Situation Report

Yemeni plot foiled?; CIA’s Morell: Syrian war number one issue for U.S.; New images show Syrian devastation; Furloughs, reduced; The Navy: paying the Army’s bills? “Defense Official #1:” Don’t blame the milk!; and a bit more.

Yemeni plot foiled?; CIA’s Morell: Syrian war number one issue for U.S.; New images show Syrian devastation; Furloughs, reduced; The Navy: paying the Army’s bills? “Defense Official #1:” Don’t blame the milk!; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

New this hour: Yemeni authorities may have foiled a maritime plot. Security officials said that authorities in Yemen had foiled an "audacious plot" by al-Qaida to seize a port using militants in Army uniforms and kidnap and kill foreigners there, according to the NYT and other outlets. And a new round of drone strikes in the southeast region of the country killed seven people. The NYT’s Nasser Arrabyee and Alan Cowell: "The depiction of the foiled plot was the first indication of the reasons behind the growing Western concerns for the safety of their nationals. Intercepts of a secret correspondence between Ayman al-Zawahri, the leader of Al Qaeda, and Nasir ul-Wuhayshi, the leader of the Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, inspired deep concern inside the American government about a possible terrorist plot by the group.

"Yemeni security officials said part of the militant operation included a plan to take control of the Canadian-run Mina al-Dhaba oil terminal in the Mukallah region on the Arabian Sea in the southeast of the country. The officials did not say how the plot had been disrupted. The plan would have involved many Qaeda operatives wearing Yemeni Army uniforms to seize the port and then attack, kill or kidnap foreigners working there, the officials said. It was not clear if the disruption of the purported plan was linked to a spate of recent American drone strikes. The security officials said the latest attack hit members of a Bedouin tribe some 40 miles west of Attaq in the south-eastern Shabwah area. It was the fifth known American strike in the last two weeks, part of an intensified campaign to disrupt the suspected plots that led to the embassy closings." Read the NYT story here.

But has the U.S. lost Yemen? Princeton’s Gregory Johnsen, writing on FP, says so. Despite American drones firing missiles into Yemen – at least 75 in all that have brought the death toll to at least 600 – al-Qaida’s franchise on the Arabian Peninsula – AQAP – continues to recruit more members, growing from about 300 in 2009 to "well over a thousand" today. Johnsen: "Part of the U.S. approach to fighting AQAP is based on what worked for the United States in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where drone strikes have decimated what is often called al Qaeda’s core (though as al Qaeda’s strength moves back toward the Arab world, analysts will need to start rethinking old categories). Unfortunately, not all lessons are transportable. This means that the United States is fighting the al Qaeda that was, instead of the al Qaeda that is." Read the rest here.

No, al-Qaida is not about to blow up your blouse. Noah Shachtman and Shane Harris, on FP: "The panic over an alleged al Qaeda plot went into overdrive Monday night, when ABC News reported that terrorists in Yemen were experimenting with a new and virtually undetectable bomb-making technique: dipping their clothes into liquid explosive that then dries and can be ignited. The cries of doom began almost immediately after the story went online. But people shouldn’t have been so quick to scream. A clothing bomb would almost certainly never work, explosive experts tell Foreign Policy." Read the rest here.  

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Outgoing CIA’s No. 2 says Syria poses the greatest threat to the U.S. The WSJ’s Siobhan Gorman sat with Michael Morell as he prepares to leave CIA after 33 years there. He told her that the risk is that the Syrian government will collapse and al-Qaeda establishes a new safe haven there and obtain the chemical and other advanced weapons that now belong to the Assad regime. "It’s not so much that al Qaeda has fallen as a threat," Morell told Gorman, but that the threat from Syria has escalated. Gorman: "Mr. Morell’s stark assessment shows how much the U.S. has at stake as it reluctantly prepares to arm Syrian rebels in the coming weeks while continuing to confront an al Qaeda that has dispersed across the globe. His forecast is all the more worrisome because it comes from a top official who other officials say is skeptical of current administration plans to arm the rebels." Morell: "I don’t remember a time when there have been so many national-security issues on the front burner as there are today." Read the rest here.

There are more signs that Al-Qaeda is dominating anti-Assad forces. Opposition forces in Syria took control Tuesday of a military airport in the northern area of the country that McClatchy reported opened a vital supply line between the rebels in the north and Turkey. McClatchy’s Mitchell Prothero reported that the end of the siege, that had clamped down the airport since last fall began Monday when two non-Syrian nationals drove an explosive-laden vehicle onto the airport, devastating the Assad troops defending it, and allowing rebels to overrun the air base in Idlib province. But here’s what’s significant about it: "Those rebels included multiple units affiliated with the Syrian Military Council, an umbrella group with U.S. backing. That poses an uncomfortable pairing of a group supported by U.S. resources with Islamist organizations Washington has labeled as terrorist. The Syrian Opposition Coalition, the political component of the SMC, announced that the airbase had been ‘liberated’ by a mixture of nine rebel groups. They included the al Qaida-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS, and its Syrian sister organization, the Nusra Front."

Satellite images show the devastation in Syria’s Aleppo. Amnesty International released this morning new images that show the impact ballistic missile strikes and other violence have had on Syria. It’s a year after AI released a batch of images warning of an impending humanitarian crisis. "That prediction of mass civilian casualties and a humanitarian crisis has come true, as reporting from the ground by Amnesty and the newest satellite images show," according to AI. The images include a "before/after" toggle button to see the destruction.  Click here for the images.

The Pentagon found a way to trim furlough days from 11 to 6 days.  The Pentagon announced yesterday that it had found a way to reduce the number of days that DOD civilians will be furloughed, from 11 to 6. As we first reported July 12, the Pentagon was considering a third reduction in the number of days of furloughs, to as few as eight days. But the Pentagon found a way to trim it back to six in this, the fifth week of furloughs. The reduction is thanks in part to finding money in other areas and transferring them to the appropriate accounts. And during a briefing at the Pentagon yesterday, senior defense officials said it included a $300 million payment the Navy made on behalf of the Army.

Army to the Navy: "THANKS for the $300 million." Well not exactly. But at Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s request, the Navy and Marine Corps did pay a $300 million bill on behalf of the Army, for logistics, according to the defense official briefing reporters yesterday. The official said that the Navy had the authority to do it. Asked if it was a normal thing, the senior defense official said no, not necessarily. "I wouldn’t say it’s routine, but these are not routine times.  And we’ve had to look across the department and try to make some shifts in order to get through this year."

Random analogy used to explain where the Pentagon found the money to reduce the number of furlough days that we’re not quite sure we understand but somehow it works, from a senior defense official during yesterday’s briefing: "I mean, you know, we did a lot of different things.  It reminds me of pouring water and milk in the glass at some time and when it overflows blaming the milk.  I mean, I can’t pick one thing."

Full briefing of furlough situation from yesterday here.

Dempsey is headed to Israel and Jordan. From the Joint Staff, this morning: "Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, will be departing this weekend for visits in Israel and Jordan.  The focus of the Chairman’s visits will be discussing issues of mutual interest with his counterparts and continuing to build on these important defense relationships.  In Israel, the Chairman expects to discuss the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security, including potential threats from Iran, the ongoing civil war in Syria, and uncertainty in the Sinai.  While in Jordan, he plans to visit U.S. troops and to gain a richer understanding of the impact on how the conflict in Syria is impacting Jordan and the region.  The general last visited Israel in October and Jordan in April of 2012."

Good read: David Bax helped save 35 aid workers in a Mogadishu firefight. So why did they turn against him? Read Colum Lynch’s piece on FP about what happened to Bax in Somalia: "The tip came early in the day on June 19. Islamist militants had breached the inner sanctum of the United Nations’ humanitarian compound in downtown Mogadishu — and they were trying to slaughter the relief workers inside. It wasn’t David Bax’s job to respond to such an attack; the former South African soldier was hired by the U.N. simply to defuse explosives in and around the restive city." Read the rest here.

Cover up, pull ‘em up, and straighten up: Fort Irwin bans sexy, vulgar and "disparaging" clothes. Army Times’ Joe Gould: "It’s time for saggy pants-ed and suggestively attired soldiers, civilians and family members at Fort Irwin, Calif., to straighten up. Baggy pants, do-rags, belly shirts, pajamas, ripped jeans and visible thong underwear are forbidden attire in public, according to the post’s new dress code for off-duty troops, which was posted to the garrison Facebook page on Monday. The new policy directs managers of post facilities, like gyms and shops, to deny service to anyone wearing the offending gear. ‘Clothing with obscene, slanderous, drug paraphernalia or related statements, vulgar words or drawings, sexually suggestive [clothes] or clothing which makes disparaging comments concerning the military and the United states government is prohibited," the notice reads. ‘By order of the commander.’" Read the rest here.

Obama won’t meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 summit in Russia over the Snowden affair, various news outlets reported this morning. 

What would happen if Edward Snowden magically disappeared from Russia and appeared in an American prison? "Hactivists" would have a field day, speculated Mike Hayden, the ex-CIA and NSA chief. Hayden, to reporters yesterday, on the group Anonymous: "If, and when, our government grabs Edward Snowden and brings him back her to the United States for trial, what does this group do?… They may not go after the U.S. government because frankly, the dot mil stuff is one of the hardest targets in the United States. If they can’t go after dot mil, who are they going after? Who, for them, are the [digital] World Trade Centers?" Killer Apps’ John Reed: That’s right. The former head of the CIA just compared Anonymous – a group best-known for defacing some websites – to the world’s most notorious terrorists. And that’s not the only insult he hurled. Hayden also labeled such groups as "nihilists, anarchists, activists, Lulzsec, Anonymous, twentysomethings who haven’t talked to the opposite sex in five or six years." Read the rest here.

When embassies shut down, there is constant evaluation of the situation. The Cable’s John Hudson interviewed a foreign service officer about what it’s like when embassies shut down – there are currently at least 19 closed now, due to the security situation in the Middle East. Hudson asked the officer what it’s like, about the backlog of work that exists, and how they decide what the situation is at their post. A portion of his Q&A: Hudson Q: What are all the diplomats doing during the closings? A: "What’s important to keep in mind is the difference between a temporary closing and an evacuation. When it’s a closure, like what we have this week, you’re not talking about moving people out of the country. The building is not opened to the public. But people are staying home, and in some cases, people continue to work at the embassy." Hudson: And for evacuations? A: "That’s a different extreme. When I was in Munich in 2006, the conflict in Lebanon caused us to pull a number of people out of Lebanon and facilitate an evacuation. We had diplomatic personnel all over the place that were deployed to assist American citizens getting out of the place. Obviously, it requires a lot more activity than a closing." Read Hudson’s Q&A with an foreign service officer (who remained anonymous) here.

Chris Castelli wins an important award. Inside Defense’s Editor-at-Large Chris Castelli won the National Press Club’s Newsletter Journalism Award for a series of stories based on internal documents for which Inside Defense is famous (or notorious, depending) for getting. What the judges said about Castelli: "He won for his riveting series of exclusive stories on strategic administration discussions of U.S. policy on Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Pakistan. In the best traditions of journalism, and newsletter journalism in particular, Chris cultivated sources who repeatedly shared internal national security documents. His stories were picked up and his reporting credited by multiple national news outlets as his work informed greater public understanding of vital national defense issues." Read all about it, including the five stories he wrote, here.