OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Hagel defends budget on Capitol Hill

House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) asked Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey whether he still agreed with his statement that the military couldn’t take any more cuts, given the reductions in the budget. Dempsey said he did because the cuts were backloaded to give the Pentagon time to prepare for them.

At the hearing, McKeon did not ask any questions of Hagel, whom he opposed during the confirmation process.

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Hagel defended the department’s proposals already facing stiff opposition in Congress, in particular a request for a new round of base closures.

Several Democrats pressed Hagel about the necessity of a new round of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC), as did Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), chairman of the Readiness subcommittee.

“Is this really the right time to do a BRAC, especially based on the recent history of the cost of BRAC and the time to accrue savings?” Wittman asked. “In the face of budget constraints, is this the right time to pursue a BRAC?”

Hagel started his defense by saying that Wittman was asking “the right question.”

“I understand the politics of this,” Hagel said. “I understand, as I said in my opening comments, it's very imperfect. ... And still, I think it's an important time to do it. I think it's worthwhile to do.”

Obama tells North Korea to knock off belligerence: President Obama said Thursday it was time for North Korea to end its “belligerent approach” and that no one wants to see conflict in North Korea.

His comments came after Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) disclosed an unclassified version of a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report that said North Korea could have nuclear weapons that can be delivered with ballistic missiles.

Lamborn read from the unclassified portion of a March DIA report assessing North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.

“DIA assesses with moderate confidence the North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic missiles, however the reliability will be low,” he said, quoting the report.

Lamborn asked for a response top the report from Dempsey at the House Armed Services hearing Thursday, but Dempsey declined to comment on it.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the House Intelligence Committee Thursday that Pyongyang is taking “initial steps” toward launching a nuclear weapon with a ballistic missile. 

Intel director discloses drone ops in Libya: Pentagon-run aerial drones were conducting surveillance in the skies above Libya prior to the deadly assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi last September, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper disclosed on Thursday.

It is the first time a U.S. intelligence official has publicly acknowledged Pentagon or CIA drone operations in Libya prior to the terrorist strike on the consulate last year.

The unmanned aircraft in Libya last year were operated under the Defense Department drone program and only for surveillance purposes, Clapper told members of the House Intelligence Committee. The drones “flying over Libya were military and were unarmed,” he added.

Clapper's admission sparked questions by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) on whether armed American drones had been sent to Libya prior to the Benghazi attack.

"I'm just wondering if the State Department or if the military was aware or if the CIA was aware," she asked, about the possibility of armed drone strikes in eastern Libya.

CIA Director John Brennan, though, declined to provide further details on whether U.S. drone operations in Libya before the Benghazi attack included airstrikes.

"I don't know what it is specifically you're referring to, but ... I would defer to the White House on whatever happened at that time," Brennan told Bachmann.

News reports last year suggested the diplomatic mission of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was a cover for a large-scale CIA intelligence operation inside Libya run out of the State Department facility.

The Obama administration initially claimed the Benghazi attack was the result of an anti-American protest gone wrong. Only weeks later did the administration acknowledge the strike was a planned, coordinated attack by Islamic extremist groups in the country.

Syrian chemical weapons security in doubt: As Congress continues to press for military action in Syria, intelligence officials on Thursday focused on the possible consequences of those actions.

Clapper and Brennan on Thursday told members of the House Intelligence Committee they were unsure whether U.S. and allied forces can secure Syria's vast stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons if embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad is overthrown.

"It would be very, very situational dependent ... to render an assessment on how well we could secure any or all of the [weapons] facilities in Syria," Clapper told committee chief Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.). "I'm not sure how to make a call like that," he added.

Securing Syria's weapons stockpiles is a major concern for the Pentagon and intelligence community since Assad threatened to use those arms against rebels fighting to overthrow the longtime leader.

But with Damascus losing ground to Syrian rebels in the two-year civil war, concerns are rising these weapons may end up in the hands of Islamic extremists fighting alongside anti-government forces.

His comments came the same day Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said the Obama administration should begin arming anti-Assad rebels.

Menendez joined fellow Democrat Sen. Carl Levin (Mich.) and Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in calling for direct U.S. military support for Syrian rebels, from arming those forces to establishing a no-fly zone along the country's border with Turkey.

But Gen. Philip Breedlove, the White House's pick to head up European Command, said a no-fly zone along the Turkey-Syria border would hold "no military value," during his Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday.


In Case You Missed It:

— McCain explodes at Syrian ambassador

— DOD: North Korean nuclear missiles real, unreliable

— Menendez: Arm Syrian rebels

— Hagel likes congressional hearings

— Hagel defends funding MEADS


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