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.

A massacre in Cairo; Pentagon furloughs start; What worries Dempsey; DOD’s MIA Department is MIA; Flournoy on procurement; Afghans arrest a terp; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold It’s getting very ugly in Cairo. A protest to push for the reinstatement of Mohamed Morsi turned violent today and now at least 42 people have been killed in what has been termed a "massacre." FP’s David Kenner reports from Cairo that the Egyptian military opened fire on pro-Morsi demonstrators who had ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

It’s getting very ugly in Cairo. A protest to push for the reinstatement of Mohamed Morsi turned violent today and now at least 42 people have been killed in what has been termed a "massacre." FP’s David Kenner reports from Cairo that the Egyptian military opened fire on pro-Morsi demonstrators who had gathered to call on the release of the deposed president. Kenner: "It is unclear what precipitated the attack. While the overwhelming majority of those killed were pro-Morsy protesters, one army officer was also reported dead in the violence. Military officials are claiming that protesters attempted to storm the military building and kidnapped two soldiers. Morsy supporters, meanwhile, say the army opened fire on the sit-in during morning prayers. Many of the injured were taken to a field hospital at the pro-Morsy demonstration near the Rabaa al-Adaweya mosque. The area is expected to be the site of pro-Morsy protests later in the day, and the Egyptian military has moved its forces close to the sit-in — raising the potential of further clashes later in the day. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party released a statement in response to the attack calling for an ‘intifada,’ or uprising, against those who would ‘steal their revolt with tanks and massacres.’ The implications of this bloodshed are going to be severe — both in the political realm and on the street."

Read Evan Hill’s piece on how the Islamists in Egypt seem to be kissing up to the military that is gunning them down. An excerpt: "Two days after a popular military coup put a stunning end to Morsy’s presidency, supporters of the one-time engineering professor and Muslim Brotherhood apparatchik said they felt betrayed and disappointed that the "legitimate" leader of Egypt had been deposed by force. They proclaimed that they were resolved to a seemingly impossible task: restoring Morsy to the presidency. To do so, their leaders — those yet to be arrested in a spreading crackdown — have once again entered into a dance with the very generals who brought them down. They’re praising the military as brothers even as rank-and-file supporters call for the execution of the defense minister, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who delivered Morsy’s coup de grace. For its part, the military is reaching right back out to the movement that it just threw out of power — even as the generals move to neuter the Brotherhood’s leadership." Read the whole piece, here.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of Situation Report, where we note that 66 years ago today there were first reports of a flying saucer, or something, crashing at Roswell (thanks Doctrine Man). 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.

Forced vacations at The Defense Department begin this week. The first day of furloughs for about 650,000 Defense Department civilians begins this week amid efforts to mitigate the impact of furloughs on employees – and the Department. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other defense leaders are expected to provide Capitol Hill with details of how the furlough program, which is expected to save the DOD as much as $2.1 billion, will affect the military. As he prepares to provide those details, defense officials are scrambling to see if there is still a way to reduce the number of furlough days from 11 to something short of that, Situation Report is told. We’ve also been told that some of the circumstances that forced the Pentagon into furloughing its workers may have changed, thus allowing the Department to rethink the scale of the furlough program.

AP reports that furloughs this year could result in layoffs next year. "But while defense officials were able to shift money around to limit the furloughs this year, thousands of civilian, military and contract jobs could be on the chopping block next year. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is expected to provide senators with more details early next week on how the next wave of across-the-board budget cuts will affect the department, said Pentagon press secretary George Little. But while defense officials have not yet released details on the impact of the cuts, Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, has warned that as many as 100,000 more active-duty, National Guard and Reserve soldiers could lose their jobs if Congress allows billions of dollars in automatic budget cuts to continue next year."

Dempsey appeared on CNN yesterday and spoke to a wide-range of issues. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey spoke to CNN’s Candy Crowley "State of the Union" on veterans, Syria, Egypt, and the Taliban. He didn’t make huge news, but the interview reflects the way the top military adviser thinks on a number of key subjects.

Dempsey, on military-to-military contacts with Egypt: "Well, to your question about the nature of the relationship with the Egyptian armed forces, it was actually trending very – even more strongly than it had been for maybe the last 10 years, because we committed to that to try to help them find their way in a new system. They went from being – the armed forces ran the country for several decades. And they were transitioning themselves into their role in a democracy. I’m not in the know about exactly what they’re going to do. My conversations with them have been principally about – I wanted to hear, get their assurance that they would protect our U.S. citizens and they will. I wanted to encourage them to protect all the Egyptian people, not to take sides in any particular issue, and to ensure that they were a part of the resolution of this, but in their proper role as a military which is to ensure stability, but not try to influence the outcome."

Is he confident of those assurances that that’s what they’ll do? Dempsey: "Well, I feel confident that we have a close enough relationship that they listen. At the end of the day, it’s their country and they will find their way, but there will be consequences if it’s badly handled. There’s laws that bind us on how we deal with these kinds of situations."

Dempsey, on the Pentagon’s opposition to making changes to the military’s procedures for reporting sexual assaults: "First, let me assure you, we’re not in opposition to anything. That’s not my role. It’s not the role of the chiefs to oppose. It’s rather our role to recommend."

Crowley: "Do you know how difficult that is for somebody to report it?"

Dempsey: "I do, but I know how unique we are. And again, by the way, if this all passes in Congress, you know what our response will be to salute and execute. But you asked me for my recommendation. And we’ve solved a lot of problems over the years that people thought were unsolvable. Early in my career, race. Middle of the career, drugs. And we didn’t do it with the exclusion of the commander. We did it by making the commander take responsibility. And I still believe that’s the right way to do this. But it’s a recommendation, and I understand that well-meaning people have a different opinion about that."

Dempsey, on veterans: "I don’t want to have this generation’s young men and women, the warriors, seen as victims somehow. This conflict has been a source of strength as well for many, many veterans. And I would like the American people to give veterans the opportunity, not as a handout, but rather to recognize what they might bring to the workplace, what they might bring to their communities. So I want it to be a positive image. But there’s moments when it feels as though it’s slipping to a negative image."

Gratuitous orneriness? At one point during the interview, Crowley asked Dempsey a question after the general noted that American society views its veterans differently after each conflict and how he thinks a lot about the way America will "imagine" this generation of warriors. Dempsey displayed his characteristic, half-joking, half-not combativeness.

Crowley: "Do you worry at all about what that imaginary will be in a decade or so?"

Dempsey: "Well for one thing, if I do have a worry, you keep trying to talk me into worrying."

Crowley: "I’m sorry. I don’t…"

Dempsey: "There’s plenty to worry about. But it’s that this generation of veterans may be seen as somehow victims."

The full interview, here.

Keeping the faith: Does the military have a new debacle in its MIA program? The department at the Pentagon responsible to account for tens of thousands of Americans missing in action from foreign wars is "so inept mismanaged and wasteful" that it risks "total failure," according to an internal study obtained by AP’s Bob Burns that he reports was "suppressed by military officials." The story suggests that the Pentagon could be confronting problems of the same scope, magnitude and gravity it did when early reports about the problems among gravesites at Arlington National Cemetery first surfaced. Burns: "Largely beyond the public spotlight, the decades-old pursuit of bones and other MIA evidence is sluggish, often duplicative and subjected to too little scientific rigor, the report says. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the internal study after Freedom of Information Act requests for it by others were denied.

The report paints a picture of a Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, a military-run group known as JPAC and headed by a two-star general, as woefully inept and even corrupt. The command is digging up too few clues on former battlefields, relying on inaccurate databases and engaging in expensive ‘boondoggles’ in Europe, the study concludes.

Salting the sites? "In North Korea, the JPAC was snookered into digging up remains between 1996 and 2000 that the North Koreans apparently had taken out of storage and planted in former American fighting positions, the report said. Washington paid the North Koreans hundreds of thousands of dollars to ‘support’ these excavations. Some recovered bones had been drilled or cut, suggesting they had been used by the North Koreans to make a lab skeleton. Some of those remains have since been identified, but their compromised condition added time and expense and ‘cast doubt over all of the evidence recovered’ in North Korea, the study said. This practice of ‘salting’ recovery sites was confirmed to the AP by one U.S. participant."

And: "The AP obtained two internal memos describing the decision to bury the report. The memos raised no factual objections but said the command would not consider any of the report’s findings or recommendations. The failings cited by the report reflect one aspect of a broader challenge to achieving a uniquely American mission — accounting for the estimated 83,348 service members still listed as missing from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Why this is important, per Burns: "This is about more than tidying up the historical record. It is about fulfilling a promise to the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers and sons and daughters of the missing. Daughters like Shelia Reese, 62, of Chapel Hill, N.C., who still yearns for the father she never met, the boy soldier who went to war and never returned. She was 2 months old when heartbreaking word landed at her grandmother’s door a week before Christmas 1950 that Pfc. Kenneth F. Reese, a 19-year-old artilleryman, was missing in action in North Korea. To this day, the military can’t tell her if he was killed in action or died in captivity. His body has never been found.

Reese, on the father she never met: "It changed my whole life. I’ve missed this man my whole life." Read the rest, here.

Michele Flournoy, never too far from the conversation, arguing this morning for an overhaul of the defense procurement system. The former Pentagon policy chief is out in the WSJ this morning with a piece on how to fix the Pentagon’s broken procurement system and how the current budget crunch runs the risk of slashing defense spending in the wrong ways. Flournoy: "Today’s acquisition system often penalizes program managers who don’t spend every last dime of their budget before the end of the fiscal year. If you don’t spend all of the money allocated, Congress will likely appropriate less for your program next year. And presiding over a shrinking program is not a recipe for career advancement. Imagine a world in which program managers were evaluated on whether or not they could meet program milestones while saving taxpayer dollars. Those who found more cost-effective ways to manage their programs would receive awards and accelerated promotions. This would be one important step toward creating a more cost-conscious Pentagon culture." Read her full argument, here.

Afghans arrest a terp they say is responsible for torturing and killing civilians while working for an SF unit in Afghanistan. Afghan officials confirmed that they had arrested and were questioning Zakaria Kandahari, an interpreter, who had been sought on charges of murder, torture and the abuse of prisoners. Maj. Gen. Manan Farahi, the head of intel for the Afghan Defense Ministry, said Kandahari, who escaped from an American base in January had been captured. Per the NYT: "Afghan officials had accused the American military of deliberately allowing Mr. Kandahari to escape, a claim that American officials rejected. American officials said Mr. Kandahari had no longer been working for them at the time and was not an American citizen. Since his arrest, Mr. Kandahari has not been in contact with the United States Embassy, an American official said. Some human rights advocates believe Mr. Kandahari is being held in the National Directorate of Security’s Unit 124, which they have denounced as a prison where torture is routine. Unit 124, across the street from the American and NATO military headquarters in Kabul, is one of the Afghan detention sites on a proscribed list by the American military, which is not allowed to transfer prisoners to facilities where torture is believed to be used. However, that ban does not apply to the Central Intelligence Agency, which often has personnel in Unit 124, activists say." Read the rest here.


  • Dawn: Findings of the Abbottabad Commission: How the U.S. reached Osama.
  • Stripes: After two decades of sexual assault in the military, no real change in the message.
  • Defense News: Three options for JIEDDO.
  • Military Times: "Deadliest solider" under fire for controversial memoir.    
  • Small Wars: Economic and religious influencers in the age of population-centric warfare.
  • The Atlantic: The problem with "privacy moderates."




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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