Situation Report

Fox leaving the Pentagon; Mullen, Pickering, get a little testy with Issa; Benghazi e-mails released; Stevens denied military assistance; Little on the “hook-up” culture; Disconnecting the phones at DOD; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Six Americans killed in a suicide bombing in Kabul this morning, reports Reuters.  The attack killed as many as nine more and injured more than 40 people. The Hezb-e-Islami group claimed responsibility. Mike Mullen and Thomas Pickering agreed to testify on Benghazi. In a letter released this morning, former Chairman of the ...

By Gordon Lubold

Six Americans killed in a suicide bombing in Kabul this morning, reports Reuters.  The attack killed as many as nine more and injured more than 40 people. The Hezb-e-Islami group claimed responsibility.

Mike Mullen and Thomas Pickering agreed to testify on Benghazi. In a letter released this morning, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen and Amb. Thomas Pickering have agreed to testify before a House panel investigating the attacks in Benghazi and the Obama administration’s response. Mullen and Pickering served as co-chairs of the Accountability Review Board, charged by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with independently assessing what happened in Benghazi. But the letter says the two do not want a closed-door hearing, but a public one.

To Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, from Mullen and Pickering: "Recently, you seem to have changed your position on the terms of our appearance, apparently asking for a transcribed interview behind closed doors. In our view, requiring such a closed-door proceeding before we testify publicly is an inappropriate precondition. Moreover, notwithstanding what your understanding may be, Ambassador Pickering did not agree to such a closed-door proceeding; his sole focus has been on testifying in an open hearing. If you and he were talking past each other, that is unfortunate."

The letter also berates Issa for public comments about the ARB: "In the past weeks, members of your Committee have publicly criticized — in both an open hearing and in the media — the work of the Accountability Review Board. Having taken liberal license to call into question the Board’s work, it is surprising that you now maintain that members of the Committee need a closed-door proceeding before being able to ask ‘informed questions’ at a public hearing. The Benghazi Accountability Review Board is perhaps the most transparent accountability review board ever." Read the full letter here. More on Benghazi below.

Top Gun Christine Fox is leaving CAPE. Fox, now leading Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s Strategic Choices and Management Review, dubbed the "Scammer" by Pentagon types as it attempts to cut billions from the defense budget, is leaving the Pentagon by the end of June, the E-Ring’s Kevin Baron reports. Fox, who has served under three secretaries, is the director of the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, or CAPE. She was expected to leave at some point soon but will complete her duties as head of the review, due at the end of this month. Fox has been a key player in the development of some of the Obama administration’s top national security strategy documents at the Pentagon, including the creation of the current defense strategic guidance, announced by President Barack Obama at the Pentagon in 2012. The CAPE job is considered particularly tiring as, one former defense official told Situation Report, "CAPE pretty much gets all the toughest homework assignments – SecDef’s brain trust when he needs a straight answer that he’s often not getting from the services or even from his own OSD." Given the charge of SMCR, it may have been the "ultimate homework assignment," we’re told, and Fox was ready to move on.

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The White House released the Benghazi emails. The administration released more than 100 pages of emails that either show officials brazenly framing the right way to depict the Sept. 11 attack for political purposes in the middle of the campaign or, simply, bureaucracy in action: infighting between a number of agencies over what information to release. From the WSJ: "Administration officials on Wednesday described the emails, written by officials ranging from unnamed career employees to then-Central Intelligence Agency director David Petraeus, as a mundane set of documents. Officials from across the national-security establishment made suggestions aimed at protecting their own interests and turf, as the talking points were edited to remove a mention of al Qaeda and to delete sentences referring to previous warnings about extremist threats in Benghazi. As the discussion proceeded, frustrations appeared to emerge. ‘Sir — We’ve tried to work the draft talking points for [the House Intelligence Committee] through the coordination process but have run into major problems,’ a CIA employee wrote in an e-mail explaining that the talking points wouldn’t be completed that day." AP’s PDF of all the e-mails, here.

But political calculation or not, the e-mails in and of themselves don’t change the fact that the military did not have forces close enough to make a difference. And twice, Ambassador Chris Stevens was offered additional military security and said no. Stevens was leery of militarizing the diplomatic mission there. As Fox and McClatchy reported this week and others have before, then-Africom Commander Gen. Carter Ham had phoned Stevens and asked if the embassy needed a special security team from the U.S. military. "Stevens told Ham it did not, the officials said. Weeks later, Stevens traveled to Germany for an already scheduled meeting with Ham at AFRICOM headquarters. During that meeting, Ham again offered additional military assets, and Stevens again said no, the two officials said."

A defense official told McClatchy: "He didn’t say why. He just turned it down." And: "The offers of aid and Stevens’ rejection of them have not been revealed in either the State Department’s Administrative Review Board investigation of the Benghazi events or during any of the congressional hearings and reports that have been issued into what took place there. Stevens’ deputy, Gregory Hicks, who might be expected to be aware of the ambassador’s exchange with military leaders, was not asked about the offer of additional assistance during his appearance before a House of Representatives committee last week, and testimony has not been sought from Ham, who is now retired." Read McClatchy’s Nancy Youssef’s story, here.

Will Benghazi keep Susan Rice away as national security adviser? Read The Cable’s John Hudson’s piece here.

Detaching: George Little distanced Hagel from the "hook-up" statement made by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh. As the Pentagon grapples with a deepening sexual assault crisis, Pentagon pressec aimed to distance itself from controversial comments made last week by Welsh in which he said the problems in the military reflect those more
broadly in society, in which a "hook up" culture rules.

Little at the "gaggle" of reporters yesterday at the Pentagon: "It is, in my opinion, and I believe the secretary’s position, not good enough to compare us to the rest of society. This is the United States military and the Department of Defense. It really doesn’t matter if our [sexual assault] rates are similar to the rest of society, quite frankly. We must hold ourselves to a higher standard and that’s what the American people demand."

For the record: Here’s the exchange between Sen. Angus King, the Independent from Maine, and Welsh at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing May 7:

King: "Well, I am delighted to hear you say that. And in dealing with these kinds of problems, often it’s a cultural issue. You can do all the law enforcement and all of those things, but the culture is what you have to deal with. You and I grew up at a time when drinking and driving was more or less tolerated in this country. The culture changed and now — and that’s had a really profound impact. So I hope that — and I’m sure this is the case — that within the Air Force, it has to become unacceptable culturally and in the — you know, in the bar — in the pub after work, that this is just not something that we do."

Welsh:  "Senator, that is clearly what it has to be. You know, roughly 20 percent of the young women who come into the Department of Defense in the Air Force report that they were sexually assaulted in some way before they came into the military. So they come in from a society where this occurs. Some of it is the hookup mentality of junior high even and high school students now, which my children can tell you about from watching their friends and being frustrated by it. The same demographic group moves into the military. We have got to change the culture once they arrive. The way they behave, the way they treat each other, cannot be outside the bounds of what is — we consider inclusive and respectful."

It all adds up: When it comes to saving money for DOD, most people think you have to save a billion here or there to make a difference. But all the small numbers can make a difference, too. And if nothing else, pinching pennies helps change the mind-set of a bureaucratic culture inculcated with the blank-check mentality of the last decade. The Air Force’s "Every Dollar Counts" initiative invites airmen to shoot the service’s leadership ideas for saving money. Begun May 1, it has more than 7,000 submissions. Of those 7,000, an Air Force spokesman said, the service has implemented just three ideas so far. More of the suggestions are being assessed and the Air Force plans to implement more of them in the coming weeks and months. The three include:

David Billingly, a telecommunications program manager for Air Force headquarters, recently surveyed all the telecommunication lines in the HQ’s leased space. After a four-month analysis, he identified more than 1,260 unused or unnecessary phone lines. Once they were disconnected, the Air Force saw a savings of $332,489.

Master Sgt. Ernest Harrison, deployed to the 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron, found equipment that was missing from an inventory list and allowed Air Forces Central Command to cancel a pending logistics requirement, saving the service $348,571.

The New York Air National Guard’s 103rd Rescue Squadron’s para-rescue jumpers used a commercial wind tunnel to practice free-fall techniques instead of using airlift, for a savings of $83,700.

Army Maj. Stephen Snyder-Hill, his husband, Joshua Snyder-Hill, and eight other military couples are headed to DC. to tie the knot. OutServe-SLDN, the LGBT-advocacy group comprised of actively-serving military members, is organizing a trip in which 25 same-sex couples will travel from Columbus, Ohio to Washington, D.C. to get married. Nine of the 25 couples include one service member. The trip is being put on by two plaintiffs in OutServe-SLDN’s court challenge to the so-called Defense of Marriage Act: Army Major Stephen Snyder-Hill and his husband, Joshua Snyder-Hill, who are already married. All the couples will ride on the "C-Bus of Love" from Columbus, Ohio, to Washington to get married before the Supreme Court June 21. Situation Report readers may remember Snyder-Hill as the service member who was booed during the GOP presidential debate during the 2012 primary season, SLDN spokesman Zeke Stokes reminded us.

Joshua Snyder-Hill: "Stephen and I had the great privilege of being married in Washington, DC two years ago after the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Repeal Act was passed by the Congress, and we wanted to be able to give this unique gift to other committed and loving couples from states where the freedom to marry is not yet recognized. We are especially thrilled that we will be able to do it in front of the Supreme Court during the same month in which the Court may very well strike down DOMA once and for all," said Joshua Snyder-Hill. Why is it called "the C-Bus of Love?" Because it’s coming from Columbus.



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