National Security

FP's Situation Report: A 'dangerous' prisoner release and a new green-on-blue attack in Afg.

The U.K.'s cool new super stealth drone; The Truman eases out of the Gulf; Marine Corps Times is back; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

The Afghan government goes ahead with its plan to release 65 prisoners against the pointed advice of ISAF, the military command in Kabul, and U.S. officials. The NYT's Jawad Sukhanyar and Rod Nordland: "The Afghan government began releasing prisoners Thursday over the objections of the American military, which said they were dangerous insurgents responsible for killing its soldiers. The 65 detainees began emerging from the Bagram Prison in small groups Thursday morning, and were taken away in vehicles belonging to the Afghan National Army military police, who are in charge of the facility. American military guards are also present at the prison but were not in evidence. American military officials have been publicly scathing in their criticism of the releases, which have brought relations between the two allies to a low point at a time when talks on a long-term Western military presence have stalled." Read the NYT story here.

The statement from the ISAF military command in Kabul issued this morning after the prisoner release read in part: "The release of these dangerous individuals poses a threat to U.S., Coalition and Afghan National Security Forces, as well as the Afghan population.  Insurgents in the group released today have killed Coalition and Afghan Forces. They have killed Afghan men, women and children.  More than two dozen of the individuals released were linked to the production or emplacement of improvised explosive devices, the number one killer of Afghan civilians," adding that some individuals released are believed to have returned to "the fight."

And: "U.S. and Afghan forces risked their lives to ensure the safety of the Afghan people.  We call upon the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to consider the potentially lethal effects of today's releases and its impact on the future security of the Afghan people."

Green-on-blue is back: Two U.S. troops were killed in the first insider attack in Afghanistan in months. AP: " Two U.S. soldiers were killed and four wounded in an attack Wednesday by gunmen wearing Afghan security force uniforms in eastern Afghanistan, U.S. defense officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss details of the attack, which is the latest in a string of incidents in which Afghan troops turned their weapons on their supposed allies.

"The officials said four Afghans involved in the attack were killed in the ensuing battle. The frequency of these insider attacks has declined markedly in recent months. At the height of the problem, in 2012, U.S. and coalition troops were more often fighting and training alongside their Afghan partners; the relationship evolved last year with the Afghans taking a lead combat role. That has put the Americans and other coalition troops in a less visible position as advisers." More here.

Meantime, initial results of a survey of veterans of the Afghanistan war by the McCain Institute show that 75 percent of the participants in the survey think they "arrived in Afghanistan with realistic expectations of the environment/situation." And about 70 percent of participants think that "corruption in political institutions remains the most significant issue," according to two data points from the survey provided to Situation Report. Remember, if you're interested in participating in this interesting survey - it's open to anyone who served in Afghanistan in uniform or not - click here. More = merrier. 

Welcome to Thursday's Snow-dition of Situation Report. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Please 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.

Scoopage: Spy agencies are sending Congress bad contractor data, the GAO says. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio: "Civilian U.S. intelligence agencies have provided unreliable and incomplete reports to Congress since 2011 on the use of private contractors who perform core functions, according to a new congressional audit. The limitations 'hinder the ability to determine the extent' to which eight agencies including the CIA use such outside workers and how much they spend to do so, the Government Accountability Office said in an audit set for release today. Lawmakers said the report raises concerns about the security of intelligence information even though it doesn't deal directly with that subject or with Edward Snowden, who disclosed thousands of pages of top-secret documents after working as a consultant for the military's National Security Agency. Congress needs reliable information "so we know exactly who is managing our nation's secrets and why," Senator Tom Carper, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in an e-mailed statement." Read the rest here.

Dempsey made a low key visit to Gitmo. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, took a three-hour tour of the U.S. Navy base and two prison buildings at Guantánamo Bay this week - the first visit by America's highest-ranking officer in six years.

"Dempsey and about 10 members of his staff traveled to the base on Tuesday, a day after he visited the U.S. Southern Command in Doral, according to Air Force Col. Edward W. Thomas Jr., the chairman's spokesman. Thomas called the trip '"a familiarization tour to provide the chairman a richer understanding of the operations and our personnel serving there.' He left the base 'very impressed with the professionalism,' said Thomas and made it back to Washington, D.C., in time to attend the White House state dinner for French President Francois Hollande." More of Rosenberg's story here.

Reuters reports that Chuck Hagel will preview the Pentagon's budget on Feb. 24. Reuters' Andrea Shalal-Esa and David Alexander: "... Hagel is expected to use the announcement to outline the U.S. Defense Department's priorities and challenges in budgeting for the fiscal year that begins on October 1, said the sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly." More here.

The Truman eases away from the Persian Gulf. The Hill's Kristina Wong: "The U.S. Navy has reduced its carrier presence in the Persian Gulf as the Obama administration seeks to complete a nuclear deal with Iran. The Navy denies it has reduced its strength in the strategically vital waterway, let alone done so to help diplomatic efforts, and it points to an increase in the number of smaller ships that are regularly patrolling at close quarters with Iranian vessels. But records show that the U.S.S. Harry Truman, now the sole aircraft carrier in the region, has spent more time outside the Persian Gulf in the last six months than inside it. Just a year ago, the Navy had placed two carriers in the region. In addition, a Navy source familiar with the issue said the Truman isn't spending as much time in the Persian Gulf as its predecessors, and that this is intended to give space for negotiators to work on the nuclear deal."

Retired Vice Adm. Peter Daly, CEO of the United States Naval Institute, to Wong on it being reasonable to think the Navy is sending a signal: "A carrier is an effective symbol and instrument of national power. Its mere presence is a deterrence to bad actors and bad behavior, and if necessary, it is an instrument of force... That's true in the Gulf and that's true anywhere in the world." Read the rest here.

Levin's plan to bring more oversight to drones runs aground. The LATimes' Ken Dilanian: "An effort by a powerful U.S. senator to broaden congressional oversight of lethal drone strikes overseas fell apart last week after the White House refused to expand the number of lawmakers briefed on covert CIA operations, according to senior U.S. officials. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs the Armed Services Committee, held a joint classified hearing Thursday with the Senate Intelligence Committee on CIA and military drone strikes against suspected terrorists. But the White House did not allow CIA officials to attend, so military counter-terrorism commanders testified on their own. Levin's plan ran aground on the Washington shoals of secrecy and turf, according to congressional aides and other U.S. officials, none of whom would be quoted by name discussing classified oversight matters." More here.

Great Britain unveils a super stealth new drone and it's got the coolest name: Taranis. For FP, Zach Rosenberg: "A new video released by aerospace giant BAE shows a bat-shaped drone zipping down a runway, taking off smoothly, and then coasting over an empty expanse of mountains and valleys before landing back at the empty airstrip. The next-generation unmanned aerial vehicle is outfitted with stealth technology and designed to fly - and theoretically fire at targets on the ground -- without a human controller. The United States has been working on similar drones for years. But the Taranis, named after the Celtic god of thunder, isn't being built for the U.S. military. It's being built for the British one, and it showcases both a remarkable high-tech achievement and just how slow Britain's military can be to adapt to what is virtually certain to be the future of warfare. Read all about it here.

Fascinating: FP has discovered how a Swiss commodities giant used shell companies to make an Angolan general known as "General Dino" $750 million.  For FP, Michael Weiss: "Revolutionary communist regimes have a strange habit of transforming themselves into corrupt crony capitalist ones and Angola -- with its massive oil reserves and budding crop of billionaires -- has proved no exception. In 2010, Trafigura, the world's third-largest private oil and metals trader based in Switzerland, sold an 18.75-percent stake in one of its major energy subsidiaries to a high-ranking and influential Angolan general, Foreign Policy has discovered. The sale, which amounted to $213 million, appears on the 2012 audit of the annual financial statements of a Singapore-registered company, which is wholly owned by Gen. Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento. Details of the sale and purchaser are also buried within a prospectus document of the sold company which was uploaded to the Luxembourg Stock Exchange within the last week. 'General Dino,' as he's more commonly called in Angola, purchased the 18.75 percent stake not in any minor bauble, but in a $5 billion multinational oil company called Puma Energy International. By 2011, his shares were diluted to 15 percent; but that's still quite a hefty prize: his stake in the company is today valued at around $750 million." Read this tale here.

As you were: Marine Corps Times is back on the newsstand near the checkouts in base PXes pending "a review." Military Times' Jeff Schogol: "Marine Corps Times will be returned to its usual newsstand location at base exchange stores after an abrupt decision to move the independent newspaper away from checkout lines proved unpopular and raised questions about motive. The Marine Corps said the move was meant to 'professionalize' the front of exchange stores, but its timing generated strong reaction from Marines and media outlets who questioned whether it was related to the newspaper's critical reporting about Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos."

Jay Paxton, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps on the Corps' Facebook page:  "Reaction to the Marine Corps Times' relocation demonstrated a clear misunderstanding of intent; therefore, the product will return to its original location pending the outcome and communication of a more comprehensive, purposeful plan based on our Commandant's intent as it relates to an emphasis on professionalism within our Corps." More on this here.

FP's Tom Ricks on how Marine Corps' HQ "makes jihad" on Marine Corps Times, here. Ricks' two-line post on the matter: "I think public institutions always look bad when they try to suppress or punish publications that have been critical of them -- in this case, Marine Corps leaders vs. the Marine Corps Times. It makes it look like the Marine Corps commandant can't take the heat."

The Duffel Blog's headline this morning: "Marine Commandant Hosts Book Burning at 8th and I," here.

Maybe overkill: Walt Jones calls for a hearing over the Marine Corps Times newsstand issue. Military Times' Lance Bacon's story, here.

 

National Security

FP's Situation Report: Syria, starving for attention

Out-Foxing the LCS; McRaven on Iron Man… suits?; CNAS lists its 18 "best and brightest;" and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Concession speech: Obama says diplomacy in Syria isn't working. The WaPo's Anne Gearan: " The Obama administration acknowledged Tuesday that diplomacy, the main pillar of its Syria policy, is failing even as civil war is destroying the country, leaving open the question of what the United States will or can do to stop the slaughter. Negotiations between the Syrian government and parts of the opposition are "far from achieving" a peaceful end to the conflict, President Obama said, and in Geneva, the United Nations envoy leading the talks said they aren't getting anywhere."

Obama: "With each passing day, more people inside of Syria are suffering... The state of Syria itself is crumbling. That is bad for Syria. It is bad for the region. It is bad for global national security, because what we know is, is that there are extremists who have moved into the vacuum in certain portions of Syria in a way that could threaten us over the long term."

Gearan: " Obama ruled out direct U.S. military intervention, at least for now, but offered no new substitute to address a crisis he called heartbreaking and risky for the entire Middle East." Read the rest of her bit here.

Syria is starving for intervention. In an op-ed in the NYT, Danny Postel and Nader Hashemi: "TheSyrian people are starving. According to the United Nations, about 800,000 civilians are currently under siege. In areas around the cities of Homs, Aleppo and Deir Ezzor and in parts of the capital, Damascus, no food, medical supplies or humanitarian aid can get in, and people can't get out. Many have already died under these "starvation sieges" and hundreds of thousands teeter on the brink, subsisting on grass and weeds. In Damascus, a cleric has ruled that under these conditions, Muslims are permitted to eat normally forbidden animals like cats, dogs and donkeys. This is not a famine. Food is abundant just a few miles away from these besieged areas. Military forces - mainly the army of President Bashar al-Assad, but in some cases extremist anti-Assad militias - are preventing food and medicine from reaching trapped civilians... This moral obscenity demands action by the international community. Any armed group that prevents humanitarian access - whether the Syrian regime's forces or rebel militias - should be subject to coercive measures. Read the rest here.

"An apocalyptic disaster." - DNI Jim Clapper, describing the civil war in Syria yesterday. Thanks to ABC's Mike Levine (@MLevineReports) for the tweet.

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report. We're not even going to talk about the "impending" snow since we've been fooled so many times before. But the Pentagon's IT folks (also known as Enterprise Services) are already anxious - you know how they can be. They sent out this little message to DOD personnel in the Washington region yesterday: "The National Weather Service in Baltimore/Washington DC has issued a winter storm watch in effect from 7:00 PM Wednesday evening through 10:00 PM Thursday evening. Previous government shutdowns caused by inclement weather have resulted in notably high Service Desk call volume. We urge all customers to check the functionality of your mobile devices (Laptop, MobiKey, BlackBerry and LPS disk) before the storm watch takes effect. This may reduce the risk of calling the service desk the day of the storm and experiencing long wait times." In other words, get it together people, things could get pretty rough, and don't bug us with your silly last minute computer "problems."

If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Please 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.

They seem to beg to differ on al-Qaida: Jim Clapper and Mike Flynn gave their assessment of the terrorist group. Defense News' John Bennett: "Senior US intelligence officials on Tuesday offered a more alarming assessment of al-Qaida than President Barack Obama's declaration that the organization is on the run and headed toward defeat.

"...during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Director of National Security James Clapper and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn offered a different assessment. Under questioning on that topic from panel Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., Clapper described al-Qaida as 'morphing,' with new groups popping up in North Africa. Flynn replied, 'they are not,' when asked by Inhofe if al-Qaida is, as Obama has said, on a path to defeat and on the run. Clapper seemed to downplay his own warnings about the threat to the United States posed by so-called al-Qaida affiliates when he said such organizations are not currently plotting attacks on 'the homeland.' But he keeps them on his lengthy threat list simply because one day, 'they could.' More here.

Read the "statement of the record" from DNI Jim Clapper's appearance on Capitol Hill yesterday; he appeared with the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Mike Flynn. Read Clapper's statement here.

Christine Fox on deck and raising questions about "niche" platforms (Read: the Littoral Combat Ship). Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio: "The Pentagon's No. 2 civilian said the U.S. Navy needs more ships with the protection and firepower to survive an advanced adversary, not just "niche platforms," weeks after she ordered cuts in the $34 billion Littoral Combat Ship program. Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox's remarks in a San Diego speech yesterday in part reflect Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's concerns about the ship designed for shallow coastal waters, said a defense official who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations at the Pentagon.

"Addressing the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and the Naval Institute, Fox said "the threats to surface combatants continue to grow -- not just from advanced military powers, but from the proliferation of more advanced, precise anti-ship munitions around the globe. Clearly, this puts a premium on underseas capabilities -- submarines -- that can deploy and strike with relative freedom of movement." The Littoral Combat Ship, made in two versions by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Austal Ltd., is a lightly armed vessel intended for roles from submarine-hunting to mine-sweeping. Questions have been raised about its mounting costs and survivability in combat. Last month, Fox directed the Navy to truncate the program to 32 ships after 2019 rather than the 52 previously planned by 2026. While Fox didn't mention the ship by name in her speech, her comment about "niche platforms that can conduct a certain mission in a permissive environment" could be "read as a confirmation of her views" on it, Byron Callan, a defense analyst with Washington-based Capital Alpha Partners LLC, said in an e-mail." Read the rest here.

Read the transcript of Fox's remarks yesterday in San Diego here.

Military bennies seem to bring everybody together. The WaPo's Ruth Marcus: "Those who complain about the absence of bipartisanship in the nation's capital are sorely mistaken. When it comes to caving to a powerful constituency and bestowing benefits, bipartisanship is flourishing. Today's exhibit: military pensions."

The writing on the wall; Marcus, con't: "...Of course veterans deserve generous retirement pay. Yet the current system is extraordinarily generous compared to private-sector programs. A Congressional Research Service report found that the cost-of-living change would mean a loss of $69,000 in benefits for the average enlisted person and $87,000 for the average officer. Significant, but that is out of lifetime benefits of $1.73 million and $3.83 million, respectively. Meanwhile, as four senior retired military officers pointed out  in a statement issued by the Bipartisan Policy Center, Military personnel costs have doubled since 2000, even as the active-duty force has shrunk by 10 percent. 'Such cost growth is unsustainable, and the leadership of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines all agree that the costs of benefits for personnel are starting to crowd out other important investments that support training, readiness and modernization,' the officers said. 'This plan is an important first step in tackling those costs.'

Marcus: "...The issue, unsurprisingly, has been distilled to its political essence. 'You vote yes, you're for our vets,' Alaska Democrat Mark Begich said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "You vote no, you're against our vets.' Well, if you put it that way... There are lessons to be gleaned from this depressing episode, with its predictable denouement. The most obvious involves politicians of both parties who are happy to proclaim their willingness to make hard choices - and cowardly about actually standing by them. Especially in an election year, brave lawmakers are an endangered species." Read the rest here.

McRaven talks Iron Man... suits. FP's Dan Lamothe: "An ambitious effort to build a high-tech armored suit for elite U.S. commandos has entered a new phase, as the military prepares to analyze three new prototypes it will receive this summer, the U.S.'s top Navy SEAL said Tuesday. Adm. William McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, said the military will receive the prototypes in June. The project was launched last year to revolutionize the capabilities and protection of Navy SEALs, U.S. Army Special Forces, and other elite commandos who perform some of the U.S.'s most dangerous and violent missions. It's already been nicknamed the "Iron Man" suit, a nod to the futuristic technology it will require resembling that of the popular comic book hero popularized in movies starring Robert Downey Jr.

"There's a catch with the prototypes, however. McRaven told a crowd at a special operations conference in Washington that they will be unpowered - meaning the days of super-soldier commandos wearing exoskeleton armor is still years away. Best-case scenario, the admiral wants the suit to be used in combat situations by August 2018."

McRaven: "Obviously if you're going to put a man in a suit -- or a woman in a suit -- and be able to walk with that exoskeleton... you've got to have power... You can't have power hooked up to some giant generator." Read the rest here.

Bloomberg's Al Hunt wrote an odd little 236-word blog post about how Chuck Hagel is the "Invisible Man." Hunt riffed how Hagel was shown up in Munich by John Kerry and never showed up at the Alfalfa Dinner (horrors!). Pluswhich, Hunt's headline writers might not be too original, just saying. Hunt's piece, "Chuck Hagel is Washington's Invisible Man," here. Our piece on Hagel on Dec. 15 on FP, "The Pentagon's Invisible Man," here.

CNAS announced their "next gen class of 2014 national security leaders." The Center for a New American Security announced the list of "the best and the brightest emerging national security leaders" yesterday. CNAS' Dave Barno and Nora Bensahel and Lockheed Martin's Robert Rangel (head of Bob Gates' 'six-pack') will lead the "2014 Next Generation Class." For the next year, the class will "engage with influential figures in the national security field through a series of candid discussions on several of the most significant issues facing the country today."

The List: HASC's Ryan Crumpler, Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (at State) Taylor Dewey; Georgetown's Justin Deyo, (an M.A. candidate); House Foreign Affairs' Jeffrey Dressler; Center for the National Interest's Ryan Evans; Palantir's Jared Jonker; The U.S. Army's Tyloer Jost; the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission's Jennifer Knowles; the Air Force's Miriam Krieger; CNA's Melissa McAdam; the Navy's Jeff McLean; State Department's Policy Planning's Sean Misko; CFR's Mira Rapp-Hooper; State's Abbas Ravjani; Treasury's William Rich; the Marine Corps' Lindsay Rodman; U.S News and World Report's Paul Shinkman and the Marine Corps' Katelyn van Dam. Major congrats all around. Who are they really? Click here to find out.

As good as it gets: Jim Amos spoke at Carnegie yesterday before he heads back to Afghanistan. Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, on Afghanistan: 'My sense is, it's about... it's about as good as it's going to get." Breaking Defense's Sydney Freedberg, who attended yesterday's event: "...A NATO ministers' meeting later this month will be 'critical' to shoring up support for Afghanistan's future stability, Amos added. And while the general was naturally reluctant to give public advice to his political superiors, he did offer one major warning: ‘We need to be very circumspect and take a lesson from Iraq, [where] we spent our nation's treasure and then we pulled out,' Amos said, pointing to the escalating violence in Iraq. 'I don't want that to happen in Afghanistan,' he said. 'We can ill afford to simply pull out and go home.'" More here.

Did a foreign national exploit the Supreme Court on funneling PAC money to U.S. political races? FP's John Hudson: "In a first of its kind case, federal prosecutors say a Mexican businessman funnelled more than $500,000 into U.S. political races through Super PACs and various shell companies. The alleged financial scheme is the first known instance of a foreign national exploiting the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in order to influence U.S. elections. If proven, the campaign finance scandal could reshape the public debate over the high court's landmark decision. Until now, allegations surrounding Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, the owner of multiple construction companies in Mexico, have not spread beyond local news outlets in San Diego, where he's accused of bankrolling a handful of southern California candidates. But the scandal is beginning to attract national interest as it ensnares a U.S. congressman, a Washington, D.C.-based campaign firm and the legacy of one of the most important Supreme Court decisions in a generation. Under longstanding federal law, foreign nationals are prohibited from donating to political campaigns at the state, local and federal level." More here.
More muscle-flexing in Japan.  Reuters: "Japan may allow exports of defense equipment to international organizations such as those involved in U.N. peacekeeping operations on condition they do not take sides in conflicts, Kyodo News reported on Tuesday. Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan is reviewing various aspects of defense including its self-imposed ban on weapons exports. But resentment of Japan's wartime aggression runs deep in both China and South Korea and any decision by Japan to become more active militarily is likely to cause tension. Japan in 1967 drew up "three principles" on arms exports, banning sales to countries with communist governments, those involved in international conflicts or those subject to U.N. sanctions.

The rules eventually became almost a blanket ban on arms exports and on the development and production of weapons with countries other than the United States, making it difficult for Japanese defense contractors to drive down costs and keep up with arms technology. The government is also considering easing rules on the transfer of its defense equipment to third parties, Kyodo said." More here.