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.

Egypt, losing most American assistance; CIA, back to work; Obama on the U.S.-China scorecard; Susan Rice’s moment; House members want Dempsey on sequester; Hagel and Ya’alon, staying in touch; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Most aid to Egypt is being suspended. The White House is expected to end most financial assistance to Egypt in the coming days except for that which is targeted for counter-terrorism operations and the defense of Israel. Despite protestations from the White House, which is not expected to make the announcement until ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Most aid to Egypt is being suspended. The White House is expected to end most financial assistance to Egypt in the coming days except for that which is targeted for counter-terrorism operations and the defense of Israel. Despite protestations from the White House, which is not expected to make the announcement until later this week, the suspension of the aid is expected to include tanks, helicopters and fighter jets.

The WSJ: "The U.S. decision, while not a full aid cutoff, is likely to further strain Washington’s relations with Cairo’s military-backed government, as well as the Arab states that have showered Egypt with billions of dollars of new economic aid in recent months."

The NYT: "The administration’s move follows a lengthy review that began in August after days of bloody attacks on supporters of Egypt’s ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, which left hundreds of people dead. The administration had already frozen the shipment of four F-16 fighter jets and canceled joint military exercises with the Egyptian Army. The United States will also suspend nonmilitary aid that flows directly to the government, but not support for other activities like education or hospitals, the officials said."

NSC spokesperson Caitlin Hayden: "The reports that we are halting all military assistance to Egypt are false. We will announce the future of our assistance relationship with Egypt in the coming days, but as the President made clear at UNGA, that assistance relationship will continue."

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of Situation Report. 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. Remember, if you see something, say something — to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold.

Libya approved of the commando raids. The NYT’s Michael Schmidt and Eric Schmitt: "The Libyan government in recent weeks tacitly approved two American commando operations in its country, according to senior American officials, one to capture a senior militant from Al Qaeda and another to seize a militia leader suspected of carrying out the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi." More here.  

For Susan Rice, the war on terror just got personal. FP’s Yochi Dreazen: The covert raid in Tripoli this weekend that nabbed an al Qaeda operative with links to the devastating 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania is more than just a professional triumph for National Security Advisor Susan Rice. It’s also a deeply personal one. Rice was the assistant secretary of state for African affairs when simultaneous truck bombs tore through the two embassies, killing more than 200 people. Colleagues from the time said the magnitude of the attack and its enormous human toll left Rice deeply shaken. They said her memories of that bloody day may have made the capture of Abu Anas al-Libi particularly gratifying. ‘It was a searing experience for all of us who were involved,’ said Daniel Benjamin, who was the National Security Council’s director for counterterrorism when the strikes occurred. ‘I’m sure there was some satisfaction for her that this guy will be brought to justice.’" More here.

Five takeaways from the raids in Libya and Somalia, by James Kitfield on Defense One, here.

A whole bunch of Congressmen want to see Dempsey brief them in a classified setting before another round of sequester. A bipartisan group of fifteen House members are requesting that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey come to Capitol Hill to give them a "high-level classified briefing on military readiness" for all members of Congress prior to another sequester. The group is led by Rep. Randy Forbes, the Republican from Virginia, who has said in the past that he fears members of Congress, especially those who do not serve on Armed Services committees, do not fully appreciate the impact cuts will have on military readiness. He and 14 other members sent a letter to the House leadership requesting that they support holding a classified briefing by Dempsey to edumucate all the members. "I am deeply disappointed by the lack of discussion of national defense in the ongoing budget debate," Forbes said in a statement. "The U.S. military is facing its most serious readiness crisis since the Vietnam War, with the chiefs of all four services declaring that continued sequestration will prevent them from resourcing our national defense strategy."

From 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.’ The Committee has received one frightening briefing after another; however, only a fraction of the Members of this body are aware of the full impact that cuts to our national defense will have on the security of the country, and readiness of our Armed Services."

American spies are getting back to work today. FP’s Shane Harris: "It’s back to work for some of America’s spy force left furloughed by the government shutdown. Starting [today] the Central Intelligence Agency will begin recalling some employees "who are necessary to carry out the CIA’s core missions," John Brennan, the CIA director, said in a message to employees on Tuesday. Those missions include foreign intelligence collection, all-source analysis, covert action, and counterintelligence. Approximately 12,500 CIA employees have reportedly been out of work since the government shutdown began.

"Brennan said he decided to bring back some employees ‘because of the potential adverse cumulative and unseen impact on our national security’ from the shutdown, which is entering its second week. Brennan said that the CIA had been staffed at "dramatically reduced levels" over the past week and that keeping employees off the job ‘would pose a threat to the safety of human life and the protection of property.’ Other agencies a have found a way to keep more national security workers on the job. The State Department never furloughed more than few hundred people. The Defense Department kept all of its uniformed personnel at work and recalled all of its civilians days ago." More here.

How’d it go with Hagel and Ya’alon? The Pentagon’s readout of the meeting yesterday with Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, the third face-to-face in the last six months, but one held without an honor cordon to greet him (#shutdown): "On Iran, Secretary Hagel noted that while the United States intends to test the prospect for a diplomatic solution with Iran we remain clear eyed about the challenges ahead and will not waver from our firm policy to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons."

On Syria: "Secretary Hagel applauded the announcement by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria has started. While much works remains to be done, this recent progress is a step in the right direction to eliminating this threat."

The two also discussed some of the "advanced capabilities" the U.S. has helped to provide Israel in a package of platforms the U.S. is selling Israel from earlier this year. That and the two promised to "stay in touch."

FP in re-runs: Our story, "The Mensch," about the relationship Hagel is cultivating with Ya’alon, from August, here.

Speaking of Iran, are we playing checkers when the Iranians are playing three-dimensional chess? It’s a clichéd question to be sure, but it’s the very one that Aaron David Miller and Mitchel Hochberg ask in this piece on FP, "Advantage: Iran." They write: "This is not to say that the Iranians are diplomatic and strategic geniuses. After all, if they were that clever, they wouldn’t be reeling under the impact of nation-crushing sanctions that are destroying their economy. Nor would everyone’s favorite mullah — President Hasan Rouhani — be sending Rosh Hashanah tweets to all his would-be Jewish friends. The checkers reference is also not meant to suggest that the Obama administration is clueless about how to deal with Iran. While the president’s handling of the Syrian chemical weapons issue did at times resemble a Marx Brothers movie, the administration knows the stakes on Iran are higher — and that, precisely because of Syria, it must be more disciplined, focused, and deliberate." Read that piece here.

Did China just beat the U.S.? Obama’s missed opportunities in Asia. Asia bubbas are still mourning Obama’s choice to skip important meetings in Asia this week even while they acknowledge he had little choice given the government shutdown. In his news conference yesterday, Obama acknowledged again that he should have been able to go. Obama: "Already this week I had to miss critical meetings in Asia to promote American jobs and businesses. And although as long as we get this fixed that’s not long-term damage, whenever we do these things, it hurts our credibility around the world. It makes it look like we don’t have our act together. And that’s not something we should welcome. The greatest nation on earth shouldn’t have to get permission from a few irresponsible members of Congress every couple months just to keep our government open or to prevent an economic catastrophe."

To the question of whether the U.S. loss in not attending meetings there is China’s gain, Obama answered: "You know, I’m sure the Chinese don’t mind that I’m [here] right now, in the sense that, you know, there are areas where we have differences and they can present their point of view and not get as much of push-back as if I were there, although Secretary of State Kerry is there, and I’m sure he’s doing a great job. But I’ve also said that our cooperation with China’s not a zero- sum game. There are a lot of areas where the Chinese and us agree," he said. "On trade in particular, though, here’s an area where part of what we’re trying to do is raise standards for, for example, intellectual property protection, which sometimes is a big problem in China. And if we can get a — a trade deal with all the other countries in Asia that says you got to protect people’s intellectual property, that’ll help us in our negotiations with China."

Chinese media delight at Xi’s appearance, and Obama’s no-show, in the WaPo today, here.

Full transcript of yesterday’s Obama presser here.

Speaking of the "war in the Pacific," here’s Frank Hoffman’s take, posted on War on the Rocks: "In my last article, I discussed the U.S. Pacific submarine offensive during World War II.  The "Silent Service"-as our submarine force came to be known as-did a great job of learning and adapting under fire to unexpected demands.

This case study is not merely of historical interest.  There are lessons here relevant to the arguments presented for and against AirSea Battle.  China’s own energy requirements today are clear, and especially its reliance on imported oil supplies.  In 2011, China acquired 60 percent of its oil needs overseas – some 5.7 million barrels per day – and that maritime shipping imported 90 percent of that oil.  China’s energy dilemma could be its Achilles’ heel – and the Chinese know it.  They are seeking alternatives and storing oil to enhance their ability to withstand a crisis in supply.  They also realize their supply chains are extended. Geography is very critical in this argument. The importance of islands, as a containing wall, not stepping stones, is just as clear." More of his bit here.

Hagel announced the appointment of Paul Lewis on Gitmo. Days after American commandos snagged Abu Anas al-Libi, the al-Qaida computer guru from Libya, and some politicos are calling for him to be sent to Gitmo, Hagel announced the appointment of Paul Lewis as special envoy for Guantanamo closure. The capture and the appointment are unrelated, of course, but Abu Anas’ detention on board the U.S.S. San Antonio in the Med points up the future of Gitmo. President Barack Obama is trying to shutter the facility even as the demand signal, at least from some quarters, to send new tenants there has risen again. "Special Envoy Lewis brings a wealth of experience from his previous position as the Minority General Counsel of the House Armed Services Committee where he oversaw Guantanamo related issues," a Pentagon statement said yesterday. "In addition to facilitating transfer determinations for Guantanamo detainees, he will oversee efforts to transfer third country nationals currently held by the United States in Afghanistan." Lewis, who has served as director of the Legislative Counsel’s office at the Pentagon, begins his job at the Pentagon Nov. 1.


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

More from Foreign Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.

Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?

The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.

Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.
Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.

Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World

It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

It’s a New Great Game. Again.

Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.

Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.
Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing

The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.