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!
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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.