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.

Why “warhead miniaturization” is today’s big topic; Hale on furloughs; Is the U.S. contracting with the enemy?; Stavridis to Naval Institute; The Hammer leaves the Pentagon; Mattis on the “inner child”; and just a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold It seems everyone is talking about the finer points of warhead miniaturization this morning. After the revelation that North Korea might be able to put a small nuclear weapon on a ballistic missile, the fears of the threat from the North took a more ominous turn yesterday and now everyone is a ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

It seems everyone is talking about the finer points of warhead miniaturization this morning. After the revelation that North Korea might be able to put a small nuclear weapon on a ballistic missile, the fears of the threat from the North took a more ominous turn yesterday and now everyone is a twitter about what it all means and if the so-called crisis on the Korean Peninsula is becoming a lot more serious. It started yesterday when a little known Republican congressman from Colorado read aloud a portion of a Defense Intelligence Agency report from March that indicates the DIA has "moderate confidence" that North Korea has nuclear weapons that could be fit on a ballistic missile. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) read the statement, which he said he obtained through sources at the DIA, at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee. The report also indicates that such a missile would have "low reliability," meaning it wouldn’t likely be very accurate, and it remains unclear what the striking distance of the weapon would be. Lamborn’s reading in public of the unclassified portion of the DIA report forced the Pentagon to issue a statement that dialed the situation back slightly. Pentagon pressec George Little’s statement, in part: "… it would be inaccurate to suggest that the North Korean regime has fully tested, developed, or demonstrated the kinds of nuclear capabilities referenced in the passage."

The revelation that the DIA thinks it’s possible the North is developing such a capability is something FP’s Jeffrey Lewis wrote about on FP after the February nuclear test: "Although it’s not nearly so big as the modern thermonuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal — which range from hundreds of kilotons to a megaton — you really wouldn’t want this dropped in your neighborhood. More importantly, however, North Korea has announced that the device was a ‘miniaturized and lighter nuclear device with greater explosive force than previously.’ What this boils down to is a North Korean claim that this nuclear weapon will fit on a missile like the Nodong. Or maybe even the KN-08, which the North Koreans say over and over is intended for us. Like a valentine." Lewis will do an updated piece on FP later today.

Would the Chinese attack? Unclear. But a January 1994 intelligence report, declassified and published on FP and the National Security Archives for the first time, here, lays out Beijing’s options and possible responses. They range from economic sanctions to all out war.  The report notes that the Chinese needed to "reconcile their interest in stability on the Korean Peninsula and long-standing ties to Pyongyang with their interests in a denuclearized peninsula, in avoiding isolation among UN Security Council (SC) members, and in maintaining stable relations with the US, Japan and South Korea."

The fear of an attack from the North just isn’t that pronounced in Seoul. In fact, to hear Americans living in South Korea tell it, it sounds as if Washingtonians preparing for a snowstorm act with more fear than Seoul residents confronting the possibility of an attack from the North. From an American relative of Situation Report, who lives in Seoul, about fears of the North, in an e-mail: "Actually we are the only ones talking about it!! Just foreigners. South Koreans could care less. I have Korean friends who concur that nobody in their family or workplace ever talks about it. So it is pretty bizarre to watch CNN and get a blow-by-blow on the severity of the situation and then walk outside and see/feel the exact opposite. Again no warnings or anything like that from any government agency. Nobody buying water or bomb shelters at all. Business as usual. I know must seem weird but its true."

Welcome to Friday’s edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. 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 military stories of success or excess.

Lamborn seems to have moles within the Pentagon. During yesterday’s hearing with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey and Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale, the congressman also asked about furloughs. Situation Report was the first to report yesterday that the Navy and Marine Corps had another option to balance their budgets and avert furloughs, even though the Pentagon’s official policy is for all DOD civilians to take whatever amount of furlough is required, regardless of each service’s budgetary situation. We also reported, like other news outlets, that the Pentagon is considering an array of options on furloughs, and AP reported that the Defense Department was considering cutting back the number of furlough days from 14 to seven (the original plan called for 22 days).

Lamborn, yesterday: It’s been told to me, admittedly by anonymous sources, within parts of the DOD, that some of the civilian furloughs were not required in their initial plans for funding, but they were told to revise those plans and to come up with civilian furloughs. Is there any truth to that kind of statement?

Hagel: Congressman, I don’t know, I have not heard that but let me ask the comptroller, thank you.

Hale: I’m not aware of that specific direction. We have not made decisions on furloughs, we are trying to look at a policy that minimizes adverse effects on our mission. That is the key goal. Within that and to the extent that it doesn’t violate it, we would like to see consistency and fairness, because if we’re gonna have to jump into this pool, we’d like to jump together, but no final decisions have been made on furloughs. Watch the brief exchange here.

SIGAR thinks the U.S. may still be "contracting with the enemy." The E-Ring’s Kevin Baron writes  on a new report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction that says that "millions of contracting dollars could be diverted to forces seeking to harm U.S. military and civilian personnel and derail the multi-billion dollar reconstruction effort." Baron: The section of the law in question gives DOD power to keep funds from companies who associate with enemy elements. But, SIGAR said, the rule ‘only applies to contacts more than $100,000 — but roughly 80 percent of contracts awarded in Afghanistan fall below this threshold.’ SIGAR also found that contracting agencies simply do not know who their subcontractors are, on many projects. That’s a typical problem across the federal government for oversight officials, who often must rely on prime contractors, often small overseas companies, to identify their subcontractors adequately."

Lt. Gen. Dan Allyn named to go to FORSCOM, here.

The man known as
"CATSA" — and sometimes "The Hammer" — is leaving the Pentagon’s front office.
Elliot Gillerman, who has been serving as the right-hand man of the defense secretary’s right-hand man, is headed out. Today is the last day at the Pentagon for Gillerman, who might have one of the coolest titles in Washington: Confidential Assistant to the Special Assistant. He worked for the Pentagon’s chief of staff, otherwise known as The Special Assistant, Jeremy Bash, for the last few years. Gillerman met Bash during the presidential transition in 2008 and then came to the Pentagon to serve in legislative affairs before moving to the front office and became a trusted adviser thought to be a big part of the success of the Panetta team. He’s returning home to Massachusetts to start graduate school in August, when he’ll begin a joint MBA/MPA program between Dartmouth’s Tuck and Harvard’s Kennedy. The CATSA’s e-mail to friends: "You may know that tomorrow is my last day of work at the Pentagon. After five years of living and working in Washington, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and working with some of the best and smartest people around. Between the Obama campaign, Capitol Hill, and the Department of Defense, my time in Washington has been an invaluable personal and professional education. You’ve been a part of that experience along the way, and for that I am grateful." Why he’s called the Hammer – because he hits hard, we’re told.

Stavridis is headed to the Naval Institute. It’s been a long slog for Adm. Jim Stavridis, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and commander of U.S. European Command, but the end is near. Yesterday, when his likely replacement appeared on Capitol Hill for confirmation hearings, it was announced that Stavridis would become the chair of the board of directors at the U.S. Naval Institute in Annapolis. Stavridis’ role at the institute, which the admiral said was the "intellectual heart of our naval profession," probably won’t amount to a full-time job. But it’s still likely welcome news for Stavridis, who has held the top job in Europe since June 2009 and will have served nearly a year longer than most combatant commanders. It is expected that his likely replacement, Air Force Gen. Phil Breedlove, will be confirmed by the Senate soon.

Acting institute chair Nancy Brown welcomed Stavridis: "We are delighted and honored by Admiral Stavridis’ acceptance. He is a distinguished officer and an individual of the very greatest accomplishments whose contributions epitomize the mission of the U.S. Naval Institute. This is an exciting time for the Naval Institute. It will be in the very best of hands with him at the helm of our Board."

Stavridis had already served in Europe longer than expected when the man expected to replace him, Gen. John Allen, the former ISAF commander, was caught up in the scandal that felled David Petraeus. Allen was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing but chose not to seek the job in Europe. Naval Institute’s press release, here. Stavridis’ selected writings from Proceedings magazine, or as Danger Room’s Spence Ackerman says, his "greatest hits," here.

USAT’s Jim Michaels interviewed Chaos. Former U.S. Central Command commander Marine Gen. Jim "Chaos" Mattis gave an exclusive interview to USAT’s Jim Michaels, himself a former Marine. Mattis, the eminently quotable spirited warrior monk who nonetheless seemed to be under a sort of gag order as CENTCOM chief, opened up to Michaels on a number of topics in the piece. In his own words:

On Iran and Syria’s Assad: "Absent Iran’s help, I don’t believe Assad would have been in power the last six months."

On rumors that he was forced out over his views on Iran: "The idea that you should moderate it before you give it to them is not showing respect to your civilian leadership."

On Iran: "No one gives a damn what Iran thinks on any significant issue. The only reason Iran is at the big boys’ table is because of their nuclear weapons program."

On the way he talks: "There are a lot of self-imposed restrictions by people who somehow believe they have to fall in with a certain military cant…. There was always a sense that we had to put things into words that would touch our troops’ hearts — not just their heads."

What he told young officers who completed the Infantry Officers Course recently: "It’s not an easy course…. It’s not designed to be. We’re not here to get you in touch with your inner child."


  • Defense News: Top HASC Democrat: more DOD cuts likely "under any scenario."
  • AOL Defense: BRAC is back and sequester is here to stay. 
  • Jerusalem Post: West has "hard evidence" of Syria WMD use.
  • BBC: Mali refugees endure "appalling" Mauritanian camp.
  • New Yorker: North Korea’s war on Microsoft. 
  • Reuters: "Speculative" report sets off North Korea worries.
  • Brookings: Getting Kim Jong Un’s attention.


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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