Month: January 2015

Mike Rogers Joins Hudson Institute

January 27, 2015

WASHINGTON, January 27 – Today the Hudson Institute announced that the Hon. Mike Rogers, former U.S. Representative for Michigan’s 8th Congressional District and Chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, joined Hudson as a Distinguished Fellow. In this role, he will focus on cyberwarfare and security, counterterrorism, and national security policy.

Prior to joining Hudson, Rogers served as Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and as a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. As Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Rogers led Congressional oversight efforts of US intelligence programs during a time of significant national security challenges, including the resurgence of al Qaeda and rise of the Islamic State, Putin’s aggression against Ukraine, Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, China’s military build-up, and expanding cyber threats from states and non-states. During his tenure, Rogers was known for his unprecedented level of bipartisan cooperation that led to the passing of annual intelligence authorization bills and his leadership on national security policy.

“I am honored to join the Hudson Institute, where I’ll be working with an exceptional team of scholars on the many intelligence and foreign policy challenges facing America,” said Mike Rogers. “The Hudson Institute, a highly-respected, serious research organization, is devoted to advancing peace and prosperity around the globe through the education of policy makers and world leaders.”

“We’re thrilled that Mike Rogers is joining Hudson Institute at this critical time, as we promote strong and engaged U.S. international leadership in partnership with our allies. He is widely respected around the globe for his expertise on intelligence, cyberwarfare, and counterterrorism strategy,” said Kenneth Weinstein, President and CEO of Hudson Institute. “Mike Rogers is joining a growing policy team at Hudson Institute that, in recent months, has added top-flight talent including Walter Russell Mead, Michael Doran, and Arthur Herman to a bench that already included Husain Haqqani, Nina Shea and Chris DeMuth.”

Since retiring from Congress, Rogers is host of the nationally-syndicated Something to Think About with Mike Rogers on Westwood One and is a CNN national security contributor. His extensive career in public service includes seven terms representing Michigan’s 8th Congressional district and two terms in the Michigan State Senate. Previously, Rogers served in the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division as a Company Commander, and as an FBI agent in Chicago fighting organized crime and public corruption.

Rogers in The Wall Street Journal: Covert CIA Mission to Arm Syrian Rebels Goes Awry

January 26, 2015

Former Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican from Michigan who led the House Intelligence Committee, says the trickling pipeline of supplies drove some U.S. allies into the arms of Islamists. “We didn’t commit to them, so why should we expect them to commit to us?” he asks.

The Wall Street Journal: Covert CIA Mission to Arm Syrian Rebels Goes Awry

Plagued By Red Tape and Skimpy Supplies, U.S. Shifts Program’s Focus

Adam Entous

Jan. 26, 2015

HATAY, Turkey—It didn’t take long for rebel commanders in Syria who lined up to join a Central Intelligence Agency weapons and training program to start scratching their heads.

After the program was launched in mid-2013, CIA officers secretly analyzed cellphone calls and email messages of commanders to make sure they were really in charge of the men they claimed to lead. Commanders were then interviewed, sometimes for days.

Those who made the cut, earning the label “trusted commanders,” signed written agreements, submitted payroll information about their fighters and detailed their battlefield strategy. Only then did they get help, and it was far less than they were counting on.

Some weapons shipments were so small that commanders had to ration ammunition. One of the U.S.’s favorite trusted commanders got the equivalent of 16 bullets a month per fighter. Rebel leaders were told they had to hand over old antitank missile launchers to get new ones—and couldn’t get shells for captured tanks. When they appealed last summer for ammo to battle fighters linked to al Qaeda, the U.S. said no.

All sides now agree that the U.S.’s effort to aid moderate fighters battling the Assad regime has gone badly. The CIA program was the riskiest foray into Syria since civil war erupted in 2011.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is clinging to power after more than 200,000 deaths blamed on the war. Moderate fighters control only a fraction of northern Syria, while Islamic State and al Qaeda’s official affiliate, the Nusra Front, have gained ground. Last fall, Nusra overran one trusted commander and seized another’s equipment.

Entire CIA-backed rebel units, including fighters numbering in the “low hundreds” who went through the training program, have changed sides by joining forces with Islamist brigades, quit the fight or gone missing.

“We walk around Syria with a huge American flag planted on our backs, but we don’t have enough AK-47s in our hands to protect ourselves,” a leader of the Hazzm Movement, among the most trusted of the trusted commanders, told U.S. lawmakers in a meeting after Nusra’s advances.

The CIA recently stopped offering help to all but a few trusted commanders in Syria. Much of the U.S.’s focus is shifting to southern Syria, where rebels seem more unified but say they get just 5% to 20% of the arms requested from the CIA.

Some Obama administration officials say the covert effort accomplished about as much as it could considering the chaotic circumstances in northern Syria and policy disagreements in Washington and elsewhere.

While the initial goal was to help moderate rebels fight the Assad regime, officials at the White House and CIA didn’t anticipate the rapid rise of Islamic State, which has upended rebel alliances and become the U.S.’s top priority in Syria.

Officials defend the decision to keep the arms pipeline small and tightly controlled, citing concerns that weapons could fall into the wrong hands. “This was consistent with the administration’s legal responsibilities and strongly held views in Congress,” a senior administration official says. Despite the controls, some weapons still wound up on the wrong side.

Critics say the failings might make it harder to win future support from moderate rebels. Pentagon officials are establishing a new program in Syria, and the general in charge of the effort has told lawmakers that he wants to establish more consistent supply lines and provide air support to approved fighters.

But the new mission also calls for building a rebel force to fight Islamic State, not the Assad regime, which will make it tougher for the Pentagon to attract rebel commanders to the program, some U.S. officials say.

“I think we’ve lost our window of opportunity,” says Robert Ford, the State Department’s ambassador to Syria from 2010 to 2014.

Former Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican from Michigan who led the House Intelligence Committee, says the trickling pipeline of supplies drove some U.S. allies into the arms of Islamists. “We didn’t commit to them, so why should we expect them to commit to us?” he asks.

Rep. Eliot Engel, (D., N.Y.) the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, adds: “We need to get them the materials they need to sustain themselves. It’s the right thing to do.”

This account of the CIA’s program is based on interviews with U.S., Turkish and Arab officials involved in the effort, as well as current and former trusted commanders. CIA officials have trained nearly 5,000 fighters in Syria, but the financial cost is classified and few details have been disclosed publicly.

The CIA program had a rocky start. President Barack Obama balked at the idea in 2012. Officials say he was concerned about a slippery slope that could lead the U.S. into another war. A CIA analysis delivered to the White House predicted the program would make little difference.

Mr. Obama gave the go-ahead in 2013 to proceed on a limited basis, partly in response to prodding from key Arab allies, former U.S. officials say.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers shared the administration’s ambivalence, with some warning they would hold the CIA responsible if guns fell into the wrong hands, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official. The warnings deepened the agency’s cautious approach.

In northern Syria, the U.S. and its allies created a joint operations center, or Müşterek Operasyon Merkezi in Turkish, to oversee the program. Rebel commanders met with CIA officers at hotels in southern Turkey.

Once the CIA assessed the commanders, they were asked to sign agreements committing their units to using supplies against the Assad regime and maintaining certain accounting standards.

The U.S. intelligence officer who ran the joint operations center, called MOM for short, impressed commanders with his classical Arabic. Once, he singled out a rebel commander who failed to execute a promised mission, asking him to apologize in front of other commanders. The commander was then kicked out of the meeting.

Because U.S. officials concluded that the moderate opposition Free Syrian Army wasn’t able to safeguard U.S. supplies in Syria, the CIA decided to deliver weapons directly to the trusted commanders. Some military officials warned that the CIA risked creating warlords and undermining cohesion in the ranks of local fighters, but the CIA saw no credible alternative.

At meetings, the MOM heard requests for ammunition and then deliberated, often for as long as two weeks. The panel included the CIA and intelligence services from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

According to rebel commanders, by the time many requests were approved, the proposed operation was no longer feasible. If they were told no, they usually weren’t told why.

When some commanders asked for ammo last spring to expand an offensive against the Assad regime that seemed to be going their way, they were rejected with no explanation.

“Why did you give us hope if you were not going to do anything about it?” complains one trusted commander. His frustrated fighters quit the CIA program to join a new alliance with Islamist brigades.

At the end of each month, the commanders submitted payroll information, picking up money a few days later for salaries and administrative expenses. MOM payments were made in cash with $100 bills that commanders said were so new they were hard to count. One rebel commander says the cash his group got fit neatly into a small carry-on bag.

Most CIA-backed fighters made $100 to $150 a month. Commanders made slightly more. Islamic State and Nusra often paid twice as much, making it harder for the trusted commanders to retain fighters.

One trusted commander got fewer than three dozen rifles after asking for more than 1,000. Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia funneled supplies under the table to their favorite commanders, according to U.S. officials and other rebel commanders.

The high point for the trusted commanders came when the CIA decided to supply them with a small number of American antitank TOW missiles to attack the Assad regime’s tanks.

The CIA limited who got TOWs and how many. To get new ones, commanders had to hand over spent missile launchers at a designated border crossing with Turkey.

Trusted commanders also were instructed to film their use of the TOWs in battle so the CIA could monitor them and offer pointers on how to use the missiles more effectively. Commanders got permission later to post some of the videos online as propaganda.

The best TOW missile operators often got paid two to three times as much as regular fighters, commanders say. Bidding wars sometimes broke out between different trusted commanders for the best operators because the CIA gave more missiles to groups using them most successfully.

In other ways, the decision-making process befuddled, disappointed and angered rebel commanders. Last year, Hazzm expanded its arsenal of tanks to three dozen by capturing them from the Assad regime, but couldn’t convince the MOM to provide cash for shells or fuel.

“So they sat,” a Hazzm leader told U.S. lawmakers. A senior U.S. official says complaints about late deliveries and inadequate supplies are common with any large-scale operation.

“If it’s not worth it to them, I guess they could decide not to pick up the stuff,” the U.S. official says. “But that’s never happened.”

Tensions deepened as Islamic State gained strength last year and some trusted commanders began pressing for arms to go after Nusra. U.S. officials said no because they thought fighting Nusra would drain the program’s resources. The Obama administration also was debating whether to expand the CIA effort beyond the Assad regime.

U.S. officials say the Obama administration also was conflicted about Nusra. Aid groups told the State Department that Nusra didn’t interfere with their humanitarian deliveries, while elements of the Free Syrian Army, which included trusted commanders, sometimes did.

Nusra gained money, power and recruits after the U.S. launched airstrikes in September in Syria against Islamic State. In the first wave of strikes, the U.S. also bombed the Khorasan terrorist cell, linked to Nusra. That gave Nusra an opportunity to paint itself as a U.S. target.

Trusted commanders weren’t consulted before the airstrikes, felt betrayed and looked weak for being associated with a U.S. offensive that wasn’t targeting the Assad regime.

After the airstrikes started, Nusra leaders turned against the Syria Revolutionaries Front, or SRF, which got some aid through the covert effort but wasn’t fully trusted by U.S. officials. Leaders of the group and Hazzm had tried unsuccessfully to get weapons from the CIA to go after Nusra.

“Al Qaeda moves faster than the MOM,” a top SRF official says.

The Mountain Hawks group, which also got help from the MOM, decided not to take sides and deployed its forces defensively to keep its U.S.-supplied weapons out of Nusra’s hands, says leader Hasan al-Khalil.

The Fursan al-Haq Brigade made a similar calculation. “If we fight Nusra, then the public will hate us,” a top Fursan leader said.

When Nusra forces surrounded Hazzm’s headquarters at a town in Idlib province called Khan Assubul, some fighters let Nusra pass, rather than fight. Other trusted commanders watched. Some units joined with Nusra.

In a speech at the schoolhouse used as Hazzm’s headquarters, the rebel group’s local commander, Abu Abdullah al Khouli, told his remaining fighters to pack up their things. He had long questioned Hazzm’s participation in the CIA program, claiming the costs outweighed the benefits.

“Leave now,” he told his men, according to an opposition activist who was there. Mr. Khouli told them to pretend to be members of Islamic Front, a brigade aligned with Nusra in some areas, if stopped at a checkpoint.

Hazzm officials say Mr. Khouli was taken prisoner later. They don’t know if he is still alive.

Nusra and its allies took military equipment, included some provided by the CIA, from the captured headquarters. Nusra also seized four or five Syrian tanks. While Hazzm still is in the CIA program, the amount of help it gets has shrunk.

In recent weeks, the Mujahedeen Army, which joined the MOM last summer and sent 50 fighters to Qatar for CIA-backed training, walked away from its partnership for an alliance with Islamic Front.

U.S. officials say the trusted commanders were supposed to be on the same team, but it turned out that “everybody was out for themselves,” according to one senior U.S. official.

Mr. Ford, the former Syria ambassador, asked a Hazzm leader at a recent meeting in Washington why the rebel group had joined the U.S. program.

“We thought going with the Americans was going with the big guns,” the Hazzm leader said, according to people at the meeting. “It was a losing bet.”

Write to Adam Entous at adam.entous@wsj.com

POLITICO Mike Rogers: Why Congress is Broken

January 7, 2015

Why Congress Is Broken

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A retiring member’s parting advice.

By MIKE ROGERS

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2015

EVERY DAY FOR 14 YEARS I WALKED INTO THE U.S. Capitol with reverence for my lineage as a member of Congress. Madison, Adams and Lincoln all served here. The challenges that faced politically diverse populations with seemingly insurmountable hurdles were daunting. They not only persevered, but we also came out stronger as a nation. And as I depart the House myself, I believe I’ve accomplished most of what I set out to do,

including restoring order to intelligence oversight as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. I believe in this chamber and this institution more than when I started.

And yet being in politics today often seems like being in the middle of the worst divorce you’ve ever seen, every day. The level of pettiness and small-minded meanness in political discourse is disheartening at best. It works against our national interests at its worst. It is hard to solve big issues with small politics. My ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), and I came to our first deal for our final 2011 Intelligence Authorization bill in the library of the classified spaces. When we reached across the table to shake hands, the building shook. Literally. It was the first authorization for the Intelligence budget in six years, and it was exactly at the same time an earthquake hit Washington, D.C. A Republican and a Democrat had agreed on a final product on what had been previously controversial legislation, and the ground shook. We made the usual jokes about divine approval, but that moment wasn’t lost on either of us. I hope it isn’t lost on the incoming 114th Congress as well. You can make progress on the issues you care about without sacrificing your principles.

America is facing huge challenges. So is America’s political discourse. The 24-hour news cycle has become a 24-second news cycle. A member used to hope for a 15-second clip in a news story. Now it’s 140 characters in a tweet. And if you want someone to read it, best be clever. Newsworthiness comes second. The first one out there on a topic wins, and accuracy is an afterthought, if a thought at all. Nothing has made me appreciate real journalists more than anonymous bloggers and partisan tweets. One of my first votes in Congress was the repeal of some very onerous regulations on business crammed through at the last minute of the Clinton administration. Many urged me, as someone who had just won a race by 111 votes, not to vote for the repeal for purely political reasons. A yes vote to repeal the regulations was in the best interests of the country, so I voted yes. I will take an 80 percent deal any day of the week that gets me toward a conservative solution. Then, I’ll wake up the next morning to go after the other 20 percent.

I went home to Michigan that same week to tour an automotive factory in my district and used the restroom before starting. There, above the urinal, was my picture, and the caption was something like, “Mike Rogers wants workplace deaths to go up.” After seeing that, I thought, “Wow, this is a whole new game.” It was a completely inaccurate account of what the regulations we repealed were about.

I knew political conversation was changing, and not for the better. Fast-forward to today’s social media and the sheer volume of misinformation and speed at which it travels. It is amazing any congressional office gets anything done. It takes an enormous amount of time trying to correct the record. It all takes away from the time a member needs to spend getting smart on issues that matter. The only way to do that is read, question and dive deep into all of the often unsexy issues of legislating. I’ve gotten into trouble with my fellow conservatives for saying this—after all, our party believes, often justifiably, that Washington is usually the problem—but I do think elected officials need to devote more time here on Capitol Hill engaging in governance. It won’t get you on the 11 o’clock news, but it will make for a better-functioning legislature.

I believe real governing must begin in the committees, where members must spend long, unglamorous hours on panels crafting budgets and performing oversight. The House Intelligence Committee passed good, important legislation largely because Dutch and I were both willing to take some lumps from our partisan caucus members in order to advance an issue important to national security. Consensus may not be possible, but constructive cooperation is, which is why our legislation generally enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support.

Prior to our tenure, the Intelligence Committee had not passed an intelligence budget for six years. To change that trend, Dutch and I had to change the way the committee did business. We didn’t focus on partisan fights or the issues that made headlines. Rather, we sat for hours in long, often dry and difficult hearings and briefings. We debated important issues, whether satellite programs or helicopter fuel. Again, this isn’t news-at-11 material, but ensuring our national security professionals are receiving the right resources is quite important to the protection of this country. In a short time, we turned the Intelligence Committee from a dysfunctional, partisan debating society into a functioning oversight and policy-review committee. And once we had members who understood how it all worked, we had better-informed members making smarter decisions.

Our history is filled with examples of people putting aside their differences and, in even the hardest of times, uniting for the greater good. A great example comes from the heartland of America— North Platte, Nebraska, home of the Union Pacific Railroad. During World War II, trains would crisscross the nation to take soldiers to the ports from which they were bound for the fronts in the Pacific and Europe. While soldiers headed to war, those at home faced government rations for things like eggs, coffee, cheese and tires. And while facing those rations, that little Midwest town came together to provide further support for the war fighter.

Farmers donated what they had—eggs, cheese, flour and their time. As the trains rolled through North Platte, those normal Americans met each one. Altogether, that little town provided 6 million meals to young soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Those townspeople understood that during America’s greatest challenges, it is up to the people, and not their government, to help their fellow citizen. Like the soldiers they helped, the whole town contributed to something bigger than themselves. This was not a government program; nobody coerced them to provide for these departing war fighters. Nevertheless, the people of North Platte knew that their role was to contribute to keeping America great.

Flash forward to the present day. Remember, the United States has been in conflict for over 10 years. Yet none of us have faced rations, and only a small percentage of us have actually faced battle. We still get our tires, our coffee, our cheese and our TV shows. Most Americans do not feel the effects of war on a day-to-day basis, but members of Congress must remind their constituents of what is at stake in our struggles overseas. We must remain focused and serious. And stories like that of North Platte remind us what it takes to remain the beacon of hope to the world. In Congress, each member is given the chance to achieve great things. And just like in the broader America, succeeding in Congress does not depend on status or title; it merely requires hard work and discipline to focus on what’s important. It’s time we once again focus on the hard work at hand, and not the small and petty politics that keep us from tackling our challenges.

I’m leaving Congress, but I am not giving up the fight. I’m just changing playing fields. I’m taking on a new role to join a broader platform and communicate with millions of people each week about why we need a strong defense, engagement overseas, a strong economy and an America that believes in herself again. One of my aims is to help Congress, the institution I love, by improving the information coming to it.

Mike Rogers is a former Republican U.S. representative from Michigan.

Former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers joins CNN as National Security Commentator

January 7, 2015

Former U.S. Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI) joins CNN as a national security commentator offering expert analysis on a wide range of political, counterterrorism, and national security topics. Rogers was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2000 and served seven terms representing Michigan’s 8th District.  During his last two terms in office he was Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence.  Rogers’ career began with service as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army; later he was a Special Agent with the FBI.  In addition to his new role at CNN, Rogers is also a host of the daily Westwood One radio talk segments, Something to Think About with Mike Rogers.

Rogers begins his new role at CNN beginning today on The Lead with Jake Tapper.