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.

Stevens’ diary reveals his brooding, hopeful final days; The Army: more cuts are coming; Why would Russia cough up Snowden?; Did the Pentagon blacklist “Snowden” URLs?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Are stories with "Snowden" in the url being blocked by the military? Yes and no. We’ve heard reports that such urls, or website addresses, at places like Fort Sam Houston had blocked stories with Snowden in the name. A DOD official told Situation Report, by e-mail, that DOD routinely takes "preventative network ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Are stories with "Snowden" in the url being blocked by the military? Yes and no. We’ve heard reports that such urls, or website addresses, at places like Fort Sam Houston had blocked stories with Snowden in the name. A DOD official told Situation Report, by e-mail, that DOD routinely takes "preventative network hygiene measures" to mitigate the unauthorized disclosure of classified information onto DOD unclassified networks. Lt. Col. Damien Pickart: "While we make every effort to balance the need to preserve information access with operational security, there are strict policies in place regarding protecting and handling classified information. The department does not determine what sites its personnel can choose to visit while on a government system, but instead relies on automated filters that restrict access based on content concerns or malware threats. The DoD is also not going to block websites from the American public in general, and to do so would violate our highest-held principle of upholding and defending the Constitution and respecting civil liberties and privacy."

 Snowden’s plight and the state of U.S. Russia relations. Edward Snowden remained holed up in the "transit center" of a Russian airport, and Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to have declined American requests to have Snowden extradited, citing the lack of an extradition treaty between the U.S. and Russia. American officials walked a careful line, calling on Russia to extradite Snowden but also publicly maintaining that the bilateral relationship was an important one and no NSA contractor would get in the way.

"We can only extradite some foreign nationals to the countries with which we have the relevant international agreements on extradition," Putin said. "With the United States, we have no such agreement." But even as Russia may have privately enjoyed sticking their finger in the American eye, Putin seemed eager to move on and get Snowden on his way, to Ecuador or wherever else he might go. Putin: "It’s like shearing a piglet. There’s a lot of squealing and very little wool."

The U.S.’ tightrope walk seemed to reflect a need by both sides to insulate the relationship from the Snowden issue and, for the U.S., that there is much more at stake in the relationship, and in particular, Syria. And even if Putin were to push to extradite Snowden, it seemed clear the Russian president recognizes that there is little the U.S. could offer him in return.

"My sense is that when he made his statement… he was saying there’s nothing really that the Americans have that I want," Andy Kuchins, who heads the Russia program at CSIS, told Situation Report. "I don’t think Putin is going to negotiate."

Russian fallout on Capitol Hill. Before the U.S. tamped down its rhetoric toward Russia over the last couple days, American officials said there would be "consequences" if Russia did not cooperate with U.S. demands to extradite Snowden. Now Democratic and Republican senators alike now want the Obama White House to show Russia it was serious. John McCain, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, told reporters Putin’s decision should lead Obama to order a "re-evaluation" of Washington’s relationship with Moscow. As quoted by Defense News:

McCain: "A re-evaluation of every aspect of our relationship with Russia, recognizing that Putin is exactly what he is: an apparatchik KGB colonel that has no interest in the same values and principles that we hold. And he is acting in a more erratic and anti-Western [manner] all the time. This harkens back to the 60s by them saying that Mr. Snowden is not in Russia…Technically, because he’s in the transit lounge, that’s true. But it’s old Soviet double speak."

Sen. Ben Cardin, Democrat of Maryland: "I would think that it does affect our relationship. This is a security issue… It is hard to understand Russia’s response. So I expect that will [factor] into the equation of our relationship." And: "We have a very important relationship with Russia. We have to work together. We want to improve our relationship. That remains true today, even though we don’t understand why Russia didn’t cooperate with us on a matter of homeland security. It will have a consequence."

We missed this line at the bottom of a NYT story yesterday on Snowden. One of two Aeroflot pilots confirmed that Snowden was not on board the plane after it landed in Havana 16 hours later by saying: "No Snowden, No special people. Only journalists."

Read Elias Groll’s piece on "Oh, the (very few) Places Edward Snowden Could Go," here.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of Situation Report. 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.

At the U.N., by the way, the Russians have been bullying reformers and blocking efforts to save millions of dollars. FP’s Colum Lynch’s piece, "The Inside Story of Russia’s Fight to Keep the U.N. Corrupt:"

"When U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Sochi, Russia, they were supposed to discuss the civil war in Syria. But the Russian leader — joined by his top diplomat, Sergei Lavrov, and defense secretary, Sergei Shoigu — suddenly changed the subject to more mundane matters. A series of U.N. reforms aimed at streamlining billions of dollars of spending on U.N. peacekeeping was posing a threat to Russia’s commercial interests. Putin and his national security team politely but firmly pressed the U.N. leader to back off, according to several senior U.N.-based sources briefed on the meeting.

"The high-level intervention on U.N. spending marked only the latest example of Russia flexing its diplomatic muscle to protect its commercial position at the United Nations. For much of the past decade, Russia has been engaged in a systematic effort to stymie attempts to root out corruption in U.N. spending. The Russians have pushed out U.N. reformers. They’ve defanged watchdogs. And they’ve blocked internal budget reforms aimed at saving costs. Russia’s zeal for turning back reform has been felt most powerfully in the U.N.’s leasing of aircraft — a $1 billion a year market — that provide transport for the world’s second-largest expeditionary force." Read the rest, here.

Situation Report correctsWe ran a piece on Afghanistan in Monday’s Situation Report from Rep. Ron Paul but we labeled it as coming from his son, Sen. Rand Paul. We regret the error, we know better.

SOFREP publishes Chris Stevens’ personal journal. The military website published this morning portions of the late Amb. Chris Stevens’ diary, revealing for the first time an "unvarnished, touching self-portrait" of Stevens last days before his death in Benghazi. FP’s Shane Harris: "The day before he returned to Benghazi after a nine-month absence, Chris Stevens was brooding. The U.S. ambassador to Libya had just finished reading The Troubled Man, the 10th and final novel in Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell’s series about a sullen police detective named Kurt Wallander. Stevens was unnerved by the downward spiral of the 60-year-old investigator, who dives headlong into his work to distract him from the blank walls of his life closing in around him.

‘He’s divorced, lives alone with his dog, and slowly descends into Alzheimer’s,’ Stevens wrote in his journal on Sept. 9, 2012. ‘I’m only 8 years away from 60 — I need to avoid such an ending!’?Stevens hadn’t been sleeping well. ‘The usual bundle of worries — family, bachelorhood, embassy and work-related issues…. Too many things going on, everyone wants to bend my ear. Need to pull above the fray.’ But then, at the end of a day beset by anxieties, Stevens wrote a hopeful note: ‘Benghazi and friends tomorrow — something to look forward to.’

A sense of Stevens, himself, and in his own words. Harris: "Lost in the debate and warring conspiracy theories about the attack that took the life of Stevens and three others at the U.S. mission in Benghazi last September has been a fuller sense of the man at the center of the story. Stevens’ colleagues in the Foreign Service regarded him as one of the hardest-working and most thoughtful diplomats of his generation. "A rising star" in the annals of American diplomacy, said Wendy Chamberlin, the former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and the president of the Middle East Institute. Joel Rubin, the director of policy and government affairs at the Ploughshares Fund, who met Stevens when Stevens served as a congressional fellow, recalled in a blog post that ‘he wasn’t partisan; he worked across the aisle; he was professional and kind. And above all, he was friendly.’"

A note: Electronic copies of the document have been floating around since the attack last fall. FP and other publications declined to publish material from the document at the request of the family. Then SOFREP, a site that focuses on Special Operations Forces, published the handwritten, seven-page document. FP felt it important to focus attention on those parts of the now-public diary that offer new insights into the personal side of the diplomat who sacrificed so much in the course of doing a job he clearly loved. FP could not independently verify the document’s authenticity, but the diary entries closely match public accounts of events in Libya over the course of those days before the attack.

The Army announced yesterday that it would cut the size of its force by 80,000, amounting to the biggest organizational change since World War II. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said he would eliminate combat forces from 10 bases over the next five years, or, perhaps, sooner. Odierno will cut from 45 to 33 the number of brigade combat teams. The cuts will affect bases in Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, Texas and Washington. The Army had already announced that two brigades in Germany would be eliminated. But more cuts are likely. Defense officials and experts have hinted that the Army could find itself as small as 450,000 or lower at some point, likely forcing fundamental organizational changes to its structure. Most cuts will be through attrition. Odierno, at a Pentagon news conference yesterday: "There is going to be another reduction… "There is no away around it."

The Army’s plans include cuts to BCTs at Fort Bragg, N.C. to Fort Hood, Texas. The list from AP, here.


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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