Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

What 371 metric tons of uranium hexafluoride could mean to Iranians

Why it might matter that Shirley Tilghman is leaving Princeton, Pete Mansoor’s vexing book vetting problem, and more.

Welcome to Thursday's edition of FP's Situation Report, where replacement refs are never an option. Follow me @glubold or hit me anytime at

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of FP’s Situation Report, where replacement refs are never an option. Follow me @glubold or hit me anytime at

Lost in the debate on Iran is the human cost of a strike against the country’s nuclear sites, according to a new report published by an Iranian-American with a background in industrial nuclear waste and chemicals. Khosrow Semnani argues in "The Ayatollah’s Nuclear Gamble," that striking Iran’s nuclear facilities, where the IAEA has verified an inventory of 371 metric tons of uranium hexafluoride, could have devastating effects on tens of thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands of Iranians, who would be exposed to highly toxic chemical plumes and even radioactive fallout.

Such plumes, created by strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities, could "destroy their lungs, blind them, severely burn their skin and damage other tissues and vital organs," Semnani says in his report. Unlike traditional explosions, the risks to civilians would extend "well beyond those killed from exposure to the thermal and blast injuries at the nuclear sites," Semnani writes. 

This could have obvious policy implications, making a possible military strike significantly less palatable. "This material is very, very toxic in both the short-term and the long-term," Semnani tells Situation Report. "Someone has to talk about this." Semnani estimates that a minimum of 5,000 people and as many as 80,000 people could be killed or die over time as a result of strikes on these facilities holding the material, and he hopes policymakers take into account the "human dimension" when considering military action.

"The analogy for this is, you can either build a fence in front of the cliff, or hospitals at the bottom of the cliff."

Semnani is not well known in Washington. But we’re told by an independent expert on Iran that Semnani, a scientist, went to "considerable lengths" to make his model as realistic as the available data allows. He funded his own research but the report was published by the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics and Semnani’s Omid for Iran.

On Iran, former National Security Advisor under Bush 43 Steve Hadley says now is the time to pause and consider the options for stopping Iran’s nuclear program. Why? One-word answer: Iraq. "Many people have argued that before making this fateful decision [prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003], U.S. policymakers should have stepped back and conducted one last searching examination of possible alternative courses of action. If that is the case, then it is now time — and perhaps almost past time — to make such an effort with respect to Iran," he writes in "Eight Ways to Deal with Iran," on FP.

Petraeus is running for president. Of Princeton. Or so The Daily Princetonian reports, saying that the CIA director is more than joking when he says he’s interested in heading the university, including a seemingly offhand remark he made at an off-the-record event at which Petraeus spoke at the university’s Ivy Club but which was nevertheless used by the paper, quoting guests at the event. That speculation is now all the more interesting since the announcement that Princeton President Shirley Tilghman is retiring. And Petraeus friend Mike O’Hanlon of Brookings is quoted in the story saying he doesn’t think Petraeus is kidding about wanting the job, either. 

Meanwhile, the SEAL book could be just the beginning. As the Pentagon continues to review its legal options over "No Easy Day," and whether the classified material it says the book contains warrants action against the author, it will have to consider the likelihood that after more than 10 years of war and the killing of bin Laden, there will be many authors who follow Matt Bissonnette. Could the Pentagon set a nasty in precedent going after the former SEAL? And does it have the capacity to vet all manuscripts in a timely fashion?

Turns out, DoD’s Office of Security Review vets nearly 6,000 pieces of public information each year, Situation Report is told. Most of those are speeches, papers, articles, and congressional testimony. Only a small percentage of them are books or manuscripts, according to Mark Langerman, chief of the Pentagon’s Office of Security Review, who answered questions by e-mail — complete with numbered citations of the appropriate Defense Department directive — through the Pentagon’s public affairs office.

According to that directive, the Pentagon has about a month to conduct a security review of book manuscripts. "More time may be needed if the material is complex or requires review by agencies outside of the Department of Defense," according to Langerman.

But security vetting doesn’t always happen in conformance with regulation, as Pete Mansoor learned the hard way. It took Mansoor, one of the big brains behind David Petraeus when he was commander in Iraq, almost four months to get his book, "Baghdad at Sunrise," through the vetting process. After waiting and waiting, Mansoor discovered the low-level staffer in the security vetting department who had been assigned his book had left her job without passing the manuscript on to anyone else. It was ultimately reviewed quickly and given back to him. But Mansoor is concerned about his next book, coming out next year, which is focused on larger issues of warfare and the history of the surge in Iraq. "Surge: My Journey with General David Petraeus and the Remaking of the Iraq War," will include conversations with the Iraqi government and decisions Petraeus made while in uniform that will raise the level of security and policy concerns.

"There might be a little more focus put on the manuscript," Mansoor tells Situation Report. "I’m pretty concerned about the timeliness of the review process and how much they may want to take out."

Mansoor, now a professor of military history at the Ohio State University, says he feels for the former Navy SEAL who wrote "No Easy Day" without going through the Pentagon vetting process: you run the risk that it will slow publication of the book — and that it will be unnecessarily scrubbed.

"I can see why people wouldn’t want to go through the process and take the chance that their words would not see print," he said. And Mansoor is concerned that the Pentagon will want to scrub portions of his book as a way to prevent publication of a sensitive policy issue.

"I understand why the system is the way it is, I just hope it’s fair," he said.

For his part, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little says DoD will make every effort to vet manuscripts in a timely fashion. In an e-mail to Situation Report, he added that, in the case of "No Easy Day," the Pentagon never had the chance to review the book — "a step that was clearly required under the terms of his agreements with the United States government."

Are you safer than you were four years ago? Americans might not care. While Obama does consistently better than Mitt Romney, by six to 10 percentage points, when Americans are asked who would be better at "protecting the country" and "who would be a good commander in chief" and who would be better at "handling foreign policy," a whopping four percent of Americans polled believe that foreign affairs — which includes wars, terrorism, immigration and other things — is the most important issue facing the United States. It is, Micah Zenko writes on FP, the lowest percentage since Obama entered office. 

Seeing Red Lines

  • Reuters: Netanyahu to set out clear red lines in today’s speech at UN.
  • Haaretz: Netanyahu says Israelis behind him on Iran, angered by Ahmadinejad’s speech scheduled on Yom Kippur.
  • AP: Israeli foreign ministry, disputing Netanyahu’s claims, say sanctions hitting Iran hard.

No Rest for Unrest

The Pivot

The Two Sudans

Your Opinion Counts


Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children. Twitter: @glubold

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