Situation Report

Fall from grace: Hoss Cartwright, a target; The Validation of Evelyn Farkas; Biden calls a meeting on Syria; Marcel Lettre to advise policy, temporarily; Sonenshine to GW; and a bit more.

Fall from grace: Hoss Cartwright, a target; The Validation of Evelyn Farkas; Biden calls a meeting on Syria; Marcel Lettre to advise policy, temporarily; Sonenshine to GW; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Not a surprise: Hoss Cartwright is at the center of an inquiry over Iran leak. Ever since David Sanger’s "Confront and Conceal" was published last year, disclosing the super covert Stuxnet program, the the Obama administration had mounted an aggressive campaign to find those who leaked information to Sanger. All the while, there was a whispering campaign in Washington that Hoss Cartwright, the former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had clearly been one of the ones who gabbed. Rightly or wrongly, Washington insiders quickly pointed at him as someone who had likely provided critical information about Stuxnet, designed to cyber attack Iran’s nuclear program, to Sanger. Last night, NBC News’ Michael Isikoff reported that indeed, Cartwright is under investigation for leaking information about the program, putting the administration in an awkward position and potentially dealing a fatal, reputational blow to Cartwright, who at one time was considered Obama’s "favorite general."

NBC: "According to legal sources, [Cartwright] has received a target letter informing him that he’s under investigation for allegedly leaking information about a massive attack using a computer virus named Stuxnet on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Gen. Cartwright, 63, becomes the latest individual targeted over alleged leaks by the Obama administration, which has already prosecuted or charged eight individuals under the Espionage Act."

It wasn’t a surprise that Cartwright would be targeted, not only because people suspected him as being one of the people knowledgeable enough to provide information about the program, but also because he is one of the few people now out of government who could be more easily targeted. Sanger’s book, what amounts to a national security playbook for the White House, had been essentially authorized by the administration – top administration officials had talked to him for it. But what remained a mystery is just who provided details of programs such as Stuxnet, and had those individuals leaked information with the knowledge of higher-ups. NBC said that there is not yet a final decision on whether or not Cartwright would be charged.

Cartwright, widely regarded as smart and capable, had gained access to Obama’s inner circle years ago as vice-chairman, in some cases advising the president in ways that made others at the rest of the Pentagon uneasy, including the senior military officer over him, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen. Cartwright angered his brass brethren with his position against more troops for Afghanistan and, inside the Marine Corps, on pointed indifference to the Corps’ high-profile Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program. He called that program "exquisite" and in so doing helped to ensure its demise. Cartwright was also under investigation for an improper relationship with a female aide. Although he was ultimately cleared, his reputation within the building and the investigation all contributed to Cartwright being passed over to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He has since associated himself with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, but he has maintained a low profile, likely stemming from the likelihood that he was under scrutiny over the leaks.

NBC said that Cartwright, who retired from the military in August 2011, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. His attorney, former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig, said Thursday, ‘I have no comment.’

But at Craig’s urging, others called NBC News to defend Cartwright’s reputation, while acknowledging they had no direct knowledge of the investigation. ‘He’s a great American,’ said former Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D.-Calif., who served as undersecretary of state for arms control in the Obama administration. ‘All I know is he’s always been one who acted in a way to defend the country and do so in a way that is beyond reproach.’ The White House declined to comment, as did Justice Department officials."

Jane Harman, a member of the administration’s Defense Policy Board, said the leak had been "very damaging." Harman, to NBC: "Clearly what was going on here was a method and it should have been protected…I think it’s had devastating consequences.’"

Welcome to Friday’s edition of Situation Report, where we’ll note that we’re taking a week off with the fam and leaving Situation Report in the capable hands of our friend and colleague, Mister John Reed. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or a tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. Please follow us @glubold. And remember, if you see something, say something — to Situation Report.

Marcel Lettre, hanging his hat at Policy for now. Lettre, who had helped oversee Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s transition at the Pentagon as his acting chief of staff, is expected an assignment to another senior position in the building. For now, we’re told that he’s been asked on a temporary basis to act as a senior advisory role inside the Pentagon’s Policy shop as he awaits word on the new job.

Tara Sonenshine, moving to GW. Tara Sonenshine, the State Department’s Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, is heading to George Washington’s School for Communications and Public Affairs. That’s where she’ll be a senior fellow, GW’s Frank Sesno and Sonenshine both confirm to Situation Report, and will start in the fall. She’s expected to lecture, write and mentor students in addition to developing projects on public diplomacy and youth, women and girls and the role of technology in public diplomacy. "I am excited to work with old colleagues like Frank Sesno, and to be around young people who aspire to work in international affairs," Sonenshine told Situation Report in an e-mail. "My commitment to public diplomacy, peacemaking, and people-to-people engagement will continue and there is much great work to be done."

The normalization of Serbia and Kosovo and the Validation of Evelyn Farkas. There are people in the Pentagon who remember like it was yesterday the ethnic strife and instability of the Balkans in the 1990s. And for Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia/Ukraine and Eurasia, what a difference a couple of decades makes. Earlier this month, Evelyn Farkas, who served as a human rights officer in Bosnia in 1996, visited Serbia as that country takes steps toward normalization. Yesterday, the European Union gave Serbia a green light to begin accession into the EU. Serbia, once at the center of instability, is now a country that maintains the largest armed forces – 34,000 – of any in that region, deploys peacekeepers (about 13) to Mali as part of the EU mission and is "actively engaged" in Lebanon. It’s a turnabout that can make any of the hundreds of people who worked in the region proud. And for Farkas, it’s a remarkable turnaround. "They’re showing left, right and center that they want to be contributing to security, not just in the region, but internationally," she told Situation Report in a recent interview.

But for her personally, it’s validation. "For myself and others, who have worked on the Balkans since the 1990s, this is pretty phenomenal… the United States made a deliberate decision to get involved in the Balkans to try to help manage these ethnic conflicts, so now, 20 years later, it has paid off."

Late last year, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had his own moment as he hosted at the Pentagon Serbia’s Defense Minister, Aleksandar Vucic, a former information minister under Yugoslavian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. Panetta, who as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton advised him on bombing raids over Serbia in 1999, marveled at the notion that the two were now friends in a budding alliance. "I wouldn’t have thought as chief of staff to Bill Clinton that I would be sitting across from you saying Serbia could be a force for peace in the region," Panetta is quoted as saying in December.

Farkas says there is still much work to be done as Serbia tackles more reforms. But for her, seeing leaders like Vucic on a "totally different side of the chess board" than they were in the 1990s is a "big deal," she said. "For me, I can’t help but get excited about it."

On Syria, it was just supposed to be an intimate briefing. But a meeting between CIA Director John Brennan and two top members of the Senate Intelligence Committee "exploded into an impromptu and classified briefing on Syria," in the words of our colleague, John Hudson, who reports that the briefing, billed as one about a new report defe3nding enhanced interrogation practices, unexpectedly became one about Syria. Hudson: "Attendees spotted by The Cable included Vice President Joe Biden, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, Saxby Chambliss, Ron Wyden, Susan Collins, and others. As they exited the briefing, attendees remained tight-lipped. ‘I have nothing to say,’ Feinstein said. When asked if the briefing involved the CIA’s interrogation practices, she said ‘no.’ Congressional aides confirmed that the briefing focused on Syria, but could not elaborate."

The meeting, of course, took place against the backdrop of a dispute last week between lawmakers and the White House over its proposal to provide arms to Syrian rebels. "Yes." – The answer a Senate aide told Hudson when asked if yesterday’s Senate Intelligence Committee was also about getting senators on board with funding arms to the rebels. Read the rest, here.

NYT’s quote of the day: "I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker." – President Barack Obama, on efforts to get Edward Snowden extradited back to the U.S.

Don’t be talking with the Taliban. So argues Husain Haqqani, the former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, in the Times this morning, saying it would be a "grievous mistake." Haqqani: "Unlike most states or political groups, the Taliban aren’t amenable to a pragmatic deal. They are a movement with an extreme ideology and will not compromise easily on their deeply held beliefs. Before committing the blunder of negotiating with them again, American diplomats should read up on the history of Washington’s engagement with the Taliban during Bill Clinton’s presidency…There is no reason to believe – and no evidence – that the Taliban are now ready for political accommodation. Pakistan’s rationale for the talks differs little from the last two times it tried to save the Taliban from America’s wrath, after the bombings of the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and immediately after 9/11. Pakistan’s goal has always been to arrange American talks with the Taliban without being responsible for the outcome." Read the rest, here.