Situation Report

Does the Air Force have a solution to the sexual assault crisis?; Karzai’s anger over Taliban talks; The Arms Control Association hates Obama nuke-cutting plan; Is State slow-rolling aid to Syria?; Cereal Killer: the Captain is a poser; and a bit more.

Does the Air Force have a solution to the sexual assault crisis?; Karzai’s anger over Taliban talks; The Arms Control Association hates Obama nuke-cutting plan; Is State slow-rolling aid to Syria?; Cereal Killer: the Captain is a poser; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Peace talks with the Taliban are off to a bumpy start. The Taliban’s news conference yesterday, in which it raised a Taliban flag and stood under a banner reading the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan" angered Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who yesterday suspended separate talks with the U.S. over its security pact. Secretary of State John Kerry spent yesterday trying to defuse the situation, saying publicly that Karzai was justified in his anger over the Taliban’s provocative move. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is the moniker the Taliban used when it ruled the country prior to American invasion in 2001. The WaPo: "The Qataris met Karzai’s demands to remove an ‘Islamic Emirate’ plaque that the Taliban had affixed to the wall of the group’s new office and issued a statement saying that the venue was to be known officially as the ‘political bureau of the Taliban Afghan’ in the Persian Gulf state. By the end of the day, although Karzai remained publicly defiant, the administration appeared confident that the crisis had cooled sufficiently to reschedule the opening session of the U.S.-Taliban talks, which initially had been set for Thursday. The meeting could take place as early as Friday but was likely to be held off until after a Kerry visit to Qatar on Saturday for talks on Syria."

Meanwhile, AP is reporting that the Taliban has offered a prisoner swap – five detainees from Gitmo for the safe return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held in Taliban captivity since 2009 and believed to be in Pakistan. Such an exchange will play a key role in the talks in Qatar.

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The Naval Academy has charged three middies in the alleged "football house" rape of another middy last year. The Academy announced that it had preferred charges against the three Academy football players, one of whom was held from graduating this year, for violating two articles of the UCMJ – 107 (making false official statements) and 120 (rape, sexual assault or other sexual misconduct), according to a statement provided to Situation Report and other media.

An Air Force pilot program may be the key to helping the U.S. military find and prosecute more sexual assaulters. There remain deep divisions over the right policy approach to curbing sexual assaults in the military. But hidden behind the brouhaha about command authority is a small Air Force pilot program that provides victims with legal assistance and helps turn anonymous reports into ones used to prosecute sexual predators, according to officials who briefed Situation Report. The Air Force program, called the Special Victims Counsel program, was started five months ago as a pilot under Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh. But as the Pentagon grapples with sexual assault and unwanted scrutiny from Capitol Hill, the program could soon go DOD-wide.

The SVC program provides sexual assault victims with a legal assistance counselor who can walk a victim of sexual assault through the process. Unlike other legal assistance available to military assault victims, this counselor represents the victim, not, ultimately, the chain of command. But the program’s real value is in the number of victims who are willing to change their anonymous reports, or "restricted" reports – to "unrestricted" reports that the military can then use to prosecute sexual predators. As of last week, the Air Force reports that the SVC program had 327 clients, or victims of sexual assault, who had filed both restricted and unrestricted reports. Of those, 35 were restricted reports, meaning the victim and alleged perpetrator were both anonymous and thus the service is unable to pursue action against the alleged perpetrator. Of those 35 restricted reports, 15 converted from restricted to unrestricted, Air Force officials said. That means because of the legal and victims rights assistance victims received through the program, 43 percent opted to make their claim public and potentially pursue action against the alleged perpetrator.

"I think the Air Force clearly wants more  victims to convert to unrestricted because if it’s an unrestricted report, then the command has all the tools available to them to try to hold the alleged perpetrator accountable," Hankins told Situation Report. "And you really can’t do that if you don’t know who it is." More on the AF program, below.

Is State slow-walking the non-lethal aid for Syria? Situation Report wrote earlier this week that about half of the non-lethal aid promised for the Syrian opposition had yet to arrive, months after it was first pledged. Congressional notifications, logistics, vetting and red tape were all to blame. Then The Cable’s John Hudson yesterday reported that some close to the process believe State is the cause for the delay and officials on Capitol Hill haven’t even received some of the congressional notifications.

A source told Hudson: "It’s just shocking that we are so slow on even non-lethal support to people who have now been well vetted… We can’t even take the most basic of bureaucratic steps forward with non-lethal aid. How on earth can we even manage lethal aid?"

A State spokesman said the criticisms are misplaced: "We work closely with Congress to notify them, that is happening right now and have made every effort to expedite move aid to the ground." Read the rest, here.

Click bait: IAVA launches a new "data visualization" online tool for veterans this morning that highlights the wait for veterans. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, with a $250,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, created a site that is "designed to improve benefits" for veterans by collecting and publicizing data on the VA’s disability claims. The site allows vets to submit data on backlogged claims to create a new level of transparency about the backlog. Users of the site can look at individual claims by branch of service, wait times and other information. The Web site is called: "The Wait We Carry." (thewaitwecarry.org)

Tomorrow morning, IAVA, members of Congress and other veterans service organizations will appear at the kickoff to a breakfast series on Capitol Hill, where Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, will deliver a speech on the backlog.

It’s a full-blown Washington scandal: We are crestfallen at what we are reading today after the Navy responded to the Cap‘n Crunch scandal, saying, yeah, that’s right, the Captain is a total poser. FP’s Michael Peck: "After 50 years of purporting to be a naval captain, the imposter was finally unmasked yesterday by an alert fan on culinary site Foodbeast, who pointed out that Crunch is wearing the wrist stripes of a U.S. Navy commander rather than a captain. The scandal quickly blossomed, even garnering Gawker coverage. ‘You are correct that Cap’n Crunch appears to be wearing the rank of a U.S. Navy commander,’ Lt. Cmdr. Sarah Flaherty, a U.S. Navy spokeswoman, tells Foreign Policy. ‘Oddly, our personnel records do not show a ‘Cap’n Crunch’ who currently serves or has served in the Navy.’" Read all about it, here.

SIGAR: problems with payments of subcontractors in Afghanistan. The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction is telling top officials today that the SIGAR has concerns about subcontractors not getting paid. If true, that’s a problem because SIGAR reports evidence "from credible sources" alleging death threats, work stoppages and strikes in connection with nonpayments of subcontractors, which doesn’t bode well for the coalition’s departure over the next 18 months. "Nearly a quarter of SIGAR’s hotline complaints from 2009 through October 2012 have been related to Afghan prime contractor and subcontractor nonpayment issues," according to a letter to top U.S. officials, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and others, from SIGAR John Sopko, released at midnight. "SIGAR opened 52 investigations based on these complaints, reflecting $69 million in claimed monies owed. In addition, as of February 2013, the Department of State, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and Inspector General for the Department of Defense (DOD) reported receiving 44 nonpayment related complaints during the past six years. The information that SIGAR has received suggests that there is a serious problem in Afghanistan related to disputes regarding the payment of Afghan subcontractors by prime contractors."

The Arms Control Association isn’t big on Obama’s nukes plan. Writing on FP, the association’s Daryl Kimball argues that the plan unveiled by President Barack Obama yesterday doesn’t do enough and it takes too long to do it. Kimball: "…since early 2011, the administration’s nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation effort has lost energy and focus. Talks with Russia on deeper nuclear cuts have not begun and the implementation of the 2010 U.S. nuclear posture review was delayed. The president’s pledge to "immediately and aggressively" pursue Senate approval of the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was not met, off-and-on talks with Iran on its nuclear program did not produce tangible results, and North Korea has accelerated its nuclear weapons pursuits." Read the rest, here.

But Bobby Zarate of the Foreign Policy Institute begs to differ. In his piece, he asks, why the rush? Zarate: "The President sees his plan as the next step in someday achieving his dream of a ‘world without nuclear weapons.’ But the world has a vote, too, and even if Russia is open to further nuclear cuts – something which remains unclear at this point – other nations do not appear to share Obama’s aspiration."

Palantir: fighting human traffickers, not just the Army. Killer Apps’ John Reed reports that "the sharp-elbowed, ultra-connected data mining firm Palantir may be best known around Washington these days for its war with the Army over its intelligence software. But the company is also making inroads in Foggy Bottom, where it’s using its terror-hunting tech to help State Department fight human traffickers. And it’s getting assists from unlikely allies like Google and LexisNexis." State’s National Human Trafficking Resource Training Center and the Polaris Project, an NGO that fights human trafficking, has been using Palantir’s software to analyze data they collect from victims and tipsters, Reed writes.

"They use Palantir’s software to identify patterns in information about traffickers and victims that are gathered by anti-trafficking hotlines around the globe. Basically, Palantir lets Polaris take information other anti-trafficking groups receive and put it into one large database — making it easier to connect cases of trafficking, map trends, and create plans to combat trafficking operations in a specific area." Read the rest, here.

It’s hard to imagine world peace at the hands of killer robots, but John Arquilla does. Arquilla: A few weeks ago, the United Nations affirmed Isaac Asimov’s First Law of Robotics: "A robot may not injure a human being." Christof Heyns, the U.N. special rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, said as much in a May 29 speech to the Human Rights Council in Geneva calling for a moratorium on the development of lethal robots. His argument followed two thoughtful paths, expressing concern that they cannot be as discriminating in their judgments as humans and that their very existence might make war too easy to contemplate. As he summed up the grim prospect of robot soldiers, "War without reflection is mechanical slaughter." Read the rest, here.

When it comes to spying, Obama’s NSA program = Bush. FP’s newest addition, Shane Harris, has this bit about how much the NSA surveillance programs resemble those that caused so much stir 10 years ago, with a Pentagon project called "Total Information Awareness," for its Orwellian creepiness. Harris: "The story of that convergence starts on the morning of Feb. 2, 2002, when retired Admiral John Poindexter drove to the headquarters of the National Security Agency at Ft. Meade, Maryland, and sat down with the agency’s deputy director, an NSA veteran named Bill Black. Poindexter, a former White House national security adviser, was now running the TIA program at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the organization that tackles some of the hardest engineering and technology challenges in the Pentagon. Poindexter thought TIA was an innovative new way to stop terrorist attacks, and he wanted the NSA to help him test it. The idea, he explained to Black, was to give U.S. intelligence analysts access to the vast universe of electronic information stored in private databases that might be useful for detecting the next plot. Data such as phone call records, emails, and Internet searches. Poindexter wanted to build what he called a "system of systems" that would access all this raw information, sort and analyze it, and hopefully find indications of terrorist plotting." More, here.

AF sexual assault assistance program, con’t. The program seems to have taken off. In January when the program began, the Air Force had 60 part time attorneys working in the SVC program. But each worked for the wing or another unit within the chain of command. As of late last month, there were 24 full time attorneys working in 22 locations — all of whom work for Hankins, the head of the effort,  and whose sole responsibility is to "zealously represent the interests of their client," Hankins said.

Some in the legal world believe that by giving sexual assault victims an attorney it tips the scales of justice in favor of victim, and to the detriment of the accused. But for a Defense Department whose aim is to eliminate sexual assault altogether, as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said, a program such as this one will resonate. Indeed, it has its supporters on Capitol Hill. Leading voices on sexual assault reform in the DOD, like Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, both Democrats, support legislation to mandate that all services create an SVC program and such a provision remains in the current defense bill.

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