National Security

FP's Situation Report: Pentagon to announce review of awards

What Pakistan knew about bin Laden; Rasmussen to FP: Will Russia stop there?; DOD to send troops to Libya; No "Step Nine" for Boogie; What up with the Pentagon library?; and a bit more.

Remember that comprehensive review of all military decorations and awards the Pentagon was going to do? It'll be announced today. Pentagon pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby, who will appear in the Pentagon briefing room today, will announce that the Pentagon will begin a "comprehensive review" of all military decorations and awards starting in June. It's designed to take "lessons learned" from 13 years of war and apply them to the way the Defense Department hands out awards and decorations. A defense official told Situation Report that the review will "focus on ensuring that the awards program will continue to appropriately recognize all levels of combat valor as well as the sacrifices of our service members," and also that the review "will determine how best to recognize service members who impact combat operations through the use of cyber technology and remote devices."

The review stems in part from the controversy surrounding the so-called drone device which would have recognized the important work that drone operators do on today's battlefield. Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who issued the directive to create the device before he left office, was seen to have thrown a political hand grenade into the building before departing. That's because for a military that prides itself on awards and decorations, the move caused enormous upheaval between the services and the troops. Critics thought the device shouldn't have a higher precedence than a Bronze Star, especially that with a 'V' device, that recognizes valorous actions of those on the ground. So began a nasty, behind-the-scenes battle of a different kind. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived at the Pentagon last year and immediately suspended the move to create the device. But it remained unclear how it would all turn out. Now, nearly a year later, his spokesman will announce a full review of the issue.

Not a quick turnaround though. Interestingly, it will take about a year to complete the review.

Welcome to Thursday's edition 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? 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 do follow us @glubold.

New this morning: Newly detected objects in the water draw new scrutiny on Flight 370. The NYT's Michelle Innis and Chris Buckley: "The Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, said on Thursday that satellite imagery had detected floating objects in the southern Indian Ocean that might be parts of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet that vanished on March 8. But he and an Australian rescue organizer both counseled caution about the sighting." More here.

NATO chief to FP: "Our concern is that Russia won't stop." FP's Yochi Dreazen: "NATO's top official acknowledged in an interview that Russia's annexation of Crimea could not be reversed and said the military alliance was increasingly concerned that Moscow might also invade eastern Ukraine. In the interview, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Foreign Policy that Russia's sudden conquest of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula was a "wake-up call" for the 28-member alliance, which had been established to counter potential Soviet aggression during the Cold War. Rasmussen said NATO was committed to protecting Poland and other Baltic members of the alliance from what he described as an increasingly aggressive and land-hungry Russian government.

"Still, he said that it was too late to halt Crimea's absorption into Russia or return it to the control of Ukraine's fragile central government. NATO, Rasmussen said, was instead worried that Russia was turning its gaze further eastward and potentially preparing to seize other portions of Ukraine." More here.

In a speech at Brookings in Washington yesterday, NATO Chief Rasmussen explained why Russia's moves are a "wake-up call" for NATO: "We live in a different world than we did less than a month ago," Rasmussen said. The WaPo's Karen DeYoung's piece here.

Ukrainian troops are turning the lights off in Crimea. The WaPo's Carol Morello and Kathy Lally: "Ukraine prepared to evacuate its troops and their families from Crimea on Wednesday as Russia forced the Ukrainians to abandon several military bases and facilities on the peninsula, including their navy headquarters. Ukraine said it would seek U.N. support in declaring Crimea a demilitarized zone so that its troops could be relocated to Ukraine proper, effectively acknowledging that it had lost the region despite vows it would never cede to Russia." Read the rest here.

Why the death of Chechen rebel Doku Umarov is unlikely to reduce terrorism in Russia, in the WaPo, here.

Want to know what Pakistan knew about bin Laden? The NYT's Carlotta Gall, in the Sunday NYT Magazine, online now: "... The Pakistani government, under President Pervez Musharraf and his intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, was maintaining and protecting the Taliban, both to control the many groups of militants now lodged in the country and to use them as a proxy force to gain leverage over and eventually dominate Afghanistan. The dynamic has played out in ways that can be hard to grasp from the outside, but the strategy that has evolved in Pakistan has been to make a show of cooperation with the American fight against terrorism while covertly abetting and even coordinating Taliban, Kashmiri and foreign Qaeda-linked militants. The linchpin in this two-pronged and at times apparently oppositional strategy is the ISI. It's through that agency that Pakistan's true relationship to militant extremism can be discerned - a fact that the United States was slow to appreciate, and later refused to face directly, for fear of setting off a greater confrontation with a powerful Muslim nation." Read it all here.

And in Afghanistan today, militants stormed a police compound and 10 are now dead. The NYT's Azam Ahmed and Khalid Alokozay: "A series of coordinated attacks in the heart of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan left at least 10 police officers dead, including the district police chief, after suicide bombers bearing firearms stormed their headquarters early Thursday morning, officials said.

"The assault, which also left 14 police officers wounded, began around 5 a.m. on Thursday when a car equipped with explosives sped through the gate to the police compound. Six bombers stormed the facility after the initial blast, waging a three-hour gun battle within the compound, according to Fazal Ahmad Sherzad, the police chief of Nangarhar Province, of which Jalalabad, one of the country's largest and most economically vibrant cities, is the capital. Attack helicopters from the American-led international coalition could be seen circling the area after the assault." More here.

The Pentagon will send a team of soldiers to Libya to begin a training mission for Libyan troops in Bulgaria. AP's own Lita Baldor: "According to the official, fewer than a dozen soldiers will go to Tripoli but that number could grow as the group begins selecting the Libyan troops who will receive U.S. training. About 500 soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division will train 5,000 to 8,000 Libyan forces in basic combat skills as part of a larger international effort to improve security in the North African nation. The training was announced late last year, but sending a team into Libya was not. The team initially will be working with the Libyans to determine the scope and details of the training. The official said that as time goes on and the effort to select the Libyan troops expands, some additional soldiers could go to Tripoli to provide security for the team." More here.

The U.S. is going to boycott the U.N.'s drone talks. FP's Colum Lynch: "Pakistan is trying to push a resolution through the United Nations Human Rights Council that would trigger greater scrutiny of whether U.S. drone strikes violate international human rights law. Washington, though, doesn't want to talk about it. The Pakistani draft, which was obtained by Foreign Policy, urges states to 'ensure transparency' in record-keeping on drone strikes and to 'conduct prompt, independent and impartial investigations whenever there are indications of any violations to human rights caused by their use.' It also calls for the convening of 'an interactive panel discussion' on the use of drones. The Geneva-based human rights council held its third round of discussions about the draft on Wednesday, but the Obama administration boycotted the talks. The White House decision to sit out the negotiations is a departure from the collaborative approach the administration promised to take when it first announced plans to join the Human Rights Council in March 2009."

"... Rhetoric aside, though, the Obama administration has largely refused to supply U.N. experts with details about the classified U.S. drone program, which has killed hundreds of suspected militants in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and other countries over the past decade. Independent investigators say the strikes have also killed thousands of civilians, including large numbers of women and children, a charge the White House -- without providing evidence to the contrary -- denies." Read the rest here.

No "Step Nine:" Boogie didn't actually say he was sorry to Hagel. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon spoke to Hagel yesterday after the U.S. criticized Yaalon's criticism of American foreign policy - a hot topic this week. Yaalon and Hagel, said to be close, discussed the issue briefly and Yaalon clarified his stance to Hagel. But he didn't actually apologize for what he had said earlier this week - as is being widely reported in Israeli press. A defense official tells Situation Report: "While Yaalon did in fact clarify his comments by restating his firm comment, it would be inaccurate to say he apologized."

Hagel pinchhitted for Biden yesterday at the Business Roundtable, but he wasn't coaxing folks to divest from the region in the aftermath of the Crimea crisis. Hagel hosted the Business Roundtable yesterday in Washington, speaking to as many as 100 CEOs from top American companies around the country. Vice President Joe Biden had been scheduled to speak to the group, but had to pass due to his trip. Hagel spoke to three themes, Situation Report is told: the budget, the danger of sequestration returning in 2015, and the gratitude the Defense Department has for those American firms who employ veterans. "We make veterans in the Department of Defense," Hagel told the group by way of explaining how he feels responsibility for their futures after they leave the service. He encouraged top companies to do more for veterans.

One thing he didn't talk about, we're told, was Russia and Ukraine. Although he mentioned the uncertainty the crisis presents to the world, he did not talk to them about divesting themselves from the region, according to a senior defense official who cited "false reporting" on the meeting yesterday. "That's not at all what he was doing."  Hagel will host a smaller group of CEOs at the Pentagon this spring, we're told.

"Personally skeptical." Hillary Clinton expresses doubts about an Iranian nuke deal. The WaPo's Philip Rucker: " Hillary Rodham Clinton cast doubt on the interim nuclear agreement with Iran, saying in a muscular policy speech here Wednesday night that she is "personally skeptical" that Iran's leaders will follow through on a comprehensive agreement to end their march toward nuclear weapons. Still, the former secretary of state and potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate told a pro-Israel audience in New York that she stands behind the Obama administration's negotiations with Iran, and she commended the work of her successor, John F. Kerry." Full story here.

What's up with the Pentagon Library? Good question we're glad you asked. We reported in Situation Report in May 2013 that the "way ahead" for the Pentagon's library was unclear and that defense officials were looking at reducing its services or closing it altogether amid, according to an internal memo at the time, "fiscal realities." But the library's fate is still in limbo, we're told. The library, adjacent to the Pentagon conference center, located just outside the actual building, was part of the Pentagon renovation of that area completed some years ago. A Pentagon spokesman told Situation Report that the Defense Department is "continuing to review" the library issue, but in a statement it looks less like defense officials think the library should be closed. Instead it sounds like there are plans to make it a better service. No word on how funding cuts at the Department could affect the library, which some people are surprised to hear even exists.

The statement to Situation Report: "We are continuing to review how the Pentagon Library can better serve the Department as a more modern information service, capable of providing a full range of information services to meet customer needs utilizing state of the art technologies. This modernization effort -- which would include a more robust digital presence, and a focus on delivery of digital information products coupled with the preservation of its most important print-based collections -- remains in the planning and coordination stages."

Kandahar, and the true test of the Afghan elections next month. The WSJ's Yaroslav Trofimov: "The election campaign is sweeping the Taliban stronghold, fueled by hopes that the April vote could bring better governance after 12 years of rule by President Hamid Karzai, whose brothers have long dominated Kandahar.

"These expectations, coupled with successful U.S. and Afghan offensives that pushed the Taliban into remote districts, have brought unusual peace to the country's second-largest metropolis. Should voters' hopes be dashed through fraud, however, Kandahar's hard-won calm could quickly collapse, many locals warn. 'Nowadays, the Taliban are quiet because all the people want free and fair elections,' said Mohammad Daud, an elder of the Alokozai tribe in Kandahar's giant Loy Wala neighborhood, where Taliban assassination squads roamed freely a few years ago. 'But if people are forced to vote for someone, if there is government interference, and there is no change, people will be fighting again.' Kandahar is no stranger to vote-rigging. In 2009, as Taliban violence in the city and surrounding districts scared off voters, government officials stuffed ballot boxes across the province." More here.

Reading Pincus: For transport planes, the confusing world of budget cuts, politics and base closings. Pincus in the WaPo: "Closing military bases and consolidating operations to save money are not simple moves. Take the Air Force's constantly shifting plans to move 10 of the 20 C-130J Super Hercules transport planes. Stationed at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., the planes are part of the Air Force Reserve 403rd Wing and are used primarily for tactical airlift missions. Plans for where the planes and their crews should move have changed repeatedly, and at a head-spinning pace. In February 2012, the Air Force announced that it would relocate Keesler's 10 C-130J aircraft to Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia. It was part of a long-term plan to save about $480 million. At that time, Rep. Steven M. Palazzo (R-Miss.), who represents the area, told a local TV station, 'We're just going to ask the tough questions and .?.?. if they don't have the right answers, I think it's going to be safe, because we have to protect Keesler's mission.' Tough questioning turned up that moving to Dobbins would require larger hangars, which would require more money." More here.

 

 

 

National Security

FP's Situation Report: DOD report undermines Army position on intel system

Could the Navy Yard shooting have been avoided?; A Sinclair morality play; A "Chilly Rivalry?" with Russia; A class act leaves the Pentagon; and a bit more.

An unreleased report on the Army's intel system known as DCGS-A shows an alternative to the troubled program isn't so bad after all, FP learns. Our story, with FP's own Shane Harris: The Army has spent years defending a multibillion-dollar intelligence system that critics say costs too much and does too little. A new internal report has found that there's a simple, relatively inexpensive program that could handle many of the same jobs at a fraction of the cost. For the past eight months, though, the Pentagon has kept the report hidden away.

Members of Congress have been asking Defense Department officials to send them the assessment, a copy of which was obtained by Foreign Policy, but the Pentagon has yet to do so. At issue is the Army's Distributed Common Ground System, expected to cost nearly $11 billion over 30 years and built by a consortium of major Beltway contractors, including Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics. The system is meant to give troops on the ground an easy way to collect intelligence about terrorists and enemy fighters, and then create detailed reports and maps that they can share with each other to plan and conduct operations. But critics -- and even some troops -- have long complained that the system doesn't actually work. They say it's too slow and hard to use, and that it has left them searching for alternatives in the war zone.

The system's high cost and technical failings prompted a search for other options. Palantir Technologies, a fast-growing Silicon Valley firm, told the Pentagon that its off-the-shelf systems could accomplish most of the same tasks but cost far less -- millions, rather than billions. The Marine Corps, Special Operations forces, the CIA, and a host of other government agencies already use it. Army officials, though, said Palantir wasn't up to the job. Now, a 57-page report by the Pentagon's acquisitions arm basically says the Army was wrong to dismiss the Palantir system. The study instead gives Palantir high marks on most of the Army's 20 key requirements for the intelligence system, including the ability to analyze large amounts of information, including critical data about terrorist networks and the locations of explosive devices, and synchronize it in a way that helps troops on the ground combat their enemies more effectively.

The report is likely to sharpen concerns about the Distributed Common Ground System, which has been facing mounting criticism on Capitol Hill. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), one of many long-time detractors, had asked the Pentagon for its findings as recently as last month.

Rep. Jim Moran to FP: "It's a scandal that commercially available, battlefield-proven technology is ready to go at a fraction of the billions of dollars the Pentagon is spending to build a similar analysis tool in-house. I appreciate [Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics] Frank Kendall taking this issue seriously, and look forward to hopefully resolving it once and for all when the long overdue report's findings are finally released." Read the rest of this story 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 gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. 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 do follow us @glubold.

NYT: If it's not a return to a Cold War, it's a return to a "chilly rivalry." The NYT's Peter Baker on Page One: "A month ago, most Americans could not have found Crimea on a map. But its lightning-quick takeover by Moscow has abruptly redrawn the geopolitical atlas and may have decisively ended a 25-year period of often tumultuous yet also constructive relations between the United States and Russia. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Washington and Moscow had struggled to replace their Cold War rivalry with a new form of partnership, one that was tested by crisis after crisis but that endured in its own peculiar way. After each rupture, whether over Kosovo or Iraq or Georgia, came another reset that put the two powers back onto an uneasy equilibrium.

"The decision by President Vladimir V. Putin to snatch Crimea away from Ukraine, celebrated in a defiant treaty-signing ceremony in the Kremlin on Tuesday, threatens to usher in a new, more dangerous era. If it is not the renewed Cold War that some fear, it seems likely to involve a sustained period of confrontation and alienation that will be hard to overcome. The next reset, if there ever is one, for the moment appears far off and far-fetched." Read the rest here.

Bad Romance: What will become of France's $1.7 billion warship deal with Russia? FP's Dan Lamothe: "French officials have spent years defending a $1.7 billion arms sale to Russia, a deal Paris won after beating out rival nations like Germany and Spain. The United States and its Baltic allies have spent just as long warning that selling powerful amphibious warships to the Kremlin risked giving Russian strongman Vladimir Putin powerful new weapons to use against his neighbors.

"With Russia showing no signs of ending its military occupation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, the deal is suddenly facing new scrutiny. French President Francois Hollande said Saturday that France will review its military cooperation with Russia if Moscow doesn't begin to pull its forces from Crimea and drop its threats against Ukraine's fragile central government. The tough language was a first for the French leader: Hollande had previously given no indication that he was willing to suspend or cancel the deal. Earlier this month, in fact, he said it was still on track. Barring something unforeseen, the first French-built ship, the Vladivostok, will be delivered to Russia this fall. The second is under construction in France." More here.

"Missed opportunities for intervention": The Navy Yard shootings might have been prevented. The WaPo's Ernesto Londono and Christian Davenport: "The Defense Department is likely to reduce the number of employees who hold security clearances by at least 10 percent and has vowed to overhaul the way it screens personnel, officials said Tuesday as they released the results of several inquiries into the Sept. 16 mass shooting at the Navy Yard.

The reviews offered a damning assessment of the department's ability to monitor the trustworthiness and reliability of a workforce that grew exponentially in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They also made clear that the Pentagon has issued security clearances to many employees and contractors who are not required to access classified information in the course of their jobs. Investigators found that Navy personnel and supervisors who later employed gunman Aaron Alexis as a defense contractor "missed opportunities for intervention" that could have barred the former sailor from retaining a secret security clearance and unfettered access to military installations.

Hagel on the review: "The reviews identified troubling gaps in the Department of Defense's ability to detect, prevent and respond to instances where someone working with us decides to inflict harm on this institution and its people." Read the rest of the WaPo story, including an interesting graphic, here.

Transcript of Hagel and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus from yesterday  here.

Fish, it's what's fir dinner. At the Pentagon last night, Hagel hosted National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, an annual affair. The dinner conversation was "frank, open and serious," we're told by a senior defense official. "It focused on the situation in Ukraine and how that situation impacted the Alliance, NATO-Russian cooperation, and European security." The four also discussed the upcoming NATO Summit this fall. On the menu? Fish, we're told.

Speaking of which, is NATO back? The NYT's Steven Erlanger: "Russia's annexation of Crimea has suddenly revived the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's central role as a counterweight to Moscow, and with it questions about the alliance's options and ability to act. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. swept into Poland and the Baltic nations on Tuesday with a message of reassurance that their membership in NATO carries the protection of the United States. But given deep Western reluctance to use military force in response to Russia's aggression, it remains unclear what the alliance's commitment to collective security means for Ukraine and other nonmembers should President Vladimir V. Putin continue to try to expand Moscow's influence in the former Soviet bloc...

Since the Ukraine crisis began, the United States, in the context of the alliance, has sent more F-16 fighters to Poland and F-15 fighters to the Baltics. It has begun Airborne Warning and Control System, or Awacs, flights over the Polish and Romanian borders, and has ordered more exercises with warships in the Black Sea...

Jan Techau of Carnegie Europe: "The Ukraine crisis "is a complete reminder of why NATO is useful... If NATO were not in place, this would be a real existential struggle for Eastern and Western Europe, and it isn't." More here.

No drawing outside the lines: The Pentagon will not redraw cocom boundaries. Defense News' Marcus Weisgerber: "The Pentagon is not looking to redraw the boundaries of its geographical war-fighting commands, but is exploring the possibility of realigning forces around the world, a senior US military official said Tuesday. The Defense Department had been looking at a major reorganization of the combatant commands (COCOMs) for more than a year, however that effort lost steam in recent months, according to sources. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last summer that budget cuts might force DoD to cut a COCOM. 'On the heels of the concern around that world that the US may be doing less, the last thing ... we want to do right now is kind of add more uncertainty there,' Rear Adm. Ron Boxall, deputy director of joint strategic planning on the Joint Staff, said Tuesday during a presentation at a Precision Strike Association conference in Springfield, Va. 'Does that mean we won't look at that in the future? No, we will continue.' More here.

Karzai picks a former Northern Alliance leader as Veep. The NYT's Matthew Rosenberg: " Moving to preserve the political and ethnic balance at the top of his government, President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday nominated a prominent former Northern Alliance figure to fill the vice-presidential post left vacant by the death of Muhammad Qasim Fahim last week. The nominee, Yunus Qanooni, is - like his predecessor - an ethnic Tajik who rose to prominence through the old Northern Alliance, which resisted the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan in the 1990s. Mr. Qanooni served as interior minister after the ouster of the Taliban government in 2001, and was widely seen as a political rival of Mr. Karzai. But there was little expectation that Mr. Qanooni could fill the void left by Mr. Fahim, who was among the country's most powerful and influential figures before he died of a heart attack on March 9." More here.

A class act departs the Pentagon. Longtime Pentagon correspondent Thom Shanker, who has covered the building for the NYT for 13 years, is leaving the beat. Shanker, known for being one of the most gracious and magnanimous reporters on what he has called "the best job in journalism," was treated to a farewell late yesterday at the Pentagon briefing room. Hagel even dropped by and gave Shanker a pair of made-in-the-USA gym socks. We won't violate the off-the-record nature of such events, but suffice it to say that colleagues gathered to say nice things about Shanker. The WSJ's Julian Barnes talked about his qualities as a gentleman reporter, always willing to help others, give credit to others' work when it's due, and be polite when reporting the truth. But it's Shanker's refrain as a reporter that most strikes us. He often says that "the truth lies in constant reporting." That's a good reminder in this age of reporting-on-the-cheap and reporters who surf the Internet instead of actually walking the beat.

Read this speech Shanker gave at Stanford in 2007 on covering the wars and why some think getting lost is worse than being killed, here.

From a memo by NYT Washington bureau chief Carolyn Ryan: "As you know, the Washington bureau boasts one of the strongest editing desks at The New York Times. And it is about to get even stronger. Thom Shanker, a gifted and intrepid Pentagon correspondent for the last 13 years - who has covered the beat during 9/11, two wars, and four secretaries of defense - will join our desk as weekend editor. Thom's savvy and smart judgment will help guide our coverage, and be of great benefit to us on the weekends, when it often seems the world is exploding or about to explode." We wish Thom well.

Malaysia, learning to let go. The WSJ's Mark Magnier, Trefor Moss and Jake Maxwell Watts: "Malaysian authorities began ceding some control of the search for Malaysia Airlines  Flight 370 to several other nations after operations in some areas ground to a halt for lack of guidance. Few doubt the challenges involved in a search that now encompasses 2.24 million square nautical miles, 26 nations, and a mystery over what happened to the flight after it vanished from radar March 8. But confusion over the effort spread Tuesday, with several nations, including India, Thailand, Japan and Indonesia, saying they had ships and aircraft sitting idle while they awaited instructions from Kuala Lumpur, which has been overseeing the international operation.

"...Some aviation experts welcomed Malaysia's more-decentralized approach. "They are beginning to do what they should be doing," said David Learmount, an aviation security and safety expert with Flightglobal, a trade publication. But for some others, the delays signaled the task may be too big for the midsize country to manage. 'No one wants to find the plane more than the Malaysians, but they need to streamline their crisis management,' said Singapore Management University professor Bridget Welsh." More here.

Morality play: Soldiers staged a skit based on the Sinclair affair - for Sinclair. AP's Jeffrey Collins: "Suspicions of an Army general's extramarital affair with a subordinate had circulated widely enough that soldiers portrayed the two in a sexually suggestive skit at a 2010 party, according to witness testimony Tuesday. Lt. Col. Benjamin Bigelow testified at a sentencing hearing that the skit was performed during a party at which Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair was being honored in Germany. It involved a soldier dressed up as Sinclair and a soldier dressed as a woman in a brown wig to represent the captain who was his primary accuser, Bigelow testified... During the skit, the character in the wig 'moved in front of the Sinclair character's crotch and offered to do something for him,' Bigelow said. 'There was absolutely no question.' Bigelow said Sinclair's wife attended the party and was "clearly shocked, angered and dismayed." He said the accuser was not at the party." More here.

Naval Academy sexual assault trial begins, and a prosecutor said a midshipman laughed off sexual assault. Reuters' Tom Ramstack: "A former U.S. Naval Academy football player laughed off his suspected sexual assault of a woman midshipman who had passed out at an alcohol-fueled party, a prosecutor said at the start of the man's trial on Tuesday. In the case, among a spate of sexual misconduct allegations in the U.S. armed forces, Midshipman Joshua Tate from Nashville, Tennessee, is the only one to be court-martialed among three Academy football players initially accused of assaulting the woman in April 2012. During opening arguments, Navy prosecutor Lieutenant Commander Ryan Stormer said that after the woman passed out, Tate 'made the decision to do exactly what he wanted to do.' Not until the next day did the woman realize she had been sexually assaulted, he said. When the woman confronted Tate about their alleged encounter, 'everything to him was a big laughing matter,' Stormer said. 'He laughingly told her yes, we did have sex.' More here.