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.

Fears of more violence Egypt; Greenwald: wiretapping is expansive; Behind closed doors: what $1.1 billion paid for at the Mark Center; The $24 million “propaganda plane” for Cuba; and a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold The situation in Egypt is getting worse – again. NYT’s Robert Worth: "Among the muddy, crowded tents where tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members have been living for weeks in a vast sit-in protest, men in Islamic dress can still be seen carrying incongruous signs above the teeming crowd: ‘Liberals for ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

The situation in Egypt is getting worse – again. NYT’s Robert Worth: "Among the muddy, crowded tents where tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members have been living for weeks in a vast sit-in protest, men in Islamic dress can still be seen carrying incongruous signs above the teeming crowd: ‘Liberals for Morsi,’ ‘Christians for Morsi,’ ‘Actors for Morsi.’ It is the vestige of a plea for diverse allies in the Brotherhood’s quest to reinstate President Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted by the military on July 3. But in the wake of the bloody street clashes that took place just outside the sit-in early on Saturday, leaving at least 72 Brotherhood supporters dead and hundreds wounded, another, more embattled language can be heard among the masses gathered around a large outdoor stage. Many Brotherhood members are enraged by the reaction of Christian leaders and the secular elite, who – the Islamists say – seemed to ignore or even endorse the killings while giving full-throated support to calls by Egypt’s defense minister, Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, for a continued crackdown." Read the rest, here.

Chuck Hagel, warning Al-Sisi that his clampdown on the Brotherhood might not end well. The White House is increasingly worried that Egypt’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood could go it underground and to take up arms. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who has emerged as the administration’s point man on Egypt, has been on the phone with Egyptian military leader Gen. Abdel Fattah Al Sisi repeatedly over recent weeks, warning him that he could take it too far with the Islamist group. The WSJ’s Adam Entous: "Despite those exhortations, Gen. Sisi called for massive demonstrations on Friday, which precipitated the deadliest single incident in the more than two years since Egypt’s revolution. The U.S. also had sent messages urging calm to Brotherhood leaders, but officials said the group, like the military, showed little sign of backing down. Read the rest here.

Why the situation in Egypt is its own Perfect Storm. Sophia Jones, writing on FP: As the sun rose over Rabaa al-Adaweya Mosque early Friday morning, the thousands of residents of the pro-Morsi tent city there prepared for their most direct confrontation yet with Egypt’s military rulers. As mothers combed the hair of their young daughters and men read the morning newspaper, teenage boys lined up in military-like formation, chanting in unison that they would defy army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the new political order. In Sisi’s televised address on Wednesday, July 24, following another deadly bombing that targeted police, the general who orchestrated the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi urged the Egyptian masses to "prove their will" and give security forces a "mandate to confront possible violence and terrorism." His remarks — and the subsequent popular mobilization by both pro- and anti-Morsi groups — have led to fears that Egypt is on the cusp of further bloodshed." Read the rest of her piece, here.

FP Slideshow: "Carnage in Cairo," here.

Welcome to Monday’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.

$1.1 billion and the doors don’t even open right. There’s another reason not to love the sparklingly new but never-popular Mark Center complex south of the Pentagon, where more than 6,000 military and defense civilians work behind closed doors. Or, in fact, not so much. Each of the building’s interior doors is having to be replaced, refit or repaired because few of them latch correctly. The Pentagon blames the contractor for shoddy or "non-compliant" work on a building that cost a whopping $1.1 billion to complete, just last year, and is forcing the contractor, Duke Realty, in conjunction with Clark Construction, to replace more than 650 interior doors throughout the complex.

"An issue has been recently identified regarding contractual compliance with some door and lock assemblies and hardware," Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Tom Crosson told Situation Report, speaking for Washington Headquarters Services, which took more than a week to respond to basic questions about the project and then would not disclose the cost of the remediation work – saying that since the contractor is paying for it, WHS is unaware of the cost. Read more on this, below, including what Rep. Jim Moran thinks about it

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s a $24 million propaganda program for Cuba. The Cable’s John Hudson writes: "It’s difficult to find a more wasteful government program. For the last six years, the U.S. government has spent more than $24 million to fly a plane around Cuba and beam American-sponsored TV programming to the island’s inhabitants. But every day the plane flies, the government in Havana blocks its signal. Few, if any, Cubans can see the broadcasts. The program is run by the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, and for the last two years, it has asked Congress to scrap the program, citing its exorbitant expense and dubious cost-effectiveness. ‘The signal is heavily jammed by the Cuban government, significantly limiting this platform’s reach and impact on the island,’ reads the administration’s fiscal year 2014 budget request.

But each year, hard-line anti-Castro members of Congress have rejected the recommendation and renewed funding for the program, called AeroMarti. Now, under the restrictions of government-wide belt-tightening, AeroMarti may finally die, but its fate has yet to be sealed. Sen. Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, to Hudson: "It’s hard to believe we are still wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on beaming a jammed TV signal – that fewer than 1 percent of Cubans can see – from an airplane to the island." Read the rest of Hudson’s report here.

NSA concerns reaching critical mass. The NYT this morning has a Behind the Music on the move to crack down on government surveillance under the headline, "Momentum Builds Against N.S.A. Surveillance."  Jonathan Weisman: "[It] started with an odd couple from Michigan, Representatives Justin Amash, a young libertarian Republican known even to his friends as ‘chief wing nut,’ and John Conyers Jr., an elder of the liberal left in his 25th House term. But what began on the political fringes only a week ago has built a momentum that even critics say may be unstoppable, drawing support from Republican and Democratic leaders, attracting moderates in both parties and pulling in some of the most respected voices on national security in the House. The rapidly shifting politics were reflected clearly in the House on Wednesday, when a plan to defund the National Security Agency’s telephone data collection program fell just seven votes short of passage. Now, after initially signaling that they were comfortable with the scope of the N.S.A.’s collection of Americans’ phone and Internet activities, but not their content, revealed last month by Edward J. Snowden, lawmakers are showing an increasing willingness to use legislation to curb those actions.  

"Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin, and Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California, have begun work on legislation in the House Judiciary Committee to significantly rein in N.S.A. telephone surveillance. Mr. Sensenbrenner said on Friday that he would have a bill ready when Congress returned from its August recess that would restrict phone surveillance to only those named as targets of a federal terrorism investigation, make significant changes to the secret court that oversees such programs and give businesses like Microsoft and Google permission to reveal their dealings before that court." Read the rest here.

Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California, on the need to rein in NSA telephone surveillance: "There is a growing sense that things have really gone a-kilter here."

Could Snowden become Big Brother’s BFF? FP’s Shane Harris writes  that when former NSA contractor Snowden exposed the NSA’s secrets, he did so saying he wanted to roll back a spying apparatus that put the U.S. on a path to "turnkey tyranny." But, Harris writes: "…his revelations could end up having the opposite effect. Instead of declawing a single surveillance state, Snowden’s leaks could ironically wind up enhancing government spying around the globe. According to experts who are advising U.S. email, cloud data storage, and social media companies, executives are concerned that foreign governments — particularly ones with fewer protections for personal privacy and free speech — are already beginning to demand that U.S. tech companies relocate their servers and databases within their borders. Under normal circumstances, companies would rarely comply with those migration demands, especially if those countries have reputations for heavy-handed internal policing. But now that the United States is being seen as a global spying power, they may have little choice."

Meanwhile, on ABC’s "This Week", Glenn Greenwald said Snowden isn’t overstating one of his original claims: that relatively low-level workers like him have jaw-dropping access to wiretap just about anybody. Greenwald: "One of the most amazing parts of this entire episode has been that top-level national security officials like James Clapper really did get caught red-handed lying to the American Congress, which everyone now acknowledges, about what the NSA is doing…?The way that I know exactly what analysts have the capability to do when they’re spying on Americans is that the story I’ve been working on for the last month that we’re publishing this week very clearly sets forth what these programs are that NSA analysts — low level ones, not just ones who work for the NSA, but private contractors like Mr. Snowden — are able to do. The NSA has trillions of telephone calls and emails in their databases that they’ve collected over the last several years. And what these programs are, are very simple screens like the ones that supermarket clerks or shipping and receiving clerks use, where all an analyst has to do is enter an email address or an IP address and it does two things: it searches a database and lets them listen to the calls or read the emails of everything that the NSA has stored, or look at the browsing histories or Google search terms that you’ve entered. And it also alerts them to any further activity that people connected to that email address of that IP address do in the future. ??And it’s all done with no need to go to a court, with no need to even get supervisor approval on the part of the analyst… And NSA officials are going to be testifying before the Senate on Wednesday. And I defy them to deny that these programs work exactly as I just said."

It’s not Snowden, stupid. The Guardian’s John Naughton writes that the press is missing the story on Snowden. He’s not the story, Naughton writes, but the fate of the Internets is: The fact is "that the net is finished as a global network and that US firms’ cloud services cannot be trusted."

The Doors at the Mark Center, continued:

Because the Mark Center contains agencies that work regularly with sensitive information, the broken doors pose a potential security risk, this for a complex that was built to consolidate a number of DOD agencies in one facility "that could meet DoD’s high anti-terrorism security standards," according to the complex’s Wikipedia entry.

Over the last several months, employees there began to notice that the heavy doors, typical for that kind of government building, were beginning to sag and as a result weren’t latching properly. The door replacement project is about 75 percent complete and will be done by the end of September.

Tenants at the Mark Center: In addition to Washington Headquarters Services, which serves as the chief administrator for the Mark Center complex as well as the Pentagon itself, there are a number of policy offices located there, including representatives from DOD’s Acquisition and Technology and Programs and Resources directorates and the Defense Education Activity department. The Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, which oversaw Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s controversial strategic review process, is also located at the Mark Center, which is about five miles south of the Pentagon on Interstate-395.

Not everyone’s favorite place: The Mark Center complex was never at the top of anyone’s list, due to its cost and the fact that it added thousands of employees with no access to a subway system and so poured traffic onto already congested area roads. The building was the result of a move by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission in 2005, which forced a number of DOD agencies, as well as the WHS itself, to move into a centralized location for the more than 6,400 employees. Critics have railed over the Mark Center over the years, from local politicians to regional leaders. Two years, ago, a Department of Defense Inspector General report that found the Defense Department’s transportation management plan for the complex was based on faulty data. Employees started moving into the building last year.

Rep. Jim Moran, the Democrat from Virginia, to Situation Report via e-mail: "This is yet another example of the poor planning and high cost associated with the Mark Center… "We are continuing to monitor the situation closely, this latest development is just another disappointment related to the project."

Also: In addition to the door replacement project, there is a completely separate door installation contract in which doors are being added in some offices to help add an extra layer of security and keep information technology contractors, for example, who might be servicing a computer tower, for example, out of sensitive areas. "This is a standard practice in projects that require access to sensitive or otherwise controlled workspaces," Crosson said. "The afterhours work by the contractor is necessary to minimize disruptions to the workforce in the building during normal duty hours."

The Business of Defense

  • Defense One: Sequester and the supply chain: "Life or death" for the F-35’s supply companies.
  • Defense News: Turkey’s sat-launcher plans raises concerns.
  • Breaking Defense: Wall Street Journal scrambles to keep up with Breaking D.

The Stans

  • AFP: Taliban bomb kills nine in Afghanistan.
  • AP: UK troops return briefly to Helmand; questions raised on ANSF capabilities.
  • NYT: An Afghan media mogul, pushing boundaries.
  • Al Jazeera: Karzai to visit Pakistan, first time in more than a year.

Syria, Year Three

  • Reuters: Syria says army retakes Homs from rebels.
  • NYT: A link to Syria’s ancient past endures as war creeps closer.



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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