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.

Panetta says foreign actors attempting to slip into U.S

Veep debate, a contrast in foreign policy, Moving past Big Bird: the Early Bird to see big changes, and more.

Two foreigners, including possibly one American, have been kidnapped in Afghanistan's Wardak province. Khaama Press:

Two foreigners, including possibly one American, have been kidnapped in Afghanistan’s Wardak province. Khaama Press:

The spirited veep debate last night focused largely – and to some extent, according to pundits, excessively ­­- on foreign policy. But some contrasts emerged between the two camps as they sparred on Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Libya. Paul Ryan hit Joe Biden hard on the administration’s murky narrative surrounding the attack in Benghazi, while Biden was pointed in his defense of administration policy on Afghanistan and Syria.

Amid stylistic criticisms that Biden interrupted, rolled his eyes and smiled too much as his opponent spoke, Ryan, considered green on foreign policy, largely held his own on the issues but maybe came across as too studied. Or, as Politico’s Mike Allen said in a 4:52 a.m. Playbook early this morning of Ryan: "…some of his foreign-policy riffs sounded memorized – national security as a second language."

Doug Wilson told Situation Report after the debate that Ryan came across as a wonk "who wanted to prove that he knew foreign policy, but instead showed that he really didn’t know the real world," Wilson, a former Pentagon official and now Obama national security surrogate, said. "I thought Biden was the best on Syria, very straight forward, very detailed, very clear about the choices that we face in Syria," Wilson said.

Danielle Pletka told Situation Report after the debate that she thought it was a mistake for Biden to "double down on the lies about Benghazi," saying: "The fog of war answer doesn’t cut it; he should have done the president a favor and owned up to the  mistakes that were made," said Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute. On Iran, however, she said she thought Ryan could have been more aggressive.

"I think Ryan could have put him more on the spot on the issue," she said.

New York Daily News (ed): "[Biden] was hot and dismissive, even to the point of off-putting arrogance, his facial expressions and tone aimed clearly at conveying disdain for the Republican ticket, whether the topic was tax policy, the unemployment rate or the Middle East."

National Security Network’s Heather Hurlburt: "The candidates had a number of clear, explicit questions put to them. Again, Congressman Ryan had the opportunity to dispel confusion and criticism, from bipartisan and nonpartisan voices, about his ticket’s foreign policy views, and whether they differ in substance and not just rhetoric from the Obama administration. But Ryan did not do so."

Welcome to Friday’s edition of Situation Report where the only thing that’s not debatable is that Jayson Werth is today’s hero. Follow me @glubold or hit me anytime at Sign up for Situation Report here: or just send me an e-mail and we’ll put you on the list.

Biden and Ryan drew some contrasts on sending American forces into battle – or at least leaving them there. At one point, Ryan drew from the long-standing GOP criticism of Obama’s ending of the surge of American forces in Afghanistan before the fighting season there had ended, giving Biden an opening to paint Ryan as someone who would leave Americans in harm’s way for longer in Afghanistan’s RC-East. Ryan: "We are already sending Americans to do the job, but?fewer of them. That’s the whole problem," he said. Biden: "That’s right. We’re sending in more Afghans to do the?job, Afghans to do the job."

On defense spending, Ryan said cuts to personnel and to major programs would hollow out the force and make America look weak: Ryan: "And we should not be imposing these devastating defense cuts, because what that does when we equivocate on our values, when we show that we’re cutting down on defense, it makes us more weak. It projects weakness. And when we look weak, our adversaries are much more willing to test us. They’re more brazen in their attacks, and are allies are less willing to…"

Biden: "With all due respect, that’s a bunch of malarkey," Biden said, responding to Ryan’s attack on the administration’s embassy security. "This lecture on embassy security – the congressman here cut embassy security in much for the embassy security piece," Biden said. "Number two, Governor Romney, before he knew the facts, before he even knew that our ambassador was killed, he was out making a political statement which was panned by the media around the world. And this talk about this – this weakness. I – I don’t understand what my friend’s talking about here."

Debate transcript (CNN):

RT: Kevin Baron ??@FPBaron Good q, Martha, what’s your criteria for intervention? Humanitarian? Ryan stumbles a little, "only in our national security interest"

RT: RUTH BUZZI ??@Ruth_A_Buzzi This morning by 10:00 AM, Joe Biden has to return those teeth to The Joker.

Panetta said foreign actors are probing the networks of key American companies in an attempt to gain control of industrial facilities and transportation systems. In what was billed as a major cyber-security speech last night in New York, ill-timed during the veep debate, Panetta revealed some alarming details about what outsiders are trying to do to U.S. systems in his bid to get cyber-security on the radar.

"We know that foreign cyber actors are probing America’s critical infrastructure networks," said Panetta, disclosing previously classified information during a speech in New York laying out the Pentagon’s role in protecting the U.S. from cyber attacks, writes Killer Apps’ John Reed last night. "They are targeting the computer control systems that operate chemical, electricity and water plants, and those that guide transportation thorough the country."

Read Reed’s analysis:

The big man is leaving the building. Former Pentagon spokesman turned Air Force public affairs deputy director Chris Isleib, a former script writer in LA. and a drilling reservist in the Navy for 17 years (plus five on active-duty), is heading to National Archives and Records Administration to work on their media ops starting Oct. 22 after six years in the building. Party next week.

Tired of hearing that America’s military is really "the best in the world?" Winslow Wheeler is. The argument that because the U.S. allocates huge amounts of resources more than the next guy on its military leads American leaders to always conclude that it’s the strongest military in the land. Wheeler disagrees: "The history of warfare is full of this kind of arrogance before the fall; it has occurred from the beginnings of recorded warfare until today," he writes on FP.  He goes on: "In Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. forces often showed real guts and skill at the tactical level, but the heroism of soldiers and Marines notwithstanding, it should be remembered that they have fought enemies with no air force or navy and not much infantry equipment beyond home-built road mines, AK-47 rifles, and rocket-propelled grenades."

Steve Warren is making changes to the Early Bird. Lt. Col. Steve Warren, director of the Pentagon’s press operations office, is spearheading an effort to revamp, retool and reinvent the Early Bird, the beloved, sometimes loathed, but always well-read compendium of daily defense coverage that has been the signature Pentagon publication for 49 years.

Warren told Situation Report that he wants to make what the New York Times once said ranks among one of the most influential publications of the U.S. government, more relevant in the digital age. So far, the Pentagon has purchased new computer software that will amount to one of the biggest "under-the-surface changes" the Bird has seen in years and allow Bird Watchers to make more apparent changes in the coming months. "I want to create a Web site, a central digital place, where all of our users, readers can go to get truly current news," he told Situation Report. Warren said he recognizes that in this digital age, the 5:40 a.m. e-mail is almost completely dated within hours.  "By eight o’clock, the Early Bird is already becoming a little bit stale," he says.

Proud of the work his staff has already done thus far, he envisions an Early Bird that will be updated in "near real-time," and he also wants to add more robust broadcast and radio component that supports more than just transcripts, but perhaps audio and video clips as well. And, he wants to capture social media on the Bird in some way.

"The overall goal here is to give senior decision makers a sense of what’s in the news," he said. "I don’t want the news to influence their decisions, but it’s part of the environment and they have to know it."

What you always wanted to know: How many people see the Early Bird? Hard to say, but in a typical week, the Pentagon says it gets about 572,800 total hits, or about 81,800 per day, on average. Total page views? About 348,400 in a given week. Most people view between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., and again at 11 p.m. It is sent to 1,000 e-mail addresses – many of them organizations in and outside the military that redistribute it internally – each ay.

Know your Early Bird history: Although the Air Force had published a "Current News" compendium since 1948, the Pentagon recognized that defense coverage, amid the Cold War and Vietnam, demanded a new publication. At one point, the Early Bird cover page was yellow to help it stand out from paper-strewn desks of DoD officials, and to differentiate it from another edition that came out in midday, the "Bluebird."

Caspar Weinberger and the fax machine had the biggest impact on the growth of the Early Bird. "Weinberger, whose driver brought an Early Bird for his commute from northwest D.C. shortly after 0600 each morning, became known for calling DoD officials as he neared the Pentagon, in search of details about what he was reading. Demand for earlier delivery quickly spread among DoD managers, their staffs, and the Joint Chiefs," according to a history of the Early Bird Warren requested as he considers changes.

Bryan Whitman remembers: "When I first got to the Pentagon the Early Bird, (sometimes referred to as the Yellow Bird because the first page was printed in canary yellow paper) was a cut and paste product done up by OSD(PA) and then delivered to a print room that I believe belonged to the Air Force. Early each morning as this was rolling off the copying machine young interns and admin assistants could be seen scurrying to secure copies for their leadership. Of course there was never enough and each office had its allocation. The earlier you got there the more likely you could get your full allocation and if you made friends with the printers perhaps score a few more."

Read about the Early Bird and how it’s compiled each day: (thanks to the Early Bird’s Taft Phoebus)

Twelve Years and Counting


The Two Sudans

The Girl


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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