John M. Donnelly

‘Skinny’ defense bill omits key element: Military construction
Backup plan lacks details that could affect controversial border wall funding plan

The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman earlier this week filed a stripped-down defense authorization bill that he said contained the U.S. military’s must-pass provisions — a backup plan in case House and Senate conferees cannot agree on a full authorization measure in the next few weeks.

But the so-called skinny bill is missing one essential element: a detailed list of authorized military construction projects.

Ukrainian lives hung in balance as Trump held up aid
Critical weapons, training held hostage by monthslong freeze on funds

On June 6, Russian-allied forces in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region fired a volley of artillery shells on Ukrainian soldiers based in a rural area, even though Moscow had signed a ceasefire agreement the day before. 

Two young Ukrainian soldiers — 28-year-old Dmytro Pryhlo and 23-year-old Maksym Oleksiuk — were killed in their dugout by that shelling in the settlement of Novoluhanske, Ukrainian commanders said at the time. Eight other Ukrainian soldiers suffered concussions and other injuries.

Lopsided cease-fire ‘deal’ emboldens Turkey, harms U.S. allies
Temporary, nonbinding, requiring nothing: ‘We got what we wanted,’ foreign minister says

ANALYSIS — President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday that Vice President Mike Pence had reached an agreement with Turkey’s president for a halt to hostilities in northern Syria.

“This is a great day for civilization,” Trump wrote. “People have been trying to make this “Deal” for many years.”

How a Trump whistleblower claim spun (out of control)
Trump’s suggestion that whistleblowers should or must only disclose what they directly witness is incorrect, experts say

ANALYSIS | President Donald Trump and his supporters have sought to undermine a whistleblower at the center of the impeachment inquiry in many ways, not least by saying the person had no firsthand knowledge of the alleged wrongdoing.

But the president’s argument is off base. And how it came to be part of the public debate illustrates how a reasonable-sounding talking point can be completely inaccurate. It also shows how, in the Trump era, facts are not only misstated or distorted but can harden after much retelling into fantastically conspiratorial tales that are believed in the nether regions of cyberspace.

Faulty $5 part causing nearly $1 billion nuclear arms overrun
Issue highlights risks to highly classified weapons programs that increasingly use components from commercial marketplace

A flawed electrical component used on two types of new nuclear weapons — a part valued at only about $5 — will require at least $725 million in fixes, lawmakers and Trump administration officials said Wednesday.

Tests in April revealed a glitch in the inexpensive capacitor used in both the B61-12 gravity bomb program and another initiative to build modified versions of W88 submarine-launched warheads.

Ukraine controversy may scare off would-be whistleblowers
Future complaints could either go the Edward Snowden route or remain under wraps

Whoever blew the whistle about what President Donald Trump told the leader of Ukraine in a July phone call did so in the legally correct way, yet the allegation has been impeded and the intelligence official’s character and motivations publicly impugned by the president himself.

There are other officials working right now at places like the CIA and the National Security Agency who are ready to disclose problems that Congress needs to know about. But instead of going through official channels, experts say, these officials may be more likely to either give the information to a reporter or just shut up about it.

New national security adviser faces personality test with Trump’s inner circle
Robert O’Brien is largely a blank slate on policy, which could help him manage internal disagreements

Internal debates during President Donald Trump’s first two and a half years in office have been marked by acrimony, tension and high-stakes negotiations. So perhaps it was no surprise that Trump named as his fourth national security adviser the State Department’s lead hostage negotiator, Robert C. O’Brien.

No president has had so many national security advisers in his first term. However long O’Brien lasts in the job, his tenure will be defined less by his policy views and more by how he manages disagreements within Trump’s inner circle.

Senate panel wants probe into nuclear weapons glitches
Panel is concerned that problems might reflect fundamental oversight shortcomings that have broader implications

The Senate Appropriations Committee wants to order the Energy Department to launch an investigation into technical problems that have recently plagued U.S. nuclear weapons programs.

The committee’s mandate is buried deep inside the report accompanying the $48.9 billion Energy-Water spending bill that the committee approved on Sept. 12.

Esper brings China focus as Defense secretary
Plan to seek savings in Pentagon operations could face roadblocks

Like every new Defense secretary, Mark T. Esper says he wants to make the Pentagon more efficient. He will get some results, but not many and not quickly, experts say.

Esper, now a few months into the job, wants to save money to spend it on preparing for war against China, and to a lesser extent Russia.

Senate panel backs special $1 billion military ‘readiness’ fund
Some experts are skeptical that the Defense Department will spend the funds effectively.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s new Defense spending bill would create a $1.1 billion fund for yet-to-be-determined programs that build military “readiness,” a word that has come to mean just about anything in the Pentagon budget.

The fund, created at a time when military preparedness levels are on the rise after nearly two decades at war, would come with very few strings or stipulations, an unusual move for appropriators who typically guard their power of the purse.

Senate spending bill would slash foreign military aid
Questions raised about how Pentagon is handling funds to train and equip Afghan and Iraqi forces fighting insurgencies

The Senate Appropriations Committee is proposing to cut more than $2 billion from U.S. military overseas aid programs largely due to mismanagement, according to documents obtained by CQ Roll Call.

Combined with cuts to previously appropriated funds, the potential reductions would affect programs to train and equip Afghan and Iraqi forces fighting insurgencies and another account to reimburse Pakistan for the same sort of efforts.

Analysis: Bolton departure says much about Trump
The men reportedly had personality clashes, and differed on use of military force

President Donald Trump’s announced firing of National Security Adviser John Bolton says more about Trump than about Bolton.

Tuesday’s move — Trump said on Twitter he had fired Bolton, but Bolton said he resigned — casts in bold relief several attributes of the president’s foreign policy and the president himself.

Child care centers, cybersecurity facility among Pentagon projects delayed for wall
Funds diverted from military construction to border barriers under Trump's emergency declaration

Pentagon officials briefed lawmakers Wednesday on which military construction projects previously approved by Congress would be delayed so the Trump administration can instead use the money to pay for barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The list includes child care centers, roads, at least one cybersecurity facility and more, members of Congress said in statements. A copy of the list provided to CQ Roll Call by a congressional office also includes facilities at military bases hit by hurricanes, such as Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, as well as school construction.

US military bases lack digital security oversight, audit finds
GAO report says most service branches not monitoring digital access to facilities

Most military service branches are not monitoring whether or how more than 100 of their installations are using digital security systems to control access to facilities, according to an audit made public Thursday.

The Government Accountability Office’s finding comes nearly 18 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, almost a decade after an armed assailant killed or wounded 45 people at Fort Hood in Texas and nearly six years after a gunman killed or wounded 16 people at the Washington Navy Yard.

Blue Origin files protest in controversial rocket competition
The rocket manufacturer protested Monday, saying the contract solicitation the Air Force issued in the spring is unfair

In a move that will reverberate in Congress, a top U.S. rocket manufacturer formally protested on Monday the terms of a multi-billion-dollar Air Force competition for launching America’s future national security satellites.

Blue Origin of Washington state, one of four likely bidders for the work, filed its protest with the Government Accountability Office, citing concerns that the contract solicitation the Air Force issued in the spring is unfair.

Senate Armed Services sends Hyten nomination to floor despite sexual assault allegations
The committee’s endorsement comes one day after his confirmation hearing, when he defended himself against accusations

The Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday advanced Gen. John Hyten’s nomination to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Senate floor amid some opposition from senators concerned about sexual assault allegations launched against the four-star.

The committee’s endorsement of Hyten on a 20-7 vote in a closed-door session comes one day after his confirmation hearing, during which he defended himself against accusations made made by a former subordinate, Army Col. Kathryn A. Spletstoser.

DOD workers bought thousands of Chinese electronics vulnerable to hacks, spying
More than 9,000 commercially available products could be used to spy on or hack U.S. military personnel and facilities

Defense Department employees have procured thousands of printers, cameras and computers that carry known cybersecurity risks, and the practice may be continuing, according to an audit released Tuesday by the Pentagon’s inspector general.

More than 9,000 commercially available information technology products bought in fiscal 2018 could be used to spy on or hack U.S. military personnel and facilities, the report said. Without fixing oversight of such purchases, more risks lie ahead, potentially including perils for top-dollar weapons that use such “commercial-off-the-shelf” or COTS devices.

Senate confirms four-star general, inches forward another despite sexual assault allegations
The Senate voted 89-1 to confirm Army Gen. Mark Milley to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

The Senate on Thursday voted 89-1 to confirm Army Gen. Mark Milley to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just hours after the Armed Services Committee decided to move forward with Air Force Gen. John Hyten’s nomination to be the military’s No. 2 officer despite lingering questions about allegations of sexual assault.

The progress on the Joint Chiefs nominees comes as senators try to firm up leadership at the Pentagon, which has been in a state of transition for months.

Racial terms have marred military forms
Words like ‘negroid’ linger despite decades-old federal directive to root them out

A Marine Corps captain named Jahmar Resilard was one of six military personnel who were killed Dec. 6 when the F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet he was piloting collided in midair with a military refueling plane during training off the coast of Japan.

Resilard, 28, was African American — a fact that is only relevant because of what happened after his death.

Did the Pentagon weaponize ticks?
CQ on Congress, Episode 162