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.

The wolf closest to the door at the Pentagon; Is Iran fahreal?; the Navy Yard shooter lied, the military says; A hate crime in New York; Stimson: Do these 27 things and save $50 billion; A retired Marine colonel sounds off; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold New this hour: A strong earthquake of about 7.8 has struck Pakistan’s Baluchistan region. BBC, here. Is this really happening? FP’s Colum Lynch, reporting from New York for the U.N. General Assembly, on the Iranian charm offensive: Iran, the perennial bad boy of the international community, has suddenly become the diplomatic darling ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

New this hour: A strong earthquake of about 7.8 has struck Pakistan’s Baluchistan region. BBC, here.

Is this really happening? FP’s Colum Lynch, reporting from New York for the U.N. General Assembly, on the Iranian charm offensive: Iran, the perennial bad boy of the international community, has suddenly become the diplomatic darling at this year’s U.N. General Assembly session, mounting a charm offensive that has many U.N. diplomats asking themselves: Can this be real? In anticipation of President Hasan Rouhani’s diplomatic debut before the 193-member U.N. General Assembly, Iran’s American-educated foreign minister, Javad Zarif, has been working the U.N. corridors, telling anyone who will listen that Iran has changed its stripes and that its nuclear ambitions do not extend beyond its desire to generate more electricity. ‘I have been a multilateralist all my life; Iran wants to engage with the world,’ Zarif told a gathering of more than 100 diplomats at a private luncheon at the U.N. delegates’ dining room, according to a diplomat who was in the room. A former Iranian envoy to the United Nations, Zarif insisted that Iran is ready to deal: "We will move ahead and resolve the [nuclear] problem, not just for the sake of negotiation, not just for the sake of talking.

The Pentagon yesterday said Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis lied during the security screening process when he joined the military – and misled investigators on an incident that led to an arrest. The Defense Department briefed reporters yesterday on new developments with regard to Alexis’ security clearances as the military is answering difficult questions about the troubled man’s background and how his access was maintained. The WSJ’s Dion Nissenbaum: "A continuing U.S. Navy review of Mr. Alexis’s military career has revealed he failed to disclose his arrest in Seattle in 2004 for shooting out a car’s tires and, when confronted about the arrest, never told investigators he used a gun… In the 2004 report, Mr. Alexis told Seattle police at the time he shot out a construction worker’s car tires in an ‘anger fueled’ blackout because he believed the man had been mocking him… But Mr. Alexis told a USIS investigator he had gotten into a parking dispute with construction workers near his Seattle home that escalated to a construction worker putting something into the gas tank of Mr. Alexis’s car. Mr. Alexis said he retaliated by "deflating" the man’s tires, but never mentioned that he did so by firing three shots into the car, according to a copy of the USIS investigation released by the Navy. More of his story here.

The new terrorist battleground is in Africa. FP’s Yochi Dreazen and Elias Groll: "The deadly terror attack at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall has taken dozens of lives and brought one of Africa’s most-prosperous cities to its knees. It has also highlighted a disturbing new reality: the Islamist extremism that has long ravaged the Middle East has taken root in Africa as well, causing chaos and bloodshed across a broad swath of the continent. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the terror group’s African franchise, conquered a broad swath of northern Mali last year — the first time an al Qaeda affiliate has ever taken and held terrain. AQIM also helped plan the siege of the American consulate in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Other Islamist groups have carried out deadly attacks in Somalia, Algeria, and Niger. In Egypt, militants have launched a full-scale insurgency against security forces in the Sinai and begun striking Israel as well." FP’s story and terrorist map, here.

The storyline on the massacre in Nairobi is that the Shabab is a Comeback Kid. But maybe it’s its dying gasp, argues Clinton Watts, writing on FP. Watts: "…it’s not yet possible to assess whether this attack signals the rebirth of al-Shabab as a regional jihadi movement, or the last gasp of a dying organization. Like any good guerrilla force, al-Shabab knows it has to conserve its sparse resources for maximum impact. Occurring less than a month before the second anniversary of Kenya’s Somalia intervention, the attack comes during a nadir in relations between Nairobi and the SFG, which controls just a small swath of land in and around Mogadishu. Many in the Somali government are wondering when the Kenyan military will exit Kismayo, and doubt its intentions."

Fox News, this hour: Despite claims to the contrary, the Shabab claims it’s still holding out in the Westgate Mal. That story here.

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of Situation. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us at 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.

There’s Iranian diplomacy, Syria, the aftermath of the shooting at the Navy Yard and the renewed threat posed by the Shabab. But at the Pentagon, the wolf closest to the door was the fear of a government shutdown. The Defense Department, determined not to do a re-do of sequester, the ominous cuts for which the Department didn’t plan thinking it would never happen, has begun to take steps to prepare for a shutdown if Congress fails to cut a deal before the Oct. 1 deadline. Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman and Marcus Weisgerber: "The Pentagon is bracing for a government-wide shutdown that would potentially force troops to work without a paycheck and send thousands of civilians home until Congress reaches a new budget agreement. U.S. Defense Department spokesman George Little said Monday that the Office of Management Budget has ordered the military to prepare for a shutdown, which includes reviewing which civilians might be considered essential and instructed to come to work despite the shutdown. It’s unclear whether those civilians would be paid for that work. Troops will stay on the job regardless of a potential shutdown. Their paychecks might be delayed, but they would be entitled to retroactive pay after government functions resume.

Meanwhile, in the words of David Petraeus, many at the Pentagon were asking, "tell me how this ends." Defense News’ John Bennett: "Four Ways Washington’s Shutdown Showdown Could End:" One: A "clean continuing resolution" with no shutdown. Two: A "moderate coalition." Three: changes to Obamacare. Four: shut the thing down. Bennett: "The odds of a US government shutdown escalated last Friday when House Republicans pushed through a temporary spending bill that would kill funding for President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Lawmakers and aides from both parties reply with a shrug when asked how what promises to be a dramatic week will play out. ‘I don’t know what the dance will be in the negotiations," said House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee member Mike Turner, R-Ohio, before voting for the House government wide funding measure last week. "This is just the first salvo.’ The $986 billion continuing resolution now heads to the Senate, where Democratic leaders say they will hold a series of votes this week to strip the Obamacare-killing language and then pass what they call a "clean CR," or continuing resolution." More here.

Out today, a new report by Stimson that recommends 27 things that Congress could do to the defense budget to shave off $50 billion and help "advance America’s defense strategy." The new strategy is called "Strategic Agility" and it’s being posed as an alternative to sequestration. The report is billed as a consensus report from Stimson’s 17-member Defense Advisory Committee, which includes James Cartwright, former Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gary Roughhead, former Navy CNO, Norty Schwartz, the former Air Force Chief of Staff, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former State official who now heads the New America Foundation. The report was due out earlier this morning.

 How do you get to $50 billion big ones? Do Stimson’s math: $22.4 billion in "management reforms," including cuts to excess military and civilian personnel in headquarters and defense agencies, reduce centralized training, reform military retirement and health benefits and eliminate funding for unnecessary commissaries and exchanges. See, it’s that simple! Here’s more: Save another $21.4 billion in changes to force structure, Stimson’s report says: "These would maintain robust space, air, naval and special operations forces, and expand investment in cyber capabilities, but reduce active forces best suited for protracted wars and cut back nuclear forces. The restructuring would take advantage of the cost-effective strategic depth provided by the National Guard and Reserve," according to a treatment of the report prepared by Stimson. And another $5.7 billion in "reduced modernization costs." This set of cuts would maintain the long-range strike bomber and increase the number of AEGIS destroyers for theater missile defenses, according to Stimson. "The adjustments would freeze missile defenses in the United States and purchases of new ground vehicles. The cuts would also slow purchases of F-35 fighter jets and ballistic missile submarines, cut back tactical nuclear weapons, and shift development resources toward advanced technologies."

What else? As part of the $50 billion savings plan, Stimson recommends reducing civilian employees, for $4.7 billion; reforming military retirement for $1.5 billion; reforming health benefits, for $4.7 billion; stopping funding of commissaries and Post exchanges in the U.S., for $1.2 billion; and "extricating" uniformed personnel from non-military tasks – $2.7 billion. Read allaboutit here.

Wanna know more? Barry Blechman, Gen. B.B. Bell and Philip Odeen will take questions from reporters on the report from 1-2 p.m. today. Media should contact Rich Robinson at Stimson:

A Situation Report reader responds to the Pentagon Channel story yesterday. We got a number of responses to our story yesterday about possible changes to the Pentagon Channel and former television producer-turned-D.C. socialite-and-party-giver Tammy Haddad’s consulting job on it a couple years ago. Haddad was hired because of her credentials as a TV producer for NBC, CNN and others, but the money she was paid infuriated some. Here’s one response, from retired Marine Colonel James Howcroft: "They should have cut the Pentagon Channel years ago. What a waste of money. A farce and joke among active duty, note the Duffel Blog items about it. I am actually insulted when I see it on as I am flipping through [Armed Forces Network]. And to pay a ‘socialite’ $92,000 for her advice and views is criminal, amusing to me that she can’t even recall what her advice to the Pentagon Channel was from an 11 month project!  I guess socialites don’t have files on their computers or keep records of things they got paid $92,000 to do."

And, he adds: "As long as I am at it, they should axe most of AFN too. I live overseas and work among active duty folks from all the services. The only channel they watch is the Sports channel. In this era of downloadable content and format and satellite channels there is no need for AFN, other than the sports. First run movies? How about year or two old movies at best. Trust me they have been on netflix or amazon to be downloaded or rcvd by mail for at least a year by the time they get on AFN.  AFN radio… ditto.   Would be interesting to see how much AFN costs and how many folks they figure watch it by channel. Ask the troops. Commercial networks have a way to measure viewership… does AFN do it ? Not in all the years I have been watching it from various over seas posts. Meanwhile, we are cutting infantry battalions and fighter squadrons."

Our story on the Pentagon Channel and Tammy Haddad’s work on it, here.

Der Spiegel: Afghan warlords prepare for the U.S. withdrawal. Nut: "While the West is trying to extricate itself from the war zone in Afghanistan as quickly as possible, old warlords like Ismail Khan are preparing for a post-withdrawal period that many anticipate will be violent." Read the rest here.

A Truman Project Fellow who is a Sikh said he was pummeled by a group of men shouting anti-Muslim taunts by New York’s Central Park. Prabhjot Singh, a professor at Columbia, had dropped his child and wife off and was walking on 110th Street with a friend when he was accosted by a group of men on bicycles saying things like "get him" and "Osama" and "terrorist" in an apparent hate crime. They attacked him, he was hit in the face and torso, but is now OK. He spoke to HuffPo Live here; Last year, he wrote this in the NYT: "the first documented race riot targeting American Sikhs occurred in 1907 in Bellingham, Wash. Their distinct religious identity (uncut hair, turban, beard) has historically marked Sikhs, particularly men, as targets for discrimination, both in their homeland in South Asia and in the various communities of the Sikh diaspora. And of course, 9/11 brought about a surge in fear and persecution directed at Sikhs, Muslims and other minorities with ties to the Middle East and South Asia."

Truman Project’s Mike Breen, to Situation Report: "As a community that values civil and human rights, equality of opportunity, and tolerance, the Truman National Security Project condemns in the strongest terms the despicable and cowardly attack on Dr. Prabhjot Singh, a professor in Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs and a Truman Project Security Fellow. Our thoughts go out to Prabhjot and his family. We believe in freedom from fear everywhere in the world – including here at home. It is imperative that as a nation we stand together against senseless hate crimes like these and do everything we can to prevent them from happening again. Prabhjot has dedicated his life to serving the underserved in his own community. He deserves our utmost respect." 

Beware social scientists and Human Terrain. USAT’s Tom Vanden Brook: "Senior Army leaders were warned about potential fraud and rampant sexual harassment by government social scientists sent to Iraq and Afghanistan under the Army’s Human Terrain System, newly released documents show. An investigation of time cards submitted by the Human Terrain Team members in 2009 and 2010 ‘revealed irregularities both in overtime and compensatory time card reporting…Of note, supervisory involvement in the time sheet management process was not documented, nor does there appear to be an auditable system in place,’ according to documents released by the Army. In February, a USA TODAY investigation of the program found substantiated instances of sexual harassment and racism, potential fraud in filing time sheets and indifference to the reports team members had produced. The Army documents were obtained earlier this year by USA TODAY through a Freedom of Information Act request. But the Army withheld some part of the report then, and released them this month after a series of FOIA appeals." More 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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