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.

Hagel meets 20 veterans groups today; How North Korea will resort to cyber-attacks; The fate of the DWM; Such a waist: why an AF colonel was relieved; and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold  North Korea threatened U.S. bases in the Pacific. In retaliation for the U.S. flying B-52 bombers over the Korean Peninsula, the North today threatened to attack U.S. military bases in Japan and Guam, while at the same time the country’s state radio blared air-raid warnings, the NYT reports. "Until the 1990s, air-raid ...

By Gordon Lubold 

By Gordon Lubold 

North Korea threatened U.S. bases in the Pacific. In retaliation for the U.S. flying B-52 bombers over the Korean Peninsula, the North today threatened to attack U.S. military bases in Japan and Guam, while at the same time the country’s state radio blared air-raid warnings, the NYT reports. "Until the 1990s, air-raid drills had been a popular tool for the Pyongyang regime to highlight the perceived threat of an American invasion and to instill in its people a sense of crisis and solidarity. The one-hour air-raid drill on Thursday came amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula following the North’s nuclear test on Feb. 12 and the subsequent United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang.
"Nuclear-capable B-52 bombers, taking off from Guam, had previously flown missions over South Korea as part of joint military exercises. But this month, the Pentagon took the rare action of publicly announcing those missions to reaffirm the United States’ ‘nuclear umbrella’ for South Korea and Japan at a time of rising anxiety over the North’s nuclear threats. South Korean news media also carried photos of a U.S. nuclear-powered attack submarine making a port call at a South Korean naval base."
A spokesman of the Supreme Command of the North Korean People’s Army, according to the North’s state-run news agency:
"The U.S. should not forget that the Anderson Air Force Base on Guam, where B-52s take off, and naval bases in Japan proper and Okinawa, where nuclear-powered submarines are launched, are within the striking range of the DPRK’s precision strike means." He added: "Now that the U.S. started open nuclear blackmail and threat, the DPRK, too, will move to take corresponding military actions."
The North Koreans have one card.
Chris Hellman, a senior research analyst at the National Priorities Project, said earlier this week that while the North’s threats must always be taken seriously, they also shouldn’t be given too much weight. "They have one card — and they play it repeatedly," Hellman told Situation Report. "And it’s the nuclear card." Hellman believes the North Koreans fully recognize that they put themselves at too much risk if they ever were to attack using a nuclear weapon. "It’s a card they can never truly play because once it’s used, it’s gone…if they do this, they will be obliterated." Hellman predicts that there could be further escalation between the North and South and the U.S., but that each side will ultimately go back to its corner. "This scenario has played out over and over again," he said.
MIT’s John Park on the North’s reaction and the increased use of cyber attacks from one of the world’s "least wired countries" against the South – the world’s "most wired country." Park:
"We’re likely to see more North Korean reactions in the form of cyber-attacks against South Korea.  Investigators in Seoul announced that the recent cyber-attack on South Korean banks, broadcasting companies, and insurance companies was traced to a China-based IP address.  North Korea in the past has used IP addresses and servers spread among several countries in carrying out cyber-attacks on South Korean targets.  South Koreans are largely immune to traditional saber rattling and threats from the North having lived with them since the 1950s.  The use of cyber-attacks presents an asymmetric opportunity for the North Koreans.  It can directly disrupt the lives of South Koreans and create a unique sense of vulnerability… The quandary for the U.S. and South Korea at present is that there is no equivalent of a B-52 over flight in the cyber domain."

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of Situation Report. Hit me anytime at Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail me. And always, if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. If we can get it in, we will. And help us fill our candy dish: news of the military weird, strange trends, personnel comings-and-goings and whatnot.

This time, with feeling. Many of you continued to have problems accessing the links to FP’s event on Iraq with RAND, as well as another piece on FP: the 10 most iconic images of the war. Here are those links once again: The conversation with Steve Hadley, Gen. John Allen, Doug Feith, John Nagl, and more, here. The 10 iconic images can be found here. 

Pivot, rotate, rebalance, whatever you call it! Even the generals get confused about the politically correct way to talk about the, er, move/move back to the Pacific. Gen. John Kelly, U.S. Southern Command commander, at the Pentagon yesterday, talking about sequestration and operations: "[W]hat’s the term we use? Rotate… Pivot — pivot, yeah, rebalance, yeah."  Read the whole transcript of the briefing, which includes his thoughts on Latin and South America, Iranian and Pakistani influences there, and the surge of hunger strikers at GTMO – all here.

BTW, It’s John Kelly, not John Kelley. We had Jill Kelley on the brain in our item yesterday about U.S. Southern Command commander John Kelly. Both live in Florida! But apologies for misspelling the Marine’s name.

Hagel meets with more than 20 veterans groups today. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with representatives from about 20 veterans and military groups for a roundtable discussion on a host of issues, from the fiscal 2014 budget to transition assistance to veterans employment to the mental health of the force. 
Who’s attending today’s meeting?
A who’s who of veterans and military groups, Situation Report is told: representatives from the Air Force Association, the American Legion, AMVETS, the Armed Services YMCA, the Association of the United States Army, Blue Star Families, Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Marine Corps League, the Military Child Education Coalition, the Military Officers Association of America, the National Military Family Association, the Navy League, Operation Homefront, the Reserve Officers Association, the Student Veterans of America, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), the USO, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States, the Vietnam Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project, Fisher House Foundation, Inc., and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (Hiring Heroes Program).
Then, tonight, Hagel boards a military jet for Tampa
, where he will "RON" (remain overnight). On Friday morning, he’ll have a "working breakfast" with Adm. Bill McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. Then he’ll preside over the change of command at U.S. Central Command, the combatant command that could be known as the tinderbox command since it’s responsible for some of the countries that pose the biggest threats to international security: Iran, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and more than a dozen others. Gen. Lloyd Austin is taking over for Gen. Jim Mattis, otherwise known as "Chaos," who is retiring.
Staffers on a plane –
Acting Chief of
Staff Marcel Lettre, Senior Military Assistant Lt. Gen. Tom Waldhauser, and chief speechwriter Jacob Freedman.
Reporters on a plane 
– None.

Is the Distinguished Warfare Medal the "New Coke" of medals? Hagel’s meeting today with the veterans groups is about budgets and other issues, but the one topic that will generate the most lively discussion will be the Distinguished Warfare Medal. The medal, announced as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta walked out the door, recognizes the contributions of drone pilots — to many, the unsung heroes of modern day warfare. But it has caused an uproar on Capitol Hill, in the Pentagon, and from groups across Washington. Critics decry less the creation of the medal than its "precedence" — where it sits in the hierarchy of medals for the hierarchy-heavy military. The new medal will be above the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, and just below the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Flying Cross. Many in the ground service believe its placement denigrates medals recognizing acts of merit, heroism, or valor in a combat zone since it would be typically awarded to a drone pilot who maneuvers planes remotely.

It’s likely the award would only be given under rare circumstances — and for highly classified operations. That may have contributed to the thinking in the Pentagon that its creation wouldn’t have caused so many problems.

Still, although the award underwent what one Pentagon official referred to as a "serious process" and the service chiefs all apparently signed off on it, there is now widespread recognition that the vetting process should have been better. "There’s a sense that all of the right bases weren’t touched and that the degree of opposition was underestimated," the official told Situation Report.

Although it wasn’t his doing, Hagel confronted the controversy soon after entering office and, perhaps seeking credibility with the uniforms, directed that a study look at the award and its precedence. But the review does not necessarily mean there will be big changes. "It’s not leaning in any direction," the official said.

Some officials suggest the award could be downgraded to below the Bronze Star but, possibly, still above the Purple Heart. Or, the Bronze Star and the Bronze Star with the "V" device for valor could be split into two — an unprecedented move for awards — giving the new Distinguished Warfare Medal precedence over the Bronze Star, but not over the Bronze Star with "V," in a move that would still put valor above joysticks. Even some of the award’s most ardent supporters think changing the precedence of the medal in some form would probably be acceptable. But Dave Deptula, the retired three-star who oversaw the Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance program, says the fight over the medal represents legacy thinking.

"We need to be able to award brains as well as brawn," he told Situation Report this week. "And doing so takes nothing away from those who risked their lives in combat. The fact of the matter is that we have moved from an era of industrial age warfare to an information age where the battle space is not defined by lines on the ground and can occur in every domain."

An Air Force 06 was relieved of command — for failing his PT test. Col. Tim Bush had what was described as an "impeccable resume" but was relieved after he failed his physical fitness test, according to Air Force Times’ Jeff Schogol. Bush was the commander of the 319th Air Base Wing at Grand Forks Air Base, North Dakota. Schogol: "Bush told airmen at a commander’s call that he failed the waist measurement component of the PT test, said an Air Force official who is not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. Bush has requested to retire, the official said." The wing’s vice commander, Col. Christopher Mann, will serve as interim commander until Bush’s replacement can be identified.


  • NYT: Gaza militants fire rockets before Obama meets Abbas.
  • Danger Room: Forget budget cuts, the Air Force is ready for (Fantasy) Football.
  • Duffel Blog: Iraq war retroactively justified by discovery of WMD. 
  • New India Express: The Growth of Al-Qaeda


  • NYT: The number of hunger strikers surge at Guantanamo.
  • Lawfare: The statement on the hunger strikes.  

The Pivot

  • Yonhap: Report: Cyber attack in South Korea came from China.
  • Real Clear Defense: DOD having it both ways on sequester, Asia-Pacific rebalance.

Still Remembering

  • The New Yorker: (Filkins) The other Iraqi legacy.
  • NYT: (Rhode): Iraq legacy: an ailing press and an invade-or-nothing foreign policy.
  • Politico: (Barnicle): Iraq at 10.  


Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge. Twitter: @FPBaron

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