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May 7, 2015
Notes from the Pentagon

Obama threatens veto of defense funding shift
President Obama will veto Republican-backed legislation if it allows the Pentagon to shift funds meant for conflicts to other defense spending, to circumvent sequestration limits, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told Congress on Wednesday.

The topic of so-called overseas contingency operations (OCO, pronounced “oh-ko”) money transfers was a main element of Mr. Carter’s testimony before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Pentagon.

Defense hawks in Congress came up with the funding workaround for spending caps placed on the base-defense budget required by the 2011 Budget Control Act. The House defense bill would add $38 billion to the president’s request of $51 billion for OCO, for a total of $89 billion that would allow the Pentagon to use the money for readiness, operations and weapons systems.

In the past, OCO funding was limited for use by the military for conflicts in Afghanistan and other hot spots, as well as recent operations in Iraq against the Islamic State. The controversial funding shift was approved this week as part of a massive fiscal 2016 budget that would authorize $613 billion for defense and nuclear programs.

According to defense officials, Mr. Carter’s testimony reflects White House opposition to the new spending policy. The president and his key advisers are said to oppose the measure because of a bias against military spending and a desire to lift sequestration limits across the board so that more domestic programs can be funded, not just defense and military-related programs.

Mr. Carter, in his testimony, said the OCO approach “is clearly a road to nowhere” because it “ignores the vital contributions made by the State, Justice, Treasury and Homeland Security departments.”

“Legislation that implements this budget framework will therefore be subject to veto,” he testified.

The Pentagon under Mr. Obama has taken more than $750 billion in “sudden and unpredictable” cuts to future defense spending, Mr. Carter said.

A senior House Armed Services Committee aide defended the funding shift to the OCO.

“The bill meets the president’s funding request and advances a number of reforms that carry broad bipartisan support. What label gets put on the funds shouldn’t be the basis of a veto threat,” the aide said.

The announcement this week that President Obama has picked Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — the president’s top military adviser — is a setback for pro-China advocates in the military and policy communities, according to a defense official.

As reported April 22 in this space, Mr. Obama picked Gen. Dunford, currently the Marine Corps Commandant, along with Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva to be the next vice chairman. The generals, once confirmed by the Senate, represent a major personnel change as the two top military leaders at the Pentagon, with broad power to influence defense policy and military forces and operations.

Gen. Dunford will replace Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, whose term ends in September. Gen. Selva, currently commander of the U.S. Transportation Command, will replace Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr.

According to defense officials, the selection of the two generals is a blow to officials in the military and the Obama administration who were hoping that the nomination would go to Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command who has been a major influence on Sino-U.S. policies.

Adm. Locklear had formed a special group of advisers who were working behind the scenes in Washington to influence the chairman selection process in favor the four-star admiral, who has been in charge of Pacific Command since 2012.

The admiral last year sought to curry favor with the White House by telling a reporter that climate change — not China or North Korea — was his biggest worry in the Pacific. He also made military exchanges with China one of his highest priorities, despite growing concerns among America’s Asian allies that the United States is appeasing Beijing and its communist-controlled military.

And some defense officials also privately suggested that Adm. Locklear has sought to slow-roll the administration’s signature policy of rebalancing forces to Asia. He, like other pro-China officials in the administration, is said to have regarded the pivot to Asia as unduly provocative of China.

Defense hawks both in and out of government have criticized Adm. Locklear for his conciliatory policies toward China that have focused on trying to “build trust” with China’s military through exchanges, ship visits and other military-to-military activities that often benefited China’s war-fighting development but did little to induce greater openness or cooperation.

Instead of closer ties, China’s military during Adm. Locklear’s tenure has grown more belligerent and less cooperative, critics say, with moves such as the transfer of strategic nuclear missile launchers to North Korea for KN-08 missiles; Beijing’s unilateral declaration of an air-defense zone over Japan’s Senkaku islands; a near-collision caused by a Chinese amphibious warship sailing dangerously close to the cruiser USS Cowpens in the South China Sea; and China’s first out-of-area deployment of submarines to the Indian Ocean.

Pacific Command spokesman Capt. Chris Sims said Adm. Locklear will be retiring. He declined to comment on the admiral’s policies at the command. Adm. Locklear’s departure will end the hold placed on his replacement, Adm. Harry J. Harris, commander of the Pacific Fleet, who was confirmed for the post at Pacific Command in December.

A recent job posting by the ultrasecretive National Security Agency — the NSA, often referred to as “No Such Agency” — reveals the kinds of people the agency is recruiting for cyberwarfare.

“Are you tired of hearing about successful cyber attacks against the United States?” the job posting asks. If so, the posting continues, “you may be a good candidate for the Cyber National Mission Force.”

The force is looking for a “mitigation analyst” who will joint the cyberforce within the NSA’s Information Assurance Directorate, the section of the Fort George G. Meade-based electronic spying and code-breaking agency in charge of cybersecurity. The directorate, while maintaining a very low profile, is among the more public of NSA’s components and interacts with private-sector firms in dealing with cyberattacks.

The mission force conducts operations to defend Pentagon networks and “enable actions in cyberspace while denying adversaries operational abilities in cyberspace” — bureaucrat-speak for battling hackers and nations caught stealing data or mapping networks for sabotage or cyberattacks. The main cyberthreats the NSA currently deals with emanate from Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

To carry out the “fast-paced” job, the analyst must develop response capabilities for cyberthreats, spy on enemy cyberplans and technical capabilities, identify critical national networks and “correlate key intelligence to locate adversary presence.”

The work will involve “discovering and eradicating” adversaries who have gained access to Pentagon networks. Some work will involve testing to identify vulnerabilities of computer networks to attack.

The job offering is looking for experienced computer experts with either a high school diploma or advanced degree in computer-related studies and offers a starting annual salary of $65,000 to $103,500. Non-U.S. citizens cannot apply.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.

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