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Congress Extends Sequester to Fund Vets Benefits, WH Releases Cyber Guidance, Kerry to Press China

By Sara Sorcher (@SaraSorcherNJ) and Jordain Carney (@jordainc)

Welcome to NJ's Early Bird, a morning assembly of the best national security, defense, and foreign policy coverage from around the Web.

 

Tell your networks to sign up directly here. To contact us, email earlybird@nationaljournal.com.

Congress Extends Sequester to Pay for Vets Benefits
(National Journal: Stacy Kaper)
Lawmakers ultimately concluded it was shrewder to put to rest a rising political vulnerability with veterans than continue seemingly petty squabbles over offsets that are lost on the public at large.

White House Releases Cyber Guidance
(Politico: Tony Romm)
The White House unveiled a blueprint for power plants, top banks, and other vital infrastructure to improve their cybersecurity.

 

North Korea a Priority as Kerry Begins Asia Tour
(The New York Times: Michael Gordon)
Secretary of State John Kerry will try to get China's help in pressuring North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

Obama Schedules Four-Country Trip to Asia in April
(Associated Press)
The White House says Obama's trip is part of his commitment to increasing U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific region.

Afghanistan Releases Prisoners Over U.S. Objections
(The New York Times: Jawad Sukhanyar, Rod Nordland)
American military officials have been publicly scathing in their criticism of the releases, which have brought relations between the two allies to a low point.

SYRIA

U.S. Chemical Arms Ship Arrives In Spain
(Associated Press: Mike Corder, Miguel Angel Morenatti)
The American ship MV Cape Ray arrived Thursday at the Spanish naval base of Rota ahead of an mission to collect and destroy highly toxic substances that form part of Syria's chemical weapons program.

 

Assad Steps Into Homs Relief Mission
(The Wall Street Journal: Sam Dagher)
The U.N. again tried to deliver desperately needed food and medicine to Syria's third-largest city after a lethal hail of mortar and sniper fire prevented relief efforts over the weekend.

Syria Talks Raise Hope for Prisoner Swap
(The Wall Street Journal: Stacy Meichtry)
The failure of confidence-building measures such as the prisoner exchange shows how the conflict, which has killed more than 130,000 people and driven a third of Syria's population from their homes, is as personal as it is political.

Syrian Rebels Sketch Peace Plan That Omits Demand for Assad's Ouster
(The New York Times: Anne Barnard, Nick Cumming-Bruce)
The Russians and Americans are set to hold trilateral talks on Thursday with the United Nations mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi.

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Russia Says Syria Aid Draft Groundwork for Military Action
(Reuters)
Russia denounced a Western-Arab draft U.N. Security Council resolution on humanitarian aid access.

Opposition Plan for Postwar Syria Ignores Assad
(Reuters)
The Syrian opposition called for a transitional governing body to oversee a U.N.-monitored cease-fire across Syria and expel foreign fighters.

Syria Ready to Talk to Opposition Eviction of Foreign Fighters: Minister
(Reuters: Oliver Holmes)
It's a rare sign of accord between the warring foes.

Syrian Opposition Seeks Russian Help in Talks
(Associated Press)
The Syrian opposition is urging Russia to take a more forceful stand with the Syrian government to help kick-start faltering peace talks in Geneva.

Syria Killing Accelerates as Peace Talks Falter
(Reuters: Erika Solomon)
Syrians have been dying in greater numbers than ever since peace talks began three weeks ago, activists said.

Syria Conflict Could Last Years, Spark Middle East War
(USA Today: Oren Dorell)
Syria peace talks are on the verge of collapse as the war heads into its fourth year, raising the prospect of a vicious conflict lasting years and plunging border states into chaos.

Al-Qaida's Expulsion of Islamist Group in Syria Prompts U.S. Debate
(The Washington Post: Karen DeYoung, Greg Miller)
The focus of internal discussions is whether a law giving the president authority to attack al-Qaida affiliates still applies to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

This Map of Syria Shows Why the War Will Be So Difficult to End
(The Washington Post: Max Fisher)
The map shows control divided between government forces, rebels with the ethnic Kurdish minority, rebels with the extremist Islamist group ISIS, and the mainline rebel opposition.

INTELLIGENCE

Reforms Won't Hamper NSA's Efforts, Official Says
(The Washington Post: Ellen Nakashima)
Many of the new privacy protections and surveillance reforms ordered by President Obama will probably not harm the National Security Agency's ability to do its job, the agency's deputy said.

Rand Paul Files Doomed Class Action Lawsuit Against NSA Spying
(The Verge: Adi Robertson)
The suit is also backed by Matt Kibbe, president of major conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks.

That Time the NSA Helped the Air Force Bomb Laos
(War is Boring: Joe Trevithick)
Surveillance agency listened for targets on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

On NSA Surveillance, Privacy Panel Presents Divided Front
(CBS News: Marshall Cohen)
Internal divisions were on full display as the panel of privacy experts that reviewed the National Security Agency's mass surveillance program testified before a Senate committee.

Congressional Trio Criticise James Cole's NSA Testimony as Misleading
(The Guardian: Spencer Ackerman)
Lawmakers write to deputy attorney general after Cole described limits on NSA's power to surveil members of Congress.

Internet Governance Too U.S.-Centric, Says European Commission
(The Guardian: Ian Traynor)
Commission says NSA revelations call into question U.S. role in internet governance, which should be more global.

Edward Snowden Asylum Demand Dropped by European Parliament
(The Guardian: Ian Traynor)
MEPs fail to reach consensus on amendment to inquiry calling on governments to assure NSA whistleblower of his safety.

Foreign Regimes Use Spyware Against Journalists, Even in U.S.
(The Washington Post: Craig Timberg)
In the United States, laws prohibit unauthorized hacking but rarely succeed in stopping intrusions.

CYBER

White House Offers Help to Industry on Cyberattack
(Associated Press: Nedra Pickler)
Administration officials warned during an event at the White House that an attack on critical sectors of the U.S. economy could put the entire country at risk.

IRAN

Over 100 House Members Say Hold Off on Iran Sanctions Vote
(Huffington Post: Luke Johnson)
A bipartisan group of 104 House members urged Congress not to vote on an Iran sanctions bill while an interim agreement between the Iran and the West is in place.

Iran Issues Upbeat Assessment of Prospects for Nuclear-Program Deal
(The Guardian: Simon Tisdall)
Senior Iranian diplomat Hamid Babaei suggests comprehensive agreement could be reached within six months.

Iran Official Rules Out Change to Heavy-Water Reactor
(Global Security Newswire: Diane Barnes)
An Iranian official set aside the idea of potentially altering a nuclear reactor that other nations fear could produce atomic-bomb fuel.

AFGHANISTAN/PAKISTAN

White House Says Pursuing Afghan Security Agreement on Troops
(Reuters: Doina Chiacu)
The United States wants to keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after the pullout of most foreign forces at the end of this year.

U.S. Military: Afghanistan Releasing 65 'Dangerous Insurgents' Against Our Wishes
(National Journal: Sara Sorcher)
Some of the soon-to-be-freed prisoners have killed or wounded U.S. soldiers, the military says.

Two U.S. Troops Killed in Afghanistan Insider Attack
(Stars and Stripes: Heath Druzin)
Two assailants in Afghan military uniforms shot dead two American service members Wednesday.

U.S. Military Deaths in Afghanistan
(The New York Times)
The Department of Defense has identified 2,294 American service members who have died as a part of the Afghan war and related operations.

Pakistan-Taliban Peace Talks: What's at Stake?
(Associated Press: Rebecca Santana)
The Pakistani government has recently opened negotiations with domestic militants called the Pakistani Taliban designed to end years of fighting in the northwest.

ASIA/PACIFIC

Kerry Seeks To Ease Tensions In Asia
(Associated Press: Matthew Lee)
On his fifth trip to Asia as America's top diplomat, Kerry will be visiting South Korea, China and Indonesia.

Kerry to Press China on Its Expanding Territorial Claims
(Los Angeles Times: Paul Richter)
China's claims on land, water, and airspace have heightened tensions with its neighbors, including Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines. They are looking to Washington for support on the issue.

Kerry to Take Harder U.S. Line on Asia Maritime Disputes to China
(Reuters: Arshad Mohammed, David Brunnstrom)
The United States fired a shot across China's bow a week ago by taking a tougher stance on maritime disputes in East Asia.

South Korea Rejects North's Demand for Delay of Joint Drills With U.S.
(Reuters: Jack Kim)
South Korea has rejected a demand by its northern neighbor to postpone this month's military drills with the United States.

U.S. Envoy Meets India's Modi, Signaling End Of Boycott
(Reuters: Frank Jack Daniel)
The U.S. ambassador to India met the Hindu nationalist leader who could be India's next prime minister on Thursday.

U.S. Promises to Reduce Burden of Military Presence in Okinawa
(The Guardian: Justin McCurry)
Ambassador Caroline Kennedy tries to allay fears over Air Station Futenma, due to be moved to island's unspoiled northeast coast.

Asia's Killer Submarine Boom
(War Is Boring: Kyle Mizokami)
Under the waves, the Pacific is becoming a very dangerous place—and that could be good for peace.

CONGRESS

Sen. Levin's Bid to Boost Drone Oversight Falters in Congress
(Los Angeles Times: Ken Dilanian)
An effort by a powerful U.S. senator to broaden congressional oversight of lethal drone strikes overseas fell apart last week after the White House refused to expand the number of lawmakers briefed on covert CIA operations.

Ryan's Military-Pay Gambit Backfires
(Politico: Austin Wright, Juana Summers)
Rep. Paul Ryan's bid to kick off an overhaul of military compensation is backfiring—instead highlighting the perils of scaling back entitlement programs.

Pension Reversal Won't Help Future Service Members
(The Hill: Jeremy Herb)
Legislation reversing a $6 billion cut to military pensions won't affect the pensions of future service members, raising complaints from veterans groups.

NSA Surveillance Proponent Unsure if Program Will Continue
(Defense News: John Bennett)
Senate Judiciary Committee member Al Franken, one of the few proponents of the NSA data-collection programs among Democratic progressives, said he is "not assuming" that lawmakers will opt to "keep the bulk collection."

On Eve Of 2014 QDR, Rep. Forbes Criticizes Previous Reviews' Results
(Inside Defense)
Rep. Randy Forbes wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel criticizing the trajectory of past Quadrennial Defense Reviews just as the Pentagon is finishing up its latest iteration.

Senate Bill Would Provide Clean Service Records for Discharged Gay, Lesbian Troops
(Stars and Stripes: Matthew Burke)
Roughly 114,000 servicemembers were discharged because of sexual orientation between World War II and the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" in September 2011.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT

Survey Finds Most Military Spouses Underemployed
(Military.com: Amy Bushatz)
About 90 percent of working female military spouses said they are underemployed at jobs below their experience level, education, or both, according to a new report.

DOD Making It More Complicated to Replace CAC Cards
(Air Force Times: Jeff Schogol)
Be prepared to embrace the suck if your Common Access Card gets lost or stolen.

Pentagon Questions Niche Vessels as Littoral Ship Debated
(Bloomberg: Tony Capaccio)
The Pentagon's No. 2 civilian said the U.S. Navy needs more ships with the protection and firepower to survive an advanced adversary, not just "niche platforms," weeks after she ordered cuts in the $34 billion Littoral Combat Ship program.

MILITARY

NATO: West May Lose Access to Crucial Military Materials
(USA Today: Ray Locker)
Most troubling, the NATO report says, is that "many of these materials and products are not produced within NATO countries."

Military Industrial Complex: These 15 Countries Have the Largest Defense Budgets
(Global Post: Sarah Wolfe)
After years of decreases, military spending is expected to rise globally for the first time in five years. And the massive defense budgets of China and Russia are to blame.

TERRORISM

Judge Sets November Trial Date for Boston Marathon Bombings
(CBS News/Associated Press)
Judge George O'Toole Jr. said in U.S. District Court that he has set the trial for Nov. 3.

MIDDLE EAST

U.S. Embassy Staffer Arrested in Cairo
(The Washington Post: Erin Cunningham)
Egyptian police have arrested and detained a local employee of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama and Jordan's King Take Visit on the Road
(The New York Times: Mark Landler)
President Obama planned to meet with King Abdullah II of Jordan in Southern California, and then stay on for two days to play a few rounds of golf.

Obama to Meet With Netanyahu on March 3
(USA Today: David Jackson)
It's the latest addition to a string of upcoming meetings with Middle East leaders.

DETAINEES

Here's Why America's Only POW Was Suddenly Shown Alive
(Daily Beast: Josh Rogin)
The Obama administration is looking to exchange Guantanamo Bay detainees for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl as part of a broader effort to reconcile with the Taliban.

America's Top Soldier Visits Guantanamo
(Miami Herald: Carol Rosenberg)
Gen. Martin Dempsey took a three-hour tour of the U.S. Navy base and two prison buildings at Guantanamo Bay this week—the first visit by America's highest-ranking officer in six years.

INDUSTRY

U.S. Defense Firms Target Exports
(The Wall Street Journal: Jeffrey Ng)
U.S. defense contractors are increasingly looking at ways to develop products with exporting in mind.

Now You See It, Now You Don't: Britain Unveils Stealthy Super-Drone
(Foreign Policy: Zach Rosenberg)
It's being built for the British military, and it showcases both a remarkable high-tech achievement and just how slow Britain's military can be to adapt to what is virtually certain to be the future of warfare.

AIR FORCE

Investigators Head to Minot AFB for Bottom-Up Review of Nuke Force
(Stars and Stripes: Jon Harper)
A major examination of the Air Force's scandal-ridden intercontinental ballistic missile force kicked off Wednesday.

32 Sexual Assaults Reported at Wright-Patt AFB in 4-Year Period
(Dayton Daily News: Barrie Barber)
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base reported 32 alleged sexual assaults involving adult victims from 2010 to 2013, according to the 88th Air Base Wing Office of Staff Judge Advocate.

SECAF: Air Force to Consider Nuclear Leadership Consolidation
(Inside Defense)
The Air Force is considering whether to consolidate top nuclear leadership roles as part of an ongoing review of its nuclear enterprise initiated in the wake of a series of high-level scandals.

ARMY

General: Army Force of 420K Insufficient
(The Hill: Kristina Wong)
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said having to reduce the Army's end strength from about 564,000 to 420,000 by 2019 would leave the Army too small to meet future requirements.

Army Considers Trading Armor for Speed
(Military.com: Matthew Cox)
For the past decade, armor protection has dominated U.S. combat vehicle programs.

Army IDs More Than 500 Senior NCOs for Separation
(Stars and Stripes: Eric Brown)
The U.S. Army has identified hundreds of senior noncommissioned officers for involuntary separation as the service advances toward reducing 80,000 soldiers from its ranks by 2018.

NAVY

Navy Sealift Command Worker Admits to Bribery Scheme
(The Virginian-Pilot: Tim McGlone)
A civil employee pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday morning to taking a $25,000 bribe from a contractor in exchange for steering government work to the company.

Navy Adds Fourth Submarine to Guam-Based Fleet
(Associated Press)
Guam's delegate to Congress says the Navy will soon base a fourth submarine in the U.S. territory.

MARINE CORPS

Lawmaker Calls for Hearing on Marine Corps Newsstand Episode
(The Hill: Kristina Wong)
Rep. Walter Jones called for a congressional oversight hearing on the Marine Corps' recent decision to remove the news magazine Marine Corps Times from its newsstands at the front of its base exchange stores.

Marine Corps Times Returned to Place on Newsstands Pending Comprehensive Review
(Marine Corps Times: Jeff Schogol)
Marine Corps Times will be returned to its usual newsstand location at base exchange stores.

Marine Corps Reserve CH-46E Unit Begins Transition to the Osprey
(Seapower Magazine: Richard Burgess)
The last Marine Corps Reserve squadron to fly the CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter will begin transitioning to the MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.

NATIONAL GUARD

Three National Guard 'Recruiting Assistants' Investigated for Receiving Improper Payments
(Minneapolis Star Tribune: Mark Brunswick)
Three case of potential fraud involving Minnesota National Guard "recruiting assistants" are under investigation as part of a wide-ranging scandal over recruiting that has rocked the National Guard.

MEDIA

Benghazi: The Movie, Coming Soon
(The Hill: Kristina Wong)
The rights to an e-book on Benghazi has been optioned as a movie, its authors announced Tuesday evening.

ANALYSIS/COMMENTARY

A New Tone on Syria
(The Washington Post)
Obama acknowledges that his policy is falling short. Will he now take a new approach?

Why Global Health Security Is a National Priority
(CNN: John Kerry, Kathleen Sebelius, Lisa Monaco)
The United States has made addressing infectious disease threats a priority.

Rand Paul and Ken Cuccinelli Accused of Stealing NSA Lawsuit
(The Washington Post: Dana Milbank)
Latest twist in the case suggests Paul's legal action has more to do with politics than the law.

So Much for Freedom Fries: America's New BFF Is France
(Time: Catherine Mayer)
France and the U.S. have rarely looked closer as President Obama fêted his French counterpart François Hollande with a White House State Dinner.

Goodbye and Good Riddance
(U.S. News: Benjamin Freeman)
No one will miss the Littoral Combat Ship.

U.S. Asia Policy: Straight From the 1930s
(The Diplomat: Zach Keck)
U.S. policy to China today closely resembles the policy it pursued toward Japan … before Pearl Harbor.

Here's Why Cutting 20 Percent of Hagel's Staff Is a Bad Idea
(Defense One: Robert Ogden)
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has implemented an across-the-board 20 percent budget cut at all military staff headquarters commands.

Defense Clandestine Service Is Here to Stay
(Defense News: John Bennett)
Senior U.S. officials and lawmakers are sending new signals that a fledgling cadre of military spies is a done deal, despite no real substantive public debate.

Five Futuristic Weapons That Could Change Warfare
(National Interest: J. Michael Cole)
Predicting which five weapons will have the greatest impact on the future of combat is a problematic endeavor, as the nature of warfare itself is fluid and constantly changing.

How Big Data Could Help the U.S. Predict the Next Snowden
(Defense One: Patrick Tucker)
Anticipating insider-threat behavior is a problem that governments have been wrestling with since the first since the first act of state treason.

A Deal on Iran's Nuclear Programme Is Within Reach—but Only if There Is Political Will
(The Guardian: Hamid Babaei)
Iran only began producing its own enriched uranium because of restrictions from the West. At last, though, the long saga is close to a happy ending.

How About Some Honesty on Ambassadors?
(Bloomberg: Jeffrey Goldberg)
Watching John McCain set up a fellow senator like a bowling pin is a rare Washington pleasure. Even when he does it in Budapest.

Al-Qaida Is Alive And Well In Afghanistan And Pakistan
(War on the Rocks: Michael Kugelman)
In reality, there won't be an al-Qaida comeback in the AfPak region because al-Qaida never really left.

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