National Security

FP’s Situation Report: DepSecDef drum roll and Fox gets the nod; The AF’s band of spies; What’s an Ashton?; Biden’s dance moves in Asia; Fontaine on the NSS, Chayes on Karzai; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

The Pentagon has a new DepSecDef, sorta. It's Christine Fox, Situation Report has learned, and her appointment will be announced at the Pentagon later today. Tomorrow is Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter's last day. He will be replaced at midnight Dec. 5 by Fox, the former director of the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, or CAPE, office, who led Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's Strategic Choices and Management Review ("skimmer" or "scammer" as it was called - up to you). But Fox's appointment is temporary until an individual for the permanent job can be identified, vetted and confirmed. It's a process that could still take many weeks - or months. "I think we're getting close," a senior defense official told Situation Report, referring to the final choice for a permanent candidate. But given the ability of the Senate to confirm POTUS' nominees, Fox could be there for a while. While some see her as a perfect fit who can hit the ground running, others will see Fox as someone who is too Navy-oriented (she used to run the Center for Naval Analyses, now CNA) and her work as director of CAPE may not be seen as preparing her for "the whole enchilada" of running the Department. And some have criticized her for presenting budgetary choices that were politically palatable but less inclined to push for least damaging options.

What about Bobs? Fox is a bridge to the permanent, as-yet-unnamed deputy secretary of Defense, who could be Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale or former No. 2 Navy civilian Bob Work or someone else. But Fox is not thought to be a candidate for the permanent job, Situation Report is told. Given her knowledge of the building and the budget process, she was considered a no-brainer, especially in a pinch, and will "hit the ground running" as a senior defense official said. There had been some thought to giving the temporary job to a service secretary - say the Army's John McHugh - as a stopgap measure. But giving the nod to Fox means the senior leadership team at the Pentagon can stay in their jobs.

Why doesn't she need to be senate-confirmed? You ever hear of the Federal Vacancy Reform Act? Right, us neither. But it allows the President to designate a senior employee to serve in a senior job. The requirement, we're told, is that the individual had to have served in a senior role in the Department for at least 90 days within the last year.

Noting: When SitRep mentioned that Fox could be the bridge candidate for DepSecDef Nov. 13, we got all sorts of folks saying "no way."

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report, where unlike Amazon, we'll never have plans to ever deliver our product by drone. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at and we'll just stick you on. And if you like what you see, tell a friend.  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, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. And please follow us @glubold.

Afghans wary of a life without the U.S. The WSJ's Margherita Stancati and Nathan Hodge: "The asking price for a house in Kabul's toniest district nearly doubled a week ago, after it became clear that an Afghan assembly would endorse a new security deal with the U.S. A day later, when President Hamid Karzai insisted on delaying the critical pact, the price plummeted back to its previous level. ‘Everyone will flee if the security agreement is not signed. Everyone will stop renting houses,' said Shafiqullah Mohammadi, who is handling the property. The 37-year-old real-estate agent said he plans to emigrate as well if the deal-necessary to maintain U.S. troops and U.S. aid beyond 2014-isn't sealed." More here.

Sarah Chayes: Stop enabling Karzai! Chayes, a former adviser to former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen who lived in Afghanistan for most of the last decade argues in the Los Angeles Times today that the reason Karzai thumbs his nose at the U.S. is because the U.S. lets him. Chayes: "...U.S. decision-makers should have expected such antics. It is they who have conditioned Karzai to behave this way, by persistently rewarding similar stunts. In Afghanistan as elsewhere, a lack of psychological savvy on the part of U.S. leaders, combined with a perverse tendency to abandon or undervalue their own leverage, are undermining U.S. interests as well as those of populations Washington purports to be helping. The first sign that Karzai was collecting cards to slip up his sleeve was his decision to convene a loya jirga to vote on the draft agreement with the United States. The deal would authorize the presence and define the role of international forces in Afghanistan beyond 2014."

And: "For their part, now that the U.S. aims to increase its reliance on diplomacy rather than brute force abroad, U.S. diplomats and civilian officials might do well to enroll in some negotiation workshops. A few psychology seminars wouldn't hurt either." Read the rest of her bit here.

Biden is doing the two-step in Asia. The NYT's Mark Landler and Martin Fackler: "With Japan locked in a tense standoff with China over disputed airspace, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. arrived here late Monday for a weeklong visit to Asia intended to reassure a close ally and demand answers from a potential adversary. But first, Mr. Biden may need to repair a perceived disconnect between the United States and Japan in their responses to China's declaration of a restricted flight zone over a swath of the East China Sea that includes disputed islands claimed by both Japan and China. Analysts and former diplomats said that reassuring Japan of America's commitment to the region was particularly important given creeping worries in Tokyo that the United States might no longer have the financial ability, or even the will, to maintain its dominant military position in the Asia-Pacific." More here.

ICYMI: Is the Air Force spying on its own? There's this odd story out of Colorado Sunday about how the Air Force hires spies at the Air Force Academy there to inform on fellow cadets -- then disavow it all later. The Colorado Gazette's Dave Philipps: "Facing pressure to combat drug use and sexual assault at the Air Force Academy, the Air Force has created a secret system of cadet informants to hunt for misconduct among students. Cadets who attend the publicly-funded academy near Colorado Springs must pledge never to lie. But the program pushes some to do just that: Informants are told to deceive classmates, professors and commanders while snapping photos, wearing recording devices and filing secret reports.

"For one former academy student, becoming a covert government operative meant not only betraying the values he vowed to uphold, it meant being thrown out of the academy as punishment for doing the things the Air Force secretly told him to do. Eric Thomas, 24, was a confidential informant for the Office of Special Investigations, or OSI - a law enforcement branch of the Air Force. OSI ordered Thomas to infiltrate academy cliques, wearing recorders, setting up drug buys, tailing suspected rapists and feeding information back to OSI. In pursuit of cases, he was regularly directed by agents to break academy rules.It was exciting. And it was effective,' said Thomas, a soccer and football player who received no compensation for his informant work. ‘We got 15 convictions of drugs, two convictions of sexual assault. We were making a difference. It was motivating, especially with the sexual assaults. You could see the victims have a sense of peace.'

The Air Force responds: "The Air Force Office of Special Investigations, as a federal law enforcement agency, is authorized by Air Force policy to operate a Confidential Informant Program Air Force-wide, including at the Air Force Academy.  The program uses people who confidentially provide vital information for initiating or resolving criminal investigations. OSI does not discuss the existence of ongoing or past confidential informant matters, as doing so could damage the integrity of current and future investigations." Read the rest of this bit here.

Turns out, Ash Carter is a bit of a Motown fan. At his big going-away ceremony yesterday at the Pentagon - peopled by the likes of White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, former SecDef William Perry, Jeremy Bash, Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, Stephanie Carter, Ash Carter's wife, upped and surprised her husband by getting someone to sing the song "I'll Be There."

McDonough ran across the river to the Pentagon to help retire Carter. But it was Dempsey who stole the show. Dempsey: "First thing I want you to know, though, is I took the time to Google "Ashton" before I came here today. And you'll be interested to know that when you Google "Ashton," you get three returns.  Ashton Kutcher.  Can we get the picture of Ashton Kutcher up there?  There we go. Ashton Kutcher has been described as hot, but kind of a mediocre model turned actor.  You also get Ashton Irwin.  Ashton Irwin is also hot, but a mediocre drummer for an Australian boy band.  And then, of course, you get Ashton Carter -- who has been described by some as a middle-aged uber-wonk and, in the words of Politico, ‘makes think-tankers' hearts flutter.' Now, in the words of Paris Hilton, now that's hot. However, hot in DOD terms takes on a completely different meaning.  Issues are hot.  Suspenses are hot.  Regions are hot.  And I can tell you that no one has handled the heat like Dr. Ash Carter.  We're proud of him.  We're thankful for what he's done, and we're very appreciative of the way you've done it, not just what you've done, but the way you've done it."

Want to know how Congress could steamroll Iran sanctions past Obama? FP's John Hudson shows you the way: "Despite repeated objections from the White House, Senate Democrats and Republicans are charging ahead with plans to pass new sanctions legislation against Iran. Though some Democrats fear burning bridges with the White House, aides tell The Cable that negotiations between senators in both parties are closing in on legislation that would impose new sanctions on Tehran after six months -- the length of the preliminary nuclear deal recently hammered out in Geneva. The bill would include an option to delay the punitive action if U.S. talks on a final deal appear promising. Despite earlier reports that Republican hawks would dismiss such legislation as overly lenient, a Senate aide says that's not the case." More here.

U.S. special operators are winding down their anti-drug fight in Colombia. FP's Dan Lamothe: "The $8 billion U.S war on drugs and instability in Colombia has pressed U.S. special operators, air crews and other personnel into a decade-plus operation to solidify security in the South American country. But the controversial mission will likely wind down soon: Colombian officials say they are winning the fight, and the two countries want to move to a new relationship based more closely on shared economic interests, said a senior U.S. administration official." More here.

The Obama White House announced it would release a new national security strategy early next year. The Center for a New American Security's Richard Fontaine has this to say in a blog post about the new NSS: "... It's important to recognize just what the National Security Strategy is - and what it isn't.  Ambassador Ryan Crocker once described it as a mandated exercise that doesn't "tell us terribly much about national security or strategy." A bit harsh, perhaps, but not far from the mark.  That's because the name itself is something of a misnomer:  the NSS isn't really a strategy - in every administration it's more like a really long speech."

And: "...surprisingly, it is not all a wasted exercise, so long as you recognize the limitations. In the end, it may be that this is one governmental exercise where the process matters more than the product. In order to produce a National Security Strategy, smart people think for a long time about the grand sweep of U.S. policy. Senior policymakers, to the extent they play a role in the process, are forced to think through core issues and future possibilities in a way that is much different from their day to day grind. And all that process can provoke our foreign policy leadership to think more deeply, more broadly, and more about the future than they otherwise would -- and that can't be a bad thing. Maybe Eisenhower said it best: ‘Plans are worthless but planning is everything.' Read the rest here. 

Just as there are calls for compensation reform within the military - note this NYT editorial Sunday - there is a push on Capitol Hill to expand the G.I. Bill. Compensation, as the NYT pointed out, includes pay, retirement benefits, health care and housing allowances and consumes roughly half the military budget - and counting.  The G.I. Bill is a separate issue, but nonetheless falls under compensation in the broad sense. Military Times' Rick Maze's lede: "At least seven legislative proposals are pending in Congress to improve the new GI Bill for large swaths of beneficiaries, including active-duty and reserve troops, wounded warriors and families." More here, behind a tall paywall.

Rick Maze, departing. We should have included this yesterday. But longtime military reporter (and former colleague) Rick Maze is leaving Military Times newspapers after 33 years -- an  amazing run in an age of journalism's jump-from-one-job-to-another. He'll become editor in chief of Army Magazine, published by AUSA. His memo to colleagues Friday: "...For me, the AUSA job is simply too good to pass up at this stage of my life. Because these have been difficult times for Gannett Government Media, I'd like you to know; 1, Leaving was completely my decision - I'm not being pushed in any way. 2, Gannett tried to keep me. I mention these two things to provide some reassurance this company seems still committed to good journalism and keeping good journalists. I'm proud of my years - 33 years - at the Military Times. I remain a believer in the mission of the Times papers and websites. I see a strong future for company if you focus on giving readers something they cannot get anywhere else. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you. I'll be sad when I leave in two weeks. Rick." Maze left his personal e-mail address for colleagues, noting that he still has an AOL account.


National Security

Is China planning more zones?; Afg accuses coalition of withholding support; Peace talks ‘tween Af-Pak progress; The Dutch double down in Mali; The Duffel Blog, unmasked, and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold 

Is China planning more air defense zones as Biden heads over? Defense News' Wendell Minnick, Jung Sung-Ki and Paul Kallender-Umezu: "China's establishment of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) last week over the East China Sea has given the US an unexpected challenge as Vice President Joseph Biden prepares for a trip to China, Japan and South Korea beginning this week. The trip was scheduled to address economic issues, but the Nov. 23 ADIZ announcement raised a troubling new issue for the US and allies in the region. China's ADIZ overlaps the zones of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Sources indicate China's ADIZ could be part of its larger anti-access/area-denial strategy designed to force the US military to operate farther from China's shorelines. China might also be planning additional identification zones in the South China Sea and near contested areas along India's border, US and local sources say." More here.

Did the U.S. defy Japan on China's air defense zone? The WSJ's Yuka Hayashi and Andy Pasztor:  "Japanese officials on Sunday played down publicly-but complained privately-that the U.S. isn't following Tokyo in rebuffing Beijing's demands for foreign airlines to file flight plans when navigating through China's new air-defense zone.

The developments came as Japan openly questioned the Chinese military's ability to police the zone. Beijing said on Friday that it had dispatched fighter jets to monitor the area after the U.S. and Japan said their jets had entered in defiance of China's demands for notification. ‘Based on our evaluations, there was no Chinese fighter jet that came into close proximity of our planes. We did not experience anything unusual,' Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said in an interview with national broadcaster NHK... While visiting a regional city on Sunday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, ‘We have confirmed through diplomatic channels that the U.S. government didn't request commercial carriers to submit flight plans.' Speaking privately, Japanese officials said Washington has yet to coordinate views among government branches and come up with a unified stance that can be conveyed to Tokyo properly." The rest here.

For the Pivot, it's all about sea power. CNN's Paul Armstrong: "By his own admission, one of the U.S Navy's top commanders says his Pacific fleet ‘gets all the best stuff' when it comes to state-of-the-art weaponry -- an undeniable reflection of President Barack Obama's so-called pivot towards Asia.The flagship of its 7th fleet, the Nimitz-class USS George Washington aircraft carrier boasts a formidable arsenal; from the latest FA-18 fighter jets, to anti-submarine helicopters and early-warning surveillance aircraft. Add to this the fleet's numerous missile destroyers, cruisers and submarines and the statement of intent is clear to see -- Washington is serious about its role in the region. ‘It's a long-term effort for us here,' Fleet commander Vice Admiral Robert L. Thomas, told CNN aboard the giant vessel amid the muffled roar of jet engines from the flight deck directly above. ‘From a policy perspective it's a shift in balance of not only our resources but our thinking across diplomatic, information, economic and military lines to the Pacific.'" Read the rest here.

T.X. Hammes on Real Clear Defense about how to deter China, here.

Cra cra cute: the new name of the new panda is Bao Bao. It means precious or treasure, according to the WaPo's Michael Rosenwald, and it's pronounced "bough BOUGH." Rosenwald: "At a National Zoo ceremony on Sunday, complete with lion dancers and Chinese snacks, Smithsonian officials and Chinese diplomats celebrated the giant panda cub's first 100 days of life by revealing the results of an online vote to name her... ‘Ni hao! And hello,' Michelle Obama said. She stressed the panda caretaking and research partnership between China and the United States, without noting that traditional diplomatic activities remain tense."

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report, where unlike Amazon, we'll never have plans to ever deliver our product by drone. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at and we'll just stick you on. And if you like what you see, tell a friend.  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, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. And please follow us @glubold.

How Obama went nuclear. FP's David Kenner: "In the wintry days of January 2009, as Barack Obama prepared for his inauguration, he was briefed on how to unleash the weapons that could destroy the planet many times over. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright conducted the briefing on the ‘nuclear football,' the 45-pound briefcase containing the codes that allow the president to launch America's arsenal of over 5,000 nuclear weapons. In the tumult before the inauguration - not to mention a global economy heading toward meltdown - Obama wasn't certain he would remember each step to launch the world's most dangerous weapons. Shortly after taking office as the 44th president, he contacted his defense secretary, Robert Gates. ‘You know that guy who scared the shit out of me?' he said, according to James Mann's The Obamians. ‘Can I talk to him again?'

Almost five years later, non-proliferation has emerged as the centerpiece of Obama's agenda in the Middle East. In Syria, he signed off on a Russia-brokered agreement for President Bashar al-Assad to gradually destroy his chemical weapons. In Iran, he inked a controversial agreement that will see the Islamic Republic stall its nuclear program for six months, in exchange for roughly $6 billion in sanctions relief. Such steps represent significant victories for the president's non-proliferation agenda -- but have also disappointed those who wonder if they come at the cost of America's other interests in the world." More here.

Afghanistan's military and police say the coalition is withholding fuel and other support to coerce Karzai into signing the security agreement. The WaPo's Tim Craig, in Kabul: "...Coalition officials strongly deny the allegation, the latest disagreement between the Karzai government and U.S. military leaders. According to a statement from Karzai, the issue arose during a meeting of his national security council Sunday. Military and police commanders complained that their forces are struggling with a fuel shortage and said they suspect that the United States is using the resource as leverage over Karzai. ‘This deed is contrary to the prior commitment of America,' Karzai's statement said. ‘Afghan forces are facing interruption in conducting of their activities as a result of the cessation of fuel and supportive services.'

"But coalition officials say they are baffled by the claim. ‘There has been no stoppage in the delivery of requested fuel," the coalition said in a statement. "We remain committed to supporting our ANSF partners and will continue to do so." More here.

Amid the crisis over the security agreement between Washington and Kabul, Pakistan and Afghanistan signal headway on peace talks with the Taliban. The WSJ's Nathan Hodge: "Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Afghan President Hamid Karzai claimed progress this weekend in efforts to bring Afghanistan's Taliban insurgency to the negotiating table but gave few specifics about how they planned to advance the peace process. Messrs. Karzai and Sharif met Saturday in Kabul for bilateral discussions on a range of topics, from trade ties to regional energy projects. Outreach to the Taliban leadership, however, was at the top of the agenda. The Afghan president said he and Mr. Sharif discussed ‘practical steps' to breathe new life into the peace process with Afghanistan's Taliban insurgents. But the discussions appeared to leave unresolved an important symbolic issue for Afghanistan: The release of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's former second-in-command, who has been in Pakistani custody since his arrest in 2010. Afghan officials have pressed for Mr. Baradar's release, believing that he could serve as a negotiating channel between the government of Mr. Karzai and the Taliban. Mr. Sharif said Saturday during the talks he would discuss access to Mr. Baradar with the Afghan president." The rest here.

The Dutch are doubling down in Mali. FP's Colum Lynch: "The Dutch military is planning to deploy a team of dozens of military intelligence operatives in Mali in the coming weeks, part of a U.N. peacekeeping mission charged with stabilizing the terror-afflicted northern part of the country and preventing the resurgence of Islamist militants that only year ago held sway over much of the country, according to the Dutch military. The Dutch contribution -- which will also include a team of special-forces troops and four Apache attack helicopters -- marks a rare return by a European power to a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Africa, where debacles from Somalia to Rwanda triggered a retreat in the late 1990s. But what is perhaps even more striking is that the U.N.'s top brass are privately acknowledging that the U.N.'s blue helmets will be engaging in the business of spying." Read the rest here.

Unstuffing the Duffel Blog. The WaPo's Ernesto Londono: "...When the Duffel Blog launched a couple of years ago, its creators said their only ambition was to lighten the mood among a generation of war-weary veterans who felt somewhat disconnected from civilian America. But it has turned into much more, regularly attracting more than half a million unique visitors per month. Its brand of satire often conveys grievances and contrarian views that are widely held among those in uniform. The articles have also helped bridge the country's civilian-military divide, the blog's writers say, by sparking conversations and portraying troops in ways that defy stereotypes."  

Who's behind it? "Paul Szoldra, a former Marine sergeant, came up with the concept almost by accident. While developing a Web site designed to help veterans succeed in college, he penned a couple of satirical posts that got far more attention than his tips for student vets. ‘When I first started it, it gave me a board to vent and be funny about things in the military that were kind of dumb,' Szoldra, 29, said in a phone interview from San Francisco, where he works for a business news site. ‘Other people started recognizing the power of that.' Szoldra soon began getting e-mails from veterans around the country who wanted to play a role, allowing him to build a group of roughly 50 regular contributors, about half of whom are on active duty."

Jim Mattis to Londono: "Duffel Blog is a beautifully crafted response to an increasingly stuffy environment in today's America... Duffel Blog reminds us of much of what we in the military fight for - the freedom to think our own way and to laugh about the absurdities without being mean-spirited. Read the rest here.

The Duffel Blog today: "North Korea Expands Air Defense Zone to Include Eastern United States," here. (And yes, dear readers, we know it's a joke! But thanks for the heads up just the same.)