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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U.S. Talks to Russia but Moves More Warplanes to Region
(The Washington Post: Anne Gearan, Karen DeYoung)
The Obama administration claimed progress Wednesday toward resolving a Cold War-style standoff with Russia over its military incursion in Ukraine, even as the Pentagon moved to reassure nervous NATO allies by positioning fighter jets closer to Russia.
Crimea Lawmakers Schedule Vote On Joining Russia
(Associated Press: Yuras Karmanau, Tim Sullivan)
Lawmakers in the embattled Crimean region of Ukraine decided Thursday to hold a referendum March 16
Obama Knew CIA Secretly Monitored Intelligence Committee, Senator Claims
(The Guardian: Spencer Ackerman)
A leading U.S. senator has said that President Obama knew of an "unprecedented action" taken by the CIA against the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has apparently prompted an inspector general's inquiry at Langley.
Senate Staffers Slipped Secret CIA Documents From Agency's Headquarters
(McClatchy: Jonathan Landay, Ali Watkins, Marisa Taylor)
Congressional aides involved in preparing the Senate Intelligence Committee's unreleased study of the CIA's secret interrogation and detention program walked out of the spy agency with classified documents that the CIA contended they weren't authorized to have.
Military Sexual Assault Bill Heads For Senate Vote
(Associated Press: Richard Lardner)
A bill, which is expected to come up for a vote Thursday afternoon, is firmly opposed by the Pentagon's leadership.
Army General Will Plead Guilty to Adultery, but Fight Sex Assault Charges
(The Washington Post: Craig Whitlock)
The trial of Jeffrey A. Sinclair is only the third court martial of an Army general in a half century.
Pentagon Prepares for Sequester's Return
(Politico: Philip Ewing)
The Defense Department has a new motto as it contemplates the return of sequestration: Once bitten, twice ready.
Military's Top General Offers Grim Outlook on Nation's Defense
(McClatchy: James Rosen)
Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided his sobering views as part of the Quadrennial Defense Review, a congressionally mandated evaluation of U.S. military strength issued every four years.
Pentagon Leaders Working to Define Military's Postwar Purpose
(Defense One: Kevin Baron)
With the president's 2015 budget request and a fresh four-year strategy review in hand, Pentagon leaders in recent speeches, interviews, and testimonies have set out to give clarity to their vision for the future, post-Afghanistan purpose of the United States military.
Congress Roasts Pentagon Over Spending Cuts It Passed Into Law
(National Journal: Sara Sorcher)
The Pentagon's top officials arrived on Capitol Hill armed with a series of controversial budget-cutting proposals they knew would be a tough sell. But it's already clear that lawmakers aren't buying them.
Pentagon Wants to Keep Controversial War Budget Beyond Afghanistan
(Defense One: Stephanie Gaskell)
Despite the massive drawdown, Pentagon officials want to keep a comparably oversized war chest funded well into next year, quickly raising eyebrows among members of Congress.
Hagel Defends Proposed Pay and Benefit Changes
(Navy Times: Leo Shane III)
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday downplayed the impact of proposed cuts to military pay and benefits in the fiscal 2015 defense budget request.
Ukraine Dominates Senate Defense Budget Hearing
(Stars and Stripes: Chris Carroll)
Top Defense Department leaders appeared before Congress to lay out the military's plans to weather defense budget cuts, but the Russian incursion into Ukraine loomed over the proceedings.
What Will $5 Billion in Military Cyber Spending Pay For?
(Defense One: Patrick Tucker)
The Pentagon's wants $5.1 billion for cyber operations next year, an increase of about $4 million over this year's budget, but exactly what the military wants to buy with that money is unclear.
Pentagon Aims to Boost Accuracy of Ballistic Missile Defenses
(Global Security Newswire: Sebastian Sprenger)
The Pentagon's fiscal 2015 budget request funds new projects aimed at making U.S. ballistic missile defenses more accurate and reliable.
Congress Hates Military-Base Closings, but Can Chuck Hagel Do It Without Their Approval?
(National Journal: Jordain Carney)
The Pentagon's budget sets up an uphill battle with Congress by requesting further domestic base closures and realignment, but the Defense Department's top official could try to give members the slip.
Ukraine Crisis Stokes Fears About Closing European Bases
(National Journal: Stacy Kaper)
Some lawmakers have expressed concern about another round of base closures the Pentagon wants to start in 2017—including some in Europe.
Sanctions Against Russia Are On the Table, U.S. Leader Says
(CBS News: Stephanie Condon)
As soon as today, the Republican-led House could move forward with a bill that would authorize a loan guarantee to Ukraine.
Senate to Confirm Obama's Top Russia Negotiator
(Daily Beast: Josh Rogin)
U.S.-Russia relations are in the tank but the woman who led nuclear negotiations with Moscow is set to receive a big promotion.
Becerra: Don't Rush Ukraine Response
(The Hill: Mike Lillis)
The head of the House Democratic Caucus warned Wednesday that a hurried response to Russian aggression in Ukraine could lead the United States into the next Iraq.
Military Steps Up Training Amid Ukraine Crisis
(Politico: Philip Ewing)
The military is stepping up operations with European allies in the face of the Ukraine crisis, but the administration will continue to pursue a mostly diplomatic and economic strategy as it tries to "de-escalate" the standoff.
U.S. Sending F-15s, Tanker to Patrol Baltic Airspace
(Air Force Times: Kristin Davis)
Baltic allies requested the assistance amid a growing standoff between Ukraine and Russia over the Crimean Peninsula.
E.U. Freezes Assets of Yanukovych and 17 Ukrainian Aides
(The New York Times: Alan Cowell)
The European Union reinforced its support for the fledgling government in Kiev, a day after an effort by the United States to broker the first face-to-face diplomatic meeting between Russia and Ukraine failed.
U.S. Hopes Boom in Natural Gas Can Undercut Putin
(The New York Times: Coral Davenport, Steven Erlanger)
The crisis in Crimea has escalated a State Department initiative to use a new boom in American natural gas supplies as a lever against Russia.
Debate Over Who, in U.S., Is to Blame for Ukraine
(The New York Times: Peter Baker)
Many on the right maintain that Moscow's land grab is President Obama's fault for pursuing a foreign policy of weakness.
U.S. Lawmakers Divided on Russia Sanctions, Eye Vote on Ukraine Aid
(Reuters: Patricia Zengerle, Phil Stewart)
Republican leaders in the House of Representatives made a rare show of support for Obama, saying they would work with the White House to address the crisis in Ukraine.
John Kerry Says Meetings Agreed to Continue Talks With Russia, Ukraine
(Reuters: Lesley Wroughton)
Foreign ministers from Ukraine, Russia and Western nations agreed on Wednesday to continue discussions in coming days on how to stabilize Ukraine.
NATO to Review Cooperation With Russia, Suspends Further Meetings
(The Huffington Post: Ryan Craggs)
NATO has announced it has suspended meetings with Russia and is putting its cooperation with the nation under review.
Pledged, Planned, and Recalled Aid for Ukraine
(Associated Press: Juergen Baetz)
The United States and the European Union have offered financial aid to Ukraine and Russia has halted its rescue program for the country.
Russia's Defense Minister Calls Evidence of Troop Presence in Crimea 'Complete Nonsense'
(The New York Times: Robert Mackey)
Russia's defense minister and foreign minister denied that there were any Russian troops among the large contingent of masked men in armored vehicles with Russian military plates.
Full-Scale Ukraine Invasion by Russia Unlikely, Experts Say
(Agence France-Presse: Denis Hiault)
Russia is unlikely to mount a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, analysts believe, because it has probably already achieved its objective by seizing control of the Crimea region and it would not relish a fight with the Ukrainian army.
Analysts: Russia Unlikely to Pull Back in Crimea
(Associated Press: Julie Pace)
That forces the United States and Europe into a more limited strategy of trying to prevent President Vladimir Putin from making advances elsewhere in the former Soviet republic.
VA Budget to Get $10.1 Billion Increase Under White House Plan
(Stars and Stripes: Matthew Burke)
Obama's budget proposal for fiscal 2015 includes $163.9 billion for the Veterans Affairs Department—a $10.1 billion increase over current funding levels.
Vet Groups Say VA Budget Underfunds Construction
(Military.com: Bryant Jordan)
Veterans groups say the proposed 2015 Veterans Affairs budget fails to address construction and maintenance needs at VA facilities across the country.
Hagel Promises to Look Into Vets' PTSD Lawsuit
(Associated Press: Lolita Baldor)
Hagel says he is personally looking into the lawsuit filed earlier this week by Vietnam veterans who suffered from post-traumatic stress and received less than honorable discharges from the military.
No Longer Needed? Troops Survive Combat, Then Lose Their Jobs
(USA Today: Gregg Zoroya)
In its first effort to thin the ranks under budget pressure, the Army is letting 3,000 G.I.s go in order to thin ranks to 490,000 by the end of next year.
CIA Probing Allegations It Improperly Monitored Senate Committee
(Reuters: Peter Cooney, Mark Hosenball)
The CIA's internal watchdog has begun a probe of whether members of the agency secretly monitored a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation.
Probe: Did the CIA Spy on the U.S. Senate?
(McClatchy: Jonathan Landay, Ali Watkins, Marisa Taylor)
The CIA Inspector General's Office has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations of malfeasance at the spy agency in connection with a yet-to-be released Senate Intelligence Committee report.
Outgoing NSA Chief Hints at 'Media Leaks Legislation'
(Politico: Hadas Gold)
Outgoing National Security Agency chief Keith Alexander at forthcoming legislation that will target "media leaks," though few national security reporters are aware of any such legislation.
PACOM Chief: 11-Carrier Fleet Vital to U.S. National Security Strategy
(Inside Defense: Olga Belogolova)
In a testy exchange with lawmakers Wednesday on Capitol Hill, U.S. Pacific Command chief Adm. Samuel Locklear defended the Navy's need for a fleet of 11 nuclear aircraft carriers.
Promises Kept: Few Surprises in AF Budget
(Air Force Times: Aaron Mehta)
For months, top Air Force officials have been preparing Washington for a budget that cuts back on force structure in favor of modernization.
Air Force Begs Congress: Save the Space Fence
(National Journal: Alex Brown)
The Air Force budget preserves $2 billion to build a successor to the program that helps keep space vessels safe from high-speed orbital debris.
Air Force Halts Voluntary Separation Pay, 15-year Retirements
(Air Force Times: Stephen Losey)
The Air Force Personnel Center has halted processing of early retirement and voluntary separation applications for both officers and enlisted.
Air Force Would Cut 20,400 Airmen, 2,700 Civilians
(Military.com: Barrie Barber)
The Air Force would cut 20,400 airmen and about 2,700 civilian jobs and retire dozens of planes under a $109.3 billion fiscal 2015 budget request.
General: 'Of Course' New Air Force Bomber Will Be More Than $550M Per Plane
(Military Times: Aaron Mehta)
The Air Force's top military acquisition officer expects the cost of the new long-range strike bomber to exceed an expected per-unit cost limit.
Why the Air Force Wants to Keep Global Hawks and Retire U-2s
(Air Force Times: Brian Everstine)
The cost of flying the Global Hawk reconnaissance drone has dropped to the point where Air Force leaders want to replace the venerable U-2, but the new drone still has years to go before it will match the Dragon Lady's spy abilities.
Threat of Conflict in Asia to Increase Over Next Decade, Joint Chiefs Chairman Dempsey Says
(Fox News: Bill Gertz)
The risk of war in Asia will increase over the next 10 years as U.S. military forces struggle to maintain their edge amid declining budgets and increasing threats.
China Raises Defense Spending 12.2% for 2014
(The Wall Street Journal: Jeremy Page)
The double-digit increase in China's 2014 defense budget amounts to the biggest increase in absolute terms in at least a decade—$14.4 billion—and serves as a sign that Beijing is determined to prioritize military spending as the Pentagon faces cutbacks.
U.S. Asks U.N. to Take Action Against North Korea for Firing Missiles in Violation of U.N. Sanctions
A report by the United States to the council committee monitoring sanctions against North Korea asks its members and experts to examine the Scud missile launches on Feb. 27 and March 3.
Iran to Get Second Tranche of Payment Under Nuclear Deal: IRNA
(Reuters: Fredrik Dahl)
Iran will soon receive a second installment of previously frozen assets which are being returned to it under an interim nuclear agreement with world powers.
West Presses Iran to Address Suspected Atomic Bomb Research
(Reuters: Fredrik Dahl)
The United States said the issue would be central to the success of talks on a final settlement over Tehran's nuclear program.
U.S. Drone Strike Kills 5 Afghan Soldiers
(The New York Times: Rod Norland)
An American drone strike killed five Afghan National Army soldiers and wounded eight more Thursday morning.
Long-Range Standoff Missile Development Pushed Back by Three Years
The Pentagon's next-generation nuclear cruise missile will not begin development in fiscal 2015 as scheduled and will instead slip by three years, deferring almost $1 billion in spending beyond fiscal 2018.
Poll: John Kerry Favorability at 55 Percent
(Politico: Tal Kopan)
Americans view Secretary of State John Kerry more favorably than they did months ago at the height of the Syria crisis, a new poll finds, but he still lags recent secretaries' numbers.
Hillary Clinton Calls Putin 'a Tough Guy With a Thin Skin'
(The Washington Post: Philip Rucker)
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a more measured assessment of the unfolding crisis in Ukraine on Wednesday after having likened Russian President Vladimir Putin to former Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
Hillary Clinton on Ukraine: Russia Behaving Like Nazi Germany
(CBS News: Jake Miller)
Hillary Clinton likened Russia's recent military action in Ukraine to Nazi Germany's territorial aggression during the 1930s on Tuesday.
U.S. Urges Vigilance Over Syria's Chemical Disarmament
(The Wall Street Journal: Naftali Bendavid)
The U.S. has reacted to Syria's accelerated removal of its dangerous chemicals with pronounced skepticism, urging international watchdogs to keep up their pressure and vigilance.
U.S. Restricts Movements of Syria's U.N. Envoy Ja'afari
(Reuters: Louis Charbonneau)
A pro-opposition Syrian-American group, the Coalition for a Democratic Syria, welcomed the announcement in a statement.
Osama Bin Laden Son-in-Law Agreed to Help Terror Campaign, Court Hears
(The Guardian: Jon Swaine)
New York prosecutors accuse Suleiman Abu Ghaith of acting as al-Qaida's mouthpiece in propaganda videos and speeches.
Prosecutors Say Bin Laden's Son-in-Law Aided Terror Plots
(The Wall Street Journal: Christopher Matthews)
In opening statements, government cites defendant's speeches, videos.
U.S. Navy Backed Up Israel in Seizure of Iranian Arms Shipment
The U.S. military was prepared to get involved in Israel's seizure of a cargo vessel allegedly carrying arms from Iran to Palestinian militants, the State Department says.
Military Discharges Marine Captain in Desecration Incident
(The Wall Street Journal: Julian Barnes)
Case Involves Marines Who Urinated on the Bodies of Taliban Insurgents.
National Guard Colonel Facing 110 Counts of Fraud and Theft
(Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Brian Bowling)
A federal grand jury indicted Gerard Mangis, 60, of Shaler on 110 counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, filing false claims with the government, and theft of government property.
(The New York Times)
Does Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have an alternative to a two-state solution?
America's Oil and Gas Leverage
(The Wall Street Journal)
A shrewder President would use it to reduce Putin's influence.
How This Crisis Ends
(The Washington Post: Henry Kissinger)
Because Ukraine hasn't had time to learn the art of compromise, the U.S. should aid in reconciliation, the former secretary of state writes.
Rubio, Cotton: Congress Must Act Quickly to Punish Putin, Support Ukraine
(CNN: Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. Tom Cotton)
Putin clearly decided that the benefits of an armed intervention in Ukraine outweighed whatever costs the United States would be willing to impose.
Welcome to Cold War II
(Foreign Policy: Dmitri Trenin)
This is what it will look like.
The Biggest Threat to the Pentagon's Budget Is Entitlement Spending
(Defense One: Rep. Scott Rigell)
Members of both the House and the Senate, and the president, need to engage in the fact-based debate necessary to advance specific solutions to the fiscal challenges we face as a nation.
Revitalize American Sea Power
(Proceedings Magazine: Rep. Randy Forbes)
Failing to bolster the U.S. Navy in the face of 21st-century maritime threats could prove disastrous to the international order.
Why Neocons Love the Strongman
(The Daily Beast: Michael Tomasky)
This is just the crisis to make themselves seem relevant again within the GOP—even if they're undermining the commander in chief at a pivotal moment.
China: A Major Power in the Middle East?
(War on the Rocks: Andy Polk)
Over the last decade, the United States has been drawn into a series of imbroglios in the Middle East and South Asia.
Building a U.S. Army of 125,000 Spartans
(Real Clear Defense: J. Furman Daniel III)
The U.S. Army needs to go on a diet, go back to school, and reinvent itself as an elite professional force. We should make these chosen few warriors the envy of our society and the world.