Nuland speaks undiplomatically; DoD won't mothball the George Washington; Peace talks in Pakistan; GI Joe looks amazing at 50; The dog of war; and a bit more.
- By Gordon Lubold
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.
By Gordon Lubold
A brigadier in the doghouse: Martin "Smoking Hot" Schweitzer disciplined by Dempsey. CNN’s Barbara Starr: "Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey has privately disciplined one of his top generals, who has been investigated by the Army for sending an inappropriate e-mail about a female member of Congress, CNN has learned. Two senior U.S. military officials said Brig. Gen. Martin P. Schweitzer was ordered by Dempsey to no longer participate in weekly briefings to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel about the movement of troops around the world. The Pentagon has been under scrutiny for several lapses in ethical behavior among top generals and in the ranks.?Hagel has publicly made ethics a top priority."
Cutting Schweitzer out of the meeting illustrates frustration at the highest levels about ethical lapses. Starr: "It’s an extraordinary action to take because Schweitzer, as deputy director of regional operations for the Joint Chiefs, oversees a highly classified briefing about information presented to Hagel weekly. It’s one of the most critical briefings at the Pentagon because the secretary of defense is asked to sign each military order to send troops to any locations overseas." Schweitzer, in a statement, called his comments "a terrible attempt at humor." Details here.
What did Schweitzer say? The WaPo’s Craig Whitlock, first reporting all of this Jan. 26: "…Last summer, Army prosecutors were combing through the e-mail accounts of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, a commander facing a court-martial on sexual assault, adultery and other charges, when they uncovered a raunchy exchange with two other generals. The exchange started in March 2011, when Schweitzer, then a colonel and the deputy commander for operations for the 82nd Airborne Division, held a meeting with Ellmers, a newly elected House member whose district included Fort Bragg. Schweitzer gave a pointed summary of the meeting in an e-mail to a superior, Maj. Gen. James Huggins, while copying Sinclair, then a fellow colonel and an 82nd Airborne commander.
‘First – she is smoking hot,’ Schweitzer wrote. ‘Second – briefing went well .?.?. she was engaging .?.?. had done her homework. She wants us to know she stands with us and will work/push to get the Fort Bragg family resourced.’
"That, and what came next, led prosecutors to turn over the e-mail chain to the Army inspector general for a full investigation. ‘He sucks🙂 still needs to confirm hotness,’ Sinclair teased in a reply. More than an hour later, Schweitzer responded with an apology for the delay, saying he had masturbated ‘3 times over the past 2 hours’ after the meeting with the congresswoman." WaPo story here.
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Undiplomatic speak: "F— the EU," says State’s Victoria Nuland in a leaked phone recording. In a clip posted yesterday on YouTube, the assistant secretary of state for European affairs is heard speaking to the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine about the turmoil in Kiev. The WaPo’s Anne Gearan: "In the call, Nuland … was dismissively referring to slow-moving European efforts to address political paralysis and a looming fiscal crisis in Ukraine. But it was the blunt nature of her remarks, rather than U.S. diplomatic calculations, that seemed exceptional. Nuland also assessed the political skills of Ukrainian opposition figures with unusual candor and, along with [ambassador] Geoffrey Pyatt, debated strategy for their cause, laying bare a deep degree of U.S. involvement in affairs that Washington officially says are Ukraine’s to resolve." American officials were quick to finger Russia as the source of the recording, with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney saying the recording "was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government. I think it says something about Russia’s role." The State Department acknowledged the authenticity of the call and said that Nuland had apologized to EU officials.
The Russians have a word for this kind of illicitly-obtained juicy material, writes Gearan: "Kompromat," meaning "compromising materials." Full story here.
No lie: The Pentagon scraps plans to mothball the carrier George Washington. The WSJ’s Julian Barnes on Page One: " The Pentagon has dropped a plan to retire one of its nuclear-powered aircraft carriers after the White House intervened to head off a brewing political fight. The military had proposed an early retirement of the USS George Washington, reducing the U.S. carrier fleet to 10, as part of plan to deal with cost cuts imposed by Congress. That touched a nerve among a bipartisan group of lawmakers, who called on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in a letter last week to block the move and preserve what they argued is a potent symbol of American power. The behind-the-scenes battle illustrates how politics often complicates the task of wringing savings from the U.S. military budget. Lawmakers, facing pressures from defense contractors and local communities, often oppose proposed cuts to military bases, aircraft and shipbuilding programs and weapons systems." Read the rest of his bit here.
Peace talks got started in Pakistan, after all. Representatives of the government and the Taliban negotiated Thursday in Islamabad after a meeting scheduled for Tuesday fizzled when the government side never showed. Salman Masood in the NYT: "After almost four hours, both sides described the talks as ‘cordial and friendly.’" More here.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Taliban have ramped up their violent campaign against the media. On FP, Beenish Ahmed writes that a January triple murder of Express News employees may mark a watershed moment: "a wholesale targeting of the press as part of the organization’s propaganda war against the Pakistani state…"
"‘The way that Express News is being picked out and targeted, makes absolutely clear that we are being given some sort of message, ‘Fahd Husain, director of news at Express TV, said as the network shifted into live coverage of its murdered employees. Not long after, while the bodies of the slain still lay under white sheets, TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan called in to the channel to take responsibility for the shooting: ‘Express TV, like a lot of other Pakistani media outlets, is acting as propagandists against the Pakistani Taliban,’ he said in an attempt to justify the attack on live TV. What happened next was even more astonishing: Express anchor Javed Chaudhry began to negotiate a sort of informal peace settlement with the TTP, offering coverage on demand in exchange for security." The bizarre interaction continues.
Army intel system in Afghanistan slammed…by the soldiers trying to use it. Military.com’s Brendan McGarry: "U.S. Army units in Afghanistan say the service’s multi-billion-dollar battlefield intelligence system is so complicated and unreliable that they continue to use commercial software instead, from Microsoft PowerPoint to Palantir. That’s according to a Nov. 3 internal assessment of the service’s so-called Distributed Common Ground System, or DCGS (pronounced "dee-sigs"). Military.com obtained a copy of the previously undisclosed memo, which includes feedback on the technology from several units serving in the country. The 130th Engineer Brigade arguably had the harshest criticism: ‘DCGS continues to be; unstable, slow, not friendly and a major hindrance to operations at the [battalion] level and lower, organic [joint staff communications-electronics directorates] being unable to work on them, requiring an entire set of private IP addresses that do not ‘work’ with the rest of the domain structure, unstable [tactical entity databases], system ‘upgrades’ that erase or lose all of the user’s data, woefully inadequate computing power, and the loss of ~3-5 calendar days per month due to systems issues.’" Yikes-read the full story here.
Dog of war: the Afghan Taliban have captured a military canine. ISAF officials confirmed that the war’s only canine POW is a British dog that went missing during a mission in December, according to the BBC. Bearded Taliban fighters paraded the dog, called "Colonel," in a video, and also brandished assault rifles and grenades of the type used by American forces. The BBC’s David Loyne: "Dogs are considered unclean by Afghans, and their use by international forces in house searches has been controversial. Rumors and myths have risen among insurgents about the capacity of dogs, including the widely held belief among Taliban fighters that the dogs are trained to kill."
FP’s rundown of the story, which credits Air Force Times’ Jeff Schogol for digging up (like a bone!) the fact that the dog is British, not American. Read that here.
Into the Penalty Box for evading sanctions on Iran. The NYT’s Rick Gladstone: "The Obama administration penalized nearly three dozen companies and individuals in eight countries on Thursday, accusing them of evading Iranian sanctions. It was the administration’s most extensive enforcement action to target Iran since a temporary international agreement on that country’s disputed nuclear program was completed in November and put into effect last month. Announced by the Treasury Department office that oversees sanctions enforcement, the punishments were at least partly devised to send a message that the United States is not relaxing economic pressures on Iran, apparently to blunt an atmosphere of optimism that has resulted from the temporary nuclear agreement. This week, Secretary of State John Kerry criticized France after it sent a large trade delegation to Iran. … A Treasury announcement said the enforcement action had singled out "a diverse range of entities and individuals located around the world" for evading American sanctions aimed at Iran. There was no immediate comment from the Iranian government." Read it here.
Meanwhile, Rouhani’s brother walked into the only Jewish hospital in Tehran to deliver cash money. The NYT’s Thomas Erdbrink: " The brother of Iran’s president walked into Tehran’s only Jewish hospital on Thursday, delivering a surprise donation along with the message that the Health Ministry would give more attention to hospitals that traditionally serve Christian and Jewish Iranians." Said a nurse by telephone: "We are very happy…This is a good sign." Read the rest here.
Homeland Defense: "Test Run" for attacking the U.S. electrical grid? The LATimes Evan Halper and Marc Lifsher: "Shooters armed with assault rifles and some knowledge of electrical utilities have prompted new worries on the vulnerability of California’s vast power grid. A 2013 attack on an electric substation near San Jose that nearly knocked out Silicon Valley’s power supply was initially downplayed as vandalism by Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the facility’s owner. Gunfire from semiautomatic weapons did extensive damage to 17 transformers that sent grid operators scrambling to avoid a blackout.
But this week, a former top power regulator offered a far more ominous interpretation: The attack was terrorism, he said, and if circumstances had been just a little different, it could have been disastrous. Jon Wellinghoff, who was chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission when the shooting took place, said that attack was clearly executed by well-trained individuals seeking to do significant damage to the area, and he fears it was a test run for an even larger assault."
Where’s the love? There’s the love: The LATimes references the WSJ story that ran earlier this week on page one, but unlike the WSJ, it also references the Foreign Policy story by Shane Harris more than a month ago – on Dec. 27. Read Shane’s story here. Read the full LAT article here.
Speaking of the homeland: Former Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson this morning delivers his first major address as Secretary of Homeland Security. He’ll speak at the Wilson Center at 11:30 this morning, then there will be a Q&A with the Wilson Center’s Jane Harman. Watch it live right here.
More Money for Missile Defense? Andrea Shalal-Esa reports for Reuters that "The U.S. Defense Department plans to ask Congress for $4.5 billion in extra missile defense funding over the next five years as part of the fiscal 2015 budget request, say congressional sources and an expert. Nearly $1 billion of that sum will pay for a new homeland defense radar to be placed in Alaska, with an additional $560 million to fund work on a new interceptor after several failed flight tests, said Riki Ellison, founder of the nonprofit Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, and two of the congressional sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly. … The request is expected to garner bipartisan support in Congress, but it may also spark questions about billions of dollars spent over the past two decades on a ‘kill vehicle’ built by the Raytheon Co that is used to hit enemy missiles and destroy them on impact." Read the full text here
He’s never had to have knee surgery and he looks amazing: G.I. Joe turns the big 5-0. The "movable fighting man" turns 50 this February (but the DOB is a little hazy.) "Joe stood for everything that was meant to be good: fighting evil, doing what’s right for people," former Hasbro CEO Alan Hassenfeld told the AP. 1964 price: $4. AP’s Chris Carola: "[Joe] remained popular until the late 1960s, as opposition to Vietnam intensified and parents shied away from military-related toys. Hasbro countered in 1970 by introducing ‘Adventure Team’ G.I. Joes that played down the military connection. Into the ’70s, G.I. Joes featured "lifelike hair" and "kung-fu grip" and were outfitted with scuba gear to save the oceans and explorer’s clothing for discovering mummies. Hasbro discontinued production later that decade. In the early 1980s, Hasbro shrank Joe to 3¾ inches, the same size as figures made popular by "Star Wars." It has stuck to that size, with the occasional issue of larger special editions." More here.