Situation Report

Syria’s red line, crossed; Top brass still skeptical of arming the rebels; Don’t get this Aussie angry; Why Obama will get an earful in Germany over the NSA; The Marines are pumped about the Israeli MOD’s arrival today; and just a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Red line, crossed: The U.S. moves to arm Syrian rebels. The Obama administration said yesterday it would at last arm Syrian rebels in their bid to topple the Assad regime. Administration officials yesterday afternoon cited clear evidence that the Syrian government had at different times used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent ...

By Gordon Lubold

Red line, crossed: The U.S. moves to arm Syrian rebels. The Obama administration said yesterday it would at last arm Syrian rebels in their bid to topple the Assad regime. Administration officials yesterday afternoon cited clear evidence that the Syrian government had at different times used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, killing as many as 150 people, and thus had crossed the "red line" President Barack Obama had said would trigger a more focused U.S. response. American officials confirmed the CIA would coordinate all direct military assistance to the Syrian rebels. Meanwhile, brass in the U.S. military continue to harbor deep reservations about the project. See below.

Is a no-fly zone far behind? While the administration has been wary about creating a no-fly zone for Syria, the WSJ reports that plans for a "limited no-fly zone" appear to be underway. Officials told the Journal that the no-fly zone would stretch as far as 25 miles inside Syria, with planes flown from inside airbases in Jordan. Such a no-fly zone would help to keep Syrian aircraft away from training areas in Jordan, where both Syrians have taken refuge from the war and where Syrian rebels train.  U.S. officials told the Journal the limited no-fly zone would not require the destruction of Syrian antiaircraft batteries, as some believed have argued for in creating such a zone. "Officials said the White House could decide to authorize the U.S. to arm and train rebels in Jordan without authorizing the no-fly zone recommended by military planners. A White House announcement could come soon, officials said."

The Pentagon has been resistant to support a no-fly zone. The fear is that it would amount to a salvo that would quickly deepen the U.S. military’s role. The zone itself could be seen as an act of war, or at least a provocative move: shooting down a Syrian aircraft that ran afoul of the no-fly zone would put the U.S. squarely at war with Syria. Early on, the Pentagon had weighed proposals from outside analysts, who’d argued that the U.S. or allies should target Syria’s early warning radars and SA-5 sites to establish air superiority, creating a "space" for Syrian rebels. But this kind of course of action would put the U.S. military on a slippery slope and could soon confront decisions about targeting Syrian ground forces. Still, after months of teeth gnashing, creating a no-fly zone of some sort seemed to be within the realm of possibility, even if White House officials wouldn’t speak directly to it.

The White House’s Ben Rhodes:  "I’d also note that both the United States and the international community have other legal, financial, diplomatic and military responses available to us.  We’ve prepared for many contingencies within Syria.  We are going to make decisions about further action on our own timeline."

Much of the U.S. military’s brass remain wary about arming rebels, too. "The concern with arming the opposition is that there is no way to ensure their safeguarding and recovery procedures in the event the weapons are stolen or lost and end up in the wrong hands," one senior officer told Situation Report. "For both proposed courses of action, they will only achieve tactical effects and not change the strategic picture."

And is it all too little, too late? The NYT: "But even with the decision to supply lethal aid, the Obama administration remains deeply divided about whether to take more forceful action to try to quell the fighting, which has killed more than 90,000 people over more than two years. Many in the American government believe that the military balance has tilted so far against the rebels in recent months that American shipments of arms to select groups may be too little, too late."

Welcome to the "Happy 238th Birthday, Army" edition of Situation Report. 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.

Hagel will meet Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon at the Pentagon today… after Ya’alon hops off an MV-22 Osprey at the Pentagon heli-pad. Naturally, the Marines are pumped up to be showing the Israeli MOD their Osprey. He’ll get a whole demonstration today around 3pm, when he lands. Hagel, meanwhile, will be meeting with all his combatant commanders today at the Pentagon.

It’s no wonder why he’s so interested in MV-22s. Ya’alon wants the U.S. government to guarantee billions of dollars in low-interest "bridge loans" for a package of V-22 Ospreys, F-15 radars and precision-strike weaponry, all proposed by the Pentagon, that Israel ultimately intends to fund with future military aid from the U.S., Defense News reports today. 

Listen up! Don’t make this man angry. As the U.S. military grapples with the problem of sexual assault, Australian Army is having its own issues. A number of soldiers have allegedly sent e-mails with "highly inappropriate material" that degrade female soldiers. A number of soldiers face suspension of discipline or suspension. But make no mistake: Lt. Gen. David Morrison, the head of the Australian Army, is genuinely fuming. He released a stern message to his charges in a video this week that, as a one friend to Situation Report noted yesterday, makes some American military brass’ outrage on the issue seem a bit, well, weak. Morrison: "…if this is true, then the actions of these men are in direct contradiction to every value that the Australian army stands for. By now, I am sure you know my attitude towards this type of conduct. I have stated categorically many times that the army has to be an inclusive organization in which every soldier, man and woman, is able to reach their full potential and is encouraged to do so. Those who think that it is OK to behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues, have no place in this army… if that does not suit you, then get out. You may find another employer where your attitude and behavior is acceptable, but I doubt it."

And: "I will be ruthless in ridding the army of people who cannot live up to its values, and I want every one of you to support me in achieving this… If you’re not up to it, find something else to do with your life. There is no place for you amongst this band of brothers and sisters." Worth the watch, here.

Today, a current CIA officer will bring a lawsuit that "hints at the existence of a secret overseas paramilitary operation that triggered war crimes allegations." The Cable’s John Hudson writes today in an exclusive tease that a CIA officer by the name of "John Doe," an undercover paramilitary officer, will file suit against the CIA for "unreasonable delay" of an Inspector General investigation into "alleged war crimes committed in an overseas location." Hudson: "According to his lawyer Mark Zaid, Doe was engaged in ‘offensive operations against indi
viduals designated or viewed as enemies of the United States.’ His client believes he did nothing wrong, according to Zaid, but witnessed events that ‘concerned him.’ Zaid declined to outline what those concerning events might be." Read the rest here.

Big Brother doesn’t scare Rosa Brooks half as much as Amazon does. As outraged as some Americans are about disclosures that the NSA is trawling for information on their phone records or Internet activity, the fact is that the private sector already knows tons of stuff about Americans’ activities. Today, FP’s Brooks looks at the 12 ways Americans have already given up their privacy. Her lede: Here’s the headline of the week: A lot of people know a lot about me. By that, I do not mean that I am famous, though I have my fans. (Hi, Mom!) I’m referring to the latest round of Big Brother revelations. The government knows whom I call. It knows whom I email. It knows all kinds of stuff about me. NSA, join the club. As I said, a lot of people know a lot about me. Let’s list and categorize some of those people and some of the things they know: One: My friends know a lot about me. Some of them have known me since elementary school. Collectively, they know about my bad 1980s hairstyle, my ill-advised romances, and a handful of youthful experiments with illegal substances. Anyone one of them could spread the word about any of this at any time. I live in fear. Read the rest, here.

Is Snowden an agent of the Chinese? House Intelligence Committee members want to know if NSA leaker Edward Snowden is working for a foreign intelligence service. They’re guessing China, maybe. FP’s John Reed reports.

Rep. Mike Rogers, chair of the House intelligence committee after a closed-door briefing with NSA chief, Gen. Keith Alexander. "He’s already done serious harm and he’s stating things that are, candidly, not correct. Clearly, we’re going to make sure that there’s a thorough scrub of what his China connections are, and there’s a lot of questions there that seem unusual."

But Sen. Saxby Chambliss isn’t so sure: "…we have no indication that [Snowden] is connected with the Chinese." 

Snowden Fallout Department: Dianne Feinstein might want to bar contractors from highly sensitive information. Senate Intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein told reporters yesterday that she is considering drafting legislation that would limit the intelligence community’s band of private contractors from having access to "highly classified technical data." Senate intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein today told reporters she is considering drafting legislation that would limit the Intelligence Community’s virtual army of private contractors access to "highly classified technical data." Reed: "The California Democrat’s comments were made to reporters following a closed-door briefing on the leak of top secret documents revealing the NSA’s collection of telephone and Internet traffic metadata on U.S. soil. The leaker, as the world now knows, was Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee turned IT contractor to the NSA." His story, here.

Obama will get an earful about NSA spying in Germany. As Obama heads to Germany next week, he’s expected to hear a whole bunch about what the Germans think about the NSA surveillance programs disclosed by Edward Snowden over the last week. FP’s Christian Caryl writes: "A leading German data protection official is telling German Internet users to avoid American companies like Facebook and Google, since, he says, all of the data in their networks is likely to be scooped up for use by U.S. intelligence. A German parliamentarian says that the revelations about the extent of National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance remind him of the Stasi, the old East German secret police. (Let’s leave aside, for the moment, the point that European governments still do plenty of spying of their own, and intrude in the lives of their citizens in ways that many Americans would find repugnant.)

Why are the Germans so touchy about spying? It’s got to do with something called history. Caryl: "There was that singular unpleasantness with the Gestapo a few years back, of course — but for all its crimes the Nazi secret police was actually a fairly small organization that depended heavily on a wide net of enthusiastic informers within a broadly regime-loyal population. And then there’s the horrifying tale of East Germany’s Ministerium fuer Staatssicherheit, the Ministry for State Security, known more widely by the abbreviated version of its name — the Stasi. It was this agency that was responsible for building up what was probably the most expansive surveillance state in history."

Noting

  • The New Yorker: Is Obama too late on Syria? 
  • National Journal: Major battles in the House Armed Services Committee. 
  • Time: Weighing the wisdom of women in combat.
  • The Atlantic: What about the fact that terrorists want to murder us all?
  • Breaking Defense: Will Europe ever build its own fifth generation fighter?
  • Military Times: Unmanned Marine helo crashes in Afghanistan.
  • Stripes: Wilkerson had an affair that produced a child, Air Force confirms.    

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