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.

Ash Carter, departing; Who’s arriving, Flournoy? What about Bob Hale or Christine “Top Gun” Fox?; NSA: WH leaving us out to dry; Kerry in Afg; Is the Warthog the best plane ever?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Ash Carter to Hagel: "time for me to go." Ash Carter, the Pentagon’s Number Two who longed to be tapped to be defense secretary, is stepping down as his boss, Chuck Hagel, looks to bring on more of his own team. The departure of Carter, considered to be one of the most ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Ash Carter to Hagel: "time for me to go." Ash Carter, the Pentagon’s Number Two who longed to be tapped to be defense secretary, is stepping down as his boss, Chuck Hagel, looks to bring on more of his own team. The departure of Carter, considered to be one of the most powerful and effective deputy secretaries of defense in recent history, was expected even if the timing of his resignation today caught even some Pentagon insiders by surprise. In the letter he submitted to his boss Thursday, Carter said he has "loved every minute" working for the Defense Department, "now as in previous times in my career." But Carter — who had long coveted the top job, and whose camp had occasionally clashed with Hagel’s — had signaled that he would leave sometime after Hagel found his bearings.

Carter had planned to announce his resignation weeks ago, but the budget and the government shutdown prevented it. As neither crisis showed signs of abating, he decided now was the right time to say good-bye after more than two years on the job. "I have decided that this situation might well continue and I don’t want any more time to pass before giving you the opportunity to begin a smooth transition within the office of the Deputy Secretary," Carter wrote in the resignation letter he gave to Hagel today. "It is time for me to go." Carter will step down Dec. 4.

The divorce between Hagel and Carter seemed inevitable. As much as Hagel relied on Carter’s undisputed expertise navigating the massive defense bureaucracy, Hagel has wanted to make his own mark on the department — and with his own people. It was in fact Carter’s deep institutional knowledge — and the fact that Carter was passed over for the top job — that contributed to the sense that there was little room for both men on the Pentagon’s E-Ring. Although the two worked effectively together on a number of pressing issues, the awkward dynamic was a poorly-kept secret in and outside of the building, as Foreign Policy reported in August. Carter left on his own, however, and got a standing ovation yesterday after it was announced at a staff meeting yesterday mid-afternoon in the Pentagon’s E-Ring.

…Carter agreed to stay on to help Hagel, telling friends that he’d been asked personally by Obama to stay, as the novice Hagel attempted to get his hands around the Defense Department bureaucracy. And after a bruising confirmation battle, most observers thought Hagel needed all the help he could get.

Carter quickly became Hagel’s right-hand-man, leading a top-to-bottom review of Pentagon resources as budget cuts neared. Carter also managed a big portfolio — larger than the one given to his predecessors — conducting high-level policy discussions with world leaders and routine interaction at the White House as he remained in control of major budget and weapons issues. One former senior staffer likened his role to that of Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy under Donald Rumsfeld, who was a forceful personality in the days after 9/11 and the run-up to the war in Iraq.

Who’s on the step to replace him? The first name that comes to mind is Michele Flournoy, the policy guru who resigned from the Pentagon’s top policy job in February 2012 and was also on the short list to replace Panetta. She is again high on the list… She might wait out Obama’s second term, passing on the Number Two job. Or, some believe, Flournoy, who has not had vast management experience on the Defense Department’s scale, would be wise to jump at the chance to serve as Deputy Secretary. That would put her in line to succeed Hagel when the time comes.

Said one former senior defense official to Situation Report re: Flournoy: "She’s dialed in at the White House, she’s respected on the Hill, had a good run as Under Secretary for Policy. The DepSecDef job is the final, developmental job to become SecDef, and she’s young enough that she can hang around."

But also under consideration: BAE’s Linda Hudson, the Pentagon’s Frank Kendall, CIA’s General Counsel Stephen Preston. Surprise names: Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale, CAPE’s Christine "Top Gun" Fox.

Float your ideas for DepSecDef to us here or @glubold.

Also expected to announce departure at some point: Jim Miller, head of the Pentagon’s policy shop.

Our story, here.

Our original story about Chuck Hagel and Ash Carter – "Two’s a Crowd at the Pentagon," here.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of Situation Report – we’ll see you again Tuesday morning. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us at and we’ll stick you on. 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, say something — to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold on the Tweeter machine.

Keith Alexander and his senior leadership team at the NSA are angry and dispirited. FP’s Shane Harris reports that the National Security Agency feels as if it’s been left out on its own, having to defend itself against criticism of its surveillance programs without backup from the White House. Harris: "The top brass of the country’s biggest spy agency feels they’ve been left twisting in the wind, abandoned by the White House and left largely to defend themselves in public and in Congress against allegations of unconstitutional spying on Americans. Former intelligence officials closely aligned with the NSA criticized President Obama for saying little publicly to defend the agency, and for not emphasizing that some leaked or officially disclosed documents arguably show the NSA operating within its legal authorities."

Here’s the key line: "There has been no support for the agency from the President or his staff or senior administration officials, and this has not gone unnoticed by both senior officials and the rank and file at the Fort," Joel Brenner, the NSA’s one-time inspector general, told Harris, referring to the agency’s headquarters at Ft. Meade, Maryland.

Why this is could be important – Harris: "The Obama administration has long relied on America’s intelligence agencies to carry out its most important foreign policy objectives, from killing Osama bin Laden to undermining Bashar al-Assad. The White House’s embrace of the dark world of spycraft has been near-absolute. A rift between America’s intelligence and political leaders could be more than fodder for Beltway cocktail parties. If left unchecked, it could start to erode the trusted relationships that have been at the heart of how the U.S. government handles global threats since 9/11." Read the rest of Harris’ piece here.

Remember Afghanistan? It’s a critical month, with a deadline looming for resolving negotiations on the security agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan after Obama gave President Hamid Karzai a warning that it had to be done by the end of this month or else (or else = the possibility that no troops will stay after 2014). But there is no good news from Kabul. WaPo’s Karen DeYoung and Ernesto Londono: "…With that deadline less than three weeks away and deep rifts persisting, the White House appears increasingly willing to abandon plans for a long-term, costly partnership with Afghanistan. Despite the Pentagon’s pleas for patience, much of the rest of the administration is fed up with Karzai and sees Afghanistan as a fading priority amid far more ominous threats elsewhere in the world…

"Meanwhile, serious new irritants in the relationship have convinced Karzai that he was right to question American good faith in year-old negotiations on a deal. The accord is considered critical for the international community to continue funding the Afghan government and shoring up its nascent security forces." Their bit here.

Kerry is in Afghanistan. AP: "U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Afghanistan Friday for urgent talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai as an end of October deadline looms for completing a security deal that would allow American troops to remain in Afghanistan after the end of the NATO-led military mission next year. Kerry’s unannounced visit to Kabul comes as talks on the Bilateral Security Agreement have foundered over issues of Afghan sovereignty despite a year of negotiations." More on that from AP’s Matthew Lee, in Kabul with Kerry, here.

Speaking of which: The movie "Lone Survivor," about SEALS in Afghanistan, screened last night as the culmination of yesterday’s "Hero Summit." It was dramatic, graphic and ultimately moving. It’s the story of the four Navy SEALs from SEAL Team 10 in Afghanistan in 2005. The team went on a reconnaissance mission in July of that year in the mountains of Afghanistan near the Pakistan border to monitor al-Qaeda leader. Only one, Marcus Luttrell, returned alive after a brutal ordeal that is hard to comprehend but whose live was ultimately saved by an Afghan man with whom he remains in close touch. Luttrell wrote "Lone Survivor" with ghostwriter Patrick Robinson. Now it’s a big movie, starring Mark Wahlberg. Last night at Tina Brown’s Hero Summit at the Newseum in Washington last night, it was screened. Afterward, Luttrell, with his guide dog, appeared for a panel discussion with Brown, actor Taylor Kitsch and writer/director/producer Peter Berg. Luttrell, at one point, on serving and the American public: "We don’t want a thank you, a pat on the back or anything like that, we just want you to enjoy your life. Everybody’s made different. You’ve got guys who are … accountants, and you got warfighters, the guys who know how to fight and are good at it… we know how to make those decisions. So, stay out of our way, we’ll stay out of yours." [Laughter, applause].

Hero Summit’s agenda from yesterday, here.

Link to Luttrell’s book on Amazon, here.

Arnold Fisher blasted Congress yesterday at Brown’s summit. Arnold Fisher, the former top officer at Fisher House – in the news this week after the Fisher House Foundation agreed to front the Pentagon the money to pay death gratuities for fallen service members – also attended the "Hero Summit" yesterday. He made a point of venting about the absurdity of Congress and the government shutdown. Fisher, at yesterday’s Hero Summit: "It’s the worst thing this country has ever done: Allowing these families to come to Dover Air Force Base on their own money…Stop the nonsense," he said of the president and members of Congress. "And never — it doesn’t matter what the excuse is — take it out on the military." Read the rest from U.S. News’ Paul Shinkman, here.

Prescription rates for vets have shot up. Also from U.S. News, this one from Elizabeth Flock: "In the months before Joseph Petit, a trained Army airborne ranger, died in a bathroom at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center, his sister Brandie watched her brother age far beyond his 42 years. ‘He would twitch and run his fingers through his hair in the manner of an old person when their motor skills are slowing. It took him physically longer to think. Because of the medication, he wasn’t there,’ she says. The medical examiner’s report on Petit’s death, which was obtained by U.S. News, ruled the death a suicide, by plastic bag asphyxiation. But the report also listed six anti-psychotic, antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs in Petit’s system, including the drug duloxetine, which has failed at least one use-approval in the U.S. because of incidents of suicide among its users. Petit suffered from knee pain as a result of an injury during parachute training, as well as mental health issues, according to his sister.

"For years, veterans groups and advocates have warned that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs was dangerously medicating returning soldiers, while the VA has said it wasn’t… A CBS records request of VA data in mid-September revealed that while the number of patients at the VA had risen by just 29 percent in the last 11 years, narcotics prescriptions written by VA doctors and nurse practitioners have risen 259 percent. Days later, the Center for Investigative Reporting found that the number of VA prescriptions for four major opiates – hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine and methadone – had spiked by 270 percent in the past 12 years. On Thursday, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs sought to move on the new data, hosting a combative hearing to investigate the VA’s ‘skyrocketing prescription painkiller rate.’" That piece here.

Fahreal? There’s a new Syrian weapons plan: send them to Scandinavia.  The scramble to find a place to dispose of Syria’s more than 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, nerve agents and precursors has begun. FP’s Colum Lynch: "Much of the legwork is being carried out by the United States, which has been sounding out governments from Europe, the Middle East, and Russia about the prospects of taking on the task. So far, there are no apparent takers. U.S. officials have even approached Norway about disposing of the agents — even though the country has neither the technology nor the expertise to do so." More here.

Doctrine Man Weighs In: The Five Stages of a Pentagon Assignment. Click here.

Some would argue the A-10 is the Air Force’s "most awesome warplane" – of course that’s why the brass want to get rid of it. Robert Beckhusen, from War is Boring on Medium: "Starved of funding and saddled with a bunch of redundant Cold War-era airbases by an incompetent Congress, the U.S. Air Force is fast running out of money and needs to cut back.

But instead of eliminating expensive new technologies that demonstrably don’t work, the flying branch is proposing to permanently ground arguably its most useful warplane-one that’s been heavily upgraded and could fly cheaply for at least another 25 years. I’m talking about the A-10 Warthog, of course, that iconic 1970s-vintage tank-killer with the Mickey Mouse engine layout and a powerful nose-mounted 30-millimeter cannon the size of a Volkswagen Bug. The low- and slow-flying Warthog, heavily loaded with missiles and bombs, has flown top cover for American ground troops in three wars.

"In July, two A-10s  zoomed to the rescue of 60 American soldiers pinned down by a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan. Protected by their jets’ titanium armor, the Warthog pilots flew low, spotted Taliban attackers by eye, fired thousand of 30-millimeter rounds and dropped three bombs. Three U.S. troops were injured; the Taliban left 18 dead on the battlefield. ‘I think that day the enemy knew they were going to die,’ one of the fliers mused. Despite the A-10’s impressive combat record, simplicity and low cost-just $17,000 per flight hour, the lowest of any Air Force jet fighter-the flying branch’s generals want to eliminate all 326 Warthogs by 2015 in order to protect three complex, pricey new planes still in development: the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the secretive Long-Range Strike Bomber and the KC-46 aerial tanker." More of his bit 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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