Situation Report

Amos cleared; Does Karzai’s brinkmanship put the agreement in jeopardy?; McRaven’s reading list; A Navy ‘family man’ implicated in scandal; The G-men who do the NSA’s dirty work; Supersizing the Penty’s Market Basket; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Jim Amos is cleared of wrongdoing in the infamous Taliban urination video saga. The WSJ's Julian Barnes: "The head of the Marine Corps has been cleared of allegations that he improperly displayed favoritism toward a Marine during an investigation of an infamous video showing snipers urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. The Marine commandant, Gen. James Amos, was cleared by the Defense Department's inspector general's office, which said his conduct 'was reasonable under the circumstances,' according to a document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Gen. Amos was accused by a Marine lawyer of giving preferential treatment to then-Maj. James B. Conway, an officer in the unit under investigation, by approving a promotion during the probe. The officer is the son of a former Marine commandant, Gen. James T. Conway. James B. Conway, now a lieutenant colonel, wasn't accused of wrongdoing and didn't appear in the video." Read the rest here.

The Navy bribery and prostitution scandal expands: a Navy "family man" is implicated. FP's Dan Lamothe: "When Navy Capt. David Haas received national media attention for competing in Ironman competitions in 2009, he deflected it in aw-shucks fashion. ‘I race for my family,' Haas said at the time. ‘I want them to know that they can dream, work hard, and make their dreams come true. I want my kids to look up to their dad. It is important to me that they think positively of their father.' On Thursday, Haas, 45, became the latest Navy officer implicated in the broad-reaching Glenn Defense Marine scandal, in which prostitutes, cash bribes and other perks were allegedly traded for sensitive military information. Haas was suspended as the deputy commander of Coastal Riverine Group One in San Diego, and temporarily reassigned to the staff of the Expeditionary Training Group, Navy officials announced." Read the rest here.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to sign up for Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. 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 us @glubold.

Karzai throws another curve ball and the U.S.-Afghan agreement is still in limbo. Although there is an agreement in principle on a bilateral security agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai created more last-minute drama by declaring that he didn't want to sign it until after the presidential election in April. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in Halifax: "...until we have a signed bilateral security agreement that essentially gives us then the assurance that we need to go forward, I don't think the president is going to commit to anything. He's said that. And my advice to him would be to not."

The WSJ's Nathan Hodge, Dion Nissenbaum and Yaroslav Trofimov: "...It wasn't immediately clear whether Mr. Karzai's Pashto-language remarks represented a final policy decision. Reached hours after the speech, Mr. Karzai's spokesman, Aimal Faizi, said that "peace, security and a good election are key to the signing" of the security pact. A senior Afghan official, however, said Mr. Karzai may reconsider if requested to do so by the Loya Jirga, whose roughly 3,000 delegates are scheduled to deliberate on the deal for three more days. Mr. Karzai approved the list of the assembly's participants; most of them had been selected by provincial authorities." More here.

It's not the NSA, stupid - it's the FBI's G-Men who are doing a lot of the spying. FP's Shane Harris: "With every fresh leak, the world learns more about the U.S. National Security Agency's massive and controversial surveillance apparatus. Lost in the commotion has been the story of the NSA's indispensable partner in its global spying operations: an obscure, clandestine unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that, even for a surveillance agency, keeps a low profile.

When the media and members of Congress say the NSA spies on Americans, what they really mean is that the FBI helps the NSA do it, providing a technical and legal infrastructure that permits the NSA, which by law collects foreign intelligence, to operate on U.S. soil. It's the FBI, a domestic U.S. law enforcement agency, that collects digital information from at least nine American technology companies as part of the NSA's Prisim system. It was the FBI that petitioned the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to order Verizon Business Network Services, one of the United States' biggest telecom carriers for corporations, to hand over the call records of millions of its customers to the NSA." Read the rest here.

Dramatic decline: Veteran homelessness has dropped by 24 percent since 2010. The WaPo's Josh Hicks: "The analysis, based off of HUD's annual nationwide count of the homeless, said there were nearly 58,000 veterans without permanent living quarters on a single night in January, compared to 63,000 the previous year and about 76,000 in 2010." More here.

NYT's Page One: Service members are left vulnerable to payday loans, by Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Peter Eavis: "...Nearly seven years since the Military Lending Act came into effect, government authorities say the law has gaps that threaten to leave hundreds of thousands of service members across the country vulnerable to potentially predatory loans - from credit pitched by retailers to pay for electronics or furniture, to auto-title loans to payday-style loans. The law, the authorities say, has not kept pace with high-interest lenders that focus on servicemen and women, both online and near bases." More on that here.

Third Rail: DOD is looking at closing all U.S. commissaries in a cost-saving measure that will make some people freak. Military grocery stores in which active and retired military members pay for everyday items at significantly lower cost, are seen as an iconic cornerstone of the military benefits package. But they may become a thing of the past as DOD looks for ways to potentially maintain the benefit without maintaining stores around the country. Earlier this year, the WaPo did a big Page Oner on the effort to close commissaries. But the story didn't sit well with some military spouses, who began shipping cases of ketchup to the reporter, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, in what was called #ketchupgate. Now it looks like DOD is really thinking about how to tackle the problem. Military Times' Karen Jowers: "Defense officials have reportedly asked the Defense Commissary Agency to develop a plan to close all U.S. commissaries - about three-fourths of its stores, according to a resale community source familiar with details of a meeting with representatives of the Joint Staff and Pentagon comptroller's office. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the meeting was held within the last few weeks and was part of preparations for the fiscal 2015 DoD budget request that is due out on February.

"According to DeCA, there are 178 commissaries in the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii. Almost 70 stores operate overseas. Operating costs for the overseas stores account for 35 percent of DeCA's budget, but only about 16 percent of total worldwide sales. Commissary officials negotiate lower prices for products based on volume. Closing all or most U.S. commissaries would lead to higher prices and a degraded benefit in remaining stores, said Tom Gordy, president of the Armed Forces Marketing Council, in written testimony presented to the House Armed Services Committee's military personnel panel Wednesday... He noted in his testimony that the Joint Staff reportedly had asked DeCA in recent weeks to look at cutting its $1.4 billion annual budget by one-third to two-thirds." More of Jowers' story here.

DoD passes on idea of inviting Taiwan to be included in RIMPAC 2014.  A bipartisan group of House members asked Chuck Hagel to see if Taiwan could participate in the big Asia-Pacific exercise next year for the first time. But alas, no. Pentagon policy chief Jim Miller responded to the request saying there were a number of ways in which the U.S. and Taiwan militaries are working together, including exercises and a $12 billion sale of military articles. But in the end, it's not happening. Miller, opaquely, saying no: "Taiwan has not previously participated in RIMPAC; the decision this year to continue focusing on other venues for supporting Taiwan's development of defensive capabilities was made independently of the decision to extend an invitation to the People's Republic of China to participate."

Rep. Randy Forbes, one of the eight who wrote Hagel, said in a statement provided to Situation Report that he is disappointed that DOD doesn't want Taiwan to participate, but he'll take the Pentagon up on the offer to have a classified briefing on U.S.-Taiwan mil-to-mil relations: "More importantly, I look forward to working with the Department in a bipartisan manner to find other ways for our two militaries to deepen and enhance their relationship. For instance, just like Taiwan's F-16 pilots train alongside our pilots at Luke Air Force Base, I believe we should look to organize a similar arrangement to help train their new AH-64E Apache attack helicopters pilots."

The members' letter to Hagel, here.

Jim Miller's response Nov. 16, here.

Vacancies within the Pentagon on the rise. National Defense's Sandra Erwin: "Defense industry leaders are growing uneasy over the number of unfilled senior civilian posts at the Pentagon. Many of the current vacancies have not been filled because the Obama administration has not yet named candidates. Others are positions for which nominees still await Senate confirmation. At least 30 percent of top civilian Defense Department positions as of mid-November either remain vacant or are being filled by officials in acting capacity, according to estimates by Arnold L. Punaro, retired Marine Corps major general and chairman of the National Defense Industrial Association. ‘I was surprised to see that so many positions at the Pentagon are vacant,' Punaro said. He worries about a leadership vacuum at a time when the Defense Department is grappling with massive budget problems and thorny policy issues. This is also problematic for contractors as they cope with fiscal uncertainty and look to the Defense Department for guidance, Punaro said. If the Senate stalemate over nominees continues, the Pentagon could see more vacancies in its top ranks, he said. If the Senate doesn't move to confirm nominees soon, by Jan. 1, ‘We'll be at 40 percent.'" More on this story, including the list of vacancies, here.

War on the Rocks publishes Bill McRaven's reading list, which includes Stan McChrystal's "My Share of the Task," and Linda Robinson's "One Hundred Victories" and Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat, 3.0," and Chip and Dan Heath's "Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die." Read the rest of the list here.

Speaking of rocks: U.S.-Iran talks are on them. FP's Yochi Dreazen in Geneva and John Hudson in DC: "U.S. and Iranian diplomats failed to meet at the negotiating table together Thursday. Top Iranian and Western officials are trading public barbs. And back in Washington, senators conspired to impose another round of sanctions on Tehran. It's all raising fears that the historic nuclear deal which seemed so close just a few days ago might be slipping away. Wendy Sherman, the chief American nuclear negotiator held a brief meeting Wednesday night with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, but a senior State Department official said that Catherine Ashton, the European Union's top diplomat, was the only leader to hold direct and formal talks with the Iranians Thursday at the high-end Intercontinental Hotel here." More here.
Think again: If you think Joseph Kony is going to surrender, well... FP's Dana Stuster: "If Michel Djotodia, the Central African Republic's rebel leader turned interim president, is to be believed, Joseph Kony, the head of the infamous Lord's Resistance Army, is about to emerge from the jungle and surrender. "It's true, Joseph Kony wants to come out of the bush," Djotodia told the Guardian. "We are negotiating with him." Reports suggest that Kony is sheltering near the town of Nzako and asking intermediaries for food and supplies. Let's just say that analysts tracking Kony are, well, skeptical about that claim.  What's more likely, they say, is that the government is talking to a group of LRA fighters, possibly defectors, who may have no affiliation with Kony." More here.

The CBO released a report yesterday about the long-term implications of the 2014 "future years defense program." Here is the CBO's analysis of how the Future Years Defense Program, or FYDP. Check out the report here.

Supersize me: If you work in the Pentagon and you eat at "Market Basket," a new Pentagon renovation project is gonna expand the size of the popular eatery. You heard it here first, folks: the "Market Basket" on the Pentagon's A-Ring is moving across the way to where the Pentagon Dining Room is currently located in a move that will make the popular food court-ish Market Basket more accessible and less congested, Situation Report has learned. Sometimes in late winter or early spring, the Market Basket - the go-to place for soups, sandwiches but mostly good sushi - will close at the end of the week at some point in the next few months and reappear the following Monday where the Pentagon Dining Room is now located. That gives the crowded Basket more space. The new space will "increase server and production space," according to a document provided to Situation Report, and include "expanded concepts" to include a larger hot/cold bar, specialty coffee, a grocery section, something called "home meal replacement."

The cost to the DOD will be about $750,000 with the rest of the cost borne by the concessionaire. "This relocation will allow the better utilization of space and enhance the customer experience," a DOD spokesman told Situation Report. The Dining Room, which will close after the holidays in December, will be closed for a much longer period of time while it is being relocated.

Beacon Global Strategies - the consulting firm packed with ex-Obama Administration bigwigs -- just hired Julianne Smith and Josh Kirshner. Smith served as the deputy national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden. Kirshner served as special assistant for Political-Military Affairs to the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. Beacon Global Strategies also brought on Brian Hook, former Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, to serve as the company's first "Board of Advisers" board member. The press release here.

 

 

 

National Security

FP’s Situation Report: In Afg., is there a deal or what?; The Navy saw red flags in Fat Leonard; Kerry gets props; The 10 most ridiculous military regs; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Does the U.S. and Afghanistan have a deal - or not? Depends. Numerous reports indicate the two countries are inching closer to a bilateral security agreement that would define the relationship for years to come and potentially allow a number of U.S. troops to remain in the country until 2024. The NYT and the WSJ had on Page One (and the WaPo on A12) had stories indicating an accord had been reached. The NYT's Thom Shanker and Rod Nordland: "Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Wednesday that the United States and Afghanistan had finalized the wording of a bilateral security agreement that would allow for a lasting American troop presence through 2024 and set the stage for billions of dollars of international assistance to keep flowing to the government in Kabul. The deal, which will now be presented for approval by an Afghan grand council of elders starting on Thursday, came after days of brinkmanship by Afghan officials and two direct calls from Mr. Kerry to President Hamid Karzai, including one on Wednesday before the announcement." More here.

But early this morning East Coast time, Karzai said the whole thing should be delayed: "I don't trust the Americans, and they don't trust me." The WSJ's Nathan Hodge and Yaroslav Trofimov: "Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that the security deal with the U.S. should be deferred until after his successor is elected, even as he boasted of securing key concessions from President Barack Obama. ‘The agreement should be signed when the election is conducted, properly and with dignity,' Mr. Karzai told the opening session of the Loya Jirga assembly that he convened to consider the deal. ‘I don't trust the Americans, and they don't trust me,' he added." Read the rest of the WSJ piece here.

This is how the war in Afghanistan could be lost this week, by FP's Dan Lamothe and Yochi Dreazen: "...It remains to be seen, however, whether the deal will be approved by the loya jirga. And therein lies the rub: Unless Karzai can corral enough support in his last full year in office to hold the line on his plan with the U.S., the future of Afghanistan remain in doubt. (Well, even more in doubt than it would have been without the deal.) The loya jirga's views are not officially binding, but Karzai has said repeatedly that the tribal elders there will decide some of the most controversial pieces of the new security agreement, most notably whether U.S. forces will be granted prosecutorial immunity. Iraq's unwillingness to do the same resulted in the U.S. pulling all of its troops from that country in 2011, setting the stage for widespread bloodshed there this year." That piece, here.

Validation after 12 years of war: Former Marine Mark Kustra, a member of the military's Afghan Hands program, writes in the WSJ today that the agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan is a win. His BLUF: "The costs of playing out a winning Afghanistan endgame will be significant, though a fraction of the expenditures of the past dozen years. The costs of blowing the endgame would have been inestimable, and now both countries are on the brink of avoiding that dismal fate." Read the whole piece here.

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to sign up for Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. 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 us @glubold.

FP Exclusive: The U.S. and some allies are trying to kneecap an effort within the United Nations to promote a universal right to online privacy. FP's Colum Lynch, citing diplo sources and an internal American government document: "The diplomatic battle is playing out in an obscure U.N. General Assembly committee that is considering a proposal by Brazil and Germany to place constraints on unchecked internet surveillance by the National Security Agency and other foreign intelligence services. American representatives have made it clear that they won't tolerate such checks on their global surveillance network. The stakes are high, particularly in Washington -- which is seeking to contain an international backlash against NSA spying -- and in Brasilia, where Brazilian President Dilma Roussef is personally involved in monitoring the U.N. negotiations." More here.

Rabid dogs, nuclear rights and fussy Frenchies: A tablesetter on the U.S.-Iran talks from FP's Yochi Dreazen, reporting from Geneva. "American and Iranian negotiators settled into a luxury hotel here for several days of talks designed to hash out the final details of what could be a historic nuclear deal. Secretary of State John Kerry and other foreign secretaries are watching the talks closely, ready to fly to Geneva at a moment's notice if an agreement is reached. U.S. officials say they're cautiously optimistic these talks will pan out. The two sides came exceptionally close to a deal earlier this month, but those negotiations ended with Kerry and his colleagues boarding their planes and flying home without an agreement. This time around, officials from both sides believe that many of the disputes that gummed up the last round of negotiations have been at least partially resolved. Don't take out the champagne just yet, however. Some significant differences remain, and it's not at all clear that the negotiators will be able to bridge all of them. Below are three key issues worth watching as the talks get underway." More here.

Kerry gets props. The NYT's Mark Landler and Michael Gordon: "...If the United States and its five negotiating partners come within striking distance of an interim agreement with Iran, Mr. Kerry is likely to fly to Geneva at the end of the week to try to seal the deal. It would be a rare win for a White House that has been reeling from the botched rollout of the health care law, a stalled legislative agenda and doubts about Mr. Obama's credibility. It would also ratify Mr. Kerry's status as the biggest surprise of the president's second-term cabinet: a hyperactive diplomat who plunges into seemingly intractable problems, improvises furiously along the way - making gaffes from time to time but occasionally devising solutions that have helped Mr. Obama out of messy situations like the impasse over a security agreement with Afghanistan." More here.

Hagel urges the Senate to approve the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Hagel, in a statement released by DOD: "...One of the legacies of the past twelve years of war is that thousands of young Americans will carry physical wounds for the rest of their lives. These wounded warriors deserve to have the same opportunities to live, work, and travel as every other American, and to participate fully in society whether at home or abroad. Joining this treaty will allow the United States to help shape international practices for individuals with disabilities that are consistent with our own high standards for access and opportunity. It will also help personnel who have family members with disabilities, who often have to choose between their families and their careers when considering assignments in other countries...Failing to approve this treaty would send the wrong message to our people, their families, and the world. Approving it would help all people fulfill their potential. That's why I strongly support swift Senate action."

Are Air Force nuclear misileers suffering from burnout? AP's Bob Burns: "Key members of the Air Force's nuclear missile force are feeling "burnout" from what they see as exhausting, unrewarding and stressful work, according to an unpublished study obtained by The Associated Press. The finding by researchers for RAND Corp. adds to indications that trouble inside the nuclear missile force runs deeper and wider than officials have acknowledged. The study, provided to the AP in draft form, also cites heightened levels of misconduct like spousal abuse and says court-martial rates in the nuclear missile force in 2011 and 2012 were more than twice as high as in the overall Air Force. These indicators add a new dimension to an emerging picture of malaise and worse inside the intercontinental ballistic missile force, an arm of the Air Force with a proud heritage but an uncertain future." The rest here.

Were you curious how the U.S. is strengthening its mil-to-mil ties with India? If so, DepSecDef Ash Carter explains how it's coming to be in this piece he wrote for FP. Carter: "...As someone who has watched our bilateral relationship mature over a number of years, I've come to believe that the United States and India are increasingly natural partners on the world stage. Though we may not always share identical policy prescriptions, we do share a common set of values and objectives. These include a commitment to democratic governance and human rights; to free and open commerce; to a just international order that emphasizes rights and responsibilities of nations and fidelity to the rule of law; to open access by all to the shared domains of sea, air, space, and now cyberspace; and to the principle of resolving conflict without the use of force."

And: "...while the deepening of U.S.-India defense cooperation may not be as visible as some of our other efforts in the Asia-Pacific region, it is a key example of how the Department of Defense under Secretary Chuck Hagel is executing our role in the rebalance." Read the rest of that bit here.

No more easy wars: Scott Gerber argues on FP that the U.S. is resurrecting the same strategy that failed in Iraq. Read that here.

The Navy seemed to have suspicions about the man known as "Fat Leonard," but it awarded $200 million in contracts. Now he's at the center of the Navy's huge bribery scandal.  The NYT's Christopher Drew and Danielle Ivory: "...But as his reputation for lavish parties spread, so too did warnings about his business practices, according to Navy officials and court documents. Emails obtained by criminal investigators show that from 2009 to early 2011, several ship crews and contracting officials filed complaints about his "gold-plated" fees for fuel, port security and other services. In 2010, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service opened investigations into questionable charges in Thailand and Japan by his company, documents show. Despite those red flags, in June 2011, the Navy awarded Mr. Francis $200 million in contracts, giving him control over providing supplies and dockside services for its fleet across the Pacific." The rest here.

A snooping wife sinks a Navy captain aboard the Vinson. The San Diego Union-Tribune's Jeanette Steele: "The snooping wife of a junior sailor brought down the top pilot aboard the San Diego aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, a Navy investigation has revealed. The story would read like a TV sitcom plot, if real lives weren't involved. Capt. Jeffrey Winter was removed from command of the Vinson air wing on Sept. 20 for an affair with the air wing's female medical officer. The affair was exposed when a petty officer second class brought home a portable computer drive containing work files - including Winter's emails to the female lieutenant.

The sailor's wife found the portable drive and looked through the files. She told a Navy investigator that she snooped because she was ‘extremely suspicious of her husband's activities on exercises and deployments due to past marital issues.' But it wasn't her husband's wrongdoing that she found." That story here.

Click bait and Listicile Alert: The 10 Most Ridiculous Military Regs, Customs and Courtesies, per Business Insider include: "no chilling with hands in your pockets" and "special parking privileges for colonels, generals and senior enlisted" and our favorite, "doing Operational Risk Management (ORM) paperwork for pick-up basketball." Read the rest of that bit here. And, you might also enjoy: "The 10 Military Habits that Stay with you Forever," here.