Sunday, September 29, 2013

Hagel Calls Govt Shutdown Threat 'Shortsighted'
September 28, 2013


By Lolita C. Baldor, Associated Press
ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT--Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel criticized Congress on Saturday as "astoundingly irresponsible" and said that using threats to shut down the government to satisfy a political whim is dangerously shortsighted.
Hagel, who oversees as much as half of the government civilians who would be furloughed next week if Congress doesn't reach a budget agreement, told reporters that the impasse threatens to delay paychecks to troops serving in Afghanistan.
"When you look at the greatest democracy in the world, the largest economy in the world and we're putting our people through this — that's not leadership. That's abdication of responsibilities," Hagel told reporters on his plane en route to South Korea. "This is an astoundingly irresponsible way to govern."
Hagel added: "It is really dangerously shortsighted and irresponsible, because what this will lead to in the United States of America, if this continues, is we will have a country that's ungovernable."
Roughly 400,000 Defense Department civilians could face furloughs if Congress fails to agree on a short-term spending plan to keep the government running. And while military troops would continue to work, and eventually be paid, a shutdown would delay their pay until funding was restored.
There are about 800,000 civilians in the department and 1.4 million active-duty military members. About half of the civilians would be exempt from furloughs, and they would only be paid retroactively if the legislation specifies it.
Senators on Friday sent legislation back to the House that would keep the government's doors open until Nov. 15. Majority Democrats removed a provision to defund the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare. But House Republicans are fractured, with tea partyers insisting that they will not support a measure than includes funding for President Barack Obama's health care law.
Hagel, a former senator who served as an enlisted soldier in the Vietnam War, said lawmakers need to stop and think about the young service members who may be married and have one or two children at home. A lot of them, he said, don't have a lot of excess money and going without a paycheck, even for a short time, would be difficult.
Hagel said much of his time in recent weeks has been spent in meetings with his budget staff as they struggle with plans for the government shutdown while also trying to identify more savings in order to meet looming budget cuts.
Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale, in a Friday briefing, told reporters that the Pentagon will be able to launch any military operations ordered by the president. Asked whether a military strike into Syria, for example, could be conducted under the shutdown, Hale said yes, if ordered by senior leaders.
Combat units, including troops in Afghanistan or ships in the Mediterranean Sea, can continue to conduct activities and training that are part of any military operation. Other training not tied to a specific operation would not go on.
Hale said it's not yet clear whether the shutdown would impede the ability of service members leaving Afghanistan as part of the troop drawdown. But those decisions would be made by commanders on the ground.
Hagel, who is heading to meetings with top defense and diplomatic leaders in South Korea and Japan, said it is important that they know that the impasse won't affect U.S. relations with other countries.
"I think it's very, very important that we continue to assure our allies in this region of the world that we are committed to these alliances and, yes, we have the ups and downs like democracies do and we'll work our way through these domestic challenges," he said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Visits Seoul For Security Talks

Yonhap News Agency
September 29, 2013


SEOUL, Sept. 29 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel arrived in Seoul on Sunday for an unprecedentedly long, four-day visit to the Asian ally that will include annual talks with his counterpart and a visit to the border with North Korea.
It is Hagel's first trip to South Korea since taking office in February. He is traveling together with Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
The main purpose of his visit is to hold the annual Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) with South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, where key topics will include Seoul's request for a delay in its planned regaining of the wartime operational control (OPCON) of its troops from the U.S.
South Korea wants to push back the OPCON transition, slated for December 2015, citing increased threats from North Korea. Seoul handed over its operational command to the U.S.-led U.N. troops shortly after the outbreak of the 1950-53 Korean War and regained peacetime OPCON in 1994.
But this week's talks, set for Wednesday, are not expected to produce any deal on the issue.
Ahead of Wednesday's SCM talks, Gen. Jung Seung-jo, the chairman of South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his U.S. counterpart, Dempsey, will hold their annual Military Committee Meeting on Tuesday to fine-tune the agenda for the defense ministers' talks.
Other events Hagel plans to attend while in South Korea include a visit on Monday to the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas. The trip to the border with North Korea is seen as a symbolic move underscoring the U.S. commitment to South Korea's defense.
On Tuesday, both Hagel and Dempsey are scheduled to attend a ceremony marking South Korea's Armed Forces Day. It would be the first time for the U.S. defense secretary and JCS chairman to attend an Armed Forces Day ceremony in South Korea, a senior defense ministry official said.
While in Seoul, Hagel also plans to preside over the U.S. Forces Korea change of command ceremony. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti is scheduled to replace Gen. James Thurman as leader of the 28,500 troops stationed in the country.

U.S. Shutdown Nears As House Votes To Delay Health Law

New York Times
September 29, 2013
Pg. 1


By Jonathan Weisman and Jeremy W. Peters
WASHINGTON — The federal government on Sunday morning barreled toward its first shutdown in 17 years after the Republican-run House, choosing a hard line, voted to attach a one-year delay of President Obama’s health care law and a repeal of a tax to pay for it to legislation to keep the government running.
The votes, just past midnight, followed an often-angry debate, with members shouting one another down on the House floor. Democrats insisted that Republicans refused to accept their losses in 2012, were putting contempt for the president over the good of the country and would bear responsibility for a shutdown. Republicans said they had the public on their side and were acting to protect Americans from a harmful and unpopular law that had already proved a failure.
The House first voted 248-174 to repeal a tax on medical devices, then voted 231-192 to delay the law’s implementation by a year — just days before the uninsured begin enrolling in the law’s insurance exchanges. The delay included a provision favored by social conservatives that would allow employers and health care providers to opt out of mandatory contraception coverage.
But before the House had even voted, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, declared the House bill dead. Senate Democrats are planning to table the Republican measures when they convene on Monday, leaving the House just hours to pass a stand-alone spending bill free of any measures that undermine the health care law.
The House’s votes early Sunday all but assured that large parts of the government would be shuttered as of 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday. More than 800,000 federal workers deemed nonessential faced furloughs; millions more could be working without paychecks.
“The American people don’t want a government shutdown, and they don’t want Obamacare,” House Republican leaders said in a statement. “We will do our job and send this bill over, and then it’s up to the Senate to pass it and stop a government shutdown.”
A separate House Republican bill passed unanimously Sunday morning to ensure that military personnel continued to be paid in the event of a government shutdown, an acknowledgment that a shutdown is likely. En route to South Korea, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was unimpressed, excoriating his former Republican colleagues in Congress.
“This is an astoundingly irresponsible way to govern,” Mr. Hagel said, adding that a fully functioning military went beyond its uniformed forces to its civilian personnel. “If this continues, we will have a country that is ungovernable.”
Representative Darrell Issa, a powerful Republican committee chairman who is close to the leadership but has sided with those who want to gut the health care law, flashed anger when asked what would happen when the Senate rejected the House’s offer.
“How dare you presume a failure?” he snapped. “We continue to believe there’s an opportunity for sensible compromise, and I will not accept from anybody the assumption of failure.”
But Mr. Reid made it clear that failure was inevitable. “After weeks of futile political games from Republicans, we are still at Square 1,” he said. “We continue to be willing to debate these issues in a calm and rational atmosphere. But the American people will not be extorted by Tea Party anarchists.”
The White House was just as blunt. “Any member of the Republican Party who votes for this bill is voting for a shutdown,” the press secretary, Jay Carney, said in a written statement. The White House also said that the president would veto the House bill if approved by the Senate.
In fact, many House Republicans acknowledged that they expected the Senate to reject the House’s provisions, making a shutdown all but assured. House Republicans were warned repeatedly that Senate Democrats would not accept any changes to the health care law.
Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio faced a critical decision this weekend: Accept a bill passed by the Senate on Friday to keep the government financed and the health care law intact and risk a conservative revolt that could threaten his speakership, or make one more effort to undermine the president’s signature domestic initiative and hope that a shutdown would not do serious political harm to his party.
With no guarantee that Democrats would help him, he chose the shutdown option. The House’s unruly conservatives had more than enough votes to defeat a spending bill that would not do significant damage to the health care law, unless Democrats were willing to bail out the speaker. And Democrats showed little inclination to alleviate the Republicans’ intraparty warfare.
“The federal government has shut down 17 times before, sometimes when the Democrats were in control, sometimes with divided government,” said Representative Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina. “What are we doing on our side of the aisle? We’re fighting for the American people.”
Veteran House Republicans say there is still one plausible way to avoid a shutdown. The Senate could take up the House spending bill, strip out the one-year health care delay and accept the 2.3-percent medical device tax repeal as a face-saving victory for Republicans. The tax, worth $30 billion over 10 years, has ardent opponents among Democrats as well. Its repeal would not prevent the law from going into effect. Consumers can begin signing up for insurance plans under the law beginning on Tuesday.
Mr. Reid has already said he would not accept even that measure as a condition to keep the government operating. Special parliamentary language in the House measure provided for rapid action Monday in the Senate that would once again most likely leave House Republican leaders with the option of approving a spending bill without policy prescriptions. But there was little indication they would accept it.
“By pandering to the Tea Party minority and trying to delay the benefits of health care reform for millions of seniors and families, House Republicans are now actively pushing for a completely unnecessary government shutdown,” said Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the Democrat who leads the Budget Committee.
As provocative as it was, the move by House Republicans was an expression of their most basic political goal since they took control in 2010: doing what they can to derail the biggest legislative achievement of Mr. Obama’s presidency.
As a debate inside the party raged over whether it was politically wise to demand delay or defunding of the act, many Republicans argued that they should fight as hard as they could because that is what their constituents were expecting. “This is exactly what the public wants,” Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota said.
The mood in the Capitol on Saturday, at least among Republicans, was downright giddy. When Republican leaders presented their plan in a closed-door meeting on Saturday, cheers and chants of “Vote, vote, vote!” went up. As members left the meeting, many wore beaming grins.
Representative John Culberson of Texas said that as he and his colleagues were clamoring for a vote, he shouted out his own encouragement. “I said, like 9/11, ‘Let’s roll!’ “ That the Senate would almost certainly reject the health care delay, he added, was not a concern. “Ulysses S. Grant used to say, ‘Boys, quit worrying about what Bobby Lee is doing. I want to know what we are doing.’ And that’s what the House is doing today, thank God.”
After the shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, Republicans were roundly blamed. Their approval ratings plunged, and President Bill Clinton sailed to re-election. This time they say they have a strategy that will shield them from political fallout, especially with the bill to keep money flowing to members of the military.
“If Harry Reid and the Senate Democrats would stop being so stubborn then no, of course the government won’t get shut down,” said Representative Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas.
Republicans readily acknowledged that the difficulty is what is next. If the Senate sends back a bill, it will most likely not have a yearlong delay. Then Mr. Boehner must decide whether to put that measure on the floor, which would anger his conservative members.
Jennifer Steinhauer contributed reporting.

Syria Job Upends Quiet Routine At Chemical Disarmament Agency

Washington Post
September 29, 2013
Pg. 19


By Michael Birnbaum
THE HAGUE — The phone calls have been overwhelming and the late nights unusual at a quiet organization charged with an unprecedented task: disarming Syria of its chemical weapons in the middle of a civil war.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will send a team of inspectors to Damascus on Monday, and its success or failure could shape whether the United States and its partners push once again to intervene militarily in Syria. The tiny organization, which just six weeks ago was accustomed to calmer work overseeing the destruction of Cold War-era stockpiles of American and Russian weaponry, has had to shift to war footing as it prepares to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons in a matter of months.
Among the questions that remain are whether the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has fully declared its stockpile; whether the inspectors will be secure in dangerous territory where control is fluid; and whether the team can meet ambitious timetables, approved Saturday, under which it must destroy Syria’s capability to produce chemical weapons by Nov. 1 and eliminate all chemical and munitions stockpiles by July 1. Such efforts usually take years.
Critics say that the agency’s consensus-driven approach to resolving conflicts about disclosures may move too slowly for a fast-moving situation and that it has little experience doing detective work when weapons are hidden.
But officials at the 16-year-old agency, housed in a building in The Hague that looks like a round of Edam cheese missing a wedge, say they are up for the challenge.
“People are still getting their heads around being in the global limelight,” said Michael Luhan, the OPCW’s sole spokesman, who juggled three phones for hours on a recent day as hundreds of journalists called to ask for details about Syria’s surprise enumeration of its chemical weaponry. “If this is not an example of building a plane and flying it at the same time, I don’t know what is.”
Not a 24-7 organization
The OPCW is tasked with implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention, which took effect in 1997 and requires the elimination of all chemical weapons by the 189 states — 190 including Syria — that are party to the agreement. That work has taken inspectors to unstable countries such as Libya and Iraq.
Most of the efforts, however, have been devoted to overseeing the slow, methodical destruction of vast stores of American and Russian weaponry, along with inspecting chemical plants around the world to ensure that they are not being used to produce new weapons. Improvising under live fire typically has not been the agency’s task. Most plans are made a year in advance.
“It’s kind of a 9-to-5 organization, in a way. It’s not a 24-7 organization, and it’s going to have to adapt to that,” said Faiza Patel, a former senior policy officer at the OPCW. “The organization is not really set up to be an investigative organization,” unlike the U.N. investigators who were sent to Iraq in the 1990s, she said. “It’s set up to do routine inspections that are based on the declarations that the states provide.”
A ‘body of nerdish people’
But analysts praise the agency’s technical capabilities and expertise. OPCW officials were part of the U.N. inspection team that was in Damascus on Aug. 21 when a chemical weapons attack took place on the city’s outskirts. They visited the site five days later — coming under fire along the way — and interviewed survivors and took samples and weapons measurements, all under a tight deadline. Then they produced a report in three weeks.
“It’s this body of nerdish people who go out in gumboots and collect chemical samples, and go into factories and oversee the destruction of chemical weapons,” said Patricia Lewis, research director for international security at Chatham House in London and former director of the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research. “They were in this backwater of The Hague, and they were getting along quietly, fulfilling their mandate.”
She added: “They’re very good. They’re very professional.”
Now the organization, which has long operated in the shadow of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, is looking to bulk up quickly. It has 125 inspectors on staff and plans to call retirees back into service as it establishes a presence in Syria. The Syrian delegation will come from existing ranks for now, officials said, but the resolution passed Saturday by the OPCW’s executive council calls for the agency’s expansion. Its budget this year is $95 million, paid by member countries.
Officials were preparing Saturday for a multi-ton airlift of equipment and personnel — about 20 inspectors and support staff — according to an OPCW official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive logistics. Supplies and employees are scheduled to land in Damascus on Monday, and inspectors are to start work Tuesday. Site inspections will begin in about a week.
Means of destruction
The inspectors’ first task will be to check the sites and munitions against the Syrian government’s declaration, the official said. Other staff members will set up a headquarters in Damascus. The inspectors will then oversee the rapid destruction of equipment used to produce chemical weapons, something analysts said could be done with sledgehammers, buzz saws and bulldozers.
Destruction of chemical materiel will take longer and is more complicated, especially in the middle of a war, officials said. The job will be easier than it could have been because much of the chemical materiel is not in weaponized form, U.S. and OPCW officials have said.
One method is to incinerate the chemicals, analysts said. Another is to use hydrolysis to render the chemicals less dangerous. The fastest method would be to remove the stores from Syria and destroy them at a slower pace, but moving chemical weapons across state borders is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention.
“The convention was never written for the environment that we find ourselves in,” the OPCW official said.
“At this stage, there are clearly things that we’d like to do that we can’t,” the official added. “But nothing is off the table, apart from things like just dumping it in the ground.”

Israel And Others In Mideast View Overtures Of U.S. And Iran With Suspicion

New York Times
September 29, 2013
Pg. 14


By Jodi Rudoren
JERUSALEM — For Israel and Persian Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, President Obama’s telephone call with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran on Friday was the geopolitical equivalent of discovering your best friend flirting with your main rival.
Though few nations have a greater interest in Mr. Obama’s promise to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, his overtures to Mr. Rouhani were greeted with alarm here and in other Middle East capitals allied with the United States. They worry about Iran’s sincerity, and fear that Mr. Obama’s desire for a diplomatic deal will only buy Iran time to continue a march toward building a nuclear weapon.
But beyond that, the prospect of even a nonnuclear Iran — strengthened economically by the lifting of sanctions, and emboldened politically by renewed relations with Washington — is seen as a dire threat that could upend the dynamics in this volatile region.
One gulf academic, in a Twitter post, likened the phone call to “the fall of the Berlin Wall.” An Israeli lawmaker said in a radio interview that he hoped that Mr. Obama would not be the next Neville Chamberlain, known for appeasement of the Nazis in 1938.
“There is a lot of suspicion and even paranoia about some secret deal between Iran and America,” said Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist who is close to the royal family. “My concern is that the Americans will accept Iran as it is — so that the Iranians can continue their old policies of expansionism and aggression.”
Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni-dominated gulf countries share a concern about a shift in the balance of power toward Iran’s Shiite-led government and its allies. For Israel, Iran remains the sponsor of global terrorism and of the Lebanese militia Hezbollah and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, both avowed enemies of Israel’s existence.
“They can change the regime, but one thing won’t change and that is the hostility against Israel,” warned Uzi Rabi, chairman of a Middle East studies center at Tel Aviv University. “Part of the plan is to drive a wedge between Americans and Europeans and Israel. I hate to say it, but what the Iranians managed to do is to change the whole game.”
There was no official reaction on Saturday from Riyadh or Jerusalem to the telephone call, which was the first direct conversation between American and Iranian presidents in more than three decades. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel spent the day rewriting the speech he is scheduled to deliver Tuesday at the United Nations and preparing for a meeting on Monday with Mr. Obama. After years in which Mr. Netanyahu exploited Iran’s nuclear ambitions to rally the world against Iran and force its isolation, Israel could find itself increasingly isolated in its hard-line stance.
“Netanyahu understands that there is a lot of euphoria,” a senior Israeli official said. “Netanyahu knows that people in the international community will want to believe. I think you’ll see in his remarks a lot of facts, a lot of facts that no one denies.”
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to do otherwise, and Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, declined to discuss the phone call. “The main thing is not procedures but substance,” said Mr. Steinitz, who led Israel’s delegation in a boycott of Mr. Rouhani’s United Nations speech.
“The most critical problem with Iran is its aim of achieving nuclear weapons, but the problem with Iran is wider,” Mr. Steinitz added. “Iran is not a peace-seeking country or regime — on the contrary. Iran is maybe the most aggressive country in the world, and it’s not just against Israel.”
Saudi Arabia and other gulf states view Iran as a regional nemesis whose nuclear program is only one element of a broader effort to project power. The rivalry is made more bitter by the sectarian dimension and competition over supplying oil to the world. The Saudi leadership has long been uneasy with Mr. Obama’s handling of the Arab uprisings that began in 2011, which it sees as a threat to the regional order. The president’s overtures to Iran add to a growing impatience and exasperation among Arabs in the gulf over Washington’s retreat from threats to strike Syria, whose civil war is viewed as a proxy for the larger sectarian and strategic battle unfolding across the region.
“The gulf states, and the Iranians, still see this as a balance-of-power struggle,” said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center. “And Obama’s warning and Rouhani’s charm offensive, as well as what they would see as a hoodwinking of the United States on the nuclear issue, could have far-reaching consequences on the balance-of-power struggle.”
Mustafa Alani, a Dubai-based security analyst, said the Saudis think Mr. Obama is “not a reliable ally, that he’s bending to the Syrians and Iranians.” Mishaal al-Gergawi, a political analyst based in the United Arab Emirates, said, “There is a lot of cynicism, and it feeds into the notion that Obama is very naïve — he was naïve with the Muslim Brotherhood, naïve with Bashar al-Assad, and he is now naïve with Iran.”
Israeli analysts, too, worry over what they see as the Obama administration’s weak and wavering policies toward the Middle East. After the Syria chemical weapons crisis, some said the phone call only upped the ante for a diplomatic victory that could lead Washington to accept what Jerusalem would consider a “bad deal” with Iran, which insists its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only.
“Obama is interested in showing foreign policy success because he hasn’t had too many of them,” said Emily Landau, an Iran expert at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “I’m afraid that for the sake of that he might be willing to compromise on the nuclear issue in a manner that I think is detrimental to U.S. national security interests, leave aside Israel.”
Ms. Landau was one of several Israeli analysts who urged the world to focus not on Mr. Rouhani’s statements in New York but the continued nuclear activity in Iran. She pointed to a Sept. 12 letter that Iran sent the International Atomic Energy Agency with 20 pages of complaints about its investigation as a sign that nothing had changed. She and others also noted that Mr. Rouhani was Iran’s nuclear negotiator in a 2003 deal that it later violated; several Iran experts have seized on a speech he gave then emphasizing the importance of enrichment ability for weapons-grade uranium as political leverage.
Mr. Rouhani “confirmed the assessment that Iran had used the calm atmosphere of negotiations as a smokescreen behind which it continued to deliberately advance its nuclear program,” wrote Chen Kane, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Washington. The speech reinforced the view that Iran’s “main objective in negotiating” she said, “was simply to gain time.”
The skeptics’ main concern now is that four to six months of negotiations would allow Iran to get to the breakout point for developing a bomb. “It’s not just that forever we go on with an Iranian nuclear program that never reaches conclusion, it’s that diplomacy can be a way of helping it get to the finishing line,” cautioned Jonathan Spyer of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. “The last week of diplomacy in New York has really created the impression that a very, very different understanding of what’s going on here, and what is potentially on the table, exists between the U.S. administration and the Israel government.”
Yoel Guzansky, who handled the Iranian nuclear file for the Israeli prime minister’s security council from 2005 to 2009, said the new momentum for nuclear talks with Iran had “sidelined” Israel as “a potential spoiler.”
“You can’t do anything while Iran and the U.S. are talking, you’ll just be someone who is destroying the last chance for peace,” said Mr. Guzansky. “If there is a change of tone in Iran and Washington, Israel should also change the tone. If there is a deal we embrace it, we support it, but show us the details.”
David K. Kirkpatrick contributed reporting from Cairo, Robert F. Worth from Washington, and Ben Hubbard from Beirut, Lebanon.

Iran To Manufacture Shahed 129 Drone

Jerusalem Post
September 29, 2013
Pg. 2


By Jerusalem Post staff
Iran announced on Friday it will start mass producing a new unmanned drone with missile and bombing capabilities, Iranian press reported.
According to Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps commander Mohammad Ali Jafari, the Shahed 129 “can hit and destroy targets from a far distance with its Sadid [Iron Strong] missiles.”
It can carry eight such Sadid missiles at the same time, and hit both stationary and mobile targets up to 1,700 km. away, according to reports on Iran’s Press TV.
The unmanned aerial vehicle can fly for 24 hours and is designed for both reconnaissance and combat missions, Jafari said in September 2012, when the drone was first unveiled.
The drone, Press TV reported, has monitoring capabilities of a 200-km. radius.

Iraq Violence Spawns Desperate Security Measures

Los Angeles Times
September 29, 2013
Pg. 5


Authorities are razing soccer fields, banning cars and even building a moat in a bid to thwart bombers.

By Sameer N. Yacoub, Associated Press
Iraqi authorities are resorting to desperate measures to quell rising violence, ordering huge numbers of cars off the roads, bulldozing soccer fields and even building a medieval-style moat around one city in an effort to keep car bombs out.
Many Iraqis question the security benefits of the heavy-handed efforts, lampooning them online and complaining that they only add to the daily struggle of living in a country weathering its worst bout of bloodshed in half a decade.
Earlier this month, authorities began banning several hundred thousand vehicles from Baghdad streets each day in a bid to stop car bombings. Cars with license plates ending in odd numbers are allowed on the streets one day, followed by cars with even-numbered plates the next. Government cars, taxis, trucks and a few other categories of vehicles are exempted from the policy.
"Easing the traffic load on checkpoints will make it easier for security forces to search vehicles without causing long lines," an Interior Ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media. Big backlogs of cars, he said, "put pressure on the security forces to do hasty searches."
Deadly violence, much of it from car bombs, has soared in recent months as insurgents capitalize on rising sectarian and ethnic tension. The scale of the bloodshed has reached levels not seen since 2008. More than 4,000 people have been killed over the last five months alone, according to United Nations figures.
Still, many Iraqis think the license plate policy is a step too far.
"Our genius security officials have turned license plates into the sole solution for all of Baghdad's security problems," said Haider Muhsin, a government employee and father of three. He fears he'll lose out on a good chunk of the $400 in cash he earned on the side each month by shuttling colleagues to work, and won't be able to take his children to school on certain days.
Another Baghdad resident, Qais Issa, now has to pay for a taxi on days he can't drive.
"Once again, the leaders of this country are failing. They keep coming up with primitive and useless solutions that add more problems to our life," he said.
The new policy has become a hot topic among Iraqis on social media sites like Facebook.
Many posts ridiculed the decision, with some joking that the government will next allow people to go out only according to the first letter in their names. Underneath a photo showing Britain's Queen Elizabeth II getting off a bus, someone quipped that her plate number must end in an even number on an odd-number day.
The Sharqiya television channel, known for its antigovernment stance, has launched what it's calling the "Pedal It" initiative, offering more than 2,000 bicycles to Baghdad residents hurt by the license plate limits.
In June, authorities in Baghdad temporarily banned all cars with temporary black license plates. Those cars made up a large percentage of older vehicles on the roads, but their ownership history is difficult to trace, and authorities feared they were more likely to be used in car bombings. Now only black-plated cars from outside Baghdad are banned.
Earlier this year, authorities ordered the closure of Iraq's border crossing with Jordan, plugging up one of the country's economic lifelines. Officials cited unspecified security concerns, but many residents in the western, Sunni-dominated Anbar province where the crossing is located saw the move as collective punishment for antigovernment protests.
In the volatile province of Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, the local government recently launched a campaign to bulldoze several soccer fields after a series of deadly bombings during games killed or wounded dozens of spectators.
The head of the local soccer federation, Salah Kamal, said more than 20 fields have been razed, causing the cancellation of several matches and angering young people who have few options for leisure activities.
"The solution should have been providing better security at the fields instead of punishing the youth," he said. Police turned down earlier requests for extra protection, he added.
Authorities in the province have also urged residents to avoid holding large funerals after a series of deadly attacks on mourners.
And north of the capital, authorities have completed more than 70% of a medieval-style dry moat around much of the city of Kirkuk, home to an ethnic mix of Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen who all have competing claims to the oil-rich area.
The 35-mile-long trench will surround much of the city, according to Rakan Jubouri, the deputy Kirkuk governor.
Jubouri said the project would be finished by the end of the year at a cost of $2.7 million, and will significantly improve the security of the city by keeping many car bombs out.
But many Arab and Turkmen residents fear the real goal is to tie Kirkuk more closely to Kurdish regions to the north. The Kurds want to incorporate Kirkuk into their self-ruled northern region. The city is hit frequently by attacks on mosques, commercial streets and security forces.

U.S. Concerned About Turkey's Choice Of Chinese Missile System
September 28, 2013


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Saturday it had expressed serious concerns to Turkey over its decision to co-produce a long-range air and missile defense system with a Chinese firm under U.S. sanctions.
Turkey, a member of the NATO military alliance, announced this week that it had chosen the FD-2000 missile defense system from China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corp, or CPMIEC, over rival systems from Russian, U.S. and European firms.
CPMIEC is under U.S. sanctions for violations of the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act.
"We have conveyed our serious concerns about the Turkish government's contract discussions with a U.S.-sanctioned company for a missile defense system that will not be inter-operable with NATO systems or collective defense capabilities," a State Department spokeswoman said.
"Our discussions on this issue will continue."
Some Western defense analysts have said they were surprised by Turkey's decision, having expected the contract to go to Raytheon Co, a U.S. company that builds the Patriot missile, or the Franco/Italian Eurosam SAMP/T.
The United States, Germany and the Netherlands each sent two Patriot batteries and up to 400 soldiers to operate them to southeastern Turkey early this year after Ankara asked NATO for help with air defenses against possible missile attack from Syria.
Turkey has long been the United States' closest ally in the Middle Eastern region, bordering on the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The U.S. military exercised great influence over a Turkish military that had a strong hand in Turkey's politics.
Under Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, elected in 2002, the role of the Turkish military in politics has been curbed. Political and military relations between Ankara and Washington, while still close, play a less central role and that could be reflected in procurement policy.

N.S.A. Gathers Data On Social Connections Of U.S. Citizens

New York Times
September 29, 2013
Pg. 1


By James Risen and Laura Poitras
WASHINGTON — Since 2010, the National Security Agency has been exploiting its huge collections of data to create sophisticated graphs of some Americans’ social connections that can identify their associates, their locations at certain times, their traveling companions and other personal information, according to newly disclosed documents and interviews with officials.
The spy agency began allowing the analysis of phone call and e-mail logs in November 2010 to examine Americans’ networks of associations for foreign intelligence purposes after N.S.A. officials lifted restrictions on the practice, according to documents provided by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor.
The policy shift was intended to help the agency “discover and track” connections between intelligence targets overseas and people in the United States, according to an N.S.A. memorandum from January 2011. The agency was authorized to conduct “large-scale graph analysis on very large sets of communications metadata without having to check foreignness” of every e-mail address, phone number or other identifier, the document said. Because of concerns about infringing on the privacy of American citizens, the computer analysis of such data had previously been permitted only for foreigners.
The agency can augment the communications data with material from public, commercial and other sources, including bank codes, insurance information, Facebook profiles, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls and GPS location information, as well as property records and unspecified tax data, according to the documents. They do not indicate any restrictions on the use of such “enrichment” data, and several former senior Obama administration officials said the agency drew on it for both Americans and foreigners.
N.S.A. officials declined to say how many Americans have been caught up in the effort, including people involved in no wrongdoing. The documents do not describe what has resulted from the scrutiny, which links phone numbers and e-mails in a “contact chain” tied directly or indirectly to a person or organization overseas that is of foreign intelligence interest.
The new disclosures add to the growing body of knowledge in recent months about the N.S.A.’s access to and use of private information concerning Americans, prompting lawmakers in Washington to call for reining in the agency and President Obama to order an examination of its surveillance policies. Almost everything about the agency’s operations is hidden, and the decision to revise the limits concerning Americans was made in secret, without review by the nation’s intelligence court or any public debate. As far back as 2006, a Justice Department memo warned of the potential for the “misuse” of such information without adequate safeguards.
An agency spokeswoman, asked about the analyses of Americans’ data, said, “All data queries must include a foreign intelligence justification, period.”
“All of N.S.A.’s work has a foreign intelligence purpose,” the spokeswoman added. “Our activities are centered on counterterrorism, counterproliferation and cybersecurity.”
The legal underpinning of the policy change, she said, was a 1979 Supreme Court ruling that Americans could have no expectation of privacy about what numbers they had called. Based on that ruling, the Justice Department and the Pentagon decided that it was permissible to create contact chains using Americans’ “metadata,” which includes the timing, location and other details of calls and e-mails, but not their content. The agency is not required to seek warrants for the analyses from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
N.S.A. officials declined to identify which phone and e-mail databases are used to create the social network diagrams, and the documents provided by Mr. Snowden do not specify them. The agency did say that the large database of Americans’ domestic phone call records, which was revealed by Mr. Snowden in June and caused bipartisan alarm in Washington, was excluded. (N.S.A. officials have previously acknowledged that the agency has done limited analysis in that database, collected under provisions of the Patriot Act, exclusively for people who might be linked to terrorism suspects.)
But the agency has multiple collection programs and databases, the former officials said, adding that the social networking analyses relied on both domestic and international metadata. They spoke only on the condition of anonymity because the information was classified.
The concerns in the United States since Mr. Snowden’s revelations have largely focused on the scope of the agency’s collection of the private data of Americans and the potential for abuse. But the new documents provide a rare window into what the N.S.A. actually does with the information it gathers.
A series of agency PowerPoint presentations and memos describe how the N.S.A. has been able to develop software and other tools — one document cited a new generation of programs that “revolutionize” data collection and analysis — to unlock as many secrets about individuals as possible.
The spy agency, led by Gen. Keith B. Alexander, an unabashed advocate for more weapons in the hunt for information about the nation’s adversaries, clearly views its collections of metadata as one of its most powerful resources. N.S.A. analysts can exploit that information to develop a portrait of an individual, one that is perhaps more complete and predictive of behavior than could be obtained by listening to phone conversations or reading e-mails, experts say.
Phone and e-mail logs, for example, allow analysts to identify people’s friends and associates, detect where they were at a certain time, acquire clues to religious or political affiliations, and pick up sensitive information like regular calls to a psychiatrist’s office, late-night messages to an extramarital partner or exchanges with a fellow plotter.
“Metadata can be very revealing,” said Orin S. Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University. “Knowing things like the number someone just dialed or the location of the person’s cellphone is going to allow them to assemble a picture of what someone is up to. It’s the digital equivalent of tailing a suspect.”
The N.S.A. had been pushing for more than a decade to obtain the rule change allowing the analysis of Americans’ phone and e-mail data. Intelligence officials had been frustrated that they had to stop when a contact chain hit a telephone number or e-mail address believed to be used by an American, even though it might yield valuable intelligence primarily concerning a foreigner who was overseas, according to documents previously disclosed by Mr. Snowden. N.S.A. officials also wanted to employ the agency’s advanced computer analysis tools to sift through its huge databases with much greater efficiency.
The agency had asked for the new power as early as 1999, the documents show, but had been initially rebuffed because it was not permitted under rules of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that were intended to protect the privacy of Americans.
A 2009 draft of an N.S.A. inspector general’s report suggests that contact chaining and analysis may have been done on Americans’ communications data under the Bush administration’s program of wiretapping without warrants, which began after the Sept. 11 attacks to detect terrorist activities and skirted the existing laws governing electronic surveillance.
In 2006, months after the wiretapping program was disclosed by The New York Times, the N.S.A.’s acting general counsel wrote a letter to a senior Justice Department official, which was also leaked by Mr. Snowden, formally asking for permission to perform the analysis on American phone and e-mail data. A Justice Department memo to the attorney general noted that the “misuse” of such information “could raise serious concerns,” and said the N.S.A. promised to impose safeguards, including regular audits, on the metadata program. In 2008, the Bush administration gave its approval.
A new policy that year, detailed in “Defense Supplemental Procedures Governing Communications Metadata Analysis,” authorized by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, said that since the Supreme Court had ruled that metadata was not constitutionally protected, N.S.A. analysts could use such information “without regard to the nationality or location of the communicants,” according to an internal N.S.A. description of the policy.
After that decision, which was previously reported by The Guardian, the N.S.A. performed the social network graphing in a pilot project for 1 ½ years “to great benefit,” according to the 2011 memo. It was put in place in November 2010 in “Sigint Management Directive 424” (sigint refers to signals intelligence).
In the 2011 memo explaining the shift, N.S.A. analysts were told that they could trace the contacts of Americans as long as they cited a foreign intelligence justification. That could include anything from ties to terrorism, weapons proliferation or international drug smuggling to spying on conversations of foreign politicians, business figures or activists.
Analysts were warned to follow existing “minimization rules,” which prohibit the N.S.A. from sharing with other agencies names and other details of Americans whose communications are collected, unless they are necessary to understand foreign intelligence reports or there is evidence of a crime. The agency is required to obtain a warrant from the intelligence court to target a “U.S. person” — a citizen or legal resident — for actual eavesdropping.
The N.S.A. documents show that one of the main tools used for chaining phone numbers and e-mail addresses has the code name Mainway. It is a repository into which vast amounts of data flow daily from the agency’s fiber-optic cables, corporate partners and foreign computer networks that have been hacked.
The documents show that significant amounts of information from the United States go into Mainway. An internal N.S.A. bulletin, for example, noted that in 2011 Mainway was taking in 700 million phone records per day. In August 2011, it began receiving an additional 1.1 billion cellphone records daily from an unnamed American service provider under Section 702 of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, which allows for the collection of the data of Americans if at least one end of the communication is believed to be foreign.
The overall volume of metadata collected by the N.S.A. is reflected in the agency’s secret 2013 budget request to Congress. The budget document, disclosed by Mr. Snowden, shows that the agency is pouring money and manpower into creating a metadata repository capable of taking in 20 billion “record events” daily and making them available to N.S.A. analysts within 60 minutes.
The spending includes support for the “Enterprise Knowledge System,” which has a $394 million multiyear budget and is designed to “rapidly discover and correlate complex relationships and patterns across diverse data sources on a massive scale,” according to a 2008 document. The data is automatically computed to speed queries and discover new targets for surveillance.
A top-secret document titled “Better Person Centric Analysis” describes how the agency looks for 94 “entity types,” including phone numbers, e-mail addresses and IP addresses. In addition, the N.S.A. correlates 164 “relationship types” to build social networks and what the agency calls “community of interest” profiles, using queries like “travelsWith, hasFather, sentForumMessage, employs.”
A 2009 PowerPoint presentation provided more examples of data sources available in the “enrichment” process, including location-based services like GPS and TomTom, online social networks, billing records and bank codes for transactions in the United States and overseas.
At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday, General Alexander was asked if the agency ever collected or planned to collect bulk records about Americans’ locations based on cellphone tower data. He replied that it was not doing so as part of the call log program authorized by the Patriot Act, but said a fuller response would be classified.
If the N.S.A. does not immediately use the phone and e-mail logging data of an American, it can be stored for later use, at least under certain circumstances, according to several documents.
One 2011 memo, for example, said that after a court ruling narrowed the scope of the agency’s collection, the data in question was “being buffered for possible ingest” later. A year earlier, an internal briefing paper from the N.S.A. Office of Legal Counsel showed that the agency was allowed to collect and retain raw traffic, which includes both metadata and content, about “U.S. persons” for up to five years online and for an additional 10 years offline for “historical searches.”
James Risen reported from Washington and New York. Laura Poitras, a freelance journalist, reported from Berlin.

Army's Only Enlisted Sikh Soldier Earns Rare Promotion At JBLM

Tacoma News Tribune
September 28, 2013


Simranpreet Lamba stands out when he lines up with his fellow soldiers in his Joint Base Lewis-McChord cavalry troop. He’s the bearded one wearing the camouflage turban.
As the Army’s only enlisted Sikh soldier, Lamba, 29, feels the pressure to prove himself so others of his faith can put on a uniform and serve their country. He took a step toward that goal Friday when the Army promoted him to corporal, making him the first Sikh to earn that rank in more than 30 years.
“I kind of think all my hard work has paid off,” said Lamba, whose enlistment in 2009 triggered a 10-month review in which Army officials considered whether he could serve while sporting the articles of his faith — a turban, uncut hair and a beard.
He’s one of a handful of Sikhs serving in the Army across the active-duty and Reserve forces, according to the New York-based Sikh Coalition. Two of the others are in the medical field as officers, one a dentist and one a doctor.
Each current Sikh soldier had to gain an exemption allowing him to serve despite Army policies dating back to 1984 that require soldiers to shave, keep short hair and wear standard berets. Those rules prevented Sikhs from enlisting for decades.
They hail from a 500-year-old religion with roots in India’s Punjab Region. About 200,000 to 500,000 Sikhs live in the U.S., according to estimates from the Pew Research Center.
Lamba hopes his promotion will show “there’s nothing about being Sikh, about our turban and our beard that can stop us from excelling in the Army,” he said.
He enlisted through a military program that recruits foreigners with special skills and offers them a path to citizenship. Lamba, who has become a naturalized U.S. citizen, speaks Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi — languages vital to communication with the people of India and Pakistan.
He adapted his faith to his military service with a little creativity. He fashioned his camouflage turban by buying a sheet of cloth and cutting it to fit his needs. A Velcro patch on the front shows his rank, similar to how Army caps appear.
He has another turban that fits under his combat helmet, and he has found a way to firmly fix a gas mask to his face by applying petroleum jelly to his beard.
He moved to America from New Delhi in 2006 and found his way to the Army after he earned a master’s degree in industrial engineering from New York University.
He said he always wanted to serve his country in uniform. Enlisting let him fulfill that dream.
His promotion from specialist to corporal was a lateral move, but it signifies that he’s doing well and is on a path to becoming a sergeant. He’d be the first Sikh sergeant in decades if he earned that rank.
“Every time he gets promoted, he’s going to be a first,” said his commanding officer, Capt. Craig Morehead.
Lamba’s hitting his stride as a medic in the 3rd Squadron, 38th Cavalry Regiment at Lewis-McChord. It’s part of the base’s intelligence-gathering 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade.
“He’s very driven in everything he does,” said Sgt. 1st Class Edgar Baeza. “He’s always asking for more responsibilities.”
Baeza heard about Lamba before they met. The Sikh soldier has been featured in stories published by The New York Times, The Associated Press and Army Times.
“I was pretty excited when I found out he was going to be in my unit,” Baeza said. Lamba “has taught us a lot about his culture and upbringing.”
Lamba and his wife, Guneet, live in University Place. She notices he often brings his work home with him.
“He’s really a very hard worker,” she said. At bedtime, he’s always talking about what he needs to accomplish the next day, she said.
Lamba received a line of handshakes and hugs from his fellow soldiers after he received his new rank.
“I really look forward to a long career in the Army,” he told them.

$22 Million Blimp To Fill Gap In Surveillance Of North Korea
September 27, 2013


By Jon Rabiroff and Yoo Kyong Chang, Stars and Stripes
SEOUL — A blimp will soon be hovering over several islands just south of the disputed maritime border between the two Koreas, filling a surveillance gap.
It will allow South Korea’s military to keep a closer eye on North Korea west of the peninsula, where the provocative communist country unleashed an artillery barrage on Yeonpyeong Island that left four South Koreans dead in 2010.
“This will give us the ability to monitor what’s going on in what are now dead zones, and to see farther,” South Korea Defense Acquisition Program Administration spokesman Baek Youn Hyeong said.
Officials are in the process of working out some technical problems with the $22 million airship, which is equipped with camera and radar equipment, but hope to put it into operation in November.
Saying the information was classified, they declined to provide details on exactly what the blimp can do. However, all indications are that it will serve much the same purpose as the tethered-to-the-ground surveillance blimps that hover over some of the larger U.S. military bases in Afghanistan. U.S. satellites and U-2 spy planes already monitor North Korea from the air.
In recent years, North Korea has repeatedly threatened to fire upon anything it deems to be an affront visible from the north side of the Demilitarized Zone — including lights strung in the shape of Christmas trees on 100-foot-tall towers, giant loudspeakers broadcasting South Korean propaganda or leaflet-laden balloons floating over from the south.
Asked whether he feared the surveillance blimp might provoke North Korea into an artillery strike on the craft, Baek said, “If they take military action by attacking it … it would be an act of provocation, and we would have to take appropriate action in response.”
Tensions between the two Koreas reached a fever pitch earlier this year after the North successfully launched a long-range rocket, conducted its third underground nuclear weapons test and threatened to attack South Korea and U.S. territory.
But relations appear to be on the mend, with the North allowing South Korean supervisors and truck drivers to cross over this week to reopen a joint factory complex.

Federal Agencies Lay Out Contingency Plans For Possible Shutdown

New York Times
September 29, 2013
Pg. 19


By Michael S. Schmidt, Thom Shanker and Andrew Siddons
WASHINGTON — As Congress continued to spar on Saturday over a stopgap spending measure to keep the government running, federal agencies made contingency plans for a potential shutdown.
Each cabinet-level department and federal agency was required to identify essential personnel and determine which operations would continue if no deal were reached by Tuesday, the first day of the new fiscal year.
Although huge parts of the federal bureaucracy could be forced to close, many government functions would continue.
Senior Pentagon officials said on Friday that the more than 1.3 million active military personnel would remain on duty during a shutdown but would probably not receive their paychecks until a spending agreement was reached. The service members and civilians who stay on the job would be categorized as essential to the protection of life and property and to national security.
About half of the Defense Department’s approximately 800,000 civilian employees would be furloughed without pay.
There is little question that troops deployed to Afghanistan would continue their missions, as would warships now off the coast of Syria to pressure President Bashar al-Assad’s government to adhere to a plan to surrender its chemical weapons stockpile.
Documents released on Friday by the Pentagon listed essential duties that would be carried out during a government shutdown, including recruitment, intelligence and surveillance, fire protection, counseling and other services for sexual assault victims, operations of mortuary facilities for fallen service members, and a broad range of medical care.
The military is one of several departments whose employees are considered essential for national security purposes. The Department of Homeland Security, which comprises organizations like the Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, would have to furlough roughly 14 percent of its employees, far lower than many other cabinet-level agencies.
Nearly all of the F.B.I.’s roughly 16,000 agents and analysts at its headquarters and its 56 field offices across the country would continue to work because they are considered essential to protecting the country. “Nonessential” employees like carpenters and dock employees who unload shipments would be told to stay home.
Most employees of the State Department would continue to report to work, domestically and abroad. Most overseas employees, and many of the people working in Washington to support them, would be considered essential because of their diplomatic and national security functions.
Much of the State Department operates outside the normal Congressional appropriations process, meaning many bureaus and offices would remain open. Most passport offices, for example, would continue to process applications normally because the department’s consular function is financed largely through fees.
Although more than half of the Department of Health and Human Services would be furloughed, Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries would continue to receive services. Retirees would continue to get checks from the Social Security Administration.
The rollout of President Obama’s health care law, with the first insurance marketplaces to go online starting on Tuesday, would continue because most of the money for that program was provided by the Affordable Care Act and other laws.
The Food and Drug Administration would continue some vital activities, like product recalls and the inspection of imports, but would curtail many other food safety activities.
National parks and their visitor centers would be closed, but other Interior Department operations would carry on. Approximately 500 Fish and Wildlife Service employees, whose salaries are paid by a permanent appropriation, would continue caring for animals at parks and hatcheries. At the United States Geological Survey, employees would continue to monitor equipment to forecast floods or detect earthquakes and volcano activity. Native Americans would continue to receive benefits payments, and the Bureau of Indian Education would operate its schools.
The District of Columbia, whose budget is approved by Congress, would normally be required to send home all but its most essential employees, shuttering services like public libraries and the Department of Motor Vehicles.
But in protest of Congress’s inability to agree on a spending measure, Mayor Vincent C. Gray informed the Office of Management and Budget that he had deemed all district employees to be essential.
While Mr. Gray’s gambit seemed legally tenuous, the chairman of the City Council, Phil Mendelson, was expected to hold a vote on Tuesday on legislation that would allow the city, during a federal shutdown, to pay its employees from a contingency reserve fund.
Robert Pear contributed reporting.

Amid Spending Fight, Agencies Go On Their Annual Sprees

Washington Post
September 29, 2013
Pg. 1


By David A. Fahrenthold
This past week, the Department of Veterans Affairs bought $562,000 worth of artwork.
In a single day, the Agriculture Department spent $144,000 on toner cartridges.
And, in a single purchase, the Coast Guard spent $178,000 on “Cubicle Furniture Rehab.”
This string of big-ticket purchases was an unmistakable sign: It was “use it or lose it” season again in Washington.
All week, while Congress fought over next year’s budget, federal workers were immersed in a separate frantic drama. They were trying to spend the rest of this year’s budget before it is too late.
The reason for their haste is a system set up by Congress that, in many cases, requires agencies to spend all their allotted funds by Sept. 30.
If they don’t, the money becomes worthless to them on Oct. 1. And — even worse — if they fail to spend the money now, Congress could dock their funding in future years. The incentive, as always, is to spend.
So they spent. It was the return of one of Washington’s oldest bad habits: a blitz of expensive decisions, made by agencies with little incentive to save.
Private contractors — worried that sequestration would result in a smaller spending rush this year — brought in food to keep salespeople at their desks. Federal workers quizzed harried colleagues in the hallways, asking if they had spent it all yet.
“The way we budget [money] sets it up,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). “Because instead of being praised for not spending all your money, you get cut for not spending all your money. And so we’ve got a perverse incentive in there.” But, Coburn said, “nobody’s talking about it but me and you.”
Coburn said he had meant to mention it in his floor speech Wednesday. Then, when he got to the podium, he forgot.
“Use it or lose it” season is not marked on any official government calendars. But in Washington, it is as real as Christmas. And as lucrative.
And — it appears — about as permanent.
“We cannot expect our employees to believe that cost reduction efforts are serious if they see evidence of opportunistic spending in the last days of the Fiscal Year,” President Lyndon B. Johnson wrote to underlings in May 1965. Even then, Johnson said an end-of-year binge was “an ancient practice — but that does not justify it or excuse it.”
Today, government spending on contracts still spikes at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
In 2012, for instance, the government spent $45 billion on contracts in the last week of September, according to calculations by the fiscal-conservative group Public Notice. That was more than any other week — 9 percent of the year’s contract spending money, spent in 2 percent of the year.
Much of it is spent smartly, on projects that had already gone through an extensive review.
But not all of it.
In 2010, for instance, the Internal Revenue Service had millions left over in an account to hire new personnel. The money would expire at year’s end. Its solution was not a smart one.
The IRS spent the money on a lavish conference. Which included a “Star Trek” parody video starring IRS managers. Which was filmed on a “Star Trek” set that the IRS paid to build. (Sample dialogue: “We’ve received a distress call from the planet NoTax.”)
“That is a major problem,” acting IRS commissioner Daniel I. Werfel told Congress in June, explaining the role of “use it or lose it” in that debacle.
Other end-of-year mistakes are less spectacular — but they still cause problems. One recent study, for instance, found that information technology contracts signed at year’s end often produced noticeably worse results than those signed in calmer times.
And late-September waste also weighs on its witnesses, federal workers. After President Obama set up an online suggestion box for federal workers, many asked to get rid of the “use it or lose it” system. They suggested “rolling over” money for use in the next year. And they listed dumb things they had seen bought: three years’ worth of staples. Portable generators that never got used. One said the National Guard bought so much ammunition that firing it all became a chore.
“When you get BORED from shooting MACHINE GUNS, there is a problem,” an anonymous employee wrote.
“People want to do the right thing,” said Dean Sinclair, a former State Department employee who is crusading to change the system. “It’s not that the federal workforce is filled with bad people. The system sort of forces them to make bad decisions.”
He suggests giving bonuses to managers who return leftover money to the Treasury at year’s end. “It takes time and effort to waste money,” Sinclair said. “Remember that.”
Obama, like presidents before him, has exhorted agencies to plan better and avoid rushed decisions at year’s end. But the White House says Congress is making that job harder.
Instead of approving full-year spending bills, the gridlocked legislature has been handing out money with “continuing resolutions” that last only a few weeks or months. So nobody’s certain about their funding until later in the year. So the rush gets more rushed.
This year, finally, September came.
For contractors around Washington — battered by sequestration, budget cuts and the end of wars — this was the month they had been waiting for. “The flush,” one analyst called it. A flood of money had been backed up inside agencies hampered by furloughs.
“Twenty-five percent of my business, right, will happen in this month. Twenty-five percent of my year,” said Art Richer, the president of ImmixGroup, a contractor in Tysons Corner that helps software and computing companies seeking government business.
September in Washington used to be a time for selling face to face. Contractors visited the Pentagon. Small-town mayors queued up in the hallways at the Commerce Department, waiting to make a late-night pitch for grants.
But those buildings are off-limits now. So you sell from your desk. You sell with your voice. You sell with empathy, for the poor harried bureaucrat on the other end of the line. “Answer the phone smiling,” Richer tells his people.
Of course, the feds were stressed.
“We see them in the hallway, and you go, ‘How much money are we going to lose?’ ” one Army officer said this past week. That officer was involved in setting budgets for future years, and the meaning was clear: How much money are you not going to spend? Whatever that number was, it would be taken out of budgets for fiscal 2015, too.
This is not normal math. But this was not a normal time in Washington: You didn’t save money to spend it later. You spent now, to spend later. “They know they’re under the gun,” the officer said, who spoke anonymously to talk about internal budgeting discussions.
On Monday, Immix began bringing its sales team three catered meals a day. If workers walked to Subway, they might lose a sale. On that day, Immix handled $16 million in business. A normal Monday is about $2 million.
Across the government, agencies were making big-ticket purchases — buying things with this year’s money that could be used next year.
On Monday, VA paid $27,000 for an order of photographs showing sunsets, mountain peaks and country roads. They would go into a new center serving homeless veterans in Los Angeles; a spokeswoman described the art as “motivational and calming, professionally designed to enhance clinical operations.”
On Tuesday, the USDA bought $127,000 worth of toner cartridges (“end of year,” the order explained). VA spent another $220,000 on artwork for its hospitals.
On Wednesday, the Coast Guard paid $178,000 for cubicle furniture, replacing high-walled cubes with low-walled ones to improve the air flow in a large office area.
“Other higher-priority projects were not able to be executed, so they moved [money] to this lower-priority project” before the year’s end, said Coast Guard spokesman Carlos Diaz. “The money was going to be spent anyway.”
On Thursday, VA was buying art again. It spent $216,000 on artwork for a facility in Florida. In all, preliminary data showed that the agency made at least 18 percent of all its art purchases for the year in this one week. One-sixth of the buying in one-52nd of the year.
On Friday, the end was in sight.
“I feel good. Four days, right?” said Corey Forshee, a contracting officer at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Forshee was part of a team at Andrews that had done its best to beat the September rush.
The commander, trying to avoid a last-week rush, set his own deadline of Sept. 20. The pizza came early. The chaplain’s office visited early (“use it or lose it” season is traditionally stressful enough to get the chaplain involved). The buying was nearly done.
Now, they had to wait for the last act of the last act: the “fall-out money.”
This was cash that other parts of the Air Force had not been able to spend. It would be redistributed to this office at the last minute.
“We’re waiting for money for that,” Forshee said, going down a list of unfunded projects. A roof for the workout area. A bathroom renovation. “Just waiting for money,” he repeated.
Across Washington, everybody had to wait.
“It’s going to come down to Monday,” said Richer, at ImmixGroup. On Friday, he said his sales had been about equal to last year’s, despite worries about sequestration.
On Monday, Richer’s people will sell until midnight. Then they will keep selling. “Money rolls across the continent,” the feds say. Cash not spent in Washington might be spent by federal offices in California in the three hours before it is midnight there.
When it is midnight in California — 3 a.m. in Washington — they will keep on. There are federal offices in Hawaii, after all. And it will still be three hours until midnight there.

Navy Ship Survivors, Families Want Dead To Be Honored

Norfolk Virginian-Pilot
September 28, 2013


By Mary Beth Cleavelin, The Virginian-Pilot
VIRGINIA BEACH--When Del Francis was jolted awake at 3:10 a.m. on June 3, 1969, the Frank E. Evans was listing 60 degrees. Before he could get up, he felt the ship lurch and roll on her side. A locker slid across the deck and slammed into his rack.
An Australian aircraft carrier, the Melbourne, had plowed into the Evans’ portside and broken its keel. The Navy destroyer was split in two, and the bow sank into the South China Sea within three minutes.
As crewmen scrambled for their pants and shoes, Francis, a radarman, climbed onto the locker, then found a ladder to escape. On the mess deck, men jumped from table to table to avoid the rising water. The smell of melting metal was getting stronger.
As Francis scrambled up a ladder, the severity of the ship’s demise sunk in and he wondered: How would he get word to his mother, who already had buried two sons, that he was OK?
Then Francis and two others moved through a passageway and came to a hatch that would open only about a foot. After struggling with it, the door suddenly opened from the outside.
“It was the most beautiful night I’ve ever seen,” Francis said Friday.
He was among about 40 former sailors and family members at the Holiday Inn on Greenwich Road for an annual gathering of survivors of the Evans.
On that night 44 years ago, he recalled, there was a full moon and a sea like glass, except where the warm water was rushing into the ship as air bubbled out.
Francis was one of 204 survivors from the collision that claimed the lives of 74 sailors, 110 miles from the Vietnam War combat zone.
That distinction has kept the dead from being considered casualties of war. And it’s blocking their names from being etched into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.
Today, sailors that served aboard the Evans and families of those who were lost reunite annually. They remember, heal and plan.
On Friday, they shared stories of the warship’s sinking and discussed how they hope this is the year when their lost friends and family will be honored.
Linda Vaa, whose husband, Greg Sage, died on the Evans, finds solace in the gatherings.
After learning that Sage had been lost at sea, Vaa clutched his picture and sobbed.
Her high school sweetheart and husband of less than two years also left behind a 13-month-old son. His boy’s dad never would watch him grow up.
Vaa remarried seven years later and, in 1999, she went to her first Evans reunion.
“Until I heard their stories, I didn’t want to believe he had died. His body was never found,” she said. “Once they told me where he was on the ship and where it was hit, I knew he was dead. I could start accepting it.”
After the Vietnam memorial wall was built, family members of the lost sailors of the Evans would search it for the names of their loved ones, to no avail.
About 12 years ago, they forged an alliance to have their men recognized as Vietnam War casualties.
With the help of Southern California congressman Adam Schiff, a bill to create the Fairness to All Vietnam Veterans Act has been introduced three times.
Each time, it has failed.
In 1969, the Evans had traveled from its homeport in Long Beach, Calif., to provide gunfire support off the coast of Vietnam. It was in the South China Sea on a training exercise linked to the war.
The destroyer received a Vietnam Service Medal for the night it sank.
To be included on the wall, a service member had to be killed in combat, or coming to or from a mission, as a result of wounds sustained in a combat zone on or after Jan. 1, 1961.
The Department of Defense stands by the combat zone designation, though exceptions have been made, Steve Kraus, a signalman aboard the Evans, said. When 58 Marines were killed in a helicopter crash on their way back to Vietnam from Hong Kong, their names were added to the memorial.
The Evans group is now asking Schiff to approach Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel about adding the victims of the Evans to the wall.
“We’re not giving up. No matter what,” Kraus said.
“We’re not going to say, ‘Oh, just forget it.’ That’s not going to happen.”

Logistics Company's Ops Chief Knew Firm Routed Supplies Through Iran, Emails Show
September 27, 2013


By Zachary Fryer-Biggs
WASHINGTON — A contractor has admitted that it shipped dozens of containers filled with construction supplies through Iran to Afghanistan to support US troops there, a possible violation of US law. Internal emails suggest that at least one senior executive was involved in the process.
The company, Anham FZCO, a Dubai-based firm with US offices in McLean, Va., has received contracts with a total value in the billions to provide logistical support for US military operations in the Middle East, including one valued at US $8.1 billion in June 2012.
Shipping items through Iran is more direct, and therefore far less costly than other transport routes and avoids the contentious Afghanistan/Pakistan border, where Taliban rebels and others prey on convoys carrying allied military supplies.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the shipments, which included dozens of truckloads of steel and insulation panels, through Iranian ports to the Afghan border Sept. 26. In some cases, the shipments were routed through Iran, into Turkmenistan and then on to Afghanistan. The Journal article said the company claimed senior executives were previously unaware of the deals and noted that the company’s CEO and managing director were not copied on emails the paper analyzed for the story.
But emails obtained by Defense News tell a different story. The internal company emails show that Fadi Nahas, vice president of operations for Anham and the company’s No. 3 executive — according to one source — was part of several email chains discussing details of the shipments, including their transfer from Iranian to Afghan couriers at the Islam Qala border crossing, and complications with Iranian customs.
In response to one email describing issues with the transport of steel and extra payments of $500 to drivers, an email from Nahas’ company account, and signed “Fadi,” raises concern about the cost:
“We shud [sic] call dispatch and resolve instead of paying. Now we have 2 pots of money, and transport is mixed with slush funds.”
Mazen Farouki, brother of CEO A. Huda Farouki, and head of Unitrans International — a subcontractor involved with transporting the items — was also copied on several emails.
Anham disclosed the shipments through Iran to government agencies in the past several days, although the Wall Street Journal noted it had raised the topic of the shipments with Anham several weeks ago.
A company spokesman was asked by Defense News to comment on Nahas’ role and about the discussion of “slush funds.” Excerpts from some of the emails were provided to the spokesman, who declined to comment.
Cash payments to officials to help move goods across borders are not unusual in the Middle East, although companies that are subject to the UK anti-bribery act, which is most of the defense industry, are prohibited from making such payments except in cases involving the safety of an industry representative, an industry source said.
Nahas did not return an email requesting clarification as to what the term might have meant.
The spokesman was also asked if the company wanted to rethink its position that top executives were unaware of the shipments, and declined several requests to comment on the details of this story.
The spokesman provided a statement in response.
“Anham has made a voluntary disclosure to the [US] Treasury and Commerce Departments that some items were transhipped through Iran and we are currently conducting a full investigation,” the Anham statement said. “Based on the current state of the investigation, Anham believes that only a handful of foreign-origin items for use in Afghanistan were involved out of our thousands of shipments to Afghanistan, all or some of which we believe may have been eligible for such transshipment under legal exceptions and other provisions of law in place at the time. We will not comment on any specific charges or allegations until that investigation is complete nor will we be responding to rumors and innuendo. Anham remains committed to providing the best service in a remarkably hostile environment.”
Douglas Ide, a spokesman for the US Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), the contracting authority on the program, which was connected to a warehouse Anham was building with construction materials shipped through Iran, said the agency learned of the Iran issue on Sept. 23.
“Anham leadership notified DLA leadership Sept. 23 that it made a disclosure to the US Treasury and the Commerce departments, stating that certain items may have been transshipped through Iran by a subcontractor,” Ide wrote in an email.
While the agency monitors the shipment of food items, the components included in Anham’s shipments were for use in building a company warehouse required to complete its contract with DLA.
“DLA monitors the routes used by our vendors for transportation of all items to be delivered to the US Government, but does not generally monitor the routes used by the vendors to obtain equipment it will use in the operation of their facilities,” Ide wrote. “Clauses are included in our contracts regarding specific source restrictions, and our vendors are expected to comply.”
In 2010, the Treasury Department released guidance on shipment through Iran to help businesses navigate the issue.
“Under the ITR [Iranian Transaction Regulations], goods that are transshipped through Iran enter into Iranian Commerce and become ‘goods of Iranian origin,’ ” the guidance said. “US persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions or dealings in or related to those goods unless authorized by general or specific license.”
The guidance goes on to note that most of the exceptions to the rules involve Iranian carpets and foodstuffs. Anham, while claiming that some of the shipments may have been eligible for exceptions, has not claimed it received any.
One email chain that included subcontractors and several Anham employees, reproduced verbatim here, described issues with suspicious guards at the border crossing into Afghanistan through the Turkmenistan route.
“Lot of people in Aqina taking and looking at your containers now, we don’t know from where they getting information the containers has danger goods and it is going governments identify that is wrong way to deal with, please give us time to do our best and solve problems you made at Aqina border as agreed,” RCCC, a Dubai-based subcontractor, wrote.
Anham was previously in the news after being named in the final report from the US special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.
The report blamed Anham and its subcontractors for a series of overcharges on a $300 million contract, including:
*$900 for a control switch valued at $7.05 (a 12,766 percent markup).
*$80 for a small segment of drain pipe valued at $1.41 (a 5,674 percent markup).
*$75 for a different piece of plumbing equipment also valued at $1.41 (a 5,319 percent markup).
*$3,000 for a circuit breaker valued at $94.47 (a 3,176 percent markup).
*$4,500 for another kind of circuit breaker valued at $183.30 (a 2,455 percent markup).
In 2004, the company won a US supply contract for the Iraqi security forces with a $259 million bid, prompting complaints from competitors that the bid was very low.
The contract was re-competed after a company called Nour won a competition with a bid of $327 million, an award that was contested. But Nour and Anham have the same backers and directors and were operating at the same time (, the former website of Nour’s US group, now redirects viewers to
Both were backed by A. Huda Farouki, known to be a close associate of Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi national who is often credited with convincing the US to go to war in Iraq in 2003.
Farouki maintained the Nour businessname for years afterward, and at least one person copied in emails reviewed by Defense News was still using a Nour emailaccount. The name was in use until at least the fourth quarter of 2010, when Nour USA was listed as a client of the Cohen Group, the lobbying firm founded by former US Defense Secretary William Cohen, on a lobbying disclosure form. .
The emails reviewed by Defense News show a difficult shipping process fraught with delays and occasionally yielding obvious frustration.
“We are surprised when you say, ‘Everything is going well, we are moving the containers,’ ” one subcontractor wrote. “Your assessment of your performance is completely absurd! Freight must ‘NEVER’ stop in the pipeline.”

Saturday, September 28, 2013

No Clear Path For Avoiding A Shutdown

Washington Post
September 28, 2013
Pg. 1

Congress: Pressure to solve budget stalemate shifts to divided House

By Paul Kane, Ed O'Keefe and Lori Montgomery
With Washington barreling toward a government shutdown, a deadlocked Congress entered the final weekend of the fiscal year with no clear ideas of how to avoid furloughs for more than 800,000 federal workers. Millions more could be left without paychecks.
The Senate on Friday approved a stopgap government funding bill and promptly departed, leaving all of the pressure to find a solution on House Republican leaders.
President Obama weighed in, sternly lecturing GOP leaders that the easiest path forward would be to approve the Senate’s bill, which includes money for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the president’s prized legislation achievement, which he signed into law in 2010. But a far-right bloc of House and Senate Republicans banded together to leave House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) virtually powerless to act.
“My message to Congress is this: Do not shut down the government. Do not shut down the economy. Pass a budget on time,” Obama said in the White House press briefing room.
Boehner’s leadership team offered no public comment and remained out of sight most of Friday, hunkering down for another weekend on the brink. For Boehner, this is the latest in a series of unstable moments that have become the hallmark of his three-year run as speaker.
With a stroke-of-midnight deadline Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said Democrats would reject any conservative add-ons that Boehner might attach to the funding bill. That would further delay passage, and given the staunch opposition from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who has suggested that he will not help move the process along, the slow-moving Senate would require up to a week to approve something even if Reid were amenable to the changes. That sets the stage for a shutdown Tuesday.
“We’ve passed the only bill that can avert a government shutdown Monday night. I said this on the floor, I say it again: This is it, time is gone,” Reid said Friday after the midday passage of the funding bill on a party-line vote.
Before that final roll call, Cruz’s attempt to filibuster the legislation was throttled in a bipartisan 79-to-19 vote, but the first-year senator drew support from nearly half the rank-and-file Republicans in defiance of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Cruz confirmed reports that he has been huddling with House conservatives to help plot their strategy to force Boehner’s hand on Obamacare. “I am confident if the House listens to the people, as it did last week, that it will continue to step forward and respond to the suffering that is coming from Obamacare,” Cruz told reporters Friday, saying he has had “numerous conversations” with House Republicans.
Those Republicans upended a strategy crafted by Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to first advance legislation related to the federal borrowing limit, including more demands to delay Obamacare, then allow government funding to be approved.
That plan required the GOP leaders to draw all votes from their side of the aisle — 217 of the 232 Republicans — and instead the Cruz-backed contingent hold more than enough votes to sabotage any moves by Boehner and Cantor. Those House Republicans offered their version late Friday of what they want attached to the funding resolution and sent back to the Senate: an amendment delaying until 2015 implementation of all the health law’s taxes, mandates and benefits as well as its provisions aimed at squeezing savings from Medicare.
“A simple and reasonable way to ensure fairness for all is to provide every American the same one-year Obamacare delay that President Obama provided for businesses and others,” Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), the bill’s author, said in a written statement.
He has more than 60 co-sponsors.
While the health-care law has had some provisions delayed amid a wobbly rollout, Obama and Democrats oppose any effort to strip funding or delay implementation of the law as it begins a critical new period next week. The president warned that demands to delay Obamacare were even more reckless in connection with the raising debt limit, because the Treasury will run out of maneuvers to continue borrowing Oct. 17 and will head toward a first-of-its-kind default on the nearly $17 trillion debt. Economists have warned that a default would send a shock through global financial markets and would jolt interest rates.
“I don’t know how I can be more clear about this: Nobody gets to threaten the full faith and credit of the United States just to extract political concessions,” Obama said Friday.
Meanwhile, House leaders delayed consideration of their initial proposal to raise the federal debt limit until at least next week.
It was unclear Friday whether the debt-limit bill would require additional surgery, senior GOP aides said, since most of those who objected to the measure were concerned primarily about timing. However, a separate bloc of lawmakers complained that the bill — a grab bag of conservative agenda items ranging from tax reform to the rollback of environmental regulations — would do too little to cut spending. As written, the measure contained only around $200 billion in spending cuts over the next decade. Meanwhile it would suspend the debt limit through Dec. 5, 2014, permitting the Treasury Department to borrow an additional $1 trillion.
The bill has no hope of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate.
After a few noncontroversial votes naming federal buildings, the House adjourned Friday morning amid deep uncertainty about its next steps. Boehner and Cantor have called a noon Saturday caucus meeting in the Capitol basement to try to forge ahead.
For the moment, GOP leaders have given no indication they were willing to simply approve the Senate legislation. Such a move, some Republicans privately fear, could lead to a collapse of support among GOP lawmakers and result in the legislation passing largely on the strength of Democratic votes. That would leave Boehner, already the weakest speaker of the modern political era, even more politically wounded heading into the debt ceiling talks.
Several Republicans said Friday that they favor a “stick” approach — an amendment so distasteful to Democrats that they might feel compelled to return to the negotiating table. Others favor a “carrot” approach, attaching an item Democrats would find hard to refuse — including possibly delaying sequestration cuts for a year in exchange for delaying implementation of Obamacare for a year. They did not detail the specifics of either approach.
However, with Graves holding potentially several dozen votes, no Republican could offer a sound explanation for how they would avert a shutdown next week.
Before the Senate votes, Reid denounced as “anarchists” the Cruz-led Republicans who he said were driving the country toward economic devastation.
“Today the Republican Party has been infected by a small destructive faction,” Reid said. “These extremists are more interested in putting on a show, as one Republican colleague put it, than legislating.”
The situation is in such flux that some of the most strident conservatives cast votes to filibuster the government funding bill — effectively endorsing shutting down the government — and yet immediately after warned it would not succeed in hindering the health law.
“Obamacare will continue. America’s going to have to judge whether it’s a good thing or bad thing. I still think Obamacare is going to be bad for part-time workers, for workers who may lose their insurance. I think it’s bad for the country,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a leading contender for his party’s 2016 presidential nomination.
He suggested that the fight against Obamacare had been lost for now and that the GOP should move on to other issues.
One veteran of the mid-1990s shutdowns, which also pitted a Democratic president against a Republican speaker, warned a temporary shutdown was increasingly likely.
“It depends if wisdom trumps energy. It hasn’t thus far, has it?” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said, a dig at those who want to continue the campaign against Obamacare.
Coburn, a freshman House member in the 1990s shutdowns, said it wouldn’t matter much until Oct. 15. That’s when the first paychecks for service members — including those on the front lines of Afghanistan — would not go out.
“When you start getting into military pay, that’s serious. When the people defending this country can’t pay their house payments, things they need to do. . . . We’ll fold like hot cakes if they shut down. Republicans will,” Coburn predicted.
Rosalind S. Helderman, William Branigin and Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.

U.S. Government Shutdown Would Hit Pentagon Civilians - Again
September 27, 2013

Some 400,000 civilians would face unpaid leave; Crisis comes two months after 600,000 were furloughed; More 'bad things' facing Pentagon employees - comptroller

By David Alexander, Reuters
WASHINGTON--The U.S. Defense Department will put half its 800,000 civilian employees on unpaid leave next week and halt military activity not critical to national security if Congress fails to resolve a looming funding crisis, Pentagon officials said on Friday.
The U.S. military's 1.4 million uniformed personnel would continue fighting the Afghanistan war, patrolling the Mediterranean off Syria and conducting other operations considered necessary for security, but they wouldn't get paid until Congress resolves the spending dilemma, officials said.
It would be the second time in two months that many Defense Department civilian workers have been placed on unpaid leave due to ongoing budget fights between congressional Republicans and President Barack Obama's Democratic administration.
Funding for many U.S. government operations runs out next week with the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, and unless Congress reaches a deal to pay for its activities, much of the government will be forced to shut down. Only certain activities permitted under law are allowed to continue, officials said.
"During a lapse, DoD (the Defense Department) cannot pay military personnel and civilian personnel, even if they have been directed to work," Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale told reporters.
"We would be required to do some other bad things to our people," he added, saying the Pentagon couldn't immediately pay death benefits to the families of troops who die on active duty and would have to close commissaries where many military families shop.
More than 600,000 civilian defense employees were placed on unpaid leave for six days in early August due to across-the-board budget cuts that went into effect in March, nearly halfway through the fiscal year.
"A lapse of appropriations causes civilian furloughs. It is one more blow to the morale of our civilian work force, and that morale is already low," Hale said. "Even if a lapse never occurs, the planning itself is disruptive. People are worrying right now about whether their paychecks are going to be delayed rather than focusing on the mission."
Hale's comments came as the department, the U.S. government's largest agency, released an eight page contingency plan to prepare its employees for a potential shutdown.
Officials said military personnel, who are paid twice a month, would receive their Oct. 1 paychecks but might see their Oct. 15 paychecks delayed if a government shutdown takes place and no funding deal has been reached by Oct. 7.
Civilian employees are paid every two weeks and received a paycheck on Friday. If the government shuts down and they are placed on unpaid leave, they would be entitled to pay for the remaining four days of September at their next pay period, unless it is delayed because of the shutdown, officials said.
Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said in a memo accompanying the plan that U.S. forces would continue to fight in the Afghanistan war and conduct other operations "necessary for the safety of human life and protection of property" because those activities are exempted from a lapse in appropriations.
"All other activities would need to be shut down in an orderly and deliberate fashion," Carter said.
Guidance issued by the department said contractors working under fully funded agreements awarded before appropriations ran out would continue working, but new or extended contracts could not be executed.
"No funds will be available to pay such new contracts or place additional increments of funding on contracts until Congress appropriates additional funds," the contingency plan said.