The Complex

FP's Situation Report: Panetta revealed info to filmmakers

By Gordon Lubold

Defense hawks shaped the budget deal. Defense News' John Bennett: "Two senior US lawmakers have struck a deal on a budget blueprint that would restore to the Pentagon's annual budget more than $30 billion over the next two years set to meet sequestration's meat axe. The bipartisan budget resolution is a major victory for congressional defense hawks, who lobbied for years against sequestration - and made an impression with the special committee's primary negotiators. House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., announced a plan Tuesday evening that would ease pending across-the-board cuts while shrinking the federal deficit more than existing law. The compromise budget resolution, if adopted by both chambers, would provide $63 billion in sequestration relief in 2014 and 2015, which would be split evenly among defense and non-defense discretionary accounts. The 2014 relief would total $45 billion, meaning the Defense Department would get back about $22.5 billion. In 2015, the relief amount would be around $18 billion total, and $9 billion for the Pentagon." More here.

The WaPo's Ezra Klein's "what you need to know" on the budget deal, point #5: "The deal replaces about half of sequestration's cuts to defense and non-defense discretionary spending in 2014. It replaces about a fourth of them in 2015. That means most of sequestration will go into effect in both years." More here.

A "doable deal on Defense," says the WaPo's ed board: "With the end of 2013 rapidly approaching, Congress has an opportunity to rise above a year of massive dysfunction and prevent major disruptions in U.S. defense operations. The leaders of the Senate and House armed services committees have managed to fashion a bipartisan version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which became stuck on the Senate floor before the Thanksgiving recess. It's a decent compromise that the leaders of both chambers ought to embrace and bring to a vote in the coming days... Other measures in the bill ought to attract broad bipartisan support. The effects on defense of the so-called sequester would be eased by transferring money to operations and training from less essential accounts, such as construction and staffing in office headquarters. The Pentagon is still vulnerable to a $50 billion sequester cut in January unless a separate budget deal can head it off. But passage of the authorization act would prevent the worst disruptions of ongoing operations."  More here.

Gordon Adams says the deal represents "business as usual in a statement to Situation Report and others:" "It's an insider's bill in an outsider's world.  They nearly didn't have any bill at all, reflective of the dysfunctionality at work in the Congress. Authorizing defense funding at a level that bears no relationship to the budget reality around them reflects that they continue to play inside baseball when the crowd has left the stadium.  The budget negotiators, appropriators, or, conceivably, sequester, will determine the funding level for defense. By pretending there would be more money, the authorizers managed to evade tough choices, and even left themselves room to push for special interests that will make the Pentagon's planning problems even worse: preventing the retirement of cruisers and amphibious ships, preventing the sensible consolidation of the military's basing infrastructure, blocking the decision to order no more block 30 Global Hawks, adding funds to an already excessive missile defense budget, additional funding for Guard and Reserve equipment."

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report where our bottom line when it comes to all that will always be: bring it. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. And if you like what you see, tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. And one more thing: please follow us @glubold.

Turns out, Panetta did unwittingly reveal top secret information to ‘Zero Dark Thirty' filmmaker at an awards ceremony in June 2011. Judicial Watch: Judicial Watch announced today that it has obtained more than 200 pages of documents from the Central Intelligence Agency, including a previously unreleased CIA internal report confirming that former CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed classified information at a June 24, 2011, bin Laden assault awards ceremony attended by ‘Zero Dark Thirty' filmmaker Mark Boal. The documents were produced in response to a June 21, 2013, Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency... Significantly, the entire transcript of the Panetta speech provided to Judicial Watch by the CIA is classified "Top Secret."  More than 90 lines are redacted for security reasons, further confirming that significant portions of the speech should not have been made in front of the filmmaker who lacked top security clearance.

AP's Kim Dozier: "Newly declassified documents show Tuesday that former CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed secret information to ‘Zero Dark Thirty' scriptwriter Mark Boal when Panetta gave a speech at CIA headquarters marking the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Panetta said through a spokesman that he didn't know Boal was in the room. Judicial Watch filed a request for the more than 200 pages of documents, which the CIA released Tuesday. The documents concerned the internal investigation of its role in the film about the bin Laden raid... Panetta spokesman Jeremy Bash said Panetta assumed everyone in the audience had the proper clearance to hear the speech. The documents refer to Panetta revealing the name of the ground commander of the unit that carried out the raid. Parts of the speech transcript released in the documents Tuesday are still blacked out." Panetta, in a statement: "I had no idea that individual was in the audience... To this day, I wouldn't know him if he walked into the room." Read the rest of the AP here. Read the documents Judicial Watch obtained though FOIA, here. Judicial Watch story here. 

Read FP's interview with Panetta pub'ed Dec. 9, "Epiphanies from Leon Panetta," including his views on Syria, Iran and the most dysfunctional Congress in recent memory, here.

Foreign Policy hosts John Kerry (on his 70th birthday!) and a whole bunch of other amazing folks are on the marquee today for FP's "Transformational Trends 2014." In conjunction with the Policy Planning Staff at the State Department, FP will host a day-long discussion on diplomacy and national security at the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown that culminates with remarks by John Kerry this afternoon. The day will include panel discussions from the likes of Tony Blinken, President Obama's deputy national security adviser, former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Anne Patterson, the former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt (and Pakistan), Mark Lippert, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's chief of staff, Michele Flournoy, the Pentagon's former No. 3 and a slew of others, including: David McKean, Tom Shannon, Jack Gerard, Jim Baker, David Burwell, FP's Peter Scoblic and Noah Shachtman, Noura al-Kaabi, Miriam Sapiro, Frederick Kempe, Danny Russel, Fred Hochberg and David Sandalow.

There will be spirited discussions that include "2014: Flashpoints and Emerging Trends of the Year Ahead" led by McKean; a keynote discussion by Donilon on "Shaping a Strategic Framework for a Secure America," followed by a panel discussion led by Shachtman on "Rethinking the Greater Middle East: Finding Opportunity Amid Unprecedented Upheaval" with Patterson, Nasr and al-Kaabi; Another discussion in the afternoon, "The Changing Nature of the Trans-Atlantic Alliance" will be followed by another one with Russel, Lippert, Hochberg, Flournoy and Sandalow on "America in Asia: Remaking the Map of the Center of the 21st Century World."

Kerry, who celebrates 70 years today, will speak in the late afternoon on "Restoring Diplomacy to the Center of the U.S. Foreign Policy: Reflections on the Past Year and What's Next."

That will be followed by a huge party tonight at the Four Seasons that FP hosts to celebrate FP's Global Thinkers, people like Edward Snowden, Hassan Rouhani, Keith Alexander, Ron Wyden and Kevin Mandia and a bunch of incredible people you may have never heard of, too. Aminata Toure, Xie Zhenhua, Mary Jennings, Colleen Farrell and Joshua Oppenheimer, Malala Yousafzai and dozens of others are on the list and many of them will be at the party tonight.

The list and the Global Thinkers issue online, here.

Follow it all today on the Tweeter machine: #FPTrends and #FPThinkers.

And for a list of the Twitter handles of FP's Global Thinkers, click here.

Btw, Foreign Policy magazine isn't at the top of Julian Assange's Christmas list. FP's Elias Groll: "Julian Assange and a huge number of Mexicans on Twitter look to have something in common: Neither are particularly happy about Foreign Policy's Global Thinkers issue. On Monday, FP launched the fifth annual iteration of that issue, which selected a range of thinkers from the worlds of surveillance and privacy, statesmen and activists, innovators and artists in attempt to distill some of the most important and consequential individuals of 2013. Among them is the Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, who has embarked on an ambitious reform agenda during his first year in office... But his selection provoked a virulent response on Twitter, with an outpouring of disdain for a man many Mexicans view as little more than a figurehead -- and a stupid one at that... This year, Julian Assange joined the Mexican Twitterati in denouncing FP. On Monday night, the WikiLeaks Twitter account, which Assange has a key hand in running, criticized FP for what it saw as a long-running marginalization of Assange." Read the rest here.

John Kerry pitched the Iranian deal to Congress and beat back more sanctions - for now. FP's own Yochi Dreazen and John Hudson: "When it comes to the Obama administration's controversial nuclear pact with Iran, it's White House 1, Congress 0. Lawmakers from both parties teed off on the agreement Tuesday, deriding it as naïve, misguided, and the beginning of the end for the punishing economic sanctions that have forced Tehran to the negotiating table. Rhetoric aside, though, the administration seems to have blunted -- at least for now -- a Senate Banking Committee push to impose new sanctions on Iran while the talks continue. That's a major win for the White House, which has repeatedly warned that putting new punitive measures in place now would derail the current negotiations with Tehran and scuttle the interim deal that was signed in Geneva late last month. 

‘The president and Secretary Kerry have made a strong case for a pause in Congressional action on new Iran sanctions, so I am inclined to support their request and hold off on Committee action for now,' said Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson, whose panel has been weighing legislation designed to choke off Iran's remaining oil sales. The House overwhelmingly passed its own version of the bill earlier this year." More here.

Two French paratroopers die in unrest in Central African Republic, CNN here.

Jim Dobbins: security deal with Afghanistan not impossible. The WaPo's Joby Warrick: The Obama administration believes it can still finalize a security agreement with Afghanistan to keep a U.S. military presence in the country after 2014, despite threats by President Hamid Karzai to walk away from the deal, the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan said Tuesday. But Ambassador James F. Dobbins also warned that delays in signing the proposed deal could further undermine stability in the country as it prepares to assume full control of its security for the first time since the arrival of U.S. troops in 2001." Read the rest here.

The U.S. focuses on training special Afghan teams before they leave. The WSJ's Michael Phillips in Mehtar Lam: U.S. commanders are turning to elite Afghan police and military units to pursue insurgents deep into their sanctuaries, in an echo of tactics that American troops considered effective during the Vietnam War.

The military hopes the elite units, trained by U.S. Green Berets and other allied special-operations troops, will keep Taliban and other militants on their heels as April's national elections approach and the bulk of American conventional forces-perhaps even all of them-withdraw over the coming year. ‘You literally have to make [the insurgents] feel insecure in their own areas,' said U.S. Special Forces Lt. Col. Marc LaRoche, whose teams advise Afghan police strike forces, called Provincial Response Companies. Such police units operate in 19 of 34 Afghan provinces, with six more companies planned.

"... Elite units still suffer serious shortcomings. The Laghman operation showed the value of U.S. air power in bolstering police; such close-air support will likely be available in diminishing amounts as the American withdrawal proceeds. U.S. efforts to build the Afghan air force have been slow, leaving the Afghan special units faced with the prospect of doing more-hazardous ground insertions. The police units also depend heavily upon high-tech coalition intelligence intercepts to supplement Afghan government spy networks."

Donde esta the meaning of the handshake: it may elude grasp.  The NYT's Michael Shear: President Obama shook hands with President Raúl Castro of Cuba on Tuesday, offering a friendly gesture freighted with symbolism to one of America's most enduring Cold War foes... The president's aides would have known in advance which world leaders would be at the podium when the president approached for his own remarks. But White House officials declined to offer any explanation of the handshake or confirm that there had been a discussion about whether to offer one. Still, Mr. Obama's own remarks, delivered just moments afterward, offer tantalizing possibilities about what was going through the president's mind when he approached Mr. Castro. Mr. Obama talked about the need for trust and reconciliation and forgiveness. He was talking about Mr. Mandela - widely known by his clan name, Madiba - but his remarks might also apply to the diplomatically frozen relationship between the United States and Cuba. Read the rest here.

Google donates the money needed to adorn 120,000 gravestones at Arlington with wreaths. The WaPo's Patricia Sullivan: "A major donation by Google and smaller donations from a number of individuals will assure that nearly 120,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery will be decorated with holiday wreaths this season. Google, which is mapping the cemetery with cameras mounted on people and cars, donated $250,000 to Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit organization that has been laying wreaths there since 1992. Others also contributed smaller amounts after a reading a story in last week's Washington Post that reported that the effort was falling short this year... Wreaths Across America, which puts wreaths on graves in 900 cemeteries nationwide, had about 12 percent more donations this year than last, but many corporate sponsors who previously had supported the Arlington effort decided this year to split their contributions between Arlington and other military cemeteries around the nation." Read the rest here.

Duffel Blog: Obama on military cuts: if you like your job, you can keep it. Duffel Blog's (it's satire!) Dick Scuttlebutt: "In a speech at the United States Naval Academy on Tuesday, President Obama pledged to the assembled naval and Marine cadets that despite serious drawdowns, no service member would be forced to leave his or her job if they like it. After acknowledging the Naval Academy's hallowed history of producing the finest Naval and Marine officers in the world, the President first addressed assertions leveled by critics that the budget cuts will have a negative impact on readiness and morale. Some are claiming that the cuts are political, intended to fund the President's pet projects. More here.

The Complex

Afghan Watchdog Sinks Teeth in New Target: Its Own Shaky Future

Since former prosecutor John Sopko took over last year as the top watchdog probing U.S. reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, the organization has honed a pugnacious style that has irked military commanders, grabbed national news headlines and exposed embarrassing lapses in oversight that have cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Now, Sopko's team faces a new challenge: An internal review of how it will do business as the U.S. war in Afghanistan continues to wind down, and how long the organization will exist at all.

The examination of the Office of the Special Inspector General of Afghanistan Reconstruction's future already is underway, several senior staff members with the agency said. It was established by Congress in 2008 to expose waste, fraud and abuse in the U.S. war in Afghanistan, with a primary emphasis on development projects that have cost hundreds of billions of dollars in the last decade. Sopko took the reins at SIGAR in July 2012, jump-starting an organization that had a reputation for being inept and poorly managed.

"We are a very aggressive IG shop, probably the most aggressive IG shop in town," said Gene Aloise, the deputy inspector general for SIGAR. "We all know we have a very small window to get a lot done. We're a temporary agency. They're drawing down troops now; we don't know what the picture is going to be like beyond 2014. We know we have a limited window to do a lot of good work for the American taxpayer."

SIGAR's future is tied directly to the ongoing stalemate between the United States and Afghanistan on whether a bilateral security agreement between the two nations will be signed, and when. Hundreds of billions of dollars already have been spent in Afghanistan, and about $18 billion more remains "in the pipeline" promised to various programs, Aloise said. An additional $12 billion is set aside for Afghanistan in the fiscal 2014 defense spending bill.

SIGAR was established with the idea that it would exist until there is $250 million left set aside for Afghanistan, Aloise said. Depending on whether the bilateral security agreement is signed, that could be soon or sometime after 2020, the latter of which mean would mean billions more dollars need oversight.

With the future uncertain, the 194-person agency has established an internal task force that is reviewing its future size and scope as the agency waits for indications on how the tense political situation between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and senior U.S. officials plays out. The United States wants the Afghan president to sign the agreement between the two countries as soon as possible, outlining U.S. involvement in Afghanistan after 2014. Karzai has refused to do so until after Afghanistan's elections next year, however, giving him leverage of the U.S. government -- but also raising the possibility that the United States could pull out of the country completely after more than a dozen years of war.

The uncertainty comes as SIGAR is rapidly losing access to the projects on which they're supposed to be checking up due to the drawdown in U.S. forces and the security they provide. The watchdog sent Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel a letter in October warning that it is "likely that no more than 21 percent of Afghanistan will be accessible to U.S. civilian oversight personnel" by the end of 2014, when the U.S. formally ends combat operations there.

In February, SIGAR will hold a meeting with officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the State Department, private think tanks and nongovernmental organizations to brainstorm how the United States can continue monitoring projects despite that reality, Aloise said. Options include contracting the work out to private companies and reviewing items remotely and monitoring remotely through technology, including geospatial imagery in some cases.

With the U.S. drawdown well underway, SIGAR has adopted a frenetic pace, pumping out reports, letters and audits and cultivating a close relationship with the press to make sure they get noticed. They also established a special projects group about a year ago that is able to sidestep the plodding pace of typical audits by running smaller investigations and reporting to Congress on them, frequently within days. The changes are no accident, said Aloise, who worked for 38 years in Congress' investigative agency, the Government Accountability Office. With SIGAR's compressed timely, officials there wanted to make sure the work they do resonates quickly.

"It doesn't do you any good if you issue a report and nobody reads it," Aloise said. "Even when I was at GAO, we followed this as well, but not as aggressively. But the idea is once we issue the report, the press needs to know about it because that's how you affect change. You put pressure on the agencies, and they respond to that. If they see negative headlines and more people read those reports, and [Capitol] Hill sees them, that's how you affect change."

That has made some enemies in the State Department, Pentagon and Kabul, where the International Security Assistance Force managing the war is based. In August, the Washington Post and the New York Times both ran profiles of Sopko that characterized him as open to conflict and willing to embarrass fellow U.S. officials at times. David Sedney, the former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan policy, told the Post that SIGAR has perpetuated "a narrative of failure that is grossly inaccurate."

"Individual reports always seem to generalize, but they draw false conclusions and fail to understand what's going on," Sedney told the Post.

Aloise acknowledged there are disagreements over some reports, but said SIGAR has been fair in its assessments.

"The agencies are always defending their programs, defending their turf, criticizing a report as unfair or unbalanced," he said. "We try to eliminate that as much as we possibly can by developing better relations with them. We're totally transparent. There is not a report or special project that goes out that hasn't been reviewed thoroughly by the agency."

The temporary nature of SIGAR also has created problems within. Long hours and pressure to perform have created a legacy of people leaving the organization, both by choice and through termination. "In the back of our minds, it's always, 'How long are you staying?'" Aloise said.

Still, SIGAR officials point with pride at a variety of their projects that have saved the United States money and exposed corruption in the process. In one example, the watchdog focused on the U.S.-led military coalition in Afghanistan not knowing how many Afghan forces are living in barracks paid for by the United States, despite plans existing to build more. It marked the second time SIGAR focused on the issue -- and the coalition cut $2 billion from planned construction in between.

"That's for us a huge accomplishment and something that's good for everybody," said Elizabeth Field, an assistant inspector general for SIGAR. "And that makes us feel good about doing this work."

How long that work will continue, though, is still anybody's guess.

Courtesy Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.