Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Over Bergdahl, a White House on the defense; Dunford outlines post 2014 Afg plans; Iraqis take their first F-16 today; New humanitarian aid for Syria; The FP story of a 70-year-old war crime – exclusive!; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

The special Senate briefing last night didn't satisfy Republicans, not in the least. The Obama administration held a special closed door hearing yesterday evening in an attempt to head off the increasing acrimony over its secretive decision to swap five detainees for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. But it's clear thus far that the briefing - that we first reported yesterday - didn't sway too many folks. But some of the Republicans' views today don't square with their views of the past. FP's John Hudson: "... far from pacifying GOP critics, Republicans said they are even more skeptical and still upset about not being told the deal was imminent.

Who the administration sent: "Lawmakers heard from Anthony Blinken, the deputy national security advisor, Bob Work, the No. 2 official at the Pentagon, and Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, among others. They showed the lawmakers a ‘proof-of-life' video from December that the administration relied upon to determine that Bergdahl's health was declining. (The Taliban provided the video to the administration before finalizing the deal)."

What the Dems are saying: "Although criticism from Capitol Hill Democrats is growing, most remain in sync with the White House. On Wednesday morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada chastised Republicans for their rapidly evolving views on the importance of rescuing Bergdahl from the Taliban." More here.

Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen did an interview with the BBC's Martha Kearney. Some former senior officials have weighed in on the Bergdahl swap, others haven't. Those who have hint at the changing circumstances - from then to now - that gave the White House the room to make the deal today even if it didn't have the room to make it before. Mullen didn't say all that, but he did acknowledge that it was important to bring Bergdahl home. Mullen to the BBC: "The most important thing is that we didn't leave him behind and that's a sacred promise that America has to its people. And as a priority that's at the top of the list." More here.

The video of the Bergdahl transfer doesn't look like the movies, and there's definitely no dramatic musical score. But watch it here.

Hagel said it's unfair to pass judgment on Bergdahl right now. Those who believe in the deal - and count most speaking publicly for the administration right now, naturally - suggest that it's impossible to make a judgment about an American being held captive, and that the standard must be to leave no man behind - and then deal with that individual later on. But to make a decision about a fundamental American military principle based on that soldier's reputation is a slippery slope that doesn't uphold the principle, they say. The AP's Lolita Baldor in Brussels: "U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday it is unfair to the family of released captive Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to leap to conclusions about his behavior in uniform. ‘We don't do that in the United States,' Hagel told reporters at a NATO defense ministers meeting. ‘We rely on facts.' Hagel said the Army will review the circumstances surrounding how Bergdahl left his unit and was captured by the Taliban, and added, ‘It's not my place as a former sergeant in the Army to decide who's worthy of being a sergeant and who isn't.'... Asked whether men had died in the efforts to rescue Bergdahl, Hagel said, ‘I don't know of any circumstances or details of U.S. soldiers dying as a result of efforts to get Bergdahl.'" More here.

Some Republicans urged the WH to ‘do all it can' to get Bergdahl back before they were against it. The HuffPo's Amanda Terkel and Sam Stein: "As soon as President Barack Obama told the nation Saturday evening that America's only prisoner of war in Afghanistan had been rescued, Republican lawmakers and pundits began criticizing the administration on how it handled the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte on the Bergdahl deal: "With 29 percent of former Guantanamo detainees having reengaged or being suspected of reengaging in terrorism, the administration's decision to release these five terrorist detainees endangers U.S. national security interests... It also sets a precedent that could encourage our enemies to capture more Americans in order to gain concessions from our government."

A May 22 press release from Ayotte: "As part of ongoing efforts to urge the Department of Defense to do all it can to find Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl and bring him home safely, Senator Ayotte worked successfully to include a provision in the bill that presses Pakistan to fully cooperate in the search for SGT Bergdahl."

Democratic Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts appears to have deleted several statements on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from his various social media accounts.  Andrew Kaczynski for Buzzfeed, here.

Good enough to pirate directly from Mike Allen's Playbook this morning: "'Jake Tapper Calls Out John McCain's Changing Views On Bowe Bergdahl,' by HuffPost's Jack Mirkinson: "Tapper played footage of McCain decrying the deal to exchange five Taliban prisoners in Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl, who was being held in Afghanistan. He then said, 'Senator McCain in February sounded very different when asked by Anderson Cooper about a deal very much like this.' Cut to new video of McCain saying that an exchange was something he would 'seriously consider' and be open to if it meant that Bergdahl would be returned to America." Watch it here.

And here's what some senators who spoke to the NYT's Michael Shear and Jeremy Peters last night said after the briefing:
"Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia,
exited the briefing visibly angry and said he left with more questions than answers. ‘I think we can all agree we're not dealing with a war hero here,' he said.

"Senator Ayotte said she remained concerned about what she called the five ‘high risk detainees. ‘I'm not satisfied with their ability to prevent them from re-engaging in the fight,' she said. ‘I think that is one of the things that worries me most.'

"Senator Mark S. Kirk, Republican of Illinois, said senators pressed the briefers - top officials from the Pentagon, the State Department, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Joint Chiefs of Staff - on whether Mr. Bergdahl deserted in 2009. But the senator said they gave no answer.

Senator John Hoeven, Republican of North Dakota: "‘...They expressed concerns for his safety, no question about that'... although he added that officials did not say the threat to Sergeant Bergdahl was ‘imminent.'" 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.

Who's Where When today - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is in Romania... Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is in Normandy and will speak at Utah Beach this evening... Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos continues his trip in the UK... Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert is in France today for meetings with his French counterpart and will this evening join sailors from the USS Oscar Austin and veterans to lay a wreath at the U.S. Navy memorial at Utah Beach; Greenert will also join military leaders tomorrow to participate in the commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of D-Day.

So this American lawyer found new evidence about one of World War II's most notorious war crimes - seven decades after D-Day. Check out FP's own Shane Harris with this exclusive story, just posted this morning: "...Three years ago, [McCay Smith, a lawyer with the Justice Department's National Security Division] obtained a copy of a once-secret 'escape and evasion report,' in which one Lt. Raymond Murphy describes in precise detail how he bailed out of his flaming B-17 bomber over Avord, France, on April 28, 1944, and survived for the next four months behind enemy lines before making his way to England.

"Murphy had been part of a mission to attack a German-held airfield less than six weeks ahead of the D-Day landing at Normandy, which marks its 70th anniversary this Friday. Amid the harrowing stories of the airman's hard parachute landing, his efforts to avoid capture by German soldiers, and his exploits with French Resistance fighters, Smith spotted two barely legible lines, handwritten in pencil, at the end of the neatly typed document: 'About 3 weeks ago, I saw a town within 4 hours bicycle ride up the Gerbeau farm where some 500 men, women, and children had been murdered by the Germans. I saw one baby who had been crucified.'

"Smith, a self-made World War II historian with an outsized passion for document research, concluded that based on Murphy's description of the scene and his location at the time, the young airman had seen the aftermath of a notorious massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane, a town in west-central France. On June 10, 1944, four days after the Allied landing at Normandy, a unit of the Waffen-SS, the Nazi Party military wing, descended on the village and killed 642 men, women, and children. It was one of the largest mass murders of French civilians during the German occupation, and an act of retribution against the townspeople for their perceived assistance to the French Resistance and the invading American forces." Read the rest of this tale here.

The Iraqis are pumped about the delivery of their first F-16 today in Texas. The flow of hardware to the Iraqis is underway and in addition to the Apache attack helicopters they've been getting, the Iraqis are also taking ownership today of their first F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighter. It's a momentous occasion for the Iraqi government as it eyes a variety of equipment in the U.S. military showroom. The F-16, which will remain in Texas until later this summer, marks the beginning of the Iraqis having the capability to defend their own border, protect their own airspace and help them to conduct their own counterinsurgency operations. It'll be the first time the Iraqis have had the capability since before the Kuwait invasion. They'll have three planes by September, and by next year they're expected to take delivery of 18 planes, and another 18 by 2016.

Iraqi Ambassador Lukman Faily to Situation Report in a late night interview last night: "It's a significant juncture for us... I think it's complimentary capabilities with the Apaches will provide us with air superiority... This to us is a small step to provide us with some comfort."

Meantime, the U.S. is angry at France for defying it and going through with the sale of a warship to Russia. The WSJ's Stacy Meichtry: "France is preparing to train hundreds of Russian seamen to operate a powerful French-made warship this month, defying calls from the U.S. and other Western allies to keep the vessel out of the Kremlin's hands, people familiar with the matter say. More than 400 Russian sailors are scheduled to arrive on June 22 in the French Atlantic port of Saint-Nazaire to undergo months of instruction before piloting the first of two Mistral-class carriers back to Russia in the fall, said one of these people. The training is a pivotal step that deepens France's commitment to fulfilling the $1.6 billion contract to supply Russia with the carriers, which are built to launch amphibious attacks." More here.

In Brussels, Joe Dunford described Obama's plans for Afghanistan. The WaPo's Karen DeYoung, from Brussels: "President Obama's plan to remove all U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016 "is not a zero option .?.?. not a withdrawal plan," the commander of U.S. and international forces there said Wednesday. Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. said the plan he expects to implement, following Obama's announcement last week, is a "transition" that bears no resemblance to the 2011 U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Under the plan, nearly 14,000 U.S., NATO and other international troops will remain in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of combat forces at the end of this year. Components of that number, according to a senior U.S. military official, include 12,000 conventional troops made up of about 8,000 from the United States and 4,000 from NATO members and others who will train and advise Afghan security forces.

"To reach Obama's announced total of 9,800, the United States will also deploy a counterterrorism force of about 1,800, according to the official. The figures are the first approximate breakdown of the U.S. forces. 'The president's decision" on overall troop strength 'for us starts the detailed planning for the [counterterrorism] mission,' the military official said." More here.

Criticism over the U.S. troop withdrawal emerges from beyond the G.O.P. - there are worries that the schedule is too rigid and too compressed. The NYT's Michael Gordon here.

Billions worth of equipment will be left in Afghanistan, a country with a legacy of foreign invasion. U.S. News & World Report's Paul Shinkman: "About half of the U.S. military vehicles still in Afghanistan - worth billions of dollars - aren't coming home, and instead will be destroyed or otherwise disposed of by 2016, officials say. An even higher percentage of the rest of the remaining equipment also will be scrapped or left behind." More here.

At the White House, Sloan Gibson, the new acting secretary of Veterans Affairs, said the VA has reached out to all the Phoenix-area veterans. Stripes' Travis Tritten: "Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said Wednesday his department has contacted all 1,700 veterans caught up in a hospital wait-list scandal in Phoenix and is working to immediately eliminate long treatment delays nationwide. Gibson met with veteran groups and spoke publicly for the first time since taking over from retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, who resigned Friday over widespread scheduling abuses at VA hospitals and clinics that have been blamed for 40 veteran deaths in Arizona. But even as Gibson offered reassurances, new details emerged that VA health care facilities in the Midwest also kept 10 off-the-books waiting lists - with two being acknowledged as a health threat to patients." More here.

Obama's ‘don't do stupid shit' foreign policy is far from the audacity of hope. FP's David Rothkopf: "According to multiple reliable sources, on Air Force One during President Barack Obama's recent Asia trip, he spent some time talking with his traveling press corps about his approach to foreign policy. He was defensive and, by one account, ‘fuming.' He felt that the criticism of his approach was unfair. He had clear ideas about how to manage America's global interests. In his own words, they centered on a single concept: ‘Don't do stupid shit.'

"...How far we have come from the audacity of hope; yes, we can; the soaring expectations framed by the brilliant oratory of the president's Cairo speech on relations with the Muslim world; his Prague speech on eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide; and his Oslo speech when accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. In fact, ‘don't do stupid shit' is a comedown even from his expectation-lowering remarks in the Philippines on that same Asia trip in which he limned his vision for a foreign policy that consisted mostly of ‘singles' and ‘doubles.'" More here.

Who's zoomin' who? When the government official asks the think tanker for advice - who is influencing who? Brookings' Jeremy Shapiro on the Up Front blog: "...Having been on both sides of the table for these exchanges, I have some sense of what all of this pomp and circumstance mean. It is not what it seems, but it is nonetheless important and does have a role in the policy process. The idea of this meeting is not to bring outside ideas into the government. To the senior government official, an outside idea-even a good one-is like a diamond ring on a desert island: abstractly valuable but practically useless. Regardless of his vaunted status, he feels in his daily existence penned in on every side by political and resource considerations that outsiders simply refuse to acknowledge. As he nods appreciatively and appears to hang on every word the thinkers spout, he is, in fact, hiding his tired familiarity with all of their arguments and his deep-seeded belief that every idea he hears is either politically impossible or already being attempted (or both)." More here.

The United States announces additional humanitarian assistance for the Syrian crisis. From the State Dept. Press Office: "Secretary of State John Kerry announced today the United States is providing more than $290 million in additional U.S. humanitarian assistance to help those affected by the war in Syria.  With this additional funding, total U.S. humanitarian assistance since the start of the crisis will reach more than $2 billion, helping over 4.7 million people inside Syria, more than 2.8 million refugees in the region, as well as host communities in the neighboring countries affected by the crisis. The United States remains committed to delivering humanitarian assistance through all available channels - including UN, international, non-governmental, and local humanitarian organizations -  to get aid to those in need in Syria, no matter where they reside or have sought refuge." More here.

The Big Zero: Kerry weighs in on Syria's elections. The WaPo's Liz Sly in Beirut: "On a rare, unannounced visit to Lebanon, Secretary of State John F. Kerry declared the election 'meaningless' and said it would have no impact on U.S. policy. 'The elections are non-elections. A great big zero,' he said, noting that many areas of the country did not vote, because they are under rebel control, and that meaningful opposition contenders were not allowed to participate. 'Nothing has changed between the day before the election and after,' he added." More here.

The results of a test of the GMD interceptor could affect the schedule for deployment of 14 additional interceptors. Defense News' Paul McLeary: "The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency is planning to conduct a new test launch of its troubled Ground Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) interceptor before the end of June, almost a year after the last failed launch of the controversial program. The ultimate success or failure of that test could have huge implications for when the US might deploy 14 more ground-based interceptors to protect the country against the threat of long-range missile attack from a foreign power. During a panel discussion sponsored by the Brookings Institution and the Union of Concerned Scientists on Wednesday, the head of the Missile Defense Policy office at the Pentagon, Peppino DeBiaso, would only say the test would happen ‘shortly,' though other defense officials have already confirmed the test would happen in June." More here.

 

 

 

 

National Security

FP's Situation Report: The video of Bergdahl's release; A full Senate briefing today; Did six really die for Bergdahl?; A healthcare CEO could get the nod for VA; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

The Taliban released a video of Bergdahl's release in eastern Afghanistan. The first images of the peaceful transfer of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, clad in traditional Afghan dress, looking confused and dazed by the daylight, appeared late yesterday. The Pentagon had no immediate plans to release any such images, but the Taliban had other ideas. The WSJ's Maria Abi-Habib in Kabul: "...In the video, an Afghan insurgent, his face hidden by a scarf, tells Sgt. Bergdahl menacingly in Pashto moments before the release: "Don't come back to Afghanistan. Next time we catch you, you won't leave here alive." Armed insurgents surrounding the pickup truck laugh as Sgt. Bergdahl bows his head, looking confused and scared. 'Long live the holy warriors of Afghanistan! Long live the great holy warrior and the leader of the believers, Mullah Mohammad Omar!' the insurgents chant, referring to the Taliban leader who has eluded U.S. capture since 2001." Watch the video here.

Pentagon Presssec Rear Adm. John Kirby's statement on the video: "We are aware of the video allegedly released by the Taliban showing the transfer into U.S. hands of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. We have no reason to doubt the video's authenticity, but we are reviewing it. Regardless, we know the transfer was peaceful and successful, and our focus remains on getting Sgt. Bergdahl the care he needs."

There's also this from the WSJ's Adam Entous, Dion Nissenbaum and Michael Crittenden: "Two secret videos showing rapid deterioration in Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's health persuaded reluctant military and intelligence leaders to back the prisoner swap that has stoked a backlash, officials said Tuesday, as the Army launched a new probe into why the soldier disappeared from base shortly before his capture by the Taliban in 2009." See that here.

This evening, the full Senate is invited to a briefing about the controversial Bergdahl release and to get their many questions answered. We've learned that all Senators are invited to a 5:30pm briefing at the Capitol Visitors Center for a rare, closed-door briefing for the full Senate.

The individuals expected to brief: The Pentagon's No. 2, Bob Work, the deputy Secretary of Defense; Jim Dobbins, State's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, or SRAP; Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, and Robert Cardillo, deputy director of National Intelligence, or DNI.

If America's newly freed POW really was a deserter, the White House is in trouble. FP's John Hudson: "...Rice's remarks championing Bergdahl effectively boxed the White House in and created daylight between it and the Pentagon as military officials responded to tough questions about Bergdahl's past. The dramatic speed in which Bergdahl went from hero to something more complicated led to criticisms of the White House. ‘Knowing the background of this soldier to somehow give them this type of hero status, what does that do the mothers and fathers of those other soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan, especially those who were out trying to find [Bergdahl]?' Rep Peter King (R-N.Y.) said on CNN on Tuesday. ‘And to have Susan Rice say he conducted himself with honor and distinction, it makes you wonder about all of the things the president is saying.'

"...But the issue over how the administration portrayed Bergdahl is just one among many on the minds of Congress members. Many are still furious over being left in the dark about the prisoner exchange itself. ‘It's very disappointing that there was not a level of trust sufficient to justify alerting us,' Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday. Other lawmakers pledged to grill the administration on this topic during newly-scheduled hearings at the House and Senate Armed Services Committees." More here.

Dempsey and McHugh both say the Bergdahl case is not closed. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey issued a statement yesterday hinting that Bergdahl could be in hot water. Then The Secretary of the Army, John McHugh, issued his own, essentially agreeing with Dempsey. From the AP: "The nation's top military officer said Tuesday the Army could still throw the book at Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the young soldier who walked away from his unit in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan and into five years of captivity by the Taliban. Charges are still a possibility, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Associated Press as criticism mounted in Congress about releasing five high-level Taliban detainees in exchange for Bergdahl. The Army might still pursue an investigation, Dempsey said, and those results could conceivably lead to desertion or other charges." More here.

Secretary of the Army John McHugh yesterday: "...As Chairman Dempsey indicated, the Army will... review this in a comprehensive, coordinated effort that will include speaking with Sgt. Bergdahl to better learn from him the circumstances of his disappearance and captivity. All other decisions will be made thereafter, and in accordance with appropriate regulations, policies and practices."

Should Bergdahl be punished? Obama's Rose Garden appearance on Saturday, with Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl's parents, Robert and Jani, seemed to suggest that the G.I. would return to the U.S. a hero. But with new questions over the last few days about the troops who died trying to find Bergdahl - long suspected of having deserted his unit five years ago - and new  statements from senior defense officials indicating that he may still face charges, there's increasing evidence to suggest that the Pentagon could pursue a legal course of action against him. Alex Berenson on the op-ed page of the NYT: "...As a reporter, I embedded for modest stints with American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. When I'm asked about those experiences, I always say - and mean - that we civilians don't deserve the soldiers we have. In this case, perhaps, the reverse was true. The White House worked tirelessly to free Sergeant Bergdahl, and did not let the murk around his disappearance stop its decision to trade Taliban detainees for him. I'm no soldier, but that decision seems right to me. No man, or woman, left behind.

"But now that this man is on his way home, what to do with him? The White House clearly erred by pretending that Sergeant Bergdahl was an ordinary prisoner of war and that his return would be cause for unalloyed celebration." More here.

Did President Obama break the law? CS Monitor's Peter Grier: "...The law in question was enacted as part of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). When he signed that bill into law Obama included a signing statement which warned he might do what he just did. ‘The executive branch must have the flexibility ... to act swiftly in conducting negotiations with foreign countries regarding the circumstances of detainee transfers,' said the statement at the time.

"Here's the problem: By themselves, signing statements have no legal force. It may seem odd that Congress didn't include a little wiggle room for emergency contingencies in regards to prisoner handling, but it didn't. Some legal analysts thus conclude that it's pretty clear the swap was illegal under the NDAA language.

Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's senior legal analyst: "‘...The law is on the books, and he didn't follow it.'

"The argument doesn't end there, however. What if the law in question is itself unconstitutional? After all, the president of the United States is also the nation's commander in chief under the Constitution (Article II, Section 2, Clause I). That invests him with enormous military powers, particularly in regards to tactical and strategic decisions. What if Congress passed a law requiring a 30-day notice before a president could order troops to patrol? That would pretty clearly be unconstitutional. Some analysts argue that a decision to repatriate a captured soldier isn't much different." More here.

Did six soldiers really die for Bergdahl? Some military officers would tell you the six troops who have been identified as being killed during the search mission for Bergdahl at the time could have been killed regardless of their mission, and to tie it to Bergdahl is thin. The NYT's Charlie Savage and Andrew Lehren take a look at the murky issues surrounding those claims on Page One, here.

All those soldiers criticizing Bergdahl had some Republican messaging help. Buzzfeed's Rosie Grey and Kate Nocera: "A former Bush administration official who was hired, then resigned, as Mitt Romney's foreign policy spokesman played a key role in publicizing critics of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the released prisoner of war. The involvement of Richard Grenell, who once served as a key aide to Bush-era U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton and later worked for Romney's 2012 campaign, comes as the Bergdahl release has turned into an increasingly vicious partisan issue." More here.

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Who's Where When today - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is in Brussels today on about the hump of his 12-day world tour... Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos will participate in ceremonies marking the 350th anniversary of the Royal Marines in London... Navy Secretary Ray Mabus will attend D-Day ceremonies in Europe.

First Lady Michelle Obama will announce the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness this afternoon. As part of this announcement, the First Lady will highlight leaders from over 80 cities, counties, and states across the country who have committed to ending veteran homelessness by 2015.Watch it here.

The Cleveland Clinic's CEO is being considered for the VA post. The names to replace Shinseki at the VA have been floating out there and there are new trial balloons today with the idea that the little known CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, a Vietnam veteran, might be tapped. Veterans groups like the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and others in the know have suggested the ideal successor would have veteran experience from the last 12 years - Iraq or Afghanistan. Others believe the person has to have a depth of knowledge in healthcare.

The WaPo's Juliet Eilperin: "The White House has approached the Cleveland Clinic's chief executive, Delos ‘Toby' Cosgrove, a doctor and Vietnam War veteran, about heading the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to an individual familiar with the discussions. No final decision has been made, according to this individual, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House has yet to formally nominate Cosgrove.

"...The Cleveland Clinic ranks as one of the country's most renowned medical centers and has won plaudits for the quality of its services and its responsiveness to patients' needs. The clinic, which Cosgrove has headed since 2004, has a policy of offering same-day appointments to anyone who calls. Bob Kocher, a former White House adviser on health policy who now does venture capital health-care investments, wrote in an e-mail that if the administration brought on Cosgrove, ‘they would be recruiting one of the most successful physician leaders and health system operators to come and turn around the VA. Toby only knows how to do health care at a very high level of quality and will not sleep until he instills a similar ethos into the culture at the VA.'" More here.

Senate Republicans unveiled their plan to repair the VA by weeding out wrongdoing and expanding access to private care. Stripes' Travis Tritten: "The bill allows veterans to choose a private provider if they live far from VA facilities or have difficulty getting timely care. It also gives the VA secretary more leeway to fire senior executives and forces the department to set new punishments for employees who falsify records, according to McCain and co-sponsors Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
"The Republicans floated the legislation just a day after Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who caucuses with the Democrats, filed a wide-ranging VA reform bill that would also provides wider access to private care and more authority for the VA secretary to remove incompetent executives.

McCain on Sanders' bill: "Unlike Sen. Sanders' bill, this addresses the root cause of the current VA scandal." More here.

Fraud may mask the true wait times for vets seeking care. Military Times' Meghan Hoyer and Gregg Zoroya: "The Department of Veterans Affairs official internal data show it failed to treat three out of five veterans within its 14-day target period for care, VA statistics obtained by USA Today show. But as bad as those numbers are, greater numbers of patients may have been kept waiting, according to an audit released last week that shows rampant fraud in keeping official appointment records. Some 13 percent of schedulers at 216 VA health facilities said they were instructed in how to falsify the wait times they reported to VA headquarters. At least one instance of false scheduling occurred at 64 percent of the facilities, the audit showed. Those reported numbers, made available through a Freedom of Information Act request, showed that even without the fraud, patients were kept waiting. In the six-month period ending March 31, the VA's 150 hospitals and 820 outpatient clinics failed to treat more than 200,000 veterans who came in for first-time primary care appointments in 14 days." More here.

Recidivism: Moroccan militants released from Guantanamo have returned to Syria's battlefields. The WSJ's Maria Abi-Habib in Casablanca: "A decade ago, the U.S. released three hardened Moroccan militants from Guantanamo and turned them over to the Moroccan government on the assumption they wouldn't return to the battlefield. They wound up leading one of the most violent Islamist groups fighting in Syria's civil war. Their story serves as a cautionary tale days after President Barack Obama released five high-level Taliban figures from the same detention center in a swap for an American soldier held in Afghanistan for nearly five years. By January 2014, about 29% of 614 detainees released from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba had returned to violence, according to the Director of National Intelligence." More here.

Former NSA director Alexander implies that Snowden is working for the KGB. In an interview with Bloomberg Television's Trish Regan former NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander said, Edward Snowden is working for someone. General Alexander went on to say he "absolutely agrees" with the former KGB officer, General Kalugin, who said if Snowden is in Russia he's clearing working with the FSB, "I don't think he got out of the airport without making some agreement." Watch the interview here. 

Don't get too nostalgic, but we're at the anniversary of Snowden's leaks.  Watch Brookings' experts discuss the international implications today.  Tomorrow at Brookings, the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer and CATO's Julian Sanchez will face off against former NSA deputy director John "Chris" Inglis and Georgetown Law's Carrie Cordero on the topic of fundamental surveillance reform. Today's deets here, and tomorrow's here.

The NYT's Michiko Kakutani reviews David Ignatius' new novel about the CIA, here.

FP's Elias Groll on the NYT's James Risen and his case at the Supreme Court, here.

Hagel tells the Europeans it's time to pay up. The WaPo's Karen DeYoung: "President Obama's announcement Tuesday of a new $1 billion fund for military operations to reassure nervous eastern European allies was also part of an effort to pressure - or shame - the rest of Europe into paying their fair share of NATO expenses. The U.S. appeal for increased allied defense spending is not a new one. A staple of NATO conferences, it has been made by successive administrations, to little avail. But administration officials, from Obama on down, believe they have a potent new argument thanks to Russian actions, right at NATO's doorstep, in Ukraine. The alliance, they argue, needs to return to first principles of defending itself after two decades of operations far afield in the Balkans and Afghanistan.

Hagel told a meeting of NATO defense ministers: "Many nations appear content for their defense spending to continue declining... if the American people do not see European nations stepping forward to invest in their own defense when their own security is threatened we risk eroding U.S. support for the alliance... As President Obama asks the United States Congress and the American people to support increased investment in European security, we are asking our European allies to do the same." More here.

Obama, in Europe, calls for a billion dollar European security fund. The WSJ's Carol Lee, Julian Barnes and Naftali Bendavid: "President Barack Obama said he would increase joint exercises and send more U.S. military equipment to Eastern Europe, proposing a new $1 billion fund Tuesday to bolster European security and reassure newer U.S. allies worried by what they see as a renewal of Russian aggression. Mr. Obama's announcement, at the start of a four-day European trip, came alongside a decision by European defense ministers meeting in Brussels to bolster a North Atlantic Treaty Organization headquarters in Szczecin, Poland, possibly doubling the current contingent of about 250 troops.

"The billion-dollar fund sought by Mr. Obama would be called the European Reassurance Initiative and would require congressional approval. It would pay for added military exercises in Europe, including further Navy deployments to the Black and Baltic seas. It also could be used to aid the militaries of countries such as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, administration officials said. Not all details of the planned U.S. operations were announced Tuesday, including the types of military equipment to be positioned, infrastructure improvements and improvements to local military forces." More here.

A declassified cable from Madeleine Albright, then the U.S. amby to the U.N., reveals the reluctance of the U.S. to respond to the deepening crisis in Rwanda, by the NYT's Mark Landler, here.

In a preview of Obama's D-Day remarks, he'll draw a connection between the Greatest Generation and the 9/11 generation. Reuters' Steve Holland: "... ‘There's a continuum of patriotism and sacrifice that you see in this generation and that you saw in the 'Greatest Generation,'' said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser. The president is expected to use his speech to stress the importance of the U.S-European alliance and underscore his government's commitment to caring for U.S. veterans in the wake of a healthcare scandal at the Veterans Administration." More here.

ICYMI - Who will take on key cyber issues - the White House or Congress? Chris Castelli takes a look for Inside Cybersecurity, here.

Sen. Durbin said the defense appropriations subcommittee should take up the Pentagon spending bill next month. Defense News' John Bennett: "US Senate appropriators are aiming to take up their 2015 Pentagon spending measure just after Independence Day, says Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. ‘First week of July,' the Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee chairman said as he ducked into an elevator near the Senate chamber. ‘That's the goal.' The coming markup will be Durbin's second since his surprising ascension to subcommittee chairman. Since, defense firms have upped their campaign contributions to the Senate majority whip. The House's full Appropriations Committee likely will take up its version of the 2015 defense appropriations bill next week, an aide says. Its defense subpanel last week approved a version that would give the Defense Department $570.4 billion. The House version adds monies for fighter jets, electronic-attack planes and maintains 11 aircraft carriers." More here.