Situation Report

Hagel talks North Korea to China’s Gen. Chang Wanquan, meets with Filipino foreign minister; Wheels up for Dempsey, but not for Hagel; IEDs kill thousands in Syria; Secure that smartphone, Army!; and a little more.

Hagel talks North Korea to China’s Gen. Chang Wanquan, meets with Filipino foreign minister; Wheels up for Dempsey, but not for Hagel; IEDs kill thousands in Syria; Secure that smartphone, Army!; and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold

Hagel spoke with China’s defense minister about North Korea. China is figuring prominently in the current situation on the Korean Peninsula as the ally that could talk North Korea off the ledge, and Secretary Hagel raised the issue yesterday when he called the new Chinese minister of national defense, Gen. Chang Wanquan, to congratulate him on his appointment. From Pentagon Press Secretary George Little’s readout: "The secretary emphasized the growing threat to the U.S. and our allies posed by North Korea’s aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs and expressed to General Chang the importance of sustained U.S.-China dialogue and cooperation on these issues."

Headed to China — Gen. Marty Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later this month. Invited to the U.S. by Hagel — Gen. Chang.

The Pentagon’s response to North Korea now includes two destroyers as well as a sea-based X-band radar, or SBX, used to support ballistic missile defenses, and is now part of the mission. In addition to the USS John McCain, which the Pentagon announced earlier this week, Pentagon press secretary George Little yesterday said a second ship, the USS Decatur, was in the Pacific monitoring North Korea and "poised to respond to any missile threats to our allies or our territory." But when asked about the SBX that is also in the region, Little said it wasn’t part of the response to North Korea and that decisions about any future deployments of the system have yet to be made. "I believe it’s incorrect to tie the SBX at this point to what’s happening on the Korean Peninsula right now," he said. But other U.S. officials tell Situation Report that the SBX — what looks like a floating oil rig with a huge golf ball atop ­- is in the Pacific for good reason. While it was deployed under U.S. Northern Command March 24 as part of regularly scheduled testing, it has now been clearly plugged into the larger ballistic missile defense effort in response to trouble on the Korean Peninsula, Situation Report is told.

Hagel also stopped in on a meeting yesterday with Ash Carter and Filipino foreign minister. The E-Ring’s Kevin Baron reported yesterday that Hagel stopped by a meeting between Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Filipino Foreign Minister Albert Del Rosario in one of the defense secretary’s conference rooms. They talked about the damage left by the USS Guardian, an American countermine ship that ran aground on a reef in the Philippines, Baron reports. Baron: "The meeting comes as U.S. and Filipino relations have grown closer, U.S. officials feel, and as both nations eye threats coming out of North Korea. The Philippines agreed to host more U.S. troops, ships and aircraft on a rotational basis, during a visit by then-Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell."

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail me. And always, if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. If we can get it in, we will. And help us fill our candy dish: news of the military weird, strange trends, personnel comings-and-goings and whatnot.

A Syrian jet flew 12 miles into Lebanon and fired a missile. Reuters reports this morning that the jet fired a missile into a field on the outskirts of border town of Arsal, but it caused no casualties. "It was not immediately clear what the Syrian jet on Wednesday was targeting. Local residents said a Syrian army helicopter was also hovering near Arsal, in Lebanese airspace, at the time," Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, the IED threat in Syria emanates from imported TTPs from other areas, including the Central Command AOR and Europe. According to the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO, there were more than 400 IED incidents reported in Syria between the beginning of January and the end of December 2012, according to new data provided to Situation Report. Of those incidents, nearly 50 percent — 197 — caused casualties. In total, there were 970 people killed and more than 2,400 wounded. Overall, civilians were killed or wounded in about 47 percent of the incidents, police in 11 percent, and military in 10 percent.

Citing open source data the organization tracks, JIEDDO tells Situation Report that the IED threats come from a number of groups, including one, Al-Musrah Front for the People of the Levant, that is associated with al Qaeda. Another group, Ansar Mohammed Battalion, is associated with the Free Syrian Army Military Council, and some attacks are attributed to the Shams Falcon Brigade.

Zoiks! The Pentagon IG says the Army has thousands of unsecure smartphones. Called out by the Pentagon Inspector General: the U.S. Army for the fact that thousands of the smartphones troops buy off the shelves to use on the job aren’t actually secure, Killer Apps’ John Reed reports. "‘The Army Chief Information Officer (CIO) did not implement an effective cyber security program for ‘commercially purchased smartphones and tablets, reads a new announcement from the DOD IG. ‘Specifically, the Army CIO did not appropriately track [off-the-shelf devices] and was unaware of more than 14,000 [such devices] used throughout the Army,’" according to the IG report.

The IG investigated the Army’s use of phones and tablets running Google’s Android, Apple’s iOS, and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating systems in 2012. Don’t feel bad for BlackBerrys — do people still have them? — because the IG had already done an investigation on their security in 2009.

What the Army’s chief information officer, Lt. Gen. Susan Lawrence, told Reed in October about how the service will protect its information when troops are BYOD (bringing their own devices) to work: "At the end of the day, we’re really are going to become hardware agnostic. Whatever device you feel most comfortable with to do command and control, to be mobile with, is the device that you’ll have and that’s the one that we’ll work with. We’re in the RIM [Blackberry] environment, we’re in the Apple environment, and we’re in the [Google Android] already as we go through this. What you will agree to do is, if that’s the device you want to use, you’re going to sign an agreement with me that I get to scan you before you log on. I get to scan your device and then, you’re also going to let me monitor you so that I can look for an inside threat as well. So if you’re on the government network, you’re gonna let me scan you first and you’re gonna let me monitor you second."

Dempsey is wheels up. Gen. Dempsey will greet the Brazilian Chief of Defense, Gen. Jose Carlos DeNardi, this morning at the Pentagon’s River Entrance for what was described as an "enhanced cordon." Later today, he is leaving for Stuttgart, Germany for the change of command ceremony there Friday for U.S. Africa Command, when Gen. Carter Ham will be replaced by Gen. David "Rod" Rodriguez. He will also stop in Afghanistan as part of the same trip.

Staffers on a plane — Senior staff include Lt. Gen. Terry Wolff, the director of Strategic Plans and Policy, and Joe Donovan, Dempsey’s foreign policy adviser.

Reporters on a plane — AP’s Bob Burns, Alhurrah’s Joe Tabet, and
the Pentagon’s American Forces Press Service’ Claudette Roulo.

Who’s not going to Stuttgart? Hagel. Who might not be the pomp-and-circumstance SecDef? Answer: Hagel again. Hagel is making a major policy speech today — his first — at National Defense University about the future of DOD, and how it will meet fiscal challenges and national security requirements at the same time. But that means he’s not going to Stuttgart for the change of command. Although Hagel went to U.S. Central Command to bear witness to that commander change late last month, it’s likely Hagel will not be a pomp-and-circumstance kinda SecDef. Typically, defense secretaries travel to these ceremonies marking the passing-of-the-baton for major combatant commands, from Pacific Command in Hawaii, to Central Command in Tampa, Fla., to European Command in Stuttgart — or SACEUR in Belgium. But Hagel and his staff may be figuring his time is better spent back home, focused on the myriad challenges of running a Pentagon in transition — and saving the money of getting him there and back, too. "Between sequestration, Hill testimony and the admission of the budget, North Korea and elsewhere, he wants to focus on the business of the Pentagon and not necessarily an hour-long event that takes two days to get to and back from," a defense official told Situation Report.

Today at CNP/Truman Project at 3pm – a discussion about DOD’s tactical and operational energy operations with the Pentagon’s Sharon Burke, assistant secretary of defense for operational energy plans and programs. Deets here.

From the Situation Report inbox. One reader of Situation Report took issue with the way we termed the impact that U.S. military hardware – B-2 and B-52 bombers, F-22 Raptors and now Navy destroyers with ballistic missile defense capabilities – was being used to "urge restraint" in the effort to calm things down on the peninsula. But the reader thinks deploying this stuff sends the wrong message. William T. Hunter Jr.: "Rather than urge restraint it appears to me it is in-your-face taunting of a bully. This has gone on for 60+ years and is currently reinforced by the ongoing warmongering in N. Africa with us ensconced in the ever colder ‘Arab Winter.’ If the crazy people in N. Korea were to respond with anything nuclear of any size and anywhere our bellicose calming would be cited and the cause. Our expansion of war around the world will bring us down."

Nobody’s home at State? There’s a large number of senior State Department positions that remain vacant and, as the Cable’s Josh Rogin reports, "the process to fill them seems indefinitely stalled," according to officials there. Rogin: "When Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton, came into office, she negotiated for herself 100 percent control over State Department appointments and largely kept Obama campaign officials at arms’ length. Kerry has no such deal with the White House, and his office is only one voice in a White House-managed appointment process that is moving as slowly as molasses, several State Department officials and insiders say." And: "As Kerry prepares to travel to East Asia next week, his third major overseas adventure in his short time in Foggy Bottom, the most glaring opening at State is the post of assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs (EAP), which was vacated by Kurt Campbell in February. NSS Senior Director for Asia Danny Russel has been long assumed the leading contender, but Kerry is said to prefer a non-White House staffer. Meanwhile, Deputy Assistant Secretary Joe Yun has been running the EAP shop."

Sgt. Hagel is going to be listening to enlisted types a lot more.  From yesterday’s briefing with Little came a question about Hagel’s meeting with junior enlisted – which may have begun a new tradition for the sergeant-turned-SecDef: Question, from U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman: "What specific information is he getting from them that he’s not getting from his senior enlisted advisers?  And what is he doing to sort of put that into context?" Answer, in part, from Little: "The secretary’s lunch last Thursday was, I think, extremely informative for him.  He heard from junior enlisted troops from all services, and they shared their insights into why they got into the military and what the military has brought them, some of the challenges they have faced personally and professionally. He, I think, heard from some service members in the junior enlisted ranks who had some very compelling and quite difficult personal stories, who chose the military as a career because it helped them get out of some other deeply problematic personal situations.  Others chose the military because they thought it would be a good career. I think he values that insight.  And he took notes and pledged to get back to them.  And that’s something that he looks forward to continuing to do, not just with junior enlisted members, but he’s someone who listens carefully, takes everyone’s opinion into account.  I’ve heard that personally.  He’s not looking just for the advice of people like me who sit in the senior ranks of the Pentagon, but he’s looking to hear from troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere."

What Sequester?

Noting

  • BBC: Militants storm court in Farah, Afghanistan. 
  • Defense News: Rail issue: Mil needs new way to ship heavy vehicles.
  • The Atlantic: Why the Gitmo hunger strikes probably won’t work.
  • CNN Security Clearance: Fort Hood victims don’t get purple hearts. (video).

Hardware

  • Defense News: CBO gives Bradley fighting vehicle a black eye.
  • Nextgov: Serious paper shredding at F-35 program office.
  • Duffel Blog: F-35 scores first combat kill by shooting down F-35 program.
  • Fox: Giant robot jellyfish to patrol U.S. coasts.