Situation Report

A loss of confidence: HP fires The Experts; Vickers, Olson lead shooting panels; Hagel lunches with Bloomberg; JSF: hundreds of deficiencies; Amos, taking names; Josh Rogin, not laughing; and a bit more.

A loss of confidence: HP fires The Experts; Vickers, Olson lead shooting panels; Hagel lunches with Bloomberg; JSF: hundreds of deficiencies; Amos, taking names; Josh Rogin, not laughing; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

A loss of confidence: The Experts just got so fired. With apparently no nudging from the Navy, the Hewlitt-Packard Company, with which the Navy is contracted, severed its ties with The Experts, with which it HP had contracted (a sub-contractor to the Navy) to perform information technology work on Navy bases. The Experts, of course, was the company for which Navy Yard shooter Alexis Aaron worked. The Experts’ President, Thomas Hoshko had probably done the wrong thing by e-mailing Navy Secretary Ray Mabus just hours after the shooting, offering the company’s expertise on security and other issues. It was seen as completely inappropriate. HP, in turn, decided it would be best to drop The Experts. HP released this statement late yesterday: "HP has strict policies in place that require contractors and their employees to adhere to the highest standards of business practices and ethics.  Based on what we now know about The Experts’ conduct, including its failure to respond appropriately to Aaron Alexis’ mental health issues and certain incidents recently reported in the press, HP has terminated its relationship with The Experts."

The WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum and Devlin Barrett: "In a statement, the Experts said it was "disappointed" with H-P’s decision. The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., company said it had "no greater insight into Alexis’ mental health than H-P," and that an H-P site manager had closely supervised him in Rhode Island. Valerie Parlave, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s assistant director in charge in Washington, said Wednesday there were "multiple indications" that Mr. Alexis "held a delusional belief that he was being controlled or influenced" by low-frequency electromagnetic waves. ‘To be perfectly honest, that is what has driven me to this,’ Mr. Alexis wrote in one document recovered by federal agents, speaking of the purported electromagnetic waves and the attack." The rest here.

Ash Carter announced who will head the new panels looking into issues in the aftermath of the Navy Yard shooting. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter spoke at a briefing at the Pentagon yesterday about the three panels looking at security issues after last week’s shooting. Carter said that the OSD-level review will be led by Mike Vickers, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. His job will be to assess the physical security, access procedures, and emergency response plans at DOD installations and "identify vulnerabilities," Carter said at a briefing yesterday. "And the second [task] is to identify shortcomings in the security clearance and reinvestigation process and what steps we can take to tighten the standards and procedures for granting and renewing security clearances for DOD employees and contract personnel."

Carter also announced that Hagel has directed an independent panel to conduct its own assessment of the same two issues. Carter: "And today, on behalf of the secretary, I’m pleased to announce that former assistant secretary of defense for homeland security Dr. Paul Stockton and former Commander of Special Operations, Admiral Eric Olson, have agreed to lead the independent review." And, he continued: "Throughout this process, DOD’s work will be coordinated with the White House’s government-wide review, being led by the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Personnel Management, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Our findings will complement and support these government-wide efforts. As Secretary Hagel said last week, where there are gaps, we’ll close them. Where there are inadequacies, we will address them. And where there are failures, we will correct them. That process is underway. We owe nothing less to the victims, their families, and every member of the Department of Defense community."

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The video of Aaron Alexis scurrying through Building 197 is chilling. Stripes’ Chris Carroll: "Washington Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis was on the loose for about an hour during his Sept. 16 rampage, engaging law enforcement officials in a series of gun battles inside the headquarters of Naval Sea Systems Command before he was killed, officials revealed Wednesday. Chilling photos and videos newly released by the FBI showed Alexis arriving at the installation, and later stalking through the halls of Building 197 armed with a sawed-off shotgun as he sought victims. Documents on Alexis’s electronic devices, including a laptop, cellphone and flash drives, indicated that the former sailor who had recently begun working as a contractor at the Navy yard had no plans to leave the scene alive, said Valerie Parlave, FBI assistant director in charge of the Washington field office. ‘There are indicators that Alexis was prepared to die during the attack, and that he accepted death as the inevitable consequence of his actions,’ she said." Read the rest here.

Scratched into the side of his shotgun, a reflection of Alexis’ mental state: "End for the torment!"

A former public affairs bubba for the VA writes that the "angry vet narrative" has to stop. Alex Horton, writing on Defense One: "A shallow discussion on mental health and the veteran experience has led to media shorthand for violence linked to former troops. Exposure to profound trauma mixed with weapons training invokes a strong image of downtrodden veterans, and news outlets drew tenuous lines from that idea to the Navy Yard shooter. Alexis, a Navy reservist, never saw combat and maintained electrical instruments during his service. He was honorably discharged despite the Navy’s pursuit of a general discharge following a stream of bad conduct. Yet headlines that mentioned his service carried an unsettling subtext-his military training helped in the crime, and since he was a veteran, he had been struggled with post-traumatic stress. Veteran advocates immediately protested the media’s portrayal, calling it inaccurate, damaging and untrue. The latest (and most prominent) comes from CNN’s Peter Bergen: ‘It’s a deadly combination: men who have military backgrounds — together with personal grievances, political agendas or mental problems — and who also have easy access to weapons and are trained to use them.’

"Bergen links Alexis and Nidal Hasan, the radicalized Fort Hood shooter, by virtue of their service. One issue noted by Bergen is access to weapons and military training. He makes an extraordinary leap here." Read the rest here.

Today, Chuck Hagel has lunch with old friend Michael Bloomberg at a New York restaurant, Gabriel’s. Hagel will later meet with Secretary of State John Kerry and meet with the Gulf Cooperation Council. This, we’re told, is the third iteration of a meeting where the U.S. meets with Gulf partners in an effort to provide a way to discuss how the U.S. can work better with Gulf allies and aids them in working better together – including on things like Syria and Iran.

Yesterday, we wrote a screwy headline that suggested the military was moving drones from Djibouti in Africa – we meant within. The WaPo story yesterday was about the need to move drones from Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti to another location within the country due to safety concerns flying the drones near where commercial planes fly. Apologies for the confusion.

Also yesterday, the link to our own story about James "Hoss" Cartwright was broken. The working link, here.

When it comes to restoring discipline within the Marine Corps, Jim Amos is getting serious. Within hours of a brass briefing at Quantico this week in which Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos outlined a variety of measures to bring discipline back to a Corps that has been deployed for more than a decade, Marine Corps Times got a hold of the briefing slides. MCT’s Dan Lamothe: "[The plan] calls for a variety of new initiatives, including the installation of security cameras in each barracks, the incorporation of more staff noncommissioned officers and officers on duty, and the arming of all Marines on duty at all times, according to briefing slides from the commandant’s address… The plan stretches well beyond improving safety, however. Amos’ briefing slides say that while the Corps has been successful fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ‘we are now seeing signs that are our institutional fabric is fraying.’ He cites sexual assault, hazing, drunken driving, fraternization and failure to maintain personal appearance standards among his concerns. ‘We have a behavioral problem within the Corps – a small, but not insignificant, number of our Marines are not living up to our ethos and core values," one of Amos’ slides says. "They are hurting themselves, their fellow Marines, civilians, and damaging our reputation.’ The commandant’s plan calls for a number of ‘immediate’ changes, some of which are unlikely to be popular with Marines."

But 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy told Situation Report this morning that Amos’ push to re-instill discipline in the Corps is the right response to a growing concern. "The Commandant was reacting to the demand signal from the operating forces that we needed to get the Marine Corps back to its historical roots of a disciplined force," Kennedy said in a phone interview. "Just because we’re combat veterans, we haven’t ceded authority in garrison to the least experienced members of the Marine Corps, i.e., privates and lance corporals." There has been a concerning growth of fights, sexual assaults, alcohol abuse and other bad behavior as Marines transition from the battlefield. Amos, Kennedy said, is trying to nip it in the bud. Although Amos has been talking about these issues for awhile, the plan unveiled this week gets into particulars. The problem, Kennedy said, can’t be ignored. "It is ubiquitous, it is across the entire force," Kennedy said, adding that there is a direct relationship between discipline "in garrison" – at home bases and stations as opposed to deployment zones – and discipline and performance in battle. "People made false assumptions about performance in combat and that that was the only thing that counted." Kennedy cited three cases this week in which a more senior Marine within his command intervened among individuals to avert a bigger problem. "If we are more present in the lives of our junior guys, then we can probably help lead them, guide them, intervene and prevent them from making bad decisions," Kennedy said. Marine Corps Times’ story – and the list of Amos’ initiatives, here.

Whoa: The NSA spied on senators. Writing on FP, Matthew Aid and William Burr: As Vietnam War protests grew, the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) tapped the overseas communications of prominent American critics of the war — including a pair of sitting U.S. senators. That’s according to a recently declassified NSA history, which called the effort "disreputable if not outright illegal.’ For years the names of the surveillance targets were kept secret. But after a decision by the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel, in response to an appeal by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, the NSA has declassified them for the first time. The names of the NSA’s targets are eye-popping. Civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Whitney Young were on the watch list, as were the boxer Muhammad Ali, New York Times journalist Tom Wicker, and veteran Washington Post humor columnist Art Buchwald. But perhaps the most startling fact in the declassified document is that the NSA was tasked with monitoring the overseas telephone calls and cable traffic of two prominent members of Congress, Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) and Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.). As shocking as the recent revelations about the NSA’s domestic eavesdropping have been, there has been no evidence so far of today’s signal intelligence corps taking a step like this, to monitor the White House’s political enemies." More here.

The DOD Inspector General did a report on the JSF: not good. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio: "The Pentagon’s inspector general has flagged hundreds of deficiencies and corrective actions needed for Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 fighter, the military’s costliest program. The watchdog office’s ‘quality assessment’ outlines what it calls ineffective management by Pentagon oversight personnel and insufficient attention to quality assurance in the design and manufacturing phases of the $391.2 billion F-35 program, according to a summary obtained by Bloomberg News. The full report may be issued as soon as Sept. 30. Since May 2012, the inspector general has been reviewing adherence to quality assurance standards by Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed and five subcontractors: Northrop Grumman Corp., BAE Systems Plc, L-3 Communications Holdings Inc., Honeywell International Inc. and United Technologies Corp. The inspector general’s audit said the F-35 program office should modify its contracts to "include a quality escape clause, to ensure the government does not pay for nonconforming product," according to the summary. Lockheed and the subcontractors are taking specific steps to respond to 343 findings and recommended corrective actions, the summary said, without disclosing the nature of the failings found." More here.

Eric Fanning, don’t go anywhere: Ayotte placed a hold on Deborah Lee James’ nomination to be Air Force Secretary. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, the Republican from New Hampshire, is blocking the confirmation of James until Ayotte gets her questions answered regarding potential cuts to the A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft. That means Under Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning – now in the Acting role as Secretary – will have to stay in that dual-hatted role a bit longer. Defense News’ Aaron Mehta and John Bennett, quoting an Ayotte aide: "She (as ranking member of the readiness subcommittee) views this as a readiness issue. Until we have a replacement for the A-10, why would the [Air Force] try to eliminate it? She isn’t necessarily saying we must retain the A-10, but wants to ensure there isn’t a capability gap that could result in lost American lives."

Ayotte’s husband Joe is a former A-10 pilot: "What makes me concerned is that there already has been a decision made on the A-10 and as you and I talked about in our meeting, the A-10 has a very important function in terms of close-air support and in fact, most recently in July, 60 soldiers were saved in Afghanistan because of the important close-air support provided by the A-10," DN quoted Ayotte as saying. More of that story here.

Laaate? Will Chuck Hagel’s sexual assault panel be effective? Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn: "Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is soliciting advice on what else he can do to stop sexual assault in the ranks by turning to a panel of experts from outside the Pentagon.

"But there’s a big catch: The nine-person committee he has chartered to study the issue doesn’t plan to release any recommendations until several months after the Senate votes on the key question of whether to remove the chain of command from major criminal prosecutions… Holly O’Grady Cook, a retired Army colonel picked for the panel by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), said she won’t be "distracted by the Congress’s timeline and our timeline."

"It’s just a question of getting the information we need," O’Grady Cook told POLITICO… and [Pentagon spokesman] Todd Breasseale also downplayed the scheduling gap. ‘Any time an independent panel is empowered in the public light to contemplate issues the department faces and then offer unvarnished recommendations to the secretary, it’s a good thing,’ he said. ‘No one believes the work of these panels is for naught, regardless of the issue or timing.’" Read it here.

How are civ-mil relations going? Not so well: FP’s Micah Zenko: "Every administration has its share of disputes with the Pentagon, but when it comes to where and how U.S. armed forces will be used, civil-military relations have not been this tense and precarious since the end of the Cold War. Military officers are increasingly willing to express their personal opinions about interventions, while civilian policymakers are increasingly willing to disregard professional military advice. Worse, a growing number of individuals from both "sides" seem unaware of the appropriate civilian and military roles and relationships, and their conflicts play out in public more prominently and immediately than ever before." Read the rest here.

So this happened: Josh Rogin got socked. Somehow, former The Cable boss Josh Rogin of FP, now of the Daily Beast, got punched by a comedian after making fun of his set at D.C.’s Funniest Celebrity contest. Rogin attended the event and was Tweeting about professional comedian Dan Nainan’s act. U.S. News’ Washington Whispers: "’Dan Nainan was funny until he dusted off his 2005 Katrina jokes in a gratingly bad [George W. Bush] impression,’ Rogin wrote. ‘Dan Nainan makes his umpteenth joke about how Asians [can’t] distinguish between letters ‘L’ and ‘R.’ Election, erection we get it,’ Rogin added. Nainan then approached Rogin, who was sitting at the back of the DC Improv comedy club and punched him. ‘Dan Nainan comes over to me and says, ‘Are you Josh Rogin,’ and I said yes and then he punched me in the jaw, then he pushed me, then he walked away and about 10 seconds later he came over and punched me again,’ Rogin told Whispers directly after the fight. (Whispers was also an eyewitness to the incident.)…Nainan was unavailable for comment about what provoked the incident, as he was being led out of the venue by D.C. Police in handcuffs." More here.