National Security

Air Force nuclear scandal went nuclear yesterday; Fat chance for NSA reform, say insiders; Hagel is so SLIC; Navy’s No. 2, out; Loose lips: a big cut to the Navy’s LCS; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Chuck Hagel's chief of staff, Mark Lippert and a former senior adviser to Obama may be headed to Seoul. Lippert, a former aide to President Barack Obama before becoming the Pentagon's Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs - then was tapped as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's chief of staff - may become the U.S. ambassador to South Korea. It's surprising news, even if it seemed possible that Lippert might not stay in Hagel's front office. Hagel had recently hired Wendy Anderson, who had been the chief of staff for Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to work alongside Lippert, suggesting that she might be groomed to replace him if an opportunity such as this were to present itself. South Korea's Chosun Ilbo said Lippert was a "strong candidate" to replace outgoing U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim, who may be headed to a job back in Foggy Bottom before his term ends in August: "...Lippert (41) is in the running because Seoul wants an envoy with direct access to the White House, according to sources. ??He started serving Obama as chief assistant for foreign affairs and national security when he was a senator in 2005. After Obama won the 2008 presidential election, Lippert headed the White House National Security Council.?One diplomatic source in Washington said Lippert is being considered because Seoul wants someone of equivalent stature to the new Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy." More here.  

"We do not know of an incident of this scale:" The scandal around the Air Force nuclear officer corps just went nuclear. Yesterday, the Air Force leadership, including Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh and new Secretary of the Air Force Debbie James appeared in the Pentagon briefing room ostensibly to talk about a drug investigation among its nuclear officers at some U.S. bases. But they dropped a bombshell in acknowledging that at least 34 of the estimated 190 nuclear officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana either cheated on a monthly launch officer proficiency test, or knew colleagues had gamed the system and did nothing.

FP's Dan Lamothe: "...The widening scandal in a command that historically prided itself for its zero-defects culture was announced Wednesday by the Air Force's top officer, Gen. Mark Welsh, and its new civilian leader, Air Force Secretary Deborah James, in a hastily announced press conference at the Pentagon. The investigation -- now split off from the existing drug probe -- is ongoing, they said, pledging accountability and corrective action. 'We do not know of an incident of this scale involving cheating in the missile force,' Welsh said. 'We are researching that now.... but we are not aware of it at this point in time.'

"James and Welsh insisted that the security of the intercontinental ballistic missile arsenal was never at risk. The cheating reflects a 'failure of integrity' of individual airmen, 'not a failure of the nuclear mission,' James said. The security clearances of all 34 officers implicated have been suspended, and they have been restricted from missile crew, Welsh said." More here.

Welcome to Thursday's laden 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.

Brass everywhere: Chuck Hagel is meeting with the chiefs, combatant commanders and service secretaries today for what is his fifth "Senior Leadership Council" meeting. On the agenda today will be a discussion of the "final inputs" to the fiscal 2015 budget, we're told - and the Quadrennial Defense Review, the supposed-to-be-sweeping review of Pentagon doctrine.

The Navy's Robert Martinage just resigned under pressure. Defense News' Chris Cavas: "Acting Navy Undersecretary Robert Martinage, the department's No. 2, has resigned under pressure, sources confirmed for Defense News.

The resignation, which Martinage announced to his staff Tuesday morning, came after allegations were made of inappropriate conduct with a subordinate woman, the sources confirmed. Martinage, whose permanent position had been deputy Navy undersecretary for plans, policy, oversight and integration, had been performing the duties of the undersecretary since Robert Work resigned last May to take a position with the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank. The Navy in a statement said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus asked for Martinage to resign ‘following a loss of confidence in Martinage's abilities to effective perform his duties.'" More here.

Loose lips sink ships: The Pentagon just slashed the Navy's LCS buy from 52 to 32. A leaked memo, presumably from the Navy, shows the Defense Department has given the Navy initial instructions to buy only 32 of its troubled Littoral Combat Ships instead of the 52 planned previously. If true, the leaked memo raises questions about how Hagel will mitigate leaks in the leak-heavy season prior to a big budget release. Bob Gates, of course, demanded his people sign nondisclosure agreements. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio on the cut in ships: "... The directive to scrap 20 of the planned ships came in a Jan. 6 memo from Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox to the Navy that could be overturned or modified before the final budget proposal for fiscal 2015 is released, according to the officials, who asked not to be identified before an announcement. The program to build 52 ships by 2026, in two versions made by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Austal Ltd. has faced an expanding list of questions about the vessels' manning, mission, firepower, defenses and survivability, even as costs have soared amid Pentagon budget cuts. The total cost to develop and build the ships intended for use in shallow coastal waters is currently projected at $32 billion." More here.

Another Navy aviation crash of the Virginia coast, this one involving a SuperHornet, but the pilot is OK. More here.

An apparently recent video of Bowe Bergdahl, missing since June 2009 in Afghanistan, has surfaced. CNN's Jim Scuitto: "The U.S. military has obtained new video apparently made by those holding the lone American prisoner of war, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

A U.S. military official told CNN the clip shows the Wood Valley, Idaho, native in diminished health from the effects of close to five years in captivity. He was seized in Afghanistan in June 2009 and is believed held by the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network in Pakistan, the official said. The so-called proof-of-life video, the first of him in nearly three years, has a reference to December 14, 2013. CNN has not seen the video. U.S. efforts to free Bergdahl, including negotiating for his release, have so far failed. A Pentagon spokesman: "Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been gone far too long, and we continue to call for and work toward his safe and immediate release... there should be no doubt that on a daily basis -- using our military, intelligence and diplomatic tools -- we work to see Sgt. Bergdahl returned home safely."

Bergdahl family statement, in part, to their son: "BOWE - If see this, continue to remain strong through patience. Your endurance will carry you to the finish line. Breathe!" More here.

John Kirby will appear at the podium this afternoon. Rear Adm. John Kirby, Hagel's new press secretary, is expected to make his first appearance as Hagel's pressec at the podium sometime this afternoon. Of course, he's been there before, when he was half of the duo when Leon Panetta was secretary and he shared the podium for a time with Pentagon Press Secretary George Little. But now he's on his own. He was supposed to come out Wednesday at 2 p.m. - until the Air Force hijacked the press briefing room with their own briefing on the drug and cheating scandal within the nuclear force. Check out Kirby on livestream, here, this afternoon. 

Fat Chances: NSA reform is a "free for all," insiders say, and probably won't amount to much. FP's Shane Harris: "When President Obama gives his much-anticipated speech on NSA surveillance Friday, he's unlikely to seize the opportunity to reign in the agency's vast surveillance programs. Instead, he will punt. Of the 43 recommendations from a panel that reviewed the agency's programs, Obama is expected to embrace very few, according to U.S. officials and news reports, leaving the harder task of long-term surveillance reform to Congress and the courts. Intelligence officials, as well as privacy advocates and lawmakers who've met with White House aides in recent days, now expect that the NSA will continue to collect and retain the phone records of all Americans. "That's the outcome that NSA officials have wanted since the controversial program was revealed last June by Edward Snowden, and one that the review panel urged the president to avoid. Obama may tweak the program -- limiting the amount of time the NSA can keep those records or how broadly it can search in the database where they're stored. But it's hard to see the president's answer to what was undoubtedly the most controversial of all the surveillance programs as anything but a victory for the NSA...

"‘It's a free-for-all,' one senior intelligence official said about what he described as a busy, occasionally chaotic process of pitching various reforms to the administration. "Everyone wants to have their say." Another senior official said it had been difficult to discern where the president stands, in part because so many different camps wanted the chance to chime in, and Obama heard them all out while giving away little in the way of his plans, even to his political allies. ‘They're keeping it very close to the vest,' a Democratic congressional aide said earlier this week." Read the rest here.

Anyway, Hill intel leaders don't really want reform either. National Journal's Stacy Kaper and Michael Catalini: "Despite a push from Democratic and Republican lawmakers for new reforms of the intelligence community ahead of President Obama's highly anticipated speech Friday, Intelligence Committee leaders in both the House and Senate are signaling little interest in such legislation. Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein and ranking member Saxby Chambliss told reporters separately Wednesday that they are not looking for any major legislative initiatives on the National Security Agency from the commander in chief. Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, flat out said there were no specific legislative reforms he wanted to hear from Obama. Feinstein, a California Democrat, argued Obama already has power to make the changes he desires. "He can do this, most of it, with his executive authority," she said. More here.

Speaking of Feinstein: She's under fire for her comments about Iran sanctions legislation and how it could be a "march toward war." The Daily Beast's Josh Rogin: " Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein faced criticism Wednesday for comments that some thought implied a new Iran sanctions bill could put Israel in charge of U.S. foreign policy. Feinstein objected to moving forward on a new Iran sanctions bill sponsored by 59 senators, including 16 Democrats, and co-authored by Sen Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL). The California senator said the bill could imperil ongoing negotiations between Iran and the West, harm U.S. diplomatic credibility, break up the current international sanctions coalition, and allow Tehran to argue 'we are interested in regime change'... The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) issued a statement Wednesday objecting to Feinstein's remarks and demanding a retraction and an apology." Feinstein, echoing the White House argument that senators who support the Iran sanctions bill have a secret pro-war agenda: "Candidly, in my view, it is a march toward war." More here.

Back to Benghazi: A new Senate intel report paints a bleak picture for State's role. The report, released yesterday about the Sept. 11, 2012 attack in Benghazi shows it could have been prevented, singled out the State Department, and assigned some blame to Amb. Chris Stevens for taking too many risks. The NYT's Mark Mazzetti, Eric Schmitt and David Kirkpatrick: "A stinging report by the Senate Intelligence Committee released Wednesday concluded that the attack 16 months ago that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, could have been prevented, singling out the State Department for criticism for its failure to bolster security in response to intelligence warnings about a growing security crisis around the city. The report is broadly consistent with the findings of previous inquiries into the attack on Sept. 11, 2012, but it is the first public examination of a breakdown in communications between the State Department and the C.I.A. during the weeks leading up to the deadly episode at the diplomatic compound where J. Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador, died. It is also the first report to implicitly criticize Mr. Stevens, raising questions about his judgment and actions in the weeks before his death. Like previous inquiries, the Senate investigation does not cite any specific intelligence warnings about an impending attack." Read the Senate report here.

Buck McKeon, the California Republican who has led the House Armed Services Committee, long thought to be retiring, is expected to announce his retirement this week. Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Republican from Texas, is expected to succeed him, but Randy Forbes, the Virginia Republican, is also in the mix. US News&World Report's Lauren Fox: "...McKeon, 65, represents California's 25th congressional district. During his tenure on the Armed Services Committee, McKeon openly lobbied against reducing funding for the Defense Department and worked to stop a ban on earmarks for military projects. He voted against the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' in 2010 and, again, in 2012, tried to postpone the roll back of the provision. McKeon has been able to leverage his position in Congress to bolster the military bases and defense companies who have their headquarters in the Antelope Valley." More here.

Former DepSecDef Bill Lynn and former SACEUR Jim Stavridis will co-chair a new study on strategy, technology and the "global defense industry." From the Center for a New American Security: "The Task Force on Strategy, Technology and the Global Defense Industry will examine the current state of the industry and the viability of the existing competitive environment, to include the foreign military sales and trade regimes. It will also explore ways in which strategic and technological trends will shape the future and the innovations required for defense businesses to compete effectively. The task force will additionally identify regulatory and structural inhibitors to continued innovation and provide recommendations for adaptation in the global defense industry." More from CNAS here.

The White House just issued new guidelines that link human rights and foreign military sales, prohibiting policymakers from approving weapons shipments to countries that could be used to commit atrocities.  Reuters: "The guidelines, released on Wednesday and updated for the first time since the mid-1990s, is the product of a presidential directive signed by President Barack Obama on Wednesday that governs U.S. weapons sales and shipments to allied countries. The new rules will govern U.S. government sales to other governments; sales by U.S. arms companies overseas; and weapons, data, services or equipment provided as part of U.S. military aid or security assistance overseas... ‘This is an area that has been a challenge for U.S. foreign policy for some time, but it really has been crystallized in the last couple of years with the events in the Middle East,' Tom Kelly, the State Department's acting assistant secretary for political-military affairs, said in an interview. ‘We wanted to make sure that it's very clear that human rights considerations really are at the core of our arms transfer decisions,' he said." More here.

From a State Department official: "The Policy... highlights the value that the United States places on human rights and international stability, the focus on homeland security priorities, counter-terrorism, combating transnational organized crime, and supporting nonproliferation, and the broadened scope of the policy to include explicitly not only arms but the provision of services and the transfer of technical data related to arms. The 1995 policy had dealt with these issues in general terms; the new policy addresses them directly." White House fact sheet on the new guidelines, here.

Watch out, it's the "cult of the cyber offensive." P.W. Singer and Allan Friedman, writing on FP, argue why the belief in "first-strike advantage" is as misguided now as it was in 1914.  "In military circles 100 years ago, whatever the question was, attack was always the answer. Attaque à outrance, or ‘Attack to excess,' was a concept that took hold in European military circles at the turn of the 20th century. The idea was that new technologies like the railroad and telegraph gave an advantage at the strategic level to whichever nation could mobilize first and go on the offensive, while new technologies like the fast-firing cannon, machine guns, and rifles meant at the tactical level that the troops who showed the greatest offensive élan (a concept that combined both willpower and dash) would always carry the day on the battlefield. The philosophy gained huge popularity. In Germany, it drove the adoption of the Schlieffen Plan (which envisioned a rapid mobilization of the army to first knock out France to its west with a lightning offensive and then swing back to face Russia to the east), while in France it was actually written into military law in 1913 that the French army "henceforth admits no law but the offensive.'" More here.



National Security

FP's Situation Report: Former FISA judge: status quo, good

By Gordon Lubold

Status quo is a good thing, the former Spy Court Judge says. FP's Shane Harris, on how John Bates, the former top judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, sees things: "As President Obama is mulling a series of changes to how the National Security Agency keeps tabs on the world's communications, the former top judge of the secret court that has approved much of that surveillance made an unusual public appeal Tuesday: keep the process just how it is. John Bates, the former presiding judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, warned against a proposal to include in the court's proceedings an outside privacy and civil liberties advocate, who might take positions counter to the government when it seeks permission to collect huge swaths of Internet traffic, email addresses, and phone communications. Currently, only government lawyers appear before the court." Read the rest here.

Page One: European intel agencies secretly met with delegates of Syria's Assad to share information about European extremists operating in Syria. The WSJ's Maria Abi-Habib: "The meetings were intended to gather information on at least 1,200 European jihadists that Western officials say have joined militant groups in Syria, amid European concerns these citizens will pose a threat when they return home. The talks are narrowly focused on the extremists and on al Qaeda's growing might in Syria and don't represent a broader diplomatic opening, the Western and Middle Eastern officials and diplomats said.

"But Mr. Assad's opponents in Syria and in Istanbul, where the political opposition is based, said they are concerned that the information sharing suggests Western capitals are starting to accept the possibility the Syrian leader will retain power for the foreseeable future. Opposition members also are concerned the contacts-coupled with an international effort under way to remove Syria's chemical arms-could grow into wider cooperation in fighting terror groups in Syria. That could bolster Mr. Assad's argument that his leadership is needed to fight al Qaeda, which has gained Syrian territory in recent months." Read the rest here.

Why does it seem like the U.N. is censoring its own Syria news? FP's Colum Lynch asks the question: "A recent visit to the website of the U.N.-funded news agency IRIN provides a quick tour of the world's forgotten miseries: reports of child labor in Zimbabwe, profiles of the jobless in Sri Lanka, grisly accounts of ethnic killings in South Sudan and Central African Republic. Absent from this chronology of global grief is anything new about Syria, the world's bloodiest humanitarian crisis. In November, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which funds IRIN, quietly placed a gag order on its news agency. Its network of journalists were ordered to halt any reporting about the crisis in Syria, which has displaced millions and cost the lives of more than 100,000, according to U.N. sources." More here.

The Israeli Defense Minister isn't a fan of Kerry's plan but now he faces criticism. AFP: "Israel's defense minister accused US Secretary of State John Kerry of an ‘incomprehensible obsession' with the Middle East conflict, drawing a public rebuke from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday. Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon came in for a barrage of criticism after Israel's top-selling newspaper Yediot Aharonot quoted him as saying a security plan Kerry presented was ‘not worth the paper it was written on.' Yaalon expressed hope that Kerry, who has visited the region 10 times since taking over as secretary of state in February 2013, would end his peace push and focus his energies elsewhere." More here.

Welcome to Wednesday'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.

Bob Gates often liked to quote Truman, who said something to the effect of in the first six months in Washington, you wonder how you got here. The next six months, you wonder how everyone else got here. We feel that.

Speaking of Truman, new this morning: The Center for National Policy (which is partnered with the Truman Project) will announce a steering committee for its Cyberspace and Security Program. The organization, which is establishing itself as heavily focused on cyber issues, will have 12 cyber experts in their ranks. From a press release from CNP's Stephanie Dreyer: "...The Steering Committee is comprised of a wide range of experts who gained comprehensive cybersecurity experience while working on Capitol Hill, in the Administration, and in the legal, civil society, and private sectors... The Program is led by Cyberspace and Security Director Matthew Rhoades." More here.

Drones, they ain't just for the military anymore. The WaPo's Craig Whitlock: Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies are increasingly borrowing border-patrol drones for domestic surveillance operations, newly released records show, a harbinger of what is expected to become the commonplace use of unmanned aircraft by police. Customs and Border Protection, which has the largest U.S. drone fleet of its kind outside the Defense Department, flew nearly 700 such surveillance missions on behalf of other agencies from 2010 to 2012, according to flight logs released recently in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil-liberties group. The records show that the border-­patrol drones are being commissioned by other agencies more often than previously known. Most of the missions are performed for the Coast Guard, the Drug Enforcement Administration and immigration authorities. But they also aid in disaster relief and in the search for marijuana crops, methamphetamine labs and missing persons, among other missions not directly related to border protection." More here.

Apropos of nothing: We came across this news report from 1981 from a San Francisco news station about the Internet-Web, and a newfangled gizmo that allows users to read their newspapers - on their computer - the beginning of "electronic journalism." Our fave part is when The San Francisco Examiner's David Cole describes what putting the news on the computer means: "This is an experiment. We're trying to find out what it's going to mean to us as editors and reporters, and what it means to the home user. And we're not in it to make money, we're probably not going to lose a lot but we aren't going to make much, either. [italics ours]. How right and how wrong he was. All very trippy, here. 

There's a little thing called the Afghan Presidential Election in April. Najib Sharifi and Mike O'Hanlon on Karzai and the election, on FP: "...With President Hamid Karzai due to step down, after reaching his constitutional limit of two full terms, the country is approaching what political scientists say is always important in a young democracy: the first attempt at a peaceful, constitutional transfer of power. And believe it or not, so far, so good. Most news reaching the United States about Afghanistan is troubling, but the election campaign is going reasonably well. Though much could, of course, still go wrong, the initial period of campaigning and preparation has been fairly promising... How can we be sure that Karzai will really have the confidence to support the upcoming election and its outcome? It is hard to know. But one possibility is to find a way for him to play a prominent role in Afghanistan even after he steps down from office." Read the rest here.

Here's the question: Did Iran's spies try to steal secrets from the JSF? FP's Dan Lamothe: "The apparent downfall of Mozaffar Khazaee began at a freight company in Long Beach, Calif. It was there in November that customs officers cracked open two shipping crates that the 59-year-old allegedly was sending to Iran. Inside, authorities say, was a massive trove of documents for the United States' next-generation fighter plane, the $392 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Now Khazaee, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Iran, faces a slew of criminal charges, up to 10 years in prison, and a $250,000 fine. Khazaee, a former defense contractor who worked on the high-tech stealth plane, was arrested Jan. 9 at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, where he was in between legs on an international flight. He already had flown from his home in Indianapolis to Newark, and was waiting to catch a connecting flight to Frankfurt, Germany. His final destination? Tehran, authorities say. Already, the case has raised questions about whether more criminal charges may be filed against Khazaee or people with whom he associated." Read the rest here.

War funding actually climbs in the new bill. Defense News' John Bennett: "A massive US government spending bill introduced Monday evening would ramp up war spending for the first time in four years, and it includes billions for new weapon systems. A trillion-dollar, government-wide omnibus spending measure crafted by the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations committees includes $5 billion more for America's overseas conflicts than requested by the White House." More here.  IAVA: Protecting medically retired veterans from a lower COLA adjustment in that budget bill isn't enough; Congress should repeal of the cuts to all retirees. As Situation Report first reported Monday, the omnibus bill released that night included language to protect medically retired veterans from the lower COLA adjustment. The budget deal announced in December had reduced the annual cost-of-living adjustment for military retirees to just 1 percent above inflation, amounting to what IAVA says is a 20 percent cut to retirement benefits over the course of the retirees' lives. The IAVA estimates that for a retired E-7, that could mean a reduction of $83,000 in retirement savings. IAVA wants Congress to go all the way. "Congress broke its promise to veterans by agreeing to cuts to military retirees," said IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff said in a statement. "Congress is crossing a line in the sand by failing to fully protect veterans benefits. Veterans nationwide continue to demand that Congress listen to us and repeal cuts to military retirees as quickly as possible." A petition is making its rounds across the Internet to that effect. Read more here.

ICYMI (we did): Odierno versus the National Guard, Part I: It's on. Times is tough and the active duty Army, which had praised the Guard and Reserves for years of war because they needed them - well, now they don't need them so much. As the Army shrinks, and the politically-powerful Guard and Reserve look for their piece, it's getting a little scrappy out there. Defense News' Paul McLeary: "In a sharply worded statement released Jan. 13, the president of the National Guard Association called remarks by US Army chief Gen. Ray Odierno 'disrespectful and simply not true' while complaining that 'the Army chief of staff disparaged the Army National Guard last week by telling reporters in Washington, D.C., that, essentially, the Army National Guard just isn't good enough to be relied upon more in the future.' Retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett's statement came in response to Odierno's Jan. 5 remarks at the National Press Club in Washington, where he said the National Guard would not be capable of taking on more of the active-duty force's responsibilities if the active force structure falls much below the 490,000 floor that the chief set for 2015. 'The capabilities are not interchangeable,' Odierno said, 'there's a reason why the active component is more expensive. It brings you a higher level of readiness, because they're full time...They are trained and ready to do things at a higher level because they spend every day focused on that,' Odierno said. 'Our National Guard, [which has] done an incredible job in the last 10 years, trains 39 days a year.' Read the rest here.

Bob Gates is everywhere. Just one day of his Duty book tour, which puts him in multiple cities, on multiple networks and sit-downs, would be pure fantasy for most authors.  He's on Fox! Wait, there he is with Judy Woodruff on News Hour! He'll be at the Pentagon Thursday. Hey, was that Bob Gates at the New York Historical Society with NBC's David Gregory? In fact, it was. And we hear that he made a few other observations. So much candy, so little time! We hear he wouldn't answer if he would endorse Hillary Clinton for President in 2016 -- even though he treats her extremely well in the book, saying there was only just the one time where she considered politics for a foreign policy issue. Gates as Hillary's Veep? He says he won't be returning to Washington in an official capacity -- but he's been wrong about that before.

Meanwhile, Gates has played down some of the nastier things people have taken from the book about other people, and defended publication of the book now, saying this is when it could be most effective - not in 2017, when some of these issues will be past the U.S. government (and books so many years after the fact don't sell as well).  He wants the book to be seen as containing recommendations for Syria, Iran, Russia, China, Israel and Saudi Arabia, he said last night. Among other things, he also said that he wished Obama had done a better job explaining why winning in Afghanistan was so important -- a mission the POTUS has yet to articulate anytime recently.

But remember, Gates called Obama "courageous" as a president. Here's Gates' interview with USA Today's Susan Page in which he termed each of the Presidents for whom he has worked: "LBJ? 'Tragic figure.' Richard Nixon? 'America's strangest president.' Gerald Ford? 'Greatly underestimated.' Jimmy Carter? 'Too unfocused, too many priorities.' Ronald Reagan? 'Visionary leader.' George H.W. Bush? 'Another greatly underestimated president.' Bill Clinton? He notes Clinton is the only president of the last nine in whose administration he didn't serve, but he ventures a description anyway. 'Probably the best politician as president since Franklin Roosevelt.' George W. Bush? 'Committed.' Barack Obama? 'Courageous.'" Read the piece and watch him be interviewed, here.

What are the options to trim the "bloated" nuclear weapons budget? Arms Control Association's Daryl Kimball offers some answers: "The United States plans to spend at least $355 billion to maintain and rebuild its nuclear arsenal over the next decade, according to a new report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Over the next 30 years, the bill could add up to $1 trillion, according to another independent estimate. These eye-popping projections come at a time that the defense budget is declining along with the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense strategy. The Pentagon announced last June that it could reduce strategic nuclear forces by one-third below levels set by the 2010 New START Treaty, continuing a historical trend. The U.S. nuclear stockpile has dropped by 80 percent since its peak in 1967, but is still a formidable force of about 4,600 warheads." More at ACA here.