CIA chief quietly visits Ukraine; a top Marine touches the military benefits third rail; and a bit more.
- By Dan Lamothe
Dan Lamothe is an award-winning military journalist and war correspondent. He has written for Marine Corps Times and the Military Times newspaper chain since 2008, traveling the world and writing extensively about the Afghanistan war both from Washington and the war zone. He also has reported from Norway, Spain, Germany, the Republic of Georgia and while underway with the U.S. Navy. Among his scoops, Lamothe reported exclusively in 2010 that the Marine Corps had recommended that Marine Cpl. Dakota Meyer receive the Medal of Honor. This year, he was part of a team of journalists that exposed senior Marine Corps leaders' questionable involvement in legal cases, and then covering it up. A Pentagon investigation is underway in those cases., Nathaniel Sobel
By Dan Lamothe with Nathaniel Sobel
The Boston Marathon steps off today, one year after the horrific bombings that killed three people, maimed scores of others, and paralyzed a proud city with fear for several days. That, of course, has led to a variety of thoughtful news coverage of the event, which draws millions of people from all over the world each year. From the Boston Globe’s Kay Lazar and Sarah Schweitzer this morning, one day after the newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize for its breaking news coverage of the tragedy last year: "A year later, shattered bones have knitted back together, burned skin has regrown, and the survivors who lost legs are walking on prosthetic limbs. What remains for many are the relentless injuries nobody sees. While there have been remarkable stories of recovery and perseverance among the 275 wounded in the twin explosions on Marathon Day 2013, many still battle hearing loss, ringing ears, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress."
More from the Globe: "One shakes so badly from anxiety that he has a hard time working as a carpenter. Another, college freshman Sydney Corcoran of Lowell, has developed an eating disorder. Corcoran has endured leg surgeries, complications, and more surgeries, but her emotional scars run deeper. She is often on edge, startles easily, and has trouble sleeping, symptoms of PTSD. Her mother, Celeste Corcoran, was seriously injured in the blast, too, with legs so mangled both had to be amputated. ‘My legs were blown off and that’s huge,’ she said. ‘But so many more people suffer in silence because everybody looks at them and sees this whole person.’ On a day for gauging how far they have come, many of the survivors are thankful for the progress they have made in the hands of skilled and caring doctors, nurses, and therapists. Still, some have nerve damage in their legs that has not healed, and the 16 people who lost legs have had to get their prosthetics adjusted repeatedly as their residual limbs shrink.’" More here. And if you missed it, I highly recommend the Globe’s gripping series, "The Fall of the House of Tsarnaev." Read it here.
Meanwhile, the surviving suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is isolated from the rest of the world. The New York Times profiled him today. From Michael Wines and Serge F. Kovaleski: "It has been nearly a year since police officers found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in a suburban Boston backyard, hiding in a boat there, wounded by gunfire. Today he passes time in a secure federal medical facility, awaiting a November trial on charges that he helped plan and execute the Boston Marathon bombing a year ago on Tuesday, which killed three people and wounded at least 260, and a killing and kidnapping spree that forced an entire city into lockdown. Now it is his turn to be effectively walled off from the outside world, imprisoned under so-called special administrative measures approved by the United States attorney general. The restrictions are reserved for inmates considered to pose the greatest threat to others – even though, privately, federal officials say there is little of substance to suggest that Mr. Tsarnaev, 20, and his brother Tamerlan were anything but isolated, homegrown terrorists."
"A court order bars his legal advisers and family from disclosing anything he has told or written them. Court documents and a snippet of a phone conversation with his family, released before the measures were imposed, offer glimpses into his life. Last May, he told his parents in Dagestan that ‘everything is good,’ that he was eating meals of chicken and rice and that supporters had deposited about $1,000 in a bank account set up on his behalf. And he gets cards and letters: at least a thousand so far, many, his lawyers have written, from people urging him to convert to Christianity. But there are others as well, from admirers and backers who believe he is innocent." " Read the rest here.
Good Tuesday morning to you. I’m Dan Lamothe, and I’ll be bringing this Situation Report newsletter to you all week with an assist from Nathaniel Sobel. I was prepared for last night’s "Blood Moon," but alas, the cloudy weather in Washington did not cooperate. Gordon Lubold is enjoying some much-deserved time off. If you have anything you’d like to share with our newsletter, please email me at email@example.com. And If you’d like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send Gordon a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and he’ll add you on our growing distribution list. Like what you see? Tell a friend. And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you’ll say something — to Situation Report. And one more thing: Please consider following us at @DanLamothe, @glubold, and @njsobe4.
A hearty congratulations to this year’s Pulitzer Prize winners. The list was announced yesterday, and is headlined by the Washington Post and The Guardian’s coverage of leaks out of the National Security Agency by Edward Snowden. You can read the full list here. For this national security-focused newsletter, it’s also worth mentioning specifically the work of David Philipps of The Gazette of Colorado Springs, Co. His stories probed how wounded combat veterans are mistreated, zeroing in on the loss of benefits for list of several soldiers who were cut loose for minor offenses. Read them here.
The situation in Ukraine is growing more complicated by the day. They also now include the revelation that CIA Director John Brennan hung out in the nation’s capital, Kiev, over the weekend, meeting officials there as the Obama administration ponders how to help the imperiled country. From FP’s Shane Harris and John Hudson: "Brennan’s visit, which was first reported in Russian media and confirmed Monday by the White House, comes amid more calls from U.S. lawmakers to share intelligence about Russian troop movements and special operations forces with Ukraine. The intelligence agencies have been warning for weeks that a Russian military invasion of eastern Ukraine could be imminent, but concerns that Ukraine’s intelligence service is penetrated by Russian spies had kept the U.S. from sharing highly-classified intelligence that could end up in Russian hands, officials said."
"A CIA spokesman didn’t discuss the purpose of Brennan’s trip but refuted reports in the Russian press that the director had urged Ukraine to conduct military operations against Russian forces and dissidents in the eastern part of the country. ‘The claim that Director Brennan encouraged Ukrainian authorities to conduct tactical operations inside Ukraine is completely false,’ said CIA spokesman Todd Ebitz. ‘Like other senior U.S. officials, Director Brennan strongly believes that a diplomatic solution is the only way to resolve the crisis between Russia and Ukraine.’ But it’s not clear that the Obama administration has settled on entirely diplomatic means. An even more sensitive issue than intelligence sharing is Kiev’s request for U.S. military aid, on which the Obama administration has sent mixed signals. More here.
Meanwhile, Russian forces on the Ukrainian border are well positioned to sow the seeds of even more havoc in Ukraine. From FP’s Elias Groll: "What will Russian forces do once they cross the Ukrainian border? In a little-noticed and increasingly prescient report from earlier this month, analysts at the Royal United Services Institute, a defense think tank, lay out a series of scenarios spelling out possible courses of actions for Russian troops invading the eastern and southern provinces of Ukraine. While a Russian invasion of Ukraine is far from certain, recent events in Ukraine mirror events in the lead up to the stealth invasion of Crimea. And even if predictions of a Russian invasion do not come true, these scenarios provide a framework for considering Moscow’s military options."
"According the authors of the report — Igor Sutyagin, a research fellow at RUSI, and Michael Clarke, the institute’s director general — Russia has some 50,000 troops lined up against roughly 70,000 Ukrainian troops. While Ukraine possesses a numerical advantage in troops, Kiev’s forces are ‘poorly equipped and would struggle to mobilise fully.’ ‘In the event of a military clash,’ the report notes, ‘its formations would be locally outnumbered and certainly outgunned by Russian forces and their reserves.’" Read the rest here. And read the report itself here.
And about that Russian jet… You probably heard Monday that a Russian jet repeatedly buzzed a U.S. destroyer in the Black Sea over the weekend. From Reuters’ Missy Ryan: "A Russian fighter aircraft made repeated low-altitude, close-range passes near a U.S. ship in the Black Sea over the weekend, the Pentagon said on Monday, condemning the action at a time of heightened U.S.-Russian tensions over Ukraine. ‘This provocative and unprofessional Russian action is inconsistent with their national protocols and previous agreements on the professional interaction between our militaries,’ said Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. Warren said a Russian Su-24 aircraft, or Fencer, made 12 passes at low altitude near the USS Donald Cook, a destroyer that has been in the Black Sea since April 10. It appeared to be unarmed, he told reporters. The incident lasted 90 minutes and took place on Saturday evening while the U.S. ship was conducting a patrol in international waters in the western Black Sea, Warren said. The ship is now in a Romanian port. The Russian plane, accompanied by another Fencer that did not fly close to the U.S. ship, did not respond to multiple attempts by the Donald Cook to communicate with its pilot, he said." More here.
Afghanistan brain drain, Part II. Yesterday, usual Situation Report maestro Gordon Lubold had a piece on how Afghanistan was poised to lose many of the experienced U.S. diplomats there in coming months – something that certainly would affect Washington’s ability to influence the new government in Kabul. Read it here. In response, we got this from Matt Sherman, a Defense Department civilian working for the military’s operational commander in Kabul who has served multiple tours in Afghanistan for the State Department and the Pentagon. His note read in part: ‘… I wish there was some acknowledgement for those of us (though small) who have stuck it out here for a number of years. Minus time off from May 2011 – Sept 2012, I’ve been out here at the tactical, operational and strategic levels since Jan 2009. I’ve seen many commanders, ambassadors and staff come and go — but quality people keep coming out making the most of the situation they have to work with, good and bad. Do I wish some of them would have stayed for longer periods of time? Absolutely. (And there are some who probably should have left early…) Overall though I’m a proponent of multi-year tours — and agree that the mission has been impacted, to some degree, by one-year tours of duty. But many have returned or stayed over the years and remain focused on the mission.’
Corruption at Afghanistan border crossings, meanwhile, is so bad that it threatens the customs revenue on which the country depends. From FP’s Jamila Trindle this morning: "Even though the United States spent $120 million to improve the Afghan customs system over the past three years, a new report by the watchdog overseeing U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan says corruption is still the biggest threat to the import system, and it could grow. Fees and taxes on goods crossing the Afghan border make up nearly half of all the revenues (44 to 48 percent) that the Afghan government brings in. But the government could be making twice as much if fraud were eliminated, according a report released Tuesday by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). ‘Afghanistan remains poorly positioned to develop a self-sustaining economy because of corruption, mismanagement, and continuing instability along its borders,’ the report said. More here.
As the first elections loom since the United States left four years ago, Iraq is struggling to avoid splitting apart amid escalating violence and political paralysis. From the Christian Science Monitor’s Jane Arraf: "Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s foreign minister, looks out the cockpit window of a military helicopter at the thin blue waterway below – the site of one of the fiercest battles in modern history. The Russian-made chopper, part of Iraq’s tiny Air Force, winds its way along the Shatt al-Arab waterway, on the border with Iran, which has shaped the two countries’ tumultuous past. At low tide, the carcasses of destroyed oil tankers are half sunk into the ocher mud. They are rusting relics from a devastating eight-year war three decades ago that began over access to the shallow ribbon of water – Iraq’s only lane to the deep-sea waters of the Gulf. ‘When you see it on the ground, you see how sensitive these issues are … and how stupid decisions destroyed this country,’ says Mr. Zebari, a onetime Kurdish guerrilla who fought Saddam Hussein’s regime from the mountains and has been foreign minister throughout the life of postwar Iraq. ‘Since its establishment, Iraq has struggled with this issue. It’s been a victim of geography and history.’" More here.
The Marine Corps’ top enlisted leader is under fire from his own troops, and he’s trying to explain. Sgt. Maj. Mike Barrett testified before Congress last week, telling officials there that while budgets are shrinking, Marines aren’t raising concerns about their future pay or retirement compensation. "That’s not on their mind," he said. "As I talk to thousands of audiences, they want to know into whose neck do we put a boot next. "They want to know about what new equipment are we getting, are we continuing to modernize. Just because the budget sucks, does that mean we’re not going get our new gear?" Then, in a remark that appears to have confused or infuriated thousands of Marines, he appeared to argue that small pay raises would have benefits. "I truly believe it will raise discipline, he said. "You’ll have better spending habits. You won’t be so wasteful."
The comments were initially reported by Marine Corps Times here. They have generated a wave of follow-on news coverage since, and Barrett – an intense, tough-talking combat veteran with sniper experience – has sought to set the record straight. He released a letter to all Marines to the newspaper on Friday, and subsequently had it posted on the Marine Corps’ website. Posted here, it reads: "Recent reporting of my testimony may have left you with a mistaken impression that I don’t care about your quality of life and that I support lower pay for servicemembers. This is not true. Nobody wants less. But if we don’t slow the growth of our hard-earned generous compensation/benefit entitlements that we have enjoyed over the past decade, we don’t have sufficient dollars for what we need – investment in our warfighting capabilities and our wonderful Marine and family care programs."
Barrett touched on an issue that has been a political third rail for top military officials – how to handle the expanding financial burden of providing for a force that has sacrifice in war for more than a decade. He received a boost Monday from another combat veteran, U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R.-Calif., who wrote a letter backing the sergeant major. It reads in part: "I know that you are an uncompromising defender of the Marines you represent. I know that you care deeply for the men and women of the Marine Corps and have tirelessly advocated for their well-being at every opportunity. I also know that you are not calling for lower pay for service personnel and in no way have your remarks been construed among myself or many of my colleagues to mean that the Marine Corps requires even less funding in the future." Read the rest here.