Situation Report

Eric Fanning takes over at the Air Force; Big changes at the Pentagon’s policy shop; America’s Syria strategy, MIA?; Brass ones: Attorney seeks testimony from Amos; Stavridis on creating a cyber force; Panetta on Gandolfini, and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Eric Fanning takes over at the Air Force. At least temporarily. Air Force Chief of Staff Mike Donley, the longest serving Air Force secretary, steps down today in a departure announced April 26. And Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter will preside over a farewell ceremony at Andrews ...

By Gordon Lubold

Eric Fanning takes over at the Air Force. At least temporarily. Air Force Chief of Staff Mike Donley, the longest serving Air Force secretary, steps down today in a departure announced April 26. And Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter will preside over a farewell ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base later today. Although one or two candidates have been rumored to replace him, no one expects a new secretary to be in place until fall, Situation Report is told. For now, Air Force Undersecretary Eric Fanning, sworn in April 29, will serve in an acting capacity until a successor to Donley is named.

Fanning will be the highest-ranking openly gay defense official. Air Force Association’s Dick Newton, to Situation Report, this morning: "Acting Secretary Eric Fanning is a solid choice as Undersecretary and I expect he will serve well in the meantime as acting secretary." Read The Advocate’s piece on the highest ranking gay officer, an AF two-star.  

Donley’s last day in the building was yesterday. He was given a Panetta-style walk-out, as Air Force staff and others applauded him as he left the building around noon Thursday.

Kath Hicks is leaving soon. The No. 2 policy chief at the Pentagon is headed out July 2, Situation Report is told, in a departure that was long expected to occur at some point this year.  What’s interesting is how she’ll be replaced in the interim while her permanent replacement is identified and confirmed. Situation Report is told this morning that Elissa Slotkin, now the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs, will move into the Policy office in the suite across from Policy Chief Jim Miller, to be Miller’s acting No. 2. But when Miller is on vacation or otherwise out of town, it will be assistant secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet who will fill in, Situation Report is told. "During this time of transition, Syria, the continued rebalance to Asia, [the policy shop] will have a tight team together that has worked well together and is respected in the building," a defense official tells Situation Report.

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There is frustration across the agencies and in Congress over Syria. Last week’s announcement that the Obama administration would begin direct military aid to the Syrian opposition did little to help combat the impression among critics that the administration lacked a coherent strategy for Syria. As a result, the administration’s policy on Syria seems to be very much a work in progress, with State reportedly pushing for airstrikes, the Pentagon less than enthusiastic, and other agencies frustrated that there is no clear vision for the way ahead. Thoughtful people agree there are few good options when it comes to White House policy on Syria. But what has made the problem worse, individuals on all sides say, is that the Syrian conflict has been unfolding for more than two years as the administration seemed to dither, hoping against hope that the rebels could overthrow the Assad regime all by themselves. That’s allowed differences in opinion to spill into public view, and created an impression that the Obama administration lacks any coherent plan. "If you’re going to be on the pointy end of the spear, regardless of where that is… knowing you’re going in with the full political support of the national leadership is critical," one Congressional staffer told Situation Report. "Who can argue that that exists right now?"

And an administration official tells Situation Report there is frustration that there is no organization, no structure, to deal with the problem: "I really am saddened by the fact that 2 ½ years into this, we don’t have an interagency task force that is effective, efficient and organized," said one administration official. Read the rest, here.

Meet Shelly O’Neill Stoneman, B.J. Garrison and Valerie Miller. The three serve in the Defense Department’s White House Liaison Office (known as WHLO or "way-Lo" in Pentagon vernacular) and help to place some 280 political appointees in the department, from Senate-confirmed senior officials to SES appointees, action officers and special assistants appointed by the White House. In the normal "on-ramping, off-ramping" of appointees during transitions, like the one now still underway as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hits his stride, the office is expected to play a large role as it helps to identify candidates to fill in those slots. The WHLO is poised for power: its offices are on the third deck of the E-Ring, near the office suites of Hagel and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. "Both Secretary Panetta and now Secretary Hagel have increasingly relied on the WHLO to maintain continued, strong connectivity to the White House, particularly White House Cabinet Affairs, and to run innovative programs such as the Defense Fellows Program," we’re told by a defense official. Shelly Stoneman, an SES appointee and special assistant to the Defense Secretary, has led the WHLO for the last two years. Stoneman came to the Pentagon in May 2011 after a stint at the White House’s legislative affairs office, where she was responsible for defense and national security legislative matters, from the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, to detention policy reform, counterterrorism operations and cyber security. Bishop "B.J." Garrison, a former Army officer who served two one-year terms in Iraq, is WHLO’s deputy, and Valerie Miller, a former Defense Fellow who worked on former secretary Bob Gates’ advance team, is a special assistant in the office.

July 1 will be Susan Rice’s first day as National Security Adviser. The Cable’s John Hudson reports that Susan Rice will clean out her U.N. office in New York and head to D.C. to begin as NSA July 1. Hudson: "Meanwhile, the goodbye to staff for outgoing National Security Advisor Tom Donilon is a week from Friday. Technically, his last day is on Saturday, June 29. The national security advisor position doesn’t necessarily bring with it a fiefdom of underlings: Rice will presumably hire an assistant and an executive assistant — and there’s no sign yet that current National Security Council deputies, Tony Blinken and Ben Rhodes, are going anywhere. ‘Ben and Tony are very close with Susan,’ Tommy Vietor, former NSC spokesman, told The Cable recently."

Panetta expresses his condolences for the death of the man who played him on the big screen. Former SecDef Leon Panetta issued a statement to reporters through his former right-hand-man, Jeremy Bash, on the news that the actor James Gandolfini had died, of an apparent heart attack, in Italy, this week. Panetta: "James Gandolfini was a friend and a great actor. He wrote me after portraying me last year, which was a great thrill and honor. I told him I was glad an Italian played me – swear words and all.  We laughed together at the fact that tough guys can have a heart of gold.  He did, and we will miss him." Gandolfini, clearly most famous for his portrayal of troubled mob boss Tony Soprano, also played a subdued version of the gregarious Panetta in Zero Dark Thirty.

The defense attorney in the Taliban urination case wants Amos and other top brass to testify. The Marine Corps Times reports that a military judge will hear arguments today on a motion to have Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, Lt. Gen. Tom Waldhauser, now Hagel’s senior military assistant, and Lt. Gen. Richard Mills, who heads the Corps’ Combat Development Command, testify in the case in which Marines are charged with urinating on the bodies of insurgents killed in Afghanistan. Reporter Hope Hodge: "The motion was filed by attorney Guy Womack, who represents Sgt. Robert Richards, one of four Marine scout snipers filmed two years ago urinating on dead Taliban fighters. Womack said he believes [Amos] exerted unlawful command influence to prejudice Marines against his client even before formal charges were brought."

Out of uniform: Jim Stavridis, writing on FP, argues for why DOD needs a "cyber force." Recently retired former Supreme Allied Commander and European Command chief Jim Stavridis argues on FP for the creation of a new cyber force. Stavridis, who starts at Tufts’ Fletcher School next month: Throughout the long decades of my military career, the backbone of U.S. national security was the "strategic triad" of delivery systems for nuclear weapons: ballistic-missile submarines and their associated nuclear-tipped missiles, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles operated from silos deep in the earth, and long-range manned bombers, which could deliver nuclear bombs and eventually nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

America’s reliance on this Cold War triad continues through the present day, though the systems have changed somewhat as a result of both advances in technology and changes in treaty limits, most recently reflected in the New START treaty. As we sail more deeply into the turbulent 21st century, however, there is another triad that bears considering that will be a critical part of U.S. security in the decades to come. This new triad will be far less abstract and hidden-away than the Cold War strategic triad and much more frequently employed — often in kinetic ways." And: "Finally, and potentially most powerfully, there is the world of offensive cyber capability that is just beginning to emerge. This part of the New Triad has the potential to operate with devastating effect, possibly able to paralyze an opponent’s electric grid, transportation network, financial centers, energy supplies, and the like." Read the rest, here.

The NSA keeps your secrets. Killer Apps’ Shane Harris and John Reed, on what the latest documents leaked show: "The National Security Agency has promised over and over again that it only spies on foreigners, and throws out ordinary communications if they’re caught in the surveillance driftnet. But a pair of newly-leaked documents appear to undermine that claim. They include provisions that let the electronic spy agency hang onto some communications of Americans for several years – and in the meantime, allow the NSA to share information about U.S. citizens and legal residents to the CIA and the FBI. And if the government suspects that an American might commit a crime or spy for a foreign power some day, those records can be kept, too." Read the rest, here.

The skinny on China’s interest in peace talks with the Taliban. The brouhaha this week over peace talks and Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s suspending of them was a blow, albeit temporarily, to Washington. But it also represented a setback for Beijing. As Andrew Small writes on FP, China had welcomed the breakthrough in the Qatar process and sees political settlement in Afghanistan as critically important to its own economic and security interests in the region. Small: "As a result, China’s support for reconciliation between Kabul and the Taliban has become a fixture of its burgeoning diplomatic activity on Afghanistan’s post-2014 future. Over the last year, China has been expanding its direct contacts with the Taliban and sounding them out on security issues that range from separatist groups in the Chinese region of Xinjiang to the protection of Chinese resource investments, according to interviews with officials and experts in Beijing, Washington, Kabul, Islamabad, and Peshawar. While Beijing would like to see the reconciliation talks succeed in preventing Afghanistan from falling back into civil war, it is not counting on their success, and thus is preparing to deal with whatever constellation of political forces emerges in Afghanistan after the United States withdraws. "Read the rest, here.


  • NYT: Taliban talks could depend on detainees.
  • U.S. News: Protests could come from Army’s search for new rifle.
  • Charles Clymer: Presidential appointee blasts West Point over sexual harassment.
  • The Atlantic: Snowden and Booz: how privatizing leads to crony corruption.



 Twitter: @glubold

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