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.

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