September 18

TAKING A BULLET FOR BERGDAHL –  Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was in the news again this week for an Article 32 hearing to determine whether he should face a military tribunal on charges of desertion.  Every time his name comes up, it stirs debate among those who had to make difficult decisions in the multiple missions to locate and rescue him.  Dead Drop sources say that far from the public eye, there were internal debates on multiple levels about how to best use technological resources that would have to be diverted from other missions in order to locate Bergdahl.  One would think that it might have been an even tougher decision to send special operations troops into harm’s way but a former special operator who was shot trying to rescue Bergdahl told us that he’d do it again without hesitation.  Why?  His answer was one worth repeating: ‘I did it then and I’d do it again because he’s an American.  And he has a mother.  And she didn’t deserve to see her own son beheaded on television.’   I think we know who the true American heroes are. (Incidentally, that same guy told us that he thought the heroes were his buddies who saved his life in the middle of the firefight that took him down).  Another hero on that mission that didn’t make it: Remco.  Remco was a special operations K9 who found the enemy hiding in the bushes and did exactly what he was trained to do – alerted his human counterparts.  He was shot and killed by the enemy for doing it.

SHOCK AND AWE – Senate Armed Services Committee members are still reeling from Wednesday’s testimony by U.S. Central Command Commander General Lloyd Austin that the $500 million Pentagon program to train and equip Syrians to fight off ISIS is an utter failure.  A Dead Drop source with intimate knowledge of the Syria issue says The White House is trying to shrug off embarrassment, saying they knew the plan was never gonna work.  Sources say CENTCOM leaders are frustrated though, that General Austin didn’t offer the committee details on some of the options that are being considered to improve the situation against ISIS.  We’re told that Committee Chair John McCain and his staffers are livid (no shocker there), but McCain believes he may now be at a point where he can get bi-partisan support to put pressure on the administration for a change in policy.

HE PICKED WHO?  The buzz inside Pentagon circles is that Defense Secretary Ash Carter seems to be going out of his way to select the non-obvious choices for senior four-star assignments.  Whenever a major assignment comes open, Carter seems to always pick someone who the conventional wisdom gave little or no thought to.  This is not to say that the people he nominates are not fully qualified – they are just not who ‘the building’ expected.  The unanticipated nominations included General Joe Dunford for Chairman of the JCS over the odds on favorite, Admiral Sandy Winnefeld, General Mark Millie for Chief of Staff of the Army over the expected General J.C. Campbell – plus other surprise picks like Paul Silva for Vice Chairman of the JCS, Admiral John Richardson for CNO and Lieutenant General Robert Neller to be Commandant of the Marine Corps.  One or two ‘outside the box’ picks might be happenstance, but this many marks a trend.  And with the Pentagon, being the place that it is, observers are trying to figure out the strategy.  Some Dead Drop sources say they believe Carter is working hard to ensure that the four-star leadership feel especially grateful and beholden to him – and that this may signal a desire on his part to ‘pull a Bob Gates’ and stay in his job after the change of Administrations.  While of course nobody can get inside Secretary Carter’s head – that wouldn’t be a bad strategy.

FORE SCORE – What kind of leaders do our men and women in uniform want for their next Commander-in-Chief?  We are not yet prepared to answer that question just yet.  But we can tell you what sport a certain group of uniformed professionals in the DC area hope their next boss DOESN’T enjoy.  Golf.  It is not that Capital Region Military Golfers begrudge POTUS the same pastime they enjoy – but Washington military golfers tell us they are tired of having their own rounds disrupted by no-notice outings by President Obama and friends.  Necessary security precautions when the leader of the free world tees it up on any course make life difficult for ordinary duffers.  By our count, during his Presidency, Obama has played the course at St. Andrews AFB 95 times – and Ft. Belvoir 45.  So local military golfers are hoping for a 2016 winner who likes to bowl.

ON THE OTHER HAND, some military folks are probably hoping for a Commander-in-Chief who DOES like rural settings.  The sailors and Marines who maintain the Presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland are probably feeling pretty lonely.  So far, the Obamas seem to visit the mountain retreat about once every ten weeks.

POST –MORTEM: TRIGGER MORTIS…The Cipher Brief offers a great interview with the new James Bond novelist who wrote Trigger Mortis, but some spies reached out to us to tell us they were a little disappointed in Bond this time around.  One of them suggested ‘if you like spy novels with more meat, I would suggest that you read any of the following before you pick up TM:  Jason Matthews’ Red Sparrow and Palace of Treason, John Banville’s The Untouchable, David Ignatius’ Agents of Innocence, Nelson Demille’s Charm School,  Robert Wilson’s A Small Town in Lisbon, Charles McCarry’s Tears of Autumn, Robert Harris’ Enigma and An Officer and a Spy, and John LeCarre’s The Perfect Spy.  That should be enough to fill the bookshelf, but better yet, suggests our novel spy, “just read Fitzroy Maclean.  Real life is always more interesting.”

TALKING INTELLIGENCE – Next week, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is pairing up with Georgetown to host the second annual Kalaris Intelligence Conference at Georgetown University.  The theme this year is an interesting one: “Succeeding in the Open.”  Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Robert Cardillo are delivering addresses.  The Cipher Brief’s own CEO Suzanne Kelly is moderating a panel as are journalists Eric Schmitt of the New York Times and J.J. Green of WTOP Radio.

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