The D Brief: Is Hagel safe?; Is cyber threat over-hyped?; A look inside Boeing’s new offices; Turkey alliance crumbles, and a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson
Does Team Obama have a problem with Chuck Hagel and John Kerry? Not necessarily. But the series of crises, from Ukraine to Syria to Iraq to Bowe Bergdahl, to the VA and now Ebola, has given rise to speculation, first fed by the WaPo’s David Ignatius earlier this month, that Obama was considering a shake-up on his team. Now on Page One today, the NYT’s Mark Landler reports how Obama could be considering replacing top aides and focuses on Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Many speculated that Hagel was the perfect choice for Obama, someone who would have street-cred in the building as a former Army sergeant but be politically pliable and that the humble, self-effacing Hagel would stay out of the way. Another view is that Hagel’s low-key style—rarely opening his mouth during national security council meetings, for example—is too low-key. Landler’s story looks at both men.
Despite successes, Kerry is jokingly compared by White House officials as being like the astronaut played by Sandra Bullock in the movie “Gravity,” in which she is somersaulting through space and in Kerry’s case, untethered from the White House, Landler writes. Hagel, who has had difficulty penetrating the inner circle that is National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, “has a different problem.”
“A respected former senator, like Mr. Kerry, Mr. Hagel says little in policy meetings and has largely ceded the stage to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who officials said has won the confidence of Mr. Obama with his recommendations of military action against the Islamic State.
“Defenders of Mr. Hagel attribute his reticence in meetings to fears that the details will leak into the news media, and say he is more vocal in one-on-one sessions with the president. They also insist that he is more assertive on policy than his reputation suggests, citing a sharply critical two-page memo that he sent to Ms. Rice last week, in which he warned that the administration’s Syria policy was in danger of unraveling because of its failure to clarify its intentions toward President Bashar al-Assad.
“But, Mr. McDonough and Ms. Rice both said the president was satisfied with his cabinet. ‘Deciding policy is just one step,” Mr. McDonough said. ‘You need the secretaries to implement.’”
Yet Obama has still appointed special czars, including Ron Klain on Ebola and John Allen, the retired four-star, on Iraq and Syria.
Landler: “But these outsiders, sometimes called czars, can cause their own problems. General Allen’s appointment as special envoy to the anti-Islamic State coalition antagonized General Dempsey, several officials said, because he worried that the retired general would stray onto the Pentagon’s turf.” Read the rest of the story here.
Meantime, Hagel sided with his generals yesterday in a decision on Ebola quarantines that had to be difficult. But he cut it both ways. After Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno decided that the first group of military personnel returning from Liberia should be quarantined for 21 days, in Italy, the Joint Chiefs recommended to Hagel that any and all military personnel returning from the region should be quarantined. Hagel had to decide whether to back his general and flag officers—and in so doing support policy that did not square with the approach taken by the White House on quarantines. In the end, Hagel said he supported what his Chiefs advised but asked for a review in 45 days—a possible out if the policy of conducting “controlled monitoring” of military personnel returning from the region starts to be seen as overkill.
McClatchy’s Jim Rosen on how the Pentagon, White House, go their separate ways on Ebola, here.
Welcome to the Thursday edition of The D Brief, Defense One's new, first-read national security newsletter. Congrats to the Giants. And LOL, Doctrine Man! for the Facebook post that suggests this morning that the Giants’ star pitcher, Madison Bumgarner, is “in a relationship” with commentator Joe Buck.
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Today in Defense One: An overhyped threat? A cyber attack yielding “significant loss of life” and damage in the “tens of billions of dollars” can be expected by 2025, Defense One’s own Patrick Tucker reports from interviews of experts conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project: “It’s the old phantom of the 'cyber Pearl Harbor,' a concept commonly credited to former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta but that is actually as old as the world wide web. It dates back to security expert Winn Schwartau’s testimony to Congress in 1991, when he warned of an 'electronic Pearl Harbor' and said it was 'waiting to occur.' More than two decades later, we’re still waiting. The Pew report offers, if nothing else, an opportunity to look at how the cyber landscape has changed and how it will continue to evolve between now and 2025.”
And speaking of cyber, China is not too crazy about the findings from a NATO-solicited review of “applications of law to cyberspace, including the use of force, when and how states can defend themselves, as well as questions of proportionality, distinction, and neutrality.” The Council on Foreign Relations’ Adam Segal with that bit of friction ahead of a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Obama’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit next week, also here in Defense One.
Many federal workers hope Obama does the right thing—giving them the day after Christmas off. And now 35,000 have signed a big petition thusly. From the WaPo’s Lisa Rein: “…The petition posted to the White House’s ‘We the People’ page asks the administration to ‘Declare an executive order for all executive departments and agencies to be closed 12/26/2014, for a four-day weekend.’ The justification is straightforward: There’s precedent for this, and federal workers say they deserve a free day off after last year’s sequestration-triggered furloughs and three years of pay freezes.” Read the rest of the story here. Sign the petition here.
GS folks are all over the petition; politicals? Not so much, we’re told—they’re a bit afraid.
These days at the Pentagon, loose lips are a good thing: Because if you see something, you’re supposed to say something—and be vigilant about your public profile. The Pentagon’s security agency issued an internal memo reminding employees “to be vigilant at home, at work, during travel and in their communities, by using individual protective measures.” Rowan Scarborough of The Washington Times, here.
Uber-cool: The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA, announced that Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick will be honored at IAVA’s “Annual Heroes Gala” that will celebrate its 10th anniversary. That’s on Nov. 13th in New York. Why is this cool? Because IAVA says that the Uber CEO has led a hiring initiative to hire 50,000 service members and spouses over the next 18 months. More info here.
The SEAL who took down Osama bin Laden? Soon to be revealed, thanks to a special report on Fox in a couple weeks. The Daily Mail with a bit about “one of the greatest mysteries in American military history” being solved soon, here.
DC folk: Know that new building off 395 across from the Pentagon with the big Boeing moniker on top? We’re told no reporter has been in Boeing’s new digs. Until now. Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber sends us this candy: “…If you’ve driven on 395, you’ve seen the sprawling, glass building under construction for the past few years. The building’s lobby has an airy feel with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out toward the Capitol and the Potomac. This building trumps the company’s defense sector headquarters in St. Louis in terms of elegance. But the one in St. Louis has an impressive museum that includes models of all the Boeing and McDonnell Douglas aircraft and spacecraft ever built. Several years ago, Boeing decided to consolidate its leased Crystal City and Rosslyn facilities into this single building. The conditions in the old office buildings were deteriorating and the rent kept rising, making the construction of a new state-of-the art, company owned facility a better investment, Boeing officials say.”
Who's doing what today? Hagel welcomes the Albanian defense minister to the Pentagon at 10 a.m., which is also when John Kerry sits down with The Atlantic’s Steve Clemons at the Washington Ideas Forum. DOD’s Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright hosts the 34th Annual Department of Defense Disability Awards Ceremony at the Pentagon at 2 p.m.; and Army Chief Odierno takes the stage at Fort Myers’ Whipple Field today for a Twilight Tattoo ceremony recognizing five civilians for their support to the Army. That’s slated for 4:30 p.m.
Two weeks after NYT’s C.J. Chivers blew the lid off the story of U.S. troop exposure to chemical weapons in Iraq, the Army and Navy said they “will offer medical examinations and long-term health monitoring” for its exposed Joes—numbering at least 25 so far—as part of a broader review ordered by Hagel. That bit, here.
Moscow’s bombers are not terribly interested in filing flight plans or maintaining comms with non-Russian ground controllers while traveling over European airspace this week. NATO scrambled F-16s from Norway to intercept four Russian Tu-95 Bear H strategic bombers and four Il-78 tankers tracing a Baltic, North and Black Sea route on Tuesday and Wednesday, the alliance said yesterday. That from Brussels, here.
“Russian aggression is clear,” Army Chief Gen. Ray Odierno told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer last night: “The important part about this is they're not abiding by rules that have been set up, air rules, normal air rules, that everybody files flight plans if, in fact, the report is true. And, in fact, the fact that they are flying without any communications. And so that's concerning.” Watch that bit on CNN here.
Also from Odierno, on taking the long view with the battle against ISIS: “This is a 30 year problem, but to really—I think it's a 30 year potential problem. However, I think, in the next three to four years, you can significantly degrade the capability of ISIS.” That clip from CNN, here.
Meanwhile in Iraq, ISIS may not storm Baghdad anytime soon—not that that makes Baghdadis any less nervous. McClatchy’s Jonathan Landay reports on the mood from the capital, here.
Over at The Atlantic’s Washington Ideas Forum, SecDef Hagel suggested Americans shouldn’t cozy up to the idea of isolationism for a long, long time. Atlantic’s David A. Graham writing in Defense One: “’I think we are living through one of these historic, defining times,’ Hagel said. ‘We are seeing a new world order—post-World War II, post-Soviet Union implosion—being built… Tyranny, terrorism, the challenges and threats to our country … is going to be with us,’ he said. ‘It’s a reality. I see these things continuing to stay out of there.’”
Also at the Ideas Forum, AttyGen Eric Holder thinks the TV show that best resembles DC is “House of Cards.” The NYT’s First Draft, here.
And State released a transcript of Gen. John Allen’s interview with al Jazeera Arabic yesterday. Topics: tribal dynamics in standing up a credible Iraqi resistance, the patience required to retake Mosul and the intricacies of training an opposition amid “the tragedy of the Syrian civil war.” That here.
The U.S. sees its long alliance with Turkey crumble, the WaPo’s Liz Sly from Ankara, here.
Morocco announces an increase in its counter-terrorism support to the UAE. Al Arabiya with that announcement out of Rabat, here.
A day after Libyan former general Khalifa Hiftar made news over possible human rights abuses against Islamist militias around Benghazi, Amnesty International released a report on abductions, torture and summary killings from “militias and armed groups on all sides” in Western Libya. Read that, here.
“It’s classified,” so don’t ask how the Afghan National Security Forces are doing. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio this morning: “The U.S.-North Atlantic Treaty Organization joint command’s decision to classify the reports ‘is a significant change’ that leaves his office ‘without a critical tool to publicly report on development’ of the 335,000-man force, John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said in his latest quarterly report issued today… ‘We have a responsibility to protect data that could jeopardize the operational security of our Afghan partners to include unnecessarily highlighting possible vulnerabilities and capability gaps,'” ISAF responded in a statement. The rest from Tony, here.
The Iraqi Pesh have made it to Kobani, AP reports this hour here.
The A-10 debate returns with a vengeance. The Air Force says its work in Iraq is draining critical manpower needed to get the F-35 off the ground here in the states—that is unless Congress finally drops the A-10. WSJ’s Julian Barnes: “The Air Force had planned to move a squadron of older F-15s to the Air National Guard, freeing up 350 maintenance experts to join the F-35 program... ‘Suggesting that we must prematurely retire the A-10 to fulfill long-anticipated maintenance requirements for the F-35A is a false choice,’ said Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.).” More here.
Virginia’s Randy Forbes—like Mac Thornberry of Texas—wants Buck McKeon’s gig as the HASC chair. Politico’s Jeremy Herb has the scoop, here.
Newsflash: Alaska is part of North America. And thusly, Chuck Hagel approved a proposal Oct. 27 to make Alaska Command, a sub-unified command commonly known as ALCOM, to fall under U.S. Northern Command. Up until now, ALCOM fell under U.S. Pacific Command. From ALCOM’s press release to ALCON (get it?): “The move should be transparent to most military people in Alaska, and will not have an impact on the size or budget of ALCOM. Gen. Charles Jacoby, the dual-hatted commander of NORTHCOM and the combined US-Canada North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, said the move provides a better command structure for the defense of North America.”
Jacoby: “Simply put, this move makes the most sense as we seek a more cohesive approach to defending North America,” Jacoby said.
Speaking of PACOM, Reuters has this slow-drip progress report on U.S.-China mil-to-mil reporting for “major military operations and a code of safe conduct on naval and air military encounters." Reuters this hour here.