National Security

FP's Situation Report: Iraqis want attack drones; Anbar rages; Obama's war on transparency; House passes a budget; Worries about CIA's Afg plans; Why Geoff Morrell makes the big bucks; and a bit more.

 

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

The Iraqis want armed drones and would accept American operators in the country if that's what it takes. Lubold's story: The Iraqi government is actively seeking armed drones from the U.S. to combat al Qaeda in its increasingly violent Anbar province, and in a significant reversal, would welcome American military drone operators back into the country to target those militants on its behalf, according to people with knowledge of the matter... Iraq has long sought drones for surveillance and reconnaissance purposes and has begun to receive some from the U.S. in limited numbers. But the nature of the fight the Maliki government confronts in western Iraq is such that officials say Baghdad is looking not only for better reconnaissance and surveillance capability, but also for more robust, lethal platforms.

Iraq has been unwilling to accept American military personnel in the country in any operational form, but the willingness to revisit that policy appears now to be shifting. A spokesman for the Iraqi Embassy declined to comment on the issue of allowing American military personnel into the country to conduct drone operations, but acknowledged that the U.S. and Iraq share a "common enemy" in al Qaeda.

... But the Iraqis want more. Specifically, they want armed drones, like the Predators or Reapers Washington uses to target al Qaeda fighters and other militants in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. While selling the Iraqis such systems outright would likely be a political non-starter, at least some officials from the same government that once demanded the withdrawal of all U.S. troops have switched their tune and now want U.S. personnel to come back to Iraq to operate the unmanned aircraft if that's what it would take to obtain the capability.

"There is more willingness to have a discussion" about having American trainers and technicians return to the country to support and operate armed drone systems, said a senior Iraqi official, speaking anonymously due to the sensitive nature of the matter. "We are after a stronger capability," the official said. "We want attack capability."

... Pentagon officials said they could not comment on the matter... A spokeswoman for the National Security Council, Bernadette Meehan, said such a proposal is not under active consideration.

Andrew Shapiro, who served as the assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs until last year: "It's not a crazy idea, but one that would require a lot of work to make a reality," he said. "The question is could you come up with an agreement that would satisfy what the Iraqis are looking for but also address concerns on the Hill and elsewhere." Read the rest of our story here.

Iraq's Anbar has become "a deadly Iraqi battleground," and the Shiite government's war against Islamists threatens to split the country. The WaPo's Loveday Morris, on Page One this morning: "Iraq's acting defense minister looks beleaguered, his face drawn, with deep bags below his eyes from a lack of sleep. For four months, Sadoun al-Dulaimi has been operating from Anbar, the most dangerous province for U.S. soldiers during the Iraq war and one again riven by conflict. The army has dispatched 42,000 troops here in a bid to quell al-Qaeda-inspired jihadists and hostile tribesmen, whose resurgence is posing the biggest test for the Iraqi military and the country's Shiite-led government since the withdrawal of U.S. forces 2 1/2 years ago.

"The battle is filled with potential pitfalls. A government failure to regain control in Sunni-dominated Anbar would jeopardize the country's unity. But an escalated military offensive could deepen anger among the nation's Sunni minority, fanning the flames of sectarian war. The fight has proved tougher than expected. Hundreds of soldiers have died, and the military is facing mass desertions. The government says it is incapable of stemming the flow of hardened militants, who are often better equipped than Iraqi forces, across the border from Syria."

"Like the United States before it, the Iraqi government has been attempting to recruit Sunni tribesmen to help in the fight. Dulaimi, who hails from Anbar's largest tribe, spends much of his time negotiating with tribal leaders. He is also Iraq's culture minister and has a PhD in psychology, and he acknowledges that he prefers 'the academic life.' But for now, his life is consumed by the conflict. 'It's one of the sheiks,' he said, apologizing as he took a phone call on a recent evening. 'We are trying to be nice to the sheiks, because we are supposed to be fighting shoulder to shoulder.'" More here.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report, where we bid adieu to FP's own Dan Lamothe, our excellent SitRep stand-in when we were out of town and all-around stand-up guy. His last day is today and he's headed to the WaPo to start up a new military blog. Sorry to see him go and wish him luck, kinda-sorta. JK!

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.

Another seven U.S. military personnel arrive in Nigeria today. They will join the 10 or so that are already on the ground as part of the U.S. government's "interagency" task force that is helping the Nigerian government in the search for the kidnapped school girls.

Boko Haram exploits Nigeria's slow decline, by Reuters this hour, here.

Pentagon Presssec Rear Adm. John Kirby briefs the press at the Pentagon today at 11:30.

The CIA's plan to retrench in Afghanistan worries the Pentagon.  The LA Times' David Cloud: "The CIA is planning to close its satellite bases in Afghanistan and pull all its personnel back to Kabul by early summer, an unexpectedly abrupt withdrawal that the U.S. military fears will deprive it of vital intelligence while thousands of American troops remain in the country, U.S. officials said.
"CIA Director John Brennan informed U.S. military commanders in March that his agency would shutter operations outside Kabul, removing CIA case officers and analysts as well as National Security Agency specialists responsible for intercepting insurgent phone calls and other communications, a rich source of daily intelligence, the officials said.
"Pentagon officials warn that the CIA drawdown after 12 years of war is coming just as insurgent attacks are normally at their peak. As a result, the CIA withdrawal has strained relations between the agency and military commanders in Kabul, the officials said.

"...The Pentagon is seeking to persuade the CIA to slow its withdrawal, arguing that keeping CIA and NSA operators in the field as long as possible will help prevent a surge in insurgent attacks before the end of 2014, when most U.S. troops are due to leave." More here.

The Clapper Clampdown Continues: Now, government officials can't even talk about classified information that is already public knowledge. The NYT's Charlie Savage: "The Obama administration is clamping down on a technique that government officials have long used to join in public discussions of well-known but technically still-secret information: citing news reports based on unauthorized disclosures. A new pre-publication review policy for the Office of Director of National Intelligence says the agency's current and former employees and contractors may not cite news reports based on leaks in their speeches, opinion articles, books, term papers or other unofficial writings.

"Such officials 'must not use sourcing that comes from known leaks, or unauthorized disclosures of sensitive information,' it says. 'The use of such information in a publication can confirm the validity of an unauthorized disclosure and cause further harm to national security.'" More here.

CIA analysts relied on news reports of protests in Benghazi, fueling the scandal and revealing the agency's continuing struggle to accurately assess publicly available information. TIME's Massimo Calabresi: "Here's an unsolicited tip for the newly appointed head of the House of Representative's select committee on Benghazi, Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina: A smoking gun explanation for the Obama Administration's use of false talking points to describe the September 11, 2012 terrorist attack has already been found. And the culprit is not a White House adviser or State Department bureaucrat. It's the intelligence community's reliance on the media. Before Gowdy launches another eight month probe into the attack that killed four Americans, it is worth noting that there is a simple, real-world explanation hiding in plain sight. It's tucked inside the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on Benghazi, which reveals a key source of the bad intelligence that made it into Ambassador Susan Rice's famous talking points: the media incorrectly reported that before the attack on Sept. 11, 2012 there were protests outside the U.S. facilities in Benghazi when there weren't." More here.

Syria has exposed the failings of the U.N. Security Council. The NYT's Somini Sengupta: "Since the beginning of the year, the Security Council has discussed Syria no fewer than 18 times and devoted 13 more sessions to Ukraine. That remains about the most substantive action the Council has taken to resolve the conflicts, which flourish unabated. The Council has come up with no diplomatic road maps. In the case of Syria, Russia has vetoed three resolutions in three years. The Council has been dismissed as toothless before, precisely over the right of its five permanent members to block any measure with a veto. But the paralysis over Syria has marked a new level of dysfunction, experts say, and has given a fillip to those who call for a fundamental shake-up of the Council's composition and rules of engagement. It is not just that the Council has failed to halt the civil war, but that it has been unable even to deliver humanitarian supplies like food and medicine to millions of Syrians in need. Instead, Russia and its Western rivals have spent months trading blame over who is blocking aid, all the while failing to persuade their allies on the ground to open a humanitarian corridor." More here.

State congratulates WIPO chief on his re-election, then calls for an investigation into his alleged misdeeds. FP's Colum Lynch: "The United States and other global powers on Thursday elected Francis Gurry, an Australian national, to a second six-year term as the director general of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), an influential United Nations agency charged with protecting patents around the world. Gurry might want to wait to pop the cork off the champagne bottle. The U.S. State Department is seeking to rally support for an independent investigation of Gurry, who has been dogged by numerous allegations of misconduct and mismanagement from current and former senior advisors. U.S. diplomats -- who resisted calls from Gurry's critics to postpone the election until an investigation was complete -- offered up congratulations to the Australian civil servant, while making it clear he would have to submit to an investigation. South Korea made an explicit request for an independent inquiry." More here.

Putin arrives in Crimea for the first time since annexing it, in the NYT this hour, here.

Pro-Russian separatists defy Putin. The WaPo's Simon Denyer, Michael Birnbaum and Fredrick Kunkle on Page One: "Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine vowed Thursday to press ahead with a referendum on independence, defying Russian President Vladimir Putin's surprise call for Sunday's vote to be postponed. Having captured government buildings across eastern Ukraine and vehemently denounced the interim government in Kiev as fascists, the leaders of the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic argued that they would lose credibility if they canceled the vote.

"...The decision to proceed with the vote could be seen as a rebuff to Putin, whose call Wednesday for a postponement struck a more conciliatory tone than his previous statements on Ukraine. It remained unclear what a referendum might look like, who would participate, how fair it might be, or even in how many or which cities it would be held. But the separatists clearly felt they had little choice but to press on: Canceling the vote would leave them without even a fig leaf of popular legitimacy and deflate their movement, perhaps fatally." More here.

Check out pictures of Putin's war room in the WaPo, here.

House Armed Services OKs the NDAA. Defense News' John Bennett: "The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) early Thursday unanimously approved a measure that would authorize just over $600 billion in 2015 US defense spending and block plans to retire the A-10 attack plane.
"After a marathon markup session, the committee easily approved its version of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act that includes a $495.8 billion base Pentagon budget level and $79.4 billion more for an overseas contingency operations (OCO) budget.
"The bill, which also authorizes $17.9 billion in Energy Department defense programs and $7.9 billion in mandatory defense spending, could grow even larger. That's because the OCO amount is a placeholder; senior lawmakers expect the White House will send over an exact amount for the war in Afghanistan and other needs before the bill hits the House floor, likely this spring.
"The $495.4 billion - if the final amount authorized and appropriated for the Pentagon - would be cut by around $35 billion because sequestration remains in place. That sequestration cut amount was reduced by $9 billion under December's bipartisan budget deal." More here.

The Joint Chiefs are split over the savings from cutting the commissaries. Stripes' Tom Philpott: All seven members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified Tuesday on the need to slow growth in military compensation and apply dollars saved to underfunded readiness accounts for training, equipment and spare parts. But their united front for easing current budget burdens cracked over the notion of slashing savings for commissary shoppers.

"Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos called the proposal to cut commissary appropriations, from $1.4 billion yearly down to $400 million within three years, and the projected cut in average shopper savings from 30 percent down to 10 percent, 'a sore point for me.' 'That's a 66 percent drop in savings for my Marines.  I don't like that,' Amos told the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Families don't either. 'The commissary issue itself is radioactive,' Amos said." More here.

Read FP's Rosa Brooks' piece on the why plans for the future of the Army is awesome sauce. The header: "The service's plan to revamp itself for the post-post-9/11 world is ambiguous and rife with contradiction. That's what makes it brilliant." Read all that here.

Apropos of nothing, but BP! This is why former Pentagon pressec Geoff Morrell makes the big bucks, literally. Morrell, now a senior exec at BP, appeared on CBS' 60 Minutes last Sunday. With the mastery he used to brand former Defense Secretary Bob Gates as what some would consider to be one of the best modern defense secretaries - an arguable point to others - Morrell was actually able to get CBS' Scott Pelley to portray the oil giant as a victim in the post-oil rig explosion amid the pay-out of claims to those supposedly impacted by it. Morrell exhibited the kind of outrage and anger for which he's known in what some PR types would say was a failure, yet he got the point across and made people wonder if BP really was the victim. We should have run this days ago, but from "Over a Barrel:"

Morrell, on claims that have been paid out: "...We're talking about a wireless phone company store that burned to the ground and shut down before the spill. An RV park owner that was foreclosed upon before the spill. And I love this one. A Pontiac dealer [Morrell's voice rising in typical fashion] who could no longer sell Pontiacs because GM had discontinued the line before the spill."

Scott Pelley: Those are all real examples and they are people who actually got a check?

Morrell, outraged, eyes piercing: "Those are all real examples and are, frankly not exceptions but rather emblematic of a far larger problem. There are more than a thousand claims just like them that had glaring red flags associated with them that should have been picked out by the claims administrator and instead were ultimately awarded more than $500 million." Read and watch here.

China is making trouble in the South China Sea. The WSJ's Brian Spegele and Vu Trong Khanh: "When China parked a giant oil rig in disputed waters off Vietnam, it confirmed what Washington and regional governments have long feared: Beijing is taking a major leap in the defense of its territorial claims, testing the resolve of rattled neighbors-as well as the U.S. At the heart of the latest maneuvering for control in the South China Sea is China's most modern oil rig, deployed by a state-owned oil company off the contested Paracel Islands over the objections of Hanoi, whose coast guard has sought to obstruct the rig's work.

"The standoff over the rig has built over several days, bursting into open conflict on Wednesday when Vietnamese officials said that about 80 Chinese vessels had moved into disputed areas near it and that six Vietnamese crew members had been injured in scuffles. Rear Adm. Ngo Ngoc Thu, vice commander of the Vietnamese coast guard, said Thursday that the situation at the site remains tense, with many ships still there. Officials from both countries allege its vessels have been rammed by the other. A Chinese Foreign Ministry official demanded on Thursday that Vietnam withdraw its ships." More here.

Outside satellite experts say investigators could be looking in the wrong ocean for Flight 370. Ari Schulman for the Atlantic: "Investigators searching for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight were ebullient when they detected what sounded like signals from the plane's black boxes. This was a month ago, and it seemed just a matter of time before the plane was finally discovered. But now the search of 154 square miles of ocean floor around the signals has concluded with no trace of wreckage found. Pessimism is growing as to whether those signals actually had anything to do with Flight 370. If they didn't, the search area would return to a size of tens of thousands of square miles. Even before the black-box search turned up empty, observers had begun to raise doubts about whether searchers were looking in the right place." More here.

What today's digital defenders must learn from cybersecurity's early thinkers. A new report by Brookings' Richard Bejtlich: "...The focus on change and speed, driving the desire to reengineer Internet technology, prompted action by the National Science and Technology Council within the Executive Office of the President. In December 2011 they released a report titled Trustworthy Cyberspace: Strategic Plan for the Federal Cybersecurity Research and Development Program. The document introduced the concept of "Trustworthy Cyberspace," claiming that the idea ‘replaces the piecemeal approaches of the past with a set of coordinated research priorities whose promise is to ‘change the game,' resulting in a trustworthy cyberspace... we need enduring cybersecurity principles that will allow us to stay secure despite changes in technologies and in the threat environment.' This document and the research effort behind it seek to ‘change the game' and identify ‘enduring cybersecurity principles' in order to counter the change and speed of the technology environment. However, it may not be necessary to embark upon another government or private effort to determine how to ‘secure cyberspace' through technological means. The early days of computer security have much to teach modern practitioners and policymakers. An historical review of security lessons may be a cheaper and more effective way to identify and promote security measures." Full report here.

 

National Security

FP's Situation Report: Putin backs off a little; 140k vets hired; IAVA demanding answers; Pushing for a Boko Haram strategy; Putting the brakes on the Guard's NASCAR recruiting effort; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

 

Putin announces a pullback, but his intentions are murky. The NYT's Neil MacFarquhar: "President Vladimir V. Putin, faced with rising violence in southeastern Ukraine that threatened to draw in the Russian Army at great cost and prompt severe new Western economic sanctions, pressed pause on Wednesday in what had started to look like an inevitable march toward war. But it remained unclear to analysts and political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic whether he was truly reversing course on Ukraine or if this was just another of his judo-inspired feints.

"Using a far less ominous tone than in previous remarks about Ukraine, Mr. Putin told a news conference at the Kremlin that Russia had withdrawn its troops from along the border and that he had asked separatists to drop plans for a referendum on sovereignty this Sunday. Russia would even accept Ukraine's presidential election on May 25, he said, if demands for autonomy from the country's east were recognized.

"Mr. Putin said Russia wanted to spur mediation efforts led by the Europeans. He said he did not know whether talks between the warring sides in Ukraine were "realistic," but was determined to give them a chance, in particular a suggestion from Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany that the factions engage in a round-table discussion. More here.

But where exactly are those Russian troops? The WSJ's Gregory White in Moscow: "...But Washington was dismissive and immediately questioned whether Moscow was genuinely committed to stabilizing Ukraine, where the government in Kiev is strongly pro-Western. The Pentagon said it had seen no evidence to back Mr. Putin's claim that he had called back the tens of thousands of troops deployed to Ukraine's border last month.
"...Senior U.S. officials said the Russian leader's latest comments were helpful, but that Washington still believed that the Kremlin was working to undermine the May 25 elections. ‘There are still efforts under way to hinder the preparations,' State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said. ‘There is far more that President Putin and the Russians can do to de-escalate the situation and to ensure safe elections.'" 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.

The 100,000 Jobs Mission firms - now 154 in total - are announcing this morning at 8am that they have hired 140,832 veterans since 2011. After reaching its first goal of hiring 100,000 veterans, the Jobs Mission now aims to hire 200,000 veterans by 2020 and it appears well on its way. Former Vice-Chief of the Army Pete Chiarelli and now CEO of One Mind for Research, on vets and PTSD: "There is a misunderstanding that every service member with deployment history has TBI and/or PTS -- which is not the case. Of the small percentage that have been affected, and seek treatment, there is no reason they cannot perform in the workplace. This is why coalitions such as the 100,000 Jobs Mission are important because they work to ensure that the invisible wounds of war do not brand a service member as damaged. These coalitions are open and willing to hiring veterans, realizing that they can be productive members of the workforce."

Maureen Casey, JPMorgan Chase's director of Military and Veterans Affairs: "We continue to learn from experts and then refine our programs to help veterans and their spouses succeed in the civilian workplace." Deets and press release here.

Also today, with Obama in San Diego, IAVA will hold a protest in its search for answers on VA Medical Care. The header of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's press release: "Allegations of VA Mismanagement and Cover-up in Phoenix, Colorado, Texas - is San Diego Next?" IAVA: "As President Obama is in San Diego Thursday, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) will demand national accountability from President Obama and his Administration at a 10:30 a.m. press event outside the War Memorial Building at Balboa Park. IAVA Founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff will join local veteran leaders from across the San Diego community - the largest base of IAVA membership in the country - to call on the President to answer questions of VA accountability and address how his Administration will ensure veterans get the care and support they need. Earlier this week, the American Legion, San Diego Congressman Duncan Hunter and others called on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign."

IAVA's Rieckhoff: "How far do the failures at the VA go? That is the question veterans in San Diego and across the nation need to know... If they were allegedly cooking the books in Phoenix, Fort Collins, Austin, and San Antonio, were they doing it in San Diego too? We're in San Diego - with more vets here than anywhere else in the country - demanding accountability and calling on President Obama to ensure vets get the care they need. We deserve answers." Deets here on the event in San Diego this morning, West Coast time, here.

The American Legion is calling for Shinseki to resign, the NYT story here.

This morning, a bomb blast in Aleppo. Reuters this hour: "Syian rebels detonated a huge bomb underneath an Aleppo hotel used by President Bashar al-Assad's forces on Thursday, destroying it and damaging other buildings on the edge of the city's medieval citadel. The rebel Islamic Front, which claimed responsibility for the explosion, published video footage which showed a huge column of debris and dust erupting into the Aleppo skyline. It said 50 soldiers were killed in the blast but did not say how it arrived at that death toll." More here.

ICYMI: Did Samantha Power rebuke Obama on Syria? Bloomberg's Jeffrey Goldberg: "Last week, in a powerful speech that should have received more attention than it has so far, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, seemed to rebuke the administration in which she serves for its handling of the Syria catastrophe.
"Power was speaking at a Holocaust Memorial Museum dinner, at which she presented the museum's Elie Wiesel Award to the Canadian general Romeo Dallaire -- one of the few Westerners who tried to protect Rwandans as they were being slaughtered (as opposed to weeping for them after they were murdered, which was the more common Western response).
"In the course of her speech, Power condemned those who argue that the choice facing the West in Syria is between full-on military engagement and doing nothing. She was also particularly harsh on the subject of leaders who avoid acting until humanitarian crises spin into chaos." More here.

Boko Haram has killed hundred of civilians in northeast Nigeria this week. The NYT's Adam Nossiter in Abuja: "Islamist insurgents have killed hundreds in a town in Nigeria's northeast this week, the area's senator, a resident and the Nigerian news media reported on Wednesday, as more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by the militants, known as Boko Haram, remained missing. The latest attack, on Monday, followed a classic Boko Haram pattern: Dozens of militants wearing fatigues and wielding AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers descended on the town of Gamboru Ngala, chanting ‘Allahu akbar,' firing indiscriminately and torching houses. When it was over, at least 336 people had been killed and hundreds of houses and cars had been set on fire, said Waziri Hassan, who lives there, and Senator Ahmed Zanna." More here.

House Foreign Affairs Committee head Ed Royce is pushing Hagel and Kerry to develop a more strategic approach to countering Boko Haram. In a letter to Secs Hagel and Kerry: While I welcome the Administration's efforts in response to the kidnapping, including offering a team of military and law enforcement officials to the Nigerian government, I believe this temporary response will not sufficiently combat Boko Haram's long-term threat to the region and U.S. interests.  The Administration should develop a strategic, multifaceted approach to help Nigeria combat Boko Haram." Full letter here.

Israelis reject reports of spying on the U.S. as Susan Rice visits. The LA Times' Batsheva Sobelman: "Israeli officials on Wednesday rejected espionage allegations reportedly made in American intelligence circles, the latest obstacle to Israel's inclusion in the visa waiver program that would ease its citizens' travel to the U.S. According to a report in Newsweek, some American counterspy officials say Israel is pursuing espionage efforts against the U.S. that have ‘crossed red lines' and far exceed those of any other close ally... Such concerns reportedly are holding up agreements that would include Israel in the U.S. visa waiver program. The waiver, which eases travel to the U.S., is reserved for nationalities that are deemed as posing little security threat and that are not major sources of immigrants who enter the U.S. illegally." More here.

Secretary Mabus will sign a statement of cooperation with Purdue on alternative energy research this afternoon. From the Navy Office of Community Outreach: "As Secretary of the Navy, [Mabus] has made energy and energy security a priority. Upon assuming office in 2009, Mabus set an aggressive goal for the Department of the Navy aimed at ensuring that, by no later than 2020, the Navy and Marine Corps would obtain at least 50 percent of their energy from alternative sources. To accomplish this goal, he has directed the Department of the Navy to change the way they use, produce and acquire energy. Purdue is home to the Energy Center in Discovery Park. The center leads interdisciplinary research efforts in advancing alternative energy sources and approaches." If you really want to wonk out on this, watch the signing ceremony live here at 1:30pm EST, here.

Into maritime strategy? Check out the convos War on the Rocks has been having on China. War on the Rocks just put two of their recurring talks online. One is with Bryan McGrath, who wrote the 2007 Maritime Strategy; Another, with Cmdr. Elton Parker, a speechwriter for Jim Stavridis when he was at NATO, is also up. Both are talking about Asia and Parker, on Chinese engagement versus estrangement, here. McGrath, on naval power and "Estranged Over a Rising China," here.

Today, The Nation publishes excerpts from exclusive remarks Edward Snowden and filmmaker Laura Poitras made recently in a cover story "Why I Did It." The Nation provided an advance excerpt of Snowden's remarks: "...Now, what's important about this is that I'm not the only one who felt this way. There were people throughout the NSA that I worked with that I had private conversations with-and I've had conversations since in other federal agencies-who had the same concerns I did, but they were afraid to take action because they knew what would happen. I can specifically remember a conversation in the wake of James Clapper's famous lie to Senator Wyden where I asked my co-worker, ‘You know, why doesn't anybody say anything about this?' And he said, ‘Do you know what they do to people who do?'
"I knew what would happen.
I knew that there were no whistleblower protections that would protect me from prosecution as a private contractor, as opposed to a direct government employee. But that didn't change my calculus of what needed to be done. And the fact that I knew there were so many others who had the same concerns, who knew that what we were doing had gone too far, had departed from the fundamental principles of what our US intelligence community is all about-serving the public good-that I was confident that I could do it knowing that even if it cost me so much, it would be giving back so much to so many others who were struggling with the same problems that it would be worth it." Read and watch here.

NSA reform is moving quickly through Congress. FP's John Hudson: "The long-delayed legislative effort to rein in the National Security Agency overcame a significant hurdle on Wednesday with the passage of a bill that ends the NSA's bulk collection of phone metadata, one of the most controversial of the classified programs revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden." More here.

Udall and Wyden welcomed the House's step toward reining in the NSA, in National Journal, here.

The $1.2B deal the Pentagon signed for the White House helo is just the start of spending on it. FP's Dan Lamothe: "The Pentagon awarded a $1.24 billion contract to helicopter maker Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. on Wednesday to begin building the next fleet of White House helicopters, five years after a similar effort turned into such a high-profile example of cost overruns and government mismanagement that it was publicly terminated by then-Defense Secretary Bob Gates. Budget hawks shouldn't pop open the champagne just yet, however. The new contract only covers the purchase of six test helicopters, two flight simulators, and other associated equipment, meaning the government will still have to spend many billions more if the White House is to get the 21 helicopters it wants." More here.

The National Guard spent nearly $27 million on a NASCAR racing recruiting effort - but didn't enlist one soldier. USAToday's Tom Vanden Brook: The National Guard spent $26.5 million to sponsor NASCAR racing in 2012 to bolster its marketing and recruitment but failed to sign up a single new soldier to its ranks, according to data provided to USA TODAY. Even though the Guard spent $88 million as a NASCAR sponsor from 2011 to 2013, it is unclear how many new recruits, if any, signed up because of it, according to documents. The Guard on Wednesday would not confirm the figures on prospects and recruits developed through its NASCAR sponsorship.

"Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who will hold a hearing on the recruitment program Thursday, assailed the Guard for 'wasting a bunch of money on a very expensive sports sponsorship.' The Guard received 24,800 recruiting prospects from the program in 2012, documents show. In those cases, potential recruits indicated the NASCAR affiliation prompted them to seek more information about joining. Of that group, only 20 met the Guard's qualifications for entry into the service, and not one of them joined." More here.

Meantime, senators look to stop National Guard cuts. The Hill's Kristina Wong: "A bipartisan group of senators is planning to block the Army's plan to cut the National Guard force from 350,000 to 335,000 by 2017. The group also wants to prevent the transfer of the reserve force's Apache attack helicopters to the active duty side. Led by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), co-chairs of the National Guard Caucus, the group calls for an independent commission to look into these proposals, which could effectively delay any decision for years. Army officials say they have few other options to reduce costs in the face of automatic spending cuts, but National Guard supporters say it's questionable how much would be saved by reducing the force's size. They argue the Air National Guard would lose critical combat capability from the transfer of the Apache helicopters." More here.

Obama bid adieu to Christine Fox as the highest ranking woman ever to serve at the Pentagon. The White House issued a statement in President Obama's name yesterday after Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox "concluded her tenure" at the Department of Defense. Bob Work, now installed as the new permanent DepSecDef, was sworn in Monday. "Last year, she graciously agreed to return to the Department of Defense shortly after she had officially retired in order to ensure that Secretary Hagel and I had the support we needed in a challenging time.  She provided steady leadership in the wake of sequester and developed an approach to the budget that puts our military on a path toward restored readiness.  I am grateful to Christine for her willingness to step in and serve her nation once again -- as the highest ranking woman ever to serve at the Department of Defense -- and wish her the very best in her future endeavors."

Here's why one soldier thinks the Army needs a commission on the structure of the Army. Second Lieutenant Adam Maisel for CFR's Defense in Depth blog: "As markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 gets underway, senior leaders in the Army and Army National Guard are sharpening their knives. Stemming from a contentious aviation restructuring plan in the proposed budget in which the Army Guard would lose all of its attack aviation (as well as cuts to tens of thousands of soldiers, should sequestration return in FY16), both sides are girding for an Active-Guard war. Congress has responded in kind by advocating for an independent commission to study the force structure of the Army, similar in scope to the National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force formed in 2013. Senior leadership in the Army and Pentagon have already expressed their opposition to such a commission, citing added costs with deferring planned cuts. Such opposition is disappointing, since an independent study might not only find opportunities for long-term cost savings and efficiencies, but could help implement a Total Force policy that provides Americans with the most decisive landpower force for protection at home and abroad." More here.

HASC votes 34-28 to keep the authority to prosecute sexual assault within the military chain of command. AP's Donna Cassata: "The Pentagon posted a narrow win Wednesday as a House panel endorsed leaving the authority to prosecute rapes and other serious crimes with military commanders. In an emotionally charged debate, the House Armed Services Committee rejected a measure that would have stripped the long-standing authority to decide whether to pursue a case, especially those related to sexual assault, and hand the job to seasoned military lawyers. The vote was 34-28."  More here.