Posted tagged ‘Department of Defense’

Top Pentagon posts are 70 percent vacant as confirmations continue to lag

October 14, 2017

Top Pentagon posts are 70 percent vacant as confirmations continue to lag, Washington ExaminerTravis J. Tritten, October 14, 2017

For now, the Pentagon may be fine holding the status quo without the 40 positions filled but the appointees will be needed to implement the agenda of Trump and Mattis.

“If you actually want to make changes, if you want to do things differently … you’ve got to have these political appointees and not just at the top but at all the various echelons,” Spoehr said.

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The slow pace of confirming Trump administration nominees shows no signs of abating at the Pentagon as mid-October rolls around and 70 percent of its top posts remain unfilled.

Just 17 of the 57 Pentagon positions that require Senate confirmation have been filled by President Trump’s appointees. That figure has barely budged in two months, leaving the military without a spectrum of leaders who can put the administration’s stamp on policy.

“I think we should be very concerned and informal reports I get from the Pentagon suggest that this is a problem, that this is not just like business as usual over there,” said Thomas Spoehr, the director of the Center for National Defense at the Heritage Foundation.

The White House, which had been slow to name nominees, rolled out three more names this week, including John Rood, a senior vice president at defense giant Lockheed Martin, for undersecretary of defense for policy.

In all, 23 of Trump’s nominees are somewhere in the confirmation pipeline, either named or awaiting action by the Senate, but 17 Pentagon-appointed positions still do not even have candidates named by the president.

The Senate Armed Services Committee, which has purview over vetting Defense Department nominees, has become a major bottleneck for Trump.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the committee chairman, has said he is holding Army secretary nominee Mark Esper, a top lobbyist for defense contractor Raytheon, and others because he wants the Trump administration to provide information on military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

McCain’s committee has not held a confirmation hearing — other than for the reappointment of Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford — since July. Of the 23 nominees somewhere in the confirmation process, 16 of those are currently parked at the Armed Services Committee.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Dunford both testified to Armed Services on Oct. 3 about the situation in Afghanistan.

But the committee, which was out of town along with the rest of the Senate over the past week, had not moved on any nominees. No hearing for Esper had been scheduled by Friday.

Spoehr said McCain and his committee could potentially approve the waiting Trump nominees quickly, vetting four or so per hearing.

For now, the Pentagon may be fine holding the status quo without the 40 positions filled but the appointees will be needed to implement the agenda of Trump and Mattis.

“If you actually want to make changes, if you want to do things differently … you’ve got to have these political appointees and not just at the top but at all the various echelons,” Spoehr said.

Pentagon: Russia May Have Directly Participated in Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack

April 7, 2017

Pentagon: Russia May Have Directly Participated in Syrian Chemical Weapons Attack, BreitbartJohn Hayward, April 7, 2017

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According to CNN, the Pentagon is particularly interested in whether a Russian warplane actually conducted the bombing run on the Khan Sheikhoun hospital where victims were receiving treatment within hours of the attack, “with the aim of destroying evidence.”

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A stunning update on Friday afternoon from the Associated Press said the Pentagon is investigating possible Russian participation in the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons attack.

These officials also supported the dire suspicion that nearby hospitals were attacked to cover up evidence of the WMD deployment:

The officials say Russia has failed to control the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons.

They say a drone belonging either to Russia or Syria was seen hovering over the site of the chemical weapons attack Tuesday after it happened. The drone returned late in the day as citizens were going to a nearby hospital for treatment. Shortly afterward, officials say the hospital was bombed.

The officials say they believe the hospital attack may have been an effort to cover up evidence of the attack.

The officials weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity. They say they’re still reviewing evidence.

According to CNN, the Pentagon is particularly interested in whether a Russian warplane actually conducted the bombing run on the Khan Sheikhoun hospital where victims were receiving treatment within hours of the attack, “with the aim of destroying evidence.”

Such an inquiry will not, of course, sit well with Russia, which is currently demanding a U.N. Security Council investigation of American aggression.

There have been conflicting reports about whether any Russian personnel or aircraft, particularly helicopters, were present at the Sharyat airbase. Videos can be found online purporting to show Russian helicopters at the base as recently as February, but Fox News quotes Pentagon briefers stating “no Russian aircraft were at the Sharyat airfield” when the missiles struck.

However, the Fox News report also quotes U.S. officials who said “between 12 and 100 Russian military personnel” were present at the base, complete with their own barracks, which the U.S. “took pains” to avoid blowing up. If the chemical weapons attack on Idlib province was indeed conducted from the base, it would be very difficult for the Russians to argue they were unaware a war crime was in progress under their noses.

Pentagon drawing up options for military response to Syria chemical attack

April 6, 2017

Pentagon drawing up options for military response to Syria chemical attack, Washington ExaminerJamie McIntyre, April 6, 2017

The U.S. could use its existing deconfliction channel with the Russians to avoid targets that would cause Russian casualties.

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The Pentagon is drawing up options for a possible military response to Tuesday’s chemical weapons attack in Syria that killed more than 70 people, and hospitalized hundreds more.

“There are very senior level meetings underway,” said one Pentagon official, “but I have not seen a concrete plan.”

The meetings involve Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, and involve consultations with other senior commanders, including Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command. The meetings are taking place amid new reports of another chemical attack in Syria.

“Options yes. We are in the business of providing options,” a senior military official said. “I would watch this one closely.”

The first official could not say if Trump had specifically ordered the options, or if the meeting constituted “prudent planning,” considering Trump’s Rose Garden statements Wednesday.

“I have that flexibility,” Trump said, “and I will tell you, it’s already happened that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much. … What happened yesterday is unacceptable to me.”

The U.S. now has a high degree of confidence that the air force of Syrian President Bashar Assad dropped a chemical weapon from an aircraft on the unsuspecting citizens of Khan Sheikhoun, in Syria’s northwest Idlib province, Pentagon officials said.

The symptoms suffered by the victims, including foaming at the mouth and asphyxiation, are consistent with exposure to sarin, a deadly nerve agent.

Pentagon planners have to take into account the presence of Russian forces and Iranian militia if they contemplate airstrikes to punish the Assad regime.

The U.S. could use its existing deconfliction channel with the Russians to avoid targets that would cause Russian casualties.

Opposition Builds Against Mattis Pick Who Met With Muslim Brotherhood

March 13, 2017

Opposition Builds Against Mattis Pick Who Met With Muslim Brotherhood, Washington Free Beacon, March 13, 2017

(Why and for what purpose does General Mattis want her at the Department of Defense? What do her views on the Muslim Brotherhood and anything else have to do with Department of Defense activities? The article does not indicate. — DM)

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 04: Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Anne Patterson testifies during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, November 4, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Opposition is mounting on Capitol Hill and in conservative foreign policy circles over Defense Secretary James Mattis’s efforts to hire a former Obama administration official who lobbied in favor of engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood and spearheaded efforts to criticize Israeli counter-terrorism efforts, according to multiple sources close to the Trump administration.

Mattis is lobbying to hire former diplomat Anne Patterson as undersecretary of defense for policy, according to multiple reports, a position that would make her the third most powerful voice at the Defense Department.

Multiple sources on Capitol Hill and those close to the Trump foreign policy teams are voicing concerns about the pick, warning that Patterson would seek to continue some of the former Obama administration’s most controversial foreign policies, such as conducting outreach to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Patterson, who served as U.S. ambassador to Egypt when the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power, advocated in favor of negotiating with the terror group. Her efforts drew outrage in the Egyptian reformist community, which still views Patterson as working to legitimize the Muslim Brotherhood.

As assistant secretary of state for near east affairs in the Obama administration, Patterson also led efforts to criticize Israeli authorities after they killed a Palestinian-American terrorist who was attempting to stab civilians.

Patterson’s record under the Obama administration has raised concerns on Capitol Hill, where she would require Senate confirmation in order to assume the Defense Department post.

Multiple sources who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon about the matter expressed opposition to the pick and outlined larger concerns about efforts by Mattis to hire former Obama administration officials who conservatives view as responsible for multiple failures in U.S. foreign policy.

These sources also expressed concern about the Trump administration’s failure to remove former Obama officials from the administration, citing the efforts by some to kneecap President Donald Trump’s foreign policy team and preserve Obama-era policies.

“This would be a disastrous choice,” one senior congressional aide tracking the matter told the Free Beacon. “Patterson has a well-documented track record of sticking up for extremist groups at every turn. Her selection would mean elevating someone whose views not only run counter to the president’s, but U.S. national security as well. The administration should seriously reconsider.”

A second senior Republican Senate aide expressed similar concerns. Patterson’s views run counter to the foreign policy outlook expressed by Trump on the campaign trail, the source noted.

There is mounting concern over the promotion of Patterson to such a senior role, according to the source, who said this would “would send the wrong message given her background in Egypt, in particular her sympathies to the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Insiders close to Trump’s national security team described mounting concern over Mattis’s efforts to hire Patterson.

“People concerned about the U.S.-Egypt relationship don’t know what to make of Mattis’s support for Anne Patterson,” said one source, who explained that Patterson’s record on Egypt is vastly different that Mattis’ own comments about recalibrating relations with the country.

“Egyptians I have spoken to, both in and outside government, are extremely worried right now,” the source added. “First, they can’t believe they might have to contend with Patterson’s pro-Brotherhood polices; and second, it’s causing them to re-evaluate who they thought Secretary Mattis is.”

As the Trump administration looks to reset years of strained relations with Cairo, the selection of Patterson could draw outrage from secular leaders who are still angered by her engagement with the Muslim Brotherhood, sources explained.

One Egyptian opposition leader who spoke to the Free Beacon during the 2013 revolution in Egypt described Patterson as “the first enemy of the revolution,” claiming “she is hated even more than [former Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed] Morsi.”

Patterson met in 2012 with Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie, who has been extremely critical of the United States.

Patterson still has strained relations with current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Reports in Middle Eastern publications indicated that Patterson pressured al-Sisi to release imprisoned Muslim Brotherhood members and later threatened him when he refused to do so.

Sources also raised questions about Patterson’s commitment to Trump’s foreign policy, which seeks to isolate fanatical religious organizations such as the Brotherhood and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC.

Patterson cast doubt during a 2015 Senate hearing on efforts to designate the IRGC as a terrorist group, efforts that are likely to be revisited by Trump’s team.

One senior Republican foreign policy adviser who has close ties to the White House told the Free Beacon that Patterson would represent a continuation of the Obama administration’s failed engagement in the Middle East.

“Anne Patterson is the embodiment of the Obama administration’s failed approach to the Middle East, which focused on crowding out our traditional Arab allies with radical Islamists from Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood,” said the source, who requested anonymity to speak freely about the administration.

“As the post-Kerry State Department becomes less and less relevant, and the White House and Defense Department take over foreign policy strategy, it’s beyond irresponsible to put her in charge of the Pentagon’s policy apparatus,” the source said.

US Agents Tasked With Deradicalization Lack Arabic

February 2, 2017

US Agents Tasked With Deradicalization Lack Arabic, Clarion Project, Elliot Friedland, February 2, 2017

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A U.S. Department of Defense program to counter Islamist radicalization efforts is fell into difficulty because of the lack of skills of those tasked with running the program, according to former employees who have gone public.

The DoD says the program, subcontracted and  comprising 120 staff members, fights radicalization online  “through regular engagement, in-language, with regional target audiences online, using factual information consistent with our approved narratives.”

Yet according to ex-staff of the WebOps program, many employees could not speak Arabic properly, frequently mixing up words or even mistaking Arabic messages for other languages like Farsi or Urdu.

The agents would use keywords to identify which social media users were likely to be at risk of radicalization. However once in touch with someone who was at risk, staff of the deradicalization program made errors like mixing up the words for “salad” and “authority,” thus undermining their credibility.

As embarrassing, staff lacked awareness of the differences between the myriad Islamist groups. One ex-member said many employees “don’t know the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas.”

The program was subcontracted to the private corporation Colsa Corp. Former employees allege the company, which runs its own in-house internal assessment of the success of the program, encouraged them to indicate progress regardless of whether or not progress was taking place, in order to maintain funding.

A lack of language skills has long inhibited U.S. counter-radicalization efforts. After 9/11, intelligence sources said, less than a dozen CIA field agents spoke Arabic. In 2006 just 33 FBI agents had even limited familiarity with Arabic. That year, the House Select Committee on Intelligence concluded U.S. human intelligence – ie, the condition of its spying apparatus in terms of personnel, as being in “an entirely unacceptable state of affairs.”

In 2009, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence warned that the necessary organizational familiarity with the key languages of Pashto, Dari and Urdu for the government “remains essentially nonexistent.”

If the U.S. is serious about winning the “war on terror” then language fluency within the departments charged with waging that war needs to be brought up to the required standard.

Senate panel approves Mattis to be next defense secretary

January 18, 2017

Senate panel approves Mattis to be next defense secretary, Washington ExaminerJacqueline Klimas, January 18, 2017

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday cleared one of the final hurdles for retired Gen. James Mattis to become defense secretary shortly after President-elect Trump takes office.

The committee voted 26-1 that the full Senate should approve the nomination once it’s received, meaning it will not have to be referred to the committee and can be approved by the full Senate as soon as the next president sends it to Capitol Hill, according to a committee press release.

There is precedent for the committee to act on a prospective nomination from someone who is not yet in office. The committee took a similar action to help speed approval of Donald Rumsfeld to be defense secretary on Jan. 19, 2001, one day before the inauguration of former President George W. Bush.

The committee and full Senate passed the waiver last week that will allow Mattis to serve as defense secretary so soon after leaving the Marine Corps. Current law requires someone to be out of uniform for seven years before serving as defense secretary, but Mattis just left the service in 2013.

Lockheed Martin changes tune, says it can cut costs on F-35

January 13, 2017

Lockheed Martin changes tune, says it can cut costs on F-35, Washington Times, Stephen Dinan, January 13, 2017

(This is deplorable. How dare Fascist woman-hater Trump browbeat and even threaten the poor, defenseless CEO of Lockheed Martin into producing F-35s for the military at a lower cost? — DM)

lockheedmartinceoLockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson talks to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, after a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson returned to Trump Tower Friday to promise President-elect Donald Trump she’ll drive down the costs of the F-35, as she tries to save her company’s lucrative but troubled contract for the fighter jet.

Mr. Trump has publicly called her out, saying the F-35 was over budget and behind schedule and pointedly mulling ditching the contract and asking Boeing to update its F-18 jet instead.

Mr. Hewson, after her meeting with Mr. Trump, signaled to reporters that she’s going to try to get the F-35 under grips, and said keeping the program going is important to helping the president-elect meet his manufacturing pledges.

“I had the opportunity to tell him that we are close to a deal that will bring the cost down significantly from the previous lot of aircraft to the next lot of aircraft and moreover it’s going to bring a lot of jobs to the United States,” she said.

“In fact we are going to increase our jobs in Fort Worth by 1,800 jobs and when you think about the supply chain across 45 states in the US it’s going to be thousands and thousands of jobs. And I also had the opportunity to give him some ideas on things we think we can do to continue to drive the cost down on the F-35 program so it was a great meeting,” she said.

It was a far different reaction than Ms. Hewson’s first meeting with Mr. Trump last month. She emerged from that meeting without speaking to reporters, and Mr. Trump said they appeared to be engaging in “a little bit of a dance.”

By contrast Boeing’s CEO, who came in the same day to talk about costs of the next-generation Air Force One, had quickly promised Mr. Trump a better deal.

It was in the wake of those two meetings that Mr. Trump publicly said he would ask Boeing to ponder plans for an F-18 Super Hornet update that could replace the F-35.