The Cable

SitRep: Did the U.S. Navy’s Accused Spy Dish to Taiwan and China?

what’s what in the ISIS fight; the Petraeus affair coming to the big screen?; Iraqi Sunnis afraid of Shiite forces setting the free; and lots more

The P-8 Poseidon is parked at the Paya Lebar Airbase in Singapore on August 1, 2014.  The P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, capable of hunting submarines, participated for the first time in the Singapore-US CARAT exercise, an annual bilateral naval drill with the city-state, one of the US closest security partners in Asia. The US Navy maintains a logistical command unit in Singapore to coordinate warship deployment and logistic in the region.   AFP PHOTO/MOHD FYROL        (Photo credit should read MOHD FYROL/AFP/Getty Images)
The P-8 Poseidon is parked at the Paya Lebar Airbase in Singapore on August 1, 2014. The P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, capable of hunting submarines, participated for the first time in the Singapore-US CARAT exercise, an annual bilateral naval drill with the city-state, one of the US closest security partners in Asia. The US Navy maintains a logistical command unit in Singapore to coordinate warship deployment and logistic in the region. AFP PHOTO/MOHD FYROL (Photo credit should read MOHD FYROL/AFP/Getty Images)

Spy games. The U.S. Navy officer who is facing charges of espionage, attempted espionage, and patronizing a prostitute remains silent while being held in in pretrial confinement at the Navy Consolidated Brig in Chesapeake, Va. And Navy officials are treading carefully over what they say about  Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lin, who has seen a career that appeared to be on a constant upward trajectory come crashing to earth.

A defense official confirmed to FP that Lin has been tied to the transfer — or attempted transfer — of classified information to two countries, Taiwan and China, though was unable to provide much more information than can be gleaned from a heavily redacted charge sheet presented at Lin’s Article 32 hearing on Friday. A decision about whether to formally begin a formal court-martial is expected as early as next week.

Lin moved to the U.S. from Taiwan when he was 14, and became a U.S. citizen in 2008. But his latest — and most sensitive — assignment in the Navy began in mid-2015, when he worked for Special Projects Patrol Squadron 2, (also known as VPU-2) a secretive Kaneohe, Hawaii-based unit that is staffed by some of the service’s top maritime patrol officers, who fly the P-3 Orion and P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft.

There were some interesting comments about the case Monday from Bryan Clark, naval analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, and formerly assistant to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert before he retired last year. Speaking to initial reports that Lin only passed information on the China, before officials began confirming that Taiwan is involved, Clark said that the Chinese “would like to know the types of stuff a VPU guy would know,” including, “what kind of Chinese systems they were looking for and listening to. Which ones were easier to detect and harder to detect, what information did they gather and what did they assess from that information and what was the assessment.”

Not the first time. While Washington has longtime security agreements with Taiwan and has sold the tiny island billions worth of military equipment — including over $7 billion in two large deals since 2011 — Americans have been caught twice in recent years passing secrets to Taipei.

U.S. State Department official Donald Keyser pled guilty in 2005 to charges of unauthorized handling of classified information and passing information to a Taiwanese intelligence agent with whom he was having an affair. Then in 2010, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. James Wilbur Fondren Jr. was convicted of passing information to a Taiwanese contact who then forwarded it to Beijing. Fonden had been serving as a deputy director of the U.S. Pacific Command’s Washington liaison office.

Thanks for clicking on through this morning as we wrap up another week of SitRep. As always, if you have any thoughts, announcements, tips, or national  security-related events to share, please pass them along to SitRep HQ. Best way is to send them to: paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.

Syria

In 2014, a Syrian military police photographer, now known only as “Caesar,” shocked the world with smuggled photographs of detainees tortured and killed by the Assad regime. But a piece from the New Yorker’s Ben Taub shows that human rights advocates have compiled a whole new mountain of evidence — somewhere in the vicinity of a half a million pages — smuggled out of Syria meticulously documenting the regime’s orders for the torture and detention of thousands of dissidents in the country. The piece follows the work of the Commission for International Justice and Accountability, which has been training Syrians to document the human rights violations and taking big risks to smuggle that evidence out of the country.

If peace is ever going to come to Syria, it’s going to require peacekeepers to maintain whatever political deal the warring parties have hammered out, the Brookings Institution’s Michael E. O’Hanlon and Rand’s Sean M. Zeigler argue in an opinion piece at the National Interest. The two make the case that Syria’s conflict bears all the hallmarks of a thorny, protracted conflict in need of a robust peace agreement backed by boots on the ground. As a result, they say the U.S. should start thinking through how to put together a force of some 30,000-60,000 peacekeepers to protect any future political settlement to end the conflict.

Four members of Iran’s Artesh Ground Force, including one special operations soldier from Iran’s 65th Airborne Special Forces, have been killed in Syria. While Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has lost dozens in the Syrian conflict, the deaths mark the first casualties for Iran’s regular army. The deaths come just a week after Iranian officials announced they had deployed members of the elite 65th special forces unit to Syria to act as advisors for Syrian forces.

Islamic State

How is the fight against ISIS going in Iraq and Syria? It’s complicated. Here’s a sample of what went down on Monday: Iraqi forces pushed ISIS fighters out of the western Anbar town of Hit, but are still slugging it out with a few holdouts in parts of town; ISIS pushed U.S.-backed Syrian rebels out of the town of Rai, two miles from the Turkish border, which the rebels had taken Thursday; and Turkey got into the game by shelling targets in northern Syria in revenge for rocket fire that hit the Turkish town of Kilis last week.

Iraq

Iraqi Sunnis living under the yoke of the Islamic State are terrified of the Iraqi security forces who are supposed to liberate them from the jihadist group, according to polling data. About three quarters of those surveyed in Mosul say they don’t want Iraq’s army to free them from the Islamic State and a full 100 percent would rather not be liberated by Iraq’s Kurdish Peshmerga forces or the various Shia militias that now augment Iraq’s war against the caliphate. The polls show that 95 percent of Iraqi Sunnis oppose the Islamic State but the Iraqi forces’ reputation for marginalizing and abusing Iraq’s Sunni population appears to have made many fear even liberation.

P4: The Movie

Will the David Petraeus scandal be a movie? Handfuls of eager would-be moviegoers  in the high single digits are waiting to find out. Jill Kelley, the aggrieved Florida socialite who inadvertently kicked off an investigation of the retired general and then-CIA director, says she’s entertaining offers from “several” Hollywood studios for the rights to her book. Kelley contacted the FBI in 2012 after receiving threatening anonymous emails, which an investigation subsequently determined had been sent by Petraeus’s biographer and mistress, Paula Broadwell.

From Russia with love

The long running drama over Russia’s promises to deliver advanced S-300 air defense missiles to Iran appears to have finally reached a conclusion with the delivery of the systems, according to the BBC. Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hossein Jaberi-Ansari says Russia has started fulfilling its end of the contact, a point seemingly backed up by purported photos of the S-300’s transporter erector launcher driving down Iranian roads, posted to the military.ir Internet forum. Russia cancelled the sale of S-300 missiles to Iran in 2009 but recently announced that it would honor the contract.

Regrets

President Obama told Fox News on Sunday that the failure to adequately plan for the fallout from the removal of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011 is the biggest mistake of his presidency. The statement echoes comments he made in a recent Atlantic magazine article, referring to Libya as a “shit show” and blaming British Prime Minister David Cameron for becoming distracted after the toppling of Gadhafi. Nonetheless, Obama still referred to the intervention in Libya as “what I think was the right thing to do.”

Who’s where when

Newly-minted Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, Dr. Michael Carpenter, is in Kiev, Ukraine this week, where he’s meeting with senior Ukrainian defense and government officials. High on the agenda, according to defense officials, is the current situation in the Donbas in eastern Ukraine, as well plans for the $335 million Washington recently pledged to continue training programs, advance defense reforms, and provide additional equipment to Ukraine’s security forces.

Business of defense

Some big defense contractors are at war with a relatively anonymous, Pentagon official in charge of penny pinching on behalf of taxpayers. Politico reports that defense firms like Boeing and Honeywell are trying to undermine the authority of Shay Assad, a former executive at Northrop Grumman who’s now the Defense Department’s director for defense pricing. At issue is Assad’s authority to demand pricing data from subcontractors, which the law says the Pentagon is entitled to get from subcontractors doing more than $750,000 worth of business on a contract. But a number of defense contractors view the demands as excessive and have sought legislation to curb that authority.

Dedication

Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News flags this little nugget that’s too good to pass by. The Defense Department’s FOIA chief is apparently being flooded by one citizen sleuth who is causing all sort of headaches in the department.

Peter Levine, the Deputy Chief management Office at the Pentagon’s inspector general’s office, writes in his latest report that, “one particular requester singlehandedly filed three requests with SOUTHCOM, 53 requests with AFRICOM, 35 requests with SOCOM and 217 requests with [Office of the Secretary of Defense/Joint Staff] for a total of 308 cases this fiscal year alone. For AFRICOM, this represents 43% of their entire incoming requests for the year and 12% for SOCOM. This requester holds over 13% of the currently open and pending requests with [Joint Staff] and over the past two years has filed 415 initial requests and 54 appeals with this one component.”

 

Photo credit: MOHD FYROL/AFP/Getty Images

Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary

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