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.

The Boston attack is “perplexing”; Mass. National Guard stays in force; Shock-and-awe won’t beat a lone wolf; Army pays $192 million for marketing contract; Outreach for drone medal “clearly insufficient”; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold The latest is…not much. No suspects have been identified in the twin explosions in Boston yesterday (the third reported explosion was in fact unrelated), and there is no known motive in the attack that killed 8-year-old Martin Richard and two others and injured more than 140. But the White House did allow late ...

By Gordon Lubold

The latest is…not much. No suspects have been identified in the twin explosions in Boston yesterday (the third reported explosion was in fact unrelated), and there is no known motive in the attack that killed 8-year-old Martin Richard and two others and injured more than 140. But the White House did allow late last night that the explosions at the Boston Marathon’s finish line yesterday were indeed an "act of terror," ending a string of foiled plots on the American homeland. Whether the perpetrators were domestic or foreign, the intelligence and national security community is struggling to pin down a point of origin for the attack, for which no one has claimed responsibility. One former counterterrorism official told the WaPo that the attack seemed not to have the signature of al Qaeda, which is known for more sophisticated attacks in smaller, enclosed areas.

The former official told the WaPo: "At this stage, it’s perplexing… it’s not a military or particularly iconic target like Times Square or the New York subway. This could be someone with limited or no foreign connections."

In the void of culprits, focus has centered on a Saudi national, injured and under guard in a Boston hospital. The individual appears to be a "person of interest," and Boston area media outlets report that authorities conducted a nine-hour search of an apartment in the Revere, Mass. area connected to at least one person of interest. But pundits and reporters have been rightly cautious about speculating further.

Former Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs at DHS Juliette Kayyem, now a CNN analyst, this morning: "It is smart now not to make conclusions, because if you lead in one direction, it means the real perpetrator has time to leave, has time to get out of the investigators’ sight, so it’s not just we want people to remain calm, which we do, it is also because it may lead us in a way that detracts from where we really need to go."

Kayyem, who was named a Pulitzer finalist yesterday, wrote on FP about resilience after 9/11 in "Never Say Never Again."

The Massachusetts National Guard had already deployed hundreds of troops for the marathon. About 460 guardsmen were on active duty to work the marathon when their mission suddenly changed. The Massachusetts National Guard has now remained in active, state status, and has deployed helicopters, transportation, security, and communications support, as well as explosive ordnance disposal assets, Situation Report is told.

At the Pentagon yesterday, Hagel and Dempsey were, naturally, kept apprised of the attack and its aftermath. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who already had his plate full as an incoming secretary with a budget problem, North Korea, and Syria, now may have to contend with a homeland security crisis with threads that could take the investigation and follow-through to a number of places overseas. Hagel was informed shortly after the explosions and then, while preparing for upcoming congressional testimony, he was periodically updated by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey and others. Dempsey received updates from the Joint Staff’s National Military Command Center, or NMCC, by e-mail, throughout the late afternoon and evening. More on FP’s E-Ring. 

FP’s John Arquilla on how the marathon attack is another reminder of how warfare has become the province of "the few": "The destructive and disruptive power of small groups and even individuals — in the physical world as well as in cyberspace — just keeps growing. While we tend to think of this phenomenon as quite recent, perhaps just dating from 9/11, the trend actually began at the dawn of the machine age, well over a century ago. What we have seen ever since has been dichotomous conflict: big wars in which large numbers of soldiers, sailors, and airmen learned to fight in small bands and squadrons, and little wars in which each side has hunted the other as if they were roving Neolithic tribesmen. And while our gaze is drawn, again and again, to bands of terrorist and insurgent fighters, it is just as important to contemplate the power of the few in larger conflicts — such as the kind that might erupt one day, sooner or later, on the Korean Peninsula." Read the whole piece, here.

It’s Tuesday and welcome to a glum 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.

Dunford testifies on Afghanistan in the Senate today, Hagel, Dempsey, testify on the budget in the House.

Hagel killed the drone medal. In a much-anticipated move, Hagel opted to eliminate the wildly controversial Distinguished Warfare Medal that his predecessor, Leon Panetta, announced the creation of just two months before. Instead, he will create a new "distinguishing device" that can be affixed to existing medals to recognize extraordinary actions. In a statement, Hagel said he agreed with Panetta that those who pilot remotely-controlled aircraft and conduct cyber operations deserve recognition, but: "when I came into office, concerns were raised to me about the Distinguished Warfare Medal’s order of precedence by veterans’ organizations, members of Congress, and other stakeholders whose views are valued by this department’s leadership."

Hagel ordered a review that "confirmed the need to ensure such recognition," but it also found that "misconceptions regarding the precedence of the award were distracting from its original purpose." The chiefs recommended further consultation on the new device and are to return to Hagel within 90 days to determine final award criteria and other specifics.

Dave Deptula, the retired three-star, who oversaw the Air Force’s Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance program, to Situation Report, by e-mail: "One step forward…half a step back… eventually the DOD will fully recognize those who create desired security effects without putting people in harm’s way as we do for those that have to venture in harm’s way." Another senior officer, now retired: "…I’m disappointed but not surprised he made a prudent decision to concede on the dedicated award.  How the device solution is put together will certainly affect how well it is received by the folks that do remote work.  That is still important because their deeds are barely known and under-appreciated." And, on the vetting process before Panetta announced the award: "I don’t know what the outreach strategy was for the initial decision…or if there was one.  If there was, it was clearly insufficient." 

It’s now "indisputable" that the U.S. "engaged in the practice of torture." A NYT story this morning pre
views a project by the nonpartisan Constitution Project of how detainees suspected of terrorism were treated — from the Clinton administration through to the Obama White House. Launching this morning at the National Press Club, we’re told the project "represents the most comprehensive, nonpartisan public accounting" of detainee treatment in the U.S.

From the Times: "The sweeping, 577-page report says that while brutality has occurred in every American war, there never before had been ‘the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.’"

The Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainees’ co-chairs are Asa Hutchison and Amb. James Jones. Task Force members include Richard Epstein, David Gushee, Azizah al-Hibri, David Irvine, Amb. Thomas Pickering, and Gerald Thompson.

The Army has grounded combat pilots, but it just signed off on a nearly $200 million marketing campaign. The Army last week awarded $192 million to advertising giant McCann "Army Strong" Worldgroup for one-year’s worth of marketing designed to make the Army look good enough to join. While the service must continue to draw talent, it is also in the process of downsizing significantly. It’s a third payment for the second of four option years on a contract that has a $565 million cap, reports the E-Ring’s Kevin Baron. It’s another seemingly strange choice  — or at least a choice with bad optics — amid a period of tight budgets. "It’s obviously a very different environment that we’re operating in, but the reality is even in this fiscal environment we still need a quality, all-volunteer force," said Ali Bettancourt, spokeswoman for Army Research and Marketing Group, in an interview. "And the challenge of recruiting that force doesn’t go away."

Baron: "Bettancourt said that the McCann contract was a must. If it did not make the payment, the Army would be left with a significant advertising and marketing services gap until it could reopen a new contract bid from scratch. Instead, the Army has agreed to approve the money, but that does not mean they have to spend it all, she said. McCann’s contract is a multiyear, firm fixed-price contract, which Bettancourt noted is designed to save taxpayer money by preventing cost inflation during the life of the agreement."

Congratulations to Pulitzer finalists at the WaPo: Craig Whitlock, Karen DeYoung, Julie Tate and Greg Miller, "for their fresh exploration of how American drones moved from a temporary means to kill terrorists to a permanent weapon of war, raising issues of legality and accountability." Full list here.

An amicable resolution: Amos, Marine Corps Times, call off the stand-off. Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos and Marine Corps Times reporter Dan Lamothe met yesterday at the Pentagon and by mutual agreement have decided on a plan under which Lamothe will cover the tough Infantry Officers Course at Quantico, Va., but will not participate in it. The whole thing started after Amos grew angry at a headline that used the word "flunked" to describe two women’s failure to complete the course and disinvited Lamothe and MCT Managing Editor Andy deGrandpre from a reception at his home. Amos also challenged Lamothe to complete the course himself, and Lamothe, a civilian reporter who has covered the service for five years, accepted. But the plan was never well hatched, and it wasn’t clear how the reporter would cover the secretive, 13-week course — and what would happen if he actually completed it.

In an MCT blog post this morning Lamothe said the decision was "grounded in common sense" and ensured he would not become a "sideshow distraction." Lamothe: "By mutual agreement, we decided that it would be best for all involved if I cover IOC in July as an observer, rather than as a participant. Like the 100-plus lieutenants who will be there, I’ll be dropped in the woods at Quantico, Va., before dawn July 2 and spend a full day in the field during the arduous Combat Endurance Test, IOC’s entrance exam. I will follow and report what I see, in similar fashion to what I have done during three embedded assignments in Afghanistan." MCT blog post here.

Pivoting

  • CNN: North Korea said it won’t warn the South before an attack.
  • CS Monitor: Did John Kerry just soften conditions on the North?
  • Time: Amid nuclear dispute, a Chinese beer business fails in North Korea.  
  • AP: China criticizes American force strengthening in Asia.

Noting

  • Air Force: Air Force superiority: advantage over enemy skies for 60 years.
  • Small Wars: A review of "Invisible Armies" by Max Boot.
  • New Yorker: Two if by sorrow: Boston and its losses.
  • Duffel Blog (ICYMI Edition): Masters program turns captain into "Acedemicky Douchebag."

 

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