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.

How Pelosi saved the NSA program; McKeon: don’t cut off aid to Egypt; Help troops by cutting entitlements; What’s up with security during the Manning C-M?; Lietzau, moving on; What’s a Brony, Bro? and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Meet the NSA’s new savior: Nancy Pelosi. "The obituary of Rep. Justin Amash’s amendment to claw back the sweeping powers of the National Security Agency has largely been written as a victory for the White House and NSA chief Keith Alexander, who lobbied the Hill aggressively in the days and hours ahead ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Meet the NSA’s new savior: Nancy Pelosi. "The obituary of Rep. Justin Amash’s amendment to claw back the sweeping powers of the National Security Agency has largely been written as a victory for the White House and NSA chief Keith Alexander, who lobbied the Hill aggressively in the days and hours ahead of Wednesday’s shockingly close vote. But Hill sources say most of the credit for the amendment’s defeat goes to someone else: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi," our own John Hudson writes.  "It’s an odd turn, considering that Pelosi has been, on many occasions, a vocal surveillance critic. Ahead of the razor-thin 205-217 vote, which would have severely limited the NSA’s ability to collect data on Americans’ telephone records if passed, Pelosi privately and aggressively lobbied wayward Democrats to torpedo the amendment, a Democratic committee aid with knowledge of the deliberations says." The source, to Hudson: "Pelosi had meetings and made a plea to vote against the amendment and that had a much bigger effect on swing Democratic votes against the amendment than anything Alexander had to say… Had Pelosi not been as forceful as she had been, it’s unlikely there would’ve been more Democrats for the amendment." Read the rest of Hudson’s exclusive, here.

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Bill Lietzau, calling it quits at Detainee Affairs. Situation Report is told that Lietzau, a retired Marine colonel who is now the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rule of Law and Detainee Policy, is headed out of the Pentagon, snagging a job in the private sector after more than three years. No word on his replacement.

McKeon: don’t cut off military aid to Egypt. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon says Egypt’s armed forces are "doing the right thing" to support Democracy in Egypt, and that it has been a "stabilizing influence," Al-Monitor reports after a sit-down with McKeon on Capitol Hill. That’s in contrast to folks like John McCain who have called for stopping military assistance. Al-Monitor: "Those who support cutting off military aid to Egypt argue that US foreign assistance provisions require ending assistance in the event of a military coup. McKeon, however, considers the military intervention as welcome and worthy of US support, not punishment. While Morsi benefited from the Muslim Brotherhood’s superior organization to win election in June 2012, McKeon said that Morsi’s policies soon took an anti-democratic turn, provoking the massive popular protests."

McKeon, to Parasiliti: "I appreciate what the military did and I think they also understand that they need to keep their rule very short.. They need to get back to democratic elections and I think that’s what they will do. They are not looking to run the country, they want to run the military, but they want the country to be democratic and that means in the full sense of the word… I think we have to be very careful to not do anything to disrupt their movement toward getting back to democracy." Read all about it here.

Mike O’Hanlon and Mackenzie Eaglen explain why military entitlements will kill readiness. It’s a theme the national security community will hear more and more about, as we noted just yesterday. A commission is looking at the issue, and Congress, politically fearful of looking as if it is undercutting troops after more than a decade of war – is resistant to touch what they perceive as a third rail. In the WSJ today, influential think-tankers O’Hanlon and Eaglenargue that if you really want to help the troops, stop throwing money at them.

"The reality is that the U.S. doesn’t have one sacred contract with our troops: It has two. In addition to generous care and compensation, we owe them the best possible preparation for combat-weapons and other technologies that outmatch the enemy, excellent intelligence, training and logistics support. When they fight, our troops should prevail quickly and decisively.

These two noble promises are now in direct conflict. Defense entitlements are well on their way to crowding out military readiness and capacity, a fact even the Pentagon has acknowledged. But lawmakers refuse to address this challenge. Unless Congress reverses budget sequestration and restores three years’ worth of additional cuts, the Pentagon is in for more belt tightening." Read the rest here.

Former Pentagon spokesman J.D. Gordon: On Gitmo, come up with a Plan B. Writing in The Hill newspaper this morning, J.D. Gordon, who used to flack for the Pentagon on Gitmo issues, writes: "As Congress tackles the annual battle over Guantanamo with a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing this week, a proposal by two House members to transfer detainees into the United States and a delegation visit to the Caribbean lockdown, those in favor of closure should produce a better Plan B before arguing to shut the prison down. Though President Obama has made Gitmo closure a cornerstone of his presidency since day one, he and his allies in Congress have yet to put forth a reasonable alternative for holding and interrogating some of the world’s top al Qaeda and Taliban terror suspects while adequately protecting Americans. While Gitmo critics frequently cite the low numbers of detainees still held at the prison, they often shy away from discussing who they are." Read the rest here.

Closing arguments in the court-martial for Bradley Manning. The L.A, Times’ Richard Serrano: "Bradley Manning purposely joined the Army and deployed to Iraq to parlay his extensive computer skills into disclosing a treasure trove of protected U.S. secrets that he knew would assist terrorist organizations in their efforts to attack the United States, the chief prosecutor in Manning’s military court-martial said Thursday. ‘WikiLeaks was merely the platform that Pfc. Manning used to make sure all the information was available to the world, including the enemies of the United States,’ Army Maj. Ashden Fein said in his closing argument near the end of Manning’s trial here. ‘Pfc. Manning deliberately disclosed compromised information to the world.’

Standing at the lectern in his dress blue uniform, flipping through page after page of his final summation, Fein recounted in sharp detail the heart of the government’s case – that Manning personally sought out WikiLeaks as his vehicle for exposing more than 700,000 combat videos, terrorism detainee assessments, State Department cables and other highly secret materials. Fein: "He was not a naive soldier." More here.

It’s getting a little silly for those covering the Manning trial. We hear that as the court-martial for Bradley Manning over at Fort Meade, Md. security is getting a little tight. Military security guys (a.k.a. "the Tweet Police"), packing pistols, walk around the courtroom to make sure no on is surfing the ‘net or transmitting anything while proceedings are underway – reporters covering the court-martial can only log on and file during breaks. And, we’re told: there’s a search every time reporters go in and out of the media center, including searches of everyone’s bags. Reporters have to leave their phone and air cards in their car. This for a court-martial that has already been criticized for being overly secretive. You remember the lawsuit by news organizations demanding that the court post documents and motions and be more transparent? Now, apparently they are attempting to do that, posting more documents, and such. But enforcement of the security rules have begun to feel a little police state-ish. "It’s a total hassle, really over the top," says one, who says it makes it that much harder to document the proceedings. "Perhaps the U.S. government has an obsession with secrecy, yes?"

Speaking of secrecy: here’s some click bait for drone aficionados, "Out of Sight, Out of Mind," by pitchinteractive. Click it here.

We got something over the transom yesterday on our teaser about DOD Public Affairs after our item on George Little’s speech. From an Air Force spokesman working in a joint billet: "Hey, your PAO note is preaching to the choir… venting… It isn’t that we just need better, more strategic minded PAOs (which are certainly lacking in the AF)… but that commanders and principals need to give us the freedom of maneuver to not only craft salient communication strategies but actually execute them in a timely manner. Most PAOs are hamstrung because there is some dumb agenda from above that in no way, shape, or form interests the media. And what interests the media is messaged to death until it is no longer relevant. It’s wonderful to finally work at a place where one, media is interested in our business and two, I’m offered the opportunity to shape mission outcome by proactively engaging with you. That would never happen in the Air Force today under current leadership." Ouch.

Pentagon story on Little’s speech, here. Got more ideas for public affairs? Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em, er, send ‘em if you got ‘em, and we’ll run as approp.

Slashing funds for State: Make sense? John Hudson of The Cable again, writes that advocates of the U.N. and U.S. soft power "are reeling" after a vote Thursday by House Approps to cut funding for State and U.N. programs. Hudson: "In a Wednesday vote on the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bill, the committee voted to cut billions out of the U.S. diplomatic and foreign assistance programs. That included a 20 percent reduction in international peacekeeping and 42 percent reduction in development assistance. The Republican majority also zeroed out voluntary funding to a range of U.N. organizations including the UN Development Program, UN Women, UN Population Fund and the UN’s Children Fund. This, as you might imagine, is not going over well with advocates of foreign aid and international institutions." Read the rest, here.

My Little Brony. Air Force Times’ Jeff Schogol, on AFT’s blog, Flightlines: "Last year, Flightlines wrote about military ‘Bronies’ –  guys who are really into ‘My Little Pony’ – some of whom like to wear ‘Pony’ patches on their military uniforms. To be clear, Bronies do not advocate wearing ‘My Little Pony’ regalia on military uniforms, but one class of airmen learning how to fly incorporated the Brony ethos into its temporary class patch. The website ‘Equestria Nightly’ first reported about the patch, which includes the words ‘My Little Pilot.’ Like all class patches, the Brony patch for Class 14-05, which is training at Vance Air Force Base, Okla., is unofficial and only worn during pilot training, said 1st Lt. Thomas Barger, a spokesman for the 71st Flying Training Wing." Read the rest of Jeff’s piece 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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