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.

BBs and nails: Pressure cooker bombs filled with shrapnel in Boston; Dunford wants strong post-2014 force; Iran Project seeks more diplomacy on Iran; Did a Swiss firm bilk the Pentagon for food service?; Book party for Carter Malkasian; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold  Pressure cookers filled with BBs: the investigation continues in Boston. Little is yet known about the perpetrator or perpetrators who conducted the terrorist attack in Boston, but new details about the twin bombs have emerged. The bomber placed BBs, nails, and other shrapnel inside a pressure cooker. A kitchen timer was used ...

By Gordon Lubold 

By Gordon Lubold 

Pressure cookers filled with BBs: the investigation continues in Boston. Little is yet known about the perpetrator or perpetrators who conducted the terrorist attack in Boston, but new details about the twin bombs have emerged. The bomber placed BBs, nails, and other shrapnel inside a pressure cooker. A kitchen timer was used to detonate bombs, which were likely packed in black nylon duffel bags. As Killer Apps’ John Reed writes: "Reports of pressure cookers being used as bombs go back to at least the 1990s, when they were first used by Maoists in Nepal during the civil war there, and they are still used in the mountain nation with alarming frequency. (In fact, do a quick Google search and you’ll see that pressure cooker bombs are found all the time in South Asia from Nepal to Malaysia.)"

There have been 53 publicly known attempted terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11. But 43 of them have been categorized as homegrown plots, according to government sources. In other words, most terrorist attacks in the U.S. are domestic in origin. Government officials yesterday discounted reports about the Saudi individual, injured and under guard in a Boston hospital, as a suspect. While the investigation could go anywhere at this point, the fact that no group has claimed responsibility for the bombings two days later suggest it’s more likely to be a homegrown terrorist or terrorists and not part of an international network. But most experts say it is just too soon to say. Still, with more than 170 injuries, the Boston bombings are the fifth largest terrorist attack in the U.S. The top four attacks are, in order: 9/11; the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, which caused 1,048 casualties; the Oklahoma City bombing in 1993, with 818 casualties; and a 1984 incident in Oregon in which 751 people were sickened by widespread salmonella poisoning at the hands of the Rajneeshis group.

Bill Braniff, executive director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, or START, at the University of Maryland, told Situation Report that, despite what some people may think, the attack was reasonably sophisticated, with multiple explosive devices. "There is more investment, the more of these explosives you generate," he said. "So there is a level of patience and planning." Report on terrorism from START, here.

Must-read: WaPo writes about the Marine father who years ago set himself on fire when his son died — and who jumped into action in Boston. Carlos Arredondo made headlines in 2005 when, upon learning that his Marine son had been killed in Najaf, Iraq, he set himself on fire inside a van. Years later, his other son would commit suicide. But on marathon day in Boston, Arredondo found himself a bystander and sprang into action, finding a sweater on the ground to use as a tourniquet to help a man whose legs had been blown off. The Post reports: "Arredondo became the face of this bystander heroism after news photos showed him pushing an injured man down the street in a wheelchair. At the time of the first explosion, he was on the opposite side of Boylston Street, close to the finish line. He had come to support a group of military service members who were marching the race with heavy rucksacks on, as a memorial to fallen soldiers."

It’s Wednesday and welcome to 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.

The Boston bombings test the White House’s new CT adviser. The White House’s new John Brennan, Homeland Security and Counter-Terrorism Adviser Lisa Monaco, led the first briefing for President Barack Obama. As the Cable’s Josh Rogin reports, she was one of the two officials in the Oval Office (besides WH chief of staff Denis McDonough) when Obama made the first calls about the bombing to FBI Director Robert Mueller and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. Rogin: "The spotlight is new for Monaco, who has worked in close proximity to both Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden for several years and is a fast-rising star in the Obama administration. But it may just be the beginning. Several reports state she is a top contender to lead the FBI when Mueller steps down in September." Monaco was Mueller’s former counselor and chief of staff and is one of the key officials involved in the FBI’s post-9/11 reforms, Rogin writes. She is "intimately familiar" with how the FBI is shifting its focus to counterterrorism.

A new report urges Washington to strengthen diplomacy with Iran. Washington must strengthen its diplomatic efforts toward Iran and leverage the advantages created by sanctions, according to a new report to be released today by the Iran Project. This is the group’s third report, which is signed by 35 former members of Congress, military and intelligence officers, and senior policymakers. "Strategic Options for Iran," explains why Washington’s approach must change, the benefits and risks of intensifying the diplomatic track, and what a new approach to diplomacy would look like. The report recommends that sanctions don’t go away but that they be used more pointedly as leverage to get Tehran to agree to concessions on its nuclear program.

"No change in U.S. policy will be possible unless President Obama makes the negotiation of a nuclear deal with Iran one of his top priorities," the report states. "To reiterate, strengthening the diplomatic track of U.S. policy toward Iran does not mean abandoning the pressure track, including maintaining the option of using military force should the Iranians move quickly to build a bomb. But if the President decides to try to work with Iran, he will have to take into account the political and strategic challenges of managing those different policy tracks and their respective goals, benefits and costs." The report is live, here.

New report signed and endorsed by: Zbigniew Brzezinski, Joseph Cirincione, Suzanne DiMaggio, David Dreier, ?Lee Hamilton, Michael Hayden, Carla A. Hills, Daniel C. Kurtzer, William Luers, Steve Cheney, Ryan Crocker, Jim Dobbins, Leslie Gelb, William Harrop, Stephen Heintz, Frank Kearney, John Limbert, Dick Lugar, Jessica Mathews, William Miller, Joseph Nye?, Thomas Pickering, William A. Reinsch, Ann-Marie Slaughter, James Walsh, Larry Wilkerson, Frank Wisner, Richard McCormack, Richard Murphy, George Perkovich, Paul Pillar, Gary Sick, Paul Volcker, John Whitehead and Timothy Wirth. 

You can’t make this up: new allegations that the Swiss company doing food service for the U.S. in Afghanistan tried to defraud the Pentagon amid a multi-b
illion dollar dispute.
According to the E-Ring’s Kevin Baron, Congressional investigators from the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security will today reveal new documents and internal e-mails from the Defense Logistics Agency that show how Swiss-based Supreme Foodservice improperly charged $757 million in fees to ship food supplies to forward operating bases in Afghanistan in 2006. The DLA, in rejecting the company’s invoice, argues it already paid in the contract. "In other words, charging the distribution fee amounted to double-billing," according to the memo Baron obtained, which was distributed to subcommittee members in advance of a hearing on the controversy scheduled for Wednesday. Baron, writing on E-Ring:  "The committee also will reveal that a DOD audit found Supreme built an unrequested $58 million warehouse in Helmand province solely to "strategically position themselves" to win more DOD contracts, and then tried to charge U.S. taxpayers for it."

Witnesses expected today: Michael Schuster, managing director of Supreme Group B.V.’s logistics division, Daniel Blair, DOD deputy inspector general for auditing, and contracting executives from DLA.

Gen. Dunford wants a more robust force in Afghanistan post-2014 — but he won’t name a number. Afghanistan war commander Gen. Joe Dunford, who appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday, said he recognizes that in Afghanistan, December 2014, when coalition forces are scheduled to complete the security transition with the Afghan government, is a "cliff for the Afghan people. And, he recommends to keep troops there after the combat mission ends. But he’s good with waiting to make a decision on the actual number until he sees how Afghan security forces do this summer. "My strongest military advice is not to pin down a number right now," he told Sen. John McCain, the Republican from Arizona. That didn’t sit well with McCain, who shot back: "Don’t you understand, general, that one of the reasons why we’re having so much difficulty in some areas is because the Afghans don’t know what our commitment is?"

Dunford seems to understand. In an interview with Situation Report last week, Dunford said he believes a commitment would send a strong message to the Afghans. "I think a little more fidelity on the NATO mission and the U.S. mission — I think that would be very helpful in terms of the message," he told us. But while many conservatives and others believe the U.S. must show commitment to the post-2014 Afghanistan mission through a large force, others believe that post-combat presence should be geared to the strengths and weaknesses of the Afghan force. Dunford believes that the so-called fighting season this year will show the true capabilities of the ANSF and will reveal how the United States can be most helpful.

Dunford’s political adviser, Carter "Sahib" Malkasian, celebrated his new book, War Comes to Garmser, last night. The Washington Post Company’s Don Graham and the WaPo’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran threw a party for Malkasian at Darlington House near Dupont Circle. A number of friends, colleagues from State’s Office of Reconstruction Stabilization, top Marines and other Marine captains from Helmand, former colleagues from CNA showed up. After gracious introductions from Graham and Chandrasekaran, Malkasian stood to talk briefly about his book, giving big props to the Marines for their work in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan and spoke hopefully about the future of Afghanistan. Proceeds for the books sold last night went to a Marine wounded warrior group and Chandrasekaran joked that $20 per book was a pretty good deal since one of Malkasian’s books sold for $1,500 at a charity event recently.

DC Seen –  At the party: David Ignatius, Rick Barton, John Nagl, Paul Kennedy, Marc Chretien, John Allen, Erin Simpson, Andrew Exum, Fred Hiatt, Larry Nicholson, Ron Neumann, Jeffrey Race (author of War Comes to Long An, which inspired Malkasian’s title) Greg Jaffe, Karin von Hippel, Jeff Dressler and several others. WaPo piece by Chandrasekaran on Carter "Sahib" Malkasian. Buy his book on Amazon, here.

In Korea, a new symbol of "power and ferocity." Amid continued tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the Eighth Army unveiled a new unit emblem this week: a detailed drawing of a dragon holding a shield decorated with the number 8 and U.S. and South Korean flags. Dragons play a large role in Korean legend, and the Eighth Army’s HQ is in Yongsan, which means "Dragon Mountain." Said Kim Chong-chin, the illustrator who worked on it for two months: "The oriental-style dragon represents power and ferocity."


  • Mother Jones: These soldiers did the Boston marathon wearing 40-lb. packs, then helped save lives.
  • Politico: Experts have long warned about IEDs in the U.S.
  • Government Executive: Pentagon saves WMD unit that helped in Boston.


  • Chosun Ilbo: Obama expects more North Korean provocations.
  • NYT: Obama doubts North Korea could make a nuclear warhead.
  • Guardian: North Korea open to talks but not with U.S. "brandishing a nuclear stick."


  • Military Times: DOD chastised for role with VA claims backlog. 
  • Washington Times: Dempsey: Pentagon considering trimming general, flag officers.  
  • Defense News: What sequester? Automatic cuts an afterthought at hearing.
    AOL Defense: Marines can’t fight major war with sequester. 

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

More from Foreign Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.

Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?

The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.

Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.
Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.

Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World

It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

It’s a New Great Game. Again.

Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.

Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.
Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing

The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.