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.

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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.

 

 

 

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