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.

Shutdown’s looming question: will the military get paid?; In South Korea, katchi kapshida; Why you shouldn’t joke about axe murderers at the DMZ; ICYMI: O’Bagy joins McCain; Forbes: members ignorant of defense issues; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Much remains unclear about shutdown, but whether or not the military gets paid is a primary question.  A senior defense official tells Situation Report that if the government shuts down past Oct. 7, the Pentagon could have trouble getting checks to the troops on time. Congress, on the other hand, would get ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Much remains unclear about shutdown, but whether or not the military gets paid is a primary question.  A senior defense official tells Situation Report that if the government shuts down past Oct. 7, the Pentagon could have trouble getting checks to the troops on time. Congress, on the other hand, would get paid no matter what.

Chuck Hagel, speaking to reporters on the Doomsday plane on its way to Asia Sunday, on a possible government shutdown: "This is an astoundingly irresponsible way to govern. And when you look at the greatest democracy in the world, the largest economy in the world and we’re putting our people through this, that’s not leadership, that’s — that’s abdication of responsibilities."

Time’s guide to explaining a shutdown to your kids (or yourself) here.

Prospects for a deal are not looking good. The NYT: ‘The Senate is expected to reject decisively a House bill that would delay the full effect of President Obama’s health care law as a condition for keeping the government running past Monday, as Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, expressed confidence that he had public opinion on his side. Angering Republicans who lead the House, Mr. Reid kept the Senate shuttered on Sunday, in a calculated move to stall action on the House measure until Monday afternoon, just hours before the government’s spending authority runs out at midnight." More here.

Welcome to Monday’s far-flung edition of Situation Report, where we’re coming at you from inside the bubble that is Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s trip to Korea and Japan. 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.

Hagel is in Seoul for the next couple days. After a 16-hour flight on the E-4B Advanced Airborne Command Post — otherwise known as the "Doomsday plane" for its amazing yet dated Cold War capabilities — Hagel landed in Seoul Sunday for meetings with senior South Korean defense and American military officials. On Monday, he watched a "live fire" exercise near the demilitarized zone between the North and the South, then visited two spots along the DMZ itself, including Panmunjom. Communication with the North Koreans has never been great, of course, but there is a special phone on the DMZ to be used to discuss matters of mutual interest. But when American officials use it to call the North Koreans, no one picks up. "They haven’t answered the phone since March," one official told Situation Report Monday, referring to the height of the most recent tensions. Instead, officials use a bullhorn to tell the North whatever it is they need to know. The bullhorn is lifted, the message blasted across the border – 15 feet away across a little cement bulkhead – and the message, we’re told, is received. Hagel stepped inside North Korea, albeit briefly, when he toured a small conference building used by the two countries that straddles the border.

There’s a Potemkin Village just across the border near one of the other checkpoints. Hagel and company visited another checkpoint where you could see that the North maintains a small "fake village," Ki Jung dong, with big buildings that are lit up at night. But intelligence, an official told reporters, indicates that no one lives in any of the buildings – the bright lights are at the top of the buildings and the lower ones are much dimmer, indicating that there aren’t actually any lower floors in the building – only single light bulbs.

You can’t really joke about axe murderers here because one kinda happened. This is what you learn when you come to the DMZ: Camp Bonifas, the installation near the DMZ is named after Capt. Arthur Bonifas, who was killed along with another officer in 1976 after a team went to trim a tree along the border between the north and the south. Members of the North Korean military demanded he stop; when he refused, they attacked, ultimately killing him and the other man with the handles of the axes used to trim the tree. The incident led to Operation Paul Bunyan in which the U.S. and other forces trimmed a number of trees along the border in a show of force to the North after the incident.

Hagel’s trip continues in Korea until Wednesday before he heads to Japan. Staffers on a plane – Chief of Staff Mark Lippert, Military Assistant Lt. Gen. Robert "Abe" Abrams, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense David Helvey, Chief speechwriter Jacob Freedman, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little and deputy Carl Woog.

Reporters on a plane – AFP’s Mathieu Rabechault, Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio, AP’s Lita Baldor and Jacquiline Martin, Reuters’ David Alexander, WaPo’s Craig Whitlock, NYT’s Jennifer Steinhauer, the Pentagon’s Karen Parrish, CBS’ Cami McCormick, JiJi Press’ Kuniaki Kitai and Situation Report.

Which reporter is two-timing? The Boston Globe’s Bryan Bender, who flew to Asia with Dempsey but will be returning home with Hagel.

Dempsey is also in Korea. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey attended the Military Committee Meeting in Seoul Monday and will later in the week attend the change of command ceremony here for U.S. Forces Korea. At the MCC today, the militaries of the two countries "recognized the need to reinforce the capabilities of the ROK-US alliance and commitment toward defense of the Korean Peninsula in order to effectively respond to the challenges facing the Korean Peninsula and the region," a spokesman for Dempsey told Situation Report. The two chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff "agreed to strengthen the capabilities of joint actions in the event of possible security threat to the Korean Peninsula and the region." The meetings were a "genuine exchange," and included discussions of the threat from North Korea, trends, capabilities, command-and-control, intelligence-sharing and integrated air defenses, we were told, and "interoperability" was a dominant theme. Dempsey: "The better we can operate together, the better deterrent we have North Korean miscalculation," he said. Budget concerns will not prevent the U.S. military from doing its job, Dempsey told reporters later.

Staffers on a plane – Director of Strategic Plans and Policy Lt. Gen. Terry Wolff, Political-military adviser Joe Donovan, Brig. Gen. David Stilwell, Col. Ed Thomas, public affairs.

Reporters on a plane – BBC’s Joan Soley, Washington Times’ Kristina Wong, the Pentagon’s Jim Garamone and the Globe’s Bender.

Gentle nudging from Hagel. The U.S is looking for the South Koreans to assume operational control of forces on the peninsula by next year. Not everyone in Seoul thinks they’re ready. Hagel, at a big dinner at the Grand Hyatt attended by South Korean President Park Geun-hye and other officials Monday night: "…Even though our alliance has never been stronger than it is today, that does not mean we cannot grow and mature.  While the root of our alliance will always be the defense of territory, building on that foundation will let us go together into the future as active strategic partners – both here on the Korean Peninsula, and around the world.  As two prosperous nations, and highly capable militaries, there is much we can contribute to the security of this region, and the world, if we continue to go together." Hagel’s mantra when it comes to the U.S.-Korea partnership, celebrating 60 years: katchi kapshida – "we go together." A reminder of how the two countries will continue to work together since the Korean War – the so-called Forgotten War.

FWIW: Alcohol in a country that we’re told loves it didn’t exactly flow at the big dinner. Exotic looking Korean cocktails of blue and red (colors of the flag!) with little flowers in them were actually glasses filled with what is now trendy in South Korea: vitamin water; and big wine glasses on the dinner table contained grape juice. But each charger plate before dinner had little chocolate chip cookies on it, so there was that. At the end of scripted remarks by the South Korean President, defense minister, Hagel and a few others, the announcer smiled: "Ladies and gentlemen, let us now pause for some casual conversations." But as that ensued, South Korean security guards reminded guests who’d stood up to stretch and chat with people at other tables to have those casual conversations in their seats.

When it comes to military readiness, a lot of members on the Hill are in the dark. So Rep. Randy Forbes, the Republican from Virginia, wants the House Leadership to hold a joint classified briefing with Dempsey, members of the Joint Chiefs and others so that every House member, not just those on the House Armed Services Committee, can be "afforded the opportunity to hear first-hand the grave danger to the national security of the U.S. that is being caused by absent defense funding," Forbes wrote a letter for which he is today attempting to get more co-signers. He has more than 10 signers now. Forbes, in the letter: "When asked whether their service can meet the requirements necessary if we continue sequestration the way it is currently moving forward, all four service chiefs – General Odierno, Admiral Greenert, General Welsh, and General Amos – said ‘no.’"

Speaking of forgotten wars, from our favorite town, Toyota Town (Kabul) someone posted this on Twitter, a sign on the back of a Toyota Corolla that reads, plainly "Don’t forget about Afghanistan again." Click here.

ICYMI: Elizabeth O’Bagy begins this morning at McCain’s office.  Situation Report on Friday afternoon was the first to report that Sen. John McCain had hired Elizabeth O’Bagy, the Syria analyst in Washington who was fired for padding her credentials. She begins work today as a legislative assistant in McCain’s office. O’Bagy was a young but well-respected advisor at the Institute for the Study of War and had emerged quickly as an important voice among those arguing in favor of intervention in Syria. McCain and others had cited her work publicly before her nascent reputation collapsed when it was discovered that her claims to having a combined master’s/Ph.D. were false and that in fact she had not yet defended her thesis. O’Bagy quickly emerged as a lead analyst on Syria after McCain praised an op-ed she had written in the Wall Street Journal, which argued that moderate rebels were able to keep U.S.-supplied weapons from falling into the hands of extremist groups. McCain, who has been the leading voice in Congress for arming moderate rebels, called O’Bagy’s analysis "important" during a hearing in September about possible U.S. military intervention in Syria.

McCain, in a statement to Situation Report: "Elizabeth is a talented researcher, and I have been very impressed by her knowledge and analysis in multiple briefings over the last year. I look forward to her joining my office." McCain’s office said there would be no further comment on the matter."

From a Republican Congressional staffer, to Situation Report: "The only thing more unbelievable than a person going from intern to praised Syria expert to disgraced liar in just two years is that the McCain office would decide it is a good idea to reward her with a job. But as grotesque as this is, maybe there is a bigger issue here. Maybe what we should really be talking about is the difference between think tanks that do advocacy and think tanks that do policy in this town. Where have all the ideas think tanks gone? Something has really broken down when a 26 year old with relatively zero experience becomes the most distinguished voice in this town on the politics of peace and war." Our story, here.

Does the U.S. need a Cyber Force? Jim Stavridis says the answer is "yes." Stavridis, writing in the Boston Globe: "If we think of cyber as we did of aviation a little more than 100 years ago, we are just now on the beach at Kitty Hawk. In the cyber world, we have much yet to finalize. While some nascent structures and norms exists, we do not have functional equivalents for: precisely developed and institutionalized norms for air traffic control; airports operating under national and international regulation; well-defined international civil aviation routes; methods and means for military uses of air power; a civilian Federal Aviation Authority with broad jurisdiction and powers; or a Transportation Security Administration." Stavridis lists four reasons why to create a U.S. Cyber Force: One, "it would immediately improve command and control in the cyber sphere;" two, "the [current] personnel systems that are used by the services are a poor match for recruiting those most likely to have the skills and experience in the cyber world;" three "a focused and dedicated service, reporting to civilian leadership, would create true singularity of strategic purpose in respect to military operations;" and fourth, "a U.S. Cyber Service would be a single point of contact for the many and varied interagency and private-sector entities involved in the cyber world." More here.

FP’s Shane Harris took a $12,000 booze-soaked trip to nowhere – and lived to write about it. "Judging by Washington’s staid social standards — or really, any standard — the party sounded utterly bizarre. Qatar Airways, the state-owned carrier of the Persian Gulf petro-garchy, had invited a small number of guests to a four-course meal — designed by celebrity chefs and accompanied by premium wines — all served in the business-class cabin of a Boeing 777 parked on the tarmac at Dulles International Airport. The plane wasn’t leaving Northern Virginia. But we would be treated to the same luxury service that, at current rates, would set you back $11,721 for a round-trip flight from D.C. to Doha. Perhaps because of where I work, or the elegantly written invitation, I had imagined that this event was to ‘celebrate’ Qatar and promote its tourism industry, and that it would be attended mostly by government officials and business executives. You will appreciate my profound disappointment, followed by the dawning suspicion that I had either been tricked or not read the fine print, when I looked around the dimly lit cool blue cabin and saw … a bunch of journalists." More here.

We swear we’re not trying to promote Qatar Airways. But working in our hotel room in Seoul with the TV on affords us a look at ads we wouldn’t normally see. This one is a feel good, mixing some of our favorite things: Barcelona, soccer, an appealing flight attendant and a great old Jackie Wilson tune, repurposed. One commenter called it "inspiring." Hashtag adsarebetteroverseas. Watch it here.

A former intel officer and alleged scumbag faces the music. A one-time fugitive is going to trial on charges that he masterminded a $100 million "multi-state fraud" in which he claimed he was helping Navy veterans. Stripes: "The defendant headed to trial Monday calls himself Bobby Thompson, but authorities identified him as Harvard-trained lawyer and former military intelligence officer John Donald Cody, 67. He was arrested last year in Portland, Ore., after two years on the run. He’s charged with defrauding people who donated to a reputed charity for Navy veterans, the United States Navy Veterans Association based in Tampa, Fla. The alleged fraud spanned 41 states, including up to $2 million in Ohio. Authorities said little, if any, of the money collected by the charity was used to benefit veterans." More here.

Re-evaluating the All Volunteer Force and putting "Skin in the Game." In his new book, Skin in the Game: Poor Kids and Patriots, Dennis Laich, the retired two-star, looks at the history of the AVP, "identifying its flaws and arguing that it’s time for significant change." 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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