The Cable

Situation Report: Former congressman pushes rockets on the Hill; Pentagon people on the move; and lots more inside

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson Pleased to meet me. What’s there to do for an 11-term congressman who decides that running yet again just ain’t worth it? Open a consulting firm, of course. Buck McKeon, the longtime Republican representative from California and former chairman of the influential House Armed Services Committee, retired in January ...

By Paul McLeary with Ariel Robinson

Pleased to meet me. What’s there to do for an 11-term congressman who decides that running yet again just ain’t worth it?

Open a consulting firm, of course.

Buck McKeon, the longtime Republican representative from California and former chairman of the influential House Armed Services Committee, retired in January and wasted little time in starting the McKeon Group LLC, keeping the business in the family by naming his son, Howard, the chief operations officer and his long time chief of staff, Robert Cochran, senior partner.

And the first defense company with which McKeon’s firm has secured a deal is California-based rocket maker Aerojet Rocketdyne, which is gearing up to enter the hugely competitive U.S. Air Force race to replace Russian-made RD-180 rockets that Washington wants to scrap amid Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

The watchdog OpenSecrets.org combed through campaign finance reports and found that employees of Aerojet’s parent company, GenCorp, contributed about $31,000 to McKeon’s reelection campaigns between 2006 and 2014.

Recent filings show that Cochran has also signed up to lobby for Arlington, Va.-based missile maker MBDA Inc.

Though former House members are banned by law from lobbying their old colleagues and congressional staff for a year after leaving office, they’re not prohibited from playing the field. The lawmakers are still allowed to provide strategic advice to a variety of government employees, in addition to lobbying folks in the executive branch and advising companies.

On the move. FP confirmed Tuesday morning that former Camp C-NAS think tanker and Army Ranger Andrew Exum is trading in his Abu Muqawama title to become Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy. He’ll replace Matthew Spence, who had held the position since February 2012. Exum — who once played paintball with Hezbollah in Beirut — was recently a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group and special advisor for Middle East policy at the Pentagon, is a fluent Arabic speaker and holds a Ph.D. from King’s College.

On the road. Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Elissa Slotkin is in Eastern Europe to meet with officials in Tallinn, Estonia, to discuss the U.S.-Estonian defense relationship, regional security concerns, and future cooperation, an official tells FP.

Estonia—the easternmost of all NATO countries—has emerged as a critical partner in the alliance’s expansion, in part because it sits both literally and figuratively at the forefront of the West’s new and uncertain relationship with Moscow.

In 2007, after taking down a controversial statue of a Soviet soldier in Tallinn, Estonia suffered a pretty serious hack attack that shut down many of the country’s government sites, along with a major bank. It was later proven that the attack — which forced the “most wired country in Europe” offline for three weeks — came from Russian hackers. Just this past September, an Estonian counter-intelligence official was kidnapped at the Russian border and taken to Moscow, where he was put on television and accused of being a spy by Russia’s spy service, the FSB. Estonia is also a close partner in the Atlantic Resolve military exercises that the U.S. military is conducting with a handful of Eastern European partners.

They’re gonna make it work. The Marine Corps is conducting one last round of tests of its F-35B fighter jets over the next few weeks before the pricey birds go operational in July. The planes will fly off the USS Wasp amphibious warship operating near the Virginia coast as part of the final evaluation before the Corps signs off on the first squadron of 10 to be fully operational. The six jets operating together will mark the highest number of F-35s ever used on a Navy ship, Andrea Shalal of Reuters reports.

Hey there friends! Know any assistant defense secretaries on international travel? Want to? Drop us a line over here at the Situation Report at paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary

Who’s Where When

10:00 a.m.  Adm. James Winnefeld, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff delivers remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on missile defense and U.S. national security. 2:00 p.m. Also at CSIS, Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Tomasz Siemoniak will discuss the security environment in the Baltic region and Poland, and NATO’s response to the changed environment.

Iraq

The BBC gets rare access and shoots video of Iraqi airstrikes against Islamic State targets near Mosul. Flying out of Erbil, the crew of the Mi-17 helicopter is advised by an unnamed member of the U.S. military before taking off on a nighttime mission.

Islamic State

According to Bloomberg’s Erin Thompson, the Islamic State has been making a profit off its destruction of ancient ruins. (FP’s David Francis reported a similar story last week.) Fighters have been busily removing artifacts from sites to sell, with some objects winding up up for sale in various London galleries. It isn’t just the fighters who are looting: impoverished civilians are also stealing from the ruins. But there’s a hustle there too: The Islamic State levies a 20 percent “tax” on what is sold.

Former CIA chief Mike Morrell says that the Islamic State isn’t even in the top three of the most significant threats to the United States. Those spots are reserved for the al Qaeda offshoots in Yemen, followed by those in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in Syria, reports The Hill’s Julian Hattam.

Tech and Military Gear

Demilitarizing police: The Defense Department will stop selling grenade launchers, weapons mounted on planes, and other types of military gear after new regulations signed by President Barack Obama go into effect, the AP reports. Among the other newly-prohibited items are bayonets and ammunition or firearms larger than .50-cal.

Ukraine and Russia

Ukraine has announced that it intends to prosecute the two alleged Russian special operations soldiers it captured over the weekend, the BBC reports. Ukraine’s security chief is confident the two men are Russian special forces, though Moscow says the two men are no longer serving in the military. Russian officers are being required to resign from the service before deploying to Ukraine.

As part of an overall Russian military buildup, the International Business Times reports that Moscow plans to build “hundreds” of new drones by 2025.

But Business Insider reporter Elena Holodny writes that a Russian economist says the Kremlin’s military spending is unsustainable. Non-military spending for the first three months of 2015 was at 16.5 percent of the quarter’s GDP, as planned. Military spending, however, has already been “more than double the budgeted amount at over 9% of the quarterly GDP.”

Japan

Japan can retaliate against North Korea, and they will, if Pyongyang launches a missile attack on the U.S., the Korea Times reports. Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani’s remarks last Sunday are “expected to provoke a strong response.”

Iran

Iran is “flexing its muscles” in the Strait of Hormuz, Parisa Hafezi reports for Reuters. The recent attacks on commercial shipping in the critical waterway have raised fears among American allies in the Gulf, but one Iranian official says that there’s a method to their might. “Iran’s recent measures in the Strait of Hormuz have one clear message to Saudi Arabia. No one can ignore Iran’s key role,” said the unnamed Iranian official.

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