OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Sen. Levin backs GOP over Syria

Syrian rebels have battled government forces loyal to Assad to a bloody stalemate since the beginning of the conflict in 2011. But with recent reports that Assad's forces have allegedly begun using chemical weapons against rebel positions inside Syria, a growing number of lawmakers say it is time to take decisive action in the country.

In response, Obama reiterated his past statement that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” for the United States. But recent reports by U.S. intelligence officials indicate there is no hard evidence the Assad regime carried out chemical attacks against rebel forces. 

Pentagon delays civilian furloughs: The Pentagon responded quickly to Congress passing a full-year Defense appropriations bill in its continuing resolution Thursday, announcing that civilian furlough notices would be delayed by two weeks.

Pentagon officials said the delay would give them time to evaluate whether they needed to furlough civilians for a full 22 days, though no assurances were given that the number would be reduced.

The continuing resolution sent to President Obama’s desk Thursday moves roughly $10 billion into the military’s operations and maintenance accounts, which were facing shortfalls in the 2013 budget.

But it does not heal all of the Pentagon’s budget woes. The Department of Defense still is facing the $46 billion in across-the-board sequestration cuts, and it was not given additional flexibility to deal with sequester in the government spending bill.

A Pentagon spokeswoman said the furlough notices would be pushed back tentatively until April 5, which would put the start of civilian furloughs in May.

Senate holds more open defense authorization markups: There might not be a Pentagon budget request to Congress yet, but the Senate Armed Services Committee has scheduled its markups of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in June.

And it will be a little more open to the public this year.

The Senate panel announced that three subcommittees — Airland, Personnel and Readiness — will hold open markups this year. That’s up from one in last year’s process.

The full committee’s markup of the authorization bill, which sets Pentagon policy and authorizes funding levels, will remain closed on the Senate side.

The June schedule for the Senate suggests that the House Armed Services panel is planning to mark up its bill and get it on the floor in May, or the first week in June at the latest. The Senate typically starts its markup process after the House clears its bill.

The House markup, unlike the Senate's, is open to the public — although it’s hard to imagine how many people are watching C-Span at 2 a.m., a good estimate for when the markup is finished each year.

NATO seeks rules for cyber war: Civilian cyber hackers could be fair game for combat forces, if they launch cyberattacks as part of an ongoing military offensive, according to new cyber warfare rules set by NATO. 

Targeting of civilian hackers is one of many recommended mandates, according to a new NATO cyber warfare handbook, which also outlines specific rules of engagement for offensive and defensive cyber warfare missions. 

The handbook also puts restrictions on the types of networks alliance members and their allies — including the United States — can strike. Certain civilian targets such as hospitals, dams and nuclear power stations have been ruled off-limits for NATO or allied-led attacks, according to the handbook. 

On the defensive side of cyber operations, NATO calls for "proportionate counter-measures" in response to a strike. 

The use of lethal force against hackers or other cyber operatives in response to an attack, according to the handbook, can only be triggered if that attack ended with the deaths of others or significant property damage.

The handbook was commissioned by the alliance's Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence and included input from U.S. Cyber Command and the International Committee of the Red Cross. It is s the first major attempt to codify how alliance members will leverage cyber warfare capabilities in the field during future conflicts. 

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— NATO says hackers can be battlefield targets 

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