National Security

FP's Situation Report: U.N. talking to al-Qaeda in Syria

McMaster picks up a third star; Guardsmen acting badly; A Navy CO channels George Costanza; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

The United Nations has been quietly cultivating informal contacts with al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate to get humanitarian assistance into the country. FP's Colum Lynch with this exclusive: "...The contacts with leaders from the Jabhat al-Nusra terror group, which have not previously been reported, are mostly informal and sometimes involve little more than conversations between U.N. relief workers and Jabhat al-Nusra fighters at a specific checkpoint. In other cases, the U.N. funnels requests for safe passage through other more moderate armed opposition groups. Other more direct communications remain a closely-held secret. "We don't talk about the details," said a senior U.N. official who confirmed the contacts. 'These are not face to face contacts - they usually take place on telephone or Skype.'

"The outreach is highly sensitive within the U.N. and the broader international relief community. U.N. officials fear that the disclosure of any dealings, however incidental, with terror groups could fuel criticism that the world body is conveying such groups a kind of political legitimacy they don't deserve. Still, U.N. officials say they have no choice but to deal with the militants. The world body is racing against time to get food and aid to the hundreds of thousands of civilians who are facing starvation in Homs, Aleppo, and other besieged Syrian towns and cities. It has been pressing the Syrian government to allow aid workers to cross through military-held territory, but senior officials say such permissions -- even if granted by Damascus, which is far from certain -- would be insufficient if Jabhat al-Nusra and other armed opposition groups didn't make similar guarantees.

"...There are early signs that the outreach efforts may be paying off. Jabhat al-Nusra fighters have so far largely refrained from targeting relief workers inside Syria, and have provided assurances that their forces will not target U.N. aid convoys. That stands in stark contrast to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), an even more extremist al Qaeda-inspired movement that has abducted foreign relief workers, seized aid supplies, and launched attacks against hospitals and other opposition forces." Read the rest here.

Next door, Lebanon is hosting about a million refugees from the Syrian conflict - that means that one in four people in Lebanon are Syrian. The BBC's Kim Ghattas this morning: "The pictures of Hezbollah's martyrs hang from the lampposts and balcony railings. They are plastered on walls and car windshields. The men died not fighting Israel - Hezbollah's arch enemy - but supporting the forces of its ally President Bashar al-Assad, across the border in Syria. The southern suburbs of Beirut, a predominantly Shia area, are Hezbollah's support base. The area is often referred to as a 'stronghold' of the radical Shia Islamist militant group. The term conjures up images of dark alleys and military installations, devoid of civilian life. But it is more of a middle-class suburb, bustling with traffic, cafes and shops, with expensive cars parked outside buildings." More here.

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Please tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. And one more thing: please do follow us @glubold.

Page One: It's getting really ugly in Kiev. The NYT's Andrew Higgins and Andrew Kramer: "Protesters in Kiev stoked what they are calling a 'ring of fire' separating themselves from the riot police in a desperate final effort on Wednesday to defend a stage on Independence Square that has been a focal point of their protests and keep their three-month-old movement alive. Men staggering with exhaustion dismantled the tents and field kitchens from the movement's earlier and more peaceful phase and hauled their remnants onto the fires. They piled on mattresses, sleeping bags, tent frames, foam pads and whatever else looked flammable, burning their own encampment in a final act of defiance.

"Ukraine's Health Ministry said on Wednesday that 25 people, including police officers, protesters and a journalist found dead on a side street near the square, had been killed after hundreds of riot police officers advanced on the antigovernment demonstrators Tuesday and in subsequent fighting on streets in the government district of the Ukrainian capital. The Health Ministry said that 241 people had been injured and that nine of the dead were police officers. The Interior Ministry said all the police officers had died from gunshot wounds, although witnesses said it appeared that several officers had been trapped in a burning armored vehicle.

"In an indication of deepening concern in Washington, the State Department issued an urgent warning late Tuesday telling American citizens in Ukraine to avoid all protests, keep a low profile and remain indoors at night while the clashes continue.

"With hundreds of riot police officers advancing from all sides after a day of deadly mayhem here in the Ukrainian capital, antigovernment demonstrators mounted a seemingly doomed act of defiance late on Tuesday. The attack on the square began shortly before 8 p.m., when police officers tried to drive two armored personnel carriers through stone-reinforced barriers outside the Khreshchatyk Hotel on the road to the square. The vehicles became bogged down and, set upon by protesters wielding rocks and fireworks, burst into flames, trapping the security officers inside one of them and prompting desperate rescue efforts to save those caught in the second vehicle, which managed to pull back from the protesters' barricade." More here.

Reuters this morning: "Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich accused pro-European opposition leaders on Wednesday of trying to seize power by force after at least 26 people died in the worst violence since the former Soviet republic gained independence. European Union leaders said they were urgently preparing targeted sanctions against those responsible for a crackdown on protesters who have been occupying central Kiev for almost three months since Yanukovich spurned a far-reaching trade deal with the EU and accepted a $15-billion Russian bailout." More here.

Leave no man behind: If there was ever a time for the "interagency" to work together, it was now, says Duncan Hunter.  Rep. Duncan Hunter, the former Marine turned California Republican, is calling on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to appoint a single individual to coordinate government-wide efforts to get Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl returned safely to the U.S. Bowe has been held by the Taliban since 2009, and the WaPo reported yesterday that the U.S. was considering a prisoner swap with the Taliban to get Bergdahl home. "While I am aware that U.S. Central Command is in direct control of the Bergdahl situation, I am concerned by the lack of cohesiveness and interagency coordination overall," Hunter wrote Hagel. "Since CENTCOM is not designed to effectively implement and manage an "all government approach," I believe it would be extraordinarily beneficial to establish centralized control of the Bergdahl operation that is fully capable of linking broader government activity." Hunter added: "It is absolutely critical that efforts to free Bergdahl are not overcome by bureaucracy." Read the whole letter, provided to Situation Report, here.

Steven Green, convicted of the shockingly brutal rape of an Iraqi girl, found dead in his cell. The LAT's David Zucchino: "It was one of the most disturbing war crimes to emerge from the brutal conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan: U.S. Army Pfc. Steven Dale Green raped and killed a 14-year-old Iraqi girl in 2006 after shooting and killing her parents and younger sister. Then he and his combat buddies from a nearby U.S. Army checkpoint set the girl's corpse on fire. Green, 28, serving five life sentences, apparently has committed suicide eight years after the crimes. He was found hanging in his cell at the federal maximum security prison in Tucson last week and died Saturday, prison officials announced Tuesday. They said Green's death was being investigated as an apparent suicide." The rest here.

The Army regroups: H.R. McMaster's going to pick up a third star. Breaking Defense's Sydney Freedberg on the spate of Army general officers announced for promotion yesterday: "...Then there's H.R. McMaster. A blunt-spoken bulldog of a man who made his name as both a scholar and practitioner of counterinsurgency in Iraq, McMaster long looked like the classic Army maverick who did well on the battlefield but made too many enemies on his own side to rise past the rank of colonel. After McMaster was passed over for brigadier general twice in a row - normally the death knell for an Army career - getting him his first star required the arch-counterinsurgent, Gen. David Petraeus himself, temporarily taking over the Army promotion process. Petreaus's own star has fallen since. And there's lots of talk in national security circles about his "COINista" followers are following him down, now that we're done with a messy guerrilla wars forever (again) and can focus on a proper high-tech enemy like the Soviet U-excuse me, China. Whatever truth of the trash talk in general, however, McMaster in particular has gone on from strength to strength to strength: This will be his third star in less than six years." More here.

Move over China - Iran's the new cyber threat. FP's Shane Harris: "In March 2012, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, publicly announced the creation a new Supreme Council of Cyberspace to oversee the defense of the Islamic republic's computer networks and develop news ways of infiltrating or attacking the computer networks of its enemies. Less than two years later, security experts and U.S. intelligence officials are alarmed by how quickly Iran has managed to develop its cyber warfare capabilities -- and by how much it's willing to use them.

"For several years, Iran was believed to possess the ambition to launch disruptive attacks on Western, Israeli or Arab computer networks, but not necessarily the technological capability of actually doing so. Those doubts have largely evaporated. In late 2012, U.S. intelligence officials believe hackers in Iran launched a series of debilitating assaults on the Web sites of major U.S. banks. The hackers used a well-honed technique called a denial of service attack, in which massive amounts of traffic are directed at a site's servers until they crash. But the traffic flow in the bank attack was orders of magnitude greater than anything U.S. security officials had seen up to that point, indicating a remarkable degree of technical sophistication... Officials now say it took the Navy four months to fully clear its systems and recover from the breach, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal." Read the rest here.

Remember the Pentagon's "unfunded priorities lists?" They're probably back. Time's Mark Thompson on Swampland: "...Such 'wish lists' all but died under defense secretary Robert Gates. But if lawmakers have their way, they'll be back...The Air Force was Gates' primary target. In 2008, its list totaled more than those of the three other services combined. That year, the Air Force's wish list topped out at $19 billion-in addition to its White House-approved $144 billion budget request-and included dozens of extra airplanes. By two years ago, the practice had all but stopped... But, like a leaky basement that inevitably surrenders to the unrelenting pressure of water building up outside its walls, Congress is renewing its requests for such lists now that Gates is gone...

"Hagel is insisting any responses go through his office before they're sent on to Capitol Hill. 'He just wants to be informed about what they're submitting,' Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said Tuesday. That's the choke point that Gates used to throttle earlier lists. Just how lengthy any new wish lists are will be a key test of Hagel's clout inside the Pentagon." Read that here.

Channeling George Costanza: Was that wrong? Navy Times' Meghann Myers: "The commanding officer and senior enlisted leader of a Florida-based ordnance testing unit have been fired after determining their command sought Submarine Birthday Ball funds from local strip clubs, the Navy said Tuesday. Capt. John Heatherington, the CO of Naval Ordnance Test Unit in Cape Canaveral, Fla., was relieved of duty Tuesday by Vice Adm. Terry Benedict, the director of Strategic Systems Programs, SSP spokesman John Daniels told Navy Times. NOTU's senior enlisted leader, Master Chief Missile Technician (SS) Eric Spindle, has also been relieved as part of the investigation. The firings stem from the command's fundraising for the 2014 Submarine Birthday Ball at Cape Canaveral, with NOTU members soliciting sponsors for a November golf tournament to raise funds for the ball, Daniels said, including local dry cleaners, restaurants and two local adult entertainment businesses. Daniels said Heatherington knew of the donations from the strip clubs but did not rectify the situation. The fund-raising team included active-duty, civilian and contract personnel, who are being handled administratively, Daniels added." The rest here.

Seinfeld's Costanza's full quote after he was busted having sex on a desk at the office: "Was that wrong? Should I not have done that? I tell ya, I gotta plead ignorance on this thing because if anyone had said anything to me at all when I first started here that that sort of thing was frowned upon..."  Watch it here.

The conservative advocacy group Concerned Veterans for America's new campaign is blunt: "America's veterans are dying, it's the VA's fault." Military Times' Leo Shane: "... The line, pulled from a CNN piece earlier this year, refers to VA Inspector General findings of 31 preventable deaths at Veterans Affairs Department medical centers nationwide in recent months. The deaths have been the focus of increased scrutiny from congressional Republicans, who have accused VA leaders of failing to hold employees accountable for a variety of failures. The CVA effort - online at - is a continuation of that criticism. Organizers note that no senior officials have been fired over the preventable deaths or problems such as the ongoing disability claims backlog. 'Overall, VA is a calcified bureaucracy unable to meet the basic needs of veterans,' the new website states. 'VA responds to criticism by denying problems, stonewalling inquiries, and finding quick fixes to distract the media and watchdog groups.' More here.

A group of National Guardsmen took some really stupid selfies that went viral. Army Times' Joe Gould: "The Wisconsin National Guard has suspended a soldier from a funeral honors detail over two photos that sparked outrage and shock after the pictures were posted to social media. One image shows a group of soldiers - some grinning, some striking comic poses - beside a casket draped in the American flag. The accompanying caption said, "We put the FUN in funeral your fearless honor guard from various states." The other, posted on Instagram, is a selfie of a woman who appears to be in an honor guard accompanied a caption that reads: "It's so damn cold out...WHY have a funeral outside! Somebody's getting a jacked up flag..."

Said Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, Wisconsin's adjutant general, in a news release: "We expect all of our Soldiers and Airmen to live by a core set of values, in word and deed... I was appalled by the offensive photos and comments that appeared on this Soldier's social media site regarding her duties as a funeral honor guard member." More, including an image of the soldiers posing with a likely empty casket, here.





National Security

FP's Situation Report: On ethics reforms, is Hagel's push for urgency a nudge for Dempsey?

A possible Taliban prisoner swap; Iran's hacking is worse than you think; Colburn's first day at Penty; and a bit more.  

By Gordon Lubold 

Page One: There's a Taliban prisoner swap possible to get the American soldier Bowe Bergdahl, held since 2009, back. The WaPo's Anne Gearan and Ernesto Londono: "In an effort to free American captive Bowe Bergdahl before the bulk of U.S. forces leave Afghanistan this year, the Obama administration has decided to try to resume talks with the Taliban and sweeten an offer to trade Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the Army sergeant, current and former officials said.

"Five members of the Afghan Taliban who have been held at Guantanamo for years would be released to protective custody in Qatar in exchange for the release of Bergdahl, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2009 and is thought to be held in Pakistan by the Haqqani network, an allied insurgent group. To refresh the American offer, which has been on the table for more than two years, senior officials from the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies decided within the past month to allow the simultaneous release of all five men. Taliban representatives had objected to the previous plan to release the prisoners by ones or twos as a test of Taliban and Qatari intermediaries' ability to make sure the men did not return to militancy.

"Two people familiar with the decision stressed that it was the Taliban that broke off negotiations nearly two years ago and that the U.S. door to talks has been open since. The renewed offer has not been formally made, and no State Department or other officials have immediate plans to travel to Doha, Qatar, where any contact facilitated by the Qatari government would take place." The rest here.

AEI's Michael Rubin's book, "Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes," about the price of negotiating with bag guys, publishes today. Over the weekend, the WaPo's Outlook section pub'ed an op-ed from Rubin and his take on "the Obama Dialogues" with such countries: "...While Obama's embrace of negotiation with America's enemies seems to have become the norm in U.S. foreign policy circles, it represents a sharp departure from past administrations and from generally accepted statecraft. History shows that this approach offers very high, if unintended, costs." Read the rest of that here.

Page One: The Iranian hacking of U.S. military systems was worse than you thought. The WSJ's Siobhan Gorman and Julian Barnes: "Iran's infiltration of a Navy computer network was far more extensive than previously thought, according to officials, and the officer who led the response will likely face questions about it from senators weighing his nomination as the next head of the embattled National Security Agency. It took the Navy about four months to finally purge the hackers from its biggest unclassified computer network, according to current and former officials. Some lawmakers are concerned about how long it took. When Vice Adm. Michael Rogers, President Barack Obama's choice for the new NSA director, faces his confirmation hearing, some senators are expected to ask whether there is a long-term plan to address security gaps exposed by the attack, congressional aides said. The hearing hasn't been scheduled yet, but could be next month.

"The Wall Street Journal in September first reported the discovery of the Iranian cyberattack. Officials at the time said the intruders had been removed. However, officials now acknowledge that the attack was more invasive, getting into what one called the 'bloodstream' of the Navy and Marine Corps system and managing to stay there until November.

"The hackers targeted the Navy Marine Corps Internet, the unclassified network used by the Department of the Navy to host websites, store nonsensitive information and handle voice, video and data communications. The network has 800,000 users at 2,500 locations, according to the Navy. Officials said there was no evidence the Iranians have been able to break into a network beyond the Navy Marine Corps Internet and no classified networks were penetrated. Network repairs continue to close the many security gaps revealed by the intrusion, not just on Navy computers but across the Department of Defense, the officials said. Said a senior U.S. official: "It was a real big deal... It was a significant penetration that showed a weakness in the system." The rest here.

The U.S. scolds Russia as it weighs options on Syria. The NYT's Michael Gordon, David Sanger and Eric Schmitt: " Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday sharpened the Obama administration's mounting criticism of Russia's role in the escalating violence in Syria, asserting that the Kremlin was undermining the prospects of a negotiated solution by "contributing so many more weapons" and political support to President Bashar al-Assad. Kerry, in Jakarta: "They're, in fact, enabling Assad to double down, which is creating an enormous problem."

The NYT: "...Mr. Kerry's tough criticism underscored the erosion of the Russian-American partnership in Syria, and raised questions about the viability of the United States' diplomatic strategy to help resolve the escalating crisis." More here.

Welcome to Tuesday's Welcome-Back edition of Situation Report, where we'll never make anyone cry. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Please tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. And one more thing: please do follow us @glubold.

Hagel's assigning a senior officer to his front office on ethics is a sign he wants to see more urgency on the matter, but some say it's also a nudge to Dempsey. Our story: The Pentagon's response to the recent spate of ethical lapses rocking the entire U.S. military has been devoid of the kind of dramatic moves that Washington craves: there have been no high-profile firings, no generals publicly rebuked, and no announcements of far-reaching punishments that would indicate that the top officials are taking it all seriously. Those types of measures would typically be carried out by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel took a small step last week when he announced he would assign a senior officer to his own front office to investigate exactly what has gone wrong recently and to help suggest ways of fixing those issues. Hagel's top military adviser, Army Gen. Marty Dempsey, meanwhile, has been largely invisible. That's raised questions about why the Chairman hasn't been more heavily involved in addressing the cheating scandals rocking the Department, including the Air Force and Navy's nuclear forces and the embarrassing recent release of emails in which top Army commanders crudely discussed the sexual attractiveness of a female congresswoman.

"Dempsey's defenders say he has been finding ways to reinstill ethical behavior across the armed forces for more than a year and that there are no easy fixes. Still, there are growing concerns inside and outside of the Pentagon that as the nation's senior military officer, Dempsey has yet to own the issue -- or taken the kinds of steps to show that he is seriously addressing it.

Said one former senior defense official, who in in the past has been critical of Chuck Hagel, to Situation Report: "It's obvious to me that Hagel wants greater results and he's sending a message to the system: I'm going to change this... Does it send a message to Marty Dempsey? Absolutely."

"Part of the concern about Dempsey's low profile on the ethics issues has to do with his public demeanor. Dempsey, who is known as the "singing general" for his penchant for breaking out into song, has not embraced the public aspects of the job in the way others have. His immediate predecessor, Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, appeared on "The Daily Show" and seemed very much at ease with the press. Dempsey seems to tolerate reporters, though just barely, but prefers to perform his duties unmolested by the whims of the media. That has not helped him to be seen in and outside of the Pentagon as being strong on the ethical issues confronting the Department.

One administration official on Dempsey's public demeanor: "He's eloquent, but [Dempsey] has not demonstrated an ability to keep the spotlight on the reforms that he has developed, and that's been a concern." Read the rest of our report here.

Relevant question: A "guest columnist" on Tom Ricks' Best Defense asks: "where is the tipping point for Americans' trust in the military? Jim Gourley: "Back in 2011, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey wondered aloud at a National Guard leadership conference why the U.S. military had scored the highest among Americans polled on what institutions they trusted most. 'Maybe if I knew what it would take to screw it up, I could avoid it,' he said. The numbers haven't wavered outside of statistical error since then. Despite highly unfavorable public opinion of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, polls by Gallup and Pew back in June showed public confidence in the military holding above 75 percent. The implication appears to be that no one blames the military for failing to achieve distinct victory. It leads one to wonder just what the American people will blame the military for. In the last year, the military has run some of the biggest governmental scandals this side of the fiscal cliff." Read that bit, including a breakdown of incidents that pose the ethical challenges to each service, here.

Politico's Mike Allen tells us about an addition to Pentagon's press operations in this morning's Playbook: "Brent Colburn joins the Defense Department today as the Assistant to the Secretary for Public Affairs. As the head of Secretary Hagel's public affairs operation, Colburn will oversee the Pentagon's communications, media and public outreach efforts. Colburn, 37, was the communications director for the 2012 reelect, and has become known for taking on big management challenges: He was FEMA's director of external affairs, the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at DHS, communications director for the 2013 Inaugural, and most recently Secretary Shaun Donovan's Chief of Staff at HUD... His father, Col. Cork Colburn, was a career officer in the Army."

The interim nuke deal with Iran was a huge deal - a permanent one will be harder to seal. Writing for FP, Tom Omestad in "Iceberg's Ahead": "The temporary deal to halt or roll back parts of Iran's nuclear program in return for modest sanctions relief is an impressive, if perishable, success for U.S.-led diplomacy. But the negotiations among Iran, the United States, and five other world powers to find a comprehensive solution on Iran's nuclear program, which begin Feb. 18 in Vienna, will face far greater challenges. The six months allowed for negotiations by the interim agreement might not be enough to overcome Iran's hardliners and sway skeptics on Capitol Hill, all while maintaining the unity of the countries involved in talks: the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, France, and Germany (also known as the P-5+1).

'We don't in any way underestimate how difficult the comprehensive solution will be,' said a senior U.S. official. Gary Samore, a Harvard researcher and the top White House nonproliferation expert until last year, similarly said in an interview, "The chances of negotiating a comprehensive solution, particularly in the next six months, are very low." President Obama himself has conceded that the odds of a successful outcome are not more than '50-50.'"

Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who publicly supports negotiations, on their eve: "I am not optimistic about the talks, and they will reach nowhere." Read the rest of Omestad's bit here.

IAEA: Just what is Iran doing? It's hard to tell, writes Breaking Defense' Michael Adler, who had an exclusive interview with its head: "The international atomic watchdog, the IAEA, will have a hard time answering crucial questions about just what Iran is doing at its nuclear facilities despite recently winning better access for its inspectors, its leader, Yukiya Amano, told Breaking Defense in an exclusive interview Monday at the agency's headquarters here. Amano said the main problem going forward is that Iran refuses to implement an Additional Protocol that would allow inspections of sites beyond those where the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency knows nuclear material is used or stored. This protocol is the key to making more rapid progress in verifying the peaceful or military nature of Iran's nuclear work. 'The implementation of the Additional Protocol is very important to provide assurance that all nuclear activity in Iran is for a peaceful purpose but we are not yet at that point... We are at an early stage of clarifying and resolving the issues,' he said." More here.

Kings College's Sir Lawrence Freedman responds to Elliott Abrams' recent piece on why folks shouldn't count on containing Iran. Freedman's BLUF: "History is most useful when trying to work out why a particular situation is different from another to which it bears a superficial resemblance. History can provide context and chronology. It can help explain the origins and character of a country's power structures, cultural biases, regional networks, sensitivities and vulnerabilities. This can be as true for those historical episodes that we think we know well as for the situations that we are struggling to comprehend. Consider: if one key lesson has come out of the plethora of new books on the origins of the First World War, it is how much is still in dispute and how much can never be known because we can only speculate about the paths not taken. The fact that historical events are so regularly subject to revision and reinterpretation provides good reason for caution in applying 'the lessons of the past.'" Read that piece in its entirety here.

Freedman was responding to this piece, here,  in the Weekly Standard by Elliott Abrams about why containing Iran won't work.

So you think the Pivot is empty? Chuck Hagel and Commerce's Penny Pritzker, writing in the Asia WSJ, say different: "For decades, security and prosperity have flourished throughout the Asia-Pacific region, each reinforcing the other. The astounding growth of trade and industry across the Pacific Rim has transformed nations and lifted millions of people out of poverty, surpassing all expectations while strengthening many crucial relationships. This progress was no accident. America's security presence in the region and our strong alliances, economic ties and people-to-people contact with nations like Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines have provided the necessary stability for Pacific nations to focus on giving their people a more inclusive, peaceful and prosperous future.

Today, as more and more of America's trade and defense activities shift toward the Asia-Pacific, and as the region undergoes dynamic changes with the rise of China, Indonesia and India, the United States Departments of Defense and Commerce are working side by side to help keep trends moving in the right direction and promote greater security and prosperity.

Their BL: "The Asia-Pacific's dynamic growth cannot be taken for granted. Security, stability and prosperity require constant attention, a commitment to shared principles, and the combined efforts of the United States and all Asia-Pacific nations. When nations work together for the benefit of all their people, everything is possible." More here.

Backstory on the op-ed: We're told that the op-ed marriage between Hagel and Pritzker came about after Pritzker told the Washington Post that Hagel was the secretary she'd "most like to hang out with." That got her an invite to the Pentagon and Hagel and Pritzker hit it off.  Their first "joint initiative" is the op-ed today, but there may be more such initiatives in the future, we're told.

Speaking of Hagel and Asia: The SecDef found his long lost "brother" in Vietnam, an African American platoon commander he says was "steady, careful never excitable," reports CBS' David Martin. "It was 1968, the worst year of the Vietnam War, and Sgt. Chuck Hagel didn't know from one day to the next whether he would live or die. 'We lost something like 16,000 dead Americans in that year, 1968,' Hagel says. His life was in the hands of Lt. Jerome Johnson, his platoon commander. 'Steady, careful, never excitable -- and in combat, that's who you want leading,' Hagel says of Johnson. Now secretary of defense, Hagel keeps a photo of one of their battles together on his office wall. While the Viet Cong was trying to kill them, racial tensions, especially after the assassination of Martin Luther King in April, were threatening to tear the unit apart. 'It was a terribly difficult racial year in the Army in Vietnam, as well, where African Americans and whites were not getting along,' Hagel says. Johnson, now retired and living in Chicago, told his men it had to stop." More here.