Vaughn to McCaskill: catch the peckerwoods!; Move over Air Force, the Navy has a new cheating scandal; Why there are more Kalashnikovs moving in Afg; Clapper on Assad; and a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold
Bob Work, on deck. At long last, it looks to be true - Bob Work, the retired Marine colonel who done good, is poised to be nominated to be the next Deputy Secretary of Defense in the next day or so. Work, chief executive officer at the Center for a New American Security, appears to be in pre-nom mode, turning down invitations for speaking engagements and other events, Situation Report is told. Work, who last served as the Navy's No. 2, has long been thought to be the nominee. But his actual nomination seemed to be delayed for any a number of reasons. Some believed it was to give Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox a little space to do some heavy lifting on the budget. Although the defense budget probably won't be released until March now, much of that work may be done and maybe now is the right time for a Work nom. So, it's on. Check back here later today for our bit on Work.
Sharing the hot seat: Move over Air Force, the Navy has a cheating scandal, too. It turns out the Air Force isn't the only service with a cheating scandal in the ranks of its nuclear force. With the Air Force grappling with growing evidence of systemic wrongdoing among its nuclear personnel, the Navy announced Tuesday that, it, too has uncovered a similar problem at a nuclear propulsion base in Charleston, S.C. Senior Navy officials said they'd already fingered 30 sailors but acknowledged that the total numbers could grow. And if the Air Force scandal is any indication, they will: Air Force commanders first said 34 officers were implicated, only to later raise that estimate to 92. They now say the true figure is likely to be even higher.
Tuesday's announcement means the hot seat the Air Force has been occupying for the last several weeks must now be shared with the Navy, the only other service that operates nuclear systems. Navy officials said that that a sailor-instructor from the nuclear power training unit in Charleston had come forward after colleagues asked if he or she wanted to participate in a cheating ring. The alleged ring includes senior enlisted personnel who allegedly shared information about how to pass proficiency tests designed to measure their knowledge of naval nuclear reactors.
As Navy officials put it, their system worked: the senior sailor rebuffed the personnel running the cheating ring and immediately alerted the program's chain of command. Navy officials, who had already begun a review of their own nuclear force after the Air Force scandal came to light, said they were conducting a formal investigation into the alleged incident.
"To say that I'm disappointed would be an understatement whenever I hear about integrity issues," said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, who was accompanied at a last-minute press briefing at the Pentagon by the head of the Navy's Nuclear Propulsion Program, Adm. John Richardson.
Added Richardson to reporters: "I take full responsibility for this incident - it is mine to investigate and to correct."
Noting: we think Richardson's look-alike is RFK but no one agrees with us. Whatevs! Read the rest of our story here.
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The Army recruiting scandal just got bigger. FP's own Dan Lamothe: "One of the largest fraud investigations in the Army's history has grown grew even larger, with lawmakers releasing new evidence that a troubled Army National Guard recruiting program allowed hundreds of troops, including a two-star general and at least 18 colonels, to effectively steal as much as $66 million.
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who has been leading the Congressional investigation into the National Guard program, repeatedly asked senior officials who had overseen the Army's now-defunct Recruiting Assistance Program why the initiative hadn't been designed with better anti-fraud measures. The program offered cash incentives to all troops who helped nudge other would-be soldiers to join the military. The Army's actual recruiters weren't eligible for the money, but an Army audit completed in 2012 concluded that disgruntled recruiters and other troops may have unlawfully cooked the books to collect tens, and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars that they didn't deserve.
McCaskill, clearly exasperated, during yesterday's hearing: "This is what kills me about this, you guys: This is, like, basic... You just assumed whoever was typing [recruits' information] in was telling the truth! And then nobody checked to see if they're lying! You're giving out millions of dollars, no questions asked!"
Lamothe: "Retired Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, who commanded the Army National Guard from June 2005 to June 2009, was among the officials who defended the incentive program on Tuesday, saying its success in finding those additional recruits should not be overlooked. He pushed back against McCaskill's allegation that he and his staff didn't do enough to oversee the money, saying he regularly urged the general officers in charge of the National Guard in each state and territory to watch out for fraud. Those other officers were potentially at fault, he implied, for failing to keep a closer eye on the soldiers under their individual commands.
Vaughn, using a surprisingly colorful military epithet: "I told them, ‘We have to catch the first peckerwoods who get out here and mess this thing up. And, we have to prosecute them quickly... and I did that 18 months in a row." Read the rest of Lamothe's bit here.
Pakistan is a no-show at Taliban peace talks. The NYT's Salman Masood reporting from Islamabad: "Pakistani government representatives failed to appear on Tuesday for the scheduled start of peace talks with the Taliban, forcing the postponement of the talks and drawing a sharp rebuke from the militants' representatives. The episode added to the swirl of contradictory statements, confusion and delays that have surrounded the peace initiative since last week, when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made the surprise announcement that a four-member delegation would hold talks with the Pakistani Taliban. In turn, the Taliban named five public figures, including the opposition politician Imran Khan, to represent them in the talks. But Mr. Khan and another of the five refused to do so. The three remaining designees, led by Maulana Sami ul-Haq, a prominent religious scholar with close ties to Taliban leaders, said on Monday that they would meet the next day with the government representatives in Islamabad, the capital. But on Tuesday the government side balked." More here.
Page One: U.S. to curb drone strikes in Pakistan. The WaPo's Karen DeYoung and Greg Miller: "The Obama administration has sharply curtailed drone strikes in Pakistan after a request from the government there for restraint as it pursues peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, according to U.S. officials. 'That's what they asked for, and we didn't tell them no,' one U.S. official said. The administration indicated that it will still carry out strikes against senior al-Qaeda targets, if they become available, and move to thwart any direct, imminent threat to U.S. persons... The administration is 'continuing to aggressively identify and disrupt terrorist threats in the Afghan war theater and outside areas of active hostilities in line with our established CT [counterterrorism] objectives and legal and policy standards. .?.?. Reports that we have agreed to a different approach in support of Pakistani peace talks are wrong,' said the senior official, one of several interviewed for this article who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the sensitive matter." Read the rest here.
Tora Bora isn't the one one: Read the top 10 mistakes the U.S. made in Afghanistan, by FP's Stephen Walt here.
New today: Were you curious if the delay in signing the bilateral security agreement with Afghanistan was having any other effects? Right. So was the team of experts at the U.S. Institute of Peace, which conducted research on the economic impacts of the delay based on interviews with 29 people around the country. The research shows that the delay is causing increased hedging behavior, including increasing corruption and also causing Afghans to hoard their savings; it's also contributing to increased opium production, increased demand for small arms and the USIP team also found that real estate prices are falling and long-term investments are dropping, too. From one of those interviewed for the study, explaining the second-order effects of the delay: "Families in the east always used to make sure at least one of their boys went into the national army, if for no other reason than to draw a steady paycheck. Right now they are rethinking this livelihood strategy, and fewer families are sending their sons to the government."
At the same time, USIP found that some families are choosing to arm themselves, in part due to the failure of the government to pay police in some provinces and also, likely, due to the uncertainty of having no security agreement in place that would ensure the U.S. and coalition forces stay in some form. USIP found that a small arms dealer in Jalalabad said he is moving more Kalashnikovs and handguns than, according to the dealer, "at any time since the fall of the Taliban." You can read USIP's new report today by clicking here.
Afghanistan is likely one of Obama's most important decisions this year. The NYT's Peter Baker and Matthew Rosenberg: "President Obama brought his top Afghanistan commanders to the Oval Office on Tuesday to discuss the way forward in a war he is determined to end by the end of the year, even as he finds himself stymied by an unreliable partner and an uncertain future. Increasingly vexed by Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, Mr. Obama is trying to figure out what form a residual force might take after the bulk of American troops leave by December and what would happen if no Americans stayed behind at all. The debate has rekindled some of the tensions within the administration that divided it in its early days.
"With Mr. Karzai reinforcing Washington's view of him as an erratic ally, skeptics of the administration's Afghan strategy are increasingly open to withdrawing entirely at the end of 2014. Some in Mr. Obama's civilian circle suspect that his generals may be trying to manipulate him with an all-or-nothing approach to a residual force. Military officials say they are trying to leave options open and are themselves more ambivalent than ever about staying.
"The internal dynamics involved in the review, described by a variety of current and former White House, administration and military officials, are complicating what could be one of the most important decisions Mr. Obama makes this year. The president wants to avoid a repeat of what has happened in Iraq, which is again under siege, and yet he considers extricating the United States from Afghanistan a signature achievement for his legacy.
"...While Washington has long been frustrated by Mr. Karzai, what little patience remains has ebbed in recent weeks as he blamed American forces for terrorist attacks on civilians, threatened to release prisoners deemed dangerous by the international coalition and likened the United States to a 'colonial power.'"
Who came to Obama's meeting yesterday? "...As part of his review, Mr. Obama met Tuesday with Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the general's vice chairman, Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr.; Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., commander of American and allied forces in Afghanistan; Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the head of the United States Central Command; and Adm. William H. McRaven, head of the United States Special Operations Command." Read the rest here.
Channeling Jim Lehrer: Afghanistan has its first televised debate. The WSJ's Nathan Hodge: "...The debate was aired as Afghan newsrooms prepare for blanket coverage of the campaign. Local media outlets are launching dedicated campaign websites, editors are dispatching reporters to the provinces, and candidates are prepping for a series of unprecedented debates."
Presidential candidate and leading contender Abdullah Abdullah to Hodge: "I think it went very well. It was a civilized debate...We reached millions through television and radio channels. The people of Afghanistan can make a conscious decision." More here.
Intel chief Jim Clapper: This is why Assad is stronger. Reuters' Warren Strobel: "Last year's agreement to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons left President Bashar al-Assad in a strengthened position, and there appears little chance rebels will soon force him from power, the U.S. intelligence chief told Congress on Tuesday. 'The prospects are right now that (Assad) is actually in a strengthened position than when we discussed this last year, by virtue of his agreement to remove the chemical weapons, as slow as that process has been,' said James Clapper, director of national intelligence.
"Clapper... did not specify why the September agreement on chemical arms had boosted Assad's position... Clapper said Assad's government is likely to remain in power, absent a diplomatic agreement for a new transitional government, which most analysts consider a long shot... 'I foresee kind of more of the same, sort of a perpetual state of a stalemate where ... neither the regime nor the opposition can prevail,'" Clapper told the House Intelligence Committee." More here.
The budget deal means the Pentagon needs real budget reforms: Vets Duncan Hunter and Pete Hegseth writing an op-ed in USA Today today: "Imagine a combat infantryman with 25 years of military service, through times of war and peace. Now retired, this veteran struggles with back pain and arthritis, warranting a disability rating and modest compensation for decades of grueling service. Despite the pain, he is deeply proud of his service to this country. "Now imagine a military compensation system that, because of growing budget pressures, is incapable of providing him with the full benefits he earned through decades of service. No different than federal entitlement programs, the military compensation system is facing challenges and constraints of its own. The Ryan-Murray budget deal, whether intentional or not, thrust military compensation into the spotlight and called attention to disconcerting projections of a system that, unless reformed, will be unable to meet its future obligations and crowd out other defense priorities." Their suggestions for an alternative to reform spending that could potentially save $600 million per year includes "audit the Pentagon" and "reform retirement benefits for future DOD employees" and "reform the acquisition process." Read the rest here.
An official says the threats at Sochi are real. AP's Kim Dozier: "A top U.S. counterterrorist official says there are "a number of specific threats" aimed at the Winter Olympics that start this week in Sochi, Russia - with the greatest danger coming from the Caucasus Emirate, which has threatened to attack the games. Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told Congress on Tuesday that the U.S. and Russia are tracking threats of 'varying degrees' of credibility. He said potential attacks seem more likely outside the venues for the games, and instead in the area or region around Sochi. He described intelligence sharing with Russia as 'good.'" More here.
U.S. Ambassador to Moscow McFaul, out soon. Reuters' Steve Gutterman: "U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul, who engineered Washington's "reset" of relations with Moscow but riled Russia during his tenure as envoy, said on Tuesday he would soon leave his posting and the administration of President Barack Obama. McFaul helped Obama improve ties with Russia during his first term but was clouded by controversy from the start of his stint as envoy after Vladimir Putin, campaigning to regain the presidency in 2012, accused Washington of stirring up protests." More here.