Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: The U.N. just disinvited Iran from the Syrian peace talks

FP’s Situation Report: The U.N. just disinvited Iran from the Syrian peace talks

By Gordon Lubold

The U.N. just disinvited Iran to the Syrian peace conference. Does the whole diplomatic effort now unravel? FP’s own Colum Lynch and John Hudson: "… The invitation, delivered by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, exposed a rare fault line between Ban and Secretary of State John Kerry, two close allies who have been working together for months. The diplomatic standoff began Sunday after Ban announced that he had extended a series of last-minute invitations to countries, including Iran, to attend the opening of the talks.
"…The U.N. chief’s decision appeared to catch Syrian opposition leaders by surprise. Louay Safi, a representative of the Syrian National Coalition, announced on Twitter late Sunday that the group would withdraw from the conference unless Ban disinvited Iran to the conference’s opening ceremony on Wednesday. In less than 24 hours, Ban rescinded the invitation in an about-face that did little to breed confidence in the star-crossed diplomatic effort. "No one is happy with anyone else at this point" a senior U.N. official told Foreign Policy. The Obama administration, meanwhile, struggled to fully explain the sequence of events that led to the botched Iran invitation. The U.N. official said the world body had consulted with Washington before reaching out to Tehran, and a senior U.S. official confirmed to FP that the two sides had talked. Still, the official said the administration has publicly and privately urged Ban to cancel the invitation unless Tehran fully endorsed the so-called Geneva Communique, a June 2012 document outlining a political transition in Syria."

The quote from the story that says it all, from Richard Gowan, a U.N. expert at New York University Center for International Cooperation: "The question is not whether this conference will fail but how it will fail…This is like a deeply embarrassing family reunion for all concerned; you just have to get over it and hope that nobody behaves too badly." Read the rest here.

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Passing nuclear codes: If it’s not "00000000" is it "12345678"? FP’s Dan Lamothe: "For nearly a decade, an awkward debate has raged about the U.S. military’s nuclear force: Did top Air Force officials really choose "00000000" as a code that could enable the launch of a nuclear missile? Ten years later, in a document obtained by Foreign Policy, the U.S. military told Congress that it never happened. But is the Pentagon telling the truth?

"Bruce Blair, a nuclear security expert and former launch officer , says no. Blair, now a scholar and author at Princeton University, first raised the idea in a piece published in 2004. He accused the Air Force of circumventing President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 order to install extra security codes to safeguard against accidental or unauthorized launch by putting them in place, but making them painfully simple to the missile launch officers who manned underground bunkers. Doing so, Blair said, effectively eliminated the codes’ usefulness.

"The U.S. military says that’s not the case. A new wave of media coverage sparked by online media outlets last year prompted the House Armed Services Committee to ask about the issue, and the military responded by insisting "00000000" was never used.

‘A code consisting of eight zeroes has never been used to enable a MM ICBM, as claimed by Dr. Bruce Blair,’ the new document, obtained by FP, insists, while laying out the basics on how a nuclear missile can be launched." Read the rest here.

ICYMI: cheating was common at nuke facilities, ex-Air Force officers told the LATimes’ David Cloud: "Air Force officers responsible for safeguarding and operating nuclear-armed missiles at a base in Montana cheated for years on monthly readiness tests, but rarely faced punishment even though some commanders were aware of the misconduct, according to three former officers who served at the base. Their assertions shed new light on a cheating scandal involving 34 officers at Malmstrom Air Force Base, who are under investigation for improperly sharing information about exam questions and failing to report the alleged misconduct.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James called the alleged behavior ‘absolutely unacceptable.’ But the former officers, two of whom served at Malmstrom in the last decade, said that cheating on the three monthly written tests – covering missile safety, code handling and launch procedures – was so commonplace that officers who declined to participate were the exception."

A former Air Force officer who served at Malmstrom Air Force Base between 2006 and 2010 and said he himself had cheated, to Cloud: "Everybody cheats on every test that they can, and they have for decades… Maybe five percent [of the officers] don’t. But they know about it."

"Another former officer, Brian Weeden, who served at the base from 2001 to 2004, said that ploys to score higher ranged from exchanging tips about difficult questions on upcoming tests to actually sharing answers, which he called ‘much more rare." Read the rest here.

From the CIA – to CBS: Michael Morell named a contributor to the storied network’s news division and he starts today. From a network press release: "Michael Morell has been named a Contributor to CBS News, it was announced today by CBS News Chairman and 60 MINUTES Executive Producer Jeff Fager and CBS News President David Rhodes…Morell, a former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency and twice acting director, brings his vast experience and strategic insight on U.S. intelligence, national security and counterterrorism to CBS News. Prior to joining CBS News, Morell held various senior leadership positions during his decades-long career at the CIA.  As one of the CIA’s key players in the search for Osama bin Laden, Morell was a participant in the White House security deliberations that culminated in the raid that killed bin Laden… Morell graduated from the University of Akron with a bachelor’s degree in economics and Georgetown University with a master’s degree in economics.  Today, he is a senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government."

Two days after the attack on the Taverna restaurant in Kabul, comes a complex attack on a military base in Kandahar. The WaPo’s Kevin Sieff and Sayed Salahuddin: "A complex attack on a military base in southern Afghanistan Monday killed at least one member of the U.S.-led coalition forces. The attack, which included a car bomb and several suicide bombers and gunmen wearing western military uniforms, occurred in the Zhari district of Kandahar province, one of the most hard-fought swaths of southern Afghanistan. Insurgents on Monday chose another ambitious target – one of the last remaining forward operating bases in Kandahar – and devoted significant resources to the assault. In an exchange of gunfire, all of the attackers were killed, officials said."

A statement from ISAF: "This was a complex attack with a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, enemy forces with suicide vests and small arms fire…Operational reports state there was moderate damage to the outer perimeter of the base." Read the rest here.

The end of an era in Kabul: the bombing of the Taverna ends the security oasis the restaurant was thought to be. Also from the WaPo, Pamela Constable: "… As long as La Taverna remained open – as long as Kamel was there in his favorite corner, smoking and counting change and yelling at the waiters and leaping up to greet old friends – I felt as if I still had a familiar sanctuary, a small zone of comfort in Kabul. On Friday evening, that illusion was violently shattered." Read the rest here.

Reading Pincus: The Pentagon has no defense against lawmakers when it comes to approps. The WaPo’s Walter Pincus in Fine Print: "Congress is still playing games with the Defense Department budget, which at $605.7 billion is more than half the $1.1 trillion in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 that was passed last week. The Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account in the defense budget, which is supposed to cover costs arising from Afghanistan, Iraq and other foreign operations, has been turned into a $10.8 billion ‘War Pretext Slush Fund,’ according to Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project of the Project on Government Oversight." Read the rest here.

Urination video aftermath: Marine Col. Chris Dixon finally pins. Marine Corps Times’ Hope Hodge Seck: "A senior Marine officer whose career was stalled for two years amid a high-profile scandal involving scout snipers in his unit has finally been promoted and assigned to a top-level school, Marine officials confirmed this week. Col. Christopher Dixon, former battalion commander of Camp Lejeune’s 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, pinned on his new rank Jan. 3, with his date of rank and commensurate pay and allowances backdated to Feb. 1, 2013, said Col. Sean Gibson, a Marine spokesman. He will attend the Naval War College in the spring. Dixon’s career had been in limbo since January 2012, when a video appeared on YouTube showing scout snipers attached to his battalion urinating on Taliban corpses during a 2011 deployment to Afghanistan." Read the rest here.

The Pentagon offers a hand for security around Sochi. From Pentagon pressec John Kirby: "The United States has offered its full support to the Russian government as it conducts security preparations for the Winter Olympics. To that end, U.S. commanders in the region are conducting prudent planning and preparations should that support be required. Air and naval assets, to include two Navy ships in the Black Sea, will be available if requested for all manner of contingencies in support of — and in consultation with — the Russian government. There is no such requirement at this time."

CSIS’ Juan Zarate and Andrew Kuchins discuss the geopolitical and security implications of Sochi this morning at CSIS’ new HQ building, 1616 Rhode Island Ave., NW, in Washington, this morning from 8:30 am to 10am.  

"Many forces and means:" Putin sends 40,000 troops to Sochi. Bloomberg: "Russian President Vladimir Putin said 40,000 police and special services officers have been deployed to ensure security at the 2014 Winter Olympics as Islamic militants renewed threats to strike the games in Sochi. Russia is ‘using many forces and means’ in the Black Sea resort where the games will kick off Feb. 7, limiting the movement of people and goods in the region starting on Jan. 7, Putin said in an interview with foreign and domestic media recorded in Sochi Jan. 17 and televised yesterday. Russia is spending about 1.5 trillion rubles ($45.4 billion) to stage the games, making them the costliest Winter Olympics on record. Security has been stepped up across Russia since two suicide bombings killed more than 30 people last month in the southern city of Volgograd, less than 700 kilometers (430 miles) from Sochi and about 430 kilometers from the border with the war-wracked region of Dagestan. An Islamic militant group claimed responsibility for the explosions in a video released two days ago and threatened new attacks against the games and its visitors." More here.

Randomness: Is someone after Leon Panetta’s… walnuts? Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, famous for owning a California walnut farm to which he visited each weekend while he was Defense Secretary, is dealing with a different kind of security matter. From AP’s Scott Smith: "The soaring value of California’s nut crops is attracting a new breed of thieves who have been making off with the pricey commodities by the truckload, recalling images of cattle rustlers of bygone days. This harvest season in the Central Valley, thieves cut through a fence and hauled off $400,000 in walnuts. Another $100,000 in almonds was stolen by a driver with a fake license. And $100,000 in pistachios was taken by a big rig driver who left a farm without filling out any paperwork. Investigators suspect low-level organized crime may have a hand in cases, while some pilfered nuts are ending up in Los Angeles for resale at farmers markets or disappear into the black market. Domestic demand for specialty foods and an expanding Asian market for them have prompted a nut orchard boom in the state’s agricultural heartland. Such heists have become so common that an industry taskforce recently formed to devise ways to thwart thieves." More here.