National Security

FP’s Situation Report: Why the court ruling is scary for the NSA; HASC race begins; Hagel has his first VTC with Russia’s Shoygu; Popping positive? DOD adds some Spice; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Calling George Orwell: Here's why yesterday's court ruling is scary for the NSA. FP's Shane Harris: "On Monday, a Federal District Court judge ruled that the National Security Agency's collection and storage of all Americans' phone records probably violates the Constitution and is an ‘almost Orwellian' system that "surely...infringes on 'that degree of privacy' that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.' It's the first successful legal challenge to NSA surveillance since June, when Edward Snowden began a cascade of NSA disclosures. It might just set up the most important legal debate about surveillance and personal privacy in decades. And it threatens to undermine one of the major legal foundations of the NSA's vast surveillance network.

Judge Richard Leon of the District of Columbia, a George W. Bush appointee, ordered the government to stop collecting the phone records of two plaintiffs who brought suit against the NSA's so-called metadata program and to destroy the information it has on them now. He stayed his injunction, pending an almost certain appeal by the Obama administration. But if the case is eventually heard by an appeals court -- and there are reasons to think it will be -- it would be the highest-stakes and highest-profile battle to date over the NSA's program, and a proxy argument for the broader ethical dimensions about massive government surveillance. Think of it as the NSA's answer to the Scopes Monkey Trial -- a public, and undoubtedly passionate debate about whether massive, technologically-enabled surveillance that would have been impossible a few decades ago is still compatible with core constitutional principles of privacy and freedom from unreasonable searches." More here.

Page One: WaPo's big piece on the debate over the role the National Guard will have in the future. WaPo's Rajiv Chandrasekaran: The four diminutive cargo planes parked on the National Guard air base in this Rust Belt town last year never would have been selected for a recruiting poster. Lacking the grace of a fighter or the girth of a freighter, the newly built twin-prop aircraft were the minivans of combat aviation - unsexy, utilitarian haulers of people and gear. But that didn't matter to pilots and ground crews here. They loved the planes, as did troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not so the Air Force. After spending almost $600 million to buy a tiny fleet of the planes over the past six years, stationing them in Mansfield and at two other National Guard bases, the Air Force flew all of them to a junkyard earlier this year. Five more planes, which the Pentagon already has paid for, will be mothballed as soon as they are built." The rest here.

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report. 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 one more thing: please follow us @glubold.

McCain is considering sanctions for Ukraine. The Daily Beast's Josh Rogin: "If the Ukrainian government attempts further violence against peaceful protesters, the U.S. Congress could begin a process to impose sanctions on the country, said Sen. John McCain, who just returned from a visit to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. ‘Sanctions are something we said the Congress would consider,' McCain said in a Monday interview with The Daily Beast following his two-day trip to Ukraine, where he was joined by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). ‘We didn't threaten the sanctions, but we both said that sanctions would be a consideration if there was any brutality against the protesters.'"More here.

The President of Yemen is in a corner over drones. WSJ's Maria Abi-Habib and Hakim Almasmari: "Yemen's parliament has stepped up pressure on the government to immediately end American drone strikes amid furor over an attack that officials said mistakenly killed 15 people in a wedding convoy. However, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who has the final say, isn't likely to tell the U.S. to shut down the drone program because his impoverished government needs the American funding attached to it. The U.S. administration said counterterrorism cooperation would continue. Parliament voted on Sunday in support of ending the drone strikes, a reflection of growing anger among Yemenis and the unpopularity of the government's relationship with the U.S." More here.

Is Thornberry the anointed one? Real Clear Defense's Dustin Walker: "No one knows if there will be a race for the chairmanship of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) in the 114th Congress. But based on the chatter in defense circles on Capitol Hill and around Washington, the race is on. And the likely favorite says he's ready to step up. In a wide-ranging interview with RealClearDefense, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) said if there's a vacancy for the HASC chairmanship, he will be ready to make his case. "Whenever the time comes, I'll be ready," said the Texas Republican.... Regardless of McKeon's endorsement of Thornberry, committee chairmanships are rarely uncontested. Besides Thornberry, two HASC Republicans have been consistently mentioned as potential candidates by congressional and industry sources: Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) and Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH). Forbes is the chairman of the HASC Seapower subcommittee, known as a fierce advocate for American naval power with a strong background in Asia-Pacific security issues. He's the (rare) kind of Member of Congress that can explain at length why AirSea Battle is an operational concept, not a strategy. His policy depth and mind for strategy have made him popular in think tanks and defense policy circles, with a number of defense experts telling RealClearDefense they would welcome Forbes' leadership of the committee. But his views on social issues have been the cause of recent controversy, and he's bucked House leadership on key votes in the past. Turner chairs the HASC Tactical Air & Land Forces subcommittee. He is comfortable both as a bipartisan problem solver and a fiery partisan debater." Read the rest here.

The U.S. is seriously considering closer ties to hardliners in Syria. FP's John Hudson: As the moderate faction of the Syrian rebellion implodes under the strain of vicious infighting and diminished resources, the United States is increasingly looking to hardline Islamists in its efforts to gain leverage in Syria's civil war. The development has alarmed U.S. observers concerned that the radical Salafists do not share U.S. values and has dismayed supporters of the Free Syrian Army who believe the moderates were set up to fail." More here.

Self serve: Loren Thompson explains how Washington works after our piece on Hagel. After our profile ran yesterday of Chuck Hagel, The high-profile defense industry consultant Loren Thompson explained a thing or two about how Washington and journalism works. Thompson: "Past experience suggests that the appearance of Lubold's piece in a highly prestigious outlet will lead to follow-on treatments that are far less even-handed. If you are new to River City and don't understand how these things work, then here's a couple of tip-offs from the piece as to what lies ahead for Secretary Hagel. When Lubold writes, ‘a number of Washington's most prominent public defense analysts took a pass when asked to comment about Hagel's agenda,' what he is really saying is that he couldn't find any pundits with a kind word to offer about the defense secretary's performance. And when Lubold writes that, ‘In the Pentagon, the mood about Hagel is a mixture of circumspection and wait and see,' what he really means is that Hagel's subordinates are not happy... Author Lubold suggests that people are unhappy with Hagel because he hasn't fired a general or killed a weapon system to demonstrate he can be decisive. That's not much of a metric for judging excellence in office. Maybe Hagel's just too thoughtful to make the kind of sweeping changes that get noticed by the chattering classes. Nuance and subtlety generally don't play well in the blogosphere. However, as the coming season of discontent unfolds for Secretary Hagel, no one should doubt that this is a man of unusual character, a patriot who risked his life for America and has always tried to follow his conscience. That should count for something." The rest of his post from his "Early Warning" blog here.

In North Korea, the fallout from the execution. North Korean expert John Park, writing on Power and Policy, the Kennedy School of Government's blog, has a good Q&A here.

Vet employers listen up: Veterans typically leave their first job after the military. But why? That's what a group called VetAdvisor and Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families set out to find out. They launched a survey this week, the "Veterans Job Retention Survey," to help determine why veterans leave their initial job after the military.  "Because this data has not been previously captured, the survey will provide insight into how organizations can best structure their veteran-centric employee programs. All interested veterans and service members are encouraged to participate in the survey," according to the group's release. Says James Schmeling, IVMF Managing Director and Co-Founder: "Our goal is to develop employment-focused programs in collaboration with industry, government, NGOs and the veteran community, to address the primary economic and public policy concerns of our nation's servicemen and women such as employee retention and career development." Take the survey, which aims to have 5,000 participants, here.

A story we missed but wanted to include yesterday: The Daily Beast ran a piece marking Osama bin Laden's infamous escape from the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, twelve years ago this week, by Yaniv Barzilai, who now works at State. Barzilai: "Exactly twelve years ago, during the cold Winter days between December 10-16, in the jagged mountains of Tora Bora that separate Afghanistan from Pakistan, Osama bin Laden walked unencumbered into Pakistan and disappeared for nine and a half years. Just before, however, bin Laden had made an egregious error. After spending a couple seconds too long on his radio, the CIA pinpointed bin Laden's location to within ten meters. One hour later, forty of America's most elite special operations forces raced to kill the most infamous man alive. It was the only day for nearly a decade in which the United States knew exactly where Osama bin Laden was. And, it was the last time that the majority of al Qaeda's leadership would ever be in the same place." Read the rest of this piece by Barzilai, whose book, 102 Days of War - How Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda & the Taliban Survived 2001, due out next month, here.

Former-Marine-turned-filmmaker Reagan Young is telling the story of the kids he met in Afghanistan. The WaPo's Richard Leiby: "...The former staff sergeant wrote a script set in Afghanistan that focuses on a character he calls a "lost and faithless" combat Marine whose life changes after meeting 6-year-old Marza, who peddles trinkets in Kabul's international enclave. Young basically wrote about himself; he often walked through the military and diplomatic zone while on his final deployment in Afghanistan in 2011-12. There, a 6-year-old named Mursal Hawa, who spoke English well, gamely offered to accompany him as his ‘bodyguard,' he says."

Young, Leiby writes, is two months behind in his rent, can't afford to fix his laptop and is living in Los Angeles. But he hopes to screen the 20-minute film, "Marza," in Arlington (outside D.C.) soon. There's more to this story, so read it here.

John Kirby starts as Pentagon press secretary today. Rear Adm. John Kirby begins a new chapter in his career, moving into an office on the E-Ring within the Pentagon's massive public affairs apparatus to become the new voice and face of Hagel, as we first reported last week.

Jim Stavridis on FP with a piece titled "Cool War Rising" about the rising conflict between Washington and Moscow. Stavridis: Rising tensions in the relationship between the United States and Russia are beginning to cause a "Cool War" -- a sort of Cold War-lite -- that threatens both Washington and the entire global geopolitical system. Without a functioning relationship between Washington and Moscow, the chances of solving major challenges -- from Iran to Syria, the Arctic to Afghanistan -- decreases dramatically. Rather than accept the arc of a deteriorating relationship, the United States should actively seek every possible zone of cooperation we can find with Russia, despite the frustrations and setbacks." Stavridis concludes by quoting the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev: "Circumstances define us; they force us onto one road or another, and then they punish us for it." Stavridis: "We are not forced to walk either the path of endless tension or total cooperation. The trick for both the United States and Russia is to overcome the circumstances of our disagreements to find the path to better overall relations through specific zones of cooperation -- recognizing there will always be areas where we will not see things in the same way." Read everything in between, here.

Speaking of which: Hagel and Russia's Shoygu in their first ever video teleconference yesterday. Yesterday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu conducted their first teleconference after agreeing in August to do so in order to maintain a dialogue. The two talked about missile defense, Syria, cyber security and countering improvised explosive devices.  Assistant Presssec Carl Woog: "Secretary Hagel noted that the P5+1 Joint Plan of Action does not eliminate the need for U.S. and European allies to continue implementing missile defense plans in Europe... [and] stressed that U.S. and NATO missile defense efforts pose no threat to Russia and urged that both sides continue consultations on future missile plans in Europe." The two also talked about the removal of chemical weapons from Syria and Hagel gave Shoygu an update on neutralizing the chems once they're out of the country. "Secretary Hagel encouraged Russia to stay engaged with the process and continue providing critical assistance to ensure that chemical weapons are removed on schedule." The photo of the conference, with Hagel, Pentagon Policy Chief Jim Miller and ASD Derek Chollet, here.

Will the Air Force cancel its bid to get a new high-speed search and rescue helicopter? FP's Dan Lamothe:  "Last month, the U.S. Air Force made a curious announcement about its contract competition for a new high-speed, search-and-rescue helicopter. A bidder, Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, provided ‘an acceptable technical solution' for the program to build a helo for finding and recovering pilots and other personnel from the battlefield. But no contract would be awarded. Doing so still depended on a review of the U.S. budget, the Air Force said. The announcement occurred because the Air Force is giving serious consideration to the complete cancellation of the project, which calls for the purchase of up to 112 new helicopters to replace the aging HH-60 Pave Hawk. Top Air Force officials consider the purchase of the stealthy F-35A Joint Strike Fighter, the KC-46A tanker and the long-range strike bomber to be bigger priorities, and appear willing to dump the search-and-rescue helicopter if necessary to protect them. That, despite Air Force leaders saying the service still considers the combat search-and-rescue mission a priority." Read the rest here.

Jeh Johnson is in at DHS - The Senate confirmed him 78-16.

Assaulting sexual assault: Gary Patton out, Jeff Snow in. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel picked Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow to become the new director of the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office - SAPRO in Penty parlance - starting next month. Maj. Gen. Gary Patton plans to retire next spring after 35 years in the mil. Pentagon officials say Patton's retirement has nothing to do with an unrelated Army investigation connected to his time in Afghanistan. Politico's Darren Samuelsohn: "Patton had been the subject of an internal Army review into patient abuse and corruption at a U.S.-funded Afghan hospital and questions over whether he tried to keep staffers from talking with investigators. Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel agreed to let another Army commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, quietly retire over the same whistleblower incident. Hagel: "He has a history of tackling tough assignments and I want to thank him for the transparency, energy, persistence and strong leadership he has brought to the department's sexual assault prevention and response program over these past 18 months.  I met with him every week and always have counted on his expertise.  Maj. Gen. Patton has made a lasting positive impact on our program and on the men and women of our military.  I look forward to working with Maj. Gen. Snow and I know he is the right choice to continue this vitally important work." More here.

Duffel Blog: A soldier responds to a first grader's letter. Juice Box: "Dear Mackenzie, Thanks for your kind words. The support of young Americans like you makes everything we do feel at least marginally worthwhile. But let's get a few things straight... your black-and-white characterization of this conflict grossly misunderstands the complexity of modern warfare and, indeed, the folly of declared war against any group as broadly unspecific as ‘the terrorists.' This isn't World War II, and the extent to which I am ‘good' and the enemy is ‘bad' is subject to debate - just ask anyone who's ever woken up to a Hellfire landing in the backyard. It's inaccurate, in any case, to suggest that we're here fighting any sort of unified adversary. On a given day, I couldn't tell you if I'm being shot at by Taliban, Haqqani, Hezb-e Isalmi, Taj Mir Jawad, or the Afghan National Army. At a certain point, when you're surrounded by people who hate you, there comes a time for looking inward." Read the rest here.



National Security

FP’s Situation Report: Panetta revealed info to filmmaker; A budget deal might give Penty money it needs; FP hosts Kerry, Donilon and Blinken today; Google to give wreaths to Arlington; Obama to vets: keep your job (JK!) and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Defense hawks shaped the budget deal. Defense News' John Bennett: "Two senior US lawmakers have struck a deal on a budget blueprint that would restore to the Pentagon's annual budget more than $30 billion over the next two years set to meet sequestration's meat axe. The bipartisan budget resolution is a major victory for congressional defense hawks, who lobbied for years against sequestration - and made an impression with the special committee's primary negotiators. House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., announced a plan Tuesday evening that would ease pending across-the-board cuts while shrinking the federal deficit more than existing law. The compromise budget resolution, if adopted by both chambers, would provide $63 billion in sequestration relief in 2014 and 2015, which would be split evenly among defense and non-defense discretionary accounts. The 2014 relief would total $45 billion, meaning the Defense Department would get back about $22.5 billion. In 2015, the relief amount would be around $18 billion total, and $9 billion for the Pentagon." More here.

The WaPo's Ezra Klein's "what you need to know" on the budget deal, point #5: "The deal replaces about half of sequestration's cuts to defense and non-defense discretionary spending in 2014. It replaces about a fourth of them in 2015. That means most of sequestration will go into effect in both years." More here.

A "doable deal on Defense," says the WaPo's ed board: "With the end of 2013 rapidly approaching, Congress has an opportunity to rise above a year of massive dysfunction and prevent major disruptions in U.S. defense operations. The leaders of the Senate and House armed services committees have managed to fashion a bipartisan version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which became stuck on the Senate floor before the Thanksgiving recess. It's a decent compromise that the leaders of both chambers ought to embrace and bring to a vote in the coming days... Other measures in the bill ought to attract broad bipartisan support. The effects on defense of the so-called sequester would be eased by transferring money to operations and training from less essential accounts, such as construction and staffing in office headquarters. The Pentagon is still vulnerable to a $50 billion sequester cut in January unless a separate budget deal can head it off. But passage of the authorization act would prevent the worst disruptions of ongoing operations."  More here.

Gordon Adams says the deal represents "business as usual in a statement to Situation Report and others:" "It's an insider's bill in an outsider's world.  They nearly didn't have any bill at all, reflective of the dysfunctionality at work in the Congress. Authorizing defense funding at a level that bears no relationship to the budget reality around them reflects that they continue to play inside baseball when the crowd has left the stadium.  The budget negotiators, appropriators, or, conceivably, sequester, will determine the funding level for defense. By pretending there would be more money, the authorizers managed to evade tough choices, and even left themselves room to push for special interests that will make the Pentagon's planning problems even worse: preventing the retirement of cruisers and amphibious ships, preventing the sensible consolidation of the military's basing infrastructure, blocking the decision to order no more block 30 Global Hawks, adding funds to an already excessive missile defense budget, additional funding for Guard and Reserve equipment."

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report where our bottom line when it comes to all that will always be: bring it. 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 one more thing: please follow us @glubold.

Turns out, Panetta did unwittingly reveal top secret information to ‘Zero Dark Thirty' filmmaker at an awards ceremony in June 2011. Judicial Watch: Judicial Watch announced today that it has obtained more than 200 pages of documents from the Central Intelligence Agency, including a previously unreleased CIA internal report confirming that former CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed classified information at a June 24, 2011, bin Laden assault awards ceremony attended by ‘Zero Dark Thirty' filmmaker Mark Boal. The documents were produced in response to a June 21, 2013, Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency... Significantly, the entire transcript of the Panetta speech provided to Judicial Watch by the CIA is classified "Top Secret."  More than 90 lines are redacted for security reasons, further confirming that significant portions of the speech should not have been made in front of the filmmaker who lacked top security clearance.

AP's Kim Dozier: "Newly declassified documents show Tuesday that former CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed secret information to ‘Zero Dark Thirty' scriptwriter Mark Boal when Panetta gave a speech at CIA headquarters marking the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Panetta said through a spokesman that he didn't know Boal was in the room. Judicial Watch filed a request for the more than 200 pages of documents, which the CIA released Tuesday. The documents concerned the internal investigation of its role in the film about the bin Laden raid... Panetta spokesman Jeremy Bash said Panetta assumed everyone in the audience had the proper clearance to hear the speech. The documents refer to Panetta revealing the name of the ground commander of the unit that carried out the raid. Parts of the speech transcript released in the documents Tuesday are still blacked out." Panetta, in a statement: "I had no idea that individual was in the audience... To this day, I wouldn't know him if he walked into the room." Read the rest of the AP here. Read the documents Judicial Watch obtained though FOIA, here. Judicial Watch story here. 

Read FP's interview with Panetta pub'ed Dec. 9, "Epiphanies from Leon Panetta," including his views on Syria, Iran and the most dysfunctional Congress in recent memory, here.

Foreign Policy hosts John Kerry (on his 70th birthday!) and a whole bunch of other amazing folks are on the marquee today for FP's "Transformational Trends 2014." In conjunction with the Policy Planning Staff at the State Department, FP will host a day-long discussion on diplomacy and national security at the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown that culminates with remarks by John Kerry this afternoon. The day will include panel discussions from the likes of Tony Blinken, President Obama's deputy national security adviser, former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Anne Patterson, the former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt (and Pakistan), Mark Lippert, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's chief of staff, Michele Flournoy, the Pentagon's former No. 3 and a slew of others, including: David McKean, Tom Shannon, Jack Gerard, Jim Baker, David Burwell, FP's Peter Scoblic and Noah Shachtman, Noura al-Kaabi, Miriam Sapiro, Frederick Kempe, Danny Russel, Fred Hochberg and David Sandalow.

There will be spirited discussions that include "2014: Flashpoints and Emerging Trends of the Year Ahead" led by McKean; a keynote discussion by Donilon on "Shaping a Strategic Framework for a Secure America," followed by a panel discussion led by Shachtman on "Rethinking the Greater Middle East: Finding Opportunity Amid Unprecedented Upheaval" with Patterson, Nasr and al-Kaabi; Another discussion in the afternoon, "The Changing Nature of the Trans-Atlantic Alliance" will be followed by another one with Russel, Lippert, Hochberg, Flournoy and Sandalow on "America in Asia: Remaking the Map of the Center of the 21st Century World."

Kerry, who celebrates 70 years today, will speak in the late afternoon on "Restoring Diplomacy to the Center of the U.S. Foreign Policy: Reflections on the Past Year and What's Next."

That will be followed by a huge party tonight at the Four Seasons to celebrate FP's Global Thinkers, including people like Edward Snowden, Hassan Rouhani, Keith Alexander, Ron Wyden and Kevin Mandia and a bunch of incredible people you may have never heard of, too. Aminata Toure, Xie Zhenhua, Mary Jennings, Colleen Farrell and Joshua Oppenheimer, Malala Yousafzai and dozens of others are on the list and many of them will be at the party tonight.

The list and the Global Thinkers issue online, here.

Follow it all today on the Tweeter machine: #FPTrends and #FPThinkers. And for a list of the Twitter handles of FP's Global Thinkers, click here.

Btw, Foreign Policy magazine isn't at the top of Julian Assange's Christmas list. FP's Elias Groll: "Julian Assange and a huge number of Mexicans on Twitter look to have something in common: Neither are particularly happy about Foreign Policy's Global Thinkers issue. On Monday, FP launched the fifth annual iteration of that issue, which selected a range of thinkers from the worlds of surveillance and privacy, statesmen and activists, innovators and artists in attempt to distill some of the most important and consequential individuals of 2013. Among them is the Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, who has embarked on an ambitious reform agenda during his first year in office... But his selection provoked a virulent response on Twitter, with an outpouring of disdain for a man many Mexicans view as little more than a figurehead -- and a stupid one at that... This year, Julian Assange joined the Mexican Twitterati in denouncing FP. On Monday night, the WikiLeaks Twitter account, which Assange has a key hand in running, criticized FP for what it saw as a long-running marginalization of Assange." Read the rest here.

John Kerry pitched the Iranian deal to Congress and beat back more sanctions - for now. FP's own Yochi Dreazen and John Hudson: "When it comes to the Obama administration's controversial nuclear pact with Iran, it's White House 1, Congress 0. Lawmakers from both parties teed off on the agreement Tuesday, deriding it as naïve, misguided, and the beginning of the end for the punishing economic sanctions that have forced Tehran to the negotiating table. Rhetoric aside, though, the administration seems to have blunted -- at least for now -- a Senate Banking Committee push to impose new sanctions on Iran while the talks continue. That's a major win for the White House, which has repeatedly warned that putting new punitive measures in place now would derail the current negotiations with Tehran and scuttle the interim deal that was signed in Geneva late last month. 

‘The president and Secretary Kerry have made a strong case for a pause in Congressional action on new Iran sanctions, so I am inclined to support their request and hold off on Committee action for now,' said Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson, whose panel has been weighing legislation designed to choke off Iran's remaining oil sales. The House overwhelmingly passed its own version of the bill earlier this year." More here.

Two French paratroopers die in unrest in Central African Republic, CNN here.

Jim Dobbins: security deal with Afghanistan not impossible. The WaPo's Joby Warrick: The Obama administration believes it can still finalize a security agreement with Afghanistan to keep a U.S. military presence in the country after 2014, despite threats by President Hamid Karzai to walk away from the deal, the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan said Tuesday. But Ambassador James F. Dobbins also warned that delays in signing the proposed deal could further undermine stability in the country as it prepares to assume full control of its security for the first time since the arrival of U.S. troops in 2001." Read the rest here.

The U.S. focuses on training special Afghan teams before they leave. The WSJ's Michael Phillips in Mehtar Lam: U.S. commanders are turning to elite Afghan police and military units to pursue insurgents deep into their sanctuaries, in an echo of tactics that American troops considered effective during the Vietnam War.

The military hopes the elite units, trained by U.S. Green Berets and other allied special-operations troops, will keep Taliban and other militants on their heels as April's national elections approach and the bulk of American conventional forces-perhaps even all of them-withdraw over the coming year. ‘You literally have to make [the insurgents] feel insecure in their own areas,' said U.S. Special Forces Lt. Col. Marc LaRoche, whose teams advise Afghan police strike forces, called Provincial Response Companies. Such police units operate in 19 of 34 Afghan provinces, with six more companies planned.

"... Elite units still suffer serious shortcomings. The Laghman operation showed the value of U.S. air power in bolstering police; such close-air support will likely be available in diminishing amounts as the American withdrawal proceeds. U.S. efforts to build the Afghan air force have been slow, leaving the Afghan special units faced with the prospect of doing more-hazardous ground insertions. The police units also depend heavily upon high-tech coalition intelligence intercepts to supplement Afghan government spy networks."

Donde esta the meaning of the handshake: it may elude grasp.  The NYT's Michael Shear: President Obama shook hands with President Raúl Castro of Cuba on Tuesday, offering a friendly gesture freighted with symbolism to one of America's most enduring Cold War foes... The president's aides would have known in advance which world leaders would be at the podium when the president approached for his own remarks. But White House officials declined to offer any explanation of the handshake or confirm that there had been a discussion about whether to offer one. Still, Mr. Obama's own remarks, delivered just moments afterward, offer tantalizing possibilities about what was going through the president's mind when he approached Mr. Castro. Mr. Obama talked about the need for trust and reconciliation and forgiveness. He was talking about Mr. Mandela - widely known by his clan name, Madiba - but his remarks might also apply to the diplomatically frozen relationship between the United States and Cuba. Read the rest here.

Google donates the money needed to adorn 120,000 gravestones at Arlington with wreaths. The WaPo's Patricia Sullivan: "A major donation by Google and smaller donations from a number of individuals will assure that nearly 120,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery will be decorated with holiday wreaths this season. Google, which is mapping the cemetery with cameras mounted on people and cars, donated $250,000 to Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit organization that has been laying wreaths there since 1992. Others also contributed smaller amounts after a reading a story in last week's Washington Post that reported that the effort was falling short this year... Wreaths Across America, which puts wreaths on graves in 900 cemeteries nationwide, had about 12 percent more donations this year than last, but many corporate sponsors who previously had supported the Arlington effort decided this year to split their contributions between Arlington and other military cemeteries around the nation." Read the rest here.

Duffel Blog: Obama on military cuts: if you like your job, you can keep it. Duffel Blog's (it's satire!) Dick Scuttlebutt: "In a speech at the United States Naval Academy on Tuesday, President Obama pledged to the assembled naval and Marine cadets that despite serious drawdowns, no service member would be forced to leave his or her job if they like it. After acknowledging the Naval Academy's hallowed history of producing the finest Naval and Marine officers in the world, the President first addressed assertions leveled by critics that the budget cuts will have a negative impact on readiness and morale. Some are claiming that the cuts are political, intended to fund the President's pet projects. More here.