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’s briefings on strategic review started today; Tomatoes for the WaPo story on commissaries?; In Rice, Obama bought a sports car; McCain: an “inescapable reality” in Syria; Can SecDef declassify material? And a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Today, Hagel is receiving his first briefing on the "Scammer." The Pentagon group charged with presenting a menu of "strategic choices" to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on how to trim the budget has completed its work and Hagel is sitting down with officials from the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, or CAPE ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Today, Hagel is receiving his first briefing on the "Scammer." The Pentagon group charged with presenting a menu of "strategic choices" to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on how to trim the budget has completed its work and Hagel is sitting down with officials from the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, or CAPE office led by Christine Fox, today. He’ll also get another one tomorrow.  Hagel ordered that the Strategic Choices and Management Review– nicknamed the "scammer" by those who fear they’ll be swindled — be a comprehensive, top-to-bottom review of the Pentagon’s budget, from the size of military staffs to the efficacy of programs. The review will present options to Hagel who may adopt some, alter some, and altogether reject others. The Pentagon’s massive personnel budget — which eats up more than 65 percent of some services’ budgets through healthcare costs, DOD education, and other benefits — is an appealing place to look for cuts. But they are also politically unpopular. That leaves costly programs, but the services won’t want to give up on many of those, either. In coming up with final recommendations, Hagel will have to reach a political balance between the two. "Hagel will have to choose, in order to minimize the cuts to save [military programs], how far he will go with compensation with the Congress, and with the understanding that if it all gets shot down, you got to take it out of your hide somewhere else," said one defense official close to the review process. More on the SCMR, below.

Secret Order of the Phone Police: Lawmakers say they’ve known about the collection of phone records for years and it’s legal. The Guardian newspaper first reported this story, saying that a top secret court order issued in April requires Verizon to give the agency information on all telephone calls. The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald: "The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an ‘ongoing, daily basis’ to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

Earlier today, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss, chairman and vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a statement that read in part:  "The alleged FISA Court order contained in the Guardian article does not give the government authority to listen in on anyone’s telephone call, nor does it provide the government with the content of any communication or the name of any subscriber. As with other FISA authorities, all information the government may receive under such an order would be subject to strict limitations. While our courts have consistently recognized that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in this type of metadata information and thus no search warrant is required to obtain it, any subsequent effort to obtain the content of an American’s communications would require a specific order from the FISA Court."

And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said the program was an important aspect of maintaining national security: "If we don’t do it, we’re crazy." But: Sen. Dick Durbin, the Democrat from Illinois, said: "There’s been a concern about this issue for some time," the NYT quoted him as telling reporters today in the Capitol. "That’s why I think sunsetting many of these laws is appropriate because circumstances change in terms of America’s security. And our information and knowledge change in terms of threats to America."

Welcome to Thursday’s unexpected afternoon edition of Situation Report, where we’re on the road and enduring technical difficulties and other delays. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or a tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. Please follow us @glubold. And remember, if you see something, say something — to Situation Report.

Our bad: the link on the crazy Acquisition PowerPoint that we reffed yesterday didn’t work. In fact, it didn’t exist. Here is the click bait now, if you like, right here. (But it doesn’t work on some browsers.)

Why is Rajiv Chandrasekaran getting nasty-grams from military spouses and retirees — and maybe ketchup? The WaPo published a story over the weekend explaining the challenges of trimming the number of benefits for the military and used the ever-popular commissaries as a prime example. His lede, to wit: "Motion sensors and razor-wire coils ring the ammunition depot on this vast Marine Corps base. Sentries stand watch in the lobby of the headquarters complex. Military police officers patrol the barracks every few hours. But no building here boasts the defenses of the giant, government-run supermarket, whose bright, wide aisles are stocked with seemingly every brand of every food product available in America — Heinz ketchup, Oscar Mayer bacon, Lay’s chips — all sold at close to wholesale prices. The cost of ordering the goods, filling the shelves and checking out customers is all borne by the American taxpayer." But the informally coordinated attack on the story validates the point. While many active-duty service members agree that such bennies should be cut, not so much with retirees and spouses. And those groups have sent Chandrasekaran many e-mails to make the point. And now, because of his lede, they’re sending him ketchup in protest. #ketchupgate.  Chandrasekaran, on the Tweeters: "rajivwashpost 5:26pm via Twitter for iPhone To those sending me ketchup bottles because they don’t like I will be donating them to a food bank."

SecDefs can declassify classified information. The Project on Government Oversight’s publishing yesterday of a draft IG report on former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, saying that as CIA chief he had disclosed classified information about the bin Laden raid to a Hollywood executive, raised questions in folks minds about just what authorities such officials have on declassifying classified information. The Pentagon is not commenting on the POGO report, released late Tuesday night and referenced in Situation Report Wednesday morning. But officials did allow that defense secretaries generally are allowed to declassify information they deem appropriate to be declassified.

"The Secretary indeed has authority to declassify information previously classified by an [Original Classification Authority] within the Department of Defense," a Pentagon spokesman told Situation Report, per executive order 13526, "Classified National Security Information." However, a defense secretary may not declassify data from another agency without getting consent from that agency. And in the case raised by POGO, Panetta was director of CIA, not DOD. "Great care is taken to con
sult with the OCA before declassifying," a Pentagon official told us. "It’s not a process taken lightly." Panetta, for example, had data declassified in order to give a big speech on cyber-security last year. Presented with a selection of cyber operations, he picked which ones he wanted to talk about and they were declassified.

Hagel: we’re not leaving Afghanistan. The NATO ministerial concluded in Brussels with a somewhat restrictive post-2014 game plan and with Hagel saying the U.S. "is committed to being the largest single contributor to this mission and to being the lead nation in the east and the south," even if he has yet to articulate that commitment in troop numbers. NATO officials said Germany and Italy would take the lead in northern and western Afghanistan, respectively. Hagel: "The United States and its allies are transitioning in Afghanistan. We’re transitioning, not leaving."

National security activism? Ignatius says Obama traded in a gray sedan for a sports car. Not lost on anybody is the fact that Susan Rice and Samantha Power are both far more activist in their foreign policy thinking. And while Obama has been arguably cautious, the two appointments, though not necessarily reflective of Obama charting a new course in foreign policy, may nonetheless animate a more activist role. Rice is like Obama’s "assertive kid sister, Ignatius writes in the WaPo today: "Where he’s cool and deferential, she’s boisterous and sometimes abrasive. Where he avoids public confrontation, she often relishes it. They have different styles, but make no mistake: What Rice says out loud is often what Obama is thinking privately. In appointing Rice to become national security adviser in place of Tom Donilon, Obama is trading a reliable gray sedan for a flashier but more temperamental sports car. He’s exchanging a private political dealmaker for a public provocateur. He’s replacing a man who dislikes taking risks, and has generally been good at avoiding them, with one of the more adventurous people in government."

John McCain at Brookings today, on how Syria won’t be Syria soon: "In short, if the Middle East descends into extremism, and war, and despair, no one should think America would be able to pivot away from those threats. Our national security interests will suffer. That is an inescapable reality. It is the lesson of September 11, 2001. And to believe otherwise is not only naïve; it is dangerous."

And: "No one should think that we have to destroy every air defense system or put thousands of boots on the ground to make a difference in Syria. We have limited options. We could use our stand-off weapons, such as cruise missiles, to target Assad’s aircraft and ballistic missile launchers on the ground. We could enable a provisional government to establish itself in a safe zone in Syria that we could help to protect with Patriot missiles. And we could organize a full-scale operation to train and equip Syrian opposition forces… Would any of this immediately end the conflict? Probably not. But could it save innocent lives in Syria? Could it give the moderate opposition a better chance to succeed? And could it help to turn the conflict in Syria into a strategic disaster for Iran and Hezbollah? To me, the answer to all of these questions is yes."

Micah Zenko, writing on FP: Modest measures won’t topple Assad, and even many of Washington’s hawks don’t want to do more. Zenko: "At this point, it is safe to say that — short of definitive evidence of large-scale regime-directed chemical weapons use, or threats to Turkey, a U.S. treaty ally — it is highly unlikely that the United States will intervene militarily in Syria’s civil war. There are many reasons for this, including an American populace exhausted with nearly a dozen years of continuous warfare, senior military officials deeply opposed to an open-ended mission while still fighting in Afghanistan and confronting the threat of Islamic militants regrouping in southwest Libya, and a president who adheres to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’s semi-serious dictum: ‘Every administration gets one preemptive war against a Muslim country.’"

Peter King opposes arming Syrian rebels. The Chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence opposes arming Syrian rebels because of the growing influence of al-Nusra members and the al Qaeda affiliates among them, al-Monitor reports. Al-Monitor’s Andrew Parasiliti, quoting King: "Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "is somewhat of a danger to the region as an evil dictator with weapons of mass destruction. But my concern with the rebels now is that al-Nusra and the al-Qaeda affiliates, the al-Qaeda supporters, are right now in a very strong position within the rebel movement. There are foreign fighters coming from Europe through Turkey and you have jihadists from all over the region coming out to fight. And whether or not they are in the majority, they are the best trained and the best organized."

SCMR, con’t. Trimming the size of military staffs and other "efficiencies" isn’t likely to confront any resistance from Congress, or, for that matter, from the military itself. But the savings from those kinds of cuts are still a drop in the bucket for a department seeking to trim $500 billion over 10 years. "That’s real money, but we’re talking about the Defense Department here," the official close to the process quipped. In the end, the Army may be the target of some of the biggest cut considerations, and with that comes a lot of fear and trepidation ­ not only within the Army but by outsiders who recognize the significance of any cuts to the revered and, increasingly, defensive, institution. The question will become how big should the Army be, to what degree will trims force the Army to have to fundamentally restructure, and how will the leadership of the Army contend with it all? The Army is currently reducing to about 490,000 soldiers, but is preparing for more cuts that could take it down by tens of thousands more. "I think the biggest and most emotional and bureaucratically contentious thing is what to do with the Army," said the official.

A smoke-filled room? The SCMR process has been so secretive, though, that even those in the Pentagon who are familiar with the process wonder what kind of recommendations it will produce. Those closely familiar with the process believe it may boil down to a small group of people whose "strategic biases" are not well-known. "It’s a mysterious process," one military officer told Situation Report. "The real decisions are being made in a smoke-filled room." Another Pentagon official stressed that the process was one that would produce choices, but decisions. Hagel will make those decisions, in consultation with top advisers, in coming weeks and perhaps months. "When we brief him on the courses of action, he’ll ask questions. This is the normal military decision-making process," the official told Situation Report. "He wants us to have our homework done, then he asks questions, then he will come to decisions on his own."

Denial is not a river in Egypt. Regardless, Hagel’s legacy could be that he is the one who exorcised the sense of denial among some of the brass and department bureaucrats that the change, this time anyway, is real. "Hagel to his credit is getting the Department out of its denial that sequestration level cuts will somehow go awa


  • Battleland: (Mackenzie Eaglen) Hagel’s strategic choices study is something Americans need to see – now. 
  • Abu Muqawama: How not to argue for women in combat. 
  • The Hill: (Randy Forbes) Charting a seapower revitalization.

The Stans

  • Afghanistan Analysts Network: A dangerous case for intervention: A response to the CNAS report on Afghanistan. 
  • Dawn: Prime Minister outlines foreign policy in broad strokes.
  • NYT: Can Pakistan make peace next door?
  • The Af-Pak Channel: Four wildcards that could make or break Pakistan’s new government.
  • Duffel Blog: New guy thinks cups of tea with village elders worth promotion points.

Dishing on Rice


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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