The Pentagon does battle with Congress; New sanctions for Iran; Brennan to face the music; Ash Carter’s plane delayed, and a little more.
- By Gordon Lubold
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.
Oh, it’s on now. The Pentagon sent a message to Congress yesterday when press secretary George Little announced that it would propose only a 1 percent pay raise for the military in its 2014 budget proposal because of "slowing defense spending." Secretary Panetta himself spoke to the issue in an interview with the Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman yesterday: "No one is going to get a pay cut," Panetta said. "But we will provide, obviously, an increase that is smaller than past years in order to try to achieve some savings by virtue of what we confront in the compensation area." Military pay has increased dramatically since 2001, and individual year increases have been as high as 6.9 percent, in 2002. Only in the last few years have they dipped below 2 percent — the first time since 1973. Annual raises were 1.4 percent in 2011, 1.6 percent in 2012, and 1.7 percent in the current year. But putting cuts on the backs of service members may be the straw that broke the camel’s back — and force Congress to square with the increasingly dire messages the Pentagon has been sending on budgetary issues. Panetta, yesterday, at Georgetown: "This is not a game, this is reality."
Money, money, money: the Pentagon shows Congress it’s for real on operational issues, too. The Navy announced yesterday that it could only support one aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf now, postponing the deployment of the USS Harry Truman, which was to leave Norfolk this week. The Pentagon had announced that it would maintain two carriers in the Gulf last spring, and two had patrolled the Gulf until last November, when the USS Eisenhower returned to port for maintenance. Now just the USS Stennis is in the region; the Truman was to join it. The reason? "Money," was the one-word answer a defense official gave the E-Ring’s Kevin Baron when asked why the Pentagon made the decision. And Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marty Dempsey told Military Times yesterday: "This is the first adjustment of what will be, I think, a series of adjustments across the services as we try to preserve our readiness for as long as possible."
Military Times quoted a sailor posting on its Facebook page: "Welcome to the era of sequestration."
Welcome to Thursday’s edition of Situation Report. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up for Situation Report here or just shoot me an e-mail and I’ll put you on the list. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease.
New sanctions for Iran. The Obama administration met a congressionally mandated deadline for implementing new sanctions against Iran, reports The Cable’s Josh Rogin. "Today marks a significant turning of the screw as Section 504 of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012 goes into effect," Rogin quoted a senior administration official telling reporters yesterday. "This provision expands the scope of sanctionable transactions with the Central Bank of Iran and Iran’s petroleum industry by restricting Iran’s ability to access oil revenue held in foreign financial institutions as well as preventing Iran from repatriating those funds." The administration believes new provisions will "significantly" increase the economic pressure on Iran’s oil revenues by restricting the use of oil-related revenue and reducing its ability to transfer funds.
Did Iran release video of the RQ-170 stealth drone it captured? Last of some "very fake looking" stealth fighter jet last week, writes Killer Apps’ John Reed. This week, it released video that looks a little more legit. Reed walks through it for readers here.
Funny. A cartoon from creators.com shows three soldiers in full battle rattle on patrol — one woman, two guys. She says: "Hope I’m not a distraction to you boys." To which the soldier next to her says: "No, ma’am, we’re married." To which the third man chimes in: "To each other."
Brennan faces the music today. President Barack Obama’s nominee for CIA director, John Brennan, goes before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence this afternoon seeking confirmation. He will be grilled on the "playbook" for hunting terrorists and the secrecy surrounding the targeting of Americans. Lawmakers will be given documents this morning that provide the legal rationale for drone strikes on Americans in an attempt to reduce concerns about his nomination.
The answers to advance questions Brennan provided prior to the hearing suggest that despite his reputation for being a shrewd overseer of drone operations and other forms of lethal force, he wants to refocus the CIA on conventional intelligence collection.
If confirmed, Brennan was asked, would he focus on any one mission of the agency? "I would note that collection and all-source analysis are the underpinning for nearly everything the CIA does, and so I would focus heavily from the start on these areas if I were to be confirmed," Brennan wrote. "I would also note that the CIA will face trade-offs as budgets tighten or decline, and so I would seek to ensure CIA is investing most effectively and efficiently in innovative and powerful techniques to collect, analyze, correlate and disseminate the massive amounts of information available worldwide."
Brennan was also asked what he thinks about the paramilitary-style approach to intelligence — an oft-heard criticism that the agency has become too focused on such operations. "The CIA, a successor to the Office of Strategic Services, has a long history of carrying out paramilitary-style intelligence activities and must continue to be able to provide the president with this option should he want to employ it to accomplish critical national security objectives," Brennan wrote. And asked about the so-called "militarization" of the agency, Brennan wrote: "In my view, the CIA is the nation’s premier ‘intelligence’ agency and needs to remain so… the CIA should not be used, in my view, to carry out traditional military activities."
Despite his rep, Brennan may try to re-focus the agency on traditional intelligence collection. The list of advance questions Brennan had to answer prior to the hearing suggest among other things that despite his reputation for being a shrewd overseer of drone operations and other forms of lethal force, he wants to refocus CIA on conventional intelligence collection.
If confirmed, Brennan was asked, would he focus on any one mission of the agency? "I would not that collection and all-source analysis are the underpinning for nearly evertything the CIA does, and so I would focus heavily from the start on these areas if I were to be confirmed," Brennan wrote. "I would also note that the CIA will face trade-offs as budgets tighten or decline, and so I would seek to ensure CIA is investing most effectively and efficiently in innovative and powerful techniques to collect, analyze, correlate and disseminate the massive amounts of information available worldwide."
Brennan was also asked what he thinks about the paramilitary-style approach to intelligence – an oft-heard criticism that the agency has become too focused on such operations. "The CIA, a successor to the Office of Strategic Services, has a long history of carrying out paramilitary-style intelligence activities and must continue to be able to provide the president with this option should he want to employ it to accomplish critical national security objectives," Brennan wrote. And asked about the so-called "militarization" of the agency, Brennan wrote: "In my view, the CIA is the nation’s premier ‘intelligence’ agency and needs to remain so… the CIA should not be used, in my view, to carry out traditional military activities."
HRW: Enhance this interrogation, Mr. Brennan. Human Rights Watch Andrea Prasow argues on FP for the need for the Senate to get to the bottom of Brennan’s work. "Even if Brennan played no direct role in the torture program, it’s fair to assume that he knew something about it. So, before voting for his nomination to become CIA director, the Senate should at least determine how much he knew and whether he made any attempt to object."
Amnesty International has concerns. AI released a list of questions they think Brennan should have to answer, including what his role has been in developing the so-called kill list using drones, how he will ensure greater transparency in using lethal force, and how the CIA can assume greater accountability for its operations.
Panetta is also appearing before Congress, on Benghazi. After Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Republican from South Carolina, demanded that Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey testify on Benghazi before Chuck Hagel is confirmed as Pentagon chief, the two will appear in front of the Armed Services Committee today. But their testimony is not expected to reveal anything new, especially since the Pentagon had little to do with the mission there or the controversy that unfolded after the attack on Sept. 11 of last year. The two already spoke to the issue on NBC’s "Meet the Press" on Sunday: they said the best way to prevent another Benghazi attack is to harden the embassies, send in more Marines if necessary, and build the host countries’ capacity to defend the embassies since outer perimeter security is their responsibility. In the end, intelligence is key, and the Pentagon has said it didn’t have enough of it to respond effectively.
Mechanical difficulties delayed Ash Carter’s return. The plane on which Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter was riding home from this week’s trip to Europe had mechanical problems yesterday, forcing him and members of his staff to wait it out in Shannon, Ireland, a popular refueling stop for smaller military planes transiting the Atlantic. Carter returned later yesterday. The delay means Carter can’t deliver the keynote at the Cowen and Company 34th Annual Aerospace/Defense Conference in New York today.
- The New Yorker: The truth about drones.
- Reuters: Brennan, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ and the torture firestorm.
- Fox: Lawmakers to see classified documents ahead of Brennan hearing.
- Politico: Wyden to seek more declassification on drones.
The Arab Winter
- NPR: Criticism against Egypt’s opposition coalition grows.
- Al-Monitor: Inside a rebel-held prison in Aleppo.
- Foreign Affairs: Settling Syria: why a negotiated settlement is possible.
- The Daily Star: Syria conflict dominates Islamic summit in Cairo.
- NYT: Dominant Tunisian party rejects move to contain assassination fallout.