Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Efforts to free Bergdahl disorganized

The post-2014 plan for Afg; Ukraine vows to regain the East; The gov's plan to prevent plane hacking; News flash: Bieber is Canadian; and a bit more.

Efforts to free Bowe Bergdahl are disorganized, and that's echoed by at least one member of Congress - though U.S. Central Command begs to differ. AP's Deb Riechmann last night: "Critics of the U.S. government's nearly five-year effort to seek the release of the only American soldier held captive in Afghanistan claim the work suffers from disorganization and poor communication among numerous federal agencies involved, leaving his captors unclear which U.S. officials have the authority to make a deal... The military officer said the effort was marred by distrust on both sides. Those holding Bergdahl have indicated what they would be willing to do to prove to the U.S. government that they want to deal, but the U.S. has not formally responded to that outreach, the military officer said. The White House and U.S. military officials deny that the effort is disjointed, claim Bergdahl's release remains a top priority and that the government is using diplomatic, military, intelligence and all other means to free him." More here.

From Centcom in response to the AP piece: "An Associated Press article posted April 24, 2014 included comments by an anonymous U.S. defense official alleging that when Secretary of Defense Hagel's office and CENTCOM separately learned about a proof of life video of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in December 2013, there was confusion about who should tell the family. Additionally, this official also alleges in the article that U.S. Central Command was "angered" because the Secretary's office ended up informing the family and that neither office was communicating with the other about the video notification. Both allegations are completely false and mischaracterize the ongoing close coordination and teamwork between U.S. Central Command, the Department of Defense and other U.S. government agencies."

From Joe Kasper, deputy chief of staff for Rep. Duncan Hunter, the Republican from California, this morning to SitRep: "The AP report should light a fire under DoD and the entire apparatus working toward Bergdahl's release. The only person to shake things up so far was Secretary Hagel, when he positioned Mike Lumpkin in the lead following Mr. Hunter's request. The problem is that Lumpkin's authorities need to extend beyond DoD or if not then someone with full command and Control needs to be installed. Otherwise the State Department and other government entities will continue operating like free agents. As for Centcom's take yesterday, they showed just how much the elements within are not talking. They know their limitations and restrictions too -- as well as the fact that other lines of effort exist."

Meantime, an internal email reveals the Pentagon's thinking on the options for the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Bloomberg's Roxana Tiron: "The Defense Department will prepare three scenarios for war funding next year depending on how many U.S. troops, if any, will remain in Afghanistan, according to an internal Pentagon e-mail obtained yesterday by Bloomberg News. One estimate would take into account 10,000 U.S. troops stationed in the country, another would presume 5,000, and another would imply zero presence as of Jan. 1, 2015, according to the official-use-only e-mail. The Pentagon earlier this year sent Congress a placeholder request of $79.4 billion for war operations in fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1. That request didn't include specifics. The Defense Department is developing the three more detailed war-funding budget estimates to present to the White House, according to the e-mail." More here.

The top Afghan watchdog says that the U.S. withdrawal complicates efforts to fight fraud. FP's Dan Lamothe: "The top watchdog overseeing the deeply flawed U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan has warned for months that his agency's ability to fight corruption and fraud will be drastically curtailed as the Pentagon continues to bring troops back home. But it turns out, the problems will be worse than even he thought. Officials with the watchdog organization plans to hire Afghan inspectors to help check up on U.S.-funded projects, but they acknowledge that won't be enough to ensure the reconstruction efforts are free of waste and abuse. "John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, told Foreign Policy on Thursday that a February meeting with officials from other government agencies, think tanks, and nongovernmental organizations left him deeply pessimistic about his auditors' ability to find ways of ensuring proper oversight as the war winds down." More here.

A Chicago doctor known for his compassion and dedication was among the three Americans killed in Kabul yesterday. The WaPo's Mark Berman: "When Jerry Umanos finished his residency, he didn't set up a private practice as a pediatrician or seek out a high-paying job. Instead, Umanos went to a new health center in Chicago that was focused on improving access to health care - and a place that couldn't offer him as much money as other facilities...Umanos was one of the three Americans killed Thursday when an Afghan security official opened fire at an American-run Christian hospital in Kabul. He was greeting two American visitors at the gate of the hospital when the gunman walked up to them and opened fire, The Post's Tim Craig reports from Kabul. Umanos and both visitors were killed, while two others were wounded." More here.

ICYMI: Another American working in Afghanistan from the Chicago area, diplomat Anne Smedinghoff, died last year as a result of "poor planning on all levels," according to a report from the Army and reported this week by the Chicago Tribune's Geoff Ziezulewicz. Read more here.

Welcome to Friday'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. Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Ukraine says its efforts to regain control of the East will continue.

The NYT's Andrew Higgins, David Herszenhorn and Alan Cowell early this morning: "Defying warnings from Moscow not to confront pro-Russian militants entrenched in towns across eastern Ukraine, the interim government in Kiev on Friday threatened to maintain efforts to regain control by force that have so far produced little beyond Russian military drills on Ukraine's border and heightened concerns about Moscow's next move. Sounding increasingly strident alarms, Ukraine's interim prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, accused Moscow on Friday of seeking to create a wider conflict." Yatsenyuk in remarks to the interim cabinet: "Attempts at military conflict in Ukraine will lead to a military conflict in Europe... The world has not yet forgotten World War II, but Russia already wants to start World War III." More here.

From Mexico, Hagel has strong words for Russia. Reuters' David Alexander from Mexico City: "U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday that reports of military activity along the Russian-Ukrainian border were worrisome and that he was trying to arrange a call with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. ‘This is dangerously destabilizing and it's very provocative. It does not de-escalate. In fact, these activities escalate. They make it more difficult to try to find a diplomatic, peaceful resolution to that issue,' Hagel told reporters during a visit to Mexico City. Hagel pointed to the agreement signed by Russia and Ukraine a week ago in Geneva to try to de-escalate the situation and told a news conference: ‘This goes the other way from what the Russians signed and the agreement they signed last Thursday.'" More here.

Fearing a Russian attack, Ukraine halts its military push. The WSJ's Lukas Alpert and Julian Barnes: "Ukrainian forces moved in on a pro-Russian stronghold Thursday, killing several militants in a firefight at a roadside checkpoint, but quickly halted their advance after Russia activated the thousands of troops it has massed just across the border. Moscow's saber-rattling-launching new land and air military drills-left Ukraine's new government in a quandary: whether to risk pressing ahead with what it calls its antiterrorist operation in the restive east, or risk more bloodshed and provoking an invasion.
"Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, who had ordered the military operation to restart on Tuesday, vowed it would continue even as a security official in Kiev said the operation in the eastern city of Slovyansk had been paused for reworking. Ukraine's Foreign Ministry gave Moscow 48 hours to explain the military exercises along the border. The Pentagon called those drills ‘exactly the opposite of what we have been calling on the Russians to do.'" More here.

Situation Report corrects, big time ­- We got it! We know! The Biebster isn't American. We actually did know better, but in an item yesterday that began "Epic fail" that highlighted another one of Justin Bieber's ill-fated tourist stops, this time in Japan, we did say he was American when of course he is Canadian. We know about the petition and all that. Thank you, thank you for all your love notes pointing out same. We enjoyed the one that told us that we should be "forced to listen to his music as punishment" for our mistake. Another writer wondered if SitRep's demographics could be ascertained based on who wrote to complain and who didn't. Most read thusly: "We have plenty of morons in America already without taking ownership of Canadians!!  Love your work!" As the Biebster would say, as long as you love me. We do regret the error.

The government's new plan to ensure that your seat belts are fastened, seats are in the upright position - and no one is hacking your plane. FP's Shane Harris: "U.S. security and intelligence agencies are teaming up with airline manufacturers to defend against a catastrophic cyber attack that could cripple the air traffic control system, interfere with the computer systems used by modern aircraft, and potentially even bring down a plane.
"As part of a new program, which will be run from a federal facility outside Washington, U.S. government personnel will work alongside private-sector aviation employees to share information about computer security threats, government and corporate officials said. Their goal is to spot malicious hacker activity on computer networks and to improve the security of airline manufacturing, when complex software programs that could create entry points for hackers are installed on passenger aircraft.
"For years, cyber security experts and government officials have warned that the computer networks underpinning the U.S. air traffic control system could be penetrated by malicious hackers. President Obama emphasized the threat in his first major address on national cyber security in 2009. The current air traffic control system remains vulnerable, but more modern aircraft also carry complex navigation and mechanical software, and in the future they will be connected to the air traffic system via new computer networks, making each individual airplane a potential vulnerable target." More here.

A new report from Taxpayers for Common Sense argues that the Pentagon should ditch the F-35 program and invest elsewhere. From TCS' press release: The F-35 "is expected to cost $8 billion in fiscal year 2015 alone. The report points out that this is roughly equivalent to the entire fiscal year 2015 budget request for the U.S. Army Reserves and almost as much as is being requested for the entire Department of Commerce. The report points to capable combat aircraft alternatives to the F-35 procurement." Full report here.

Air Force leaders back states' support for A-10 cuts. Military Times' Brian Everstine: "Air National Guard leaders and governors are offering strong support for an Air Force plan to replace A-10 fleets with new missions in six states - unlike a vocal group of congressional lawmakers who have said they will fight to save the Warthog. State adjutants general and governors are behind the plan because it has been made clear to them that the new missions are important, said Lt. Gen. Stanley Clarke, director of the Air National Guard.
Clarke: "‘I tell them that, as an airman, I have flown the missions. I have flown both aircraft...When I explain to them and tell them ‘What your airmen are going to be doing is important to the nation,' they get it.'"
"The Air Force says it would save $3.7 billion by eliminating the 353-aircraft A-10 fleet that is beloved for its close air support role, but targeted by the brass because of its age and single-mission ability." More here.

IAVA weighs in on the VA health care system in Arizona. IAVA: "With the sensationalized coverage of the tragic shooting at Fort Hood and the reprehensible op-ed published in The New York Times attempting to link vets to hate groups, IAVA has been working overtime to ensure our community - the brave men and women who have sacrificed overseas and are now leading at home - is protected from attacks.
"Then, last night, CNN reported that at least 40 veterans died while waiting for an appointment at the Phoenix VA. And to add insult to injury, it's alleged that the VA placed many vets on a secret waiting list that was part of an elaborate scheme to hide that thousands of sick veterans were being forced to wait months to see a doctor. If true, this is shockingly unacceptable. IAVA is joining Senator John McCain, one of two combat vets in the Senate, in calling for an immediate and thorough investigation into these allegations." More here.

POTUS has landed in South Korea, where he faces questions about his North Korea policy. The NYT's David Sanger: "Almost everything American intelligence agencies and North Korea-watchers thought they understood two years ago about Kim Jong-un, the North's young leader, turns out to have been wrong. The briefings given to President Obama after Mr. Kim inherited leadership said it was almost certain he would be kept in check by his more experienced uncle, Jang Song-thaek. Instead, Mr. Kim had his uncle and dozens of others executed. The early betting was also that Mr. Kim, who was briefly educated in Switzerland, would emphasize economic overhaul over expanding the nuclear and missile arsenals that were his father's and grandfather's legacy.

"Instead, the nuclear program has surged forward, and recent missile tests are demonstrating that after years of spectacular failures, the North's engineers are finally improving their aim. Their next big challenge is proving that an intercontinental missile they have shown only in mock-ups can reach America's shores.
"As a result, when Mr. Obama lands here on Friday on the second stop of his Asia tour, he will be confronting the question of whether his strategy of ‘strategic patience' with the North has been overtaken by reality: an unpredictable, though calculating, ruler in Mr. Kim, who has proved to be more ruthless, aggressive and tactically skilled than anyone expected." More here.

Leave the gifts at home, Mr. President. Here are the five things America's allies in Asia really need, according to Senator Marco Rubio for FP: "The stakes are high for President Barack Obama's Asia trip. As I heard firsthand on my journey to Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea in January, the United States' allies are nervous. They are closely watching events halfway around the world, in Syria, and now in Ukraine. Every U.S. move or utterance on those issues is seen through the prism of growing uncertainty in Asia as a rising China begins to flex its muscles, asserting territorial claims across a large swathe of the region." More here.

Kim Jong Un was adorable as a child. FP's Elias Groll on how North Korea turned Kim Jong Un's baby photos into propaganda. Full story with pictures here.

The Army recognizes ‘Humanism' as a religious preference, here.

Islamists in government: Do they moderate once in power? A lunchtime event today at the Washington Institute with State's Haroon Ullah.  Deets here.

ICYMI - DAS Gregory Kausner talked conventional arms transfer policy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies on Tuesday. His message was clear: "When the United States provides defense articles and military training to our partners and allies, it does so for one main reason: to further U.S. national security interests." Full remarks here.

Tyler Hicks rushed into the Westgate Mall in Nairobi to take photos in the midst of the attack that killed more than 65 people - and he won the Pulitzer.  His interview with NPR's Terry Gross' on Fresh Air: "I didn't just blindly run in. I first believed this to be a robbery gone wrong, and that wouldn't be something I'd normally take risks for - that's not a big, important news event. There are a lot of violent robberies in Kenya and it's something that you just stay away from. When first I approached the mall I could see ... hundreds of people running in terror away from that building, through the parking lot out onto the street - really spilling out onto the street. I knew immediately that this had to be something more serious than just a robbery. As I got up closer to the mall, I could see ... people coming out, clearly who had been shot. People with blood splattered on their faces being pushed out of this mall by other civilians in shopping carts, literally using shopping carts as gurneys and wheelchairs for people who couldn't walk. A little bit later, about 45 minutes later, after I had seen that ... some people had been killed, their bodies laying on the front steps of the mall ... it was clear to me that this was something far bigger and serious enough that it warranted the attempt to get inside to see what was happening." Read and listen here.


National Security

FP's Situation Report: AF to look at bomber units

Will Obama tweak missile defense posture?; McCain, Flake furious about the VA; Blue Angels commander in hot water; Hagel brings the muscle; Marine regrets crucifying himself; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

The Air Force is going to begin nuke bomber units in the wake of the cheating scandal. FP's Dan Lamothe from Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana with this exclusive: "The Air Force will scrutinize its units that fly dozens of bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons across the globe, the latest aftershock of an embarrassing cheating scandal in its nuclear missile force that led to the unprecedented removal of nine commanders from their jobs and the resignation of a 10th in March.
"The review, which hasn't previously been reported, is the next phase of the service's nuclear ‘force improvement program,' and will operate in a similar fashion to the ongoing assessment of the beleaguered missile units, said Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson, who oversees both forces from here as the chief of the Air Force's Global Strike Command. The general said the first review found an array of areas that needed improvement, from old equipment to poor morale, and that he hopes the new internal study will identify parts of the bomber fleet that can be fixed to avoid future problems. Global Strike Command's forces include Boeing's massive eight-engine B-52H Stratofortress bomber and Northrop Grumman's stealthy, bat-wing shaped B-2 Spirit, each of which can be equipped with conventional or nuclear weapons." Full story here.

Will the Ukraine crisis push the White House to tweak its missile defense posture in Europe? Unclear. But there's talk. Lubold's story: "Four years ago, the Obama administration scrapped plans to install advanced missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic that were seen as part of its efforts to reset relations with Russia. Today, with ties between Washington and Moscow at their lowest point in decades, the question is whether the White House should move new anti-missile equipment to Eastern Europe to reassure jittery allies and stick a finger in the eye of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The initial plan, which dated back to the George W. Bush administration, called for installing 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic. Washington said the systems were meant solely to shoot down long-range Iranian missiles, but the Russians harbored deep suspicions that the systems were aimed at them.

"When Obama canceled those plans in September 2009, administration officials said new intelligence showing that Tehran was making progress on shorter range missiles meant that it was important to shift to other, less advanced defensive systems that could be moved to Europe as quickly as 2015. The current White House approach calls for deploying two dozen SM-3 interceptor missiles to Romania and another two dozen to Poland by 2018. In the meantime, the Aegis combat system, mounted on Navy destroyers, would be used to shoot down Iranian missiles.

"But with the U.S. scrambling to figure out how to respond to Putin's aggression in Ukraine, some on Capitol Hill are calling for Obama to accelerate his missile defense plans and move the SM-3 interceptors to Europe as quickly as possible or to deploy portable systems like the Patriot air defense system to Poland once again.

Any such move would be risky for the White House, which has tried to figure out how aggressively to move against Putin given Washington's clear desire to avoid any sort of armed confrontation with Russia and retain Moscow's cooperation on Iran and Syria. Still, there is little question that the push from some quarters in Congress to do something is forcing the administration to consider other ways of bolstering its missile defense plans for Europe. But easy answers remain elusive."

Kingston Reif of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington: "There's plenty of arrows in the quiver in terms of punishing Russia that can be effective and have bite... Then there are counterproductive steps." Read the rest here.

Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association on those who say the U.S. should return to the Bush BMD plan: "The reality is that that system was designed to deal with Iranian ballistic missiles, not Russian ballistic missiles. It would not be able to deal with Russian ballistic missiles and it would validate Russia's erroneous claim that this whole architecture was designed to deal with Russia and not Iran."

After missing deadlines, the world's largest missile maker recovers some cash from the Air Force. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio: "Raytheon Co. (RTN) has recovered almost 30 percent of about $621 million withheld by the U.S. Air Force since 2012 because it missed deadlines for delivering missiles. Raytheon, the world's largest missile maker, received $179 million of the performance payments that had been held back as of March 5, Ed Gulick, a spokesman for the Air Force, said in an e-mailed statement."

William LaPlante, the Air Force's acquisition chief, to Capaccio: "We've been working very closely with Raytheon...Some things are getting better. We've turned the corner on that, but you are always discovering stuff and these are pretty advanced weapons." More here.

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. Follow us! @glubold and @njsobe4.

A new CAP report on the budget this morning (and provided to Situation Report early) is a user's guide to the FY 2015 defense budget. From the Center for American Progress: The report "parses out DOD's confused FY15 request, outlining how it's really two requests due to a late OMB decision to plus up the sequester-level FYDP the Pentagon had prepared by $115 billion.  The late decision means there are strange inconsistencies between public statements from DOD officials and budget programming included in the submission.  The brief also breaks the request down by appropriations title, provides historical context, dives into the procurement decisions and personnel/infrastructure reforms included in the Pentagon's plan, and outlines potential tradeoffs Congress might examine." Full report here.

Ray Mabus is speaking at ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability this morning on energy sustainability from a maritime perspective. Mabus has been on the energy security beat since he came to office in 2009. And he'll tell you that you don't have to look far to see the far-reaching national security implications of energy dependence.  An excerpt of the speech provided early to the Situation Report: "As a security challenge, access to energy and fuel can be a diplomatic pressure point and can be, and is used as a geostrategic weapon. Obviously Europe is a large customer for Russia, which depends on oil and gas revenues for over half its government's budget.  Imagine the impact alternative power and conservation measures might have." Deets from ASU here.

SitRep note: remember to think about sending us excerpts of your boss' speech the day before for maximum tease.

A SAIS event at noon today: New Nuclear Policies and Problems after Fukushima. Deets here.

An FBI informant is tied to cyberattacks abroad. The NYT's Mark Mazzetti on Page One: "An informant working for the F.B.I. coordinated a 2012 campaign of hundreds of cyberattacks on foreign websites, including some operated by the governments of Iran, Syria, Brazil and Pakistan, according to documents and interviews with people involved in the attacks.
"Exploiting a vulnerability in a popular web hosting software, the informant directed at least one hacker to extract vast amounts of data - from bank records to login information - from the government servers of a number of countries and upload it to a server monitored by the F.B.I., according to court statements.
"The details of the 2012 episode have, until now, been kept largely a secret in closed sessions of a federal court in New York and heavily redacted documents. While the documents do not indicate whether the F.B.I. directly ordered the attacks, they suggest that the government may have used hackers to gather intelligence overseas even as investigators were trying to dismantle hacking groups like Anonymous and send computer activists away for lengthy prison terms." More here.

An internal document accidentally sent to a WaPo editor slams the Navy's Blue Angels commander and alleges hazing and sexual harassment. The WaPo's Craig Whitlock of course has the Page One story: "The Navy has reassigned a former commander of the Blue Angels, its acrobatic fighter squadron, and is investigating allegations that the elite team of pilots was a hotbed of hazing, sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, documents show. The Navy announced Friday that it had relieved Capt. Gregory McWherter, a two-time commander of the Blue Angels, of duty for alleged misconduct. At the time, the Navy did not describe the nature of the accusations or provide other details except to say that the case remained under investigation.
"But an internal military document that a Navy official inadvertently e-mailed to a Washington Post editor states that a former member of the Blue Angels filed a complaint last month accusing McWherter of promoting a hostile work environment and tolerating sexual harassment. The complaint described an atmosphere rife with sexually explicit speech, the open display of pornography and jokes about sexual orientation." More here.

Not the Onion, not the Duffel Blog: Discharged Marine regrets crucifying himself in public. "Dude was butt hurt over being court martialed," one commenter said. Read that bit in MC Times, here.

Hagel takes his first trip to Latin America - and he's bringing the ‘muscle.' Reuters' David Alexander filing from the Doomsday plane last night: "Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Wednesday his first trip to Latin America as Pentagon chief would add ‘muscle and sinew' to growing North American defense ties and highlight the importance of helping partner nations improve their militaries. Hagel, who will meet his Canadian and Mexican counterparts in Mexico City before traveling to Guatemala, said the three-day visit will give him an opportunity to focus on relationship-building in a vital area that often receives little attention. ‘The region is important to America,' Hagel told reporters aboard his plane to Mexico City. ‘I don't think over the years we've probably ever done enough to reach out to our Latin American partners.'"
"...The U.S. defense chief
is to travel to Guatemala late on Thursday. He will meet with senior government officials there on Friday and observe military exercises. The U.S. military and other government departments have been active in helping Guatemala develop an interagency task force involving military, police and judicial authorities engaged in the effort to reduce narcotics and people trafficking and other crime. ‘There's nothing like actually coming out and spending some time in these countries so they can see that we're committed to carrying through on some of these programs,' Hagel said." More here.

UN chiefs say diplomacy has failed in Syria. The NYT's Nick Cumming-Bruce in Geneva: "Two months after the United Nations Security Council ordered Syria's warring parties to allow access for humanitarian aid to civilians, the heads of five United Nations agencies warned on Wednesday that diplomacy had failed and that the desperate plight of civilians in many parts of the country was getting worse. ‘The war escalates in many areas,' the leaders of five United Nations agencies that coordinate and deliver humanitarian relief said in a statement released in Geneva. ‘The humanitarian situation deteriorates day after day.'" More here.

Arizona Sens. McCain and Flake are furious about the VA health care system in Arizona and are calling for a probe. The Arizona Republic's Dennis Wagner: "Arizona's two congressional leaders are calling for a U.S. Senate investigation and hearings into accusations of ‘gross mismanagement and neglect' in the Phoenix VA Health Care System in the wake of allegations that up to 40 patients have died awaiting medical appointments. In a Wednesday letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., cited Arizona Republic reporting on whistle-blower allegations about the veteran deaths and accusations that VA administrators have kept ‘secret books' and misrepresented wait times for health care." More here.

A Medal of Honor recipient urges PTSD victims to get help. Stars and Stripes' Jon Harper: "Former Army Sgt. Kyle J. White, who will be awarded the Medal of Honor next month, said troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder shouldn't suffer in silence. 'There's no shame in going and getting help,' White, who was diagnosed with PTSD before he left the military, said at a news conference Wednesday in Charlotte, N.C." More here.

Former top spook Mike Hayden has turned Washington Times columnist. The Washington Times' announcement: "Gen. Michael V. Hayden, a retired four-star U.S. Air Force general and former director of both the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, will write a new bimonthly column for The Washington Times called ‘Inside Intelligence,' debuting April 30... ‘Gen. Hayden is known as a broad-minded and independent thinker on military and intelligence matters. His columns will be must-reads inside and outside the Beltway,' said John Solomon, Washington Times editor and vice president for content and business development. More here.

TheBlaze's new 25-minute video takes the Pentagon's DCGS-A program to task, calling it ‘a glaring example of overspending' and ‘mostly an operational failure.' Full video here.

Obama and Abe are on the same page. The WSJ's Yuka Hayashi: "U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe began their meeting in Tokyo on Thursday by stressing a common message: their alliance is an asset not just for their two countries, but for the entire Asian-Pacific region. Following a tete-a-tete over sushi Wednesday night, the two leaders met for a formal summit meeting Thursday morning to discuss a range of issues. Members of the press were invited to attend for the first 10 minutes, and the two leaders highlighted some of their security concerns in the region. ‘The U.S.-Japan alliance is a foundation not only for our security in the Asia-Pacific region but also for the region as a whole,' Mr. Obama said. ‘We are looking at a whole range of issues that are challenging at this time, including the threats posed by North Korea and the nuclearization that's been taking place in that country.'
"...Even as the Obama administration advances its ‘pivot' to Asia, it wants to see regional allies such as Japan and Australia take on bigger security responsibilities in a region rife with challenges, including China's military buildup and territorial disputes. That's because Washington faces mounting policy challenges elsewhere, from Ukraine to Syria, as well as constraints in its defense budget.
"Mr. Abe, meanwhile, is eager to secure Mr. Obama's endorsement for his push to remove some of the tough constitutional restraints on Japan's military and allow it to play a greater role in the alliance and regional security." More here.

Epic fail: POTUS isn't the only one making news in Japan. In Tokyo, Justin Bieber has once again displayed his talent for seemingly effortless international gaffes. FP's Bethany Allen on the Instagram pic at the controversial shrine honoring war criminals, here.

China plays by its own rules at sea. The WSJ's Jeremy Page in Qingdao: "Beijing won't necessarily observe a new code of conduct for naval encounters when its ships meet foreign ones in disputed areas of the East and South China seas, according to a senior Chinese naval officer involved in negotiations on the subject. The code for maneuvering and communicating between naval ships and aircraft was approved on Tuesday by 21 Western Pacific naval powers, including China, the U.S. and Japan, in an effort to reduce maritime tensions in the region. U.S. naval officials have said they hoped all members of the group would observe the code in all places, including waters where China's territorial claims are contested by its neighbors. But the code isn't legally binding, and it remains to be seen whether China will observe it in what the U.S. sees as international waters and Beijing sees as part of its territory." Full story here.

Advice to POTUS: Don't forget about the U.S.'s commitment to Taiwan this week. Alexander Benard and Paul Leaf for The National Interest: "As President Obama travels throughout Asia this week to revive his stalled pivot there, he should pay special attention to Taiwan-a country that, in recent years, has quietly but steadily drifted deeper into China's orbit. The U.S. military commitment to Taiwan has historically been strong... But recently, Taiwan has had reason to question the U.S. military commitment. First, Taiwan has observed America's fecklessness regarding missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic, Russia's invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, and Syria's use of chemical weapons against its own citizens, and has concluded that U.S. red lines and security promises carry less weight." More here.