Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

Not so fast: House fails to rein in NSA; Abe Abrams to Hagel’s front office; Help still wanted in the Pentagon; Salmon alert: slow down on the F-35; Today: A Little guidance on DOD public affairs; Weiner to the AF? and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold  The House approved a spending bill that would give the Pentagon about $600 billion next year, and it killed a measure aimed to rein in NSA surveillance programs. And, it prohibits funding for Egypt, Syria. Defense News’ John Bennett: "The chamber’s 2014 defense appropriations bill, approved on a 315-109 vote, includes about ...

By Gordon Lubold 

By Gordon Lubold 

The House approved a spending bill that would give the Pentagon about $600 billion next year, and it killed a measure aimed to rein in NSA surveillance programs. And, it prohibits funding for Egypt, Syria. Defense News’ John Bennett: "The chamber’s 2014 defense appropriations bill, approved on a 315-109 vote, includes about $512.5 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget and around $82 billion for overseas operations. The base budget figure is about $3 billion less than the White House requested. Some of the most dramatic moments of the two days of floor debates came late Wednesday afternoon when the House addressed amendments to limit the National Security Agency’s controversial spying program, place restrictions on US aid to Egypt, and put strings on dollars eligible for use to pay for a Syria military intervention. Members sparred for nearly a half-hour over the most-anticipated amendment of the process, offered by tea party GOP Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan and liberal Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, as well as other members. Republicans bashed Republicans, further exposing a divide that began in 2010 between the parties’ tea party privacy hawks and the old-school national security hawks. But Democrats joined the privacy side arguing for the Amash amendment; and in a twist, conservative Rep. Michele Bachman, R-Minn., defended President Barack Obama’s use of the NSA programs." Read the rest, here.

There was some other stuff in the bill, too. The House defense bill also stops the Pentagon from training Afghans to fly Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters, Inside Defense reported, and it prohibits more furloughs for civilian workers. The bill included an amendment that passed that was submitted by Reps. Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut, and Jim Moran, the Democrat from Virginia, that states that no funds "may be obligated or expended to train the Afghan National Security Forces Special Mission Wing to operate or maintain Mi-17 helicopters," Inside Defense reported. "The House ‘has again made clear its objection to continued Pentagon purchases of helicopters from the Russian arms dealer Rosoboronexport for the Afghan [SMW]," according to a statement from DeLauro’s office. And, the bill bars furloughs for civilian workers in 2014, Army Times reported. Rick Maze: "Passed by voice vote as an amendment to the 2014 defense appropriations bill, the legislation sponsored by Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., prohibits the Defense Department from spending any money to implement civilian furloughs beginning Oct. 1, 2013. Lamborn said the vote is ‘a first step toward restoring sanity to the defense budget and restoring pay to our nation’s civilian defense workers.’"

Welcome to Thursday’s 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.

The right way versus the wrong way: Amid the Pentagon’s budget crunch, there will be more talk of reforming the military’s retirement system. The Strategic Studies Institute of the Army’s War College is out with some ideas about how to make changes to the military retirement system – all of which seems inevitable, in some way – but doing so smartly.. A synopsis, here (thanks Doctrine Man, for the point-out on FB):  "The current military retirement system has been integral to sustaining the All Volunteer Force (AVF). Mounting federal budget challenges, however, have raised concern that the program may become fiscally unsustainable. While several restructuring proposals have emerged, none have considered the implications of these changes to the broader issue of manning an AVF. Changes to the existing system could create military personnel shortfalls, adversely affect service member and retiree well-being, and reduce public confidence in the Armed Forces. With the right analytical framework in place, however, a more holistic system restructuring is possible, one that avoids these negative effects while significantly reducing costs. A comprehensive framework is provided, as well as a proposal that stands to benefit both service members in terms of value and the military in terms of overall cost savings." Actually read the report, by Roy Wallace, Lt. Col. David Lyle and John Smith, here.

Thems are fightin’ words:  thinking differently on the F-35. Third Way is out with a paper later today that argues for some common sense when it comes to an acquisition program that could top $1.5 trillion. Third Way’s Ben Freeman and Mieke Eoyang argue for ending "concurrency in acquisition in testing" and for slowing down purchases of the F-35 until the plane can be fully tested. "There is no immediate threat to the U.S. that justifies buying more F-35s before testing is complete," the report says. "Our current fleet of fighters is superior to any force on the planet, both in numbers and capabilities. The Air Force has over 100 operational F-22s, the most-technologically superior aircraft currently operated by any nation, and hundreds of upgraded fourth-generation aircraft that rival any foreign aircraft fleet." Read the report here.

Abe Abrams, soon to be in as Hagel’s top military assistant.  Maj. Gen. Robert "Abe" Abrams – that’s right, the son of that Gen. Abrams – is moving on up, Situation Report has learned. Fresh from his tour in southern Afghanistan with 3rd Infantry Division, he is expected to be nominated to become Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s next senior military assistant. He’ll be replacing Tom Waldhauser, a Marine three-star, who in turn is expected to be nominated to be the J-7 (the director of Joint Force Development). Waldhauser, thought to be steady and unflappable, is well regarded. But it wasn’t a surprise that as Hagel got settled in, he would want to pick his own military assistant. Hagel does not have a longstanding relationship with Abrams, but he comes highly recommended by other senior officers, so Hagel gave him the nod. Waldhauser, who commanded the 15th MEU, one of the first Marine units in Afghanistan in 2001, served under then Sec-Def Leon Panetta and then oversaw the transition to Hagel. He’s been in the job about a year. Interestingly, former SecDef Donald Rumsfeld had bristled at the idea of a three-star as a military assistant, installing a one-star admiral to the billet until it became clear that as close to the Defense Secretary as the officer was, he couldn’t get his calls returned, so reported Bob Woodward, and the job was returned to three-star prominence. Marcel Lettre, headed to become PDUSD for Intelligence. Lettre, who was Hagel’s acting chief of staff before Mark Lippert was named to the job permanently, had been expected to be nominated for a job inside the building. We now know what it is: he was nom’ed yesterday to become the Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. As the U.S. government – and the Pentagon in particular – wrestle with a range of intelligence matters, drone drone ops and surveillance techniques, and collecting more intelligence with fewer boots on the ground – the job for which Lettre has been nom’ed will be a big and increasingly important one.

Help wanted at the Pentagon. There are still a number of job openings at the Pentagon for political appointee types, and in fact there a few more than there were this spring, when Situation Report last looked at the issue. There are a total of 53 political appointee billets at the Assistant Secretary of Defense level and above. Of those, there are 15 vacant positions, 12 of which are staffed with acting personnel and three that are not staffed with any acting personnel. Some jobs have been filled with permanent personnel since we last looked. But that’s slightly more than there were when we checked on this in April, when there were 13 vacant positions – 11 filled with acting personnel and two with no acting personnel. Currently, there are open positions on the Navy staff, including the Navy’s No. 2 job after Bob Work left some time ago, as well as on the Air Force and Office of the Secretary of Defense staff.

So many actors: jobs for which there are only acting personnel include: Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright – Acting  (Pending confirmation); Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Alan Estevez – Acting (Pending confirmation); Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Higgins – Acting (Lettre has now been nominated for that job); Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and America’s Security Affairs Todd Rosenblum – Acting; Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Alan Shaffer – Acting; DoD Inspector General – Lynne Halbrooks – Acting (Jon Rymer, nominated); DoD General Counsel – Robert Taylor – Acting Under Secretary of the Navy – Robert Martinage – Acting; Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment Roger Natsuhara – Acting; Secretary of the Air Force – Eric Fanning – Acting (Fanning is the permanent Undersecretary of the Air Force, but is also acting as the Secretary of the Air Force until the White House puts forward a nominee). Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Peter Lavoy – Acting; Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Alan Shaffer – Acting. Jobs with no acting personnel: Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition; Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness; and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs.

And on personnel in general, we also note: Check out the piece that The Cable’s John Hudson did this week on Kerry’s State Department filling more posts there, here. We’re also noting that Al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen (and Cable alum) reported yesterday that Puneet Talwar, the National Security Council’s top adviser on Iran and the Persian Gulf, is expected to be nominated for Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs. Here story, here.

Get smart – on public affairs. Smart public affairs officers are the ones who stay as close to their principal or officer or commander as possible, tell them what they need to know – good, bad, ugly – and guide them accordingly. We love us some good PAOs – when they are close to their bosses and know the deal. Today, Pentagon pressec and Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs George Little speaks at Fort Meade, Md. to public affairs officers, both civilian and military. As the Pentagon’s massive public affairs apparatus faces the same kinds of budget dilemmas as other departments, Little will talk about how important it is that public affairs personnel become close, senior advisers to their commanders and civilian leaders. Indeed, as sample of what he’ll tell them today: "The Department of Defense is going through a once in a generation change, and the public affairs community must change with it.  Today, maybe more than ever, public affairs is an absolutely critical component of our military.  We operate in a world so tightly connected that every world event, big or small, can be felt in real time.  Thanks to the Internet and services such as Twitter and Facebook, the walls between citizens, journalists, and the military have never been thinner.  In many ways this is positive for our democracy.  As these lines continue to overlap and evolve, your relationship with your commanders and senior civilian leaders is crucial – you are not just typers of talking points, but strategic advisors, helping your leadership navigate a complex media landscape and equally complex issues of national security."

But Little won’t let the services off the hook: "…For years now we have pushed the services to cultivate first rate PAOs.  While there has been progress to improve training of PAOs, the services must do more. In particular, they must see public affairs as a place for their best and brightest. They must provide the tools to turn young PAOs in to strategists who understand all facets of public affairs. There needs to be more opportunity for PAOs as they progress in their careers, upward mobility and incentives for talented officers.  We are losing too many talented O-5’s because they see no path to long term senior advancement…"

Wanted: a new stealth plane. Killer Apps’ John Reed: "The general responsible for preventing World War III wants a new strategic reconnaissance plane to help him do it. The Pentagon needs a new stealth plane capable of flying over the world’s most heavily defended airspace and scooping up secrets, said U.S. Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, head of U.S. Strategic Command, [yesterday] to reporters."  Kehler, in charge of defending the U.S. from nuclear, cyber and space attack: "We know that there will have to be some kind of penetrating" spy plane in the coming years." Read Reed here.

Does America have another secret drone? Dave Axe takes a look on Medium: "Evidence points to a new, radar-evading robot warplane." Click here.
Jobs for vets. The 100,000 Jobs Mission, now comprised of 109 companies, announced that its members have collectively hired 77,612 veterans through the second quarter of 2013. The initiative, launched in 2011 by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and 10 other companies, had set out as their goal to hire 100,000 veterans by 2020, but have so far met more than three-quarters of its goal. The coalition of firms met in New York last week, with representatives from about 70 firms, and welcomed its newest member – BAE Systems. Member companies shared ideas for what works and what doesn’t and talked about how to help transitioning service members. More on the 100,000 Jobs Mission, here.

Ash Carter is finishing up his trip. The Deputy Secretary of Defense last visited Ethiopia, where he met with senior gov and military officials to discuss U.S.-Ethiopia security partnerships; Carter also visited the African Union. George Little, in a statement: "While in Ethiopia, Deputy Secretary Carter met with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Chief of the Ethiopian National Defense Forces General Samora Yenus.  These meetings provided an opportunity to discuss the critical role that Ethiopia has played in stabilizing Somalia and providing peacekeepers along the border between Sudan and South Sudan.  Deputy Secretary Carter and Prime Minister Hailemariam also discussed next steps in response to recent events in South Sudan."

And: During the meeting at the African Union, Carter met with Deputy Chairperson of the African Union Commission Erastus Mwencha. Carter and Mwencha talked about the African Peace and Security Architecture, maritime security, and the conflicts in Somalia, Mali and the Central African Republic and the Great Lakes region. Carter also met with folks from the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. Fun Fact! Carter is the highest-ranking Pentagon official to visit Ethiopia in more than a decade, and he is the most senior DoD leader ever to visit the African Union.

This just in: Anthony Weiner selected as Air Force sexual assault chief. JK! The Duffel Blog strikes again. Read all about it here.

Speaking of the NSA, Forbes is out with an interesting bit about an NSA facility in Utah, where there might be a little less than meets the eye.  Forbes’ Kashmir Hill: "The NSA will soon cut the ribbon on a facility in Utah built to help house and process data collected from telephone and Internet companies, satellites, fiber-optic cables and anywhere else it can plant listening devices. An NSA spokesperson says the center will be up and running by the ‘end of the fiscal year,’ i.e., the end of September. Much has been written about just how much data that facility might hold, with estimates ranging from ‘yottabytes’ (in Wired)to ‘5 zettabytes’ (on NPR), a.k.a. words that you probably can’t pronounce that translate to ‘a lot.’ A guide from Cisco explains that a yottabyte = 1,000 zettabytes = 1,000,000 exabytes = 1 billion pettabytes = 1 trillion terabytes. For some sense of scale, you would need just 400 terabytes to hold all of the books ever written in any language… However, based on blueprints of the facility obtained by FORBES – and published here for the first time – experts estimate that the storage capacity of the data center is lower than has previously been reported given the technology currently available and the square footage that the center has allocated for its servers." Read the rest here.

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. Twitter: @glubold

More from Foreign Policy

Newspapers in Tehran feature on their front page news about the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, signed in Beijing the previous day, on March, 11 2023.
Newspapers in Tehran feature on their front page news about the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, signed in Beijing the previous day, on March, 11 2023.

Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America

The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.

Austin and Gallant stand at podiums side by side next to each others' national flags.
Austin and Gallant stand at podiums side by side next to each others' national flags.

The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense

If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.

Russian President Vladimir Putin lays flowers at the Moscow Kremlin Wall in the Alexander Garden during an event marking Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin lays flowers at the Moscow Kremlin Wall in the Alexander Garden during an event marking Defender of the Fatherland Day in Moscow.

Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War

Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.

An Iranian man holds a newspaper reporting the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, in Tehran on March 11.
An Iranian man holds a newspaper reporting the China-brokered deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia to restore ties, in Tehran on March 11.

How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests

And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.