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 new drone strike in Yemen kills six; On the hard-to-do list: monitoring Yemen assistance; The many gifts of Lt. Gen. Fil; Was it really a “conference call?”; An administration, torn over secrets; No hoorays for White House transcribers; A blue pill aler

By Gordon Lubold Six alleged al-Qaida militants killed today in a new drone strike in Yemen. AP: "The strike – the sixth by a U.S. drone over the past 10 days – came as Yemen remained on high alert following threats of a terror attack targeting Western and Yemeni government interests. So far, about 29 ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Six alleged al-Qaida militants killed today in a new drone strike in Yemen. AP: "The strike – the sixth by a U.S. drone over the past 10 days – came as Yemen remained on high alert following threats of a terror attack targeting Western and Yemeni government interests.

So far, about 29 suspected militants have been killed by unmanned U.S. aircraft in an apparent stepped-up drone war in Yemen. While the United States acknowledges its drone program in Yemen, it does not confirm individual strikes or release information on how many have been carried out." Read it here.

Doubts about the initial reports that the Yemenis had foiled the big attack. The WSJ’s Maria Abi-Habib, Margaret Coker and Siobhan Gorman: "Yemeni officials said Wednesday that the country’s security forces had broken up several plots by al Qaeda militants but the government distanced itself from those reports later in the day, illustrating Washington’s challenges as it tries to work with Yemen’s government to combat al Qaeda’s branch there.

And, the U.S.-Yemeni relationship on counter-terrorism is "checkered," they report: "The relationship between Washington and the government in San’a is under scrutiny now, as the U.S. says Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is behind a new terror alert that has led the State Department to stop work at embassies and issue world-wide travel alerts. The history of U.S.-Yemeni counterterrorism relations has been checkered with missteps and mistakes, even before this latest terror alert. Mr. Hadi-who came to power in large part due to America’s diplomatic intervention-has tried to strengthen military and economic ties with the U.S. Some officials in San’a, however, worry that President Hadi’s credibility has been undercut by reports issued by government spokesmen earlier in the day that the country’s security forces had uncovered and foiled a variety of terrorist plots-including, the spokesmen said, planned attacks against a major Yemeni oil facility, military installations and Western embassies." Read the rest here.

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Meanwhile, the U.S. has spent hundreds of millions in Yemen – but what does it buy? Since November of 2011, the United States has pledged nearly $600 million to Yemen for everything from spy drones to opinion polls to pickup trucks as part of a shadow war to fight terrorism there. But we, along with FP’s own Noah Shachtman wondered just how much Washington is getting for its money. It is an open question, even within U.S. government circles… Only a portion of the $600 million committed since late 2011 goes directly to fight terrorism — about $250 million, according to State Department officials. The rest goes towards ‘helping to strengthen governance and institutions on which Yemen’s long-term progress depends,’ as then-White House counterterrorism czar (and unofficial envoy to Yemen) John Brennan explained last year. That includes cash to ‘empower women,’ ‘combat corruption,’ and provide ‘food vouchers, safe drinking water, and basic health services’ Brennan added.

But: Those assistance programs come with criticisms, however, even from within the U.S. government. The primary concern: that the U.S. lacks the capacity to oversee objectives in Yemen. The Government Accountability Office recently faulted American assistance to Yemen, saying that ‘Yemen’s unstable security situation constrains U.S. training of Yemeni security forces, restricts oversight of civilian assistance projects, and endangers Yemeni nationals who work for the United States.’ GAO investigators cited the threats to Yemenis working for the Americans, including a Yemeni employee of the American embassy in Sanaa who was murdered in 2012. "Because of leadership and coordination challenges within the Yemeni government, key recipients of U.S. security assistance made limited use of this assistance until recently to combat [al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] in support of the U.S. strategic goal of improving Yemen’s security," the March 2013 report found. In that way, Yemen isn’t unlike other countries — Iraq and Afghanistan to name but two — in which the United States has struggled to keep pace with the influx of billions of dollars of assistance over the years only to come up short in terms of accounting for it all. And in both cases, the United States had thousands of military and civilian personnel working in the country. Not so in Yemen.

Monitoring all these programs are tough, and the capacity to do it is harder. "We need to remember that we have done at least as badly in planning and managing aid as the worst recipient country has done in using it," Tony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington told us.

A Gallup poll, pickup trucks and drones: just some of the counter-terrorism programs in Yemen.  During 2012, for instance, the Pentagon spent about $14 million on a single U.S. Special Operations Forces counterterrorism enhancement program in which a limited number of American military personnel provided training and equipment — from small arms and ammo to radios to rigid hull inflatable boats to night vision goggles to navigational systems — to Yemen’s counterterrorists.  Another program, referred to in Pentagon briefing papers as the "Fixed-Wing Capability Program," spends about $23 million "by providing equipment and training to improve the operational reach and reaction time of Yemen’s CT forces," including two short take-off and landing aircraft. The United States spends another $75 million on building the counterterrorism unit of Yemen’s Central Security Forces. During 2013, the Pentagon spent nearly $50 million on what’s called an "integrated border and maritime security" program to help the Yemenis be more effective with aerial surveillance and ground mobility, according to a defense official. That helped the Yemenis build up the capacity to monitor threats along the country’s nearly 1,200 mile coastline. The program includes 12 short take-off and landing aircraft, each with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities, as well as flight and maintenance crews. The United States has spent other money on Yemen, including $24 million the Coast Guard spent to build two 87-foot coastal patrol boats, and another $11 million for about 340 F-350 Ford pickup trucks, according to publicly-available contracting data. Another $27 million was spent for a contract with Bell Helicopter for four Huey II helicopters within the last three years.

Two years ago, the polling firm Gallup, Inc. was paid more than $280,000 for a "Yemen Assessment Survey." Around the same time, Yemen was part of a major contract to provide crew-served weapons, gun mounts, and stands for .50 caliber weapons. Last year, the Army paid $3 million to Harris Corporation for radios for the Yemenis, and the Navy paid $5.4 million for aircraft engines and spare parts for CASA 235 transport planes. Also last year, the Army paid $1.9 million for tactical UAVs in both Kenya and in Yemen.

Whatever the long-term solution is for Yemen, the Center for National Policy’s Scott Bates the events of the last week highlight the need to stay engaged in the region. Bates said he wouldn’t second-guess the decision to shut down the embassies this week, but generally speaking that kind of across-the-board action should be avoided. "What this means is that Capitol Hill should work with the White House to figure out a long term strategy of engagement in the Middle East that does not require us to take these measures in the future," he told us. Read the rest of our report here.

Was there a call-in code for the "conference call?" Yesterday, citing three U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence, the Daily Beast’s Eli Lake and Josh Rogin wrote that the intercepted communications between Ayman al-Zawahiri and AQAP’s Nasser al-Wuhayshi was actually a "conference call" between a larger number of al-Qaida representatives in a number of locations. "All told, said one U.S. intelligence official, more than 20 al Qaeda operatives were on the call," they wrote. But other journalists covering national security  who sought to stand up the same story tell us us they had trouble doing that. Will Bunch: "Within hours of publication, however, a bevy of national security journalists began casting doubts on the leaked information contained within the Beast’s report. Two theories were quickly born. Adam Goldman of the Associated Press wondered if the leak was manufactured to protect human intelligence (that is, a leaker within al Qaeda), while Ken Delanian [sic] of the Los Angeles Times suggested that it was intended to glorify the NSA’s signals intelligence capabilities at a politically vulnerable moment. Barton Gellman of the Washington Post, meanwhile, failed to see how the entire story – the leak, the method of intercept, and the contents of the call – added up. Bunch’s post here. Gellman, on the Tweeterers: "Something’s very wrong with the tale sources tell @EliLake about a 24-party Legion of Doom ‘conference call.’" Gellman tweeted a few times about the story, later clarifying: "Eli Lake does great work. I assume his sourcing is good. I still can’t make the USG account add up."

Sisi may not be an Islamist, but a Mubarak clone. The Egyptian leader, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is less an Islamist, but, as his work at the U.S. Army War College suggests, might be more like Hosni Mubarak, according to Eric Trager, writing on FP. "What does Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi really think about democracy in the Middle East? From the moment President Mohamed Morsy promoted Sisi as Egypt’s defense minister in August 2012, rumors have swirled about his supposed Islamist leanings. The army chief was said to be particularly devout, and the fact that Morsy passed over more senior generals in selecting him fueled claims that Sisi was a Muslim Brotherhood sympathizer. Even after he deposed Morsy, observers of Egyptian politics have wondered whether he hopes to use his newfound power to implement an Islamist agenda. A 2006 paper Sisi wrote while studying at the U.S. Army War College, titled ‘Democracy in the Middle East,’ has garnered much attention in this regard. Naval Postgraduate School professor Robert Springborg contended in Foreign Affairs that the document ‘reads like a tract produced by the Muslim Brotherhood,’ and ‘embraces a more radical view of the proper place of religion in an Islamic democracy.’" Read it all here.

Ethics questions surround another general. The WaPo’s Craig Whitlock reports today on an Inspector General investigation – apparently buried until now – that shows that Lt. Gen. Joseph Fil, the former commander of American forces in South Korea.

WaPo’s Whitlock: "Joseph F. Fil Jr., the former commander of the U.S. Eighth Army in South Korea, also failed to report a $3,000 cash gift to a member of his family from the unnamed South Korean benefactor, according to a confidential investigative report by the Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General. The undated report was completed more than a year ago, but the inspector general and the Army kept the details secret until this week, when The Washington Post obtained a redacted version under the Freedom of Information Act. The case adds to a long list of personal misconduct scandals that have ensnared senior U.S. military commanders in the past year. The nature of the transgressions range from embarrassing ethical lapses to serious criminal charges, but they have combined to shake an institution that prides itself on the highest standards of honor and integrity."

"Ironically, Fil had been officially tapped in November 2010 to become the Army’s inspector general – responsible for overseeing investigations into fraud, waste, abuse and senior leader misconduct. Although the Army publicly announced his new position, he never actually took the job."

The deets on the Fil case: "Pentagon investigators concluded that [Fil] improperly accepted a $1,500 gift of Montblanc Meisterstueck Classique roller-ball and ballpoint pens – with "gold-plated furnishings" – along with the $2,000 briefcase. The name of the South Korean donor was redacted from the report, but he was described as someone whom Fil met in his official capacity as a U.S. commander. Investigators also determined that Fil ‘allowed’ a family member to accept a $3,000 cash gift from the South Korean donor. The relative’s name was also redacted from the report. Fil told investigators that he accepted the gifts in ‘good conscience,’ believing that they were legal because the giver was a longtime personal friend. Investigators cast doubt on that explanation, however, noting that the South Korean did not speak English and that Fil had to communicate with him by ‘using hand and arm signals.’ The report states that Fil "surrendered the briefcase and pen set to investigators" and that he ultimately repaid the $3,000 to the South Korean with a cashier’s check."

Army Maj. Gen. Gregg Martin, president of NDU, at the trial yesterday of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, at Fort Bragg: "The trust in the fabric of our military profession is just being destroyed."

Martin was later excused from the jury in the Sinclair court-martial because he is leading an effort to re-emphasize ethics among senior officers, Whitlock reported. Read the rest of Whitlock’s report here.

A White House, torn over secrets. Killer Apps’ John Reed writes about a tale of two White Houses: the one that wants to declassify secrets, and the one that wants to go after leakers. Reed: "The White House is promising to find new ways to declassify cybersecurity secrets — even as the Obama administration continues to go after leakers with a vengeance. ‘There is absolutely a shift toward doing that and we’re working quite hard at that,’ said Andy Ozment, senior director for cybersecurity at the White House told Killer Apps today. ‘We have to change our culture and accept more risk to our [cyber intelligence] information in order to share it more aggressively.’ While the administration has made a seemingly aggressive push for secrecy, prosecuting record numbers of alleged secret-spillers, the opposite is true when it comes to fighting cyber attacks on networks largely owned and operated by the private sector." Read his post here.

Jim Amos on the future of the Marine Corps, COIN and owning sequester. Defense One’s Stephanie Gaskell interviewed Marine Commandant Jim Amos: "Having fought in the streets of Fallujah and the fields in Sangin in the past decade, the Marine Corps is adapting to the new landscape of warfare — and the counter-insurgency training used in Iraq and Afghanistan is still very much a part of it, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos tells Defense One. Amos, many forget, coauthored the Army/Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual with then Army Gen. David Petraeus and Lt. Col. John Nagl. It was released on the Fourth of July in 2007, at the height of the Iraq War with the hope of giving U.S. troops a better understanding of irregular warfare. And the term COIN was coined. Since then, its success on the battlefield has been greatly debated." Read the rest here.

Speaking of da Marines: No hooray for White House transcribers. Marine Corps Times’ Dan Lamothe noted that White House transcribers might want a little PME on military culture, after President Barack Obama addressed a crowed of about 3,000 Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif., yesterday. Obama’s remarks were pretty good and there were no real gaffes, he said. "There’s a problem, however," Lamothe writes, citing the White House transcript of the event. The transcript: "THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Marines! (Hoorah!) Hello, Camp Pendleton! (Hoorah!) It is great to be here, at the home of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force – (hoorah!) – and one of our nation’s oldest and most decorated military units, the legendary 1st Marine Division. (Hoorah!) And I think I see some proud Navy folks here, too. (Applause.)"

What’s wrong here? That’s right, it’s Oorah. Lamothe: "Marines, of course, would never say "Hoorah!" They also wouldn’t say "Hooah!", which is an Army term. Marines say "Oorah!" and are quick to point it out to anyone who gets it wrong. You can’t blame the president for this one, but a little professional military education never hurt anyone." Read the rest here.

The Pentagon may extend health care, housing and other bennies to same-sex spouses of military members by the end of the month. But, the AP’s Lita Baldor reports, the Pentagon "may reverse earlier plans to provide benefits to gay partners who are not married. According to a draft Defense Department memo obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, the department instead may provide up to 10 days of leave to military personnel in same-sex relationships so they can travel to states where they can marry legally. While no final decisions have been made, the memo from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to top defense leaders would reverse an earlier plan that would allow the same-sex partners of military members to sign a declaration form in order to receive limited benefits, such as access to military stores and some health and welfare programs." Read all about it here.

A Blue Pill alert from NY Post’s Page 6: Wes Clark, 68, is dating 30-year-old fashion entrepreneur Shauna Mei. "Clark, who was married to Gertrude Kingston Clark for 45 years before filing for divorce last year, is spending time with the young New York-based entrepreneur, who graduated from MIT and worked at Goldman Sachs as an investment banker before launching her luxury e-commerce site. Clark and Mei were spotted together recently in the Hamptons, prompting rumors of a relationship. We’re told that despite the 38-year age difference, they ‘looked very affectionate, it was clear they were a couple. They were holding hands, they were not trying to hide their relationship.’ Society spies say the couple look great together, with one female admirer gushing, ‘He is in tremendous shape.’"


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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