Situation Report

Hagel just announced Mark Lippert for chief of staff; Are the Boston bombing suspects Chechen? Hagel to the Middle East, Dempsey to Asia; What will Dempsey talk about?; Jeremy Bash’s last day and a little bit more.

Hagel just announced Mark Lippert for chief of staff; Are the Boston bombing suspects Chechen? Hagel to the Middle East, Dempsey to Asia; What will Dempsey talk about?; Jeremy Bash’s last day and a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold 

All eyes are glued to the television this morning. The story of the manhunt for the two suspects in Monday’s marathon bombing, now potentially identified as Chechen brothers who may have been living in the Boston area for several years, has unfolded so quickly since last night that it’s hard to look away. One of the suspected bombers was killed in a dramatic shootout in a suburban area west of Boston and law enforcement are now on a massive manhunt for the other suspect, if not one more as well. The city is effectively under lock down, with schools and businesses closed and mass transit operations suspended. There remains a possibility that the brothers have ties or were inspired by a greater, international terrorist movement – or any potential link to international terrorism could be happenstance. At this point, little is clear.

Who is Tamerlan Tzarnaev? David Kenner, writing on FP, says that a photo album of the slain suspect by photographer Johannes Hirn sheds some light in which he is quoted as saying: "I don’t have a single American friend," Tamerlan is quoted as saying. "I don’t understand them." "Will Box for Passport," found here. 

Meanwhile, just a bit ago, Hagel announced that he’d hired Mark Lippert to be his new chief of staff, Situation Report has learned. Just this morning, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told his top staff and uniformed officers that he’d picked Mark Lippert to be his new right-hand man in a series of changes in the front office and beyond as Hagel settles into the job and builds his inner circle.

Lippert is now the Pentagon’s assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs and will become chief of staff — in Pentagon parlance, the special assistant, or TSA — starting May 1. Marcel Lettre, the former deputy chief of staff who has been serving as acting chief since Hagel arrived Feb. 27, will be given another top job inside the Pentagon. But what job is as yet unclear, a senior defense official told Situation Report.

Hagel also announced this morning that Michael Lumpkin will be appointed as special assistant to Hagel with a "particular emphasis" on personnel and readiness issues starting in early May. Lumpkin had served as the acting assistant secretary of defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict and also as deputy chief of staff for operations at the Department of Veterans Affairs and served on active duty with the Navy for 21 years. 

No pressure or anything: the TSA will be the key to Hagel’s success. Officials and former officials familiar with front office operations say the selection of a special assistant is critical to the defense secretary’s ability to get things done. Senior defense officials said Lippert has the background and experience to help Hagel navigate the Pentagon’s bureaucratic waters and enforce Hagel’s will across a building that has enjoyed unconstrained resources for more than a decade. The two men have known each other for many years. Before coming to the Pentagon, Lippert, a Navy reservist who served a year in Iraq between 2007 and 2008 as an intel officer with a SEAL team, worked for a string of senators on Capitol Hill — from Sen. Dianne Feinstein to Tom Daschle to Patrick Leahy — before joining the Senate Appropriations Committee as a staffer. Then, in 2005, he became foreign policy adviser to Senator Barack Obama. Defense officials said Hagel pulled Lippert aside a few weeks ago and began talking to him about the TSA job.

One defense official told Situation Report that Hagel felt this was a good time to "rearrange some of the players on the field," now that he has cleared some of the hurdles he faced during his first two months as secretary — the release of the budget, the beginning of the strategic review, the Article 60 assessment, and the trip to Afghanistan. Reaction to the choice in and outside of the building was positive.

"Winnow and tee."  Lippert is thought to be bringing the kind of  approach to Hagel’s front office that it will need if it is to be effective. "Mark is results-oriented and collaborative and boils it down," said another senior defense official. "I think that is of significant value in the Pentagon, which is prone to bureaucracy."  As assistant secretary of defense, Lippert manages as many as 150 people, including four deputy assistant secretaries of defense. A successful chief of staff must be able to winnow what’s important, determine who can handle what task, and tee up decisions that need to be made at the secretary’s level, according to those familiar with front-office operations. For the TSA, the task is simple: "Winnow and tee."

Hagel’s style so far – Senior defense officials say that Hagel is clear and direct, a quality appreciated by the take-that-hill culture of the uniformed military — he has a "remarkable ability to cut to the heart of the matter," said one official. One told us that he’ll zero in on the one data point in a five-page PowerPoint presentation and dig in on the question that’s most important. "He’s really signaled to the building that he wants speed, he doesn’t want a lot of fluff, and he wants his questions answered," one senior defense official said.

On Lettre — "Marcel has been honored to serve and wants to keep serving Hagel and the president," said another senior defense official, who said a move out of the front office is a "natural next step" in his career. "It’s kind of a natural pivot point for him to move to the next phase," the official said.

Lippert’s replacement, for now, will be Peter Lavoy, now a principal deputy assistant secretary of defense working on Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Central Asian policy, to serve in an acting capacity as the assistant secretary of defense for Asia and Pacific security affairs.

From the e-mail Lettre just sent out at about 9 a.m. this morning to senior Pentagon staff obtained by Situation Report – "With his background on the Hill, as an intelligence officer with multiple tours with Navy special operations units, at the National Security Staff, as a senior official at DOD, and with a history of working with the Secretary going back more than a decade, there is no one more qualified and well-suited to be at the Secretary’s side shaping and implementing his priorities."

Today is Jeremy Bash’s last day at the Pentagon. Leon Panetta’s special assistant, Jeremy Bash, who has been serving in an advisory role for the last several weeks, is leaving the building today. Bash, who likely has a number of career options after directly working for the former defense secretary, has not yet announced where he’s headed.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. 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 military stories of success or excess.

Wheels up for Hagel tomorrow.  As the Pentagon announced yesterday, Hagel will be headed to Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. The trip comes as the NYT reports this mo
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that the Pentagon is expected to finalize a huge, $10 billion deal with some of those very countries — Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — that will provide missiles, warplanes, and troop transports to help them counter threats from Iran. "A weeklong visit to the region by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will culminate a year of secret negotiations on a deal that Congressional officials said will be the second only to the $29.5 billion sale of F-15 aircraft to Saudi Arabia announced in 2010," according to the report by the Times’ Thom Shanker. Hagel leaves Saturday.

Staffers on a plane – Marcel Lettre, acting chief of staff; Lt. Gen. Tom Waldhauser, military assistant; Derek Chollet, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs; Matt Spence, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East Affairs; George Little, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs; Carl Woog, assistant press secretary; Greg Grant, speechwriter; and J.P. Eby, trip director.

Reporters on a plane – AP’s Bob Burns; Reuters’ David Alexander; AFP’s DeLuce and, shooting pool, Jim Watson; NYT’s Thom Shanker; WSJ’s Adam Entous; WaPo’s Craig Whitlock; Bloomberg’s Gopal Ratnam; LAT’s Shashank Bengali; NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski, Courtney Kube, Jim Long, and Andy "Scritch" Scritchfield; American Forces Press Service’ Cheryl Pellerin; and USAT’s Tom Vandenbrook.

And it’s wheels up for Dempsey today. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Marty Dempsey, leaves for South Korea, arriving Sunday after a RON (that’s remain overnight for the uninitiated) in Alaska on the way over. Dempsey will be there just briefly, then head to China and then to Japan. He will be discussing "regional issues" with his counterparts, we’re told, but of course the Korean Peninsula situation will figure prominently. In South Korea, he’ll meet Gen. Jung Seung Jo, and in China, where he’ll be for about four days, he’ll be meeting primarily with Gen. Fan Fenghui of the People’s Liberation Army. Although the itinerary during the China visit is a little squishy as of yet, it’s likely Dempsey will observe and meet with Chinese military units and sit down with senior political and defense leaders. Unclear as of yet if he will sit with President Xi Jinping.

The CSIS’ Bonnie Glaser tells Situation Report that Dempsey will take advantage of an increasingly engaging military-to-military relationship with China. She thinks Dempsey will be talking with the PLA about nuclear and cyber issues and also, of course, about Korea. "I’m pretty sure that one of the things that will be discussed is a very long desire to try to launch a dialogue with the Chinese about the potential for instability in North Korea and what the responses might be," she said. "The potential for chaos, insecure WMD facilities and of course the risk" of a conflict on the Korean Peninsula between the Republic of Korea, the U.S. and the Chinese are all top concerns. Past attempts to address the potential failure of the North Korean regime have failed. But now may be the time because the Chinese have grown impatient at North Korea’s noise-making, and talking with the U.S. could send a strong signal to the North Korean leader, she said.

"I think that what we have now is a window of opportunity with China’s high level of frustration with the North Koreans and their provocations," she said. "Maybe it is time for [the Chinese] to revisit their calculation on this issue." Read about "General Secretary Xi’s mysterious cab ride" here.

Noting: This is Dempsey’s first trip to China, second trip to Japan, and third trip to Korea.

Staffers on a plane: Terry Wolff, director, strategic plans and policy, J-5; Joe Donovan, foreign policy adviser; Dave Lapan, public affairs officer; and Troy Thomas, head of Dempsey’s chairman’s action group, or CAG.

Reporters on a plane: ABC’s Bob Woodruff (whose crew is meeting him in China), NHK’s Ichiro Kabasawa, and Karen Parrish from the Pentagon’s American Forces Press Service. On the step: Anna Mulrine, Christian Science Monitor, who will accompany the chairman as space allows.

After the Boston bombings, hackers are coming out in force. So reports Killer Apps’ John Reed on a new FBI warning. Reed: "The Red Exploit Kit is a new hacking tool that allows criminals to surreptitiously find security vulnerabilities in a victim’s computer and upload malicious software through those vulnerabilities. ‘Once an exploit has been successful, the user sees a popup asking them to download a file, at which time the malware is downloaded," the warning says.’"

Crowd-sourcing: Reed also reports on how investigators went through images from the Boston Marathon to identify the two bombing suspects. Reed writes that investigators sifting through the flood of cellphone, surveillance camera, and TV footage of Monday’s bombings were "aided by technology similar to the software that the military has used to collect intelligence about IED attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan." Dave Deptula, the retired Air Force three-star who oversaw the service’s first Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance headquarters, told Reed, "There’s a different twist to it this time. The different twist is the increased degree of crowd-sourcing if you will, in terms of providing information. You have many, many more sensors in the context of people with video devices in their smartphones…. You had many, many more collectors than we had in the past."