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.

Hagel on Operation Shutdown; 400k civilians to get furloughed; Amos sacks Gurganus, Sturdevant over Bastion; 363 problems for the JSF; What Terminal Lance thinks about #shutdown; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Chuck Hagel says 400,000 defense civilians will be furloughed today. Last minute legislation will keep paychecks flowing to the uniformed military, but Congress’ failure to cut a deal means the shutdown of the American government for the first time in 17 years will force as many as 400,000 defense civilians on furlough ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Chuck Hagel says 400,000 defense civilians will be furloughed today. Last minute legislation will keep paychecks flowing to the uniformed military, but Congress’ failure to cut a deal means the shutdown of the American government for the first time in 17 years will force as many as 400,000 defense civilians on furlough starting today. But Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters traveling with him here in Seoul that he and other top Pentagon officials are working on a plan to expand the definition of an "excepted" worker – thereby shrinking the pool of civilians who would be forced on furlough – which could save tens of thousands of civilians from more forced vacations. "Our lawyers are now looking through the law that the President signed… to see if there’s any margin here or widening of the interpretation of the law," Hagel told reporters traveling with him in a hotel conference room here. "Our lawyers believe we can expand the exempt status; we don’t know if that’s the case, but we are exploring that."

Hagel has been on conference calls since last night. Hagel left a gala event last night celebrating the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-Korean alliance early to talk with the Pentagon’s deputy, Ash Carter, and Comptroller Bob Hale and Acting General Counsel Bob Taylor to plan for the shutdown. Tonight in Seoul, he is expected to speak with them again. It’s unclear, though, if the Defense Department will determine if it can shrink that number of defense civilians it will have to furlough anytime soon.

His exasperation. The secretary didn’t want to weigh in when asked about the wrangling on Capitol Hill. But as he attempts to sell Asian leaders on the "rebalancing" to Asia, he said he is keenly aware of just how bad the shutdown looks out here. "It does cast a very significant pall over America’s credibility with its allies. It’s nonsensical. It is completely irresponsible. It’s needless, it didn’t have to happen," Hagel said. But the former Republican senator from Nebraska said Congress must begin to understand the pernicious effects of such a shutdown and "what it’s doing to our people." Congress, he said, must find "a new center of gravity of responsibility" to govern properly.

Hagel’s in Asia. The government is shut down. Is the Doomsday plane on which he’s traveling grounded? Not exactly. The "mission" that is ferrying Hagel from one stop to another will continue, and personnel assigned to the trip will remain on the job. After Hagel returns home, however, some of the personnel supporting the trip might be told to go home. Pentagon Press Secretary George Little: "They’re supporting a Secretary of Defense mission overseas, which is by definition an excepted activity. Their status could change upon return to the United States."

Obama made a vid to assure members of the military and their families as well as defense civilians that he would have their back. President Barack Obama, in remarks for the military and defense civilians: "…I know this shutdown occurs against the background of broader changes. The war in Iraq is over, the war in Afghanistan will end next year. After more than a decade of unprecedented operations, we’re moving off a war footing. Yes, our military will be leaner and as a nation we face difficult budget choices going forward. But here’s what I want you to know. I’m going to keep fighting to get rid of those across-the-board budget cuts, the sequester, which are hurting our military and our economy. We need a responsible approach that deals with our fiscal challenges and keeps our military and our economy strong. I’m going to make sure you stay the greatest military in the world, bar none. That’s what I’m fighting for. That’s what you and your families deserve…"

Welcome to Tuesday’s edition of Situation Report where no one has shut us down yet – we’re still reporting from Hagel’s trip to Asia. One more day in Seoul then it’s off to Tokyo on the Doomsday. 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.

Shutdown isn’t going to shut down foreign policy and national security. Not right away. FP’s Ty McCormick and Yochi Dreazen: "Four hundred thousand Defense Department employees, sent home. Internal watchdogs, defanged. Congressional investigations, stymied. A billion dollars a day in government contracts, stopped up. If there’s a government shutdown on Tuesday, the United States will continue to be able to conduct its key foreign policy, national security, and intelligence missions — at least for a little while. But beyond that, well, it’s not going to be pretty. The effects of political dysfunction in Washington are already reverberating across the globe. Markets in Europe and Asia took a hit on Monday and both the NASDAQ and Dow Jones Industrial Average fell sharply this morning when trading got underway in New York. But rattling global markets is only the first of many potential effects of the shutdown…A government shutdown would also affect U.S. foreign policy more subtly by delaying critical foreign-policy related hearings in Congress, paring back nuclear and other critical energy programs to the bare minimum, and interfering with the State Department’s ability to police itself.

A retired senior CIA official, to FP: "Spies will still spy. The machinery will go on…The problem is if something extra falls into the system. If guys are worried about their paychecks, they’re not concentrating on their job." More here.

Jim Amos just fired a pair of two-stars over the attack at Camp Bastion last year. The Marine Corps’ commandant has sacked of a pair of two-star generals for failing to prevent a massive attack on a base in southern Afghanistan that left a dozen troops dead. It’s a stunning, beyond-rare move that Gen. Jim Amos made only after he found the two "did not exercise the level of judgment expected of commanders of their grade and experience." Amos announced Monday that he was requesting that the promotion of Maj. Gen. Mark Gurganus, pictured above, be rescinded and asked Maj. Gen. Gregg Sturdevant to retire. That effectively ends the careers of two senior officers who are widely respected, and it will shock a close-knit service that prides itself on battlefield leadership. During the last dozen years of war, generals have been regularly disciplined for inappropriate sexual and financial behavior. Few, if any, have been let go for screwing up on the battlefield; today’s announcement marks the first time an American general has been relieved for combat incompetence since 1971, according to FP’s Tom Ricks, author of The Generals, a military history.  

But there have been few attacks on U.S. forces like the September 2012 strike on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. More than a dozen Taliban fighters penetrated the base and killed two Marines, a lieutenant colonel and a sergeant. The coordinated strike also destroyed six Harrier AV-8B jump jets, one of the largest losses of U.S. aircraft in decades.

In a conference call with reporters Monday, including Situation Report, Amos praised both general officers, saying they were both "close friends" and that forcing their retirement was "the hardest decision I’ve made in the Marine Corps." But he also argued it was the right thing to do. "I do not expect my commanders to be perfect, and I do not expect them to make perfect decisions all the time," Amos wrote in a memo detailing his decision.  However, he wrote, "the fog of war, the uncertain risks of combat, and the actions of a determined foe do not relieve a commander of the responsibility for decisions that a reasonable, prudent commander of the same grade and experience would have made under similar circumstances."

We just saw Gregg Sturdevant here in Seoul on Monday. Sturdevant currently serves as the director of strategic planning and policy at U.S. Pacific Command. On Monday, he attended a major event at a hotel in Seoul in which South Korea and the U.S. were celebrating the 60-year anniversary of their partnership. Sturdevant, well-respected and accessible, had long been seen as an up-and-comer. On Monday, he was seen chatting with other military officers and guests at the reception preceding the dinner, likely aware that the dramatic turn his career in the Corps was about to take would soon be made public. 

Our full story, including the executive summary of the investigation from U.S. Central Command, and the memo written by Amos, here.

The new number that Lockheed is stressing: 363. The Pentagon Inspector General found 363 problems in the way JSF-maker Lockheed Martin and five other defense contractors build the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. FP’s very own John Reed: "Hundreds of production errors  "could adversely affect aircraft performance, reliability, maintainability, and ultimately program cost" of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, according to an IG report published today. The flaws largely consist of the companies’ failure to follow safety and quality control techniques while building the stealth fighter jets. Contractors failed to make sure that manufacturing spaces were clear of harmful debris or that glues used to hold parts of the jets together had not passed their expiration dates. Instructions telling workers how to install parts on the airplane were incorrect. These production flaws likely contributed to each jet in a recent batch of F-35s needing an average of 859 ‘quality action requests’ before they were ready for delivery, according to the IG. This means that about 13-percent of all work done on a brand new F-35 is ‘scrap, rework and repair work’ to fix problems built into the planes, according the 126 page report.

So what does this mean? "This was a wake-up call that we had to be more rigorous," Eric Branyan, Lockheed’s F-35 vice president of program management, told Reuters. More here.

Coolness: The Army graduates its first enlisted – and observant — Sikh soldier. U.S. Army: Spc. Simranpreet Lamba joins 12 other Soldiers in a naturalization ceremony Wednesday morning at Fort Jackson. Lamba, a Sikh whose articles of faith include having unshorn hair covered by a turban and keeping a beard, is the first enlisted Sikh Soldier in at least 26 years who has been granted religious accommodations by the Army, allowing him to adhere to his articles of faith. Lamba graduated from Basic Combat Training Wednesday." Full here.

Ask a Terminal Lance Corporal if he cares about the shutdown.

First Marine: "I heard there’s some kind of government shut down going on."

Second Marine: "Are we still getting paid?"

First Marine: "Yeah."

Second Marine: "Can we go home early?"

First Marine: "No."

Second Marine: "Then who cares?"

See "Terminal Lance" 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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