Could the Navy Yard shooting have been avoided?; A Sinclair morality play; A "Chilly Rivalry?" with Russia; A class act leaves the Pentagon; 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.
An unreleased report on the Army’s intel system known as DCGS-A shows an alternative to the troubled program isn’t so bad after all, FP learns. Our story, with FP’s own Shane Harris: The Army has spent years defending a multibillion-dollar intelligence system that critics say costs too much and does too little. A new internal report has found that there’s a simple, relatively inexpensive program that could handle many of the same jobs at a fraction of the cost. For the past eight months, though, the Pentagon has kept the report hidden away.
Members of Congress have been asking Defense Department officials to send them the assessment, a copy of which was obtained by Foreign Policy, but the Pentagon has yet to do so. At issue is the Army’s Distributed Common Ground System, expected to cost nearly $11 billion over 30 years and built by a consortium of major Beltway contractors, including Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and General Dynamics. The system is meant to give troops on the ground an easy way to collect intelligence about terrorists and enemy fighters, and then create detailed reports and maps that they can share with each other to plan and conduct operations. But critics — and even some troops — have long complained that the system doesn’t actually work. They say it’s too slow and hard to use, and that it has left them searching for alternatives in the war zone.
The system’s high cost and technical failings prompted a search for other options. Palantir Technologies, a fast-growing Silicon Valley firm, told the Pentagon that its off-the-shelf systems could accomplish most of the same tasks but cost far less — millions, rather than billions. The Marine Corps, Special Operations forces, the CIA, and a host of other government agencies already use it. Army officials, though, said Palantir wasn’t up to the job. Now, a 57-page report by the Pentagon’s acquisitions arm basically says the Army was wrong to dismiss the Palantir system. The study instead gives Palantir high marks on most of the Army’s 20 key requirements for the intelligence system, including the ability to analyze large amounts of information, including critical data about terrorist networks and the locations of explosive devices, and synchronize it in a way that helps troops on the ground combat their enemies more effectively.
The report is likely to sharpen concerns about the Distributed Common Ground System, which has been facing mounting criticism on Capitol Hill. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), one of many long-time detractors, had asked the Pentagon for its findings as recently as last month.
Rep. Jim Moran to FP: "It’s a scandal that commercially available, battlefield-proven technology is ready to go at a fraction of the billions of dollars the Pentagon is spending to build a similar analysis tool in-house. I appreciate [Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics] Frank Kendall taking this issue seriously, and look forward to hopefully resolving it once and for all when the long overdue report’s findings are finally released." Read the rest of this story here.
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NYT: If it’s not a return to a Cold War, it’s a return to a "chilly rivalry." The NYT’s Peter Baker on Page One: "A month ago, most Americans could not have found Crimea on a map. But its lightning-quick takeover by Moscow has abruptly redrawn the geopolitical atlas and may have decisively ended a 25-year period of often tumultuous yet also constructive relations between the United States and Russia. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Washington and Moscow had struggled to replace their Cold War rivalry with a new form of partnership, one that was tested by crisis after crisis but that endured in its own peculiar way. After each rupture, whether over Kosovo or Iraq or Georgia, came another reset that put the two powers back onto an uneasy equilibrium.
"The decision by President Vladimir V. Putin to snatch Crimea away from Ukraine, celebrated in a defiant treaty-signing ceremony in the Kremlin on Tuesday, threatens to usher in a new, more dangerous era. If it is not the renewed Cold War that some fear, it seems likely to involve a sustained period of confrontation and alienation that will be hard to overcome. The next reset, if there ever is one, for the moment appears far off and far-fetched." Read the rest here.
Bad Romance: What will become of France’s $1.7 billion warship deal with Russia? FP’s Dan Lamothe: "French officials have spent years defending a $1.7 billion arms sale to Russia, a deal Paris won after beating out rival nations like Germany and Spain. The United States and its Baltic allies have spent just as long warning that selling powerful amphibious warships to the Kremlin risked giving Russian strongman Vladimir Putin powerful new weapons to use against his neighbors.
"With Russia showing no signs of ending its military occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, the deal is suddenly facing new scrutiny. French President Francois Hollande said Saturday that France will review its military cooperation with Russia if Moscow doesn’t begin to pull its forces from Crimea and drop its threats against Ukraine’s fragile central government. The tough language was a first for the French leader: Hollande had previously given no indication that he was willing to suspend or cancel the deal. Earlier this month, in fact, he said it was still on track. Barring something unforeseen, the first French-built ship, the Vladivostok, will be delivered to Russia this fall. The second is under construction in France." More here.
"Missed opportunities for intervention": The Navy Yard shootings might have been prevented. The WaPo’s Ernesto Londono and Christian Davenport: "The Defense Department is likely to reduce the number of employees who hold security clearances by at least 10 percent and has vowed to overhaul the way it screens personnel, officials said Tuesday as they released the results of several inquiries into the Sept. 16 mass shooting at the Navy Yard.
The reviews offered a damning assessment of the department’s ability to monitor the trustworthiness and reliability of a workforce that grew exponentially in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. They also made clear that the Pentagon has issued security clearances to many employees and contractors who are not required to access classified information in the course of their jobs. Investigators found that Navy personnel and supervisors who later employed gunman Aaron Alexis as a defense contractor "missed opportunities for intervention" that could have barred the former sailor from retaining a secret security clearance and unfettered access to military installations.
Hagel on the review: "The reviews identified troubling gaps in the Department of Defense’s ability to detect, prevent and respond to instances where someone working with us decides to inflict harm on this institution and its people." Read the rest of the WaPo story, including an interesting graphic, here.
Transcript of Hagel and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus from yesterday here.
Fish, it’s what’s fir dinner. At the Pentagon last night, Hagel hosted National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, an annual affair. The dinner conversation was "frank, open and serious," we’re told by a senior defense official. "It focused on the situation in Ukraine and how that situation impacted the Alliance, NATO-Russian cooperation, and European security." The four also discussed the upcoming NATO Summit this fall. On the menu? Fish, we’re told.
Speaking of which, is NATO back? The NYT’s Steven Erlanger: "Russia’s annexation of Crimea has suddenly revived the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s central role as a counterweight to Moscow, and with it questions about the alliance’s options and ability to act. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. swept into Poland and the Baltic nations on Tuesday with a message of reassurance that their membership in NATO carries the protection of the United States. But given deep Western reluctance to use military force in response to Russia’s aggression, it remains unclear what the alliance’s commitment to collective security means for Ukraine and other nonmembers should President Vladimir V. Putin continue to try to expand Moscow’s influence in the former Soviet bloc…
Since the Ukraine crisis began, the United States, in the context of the alliance, has sent more F-16 fighters to Poland and F-15 fighters to the Baltics. It has begun Airborne Warning and Control System, or Awacs, flights over the Polish and Romanian borders, and has ordered more exercises with warships in the Black Sea…
Jan Techau of Carnegie Europe: "The Ukraine crisis "is a complete reminder of why NATO is useful… If NATO were not in place, this would be a real existential struggle for Eastern and Western Europe, and it isn’t." More here.
No drawing outside the lines: The Pentagon will not redraw cocom boundaries. Defense News’ Marcus Weisgerber: "The Pentagon is not looking to redraw the boundaries of its geographical war-fighting commands, but is exploring the possibility of realigning forces around the world, a senior US military official said Tuesday. The Defense Department had been looking at a major reorganization of the combatant commands (COCOMs) for more than a year, however that effort lost steam in recent months, according to sources. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last summer that budget cuts might force DoD to cut a COCOM. ‘On the heels of the concern around that world that the US may be doing less, the last thing … we want to do right now is kind of add more uncertainty there,’ Rear Adm. Ron Boxall, deputy director of joint strategic planning on the Joint Staff, said Tuesday during a presentation at a Precision Strike Association conference in Springfield, Va. ‘Does that mean we won’t look at that in the future? No, we will continue.’ More here.
Karzai picks a former Northern Alliance leader as Veep. The NYT’s Matthew Rosenberg: " Moving to preserve the political and ethnic balance at the top of his government, President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday nominated a prominent former Northern Alliance figure to fill the vice-presidential post left vacant by the death of Muhammad Qasim Fahim last week. The nominee, Yunus Qanooni, is – like his predecessor – an ethnic Tajik who rose to prominence through the old Northern Alliance, which resisted the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in the 1990s. Mr. Qanooni served as interior minister after the ouster of the Taliban government in 2001, and was widely seen as a political rival of Mr. Karzai. But there was little expectation that Mr. Qanooni could fill the void left by Mr. Fahim, who was among the country’s most powerful and influential figures before he died of a heart attack on March 9." More here.
A class act departs the Pentagon. Longtime Pentagon correspondent Thom Shanker, who has covered the building for the NYT for 13 years, is leaving the beat. Shanker, known for being one of the most gracious and magnanimous reporters on what he has called "the best job in journalism," was treated to a farewell late yesterday at the Pentagon briefing room. Hagel even dropped by and gave Shanker a pair of made-in-the-USA gym socks. We won’t violate the off-the-record nature of such events, but suffice it to say that colleagues gathered to say nice things about Shanker. The WSJ’s Julian Barnes talked about his qualities as a gentleman reporter, always willing to help others, give credit to others’ work when it’s due, and be polite when reporting the truth. But it’s Shanker’s refrain as a reporter that most strikes us. He often says that "the truth lies in constant reporting." That’s a good reminder in this age of reporting-on-the-cheap and reporters who surf the Internet instead of actually walking the beat.
Read this speech Shanker gave at Stanford in 2007 on covering the wars and why some think getting lost is worse than being killed, here.
From a memo by NYT Washington bureau chief Carolyn Ryan: "As you know, the Washington bureau boasts one of the strongest editing desks at The New York Times. And it is about to get even stronger. Thom Shanker, a gifted and intrepid Pentagon correspondent for the last 13 years – who has covered the beat during 9/11, two wars, and four secretaries of defense – will join our desk as weekend editor. Thom’s savvy and smart judgment will help guide our coverage, and be of great benefit to us on the weekends, when it often seems the world is exploding or about to explode." We wish Thom well.
Malaysia, learning to let go. The WSJ’s Mark Magnier, Trefor Moss and Jake Maxwell Watts: "Malaysian authorities began ceding some control of the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 to several other nations after operations in some areas ground to a halt for lack of guidance. Few doubt the challenges involved in a search that now encompasses 2.24 million square nautical miles, 26 nations, and a mystery over what happened to the flight after it vanished from radar March 8. But confusion over the effort spread Tuesday, with several nations, including India, Thailand, Japan and Indonesia, saying they had ships and aircraft sitting idle while they awaited instructions from Kuala Lumpur, which has been overseeing the international operation.
"…Some aviation experts welcomed Malaysia’s more-decentralized approach. "They are beginning to do what they should be doing," said David Learmount, an aviation security and safety expert with Flightglobal, a trade publication. But for some others, the delays signaled the task may be too big for the midsize country to manage. ‘No one wants to find the plane more than the Malaysians, but they need to streamline their crisis management,’ said Singapore Management University professor Bridget Welsh." More here.
Morality play: Soldiers staged a skit based on the Sinclair affair – for Sinclair. AP’s Jeffrey Collins: "Suspicions of an Army general’s extramarital affair with a subordinate had circulated widely enough that soldiers portrayed the two in a sexually suggestive skit at a 2010 party, according to witness testimony Tuesday. Lt. Col. Benjamin Bigelow testified at a sentencing hearing that the skit was performed during a party at which Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair was being honored in Germany. It involved a soldier dressed up as Sinclair and a soldier dressed as a woman in a brown wig to represent the captain who was his primary accuser, Bigelow testified… During the skit, the character in the wig ‘moved in front of the Sinclair character’s crotch and offered to do something for him,’ Bigelow said. ‘There was absolutely no question.’ Bigelow said Sinclair’s wife attended the party and was "clearly shocked, angered and dismayed." He said the accuser was not at the party." More here.
Naval Academy sexual assault trial begins, and a prosecutor said a midshipman laughed off sexual assault. Reuters’ Tom Ramstack: "A former U.S. Naval Academy football player laughed off his suspected sexual assault of a woman midshipman who had passed out at an alcohol-fueled party, a prosecutor said at the start of the man’s trial on Tuesday. In the case, among a spate of sexual misconduct allegations in the U.S. armed forces, Midshipman Joshua Tate from Nashville, Tennessee, is the only one to be court-martialed among three Academy football players initially accused of assaulting the woman in April 2012. During opening arguments, Navy prosecutor Lieutenant Commander Ryan Stormer said that after the woman passed out, Tate ‘made the decision to do exactly what he wanted to do.’ Not until the next day did the woman realize she had been sexually assaulted, he said. When the woman confronted Tate about their alleged encounter, ‘everything to him was a big laughing matter,’ Stormer said. ‘He laughingly told her yes, we did have sex.’ More here.