Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno's shouting match with Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calf., in Thursday's House hearing did not surprise Army Secretary John McHugh, who on Tuesday said Odierno was right to reject Hunter's complaint about the Army's effort to develop a high-priced cloud-computing network.
"The chief spoke for himself," said McHugh, in a nod to the outspoken general, during a breakfast with reporters in Washington known as the Defense Writers Group.
Odierno, in the rare public outburst last week, lost his cool after the congressman upbraided the two Army leaders during a budget hearing before the House Armed Services Committee. McHugh was trying to respond to the congressman when the general jumped in.
Hunter had scolded the duo for not responding to his office's complaints relating to the Distributed Common Ground System (DCGS), basically a network to link hundreds of intelligence sources to ground soldiers.
Odierno took offense at the implication that his staff did not care about the well-being of soldiers and let loose in a video going viral within military circles, first reported by Military Times.
McHugh, on Tuesday, revealed that Gen. John Campbell, vice chief of staff of the Army, spent "considerable time" with Hunter the night before the hearing discussing the program. But McHugh said he was not surprised the next day when the congressman posed a hostile question during the sparsely attended hearing.
"I was a member of Congress for 17 years, I'm not surprised by anything," said McHugh.
Here's what happened: Hunter, offering "not really a question," claimed that the 3rd Infantry Division was not being given an off-the-shelf cloud computing product already being used in Afghanistan. Hunter said that he wanted the Army to do more to use "innovation that exists in the open market in places like Silicon Valley" that already does what the Army wants. He cited Google and Apple cloud products.
"What we want is the best for the warfighter," he said, and began to walk off the bench.
"May we respond?" McHugh asked Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., prompting Hunter to return, saying, "We can talk all we want to, it's not going anywhere."
Odierno suddenly lit up.
"First off, I object to this. I'm tired of somebody telling me I don't care about our soldiers and we don't respond," the imposing general loudly interjected. "Everybody on my staff cares about it, and they do all they can to help. So if you want to bring up an anecdotal incident, let's sit down, talk about it, and we'll give it a response."
Hunter then said the Army had intelligence gaps, but before he could finish the thought, Odierno erupted, saying that the Army had "20 times" the intelligence capability at the division commander level than he did in 2003, and refused to yield to Hunter's attempts to respond.
On Tuesday, McHugh backed Odierno's argument.
"The example that he used was not correct," McHugh said, challenging Hunter's objection. "The commanding general [of the division] ultimately withdrew [the request]."
"I think it's important where we have discussions, even if we have disagreements, that we all are coming from the same basics and the same facts. I didn't get a chance to talk to him about that," McHugh said, and took some of the blame himself.
"I think the Army didn't do as effective a job, in retrospect, as I would have liked in setting the narrative on this discussion," he said. Too many people view it as an "either-or" choice between two systems, both of which McHugh says the Army needs.
"I certainly admit to that."
McHugh said last year the Army signed a new agreement with Palantir, which makes in intelligence integration software popular with deployed troops. But the system does not work within the Army's DCGS. McHugh said the Army is ahead of Hunter and already is trying to help get their system "integrated into DCGS, so that we can have the information that is gathered through [Palantir's] system embedded into DCGS as strategic, analytical capabilities."
McHugh said he still has "great respect" for Hunter.
"We have committed ourselves to working with him."
UPDATE: Hunter's office contacted the E-Ring to object to McHugh's assertion on Tuesday that the command had rescinded its request for the Palantir system because the 3ID was not going back to Afghanistan after its upcoming return home.
Hunter's spokesman, Joe Kasper, said they were surprised to see McHugh's remarks. Following Thursday's argument in the hearing, Hunter's staff thought they had an agreement with Army officials to avoid any additional public back-and-forth over the issue.
However, Kasper argued that the Army ran the clock out on soldiers deployed in Afghanistan who had been begging for Palantir for nearly a year. He also objected to McHugh's assertion that Hunter was mistaken about the request still being active, telling the E-Ring that Hunter was fully aware that the 3ID headquarters at Fort Stewart had ordered a "hold" on the request from Afghanistan, and referenced it during Thursday's hearing.
"There've been repeated requests for it that go back a year," a frustrated Kasper said, providing a list of requests and denials dating to May 2012.
Kasper said their side of the story is simple: Hunter talked to Gen. Odierno in February 2012, after which Odierno approved the use of Palantir for soldiers from the 82nd Airborne in one location in Afghanistan. When members of the 3ID paid a pre-deployment visit to the site, they saw the Palantir system and determined they wanted it, too. Rather than ask for approval for one site, the 3ID asked for "reach back" capability so that entire unit could use it. But that approval never came, which Hunter argues left an intelligence "capability gap" in the unit.
The Palantir system's attractiveness to some soliders in the warzone, Kasper said, is its ability to "detect IED incidents" by determining patterns in intelligence data.
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s top lawyer until three months ago, is skeptical of the need for a so-called drone court.
Johnson, who personally approved the legal authority behind every major military strike ordered by the secretary of defense and President Obama until January 1, says the U.S. military is best equipped to conduct targeted killings of terrorism suspects abroad, without the need for a new court.
This morning, Johnson, who has returned to private practice, is at Fordham University to deliver a speech that he bills as the first to tackle the pros and cons of such a court. Johnson directly challenges advocates of the idea, including senators calling for more oversight and transparency, such as Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), intelligence committee chairwoman, and his old boss, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Legal authority for targeted strikes against terrorism suspects that are conducted by the military is already in place, Johnson argues. What is needed, he offers, is more transparency around how those suspects are identified. Some secrets about targeted operations, Johnson claims, can be revealed without compromising national security.
“Most people, I think, do not have a quarrel with the bottom-line conclusions and results,” Johnson says in the speech, an advance copy of which was obtained by The E-Ring. “The problem is that the American public is suspicious of executive power shrouded in secrecy.”
Because U.S. officials will not confirm targeted killings even though they are widely reported by the media, the government is losing the trust and support of the public it is trying to protect, Johnson claims. But, even though an oversight court may sound like a good idea because judges are thought to be fairer than White House politicos, Johnson argues that a new court would be problematic and unnecessary -- at least for the military.
“We must be realistic about the degree of added credibility such a court can provide,” he said. Those few cases that would require the court’s approval likely would be kept secret anyway, and most of those cases still would be approved. The current FISA, or foreign intelligence court, is “derided” as a rubber stamp by the same groups calling for a new drone court, he notes.
Johnson analyzes three possible versions of a drone court and argues why all three would fail. A court that reviews all desired strikes away from a battlefield and against terrorists, including by the military, would be a logjam and require too much evidence to act in real time. A court that reviewed only the evidence for strikes against U.S. citizens abroad would require an impractical standard of intelligence, essentially forcing the government prove it knows the exact nationality of every target, American or not.
Finally, Johnson offers his least bad option: a court that would review and approve lethal force only against terrorists known to be U.S. citizens “but only in instances not part of a congressionally-authorized armed conflict conducted by the U.S. military.” In other words, this court would review killings of Americans abroad conducted by the CIA or other non-military agencies.
“In my view targeted lethal force is at its least controversial when it is on its strongest, most traditional legal foundation. The essential mission of the U.S. military is to capture or kill an enemy. Armies have been doing this for thousands of years. As part of a congressionally-authorized armed conflict, the foundation is even stronger.”
“Lethal force outside the parameters of congressionally-authorized armed conflict by the military looks to the public to lack any boundaries, and lends itself to the suspicion that it is an expedient substitute for criminal justice.”
Johnson also notes that courts are not equipped to decide “questions of feasibility of capture and imminence,” which can change rapidly.
Finally, he argues, the president has the constitutional authority to use force, and the debate over killing terrorists one-by-one seems to naively forget that the president has sole authority to launch a nuclear strike that could kill millions of people.
“Article II of the Constitution states that the President ‘shall’ be the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. That is his burden and responsibility,” Johnson argues. “He may delegate his war-fighting authority within his chain of command, but he cannot assign part of it away to another branch of government, nor have it taken away by an act of Congress.”
In the end, Johnson says more transparency will go a long way, if administration officials are willing to find that path.
“Put 10 national security officials in a room to discuss de- classifying a certain fact, they will all say I’m for transparency in principle, but at least 7 will be concerned about second-order effects, someone will say ‘this is really hard, we need to think about this some more,’ the meeting is adjourned, and the 10 officials go on to other more pressing matters.
“Last year we declassified the basics of the U.S. military’s counterterrorism activities in Yemen and Somalia and disclosed what we were doing in a June 2012 War Powers report to Congress. It was a long and difficult deliberative process to get there, but certain people in the White House persevered, we said publicly and officially what we were doing, and, so far as I can tell, the world has not come to an end.”
You can read the full speech here:
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When Senator Hagel’s name first surfaced as a potential nominee for Secretary of Defense, I had genuine concerns over certain aspects of his record on Israel and Iran. Once the President made his choice, however, I agreed to keep these reservations private until I had the opportunity to discuss them fully with Senator Hagel in person.
In a meeting Monday, Senator Hagel spent approximately 90 minutes addressing my concerns one by one. It was a very constructive session. Senator Hagel could not have been more forthcoming and sincere.
Based on several key assurances provided by Senator Hagel, I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation. I encourage my Senate colleagues who have shared my previous concerns to also support him.
In our meeting Monday, Senator Hagel clarified a number of his past statements and positions and elaborated on several others.
On Iran, Senator Hagel rejected a strategy of containment and expressed the need to keep all options on the table in confronting that country. But he didn’t stop there. In our conversation, Senator Hagel made a crystal-clear promise that he would do “whatever it takes” to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, including the use of military force. He said his “top priority” as Secretary of Defense would be the planning of military contingencies related to Iran. He added that he has already received a briefing from the Pentagon on this topic.
In terms of sanctions, past statements by Senator Hagel sowed concerns that he considered unilateral sanctions against Iran to be ineffective. In our meeting, however, Senator Hagel clarified that he “completely” supports President Obama’s current sanctions against Iran. He added that further unilateral sanctions against Iran could be effective and necessary.
On Hezbollah, Senator Hagel stressed that—notwithstanding any letters he refused to sign in the past—he has always considered the group to be a terrorist organization.
On Hamas, I asked Senator Hagel about a letter he signed in March 2009 urging President Obama to open direct talks with that group’s leaders. In response, Senator Hagel assured me that he today believes there should be no negotiations with Hamas, Hezbollah or any other terrorist group until they renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Senator Hagel volunteered that he has always supported Israel’s right to retaliate militarily in the face of terrorist attacks by Hezbollah or Hamas. He understood the predicament Israel is in when terrorist groups hide rocket launchers among civilian populations and stage attacks from there. He supported Israel’s right to defend herself even in those difficult circumstances.
In keeping with our promises to help equip Israel, Senator Hagel pledged to work towards the on-time delivery of the F-35 joint strike fighters to Israel, continue the cooperation between Israel and the U.S. on Iron Dome, and recommend to the President that we refuse to join in any NATO exercises if Turkey should continue to insist on excluding Israel from them. Senator Hagel believes Israel must maintain its Qualitative Military Edge.
Regarding his unfortunate use of the term “Jewish lobby” to refer to certain pro-Israel groups, Senator Hagel understands the sensitivity around such a loaded term and regrets saying it.
I know some will question whether Senator Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post. But I don’t think so. Senator Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago. His views are genuine, and reflect this new reality.
On issues related to female and LGBT service members, Senator Hagel provided key assurances as well. He said he is committed to implementing the Shaheen amendment to improve the reproductive health of military women. He also supports the full repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
In general, I believe any President deserves latitude in selecting his own advisors. While the Senate confirmation process must be allowed to run its course, it is my hope that Senator Hagel’s thorough explanations will remove any lingering controversy regarding his nomination.
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Kevin Baron reports on the people and policies driving the Pentagon and the national security establishment in The E-Ring.