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.

FP’s Situation Report: What Bob Gates thought; The Taliban might have killed Bergdahl; Was there a cash exchange?; SF-ers suffer in silence; Breedlove remembers D-Day and the Picauvillais; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel Bob Gates has been noticeably absent from the commentary on the decision to release Bergdahl – unlike others, he has not weighed in. It’s not clear what Gates would have done today as Defense Secretary if he sat in that seat today, but his past views give a hint. ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Bob Gates has been noticeably absent from the commentary on the decision to release Bergdahl – unlike others, he has not weighed in. It’s not clear what Gates would have done today as Defense Secretary if he sat in that seat today, but his past views give a hint. A former senior defense official confirmed to Situation Report that Gates opposed such a deal when he was secretary, in part because of his "fundamental belief" that the U.S. shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists or hostage-takers.

"At the end of the day, he just does not believe in negotiating with terrorists," the former senior official told Situation Report. "When the prospect of doing a deal with Bergdahl was raised in the past, he was opposed to it," the official said. And while the U.S. has long thought that reconciliation with the Taliban was the likeliest way to end the war in Afghanistan, Gates always believed that such wars always will end based on negotiations in which the U.S. negotiates "from a position of strength."

Meantime, the administration told senators it didn’t notify Congress about the prisoners swap because of intelligence that the Taliban might kill Bergdahl if the deal was made public. As the administration scrambles to defend widening criticism of the Bergdahl deal and why it didn’t notify Congress of what it would do with the detainees at Gitmo in advance, it said yesterday that not only was Bergdahl’s condition worsening – he might also have been killed. The AP’s Ken Dilanian and Deb Riechmann: "…That fear – not just the stated concerns that Bergdahl’s health might be failing – drove the administration to quickly make the deal to rescue him, bypassing the law that lawmakers be notified when detainees are released from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, congressional and administration officials said Thursday. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly. Since Bergdahl’s release on Saturday, administration officials including President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and National Security Adviser Susan Rice have said publicly that the key reason for the secret prisoner swap was evidence that Bergdahl’s physical health was deteriorating after five years in captivity. But on Wednesday night, administration officials told senators in a closed session that the primary concern was the death risk if the deal collapsed." More here.

Eventually, Bergdahl will meet the press, and what he says could make matters far worse for the White House. FP’s Harris, Groll, Hudson and Lubold: "Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is receiving medical treatment at a military hospital in Germany after five years in captivity with the Taliban. So far, his parents have been speaking on his behalf. But eventually — and perhaps soon — Bergdahl will speak for himself, and depending on what he says, the former prisoner of war will either give the White House a badly needed public relations boost or dig it an even deeper hole.

"Bergdahl could easily come forth and thank his rescuers, stress his relief at being back in the United States, and then say he’s prepared to cooperate with the coming military inquiry into the circumstances of his capture that Pentagon officials have promised because of persistent rumors that he deserted his base before falling into Taliban hands. But there’s good reason for the White House to fret that Bergdahl might wind up saying something else entirely — sympathize with the Taliban or even mildly criticize the war — and that his comments, which would attract enormous media attention, would make it even harder for the administration to justify the prisoner swap." More here.

Bergdahl remains at the U.S. military’s medical facility in Landstuhl, Germany and continues to recover after his release over the weekend. Pentagon officials said Thursday that he remains in stable condition and his doctors believe his health has been improving daily. "Sergeant Bergdahl is conversing with medical staff and becoming more engaged in his treatment care plan," Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told Situation Report. "He is getting better and showing signs of improvement."

Bergdahl, who has yet to speak with his parents, Robert and Jani, remains in what the military terms "phase two" of his reintegration from captivity, which can last between a few days and a few weeks or more. There’s no way yet to know when Bergdahl would be released from the facility in Germany. Ultimately, he’ll be transferred to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas, where he would be expected to reunite with his family and begin the "third phase" of his reintegration treatment. Six years ago, three American civilians rescued from the Colombian jungle after years of captivity with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, spent several weeks at Brooke after they were rescued.

Was there more to the deal than just the five detainees? Rep. Duncan Hunter wants more answers from McRaven, Brennan and Comey. Hunter, the California Republican, suspects that there might be more to the Bergdahl-for-five-detainee swap, that a payment might have also been made, and wants answers. The White House has said any such notion is "completely false," and indeed it sounds far-fetched. But as the onion is peeled back on the deal, there remains a question about what the Haqqani network got out of it. In a letter Hunter sent yesterday to SOCOM’s McCraven, the CIA’s Brennan and the FBI’s Comey and obtained exclusively late yesterday by Situation Report: "…As you know, Bergdahl, throughout his five years in captivity, was in the custody of the Haqqani network, even though the Taliban, due to its relationship with Haqqani, negotiated Bergdahl’s release. It is my understanding that a transfer occurred that possibly included payment to Haqqani from the Taliban for the receipt of Bergdahl."

FYI: As it becomes clearer that Bergdahl deserted his unit – and in fact had wondered off before – here’s a look at the number of troops who have gone AWOL – Absent Without Official Leave – or deserted over the years. Keep in mind that troops don’t typically desert from a warzone. Nonetheless, in 2012, there were 466; in 2011, 548; in 2010, 625; in 2009, 647; in 2008, 1,513; in 2007, 1,571; in 2006, 1,575; in 2005, 948; in 2004, 1,866; in 2003,  1,295; in 2002, 1,698; and in 2001, there were 1,898 troops who went AWOL or deserted their unit. All told between 2001 and 2012 – 14,650 people.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of Situation Report, where anniversaries are usually not a big deal. But think for a minute that 70 years ago today, in a far-off place, American troops engaged in what today would be astonishing. From the Army’s D-Day Website, to help us remember: "On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which, "we will accept nothing less than full victory." More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Continental Europe. The cost in lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 Soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolph Hitler’s crack troops." More on that he
More on D-Day, including a speech by Gen. Phil Breedlove, below.

And, ICYMI, FP’s Shane Harris had this great exclusive yesterday on an American lawyer’s discovery of evidence of one of WWII’s most notorious war crimes. It’s a great read, here.

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Sen. John McCain, on the compromise legislation to cut wait times for veterans seeking medical care while also holding officials accountable for systemic problems at the VA. McCain in a statement: "This legislation empowers our veterans with more flexibility to choose the health care they’ve earned while bringing much-needed accountability to VA operations, including the ability to immediately fire poor-performing employees with no pay during the appeals process. Compromise can be difficult, but addressing the most pressing challenges raised by this crisis in veterans’ care requires it." More here.

From Sanders’ office: "Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) today reached a bipartisan agreement to improve veterans’ access to health care and address serious problems facing the Department of Veterans Affairs. ‘While this is not the bill that I would have written, we have taken a significant step forward with this agreement,’ said Sanders. At a time when VA medical facilities in parts of the country have waiting lists that are too long, this legislation would give veterans access to  private doctors, community health centers, Department of Defense medical facilities and facilities funded by the Indian Health Service. The bill would provide for the immediate firing of incompetent high-level officials but also includes an expedited appeals process to prevent the new authority from being abused for political purposes or other reasons." More here.

And from IAVA: "Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America today praised Senate leaders on both sides of the aisle for their bipartisan work on addressing critical access issues at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Earlier, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ), one of two combat veterans in the Senate, announced a bipartisan deal that would address access and care issues for veterans within the VA system." More here.

Change your Outlook’s auto-fill: IAVA’s Zach Goldberg is leaving today for a new, "outstanding opportunity." He’ll be replaced by Gretchen Andersen, who Zach said this morning has been "working like crazy and doing a terrific job." Good luck to Zach and thanks for all his help.

McCain accuses the NYT of purposely editing his words to misrepresent his position on the Bergdahl exchange. From McCain’s office last night: "In an editorial published this evening and apparently set to run in tomorrow’s paper, The New York Times purposely edits Senator McCain’s statement from a February 2014 CNN interview to omit the phrase "obviously I’d have to know the details" to make it appear – falsely – that he expressed unqualified support for a prisoner exchange involving Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and five Taliban leaders. More here.

Keeping it in the family: Special Forces’ troops are all the more hesitant to get help and yet are all the more likely to need it. As the U.S. military seeks to rely more and more on U.S. Special Forces to conduct precision strikes, rescues and other operations around the world in lieu of larger scale deployments, the NYT today looks at a growing problem within the ranks. The NYT’s Thom Shanker and Richard Oppel on Page One: "After his fourth combat tour, to Afghanistan in 2011, Sgt. First Class Michael B. Lube, a proud member of the Army Special Forces, came home alienated and angry. Once a rock-solid sergeant and devoted husband, he became sullen, took to drinking, got in trouble with his commanders and started beating his wife.

‘He would put this mask on, but behind it was a shattered version of the man I knew,’ said his wife, Susan Ullman. She begged him to get help, but he refused, telling her: ‘I’ll lose my security clearance. I’ll get thrown out.’ When she quietly reached out to his superior officers for guidance, she said, she was told: ‘Keep it in the family. Deal with it.’

"And so he did. Last summer, just days after his 36th birthday, Sergeant Lube put on his Green Beret uniform and scribbled a note, saying, "I’m so goddamn tired of holding it together." Then he placed a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. To a growing number of medical experts and the Special Operations Command itself, suicides by soldiers like Sergeant Lube tell a troubling story about the toll of war on the nation’s elite troops… for all their well-known resilience, an emerging body of research suggests that Special Operations forces have experienced, often in silence, significant traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Both conditions have been linked in research to depression and, sometimes, suicidal behavior.

"Absent other data, suicide has emerged as the clearest indicator of the problem: In the past two and a half years, 49 Special Operations members have killed themselves, more than in the preceding five years. While suicides for the rest of the active-duty military have started to decline, after years of steady increases, they have risen for the nation’s commandos."

Dr. Geoffrey Ling, a leading brain-trauma expert at DARPA: "The numbers are shocking." More here.

Fighting Joe Dunford was picked to be the next Marine Corps commandant yesterday. Everyone knew this would happen, it just wasn’t clear when since he already has a job – in Afghanistan. But now that the White House’s post-2014 plans are out there, and Afghanistan is close to having a new president, it’s time to bring him home. Dunford, who used to be the Marine Corps’ No. 2, is thought to be able to slide right into the top job without much of a learning curve. Then, if the stars align, pun intended, he may move to the Pentagon’s E-Ring on the second deck – as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when Gen. Marty Dempsey retires in a year. We’ll see. Marine Corps Times’ Hope Hodge Seck: "…While Dunford has avoided stirring controversy on some of the pressing legal and political issues, he did help to oversee the launch of integrated infantry training for female Marine officers during his time as assistant commandant, in keeping with a mandate from the secretary of Defense.
He also worked to ensure alcohol-abuse treatment for Marines charged with DUIs and issued orders cracking down on hazing and targeting ‘high-risk behavior’ in Marine units in order to shore up unit cohesion."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Dunford: "I am delighted that President Obama accepted my recommendation to nominate General Joe Dunford to serve as the 36th Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Joe is an extraordinary leader who has always been faithful to his country and his Marines during more than 35 years in uniform.  The President and I have greatly relied on Joe’s steady leadership as the Commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan… No one is better suited to write the next chapter in Marine Corps history than Joe Dunford, and I look forward to working with him in his new role upon his confirmation by the U.S. Senate."

Marine Corps commandant Gen. Jim Amos in a statement on Dunford: "‘…Joe is one of the most knowledgeable and talented leaders and thinkers in the military today. He has commanded and excelled at every level… His tenure as commander of [ISAF] and U.S. Forces – Afghanistan over the past 18 months has been extraordinary, and is testament to the full measure of the man.’" More here.

Hagel, still in Europe, says the U.S. will beef up its presence in the Black Sea after the Crimea crisis. Reuters’ David Brunnstrom in Romania: "The United States will strengthen its presence in the Black Sea region using part of a $1 billion fund promised to NATO allies on Russia’s borders, and will continue to send warships to the area, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in Romania on Thursday. Hagel is the latest high-ranking American official to visit Europe since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, as Washington looks to reassure allies jittery about Moscow’s intentions in its former Cold War backyard. The tour coincides with a visit by President Barack Obama to Poland this week, when he promised to increase military support for eastern European NATO members, including a $1 billion fund to support and train the armed forces of NATO states. Formerly a secretive Communist state, Romania is now a member both of NATO and the European Union. Bucharest has been among the staunchest supporters of Western sanctions against Russia, has hosted joint military exercises with U.S. forces on its soil and participated in navy drills in the Black Sea." More here.

Next Wednesday is the eighth annual CNAS national security conference. It’ll include: Michèle Flournoy, Julie Smith, Judy Woodruff, Wolfgang Ischinger, Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, Ben FitzGerald, William J. Lynn III, Admiral James Stavridis, General James E. Cartwright, Roger Zakheim, Dr. Patrick Cronin, Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns, Dr. David F. Gordon, Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, Vikram J. Singh, General James D. Thurman, Ambassador Susan Rice, Phillip Carter, Shawn Brimley, Paul Scharre, Dr. Colin Kahl, Elizabeth Rosenberg, Stephen J. Hadley, Dennis Ross and Richard Fontaine. More here.

And at the CNAS conference, the Pentagon’s former No. 2, Bill Lynn, and former Supreme Allied Commander Jim Stavridis will launch a new report on the massive changes coming to the defense industry thanks to globalization, here.

The Pentagon lays out the challenge posed by China’s growing military might. The WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum: "China’s rapidly growing military spending is paving the way for the country to expand its sphere of influence and challenge the U.S. across the globe, the Pentagon said, in a report laying out challenges facing America as it steps up involvement in Asia. While U.S. military spending is in decline, China is spending billions of dollars to develop stealth fighters, cyberweaponry, armed drones and a growing naval fleet that has repeatedly squared off with its Asian neighbors, according to the Defense Department’s annual report to Congress.
"Release of the report comes days after top Chinese and U.S. military officials clashed at an Asian security forum in Singapore. During the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit, a top Chinese official warned that U.S. actions in Asia were threatening to transform China into an adversary. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel accused China of taking ‘destabilizing, unilateral actions’ against its neighbors in the region. The tensions have clouded efforts by political leaders to create stronger ties as Washington increases its military and political involvement in Asia." More here.

Reading Pincus: Federal prosecutors have made strong arguments about why they need the testimony of New York Times reporter James Risen in the criminal trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey A. Sterling, here.

Obama, with Europe’s support, sets an ultimatum for Putin. The NYT’s Peter Baker: "With the backing of other world leaders, President Obama effectively set a one-month deadline for Moscow to reverse its intervention in Ukraine and help quash a pro-Russian separatist uprising or else he said it would face international sanctions far more severe than anything it had endured so far. Mr. Obama and other leaders of seven major democracies meeting here demanded that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia recognize and negotiate directly with the newly elected leader of Ukraine, stop the flow of fighters and arms across the border and press separatists to disarm, relinquish seized public buildings and join talks with the central authorities in Kiev."

Obama said alongside Cameron: "…Russia continues to have a responsibility to convince them to end their violence, lay down their weapons and enter into a dialogue with the Ukrainian government… On the other hand, if Russia’s provocations continue, it’s clear from our discussions here that the G-7 nations are ready to impose additional costs on Russia." More here.

The U.S. Directorate of Defense Trade Controls just issued its first debarment for a foreign individual today, for Carlos Dominguez and his affiliated companies. From a State Department official to Situation Report: "The U.S. Department of State has issued an order administratively debarring Carlos Dominguez and his associated companies from participating in any defense trade activities as a result of 366 violations of the Arms Export Controls (AECA) and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). This administrative debarment is the Department’s first ever administrative proceeding against a foreign individual.  These actions are in response to 1) the unauthorized re-export and retransfer of hundreds of night vision devices and related technical data, and 2) for conspiracy to, and causing of, the re-export and retransfer of defense articles without authorization, among other charges. While the Department’s review indicated no direct harm to U.S. foreign policy or national security occurred, this incident highlights the range of potential penalties that may be imposed by
the Department for ITAR violations, including those committed by foreign individuals and entities." More here.

Why the memory of the liberation of Europe is still a battlefield. FP’s Robert Zaretsky: "War is politics by other means and so is its commemoration. World leaders will gather on the beaches of Normandy on June 6 to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day and they will bring their political and historic baggage with them. Though the Battle of Normandy is over, the war over its significance continues and the day’s events will represent the latest in a long series of conflicts over the ever-shifting meaning of one of the most decisive days in modern European history. Among the presidents, prime ministers, and chancellors in attendance, only the group’s lone constitutional monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is old enough to remember the war. The other leaders will probably experience a certain kind of nostalgia for an age when choices were clear and wars were good. But clarity and goodness are as much inventions of each nation’s postwar narrative as they were part of the actual past." More here.

World leaders and dignitaries will gather to honor the more than 150,000 American, British, Canadian and other Allied D-Day veterans who risked and gave their lives to defeat Hitler. The AP’s Greg Keller in Colleville-Sur-Mer, France: "Ceremonies to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day are drawing thousands of visitors to the cemeteries, beaches and stone-walled villages of Normandy this week, including some of the few remaining survivors of the largest sea-borne invasion ever mounted… For many visitors, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, with its 9,387 white marble tombstones on a bluff overlooking the site of the battle’s bloodiest fighting at Omaha Beach, is the emotional centerpiece of pilgrimages to honor the tens of thousands of men killed on D-Day and the months of fighting afterward. D-Day veteran Clair Martin, 93, said he’s come back to Omaha Beach three times in the last 70 years – ‘four if you count the time they were shooting at me.’" More here.

European Command Commander and Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Phil Breedlove spoke at Picauville at Normandy yesterday. He said, in part: "…The determination of this community to retain the memory of the American soldiers and pilots who fought for their liberty is evident in the face of every person I have met from Picauville today, and your commitment is beautifully embodied in this monument. I am most impressed by the way you have included your children into the ceremony.  It is evident you are passing on the responsibility to remember, and respect, the actions of the brave young men and women who contributed to the success of the greatest endeavor ever undertaken in the name of liberty. From the blood spilled on this ground a proud legacy has grown.  Those men saved our way of life.  They defeated tyranny.  They ensured the existence of our society.

"We honor their memory by recognizing how far we have come as a community and continuing to move forward together, striving for a Europe whole, free, and at peace… May God bless you… may God bless the souls of those whose final resting place is in and around Picauville… and may God bless the peoples of our nations.

Thank you and Merci Beaucoup."

Gordon Lubold is a senior writer at FP and author of Situation Report  with help by Nathaniel Sobel, director of research at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. Follow him @glubold and him @njsobe4.

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