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 to VFW today: readiness matters; Dempsey met with Karzai; Ash in Israel, State’s Friends problem; European spooks, spooked by NSA; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Chuck Hagel today talks readiness at the VFW, an organization he first joined in December 1968 when he came home from Vietnam. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been listening and talking in recent weeks and months about the DOD budget and the impact of cuts. But he’s talking to key "constituents" or ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Chuck Hagel today talks readiness at the VFW, an organization he first joined in December 1968 when he came home from Vietnam. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has been listening and talking in recent weeks and months about the DOD budget and the impact of cuts. But he’s talking to key "constituents" or stakeholders – active duty veterans, defense civilians and contractors among them  – and military families. He’s also been engaging with veterans groups, including regular meetings between him or his staff with an informal advisory group of veterans service organizations that we first reported about here and expanded upon here. Part of explaining the impact of sequestration and cuts is getting veterans accustomed to the fundamental change. This morning at 11 a.m. EST, he’ll be at it again, in Louisville, Ky., where he’ll speak at the 114th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. We’re told that Hagel will give "an honest assessment of the challenges facing DOD," lay out a series of principles that he and other DOD leaders will use to navigate them as he makes all these tough decisions. One principle with which it is hard to argue? Preserving military readiness. We’re told he’ll be looking for the VFW’s help in explaining to Americans and Congress the importance of preserving military readiness.

He’ll say, in part, according to an advance excerpt provided to Situation Report: "Going forward, preserving and strengthening our readiness must be a key priority.  Unfortunately, when compared to other areas in DoD’s budget, military readiness does not have a vocal constituency. You all have fought and put your lives on the line for this country.  You did so with the expectation that you would be given the equipment, training, and support you needed to succeed.  Many of you – especially those veterans of the Korean War – have seen the costs, measured in precious American lives, that come with sending a hollow force into battle. We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past.  To avoid a prolonged readiness crisis, and the lasting damage it would inflict on our defense enterprise, I have given clear guidance to the services – that they should not retain more people, equipment, and infrastructure than they can afford to keep trained and ready."

Welcome to Monday’s edition of Situation Report, where we slightly sliced the top of our middle finger – pardon typos. 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.

Syria turns Dempsey and McCain into pen pals.  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey and his staff delivered an unclassified letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee – and in particular Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican with whom Dempsey had a particularly heated exchange over Syria on Thursday.

McCain and SASC Chairman and Michigan Democrat Carl Levin asked that Dempsey provide a more thorough response to his thinking on Syria after Dempsey refused to provide his personal opinion on military intervention publicly. We understand the first letter with answers has been delivered. But McCain on Sunday said he and Levin were demanding more information from Dempsey and his staff, saying on CNN’s State of the Union: "Senator Levin and I have sent over additional questions. I hope he will answer those. They are required and agree to give their honest opinion even if it disagrees with the administration’s opinion. General Dempsey didn’t do that. I’m confident that we can work this out."

Meanwhile, Dempsey is in Afghanistan. Dempsey just this morning, EST, met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the palace (hope he didn’t bring in his own pen). Earlier in the day, spokesman Ed Thomas tells Situation Report that the Chairman flew into ISAF’s headquarters in Kabul in a CH-47 Chinook, presumably to meet with Joe Dunford and other top ISAF officials, after meeting yesterday with U.S., German and Swedish troops in Mazar-i-Sharif. Dempsey, pictured here on the Tweeters with Karzai, along with Amb. Jim Cunningham and Joe Dunford and others.

Dempsey will to Poland in the next day or so.

Staffers on a plane include – Lt. Gen. Wolff and Foreign Policy advisor Donovan (and other key staff).

Reporters on a plane – none.

Ash is in Tel Aviv.  Assistant Secretary of Defense Ash Carter left Sunday for a five-day trip to Israel, Uganda and Ethiopia. He arrived in Tel Aviv yesterday, where he is met with U.S. Embassy officials, including Amb. Dan Shapiro, who accompanied Carter for the day to a number of stops. That included a meeting at the Defense Ministry, where Carter met with the Minister and the Deputy Defense Minister. Carter also met with Israeli troops, thanking them for their service and reinforced the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Carter stays in Israel through today before leaving for Uganda and then Ethiopia, according to spokesman James Swartout. [The original post referred to Carter’s title incorrectly as being a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense.]

Staffers on a plane – Special Assistant Wendy Anderson, senior military assistant Brig. Gen. Eric Smith, special assistant Rob Berschinski, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Matt Spence, Country Director Caitlin Costello, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Amanda Dory, Country Director Greg Pollock and spokesman James Swartout.

Reporter on a plane – Cheryl Pellerin, the Pentagon’s American Forces Press Service.

Today, U.S. intel community reps will meet with European Commission in Brussels to talk NSA surveillance — and maybe figure out new ways to swap data from the controversial (and recently-leaked) spy programs. Our own John Reed reports from the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado that the European Union’s counterterrorism coordinator said they want to know more about what the NSA has been up to. Gilles de Kerchove, in Aspen: "We want to learn more about this system, how does it work, what does it do, and then make a sort of assessment and we’ll see where all this leads… What we would like to have . . . is reassurance that these programs [have] limits, safeguards, are proportional, that they are for counter terrorism only and not economic intelligence… We want to see if there is room for improvement, we don’t reject" the idea of the program. Kerchove: EU officials want to make sure that "if, through PRISM, the US intelligence community gets some relevant information — which, together with satellite interception, human source or some other program — leads to something that is meaningful for one member state in Europe, they will share it." Kerchove told Killer Apps.

Read the WaPo’s Dana Priest’s Page Oner about why the NSA, in square footage, is bigger than the Pentagon: "Twelve years later, the cranes and earthmovers around the National Security Agency are still at work, tearing up pavement and uprooting trees to make room for a larger workforce and more powerful computers. Already bigger than the Pentagon in square footage, the NSA’s footprint will grow by an additional 50 percent when construction is complete in a decade. And that’s just at its headquarters at Fort Meade, Md. The nation’s technical spying agency has enlarged all its major domestic sites – in Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Texas and Utah – as well as those in Australia and Britain.

"Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, its civilian and military workforce has grown by one-third, to about 33,000, according to the NSA. Its budget has roughly doubled, and the number of private companies it depends on has more than tripled, from 150 to close to 500, according to a 2010 Washington Post count. The hiring, construction and contracting boom is symbolic of the hidden fact that in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the NSA became the single most important intelligence agency in finding al-Qaeda and other enemies overseas, according to current and former counterterrorism officials and experts. ‘We Track ‘Em, You Whack ‘Em’ became a motto for one NSA unit, a former senior agency official said.

"The story of the NSA’s growth, obscured by the agency’s extreme secrecy, is directly tied to the insatiable demand for its work product by the rest of the U.S. intelligence community, military units and the FBI." Read the rest here.

Is State’s social media bureau a "red-headed stepchild of public diplomacy?" One former Congressional staffer familiar with the bureau says "yes" to that question in a story by The Cable’s John Hudson. "Best known as the bureau that blew $630,000 on Facebook "likes," [State’s Bureau of International Information Programs] finds itself at a crossroads, sources tell The Cable, as it prepares to announce a new coordinator next month. This new technocrat will attempt to address a scathing Inspector General report from May describing a "pervasive perception of cronyism" at the bureau where "leadership fostered an atmosphere of secrecy, suspicion and uncertainty" and where staff "describe the … atmosphere as toxic and leadership’s tolerance of dissenting views as non-existent." One might assume a massive overhaul is needed, but employees already complain of ‘reorganization fatigue’ from previous attempts to reorganize the bureau. Foggy Bottom spokespeople vigorously defended the bureau. IIP’s many internal and external critics have a different view. The first among the bureau’s many problems, they say, is the lack of a clear mission. The State Department defines IIP as the ‘foreign-facing public diplomacy communications bureau,’ but its role amid the U.S. government’s sprawling diplomacy apparatus remains a mystery to many in Washington. A former Congressional staffer to Hudson: "It’s the redheaded stepchild of public diplomacy… The head of it isn’t even an assistant secretary. That doesn’t sound like much. But when you’re trying to throw your weight around the State Department, it matters. Why should people take you seriously? You have a shitty budget, you have a crappy product and you don’t even have to be congressionally confirmed."

Former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Tara Sonenshine told Hudson the recent IG report was "tough but not completely fair." "OK, they spent time acquiring too many followers. They built up the traffic to their site. Is that really such a sin? They moved quickly into social media at a time when Secretary of State Clinton said we should have 21st century statecraft. I don’t know why that’s such a bad thing." Read the rest here.

You’ll never guess what Panamanians found under all that sugar in that North Korean cargo ship after it left Cuba: the two MiG-21 fighter jets the Cubans said were in there. Reuters: "Alongside the two supersonic planes, originally produced by the Soviet Union in the late 1950s, officials found two missile radar systems on board the Chong Chon Gang, President Ricardo Martinelli told reporters in the Atlantic port of Colon. The discovery, which included cables and electrical equipment, was made inside containers on the ship Panama had feared might contain explosive material. None was found.

After stopping the vessel bound for North Korea last week, Panama revealed it had found weapons in the cargo hold late on Monday. In response, Cuba said the shipment contained a range of "obsolete" arms being sent to North Korea for repair." Reuters story here.


Defense News: Doubts loom about Hagel’s plan to cut staff. 
National Defense: For the Navy, sequester means fewer ships at sea.
Al-Jazeera: Family accuses Egyptian army of kidnapping Morsi. Reuters: Rebels in Syria seize town in Aleppo.
NBC: Egyptian panel begins amending Constitution despite divisions.  
Marine Corps Times: Pentagon revises course; will make Marine available to talk Benghazi.
WaPo: In Afghanistan, a quest to save the snow leopard.
Duffel Blog: VFW opens membership to military fakers due to lack of interest of young veterans.  


  • LA Times: Report questions cost of villas and mansions for top military brass.
  • Foreign Policy: (Stavridis): Will conflict in the Middle East trigger the next great power war? 
  • Foreign Policy: (Caryl) Why organized crime is a growing force in global politics.

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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