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.

Hagel as a mensch: building “unprecedented” ties with Israel; Is Buck McKeon a drone puppet?; Ash Carter on the 20 percent cut; What an Army helicopter pilot thinks about Afg. customs charges; A new AF secretary nom’ed; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Chuck Hagel as mensch: In six months he’s solidified ties with Israel through red eye diplomacy and a massive arms deal. Weeks before Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was sworn in, he got a homework assignment from the man sitting in the E-Ring office he would soon occupy. During a private dinner of ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Chuck Hagel as mensch: In six months he’s solidified ties with Israel through red eye diplomacy and a massive arms deal. Weeks before Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was sworn in, he got a homework assignment from the man sitting in the E-Ring office he would soon occupy. During a private dinner of filet mignon, corn chowder, and chocolate cake, the serving SecDef, Leon Panetta, told Hagel of an up-until-then secret, $10 billion arms deal between the United States, Israel, and two Arab countries that could amount to a strategic game-changer in the region. The terms of the deal were all but settled, but Hagel would need to be the closer, Panetta told him. Hagel’s job was not only to seal the arms deal with Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, but in so doing help put the "special relationship" the United States and Israel have long enjoyed back on track. After getting that tasker from Panetta, Hagel dove in. Amid crises in North Korea, Syria, and Egypt, and fights among his top brass over an ever-shrinking piece of budgetary pie, Hagel has kept his eye on the prize: using the arms deal to rebuild a relationship with Israel that has foundered over the years. That triggered a series of "firsts," as senior U.S. defense officials call them: Hagel’s first trip to an ally, after Afghanistan, was to Israel; the first foreign defense minister he called after being sworn in at the Pentagon was Israel’s, the gregarious Ehud Barak; Hagel called Barak’s successor, Moshe "Boogie" Ya’alon, on the Israeli’s first day on the job; Ya’alon’s first overseas trip as defense minister was to Washington. And as Hagel and Ya’alon sat beside one another on a helicopter tour of Israel earlier this year, the two former soldiers called each other "Chuck" and "Boogie." All this has pushed the arms deal, which includes high-tech missiles, radar systems, aerial refuelers, and, perhaps most importantly, advanced V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, up very close to the finish line. Pentagon officials insist it’s basically a done deal; other individuals close to it say there are some details still on the table.

The nut: Either way, when Hagel does get it across the line, the Obama White House will have fresh leverage in a region that’s once again engulfed in turmoil. Exactly how much leverage is unclear; Hagel is also seen as the singular channel to Egyptian General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi — who took over in Cairo despite Washington’s wishes, and whose troops have begun massacring its enemies in the streets. What really animates the arms deal is the degree to which it strengthens not only Israel’s capabilities, but those of two other Arab countries against the region’s biggest danger: Iran. That has thrust Hagel, already acknowledged as the administration’s messenger to Egyptian leaders during that turmoil, to the fore as someone who has enough gravitas to anchor a new coalition between Israel and Arab countries.

A senior defense official, to Situation Report: "There’s just a strategic opportunity, given Iran’s threat, and given the instability in the region that we can try to help try to build a new strategic coalition, with the U.S. acting at the center, and the role Hagel has played is the strategic thinker. I think there is a real amount of engagement and personal diplomacy that he has taken on from the beginning in really less than six months into his time as secretary of defense." Read the rest of our story on Hagel and Israel, "The Mensch," here.

Welcome to Friday’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.

Calling all Pentagon headquarters staff: you’re getting cut 20 percent. Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter issued a memo this week explaining a few more details about the 20 percent cut to headquarters that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced recently.

Ash Carter, in the July 31 memo released yesterday: "…I recognize that the FY 2014 budget reflects past efficiency decisions, some of which affected headquarters. This 20% reduction represents an additional cut, which I know will be challenging. However, in this period of additional downward pressure on defense spending, we must continue to reduce our headquarters budgets and staffing. Components are encouraged to suggest changes in policies and workload that would help them accommodate these dollar and staff reductions. Senior managers should ensure that cuts are made aggressively and as soon as possible, both to eliminate uncertainty for our employees and contractors and to maximize savings. Generally, cuts should be roughly proportional by year – with about one fifth of the cut in FY 2015, another fifth in FY 2016, and so on. Components are free to implement reductions more rapidly. To the extent feasible, some cuts should begin in FY 2014 in order to increase savings and reduce the cuts required in later years."

Speaking recently, Michele Flournoy said when she was the Pentagon’s policy chief, she knew there was waste. She spoke at the National Contract Management Association in July. Federal Times: "She was encouraged that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has identified cutting overhead spending as a priority, though she said Congress needs to give the department greater flexibility in enacting a host of reforms that could save money without hollowing out military forces. She said she saw the overhead problem first-hand overseeing about 1,000 employees as the Pentagon’s top policy official. ‘My judgment was that I didn’t actually need that many to pursue the mission that we had,’ she said. But Flournoy said she lacked the authorities to "streamline and reshape.’" That full story, in Federal Times, here.

As the military talks of shrinkage, its war plans are shrinking, too. The WSJ’s Julian Barnes, today: "The U.S. military is conducting a sweeping overhaul of its war plans for potential conflicts from the Middle East to the Pacific, as commanders adapt to a future of dwindling numbers of ground troops. Plans that had presumed the availability of large U.S. forces for invasions and occupations are being redrafted to incorporate strategies such as quick-reaction ground units, air power and Navy ships, according to officials. A big part of the new plans will be options for the use of cyberweapons, which can disable enemies’ offensive and defensive capabilities." Read the rest, here. Obama gives the nod to Deborah Lee James to be Air Force Secretary. AP: "If confirmed by the Senate, she would be one of the few women to serve as the senior civilian leader of an armed services branch. Her nomination comes as the military is dealing with a sexual assault scandal, spending cuts and other challenges. James works for a defense contractor and has held various positions during a 30-year career in government and the private sector." AP story, here.

AFA’s Dick Newton told Situation Report this morning: "Her reputation precedes her and that bodes well for the Air Force as the service tackles sequestration, prepares for a rebalance in Asia-Pacific, resolving sexual assault, and so forth.  With her broad experience and exceptional demonstrated leadership skills, once confirmed I predict she’ll be able to launch off with a running start especially being supported by a strong Air Force Chief in Gen Mark Welsh and Under Secretary Eric Fanning."

Is Buck McKeon a drone puppet? Writing for BBC Magazine, Tara McKelvey raises the question, reporting about the extensive use of drones in civilian airspace in the skies over the U.S., U.K. and Europe and McKeon’s role in the industry. McKelvey: "The story of how drones became a robust niche in domestic law enforcement – and part of the commercial world as well – is rooted in Washington DC. Indeed, the rise of the drone can be traced in part to one man, Howard ‘Buck’ McKeon. McKeon, a California Republican, is chairman of the House armed services committee and co-chairman of a legislative group he founded, the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, which supports expansion of the industry. Military officers on Capitol Hill and executives in the aerospace industry have welcomed McKeon’s support. Of the dozens of members on the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus in the House of Representatives, McKeon has received the most "drone-related campaign contributions" – $833,650 (£551,689), according to a report by Hearst Newspapers and the Center for Responsive Politics. McKeon is a case study in how a member of Congress can work within the system, operate within ethical boundaries created by Congress, and have an impact on policy – as well as increase profits for Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin, all of which make drones in his district." Read the rest, here.

Kerry: drone strikes to end in Pakistan "very, very soon." On a swing through Pakistan, Secretary of State John Kerry said drone strikes would end soon there. Kerry, on Pakistani television: "I believe that we’re on a good track…I think the program will end as we have eliminated most of the threat and continue to eliminate it." Kerry, on if he had a timeline in mind for ending drone operations: "Well, I do. And I think the president has a very real timeline, and we hope it’s going to be very, very soon." State issued a statement later, saying the timeline for suspending drone ops in Pakistan was nonetheless uncertain. State, later: Today, the secretary referenced the changes that we expect to take place in that program over the course of time, but there is no exact timeline to provide." NYT piece, here.

Surprise? Men like drone ops more than women. Wired’s Danger Room, which has been a bit dormant, has a piece out yesterday about attitudes toward drone operations by Allen McDuffee: "When asked, ‘Do you approve or disapprove of the United States conducting missile strikes from pilotless aircraft called drones to target extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia?’ women were much less likely to say they approved. At the most extreme end of that gap is Japan where 41 percent of men approve of while only 10 percent of women do. Double digit gender gaps are found in six of the eight EU countries polled and the U.S. had a 17 point gap." In the U.S., 70 percent of men approve of drone operations and 53 percent of women do. Danger Room’s story, here. Pew Research’s Global Attitudes Project, here.

No more "kangaroo courts" if a set of "spy bills" pass. Killer Apps’ John Reed: "If three of the National Security Agency’s most vocal critics have their way, the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court will look a lot more like a traditional court, with arguments being presented on both sides and a chance to oppose the government’s interpretation of surveillance law. ??Sens. Richard Blumenthal, Ron Wyden, and Tom Udall introduced a pair of bills today that would significantly alter proceedings before the court and the manner in which its members are chosen. The first of the two bills would require that the court, which authorizes surveillance by the NSA, hear arguments from government attorneys and an appointed "special advocate" whenever surveillance requests "raise novel issues of law." Read the rest of Reed, here.

Snowden attorney Anatoly Kucherena talked to The New Republic about Snowden’s reaction to Russian asylum, job offers and the queries from Russian girls. Kucherena, on his reaction to the news: "’At first, he seemed not to fully understand it, internally… because he had been waiting for it for so long, he had been so worried. He said, ‘It can’t be!’ That he wouldn’t believe it ’til he saw the documents. Then, of course, he was happy." TNR’s Julia Ioffe reports that Kucherena declined repeatedly to say where Snowden went, saying, ‘There is concern for his safety." Kucherena, on what Snowden is thinking about: "I have to say he’s getting a lot of job offers coming in… offers from journalists working together, and the like. I’ve passed them on to him, he’ll make the decision himself." Kucherena told Ioffe that one job offer came from Vkontakte, Russia’s Facebook rip-off and pirated entertainment site. Read the rest of Ioffe’s piece in TNR, here.

White House on Russia and Snowden: not happy. But the U.S. doesn’t want to get into a thing with Russia over it, either. AP: "Russia’s decision to grant asylum to Edward Snowden has upset the Obama administration and enraged Congress. But if the United States wasn’t prepared to scrap its maddeningly difficult relationship with Russia because of missile defense, human rights or Syria’s civil war, it’s unlikely the 30-year-old National Security Agency leaker alone will sour ties irrevocably between two powers that both have moved past their half-century Cold War for global supremacy." AP story here.

On the other hand, The Cable’s John Hudson has this, about how the Snowden episode could blow up nuke talks: "It’s one of the signature issues of President Obama’s second term, and Edward Snowden may have caused it to crack. On Thursday, nuclear arms control advocates shuddered as Washington erupted in rage over Russia’s decision to grant temporary asylum to the former NSA contractor. With Republicans in Congress demanding retaliation and White House officials openly casting doubt on a planned Moscow summit, the worry is that Obama’s ambitious goal of reducing deployed strategic nuclear weapons by one-third may have just flown out the window. ‘It’s one of the president’s key legacy issues and the Russians are in no uncertain terms critical partners for it,’ Matt Rojansky, a Russia expert at the Wilson Center, told The Cable. ‘I don’t know how they pull it off now. The idea of lowering deployed numbers is substantially weakened if you don’t have a Russian counterpart.’" Read the rest of Hudson’s report here.

IAVA: The VA’s problems are not just the VA’s problems – DOD has to own them now, too. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Alexander Nicholson, writing on Defense One:  "By now it should be clear: The VA’s miscalculations and letdowns over the past decade are not just a VA problem; they are the Department of Defense’s problem, as well. Although the two may be administratively distinct, the fate of each is intimately tied into the other in a circle of recruitment, service and care, and the impact of what happens at each stage of that cycle on future recruitment." Read the rest here.

Agreeing to disagree over Iran. Read Amb. Thomas Pickering, William Luers, Jessica Tuchman Matthews new piece about Iran, Rouhani, as published by Reuters: "Iran’s recent elections produced a striking result. In a six-man race, one candidate won an easy victory without the expected runoff. More to the point, Hassan Rohani campaigned for policies of negotiation and engagement with the West, to lessen Iran’s international isolation. The Supreme Leader gave his blessing – at least for now – by choosing not to interfere in the vote count. The new president, then, appears to have a mandate to engage the United States – if Washington is willing – in practice as well as in words." Read the rest, here.

After yesterday’s announcement that the U.S. and Afghanistan had settled a $70 million dispute over customs fees, we heard from an Army helicopter pilot in Afghanistan. He said: "I’d be just fine with the US government paying the Afghan government a fee on every shipping container, with one condition: GIRoA pays the US for every ANSF member MEDEVACed using our helicopters. I assure you that the US would emerge in the black."

Retrograde from Afghanistan: very much underway. U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman, from Forward Operating Base Sharana, Afghanistan: "Dozens of empty cargo pallets line the dusty and windswept airstrip at this remote FOB in the Hindu Kush mountains of eastern Afghanistan. It’s a familiar sight for many such installations across the country as the U.S. prepares to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2014. It also represents a leviathan task for logistics units responsible for moving hundreds of thousands of pieces of equipment valued at more than $36 billion at a cost of as much as $6 billion, according to Defense officials. As much as $7 billion of this equipment and gear will likely stay behind. The full extent of this mission, however, remains unclear as the U.S. still has not determined precisely what will be left behind to assist the fledgling Afghan security forces and to combat any remaining enemy fighters. The scene at Sharana is sharply contrasted with that at Bagram Airfield roughly 135 miles to the north. This massive base hosts the busiest airport within the entire Department of Defense, and shows no signs of shrinking. To the contrary, construction projects are rife throughout its more than 32 acres, which serves as one of the key entry and exit points for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Bagram can accommodate more than 1,000 outbound pallets and containers at once and often cycles through that many twice in one day, says Air Force Lt. Col. Ryan Norman, commander of the 455th Expeditionary Aerial Port Squadron. This cargo could range from whole, functional vehicles to the kind of litter that accumulates naturally at these operating bases after more than 12 years of war." Says Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Jason Lamoureux, air terminal manager at Bagram, on the cargo leaving Afghanistan: "It’s almost like cleaning out a basement," "There’s some ugly stuff coming through."  Read Shinkman’s story 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

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