Defense Secretary Conducted Some Official Business on a Personal Email Account

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Brookes: Expectations low for Mideast trip.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter relied on a personal email account to conduct a portion of his government business during his first months at the Pentagon, according to White House and Defense Department officials and copies of Carter’s emails obtained by The New York Times.One of the White House’s latest initiatives on the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) fight is to dispatch Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to the Middle East to drum up support for beating the terrorist “army.” Don’t get me wrong, I support the president naming allies that are aiding the anti-ISIS effort (France, Germany and the United Kingdom, for example) while concurrently calling out (even indirectly) those that are not doing enough, as he did on Monday. I’m also behind Carter’s trip to garner more support to tackle the terrorists, considering recent attacks here and in Europe and the persistent threat ISIS presents.

The email issue has dogged Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in the November 2016 election and prompted an FBI investigation. Carter continued the practice for at least two months after Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton came under fire for using a private email server to conduct official State Department business during her tenure as secretary of state. And more often than not, they proclaim they will leave. “By 2016 I will have my 20 years in and can get out of here,” one military official said, referring to the amount of time a service member needs to collect retirement pay. The Times cited an Obama administration official as saying that when White House chief of staff Denis McDonough learned in May that Carter was using his own email account, he directed the White House Counsel’s Office to ask the Pentagon why. But there aren’t enough skilled experts to help shore up defenses and prepare the military to fight a war in cyberspace, according to U.S. officials.

A Carter spokesman said in a written statement on Wednesday that the Pentagon chief had decided he was wrong to use the personal account, the Times reported. “After reviewing his email practices earlier this year, the secretary believes that his previous, occasional use of personal email for work-related business, even for routine administrative issues and backed up to his official account, was a mistake,” the Times quoted spokesman Peter Cook as saying in the statement. “As a result, he stopped such use of his personal email and further limited his use of email altogether,” Cook said, adding Carter had used personal emails mainly to correspond with friends and family. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers worry that the military is facing a dangerous shortfall in so-called “red team” operators, who specialize in simulating the kinds of attacks and techniques that an enemy would use. Next, considering how painful the “progress” has been in battling ISIS in Syria, Iraq (now in the 15th month of an air campaign) and beyond, why has it taken so long to push for more help from Middle Eastern partners? Trump’s attack plans for ISIS—his call to ban Muslims from the United States, his suggestions that cutting off the flow of information through the Internet can protect the homeland—many said, are an affront to the values they vowed to die to defend.

Plus, let’s face it, Team Obama’s muddled messages, threat mischaracterizations and perceived mistakes (for example, the Iran nuclear deal) aren’t going to help Carter get lots of traction in the region’s “sandy” politics. Each one of them took an oath to defend the Constitution, which protects the freedom of speech and gives Congress, not just one person, the power send the nation to war. They also swear to “obey the orders of the President of the United States.” Some said repeatedly hearing Trump and the other GOP candidates spelling out a plan that is only a more brazen—and perhaps reckless—version of the current strategy was not reassuring.

A big reason the Pentagon is so-short staffed: The people with the skills to work on red teams are being poached by companies, where they earn far more than they would ever get on a government salary. They noted that for all the talk of supporting the troops, Congress has yet to pass an updated Authorization of the Use of the Military Force, which would in effect mark a congressional buy-in to the war effort. One former U.S. intelligence officer, who was in charge of a red team trained to find vulnerabilities in military and intelligence agency networks, recently told The Daily Beast that he is earning more than $300,000 per year helping a U.S. bank improve its defenses from hackers. But the officials said that Carter emailed with his closest aides about a variety of work-related matters, including speeches, meetings and media appearances.

That’s likely because some coalition members are now “en-Gulfed” in the Yemen civil war involving Iran and its proxy, the Houthis; whatever the reason, it certainly doesn’t help put the hurt on ISIS. Right now, the Defense Department employs only about 50 red team operators to test military systems and weapons, or one-third of the total number of red team operators that it needs, according to the Pentagon memo.

Beyond Yemen, another challenge to getting more involvement is that the (Sunni) Arabs might just as soon let their (Sunni) ISIS adversaries and their (Shia) adversaries, including Iran, Syria and Hezbollah, pound each other. In other words, despite the importance of the administration’s effort to recruit more Middle East military muscle, it’s probably a good idea to keep expectations exceedingly modest — at best — for Secretary Carter’s mission. Last year, President Barack Obama signed a law directing federal officials not to send or receive emails on their personal accounts unless they were copied directly into their government accounts or forwarded to a government account within 20 days. And the prospect of endless quasi-war thousands of miles away—even if it’s fought mostly by drones and elite special operations forces—is not tenable, they argue.

Regardless, such fervor about political matters is a jarring thing to hear at first from those in uniform; they serve in a part of government that urges service members to drop any sense of identity or partisan politics. It is unusual to see someone in uniform even say whether they are Republican or Democrat, and if they do, often it is whispered like a secret; the final case of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” if you will. But in the course of the 2016 campaign it is clear that the nation’s political polarization has seeped into the military, particularly after Wednesday’s debate, which focused on national security. Ted Cruz announced that he wanted a bombing campaign on places like Raqqa, Syria—ISIS’s capital—that was both indiscriminate—he used the term “carpet bombing”—and ultra-porecise. “You would carpet bomb where ISIS is, not a city, but the location of the troops. Cook. “Secretary Carter strongly prefers to conduct communications on the phone or in person, and like many of his predecessors rarely uses email for official government business.

The secretary does not directly email anyone within the department or the U.S. government except a very small group of senior advisers, usually his chief of staff.” Mr. Neurosurgeon Ben Carson suggested that flattening ISIS-controlled cities would be “merciful,” even if it killed civilians as it would eliminate the threat.

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