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.

Iran muscles in; On cyber, DOD needs a plan; Carter talks post-2014; the Taliban kills a Pakistani general in Swat; The tick-tock on Syria included a mock presser at the Pentagon; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold New this hour:  An armed individual appears to have obtained access to the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters building at the Washington Navy Yard this morning. There is one confirmed injury, emergeny personnel are on the scene, and individuals at those offices, of which there are about 3,000 people, are "sheltering in ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

New this hour:  An armed individual appears to have obtained access to the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters building at the Washington Navy Yard this morning. There is one confirmed injury, emergeny personnel are on the scene, and individuals at those offices, of which there are about 3,000 people, are "sheltering in place," according to a Navy release that arrived within the last hour. Updates by Twitter @glubold.

As the world awaits the U.N. report today on chemical weapons use in Syria, Iran is "dialing up" its presence there. The United Nations is expected to release its report today on Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons in the attack outside Damascus last month. The U.N. reported yesterday that the report had been turned over to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; there will be a series of meetings there this morning and the media will be briefed a bit before 1 p.m. EST. No question the report will stir the pot at Secretary of State John Kerry pushes forward on a diplomatic agreement to get Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to agree to dismantle his chemical weapons stockpile.

At the same time, Shiite influence inside Syria is arriving by the busload.  The WSJ’s Farnaz Fassihi, Jay Solomon and Sam Dagher: "At a base near Tehran, Iranian forces are training Shiite militiamen from across the Arab world to do battle in Syria-showing the widening role of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps in Syria’s bloody war. The busloads of Shiite militiamen from Iraq, Syria and other Arab states have been arriving at the Iranian base in recent weeks, under cover of darkness, for instruction in urban warfare and the teachings of Iran’s clerics, according to Iranian military figures and residents in the area. The fighters’ mission: Fortify the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad against Sunni rebels, the U.S. and Israel. Iran’s widening role in Syria has helped Mr. Assad climb back from near-defeat in less than a year. The role of Iran’s training camp for Shiite fighters hasn’t previously been disclosed."

And: "The fighters ‘are told that the war in Syria is akin to [an] epic battle for Shiite Islam, and if they die they will be martyrs of the highest rank,’ says an Iranian military officer briefed on the training camp, which is 15 miles outside Tehran and called Amir Al-Momenin, or Commander of the Faithful."

An amazing weekend. FP’s David Kenner reports from Beirut: "At the end of the press conference unveiling their deal over Syria’s chemical weapons program, a smiling Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appeared to exchange a joke before walking off stage. Some of America’s allies in the fight against President Bashar al-Assad, however, weren’t laughing. Even as a Syrian official hailed the Sept. 14 plan as a "victory" for the Assad regime, the reaction from U.S. partners in the Middle East ranged from skepticism to outright hostility. Turkey, which has been at the forefront of the anti-Assad cause, said it welcomed the initiative — but expressed doubts that the Syrian regime would comply with its terms. Officials in Ankara warned that the deal does nothing to resolve the Syrian crisis, and said that more must be done to pressure Assad to relinquish power."

A Turkish official, to Kenner: "The Syrian crisis is not only about use of chemical weapons — up until now, more than 100,000 people have died, not because of the chemical weapons, but because of increasing and indiscriminate violence perpetrated by the regime… This is the root problem in Syria. This is what constitutes a clear and present danger to the region and international security." Read the rest here.

Substance over style: In his interview with ABC that aired yesterday, President Barack Obama attempted to explain the administration’s circuitous policy approach over the last few weeks, from the slow walk to strikes to arguing vehemently for them in the wake of the alleged chemical weapons attack to lobbing the ball to Congress, only to push to hold off on a vote for authorization while diplomacy takes a front seat.  In the end, Obama said, he’s getting it right. Obama, to Stephanopoulos: "What it says is, I’m less concerned about style points, I’m much more concerned about getting the policy right."

And Obama is definitely not getting style points: he continues with low marks. All the zig-zagging, flip-flopping and the narratives in the press that reflect it all isn’t helping Obama. A new CBS News/New York Times poll out today but taken between Sept. 6-8 shows 56 percent disapprove of the way Obama is handling the situation in Syria; another 33 percent approve and 11 percent are unsure. John Kerry is doing some better. In a CNN-ORC poll taken Sept. 6-8, more than 1,000 adults were asked how they thought Secretary of State John Kerry was handling his job: 47 percent approve, 42 percent disapprove and 11 percent are unsure.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us and we’ll stick you on. And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease. And remember, if you see something, say something — to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold.

Taking a little more deliberate approach: Out today, a new report by CSIS’s Maren Leed on DOD and cyber. The Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Leed, along with the Georgia Tech Research Institute, launches a report this morning on cyber security that urges the Pentagon to think about how and what "cyber tools" could be used at the operational and tactical level. "…the specific question this project sought to examine in greater depth is whether the Defense Department should make a more deliberate effort to explore the potential of offensive cyber tools at levels below that of a combatant command," Leed writes in her exec-sum. "As we discovered over the course of this effort, perspectives on this question vary widely. Some view lower-echelon offensive interests as a lesser included case of the broader national whole, while others see distinct concerns for division commanders or ship captains, for example, that differ substantially from those that might ever rise to the level of interest of a [COCOM]. Such varying views contribute to the reality recently acknowledged by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey that the roles of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps in cyber warfare remain unresolved.  "That’s all ongoing," Dempsey said of those cyber decisions, as quoted by Breaking Defense’s Sydney Freedberg in May.

Leed, et al makes two recommendations: OSD should "clarify that pursuing offensive cyber capabilities in support of operational and tactical commanders is in fact consistent with current law and policy" and that OSD should "develop an integrated, Department of Defense-wide plan to experiment and exercise with offensive cyber capabilities to support operational and tactical commanders." They write that "implementing such a plan is the only way to better understand the potential benefits, determine the degree to which practical and policy concerns are warranted, and therefore more thoughtfully determine the best way ahead in this poorly understood but possibly revolutionary area." Find the report on CSIS’s site, here.

The Air Force Association’s big conference starts at National Harbor today outside Washington. Agenda here.

Who’s where when. Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning hosts a media roundtable to discuss the state of the Air Force at 1:30 p.m. at the AFA conference; Air Education and Training Command Commander Air Force Gen. Edward Rice hosts a media roundtable to discuss various education and training matters at noon; and Air Force Reserve Command Commander Lt. Gen. James Jackson hosts a roundtable on the state of the Air Force Reserve at 4 p.m. at the Air Force Association’s Annual Air & Space Conference at National Harbor. Also: Deputy Chief Information Officer for Information Enterprise Dave DeVries participates on a panel with a U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation on how DOD expects to adopt and implement the National Information Exchange Model at 11 a.m. in Chantilly, Va. Under secretary of the Army Joseph Westphal delivers remarks at the Hispanic Heritage Month Kick-off celebration at noon at the Pentagon courtyard;

Ash Carter, talking post 2014 in Kabul. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has been in Afghanistan the last few days, where he met with Afghan Minister of Defense Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, Minister of Interior Umar Daudzai, and members of the Afghan Parliament to "stress the importance of a timely conclusion to the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) and timely, free, and fair 2014 Afghan elections," according to a Pentagon readout of the meetings. Carter also met with the American ambassador in Kabul, Jim Cunningham, and ISAF Commander Gen. Joe Dunford "to discuss progress made on concluding the BSA, supporting the ANSF, and setting conditions for a stable and secure Afghanistan in 2015 and beyond," according to the statement provided this morning by Pentagon pressec George Little. Carter visited ISAF forces in Bastion, Shindand, Gardez and Ghazni, thanked Polish forces at Ghazni and visited with the 203rd Afghan National Army Corps at Gardez. Carter also flew to Herat, where officials are still cleaning up from an ultimately unsuccessful attack on the American consulate there.

The Pakistani general who oversees Swat was killed. The Taliban claimed credit for a roadside bomb that killed Pakistani Army Maj. Gen. Sanaullah Niazi and two other soldiers, the first time, AP reported, that such a senior officer had been killed by militants in the area. AP: "The attack came after major political parties agreed last week to pursue peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, which is loosely affiliated with its counterpart in Afghanistan. It also came a day after the provincial government announced that troops would withdraw from the troubled Malakand region, of which Upper Dir is a part. Niazi commanded forces in Malakand, where the army was deployed in 2007 and 2009 in an attempt to crush the insurgency and restore government authority." The rest, here.

Also, an "outspoken" female police officer in southern Afghanistan was killed. Second Lt. Nigara died in a hospital in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of Helmand province, after two gunmen shot her – the third such attack on a female officer, the NYT report. The NYT: "Lieutenant Nigara, who goes by only one name, had just walked out of her home on Sunday when two gunmen on a motorcycle shot her from behind. No one has claimed responsibility, but the authorities blamed drug traffickers or Taliban insurgents."

Violence had not deterred Lt. Nigara: She had been interviewed earlier this month and said that despite the violence against female officers it was because they were doing their job and that’s why they were on the top of targeting lists. "She told of living with constant death threats and in near poverty after her brother, also a police officer, was shot and paralyzed. She had been caring for him and his four children, in addition to doing her job," the NYT’s Rod Nordland wrote. Nigara, earlier this month: "I’m living in a ramshackle house, and whenever I come back there from duty, I smile to my husband that I am alive…I love this job, and I see my countrymen in trouble and the country in a critical situation, and I feel women’s role is important in policing." The rest here.

Life Beyond Syria, Continued: What’s happening in Egypt? Also from The Times: "A spokesman for the Egyptian military said Sunday that it had taken the upper hand in a two-month-old campaign to rid Sinai of Islamist militants, repairing a "security collapse" after the revolution of January 2011. "The last week included a decisive confrontation with elements that threaten national security," the spokesman, Col. Ahmed Ali, said in a televised news conference to discuss the continuing campaign. The persistent security vacuum in the Sinai Desert near the Israeli border has been a growing worry for officials in Cairo, Tel Aviv and Washington, all concerned that the region is turning into a terrorist haven. But the Egyptian government’s control of Sinai was tenuous even under President Hosni Mubarak’s police state, and Bedouin families with ties across the border in Gaza and Israel have prided themselves for decades on their flourishing smuggling business. And previous announcements from the Egyptian military about its expansive operations there have not changed much." The rest here.

The BBC, this morning: "Egyptian troops have stormed the central town of Dalga, which has been held by Islamists loyal to the ousted president, Mohammed Morsi. Army and police backed by helicopters entered the town early on Monday. Coptic Christians living in the town of 120,000 people had appealed for help, saying they could not pray safely and were being taxed by ‘thugs’. Egyptian authorities are cracking down on Islamists following Mr. Morsi’s removal from power on 3 July. Hundreds of people were killed when government forces broke up protest camps in the capital, Cairo, in support of Mr. Morsi." The rest here.

Back on Syria: A seminal moment at the White House? The Journal did a tick-tock on the last 24 days. That Page Oner, which jumps to a full-page inside the Journal today, provides a glimpse into how Obama and his aides thought during the crisis in what could amount to a seminal month for the White House, Obama and American foreign policy. The WSJ’s Adam Entous, Janet Hook and Carol Lee with assists from seven other staffers: "This account of an extraordinary 24 days in international diplomacy, capped by a deal this past weekend to dismantle Syria’s chemical-weapons stockpile, is based on more than two dozen interviews with senior White House, State Department, Pentagon and congressional officials and many of their counterparts in Europe and the Middle East. The events shed light on what could prove a pivotal moment for America’s role in the world… Through mixed messages, miscalculations and an 11th-hour break, the U.S. stumbled into an international crisis and then stumbled out of it. A president who made a goal of reducing the U.S.’s role as global cop lurched from the brink of launching strikes to seeking congressional approval to embracing a deal with his biggest international adversary on Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Mr. Obama saw the unintended outcome as better than the alternative: limited strikes that risked pulling the U.S. into a new conflict. It forestalled what could have been a crippling congressional defeat and put the onus on Russia to take responsibility for seeing the deal through. U.S. officials say the deal could diminish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical stockpile more effectively than a strike, though it leaves Mr. Assad and his conventional arsenal in place… House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) was in a car en route to a GOP fundraiser in Jackson Hole, Wyo., when he received his first high-level White House contact. His staff had earlier put up a blog post chiding the White House for not consulting Congress. A few hours later, White House Chief of Staff McDonough called to explain the options. No mention was made of asking Congress to vote… On the night of Wednesday, Aug. 28, Mr. Obama called House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi to talk through the options. Ms. Pelosi later told colleagues she didn’t ask Mr. Obama to put the question to a vote in Congress."

A mock news conference at the Pentagon: "Five Navy destroyers were in the eastern Mediterranean, four poised to launch scores of Tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria, according to military officials. Officers said they expected launch orders from the president at between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday. To make sure they were ready to answer reporters’ questions, Pentagon officials conducted a mock news conference… Around 5 p.m., Mr. Obama went on a 45-minute walk with Chief of Staff McDonough. Mr. Obama summoned his top advisers to meet in the Oval Office at around 7 p.m."

Obama wanted to run something by his nat-sec staff. "‘I have a big idea I want to run by you guys,’ Mr. Obama started. He asked for opinions on seeking congressional authorization. Everyone was surprised, except Mr. McDonough, a consistent voice of caution on getting entangled in Syria." The rest 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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