The Insider

By Jason Sherman
January 28, 2009 at 5:00 AM

President Obama just wrapped up a nearly two hour meeting at the Pentagon with the Joint Chiefs. Here is an initial read on the events from a press pool report filed by Jon Ward of the Washington Times:

Potus promises "difficult decisions" ahead on Iraq and Afghanistan and says he will improve support for the military.

"We're going to have some difficult decisions that we're going to have to make.," he said.

Most of his remarks were about support for the military and easing the strain...

"We have for a long time put enormous pressure on our military to carry out a whole set of missions sometimes not with the kind of strategic support and use of all aspects of American power to make sure they're not carrying the full load. And that's something I talked to the joint chiefs about and something I intend to change," said Potus.

At 5:01, one hour and 52 minutes after his arrival, POTUS emerged from the Tank and walked down the Joint Chief's corridor, where the offices for the mil commanders are housed on the Pentagon's north side. Roughly 60 military personnel who work at the Pentagon, wearing uniforms from all branches, had lined up on both sides of the hall to greet him.

Potus and Vpotus shook hands with the mil folks for about four minutes, walking toward the pool, which was at the far end of the hall, giving photogs a nice picture to make.

Potus could be heard asking people where they were from (Indiana?), and talking with one woman about her pregnancy.

Potus also remained fascinated with the DC region's inability to handle the winter weather.

"Aren't you a little surprised that they canceled school for my kids?" he asked someone.

Other banter.

"Very nice to see you sir. Thank you for your service," he said to another.

"I know south carolina, I did a lot of campaigning there," he said, eliciting some laughter from the otherwise quiet hall, where the mil personnel stood loosely but at attention.

By the time Potus had made his way down the left side, Gates and the chiefs were in the hall. Gates shook a few hands but kind of just followed Potus.

Potus then walked to sticks and spoke for a few minutes, with VPotus and chiefs behind him. Transcript should be coming soon.

He apologized for being late -- "we kind of lost track of time" -- and thanked the military for their service.

He said in addition to iraq and afghanistan, he and the chiefs talked about "broader global risks that may arise" and how military and civilian assets should cooperate in response.

And fyi, Potus' national security advisor, Gen. James Jones, was in the meeting.

Potus then talked about the "health of the force" and giving more support for vets and their families and promised his "full support."

He then turned and walked down the right side to greet the soldiers he had not yet shaken hands with.

Motorcade rolled at 5:27 and arrived at the White House at 5:36. Potus went into the Oval.

By Jason Sherman
January 28, 2009 at 5:00 AM

.... and here's Obama's statement from the Pentagon after meeting with the Defense Department's top brass:

Sorry we're running a little bit late. I want to, first of all, thank all the men and women in uniform who are represented here. They are the best that this country has to offer. And the first thing I said to the Joint Chiefs in this meeting was how grateful we are for their service. The sacrifices that they and their families make are what are responsible for our freedoms, that sometimes we take for granted.

And as Commander-in-Chief on of my principal goals during my presidency is going to be to make sure that they have the resources and the support that they need to carry out the critical missions that keep our nation safe each and every day.

I had a wonderful discussion with the Joint Chiefs -- we kind of lost track of time -- about a range of issues facing our military, as well as the threats that face this nation, both short-term and long-term. We had discussions about Iraq, as well as Afghanistan. We talked about some of the broader global risks that may arise and the kind of planning and coordination that's going to be required between our military and our civilian forces in order to accomplish our long-term national security objectives.

We also talked about making sure that the health of our force is always in our sights. And I know that all the Chiefs that are represented here, as well as Secretary Gates, are constantly thinking about what we need to do to make sure that people who are in uniform for the United States are getting the kinds of support that they need and that their families are getting the support that they need. And that's something that I'm absolutely committed to, and I know that Vice President Biden is, as well.

We're going to have some difficult decisions that we're going to have to make surrounding Iraq and Afghanistan, most immediately. Obviously, our efforts to continue to go after extremist organizations that would do harm to the homeland is uppermost on our minds. I have every confidence that our military is going to do their job, and I intend to make sure that the civilian side of the ledger does its job to support what they are doing.

We had for a long time put enormous pressure on our military to carry out a whole set of missions, sometimes not with the sort of strategic support and the use of all aspects of American power to make sure that they're not carrying the full load. And that's something that I spoke with the Chiefs about and that I intend to change as President of the United States.

So, again, my first message was to say thank you. And in addition, it's to say that you -- all of you who are serving in the United States Armed Forces are going to have my full support, and one of my duties as President is going to be to make sure that you have what you need to accomplish your missions, and we are grateful to you.

So, all right. Thank you, guys; I'm going to shake some more hands.

By Dan Dupont
January 27, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is testifying right now before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

We'll have more on this as the day progresses, but for now, you can listen live here.

And we have Gates' prepared testimony posted. We'll have the Q&A later.

By Jason Sherman
January 27, 2009 at 5:00 AM

President Barack Obama plans to visit the Pentagon tomorrow to meet with the Joint Chiefs and discuss the U.S. operation in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee, pinpointing the timing of the POTUS trip to the Defense Department which was widely expected sometime this week.

By Jason Sherman
January 27, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Defense Secretary Robert Gates just provided new details on the timing of two key spending requests the Pentagon owes Congress.

The second FY-09 war cost request to fund operations in Iraq and Afghanistan through September will be sent to Congress "within two or three weeks," he told the House Armed Services Committee.

Also: The Obama administration's FY-10 budget request will be complete by the end of March, Gates said.

By Sebastian Sprenger
January 27, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Those hoping the Pentagon would get involved in boosting the Afghan economy, as is the case in Iraq, could be disappointed.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today he has little appetite for such an undertaking, as he sought to tamper down expectations of what the Afghanistan war can achieve.

Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gates reminded lawmakers of Afghanistan's status as one of the world's poorest countries, indicating Washington's dollars would be better spent in areas other than sophisticated economic development help.

"If we are looking to build some sort of Central Asian Valhalla, we will lose," he told senators.

The goal in Afghanistan, Gates said, is to prevent that country from becoming a "safe haven" for terrorism where extremists can plot attacks against the West.

His comments came after widespread anticipation in national security circles that President Obama would build a new Afghanistan policy around short-term goals believed to be achievable and realistic.

Gates did say the Afghans could use some "technical help" in farming and minerals extraction.

By Sebastian Sprenger
January 27, 2009 at 5:00 AM

NATO allies' calls for aerial reconnaissance missions or strikes account for a good chunk of the U.S. missions flown in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates disclosed in testimony before Congress today.

"The truth of the matter is, I think 40 percent of the air missions that are called in are called in by our allies because they don't have enough forces there," Gates said in response to a question from Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI). The senator wanted to know whether sending more reconnaissance UAVs to Afghanistan could help minimize civilian casualties during attacks on suspected insurgent hideouts.

NATO shortfalls in Afghanistan played a big role during Gates's testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee today.

Gates said he believes some European NATO allies are ready to contribute more to the conflict there, now that President Obama is in office.

"My sense is, from some of the information and diplomatic comments -- and public comments -- that some leaders have made in Europe, that they are prepared to be asked and that they are prepared to do something. And, in fact, there are some indications that a few of our allies have been sitting on a capability so that they could give the new president something when he asks," Gates said.

By Sebastian Sprenger
January 26, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Readers parsing China's recently released national defense white paper for certain words might be surprised that one term is notably absent -- "cyber."

How can this be, given that U.S. officials seem to believe the PLA is quite active in snooping around on Western governments' networks?

The answer lies in the different terminology used by the Chinese, we're told by an expert. What readers instead will encounter frequently is the word "informationization." And that term is so central to the text that it can be found all over the document -- 35 times, by the count of our .pdf reader.

"Taking informationization as the goal of modernization of its national defense and armed forces and in light of its national and military conditions, China actively pushes forward the ((revolution in military affairs)) with Chinese characteristics," the document states.

A search for "information warfare" turns up exactly one match. The section goes like this:

The PLA is spreading basic knowledge of electromagnetic-spectrum and battlefield-electromagnetic environments, learning and mastering basic theories of information warfare, particularly electronic warfare. It is enhancing training on how to operate and use informationized weaponry and equipment, and command information systems. It is working on the informationizing of combined tactical training bases, and holding exercises in complex electromagnetic environments.

By Dan Dupont
January 26, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Shay Assad, the director of defense procurement at the Pentagon, has a new title, temporarily; he's now the acting deputy under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, according to John Young, the under secretary.

Assad is filling in for James Finley, who, as was expected, left the building before the Obama administration took over.

Young made Assad's acting role official in a Jan. 19 memo.

Before the Obama team can get around to filling the deputy job full-time, of course, it must find someone to succeed Young, who is sticking around until a replacement is confirmed.

While Harvard's Ashton Carter, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy during the Clinton administration's first term, was thought to be a strong candidate for several weeks, his lack of acquisition experience has, according to some observers, made him less likely to get the nod.

The latest name getting the most buzz for frontrunner status is that of David Oliver, retired rear admiral and former principal deputy under secretary for acquisition. Oliver now serves as a higher-up at EADS North America and played a big role for that company in the tanker competition, which is sure to raise some eyebrows on Capitol Hill should he be Obama's pick.

By Jason Simpson
January 23, 2009 at 5:00 AM

You can't always believe what you read on the Internet.

This morning, the Aviation Week blog “Ares” posted an entry titled “JSF Blows Nunn-McCurdy." The post claims a "bombshell" recently was dropped by the Government Accountability Office on a GAO Web page for the presidential transition, which states:

The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) -- DOD's largest acquisition program procuring aircraft for the Air Force, Navy, Marines, and U.S. allies -- also recently declared a Nunn-McCurdy unit cost breach. This program faces considerable risks stemming from its decision to reduce test assets and the flight-test program to pay for development and manufacturing cost increases.

According to Ares, this is a big deal.

Outgoing program office director Maj Gen Charles Davis chose not to mention the breach in a 90-minute briefing and discussion at the Brookings Institute last week, and although several questions were asked about costs, nobody specifically used the N-word.

And the post ends thusly: "Welcome to the Pentagon, Mr President!"

There's just one problem: The Web site links to a GAO report dated almost a year ago, citing a Nunn-McCurdy breach from 2005.

Contacted by Inside the Air Force today, GAO said the wording of its statement may be a little misleading. Mike Sullivan, the director of GAO's aqcuisition and sourcing management team, told ITAF that “the Nunn-McCurdy breach . . . actually was in the December 2005 (selected acquisition reports). It's three years old. We were just trying to list programs that had Nunn-McCurdy breaches since they changed the Nunn-McCurdy criteria, and it was a unit-cost breach. It probably should have been explained better, but when we say 'recent,' it didn't happen now, it's three years old.”

By Christopher J. Castelli
January 22, 2009 at 5:00 AM

The Senate Armed Services Committee will be a bit larger than before, and there will be a few new faces.

Among the new members, we've learned, will be Sen. Roland Burris (D-IL), who was recently appointed by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D).

Three other Democrats are joining the panel: Sens. Mark Udall (CO), Kay Hagan (NC) and Mark Begich (AK).

Hillary Clinton, who yesterday became secretary of state, has left the committee; so has Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR).

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn is also off the panel.

Republican Sens. Richard Burr (NC) and David Vitter (LA) are new additions to the committee.

By Carlo Muñoz
January 22, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Retired Adm. Dennis Blair, President Obama's pick for director of national intelligence, today told lawmakers he supports the administration's newly minted executive orders governing interrogations of suspected terrorists by the CIA and other intel agencies, but cautioned that some of those actions could put future intelligence-gathering efforts at risk.

According to the White House directive, all government officials will now have to adhere to the rules, regulations and practices outlined in the Army's field manual for interrogation tactics, techniques and procedures. During today's confirmation hearing before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, Blair said that if he is confirmed he will take the administration's edict a step further by renaming the Army document the "Manual for Government Interrogations."

However, Blair expressed concerns over the possibility that the manual, in the wrong hands, could "become the training manual for resistance training" for suspected terrorists detained by U.S. forces. "I agree they should be uniform . . . (but) we need to be very careful about how we do this," Blair said. "We need to get it right."

To maintain operational security while implementing a uniform code of interrogation procedures, Blair said, he would use his position as the vice chairman on the "Special Task Force on Interrogation and Transfer Policies" -- also established under the administration's executive order -- to ensure that information in the manual cannot be used against U.S forces. Further, Blair floated the notion of issuing a version of the manual that is "widely available in an unclassified form" but would not include "the specific techniques that can provide training value" to adversaries.

But ranking member Kit Bond (R-MO) pointed out that Blair's idea for two versions of the manual was the same approach applied by the Bush White House. When Blair attempted to respond, Bond cut Blair off, telling the DNI nominee he did not need a response.

By Sebastian Sprenger
January 22, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Senators on the Armed Services Committee could use the occasion of a hearing with Defense Secretary Robert Gates next week to consider the nominations for some key Pentagon posts, according to panel spokeswoman Tara Andringa.

On Inauguration Day, the committee received the nominations of Jeh Johnson to be the general counsel of the Defense Department, Robert Hale to be the Pentagon comptroller, Michele Flournoy to be the under secretary of defense for policy and William Lynn to be the deputy defense secretary.

While the committee has not scheduled it, a vote "could possibly happen" when the panel convenes Tuesday morning to hear from Gates, Andringa told us today.

Whether senators will vote on the Lynn nomination then is unclear. Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) announced today that members are awaiting an Obama administration assessment to see whether lobbying-related rules, outlined by the new president this week, would preclude Lynn from the No. 2 Pentagon job. (See our story on this issue here.)

Meanwhile, DOD officials saw the departure of acting Comptroller Douglas Brook over the weekend. According to a mid-January memo from Navy Secretary Donald Winter, Brook was scheduled to leave his Navy comptroller job, which he kept after becoming acting DOD comptroller last fall, on Jan. 17. Sources today confirmed this meant Brook was leaving the Pentagon altogether.

A DOD spokesman did not return an e-mail seeking comment on whether the administration would bother to name a new acting comptroller before the Senate confirms someone, probably Hale, for the job.

By Sebastian Sprenger
January 22, 2009 at 5:00 AM

Pentagon officials today said they are not stopping the clock on a proposed December 2008 rule that would set out new guidelines governing the employment of federal military forces during domestic crises.

Shortly after President Obama's inauguration on Tuesday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel sent a memo to all government agency chiefs, ordering them to temporarily suspend action on certain Bush-era rules in the rulemaking pipeline until Obama officials have had a chance to review them.

ABC News published that memo here.

The proposed Pentagon rule, published in the Federal Register on Dec. 4, 2008, seeks to implement a series of guidelines, known under the umbrella term "Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA)," that script what federal troops may and may not do when asked for help by a civilian agency after a domestic natural disaster or terrorist attack.

The proposed rule includes an "emergency conditions" provision that allows uniformed or civilian Defense Department officials to quickly spring into action after a crisis without immediate approval from Pentagon leaders. More details are in our story here.

According to Pentagon spokeswoman Air Force Lt. Col. Almarah Belk, Emanuel's memo has no effect on the proposed DSCA rule.

"The memo applies to new and pending rules that have not (been) published and to published final rules for which the effective date has not passed," she said in an e-mail today.

The comment period for the DSCA rule ends on Feb. 2.

By Jason Sherman
January 22, 2009 at 5:00 AM

A Pentagon watchdog group wants William Lynn, a former Raytheon executive and registered lobbyist for the defense industry giant, knocked out of the running to be the Defense Department's No. 2 official and replaced with a candidate who does not require a waiver from new White House ethics rules.

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, said her organization “believes strongly in the revolving door restrictions President Barack Obama has outlined to restore integrity and ethics to government.”

It is because we believe so strongly in the positive impact that such a change will have that we urge the President to withdraw his nomination of William J. Lynn III as deputy secretary of defense. President Obama should not compromise his standards and the effectiveness of the Department of Defense by allowing a top defense industry lobbyist to receive a waiver from these standards. The defense industry is in a class of its own among all of the industries that have had a pervasive stranglehold on public policy to advance their own financial interests.

Obama yesterday signed executive orders that set forth the strictest rules imposed by any president on lobbying activities for his administration.

Will this call by POGO move anyone in the Senate to block the nomination?

During Lynn's Jan. 15 confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) -- one of Obama's earliest and staunchest supporters in the Senate during the presidential campaign -- was the only lawmaker to raise the indelicate matter of Lynn's lobbying background.

SEN. MCCASKILL: Mr. Lynn -- you know, first of all, all of you I appreciate your service. All of you are not coming back for the glory or the money; you're coming back because you want to serve, and I thank all four of you for that. And I don't mean by directing this question to in any way impugn your integrity, but the revolving door is an important issue for us to talk about, between the Pentagon and the defense community.

You went directly from the Pentagon to a defense contractor.

You are coming back directly from a defense contractor, a major -- one of the largest defense contractors -- into the Department of Defense. And in that role, you have a major responsibility over acquisition procurement.

This is troubling to a lot of people who are just looking at this situation. We have gone a long way in Congress to try to begin to stop the revolving door. We haven't done as well as we'd like to, but there's a whole lot of attention in the public about the revolving door between lobbying and Congress and lobbying and Congress. Frankly, there isn't as much attention in the defense sector, and it's an incestuous business what's going on in terms of the defense contractors and the Pentagon and the highest levels of our military. I'd like to give you an opportunity to speak to it, since you're an example of it. (Laughter.)

MR. LYNN: Senator, when I left the department I followed the strict ethics, procedures and didn't have any contact with the department for the period that's set by law. On coming back into the department, there are equally strict ethics procedures on what issues I can handle and what issues I can't. I will be working with the general counsel's office to ensure to ensure I follow those ethics procedures completely.

SEN. MCCASKILL: Well, do you have a comment -- I mean, do you feel like you could be somebody who could be a reformer in this regard? Do you sense that there's something else that we need to do? Do you sense that there may not be a problem that there is maybe too much shortcutting of picking up the phone and dialing into the Pentagon from a defense contract agency because of former friends that are there and vice versa? I mean, do you have any sense that reform is needed here?

MR. LYNN: Well, I'm --

SEN. MCCASKILL: Do you hear the hopeful tone in my voice?

MR. LYNN: I do hear the tone, Senator. I'm not aware whether the DCAA case you -- I think you probably have more familiarity with the details as to whether that was people leaving DCAA and contacting back to DCAA. I hadn't heard that, but perhaps you know more. I think we need to keep --

SEN. MCCASKILL: The best example I can give you is the Thunderbird scandal. That was really somebody who had left the military and was working for a contractor and reached back in to get a contract, a sweetheart contract, no-bid, noncompetitive contract for some PR work for the Air Force Thunderbirds. That's one example; I can give you some other examples.

MR. LYNN: Well, Senator, I certainly believe that we need to maintain the highest ethical standards. I pledge to you that I will do that personally in terms of your hopefulness that we can reform. I will -- well, I will work to not only ensure that we follow the highest ethical standards but that we have the transparency that provides the public the belief, the understanding that indeed those standards are being followed. It's not just the reality, it's the perception, and I understand that and we plan to work on both.

The Senate Armed Services Committee received formal nominations of Pentagon appointees yesterday and has not yet voted on Lynn, according to a source on the committee.