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.

Talking nukes today; Wendy Sherman’s March; A potential deal? #shutdown; A military coalition, angry; Uniform waste: the Army’s universal cami; What’s up with European mil spending?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold New this hour: The death toll in the earthquake in the Philippines is reaching 100; 7.2 magnitude. More, with videos and stills, here. Talks begin today in Geneva on Iran and nukes.  The NYT’s Michael Gordon and Thomas Erdbrink, reporting from Geneva: "Iran is expected to make an offer on Tuesday to ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

New this hour: The death toll in the earthquake in the Philippines is reaching 100; 7.2 magnitude. More, with videos and stills, here.

Talks begin today in Geneva on Iran and nukes.  The NYT’s Michael Gordon and Thomas Erdbrink, reporting from Geneva: "Iran is expected to make an offer on Tuesday to scale back its effort to enrich uranium, a move that a year ago would have been a significant concession to the West. But Iran’s nuclear abilities have advanced so far since then that experts say it will take far more than that to assure the West that Tehran does not have the capacity to quickly produce a nuclear weapon. With thousands of advanced centrifuges spinning and Iranian engineers working on a plant that will produce plutonium, which also can be used in a weapon, Iran’s program presents a daunting challenge for negotiators determined to roll back its nuclear activities.

Both sides enter the nuclear talks that began here on Tuesday morning with inherent strengths and weaknesses. Iran walks in with a nuclear program that cannot easily be turned back, while the West has imposed sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy."

And: "And if Iran is going to maintain the right to enrich uranium to even low levels, as it continues to insist it must, the West will surely demand highly intrusive inspections – far more than Iran has tolerated in the past. How these matters are resolved will go far in deciding the success or failure of the talks." Read the rest here.

U.S. diplomats wary on Iranian talks. Joby Warrick and Jason Rezaian: "U.S. and Iranian officials both sought to lower expectations for the talks while also warning that time for diplomacy could be short. Rouhani faces pressure at home to quickly win relief from economic sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy, while Israeli officials have threatened a military strike to stop what they see as a steady march to a nuclear weapons capability." The rest of that bit here.

Meet State’s Wendy Sherman, who is central to those nuke talks. FP’s Yochi Dreazen: "Wendy Sherman, the U.S. State Department’s chief nuclear negotiator, held talks 13 years ago with the leaders of one opaque, mercurial country prone to deception and rabidly anti-American rhetoric. Those talks were ultimately a bust. This week she’ll hold talks with the leaders of another opaque, mercurial country prone to deception and rabidly anti-American rhetoric. The success of those new negotiations could spell the difference between a long-term peace and a perilous showdown — and give Sherman a rare second chance to prevent a U.S. adversary from getting a nuclear weapon.

Sherman, a highly regarded diplomat known for her steely demeanor and attention to detail, travels to Switzerland holding both a carrot and a stick. In Senate testimony this month, she said Barack Obama’s administration is prepared to offer Iran some short-term sanctions relief if Tehran takes "verifiable, concrete actions" to delay its nuclear program. Sherman also urged lawmakers to hold off on imposing new sanctions on Iran until she can gauge how seriously the Iranians are prepared to negotiate. If they don’t appear genuinely willing to accept far-reaching limits on their nuclear program, she said the administration would support a congressional push to put hard-hitting new restrictions on Iran’s mining and construction sectors." Sherman, on what her team expects today from its Iranian counterparts: "Come on the 15th of October with concrete, substantive actions that you will take, commitments you will make in a verifiable way, monitoring and verification that you will sign up to, to create some faith that there is reality to this, and our Congress will listen." Read the rest here.

Welcome to Tuesday’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, because if you see something, say something — to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold on the Tweeter machine.

By the way, are you missing the Early Bird? We are, too. The shutdown has kept the Bird from its daily chirp. We won’t pretend to be as comprehensive as the Pentagon’s morning compendium of defense stories, but if you know of someone going through information withdrawals each morning – tell that friend to sign up for Situation Report – or let us know and we’ll stick them on.

Today a military coalition marches on Washington to demonstrate the absurdity of the government shutdown. The Washington Times’ Susan Ruth: "Less than 24 hours after one group of veteran’s marched on Washington D.C. to protest the effect the federal government shutdown has had on them in terms of war memorials being closed, another group of retired military personnel is preparing for their arrival on the nation’s capital. The military coalition rally to end the government shutdown is scheduled to take place on Tuesday October 15, 2013 from 9:45 a.m. until 11 a.m., originating at the National World War II memorial." More here. The Eventbrite link to today’s event, here.

The Senate, reportedly on the verge of a budget deal. The WSJ’s Kristina Peterson and Janet Hook: "Top Senate leaders said they were within striking distance of an agreement Monday to reopen the federal government and defuse a looming debt crisis just days before the U.S. could run out of money to pay its bills. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said on the Senate floor that the leaders had made "tremendous progress" toward a deal and that he was hopeful Tuesday would be a ‘bright day.’ The Senate’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, seconded Mr. Reid’s optimism. ‘We’ve had a good day,’ he said.

"The White House postponed a planned afternoon meeting of congressional leaders with President Barack Obama, saying the schedule change would give Senate leaders time to hash out a deal. The latest proposal would reopen the government at current spending levels until Jan. 15 and extend the federal borrowing limit until early February, according to aides familiar with the talks. Lawmakers also would begin longer-term negotiations on the budget, with the task of reaching an agreement by Dec. 13." Read the rest of that bit here.

Leave it to the (New England) women. The NYT’s Jonathan Weisman and Jennifer Steinhauer: "As the government shutdown dragged on, Senator Susan Collins of Maine was spending another weekend on Capitol Hill, staring at C-Span on her Senate office television as one colleague after another came to the floor to rail about the shuttered government. Frustrated with the lack of progress, Ms. Collins, a Republican, two Saturdays ago quickly zipped out a three-point plan that she thought both parties could live with, marched to the Senate floor and dared her colleagues to come up with something better. A few days later, two other Republican female senators eagerly signed on – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who overcame the Tea Party to win re-election in 2010, and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who benefited from the Tea Party wave." More here.

A governor in Afghanistan is assassinated. LAT: "A bomb placed in a mosque that detonated during morning prayers Tuesday killed the governor of eastern Logar province, Afghan officials said. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the assassination of the governor, Arsallah Jamal, but suspicion fell on the Taliban. The group has been targeting Afghan officials, police, military and NATO troops in the run up to late 2014, when foreign combat troops are scheduled to leave the country. The bombing took place at around 9 a.m. as Jamal gave a speech to hundreds of people attending prayers for Eid al-Adha — one of the year’s most important Islamic holidays marking the end of the Hajj pilgrimage — said Hasibullah Stanikzai, Jamal’s secretary." More here.

Votes in Afghanistan sell for about $5 per. Reuters: "Sayed Gul walked into a small mud brick room in eastern Afghanistan, a bundle wrapped in a shawl on his back. With a flick, he plonked the package onto a threadbare carpet and hundreds of voter cards spilled out. ‘How many do you want to buy?’ he asked with a grin. Like many others, Gul left a routine job – in his case, repairing cars in Marco, a small town in the east – to join a thriving industry selling the outcome of next year’s presidential elections. Gul, who had a long, black beard and was dressed in the traditional loose salwar kameez, said he was able to buy voter cards for 200  Pakistani rupees ($1.89) each from villagers and sell them on for 500 rupees ($4.73) to campaign managers, who can use them in connivance with poll officials to cast seemingly legitimate votes. From each card, Gul said, he made enough money to pay for a hearty meal like kebabs with rice, and maybe even a soda." More here.

The NSA is totally harvesting hundreds of millions of contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging – many of which are American. The WaPo’s Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani, on Page One today: "The collection program, which has not been disclosed before, intercepts e-mail address books and "buddy lists" from instant messaging services as they move across global data links. Online services often transmit those contacts when a user logs on, composes a message, or synchronizes a computer or mobile device with information stored on remote servers. Rather than targeting individual users, the NSA is gathering contact lists in large numbers that amount to a sizable fraction of the world’s e-mail and instant messaging accounts. Analysis of that data enables the agency to search for hidden connections and to map relationships within a much smaller universe of foreign intelligence targets." More of that bit here.

Turns out, Abu Anas didn’t spend a long time on the USS San Antonio. There was reason to believe that Abu Anas, the IT and surveillance guru of al-Qaida accused of plotting attacks against Western targets in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Somalia – as well being linked to the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa – didn’t spend a lot of time on that ship in the Med. He’s been transferred to New York already only after about a week or so after he was picked up in Libya by U.S. commandos. His chronic health problems contributed to the transfer over the weekend. The NYT’s Benjamin Weiser, Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt: "Officials said that Mr. Ruqai, known as Abu Anas al-Libi, had been cooperating with the interrogation since his capture on Oct. 5. The decision to move him into the criminal justice system would not prevent prosecutors from seeking additional cooperation. But when he appears in Federal District Court on Tuesday, he will be appointed a lawyer, through whom the government will have to work if it wants to communicate further with him. Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced Mr. Ruqai’s arrival in a brief statement on Monday. Mr. Bharara’s office also wrote to Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who has been overseeing the conspiracy cases in which Mr. Ruqai and other terrorism defendants have been charged, notifying him of the arrest and of Mr. Ruqai’s coming court appearance." More here.

Will YOU get an invite to the "Defense One Summit" Nov. 14? Story by Defense One’s Kevin Baron, here.

What can’t the Brits do or do well anymore? War is Boring’s Robert Beckhusen tells us what ails the Brits these days. Beckhusen: "In late September, the Royal Navy unveiled its latest nuclear-powered Astute-class submarine, HMS Artful, and also "christened" the hefty but sleek Daring-class destroyer HMS Duncan — the sixth and last of its class. Aside from the United Kingdom’s aircraft carrier program, these represent the two most significant naval shipbuilding programs happening in Britain at the moment. And two of the most controversial. The vessels are impressive on the surface, but each ship originates from troubled development programs which — although coming with creature comforts and advanced technology — turned out to be less than impressive when put to the test. New submarines running aground, older subs breaking down and destroyers put into service without adequate defenses against enemy submarines. It’s not completely surprising.

"The Ministry of Defence’s budget is half that of 30 years ago. [italics ours.] Perhaps more troubling for the Royal Navy: the vessels tasked with carrying Britain’s military into the 21st century have sacrificed key systems needed to defend against attacks, while suffering limitations in their ability to strike back at enemy planes and missiles. Meanwhile, Royal Air Force ocean patrol planes that once buzzed the ocean scooping every signal they could detect have been cut altogether, meaning the surface ships are sailing blind — and Britain’s nuclear-missile force is sailing without escorts. Here’s what Britain’s military can’t do. Or if it does do it, it doesn’t do it well. Click for that, here.

Meanwhile, here are a few headlines coming out of Europe in recent months: "Britannia’s 19 Ships Can’t Rule a Single Wave" (London’s Sunday Times); "France To Cut 34,000 Military Personnel Under A Proposed Six-Year Defence Budget" (Reuters); "UK Armed Forces Smallest Since the Napoleonic Wars" (London’s Daily Telegraph). Andrew Roberts, writing for the Hoover Institution: "…Meanwhile the NATO ‘rule’ that every member country spends at least 2% of its GDP on defence is now recognized more in the breach than the observance, with Germany running at roughly 1.5%, Italy at 1.2%, and Spain less than 1%. Yet taken as a whole, the European Union has a GDP that outstrips either China or the United States. Never in the field of human conflict avoidance has so little been given by so many for so much. With the United States spending over 4.2% of her GDP on defence-there are any amount of ways the numbers can be presented, so it’s not impossible to get the figure up to nearly 5%-what becomes very clear is that NATO is something of a European racket. President Obama has rightly said-and it’s very rare I ever start a sentence with those five words-that it’s high time that Europe becomes an overall ‘provider’ rather than just a ‘consumer’ of security." Read the rest here.

Changes to the controls that govern U.S. military exports could increase the flow of American-made military parts to the world’s conflicts. It could also make it harder to enforce arms sanctions, argues a piece by Cora Currier in ProPublica. Currier: "Come tomorrow, thousands of parts of military aircraft, such as propeller blades, brake pads and tires will be able to be sent to almost any country in the world, with minimal oversight – even to some countries subject to U.S. arms embargos. U.S. companies will also face fewer checks than in the past when selling some military aircraft to dozens of countries. Critics, including some who’ve worked on enforcing arms export laws, say the changes could undermine efforts to prevent arms smuggling to Iran and others. Brake pads may sound innocuous, but "the Iranians are constantly looking for spare parts for old U.S. jets," said Steven Pelak, who recently left the Department of Justice after six years overseeing investigations and prosecutions of export violations."

William Hartung, author of a recent report on the topic: "It’s going to be easier for these military items to flow, harder to get a heads-up on their movements, and, in theory, easier for a smuggling ring to move weapons." Read the rest here.

From the Department of Comically-Wasteful-Spending-on-Military-Uniforms: The Daily Beast does this bit about the Army’s $5 billion program to build a new universal cami that didn’t turn out so well. Caitlin Dickson: "In 2004, the Army decided to scrap the two traditional camouflage uniforms that had long been used by the military-one meant for woodland environments, another for the desert-and claimed to have come up with a universal pattern that could be worn anywhere and blend in with any environment. The $5 billion dollar experiment with the universal pattern is over as the Army is phasing out the uniform after less than a decade of use. But many soldiers and observers are wondering why it took this long and cost this much to replace an item that performed poorly from the start during a period when the money could have been spent on other critical needs, like potentially life saving improvements to military vehicles and body armor. Less than a decade after the so-called Universal Camouflage Pattern, or UCP, was introduced the Army is back to the drawing board, set to announce a new camouflage pattern and standard uniform to be worn by the more than million members of the active duty and reserve forces.

"Evidence of the UCPs inadequacy as a combat uniform is easy to find-just look at pictures of soldiers currently serving in Afghanistan, they’re not wearing the UCP, which was deemed unsuitable for operations there, but a different uniform known as the MultiCam." The rest of that piece 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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