OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Congress tackles North Korea crisis

The decision to move forward with the missile drills comes days after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel postponed tests of the Minuteman 3 intercontinental ballistic missile at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

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The United States has already deployed a ballistic missile defense system to Guam and moved Navy ships, armed with anti-missile weaponry, off the Korean peninsula.

In response, Pyongyang has reportedly given the green light to launch nuclear strikes against U.S. allies in the Pacific and targets inside the United States.

Hagel proposes changes to military code: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday proposed changes to the military’s judicial code after the Pentagon faced a firestorm over an overturned sexual assault verdict.

Hagel’s proposal would strip military commanders’ ability to dismiss verdicts in a post-trial review, although they would still be able to reduce sentences.

The changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice’s convening authority system are coming after Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin overturned a sexual assault guilty verdict against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson at Aviano Air Base in Italy.

Lawmakers said they were outraged at the decision, and made their own proposals to change the military’s justice system.

Instead of leaving the matter in the hands of Congress, which must make the changes to the military code, the Pentagon now is drafting legislation that could become part of this year’s Defense authorization bill.

The move was applauded by lawmakers on Monday, although some said it’s only the first step forward.

“Now Congress must act on legislation I am drafting with several of my colleagues that will remove authority over these cases outside the chain of command to increase reporting and strengthen accountability in the military justice system,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

“This is the beginning of a long process to ensure that victims of military sexual assault — whether they are women or men — get justice,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

Congress back in town for budget: Congress will officially be back in town on Tuesday, getting ready for a frantic week highlighted by the release of President Obama’s budget request.

After the Pentagon’s budget comes out Wednesday, Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey will testify before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

There’s sure to be plenty for lawmakers to be upset about in the budget, from base closures to retired weapons programs to pay and benefits changes, all of which will make for a testy hearing.

One thing to watch for is whether lawmakers are upset that the Pentagon is setting its 2014 budget topline at pre-sequester levels, which officials have said will be the case.

That’s because both the House- and Senate-passed budget last month did the same thing, and the authorizing committees are expected to budget to the higher dollar level.

Battle brews over armed drone oversight: Battle lines are being drawn between the congressional defense and intelligence committees over which panel will have jurisdiction over the White House's most successful and most controversial counterterrorism tactic. 

"This will be a political football," Gordon Adams, a senior defense analyst at the Stimson Center, said of the simmering debate on Capitol Hill over control of the armed drone program. 

Since the 9/11 attacks, CIA and the intelligence committees overseeing the agency have become "a much bigger factor" in shaping counterterrorism policy due to the success of the armed drone program, said Lawrence Korb, a former DOD official and defense analyst at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress. 

Taking that influence away from Langley and intelligence lawmakers by moving the program wholesale to the Defense Department was bound to spark a fight on Capitol Hill, according to Korb. 

Currently, the Pentagon and CIA operate their own armed drone programs, geared toward eliminating senior al Qaeda leaders or other high-level terror targets around the world. 

Under the Obama administration's proposal, the CIA would continue to supply intelligence on possible targets, but actual control over the drone strikes would fall to the Pentagon. 

Ironically, Pentagon officials pushed back against using armed drones in the late 1990s, fearing they would replace fighter jets as the weapon of choice in future wars, according to Korb. That decision essentially handed control of the armed drone program to the CIA, he added. 


In Case You Missed It: 

— Congress warns White House on Syria

— Hagel changes court martial rules 

— North Korea won't go nuclear with new missile test 

— Obama cuts missile defense spending in new budget


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