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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Senate Rejects Bill on Veterans Benefits
(USA Today: Gregg Zoroya)
The biggest spending bill for veterans in decades goes down to defeat in a divided Senate.
Yahoo Webcam Images From Millions of Users Intercepted by GCHQ
(The Guardian: Spencer Ackerman, James Ball)
Britain's surveillance agency GCHQ, with aid from the National Security Agency, intercepted and stored the webcam images of millions of Internet users not suspected of wrongdoing.
NSA Chief Opens Door to Narrower Data Collection
(The Wall Street Journal: Siobhan Gorman)
Gen. Keith Alexander gives unexpected option: Surveillance could target only terrorism-related data.
SecDef on Afghanistan: Total Troop Withdrawal Could Pose Problems
(Associated Press: Robert Burns)
Hagel said the future reliability of Afghan security forces is at the core of U.S. desires to keep forces there to continue advising and mentoring.
U.S. Spies: No, Russia Isn't About to Invade Ukraine
(Daily Beast: Eli Lake)
A massive military exercise on the border of Ukraine has sparked panicked talk of a Russian invasion. Don't worry, American intelligence sources say.
Ukraine Says Russian Forces Block Airport
No violence was reported, and flights continued to operate at the airport serving Simferopol.
Lawmakers Expect Changes to Proposed Benefit Cuts
(Military.com: Richard Sisk)
Two powerful congressmen predicted that Congress will make major changes the Pentagon's proposed budget, particularly on the cuts to pay and benefits.
Key Lawmaker: Don't Try to Hash Out Pay Reform This Year
(Military Times: Leo Shane III)
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee wants to delay any major military retirement and compensation debate until next year.
McKeon: Defense Budget Cuts Empower Putin
(The Hill: Kristina Wong)
Obama's smaller defense budget will leave the U.S. weaker and unable to challenge its adversaries around the world, said the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Top Republicans Call for Return to Cold War
(Daily Beast: Josh Rogin)
The top lawmakers on the House and Senate Armed Services committees said Thursday that the world would be better off if the Cold War was still on—and if Obama wasn't cutting the defense budget.
Inhofe, McKeon: Despite Pentagon Warnings, Sequestration Here to Stay
Republicans said there is a slim likelihood of overturning sequestration reductions even as the Pentagon prepares to present a budget that doesn't include the cuts in the out years.
McKeon, Inhofe Say Planned Defense Cuts for 2015 Make World 'More Dangerous'
(Seapower Magazine: Otto Kreisher)
Republicans blamed President Obama for defense budget cuts they said will weaken America's ability to respond to an increasingly dangerous world.
Vets Bill Goes Down as Military Sexual-Assault Bills Come Up
(National Journal: Stacy Kaper)
Republicans scuttled a $21 billion veterans package in the Senate on Thursday, but have agreed to allow competing military sexual-assault bills to move to the floor for votes.
Big Democratic Donors Urge Congress to Back Off Iran Sanctions
(National Journal: Sara Sorcher)
Days before the AIPAC conference, letter could weaken the momentum of those pushing sanctions in Congress.
Sen. Warren: Weigh Risk of Civilian Casualties
Warren said there are moral and military reasons for that debate.
Kirsten Gillibrand Is Near Yet So Far on Assault Bill
(National Journal: Stacy Kaper)
The New York Democrat has majority support in the Senate—but not enough yet to get past a filibuster.
Senior Defense Official: 'We Don't Want to Cut.' Blame Congress.
(Defense News: Michelle Tan)
A senior defense official says the U.S. Army and Defense Department are being unfairly vilified in the media over military budget cuts when Congress is really to blame.
How the Army Plans to Fight a War Across the Electromagnetic Spectrum
(Defense One: Patrick Tucker)
The military has been less forthcoming about a key, more tangible component of cyber—electronic warfare—until now.
Pentagon Wants Contractor to Pick Propaganda Audiences
(USA Today: Ray Locker)
Mlitary officials are moving ahead with a plan to pick potential target audiences for U.S. propaganda and see if the messages work.
DECA Announces New Limits on Bulk Purchases at Commissaries
(Navy Times: Jeff Schogol)
Commissaries will no longer accept orders or issue refunds for "unreasonable quantities of items."
Kerry Urges Russia to Join U.S., Allies in Helping Ukraine
(Reuters: Lesley Wroughton, Sabine Siebold)
Kerry's comments came as Ukraine warned Russia about troop movements after armed men seized the parliament in Ukraine's Crime region and raised the Russian flag.
Armed Men Take Over Two Airports in Crimea
(The New York Times: Andrew Higgins, Patrick Reevell)
As the possibility of a showdown between Ukraine's fledgling government and the Kremlin appeared to grow, airports at Simferopol and Belbek were being patrolled by uniformed men.
Vice President Biden Calls Ukraine PM Yatseniuk, Pledges U.S. Support
(Reuters: Mark Felsenthal)
Biden welcomed the formation of a new government in Ukraine in a phone call with Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk and pledged U.S. support for reforms.
U.S. Issues Warning to Russia Over Military Drills Near Ukrainian Border
(The Guardian: Paul Lewis)
White House calls on Russia to refrain from "provocative actions" amid concern Putin could be planning military intervention.
Fugitive Ukrainian President Said to Be in Moscow
(Associated Press: Lynn Berry)
Beneath the surface, the embrace has been chilly: State-run TV has portrayed him as a coward who betrayed those who stood by him.
Putin Pledges Aid to Ukraine but Leaves Steps Unclear
(The New York Times: Steven Lee Myers)
The Russian president's statement makes no mention of military measures, but Ukraine's interior minister claims that Russian forces have taken over two airports in Crimea.
Ukraine Draws Obama Into Putin's Long Game
(Reuters: David Rohde)
The fall of Yanukovych—and Putin's potential response to it—has reignited a debate in Washington on how to respond to the assertive Russian leader.
Putin's Silence on Ukraine Adds to Confusion
(The New York Times: Steven Lee Myers)
Russia has now found itself more deeply ensnared than ever in Ukraine's worsening political crisis.
Ukraine Crisis Deepens as Russia Scrambles Jets
(Associated Press: Karl Ritter, Dalton Bennett)
The moves pose an immediate challenge to Ukraine's new authorities as they seek to set up an interim government for the country, whose population is divided in loyalties between Russia and the West.
Hagel Urges Russia to Act Cautiously on Ukraine
(Associated Press: Robert Burns, John-Thor Dahlburg)
Hagel urged Russia on Thursday not to take any action on Ukraine that might boost tensions or be subject to misinterpretation.
U.S., NATO Warn Russia to Avoid 'Miscalculation' Over Crimea
Speaking after pro-Kremlin gunmen seized regional administration buildings in Crimea and Moscow ordered snap combat readiness drills near the border, Hagel warned: "I am closely watching the Russian military exercise."
U.S.: Ukraine Filling 'Void' Left by Yanukovych
The White House is welcoming the efforts by Ukraine's parliament to stabilize the country, and says ousted President Viktor Yanukovych "abdicated his responsibility."
Iran Says Nuclear Program to Stay 'Intact'
(Reuters: Nidhi Verma, Ratnajyoti Dutta)
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif signaled that Tehran will not agree to dismantle any of its atomic facilities in talks with six world powers on a final settlement.
Pelosi on Iran: Let Diplomacy Work
(The Hill: Mike Lillis)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi pushed back hard Thursday against those urging further sanctions on Iran.
Congress Concerned Iran's Oil Exports May Be Up
(Associated Press: Bradley Klapper)
Obama administration officials faced the prospect of contentious questioning Thursday from lawmakers about reports that China and India are significantly expanding imports of Iranian petroleum.
U.S. Militant, Hidden, Spurs Drone Debate
(The New York Times: Mark Mazzetti, Eric Schmitt)
The U.S. government is considering whether to again take the extraordinary step of authorizing the killing of an American citizen, now living in Pakistan.
Coalition Agrees to Delay Afghan Decision
(The Wall Street Journal: Julian Barnes, Stephen Fidler)
NATO, U.S. military ready to wait until Afghan president exits office before deciding troop presence.
Political Party Ends Blockade of NATO Supply Route in Pakistan
(The New York Times: Salman Masood)
The opposition politician Imran Khan announced Thursday that his political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which governs the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, would end its three-month blockade of a NATO supply route.
NATO to Plan for All Options in Afghanistan, Including Pullout
(Reuters: Adrian Croft, Justyna Pawlak)
NATO has been planning to keep a slimmed-down force there to train and assist Afghan forces who continue to battle Taliban insurgents.
Pentagon Defends Deadly Afghan Mission
(The Hill: Jeremy Herb)
Pentagon officials insisted a 2011 Navy Seal mission in which 30 troops were killed in the downing of a Chinook helicopter was not compromised.
Questions About 30 Americans Killed in Helicopter Crash in Afghanistan
(Associated Press: Deb Riechmann)
Relatives of some of the 30 U.S. troops killed said congressional testimony from U.S. military officials answered some, but not all, of their lingering questions about the single deadliest incident of the war.
McRaven: Threat From Al-Qaida Is 'Much More Broad' Today
(The Hill: Kristina Wong)
Adm. Bill McRaven told lawmakers that al-Qaida's core in Afghanistan and Pakistan "has gotten markedly weaker" but affiliate groups are surging in Yemen, North Africa, Iraq, and Syria.
Senior Official: Pakistani Leaders to Retain Nuclear-Arms Authority in Crises
(Global Security Newswire: Elaine Grossman)
Pakistan's top leaders would not delegate advance authority over nuclear arms to unit commanders, even in the event of crisis with India, a senior official says.
NSA Director Calls for Stronger Strategy to Deter Cyberattacks
(The Washington Post: Ellen Nakashima)
Gen. Keith Alexander, the outgoing NSA director, called for a stronger strategy to deter cyberattacks, saying the line that would prompt a U.S. response against an adversary "does not yet exist."
CyberCom Chief Laws Down Red Line on Attacks
(Breaking Defense: Colin Clark)
The question of what might spark a war in the event of cyberintrusions is extremely sensitive.
The Army's Plan for Cyber, One Bright Spot in Its Budget
(Breaking Defense: Sydney Freedberg Jr.)
In an Army budget outlook that's otherwise as grim as television tuned to a dead channel, there is one bright spot: cyberspace.
U.S. Army Seeks to Purchase 100 Lakota Helicopters
(Defense News: Paul McLeary, Marcus Weisgerber)
The proposed new helicopters are part of a controversial plan that came to light in December.
Army Considers Marine Corps Camo for New Uniforms
(Military.com: Matthew Cox)
In April, the U.S. Army plans to unveil a new camouflage strategy that could result in soldiers wearing Marine Corps desert and woodland patterns into combat.
Air Force Program Rare Bright Spot in Sex-Assault Fight
(Stars and Stripes: Nancy Montgomery)
Air Force officials say the SVC program, now operating for a year, has been a singular success in aiding victims and restoring confidence in the criminal justice system.
Main Israel Lobby Seeks to Regain Footing as Netanyahu Visits U.S
(Reuters: Matt Spetalnick, Jeffrey Heller)
While no one doubts the American Israel Public Affairs Committee remains a potent political force, AIPAC can ill afford any perceptions of weakness in advancing its agenda at such a critical juncture in U.S.-Israeli relations.
U.S. Awards Boeing $2 Billion Contract for Spy Planes
The long-range Poseidon spy plane is based on Boeing's 737 commercial airliner and the Navy is anxious to move ahead to replace its aging fleet of P-3 Orion aircraft.
Lockheed Makes Its Case After U-2, Global Hawk Retirement Reversal
Lockheed Martin is mounting a strong defense of the U-2 spy plane program after the Pentagon announced its intention to retire its entire fleet in favor of Northrop Grumman's unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk.
Iraq Contractor Pleads Guilty in Tax Case
Federal prosecutors say a U.S. contractor who worked in Iraq has pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return.
Former Soldier Who Helped Nab Saddam Hussein Running for Congress
(Reuters: Heide Brandes)
Steve Russell is campaigning to represent Oklahoma's 5th Congressional District on a platform of supporting the military, veterans, and gun owners.
Poll: Americans Tilt Toward Military Spending Cuts
(National Journal: Jordain Carney)
A slim plurality of Americans wants to cut military spending, according to a Gallup Poll released Thursday.
Dissident Warns China Sending Spies to U.S. in Scholarly Guise
(Reuters: David Brunnstrom)
A prominent Chinese warned on Thursday of the dangers of academic exchanges with China, saying Beijing sent spies as visiting scholars.
A Parting Shot at U.S. Ambassador, Inspired by Mao
(The New York Times: Michael Forsythe)
The state-run China News Service published a critique of Gary F. Locke's tenure as the U.S. ambassador to China, calling him a banana for his "yellow skin and white heart."
China Swipes Back at U.S. in Annual Rights Report
(Reuters: Ben Blanchard)
China on Friday accused the United States of widespread human rights abuses, including cyber-surveillance and child labor.
U.S. Rights Report Highlights China, Myanmar Reforms and Abuses
(Reuters: David Brunnstrom)
The report for 2013 said that despite some progress in Myanmar, conflict-related abuses in ethnic minority areas, politically motivated arrests and widespread discrimination and violence against Muslim populations continued.
China Announces New Cybersecurity Push
(The New York Times: David Barboza)
The government announcement did not offer details about what cybersecurity and informatization would cover, but the government made clear that it was determined to strengthen its capabilities.
Ambassador Locke Reflects on Time in China as He Heads for the Exit
(Los Angeles Times: Julie Makinen)
Locke reflected on the accomplishments and challenges of his tenure and urged Chinese to visit the U.S. "to see firsthand our freedoms, our diversity, our democracy.
North Korea Fires Short-Range Missiles Into Sea
The launches, however, weren't expected to raise tension as North Korea routinely tests short-range missiles.
Syria Says Two Attempted Attacks on Chemical Weapons Convoys: U.N.
(Reuters: Michelle Nichols, Louis Charbonneau)
The monthly report to the U.N. Security Council of the joint mission of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said the attempted attacks were on January 27.
NATO, Russia Moving Ahead With Talks on Syria Chemical Arms Mission-U.S
(Reuters: Adrian Croft)
U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlov said NATO and Russia were discussing a possible joint naval operation in the Mediterranean to protect the U.S. cargo ship Cape Ray due to destroy Syria's toxins.
Syria Agrees New April Target to Remove Chemicals: Diplomat
(Reuters: Dominic Evans, Michelle Nichols)
Syria has agreed to a new timetable to remove its chemical weapons by late April after failing to meet a deadline to ship out the arsenal earlier this month.
Pentagon: Syria Should Hand Over Chemicals Faster
(Associated Press: Pauline Jelinek)
The Pentagon is urging Syria to move faster on its promise to hand over its chemical weapons.
U.S. Singles Out Syria in Rights Report
(USA Today: Oren Dorell)
The United States on Thursday singled out Syria, Russia, China, and Egypt for using restrictive laws to suppress political opposition, minorities, and journalists seeking to expose abuses.
Rift in Syria Opposition May Set Back Western Efforts
(Los Angeles Times: Raja Abdulrahim)
Division among rebel factions over the sacking of a commander could undermine Western nations' focus on bolstering anti-Assad forces in the south.
Syrian Group Demands Investigation Into Killings
(Associated Press: Zeina Karam)
The Syrian National Coalition disputed the government report, saying the people killed were civilians trying to escape the siege imposed by President Bashar Assad's forces.
Obama to Urge Israel's Netanyahu to Accept Kerry's Mideast Peace Framework
Obama will make a similar push when he meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in late March.
Bin Laden Relative's Lawyers Claim Mistaken Identity as Trial Nears
(The New York Times: Benjamin Weiser)
A letter to the judge in the terrorism case against Sulaiman Abu Ghaith says that the government may have confused the defendant with a Guantánamo detainee.
Coast Guard Accused of Illegal Service Discharges
(Associated Press: John Christoffersen)
The Vietnam Veterans of America released a report based on an analysis by students who looked at a random sample of 265 discharges for the disorders from fiscal years 2001 through 2012.
Russian Spy Ship Docked in Havana
Neither Cuban authorities nor state media have mentioned the ship's visit, unlike on previous tours by Russian warships.
Holder Released From Hospital After Checkup for Feeling Faint
(Bloomberg: Del Quentin Wilber)
Attorney General Eric Holder was discharged from a Washington hospital where he was taken earlier Thursday after feeling faint and experiencing shortness of breath.
Crimean War Games
(The Wall Street Journal)
Putin moves to carve up Ukraine if he can get away with it.
Hagel's Battle Plan for the Budget: Take the Flak
(The Washington Post: Walter Pincus)
The former senator from Nebraska has prepared for an extended political fight.
Wanted: A Mahan for Cyberspace
(Real Clear Defense: Christopher Fitzpatrick)
Cyber is the next domain of great power conflict.
The U.S. Army in a Time of Transition
(Foreign Affairs: Gen. Raymond Odierno)
We will increasingly emphasize activities aimed at deepening our relationships with partners and demonstrating our country's commitment to global security.
The Dangerous Degradation of the U.S. Nuclear Arsenal
(Forbes: Michael Auslin)
While the world has been embracing the atomic bomb, the U.S. nuclear mission degraded.
Three Hidden Time Bombs in the U.S.-Japan Alliance
(The Diplomat: Patrick Cronin)
The U.S. and Japan need to align their policies on China strategy, deterrence, and offensive military capabilities.
(Politico: Jonathan Schanzer)
The idea that autocratic Qatar, a pint-size peninsula with just over 2 million people, could help ensure the spread of democracy was laughable, as even President Obama seemed to realize.
America's 25 Most Awkward Allies
A list of America's 25 most awkward friends and allies, from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia, Honduras to Uzbekistan.
Obama Will Never End the War on Terror
(National Journal: Michael Hirsh, James Oliphant)
The president stands to leave an open-ended conflict to his successor.