With American and Iranian negotiators streaming into Geneva for the next round of nuclear talks, there's been no shortage of official rhetoric coming from Washington. The Obama administration argues that the deal wrests real concessions from the Iranians in exchange for only modest sanctions relief. The State Department says an agreement would freeze Iran's nuclear program while buying time to hash out a permanent deal. And the Pentagon -- well, the Pentagon has stayed relatively silent. Which is kind of odd, since the man in charge of the Defense Department is one of Washington's better-known advocates for talks with Tehran.
Secretary of State John Kerry has been the administration's point person on Iran, as he was during September's Syria crisis. He dominated recent joint appearances on Capitol Hill with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, answering questions more forcefully, and with more specificity, than his colleague. Hagel, like his predecessors, has said that all options are on the table when it comes to Iran. But during a recent round of public appearances, Hagel has largely deferred to Kerry when the subject of Iran has come up. "The president has said, Secretary Kerry has said, a bad deal is worse than no deal," Hagel told the Reagan Defense Forum over the weekend. "As we all know, this is Secretary Kerry's area of responsibility," he said during an October joint appearance with the Secretary of State in Tokyo.
More concretely, the Pentagon won't be sending any representatives to this week's talks. The Navy has also begun to quietly redeploy some of the ships it had kept in the Mediterranean Sea during the Syria crisis to other parts of the world.
The Pentagon's reduced public role reflects a pair of factors. First, the administration has worked hard to reduce tensions with Iran and find a way of slowing, and then ending, Iran's push for a nuclear bomb through diplomacy rather than through the use of force. Having Hagel or other Pentagon officials speak publicly about potential military strikes could gum up the fragile talks by making Iranian officials feel like they're being bullied and can't trust that the administration is negotiating in good faith.
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President Bashar al-Assad's government has presented the United Nation's chemical weapons watchdog with a detailed plan for the transfer of chemical materials abroad for destruction. And according to a confidential account of the plan reviewed by Foreign Policy, it includes 120 Syrian security forces, dozens of heavy, armored trucks, and an advanced communications network linking Damascus to the Mediterranean Sea. The extensive request for equipment with both civilian and military applications has already triggered expressions of alarm from Western diplomats. "Let's just say we will be looking at this list very skeptically, particularly items that could be diverted to a military program," said one Security Council diplomat.
The Syrian plan calls for equipping at least eight platoons of up to 35 soldiers each to secure the road between Damascus to the port city of Latakia, from which the weapons would be shipped overseas for destruction. The most likely destination: Albania, which got rid of its own chemical stockpile in 2007. The United States is nearing agreement with the Albanian government to destroy Syria's chemicals and nerve agents, according to two U.N. Security Council diplomats. According to the American proposal, which has not been made public, the United States would supply the Albanian government with mobile labs capable of destroying Syrian nerve gas through a process known as hydrolysis -- essentially bombarding it with water and caustic reagents like sodium hydroxide.
The Cable first reported last week on aspects of the Syrian destruction plan, including a proposal to convert 12 chemical weapons plants into commercial factories. But The Cable has since obtained a far more detailed account of the plan, including requests for tens of millions of dollars worth of equipment, including 40 armored transport trucks, advanced cameras, computers, radios, 13 power generators, five construction cranes, five forklifts, packing materials, and 20 Teflon-lined 2,000-liter metal crates for storing controlled chemicals, including phosphoryl chloride and phosphorus trichloride, a precursor chemical used in the production of sarin and tabun.
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As Congress considers legislation to reform the surveillance practices of the National Security Agency, senior intelligence officials have said publicly that they'd be willing to modify key aspects of how one of the most controversial programs is run. But now, the top lawyers for the NSA and other intelligence agencies are pushing back on that idea, arguing that they should be allowed to continue building a massive database of phone records on every American. It'd be better for American's privacy rights, they claim.
Under one proposal now pending before Congress, telecommunications providers, rather than the NSA, would hold onto the phone call records of hundreds of millions of people that the agency queries to find connections between suspected terrorists and people in the United States. And a bill with bipartisan backing would further limit the NSA's ability to collect that information in bulk. Agency officials have said the database is essential for stopping terrorist attacks. But some lawmakers want to restrict the agency's access to it, in part because the records can reveal private contacts and associations that may have nothing to do with a criminal act.
"I think it's no secret that the sponsors of this bill want to eliminate the bulk collection program," Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, speaking of the bill sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI).
The Obama administration is trying to send a message to Egypt's generals by cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S aid. The only problem is that it isn't entirely clear what the message actually is.
U.S. officials said Wednesday that the administration would delay planned deliveries of F-16 fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and M1A1 tanks. The officials said they would also suspend a planned $260 million cash transfer to the Egyptians; Congresional aides briefed on the matter said that a $300 million loan guarantee would also be held back. (The U.S. gives Egypt roughly $1.5 billion per year in total aid.)
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. was "recalibrating" its aid to Egypt in response to the military's continued killing of unarmed protesters demanding the reinstatement of ousted President Mohamed Morsy as well as the arrests and detentions of key opposition leaders. General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the Army chief who has ruled the country since removing Morsy from power, has promised to hold new elections and take other steps to restore Egypt's nascent democratic system, but the officials said the military was taking too long to follow through on its assurances.
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The Defense Department has stripped Gen. James "Hoss" Cartwright of his security clearance, depriving the man once known as "Obama's favorite general" access to classified data as the investigation into leaks of national security secrets continues.
Multiple current and former administration sources told FP that Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, lost his clearance earlier this year. It was an indicator that that government officials might, in some way, consider his ongoing access to secrets a national security risk while he was under investigation by the Department of Justice for possibly leaking sensitive information about the Stuxnet computer virus. And, it presents challenges for a man who has been working to shore up his image since retiring in 2011.
It was also a further indignity for Cartwright, who turned 64 this week, and who was once an Obama administration darling. Cartwright enjoyed privileged access "across the river" at the White House when he was the number two senior officer on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon from 2007 to 2011. He had adopted contrarian views on issues like the troop surge in Afghanistan, which alienated him from senior brass at the Pentagon but in many ways helped catapult his reputation within the White House.
He quickly fell from grace, however,after being linked to leaks about a highly classified cyberweapon created by the U.S. and Israelis called Stuxnet. The super-secret worm, designed to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, was widely believed to be a joint U.S.-Israeli operation. A report by the New York Times' David Sanger confirmed it, marking the first time a government had even unofficially taken credit for a weapon made entirely of code. The Times reported that Cartwright conceived and ran the cyber operation known as Olympic Games, which included Stuxnet and other highly-sophisticated pieces of malware aimed at the Iranian nuclear effort. The story provided details about the operation and referenced interviews with current officials in the administration. The charge from critics of the administration, including from Capitol Hill, was that the Obama administration authorized the leaks in order to increase the president's bona fides on national security. The Obama administration immediately denounced the leaks and launched the investigation.
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The Obama administration's plan to get rid of Syria's chemical weapons depends on President Bashar al-Assad letting international inspectors into his country -- and standing by as they destroy the deadly agents in his arsenal.
But former high-ranking U.S. intelligence officials -- as well as Syria experts -- doubt that Assad has any intention of doing this. And in his tacit agreement to the daunting weapons-removal plan, which was brokered by the United States and Russia and will take months if not years to complete, they detect a deliberate strategy.
"I think this is the Syrians playing for time," Michael Morell, the recently-retired deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told Foreign Policy. "I do not believe that they would seriously consider giving up their chemical weapons."
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Russia's proposal for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to place his chemical weapons under international supervision and then destroy them is quickly gaining steam. Assad's government accepted the plan this morning. A few hours later, President Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande announced that they'd seriously explore the proposal. It already has the backing of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and a growing number of influential lawmakers from both parties. There's just one problem: the plan would be nearly impossible to actually carry out.
Experts in chemical weapons disposal point to a host of challenges. Taking control of Assad's enormous stores of the munitions would be difficult to do in the midst of a brutal civil war. Dozens of new facilities for destroying the weapons would have to be built from scratch or brought into the country from the U.S., and completing the job would potentially take a decade or more. The work itself would need to be done by specially-trained military personnel or contractors. Guess which country has most of those troops and civilian experts? If you said the U.S., you'd be right.
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Members of the Syrian opposition and their supporters reacted with a mixture of alarm and outrage at President Obama's decision to delay a military strike on Syria while he seeks authorization from Congress.
In brief remarks from the Rose Garden on Saturday afternoon, Obama said the United States should take military action against the Syrian regime in response to a chemical weapons attack in Damascus on August 21, but that he would wait for both houses of Congress to debate the action and hold a vote. The earliest that could happen is the week of September 9, when both chambers will have returned from summer recess.
The unexpected delay added to a sense of disarray and confusion among some rebel factions about U.S. policy and when, or if, the Obama administration will intervene to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for what Obama called "the worst chemical weapons attack of the 21st Century." An extraordinary amount of detail about a military strike had been leaking out for days, leading forces on the ground to assume U.S. action was imminent.
"This is absolutely a blow to many in the opposition on the ground who've suffered the brunt of the chemical attacks," said Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, which has long favored American intervention in the conflict. "The feeling now is that this is really an orphaned revolution and that the regime will feel emboldened to continue its shelling of cities and towns around Damascus."
American intelligence agencies had indications three days beforehand that the Syrian regime was poised to launch a lethal chemical attack that killed more than a thousand people and has set the stage for a possible U.S. military strike on Syria.
The disclosure -- part of a larger U.S. intelligence briefing on Syria's chemical attacks -- raises all sorts of uncomfortable questions for the American government. First and foremost: What, if anything, did it do to notify the Syrian opposition of the pending attack?
In a call with reporters Friday afternoon, senior administration officials did not address whether this information was shared with rebel groups in advance of the attack. A White House spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the information had been shared.
But at least some members of the Syrian opposition are already lashing out at the U.S. government for not acting ahead of time to prevent the worst chemical attack in a quarter-century. "If you knew, why did you take no action?" asked Dlshad Othman, a Syrian activist and secure-communications expert who has recently relocated to the United States. He added that none of his contacts had any sort of prior warning about the nerve gas assault -- although such an attack was always a constant fear.
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Aspen, CO. - Turmoil in the nascent Libyan government is likely frustrating the FBI's attempts to capture the five men suspected of playing a key role in the attacks on the U.S. consulate and CIA facility in Libya that left four Americans dead last September, according to former U.S. Africa Command chief, Gen. (ret) Carter Ham.
"It's more the dealing between the government of the United States and this emerging yet fragile government of Libya that has impeded any significant progress on bringing to justice those who killed our friends," said Ham during a talk at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado last night.
"All politics are local, and in Libya that is very much the case," said Ham. "The Libyan government has to wrestle with this idea of ‘do we apprehend this guy and what would that mean to us if we apprehended some of these people, if we tried them, if we handed them over [to the U.S.],' it's a very, very complex issue."
While the U.S. made some progress initially in working with the Libyan government that has emerged in Tripoli since Muammar al Qaddafi was overthrown in late 2011, that stalled as senior officials in the Libyan government came and went.
"This is one of the consequences of the fragility of the Libyan government," said Ham. "Progress was made initially but then the government changes, key leaders change."
He went on to say that "so much of this is relationships, so much of this is trust and if the person you're used to working with is now out of office and suddenly you've got a brand new person . . . it just frustrates, it complicates the process."
Some have criticized the Obama administration for not capturing the five suspects identified by the FBI in May via military means, despite claims the U.S. has evidence to justify such actions. The White House maintains that it is treating this as a law enforcement case and is trying to work with the Libyan legal system to extradite the attackers and try them in a U.S. criminal court. One of the suspects, Faraj al Chalabi, was reportedly detained by the Libyan government in March -- only to be released in June by Libyan authorities who said they didn't have enough evidence to warrant holding him.
The FBI, with the help of U.S. intelligence agencies, is keeping the suspects under electronic surveillance as it tries to gather up more evidence -- such as videos of the men at the scene of the attack -- for use in a criminal trial.
This is just one example of what may be many of how tough it will be for the U.S. to form working relationships with the new, often fluid and shaky governments that are emerging from the political upheaval in the Arab world. It also shows that it may be a while before the U.S. is able to put the Banghazi attack behind it. Let's hope America's can get better at building relationships with other new governements popping up in the Arab world.
Before Mitt Romney lost his presidential bid Tuesday night to President Barack Obama, he had set up a multi-layered national security transition team with dozens of experts and former officials who were working to prepare for a Romney administration that will never come to be.
Former Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt was the overall head of "Project Readiness," the secretive transition planning effort run out of Washington, and former World Bank President Bob Zoellick was in charge of the national security substructure, which included teams to prepare for the transition of the National Security Council, the Defense Department, the State Department, USAID, the Homeland Security Department, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Brian Hook, former foreign-policy aide to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, was Zoellick's deputy in the effort and played a key role in organizing and directing the now-defunct national security transition structure.
Multiple former Romney foreign-policy advisors told The Cable that the national security agency transition teams were not direct indications of who might get what job in a future Romney administration and that they were separate from the transition project's personnel team, which would vet potential senior officials. The agency teams were meant to swoop in after the election, if Romney won, and prepare the national security bureaucracy for the changes President Romney wanted to impose.
"The project moved pretty well," Rich Williamson, the NSC transition team chair, told The Cable today. "Governor Leavitt did a good job of structurally organizing it. He set in course a process of identifying key issues and trying to develop 100-day plans so that if Romney became president he could start on day one to move the things he was committed to. It was further advanced than any other transition efforts I've seen."
Confidence in Romney's victory persisted until the last minute and the planning was extensive. In recent weeks, preparations included the drive to prepare drafts of agency transition plans and policy papers coordinated by interwoven task forces that focused on specific issues. The drafts were due Tuesday, the same day of the election, multiple former Romney foreign-policy advisors said.
"I feel quite comfortable with the analyses and options we teased out that the president elect would have had to begin to address," Williamson said. "Now we go into the loyal opposition and try to do our job raising concerns, improving the dialogue, and trying to influence how the president proceeds."
Had Romney won, Williamson would have been assisted by two NSC transition team co-chairs: former Navy Secretary William Ball and Harvard Professor Meghan O'Sullivan. The NSC "Team Leader," who led the day-to-day activities of the group under the direction of the chair and co-chairs was Foreign Policy Initiative Executive Director Jamie Fly.
The Pentagon transition team had three co-equal co-chairs: Former Sen. Jim Talent, former Navy Secretary John Lehman, and former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman. Roger Zakheim, professional staffer for House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA), was the Pentagon transition team leader.
Former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff chaired the homeland security transition team, with help from team leader David Howe. The intelligence transition team was chaired by former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and former State Department official Philip Zelikow; Michael Allen, chief of staff for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI), was the team leader.
For the State Department there were four co-chairs: former State Department and NSC staffer Dan Fisk, former Treasury Department official and Goldman Sachs executive John Rogers, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Michael Singh, and former Ambassador to Brazil Clifford Sobel. The team leader was former State Department official Ken Juster.
Several sources involved in the transition said that Zoellick set up the State Department transition team without any cabinet-level leaders because he wanted to set himself up to become secretary of state if Romney was elected. These sources also said that in the last weeks before the election, Zoellick's role in the project had diminished, partially due to the backlash in GOP foreign-policy circles when his role was revealed.
"After the groups were established, Zoellick's involvement appeared minimal. His deputy, Brian Hook, oversaw the work of the agency and policy groups," said one person involved in the transition project. "It was a collaborative process that helped build and strengthen relationships within the conservative foreign-policy community that will hopefully continue to pay dividends for years to come."
Zoellick did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has often endorsed the idea of using "enhanced interrogation techniques" if he is elected and doesn't believe that waterboarding is "torture," but he chose the GOP's most fervent critique of such methods to be the co-chair for intelligence personnel in his transition team.
Philip Zelikow, the long-time diplomat and former counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has been named one of two officials in charge of planning for the intelligence side of a potential Romney administration as part of the Romney campaign's "Project Readiness," multiple sources with direct knowledge of the project confirmed to The Cable. Zelikow, who was also the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, co-chairs the intelligence team with former New Jersey Governor and 9/11 Commission co-chairman Tom Kean.
Zelikow is another GOP senior foreign-policy hand from the realist camp in the top ranks of the Romney transition team. The head of the national security team is former Deputy Secretary of State and former World Bank President Bob Zoellick, a pick that roiled neoconservatives and hawks inside the Romney campaign when it was announced in August. But there are also hawks on the transition team, including former U.N. official Rich Williamson and former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman.
Zelikow ran afoul of many of his colleagues inside the George W. Bush administration in 2005 when he wrote an internal memo expressing opposition to the Office of Legal Counsel's findings that allowed the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. He wrote about how his dissenting view was received in a 2009 post on Foreign Policy's Shadow Government blog.
"My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views. They did more than that: The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo. I expect that one or two are still at least in the State Department's archives," Zelikow wrote.
In looking to objective standards to inform a judgment about evolving standards of decency or interrogation techniques that shock the conscience, three sources stand out:
- American government practice, by any agency, in holding or questioning enemy combatants -- including enemy combatants who do not have Geneva protection or who were regarded at the time as suspected terrorists, guerrillas, or saboteurs. We are unaware of any precedent in Wold War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or any subsequent conflict for authorized, systematic interrogation practices similar to those in question here, even where the prisoners were presumed to be unlawful combatants
- Recent practice by police and prison authorities in confining or questioning their most dangerous suspects. This practice is especially helpful since these authorities are governed by substantively similar standards to those that would apply under the [Convention Against Torture], given the Senate's reservation. We have not conducted a review of American domestic practice. From the available cases, it appears likely that some of the techniques being used would likely pass muster; several almost certainly would not.
- Recent practice by other advanced governments that face potentially catastrophic terrorist dangers. [REDACTED]...governments have abandoned several of the techniques in question here.
It therefore appears to us that several of these techniques, singly or in combination, should be considered "cruel inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" within the meaning of Article 16.
The techniques least likely to be sustained are the techniques described as "coercive,'" especially viewed cumulatively, such as the waterboard, walling, dousing, stress positions, and cramped confinement.
Zelikow's position on enhanced interrogation techniques and waterboarding stands in contrast to Romney, who has made it clear on several occasions that he is not opposed to enhanced interrogation techniques and he does not believe waterboarding constitutes torture.
President Barack Obama signed an executive order early in his presidency limiting interrogation techniques to those specifically allowed in the Army Field Manual, which effectively outlawed waterboarding.
The New York Times reported last month that Romney aides had prepared an internal memo for the candidate that advised him "rescind and replace President Obama's executive order" and permit secret "enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives."
Following that report, when asked by a reporter if he classifies waterboarding as torture, Romney said, "I don't."
Last November, Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul also said that Romney does not classify waterboarding as torture and would not specify which "enhanced interrogation techniques" he would be open to using if elected.
Last December, Romney said he supported "enhanced interrogation techniques which go beyond those that are in the military handbook right now."
In a 2007 primary debate, Romney refused to classify waterboarding as torture when asked about it directly.
"I oppose torture. I would not be in favor of torture in any way shape or form. As a presidential candidate I don't think it's wise to describe specifically which techniques we would or would not use," he said.
His primary opponent at the time, former prisoner of war Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), shot back at Romney in that debate insisting that waterboarding is in fact torture.
"I'm astonished that you haven't found out what waterboarding is," McCain said. "Governor, let me tell you if we are going to get the high ground in this world and we're going to be the America that we've cherished and loved for more than 200 years, we're not going to torture people."
Multiple requests for comment were not returned by the Romney campaign. Zelikow did not respond to a query by deadline.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot produce about $1 billion of receipts for fuel and other supplies it bought in Iraq using Iraqi money, a government investigation has found.
The total amount of funds unaccounted for has now reached a staggering $7 billion, officials say -- and they warn that the Iraqi government is likely to demand at least some of that money back.
The United States has been managing billions of dollars of Iraqi money through the U.N.-created Development Fund for Iraq (DFI) since 2003, money that was the result of Iraqi oil and gas sales or was left over from the "oil-for-food" program. The Army Corps of Engineers has been spending that money on energy and infrastructure programs in Iraq, but its recordkeeping was so poor that the Corps cannot prove it actually received goods for about $1 billion of the money it spent, according to the report, which was released Friday by the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR).
SIGIR reviewed $1.1 billion of DFI-related transactions by the Corps and found that a key document, the receiving report -- which documents that the goods or services were actually delivered to the intended recipients -- was missing for 95 percent of the transactions.
"Missing receiving reports involved commodities vulnerable to fraud and theft, such as fuel, televisions, and vehicles. SIGIR has not concluded that fraud or theft occurred, but the absence of receiving reports raises questions," the report stated. "Instead of using the required receiving reports to document fuel deliveries in Iraq, USACE officials told us that they maintained a fuel delivery log book. However, the log book is missing. In the absence of receiving reports and the fuel delivery log book, USACE has no evidence that shows whether fuel products paid for with DFI funds were received."
The Corps also didn't have enough trucks with meters to determine how much fuel was being delivered to more than 100 sites around Iraq. Nor has the Corps completed the required financial audits, so it's impossible to determine the status of all the DFI contracts, SIGIR says.
"Without these audits, USACE cannot close out these contracts and task orders and assess whether the contractor owes the U.S. money, whether the U.S. owes the contractor money, and ultimately, whether the U.S. needs to return unused DFI funds to the [government of Iraq]," the report said.
In an interview with The Cable, Deputy Inspector General Glen Furbish said that even though there's no evidence of fraud, there's a good chance the Iraqi government will try to seek some or all of this money from the U.S. government.
"Our inability to show that goods were received will always leave that question in the minds of the Iraqis as to whether we used their money appropriately," Furbish said. "We've sensed for some time that there is probably going to be an effort to make a claim against the U.S. for the unaccountable funds and this will probably be a piece of that ultimate claim."
This latest report is only the latest in a series of reports that delve into how the DFI money was used, and the total amount of money not properly accounted for is around $7 billion, Furbish said. SIGIR will release a final report on the U.S. government's handling of the DFI funds in January.
"This primarily means that our administrative handling of this money was not good," he said. "[The Iraqi government] may assert that our failure to keep records creates a claim for them."
The SIGIR office also released today a final report on the State Department's handling of Quick Response Funds (QRF), money that was handed out in Iraq, often by Provincial Reconstruction Teams, for projects that may or may not have ever materialized.
The State Department and USAID managed about $258 million in QRF funds but the results of the projects funded are unclear.
"From the available records, we could generally determine how funds were intended to be used, but we could not assess whether all of the goods and services were actually purchased, received, or transferred to beneficiaries," the report stated.
Furbish said that for many of these projects, the money was handed out but nobody ever followed up on the programs, largely because it was too dangerous to check on small reconstruction projects in the middle of the war.
"They have always maintained that we are asking a bit too much for a wartime program, in terms of us being bean counters and asking if people got something for their money," Furbish said. "Call us bean counters if you want, but if you can't show us what you spent the money on, I think you've got a control weakness."
State has made improvements in its handling of the QRF funds going forward, but department officials told SIGIR that it's impossible to go back and figure out what happened to the money spent in the early years on these projects, Furbish said.
"Cash on the battlefield is problematic in so many ways. It probably shouldn't even be allowed," he said.
The Mitt Romney campaign announced Wednesday it has stood up a Military Advisory Council made up of more than 300 retired generals and admirals who are ready to do battle for the Republican nominee.
"I am deeply honored to have the support of so many of our most accomplished military leaders," Romney said in a statement. "Together we will restore our military might and ensure that America can defend and protect our interests, our allies, and our people, both at home and abroad. I will never forget that the greatest responsibility of an American president is in exercising the role of commander-in-chief. That role is sacred, and when I am president, I will never put my own political interests ahead of our military and our men and women in uniform."
Among the better-known military men endorsing Romney today are Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the key architect of the military plan to oust Saddam Hussein, former Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Conway, former Pacific Command chief Adm. Timothy Keating, and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, who was the top military officer at the end of the Clinton administration and who led the planning for the 1999 intervention in Kosovo. Shelton endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in 2008.
proud to be supporting Mitt Romney in this critical election about our nation's
future," Franks said. "Governor Romney is committed to restoring America's
leadership role in the world. Instead of playing politics with our military, he
will strengthen our defense posture by reversing the president's devastating
defense cuts. The fact of the matter is that we cannot afford another four
years of feckless foreign policy. We need level-headed leadership which will
protect our interests and defend our values with clarity and without apology."
"I consider the unprecedented national debt amongst the five greatest threats to the security of our great nation," said Conway. "And yet, I see no indication the current administration, if re-elected, is intent on changing that trajectory. Clearly defense should bear a portion of the burden in order to regain control of our debt, but the idea of massive military cuts -- at a time of increased global instability -- should not even be in the cards. As I listen to Mitt Romney, I am convinced that he 'gets it'."
Romney campaign aides told The Cable that the council isn't set to have any formal meetings, but that each member has expressed his willingness to endorse the governor and provide expert national security advice if called upon to do so.
"The great thing about the list is the size of it," one aide said. "Just an enormous outpouring of support for the governor. And with it comes a broad range of expertise."
You can view the entire list here.
Prior to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the State Department and the Marines Corps had been discussing deploying Marines to guard the U.S. Embassy in the Libyan capital Tripoli "sometime in the next five years," according to the Marine Corps.
The issue of security at U.S. diplomatic outposts in Libya has been front and center as Congress and others begin to investigate whether or not those facilities were sufficiently protected before the attacks that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
The State Department won't discuss the specifics of its security posture in Libya before the attack, but the Marine Corps has briefed congressional staffers on the issue, for example in a Sept. 13 email obtained by The Cable.
"Typically, when a new embassy is established, it takes time to grow a new [Marine Corps Embassy Security Group] detachment," wrote Col. Harold Van Opdorp, director of the Marine Senate Liaison office, in the e-mail. "[In conjunction with] the State Department, there is discussion about establishing a detachment in Tripoli sometime in the next five years."
The State Department did not respond to questions about how high the discussion of deploying Marines to Libya reached, whether that discussion amounted to a recognition that Marines were needed there, or why it might take five years to set it up. A Marine Corps FAST team was deployed to protect the embassy on Sept. 12 after the attack and could stay there indefinitely.
According to the Marines, out of the 285-plus U.S. diplomatic security facilities worldwide, 152 have Marine Corps detachments, primarily to protect the facilities and the classified information they contain.
"Overall, the plan is to grow the number of MCESG detachments worldwide to 173. It is also important to note the detachments are charged with protection of the chancery. Perimeter security is the responsibility of the HN [host nation] police/security forces," Van Opdorp wrote.
Many on Capitol Hill are pressing the State Department for details about the exact security arrangements at the Benghazi consulate, contesting the State Department's repeated assertion that there was a "strong" security presence protecting the facility.
One congressional aide told The Cable that the State Department initially reported to Congress that the security personnel at the embassy consisted of an unarmed local security force and six armed Libyan government personnel.
The Washington Guardian reported Wednesday that the two former Navy SEALs who were killed in the attack were not part of the ambassador's security detail but had unspecified security responsibilities related to the consulate and engaged the attackers after the firefight began.
Lawmakers are still trying to get details about the State Department's security posture in Libya and the heads of the Senate Homeland Security Committee have already called on the department to investigate the security failures surrounding the Benghazi attack.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to brief Congress on the issue Thursday afternoon. Earlier this week, she defended the security presence in Benghazi, saying, "Let me assure you that our security in Benghazi included a unit of host government security forces, as well as a local guard force of the kind that we rely on in many places around the world."
Late Wednesday, Pentagon officials briefed House Armed Services Committee members on the Libya attacks, after which Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) said that he was increasingly concerned about the lack of security at U.S. diplomatic posts in Libya.
McKeon said it was "inconceivable" that that there were no military personnel stationed in Benghazi, despite a June bomb attack on the consulate, and he said he was "really concerned about the lack of support that the ambassador had, the lack of protection."
CHARLOTTE - Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) will lacerate Mitt Romney on foreign policy in a major speech tonight at the Democratic National Convention.
"In this campaign, we have a fundamental choice," Kerry will say, according to speech excerpts provided to The Cable. "Will we protect our country and our allies, advance our interests and ideals, do battle where we must, and make peace where we can? Or will we entrust our place in the world to someone who just hasn't learned the lessons of the last decade?"
Kerry will speak on a night peppered with remarks by national security types, including retired Lt. Gen. Walter Dalton, the lieutenant governor of North Carolina, retired Adm. John B. Nathman, and Delaware attorney general and Iraq war veteran Beau Biden, the vice president's son. Following Kerry will be the final events of the convention, including speeches by Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Vice President Joe Biden, and President Barack Obama.
Kerry will hit Romney on his positions on a range of national security issues and will hammer the former Massachusetts governor for failing to outline a clear policy on the war in Afghanistan, a word that Romney didn't mention once in last week's acceptance speech.
"It isn't fair to say Mitt Romney doesn't have a position on Afghanistan. He has every position," Kerry will say.
Kerry plans to defend Obama's record on Israel, Iran, Russia, and arms control, and he will push back against the Romney campaign's refrain that Obama doesn't believe in "American exceptionalism."
"Our opponents like to talk about ‘American Exceptionalism.' But all they do is talk. They forget that we are exceptional not because we say we are, but because we do exceptional things," Kerry will say. "The only thing exceptional about today's Republicans is that -- almost without exception -- they oppose everything that has made America exceptional in the first place."
Kerry will point out that Romney criticized the idea of going into Pakistan to pursue Osama bin Laden but Obama gave the order that led to bin Laden's death.
"Ask Osama Bin Laden if he's better off now than he was four years ago!" Kerry will say.
Kerry will also make what The Cable believes is the first mention by either campaign of the only war Obama ever started, the 2011 NATO-led attack on Libya.
"When a brutal dictator promised to kill his own people ‘like dogs', President Obama enlisted our allies, built the coalition, shared the burden -- so that today, without a single American casualty -- Muammar Qaddafi is gone and Libya is free," Kerry will say.
Obama inherited a terrible foreign-policy position from the Bush administration and worked to improve it, Kerry will argue.
"So here's the choice in 2012: Mitt Romney -- out of touch at home, out of his depth abroad, and out of the mainstream?" he will say. "Or Barack Obama -- a president giving new life and truth to America's indispensable role in the world, a commander in chief who gives our troops the tools and training they need in war -- the honor and help they've earned when they come home. A man who will never ask other men and women to fight a war without a plan to win the peace."
In anticipation of Kerry's foreign policy speech, the Romney campaign released a long memo penned by campaign policy director Lanhee Chen entitled, "The Foreign Policy & National Security Failures Of President Obama," which lays out 10 separate lines of attack on the Obama administration's national security record.
"President Obama's failure on the economy has been so severe that it has overshadowed his manifold failures on foreign policy and national security," the memo states. "An inventory of his record shows that by nearly all measures, President Obama has diminished American influence abroad and compromised our interests and values. In no region of the world is the U.S. position stronger than it was four years ago... It is a failed record that no amount of bluster in Charlotte can mask."
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Mitt Romney will promise to restore American leadership in the areas of democracy promotion, trade, energy, and he will pledge to build up the military in his speech tonight accepting the GOP nomination for president.
"We will honor America's democratic ideals because a free world is a more peaceful world. This is the bipartisan foreign policy legacy of Truman and Reagan. And under my presidency we will return to it once again," the former Massachusetts governor will say tonight, according to excerpts released by the campaign.
That phrasing tracks closely with what senior foreign-policy advisor Rich Williamson said to The Cable last week, although Williamson included John F. Kennedy in the list with Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan.
"The America we all know has been a story of the many becoming one, uniting to preserve liberty, uniting to build the greatest economy in the world, uniting to save the world from unspeakable darkness," Romney will say, hitting on the campaign's theme of getting tougher with adversaries.
"That America, that united America, will preserve a military that is so strong, no nation would ever dare to test it," Romney will add, reinforcing his campaign's promise to increase funding for the military.
Romney will say he has a plan to make the United States "energy independent" by 2020. He will promise to pursue new trade agreements and impose consequences on those countries that cheat in trade. He will take a swipe at Europe and pledge to avoid a Europe-like economic crisis.
"To assure every entrepreneur and every job creator that their investments in America will not vanish as have those in Greece, we will cut the deficit and put America on track to a balanced budget," Romney will say.
He will begin the speech by talking about the hopes that President Barack Obama would be a paradigm-shifting leader -- hopes that Republicans argue have been dashed.
"Four years ago, I know that many Americans felt a fresh excitement about the possibilities of a new president. That president was not the choice of our party, but Americans always come together after elections. We are a good and generous people who are united by so much more than divides us. When that hard-fought election was over -- when the yard signs came down and the television commercials finally came off the air, Americans were eager to go back to work, to live our lives the way Americans always have -- optimistic and positive and confident in the future. That very optimism is uniquely American," he will say.
"I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed. But his promises gave way to disappointment and division. This isn't something we have to accept. Now is the moment when we CAN do something. With your help we will do something." (Emphasis in the original.)
Romney will conclude by promising to be the paradigm-shifting leader that he believes Obama is not.
"If I am elected president of these United States, I will work with all my energy and soul to restore that America, to lift our eyes to a better future. That future is our destiny. That future is out there. It is waiting for us. Our children deserve it, our nation depends upon it, the peace and freedom of the world require it," Romney will say. "And with your help we will deliver it. Let us begin that future together tonight."
TAMPA - The Democratic Party is planning to feature national security and foreign policy at its convention next week in an unprecedented way, fueling concern here in Tampa that the Romney campaign isn't paying enough attention to those issues.
Despite some think-tank events around town featuring Romney campaign foreign-policy advisors, there was almost no mention of foreign policy or national security Tuesday at the convention itself, outside of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's call for "a second American century." Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was at Mitt Romney's side inside the convention hall Tuesday night and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton was spotted in Romney's VIP box, but that was about it.
That's sure to change tonight with speeches by GOP leaders including Rice, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sen. John Thune (R-SD), and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Rice said at an event Wednesday afternoon that she will speak about American leadership in her speech. Expect McCain to hammer on the theme that Obama has been leading from behind on foreign policy, an argument he laid out in an essay for Foreign Policy today.
"For the past four years, President Barack Obama has unfortunately pursued policies that are diminishing America's global prestige and influence," McCain wrote. "This is a recipe for America's decline as a great power, and we cannot afford to continue on that course."
GOP foreign-policy hands here in Tampa are concerned that the party and the campaign and losing ground in the foreign-policy debate and are warning that the Romney campaign's strategy of deprioritizing national security in favor of focusing on the economy may leave them unprepared if simmering crises in places like Syria or Iran push themselves to the fore.
"World events are likely to intrude on this presidential race and Republicans will need to be ready with more than just imagery," one GOP official told The Cable. "Hopefully over the last two days the convention will devote some time to national security, especially given the Democrats' plans to do so in Charlotte."
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
The main group representing the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Washington is calling for the United States and the international community to forcibly establish a partial no-fly zone in Syria for the first time since the 18-month revolution began.
The Syrian regime's increased use of air power to attack Syrian cities, combined with the increased control over land by the Syrian rebels, makes the idea viable, said Louay Sakka, co-founder of the Syrian Support Group (SSG), in an interview with The Cable.
The SSG is the main link between the U.S. government and the FSA and has emerged in recent months as the key organization in Washington dealing directly with the internal Syrian political and military leadership.
"This is right now the time for a no-fly zone to take place. We need to stop the fixed-wing and helicopters from attacking," Sakka said. "The regime cannot hold ground without air power or heavy artillery. Things have changed in many ways. The fighter jets cannot attack only the FSA; they have random targeting and that means a lot casualties: children, women, older people, people who have nothing to do with the fight, and they are dying in huge numbers."
The SSG's call for a no fly zone comes just as reports are surfacing that the Syrian military closed off the Damascus suburb of Daraya last week and began a brutal assault resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths. Some 30,000 Syrians fled to neighboring countries last week alone, pushing the external refugee total over the 200,000 mark, according to U.N. figures.
But an administration official speaking on condition of anonymity told The Cable that the White House is still resisting any move that would see U.S. military assets used inside Syria, such as through a no-fly zone, but opponents of intervention are slowly losing ground.
"It's a Donilon call at the end of the day," the official said, referring to National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, who is leading a complicated interagency policy process on the Syria crisis. "There's not enthusiasm but there are differences of opinion about a no-fly zone," the official said. "There is no rush to do it."
The Assad regime's lack of use of fixed-wing aircraft was cited internally as a reason not to declare at no-fly zone and that reason no longer applies, the official argued. Opponents of a no-fly zone have also argued that the Syrian internal opposition had not formally requested it. That reason is also no longer operative.
"There's a question of whether or not our government is willing to reject the request. Or they could take it into consideration for a long time," the official said. "There's a recognition that some decision has to be made. We are quickly reaching a turning point due to the escalation."
The official confirmed that rebels are taking a serious toll on the regime's armor in Aleppo and Idlib provinces, pushing the regime to rely more heavily on its air superiority and massive artillery bombardments.
"These local rebel groups are gaining in organization and territory but they are there's still a significant gap in their capacity to fight back against the 500-pound bombs being dropped by regime aircraft," the official said, but warned, "No other countries are going to go all in until they see what the Americans are going to do."
The French government is pushing the Obama administration toward a decision, as in Libya a year ago. French President François Hollande said Monday that France would recognize a rebel government if the Syrian opposition declared one, and French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian signaled support for a no-fly zone last week.
Sakka said that based on his interactions with Obama administration officials, he believes that U.S. involvement in a no-fly zone is being seriously considered now.
"If we brought it up a few weeks ago [to the administration], their reaction was ‘Don't even think about it.' And now the reaction is ‘We're thinking about it,'" he said. "That's a good step forward. Now we're looking for them to move it from a plan to implementation."
Sakka acknowledges that a no-fly zone would include using foreign military assets to attack Syrian air defenses and perhaps even engage Syrian aircraft directly. Turkey and other countries are ready to move toward that if the United States would agree to the idea, and safe zones already established in Turkey could be expanded to include a 10-kilometer buffer zone along the border inside Syria, he said.
"We need an area inside Syrian soil that we know cannot be attacked by the regime. And that's what we think is doable... This is the minimum required at this stage," Sakka said. "It will be a big mistake down the road not to do this now before the amount of casualties is so big and the amount of destabilization happens that it spreads further outside Syria."
The SSG is working closely with the State Department, especially the office of Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, to increase the U.S. understanding of the internal Syrian opposition. The SSG is also helping various local rebel councils organize into a more coherent chain of command that can communicate effectively both among themselves as well as with outsiders, potentially tackling another key obstacle the United States says stands in the way of more robust and direct American support to the FSA.
The SSG's effort to become the conduit between the U.S. government and the FSA seems to be working. Earlier this summer, the State Department and Treasury Department changed policy to allow the SSG to send cash from the United States to the FSA -- cash the FSA can use for weapons despite the administration's refusal to directly arm the rebels.
One American politician urging intervention is Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) who was in Paris last week and met with Le Drian, as well as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, National Security Adviser Paul Jean-Ortiz, Foreign Ministry Political Director Jacques Audibert, Hollande's military advisor, Gen. Benoit Puga, Eric Chevallier, the French ambassador to Syria, and members of the Syrian opposition based in Paris.
"I'm very encouraged by the discussions I had with the French leadership about Syria," Lieberman told The Cable from Paris. "As Assad has sharply escalated his use of attack helicopters and fighter aircraft against the Syrian people in recent weeks, there is an increasingly clear and compelling case for a limited no-fly zone. While this would require no U.S. combat forces on the ground, it could have a strategically significant impact by reinforcing the emerging rebel safe zones in northern Syria and allowing the opposition the space they need to organize politically and establish a transitional government on Syrian soil."
Republican officials, candidates, pundits, and supporters are flocking en masse to Tampa next week for the Republican National Convention -- assuming Tropical Storm Isaac doesn't disrupt the festivities. The Cable will be on the scene covering all the foreign policy and national security news in and around the event.
For the campaign of presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, the convention is an opportunity to bring foreign policy into the election discussion in a way he hasn't before and to showcase the support of major national security surrogates, lawmakers, and advisors who will be speaking at a host of convention events, panels, and receptions throughout the week. The campaign isn't planning on rolling out any grand, new national security themes, though there will be plenty of criticism of President Barack Obama's handling of foreign policy.
"It will be a reaffirmation of Romney's commitment to peace through strength," senior campaign foreign-policy advisor Rich Williamson told The Cable. "You're not going to see a lot of new stuff. Romney has shown his approach in the tradition of Truman, Kennedy, and Reagan, in contrast with the Obama approach, which is really out of the mainstream and radical."
Romney foreign-policy advisors who will be speaking on the sidelines of the convention include Williamson, Tim Pawlenty, Norm Coleman, Jim Talent, Vin Weber, John Bolton, Mitchell Reiss, and others. Several current and former GOP officials are also slated to give public speeches that will touch on foreign policy and national security themes, including Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Rand Paul (R-KY), John Thune (R-SD), former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Sen. Rick Santorum, and Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz.
The first major foreign-policy news from the convention will come Monday, Aug. 27, when the GOP rolls out and then officially approves its platform, which has several foreign policy planks. Although the platform is not yet public, Williamson said the document will stress the need for economic renewal so that the United States can lead abroad and this can be "an American century."
The platform will also emphasize the imperative of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, the view that Obama's Russian "reset" policy has failed, and that the GOP has concern about the impotence of the United Nations and what it argues is the Obama administration's overdependence on multilateralism. The platform condemns authoritarian regimes in Cuba and Venezuela, and criticizes the Obama administration for leaking classified national security information to the press.
On Israel, the platform will codify Romney's position that Jerusalem is the capital while also calling for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for. The platform will "envision two democratic states -- Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine -- living in peace and security," a commitment to a two-state solution that evoked considerable debate during the drafting process.
The platform supports foreign aid, saying, "Foreign aid should serve our national interest, an essential part of which is the peaceful development of less advanced and vulnerable societies in critical parts of the world. Assistance should be seen as an alternative means of keeping the peace, far less costly in both dollars and human lives than military engagement."
Some big foreign-policy issues not debated in the platform drafting process will be brought out during the course of the convention week. On Syria, Republicans plan to try to sharpen the distinction between how Obama has handled the crisis and what they say Romney would have done in the same situation.
"The president's risk-averse path of leading from behind creates greater risk than if he acted. By not acting, we now face greater dangers and more costly action to protect our interests," Williamson said.
Several think tanks and issue organizations are planning events around town to feature surrogates, advisors, and lawmakers in somewhat more intimate settings. The International Republican Institute is hosting a panel Aug. 28 on the future of U.S. national security with former Rep. Jim Kolbe, Williamson, Coleman, Talent, and Weber.
The Foreign Policy Initiative is hosting an event Aug. 28 on the future of U.S-Russia relations with Bolton, Pavel Khodorkovsky, son of jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza, and another event Aug. 29 on restoring American leadership with Pawlenty and William Kristol. Also on Aug. 29, IRI is teaming up with the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition to present an international development-focused event featuring Rice, Reiss, Williamson, Pawlenty, Paula Dobriansky and Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX).
"The convention's a real opportunity for Governor Romney to sharpen his foreign-policy critique of the Obama administration and for the greater Republican foreign-policy community to showcase what foreign policy in a Romney administration would look like," said Jamie Fly, executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.
Follow all the action here on The Cable and on Twitter @joshrogin.
UPDATE: The RNC accidentally posted the draft platform today and then took it down, but you can find it here.
Adm. William McRaven, the head of Special Operations Command and the architect of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, wrote a memo to the special operations community making clear that using the "special operations" moniker for political purposes is not OK.
McRaven sent an unclassified memo, not released to the public but obtained by The Cable, that began with an admonishment of special operators who write books about secret operations, such as the forthcoming book No Easy Day¸ which was written by a Navy SEAL who claims to have been part of the May 1, 2011 raid on bin Laden's Abbottabad compound. Fox News reported Thursday that the author is 36-year-old Matt Bissonnette, whom defense officials say never cleared the book with anyone in the Pentagon.
But the second half of McRaven's memo referred to the multiple groups of former special operators who have formed political groups to criticize President Barack Obama for what they see as taking undue credit for the bin Laden raid and accusing him of leaking its details to the press. Those groups are made up of former military men who had no connection to the actual raid, who often have Republican political leanings and longtime animus against Obama, and some of whom say the president was not born in the United States.
"I am also concerned about the growing trend of using the special operations ‘brand,' our seal, symbols and unit names, as part of any political or special interest campaign," McRaven wrote in an implicit but clear reference to groups like the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund and Special Operations Speaks (SOS).
"Let me be completely clear on this issue: USSOCOM does not endorse any political viewpoint, opinion or special interest," McRaven wrote. "I encourage, strongly encourage active participation in our political process by both active duty SOF personnel, where it is appropriate under the ethics rules and retired members of the SOF community. However, when a group brands itself as Special Operations for the purpose of pushing a specific agenda, then they have misrepresented the entire nature of SOF and life in the military."
"Our promise to the American people is that we, the military, are non-partisan, apolitical and will serve the President of the United States regardless of his political party. By attaching a Special Operation's moniker or a unit or service name to a political agenda, those individuals have now violated the most basic of our military principles," McRaven wrote.
His remarks are stronger but along the same lines as those by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who said the groups' efforts were counter to the ethos of the military.
"It's not useful. It's not useful to me," Dempsey said Wednesday. "And one of the things that marks us as a profession in a democracy, in our form of democracy, that's most important is that we remain apolitical. That's how we maintain our bond and trust with the American people."
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The head of the Pakistan military's public relations branch told The Cable that a new book claiming a Pakistani intelligence official tipped off the U.S. government about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden is false.
A forthcoming book by journalist Richard Miniter claims that a senior colonel in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate walked into the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad in Dec ember 2010, five months before the bin Laden raid, and told U.S. officials about bin Laden's whereabouts. The book also reports that the bin Laden compound was "carved out" of Abbottabad's Kakul Military Academy and that senior Pakistani military officials may have been briefed on the raid in advance.
Maj. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, the recently appointed director general of Pakistan's Inter-Services Public Relations and the top spokesperson for the Pakistani military and intelligence community, told The Cable by e-mail that Miniter's story is just wrong.
"This is a fabricated story," he said. "Any such story will not have basis and is an attempt to malign Pakistan and Pakistan Army."
The tale implies that the ISI had some advance knowledge that bin Laden had been hiding in Abbottabad with several members of his family before the May 1, 2011, U.S. raid, Bajwa said.
"You can find twists in [the Miniter story] to show as if Pakistan was helping terrorists, which is incorrect," he said.
Pakistan's former ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani told a Washington audience Wednesday that although he could not comment on ISI activities the night of the bin Laden raid, he was sure that the civilian government in Pakistan was caught by surprise about the raid and bin Laden's whereabouts.
But Haqqani called on the Pakistani government to complete its long-promised report on who helped bin Laden and his family hide and survive in a secret compound near a military academy for more than five years.
"It's Pakistan's responsibility to the world to say who did it," Haqqani told an audience at the Center for the National Interest, formerly known as the Nixon Center. "It doesn't have to be the government, it doesn't have to be the military, but whoever it is, we have to come clean on that, because that is the only way we will assure the rest of the world that Pakistan's government and Pakistan's state has its hands clean on this whole thing."
The Pentagon policy shop will soon have a new official in charge of Russia, Evelyn Farkas, replacing Celeste Wallander, the previous deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Euraisa (RUE).
Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Jim Miller announced the Farkas appointment in a memo to staff Tuesday, obtained by The Cable. He also announced that Chris Skaluba has been appointed the principal director for Europe and NATO policy, a job he had been doing in an acting capacity, and Alice Friend will begin work next week as the new principal director for Africa.
Farkas moved over the Pentagon policy shop earlier this year, before that she was the senior advisor on public-private partnerships to Adm. James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Commander, U.S. European Command. A former professor at the Command and Staff College of the Marine Corps University, Farkas has served in a variety of positions, including as executive director of the congressionally mandated Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism in 2008. She speaks fluent Hungarian and German.
"This past spring, she served concurrently as Special Advisor for the Secretary of Defense for the NATO Summit, where she helped lead DoD's effort to manage the successful summit in Chicago. She has extensive experience working on Capitol Hill, including 8 years as a Professional Staff Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee," Miller wrote to his staff. "She will assume the DASD RUE duties on August 27th."
Farkas will report up to Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet. Jennifer Walsh, who had been handling the DASD responsibilities, will return to her previous role as principal director for RUE under Farkas.
Skaluba took over the duties of principal director for NATO and Europe in an acting capacity when Julianne Smith was tapped to be Vice President Joe Biden's new deputy national security advisor in April. Smith was replacing Brian McKeon, who was promoted to be the NSC chief of staff. Skaluba continues to report up to DASD for NATO and Europe Jim Townsend.
Friend most recently served as the senior advisor to Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Kathleen Hicks and has also served as a special assistant to former Under Secretary Michèle Flournoy and as country director for Pakistan. She will report up to DASD for Africa Amanda Dory."Please join Kath and me in offering warm congratulations to Evelyn, Alice and Chris!" wrote Miller.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, his would-be vice president Paul Ryan, and defense hawks in Congress are wrong that savings can't be found in the U.S. defense budget, according to Grover Norquist, the influential president of Americans for Tax Reform, who said that he will fight using any new revenues to keep military spending high.
"We can afford to have an adequate national defense which keeps us free and safe and keeps everybody afraid to throw a punch at us, as long as we don't make some of the decisions that previous administrations have, which is to over extend ourselves overseas and think we can run foreign governments," Norquist said Monday at an event at the Center for the National Interest, formerly the Nixon Center.
But Ryan's views are at odds with those of Norquist and other budget hawks, who argue that defense budgets can be trimmed. Ryan's budget plan provides for increasing military spending and doesn't suggest any tradeoff or specific defense reforms.
"Other people need to lead the argument on how can conservatives lead a fight to have a serious national defense without wasting money," Norquist said. "I wouldn't ask Ryan to be the reformer of the defense establishment."
Avoiding $54 billion of arbitrary defense cuts next year as a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, in what's known as "sequestration," has been a focus of Romney's campaign and one of his main points of contrast with President Obama. Romney's views align him with defense hawks who are leading that effort on the Hill, such as House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who support closing tax loopholes and deductions to avoid sequestration.
"You will get serious conversation from the advocates of Pentagon spending when they understand ‘here's the dollar amount, now make decisions," Norquist said. "They want to argue you have to raise taxes -- you can't solve the problem."
Norquist vowed to fight any effort to use the money saved by tax reform to pay for military spending or to avoid the sequester.
"You have guys saying ‘can we steal all your deductions and credits and give it to the appropriators,' and then when we get tax reform there will be no tax reform," Norquist said, referring to defense hawks. "The idea is that you are going to raise taxes on people to not think through defense priorities."
But Norquist predicted that the defense hawks will lose the battle inside the GOP. The ultimate decision-makers, he said, would be the heads of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, not the respective Armed Services Committees.
"Here's the good news. There's a very small number of them," Norquist said about the defense hawks. "The handful of [Republicans] that support that are either not coming back or they don't know yet that they are not coming back."
The Pentagon wastes money on bloated weapons systems, bases, and programs that are protected by politicians for parochial reasons, he said. Norquist said the defense hawks were not serious about saving money or reforming the Pentagon.
"If you're not looking like you're trying, nobody wants to help you, starting with me... There's a lack of seriousness," he said. "The guys who are saying ‘we're not going to cut Pentagon spending but we want to raise taxes,' they aren't making a sale... They are saying it's not a tax increase. It is, it is, it is."
Norquist said he believes in a non-interventionist foreign policy that eschews nation-building, much like the one former president George W. Bush campaigned on before he decided to invade Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Bush decided to be the mayor of Baghdad rather than the president of the United States. He decided to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan rather than reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That had tremendous consequences," he said. "Rather than doing Doha [the trade round], we did Kabul."
Romney has promised to keep defense spending at 4 percent of U.S. GDP, but Norquist doesn't believe that defense spending should be pegged to the size of the U.S. economy or any other arbitrary number. He argued that the Republican Party needs to reexamine the actual defense needs and then work from there to determine how much to spend.
"Richard Nixon said that America's national defense needs are set in Moscow, meaning that we wouldn't have to spend so much if they weren't shooting at us," he said. "The guys who followed didn't notice that the Soviet Union disappeared."
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta promised increased security cooperation with Tunisia during a visit to the North African country Monday, while lawmakers in Washington pressed the administration to do more to build up the U.S.-Tunisia security relationship.
"The U.S. Department of Defense stands ready to help Tunisia to ensuring regional stability, to strengthen the capabilities of its defense institutions," Panetta said after meeting President Moncef Marzouki today in Tunis. "I was pleased to begin a dialogue about how we can deepen that cooperation in the range of common concerns, counter violent extremism and terrorism... There are a number of efforts that we can assist them with to develop the kind of operations, the kind of intelligence that will help effectively deal with that threat."
Last week, a group of bipartisan senators wrote to President Barack Obama to urge him to expand military cooperation and assistance to the new Tunisian government and broaden the economic and strategic relationship as well, in a previously unreported letter obtained by The Cable. They wrote that Tunisia represents a hopeful model for the Arab Spring but that the country's path to democratic prosperity is fragile and needs support.
"We applaud the actions taken by your Administration to aid Tunisia during its transition, including the recent reprogramming of $100 million in direct budget support, the establishment of a Millennium Challenge Corporation threshold compact, the creation of a U.S.-Tunisia Enterprise Fund, loan guarantees, and intensive diplomacy by Secretary of State Clinton to persuade other countries around the world to provide help to Tunis. However, we believe that much more can and must be done," wrote Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Chris Coons (D-DE), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and John Hoeven (R-ND).
In addition to counterterrorism assistance, Tunisia needs help securing its borders and training its police force, the senators wrote. They also urged Obama to begin negotiations immediately with Tunisia on a free trade agreement, an idea floated recently by House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-CA). The senators also want Obama to start a strategic dialogue with Tunisia, to give the relationship more long-term consistency.
"We are concerned that, despite increased U.S. engagement with Tunisia since the revolution last year, much of our interaction with our partners in Tunisia remains unstructured and episodic," they wrote. "As senior officials in your Administration have repeatedly said, the Arab Spring is a historic opportunity to help a critical part of the world move towards greater freedom, stability, and prosperity. When historians look back decades from now, they will judge whether the U.S. government seized or squandered this moment."
Lieberman went to Tunisia most recently in December 2011. McCain and Hoeven went there in February 2012. Lieberman and McCain were also the first senators to visit Tunisia after the "jasmine revolution," traveling there in February 2011.
According to the Congressional Research Service, Tunisia is set to receive $29.5 million in foreign military financing in fiscal 2012 and $1.9 million in military education under the IMET programs, which bring foreign military leaders to the U.S. for short periods of time. The administration has requested $15 million and $2.3 million, respectively, for fiscal year 2013. The administration allocated $13 million in Defense Department-administered funding for a maritime and border security package in fiscal 2011.
By comparison, Egypt receives approximately 50 times more money than Tunisia in security assistance.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has no national security or foreign-policy experience and also has avoided giving details on how he would handle important foreign- policy issues, according to Gen. Wesley Clark, retired four-star general and former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.
"[Romney] doesn't bring any real national security experience to the issues at hand. He doesn't have any foreign-policy experience. He has less foreign policy experience than Senator Obama had when he ran," said Clark, who launched his own unsuccessful run for president in 2004.
"Mr. Romney hasn't delivered answers to the critical questions, such as what we he actually do beyond the current actions to isolate and pressure Iran?" said Clark, who accused Romney of "throwing out a bunch of generalized charges and Cold War bromides that actually have no basis in reality."
The 2008 campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for president also focused on Romney's lack of overseas experience during its primary fight with Romney. The McCain campaign prepared an extensive opposition research file that spelled out several of Romney's position shifts on foreign policy and painted him as naïve and inexperienced.
"Romney has no foreign-policy experience," reads the first bullet point in the foreign-policy section of the 200-page McCain opposition research file, posted in January by Buzzfeed.
Clark was speaking Thursday on a conference call organized by the left-leaning Truman National Security Project, along with former congressman and Iraq veteran Patrick Murphy and Mark Jacobson, former deputy NATO civilian representative on Afghanistan.
The trio discussed Romney's trip to Europe this week, which has been marked by a controversy over Romney's comments that London might not be ready for the Olympics and by comments by an unnamed advisor saying that the Obama administration didn't fully appreciate the "Anglo-Saxon" relationship between Britain and the United States. (The Romney camp has disavowed those comments.)
"He's simply not ready for the diplomatic dance necessary when handling our nations' relationships abroad, much less handling sensitive national security issues," said Jacobson. "If he can't handle the Olympics, how can he handle being commander in chief?"
Murphy, the first Iraq veteran to serve in Congress, noted that Romney had not discussed veterans' issues in his Tuesday speech to the Veterans of Foreign War conference. He also pointed out that Romney suggested a private sector voucher system for veterans' healthcare in a speech last November,
"He didn't say anything about what he would do for our veterans. That was odd at best, insulting at worst. Vets are not props," said Murphy. "Mitt Romney had an awful record on vets issue when governor, so it's not surprising he avoided the topic."
The Romney campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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As the crisis in Syria deepens, top senators in both parties are unable to explain presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney's policy on dealing with the country's deepening civil war.
Romney, who leaves Tuesday evening on a three-nation foreign trip, barely mentioned Syria in his foreign-policy speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars conference in Reno, and then only as a criticism of President Barack Obama's "reset" policy with Russia.
"I don't know what it is," said Senate Armed Services Committee member John Cornyn (R-TX) when asked to comment on Romney's Syria policy. After The Cable explained it to him, Cornyn said he needed more time to study the issue. Other top senators were similarly befuddled.
On his campaign website, Romney criticizes Obama for reaching out to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the past but stops short of calling for any direct action to force Assad from power such as directly arming the opposition, as his surrogates like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) are demanding, or establishing "safe zones" for the Syrian opposition, as many of his campaign's foreign policy advisors are calling for.
"Mitt Romney believes the United States should pursue a strategy of isolating and pressuring the Assad regime to increase the likelihood of a peaceful transition to a legitimate government. We should redouble our push for the U.N. Security Council to live up to its responsibilities and impose sanctions that cut off funding sources that serve to maintain the regime's grip on power," the campaign website reads.
But the Obama administration is already pursuing a more aggressive strategy than that, announcing this week that it is abandoning the diplomacy track at the U.N. and ramping up various levels of support to the Syrian opposition. CIA teams are also reportedly vetting rebels fighters and aiding in their efforts to get weapons from countries including Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Administration officials say that increased communications and intelligence assistance is also on the way.
Romney has said repeatedly that the United States should "work with partners" to arm the Syrian opposition but has stopped short of calling for Washington to give the rebels direct, lethal aid. On July 19, after the U.N. Security Council again failed to impose punitive measures on the Assad regime following Russian and Chinese vetoes, Romney again criticized the administration's policy without saying what he would do differently.
"Russia's veto again shows the hollowness of President Obama's failed ‘reset' policy with Russia and his lack of leadership on Syria," Romney said. "While Russia and Iran have rushed to support Bashar al-Assad and thousands have been slaughtered, President Obama has abdicated leadership and subcontracted U.S. policy to Kofi Annan and the United Nations. Under this President, American influence and respect for our position around the world is at a low ebb."
On Monday, Romney told CNBC, "I think from the very beginning we misread the setting in Syria... America should've come out very aggressively from the very beginning and said Assad must go. ... The world looks for American leadership and American strength."
On Capitol Hill, senior Republicans and Democrats alike were at pains to describe Romney's policy on Syria, much less say whether they supported it or not.
"I think we need to have a robust discussion about that," Cornyn said. "There's also the concern that Syria is much more difficult than Libya was, for example. So I think the discussions need to continue about what the appropriate response is. I'm interested in learning from others what their response is."
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who admitted last week that he didn't know what Romney's Afghanistan policy was, couldn't name any specifics of Romney's Syria policy Tuesday and instead launched into a monologue about America's role in the world.
"Syria is a really complicated problem in a really complicated part of the world and anybody who says you can have a Syria policy separate and apart from the rest of your foreign policy doesn't know what foreign policy is made of," Kyl told The Cable. "I know that Governor Romney sees the complexities of the world and appreciates the need to have a strong America that has the flexibility to act in complicated and difficult and very troublesome situations like Syria."
Kyl declined to say whether he supported arming the Syrian opposition or establishing safe zones inside Syria, or whether he believed that Romney was supporting either option.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) said he supported the administration's efforts to facilitate the movement of arms to the Syrian opposition and he believes the United States should work with Turkey and NATO to establish safe zones for Syrian civilians.
But Levin could not say what Romney's Syria policy was or whether it was substantively different from what the administration is doing now.
"I don't know what his position is and his positions change so frequently, it's hard to keep track," Levin said. "That doesn't mean that he doesn't have one, or that he doesn't have two or three for that matter."
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) told The Cable he has very specific criticisms of the Obama administration's Syria policy and very specific requests, namely that the administration use American military power to protect Syrian civilians and directly arm the opposition to help topple Assad.
"I'm pained every day that goes by and more and more Syrians get killed. We may be doing something through the CIA, but not a lot. Now the Syrians are using fighter plans and threatening to use gas," said Lieberman. "What I'd like to see is the Obama administration lead the coalition of the willing to go after the Assad regime directly, and I think that would end this pretty quickly."
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The House of Representatives voted 407-5 Thursday to bar the Pentagon from spending any money on deals with Rosoboronexport, the main Russian arms broker that is also providing weapons to the Syrian regime.
The vote came in the context of the debate over the fiscal 2013 defense appropriations bill. Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) offered an amendment to the bill that says the Defense Department may not "enter into a contract, memorandum of understanding, or cooperative agreement with, make a grant to, or provide a loan or loan guarantee to Rosoboronexport."
"It is beyond unacceptable for the United States government to work with a firm that is arming the oppressive Syrian regime," Moran told The Cable. "The United States does not condone the massacre of innocent men, women and children. Furthering contracts with Rosoboronexport contradicts our nation's commitment to the principles of freedom and democracy."
Congressional outrage over the Pentagon's dealings with Rosoboronexport have been building since March, when 17 senators wrote to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to demand an end to U.S. arms deals with the Russian firm.
Russia has supplied more than $1 billion of arms to the Syrian government since the unrest is Syria began, the senators wrote -- including four cargo ships full of weapons that have arrived in Syria since December. Rosoboronexport is Russia's official broker, serving as a middle man for all Russian foreign defense sales. It reportedly signed a new contract with the Syrian regime for 36 combat jets in January.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army is in the middle of buying 21 Mi-17 dual-use helicopters from Rosoboronexport for the Afghan security forces. That $375 million deal was granted to the Russian arms broker through a sole-source contract that was never competitively bid, according to Wired. The administration has said Rosoboronexport was the only broker for the helipcopters, which the Afghan military needs.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who has been leading the congressional fight against Rosoboronexport, tried to add two related amendments to the Russian trade bill approved by the Senate Finance Committee July 18. One would have expanded the Magnitsky Act, a related piece of human rights legislation, to include those involved in transferring weapons to the Syrian government. Cornyn withdrew that amendment at the request of the committee leadership.
A second Cornyn amendment would have delayed the implementation of the U.S. granting Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations status until the administration could certify that Russia had ceased providing the Syrian regime with lethal weapons. That amendment failed by an 8-16 vote.
On Friday, Syrian-American groups in Washington praised the House for moving to end the Pentagon's business with Rosoboronexport.
"The American-Syrian Council has been working hard to emphasize in Congress how important it is that the United States government send a signal to Russia that continued military support for the Assad regime is a red line" said Sasha Ghosh-Siminoff, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a member of the council. "We will work to secure the necessary votes in the Senate and move quickly to have this DoD contract with Rosoboronexport terminated as quickly as possible."
The Pakistani military is entitled to the $1.1 billion of U.S. taxpayer money that the Pentagon is asking Congress to approve giving them, according to top Senators from both parties.
The Obama administration has told Pakistan it will release $1.1 billion of Coalition Support Funds (CSF) to the Pakistan military now that Islamabad has reopened the Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC) through which the U.S. supplies troops in Afghanistan. The funds are reimbursement money that Pakistan has already spent in the joint effort to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban that were already authorized by Congress.The U.S. government has been holding up the money over the past six months while the supply lines were closed.
Pakistan had closed those supply lines after NATO forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border in November, but opened them this week after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally, publically, said "we're sorry" for the mistakes that led to those killings. The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) could hold up the funds, but its leaders say they don't plan to do so.
"I would approve it," SASC Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) told The Cable on Tuesday in a short interview. "They've presumably earned it by the money they've laid out in terms of their anti-terrorist activities and protecting our flow of oil."
There are costs incurred by Pakistan in facilitating the movement of oil and training and equipping their own forces engaged in the fight againstinsurgents, Levin said.
"This is not supposed to be a gift, this is supposed to be a reimbursement," he explained. "That's the theory."
But Levin is still not satisfied with Pakistan's level of cooperation when it comes to combatting terrorist safe havens on their soil and protecting their side of the Afghanistan border.
"I think they've done an adequate job in some areas, a spotty job, a job that is not consistent. I wouldn't give them a grade A, I would give them a grade C on the work that they've undertaken," he said. "But the deal was therewould be reimbursement for their costs and that's what's been held up."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, told The Cable today that he also believes the CSF money should go through.
"The money's been stuck in a pipeline and the reason it hasn't flowed faster is that we can't be sure it's going to be spent wisely. If our commanders believe releasing the funds helps the war effort, I don't want to second guess them," Graham said in a short interview.
He said the biggest beneficiary of the opening of the supply lines were U.S. and international troops on the ground and he said the money is one of the only bargaining chips Washington has left when dealing with Islamabad.
"Pakistan on a good day is very hard. They are an unreliable ally. You can't trust them, you can't abandon them," Graham said. "But if you cut the money off, what leverage do you have? There may come a day when we do that, but not yet."
The Pentagon said they have been working with Congressional leaders and they are hopeful the funds will be released. "We look forward to working closely with Congress to process these claims," Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said last week.
There's only one hurdle left for the funds to cross over. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) plans to attempt to force a vote to cut off all aid to Pakistan later this month and will try to include the CSF funding in that effort.
The loss of industrial information and intellectual property through cyber espionage constitutes the "greatest transfer of wealth in history," the nation's top cyber warrior Gen. Keith Alexander said Monday.
U.S. companies lose about $250 billion per year through intellectual property theft, with another $114 billion lost due to cyber crime, a number that rises to $338 billion when the costs of down time due to crime are taken into account, said Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency and commander of U.S. Cyber Command, in remarks Monday at the American Enterprise Institute.
"That's our future disappearing in front of us," Alexander said, quoting industry numbers to estimate that $1 trillion was spent globally last year on dealing with cyber espionage and cyber crime.
But the real threat on the Internet will come when cyber attacks become militarized, a threat the U.S. must deal with now, he said.
"What we need to worry about is when these transition from disruptive to destructive attacks, which is going to happen.... We have to be ready for that," Alexander said. "This is even more difficult to the nuclear deterrent strategies we used to think about in the past."
There are 75 million unique pieces of malware in the database of McAfee, a leading cyber security company, Alexander said. Botnets, networks of compromised computers controlled remotely, send out 89.5 billion unsolicited e-mails per day, about one third of all emails sent. Over 100 countries have network exploitation capabilities, he said.
The number of cyber attacks rose 44 percent in 2011, malware increased by 60 percent, and the number of attacks on critical U.S. infrastructure rose from 9 in 2009 to more than 160 in 2011, Alexander said.
The major companies who have suffered successful cyber attacks since 2011 include Google, Booz Allen, Mitsubishi, Sony, AT&T, Visa, Stratfor, Chamber of Commerce, Symantec, Nissan, Visa, and Mastercard, he said. For every known attack, about 100 are successful and never detected, he added.
"The theft of intellectual property is astounding and we've got to stop that, and my part of that is we need to have a viable defense," he said.
Alexander called on Congress to pass cyber legislation, although he declined to endorse any particular bill moving its way through congress. He quoted Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta as warning of a cyber "Pearl Harbor," and quoted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling for a new U.S.-China dialogue on cyber issues.
He said that the U.S. government and its interlocutors should move to cloud-based computing, arguing that security in the cloud is more agile and responsive to threats, although not perfect. "We know that the system we are on today is not secure."
The U.S. government also needs more situational awareness in cyberspace and a more organized and active cadre of military cyber warriors to respond to threats, according to Alexander. "We need to build a trained and ready cyber force with the right number and the right capacity," he said.
"The conflict is growing, the probably for crisis is mounting. While we have the time, we should think about and enact those things that ensure our security in this area," he said. "And do it now, before the crisis."
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