.

Mark Wahlberg blasted Hollywood privilege and praised the military at the premiere for "Lone Survivor," his new movie about Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell. He reportedly was asked about the rigorous training he received to play the part of Luttrell, a Navy Cross recipient who was the only member of his team to make it out of a July 2005 mission in Afghanistan. His passionate response was filled with profanity, and went on for almost five minutes straight. From Entertainment Tonight: "Wahlberg looked visibly pained by the question and started on what would become an almost five-minute monologue. "For actors to sit there and talk about ‘oh I went to SEAL training'? I don't give a f-ck what you did. You don't do what these guys did. For somebody to sit there and say my job was as difficult as being in the military? How f-cking dare you, while you sit in a makeup chair for two hours," Wahlberg said.

"I'm sorry for losing my sh-t. Don't ask any more questions tonight." That's how the actor concluded his rant. More here.

Wahlberg has played a number of service members in movies, including a Marine sniper in 2007's "Shooter" and a soldier in 1994's "Renaissance Man." It's worth noting that many Marines love "Shooter," in which he plays Gunnery Sgt. Bobby Lee Swaggart, who refuses to give up after he is framed for an assassination attempt on the president. When a platoon of infantry Marines in Marjah, Afghanistan, learned in 2010 that your fill-in Situation Report correspondent had not seen the movie, they screened it that very evening, using a dusty projector and a white sheet hung from a wall in the decrepit schoolhouse they called home at the time.