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Tough Fight Ahead for Defense Budget Plan, McCain Blocks Nominees, U.S. Planning Afghanistan Pullout

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.


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Obama Weighs Four NSA Options
(The Wall Street Journal: Siobhan Gorman, Devlin Barrett)
Administration lawyers have presented the White House with four options for restructuring the NSA's phone-surveillance program.


Congress Signals Tough Fight for Pentagon Plan
(Associated Press: Bradley Klapper)
Lawmakers signaled a difficult battle ahead for the Obama administration's plan to dramatically overhaul the nation's military.

Extra $26B for DOD Would Go Toward 'Base Budget' Readiness
(Defense News: Marcus Weisgerber, John Bennett)
The extra $26 billion eyed for the Defense Department in 2015 would fund readiness initiatives and other "base budget type of stuff," the Pentagon's top buyer said.

McCain Blocks Obama's Defense Nominees
(National Journal: Sara Sorcher)
Robert Work and Christine Wormuth gave "naive" answers at their confirmation hearing, the senator said.

Obama Makes It Official: U.S. Planning for Full Afghan Withdrawal
(Yahoo News: Olivier Knox)
After giving him the silent treatment for eight months, President Obama called Afghan President Hamid Karzai to deliver the blunt warning.


Few Army Women Want Combat Jobs
(Associated Press: Lolita Baldor)
But those few who do say they want a job that takes them right into the heart of battle, according to preliminary results from a survey of the service's nearly 170,000 women.


DoD War Budget Submission Up in the Air
(Defense News: Marcus Weisgerber)
The Pentagon's 2015 war spending proposal is on hold as the US waits to see if Afghan officials approve a deal.

Hagel to Troops: Proposed Cuts to Compensation Helps Ensure Readiness
(Military Times: Andrew Tilghman)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told hundreds of troops Tuesday that the historic reductions in military compensation he proposing is, in part, an effort to keep them safe.

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DOD's 2015 Budget to Protect At-Risk Sectors of Defense Industry
(Defense News: Marcus Weisgerber)
The Pentagon's fiscal 2015 budget proposal will put money toward preserving the industrial base in at-risk sectors to protect technological know-how.

Industry Group Slams DOD Plan to Cut Commissary Budget
(Navy Times: Karen Jowers)
The Pentagon's new proposal to drastically reduce commissary funding goes too far, says an association representing companies that supply products to commissaries.

Pentagon Budget Would Affect Cost of Living for Troops and Families
(The Washington Post: Josh Hicks)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel proposed trimming the Defense Department's personnel costs with cuts in military benefits, pay, and troop numbers.

Proposed Defense Cuts Would Hit Some Bases, Spare Others
(McClatchy: James Rosen)
The Pentagon plan also reflects ongoing budget pressures in Washington amid partisan struggles over the proper size of government.


Top Pentagon Official: Military 'Cried Wolf' Over Sequestration
(National Journal: Jordain Carney)
The Pentagon has overstated the effects of the sequester's spending cuts in previous years, Frank Kendall said.

Hagel Defends Budget Cuts to Troops
(Politico: Philip Ewing)
Hagel defended the Pentagon's shrinking budget to a group of soldiers who sounded deeply skeptical about the future of the Army.

Bob Work Can Dodge Budget Questions—for Now
(National Journal: Sara Sorcher)
Once he becomes the Pentagon's No. 2, Work will own these cuts, and many more, as the Pentagon slashes hundreds of billions of dollars from its budget in the coming years.

The Pentagon's Push to Close Bases Is 'Dead on Arrival'
(National Journal: Jordain Carney)
The Obama administration isn't dropping its 2015 defense budget until next week, but one provision in it already appears doomed: a push to relocate or close military bases.


Hired to Fight Pirates, but Doomed by Boredom
(The New York Times: Nicholas Kulish, Ian Urbina, Mark Mazzetti)
Mystery surrounds the deaths of two former members of the Navy SEALs, working as ship guards, who were found inside the cabin of the Maersk Alabama, made famous by a 2009 hijacking.

Work Defends LCS Amid Program Cuts
(Politico: Philip Ewing)
Deputy Defense secretary nominee Robert Work defended the Navy's new Littoral Combat Ship on Tuesday after the Pentagon recommended cutting the program by 20 ships.

Deputy Defense Secretary Nominee: U.S. Shipbuilding Base 'Under Pressure'
(Defense News: John Bennett)
Work told the committee he believes the U.S. shipbuilding industrial base is "solid" but "under pressure" as annual Pentagon budgets shrink.

Pentagon No. 2 Nominee Questioned on LCS Support
( Richard Sisk)
President Obama's choice for the No. 2 job at the Pentagon faced tough questioning on the Littoral Combat Ship and sexual assaults in the military.

Navy Relieves USS Taylor's Commander After Ship Ran Aground
(Stars and Stripes: Steven Beardsley)
The Navy relieved the commander of the USS Taylor on Tuesday.

Navy Arctic Roadmap Plans for More Ice-Free Access
(Seapower Magazine: Richard Burgess)
The Navy's Arctic Roadmap has been updated in anticipation of a more navigable polar ocean during the next 15 or more years.

CVN-73 Overhaul Tied to Sequestration, Future Direction Reflected in FY16 Budget
(Inside Defense)
The Navy's plans to perform an overhaul on the aircraft carrier George Washington are tied to sequestration cuts and the ship's fate will be reflected in the fiscal 2016 budget.

Navy Caring for Broader Definition of Wounded Warriors
(The Kitsap Sun: Ed Friedrich)
You don't have to have a body part blown off in battle to be a wounded warrior.


The Army's Top General Has to Sell Congress on Troop Cuts He's Loath to Make
(Foreign Policy: Gordon Lubold)
Odierno has tried to hold the line on the Army's so-called force structure and keep as many soldiers in uniform as possible. But now he must become one of Hagel's biggest pitchmen.

U.S. Army General Seeks Dismissal of Sex Charges
(Associated Press)
A U.S. Army general facing court martial on sexual-assault charges is again seeking to have the case against him dismissed.


Budget Cuts Could Ground A-10 Warthog Aircraft
(PBS Newshour)
The Defense Department plans to eliminate the entire fleet and save $3.5 billion over five years.

Air Force Begins Hill Battle to Retire A-10, U-2
( Michael Hoffman)
The Air Force started efforts Tuesday to convince Congress to approve its proposal to retire the A-10 Warthog and U-2 spy plane fleets.

Air Force Investment in Legacy, Next-Gen Fighter Connectivity to Increase in FY15
(Inside Defense)
The Air Force is pushing to have its F-35 and F-22 fifth-generation fighters able to communicate in flight with legacy fighter aircraft before the end of this decade.

Pentagon, Air Force Double Down on Engine Technology
(Defense News: Aaron Mehta)
In his preview of the Pentagon's 2015 budget request, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made a clear statement that the Air Force plans to invest heavily in new engine technology.


The Politics of Process Plague Senate Vets Bill
(National Journal: Michael Catalini, Stacy Kaper)
The Senate voted Tuesday to proceed to the Sanders bill.

Vets Benefits Bill Clears Initial Senate Hurdle
(Associated Press: Alan Fram)
But the election-year measure still faces an uncertain fate as Republicans battle to make it smaller and find ways to pay for it.

Reid: War Savings Should Be Spent on Veterans
(The Hill: Ramsey Cox)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said it's "only fair" that Congress use war savings to increase veterans' benefits.

Massive VA Bill Draws GOP Critics
(Politico: Juana Summers)
The Senate delved into a sweeping package of veterans benefits Tuesday in what could spill into a bitter interparty fight over how to pay for them.

U.S. Lawmakers Seek to Revive Stalled Iran Sanctions Bill
(Reuters: Richard Cowan, Patricia Zengerle)
Republican U.S. senators sought to revive a bill on Tuesday that would impose new sanctions on Iran.

Congress Should Reconsider Iraq Helicopters After Iran Report: McCain
(Reuters: Patricia Zengerle)
Sen. John McCain said on Tuesday a proposed agreement to sell 24 Apache attack helicopters to Iraq should be reconsidered.

Lawmaker Blasts Timing of Nominee Statements on Alleged Arms-Control Breach
(Global Security Newswire: Diane Barnes)
Sens. Roger Wicker and Kelly Ayotte demanded details last Thursday from Brian McKeon.

Interview: U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry
(Defense News)
A front-runner to succeed Rep. Buck McKeon as HASC chair, Thornberry discussed the upcoming budget season.


Department of Veterans Affairs Employees Destroyed Veterans' Medical Records to Cancel Backlogged Exam Requests
(Daily Caller: Patrick Howley)
Audio of an internal VA meeting confirms that VA officials in Los Angeles intentionally canceled backlogged patient exam requests.

Disabled Veterans Group Rallies for Full VA Advance Funding
(Marine Corps Times: Leo Shane III)
Veterans advocates are worried about what another government shutdown could do to Veterans Affairs Department benefits checks and assistance programs.

VA to Issue New Health Care ID Cards
(Army Times: Patricia Kime)
The Veterans Affairs Department will replace millions of identification cards for veterans who use the Veterans Health Administration system for medical care.


U.S. Warns Banks to Watch for Ousted Ukraine Leader Moving Looted Funds
(Reuters: Alex Richardson)
The U.S. Treasury warned banks on Tuesday to be on the look-out for potentially suspicious transfers of financial assets by Ukraine's fugitive President Viktor Yanukovich or members of his inner circle.

Ukraine's D.C. Lobbyists in Disarray as Dictator Flees
(The Daily Beast: Eli Lake)
They represented a strongman's allies in Washington. Now that the strongman is hiding, they're not sure who they serve.

Ukraine Fails to Form New Government
(The Wall Street Journal: Alan Cullison, James Marson)
Ukraine's de facto leaders broke from efforts to form a new government, while the country's currency plunged and separatist stirrings grew in a southern region traditionally loyal to Russia.

An Unfinished Ukraine Palace and a Fugitive Leader's Folly
(The New York Times: Andrew Higgins)
Workers hired to build a retreat for Viktor F. Yanukovych have walked off the job, presuming that he will never be able to pay them since his ouster as president.

Western Alliance Shift by Ukraine Would Be Momentous Event
(Associated Press: John-Thor Dahlburg)
A firm course change in Ukraine—westward and turning away from Moscow—would have momentous consequences for the balance of power in Europe.

Ukraine: No New Government Before Thursday
(Associated Press: Maria Danilova, Jim Heintz)
A former presidential aide despised by protesters has been shot and wounded, raising fears of retaliation as Ukraine charts a new tumultuous political course.

Where in the World Is Yanukovych?
(The Daily Beast: Oleg Shynkarenko)
With Ukraine's MPs voting to send the former president to the Hague for trial, Yanukovych's whereabouts are the question haunting Kiev, Russia, and the West.

Rand Paul: GOP Shouldn't 'Tweak' Russia Over Ukraine
(The Washington Post: Robert Costa)
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky believes the United States should seek "respectful" relations with Russia.


Obama to Karzai: Time Running Out for Security Deal
(USA Today: Aamer Madhani, Tom Vanden Brook)
The Pentagon has begun contingency plans to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.

Trust Eroded, Obama Looks Beyond Karzai
(The New York Times: Mark Landler, Helene Cooper)
President Obama is apparently resigned to dealing with the next Afghan president on troop withdrawals and training, since President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign a long-term security agreement.

Pakistan Is on the Verge of a Major Military Operation Aimed at Taliban
(The Washington Post: Karen DeYoung)
The planned offensive comes in the wake of a series of brutal attacks, a senior Pakistani official says.

With Pullout Near, U.S. in Fix Over Some Detainees
(The Washington Post: Adam Goldman)
The United States has quietly begun to whittle down the population of detainees it holds at a military prison in Afghanistan.

Eyeing Afghan Exit, U.S. Intensifies Campaign Against Haqqani Militants
(Reuters: Missy Ryan, Phil Stewart)
The United States has intensified its drive against the Taliban-linked Haqqani network in an attempt to deal a lasting blow to the militants in Afghanistan.

Pakistani Official: U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014 'Means Civil War'
(Defense News: Paul McLeary, John Bennett)
"The zero option means civil war in Afghanistan" said a senior Pakistani defense official told reporters in Washington. "In my opinion zero option should not be an option."

Pakistan Court Orders End to Blockade on NATO Supply Route
(Los Angeles Times: Zulfiqar Alii, Shashank Bengali)
The move is a boost to U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.

U.S. Weighs Keeping 3,000 Troops in Afghanistan After 2014
(The Washington Post: Karen DeYoung)
One of the four options President Obama is considering for a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan beyond this year would leave behind 3,000 troops.

U.S. Military Deaths in Afghanistan at 2,174
(Associated Press)
As of Tuesday, at least 2,174 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.


Russia Warns Saudi Against Giving Syria Rebels Missiles
(Agence France-Presse)
The Russian foreign ministry said it was "deeply concerned" by news reports that Saudi Arabia was planning to buy Pakistani-made shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles and antitank systems for armed Syrian rebels based in Jordan.


White House Says Raised Concerns With Iraq About Report of Arms Deal With Iran
(Reuters: Roberta Rampton)
Press secretary Jay Carney said that the Iraq government has denied in a press release that any contracts were signed.

Allies Intensify Pressure on Turkey Over China Missile Deal
(Defense News: Burak Ege Bekdil)
The Turkish government and the country's largest defense company are under increasing pressure from Turkey's NATO allies to rethink a September decision to award a $3.44 billion air defense contract to a Chinese bidder.


Sanders, Leahy Disappointed by National Guard Cuts
(Associated Press)
Vermont's two United States senators are expressing displeasure and concern over proposed cut to the National Guard.


U.S. Ambassadors Face No-Confidence Vote Amid Backlash Over Appointments
(The Guardian: Dan Roberts)
Obama criticized over posts given to donors after it was revealed they had little or no knowledge about assigned countries.


Freed Gitmo Detainee Latest to Be Suspected of Terrorism
(USA Today: Oren Dorell)
United Kingdom authorities arrested Moazzam Begg on suspicion of attending a terrorist training camp and facilitating terrorism in Syria.


Cybersecurity Firm Advises Caution in Dealing With NSA
(The Wall Street Journal: Danny Yadron)
RSA's Art Coviello suggests agency wasn't upfront about intentions.

F-35′s ALIS 'Way Behind,' Bogdan Says; One Step Forward Last Week
(Breaking Defense: Colin Clark)
The key maintenance software program for the F-35, called ALIS, is "way behind," said Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, head of the program.

For F/A-18 Super Hornet, the End May Be on Horizon
(Los Angeles Times: W.J. Hennigan)
There are increasing fears that the F/A-18 Super Hornet assembly line may be shut down because of dwindling orders.


U.S. Tells Three Venezuelan Diplomats to Go in Tit-for-Tat Expulsions
State Department gives trio two days to leave after Caracas ejects Washington embassy staff accused of fomenting unrest.


Despite Cuts, NATO Still Accounts for Most of World's Military Spending
(Stars and Stripes: Slobodan Lekic)
The data also show that the United States still accounts for more than 70 percent of the total defense expenditures of NATO's 28 member countries.


When Terrorism (That Never Happened) Made Headlines in Sochi
(Foreign Policy: Micah Zenko)
If attacks were unlikely at the Olympic Games, why was it spun as inevitable?


North Korea's Atrocities
(The New York Times)
A United Nations report has produced the most authoritative indictment yet of crimes against humanity unparalleled in the contemporary world.

Time to Innovate
(Defense News)
The Obama administration's new quadrennial defense review will emphasize Asia, the need for more global engagement and maintaining strong special operations forces.

Meet the New Guard at the Pentagon
(Defense One: Stephanie Gaskell)
Signaling a changing of the guard at the Pentagon, several of President Obama's top Pentagon nominees sat for one collective Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing.

Cutting the Army Will Make It Stronger
(CNN: Michael Desch)
Military historians have chronicled instances in which periods of deep budget and manpower cuts have produced great periods of strategic innovation.

How Much Army Is Enough?
(USA Today: Michael O'Hanlon)
The Pentagon plans to scale back to 450,000 soldiers. Going beyond that is not wise.

Despite 'Historic' Cuts, the U.S. Will Still Have 450,000 Active-Duty Soldiers
(The Guardian: Michael Cohen)
The Pentagon is able to maintain a bloated and extravagant military force even when the U.S. faces no actual security threats.

Opponents of Pentagon Budget Cuts Just Played the Entire Media
(The Atlantic: Conor Friedersdorf)
Don't be misled by headlines about the Army shrinking to pre-WWII levels.

The U.S. Air Force for Dummies: Part II
(The National Interest: Adam Lowther)
Arguing for the elimination of a service may gain someone notoriety, but it does not aid in solving real challenges.

Commentary: The Next Carrier Air Wing
(Defense News: Mark Gunzinger, Bryan Clark)
The think tank analysts were heralding the rebirth of the aircraft carrier, not its end.

One of These Mean Little Ships Could Be the Navy's New Frigate
(War is Boring: David Axe)
Pentagon wants a tougher warship to replace the Littoral Combat Ship.

Low-Tech Terrorism
(National Interest: Bruce Hoffman)
Just how effective have terrorist efforts to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction actually been?

The Difference Between Ukraine and Egypt
(The Huffington Post: David Hearst)
Western governments are turning full circle over Ukraine.

Is Ukraine Headed for Civil War?
(The Daily Beast: Will Cathcart)
With reports of Russian troops landing in Crimea, pundits are warning of a repeat of Georgia in 2008—but the reality is far more complicated.

Drones Are Finally Driving the U-2 Spy Plane Out of Business
(Quartz: Tim Fernholz)
The best metaphor for the whole plan is a proposal to end the use of the U-2 spy plane, in service since 1955.

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Keeps me informed about national leadership concerns."

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Mark, Compensation Analyst

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Dave, HR specialist

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AJ, US Army Officer

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