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: Legere likely to be yanked as DIA nom; New and improved? A former P&G CEO for the VA; Russians enter the fight; The sky ain’t falling at the NSA; Ash to hit Charlie Rose; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold But will it be "New and Improved?" The White House is expected to nominate the former CEO of Proctor & Gamble to head the VA and rebrand the troubled organization. It’s been weeks after Eric Shinseki left the Department of Veterans Affairs, whose troubles seem to be mounting by the day. But ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

But will it be "New and Improved?" The White House is expected to nominate the former CEO of Proctor & Gamble to head the VA and rebrand the troubled organization. It’s been weeks after Eric Shinseki left the Department of Veterans Affairs, whose troubles seem to be mounting by the day. But with the announcement that the White House would nominate a former West Point grad who had served as the chief executive officer of Proctor & Gamble – maker of Tide, Pampers and Febreeze – there seemed to be real hope that the administration would be putting the VA on the right footing to fundamentally change its culture and boost its performance dramatically. At first blush, it appeared that Bob McDonald’s expected nomination was an inspired choice and enough of a surprise that the Hill and veterans advocates were hopeful for the first time in many months. Obviously, it’ll be a long road ahead and it’ll be full of bumps.

The WaPo’s Juliet Eilprin who broke the story over the weekend: "…The unorthodox pick of a retired corporate executive whose former company makes iconic household products such as Tide detergent and Charmin toilet paper – rather than a former military general – underscores the serious management problems facing the agency charged with serving more than 8 million veterans a year. On Friday, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors submitted a report to the president finding "significant and chronic system failures" and a "corrosive culture" at the Veterans Health Administration, which has come under fire for record-keeping that was skewed in an effort to cover up the long waits imposed on former troops seeking medical care."

CNAS’ Philip Carter, to the WaPo, on McDonald: "The choice suggests a real focus on customer satisfaction, as opposed to what you might get from a retired general or medical leader… It is probably a wise choice given the concerns right now of veterans."

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to the WaPo: McDonald is: "kind of person who is capable of implementing the kind of dramatic systemic change that is badly needed and long overdue at the VA. But the next VA secretary can only succeed in implementing that type of change if his boss, the president, first commits to doing whatever it takes to give our veterans the world class health care system they deserve." More from the WaPo story, here.

Read Rob Nabors review of the VA, WaPo link, here.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s Paul Rieckhoff in a statement: "This is definitely a surprising pick. McDonald is not a name that was on anyone’s radar over the last few weeks… His branding background may prove helpful, because there are few organizations in America with a worse reputation with its customers than the VA right now. He’s been away from the military for quite a while, and will have to move quickly to show he is committed to and understands the post-9/11 generation of veterans." Read IAVA’s "Marshall Plan" for the VA, here.

On Friday, Obama, seen by many critics as largely absent on VA issues, met with Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson and Rob Nabors, who has conducted a review. The readout from that meeting, here.

Meantime, the Russians are sending jet fighters into Iraq and that’s creating more interesting bedfellows. The arrival of Russian advisers and planes in Iraq – along with Syrian strikes inside the border and Iranian drones – are quickly changing the dynamic between friends and foes on the ground in Iraq. FP’s John Hudson and Lubold yesterday: "Moscow dispatched jet fighters and military trainers to Iraq to boost the beleaguered government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, highlighting a growing Syrian, Iranian, and now Russian effort to bolster Maliki in his fight against Islamist extremists. The shipment of Russian airplanes follows days of Syrian airstrikes on targets from the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and stepped-up military assistance from Tehran. The Obama administration continues to weigh air strikes against ISIS.

"In the meantime, the assistance from Tehran, Damascus, and Moscow threatens to further reduce Washington’s potential leverage over Maliki as the administration pushes him to mount a serious outreach effort to the country’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities. For more than a year, Baghdad urged Washington to speed up the delivery of F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters as it battled for control of its own country. However, members of Congress repeatedly held up the deliveries due to unease about Maliki’s ethno-centric leadership, which disproportionately favors the country’s Shiite population."

A senior Iraqi official, on how the latest support from Moscow demonstrated America’s diminished role in the conflict to FP: "The American influence is getting sidelined … due to the lack of security and military support to the Iraqi government and people in its war of survival."

"…Michael Knights, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who closely tracks Iraq’s security situation, said there are "two angels on Iraq’s shoulder" at the moment – the U.S. is on one, and Russia, Iran and Syria are on the other. But in terms of providing effective and timely assistance to its allies, the model offered by America’s adversaries seemed to be more effective.

"To be honest, the other model has a much better track record of helping out its allies in the Middle East than we do," Knights, now traveling in Japan, said. With Iran and Russia stepping up to the plate, the U.S. risks losing influence in Maliki’s government." More here.

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And as the drama plays out in Iraq, the White House is likely yanking its expected nominee for the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. Gen. Mary Legere. FP’s Shane Harris and Lubold: "The Obama administration is poised to abandon its pick to run the sprawling Defense Intelligence Agency amid two ongoing investigations into whether programs she had overseen have been marred by questionable and potentially illegal spending, according to administration officials and congressional sources with knowledge of the matter. Lt. Gen. Mary Legere, who’s currently the Army’s top intelligence officer, has long been seen as the heir apparent to Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, the DIA’s current director, who announced in April his plans to retire this summer. Flynn, widely respected but also seen as a controversial reformer inside the military intelligence community, had been pressured to resign…"

"The White House has not nominated anyone for the job but lawmakers and U.S. officials have said that Legere has been the only one under serious consideration. The administration, however, is strongly leaning towards bypassing Legere and looking for someone else to fill the top post at the DIA, according to people familiar with the internal deliberations.

"Legere is currently the subject of two internal military investigations that are making administration officials much more tentative about nominating her, according to government officials who are familiar with the proceedings. The first, and the more significant of the two, is looking into $93 million the Army spent on a controversial program meant to help soldiers share battlefield intelligence. Legere oversees the program, which uses a networked or ‘cloud’ computing system known as Red Disk, and Army officials are investigating whether the Army paid for it by improperly diverting funds away from other accounts, including those set aside to fund the war in Afghanistan. Army investigators have said they want to know if the spending violated the Antideficiency Act, which was enacted in 1884 and prohibits government employees from spending money that hasn’t been appropriated by Congress.

"…Legere has been the embattled system’s most visible supporter, and that has made her a lightning rod on Capitol Hill, where [Rep. Duncan Hunter, Jr., R-Calif.] in particular has railed against the Army for not using cheaper alternatives.

"…The second investigation that has imperiled Legere’s nomination, improbably, concerns spending by the military’s Korean War 60th Anniversary Commemoration Committee last year. As the head of all Army intelligence, Legere was assigned to lead the planning committee, which came under investigation for potential misuse of the private donations accepted to pay for the festivities.

"…Officials don’t believe Legere had anything to do with the way in which the funds were used, but she is nonetheless part of that investigation and the results might prove embarrassing to the administration if the claims were substantiated." Read the rest of our story here.

The Pentagon didn’t like the piece, which first ran late Friday. We heard from Cmdr. Amy Derrick-Frost, a Pentagon spokesperson who has the DIA account and who took issue with the notion that there aren’t other senior leaders who could be considered for the DIA job, or that DIA could be facing a "leaderless future" when Flynn departs in August. Derrick-Frost: "DIA is awash with talent and leaders at all levels who continue to make an enormous impact on our national security… Deputy Director David Shedd is an extremely competent and experienced intelligence officer with more than 30 years of distinguished service who will continue to lead the agency as Acting Director during any interim period following LTG Flynn’s retirement and the installment of a new Director. I have to believe that by calling the institution "leaderless" without LTG Flynn you did not mean to impugn the dedication of so many good public servants."

She also had this to say: "Regardless of the veracity of your anonymous sources — and regardless of what individual is nominated as the next DIA Director — you have placed LTG Legere in a difficult and unfair position. Your speculative reporting may make for a fun parlor game in Washington, but it has real consequences in the lives, careers and reputations of those being portrayed."

Who’s Where When – Gen. Phil Breedlove, U.S. European Command Commander and NATO Supreme Allied Commander meets the press at 1:15 p.m. in the Pentagon briefing room… Air Force Secretary Debbie James visits Global Strike Command bases and meets with airmen, tour facilities and host an "Airman’s All Call"… she’ll be at Minot Air Force Base, Malmstrom Air Force Basse and Frances E. Warren Air Force Base in North Dakota over the next couple days.

Also today – Ash Carter, who left the Defense Department as the Pentagon’s No. 2 earlier this year, was spotted at Union Station with Sally Donnelly of SBD Advisors, heading to a taping of the Charlie Rose show to talk current events … Should be more info here later on.

On Friday, the Pentagon press corps and members of the Pentagon’s public affairs office bid adieu to departing colleagues, including AP’s Pauline Jelinek. We did a thing on them on Friday, but we couldn’t resist one of Pauline’s last lines that afternoon after a briefing with Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby. Typically, reporters have to jump on their keyboards to begin writing after a briefing to get out whatever news there might have been. But Pauline, retiring from the AP after more than 30 years and on her last day, was looking for an out: "We can smoke now, right? There wasn’t any news!"

Turns out, the Snowden leaks are manageable. The NYT’s David Sanger on Page One:  "The newly installed director of the National Security Agency says that while he has seen some terrorist groups alter their communications to avoid surveillance techniques revealed by Edward J. Snowden, the damage done over all by a year of revelations does not lead him to the conclusion that ‘the sky is falling.’ In an hourlong interview Friday in his office here at the heart of the country’s electronic eavesdropping and cyberoperations, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, who has now run the beleaguered spy agency and the military’s Cyber Command for just short of three months, described the series of steps he was taking to ensure that no one could download the trove of data that Mr. Snowden gathered – more than a million documents."

Rogers, on cautioning that there’s no perfect defense: "Am I ever going to sit here and say as the director that with 100 percent certainty no one can compromise our systems from the inside?" … Nope. Because I don’t believe that in the long run." More here.

Iraq troops battle for Tikrit as ISIS declares an Islamic state. Reuters’ Oliver Holmes and Isra’a al-Rubei’I this hour: "Iraqi troops battled to dislodge an al Qaeda splinter group from the city of Tikrit on Monday after its leader was declared caliph of a new Islamic state in lands seized this month across a swathe of Iraq and Syria. Alarming regional and world powers, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) claimed universal authority when it dropped the local element in its name and said its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as leader of the Islamic State, was now caliph of the Muslim world – a mediaeval title last widely recognized in the Ottoman sultan deposed 90 years ago after World War One. ‘He is the imam and caliph for Muslims everywhere,’ group spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani said in an online statement on Sunday, using titles that carry religious and civil power. The declaration came at the start of the holy month of Ramadan.

"The move, which follows a three-week drive for territory by ISIL militants and allies among Iraqi’s Sunni Muslim minority, aims to erase international borders drawn by colonial powers and defy Baghdad’s U.S.- and Iranian-backed, Shi’ite-led government." More here.

The Pentagon has armed drones over Iraq. CNN’s Chelsea Carter, Arwa Damon and Raja Razek, here.

Our own story about Iraq’s request to the U.S. for armed drones, on May 8, in FP, here.

Before the shooting Blackwater shooting in Iraq in 2007, there was a warning. The NYT’s James Risen this morning on Page One: "Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: "that he could kill" the government’s chief investigator and "no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq," according to department reports.

"American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show. The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports. After returning to Washington, the chief investigator wrote a scathing report to State Department officials documenting misconduct by Blackwater employees and warning that lax oversight of the company, which had a contract worth more than $1 billion to protect American diplomats, had created "an environment full of liability and negligence."

"… Today, as conflict rages again in Iraq, four Blackwater guards involved in the Nisour Square shooting are on trial in Washington on charges stemming from the episode, the government’s second attempt to prosecute the case in an American court after previous charges against five guards were dismissed in 2009. The shooting was a watershed moment in the American occupation of Iraq, and was a factor in Iraq’s refusal the next year to agree to a treaty allowing United States troops to stay in the country beyond 2011." More here.

A Marine deserter is back. AP’s Bob Burns: A Marine who was declared a deserter nearly 10 years ago after disappearing in Iraq and then returning to the U.S. claiming he had been kidnapped, only to disappear again, is back in U.S. custody, officials said Sunday.

Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun, 34, turned himself in and was being flown Sunday from an undisclosed location in the Middle East to Norfolk, Va. He is to be moved Monday to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, according to a spokesman, Capt. Eric Flanagan. Maj. Gen. Raymond Fox, commander of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Lejeune, will determine whether to court-martial Hassoun. In a written statement from its headquarters at the Pentagon, the Marine Corps said the Naval Criminal Investigative Service ‘worked with’ Hassoun to turn himself in and return to the U.S. to face charges. Hassoun disappeared from his unit in Iraq’s western desert in June 2004. The following month he turned up unharmed in Beirut, Lebanon and blamed his disappearance on Islamic extremist kidnappers. He was returned to Lejeune and was about to face the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing when he disappeared again." More 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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